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Pop's big pool party in the basement seemed anything but a riotous blast as I removed the polish-stained cover from his pride-and-joy. Marshall and Coleen were sitting together at the wet bar on the far side of the professional-grade pool table, giggling, while I brushed dad's favorite inanimate felt.
Chalking my cue, I challenged the graduate to a game. "Come on, Marshall. You have the rest of your life to talk to lovely ladies like Coleen."
My bejeweled mother slurped vintage bouquet as she spoke. "Hon, don't talk so loud. We're trying to relax."
Tapping excess chalk off my tip, I smiled at mom. "I thought this was a party, mother."
She almost smiled back. "It is, hon. But retirees prefer to relax for fun."
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Unfortunately able to shoot my best only under pressure, I let Marshall outgun me with a rather bland game of rotation. Whereupon, Flip strolled nonchalantly over and took control of things.
He challenged my father. "Chief, how about some straight pool? Twenty bucks a ball."
While Marshall and Coleen swapped military jokes, I drank some COW POWER and watched pop and Flip shoot it out. Much to my surprise, pop beat Flip to ten with a masterful curve shot on the 6.
Pop scurried over and tugged at my arm. "Did you see that shot, son? I bet you don't even know what they call that kind of a shot."
I congratulated his shooting. "It was a massé. So how about a game with me, dad?"
I racked the balls while pop, bobbing his head and over-chalking his cue, said that he needed a backup computer down in Boynton Beach to keep track of all his junk bonds. "So how about this, son? If you win, I give you two thousand dollars cash. If I win, I get your Macintosh. You pick the game."
I slapped my cue against a rail. "You're on." Setting Moses aside, I adjusted my patch. "One game of Eightball - Freeze Out. Winner takes all. No questions asked or excuses made."
Instructing me not to cheat, dad broke - but failed to pocket a thing. I began to run the table, sinking six odd-numbered balls - before missing the 7.
Then I retreated to the bar while dad went to work on the evens. Before I could finish my chocolate drink, pop was about to drop the 8 into the side pocket - and win my computer. Pushing his chubby chest out, he ceremoniously re-chalked his stubby cue. "Son, I believe I have you in a bit of a bind."
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In his own language, I told him to get it over with. "Even Coleen could put that ball in the pocket."
Spreading his stubby fingers on the felt, pops short-stroked several times - to prolong my agony. Finally, he stroked for victory - but the doorbell rang and he miscued. Hobbling over near the rail, the cue ball lined up perfectly for my shot on the 7.
Huffing, Fats Daniels said he was going to take the shot over. "The doorbell broke my concentration."
I said I was sorry. "But that's the breaks, dad." Moving into position for the 7, I quick-stroked the cue ball for my long-green shot. I needed the proper english to pocket my object ball and have the cue ball end up in good shape for the 8 - and pop's two thousand greenbacks. The capital would allow me to help Herbie fulltime in finding the Lewis and Clark Jewels.
I cocked my arm for the execution - just as Bitsey called out from the foot of the stairs. "Hey David, some of your friends from the sticks are here to see you."
I laid my stick down and picked up Moses as Walker clambered down the steps and spoke first. "We're here to wish you a Happy Hanukkah and New Year."
Behind him came the whole crew. Smitty, Granny, April, and a very attractive, healthy blonde waved as they walked toward me. It was good to see them all, and what good news it was when Walker re-introduced me to Fannie, his fiance. The donut girl wasn't anorexic anymore. But I barely had time to congratulate her and wink at Cleopatra Butler before my mother summoned.
Mum whispered that my friends could stay for a few minutes if I insisted. "But we only have enough hors doeuvres for the real guests, so have Ruby microwave some hot dogs for..."
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I announced my defiance. "Everybody help yourselves to the gourmet buffet - right over there."
Pops made beligerent noises. "David, if you don't shoot soon, you forfeit."
On the way to the silver buffet, I told him to hold his horses. "I have no intentions of forfeiting, now or ever."
Gingerly, Granny sampled a jelly-filled croissant coated with cream cheese and said Walker told her I was too hardheaded to borrow her Dodge. "David, I was flabbergasted when he told me you rode Herbie's moped all the way here. Proud Mary is parked outside for your return trip."
Smitty pushed his belly out and said they brought two cars. "Walker's squad will get us back to Kansas in time for the Hound Dog's midnight run. No sweat."
Double-dunking a blueberry bagel in imported honey and sour cream, Walker said they had to get going right away to hit the state line by 23:40. "But I need to talk with you for a minute first, David - outside please."
Before I could ask what the mystery was, a shrill laughter filled the basement and Granny called out. "Sonny, you didn't tell me you had a monkey in the family!" Upon telling the others to go upstairs, she strolled toward the bar to meet Bitsey's primate.
As the rest of the friendly entourage scrambled up the carpeted flight, I introduced Granny to Kay and Bitsey.
Granny told mom she had a fine son (me). "Mrs. Daniels, your David is an upstanding citizen of the Rising Star. He's just like one of my own." Massaging Darwin's tiny skull, Granny proceeded to tell us how her seventh husband Charles passed away some years before. "His pet monkey was named after our youngest son who died in Vietnam, Big Joe. Little Big Joe, the monkey, took up permanent residence in the peach tree on the far side of the cemetery, to keep Big Joe and Chuck VII company. You know, Mrs. Daniels, LBJ looked just like this monkey of your daughter's."
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Confusion contorted Kay's face. "Monkey of my daughter's??" Horrified, she looked at drooling Darwin - then Bitsey.
Unusually sarcastic (considering her hopes to inherit the entire Daniels' estate), Bitsey told mom she'd been studying the primate's private parts for two days. "He even sleeps with me. Mother, don't tell me you didn't know I had a monkey."
Mom's lid quivered. "What?!?!? Bitsey, you're not going to keep a monkey in this house while I'm alive." And she passed out.
With difficulty, I held mom on her feet until Flip came and dragged her over to the sofa.
Making ugly faces at me, Bitsey walked away, saying she didn't need my monkey anyway. "I already got what I wanted from him, brother."
As athletic sis jogged up the steps, I told Granny the monkey was an orphan and needed a good home. "Would you like to be his mother? His new name is Joey."
Granny took Joey's hand, I grabbed Moses, and we walked toward the stairs - but not before Father Fats warned me oncemore that I'd best finish our game. I told him very politely that I'd return in a few minutes and climped the steps behind Granny (and her most recent jungle offspring).
Hobbling across the kitchen, Granny said she bet my mother was one hell of a cook with all her newfangled gadgets. I didn't answer.
As we passed through the front vestibule, Granny eyed dad's porn collection. "I see your father's quite the film connoisseur, sonny."
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I did answer. "I erased them all last summer."
We chortled and stepped out into the cool evening where Lenexa's favorite sons and daughters had congregated under the stars.
Granny cradled Joey in her arms as Smitty ordered her and April to wait with Fanny in Walker's Crown Vic. "We men have police business to discuss. Walker deputized me just before I locked up the cupcakes."
Obediently, April sauntered off with Granny and Joey in tow. Officer Walker, clearing his throat, was just about to begin when Coleen sashayed out on the porch. After introducing her to Smitty and Walker, I directed her toward the ladies over by the police car.
Walker's well-creased forehead pulled taut as he sucked in his gut and finally got to the point. He informed me how the department - after the Rodriguez kids reported an awful stink coming from the mausoleum - had discovered Blanche Barnes' body that very afternoon, in the cemetery across from where I lived.
Walker took a deep breath and unzipped his coat pocket. "David, Big Brandy was found with a giant turkey-head stuffed into each of her three major orifices. It was a grizzly sight." Pulling out a pair of strawberry-flavored cupcakes, Walker unwrapped the cellophane and told me that if I went back to Poor Richard's, he'd have to arrest me.
I couldn't believe it. "You think I..."
Quickly, Smitty said they didn't think I did anything wrong, but Brownie and Heinie had both disappeared, along with M. Pyre. According to Walker, KCMO could only hold Hista in their jail for so long without hard evidence. So, for my own good, I would be placed in protective custody if I returned to my apartment.
However, Walker said he'd discussed it with Granny and she'd told him that the two of us were going to hunt for hidden treasure with Herbie. "Well, David, I don't know anything about such clandestine nonsense - and I don't want to. But Smitty says you can stay in his Cloneshop under the pastry-and-coffee locker until things are safe."
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In no uncertain terms, I explained that I had my own apartment and wasn't about to let anyone scare me off. "I'd just as soon get it over with. I'll knock their fuckin' heads from here to kingdom come."
Calmly, Smitty took exception. "No you won't. When you come back to Lenexa, you stay at the market with Granny and me - or you stay in Walker's cooler. Take your pick, head-knocker."
I told them I planned to stay in St. Louis another couple days and would decide where to live when the time came. "I guess I'll see you guys at the New Years Gala if Morningstar happens to be in the mood to go with me."
Walker tossed his cellophane into the plastic shrubs. "Sorry slugger, but I got more news." Hoisting his over-laden police belt, he tightened it and broke wind. "The good news is that Fannie and I are going to get married before the year is out. The bad news is that Margot left for Arizona - for health reasons, I think. She left a note with Granny for you."
As I led our group toward Granny, Smitty said everyone still wanted me at Walker's wedding on New Years Eve. It was aboard the Freedom Flyer and I promised to be there. Maybe Sunshine, the movie star, would show up.
I found Granny leaning against the squad's trunk, knuckle-scrubbing Joey's scalp, and asked for the note Morning left me. She pulled it from her bountiful bonnet, gave it to Joey, and he handed it to me. I unfolded the well-creased index card:
David, I'll be just fine as long as you follow the Tract of Stone.
Be good, Morning
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When I told Granny that I wasn't sure what the note meant, she smiled wide. "Wasn't Stone an injun' brave who led all his people to a happy new land?"
I told her that I knew that much. "But what's it got to do with me?"
The old curmudgeon claimed that we were on the verge of a whole new world. "Like nothin' ever dreamt of before, sonny - 'cept in the Bible. Eastern Europe will only be the beginning."
Pushing Moses into the low-grade asphalt, I adjusted my eye-patch and told Granny that I hoped she was right. "But I'll probably be too crippled by then to be a part of it - and too blind to even witness it."
She assured me that I wouldn't be either. "The Good News is coming real soon and you're a very important part of it, Danu." When I asked how I could be a big part of it if I don't even know what I was supposed to do, she told me to listen to my Ohla-Mohla. "Because, sonny, your Ohla is our Mohla."
After I peered up at the moon in silent reflection for a second, Dreidel fluttered to my shoulder and I told Granny that I wasn't sure what she meant but I'd promise do my best at figuring it out. "Speaking of riddles, tell Doc Riddle that I wish him a Happy New Year."
With a frown, Granny said Riddle hadn't been to the Pipe Club since just after Thanksgiving. "Doc took on the job of director of St. Adolph's. For big bucks, I hear-tell. Seems, he came up with some interesting theories on mass mind-control they value to no end."
I said I couldn't believe Riddle would do wrong. "Maybe he's doing some undercover work but doesn't want to fill us in yet. On the subject of undercover work, why didn't you tell me you're really Ms. S. from Lincoln High?"
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Startled for only a second, the oldstess brushed my query aside. "Just tryin' to make sure my favorite captain's Pohla got a good education."
Before I could ask what specifically I was supposed to be the captain of and where we were headed, Coleen came over and asked if I could give her a ride to Kansas when I returned. She said April and Smitty had invited her to the New Years Party at the Pipe Club and Doll House. Walker stepped over and said it would be an honor to have Coleen as a guest of the Rising Star, that if I couldn't find a bed for her, she should just look him up at police headquarters and he'd have Fannie arrange something at Daisie's Bed-and-Breakfast. After I agreed to give Coleen a ride, Granny handed Joey to Walker and dragged me over to the mailbox.
The daffy old lady pulled a pearl-handled .45 automatic from her purse and offered it to me. "Them damn SwizzleStinkers mean business and we need you alive for the return."
I told Granny that if it was really meant for me to share in the new world or the return, whatever it was, a gun wasn't going to make the difference one way or the other. "For whatever reason, life isn't worth living if I have to live every minute of it looking over my shoulder, worrying whether some idiot's going to snuff me out with a twitch of his finger. I'd just as soon cash my chips in right now."
Granny pursed her weapon and handed me a platinum keychain that had a miniature white egg dangling from it. She told me Herbie was making great progress in finding the Jewels of Lenexa (as he now called Lewis and Clark's buried treasure). "He's waitin' for you to get home to break ground near Lebanon. He says a little birdie told him the Lost Ark was stashed somewhere in the same county - or maybe in the Flint Hills."
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Before I could say that we needed to take one step at a time, a poorly tuned motorcycle echoed through the neighborhood.
Quickly, Granny explained that Jessie followed them from Kansas and needed a place to camp for the night. "He's got a gig in midtown St. Louie tomorrow and was wonderin' if he could use your folks' backyard to crash in."
I gave my permission. "But tell him not to make too much noise."
When Jessie rolled up the drive sporting a big grin and an antique Indian w/sidecar, Granny motioned him into the backyard and gave me a kiss on the cheek. As she opened the squad's back door to get in, April climbed out and said she was going to stay in St. Louis with Coleen. Coleen said they would sleep at her duplex and I could give them both a ride west to the New Years Gala.
After Granny slid in with Joey, she told me there was a whole cannister of coffee drops in Proud Mary's center console. "Wouldn't want you fallin' asleep at the wheel, sonny."
With no further ado, Walker hit the electric locks, cycled the airbags, and peeled off toward I-70 - plus all points west. After checking in the backyard to make sure Jessie hadn't crashed in the literal sense, I followed April and Coleen downstairs to finish my game of Freeze Out.
Pops stood silent. I expected him to be whining about the tardiness. When I picked up my stick and began to rechalk, I saw why he was so quiet. He'd moved the 8 ball to block my shot on the 7. "Hey dad, I don't think that's funny. Put the 8 back where it was."
Pop's face turned rasberry. "You aren't accusing me of cheating, are you son?"
I said that of course I wasn't. "Despite the Fifth Commandment, I'm going to put the 8 back where it was."
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As I reached for the black ball, Flip's clammy hands grabbed my already cramped wrist and he spoke emphatically. "The Chief didn't move that ball. I'm his witness. He never got near it. Maybe you just forgot where it was, David."
I yanked free. "All right Flip. You and popsicle win - the battle."
Applying extra chalk to my cue, I hoped Daphney wasn't going to misuse any of the ideas I gave him. I slipped the patch off my bad eye and banged down hard on the side of the cue ball. A perfect massé shot. Beautifully, it curved around the 8 and dropped the 7.
Re-positioning my patch, I easily pocketed the 8 in the side and asked for my two thousand.
White as a sheet, dad claimed I violated Sun City Rules on two counts. "Son, you left the table for over three minutes, and you used a massé shot."
I told him he shot a massé the game before and this wasn't Sun City. "The money - please."
Surrendering too easily, pops took out a wad of bills and crammed them into my pocket. I pulled them back out - just to make sure.
My DNA-provider whined. "Don't you trust me, son?"
I said that certainly I did trust him. "But there's less than two hundred here. Where's the rest?"
He pointed out that he'd given me almost 10%. "Son, that's all I pay when I buy stock."
Patiently, I explained that I wasn't the New York Stock Exchange and I wasn't born yesterday. "They quit letting people buy on 10% margin when the market crashed back in '29."
Dad's sloppily shaven upper lip quivered. "David, don't get smart with me or I'm liable to have one of my palpitations."
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As the old stinker walked away, healthier than me, I asked a simple question of him. "Is that a promise or a threat?"
Frustrated (but far wealthier than when I got into town), I sat on the couch between Victoria and Kimmble. Sweetly, my niece asked if I would take them to the Blockbuster Revival at the Fox the next day. She said three big movie stars were going to make a personal appearance up in the Star Showcase.
When they overheard the mention of tinseltown, April and Coleen begged to go too; so I agreed to take them all. "What the heck - holidays are for fun. As a matter of fact I'm gonna go cruisin' right now."
Taking leave of the basement festivities, Dreidel and I escorted Victoria and Kimmble upstairs, then joined Proud Mary at the front curb. After I fired her up, she idled rough and noisy for a time, but the oil pressure and manifold pressure looked good. As her giant hood scoop twisted away with every supercharged stroke, it dawned on me that Brandy would still be alive if she hadn't met me. I gate-shifted into gear as a light flickered on in the master bedroom window.
Putting my foot to the floor, I popped the clutch and a giant fantail of soggy cinders sprayed up behind me as I raced Proud Mary over the wet streets of the country club proper. Skipping second, I hit third gear as we pulled onto the main drag - and took it relatively easy.
Over the clatter of the big block's solid lifters, I raised my voice at Dreidel. "Hey there, want to visit my old neighborhood?"
Was I about to go off the deep end - talking to a bird? After a light peck at my collar, amenable Dreidel spread her wings and I steered east, to visit my paternal German Grandparents. Along the way, I hoped not to let my newfound friends down by going anywhere near the brink.
Parking under a stuttering street light, I noticed the awesome smoothness of Granny's miniature keychain egg. Charily, I slipped it into my coat pocket and hobbled over the broken sidewalk to the main gate of the Mount Olive Cemetery.
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I noticed a bare bulb dangling from a tree on brewery cord, over beside a leaning outhouse near the center of the neglected graveyard - and Dreidel fluttered towards it. In tow, I decided to visit Brandy's resting place as soon as I returned home. Not far from the privy, I came upon the present place of my father's parents, Grandma and Grandpa Daniels - whose ancestors had come over just after the American Revolution. Transliterated from Hebrew, their double-wide headmarker said Shaare Emeth and, in English, Together Again.
After pulling a few of the weeds from both neglected mounds, I shoved the trash to either side with Moses. Reflecting on their insidious romanticism, I felt something hot in my pocket and stood. Pulling Granny's keychain out, I discovered its tiny stone egg glowing amber - maybe a sign that my Grandparents were together afterall, nearby. So they'd know someone stopped by to say hello if they were away, I placed an Israeli shekel on their headstone and led Dreidel back to the car.
Crossing North and South Boulevard to check on my maternal Grandparents from pre-Bolshevik Russia, I found a very similar setting at B'nai Amoona. My Grandpa and Grandma Dorn's common marker announced Still Together. Tidying their plot up, I marvelled at how similar seemingly disimiliar peoples' desires really are. Satisfied they'd all made it to wherever their personal heaven was, I cruised back to the place my parents called zion, daring to wonder who would visit my parents' resting place. The Mockingbird Boys? Probably me.
Too tired to take part in any more partying, I gathered my books and shoebox of junk and dropped onto the couch. I needed a clue - to help me keep my egg, wherever it was, from falling into M. Pyre Hista's greedy hands.
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I found a tattered "HUCKLEBERRY FINN" at the bottom of my box. Leftover from high school, a page in chapter 24 was especially dog-eared - and three names double-underlined. With a little reading, I rediscovered that Mary, Susan, and Joanna were the names of the three girls who the king and the duke tried to swindle out of their inheritance. To save my soul, I couldn't remember why I'd underlined them though - double or otherwise.
A chirp from Dreidel jogged my memory. Sure, the names were the same as my three favorite ladies at Lincoln - Mrs. Mary Smith and the Cole Sisters, Susanna and Joanna. Way back then, I had no idea we would renew our acquaintances - at least once at a place called Puberty Park. Much less did I imagine I might someday meet Mark Twain's incarnation, Mr. Sam Cohen (if he really was).
I opened the New Testament Freddy gave me to LUKE (like in St. Luke's Hospital where I was denullified). During that long winter month, I now recalled, Halley's Comet approached its perihedron for the first time since Mark Twain's death - he second since his birth. Granny's Ambillectual Ambition had taught me to trust my right-brained gut feelings if they weren't in dangerous conflict with my left-brained safeguards. So, clicking the three-way lamp to its brightest setting, I got comfortable and began my ten-page self-assignment in the New Jerusalem Edition.
Five pages later, at the end of Luke 8, I came across a revelation. Probably by Freddy or Granny, three names had been highlighted in rose-red. Mary, Joanna, and Susanna were the only three women specifically named to have accompanied the Twelve Apostles on their tour of Galilee. How in God's name were the three females I now knew by those same first names connected with Jesus's Apostles of two thousand years ago - not to mention their more recent link to Huck Finn. ?-?-? Being presented with no simple answer, I read the first five pages of Anne Frank's Diary and nested it in my shoebox. Most certainly, she was one of those chosen to deliver God's message.
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Despite the bawdy racket coming from down in the rathskellar, I had much to mull over - and drifted off to alpha-sleep.
I was already half awake when mom tapped on the coffee table in the morning while Dreidel pecked at my neck to rouse me the rest of the way.
Mom asked if I was ready to drive her and my father to the airport. "Where is Ray, hon? He didn't come to bed last night - I don't think."
Sitting up, I struggled into my boots and told her pop was most likely still downstairs. "Playing pocket billiards with the boys."
After dear dad took a quick bubble bath in the downstairs sauna, he drove the three of us to the airport in the loaner Eldorado. While we waited for an opening at the terminal curb near the sign of the Imperial Express To Vegas, mom brought dad up to date on the latest news of their friends' vacations, operations, jewels, furs and funerals. She'd spent most of the previous evening on the telephone collecting the data.
Finally, dad found an opening and scuffed the silver canoe's tires on the curb. A porter came around to dad's side, and dad asked if the Imperial Express was on time.
The gentleman said that he was sorry, but it had been delayed in Detroit. "Some sort of mechanical problem, sir."
Pulling a goldleaf card from his pregnant wallet, pop told the man to carry their bags upstairs. "Blackie, we're members in good standing of the Skyhigh Club."
While the financially indentured porter unloaded the trunk, I took dad's place at the wheel and, with mixed feelings, wished my parents a Happy New Year.
While mom buttoned her sable and climbed out, dad mounted the curb in his rhinestone platforms. "Son, why don't you resolve to do something contructive with your life this coming year - for a change?"
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Moms chimed in. "That's right, hon."
When I said it was an accomplishment just to survive all the years, mother licked an empty packet of ground nullium and told me not to be so melodramatic. "We all have our little ups and downs, David."
That said, I waved good-bye and drove back to their house to get cleaned up for my movie date. After April treated me to an extra-close holiday shave and Coleen tried to put a spit-shine on my long-abused boots, we headed for Betsey Lee Drive in Olivette. Proud Mary wasn't big enough for the whole crew and might be a bit unruly if we encountered heavy traffic - so we took the Eldo.
Getting into the front seat, Kimmble gave me the details on the big show while she let Victoria put her hair in pony tails. Seaman Marshall, in a freshly issued uniform, chatted with the girls in the backseat.
As we rolled over the Innerbelt, Kimmble threatened never to talk to me again if we were late. "The newspaper said the Revival starts at two, exactly."
Fifteen minutes later, I gave her forty bucks of my pool-winnings and let her and Dreidel off underneath the Fox Theatre's lavish new marquee. It proudly announced the Blockbuster Revival. After the rest of us circled the block twice, Kimmble climbed back in with an awful frown on her young face.
She said she had the tickets, but the show was postponed for four hours. "Son of a gun, the stars won't be here until a lot later for their Celebrity Showcase. Shoot."
By voice-vote, we decided to kill some time at the St. Louis Zoo. Deep inside Forest Park, we found the parking lot empty and drove around to the zoo's main entrance. A wino was pacing back and forth with a placard hung from his neck: UNEMPLOYED GATEKEEPER.
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When Kimmble asked the less-than-sober soul if the zoo was open, he took a snort from a paper bag and said that it was, but there weren't any animalsleft. "They had a riot Christmas Eve and escaped. Ya' better just go to the Art Museum, dammit." He laughed hysterically. "Oh Lord, my people let themselves go!!!"
As we pulled away, I explained to my niece that the gatekeeper was drunk, sick, insane, or all three.
Victoria agreed. "Paintings nailed to walls are more humane than animals locked in cages anyway."
Young Kimmble made the astute observation that people living in the ghetto were no better off than the animals in the zoo - then started to render her own version of Tom the Talkin' Tur-keeee. Emphatically, I told her to stop it, that I had a friend who had choked on those very words - quite literally.
There were only a couple cars in the slush-packed museum lot. As Victoria and I limped side-by-side up the slippery steps, she asked April to help her to the coffee shop because her legs were acting up. Once inside the toasty depository, Coleen wandered off toward the West Wing.
Moses and I led Kimmble and Marshall toward the Ancient Egyptian Portico. My niece and nephew moved slowly, admiring the Renaissance Art on both sides of the long hall. Marshall asked how anyone could fail to admire the genuis of the masters, and how anyone could label the meaningless suppressionistic scribblings of drugged-up drop-outs art. Indeed, the absolute beauty of Rembrandt and Da Vinci absorbed my physical pain for the time being.
A spontaneous hush cloaked our trio as we entered the MUMMY ROOM. To my disdain, the pharoahs' misbegotten jewels seemed to sparkle just as brightly at the end of the second millenium as they had during the first dynasty.
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Suddenly, the most hypnotic jewel of all caught my eye - a dignified lady in a tweed suit, wearing Hollywood sunglasses and hemp sandals - very much alive and unmummified. Hair wrapped in a bun on top her beautiful head, she looked exactly as I imagined someone else might as she nurtured the years. As we walked by, I noticed her inviting scent of jasmine. Her smooth skin glowed with subtle gold undertones while her deep-set eyes sparkled, even from behind California shades.
Tugging at Moses, Kimmble coaxed me to look at the mummy's toes. "Come on, Captain D. They're unwrapped."
As I knelt, pretending to look into the display case, I kept my good eye on the mysterious lady - but directed my comment to my niece. "Kimmble, their knowledge of chemistry was uncanny."
The queenly woman in sandals approached and spoke plainly. "An uncanny knowledge of chemistry? Or an absolute knowledge of the ages?"
Before I could intelligently respond, something began to burn deep in my pants, and I grappled to my feet. Reaching into my pocket, I queried the lady. "Why, if they did have an absolute knowledge of the ages, didn't they put it to better use?" I found Granny's miniature egg beaming brightly and rested it on the glass case.
The well-balanced little amulet rolled back and forth as the lady stepped closer to stroke Dreidel. "Truly, you have a keen eye for the ages, Captain D. Is that your name?"
As her comet-like brows lifted above the scarlet shades, my adrenalin surged, but I struggled to maintain some semblance of composure. "That's just a silly nickname my niece calls me - after the seafood joint, because of my bird and eye-patch. She thinks it makes me look like a pirate."
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A soft smile flushed the lady's loving face. "I'm a Culturist, if you will." With that, she licked her lips hypnotically and turned to leave.
While my niece and nephew followed her from the room, I pocketed the lukewarm egg and made a quick exit myself. I found them waiting for me in the hall, and when I asked the wonderful lady if she'd like to have a cup of coffee, tea, or milk with us, she nodded politely.
As our procession snaked along, its only sound was the soft slapping of damp heels over well-worn hardwood and an occasional cane-clicking (Moses' rubber tip was about worn out). Somehow, this queenly lady had instilled a sense of awe in the three of us. Not a word was said the entire way.
Pausing ourside the coffee shop, the regal lady suddenly said that she just remembered an engagement. "It's this afternoon. Sorry, I really have to be going."
As she waltzed toward the exit, Dreidel fluttered to her shoulder and I followed. Mustering all my energy, I overcame my cramped leg and escorted her quickly down the freshly salted steps.
At what appeared to be a rental car, I opened her door and she slid gracefully in. After starting the little gold-and-white Dodge Omni, she set Dreidel back on my shoulder.
When I asked where she was from, her hidden eyes opened passionately. "Would you believe a not-too-distant Starsystem?"
I said that no I didn't believe it. "But I bet you could convince me if you really tried, Miss..."
An angelic smile swept across her face as she shifted into gear. "It's been nice running into you and your family. Take care, David." She slipped her glasses off and set them on the dashboard.
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Rocked by the naked beauty of her ocular globes, I dug Moses deep into the wet gravel for balance. "How did you know my name was David?"
The smile of innocence left her increasingly familiar face. "Your daughter Kimmble called you David."
I pointed out otherwise. "She called me Captain D. She's not my daughter, she's my niece."
"And a lovely one." Quickly replacing her shades, the queen rolled up her window and sloshed away.
I bellowed into the brisk wind. "Is that you, Susanna?!?"
Frustrated to no end, I watched her completely disappear into Forest Park before reclimping the gritty steps to the coffee shop. Was it really Susanna Cole? How strange, almosy contrived, this holiday in St. Louis was turning out to be.
Staggering into the muggy coffeteria, I set my bones down beside April and told Victoria that I'd just seen Edith's mother, my unrequited sweetheart - after a twenty-year estrangement.
For awhile, we talked about how art reflected a society's character, then headed for the show. As we piled into the loaner canoe, I asked Victoria if she thought I was crazy for still holding affection for a girl who never went for me and who I hadn't seen in two decades.
Interceding, Kimmble jabbed me in the gut. "Get the show on the road, you crazy son of a gun. We love ya."
After receiving several more jabs of encouragement from my niece, I got behind the glitzy wheel and zig-zagged east through the park - then across Kingshighway towards the Fox.
With several square blocks around the refurbished theatre double-parked to the hilt, I let the crew out in front and told them to save me a seat. "Have Marshall leave his cap on so I'll be able to spot you if the movie's already started."
Victoria asked me to let Marshall park the car. "Please, David, your legs are liable to give out."
end page 478
After I said the exercise would do them good, Kimmble told me to be careful. "Don't get assaulted, Uncle Peanut." She slammed the door and I pulled into the traffic.
I had to keep moving - no matter what. Somewhere I'd heard that if you travelled far enough, you'd meet yourself - somewhere.
end chap 27
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