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by Devon Pitlor
Preface: The brief media notoriety of Fat Juanita There was a time, and not so long ago, that the name Fat Juanita was flashed across the USA. She was supposedly one of the major drug smugglers coming in from Mexico, and a successful one too. This happened in a day and era where paranoia about drugs ran rampant, and ordinary Americans clustered before their televisions to learn whether another unwelcome visitor from that corrupt southern land had penetrated the US defenses and actually got a load of payroll powder or peyote into the country which they so loved. And Fat Juanita was for a time their favorite. She sold tabloid press, and that was enough, and she enraged the snarled heads at Fox Television, and that meant a lot too, especially to the stupefied American conscience which had been inflamed by the reportedly constant stream of drug mules crossing its borders. In truth, Fat Juanita was neither fat nor Mexican. She was of Norwegian extraction and hailed from Cincinnati, but that is a story that few knew and which we will have to unveil as we go on. I. Biometrics, Inc. on July 20, 2014, a dull meeting ....or not
Addison Baine was a staid character with an abnormally flat stomach which he achieved by seventy or more crunches per day, which as CEO of Biometrics, Inc., he certainly had ample time to perform. He claimed to love his wife, but being well off, knew where to find teenage prostitutes, but that is altogether another story. In short, Addison was the perfect American for his times. Conservative, quick tempered and no-nonsense. His only flaw at Biometrics was that he alienated nearly everyone, especially when he started deriding his father, the founder, whom many longstanding employees liked for some reason, notwithstanding his palpable eccentricity. Addison referred to his father as "the old weird fart" and did not conceal his glowering contempt for him. Biometrics was a cutting edge company founded by Dorian Baine, who, although confined for many years to a wheelchair due to an unfortunate turn of spine during a squash match, was flamboyant enough to upstage his lackluster son on every occasion afforded to him. He routinely wore an Australian swaggerman's hat and intruded in the rather dull company affairs "whenever he damn well pleased." And that, according to Addison, was far too often. Addison hated when his father called impromptu meetings and for usually no reason at all. And today was no exception. Before seeing and hearing the reason for Dorian's meeting, we need to note that Biometrics, Inc. was a company that specialized in prosthetic
devices that were triggered, and this is cutting edge, by tiny almost imperceptible brain impulses. Little things like missing fingers and, yes, even the occasional sex organ could be by virtue of brain waves made to spring back to life. Technology was advancing rapidly, and Biometrics, founded by the totally un-technological Dorian, was in the vanguard of some things that had been certain to come eventually if they had not already arrived, and by 2014, thanks to small firms like Biometrics, they were arriving. And so old Dorian, already aged 78, was pushed into a called meeting in a company that he had long ago consigned to his son, and his son was annoyed. Eccentricity bothered Addison. Eccentricity bothered those whom Addison held near. Eccentricity was not the property of Biometrics, Inc. or of its scientists. But the old man was quirkiness itself. And his ownership of Biometrics could not be hidden or minimized. He came armed with a coterie of small time tech guys who attached a computer and projector to a screen and then stepped aside to allow Dorian a chance to say whatever it was that Dorian had to say. Lots of heavy sighs of imputed boredom filled the conference room. And this became worse, especially on Addison's part, when it was discovered that some tech wizard had converted some old 16mm home films into modern format and that this was what Dorian wanted to
display. "Jesus! Films of me when I was a little kid," snorted Addison. "What the fucking fuck?" When the starched assembly of management had taken their seats at the board table, Dorian, rolling about in his chair, announced: "I'm not exactly sure what this is about, but I have sent someone to find out." Addison, braving his oddball father's wrath, ventured to ask what expense this would weigh on the company. He did not receive an answer. Typically, his entrepreneurial father wholly ignored him. This, Addison knew, had always been in the family vein. With the boardroom lights dimmed, an assistant flipped an unseen switch, and a grainy series of home movies bounced across the screen. It was, as predicted, Addison. First as a crawler, then a wobbling toddler, and finally a more secure and totally ambulant child who could not sit still. "You were a cute kid," whispered a pert, young secretary at Addison's side. "Shut up," said Addison almost at full audibility. Suddenly, the old man snapped a remote switch and the movies
stopped. He rolled his chair toward the front of the room and glared at his assembled workforce. Addison made a special effort to avoid his feral gaze. "Well, ladies and gentlemen," he began with a kind of sly but crooked smile on his lips, "that was Addison from age one to about two and a half. Lots of you have kids, so this must be nothing new. Back then Lorene and I were pretty proud of our son." "Back then?" snapped Addison. "Mom's been dead for ten years and it is long past time for you to retire." Now it was Dorian's time to say "Shut up." And Addison did. He knew better than to cross the old man, who, after all, still owned the company. Addison knew, moreover, that he was just another hired hand. Some of the others in the room began clearing their throats and shrugging their shoulders as if to ask for an explanation. The old man explained the obvious. In the first set of moving images, Addison was too young to walk, but he was a creeper and then a crawler and, as everyone had seen, he started to pull himself to his feet whenever he got close to something to grasp onto. "Human babies are like that," said Dorian. "They want to walk. It is in their genes. It is churning through their thoughts."
As time passed, thanks to the film editing, Addison, as it were, became capable of not only standing but waddling for a few feet in whatever direction. He could not totally control his direction either. Nor could he walk very far. But most importantly, according to Dorian, he kept not only falling down but bumping into things this way and that. "We had to keep everything padded," he said with a kind of far away into the past look on his face. "He hit everything. Sometimes he even cut or bruised himself." And later, Dorian explained, after Addison had learned the art of balance and ambulation, he could not be easily constrained. Like a lot of other kids, Addison would not sit still and seemed to want to jump up and move all the time. His navigation was better, and he did not hit things as much. In time he would begin to run. "And so another human baby learns to walk," concluded Dorian, wheeling around and staring out of a side window which afforded him no view whatever of what was beyond the confines of the Biometrics Building and the boardroom. "It is the same with all animals, I guess." Addison, who now was nearing fifty, rose to his feet in unconcealed exasperation. This had not been the first time the old fart had entered the business with a dead-ended enigma. "For god's sake, Dad, we are trying to conduct business here, and you're showing home movies and describing a process that every kid goes through. Can't you just make
your point? No one here needs a lesson in early childhood." "My point," said Dorian rather distractedly, "is that you were totally unconscious of your innate need to walk. Your brain sent messages instantaneously to your legs, and you responded. Brain waves. Electro-magnetic impulses of low and almost imperceptible frequency. Isn't that what we are about here? I mean our products? Our extensions? They pick up brain messages." A couple of the older technicians and developers, sitting respectfully behind the management cadre, straightened up and took notice. After all, the old man had founded the company, and it was cutting edge in things that operated on brain impetuses and subtle bio-electric stimuli. Maybe he was driving toward a point, however obscure. "When I first lost the use of my legs," he resumed, "I was constantly trying to walk. I would suddenly jump out of bed, find my legs too weak to carry me and land on my face or chest. It took quite some time for me to retrain my brain to stop sending walk signals. And even today...." "You want to walk," interjected Addison still incensed. "Well, we haven't perfected anything to help you with that yet." "That really was not my point, Son. All I wanted to say is that none of us know exactly why we can walk. We just do. We don't go through
an entire thought process. The brain message is instantaneous to the legs." "So exactly what is your point?" snapped Addison, striding quickly toward the head of the main table. "Fat Juanita," said the old man pensively. "Fat Juanita." There were very few in the room who could remember the oncenotorious Mexican mobster lady, the cartel drug runner who had eluded the DEA and the Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms for so long and had reputedly retired from all illegal business over ten years ago. "Find Fat Juanita, and we will have a real technology revolution on our hands. That is why I have commissioned this man known on your payroll as Neston Grow. That is all I have to say today. Those of you who think, and your numbers are dwindling, might want to consider the several nano-seconds between the brain's output and the legs' response. The rest of you should just go back to work and not ask any awkward questions about Neston Grow." The meeting was over. The old weird fart had unleashed yet another insoluble enigma without saying whatever in the hell he really meant. II. Two out of place Americans in Sonora In a deteriorating cantina in the dusty and squalid little hamlet of
Punta Chueca, a Seri Indian town on the hostile and infertile inner coast of the turbulent Gulf of California, two middle-aged white men sat at a wooden table with a half consumed bottle of unlabeled peyotelaced tequila between them. Each was sizing the other up between rather hesitating sips from red, clay-baked cups. Each was dressed "faux-frontier style" in brown khaki and newer than to be expected boots. Around them the unrushed activities of the locals seemed to form a wall between them and the world of the Sonoran desert. One of these men was a retired agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. His name was Neston Grow. He had driven a Jeep Wrangler across the sagebrush dotted trails and had requested the company of the other, a professor of Native American anthropology from the University of Delaware at Newark. Neston Grow knew that his companion hated the term "professor," so therefore he continued to use it despite the man's objections and insistence that he be called simply Keith. Neston Grow had long ago learned that patience with another's obsessions would reward him with more information than a hasty series of questions, so he moved slowly into his real reason for interviewing the anthropologist and forced himself to listen to what amounted to a less than spirited monologue about the history and culture of the now dwindling Seri tribe which had inhabited this part of the unproductive and infertile Mexican coast since the Stone Age. Most of the facts he knew: The Seris, who were still primitive and
ostensibly wanted to stay that way, had been a ferocious tribe that even by the dawn of the Twentieth Century had not yet discovered fire and ate their meat raw, often torn by their very teeth from a pig's or goat's belly while the animal was still alive. They were also documented cannibals, unsympathetic to any outside intrusions, which had accounted for the disappearance of many a fortune seeker in the region, especially on their own barren Isla Tiburon, which was separated from the mainland by a thin and treacherous channel known appropriately as El Canal del Infernillo, the Channel of Hell. Tiburon Island was the largest body of land in the Gulf of California and mostly uninhabited except for occasional forays of the savage Seri back to what they considered a sacred place. Many a Yaqui renegade from the mainland had all too quickly learned the vengeance of the Seri against trespassers on their island and had been quickly reduced to a pile of gnawed bones. "Even I won't venture on that accursed island after nightfall yet today when we are supposed to be modern and the Seri are actually going to school here on their reservation and learning some basic Spanish. They really are beautiful in their own way. Modern day savages and proud of it. Some say they are still cannibals. And there are some disappearances. The island is huge and beyond where we are here is only the vast expanse of the Sonoran Desert. Civilization as you know it ended at Hermosilla."
"Civilization ended for me a long time ago," said Neston taking another long swig of the strong spirits from the chipped clayware mug before him." "You said you used to work for the DEA. They have their hands full down here. They and the Mexican Army Special Forces cover most of the landing strips, and there are roving patrols coming down from Arizona all the time..." "But still, Professor, this woman Juanita managed an entire cartel operation out of here. She used Tiburon Island as her base. That is until she retired. Like me." "Why do you keep insisting on your retirement? I don't care if you are looking for drug smugglers and border crossing mules. I'm not into cocaine." "Neither am I," said Grow somewhat cynically. "In fact, I don't give a holy shit if they opened the border and let anything they wanted in. That is why I retired. I wasn't with the program. All this commotion for a substance---coca---that is going to get in anyway. But what I want to know now is how this woman Juanita did it." Professor Keith poured himself another cupful of tequila, drank deeply and became at once flushed with a sudden displeasure borne of either alcohol or the chore of talking to a one-time drug enforcer.
"But you said you were retired. Cocaine in all of its forms was Juanita's only business. She moved it from the island to the mainland somewhere up in the desert and from there to some vacant spot in Arizona. She knew the deserts. That was for sure. From Arizona it made its way mostly to other cities, especially Cincinnati via some little ferry boat that crossed the Ohio River at a dot on the map called Hebron. That is all I know." Neston Grow considered the professor's words, shrugged and said: "I guess you just don't get my point. I know all about her activities in Cincinnati. She filled the town with powder---enough to make her rich enough to retire after a few years." "They say she bought a pizza joint in little Hebron," said Keith somewhat lightening up. "I know about that too," said Neston, growing more eager. Everyone does. She disappeared briefly even from there a few years back. They say she went through some kind of weird portal with that guy from my state. But she came back." "Joey Leguay. You can stop right there. Everyone knew Joey here for a time. He came and went. Just like Juanita. I don't think he was involved with cocaine, however. He was just here looking for something else---and I don't know what it was."
"I really don't care. Let other people track down Leguay. What I want to know about is Fat Juanita. How was she able to get on and off the island without the Seris bothering her? I mean they still are cannibals, aren't they, Professor? Tell the truth. They eat white men when they can." "Subject closed," said Keith abruptly. "All I'm going to tell you is this. Juanita had some kind of power over the natives. She didn't speak their language or partake in their rituals, but she held them in awe. Joey Leguay, when he was around, didn't. He needed to defend himself, and for all I know they may have eaten him. And incidentally, there is no proof that they are still cannibals. Just an old rumor. They deserve better." With that, Professor Keith Sandridge got up and thrust a five hundred peso note on the wooden table and without so much as a parting handshake, walked off into the afternoon glare of the all encompassing desert, leaving Neston Grow alone with a nearly empty bottle of local cactus spirits and a lot of unanswered questions. III. Enter Darla Schall A woman was in the background in the dark, candle lit cantina as the two men spoke. There is, of course, always one there. Her name was Darla Schall, and she came from Delaware---South Delaware, Sussex County, home territory of the infamous Joey Leguay. She was thirty-
three years old and rugged as the sagebrush, having come as an assistant to Keith Sandridge ten years before as a graduate student. Today, she had heard two things that piqued her attention and brought her out of the shadows: Joey Leguay, whom she had known in the past under some very strange circumstances and the word "cannibals." Because she had grown to understand and love the Seris over the past ten years, she remained to listen. And today, as always, she was in a posture of defending them. "They're not cannibals any more," she said abruptly behind Neston Grow's back, "and I wish people would stop calling them that. Our civilization, for what it is worth, and that isn't much, came to them in a different way. They shielded themselves and their customs from intruders, that's all. Native populations need to do that. And as far as Mr. Leguay goes, there are things there that you just don't know and don't need to. I knew Joey in high school. Big time football hero. He was enchanted by another world that he thought lay beyond our own, like another dimension. He got that from his older brother who attended my university. I knew him too. Eric. They both had read a copy of John Palifox Key's Proofs of My Return which speaks of "open doorways" into this other realm. Joey came here looking---just like you---for Juanita but not because of her smuggling activities. He knew that she owned a building in Kentucky on the banks of the Ohio River where one of these famous doorways into another realm was reputed to be."
"Did you know Juanita?" asked Grow with a certain sum of barely feigned innocence. It was not beyond him to notice the shapely cut of Darla's firm torso either. Nor was her deep amber tan lost on him. Although well past her age, Grow, already somewhat bored with his assignment on the dusty desert plateau, felt some stirrings that he thought had been dismissed definitively years ago after his divorce. The graduate student turned permanent assistant appealed to him amidst the squalor of the cantina and the torrid frown of the ruthless desert sun. "Maybe," she said. "I don't suppose you want to hear more about Joey, huh?" "Not today. Maybe tonight. Is there any place a couple of us gringos can go here for dinner?" "Down about three kilos in Bahia de Kino. A goat place. They grill goat over mesquite bark. Quite delicious. I guess you want to take me to dinner and pepper me with more questions." "Something like that. But not about Joey or his fairyland kingdoms. I had enough of that at one time in my life. Seriously, I have. What interests me is Fat Juanita." "This is the end of the world," said Darla with a dreamy, absentminded look crossing her still engaging face. "I really should
go home someday. Our stipend is nearly exhausted. Ten years of the Seri. But it's funny how I love them." "Juanita?" "Dinner?" "Okay. But...." "I'll tell you what I know. Now go take a walk along the channel and watch the sperm whales for a few hours. I'll meet you back here around sunset. Things will be cooler. By the way, we are taking your Jeep. I haven't had reliable transportation for five years. I get around on a burro, but I'm sure you would not want to go to Bahia on that. Besides he is lame." As Darla Schall prepared to take leave, Neston Grow once again noted the firmness of her tight buttocks and wondered how far things might go after dinner. At fifty-one, he still wasn't bad looking, and, besides, there were so few Americans in the area. He might just get lucky. Or not. At any event, it was clear that Darla knew about a few more things than Keith Sandridge. Neston had not lost his policeman's knack for dislodging information. "By the way," said Darla over her shoulder, "your life may be in danger here."
"From whom? The Mexican drug lords? Your precious Seris? I thought you said they were tame now?" "No," said Darla picking up her pace in departing, "by the Norwegian." IV. Bahia de Kino, whale blubber, grilled cactus fronds and spitted goat The shadowy seaside village of Bahia de Kino was full of what Neston Grow decided early on were angry faces, most of them Native Americans. Seris, no doubt, he thought. But there was something else in the air. Suspicion reigned all around him as he parked his Jeep next to a wooden shack on whatever passed as the main street of the lifeless town. He let himself be escorted by Darla into a candle-lit room thick with the greasy smoke of grilling meat. Darla spoke Spanish and knew more than a few words of Seri. She was able to bypass the dumbfounded stares of the sullen establishment's few brooding patrons. Suddenly and for no apparent reason, the atmosphere of the eatery changed, as someone had slid a grooved and scratchy 1930-ish recording of the famous Mariachi renegade Lucha Reyes singing "La Panchita" on an unseen turntable. "Ranchero music," said Darla. "They still love Lucha here, even
though she's been dust for more than half a century. We're eating by candle light. Want to know why?" "For the intimate atmosphere or to cover the fragrance of unwashed bodies?" "No. Because this town is just like Punta Chueca---only one source of electric. The Mexican government doesn't spend a lot of pesos in this part of Sonora. There is only one powerline here running down the middle of the street, and it only has leads to the mayor's office and the police station. The rest of us have to do with kerosene or candles." "Doesn't bother me." "But it might be a detail for your bosses. Who sent you, anyway? I know it is not about drugs or politics. Fat Juanita is yesterday's news here. You would do better searching for her in Cincinnati or by that ferry landing in Kentucky. You have no interest in Joey Leguay, which is what attracted my attention to you in the first place." "Joey Leguay and his portals into another realm are yesterday's news too." La Panchita, as rendered by the incomparable Lucha Reyes, ground to a gruff and throaty halt on the scratchy 33rpm and the room was once again filled with gloom and silence.
"I was hired to find out what Fat Juanita did here and how she did it. My employer just sent me to get details and never gave me a clue as to why. But there was a hint that she had some special power or powers. Even Keith mentioned that." "It's possible," said Darla pensively staring into the guttering candle dripping out of a volcanic shore rock in the middle of the stained formica table where they sat and waited for a bottle to be brought out from behind a traditional tela which blanketed the cooking area. "There have been lots of rumors about her. The Seri won't tell me very much, so that means you have even less of a chance." "Mind sharing some of the rumors?" "Well, to start with Juanita didn't hang out with Joey Leguay all that much. He was only here for a short time. Apparently they had met before. They made some kind of deal, and he left. " "Through a portal?" "Maybe." Neston Grow noted that Darla became very pretty when she attempted to laugh, but it was only a temporary crack in her usual façade of enforced blandness. She was definitely concealing things. Unusual things, but then the whole region was unusual...unearthly even.
Darla resumed: "She was most often in the company of the Norwegian. He was perhaps the whitest and creepiest person I have ever seen in my life. He just appeared one day about eight years ago, introduced himself to Keith and me at the University station. Then he joined up with Juanita who was always around in those days doing whatever it was that she did. The Norwegian became a sort of protector to her." "What was his name?" "No one ever knew. All he was ever called was the Norwegian. For some reason the Sonora state police and the National Protection Force left him totally alone. I even doubt he had a passport. No one knew where he stayed, washed, shitted or ate. He claimed to be from a rugged mountainous zone in far eastern Norway, the town of Kirkenes, close to both the Finnish and Russian borders, a place where three time zones converged and people were not allowed to cross any borders to save time getting from one town to another. If you ask me, he is the one who came through a portal. How else could he have arrived here?" "Why would this person kill me? I mean if he were still around?" "Because you're asking questions about Juanita. I saw him shoot two Yaquis for the same reason. Shot them with a luger pistol in cold
blood right outside the landing at Punta Chueca. They say he eliminated a lot of others too. In various ways." "I didn't come this far to let a displaced Norwegian spook me." "Okay. Well, about Juanita. Let me tell you a few things. She camped on the island and held the local Seris in some kind of wonderment. You know, I can kind of speak their language. They told me some things about her." Neston Grow moved aside to let a swarthy Indian serving woman wearing only a scant manta blanket around her shoulders place a steaming pot of sizzling cactus fronds on the table in front of them. This was followed by long mesquite twigs speared through chunks of whale blubber---something totally illegal in Mexico but done with impunity nonetheless on the rural and inhospitable Sonoran desert coast. These crude delicacies were followed by barely cooked prawn, some of which were still crawling half-dead on the platter. Another unmarked bottle of local agave tequila appeared from another server's hands on the formica tabletop. Mismatched chunks of seared goat meat eventually came. Both Darla and Neston addressed themselves to this rustic provender with sharp table knives, the only cutlery provided. After a few healthy mouthfuls and a swig directly from the bottle, Darla resumed her description of Fat Juanita. The details came
matter of factly. Juanita was not Mexican nor Indian, rather she was of Scandinavian origin, a second generation Norwegian herself. Like the eerie and overtly sinister Norwegian himself, her grandparents had come from the least populated zone of Norway in the east near the Russian border. Her name was Sigrid Gudrun, and there was no official explanation how she had acquired the moniker Fat Juanita. She was not altogether unattractive, but her face and arms were covered with small scars and what appeared to be the result of burns. She was a threatening person of few words who had what seemed like a perpetual scowl on her face. And yes, she did have some weird sway over the Seris, and they permitted her free access to all of their reservational territory both on and off Tiburon Island. "Everyone here is either hiding from someone or has some kind of secret," explained Darla. A pause to consume more victuals ensued, but then Darla suddenly blurted out a less than surprising fact: "Juanita was called fat because she looked fat. It was because of some strange outfit she constantly wore. Neither Keith nor I were ever sure exactly what it was, but she wore it constantly." "What did it look like?" Darla burst out a timid little snicker and said: "Like a big inner tube or maybe a Mae West lifejacket. She concealed it under her shirt all the time and she never went anywhere without it on. That is what got
her the name Fat Juanita, no doubt. But in all reality she was wiry and rugged and not at all fat." "What did the Seris tell you about her so-called power?" "I'm not going to tell you that until maybe later after I have asked you a major favor. I need to talk to Keith first. I'm going to hold back that one detail until tomorrow, and if you agree to help me with something, I'll tell you what the Seris said. Even Keith doesn't know because he never bothered to learn their language. Meet me at the cantina in Punta Chueca tomorrow at around ten o'clock and we'll talk. And you can pay for this delightful dinner tonight too." "So...Fat Juanita...not fat...covered with scars....a NorwegianAmerican covered with burn marks and scars...wearing a something or other that made her look fat around her waist and protected by a palefaced real Norwegian who just happened onto the Sonoran Desert...really a lot to go on there..." "Take it or leave it." And strangely enough when Neston Grow called in his details directly to Dorian Baine at Biometrics the next day from the Sonora state communications office, the latter seemed extremely interested in exactly the same seemingly drab details that Darla Schall had reported. He was, Neston noted, especially excited about the scars,
burn marks and, above all, the waist garment. He promised to wire Neston some substantial extra funds by four o'clock and told him to keep digging. Dorian ended the conversation with the odd line: "You may be changing the world as we know it." Neston Grow had no idea what his sponsor was talking about, but the money was exceptionally good, and it came on time. V. A commotion at Biometrics Dorian Baine seemed more animated and excited than usual as he rolled into the main boardroom of his sometimes thriving company that morning. He was attended by some of his oldest and closest associates, men and women to whom Dorian had previously sent the terse message "free speech only," which meant that everyone could say what they wanted and that Dorian expected only that. One person who had no trouble with speaking freely was Dorian's longstanding chief of operations, a physicist called Linus Ampart. Ampart was a cynical and dry scientist who understood his importance to Biometrics in ways that many of the others did not. He dressed only in jeans and a rather stained white upper smock and always had something in his hands to distract his nervous attention. This time it was a strip of dull metal and a little red magnetic marble that Linus kept clinking against the steel, as if he had just discovered magnetism.
He looked up at Dorian and said "Need anything explained?" The comment was Ampart's way of reminding the once-entrepreneurial company owner and president that the latter knew next to nothing about the electro-physics which lay at the basis of the firm's production. In fact, Dorian Baine knew very little at all about physics. He understood, naturally, that brain impulses could trigger mechanical devices and that his company was creating more and more prosthetic things which could be run by brain waves alone, but very little about the nature of even the most basic Newtonian physics. Baine was full of what he called "notions," and his notions were usually correct. He hired, as it were, others to make them real. "You can grace us with a formula or whatever later, Linus," Baine said dismissively, watching the others enter. When Mersey Kinklar, the company CFO, had settled down behind an enormous mug of steaming coffee and adjusted her skirt under her more than ample buttocks, she shuffled some papers in order to get Baine's attention. Not waiting for the others to completely come to order, Baine raised his graying eyebrows at her as if to say "talk." Mersey heaved a sigh and said something that she had stated and overstated many times before. The company was close to or maybe at the brink of financial instability. "We are not Silicon Valley Star Wars, Incorporated," she said. "We are a small and struggling
enterprise in Cincinnati. Our funds can be depleted easily, and we have no government contracts or hopes of a bailout." Baine received her remark with a puny smile. He knew all about the financial standing of his company, but he also knew that his team was making some big discoveries every day that could or should revolutionize the electro-prosthetic device industry. Every last one of them had been suggested by himself and acted on by his employees. There were contrivances now that could move arthritic fingers and wasted jaws. There were gadgets that allowed people without hands to grasp things as big as Mersey's coffee mug by just thinking about grasping them. One device after another was being tested. Unfortunately, the company had not yet devised something for the old man's legs, but maybe that was coming, and Dorian never seemed to care. Talk progressed. The assembly learned that Dorian had a new and secret idea and that it hinged on the veiled actions of an adventurer named Neston Grow, a former DEA cop, whom Dorian had first sent to Delaware and later to some of the most dangerous and remote places on the Mexican desert coast. And no one had any idea as of yet why. That was the big mystery that the department chiefs really wanted answered. The project, which was going full steam ahead, was one of the reasons the small company was on shaky financial footing. Another was the recent forced retirement of Dorian's former CEO son
Addison, who now was learning to play golf and drink baroque cocktails in extravagant resorts, all the while chasing exotic women that Mersey Kinklar knew the company could barely afford let alone countenance. Dorian had furloughed his old-school and unadventurous son so that his own project---whatever in the hell it was---could go forward without continual filial objection. Speaking freely as requested, two or three of the others asked in their own way what this project was, and that launched Dorian into something that none of them wanted to hear: His partial and probably semi-fictional life story. Everyone present was intimate enough with Dorian Baine to know that during the 1950s as a young man he had joined up with a ragged regiment of what is commonly known as the French Foreign Legion, which has to this day recruiting offices all over the world. Dorian, it was well known, had signed up with this anomalous organization at a one room office in Lower Manhattan on an infrequently traveled side street within sight of skyscraping buildings whose purposes usually dwarfed the sometimes sluggish activities of a company like Biometrics. He had been assigned to some of the most dangerous parts of central west Africa, the Republic of Gabon to be exact, where impenetrable and copious jungle vegetation waged a daily battle to reclaim the outposts of civilization. In this jungle, this tangle of mangroves and vascular vines, Dorian had
served the more menial interests of the French Army, as all legionnaires do, by exposing himself and his coterie to dangers that inducted French Army boys ardently tried to avoid. Everyone knew Dorian's story. The dangers. The Bantu-Fang tribesmen. The reptiles. The insects. The sudden deaths by renegade explosives....and something else Dorian had always alluded to, something he had seen deep in the dark, soggy forests along the lower reaches of the snaking Ogooué River. What this thing was had inspired Dorian for a long time, just as the oft-missing limbs of his legionnaire companions had propelled him into developing prosthetics. But he had never said exactly what it was. All he had ever said was that the time-worn legend of Prester John, the elusive white Nordic king of some forbidden and unreachable empire secreted in the jungle brush was real, and that elicited much less respect for Dorian than had his famous "notions" which were at least practicable. "He's talking about that white man hidden in Africa again," smirked Linus Ampart to another pokerfaced employee seated next to him. "About how he saw something which the French authorities never let him research in depth." And today as usual there was no explanation forthcoming.
And suddenly one of the free speakers said "Fat Juanita." A general rumble went through the group. "Fat Juanita lives in Kentucky, just across the river," said another. "Why have we always spent so much time bringing her subject up without saying exactly why she is important to our needs?" "Fat Juanita could change the world," said Dorian Baine with a firmness that definitively ended the free speech mode. "And we can't get to her in Kentucky. She is heavily protected by friends and has a way of escaping into...into...well a sort of far away place that none of us will ever get inside of." A muted groan came from the directors. "I suppose we could tell the stockholders that?" said one, still boldly respecting the free speech directive. "Subject closed," said Baine, squinting at Linus Ampart, who was still nervously fiddling with his metal bar and magnet. "Let's talk about gravity. I've heard, Linus, that in actuality, it is a rather weak force. Even though it holds everything on Earth together, it doesn't crush or kill us unless we fall off a ledge or something." "How can gravity be weak?" said Mersey Kinklar, speaking as she knew far out of her field of expertise. "It is," said Linus. "The boss is right. Funny I should have this
magnet with me today. Look at it. It is a heavy steel marble that I found somewhere. When I drop it, it falls heavily to Earth. Strong gravity? No. Just gravity. But look, when I put it against this piece of metal, it sticks. Gravity alone cannot make it budge. A dime-sized magnet has enough electromagnetic force to overcome all of Earth's gravity and stick to the fridge. Gravity is not strong." "An apple fell on Newton," said Mersey. "It was not magnetized," said Ampart. "Too bad for Newton." "It sure takes a lot of thrust and acceleration to escape the planet's gravity," said another, somewhat meekly. "Maybe not," interjected Dorian Baine. "Maybe all it takes is the right kind of brain waves." And with that it became clear that the meeting was over. Lack of finances, Fat Juanita, magnets, Africa, Prester John and Nordics. The early life of Dorian Baine--- and that never fully explained. As the assemblage left the room, Mersey Kinklar said derisively to another: "That boy Grow is backbreaking this company." "That boy Addison is too," replied the other who had an office to reach before tackling whatever it was that comprised his function. VI. An untimely death in Punta Chueca
The Mexican security force of the State of Sonora, being Mexican police, seemed very nonchalant about the death one Professor Keith Sandridge on the morning of August 20th, the day Neston Grow was to meet with Darla Schall and learn whatever final detail about Fat Juanita she had to share, via the Seri Indians, for the price of some unnamed favor he was going to be asked to render to Darla. Sandridge's corpse had been removed to Hermosilla for investigation, and the buzz in Spanish was that he had either killed himself out of boredom for so many years spent with the Seri, whom the Mexicans despised, or had gotten involved with one of the ubiquitous drug barons that were strewn all over North Mexico. It was probably a relief to both them and the police to be finally rid of the academic gringo who had overstayed his time and had produced nothing of general interest to the everyday Mexican public or its often fragile economy. Darla Schall knew differently. She had been present on the sandy loam just outside of the university station, a mere hut where she and Sandridge lived and worked, the place where Sandridge's dead body was first spotted. The Norwegian, so it was said, had been seen again like an ashen specter wandering about in the village. Sandridge's killing, which was not a suicide Darla knew, was almost certainly attributable to him. "He has killed before," she said to Neston Grow, "and will probably kill again."
"Kill me? As you said Darla?" "Or me. You have brought a danger here, and that is what I wanted to talk to you about. I love and respect the Seri, despite their primitive ways, but I think it is time for me to go. I had just been talking about it to Keith on the morning he was killed. Our grant is depleted, and, frankly, I'm tired. I know that is out of character for me, but, Neston, I think I have finally been here too long, and for the life of me right now, I can't say why. I have no family or friends anymore. I want to get back to Delaware, but I don't have the money. I know you need to leave here soon and I know you have money and are financed..." "I'll look into it," retorted Grow. "I'm sure I can take you anywhere you want back home, but first we have some unfinished business." "Everyone has unfinished business." "About Fat Juanita first, her power or whatever the Seris knew." Darla looked down at her feet and said suddenly: "I'm strange and don't ask me why because I don't know. I've lost track of even the reason I came here or stayed so long. I can't even grieve like I should over Keith. I never slept with him. In fact, Neston, I have never had a boyfriend. Weird huh?"
Neston Grow did a quick re-appraisal of the khaki clad assistant anthropologist. Dressed in something else than soiled shorts and a perspiration blemished shirt, she might actually be a focal temptation. But he had work to do for his employer. Getting information, not taking advantage of a lonely girl, was his task. The couple sat down on a mesquite log bench outside of the station hut. Darla lit a dry Mexican cigarette, something Grow had not seen her do the previous night. Something other than Sandridge's death was troubling her. "Let's start with Keith out of respect," she began. "The police will never do a thing. Want to know why they suspected...stupidly as always...a suicide?" "Sure." "Because we...the Indians and I...found him here with a bona fide noose around his neck. He was lynched, so to speak, lynched from above. Outdoors. There is only a short length of rope trailing out from the noose. Something or someone flung it around his neck and jerked him upward over the desert. There are no trees here, and as you have noticed, no power lines. Something was in the air. That something killed Keith. It killed Keith because of you and me. Too much talk about Fat Juanita running through the Seri murmurs."
"The Norwegian in a helicopter?" "No. The Norwegian all by himself. You see, the Norwegian can fly. So can Fat Juanita. That was her power over the Seris. On Tiburon Island they saw it again and again. She flew. She always flew. And she got better and better with it as time went on. She could navigate in the air, go high or low, move in a straight or curving line over any terrain, even mountains, even the sea." "Yeah, sure," groaned Neston Grow. "Just like a reindeer. Relating that Seri nonsense to me is not going to get you a ticket out of here. You want me to tell my sponsors---who provide the funds---that Fat Juanita and her Scandinavian boyfriend spent their time flying around the Gulf of Lower California?" "Yep. And tell them too that this was how she brought all that coca into Arizona for distribution. There was a point after which she could not easily steer because of the power lines, buildings and trees. She could not last long in the really high altitudes because of the cold. She had connections in the American desert to distribute her booty. She got a lot of it back to her digs in Kentucky, to that fake pizza parlor or whatever it was stuck on the river bank. And there is some sort of passageway there that Joey Leguay knew about, an entry point into another dimension. That is why Joey came looking for her in the first place. A great team they made, although Joey avoided the drug business."
"Pure rubbish and crap. I suppose that thing she wore around her waist lifted her?" "Not at all. It held her down. It had small pieces of osmium in it, the densest material on Earth. It was her anchor. You see, I knew her once. She confided in me. Just like the Seris, I saw her fly. A demonstration just for me. I was sworn to secrecy, who wouldn't be, and the Norwegian watched me after that day and night. I never told Keith this, and this is the first you are hearing of it, but it is true. Take it or leave it." "I think I'll leave it. You seem too educated to believe such fantasies. How did Juanita learn to fly anyway, just humoring you that she did?" "I'm not sure. Something in her race. The sort of people she came from. Descendants of a place in far eastern Norway, a mountainous and nearly inaccessible fjord area. She said she had flown from childhood on in Cincinnati, flown whenever she wasn't weighed down. She flew instinctively on commands from her brain, the same way we walk or run. At first she was terrible with it. She crashed into tree limbs, power lines, houses, church steeples. That accounts for the scars on her body, the burns, and so on. Then she got better." "The flying drug nun," sneered Neston Grow derisively. "I've come a
long way to hear this claptrap. I guess it is time for you to get out of here. Your mind is getting spongy." "Take it or leave it." VII. A report well received Later that day, after the obligatory midday siesta during which Darla Schall and Neston Grow lay down beside one another on a camp cot in the station but failed to touch, Grow, standing alone at the Sonora State communications center with a phone in his hand, was shocked to learn of the approval and downright elation that his crazy report brought to Dorian Baine on the latter's private line. "Just the news I was waiting for!" shouted the old man over the scratchy connections. "Like I told you, you are well nigh to changing the world. And sure, bring that girl with you when you come back." Neston Grow made a mental note of Baine's final words and decided on the spot that retrieving Darla Schall from the dreary path in life she had fallen upon would rise several pegs higher on his own personal agenda. VIII. Fat Juanita The woman who in later life became known as Fat Juanita hailed from the tight-knit Cincinnati riverside neighborhood of Sedamsville,
a district settled primarily by German immigrants in the early 18th Century, a neighborhood of ancient brick buildings and row houses all within sight of that great avenue of commerce the winding Ohio River. The child of Norwegian grandparents who had been attracted to lower Cincinnati due to its many warehouses, factories and home industries, Fat Juanita, whose given name was Sigrid Gudrun was an odd child who had to be closely watched from childhood onward because like so many of her predecessors from the remote and magnetically charged far eastern Norwegian district of Ost-Finnmark she possessed from birth onward the ability to levitate herself at will. In many of the Ost-Finnmark natives who had settled Sedamsville, this ability disappeared after a certain age was attained by the child or was stifled due to repeated castigations by inbred and insular parents and families who regarded the rest of the New World with a sense of protective suspicion and kept the secrets of their distant Norwegian homeland even more closely than had their ancestors in Norway, where only rumors of this strange ability filtered in occasionally to the more modern and urbanized areas of this often close-lipped, hidebound and parochial country. In many of the Ost-Finnmark children the ability to levitate resolved itself only into a mild capacity for innocent and usually concealed telekinesis. Sometimes children at play on the narrow and busy streets of the ancient neighborhood would amuse themselves by lifting baseballs or trash can lids and making other sundry objects fly up and
around them. Sometimes the children and even some adults would hover briefly off the Earth and displace themselves, unseen by the larger world, in the back alleys and behind the towering warehouses, but time and age usually erased all desire for such amusement, and very few Ost-Finnmarkians continued to enlarge their ability to fly beyond the onset of adulthood. However, in some cases, as Sigrid's, the levitating became as compelling and instinctive as walking. It was not an instinct they understood either. The Ost-Finnmark ancestors had no ready explanation for the talent, and those like Sigrid who could not control it found it simply to be something very much akin to walking or running. As humans, we have no innate idea of why we walk. The brain simply sends a walk signal to the legs, and sooner or later following a few accidents, we are off. It was the same with flying. A part of Sigrid's mind simply told her body to move upwards, and it did, at first clumsily and dangerously, but after enough time and practice with total navigational organization and precision. Her mind, instead of sending a signal to her legs, sent an altogether different one to the entirety of her outer body, a signal that effortlessly defied the confines of what had been previously termed "weak gravity." Sigrid Gudrun, raised primarily by hard-working and often absent grandparents, was often unsupervised, and she began to experiment
in earnest with personal levitation. She also knew enough to do so in secret. The first major event that Sigrid could recall began in the middle of a summer night in her seventh or eighth year, a night like others when brightly lit barges meandering down the river were visible from the front porch of her grandparents' tiny apartment. Sigrid, dressed only in a shabby nightgown, stole to the front door of her residence and stared for a moment out into the darkened streets of sleeping Sedamsville. The moon was full and the sky was filled with lights from other things, far away beacons. Standing there looking at the moon, Sigrid allowed her primal nature to dictate movement to her body. That was no task at all. The task had always been repressing it. At once, she found herself about five meters above the porch and moving with a certain unremitting pace on an angular path into the sky. The problem was, of course, what was in that sky: huge tree limbs, building roof ornaments and wires, wires everywhere. Sigrid, not particularly fearing what came naturally to her, was abruptly and painfully stopped by a transformer box at the top of a power pole. For a few seconds she brushed against a live connection and received a strong jolt of electricity, which, if she had not found the way to displace herself downward, would have killed her in an instant. As it was, she only took away a painful burn, the first of many wounds she would receive from her forays into the busy skies of urban Cincinnati.
But little by little, she learned the arts of steering, direction-finding, object-avoidance and course-plotting. She learned to recognize dangerous objects at a distance and adjust both her trajectory and her speed. It was, she knew, a natural process, a God-given propensity that she had inherited from those shadowy figures in the distant homeland of her family. To not fly, Sigrid later felt, might even be an offense toward God himself. And so, in secret, she flew. She soared. She drifted. She turned and dodged. She navigated. She perfected the skill that her all-powerful Norse God had given her. Of course, there was at first the problem of her many accidents which had left scars that the Gudrun family was far too poor to have erased. Both of Sigrid's parents had been killed by an unexpected riverbank collapse when she was just a baby, and the economic status of her grandparents depended largely on the charity of their clannish Norwegian neighbors. It was these same neighbors, dour and flatfaced, that warded off the social workers who came to investigate why the pretty, flaxen-haired little girl had so many marks on her body. By the time she was a senior at Pebble Hill High School, Sigrid was known as a fierce tomboy and was usually seen in the company of the roughest boys of the quarter. She became a fighter by choice, and this went a long ways in explaining to the meddlesome world why her body was so scarred and burned. And it should be noted that despite these marks from the early imperfections of her childhood flying,
Sigrid was still quite attractive in a fierce and riveting sort of way. There were no lack of boys in her life, and she was always their match in not only fights but the hard-hitting games of her brick-paved street environments. In all, Sigrid nurtured a kind of superiority when it came to flying, but at some point around the age of seventeen, it became too addictive to her, perhaps on some subconscious level which caused her brain to demand flight time more often than she wanted and in inconvenient places. And so she became slightly fat, not with actual body weight, which her trim form denied her, but by wearing large woven belts filled with heavy objects which were capable of holding her down to Earth and defying the almost supernal urges that her psyche sent constantly to her body demanding that she at least raise herself off from the ground---in the same way that some children must run at all times and seem not to be able to control this urge. Somehow between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, Sigrid decided to be bad. This may sound simplistic, but her own stern Scandinavian upbringing and her ability to soar in the air led her to adopt a certain scorn for conventional morality and law. Her roughhewn teenage associates aided her greatly in this conviction to become an outlaw. There are always those around us who can be our stepping stones into crime and the enticing excitement therein. With Sigrid, it began as a mere series of small robberies from balconies and yards in
the better areas of Cincinnati. Her flair for avoiding obstructions in the air allowed her to get into high places where small things like computers, smartphones and jewelry left outdoors could be swiped, but there was always the danger in Cincinnati of smashing into something, regardless of her soaring skill. There was also the issue that someone on the ground might see her. She usually flew by night or early morning, but had more than one time felt the lethal swish of what must have been bullets flying close to her airborne body. There had also been some brief news reports in the Cincinnati press about people swearing to have seen a horizontally ascending human body in the hazy air, but these went nowhere. We can safely skip the details of Sigrid's early life of petty thievery via flying and move onto the one significant incident that would change her life forever. Sigrid was not withdrawn when it came to sex with as many boys as she found to her liking. She felt herself free to explore this aspect of her being as much as any other, and she progressed through a parade of mostly delinquent and homeless waifs as if reviewing a squadron of naked cadet felons. Preferring to more or less live on the streets and in cheap, anonymous dives, she frequented others of a like bent. One day a boy named Tony something, whom she had slept with a few times, told her about a stash of Mexican marijuana which was being kept in the control room of an abandoned water tower overlooking the
river at Shrewspoint. It was in a place surrounded on the ground by barbed wire and forgotten by nearly everyone, except those of course who were using the place to store their product. Rising through the daybreak mist, Sigrid easily alighted on a railing encircling the top of the tower and found her way into a garbage strewn control room. It took her less than a minute to raise a filthy mattress and find a neat package of reefer which must have weighed at least five pounds and later would bring her over a thousand dollars from a contact across the river in suburban Covington, Kentucky. It should be mentioned at this point that Sigrid had never ventured across the Ohio River in the air due to its many security points and numberless aerial wires crisscrossing in the air. So in order to reach Kentucky, Sigrid did a natural thing. She went as a pedestrian on the tiny Anderson car ferry which connected West Cincinnati with Hebron, Kentucky. The ferry was a strange little throwback to an era before bridges when ferries were the only means of crossing the river. Sigrid had used it a couple of times before and was always amused at how the little boat tossed and turned in the turbulence of the mighty river, how it dodged the huge barges and made its way to the steep shore of the opposite side of the river, a shore which rose up over three hundred feet to flat land and which sheltered houses, buildings and other sundry structures among its jutting rocks. It was on this ferry one sultry fall day that she met another lone
pedestrian standing amidst the cars and hanging onto the sagging wooden rails of the boat. The person she met was a transfixing and spellbinding young man only indiscernibly older than herself. At the time upon examining her companion, it struck her like a bolt that this may have been the most striking individual she had ever seen, and she was immediately drawn to him. Her package of purloined weed looked innocent enough wrapped in dull brown paper, so she made her way toward this personage, who, himself was already making his way toward her. When their eyes met, Sigrid was electrified by the man's intensity. His outrageously blue eyes mesmerized and fascinated her beyond description. In short, she was enthralled to encounter such a dashing person on the woebegone ferry in the middle of the dirty river. He was smiling warmly as he approached her and did not give her time to speak before he enveloped her in a sort of person aura, a net of personality that seemed to emanate from the seething core of his total being and isolate the two from anything and everything around them. Without any needless waste of words, the stranger began, gripping Sigrid's arm below the elbow as if to steady her: "On the ferry, huh? Why not just wing your way across?" Sigrid was thunderstruck. How had this attractive and adventurous looking man known about....?
She stammered a reply: "The air above the river is too dangerous." "I like that," smiled the attractive stranger. "You're not into some silly denial crap. I'm betting that is something of some value under your arm too. How were you planning to take it to where it is going once in Hebron?" "Taxi," said Sigrid, returning his frank boldness in kind. "They always are there at the landing." "Good idea. Get a good look at the uphill slope as you go. There is a doorway into another world hidden between those boulders somewhere, and I don't have time to find it. I have someone picking me up right away, a woman to be exact, and she would not like to see me climbing around in the dirty rocks with another woman. A kind of jealous type she is. But you could well be the person to find this freaky passageway. They are all around the world, you know." "No. I don't know. And I'm not going to ask you how you know about a dimensional door or about me either for that matter." "Good. Because I would not have told you anyway---about either of those questions. But believe me there is another realm very much in touch with this one, and you can get to it over there somewhere. I just don't have any more time to look." With this the bow of the wooden ferry crunched against the gray,
muddy riverbank, and the handsome stranger quickly but eagerly shook Sigrid's hand and strode off the boat. She would not see him again until one day in Mexico when he came specifically to the Sonoran Desert coast and Tiburon Island to find her. On that day, she would learn that his name was Joey Leguay and had already made a certain mark in life as an explorer of something called the Secondary Alternate Realm, the details of which shall not be the subject of this story except to say that Joey Leguay would use Sigrid Gudrun, already tagged Fat Juanita, in Mexico to get a precise locus of yet another duct into a world of anomalous beings that others can only dream of. But as stated, she was already Fat Juanita and surprisingly knew of the precise location of this portal and in fact owned it. With the illicit revenue of many loads of smuggled coca, Sigrid had by this time amassed enough of a fortune to buy nearly anything, and in this case it was only a matter of buying a decrepit concrete boathouse drilled into the sloping bank of the Kentucky side of the river, a structure which housed and concealed a doorway into a dominion of fantasy that now was hers and hers alone. It took her very little time in the years following this meeting with Joey Leguay to convert the concrete shed into a shabby pizza restaurant, which it should be noted became very popular as a hangout for the social rejects and small time felons she had grown up
with in lower Cincinnati. IX. The plan at Biometrics and the "fall" of Fat Juanita It was now nearly twelve years following the encounter between Joey Leguay and Fat Juanita in the Indian territory of Punta Chueca on Mexico's barren Sonora coast. Juanita had stashed away enough smuggler's money from her "flight" trade in coca to set herself up quite nicely in a marginal but still adequate pizza business hanging on a ledge over the Ohio River. Her own shadowy protector, known only as the Norwegian, had advised her to retire and leave Mexico, as too many people were catching on to her talent, something that OstFinnmark people were intent to shield forever from the world. The Norwegian had handily disposed of a few of them, including a university professor who had long overstayed his welcome, but some others, a young female assistant and some kind of American mercenary adventurer were still malingering in the zone and asking questions to Seri Indians who in the past would have grilled them live rather than give answers. But times were changing, and the flight propensity of the Ost-Finnmarkians needed to be guarded at all costs. The Norwegian was a man to be obeyed. In truth, Fat Juanita--Sigrid Gudrun---knew very little more about him than anyone else, and this to include whatever name he had been given at birth in the dark and forbidden province of his nativity. Nothing intimate had ever passed between them, but one day as Fat Juanita was stripping
off some of the bands of her weight garter, the sallow, dreary man came close enough to touch her. He had never come so near before. "You're leaving now I see," he said in a strained, hollow accent that belied very little emotion or enthusiasm. "I will bid you goodbye. Others, not me, will watch over you in Cincinnati. You will, we know, always remain hushed. Our gift is a precious one and not to be shared with the world." With this the Norwegian came up on Sigrid strangely from behind and wound his long, gangling arms around both her waist and chest. He tightened his hug in both places, and then without warning hooked his right thumb directly into her left armpit and pushed hard enough to elicit both pain and a funny, glandular popping sensation deep within her upper chest. Then he backed away. "Our people's way of saying goodbye," he said colorlessly, sliding out of the lean-to shed where Juanita slept and ate. She never saw the Norwegian again. And indeed Juanita did leave the island. In an accustomed manner, she lofted herself, weight free, into the air and aimed for a comfortable altitude and self-steered along a well-known airway over the empty deserts reaches in the direction of Arizona and the top secret desert landing place she had maintained so long as a destination and pick up place for the coca powder she habitually carried, of which she had none this time. As she passed over a dry bend of the muddy Rio Grande, an eerie sensation overtook her being for the first time in
her life. She was losing altitude, and rather quickly at that. Her trajectory was slanting gently downward and no impulse of brain or body seemed to be able to right her out of this steady descent. The plunge, however, was gradual, as if she were a leaf or a sheet of paper just gently descending downward toward the gravely loam. When in fact she was within a half-meter of the dry Earth, her brain directed her feet, as always, to break her fall, and she found herself righted upwards and standing behind some huge mossy boulders in a part of the Arizona desert that in the past she had only flown over at sixty meters or higher. Unfazed by snakes and gila monsters, she kicked her way through the sparse sand until she came to something like a trail. Along the way, she attempted several more times to levitate herself. Her brain sent the message but her body did not respond. Grotesque as it might seem, the Norwegian must have known about a shut off switch or a special gland somewhere under her arms and pushed it. It was the only explanation. With resignation, she accepted it. After a lifetime of flying, Sigrid Gudrun was now confined to the planet's surface like the rest of us. The thought depressed her, but survival dictated that she shake the dejection from her mind. Perhaps the power would one day return. Perhaps it would not. She had been lucky all these years. Huge buzzards, vultures and other avian predators could have ripped her apart with their outstretched talons
many a time. And god knows how many bullets she had barely escaped. Maybe it was time to stop flying anyway. It was May, and she had just had her 39th birthday. It was 2013, an auspicious year. Time to retire. Time to get back to Cincinnati, reunite with that Joey (whom she never forgot) and muster up the courage to push her way through a hole in the back wall of her building into a world of imputed weirdness that she had never taken the time to explore fully---mostly due to a nagging fear that once in the strange country beyond the portal she would not be able to return. She knew how to contact Joey Leguay in his native Delaware once she could establish a good phone connection, and she knew how to expand her business in Hebron, guard the portal entry, and invite a few old teenage friends over for a little fun and trouble now and then. And thus, besides getting off the desert, this became her main plan. And so a summary of what followed in the clear-cut manner of a woman who had lived a very straightforward life: A dusty Land Rover driven by a man old enough to remember when the mountains had sharp not rounded tops took her as far as Tucson. From there she took a bus to Cincinnati and later the same quaint ferryboat to little Hebron. She unlocked her perennially "closed for the season" pizza eatery and began dusting things off. In less than two weeks she had turned the drab building into a bona fide pizza restaurant and fashioned for herself the only Spartan living quarters she needed in a
back room. In another back room, abutting directly into the stony river bank slope, she pulled an enormous oaken wardrobe over an undulating square in the wall that seemed to swell and heave slightly with her every motion. Beyond this duct, she knew, was another territory, altogether foreign and uncanny. As soon as she could find Joey, she would explore it. In the meantime it was hidden, and likewise, so was she...or so she thought. In short, Fat Juanita retired. She lost her ability to fly and transitioned from what was once a big time felon into a small time crook, as many of her old and less reputable companions from across the river found her long before she found Joey, and more business was conducted in her restaurant than simply the baking and selling of pizzas. As these changes took place in Sigrid's life and she became more and more resolved that, like a man without legs, she was simply crippled in some part of her body that she could easily dispense with, a group of rather enthusiastic men and women sat in a board room on the second floor of a small bio-electronics firm on Montgomery Street near Cincinnati's still vibrant downtown. As with Sigrid, they were in sight of the river, and several of them kept glancing out at it. At the head of this assemblage was the once-deposed son of Dorian Baine, Addison, who had recalled himself from a life of profligate and wasteful extravagance to wrest the control of his father's company
from the latter by virtue of the paid testimony of several respected psychiatrists, who, collectively, had enough concrete evidence both recorded and on sworn affidavits to consign Dorian to Bentlock Hills for the rest of his life. And Dorian, still in his wheelchair and no doubt still dreaming of his audacious youth along the dark banks of the Ogooué in lands where no man dared set foot, listened as his son read the act of corporate transfer that he had just been awarded by the court. The word "incompetent" with regard to Dorian came up many times before the recital was finished. Dorian, with a stoic and indulgent look creasing his visage, listened without saying a word until his rather portly and arrogant son had finished. Then he rolled his chair to the center of the room, stared witlessly at everyone present---as if to certify his imputed incompetence---and said: "Do with me whatever the law says. I had a plan. You know about it. White men in Gabon. The Kingdom of Prester John, there since the Fifteenth Century and still there now, is real. White people ruling a jungle enclave. White people from somewhere in Norway. White people who can fly at will, lift themselves up and soar over the mangroves, over the teak trees, over the okoumé branches, over the mountains, over anything. It was all real, and every one of you here know it. The Mexican connection as well. We sent that man Grow down there to verify it all, and he did. You heard what he and that girl said.
"Fat Juanita, a Cinci girl, is real. She is right over there across the Ohio. Stuck in some riverbank greasy dive, selling drugs and god knows what else. She can fly, and she knows of others who can too. "And you are condemning me today for the very secret that I managed to unearth in my life. Human free flight. Think of its possibilities. We could have transformed the world. As it is, all any of you have now is my son, and I can assure you that he will either cover it all up or use it for reasons beneficial only to himself. That is what you're thinking, isn't it Addison?" Addison Baine jerked his rounded chin into the air in an obvious move to ignore the old man. "We can proceed," he said monotonously. "We have the order, and the attendants from Bentlock Hills are waiting here to take him away to a more comfortable place....restrained if necessary." A commotion ensued, but when it subsided, Dorian Baine had been spirited out of the room, and ambulance lights were flashing in the small parking lot of Biometrics, Inc. With a crunch of gravel and tire, Dorian Baine disappeared from Biometrics forever. Later that night, Addison Baine, glass of bourbon in hand, met with two unnamed black men who appeared to be well-armed and tough enough to handle any physically demanding task that might come
their way. The company physicist Linus Ampart was likewise there. He had been in on the plot for a long time. "Gravity is weak," he said gulping another of the several drinks he had consumed that night. "But we can conquer it. And when we do, I for one don't want to share anything with anybody. It will be for you and me and these...uh...gentlemen, Addison. The world can wait until we see what possibilities this holds." The plan was as simple as Addison had always been. Drive over to Hebron in a van, snatch Fat Juanita from her digs, bring her back to Cincinnati, get some blood and tissue samples, do some tests, experiment, find the secret and then use it. Use it somehow, but not the way the old man had envisioned it. This was about money, prominence and control. Not about inventing things for the better of any sort of mankind. As night fell, four determined men in a Dodge stretch van crossed the massive I-75 Brent Spence bridge into Covington and were preparing for the short drive downhill to Hebron. As they crossed, Addison glanced from the front driver's seat down at the spectacular lights of Cincinnati. "It's been waiting for us all these years. Mexico was too dangerous. But I think we have a good hold on what happens in Cinci." Addison's main problem may have been lodged in the vague
formlessness of his own hazy thoughts, as he was loathe to reveal what "it" was and exactly why "it" had been waiting for him. X. Conclusion: The upward thrust As the stretch van crossed over into Kentucky and began the short trip to Constance from which its descent into the hamlet of Hebron, home of the famous little river ferry, continued, it occurred to more than one of passengers that Addison was becoming less and less rational. His remarks became mere smirks about how he would not only kidnap Fat Juanita for study, but some mention of how he would dispose of her body after extracting whatever substance from it allowed her to fly. "Extract?" said one of the armed black men with a quizzical look at his colleague in the seat beside him. "Dispose of body? I didn't know we were on a murder mission." "Why not?" said Addison somewhat dementedly crazed. "Bitch won't have any tales to tell. We can rid the world of one dumb wanna be Mexican." Linus Ampart also studied his boss cautiously upon hearing these words. As a person of science, he realized that whatever propelled Fat Juanita and her type into the skies was probably not something that could be easily withdrawn from her body. But Addison persisted
almost under his breath, "Gonna get some of her blood inside me." "Why?" said Ampart. "Because I want to fly. I want to fly!" "Not exactly a scientific plan," mumbled Ampart turning his head toward the dwindling lights of midtown Cincinnati. Addison then patted a small leather case on the console beside him. He flipped open the lid and revealed a syringe and several empty phials. "Blood," he said. "I'm going to dose myself on the spot." The two black hooligan hired hands in the back seat stared at each other in some sort of wondrous disbelief. One said something about thinking that kidnapping the woman was the job they had been hired to do. Addison Baine continued to pat his syringe case as the van veered off the interstate and into a tangle of narrow, downwardslanting asphalt tracks that wound tenuously down the steep and rocky bank of the ancient river. Addison, who had appointed himself driver, jerked anxiously at the wheel trying to navigate the sharp curves of the raised riverbank roadway. He told everyone to ready their weapons and prepare to raid the pizza parlor as soon as he found it. "Keep you eyes open," he barked. "There can't be many joints here called Fat Juanita's." And in truth, Addison was right. Buildings and houses were few and
far between amidst the twisted and tortured trees pushing upward from the jagged slope. Sigrid Gudrun for some reason, perhaps out of nostalgia for her success in Mexico, had named her restaurant after the moniker bestowed on her during her now departed flight days, and it was for that reason that at that very hour of night, a CLOSED sign hung on the door of the shabby concrete structure and two informally clad visitors sat opposite of Sigrid on barstools engaged in a rushed but urgent conversation. They were, of course, a kind of couple now. Making their way by Jeep Wrangler out of the Sonoran Desert and across the US into Northern Kentucky, they had developed a kind of natural bond, which later led to the sort of intimacy that takes place on long journeys between people who have nothing to lose by exploring what they might be feeling for one another if the last day of Earth ever came and they were left alone in the twilight of civilization. Neston Grow and Darla Schall, despite their differential in age, had crossed this boundary, and sometimes the reason for this type of sudden and unexpected union requires little more explanation than to say that one was a male and the other a female and that they were isolated together on a sort of fantastic mission that neither of them actually understood. But they had understood the harsh and summary debriefing at Biometrics, the wild-eyed idiocy in the eyes of Addison Baine, the resigned disapproval in the eyes of Addison's father, who with a great
deal of actual sincerity did actually want to render the world another service. They understood the armed guards, the sly and ever-shifting smiles on the face of Linus Ampart. They understood the money they were issued for their services, and they understood the quick dismissal that had been given to them. "Get lost," Addison had said. "Don't ever breath a word of this to anyone. People will think you are crazy anyway, and we have ways of putting you in the same loony locker my old man is headed for." It came to this newly fused couple in a flash. Fat Juanita would become a laboratory rat. They had been instrumental in putting her into this danger. Whatever crimes she had committed in the past were to Nelson Grow, former DEA agent, only peccadilloes against the ridiculous anti-drug climate of a paranoid country. To Darla Schall, Juanita, whom they now called Sigrid, had done nothing to merit vivisection or whatever Addison Baine had been hinting at. And the flickering neon sign which read Fat Juanita's Burritos and Pizza, lighting up a patch of the jumbled and darkened riverbank landscape, had made the restaurant so much easier to find. As for Sigrid, she immediately sensed a reason to grant trust to these two visitors. She had ushered the few straggling customers out of her business and had listened patiently to everything the couple said. She added her own details too. Like the loss of her flight ability, no doubt following the parting hug of her one-time protector, the Norwegian,
who was certainly not protecting her any further, especially on a garbage-strewn river landing in Kentucky. "They'll probably cut you up and throw away the pieces," said Neston Grow, gripping Darla's hand as he had upon first entry. "They are insatiable and venal savages, these corporate types." Darla shook her head in sullen agreement. Juanita either needed to protect herself or leave the area entirely and disappear. Grow made it known that he still carried a revolver, but he knew that Addison would bring a posse and that he alone might not be able to defend Sigrid. "I used to be a pretty good shot," he said jokingly, trying to break the tension. It didn't work. Sigrid Gudrun had already begun to fear for her life. And as it turned out, Neston Grow was right. One of the first things that one of Addison Baine's hired thugs did was disarm him after the foursome had pre-emptorily broken through the locked front door. "You can do anything you want," growled the other black man at Addison, "except kill her. We are not in this for murder. Understand?" Both black men positioned themselves and their weapons in such a way as to threaten anyone who might try to interrupt their mission or worse kill Fat Juanita. Addison, with his party in control of the situation, seemed pleased at this remark. He patted the leather-bound syringe case he had pulled along with him from the van. "Gotcha, Malcolm," he said. "Just
hold the bitch down for me. Hold her down on the counter." "What in the fuck are you going to do?" shouted Linus Ampart at his raving mad boss. "Blood isn't the answer." The black attendants did, however, comply. "A loss of a little blood ain't gonna kill no one," said one. "Let him do his thing, and then let's get the fuck out of here." Addison Baine plunged the needle into an exposed vein on Sigrid Gudrun's outstretched forearm, extracting a full chamber of dark blood. Without much prologue, he jabbed the syringe into his own wrist and depressed the plunger. His eyes became even more crazed and glassy than before. His last words were: "I'm going to fly!" And he did. Against all biological and scientific reason, he flew. It took him a minute or two, and during this time he collapsed on his back onto the derelict tile of the seedy restaurant floor. But then, without warning, his supine body flung itself vertically into the air with such a velocity that he smashed flatly into the plaster of the ceiling, spurting blood from his nose and mouth. The others looked on in awe as a full grown man, portly and middle aged, remained glued to the ceiling. No one made a move.
The surge of Addison's swift ascension and the wet sounds of his face and stomach scraping the ceiling filled the air. He had more than defied gravity; he had negated it, and some force known to only a few drove him into the ceiling with an irrepressible might. His words spoken through a ruined mouth into the plaster above him were desperate but unintelligible. Blood dripped as he tried to articulate. He was no doubt calling for help that never came. The black hooligans he had brought with him had by this time run out of the open door and vanished. Linus Ampart was suffering some sort of seizure and panting heavily as he bent over the counter and audibly vomited. Darla Schall stared but did nothing. She was frozen in terror. It was Neston Grow who acted. Leaping up on a long bench directly under Addison's body, he grasped the fabric of the man's trousers and with a burst of furious energy, dragged him in one bloody trace the short distance from where he was smashed into the ceiling to the open door. In a final burst of sudden hormonal energy, Grow pushed the babbling face out of the door. The wrecked body beneath it followed, and Neston, dripping with cold perspiration, watched the past and present CEO of Biometrics, Inc. rush upward into the clammy riverside night sky until, after several far off bumps and thuds, Addison Baine disappeared totally from sight. It was days later when the Boone County Sheriff's Department found
the mangled corpse of a man dressed in an expensive Colmar leisure suit wedged into the upper branches of an gigantic oak that had probably started growing long before the riverside settlements along the Ohio had even been foreseen by white men. And it was after this that Neston Grow and Darla Schall disappeared together. Some said they went to Canada. Others said Delaware. The only thing that was certain was that they had left and probably still were together. And Sigrid Gudrun? She vanished too. No one knows exactly where, but it was rumored widely near the ferry landing that she had a place where no one else could reach her. Few knew that the place was accessed behind a large wardrobe in her spare room. And even fewer knew that it was entirely possible that she had encountered in that arcane location the very person who had once encouraged her to find it. But stories of Joey Leguay are legion and most often probably not totally true. ___________________________ Devon Pitlor --- June, 2013 /#/#/#~***
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