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image for The Great Bologna Conflict The Great Bologna Conflict
by Ed Chapin

Chapter 1

 

 

1

 

 

Dear Agent Starite,

 

By Imperial Decree of the Intergalactic Research and Development Council (IRDC), you have been selected to carry out a Top Secret mission on a recently discovered planet in the Milky Way.

 

Specifically, the IRDC is interested in patterns of behavior that either promote or discourage peace, equality, and social justice on this planet, which is called Earth.  It would please the IRDC to acquire data that would allow it to make an informed decision concerning the possibility of incorporating Earth into our extensive network of allies.  We are interested in establishing diplomatic relations, but are concerned about the potential for contamination by undesirable social characteristics.

 

Your mission is to covertly assess the situation and critically evaluate the pros and the cons of life on Earth in a report to be submitted upon your return. It is within your professional discretion to focus your inquiry on any aspect of their civilization that might illuminate themes of peace, equality, and social justice in a manner helpful to the IRDC.

 

Please report to IRDC Headquarters tomorrow morning for transport.

 

The Intergalactic Research and Development Council thanks you in advance for your service.

 

Sincerely,   

Prexora Casmahali

 

***

“By Imperial Decree?”  Agent Starite busted out loud.  “Why, they can kiss my Imperial Wazooklehorn!  I’ve got a shot at the Too-Shee Bay Open this year.  Imperial Decree indeed.”

***

“Look.  There’s a light on in that boat over there.  Pull up a little closer, will you?”

***

“Doesn’t this just beat all?” Agent Starite mused to himself.  “One day, you’re at your leisure on the back seven of the plush Pan-Kee courts of Too-Shee Bay with your scantily clad caddy, Ashmira.  The next day, you’re hiding behind a grungy barrel of wet, stinky bait on a Maine lobster boat owned by a fat guy named Norm.  Ah well, that’s the way it goes in the Intergalactic Empire sometimes.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


 

Chapter 2

 

 

2

 

 

The Gulf of Maine stretches from Cape Cod to Cape Sable, its waters lapping the shores of three American states and two Canadian provinces.  Along the extensive coast, dozens of freshwater rivers feed a host of teeming estuaries.  On the Atlantic side, the cold Nova Scotian current pours in through a deep channel separating major fishing banks.  Over the years, the Gulf of Maine has been a very popular fishing hole.

 

The earliest known fishermen in coastal Maine were the Red Paint People, a long-extinct tribe that inhabited the area some 5,000 years ago.  They left a legacy of oyster shells, cod and swordfish remains, and stone fishing gear scattered up and down the coast.  Since the 1600’s, commercial fisheries have targeted cod, haddock, redfish, herring, shrimp, flounder, lobster, and numerous other species.  Sadly, modern fishing fleets are so efficient that they sometimes catch fish faster than fish can reproduce.  There are not as many cod or haddock or flounder in the Gulf of Maine as there used to be.

 

There are plenty of lobsters.  Lobsters have lived in the Gulf of Maine for a long time.  Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, they were considered ocean vermin, spread like manure on farm fields and fed to prisoners.  In the mid-1800’s, they became trendy among upper-class Bostonians and stepped up with a new public image.  In short order, lobsters were being stuffed into cans and zipped all over the countryside on newly built railroads.  Today, lobsters routinely wander into a gazillion traps strewn up and down the Maine coast.

 

On a small boat not far off the coast, Norm was hauling lobster traps, just as he always did on Tuesday mornings.  Tom was hauling traps with him, just as he always did.

 

“I’m telling ya, Norm.”  Tom said.  “It’s about time someone went in there and cleaned house.  Seventeen of ‘em, Norm.  Seventeen of ‘em.”

 

Tom was raving about the latest pocket-lining scandal to hit Washington.  Norm was unimpressed.

 

“So they clean house?”  Norm countered.  “Who they gonna fill it back up with?  More of the same.  That’s who.  Six of one, half-dozen of the other.”

 

“Baloney.”  Tom said.  “If we can get this bunch of bandits out of there, we can get this country workin’ for the people again.”

 

“Hah.  You want to talk to me about baloney.”  Norm taunted.  “Washington has more baloney than Neptune has fish.  And let me tell you something, son.  It’s stacked on both sides of the aisle.”

 

Tom mumbled something about Norm being a jaded old fart.

 

Norm shrugged him off.

 

After the traps had been emptied and baited, Tom and Norm headed in for the day.  Norm pulled up close to the wharf so they could weigh in.  While he and Tom were taking care of business, Agent Starite dived overboard and swam to shore.

 

When Agent Starite reached land, he ducked into the back of an old blue pickup in the dirt parking lot.  Eventually, Tom got into the truck and drove to his house up near Prout’s Neck.  Agent Starite set off on foot from there.  He thought he had seen a city to the north and headed in that direction.  When nightfall came, he had not yet arrived at the city.  Summer foliage was thick and progress was slow.

 

And there was this business with the field kit.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 3

 

 

3

 

 

 

A fresh burst of morning sunlight danced atop the choppy waves in Kingsport Harbor.  In the study of Winslow Taylor, a hazy copper beam splashed inward from the dusty window overlooking the harbor.  Winslow knew the drill.  He arose from his oaken desk to latch the old wooden blinds before the first rays crept onto his screen.  Winslow then sat back down to work and his fingers began to scamper madly across the keyboard.

 

***

 

Winslow Taylor learned to type on a manual Remington in his sophomore year at Kingsport High School, in the spring of 1976.  Typing class followed his lunch period on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  His teacher, Miss Bernier, was a feisty stump of a redhead who saw everybody and heard everything.  She was an imposing presence in the classroom, patrolling the aisles relentlessly and barking out commands with military precision.  Miss Bernier started on time.  Miss Bernier finished on time.  Miss Bernier covered her objectives.

 

(Of course, many women were Ms. Something-or-other in 1976.  Miss Bernier was not.  Nobody asked why.)

 

Miss Bernier did not approve of ditzery.  One day, after the class had advanced to electric typewriters, a girl accidentally hacked a wad of Juicy Fruit into the daisy wheel during a warm-up drill.  Miss Bernier made quite a show of it before assigning her to a new machine.  4 out of 5 dentists...

 

Miss Bernier liked Winslow.  Winslow kept to himself and typed well.  He was usually too stoned to do much else.  Click, click, click, click.  Ding.  Click, click, click, click.  Return.  Repeat.  Winslow found hypnotic solace banging away in Miss Bernier's Brigade, for an hour and twenty minutes, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in 1976.

 

***

 

It was now early summer in 2006.  Winslow finished his morning e-mails, briefly scanned the news, and decided to walk down to Angel's Corner Store for a cup of coffee.  Along the way, he commenced with a linguistic exercise he had tinkered with ever since taking Miss Bernier's class.  It was, I suppose, what one might call typewalking, if one were inclined to call it anything at all.  Winslow was not.

 

The exercise went like this.  As any formally trained typist knows, every key on the standard keyboard is assigned to a specific finger on either the right or left hand.  When Winslow found himself walking any considerable distance, he often amused himself with this arrangement.  After establishing a rhythm in his walk, he passed words though his mind and converted them into footsteps.  For example, take your average word, selected at random from your average dictionary software.  That word is babble.

 

Babble is a great word.  It is both a left-starting word and a left-leaning word:

 

 B    A   B    B   L   E

(L) (L) (L) (L) (R) (L)

 

In formal typing, the letter B is always stricken with the first finger of the left hand.  Subsequently, the exercise begins when the left foot hits the ground, corresponding to the letter B in Winslow's mind.  In a word such as babble, wherein the second letter is also a left-hand letter, one must then allow the right foot to hit the ground without sending any messages to the alphabet center of the brain before striking the letter A on the second fall of the left foot.  Repeat as necessary.  Eventually, one encounters a right-hand letter, the letter L.  This allows one to achieve a three-step run of letters and complete the word on a spiffy roll.

 

Of course, Winslow ignored the shift key in these psycho-linguistic exercises for the simple reason that characters dependent upon the shift key require, by definition, the use of two hands.  He could not take both a right step and a left step at the same time, unless of course, he wanted to hop.  Faithful liberal that he was, he had not ruled this out for future exercises.

 

Winslow had naturally refined his taste in words during thirty years of typewalking.  Exclusively left or right-hand words, although the least expeditious, provided calm spaces between letters--heavenly half-step respites from every care in the world.  In the harried pace of modern society, Winslow cherished those moments even if they were short:

 

 R    E   A   D

(L) (L) (L) (L)

 

 P    L    O    N   K

(R) (R) (R) (R) (R)

 

Strictly speaking, from a time-and-motion perspective, those words consisting of alternating left and right-hand letters are the most efficient, although they do require a higher level of concentration.  Winslow preferred alternating L/R words that start with the left foot.  There were, of course, exceptions to the rule:

 

 R    U   S   H

(L) (R) (L) (R)

 

When Winslow was feeling especially creative, he might even wax poetic in the linguistic linguine, typically with alternating L/R words.  Over the years, he had also discovered that if he bent the spacebar rule a bit, he could create some rather masterful montages.  For example, assuming that spacebar keystrokes were executed by the thumb opposite the last letter of the preceding word, he could saunter down the street in style to something like this:

 

 P    R   O   T    O    Z   O   A   N        P    R   O   D    I    G   Y

(R) (L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R)

 

A whale and six ducks

Slap me, naughty Mama

 

This had been his madness since 1976.

 

Word.

 

***

 

A new girl was working the counter at Angel's, currently reading Bukowski on a wooden three-legged stool by the cash register.  In smalltown USA, she stood out.  The regulars were lined up like pigs at the trough:  a balding, jellyrolled antique dealer; a building contractor in a Red Sox cap; a sun-darkened landscaper in heavy boots; and a couple of other guys.  They came early to snort over their morning coffee, trade news, and laugh at the same jokes they have laughed at since 1987.  In their world, this counts.

 

She was obviously not of their world--this new girl who read Bukowski--this new girl who stuck pins in her face--this new girl with pretty legs in cutoff jeans.  Winslow kept an eye on the scene while he mixed his coffee.  Something about her made the regulars squirm a bit.  It was much quieter than usual, and Winslow noted the strained glances shot back and forth amongst them.  He supposed they were tacitly shoring up their own supremacy, and drooling doggedly over her ass when they thought nobody was looking.

 

Winslow chatted with her for a minute while paying for his coffee.  Sharp and articulate.  College junior.  Art major.  He didn't imagine she would last long.

 

 T    I    G   H    T          T    U   S   H

(L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R) (L) (R)

 

Word.

 

***

 

Do you know the crazy thing about human consciousness?  It has the capacity to wrap itself around whatever it encounters in the world, to be perverted by the most seemingly innocuous artifacts of a society.  Two thousand years ago, nobody would have been caught dead playing keyboard footsies along the Appian Way.  That would make no sense at all for another nineteen hundred years.  Not that it makes much sense now, mind you, but it would have made even less sense back then.

 

Word.

***

 

In 1911, a man by the name of Frederick Winslow Taylor published an influential article called The Principles of Scientific Management.  Scientific Management was a term he coined and which referred to a body of practices intended to maximize productivity in industrial workplace settings.  Frederick Winslow Taylor did things like hang around with a stopwatch and time workers in order to determine the most efficient way to complete each task in a manufacturing process.  He devised specialized tools and assembly lines that enabled significant increases in production.  He reorganized the roles of management and labor.  He was highly instrumental in the rise of the regimented workplace of the 20th Century--where time clocks, a strict division of labor, and an automated lockstep mentality ruled the land.  Frederick Winslow Taylor created a conceptual monster that ran amok.  To this day, he is hated by the proletariat in Hell.

 

Winslow was not related to Frederick Winslow Taylor, who descended from old American money; neither was he named for him.  Winslow's great-grandfather had immigrated from Russia in 1912 and a clerical error at Ellis Island had somehow left him with the name Taylor, rather than his birth name of Talyrnik.  He and his new name eventually settled in Exeter, NH, where Frederick Winslow Taylor had once attended the elite Philips Exeter Academy.  That was the closest brush the two families ever experienced.  Winslow came along three generations later, born in Kingsport, ME in 1960.  He had been named for the famous American painter, Winslow Homer.  His full name was Winslow Homer Taylor.  His parents had never even heard of Frederick Winslow Taylor.

 

Word.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 4

 

 

4

 

 

Hugo slept.

 

*clink*

 

Hugo rolled over and slept some more.

 

*clink*

 

Hugo drank not from the prescient pool of vibrant symbols transcending time and space.  He reflected not upon the clink; nor upon his own being.  Then again, Hugo rarely did those sorts of things.  Hugo was a dog.  A right good dog too.  At least Heidi thought so.

 

In the book of Hugo, it was currently time to sleep.

 

That is the thing about a dog.  The repertoire is a bit limited, but it is very well-rehearsed.  Your average dog pretty much has it down in no time at all.  People expect too much of their dogs these days.  Dogs got along fine for thousands of years without pedigrees and papers, long before fetching slippers and newspapers and all that jazz came along.

 

Heidi picked up Hugo at a shelter in Portland a few years back, shortly after she won the infamous Sanford Spaghetti Case.  In that case, Anthony DuWop of Biddeford claimed to have been deeply traumatized after discovering that the Sanford Spaghetti Palace had passed off a cheap store brand imitation for Prince Spaghetti on a Wednesday afternoon.  He claimed he saw the empty boxes by the back door and demanded $8,000,000 for emotional pain and suffering.  When Heidi proved him a liar by dramatically waving at the jury with the exculpatory plastic wrap in which the spaghetti had actually been packaged, it made the front page all over New England.  Anthony DuWop swore that he would make her life a living tortellini.  Now she had this mystic from Bologna to contend with.  If she ever got through this case, she swore she would put her pasta behind her for good.

 

Now, where was I?  Oh yeah, Hugo.  It somehow came out during cross-examination that Anthony DuWop had been traumatized as an infant by a large neighborhood dog who often mistook his baby stroller for a fire hydrant.  In fact, dogs scared Anthony so bad that he peed his pants walking past the bomb-sniffing dog at the front door of the courthouse one day.  In the opinion of Heidi Goode, bringing Hugo into the fold was no-brainer.  Over the years, they had developed a good working relationship.  She fed him and picked up his poop; he growled at appropriate times.  He was also very large.

 

Heidi was currently in the shower in the master bath.

 

Hugo was asleep in the master bedroom.

 

*clink*

 

***

 

Agent Starite was standing on the sill outside the master bedroom window.  He had dropped his tool ring three times now.  His fingers were cold and he had to pee.

 

“Damn!” he grumbled to himself.  The Intergalactic Research and Development Council Supply Division had mistakenly issued him a 27-B Field Kit.  A 27-B!  No Alticruise!  No Stealth!  Top Secret missions were always supposed to get a 27-A.  Everybody knows that.  IRDC was definitely going to hear about this one.

 

He picked up his tool ring for the third time.  Finally, he held his grip long enough to shimmy the window up far enough to crawl inside.  He crouched for a moment on the sill for a careful reconnaissance before making a graceful drop onto Hugo’s right shoulder.  Agent Starite realized his mistake at once.

 

“Oops!”  He flirted briefly with a distant memory of his last eye exam.

 

Hugo sprang quickly into action, a move that sent Agent Starite careening down the length of the queen-sized footboard.  Agent Starite took the blow well, briefly assessed the situation, and proceeded directly into IRDC Life Preservation Mode.

 

Section 53, Paragraph 4:  Hostile Four–legged Creatures Larger Than Yourself

 

If his calculations were correct, Hugo would be on the scene momentarily.  Agent Starite rolled quickly onto his back and curled up like a potato bug with its butt to the heavens.    Hugo arrived right on schedule, and with little-to-no strategic planning, ventured his nose into the aforementioned anatomical region.  Agent Starite let him have it right in the schnozz with the old wazooklehorn.  Hugo backed off with a sharp yelp.

 

***

 

The wazooklehorn is unique to life on Tuscus, a small planet in one of the eastern galaxies.  It is one of those evolutionary things that goes way back.  Anthrogalactic specialists think that it probably evolved as a primary defense mechanism back when the Hairy Hoggle Humpers of the Planet Hiney invaded the galaxy in prehistoric times.

 

The wazooklehorn is located approximately one inch above the wazookle.  It is two inches long and retractable.  In his line of work, Agent Starite always kept his wazooklehorn on the ready with a careful diet and a diligent workout schedule.  A lot of folks had let it slide, though, and there was a booming market in miracle overnight wazooklehorn conditioners and all that sort of thing.  They never worked.

 

***

 

At any rate, Hugo was momentarily stunned, so Agent Starite made a dash for the open closet door.  Hugo quickly regrouped and pounced just as Agent Starite made a leap that would have made Evel Knievel proud.  He latched desperately onto the arm of a tan London Fog raincoat with both hands and tried to hoist himself up, but Hugo had him by the left pant leg and he couldn’t pull free.  Damn!  Now somebody was coming out of the bathroom.  The swinging door caught Hugo’s attention just long enough for Agent Starite to wiggle free and scamper up the raincoat. He ducked inside the collar and hung by one hand from the gray nylon hanger while Hugo dillyflopped around the closet door.

 

“Hugo,”  Heidi exclaimed, as she emerged from the bathroom in a royal red robe and slippers.  “What is the matter with you?"

 

Heidi had never seen Hugo in such a tither before.  The closet door was open, but there didn’t appear to be anybody inside.  Heidi trusted Hugo though, and backpedaled to the nightstand where she kept her Smith and Wesson.  Agent Starite hung tight and quiet as Heidi brushed the hangers back in her search of the closet.  It was a closer call than he wanted before breakfast.  He listened as Heidi gave a quick look around the place and put the gun back in the nightstand.  Hugo had calmed down a bit.

 

Bewildered, Heidi put Hugo out to the back yard.  Agent Starite nearly made his move then, but she returned right away to get dressed.  Heidi couldn’t decide which outfit to wear.  She changed twice.  She tried on a lot of different scarves.  Agent Starite hung inside the raincoat.  His arm was getting tired.  After a while, Heidi was satisfied and walked out in the back yard to get Hugo.  Agent Starite quickly scurried down the raincoat and out of the closet.  In a flash, he was on the sill.  He checked the coast more carefully than he had on the way in.  All clear.  When he heard Heidi come back inside with Hugo, he dropped to the ground, peed in the garden, and slipped around to the front of the house.

 

Immediately, Agent Starite had another decision to make.  On the eastern horizon, a woman in a peach jogging suit bounded gracefully his way.  She hadn’t seen him yet, but he had to act fast.  A nine-inch green guy in a jump suit with a torn leg stood out like a sore thumb in this neighborhood.  The ragtop of Heidi’s red BMW was wide open, so he scaled the rear bumper, rolled himself onto the trunk, and made a blind leap over the folded roof into the back seat.

 

“Damn!”  he muttered as he squeezed under the front passenger seat.  “I’m getting way too old for this stuff.”

 

Moments later, Heidi emerged for her morning commute to Portland.

 

***

 

Hugo made a note to himself that he had a score to settle with that little green guy.  Then he went back to sleep.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 5

 

 

5

 

 

 

Heidi Goode hadn’t been paying close attention when the University of Bologna celebrated its 900th Anniversary in 1988.  Heidi was only seventeen in 1988, and the milestone event had somehow eluded her.  Whilst scarlet-robed dignitaries from afar knelt humbly at the Great Bologna Stone, Heidi was probably watching Def Leppard or Dokken or somebody like that on MTV.  That was about the extent of her European cultural awareness in those days.

 

Ms. Goode did remember the University of Bologna from law school.  Widely considered to be the oldest university in Europe, the University of Bologna was seminal in the spread of civil law throughout the western world.  In addition, distinguished scholars of the arts and sciences have graced its halls for centuries.  Contrary to popular belief, many lawyers do actually know these sorts of things.  Heidi Goode is smart lawyer.

 

Heidi had never been up against an expert who listed a Bolognese Seminar among his credentials though.  At first, she thought it might be trouble.  After checking with the University of Bologna, she wasn’t quite so worried.  They had never heard of him, but suggested that she try the Cosmoversity of Bologna, a correspondence school in a strip mall a few kilometers down the road.  A recorded message at the Cosmoversity of Bologna informed Heidi that their office had closed for the day and would reopen in another fifteen hours.  Italian time.  Heidi made a note to get back to them first thing in the morning.

 

***

 

The Law Offices of Prauper and Goode are located on Hanson Street in Portland, in a small white two-story house with a nice in-town view.  There is a marble birdbath on the front lawn and lots of pretty flowers in the usual places.  A simple, but tasteful reception room is flanked by a waiting area, a kitchen, and a bath.   Beside the waiting area, a wooden staircase with a worn handrail leads to the second floor offices.

 

A young red-headed woman greets the clientele at Prauper and Goode.  Her name is Greta.  She has been with the firm for three years now and is very good with customers.  She is also very good with messages and files and things like that.  She is a jewel and Cindy and Heidi both know it.  This morning there were no clients to greet, so Greta was catching up on some bookkeeping.

 

On the second floor, Cynthia Prauper and Heidi Goode were discussing their latest case in Heidi’s office.  A cup of coffee and a few papers were scattered about the table near the window.  Heidi stood with her tush propped against the desk, sipping her own cup of coffee.  Cindy was seated at the table, currently reviewing the sole press statement addressing the incident, a short blurb in the Gazette last week.

 

Agent Starite was hiding in a storage closet in the hall.

 

***

 

Portland Gazette

June 19, 2006

 

Scuffle at Scruffy’s

 

Portland Police were dispatched to a barroom brawl at Scruffy McDougall’s on Fore Street shortly before midnight on Saturday.  Police arrested three local men in connection with the brawl.  Several others were evicted by the management.  McDougall estimated the damage to his bar to be in the neighborhood of $600.

 

Amid the ballyhoo, a spiritual consultant and masseuse from Portsmouth, NH by the name of Krystal Jinglehummer slipped on a piece of bologna that somehow ended up on the barroom floor.  Ms. Jinglehummer skidded out the front door on one foot waving her arms and collided with Father O’Doulihan of the Church of the Sacred Harpischord on Upton Street.  Father O’Doulihan had been on his way to a spiritual call at the Saucy Stone Pit next door at the time of the incident.  He reported no injuries.  Ms. Jinglehummer reported that her Cosmogalactic Interport was crinkled in the collision with Father O’Doulihan, and also by the slice of bologna that became wedged between two toes on her left foot.  Krystal Jinglehummer is “like a vegan,” according to an acquaintance at the scene.

 

A telephone call to the Jinglehummer residence on Sunday afternoon was answered by her attorney, who declined comment other than to say that his client had “suffered deeply and intends to file suit against the Church of the Sacred Harpsichord.”

 

***

 

“Not a whole lot to go on there.” Cindy said.  “What exactly is her claim again?”

 

Heidi picked up the letter and read from it.

 

“My client has suffered extreme emotional and spiritual distress as a result of this negligently manufactured meat product.  Ms. Jinglehummer is a Mounted Mistress of the Silent Siren Society and conducts much of her business in the Aurelian Cosmonosphere.  Please note the attached testimony of Johann Shimatsu, an accredited Bolognese Funneling Specialist who is currently in town to realign her Cosmogalactic Interport.  My client expects that her condition will improve enough to permit an intermediate level of Aurelian activity within a few weeks.  The planetary alignment required for the final treatment, however, will not occur again until August 23, 2017.

 

We are asking reasonable compensation for her loss of ability to conduct her business as a Mounted Mistress of the Silent Siren Society during this period.  Based upon her projected income in U.S. and Aurelian currencies, we have calculated that amount to be $27,000,000.  Plus a new pair of sandals.

 

Alternatively, my client is willing to settle for $5,000,000 if the Church of the Sacred Harpischord agrees to free their cows.  She is a woman of deep conscience.

 

Blah, blah, blah!”

 

***

 

Heidi put down the letter and glanced briefly out the window at a street performer juggling five pins on a unicycle.  “Not bad.”  she thought.  Once she dated a guy from Minnesota who could juggle three while he peed his name in the snow.

 

“So, why is the Queen of Bologna suing the Church of the Sacred Harpsichord?"  Cindy asked.  “Father O’Doulihan was on a public sidewalk when she ran into him.  She should be suing Scruffy McDougall’s, or the bologna company.  Why isn’t she suing Scruffy McDougall’s?”

 

“She can’t.  One of those cosmic in-group things.”  Heidi replied.  “It appears that Scruffy McDougall’s sister, Emma, has high standing in the Aurelian Cosmonosphere and often shares an astral plane with Krystal Jinglehummer on Tuesday afternoons.  Solidarity is usually extended to close family members as a courtesy.”

 

“Okay.”  Cindy was almost sorry she had asked.  “Then, why isn’t she suing the bologna company?”

 

“You’ll never believe it.” Heidi said,  “Follow the paper trail and it turns out that CSH Bologna is a community-based outreach program owned and operated by the Church of the Sacred Harpsichord.  Small world, eh?

 

“Get out of here!”  Cindy cried.  “The Church of the Sacred Harpischord is in the bologna business?  Now I’ve heard everything.  And that’s our client?”

 

“That would be correct.”

 

“Well,” said Cindy.  “I don’t think this will be a tough one.  I mean, how does the Queen of Bologna plan to make it stick to the Church of the Sacred Harpsichord?  All we have to do is point out that the bologna was never warranted to be slip-proof in the first place.  Who would want a piece of dry bologna?  In any event, the implied warranty or expectation of one was certainly voided once the bartender applied the mayonaisse.  Slam dunk.”

 

“I hope you’re right.”  Heidi replied, a bit hesitant.  She still had to make a phone call to Italy.  Perhaps she could relax a bit then.

 

***

 

Intergalactic Research and Development Council Field Journal

June 28, 2006

 

I arrived safely on Earth with no breaches in security.  Nobody knows I’m here.  I have established a surveillance operation at a central location.

 

It appears that I arrived at the outset of a conflict.

 

The Law Offices of Prauper and Goode are currently mounting a vigorous defense against the Queen of Bologna.

 

There is a massive stockpile of bologna in Washington.

 

I think I’m on to something big.

 

Agent Starite

 

***

 

Agent Starite deemed it wise to omit the skirmish with Hugo from the report.  No need to get IRDC involved on that one.  Start a paper trail and, well, you know…

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 6

 

 

6

 

A mile down the road from CSH Bologna in Sheep Falls, Maine sits an establishment known as Tuscahoonee Turkeys and Treasures, owned and operated by Tyrone Marmaduck of Tuscahoonee, Alabama.  A faded sign overlooks the long blacktop driveway snaking up to the central office, a small one-story modular.  In front of the office, the driveway forks.  Turn left and it leads to the Tuscahoonee Treasure Yard; turn right and it leads to the Tuscahoonee Turkey Farm.  Tyrone owns three such complexes: this one, another one in Nebraska, and the flagship operation back in Tuscahoonee.

 

Tuscahoonee Turkeys and Treasures is a family operation.  A couple of nephews and a brother-in-law hold positions of appointed royalty throughout the empire and Tyrone divides his time among them.  Tyrone’s nephew, Clete, is in charge of the Sheep Falls complex and lives on-site.  Clete is number than a fence post, but he understands the basic rules.  Turkeys and treasures out.  Cash in.

 

Tyrone Marmaduck is a businessman.  That’s his take on it.  There are others who think of him as more of a walking human and ecological disaster.  He doesn’t care.  He’s a nasty old hunchmeister.  Tyrone’s general philosophy of the world boils down to two basic principles.

 

1)      Exploit the planet and its inhabitants to full advantage whenever possible.

2)      The law is often a hindrance to the first principle and should be disregarded whenever possible.

 

Tyrone Marmaduck makes a comfortable living adhering to these principles.  He is a very busy man.  Over the years, a multitude of agencies has spent a multitude of time looking into his affairs.  Tyrone has grown quite proficient at dancing around a multitude of ordinances, regulatory commissions, and other official nuisances.  It is that way everywhere he operates.  He pays a lot of fines and makes a lot of donations to public awareness campaigns and still has money for a brand new Mercury each spring.  He has driven the latest Grand Marquis since 1983.

 

It is uncanny how Tyrone Marmaduck comes to know politicians and planning boards in all of the places he operates.  As a rule, they don’t like to have their pictures taken with him, but he is someone to be reckoned with.  Tyrone has a lot of tricks up his sleeve.

 

The Tuscahoonee Treasure Yard is a twenty-seven acre jumble of scrap metal, old tractors and autos, household appliances, lawn ornaments, furniture, piles of tires, vinyl siding, bricks, lumber, sheds full of rusty tools and building materials and paints, trailers full of surplus military gear, and a million other things.  The main dirt road leading in quickly disperses into a cryptic maze weaving in and about the vast salvage yard.  It is home to a lot of stuff.

 

In the hustle and bustle of everyday business, the management occasionally forgets to record certain transactions that occur on the periphery of the salvage yard.  From a strict regulatory perspective, Tyrone’s salvage yard sometimes harbors materials of a somewhat bothersome nature:  unstable ammunition, leaky batteries, foaming chemical drums--that sort of thing.  Tyrone doesn’t worry too much about it.  His boys have gloves.

 

Employees of Tuscahoonee Turkeys and Treasures live in a scatter of trailers and shacks on some acreage near the back of the complex.  They are Mexican and many traveled long distances in the backs of trucks to work for Tyrone.  He contracts a run to stop at all three locations every so often.  On a given Monday morning, he has a crew in the works.  He pays them squat.

 

The Tuscahoonee Turkey Farm is home to 80,000 turkeys, more around the holidays.  They live in large turkey hotels.  There are many turkey hotels on the farm.  There are many turkeys in each hotel.  Tyrone Marmaduck doesn’t name his turkeys.

 

The Tuscahoonee Turkey Farm is also home to a big pile of turkey poop.  It has been accumulating in various fields around the farm for about thirty years now.  It is quite deep in places.  Tyrone sells a truckload once in a while, but it doesn’t make a dent really.  When the wind is right, you can smell it all the way over at the bologna factory.

 

***

 

Agent Starite could smell it in the flowerbox outside the kitchen window of the bologna factory.  His head poked cautiously from a sea of foliage as he evesdropped on the conversation inside.

 

***

 

Cynthia Prauper could smell it in the kitchen.

 

The bologna factory wasn’t quite what she had expected.  It was located in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Sheep Falls.  Father O’Floonigan was showing her around and explaining the operation.  The kitchen was in the back of the house.  It was not a large room, but not a small one either.  In the center of the kitchen stood an oak island with a cutting board countertop and some cabinets below.  A hanging rack above the island held the secret bologna ingredients:  salt, pepper, MSG, garlic powder, onion powder, liquid smoke.  A small grinder sat on one corner of the island cutting board.  A large electric mixing bowl and an oven lined one wall.  Cindy could see they weren’t going to put Oscar Meyer out of business.

 

“Now what about the cows?” Cindy asked.  “The suit mentioned ‘freeing the cows’ as an option of partial settlement.”

 

“We don’t own any cows.”  lamented Father O’Flooningan.   “We order everything we need from the butcher out in Windham.  This operation evolved primarily as a way to keep wayward sinners off the streets of Sheep Falls.  Our production levels vary greatly according to how many wayward sinners happen to be in residence.  Today we have two.  They’ll be making the bologna later this afternoon, after they’ve finished the gardening.”

 

Father O’Floonigan continued.  “Over the years, the factory has also come to serve as a country retreat for the clergy.  They come here to meditate and commune with lay members.  By charter, clergy must allot three weeks per year to bologna production.  Additionally, there is a special council that meets every four years to inspect the quality of the bologna.”

 

“Does the Cardinal know about this?”  Cindy inquired.

 

“I don’t know.  The Church of the Sacred Harpischord branched off from the Order of Ovangeline back in 1971.  Around here, we answer to the Robin.  Robin Rule.  Ernest Rule is his full name.  I can give you his address if you want.  He lives in Augusta.”

 

Cindy took the information and gathered her things to leave.  On her way out, she finally had to ask, “By the way, Father.  I couldn’t help but noticing.  You know, the smell?”

 

“Oh, that.”  Father O’Floonigan said.  “It is quite noticeable today.  Lucky for us, the wind usually blows the other way.”

 

Father O’Floonigan escorted Cindy out to her car.  On the way, he gave her a brief rundown on Tuscahoonee Turkeys and Treasures.  Cindy commiserated.

“Oh Father,” Cindy begged as she slipped into the front seat of her Buick Park Avenue.  “One more thing.  Have you ever promised anybody that your bologna was slip-proof?  You know, just for the record.”

 

“Of course not.” replied Father O’Floonigan.  “Who would want a piece of dry bologna?”

 

***

 

A dozen or so people live in a small wooded village on the periphery of Tuscahoonee Turkeys and Treasures.  They are all Mexican and many are in the country illegally.  Some are single men; some have families back in Mexico.  As a rule, they stay only a few months or a year.  Employee accomodations consist of thinly insulated, drafty trailers and shacks with recurrent heat, water and sewage issues.  Tyrone has been promising to tackle a slew of repairs and projects for many years now.  Occasionally, an institutional prod moves him to a brief scurry of surface renovations, after which he quickly slides back into his preferred maintainence schedule, which is never.  Somehow, life goes on in the village.

 

In a small shack on the outskirts of the village, a candle sometimes flickers late into the night as Herndando Sanchez pores over the scant literature he owns:  some American history, some grammar, and a pamphlet he got from a labor organizer in Corpus Christi.  Hernando is one of the legal immigrants in Tyrone’s employ; he has an authentic green card.  Hernando found life in the turkey sheds to be a slap in the face.  Tyrone Marmaduck and Clete disgusted him.  He dreamed of a better life.

 

As he read, Hernando thought about the man in Corpus Christi who gave him the pamphlet.  The man had been preaching about La Raza and solidarity in a dirt parking lot where contractors pick up day laborers.  Some of the contractors didn’t like him and ran him off.  The pamphlet was about Mexican pride and history; it was also about corporate greeed.  It had glossy historic maps of New Spain and Mexico; it had not-so-pretty pictures of immigrant workers in America.  At the time he met the man in Corpus Christi, Hernando had only been in the U.S. for two days.  Hernando thanked the man for the pamphlet and put it in his pocket to be polite.  Then he forgot about it.  Hernando thought the man was crazy.

 

Hernando was a wiser man with six months of Tuscahoonee Turkeys and Treasures under his belt.  The man in Corpus Christi spoke the truth.  Hernando could find no justice in the regime of Tyrone Marmaduck.  He worked from dawn to dusk, with scarcely a day off.  He paid a large share of what he earned back to Tyrone for rent and utilities and taxes.  Another large share went toward purchases at the company store, the only store within twelve miles.  There wasn’t much left over.

 

Hernando had talked with his neighbors.  Some of them told him it was pretty much the same all over.  It was pretty much the same at the hog farm in Iowa.  It was pretty much the same at the insulation factory in South Carolina.  Some of them had been trucked around by contractors who supplied large retail chains with janitorial labor.  They also got paid squat.  Some of the undocumented workers had been roughed up.  Some on the job, some by vigilantes.  A lot of people roughed up illegal aliens.

 

The retail chain manager who hired the illegal aliens never got roughed up.  Neither did Tyrone Marmaduck or Clete.  It didn’t seem right.

 

***

 

Intergalactic Research and Development Council Field Journal

June 29, 2006  8:30 P.M.

 

I have been monitoring the activities of Prauper and Goode in the field.

 

The Irish have entered the conflict on the side of Prauper and Goode.  They are manufacturing bologna at an outpost in Sheep Falls.  I think they plan to use it as camouflage when the Bolognese attack.

 

Mexico also has an outpost in Sheep Falls.  I’m not sure whose side Mexico is on, but their outpost is a prison camp full of Turkeys.  There is a massive amount of Turkeys.

 

Agent Starite

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 7

 



7

 

 

E-mail Exchange of June 29, 2006

 

 


Winslow,

 

Is there any way you could swing by the office tomorrow afternoon?  I need someone in the field on this bologna thing.  It would be great if you could work the crowd at the New Planetary Arts Festival on Saturday.  See what you can find out about Krystal Jinglehummer.  Oh yeah, the cows too.  I need to know if this ‘free the cows’ thing is anything we have to worry about.

 

I hope Heidi is right about the Italian specialist.  Bolognese seminars are not to be taken lightly.  The oldest university in Europe is in Bologna, you know.

 

In any case, it should be an easy one if you’re interested.

 

4:30 okay?

 

Cin

 

***

 

Cindy,

 

Chill.  Even if they do roll out the big Italian guns, you can always fall back on the French ones.  They get all hopped up on phalluses and phallocentrism and that sort of thing.  That’s about it though.  A piece of bologna on a barroom floor doesn’t mean squat to those guys.  It doesn’t look anything like a phallus.  Now, if she had slipped on a hot dog, that would be a whole different story.  Bologna though?  They’ll explain this whole bologna thing away like a fart bubble in a French bath.

 

I don’t know what they charge, but you can bet your ass that a Frenchman with a good hot dog theory will sway the jury over an Italian with a bologna theory any day of the week.

 

That would be my advice.  Unless, of course, you've got something better in your bag of tricks.

 

See you at 4:30.

 

Winslow

 

***

 

Winnie,

 

What are you wearing right about now?

 

Cin

 

***

 

Intergalactic Research and Development Council Field Journal

June 29, 2006  11:15 P.M.

 

I cracked the computer code and am now monitoring the communications of Prauper and Goode.  I have found further evidence of an impending conflict.

 

The Bolognese Army is preparing to attack.  They have big Italian guns.  Prauper and Goode are sending an agent into the field to assess the magnitude of the threat.

 

The French have entered the conflict on the side of Prauper and Goode.  They are supplying the hot dogs that Prauper and Goode will use to trick the jury.

 

I’m not sure how the jury fits into the picture yet.

 

Agent Starite

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 8

 

 

8

 

Cynthia Prauper is the senior partner at Prauper and Goode.  She is forty-nine, smart and attractive.  Cindy went to college in Boston, law school in California.  After graduation, she struck out on her own in Portland.  Over the next fifteen years, she earned a good reputation defending firms in liability suits.  She also teaches an occasional seminar at the law school in Augusta.  That is where she met Heidi.  Heidi was an exceptionally sharp student and Cindy hired her upon graduation in 1997.  They formed the partnership two years ago.  Cindy is an honest lawyer.  So is Heidi.

 

Cindy is divorced, almost a year now.  She was married for fifteen.  Her ex-husband, Roscoe, is a lawyer too.  While they had been married, Roscoe spent a lot of time gallivanting around the countryside for corporate clients—and porking his secretary on the side.  He was a walking hard-on.  Cindy kept the house in the divorce.

 

Cindy and Roscoe have a son named Jason.  He is fourteen.  Every three weeks, Jason moves back and forth between Cindy’s house in the West End and Roscoe’s place on Munjoy Hill.  On this particular Friday morning, Jason was staying with Roscoe.  As the Fourth of July was coming up on Tuesday, Cindy was surveying his room and planning ahead for company.  She was thinking about letting her mother use Jason’s room.  It had a double bed and its own bath.  Aunt Dorothy could stay in the spare room behind the den.

 

Satisfied with the plan, Cindy decided that a search of Jason’s room was in order.  Mothers on a mission are in no way bound by the Fourth Amendment.  It was a quick search.  Cindy found what she was looking for in a matter of minutes.  She chucked them into a shoe box.  Just like his damned father.

 

Cindy made a quick stop at her own closet and tossed that godawful vibrator into the box with the skin mags.  Roscoe had ordered it from a place in Santa Barbara back when they were trying to patch things up. There were a variety of models; hers was called the Sausalito Stud.  It strapped on in multiple positions and had a remote control for vibration speed and strokes per minute and stuff like that.  Roscoe was a pervert.  She had only used it once since the divorce.  Okay, maybe twice.

 

Cindy was glad Roscoe was gone.

 

***

 

Agent Starite was tired.  He had been gathering intelligence on the office computer at Prauper and Goode until the wee hours of the morning.  Afterwards, he had returned to the storage closet and curled up behind some files in a cardboard box.  The box wasn’t very comfortable and he tossed and turned for a long time before drifting off to sleep.  Agent Starite awoke with a start when Cindy opened the closet and dropped the shoe box onto the floor beside him.  Rise and shine.

 

Agent Starite waited until the door swung shut to investigate.  He had already searched the other boxes in the closet, but turned up nothing relevant to the bologna conflict.  Dead files mostly:  a few supplies, an umbrella, and some sneakers on the floor.  He began sifting through the shoe box, picking carefully around the Sausalito Stud, fearful that it might be a bomb.  Agent Starite fished a few magazines from the box, spread out in a secluded corner of the closet, and commenced his studies for the day.

 

***

 

Cindy rolled into the office just in time for her 9:30 appointment.  She barely had time to stash the shoe box in the hall closet and grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen.  Two minutes to spare.

 

“Damn, I’m good.”  She thought to herself.

 

“Good morning.  I’m Cynthia Prauper.”  Cindy said, offering an outstretched hand.  Greta had just sent their most recent consultation upstairs.

 

The woman shook her hand.  She was a beautiful, dark-toned woman, with long brownish hair parted slightly off-center.  Cindy guessed that she was of Mediterranean descent.  Perhaps.  She wasn’t quite sure.

 

“Please, have a seat.”  Cindy continued, beckoning across the office.

 

The woman seated herself in a comfortable wingback chair near the window.  She was a young woman, thirty-five perhaps, and wore a sheer white casual dress with thin vertical solid white stripes, complemented by a solid white collar and waistband.  A pair of casual sandals and a wide-brimmed straw hat, both cream-colored, conspired with the dress to create the unmistakable air of big money.  The woman spoke in a heavy Portugese accent.

 

“My name is Carmen Vanilischini.”  She began.  “I wish to retain your services.”

 

***

 

It was now 5:00 on Friday afternoon.

 

Agent Starite could overhear the conversation between Cindy and Winslow Taylor from the hall closet.  He had finished examining the shoe box and now had his ear to the door.  Cindy had been filling Winslow in on a surveillance assignment.  They were wrapping up their discussion.  Heidi and Greta had gone home for the day.

 

“Now, about tomorrow.  You know where the fairgrounds are, don’t you?”  Cindy was saying.

 

“Oh, sure.”  Winslow said.  “I’ve been there lots of times.  Fairs and such.  When I was in college, I portered a few shows there.  I never told you that?”

 

“I don’t think so.”  Cindy said, quickly scouring her memory.

 

“Oh yeah.”  Winslow replied.  “Great tips for a college kid.”

 

“You know, now that I think about it.”  Cindy said.  “Didn’t we go down there one year in high school?”

 

Cindy had known Winslow since her days at Kingsport High.  Along with a few others, they had been quite tight back in the 1970’s.  It wasn’t exactly a saintly crew either.  On occasion, they dabbled in affairs which, although not exactly nefarious, were not exactly the type that were always reported to Mom and Dad either.  Nobody has the dirt on you like an old friend.

 

“I think we did.”  Winslow said, after a brief pause.  “I’d forgotten all about that.”

 

Time was running out.  Agent Starite had to act fast.  While Cindy and Winslow were hashing out the finer details of their memories, he slipped downstairs and out the kitchen window.  He left the window open a crack, just in case he needed future access.  Friday afternoon foot traffic was heavy and Agent Starite hung in the bushes for a few minutes waiting for the coast to clear.  First chance he got, he stowed away in Winslow’s Cherokee.  An hour later, he was in Kingsport Harbor.

 

***

 

It was a hopping Friday night in the study of Winslow Taylor.

 

Winslow sat strumming his fingers lightly across the home row, a simultaneous pinky-to-pointer maneuver with both hands.  He had sliced it and he had diced it.  He had restaged it, rewritten it, and renamed it.  At the end of the day, what did he have?  Another green guy on a mission from outer space.  Woop-tee-doo!

 

Maybe he could make him small or something?  Add a bit of perspective?  Hmmmm?  Nah.  That’s been done a million times.  Two heads maybe?

 

“Oh, for crying out loud.”  Winslow sputtered at the keyboard.  “I’m going to bed.”

 

***

 

Intergalactic Research and Development Council Field Journal

June 30, 2006

 

I found the French strategy manuals.  Their involvement is deeper than I thought.  After careful analysis, I have concluded that the French women are in on it too.  There are two brigades of them.

 

The 1st Brigade is commanded by French Fanny.  Her troops plan to distract the Bolognese by posing in suggestive positions around the perimeter of the battlefield.

 

The 2nd Brigade is commanded by Cheri.  Her troops plan to sneak up on the Bolognese and pull their pants down.

 

Agent Starite

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 9

 

 

9

 

Saturday morning arrived warm and sunny, perfect for a spin down to the New Planetary Arts Festival in northern Massachussets.  Winslow was doing just that. Summer tourists were out in full force, so it was more than a two hour jaunt.  Usually it took an hour-and-a-half.  Winslow paid ten dollars to park in a field adjacent to the fairground on Route 1, where a bearded guy with an orange hat and flag was keeping the lines straight.  After he parked, Winslow got out and opened the rear compartment of the Cherokee to gather his things:  phone, digicam, notebook, water.  He put the stuff in a small canvas shopping bag and locked up before setting off on one of the footpaths leading from the field to the fairground.

 

 P    A   T    H

(R) (L) (L) (R)


Wind

Hawk

Show

 

Winslow walked into the New Planetary Arts Festival shortly before noon.

 

***

 

Agent Starite was on high alert.  There were people everywhere.  He moved in short bursts, zig-zagging from car-to-car.  A final dash across the creek and into the high grass and he was in the clear.  He was thirty feet from the footpath, tailing Winslow as best he could and tugging right along.

 

Agent Starite was certain of one thing.  He was sick of riding under car seats.  First, it was Heidi and Cindy.  Now this guy.  Winslow had coffee slime and donut crumbs all over his floormats.  Agent Starite had just ridden eighty miles in similar terrain under the front seat.

 

The IRDC 27-A Field Kit is an exquisite collection of high-tech gadgetry designed to allow agents on Top Secret missions to forego such unpleasantries.  Agent Starite wished he had an IRDC 27-A Field Kit.

 

***

 

The New Planetary Arts Festival bills itself as a living testament to diversity in human affairs.  It is one of those New Age festivals that moves around.  This month it is in Massachussetts; next month it is in Pennsylvania.  That sort of thing.  There are a few others like it, such as the Gaia Galactic Gala or the Euphonic Earth Exposition.  It is possible to catch one of these events nearly every weekend if one is willing to travel a bit.

 

Today, the fairground was full.  All the sites were rented and a cacophony of banners, booths, tables, and displays backdropped the social drama of the day.  Palmists and psychics, shamans and spectradancers, healers and dealers, crystal clinics and chocolate chakra candeliers were sprawled throughout the fair.  A healthy crowd was pulsing through the aisles and milling around the booths.  Some of the booths and displays were quite elaborate; the owners work many shows a year.

 

Winslow ambled through the crowd in search of Krystal Jinglehummer’s massage operation, The Body Krystal.  He was enjoying the festival, sampling organic food and New Age wisdom.  Winslow was more interested in the food; he had already hit three stands.  He was paying homage to a rice wrap with a tasty curry sauce when he wandered into one of center aisles and spied Laura Bath, tending a small display shortly up the aisle on the left.  This was indeed a surprise.

 

Winslow had known Laura for years.  She is an antique dealer from Castle Harbor with a busy shop on Ocean Hill Road.  For the past several years, she has promoted a series of antique shows around the area.  Her shows are highly regarded and attract patrons from all over New England.  Laura seemed a bit out of place here though.  The New Planetary Arts Festival was not her usual cup of tea.

 

“Why, my dear Ms. Laura.  This is my lucky day.”  Winslow exclaimed as he slid into an empty lawn chair beside her.

 

“Winslow, you old devil.”  Laura shot back, delighted.  “You do show up at the strangest times.”

 

Laura was always glad to see Winslow.  This was especially true today, the scene being what it was.  Oh, she could adapt.  That was one of her strong points.  Laura spent a lot of time around shows and could slip in and out of a role like a chameleon.  She preferred the antique circuit though.

 

“In search of the Elixir of True Enlightmlent, I presume.”  Winslow teased.

 

“In search of the Elixir of E Pluribus Unum is more like it.”  Laura replied.  At fifty-seven, she figured she was probably about as enlightened as she was ever going to be.  She filled Winslow in on her presence.

 

At a recent estate auction, it turns out that Laura had acquired the collection of Baron von Brandichy, a Serbian eccentric with a taste for holistic literature and obscure medical apparati.  The collection was largely 19th century and represented a wide variety of traditional and quack schools of thought:  reflexology, naturopathic remedies, palmistry, astrology, crystals, solutions, charts, sex gadgets.  Laura had hundreds of books on site and dozens of antique health doodads, as well as walking staffs, minerals, crystals, pendants, potions, and pamphlets.  A half dozen antique crystal balls of various shades and sizes were tastefully arranged on the main display.

 

“This guy was a duke?”  Winslow asked.  “What was he doing up here.”

 

“A baron.”  Laura replied.  “He moved his family to Argentina during WWII, lived there for twenty years.  In 1962, he and his wife moved to Maine to be near their daughter, who married a professor at Brandeis.  The baron and his wife both died in 1978.  This stuff sat in a trunk until last month, when the daughter finally auctioned off the estate so she could move to Arizona.”

 

“And this stuff is selling?”  Winslow asked cautiously.  He was examining a cardboard likeness of a hand standing on the main display table.  There were contour lines and arrows and testimonials concerning the miracle of the hand.  The testimonials were in Polish.  The hand came with a reference manual, also in Polish.

 

“Granted.”  said Laura.  “It’s a bit esoteric for most, but some folks are really into it.  I’ve sold quite a few books and some of those cardboard hands.  The health doodads too.  I made $200 alone on some vintage leather understraps from the Balkans.  I’ve brought in nearly a grand and it’s only two o’clock.  Gotta love that.”

 

“Gotta love it, indeed.”  Winslow mused.  He wasn’t exactly sure what leather understraps were, but figured he wouldn’t ask.

 

“The space was free too.  It’s a deal I have with Molly.”

 

Molly is the promoter of the New Planetary Arts Festival.  Laura and Molly have known each other for years.  Their paths cross now and again: on a fairground, in an auditorium, at an auction.  Laura and Molly have a collegial arrangement which extends complimentary operating space at any show produced by either woman.  On occasion, one of them indulges the arrangement.

 

Laura was blatting away when Winslow happened to take note of a tent across the aisle.  It was a round tent with a pointed top and an open front.  Inside the tent, a woman with a towel over her bottom was receiving a massage.  An enticing array of crystals graced two teakwood stands near the head of the massage table.  Outside the tent, fancy cloth banners on each side of the entrance heralded The Body Krystal.

 

Winslow had found Krystal Jinglehummer.  He scoped out her operation while he chatted with Laura.  Whenever Laura got involved with a customer, Winslow would capture some digital footage of Krystal plying her trade.  He couldn’t see her Cosmogalactic Interport though.  He wondered if he needed a special lens for that.

 

***

 

Agent Starite was staking out Winslow Taylor from a flower pot across the aisle.  His journey through the festival had gone well.  After slipping under the fence, Agent Starite had found a clay geranium pot on the outskirts of the fairground.  He whipped out his trusty tool ring and cut a half-dozen geranium stalks to size, some bearing open flowers.  Agent Starite bundled the stalks around him so that the flowers bobbed over his head and he picked his way carefully through the festival until he caught up with Winslow.

 

To his left, an assembly of barefoot, robed people on rubber mats waved long quartz staffs in unison.  They held the staffs up to the left and breathed deep.  They held the staffs up to the right and breathed deep.  They waved the staffs in circles over their heads.

 

To his right, Henry Fong of the Ruddington Acupuncture Mission was administering complimentary sessions on a table just off the aisle.  Some body charts and needle displays were arranged around the table and there was Chinese music playing.  A lot of people were taking advantage of the free offer and Henry was passing out a lot of business cards.

 

“Damn!”  Agent Starite suddenly opined to himself.  “Another dog.”

 

This one was a golden retriever named Casey.  Casey had to pee.  Agent Starite shot out of the flower pot just in the nick of time.  He rolled across the mat where the robed people were swinging their quartz staffs, but they didn’t see him because they were taking a long breath with their eyes closed.  When he reached the other side, Agent Starite hopped into an open canvas backpack containing numerous sheets of hemp fabric and a large bag of granola.

 

Krystal Jinglehummer was giving her twenty-seventh massage of the day when Casey suddenly appeared outside her tent, barking and rooting his nose wildly through her backpack.  Agent Starite had wrapped himself in nine layers of hemp fabric and was riding out the storm as best he could.  Snot was flying everywhere.

 

“Excuse me.”  Krystal said to the woman on the massage table.  “I think this dog is trying to get my granola.”

 

Krystal snatched the backpack away from Casey and zipped it shut.  She opened up the back door of her Honda and tossed it onto the floor behind the front seat.  Agent Starite landed with a thud.

 

***

 

Krystal Jinglehummer wasn’t a bad person.  She really wasn’t.  It never dawned on her that $27,000,000 might be excessive compensation for her cosmic ills.  For that matter, Krystal didn’t even know the exact price tag on her lawsuit.  Lawrence had taken care of all the math.  He was good with numbers.  Lawrence was good with a lot of things.

 

Lawrence J. Sanderfeld was Krystal’s attorney.  His full name was Lawrence Jinglehummer Sanderfeld.  He was a second cousin and Krystal’s mother had called him right away when she heard about the bologna incident.  Lawrence came to see Krystal that very afternoon.

 

“Let me tell you something, Krystal.”  Lawrence had solemnly oathed.  “There’s nobody looking out for those cows.  Nobody hears the cows.  Do you understand what I’m saying?  The cows have no voice.  It’s up to you to give the cows a voice.”

 

That didn’t sound so bad to Krystal.  Giving the cows a voice seemed to be a rather noble calling.  She really hadn’t done much for cows lately.

 

Lawrence told her about millions of cows slaughtered on assembly lines each year, just so a bunch of drunks can fight over bologna sandwiches and sow terror into the lives of good people like herself.

 

“They don’t stand a chance, those cows don’t.”  Lawrence went on.  “They move ‘em down the line and then suddenly, pow, they let ‘em have it right between the eyes.  Not a chance, Krystal.  It’s assembly line murder, that’s what it is.  And do you know how many of them they kill up there in Maine?  Do you know that, Krystal?”

 

Krystal didn’t know.

 

Actually, Lawrence didn’t know either.  In the estimation of many, Lawrence J. Sanderfeld was a bamboozling schlockmeister.  He had tailpipe burns on his shins from chasing the ambulances.  If a butt hit the ground, there was a wallet somewhere to cushion the fall.  That was Lawrence’s philosophy.

 

Lawrence asked Krystal a few questions about her crinkled Interport and computed her U.S. and Aurelian incomes.  Lawrence also suggested hiring the Bolognese specialist.  It was Krystal’s idea to let the bologna company off the hook easy if they would free the cows.  Anything to help the cows.

 

The plan sounded great to Krystal.  She really didn’t want much anyway, except to get her Interport repaired and, of course, a new pair of sandals.  The bologna had completely ruined the karma of the old ones.  She figured she could use any settlement money to crusade for the cows.

 

The plan sounded great to Lawrence.  He figured he could squeeze a new Mercedes out of his cut.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 10

 

 

10

 

 

 

A glorious summer thunderstorm brought forth lightning and torrents of rain upon the small town of Kensington, NH.  In a cabin nestled deep in the woods, Krystal Jinglehummer slumbered soundly as ferocious gusts drove wet sheets across the back seat of her Honda.  Krystal had forgotten to roll her windows up.  Small pools were taking shape on the floorboard as Agent Starite struggled to free himself from her backpack.  It was thick canvas and the heavy-duty zipper had no grip inside.

 

Agent Starite had been in the backpack for a long time, about five hours.  He had been there until Krystal closed her booth for the day.  He had been there while Krystal packed her gear into Callan’s truck and brought it back to her shop.  He had been there while Krysal drove home.  He didn’t know any of this; he had been knocked unconscious when he landed in Krystal’s Honda.  Agent Starite was in the backpack when he woke up.  That was all he knew.

 

When Agent Starite finally emerged from the backpack, he marched straight off into a puddle and got water inside one of his boots.  As he stood on one leg shaking the boot, the heavy rain whipped his face like a volley of sharp needles.  He decided to stay put until things calmed down a bit.  Agent Starite raided the backpack for a few pieces of dry linen and a pocketful of granola and took refuge underneath the front passenger seat, where the floorboard was several inches higher.  He scattered the linen into a makeshift bed and curled up inside, nibbling on strawberry granola as the booming light show worked its magic outside.

 

Agent Starite was soaked and he ached all over.  Overall, it had been a tough week and he was trying to remember exactly what it was he liked about this job.  Eventually, he began to reminisce about his youthful days at the Academy.  It had all seemed so simple then, so clear-cut.  Agent Starite was an exemplary cadet.  He graduated at the top of his class and displayed an exceptional ability to trancend peoples and cultures throughout the Intergalactic Empire.  Agent Starite had once been the social science prodigy of the Academy.  In hindsight, he probably should have tossed back a few more cold ones at Tee-Tee’s Temple with the rest of his classmates.  He probably wouldn’t be in this mess right now.  Damn!  They always called him for these boondock ballyshangers.

 

Agent Starite didn’t want to think about that right now.  No, right now he longed for the fuzzy comfort of armchair cultural analysis; for the tender crunch of numerical data in softly humming machines; for hot chocolate in little cups from the machine in the lobby.  Yeah, he was starting to get a little soft.  What do you expect, though, for a guy pushing 285,000?  After the storm passed, Agent Starite remained burrowed in his linen nest and drifted slowly off to sleep.

 

He had a strange dream.

 

It was exam day at the Academy and cadets were spread throughout the lecture hall.  A nervous shuffle of papers and pencils and feet echoed throughout the solemn chamber.  Agent Sattva was administering the exam.

 

Statistical Methods.

 

Every spring, just like clockwork, a collective wave of silent despair sweeps throughout the sophomore ranks of the Academy.  It is an old tradition.  Statistical Methods has slain many a good cadet.

 

Not Cadet Starite.  He was calm, cool, and collected.  He ate this stuff up.

 

***

 

The following tables refer to a recent survey of all Intergalactic Beings residing at Hector 1371, Quad 48, Suite 4.  Ethnogalactic species represented are Pixies, Fairies, Sirens, and Imps.  Religious groups represented are Galactic, SubTerra, and Elvis.  Refer to the tables below in order to answer the following questions.

 

TABLE 1

 

 

Citizens of Hector 1371, Quad 48, Suite 4 / Age in Centuries

 

 

 

 

 

 

Percentiles

Age

 

 

 

 

Observations

500

1%

508.5

 

 

5%

4668

Mean

6117.206

10%

4854

Standard Deviation

2059.947

25%

5226

 

 

 

 

 

 

50%

5970

 

 

 

 

All data were collected in accordance with Section 4, Paragraph 7 of the Protection of Native Subjects in Intergalactic Research Act of 1981.

75%

6621

90%

6900

95%

9800

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • What is the mean age of the citizens of Hector 1371, Quad 48, Suite 4?
  • What is the median age?
  • Does this distribution exhibit symmetry, positive skew, or negative skew?
  • What is the IQR?
  • Discuss the logic of analyzing the ages of four distinct ethnogalactic species in this manner.

 

 

TABLE 2

 

 

Citizens of Hector 1371, Quad 48, Suite 4 / Religion by Ethnogalactic Species

 

 

 

 

 

 

Religion

Pixies

Fairies

Sirens

Imps

Total

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galactic #

43

28

67

31

169

%

35.35

22.58

52.17

24.22

33.80

 

 

 

 

 

 

SubTerra#

45

32

30

61

168

%

36.89

25.81

23.81

47.66

33.60

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elvis #

34

64

29

36

163

%

27.87

51.61

23.02

28.12

32.60

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total #

122

124

126

128

500

%

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • What is the unconditional probability of randomly selecting a member of the Galactic religion?
  • What is the probability of randomly selecting a member of the SubTerra religion, given the condition of Imp?
  • Write the formula and compute the probability of randomly selecting a Fairy or a member of the Elvis religion.

 

***

 

Intergalactic Research and Development Council Field Journal

July 1, 2006

 

I am a bit fuzzy on the Bolognese.  There appear to be two tribes.  I think one may an ancestral tribe; they live in Italy and wear colorful robes and tassles on their hats.  The other tribe is probably a new-world spinoff; they live around here and wear crystals and beads and stuff like that.

 

The 1st Bolognese Tribe is pretty easy to figure out.  They live in a place called Bologna.  They like bologna so much that they will travel halfway around the world to fight for it.

 

It’s the 2nd Bolognese Tribe that has me puzzled.  None of them appear to even like bologna.  The Queen of Bologna is from this tribe and she absolutely hates bologna.  They don’t live in Bologna either.  This tribe needs further analysis.

 

Agent Starite

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 11

 

 

11

 

 

The New Planetary Arts Festival had been a magnificent gateway to higher consciousness, even more so than usual.  When it disbanded shortly after dusk on Saturday, a new awareness danced in the hearts of many, stirring the soul of artist and seeker alike.  Rachel Yabra and Callan Gates, for example, were held sway by the cosmic calamity of Krystal Jinglehummer.  They were vegans.  They understood the callous brutality of a beefocentric world.  As vibrational healers and clairvoyants and visionary artists packed it in for the day, Rachel and Callan resolved to do the right thing.

 

Inspired by the plight of the cows at CSH Bologna, Rachel and Callan decided to set out with Krystal the next day.  Time to free the cows.  On Sunday morning, the three of them met at Krystal’s house in Kensington.  They had some fruit and granola for breakfast and then packed into Krystal’s Honda for the two-hour trek to Sheep Falls.  Before they left, Krystal did a quick Google search and printed out a map.  Rachel rode shotgun and kept the map.  Callan rode in back.

 

They dried the seats and floormats with a towel before they left.

 

“I think it is so cruel what they do to those cows.”  Rachel said.  “I mean, what kind of a life is that?”

 

Krystal and Callan agreed.  They talked about cows for twenty miles or so.  Krystal tuned the radio to the university station and they listened to some technotrance music and a show about ramp gardening in West Virginia.  Rachel was an efficient navigator and the trio arrived at the bologna factory without incident.  Krystal pulled into the driveway and they all got out of the car and walked up to the front door.  Krystal knocked, but nobody answered.  She knocked again.  Still, nobody answered.  They stood around on the steps for awhile trying to figure out what to do next.

 

Ten minutes earlier, Father O’Floonigan had set out for Windham in the station wagon to pick up some beef and other supplies for upcoming bologna sessions.  He was accompanied by both wayward sinners in residence.  It was a Sunday afternoon ritual.  Father O’Llama was asleep in a guest room upstairs, but didn’t hear the knocks.  He had traveled all the way from Vermont and was very tired.

 

Krystal, Rachel, and Callan walked around the farmhouse.  They knocked at the side door and got no answer.  In the back, they found a big yard with a vegetable garden, and a big field beyond that.  They didn’t see any cows though.  There was no barn; it had been torn down years earlier.

 

“Maybe we’re at the wrong place.”  Callan said.  “This doesn’t look like a beef farm to me.”

 

“Me neither.”  Said Rachel.  “I’ll bet it’s farther up the road.”

 

Krystal didn’t have a better plan, so the three of them hopped back into the Honda, backed out of the driveway, and continued up the road.  After they had driven over two small hills, a turkey wandered into the road in front of them.  Krystal slowed the car to a stop as the turkey ambled across.

 

“That sure is a slow turkey.”  Krystal said.

 

“I’ll say.”  Rachel added.  Then she took a closer look at the bird and blurted out excitedly,  “Krystal!  Look!  Look at its beak.  It’s all shriveled up.”

 

Callan took notice from the back seat and leaned forward to see.

 

“It’s not shriveled up.  It’s been cut off.”  Callan said.  He had read about this on a vegan website, turkey farmers who trim the beaks so they can keep their turkeys in crowded quarters and they won’t peck each other to death.  Those turkeys were usually in sheds though, not free-roaming like this one.  Strange.

 

“Look.  There’s another one.”  Krystal said, pointing to the top of a nearby hill.  “There must be a farm around here somewhere.”

 

The others agreed, so Krystal pulled off beside the road and they all got back out of the car.  They walked over to the hill where Krystal had seen the second turkey and when they reached the top, they could see the Tuscahoonee Turkey Farm in the distance.

 

“Maybe they make turkey bologna?”  Callan offered.

 

“I’m pretty sure Lawrence said cows.”  Krystal said.  “Maybe they make both.”

 

Krystal returned to the Honda to retrieve the Free the Cows sign she had made earlier in the day and the trio ventured onward.

 

***

 

Agent Starite knew one thing for sure.  All this legwork was getting old and his feet were sore.  The jaunt over the hill to the Tuscahoonee Turkey Farm was quite a haul for a little guy.  Good thing he wore his green jumpsuit.  He blended well in tall grass.  If IRDC had issued him the 27-A Field Kit, he would be zipping around no problem--invisible too.  It could be worse though.

 

Agent Ronkle had once gotten issued a 27-C Field Kit on a Top Secret mission.  That was a long time ago.  Most guys today have never even heard of him.  The 27-C doesn’t even have an emergency return button.  It is intended solely for in-house domestic stuff.  Agent Ronkle finished his mission in three weeks, then waited for 531 years before a ship picked him back up out in the western galaxies.  IRDC hushed the whole thing up and gave him a golden parachute and all that.  You have to watch your ass though.

 

***

 

Krystal, Rachel, and Callan didn’t find any cows at the Tuscahoonee Turkey Farm, but they did find a lot of turkeys.  The plight of Tyrone’s turkeys so touched the trio that they decided to put the cows on hold and lend their services to the present crisis.  They were currently trying to shoo turkeys from one of the sheds.  They had already opened the doors and incited migrations at two other sheds.  It was slow-going because there was hardly any light.  There was nowhere to stand either.  It was wall-to-wall pallid, slow-moving turkeys and there was hardly any light.  It smelled really bad, so they went outside for some air.  Several hundred turkeys had already drifted into the yard; more were on the way.  Some were starting to kick up their heels, gobbling loudly and scurrying about and such.

 

That was about the time Tyrone appeared on the scene, leading a troop of seven Mexicans dressed in riot gear cast off by the Birmingham Police Department when they upgraded back in 1971.  Tyrone basically stole the gear at auction and owned enough to outfit all three operations.  They huddled quietly behind an adjacent turkey shed while Tyrone made his plans.

 

Hernando Sanchez was among the Mexican squad.  When Hernando witnessed the seige on the turkey farm, he was moved to spirit and soul.  Adrenalin rushed mightily about him and in a moment of pure clarity, Hernando knew what he had to do.  While Tyrone was busy making diagrams in the dirt, Hernando slipped quietly away from the others and made his way across the farm, to a garage where Tyrone kept the heavy equipment.  Nobody missed him.

 

Tyrone led the charge around the turkey shed and into the main yard.  The Mexicans followed.  They were wearing body shields and masks and carrying riot clubs.  Tyrone made a lot of noise shouting orders, so Krystal, Rachel and Callan heard the squad coming a long way off and made tracks.  Tyrone was tuckered out by the time he reached the yard, but ordered his troops to follow in pursuit.

 

“Catch them!  ¡Aprehendalos!”  Tyrone shouted.

 

After the Mexicans gave chase to Krystal, Rachel and Callan, Tyrone entered one of the open turkey sheds to see if there were more intruders inside.  Walking in from fresh daylight, he couldn’t see much inside the dimly lit shed.  He could feel the turkeys shuffling around his legs though.  It was wall-to-wall pallid, slow-moving turkeys and there was hardly any light.  He shined a flashlight around, but saw only turkeys all the way back.  It was a big turkey hotel.

 

Tyrone returned to the yard and started catching turkeys.  After a few minutes, something caught his eye on the ground.  He walked over and picked up the Free the Cows sign that Krystal had dropped in the hasty retreat.

 

“Danged idiots don’t even know what a cow is.”  he muttered to himself in disgust.

 

Krystal, Rachel and Callan had a big lead on the Mexicans, who didn’t really want to catch them anyway and didn’t run very fast.  After a minute or so, the Mexicans quit chasing altogether.  They took off their riot masks and smoked cigarettes while they walked back to the turkey yard.  Tyrone was waiting for them.  He was mad because they didn’t have any prisoners and grumbled a lot while he supervised the Mexicans rounding up the turkeys and putting them back in the sheds.  There was a lot of gobbling and feathers flying around and stuff like that.

 

***

 

Meanwhile, across the farm, one man was very busy.  On the periphery of the barnyard fracas, Hernando Sanchez had been diligently piling turkey manure around the central office of Tuscahoonee Turkeys and Treasures with a large bucket loader.  He had blocked the back door and all of the windows.  There were piles of it all around the small modular and on the roof.  A few more scoops with the bucket loader and he was going to seal the place shut with the bulldozer.  As fate would have it, Hernando was approaching the entrance to the central office with a full scoop when Tyrone returned from the turkey farm.

 

Tyrone was not a happy camper.  He came stomping across the field that separated the turkey farm from the central office, alternately cursing animal love freaks and shiftless Mexicans.  As he neared the office, he could hear the large bucket loader approaching from behind the building.  When the rig bounced noisily up to the front walk, Tyrone assumed it was Clete and let him have it.  In the course of daily affairs, Tyrone often let Clete have it.

 

“Fer cryin’ out load, Clete!  What in the hell are you doing up there?  We got a buncha hooligans in the turkey sheds and you’re out here playing sandpiles.  I’ll send your butt back to Alabama to make sandpiles, that’s what I’ll do.  You best be gittin’ on down to the turkey yard and see that all them sheds is sealed and there ain’t nothin’ broke.  You hear me?”

 

Tyrone was standing about ten feet from the central office while he sputtered at the man on the bucket loader.  He was still on the grass walkway, just a few feet off the fancy flagstone puzzle by the front door, and had not yet noticed the turkey manure heaped around the building.  His riot mask was strapped loosely to his forehead and partially blocked his vision as he hustled through his pockets looking for his keys.  It was a moment too late when he realized that the man on the bucket loader wasn’t Clete.  Clete was currently in town picking up a twelve-pack and a pepperoni pizza.  No, the man on the bucket loader was wearing police riot gear and Tyrone couldn’t see his face.  All he could tell for sure was that this man had his hand on the tilt lever.

 

“¡Nueva España Vive!” cried Hernando as he pushed the lever forward to tilt the load.  Tyrone saw what was coming and started to backpedal.  He made it two steps back before his left foot slipped in some manure and he fell ass over teakettle into a large pile behind him.  At that very moment, two tons of moist turkey poop slid majestically from the bucket loader, sandwiching Tyrone firmly into the pile with a loud plop.  Hernando briefly surveyed the lushly heaped mound, the exultant angle of repose.  It was a heartfelt moment of conquest.

 

Hernando turned and chugged away at full speed on the bucket loader.

 

***

 

Agent Starite was in a fix.  Krystal, Rachel, and Callan had departed in such a hurry that he missed his ride out of Tuscahoonee Turkeys and Treasures.  After becoming bored with the turkey roundup, he snuck off to the hill overlooking the central office.  The escapades of Hernando Sanchez on the bucket loader fascinated him, and he watched with amazement as Tyrone Marmaduck emerged from the pile of turkey poop, sputtering and shaking his head.  Agent Starite wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

 

Tyrone stripped down to his scivvies before venturing into the central office to take a shower.  While the coast was clear, Agent Starite decided to explore the shiny black Grand Marquis parked in the driveway.  As near as he could tell, it was his best shot of making it back to the city.  He sure as hell didn’t want to ride with Hernando Sanchez.

 

The windows on the car were closed, so Agent Starite had to improvise.  He worked fast, rigging a makeshift cradle underneath the trunk of the car.  The 27-B was good for that anyway.  He had just finished up and was testing the gizmo when he heard a truck pull into the driveway and park beside the Grand Marquis.  It was Clete.

 

Agent Starite caught a whiff of pepperoni pizza when Clete opened the truck door.  It smelled better than the strawberry granola he had eaten last night.  While Clete was fumbling with the pizza and beer, Tyrone emerged from the central office and met him in the driveway.  The two of them stood behind Clete’s truck, having pizza and beer on the tailgate while Tyrone ranted about the break-in at the turkey sheds.  Agent Starite hung tight and listened.

 

After they had finished the pizza, Tyrone walked over to his car and opened the door.  Crawling behind the wheel, he dispensed a few final words.

 

“I’ve had it with this today, Clete.  I’m going in to Portland for a few drinks.”  Tyrone fumed.  “But when I get back, I want every last bit of that manure cleaned up!  You hear me, Clete?  Every last bit of it!”

 

Tyrone fired up the Mercury and they cruised on down the road.

 

***

 

Intergalactic Research and Development Council Field Journal

July 2, 2006  6:30  P.M.

 

I have been conducting surveillance in the field.

 

This afternoon, the Bolognese attacked the Mexican outpost in an attempt to free the Turkeys.  There appears to be solidarity between the Bolognese and the Turkeys.

 

The attack was only partially successful because the Bolognese sent a small platoon and were outnumbered by the Mexicans.  I predict that the Bolognese will bring the full army when they attempt to take the city.

 

New Spain has entered the conflict on the side of the Bolognese.  They are running heavy equipment and spreading manure.  There is a massive amount of manure.

 

Agent Starite

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 12

 

 

12

 

 

It was a busy Sunday night in the Old Port.  At 10:35, two guys emerged from the side door of The Psychedelic Potato on Puffin Street.  They sat on the stone steps and sparked up a joint.  It was intermission.

 

Winslow Taylor was inside the club.  He was staking out Jellison Jones.  He would have rather been staking out a New Age masseuse.  They were much prettier.  They also had better taste in music.  This jamband stuff was for the birds.  One of the girls at a table beside him had a banana tattooed on her left breast.  Their table smelled like a patchouli patch.

 

Jellison Jones was a world-class scammer.  Jellison got his start in a Tulsa Super Dog, when he slipped on the the Super Cheese Special back in 1983.  He quickly expanded his operation.  First, it was icy sidewalks in Kansas City and Duluth.  Then he moved into chocolate sauce in Pennsylvania.  Lately, it had been bananas in Sao Paulo.  A Brazilian banana heiress with a vested interest had retained Prauper and Goode when she learned that Jellison was traveling to Portland for the Fourth of July.  Cindy had put Winslow on the case.  He had tailed Jellison from the airport and it looked like he might be up to his old tricks.  An hour earlier, Winslow had observed him buying a squeeze tube of Tastee Cheez at a local convenience store.  This could be the break he was looking for.

 

***

 

Agent Starite was hiding behind a pot of geraniums on the side steps.  He was staking out Winslow Taylor.  House music blared from the open door.  He could hear glasses clinking and people laughing inside.  Marijuana drenched the summer air outside.  Agent Starite was stoned.

 

Eventually, the door swung shut and he could hear what the two guys were saying.

 

“…but this band pretty much lost it when Caroline left.  I really used to like them.  This new singer though, I mean, just listen to her…”

 

“Baloney.  She’s not that bad.” said the guy in the Elvis shirt.  “They were working on some new material.  They’ll start playing some of the older stuff now.  That bass player smokes too.  Did you hear him?  Once he gets warmed up, he’ll be dropping bombs all over the place.  The second set is gonna cook.  I can feel it, dude.”

 

He reached out to the side and flicked his ashes on top of Agent Starite, who hopped quickly down to the step below.

 

“Hey!  Watch what you’re doing.”  Agent Starite blurted out.

 

“Sorry guy, didn’t see you.”  He passed the joint to a guy named Bob.  “Hey Bob, check this guy out.”

 

Bob took a long toke on the joint while he sized up Agent Starite.

 

Agent Starite was mad at himself.  It wasn’t good to be seen.  This introduced a whole new set of complications.  For starters, he had to cover his wazookle with an interview waiver.  IRDC Gospel.

 

Section 8, Paragraph 1, Line 42:  Interview Waivers on Top Secret Missions

 

He was damned lucky IRDC had remembered the waivers.  A 27-B Field Kit on a Top Secret mission.  Can you believe it?

 

Agent Starite read the waiver aloud to Phil and Bob.

 

His eyes felt funny.

 

***

 

Community and Conscience in the Milky Way:  An Ethnogalactic Inquiry

 

Purpose:  The purpose of this IRDC research project is to study the life forms, social organization, and overall worthiness of civilization on Earth.

 

Description:  You have been selected to impart information about your life, your world, and the universe-at-large.  Your information will be kept confidential and your name will not be used in the write-up of this study.  You are free to end your participation at any time.

 

 

1)      I understand that the procedures for protecting participants in this research have been reviewed and approved by the IRDC Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Native Subjects in Intergalactic Research.

 

2)      I understand the purpose of this research.

 

3)      I understand that the data associated with my participation are to be kept confidential, and that my identity will be protected.

 

4)      I understand that my participation is voluntary and that I may discontinue my participation at any time.

 

5)      I understand that I may contact the researcher at _(N/A)_, or the IRDC Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Native Subjects in Intergalactic Research at _(N/A)_, if I have any questions about my rights as a participant in this research.

 

6)      I agree to participate.

 

 

 

__________________

Signature

 

__________________

Date

 

 

***

 

Agent Starite placed the signed copies in his field file.  He gave Phil and Bob each a copy for their records.  They went back into the bar.

 

“Hey, that dude was a little strange, don’t you think?”   Bob said to Phil, scratching his head in amazement.

 

Phil started to laugh.  His copy fell out of his shirt pocket and onto a nearby table as he passed through the bar.  Bob kept his to show off to the girls.

 

***

 

Winslow worked his way back to his table and sat down to the IRDC Interview Waiver that had fallen out of Phil’s pocket.  He had only been gone a minute.  Puzzled, he picked it up and read it.

 

“Brilliant!” he thought, and tucked it into his wallet.  “Might be a story in this one.”

 

Across the room, Jellison Jones reached into his right coat pocket and fished out the tube of Tastee Cheez.

 

“This could be it.”  thought Winslow.

 

Out of the other pocket, Jellison then produced a small roll of crackers.  Winslow watched as he devoured the cheese and crackers.  No tricks.

 

Winslow called it a night.

 

***

 

Intergalactic Research and Development Council Field Journal

July 2, 2006  11:30 P.M.

 

I made an important discovery tonight. Elvis has been here.

 

The conflict appears to be quietly escalating.

 

The Bolognese held a small rally in the city tonight and are preparing to drop bombs.  Prauper and Goode had a spy staking out the rally.

 

Brazil has now entered the conflict on the side of Prauper and Goode.  They are supplying the banana jelly.  I’m not sure what they plan to do with it.

 

As of tonight, I am strapping my emergency return button to my left wrist in case I have to get out in a hurry.

 

Agent Starite

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~



Chapter 13

 

 

13

 


E-Mail Exchange of July 2, 2006

 

 

Winslow,

 

I’ll be driving up to Bucksport on Monday to pick up my mother and Aunt Dorothy.  They want to come down and see the Fourth of July fireworks display.  I should be back by early evening.  Drop me a line if anything goes down with Jellison Jones.

 

Any plans?

 

Cin

 

***

 

Cindy,

 

I had planned to work on my latest story, but I’m currently at a standstill.  These little green guys from outer space are harder to write about than most people realize.

 

I guess I’ll be on Jellison’s tail as soon as he leaves the hotel instead.  He is scheduled for an 8:30 wake-up call and I’ll be waiting for him.  Maybe I’ll get an idea for my story though.  He seems to be from another planet.

 

If all else fails, it might be a good time to put on my Ben Franklin costume and fly a kite.  I’m a bit behind on my electric bill.

 

Winslow

 

***

 

Winnie,

 

You need to meet my Aunt Dorothy.  She’s not green, or from outer space, but with a little bit of imagination…

 

Cin

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 14

 

 

14

 

A lot of Mainers have an Aunt Dorothy kicking around somewhere in the family tree.  She is a widow.  Uncle Elmer died twenty years ago.  He was a fisherman who drank and smoked a lot.  Aunt Dorothy still drinks and smokes.  She doesn’t drink that much.  A shot here, a shot there.  Heartwarmers really.  Hard to tell what she might say or do though.  Aunt Dorothy is a crusty old bird.  She is eighty-nine.

 

When Cindy was young, her family used to stop by and see Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Elmer whenever they visited Bucksport.  That wasn’t very often.  Cindy still remembered the distinct smell of the ferrets that Aunt Dorothy kept in one room of their small house.  Aunt Dorothy loved her ferrets.  She has scaled her hunting way back over the years and sold off most of her guns.  Back then, though, Aunt Dorothy was always plugging away at one critter or another.

 

Aunt Dorothy is Cindy’s mother’s aunt, her grandmother’s sister.  Cindy didn’t know her that well.  Cindy grew up out west mostly.  Her father had joined the Air Force in 1958 and they moved around a lot.  In the early 70’s, Cindy’s father was tranferred to New Hampshire and bought a place in Kingsport Harbor, not far up the Maine coast.  Cindy graduated from Kingsport High in 1976.  Aunt Dorothy and the rest of the clan lived a-hundred-and-fifty miles up the coast.  Cindy’s parents joined them when her father retired from the Air Force in 1978.

 

Cindy’s mother, Alice, had been planning to drive down for the Fourth of July.  They hadn’t seen each other since Christmas.  Then Aunt Dorothy entered the picture.  That was fine.  Cindy had plenty of room.  Now, an unexpected operation on Alice’s thumb had left her unable to drive.  Aunt Dorothy lost her license seven years earlier after a long string of incidents, so she couldn’t drive.  Cindy’s father was off on a fishing trip.  That left Cindy to pick up her mother and Aunt Dorothy in Bucksport.  Again, that was fine.  A breath of Downeast Maine is always a good thing.

 

The Fourth of July fell on a Tuesday this year.  Cindy had scheduled a five-day weekend, setting aside Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for family.  The holiday was welcome.  She had been out straight for months.

 

Cindy set out for Bucksport on Monday morning.  She took the turnpike north, making a break for the coast near Augusta.  Holiday traffic was thick, but moving.  Along the way, she stopped at a small country store for a cup of coffee and a biscuit.  Cindy arrived in Bucksport shortly after noon.

 

Agent Starite was trapped in the Buick.  Cindy left the windows up when she stopped at her mother’s house.  After an hour or so, Cindy came back out to the car with Alice and Aunt Dorothy.  They put two suitcases in the trunk and got into the car.  Alice sat up front and Aunt Dorothy sat behind Alice.  Agent Starite could see their feet from under Alice’s seat.

 

Cindy had her new camera with her and wanted to take some pictures on the way home.  They got onto Route 1 and crossed the old Waldo-Hancock bridge over the Penobscot River.  Off to one side, they could see the new bridge scheduled to open later in the year.  It had an elevator and an observatory inside one of its two Egyptian-style pylons.

 

“That’s a big bridge.”  Alice said.

 

“It sure is,”  Cindy replied.  “A lot bigger than this one.”

 

The bridge they were traveling on had been built in the early 1930’s.

 

“I ‘member when they built this one.”  Aunt Dorothy snapped.  She leaned over the seat and pointed out the window, “My brothah Jim climbed all the way ‘cross this thing on a dare.  On the cables.  Jim was like a monkey, ya know.”

 

Cindy had never met Jim, but somehow, she wasn’t surprised.

 

When they reached the other side, Cindy took the road up to Fort Knox so she could try out her new camera.  Nothing fancy.  A few shots of the bridge, a few of the cannon.

 

Fort Knox was built in the 1840’s to defend the Penobscot River against enemy attack.  It was active briefly during the Civil War, and again during the Spanish-American War.  It hasn’t been used since, except as a tourist attraction.  An imposing fifteen-inch Rodman cannon sits on the hill overlooking Penobscot Bay.  It was originally put there to blast 300-pound cannonballs out over the bay.  Nowadays, it gets its picture taken a lot.

 

Aunt Dorothy was standing behind the cannon.  She had a gunner’s grip and was hollering at the top of her lungs.  A cigarette dangled from one corner of her mouth.

 

“Down, suckah!  Yer goin’ down!”  She bellowed.  She was blasting enemy ships in the bay.  Aunt Dorothy loved her guns.

 

A lot of people were looking at her.  A group of Japanese tourists snapped pictures while Aunt Dorothy hammed it up for them.  Cindy was embarrassed.  She grabbed a few quick shots and they all got back in the Buick and resumed their journey.  When they reached Belfast, Cindy decided to stay on Route 1 rather than cut across to the Maine Turnpike.  Today, she was in no hurry and hadn’t been down the coast lately.

 

***

 

At a small clam shack north of Wiscasset, a dozen or so picnic tables were scattered across the grounds.  Holiday business was good and most of the tables were full.  A granite block wall separated the picnic area from the water.  On top of the wall, a row of small American flags waved in a stiff breeze, mounted in holes drilled directly into the stone.  At each end of the row, a small plastic replica of Uncle Sam held one of the flags in outstretched hands.  The statues were about the same height as Agent Starite and he had a plan.

 

Agent Starite had escaped from the Buick.  Aunt Dorothy had been puffing cigarettes in the back seat and left one of the windows open.  Agent Starite found a red, white, and blue napkin in a wooded area adjacent to the picnic tables, which he folded into a makeshift suit and hat.  Carefully, he slipped up to one end of the granite block wall.  When the coast was clear, he scampered up the wall and stole the flag from the plastic Uncle Sam.  Agent Starite dropped the statue into some tall grass and assumed a noble flagbearing pose in its place.  Mission accomplished.

 

The picnic area of Carla’s Clams lay naked before him.  Agent Starite stood completely still as his eyes panned the crowd.  A lot of people sat around picnic tables eating clams and other stuff.  Seagulls squawked overhead, and occasionally, one of them would swoop down and pick up an errant clam or french fry.  Off to his right, he could see a portable outhouse tucked into the woods.  Behind the outhouse, two young boys crouched in the bushes.  Agent Starite could tell they were up to no good.

 

They were Ted and Andy Bowen of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.  They were on vacation with their parents.  They were bored.  Ted was in charge of the outhouse operation.  He was eleven.  Andy was nine.  Ted was taunting Andy.

 

“You sorry little weasel.”  Ted oozed.  “You’re faster.  You should run up there and do it.”

 

“I can’t reach the window.”  Andy said.  “I’m too short.”

 

“You could reach it if you jump.”  Ted countered.  “You’re just scared.  Weasle-wimp.”

 

Ted and Andy had removed the wire mesh over one of the outhouse vent windows.  They were dabbling in the element of surprise, as young boys will.

 

“Okay, here comes a guy now.”  Ted said.  “Are you gonna do it?”

 

“I can’t reach it.”  Andy repeated in an frustrated tone.  “Besides, if we get caught, Dad’s gonna kill us.”

 

Ted was getting impatient, “Look weasel-wimp, we’re not gonna get caught.”

 

The door of the outhouse slammed shut.  Ted and Andy waited in the bushes.

 

“Wait and see if he is going to stay awhile.”  Ted said in a hushed voice.

 

The last guy had just tinkled.  They could hear it running through the pipes.  They waited and didn’t hear any tinkling.  After a few minutes, a loud fart pealed forth from the outhouse.  The clock was running.

 

Inside the outhouse, Howard Castleton of Bridgewater, Connecticut was a happy man.  A good vacation, some good clams, a moment of solace in the woods.  What more could a retired guy want?

 

Ted Bowen didn’t know what Howard Castleton wanted, but he knew what he was going to get.

 

“Alright, you little twirp.”  Ted finally said to Andy.  He had given up on the sales pitch.  “Watch and see how it’s done.”

 

Ted slunk out of the bushes and up to the outhouse, under the open vent window.  With his back to the wall, he looked left and right and reached into his pocket.

 

“Be ready to run.”  Ted whispered to Andy.

 

Howard Castleton was leisurely contemplating the goodness of life when he heard something land on the floor, next to his right foot.  A moment later, something landed on the shelf around the outhouse seat.  Howard quickly honed in on these developments.  He was fumbling with the toilet paper and had already raised his butt two-and-a-half inches off the seat when the first bang issued forth from the two long strings of firecrackers.  By the time he tripped over his boxer shorts and fell headfirst out the door, it sounded like a war was being fought in the outhouse.

 

“You little bastards!”  Howard yelled from a crumpled heap in front of the outhouse door.  All he could see was the tail ends of Ted and Andy disappearing into the woods.

 

Agent Starite was still holding the flag, watching as a wave of hoopla spread throughout the picnic area.  Mrs. Castleton ran down the trail looking for Howard and some other people followed.  It was few minutes before things settled back down.

 

By then, Agent Starite was eyeing a half-pint box of clams sitting on the granite wall, not far from where he was standing.  Some kid had left it there during the outhouse confusion.  There were still a few clams in the bottom, so Agent Starite waited until nobody was looking and dragged the box up beside him.  He was hungry.

 

Agent Starite reached into the box and pulled out one of the clams.  He was lifting it to his nose for a quick sniff when he was sideswiped by a seagull.  The seagull latched onto the clam, which somehow slipped over his arm like a ring toss.  Agent Starite smacked the seagull upside the head, but it dragged him off the granite wall and he found himself skyborn over the water.  The clam was hanging from the seagull’s beak and Agent Starite was hanging from the clam.  Suddenly, the seagull made a quick ascent and Agent Starite brushed up against the seagull’s throat.  With Swiss precision, Agent Starite let him have it with the old wazooklehorn.  The seagull gave a sickly squawk and let go of the clam.  Agent Starite plunged into the water.

 

As soon as he splashed down, two more seagulls converged on him and fought over the clam.  Agent Starite was getting pummeled.  Eventually, the clam snapped in half and the seagulls flew away.  Agent Starite swam to shore and picked his way through the woods back to the Buick.  Enough field work for one day.

 

***

 

Winslow Taylor had tailed Jellison Jones to the beach.  It was Monday night and the place was crawling with tourists and lovers and moongazers.  Occasional fireworks popped somewhere off in the distance.  Pretty neat place.  Winslow hadn’t stopped at this beach for years.  Muscular waves were cresting in the distance, arriving at the shore in swells of varying size.  When the bigger swells receded, the water line was a good forty feet ahead.  Winslow paced it off fast, then backpedaled quickly before the next swell arrived.  Again and again.  For a few precious moments, he lost himself.

 

When he bored of racing the waves, Winslow moseyed on down the beach.

 

 W  A   V   E

(L) (L) (L) (L)


Wet

Water

Race

 

It was a warm night.  Winslow spied Jellison up ahead by a bend in the beach.  Jellison was wearing a swimsuit and shades and carrying a lawn chair.  Winslow watched from a safe distance.  An hour earlier, he had observed Jellison buying a can of sardines and a bottle of coconut oil.

 

“This could be it.” thought Winslow.

 

Finally, Jellison made his move.  Winslow watched carefully as Jellison opened the lawn chair, covered himself in coconut oil, and basked in the moonlight.  Occasionally, Jellison plucked a sardine out of the can and ate it.  When they were all gone, he picked up his stuff and drove back to his hotel.

 

Winslow tailed him.

 

***

 

Intergalactic Research and Development Council Field Journal

July 3, 2006

 

The conflict is coming to a head.

 

Prauper and Goode have recruited the services of Aunt Dorothy.  Aunt Dorothy is a weapons specialist and today instructed the troops at a coastal outpost.

 

There was also an attack on another coastal outpost today.  I think the Bolognese were behind it.  They have a massive amount of firepower.

 

Agent Starite

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 15

 

 

15

 

The city of Portland has a long-standing relationship with Independence Day.  It was born on July 4, 1786.  Portland had formerly been a southern appendage of Falmouth known as the Neck, a small peninsula jutting into Casco Bay.  At that time, the whole area was under the governance of Massachusetts and would remain so until 1820.  On the Fourth of July in 1866, there was a real whizzbanger in Portland and some errant fireworks burned much of the city to the ground.  They are more careful these days.  A parade and a fireworks display over Casco Bay is standard fare.

 

That was pretty much the plan this year.

 

***

 

Winslow Taylor was out and about early.

 

Agent Starite was staking him out from a rustic wooden flower barrel near the side door of Angel’s Corner Store.  It was the standard half-barrel, with three brass bands around the outer circumference.  A holiday mix provided the perfect cover:  some red geraniums in the center, some indigo and white petunias draped over the side.

 

Winslow had gone inside for some breakfast and was sitting at a small table near the front window.  He was dining on an egg and cheese biscuit, a plain donut, and a cup of coffee while he read the newspaper.  He was dawdling.  Agent Starite could see him from the flower barrel.

 

On the side steps, a young woman sat smoking a cigarette and reading a book.  Agent Starite had her pegged as one of the Bolognese.  Purple hair, a few tattoos and body piercings scattered about.  Definitely not with Prauper and Goode.

 

Agent Starite spied a sign out by the road.  He draped a petunia vine over his head and leaned out one side of the barrel to see what it said:

 

Red Hot Fourth of July Fireworks Sausage  $6.99/lb

Salami    $5.99/lb

Bologna $4.99/lb

 

“Yep.  Definitely one of the Bolognese.”  Agent Starite noted to himself.

 

He had a feeling something big was in the air.

 

***

 

At noon, Jason Prauper stopped by his mother’s house to pick up some clothes.  Cindy, Alice, and Aunt Dorothy were in the kitchen eating lunch when they heard a loud thud and a splash emerge from the Jason’s bedroom.  Cindy went to investigate.

 

“Jason”  Cindy queried from the hall.  “Are you alright, dear?”

 

“Stay out!”  Jason cried.  “Just stay out.  Somebody put vaseline all over the toilet seat.  This family is a bunch of freaks!”

 

Aunt Dorothy began to chuckle.  She was from the old school of Maine Fourth of July pranks.  In her opinion, any day she could pass the tradition on to the younger generation was a good day.

 

“Aunt Dorothy.”  Alice scolded.  “You didn’t?”

 

“Well, what was I supposed to do?”  Aunt Dorothy countered defensively.  “She doesn’t have an outhouse.”

 

***

 

On the third deck of a parking garage overlooking Oyster Street in Portland, Winslow Taylor slumped casually in the backseat of his Jeep Cherokee, behind tinted glass.  His feet were propped on a short stool and he was sipping a bottle of seltzer water.  A local oldies show slipped softly from the rear speakers as Winslow made an occasional scan with his binoculars.  Jellison Jones was down the block on the street below.

 

Four hours earlier, Winslow had observed Jellison boiling water on a sterno stove in the trunk of his rental car.  He watched through binoculars as Jellison stirred a small silver bowl, then poured a bright red liquid into a fancy gelatin mold.  Jellison carefully placed the mold into a styrofoam cooler, closed the trunk, and sat on a nearby bench feeding the pigeons.

 

“Strawberry gel drops.”  Winslow mused.  “Old Jelly Boy means business today.”

 

Finally, Jellison made his move.  He opened the trunk.  Then he opened the cooler.  Winslow watched carefully as he pried the gel drops out of the mold and into a thermal pouch, which he slipped into the inside pocket of his cashmere jacket.  Jellison was off in a flash.

 

Winslow tailed him. The parade was approaching and the streets were packed.  He found Jellison sitting at the base of the Longfellow monument.  He sat there while the parade went by and ate strawberry gel drops.  After a while, Jellison turned the thermal pouch upside down and shook it.  He was out of them.

 

Winslow tailed Jellison back to his rental car.  He followed him onto I-295 and out to the Maine Turnpike.  Jellison headed south on I-95.  Winslow followed a mile or so behind, through the York Tollbooth, through the Hampton Toll Booth, all the way to the Massachusetts border.  That was where his contract ended.  Winslow buzzed Cindy on her cell phone to let her know that Jellison Jones was history.

 

***

 

Meanwhile, back in Portland, Agent Starite was holed up in a sprinkler grate on the side of a brick building downtown.  He was waiting for darkness to fall.  Earlier in the day, he had hopped a ride into town in Cindy’s Buick.  He made a break for it while Cindy, Alice, and Aunt Dorothy were gathering their things from the trunk.

 

Portland was crawling with people, a rally of some sort.  Agent Starite tucked and dodged his way from car-to-car, from bush-to-bush.  Eventually, he found himself on the outskirts of a park where people were congregating.  He watched from a safe perch in a rhododendron bush as a large troop of Redcoats bearing muskets marched into the field and opened fire on some Minutemen dressed in blue uniforms.  Several Minutemen dropped to the ground and lay motionless in the field.

 

From the other side of the field, a larger contingent of Minutemen began blasting away at the Redcoats, who retreated in the face of the attack.  The crowd began to cheer loudly and several of the Redcoats fell lifeless as the Minutemen followed in pursuit.  Suddenly, Aunt Dorothy appeared in the field, wrestling a musket from the arms of a Redcoat lying on the ground.  Apparently, the Redcoat wasn’t quite dead, as he put up quite a struggle before she finally kicked him in the chops and made off with the musket.  He ceased to move and Aunt Dorothy set off in pursuit of the remaining Redcoats with a bloodcurdling scream.

 

“Damn.”  Agent Starite said to himself.  “Look out, Bolognese.  Aunt Dorothy means business.”

 

Agent Starite decided to make a break for it before the bullets started flying his way.  On the street behind him, the Independence Day parade was lining up and getting ready to march through the city.  In the midst of all the hubbub, Agent Starite slipped out of the rhododendron bush and hopped onto a float.

 

The horse-drawn float was a tribute to Paul Revere and housed a model of the Old North Church with two lanterns hanging in the upper window.  Several model horses with mounted figurines depicting Paul Revere adorned the perimeter of the float.  Agent Starite raided the attire from one of the figurines and took his place on the model horse.  Within a few minutes, the Redcoats had regrouped and joined the parade behind Agent Starite.  In short order, the procession began to move through the streets of Portland.

 

Agent Starite glanced quickly over his right shoulder at the ranks of the 11th Massachusetts Battle Reenactment Regiment marching directly behind the float.  He could have sworn that one of the soldiers in the front row was the same one that Aunt Dorothy had done in back on the battlefield.

 

“Nah, couldn’t be.”  Agent Starite thought to himself.  “That guy is dead.”

 

The parade made its way uphill to the downtown area, and when it reached Longfellow Square, the 11th Massachusetts Battle Reenactment Regiment raised its muskets and shot a volley into the air.  The volley startled the horse pulling the Paul Revere float and it reared up momentarily, shaking the float and causing Agent Starite to fall to the street below.

 

Agent Starite landed beside one of the rubber orange cones that was blocking traffic from a side street.  He lay motionless on the ground until he was sure nobody was looking, then he crawled under the cone.  After a half-hour or so, the parade had passed by Longfellow Square.  Agent Starite lifted the edge of the cone and peeked out.  To his right, he could see a road crew picking up the cones and stacking them in the back of a pickup.  They were headed his way.  He had to move fast.

 

On the other side of the sidewalk, he could see a metal grate on the side of a brick building.  It was round, about a foot in diameter, and was painted bright red.  On the solid upper half, it read Dimond Sprinkler Company.  The bottom half had two rows of fins, curved upward like a big smiley face.  There was a small crack in the right side and the upper row had one fin broken out.

 

In the distance, Agent Starite could hear more gunshots.  Down the street, the road crew was fast approaching.  It was now or never, so he made a mad dash for the sprinkler head and squeezed in through the broken fin.  Finally, he felt safe.  Agent Starite decided that he had pushed his luck enough for one day and decided to wait it out until nightfall.

 

***

 

Heidi Goode dropped by Cindy’s house at 6:30 with Hugo.  It was a Fourth of July tradition:  dinner and the fireworks.  Cindy had picked up ten pounds of steamers and a dozen lobsters for the occasion.  They all had a royal feast at the picnic table in Cindy’s backyard and washed down the seafood with a bottle of good wine.  There was even a lobster for Hugo, who had never been known to decline such an invitation.  Life was good.

 

After dinner, the four of them, plus Hugo, packed into Heidi’s 4Runner and drove across town for the fireworks.  Cindy and Heidi usually hoofed it, but the trek was a bit much for Alice and Aunt Dorothy.  They arrived at the park just as darkness was settling over the city.  Cindy and Heidi staked out a prime spot with a large blanket.  This year, they had also brought two folding chairs for Alice and Aunt Dorothy.  Hugo was more or less along for the ride.  Heidi tied him to a poplar tree next to their blanket and set out a bowl of water.

 

***

 

Shorty before sunset, Agent Starite finally deemed it safe to crawl out of the sprinkler head.  He was quite happy to leave the musty smelling pipe, as it had been both dark and uncomfortable.  The occasional popping of fireworks off in the distance had kept him from catching a quick nap as well.

 

“Minor battles in the periphery.”  Agent Starite thought to himself.

 

It was much easier to navigate the streets of Portland under the growing cover of darkness.  He was thankful for that, as he was able to walk at a leisurely pace, only occasionally having to duck for cover as he made his way down to another rally taking shape near Back Cove.

 

Agent Starite hid briefly under a car as a small group of Sudanese emerged from a side street off to his right.  They were darker than anyone else he had encountered, and by the looks of their attire, he suspected that they had traveled a long way to participate in the bologna conflict.  When they got a block or so ahead of him, Agent Starite emerged from hiding and followed at a safe distance.

 

A few blocks down the road, a group of Somalians emerged from another side street and headed in the same direction.  Agent Starite noted that they were also dark-skinned, but did not join the first group.  The two groups walked on opposite sides of the street.  Agent Starite was puzzled, but he figured that they were probably headed to the rally and decided to follow.  Sure enough, they eventually led him to a large park along the shore of Casco Bay.

 

***

 

The waterfront park was crawling with people and Agent Starite could see right away that he was going to need some good camoflauge.  He raided a half-dozen posies from a nearby flower garden, tied them around his waist, and slipped carefully up to the park.  When nobody was looking, Agent Starite cast a rope over the lowest branch of a poplar tree and quickly shinnied up.  He pulled the rope up behind him and found a spot on the branch with a commanding view of the park.

 

The rally was even bigger than he had anticipated.  People from all over the world had staked out positions in the park.  To his left, he could see the Sudanese, who had been joined by the Somalians and the Congolese.  To his right, he could see some Cambodians and Vietnamese.  In front of him, Hernando Sanchez and a few other Mexicans from the turkey farm had also joined the rally.  Agent Starite could hear a lot of different languages and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

 

A band near the waterfront began to play America the Beautiful and all the people in the field rose to their feet and began to sing…

 

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies

For amber waves of grain

 

Just as the crowd launched into the last verse, two squirrels came racing down the branch where Agent Starite was perched and knocked him off balance.  He fell out of the tree and landed on top of Hugo.

 

“You again!”  Hugo thought to himself with smug satisfaction.  “I’ve got your little green ass this time.”

 

Hugo jumped to his feet and knocked Agent Starite flying.  He landed with a thud behind the tree.  There was no time for a wazooklehorn defense--too many people around.  Agent Starite made tracks.  Thankfully, it was dark and the people in the park had their backs to him.  Hugo bolted after him with such force that his leash snapped, freeing him from the poplar tree.  In a matter of seconds, Hugo was breathing down Agent Starite’s neck.

 

A few seconds was all Agent Starite needed.  Directly ahead, he could see a small child standing beside a parked car and holding a large cluster of helium balloons.  The child’s mother was removing some lawn chairs from the trunk and had her back turned.  Hugo pounced, but Agent Starite made a mighty leap and latched onto the balloons, which slipped from the child’s hand.  The child began to cry and his mother turned around to see what was going on.  By then, Agent Starite was already twenty feet in the air and rising fast.

 

“I told you to hold on tight.”  The mother scolded.

 

Hugo was ticked.  Heidi had caught up to him and was sputtering unhappily as she dragged him back to the blanket.  He gave a nasty growl as he watched the balloons disappearing over the water.  Heidi doled out a doggie treat to chill him out and Hugo curled back up on the blanket.

 

“Some days,”  Hugo grumbled to himself.  “You just can’t win.”

 

Agent Starite hung on for dear life.  The balloons eventually ran into a downdraft and leveled off at an altitude of 1500 feet or so.  Agent Starite drifted slowly across the bay in the light breeze and found himself approaching the main fireworks barge when the show began.  And what a show it was!

 

Without notice, a flurry of hummers and rockets lifted off from the barge.  Agent Starite came to full attention as one hummer passed close by.  The noise was deafening, but Agent Starite hung on tight.  A moment later, the first round of whistling rockets exploded with a series of loud bangs that almost caused him to lose his grip.  The accompanying flashes nearly blinded him, and left him seeing stars.

 

In short order, the sky over Casco Bay was aglow with multi-colored comets, willows, palms, and parachutes.  Agent Starite watched as the parachutes drifted slowly down, exploding one-by-one into fantastic displays of color and noise.  It suddenly occurred to him that the 27-B Field Kit doesn’t have a parachute.  No time to worry about that though.

 

“This is definitely it.”  Agent Starite thought to himself.  “The Great Bologna Conflict!”

 

Below, Agent Starite could see a number of fountains and wheels and Roman candles illuminating the park from some smaller floats near the shore.  He wasn’t quite sure where all the firepower was coming from.  He hadn’t noticed any weapons on his way in.  Advanced stealth munitions, no doubt.

 

The fireworks display went on for fifteen minutes or so.  Agent Starite hung tight, making careful observations for his field report.  This was the anthrogalactic experience of a lifetime, a cataclysmic war documented first-hand by a trained social scientist.  If, of course, he lived to tell about it.

 

“I damn sure deserve a raise for this one.”  Agent Starite thought to himself.  He didn’t even want to think about the field kit fiasco.

 

Agent Starite had nearly grown accustomed to the noise when the grand finale was launched from the barge, which was now a quarter-mile behind him.  Nothing could have prepared him for the large cake that began to shoot wildly over Casco Bay this time though.

 

The grand finale cake contained several hundred tubes of various displays.  Within a matter of moments, Agent Starite had forgotten all about his field report.  A spectacular array of whistles, rockets, star mines, hummers, and dragon eggs were propelled high over the water, lighting the sky with an intensity of color that Agent Starite had never before witnessed.  Some were a bit too close for comfort.

 

Agent Starite was getting ready press his emergency return button when a large rocket burst into a dazzling purple palm close beside him.  The sparks from the palm pierced his balloons and Agent Starite starting falling fast.  He proceeded directly into IRDC Life Preservation Mode and attempted to release the safety switch on his emergency return button.

 

Damn!  It was stuck.

 

Directly below him, another rocket was starting to burst into a spectacular multi-colored Chrysanthemum.  Agent Starite fell helplessly down as he fumbled with the safety switch.  The brilliant flower was expanding majestically, with dozens of petals sprouting in concert on the perimeter.  Agent Starite could see the kaleidoscopic circle growing fast as he tumbled head over heels toward the center.

 

Agent Starite was spinning too fast to get into dive position and braced for a big splashdown.  He whirled helplessly through space as the Chrysanthemum blossomed all around him--every which way he turned.  Suddenly, a passing rocket glanced sharply off his left wrist and tipped the safety switch loose.  Agent Starite pressed the emergency return button at the very same moment that he passed through the multi-colored ring of fire, now in full royal bloom.

 

“Whew!”  Agent Starite muttered to himself.  “That was a close one.”

 

Mission accomplished.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


Chapter 16

 

 

16

 

 

Back in Kingsport Harbor, Winslow Taylor took in the fireworks from the front porch of some neighbors down the road.  It was a magnificent display, launched from a small beach on Yankee Island, a mile or so out in the harbor.  Not as big as the one in Portland, to be sure, but respectable.  The Fourth of July in Kingsport Harbor always inspired a moment of awe in Winslow and he liked being able to walk home.  He rarely drank, but this year he had a cold beer in honor of Uncle Sam.  Life was good.

 

As he moseyed the half-mile or so back to his house, Winslow wondered what a green guy from outer space might think about the Fourth of July.  Hmmmm.  An encore of Roman candles and squiggly rockets spritzed away from a yard down on the waterfront.  Winslow ambled on through bombardments of alternating light and shadow and sound and silence.

 

 S    N   A   K    E

(L) (R) (L) (R) (L)

 

Curl

Flame

Burn

 

Oh, say can you see

By the dawn’s early light…

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~




Chapter 17

 

 

17

 

 

Dear Agent Starite,

 

Good work!

 

The Intergalactic Research and Development Council has reviewed your report and is duly impressed with your improvised methods, astute observations, and impeccable reasoning.  Your front-line account shall go down as an exemplar in the training halls of the Academy, as shall the exceptional courage displayed in your decision to stick it out until the last possible moment for the sake of science.

 

And we do apologize so for the mixup with the field kit.

 

In appreciation of your valued service, the Council has voted unanimously to assign you to a cabinet position in the Ethnogalactic Strategic Research Division, where you shall oversee the Assembly of Authoritative Anthrogalactic Absurdities.

 

Congratulations!  We are proud to have you aboard.

 

Thanks to devoted agents such as yourself, the IRDC Stock of Intergalactic Novellas shall forever shine as a beacon throughout the stars.

 

Sincerely,

Prexora Casmahali

 

***

 

“My dear Ashmira.”  Agent Starite mused thoughtfully in between cool sips.  “I do believe this next shot calls for a Tryptonian 4-Ring.  Any thoughts on that, love?”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~



Chapter 18

 

 

18

 

 

A dark-haired woman in a light green dress sipped her coffee at a small table near the window.  It was good; she had gotten the Tanzanian Peaberry.  The woman was pretty, about 40, and wore dark shades.  Her name was Isadine Yuacamole.  Her services had been retained by a Brazilian banana heiress with a vested interest in the agenda of Jellison Jones during his stay in Boston.  Jellison was currently seated at a table on the side deck, enjoying a latte with cream.

 

Twenty minutes earlier, Isadine had observed Jellison buying a small squirt can of household oil and a plastic egg of Goofy Goop at a drugstore on Charles Street.  She had tailed him to the coffee shop.

 

“This is the big day.”  she thought.

 

Finally, Jellison made his move.  She watched carefully as Jellison reached into his pocket and pulled out the Goofy Goop.  He opened the egg and rolled the Goofy Goop around in his hands for a while, occasionally squishing it between his fingers and thumbs.  Jellison then opened a newspaper onto his table.  He spent a few minutes pressing the Goofy Goop onto the comic page, then peeling it off and laughing at the transfer.  When he finished his coffee and got bored with the Goofy Goop, he left.

 

Isadine tailed him.  When he arrived at his rental car, Jellison opened the trunk and applied three drops of household oil to the left front wheel of his suitcase.  He got into the car and drove to the airport.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~




Copyright © 2007 Ed Chapin




Ed Chapin currently lives and writes in Kennebunk, Maine. He is formally trained in sociology, holding a B.A. from the University of Southern Maine and an M.A. from the University of New Hampshire. In spite of it all, Ed has high hopes for Planet Earth.

Email: edchapin01 [at] hotmail [dot] com


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