The Proud Fascist


Ethan Vulerummer could hardly wait to see the report titled, The Ratio Of Productivity To Consumer Spending. Not that he cared much about its content. Along with his six colleagues they would decide how many hundredths-of-a-percent to move the stick forward for the coming fiscal year. No, what he was anticipating was the presentation itself. The previous year that man Carroll had brought down the room with his hilarious video. The Seven Lions of Private Control had never laughed so hard during one of their semi-annual meetings. It put them in great spirits for “The Bunny Hunt” later that night. The video showed rows of C & B Class workers on stationary bicycles peddled by people in shirt-and -tie; people in hard hats; mail carriers—even sex workers. In one scene from the presentation a hand pushed an accelerator lever forward and caused the workers to peddle faster and faster as a large screen TV in front of them displayed an orchard of fruit trees hung with various consumer products growing larger as they worked. When the lever came a bit to far forward, one of the stationary bike peddlers keeled over and a big robotic claw reached in, grabbed the worker, and brought her to a window where another robotic appendage—this one made to look like a leg—booted the slacker high in the sky; all the way out of the area and into a rural unprotected zone. The keeled-over, booted-out worker landed right in the middle of a pack of wild lions and was devoured. Above the floor level, circling the workers, sat A Class executives. Each had a little table with a faucet and a large soup bowl. As the workers peddled faster, a flow of what looked like liquid gold would increase as the stream filled up the bowl. At the highest level in the room sat a panel made up of The Seven Lions themselves. They had even larger bowels. That man who made the video—Carroll—had made the stream of liquid gold brighter and more alluring then what the executives were getting. The Lions had been smitten by the video and Vulerummer instantly gave Carroll the coveted assignment of creating the new lower C Class Compensation ads. And he had nuked that task too. Most of the stuff was functionary and ho-hum. The different compensation companies with different mixes of food choices, hours on the subway sleepers, Sunday porn or church room accommodations, Saturday body maintenance opportunities, “eternal rest slots” in one of the various retirement towers—all the C Class necessities. What Carroll had come up with in addition to this was the new organ donor program. Approved C Class workers could elect to give up their hearts and livers in exchange for a retirement package that included a guaranteed spot at University for one of their children along with four nights a week in a private room for their families. Plus, a double-size 12 inch slot at one of burial towers. He tried it out first with one of the smaller compensation companies running ads on the sleeper subways just after porn or daily prayer hour--right before “lights out”. The commercial showed a worker slumbering peacefully with a smile on his face lying on a bed of fluffy clouds. His family stood by at his internment in one of the premium view alcoves at a burial tower gazing proudly at the double-size, 12 inch slot center-placed among the others with a name stripe engraved in industrial-grade gold . A religious official gives final blessing and the tearful son steps up and says, “My father was a hero who gave all for his family. I will attend University, work my way to A Class status and build a seven acre paradise custom home for my family. My father’s picture will be placed in the large entry and all will remember him as a great man!”. Vulerummer and the other Lions were stunned when they saw it for the first time. They had it product tested. It was an audience knock-out with a twenty percent favorable rating in the lower C Class. And that was before they began to promote it with appearances by company PR people on the Lou Glen Show. All they had to do now was get the religious leaders on board. Since The Seven Lions had them fully leveraged, it wouldn’t be a problem. It was predicted that fresh hearts and livers for A’s and special B’s

would rise over 50 percent the first year after the various governments rubberstamped the new policy into law. That man Carroll was a marketing genius and maybe even a future Lion himself. More available replacement hearts and livers would provide The Seven Lions and the A Class executives even greater control over the B Class, who were always clamoring for more, more, more. With only one A Class position available for every ten B Class successes, these people needed to see extra perks. There were always movements afoot in the B Class to vote in greater reform. The Seven Lions even promoted some dissention just to keep the illusion of Democracy intact. But the special “shift circuits” placed in voting machines years earlier made it so they didn’t have to worry much about political movements outside their control. They still allowed some vigorous debate, but they had Private Control Mechanisms or PCM’s all throughout the different countries now. Ethan Vulerummer had accomplished a great deal in the ten years he had been at the helm of The Seven Lions of Private Control. No man since the British Lord Rashling had accomplished as much. For Vulerummer, Rashling had been his childhood hero even though, at the end of the Second Great War, the Labor Party in London had set him up and he was stomped to death in the football stadium by an angry crowd. Following that, it had taken an entire generation almost for the Fascists to reinvent themselves. But no man in history had accomplished the kind of change that Rashling brought. In the midst of The Final War, he had exterminated 6 million Arabs, 10 million Asians, 5 million Indians, 12 million Latinos, 3 million Africans and every Eskimo in Alaska! Plus, over 70 million males worldwide had been secretly sterilized with a widely advertised sex drug called Stiff. In Vulerummer’s view, eighteen-hundred years after Lord Cristo had laid down before the wild lions in the GrecoRoman Collasium, His gentle vision of world peace had mostly been realized by muscular men like Rashling and leaders of the post-war collusions who mapped out the various spheres of political influence world-wide. The United Nations now had nuclear devices planted in 100 locations on earth and a commanding protocol that allowed twelve full trials for offending countries and a complete evacuation plan that meant only property would be destroyed if a “national death sentence” were to be carried out. And such a thing had never occurred. Mankind had thrown in the towel on war. Early in the century, leaders had undertaken a huge plan to centralize populations around the major cities and leave outlying areas as preserves for wild lion which were bred in huge numbers to help control expansion into the privately-held lands. Tens of thousands of years before, the large cats had killed off the chimpanzee and evolved a taste for the great apes. Human beings had largely vanquished the wild lions as a result, but then brought them back to use as the ultimate PCM. Farming, hunting and all recreational use of the wilderness was corporatized and controlled by private security firms and the widely-seeded predator cats. Economic opportunity itself gradually became deeply stratified in most places. The choice for average people throughout the earth slowly became: except the corporate plan with limited government influence, or go out to the wilderness and take your chances with the lions and security officers. There was upward mobility throughout the classes, but corruption had risen in line with the diminished populations and rationale for wars. Some called this period, “the great age of Capitalism”, others called it “the great age of cheap-jack con”. Rather then being controlled by armies, the people were now controlled by the television. For Ethan Vulerummer, it was just a great time to be alive! Especially when you were chairman of the Seven Lions of Private Control. He had gained the position after convincing the other members that his predecessor had to go; that the man had become, “soft on world security”. So during The Lion’s “bunny hunt of 1799”, they brought knives to the party and finished him off, “The Roman Way”, stabbing him over two hundred times. The problem with the previous chairman was his unwillingness to expand intelligence capabilities and agree to testing of new viruses on homosexuals. Plus, he didn’t believe in torture. Vulerummer convinced the other board members they were in danger of being absorbed back into the ranks of the mainstream A Class where Democracy was favored more then Fascism. He felt there must be men such as Lord Rashling with power to “fine tune the gene pool” and provide a stricter control over populations. Ethan had won and had been winning ever since. And now as he enjoyed a glass of his favorite gin, he thought about “the bunny hunt” later that night. The Seven Lions had gone over two full catalogs of Gloria’s Girls to narrow the field down to seven. The rules never changed for “The Bunny Hunt”. If any of girls managed to evade The Lions long enough to find the hidden passage out of the thickly landscaped, five-acre atrium where the hunt was conducted, they would be given a huge bonus and be promoted. If not, they would have to settle for the raw pleasure The Lions provided them . Ever since the ouster of the previous chairman, The Seven Lions would conduct the hunt wearing only jockstraps to prevent secret concealment of weapons. There was always a big argument about what attire—if any—the girls would be allowed. As The Lions all came from different regions on earth, they had different tastes. Vulerummer— the only American on the board—liked to have the girls dressed in actual, skimpy bunny customs complete with fluffy tails and ears.

Big-E White’s Last Lion Head

Big-E sure looked intense. He didn’t see Maxim coming up the lawn toward his training area at the back of the property. He was all involved in his footwork exercises. Stepping forward, backwards, cross-stepping, whirling about—doing all the moves taught to him as a child by his martial arts instructor. The basic routine. As he approached he saw Big-E suddenly surge toward the dummy head stand, smack the target with his baton, take a quick back step—then lunge at it with a snapping sweep of his opposite arm. He could tell right off that Big-E wasn’t working out with a standard 12” blade. He had sliced at the target with something a bit larger. That was odd—just like Big-E not noticing him walking up on him was odd. He sure looked intense; withdrawn into himself. On the target stand, the dummy head had flipped backwards when struck with the large blade. The face of it now pointed skyward. Big-E White, the world’s number one Lion Fighter, had failed yet again to cut it clean off. And this time with a 16” blade he personally sharpened with a file for an hour before he began his workout. He sighed. Then he looked up and saw The Man walking up the lawn. That really startled him and again he sighed. Lion-Fighters were never to lose awareness of the field—attention had to sit gently on that edge between their own subtle nervous system and the 360 degrees of outer phenomena around them. His brother-in-law Maxim Le Muffett had come up the lawn a full fifty yards without him seeing. He’d catch shit for that! Even on a crowded street it wasn’t like one could miss Maxim. He was 6’8” with a shiny titanium prosthetic leg peeking strategically out a wide slit cut into the slacks he wore. The edges of the slit were hemmed and fixed in a way that allowed elegant exposure of seven two-caret jewels encrusted in the leg. The diamond, opal, amethyst, ruby, emerald and blue and black sapphires were positively shimmering in the midday sunlight as he moved. A blind man could’ve spotted him coming. Big-E had sunken halfway into a trance as he worked out. Now Maxim came upon him with a big smile mixed slightly with a puzzled look. “My Oafie”. Maxim greeted his brother-in-law. The two men grabbed each others’ right hands with their own and locked onto each others biceps with their left hands. That was the way the fraternity of Lion Fighters had greeted each other for fifty years. They’d go eyeball to eyeball and try and make the other flinch or grimace a bit by squeezing his arm. “So you come in early?” Big-E said, hoping to delay the inquiry that Maxim would soon put forth. “Yeah, flew into L.A. early and drove up. Got here and Coco say, “you better go out and see what’s up with Big-E. He’s been acting funny lately. So I come walking up and see you all sunk into your little world out here. What’s going on?” It wasn’t hard for Big-E to have predicted that. He’d seen the puzzled look on her face lately and had been brushing off her own inquiries into his sudden change of behavior. Nothing was up, he told Maxim. He was just into a deep training mode getting ready for next season. Coco always dispatched one her of four brothers to get information about what he was thinking. Maxim began very slowly. He had to be real smooth with Big-E White. Big-E had an ego even bigger then he himself had when he was at the top of the sport—back before the Lion got his leg. His sister Coco was becoming very concerned. Women who hooked up with Lion-Fighters became very sensitive to even small changes in their men. With four brothers, Coco knew men better then most. In his slow and easy baritone, Maxim poured out the right words. “Oafie, you always in a training mode. That why you Big-E White and everybody else is just a punk. But Coco say you gone a little over the edge”.

Big-E had his cover story prepared well. “Listen Oafie, it ain’t nothing. I’m just working extra hard ‘cause next season gonna be my last. I’m hanging up the bat & blade. But see, I only got the knock-out record by ten and I gotta pad my lead over Luani. He’s got maybe three more years and I don’t want to make it easy for him to take my crown.” “Wait…wait…!” Maxim raised his hand. He was at a loss of words following that gush of revelation. He quickly gathered it in and sorted the underlying meaning. Then he decided he would test Big-E. “Oafie, you gonna quit? Why you wanna quit so young fo? You only thirty-five?. Big-E just shrugged. Then he smiled and added, “I’m doing it for you oafy! You already to old to be in there with Lions”. He knew his own retirement would bring about the end of Maxim’s career. Fact is, everybody knew that the only reason why Maxim had gone the last two seasons was to be there with BigE and his brothers as they continued to dominate the sport. “I’m just a spearman. I can do that for ten more years.” Big-E let out an involuntary spasm of laughter hearing Maxim’s little description of himself as “just a spearman”. That was like hearing the great Latin American golfer Tigre Nikola refer to himself as “a pretty good club pro”. Maxim Le Muffett had killed more lion in fair competition then any man ever had. He had reached the all-time top ten in lion head knockouts in his first 7 years. He was in the top twenty all-time for slit lion throats. All before the age of 26; before he met his match out on a plain up in Canada. On that day—which fans of the sport called “the Saddest Day In Lion-Fighting History”—Maxim had squared off on flat ground against the Canadian Tall now thought of as “The Greatest Lion of All-Time”. With the usual world-wide audience watching the intensely gripping and highly competitive battle on pay -per-view TV, the lion had ducked out of a hard pinwheel upper-cut swing of Maxim’s bat. With the Lion-Fighter off balance, the giant cat had pounced and knocked Maxim down and would have pinned an ordinary competitor for a throat kill. But the agile, powerful young Lion-Fighter slit its throat first. With the last of its adrenalin surging, the beast was able to lock its paws into Maxim’s right leg. Its nails sunk hard into the flesh before two spearmen arrived and pierced its chest from different directions and sapped its remaining strength. Under normal circumstances, both Lion and Lion-Fighter would have simply bled to death together in a heap on that Canadian plain. And that would’ve been “all fair” since each had willfully engaged the other. But world-class professional Lion-Fighters like Maxim Le Muffett have medi-vac helicopters on standby. Maxim was taken to doctors, who saved his life but had to amputate the leg at the thigh. The Greatest Lion of All-Time had its heart cut out by Maxim’s crew—a tradition—and it was auctioned off to a group of A Class Japanese businessmen for $75,000 dollars. In the year following his defeat, Maxim began to drink and live out on the fringe in Northern California. He stumbled around drunk on a plastic prosthetic leg and mixed into the seedy world inhabited by old, partially-eaten Lion-Fighters and the tourists who bought them drinks and had their pictures taken with the men. Some of them would get together with the young newbie’s trying to break into the sport and form into crews. They’d go out and fight with packs of “fringe lion”—the smaller breed that populated the rural outskirts of the cities looking to feed on stray dogs and the C class fallout people who lived in the tent cities. The fringe was a sad, crazy, violent place of deep bitterness and general mental disorder. It took Coco and the brothers—and all their friends—months to pull Maxim out of there. He finally began to train again—this time as a spearman. A year later he returned to the sport with his brothers along side the new sensation Big-E White, the youngest son of old Buster White, who had been a top Lion-Fighter back in the day. When Maxim returned, he was wearing his now famous titanium leg with seven encrusted jewels. He was on the cover of Sports Photo-Journalism and all over world media. In the ten years that followed, he collected more single-spear lion hearts then any man before him. Big-E would bat the lion’s head, slash their throats and Maxim would pierce their hearts while the other three Le Muffett brothers drove out the rest of the lion with razor-tipped spears equipped with laser eye-blind technology. Together they had captured the World Cup for ten years running. In living rooms and sports bars throughout the world people would chant: “Out in three with Max & Big-E!”. They had posted so many “single-triples” as it was called in the sport, that it was widely ac-

cepted that no other team would ever break the Le Muffett record. In the sports world, they were considered even greater then the 1717 Giantsox in baseball. And now Maxim considered the end of it all. The retirement of Big-E White would close the entire era in Lion-Fighting. Samoan Luani and his All-Asia Team would clean up everything that was left until some of the new guys began to catch the public fancy. “Well” Maxim muttered, “I guess it’s like the Indian poet Hari said, ‘all things must pass’”. Big-E nodded quietly. Then Maxim posed his next question. “This have anything to do with the Little B Incident?” He asked this cautiously. He was still a little nervous about bringing the subject up. Little B was Coco’s little poodle dog that had been with them that day. Big-E White winced and his brother-in-law studied him with a pained looked of his own. “You sure there are no copies of that tape?” He frantically asked Maxim. It was a thought from deep down that bothered him for weeks. “Come on Big-E. We all oafies. Nobody in the crew would’ve done anything but kill that record of what went down out there.” It had happened in the final match of the previous season and the two men hadn’t really talked in depth about it since. As the Le Muffett team had wrapped up their tenth-straight World Cup two matches before, there was no live pay-per-view broadcast. It was to be shown tape delay on a later date. When they didn’t turn the backup drive into the league office—citing technical equipment failure—the match was called a Lion Victory. It was only the second loss on their ten-year record which also included four draws. Gossip swirled that they hadn’t even done the lion fight. Some stories circulated that Big-E had been mauled. He had to go on the news live at the beach wearing only Tight &Tiny shorts to dispel that one. Other stories went around that Maxim was drinking again and it had caused them to forfeit the last match. That story had been harder to put down. Maxim had to go on all the sports shows and explain that it was just a case of a failed backup drive and nothing more. He told people it had been a regular match—just another “punk lion” who got smashed, slashed and speared by him, Big-E and the boys. Nothing more, or less. But for the Le Muffett crew it had been the match they would never forget. One they now referred to as “the Little B Incident”. With footage of the event destroyed nobody would ever believe such a thing. It was too strange. For the first time in twelve years of professional Lion-Fighting, Big-E White had lost his balance in the middle of a “death zone”. He’d jumped down to a flat piece of granite to drop a gravity-aided, over-hand pinwheel smack to the Lion’s head. Big-E was already planning to flip around onto its back and slit the beast’s throat when it froze up after the hit. But he slipped on the granite coming down and did the splits. The lion swung and knocked him five feet into a corner and then just hovered above him for a long moment with what Big-E called, “smiling eyes”. He told everyone; “it’s the same kind of smiling eyes we all get when Coco brings a big platter of her famous lion heart fajitas into the room”,. The lion had all of the leverage. Big-E White knew he was a dead man. It was his throat that was going to be laid into! Then suddenly the lion’s eyes stopped glittering and rolled up toward the top of its sockets. It let out a wild roar and careened forward on top of Big-E. Blood began to puddle from underneath as it turned off him onto it’s back. He pounded its chest with his blade. Then he saw what had happened— just why the lion had collapsed and the puddle of blood came spilling out from underneath. One of the lion’s testicles had been savagely ripped off! He looked up and saw Little B, thirty feet down the trail trotting off with his little butt wiggling. The other lions quickly fled and the crew coalesced around Big-E. He blurted out what had happened and what he had seen. When the men came upon Little B, Coco’s tiny poodle dog was sitting off in a patch of shade around some flat ground rock. He was picking away at the last of the lion testicule—just like he would at home, surrounding the crystal plate with a mound of Poodle Feast Coco always served him on his little mat in the kitchen. He looked up at the men with the same sweet, innocent look that was always on his face. The only difference was that the fur around his mouth was stained with the lion’s blood. “Then he decide to fall asleep on my lap for four hours as we driving back!” said Maxim. He pointed his chin down and slowly shook his head. “And…his little belly all puffed up with the lion nut.”

Big-E, who had driven them in the van back, laughed. He hadn’t heard that. But Maxim didn’t think of it as funny. He now regarded Coco’s dog as “freakish”. While they waited for Little B to be cleaned up at the Poodle Parlor he had told Big-E and his brothers that they should just get rid of him and tell Coco he got snagged by a coyote. The crew erupted as one in protest. “He saved Big-E’s life Max!” said Ronnie, the youngest of the Le Muffett siblings. “And he most likely saved a couple mo of us as well. We was getting whacked by them cats, Oafie!” He couldn’t believe his oldest brother had said what he said. Maxim made his case to them in a clenched voice he held just above a whisper: “Do you want yo kids around that dog? You know how the little ones be pulling on his tail. He gonna turn on one. Ronnie, you wanna give that dog a chance to chew your boy’s nuts off?” Once again they all protested, saying that Little B was part of the family. “He was just protectin’ Big-E”, Ronnie said emphatically. “He only gonna protect the kids if he get a chance…if you don’t have him whacked!” With that Maxim had flicked out both his hands in an annoyed gesture of resignation. He could feel the wave of disgust rising up against him. “U’all do what you want” he said as a last word. “I’m keepin’ my kids away from Little B!” “Yeah, right” said Big-E. “And what are going to say to Coco?” Maxim thought for a moment as a different question had come into his mind. “The real question is, how are we gonna stop Randi from spreading the story to Robert? He tell Coco everything!” That was the real problem for the Le Muffett crew. They had had to bring Little B to Randi at his Poodle Parlor salon. They hadn’t yet thought about how to acquire his confidentiality. Robert was Coco’s personal assistant. Randi and him had become involved in a torrent love affair and were on the verge entering first level marriage. Randi had Little B cleaned, freshly clipped, and slightly scented with the “hint of jasmine” perfume that Coco always loved. He brought him out to the crew of Lion-Fighters, holding him close and with a raised eyebrow. “I would like to hear the story now Big-E”, he said almost parentally. When first presented with the blood stained-poodle dog, he had gathered him up in his arms and swept him away into his work area without a word. Big-E was considered to be among the greatest of bullshiters. He’d picked this up from his dad old Buster—who could spin a tale faster then a birthday clown balloon artist could have a group of kids smiling at his fresh creations. For years, Buster had been in great demand as a Lion Fighting color commentator before receiving a lifetime ban for saying a little too much on the air one day. After pondering the situation for a moment, Big-E decided the truth would be the best story in this particular situation. “Randi, you’re not really into Lion-fighting are you?” “No Big-E, I certainly am not. I’ll tell you straight up that I think it’s gruesome.” “…And that’s cool. About half the world feels that way. It’s a lot like boxing or football, not everybody appreciates it.” “Or Bullfighting” added Maxim thoughtfully with the special gravitas he brought to conversations of this type where Big-E and him had to work someone like this. “I’d say it’s worst then all three of them put together” replied Randi. He didn’t feel it was really possible to overstate just how gruesome a sport Lion-Fighting was. But he also understood this most violent of maleoriented athletics was still better then warfare between men. He was among those progressives who held that Lion-Fighting provided something of a supplement to male violence in these decades following The Last War. “I don’t judge you guys”, Randi said. “But just how did Little B get involved?” Big-E continued his explanation as the Le Muffett brothers stood by ready to back up anything he might say that didn’t sound completely stupid. He explained to Randi that this had been the final match of the season and that it had been a “throw away” or victory lap for them. Nobody—the league included—expected much in the way of Real Lion-Fighting action. Cost-saving was their main objective in something like this. Plus, they didn’t want to go up again any A-list cats for such a match. The league didn’t care what type of lions they matched up with as long as they were legal size—which basically meant no fringe lion. So they’d gone down south into eastern San Diego County where plenty of run-of-the-mill California Tall’s roamed. That type of Lion wasn’t always easy to engage. There were plenty of wild cattle down there and even bison. Some lions had such a deeply nested taste for great ape they couldn’t help but engage a pack of men—whether they were Lion-Fighters, or wilderness rangers with guns. Human meat usually drove lions crazy. It was like eating bacon or honey-baked ham for them. The California Tall’s however were a little dif-

ferent. They were fairly mellow by Tall Lion standards and generally went after calves or young coyote. They seemed to prefer smaller animals. What the Le Muffett crew had learned over time was that this type of lion was especially drawn to canine puppies. It was like a gourmand treat for them. And they really went wild if you tied a little pork chop around the puppy’s neck. “Oh my God Big-E, you used Little B as bait? Did you put a piece of meat on him? Oh my God…I knew I smelled something very strange on top of his neck.” Maxim interjected a comment that he hoped would take the brutal edge off of all of this for Randi. “We will usually get expensive pet-store puppies. We never use rescue dogs.” Randi glanced quizzically at him for a moment. Second-youngest brother Bill added that the puppies were never injured and that they all were given to good homes on the way home after a match. “Always?” Randi asked hopefully. The LeMuffett team nodded variously and said “oh yeah” in chorus, as each member tried not to think about that one 3 month old Golden Retriever. Big-E continued. “The problem with puppies is that they have to be tied to a stake.” “And they whimper a lot” said Maxim. “When we do these matches for tape delay we need to produce an a-toz, real-time document of the fight. We don’t get to do a lot of editing. And it’s really hard to keep the puppy whimpering off the record.” Randi understood what they was getting at. He knew Little B better then anyone except perhaps Coco herself. He had trained Little B as a puppy. The loveable little pet lived with him whenever she was away and couldn’t take him. She wouldn’t think of leaving him with anyone else. Randi was one of the few people who knew that Little B almost never made any noise and would always stay right where you put him if you told him to stay. Randi now knew exactly why Little B would be the perfect lion bait. “So how did he get all that blood around his mouth? He doesn’t have a scratch on him.” When they told Randi the full story he was frowning and just shaking his head. “I can’t believe that!” he kept saying—looking at Little B and asking, “Is this true?”. When Maxim suggested almost frantically that the dog had a “demon sleeper” buried deep within him, Randi came to believe the story was likely to be fact. He could see Maxim was fully serious. Randi told Maxim that if what they said was truly the case, then it had only been out of loyalty and concern for them that Little B had suddenly changed character and attacked the lion. “Yeah, and now that’s what I’ve been saying” said Ronnie, looking over at his oldest brother. The rest of the crew—all except Maxim—voiced their agreement. Maxim just shook his head sadly at what looked to him like a pack of fools. It was clear to the rest of them that, “the greatest of lion fighters” was now truly threatened by his sister’s little poodle dog. But Maxim had seen it with his own eyes. Randi tried to reassure him. “Little B doesn’t possess a bad bone in his body, Max.” He kissed his beloved pet who responded by leaning back in his arms and licking Randi’s cheek.” “Anyway” he said. “I don’t think you have to worry about that story getting out. Nobody would ever believe it.” “But you’re going to tell Robert, aren’t you?” It was time for Big-E to get his non-disclosure agreement from Randi. “I tell Robert everything, Big-E. There are no secrets between us!” He said this almost ferociously. “And then he’s going to tell Coco and she’ll make my life a living hell! “ “It’ll likely end their six-level marriage agreement “ Maxim added, letting a look of supreme earnestness fall from his eyes onto Randi. Bill spoke up then. “And if that happen, you know Coco gonna get more then half of Big-E’s money!” That brought laughter to the whole crew. “Robert won’t say anything”, Randi said—and the curt, knowing manner in how he said it made all of them believe it. Later on the way back to Big-E and Coco’s seven acre paradise estate, it was Ronnie who held Little B. He liked the smell of the bit of jasmine perfume and would sniff him every once & awhile. Bill nudged him at one point and smiled slyly. “Hey Big-E. You really think Robert gonna keep the secret?” “I dunno,” he replied from up front in the driver’s seat. Bill said he knew he would because Randi was going to make him. “Who you think control the booty in that relationship?” he asked. They all laughed then nodded. “I think he will, you wanna know why?” Bill was giggling and making his brother giggle by sticking his elbow into his Ronnie’s ribs. Big-E said to tell him why he thought that. “’Cause Randi gonna tell him to be quiet. And you know who control the booty in that relationship!”

As they stood out in Big-E’s training area, Maxim reminded him of that joke and how damn funny that was. “And I think he was 100% correct. Coco didn’t find out.” “And never will!” Big-E said sharply. “That story staying’ just with the boys, oafy.” “Oh I know” Maxim replied. “At least until we get really old and don’t have no mo good stories to tell”. Big-E laughed. Seeing Maxim again made him feel more normal then he had for weeks. “I’ll see you later. I’m going back up to the house and check on the kids.” “You still worried that Little B might hurt one?” Maxim shook his head. He said that he already watched as his boys were pulling on his legs and front paws and tail. “And he just sat there like nothing until the girls came and rescued him. Just sat there like he always do, looking’ like some little teddy bear.” The two great Lion-Fighters squeezed each others’ biceps and Maxim headed back up to the house. Big-E began to clean-up after his workout. He took the target stands apart and carried them into the shed. The 16” blade and his practice baton were taken to his shop and put into their place on the weapons wall. He vacuumed up the filings and dust on his workbench he had made earlier trying to perfectly edge the blade. Then he went to the refrigerator, got himself a bottle of Big-E’s DRINK , and refreshed himself as he sat down on the little patio outside his weight room gazing out at the wilderness behind his seven-acre property. He instinctively searched the landscape for signs of lion even though he knew that the Santa Barbara County Rangers regularly, and effectively combed this area and made it uninhabitable for the Coastal California Tall’s that dominated the wild lands further to the east. He didn’t keep any guns on the property for those rare occasions when lions came in close. His pride as a Lion-Fighter prohibited that. He kept a state-of-the-art cross-bow that loaded and cocked itself automatically in a-half-a-second after firing. They were tipped with deeply powerful tranquilizer that was pressure injected at impact. He had Coco practice with the weapon too even though she always protested when he made her. Big-E sniffed the gust of wind that suddenly filled the porch. The Autumnal Equinox was here. The start of winter was three months off. The following Spring was six months away. He wasn’t sure when he would get the call that things were ready to go down. Sometime between the first of winter and the first of spring. That’s what they had told him. And he couldn’t talk about it with Maxim or anyone else. The plan hatched by World Security Intelligence was comprehensive and utterly audacious. They were planning to eradicate the final enclaves of The Fascists in one big swoop. Big-E still didn’t fully understand why they had drafted him to play a role in this. But many others were secretly being drafted as well. He checked the time on his phone. He couldn’t stay out there for too long. The party guests would begin to come in a few hours and he had to get ready. Coco was making him wear a suit for the occasion. He didn’t like the way he looked in a suit but it was her big day so he agreed. He finished his drink and climbed down to his little mat on the floor of the patio and propped his back up against the wall. He tucked in his legs, straightened his back and watched the energy go up his spine. He let everything go out of his mind until a bit of The Light broke through and refreshed him. The space behind his property stretched out for hundreds of miles. Beyond the Gonzales National Forest was the great western desert. That’s where the Mohave Tall’s ruled the land. Big-E could never figure out why the big cats had chosen to expand into such an environment. After The Great Financial Collapse of 1718 and the onset of The Great Depression, the conservation corps began their rapid lion breeding program—the RLBP—and seeded the wilderness areas of Northern America with Amazonia Tall’s—the native large cat of the hemisphere. Southern California’s mountain areas were set up with over ten-thousand lion and enough deer to feed them and spawn a perennial biological relationship. This had all been mapped out earlier in the seminal Methods of Continuation and Possible Origins of the Species by Charles Darwhipher in a chapter on Biosphere Species Injection. But more then half of the original Amazonian Tall’s chose the desert areas where the Big-Horn Sheep were far less plentiful then the game in the higher areas. Some people, like Big-E, felt the lions had caught by a desert mirage and were following it in some harmony with a genetic program born in Amazonia

World-wide—ecologists had been employed to make sure the job was done correctly and the lions were strategically placed. It worked out well in Canada and the US and many other places, but from Mexico on down to South America the breeding and placement had been done so poorly that it caused a human and ecological disaster. The corporatization of those lands had been done on the cheap. The Fascists decided rather then supply game for the lions and educational opportunity for the Native people, it was far more cost-effective to just let the new abundance of lion feed off of the people themselves! Private control of land—after all —what the mass introduction of lion was all about. This of course caused great upheaval among the native born people. Between the lion disaster and the biological war launched by the mad British Lord Rashling as an answer to the rebellion, million of Latinos and Native Born People were killed. This had all taken place with the rise of The Last War in the 30’s. Now, all people could think about was expanding into the wild lands. A Class executives from the progressive Democratic wing were sounding the charge. The Fascists stalled, wanting a more conservative approach that would ensure them and their legions the highest possible personal profit during the expansion. They used every dirty trick in the book to ensure their positions. But the tide was turning and as Big-E’s contact in World Security had emphasized, “The Fascists are completely oblivious to what’s coming”. Target One was none other then the chairman of V Corp himself, Ethan Vulerummer! Big-E knew the special role World Security had given him would make it very hard to continue his career in Lion-Fighting. Many Lion-Fighting fans had been brainwashed with Fascist rhetoric and manipulated like small children—even educated B Class people. He didn’t really care about that. He had accomplished more then he could’ve ever expected and was ready to quit. He held the all-time batted lion head knockout record , had plenty of money and property, and was ready to take up golf and begin a whole new level of training. He always let those who didn’t follow the sport know that it was Maxim who made the batted lionhead record possible. Even with one good leg he was a magic man. His sheer presence in the field seemed to disconcert the lions. It was like he drew part of their energy. He didn’t even use the laser eye blinder on his spear to break a lion’s fearsome gaze but just stared at them with his own eyes. Maxim could be ten or twenty yards away driving off a secondary lion and still let out one of his piercing screams. That would effect the attention of the main alpha male Big-E was matched up against and in that moment he would bat its head and knock it silly. Then he would try and get its throat slit before Maxim bounded over and pierced its heart with a single, accurate thrust of his razor-tipped spear. Big-E would’ve held all of the lion slit-throat records as well if Maxim would’ve been just a little less aggressive in terms of scoring points. Coco would always chide her brother saying, “Maxi, please don’t ruin the lion heart today. You know what they worth!” Intact, championship lion hearts were sometimes worth almost half of what you could get for a pay-per-view main alpha male lion-head. Lion-Fighters made good money off “championship parts” as they were called. Maxim would just laugh at his little sister and say, “girl, all you ever think about is money, money, and more money!” And it was true. Coco Le Muffett was every bit as aggressive in business as her brothers were in sports. Coco’s retort on one occasion was; “and all you care about is running up your personal stats! How come you never save anything for your brothers?” They had all been together that day and Maxim heard this and rumbled with laughter. “I tried to save a spear shot a while back fo Bill…but I think he need glasses or something. He missed the chest altogether and ended up sticking the spear right up the Lion’s ass and left him mutilated and made as hell!” Even Coco had laughed at that. But thoughts of Lion-Fighting would not on the schedule today for her. Today was the sixth-year party of her marriage contract with Big-E. The following year would bring the full celebration of traditional marriage and be an even bigger event. But today’s party would set the stage for that and promised to be quite a day.

Coco’s Big Day
Maxim had told Coco the news in a lowered voice. “You didn’t hear it from me! He’ll tell you himself…aw…if it’s true”. He said this last part with an exaggerated shrug as if he didn’t quite believe what Big-E had told him in the previous hour. But Max knew it was true and relayed this to his little sister. All of them were coming down to their final season in the Lion-fighting sport. And the intensity Big-E displayed as Maxim walked up to him out back suggested it would be a very bad year for the alpha-male lions that happened to cross paths with the Le Muffett battalier. He wanted to tell Coco the news because this was a special day for her and it would make her shine even brighter. Plus, with Big-E, the task of telling her could easily go for days and days as he mulled it over. When her brother left her room, Coco instinctively grabbed her dog Little B who was lying on her bed as she got ready for the party. “Oh baby we finally gonna to get out of this nasty lion-fighting business”. She repeatedly kissed him on the top of his head and he made a faint little “aw” sound as she held him close. Little B was a “Mama’s dog”. He seemed to enter a high state of tranquility whenever Coco held him. She gave him one last, big kiss and laid him back down where he had been. She had to finish getting ready. Across the house, she could make out the sound of her second oldest brother Merle as he arrived with Betty-Ann and the kids. The whole family would be there soon. Except for Coco’s dad. The father of the four brother and one sister was Claude Le Muffett, the late French Lion-fighter and building contractor. He had didactically named his first two boys Maxim and Merlin and called them Max and Merle for short. When they were little kids, he developed some coded vocabulary for managing the two. When the oldest boy was running around out of control Claude would say, “Merlin! Go get Max”. When the younger boy was off wandering around he would say, “Maxim! Go find Merle”. Born only a year apart, he decided to give each boy an equal chance to become the alpha male. Use of code words and expressions was his method of helping them sort this out. By the ages of three and four their personalities moved in distinctive directions. Maxim began to show all of the signs of being great while Merle became his opposite. Merle was slower in everything and Claude took him aside one day and told his second son that he had to always look out for Max—that Max was wild and needed him to always make sure he stayed out of trouble. Merle promised his daddy that he would always look out for Max and take care of him. Claude had brought Max, Merle and their sister Coco to Paris for three years in a row during the summer. He had business interests there. Along with his business partner and lover Jean D’Sole, a local designer, he revamped old buildings. And he was a professional Lion-fighter as well, acting as a spearman on a moderately successful French crew. The children’s mother Lynette remained at the family house in The Oak Land and was happy to get a break from Claude and the kids. Then one day when Coco was six, and the boys seventeen and eighteen, Claude Le Muffett had gone up to the third story of a building to talk to his work crew. He made a wrong turn and walked into the abyss—stepping out an open doorway into an area where a porch had just been removed. He died behind a high-pitched trailing scream of sound that his workers heard over the music of a radio that was playing. His youngest son Ronnie was still in the womb. In many ways, it was Merle who became the backbone of the Le Muffett family. And this despite what school teachers had called his “special needs”. He was slow and very quiet and people would often say out of earshot that he was slightly retarded. But nobody ever thought of saying such a thing if Lyn-

nette or Maxim were around. That wasn’t the way they thought. Merle wasn’t able to get much of his school work done but they passed him anyway. The school people just thought that because he had such a strong, supportive family, he would find a place in the lower C Class; perhaps as a janitor. Unlike his older brother who often frustrated the school people with his high energy and wild antics, Merle was easy to deal with. He would even help them contain Maxim and quiet him down, or go bring him in. Out in the huge front room of Big-E and Coco’s house Maxim was gathering up his nieces and nephews to take them out to be with his own twelve offspring. He didn’t bring any of the five mothers to events like this—just the kids. Merle’s one wife Betty-Ann was off to the kitchen to say hello to the women. For a moment, he was alone in the house’s huge front room that had been set up to stage the sixth-year celebration of Big-E and Coco’s marriage agreement. He sat down and looked at all of the tables and chairs that were in place. By counting them he would know how many people would be there for the dinner. He let his eyes roam around the room and sectioned off the chairs into sets of ten. As he did this a blank spot in his mind began to populated with numbers. After about two seconds, he had a final figure of 123 chairs. Then he wondered how many knives, forks, spoons, glasses and napkins were laid out with each of the three plates and one bowl for each table setting. 984 was the number that came instantly into his mind when he executed the equation. The last time he sat in the room he’d counted how many of the 2.5 square foot pavers were set into the floor. He remembered it had been 1127. It occurred to him that if you laid out one of the knives, forks, spoons, glasses, napkins, plates or bowls on each of the pavers that there would still be 143 pavers left. He looked over at the various vases of flowers to see if there were enough to cover each of the remaining spots. He couldn’t quite see all of the flowers but knew that there were more then enough for the job. Merle was going to count how many panes of glass were in the variety of French windows surrounding the room—he had forgotten. But then he heard a familiar voice coming from the entry and jumped to his feet. He hadn’t known that Dr. Ben was coming and it made him very happy that he was here. Everybody would be happy that Dr. Ben had decided to make the trip down from San Francisco Bay! It was Dr. Ben Akiyama that first got Merle interested in counting everything. He was the family dentist back when they were all growing up. Merle had told him one day that people said he was slow and not very smart. Akiyama was indignant. “No, those people are stupid. You’re very bright. Everyone learns at their own pace. How many ducks are here between my hands?” He had used his hands to section off a strip of wallpaper pasted up in front of the dental chair where Merle sat. The paper featured a staggered row of different types of ducks in several places amidst a scene with a pond and tall grasses. Merle could see five ducks between Dr. Ben’s hands that enclosed a single vertical strip of paper. He’d moved his hands to mark another section. “How many?” Merle saw another five. Akiyama went halfway around the room isolating each vertical strip of wallpaper as he counted. “10, 15, 20, 25…” Merle was impressed just how well and how fast Dr. Ben had counted all of the ducks. From that day forward he would count things everywhere he went, sectioning off the various numbers and tallying them up in his mind. At a busy burger grill he would count the patties, the buns, the cups in each stack that sat near the soda machine. He was constantly counting. He liked to count words on written pages, then try and reduce the count by getting rid of words that didn’t seem to need to be there. In science class once when a big poster of our solar system was unfurled, Merle enthusiastically shouted out the total number of planets and moons before the teacher could ask the children to count how many heavenly bodies were present. The more Merle practiced sectioning off things for counts and seeing the various patterns, the more he was able to use these skills in other areas. In History class he had no trouble aligning events with dates because as soon as he saw the chunks of dates, he could begin to make out the sequential forms in the particular history lesson. Today Merle liked to count up the total amount of rents he received from the compensation company for the many rooms he owned in The Oak Land’s lower C Class neighborhoods. At the top of each hour of each day, he would hear the imaginary sound of so many coins filling up a metal can. In his mind each coin represented a hundred dollars and he knew exactly what he had made in that hour and how

much it added to what he already had. Of course it was Lion-fighting that had allowed him to get those rooms he rented to the compensation company. And it was Dr. Ben Akiyama who had been instrumental in that as well. In addition to practicing dentistry, he also ran a small martial arts studio. When Claude and Lynette Le Muffett had seen how he had aided their second-youngest son, they enrolled both the boys in twice-a-week classes that quickly became five days a week. Merle proved to be quite athletic and Maxim—like something from out of this world. When Claude Le Muffett died in the construction accident, Dr. Ben became the surrogate father to the boys and also to Coco and the younger two. Merle was shaking his hand vigorously when Maxim came in and saw his mentor in the house. He rushed up to him. “Dr. Ben!” He hugged him and shook his hand, and gave the aging dentist a big bicep squeeze. “You got any power left in those paws, man?” Max and Merle were almost bursting with affection. They wanted to know why he had stayed in Japan for the last two years. “There’s a lot to see” replied Akiyama. “My wife is still there tending to her old mother. But I had to get back to California for a while”. “Oh, Dr, Ben…”. Coco was running across the house with tears in her eyes. “You did come!” She draped her arms all over his shoulders and took in the site of her “second daddy”. Now Lynette Le Muffett appeared with her three sisters and Merle’s wife Betty-Ann. They had a plate of sushi and a bottle of Afternoon Warrior beer imported from Japan. Dr. Ben greeted them all and couldn’t resist the opportunity to say something funny. “Say, is that tuna Sushi?” he said, pretending caution. There were big smiles all around and Coco blushed a little. Dr. Ben was subtly referring to the time, as a teenage girl, when she had made her first batch of sushi and wanted to try it out on Akiyama. She brought him four pieces of the pressed rice each covered with a strip of fresh tuna. But the third piece of sushi didn’t have a strip of tuna but a strip of lion heart made to look like it. Lion heart sushi was a quickly passing fashion at the time and Dr. Ben ate all four pieces. He was hungry and hadn’t been paying attention. He wolfed down all four pieces very quickly. But when told about the lion heart sushi, he became queasy for a while before he gave an inner command for his “stomach mind” to calm down and return to normal. Later he scolded Coco about playing “food tricks” on people. “No, this is all fresh tuna” Lynette assured him. “Nobody serving lion heart today! Only prime rib and lobster on the menu, so don’t you worry.” He smiled warmly. “Happy sixth, baby”. Akiyama gave Coco a squeeze and promised that Mrs. Akiyama would come with him the following year for the seventh-year gala event that would seal her marriage to Big-E White. “Well, we gonna have a lot of fun this year as well” promised Maxim. “Dr. Ben, did they tell you our oafy Samoan Luani showin’ up?” “You bet” replied Akiyama. “That’s another of the reasons I wanted to be here. I’m going to get a picture of the three of you. I can make a fortune selling them in Tokyo”. He said this with a gush of robust cheer—which was his personal style. But they all knew that if he were to really take any pictures of the three greatest Lion-fighters, that he would likely hand them out to the kids at what had now become an international chain of Akiyama Martial Arts Studios. His history as mentor of the Le Muffett crew brought The Oak Land dentist great name recognition. Following Maxim’s third, earth-shattering season in the sport, they launched the business. Later in the day, a portrait photographer was scheduled to take the official picture of Maxim Le Muffett, Big-E White, and Samoan Luani, but Dr. Ben had free reign to make his own photographs. Coco excused herself and went back to her room. Little B had dozed off on the bed but sat up when she rejoined the task of getting ready for the simple sixth-year ritual. It consisted of a simple toast and devotional words by her and Big-E that their marriage agreement was stronger then ever and both were ready to “drink up the seventh year cup” of their lives together. Knowing now that the next year would bring about the end of their involvement in Lion-fighting made her even more intent on proclaiming her love for her man to her family and friends. Coco loved big-E so much. She always had. She thought of him as her perfect man. She was 100% certain that he had never strayed during their six years together. That was remarkable considering how popular Big-E White had become. Crazy women were always sending him letters pro-

claiming their love for him. Some had become fixated on him—an unattainable desire that could never be realized. The center of the public eye was a strange place to be. Coco got it from men too. Dr. Ben explained to both that it had little to do with them personally but rather the position they had gotten into that made them focal points. “These people don’t really care about you” he told them. “They can’t really. They don’t even know you two. You’re just pretty pictures they bring into their worlds to decorate with. The normal people just like what you do and are satisfied with that.” Akiyama told them something he had once read. That fame was like a beautiful dead woman. Big-E hadn’t needed much instruction on how to handle celebrity. His dad had told him when he was very young that he didn’t have to take any shit from “assholes”. His own instructor—like Dr. Ben—was a very educated man who taught physical culturing and martial arts as an aid to overall learning about the relationship between the mind and its outposts in the body. So he lived in a place between compulsive attraction and automatic aversion. Big-E had turned off the area in him where attraction for other women would morph into infidelity. He once told Coco that even the thought of losing her in this life was too painful to ever consider cheating. That was the big difference between him and her oldest brother. Big-E and Maxim were complete opposites in that regard. Max fell in love twice a year! He loved every kind of woman and would give each one a baby if they thought they could abide by his stringent set of rules. Several years earlier he asked his brother Merle how many more children he thought he could afford. After a minute of mental calculations he told Maxim that the final figure would be in the range of 22 to 26 if he stayed in Lionfighting for a few more seasons and his investments didn’t drop. And that included wife payments, B Class dwellings, nannies, schools, vacations, and all the little things. Max liked the sound of that. As Big-E lived for Coco and personal training, Max saw his own role in the world as killing Lion in fair competition and replacing them with Le Muffett children sired in fair relationships with good and hot women. The best thing that the Le Muffett women could say about the larger-then-life Maxim, was that he loved his children and spent a lot of time with them. They were first for him—before women, Lionfighting, money, or anything else. His father Claude had set a fairly good example and then just disappeared. Max planned to surpass his old man in every way. And he almost had. But Big-E didn’t need variety in women. Coco provided all of that. Her own mentor was his father’s business partner and lover Jean D’Sole who was herself actually married to another man in Paris. Jean appeared regularly in Coco’s life even after her Claude had died. She wanted her to be in a position to claim that part of her that was French. And so among other things, she groomed Coco in the art of being at the center of a man’s desire. She told her many special secrets. Big-E didn’t need other women because Coco was all other women. She did everything for him he could imagine and surprised him with many more things he hadn’t even conceived of. Things they would never mention to anyone! She learned each of his many switches. Just like he had learned hers. They each took care of every little part of the other. Coco did share part of her private world with somebody else. And that somebody was scheduled to be there very soon. Coco’s oldest and best friend in the world. The person she had the most in common with. That was Sydney Luani—her girlfriend since the age of thirteen. They had been inseparable for years until each entered into a marriage agreements with a world-class lion-fighter. Sydney had gone to make her home in Hawaii beside her man, but they spoke on the phone first thing in the morning on most days. Coco and Sydney hadn’t been together for nearly eight months—the longest ever. Four months before, they had their first real fight and didn’t even speak on the phone until Coco called to say how much she needed her to be at their six-year party. They both cried that day and would likely cry again when they saw each other. They were closer then most sisters and in the last few years were able to help each get through the weekly trauma of knowing their men would be fighting lions that wanted to rip them apart. When Sydney Luani did arrive, a half-hour later with her famous husband, Big-E still hadn’t returned home from picking up his dad at the train station in town. He called to say that his old man insisted on

Buster White bolted across the street into a small lounge within walking distance of the car. “I just need to warm up a bit”. His voice became more guttural in tone with each passing year. Big-E knew better then try and fight him. The old man just did what he did. While many had hung up on him over the years—none managed to control him for even a second. Buster would be coming to the ceremony today—in his own mind at least—as the star attraction. Forget about the fact that the three greatest Lion-fighters of all time would be there among many very successful people. Buster figured he was doing everyone a service just by showing up and injecting a bit of “real life” into their stuffy, mundane worlds. It had now been a full eight years since Buster was “banned for life” as a pay-per-view Lion-fighting color commentator. The vocal bomb he dropped that day resulted in a full thirty seconds of speechlessness or on-air “dead time”. The other two broadcasters just sat there stunned while the director speaking into their earpieces kept saying: ”I’m trying to think of what to say next…ah…give me a moment”. The veteran broadcast director’s head was spinning. Finally Buster got up and told “the folks at home” he was “going out to take a big crap”. He walked right out of the studio door laughing. On that day, if Buster White had said something about a popular, noble, beloved woman such as: “if a raggedy old goat had a few good belts and swallowed a handful of stiff-dick pills ….he still wouldn’t fuck that nasty old bitch!”…If that had only been the comment made on-air that day by Buster White, it still would’ve been ten times softer then what he actually did say! The company that produced the Lionfighting matches ended up having to pay several million dollars in fines and spend several million more trying to hold on to their pay-per-view license agreement. They tried to sue Buster but the old man spent every dime he had ever made as he moved from place to place. For several years afterwards he worked as a crusty MC at a wild strip show in Nevada. Then Big-E put the old man on an allowance— which Buster constantly complained wasn’t enough to support his lifestyle. His older children from other women wanted nothing to do with him. But now, past the age of eighty, he was finally beginning to seize up. While he wasn’t apt to get totally drunk and utter really fowl remarks—he had learned that lesson—he still spelled trouble. Coco told Big-E that he really needed to keep the old man away from one of her aunties— whom Buster had displayed a deep hankering for during a previous get-together. “She gonna take him Big-E…take him upstairs and pop his old heart jus ‘cause everybody know he deserve to die that way!” Big-E knew she wasn’t joking either. He and the rest of the crew would try and contain Buster. They’d try and get him off to bed safely. But that was a bit like trying to herd a senile, but still powerful rhino, away from a water hole it was intent on pursuing. In the bar, Big-E was surprised when his dad only ordered a single shot of smooth tequila. “I got a big long day and night ahead” he told his son somewhat cryptically. Then the old man happened to spot a bottle of Big-E’s DRINK sitting up on the shelf. “Hey, what’s that crap doing in here?” he quickly asked the bartender. The man knew Big-E White and only smiled politely. Big-E’s DRINK was developed and bottled locally by Coco through the family company. Its fresh, wholesome taste was widely enjoyed all over California and the whole western section of America. Buster glanced about surreptitiously at his “audience”. Big-E had seen this countless times—the old man was going into his windup. He looked at the only other patrons in the lounge—two younger guys who had been watching them. “Do you guys ever order… Big-E’s DRINK?” he tilted his head and cocked a crooked smile when he uttered this second part. He quickly glanced at his son then floated his gaze back over the three others. “You know, it was proven recently that this fruity, sugary, piss-water will actually make a man’s tits grow!”. The four men—including Big-E—couldn’t help but laugh at Buster’s joke. It seemed for a moment that he was going to order another shot of tequila and knock out a full stream of them. Instead, he turned to his son and said they should be getting out to the house. “It’s his sixth year marriage party” he informed the other three. They congratulated Big-E.

Coco didn’t greet Sydney at the front entry when she arrived with her husband. She didn’t want everyone to see her cry. But Sydney quickly made her way to Coco’s room and soon the two were grasping each other, crying, saying how much they loved one another and how they would always be the best of friends. They had met at sixteen, at a girl’s camp. Before the week was over they had proclaimed their “sisterhood”. By the age of eighteen they were leaving a bouquet of smiles wherever they went. A typical Saturday saw them collecting pieces from local thrift stores and working them into new fashions that Coco drew up on her computer. The 3-d studio model she used as the point of departure for shapes and sizes was made up from a careful measuring of Sidney’s body. Coco was a budding seamstress and designer and Sydney her perfect model. They made up some slightly wacky outfits fashioned from sleeves of one blouse sown onto the body of another; or dresses that were trimmed, hemmed and repleated in funny ways. They liked to stitch part of one fabric onto another. By eighteen, the two young women were charming their way into clubs at night and driving out to the northern Bay Area fringe whenever they could. They became fascinated by the young aspirants to Lionfighting who congregated out there. Both girls came from what had become known as “comfortably B Class” families. Coco’s mother Lynette had an office job to go with what Claude had left her. Sydney’s father was a mid-manager for a company that built giant-size blending units for various packagers of cleaning products. They both received moderate allowances from their mothers. Coco’s was the larger because she had to do much of the house work and baby-sitting of her two younger brothers. Sydney was always around the house in those days helping her finish up so they could go out. Out on the fringe, both girls developed altruistically. Seeing the squalor of the C Class castoffs had effected them deeply. The two volunteered one day a month out of the goodness of their hearts—and because it gave them an excuse to go and be around the Lion-fighter boys who looked so cool and excited their fantasies. Sidney and Coco lived together in a small apartment when they were twenty. They each attended San Francisco Bay College. Coco was in full gear pursuing fashion design and the needle crafts with Sydney learning business skills to run the business both saw in their future. By then they were always in demand as guests on nice trips to wonderful places. Men loved them. But the only one who broke into their inner circle was Robert Casoni—a smaller man born in Tanzania, who was homosexual. Robert seemed destined to be Coco’s personal assistant. He quickly became a member of the girls’ dreams of world domination in the design and fashion business. Often he would come into their little studio apartment first thing in the morning, and see them dead asleep and cuddled-up together like soft kittens. He would sit at the foot of the bed and tickle the bottoms of their feet until they woke and got onto whatever they had planned for the day. Robert told his friends that he was, “the Coco and Sydney” handler. The person in charge of taking them for long walks and making sure their coats of fur always shined with a healthy luster. Then there was Jean D’Sole. Following Claude’s death, the Frenchwoman built a strong friendship and alliance with Lynette. She had only one son and had always longed for a daughter. Her heart adopted Coco, and then Sydney as well. Later, Robert too was taken into her natural order. Coco and Sydney visited in Paris every year and later the smaller young man from Tanzania came along too. He had no maternal figure in his life and was deeply drawn to the slender Frenchwoman who possessed a measure of love for many. She visited them as often as possible in California and was always with one of them on the phone.

Lynette and Jean planned to back the three in a small business following college. And this did in fact happen. They began at the bottom. They solicited donations to manufacture basic fresh clothing for the school children left abandoned by Corporatized Education out on the fringes. There—schools backed by donations—were often the only thread of decency available in these districts where rows of tents were employed as housing for those who just couldn’t function within the nearly sub-human world that lower C Class workers were often forced to live in. Coco, Sydney and Robert never made much money but still managed to enjoy themselves. Coco’s great love was needlework. She was always making something. She could stitch and talk on the phone for hours, or stitch and watch movies. Lynette told her once that if she ever got into a real relationship with a man, she’d better not be bringing that needlework into the bed! When the women were twenty-five years old, the change came. Lion-fighters Big-E White and Samoan Luani came into their lives and carried them off in different directions. Sydney went with her man to Hawaii and Coco with hers to Santa Barbara. Robert came along with Coco and they restarted their company exporting various products to small shops around the world. In Hawaii, Sydney was soon pregnant with the first of two sons that were born one year apart like Maxim and Merle. Coco reaffirmed to Sydney that she hadn’t called her fat out of meanness but because she just couldn’t stand to see her youthful beauty diminished in any way and had only wanted to spur her forward. “But look at you!” She said through another burst of tears, “oh…you’re looking perfect!” “Well you were right baby. And I’ve been training for six months now.” Sydney had laid her hand on Coco’s shoulder. “I don’t ever want you to be disappointed in me”. They hugged again and renewed their life-long sisterly vows of love for each other. Little B came over to the edge of the bed and put his paw on Sydney’s hip. She quickly gathered the pampered poodle dog up in her arms and fawned over him for a moment. He appeared intoxicated by the extra dose of women’s perfume that filled the air in the room. “Anyway sweetie, you’re gonna experience what happens to your body after childbirth. You gotta start praying for a son. Big-E needs to have a boy.” Sydney’s glanced at the doorway and lowered her voice a notch. “…to make up for that father of his!” That father…and his son, had made their way inside. Many of the guests had arrived and a bed of smiles quickly bloomed with the appearance Big-E White. Many of those blooms instantly wilted however as Buster entered. His presence made a lot of them a bit uneasy. Two of the exceptions were Bill and Ronnie Le Muffett. Their eyes twinkled at the site of Buster White and they rushed over to greet him and make some attempt to fulfill the promise they made to Coco to “take charge of him”. Buster liked those two. They at least knew how to have a good time which was more then he could say about Big-E whom he felt had turned into another of those “boss types” he really didn’t care to be around. Buster liked Merle too. He was great as an unknowing set-up man for one of his jokes. As for Maxim, well, Buster simply considered him to be the only real man he’d ever had the pleasure to meet in person. Shortly, the four Le Muffett men had Buster surrounded and were listening to his biting comical rendition of the people on the train ride up from L.A. But his gaze kept sliding off to the far side of the room to a table where Coco’s auntie Lucile was sitting. She saw Buster and was smiling at him with those shiny, flashing black eyes of hers. They had briefly met the previous year and had developed a strange chemistry. He wrapped up his story quickly and began to slide out of the group of men to go to her. Merle was going to block his way but Maxim held onto the back of his coat. When Buster had excused himself, Max addressed his brothers. “Might as well let him go on being what he’s always been”, he said watching what seemed like the opening movements of some play. Bill was smiling. “It gonna be a shame to see him go down like that”. “What did you say?” said Ronnie Le Muffett. “I got faith in ol’ Busta”. “I’m taking bets” said Merle. He calculated the odds as being 6-4 in auntie Lucile’s favor. Buster was over eighty years old. Maxim, Bill and Ronnie each pulled out one-hundred dollar bills, made their bets and handed the money to Merle who quickly calculated the range of his own fixed winnings if he could work the room for more bettors and refresh the odds at each stage.

He took a little pad of paper from his pocket, wrote down the bets with the change in the point spread, and handed a receipt to his brothers. “Listen” instructed Maxim, “Everybody gotta know there’s no active rootin’ on of the participants. We can’t be embarrassing Coco and Big-E.” Bill, half-jokingly, said they aught to get an ambulance on site in case the worst happened. “I’m stickin’ with my man Busta” said Ronnie with gleeful confidence that the old man would prevail. “He gonna ride da wild thang and come out smellin’ like a rose. You watch.” Big-E’s dad always impressed him as being a bit ahead of the opinions and expectations others had for him. Ronnie had never met another old guy like Buster White. As the Le Muffett brothers discussed the details and conditions of the bet, Big-E was chatting with Samoan Luani in a corner. The two Lion-fighters weren’t particularly close—not anything like their women—but they had known each other a long time and shared mutual respect that greatly overwhelmed the small amounts of professional jealousy between them. Jimmy Luani acquired the name Samoan Luani when he first hit the big stage in Lion-fighting. He had a clever manager that worked up a story of this boy who had killed every last lion in Samoa. The truth of the matter was that lion had never been seeded in Samoa. It was a lion-free land. Once however, a cargo ship had stored cages with thirty fringe lion at the docks and a group of boys including Jimmy, had snuck in during the night, cut the locks, and set them all free to go up into the into the hills. The next day they began to form into teams to go out and battle the large cats. Within a month they had spent their small supply of lion but loved every moment of it. Jimmy’s grandmother was Samoan but his father was mostly Hawaiian. And his mother was a Latina from Southern California—where he spent most of his time growing up. He had been famous in the region as a high school athlete who set records in football, baseball, wrestling and swimming. People said he was the most complete athlete they’d ever seen. He had been signed to attend the Southern California University and take over the quarterback position in his sophomore year. But during his first year there he developed an interest in Lion-fighting. He was a regular out on the fringe in Riverside. His prowess as a battalier grew by the month and he was quickly signed by Eastern Motors’ All Asia Team as backup for the aging superstar Fallon Chi. When Chi was beaten and partially devoured in the final match of the season, Jimmy instantly inherited the all-important middle spot. For season after season, Samoan Luani & The All Asia Team were outscored by the Le Muffett Crew. Jimmy was flanked by spearmen who were among the best martial artists in the world. They didn’t just drive lions the required distance off the field of play where the big cats were instantly hit with tranquilizer darts—they made a show of it. The Asian fighters would occasionally grab their spears at the center point and slap the beasts around a little. This had several effects. One, it made them the artistic favorites. They constantly had a pay-per-view audience greater then the Le Muffett Crew. And as Lion-fighters received a cut of the sales, they were the top money-makers in the sport. But their flourishes cost them time and points and aided in making them perennial runners up. The third effect of their style of play was that it cost four Asian spearmen their lives. To slap a Tall Lion around with the ends of a spear means that you must open up your front to the powerful forward burst that one of the great beasts can spring. As Maxim put it in one interview, “It may be pretty to watch, but its damn stupid!” While Jimmy Luani pretty much agreed with Max in this regard, he loved the guys he had played with and had cried after each of his four teammates had been killed. What jealousy he felt toward Big-E had to do with his good fortune to play with The Le Muffett brothers. They didn’t play with lion but processed them like a machine. Maxim controlled the field and orchestrated the effect with quick, coded commands to his brothers that even Big-E couldn’t always comprehend. Lions communicated with each other through scent and instinct and so did The Le Muffett Brothers. With the lightening reflexes of Maxim close by and the sheer effectiveness of the crew, Big-E White never had to spend attention protecting his sides and back. He was free to do what he did best which was to go one-on-one with the main alpha male. As was the case with Jimmy, Big-E’s mind moved at a completely higher level of speed then a lion’s. When the window of opportunity opened—even for a split second—Big-E batted the beast into unconsciousness setting it up to be finished off before being further processed into artifacts. Merle always

immediately skinned the alpha male and packaged its sellable parts for the market. What jealousy Big-E had for Jimmy stemmed from feelings that his rival was perhaps the better of the two. But they were so close in talent and results that it always made for perfect fodder for sports shows. The statistics showed that Big-E White had knocked out 97.4% of all of the lions that came within striking distance of his bat, and that Samoan Luani had knocked out 96.9%. Considering all of the other intervening factors, nobody could really say one was better then the other. Maxim had set the standard with 97.8% during his seven seasons as a battalier. What went undisputed was the fact that of beasts that spent much time inside the “wheelhouses” of the three great Lion-fighters, only a small fraction went home that night. It’s not that the primary alpha male lions didn’t score on the battalier—this happened all of the time when the lions managed to get their razor claws on the protective gear Lion-fighters wore beneath their clothing. Lions ended up as trophies because that they couldn’t usually gain the upper hand on the men. They would become “passionately involved” and fight to the death rather then retreat. Plus, they really liked to eat Great Ape. There was an unknown biological factor to their involvement. Lion-fighting was a biological endpoint for the long evolutionary battle between Man and the monster cats that roamed the earth. What made this Lion-world especially dangerous for human beings was the fact that such predatory beasts had become a bit larger and smarter for having eradicating the chimpanzee thousands of years before. Man was next up on the menu for them and they didn’t often walk away from an opportunity for human meat and to carry on the biological trial. When Man brought them back from the verge of extinction they came back taller, meaner and smarter then ever. Jimmy and Big-E weren’t talking about Lion-fighting however. And they avoided talk about the little spat their women had been involved in. They were talking about the photo they would make with Maxim before the dinner. When Max joined the two, Jimmy began to kid them both. “Hey, you guys gonna dress up in that uniform Coco has everybody wearing now?” He was smiling as Max looked down and shook his head. “The things they do for her” Max muttered. Coco had designed new uniforms for the crew but Max did not go along. He didn’t wear baggy shorts. He wore plain, loose-fitting black silk pants and shirt as he always had. Finally, Coco came out with Sidney and Little B and joined the party. She put the dog down and he immediately ran over to where Merle, Bill and Ronnie were sitting with some of their camera crewman and tranquilizer dart-shooting security enforcers. This was the first time they had seen him since “the Little B incident”. He went to Ronnie who picked him up and spoke to him so all the guys could hear. “Hey Little B, Merle say next time we get a lion he gonna send back a little treat for you!” The table broke up into such a roar of laughter that the everyone in the large room turned to look. Big-E looked over too and frowned. He quickly moved over to the table and grabbed Little B. “This dog being a nuisance?” He carried Little B out a door, put him down, and told him to go play with the children. Little B trotted off obediently and quickly ran into a pack of little girls who picked him up and began to fawn over him. There were twenty-seven children out on the back lawn of the property in an area that was set up for the girl’s summer camp Coco hosted for three years in a row. It was available for girls from all of the different employment classes. Participants coming from the A Class families directly sponsored girls from the lower classes and for C Class castoffs that lived on the fringe. The theme of the camp was “Work and Have Fun”. It was developed from the pioneering education reform group called Precepts Of The Curriculum that Coco had been involved with in San Francisco Bay. The central idea was to “have fun” and learn to impregnate that spirit into the more structured and goal-oriented activity we call work. The methodologies or logical activities for achieving this however, required far greater amounts of time for teaching and learning then was available. At a summer camp, they could only touch on a few things. But the girls and their families became year round program members and were offered counseling and various other guides for upping and maintaining the values introduced to them at camp. Coco’s involvement had increased rapidly when Precepts Of The Curriculum found itself targeted by the True Christo Leagues funded and manipulated by Fascists from the entertainment media and other

Areas, that resented competition for the minds of the young. The mixing of C Class castoff children with A and B Class children was especially galling to them. The Fascists were basically against all things progressive. Little girls leaning sewing and physical culturing and creative thinking and “first things first” logic were a direct threat to “private control by the elite”—which was the rudimentary mantra of the Fascists. The A Class executives who went after Precepts Of The Curriculum were known for promoting the illusion of upward mobility rather then the reality-based, spiritualized, genuine article. They wanted children and their families tuned to channels such as SKNK TV with their patented All You Need To Know News programs such the The Lou Glen Show and the nightly predatory “fun” of You Stupid Idiot (Controversy/Comedy/Humiliation/Pretty People and MORE—a full 360 degrees of Riveting, Entertaining, Must-See Content!!!). Since all compensation packages offered to C Class workers included what was called “basic TV”, many children and their parents were swamped by it. Programs with enlightening Christoism were never included. Christo sayings such as, “blessed are the poor for they are filled with opportunity for becoming enriched with the True Spirit” and, “the lowly swine is more apt to attain the Kingdom of Light and Tranquility then is he who has become lost in the thickened mud of the material world”— statements such as these were the basis for entire mini-series’. But that is not what the Fascists and their water-carriers had in mind at all. Statements like these and folks like the Precepts Of The Curriculum people were an actual threat to the “private control” motto of the Fascist elite. That motto: We Are The Power In This Town! was actually coded into a secret handshake they used with one another at certain times. Eight distinct squeezes of the hand represented the syllables in the phrase. Sometimes one could see the ridiculous farce playing out comically in full view as the secret hand shakers counted beneath their breath trying to get it right. There were extra nannies hired by Coco for this day’s event. They were charged with watching over the children only to the extent they didn’t wander too far off, or go and start smacking one another— which especially the boys were prone to do in such a group with so many brothers and cousins. Two of them—young college students—were smiling as some girls fashioned a napkin into a bonnet and put it on Little B. The little dog, like usual, just sat there. Off a ways behind the property were two security men with automatic fast tranquilizer dart crossbows. They were hired to guard against lion. For the California Tall’s that roamed in the Gonzales National Forest east of the property, the squeals and shrieks and laughing sounds of a yard full of children playing could be heard for miles and would strike them like the ring of a dinner bell. It was a remote possibility, but Big-E would take no chances and paid the extra expense of the guards. A few of the boys were standing by a window peering in. They were looking at the old man with the hat and snow white beard. “Who that?” The younger boy had not seen the man before and he looked funny. Another boy replied; “I dunno”. He waved over yet another boy who was older then him—one of his cousins. “You know who that old guy is?” “Yeah, that Big-E’s dad Busta” he answered. “How’d Big-E get an old daddy like that?” “I dunno”. Inside, Buster White didn’t notice the boys peering in at him. His dancing eyes were focused exclusively on auntie Lucile. Her piercing gaze was aimed straight into his. Her three sisters sitting around the table hadn’t seen it in a long time but they knew what that meant. They grew up watching their oldest sister cast her eyes at men like that. That was back in The Oak Land nearly thirty years earlier. Lucile had been the princess in that place and time—The It Girl. She was bright and witty and had the perfect body to go with the perfect face. But not the perfect heart. Everybody agreed there was a craziness in her. A wild energy that family .

members recognized again when Maxim began to mature into a man. Lucile went from man to man to man like Max went through lions. No regular boy had any chance with her. She didn’t do regular boys. You had to have money, and money to spend on Lucile and the expensive tastes she cultivated. You had to spend that money taking her to new and different places that she hadn’t been before. And in return you had to be willing to take what Lucile wanted to give you when she wanted to give it to you. Those were her rules and she made men play by those rules. And she would take a little piece of every man when she was finished with him. Lucile was like…that. Lynette Le Muffett did not let her daughter Coco have very much to do with her sister Lucile. This was not the kind of influence she wanted for her. She encouraged the relationship with Jean D’Sole partly to counter the kind of draw a personality such as Lucile would exact on an impressionable girl. Jean had a good heart. She was a working women and an educated woman. She would not draw Coco to the wrong side of the road. With her other two sisters, Lynette came away from the table and into the kitchen to check on preparations. Merle was in there picking snacks off the various trays of food. He listened to the three women talk about their sister and Buster. “I hope she take that old goat down” said middle sister May. Lynette was reflective. “I could never quite make out how such a sweet and wonderful boy like Big-E had come from somethin’ like that. His mother musta been a fine woman.” Merle heard them talking and told them about the bet. He asked them if they wanted in. His Auntie May did. “I’m puttin’ one-hundred on my big sister Lucile!” she announced in a loud voice. The head chef for the catering group was working nearby, with her back away from them. She was trying to suppress a smile. Merle explained the terms and conditions of the bet. He got out his little pad of paper and took money from May; then some more from the other two of Lucile’s sister’s. Buster had barely noticed that the three had left the table. He was moving his eyes back and forth between Lucile’s beautiful face and her perfectly outstretched hand that was placed on the table facing him. His deep gravelly voice sounded in a softer volume.

“Lucile, when you were twenty-two or twenty-three. I mean, when you were just so fresh and pure. Was there any man your own age that could really appreciate just how fine you were? I mean really appreciate every part of how you could be?” Buster felt chemical lust from deep within him flow out on his breath through his words. “Now, wasn’t it the man of thirty-five or forty who really understood how fine you were?” “Well, actually he was very near fifty” Lucile remembered with some fondness. That man had been good for a whole year. The old memory of how she’d felt a little bad about his wife and teenage daughter became vivid again. Hmm…..was the tiny rumble of sound going through Buster. He let his eyes move around Lucile’s still wonderful form. Then he spoke very slowly. With a hypnotic rhythm few would’ve been able to notice he said; “You know Lucile…today, right now, in this place…I’m that same man.” He let his hand slide toward hers. It wasn’t quivering like usual. In fact, he suddenly felt thirty years younger. When his fingers had touched hers, Buster let feigned sadness fill his eyes as he added; “I mean, despite what you many be seeing in front of you”. Lucile smiled with a tiny bit of warmth few would’ve even noticed. Buster was cute she thought. He was a boy that had never stopped being a boy. And she liked boys of all kinds when they were even a little good at trying to act like men. She had heard the stories about Buster White. She knew how people talked about him behind his back. And she could see that he wasn’t the type to have ever cared much at all. She straightened her back. “Oh but Buster, I’m a married woman these days”. That rumbling sound began to move through him again. How many times had he heard that? But she had conveyed the age-old truth so easily behind her words—that she liked what she heard and was drawn closer. “You know Lucile, when I was a young man, I used to fight those Lions like my son. I killed a few of them. And every time I got one I would spend that night going from place to place looking for somebody just like you as a reward for having survived. And it’s been a long, long time since I met anyone like you.” “Oh but Buster” she replied meaning to correct him, “I don’t think you ever met anyone quite like me!” At that moment her black eyes swallowed every bit of the reflected light that was present a moment earlier. He knew that “bottomless pit” look. But she was very unique. He pretended to look around the room. “Lucile, where is that husband you spoke off?” “Oh, he back home in Brazil” she said, putting on a little look of concern. “He had a stroke about one year ago tonight”. She said this as her smile briefly came back on and the natural moisture returned to her eyes. Then she brought her lips together to suppress any hint of a smile. “Po ol’ thing….He can’t even talk anymo’….can’t even tell me not to spend his money”. Buster White chuckled deeply for a very long moment. He was romanced. At the other end of the room, Bill and Ronnie were still with their crewmen. They were all looking down at the table, instructed not to look sideways over at Buster and Lucile. Ronnie gave them the play -by-play. “Oooooh, my oafy HIT-TEEN’ . “She jus’ laying out Busta’s coffin. That’s all.” Bill was shaking his head. They were all trying hard not to burst into laughter again and make another scene. Big-E was with Coco, greeting more guests at the entry. “Nooo….” Ronnie squealed at low volume, “My oafy gonna pre-vail!” Jean d’Sole had just arrived with “sub-commander” Robert Casoni—as Coco had lately been calling her long-time friend and right-hand man. Accompanying the spunky Casoni was his lover—the “honorary oafy” Randi, who entered the room and immediately cast an eye toward the large table where the Le Muffett crew had settled in. Robert and Randi had driven Jean in from the airport. Soon the five were joined by Sydney who came running up to hug the Frenchwoman she had last seen only two months earlier when she was a guest at the Luani home on Maui. She wore a simple outfit that would slightly change color as she moved through different lights. It featured some fine material that Coco

hadn’t seen before. As Jean was being introduced for the first time to Randi, Coco was examining the stitching pattern and strange luster of the cloth. She was playing with a portion of the vest bottom in between her thumb and finger. Jean brushed Coco’s hand off her without a glance and opened her arms to invite “her girls” in for a hug. Sydney and Coco, both noticeably taller, fell in against each of her shoulders like oversized babies. “You two can never again fight” Jean said with a brief sniffle and soon the three were nearly in tears and making feminine oohh and mmmnn sounds. Big-E heard this from behind and turned around to Robert Casoni who shot a smile his way. Robert had funny eyes that would dilate in slightly different ways from one another. It made him look very smart and a little crazy. “This is how they have always been together”, he said. His natural speaking voice was a little excited but cast in a matter-of-fact manner. It was cut with strange, subtle blends of different accents. “And you Robert, our adorable little mighty-man” said Sydney, straightening her back from the embrace with Jean and Coco and flashing a loving smile at him. “Everybody called him the ‘womanwalker’” she remembered, adding that a businessman once asked him for his card saying he needed his wife walked, ‘five days a week, rain or shine!’”. Coco said Robert still walked her three days a week. “It’s supposed to be five days” he exclaimed, “but she sends Little B for two days as a substitute”. Big-E—who always had to force her to exercise—added that if Coco could ever learn to sew and walk at the same time, she would do her road work everyday. Randi took all of this in with deep interest. He was anxious to get little tidbits about how Robert was before they met. He was a full four inches taller then Casoni and liked to keep his hand placed delicately on the curve of Robert’s shoulder as they all spoke. He was waiting for Big-E to make eye contact. They hadn’t seen each other since “the Little B incident” and he wanted to see his expression. He didn’t get the chance. After repeating his welcome, Big-E was off to look for Maxim and Jimmy Luani and talk more about the photograph they were to pose for together once Mary Harris and her assistants arrived. Jimmy was standing along side Max when Big-E walked up. Dr. Ben Akiyama had slipped in behind him as he went by. When Big-E stopped to join the others, The Le Muffett martial arts instructor was directly in back of him hiding in his blind spot. He tapped Big-E’s flank and it made him jump a little. This brought boyish grins to the mouths of Max and Jimmy. “I got all three of you guys together” Akiyama said with obvious delight. “I can’t believe it. Jimmy, Max said it would be O.K. if I sneak in and get a picture with my camera phone when they take the big portrait. Is that O.K. with you?” Jimmy said he didn’t care. “Oh good” Dr. Ben said. “I’m going to sell them in Japan. You’re the favorite there.” “I think, maybe ‘cause I work with the all-Asia team…” “Yeah, but it’s more then that. The people really like you over there. They say you that your ‘fortunate karma’ is very ‘auspicious’ because you are a good boy. They really like your mother a lot as well. She shows up on the TV quite a bit.” Jimmy’s mom was a cholia from the Southern California’s Port City. Many Asian companies had paid her excellent fees to teach the wives of A Class executives how to do Latin American cooking. Nobody there could exactly understand every word she said, but they loved her spirit and mannerisms. Luani nodded. “Yeah, my Mom loves them too. It’s funny how we sometimes are better thought of among the people we don’t know…who are of a different culture”. “You know what I tell them in Japan about Max?” said Dr. Ben. “I tell the little kids that he isn’t a real man—that he was built in a secret World Security facility in the California desert! Their eyes get as wide as sea disks. I tell them that we spent years programming him to talk and that I have to sometimes ‘operate’ him like a video game character from my cell phone. ‘ooohh, he a robot?’ they ask me. Yeah, I say. But we got the face from a real guy!” The three lion-fighters were laughing big. Dr. Ben loved to make up stories and tell jokes about Maxim. The better the audience, the bigger and crazier the stories would get. In the wide world, he was about the only one who could successfully use him as a foil. Professional comedians—needing an endless supply of jokes to survive had tried to play off of Maxim’s artificial leg but it had never panned out. You couldn’t squeeze too much humor out of an amputation without looking brutal. Especially if the subject of the joke was as well-regarded as the great Lion-fighter.

Big-E got a lot more of it. Akiyama enjoyed poking fun at him as much as he did with Max. He explained that while hosting a luncheon for grandparents at his big martial arts studio in Tokyo, he had told one woman about how promiscuous Big-E White really was; that he was very faithful to his wife but could not resist Asian woman past the age of 70. He mimicked some crazy look on the face of the woman. While watching the reaction to his jokes, Merle slipped up from behind and caught Dr. Ben in a body lock. Big-E, Max and Jimmy were wide-eyed. They knew just how slippery-quick and fieldaware this unlikely-looking martial arts master had always been. So now the joker became the target. “Dr. Ben!” exclaimed Max, as his brother continued to grasp him, “I do believe time is catching up with you! Man, you gonna end up like the guy who take so long to raise up the rifle, that the rabbit’s long since hopped away.” Akiyama would have liked to have proved him wrong by dropping out of the hold he was in. But Merle was ever-so-slightly varying his grasp with small, subtle changes in the pressure. He would find no brief window of opportunity to pass through. He’d taught Merle well. Instead, he rocked his chin back and forth sideways and made a voice like a cranky old man. “My rifle come up good! My rifle come up good!” As they laughed at this antic, Merle released Dr. Ben from his grasp while taking a big, full step backwards to avoid getting tagged with any quick, backlash movement from the master. In the early days, Dr. Ben would occasionally catch his attention lagging at a certain point and pull a button off his shirt so fast he often didn’t even notice it until it appeared in the palm of his hand when displayed. Merle wasn’t going to lose any buttons today. Ben Akiyama was reflective and spoke slower then before. “It’s a good thing to be caught and released so quickly” he said. “This, I think, is what happens at the end. We spend all our lives avoiding our demise—dancing around it, striking at it with our disciplines. We make our jokes and laugh at it. I used to think I was that one-in-a-billion guy who could permanently hold it at bay. But today…I don’t know.” He paused and looked for a second like he had frozen-up and retreated deep into the center of his mind. Then suddenly he blinked and poured out a rapid burst of the trademark buoyancy they had been treated to since they were kids. “Today, I only seventy-five percent sure I’m going to live forever!” Not far away, Randi had come up to the table where Bill and Ronnie were sitting with the camera and security men from the crew. Most of them had filled the small reception area of his Poodle Care studio that day following the final match of the previous season when “The Little B Incident” had taken place. The Lion-fighters greeted him like one of their own. An “honorary oafy” for making sure the secret stayed within their circle. Since the event, Randi had read up more on what he regarded as this strangest of sports. He couldn’t quite figure out why men would want to fight lions. He understood why a man would want to groom, clip and style poodle dogs—it made you happy to give the dogs the attention required to be healthy and beautiful. And when the dogs were well cared for they transferred part of this glow to the pet owners. It was win-win-win. But when men fought lions there was always a great deal of blood and loss. There was money to be made—that was for sure. But why would something so naturally repulsive and dangerous actually be an attraction? It was like asking why certain people in this time enjoyed seeing the “real torture” videos passed around by the Fascist youth. That sick form of entertainment wasn’t sport but pure depravity where C Class castoffs—human beings—were used in the productions. Randi had learned the more violent sports were considered to be psychological substitutes for man’s ultimate lust to conquer others. This itself was a substitute for the achievement of self-mastery. It was the best some men could get. A condition of being less evolved. Men such as Max and Big-E used Lion-fighting and had partially transcended the brutality of it for partial self-mastery. The security shooters hit lions that were driven out of bounds with fast tranquilizer darts when they could more easily, and more safely, shot them in the head with a high caliber bullet—there was certainly no shortage of lion in the world. The real debate among the intellectual was whether Lion-fighting had ultimately made the world a more—or less—violent place.

The one point everyone agreed upon was that Life itself was deeply violent. That violence was offset by self-mastery developed through an appreciation for the finer things in life. Randi had even read a point of view that the universe itself was a predatory event—with violence at its core. He didn’t accept this. He was a religious man. A Christopian. He believed the creator God allowed the offspring “multiverse” all probable expression out of a love, joy and laughter. As the Hindus put it. The creation is God’s play. All parts of it are eventually brought back into the “Christo-Clarity” of pure Spirit. As a movie dissolves into a wholesome blank screen once the final frame slides off the old movie reel, so too do all elements of the offspring universes or “multiverse”. The people of India worshipped the Brahman who was said to produce and retract a new creation in each of Its days and nights. The hell and heaven of The Christopian was deeply set into the field—or movie script—on which all of this played out. Violence was not at the basis of creation. It was merely one part of the shadowy raw material or “Sat” which makes the appearance of forms. Violence was on the surface. The real basis of this multi-verse is Christo-Clarity. Like the flash of creativity that brings about new forms, It causes “what is to be” to emerge from whatever proceeds “first cause”. It was at the beginning and at the end—the Alpha and Omega. Those who would see violent “dog-eat-dog” value as the chief underlying factor in Life are merely projecting a lower quality bias. As far as Randi could think, Lion-fighting was somewhere in the middle of it all. Positive enough to be popular and respected but negative enough to make him want to throw up. He could only hope that what some experts said was true—that it would help Mankind make violent war against itself a thing of the past. Some Christopians felt realization of peace in the world could only occur with the re-appearance of Lord Christo himself. Others felt He had been re-appearing to chosen devotees non-stop ever since He last appeared in public rising up from the floor of the Roman-Greco Coliseum to hover above the emperor before walking beyond view over the roof top. Many people in today’s modern world felt that was all just a story. And there were also individuals stuck so deeply in the machinery of a TV Reality worldview, that they believed the various Lion-fighting matches were staged events like in pro wrestling. People believe according to the grooves and ruts their lives are laid into. The enlightened Christopian considered all of the viewpoints and went with what seemed to make the most sense. But it was understood that Faith was, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. The underlying praetor from which language and arithmetic were developed to track and organize that Quality human beings find meaningful. It was from this Christopian study of metaphysics that Randi initially investigated the sport of Lionfighting. As a set of sport conditions, he didn’t realize just how involved and nuanced it was. The scoring, the rules, the plays, and the fouls were present like in all of the sports. He found the camera crew to be the most fascinating. They had to document the action when a contest appeared during the hunting phase of a match. Often, the feed was carried live throughout the world and they were under great pressure. Their equipment was highly innovative. Long extension poles with attached cameras were used that could be set in the ground and sprung high up into the air at a moment’s notice to capture the field of play. The camera people had to fan out within prescribed parameters and avoid not being taken by lion themselves. The security team had to make sure the match occurred between five men and five lions. They had to eliminate all excess lion from the competition as quickly as possible. They carried light weight “spring stilts” that snapped up in four three-foot sections. They quickly locked themselves into the high-tech stilts and jumped and released each section to be instantly sprung up to twelve feet in the air ready to enforce and protect. But there were security shooters who were overwhelmed by lion and killed. And in most cases they were too far off the center of action to be of much aid if one of the beasts scored a knockout on a Lion-fighter and began to eat. Everybody communicated with sharp whistles and other sounds. Electronic communication devices were not allowed for use in the real-time match. It was a technically savvy and costly production and Randi knew the guys at this table were perhaps better at it then anyone.

He stayed with the Le Muffett Crew for some time before going to look for Little B. He had polished him up for the event the day before . Coco had him apply some very subtle coloring to his fur that worked well with the new decorative collar she found. She also wanted him to wear pale-sienna front paw bands for the occasion so he would look a bit more feisty. “I’m afraid Little B is too docile”, she complained to him. “Maybe we should get him a boxin’ coach or something”. Randi convinced her Little B was just fine the way he was. When he found him out back with the children, the already highly decorated little dog was also sporting a napkin fashioned into a bonnet. The little girls had used another napkin to make a loin cloth for him. They were pretending he was a baby and had him sitting in a box they’d found. Randi laughed, took out his camera phone, and snapped off a few photos for the annual Poodle-Dog Stylist Dinner he would be attending the following month in The Hills of Beverly. He thought he might have a real attention-getter with the shots of Little B and the children. Seeing that Little B was in relatively safe hands, Randi headed back into the house. He was interested in introducing himself to Big-E’s dad Buster White. This might be his only chance to meet the old man who was still very infamous and talked about. He used a back door that was open and went down a hallway. He hurried on looking for the way back into the main front room. He didn’t want to meet up with any of the staff and have people later say he’d been lurking about. Then he heard Big-E’s voice around a corner and paused. He wasn’t sure for a moment whether to proceed further or go back. “God, you’re looking so good today” Randi heard him say. Coco had grabbed Big-E’s hand and led him away from the party for a private moment. He had her backed up against a wall and was running his hand up and down the middle-side of her body. She was glowing with a smile.

“I’m so happy today, baby” Coco said. Her voice was high and sweet, and forced toward a whisper all at once. “Maxi told me the news”. She just looked up at his soft blue eyes and felt like she was looking into a light at the end of a long tunnel. The hardest thing that Coco shared with her mother Lynette and her best friend Sydney was the burden of loving a man that regularly went into mortal combat. Security police and soldiers’ spouses understood this but were often in the dark and somewhat protected by not knowing the time and place of their loved-one’s appointment with danger. Or if such an appointment would happen at all. For the families of Lion-fighters, it was all laid into a schedule months in advance. Coco and Sydney would be on the phone every “Lion-fighting Sunday” during the five-and-a-half month season that ran each year between late April and early October. Her mother would also call her on those days. Sometimes Coco would go to The Oak Land and stay at the family home. Big-E said he fully expected Max would tell her the news right away since she had always used her brothers to find out what he was suppressing. “I know you been going through something” she said remembering the worry she’d felt as he became more intense and withdrawn. “Why can’t you ever let me ease that suffering and a part of it?” Most people—especially women—did this very easily. For many men—and Big-E fitted in at the top of that list—“going through it” or bearing emotional suffering was a private thing. “I just have to work it out myself” he replied to her question. Of course there was the full truth of his confidential involvement with World Security as the prime mover in his retirement plans. He wouldn’t allow Coco any knowledge of that. Big-E didn’t need or want to talk about it anymore. He said he wished that the house was empty and it was just the two of them. He kissed her, pushed her back further against the wall, and softly enveloped her. That felt so good to him. He lived to see her eyes go soft in satisfaction when she gave herself to him. He thought about taking her to an isolated part of the house and getting on with the real ceremony. “Oh baby, we gonna be all alone later and get it started real good”. Big-E groaned a little. Coco didn’t always use the term “get it started”. That was a special code between them. It meant that she was going to set off a period of sensual drunkenness between them that might last for many days. And the ways she set it off were something they didn’t even hint about to others. Coco put on what can only be described as elaborate productions. Big-E found out very early in their relationship that she was a lot more then anybody would ever suspect. And she was still exploring her own artistic boundaries. He knew she had made plans in advance and the thought of that made him feel a little weak knowing he had to go through all of the sixth-year public toast crap before getting on to the real thing. Randi couldn’t help but overhear some of this. It took a few moments to pull himself away and retreat out the door he had come in and find his way back to the huge front-room-turned-party-hall set up with tables and filled with people he didn’t know much about. He spotted Buster White still sitting off to the side at one of those tables with the woman that had been pointed out to him as one of Coco’s aunties. The guys at the Le Muffett table had been stealing glances toward her while they all talked. Randi had considered her the most exotic-looking person there. As exotic—he thought—as himself. Her face, although having come far into the passage through middle age, made him think of a moist, fleshy fruit cut with great skill and precision. Her skin tone had a tropic hue spread over a rich ebony base. Her upper body rose above the table with a straight back and delicate placement of the hands. He thought she had extraordinary arms, strong and yet very feminine. Buster had been moving his mouth non-stop as the woman looked on at him from some distance—but with a slightly pleased expression and occasional full smile. Randi considered whether to interrupt them. He was always injecting himself into pairs and small groups of people and he did so here as well. He walked up and flashed a smile at the women and turned to Buster. “I’m hope I’m not interrupting, Mr. White, but Robert said that I just had to meet you!” Buster White was taken by surprised. “What?”. He didn’t bark this but it wasn’t soft spoken either. “Robert?” Randi flashed a wide smile combined with excited, starburst eyes. Buster suddenly felt knocked slightly off center stage, which was not a feeling he enjoyed. He had been in the midst of telling this exciting woman his upcoming plans to sell his life story to a well-known publisher. “I’m Lucile”. The exotic-looking woman introduced herself to Randi with something of a regal

grace. “I’m one of Coco’s aunts. Please do join us. Busta and I was just speaking about how hot the evenings can get in Brazil. He’s been telling me of his time there as a young man”. Randi quickly pulled up a chair. He loved more then anything to hear about things like that. He pointed for them to Robert who was still standing with Jean, Sydney and some other people. Buster squinted. He’d seen that other guy before but had no idea who this one was. He looked to him like something that had wandered off a stage somewhere. Strange hair, strange face, strange looking gangly body—–—and all dressed up like he was going to an audition for a clown job at the circus. He looked again at Robert and searched his ever-fading mental database for a quick clue who this guy might be. Randi started in. “Robert always talks about Big-E’s father, the esteemed Mr. White. He said he had the pleasure to drive you in from L.A the last time you visited. And that you just had him laughing the whole way.” Buster was still at a loss. Then he put the guy across the room together with the driver his son had sent the last time he came to visit. And this guy was with the one named Robert. Now Buster had the thing straight. The two guys were “butt-buddies” as he liked to call them. “Mr. White” asked Randi, “would you like me to go and bring the two of you fresh drinks?” Now there’s an idea, Buster thought. The drink server hadn’t been by in over fifteen minutes. “That would be great” he replied. “It’ll give me a chance to go and take a piss”. Buster said this and realized he should apologize to the lady for such course talk. He looked at Lucile with a stupid expression and said, “I mean ah..go’ use the little guy’s room’”. Lucile didn’t change expression much and continued to look on from a slight distance. Randi found out what each was drinking. A few minutes later they were together again back at table. While in the bathroom, Buster concocted a plan to get rid of this guy as fast as possible—to blow him off with a kind of assault he had used many times in the past. He and Lucile had begun to make some exciting arrangements for later that evening and this guy was getting in the way. Buster White came back to the table ready to hurl a quick knockout punch. “So…it’s Randi? Well, I was curious. Now please correct me if I’m mistaken, but you’re a homosexual man, aren’t you? And you’re with Robert? I believe this is what he told me that day when he drove me in. He told me he was hoping your relationship with him would blossom into matrimony.” He said this rapidly, clicking off points like a professional orator and not the least bit concerned about being intrusive. “Busta!” said Lucile. She raised her hand and pretended to shoo away a fly. “You are being much too direct”. She acted as if any of them might care. Still, as the woman at the table, she had her role of social moderator to fulfill. Buster watched her reaction and thought to himself, ‘she has no idea’. Even people who’d been around the block several times were never quite prepared for a free spirit such as him. Then, point blank, he launched an inquiry into which of four particular preferences Randi would select if forced into a choice. He kept saying, “if you could only choose one of these acts..”. The choices available—that the old man spoke very plainly of—were not of a subject that one usually expects to be brought up. Lucile continued to shoo away what had now swelled into a swarm of the invisible flies. Inwardly, she was trying not to laugh when Randi flashed another wide smile with starburst eyes. “Busta, you are on verge of being rude I think!” Randi assured her that there was no problem with Buster White’s inquiry and asked him if he had much experience in such “pleasures” himself. “Much?…no, none at all.” He was visibly ruffled by this comeback Randi had delivered in such a normal tone. The old man regained his balance. “That’s why I’m asking. But go ahead and tell me…if you and Robert were forced with a choice of only one out of the four possibilities, which would you choose?” He tried to make it sound as if he had always wanted to know such a thing. Lucile just shook her head with feigned disapproval. But she continued to be pleasantly surprised by Buster’s cognizance during the course of their conversation. He was sharper then he let on and often didn’t seem elderly in the least. His mind had a habit of indentifying things as logical constructs instead of sloshing about in between this idea and that one—which older people are especially prone to do.

Buster was on the ball and knew what he wanted. But he had not succeeded in blowing Randi off with this embarrassing set of questions. The intelligent young dog groomer was thrilled to have received a personal cup of what he later described to Robert as “Buster Wine”—up from that damp and smelly cellar of the only person to receive a lifetime ban from Pay Per View sports for having scandalized Lionfighting fans. ‘Christo’, Buster thought to himself, ‘this one is intrigued by the question of such a choice”. “I really can’t say Mr. White. You know, I’ve never once thought of having to make such a decision…of having to select only one.” Randi was reflecting. “Ultimately I think it would come down to how selfish am I, and of what form that selfishness takes”. He thought hard about this for a second more and then just through up his hands in resignation. ‘Christo’ thought Buster, ‘the guy thinks we’re in fucking philosophy class’! Much to the disappointment of Buster White, Randi settled in and encouraged Lucile to tell him as much as possible about the sultry nights of Brazil. He said he had made Robert promise to take him there someday and it was never too early to start collecting travel tips! “We can’t let Randi in on the bet”. Merle was back with his brothers and looking at him talking with Buster and Auntie Lucile. “He over there countin’ stuff we can’t see. He gonna mess up the odds.” The other guys all figured this was probably true and quickly voted not to mention the bet to Randi or Robert. So far, Merle had collected $1000 from friends and family and had it at even money. Bill had set up an instant web address to provide updates during the course of the party to those with advanced cell phones. He was encouraging more betting. There was also an online discussion beginning to take shape as to what would be the ultimate conditions that would settle the bet as to whether it was Buster— or Auntie Lucile—that bested the other. Bill found a coffin picture to use as a background for the instant website. Ronnie saw this and complained to Merle that it would skew the odds. He settled this question among his brothers by telling Bill to find a second picture promoting Buster. He found an old photo of Buster with a big smile on his face and pasted it onto the background next to the coffin graphic. When Merle left the table to greet some fresh arrivals he thought might want in on the bet, Bill decided to flash-mail some people he knew and see if they wanted to bet. One of the camera crew guys had taken a few shots of Buster and Lucile with a “wrist camera” he always kept up the sleeve of his shirt. His cell phone acted as a monitor and editing devise that allowed him to get some excellent closeups. He had the photos relayed to the instant website where Bill had laid out the bet in text. By the time Merle returned to them fifteen minutes later, the total bets had doubled with new ones coming in each few minutes. Merle reconfigured the odds at 6 to 5 with Buster White as the new favorite. Bill updated the instant website and his older brother told him to set up a quick-account to collect the bets. Somebody told him to dial in a web service called Friendly Wagers that specialized in such things. As all of this was taking place. Maxim, Big-E and Jimmy were putting on their Lion-fighting gear. The famed photo-portraitist Mary Harris had arrived with all of her assistants and equipment. They were setting up in a large back room Big-E had stripped of its furnishings and had repainted to her specs. The three men had not met Mary Harris before but liked her right away. She had that effect on many. Her list of rich and famous clients was huge. She herself was an intelligent and plain-spoken woman with roots in Kentucky. She was past the age of 65, always dressed casually and didn’t use make-up. Her once sandy hair was now mostly gray and her face showed the lines of one used to long days of work and problem solving . She was instantly fascinated with the Lion-fighters. She thought Jimmy “Samoan” Luani was the cutest of the three. Big-E White and Maxim she quickly observed, were partners who possessed no rivalry with each other but communicated in a subtle body language that few people would spot. Big-E was naturally quiet and a bit stoic. He was good-natured and deeply intelligent—but always busy controlling some fury that he kept compressed inside him. He seemed capable of anything at anytime and she found that she couldn’t quite look him in the eye in normal conversation. Big-E was the softestlooking of the three but might actually have been the toughest.

she found that she couldn’t quite look him in the eye in normal conversation. Big-E was the softestlooking of the three but might actually have been the toughest. When Maxim Le Muffett came into the room wearing a loose black silk getup and carrying a bloodstained, dangerous-looking spear, Mary watched as the static electricity he created actually showed on the monitor of her light-controller console. He possessed an aura as if five shining angels were surrounding him at all times lending their countenance. At the center of this was a man of relaxed confidence who smiled easily. He moved so freely that she would not have suspected he carried an artificial leg at the end of a stumped-out thigh. The seven encrusted jewels in the leg made people’s head tend to bow as their eyes were naturally drawn to the effulgence. That was the first thing she asked Maxim; if he had done that intentionally. He laughed merrily when he heard this and began to slowly shake his head. “I never thought about that” he said in a friendly and charming voice that made her feel like they were family. “But probably underneath, that’s exactly what it’s about!” He chuckled some more. “Jus’ some old way a gimp try to feel better about what he got left.” Mary Harris liked the way Maxim could draw down his voice into an ‘ah shucks’ tone and slightly add it in

like a sub-mix being cut into a main audio track. In contrast to Big-E and Maxim, Jimmy Luani cast what was closer to an ordinary effect. He began to go on with her about the family photo he had made with his wife Sydney and their two boys. “Did you see her?” he asked Mary proudly. “She just looks so good tonight!” Mary could tell he loved her deeply. It seemed he might go running out of the room at any moment to fetch her and get a portrait of her made right then and there. Jimmy looked like a giant man filled with more then a little impishness. Whatever part of him it was that batted lions around was not something that came across in normal conversation. She became concerned that he might not “swell up” right when the camera eye clicked open; that he might look out of place with Big-E and Maxim. But Mary Harris was not the expert photographer because she lacked strategies for such things. All she needed from Jimmy Luani was one single expression of his inner Lion-fighter. She would take it from there in post-production. As this portrait was to be put into the George W Lincoln gallery in the Colombia District, it had to possess some mist of historic proportion to it. “I understand you guys will be given a reception at The People’s House by the President?” She asked. She was trying to stir up some of this mood. This lighted up Jimmy’s eyes. Max smiled back at her like she was a child who charmed him. Big-E appeared to almost frown at this but showed little emotion. She went on to tell the three that she was a descendant to a cousin of George W Lincoln’s wife Martha. She always told people this and it was true. But many went away thinking she was a blood relative of the early sixteenth-century man considered the greatest of American presidents; most famous for avoiding civil war by freeing the native American people from slavery after making a deal to bring Africans into the country to work as indentured servants The connection to Lincoln was one ruse that never failed her. Mary Harris then briefed the Lion-fighters on her method for coming up with the best possible photograph. “An intricate arrangement of lighting has been set up as you can see” she began. “We’ll initialize the various set-ups right now if you’ll take your places. Just relax, no need to hold up your weapons.” The three took previously decided-upon positions. Maxim was at center with Big-E at his right hand and Jimmy at his left. Mary told them to squint their eyes and then clicked a controller she was holding. Several dozen lights of various colors began to flash behind an array of different shades. Some of these were spot lights, others ground lights, and others back lights hidden off to the side of the room in a nook. Mary studied the geometries that began to appear on her monitor. She told the men to hold still and then started clicking through various sets of lights she had extracted. More geometries appeared on her screen and she reconfigured the lights in a way that suited her and told them that they were ready. “This first part is all about body postures and use of your weapon props. Just visualize yourselves alone when you first encounter a lion. Just react as you would naturally. “ Big-E and Jimmy got on the balls of their feet and held their bat and blade the way they would at the edge of action. Maxim just stood there with the butt of his spear resting on the ground. Mary Harris was clicking away taking shot after shot before she noticed Max was not moving. “Is that how you react when you come upon a lion?” she asked him. “Yes” he replied plainly. “I have to wait until he makes a decision before I assume a stance.” He explained to her that the large cats become very nervous when they see him and will slide a little to each side before they commit left or right. “When they commit, I thrust. If the cat goes to our outer flank I make a kind of sweeping motion to drive it toward my brother Ronnie who chases it out of bounds. If it moves toward our center, toward Big-E, I kill it.” He showed her, in slow motion, how he would hop and spring and turn his body in mid-air before driving the spear into the lion. Mary clicked her camera controller intuitively as Max spoke. Later when she was going through the set of shots she noticed a cluster showing Jimmy Luani’s face clouding into a look of jealousy. This set of pictures also displayed little looks of glee from Big-E. It took her a while to understand what all of this meant. She suggested Max pretend to see a lion going left, then right. He told her that there just wasn’t enough room for that and they settled on him moving rhythmically in place, tilting the spear this way and that. As all of this was taking place, the lights would come on and change according to the controls Mary initiated with her hand-clicker. Then they moved on to the facial oriented shots that involved her trying to coax expressions out of them.

For this she would run through various lists of nouns while clicking off shots. It was like a word association game but with an important difference. She gave the three men tiny remote controls and told them to toggle and click in one of four direction based on how they felt about the noun she voiced. This would alter the pattern of lights in different ways she had mapped out in setting up the event. She told them the significance of each position they could toggle: an up-click was something they should do if the noun she used had a pleasant effect on them; a down-click for a negative feeling; an inside left-click if they felt strongly; and a right click if they didn’t. A non-click could be used if weren’t really interested. She had them test it out. Very subtle effects were achieved in the base lighting as each man clicked, or passed on clicking. “Don’t get too wrapped up in all of this” she said smiling. “Just do it or opt out as you please. Its just one more way of getting you guys to make different faces at the camera”. They ended up going through this very rapidly. They paused several times for assistants to dry off the men’s faces—or to add moisture and apply tiny amounts of make-up. The entire photo shoot of the production came and went in little more then an hour. The rest would be handled in post-production and the final proof would be made available to them very quickly, in a matter of days. They would either accept the photo or kill the project. That was the terms agreed upon. Mary Harris did not usually compromise. They would be satisfied she told them. People always were. The three Lion-fighters would decide among themselves whether the project would come all the way forward. Each had taken many pictures and didn’t expect much change in how they would perceive the group portrait. They weren’t so picky. They were going to go with what she came up with. Big-E invited Mary Harris and her crew to stay for dinner but she told them she wouldn’t dream of intruding on a family event. Dinner came at six o’clock. Servers slowly herded the many guests into places pre-arranged by Coco. Buster was pulled away from Lucile and seated with Bill and Ronnie and the camera crew. The husband and wives were generally seated apart with each getting a few of the children to supervise. Maxim’s twelve children were scattered about with Lynette and the aunties. Big-E, Coco, Maxim and Dr Akiyama sat with the Luani’s and with Jean d’ Sole. All were given menus to the variety of foods prepared by the catering company, who made use of the kitchen and breakfast nook areas and had trucks backed into the parking spaces next to this part of the house. Ronnie and Bill were busy giving Buster differing advice with their auntie Lucile. “You gotta pace yourself” Ronnie said in a low voice. “Come on” retorted his brother. “Buster White don’t ‘pace his’self’…he pounce…..then he bust big! That’s his style, little brother.” Merle was sitting at the next table and overheard this. He flashed a big, mean face at them. He wanted nature to just take its course and for the chips to fall where they would. He didn’t want to have to re-configure the odds any more. With word among their friends getting out on-line, total bets were now over five-thousand dollars. Buster had been the favorite. Then wives and girlfriends began to lay down for Lucile. Merle knew this had gotten out of hand. He had more work now then he ever intended for himself. And if something dramatic in terms of a result didn’t show up the next day, everybody would be fighting over who had bested the other, and word would spread to Big-E and Coco! Buster meanwhile, wasn’t paying them much attention. He kept looking over at Lucile who would smile back and touch her watch. They had already worked everything out. When dessert was on the tables, Coco slipped off. When she returned a while later it came with an announcement that the six-year anniversary toast would now be presented. Coco made her reappearance and there was something of a gasp. She had changed from a simple and refined party dress into a creation from the designer Daz that left little to the imagination. She had re-worked what there was of the two-piece outfit by covering it with a special fabric she had found. She also wore the solid gold bracelet Big-E had given her as well as the tiara from their year-one party. Both were items she rarely ever put on. Her stunning closet full of jewelry was mostly used during “dress-up day” at her summer girl’s camp.

Big-E’s pulse was throbbing and he went to her and slid her into him and wrapped his right hand around her waist. He couldn’t believe how good she looked and felt. It was like when they first met. He public consciousness quelled greatly as if all the lights in the room had gone off and it was only the two of them. Robert Casoni appeared with an oversized glass for the toast and told everyone how blessed their union was. Then they both sipped from the glass. It was filled with a mixture of very old wine—and of juice squeezed from locally-grown grapes picked from a special vine only hours earlier. The friends and family of Big-E and Coco all joined the toast. Then they clapped and shouted their congratulations. The sixth-year anniversary toast was actually part of a very old ritual that went back for thousands of years. Or that’s what the author of the book on this subject had written several decades earlier. Coco and Sydney had read it and wanted to have all of the sub-rites and parties and romanticism that went along with it. And this was all encouraged by Jean. Most people didn’t honor the ritual—which was designed for another time and place. Originally, couples were betrothed at the edge of puberty and not allowed to have much or any contact until reaching the beginning of adulthood. In the sixth year sub-ritual, the couple would begin to explore the intimacies of their sexual natures with their mates. But intercourse was not allowed until the night or weeks following the seventh-year final ritual. They were allowed to tease and touch and stimulate one another in every other way, but intercourse was reserved for the progression into child bearing and true family life. It was thought that such ritual—which was often very difficult for the young people—would result in this best quality offspring. Big-E and Coco were much to old to enact the true ritual. Abstinence for them wasn’t a possible even for seven days when they first had met. Instead Coco used the teachings in the book to be an aid in what was otherwise a modern marriage. The seven-year contract now was mostly a very simple legal document. That is, simple for everyone except Maxim and his five wives and twelve children. His legal work in this regard was long and involved. He spent over fifty thousand dollars on the document and put in many hours of research himself trying to discern what would be fair and proper in his situation. The evening eventually came to a close and most of the guest took their children and went home or to hotel rooms they had rented for the occasion. Max brought a small bus to haul his kids and their three nannies. Lynette and the aunties stayed at the house. But their oldest sister had left with Buster. When the three brothers returned the next day she greeted each with the news that Lucile had gone and taken Buster White back to Brazil the previous night. She and her sisters were shaking their heads, still in disbelief. “She just got that old smile up in her eyes” Lynette said. “She tell me, ‘oh, I’m gonna take Busta back to Brazil with me…to keep my po’ ol’ husband company.’” Lynette hadn’t seen that smile in a long time. Her oldest sister’s smile was like a door to world that she would never know about…and probably didn’t want to know about! “So we all gonna have to wait some time to find out how it plays out”, she told her sons. “Only thing I can that ol’ husband of Lucile must’ve done some wicked things in his time to end up paralyzed in a chair and stuck in a room with that nasty old Busta White talkin’ up a foul storm like he do!” She even wondered to herself if Lucile had taken him away as some way of making up for the wrongs she had done in her life. Taken him away for the sake of the family. It was either that, or something altogether different. Big-E and Coco never emerged from their section of the large house that whole day. The door to their secret lives stayed locked to everyone else.

In Los Angeles, at her home, Mary Harris spent the entire day going through the photos of the Lionfighters. The portrait shaped up in her mind. It would be decent but not as great as she would’ve liked. The full spirit of this unusual form of man had not quite made it onto the images she exposed. That is, until the very last picture of the entire set. She had almost skipped viewing the photos by that point. But then—much to her amazement—there it was right at the end. The tension she was looking for. The three men had each clicked down and in on their light controllers indicating they had the most intense feeling about the noun she used. It set a very unique light. At first, she couldn’t even remember the name she had spoken. The final string had been “the last ten celebrities” she had photographed before the Lion-fighters. The last name in that set—the one that had apparently summoned the strong feeling from them—was the leader of the Fascists. Ethan Vulerummer.