Saturday, January 22, 2022

Hurdy Gurdy Man

Listening to The Sun, Portugal the Man

My parakeet loves metal, apparently. Dude’s silent with Brahms, Zep, indie stuff, but System of a Down and Venom gets him going. In case you’re taking notes.

My latest rejection came yesterday. It was after a full manuscript request from a small publisher and it took months to get the shutdown. I was told, “There are some very good ideas here, but I didn’t find myself connecting with the characters.”

Probably no connection there because most of my characters are either stoners or racist assholes. So, I guess they never made it through Lolita.

If they’d read on beyond the conversations between brilliant stoners, maybe they’d have enjoyed this:

Flynn raised his hand for another drink, wide-eyed with the impression of the old man’s vital and imposing presence. 

 “Get me a shot, befo you drink this place outta every drop they got.” Gramps almost slammed his fist on the bar again but stopped himself to wince from his previous bar pounding.

Prince came on the jukebox, Let’s Go Crazy, and Flynn fell out laughing with some part of his day being absolutely absurd.  “You had a dream, about Powerball. You live your life on what your dreams tell you?”

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. And I’m not sayin that dreams ain’t worked out too bad in my life.” The shots arrived but Gramps was not done talking. “This dream that woke me up? It showed me that I’d be talkin to you, Flynn. And here we are.”

After a silent toast, the two downed their shots and hoisted their shoulders, Flynn uncertain about the next steps. Leading the way, Gramps took Flynn down the elevator and led him into the dark passage beyond the cafeteria’s pantry, to where the consortium had a heavy-duty door installed. After Flynn cleared the lock, the two shuffled down the next three yards of caves to where a false wall hid fields of weed.

A stammered response was all that escaped Flynn’s lips when they arrived at the entrance of the hidden caves. “I don’t know if I can show you this.”

“Boy, ya ain’t showin me shit,” Gramps took a moment, scratched his ear, then pushed panels. The door released and slid back a few inches on its track.

Once the door was closed behind them and the two were in the anteroom—walls lined with tapestries, floors covered with Persian rugs, cushy recliners turned to arc around a large-screen television that bled cables to game controllers—Gramps whistled. “Woo. Shit. You boys livin large. Lookit whatcha got.”

My dream and yeah, whatcha think?” Invigorated more than he’d been in months, Flynn danced in his moment of validation and the old man’s resurgence into the world.

“Ain’t been down here since Herman showed me how to work them panels. Mr. Pogo might a had reason for these caves but we never did.”

Waving Gramps onward, Flynn stepped down into the spaces beyond. “You’ll see it’s nothing like it used to be, Gramps,” his voice echoing up and down the chamber. “Space age.”

“Space age my ass,” Gramps hooted before they entered a room stacked with equipment blinking lights, screens filled with slithering graphs or images of pot plants. “This reefer you’re growin,” a finger stabbing at numerous screens. “How many acres ya’ll reckon down here?”

“About fifteen, to grow,” Flynn chuckled while waving his hand at screens filled with healthy green leaves or bud drying on clothesline. “Another couple acres where it’s just not suitable to grow or where we’re drying bud, and places where we got machines set up to run this whole scheme.”

“I’d say ya’lls schemin gotcha mo than ya need,” Gramps muttered after they left the grow’s control room and followed Flynn further into the cave’s crops. Sliding broad hands past rock as he moved from room to room, he whistled with wonder at each place they stopped. 

Stepping into the middle of the Shroom Room, Flynn opened his arms and flapped his hands. “Indian Leo says this is the heart of our gardens, where the magic flows from. The only place where we can grow Powerball,” then sat on his haunches and looked at plants Leo had harvested. "Dunno if we got any bud to smoke with you, Gramps!”

Gramps knelt and snatched a branch, “What about this?” Snapping flower from a branch, he handed a fig-sized black and red bud to Flynn who sniffed it, then handed it back.

“Guess you scored, Gramps.”

After examining other fields, they arrived at Cacator Cave, took a moment to stare at the dark water, and then ambled the long and winding way back to the anteroom. There, Gramps sunk low into a cushy recliner while Flynn fiddled with the stereo and rifled through a stack of CDs. Putting on Sonny Rollins for the moment, Flynn popped the bud into a grinder, gave a few twists on the top, then dumped its contents onto a small tray. “You wanna listen to something else, Gramps?”

“Nah, I dig this cat. Good choice.” The old man slapped his knees in time to I’m an Old Cowhand. “Now… you gonna smoke with me?”

Flynn passed a pipe to Gramps. “There’s lighters in the pockets of that chair you’re sitting in. Help yourself.” Flynn walked over to the far end of the anteroom and leaned against the stone doorway leading to the gardens. “I’m not smoking any. I think you’re better off if I keep an eye on you during your trip.”

Gramps clicked the lighter, its flame flickering with the odd air currents that blew through the caves. “Boy, I’d be better off havin a rattlesnake watch me. Anyway,” then drawing fire into the contents of the bowl, he took a healthy rip from the pipe.

“You might wanna go easy on that, Gramps,” Flynn snickered from where he stood, as Gramps coughed out clouds of blue-gray smoke.

“Goddamn, that tastes like death stink.” Wiping drool from his chin, Gramps held the pipe at arm’s length and reconsidered another hit. “You tryna poison me, boy? Smoke damn near kilt me.” Whatever misgivings he might have had disappeared after taking a few more measured and cautious tokes. Once he was done, he sat up and placed the cold pipe on the table, his expression alight and jiggling. It was apparent he’d been swept into Powerball’s magic.

“Enjoy your journey, Gramps. Dunno if your dream prepared you for where you’re gonna go but the mindfuck is gonna stay with ya for the rest of your life.” With the smoke in the room dispersed, Flynn moved to Gramps and snatched the tray holding the remaining crumbles of Powerball, scattering its contents across the room’s carpets.

Turning to Flynn, Gramps’s dark eyes glistened purple with the glow of the room’s blacklight. “Takin me where I was meant to be, it seems,” his sly smile betraying no hint of fear.

In that moment, water surrounded him, black and warm, rising up from the bottoms of bare feet balanced on slick stones, gathering further up his legs, hips, stomach, chest, and shoulders, eventually overtaking him. Submerged in complete darkness, Gramps watched the remnant notes of Solitude flitter off into the void to abandon him in complete silence and stillness—no breath, no surge of blood—a void embracing and caressing him, lulling him deeper into its depths. There, even thoughts remained unspoken, unheard and nondescript within the absolute nothingness surrounding him. An eternity of blank darkness, and then a voice gently breaking through. “Papa, you’re here!”

It was Christmas.

  

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Tessalate

 Listening to: Save Me, The Rigs

Drinking: Delator, Malbec, Argentina

 

There’s been a lull in the writing that started during the holidays. Not writer’s block—if I open enough documents I’m working on, I can find something to expand—but more like I don’t want to get on my computer to start. More like, I’d rather read Jennifer Egan or binge watch Fargo. My motivation to write has been zeroed out and, if it wasn’t for writers’ workshop, I’d be hardly working at all.

Same with queries. This publisher wants first 10, that agent wants first 50. A synopsis that’s a long paragraph of 1500 words. A bio, three recent authors I’m emulating, my marketing plan for the work I’m pitching, email or online form, it’s all so depressing. I’d rather read and get lost than deal with that shit.

This excerpt is at the end of chapter four, a dialog between two fascist white supremacists. 


Since it was the business of Pogoners to know everyone else’s business, it was no secret the Colonel had succeeded in recruiting one soldier—Officer Randal Ossifer.

“What do you think of the hippie scum ruinin this town? Our criminal spick mayor? Faggots and communists ruinin everything?” Randal’s arm poked out of the window of his cruiser, a tube of ash drooping toward countless butts in the rocks below.

And he deceives those who dwell on the earth,” the Colonel intoned, “by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.

“Whatever you said. Now, are you going to answer my question?”

“Of course, it upsets me. As a heterosexual White male, as a Christian. But I’m thinking of the big picture, a real America where the sanctified rule over the subhumans who enrich them. You know, Adam Smith. The way Jesus meant it to be.”

 “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think you think you’re going to take over the country. Good luck with that. Maybe you should start small, though. Consider starting with the town and work up from there.”

“Son, God wants the Holy Spirit at war, not messing with the sinful business of politics. Evil must be punished.” The Colonel had all the intensity of cold oatmeal. “‘Say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off both righteous and wicked from you.’ A war is coming and we’ll need brave Christian warriors, men not afraid to commit any act in the service of the Lord. Lie. Cheat. Fornicate. Shoot a man in the back, steal his water. “‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.’”

Randal sat with the Colonel’s words for a moment. Not so much because the message resonated but because it reminded him of why the preacher’s delivery had the effect of a tranquilizer dart. “I guess you know your Bible. I never had time to read much. And honestly, the Sword of God’s Mouth doesn’t make sense to me unless you’re saying he has a sharp tongue. Believe me, I know plenty of smartasses, deal with em every day. They’re punks. So what’s that?”

“A weapon that lays waste to everything, instant death and desolation. The spirit of God vomited to cut down his sinful creations. The Word in action.” Raising a finger as though preparing to spin a round of pizza dough, it was the only gesture the Colonel knew to tell others that yes, he was still talking, “Action.”

“Got it. But until you got God’s mouth-sword in your hands, you probably shouldn’t be lookin down at the US Government, at least not for your first stab at holy war. In case you missed Waco or Ruby Ridge, they got you outgunned by a factor of… how many attack helicopters do you have? Ships at sea? Jets in the air? Millions of guys not paying for a week in the woods and not lookin like they spend the rest of their time riding around in golf carts? None of them, but real soldiers? You know, the guys who do the train-to-kill thing twenty-four-seven? Because that’s what they get paid to do? Not fat-assed retards paying you to pretend they’re badasses.”

“I’m not following you, now. ‘For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword,’ you see. Active, not passive.”

“Right.” The Colonel wasn’t the greatest company, but Randal decided his acquaintance was a holy man and someone he could esteem on some level. While there were plenty of Pogoners rabidly dedicated to law and order—most holding an “it-was-better-when-people-knew-their-place” attitude—Randal hadn’t formed bonds with any of them, mostly because he was uniformly disliked. At least the Colonel sat and talked with him, offered him a cup of coffee, a sandwich, some time to linger with and converse.

Throughout his life, Randal had made a concerted effort to be utterly despicable. The kid who everyone agreed smelled like pee, got off on tattling, a toddling schadenfreude indulged gleefully and with feral malice. At first, the teachers at Pogo Springs Elementary (actually, K-12) thought Randal was just a child who ratted out other kids in order to please adults. They soon learned he was just as inclined to turn around and tell on the teacher he’d just tattled to. “It’s the same vodka my dad drinks. I saw the bottle in the drawer where she put Kenya Sunshine’s stuffed Snoopy.” By the time he entered Pogo Springs High School (actually, K-12), the entire town knew him for a sneak and a snake and someone unaware of his own urine odor.

 “Mr. Ossifer.” Principal Bill Angstrom stared down his nose at Randal as though his beak were ready to pick up a mouse and crush it. Randal had come to him about an English teacher smoking pot out in the parking lot, and Bill was having none of it. “You’re a snitch and everyone knows it. And while information is power, I don’t need anyone shining a flashlight up my ass or giving my staff the same kind of proctological exam. You have anything to tell me? Write it down and stick it in the suggestion box outside the office along with all the ‘fuck you’ and ‘suck my balls’ love letters I get. I’ll get to read your misguided missive, along with the secretary and every student assistant in the office. Don’t sign your name, just write, ‘Chickenshit’ and everyone will know who wrote it.” And then Principal Angstrom leaned into Randal with every imposing six-foot-four inches of himself. “And, if you let anyone know we talked? I’ll roast your nuts in a toaster.”

When Randal told the school board about the threat and “Chickenshit” and the image of stuffing a flashlight up his principal’s ass, everyone laughed. “Well, hells bells boy, that’s just Bill,” the superintendent responded while the rest of the board nodded and chuckled. “He’s done more for this school for longer than you’ve been alive. What have you done, you little sneak? You might want to reconsider what you want in life while you still got skin to live in.”

Randal was livid, teenage hormonal rage rattling him that justice had not been served. “Sneak?!? Another threat! I’m reporting all of this to the state board! They’ll hear every word of this so-called proceeding!”

“We went into Executive Session the moment you leveled unsubstantiated allegations against a district employee. There’s no recording.” Board members’ heads bobbed, grins of agreement cut into their faces.

Executive Session? No one told me about that!”

“Those are the rules, Mr. Ossifer. Whether you like em or not.”

From an early age, Randal had learned to like rules from a mother terrorized by a husband who held jobs as poorly as his liquor. “Your father was supposed to be home by one,” his mother would say as he stood next to her bed, wanting to snuggle but knowing it was forbidden. “It’s three.”

“He gone be n trubba.”

“Yes. But not as much trouble as we’ll be in if he finds us awake. Go back to bed. Get to sleep. And don’t get up, no matter what you hear. Stay in your bed. Don’t get out of it until I say you can. Those are the rules.”

Shouts, screams, things pounded, all with mommy’s next morning black eye, puffy face, and cut lip made Randall wonder what rules she must have broken.

After completing a state law-enforcement course through the mail, Randal handed his certificate and application to the Pogo Springs Police Department. As the secretary processed his paperwork, she giggled thinking at how Bunny would react. With one cop down—after the senile and incontinent 92-year-old Bear Barnstable unexpectedly submitted his resignation—the mayor’s nuts were in a vice and Randal held the grip. Faced with a significant loss of state and federal grant money for want of a cop, Bunny had no choice but to hire the twerp.

Randal used his newfound authority to compound the universal dislike and distrust of him. Within weeks after Randal was hired, the mayor’s office was swamped with complaints about being ticketed for laundry that blew off the line, fined for being in the park after the posted hours, cited for having mud on a license plate.

“Get that weasel punk-ass bitch in here!” Bunny screamed one morning after a delivery-truck driver was written up for imperfect parking or something. “I want him in my office now! I know that little rat-fucker’s at work because he followed my bike the entire way here!”

The mayor’s secretary/town clerk, a cousin by his crazy Aunt Terri, made a call to PSPD to let her sister at the cop shop know Bunny wasn’t prone to forget a new asshole for Randal was past due. Within minutes, Randal was standing in the mayor’s office, looking at the various pictures of people on, near, or completely apart from motorcycles.

“Listen, numbnuts. People in this town get along because we don’t stick our noses up each other’s ass.” Bunny let his long, black hair drape over beefy, tattooed arms.

“Yes mayor, sir. But there are laws.”

“Yeah, and you know em all. Codes, ordinances… all that shit. And that makes it a huge pain in the ass for everyone.” The mayor raised his head and narrowed his eyes as he burrowed his gaze into the cop standing before him. “Which makes you a huge pain in the ass for me. And, if I gotta deal with a pain in my ass, I sure as shit don’t want it to be because of some bitch weasel snitch I had to hire.”

Randal’s diffidence did nothing to quell Bunny’s rage. “I’m just doing my job, Mayor.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. Look, you’re a pig. And I don’t like pigs. Or you. And just when I’d decided I couldn’t like you less, you turned in an application with some bullshit certificate and became a pig and the biggest asshole in Swinger County.” The mayor cracked open his Zippo and lit a cigarette, took a hard pull on the butt then blew a huge cloud into Randall’s face.

“Can I get one of those?” Randall’s voice gave no indication he’d heard the mayor’s rant.

In return, Bunny ignored Randall’s request and instead growled, “You’re fuckin up and fuckin with the wrong people.”

Wrong people?” Randal’s eyes widened as his posture improved.

Bunny walked around his desk to get right up in Randal’s grill, lifted the cop by his police-uniform shirt and onto his toes, so he could look him straight in the eyes. “Get this. The last person in the world you want to fuck with is me. Or my brothers.”

“Brothers? I heard you were an only child.” Randal’s expression was grim but fearless.

“The Bandaleeros, dipshit. My men. Affiliates, too. Goddammit, just any scooter trash. If he’s bad news, I’ll take care of it. And shove your ticket book up your ass. Leave people in town alone. The hippies say you’re constantly in their shit and a lot of em are friends of mine. Quit bein a dickhead.” With the first indication of a blubbering appeal, he tossed Randal out of his office with force enough to send the pig stumbling past his cousin’s desk and spilling into the hallway.

Pretty much banned from conducting law-enforcement duties in town, Randal had taken to parking his cruiser in the Colonel’s driveway, a well-groomed strip of gravel facing the frontage road running along 144 and beneath the overpass. There, Randall found plenty of reasons to pull people over, search a car and, at the very least, write a ticket. Given the Colonel’s reputation as a religious lunatic who kept strange company and greeted people with a shower of lead, Randal was surprised that several weeks passed before the land’s owner paid him a visit. When the Colonel finally appeared, he told Randal it was all about the cop’s direction.

“I knew your business wasn’t with me but with that road down yonder. I’m glad for your service.” The bald, lank Colonel kept his hands folded behind his back as he leaned into the cop cruiser’s open window.

“And I heard you met everyone with your guns a-blazin. Why not me?”

The Colonel took a deep breath before mumbling his answer. “As I said, I could see your business was not with me but with them.”

“Why would my business be with you? Whatcha done?”

Over the next two hours, Randal missed two speeders and a truck with a broken taillight but began an odd relationship with the crazed, white-supremacist preacher.

Raised by a pair of Jack Mormons, Randal had never attended church much less claimed to be a believer. He felt if there was any truth to it, there shouldn’t be a lot of mysteries shrouding the explanation for how it all worked, that religion should be more forthcoming and less furtive. What relationship he developed with the Colonel had less to do with his own skepticism and desire to be a shit waffle than the Colonel’s courtesy of not judging him but actually listening to and giving him some respect.

However, after Randal returned from Delaware, the dialog took on a new dynamic and it was Randal who mostly directed the conversation’s trajectory. While Whisper’s post-Powerball Thanksgiving soiree was in full swing, the Colonel got an earful of what Randal’s new status wrought. “If what you’re preaching about comes down to a personal relationship with Jesus, God, all that, let him into your heart and you’re done, then I don’t understand why I gotta go somewhere every Sunday and hear everyone else yappin about their relationship with God. I couldn’t give two shits about someone else’s relationship with God. It’s personal, right?”

Stiff as the posts holding up his roof’s overhang, the Colonel moaned out his reply. “It’s about The Word, son. Sharing the light. Fellowship in tongues.”

“See? I don’t know what any of that means. So why would I want to go somewhere every Sunday to hear a buncha that shit when I could be out bustin some hippie faggot for sellin drugs? We all serve The Lord in our own way, Colonel.”

Nearly a mile away across the valley, the two could hear the revelers at Whisper’s Thanksgiving party, their whoops and hollers and hearty laughs, their joyous appreciation of the moment with each other. Standing on the porch of the Colonel’s modest cabin, the two drank black coffee and stared across the cleft in the mountain, both grim-faced and sour.

“Do you hear that bullshit?” Randal spat, took a cigarette from his pack and lit it. “If I was to go over there to start writin noise tickets? Check for drugs? Bunny would have my ass ground into burger. Pounded by his criminal biker buddies because those filthy hippies makin that racket are his customers. See what I’m dealing with, here?”

“Son,” the Colonel’s voice taking on no more emotion than a dry-cleaning ticket. “There’s evil everywhere, but this is a trifle compared to what the Devil is using to pervert the purity of our race. Weaken us and set the stage for war with demon aliens. These are mostly White people up here. Race-traitors, every one of them, but they’ll see the light in The Word. Leave them alone.”

Randal took a long draw from his smoke, its glow lighting a face that was pinched and puckered. “I can’t. They’re snotty, smart-mouthed perverts. They should all be locked up.”

“And they will be, one day. In camps where they can be watched and preached to and made to work. But you’re putting the cart before the horse, son.” The Colonel’s intonation had all the range of a Jew’s harp. “The Lord has bigger plans for you, for us… for the money He gave you. You’re rich. Glorify His name who gave you such bounty.”

“I got plans for this money, if that’s what you’re sayin. And it includes you and what you’re doin up here. We got some differences of opinion on some things but the important stuff? On target. In fact, there’s something I wanted to run by you. Which is I why I’m here. I saw your lights on, that you was up, while I was on patrol.”

“Why do you do that, son? Stay on patrol. With all that money you got, why don’t you quit the law-enforcement business?”

“Because they’re all numbnuts down there in my shop and if I quit, there’d be no one with the gumption or wits to arrest folks. This town would become a goddamned drug orgy the moment I turned in my badge. Filthy fuckin hippies,” pulling the cigarette from his lips, Randal pushed a billow of smoke from his lungs to give himself enough space for the emphasis of spitting. “And, I like being a cop.”

“You like the authority? Upholding the law? Seeing bad people brought to justice? Whatever justice means in this sinful country of ours. And ensuring the safety of our White citizens?”

“Yeah. Plus seeing the stupid look on faces when they don’t know the rules and gettin fucked for not knowin em. All that. I’m gonna stay a cop and I’m even thinkin about using some money to make upgrades to our department. But that’s not what my money is for.” Randall sipped his coffee and then puckered his words. “And that’s what I came here for, to talk about.”

“And what’s that, son?”

“I’m gonna buy you out.”

Randal sat satisfied with his announcement and waited for the Colonel to respond, certain that the preacher would ask what buy you out meant or argue the sovereignty of ownership and rights and God’s plan. Instead, the Colonel was taciturn, a null cipher of expression. Unable to wait the Colonel out, Randal broke back in, “You rent from me. And I get a huge tax break from it. You go from payin whatever you’re payin now to a dollar a month and I write you off. We both win.”

“But it’s my land. I own it.”

“No you don’t. The bank owns it. Aliens and Jews, whatever. You’re always just a step ahead of foreclosure on this place. I know because I learned how to find things out. I’m not just a cop, I’m a detective.” The corners of Randall’s smirk lowered and mirrored the dispassionate moon of the Colonel’s face. “Now, I’ll own it. And you can do what you want with the money you’re not giving the Jews and aliens.”

The Colonel responded as though he’d just been told that socks are nice, a good cushion between the shoe and foot, sweat absorbent. “Why, son?”

Randal couldn’t contain his fire, his blazing desire to burn the town down. “A mystery, Colonel, my mystery. I got enough money now. And I just might start playing God.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A Visit From The Goon Squad

 Listening to ADHD, Kendrick Lamar


I've decided to write a book about how to write the perfect story, how to develop a great plot and move it along with brilliant characters who propel the narrative with their perspicacious dialog. Once my book sells seven billion copies, everyone will be a famous writer and the market will be flooded with everyone in the world having published their story.

Ted Talk, hell! I'm looking to get booked for a speaker's slot at the next writers' conference. $150 will get you a seat to hear me explain what I wrote in my write-a-perfect-story book, which, if you read the book (and of course you have), says you'll have a slot to speak at next year's conference, to talk about how to write a perfect story.

Frankly, I start with a premise then focus on my characters so they can tell my story through their voices. It's not that simple--for all 193k words of my novel, I probably have just as much written in backstory, character sketches, words that will never see the light of day. Chapters that I wrote then scrapped. 

Several months ago, I shifted my focus from "Resistance Twitter" (more on that in a moment) to "Writers Twitter" and started getting all these "perfect story" and "perfect plot" questions on my TL. Folks who want to sell books but can't figure out how to write something to sell. 

Don't write to sell, write to tell. 

My hands are open wide with that awful Ted Talk headset wrapping my my thinning hair into some goofy boof of wings and crazy wispy flips.

"Resistance Twitter" is dead to me. Yeah, we would be better off if Hillary had won in 2016 and Biden is much, much better than Trump, but it's all words. The people we elected aren't getting it done. 2022 is in three days and the clock is ticking. If nothing gets done by the midterms, Democrats get trounced and we're on a quick ride to facism.

End the filibuster NOW. Pass voting rights NOW. Put people to work with green energy infrastucture NOW. 

NOW, here's a bit more Pwerball, something I just workshopped:

The tub filled with silence as the group blissfully soaked, stoned and reluctant to speak more to their future plans.

“Where we goin from here?” Billy snapped the tab of a beer and took a deep swallow.

Emma rose, her pendulous breasts raining drops into the pool. “It’s only Monday night. We have until Thursday to get to West Virginia.”

 “Thursday? We were gonna stop them on the way! And now we’re waiting until they get to Bugleboy’s place?” Gooch stared Emma down, his hands outraised. “Someone hand me a beer? Please?” Shaking, he insisted on the delivery of a beverage. “This is bullshit, we should be stopping these motherfuckers before they go another mile.”

Billy pleaded with Gooch, handing him a beer. “Bro, chill. I agree with everybody else. We should wait, come up with a flawless plan and not go cowboy on this. Especially if we’re gonna get your sister back.”

“Fuck that, you heard what Leo said, that stopping the skinheads was more important than getting my sister.”

“I never said that. I said stopping the skinheads should be our main objective. We stand a much better chance of getting Kris if we neutralize the Colonel and his boys first.” Stolid, Leo didn’t reflect Gooch’s urgency. “You know I love your sister. I probably understand her better than any of you. Rescuing her safely is my primary concern. We need to be strategic about this.”

Gooch twisted from where he soaked. “Yeah, but we’re making this a one-shot deal. We should execute a well-thought out plan, but if that fails? Get a second stab at it.”

“Are you fuckin crazy? If we fail first, we’ll all be dead! There won’t be a second stab, as you so aptly called it.” Sage jumped out of the pool and wrapped herself in a plush towel. “The cops will be involved at that point, tryna figure out what the fuck happened. And we’ll be dead. Fuck you.”

The rest followed Sage out of the tub, gathering up clothes and silently walking back to their campsites in sloppy wet shoes, everyone too tired to talk anymore.

With Leo’s truck leading the way, the caravan was back on the road by seven, the gang gung-ho to get out of the desert. In the back of Casey Jones, passengers drank coffee and chatted about where they might be headed next, maps splayed over a table, the first joint of the day being passed. As the group argued over the merits of this place or that, Emma pushed the button on the intercom. “You’re the globetrotter, sistah. Where do you think we should stop for the night?”

“I think we need to stop in Branson,” Ra-Ra’s voice snapped back. “Not in Branson, exactly. That place will be thick with hicks this time a year. But about thirty miles out? It’s gorgeous, ya’ll gonna think yer back in Colorado.”

With humidity like a sopping blanket and the constant whine of cicadas, no one thought it was like Colorado. And although the campground was empty when they pulled in at three, it quickly filled up around five, every spot occupied and blaring their own kind of noise. By eight, the crew was tired, reclined uncomfortably in their camp chairs and impatient for Gooch and Sage to finish grilling beef, vegetables, and tofu.

“I never got the screaming eagle and flag stuff on your bus.” Emma slurped a sliver of roasted, red bell pepper into her mouth. “What’s up with that?”

“Brah.” Ra-Ra pushed her plate to her knees and spent a minute to chew her tofu and greens. “When I used to tour in my vee-dub bus? All psychedelic, cool paint job? Used to get pulled over constantly, for the stupidest shit, too. Cops sayin I got a tail light out when I know they just busted it themselves. Show em I’m right but then they’re sayin that they might as well investigate some other shit since they have me pulled over.” Nods went around, all of them familiar with having been pulled over for merely being freaks. Ra-Ra’s nods were the most expressive. “With my eagle and American flag and mountains and whatnot on this beast? Cops just fuckin smile and salute when I drive by. Ain’t never been pulled over. This ride ain’t never been tainted by pork.”

“So, this is what I’m thinkin.” Sage swayed, massively stoned and seemingly prone to letting random ideas bolt out the gates of her mind. “If we get pulled over? We’re a church group, former homosexuals on our way to meet another Jesus group like us. Some revival thing, a convention for born-again gay folk.”

Gooch looked to the other men and, not recognizing any indication of what they might be thinking, punted a flub. “So, pretend we’re religious ex-homos?”

Billy and Leo looked at each other, shrugged. “Story sounds plausible to me,” Leo grinned. “Beats tellin cops we’re freaks chasing down skinheads, holding the most powerful drug ever.”

Flames licked at everyone’s toes as the group sat with what Leo had implied. Emma poked a branch into the logs that they’d brought from the R&D office’s porch. “You keep talking about how Powerball is a weapon, Leo. You don’t explain how it works, though.”

Billy laughed as he combed his fingers through thick, shoulder-length hair. “Been wonderin the same damn thing, brah. After no guns, you tell us we got Powerball. How’s that sposed to work? So what if it’s the most powerful drug ever?”

Ra-Ra rose and pointed fingers around—blam, blam, blam, blam. “It is the most powerful drug ever. And I done pretty much everything. Ain’t never experienced anything like I did on that shit. But we’re gonna get the skinheads how with it?”

“From what Emma and Sage tell me, there’s four guards we need to overtake.” Leo also stood, raised his beer to the apex above him. “We get them stoned on Powerball.”

Sage stood as well, pointed to the cigarette between Indian Leo’s fingers. “You wanna roll me one a those? Please? Cuz I’ll smoke it and then I’ll tell you, we’re on the same page with that plan.”

Leo broke out a paper, filled it with tobacco, then rolled it home, handing it off to Sage. “We roll a Powerball joint, let em smoke it, and those guards will be neutralized in minutes.”

Taking a puff off her rollie, Sage held the smoke for a while, then exhaled with a burst of coughed smoke. “They’ll smoke Powerball because we say so?”

“They’re skinheads. Squirt glue in a bag and they’ll huff it.” Shuffling over to a camp table, Gooch scraped his plate clean then placed it in a wash bin.

Ra-Ra gathered up everyone’s plates and joined Gooch. “We still got another couple a days before we got to be where we need to be.”

“If we ain’t figured it by then, we’re fucked,” Billy snarled.

“We’ll get em, one way or another,” Ra-Ra reassured. “Karma, pure and simple.”

Emma spat into the fire and tipped her head back in disdain. “Karma? You wanna talk about karma? What goes around comes around? Because it’s bullshit, sister, there’s no such thing. There’s no cosmic force that determines retribution, so wipe that silly-assed concept from your mind because it’s nothing but a fucking fairy tale.”

“I thought you believed in karma, we’ve talked about this before.” With her hands twirling by her side, Ra-Ra howled with exasperation. “You’re your mom’s daughter! Or, at least until now. What happened?”

Sage snickered. “Powerball. Powerball changes everything.”

Ra-Ra nodded, grabbed Sage’s hand. “Everyone says that. Powerball changes everything. No one’s sure what that fuckin means.”

“And was Powerball karma? Or chaos?” Stepping back and taking to prowling around their fire, Emma’s fuse was short and sputtering. “Look at Hitler. He ended up in a fancy fucking bunker where he killed his squeeze then put a bullet in his own head. Like, the place was stocked—wine, gourmet food, nice furniture—and his so-called retribution, for doing mass murder on the scale of millions? Got to do what thousands of poor sad motherfuckers do every fuckin day. Offed himself with Eva, got a last lay before blowing his brains out. Boom. One bullet to the brain and then, nothing. How does karma apply there? Because that’s one fucked up balance sheet if you ask me. And it’s not like Hitler was having a real hard time of it up to that point. Until everything went to shit for him? He was livin it up.”

“But he gets returned as something lower. I dunno,” Ra-Ra pleaded, pacing around the fire, counter to Emma. “Like, maybe he comes back as a fly.”

“How does that compare to what even one person endured for one day in a Nazi concentration camp? Hitler comes back as a fly? Does he know he’s a fly? Because if he doesn’t know, I don’t see the point. It’s not like he’s buzzing into someone’s face screaming, “Kill me! I’m Hitler fly!” and hoping he’ll get swatted. Really, flies don’t think anything, not even a reincarnated Hitler fly. Flies just follow whatever programming requires making more flies. It’s not like Hitler fly whines, ‘This sucks. Eating shit and fucking other flies. I used to be the chancellor of Germany!’”

Sage turned away from Emma to light the rollie that had gone cold, her wind-block hand trembling. “I’ve seen karma in action, man. Experienced it. Felt the sting of the Goddess’s hand on my backside. It’s real, it works. I’ve known people who messed up their karma and then had to deal with the shit they brought on themselves.”

“Works for everybody looking for a spiritual stamp of approval. Give a bum a quarter, win the Powerball. Whatever dude.” Emma’s words untethered, she turned away and withdrew even further, unable to reel back the sting of her barb. 

Ra-Ra doused the fire, sending gray clouds billowing over her RV. “We’re in West Virginia day-after tomorrow. I’m tired. Me n Leo do all the drivin. Puttin my good karma to bed, freaks.”

Next morning, with the Widespread Panic that accompanied everyone’s coffee, Gooch offered up squares of lime-green blotter paper stamped with fat, yellow lightning bolts. “Let’s trip. We’re at each other’s throats and we still haven’t figured out how to rescue my sister. Maybe if we clear the cobwebs out, we’ll be in a better space.”

About forty-five minutes after dosing, the group was either cackling hilariously or staring dead-faced out the window, Gooch jibed over the intercom, “You could join us, y’know? I still got like, five hits of this.”

“I’m good, bro, dosed when I was drivin yesterday. Got us to Branson and that clusterfuck, but I don’t know the roads leading into West Virginia. I need to be tip-top, dawg.”

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Six

Randal’s theories did not mollify the DEA agents. “Bunny? The president of the Bandaleeros, this town’s mayor?” With Randal backed against the sheer stone walls of the jail’s office, Lattimore stared deeply into his eyes, drew up his fists like a boxer, then turned away and shook his head. “What makes you think he’s in on Powerball?”

Delgado leaned into Randal, switching from sweet and seductive to badass. “Despite all our intel about Byrne, Cappuci, and Yamaguchi? You’re saying your mayor is our primary suspect? For the manufacture and distribution of Powerball?”

“Positive.” Randal took a deep breath and bit his lip. “But look, there’s somethin even bigger going on. I know you’re DEA but you gotta do somethin. Now. The guy I’m rentin my land to? The Colonel? I think he’s about to do somethin really bad. He has all these skinheads and…”

“You’re sure?” Lattimore turned and pounded the desk with his fist.

“Absolutely. The Colonel and his skinheads are gonna be doin somethin terrible.”

“Not him, shit for brains!” Snatching Randal back up in his beefy hands, Lattimore once again slammed the cop into the office’s stone walls. “I meant about the mayor. You’re positive?”

Randal squirmed and drooled, his eyes bouncing back and forth. “Yeah. Bunny! You need to look at him! Those hippies are low-level morons. If you want to lop off the snake’s head, the mayor’s where ya need to be lookin.”

 “Fuck!” Lattimore dropped Randal so he could punch his hand to show how wrong he’d been. “The mayor! Where’s he growing it? Or getting it? What do you know?”

Freed from Lattimore’s grip, Randal nevertheless floundered for an answer he couldn’t articulate. “I know. I just gotta figure some things out so we can bust him for this Powerball yer lookin for. But I’m tellin you, the Colonel and his skinheads really need to be stopped!”

“And we intend to,” Delgado smirked, dragging well-manicured nails down Lattimore’s pressed sleeve, then dropped her voice to whisper, “Get a few new agents in here. Because some asshole fucked up what we’ve been investigating.”  Then smiling to Randal, “Yeah, we’re gonna stop this Bunny dude, bust his ass hard.”

“No. I mean the Colonel and the skinheads! They have to be stopped! I think… based on information I’ve… They have guns and explosives and they kidnapped Christmas Yamaguchi! Kidnapping is a federal crime, right? A felony?”

“What does he have to do with Powerball?” Lattimore snatched up Randal again and raged at the little martinet. “First the mayor and now you’re bringin up this Colonel person, you little weasel dick. Who the fuck is the Colonel?”

“If you let me go, I’ll tell you!” Randal pleaded, his eyes wide and imploring. 

Lattimore released Randal. “Tell us what you know about drugs in this town.”

“Summa these hippie faggots grow weed up in these mountains but ya can’t catch em. I’m not sayin we don’t have a drug problem in this town. We do. But they’re a sneaky bunch and I got bigger fish to fry. And that’s what I think you feds need to really look into. Much bigger than your so-called Powerball drug.”

“What? Meth? Coke? Heroin? Ecstasy?” Delgado appeared cool and disinterested. “Maybe you forgot we’re looking for Powerball?” Pointing a long, slender index finger at Randal, Delgado hissed, “You stay in here. I need to talk to Agent Lattimore,” then closed the office door firmly after the two stepped out to where the jail cells were located.

Lunch debris littered the floor of Cosmic Charlie’s cell as the filthy hippie drunk appeared to slumber on the thin pad of his metal cot. Lattimore chucked a dismissive chin at the bum then mumbled, “The intel we have is solid. Officer Ossifer is an idiot, doesn’t know jack shit. Bunny? And who the fuck is this Colonel guy he’s talking about?”

“If we have to start interviewing people in this shithole town, our cover’s blown. And we don’t even know where to start with the mayor. And now this other guy? Colonel Sanders or whatever the fuck?”

“Are we giving up on the leads we have? Do you trust this numb nuts?” Lattimore nodded to the office door. “We’re spinning our wheels. We need to get back on track with our objective and let that guy write traffic tickets.”

 “Yeah, I don’t trust that idiot’s information.” Delgado gently squeaked the soles of her expensive running shoes on the jail’s concrete floor, her long, brown legs idly stirring from beneath the cuffs of her white shorts. “But we need him to get us to Gooch, Flynn, and Leo then make a buy. Unfortunately, Oh-Cypher is probably our best bet to get us there.”

In his cell, Cosmic Charlie lifted an eyelid and slurped back a little drool as he took in the vision and scent of the stunning Latina not fifteen feet from him.

“Agreed. Let’s pretend to deputize him as a DEA agent, let him stroke our badges again.” Lattimore opened the door to the office and gestured for Delgado to enter.

There, Randal had his boots back up on the desk. 


Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Time Is Here

 Listening to Pinch, Can


Scored on the white elephant game, the potent bourbon punch, and the chili. 

The chili was full of protein--beef and beans so not proper chili--and took the edge off my hypoglycemic anxiety. I downed a glass of punch before I grabbed some chili, so I was primed (a couple of gummies ingested a half-hour before didn't hurt) and scarfed that shit. 

For the white elephant game, I drew number eight. A few days ago I learned that the number eight is considered lucky in Chinese. Seemed like a good omen.

My contribution to the game was a clearance mini Crock Pot that I picked up while grocery shopping. No one wanted to steal it from the nine-year-old girl who picked it. After the other seven people went, I stole the Crock Pot from her. She ended up with a couple stained glass pieces, one that resembled a bird and another that, I swear, looked like a corona virus. Good times.

Nicole ended up with my Crock Pot and a tiny Le Creuset-like dish she captured on a second steal. Eight seemed to work out well.

Happy Holidays. This excerpt is from Book 3.

Twinkling on every line that defined him, Flynn rode the surf of the voices that broke on all sides. “Do things—even elementary particles—contain some kind of program or DNA that directs them to those equations, to behave in that way? Are those numbers embedded in the system?”

“Whaddya mean, embedded in the system? Like, is the government behind this?” Ra-Ra rambled on shaky wheels, not staying on track at all.

Smiling and still waving her hand in front of herself, Emma replied, “The Illuminati. They’ve harnessed the power to manipulate matter and energy. It started with fluoride in the water.”

Ra-Ra jumped up and twirled around the room. “I knew it!”

Chapter Eight

Flynn was digging what Emma was saying, adding thoughts into it, improvising a view of the Universe in his moment with mushrooms. “So, you brought up quantum physics, string theory, none of which I know very well. What I do know is that, at any given moment, we can determine how a particle is charged or its relative position, but we can’t know both. Yet, that particle is both. Position and potentiality, both of which describe the Universe, at least that minute part of it. Quantifiability. If something isn’t quantifiable, why measure it? But we do, whatever it is, just to confirm our own suspicions about how something… anything works.”

“Ha! Yes!” Emma was feeling sweetly rolled with concepts and questions, tingling all around by what she was hearing. “Something’s missing. Always.”

“And, if something’s not considered, it doesn’t exist to us.” Flynn's smile revealed a perfect set of teeth.

The world is all that is the case. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. Wittgenstein.” Emma’s heart raced slightly within the tightening bubble of their mutual attraction.

There was something to Emma that reminded Flynn of his mother, something wild and dangerous; something that told him that he’d have to get his own breakfast in the morning. He suddenly wanted to be taken to her bosom and smothered, to be reminded that he mattered; that he was wanted. To feed from a nipple and grasp the skin of she who held him. He felt himself wanting to wrap himself around Emma and get lost inside her.

A desultory Wom! rushed through the room and vibrated into the corners, settling in as Hello, It’s Me created an eddy of swaying bodies in the room. Smiling as it happened, Emma’s voice pierced through. “Everything can be known but not known at the same time. Or vice-versa. Or something.”

“Yeah, dude, but what we do know is that the universe behaves just like we thought it would, based on the initial equation. So isn’t that weird? It’s like everything, from snails to galaxies, follow the same pattern. If everything was just random chance… I mean, it is but it seems like it isn’t. Like God really is in the numbers.”

Ra-Ra leapt up and gyrated around the room, “That’s fuckin rad! Whoo! Whoo! Emma and our friend Flynn just used science to explain God! Quantum particles and shit! Yo! Ya’ll hear that?”

From the ether where he floated, Dave shouted, “Heresies! We must have an inquisition! Iron Maidens and flaming nipple clamps! Whipped cream for everyone! Whippets!”

Whisper rose and glared at Flynn. “Too deep for me. I’m goin to the kitchen cuz I got things to do rather than say,” then marched away with something stuffed high up her ass.

Wanting to jump on Emma, stick his tongue down her throat, dry hump and grope her and hope she’d be convinced to get naked, Flynn looked at the people around him and decided against impulse. Ra-Ra and LA Tina and the Robert Plant-looking guy—who’d since moved from floor-gazing into curling up with Delilah and moaning his dog language into her ear—Flynn saw it was probably not a great audience for hormones sizzled on a griddle.

“Flynn, you rock brah!” Ra-Ra rose and twisted again, as though she needed to screw herself into the sky or was a Dervish in search of some rhythm to spin to. “I gotta help Whisper. But yo, I’m glad you found us,” then flitted into the kitchen on wings of patchouli and shredded denim, leaving the two alone again.

The flow of numbers through this 3-D experience interrupted Flynn’s tenuous grasp on controlling his libido. “I like these numbers,” he whispered seductively. “One and one…”

Emma nodded slyly, “And Dez, over there on the floor, having a discussion with Delilah.”

 Whisper bellowed from the kitchen, “Cake and ice cream, everybody! And sing Happy Birthday! Emma! Get your big ass in here, girl!”

Emma tilted her chin and smirked to indicate that Flynn should come, that a nice, sweet piece would be waiting for him if he did. Someone suggested that The Don put the Beatles’ “Birthday” on for the occasion but Emma told him, “I want China/Rider. You pick the show.”

By the time he was served, Flynn had heard various partiers talk about the ounce-or-so of bud that went into Whisper’s cake and icing. Even with a glop of vanilla ice cream soaking in, the grassy marijuana taste was overwhelming and omnipresent. After washing dessert down with homebrew, he returned to the living room where The Don worked on a Guinea pig-sized piece of cake and ice cream. “Awesome place, awesome party, bro.” Flynn shoved his hands in his pockets and balled up his fists, “You gonna put your mix back on after this?”

“You don’t like the Dead?” The Don asked as he gobbled down his pot cake.

“I love the Dead! A Dead show is like… no other experience in life. And I love the music, it gets stuck in my head all the time. But I wouldn’t say I was a Deadhead, per se,” air-quoting Deadhead without a hint of irony. “But, I love other bands too. If they toured 200 days a year, I’d be a Beatles-head. I’m just not one of those All-Dead-all-the-time Deadheads.”

The Don was still digging into his plate of sugary slop. “I don’t know any Deadheads like that. All the heads I know listen to all kinds of shit. We’re diverse in our tastes, more so than most other people, I think. Look at all the different musicians that the Dead have toured with, played with. Diversity is in our DNA, man.”

Flynn shifted from glib to awkward, as though he’d inadvertently revealed some racist corner of himself. “You have to admit there’s some Heads who are… a little too… militant? In their desire to hear the Dead all the time? Like, almost always. Like… Allison. I try to put on something different, Bj√∂rk or Son Volt or Oasis and she’s like, ‘Can we hear that Red Rocks show again? Or some Steve Miller?’ I mean, along with Janis and Santana and Airplane and all those other Bay Bands, it’s like this kind of Deadhead who thinks Heaven was invented by Jerry and the boys in that house in Haight-Ashbury and San Francisco was the result.”

“Yeah.” His finger in the air, The Don nodded as he finished his mouthful of cake. “I know what you’re talking about. ‘Go Niners-slash-Giants, I sure could use some salt-water taffy.’ Not nearly as obnoxious as the Cubby Deadheads, though. Inside Baseball, indeed. So what’s your point?”

“Your mix is superb, bro! Dude, I’ve heard nothing but great cuts since I arrived.”

After taking Flynn into his head for a moment, The Don grumbled, “You should talk to Gooch. He mixed the music for this party. You two might hit it off. He’s definitely not a Deadhead.” Pointing Flynn the way, The Don appeared as if a hairless Frank Zappa had his own Saturday morning cartoon from the early 1970s.

Stumbling back to the kitchen, Flynn was blocked by a jittery and sketchy Casper. “Bro, man… I know you came here with Allison but she’s like, really comin on to me, bro. I mean, man.” Casper looked earnest and apologetic, begging for an OK.

“Go for it, man.” Happy to dump the responsibility of keeping her entertained off on someone else, Flynn sealed his approval with a bro shake. “She’s all right. Just a little crazy.”

Gooch caught that and snorted, “Who isn’t? You don’t know where you landed!”

“The Don tells me you’re not a Deadhead? What?!? And they didn’t drum you out of town?”

“They sure as shit try with their damned drum circles every summer. I take it you’re not a Deadhead, either. So what do you think of all this, the 3-D Ranch, our little town?”

“Methinks yon city boy doth not want long to be in this shire,” Dave raged from his darkened corner. “Like them who said,” Dave switching to a falsetto voice, ‘Oh, tis a grand place to ‘ave a ‘ome.’ And then shat everywhere. And, when the knaves couldn’t handle winters here, left us. Roofs caved in from snow load, the town worse off than when the bastards arrived.”

Gooch waved Flynn to the porch after tilting his billboard-sized forehead in the direction of Dave’s voice. “Dave and The Don can get a bit overboard,” filling his beer, keeping his voice down. “Especially with their libertarian-slash-rugged-individualist shit. ‘True mountain people’ I call them, that mindset. ‘I got mine, fuck off.’ That attitude has never worked in this town, by the way. Yeah they’re hippies, total Deadheads, but off-the-grid crazy with their leave-me-the-fuck-alone ethos.”

 “Gotcha. And our twin brothers are also really into that Tolkien-esque, medieval-speak thing? Methinks tis a bit much.” Flynn suddenly became aware that all night he’d said things he wished had stayed in his throat.

“LARPers, SCA stuff, Society for Creative Anachronism? The kingdom of Atenvelt crest is right over the kitchen door.” Flickers of Flynn’s cynicism made the visitor more agreeable to Gooch.

“Ah, that makes sense. Do they do Ren Faire? LARPers back home are huge into that. Every summer for like, six weeks.”

“Shit yeah. Dave and The Don, a few other people who live up here. They work all winter so they can have summers free to get their Ren Faire on. The twins mind their parents’ store while mom and dad snowbird down in Arizona.” With a tip of his pint, Gooch indicated the two should return to the warmth of the kitchen. “Most people around here spend their winters plowing the pass or working up in Chi-Chi, raking in good money to be out in sub-zero weather and 60 miles-per-hour winds at two in the morning. Work-and-freeze their asses off all winter so they can spend their summers hitting each other with rattan sticks while wearing clothes weaved on looms and spinning wheels. And leather cured from whatever deer they poached last winter, taken off the king’s land.”

“That’s wild. I mean, cool. I mean, I want that kinda freedom.” Flynn paused with mushrooms jangling his thoughts. “Do you hunt?”

“No. I used to with my dad and granddad, but I never had a flavor for it. Spotting something beautiful and then taking its life? Just didn’t seem like a good use of my time, especially since we could always buy meat at the store.” Gooch dripped tobacco juice into a plastic cup. “But about everyone up here hunts. In fact, you just missed the season. For weeks the town was full of Texans and other morons. We do good business up here. For a few weeks, everyone up here’s either a butcher, a taxidermist—or a stupid fuckin Texan. If you see a white plate, give it some hate. But they pay the bills.”

Flynn considered admitting his Texas roots but decided against it. His entire life he never felt like calling himself a Texan, never felt like calling himself anything, fine with reinventing himself as he went along, free from allegiance to an arbitrary identity endowed by an accident of birth.

“I was listening from the kitchen and heard some of what you were saying,” Gooch was looking at his shoes, watching laces become roots and set themselves into the kitchen floor. “Interesting, from what I heard. And understood. Algorithms built into things, ‘programming’ you called it. Then, I think you implied there must also be a master programmer.”

As he watched the kitchen’s floral-patterned wallpaper ripple in rhythm to Fat Man in the Bathtub, Flynn allowed his mind a moment to formulate an answer. His mother had been a C&E Methodist at best, and although she’d signed him up for the church bus, he knew she’d forget within a few weeks and he’d be back to playing alone in his room. Throughout childhood, God was just someone who never answered his prayers. Not an atheist in any sense, he just always had other things on his mind. It wasn’t until spring break of his senior year in high school—the first time he did mushrooms—that God came tumbling back into his mind like a jolly jester, uproariously laughing and singing and dancing and warmly embracing and filling the world with colors and shapes and numbers. In the midst of that trip, he made peace with something that he’d never understood and knew he never would. “Like Cantor dust? Flynn was still watching the wallpaper move, hoping that he wasn’t just babbling incoherently. “See what I’m sayin? Halve a line, then halve those lines and so on. Each resulting level is an infinity but smaller than the previous infinity by one. Yet, an infinity nonetheless. A universe of infinities, but still just numbers.”

Gooch’s expressions switched from curiosity to skepticism, swinging in the crest between his brow and his beard. “Your point? It seems you like when math works for you—in some weird magic way—but also, chaos is key. I don’t get it.”

“Don’t you see, man? Within those infinities are sets of numbers that determine how things will become. Why is that? I dunno but it seems like that order in the midst of chaos is pretty cool. And yeah, I believe there’s some kind of force behind it and to it, that certain things matter because… cosmic rules?”

“Cosmic rules? Certain sets of numbers or patterns, algorithms… yeah,” suddenly zoning out, the kitchen door blasting out colors in waves of rainbow. “Chaos Theory, General Systems Theory. Reiterative functions, how complex systems behave and become. Nondeterministic and deterministic at the same time. Wow. I’d never think of that. But it’s nonlinear differential calculus not the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. There’s no magic in it.”

“I think there is magic in it and it’s part of a larger, unknowable mystery.” Flynn gleamed with the creepy self-assuredness of someone holding a battered Bible.

“Unfortunately, ‘magic’ and ‘unknowable mystery’ don’t give us much information about reality,” Gooch settled his beer as he sat on the counter. At the front door, Emma, Whisper, Indian Leo, Toothless Don and LA Tina were stomping off snow and shedding coats. As soon as she entered the kitchen, Emma wrapped herself around Flynn.

“You shoulda gone, Sweetpea,” Emma purred as she pulled Flynn into her big legs. “We were talking to the ghosts up on Monument Hill, our town graveyard. Froze our tits off.”

“So…” Ra-Ra pulled Flynn away from Emma and began poking his chest accusatorily. “Mistah Numbaz.”

“Numbaz! Noom-bahs! Room-bahs! Zoom-bahs!” Toothless Don scatted from his seat on the counter, his elven beard shimmying as he played bongos on his thighs.

“All these numbers you got tripping around in your head. I heard the Powerball jackpot is up to over $300 million. A record jackpot, broski. We should pick some numbers and play em.”

“Um. We don’t have Powerball in Colorado,” Dave spoke up, drawn out from the world where he resided. “Remember. This is a state where you can’t buy alcohol or cars on Sunday.”

“Yeah, but Flynn says he’s going to Delaware and they have Powerball, brah.” Ra-Ra snapped her dreadlocks back and forth as though she’d puree the room with her head. “We could all kick in and buy like, a hundred tickets, and he could get em for us.”

“Yeah…” Flynn wasn’t sure what was being asked of him, if she wanted him to pick numbers or buy everyone’s tickets. “I mean, I’m flying out early on Wednesday, and I don’t have to be at work until Thursday. So, I guess I’d have the time but… keeping track of everyone’s numbers…?”

“No. Dude. We come up with some numbers for fun, y’know? If we win, no matter what number gets picked, we all split the jackpot. Like that.” Ra-Ra clutched Flynn in her gaze, assuring him that everything would work out. “All for one, one for all? Diggity, brah, that’s why you’re here. With us. Right? This convergence. God and numbers and all this.”

All at once, Flynn’s mind was full of his car, the 3-D Ranch, mushrooms, beer, weed smoked and eaten, the people surrounding him with love—everything that had led him to the moment he was in. “I love it. It’s so this place.”

“Dank!” and Ra-Ra was dancing where she stood, rocking the kitchen floor with her stomping. “Who’s in?”

“How much?” LA Tina called out while fingering through her clutch. “All I have is twenty.”

“That’s ten tickets, if you pick a Powerball number and really, why wouldn’t you? Everyone who wants to do it has to throw in twenty,” Ra-Ra reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a book of fives then slapped LA Tina’s twenty into the palm of her hand for the start of the pot. “Two of us. Flynn, you’re in, right?”

“Fuck yeah! OK, so we have thirty tickets…”

 The Don pulled a small salad of bills from his pocket and found a twenty. “I’m in.”

“Forsooth, my brother! You always said it was a waste of coin!” Dave’s voice still seemed to come from the walls.

“Tis, but tis only for fun. Why not have some fun, my brother?”

“No thank-ee. I prefer odds that aren’t similar to that of a soft landing on the surface of the sun.”

“Eh,” The Don shrugged as he slapped the bill into Ra-Ra’s hand, “if I win, he automatically gets half, anyway. And if I don’t win, I get to hear about it the rest of my life.”