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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



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Outsider Art


Dorian Gray, fed up with stupid questions about how he maintains his youthful vigor, goes to his attic and drags down the painting that contains his soul.

"Stab me with a fork," he tells his dinner guests. "Really. It's okay." One brave woman, a Brazilian supermodel known for her furniture-tossing temper tantrums during shoots, plants a salad fork in Dorian's jugular. The guests gasp when Dorian yanks the fork from his throat and his portrait begins to bleed.

The model's companion, a hotshot agent from CAA who made his rep packaging a kiddie reality series based on Lord of the Flies, signs Dorian to an exclusive contract. Dorian appears on Letterman and Leno, tossing off witty bon mots after being shot with an arrow by Ted Nugent and then mauled by a Bengal tiger from the San Diego Zoo. On Charlie Rose, he's more serious, discussing metaphysics and the burden of beauty and immortality. Videos of his exploits and autographed versions of his famous disintegrating portrait make him a wealthy man. He goes on a world tour with Mike Tyson, taking a vicious beating on stage every night, then jumping to his feet to end each evening with a Cole Porter medley.

At an embassy party at the Pompidou Center in Paris, Dr. Kalman Tzara, a Romanian art scholar and expert in primitive and Outsider art examines Dorian's portrait. "Interesting," Dr. Tzara purrs. "This appears to be nothing more than a slightly modified paint-by-numbers version of Gainsborough's Blue Boy." The color drains from Dorian's face -- in fact, from his whole body. Pigments run down his torso and pool at his feet, a Crayola effluent. He remains frozen, ghost white and rigid as concrete, a grimace of horror plastered on his face. The French award him a Legion of Honor medal for his "ultimate and terminal" contribution to the art world.

The IRS investigates Dorian's accountant and discovers that Dorian hasn't paid taxes in five years. They seize his Bentley, his Rolls, and his Dusenberg. Eventually, the Pompidou's advisory board tires of Dorian, pronouncing him "gaudy American folk art." He's sold to a Texas entrepreneur who loses him in a poker game to some good ole boys from Baton Rouge. Eventually, Dorian ends up as one of the three wise men in a Nativity scene at a third-rate Christian theme park outside of Opelousas, Louisiana, which bills itself as "The Zydeco capital of the world!"

Still immortal, trapped inside the hardened crust of his body, Dorian reflects on his life, but quickly realizes that reflection isn't what he's good at. To pass the time, he hums Cole Porter. For an extra dollar, visitors to the theme park can press their ears to Dorian's chest and hear him belting out "Night and Day" or "I've Got You Under My Skin."


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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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