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Club Vesta: A Journey Beyond the Mountains of Madness to Find a Sea of Stars (Love-Letter to America)
Level -1: The Gateway
§7 And so it was, about three weeks later, on fine Saturday morning, that Janie and I headed north in a U-Haul I’d hired, everything I owned and some of Janie’s aboard it, Gomez snoring away in his oversized carrier in the bin just behind the front seat. Trailing behind us came Lu’ and Erik in their little station wagon, three other cars filled with friends from the dojo, and even dear old Mr. Thaddeus in a Datsun he’d leased, all of whom wanted to see my new store and do the tourista trip in Seattle. (Mr. Thaddeus, sniffling a little when I gave notice and told him why, told me he felt like I’d been a daughter to him, etc., etc., he couldn’t bear to lose me, so of course I told him I’d be more than happy to work with him at long distance, finding things he wanted for his store he couldn’t get locally if he’d do the same for me, and of course he wanted to see my new store for himself to make sure I was doing the right thing, yadda yadda yadda [heaven forefend he’d ever admit to just wanting a nice vacation for himself!], so there he was, tooling along behind the rest of us up I-5 in his lend-lease Datsun.) It was a lovely, hot day when we started out. By the time we arrived in Seattle, three days later, of course, not only was it still hot, but we were all so tired and sick of driving that the loveliness had worn off somewhat. Even so, when everyone had managed to find parking spaces near my new store and had come on in with their luggage and sleeping bags – I would be living in the store myself for awhile, in a room partitioned off the rest of the basement; the bathroom was in good working condition, with a shower and all the other inalienable aspects of the good life, and with the coffee bar all set up and ready to do we had all the comforts of home right there, no need for a Cr 70-per-night room in a rundown Motel 6 for anybody – we were hard-put to stay in any sort of bad mood. Over the next three days or so, together with Ruth Jensen and Maury Fein, my two new employees, we all pitched in and got to work getting the store ready for my first customers, setting up the bookcases and the cases for Magickal tools and jewelry, putting up displays of herbs and Magickal powders and prayer candles and all the other things that customers of such stores make use of, then unboxing some of the books and other items I’d be selling and putting them into the proper receptacles. We set up the cash-registers, the desktop computers, the filing cabinets, and all the other office equipment necessary to running a business, neatly racked up all the folding chairs that were for people attending lectures or classes in the basement, made sure everything was in good working order. Finally, everything was ready. Gomez, who had been let out of my room into the rest of the store on the first night, after the doors were tight shut so that he couldn’t go running out onto Pike Street where he’d get lost or run over, had settled in happily, everyone fussing over him and paying him more attention than he’d ever had before in his life. Having chosen for his throne a two-hundred credit silk Lucky Fortune pillow, embroidered with a riot of herons and cranes and tortoises and dragons – as Lu’ said, a distinctly busy scene – in brilliant cerise, scarlet, royal blue, icy-white, solar yellow, and spring green that I had unthinkingly tossed down on top of a cabinet to wait until I could find a better place for
it, he surveyed his new kingdom with lordly content. Gomez was in his heaven, and all was right with the world. Most of the people, my former boss as well as Erik Skua included, left the next day, because they had jobs they couldn’t neglect and only so much time they could take away from them. Lu’ and Janie stayed an extra couple of days, letting me play tourist guide as I happily showed them around my new city. Then they, too, had to leave. I’d already turned the U-Haul in at one of the U-Haul outlets around the city. Lu’ offered to drive Janie back in her station wagon – Erik had taken the train back – and Janie, who would otherwise have taken the train home herself, accepted. Taking a tearful farewell around noon, with hugs and kisses all around, they both piled into Lu’s car and began the long drive back down I-5 through Oregon and Northern California to the Bay Area. And so I opened my store, Hermes Trismegistus’ Treasures – shortened to Trismegistus’ Treasures or just plain “Treasures” by just about everyone in town who knew about it by the time a couple of months had gone by – and began my life anew in Seattle, far from all that had been so familiar to me, and from all the friends I had made in San Francisco, especially through the dojo. It didn’t take me long to begin making friends. I was also able to keep up training, at least to some extent – as Lu’ and Erik had said, there were plenty of workshops and the like held both here and in nearby cities, such as Portland, that I could attend. Through a series of flukes, my store became a success much sooner than I had anticipated, mainly because during the first month it was open, two people came by to check it out who turned out to be members of Osiris Risen Lodge, a local branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Magickal organization in the West. Liking what they saw – and spending several hundred credits’ worth on books, Magickal powders and incenses, and various ritual items in the store, including a real Malay kris, a lovely marble mortar and pestle for grinding various powders for use as incense or tea, and an enormous brass incense-burner shaped like a rampant winged dragon, to prove it – they promised to generate a lot of business for me. Not only did they keep their promise, but a week later one of their friends, an alchemist who lived up in the Ravenna district north and east of downtown, called me up, saying he needed a place to give his lectures and classes, and asking me if he could rent my basement room for that purpose twice a week? Of course he could, I told him, overjoyed. Soon I was making money not only from his rent on the room, but also from the patronage from his students, whom he instructed to purchase books and other items for his classes that were available in the store. Of course I had ads in the Yellow Pages and on what was left of the Internet, now mostly a ragged collection of electronic bulletin boards and localized ISPs, (thanks to the Great Crash of 2012 [a banner year all ’round, folks!], due to a hideous combination of Solar flares and terrorist activity), as well some in the trade journals and that sort of thing. But by far my greatest advertising resource was mouth-tomouth advertising by patrons of the store, who happily told all their friends and colleagues, some of whom lived long distances away, about the store, the classes, and my inventory. In turn, I took many of the suggestions they offered as to items I might stock, and requests for various books, and improved my inventory many times over during the first year of operation. By the end of that year, I was turning a large net profit, so much so that I was able to invest in city bonds as well as some of the more attractive stocks on the boards of New Wall Street in Portland. By the end of the second year, thanks to thrift, careful management, a large and growing clientele, and luck in my investments, I had an asset that was likely to carry me comfortably for the rest of my life. I was even able to travel, frequently visiting old friends in the Bay Area, such as Janie, Lu’ and Erik, and others from my dojo, as well as new friends I’d made through my store in Tacoma, Portland, Spokane, and even farther away (I even had some patronage from Canada and Alaska, thanks to the informal but highly effective grapevine provided by the OTO, Golden Dawn, and other esoteric organizations). I was also able to attend annual Tai Kais, even managing to afford plane-fare to Osaka for a meet held by my school’s Grand Master. So my life settled into a comfortable routine of managing my store and, sometimes, attending or even giving classes in the store’s basement, attending various holiday and other celebrations put on by various esoteric orders and Neo-Pagan groups in the area, to which friends in those organizations invited me, and otherwise becoming a solid part of the community. I even managed, by the end of the first year, to be able to move into a lovely and affordable apartment with two bedrooms, both simply huge, over on Capitol Hill, in an older but very well-maintained building on East Thomas Street between 14 th and 15 Avenue. Gomez, who had made lots of friends while we lived in the store, both among the human customers and friends who came to visit and the local cats in the neighborhood, wasn’t very happy with the move at first. However, both the managers of the building, who lived downstairs from us, and the
neighboring tenants on my floor, were all cat nuts, and soon Gomez had them all wrapped around his tailtip, spoiling him rotten, feeding him a lot of things he wasn’t supposed to eat at his age but loved anyway, and generally providing an absolute cat heaven for him. There were squirrels and alley-rats to chase – in spite of his age at the time, around 8 or 9, he was still very active and athletic – and other cats to get to know, as well as a couple of dogs who turned out to be friendly. So soon he was a very happy cat, the world his oyster, a far cry from the half-starved, worm-ridden, battle-scarred and terrified young tom I’d found crying and shivering on my doorstep years ago back in Sausalito, one of the places I’d lived before I moved to the Bay Area. He was now the Grand Old Cat of the neighborhood, spoiled rotten by everyone, loved by just about everyone who got to know him, save for a number of local feline toughs (whose butts he kicked soundly within the first month after we moved in, thereby establishing himself permanently at the very top of the local feline pecking order) and the inevitable ailurophobes, whose allergies and/or neuroses made them reject anything feline. Gomez may have been in heaven at that point, but I wasn’t. As I said, my life was very comfortable by then, materially speaking, and I had made a lot of friends in the area. I was still training, both at workshops and meets and in tai chi and ba gwa classes, since those Chinese schools of martial arts were based on the same kinetic principles as those upon which the techniques of my own school were based. I was only in my mid-thirties, in good physical shape, a very successful businesswoman with a store that promised to become a permanent feature of Seattle’s business and occult communities and plenty of money in the bank and other investments. But unlike Gomez, my social life, outside of my store, my attendance at various holiday functions and the like, and my training, was, as it had always been, remarkable mainly for its nonexistence. I had lots of friends, to be true – but the best of them lived in the Bay Area, 600 miles or more away, and as for those who lived nearby, I wasn’t really a part of their lives, never really visiting with them in their homes, or sharing the minor and major crises and joys of their lives the way close friends do. Above all, I had no romantic life at all. Oh, I had dated a number of men over the years, but nothing permanent had ever come of it. I had had a few short-term sexual relationships, but none of them were ever more than a fling or an experiment on the part of my partner of the moment, it seemed, and I never really fell in love with any of them. And, of course, I was still hopelessly, totally in love with Erik Skua, but I wouldn’t have admitted it under torture, both because I also loved Lu’ dearly, and would never have done anything to cause her distress, and because I knew damned well that someone like Erik was not for the likes of me. I might have been a successful businesswoman, but as an individual, as me, I was still nothing and nobody, a spinster who had never even gone steady with anyone for any length of time, save for one catastrophic engagement to be married in my late teens which ended with the death of my fiancé in a traffic accident in San Luis Obispo. So I was alone, even in the midst of what seemed to be a whirlwind social and business life. Constantly surrounded by and interacting with others, I was nevertheless an island unto myself, my soul touched by no one else, touching no one else’s soul or heart. §8 And so it continued for another eight years or so. During that time I was able to expand into a second store in the Ravenna area, not far from the University District, and also became a Neophyte and then a Zelator, a probationary and then a fledgling full member of the OTO. Year by year I improved my techniques in and facility with combat arts, once using them to take down and hold for eventual pickup by the cops three vicious young punks who broke into my store with the intention of raping and killing me and stealing everything they could one Sunday, when the store was locked up for inventory and only I was there, working on the books. Self-proclaimed Satanists, all three of them had long criminal records, many of their crimes involving violence, up to and including a suspected murder, and police in Seattle, Portland, and other cities in the Pacific Northwest had been trying to put them permanently behind bars for a long, long time. Because of recent changes in the gun laws of Washington state, I had been able to get a weapons permit, and had purchased an excellent Mossberg with a cut-down stock so I could handle it like a handgun, and two actual handguns, a .40 caliber Glock and a .38 caliber Colt revolver, both of which, loaded and ready, had been right there with me at the desk where I was working that evening. Grabbing the shotgun the moment I heard the back window break, I had them covered as they squirmed through the window. I had to wing one in the right leg to prove I meant business, but after that it wasn’t hard to get them to lie down on the floor while, one by one, I secured their hands behind their backs with loops of red cord which, fortuitously, I had on hand for a lecture someone was going to give later on that
week in the basement on Hinduism and the Cult of Kali. Then, before they could work their way out of their crude bonds, I went back and started on their feet, holding the gun on them one-handed while I wound Kali-cord around their ankles with the other. Then I went back once more and wound still more cord around the wrists of each, looping it back around the bonds tying their ankles together so that their ankles were drawn back above their asses to meet their hands. By that point they were effectively hogtied and unlikely to break out of their bonds any time soon, so I was able to put down the Mossberg, get out some nylon cord I had behind one of the counter to use for various purposes, such securing fragile display-racks and so on, and use it to tie each of them up all over again, this time making absolutely sure they couldn’t get out of the knots I used short of Judgment day. Lying flat on his belly, hands tied tightly together behind his back and thumbs bound together separately, legs bound to each other and pulled back above his back and tied tightly to his hands, each man was almost completely immobilized at that point, with virtually no chance at all of breaking free before the cops could get there. Which, after I placed the call to 911, they did within about ten minutes, probably because I mentioned the sawed-off shotguns, 9mm semiautos, switchblade knives, and other assorted items of hardware the punks had had on them. I guess the reason the punks had been so readily intimidated by the shotgun is that the information they had had about me was wildly off the mark – a not-so-young single woman running a “weirdstore,” as they put it, naïve and somewhat stupid and physically weak. Yeah, right. When they came in through the window and found a woman in good condition confidently training a heavy-gauge shotgun on them and looking not only as if she knew how to use it but as if she’d love to have an excuse to do so, apparently it blew what passed for their minds. Their whole world came apart at that point. By the time the cops got there to pick them up, they were utterly demoralized, literally whimpering in their confusion and terror. It wasn’t so much me they were terrified of, but the way the world itself had seemed to turn on them, presenting them with a situation completely unlike the one they’d prepared for. For perhaps a month I was the city heroine, lionized on the news, presented with a Good Citizen’s Award plaque by Mayor Scheffield in a special ceremony held at the local Lions’ Club center on East Pine, not far from my store, about a week after the incident. For another month or two I was the neighborhood heroine, and business boomed in my store as a result. But somehow it did absolutely nothing for my love life, such as that was, and didn’t make me any closer to my friends. I was well-liked, well-respected – but not loved. Not by anyone. I had never had been, and I was pretty much resigned to never being loved – or loved back, in Erik’s case – by anyone in all my life. (Except Gomez, but then, you might say I was pretty much the only mother he’d ever known, so that doesn’t count.) And so it went for ten years after I first arrived in Seattle. During my eighth year there, Gomez died. It wasn’t a bad death at all – he went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up the next morning. When, weeping heart-brokenly, I took his limp little body in a carrier the two blocks up John to his vet so she could do an autopsy and see why he had died, she found he’d had a massive stroke, a main artery to the brain letting go all at once. He must never have known what happened, going from contented dreams after a wonderful day of being fed all his favorite foods and being – as usual – spoiled rotten by all his friends in the building to whatever awaited him beyond the walls of sleep and life within instants. The blowout had occurred right next to that part of the hindbrain concerned with maintaining respiration and heartbeat, and had crushed it instantly, loosing so great a volume of blood into that small, cramped space in so short a time that function must have been instantly, permanently interrupted. He wouldn’t have felt a thing. No lingering in chronic agony from some awful diseases or injury, no wasting away, as so many older cats do, from the ravages of time. He’d died in extremely good health, in spite of his age, which was about 15 or so then, as fit as many cats half his age or less, surrounded by friends and endless love and bountiful food and care. When I die, I only hope it is as good a death as Gomez had – and that I find him coming to meet me on the Rainbow Bridge I’ve been told awaits us all when we leave our mortal lives behind. Two more years went by – good years, especially so from the point of view of my business. But lonely ones, and, at the core, empty ones, somehow. I toyed with the idea of getting a kitten to replace Gomez, but somehow never got around it – it would just have reminded me too much of Gomez. At one point, when a friend went on vacation, I let her bring her three ferrets over for me to take care of while she was away, and when she came home and took them back again, for awhile, missing the sweet but mischievous little stinkers, who behaved so much like Brownies in British and European folk-tales, I thought of getting one or two of my own. But I never acted on it. I only had my potted plants and a couple of crows that liked to sit on the back fence and regale me with the news of the neighborhood for company, most of the time, but it never really grated on me, not enough to matter, and so I never even took in a new pet.
§9 And then I had been there ten years, and one fine Sunday afternoon in late July the phone rang, and I picked it up to hear Lu’s dear voice saying, “Hi, sport, how’re you doing up there? Want some company?” “Lu’! What’s up? How are you doing? How’s Erik doing? Have you heard from Janie?” “Oh, we’re fine. Janie is, too. But Erik’s going on a trip to Japan in a couple of weeks to work directly with the Grand Master and maybe also clinch a business deal with someone, and I had some vacation time coming, and I thought I’d come up to see you, if you didn’t mind.” “Of course I don’t mind, Lu’! I’m just – this is so sudden! Why aren’t you going to Japan with Erik, yourself?” She heaved a long sigh. “It’s a long story. Basically, an old injury in my back is kicking up again – apparently one of my vertebrae is a little fragile, and my doctor said I must absolutely not do anything that might make it worse. If I avoid training for about a month, he said, and don’t do any heavy lifting or anything like that, I should be fine. Otherwise he’s afraid it’ll get so bad they’ll have to do surgery to correct it. So I can’t train, can’t really oversee the dojo very well – one of our star pupils, Don Mason, is doing that for us while I’m out of commission – and I’m getting very bored. You know I’ve got my own business?” “Yeah, weren’t you doing some sort of consulting work for florists and nurseries or something?” “Something like that. I advise businesses and schools what sort of plantings to use in their landscaping, analyze soil content and like that when they have problems with bedded and potted plants and see what’s needed, sort of like a plant doctor. Well, I’m longer overdue for a vacation. Erik makes damned good money as head of security for that big branch of Bank of North America over on Taylor Street, and with what I’ve made over the past year, neither of us are hurting. Both of us can afford the vacation, so . . .” “I’m flattered, but why didn’t you go with him to Japan, just as a tourist? It must be fascinating over there!” “It . . . Esh’, you know I’m a libertarian?” “Yes, of course. So am I, if you come right down to it.” “And so is Erik – but he’s a lot better at playing diplomat than I am. Japan is right back to preApocalypse population levels and then some, and whatever freedoms they gained after it all hit the fan have eroded again to nearly nothing. We had all hoped that eventually Soke’s work there would pervade enough of the country to steer it toward libertarianism, or something like it, because the mountain clans among whom our school developed in ancient Japan were very much like that themselves – still are, what’s left of them. “But most Japanese want nothing to do with it. They want order and regularity and a way of life that –oh, shit, I’d better not talk about it, I’ll just get mad all over again! Anyway, I decided not to go because I didn’t want to run the risk I’d start haranguing people there about their . . . situation and why they don’t seem to give a shit whether it goes on like that forever. – No, I lied. Erik kind of suggested I might be a whole lot happier not going over there this time, that I could stay home and take a vacation and rest my back, and he’d be home again soon and everything would be fine. See, the last time I went over there, Soke had a visitor to the dojo there in his home town, and the visitor was a member of the Japanese Parliament, and very formal, very stiff, and I sort of . . . well, told him my views on the way his country seemed to be going, and it was all rather embarrassing.” “Oh, shit.” “You got it. Soke forgave me, of course, and so did Erik – in fact, they both told me, afterward, that I’d said the same things they’d been itching to say, but hadn’t really dared because of the fact that Japanese the government is not very comfortable with schools like ours, which teach real combat arts instead of the damned sports arts that everyone is so hot about, which are lionized in so many of the animé features and the comic books. Thank God my Japanese still isn’t very good, because I’ve had so little time to practice it, because Mr. Minister didn’t understand the really inflammatory parts of it, and Erik and Soke brushed it off as PMS, which Mr. Minister, who is an authentic, dyed-in-the-wool Male Chauvinist Boor if there ever was one, was more than ready to believe. So nothing really bad came of it. But next time – well, we decided not to risk it this time. “By the way, Soke is thinking of relocating permanently to the USA now. He’s sick of the way his country has gone these last several decades, in spite of the Apocalypse and everything it did to free the Japanese people from an increasingly authoritarian government and the necessity of so much regulation
because of population pressure, and believes that there really isn’t anything he can do there to stop it. So he’ll probably move here, say, somewhere in the Southwest or even here, San Francisco.” “The Grand Master wants to move away from Japan?!” “You got it. But if and when he does, it won’t be right away. He’s got too many loose ends to tie up – maybe a year from now.” “Why here?” “Hey – bad as it can get here sometimes, bad as it has gotten at times, both before and after the Apocalypse, the old cliché still holds true: we’re still the freest nation on Earth – for what that’s worth, these days – and there’s still some hope here.” “Yeah, maybe. I’ll believe it when I see it.” “Hey, come on, you aren’t in the People’s Republic of California any more, remember? You’re in a state where they actually allow citizens to own handguns, and even, in some cases, have a Concealed Carry permit! Where men are men and –” “— trees are nervous. I know. Big deal.” “You sound like Little Lady Sunshine, now. What happened?” “Oh, it’s just day in and day out, dealing with New Agers and feel-good wannabe Pagans and Radical ‘Feminist’ Wiccans other idiots who have no real idea of how the world actually works, and don’t give a shit about finding out, either. This last week I had at least five of them, people who wandered into my store over in Ravenna when I was in there doing a shift for Colleen, who was out with the ’flu, tell me that I’m a reactionary fascist anti-Pagan pro-Fundamentalist this-’n’-that, one of them starting a really loud argument right there in the store that almost turned into a brawl before I gave him a good old fashioned Vulcan Nerve Pinch and hustled him out of there muy pronto.” “Hey, doesn’t that grip Soke taught us all at the Tai Kai last year come in handy?” she said, with a true belly-laugh, the first sign of good cheer she’d given since about four sentences into the phone call. “Heh-heh-heh. – Okay, so you’d like to come visit up here?” “Sure, if I wouldn’t get in the way or anything.” “Actually, I’m somewhat overdue for a little vacation, myself. It’d be nice to take off a week or two and go explore the Peninsula or the back country up in the Cascades or whatever. I’ve just about had it with the sort of customers who come into my stores most of them time these days, and when I get to that point, it’s either go on vacation or sell the stores and go to work for some bank or something, because otherwise I’d end up strangling a few of the bastards.” “Can’t have that – sounds like they aren’t worth being put in Walla Walla over, are they? – Okay, is it all right, then, if I come up in a day or two?” “Why not tomorrow?” “I was planning on driving. I can afford the gas, now, and the car’s in good shape, so I thought I’d drive it up there. More mobility, and I can go the scenic route if I want.” “What sort of car do you have?” “Actually, it’s a classic 2023 Lotus, runs like a dream, been repainted and reconditioned and looks almost like new.” “How in the name of God were you able to afford that? Those things must be worth about Cr 30,000 now!” “One of our students was moving to Bonn, for various reasons, a permanent relocation, and he couldn’t import the car. Remember Harvey Lowe?” “Yes, I do. Wasn’t he the one who got jumped by a would-be mugger over on Powell Street one night and sort of cleaned up the street with the bastard?” “You got it!” she said cheerfully. “He’d been with us for about a year at the time. The thing is, that mugger was not only packing a semiauto and a nice sharp buckknife, but he also had a tiny little portable blowtorch he carried with him. A real lunatic. He came at Harv with the torch, but Harv managed to disarm him and take him down without getting hurt, even though the torch was on at the time. Harv said it was spitting a long, blue-green flame like a baby dragon. He’d had this fear of fire ever since he was a little boy, because of an accident he was in, but the training kicked in before he could think about it and he had the torch out of the guy’s hand and into the street, and the guy down on the pavement, before he even realized what he was doing. “He said it cured him permanently of his pyrophobia. It also saved him from some nasty burns, to say the least. Harv’s been grateful as hell ever since. He’s also rich, and doesn’t need much extra money. So when he found out he’d have to move – LogoWorks, his corporation, had just opened new central offices in Bonn, the first in any part of Germany, and needed a top CEO there to oversee
operations – and couldn’t take the car, some stupid regulations they have, he wanted to give it a good home, so he offered it to me for about Cr 1,000. Such a deal! I couldn’t pass it up.” “Lord, I guess! Okay, how long do you think it’ll take you to get here?” “Well, I planned on leaving in the morning, and making it up to Portland by evening, where I could crash and then leave the next morning and arrive in Seattle about – let’s see, that’d probably be late in the day after tomorrow or so, barring accidents or anything.” “God forbid. – Okay, everything should be ready then. I’ve got plenty of room here, even have a spare bedroom I’ve been using for this ’n’ that, since I don’t have a roomie or anything. “It’ll be wonderful to see you again, Lu’. It’s been, what, four years or so since the last time you and Erik made it up here – and a good two and a half since I was able to visit you down there?” “About that. – It’ll be good to see you again, too, kiddo. – Of course, we’re going to have to train while I’m up there, see if you’ve gotten any better or lost your edge . . .” “If you want to bet, bet on the latter. Haven’t had much opportunity for training, lately.” “Ah-hah! See what happens when I let you out of my sight? Well, we’ll just have to fix that!” she said, laughing. “What about your back, though?” “Hang my back – and we can always call a halt if I start hurting. And it isn’t that bad. I’m just not supposed to have anything to do with full-on dojo training right now, but the doctor hasn’t ruled out a few sessions here and there with good friends.” “So, how long would you like to stay?” “How long can you stand me?” “Hey, what kind of talk is that? I‘d love to have you here as long as you want to stay. So how long can you stay?” “Three weeks, I think. Erik’ll get back in four weeks, so that’ll give me more than enough time to drive up the coast to Seattle and then, going home, to get back to San Francisco, barring the unexpected.” “Who’s going to take care of your ferrets?” “Erik has a new friend from work, moved into our neighborhood, he likes ferrets and will be happy to weasel-sit or even take them home with him until we’re home again.” “Still have Yoshi and Miko?” “No, both of them have long since gone over the Rainbow Bridge. I guess I forgot to tell you. No, now we’ve got Kiro – short for Akiro Kurisawa, because the first thing he did when we found him (he’d escaped from somewhere, never did find out where, and we found him in our yard one morning) and got him inside was head for Erik’s camcorder, which we had sitting on the floor by the VCR. Still tries to get at it every chance he gets. Makes you wonder what sort of movie he’d make, and what it would be about, doesn’t it? “Anyway, the other one, the little girl, is named Otsu. She was given to us by a dear friend who had to move down to the Los Angeles area, God help him, and he didn’t want to take her there. She knew us, because when he’d go on vacation or whatever he’d leave her over here with us, so the transition wasn’t too bad for her.” “I’d love to meet them.” “Maybe someday . . . your state still hasn’t banned ferrets, has it?” “No. – My state? Lu’, you were born here, but you talk like it’s foreign country or something!” “It’s just – I’ve lived here in San Francisco for so many years, it’s kind of hard to remember what Seattle is like any more, except when I visit there,” she said, laughing a little. “I think I know what you mean. I feel like Seattle is my true spiritual home, always was and always will be – but as you know, I was born down in the L.A. area.” “Eeeuccchh! Just about anyplace would be better than that, wouldn’t it?” she said, laughing even harder. “As a matter of fact – yes. The idiots who live there by choice can keep the place – between the radiation, the smog, the crazies, and those roving packs of two-legged wolves, it’s about as close to my idea of Hell as you can come. I grew up in La Jolla, though, where my adoptive parents lived. A really lovely suburb of San Diego – I kind of miss it, at least the way it was then. If you have to live in Southern California, that’s the place to be, I think. If it hasn’t gone to Hell the way the rest of So. Cal. has, that is. The one favor my . . . natural mother did when she sold me to those monsters was that at least they lived in someplace one hell of a lot better than San Pedro!” “You were born in San Pedro?” “You know the Navy went in there and rebuilt after the Apocalypse, after the plagues died out and the radiation from San Onofre dropped down to bearable levels? One of the first things they did there,
besides getting the docks and like that working again, was build a good hospital for the servicemen and their families who would be living on the base once it was ready for occupancy. It was the place to go for any kind of medical work for just about everyone – if you couldn’t pay, you could get free treatment there if they had bed space and doctors were free – and so she picked that.” “She lived there?” “Actually, no. She had come down there from Portland to have me. These mutual friends of hers and my adoptive parents paid for her hospital care there, and arranged the adoption, and then she took off again after she had me, probably back to Portland.” “That sounds rather . . . convoluted.” “Doesn’t it, though? I have no idea why they did it that way. I know my adoptive father was a covert occultist, and I may have been adopted for something to do with that. I know they sure as hell didn’t love me.” “You’ll have to tell me all about it when I get up there. I’ve never really talked to you much about your past, and it sounds fascinating, in a sort of grim way.” “Oh, hell, it’s actually mostly rather boring. I think my joining your dojo was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me in all my life right up until then, as it was. – Well, anyway, I don’t want to run your phone bill up any higher than it already is. So you’ll be here in 2-3 days?” “Yep!” “That’ll be fine. I’ll arrange for Ron, Kerry, Ted, and Lauren to take over for me at the stores, so I’ll have the time completely free for you. What would you like to do when you’re up here?” “You mentioned the Cascades? I haven’t been up there in ages! Want to do some exploring up there? Or we could drive straight out to Spokane if you’d like, maybe put up in a motel for a few days and see what’s out there, then sort of take the scenic route on the way back, whatever you like.” “Haven’t been to Spokane lately. There isn’t much there, except there’s a member of our school who lives there, Abe Schwarzkopf, we could go visit him and his wife and kids and see if he knows any others in that area if you want. And then, coming back, we can check out the fishing on the Skyhomish or something – got any tackle?” “Sure! I’ll pack my best fishing gear along with the guns. – Are there any ranges where we can go to practice?” “Honey, we’ve got something better than that – two members of the Osiris Risen OTO lodge I belong to own land back up near Gold Bar, I think it is, and all they need is a little advance notice to let us camp out there for a few days and use their own private range. Plus a branch of the Skyhomish runs right through there, so we can get some fishing in there, too. Whether or not we go out to Spokane, we can’t miss that!” “Wow! Okay, I’ll come loaded for bear – literally. Not that I expect to see any bears up there –” “Oh, they’re there again. The Forest Service restocked recently. Brown bears, close relatives of the ones that were native to this area. They got them from that big underground All-Habitat Zoo up in Anchorage, the one that’s been bringing back various formerly extinct species using tissue cloned back in the 20th century that’s been in storage at the Earth Ark project of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, which rode out the Great Quake and tsunamis of 2013 in pretty good shape. But I don’t think we’ll see any – they’re all way the hell and gone back in the Cascades – they stocked them on the eastern slopes of the mountains, and the bears probably haven’t made it over to this side, because it was rather recent. Certainly not close to towns like Index and Gold Bar, which have just too many people in them. These bears aren’t yet used to human beings, and would avoid the area we’d be in. “But there may be deer – you up for some venison? A hunting license now costs about Cr 30.” “Er – isn’t this a little out of season?” “It would be, in California. But not here, or at least not up where we’d go. Without any bears or cougars or anything up there, the deer have been breeding up all out of proportion to the area’s natural carrying capacity, as it is, and they’ve started chowing down on people’s petunias and kitchen gardens and trampling up their lawns, and the bucks get really nasty at times and try to pick fights with cars and trucks that go in there and even pitching woo at goats and cows some people have, that sort of thing. So until the deer population is back down to bearable levels and the predator restocking project is successful with its cougar and bear and wolf colonies, it’s pretty much open season on the deer all year around.” “So why do they charge for a hunting license, then?” Lu’ asked, now laughing hard. “Sounds as if we’d be doing everybody a favor!” “You know how it is – the money goes to pay the salaries of the Fish & Game people, otherwise they’d be out roaming the streets stealing hubcaps or something. Can’t have that, so we have to have the licenses.”
“Oh, you – okay, then, I’d better hang up and start packing. – Oh, Esh’, I can’t wait to see you! And Gomez, the old lazybones!” “Uh, forgot to tell you . . .” “Uh-oh . . . is he – uh . . .” “Yes. He died in his sleep about two years ago. Vet said he never felt a thing, poor old man.” “ ‘Poor old man,’ my eye – that cat was the most spoiled rotten, happiest cat I’ve ever seen in my life! You gave him a good life, Esh’, don’t ever worry about that. Well, I’m sorry, I wish I could have seen him one last time, but who knows, maybe he’ll come back as a kitten that turns up on your doorstep or something.” “You never can tell, can you? – Okay, sweetie, I’ll see you in a couple of days, then.” “Yep.” “And Lu’ – drive carefully, okay?” “I will.” “Need directions?” “No, I’ve got your address and phone number, and I remember the area really well, anyway.” “Okay, then, hasta la vista, vaya con Dios, etc. etc., and I’ll see you in two or three days. And in the meantime, I’ll be getting the place ready for you, and arranging for my vacation.” “Sounds like a plan, darling. Okay, ’bye!” “’Bye!” I had a remastered version of an ancient Moody Blues album, A Question of Balance, on the CD player. “And the Tide Rushes In” was playing: I’ve been searching for my dreams A hundred times today; I build them up, You knock them down Like they were made of clay . . . An odd chill suddenly streaked down my spine. “A goose walked over my grave . . .” Shuddering for no reason I could determine, reaching out I hit the “OFF” button. The music stopped. Still not feeling any better, I went into my bedroom to see what I had on hand for a trip into the mountains with Lu’, so I could make a list of things I didn’t have and would need and get some shopping in tomorrow, before Lu’ got here. Happy as the prospect of seeing Lu’ again as well as a real vacation up in the Cascades made me, I couldn’t shake that uncanny presentiment of doom that had suddenly settled over me. § 10 “Lu’!” “Eshda – oh, it’s so good to see you again!” she exclaimed as she released me from her bear-hug and, holding me at arm’s length, looked me over. “Hey, you look good, my dear – more muscle, I think. And no flab anywhere, I’d bet.” “Uh, you might lose that bet,” I told her, grinning. “Come on in and sit down – looks like you’ve had a long, hot, hard drive. Bet you could use some iced tea.” “That bet you’d win,” she told me, not moving from the door. “But there’re . . . there’s all that stuff in the car, and I don’t want to leave it there on the street, even if it is locked up.” “Hey, we’ve got an underground parking garage here. I don’t have a car now, so you can use my space – and I’ll help you carry your stuff in right now, anyway, so we won’t have to worry about that.” “Great! Come on, it’s about halfway down the block from here,” she told me, beckoning for me to follow as she bounced back down the front walk toward the sidewalk. Of course, except for the Glock she always carried in her belly-bag and the little snub-nosed .38 hideout gun she had in a holster clipped to the back of her jeans, under her blouse, she had been sensible enough to pack the guns in rectangular cardboard boxes that gave no hint of what they contained, but it wasn’t unknown here for smash-and-grab artists to break the windows of cars and take anything from them they could reach, even in broad daylight, so getting her stuff inside as quickly as possible was imperative. Within fifteen minutes, between us we had unloaded her car and gotten the stuff inside. Then, while she drove the car around the block to the entrance to the building’s underground parking garage, I got on the phone and called my landlord and let her know that Lu’ would be occupying my
parking space and what her license-plate number was, so her car wouldn’t get towed for unauthorized use of the space. A few minutes later, Lu’ was back in my apartment, gratefully guzzling down a huge glass of ice Lipton’s. “God, that was good!” she exclaimed as she set the glass down, empty, on the coaster I’d provided for it. “Any more?” “Well, of course! Want some herb tea?” “Oooo – got any Lemon Zinger?” “As a matter of fact, I do. I can make it iced, with honey, if you want.” “Who do I have to kill to get some?!” “Coming right up . . .” I made an enormous pitcher full of the stuff, then, coming back with it and a glass for myself and setting them down on the table next to Lu’s glass, I poured both of us tall glasses full of frosty, sweet herb tea. Soon we’d polished off the entire pitcher full of herb tea, and Lu’ was looking much better than when she had arrived. Expectably, it had been hellaciously hot on the drive up here – she’d taken I-5 throughout, to save time, instead of the far cooler US 101 coastal route – and she’d spent relatively little time en route resting, eating, or otherwise not driving, not excepting a short layover at the Aloha Motel in Portland to snatch about 5 hours’ sleep before getting back on the road to Seattle. No longer looking as if she’d driven most of the way through some of the balmier parts of the Dante’s Inferno, she still looked very, very tired, and held herself as if her back hurt a little. “Lu’, would you like to eat first, or take a shower, or maybe a nap?” I asked her. “I . . . I had something to eat at a Denny’s about two hours ago, one of their sandwich-and-salad combos. I could sure use a shower, though – and that nap sounds heavenly. You wouldn’t mind?” “Of course not! You look as if you hadn’t had any sleep in the last week – I know, I know, you slept in Portland, but that wasn’t very much sleep, was it? Look, you go ahead and take a shower and then you can crash out for awhile. My bedroom’s down the hallway there –” I pointed – “and I’ve got two beds. Both made up fresh this morning, so you can use either one. Bathroom’s right next to it, fresh towels and everything all ready.” “Oh, you’re an angel!” she exclaimed, sighing in relief. “Where’d you put my suitcase? I need to get a robe and things out of there . . .” “Sitting right over by the door into the hallway, along with your little night-case – thought you’d need them,” I told her, grinning. “I put the guns and fishing-tackle and other stuff in the bedroom; you can sort them out later. My own stuff’s in there, too. I think, between the two of us, we’ll be the Terror of the Cascades,” I laughed. “Anyway, you go take your shower and have a nap and I’ll get something ready for dinner while you do. I was thinking steak and baked potatoes and home-made bread with real butter – we’ve got dairies up the butt here ever since Wisconsin went down the tubes and what was left of their dairies moved out here, so it doesn’t cost nearly as much as it would in California.” “Oh, God, I can’t wait! My mouth’s watering already,” she told me, pausing as she looked through her suitcase and night-case for what she’d need for her shower and nap. “if I weren’t so hot and dirty and tired right now . . .” “Well, it’ll take awhile to fix it, anyway. I can take some frozen dough out of the freezer for the bread, but it takes time to bake properly. And I was going to make some real, home-made ice-cream for dessert –” “Aaagggh! Stop torturing me, dammit!” “For real, love – I get the cream, well, half-and-half from the Safeway down the street, comes from the same place the butter does, and I use real vanilla extract and real strawberries for it. You up for some?” “Oh, Lord, what I wouldn’t give for real home-made ice-cream! All we can get in the Bay Area is that ‘ice milk’ jazz, which doesn’t even have real milk in it any more, just that soy shit substitute, and God knows what else is in it – or isn’t, as the case may be.” “Don’t they have to label it?” “Yeah, but you have to use an electron microscope to see what’s on the label anymore.” “Oh, my.” “You said it. Erik and I have been talking about moving up north, maybe to Corvallis, or maybe even up here, to get the hell away from California’s cockamamie bullshit laws, which they only enforce if they have to do with control of the citizens, not protecting them.” “What’s holding you up?” I asked her, grinning. Rising from where she had been squatting on her heels next to the suitcase, a robe and nightie draped over one arm, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a cleansing stone clutched in her other hand, she said, “Well,
first we have to find jobs where we plan to go, not to mention getting a place to live. Then we have to close everything out where we are now. And we love the Bay Area – it’s just California we hate. – Okay, I’ll go take that shower now, and then crash out.” “Careful Grandma, that one dates you – you must be over a hundred now . . .” I laughed. “Oh, come on, last century’s slang has come back in fashion, that 1960s Revival thing, you know.” “Yeah, I know. Okay, I’ll go start rustling stuff up in the kitchen. Have a nice nap,” I told her, going out to the kitchen. A couple of hours later, as I was checking on the bread – I’d flash-microwaved it to defrost it, then popped it into the oven, which was already preheated to baking temperature – I heard a sound behind me. Whirling around, a knife in my hand I’d caught up from the countertop, I brought the knife up – “Lu’, for heaven’s sake! I thought you were – oh, Lord, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” I said, carefully laying the knife back down. Coming toward me, Lu’, still rather bleary-eyed, smiled oddly and said, “You did keep up your training, didn’t you, Esh’? I’m sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. I just couldn’t sleep any longer – I’m still a little tired, but my body doesn’t want to sleep now. Forgive me?” “Oh, of course – there’s nothing to forgive, Lu’! Come on in, sit down, let me get you something to eat if you’re hungry, I’m about to put the steaks on but I made soup and you can have a cup, if you like.” “What kind?” she asked, taking a seat at the kitchen table, the afternoon sunlight coming through the window next to the table framing her in a golden aura. “Vegetable beef stock-pot – I had some frozen, left over from a few weeks ago when I had this brisket of beef and couldn’t eat it all right away and decided to make a soup with some of it. Sound good?” “Yeah, it sure does. Any crackers to go with it?” “Yeah, if you like saltines. And, of course, there’s butter to go on them, if you want.” “I’ll save that for the bread – even up here, butter must cost an arm and a leg, and I don’t want to put a strain on you while I’m here.” “Actually, to be honest, I get the butter at a discount. It comes from a little health-food store down the street, Rainbow Grocery, it’s been there for something like 80 years, and one of my regular customers runs the store. He gives me a discount because of all the good deals I get for him – he collects Egyptiana as well as occult tools of all kinds, and I find stuff for him at estate sales and so on at bargain-basement prices that he couldn’t get for less than five times as much otherwise, in some cases. Sometimes the butter is on the house, depending on how good the season is.” “Lucky Esh’ – sounds like you went into the right business!” “If you discount the crazies, the ‘long white gown people’ who think their gurus are Ascended Masters, the threatening phone calls from various religious types, and so on, yeah.” “Oh, pooh, you wouldn’t still be in the business if it were that bad, would you?” “Probably not. But we can’t sound like we’re boasting, can we? The Gods might be listening, and you know what that means . . .” “What?” “Hubris begets nemesis,” I said darkly. “Anyway, it’s not a bad life, I’ll give you that. – Here, let’s get some soup ready for you,” I told her, reaching into the freezer and taking out a plastic tub filled with frozen soup. “I’ll just pop this in the microwave and it’ll be ready in a flash.” It took somewhat more than a flash, about three minutes, before the soup was defrosted and at the right temperature; by then, heavenly odors of baking bread had filled the kitchen, and Lu’ was beginning to resemble Pavlov’s dog. “Okay, here’s the first course,” I told her, putting a bowl of soup before her along with a spoon and a plate full of crackers. “Dinner will be ready shortly – I just put the steaks in the broiler, which is separate from the rest of the oven, something you don’t see everywhere but I lucked out here. What would you like to drink? I’ve got white wine, red wine, herb tea, coffee –” “Red wine, I think. What have you got?” “Actually, a pretty good red. California’s good for at least one thing, and that’s wine – this is a Littleton-Minetti, bottled about three years ago.” “Hey, that’s a good brand!” she said between mouthfuls of soup. “Erik and I buy a lot of their wine. We get some real compliments on it from guests, too.” “I believe. Okay, let’s get a glass here for you . . .” My lead-crystal wine-glasses were up on a high shelf. While Lu’ half-heartedly protested my “going to all that trouble” for her, standing on a kitchen chair I got a wine-glass down for her, filled it with wine, and handed it to her. Pausing to inhale its bouquet appreciatively, she took the glass from me and sipped
at it. “Mmm – the real stuff, all right! When did they lift the restrictions on out-of-state imports of alcoholic beverages here, anyway?” “Oh, hell, they dropped those years ago! I wasn’t here then, but apparently what happened is that a very large group of citizens had a ‘pitchfork referendum’ down at Olympia and the legislators caved in fast and annulled the restrictions and those atrocious excise taxes on most imports. People here got very, very tired of Olympia trying to run every aspect of everyone’s life – and tax them in the bargain for it.” “ ‘Pitchfork referendum’?” “Yeah – the legislators had ignored a citizen referendum of the regular sort that the people of Washington State put through to throw out those restrictions, and were in session in the process of passing more and worse such, and this page came running in, saying, ‘Uh, there’s a whole bunch of people out there want to talk with you . . .’ “The page looked so shaken that the legislators went out to see – and when they got out on the front steps of the capital building, they found it had been entirely surrounded by citizens from all over the state, about 15 deep, many of them holding pitchforks, others holding shotguns. Including a lot of cops from all over the state, who had joined the other citizens – cops here don’t like trying to enforce stupid laws, or living under them, for that matter. “Everyone out there was very, very polite, all nicely dressed, looked very respectable – but the pitchfork tines were very, very sharp, and all the shotguns were loaded, and there were other things, too, and after getting a good long look at all that hardware, the legislators went back in and quietly threw out all the restrictions.” “Heh – so where were the state cops?” “They’d joined the crowd.” “Erk!” Lu’ laughed. “I’ve got to say that people here in Washington have one hell of a lot more balls than they do in California – and that the cops sure are different!” “Yeah, it seems as if. – Okay, let me check those steaks . . .” Soon the steaks were done, as were the baked potatoes in foil I’d popped into the broiler earlier. Dishing up the food, along with a platter full of just-baked bread and a butter-holder filled with fresh creamery butter I’d picked up earlier in the day, before Lu’ had arrived, I set everything on the table and then joined Lu’ there.
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