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Though the three bikers from the coast had departed, a hauntingly familiar aroma of jasmine lingered in my backroom. Sure enough, Kitty's head had blessed my now-neatly fluffed pillow, while scattered cushions and disheveled throw rugs indicated Paco and Sly had crashed on the living room floor. Maybe I could tear the foam rubber pillows into little pieces and sell them to hungry fans for a grubsteak.
Seeing Dreidle happily perched on top my computer, I was just about to drift off to the fragrance of jasmine - when the phone rang.
My jet-lagged parents told me what a wonderful Thanksgiving they'd passed in Sun City. Perturbed to hear I'd enjoyed the day without them, mom nevertheless invited me to have Christmas dinner with them and Victoria's family at the Mock Club, on December 26th or 27th. Mother wasn't sure which, and I really didn't give a damn. I'd see Victoria's family at Marshall's graduation. And it seemed mom and dad were going to spend December 25th back in Sun City on their Braggs' expense account.
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Popsicle, sounding relatively cheerful, came on the line and congratulated me. "Son, you're invited to join the Mockingbird Boys for New Years in Las Vegas. If you can't afford the Desert Inn, I'm sure you can still find a cheap room at Circus, Circus."
Not sure what to make of it, I told him I didn't need to go to Vegas. "But, dad, why did you congratulate me?"
Dear dad, clearing his throat, told me they ran into Doctor Capol down in Sun City. "Rudie said your lawyer formally notified both him and Liz Lump that you would not pursue a suit against either of them. Congratulations, son."
Just as Dad's high-tech phone announced the time was exactly eight o'clock, the line went dead. Obviously, the phone company was working overtime.
Before pulling the plug on my consciousness, I noticed a pink envelope on the orangecrate nightstand. It contained three thank-you's. Sly told me to stay in shape, and Paco told me to contact him through "Pentacular Productions" in Tinseltown if I needed help.
Kitty wrote that she took the liberty of washing my socks. "I don't want your feet to smell when we dance at the New Years Eve Gala, aboard The Great American Freedom Flyer."
Paperclipped to the note, were two train tickets.
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Stashing them in my wallet, I cracked the window and inhaled the dawn. Eleven pages into Leviticus, I passed out.
Late in the afternoon, with the smell of Kitty's jasmine still flirting with my olfactory lobe, I motored Herbie's moped across town to pay the electric bill with roulette winnings from the night before. What had been Kansas City Power & Light's business office was now THE PYRE COMPANY.
On Monday morning, my surprisingly sober friends helped me hoist Amoré's GRAND-OPENING banner. Lucky delivered JR's first batch of pizzas and films on a powder-blue Italian motorscooter that he nicknamed THE POPE.
Phoning Granny at the library, I asked if I could use Herbie's moped to deliver pizza until I was able to bail my car out of the tow yard. I promised to rebuild the motor come spring. With her permission, I built a plywood delivery box for the back of the little bike, then lined it with styrofoam to keep the food warm.
Business was booming by the very next day, and after a successful Tuesday night on the delivery route, I had lunch at Morningstar's cottage in Clearview City on Wednesday. Amoré's Pizza, Pictures, and Pasta were in such great demand by Thursday, that JR told me to keep my good eye open for a female chef to help out. He requested a southern belle with garlands of flaming-red hair.
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By the end of the week, I'd settled into a routine of afternoons with Morninglude and evenings on the delivery route with Herbie's moped (which had a new seat). I took Moses and Dreidel wherever I went - but something was missing. I had finally accepted that I would never relive all the years the doctors had taken from me - but it was more than that. It was more than anger at my aging parents. Friday afternoon, I decided to go have a pre-Sabbath talk with a Rabbi.
The only Kansas City Synagogue I was familiar with was over in Missouri where I'd videotaped a few Bar-Mitzvahs. Dreidel flew beside me as I steered the moped along the bumpy shoulder of the interstate thoroughfare.
The city air was heavy with carbon monoxide and garlic when we finally rolled into the littered alley alongside the poorly maintained house of worship. Unclipping Moses from his rubber holder under the gas tank, I found no one home and the sanctuary's door locked. Across the street was the only deli in western Missouri with the real stuff, so I went to spend my first Amoré paycheck.
The West Miami Deli's innards smelled just like my maternal Grandparents' apartment on Friday night; the owners even resembled my Grandparents who were pre-Bolshevik immigrants from Russia. Dreidel sitting quietly on my shoulder, I bought a giant bag of poppy-seed bagels, a large loaf of crusty rye bread, a pound each of corned beef and salami, a pint of chopped liver, a quart of potato salad, and six egg-stuffed pickles.
Recrossing the street and finding no one yet home, I sat on the side stoop and assembled a triple-decker Kosher sandwich. I'd received Rabbinical assistance before, more than once.
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Because my parents were too busy to enroll me in Hebrew School when I was nine, at the age of twelve I was forced to cram four years of Hebrew study into the few months before my Mock Mitzvah (it wasn't what a Bar Mitzvah was meant to be). Rabbi Minz, more an administrator than a theologian, tutored me all summer, recording my Hebrew readings from the Torah on a tape recorder so I could memorize (instead of understand) the entire ceremony. Rabbi Minz spent his daily lunch hour with me, but it took four hours on the bus to get to his office and back home, so I didn't have much time for my Pirsig Bikemotor that summer - but I became a man, according to country club tradition. According to Jewish tradition - God only knows.
Seven years afterward, at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, we girls got in and out of the rack at attention, seven days a week. We weren't allowed to utter a word to a soul, except when addressing Callahan or one of the other DIs to request permission to make a head call or go to sickbay. One of half a dozen Jews at MCRD, I was assigned two hours each Sunday with a Rabbi, in lieu of attending one of the less informal Christian Services. Rabbi Stang helped me cling to reality and I don't think I could have made it without him.
A few winters later, at Formington, one Rabbi Stewart helped me in the same simple way. Every Wednesday, he drove out from St. Louis and fed our discarded little clique-of-five - salami and rye bread sandwiches w/horseradish mustard. The cafeteria food was sweet, but bland, and I looked forward all week to the ethnic flavor. Usually, he'd bring enough for an extra sandwich, and we'd split it five ways - not always equally.
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One of our Jewish number named Hal Lowenstein had been a member of Benny Goodman's Band before suffering a nervous breakdown thirty years prior to my own open-ended internment. Hal L., as he liked to be called, wore a black coat and tie every day, his jet-black hair slicked into place. He once asked if Rabbi Stewart had heard from the St. Louis watchmaker who was fixing his Bulova. When the good Rabbi said he'd check on it right away, Hal said there was no hurry, that the repair shop had only been working on the watch for three years. Hal L. had already surrendered to time.
Rabbi Stewart was a very compassionate man. During our weekly visits, I think he hurt worse than we did. He paid for the salami and rye bread out of his own pocket, and when I asked him to persuade my parents to let me come back to St. Louis if I was ever released, tears came to his ancient eyes. Holding my hand, he claimed my parents didn't want me to come home, that when Ms. Killebrew told them of my possible discharge, they hurried up to the Form to convince her to keep me. Rabbi Stewart claimed my parents even showed the staff newsclippings to prove I was a danger to myself and society. Determined to keep me out of their natty hair, mom and dad even told Killebrew and Company how I ran away from their loving home in high school, and how my grades at college had fallen abruptly. A sure sign of madness, huh? How horrible for them.
Wiping his tired eyes, Rabbi Stewart rubbed my clenched fist. "Son, Ms. Killebrew says it's your parents who are the sick ones. But please don't judge them harshly."
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Just about to feel sorry for myself, I noticed a hardly readable sign on the other side of the alley: Jackson County Orphanage. My parents, at least, had provided shelter, food, and education. As I struggled to my feet, it finally dawned on me why I'd come to see a Rabbi this time.
When young, I had lofty ambitions to do something of great import. Drugs dashed those desires all my adulthood. But now that my middle-aged mind was relatively clear, I again had the need to do something special for the common good. Living out the years I had left in quiet desperation didn't seem enough anymore. I needed to make up for the lost years, not just for myself, but for all the people who shared their world with me. Maybe a Rabbi could steer me on the right course to redemption, while I was still ambulatory.
A gaudy limo skidded backwards into the alley, blocking my exit and ending my ruminations. There was no mistaking the dark-windowed Lincoln.
Its side window slid down, and a big dark face showed itself. "Iz dat yuu, King Davis, my fine Seemetic chum? Iz mee, Li'l Baghdad from Illinoise."
After conceding that it was a small world, I asked what he was doing in Kansas City.
He said his main man had invited him to town for a big deal. "De mann takes me to de Goodtime Bar in Kansass laz month where I falls in sweet love with real big white girlie, Miss Brandra."
When I asked if he'd seen Brandy lately, Baghdad said with contrived sadness that she'd disappeared a while back. And when I asked whether his boss was Martin Pyre, the big dude balked again.
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But from the front seat, a female voice spoke up. "Yeah, his name's Martin Pyre." As the driver's window slipped down, Gert lifted a chauffeur's cap from her flaming-red hair. "How you hangin', David?"
Before I could properly respond, an antique Mercedes, the same chartreus war relic I'd seen in the lobby of the M. Pyre Building, blew its horn from the other side of the street, interrupting our reunion. Gert told me to take it easy and rolled the limo out of the alley.
So, opposite the unattended synagogue, Little Baghdad and the silver-toupeed creep I guessed to be the incarnation of Herr Hista from the Garden of Grede consumated their deadly deal and drove off in opposite directions.
I yelled out to Gert. "Hey, let me see how good you are at wrapping that hot rod around a tight turn."
Wheeling a hard left onto Broadway, Gert waved at me - and a front tire exploded. The stretch limo careened into a fire hydrant, Baghdad's door ripping off in the process. As the mighty water jet flipped the limo onto its side, the island imposter yelled and screamed like the porky baby he was.
Gert scrambled from the geyser unhurt as a traffic patrolman stumbled onto the scene. Extricating Baghdad from the watery miasma, the leathered officer noticed a briefcase cuffed to bad boy's chubby wrist and dragged him onto the sidewalk. The patrolman radioed for the Fire Department to come cap the hydrant and for a coded radio-warrant, then ordered Baghdad to open the briefcase.
To make a short story even shorter, when the Fire Department arrived and broke the reinforced briefcase open with an ax, the patrolman told big bad Baghdad, alias Saddam Berry, the way it was. If the island dealer didn't tell the police everything they needed to know, the officer was going to give the disenfranchised asshole a free motorcycle ride into Kansas and toss him off.
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The patrolman kicked his Kawasaki over (started it up). "Kansas has what they call the Walker Amendment pending. You peddle drugs on their streets - you spend the rest of your life on a drug-filled island named NOWHERE."
When I said I had a socially redeeming job for Gert in Kansas, the patrolman agreed to release her into my custody. As the two of us piled aboard Herbie's already burdened moped, I wished I only knew what to do to redeem myself. The paddy wagon took Baghdad away, but M. Pyre had gotten off scot-free. Starting the moped, I made an immediate pitstop at the orphanage and told Gert to give them the rest of my Kosher cuisine.
When she returned, an Eskimo boy in a St. Louis Cardinals' baseball cap yelled out from a barred window. "Do a wheelie for us, sir."
Dreidel lifted from my shoulder as I hoisted the moped's front wheel off the ground and headed west toward the Rising Star, Gert hanging on for dear life. Hopefully, Granny would know where Amoré's newest employee could stay.
Sure enough, there was an empty room over the canned goods. After Gert moved in, I introduced her to JR and Lucky, then loaned her Herbie's moped for the night. It was the Sabbath and I welcomed the time to reflect.
In the morning, Gert returned the moped and I journeyed toward the library to do some leisure learning about the infamous Jefferson Jewels. Proud Mary was in the parking lot, so I let Dreidel ride in on my shoulder, knowing Granny wouldn't mind.
Granny showed me the Official Library of Congress Edition of Lewis and Clark's Journal, but told me Lewis's original, unadulterated diary of the second winter was in the Pipe Club safe. The official version described how the Corps of Discovery spent its second winter in Colorado, not mentioning how its two leaders doubled back to be with Princess Lenexa.
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I asked Granny whether anyone had studied the diary and tried to find the jewels. "Hasn't anyone ever used a computer to compare the structure, progression, and digitized detail of the jeweled play pieces around the center two squares of the chess field with the vectorial coordinates of the serial-numbered bricks in the tunnel from the centerline benchmark?"
Clapping gleefully, Granny recruited me to help blind Herbie construct a treasure hunt model on the library's mainframe - but not until the end of the Sabbath.
Two Saturday nights later, after a long winter ride to De Soto, I delivered a special-order barbecue beef pizza to an aquamarine mobile home, one that looked an awful lot like Menachem and Judy's. As I rang the bell several times, I could see Ména's Mezuzah had been ripped off.
A dirty derilict finally swaggered to the door, and, referring to himself in the third person, he asked what the hell I wanted. "Butch was listening to his new self-love tapes." I told Butch I had his pizza and picture, but Butch had no idea what I was talking about. "Butch didn't order nothing."
After verifying Butch's address, I asked Butch how long Butch had been living in the mobile home.
Butch grabbed a sawed-off shotgun from beside the door. "Just a few days ago, Butch bought it at a clearance sale from M. Pyre Bank and Trust. Why you ask Butch?"
I tried to explain to Butch that some missing friends of mine used to own the trailer and their kidnappers were just trying to aggravate me. "Butch, you can have this pizza for Butch's troubles."
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But when Butch sampled the free pizza and found it cold, Butch hoisted the scattergun. "This is only 'cause Butch loves you just like Butch loves himself."
As I marched for my motorized mount, Butch stepped onto the porch and cocked the weapon. "Never deliver cold food to Butch, you pizza-whop!"
The trailer park rocked as Butch unloaded the blunderbuss over my head, shaking a few of Dreidel's feathers loose in the process. Jumping on the rattled but unscathed moped, I yelled for Butch to go copulate Butch and followed my ruffled fowl out of De Soto. On the forlorn way home through Monticello, I couldn't help but remember another headcase - Cowboy.
One sad Sunday inside the Administration Building at Formington, a rodeo rancher called Cowboy Carr was waiting for his wife to visit. When he was first admitted to Processing, the staff handcuffed the roustabout's ankles and wrists to the bed posts. Fluorizine had mellowed him out, however, and Carr's teenage wife, a groupie named Bette, tried to convince the overseers that fresh air would do her cowboy a world of good.
After the staff gave in, Cowboy and Bette strolled outside, arm in arm. Politely excusing himself to get a smoke, Cowboy calmly walked down the steps, fetched a shotgun from the family pickup, and blew a hole in his wife's chest the size of a coconut. Somewhow, JR got ahold of the autopsy photos.
The Strange Case of Crazy Cowboy Carr leaked to the local press and Cowboy was transferred to the asylum for the criminally insane in Nevada, Mo. Bette R. Carr was buried in one of the Form's many pauper plots.
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Near the middle of December, I received a formal invitation to my youngest nephew's high school graduation and a plain brown envelope from Cleopatra Butler. Her nipple camera had caught Heine, Brownie, and S.&M. Pyre in the act - all four sharing the same motel bed in Hollywood's Inn with an inflatable adolph. According to April, Lenore and X. Pyre were in the other room trimming each other's hitleresque moustaches.
Two days later, Morningstar used the nipple picture to threaten Brownie and Heinie with five years in Leavenworth for spreading sodomy into a public facility. The Schicklgruber Triplets, so they confessed, were in Lenexa to harrass and subvert yours truly. Brownie and Heinie boasted they and Lenore were the test-tube triplets of adolph hitler and Eva Braun, conceived in glass six days before the demise of the third reich. Herr Hista, alias Martin Pyre, had masterminded the whole damn thing.
Privately, Morningstar pointed out again that Hista M. Pyre, the fallen member of the crew that supposedly came from the planet Freedom's Garden of Twola, was actually a scapegrace from the Jungle of Grede. I believed her. Furthermore, Morning explained, two of M. Pyre's St. Louis associates had foster-parented the triplets.
Unexplicably sad, Morning agreed to accompany me to the Goose Room on Christmas Eve, but only to see if we could get a lead on Menachem and Judy. "Christmas can be so lonely when friends are locked up." She started to sob and told me she was being transferred to the Park Patrol. "It's at my own request, to get back to nature."
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By the afternoon of the 24th, we were making great headway on spatially deciphering Lewis and Clark's symbolic chess game. Herbie said the flaming-star sapphire given Meriwether probably came into Jefferson's possession from none other than Napoleon I. And God only knew who little corporal Bonaparte stole it from.
Regarding more mundane matters, I was due just enough money from Amoré to get my car out of hock, take Morningstar to dinner at the Goose Room, and head to St. Louis for my nephew's winter graduation. When I asked JR for my check and a few days off, I was advised that he had sold the company. So much for Amoré.
The new owner was Butch and Butch fired me when I told Butch I couldn't work Friday nights because of the Sabbath. M. Pyre Trust had given Butch a personal-interest loan to make the buy-out. Additionally, Butch only paid me half my due, because Butch loved me and didn't want to spoil me. Discharging Butch's shotgun up Butch's ass wasn't going to serve my present purpose, so I sucked in my gut, socked Butch up the side of the head with Moses, and went to get my car out of hock.
My '67 Chevelle that had no name was running great, despite its old age and lonely stay in the Pyre Patrol's tow yard. When I picked up Morningstar at her Clearview Cottage, I found her not doing so hot, in a very poor frame of mind.
When I tried to kiss her, she turned away. "No, not now. I'm nauseous and don't want to give you anything." Lightly, I suggested we spend the evening roasting chestnuts over an open fire, but she said she hated chestnuts. "And I don't want to ruin your chauvinistic Christmas Eve on the town, David."
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It was the same old moody crap about being a big girl and being able to take care of herself, all the way downtown. She even made some wisecrack about naming my car Easy Streeter. So I asked how the job at the park was going.
She said the duty was just fine. "I enjoy living up in the watchtower by myself. I only went to my cottage to get a dress to make you happy."
Hoping a good holiday meal under Morningcrab's beltless gown might cheer her up, I pulled into the M. Pyre Bank and Trust's zig-zag drive. I rolled down the window and honked, but couldn't get the valet's attention. He was busy polishing a brass pole that held up the red-white-and-black canopy outside the Goose Room's express elevator.
Finally, I yelled. "Can you park our car, sir?"
Looking more like a penguin than a person, he coughed white smoke and said his name was James, that he parked only imported luxury vehicles. "Park your yankee eyesore over in the public lot on 25th and John Street."
Right around the corner, I found a spot in the Goose Room Garage, while Jimmy wasn't watching. After making sure that Dreidel's neck ribbon was secure, I adjusted my own tie, and eyepatch, letting Moses lead our way toward the entrance. Up the side face of the marble edifice, up in a patchy cloud of smog, there rotated the unevenly illuminated egg known as the Goose Room.
Smoking croak, Jimmy looked me over sharply as I passed, massaging his gaunt groin. "Your pants don't match your jacket. You can't..."
In the forehead, I tapped him lightly with Moses, and opened the front door of a black glass elevator.
On the way up, Morningstar lit a filterless cigarette and reprimanded me for bludgeoning the door boy. "It was awfully immature, David. Didn't you bring your slingshot, junior?"
Feeling no need to defend myself, I asked when she started to smoke. I was told it was none of my business - just as the rear door peeled open into the heavily perfumed Gooseria.
end chap 22
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