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Chapter Ten

"From Baghdad to the Rising Star"

        Pressing Moses back into service, I stood witness to, but never understood, the luxuries these sanctimonious snowbirds heaped on themselves and the horseshit they piled on one another.
    Not a day too soon, my stay in the land of sunshine was ending, and I looked forward to the stolid reality of my stark Kansas apartment. Gladly, I stuffed my shaving bag into the Caddie's glove compartment and stowed my grocery sack of clothes behind the driver's seat. After chauffeuring my parents to the airport to catch their Summerbird Escape back to St. Louis, I finally began the first leg of my long journey home.
    Before entering the turnpike, though, I veered back onto the secondary roads and went for one last look at the stained blacktop where Morningone's carwash had been. Conglomerate Causeway seemed peaceful and innocently commercial; the casual visitor could never realize the evil it presided over.

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     Back at sea level off Alaska Boulevard, in the gully between Morning's turf and the Valdez truckstop, I discovered a smashed chaise lounge and tattered spare-wheel cover, both aquamarine and coated with black goo. Crossing the ravine with Moses, I marched into the truckstop office and tried to describe the decimated articles to the gasaholic supervisor. But he was only interested in his stupor.
    While he snored, I commandeered the cordless phone and called Kingdom City, walking back out to the litter-filled gully as the connection rang. Judy answered, politely, but didn't sound very good. She said her grandfather was just finishing up at his drafting table and would be with me, shortly.
    In a moment, Ména came to the phone, sounding quite well, and I asked if he'd heard from Morningstar.
    He said that he had. "As a matter of fact, Margot phoned yesterday to say she would be stopping in Kingdom City today. Why do you ask?"
    I told him that I'd found her horse murdered and mutilated.
    Ména sighed. "I thought she sounded strange, as if she were talking under duress."
    He asked for the details of the crime and I gave them all to him, including the missing testicles. He claimed that any number of satanic sub-cults which made up the SOS might be responsible, but the original mainline nazis were most notorious for their testicle collecting.
    Ména pardoned his use of the vernacular. "Hitler originated the practice with intravenous injections of pulverized bulls' balls. How sad, David. Hope was my step-son Lone Eagle's favorite pony. He gave it to Margot on his deathbed."

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     Turning to a lighter subject, I asked how Judy was doing.
    Ména's voice lifted. "Kineahora!! She's doing so much better." He said she no longer spent her hours listening to vacuous music and performing pagan-like dance rituals in front of the tv set. Instead, she was concentrating on her academic lessons and spending time outdoors, exploring the real world with friends.
    Satisfied there was no further evidence to be culled from the gully, I told Menachem that I'd stop by on my way home, then headed for the office.
    He said a visit was an excellent idea. "Unless she's been kidnapped, Morningstar should be here and well-rested by then. Judy found an original lithograph of Mr. Sam's Cosmic Flow Chart. I want to review with you and Margot what remains to be done before the Return, how it might help you find the Ark."
    I didn't ask my mentor what Return or Ark he was referring to; I figured he'd let me know at the right time.
    Ména cleared his raspy throat and said he'd checked with "friends in high places" since my call from the White House. The SOS tag on the Empire Express was registered to a '67 Mercedes Motorcoach belonging to the Tri-County Historical Society of Dickson, Tennessee.         I told him I wasn't surprised and he said he wasn't either. "We'll design our defenses as soon as you get here, David. In the mean time, I want you to talk some sense into my granddaughter."
    Reluctantly, Judy returned to the phone and told me about her butterfly Innocence. "It was getting so Innocence wouldn't even leave the jar when I took the top off; so Gramps made me set her free."
    I told Judy it was for the best, that her butterfly was probably getting tired of being put back in the bottle every time it had just about accepted freedom. "Innocence must have figured it was easier to accept fate than to be repeatedly disappointed."

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     But before I could add that Innocence might return on her own someday, an electronic chime interrupted our conversation and Judy left to answer the door.
    Coming back on the line, Ména told me to be careful on my way north. "When you get here, David, I'll have Judy prepare a feast of Chicken Kiev for all of us."
    Eagerly, I accepted the dinner invitation and told Ména about Martin. "I ran into my uncle down here and he said that the Pyres all moved to Kansas City this year."
    When Ména said he wasn't surprised, I told him that I was getting tired of everyone beating around the bush. "Who the hell's this Hista joker, why's he after me, and what the hell does he expect to gain?"
    Calmy, Ména asked whether I was ready for the whole truth. I said that I was.
    He cleared his larnyx. "All right, then. Hista is..."
    "Schweinhunt!!" "Shicekopf!!" "Afterloch!!" Teutonic prophanities cut Ména off.
    But not before he could roar. "Don't let them have the Ark, Dan..."
    The line clicked dead. I called back several times, but there was no answer.
    Feeling helpless, I placed a twenty-dollar bill on top of the supervisor's cock-eyed hunting cap, filled the family canoe and headed north. I decided to stay away from the turnpikes and interstates, sticking to the backroads and secondary highways, the so-called blue highways. Thus, I hoped to evade the SOS until I was able to help Ména and Morningstar. At the same time, I could take in the scenery and be reassured there was good reason to save the Earth from our evil.

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     All day and half the night, I pondered the riddle of nature and reality as the rural landscape rolled by. Finally, I grew too tired to steer straight and spent the balance of the night parked in front of an abandoned general store.
    At first light, I moved north over the blue highways again. Many hours and miles later, near midnight once more, I was drowsy and narrowly missed rear-ending the station wagon in front of me. So I steered for the interstate's outer road to get my bearings and maybe some caffiene.
    Clear of the southern states, I had less than four hundred miles to go, but needed sleep, or coffee. For over a hundred and fifty more miles, however, every interstate enterprise in sight was mysteriously closed. At last, still belching month-old garlic, I swerved off the west outer road, coasted under the interstate to the east outer road, and rolled onto the large gravel lot of an aging Illinois service station. The lot was empty except for a Lincoln limo around the side, but GAS 'n EATS looked open for business.
    Staggering (even with my trusty cane) into the establishment, I asked where the payphone was, as politely as possible considering my sleep-deprived agitation.
    The nightwaitress chirped tersely. "Over there next to Elvis. They call me Gert. Need some coffee? Sit in the booth by Roy Baby."
    I nodded weakly and she galloped toward the kitchen door, on which hung a life-sized paisely likeness of Elvis Presley.
    A skinny, strung-out female punched up "HOTEL CALIFORNIA" on the scratchy juke box as I limped over to the chrome-plated phone. I dialed Kingdom City and examined fluorescent Elvis while the connection rang. Against an azure velvet background, Elvistimo stood with his ornate cowboy boot perched atop the front tire of a latemodel flamingo-pink Corvette.

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     Finally, a machine answered in Kingdom City and a sad recording of Judy's stressed-out voice asked me to leave my phone number.
    I spoke plainly. "This is David Daniels. In case anyone wants to know, I'm at 618-555-6606, a payphone at the Gas and Eats near Marion, Illinois. I'll wait for anybodys call."
    As I hobbled over to my designated booth beside pastel Roy Orbison, a bickering couple on the other side of the austere nightstop caught my attention. Collapsing into the booth, I struggled to keep my eyes from blurring. The male of the troubled twosome was doing most the yapping. He was a brawny black dude; the female a fragile feline with chalk-white features. Patent leather black boots, glittering diamond jewelry, gold tooth fillings and an overlarge vanilla mohair sweater seemed to be the superficial stud's claim to fame.
    His name was probably something like Big Boy, I concluded, just as the payphone rang once, waitress Gert grabbed it and hollered. "Hey Big Boy, it's M. Tee calling, your man's secretary up in KC."
    Big Boy sneered at his girl friend and swaddled to the phone. While he jacked his long-distance jaws, Gert scampered over and I ordered a Nightrider Special.
    She gave me free advice. "I wouldn't be starin' at Big Boy if I was you. Cause he's awful sensitive, almost downright paranoic."
    I told her that I was looking at Elvis. "But he could of never owned a 1984 Corvette. What psychedelic idot painted that silly thing?"
    Gert insisted that he painted it hisself. "The King's still alive and runs an art studio and poetry room out in East L.A. Big Boy bought me the picture from Jesse, Elvistimo's little known, but very talented, twin brother. Jesse sings and plays a bubble-blowin' saxophone in a travelin' gamblin' casino called the Hound Dog."
    I told Gert that I'd heard of the Hound Dog before.
    She smiled, big and pink-gummed. "Well ain't it a small world?"

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     As she set the table and scooted off to fetch my food, I examined my industrial-grade knife, fork, and three assorted spoons. What extravagant rituals we humans have developed to civilize the ingesting of dead organisms into our alimentary canal. I took a giant gulp of hot coffee, closed my eyes, and was just about to doze off when something tilted the table.
    Pulling my lids open, I saw Big Boy bottom out my booth's rusty springs as he sat too close beside me.
    He spoke with a simulated island lisp and whorehouse halitosis. "Hey maaan, whas happnin'? I'm Big Boy. Whas your name, maaan?"
    Cautious (not paranoid), I gave him my middle name, Richard (just in case Big Boy's phone call had something to do with David).
    His head bobbed like my father's. "Hey, maaan, tas cool, tas cool, Richard, I can dig te nuu name, maan."
    Sweatbeads rolled down his abbreviated forehead onto his blood-blistered nose as he offered me "some free blow." He said the cocaine was complimentary because we were both Jewish. To try and prove it, he pulled out a gaudy drug vial with a diamond-studded star on its lid.
    I could care less how he knew I was Jewish, but wondered whether he really thought a six-sided star made anyone Jewish anymore than a four-limbed Latin cross made one Christian.
    Bad Breath yelled to his little trollup, Domino, to watch the front window for "de fuzz."
    She shrieked back nervously. "It all clear, Merry, 'cept for a black Posche with a long blonde partygirl 'hind the wheel. She 'ust sit there talk on her caw phone."
    Big Boy Merry bobbed his head. "Is cool. Dat mus be de Raven. But don' ever call me Merry in public, girl, or I give ya' awhuppin'." Massaging his fat gullet, the big shot dumped a pile of white flake on the black formica table, just as Gert arrived with my food.

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     The affected African rolled a hundred dollar bill into a tube and Gert begged. "Hey, Big Boy, you gonna turn goodtime Gert on, too?"
    The bully emptied his flared nostrils onto a black aviator's scarf and nodded to Gert, reluctantly. While she snorted, I told the unwelcome merchant that I didn't want any of his wares, free or otherwise.
    He sighed, so sincerely. "Bu' ma' fine semite friend, you look so tiiirred."
    I explained if coffee didn't wake me up, I'd just have to take a nap out in the car. As I reached for my cup, Big Boy grabbed it and gave it to Gert.
    I was just about to get angry when his razor-knicked, tiny brown tulip of a shaved head began bouncing, talking to Gert. "Give dez mann a pot o' de special expresso coffee and put it on ma' tab."
    Gert scurried away and was back in no time. As she poured from a big bronze pot, Big Boy grabbed a couple sugar cubes from a leaded crystal goblet that Domino brought over and plopped them into my jewelled demitasse.
    He smiled devilishly. "Pooor cane sugga fom Domino. I know you like it my boy."
    I took a sip and set him straight. "I'm not your boy."
    But it tasted great. I gulped more and instantly decided that it was the most marvelous coffee I'd ever tasted. As soon as I emptied my cup, Big Boy dumped all the sugar cubes into the pot and whispered that I could call him Little Baghdad. Gert told me to call her Red and refilled my demitasse, more than once. My eyes opened overwide.
    Actually, all our eyes were opened overwide, as were our mouths, talking about everything and nothing, each of us sincerely believing that what we had to blabber about couldn't wait because the fate of the entire world hung on our every word. I wondered why anyone in their right mind would break the law to buy cocaine when coffee like this was still legal. When I began to brag about what a wonderful place Kansas, my bubble burst.

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     Big Boy/Merry/Little Baghdad scoffed. "Knock off de booshit, my funny friend. Its te cokane talkin' my main mannn."
    In the middle of a deep breath, I asked the obvious. "What cocaine?"
    The big brute chuckled. "In de sugar cubes, my funny friend."
    Grabbing all three gold chains around his neck, I dragged the lard ass to his feet and choked him - until Gert pulled a tiny pistol from her garter belt, pressing it to my temple. Domino shrieked, then went back to rapping with herself.
    Gert meant business. "That's enough, Dickie boy. Let the black bastard go."
    Holding my grip as I stared into Big Daddy's little bloodshot eyes, I told Gert to go ahead and do whatever she had to. To my surprise, she turned the gun on my foe and ordered him to apologize.
    The gutless freak cried (without an affected accent). "I'm so, so sorry!"
    As I let loose, he dropped limply to the floor, but Gert continued to hold the gun to his head.
    He begged and sobbed, confronting a threat without the shield of drug. "No! I'm afraid to die!"
    Gert ground her hips twice. "Well, shall I kill him, Richard?"
    I said that she better not. "The little cry baby'll never learn to behave himself then."
    Baghdad burped, then wheezed. "Oh thank you, Sir Richard. My boss in KC said you was King David's ghost."
    Despite my clemency, Gert moved the gun to Little Boy's crotch. "Well, I think I'll blow his limp little weinie off, just for kicks."

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     He grabbed himself and shrieked. "No, no! Please don't. I can't stand pain."
    Pulling the trigger, Gert's playful voice warbled. "Aw, the poor wittle babee wet his purtee pants."
    And she squirted water all over Little Baby's vanilla velvet slacks. Gert and I laughed nervously and I told her to put my breakfast and a tank of gas on the sap's tab.
    Struggling to his feet, Baghdad was still visibly rattled as his stubby fingers handed me a packet of coke. "I'm sorry man but I was only following orders. Take this so you don't get the jones too soon."
    I told him to keep it, that I needed to get straight because I still had alot of travelling to do. Smoothing his sweat-soaked mohair, the cowardly oaf said he might be in Kansas for a big buy in the fall and offered me the complimentary coke again.
    I took the crap from his clammy mit and sprinkled it on the Nightrider Special I didn't get to eat. "If you come to my state, Little Boy, don't call me, call your undertaker. That's not a threat, it's a promise from Free Kansas."
    Collecting Moses, I thanked Gert for the service and hurried toward the door.
    Little Boy issued a warning. "David Richard, you told Gert not to shoot me so I tell you to watch out for the Raven's black Porsche."
    Domino agreed. "Dat's right!"
    I told her that I would and pointed my cane at her Slo Boy. "If you have any sense, Mr. Baghdad, you'll say a prayer of thanks tonight that I didn't shove this cane up your candy ass and turn you into an all-day sucker."

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     Apologizing to Gert and Domino for the profanity, I opened the door, quietly apologized to Moses, and stepped outside. A black Porsche blitzed off the lot, east toward the interstate, as I inhaled the night air. I couldn't feel whether the wind was cool or hot, but I felt good (or at least thought so).
    After filling the Caddie, I limped over to the black limo parked by the kitchen entrance. The bastardized Lincoln had a bone-white leather roof, a hood and trunk decorated with fire-engine-red pinstripes and barely perceptible green stars, plus an expired Washington D.C. license plate which read: BAG DAD. The drugmobile's plush interior was no less gaudy than its exterior. I felt like slashing the camel's-hair upholstery to teach Little Boy a lasting lesson, but settled for filling the front seat with garbage from two nearby cans.
    Satisfied temporary justice had been served, I returned to the Seville and headed north, on the interstate. I wasn't about to hide from a few nazis. Unwittingly, I tuned the radio to acid rock. In a few minutes the hi-tech music turned sour and I cursed the black bastard again. What a pitiful specimen of such a proud people he was.
    Becoming paranoid, I slowed down, sat up rigid, and watched everywhere for the law. They'd never believe that I was the victim. Then I became depressed and my stomach felt like a dirty mop after a busy day at the abattoir. But I felt nowhere near as shitty as when my prescription for Jitterlin was abruptly cancelled by Dr. Capol. Without an invite, that long ago summer after my forced departure from Braggs Consruction focused itself in my cocainized crania.



        I was recently unemployed when I became involved with The Tree, a topless dancer named Dana Tremain. My world of financial independence (and freedom from Formington) seemed doomed at any rate, so I went ahead and did coke with the tall feline for several weeks and blew my wad all at once.

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     Coming to my senses (and the bottom of my bank account) in short order, I informed Dana that our relationship was over. She later got involved with one of Braggs' higher-ups who quickly passed the word onto my father that I was a real cokehead. And dear dad told Capol that coke was the reason I didn't want to be an engineer anymore.
    Capol called me long distance from St. Louis and told me to start taking Jitterlin. "I've been prescribing it to your father for several years. It doesn't have the obvious side effects of coke."
    I told him I hadn't used coke in a couple months, but he told me to try the Jitterlin, that I'd like it. So I did, having no idea that it was a chemical concoction for hyperactive children of impatient parents. I took Jitterlin q.i.d. for two months, until Thanksgiving weekend when Capol suffered one of his alcoholic tantrums and told me that he couldn't mail the prescriptions to me anymore, that I'd have to come to St. Louis to get them.
    When I metabolized the last tablet, I got so depressed I thought I would die. I wanted to blow my brains out just to vent the sad pressure in my mind. I'd been clean for four months, but was forced to scavenge some coke just to give me the energy to drive to St. Louis for help. I didn't know the depression was Jitterlin withdrawal; Capol surely didn't tell me.
    When I was admitted to his hospital, Capol's old flame, LIz, discovered coke in my blood and scheduled me for re-electrification. Thank God, though, I fled to freedom in Kansas. Finally, after several weeks of lonely fatigue, my neural synapses accepted Jitterlin denial and my depression receded to its normal level. Of course, Capol still supplied me with Nullium and I continued to take it.



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     Stopping in Mt. Vernon to splash my face and comb my hair before delivering the family canoe, I was delighted to hear the latenight news announce that a major drug bust near Marion had resulted in the arrest of "Sadam Barry, alias Big Boy Baghdad." His alleged girlfriend had summoned police to investigate the garbage I'd dumped in the limo.
    Nevertheless sick, I crossed the Mississippi and headed for the St. Louis suburbs. Still nauseous when my father asked me to have breakfast with him, I agreed anyway. Up at the Mock Mound, I pushed aside my uneaten Egg Mocklette when pop handed me an envelope. It was a letter from my Uncle Mogan Daniels down in New Orleans.
    Pop said that his brother was retired and someone had bilked his life savings. "I think Mogan wants money for some new eye operation. Read the damn thing for me, and if he's asking for money, I don't want to know anything about it."
    I looked at the letter and told dad that it wasn't asking for money, that it was just a friendly hello.
    Adjusting his hearing aids, dad whined. "Yeah, well I wish the panhandler would leave me alone anyway."
    I told dad that Uncle Moagie was no panhandler. "He's your only brother and he's been blind most of his life."
    Dad scoffed. "Whatever you say." Then he went on to tell me that when he promised to loan me enough money to get my video business going again, he was under duress. "I thought you were dying, son."
    I told him not to worry about it. "I'll just go ahead and sue Dr. Capol."

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     Dad's dikephobic eyes nearly blew from their sockets and his egoistical bubble of self-benevolence burst right there in the elitist dining room of the Mock Mound as he shouted. "Well why the hell don't you just sue your damn mother and me too?!?"
    I thought to myself that I would if I could, but kept quiet.
    Back at the house, dad offered me a twenty dollar bill for gas.
    I told him I had my own money and moved toward the couch where mother was lounging. I asked if she remembered the motorbike accident I had when I was 13, when she found me in the front yard in a pool of blood.
    She moaned. "How could I forget it? I was in the middle of mah-jongg."
    I apologized and went on to ask if she saw a leather pouch or a white marble egg on a necklace anywhere near. Missing Morningstar had told me, before our tryst was so rudely interrupted, that I should have gotten an egglace at puberty, at the same time my eyebrow was cut.
    Mother said she didn't really remember a silly egg or anything. "But I'll have your little sister look around for it down in Florida. We took your father's junk trunk down there last winter. If Bitsey finds anything, I'll give it to you at Christmas, if we're back from Sun City." She kissed my finger and closed her eyes.
    I decided to try one more time. "I know we have our differences, but I love you both."
    The response from both was the same as before, so I decided to give up for the time being. Using the phone in the utility room, I called Kingdom City and got a message that Ména's line was no longer in service. Outside in back, my so-called Super Sport's battery was dead as a doornail from sitting for six weeks, so I helped myself to a jumpstart from two of pop's 6V golfcart batteries.

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     At last, heading west toward Kansas, my nerves were still rattled from the coke but the milemarkers descended rapidly. A few miles east of Kingdom City, I spent my last ten dollars on seven gallons of premium and continued to Menachem's place. Parking on the shoulder, I got out into the dusty heat, another good day to fry. But the mobile home was gone. I crossed the interstate with Moses and found a construction worker covering the cul-de-sac with little boulders of broken asphalt.
    I asked the pink-haired, blue-eyed ditchdigger what happened to the construction trailer that used to be there.
    Wiping yellow sweat from his lumpy pate onto a maroon cloth, the aborted soul said he was new on the job. "I just do as I'm told and keep my mouth shut." Stuffing the dirty brown rag under his Treblinka death blouse, the indentured aryan went back to busting boulders, serving his sentence in hell.
    I noticed a curious name sewed into his tattered prison shroud and queried the guy. "Kirk Waldheim, who hired you?"
    The jackal had no idea. He said he couldn't read and didn't even know his name was Kirk. "All I know is I woke up over by that damn ditch and a couple real skinny storm troopers ordered me to break up the asphalt to hide the entrance to this cul-de-sac. I take orders and mind my own business."
    As young Waldheim continued to make little boulders from big ones, I looked around and found Joe stalin's sickle and red bandana not far from the drainage ditch.
    After searching in vain for another hour, I returned to my car and got underway. Notwithstanding a horrible headache, I turned on the radio and listened to a call-in broadcast about German reunification. Hoping there weren't any little hitlers still running around, I cursed Baghdad for the hangover he'd given me and slipped into a Temporary Rest Area near Columbia (for some temporary sleep).

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     By morning, my back was killing me from laying across the center console. Carefully unfolding myself, I continued toward home, with the radio loud to take my mind off the hunger pains that accompany an empty wallet.
    A few miles my side of Booneville, I spotted something in the median, a giant walking stick with a bright blue ribbon tied around one end and blowing in the breeze. Coasting to a stop on the shoulder, I got out and speed-limped across three lanes of growing traffic. The stick was Menachem's. Under the ribbon, curled twice around the sceptor's hand-hold, was a weathered parchment, probably Mr. Sam's Cosmic Flow Chart. After a quick peek, I slipped the lithograph under my shirt and was about to head back to the car when a second ribbon caught my eye.
    Dropping the sceptor, I rushed through the gully with Moses to the royal blue strip of satin. Still fluttering in the damp morning breeze, it was tied around one of the short copper candleholders Judy used to illuminate our feast. Sticking the holder in my back pocket, I searched for its mate. The soggy gully reeked of crushed honeysuckle and baked motor oil, but yielded no second candleholder.
    Less than twenty yards from the first, though, I found a newspaper-sized construction sign. Its clean-cut stake had obviously never been driven into the ground, but its placard was too muddy to read. With my boot heel, I began to chip away at the muck which had baked under at least one afternoon sun.
    Working from the bottom up, I uncovered: Prescott Construction Ltd. Pausing to wonder whether Ména was really Prescott Mathews, my high school chemistry teacher and wrestling coach, I was about to break away the rest of the caked mud when a siren sounded and I looked around.
    A Highway Patrol Harley squealed to an angled halt in front of my Chevy and its chrome megaphone hollered harshly. "Mr. Daniels, drop the sign and lift your hands high, up over your head."

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     After the razor-creased rookie hustled across the interstate and frisked me, I asked him what the problem was and how he knew my name.
    Allowing me to lower my hands, the perfectly groomed trooper removed his helmet and filled me in. "My dispatcher received a phone tip that you're dangerous and need psychiatric attention for a chronic mental illness."
    I told him that I had good reason to be in the median, that two friends of mine were kidnapped. "I'm not dangerous or mentally ill and never was." After threatening to visit a slander suit on anyone who said otherwise, I cooled down and showed him the walking stick, candleholder, and construction sign.
    I gave him my theory. "They must have thrown these things out the window of their mobile home while it was being towed away with them locked inside."
    As it turned out, the officer had chatted often with Ména and Judy and gladly gave me a hand getting their things into my car. Climbing into the hot car myself, I asked Patrolman Ron Rames if the person who called to complain about me had identified his or herself.
    He adjusted his Easy Rider shades. "A lady with an Hungarian accent."
    As I started my solid-lifter engine, the tappets clattered and Ron closed my door. "Fine looking SS396 you have here, Mr. Daniels."
    I pushed in the clutch and boasted. "There's really an L-88 under the hood."
    "I've read about the 427 c.i.d. aluminum L-88, but never really ran across one. Would you put your SS through the gears for me? But back off nine miles past the speed limit, please."

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     I nodded and he waved me out onto the boiling tarmac. Revving my engine a bit past seven grand (to take my mind off more serious matters), I slipped my boot sideways off the clutch. The heavily sprung pedal banged up against the bottom of the dash and the bellhousing twisted in agony as my positraction spindles broke loose for a second, then got some pitiful semblance of traction. My speed increasing slowly, I glanced into the mirror and saw vaporized rubber everywhere. Feathering the accelerator for an instant, I nailed it again and all five hundred horsepower dug into the sticky asphalt.
    With the seatback flattening my shoulder blades, I reached painfully forward and threw a powershift. Moments later my thunder-carriage showed 74 miles per hour and I let up, leaving half my rear tread and a full gallon of hi-test gasoline in Boone County, Missouri.

        Settling back to the completely legal limit, I removed the indelible lithograph from my shirt and spread it out on the center console, using Moses as a paperweight. Rolling westward, I perused the vaguely familiar parchment with my right eye.
    I remembered lucidly, from years before, that Mr. Sam Cohen, my host at Puberty Park, claimed his overall mission was to "define, confine, and ultimately refine time." At that particular point in time, though, my mind was dwelling more on Mr. Sam's shapely nieces, Donna and Rhonda. Sam didn't say much then about Betty's MOP theory: the Mohla, Ohla, and Pohla, the three overlapping levels of human consciousness. His comments dealt more with the gradated levels of God's consciousness: TOLA, Gola, and Reohla.

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     The Crippled Man, as Mr. Sam called himself, claimed God's simplest level, Reohla, embodied not only all three levels of human awareness but also the material world we consider reality. Gola is what most of us think to be God, because most of us have a spiritual link with Gola, via mutually phase-modulated motron waves. Then I remembered the old Marine went on to say that his captain's link with Gola was greater than his crew's, and his captain's Ohla was actually on the same level with the rest of our collective Mohla. At the time, I thought the Crippled Man was referring to his captain at Iwo Jima, but now I had a sneaking suspicion he meant an officer of a more stellar, ambillectual rank.

     Remembering that TOLA, the loftiest symbiotic level of God's consciousness, was totally unknowable to any human still in the flesh, I tuned in some mellow music on my FM converter and tried to relax. Motoring past Independence and leisurely entering Kansas, I wondered why Menachem had disguised himself as Prescott Mathews, or vice-versa. I decided to hose off his sign as soon I got home.

end page 185

     Approaching the YOU'RE IN LENEXA NOW! sign, I noticed they'd come up with a new slogan - City of the Rising Star. Better than 'House of the Rising Sun' I thought, as my Chevelle coughed itself out of gas. Less than a hundred yards from Poor Richard's Apartment House, I coasted to a halt behind O. Henry's Emporium. I grabbed Moses and made my way around to the front of the old-fashioned convenience store, with no lingering regret about turning down dad's petrol stipend of $20. [$20,000 may have been a different story.]
    It was good to see Biff's friendly face again, and I made a deal with him to mop O. Henry's storeroom in exchange for half a dozen out-of-date poorboy sandwiches. While I worked, Biff told me that attorney Leo Leonard stopped by and left word for me to call about videotaping a deposition.
    My mopping finished, I put two poorboys in the microwave, freed a sticky syrup valve in the snow cone machine, and told my old buddy Biff that I knew a rich man who refused to help his poor and blind brother. "Don't you think someone should add 'Thou Shalt Not Be Selfish' to the Ten Commandmants?"
    The microwave buzzed as Biff quipped. "Whatever you say, Moses!"
    I told Biff not to forget it and slowly ate the first overheated sandwich. I wasn't about to tell Biff my cane's name, but I did tell him how I'd fallen in love with an Arizona princess in Florida. "She said her spirit came from another planet."
    Biff growled. "Sounds like Navajo Folklore. Better be careful you don't go off the deep end again, big guy."
    That said, my attention returned to the mop I'd just used. As I took a bite of limp bologna, I decided to test the MOP theory. The sandwich tasted like an old inner tube, but I wanted to see if I could make Biff think it was really great.
    This is the best sandwich I ever tasted, I thought over and over as I chewed and chewed. This is the best sandwich I ever tasted.

end page 186

     When I finished the soggy thing, I started on the second, but Biff still hadn't said anything. Finally, I pushed the issue. "Don't you think these poorboys are the best sandwiches you ever tasted?"
    Biff groaned. "Who you tryin' to kid? They taste like old inner tubes." Belching boisterously, he tossed my cane to me as I ambled toward the door. "It's a long way from Lenexa to Mount Sinai. Better take the scepter, Moses."
    I caught Moses. "You can say that again."
    But he didn't have time to. As I opened the door, an attractive amazon sashayed right on in. April Butler was crocheted in lavender across her bulging business tunic and horny Biff started to shoot the bull with her.
    I headed to my car and got my clothes and Ména's construction sign. I used the still-muddy placard's stake as a second ungainly cane to struggle through fifty yards of wet mud (certainly not the Sinaitic peninsula) to the rear of Poor Richard's Rooming House. Scraping mud from my boots onto the fire escape, I hoped no one had stolen my video equipment - in the event I was forced to sell it for a grubsteak.
    My leg and hip were cramped worse than ever by the time I managed to climp up to the third-floor/rear hallway. As I unlocked my simulated walnut door, I could see some punk had stolen the potmetal Mezuzah from my doorpost.
    Unable to kiss the missing amulet or even my own sore ass, I stepped apprehensively into Poor Richard's musty domicile. No one had taken my video equipment, but the electricity and phone were disconnected. Depositing Ména's sign in the bathroom, I headed back downstairs and through the mud to get his walking stick.
    He claimed the durable pole had been in his family for more than a hundred generations. Whether it had been or hadn't, I didn't want some punk stealing it too. Using the well-balanced sceptor to scale my steps a bit easier the second time, I noticed five Hebrew letters carved deep into its hand-hold. Hanging Moses on a ceramic cactus I often wished I could water, I opened the window and took Ména's awesome sidekick into my bedroom for protection (mine).

end page 187

     I turned on a transistor radio and searched my night stand for the miniature Torah that Rabbi Stewart gave me at Formington. I was pretty sure it was transcribed in English and Hebrew. Sure enough, near the beginning of the First Book of Moses, I found the Jewish Star I hadn't worn in many years and discovered the on Ména's stick stood for the patriarch of them all - Abraham.
    Wearing my pewter necklace again, I used a dry wash rag to polish Abraham while I listened to the national news. Afterwards, cleaning up the apartment a little, I gazed into the littered woods out back and realized how much I missed Menachem, Judy, and Miss Morningstar, more than I could have ever imagined.
    Following a quick, cold shower, I left the water running and hefted the muddy construction sign into the tub. With the cold shower slowly dissolving the mud, I went back into the bedroom-just as Neil Diamond jumped from the radio with "THEY'RE COMIN' TO AMERICA!"
    Pushing the volume up, I pulled on a pair of jeans and stumbled back into the john. On opening the mildewed curtain, I saw what had been covered up. Against an air-brushed mural of billowy white clouds, skyblue block letters boldly proclaimed:


Prescott Construction, Ltd.

end page 188

     I set the virgin fibreboard tablet in a dry corner and headed for my couch. The sun was going down now, so I foraged through the makeshift nightstand for a candle. As I ripped open a whole box of them, a radio newscaster began a satellite interview.
     With tears of admiration, a high Japanese dignitary described our dilemma. "Whether the world will survive and fluorish now depends on an altruistic international leadership. For one hundred years before World War II, the British showed the way. For all the years since World War II, the United States has more or less unselfishly showed the way toward a better world. Who will show the way now?"
     Glad to hear someone had appreciated what generations of Americans had sacrificed, I lit a candle and went to push it into Judy's holder. Already filling the holder's recess, though, was a tightly folded napkin. Enhanced by paraffin flicker, I read what was written on the napkin in a lady-like scribe:

Morningstar, my Grandfather
and I will all be fine.

         But I'd learned the hard way to look on both sides. On the other side of the molting napkin, in handsome calligraphy, there were wise words from the nice old gentleman:

end page 189


         My Dearest DAVID,
Deep in the heart of humankind's soul there dwells an eternal Ark. When the time is right this Ark will unlatch and open of its own accord. Inside you will find the power to make all good dreams come true.

         Turning off the radio, I thumbtacked the Cosmic Chart on the wall over my Macintosh and dropped onto my couch for a candlelight nap. With the message from Ména resting on my chest, I said the Sh'ma - plus a personal note. "Thank you, dear God. It's really good to be alive again."
    Eyes closing easily, I listened for the evensong of a land promised four thousand years before.

end chap 10



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