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At the end of my double Sabbath, sundown Sunday, Leo's secretary called to say that Rabbi Green had been summoned to Israel for the High Holy Days.
Repeatedly clearing her laconic voice, Delilah explained that L. L. was transferring my case to another expert in Missouri law. "Father Peter Martin, a cunning corporate legal mind, will see you at 1PM tomorrow, sharp. Legal Suite 1306 of the Empire Building in KCMO. Don't be late." Obviously, she wasn't aware that Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur had both passed over a month before.
Nevertheless, Monday noon, well-rested and leery of that anachronistic fact, I left to meet my newest legal insider. Ms. Sampson's directions to the Empire Building were precise; the pretentious tower of power lay in the very groin of Kansas City, Missouri's downtown financial district. Hastening through the building's gilded glass vestibule, I paused when I noticed the building's bronze benchmark - curiously draped with a large brown chamois. As I lifted the drop cloth with Moses, the structure's veiled nomenclature revealed itself: M. Pyre Bank and Trust, erected 90 ah.
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How could I have been so dumb for so long? M. Pyre = Empire. I made my way to the john to think. Deciding to play the fool this one last time, I took a heavy-duty leak and headed for the elevator to possibly get a lead on my missing friends.
Upstairs, on the reinforced door of Suite 1306, there hung a makeshift sign: FATHER PETER MARTIN. The waiting room, except for a single repainted park bench, was empty. Limping over to the receptionist's window, I combed my hair in the translucent glass before announcing myself.
Without warning, the window whisked open and a totally hairless Eurasian secretary welcomed me. "You're almost three minutes late and Father Martin doesn't like that."
After telling me not to bother with my hair, boasting that she was a bonded lesbian, the well-scrubbed femme fatale activated an electric bolt and a secondary iron door sprung open. Cautiously stepping onto my foe's camel's-hair turf, I gripped Moses tightly and inhaled the pungency of boot polish and English Leather cologne. The man I knew to be Martin Pyre, not Peter Martin, stood on the far side of the room, his back to me, his hands clutching the grips of a chrome gatling gun - the sort of machine gun the Red Baron might have used if he'd flown a Harley instead of a Messerschmidt. Crossing the mangy brown throw rug, I cleared my throat and said hello.
Ignoring my pleasantry, Martin picked at the seat of his baggy brown britches, just above where they bloused into black marching boots. I sat on a small marble cemetery bench in front of a giant ebony desk, and couldn't help but notice how immaculately groomed my host's silver-blonde hair was.
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I spoke up again. "Leo Leonard sent me."
Martin's machine gun spoke back - exploding into convulsive action. A dense cloud of gray smoke lifting above his irregular head, the ugly joker held onto the jumping gun's grips for dear life. As the smoke collected at the steepled ceiling, spent brass accumulated at his feet. Twenty seconds and hundreds of rounds later, a heavy quiet returned and Martin swung the ungainly weapon to one side. I adjusted my eye patch, just to be positive I wasn't hallucinating.
Pulling a childish painting down over his metropolitan sniper port, this devil in sad disguise turned toward me and smiled mechanically. After buttoning his clerical collar, he gestured back over his well-padded shoulder to the amateurish watercolor. "A Schicklgruber original. Priceless."
I stood as the loser goose-stepped towards me, slammed his heels together, then ceremoniuosly sat on an elegant brown chaise lounge on the other side of the battlewagon desk. As he polished its ivory trim, I noticed the overbearing workstation's given name, milled deeply into its vanadium vanity panel: BISMARCK II.
Polishing done, he fiddled with his priestly white collar again, then smoothed the brown cashmere of his waist-length jacket. Resembling some bizarre cross between Hermann Goering and Bing Crosby, he remarked that I was rather late. "I'm on a tight schedule and was forced to postpone my luncheon date."
I feigned sadness. "I'm very sorry, Father Martin."
He claimed his noon recreation was not all frivolity, a bit of business too. "Those old ladies who sit at the Bus Stop all day with grocery sacks drive the property values down." After explaining his potshots were but blanks, practice for the future, he said he was my friend, for me to call him Father Peter. Eyeing my cane, then my patch, his face twisted horribly, showing the same rotten teeth I'd seen outside Clark City two decades before.
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I held Moses up and explained that I fell on a hard mattress in a cheap motel and got flour in my eye at a donut shop. "But neither have anything to do with my current legal complaint."
His heavy makeup cracked as he rose to his feet and lost his cool. "Then why the hell bother me with the details?" Bending forward at his over-starched waist, he spoke gingerly into an antique microphone. "M. Tee, contact Judge Roe and Senator Onan up at the Goose Room and advise them of my delay. Tell them I'll bring a bonus consignment, then get in here with my alternative lunch."
Presently, the astringent feline waltzed into the room in patent leather hot pants, toting a silver platter of assorted wares. Hoisting his baggy trousers at the crotch, Martin sat back down, looking rather elegant in his own unholy way, similar to how hitler might have dressed if he'd been tailored by joint venture of the Marienplatz and Vatican's finest. Lifting a handful of yellow greaseballs from the tray, Herr Mortonio began to toss them, one at a time, into the acrid air. "Cheese coated cornballs marinated in sauerkraut cream. Excellent for the mind and easy on the gums." Finally, on the sixth attempt, he caught one in his small, pyorheal mouth - just as M. Tee poked a hypodermic needle deep into his varicose wrist.
As he nibbled, M. Tee pushed the plunger and I noticed how his ugliness was anything but coordinated. Hollywood hairdo, rosey cheeks, and surgically taut forehead were the calling cards of a young man; craggy eyes, mouth, and hands the features of a near-dead one.
After a feeble, frothy burp, the corporate leader directed M. Tee to leave the room, then withdrew a wrinkled sheaf of papers from a bottom drawer - the medical bio I'd left with Leo. Hopefully, Rabbi Green hadn't joined the ranks of those harmed on my account.
Herr Pyre poked at a chrome bat switch. "Inspect my credentials on the east wall while I review your pitiful complaint."
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A black drape motored open, exposing a chrome wall covered with black degrees, sepia citations, yellow commendations, and red declarations. Stepping over with Moses, I pretended to be impressed. Noticing the recipient of each document had been carelessly covered up, I wondered who the nazi bastard bribed or killed to get, specifically, his Professional Engineer and Patent Lawyer licenses.
Martin hacked and mentioned that Delilah had reported that I was also a P. E. "We must stick together to build our future, Mr. Daniels." He pulled open a side drawer and tossed me a glossy brown brochure. "Take a look at one of my techno-slave's most recent developments, my labor-saving U.P. and A.S.S."
While I glanced at several disgusting photographs of M. Pyre's Urine Pump and Active Sanitary Sump (the dirty details of which I'll spare you), I thought for the first time how ironic it was - that the same state bureaucracy which labelled me insane when I went to Formington registered me a Professional Engineer but a few years later.
Interrupting my mental meanderings with renewed harshness, Martin insisted we would have a problem with the statutes of limitation regarding Drs. Lump and Capol. "Their mistakes were slight at any rate. We need go after the most recent and blatant offender, Dr. Daphney Riddle."
Tapping Moses on the Bismarckian desk, I told M. Pyre that I would never sue Dr. Riddle. "He's given me the chance for a new life, the life that Lump and Capol took away."
Martin cleared his melonomic voicebox, then claimed he got a desperate call from my father just Friday, threatening to sue all parties concerned if he and my nervous mother were dragged into court against their will. "You wouldn't want that on your conscience, now would you?" He slapped my file summarily shut. "I'm late for lunch. If you'd like to mull over your decision to sue Daphney Riddle for awhile, I'll loan you the keys to my new Kansas retreat in the Flint Hills, for as long as you like. They say there's biblical treasure buried nearby."
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I told him that I didn't need any time to think. "Doc Riddle is my friend."
M. Pyre's tiny lips pursed and quivered. "Oh Danu, you're as sentimental a fool as ever." Then he yelled for M. Tee to bring in his kilogram of Croak.
When I asked what Croak was, he grinned heinously. "Half and half. 50% Crack, 50% Coke. Strictly for the eclectic consumer. Bribery is so expensive these days, it's hard for clever lawyers to make what we've become accustomed to."
As M. Tee whisked into the room with a large, concave mirror of white drug, Martin uncovered an electronic scale recessed into his desktop. Without warning, the pale protégée's pelvis convulsed and she dropped the white powder all over the floor.
Martin howled. "Dummkopf! Du orientalish Dummkopf!!"
Down on her knees, M. Tee started to scoop the stuff up with razor-like chop sticks.
I'd had my fill of the bullshit and stood to make myself heard. "Tell me what you know about Blanche Barnes."
M. Pyre's face went spastic, as if he didn't want to say anything - but he did. "Of Big Brandy's three major orifices, her mouth is now the smallest." Then he laughed like a melonomic monkey.
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In disgust, I jabbed at his clerical collar with Moses and turned to leave before I did something illegal. At the very least, I wanted to tell him to go piss up a rope.
Amazingly, the heathen Pyre ripped off his collar and screamed at M. Tee. "Go get me a rope to piss up - right now!"
Leaping to her feet, the bald-headed debutante sucked a thumb of Croak and vaulted for the door. As the hyped-up finger artist ripped the giant door open, it vacuumed Pyre's toupee right off his head. The monster's satanic scalp appeared to be mostly purple scar tissue, mingled here and there with a sparse patch of stringy red hair. Obviously, he hadn't left Moammar's Giant Factory Outlet before the big blast. In the process of scrambling for his executive hairpiece, Martin's elbow accidently bumped a red rocker switch on the ledge of his desk. A vertical, red silk banner dropped over the chrome wall - bearing the SOS ensigna.
Slamming his crooked heels together, M. Pyre thrust his arm rigidly toward the bloody logo. "Empire!! My Empire forever!!"
To return another day, I slipped out of the sad domicile and advised M. Tee to find a new boss. "M. Pyre's a dead man, I promise."
Riding the elevator down to ground level, I felt confident that Pyre's pals had fallen for my ploy with April about the Ark and the Flint Hills. Not surprisingly, my car had been towed away by the Pyre Patrol, so the ticket said. As Moses and I ambled toward the state line, I wondered what it meant when I felt like telling Martin to piss up a rope and he read my mind, then obeyed. Could he truly be Hista, a subordinate officer of the ship Morningstar called StarFlight Salvation?
I began to lopsidedly jog every now and then, needing to get in as top shape as possible - now that I'd have no windfall compensation, nothing but my own abilities to rely on. But what about poor Brandy? I needed hard evidence to act within the law, not heretic hearsay. As best I could, I accelerated my pace west.
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When I had good reason, I could push myself. I was still in pretty good shape from High School wrestling, so the calistenics in the Marine Corps were relatively easy. To graduate Recruit Training, however, we girls had to do a two mile run with full packs. After a week of round-the-clock Mess Duty in the rain, I had a burning fever and started to cough up green stuff, hardly able to breathe. But I wasn't about to request permission to go to Sick Bay and get set back. I felt half-dead already, but still had the strength to do the push-ups and chin-ups. Sadly, I fell out every time we ran. Even Drill Instructor Callahan couldn't kick me back onto my feet. With the help of countless aspirins, I survived to the end - our final exam, the CMC. The night before the two-mile run, I prayed for strength.
But it didn't seem to help. I couldn't finish the run. Unable to breathe, I collapsed - but Callahan allowed two buddies to drag me the last half mile.
When they laid me at his feet, he knelt down and yelled in my ear that he'd had his eye on me for a couple weeks, that he thought I had pneumonia. "Gentlemen, carry this rugged Gyrene to Sick Bay, then Graduation. On the double!!"
Even with an unsolicited lift into Kansas, I didn't get home to the City of The Rising Star until well after dark. Temporarily exhausted of both energy and money, I stumbled across an unused lottery ticket on the sidewalk outside O. Henry's and sold it to Biff for half a buck.
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He fished a coin from his smock and rubbed the $2 ticket frantically. "Fifty bucks, you sucker!"
After he settled down, my good-hearted friend awarded me a ten dollar consolation prize and I headed for Poor Richard's. How could I pursue a lasting relationship with Morningmate without the means to support her in the fashion she deserved?
First thing in the morning, Leo Leonard called and asked what happened to me on Monday. "Rabbi Green just phoned from his sanctuary in the Truman Arms Justice Center and said you didn't come for your appointment."
I explained how Delilah telephoned Sunday night and changed the appointment. "To a Father Peter Martin in the M. Pyre Building. An imposter."
Leo apologized. "No wonder Ms. Sampson left for Rio de Janeiro so suddenly. I'll reschedule your appointment with Rabbi Green - myself."
I told him it wasn't necessary. "Right now, I have some missing friends to find and a couple others to help with their new business."
After Leo made me promise to give him a call in January, I dunked my head in a basin of ice water and booted up my computer. On my orginal Macintosh 128, I worked up a couple advertising layouts with MacPaint, then headed up to the dated appliance outlet - a day late but hopefully not too many dollars short.
Up at the shop, having decided to run with my plan for Amoré, JR and Lucky already had most of the old merchandise boxed up for exchange. April had dropped off an unofficial advertising agreement the previous day, a covert contract to swap newspaper space for pizza and pasta. After I showed JR where to initial the document, I showed Lucky how to fill out the merchandise exchange forms, then hustled over to the Olde Towne Bank. Putting my video equipment up for collateral, I was able to float a minimal loan, enough to rock the business baby out of the conceptual cradle.
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There was much for the three of us to do that Tuesday. Late in the afternoon, it became obvious we had only enough money for one motorbike. Lucky would be the sole delivery boy, while JR would take orders and cook. For a few dollars a week, I was elected to do the paper and computer work; and, should I happen across a stray moped and business warrant, I could be the second Pizza Boy. On the proverbial fast track, the following Monday was scheduled for Amoré Pictures, Pizza, and Pasta's Grand Opening. If JR and Lucky could stay straight.
On the way home that evening, I borrowed a fishing pole from Biff and fished by the light of the moon on the chilly banks of Legler Lake. Back at Poor Richard's, I dropped two Sunfish into the electric skillet - and the lights went out.
Grabbing the walking pole named Abraham for extra authority, I banged my way down to the basement electric closet. There I found the hazardous-duty meter man, holding both my light and heat meters in his burley arms. Musclebound, he wore a leather vest over a grubby t-shirt, left and right forearms ostentatiously tatooed with MOM and DAD, respectively.
Attempting diplomacy, I calmly asserted myself. "I thought I heard that the power company didn't disconnect in winter."
He claimed the law said he couldn't interrupt my service if it was below thirty two degrees. "Earlier today, it was almost forty degrees. I just follow orders, bub."
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By Thursday, I had adapted to life without electricity once more; my mirrored coffee table stood on end in the hallway to reflect sunlight into the bathroom for cold showers and other things (not to risk a gas explosion by candlelight). With Mr. Sam's delivery due at 4:01, I grabbed my razor and Ména's walking stick and Abrahamed my way up to the Emporium for a hot shave.
To my delight, I found Morningstar filling in for Biff. Brushing her dazzling scarlet locks, she said she hoped the time spent at O. Henry's would keep her in touch with normal people. "A welcome change from the criminal heads I've been knocking around lately." She told me to take my time shaving, that Biff wouldn't be back for an hour. "He went home to have turkey dinner with his family."
My mouth watered as I told Morning how I loved broiled turkey with giblet gravy. "I can't wait until Thanksgiving."
Tenderly, Morningravy smiled. "David, today is Thanksgiving." She gave me a tempestuous kiss and asked me to have dinner with her.
Still lacking adequate funds, I told her I needed to go up to the Post Office then get home to watch a tv special.
Hugging Ména's big walking pole, Morning said she'd leased a cozy little cottage out west in Clearview City, but was planning on having turkey dinner nearby. "Up at the Pipe Club & Doll House on the Sante Fe Trail, right across from Smitty's. Stop by if you have trouble getting in the Post Office on Thanksgiving or watching television without electricity." Playfully, she wriggled her hungry hips.
Fending off the temptation to get intimate right there between the cooler and the commode, I shaved in luke warm water and latched on to Abraham. Together, we bid Morninglust temporary farewell and strolled out into the wind.
The currents blew cold from the east as I steered old Abe toward the Post Office. I knew too well where it was. Many a lonely midnight during my winter of denullification, still too jittery to be amongst people, I had trudged up to patronize the stamp machines and browse the new commemoratives - just for something to do. Thanksgiving - and my parents hadn't even called. Confident my days in the Sun were just over the horizon, I snugged my sweatshirt's parka and waited under the federal flagpole for something to arrive, holiday or not.
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A loud bell on the side of the building rang at 4:00, then twice again. Dissappointed and cold, at 6:01 by my Formington Timex, I turned to leave. Suddenly, though, the wind reversed and warm air blew from the west. The opaque sky cleared just long enough for the stars to twinkle and a majestic bird to land on top of the flagpole's bronze ball.
When the winged one cocked its gaudy head in my general direction, I stomped Abraham onto the floodlit asphalt and the wayward fowl quickly spiraled down. With it perched on my pole, I noticed a white band around its leg - a request to contact Mr. Sam in case of emergency. No name for the colorful bird though.
Wiping frost from my eye patch, I treked southwest toward the Sante Fe Trail with the bird fluttering above my right shoulder. The two time zones between the Lenexa Triangle and Puberty Park must have confused the tardy bird, I surmised. At Plumm, I was about to hang a hard left toward Poor Richard's, when the bird spiraled upwards and circled. So I stayed put, inhaling the family aroma of turkey and giblets that seemed to be coming from all directions, including Smitty's nearby market.
The bird returned briskly to Abraham as the paved alley convulsed. The awesome exhaust of a giant, purple motor home approached, its two chrome stacks belching white smoke into the now-royal blue sky. As the humongous hotrod's bronze wheels came to a screeching halt over behind the market, I stroked my feathered friend. The glitzy gargantuan's engines popped and sputtered to a stubborn halt as two tuxedoed chaps emerged from the forward hatch and hurried into the market's back door. Making my way over, I watched a third gentleman step decisively, if not gracefully, out of the polished nightcruiser. Bearing a cane in each hand and a pelerine cape hung down the back of his tweed smoking jacket, the resolute soul seemed to be standing the watch. Immediately, I recognized Dr. Daphney Riddle's determined posture.
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Approaching my good friend from behind, I perused the panoramic mural air-brushed across the heavenly coach's auspicious side. What vibrant hand could had wrought such a vertiginous masterpiece? Above the vehicle's unlit neon name, a gold leaf caption sprawled boldly athwart the whole roofline: JUST ANOTHER RAINBOW RIDER DEALING OUT JUSTICE!!!
Mazel tov, I thought many times over as I continued to inspect.
end chap 19
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