Emerging from the cave, we zigzagged as usual around the brambles and under the metal-leaf camouflage until we came to the clearing. I said, “Should we walk to the highway into town, or should we take the long way around, along the trail by the stream behind the café?”
“Let’s take the scenic route,” she said.
We walked through some brush that had a dangling sock and a scrap of paper hanging from a branch. “I see by the garbage that the village has grown,” I said.
“Yes, it appears that way — a few more kids in town. I think the old fishermen were pretty careful about not leaving trash around.”
“I wonder if there are still fish in the stream”
“Maybe, if they like to eat paper … ” Zawmb’yee untangled the paper from the branch. “It says, ‘vote for the Violet Party’ … I guess the Village Board is up for grabs or something.”
“Nah, nobody here has much cared about politics — It’s probably a promotion for the flower shop … you know, one of their contests — best daisy at the fair or dancing by the barbecue of the roses and basil or whatever.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
After we thrusted through the brush to make our way to the trail, we relaxed, sauntering along the stream. A few leaves danced along the edges, and the water did look clear. Walking to the boulder where the stream wandered, I spotted some fish in the shallow water. “There,” I said.
“Yes, I see. I guess the stream might still be healthy.”
We and the stream meandered along gracefully, but a twitchy squirrel ran up a tree. “No nuts today,” I said.
Zawmb’yee said, “Who are you talking to?”
“I meant the squirrel, but it would be nice if we encountered no nuts today.”
There was a flitter and a chirping. The blue sky and Zawmb’yee’s eyes, matching beauties, were observing flights of fancy feathers, tickled by clouds.
Putting something in her ear, Zawmb’yee said, “I want to get a weather report — it’s starting to get cloudy.”
“It looks like just a few puffy ones …”
“Hmm, rain tomorrow … yeah, yeah, yeah … and oh … I wonder …”
“They’re talking about a new volcanic island forming in the Pacific Ocean, but they say it happens all the time and it’s nothing to worry about.”
“Well, yeah, it might mean nothing.”
“and uh, oh … that’s odd.”
“More seismic activity in Yellowstone National Park. Hmm. Well, anyway, enough of that — I’ll listen to it some other time … Isn’t this a beautiful day?”
“Yes, I wonder if Angela still works at the café. She was always willing to serve the lunch menu for breakfast — I was never fond of cereal, eggs, or other traditional nonsense for breakfast — I’ve always wanted real food.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, why can’t I have smoked kippers, eggplant parmesan, trout, or chicken with cashews for breakfast? Oatmeal? I don’t think so — they feed oats to horses, right? Or once in a while, steak for breakfast.”
“Yeah. I guess real cavemen eat meat, huh, or they crave fish like bears in a stream, ha.”
“Yes, I will brook no oats for breakfast. Protein is needed for creativity and the stream-of-consciousness we need when we kneel at the river, praying for rain on the mountain, hoping the splash that soaks is the grace of
forgiveness and not the petulant turbulence of capricious gods.”
“Geez, you do need breakfast.”
“Hey, I’ve been reading and I’m trying to exercise my vocabulary. I am impatient to make a splash, be more than a corn flake …”
“Okay. Better you be a flake than me. But I love flakes, and I will be as Shakespeare says, ‘the milk of human kindness’ in your bowl.”
To the river, the stream was child, guiding us in the ripples of the day, we, streaming along like banners playfully waving at life along a gentle brook where rabble are not heard, the child’s babble joyful enough to be understood in the gurgle of a float-along morning. But the last bend in the trail brought us to the garbage bins behind the café.
We walked around the bushes by the wall to the front village sidewalk on Darling Street across from the Antique Shop. A few steps beyond the street light and parking meter we could see the old blue and white sign: ‘Moose Café’. “Here we are,” I said.
Zawmb’yee said, “I’m hungry enough to eat a moose.”
“I don’t think they actually serve moose, but they have everything else …”
“OK. Let’s go in.”
They did have a small dance floor and stage in the back room, but except for the Moosehead mounted above the simulated fireplace, it looked like a diner with old-fashioned booths and a main counter. Angela, a tall voluptuous brunette came running out from behind the counter. She gave me a hug and a kiss. “Doug,” she said, “I haven’t seen you in a long time … who’s this?”
“I’d like you to meet my dearest friend, Zawmb’yee,” I said.
“Nice to meet you,” she said.
Zawmb’yee said, “You’re Angela?”
“Yes, so make yourself comfortable and welcome.”
Angela ran back around the counter. Zawmb’yee and I sat on the stools. Angela went over to the side to turn up a radio. We heard, “ … according to our source in the Pentagon, known to us as ‘Stealth Fox,’ it has been determined that neither the Russians, nor the Chinese, have launched any missiles. What had been thought to be the heat signature for some sort of stealth missile cluster, launched from, of all places, the SOUTH POLE, has been found to be a radar glitch caused by bizarre atmospheric conditions. It has been rumored that the United States was within minutes of launching a retaliatory strike against the newly belligerent Russians who claimed to be doing penguin research at a newly expanded base. The White House refusing to comment on these reports, issued a statement asking the Press to be more responsible, and to not report fantasies as fact. Moscow also condemned the America press corps; in answer to a reporter’s question, a military official through a translator remarked, ‘The only launching we are doing is of a weather balloon to carry an antenna, enabling our personnel to watch the cartoon network. We suggest that American reporters bring their ideas to Hollywood’… ” Angela turned off the radio, and came over to take our order.
Zawmb’yee asked, “What was that about?”
“God only knows,” said Angela, “maybe it’s that stupid Ozone Hole or whatever that is, but no one on Earth is capable of launching from there, are they? Nah, the whole thing is silly. They don’t know what the hell they’re doing — they could have started a nuclear war over nothing. ”
“Maybe,” I said, “the announcer meant to say ‘missiles coming over the NORTH Pole’. This doesn’t make any sense. Maybe it’s a radio drama, a hoax.”
“Well, maybe, but it’s the news channel. Anyway, whatever, it’s a false alarm … So, Doug, I suppose you’re going to have dinner for breakfast again. Why don’t we let Zawmb’yee order first: what would you like?”
Zawmb’yee glanced at a menu. “I’ll have the scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage special with hash browns au gratin and um, cherry soda with lime.”
“Comin’ right up,” said Angela, “I’ll wake up the chef. Meanwhile, Doug, you decide what you want,” and she disappeared into the kitchen.
I said to Zawmb’yee, “I’m not clear on something: when we go back to my place and hang out in the city, how exactly does Utcoozhoo expect us to find Zusoiti?”
“He just said we will.”
“This has been a peaceful morning and I was feeling great to be with you, but I can’t help but wonder if something is going on … uh … ”
“Well, is it possible that something really was launched from the South Pole? Could this be the gst’fibiche brought to life?”
“I don’t know, but nothing has happened.”
“Well, yeah, not yet, but maybe it’s putting devices of some kind into orbit or maybe somewhere else … I mean, we know little about ancient technologies, and what they’re capable of.”
“Don’t worry. Let’s just relax, enjoy our breakfast, and then we will head out to your place — you didn’t take down my drapes did you?”
“No, no. Everything is intact. The apartment is just as you left it. I wouldn’t tamper with the work of the master Interior Decorator. Your couch and lamps are still in the same place. I have saved every token of you, and now you will be you in-person.”
“You have space for my stuff?”
“Yes, yes. All your draws are empty and ready. Plenty of closet space and your stuffed animals will greet you.”
“OK. I think I’ll hang some of my paintings … ”
“That’ll be great … Y’know, how DOES a person with purple hair who wants to take over the world, not be noticed?…” Speaking of not noticing, Angela had returned and was listening to our conversation. She served Zawmb’yee the deluxe platter with the cherry-lime soda.
Angela said, “Well, we have a grand Lady with purple hair who’s running for Mayor. I might vote for her if her prophesy comes true … She is odd, but I like her … Purple hair must be a new fad or something. She is funny: she says it’s natural … ”
“What’s her name?” I asked.
Zawmb’yee said, “Oh my God, what’s the prophesy?”
Angela turned the plate. “Zawmb’yee, try the potatoes — the chef added some coriander, cumin, and onion. He wants to know how you like it.”
Zawmb’yee took a taste with a prayer and a twofold curiosity. “It’s superb — my compliments to the chef, but there’s more?”
Angela said, “Yes, there’s a secret ingrediant, but if he likes you, he’ll give you the recipe.”
Zawmb’yee was trying to be nonchalant. “Yes, thanks very much … um, what was the prophesy?”
“Oh yeah. Well, she’s running on the platform that if she becomes Mayor, she’ll rescind all laws that restrict wood stoves, fireplaces, barbecues, and campfires. She says keeping houses cool for conservation is just silly, and that we should burn as much fuel as we need to. Her slogans are: ‘If plants can love carbon dioxide, why can’t we’, ‘With every exhale we love a plant’, and ‘Every fire is sacred, whatever the fuel, because to warm is to love.’ ”
Zawmb’yee said, “Well, OK, and what is the prophesy?”
“Oh yeah, well, it fits in with all that: she says that an Ice Age is coming … ”
I said, “Angela, when is this Ice Age coming?”
“Hey, Doug, all of a sudden you’re interested in politics? Hmm. Well, did you decide what you’re having for breakfast/dinner?”
“Uh well, I like black cherry duck, but an Ice Age, when?”
“Uh, let’s see. What day is this, oh, OK, it’s supposed to start today at three o’clock … ”
“Yeah, she calls it a five step process — first there will be a super volcano, whatever that is, which will cool the Earth for a few years, because of the ash and smoke or something in the air. Then, the Earth is going to wobble she says because the moon is going to be hit by something or other — I forget. Anyway, she’s probably nuts, but I’m curious to see what happens today … ”
“Oh, God,” I said. I looked at Zawmb’yee who looked like I felt, wondering how anyone defends against some amorphous Armageddon, and an enemy possessing unknown weapons and purple hair.
Angela said, “Hey, why worry on such a nice day. OK, then, Black Cherry Duck Deluxe. I’ll get chef started on it — it’ll take a while.” Angela went back into the kitchen.
Zawmb’yee said, “What do we do now?”
“We have to stop her,” I said.
“How are we going to do that? We don’t even know where she is.”
“She’s got to be in town somewhere — Angela must know.”
I was thinking, three o’clock, so maybe we had time to do something, but had she started the process or would she trigger it at three? It was only eight o’clock and we could plan for battle, but what exactly would we be doing? I looked at the Moosehead as if a meditation on nature and kitsch would supply an inspiration. Zawmb’yee massaged her tongue with a morsel of potato, took a sip of soda, and stared at the scrambled eggs. Angela returned.
“Doug,” said Angela, “your duck is cooking. It looks fabulous — a glaze from heaven.”
“Thanks Angela,” I said. “Um, your favorite for Mayor sounds interesting. Does she live in town?”
“Yeah, she bought the old mansion. She comes by every day in her limousine at ten o’clock. Do you know her?”
Zawmb’yee, looking up, after devouring her scrambled eggs, gave me a telling look. She looked back down, and started on her sausage.
I said, “Yeah, you could say that Zawmb’yee and I are old friends of hers.”
“Well, then,” said Angela, “why don’t you go to her place at ten. Joe’s cab can take you. I’ll put in a call, and Joe can pick you up at 9:30 — no problem … ”
“Hey, relax, you’ll enjoy your meal — you’ve got plenty of time.”
Just then, the building began to shake. “What’s that?”
“Oh, it’s probably just one of the heavy trucks coming by: they’re making a temporary detour off the highway onto Darling Street until they can fix the big sinkhole.”
“Yeah. The highway was undermined by the last flood, because they forgot about some old caves that ran under the highway. They should have filled them in years ago.”
There was more severe shaking and the moosehead crashed to the floor. “That’s not a truck,” I said.
Zawmb’yee said, “Angela, that’s an earthquake — definitely.”
Angela ran out from behind the counter with a broom and a dust pan, and ran over to the moosehead. “Poor moose. Trying to charge us with your antlers, are you? What a mess. Well, we do need a change of decor. It’s always been a little tacky (the original owner put that in), but even if the locals like it, I think it should go.” She cleaned up a little, but left the moosehead on the floor. “Yeah. We’ve had quite a few minor earthquakes. They told us not to worry. The engineer said the building is structurally sound and gave us thirty days to fix a few minor things.”
I said, “Zawmb’yee is learning Interior Decoration. I bet she could jazz up the whole place.” Zawmb’yee was finishing up her breakfast, slurping her soda.
“Yeah?” said Angela walking back around the counter. “Zawmb’yee, let’s talk about it. We don’t have a big budget, but maybe you could modernize it a little … ”
Zawmb’yee said, “Sure, we could discuss a plan.”
“Great,” said Angela, “let me show you the back room. Doug, wait here — the chef will bring out the duck.”
Angela and Zawmb’yee went into the back room. They looked like they’d get along fine.
It looked very promising: Zawmb’yee was getting good at negotiating new projects for herself. I knew she could do it.
The chef proudly marched out of the kitchen with the duck platter like a bushy-browed rhinoceros temporarily calm. He was dressed in the traditional white uniform with the big hat. “Voilà,” he said, “take a taste.” He spotted the moosehead lying on the floor with an antler broken off.
I tried a piece. “Mmm. Sweet, tart, delicately spiced, perfect. Mmm, mmmm. Some Sherry, a little blackberry, lime, a touch of anise?”
“Could be. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I don’t get to make it that often. Come by more often … Oh, look at that: the moose is hunting — it must be mating season. Geez, I hope the building inspector is not going to give us a hard time. My kitchen is immaculate, and no dust has ever gotten in there, and never will, even if the moose wants to play.”
“Well, yeah. I can see that. This place is spotless — very clean.”
“OK. Enjoy.” He went back into the kitchen.
I heard Zawmb’yee and Angela laughing. I gobbled up some more duck — it was so good. What a splendid breakfast — so soft, so tender, so juicy. And the beauty of laughter in the background — chewing on ecstasy as beautiful women approached, was a gourmet’s delight: the perfect meal in taste, in sight, and the feathered chatter of flighty conversation singing in my being. Vibrations. Zawmb’yee and Angela came back into the room.
Angela said, “How is it?”
“Great,” I said.
“Zawmb’yee has some great ideas. She’s gonna write up a formal proposal for the boss, but it’s gonna be great. She’s got the job.”
“Thanks, Angela,” said Zawmb’yee.
I got up from my stool and gave Zawmb’yee a big hug and a kiss. “Congratulations. I told you you’re good. I’m so proud of you.”
Zawmb’yee said, “Doug, sit down and finish your duck. Um. Angela, I’ll have the proposal and the estimate for you next week. OK?”
“Yes, good. It’ll be no problem. It’s going to be fabulous.”
“My friend Chloë will help me pick out the furniture and she’ll get you a really good deal. I’ll give you her résumé — she has a very good reputation in the trade.”
“Yes, I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’m very excited.”
“Yeah. Me too. I think we have similar tastes. This is going to work.”
I finished up my meal, listening to Angela and Zawmb’yee. They are so cute.
A jaunty fellow wearing a yellow cap came bouncing into the café. “Angela,” he said, “these folks want to go to the Mansion?”
“Yes,” said Angela, “they know Zusoiti.”
“Oh, OK. Hey, you all, I’ll give you a trip ticket — could you get her to autograph it?”
Zawmb’yee and I looked at each other. Zawmb’yee said, “Sure, we’ll get you an
autograph. Just a sec’ Joe, I’ll go to the restroom and Doug finish up.”
Joe said, “No problem.”
“Joe,” said Angela, “how are you?”
“I’m OK. I’ve gotten a little more business lately. It’ll work out … Hey, the moose is down?”
“Yeah. We’re going to redecorate.”
“Good — if you really want to know, I never really liked it.”
“Oh, how come you never said anything?”
“Well, everybody else seemed to like it, but I’ve always thought I’d rather see a leprechaun on a mural than that thing, and I have a feeling that both of us will find a pot of gold yet.”
“That’s nice of you to say, Joe … ”
Zawmb’yee returned. I gave Angela a big tip.
Joe said, “OK, then, are we ready? Wagon train roll.”
Zawmb’yee and I got into the cab. Joe raced down Darling Street and turned left onto River Road.
We could see the woods go by in a flash. Jolted and bounced, we were well shaken like a mixed drink.
Joe said, “Oh hell, I just got new shock-absorbers.”
“You could a’ fooled me,” I said.
“Yeah. All the roads have gotten a lot of cracks lately, and they haven’t kept up with the repairs.”
We heard the clickety-clack of slats as we went over the Brook Bridge. There were streamers and balloons in the trees.
“Hey,” said Joe, “escaping party favors — they’re having a fundraising gala. You’ll be just in time.”
Zawmb’yee said, “I guess, if you want an autograph, you’ll be voting for Zusoiti?”
“Oh yeah. Thanks for reminding me. Here take this paper and say it’s for her favorite cab driver.”
“OK, when we see her … ,” (Zawmb’yee gave me a look like ‘just play along — don’t say anything hostile about Zusoiti’), “we’ll get her to autograph it.”
Joe zoomed up the elegant old driveway with the marble stones. He parked by a newly installed statue standing in a small fountain, entitled “Aphrodite Foaming At The Mouth.”
Approaching the car, a campaign worker in a straw hat said, “Hey Joe, thanks for the contribution — too bad you can’t stay.”
Joe said, “Take care of my friends here.”
The worker opened up the car door for Zawmb’yee. “Sure Joe … Right this way … There’s plenty of refreshments and Zusoiti will be here later.” Zawmb’yee eyed the tall columns of the entrance as she stepped out of the cab.
I passed over some bills to Joe. “Thanks Joe. Keep the change.”
Entering the main ballroom with a sky-high ceiling and a chandelier catching clouds and balloons for the endless staircase meant for grandiose promenades, Zawmb’yee, staring at the flower mosaics on the floor, said, “What do we do now?” The crowd was noisy and aimless.
“Uh, well, we have to find her office or wherever she’s doing her dirty work.” A woman with a furtive look came out of a doorway. “Over there. That room is the library.”
“Yeah. Let’s have a look … maybe we can see what Zusoiti has been reading lately.”
We snuck into the library, and I spotted a smoldering cigarette in an ashtray. “Look at that smoke … ”
“Well, OK, that explains the guilty look of the woman sneaking out of the room.”
“No, I mean, a plume of smoke is going behind the bookcase over there.”
“Oh! I’ve got it, I’ve got it.”
“See that ladder on a track?”
“Well, climb up the ladder to the top shelf.”
“Just go and I’ll tell you.”
Zawmb’yee seemed to be thinking what I was thinking, but she knew the next step to take. “OK, I’m climbing up the ladder. I can reach the top shelf. Now what?”
“Y’see that purple book?”
“Pull it out.”
“OK. I’m pulling — it’s stuck … ”
“I still can’t get it out. It comes out a little … ”
“OK. Push it back in, and come down quickly.”
I could feel the bookcase shaking. I jumped off the ladder and crashed to the floor. “Ah ha, this is it.”
“Yeah. Step back.”
With the bookcase sliding sideways, with a creaky roar, a few heavy books fell out and pounded the floor like lethal rain. A staircase carved in rock was revealed.
I said, “Well, this is the entrance to somewhere. It must be for a Hollywood set. Has Zawmb’yee, the glamorous movie star, learned her lines?”
Zawmb’yee giggled a little. “Shush. Let’s not talk too loud. OK, let’s go down the steps.”
We stepped beyond the threshold onto a landing that depressed slightly from our weight. The bookcase closed behind us. “That’s good news,” I said.
“What’s good news?”
“Well, we didn’t get hit by a spear, or smacked by closing in walls crushing us to death … ”
“Well, I don’t think we’re in that kind of movie. I don’t think Zusoiti has that kind of imagination.” We climbed down a few more steps. The passageway was well lit with modern lights.
I said, “No? What would you do if you were writing the script?”
“Oh, I’d have a porcupine whose quills were dipped in poison by the evil protagonist.”
“Hmm, well, if we see a porcupine, don’t provoke it, because I don’t think they throw their quills unless frightened.”
“What, you think I would frighten a porcupine? I’d give it a cookie.”
“I don’t think they eat cookies.”
We traipsed down several flights of stairs, maybe five stories down. At the bottom we reached what looked like a huge war room. There were giant world maps on the walls, and we could see several computer consoles.
“No porcupines, no people,” said Zawmb’yee, “it’s a good start.”
I looked over at the computer consoles. “Ut oh,” I said.
“See that lock? It says, ‘Launch Key.’”
“Well, it doesn’t seem to be in the on position.”
“Look at the screen above it.”
“Oh, that does look like trouble. What does ‘Magma diversion: Yellow Stone pending’ mean?”
“I think it means that the five step process hasn’t begun.”
There was a booming laugh behind us. We turned to look. Zawmb’yee gasped.
Zusoiti stood triumphant, pointing a handgun at us. “That’s right, it hasn’t begun, but it will now. Step back away from the console.”
I started typing frantically on the keyboard, seeing if there was some way to sabotage or crash her computer.
Zusoiti fired her gun and a bullet whizzed past my ear. She said, “Get over there in the corner, now. Next time you move, you’re dead.”
Zawmb’yee and I started to walk towards the barren corner deep in Zusoiti’s lair. Zusoiti was typing furiously on the keyboard. I whispered to Zawmb’yee, “When I get her engaged in conversation, I want you to stand behind me back-to-back, run straight back, and then up the stairs.”
I took Zawmb’yee’s hand and we walked slowly back towards Zusoiti. I said, “Why, exactly, are you doing this?”
Zusoiti looked up furious. “Stay back. When the Ice Age comes, the gods will return … ”
I took a step closer, trying to get within lunging distance. Zawmb’yee got behind me. Zusoiti raised her gun and aimed it. I saw her finger moving on the trigger. I said, “Run!”
Zawmb’yee ran straight back. Zusoiti shuffled to the side and aimed her gun at Zawmb’yee. I slid over to get in front of the gun. I heard a gunshot and a thump. Zawmb’yee screamed.
I found myself on the floor and heard a cacophony of voices behind me speaking all at once, “Police, don’t move, FBI, IRS, my jurisdiction, no mine, terrorism, conspiracy, tax evasion, watch out … ”
Zusoiti was writhing on the floor, and her gun had fallen out of her hand. She tried to crawl towards it. A policeman picked up the gun. The voices started again, “Zusoiti Gabpix, you’re under arrest for attempted murder, terroristic threats, conspiracy, tax evasion, conspiracy to commit … ” The voices faded. I wasn’t feeling too well and I didn’t know how I got to the floor. I think I tripped and hit my head. I lost consciousness, but long naps can be good when the world is saved for a moment or two.