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My right eye flittered as it took in the multitude of diamonds adorning the pitifully few patrons - all decked-out in overstarched tuxedos or formless evening gowns. Indeed, as the head honcho goose-stepped over to greet us, I thought the spacious Goose Room (as all the furniture was branded) quite sparsely populated for a holiday eve. Clicking his bootheels together, the rosy-cheeked trooper angled forward at the waist and requested our reservations.
Morningstar displayed an ornate Press Pass and said we were gathering information for an international article. "A New Years piece for Time-Life Inc."
Our host, posture suddenly straightened, informed us that he was our Gastgeber for the evening, Käpitan Schtärling. "On behalf of M. Pyre's Kansas City Goose Room, your Gasteber Schtärling often welcomes the Jet Set. Bitte, call me GS."
end page 394
As Schtärling marched us across the chartreus velour carpeting, the aristocracy adjusted their monocles to scrutinize our casual attire. Tableside, the sweet smell of the splashing champagne fountains which surrounding us failed to mask the stink of heart medication that permeated the entire place (just like the Mockingbird Room on screening night).
When GS pulled out the chair for Morningstar, she grabbed it. "I can take care of myself."
Immaturity was better than rudeness, I thought, but kept it to myself. After our Gastgeber bowed and backstepped away, I remarked what an awfully fancy place it was. "I wonder why there's hardly anyone here?"
Morningcough put another cigarette to her lips. "Who gives a damn?"
From nowhere, a well-pleated arm offered forth a gold lighter with a six inch flame. My date took a deep drag and the arm retreated.
The well-drilled waiter clicked his hardened heels. "I am Offizier Vünce, your Goose Gourmet for the evening. May I suggest a double goblet of Berlin Sorbet to refresh your tired palates?"
I told him it sounded fine. "Even though my palate isn't tired."
Humorless Morning moaned, while Vünce sniffed like a Dachshund at a pair of Nietzsche's syphilitic gym shorts. "Is that a yankee cigarette, Fraulein?"
Morning blew smoke from her nostrils as I told our teutonic waiter they were Lucky Strikes. "Would you like a Lucky, Vünce?"
Vünce swallowed deeply. "Certainly not, mein Herr."
Shuffling off, he soon returned to place a clean-air machine and our fruit sorbet in the center of the table. I couldn't tell which was noisier - the buzzing electric air filter, the splashing champagne fountains, or the crudely amplified chamber music from a distant harp.
end page 395
When Vünce uncapped our chilled delight, two tiny scoops of orange ice no bigger than frozen grapes showed themselves. "Mein Herr, may I suggest our famous Floridian Frog Legs for your appetizer?"
Again, I told him it sounded fine, that we'd each have an order. "We're very hungry."
Our Goose Gourmet's head bobbed. "Sehr gut."
After he goosed away, I tried to cheer my date with a joke, but she took it the wrong way. Turning from the sublime to the serious, I asked why she hadn't been wearing her alabaster egg of late. "Maybe that's why you're in a bad mood."
She scoffed. "My kidnappers stole it."
Figuring some time for solitary reflection might help my Morning feel better, I transferred Dreidel to her shoulder and mosied back toward the elevator, to view the city.
When I asked Schtärling where I could find a window, he said there were none. "Our party members come for conversation, atmosphere, cuisine, and perhaps for a polka. Nobody comes to look at the view. How bourgeois."
I pushed Moses deep into the plush pile. "So why'd your leader spend megabucks building a restaurant that spins around on top a building with no windows to look out?"
GS sniffled. "Would you rather M. Pyre donate his money to the Salvation Army?"
I told him it wasn't a bad idea. "So where's all the customers?"
A bit melancholy, Schtärling pointed out there were simply no longer enough yankees interested in a quality dining experience. "Poor M. Pyre has invested so much building the party place. Unless something happens soon, my leader will lose it all."
end page 396
I asked where Martin's office was, but Schtärling balked. "Sorry, that's not for the press to know."
Not yet ready to push the issue, I returned to our table where Vünce was waiting with a large covered platter in each perfectly manicured hand. "The Goose Room's jumbo frog legs await your pleasure, mein Herr und Fraulein."
As I sat down, Vünce uncovered what appeared to be grasshopper legs, floating in a speckled butter derivative - or some yellow-orange immitation thereof.
Taking a deep breath, I asked if he had something more filling for the main course. "Something with meat, potatoes, and vegetables - preferably."
Vünce smiled with pride. "Our Twin Gooselette Holiday Platters come with generous helpings of Peruvian Wintergreens and Malaysian Fries." He clicked his heels and said I had made an excellent choice. "May I compliment you, mein Herr?"
I told him he sure may compliment me. "No one else does. But please don't call me mein Herr."
Our Offizier dithered. "I'll have some imported mineral water brought to the table while you wait, sire."
As Vünce reverse-goosed his way toward the kitchen, I teased Dreidel.
Shortly, very shortly, a hoarse voice squeaked. "Your mineral water, sah." I didn't see anyone, but heard the desperate voice again. "I'm your Jockey Boy, sah."
Struggling to my feet, I peered over the far end of the oblong table. A bald midget, two feet tall at most, held a giant stainless steel water pitcher in his trembling hands. Reaching up, he poured our sparkling water, spilling more onto his black-and-white striped tunic and into his waist-high boots than into our glasses.
end page 397
I took a drink of the acrid liquid and gave the Jockey Boy a corny tip. "Don't Bet Against Kansas Horses." He smiled nervously, and I motioned him over for a real tip. Stuffing a five dollar bill in his boot, I told him we were with Time-Life Ink. "Do you know where M. Pyre's office is?" The little man looked hungry, so I slipped him another fin.
Standing on his toes, he pointed over my shoulder. "Way on the other side of the Goose Gallery, sah. My name's Boss."
After thanking Boss, I buried the barbecued grasshoppers in Morningsmoker's ash tray so Vünce wouldn't know we hadn't eaten them. I didn't want his high-class feelings hurt, yet.
Recruiting Moses, I made my way carefully across the slick slate dance floor to the gold-plated harp (which was peeling some). I removed my eye patch to take a stereoscopic look at the young angel who sat, in a sheer satin gown, beside the antique instrument. I asked the nearsighted cherub if she could play something a little more lively.
The bespectacled princess smiled beautifully. "Certainly, sir. My name is Edith Frank Cole. Call me Ed." When I told her I was David, she bowed tenderly at her slender waist. "My family's at your service, Mr. Daniels."
While she strummed "CAMPTOWN RACES," I peered past the Goose Gallery at what I assumed to be the mirrored door to the Leader's Suite, then returned to my date's side.
As I sat, Vünce clicked loudly. "May I suggest our infamous Goose Gallery while you wait for your Holiday Platters?"
I nodded sharply and Vünce snapped for our Jockey Boy. Dutifully, Boss escorted us past the harp to the Goose Gallery. Finally roused from her insensitive stupor, Morningstar stood spellbound before an extensive collection of black and white pen-sketches of "Geese in Flight."
end page 398
When I mentioned they didn't have any color, Morningviewer stared at the childish scribblings all the more intently. "Isn't that the way life really is?"
After telling her that, no, that wasn't the way life was, I asked for a pencil and paper. She didn't answer, so I helped myself to her shoulder purse.
Sitting on a cold ebony bench beside a very confused cubist rendition of the Mona Lisa, I scribbled a note to M. Pyre, threatening that if he didn't release Mena and Judy Menachem by midnight, I'd be forced to destroy his precious Goose Room. I signed the note and added a plainly printed postscript: NEXT TIME YOU FUCK WITH ME, YOU BETTER KILL ME.
I limped across the marble toward the mirrored door. But a bulky guard stepped out from behind a brown curtain and blocked my path.
The brownshirted musclehead flexed up. "No admittance mein Freund."
I pushed my note into his taut breast pocket. "See that your leader gets this, my friend. It's crucial to his well-being." Holding little hope the devil would fall for my bluff, I returned to Margot and Dreidel in the gallery.
After several patrons monocled the pretended works of art, Vünce goosed over and asked if I wanted to purchase a picture for my Fraulein.
Eager to please, I said sure. "How much for two?"
Vünce cocked his slicked head. "They're each priced at a fair market price of 25K."
I took two twenties from my wallet. "They're not from the K Federal Reserve, but will you take forty for two?"
end page 399
Clicking harshly, Vünce said I misunderstood. "Twenty-five thousand dollars. We can put it on your Empire Banck Card."
I put my money away. "Will a J.C. Penny Card do?"
Alas, our Goose Gourmet displayed no semblance of humor, so I dragged Morningart back to the table as Edith rendered "SHAWNEE RIVER."
While Morning chain-smoked, I grilled her. "What exactly is the function of your magic egglace - and Menachem's?" At the time, I didn't think she knew Mr. Sam.
Sneering, she said that if I hadn't lost mine, I'd know what the egg's function was. "You won't believe me, dear David, so why should I waste my time?"
I lit her cigarette. "I'll believe whatever you tell me, Morningstar. I love you."
With a halfhearted smile, she described how the structure of each crewmember's egg held a crystalline bridge circuit to electrically jumpstart their particular Ohla-Pohla link. She said we elected Menachem to be our Proctor. While the rest of us died and were reborn countless times over the last daez, Ména remained in the same body, the refined flesh of Abraham. His job, according to Morningrevealer, had been to locate our current being at puberty and initiate our memories of the past, relink our Pohla to our Ohla, our conscious to our personal subconscious - to help us identify and carry out our ongoing mission.
Morning exhaled. "The ovular amulet is used for that, and to enhance our awareness of the world we live in. It's no more magical than radio waves were before Marconi found a use for them." She stubbed her cigarette out. "Well??"
Petting Dreidel, I told Morning that I believed her, but it was hard to grasp all at once. "Maybe because I still don't have my egg. But I'll find it; I promise. It might be in St. Louis."
end page 400
Morningegg emphasized the importance of my amulet not falling into Hista's hands. "Granny lost her egg in 1947 to one of M. Pyre's operatives, in a floating crap game outside the caves at Khirbet Qûmran. Mr. Sam's was stolen more recently, by the KGB just before Glasnost and Perestroika. If Hista gets yours, he'll have them all - and sole influence over the Mohla of all Earth."
Vünce clicked to our side. "Your Holiday Platters are served." With great poise, he transferred four gold-plated platters (also peeling) from the Jockey Boy's wobbly, semi-chrome cart.
I asked Vünce if he could please bring our dinner check. "I have to depart for St. Louis as soon as I finish my Holiday Platter."
As our Goose Gourmet placed the silverware, I noticed my spoon was dirty. When I mentioned it, Vünce spat on it, then wiped it on his chartreus cuff. Uncapping our silver platters, he made a timely exit.
The Peruvian Wintergreens were a pile of baby peas, the Malaysian Fries a jungle of shoestring potato sticks, and our Gooselettes were no bigger than marbles - shriveled unborn gooseling twins with a plastic toothpick in one tiny eye per pair. I scooped up the murdered little ones with my iced tea spoon and tossed them into the champagne fountain behind me. Burial with a touch of class, or so I tried to imagine.
Several cigarettes later, Vünce returned with a dinner check: $650. I gave him twenty cash, figuring I owed fifteen for the table, electricity, and harp music - and maybe a fin for his and Schtärling's holiday ham. I charged the $630 balance with a second personal note, one telling Father Martin to deduct said amount from my share of our pending malpractice settlement.
Just as I was telling Vünce that GS either needed to lower prices or improve the food, a most interesting guest arrived. The one-and-only Yassir, having apparently survived Moammar's Big Birthday Blast relatively intact, emerged from the elevator, crossed the dining room, and hurried toward his malignant leader's private office. One ear burned clean off, he carried an aluminum briefcase in his three-fingered left hand - a container all-too-similar to the one I'd seen inside his steamer trunk of munitions.
end page 401
To regain my attention, Morningvoice cleared her throat. "With the help of your egg, if he ever gets it, Hista will be able to locate the Lost Ark - and the alabaster baton inside, our homing device for S. F. Salvation."
After telling Morninginfo she'd given me much to think about on my drive to St. Louis, I asked her to go and wait for me at the elevator.
On my own way across the dance floor, I stuffed a sawbuck in Boss's big boot and complimented Edith with a wink. "Play it again, Ed."
Dreidel fluttered in front of Ed as she began to sing acappella. "Meet you in St. Louie, Louie. Meet you at the Club."
Doubling back across the dining room, Dreidel and I met Morningloom at the elevator. While we descended, I squeezed Moses and told her that Yassir was an arms dealer from Georgia. She didn't respond, so I tried to make peace, by promising to apologize to the doorboy for bopping him on the way in.
As we returned to terra firma, my once-better half growled. "Reconciliation with the doorboy is the least of our worries, David."
Out on the sidewalk, when I apologized to spaced-out Jimmy, he took a deep drag on his croak pipe and smirked. "May I hail you a cab, my Hebrew cousin?" When I told him I wasn't his cousin and my car wasn't that far away, his grin grew. "Sorry Sol, I had the Pyre Patrol tow it away to teach you a lesson."
I tried to retain composure. "That's nice. I got a lesson for you."
With Moses, I slapped the glass pipe from Jimmy's hands, and when he opened his mouth to beg, I slugged him in the jaw. He stiffened, and I jabbed him again, much harder, right in the tonsils, then in the gut. Doubled up sharply, he went down and stayed there. Making sure he was still breathing and not bleeding too profusely, I dragged him behind a plastic shrub and returned to Morningside.
end page 402
While I ground the doorboy's pipe into the sidewalk with Moses, she scolded me, then pulled a tiny walkie-talkie from her purse and radioed for off-duty assistance.
While we waited for Walker to arrive, Morningstar petted Dreidel for the first time all evening. "Did you have a good Christmas Eve, Cyrus?"
I asked why she called my bird Cyrus. "Cyrus was a bird that belonged to someone named Mr. Sam."
Lighting yet another cigarette, she said that maybe she knew Mr. Sam. "And maybe I'm Rhonda."
Suddenly, I could see that she was indeed Rhonda. "But you look barely older than you did then."
Bumming a drag off her cigarette, I said that now I expected her to tell me it was providence that our paths had crossed again. To my surprise, she said our previous encounter was very much planned, so someone could keep an eye on me during my "quixotic adventures."
I told Morningstar/Rhonda that I didn't understand. "I have no idea what you and the others expect me to do - then or now."
With a sigh, she said that I soon would. "When your denouement is done."
I explained that I didn't even know how to spell denouement, much less what it was or when it would be done. "I have my hands full just to subdue my anger, retain my sanity, and live out my days in relative freedom." I took a second drag on her Lucky. "If you're expecting me to change the world or die trying - well, it might be a week or so."
end page 403
Walker, who must have been just across the state line, rolled gracefully up and popped his electric locks. As we piled into the Crown Vic's reinforced backseat, he pointed out, as I had earlier, that the Goose Room was an awfully fancy place. "I'm surprised they don't have a doorboy, David."
Morningdrag growled, but sat nonverbal as we headed west.
When Walker asked how I was going to get to St. Louis without my Chevy, I tightened my belt. "I plan to ride Herbie's moped."
He said I couldn't do it. "It'll take forever."
Morning moaned. "And it's so immature to do everything the hard way. Walker, please take me to the watchtower in the park."
Fifteen minutes of tense silence later, I escorted my holiday sentinel to the foot of her tower's ladder. There, in its oval shadow, I asked what was really bothering her.
Lightly, she kissed me on the forehead and said that it was something personal. "But there is something I should tell you, David, so you'll not judge yourself so harshly. Remember Mr. Sam's Marine buddy, Mathew Waters?"
I told her that I'd just thought about our night at Puberty Park a few weeks before. "You mean Lance Corporal Waters who died on Iwo Jimo raising a pocket-sized flag."
Soberly, Morning held my hand and smiled. "Mathew Waters perished February 22, 1945 - on the Meatgrinder."
What did she mean? "Meatgrinder?"
"That's right, David - Meatgrinder Hill. His spirit dwells with you. And you, David, could never have actually gone off the deep end before or after Formington any more than Mathew could have gone over the hill before or after Sarabachi. In the purest sense, you are Lance Corporal Waters - and all he was and ever will be."
end page 404
I told her that that was impossible. "I wasn't born until the middle of August, six months after he died."
Morning explained that though our collective Mohla interfaces with the zygote at conception, our Ohla doesn't begin its transfer until three months later. "There is no doubt, David, you have the inherent will to overcome and triumph. Happy Hanukkah."
I wished her a Merry Christmas, and she scurried up the ladder. As Morningrhonda disappeared into her cubbyhole up in the starry sky, I dared to speculate who Rhonda's Puberty Park cohort, Donna, would turn out to be. Quickly, I staggered back to the police cruiser in culture shock; it was getting late. Neither Walker nor I uttered a single word until we pulled into Poor Richard's parking lot.
As I got out, I told Walker that I was going to leave my apartment key under the door mat, and asked if he could get some of his buddies to carry my pinball machine and Phoenix Encyclopedias down to the Rodriguez kids while I was gone. "For a Christmas present. Their parents are fulltime alcoholics and probably don't even know it's Christmas."
Walker reached out his window and shook my hand. "That's a real nice thing to do. You have a Merry Christmas in St. Louis."
I tried to explain. "But Walker, I'm Jewish and ....."
Walker raced his interceptor motor. "If and's and but's were candy and nuts, David, we'd all have a Merry Christmas." With a wink, he sped away into the pivotal night.
It took me a pensive while to get upstairs. To keep out the cold wind, I duct-taped my jacket sleeves to my wrists and my jeans to my boots. Stuffing the moped's pizza box with clothes, tools, and books, I again thought about who Donna might be.
A quarter hour later, the local streets deserted, Herbie's moped purred like a high-strung kitten on the loose. Every young Lenexophyte, I figured, was probably tucked into bed waiting for Saint Nicholas to arrive - while maw and paw were most likely sitting beside the fireplace eating Santa's cookies and milk. After a brief stop at O. Henry's to wish Biff a healthy holiday, I set my sights on an early morning arrival in St. Louis - before crush-hour traffic.
end page 405
As I cleared the ramp onto I-35, Walker pulled up beside me and used his bullhorn to say that he'd escort me out of the Rising Star. "But you better drive the rest of the way on the shoulder! Be extra careful when you get downtown KCMO! I just heard they got a roadblock set up! The Goose Room's ablaze and they think it might BLOW!!!" Thumbs-up, Officer Weiland led me deliberately north, toward the city limits.
If Morningstar was right, I figured, LCPL Waters had dumped his blood on the Meatgrinder, only to ride a moped nearly three hundred miles in the middle of the night before Christmas over forty years later. What a grind, and how hard to understand.
While my avian pet Dreidel paddled along dutifully in the wet turbulence above my right shoulder, I asked myself the real big one - What would Waters think of Daniels?
end chap 23
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