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Though I preferred life in RSK (the Rising Star of Kansas), St. Louis had its good points too - Stan the Man Musial's home, Dago Hill's charcoal-broiled T-bones, Mama Milano's submarine sandwiches. Ice cream cones and Corvettes were once a gateway exclusive also; but I was in no hurry at all. The so-called holiday travelers who honked and cussed me as they passed weren't quite as patient as I needed to be.
Shortly after leaving Lenexa and Walker's escort, a pickup truck of inebriated jocks swerved onto the thoroughfare from Johnson Drive and gave me the finger.
The Texans also delivered their verbal tidings in unison. "Merry Christmas, farmer in the dell."
Yelling back, I questioned what the fingers represented. "Your collective IQ, life expectancy, or number of legal human parents?"
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One of them returned the Interstate banter. "Mopeds are like fat ladies. Fun to ride if you ain't got anything better - until your friends catch you in the saddle, farmer!"
His buddy threw an empty beer can at me, and it bounced off my gas tank as the truck of cowards sped off.
Walker, zooming up from nowhere with his lights flashing like a Succos carnival, hollered that he'd seen it all. "I'll bust 'em big time."
I told him not to, that I didn't think the driver was drunk. "Show some Christmas clemency."
Weiland agreed, but reiterated his earlier recommendation. "Better drive that overgrown sewing machine on the shoulder the rest of the way."
Giving me the high sign, he drifted off the roadway at Mission Road, and I scooted over to the shoulder, lucky to have Dreidel along for companionship. Actually, I was probably better off on the shoulder. Years before, I'd been involved in more than my share of nearly fatal collisions.
One lonely night in the mid 60s, I was sailing along on my Suzuki at a quite legal speed of 70 when an on-coming Riviera popped out of nowhere, on the wrong side of the road - my side.
Just before we hit head-on, I yelled out. "HOLY SHIT!! I'M DEAD!!"
Then, transcendentally, everything went into slow motion. Spellbound, I saw my motorcycle's wheel and every spoke buckle and break; I watched the tire blow and bellow dusty air onto the Buick's polished bumper. As time slowed, so did my emotions. In lieu of fear or anger, I felt sedate, almost euphoric, as I flew into the air and over the length of the hood, the windshield, and onto the highway behind (where I left most my clothing and some skin).
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No doubt, the slow motion perception helped me manipulate my body to survive with superficial injuries, but when I told Dr. Lump of the spiritual experience, she had her own explanation.
In her leatherbound office, she picked up a chrome letter opener. "I think this aberration you call slow motion is nothing more than a symptom of developing schizophrenia." She polished the shiv with her silk kerchief. "Modern surgery has made it very easy for us to simply sever those portions of the frontal lobes which have gone awry, before they contaminate the rest of your mind - and my society."
I dared not mention to her that Dr. Capol, who treated my pavement burns for free, claimed he'd never seen skin regenerate in such an efficient, omnidirectional manner. I ever again spoke of my premature encounters with the inevitable to anyone.
Even my telekinetic experience beside St. David's Field, when I flipped my 61 Chevy and it froze in mid-air long enough for me to get my head out of its downward plummet, was never related to a soul - until this belated passage.
Only ten miles out of Lenexa, my fingers were frozen from the wind and my ass sore from the bumpy shoulder. Each and every time an eighteen wheeler blasted past, I was almost thrown from the saddle. Just west of the state line, I idled on the shoulder long enough to fill two socks with crumpled styrofoam (for gloves) and stuff a folded sweatshirt down the back of my jeans (to spare myself a blistered ass or, worse yet, the hummin' hemmies). Crossing the state line and heading downtown, I found the innovations did indeed improve the quality of the ride.
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As Walker specified, a bit east of Broadway, I came upon a roadblock. A rookie with a purple flare stepped onto the shoulder, flagged me to a stop, and ordered me to detour onto Van Brunt.
He said there was smoke reported in the Goose Room, and the department was evacuating everyone in the neighborhood. "In case the damn thing blows and topples, its better to be safe than sorry, I'm told."
Motoring up the Van Brunt ramp, I wheeled as close as possible to the police-line around the M. Pyre Building.
After a bureaucratic delay, I told the officer-in-charge what I suspected, how I was in the Goose Room that very night and was told that business was very bad. "I think Martin Pyre set this fire himself to collect the insurance money."
After the Capitan claimed he needed more than my speculation to go on, I restarted my moped and looked around for Dreidel. Spotting her circling a nearby alley, I whistled, but she continued to circle - until the black-and-gold sedan I'd sideswiped in Georgia emerged.
Drawing the Captain's attention to the alley, I told him that it was Yassir driving the thing, the BMW with the dented quarter panel. "He's a munitons expert and I saw him go into Martin Pyre's office just a couple hours ago."
The Captain bellowed over his electrified bullhorn. "Stop that BMW!" And his subordinates went into swift action.
Momentarily, the highway lights dimmed and electric sparks showered from the lofty roof of the nearby tower of power, resembling a thousand Roman candles.
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Captain Armstrong ordered everyone to take cover. "The Goose Room's getting ready to blow, soldiers!"
Killing my moped again and grabbing Moses, I joined Armstrong at his reinforced fender. White smoke engulfed the elevated Goose Room - and it blew, quaking the pavement. The entire scene was awesome, reminiscent of some candy-colored monster flick of the drive-in 50s.
As it plummeted, skipping and bashing against the side of the skyscraper, the Gooseria's silhouette resembled a humongous laid egg, sparking secondary fires all the long drop down. When it smashed into the ground, another giant explosion rocked the city. As several adjacent buildings ignited, the highway lights went out, but the smoky nightsky was filled with reflections of fire. Soon, the once nightquiet was mayhem with sirens and screams.
Armstrong, still stooped beside his heavy guage prowl car, promised he'd do everything in his power to bring M. Pyre to justice. "But if he's really responsible, he's probably already in South America."
I stood up and looked around for Dreidel once more. Again, she was circling - this time, above the exit from an undergound parking garage.
As a World War II Mercedes emerged, I directed Captain Armstrong's attention to it. "There's Martin Pyre right now. That giant chartreus roadster with the chrome speaker on the fender."
Armstrong keyed his radio and ordered all available units to stop the satanic bastard. Immediately, five cruisers converged on Herr Hista from three directions - just as my eye locked onto an ethereal sight off to the right.
A shooting star arched from the south, cutting a colorful circuit across the heavens, then took a proud nosedive towards St. Pedro's Cathedral on top of Tamale Hill. A hundred feet above the steeple, the comet's head burst into a blue-white fireball and St. Pedro's bells announced Christmas had come to our time zone at last.
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When Dreidel lit on my handlebars, I knuckled her scalp and exchanged seasonal wishes with Junior Armstrong. He told me they were taking Messrs. Martin Pyre and Yassir Khomeini to headquarters for intensive questioning, that they'd be kept in solitary confinement until the exact cause of the fire was determined.
Junior holstered his notepad. "It's a long haul to St. Louis on a moped, especially with one eye and a lame leg. Is there anything the department can do to lend you a hand tonight, Mr. Daniels?"
Clipping Moses into his rubber holder under the tank, I asked to borrow the bullhorn. "I have something to say to Mr. Pyre before your soldiers take him away."
With a nod, he handed me the horn and I twisted its volume all the way up - but tempered my tongue. "Herr Hista, This Is David Daniels! Have A Happy Holiday In Hell!! You No-Good Scud-Sucker!!!"
I shoke hands with Armstrong and scooted off down the secondary city streets, working my way towards Independence, Dreidel at my side. Just as I was getting back onto the bumpy shoulder of the eastbound Interstate off Truman Road, it began to drizzle, and I found the chill refreshing.
I made a steamy pit-stop at White Castle in Blue Springs for belly-bombers, fries, and hot chocolate, my first food since lunch. M. Pyre's Sea of Champagne had gotten my Gooslette dinner. At the all-night auto parts store next to the Porcelain Palace, I bought a pair of clear plastic machinist goggles to keep Smitty's eyepatch from freezing to my skin.
Returning to the road with my sated stomach bloated and warm, my mind wanted to float and somnambulate. The soothing hum of Herbie's moped and the hypnotic highway lines made staying awake all the more difficult. The creatorphines of analytic thinking were my only hope to keep alert. So I reviewed everything that happened on my trip to Boynton Beach five months before, then everything since. Finally, I outlined my autobiography from birth - and creatively wondered. Were some of my troubles really linked to an intra-galactic past and/or celestial future? I had just decided how covenient it would be to believe so, when the oncoming headlights got too hard for one eye to handle.
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Having navigated 150 miles on the shoulder in the rain, I rolled into Kingdom City for a gallon of gas and a quart of coffee. Loosening up my aching bones, I limped into the Bear Cafe and over to a tattered, catsup-stained booth.
When the well-preened waitress asked if I qualified to order from the Truckers' Menu, I tried some predawn humor. "Do you have a Moped Menu?"
She said it was not the hour for humor, so I imbibed two barrel-shaped beakers of Bear Oil Expresso while waiting quietly for my Interstate Omelette.
After eating the equivalent of three eggs and three more beakers of coffee, I returned to the shoulder, my speed still barely forty - but it felt like I was flying. The milemarkers flashed past as caffeinated blood sped through my dialated veins - accompanied by a stereophonic buzz that resonated in my inner ears.
Two hours later, as I scaled the Wright City incline at twenty, the caffiene burned out and I steered into the LAST REST STOP IN MISSOURI. Camping out under the overhang on the wind-free side of the restroom, Dreidel perched on the now-overhead drinking fountain, I imagined the free-running urinals and occasional stool-flushing inside to be the sounds of the soft surf. As the tide broke against the boulders on the beach, I hoped LCPL Waters didn't mind latrine duty and drifted off.
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Sidra's torch flickers as we plant our feet deep into the beach. As Sola kisses Dreidel's feathers, my bird melts into her golden breast.
Sidra massages my shoulders. "Is Freedom Sound as you remember it, Danu?"
A shooting star soars lazily over the bay, as we stroll along the shore, the cool breeze sifting and mingling the sisters' blonde and black tresses; and I say that it is indeed the way I remember it .
As she walks, Sidra's belt of bells jingle; as she kneels to float Dreidel in the tranquil waters, the polished chimes twinkle under the focused moonbeam. Plunging into the bay herself, Sidra floats on her back, Dreidel bobbing beside her.
Sola takes me by the hand. "Shall we bathe our flesh and souls?"
Splashing in together, we lay beside Sidra, floatings in the water and looking upward. After a time, the stone monolith on the cliff to the north again harvests my attention.
When I ask what it is, Sola says I will soon remember. "The edifice is a reminder of our coming from Twola, last good garden on Freedom in the Paradise system - some two and one half daez ago, Danu."
After Sidra reminds me that a daez is two thousand years, she stands in the glistening shallows and points west. "I see Mother's fireside."
Sola scoops up sleeping Dreidel and we move along the waterline towards the dancing flames. Jumping fish arch from the clear waters and splash back in as we approach the matriarch. Standing, Fela throws a last twig on the fire, then welcomes us with open arms - as her children. After we embrace, the women posture themselves beside the inviting flames, and I sit among them. Whilst Fela cuddles Dreidel, a white dove circles and flutters to our side.
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Pressing the bird of peace to her bosom, beside Dreidel, Fela gestures toward the cliff. "Look again at the monolith of life, Danu, and see if our time is yet right."
No sooner than my eyes focus on it, the monolithic triangle flashes a bright spot of light.
As the brightness permeated my retina, an old voice roused me from sleep. "Best wake now, son."
Pushing a long-handled flashlight aside, I peered up at an old gent in baggy canvas trousers tucked into knee-high rubber boots.
He flourished the flashlight toward the parking lot. "Someone's messin' with your motorsicle, young man."
With inordinate help from Moses, I struggled to my feet and lumbered toward the lot. Shocked to see a kid strapping an animal on the back of my bike, I increased my gait and hollered for him to get away. "What the hell are you doing?" But my voice must have been washed away by the wind, for I got no response.
When I finally got to the moped, I rubbed my eye in disbelief - bound hand-and-foot to the pizza carrier was a little primate in a mustard-stained sweat shirt.
end page 415
From a battered van, a bloated beer guzzler in a Dodgers' baseball cap poked his greasy head out and claimed his son thought my old moped was left behind by a forgetful traveller. "The boy jus' wan' to give Dahlin' a li'l ride for Chrismas. No harm 'tended, assure ya."
Sucking on a joint, the liver-lipped redneck asked me, in a drug-droll, to give his monkey Darling a ride around the Rest Area. Reaching out his broken window, he stuck the joint in his son's mouth. "Is for the li'l un."
As the little boy's eyes relaxed, I agreed and cranked up my bike. Not wanting Darling to catch pneumonia, I motored very slowly around the perimeter. When I was about halfway around the rectangle, the van peeled off in an oil-burning roar - leaving me the adoptive father of a five-pound simian.
Back by the crapper, the old timer who alerted me adjusted his red suspenders and asked if there was something he could help me with.
I told him that I was on my way to St. Louis and some people had just left me their monkey for a Christmas present. "But Darling will die of pneumonia on my moped."
The old soul told me to cheer up, that the people of Columbia had retired him three times, twenty years before. "But I'm back. I'm a Volunteer Fireman, and I scout here and there for abandoned campfires and stranded motorists all over Missouri. You from St. Louie, sonny?"
I confessed that I was born there. "But Lenexa, Kansas, is my home."
He made further adjustments to his suspenders. "You know my Grandma Smith, the Risin' Star's favorite librarian?"
I couldn't believe it. "Florence Smith is your Grandmother?"
With a big prideful smile, he said she sure was. "Granny gave me an Old Plymouth Pumper with a brand new CB radio last time I retired, when I was 75. Now that I'm pre'd ne'r 95, Granny's gotta be pushin' 130 this time round."
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When I said that that was amazing, he said that age was all in the mind. "Just like time." He strapped on his helmet and shook my hand. "I'm Fred E-as-in-Ethyl Smith, but everybody calls me Freddie. You promise not to tell the authorities that old Freddie sleeps in public facilities, and I'll give you, the monkey, and the motorsicle, a complimentary ride into the Gateway - aboard my Chrysler-powered Fire Pumper."
Eagerly accepting the offer, I rode up in the cab with Dreidel perched on Moses, Darling at my side, and Herbie's moped in the back of Freddie the Fireman's Old Plymouth Pumper. From the east, we approached the "Gateway to the West," our siren wailing and solitary red light twirling.
Freddie noticed a dark hulk in the median and directed his spotlight onto a battered van. "That the coyote that left you li'l gozilla?"
When I yelled that it sure was, Freddie switched the siren off and bounced onto the shoulder.
Stumbling over, the stoned cowpoke finally introduced himself. "I'm King, and my van's motor spun a bearing. I'm gonna leave her for the wrecker." Sucking on what looked like the same roach, he asked if we'd give his family a ride.
Freddie told King to get his wife and son loaded into the rear jumpseat. After they scurried across the highway and climbed in, the old coot told King that his rebuilt Plymouth was missing bad. "Go see if my pumper's a spoutin' water out the exhaust, please Mister King."
As soon as the pothead patriarch disappeared around back, Freddie crunched his long fire truck into gear and took off - sans King.
Rattling back onto I-70, Freddie swerved into the passing lane and told King's wife and son that he'd take them to the Salvation Army in North St. Louis. "My great-granddaughter Rosie O'Grady owns a well-lit diner right next store. She'll fix you both up with some hot food and help you find a good family to live with."
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Flipping the siren back on, Freddie started slingin' the lingo with his buddies over the high-tech CB and the whole world seemed like one big family. How happy, I hadn't yet determined.
As we made our final approach on the Mockingbird, I yelled for Freddie to shut the siren off. "The neighbors might call club security."
After a less than quiet halt, Freddie helped me unload the moped and asked if this was the place where I was born. "Right here on the ritzy grounds of the notorious Mock Club?"
Checking to make sure the moped had survived the Mo-Kan trek intact, I told Freddie that I'd never lived in such grandeur. "My retired parents and younger sister are the only ones that have ever lived here. I was born in a little house in U. City, before my father struck it rich."
After King's wife told me to keep the monkey, Freddie reboarded and rolled his window down. "What's U. City?"
I explained. "University City - on a street named Mt. Olive."
The old servant rubbed his weathered, white-stubbled jaw. "You know, son, Mount of Olives is a key biblic spot in both Testaments."
I told him I hadn't realized it, that I hadn't even finished reading the Original Testament yet. "But lots of streets have biblical names, especially in a Jewish neighborhood."
Freddie huffed as he reached into the glove box and took out a small book. "You best finish readin' the Golden Text and quit bein' so analytic in your thinkin'. You read what this has to say - with your heart, not your head. Here's a pocket-sized New Testament for ya."
As I took the scripture, it dawned on me that Granny might have radioed the old man. "Did Granny tell you to keep an eye out for me?"
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Taut face wrinkling, Freddie winked. "If you get a chance, Danu, you drop in and chow down on a couple Obbies at O'Grady's Grill. Tell Rosie her Grampaps is healthy and says hi."
When I told him I didn't know where the grill was, the old fireman smiled, elusively. "It's a real clean, awful well-lit place and you'll know where it is if it was meant for you to go there." With a wave, he chugged away into the dawn, King's estranged family gladly at his side.
I stowed the moped on the patio, disarmed the alarm, and made my way quietly inside. Little sister Bitsey was probably still asleep. After tying Darling up in the laundry room, I perched Dreidel on the bar in the den and crashed on the couch. In no time, I dropped off (to sleep).
Until a door banged open from the bedroom wing and a tall silhouette approached, yelling. "Get up, brother David!"
As I struggled to stand unaided, a pair of bright chandeliers flashed on, illuminating my crew-cut sister. "You have to pick up our parents at the airport, brother."
Grabbing onto Moses, I looked around. "Where's my bird?"
Bitsey said she'd put him outside. "Where he belongs."
I told sis she couldn't do that. "Dreidel's my pet."
B.B. claimed she could do whatever she wanted. "When mom and dad are gone, I'm in charge. Besides, your damn bird just flew up on the roof and he's probably still there."
After explaining that Dreidel was a girl, I asked if sis had been messing with the monkey, Darling. "What'd you do with her?"
B. Bob said she doubted my monkey's name was Darling. "He's a male and I'm studying him."
I remembered the wind was blowing when the monkey's stoned owner told me the simian's name. "Yeah, I bet the monkey's name is Darwin." Unconsciously, I pointed Moses at my six-foot, flat-chested sister. "So what have you done with Darwin?"
end page 419
Adjusting the shoulder pads on her football jersey, she said he was in her bedroom. "I'm studying Darwin and I think I'll keep him."
When I said that that was fine with me, that I was going outside to check on Dreidel, Bitsey told me to take a shower with the hose in the garage before coming back in.
Unbolting the patio door, I told her I refused to shower with the golf cart. "Contrary to what you were taught, Bitsey Bob, I'm not a shitbum."
The girl instructed me not to call her Bitsey Bob. "I'm not an ignorant farm girl or a county sperm depository. My new name's Robert."
Telling her to lighten up, I stepped outside, surprised to see evening had arrived. I'd slept a lot longer than I thought. After I collected Dreidel, Bitsey explained that dad was returning from his African holiday early, to work on his memoirs. Mom, on a hot streak at Keno, wasn't due back until the following day.
After a nice long shower in the guest bathroom, I jockeyed the family Caddie to the airport. My feet, hands, and rearend were screwed up worse than ever from the moped ride. I should have taken Morningstar's advice and found an easier way.
In plenty of time, I arrived at St. Louis International to greet the Winterbird Getaway from Sun City. My father, appearing much shorter than I remembered, deboarded into the voluminous terminal with a robust young business lady at his side.
Dad eyed Dreidel on my shoulder as he adressed me. "David, that's a useless bird you have there, and why are you wearing that silly patch? Isn't the cane outlandish enough?"
I tried to explain, but pops wasn't listening. Instead, he introduced me to his shapely sidekick. "Colon, meet my son. He doesn't have a job or a bank account, but once in a great while he's almost as smart as me."
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Massaging her thigh, she spoke carnally. "I'm Coleen, a Systems Analyst from Sacramento."
Pops described how he recruited her on the plane. "Colon's a computer expert and she's going to process my memoirs."
Walking to the baggage claim, I wondered how much he was going to pay for her services rendered. When I taught him how to use his computer, he didn't pay anything. On hearing that I was too lame to carry more than one bag at a time, dad got growling mad.
His hands shook as he paid a valet to take care of the rest. "Colon's meter's running."
While I served as their semi-crippled chauffeur, he and Coleen jabbered in the backseat all the way to the Mockingbird reserve. Pulling into the garage, I asked if sweet-smelling Coleen was going to spend the night.
Dad, ceremoniously clicking open his jewelled pillbox, announced their plans. "We're going to take Jitterlin and process my memoirs all night, son."
They popped a few, and I followed the medicated twosome into the rear study, my father's so-called office. After daddy Ray fumbled about for a while to find his computer's switch, the full-bodied beaut sashayed over to what was largely a decorative workstation.
With a definite rhythm, the bestial blonde unbuttoned her tight tweed suit coat and took a deep breath. "Would you like to examine my peripherals, gentlemen?"
Eagerly, my father sprinkled the desk with Jitterlin - and his swollen tongue dropped out as Coleen unsnapped her loose purple blouse, exposing a bountifully bouncing banana-colored bra (with kinky peepholes for the young lady's pink nipplry).
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While pops gurgled, I headed for the kitchen to get some grub and put my belongings in order. There was a time when I would have gladly lifted Systems Analyst Coleen's dust cover to get the feel of her mainframe's software on the spreadsheet.
Instead, as I was examining Freddie's bible, Bitsey joined me at the kitchen table and shoved a Buster Brown shoebox at me.
She said it was all my junk they'd cleaned out of dad's bottom drawer in Florida. "Dad should have thrown it out when he threw out all your silly trophies years ago." Deserving no response, she went on to say I was to pick up mom at the airport the next afternoon and that we were to have a belated Christmas dinner at the clubhouse. I didn't ask the ersatz Jewish American Princess (Jew-Witch in lieu of Jew-Wish) if the family gathering was intended to celebrate Hanukkah too.
I was looking through the pantry for a holiday candle to light when pops wandered in, searching for a fresh jug of Perrier. When I asked why he didn't have me type his journal, pops got a real serious look on his face and said that I wasn't mature enough to understand some of his memoirs.
But, he said, I would be someday. "Then you'll thank me for what I've done for you and the family, son."
Growling unmentionable euphemisms to myself, I lit a lone candle in a wine glass for Hanukkah, and headed for the couch. As soon as dad was out of sight, I opened the tattered shoebox. Under a pile of letters I'd written home from the Marines (some still unopened), there lay a strand of rawhide connected to a foil pouch. The pouch, identical to Morningstar's, was empty. No egg, magic or otherwise - anywhere. Stashing the wrinkled pouch in my wallet, I decided to hunt the house for the missing ovum as soon as my parents left for New Years in Vegas.
Upon reading five pages of Daniel and five of Mathew, I drifted off as another Christmas Day in St. Louis faded into the local history books.
end chap 24
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