Tag Archives: Charles Thrasher

Spike Africa

Friday, March 25

When Harry collected his money from Dietrich Hoffer at Fiddler’s Green, there was a glitch.

Sitting in his booth, Hoffer removed his antique glasses and cleaned them with intimidating deliberation. In the background, Marlene Dietrich was singing “Und steht sie noch davor …”

“I understand there were certain…irregularities…in your delivery, Mr. Wry.”

Harry wondered how the man managed to make such an ordinary word sharp enough to draw blood.

“There were challenges,” Harry said, squirming in the booth as Hoffer rebalanced his glasses on the bridge of his nose and stared at him. Harry had seen the same look in the eyes of a Komodo dragon. “We improvised. It all worked out.”

“My business succeeds by being unobtrusive. Are you familiar with the word, Mr. Wry?”

“Yeah. You like to stay in the shadows.” Like a Komodo dragon, Harry thought.

“Exactly. Anything that draws attention to my activities is undesirable.” Hoffer picked up his antique fountain pen, examined the nib dispassionately, and then drove the pen into the tabletop with a motion quick as a rattlesnake’s strike. The man’s expression didn’t change.

Harry sat looking at the pen quivering in the wood.

“Do I make myself clear, Mr. Wry?”

“Abundantly,” Harry said.

Hoffer removed an envelope from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table. “Excellent. I want no misunderstanding if this should happen again. I will have another job for you in a week. I will leave word with Herr Lidmann when the details are resolved. And Mr. Wry?”

Harry thought it was a rhetorical question but Hoffer waited for an answer. “Yes,” Harry said.

“Make no changes to your operation, nothing that would evidence your new financial status. Spend nothing more than usual. Do nothing other than usual.”

“I was going to have the boat hauled,” Harry said. “Scrap her bottom, replace some standing rigging. Basic maintenance.”

Hoffer shook his head slowly as if his patience was tried by a dull-witted child. “That would be ill-advised. Your success, and my anonymity depend upon you remaining utterly unremarkable. Hide in plain sight, Mr. Wry.”

Hoffer coughed into his kid glove. This time Harry recognized it as laughter.

Harry rowed back to the schooner riding at anchor and sat in the cockpit. The air was cold but the clouds had distanced themselves enough for the sun to warm his body. Gulls screeched and sea lions barked and the fog horn on Ediz Hook warned of impending bad weather. (Bad weather was always impending on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.) Spike Africa rose and fell gently on a groundswell born deep in the restless heart of the Pacific.

There was nothing Harry loved more than the schooner. She was the only thing in the world he owned, the only thing that made sense of the world. She was a creature of moods, grace, loyalty, stubbornness, joy, and a wicked sense of humor. He had lived with her longer than any woman and he intended to die with her.

He had joked that, when he died, he wanted a Viking ship funeral, his body laid on deck, sails hoisted, wheel lashed, and the old girl steering him to oblivion. It was more likely she would sink beneath his feet and be the cause of his death.

She was named for the President of the Pacific Ocean, a man who once signed proclamations with a flourish in the No Name Bar on the Sausalito waterfront. Spike Africa, the man, had come by his title honestly. He had shipped as crew on the K.V. Kruse, a five-masted lumber schooner built in 1906, wrecked in 1923, and as mate onboard Wanderer when Sterling Hayden, the actor, stole his kids and sailed to Tahiti in defiance of a court order.

Harry remembered a portrait of Spike hanging in a waterfront bar in Alameda. He was pictured standing in a meadow of yellow flowers on the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate in the background, wearing nothing but a Greek fisherman’s cap. His skin was wrinkled and leathery and his pose tastefully concealed the nasty bits.

Bob Sloan, a friend of Spike Africa, the man, built Spike Africa, the boat, in the late 1970s. She was designed as a working schooner, an anomaly even then. Sloan put a big diesel in the boat and made a business of towing plastic yachts back from Baja California at the end of the season. Scuttlebutt had it, Sloan would tow two or three boats at a time, strung one after the other, with a crewmember on each to steer a straight course. It took time so slow the schooner, bring the towed boats alongside, and change the watch, so Sloan kept his crew at the helm for 12 hours at a time, without slowing even to take a piss. The boat owners never suspected their cockpits were awash in urine.

There was no work left in the world for an old wooden schooner and no profit even in hauling a deckload of tourists around the Salish Sea. Both Harry and the schooner had outlived their legitimate usefulness.

He went below to make himself a meal of beans and stale bread when he heard an insistent call.

“Hello, the schooner! Hello, the schooner!”

Harry climbed the companionway ladder, balancing a slice of bread on his bowl of beans. Over the cockpit coaming appeared the head and shoulders of a man with hair the color of winter wheat and the blue eyes of an Arctic wolf. If he was standing flat-footed in a boat, Harry estimated he must have measured well over six feet.

“Hello to you,” Harry said around a mouthful of beans.

“Are you this vessel’s master?” the Norseman said. English didn’t seem his native language.

“Harry Wry, jack of all trades, master of none. If you mean the owner, then yes, I am.”

The Norseman didn’t smile. Harry suspected his expression was chiseled from ice.

“My name is Root Bergson. I am the mate onboard the Retribution. She is…”

“I know her,” Harry interrupted. “And her reputation.”

“You don’t agree with the mission of the Sea Defenders?” Root said.

“I don’t disagree,” Harry said, “and I’ve no love for factory ships killing whales for profit.”

“May I come onboard?” Root said. “I have a proposition.”

Harry carried his beans into the cockpit and looked over the schooner’s gunnel. Root Bergson was standing in a rigid inflatable powered by a massive outboard engine. A crash bar was bolted to the rigid frame and eyebolts fitted to the molded hull. The boat looked military grade. A young man, barely college age, sat at the center console.

“Come aboard,” Harry said, “but leave your weapons behind.”

“I have no weapons,” Root said, looking bewildered.

“A joke,” Harry said. “Beans?”

Standing beside Harry, Root looked at Harry’s bowl of beans. His smile looked more like a grimace. “No, thank you.”

“A tot of rum?” Harry asked, being hospitable.

“May I offer you some Linie?” Root pulled a hip flask from his pocket and offered it to Harry. His smile seemed less pained but still thinned lipped, like a pressure crack in old ice.

Harry knew the history of Linie, aquavit casked in sherry and carried twice across the equator in the hold of ships. The name meant “line” in Norwegian. He accepted the flask, a little too eagerly, almost snatching it from Root’s hand. It tasted of caraway, mustard blossom, and fennel. The 90-proof alcohol cut through the lingering taste of beans like stormwater through a field of ash.

“Damn,” Harry said and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He handed the flask back to Root who drank twice as deep. Harry waved Root to a seat in the cockpit. “This proposition…” Harry began and waited for Root to finish.

“You know the Makah will begin whaling again,” Root said.

Harry nodded. “You’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind to miss all the hoopla.”

“Allowing Native Americans to resume whaling will encourage the Japanese and others to expand commercial whaling,” Root said. “Once the door is opened, you can’t close it again. The Sea Defenders are opposed to killing whales, whatever the reason.”

“I gathered that,” Harry said. “Your point?”

Root offered the flask again. It took the edge off Harry’s impatience.

“We are planning a major demonstration in Neah Bay. Retribution will lead a fleet in protest. They are mostly small boats, yachts. What we need is a platform that can be seen from the shore.”

“A platform?” Harry said.

“We would like to hoist a banner between your boat’s masts that could be clearly seen by the camera crews on shore.”

“You want to use Spike Africa as a billboard?” Harry said.

“Yes, exactly. We would like to anchor bow and stern at a right angle to the shore so the banner would always be visible to the cameras. Whenever anyone takes a picture of Neah Bay, our message will be broadcast.”

“And why would I want to lay beam to the swell, rolling the old girl’s guts out, for the Sea Defenders?”

“We would pay you $300 a day, plus expenses,” Root said.

Harry grinned, exposing a chipped front tooth. “That’s my kind of protest.”

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Sturm und Drang

Friday, March 25

Rathskill carried a stool onto the lecture hall dais. He felt old and bent as if the accumulating years had a weight that pressed him to the ground. The gravity of old age, he thought bitterly, and braced himself with a foot on the stool’s cross piece.

The old shaman in the deerskin cape was in class again, sitting in the back row looking indistinct like a character not fully realized. Rathskill still had no clue to the old man’s metaphoric meaning. What was the point?

He still had no idea what had happened to him in the two days missing after the Apocalypto Motel. Those two days might as well be a road sign warning “Surrender all hope, ye who enter here.” He had left that sign far behind.

He felt control of his life slipping from cramped fingers. Soon, he suspected, his behavior would become more erratic, more obvious. People would notice. Eventually, he would have difficulty distinguishing what he alone saw or heard or smelled. Eventually, he would be the only rational person in a world no one else inhabited.

They’d lock him up again. For your own good, they’d assure him. Until you’re well, they’d promise, but never let him out again. He could expect to spend the rest of his life in pajamas without buttons.

Rathskill took a deep breath. “Please take your seats. Heads up, phones down.

“The other day we discussed the collapse of the community at Tse-whit-zen. Today we’re talking about cultures in conflict.”

The lights dimmed. The first slide was a monochrome photo taken from the middle of a dugout canoe. In the bow of the canoe the harpooner was poised, his torso naked, his right arm drawn back and tensed, the harpoon raised above his head for the thrust. Behind him, another man tended a line coiled in a wicker basket. The photographer was the third man in the canoe.

The whale’s blowhole was twenty feet ahead. The whale’s head was pushing a bow wave through the water. Foam flecked the surface.

There was a feeling of immediacy about the photo. The wake thrown by the whale, the dappled surface of the water flowing across its back, the men in the canoe, slightly blurred by motion, captured in the moment before the whale felt the wound, before it raised its flukes to dive deep and flee, before the harpoon line began to unreel from the basket. Or the moment before the whale’s flukes crushed the canoe and spilled the men into bitterly cold water they could survive only minutes.

The whale was so close the Makah could reach out and touch it, feel the scars left by orca attacks and the whale lice attached to the skin. They could hear the rush of air from the whale’s blowhole and smell the stink of bottom mud, crustaceans, and krill.

“The photo was taken by Asahel Curtis around 1930,” Rathskill said. “Asahel was the lesser known brother of Edward S. Curtis.

“It’s a remarkable photo. It gives you a sense of the physical intimacy that exists between predator and prey. There were no steel ships or bomb lances. No stockyards or processing plants. These men touched the life they took.

“For the Makah and other Coastal Salish people, the sea was their homeland,” Rathskill said, waving his hand toward the photograph on the screen. “Whaling was their identity. It defined who they were. It anchored their culture. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Makah have the right, guaranteed by treaty, to hunt whales off the coast of Cape Flattery. The Makah tribe is preparing to renew whaling. Their decision has been controversial. Many people now consider whaling barbaric, unconscionable, immoral. Which is right?”

“How can you justify taking the life of an intelligent species?” Avila Torres said. Avila was a bright Latina woman who usually sat at the edge of the class.

“Pigs are intelligent,” Martin Broadcutt said. “Does that mean we can’t eat bacon?” Laughter rippled through the room.

“How can you compare the intelligence of a whale to a pig?” Avila Torres said.

“Exactly,” Rathskill said. “We don’t even know how to measure human intelligence, much less another species. I don’t think intelligence will help us make this moral decision.”

“Even if we don’t know how to measure it, shouldn’t we give whales the benefit of a doubt?” she said. “We don’t need to eat them.”

“But to Mr. Broadcutt’s point, shouldn’t we extend the same benefit to pigs?” Rathskill said.

“When pigs fly,” Martin Broadcutt said. There was more laughter.

“It’s murder,” Avila Torres said.

“Technically,” Rathskill said, “murder is defined as killing another human being. At most, the law might judge it animal cruelty.”

“So, what makes us better than them?” she said.

Rathskill stood up from his stool and leaned forward. “That, Ms. Torres, is a profound question. What makes us better? What makes us different?”

“You’re not suggesting that whales are just as important as humans?” Martin Broadcutt said. “Or pigs?”

“Life feeds upon life, Mr. Broadcutt,” Rathskill said. “That’s a simple, inescapable truth. Life feeds upon life but with each death, a debt is incurred. Eventually, the debt comes due and predator becomes prey. Death makes us all equal. That’s a lesson the Makah knew intimately.”

“God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply,” Lydia Hempton said. “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you. Genesis 9:3.”

There were groans and a few catcalls from the class.

“It’s survival of the fittest,” Martin Broadcutt said. “The strong survive, the rest don’t. If whales are so fit, how come they’re almost extinct?”

Avila Torres got out of her seat and called Martin Broadcutt a chauvinistic creep. Broadcutt called her a tree hugger. The noise rose like storm surf against sea cliffs as everyone shouted their opinions, their passionate beliefs and entrenched prejudice and the hackneyed wisdom passed down from their parents.

In the back of the class, the shaman’s image became grainy and flickered, then faded to electronic snow like an old black and white television screen. Rathskill waited five minutes. The noise didn’t abate. He picked up his stool and walked out of the classroom. No one seemed to notice.

He returned to his office and collected his leather jacket and helmet. He was scheduled for office hours but left without even a note on the door. It was too much effort.

Time was everything. He was running out of it. Was it time to walk out onto the ice and expose himself to the cold mercy like an old Inuit? Wait too long and he’d lose the freedom to decide.

He needed to know what he didn’t. Blavatsky had said his memories might heal. He was sufficiently desperate to try any tomfoolery a second time. He started the Indian Chief and pointed it toward Shantytown.

He ran into traffic on the waterfront near the Black Ball Ferry docks. A cop was directing traffic at the intersection where the lights in every direction were flashing red. “What’s going on?” Rathskill asked him.

“Sea Defenders giving a press conference,” he said, his arms waving. “Indians are protesting.” A car failed to yield. The cop made an angry face and emphatically gestured for them to stop. “It’s a cluster, if you ask me.” He blew his whistle and changed the direction of traffic. “Move along. Light’s green.”

Rathskill parked the Chief behind Cock-a-doodle Donuts’ dumpster and worked his way into the crowd gathered at the ferry parking lot. At the dock in front of Downriggers on the Water, a big banner was draped over the side of a ship: Whaling kills tourism.

Crazy Elmo occupied the corner of Railroad Avenue. He was dressed in an orange Elmo suit and standing on a milk crate beside a cardboard sign. “Crazy Elmo photos—$5, autographs—$3, punch your lights out—free with a release form.”

He was shaking an orange fist at the sky. “You think that’s natural?” he shouted. “Harmless water vapor?” The silver contrails of passenger jets streaked the sky. “That’s climate change, courtesy of the U.S. government. Raise the oceans, turn fields into dust, and plant tornadoes. You never heard of HAARP?”

A Japanese couple laden with shopping bags and selfie sticks stopped to listen, thinking it a photo opportunity, but hurried away when Elmo pointed at them and shouted, “Too many people. Too many mouths to feed. Too many hands grabbing for what little’s left. They’ve weaponized the climate. They’re culling the herd. First the poor bastards in Nigeria and Bangladesh, people so far away you can’t hear them scream, and then it comes to a supermarket near you.”

Rathskill paused to listen to the rant. It was a mistake.

“You think I’m crazy?” Elmo said, pointing at Rathskill with an orange mitt. “You think it can’t be true? No one would kill millions of people to make a buck?” Elmo shook his head and seemed to deflate slightly. “All human suffering is someone’s business model.”

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Bawon Samdi

Friday, March 25

It had not been a good week for Sully, attacked by a black hole, nearly digested by a shadow, and now the police wanted to question him about the theft and subsequent scuttling of Qwackers. He blamed it all on Harry Wry.

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Harry said after Sully cornered him at the Eagle Café. “It’s routine. They’re just fishing for answers.”

“They may be fishing,” Sully said, “but I’m on the hook. I told you I can’t do hard time in the slammer.”

“Jesus, Sully. You sound like a Raymond Chandler novel. How do they even know you’re a person of interest?”

“They called the Parks Department. My boss gave me up. I can’t stand up to enhanced interrogation. Sleep deprivation, blaring metal bands, waterboarding. I’ll crack.”

“It isn’t a rendition, Sully,” Harry said. “They just want to know if you saw something last night. You didn’t. Quiet as a graveyard. That’s the end of it.”

“They know,” Sully said and looked aside to see if anyone was watching. “Someone must have spilled their guts. They’ll catch me in a lie.”

“All the cops know is someone took that truck for a joy ride,” Harry said, “and left it on the bottom of the bay. Nothing leads back to you. Quit pissing your pants.” He doused his scrambled eggs with Louisiana Hot Sauce. “In a day or two, you’ll have more money than you know how to spend. A couple of months more and it’ll be warm water, cold beer, and coconuts. Just keep your mouth shut and don’t answer any questions you’re not asked.”

Sully wasn’t entirely convinced. He had a native distrust of the police characteristic of people who lived on the margins. Safety was hiding in plain sight. Visibility was a risk.

Sprout buttonholed Sully on the docks while he was walking home.

“You see what happened?” Sprout seemed excited. He rapidly shifted his weight between feet, almost hopping in place.

“What are you talking about?” Sully said.

Qwackers. Someone sank Qwackers. And Sandy Crab tried to strangle me. What an ass hat.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Sully said.

Sprout’s words rushed with excitement. “I cartwheeled that sucker with a Japanese arm grab, then put him down with a shoulder pinch. Sweet.” He slowed. “Really? Nothing? How could you not? It happened on your doorstep. I thought you were a watchman.”

“Nothing. I saw nothing,” Sully said, sounding vaguely like Sergeant Schultz.

“Nothing? You’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind,” Sprout said. “You know, the police want to talk to you.”

“Yeah, I heard. Listen, I’ve got to get some sleep.” Sully began walking away.

“Something else,” Sprout shouted at his back. “Umber wants to do a séance tonight at Tse-whit-zen.”

Sully pivoted. “What? Is she crazy?”

“I can’t vouch for her sanity,” Sprout said. “Something to do with RAT and the City Council.”

“What the fuck do 300-year-old Klallam ghosts have to do with the City Council?” Sully said, surprised by his own vehemence.

Sprout raised his hands in self-defense. “Hey, I’m just the piano player. Umber thinks Tse-whit-zen is a psychic supercharger. Thinks she can use it to slingshot herself to the etheric plane and read the Akashic records of the Council members. Dig up dirt, I guess.”

“Umber is an idiot,” Sully said. “She’s likely to step in something she can’t get off her shoes.”

“You’ll get no argument from me,” Sprout said, “but the request comes from HP. If you want back on her good side…” Sprout shrugged.

Sully considered. Visions of the consuming void hadn’t returned since that first night at Tse-whit-zen but it might be shrewd to offer it another target as a distraction. He shook his head side-to-side but said “OK, but I’m not taking any responsibility if this shit goes sideways.”

“Oh, and it has to be at midnight,” Sprout said, cringing.

“Of course it does. Are we also expected to sing “Stairway to Heaven” backward?” Sully said.

“She didn’t request a chorus,” Sprout said.

Sully slept for several hours. When he woke, he couldn’t remember his dreams but his bedsheets were wet with sweat. He took a cold shower from rainwater collected in a cistern on the roof, too impatient to heat water on the stove, and caught a bus to the Port Angeles Police Department on 5th Street. He wasn’t risking the Dodge Tradesman anywhere near the place.

He waited in a room with linoleum tile, a man with a hacking cough, and a woman who kept drumming on her purse with fingers stained yellow. A tall man with a face sharp as a hatchet came to claim him.

“Sully Marlybone? My name is Detective Vanoy. Would you follow me?”

Vanoy led him into a large room full of metal desks and noise. People in suits and uniforms were talking on phones, talking to each other, talking to people seated on the opposite side of desks. Some were handcuffed.

Vanoy pointed to an empty chair beside a desk and sat. He deliberately opened a thin folder and read a printed form. Sully suspected the silence was intended to intimidate. It was working.

“What’s this all about, Detective?” Sully said.

“You live on Marine Drive, Mr. Marlybone?” Vanoy said.

“I live on a houseboat at Slee’s Bay Marina,” Sully said. “We don’t have postal service so the mail is delivered to an empty house on Marine Drive. Everyone’s mail.”

Vanoy made a note in the file. “And no phone number?” he said, head down.

“No electricity, no phone,” Sully said.

Vanoy made another note. “Would you like some water, Mr. Marlybone?” Detective Vanoy offered him a bottle of water. “You’re employed by the Parks and Recreation Department as the night watchman at Tse-whit-zen?”

“Yes,” Sully said.

“And you were working the night of Thursday, March 24?” Vanoy asked.

“You mean last night?” Sully said. “Yeah, I was.”

Vanoy laid the file on the desk. For the first time, he looked directly at Sully. “Did you see anything unusual while you were on watch?”

The man’s expression was accusing as if he knew something. Sully drank some of Vanoy’s water. “Besides a couple humping in the back seat of a Ford in the parking lot?” Sully said. “It’s not that unusual.”

“Besides that. Anything between 2 a.m. and dawn?” Vanoy said, leaning into the question.

Sully squirmed. The chair wobbled beneath him as if one leg was shorter than the others. “Nothing much happens at Tse-whit-zen late at night.”

“Last night,” Vanoy said. “Specifically, last night. Nothing happened last night?”

Sully shook his head and grimaced as if the effort to remember was painful. “Nothing.”

Vanoy leaned into Sully’s space. “You saw nothing, heard nothing along the shore last night?” Vanoy said.

“Nothing,” Sully said. His chair wobbled.

Vanoy leaned back and returned his attention to the file. “Mr. Marlybone, do you know a man named Sandy Crab?”

Sully smirked. “The guy that owns Qwackers? I don’t know him. I’ve seen him around. He hauls boatloads of tourists around Shantytown, shows them the freaks.”

“Sounds like you resent him.” Vanoy was leaning forward again.

Sully shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t feel much about him, one way or the other. He’s just another dude trying to make a living.”

“And you didn’t see his boat…his…” Vanoy looked again at the file, “his truck…Qwackers last night?”

“No,” Sully said, rocking his chair.

“Thank you, Sully,” Vanoy said. “May I call you Sully?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Thank you for your cooperation, Sully. That’s all I have.”

Sully was half out of the chair when Vanoy, looking again at the file, said, “One last thing, Sully,” as if a casual afterthought and not a sock full of nickels aimed at Sully’s head. “You have a remarkably clean record. No priors, not even a parking ticket.” He looked up from the file. “In fact, no record at all before last year when you applied for a driver’s license.”

“My family were Mennonites,” Sully tossed over his shoulder, as if that explained everything, and kept moving.

The séance that evening was unimpressive. Sully sat on the picnic table watching Umber and a few unstable supporters huddled around a small fire. He had eaten several magic mushrooms to ease his anxiety and enjoy the show. The firelight was pulsing. It seemed a coherent message, like Morse code, a message from the universe. He regretted never learning Morse code. How often does the universe attempt to communicate in a code no one understood?

Umber was standing over the fire, vibrating. Sully realized she was singing herself onto the etheric plane. He couldn’t identify the tune. At least it wasn’t “Stairway to Heaven.”

A man sat next to him on the picnic table. Sully hadn’t seen him approach. He was simply there. Sully wondered where he had been when he wasn’t there. He dismissed it as another signal he couldn’t decode.

The man seemed overdressed for a séance. He wore a black coat with tails, black slacks, and white, button-down Spats over dress shoes. Sully thought he had come from a masquerade party. The illogic of a masquerade ball in Port Angeles didn’t trouble him.

The man removed a John Bull top hat and sat it on the table between them. His black hair was short and tightly curled, like a black man, but his face was pale, the skin tautly drawn over the bones of his face, lending a skeletal appearance. Sully couldn’t see his eyes behind dark glasses.

The man removed a huge cigar from his mouth and took a swig from a bottle of Barbancourt. He offered the bottle to Sully and grinned.

“Dude!” Sully said. The rum had highlights of smoke and prayers and blood.

“What is she doing?” the Dude asked, pointing toward Umber with his cigar.

“Psychotic espionage,” Sully said. He had meant to say psychic.

“She dances with the dead. I can show her a dance she will wemember.” The man spoke with a lisp or a soft accent. He grinned, thrust his cigar back and forth, and pivoted his hips suggestively.

Sully screwed his face in disgust. “Dude, she’s ancient.”

“You think I can’t make wata flow from the desert?” the Dude said.

“Is that a metaphor?” Sully held his hand up. “Never mind. Dude, who are you?”

“My name is Samdi. You can call me Bawon.”

Even stoned, Sully didn’t feel comfortable giving his name to a man wearing spats to a mass grave. “Bawon? You don’t sound local. What are you doing here?”

“I come where I’m called,” Bawon said. He opened his arms in an embracing gesture. “These are my people.”

Sully didn’t think he was referring to Umber and her helpers.

“I can’t stay,” Bawon said. “I have other engagements tonight. The man in the cave asked me to give you a message. You need to return. You don’t have much time.”

Sully knew only one man who lived in a cave. “Winsome Clapanhoo?”

Bawon stood to leave. “We will meet again,” Bawon said. He began to walk away, then turned. “And Sully, stop hunting wats. They are under my protection.”

Sully didn’t see him leave any more clearly than he saw him arrive.
“Wats?”

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Street Fighting Man

Wednesday, March 23

Maud Seward sat in a canvas camp chair, her knitting in her lap, a ball of yarn in a basket beside her, like a French market woman seated beside the guillotine. “No, no, Matches,” she shouted. “At a distance, hold the knife like a hammer. Close in, hold it like an ice pick.” She illustrated the proper technique with her knitting needle.

Matches was a twelve-year-old girl who lit fires when the tension at home became unbearable. She was registered at Roosevelt Middle School as Vala Daunt.

“That’s it, dear,” Maud said. “Chin, either commit or run like hell. Don’t dance around like Mohammed Ali. Cripple or kill, that’s the point of a knife fight.” She chuckled. “No pun intended.”

Chin was Edee Lempert to his parents, an eleven-year-old boy who idolized UFC champ Georges St-Pierre. He dreamed of fighting in the UFC but had a glass jaw.

“Strike first and strike hard. Don’t allow your opponent a second strike,” Maud encouraged. “And Bugsy, keep your left arm up. Use it defend your vital organs. Expect to get hurt. This is a knife fight. It’s dirty and bloody and someone will probably get killed. Make sure it isn’t you.”

Bugsy was one of the oldest members of the Hammertoes, the gang that cribbed in the Old Cannery. He was Hardball’s lieutenant, the son of an immigrant family from Argentina. Christened Tiro Badrian, he claimed to be the grandson of a Waffen SS Standartenführer who fled to Argentina after the war. His family were Jewish tailors. Bugsy clicked his heels which made no sound in sneakers and snapped a straight arm salute.

“And if you ever do that to me again,” Maud said, laying her knitting needles in her lap and leaning forward, her voice thin as a straight-edged razor, “I’ll snap your arm off at the shoulder and shove it so far down your throat your fingers will be cupping your balls.”

The other students in Maud Sleeward’s Street Fighting School for Kids snickered. Bugsy looked at them like he’d just been struck in the gut but when he could straighten upright again, he’d make them all feel his pain. The humor died abruptly.

The Hammertoes weren’t a dangerous gang. Mostly they rode skateboards and tagged old buildings and boxcars and talked tough. They were kids that didn’t belong anywhere else. The gang gave them a sense of self, another skin to replace the one abraded by a rough life. Maud was teaching them to be dangerous.

Sprout Lebowski was sitting on a piece of broken concrete watching the gang practice with knives and fists, sticks and stones and whatever they could find at hand. It was instructive. His own training as a wrestler hadn’t prepared him for the deadly inventiveness of street fighting. He also wondered why Maud Seward hadn’t been locked up for the last 40 years.

Hardball appeared beside him. “You’re very stealthy,” Sprout said.

“Years of practice sneaking out of the house,” Hardball said.

Together they watched the gang practice.

“I heard something,” Hardball said, “from the Bog.” Hardball had no affection for the man schtupping his mother when his father was away from home. He referred to him as Big Bog, sometimes just the Bog. “The bedroom walls are thin. Some of the shit that man says….”

“As much as I’m interested in the peccadillos of Big Bob Reingold, unless it’s something useful…” Sprout shrugged.

“I heard him talking with my mom. The man loves to talk politics after sex. I think it gets his rocks off more than my mother.”

“Again…” Sprout began but Hardball interrupted.

“Said the city’s going to sell the land to developers, build condos.”

“Condos? Aren’t they the least concerned about building on an Indian graveyard? Didn’t they learn anything from Poltergeist?” Sprout said.

“Says it will drive up the price. Increase the mystique, whatever the hell that is,” Hardball said.

“So that’s the reason for cleaning up Shantytown,” Sprout said. “Gentrification. And I’m sure Big Bob will make a hefty profit.”

“Isn’t that the reason for everything?” Hardball said. “Money?”

Sprout looked at Hardball more closely. “Surprising insight from someone so young.”

“Not that young. Almost 16,” Hardball said.

“You’re almost 15.”

“How do you know?”

“Due diligence,” Sprout said.

“You think you’ll be able to take him down?” Hardball said.

“Big Bob?” Sprout said. “We don’t need to take him down, just take a few inches off. This will help. If we know what’s important to him, we know what to deny him.”

“I want to take him down,” Hardball said. “I want to mash his face in the dirt. I want to kick him in the balls.”

“Maybe you should attend Maud’s class more often,” Sprout said. “I think she has an entire lesson plan on kicking people in the balls.” Sprout nodded toward a girl standing alone in the shadow of the far wall, black hair and black clothes and skin pale as a fish belly. “Who’s that girl? The goth?”

“Don’t know. Never saw her,” Hardball said.

Sprout worked his way around the class toward the girl in the shadows. She vanished before he reached her. “That’s a useful skill,” he said to himself. “Invisibility.”

“Fubar,” he heard Maud shout as he left the ruined building. Fubar was another of Hardball’s dispossessed adolescents. “Get your thumb out of your fist. You’ll break it that way.”

Sprout walked back to the beach on his way to Shantytown. A crowd had gathered on the shore surrounding a tow truck with flashing yellow lights. The truck’s winch cable was stretched across the sand and vanished into the water.

“What’s going on?” Sprout asked a fisherman. The man wore a hand knit cabled sweater that had grown thin and stained with hard wear.

“That idiot tour guide lost his truck in 15 feet of water,” the fisherman said.

“What tour guide?”

The fisherman nodded in the direction of Sandy Crab, dressed in blue flowered pajamas, standing at the water’s edge, talking to a uniformed policeman. “Holy shit,” Sprout said. “Qwackers sank?”

“Yeah, that’s what they called it,” the fisherman said. “Stupid name. Stupid idea. Trucks ain’t seaworthy.”

A diver surfaced just offshore. He made a circle with thumb and forefinger held above his head. The tow truck driver began reeling in the cable. The winch groaned and the cable snapped tight, throwing bits of kelp and drops of water into the air.

Sprout worked his way to the front of the crowd so he could watch Qwackers emerge from the bay like a Baptist at a camp meeting. It rose stern first, draped in seaweed and slime, draining water from its scuppers. The headless ducks painted on its side backed out of the water one by one, ass in the air, smallest first.

“And the first shall be last,” Sprout said to himself.

Sandy Crab looked disconsolate. Sprout gloated. “How do you like the view now, asshole?” he shouted.

Crab turned to look. When he saw Sprout his face transformed with rage. “You…you…you.…” He charged across the sand separating them. Crab closed at a dead run, slowed only slightly by the sand. There was just time enough for those standing beside Sprout to distance themselves.

Sprout reflexively adopted the wrestler’s stance, knees bent, feet braced, then Crab was on him, reaching for his throat.

He grabbed Crab’s right arm and fell back onto the sand. It was called a Japanese arm grab, something he learned in the lucha libre. Crab cartwheeled around Sprout’s anchored arm. Carried by his momentum, Crab landed heavily on his back.

Still holding Crab’s arm, Sprout pivoted in the sand like a cartoon character and flipped Crab on his belly, twisting Crab’s arm behind his back. With his free hand, he compressed several points at the top of Crab’s shoulder. Crab struggled for a few moments and then lost consciousness, his face planted in the sand.

“Was that a Vulcan death grip?” the officer said, looking down at Sprout.

“It’s called a shoulder claw,” Sprout said, looking up.

“Maybe you should turn him over before he suffocates.”

Sprout flopped Crab onto his back and stood to the applause of the crowd. He brushed the sand off his clothes.

“You must be the dangerous dwarf,” the officer said.

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

RAT

Monday, March 21

“Howdy doody, folks! You don’t see that every day.” The sound of Sandy Crab’s voice, mechanically amplified, drifted across the water.

Sprout pulled up his pants, turned, and silently walked away with all the dignity of a Maori mooning the Queen of England. The members of the Redemptive Action Taskforce were already gathered at Riddlepit.

Sprout had wanted to call it the Radical Action Taskforce. Blavatsky preferred a closer association with liberation theology. It all amounted to RAT in the end.

Umber Schist was trying to find a comfortable position on the couch made of Norwegian wood. There was none. Hurley Hocking also sat on the couch, as far as he could get from Umber. They had a history. Hemp Sessions, the unofficial mayor of Shantytown, was perched on the three-legged stool with the tractor seat. He looked none too steady to Sprout. Maud Seward sat in the austere wooden chair in the corner, her head nodding over her knitting. The chair looked like a piece of modern art disdainful of comfort, much like the rest of Riddlepit. Hattie Malept stood beside the picture window, looking misplaced.

Blavatsky paced the room. The meeting had already started. “…it’s different,” she said. “This is an existential threat. They’ve tightened the noose around our necks and this time they intend to hang us with it.”

“My dear, aren’t you being a bit melodramatic?” Umber said and squirmed on the couch. “We have an agreement with the city council. They ignore us and we police ourselves. Besides, we’re not in the council’s jurisdiction.”

Blavatsky stopped pacing and pivoted. “Something’s changed. The old agreement no longer holds. They’re claiming eminent domain. They’ve plotted streets beneath us. The plan is to fill the bay and build on it. That gives them jurisdiction. And we’re in the way.”

“That’s absurd,” Umber said.

“When did absurdity ever stop bureaucracy?” Blavatsky said.

“If they fill the bay beneath us, then we’ll become houses rather than houseboats,” Hurley Hocking said. Umber looked at him balefully.

“What do they plan to do about it?” Hemp Sessions said.

Blavatsky waved a handful of papers. “This is the proposed amendment to the zoning rules. It states that any inhabited structures floating within city limits that aren’t specifically permitted will be defined as landfill. It’s the city’s charter to dispose of landfill as they see fit.”

“We’ll just have to go somewhere else,” Hemp Sessions said. It seemed to Sprout the mayor didn’t have much loyalty to Shantytown.

“There’s no place left to go,” Blavatsky said. “No place where people can live like they want. The world is being sanitized. It doesn’t include people like us.”

“Then we fight,” Hattie Malept said. Everyone turned to look as if they had forgotten she was there.

“Exactly,” Blavatsky said. “We fight with everything we’ve got.”

“And what do we have?” Hemp said. “A bunch of artists and misfits and panhandlers. People who believe you can control the weather with magic. No offense, Hurley, but really, we couldn’t even organize a bake sale.”

“I agree. We can’t fight them on their own ground,” Blavatsky said, tossing the proposed amendment to the zoning rules on the floor. “We have to change the rules to win the game.”

“Kill them all,” Maud Seward said, raising her head from her knitting. “Let God sort them out.” She seemed to nod off again immediately.

It was rumored Maud had been a member of the Yellow Hand in the early ’60s. The Yellow Hand was a violent revolutionary faction so secretive no one knew their purpose. They were characterized by single-minded viciousness. They claimed to have killed an informant, his parents, his second cousin, and his postman. The postman had simply delivered a letter to the wrong address at the wrong time. The Yellow Hand killed him for incompetence.

“That woman scares me,” Hurley said. “I can’t tell whether she’s serious or not.”

Blavatsky ignored Maud. “We gather information, probe for weakness. People greedy for power are often careless how they get it. They leave skeletons behind. We dig them up.”

“We could ask the spirits for help,” Umber said. “Some of those skeletons might hold grudges.”

“We could reach out to others in the community,” Hattie said. “People like us who feel they have no voice and no place.”

“What, a bake sale?” Hemp said.

Hattie looked at him like he was a misbehaving child. “A rally, maybe. An event. Maybe a concert for the dispossessed.”

“A children’s crusade,” Hemp said, smirking.

“Something theatric,” Hurley said. “Street theater.” He brightened. “I have some ideas for costumes.” Hurley was fond of dressing up. “We would need a figurehead, an icon, something to focus attention.”

Blavatsky turned to Sprout. “Maybe it’s time to resurrect Mascarita Payasito.”

“Yeah, like a maniacal clown sends the right message,” Sprout said.

“Did I miss part of the conversation?” Hurley said.

“Mascarita Payasito was a luchador,” Sprout said. There were expressions of incomprehension around the room. “A Mexican wrestler in the Mini-Estrella. Don’t any of you watch late night TV? He was a dwarf, a mad clown, a trickster. I played the part for several years.”

“And he still has the costume in his closet,” Blavatsky said.

“The things you learn about your neighbors when a crisis threatens,” Hattie said.

“I doubt I could even fit into it anymore,” Sprout said.

“We could always let the costume out…or take you in,” Blavatsky said.

“You’re enjoying this way too much,” Sprout said. “And it’s not a very anonymous costume. The size gives it away.”

“The idea has merit,” Hemp said, warming to it. “We could introduce you as—what was the name? Payasito?—in a few street protests. Work up to a march on city hall. The costume would play to a television audience. Keeping your identity secret doesn’t matter. The mask becomes the character. Or we bill you as ‘The Little Lebowski’.”

“You will not,” Sprout said.

“Hattie’s right,” Blavatsky said. “We need to find allies. Maybe the people closest to politicians are the ones most willing to betray them.”

“Who are you suggesting, dear?” Umber asked.

“Wives, secretaries, hairdressers, house cleaners,” Blavatsky said. “Maybe their children. If politicians are anything like preachers, their children resent them most. I have a half-baked idea.”

The meeting broke up after another was scheduled and everyone left except Maud who remained fast asleep in her chair, her knitting in her lap. Sprout didn’t have the heart to wake her and was afraid of what she might do with her knitting needles if he did.

Blavatsky came down the stairs in a short dress that clung to her hips and breasts and high heels that stretched her calves. “Ready to go?” she said.

“I feel under-dressed,” Sprout said. “Where are we going?”

“The warehouse district,” she said, “to execute my plan.”

They left Maud in her chair and walked to the warehouse district of Port Angeles, less than a mile from Shantytown. Blavatsky’s plan involved a skate park in the old cannery building. It wasn’t a sanctioned park. The kids had built the ramps and halfpipes and quarterpipes from rusted metal they scavenged in the district. Each wipeout risked tetanus.

“Why are we here?” Sprout said.

“This is our foothold in the lives of the city council.”

“A bunch of rebellious kids?”

“One specific rebellious kid. He was in a class I substituted.” Blavatsky was a substitute teacher in the Port Angeles School system. “I hope to leverage his rage.”

“Dude, the bitch brought her own dwarf.” A skater with a shaven head and a missing front tooth rested his foot on his skateboard. He half turned to a ragged group of adolescents behind him. “We won’t have to use our own when we make sweeeeet love.” He kicked his board into his arms and pantomimed a caress.

“Keep it in your pants, snaggle tooth,” Sprout said. He began to understand Blavatsky’s fashion choices.

“Let me introduce you,” Blavatsky said. “Sprout, this is Henry Stowe, known to his friends as Hardball.”

“Sprout?” Hardball’s friends hooted.

“Where’s the Green Giant?”

“Gonna get me some Brussel sprouts.”

“Hardball is the son of Harriet Stowe,” Blavatsky continued, “Councilwoman and ally of Big Bob Reingold, chairman of the city council. Your mother is an intimate ally of Big Bob, isn’t she, Hardball?”

“What do you know about my mother, bitch?”

“Just what they say around town,” Blavatsky said. “But you know what they say. You’ve heard it all. You’re not a fan of Big Bob, are you, Hardball?”

“What’s it to you?”

“I expect you’d like to get Big Bob out of your mother’s bed. And maybe take back some of your self-respect. I’m here to help.”

Hardball bristled at the mention of his mother sleeping with Big Bob. He looked back at his gang. It didn’t seem news to them. “Why should you care what I want?”

“I don’t care really but I’m honest enough to tell you. I think we’re both headed to the same place from different directions. We both want to make Big Bob a little smaller. I can help you. We both get what we want.”

“Why should I trust you?”

“You shouldn’t. At least, not until I deliver.”

“Deliver what?”

“I can teach you and your friends how to kill with your bare hands. Would that be of interest?”

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Smuggler’s Blues

Thursday, March 24

“Bulldog, come here.” Harry was standing beside an open crate in Spike Africa’s hold. Wood shavings spilled onto the deck. “What do you make of this?”

“Bones,” Bulldog said.

“Yeah, I gathered that,” Harry said. “What kind of bones? Look at the size of them. You think we’re smuggling elephant bones?”

“Who would pay us this much money to smuggle elephant bones?” Bulldog said.

Harry passed Bulldog the crowbar. “Open another crate but be careful not to damage anything. I don’t want Hoffer knowing.”

Bulldog opened a second crate and cleared the packing material. He sucked in his breath.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“I’m pretty sure this is the skull of Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

“A dinosaur?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“We’re smuggling dinosaur bones?” Harry said. “How do you know?”

“I was a Paleontology geek as a kid,” Bulldog said. “Especially dinosaurs. I’m pretty sure this is a T. Rex. If not, it’s something equally old.”

“Why?” Harry said.

“I was a kid. I didn’t know better,” Bulldog said.

“Why are we smuggling the bones of extinct animals?” Harry said. “They’re extinct, right? Who cares?”

“The government of the United States, for one,” Bulldog said, caressing the dinosaur skull. “These bones were probably smuggled out of Mongolia. It’s against the law. There are international sanctions. People pay big money to add them to private collections.”

“People collect dinosaur bones?” Harry asked.

“People collect almost anything,” Bulldog said.

“Harry, you need to get up here,” Nit called from the cockpit.

“Seal these crates so they look like they’ve never been opened,” Harry said, then climbed out of the hold onto the deck.

“What’s the problem?” he asked Nit.

“Them,” Nit said and hitched his thumb over his shoulder.

In the moonlight, Harry could see the white hull and orange slash of a Coast Guard cutter on the same course a mile astern.

“Doesn’t mean anything,” Harry said. “We’re in one of the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes on the coast. It’s probably just a coincidence. For Christ’s sake, don’t stare. Act like you’re completely innocent.”

“If I was completely innocent, I’d stare,” Nit said.

When Bulldog stuck his head out of the companionway, the cutter was only a quarter mile astern and closing. “Holy shit,” he said and disappeared back into the cabin. He returned with an ancient AK-47 and chambered a round.

“What the hell is that?” Harry shouted.

“I’m not going down without a fight,” Bulldog said.

“You idiot. That antique will probably blow up in your hands. If they do board us, you’ve just made it worse. They’re too close to throw the damned thing overboard. It will look suspicious as hell. What else did you bring onboard?”

“A machete. Brass knuckles. A Claymore.”

“A Claymore? You thought we’d need an anti-personnel mine? Get back on deck and keep pumping. And leave that crap below.”

When the cutter was alongside, separated by only a few hundred yards of water, a bright spotlight raked the schooner from bow to stern. A few crewmen were on the cutter’s bow near the .50 caliber machine gun, still covered. The crew rested their forearms on the rail.

“Act natural,” Harry hissed between clenched teeth, then turned and waved at the cutter.

A voice boomed over a loudspeaker. “Are you in need of any assistance?”

“No,” Harry shouted between cupped hands. “Batteries are dead. Pumping by hand. We’ll make port.”

There was a long pause and the voice boomed again. “Do you want us to report your position?”

“Not necessary. We’ll be in Port Angeles in a few hours. Thank you.”

There was a longer pause. Harry bit his lip so hard he tasted blood.

“Safe passage,” the cutter broadcast and steered away.

“Hellfire and damnation,” Bulldog whispered between clenched teeth.

“Mind your course,” was all Harry said.

By the time they anchored in Slee’s Bay, they were exhausted. They were on the downhill side of night. The Milky Way spanned the sky. They loaded the first crates into the longboat and pulled for shore, Nit on the oars, Harry in the stern.

Nit stopped rowing and looked around. “What are we doing here?”

“Isn’t that obvious?” Harry said. “We’re offloading crates full of bones.”

“I mean, Tse-whit-zen,” Nit said. “This is Tse-whit-zen.” The big man seemed to shrink. “I’m not going near that place.”

“This is where we’re landing the goods. This is where the trucks are waiting.”

“It’s a graveyard.” Nit shook his head slowly and set his jaw. “I’m not defiling sacred ground.”

“They’re dead,” Harry insisted. “Dead as dinosaur bones. What does it matter? We deliver the crates, we get paid. Everybody’s happy.”

Nit could not be moved. “You don’t mess with the dead without consequences.”

Harry couldn’t budge the bigger man and couldn’t wrest the oars from him without upsetting the heavily laden longboat. They returned to the schooner.

“Get out,” he ordered Nit. He took the oars himself. “Bulldog, get in.” Harry glowered at Nit and spit into the bay.

“You’re late,” Sully said when they finally beached the longboat. “You should have been here hours ago.”

“It’s a sailboat, for Christ’s sake,” Harry said. “Schedules are aspirational.”

“Whatever. Just get the stuff ashore before people wake up. The trucks have been here for hours already.”

By the time they unloaded the longboat, Harry realized they wouldn’t finish the entire cargo in the darkness remaining.

“What are we going to do?” Bulldog asked.

“I have an idea,” Harry said. “Row me to the wharf. I need to make arrangements ashore.”

Bulldog waited for Harry at the wharf 30 minutes before he heard the rumbling of a diesel engine. Out of the darkness, an amphibious truck appeared, shouldering the water aside. Harry stood at the wheel. He drove the truck alongside the longboat.

“Shit, Harry. You stole Qwackers?”

“Borrowed,” Harry said. “I have every intention of returning it when the job is done. Climb onboard. We’ll tow the longboat. Hurry up. We’re burning darkness.”

Qwackers allowed them to offload the entire cargo in a single trip. Nit remained onboard the schooner, carrying crates from the hold and lowering them over the side. It took Harry and Bulldog both to stow them in the boat.

Harry drove Qwackers onto the beach, over the dunes, and to the parking lot where Hoffer’s trucks were parked. When Qwackers returned to the water, Sully used a tree branch to brush away the truck tracks in the sand. “Saw it on an episode of Bonanza,” he said.

Harry and Bulldog were motoring back to the boat ramp, towing the schooner’s longboat astern, when Bulldog noticed his shoes were wet. There was water rising above the floorboards of the Duck.

“Harry, we have a problem. I think we’re sinking.”

“What do you mean, sinking?” Harry said.

“I mean the water level is rising above the floorboards,” Bulldog said. “That’s not normal.”

By the time they got the hatch covers off the engine compartment, the water was above their ankles and rising fast. “No time,” Harry said. “Abandon ship.”

They pulled the longboat alongside and got in just as Qwackers took a headlong dive to the bottom of the harbor. Only a greasy sheen and a few bilious bubbles remained to mark its passage.

“Damn,” Harry said. “We almost got away with it. A few more yards and we would have made the shore.” They returned to the schooner.

In the morning, after sleeping several hours, Harry rowed the crew ashore. He still wasn’t talking to Nit.

A crowd had gathered on the beach. A sheriff’s boat lay just offshore. A diver surfaced and tapped the top of his head with his hand. Harry landed the longboat at the wharf, then joined the crowd.

Sandy Crab, still dressed in blue flowered pajamas, was talking to a Port Angeles policeman. “…those damned squatters,” he said, pointing toward Shantytown. “And that degenerate dwarf. He’s a ringleader. Bolsheviks, the bunch of them.”

“A dwarf,” the policeman said.

“Don’t be fooled by his size,” Sandy said. “He’s dangerous.”

“A dangerous dwarf.” The officer seemed incredulous.

“I want him arrested,” Sandy said. “I want them all arrested. Atheists, radicals, breeding in their filthy nest like rats. They resent my success. You better take me seriously, officer. I have influence with the city council.”

Harry found it hard to take a man in blue flowered pajamas seriously.

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Lili Marlene

Sunday,March 20

Dietrich Hoffer was a thin man wearing antique Pince-nez glasses, precisely trimmed Van Dyke, and hand tailored gloves. He looked like an aristocrat from fin-de-siècle Vienna. He was reading documents in a leather-bound binder which he closed with a precise and measured movement when Harry sat down.

“Harry Wry.”

Hoffer declined the offered hand. “You’ll excuse me. A debilitating nerve condition.”

“I’m told you’re in the import business and you’re looking for someone to haul cargo,” Harry said.

“Who told you that, Mr. Wry?” Hoffer removed his glasses and cleaned them meticulously with a linen handkerchief. It was a surprisingly intimidating gesture.

“I’m not sure, exactly. I was drinking. Your number appeared in my notebook.” He passed his notebook to Hoffer. “That is your number, isn’t it?”

Hoffer replaced his glasses before accepting the notebook from Harry. “It was my number. It’s no longer in service.”

“Yeah, I know. So, you hiring?”

“One moment, Mr. Wry.” Hoffer stood, brushed the wrinkles from of his pressed pants, walked to the old Wurlitzer in the corner of the bar and made a selection. By the time he returned to the booth Marlene Dietrich was singing the German lyrics to “Lili Marlene” in a throaty voice.

“What have you to offer, Mr. Wry?”

“I’ve got a schooner at anchor in the bay with a hold big enough to carry a substantial cargo and I’m desperate enough to carry it no questions asked. Almost no questions.”

“What questions do you have, Mr. Wry?”

“What, when, and how much.”

“And why should I do business with you, Mr. Wry? I know nothing about you.”

“You can ask Lidmann. He knows everything about me you need to know.”

“I will make inquiries, Mr. Wry. Do you have a phone number?”

“No. I live onboard.”

“You don’t have a cell phone?”

“No. Electricity is scarce,” Harry said.

Hoffer looked at him sharply.

“And they’re too easy to tap,” Harry added.

“A wise precaution, Mr. Wry. Very well. Return this evening. I’ll inform Lidmann if I’m interested further.” Hoffer opened his leather binder and waited for Harry to remove himself.

“Pleasure talking to you,” Harry said. It wasn’t.

Afterward, Harry couldn’t remember exactly what Dietrich Hoffer looked like besides the black leather gloves and the antique glasses. Almost immediately the man seemed to fade in his memory like an old photo.

He waved to Lidmann on his way out the door, blinked in the bright sunlight, and abruptly ran into a Stetson hat. Beneath the Stetson was a denim shirt, Levi’s and cowboy boots that might have been alligator hide. “Harry Wry?”

Harry lied reflexively. “Name’s Rehnquist, William Rehnquist.”

The man snorted. “A dead Supreme Court judge? Nice touch. Harry Wry, you’ve been served.”

The cowboy hat tucked a folded sheet of paper in Harry’s shirt pocket and pivoted on his cowboy heels.

Gray Marine Engine Works had filed suit for lack of payment. Harry had 30 days to pay the bill or surrender Spike Africa for impoundment.

Before returning to the schooner, Harry made a call from another pay phone in front of the Asian Soho Bistro. Bulldog Purvis answered. Bulldog had crewed for Harry carrying tourists on day trips from different ports around the Salish Sea.

“I may have some work for you if you’re not squeamish,” Harry said.

“It can’t be worse than pumping septic tanks,” Bulldog said.

“That’s what you’ve been doing?”

“It pays the bills. Most months. Like they say, it might be shit to you but it’s my bread and butter.”

“They don’t say that,” Harry said. “If it happens, it will mostly be night work but it pays better than pumping septic tanks. We’ll need a deckhand as well.”

“I’ve got a friend. He knows bow from stern and I trust him.”

“I’ll call you when I know more. There may not be much notice. And Bulldog, don’t tell anyone else about this. Not even your mother or you might not have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. The state will provide it.”

When Harry returned to the Spike Africa, he deliberately rowed around her. She had a year’s worth of marine growth on her bottom. It would take a knot off her best speed but there wasn’t time or money to haul and scrape her. The old girl’s fate wouldn’t depend upon speed, anyway. On a beam reach with a stiff breeze she might make eight, maybe nine knots, not enough to outrun anything chasing her. Her only hope was slipping between ports unnoticed.

On deck, she looked like a horse that had been ridden hard and put away wet. The white paint on her deckhouse was peeling, her teak decks were grey with dirt, and the brass ventilator cowls that passed fresh air below were green with verdigris. The varnish on her spars had bubbled and flaked, exposing bare wood to the weather. The wheel was unmounted from the steering gear and leaned against the deckhouse. Her running rigging was spliced a dozen times over but it would do. It would have to.

Harry sat in the cockpit and admired the graceful sheer of the schooner’s deck. He stroked the teak cockpit coaming. “I don’t see any other way out of this,” he said to the schooner. “We’ve got our backs against the wall and they’re loading the guns.”

That evening he returned to Fiddler’s Green. Lidmann was polishing a pickle jar full of cloudy liquid. He claimed it was the same pickle jar that Gallus Meg once kept the ears she bit off boisterous sailors in her bar on the New York waterfront during the boisterous Age of Sail.

“Lidmann.”

“Harry.”

“Any word from our mutual friend?” Harry jerked his thumb in the direction of Dietrich Hoffer’s booth.

Lidmann sat the pickle jar on the bar. “It’s a dangerous game, Harry. Think twice about making deals with the devil.”

“I don’t have much choice. I got served with papers. The old girls will be arrested if I don’t pay. Once the marshals have her, I’ll never get her back.”

“He wants to talk to you,” Lidmann said. “But Harry, watch your back. The man is a pit viper.”

“Even vipers predictably serve their own interests,” Harry said and hoped it was true.

Harry stood beside Hoffer’s booth waiting for the man to look up from his journal.

“Mr. Wry.” Hoffer was still wearing the black gloves. They looked supple enough to have been made from the skin of young goats—kid gloves. He gestured for Harry to sit.

“Do we have business to conduct?” Harry asked.

“One moment.” Hoffer walked to the Wurlitzer, selected “Lili Marlene,” and returned to the table. “Indeed, we do.”

“My references were acceptable?”

“You qualify as a desperate man, Mr. Wry. When can you sail?”

“The sooner the better. Tonight, if need be.”

“I will let you know in a few days. I’ll leave word with Lidmann. You know Whiffin Spit on Sooke Inlet?” Harry nodded. Sooke Inlet was on Vancouver Island, almost directly across the Strait from Port Angeles. “How long will it take you to cross the Strait?”

“Four, five hours, depending on the breeze and the current.”

“I’ll make the arrangements. I’ll require you to load and depart the same night. Return by a more circuitous route and unload the next night.”

“Where do we offload?” Harry asked.

“Freshwater Bay, near Observatory Point.”

Harry bit his lip.

“Is that a problem, Mr. Wry?”

“Freshwater Bay is an open roadstead. If there’s any sea running it will be difficult to land a loaded boat. It’s also an old log dump. There are a lot of snags close inshore.”

“Do you have an alternative?”

“I do. We could land on the beach at Tse-whit-zen.”

“The site of the graving dock?”

Harry thought Hoffer coughed. Later he recognized it was Hoffer’s dry, humorless laughter.

“Why not? It’s not visible from the street. No one goes there after dark. I know the night watchman. We could land your cargo safely and unobserved.”

“Amusing,” Hoffer said. He removed his Pince-nez glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. ”At the doorstep of the U.S. Coast Guard. Agreed then. I’ll accept delivery at Tse-whit-zen.”

“How much does the job pay? I have my crew to consider, and whatever Sully needs to look the other way, and…”

Hoffer wrote a figure on a napkin and slid it across the table. Harry turned it over. “Damn. Who knew smuggling was so profitable? I guess everybody but me. What is it we’re carrying?”

“I pay you not to ask questions, Mr. Wry. You will deliver my cargo without looking in the crates. If you accept my money, you accept my terms. The consequences for violating those terms are, shall we say, prohibitive. You’ll receive one third now and the balance on delivery. Are we agreed?”

“Agreed.” Harry didn’t hesitate. Later, he wondered why he hadn’t.

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

In mythology, the hero descends into the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends?

Whistlepig, a serialized fiction.

Preface
Blood dappling the dust, old bones dancing in the dark.

Chapter 1: Whakapohne
A hallucination audits an introductory class in Cultural Anthropology.

Chapter 2: The Skeleton Forest
Necromancy in the forest of the Makah.

Chapter 3: Schrödinger’s Rat
Quantum rat hunting is inherently paradoxical. 

Chapter 4: Darkness Rising
Shamans don’t advertise in the Peninsula Daily News.

Chapter 5: The Vine of Souls
Ayahuasca is also called the vine of the dead but that sounds unnecessarily ominous.

Chapter 6: Resurrection
A door answered by a dwarf in a kimono.

Chapter 7: The Hanged Man
Purple Martins rain from the sky.

Chapter 8: Nevermore
Rathskill had no compunction about lying to authority.

Chapter 9: Signs and Portents
Behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is

Chapter 10: Scout’s Honor
The blond always goes into the basement. It’s in the script.

Chapter 11: Fiddler’s Green
Pistol shrimp with a cartoon claw.

Chapter 12: Lili Marlene
A sufficiently desperate man.

Chapter 13: The Disappeared
Does the act of questioning your sanity prove you’re sane?

Chapter 14: Hallelujah Bill
Those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives…

Chapter 15: The Green Man
Sometimes myths becomes real.

Chapter 16: Weebles Wobble
The mountain speaks but what does it say?

Chapter 17: Smuggler’s Blues
You don’t mess with the dead without consequences.

Chapter 18: RAT
Kill them all. Let God sort them out.

Chapter 19: Street Fighting Man
You must be the dangerous dwarf.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Chapter 20: Sturm und Drang
Photos—$5, autographs—$3, punch your lights out—free with release form.