From Aural Innovations #20 (July 2002)
Some say the eyes of justice are blind. All those laws created for the many. Circumnavigated by the few. Some say that you get what you pay for. Provided that you can pay. And pay through the nose. These laws were enacted to protect the honest citizen just to keep him honest. To keep him in his place. For the rest of us it's not so cut and dried. There are many forks in that road ahead. There's always that high road travelled by the saints and angels - the road less travelled. And then there's all those other branches. All those delicate shades of black and white. Those blinders that filter our vision and our morals. That distil our personal codes and ethics down into one single concrete fact. A fact that boils down to only one very important law of nature - it's a jungle out there. An Ashcroft jungle.
I gingerly probed the bean burrito on the plate in front of me with a fork. I was searching for unexpected surprises. But I was becoming increasingly resigned to the fact that an ill wind would be rearing its head in the not so distant future. "The Dutch Government?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Not the U.S. Government?"
She Laughed. "In Cascadia? What would they be doing here?"
"Spying. Digging up dirt on the separatists. Looking for a fall guy."
"Spying? Do I look like Mata Hari?"
"Looks can be deceiving." I gave her the sly wolf-scan. "Does she wear clogs and a windmill bladed bra?"
Monique's eyes swirled, "NO, Of course not!"
I frowned as I cornered a suspicious gaggle of beans with my fork. "Ah, then I must have her confused with Madonna or Amelia Earhart. One of those aerodynamic dames!"
Her lips mimed aerodynamic but her eyebrows drew heavy like dark clouds reflected on an oily Rembrandt sea. Shadowy barges of discontent ferrying a nouveau cargo of impatience. Of course I was stalling - waiting for her canvas to dry. Only then would I have a good idea what I was really facing... and why.
"I can't see how they survive eating these things. They're all wrapped up like miniature mummies in tortilla hammocks. There's no bangers for the buck." I shook my head. "It don't amount to a hill of beans."
"You don't care much for Mexican food, do you?"
"Have you ever really looked close at a bottle of tequila? I mean really close. Deep down into its soul. Right down to the very bottom. What do you see?"
She shrugged, "An empty bottle?"
"Whatever makes your blades spin, sister."
"What am I suppose to see?"
"A worm. A dead spineless worm!"
"What are you driving at?"
"Just a simple fact - some foods kill. And some just wastes your time."
"What kind do you think you have?"
"Lets put it this way, sister. You won't be seeing a Chrysler Imperial LeBaron squealing down the road with George Raft precariously perched on its running board emptying his Tommy into this dive. Na, He'll just patiently keep flipping that big shiny silver coin of his - over and over. Flipping and catching. Catching and flipping. Waiting. Just waiting for these little pellets in my burrito to do the job for him."
"There's nothing in your food. I'm here to recruit you, not to detain you. I want your help in finding something."
"What do you have in mind?"
"Sorry, I don't take domestic cases. Try your luck in a tropical cocktail lounge. You're bound to come up triple lemons, sooner or later."
"No, I mean a real lizard. A reptile."
"Are you sure you don't want a priest before I get a full confession outta you?"
"A reptile. An animal. You know, like geckoes, iguanas--"
Monique shook her head, "I think that's K-O-M-O-D-O.
A Kimono is something you wear."
"So is a crock, if you forget an anniversary!"
"I have something quite a bit bigger to throw your way."
I grinned, "So tell me, what's bigger than a crock?"
Monique's eyes scanned the room cautiously. Then she slowly leaned toward my ear.
My ear met her mouth halfway. I heard her moist lips part.
She cleared her throat, releasing a warm blood curdling scream. It sounded like two air raid sirens rubbing their legs together. They'd forgotten to shave.
My cochlea uncoiled and recoiled in rapid succession like a New Year's party favour. It felt like a day-glo yo-yo licking my grey matter. But it burned like an industrial laser cutting through a dirty snow bank. It carved one word into my mind's eye: "GODZILLA"
I dropped my knife and fork. They formed a silverware crucifix across the remains of my burrito. It sounded far worse than I could imagine. It sounded like the Rotterdam zoo was fronting an escort service. Where was George Raft when you really needed him?
Monique had just passed a young Goth standing alone at the curb, looking grim, watching the Joe Public parade march by him.
He made eye contact with me as I approached, raising his right hand. There was something in it. A card. "I found the Queen of Spades... I find cards wherever I go. If I find a Heart - then I'll die!"
I reached into my watch pocket, fishing out a silver coin.
"Not if you shoot the moon." I flipped the coin through the air in a high arc toward him.
He caught it in his left hand, turned it over-- exposing the tail side-- eagle over the moon. He nodded and handed me the Queen of Spades in exchange.
Monique waited for me to catch up with her, then asked, "What did he want?"
"That Goth with the playing card. The Goth back--" She did a double-take. "He's gone!"
"Are you sure about this?"
"Positive. He gave you a playing card. It's in your hand."
"This hand?" I lowered my hand, uncoiling my fingers like a blossoming rose. A piece of paper fluttered from its petals. It came to rest at her feet.
She reached down, picked it up, and just stared at it in shock. It was a flier for a rock show at the Roseland Theater with a picture of Godzilla on it. Ominous red letters with an aura of yellow proclaimed: BLUE OYSTER CULT.
"How did you do that?"
"The clouded mind is easily fooled. I'll meet you inside the Roseland at 9 PM tomorrow night. I'm going in clean. No hardware. Security there is tight. You'll be frisked. You'll be smuggling in a camera. Consider this a test."
"Do they have metal detectors?"
"Na, why would they? Are we going to hijack the building and fly it into an airplane?"
"No, no one could do that!"
I laughed. "It's possible. But not very likely. Unless--"
"Unless its inertia is removed.
Monique looked concerned, prodding me with her eyes.
"We're all travelling through space. Me. You. That building. This building. All riding the same little sphere through the galaxy as it whirls round the sun. Standing on its surface-- all at the whim of inertia." I paused. "Are you with me so far?"
Monique nodded slowly, conserving her conversational inertia.
I fished another coin from my pocket and held it up. "What if a small field surrounded this coin and cut off its inertia.
what would happen to it? What would you see?"
"It'd float right there. Between your fingers."
The coin vanished. I shook my head and wiggled my empty digits. "My fingers would be long gone along with this planet as it continued on its endless journey."
"The coin would just stay where it was?"
"Uh-huh. Shooting right though every object in its way that was spinning off with the planet. Their inertia carrying them through the coin's stationary position in space. The coin becomes an inertial-less projectile. If the field was increased large enough, one could launch a building into an airplane... another building... whatever. provided, you selected the right building in the right location. Taking the planets rotation into account as well as the elevation and distance of the intended target--"
"What about power? Wouldn't it require a lot of power to do something like that?"
I smiled, "Yeah, something monstrous."
Monique paled. "What've I got myself into?"
"I guess, you'll find out tomorrow."
Monique herded her pupils into diminishing concentric circles and let out a peep. "Are you a misogynist?"
I flashed her a calamari eating grin. "Na. I have an agent... he does that for me."
She mumbled something low under her breath in Dutch. Most likely concerning odds and wagers. It's a long shot at best.
I frowned as I watched the blades of her windmill bra turn, indicating a breeze was present. "I'd rethink your props - they went out with the Spruce Goose. It's gonna be very crowded. You wouldn't have a long enough runway to taxi down to take flight. You might put out a few eyes, but that's about it. Unless you're planning to dance with Don Quixote, I really don't see the point."
She just stood there with her hands on her hips and those blades spinning defiantly - round and round - in perpetual emotion. Her eyes splashing a riverdance in clogs.
Hussy writhed under yellow, red, and blue stage lights. They rocked. They rocked heavy and they rocked hard. The singer looked like Jerry Kranitz on steroids - dressed all in black with silver hatchets embroidered over his chest. The lead guitarist looked like an albino version of Garth from Wayne's World - armed with a 12-string Gibson flying V.
A mammoth gong hung behind the drummer from heavy thongs, waiting for the Rank Films percussionist to summon the insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu and his devilish daughter from the depths of their opium den. We were only a few blocks from Chinatown. Old Town. And the streets covering the hidden Shanghai tunnels that lie beneath them. Portland was not a model city by any means. But at least, it knew how to party!
Monique's voice crept up on me. "I got the camera."
I spun around and gave her the once over. She was wearing a black jump suit, Matching stealth nose cones, Jackboots, and held a spy camera. No props. No parachute. No service charge. It was an eyepopping change from the previous night. Either the Dutch had a missile program or they are the first to champion the advancement of the supersonic windmill.
"Well," she cooed, "what do you think?"
"Apparently, you couldn't get the whip past security, eh?"
She shot me a nieuwsgierig grin.
I shrugged it off. "Lets go see what we can dig up in this joint."
My gaze drifted up toward the balcony panning across the faces around the its rim. The conservative citizens parked there were all a blur of random flesh. Some more interesting than others. Some I could image running into in Soho after dark. But no one I could easily pick out of a police line-up.
"Who are you looking for?"
"Someone that might show their hand."
"Do you recognize anybody?"
"Na, nobody. Nobody at all. Looks like we'll have to make the rounds."
I squinted, searching for her eyes as my vision strobed with the stage lighting. "Good idea, sister. We'll mingle... real social like. Then work our way over to the edge of the stage."
The hair on the back of my neck tingled something fierce as I watched her stride over to the bar to order our drinks. Something was less than jake. But what?
We planned to attain nirvana somewhere to the left of center. Directly over in the area just in front of the keyboards. A rather sizable speaker was stationed near the edge of the stage there acting like a coastal lighthouse. If you got too close to the rocks near the shore... the sound it emitted warned you of danger lurking beneath the waves. You'd wish that you'd stayed up in the safety of the crow's nest with cotton wads stuffed in your ears instead of discovering the piercing rocks you'd find performing in your auditory canals the next day.
"STAIRWAY TO THE STARS" lifted Monique's spy camera to her eye. The Blue Oyster Cult were under full surveillance. They were being ID'd and tagged.
I leaned into Monique's ear and rubbed my vocal cords together like a manic cricket. "Can you identify the members?"
She turned, nodded, and yelled to the person on the other side of my head, "Some of them."
I glanced over my shoulder, making sure my inner ear hadn't splattered the chap next to me. It hadn't. "Point them out and name them."
Monique pointed to the man behind the keyboards. "Allen Lanier... keyboard and guitar. He goes way back. He's lethal."
I gave his teeth the eye. "He looks British."
She shook her head.
"You shook your head indicating he's not British."
"No I didn't. I was getting into the song. Lighten up!"
I pulled out my note book. Jotted down the name of the song and facts about Lanier. "Give me another name."
"Buck Dharma. Ah, Donald "Buck" Roeser..."
I jotted down Donald Duck. Lead guitar and vocals. "Dharma? Was he involved in that Kerouac caper?"
"No. But he does go way back. Wrote many of their killer songs."
I added serial killer beside of his name. "Approach with extreme caution."
Monique pressed up against me-- slowly. "Okay."
"Yes, I'm fine. Thanks for asking."
She shook her head. Muttered something I couldn't make out.
"Who's the ringleader?"
"Eric Bloom, I think. Guitar. Also goes way back. Has ties to Michael Moorcock--"
I smiled. "BINGO!"
"Ah, the drummer. What's his name?"
"Oh... I don't know. He wasn't in the report."
I jotted down loose cannon. "That leaves the bass player. His name?"
"I don't know."
I looked up just in time to observe him running wildly around a pillar on the stage like a Kodiak bear chained to a delicatessen fighting off the Tasmanian Devil. My pen etched psychotic.
"ON YOUR FEET, ON YOUR KNEES" was the next song played.
Monique moved closer to the stage. Capturing various shots of BOC in action.
It was during the third song that fate suddenly caught up with us and took hold of the helm. A firm hand landed on Monique's shoulder. It was attached to a voice. The voice said, "Come with me." The hand was moonlighting, it was also attached to a T-shirt named SECURITY.
Monique had been fingered. Four of them in fact - with an opposable thumb thrown in for good measure.
"I'll have to confiscate that film." He led her over to the North wall. Away from the stage and over where security had set up a buffer zone to prevent access to the stage and to the dressing rooms down stairs.
I shadowed Monique and Mr. Security. No one took notice of me. No one saw me drift over until I was already there. And when they did it was with puzzled expressions. Wondering where I had come from. And why was I writing in a note book. They started to act self-conscious.
Mr. Security politely inquired, "Are you with her?"
"Uh-huh," I nodded.
"She was caught taking photographs."
"She's on vacation. That's what one does on vacation."
Monique's accent got thicker. "I'm from Holland."
Mr. Security got politer. "I'm really sorry... I have to take the film. It's my job."
She wrestled with her camera putting on a good show for him. Fumbled with it. Struggled with it. "It won't let the film out."
Mr. Security gave it a go but his heart wasn't in it. He handed the camera back to her to let her try again.
She closed the camera and shot the remaining frames in rapid succession. The camera then automatically rewound and released the film canister. She reluctantly handed it over.
"We'll replace the film with a new one. I'll send some one out to purchase another roll." he handed the canister to a flunky.
A card fluttered to the floor from my note book. I picked it up, holding it so that Mr. Security could clearly see it.
"I found the Queen of Spades... I find cards wherever I go. If I find a Heart - I'll die."
Mr. Security looked uncomfortable and nervous. "Unless... you shoot the moon."
I handed him the card and a silver coin.
He pocketed them and immediately conferred with another member of security. Then he approached Monique and whispered in her ear.
Monique turned to me. "I don't know what is going on here."
"What did he say?"
"He said he is having someone go see if they can send us backstage to meet the band. What am I going to say to them?"
I spoke in a high falsetto voice. "I've been a very naughty girl. I love you guys so much... I just had to take photos of you to cover my walls with... and show to all my friends in Rotterdam."
"Oh no, I couldn't say that. I'd never hear the end of it!"
"Then I guess... we'll just have to play it by ear, won't we, sister."
A young charming security guy walked up to Monique. Spoke to her briefly and waited for her response.
She turned to me and said, "He wants to buy us drinks."
I smiled. "Tell him we'd be delighted... it's so thoughtful of him."
Mr. Charming smiled and led us to the bar.
Monique whispered in my ear. "I don't know what's going on here - but I should get tortured like this more often."
"Yes, there's nothing like being detained in first class."
"What do you think comes next?"
"Shoot us probably. The drink might constitute our last meal."
"Damn. I didn't think of that."
"Better savoir this one - drink it slowly. And watch them carefully as they pour it into your the glass."
"You think they'll spike it?"
"Na. It's just a good habit for dames to get into. Never leave a drink unattended in public gatherings." I shook my head. "Na, they want something else from you. They want your fingerprints, sister. Something to remember you by." I flashed a smile and winked an eye. "Clean the glass when you're done... maybe they'll give you another drink."
"I think you're trying to get me drunk."
"Misery loves company."
Monique narrowed her eyes, giving me a shrewed appraisal. "She must have really got to you."
I made like a clam and conjured images of the pearly deep. It was silent and mysterious down there. It was the past and the future. It was the present where these ends meet. And it was unattainable. Nothing you could hold onto for very long.
After our drinks were poured and handed to us, Mr. Charming lead us back to the security buffer zone where we were treated to more of that fabulous Ashcroft jungle hospitality that you've heard so much about.
Mr. Security smiled like a good host and encouraged us to enjoy our stay.
I continued to take notes and watched BOC energetically play "EXTRA TERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE", "BURNING FOR YOU", "OD'd ON LIFE ITSELF" Just to name a few of the songs in their blistering set.
The audience sang and rocked on. Some one near us was waving an old BOC album cover like an attendant with a fan trying to chill a hot Caesar.
Mr. Security stepped forward. "I'm very sorry, I have some bad news."
"Brace yourself, sister. Here it comes."
"We can't get you backstage. It's too crowed already."
I nodded. "That's understandable."
He gave Monique a mischievous smile. "Do you happen to have another roll of film on you?"
"No. That was the only roll I had."
"That's a shame. You could load your camera and try again. That is, if you did happen to find you do have another roll. This time picking a spot where we can't see what you're doing."
I arched and eyebrow. "That's very sporting of you."
Monique quickly chimed in, "But we don't have another roll - HONEST!"
Mr. Security grinned from ear to ear. "Then you might want this." He passed her something and whispered very low. Then he stepped back to the wall to watch us.
Monique turned toward me, exposing a canister of film in her hand and a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile.
"The replacement film?"
"No, it's the original film. He gave it back to me. There's something strange going on here tonight."
Godzilla suddenly moved, shaking the building. Everyone in the Roseland Theater started to scream as all Hell broke loose.
"This what you're waiting for?"
"Why are you really here? You never did tell me what's behind all this."
"Bovine spongiform encephalopathy."
"Mad Cow Disease?"
"Yes, BSE. We are very concerned BOC might smuggle Godzilla into Europe. We must make sure that gigantic lizards tainted with BSE are not brought into Europe for human consumption. That would be disastrous!"
"You've got to be kidding."
"No, I'm dead serious. What if Godzilla meat fell into the hands of McDonalds?"
"No more happy meals?"
"Be serious for once."
Godzilla roared again.
The motion had been seconded. The floor recognized Godzilla. But I didn't. I could hear him. I just couldn't see him. Then it all started to make perfect sense. Monique was in for a big surprise.
"They're on to you."
"What do you mean?"
"See that guy standing about eight feet in front of me near the stage."
"What's he doing down here? Shouldn't he be up there?"
"Cover me... I'm going in."
I got the drop on Bloom during the confusion of Godzilla's solo, while his attention was diverted watching his own show. Watching his gang pull off their latest caper.
"I hear you have a weapon."
Bloom spun around, neither confirming nor denying said weapon. He just smiled smugly. "Who wants to know?"
Bloom took a step backwards. "Lemmy?"
"He sent me to find some one. I think you know where he is."
"Lemmy's a great guy." If he'd had a hat on his head... he would've taken it off in respect.
"He'd greatly appreciate any leads you may have."
"Who's the mark."
"Mike? I hear his leg is bothering him. That he's not getting round so well."
"Tell me more."
"Like where he's keeping that leg. Like where it and the rest of him is. Where are they all located? Coppish?"
Bloom was sizing me up. Labelling my anatomy. Then he chuckled."Okay, I'll pony up. He's all in the same place."
"That's reassuring. Now I don't have to worry myself sick that he's making like the starfish and regenerating. It's hard enough to pin down the original... let alone an army of Moorcock decoys to confuse the trail".
"Where were you planning to look?"
Blooms expression soured.
"I've had indications pointing that direction. So I was thinking London's worth a shot. He's kinda soft on the place."
"Save yourself some time - Think Texas, instead."
"Perhaps, I will."
"Oh, you will! And when you catch up with him..."
I waited for it.
Blooms eyes darted like raptores above a sagebrush smile, "Tell him I said - HI."
I didn't know what to make of that wild look in his eyes.
"That's it? Just HI?"
"Just make sure he don't forget it, pally. Lean on him if you have too. But I want him to know it forwards and backwards. Understand?"
"Yeah. HIH. What could be simpler? A palindrome."
"I think we understand each other. Enjoy the show, gumshoe." He pulled out the Queen of Spades, wrote something on it, slipped it into my breast pocket and gave it a nice solid thump with the back of his hand.
"I'll do that."
Bloom turned and made his way to the side of the stage. Moments later he was playing his guitar, finishing up the rest of "GODZILLA" as if nothing had happened. Nothing at all.
I returned to Monique.
"What'd you find out?"
"More than can be expressed in words."
"What about Godzilla?"
"He called in sick. Couldn't make it."
"But I heard him."
"Take a closer look at the stage. Take a closer look at the guitars. What do you notice?"
"Eric Bloom's rubbing his guitar strings against Donald Roeser's guitar strings."
"Where are the leads?"
"There aren't any... they're using remotes."
"That's right, sister. Godzilla is remote. He phoned in his performance. Bloom pulled a fast one. He must have got wind of your investigation. Altered their plans. It seems that Europe might be safe, for a little while."
"What are you going to do now?"
"Exactly what the man said - ENJOY THE SHOW!"
Later, the show drew to a close with "DON'T FEAR THE REAPER", leaving the audience hungry for more as BOC left the stage. They roared almost as loud as Godzilla when the band returned to the stage and launched into their encore set. "BONDAGE AND SUBMISSION" got them all writhing on the floor.
I glanced over at Monique. I couldn't resist snickering as she moved to the music. The whip really would have turned the song into an interesting audience participation encore. But like Monique, Blue Oyster Cult didn't need props to really rock. They never did. They were rock. They were legends!
Mr. Security walked over to me. He patted me on the back with one hand and shook the other. "There you go, all works out in the end, don't it."
I shook my head. "No, it never really ends. That's just what they tell us to make us feel better... in the Ashcroft Jungle." Because in the end, destiny isn't in the cards - it's written on them. I let out a laugh. A long eerie, ominous laugh. It echoed, trailing off into the night. Like mercury running down the brain.