Oh happy day, I wasn’t dead. No, I was dancing with a gorgeous, curly-haired woman.
Yes! I thought, The annatoad worked.
“Annatoad,” I chuckled, rather pleased with myself.
“No, sir, it’s me. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” said the pretty lady.
“That’s a great record.”
“That’s the code name you gave me.”
“Yes, yes I did.” I fibbed, trying to keep the pretty lady near despite her delusions.
The crowd was up on moving feet. Shimmying and shaking around the venue that lined Morongo’s inner sanctum.
This hot-stuff goddess—who I’d apparently named—twirled off down the aisle, jiving into twisting, blinking, polychromatic house lights.
We were at the edge of Club Vibe’s stage. Morris Day was working his slide, his smoothness, his arrogance. We were in the Ice Cream Castle and our blood sugar was reaching inhuman limits.
Princess of my night, wearing a glitzy dress redolent of a handkerchief glistening with snot, returned and spun me.
From behind me, in a voice that was as gentlemanly as it was powerful I heard, “May I have this dance?”
It was Sam in all his brawn, his shirtsleeves rolled up revealing nautical tattoos I’d never seen before.
“You always have those?”
Sam jerked his head back, motioning behind him. I could just make out the man in black standing near one of the exits at the back of the club.
I wanted to know who he was and intended to ask. Alas, the luscious and powerful woman spun me away, shout-whispering that she hadn’t found the killer.
I returned to query Sam, but he’d vanished.
Nausea made its appearance and I waved my hands about in a clear sign that there was to be no more spinning.
My new date was chattering something about being careful.
“Have you? Oof. Have you seen Chris?” I bayed through halted attempts my body was making to empty my stomach.
“Mr. Black? No sir.”
She knows who Chris is. Did I hire her?
Morris Day began a crescendo that would test the boundaries of crescendodom both in terms of racket and endurance.
“And you know who?” I yelled as a test, trying to top the constant peal of titanic cymbals.
“I know who? Who do I know?”
“Let’s not ‘who’s-on-first’ this, alright?”
“Hoots on furs?”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why would I say ‘hoots on furs’?”
That’s what you get when you hire cheap. She was clearly incompetent.
I solo tango’d the length of the stage and returned to be spun again.
Disorienting a move though it was, the mood felt right, so I kissed her on the mouth. She salsa’d away in disgust.
Cleo, oh Cleo. With you my advances were never spurred. Except for that one time. With the sitter and the Hefty bags and the CD of whale songs.
I decided then and there not to bed the newfound beauty in honor of Cleo. She wasn’t my type anyway. Too naturally pretty. Too with it. Not my style. Not that I couldn’t have had her. Just didn’t want to.
And I had to find Chris. Oh, and my daughter’s killer.
I turned to locate Sam and saw him slipping out the exit. I ran up the aisle lousy with bad dancers. I realized I’d have to dance my way out of this one.
I shook and shimmied. I waltzed and whirled. I did the Gazpacho, the Luke Wilson, and the Tripoli Skip. The sea parted in amazement. I exploded out of the exit like a man on fire hoping for strangers with full bladders.
But it was a friend I found. Sam. As well as the shortish stranger in black. Sam presented the small-statured man—his head was down with large black sunhat on—and with a bellhop’s hand, Sam, showed me to my room.
“I almost died.” I complained to Sam.
“You always ‘almost die,’” Sam tone-quoted. “You take, like, two shots and think you have to go to the E.R. Fuck that shit. Check out our father who art in Morongo.”
Sam was right. The man wore a priestly white collar. What business did we have with a priest?
“We’re going to the fucking tunnels. We have a fucking job to do. I need you on this one, Benji. Don’t be a fucktard, Benji.”
Sam’s always been loose when it comes to P.C. stuff. He once compared Goebbels to Kathy Ireland in some run-of-the-mouth braggadocio. In that he threw in some weird relative history he related to Langland and Chaucer and whoever wrote Beowulf. He never did tell me who wrote Beowulf.
The clergyman was holding the good book and a permanent marker.
“Go with him,” Sam directed.
I did as I was told. I thought Sam had befriended a man of the cloth to help locate Chris.
We wound around the casino to a different set of elevators tucked behind the bingo hall.
The priest entered a code into the elevator’s keypad, crossed himself, we began our descent to B3.
“Do much gambling, father?”
“Never gamble with the souls of the damned,” was his response, and in a voice all too familiar.
The elevator chimed, the doors opened, and we exited into an egg-shaped antechamber that smelled of livestock.
The room was round and tall and every inch was coated with white and black poker chips. It had no doors or windows.
I knelt to handle one of the chips to find it was ceramic. A goof. A joke. A design. A pattern.
“Son, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for—”
“Yes father, I know. I just wanted to see if they were real.”
“The fire will cleanse you. Come.”
He moved to the curved wall of the egg’s interior. I couldn’t see what he was doing. A moment passed. Hydraulic sounds came from his direction and he lifted a section of the wall like the hatch of an escape pod. Beyond the hatch was darkness.
I followed him into the void.
More clicking sounds and there became evident hanging lights that burst on, revealing the tunnel we occupied. It seemed to stretch eternally.
The priest gave a shriek of a whistle with two fingers in his mouth. Thunder rumbled and grew closer. Two beasts came barreling toward us. Horses.
The priest helped me onto the larger of the two and slapped its equine hind. It took off and with me on it.
This man of the cloth raced past me, his sunhat flopping about and flying off.
When I saw his face I was speechless. It was Peter.
“C’mon Benji. Pick it up. Progress waits for no man.”
We soared through the tunnel toward alchemy.
Patrick Benjamin is a writer living near Los Angeles. He lives with his sister and grandmother.