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Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Adventure, Part VII: CD or Not CD

The Marin Memorial Veterans Auditorium is a growth of concrete situated on the shore of a lagoon. Lit up like a concrete growth, its image shimmered in the waters around it. Being extremely early, we found a great parking spot and were prowling around the lobby in a matter of moments.

There was the inevitable bar, a good forty-footer, whose management had demonstrated a fundamental grasp of planning and logistics by running low on premium items before the audience actually showed up. I thought about getting a beer, but they were down to Sludge, Sludge Lite, and Sludge Draft. Strangely, Sludge Draft was in bottles and plain old Sludge was on tap. Having an allergy to chemical-induced brewing techniques, I sauntered on to the next area, where, it turned out the souvenirs were being hawked.

The items for sale were laid out on a plain folding table--t-shirts, mainly, and a couple of license plate holders, and a few signed CDs. Since I had been looking to buy one of The Firesign Theatre’s more recent albums, “Boom Dot Bust,” for a while, this seemed like it would be as good an opportunity as any. There was one copy, festooned with the autographs of each of the four. “How much?” I asked the young lady who was picking through boxes behind the table.

“Oh,” she said. “I’m not sure. They haven’t set the price yet.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Boy, I’ve been looking to buy one of these. Sure would like to buy this.”

“They should tell us pretty soon,” she replied.

Perhaps someone was waiting for an E-Bay auction to expire or trying to get a fix on the day’s trends on the Nikkei. I couldn’t be sure, but market forces are mysterious things, and loathe am I to mess with forces of any kind. I put the CD back on the table and made a silent appointment with it for later.

Mark and Bernie were also picking through the merchandise by this point, but their browsing came to naught as well. We wandered back out toward the bar, where quite the crowd had gathered, mostly middle-aged and white, the kind of folks who had thought of property as a crime until they started getting mortgages on some.

Now, I don’t want to paint myself as being some kind of pioneer or something, but I was suffering from mild agoraphobia long before it became the TV disease of the week. Milling in the midst of a crowd of strangers quickly turns into a scene from a surrealist film with the sound of my pulse beating in my throat and ears as the score. Therefore, it didn’t take more than two minutes before I had to beat a hasty retreat back to the souvenir room.

Fortunately, this neurotic outbreak paid nice dividends when I returned to the table to find that the CDs were now priced, and that the autographed “Boom Dot Bust” in question was only 25 simoleons. Before anyone else could bid on it, I whipped out my check card. “I’m sorry,” the young woman said. “We’re only taking cash.”

“I can do that,” I said, and thrust the money I had originally set aside for the bridge toll at her. She took it. I took my CD.

“So, you got it?” Bernie was beside me.

“Yeah. I was going to buy it anyway, so why not?” Then I thought. “How much is the toll across the bridge?”

“Five dollars.”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m going to have to stop and get some cash tomorrow.”

His wallet was out. “Here,” he said, thrusting a bill my way.

“No, I’ll be fine. I’ll just stop.”

The negotiations continued for a moment or two. I won’t reveal what the result was, although I don’t remember having to stop for cash on my way out.

Mark joined us, and we decided that it was time to go ahead and claim our seats. Since they had reserved theirs a mere months before I had bought mine, they were sitting somewhat closer to the stage. They made their way to the orchestra, and I climbed the stairs to a section called something like “Orchestra Plus.”

Tomorrow, Part VII: The Voodoo That They Do


Robert G. Margolis said...

It was not difficult to find the old blind man. He was exactly where Mr. Hardy expected him to be, the same place he was, every night, except on major holidays, when Locals Bar and Grille was closed. But what was not so expected was that the old blind man was sitting, shadowed in the back corner booth, with a beautiful young woman, his head leaned close to hers as he spoke and she listened intently and gazed directly into his blind eyes. "Good evening, Mr. Hardy," the old blind man said, as Fenton Hardy sat down beside him in the booth. "This beautiful young lady is looking for her son. And so are you, I believe."

The Locals night waitress came over to the table. "Coffee, Mr. Hardy?"

"Yes, please. Black."

"The blueberry pie is very good, Mr. Hardy. Fresh baked this afternoon."

Fenton Hardy scratched his head as if pie with his coffee is something he had never before considered. The night waitress laughed. "Alright, bring me a piece then, thank you," Mr. Hardy said pleasantly.

The night waitress brought his coffee and slice of pie. He sipped his coffee and considered the implications of unexpectedly finding the old blind man in earnest conversation with a young, beautiful woman, who, clearly, was a stranger in town. While he sipped and reflected, he let his gaze casually wander over the familiar d├ęcor. Locals Bar and Grille had been the family business of the Locals family for decades, and he often brought Frank and Joe there for Saturday breakfast. Fenton Hardy, though not a local, had come to be accepted by the locals for his upstanding citizenship, polite manners, and the kind words he always had for the less fortunate. A murmur of respectful recognition had rippled among the regulars, when he had entered.

The old blind man and the young, beautiful woman had stopped talking, allowing for Mr. Hardy to order his thoughts. The old blind man sat, with his weathered hands folded in front of him, his unseeing eyes wide open, starring straight ahead, and a slightly bemused smile on his face.

Fenton Hardy broke the silence with a chuckle of grudging admiration. "Ten years, and all this time, you've known, all along, what really happened, haven't you?" he said to the old blind man. He'd said it as a question, but the tone in his voice said it really wasn't.

"I knew you would figure it out, Mr. Hardy. When you really had to," said the old blind man, with a chuckle of his own. "This," he gestured toward the woman seated opposite them, "is Penny Parnassus. I've known her since she was a little girl growing up in Pacific Heights."

"A great pleasure to meet you, at last," said Fenton Hardy and he shook hands with the young woman. Her modest, unadorned dress and patiently brushed out long, black hair, though meant as a guise, did nothing to conceal the spectacular beauty of her face, the kind of beauty that one read about in legends as possessing extraordinary power and effect. Penny Parnassus was, herself, no stranger to legend, for, as the old blind man had known all along and Fenton Hardy had deduced the moment he saw her, she was also known as Helen, the daughter of Mr. Zeus.

It was the young woman's turn to speak. "I was still a young girl, when I learned that my father had already arranged with whom I was to marry. It was the son of his friend and business partner, the Greek shipping magnate Eliteous Poseidon. I refused to consent to what would have been a loveless sham, a trophy of our fathers' business alliance, to be on display at high society functions. I knew, too, with my beauty, I could have any man I wanted. But I didn't want any man that only wanted me for my beauty. And my father only wanted me to be happy as long as I wanted what he wanted. That's when I began to act troublesome and rebellious, deliberately provoking my father, first refusing the arranged marriage and then rudely rejecting every suitor he deemed a "suitable match" for me. The more outrageous and publicly reported my behavior became, the easier it was for me to keep anyone, especially my father, from suspecting my secret…"

"…That you were already married," said Fenton Hardy, "to a young man, of great skill and bravery, but who was from an undistinguished family and whom your father would never approve of as a son-in-law: Odysseus, the "boy" who vanished, ten years ago, without a trace from Pacific Heights."

"That's right," the young woman continued, sounding glad to finally be telling her story. "And I was already pregnant with our son. Odysseus had to disappear, to someplace where we both were unknown to anyone we knew, so that he could raise our son after he was born. I had a reputation for disappearing from home, for months a time, without a word. So I was able to give birth in secret. But since then, I've had to lead a double life, one that my husband and I have gone to elaborate lengths to conceal. We even, once, staged a mock affair between myself, as Helen, and my husband Odysseus as a foreign mercenary."

"Quite remarkable," said Fenton Hardy, with an appreciative nod toward the young woman.

"Yes, perhaps…" A sob caught in the young woman's throat. There were tears in her eyes. "My, I mean, our son, Dilemmachus, knows nothing of this; his father, Odysseus, and I have never known when would be the right moment to tell him. But, now, I fear, we've waited until it's too late. Now our son is on his way to kill Odysseus, his own father, because he believes his father has betrayed me with Helen, the infamous daughter of the equally infamous Mr. Zeus. He means to kill Odysseus in my father's Castle, in front of my father. And believe me, Mr. Hardy, the slaughter won't end there. Dilemmachus' vengence won't be satisfied until he's killed all those whom he deems to be 'guilty'. Which means, he's about to kill his own grandfather as well. It also means, I'm sorry to say, your sons, Frank and Joe, are in mortal danger. Dilemmachus got them to help him break into my father's Castle. He won't leave any witnesses alive."

"I know it," said Fenton Hardy, in a hushed, agonized voice. The color had drained from his face and he struggled to control his own fear and anger.

The old blind man, who had been listening to the conversation with a broad, if somewhat incongruous smile on his face, suddenly cleared his throat and then spoke. "Penny, dear, you remember that shortcut from town to your father's Castle, that I showed you when you were a girl, don't you? Why don't you lead the way for Mr. Hardy. My eyesight at night is not what it used to be," he added, strangely persisting in treating as humourous a situation that was fast becoming a race to keep desperate from turning into hopeless.

Robert G. Margolis said...

Dilemmachus, thinking he was killing the woman who had driven his mother away from placid domesticity and driven his father mad with illicit desire, would, actually, be killing his own mother. This killing would be in addition to the killing of his father, Odysseus, and of his grandfather, Mr. Zeus, whom he was about to meet for the first time. Mr. Zeus had never known he had a grandchild who hadn't been born directly from his head or that his daughter had truly become the kind of person he wanted her to be but could never be for her. The way things were headed, he never would.

This is what Fenton Hardy was thinking, as he climbed the last steps of the secret stairs that formed a mostly hidden path of ascent across the cliff face that formed a formidable natural border along the northern seaward side of the Mr. Zeus' Castle enclave. The old blind man kept pace with Mr. Hardy and Penny Parnassus as the three climbed. He had surprising strength, agility, and stamina for a man so old and without the kind of sight a climber usually depended on. The only sounds to be heard were the three's labored breathing, the tapping of the old blind man's walking stick, and, like a barely audible sigh, the tide coming in. Above them, the night sky, with a cloudless, clear vision of its starlit immensity within immensity, rather than the comfort it usually was, instead towered over them as if the sentence of Fate itself.

As he climbed, Fenton Hardy could see, far below, tied to a great rock outcropping and undulating with the waves of the tide, the family boat Frank and Joe had set off in that morning. Frank, Joe, and Dilemmachus must already be in the Castle, having made this same ascent just ahead of them. Time was passing, as time did, in a regular order of seconds and minutes, but to Fenton Hardy and Penny Parnassus it had taken on a nightmarish quality, being too slow and too fast at once. For both, the grief would be devastating, if they were too late; and neither, for very similar reasons, would ever be able to forgive themselves. Home and family were everything to Fenton Hardy and to Penny Parnassus. Now, as a result of the deceptions a young woman and a young man had used in order to stay true to each other, two homes, two families were about to be destroyed.

At last at the top of the stairs, Penny Parnassus sprinted ahead of Mr. Hardy and the old blind man. Her feet, as in her girlish days of old, effortlessly found their way through the haphazard maze of statues and ornaments that were planted throughout the gardens. Within moments, she reached the back terrace of the house and could see, through the enormous observatory window that looked out over the cliffs and onto the ocean, that they were not too late. She saw her son, Dilemmachus, waving his arms wildly, stalking the room, occasionally lunging at her husband and her father. As she got closer to the Castle, she could hear the voice of her son, raw and strained from his fit of enraged yelling. She couldn't make out any of the words, but she didn't need to hear the words, to know exactly what he was saying.

"Do you see Frank and Joe?" Mr. Hardy yelled from behind her.

"No!" she called back. A jagged bolt of terror went through his heart, and Fenton Hardy doubled his stride, as if the mad dog guardians of The Bridge were at his heels.

Penny Parnassus entered the Castle, the home of her childhood, and raced along the first floor main hall in the direction of her son's rising and falling voice. Finding the room of the confrontation, she threw herself headlong between her son and her husband and father. Dilemmachus who had been railing at Odysseus and Mr. Zeus about the devious devisings of that poisoner of true love, "Helen," and who was brandishing a spear in one hand and a picture of "Helen" in the other, stopped in mid-sentence, utterly stunned.

"Mom," he said, looking in shock from the picture in his hand to Penny Parnassus in front of him, "is that, is this…you?"