November 5th, 1974. 1:40 PM

 

Celia was blocking my view, so I couldn’t get a good look inside the locker.  But then I wasn’t trying too hard because I was sure there was nothing there.

            “So?”  Technically it was a question, but my tone of voice said, “I told you so.”  Needless to say, I was more than slightly surprised when Celia stood, having taken a small leather satchel out of the locker.  She unzipped it and removed a small silk pouch, and after untying a small sash, opened it.

            “So?”  This time it was a legitimate question.

            “They’re here,” she said, tying the bag and putting it back into the satchel. 

            “Well, can I see?”

            “In due time, Mr. Louviere,” she replied sharply.  “First let’s discuss where we’re going from here.”  A strange, disheveled man then interrupted us.  Judging by the look – and smell – of his stained, gray coat, he was the recently unconscious figure we’d stepped over moments ago.  His hair was long and greasy and his unkempt beard grew in patches, some of which began just under his wild, twitching eyes.  He stuttered and stammered briefly, but eventually gave us a calm, reassuring smile.

            “I’m Vonatu!”  He said, as if we were supposed to find some meaning in his name.  When it was apparent that we didn’t, he leaned in close and whispered.  “From the home office on Venus, just like you.”  There was an uncomfortable pause before he continued.  “Well?”

            “Well what?” I asked, as Celia – not really interested in listening to an insane man – stepped past him and went towards the front door.

            “Are there any instructions?”

            I reached out to pat his shoulder reassuringly, but then thought better of touching him.  “Just stay the course.  You’re doing a good job.”

            Vonatu raised his hands over his head and clenched his fists, noticeably feeling some sense of victory.

            “Now if you’ll excuse me,” I said, hoping to push past him.  Instead, he grabbed my arm.

            “I do have one request, if you don’t mind,” he said taking a fistful of crumpled gum wrappers from his pocket.  “You see, I only have Venusian currency on me.  You wouldn’t have any Earth dollars, would you?  I’ve not eaten since my ship landed.”

            I took a five out of my wallet, and after handing it to him walked to the main entrance to find a rather impatient-looking Celia.  “Are you done talking to the space man?  Can we go now?”

            “Just hold on,” I said.  “Where are we going, anyway?”

            “To wherever that last bead is.”

            “First things first,” I said, taking her elbow and leading her back into the bus station.  “I want to take a look at those beads, and I’m starving.  Though I’m sure you found time for a healthy, balanced breakfast this morning, I didn’t and I’m famished.”

            “We don’t have time, Mr. Louviere,” she said.

            “I’m not leaving here without a belly full of food and an eyeful of those beads, Ms. Andrews.”

            “Well I’m certainly not eating here,” she said.

            “Fine,” I replied.  “You can watch me, then.”

            When I was a kid a chain of fast food restaurants seemed to open almost overnight.  The most noticeable thing about Chuck It restaurants was the architecture of their buildings, which were circular and built from dark brown bricks, with a low, dome-shaped roofs painted a yellowish tan.  This semblance of a giant hamburger was embellished by green shrubbery around the perimeter, simulating a bed of lettuce.  Almost as quickly as the restaurants appeared, most of them went out of business.  Some blamed the unappetizing name, but I’ve always thought it was because the food just tasted awful.  The hamburger-shaped buildings, however, still exist, and as I drive throughout the country I often pass a car wash, Chinese restaurant, tire store or real estate agency that – like some commercial hermit crab – has taken up residence in an ex-Chuck It.  Of the few remaining franchises, none inhabit the old architecture and have been relegated to occupying the corners of train and bus stations.  We were unfortunate enough to be in just such a place.

            I ordered the Bullish Burger.  When I was younger, my friends and I – full of sophomoric humor – called them something that sounded similar, but was rather crude.  It took only one bite of the sandwich to remind me why we used such a vulgarity.

            “All right,” I said as Celia looked at my lunch with a hint of disgust.  “Let’s see those beads.”  I reached across the table, but she didn’t relinquish the leather case until after she had handed me a napkin and I’d wiped the grease off my hands.

            Not being in tune with the mystical world, I wasn’t able to tell whether these were “good” beads as Celia had said they were.  But, being in the beading business, I can say without fear of contradiction that they were not nearly as unattractive as the other four I’d seen.

            The first was a flat piece of Mother of Pearl; roughly the size and shape of a soda can pull-tab, with the top and bottom sloping inward to give it a slight U shape when viewed from the side.  On its face there were raised areas in the shape of a quarter moon and three stars, with a thin line painted in black showing the path the stars were traveling around the moon.  Attached to the small hole drilled in the top were several strands of extremely thin silver braided together to apparently act as a bail.

            There was something about this bead that drew my attention immediately, but I wasn’t sure what it was.  I set it aside for the time being.

            The next bead was rather attractive.  It was a brilliant sphere of translucent orange – probably citrine, I surmised – suspended in a clear layer of some sort of resin.  Hovering around the gem were the slightest specs of gold, which caused bizarre, yet beautiful, reflections to be tossed about inside; I was reminded of the Aurora Borealis.

            The third bead was the largest, almost as long as my thumb, and looked to be chalcedony carved into a T-shape, with the hole drilled through the top of the crossbar.  It had carved notches, seemingly without rhyme or reason, that may have been due to shoddy workmanship, or were perhaps symbols that had been worn unrecognizable over time.           

            “There’s something about this bead that’s just not right,” I said, picking up the one made from Mother of Pearl. “It’s a fake.  And if this one is, it’s safe to assume the other two are as well.”

            “You’re imagination is getting the better of you” Celia said.  “You’re getting too wrapped up in this notion of cloak and dagger.  The beads are here; we have them, end of story.  Now, if you don’t mind, would you please finish that revolting slab of whatever it is so that we can be on our way?”

            I set the bead down and looked Celia squarely in the eye.  “They were here last night, I’m sure of it.  If Moondagger couldn’t lead them to the beads, they would have let him go, and he wouldn’t be missing right now.  And if they were here, well, why would they leave without these three beads?”

            “There’s absolutely no evidence they were here, so why should we believe otherwise?”

            “I’ll get to that in a second,” I said, holding up the Mother of Pearl bead.  “As soon as I’ve figured something out.  But, while my brain is working its magic, I’d like to clear something up if you don’t mind.”

            “Go ahead.”

            “Just who are ‘they?’  These people we’re talking about?   The ones who have Sarah?  You and your cohorts have been rather tight-lipped about that.”

            “As far as I’ve been told, Sarah is in the company of two American mercenaries she hired in Central America with the specific intent of finding and retrieving the seven beads.  And if my information is correct, they’re exceptionally mean men.”

            “Well, you’ve been told wrong, Ms. Andrews,” I said.  “Sarah may be in the company of mercenaries, but she didn’t hire them.  She’s been abducted by them.”

            “That’s not the premise I’ve been lead to understand,” she said.

            “Well that’s the scenario I suggest you work under from now on,” I told her.  “Sarah is being held against her will, and so is Moondagger and quite possibly my friend Sage.  These soldiers of fortune were here last night, and they replaced the genuine beads for these forgeries.”

            “Mr. Louviere, there is not one single shred of evidence to…”

            I cut her off.  It finally hit me what was wrong with that bead.

            “Look here,” I said pointing to one of the stars on the Mother of Pearl bead.  “Right around the edge of this star.  See that line?”

            Celia leaned in close and stared at the bead for several seconds.  I could tell, however, that she had no idea what I was talking about.

            “This little impression,” I said.

            “Okay.”  She still didn’t seem too sure.

            “These stars, they weren’t carved, they were pressed.”

            “I don’t follow.”

            “By a machine.  This small indentation tells me that this bead was made by a machine, a machine that didn’t exist in the time of this Thibaut character.”

            Celia didn’t look convinced, but she did appear to be mulling over what I said as she took the bead and examined it more closely.  Her concentration was suddenly thrown off by our friend from Venus.  The scruffy man was standing on a chair just a couple of tables away from us, bellowing out a stream of names and numbers that he read from a small book.  Though the ramblings were incoherent to us, in his odd mind they seemed to have the weight of a holy doctrine.

            Celia threw a glance in his direction.  “Can we just get out of here?  I promise I’ll take this into consideration during the drive.  But you’ll have to excuse me if I can’t concentrate with all this…whatever it is.”

            Then the man who called himself Vonatu read something from the book that made his sermon more important to me than it could have ever been to even his deranged mind.

            “ April May’s Souvenirs,” he read, hollering in a fire and brimstone-threatening voice.  “Nastoria, Ohio.  Contact:  Beth Pencole.  475 Sweet Farm Road…”

            My eyes opened wide and Celia looked at me as if I were crazier than he was. I jumped up and looked over to see that Vonatu was reading from my missing address book.

            “Excuse me,” I said, trying not to sound too excited around such an unstable person.  “But I believe that book belongs to me.”

            Vonatu clutched the book to his chest and stared at me with such emotion I thought he might jump down from the table and strangle me.

            “This is the holy word of the Venusian Council,” he said.  “It was meant for me.  I myself took it from the purse of a woman from Jupiter…though she was disguised as an Earth person.”

            “Was this Earth person here last night?”

            “Yes,” he answered.  “How do you know this?”

            I briefly looked over to Celia and gave the cockiest grin I could before turning back to the crazy man.  “I just received an order from the High Council of Venus,” I told him.  “They want me to bring that book back to them, personally.”

            There was no doubt he didn’t want to give up the book, but at the same time he seemed nervous about even considering defying the High Council of Venus.

            “I’ll tell you what,” he said after a long pause.  “We’ll trade.”

            “Okay,” I said unsurely.  With this man there was no telling what he might want to barter for.  He pointed to my head.

            “I’ll take your brain wave anti-bugging device,” he said as if it were the most mundane sentence in the world.

            “Pardon me?”

            “Your hat,” Celia chimed in.  “Give him the fedora.”

            I’d grown rather fond of the hat Celia had given me in just the few hours I’d owned it, but desperately needing my address book, and not wanting to make more of a scene by just grabbing the book and running, I handed it over.  I had to give Celia credit fashion-wise, for when he put it on, Vonatu looked almost presentable.

            “Okay,” I said, probably pushing the address book too closely to Celia’s face.  “A few moments ago we had no evidence they were here.  Now we have proof.  So if you don’t mind, I wouldn’t object to my views being listened to for a change.  Deal?”

            “You’ve made your point, Mr. Louviere.  I apologize.”

            “Now, let’s look at this book as a gift, and start putting it to use.  Any objections?”

            Instead of answerin, Celia merely crossed her arms and waited for me to continue.

            “How much change do you have on you?”

            As she opened her purse and removed her wallet, she remained silent.  She merely unzipped the change compartment, and a flood of nickels, dimes and quarters spilled onto the table.  I glanced over to the man who was wearing my hat, expecting the sound to catch his attention, but he was still putting the fedora on in different positions trying to figure out which way would be the best for keeping his mind from being tapped.

            “So, who’s the first call?” Celia asked.

            “I’m going to call my friend Sage at home, and hope she’s just out of work with the flu.”

            “And then?”

            “I’m no fighter, Celia.  I’ve been in a few scraps in my day, sure.  Who hasn’t?”  Her reaction indicated she’d been in more than her fair share.  “But I don’t think I’m up to the task of taking on a couple of guns for hire who’ve been summering in Central America.  So I’m going to call in some muscle.”

            Celia showed the beginnings of a chuckle, but after seeing the look in my eye she simply nodded.

 

November 5th, 1974. 1:55 PM

 

I tried Sage’s house a couple of times, and though I was disappointed, I can’t say I was surprised she didn’t answer.  If she was in danger, it wouldn’t do her any good to listen to a ringing phone all day, so I flipped through the address book, dialed another number, and deposited the coins the operator told me I needed to.  Then I waited, but not for long.

            “Hello?” said the voice on the other end.          

            “Silver?  Silver Jones?”  There was a pause, but he eventually answered.

            “Yeah?”

            “It’s me,” I said.  “Sam, Sam Louviere.  Your friendly neighborhood bead salesman.”

            Again there was silence, but this time I had to break it.

            “So, you been okay?”

            “Uh huh.”  He sounded too skeptical for my liking.

            “I was wondering, how did those spacers work out for you?” I asked.  “And what about those crimp beads?  It was a wise choice you made, there.”  I figured some small talk would loosen him up a bit.  I was wrong.

            “Look, Sam, I’m busy here.  Trying to get some repairs done on Lolita.  If you recall, she’s not the cherry ride she was promising to be a month ago.  A month ago today, to be exact.”

            Had it been a month since I’d accidentally caused the destruction of Silver Jones’ prized possession?  In a way it seemed like no more than a day or two, yet strangely it also felt like it had been years. 

            “Well listen, I’ll get down to why I called,” I said.  “I’m going to be in Nastoria later today, and to be honest I might be running into some unsavory characters.  Now, I was just wondering, if there were to be a little compensation in it for you and some of the Scalawags…”  I heard a click.  He’d hung up on me.

            All right, then, I thought, on to plan B.

            “How did it go?”  Celia asked when I’d gotten back to the table.

            “Not well.  My friend, a biker, well, he’s busy.  Said he’d love to help us out, but it’s a no-can-do situation unless we wait ‘til next week,” I lied.

            “Fine.  Your plan didn’t work.  Let’s stick with mine and get the hell out of here,” she said.

            “Oh, Celia, I’m not out of ideas yet,” I told her.  “ You’re looking for beads, right?”  I didn’t give her a chance to answer.  “Well, when people are looking for beads, they come to me.  I’m going to get you what you’re looking for, mercenaries or no mercenaries.  All we need is a little magic of our own.”

            “And just how do we get that?” she asked.

            “Just keep your trust in the bead salesman,” I said, grabbing her arm and leading her out of the bus station.

 

 

 

 

 

 ..................to be continued

 

© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd