eddie was in chuckie’s place, just starting to dunk his cheese danish into his coffee when he looked up and saw frankie sitting by himself at a table in the corner.
eddie had heard frankie was in town, looking for ray, but he was still a little surprised to see him.
he figured it wouldn’t do any harm to go over and talk to him, so he picked up his coffee and danish and went over to frankie’s table.
haven’t seen you around for awhile.
i guess you haven’t.
mind if i sit down?
frankie shrugged. suit yourself.
eddie sat down. so what brings you back in town, he asked frankie.
i think you know why i’m back in town.
you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.
i’m looking for ray.
you seen ray lately?
a little bit. i do a little business with him now and again. everybody does. everybody has to.
if you say so. so old ray’s doing pretty good, huh?
pretty good isn’t the word for it.
he runs this town, huh?
runs the town? i don’t know where you been, frankie, but ray runs the whole west coast and beyond. and has for a while.
i‘ll tell you where i been, but first you tell me how good ray’s doing. has he still got that big house out by the lake?
no, he sold it or gave it away years ago, when he started getting really big. he lives in a big castle now, in this state he bought up north, idaho or montana or one of those places.
it must be nice. you been there, seen it yourself?
once or twice. you wouldn’t fucking believe it. he’s got everything. he’s got a million guys guarding the place, a fucking army. more swimming pools than you can count. a million game rooms, with every game you can think of, night and day. and if you’re a pal, you don’t have to pay to play. food - the place is one big buffet. every kind of booze ever invented, right there for you.
i suppose he’s got a few women around.
i was just getting to that. he’s got this special harem or palace, just for himself, where he keeps the hottest babes, for the heavy duty, you know. and he’s got another harem of women one cut below, for when governors and presidents and ambassadors come to visit him. but besides that, there’s hot women and cute chicks all over the place, every size and shape and color you can think of, and they know what they are there for, and they do it.
eddie nodded. i think a life like that might make a guy a little soft.
well, ray must have thought of that, because once a year, he goes on this safari for about a month, up in the yukon or some fucking place where it snows all the time, him and his favorite boys, what he calls his mighty men, and they hunt grizzly bears and three thousand pound wild boars and roast them around a roaring fire and tell stories and sing songs and all that shit.
frankie laughed. and that keeps him from going soft? i don’t know about that.
how about you, frankie, what have you been up to?
you mean ever since that son of a bitch set me up thirty years ago? let me tell you what i been up to.
the first ten years i’m in a fucking chain gang, out in death valley. i plot for years to escape, with three other guys. then just when we are about to make our break, one of them finks out. the other three of us get sent to another chain gang, in the middle of the indian ocean, building this new island for the king of this and the shah of that and sons of bitches like that -
maybe like ray.
maybe. anyway, this place makes death valley look like a kindergarten, there is no union or banker’s hours, if you get my drift, and after nine or ten years i snap and kill one of the guards. here is where things start to get tough. they put me on yet a third chain gang, this one on the bottom of the pacific ocean building some kind of radar station where the bastards who rule the world are going to contact the bastards who rule the other worlds out in fucking space. there is not a whole lot of fresh air, and i feel i am finally in hell itself.
but i escape. by myself this time. but i don’t get very far. i come to this undersea kingdom ruled by an evil mermaid and i get captured and made a slave. and the things i did there, and the things they made me do, trust me, you don’t want to hear about.
so one day i am on this gang working on a coral reef. by this time i have just about given up hope.
and i see an abandoned diving bell drifting by. what are the chances i can get to it, or that it will work if i can get to it?
one in a billion. but what have i got to lose? i swim over to the diving bell, with these mean lobster-guards right behind me, and i close the hatch door behind me in their faces, and i pull the first lever i see and what do you know, i go right to the top.
i come up off the coast of fucking japan. i lose myself in tokyo. i get a job as a strikebreaker for this rich guy in japan. i start to save my money. i meet this chick, and it’s beautiful. she begs me to stay, but i am a man on a mission. i save enough for a plane ticket and here i am.
that’s quite a story, frankie.
yes, here i am, ready to pay a call on my old friend ray.
well, it’s no concern of mine, but i don’t like your chances of getting to him.
there is always a way. there is always a way, if you just hang in there.
but look at it this way. you’ve been through hell for thirty years. and ray’s been leading the good life, ruling the world and hanging with the beautiful people, for those same thirty years. how is anything you do going to undo that? neither of you are getting any younger. if the booze and cocaine and babes haven’t killed ray off by now, what difference does it make if you do now? maybe you should go back to that woman in tokyo, if she really cares about you.
the only thing i care about is getting my fingers around that son of a bitch’s throat.
eddie looked out the window. fog was rolling down the street. if frankie is serious, he thought, about trying to get at ray, i am not doing myself any favor by sitting here palavering with him.
eddie finished his coffee and got up.
well so long, frankie, he said, and good luck. you are going to need it.
later, eddie felt kind of bad about saying, you are going to need it, to frankie, because it was not really necessary.
but when a guy is down, it’s just instinct to give him a little kick.
a great celebration had been prepared. had in fact, been in preparation for decades.
a celebration of the new year - the year 1,000,000.
and a celebration of the crowning of the new imperator.
the new imperator whom everybody already loved, as their face and hologram and life and loves had been steadily broadcast for years before the coronation, ever since they had been chosen by lottery from the empire’s seven trillion inhabitants.
a whole city had been built for the celebration and coronation , and all the inhabitants of the empire transported to it to witness the great events.
seventeen days of feasting and dancing and partying had preceded the day, feasting and dancing and partying such as the universe had never known.
now all was in readiness. a golden throne had been set up on a great platform at the back of the newly created city. the new imperator, the old retiring imperator, and the archbishop waited in a room behind the throne.
a long, wide boulevard stretched out in front of the platform. the boulevard itself was empty and swept clean, but behind barricades on either side, the citizens of the empire waited.
the seventeen days of partying had exhausted them and they waited silently, many with tears of joy running down their cheeks.
directly in front of the great platform and on each side of it stood serried ranks of detachments of the elite units of the various imperial armies, in their splendid uniforms - red for the avars, blue for the bulgars, green for the partisans, gold for the scythians, white for the amazons, and so forth.
a brightly colored battleship from each of the imperial space navies floated overhead.
the archbishop appeared on the platform. he approached a small lectern in front of the throne.
the archbishop looked out at the massive crowd and the wide, empty boulevard.
suddenly a lone figure appeared at the opposite end of the boulevard.
a lone man.
a man in black.
with a pistol strapped to each hip.
he began walking up the boulevard, toward the platform and the archbishop.
the crowd was silent, stunned…
then a cry rang out…
the next day. a gray, overcast day.
the same crowd has been assembled along the boulevard. they are silent, even more than yesterday.
the imperial regiments are drawn up around the platform as before, but they are all dressed in black.
in place of the throne, a gallows has been erected on the platform.
the man in black, who had walked up the boulevard the day before, stands on the gallows with his hands tied behind his back.
a hooded figure emerges from the room behind the platform.
the hooded figure carries a black book.
suddenly a murmur is heard from the crowd.
another figure has appeared at the other end of the boulevard.
it is a little dog.
it runs up the center of the boulevard, wagging its tail, and barking…
it was almost closing time at the shelter.
the little dog looked up at the man.
i think he really likes you, mr perkins. isn’t he a cute little guy?
yes, he is.
yes, he looks friendly.
his time is almost up. if you don’t take him tonight, and if nobody else shows up in the next fifteen minutes, we will have to put him to sleep tomorrow…
alex, dylan, lee, preston, chandler, harper, taylor, kennedy, jody, and gray were dropped off at the beach , with strict instructions as to their regimen for the morning.
they were to run two miles along the beach, rest, swim a half mile out and back, rest, do the series of aerobic exercises they had been taught to do, and then wait for coach morgan to bring them their packaged lunches, which they would eat on the beach before beginning the afternoon program.
they had plenty of water if they needed it.
the beach was lined with hot dog and ice cream stands but coach morgan had not thought it worth mentioning to the students that they should be avoided.
chandler and harper were running the first of the four laps of their two miles when they passed one of the hot dog stands.
a muscular plebe behind the counter of the hot dog stand shouted to them as they passed,
best dogs on the pacific coast! only two dollars! special sauce included!
chandler threw an amused glance at harper but neither broke stride or responded to the young man’s call.
when they had run half a mile, they stopped, turned around and ran back the way they had come and passed the hot dog stand again.
and the muscular young man was still behind the counter, but with a slight scowl on his face.
these are good dogs, he yelled. healthy as all fuck! give them a try, they won’t kill you!
again, chandler and harper did not break stride, but chandler turned as they passed and gave the troll what he, chandler , thought was a friendly smile, indicating that while he had no intention of buying a hot dog, he was taking the fellow’s shouts in a spirit of good fun.
chandler and harper each took a few swigs of water when they returned to their original starting spot. alex and dylan were also at the spot but chandler and harper did not think to mention the hot dog vendor and his truculent behavior to them.
chandler and harper set off on the third of their four laps.
this time when they passed the hot dog stand their tormentor was standing in front of it.
chandler and harper deliberately avoided looking at him as he shouted.
what are you, too good to eat a fucking hot dog! with special sauce! contribute to the economy, why don’t you, you one percent pieces of shit!
there was an ice cream stand just past the hot dog stand, and this time the young woman behind it also yelled something at chandler and harper, but they could not make out what they said.
one more time, harper laughed as they started back on their last lap. i wonder if he will pull a gun on us this time.
but chandler did not laugh or smile at her words.
they approached the hot dog stand for the fourth time. the muscular young man was still standing in front of it, leaning back against it - at least, chandler thought, he is not standing directly in our path - and he had been joined by the young woman from the ice cream stand.
i think it’s sad, the troll shouted, just sad. you don’t know what you are missing, college boy!
the young woman from the ice cream stand laughed, but before the troll could continue, chandler stopped.
look here, fellow, he addressed the young man, this has gone far enough. so far as i know this is a public beach, and i don’t know of any law that requires me or anyone else to patronize any particular establishment, no matter how special their sauce or how special any other attribute they may possess…
as he spoke, chandler became aware that a small crowd of snickering plebeians was gathering around himself and harper.
the hot dog vendor smiled. i guess you ought to know about those things, college boy, going to college and all.
actually, my friend, you give me too much credit, chandler replied. at the moment i am only in prep school.
only in prep school! the young woman from the ice cream stand repeated, and she and the troll and the gathering crowd all laughed as if this was the funniest thing they had ever heard.
come on, kid, lighten up, the troll laughed. what did you think we were going to do to you? we’re at the fucking beach, not in the jungle of outer mongolia or someplace. he threw his muscular but short arms to the sky. turn that frown upside down! it’s a beautiful day!
and we’re in america, harper added.
that’s right, babe, we’re in fucking america! ha, ha, ha!
chandler always felt that he had acquitted himself well, and had learned some valuable life lessons from this encounter.
fifty years later, chandler found himself holding the title of secretary for intergalactic relations for planet earth, and as such was the head of the diplomatic team confronting the advance party of the petrocerian empire, whose outrageous demands regarding interstellar trade routes had aroused angry mobs and emboldened demagogues in cities across the solar system…
but whose military capacities could only be guessed at…
as he walked down the corridor of the petrocerian ship, chandler hoped that the firmness he had shown on that long ago day at the beach would stand him in good stead,…
mister makoiu is usually the first one down to the lobby in the morning.
sometimes a bum will have wandered in and been allowed to sit or even sleep in one of the chairs by rack, the night clerk, if he was in a good mood.
sometimes, if this happens, the bum will be sitting in mister makolu’s favorite chair, the one beside the potted plant.
if the bum is awake, mister makolu will politely ask him to move to another chair, and 99 times out of 100 the bum will comply.
but if the bum is sleeping , mister makolu will let him be, 999 times out of 1000, and move to another chair, one approximately the same distance from the window as the one beside the potted plant.
in any event, mister makolu will sit down and begin looking out the window, whether the morning
is sunny or otherwise.
the next person down to the lobby is usually madame b, who will say good morning to mister makolu and take a chair within speaking distance of his.
the paper is late today, mister makolu will say.
madam b will smile and say, the newspapers went out of business thirty years ago, mister makolu, is there any news you were particularly interested in?
yes, the price of gold.
gold has been off the market for as long as mister makolu had been sitting in the lobby, but madame b will not say this. instead she will take out her phone, pretend to look at it and say, the price is unchanged.
thank you, mister makolu will say.
then mister makolu and madame might or might not discuss the weather.
next to appear will be professor barvis. usually, but not always, he will remember to greet mister makolu and madame b. he will take his seat, and consult his own phone, to see if there is any message from the committee of arts and sciences - which, does, in fact, still exist - regarding his paper on the incompatibility of dimensional-based and path-based fusion and expansion.
to date he has not heard from it.
the last regular to appear is miss arg. she does not have a favorite chair, but seems to sit randomly in the many available in the spacious lobby.
she, too, looks out the window as if waiting. if anyone asks her, which few do any more, she will say she is waiting for her prince.
she has been told many times, by the regular inhabitants and helpful strangers, that there are no more princes. glen, one of the maids, has even gave her a copy of the four volume “history of the rise and triumph of woman” by anna randle, but miss arg has never read past page fourteen.
rack, the night clerk, leans on the desk and looks out the window himself. he is waiting for suss, the morning clerk, who is often late, especially if it rains, as it often does in this part of the world.
and there you have it, my friend… humans…. waiting… always waiting… never satisfied…