Commander Blevins — part three

Chapter Sixteen
“No. 7 Haight Mauls Muni Victim No. 7”

In the lower right-hand corner of the next afternoon’s Examiner, a two column headline would read: “No. 7 Haight Mauls Muni Victim No. 7”. The story was going to be noteworthy enough to garner front page space because the local municipal transit system had just run down its seventh San Franciscan of the year. Her name and address, of course, would be printed, but little else of import was to be disclosed about Mrs. Gladys Periwinkle Frumpwooler, of 3513 Broderick Street, San Francisco. Diamonds would definitely not be mentioned.  Neither would a Misplaced Entity, forced to leave home.

Commander Blevins did not read obituaries, the financial section, or the newspaper’s front page.  He also studiously ignored conflict and commotion.  This, along with his current fixation on his laundry, narrowed his opportunity to learn of his most recent Client’s unexpected detour. Fully in the moment, he rushed to the narrow hallway of dryers in back of the laundromat.  Machines numbered seven and nine were spinning.  “Great,” he said to himself as he opened the door to number seven, “…but I don’t think I put that much money in it.”

“Hey you, crazy person, what you think you doin?”  The woman who spoke to him was well over six feet tall, dark skinned, dressed in full leathers and standing right behind him.

“III…yeek!” Commander Blevins shrieked as he turned around and found himself eye to eye with jutting, leather covered, rhinestone studded breasts.  He looked up, opened his mouth but could say nothing.  The dryer door softly closed behind him and the clothes began to spin again.

“Well…little man, you trying to steal my clothes?”

“Noooo!”  He protested and jumped back against the dryer.

“Tyrone.  Get the manager.  This little miserable honky is stealing my clothes.”  She look down straight into his eyes, grinning a mean “I’m going to eat you” grin, and added, “Aren’t you.”

“No, I wasn’t.  No ma’am.  I made a mistake. I thought these were my clothes,” Blevins protested.

The woman pushed him aside, opened the door and reached into the dryer.  The clothes stopped spinning.  She pulled out a white lace bra with holes cut in the tips.  “I suppose your gonna tell me this is yours.  You a faggoty maggot too?”

Commander Blevins stared at the bra.

“Here’s the manager, Simone.”  A little shrimpy black guy was standing behind the manager jumping up and down like a pogo stick.  “Here he is.  Here he is.”

“What’s the matter….” the manager began to say.

“Shut-up Tyrone. I can see that,” Simone said.

The manager looked back and forth between Commander Blevins, Simone, and Tyrone, who had now squirmed in beside the woman and was rubbing up and down against her side, smiling in all directions.  The manager wished he was still in Denver, but said, “Now what is the problem here.”

Commander Blevins opened his mouth and said, “I…”

“This little weirdo is stealing my clothes.” Simone had put her hands into the lace bra.  Her two index fingers stuck through the holes and she twirled her fingers around in circles as she stared back at the manager.

Sighing, he turned to Commander Blevins and said, “Did you take this woman’s clothes.”

“No, I did not.  They are right there.”  He pointed to the dryer.  Inside, he was shaking.

“Are these your clothes, ma’am?” the manger ask Simone.

“Of course they are,” she said.

“Well, I don’t see…”

“He opened the door to MY dryer and had his thieving hands on MY clothes.  He is stealing my clothes.  Arrest him!” Simone said.

“Yeah arrest him.  Arrest the…” Tyrone said, still rubbing against Simone.

“Shut-up Tyrone,” she said and elbowed him in the chin.

“Ow, that hurt, Cookie-Nookie.  You shouldn’t hurt your…”

“Please.”  The manager glared at Tyrone.  Turning to Commander Blevins, he asked, “Do you have an explanation for this?”

Blevins said, “I thought they were mine.”

“Yours!” Simone said.  I been here for two hours doing laundry.  Where you been?  I didn’t see you come in here and put any clothes anywhere.  You just come in here…”

“Hold it,” the manager yelled.  “I saw this man in here earlier.”  He turned to Blevins again and asked, “Why did you leave for so long?  You know store policy is to stay with your laundry until its done and then leave.  We do not allow any loitering here.”

Commander Blevins racked his brain.  “I was on an…errand…with a…friend.  And we couldn’t…get back in time.”  Sweat ran down his back and sides.  His arms were shaking now.

“Next time tell me if you are going to leave for more than a minute.  Now, look over in that corner.  I think you’ll find your clothes in the big basket with the hanging bar.   I unloaded this dryer when it had stopped and someone else needed it.  And you,” he said turning to Simone, “Please try to be a little nicer.  We can all get along if we just try.”

The manager turned and went back to the front counter.

Commander Blevins scurried back to the basket of clothes pointed out by the manager.  Relieved, he saw that they were his.  His boxes, though, were sitting on the floor near Simone.  He looked at them and then at her.

She turned and glared at him.  “Weirdo Honky…how come you wear so many clothes anyway?  You a REAL Crazy Person. Come on Tyrone, baby, lets take some air.”  She threw the bra back in the dryer and slammed the door.  It began spinning again.

Commander Blevins eased his way over to the cardboard boxes as Simone and Tyrone walked away.  Quickly he pulled the boxes apart and stuffed his clothes in them.  Piling one on top of the other, and grabbing the bigger bottom box by its bottom corners, he pigeon-walked through the front of the laundromat–avoiding the eyes of the manager–and out onto the sidewalk along Haight Street.  A large crowd had gathered down by the corner in front of the natural food store. Sirens were wailing in the distance.

Shrinking behind his boxes, Commander Blevins walked as quickly as he could.  He bumped into someone every few steps, but ignored their protests.  He turned the corner and headed up Filmore.  He arms ached from the weight of the clothes; his body still reverberated with tension; and his legs cramped as he struggled to take each step.

“Never seen such a deal,” said Ember, quietly.  He was not back to full strength yet, but was rapidly on the mend. The two MEs had been engrossed in the spectacle down on Haight Street.  They had edged along the wire toward the intersection and now sat on a ringside perch over the corner. Neither had said a word for the past several minutes.

“Lookeyloo at old Greeny, he’s juicing for all he’s worth,” Pins said.  Greeny was doing just that.  It hovered over the people huddling over Mrs. Frumpwooler, with Its light cord reeled in short.  Its little sides around Its Yahooney were going in and out like bellows.  Try as It did, though, It was getting little nourishment.  Mrs.  Frumpwooler was, at the moment, barely cooperating in the physical and Greeny was turning a sickly yellow-green.

“Here comes old Step ‘N Fetchit again,” said Pins. Commander Blevins was barely visible behind the mound of clothes as he bumped from one person to the next.  Since everyone else was gawking at the human theater on the street, he was tolerated and drew only an occasional “Watch it, fellow.”

The two MEs were not alone in noticing Commander Blevins.  Greeny perked up like a lost dog when It spied Blevins, Its only other acquaintance in the Physical World. Taking a last look at Its current patron as she was lifted onto a stretcher, Greeny decided to cut loose.  It reeled in Its light cord and set off for a new conquest.  Only two other beings heard the distinctive suck-pop that happens when a light cord is pulled out of a host.  The sound got their attention.

“Whoa, Lookeyloo here,” Ember said.  “Old Greeny’s unpluged from What’s Her Face.”  Wonder what he’ll do next. Sure is a lot of prime ones down there.”  The two MEs watched in silence as Greeny floated over the crowd and paused near a seedy-looking fellow standing on the Haight Street side of the corner that Commander Blevins had just rounded.

“That one will do, Greeny…go for it,” Pins cheered. Greeny inched Its way along until It came to the very edge of the building, playing out Its light cord flowed out which sniffed around like a long, thin, green elephant’s trunk.  It checked out the seedy fellow and two women standing by street lamp pole.  Then slowly it worked its way up the hill to another woman dropping some mail in the mailbox on her way down the street to check out all the commotion.

Greeny then came around the corner and watched Commander Blevins trudging up the hill directly in the path of two large black men, who saw a puny little white guy all bundled up and carrying a pile of clothes.  An afternoon’s entertainment was walking right up to them while everyone else was watching something down on Haight Street.

“Something’s gonna happen,” said Pins.  “And it ain’t gonna be good.”

“Yeah I can hardly wait,” said Ember.

“Idiot.  Lunch, dinner and all the snacks in between is right in the thick of it.  You want to wind up like old Greeny.”

“Oh.  No way.  See the point.”  Ember sobered up quickly, then said, “What’s to do.”

“As much as I hate it,” said Pins, “lets do a Wrap on those two big ugly ones.”

“Oh yech,” Ember grimaced.  Its light cord was sore and It was still a little weak from the lose of energy, but It pushed the discomfort aside.

“Come on.”

“Ok.”  The two light cords began winding around themselves, coiling and knotting as they did so, like muscles that were trying to contract and extend at the same time.

Commander Blevins dragged himself up the hill, light cords in tow.  The two big men walk straight down at him, smiling.  One had a knife in his hand.  Greeny was slowly narrowing the distance between It and Commander Blevins.  It saw the large gap in his aura where two light cords already attached.  A third would make no difference.

Greeny was a naive, though crafty, ME.  Mrs. Frumpwooler had been Its first host.  Its motivating passion was a carry-over from a just-completed lifetime spent hoarding money and living off others.  The attachment to Its fortune had been so great that It was unable to transit normally, which arrested Its development.  The result: another ME.

There was a slight film over the gap in Commander Blevins’ aura and Greeny waited for it to clear.

The men were almost upon him when Commander Blevins realized they existed and meant him harm.  One stepped around behind him, grabbed Blevins’ scarf and wound it around his eyes.  The other put a hand on the pile of clothes and was about to sweep them to the ground.

As this happened, Commander Blevins almost swallowed his tongue.  He felt the men’s intentions; fear froze his mind. The light film over the tear in his aura disappeared, then the gap widened. Greeny was buoyant.  It shot Its light cord deftly into the gap and sunk it home.

“Uhhh.  Oh,” said Commander Blevins.

“Hey what the crap is happening,” said Ember.

“Quiet and concentrate,” Pins said.

“Yeah, but…”

“Yeah, but nothing.  Its now or never.”

Ember gave in and a huge surge of energy flowed down the two light cords.  Another energy wave followed.  As the big men set upon their feeble white-guy-for-lunch, a jolt stopped them both cold.  Commander Blevins’ momentum carried him forward and beyond their reach.  He continued walking, stone-blind from the scarf around his eyes, scrunching his jaw, nose, and forehead furiously in an effort to shake off the scarf.

The two big men were not so fortunate.  The first Wrap from the coiled light cords had momentarily shorted a particular set of synapses in their brains.  They became briefly, but violently incontinent, deaf, dumb, and sightless.

When the second energy surge hit them they went flying back against the wall of one of the many apartment buildings fronting Fillmore.  The building was built right up to the sidewalk, and that is where they landed in a pile, unconscious, and smelling poorly.

Greeny waltzed through this war zone without a hesitation.  Everyone was Its friend at the moment as it juiced deeply.

Commander Blevins unwound his scarf in time to prevent another vehicle-pedestrian encounter and reached his front door, puffing heavily.  He propped the boxes against the wooden window trim next to the lobby door and fished in his pocket for his keys.  Just as he closed his fingers around the key ring, he heard the front door open.

A man’s voice said, “I will hold the door for you.”

“Oh, thanks.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it,” Blevins said over the pile of clothes as he walked through the open doorway.  A shaft of light shimmered on his left as he stepped over the threshold.  Halfway across the foyer Blevins stopped and whirled around: he had not seen anyone hold the door open.  The man’s words echoed in his mind; and he realized the sound of the voice was familiar to him.

Blevins watched as the hydraulic door opener, wheezing, slowly closed the door.  Floor to ceiling windows flanked the front door on both sides, spanning the entire width of the entryway.  No one was there.  He could see through the windows and across the street to the buildings beyond.  They were bathed in sunlight.  He looked to the right side of the door–where the shimmering light had been when he came in–and saw a dark corner: no ray of light to be seen.  With sunlight was falling on the other side of the street, the sun could not have been shining into the foyer.

Commander Blevins shook his head, confused about the shimmering light he had seen and turned to the stairs. Greeny flowed through the door behind him.

“Way to go, General Custer,” Ember said.  Pins said nothing.  They glared at each other.

The ambulance left Haight Street, its siren wailing. The crowd dispersed, Muni Bus No. 7 Haight rolled on and the two would-be muggers lolled slack-jawed like winos on the way down.  The First and Second Ones moved back to their usual perch half way between Page and Haight Streets on the downtown side of Filmore.

Soon Greeny popped up over the far back corner of 600 Page, floating leisurely in an unseen, gentle breeze.  It smiled at the two other MEs across the building, the intersection and the half block that separated them.  They did not smile back.


Chapter Seventeen
“Windsurfing In A Firestorm”

Commander Blevins settled into his overstuffed chair.

The heaters in the apartment all hummed away.  His Goofy slippers peaked out from under his long robe; he had a steaming cup of Mugi-Cha in one hand; and three light cords ran out of his back, through the chair and up into the ceiling.  Perplexed, Commander Blevins reviewed the day’s events.

The trip to the Records had been a little out of the ordinary.  Mrs. Frumpwooler was a unique Client, to be sure. Confusion began with her Record Cards: they were out of order and uncoded.  He could not remember the Cards being jumbled before.

In Verified Viewers Training someone had mentioned karmic bonds between Viewers and their Clients.  There was a strict code of conduct governing Viewers.  One complete section of the manual covered the relationship between Viewers and Clients and he made a mental note to reread those chapters.

His tea finished, Commander Blevins leaned back, closed his eyes and fell asleep.  He awoke a few minutes later and said, “She didn’t pay me.”  This bothered him.  Mrs. Frumpwooler owed him some money, quite a lot of money: his services did not come cheaply.  He could not let the matter go, got up from the chair and walked toward the kitchen.  His clothes sat in the foyer, unfolded and spilling out of the boxes.  He made a face and decided to deal with them tomorrow.

The kitchen table was still covered with adding machine parts, just as it had been when Mrs. Frumpwooler knocked on his door a scant few hours ago.  “Time.  It sure is a fooler,” he said.

He looked into the box of parts sitting on the chair between the built-in china cabinet and the table and rummaged through them.  Nothing sparked his interest so he sat down on the other chair facing the china cabinets.  A draft from the leaky window frame cooled his legs and ankles.  He got up, turned the oven on low and opened its door.

The adding machine parts where spread out neatly on an old towel.  Near the window was a jumble of springs, long metal arms, short knurled connectors, and several hundred other shapes and sizes, many smeared with grease.  The pile of pieces had been a large machine.  Along the opposite end of the table lay three or four dozen paired metal shapes. They had been picked from the jumble, matched and then cleaned in the half-gallon plastic yogurt container that now sat across from Commander Blevins.  It was filled with Fantastic Household Cleaner and its lid was on tight.  When he had found the collection of storage containers during a visit to a Napa County hot springs, he had rejoiced. Containers of any kind were a find.  Yogurt tubs were especially useful, but so icky to clean out.  These–he took seven–had been empty and clean.  Commander Blevins ate no milk products of any kind.  They made him blow his nose.

“Music.”  He was always forgetting something.  Sighing, he stood back up and shuffled over to the little green table in the hall.  The three light cords followed along in unison. He bent over the tape deck and reversed Mozart’s 40th and 41st Symphonies, back to back on one cassette.  He had last listened to the 41st.  “I must get a deck with auto reverse,” he mumbled to himself, not for the first time.

Back at the table, he set to work.  When he had begun using adding machines as raw material, he worked them methodically: disassembly, cleaning, sorting the parts into matching pieces, then putting ear wires on them.  Now he liked to vary the process.  This machine had been only half taken apart first.  Pieces of it were tossed into a big box as he stripped the machine.  Then he had scooped piles of the greasy parts at random from the box and plopped them down on the end of the table nearest the window.  Picking out interesting singles and pairs, or sets that worked together, he cleaned the pieces and laid them out to dry.

This method held his interest longer.  Putting ear wires on the eclectic metal shapes made them into instant earrings, which kids in the City loved.  Commander Blevins gave the earrings away like candy.  Giving normally made him smile, though now he felt curiously unenthusiastic about it.

Humming along with the violins, Commander Blevins worked steadily. He wondered if maybe he should charge for these earrings.  This machine had some especially wicked shapes in it.  “I bet they’d pay three, even five bucks a crack for these,” he said to himself as he held up two pieces in front of him.  One metal part had a toothed arm curving up and a long spiky shaft, like a miniature Viking axe.  The other metal piece was like a double pointed pike with a star-shaped burst of points in its middle.

The phone rang.

He shuffled out to the main room and picked up the phone.  “Blevins, at your service,” he said.

“Commander Blevins, this is Earl Roy Tickle, Vice-Counsel of the Society for Verified Viewers Accountability.”

“Why yes, Vice-Counsel Tickle, to what do I owe this honor?” Commander Blevins asked, puffing up.

“Well, er, it seems we have had a protest lodged…”

“Protest…why, whom, how…” Commander Blevins deflated, quickly humbled.

“A complaint actually,” Vice-Counsel Tickle said.  A complaint was more serious than protest.  Commander Blevins sat down.  Vice-Counsel Tickle continued, “It seems that you passed through the Astral and re-entered the Physical in such a manner that you interfered with another Viewer.”

“Well, I did just return.  But, I don’t think my…”

Commander Blevins was interrupted before he could go any further.

“We’re all sure there is a proper explanation for this, Commander Blevins.  It is just that another member was jolted by the sudden intrusion into passageways deemed navigatable, and this resulted in a certain degree of discomfiture.  There was also a matter of their Client and a loss of professional regard, if you catch my drift.”

“Yes, I get the picture.”

“The Society would like to address the matter at the earliest convenience.  Would tomorrow at three o’clock be suitable.?”

“Yes, yes of course, I will be there.”

“We appreciate your cooperation, Commander Blevins.  And we look forward to a satisfactory resolution for all concerned.  Have a good evening.”

The phone clicked in his ear.  Forty five seconds later it began a shrill tone, designed to alert people when their phones were off the hook.  The noise brought Commander Blevins out of his reverie.  He replaced the receiver and sat down on the love seat.  He rarely sat there and his posture was as uncomfortable as his thoughts.  He could not imagine what Mrs. Frumpwooler had gotten into on her direct leap home.  Yes, taking Clients to the Records did violate the letter of the Society’s Articles, but he had been doing so for more than three years now and no one had mentioned it.  He had to admit that this was the first time a Client had bolted and come back on their own, though rapid retreats by Viewers did happen occasionally.  What had she done?…and WHO had she tripped up?…and she had not even paid him!  His irritation grew as he mulled over the situation.

He sat and stared at the clothes in the hallway for a long time.  Finally realizing he was uncomfortable, he stood-up, stretched, walked into the kitchen and made another cup of tea.  Carrying the tea back into the main room, he flipped the cassette again and fell back into his overstuffed chair.

Commander Blevins turned up the heater closest to him. He was quickly mesmerized by the swaying branches of the tall pine tree in the yard next door, which filled his third floor window and gave him the feeling of living in a tree house high in a forest of pines.  The fog hung over Twin Peaks beyond the tree.  He slowly became lost in his thoughts and the evening floated by.

Very tired and soaked with sweat from the heat, tea, and a parade of fears, Blevins decided to turn in at 9:30.  He slid the love seat back in front of the window.  Trudging over to the walk-in closet, he dragged his futon back along the hardwood floor, which left a clean streak on the floor behind it.

When he had made the bed for the night and set the electric blanket at seven, he turned down the three heaters in the main room, turned off the oven, closed its door, shut off the lights in the kitchen, and shuffled by the clothes in the foyer and down the hall to the bathroom.  Remembering Mrs.  Frumpwooler’s battle in the bath, he reinspected the scene.  He found no evidence of intruders.  He closed the window tightly over the tub, bent down and turned on the hot water handle full blast and then squatted down to turn on the heater under the porcelain sink.  He poured in a long stream of Bath Therapy and watched as the green powder swirled in the wake of the water pouring from the tub spout.

Slowly he stripped off his robe and outer layers of shirts.  He flipped off his Goofy slippers, peeled off two pairs of long-johns, and kicked the whole pile behind the bathroom door.

The tub was about half full when he shut off the hot and turned on the cold.  He put one foot into the tub after it had filled some more.  The water was too hot, but not scalding.  He swished the cold water to the back of the tub with his foot until he could stand the temperature.

Sighing deeply, he lowered his skinny body into the hot water, stretched out and put his feet up on the tile behind the faucet.  The three light cords ran up the wall behind the tub.  Two of the cords pulsed more than the other and the red one now began pulsing even harder.  Steam rose and filled the room.  The paint on the ceiling peeled a fraction more.  Brown spots collect on the walls and ceilings.  Commander Blevins relaxed, too warm to hold any tension.

Twenty minutes later, he pulled his pink sleepy skinny self out of the tub, dried off hurriedly, raced thorough the cold apartment and crawled into a very warm bed.  Sleep came to him quickly.  Dreaming followed sometime thereafter. Commander Blevins usually sweated when he slept.  This night was no exception.

Out on the wire above Filmore three MEs sat glumly.  MEs always were glum when their hosts slept: nothing happened. The MEs attachment was only to the physical body.  When people sleep their physical bodies normally rest, providing no stimulation for attached MEs.

Ember was bright red and glowing.  It had sucked up enough heat from Commander Blevins’ bath to keep It fueled for many hours to come.  It was not glum from lack of satisfaction, but from boredom.  The other two were even more glum.  In fact Pins was extraordinarily glum, because It had taken the arrival of Greeny hard.  Pickings were slim since Ember had arrived.  Additional company was not welcome. Ember was more philosophical about the arrangement.  It could afford to be.

Greeny, with Its new host, could feel the mixing of energies and reshifting of patterns already taking place, and was glumly happy.  By morning when Commander Blevins would begin a new day, Greeny would undoubtedly shed Its gloomy night mood the most quickly of the three.

Commander Blevins found himself wide awake and sitting straight up.  He walked across the room to the window and watched the moon through the edge of the fog, partially hidden and fuzzy-edged. Then he turned back toward his bed.  Two things struck him at once: he was not cold, even though he was naked, and there was someone sleeping in his bed.  He walked around to the foot of the futon and the person in his bed rolled over and snorted.  It was himself.  “How silly of me not to realize that,” he thought.

Blevins checked his Inner Awareness.  It was a blank screen.  The world was as it should be and there was a reassuring calm inside him.  A blank reassuring calm, which he surrendered to without any other consideration, like being on automatic pilot.

A surfboard came through the wall and stopped at his feet.  It was yellow with orange fins.  He stepped onto the surfboard and the room fell away.  Fog lapped at the sides of the board and he began moving steadily through grey waves. The waves became bigger and he cut through them faster.

He wished he had something to hang onto.  A sail sprung from the center of the board and he grasped the bowed sail- bar.  He leaned back against the pull of the sail.  It shone a fiery red.  Splashed with water, the red sail glistened, stark against the grey sea.  There was no sun or moon.  The sky and sea met somewhere ahead, the horizon an indistinct blending of different shades of grey.

Soon he was being pulled along faster.  The muscles in his legs and arms ached from exertion.  He wondered if he could hang on much longer.  Fear began to creep in as letting go of the sail seemed more and more dangerous.  His speed increased again.

Now he was going faster than the wind.  Instead of feeling the wind blow by from behind, pushing him along, it now came directly against his face as he cut through both the sea and the wind.  He blinked as he thought he saw a dark line stretch out in front of the board through the swell ahead of him.  Water drenched him as the waves became bigger.

Suddenly a large black shape surfaced ahead of him.  The dark line ran back from the black shape, back to the front of the board.  The black shape plunged into another wave.  He was pulled ahead, the pace quickening to an impossible speed. He thought his grip would surely fail him at any moment. Fear spread and panic nibbled at his feet.

The sea erupted in flames.  Yellow-orange jets of fire shot straight up all around him.  The grey surface of the sea was pockmarked with pools of fire.  A huge swell rose in front of him and he topped it, finding himself completely engulfed in fire.  The sea fell away.  The sail-bar turned white-hot in his hands.  The sail burst into flames.  Sweat poured out of him and he was pulled along faster than thought.

Blevins awoke.  The bedding was tangled and most of it thrown off him.  The sheet under him was soaked.  His body glisten with sweat and he was freezing.  An image of his dream journal floated by.  He was not sure who or where he was, though, and was in no shape to find the book, let alone record the dream.  He sat still, teeth chattering.


Chapter Eighteen
“Cayenne, Water, The Chronicle”

“Hey Lookeyloo,” Ember said.  It pointed down to the front door of Commander Blevins’ apartment house.  Blevins was checking his mailbox.  There was no mail yet. He turned and looked across the street.

Commander Blevins wore his grey and red-striped scarf, a knee length grey leather coat, mid-calf burgundy boots and dark green corduroy pants tucked into the boot tops and spilling over in baggy folds.  He looked like a well-dressed and well-muscled man ready for a morning stroll through a snow covered park.  Hidden beneath his carefully chosen outer layer were many unseen layers of clothing and the skinny body they covered.

He was acutely embarrassed about the amount of clothing he had to wear.  The last-minute comment by the women in the laundromat the day before–about why he wore so many clothes –had cut into him deeply.  Though the wind from the ocean is often cold, he knew there was a limit, however, to just how cold seventeen degrees Celsius should feel.

Commander Blevins topped off his winter wardrobe with an oversize blood-red stocking cap.  Behind this hat, a sliver of blue plastic poked out from underneath.  This liner, fashioned from a cut-up windbreaker, provided a windbreak for his head and separated the oversized outer cap from the wool stocking cap underneath.

“The old turkey is all dressed up for plucking,” said Pins.

“Must be his Sunday-best,” said Ember.

“Yep, must be,” said Greeny.  The First and Second Ones looked hard at Greeny.  It had joined them on the wire in the middle of the night.  The reception that morning had been less than cordial.  Antagonism was nothing new with MEs. Most of their feelings toward fellow usurpers were malevolent.  The least Greeny was expected to do was to shut-up when It obviously did not know what It was talking about, such as now.

Commander Blevins walked across Page Street and down Filmore.  The three light cords slowly shortened.

“Wonder were the Bundle is headed today,” Pins said. “Maybe the grocery.”

“Nope.  Too dressed up,” Ember said.

“Could be having company later today,” Pins said.

“Nope.”

“Could be.”

“No way, Fuddlebutt.  That Old man has never looked this presentable,” Ember said.

Commander Blevins walked across Haight Street and continued down Filmore, passing the Haight Street Natural Foods Store on the corner.  He looked over the tomatos and avocados on the outside racks nearest the corner, and then continued down the block.  The Filmore end of the grocery was solid stained wood, as though a wrap-around storefront had been carefully boarded up.  On the sidewalk, built as part of the wooden wall, was a coffin sized storage cabinet.  Its lid was on top and the cabinet looked disconnected from the rest of the business.  Commander Blevins pulled at the lid, out of habit, as he walked by.  He had long wondered what the box was used for.  The lid did not budge.

“See,” Ember said.

“Yeah, see,” Greeny piped in.  Two stares stopped It from further babble.

Commander Blevins walked down the hill past Sticks and Stones, a newly opened business that provided stuffed scorpions and human bones–among other items of similar taste–to a unique clientele.  He shivered, as much from the events of the past day as from the store.  Usually he crossed the street to avoid the black little store.

“I think he’s going on Safari,” Ember said.

“Which means we are going on Safari,” Pins said.

“Come on, Greeny, if light cords get too strung out, they may pop,” Ember said.

“Big Mouth,” said Pins.

“Give it a rest.”  The three MEs sailed up on unseen thermals and soon were dancing along over Commander Blevins.

To someone who could see the unseen, he looked like a man walking his balloons: three strange, misshapen balloons with uncommonly thick strings which were translucent or glowing or both.

Unaware of the MEs, yet feeling their effect, Commander Blevins walked on, troubled.  He had never been admonished by the Society.  Occasionally he had heard of someone who had been irresponsible in their conduct in the Inner Worlds, but that was rare.  And he had never heard of any punitive action taken by the Society.

Blevins thought about his Dream.  He had sat immobile in the middle of the bed, soaking wet and naked, for so long that he had gotten deeply chilled.  A second long soak in the tub had warmed him, but not before his viral syndrome kicked-up again.  He had chewed a large clove of garlic each hour for the rest of the night and morning, which had quelled most of the symptoms.  His head, though, was fuzzy and he felt more susceptible to the cold.  He knew the dream was important, but he had yet to figured it out.

And Mrs. Frumpwooler had not paid him!

Lurking in the shadows of his mind, as always, was his nagging fear of sliding backwards: of getting one chill after the other and one viral attack after another, which had happened a few years earlier and he had almost been institutionalized.  Luckily he had pulled out of that downward spiral with a long fast–an action too extreme for him to repeat again–and stabilized.  He knew he needed to leave San Francisco.  The weather was just too cold for him, yet he found his old haunts hard to leave.

A friend had told him about a community living at a hot springs just north of Napa County that sounded interesting. Perhaps he would investigate that area sometime.

He stepped across the tracks where the N Judah trolley pulled up to its last stop on Duboce Street and he continued on the sidewalk, rounding the corner of Church Street.  The J Church trolley was just slowing for its turn into the Muni Underground.  At Market Street, Commander Blevins waited for the light to change.  The wind picked up and he hunched his shoulders against it.  This was a day when he really needed to stay at home and keep warm, not be out gallivanting.  He had nearly four hours before his appointment with the Society; leaving the house this early was dumb.  He debated whether to go to Rainbow, another health food store in the Mission, now or after his meeting.  Many bulk things were much better buys at Rainbow and he especially need some miso, kombu, and hijiki.

“Later,” he decided.  The light changed and Commander Blevins and his three attachments crossed Market Street.  The flowers were lovely at The Church Street Peddle Pusher, spilling out onto the sidewalk.  Two storefronts later he opened a steamed-up door, stepped in, and sighed with relief at the warmth.

An “L” shaped food line greeted him.  Behind the counter stood a woman in her early twenties.  One side of her scalp was shaved to the skin, except for three angled stripes of hair, each about a quarter inch wide and a quarter inch high. They began over her ear, disappeared behind her head and were green, red and black.  The rest of her hair was a flat grey– the color a seventy year old anemic woman would change at any cost–and all one length, chopped off square with the bottom of her other ear.  She wore a white apron over a ripped T- shirt and had a jagged metal earing hanging from her exposed ear.  She smiled.

“Whacha want?” she said quietly.

“Oh…I’ll have the number one and soup, thank you, Commander Blevins said.

“Which kind of soup: Split Pea or Adzuki-Barley?”

“Adzuki, please.  And that is a wonderful earring you have on.”

“Thank you.  Some man gave it to a friend of mine,” she said, and gave him the soup.  “Lemon butter sauce on your veggies?”

“No thanks.”

She handed Commander Blevins a plate piled high with brown rice, garbanzo-tomato stew and steamed carrots, broccoli, green beans, onions and some other bits of the vegetable kingdom. Most of his friends found Amazing Grace either too boring or too garish.  Blevins, though, was always satisfied by the food and rarely spent more than five bucks.  He continued through the line, smiled at the cashier, and wondered how much she would pay for one of his new earrings, and then found a back booth away from the door.

He set the tray down and slid in, then got right up again and went back to the front room for a glass of water. Someone had left a Chronicle on top of the trash container. He was in luck, since he hadn’t remembered to buy a paper. That fact startled him: he always bought a newspaper at the little corner shop catty-corner from the apartment building. He made a mental note to pull himself together.

Back at the booth with water and paper, Commander Blevins doused his plate with cayenne and tamari and opened the paper.  The lime green walls and orange booths did not please him visually, but he was able to overlook this minor shortcoming of the restaurant.  Three light cords ran out of the back of the booth up and out through the building and found their way to their three creators, now sitting patiently on an overhead wire on Church Street watching the J Church Car unload at Market.

Chapter Nineteen
“Unexpectedly Visiting Club Paradise”

Nestled into an out of the way recess, down the hill and around the corner from City Lights Bookstore, a faded blue door stood, locked.  Its square window, at face level, was silvered and therefore reflected the image of whoever happen to peer into it.  “S. V. V.” was printed in Gothic script underneath the silver window.

Commander Blevins stood outside the door, in the heart of North Beach.  It was 12:35 pm and there was no beach in sight.  Many people, Commander Blevins included, would be dismayed to find a beach anywhere close to North Beach.  The North Beach neighborhood was named for the beach that, at one time, skirted the bay just a block and a half from where he now stood.  Fill, earthquake rubble, bricked-over muddy streets, paved-over brick streets, bones of dogs lost and/or eaten: all of that and much more caused the North Beach of today to be landlocked.  The TransAmerica Pyramid stood, but for the illusionary moment of a century, smack in midst of lapping Bay surf.

Blevins had eaten lunch, endured an uneventful ride downtown on the Muni Underground to Montgomery Station, had walked up to the Post/Montgomery side of Market Street and a block back up Market to Kearny.  He had found the 15 Third Street bus almost ready to leave.  Five long minutes later the bus had stopped just short of Broadway. Commander Blevins had gotten off and walked the longer, back way around to get to where he was now.

He was far too early to consider entering and waiting. He tried the door handle anyway, which did not turn.  He walked down Columbus Avenue passed by a bar at the corner of Pacific.  The bar was welcoming business and the doors and windows were wide open.  Commander Blevins marveled at how people could be comfortable in only a T-shirt when the temperature was in the fifties.  He knew he was an extreme, but the only place where fifty degrees was T-shirt weather was in San Francisco.  Next to the two guys drinking at the bar–in T-shirts–was a man who wore a leather jacket, buttoned, and a scarf.  Commander Blevins did not notice him.

The light turned.  He took the path of least resistance, crossed Columbus and walked up the other side of the street. He was stopped by traffic at Broadway.  Feeling insignificant and vulnerable among the number of cars and people, he spied Coit Tower peeking over the buildings across the street.  He considered going there and taking a look at the city from the tower.  Climbing the many steps would probably make him sweat, though, and then he would get chilled.  Already cold, he vetoed the idea and crossed Columbus Avenue in front some girlie joints.

He wandered on, not paying much attention to the people sweeping the sidewalk or passing by or talking by the curb. A taxi pulled up next to him and honked.  Almost knocking him down, a woman came out of the doorway, yanked open the back door of the taxi, and jumped in the back seat.  After a moment’s hesitation, the taxi and the girl sped off.  The image of the woman, as she slipped into the car, burned into Commander Blevins’ mind: she was wearing a red leather halter, a red leather mini skirt, black heels, dark glasses and no panties.  The fact that he had the opportunity to know–not guess–about her underwear, or lack thereof, stopped Commander Blevins in his tracks.

High overhead Pins perked up.  It felt a surge of energy that had been missing for a long time.  Encouraged, It focused Its full attentions on Its host and began drawing in long deep pumps.  The light cord had only passed up a trickle of energy in the past three years.  The cord responded to the new sensation by turning a shiny charcoal grey but then collapsing in places.

“Drat,” Pins thought.  “This is going to take some coaxing.

Commander Blevins watched the street by the curb where the taxi, and the red mini skirted woman, had been.  An old urgent feeling flooded his solar plexus.

“Well, why don’t you come in and watch the show.” Someone was talking to him.

He turned around, hunching over slightly, wondering if he had been caught.  Another woman stood in the same doorway and she did have on panties…and tall black boots and a very green thigh length coat, unbuttoned and held back by her elbows.  She had vivid green eyes and underneath the coat she wore a sheer white push-up bra and sheer white bikini panties. Commander Blevins was very sure just how sheer they were, for her jet black hair falling on her shoulders was echoed quite noticeably behind her panties.

Commander Blevins felt a wildness course through him and his trousers become tight.

Pins got a blast of energy that over-juiced It.  The light cord had repaired its collapsed areas and the sudden increase in energy flow caused the ME to flash glossy black and swoon.  All three MEs were hovering a couple hundred feet above their mutual host.  Pins slowly floated down, Its light cord coiling neatly beside Commander Blevins.  Finally It landed on the coil.

“What’s gotten into him?” Greeny said.

Ember was silent, too involved in monitoring the energy flowing Its own way to respond.  Either Pins had suffered a psychic short, or their host was up to old tricks.  The latter would not bode well for Ember’s future.

Blevins still stared at the second woman.

“My name’s Estel,” she said.  She quickly scanned the area and then said, “Would you like to come inside…” she ran her hand slowly over her stomach, “and sit with me.”  As she said “me” her fingers slid inside her panties and moved in little circles.

“Yes!” Commander Blevins blurted, staring harder.  He walked into the club behind the woman.  A heavy black drape caught him in the face as it swung back into position after she passed through.  Fumbling his way around the curtain, he found himself in a room so dark he could not see where he stood.  Across the room was a stage with a high stool sitting in the center.  A woman was on the stool.  Unseen and clustered around the ceiling like sentry gargoyles were fat black Misplaced Entities.  Their light cords were black then red, changing as they undulated and crossed the room in a shiny spider web pattern.  They all were juicing heavily from four men up front near the stage.

The woman on the stool sat poised with both legs wrapped around her neck.  One man up front–Commander Blevins could only see his dark outline against the stage lights–was yelling in a mushy voice, “Take it off.  Take it off.”

His companion laughed, “She already has, Harry.  You’re too snookered to see, you old coot.”  His words were slurred, too.  The two other men snickered.

Outside a man walked across the spot where Commander Blevins had been standing and passed through the area where Pins lay on Its coil of light cord.  The man hesitated two steps later, looked down at one leg, shook it as though something clung to it and then shivered all over.

Pins was brought back to Its senses by the energy field passing through It.  It had to make a conscious effort to keep from attaching itself to the new potential host.  For a ME, attaching to two physical bodies at once was a sure way to gluttony and spontaneous division, if the two hosts got too far apart.  This usually led to a ME loosing control and often becoming the slave of another, stronger ME.

Commander Blevins felt a firm grip on his arm.  “This way, Sugar,” a woman purred into his ear.  The music was loud but this voice pierced it easily.  He let himself be guided but his eyes did not leave the stage and the woman of many postures on the stool who continued to find positions that defied gravity, modesty, and Commander Blevins’ imagination. Three light cords followed.  One pulsed heavily.

“Here, this will do, won’t it Honey.”  Blevins felt himself being pushed into a booth.  She sat down next to him, very next to him.  Perfume assaulted his senses.  “What would you like to drink, Handsome.”

“uh..orange juice.”

“Would this sexy man buy Estel a drink?”  She put her hand on his thigh.

Outside, Ember’s fears were confirmed.  Pins rose high into the air, a vibrant gloss black, with smart grey pin- striping.  Its light cord had now turned coal-black too, looking and twitching like a stalking panther’s tail still damp from a rainstorm.

“Yeah..sure…OK.”  The Society, Mrs. Frumpwooler, earrings, his dream: all–everything that made Commander Blevins’ world function and approach balance–had been left outside.

“I’ll be right back and then we can talk,” Estel said.

As she started to leave, she let her hand glide farther up his leg and across his crotch.  “Ohhhhh…” she said as her hand brushed his pants, “A big, handsome boy.”

Commander Blevins jolted when Estel touched him.  After she left, he tried to look around him, but could see little.

The woman on stage was now standing in front of the stool and looking over her shoulder.  She turned back to the stool. Bending down slowly, she reached around behind the stool into a shopping bag that sat on the floor.  Straightening up, she looked over her shoulder again and with a teasing look on her face, revealed a large cucumber that she held in one hand. Slowly she began licking the tip of the cucumber.

Two very large MEs began drifting over toward Commander Blevins and the three light cords.  They both had bright red circles under their eyes and lumps all over their bodies. One of them, the largest, trailed strings of shiny grey drool.

“Here we are now.”

He heard the voice, but did not associate it with anyone in particular until a very warm body was pressing against him.

“Here are the drinks, Hon.  That’ll be fifty bucks.  Ten for yours and forty for mine.”

The woman on the stage was now sliding the huge cucumber into her mouth as far as possible, which was not very far. Blevins reached into his front left pants pocket and pulled out the little wallet he carried.  He had been paid two days earlier by the Client before Mrs. Frumpwooler and had not deposited any of the cash.  He pulled out three twenties and handed them to Estel, expecting change.

“Oh, Thank You Sugar.”  She quickly added the bills to a small wad, twisted a rubberband around it and shoved it into a Collins glass on her tray, which was on a chair next to the booth.  “Now where were we,” she said as she snuggled against Commander Blevins and began once again running her hand over him.

Blevins’ inner voice–small and faint–protested at paying so much and not getting any change.  Commander Blevins ignored it.  He was focused completely on two sensations: one which his eyes brought to him and the other which Estel’s hands provided.  He took a long drink of his orange juice. It rolled down his throat, hit his stomach and burned everywhere.  He had not had any orange juice for three years. It made him feel colder in a world that was already too cold for him. The voice grew louder inside, but he pushed it away.

“My, but we have a lot of clothes on Honey.  Is it that cold out today?”  Estel was becoming very familiar with Commander Blevins.  She had his two pairs of pants unzipped and was now fishing through his longjohns. “I know you are in here somewhere.  I can feel that big boy of yours, Handsome.”

Commander Blevins squirmed and took another long drink on his orange juice and felt more fire.  The woman on stage was bent completely over now, her head almost touching her knees, which were nowhere close to touching each other.  She had the cucumber positioned in such a way tat there was no doubt where it was going next.  He took a third big drink from the glass.

“Ahah!” Estel said.  “Here you are.”  Flesh met flesh.

On stage, the cucumber disappeared, mostly, to shouts from the men up front and a long stage groan from the woman.

Commander Blevins yelled, “Booze!” and stood straight up, knocking the table over in the booth.

“Careful, Honey.  Sit back down.”  Estel looked around, worried, but still retained her grip.

“You put booze in my orange juice!” he shouted.  His pants fell part way down his legs.  The three light cords whipped behind him as he gyrated, trying to shake loose from Estel’s lock.  The big black MEs, just starting to sniff the light cords, were caught by surprise.  They were not able to avoid being brushed by them.

Outside, Pins sailed higher, dancing in unseen jet streams, oblivious to what was going on inside.

Ember felt the sniffing and the proximity of other MEs, guessed what was happening, yelled to Greeny and poked Itself through the front wall of Club Paradise.  It screamed.  As quickly as It went in, It withdrew.  Greeny was nearby looking like a dog called by Its master.  Its eyes were huge and Its little greedy heart was thrilled at being called upon.

“Of course, the bartender put booze in your Orange Juice.”  The situation was rapidly deteriorating for Estel.

“I can’t drink!”

“Could’ve fooled me, Honey,” Estel said.

The gang of MEs in the club all perked up when Ember suddenly appeared and screamed.  They began moving toward the door, and Commander Blevins.

The woman on stage had stopped in mid stroke and was now peering between her legs at the commotion in the back of the bar.

“Hey now, no slacking on the job,” one of the ringside drunks yelled.

“I can’t drink!” Commander Blevins yelled again.

Estel finally released both her vision of the other bills in his wallet and his appendage of the moment.

“And you owe me money.  I gave you sixty bucks and did not get any change,” Blevins added.

Estel quickly pulled up his pants, buttoned them, zipped the fly, slid out of the booth and yelled, “Georgio!”

“We’ve got do a Wrap, Greeny,” Ember said.

“What’s a Wrap and what about…”  Greeny pointed up to where Pins sailed, lost in euphoria.

“Forget it.  Too far gone right now.  Listen carefully and do exactly what I say.”

In a heartbeat Georgio was at Estel’s side and said, “What’s the matter, Hun?”

“This creep’s outa hand.  He won’t keep his hands offa me.”

Georgio looked at her carefully.  He did not want to rile a customer unnecessarily.  His girls were not supposed to do half the stuff they did, but stiffing a john was bad business.

“She owes me money,” Commander Blevins said.  He was weaving a little bit.  His pants were lumpy and uncomfortable around his crotch and upper thighs.  The alcohol had started to get to him.  He had developed a sensitivity to alcohol even before his training in Inner World travel.  Now it was a violent shock to his system.

The gang of MEs clustered around him, poking and prodding with their light cords.

Georgio wondered if this guy really was a big man, or just had on a lot of clothes.  Deliberation was not one of Georgio’s talents.  When his mind got as far as it could go, he simply decided.   Usually his decision was based on his own mood of the moment.  “Outa here, chump.”

Expecting justice, Commander Blevins said, “What?”

Two black light cords scratched at the center of his back, where the hole in his aura was wide open.  Their tips glowed red.

“I said leave, dude.  Outa here.”  Estel was now behind Georgio, but under a small light.  She had dirty blonde hair, was far from young, and wore jeans and a long sleeve black blouse.

Commander Blevins saw her.  “What the…” he began to say, but found himself pushed along by strong hands.  A black wall parted in front of him and the outside light was blinding as he stumbled toward the sidewalk.  The MEs inside the bar were also blinded.  Ember and Greeny had combined for a mighty Wrap, negating any possibility of Commander Blevins becoming a new host.

“Steady, now.”  Another voice said and touched him enough to help him stabilize.  “Some visits to Club Paradise last longer than others.”

He looked up as he got his balance and found vivid green eyes staring back at him.  She put one arm around his shoulder like he was her kid brother, and began walking him away from the Club.  Behind them trailed an unseen fourth of July: Greeny had found a new thrill.

“Sometimes we get what we want and sometimes what we want gets us,” Estel said as they walked along.  “I’m sure you will have a fine day ahead of you.  Please come back again, when you have more time to spend.  Maybe I will sit with you then.”

Stunned and silent, Commander Blevins stood on the corner and watched as she returned to the Club.  Her long legs ran into her high boots and stepped out gracefully from beneath the hem of her green jacket as she walked back down Broadway.

“Slow down, Wyatt.  That’s enough,” Ember said.  Greeny grinned and did several barrel rolls.


Chapter Twenty
“Readjusting The Strategic Appendage”

Commander Blevins stared after her until she disappeared into the strip joint.  Over the doorway was suspended a big green Palm Tree painted on a vertical sign. Lettering ran up by the trunk and said, “CLUB PARADISE,” in purple letters.  Underneath the painted sand was the promise: “Where Dreams Come True.”

Shaking his head the way a dog does when ear mites bite, Commander Blevins tried to break free of the spell.  He gazed across Broadway and down Columbus until he saw the lower buildings which blocked out the base of the TransAmerica Pyramid.  He followed the left side of the sloping tower up to the needle spire with his eyes.

His mind was pulp from the alcohol and hormones.  He mumbled his thoughts out loud, “I wonder how far up in the point of that thing a body can go.”

A young woman on her way into work at the club just behind where he stood looked him up and down and went inside. A moment later a Georgio clone came out and roughly shook Commander Blevins’ shoulder.  “Hey buddy, you gotta move along.  The Condor don’t allow no vagrants outside.”

Commander Blevins turned on the fellow indignantly, started to dispute the matter, then reconsidered.  The Condor bouncer was taller than Georgio and outweighed Commander Blevins by at least two hundred pounds.

Without saying a word, he stepped around the bouncer and walked up Columbus.  The wind was cool off the bay, but Commander Blevins did not feel the chill.  The vodka had numbed him against the cold and was playing havoc with his inner sensibilities.

A park appeared on his right after he had walked about three blocks.  He wandered along its path until he found an empty bench underneath a very large cypress tree.  He sat down. Although it was risky for him to be out in the cool breeze, sitting outside and not shivering from the cold was a luxury.  He indulged himself and smiled.

Pins had mellowed and was now playfully avoiding Greeny as It tried to do a Wrap.  Ember bounced from one tree top to another.  They all were happy with Commander Blevins’ relaxed mood.  Had anyone who could see the unseen come along, that person would have marveled at the green, red and shiny black light cords whipping around the park.

Commander Blevins tried to focus his mind.  He was trembling, but not aware enough to notice.  He knew something important loomed just ahead of him.  A cane knocked at his foot.  Startled, he looked up and said, “Hello,” and saw the man was blind.

“Please excuse, me.  I’m still not too good at this,” the man said.

“Oh, that’s alright.  Sorry I didn’t notice you first.”

“Do you happen to know what time it is?” the blind man asked.

“No, I don’t carry a watch.”  Commander Blevins hesitated a moment, then said, “But I’ll find out for you.”

“I don’t want to trouble you, sir.”  Before the man could finish his sentence, Commander Blevins was across the path and talking to a woman with two kids running around her.

In a moment he was back, sat down on the bench, and said, “Its 1:40.”  Then he added, “In the afternoon.”

“Yes, I can feel the sun on my face.  Its a nice balmy day, don’t you think?  Thank you so much for your kindness.” The blind man walked on down the path, swinging his cane back on forth.

Commander Blevins was lifted by the exchange.  A little of the clinging gloom left over from Club Paradise fell away. He also became aware of a distinct discomfort.

His appendage of the moment, which Estel–one of the Estels–had locked onto earlier, was still threaded through both flys of his two pairs of longjohns.  Compounding this uncomfortable state of affairs was the position of his inner set of trousers.  Both pairs of trousers had fallen down around his knees when he stood up after realizing there was vodka in his drink.  In her haste to cut losses, Estel had pulled up his outer pants, buckled and zipped them enough to be legal, and then sent him briskly on his way.  He now felt an immediate need to find a restroom.

Washington Square did not offer the relief facilities required by Commander Blevins.  He stood up, grunted a little as he took a step and wondered how he had been able to walk at all a moment earlier.  The vodka had hit him hard, and he was far too fuzzy to answer his own question.

The neighborhood was thick with restaurants and coffee houses.  Directly across the broad intersection of Columbus and Union, where Powell Street, heading due north, crosses both Union and Columbus in triangular patterns that madden tourists, Commander Blevins spotted a corner shop that held promise of a restroom.  The store was not the closest, but it was the first one he saw.

He walked quickly and as normally as possible to the western edge of the park–waited until there was a lull in traffic–then set off across the three-way intersection, not bothering with crosswalks or traffic lights.

In a day beset with misadventure, Commander Blevins was blessed with the absence of policemen or speeding motorists. He made it to the other side of the intersection without creating much of stir, other than providing comic relief to several witnesses.

A man past his prime does not sprint gracefully.  The body remembers the way it ran as a child, the man remembers pulled muscles from simple chores…and a compromise develops, a usually non-synergistic comprise.  Commander Blevins executed an unintentional parody of a grounded Gooney Bird in motion.

The three MEs followed in their own time, allowing light cords to reel out longer or not as suited them individually. Greeny led the way, keeping a close eye on Commander Blevins, hoping for new threats that would warrant more unseen fireworks.  Pins came next, followed eventually by Ember, who was in no hurry.  It knew Commander Blevins was cold and would not be going far.  It was also a little sluggish from the low level of energy flowing to It.

Breathing heavily and just beginning to perspire, Commander Blevins made it to the far corner of the intersection of Green and Powell and leaned on the mailbox. The door was open across the sidewalk.  After a brief wait to regain his composure, he entered the little shop.

A long wooden bar ended just inside the front door.  It was piled high with glass cases of food and goods for sale and obscured anyone behind the bar.  The odor of pungent cheese smacked Commander Blevins in the face.  An old couple was getting up from a small table near the far end of the bar.  There were coffee cups on the table.  Blevins leaned against the bar rail for support as casually as possible and moved past all the clutter.

“Hello.  Hello.  What can I get you, my friend?”  A short man with a white apron startled Blevins, popping up just beyond a pile of old newspapers.  “The best coffee in the neighborhood.  We got Expresso.  We got Double Expresso. We even got Extra Double Expresso.  What kind you want?”

Commander Blevins coughed once, then said, “I would like to use your restroom.”

The little man changed his attitude instantly, “What, you some kind of bum.  How come you come in my shop, here. Don’t you see that you drive away my good customers.”  The old couple waived cheerfully as they left.

“See,” the little man continued, “my best customers. Tommy Provoloni, he been coming here for twenty years. Today, for the first time in twenty years, he brings his beautiful wife Sophie in to see the shop.  And what happens…”

Commander Blevins shifted uncomfortably.

“I’ll tell you what happens,” the little man said, “some bum comes in and asks to use the john, and there goes Tommy and Sophie.  And this her first time here….”

Commander Blevins cleared his throat.  The little man stopped talking and looked at him.  “I would like a coffee, please,” Commander Blevins said.

“Of course, you would.”  The little man smiled, brushed away some invisible crumbs on the counter and, with a flourish, laid a small paper napkin in front of Commander Blevins.

“What would you like sir, Expresso?”

Commander Blevins nodded.

“Double or Extra, perhaps?”

Commander Blevins nodded, shifted uncomfortably again and made a face.  “Could I use the restroom, please?” he asked.

“Of course.  It’s in the back to the left.”  The little man pointed.  Commander Blevins shuffled off, caring only about getting strategically readjusted.  “We have just the one can, so put the lid down,” the little man yelled at his back.

Over the whir of the expresso machine, the little man soon heard loud grunts and groans coming from the bathroom.  He was glad there was no one else in the store.  Still, a customer is a customer.  He made the man an Extra.  He liked to start new customers off with a bang.

The lid of the toilet clattered.  Water ran.  The door swung open too hard and hit the wall behind it.  A picture rattled.  It was of a man standing in front of five other men, all surrounded an old wooden olive press.  The little man cringed.

Looking a little less rumpled, Commander Blevins shuffled up to the tiny cup waiting on the bar.  Looking at it dubiously–he had not had any coffee for more than four years–he said, “How much do I owe you?”

“Let’s no talk of money so soon my friend,” the little man said.  “Sit down.  Savor the atmosphere of the establishment.  This is your first time here, no?”  Commander Blevins nodded yes.  “Well then, we must have a toast.  My name is Solly,” Solly said and extended his hand.

Commander Blevins shook hands with Solly.  Both men had wet hands, but neither noticed.  Blevins sat down on the high stool at the bar and made himself comfortable.  Solly poured himself an equally small cup of coffee from a decanter under the bar and raised it before him.  Commander Blevins stared at Solly for a moment, then gripped the small saucer underneath the tiny cup with one hand and picked up his small cup with the other.  In response to Solly’s gesture, he raised his little cup.

“To new customers, old friends, and my mother, God rest her soul,” Solly said and downed his cup in one swallow. Commander Blevins watched him.  “Come on, now.  Don’t be bashful.  All in one swallow now, that’s the way to Solly’s Extra Double.”

Commander Blevins brought the small cup to his lips, felt the warmth leap into his mouth ahead of the coffee, and drank it in one gulp.  Half way through the swallow, he knew he was in trouble.  Coffee and alcohol do not counteract each other.  In people like Commander Blevins, who get buzzed, not numbed, on booze, coffee stretches the peaks into sharp points like the top of the TransAmerica Pyramid.

The coffee rolled into Commander Blevins’ mouth and a sharp spike raced toward his brain, then shot back down and continued to do laps up and down his legs and arms at thousands of miles per second.  Soon, small crawling things moved under his skin.  Everywhere.  His eyes glassed over and he hung onto the rail for his safety.

“Glad to see you are enjoying my Expresso,” Solly said. “Another one will take the bite out of the wind for your journey.” Solly turned to make another cup for his new customer.  He went through the routine quickly, and looked back over his shoulder while filling a new little cup with Extra Double.  His shop was empty, except for himself. Crumpled and half tucked under the edge of the saucer was a five dollar bill.

By the time Solly had smoothed out the five and tucked it into his register, Commander Blevins was two blocks down Columbus Avenue and traveling fast.  His legs had struck a rhythm of their own.  His eyes fixed first on a traffic light that changed, second on a car door slammed, then on a phone ringing in a second floor apartment overhead.  His physical senses were acutely aware of everything, his reactions sharp and immediate to the sensory stimulus that poured through his overloaded synapses.

Down Columbus Avenue, he crossed Broadway and entered Grant Street, staring open-mouthed at the huge murals he passed on his right.  Horns honked, someone yelled and then he found himself in the thick of Chinatown, which smelled of fish markets.  Suddenly he was the object of wrath from a middle age Chinese woman.  Overwhelmed with distractions, he had inadvertently knocked over a large straw basket of slippers.  Commander Blevins kept walking, glanced back over his shoulder once and then adjusted his hats.  The woman scooped the black cloth slippers back into the basket and reviled his ancestry.  Blevins looked around just in time to steer clear of an ornate lamp post standing directly in his path.

The three MEs were merrily in tow.  Pins looked like seventeen coats of hand-rubbed, pin-striped black lacquer and was doing barrel rolls over Grant Street.  Greeny was trying to follow.

Commander Blevins abruptly turned right on Jackson Street, scattered a group of people visiting from Iowa, crossed the street at an angle, walked another quarter block and turn sharply into Ross Alley.  Jewelry Stores passed by on his left and a twinkle from the window sparked a memory. Looking into windows and doorways he saw women sewing, two men making fortune cookies and a small child being sternly lectured by an elderly person of indeterminate gender.

At the next corner he went straight across the street, turned around completely, and crossed the street again exactly as he had come.  He stopped in front of a window that held many open jewelry cases displaying watches, rings and bracelets.  At the back of the window display, near a man working on a setting, lay a small opened bag.  Spilling out of the bag was a small pile of diamonds.  The man was engrossed in his work.  Bells and whistles roared through Commanders Blevins’ head.  He knew he should be remembering something…more than one thing.  Agitated and driven, he turned and crossed the street for the third time and swiveled left when he reached the sidewalk.  Just beyond an incredibly narrow restaurant, he stopped in his tracks again.  The window of this shop was full of hanging barbecued ducks.

His mind raced through old patterns in unfamiliar ways: no, he was not hungry; and he did not like duck–the sight of them repulsed him.  He could find no reason to be standing where he was, so he quickly counted the hanging ducks by threes.  There were thirty-nine.  Congratulating himself on picking an even divider to count by, and not questioning his accuracy, he turned and marched on down Washington Street.

Commander Blevins crossed Grant again, looked to the other side of Washington and momentarily peered down the narrow entrance to Wentworth Alley.  The alley was lined with plain facades and little tourist activity, despite its colorful past.  The building that he was hugging on his right suddenly ended and he veered right and down into a park, feeling like he was falling.  He noticed a statue of some man up a slope on his right, weaved through the rows of trees and around people playing cards and chess and zipped by three solitary book readers and a old man feeding pigeons, all the while negotiating the downhill terrain.  Blevins exited on a wide street and turned left.

He continued up the street for a couple blocks until he ran into Columbus Avenue.  A funny triangular building sat in the middle of the intersection like an ornate and over-built traffic island.

Turning the forty-five degree angle up Columbus he walked on.  The energy rush was beginning to waver and he could feel the distant vodka haze return.  Adler Street was announce by a street sign and bells went off again.  He crossed Adler and turned left and found himself standing in front of a faded blue door with initials painted underneath a silver window.

The Society!” he thought to himself.  “Of course, I have an appointment at three o’clock.  And it’s now….”  He realized he did not know what time it was.  Panic struck quickly.  The three MEs clustered above him, as though watching a dramatic scene unfold.  Blevins adjusted his hats.

Chapter Twenty-One
“Reprimands, Illusions, And Awareness”

The streets were devoid of life.  Commander Blevins decided that if he was late, nothing could be done about it now.  He took a deep breath, put his hand on the handle, tried it, felt it turn and the latch click.  He pushed the door back and stepped silently into the foyer.  Suddenly he saw the door closing back upon him.  He jumped out of the way.  Behind the door Blevins saw three coats hanging on a coat rack, swinging.  His mind boggled for a moment, then he realized the door must have swung against the coats, which then pushed the door back toward him.

He turned to the long flight of stairs which led up to the Society’s Offices.  He walked gingerly up the steps.  His senses were on such high alert that the normally fluid motion of his body was broken down into hundreds of momentary stops and starts.  He did not know if the erratic movement was only a feeling inside himself, or if someone would notice he was moving like a computerized robot with every third program command a “stop.”  Hoping for the best, Blevins topped the stairs and entered the waiting room.

As soon as he left the last step, he had abruptly turned around and look back down the stairwell, realizing he had seen a shimmer of light behind him as he had come through the door.  A familiar presence filtered through his confusion.

“Commander Blevins!” a man exclaimed.  The voice did not belong to the familiar presence, which faded, washed away by the shock of the greeting.  Blevins jump off the carpet and twirled around.  “How good to see you!” a large round man said, extending his hand from behind a secretarial desk.

“Hello McDervish.  Nice to see you,” Commander Blevins said, twitching.  McDervish raised his left eyebrow and looked at Blevins closely.  He then sat down and motioned Commander Blevins to do the same.

“I can see that you are a little tense about all this,” McDervish said.  “Don’t let it get you down.  I’m sure its not as bad as all that.  Stiff upper lip and all, old boy.”

Commander Blevins’ mind raced and darted; he was not sure if he was early or late; and he did not have the slightest idea what McDervish was talking about.

Another man walked into the room, through a doorway behind McDervish.  The man looked at Commander Blevins and then back to McDervish.  With veiled hand signals he asked McDervish if Blevins was the man for whom they were waiting. McDervish nodded.  An awkward moment passed.  They both looked at Commander Blevins. Blevins looked at them, wondering why they were staring at him.  He had never seen the other man before.

The other man cleared his throat and McDervish jumped to his feet.  “Oh, surely, excuse me, Sir,” McDervish said to the man.  This is Commander Blevins, Sir.  And Commander Blevins, this is Sir Bilton Dweed.  He’ll be presiding over the…ah…discussion today.”

“Thank you Mac.  It is some time before the appointed hour, Blevins, but I think we can go ahead and start now. Tickle’s already here.”  Turning to McDervish he said, “Would you show Blevins inside, Mac.”  Sir Bilton Dweed turned stiffly and disappeared into the room.  McDervish walked around in front of his desk and assumed the role of escort.

Commander Blevins was bewildered.  Totally bewildered. A dim awareness pulled at him, but he could not pierce his veil of caffeine, vodka, and hormonal rampage.  He followed McDervish’s motioning arm, stood up suddenly, and lurched toward the open door.  Hesitating for a moment, and unsure why, he then stepped quickly into the room, walked two paces and stopped abruptly.  Softly he heard the click of the door behind him and sensed that McDervish had settled into a chair just inside the room.  A glittering shadow moved to one corner of the room.  No one saw it.

Sir Bilton Dweed and Vice-Counsel Tickle sat at opposite ends of a long, dark mahogany table, which sat lengthwise against the far wall.  The carpet in the room was a short, firm weave and deep blue.  Books lined the end wall to Commander Blevins’ left and three other chairs were grouped around a circular table on his right.  Blevins was aware of several paintings hanging on teak paneled walls, but did not examine them.

He locked his eyes onto a curious low wide stool which that sat in the middle of the room.  The stool had a short back and was richly upholstered.  Commander Blevins felt a lightness being in the room and whipped his head back to inspect the ceiling, which was a light blue that seemed to fade lighter toward the room’s edges.  There were no lights visible in the room.  The edges of the ceiling glowed with a gentle blue light that bathed the room and everyone in it.

Vice-Counsel Tickle looked at Sir Bilton Dweed with both of his eyebrows raised nearly to his hairline, looked back toward Commander Blevins and then said, “Please be seated Commander Blevins.  We are convening early, but what are both time and space for, if not to be manipulated.” Commander Blevins felt he should smile, tried, but could only make a strange face: his facial muscles were not his own at the moment.  He stepped around quickly to the front of the stool, tested it for support, and then fell, rather than sat, down. A phrummphh of air escaped from the cushion as his weight struck it.

Sir Bilton Dweed stood up, clasped both hands over his heart as though he were a corpse, then opened his mouth and produced a long even sound in a well-trained tenor voice. Commander Blevins’ raised HIS eyebrows.  Sir Bilton Dweed ended his tone with a little flourish, said, “The Inner Leads, the Outer follows,” and sat down.

“Thank you, Sir Bilton,” Vice-Counsel Earl Roy Tickle said.  “Commander Blevins, we are gathered here today to Review the Complaint filed with this Society scarcely less than twenty-four hours ago by a fellow Viewer whose identity must remain anonymous at this time.  If this Review Committee deems that charges are warranted, then we will set an appropriate time and place for the Complaining Viewer to step forth.

Commander Blevins felt a crack ran through the glaze in his mind.  A second crack soon followed.

Vice-Counsel Tickle continued.  “On or about this time yesterday–note the date, Bill–you, Blevins, were carrying on with traditional Viewing activities.  That being the Viewing of a particular set of Akashic Records.  Give me the name and ID information, Bill.” Bill handed the Vice-Counsel Tickle a small tablet.

Commander Blevins felt his neck spasm.  His head snapped back.  He blinked and then saw that indirect lighting poured out of an enclosed strip, which ran all the way around the edge of the ceiling, and reflected downward into the rest of the room, solving one small mystery.  Another large mystery remained.  More cracks zig-zagged across the glaze in his mind.

Vice-Counsel Tickle cleared his throat.  Commander Blevins forced his head back upright.  Tickle read from the tablet, “The tray you extracted was labeled ‘Gladys Periwinkle Frumpwooler’.  It was from a mixed active/inactive sector, but apparently this individual is…or at least was yesterday…active.  I think.”  Vice-Counsel Earl Roy Tickle squinted at the tablet, then handed it back to Sir Bilton Dweed.  “Can you read that, Bill?”

“Yes, it says active, pending possible revision.  Something must have happened with this person since the reading which is yet to be evaluated or recorded, ET.”  Bill handed the tablet back to Tickle.

“Alright,” Tickle said, “though that is not pertinent at the moment.  The Complaint, Commander Blevins, is that your exit from the Causal Worlds caused undue disruption to another Viewer’s Journey.  This Viewer was, therefore, unable to retrieve the Records of their Client.  Sufficient reputation and renumeration was lost by the Viewer in question to warrant this action.  What do you have to say regarding this matter Blevins?”

Commander Blevins had no idea what to say.  He felt his mind collapsing and shattering like a plate glass window dropped from great heights.  He opened his mouth, moved it, but nothing came out.

“Is this man well, Mac?”  Vice-Counsel Tickle asked McDervish.

“Yes, Sir.  I mean…well…Commander Blevins does have some ongoing physical challenges, Sir.  But he doesn’t seem to be succumbing to any of them, in general, Sir.  I must admit that he seems a bit tense today.  Must be the stress of….”

Commander Blevins choose that moment to rise through his personal quagmire, pierce his mind’s shattered glaze, remember vividly his experience with Mrs. Frumpwooler, and stand suddenly, ramrod straight. He said, “Mrs. Frumpwooler!  Of course, that’s what happened.  She bounded back ahead of me to get the diamonds.  She didn’t wait for my instructions.  She must have collided, or nearly so, with our fellow Viewer.  Oh, please do accept my most profound apologies.  It can be devastating when a Client is not sufficiently pleased with the service provided.”  Like a high speed Dictaphone set to playback and then automatically shutting-off, Commander Blevins sat, abruptly silent.  His words hung in the air, pregnant.

Vice-Counsel Tickle looked at Sir Bilton Dweed who looked at McDervish who looked at Commander Blevins.  Finally Vice-Counsel Tickle spoke.  If I understand you correctly, your CLIENT, this ‘Mrs. Frumpwooler’ came BACK from the Records WITHOUT your INSTRUCTIONS?”

“Yes.  Yes, that’s what happened.  I’m sure of it,” Commander Blevins said.

“Blevins.  Commander…ah,” Tickle looked at the tablet again, “Z. P. Blevins…that is preposterous.  Clients are not only not allowed in the Records, they CANNOT GO!  No one except fully trained and Verified Viewers are able to Journey to the Records.”

“They can’t?” Commander Blevins asked.

“No they cannot.”  Vice-Counsel Tickle said, but then seemed uncomfortable as the contradiction to accepted doctrine slowly settled upon him.  “Well, at least they have not, until now.” After more silence, he continued, “Just how is it that you were able to take this…Client…along with you to the Records.”

“Uh, by holding her hand.”

“Holding her hand!  Did you have a romantic liaison with this woman also?”

“No, I did…”

“Ye Gods, Blevins just how many Society Codes did you break on this Journey?” yelled Vice-Counsel Tickle, staring hard at Commander Blevins.

“I did not…do not have a romantic interest in Mrs. Frumpwooler,” Commander Blevins said.  “I only met her yesterday.  If I broke any Society Codes, I apologize.  It was not intentional.”

“Do you mean to say that you were never told that it was impossible to take Clients to the Records?”

“I was told it was not allowed because it could not be done.  I found a way to do it.  I didn’t think any more about it.”

Vice-Counsel Earl Roy Tickle looked at Sir Bilton Dweed, shook his head, then turned back to Commander Blevins. “Well, just how did you manage to do this?”

“It involves the creative imagination, Sir.  With certain Clients–and Mrs. Frumpwooler was an excellent subject, until she got out of hand a bit–I have been able to establish a link in the Inner ‘Anteroom’, so to speak, and then step out of the physical and into the Inner Worlds.”

“I see,” said the Vice-Counsel Tickle.  “Does this make any sense to you, Bill.”

“No, not much, ET.”

“How about you, Mac.”

“Well, to a certain extent I’m following Commander Blevins,” McDervish said.  “I’d like to know what he did next.”  There was twinkle in his eye.

“Alright,” Vice-Counsel Tickle said.  “Continue with this tale, Blevins.”

“Well, once out of the physical, we practiced focusing. She caught on quite fast.  Then I started looking for a Blipspule.  Actually she found a bevy up near the ceiling and…”

“Wait a minute.  Did I hear you right.  Did you say ‘Blipspule’ Commander Blevins?,” Sir Bilton Dweed interrupted.

“Yes, I did, Sir.”

“What the devil is a Blipspule, Bill,” Vice-Counsel Tickle said, turning to Dweed.

“They are reported to be windows, ET.  Until now, though, no one had been able master their use.  This is beginning to make a bit of sense.  Go on Commander Blevins,” Sir Bilton Dweed said.

“Well, like I was saying, Mrs. Frumpwooler found this bevy…er, group…of Blipspules up near the ceiling.  With her in a state of sufficient fluidity from the linkage of our creative imaginations, it was easy to take her by the hand and scoot through the Blue Tunnel.”

“The Blue Tunnel, of course!” McDervish snapped his fingers.  “Oh, please pardon me, gentlemen.”

“That’s all right, Mac.  This is an extraordinary Review,” Sir Bilton Dweed said, adding “please continue, Commander Blevins.”

Well, once through the Blue Tunnel, we crossed the Moondog World, did the Jump to the Astral, took the Bridge over to the Causal, found the Sand Lake Express and soon were at the Records.  The problems began, I believe, when the tray wasn’t in order.  In fact there weren’t even any codes on her cards.”

“No codes?”

“Out of Order?”

“Impossible!”

“Amazing!”

“Do you think this could be a Hidden Agenda Plot, one that we haven’t run across yet, Bill?” Vice-Counsel Tickle said.

“No, I don’t think so, ET.  I think this may be revolutionary,” Dweed said and then addressed Blevins. “Commander Blevins, prior to discovering the tray out of order, did you have any indications that all was not well on this Journey?”

“Well, Mrs. Frumpwooler was a precocious student.  She picked up focalshifting with ease, except for a couple small misadventures.  She did generally handle the Agitation well as we neared the Records, but now that you have asked, I can look back and see that her behavior was perhaps a little more pronounced than that of other Clients.

“Agitation?  Please explain that, Commander Blevins,” Sir Bilton Dweed said.

“Others!  Please explain THAT Blevins,” Vice-Counsel Tickle said.

McDervish sat quietly by the door, absorbing what Commander Blevins was saying with keen interest.

“Well, it is my experience that all of Akash is highly charged,” Blevins said.  “The Gardens, and especially the Records are even more highly charged,”

“Um humm,” Vice-Counsel Tickle said.

“Yes, of course,” Sir Bilton Dweed said.

McDervish nodded silently, his eyes glowing.

Commander Blevins continued, “I’ve noticed that the closer to Akash and the Records that I bring a Client, often they exhibit an exaggeration of some portion or other of their personality.  Agitation.  I call this the Agitation. It usually requires some effort on my part to guide them safely on to the appropriate level of the Records. Curiously enough, this Agitation often disappears once I and the Client actually enter the Viewing Room with the Tray of Record Cards.”

Sir Bilton Dweed exchanged glances with Vice-Counsel Tickle, who said, “I think that should be quite enough reason to stop this practice immediately.  It is obviously hazardous to the Client.  It also runs the risk of educating some unauthorized person to the point of being able to visit the Inner Worlds–and even the Records–by themselves.  Where would we as Viewers be then!  Where would the Society be then!  I think….”

“Please, ET.  Lets give this notion some air,” Sir Bilton Dweed said.  “Commander Blevins has shared with us today some potentially ground-breaking experiences…and abilities.  They cannot be….”

“Bill, this is rubbish.  The man is trying to cover up his own disregard for Society Codes and other Viewers–and our Complainant in particular.  I say we disbar him post-haste and be done with this concoction of his.”

“No, ET.  I don’t think that is appropriate,” Sir Bilton Dweed said.

“Then I will take this up with the Membership Committee, Sir Bill,” Vice-Counsel Tickle said.

Sir Bilton Dweed looked thoughtfully at Earl Roy Tickle and said, while revising his opinion of Tickle, “I believe this has gone quite far enough, ET.  The Membership Committee shall review the Review, if you choose.  You are the Chairman of it for the remainder of this term.”

“I am glad you see things my way, Bill.  It is most….”

“…unless the board decides your attitude displayed here today–in the light of Commander Blevins’ revelations– is no longer appropriate for a member of the Membership Committee, let alone for its Chairman,” added Dweed.

“The Board?  It is not scheduled to meet until January,” Vice-Counsel Tickle said.

“There are ways to call emergency meetings, ET.  I for one, do not see things your way,” said Dweed.

“Well, we shall see.  You will have a devil of time holding an emergency meeting without the Chairman.  And no one that I know of has ever seen him or even knows what old Whirling looks like.”  Tickle was incensed.

“There are three people I know of who have seen him today, ET.” Sir Bilton Dweed said.

Vice-Counsel Tickle gasped and said, “Not you Bill, you couldn’t be the…you are a member of the board, not its chairman!”

“You are quite right, ET,” another voice in the room said.  Vice-Counsel Tickle gasped again, for McDervish stood up and walked toward the middle of the room, near where Commander Blevins sat with his mouth hanging open.  “I am the Chairman.  And I have assumed the role of Secretary here because I have been disturbed for sometime at the underlying attitudes of some influential, but intractable members.  I have been able to observe several instances of resolute resistance that need change.  Today has been the capper.” Turning to Sir Bilton Dweed, McDervish–Chairman Whirling– ordered, “Bill, schedule a meeting for November 7th.  Check with Dooter and Lawrence to make sure they can attend.

“And I think we have taken far too much of Commander Blevins’ time for today,” said Whirling, extending his hand. Commander Blevins grasped the Chairman’s offered hand gratefully.  Thoroughly awed by the past few minutes, Commander Blevins stared at Chairman Whirling until Blevins realized he was supposed to stand up.  Whirling helped him to his feet, took him by the shoulder, led him toward the door, and said, “Commander, if I may be so presumptuous, please get some rest.  It is apparent that you are–and have been for sometime–under some unique pressures.  Your physical body needs to recover its vitality.  As long as we do live in the Physical we must be mindful of its limits.  I would like for you to refrain from taking anymore Clients to the Records until we can review this Review.  This is not an order, just a personal wish from me to you.  I have an inkling that there is a new role for you to play with the Society that will require a fit and well-rested Commander Blevins.”

They had walked to the waiting room by now and Chairman Whirling shook Commander Blevins’ hand again.  “I will be in touch shortly.  Good day…and thank you, Commander.”

“You’re welcome, McDervish…I mean Chairman Whirling.”

“Call me McDervish, Commander.  Its my old Satsang nickname.”  He then winked at Blevins, who was forcefully struck by a deep blue glint in Chairman Whirling’s eyes. Whirling turned and walked back into the room where the Review had been held.  Commander Blevins heard the Review Room’s door shut with a firm click.  He walked down the stairs and pushed open the blue door leading to the street and the world outside.

The blue door stayed open after Blevins passed through it.  He felt an urge to turn around, did so, and watched the door bounce a little, as though someone were holding it open as they left the building.  Finally the door closed and Blevins felt a familiar presence.  A tickling energy shot up and down his spine.  A shadow of light formed briefly to the side of the door.  Commander Blevins watched the light for a moment and thought he saw the outline of a man appear in the shimmering light.  Then the light was gone.  A long minute passed as Blevins waited for it to return.  Suddenly he felt foolish standing in front of the Society’s door looking at the blank brick wall, and he turned away.

The three MEs sat on the edge of the four story building housing the Society for Verified Viewers’ Offices, bored and nearly comatose.  Little energy had been available from their host for the past hour or more, since Blevins had entered the building.  They followed him now, floating along lazily as he walked around the corner and up Columbus Avenue.


Chapter Twenty-Two
“A Time For Reappraisal”

Later that evening, Commander Blevins knew that he had managed to find his way home from the Society’s office, because he was home.  How he had gotten there, he had no idea. After eating several garlic cloves, he sat in his overstuffed chair sipping his second cup of dark-brewed Mugi- Cha, staring at the tall pine tree next door as it swayed in the breeze.  Fog completely covered the Peaks.  Slowly he was sliding into shock and trauma from the vodka, hormones, and caffeine.  His body felt like a large tuning fork which has been struck against a bulldozer blade, producing reverberations of gradually increasing tempo and disharmony.

This would have been a nice time for introspection, but his brain felt numbed, the old viral feeling returning.  At this point in a downturn, he was never sure how low he would go before feeling better. The phone rang.  After a few rings it stopped. Commander Blevins did not get up to answer it, only vaguely aware it was ringing. He felt cold, a deep low throb began in his body, and he decided to turn up the heaters.  A little while later he still had not done so.

Struggling against the effect of the booze and the caffeine, Blevins tried to mull over what had gone on at the Society.  Was it possible that no one else knew how to take Clients to the records?  Were there inherent problems in doing this that he had not considered? A what to make of the power struggle he had witnessed that had spilled out into the open? Commander Blevins usually avoided groups and group functions because he could not handle the politics that accompanied them.  He hoped he would not be pulled into this one to save his accreditation.

Finally he decided to take a bath.  The three light cords followed him solemnly.  On his way down the hall to the bathroom, the phone rang again.  It was still ringing when he turned the hot water on full blast in the tub.


Chapter Twenty-Three
“Boy, This Is Boring”

The next day was sunny.  Commander Blevins became aware of a dream hovering close by when he awoke.  His head felt like there were icepicks stuck into his temples and the slightest draft chilled him.  Everything else ached, too.

Much of the day he spent moving slowly, cleaning and pairing adding machine parts.  By dark he felt better and had prepared forty-three pairs and twelve single earrings; made a large pot of lentil soup; but had failed to remember the dream.  The phone had rung often, rung until it stopped ringing each time, unanswered.

“Boy, this is Boring,” Greeny said.  “When is that old Crustacean going to do anything?”  The three MEs sat on their usual perch above Filmore Street.

Pins looked at Ember in disgust.  New ones were always a pain and the brief comradery of the day before was history. They too were bored.  So bored that there had been virtually no bickering since they all had returned from the extraordinary trip to North Beach.  And they were loosing their luster.  Pins was greying noticeably.  Ember was a dull red, and probably the least affected of the three by not receiving Its usual juice load.  Greeny was obnoxious.

Commander Blevins spent much of the evening drinking his Japanese barley tea, sitting in the overstuffed chair and thinking.  He had not put his futon away that morning, so he had to walk over it to get to the chair.  He did not mind. His mind was still quite crisp around the edges from the events of the day before, numbing him to everything.

After his bath, Blevins found himself in bed, toasty warm, and unable to sleep.  The dream of the night before still lingered and nagged at him, an indistinct memory behind a flimsy veil that whispered teasing bits he could hear but not understand.  He tried deep breathing.  He tried counting earrings.  He tried planning his next project, which was not a help, because he did not know what his next project would be.  He reviewed the Journey with Mrs. Frumpwooler.  He wondered if he would ever hear from her again.  He reviewed the Review at the Society.  Was he missing something? McDervish was Chairman Whirling, the legendary figure behind the scenes at the Society…old McDervish whom everyone respectfully acknowledged, but patently ignored: amazing.

Blevins had heard a rumor in Viewers Training that the mysterious Chairman Whirling was the reincarnation of the Society’s founder, Johann Fredrick Eck.  Eck was a seventeenth century violinist, who had been instructed in the ways of the Inner Worlds by an unknown Master.  J. F. Eck was also a contemporary of Mozart, reportedly even a close friend.  Mozart’s Violin Concerto Number Six was thought to have been finished by Eck after Mozart had given him the sketch of it, with solo and vitranelli rounded-out, but with much of the rest incomplete.  The original manuscript was dated, but was unsigned and could have been Eck’s.  Eck had shared his Inner World awareness and abilities with several close associates.  Prior to his death, he had establish the Society to insure a continuation of high standards of conduct by members.

Commander Blevins then moved on to the disagreement between Tickle, Dweed and McDervish at the Review, at which point he promptly feel asleep.  Power plays bored him.

In the middle of the night the moon rose, full and shining directly into Commander Blevins’ face.  The road rolled out before him as he sped down a narrow two lane black top.  He both watched himself from above and looked out through the windshield as the scene unfolded.  He was driving a white, mid-sixties Ford GT, the same cars that raced at Sebring and LeMans.  Slowly he pressed the accelerator to the floor.  The car flew down the road and went around turns as though it were on rails.  Dark images of houses and trees flitted by.  The car began to pick up speed, going faster than he felt was safe.  He eased off the pedal, but it continued to accelerate.  He pressed the brake gingerly, not wanting the car to spin out of control.  It went even faster.

Then the car slowed.  A left hand turn was ahead.  As he rounded the bend in the car, he saw a young boy run out into the road.  The boy stopped in the path of the car.  He wore a grey sock cap and looked straight into Commander Blevins’ eyes.  The car headed straight for the boy, not slowing down.  To Commander Blevins’ horror, he felt the impact as the boy went down beneath the car’s low nose, staring into his eyes all the way.  Commander Blevins was then flattened against the back of the seat as the car accelerated harder.  It went faster and faster and then began pointing up.  The cockpit began getting warm.  Soon it was hot.  His grip on the wheel became his hold on life. Commander Blevins felt his skin being pulled back from his hands and face.  He and the car burst through a cloud layer and exploded.

Soon Blevins was falling backwards, down toward the ground, still locked in a driving position.  He gripped a steering wheel he could still feel, but could not see.

Instead of hitting the ground, he awoke to an early gray morning.  Wide-eyed, he rolled over and hid under the covers. Finally, stiff from being in bed too long and still aching from the adventures of the last two days, he got up.  It took him a while to shake off the dream.

This day went by a little more quickly.  His body and mind were functioning better and he was able to focus on work.  After a late morning breakfast of buckwheat grouts and carrot juice, he finished cleaning every adding machine part he could find.  The phone rang twice.  The second time he was turning over the Mozart tape near the phone and almost answered it.

He bundled up in the mid-afternoon and walked down to the health food store on Haight Street.  He bought some broccoli, sprouted rye-berry bread, a large bottle of apple juice and, as a treat, a quart of dairy-free ice cream.

At home he went to the walk-in closet and pulled out a collapsed cardboard box, a small computer fan and a clip-on light.  With some wire and duct tape, he reassembled a spray hood he had made when he first experienced the downside of spraying lacquer indoors and dragged the hood to the bathroom.  He had tried going up to the roof to keep the spray out of his apartment, but that often proved too cold, too hard to control dust, and the building manager generally frowned on people being on the roof.  So he improvised and built the collapsible spray hood.

He attached the hood to several hooks mounted in the window frame above the bath tub, plugged the fan and light into the extension cord that ran to the heater under the sink and reminded himself not to turn on all of them at once.

Back in the kitchen, he pulled out several coat hangers that had been bent to form little notches along their bottoms.  In each of these notches, he carefully hung a small bent wire that had been threaded through a hole in a cleaned adding machine part.  These fully loaded hangers were then hung on a wooden dowel which fit neatly across the tops of the two chest-high china cabinets by the kitchen.

When two dowels were full of loaded hangers–with about two hundred parts–he carried them carefully into the bathroom.

“Rats.”  He had forgotten to bring in the small stool from the walk-in closet.  He took the dowels and hangers back to the kitchen, metal parts tinkling all the way.  After digging the little stool out of the closet, he took it back to the bathroom and placed the stool firmly on top of the toilet seat.  Then he moved the two loaded dowels to the bathroom again and placed them neatly in the place he had created for them: one end of each dowel resting securely on the stool on the toilet, the other end on the towel rack on the wall.

That finished, he pulled his old pea coat and older grey sock cap out of the front closet.  He got a can of clear spray lacquer and his respirator from the kitchen china cabinet, which housed his earring materials, and set off for the bathroom.  He closed the door behind him as the phone rang again.  Ignoring it, he opened the window behind the spray booth, shivered in the chill wind, turned on the light and fan, shook the can of clear lacquer twenty times, put the first hanger on the hook inside the top of the cardboard booth and started spraying.  He rotated the whole hanger horizontally with a large round wooden handle set up pulley-style, much like an old dentist’s drill.

By dark he had finished the second coat of lacquer on all of the pieces.  He was cold and hungry, but confident the adding machines parts would not tarnish anytime soon.  He did not want the kids in the City to have rusted earrings.  They might have liked them to rust, but he did not consider that. Commander Blevins was thorough, to the best of his ability, with most of his projects.

He was not able to warm up with a bath that night–the lacquer would set harder if it was allowed to cure over night–so he went to bed with the heaters set a little higher than usual.

Chapter Twenty-Four
“Sunday Morning Arrived Late…”

Sunday morning arrived late, but sunny.  Commander Blevins awoke feeling more rested than he had in a long time. He spent the morning unhooking adding machines parts from hangers, attaching them to surgical steel earring wires with small “o” rings and slipping each pair or single into a tiny zip-lock baggy.

By one o’clock he had a mound of earrings on the kitchen table the size of a watermelon.  The phone had rung several times, but he had moved the tape player into the kitchen, turned Mozart up as loud as he could stand and closed the doors leading from the dining room into the hall and telephone.

He pulled the spray booth into the hallway, next to the pile of clean clothes, disassembling it as little as possible.  He felt unspeakably grubby and went to the bathroom to draw a bath.  Over the blast of the hot water, he heard the phone ring.  This time he decided to answer it.  As he picked-up the receiver, he heard a ‘click’.  Replacing it, he reviewed the click’s timing…and decided that since the person on the other end had hung up while he was picking up, there was no malice intended.

After a long soak, dressing, a quick run to the corner store, a belly-stuffing lunch eaten as he enjoyed the paper–the World Series had opened on Saturday, the first one in history matching two Bay Area teams, called the BART Series– he dressed for a trip outside that would last more than the brief jaunt needed to get the paper.  He pulled on his heavy corduroy pants over his house pants and his fleeced lined boots.  Then he slipped into a heavy gray wool sweater and opened the kitchen windows, since he could not be inside too long once dressed for outside without breaking into a sweat which made it hazardous for him to go outside.  Next he piled on his short leather jacket and the wool coat with the deep side pockets.  Grabbing wallet and change and handkerchief, stuffing his pockets with handfuls of earrings-in-tiny- baggies, he grabbed his two sock caps with plastic liner, long burgundy cape and his scarf…and bolted for the door.

“Hey Lookeyloo,” Pins said.

“Where,” said Ember.

“Where,” said Greeny.

“Down there, Door Knobs.”  Pins pointed to the front door of 600 Page Street.

Commander Blevins was trying to his fasten his cape with one hand and adjust his sock caps with the other.  Finally he secured the cape and devoted both hands to the caps.  When a plastic layer separates two stocking caps, the outer one is very slippery.

“Ain’t he a stitch,” Pins said.

“Yeah,” Greeny said.

“I wonder where he’s going,” Ember said.

“Yeah, I want action, action, action,” Greeny began chanting.  “Let’s Wrap someone.”  Soon It was hopping on the wire and bouncing both of his companions nearly off their perch.  Pins was hanging by one little arm when Ember stood up on the wire, wavered a bit and hopped over the short distance to where Greeny was jumping up and down and yelling, “Action, action, action…”

Ember manifested a large foot–just one–raised it and whapped Greeny across the back.  Both the Pins & Ember watched as Greeny fell like a rock–It was too occupied to rebalance itself–on top of and through a yellow Mercedes lumbering up Filmore, trailing black diesel smoke.

Commander Blevins was, by this time, across Page and walking down Fillmore near where he had almost been mugged four days earlier.  Greeny popped up for a moment, cleared the Mercedes and landed on top of the 22 Fillmore bus.  It thumbed Its nose at the two MEs ignoring It up on the wire. The bus labored up the hill and stopped at Oak street.

Ember and Pins watched Commander Blevins intently, their light cords shortening as he drew nearer to them.  Blevins was hunched against the wind and wishing Mrs. Frumpwooler had paid him.  He was on the floor of a cash flow valley.  Most of the money he had at the moment was in his pocket…and the amount had been noticeably reduced since his trip to Club Paradise.

Greeny was hot to trot with nowhere to run.  It bounced on top of the bus a few times as several passengers got off.

Then It saw a large opening in the back of someone’s aura.  The unwitting person walked down Filmore toward Page across the street from Commander Blevins’ apartment building. Greeny mulled over the procedure for unpluging from one host and reattaching to another.  Basically It didn’t know how to do so.  The person who so held Greeny’s attention reached the corner of Page Street.  Across Page the door of a little corner store stood open.  The market was like so many other corner stores in San Francisco: similar yet unique.  This shop was run by Turkish looking people who sold liquor, old canned goods, and newspapers.  Half of its shelves were empty. Commander Blevins was a steady customer here, though not a big spender.

The person in Greeny’s sights seemed to hesitate for a moment, a white scarf around their head, gazing toward Haight Street.  The hole in their aura oozed a sticky substance.

“Maybe they’re Hindu,” thought Greeny. The person turned toward 600 Page Street and crossed Filmore.  Greeny panicked, knowing the other MEs would also see the gaping hole in the person’s aura.  Greeny did what It knew how to do.  It flexed Its little bellows around Its yahooney; sprouted a second light cord and speared the person square in the back with a smushing sound, just as they reached the curb.

“What was that,” Pins said.

“What was what,” Ember said.  It had just watched their host reach the corner at Haight Street and stop at the bus stop.

“I heard a…Holy Fragmentation…see what I see…” Pins said, “…and lookey what the kid has done now.”

“Why that’s her!  Old Futz’s last Client.  The one that went with him when he brought back Greeny.  What has that idiot done?”

“Don’t remind me.  But it may had solved our problem.”

“Well, tie my cord in knots.”  Ember’s mouth was wide open.  “I have never seen anything so stupid in….”

“Anytime.  Right as rain, though.  This should be quite a show.”

Greeny had done the inadvisable.  Inadvisable, at least, to eons of MEs before It.  It had produced–and sustained–a second light cord; had planted the cord squarely in the back of Mrs. Frumpwooler; and now was juicing for all Its life.

Mrs. Frumpwooler had been fairly placid until that moment.  Her injuries beneath the Muni Bus had been amazingly minimal.  She had been jolted hard enough to briefly leave her body, but the parting was only temporary.  The driver was a Tai Chi devote and had exhibited reflexes of remarkable speed.  Though his superintendent could not publicly praise him for only injuring a pedestrian, he had been reassured that his actions had been noted and encouraged to continued with his fine work.  And to, “look out for the kooks.”

Mrs. Frumpwooler had been taken the few short blocks to St. Mary’s Hospital Emergency Room.  She spent two nights on the fifth floor.  She almost spent several more in the locked ward, while her candid statements of the activities that led up to her attempt to embrace a Muni Bus were reviewed.  A battery of X-Rays, probing and examining had determined her only injuries to be were scrapes and contusions and she was eventually released on Saturday, the day before.

While in the hospital she remembered that she had not paid Commander Blevins.  Repeatedly during that day and the next, she had tried to call him, but got no answer.  Soon after she had returned home, Mrs. Frumpwooler realized she did not have her purple hat.  She continued to call him that night and the next morning.  Finally about noontime, with the image of her purple hat leading her, she set out for his apartment to settle her debt and retrieve the hat.  She was only a little stiff now as she waited to cross the street.