Tuesday, March 31, 2015



He had to admit, the guy was likable enough. And it wasn’t exactly off-putting that a widely respected musician who had earned a deal of wealth and knew how to live well should want to play show-and-tell with Beau, when he must have given the same tour for a whole lot of other people, too. Peers. People with connections. People important to him in his career. What could Beau do? Nothing. And still this guy took the time.

“Omar,” said Beau, “I really appreciate your taking the time to show me around.”

“I want you to be comfortable here.”

“No, I really mean it, man. You’re all right. I can see how it must be hard to be so well off when it comes to meeting people, because you never know if it’s you they like, or you they like using.”

“Beau, you have no idea.”

“But then, here you go ahead and treat me like a friend, first time we ever even meet. So, kudos, that’s all.” He took a swig.

“Ready for another brew?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Well listen, Beau, I hear you. And thanks. What line of work you in?”

“I work for an Indian tribe on a salmon restoration project.”

“That sounds fascinating, man. Tell me about that. What sort of stuff do you do?”

“Well, all sorts. If I’m scheduled to stay at a site by a weir on a river, or maybe at a juvenile acclimation facility, then I stay for several days, living there in the woods in a trailer recording stuff in logs and keeping up any machinery needing to run. Or I might not be on-site, but help maintain the needs of whoever is, bringing out water in a huge vat and draining that into a tank. I might put on a wetsuit and be required to snorkel down the river and look for any salmon beds, or salmon, with a partner out of the water helping out and writing down the count. Or we might catch the spawning salmon at a trap in the river and have to euthanize some. That’s a controversial process.”


“Yeah. Sorry, I didn’t mean to ramble on so long.”

“You’re interested in your work. That’s what it’s all about, man. Listen, I’m gonna go get those brews, bro. Take a swim in the pool if you want. Towels are down there. The water’s nice and warm.”

“Wow. I think I might take you up on that.”

“I wish you would. Put it to some use, I just had it cleaned for today and nobody’s used it yet. I want to hear more about the salmon, but first I gotta get those beers.”

Having had the tour herself before, Liliana had stepped away (to “use the little girls’ room”), but now Beau could see her not far away, by herself, and the thought occurred to him that a nice dip in the pool might really be in order. Beau went over to her.

“What are you looking at?” he said.

“A section of roof.”

“Sounds interesting.”

She looked at him. “Is there something you needed?”

He looked back. “Ah, no, not really. I was trying to be friendly was all.”

“Oh. All right.”

“All right then, what’s with the roof?”


“What’s with the roof? You said that’s what you were looking at before.”

“Before you showed up.”

“You know, you’re the one who came looking for me. What happened to hands on the leg?”

“It was one hand, not hands.”

“Goddamit, you’ve been coming on to me all day!”

“Excuse me, I don’t care to be yelled at right now, thank you.”

She started off, but he grabbed her arm.

“Let go of me.”

“Wait a second.”

“Let go!”


She tore free. He let her go and watched her head back to the main house encountering Omar in passing as he returned with two brews carrying a quizzical expression on his face.

“What’s her problem?” he said sitting down.

Beau shrugged. “I really haven’t the foggiest. She said she was looking at that circular section of roof capping your castle. I like those wooden shingles, by the way. Anyway, she was staring at it. I thought there might be something to talk about. So I asked her what was up with that and she freaked out.”

“You asked her what was up with the roof? That’s good. I can tell you what’s up with that. It used to be the top of the cultural center. But around the same time I bought Rasta Pasta, I also snapped up the cultural center building, and it needed a lot of work. So now we’re putting up a whole new building.”

Actually the Regal Lager wasn’t half bad. He’d always heard people joke how crappy it was. Now he got to thinking how it kind of grew on you, and almost mentioned this to Omar as a compliment before catching himself. He didn’t want to be rude. Instead he said, “What exactly do they do at the cultural center?”

“Fuck if I know. It won’t be that anymore. I liked the old peak, though. Goes good there.”

From rooftops they jumped to solar panels, from solar panels to sundry other alternative energy forms, until, during a momentary lull, Beau blurted, “Diane Lane!”

“Who? What?”

“Sorry about that. It just occurred to me, someone I saw. I knew she looked like somebody.”

“Okay, all right. I guess that happens. Where was this now?”

“Out in the woods off the Avenue, near Madrani.”


“Earlier this evening. A pack of women on ATVs.”

“A pack of them, huh? What were they doing?”

“Oh, hell. I don’t know. Burning bras, I guess.”

“I should probably get back inside and see what’s going on. By the way, there’s a hot tub over there, too.”

“Hot tub, eh? Hmm, sounds goods. But you know, it’s been a long day. I probably better see about hitting it.”

“You’re taking off?”

“I probably better.”

“You didn’t drive, did you?”

“That’s right. Shit.” Beau drained his brew and ripped a burp. “Goddam, I better go find her.”

“You think she’s in a mood to help you out?”

“She’s in a mood, all right.”

“Listen, I think you both ought to stay the night.”

“Stay the night?”

“Sure, why not? We’re going to do a late dinner before the convention. Is there somewhere you have to be right now?”

“Yeah, there is,” Beau affirmed. “Right here. Actually right there, in that hot tub.”

“Good man, Beau.”

*          *          *

Beau sank deep in the percolating bubbles. The turn of the knob on the wall had dimmed the flambeaux in their sconces, and the stars above the structureless tub streamed like bullet holes shot in a dark shack on a bright day.

The hot tub, he realized. It was speeding up the alcohol in his system. A fine mist hung over the bubbling surface, vapors of steam rising as well, perpetually undulating up, so that the night sky and all the cosmos beyond seemed to issue from the cauldron in which Beau cooked, naked, cock pleasantly bobbing. What a day. Holy shit. What a goddam day.

His mind wandered back over the tour Omar just gave. Standing on the squares of the giant chessboard patio. Liliana on the other side. The scale model of Humbaba in the rec room. It was weird beyond reckoning that he should be in two different rec rooms in the span of one day. He tried his best not to remind himself that he had seen a dead body. Eased back in the agitated water, he could not help but relive being shot at.

“This is the room that the main house is built entirely around,” Omar had said when they reached a natural cave in the hillside left completely intact. There was no door, only an open room off a long hallway. Had the hallway not been there, from a distance it might have looked like a large mural of a small cave, the tan sandy walls of which were as barren as they were nondescript. “That’s really far out,” Beau had said. “What made you build your house around this?”

“You know Beau, there are some strange things in this world.”

“You mean like your scale model of the county?”

“Ha! Yes, there’s always that. A toast: To the rec room!”

“To the rec room!”

He could still see Liliana, back at the Madrani Motel, when holding each other’s hands on the old sofa by the coffee table with the Reader’s Digest compilations on it was pure magic.

The tub was exceptionally hot. Beau brushed the sweat from his face, and closed his eyes as he thought of the stars shining like flambeaux. Dark Ages. Middle Ages. There was no escape. Everywhere he looked, Beau was Middle-Aged.

When he was eight he had to help his sister with the paper route. If he listened, he could hear the sound of the papers being folded

(Look, I’ll show you again, you have to do it like this)

still smell the fresh ink and see it stain the hands. Early on Saturday mornings, their mother would sit in the living room, for moral support, and to remind him when his sister had to clip the metal band on a bundle not to get too close, for fear of losing an eye when the freed band whipped back.

If I stay here like this with my eyes closed, I just might not get up. I could so fall asleep right now. Must get up. On the count of three. One…two….

Beau opened his eyes and saw Liliana. She stood for a moment on the far side of the tub, then quietly slipped off all of her clothes and got in.


“Beau here works for an Indian tribe.”

The peroxide cadaver sneered. “Doing what?” This was not a question put to him.

Beau cracked the second big Dungeness claw. He had been giving her the benefit of the doubt a lot. The other two as well. They were from out of the area, and lacking a mall enveloping them, had no idea what to do. These were people who came from privilege, and in seeing from Beau no possibility of him either aiding them or harming, they seemed to feel free to shit in his presence. With great nonchalance, he enumerated numerous duties, all the while chewing crab and cracking claw, perfectly aware that his tone clearly said: “And sure enough none of you scummy little privileged punks could handle the same to save your worthless lives.”

The other cadaver’s cavernous mouth puckered like a giant asshole, as her face produced a practiced wince to evince predictable disdain.

“I’ve heard about these sorts of things,” she said. “The power company funds the project at x cost for x years, and I’m not going to say they intentionally sabotage the project x number of ways, but I mean, my god, what more do those people want?”

“Oh I see,” the peroxide cadaver nodded. “Then when the project’s over, the company points to the results that they paid for, so they can finally go back to making the real profit again.” This observation she punctuated with narrowed eyes and a smirking sip.

Now the guy with custard hair joined in. Turning toward Beau he said, “And how much do you make?” Beau thought the clipped tone with which he asked this made him sound like a total priss, his mouth stretched tight in the practiced smirk, custard head jiggling atop a concentrated posture.

“I don’t know,” said Beau. “They pretty much just pay me in crappy hair dye.”

Under the table, Liliana put a hand on Beau’s leg. “Would you crack my claws, please? I can’t seem to do this.”

Omar raised his glass. “A toast: To cracking open the infinite and pouring forth its abundance!”

This, thought Beau, was something of an odd toast to make. It did, however, provide some sort of placating effect on the others at the table. Handing Liliana her plate back with the crab claws cracked, he grabbed his glass and said he had a toast of his own to make. “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-lookin’ corpse.”

The cadavers shook their heads with half-lidded eyes and worked their faces into sneers.

“I think I’ve heard that somewhere before,” said Omar, nodding with thought as he seemed to search through his mind. “James Dean, right?”

“If you say so. I heard it somewhere.”

“Oh my god!” The guy with the custard hair looked like his dearest enemy had just publicly fallen down and accidentally vomited all over himself. “Where did you hear that one, from all the little fishies you feed?”

At this rebuke from one of their own, the cadavers expressed unmitigated joy on cue, swaying in their chairs like plastic palm trees in a hurricane, caked-on makeup cracking.

Beau had encountered this sort of thing before. Like the time when he was in grade school, and he’d had to face every other kid in class but one, his pal, who had laughed at another kid the day before and made the kid cry, and because Beau hadn’t been there that day, the blame from the specific incident of the crying mutated into misdirected hostility toward him in general, because he had been the friend of the kid who laughed when someone else threw up, and he wasn’t there to defend himself, and so was made a scapegoat, and though on the next day when he did return his pal had crumbled under the sanctioned barrage, a solemn smirking event planned to take place after the lunchtime recess, which literally every single person in class knew about but Beau, and per the teacher’s instructions maintained silence right up to the moment when everyone got to vent their encouraged pent-up hate, Beau, however, did not crumble, but defended himself against every claim, and though the teacher, middle-aged, told Beau he would have his turn to defend himself after it was all over, Beau didn’t let that happen, and had to go and ruin the whole thing.

Like the time when he was twenty-five, leaving early in the morning on the way from Carata down to a construction job in Radley, and before he could even reach the overpass to merge with the highway, someone gunned a car from behind and whipped in front of Beau just barely in time to take the exit into town, someone who thought, “Here it is early in the morning, I’m in a moving steel cage, I bet there will be no repercussions at all if I initiate asininity,” but Beau had to go and ruin everything, without the slightest hesitation taking that exit, too, following the car all through town, until the driver finally stopped, and Beau got out and gave him what for right in the face with his fist through the open window, saying, “You ever cut me off like that again, I’ll fucking kill you,” while the driver whined, “Get off of me, get off of me,” till Beau let him go, considering justice met, and continued on down to work.

Nothing had changed. The cadavers with their gaping mouths—“Little fishies, here little fishies!”—uproariously tittering, feeling safe to be awful together, reveling as though they’d all taken some magical exit, and left Beau trapped in traffic, the hateful exhalation passing for their laughter like a corpse giving birth to a child.

*          *          *

“This is something from Caliphornia.Caliphornia was Omar’s upcoming compilation, and the something from it was an instrumental song. 

The suede bean bag Beau sat down in seemed to sink forever. Everybody’s eyes were closed but Beau’s, this much he could see even with the lights down low. So much so, the cadavers’ plastic lips looked a little less like inner tubes dipped in red latex and stitched to their skin. The bird-like bones of their meatless bodies twitched like the strings which Omar’s fingers plucked, and their friend with the custard hair (who turned out to be an investment banker—Beau never did find out what, if anything, the other two did) stood rooted to the Afghan, dreamily wetting the ends of his fingertips and swiping the air, as though he were tasting the musical notes which issued from Omar’s guitar and filled the cathedral-like high-ceilinged room with lofty vaulting arches reminiscent of Piranesi, while Liliana, perfectly composed, sat on the couch like some inscrutable monument to the fashion industry.

Beau’s vision penetrated through the cadavers and their friend to the days of their youth, for he saw that their viciousness stemmed from insecurity, and their insecurity grew from childhood. There was nothing he could say that they would understand. They were broken, desensitized through heavy scarring. A music review in The Freethinker, the paper out of Bargerville, lay where it was thrown down on a redwood burl table. All three had offered the requisite gift of derision, lambasting the reviewer for not supporting Omar’s music. Privately, Beau found the review entertaining, informative and supported with detail, whereas the lockstep lackey’s sneers were informative of nothing, supported with no detail at all, and were only marginally entertaining to Beau as examples of hypocrisy. As critics of the writing, they were unaware of the irony, the baroque display of their pretention a dense and twisted outgrowth. Some people were twigs, Beau mused, and some were burls, but all were part of the same thing. It was hypocrisy he hated, not hypocrites.

“I call that one ‘Tree-Spirit,’” said Omar, when his hypnotic tune had ended.

“Why do you call it ‘Tree-Spirit?’” asked Beau.

The groan from the guy with the custard hair, sudden and unsurprising to Beau, shifted from misery to vehemence just as quickly as Omar put a stop to it by raising a hand and drawing him over. Beau couldn’t catch what Omar said, but whatever it was, the custard guy bore the expression of a teenage boy who’d been rebuked, and he quietly stomped off to a corner to lick his wounds.

Omar returned his attention to Beau. “You’re the only one who’s asked me that about this song yet, Beau. I appreciate that. And I’ll tell you, I really don’t know. I was out in the woods. Around here, of course. And I got this feeling. You know? And then I started to listen. Like, really listen. Then I started to hear, the music, you know? There’s no telling when or where inspiration will strike. You have to be open, and listen. I try, anyway. I suppose this song came to me from the consciousness of the trees. That’s why I call it ‘Tree-Spirit.’ I thought you might be someone open to that sort of thing.”

“I don’t know anything about tree-spirits.”

“Well Beau, you know, you can find all sorts of books written on the subject. Most books you find will take it from a folklore perspective, or a mythological perspective, and they break it down into parts they can understand in terms of what they think they already know, into the context of the disciplines of which they are the disciples, see? But what if it turns out there’s more to the story than what they think they know so far shows? You don’t think we’re the only life in the universe, do you?”

Beau shook his head. “Far from it.”

“Well there you go.”

Now Beau closed his eyes. “Wild with roots,” he said, slowly savoring every syllable, “a Gorgon head: my young eyes cogwheeled at the tangled waist-high mass riverbar trucked, and my squat mallet sent thick flakes like flack off my checkerboarded chest, hints of burl beneath the busted rock stuck in the dirty redwood, till the giant’s clubbed wart clean of stone gave a milled slab set rickety on two paint-thick sawhorses, wobbling in the pull of the screaming grinder’s wire bristles spitting back the loose punk wood. Renegade spiders ran, nooks invaded by the violent metal wand, and brushed sawdust left the surface clear for belt sanding before subjection to the stages of the orbital. When the meaty red cross-section doused gleamed, and the scrubbed rings’ fluctuating bands rippled, torched edges blackened shone silver where the blue acetylene tip had spread, and set on the knotted legs of a less charred base, the finished tabletop took center stage in the showroom for your more and less impressed tourists, whilst in the side yard my grimed thumb spun a bowl.”

All was quiet. During the course of this unannounced recitation he had kept his eyes shut. To what extent the lackeys evinced kneejerk derision, Beau never saw, but he did hear Omar say, in the direction of Liliana, “I had no idea we had an artist in out midst.”

Beau ignored this. “Holy crap,” he said, trying to get up with the help of a mushroom coffee table under an elbow. “I think I’m about to explode.” Half a brew still in hand, he tottered off to the nearest of the bathrooms, savoring the feeling of whipping out his artistry as with bowed back he let loose like a fantastic downspout even as he drained the Regal Lager. He’d turned the tables on them. Turned the tables good and proper. This he thought as he chucked the empty in the trash. There a box, he could not help but notice, lay in the trash as well. A little white box, with easily recognizable packaging. Raisex. Even Omar had a bottle.

Beau took a peek. In the medicine cabinet there was a bottle. The directions, right there on the side, said to take two. So he did. Then he went back out and sat down.

Omar was demonstrating how to play guitar. On the one hand, it made Beau feel sick to see the cadavers and the custard guy smiling their wretched suck up smiles. No doubt having criticized him behind his back. Still, he could almost feel sympathy for their having suffered whatever had made them act the way they did toward him. They could not have heard him say so without assuming he was as disingenuous as they themselves would be. So he kept it to himself, and about ten minutes of that seemed like an hour. At least Beau wasn’t tired. Indeed, he seemed to have caught a second wind.

Liliana, on the couch a few feet over, noticed Beau looking at her. Unspoken communication occurred. Garbled, at first. It wasn’t clear whether Beau had a problem with his neck, or was on the verge perhaps of passing out. When he got up, though, she understood. A moment later, she followed.

“Hey,” he hissed, when they met around a corner, “I took a couple Raisex! Come on, let’s go!”

It had been soft as a banana slug before. But not anymore.

They ducked into a guest room. A toast to Omar’s guest room! Beau thought as he half-playfully threw Liliana on the bed, finding himself somewhat thrown at the surreal sight of the yielding surface before realizing it was a waterbed. And now came the moment of truth. Lying on top of her, somewhere deep down he knew: If he hadn’t had all the Regal Lager, he never would’ve taken the Raisex, and if he hadn’t taken the Raisex, he wouldn’t be on top of her at all.

“Oh my god,” she said. “What’s happening to you?”

Beau looked at his arms. His clothes were not removed, but he had turned back his sleeves half an hour earlier, and now saw that his skin was changing colors. Pale green to salmon red. Flailing on top of Liliana only compounded his labored breathing, but bent as Beau was on achieving his goal, his rapidly worsening condition precluded fruition. Beau rolled off of her and thrashed about, groaning, the image of Fred Sanford gripping his chest pronouncing, “It’s the big one!” assailing his consciousness.

In a haze he barely registered Liliana hurriedly composing herself. Where was she going? Was she going to tell the others about the body in the woods? But then he looked again and she was back, with Omar now.

From far away: “What happened?”

“He said he took two Raisex.”

“Oh, fuck! It’s not pot! This shit’s hardcore! You have to do Raisex just right, and even then you can go into convulsions! Fuck! He can’t die here! Beau, can you hear me?”


They were calling his name.


“Beau?” Omar’s voice.

The ground was hard. It took him a while to realize where he was. Beau’s throat was dry. A fact which the scratchiness of his voice betrayed. “What am I doing in the cave room?”

“You ran in here.”

“I remember being in the bedroom.”

“You ran out of there. Do you remember taking any Raisex?”

“Yeah. I took a couple of yours. I can’t believe I did that.”

“The main thing is, you’re still alive. You ran around like a madman. Funny how you came to the cave, though. I told you there were some strange things in this world.”

Beau sat up and rubbed his temples. “What do you mean?”

“I mean the reason why I keep this cave. It’s because I found something in it. You want to know what I found? Right about where you’re sitting? A rock. A big, weird-looking rock. Looked to me like it might be a meteorite. About the size of a human head, actually, grayish, almost metallic, and with smooth scallop-shaped indentations.”

“My head’s killing me.”

“I had that rock a long time before I found out what it was. And that was only by accident. But that’s not important now. The main thing is, I did find out. You agreed with me earlier that we can’t be the only life in the universe. And we’re not. As you say, far from it.”

By now Beau had buttoned his stolen band room pants, though whether he’d held them up when running like a madman with a hand or with his hard-on he had no way of knowing. From somewhere in the winding corridors, the sound of a guitar reached his ears.

“What would you say, Beau, if I told you we were visited a long time ago?”

“I’d say you ripped off ‘2001.’”

“That’s good, Beau. But it doesn’t matter what you say, because we were. I don’t know about any monoliths. What they left was an accident. You remember we were talking about tree-spirits before? Well, what happened was, these things from far away escaped from the visitors. Once that happened, forget it. There was no way to round them all up. Whatever it took to do that, the visitors didn’t have the time, or maybe the means, or maybe the inclination. They might have even thought it was a good thing. A sort of happy accident. Time passed on, and now here we are. I guarantee things around the world like the one I found here have been affecting the course of events for longer than we’ve even been around as a species.”

Beau shook his head as he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “I’m sorry. I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do, Beau. You just can’t handle it.”

Suddenly the music stopped. “That’s not the end of ‘8-Track Mind.’ I think our guest of honor has arrived.”

“What did you just say?”

“The guest of honor.”

“No, the song.”

“‘8-Track Mind.’ It’s one of my new ones on Caliphornia.”

“You wrote it?”

“Of course I wrote it. I write all my music.”

“I thought that was Shreveport Stevie’s song.”

The sound of approaching footsteps echoed through the halls. Omar checked his watch. “It’s nearly midnight, Beau. Time for the Gothic Convention.”



           “I'll think about it,” she said.

It was eleven o'clock. That Phil had managed to extract from Consuelo the assertion that she would consider leaving with him to stay at his place in Carata for a few days could have been seen as so great a feat as to suffice as an end in itself. But Phil wasn't having any of that. Prudence dictated he allowed the idea of her staying with him, and all its incumbent images, to gel for awhile. No point pushing it. We're not even out yet, he thought. Now they had been over two hours inside. The batteries in the Walkman died sometime around 10:30.

Sitting down on the hard floor for too long sent Phil’s legs to sleep, and when he stood up, the returning flow felt like needles stabbing so badly, with the prickles and tickles, he flailed around howling, “Oh, oh! Oh!Ohohoh....” A few minutes later, they could hear the sound of the rocks being moved; the hatch opened up, and the wind screamed in.

“Hey man,” the guy with the gun yelled down into the room, “didn't I tell you not to make any trouble?”

“Make any trouble?” Phil was incredulous. “We've been down here for two hours. What the hell trouble have we made? We've been patiently waiting for you.”

“Look man, I'm the one with a gun.” The guy all but sneered this with half-lidded eyes and shaking his head with his hands on his hips.

“Yeah,” Phil said, with a firmness now in his tone evident of squaring off. His hands shot out and grabbed two plants. “So why don't you go and shoot?”

The guy in the hatch gasped. “What are you doing?”

“You won't shoot me.”
“Stop it. Let go of those plants.”

“You know the mess it would make.”

“Let them go!”

“You'd lose plants just from soil damage alone. A bunch of my blood in there would really fuck that soil up. Even just falling over, I'd be sure to take a few plants with me, maybe even take a whole table. Is that what you want? You want me to dump this whole goddam table? Is that what you fucking want?”

“No! No, don't! Please don't.”

“All right now, climb down in.”        

The closed hatch abruptly cut the screaming wind, followed by a sudden clunking clatter. Climbing down the ladder, the guy had dropped the gun.

Phil stood looking at it for a second, then rushed over and picked it up just as the guy dropped down. Consuelo moved quickly to get behind Phil. Curiously the guy without a gun did not seem as concerned with this reversal of fortune as Phil rather expected. He seemed to be more concerned for his plants, and inspected them from where he stood like a teacher on a field trip getting a head count of all the kids. Phil looked at the gun in his hand.

“Hey,” he said, reading the inscription on the side. “This thing’s a Sears Repeater BB pistol.”

“I don’t have any partners to call, either,” the guy confessed. “I wanted to intimidate you into silence. I had to really know you wouldn't say anything, or come back. Fuck, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well. Why did it have to take so long? I had to be somewhere at nine.”

“Fuck man, I'm sorry. I really am. I came out on my dirt bike which I stash up behind this cave, and I seen you two come bookin’ up here just when I was about to climb down. And shit, I had to wait. And wait, and wait, and wait, for you all with all the stuff you were saying. You know? That was fuckin’ hard. But yeah, I was all set to come back down like as if I'd gotten through calling up my partners and all that, and I was gonna let you go, but I went ahead and burned one, and shit, I guess I got totally roasted. When I just now woke up it sounded like you were yelling. But this Indica my friend gave me, it knocks me out like a light. Usually all I smoke’s sativa.”

 *          *          *

           The wind whipped in the blackness of the overcast night.

Feelings thrashing, Phil took Consuelo's hands in his and by the light of the grow-room hatch looked her in the eye and said, “I know we've known each other only four hours, but it feels like forever. That didn't come out right. You know what I mean. What I'm trying to say, what we talked about before, coming away with me, I can't wait. We can go in the morning, early. Call in sick. Say an emergency came up.”

“I won't work at the hotel forever, that's for sure.”

“You could look for something in Carata. We could look together.”

“I can't leave my family.”

“Well we don't have to find you a job right away. Call in sick on Monday and I'll bring you back Tuesday or Wednesday. You won't have to pay for a thing. We can go to the beach, we could drive down to Fernden and spend an afternoon. I'll take you down the Avenue of the Giants. We'll check out the redwoods.”

“It sounds nice.”

“How early can I pick you up in the morning?”

“I would have to meet you somewhere else.”

“How about here? How would you get here?”         

“I could ride my moped and leave it down at the Quonset hut. I just don't know if I want to, though. I mean, I want to. I do. But, I don't know how well my family would take it.”

“You’re twenty-five.”

“I know. I know how old I am. What if I meet you here at nine and tell you then if I've decided I'll go—can we do that?”

“Nine o'clock tomorrow morning? Here?”


“All right. I'll be here.”

He felt as though in parting a gesture of intimacy would not be out of order, but the grow-room guy poked his head up out of the hatch and said he was sorry but had to ask if they couldn't speed it up. “Either that or let me shut the hatch,” he said. “This lets stand in and I really don't like drawing the attention to my spot here, you know?”

“Yeah, that's right,” Phil said. “I did notice that. She and I are planning on meeting here early in the morning though, and then that’s it.”

“Not inside the room? No fuckin’ way, man. It'll be locked, anyway.”

“No, I mean this cave. We don't know anything about any hatch.”

“What do you mean? You were just—oh, I see. Well hey, as a little parting gift for your being so cool and all about the whole situation, here's that fuckin’ Indica my friend gave me. Yours. Free.” He handed over a baggie.

“Wow, dude. What can I say? Thanks.”

“No prob. Oh, and here.” He handed him another baggie. “This here’s my indoor sativa. This is what I usually smoke. You've got some pre-rolls in both bags. But that purple’s gonna knock your fuckin’ dick in the dirt, right there.”

“Whoa, right on. Double thanks.”

“Hey, I don't suppose she's got a twin?”


Phil took Consuelo back in Rozinante, the fair princess to her people, with the plan that he would drop her off at the overpass, out of view of the Gypsy trailer court across the street from the hotel where Phil would need to pick up the box of DVDs with all haste before heading over to his appointed destination. It was Saturday night. Dinah Zauber said the people at the other end were some kind of frat boys. Chances were they'd still be up, although he supposed most of them would be away on summer vacation. Less people would mean less going on, and he could therefore find a lights out situation showing up late that would prove very embarrassing. But he thought his chances were good.

“Quarter to midnight,” he said as they drove, “this is it—the peak of light in the year.”

“It's dark out.”

“I know. But what I mean is, now the sunlight gradually declines for the year, until the winter solstice, marking the sun’s return, and here I am, so happy with you.” It took her hand, to gently hold it, but she took his in both of hers and held it to her face. She looked at him for a long time, perhaps a quarter-mile, and then she returned her eyes on the road, but kept his hand in both of hers, and he returned to trying to sell her on the idea of coming away with him.

Then they were at the overpass. She had her door open, but before getting out she leaned on a knee and gave Phil a kiss, whisper-quick, yet full of passion and promise. Time floated at different speed as he crossed the street in Rozinante, got the box of DVDs, and took the highway to his exit a ten-minute drive away.

Now with the window down, careening across the desert highway rife with strange buffeting gusts, the genie in the bottle of his privately expressive self burst, and he sang out his elation freely, “Holy fuckin’ shit! This has got to be the greatest day of my life! Can you believe it? She is so goddam gorgeous! Gor-gor-gorgeous! Don't screw this up! Note to self: do not screw this up. But how could I? What is there to screw up? She said she would. We're going. Would she have kissed me if we weren't? I really have found my soulmate. It's absolutely bizarre. But then, if you think about it, the whole thing seems fated, as though we were somehow preordained to meet here tonight. I've never met anyone like her. Goddam she’s so fuckin’ awesome. I am the luckiest man alive. Mmm, she's good! I can not wait.

“And dude you faced down a goddam gun! Can you believe that? Contemplate that, man. Fucking faced down a goddam gun. Well, I mean, I thought it was a gun at the time. That’s for sure. But I never did feel the fear. I don't know how I didn't. I guess just being with Consuelo.

“Consuelo. Oh, Consuelo. I will be so good to you. This is a new beginning for me. I can actually feel myself becoming a new person. We're going to go canoeing. I am transforming into a guy with a hot girlfriend who canoes. And why is that something that should be so far beyond my grasp? Have I not been patient? Sure it's a little fast, a tad on the speedy tonight. Yeah, sure, I get that. But haven't I paid my dues? I'm twenty-nine, so what's so sudden? Maybe it won't even work out. All right, granted. But realistically, how can you not? I will be so good to you. Oh, Consuelo, I will never do you wrong. Goddam she's hot!”

For no particular reason, Neil Young’s “Welfare Mothers” leapt up in Phil's mind—“Welfare mothers make better lovers! DEE  VORR  CEE!”—and he screamed what lines he could remember repeatedly for miles keeping an eye out for his exit, but it was all he could do to keep his mind on the road.


“Look at this shitty old Pinto,” Royal casually sneered behind the wheel of the big white rig powering by. Jordan in the passenger seat ignored, remaining twisted around to keep his uncle in sight. Generally even out of uniform Leslie Lash retained a level of copness. Pristine hair, particularly upright bearing, clean, perma-pressed clothing. But not now. Now Lash was lashing around. Pooro, sitting on the right hand side of the cab’s back seat remained as inscrutable as Queequeg, while Lash lashed himself into a frenzy, wide-eyed and sweating, looking like a crazy-eyed Ralph Steadman sketch. Four minutes to midnight and a mile to the exit, Royal kept an eye on the Pinto behind him, it being the only other car on the road, and dutifully alerted everyone when the Pinto took the exit, too.

“Fucker’s following me,” Royal said.

“Bullshit. Just drive.”

“No, this guy’s following.”

“California plate. That's Humbaba I bet, right there. Yep. He must've staked out the highway and waited for us when we didn't show at nine.”

“How? I passed him.”

“Maybe he's heading on out here now again. Car’s a piece of shit, though. I guarantee you he’s from Carata.”

I'm the one who told you he was even following us. I knew it.”

*          *          *

The frat house below the bluffs and the otherworldly desert glinting moonlight in growing rents of roiling clouds reminded Phil of “Forbidden Planet.” He showed up feeling like the robot that comes out to meet Leslie Nielsen, except that he had to roll his window up to keep from choking on the dust the white rig kicked up on the long dirt road heading off the highway toward the bluffs. For the moment, the wind had settled down. Phil pulled into a wide driveway and parked near the white rig.

The air of uncertainty he conveyed was intentional. “I'm looking for Jordan?” Phil had no idea why he had to shift his tone to an interrogative and immediately regretted that he did. It seemed to him the only time he considered the importance of making a good impression was just after he had made a bad one.

“Yeah, that's me. Dinah sent you?”

“Yes. Yeah.”

“All right, come on back. This here's Royal.”

Royal went ahead and said, “What’s up?” But he didn't have to. He made that clear with his body language.

Phil gave a quick nod and said, “What's goin’ on?”

“That's Pooro,” said Jordan, pointing and letting the mask speak for itself. “And that's Uncle Leslie. He's a little out of it tonight. So how did you manage to catch us?”

“I'm sorry I'm late.” Suddenly it occurred to Phil that he hadn't thought at all about how he would explain being three hours late beyond simply telling the truth. With as few specifics as possible.

“You're late?”

“Dinah said I was supposed to meet you here at nine.”

“Like I said, my uncle's a little out of it tonight. We had to go downtown and get him. You wouldn't believe it. He was wandering around in a weird little outfit—I mean, I don't even know how to describe it. Like a little dress, I guess. Like Romans and shit. Lucky for him I had some spare sweats and a shirt for him.”

“I noticed he was wearing those sandals,” said Phil. “Sounds like that thing he had on might have been a tunic.”

“Yeah! Tunic, exactly. Well anyway, here we are. All right, that’s fantastic. And I have everything in order for you to take back. Well, before we conduct the exchange, why don't you come on in, get a beer. We've got a barbecue going on the patio.”

“Great, thanks.” Phil couldn’t believe how great everything was turning out. “Hey,” he said, turning to Leslie Lash, who was staggering in with a hand on Royal's shoulder, “that's funny your name being Leslie. I was just thinking about Leslie Nielsen. You ever see ‘Forbidden Planet?’”

Phil took the silence for interest.

“I think the best part about that movie is the music. I also like the way some of the early scenes look—which reminds me of around here, actually. It's supposed to be a sort of version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, ‘Forbidden Planet’ is. My favorite Leslie Nielsen movie, though, would have to be ‘Creepshow.’ He’s in the ‘Something to Tide You Over’ story. ‘I can hold my breath... a looong time!’ I love it. You ever see ‘Creepshow?’”

By now they were all on the patio. He’d paused in his opening remarks to indicate thanks for a beer from the cooler with a slick wink—something else Phil never did, and immediately regretted. But no one seemed to have heard him. He looked at Leslie Lash while tipping up his brew, and noticed that in his weird, whirlpool-eyed Ralph Steadman way, this Leslie guy was looking at him. Studying him. Trying to…remember. Phil, too, knew he had seen this guy before. He decided to let it go. He knew that it would come to him.

“Hey,” he said, “who's up for some weed?”

Jordan and Royal, thinking Phil wanted to conduct the exchange of the flatscreen TV in their possession for the box of DVDs in his, retired themselves indoors, politely motioning for Pooro to follow.
Of the frattie hangers-on that lingered till midnight, only one was unconscious, and he was upstairs. All seven others were outside drinking, talking about how they should have fucked Natalia, and bemoaning the fact she had her ride pick her up right after Pooro left. Cesar and Sampedro still grinned in the living room, getting rowdy with beers and a remote control, watching the compilation disc of Pooro’s many spectacular and one-sided fights. Three or four fratties had gone ahead with the patio pour. There was a mix-up regarding the amount of water to use in making the cement. The pour that filled the form for the new patio was a bit too wet. Also, most of the barbecued chicken got burned. Off at a patio table alone, Phil produced the baggie with the purple from the grow-room guy from which he pulled a pre-rolled joint. Now in the night sky the tower could be seen blocking out the stars.

Jordan, Royal and Pooro stood over a large flatscreen.

“Pooro,” Jordan said, “go out to that guy’s Pinto, would you? There will be a big box in back with a bunch of shrink-wrapped boxes of DVDs inside. Go and get that, OK? We'll put the flatscreen back in the box and have that for you here to put in the guy’s car after you bring the DVD box in, okay? All right.”

Pooro went on out. When he left, Jordan and Royal looked at each other and shook their heads.

On the back patio, Phil was just lighting up.
Leslie Lash stared at Phil in a sightless manner from the bottom of a swirling stupor no cop drug training could ever describe. One moment he was deep into the bugs crawling and flying around in the huge alien world of their tiny little insect lives, and that moment, due to a trick caused by the toxin forced to course through his manipulated and beleaguered system, might seem to last for twenty minutes, ugly thoughts racing across his mind like ancient and many-legged insects and giant hairy ham-like bacteria, or might seem to last for an hour, and suddenly there he was again, recalling images from his childhood and dreams he never could otherwise have known that he forgot and seeing that redwoods guy from the checkpoint. A Philistine. Humbaba.

“Hey there you,” Officer Lash slobbered in a daze, his dozen or so index fingers waving. “I know you.”

“Who? “Phil said, exhaling with the proffered joint. “Me?”

The off-duty cop ignored the torch as he rose to his feet green in the face, wild-eyed, sweating, and reached for his gun. He did not seem to notice that although his gun was in his holster, his holster was not at his side, nor did he notice the gun he held trained from a swaying crouch on Phil was imaginary.

“You freeze,” he said. “I know what you are. Don't you dare move.”

 *          *          *

The Pinto’s back hatch opened without a key. The back seat was folded down, Pooro saw, making plenty of room for the big box inside, and easily enough, he thought, for the flatscreen as well. By the light from the house falling into the car, he could not help but see books spread around in the back. Some food, too, and a newspaper.

It was a copy of The Freethinker newspaper. He had heard them say the guy was from Humbaba. Reaching in, he grabbed it, flipped through. It had been twenty years since he last saw Humbaba. Turning the paper around, Pooro looked at the back. There was a picture of a face at the top of a column, a movie review. The face of the movie reviewer was in the picture. Pooro recognized the face. It was the guy on the patio whose Pinto it was and whose paper he was holding. The column had a byline.

The byline included the reviewer's last name.

 *          *          *

Imaginary pistol emptied, the wigged-out off-duty cop charged.

“Holy shit!” Phil shouted as he bobbled the joint on remembering now where he'd seen this Leslie guy before. But little was the chance for Phil to express his inner feelings in the manner of finding himself on the informal with Leslie when the intoxicated officer slogged himself free of the muck in his mental mire long enough to lunge himself bodily at Phil, flattening him backwards utterly befuddled. Phil couldn't tell if he was being arrested and feared resisting, but found himself unable to do anything else. This proved ineffectual against the drug-addled whacked-out cop writhing and screeching for backup as he maneuvered Phil into a full Nelson and began working his head toward his chest.

“Hey! Fuckin’ shit!” Phil grunted through his teeth.

“Back off!” Lash screamed, staring into space with swirling eyes. “I said no! I said no! You’ll never take me alive! I'll kill you, pothead! Die, pothead, die!

Phil thought he was a goner. Had his life flashed before his eyes? He couldn't exactly say. But he damn sure thought he was a goner. He thought that was it. It was over. A maniac cop was breaking his neck. The pressure exerted was incredible, but greater still was the weird feeling of human contact literally trying to kill him. Helplessly he thrashed, and felt a terrible moment of certainty that he was in fact experiencing his last moments of life, as certain as a diver with no tank and empty lungs two hundred feet down in the ocean.

But his neck was not snapped. For some reason, the crazy cop let him go. Phil staggered to his feet with his neck still bent painfully down and turned to see the guy with the painted-on mask holding the cop up by the head. The screams coming from Lash drew the fratties like a pack of bloodhounds too late to do anything but watch as Pooro took on a shaking fit with Lash’s head in his hands, just shook and shook, and as he shook alternately mustered and howled his ardent desire of the man whose head was in his hands to stop making him angry, to stop it, to stop it, because he was trying, he was trying to control it but it was very very hard and so he wanted him to stop it.

Pooro swung Lash bodily from the hips, accompanied by a loud sound that might have been the horrid cracking of Lash’s neck. He flung the body onto the sloppy patio pour, eighteen inches deep. Lash landed on the surface with a flat wet smack; water pooled around as gradually the goop absorbed.

Now Pooro danced a dance of death. Less in self-defense and more in retribution did Norman Stein go hornpiping through the piglings, a result, and not a cause.

Then the spinning wind did witness Pooro run amok, devilishly grinning in his painted-on mask and foiling fratties with a length of re-bar. He had become a living Frazetta. Flipping up a pallet under stacked bags of concrete mix, he chucked it at a couple guys, only to run up and hit them with the busted pieces and confidently flash a dashing grin while he made them scream some more.

Jordan he shoved in the barbecue, and jammed the lid down on him several times; when the frattie sprang out, his skin was black and he was smoking.

Royal he punched through the plate glass window next to the giant flatscreen where Cesar and Sampedro were getting rowdy with beer and emulating parts from the compilation disc of Pooro’s many one-sided and spectacular fights. Through the giant cracked screen of the broken window Pooro stepped into the room. The flatscreen intended to go into the Pinto lay busted like a giant eggshell on the floor beneath a lamp Royal knocked over.

Phil walked through the open back door adjacent to the smashed window. In the broken TV intended for him to transport back to Dinah Zauber, stuffed among gutted motherboard remnants, were a whole bunch of little white packets.

“Meth,” Cesar said.

“Meth?” said Phil, bewildered, wincing, and rubbing his neck. “Holy shit.” Suddenly the site of the TV busted open called to Phil's mind lines from Hermann Hesse’s Demian: “The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world.”

But the two lines completing the quote which follow, Phil forgot: “The bird flies to God,” and, “that God's name is Abraxas...”