This publication is dedicated to:
W.D Richter & Earl Mac Rauch -- thanks for the ride, sailors
C.J. & Jason B., for friendliness, intelligence, integrity, and a nice wet nose -- the two of you can work out who has which --
Dianne 'Hollywood' Wickes, the bluest blaze of them all, at whose behest these stories were written chronology:
Stormy Weather, Jan '73 [summer in Antarctica]; Happy Trails June 1973; Help! summer 1973; Peg O' My Heart 1973-1975; Nice Day For A White Wedding winter 1981-82; R-E-S-P-E-C-T 1982; Sympathy For The Devil spring 1983; Kyrie Eleison June 12, 1984; Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun July-August 1984; Mood Indigo September 1984; Strange Brew September 1984; Just Another Manic Monday summer 1985; Penny Serenade winter 1985; Daydream Believer May 1986; When You Wish Upon A Star --?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Help! (excerpt from Fate Took A Hand)
Peg o' My Heart (excerpt from Pictures From The Promontory)
R-E-S-P-E-C-T (an excerpt from Arkansas Aloha, And Other Tales Of The Banzai Institute)
Sympathy for the Devil (excerpt from Extradition From Hell)
Ballad of a Well-Known Gun
We All Need Someone We Can Lean On (excerpt from Bastardy Proved A Spur)
96 Tears (excerpt from Bastardy Proved A Spur)
Take A Giant Step (Into Your Mind) (excerpt from Bastardy Proved A Spur)
Mood Indigo (excerpt from Arkansas Aloha, And Other Tales)Of The Banzai Institute
Just Another Manic Monday (excerpt from Buckaroo Banzai Beyond The Deathless Void)
Penny Serenade (excerpt from Buckaroo Banzai Beyond The Deathless Void)
Daydream Believer (excerpt from Fate Took A Hand)
Copyright 1986 Nevertheless Press
Permission is gratefully acknowledged from the Granite Press for inclusion of excerpts from the following works of Reno Nevada:
Fate Took A Hand (1976)
Pictures From the Promontory (1978)
Bastardy Proved A Spur (1979)
Arkansas Aloha, And Other Tales Of The Banzai Institute (1981)
Extradition From Hell (1982)
Adventures Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)
Buckaroo Banzai Beyond the Deathless Void (1985)
The snow was blasting down from the sky or up from the ground or across the tundra or all ways: only gravity gave the walking man a sense of any direction in the white. A sudden fissure in the ice had swallowed nearly all his gear, and almost swallowed him. He was looking for ice: ironic in this desolation of nothing but ice that what he needed to save himself was ice. Broken ice, crooked ice, ice forced upward. Ice to make a shelter against the wind that was ice, blinding and slowing and numbing and, most terribly, tempting him. Sit down and curl up: before long you'll be warm.
The time had already passed at which he began discounting what his senses told him: no, the ice was not warm, no, he hadn't been out here for an hour, no, there wasn't a thin red flag whipping crazily on a slim antenna no more than two yards in front of him --- was there? It was gone; a gust restored the purity of the whiteness before him. But now his metal detector, providentially slung over one shoulder and not lost, was cheeping.
He stood still, waiting, and the moment came: another fractional instant in which a red pennant flickered out of the white and now, below it, the smallest of dark spots on the ground. Sliding one foot linearly in front of the other, the walker headed for what he'd seen.
Within minutes he had his hand on it: a pole maybe fifteen feet tall with the banner that signaled supplies. A crate was the dark spot, snow-shrouded but for a handle. There was no way to open the crate, but that didn't matter, because 'binered onto a D-ring at one corner was a line. The man slid the line through both of his gloved hands, holding it in the crook of his thumb and fingers, walking slowly and crouched to be absolutely sure he didn't drop the slim, helpful thread into the whiteout. At moments he couldn't even see his feet.
He'd guessed right: there was shelter. A tiny tent, but big enough to harbor a man in need. He scooped the snow away from the ripstop nylon shell carefully and found his entrance baffled: the irised entry tube was tied off. From inside. So somebody was already in there.
He shook the tent and kicked at the yielding fabric, trying to make a disturbance, but got no response. Maybe the person inside was thinking it was just the wind. He shouted but the storm sucked the sounds out of his throat and into the vast howling of the wind.
In desperation, the man reverted to a memory from childhood. He had a flare gun that he hadn't bothered to fire: unless help was ten feet away, no one would see. He charged the gun and fired, his hands clumsy in the big gloves. Whimsically, he shouted "Hello-o-o the house!" as he shot, because that's what you did in north Texas when you rode onto someone's ranch unannounced and needing hospitality.
The gun made a sharp explosive crack, different from the wind's howling moan -- but would the man inside take it for breaking ice? Was the occupant asleep -- or dead?
No. The tent shifted and the entry tunnel enlarged and filled as the occupant crawled forward to unbind the lacings. The iris opened as a gloved hand pushed outward, then dilated as the hand was followed by an arm, a shoulder, and finally a hooded head. The wind grasped at the fur trim around the hood as the occupant peered upward at the walker, who still had the flare gun in his hand. The hooded head nodded and the occupant crawled backward into the tent with a gesture that meant "come in."
Less than a minute later, Buckaroo Banzai was out of the wind, huddled before the meager but infinitely comforting heat of a tiny Svea. The other man, whose bulk more than half filled the small tent, was pushing his hood back. He had a wind-reddened face framed in reddish hair all around: bushy and curly down his forehead and over his ears, straighter in a short, thick beard.
The man watched soundlessly as Banzai gradually recovered sensation in his fingers, color perception in his eyes, and the nuances of small sounds in his ears. Noticing the way Banzai bent and flexed his fingers, the man made a small gesture at Banzai's booted feet.
Banzai nodded. "They're OK." He rubbed some of the melting ice away from his eyebrows. "Hope you don't mind my just dropping in like this." He looked up, belatedly wondering if he should be speaking French.
A slow smile spread across the other man's features. In a deep, drawling voice he answered, "It's unlawful to discharge firearms in this neighborhood."
A rapid grin flashed across Banzai's face. "If this is a hospital zone, I'm a doctor."
His companion snorted. "Damn, there goes my parking place." They both laughed, then fell to studying each other. Both were sitting crosslegged in what seemed to be a mountaineering bat tent, modified for pegging to the ground. Neither man could sit up straight, and the two of them, plus the bearded man's gear, filled the tent's small interior far beyond its original design.
The other man broke the silence, reaching behind himself for a thermos. "Want some coffee?"
"I could sure go for some espresso," the doctor answered.
His companion looked over at him, all motion arrested. "Espresso, huh?" He cleared his throat.
"What you want is the Hilton. It's right up the road. You just hike due north a couple hundred miles, swim the Ross Sea out to the Southern Ocean, hang a left, and keep on straight as spit to Wellington. It's on McMurdo Street, ya can't miss it."
Laughing again, the doctor stuck out his hand. "Buckaroo Banzai, Columbia P&S."
"Rawhide. Uh, U. C. Berkeley, sorta."
"You sound more Rio Grande than East Bay."
"Mmm-hmm. 'N you don't exactly sound like the Upper West Side yourself."
"El Paso," Banzai answered, to the other man's evident surprise. "And Kyoto and Paris and some other places. For a while there it looked like Antarctica was going to be my permanent address."
"Know what you mean," the other man grunted. "Half a mile from base camp, might as well have been the other side of the moon in this stuff." The storm that had caught them both was a freak, unpredicted. Both men knew they'd been lucky, and they fell silent again, thinking about their friends who might not have been.
Rawhide stirred. "What brings you down here, doc?"
"Penguins. What about you... uh, Rawhide?"
Banzai's fractional hesitation contained the question he was too polite to ask.
The Texan grinned, a gap-toothed flash in the midst of his beard. "Fossils. -- It starts with a saint and ends with a number, and the stuff in between ain't so hot, either -- Buckaroo?"
"My parents admired the virtues of the cowboy code. It could have been Masado, Junior."
"Well, here's to 'em." Rawhide raised the thermos in salute and took a very small swallow of coffee before passing it over.
Twenty hours later, they had discussed penguins' metabolic change from warm- to cold-blooded, the capricious sex-switching of oysters, DDT and the California condor, Tex Ritter, Jimi Hendrix, and W.H. Auden. They'd condemned the overfeeding of tetracycline to beef stock and steroids to Olympic athletes. They'd vigorously debated the relative beauty of LBJ's daughters and Richard Nixon's, and spun out elaborate hypotheses on the relationship between the moon and the infield fly rule. And they'd sung tunes ranging from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Frank Sinatra. Nursing the thermos of coffee, they saved a few ounces for wake-up, and both men dropped off into a light sleep.
When they woke, it took them both a second to realize that a surprising quiet had restored itself outside the tent's thin shell. Buckaroo stretched forward in the tube, unlaced it, and poked his head out into a brilliant, still Antarctic afternoon. The larger features of the landscape, mountains and plains, had also restored themselves: it would be easy to find his way home.
Out of the tent, they stretched luxuriously. It took only a few seconds to strike the tent, only a minute or two to reattach it to the supply crate, which itself seemed to be incredibly close by.
"Headed east," the bearded man said.
"Going west," answered the doctor. Rawhide nodded and settled his shoulders into his pack. "Don't forget about the ranch."
"I'll be there by mid-June," Buckaroo Banzai answered, putting out his hand again. They shook on it, and the doctor turned back toward the Columbia Biomed team's base camp. When he got about a hundred feet away, he started whistling. The sound carried clearly in the frigid air, and the red-bearded man paused in mid footstep as his mind put words to the tune: On the road again,/ I just can't wait to be on the road again,/ the life I love is makin' music with my friends....
The two young men rode easily along the line of fence bordering the narrow run of water, one large and muscular, with curls of sandy red hair poking out from under his weather-beaten Stetson, the other also tall but slimmer, his sinewy strength more suggested in his graceful economy of motion than by his appearance. The slim man wore no hat despite the brightness of the day, and his black hair almost glittered in the harsh light.
The June sun seemed to be baking the dust right off the ground, but the young men were sitting their horses comfortably, and the air carried the sound of their laughter. For them, riding fence was a happy excuse for getting out by themselves on their favorite horses for a long morning in an all-too-short summer.
"... mostly an Institute on paper right now, but we're looking for a site, and in a few years, well, hold on to your hat," the slim man was saying enthusiastically.
The redhead touched a finger to his massive Stetson. "I'll try to," he drawled.
His companion laughed. "The world needs this place, my friend. So many scientists need sustained support and they wind up butchering their projects in order to get results in one or two years just to make the NSF or the NIH happy, or get a better widget on the market ahead of Sony." He paused and let his eyes wander over the Wyoming landscape. "Now this land, for example, looks like a prime site for an international residential research facility... how many acres did you say?"
The redhead smiled. "M'uncle says fifty apiece if we're good." The smile widened. "Maybe sixty if we're bad. But I ain't havin' anything to do with an establishment that doesn't involve runnin' stock, drinkin' beer, and playin' piano."
His friend laughed again. "I wouldn't run a think tank without 'em."
It was noticeable that the man in the Stetson had the soft stretched-out drawl of a West Texas native, while his friend's voice, though colored with flat North Texas vowels, seemed to be mixed from many different regional accents, overlaid with occasional inflections that were entirely foreign to English. Their faces, too, reflected the unmixed Western descent of the one and the curiously blended heritage of the other, who had an Asiatic cast to his cheekbones and eyes, though the dazzling blueness of those eyes and the angular strength of the jawline could never have sprung from Oriental parents.
These differences, though, could only be seen at short range. From a distance, one would see only that both men swayed according to their horses' gaits with the unconscious grace of true horsemen. And both were watching the four strands of barbed wire charged to their care with the same relaxed but fully attentive gaze as they followed it along their bank of the stream.
They came to a point where the fence veered across the little river.
"Won't those posts come up with the spring floods?" asked the slim man.
"Nah, we've got 'em rooted in cement now, so they stay down pretty good. But a man died over this section of fence."
"Died?" The stream was twenty feet wide and knee-deep at most.
"Mmm-hmm. Back in my granddaddy's time -- in fact, the way my uncle likes to tell it, it was my great-grandfather that did it. Story is, when it came time to fence this part of the range, both families wanted all of Buffalo Creek, and it came to a shootin'. The shame of it brought everybody to their senses, and they decided to cross the river with the wire right here where the man died."
The slim man reined in and looked over at the four-strand fence that straggled across the creek. "A man's life for that," he said softly.
"We have a saying in my family that the truest test of a man's character is finding what will push him to crime," said the redhead.
His friend looked over at him sharply. After a moment, he quoted, "I never get your limits, Watson."
The big man chuckled. "Let's go," was all he said as he reined his horse around.
They rode toward a hilly section, falling back into jokes and casual talk that ranged from the current American constitutional crisis to chili seasonings and then to the new field of particle physics.
"Which dimension?" repeated the redhead, pushing back his Stetson.
"Eighth," his friend answered.
"And your only evidence for its existence is a bungled backyard experiment thirty-six years ago?"
"Not everything that can be believed can be seen. The Grover's Mills experiment---"
They were interrupted by the appearance of a rider who topped one of the low hills on the other side of the fence and shouted down to them.
The big youth whipped off his Stetson and waved it, breaking into a big grin. "This's one of my uncle's neighbors. Come on!" he said, spurring his horse. His friend followed as he splashed into the creek, and the three riders pulled abreast on opposite sides of the fence.
"I haven't seen you since about forever," said the other rider, who turned out to be a slim blonde girl with a big smile and a glow about her that was more than just good looks and good health and surpassing friendliness.
"Been at school," the redhead answered.
"Who's your friend?"
"Ah. This is Buckaroo Sherlock Banzai, from Texas and points East. Buckaroo, meet Miss Marguerite Simpson."
Miss Marguerite feigned a glare at her friend. "That's Peggy," she said firmly. "Pleased to meet you-- Buckaroo?"
"The pleasure is mine," Buckaroo returned with great sincerity. "And, yes, Buckaroo, but not Sherlock."
Peggy laughed. "Yeah, old Rawhide has such a big reputation for telling the truth that he could lie to a preacher about what's in the Bible." The redhead was studying his horse's mane with unaccustomed fascination.
"Which reminds me, Rawhide, when're you going to make an honest woman of that girl of yours?" Peggy grinned at Buckaroo.
Rawhide cleared his throat with great discomfiture. "Soon," he said almost inaudibly.
"Hunh," said Peggy. "I think he's blushing," she told Buckaroo with satisfaction. "A person whose graduate work consists of looking at bugs all day long deserves to blush."
Buckaroo was enjoying the novelty of seeing Rawhide caught off-center, particularly since the teasing was backed up with obvious affection, but he thought the time had come to rescue his friend.
"So, Peggy, are you in school?" he asked.
"Begging your pardon, Buckaroo, but you seem not to realize that you're in the presence of a gen-u-ine Cantabridgian," Rawhide answered for her. "You might want to bow and scrape."
Buckaroo laughed, and it was Peggy's turn to be a little discomfited. "I'm in my third year at Cambridge," she said almost shyly.
"Heathen parts," commented Rawhide. "Buckaroo here is at Columbia, himself. A blossoming medico."
"Really?" Peggy nodded at this information. "What about you, R'ide? Are you and your brothers really coming up here to settle?"
Rawhide shrugged. "Maybe later. I've got a grant to go down to the Rio Negro country and --" his tone became a trifle belligerent "--look at Patagonian water beetles."
"Yuk," said Peggy succinctly. "Give me some nice clean free electrons anytime."
Buckaroo, increasingly enchanted, surprised himself by saying, "You're pretty much of a free electron yourself, Peggy Simpson."
He was rewarded with another incandescent grin. "I've always fancied myself a charged particle," Peggy agreed. "Nice to have one's true nature perceived by handsome strangers." Gathering up rein, she said regretfully, " 'fraid I have to go now. What do you suppose the fence will do for company with all of us gone?" She wheeled her horse and was off before either man could give her an answer.
The two men watched her figure disappear over a hill, then looked at each other and shared a smile about Peggy Simpson. They rode for nearly a mile before either of them spoke again.
"I like your friend," Buckaroo said.
Rawhide caught the tiny emphasis on the last word. He chuckled and looked over at Buckaroo.
"Mmm-hmm, friend," he confirmed.
Buckaroo laughed, then fell back into his own thoughts, occasionally looking over at the low hills west of them. The two rode another mile or so in a companionable silence before Buckaroo ventured another remark.
"Did I tell you I've decided where I'm headed after P & S?"
His friend looked over at him.
"Oxford. Merton College," Buckaroo said.
Rawhide appeared to consider this bulletin for a few minutes. Finally, he nodded. "Sixty five miles from Cambridge," he remarked.
Buckaroo shot a glance at his friend, then looked over at the hills on the Simpson side of the fence. After a while, he responded, "Sixty three."
Rawhide was intrigued when his guest unpacked a long, narrow bundle. He was flat-out astonished when his new friend unwrapped from the bundle a sheathed sword that proved to be a samurai katana in the incongruous confines of an old ranchhouse in Western Wyoming.
Scratching the nape of his neck, the Texan asked mildly, "You expectin' ronin?"
Buckaroo Banzai glanced over at him. The question was not meant unkindly.
"Hold still," Banzai said. Swifter than thought, he whirled the razor-sharp blade from its scabbard and without any hesi-tation in movement commenced the intricate series of exercises called iaido, centered on the big young cowboy.
Rawhide stood impassive as the long blade whistled and divided the air millimeters from his shoulders, his chin, even his eyes. A small breeze, raised by the speed of the blade, moved a wisp of hair onto his forehead; in the next instant, Banzai's blade trimmed that wisp away. It was several minutes before the young half-Japanese scholar brought the sword to a position of conclusion.
Neither man spoke while Buckaroo Banzai observed the formalities of sheathing the sword. Banzai was a trifle uneasy as he turned his attention back to his friend, whom he knew would not respond well to anything he considered to be showing off.
But even on short acquaintance, Rawhide understood that the odd mixture of character traits that was Buckaroo Banzai did not possess a weakness for vulgar display. He didn't know why Buckaroo had chosen to practice his swordplay in front of him, but he knew why not.
"I needed a haircut," the Texan allowed, running a hand over the untidy waves of his thick red hair. "Shave, too," he conceded.
Buckaroo smiled. "It is a way of thinking, or more properly, of not-thinking," he said. "This was my father's sword, and his father's, for six generations."
Rawhide raised his eyebrows. Tradition in his family was anything that lasted ten years. The family was pretty sure that some of their ancestors had come from Ireland, but more than that... It was another window into Banzai's manifold identity-- and it was to uncurtain that window, Rawhide realized, that the man had engaged in his dramatic display.
"Make a hell of a Wild West act, Buckaroo," Rawhide observed. He folded his arms over his chest with a friendly smile that said the rest of what he was thinking.
Immensely pleased, Buckaroo shot back, "OK, we'll do it, but you'll have to wear a bikini and hold a cigar in your teeth."
Rawhide's deep laugh exploded out of him and became something like a sustained howl. Finally he managed to say "Je-e-e-sus," before laughing again.
Buckaroo Banzai appeared to consider this comment on its merits. "You're probably right," he said judiciously. "You don't have the legs for it."
This set Rawhide off again, almost to the point of choking. "You're a dead man, Banzai," he gasped, but couldn't draw enough breath to make good on his threat.
Banzai took pity on him, after a fashion. "When you're through procrastinating," he said severely, "I'll be out back, saddling up." He exited.
Rawhide grabbed his Stetson and, pausing for a moment's look at the exquisite haft of the samurai sword, took long strides for the door.
It was early June, no more than late spring in these Wyoming hills that knew so long a winter. The two young men, glorying in the sensation of no obligations, rode almost at random through the high grass and newly leafing trees. Rawhide had spent many summers on this ranch, which belonged to his uncle Joe and aunt Betsy, but the country was new to Buckaroo.
They talked easily, as they had from the very first, of nearly everything. Their fields technically did not overlap, yet they found between themselves an immediate community of interests, both fascinated by areas as widely separated as neolithic irrigation, the curious boxes of Joseph Cornell, and the unknown source of a flea's ability to leap twenty times its height.
Most of all, they shared a conviction that the separation of these fields was a false distinction, that the world and the many arts and sciences exploring its nature were essentially one beautiful and mysterious whole.
"My father once said that 'mystery is the source of all art and science,'" Buckaroo mused. "I was three, but I remember..." his voice trailed off.
"I was wearing a watch for the first time that day, enjoying the juxtaposition of its accuracy and how the second hand went around and around and never came to rest. I could sense the relationship between linearity and cyclic reality; I knew I had a beautiful, simple example of something true right there on my own wrist... My father understood what I was thinking, and said those words to me. For some reason, it made my mother very, very happy that he did..." His voice was nearly inaudible.
"I've never known why, just her joy." Rawhide knew he was listening to a man talking to himself. "Hikita-san doesn't remember it."
Buckaroo snapped back to the present. "Professor Toichi Hikita," he said formally. "My surrogate father. He raised me after my parents..."
Rawhide nodded. "Sorry."
"You'll meet him," said Buckaroo. He grinned suddenly. "You may even like him."
"Business or pleasure?" The Customs Inspector's sixth sense was going off like a four-alarm fire. Three small, slender men, Oriental -- Chinese? he wasn't sure -- off Northwest Orient 721 from Hong Kong. Gray suits, ties, Homburg hats of a type favored this year by Japanese and Filipino businessmen. The Customs man checked every item in their luggage, even ran his fingers around the collars of their neatly folded shirts, looking for -- what? weapons? He put his fingers down the toes of their shoes, unzippered their dop kits. Nothing, nothing.
But there was death hovering in the air around these men as plainly as if they'd had blood on their hands.
Nothing. The Customs Inspector was frustrated. Malayan passports, but these guys weren't Malays. A few years of Customs work at SeaTac International Airport taught you to recognize many different Oriental ethnic characteristics at a glance. And of course, before that, there'd been his all-expenses-paid tour of Southeast Asia, courtesy of Uncle Sam -- but these guys, he just couldn't place them. Red Chinese, from the North maybe?
A trickle of businessmen from Communist China had been coming through his station during the past year, in the wake of Nixon's visit to Peking -- Beijing, he corrected himself. Spies? He could informally warn his FBI buddy about these three -- he had memorized their names and faces -- but that didn't feel like the right answer, either. Real spies were drab -- you never knew they were there. These guys -- it was subtle, but not beyond notice -- these guys meant danger.
"Business or pleasure?" repeated the Customs man.
"Our business is our pleasure," answered one of them with a polite, false smile.
"And exactly what business would that be?"
"A visit to the son of my father's teacher," said the answer man.
The Customs Inspector stared into his eyes; uselessly, he knew. The man stared blandly back. All three men had strangely damaged left ears, only partially visible under their hats. "Are we talking about tong business?" he asked.
"No. Not tong. I swear it," said the man. This was a surprise. Tong people took oaths with absolute seriousness.
The Customs man frowned, wondering if maybe an oath sworn to a black man wouldn't count. These guys just did not add up. The nearest thing to them he remembered was some of the students who'd come to study with Yip Man, the greatest living master of wing chun kung fu, at his school in Seattle. But last year the old man had 'folded his hands' and moved back to Hong Kong. The Customs inspector missed his teacher greatly.
"What's your destination?"
"Cod-die, Wyoming," said the man. "We meet our friend."
"Cody, you mean," said the Customs man. This baffled him even further, because it probably wasn't a lie. All they had to do was say Seattle or Los Angeles to be free to vanish into the entire width and breadth of the United States. This was too specific to be an ordinary lie.
"Cody," the man repeated carefully. "Thank you."
The heart of the ranch was a homestead with a cluster of barns and silos, and a few outbuildings like a bunkhouse for the temporary hires during roundup. The main house dated from the second wave of settlers, the ones who could afford glass for the windows from the start. It was a spare, weatherbeaten place whose activity centered on a big kitchen lined with shelves that were bright with bottles of jams, conserves, preserves, fruits and vegetables of various kinds, and even the odd jar of piccalilli, because Rawhide's taste for hot spices was fondly indulged in this house.
In the front room there was a piano, an old upright whose shelf was covered with sheet music for genteel ballads -- 'Flow Gently, Sweet Afton' was on top. Rawhide let his fingers run along the keys, then sat down on the bench and truly addressed the piano. He played at tremendous speed a passage from Bach's 'Sleepers Awake,' one of the most joyous pieces in all music. Buckaroo leaned against the piano, feeling the notes vibrate through his forearms.
The music ended. "That was my mother's favorite," said Rawhide. "I used to play it when she was feelin' sick." He stood up and put his hands in his pockets, and glanced at Buckaroo. "She died when I was twelve," he said. "Hodgkins."
Buckaroo nodded sympathetically.
Half hesitating, Rawhide went on. "I used to read the paper to her, too." He swallowed. "I remember reading to her about your parents."
Buckaroo was motionless, expressionless.
"It was such a weird thing, that rocket car blowing up out on the hardpan. Every paper in Texas carried it," Rawhide said almost apologetically. "It came to me a couple hours ago where I'd heard your name before."
Buckaroo unfroze, nodded. "I was five," he said quietly, and sighed. The memory of that fireball was never far from his thoughts.
"Terrible accident," Rawhide said.
Buckaroo shook his head. His expression grew hard. "No. It was murder."
Rawhide's Aunt Betsy walked in, and, not at a vantage that allowed her to see the shock on his face, admonished her enormous nephew. "Look what you brought in the parlor, all that dirt, now you know better than that." Rawhide dropped his eyes from Buckaroo's and turned toward his aunt. She was a small, grayhaired woman; though her hands and body were worn with many years of outdoor work, her eyes still danced with the merriness of a natural flirt.
"I do claim," she continued to fuss, "you might as well still be twelve years old."
"I am twelve years old," Rawhide told her. The distracted quality disappeared from his tone and he chucked her under the chin. "How could I be any older with you so young and pretty?"
"Oh, get on with you," she said with mock impatience. "Was that you playing Molly's music? It was real nice to hear it again -- play something else, long's you've already brought the front yard in. Play 'The Tennessee Waltz.'"
Rawhide sat down on the piano bench and complied, noticing that Buckaroo seemed deep in thought. Murder. Damn. I really put both feet in the cowpie this time.
Aunt Betsy asked for three more tunes, and Rawhide played them. Finishing up 'The Red River Valley,' he asked, "Buckaroo, anything you'd like to hear?" Fortunately, the music seemed to be pulling Buckaroo back out of himself.
"Oh... yes. Do you know 'Rocket 88'?"
"Nope." Wasn't often he didn't know something. Buckaroo paused, then started to whistle.
Note by note, Rawhide followed, then began fitting chords and riffs. Surprisingly, Aunt Betsy hummed along. "I remember that song," she exclaimed. "We heard it at the Automobile Exposition in Chicago... oh, goodness, could it be twenty years ago?"
Buckaroo flashed a grin that was like light breaking through after a storm. "Play it again, Sam," he ordered in a jaunty Bogart growl, and, as Rawhide obeyed, slipped an arm around Aunt Betsy's waist and swung her into a fast Texas two-step.
Dinner was chicken-fried steak swamped in gravy and liberally accompanied by fixings. They ate at the big round oak table in the kitchen; the mahogany in the dining room looked like it hadn't been used for a decade. Aunt Betsy had set them all up with dinner, then gone to town for choir practice.
"--a residential community of scientists," Banzai was saying, "a think tank with no ideological agenda, no sponsors. People will be free to focus on basic research -- on what might strike Bell Labs or ITT as whimsy. Feynman won the Nobel Prize for an idea he had while watching a food fight in the Cornell cafeteria; this will be a place where that kind of thinking can happen on a daily basis. We'll fund ourselves--"
"You could probably get a foundation or two to give you a few mil without strings," Rawhide mulled. "The MacArthur, maybe the Dodge, the Ford -- they like this kind of idea. Maybe even get a little seed money from the Feds..."
"No." Buckaroo was adamant. "This institution will be beholden to no one."
"But you'll need -- uh, just the ordinary stuff, autoclaves 'n centrifuges 'n -- lab coats..." Rawhide was looking up at the ceiling. "Sounds like you're going to want some fancy stuff too, a scanning microscope, some kind of particle accelerator, infrared spectrometer... not to mention your mainframe... 'N you'll have housin' expenses-- some kind of stipend -- these days, a geology grad out of Stanford can expect to pick up sixty K right off the bat--"
"We'll buy it ourselves, build it ourselves, rent it, or go without. As for the rest: scientists do not need split level neo-Colonial BMW's. What they do need, we'll find. And what they need most of all, what every mind needs most of all, is freedom to explore. Who wouldn't be willing to sleep on a cot to have that? The ones who want something else," Buckaroo shrugged, "they'll leave."
Old Joe eyed him shrewdly. "Are you founding a research institution or startin' a cult?"
Banzai was unembarrassed. "Commitment to truth brings certain values with it," he said. "Truth is worthless without justice. Action is worthless without responsibility. Dreams, no matter how beautiful, are worthless without reality. I do not believe that you can live one part of your life according to a set of values and abandon them in the rest of your life."
He drew a breath. "No one will be answerable for the substance of his or her research to anyone else; no hierarchy will develop. But in larger ways, each is answerable to all; there cannot be a just society, whether of five people or five hundred or five hundred million, founded on any other precept."
Old Joe leaned back in his chair. His eyes were narrow, measuring slits.
Rawhide grunted. "Who cooks dinner? Who washes the test tubes? Who makes sure the mega-utility bills go in on time and the place ain't gonna blow itself up because some enterprising young genius taps himself into a gas main?"
"We all do."
"Not a chance," said Rawhide. "Ever live in a group house? No rules, no supper."
"It will work," said Buckaroo Banzai. He spoke with the calm of foreknowledge.
Rawhide ran a hand down his jaw and scratched at several days' growth of beard. "I'm not saying it won't, but it would take a lot of doin'. And I don't see how you're gonna pay for it."
Buckaroo grinned. "Remember our Wild West act? That'll produce a substantial cash flow right there." All three men laughed. "Seriously, we all like to do other things that would produce income. During residency, I've been fronting a group that plays the Lone Star Cafe--"
"You sing? Hunh," grinned Rawhide. "I've played piano for cash now and then." He squinted at a memory. "Played for other things, too... one time in Bobodjoullaso, played for millet gruel."
"Ever play for an autoclave?" said Buckaroo.
Cody was gearing up for its annual Wild Horse Race, which attracted all kinds of strange people to town for the week. The arrival of three soft-spoken, well dressed Asians occasioned no comment; everyone simply assumed they were some variety of Japanese businessman, looking to hire a cowboy or two to give the folks back in Yokohama or Osaka or somewhere a little extra thrill. The yen had been climbing and the dollar falling steadily for the past year and a half, and Japanese tours had combed through Wyoming and the rest of the Old West in the summer of '72 until people barely noticed anymore. These men weren't carrying cameras, but otherwise they were completely unremarkable.
"We seek the Triangle T Ranch," one said.
"That's Old Joe's place, ain't it?" said a hand. "You want to go down U.S. 14 about twenty miles, 'n look for the yellow mailbox. Turn in there, go to the four-way crossroads, and take the right turning. You'll get there."
"I think we'll go on up to the winter shed and check supplies." Rawhide hoisted his saddle, settled it on the back of the tall, bony mare, and reached under her belly for the girth. The mare laid her ears back and peeled her lips back from her teeth.
"Watch it," said Buckaroo. Rawhide gave the mare a sharp poke in the short ribs and drew the cinch a notch tighter.
"This old lady is Bad Manners," he said. "She don't bite anymore. Used to, but now she just wants you to forget about the bellyband." He gave the mare an affectionate slap on the rump.
"Hot potato?" wondered Buckaroo.
"Nope." Rawhide smiled; he'd cured the mare's vice with a less conventional remedy. "She got me good 'n solid in the upper arm one time, 'n I turned around and punched her out."
Buckaroo took this as a serious piece of horsemanship, nodding sagely. "Hafta try that."
"Fractured m'hand." Rawhide grunted thoughtfully. "Haven't been that angry more'n twice in my life." He gave a short laugh. "Both times at a female."
"Did you deck the other one?" Buckaroo was pulling the reins over his own horse's head. It was curious how, no matter how softly he spoke, you could always hear his words clearly. His horse, an intelligent gelding called Beau, the ranch's best cutting horse, seemed also to turn to Rawhide for an answer.
"Nope." No elaboration. The two young men rode out of the barn into the glow of early morning, and reined their horses eastward toward the crooked ridge of hills that were still throwing long shadows across the plain.
Half an hour later, riding in shadow across ground steamy with rising dew, they were climbing into the foothills at a scrambling canter. They were playing a kind of keep-away with a small tumbleweed that had blown across their path, and Buckaroo Banzai was the clear winner despite Rawhide's home court and home-horse advantage.
"Ever play bozhkazi?" Rawhide was a bit winded.
Buckaroo smiled. "Sport of kings, my friend."
"Sport of crazed Afghans," Rawhide said. "I've always wanted to try it, never been down that way."
"When you go, I have a Pashtu friend," said Buckaroo. "Tell him that my blessing is upon your brow. His men play with live boars."
"Sounds like fun," Rawhide agreed.
"Or skulls," Buckaroo continued. "Be sure not to admire his wife." His eyes took on a merry gleam.
Rawhide declined to be terrified. "Cabin's right up there," he pointed. They were climbing a draw that narrowed to pass between the hills' rocky shoulders.
"Someone's been up here since snowmelt." Buckaroo gestured at the ground. "On foot. In Chinese shoes." His expression was shifting from puzzled to wary, and he began to turn in the saddle.
"Yeah?" Rawhide stood up in his stirrups to get a better view of the tracks, and leaned forward a few inches. "Where?"
The motion saved his life. The foot that was aimed at the base of his skull scraped along his back instead, and Rawhide, the big mare, and the attacker who had materialized almost out of thin air, all hit the ground an instant later. Rawhide instinctively rolled into a defensive crouch, but still hadn't really seen what hit him until he whirled to check Buckaroo.
Two men were bushwhacking Buckaroo: another unseen attacker and the man who had knocked Rawhide down. Buckaroo had also been lucky, shifting in his saddle, and was now on the ground, scrambling to get his back against rock. Even as Rawhide took his first step, Buckaroo disabled the man who stood between him and the rock face, using a controlled backward tilt to evade a blow and bring his left hand distractingly upwards. The attacker fell for the feint and got a faceful of tumbleweed for his reward; the plant screened Buckaroo's real move, a sidelong kick that gave Buckaroo a clear path to the rock wall.
Rawhide jumped the man who had kicked him from behind. They lost their footing in the loose gravel of the draw and slid downhill, rolling one over the other while pounding with fist and foot and knee, winding up underneath the old mare's belly, tangling with her legs as she tried to scramble free. Luck was with Rawhide again, for as he landed a good solid punch to the jaw, the mare lashed out and caught the man's upper back. The ambusher slumped to ground, his neck broken.
Less than a second after he managed to get his back to the rock wall, Buckaroo regretted it. From over his shoulder, the remaining adversary produced a long blade, a cane-cutting blade. A Malayan blade, Buckaroo thought fleetingly. It rang against the rock; Buckaroo sidled away. Gravel, weed, rock, body, where was there a weapon? The blade struck at him again; again he evaded it, leaping past the lunging attacker, trying to get higher in the draw. Below him, he saw the grey mare fidgeting as Rawhide and the second man rose almost to their knees underneath her. Dodging again, he missed seeing her kick. He threw a cloud of shale and dirt into the air, but his opponent was too far away. Got to get inside that blade, thought Buckaroo. Gravel, weed, rock, body. -- Tumbleweed. He was still clutching it.
The blade sliced toward him again, but now Buckaroo stepped almost into it, twisting at the last instant to spindle the tumbleweed on the stabbing machete.
The clutter distracted the swordsman for only the smallest moment, added only the tiniest extra drag to his follow-through, but that little was enough. Buckaroo Banzai dipped inward and under, aiming his heel exactly at the slightly slowed wrist, and broke it. A second later, he caught the blade in mid-air and, following his circle completely around, opened the man's belly with his own blade.
Still moving, he came within an inch of cutting Rawhide, who had scrambled up just in time to catch the falling swordsman. Buckaroo dropped the blade so that it passed under Rawhide's chin and was completely motionless a second later. Rawhide eased the wounded man down to the dirt; he was conscious, and it looked like he had a decent chance to make it.
The two men said nothing, just stood trying to catch their breath. Rawhide looked around: the mare was standing placidly down the draw, only a few feet from her victim, munching on a bush. The gelding was nowhere to be seen.
Buckaroo followed his eyes, and seemingly read his thoughts. "He bolted uphill," he said. "Prob'ly went up to the cabin," Rawhide said. He turned to face Buckaroo, and saw the wounded man behind Buckaroo weakly raising his left hand with something in it, something that glittered and caught the sun.
Without looking, Buckaroo Banzai whirled like a dervish, counterbalanced by the blade. As if guided by telepathy, the machete struck and severed the hand in which the wounded man had tried to raise a throwing knife.
Showing no emotion, Buckaroo Banzai stepped over to the man and said a word that seemed to be "John?" The dying man spit out a furious syllable. Blood pumped out of his wrist at the rhythm of his failing heartbeats.
Chilled to his soul, Rawhide watched. That guy didn't have enough strength left to throw the knife. The casual ferocity of what he'd just seen made his stomach heave. Cutting an arm off a man who was already bleeding on the ground -- that wasn't battle.
Banzai turned and saw the sickness in Rawhide's face. He straightened subtly and stood still while a few drops of blood fell one by one off the machete, looking Rawhide in the eyes with neither explanation nor apology. Rawhide stared back, and what he saw was as far outside the cowboy code he himself lived by as anything he'd ever encountered in any part of the world. At the core of Buckaroo Banzai was a pure barbarian spirit.
Rawhide swallowed. He turned and clucked to the mare. She ignored him. He looked back at Buckaroo Banzai, then, pointedly, at the Oriental features of their attackers.
"Damn, Buckaroo," he said at length. "You were expectin' ronin."
Banzai bowed his head momentarily. Nothing in his face marked the fierce joy that flashed through him.
Rawhide cleared his throat. "Reckon we oughta bury these varmints," he said in the tone he used for mentioning chores. "Or will someone be comin' for them?"
Buckaroo shook his head. "They failed -- dark disgrace," he said. "Their names will have been forgotten in Sabah by the night of this day."
"Sa-bah?" Rawhide gave it a Texas inflection.
"Malaya, where they're from."
Malaya? Who the hell would come all the way from Malaya to kill a 24 year old surgical resident? Rawhide looked at Buckaroo's face. It was full of trouble, conflict, even indecision. Everything in its own time, he decided. He clucked for the mare again; this time she generously walked up the draw.
He mounted and stretched a hand down to Buckaroo. "Let's ride up to the cabin and get some shovels," he said. "We want to get 'em dug under before the vultures get attentive. There's a box canyon nobody ever bothers with; we'll put 'em down there." I'm going to bury two Malayans on Uncle Joe's ranch without a word to anyone, he told himself. This is one hell of a friendship so far.
The sun was well up in the sky before the two young men rode out of the little canyon, following the thin line of a creek.
Rawhide grunted, reined in, and dismounted in a single motion, then wavered as his left leg hit the ground. He waded into the stream and motioned to Buckaroo to do the same.
Rawhide dipped his big hat in the water and dumped its contents over his head, closing his eyes with a smile of pure pleasure. He tipped his head back to aim rivulets down the nape of his neck and between his shoulder blades. "A-a-a-a-h."
Rawhide laid down flat in the shallow creek, and again waved at Buckaroo to do the same.
"I don't want my aunt to see any blood."
Buckaroo Banzai nodded, and gave careful attention to soaking out the stains in his clothes. Rawhide noticed him scraping at one tough spot with his nails.
"We could rub some dirt into it," he said. "My brothers and I used to fool her that way."
"Yeah." Buckaroo Banzai stood up, water pouring off him. "Anywhere else?"
Rawhide inspected him carefully. "Nope." He also stood up, and wobbled again.
"What's that?" Banzai gestured at Rawhide's left knee.
"Nothin'. A little crunched."
The physician nodded skeptically. "Walk."
Rawhide limped over to his horse and climbed on. Buckaroo Banzai walked back to the bay gelding, which they'd found waiting peacefully at the winter shed's hitching rail. "What it is, is a lot sprained," he remarked. "What about that?"
Rawhide shrugged. "The truth. Manners came down 'n caught m'leg. Wouldn't be the first time."
Buckaroo Banzai wore a philosopher's smile. "The truth always is the best lie, isn't it?"
"Mmm-hmm." Rawhide scratched the back of his neck and drew and released a deep breath. Buckaroo gave him a measured look. The two men rode at a flat walk, steaming dry, both sunk deep in thought and memory. Half an hour passed before Banzai spoke again.
"I told you my father was murdered."
"He was murdered by an enemy -- an enemy to my entire family."
"So he's gunning for you," Rawhide pondered. "Who is he?"
"His name is Xan, Hanoi Xan."
Rawhide's eyebrows climbed. "And who is he when he's at home?"
Buckaroo drew a long breath. "He's the Napoleon of crime, Watson."
At that, Rawhide drew rein. "You're not kiddin'." It was a statement, not a question. He nudged the mare and she walked on. Eventually the two men booted their horses into a canter, riding back to the ranch in silence.
The hand that held the phone in the Ranchero Motel of Cody, Wyoming, was shaking uncontrollably.
"Mystery..." the voice cracked.
"Well?" A snarl. Even diluted with the crackle and hiss of intercontinental transmission, the voice menaced life and limb.
"Our plan miscarried...." the man's throat closed with terror, but he had said enough.
"Spawn of a pig! Excrement of a microbe! How do you dare to tell me that you failed this simple task?"
"Greatness, as you ordered, I watched in hiding. There was a horse..." started the speaker. His voice wavered.
"A horse?" Thousands of miles away, the voice was diverted momentarily from its tirade.
"Bah!" roared the voice from Sabah. "Scum! Make no excuses! I will sew you into the belly of a living horse, roast you in a pit of your own digging and feed your worthless carcass to mice! ...
"But first," the voice cooed, suddenly so smooth and reasonable that it turned the hearer's bones to water, "first you will perform your errand. Remain where you are. See no one. Speak to no one. I will arrange."
"As you wish, Brilliance," quavered the man in Cody.
"Molly called the boys, oh, I disremember... Flopsy, Mopsy, Bugsy, Cottontail, and the Weasel..." Betsy was stretching a fond aunt's prerogative to its furthest limit. "Why can't I recall it-- which one were you?" She turned saucy eyes on her nephew.
"I was Rawhide," the cowboy said austerely. Everyone at the table knew perfectly well that this sudden fit of reminiscence was strictly for Buckaroo's benefit.
"Hmph," said his aunt, pretending to be affronted. "Taking advantage of my dotage, you are."
"Yes, ma'am," said her nephew.
"If your Mama were here, she'd send you to the barn for a week."
"Yes, ma'am," Rawhide said again. He smiled, imagining it. "She surely would." The smile stretched into a grin.
Rawhide's uncle leaned forward, waving a forkful of steak in Buckaroo's face. His tone was at odds with his wife's kindly teasing. "I'll tell you something, young man. Most everyone in this family is snake-mean, but this boy has his mother's nature." He ate his bite of steak and continued, "She was a real nice lady."
Rawhide's feet shifted under the table. "Yeah, she was," he said in a low voice.
"His older brother, on the other hand, ain't worth the bullet it would take to shoot him." Rawhide compressed his lips.
"And Michael--" Uncle Joe paused as Rawhide fixed a look on him from under his brows. "Mike's gone," Rawhide said. If he hadn't been talking to his uncle, the tone would have been a threat.
"Just as well," said his uncle in an equally hard voice. There was a silence.
"Old Buggsy," Rawhide said, taking a big swallow of beer.
"Born to be hanged," Old Joe said, also swallowing beer.
That was one past the limit. Rawhide's chair scraped harshly against the floor and the big young man was out of the room with the screen door slamming shut behind him before either Old Joe or Buckaroo could react.
"Now, Joe, you shouldn't set him off like that," fretted Betsy. "You know perfectly well--" The sound of a match being scraped and igniting came into the house. Not finishing her sentence, she rose to follow her nephew onto the porch.
"Sentimental," judged Old Joe. "From a bad brood and too stubborn to admit it."
"You can hardly fault a man for sticking by his family," Buckaroo murmured.
"Yeah I can," snapped Old Joe. "He's the only worthwhile thing this blood's kicked up for two generations, and I'm damned if I'm just going to watch him go to waste. If Molly had lived, maybe he would have been freed up of all those pest brothers, but he's been carryin' them one way or another -- if he ain't actually bailing one of them out of some fix, he's lettin' 'em eat away at his belly."
Old Joe scraped his fork along his plate. "If they were his own sons, I think he'd kick their ass for them, but they're Molly's sons...."
Buckaroo was silent but completely attentive.
"The young son of a bitch has four or five M.A.'s and Ph.D's and I don't know what the fuck all by now. I can't name you a corner of the earth he hasn't been to, and I also can't name you a single damn thing that either he or the world at large has to show for it."
Old Joe shook his head slowly, his anger fading. "The other damn thing is, I've hardly ever seen him happy." Buckaroo noticed the man was looking at him hard.
The Splendor of the Asias was feeling cranky.
The fledgling son of his old enemy was proving absurdly resistant to being murdered. Why had the child not perished in the original explosion? Why had the student not frozen in the Antarctic storm? It had been quite arduous to tamper with polar weather in that fashion, and for what? It was becoming vexatious.
He raised a jeweled hand. "Send me Lo Pep," he opined in a dulcet tone. Lackeys scurried to do his bidding.
Lo Pep grovelled in, shivering slightly as his master's eye fell upon him.
"Greatness, you summoned me?"
"Lo Pep, you will perform certain tasks. You will instruct that surviving insect in Wyoming to be an ear and an eye, for surely he cannot be a brain or a hand. You will also replenish our supply of warriors for the Wyoming state. You will arrange for them housing and transportation, which shall be available in that place continuously from this moment forward, as well as a liberal supply of indigenous currency. You will amass them at a convenient location -- Hokkaido would suffice -- and you will instruct them in such refinements of American combat as not being killed by old mares. They will then await further direction. As also, little minion, will you. Go, and do."
"Yes, Sublimity," said Lo Pep, backing away from the old man who called himself the Pivot of Mystery.
Buckaroo and Rawhide invented a reason to sleep in the bunkhouse that night, both wanting to be free to guard the homestead. Rawhide had produced rifles for both of them, to which Buckaroo added his father's Navy Colts and Rawhide a .38 in a studded leather holster.
They climbed the barn roof and stretched themselves out facing opposite directions along its spine. The moon was near full, and from the high point they could see the ground for at least a mile in every direction.
"Buckaroo, one thing." Cautiously.
"Why didn't they just shoot us? Is it against their code?"
Banzai uttered a caustic laugh. "Nothing is against that rabble's code; no atrocity is beneath them. Perhaps murder was not their goal today." His face was a bitter mask. "It would be uncommon, but not unheard of."
Rawhide scowled. "What else?"
Another ferocious laugh. "Xan practices black arts."
Rawhide swallowed hard. Black magic? Buckaroo's a scientist-- can he really mean black magic? What the devil have I mixed myself up in? He cleared his throat. "How, uh... how far back does this thing go?"
"Xan's ancestors and mine were blooded in the same wars in the mountains of Mongolia." Rawhide grimaced. First Malaya, now Mongolia? "And his many treacheries descend directly from practices his family and his clan adopted long before this civilization was even thought of."
"Yeah, that's a while," Rawhide muttered inaudibly. He propped his chin on his forearms and stared west toward the foothills of the Absaroka Range.
When his great-grandfather had come to this land, the menace was called Shoshone, and it came from the west and the north, from the mountains. Now that land belonged to Yellowstone National Park, the Shoshone were no more than a colorful tourist attraction, and he was watching over his uncle's house for a menace from so far West it was East. If it ain't one thing, it's another.
"I'll leave in the morning," Banzai said softly, as if reading his mind.
"The hell you will," said Rawhide.
"When Xan has acted once, he is likely to act again," said Banzai. "Also, I must look to Hikita-san's safety."
There was a scritch and a tiny flare as Rawhide struck a match. Weeks ago, the doctor's eyes had said Cancer and the cowboy's eyes had said Forget it. Banzai twisted around. This particular cigarette looked like it might be the occasion for some serious thinking. He turned back, looking east over the plains.
Rawhide, though he said nothing, was remembering the single most disagreeable week of his life. They were dead, they were all dead, Mohammed, his brothers, his whole family ...
Rawhide smoked the cigarette down to a stump, and lit another one from it. The murderers had ridden him out, as nice as you please, all the way to the railway station at Araouane. Mohammed had died in honor, fighting -- but if his guest broke guest-law, it would disgrace his memory. So Rawhide couldn't lift a hand to avenge Mohammed, couldn't even say a harsh word... It was a trail of thoughts he had travelled many, many times over the past two years. I just sat there on that camel like a seasick sack of beans and tried to contemplate the eternal verities... There was no other choice...
"Look, Buckaroo," Rawhide's voice came out slowly, almost reluctantly.
Banzai said nothing. Rawhide lit another cigarette and picked up his narrative.
"Had a friend. He's -- was -- Tuareg. He was also a quantum mechanic, abstract mathematician, 'n a wall-eyed lunatic rider. Met him at the Rad Lab, 'n he took me home to ride with his clan." Rawhide rubbed his forehead. "Kel A^ir, they were, Clan of the A^ir Mountains."
"The veiled riders," Buckaroo murmured. "The terror of the salt caravans." The Tuaregs' name for themselves was Kel Tagilmus, People of the Veil.
"It's hot under that veil, 'n your skin stains blue-- even your teeth," Rawhide remembered. "Anyway, what happened... He died in a blood feud."
And you were there. The thought came out of the night and struck Banzai with absolute certainty.
"So I wouldn't mind getting a few licks in on this Xan."
Buckaroo Banzai was experiencing a rare moment of indecision. Just when his life seemed most placid, its underlying turbulence would break through.
Hikita-san had schooled him since childhood not to leave his back unguarded, to trust nothing and no one. Growing into manhood, Banzai had learned for himself the poverty of such a life, and had chosen instead to gamble on the good, chosen to mix into the world with all its splendors and dangers.
Even so, he'd never abandoned his mentor's teachings so far as to share his risk, or trust his life to any protection but his own. Hikita-san and his father's guns had been his only allies. Indeed, Hikita-san had taught him to be aware at every moment that he might have to kill the man next to him, drilling the lesson in until some corner of Buckaroo's mind was always calculating, almost unconsciously, the best methods by which to accomplish this.
Buckaroo looked over his shoulder. For example, Rawhide, at this instant... a head shot, unless silence was required, in which case, a broken spine. And that had been his life. Until now. A line from the poet Yeats drifted through his mind: Let my glory be that I had such friends as these. He blinked, and passed across the cusp of a decision.
Rawhide yawned. Good. "Shoulda brought some coffee."
Buckaroo shook his head. "Last time I drank your coffee, I almost went skinny dipping off the Enderby Ice Shelf. Pass."
"That you did," Rawhide chuckled. The moonlight seemed a little kinder compared with the whiteout of that storm. "That you did."
In the beautiful Wyoming night, Buckaroo Banzai strained his eyes, looking through the dark lines of trees and fences toward the dark triangles and curves of mountains beyond. What awaited him? Inwardly, he imagined he could hear Hikita's voice: 'No, Buckaroo, what is there now?' The only reason for time is so everything doesn't happen all at once. The thought made him smile, there in the blackness atop the barn.
"Lo Pep, attend. I have cogitated, I have mulled."
"Tonight you will dispatch the group from Hokkaido. In addition, you will procure one airplane of the 747 variety capable of departing from Sabah, and a second airplane of the Lear variety to depart from a private hangar in the Western United States of America. You will have each of these aircraft furnished and decorated in a manner suitable for conveying me. You will recall, merely to draw an item to the forefront of that feeble organ, your mind, that my favorite tea is Lapsang Souchong. You will, of course, accomplish these things by tomorrow."
"Yes, Greatness," said Lo Pep, beginning to inch his way backward from the presence.
"Lo Pep," said the dry voice. "I have an afterthought."
Lo Pep hoped that he would not be required to commit suicide after completing his tasks. "Certain smaller of the customary amenities, such as the koi pond, I permit you to omit in the interest of expedience."
"Thank you, Greatness," Lo Pep breathed devoutly, scuttling out.
Another routine morning pawing people's luggage at SeaTac, thought the Customs clerk. She was more concerned about not snagging one of her beautifully manicured nails than with catching any loose fruit or contraband pints of sake that might come in with the five men whose suitcases she was examining now. Japanese businessmen were basically the best-behaved people on earth, she thought, and this gang of grey suits was no different.
"Destination?" she yawned. She noticed their passports said Malaya, not Japan, but wasn't really interested. There wasn't so much as a badly ironed shirt in all five bags put together.
"Cody, Wyoming," said one man. The others nodded.
Ten feet away, another Customs inspector straightened and twisted to look over his left shoulder. Five Asians he couldn't assign to a particular country, wearing Homburgs and determined expressions. Just like last month.
He watched as they left the Customs area, then ambled over to his colleague. "Ginny, you notice anything about those guys, their ears maybe. . .?"
"Gee, Jack, now that you mention it. . a couple of them had kinda chewed-up looking ears, like boxers, maybe. Why, you know them or something?"
"Or something." Jack Spicer, Customs inspector and former SEAL, was pretty sure he was going to come down with the flu in the next hour or so.
That first night, Buckaroo Banzai and Rawhide had climbed off the barn roof shortly after dawn, stiff, sleepy, and suspicious. They had decided to sleep in shifts.
They took a week to go "camping," and scoured the ground for signs of Chinese shoes. Near the ambush area, they made the interesting discovery that there had been a third man, who had left the scene alive.
But the weeks had passed in complete quiet. The net result of their activity was that Aunt Betsy claimed to be getting a case of the willies from just watching them. They'd begun to relax, quit sleeping in shifts, quit riding the perimeter every two days. Hikita had forbidden Buckaroo to leave the ranch early, claiming he was more than safe in his lab.
They resumed their Sunday morning routine of going into town to take Aunt Betsy to church and Buckaroo to get the Sunday New York Times from the hotel, which was having them flown in for their upscale clientele. Rawhide used to go to church with Aunt Betsy and leave Buckaroo to read his paper at the hotel, but had altered his habits in the wake of the attack, preferring to stick close to Buckaroo even though his outraged aunt took to calling him a heathen. Most recently, he'd compromised, dropping Buckaroo off to get his paper while he went to gas up the truck and buy groceries.
Old Joe kept his own counsel, but Rawhide found him cleaning his gun collection one day. "Just felt like it," the old man said.
Armed with three days of sick leave about which he was only slightly guilty, Jack Spicer flew into Cody's small airport, rented a pickup, and began to ask questions.
One of the swell things about Federal identification, he told himself a few hours later, is how everyone just assumes you have all kinds of jurisdiction.
Playing detective in a small Western city was the most fun he'd had since 'Nam -- now there's a sick thought, Spicer told himself. But it was true that he'd lived an entertaining life as a SEAL, especially since his particular specialty had been O.D., or making things go boom. They used to say he could mix a bomb out of toothpaste and monkey piss, and he thought maybe he could. The first and most fascinating thing he heard was that tomorrow a nameless someone was bringing in a private jet from Kuala Lumpur via Hong Kong and L.A. Sure that's a coincidence, he thought, sure it is.
In less than four hours, he tracked his mysterious Asians to a second-story room at Cody's historic hotel, a Western period piece of a building where a young black man in denim jeans and jacket fit in with the decor much better than they did. Spicer took a room down the hall from the Asians, and watched and listened.
Late that night, he heard a short flurry of comings and goings, and got to the front window in time to see a bent figure get out of a curtained limousine and walk slowly into the hotel. Spicer heard him come up the stairs and pass through the door of their room. Three of the five men he'd followed from Seattle climbed out of an old blue panel truck right behind the limo, flanked the old man in his arrival, and followed him through the heavy oak door into their room.
Behind that door, the air was rich with incense. Instructions were being given in a voice so quiet it barely reached the ears of the team leader, although that worthy, cowering at the feet of his master, was straining to his utmost to attend.
"You will not kill him," said the gentle voice.
"No, Mystery. I will die first!"
"Assuredly you will," agreed the soulless voice from Sabah.
Sunday morning on the Wyoming plains. Quiet everywhere; the sky a dark pink that had warmed to yellow dawn and a bright fresh morning that promised afternoon heat.
"Gee, I'm real sorry, sir," the hotel's desk clerk, a teenage girl in an authentic Old West gown, was telling Buckaroo. "We have an out of town business group, and they took them all." She paused, enjoying Buckaroo's exotic good looks. "Tell you what, why don't I give them a ring and see if they might let you have one, 'cause they really did get a lot."
Moments later, the girl was carolling, "Oh, that's so nice of yo-o-u," into the house phone. Hanging up, she told Buckaroo, "I just have to run right up to the second floor, and I'll be right back with your paper."
After a sleepless night of vigilance that produced absolutely nothing, Spicer allowed himself a half hour for breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, sitting by a window where he could see both the front door and the parking area. He was annoyed to see the limo was gone, since he hadn't heard its engine in the night, but he didn't think his quarry had slipped away. The blue panel truck was still in place, and he'd heard signs of habitation in the Asians' room as he come down.
Digging into a luxurious helping of eggs Benedict, Spicer noticed the hotel's pretty young receptionist going upstairs, followed a few minutes later by the customer at the front desk, who moved with some haste. Minutes after that, out of the corner of one eye, he saw the panel truck begin to pull out onto the road, without ever having seen one of the Asian guys come out of the hotel. Spicer dropped his fork and napkin, and raced upstairs.
At Meyer's Very General Store, Rawhide picked up a week's worth food and supplies for the ranch, including a healthy supply of Old Joe's favorite scotch, and started counting out money.
"How's things, boy?" His uncle's lifelong friend, ranch foreman at the Simpson place, came in and clapped a hand on his back.
"Pretty good," Rawhide allowed. "How y'all doin'?"
"Can't complain. Say, those Japanese fellers ever find their way out there?"
"Yeah, four-five guys with briefcases. Thought maybe they was tryin' to buy out Old Joe."
"Nope, never saw 'em," said Rawhide. His mind was racing. "When'd you see them?"
"Aw, lemme think, uh, couple days ago."
That ruled out the threesome he and Buckaroo had already encountered. "Nope, never saw 'em," he repeated.
"Well, they'll get there. You tell your aunt I said hello."
"Yessir, I will," Rawhide said automatically. Buckaroo had been headed for -- the hotel, right?
Rawhide ran into the hotel, saw no one at the front desk, and raced up the stairs. Seeing a room left open on the second floor, he charged through the door, only to find himself facing a man who was his age, his build, and his size. He had a split second in which to think This is going to be an interesting fight before the other man moved.
Rawhide was wrong. It was no fight at all. Only a moment passed before Rawhide was flat on his back on the floor, completely immobilized, with the other man's hand poised to deliver a killing blow to his throat.
"Where's Buckaroo?" Rawhide growled, too angry to feel fear. The room behind the stranger held no one but an unconscious teenage girl in a frontier dress.
The other man followed Rawhide's gaze. "She's OK, just a little out of it. They didn't hurt her." He frowned, working out which side Rawhide must be on. "You don't look Malaysian," he finally allowed.
"You either," Rawhide said. He hadn't made his mind up as quickly as the other man, and was still perfectly willing to beat the bejesus out of him. Assuming, of course, that the other man ever let him up off the floor. "Where's Buckaroo?"
The stranger let him up. "The target? They had him here, but they got out. It's just been a minute, and I got an idea where they might go."
"Then let's go, huh? My truck's right here," Rawhide said, already heading back down the stairs. The other man fell in behind him, and Rawhide tossed a question over his shoulder. "Who in Hades are you, anyway?"
"Jack Spicer. I'm Federal," said Spicer, hoping it would be enough. "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Rawhide. Buckaroo's my guest. If you're Federal," Rawhide said, shooting a glance over his shoulder, "you probably ought to know that."
"I came from the Malaya end of this deal," Spicer said. "Followed these guys to Wyoming." Now seemed like an opportune moment to remind himself that the penalty for pretending to be a Federal cop was ten years in Federal stir.
"Where to?" said Rawhide.
"Airport," said Spicer. Hustling to keep up with the big cowboy-looking stranger, he ran to the pickup and climbed in.
Buckaroo Banzai was upside down, contemplating his fate. How rich this life was in surprises, he thought, taking him in the course of a single morning from blueberry pancakes in a ranch kitchen to a bruising trip in the dark, trussed like a plucked chicken and hung on a meathook in the back of a truck. That the swarm of men who'd overpowered him came from Hanoi Xan he had no doubt, despite the apparent spontaneity of the hotel clerk's scream and his race to her assistance. Since he was not already dead, it appeared that it was his immediate fate to meet not his Maker, but the villain who had unmade his parents. He learned that Xan was near, thrillingly near, since his captors spoke freely of their master's presence aboard his private jet, stupidly assuming Banzai spoke no Chinese. It crossed his mind that Hikita-san had mentioned rumors of Xan's experimentation with Haitian zombie techniques; perhaps the evildoers' plan that morning was to attempt to enthrall him. Yet Buckaroo Banzai simply did not feel concerned. Every cell of his being was certain that he would be given at least one opportunity to rid the universe of the infestation named Hanoi Xan before it was his turn to leave this life. And he did not intend to waste that opportunity.
"So what do you know that I don't know?" said Rawhide. The cowboy was driving the pickup as fast as it would go over open range. He swerved to avoid a prairie dog hole, and the truck bounced.
"Two sets of bad hats from Malaysia want to see Cody, Wyoming, and then some old guy flies in from Kuala to Hong Kong to L.A. to here on a private jet with diplomatic clearance last night. Inquiring minds want to know, you know?" The jouncing, jolting ride was worse than being in a Zodiac on a choppy sea, and it had been several years since Spicer was last in a Zodiac.
"What old guy?" growled Rawhide.
"Howard fucking Hughes, maybe," he snarled back. Spicer was regretting not only his breakfast but also the dinner before it, and his mood was not sweet. "You have a plan or are we joyridin'?"
Rawhide's foot eased off the accelerator for a split second, and he shot a glance at his passenger. "We're gonna head 'em off at the pass."
Spicer had to laugh. "OK," he said. "Sure." The pickup went airborne over a little gully and slammed back to the ground.
His stomach suddenly settled itself. Battle-happiness rose in him. So, OK, this big cowboy didn't know how to kill yet, but he was driving like a madman. Yeah, with just a little more training this dude would smoke good like a psycho Frog should.
"That's it," said Spicer. The pickup was following the rim of a mesa, angling toward Route 120 below, and plainly visible on the road was the blue panel truck.
Rawhide nodded. "We'll come out from behind that butte," he pointed, "and block the road." He swung away from the mesa top, down the slope of a dry watercourse, pounding over rocks and brush that punctuated the wash. They swung around behind the promontory Rawhide had pointed out, angled out toward the road -- and suddenly the entire horizon was metallic blue -- and --
"Damn!" said Rawhide as they rammed the panel truck.
The impact carried the panel truck clear off the road, with the pickup pushing it along at a neat perpendicular angle. A few seconds later, both trucks came to a stop, the panel truck jammed up against a boulder and teetering on two wheels.
For Spicer, training took over. "I got the front," he said, and was out of the truck with a drawn knife in seconds. Rawhide took the cue and ran to the back of the panel truck, where the doors were swinging open and two men, slightly dazed, were emerging. Rawhide took one of them at a jump, ramming him against the boulder and scoring a quick knockout. The other man jumped him just as quickly, landing a hard hit to the kidneys which took a lot of the fun out of the occasion for Rawhide. He ducked the next blow and grappled the man, using his advantage of height and weight to swing his opponent onto the rock, only to find the other man taking advantage of being lifted by slamming his foot into Rawhide's knee. Rawhide dropped his hold and brought up his fists.
Spicer came around from the front to find Rawhide breaking an antagonist's shoulder and trading a few broken ribs for the advantage. He left them fighting, and jumped into the back of the panel truck. Inside were a bound man hanging upside down and unconscious, and a guard with a naked machete. In the close confines of the truck, the machete could only be threatening for one stroke, and the man muffed it, with a little help from the SEAL. A second later it was hand-to-hand, with both men reaching for and finding chokeholds on each other's throats and blocks on each other's knives, dancing around on the wobbling floor of the truck and groping for an advantage.
Buckaroo Banzai, stunned in the collision, regained consciousness at this moment and assessed his situation. He was still alive. The truck had stopped. A stranger and one of Xan's bravos were locked in a death grip in front of him. Banzai had never had trouble choosing sides and now, still trussed and hooked, he arced his body over to the combatants and clamped his teeth into the bravo's neck as close to the carotid artery as he could get. Then he slumped, pulling backwards.
Spicer instantly took advantage of the new momentum; a second later it was over, the bravo slumping to the floor with a pierced heart while the captive was still spitting out bits of his neck.
"Excellent move, my man," said Spicer to the trussed stranger. A couple swift strokes of the knife loosed his bonds, and the man fell to the floor of the truck almost like a cat, landing four-footed. He dusted himself off a little as he stood up on the crooked floor of the truck and stuck out his hand.
"Buckaroo Banzai, glad to meet you."
"Jack Spicer," answered Spicer, but Banzai was already moving past him out of the truck. "C'mon, we've got to hurry."
Outside, Banzai found Rawhide, who was wheezing but victorious. "It's him," Banzai said urgently. "He's here."
"The old man?" said Spicer. "You know him?"
Banzai whirled. "It is my destiny to kill him," he said. "Let's go."
The pickup's engine was smashed; the panel truck's engine coughed for them but refused to turn over. Hastily, the three men raised the hood and started looking for reasons.
"Try it again," Spicer yelled to Banzai in the cab.
But a different sound caught their attention. The old dispatcher's radio in the truck's dashboard crackled to life in a wash of static, and a whispery voice hissed out at them from its speaker.
"Goodbye for now, young Buckaroo Banzai," said the voice. "I shall have you under my hand another day."
Buckaroo picked up the dispatch mike, and keyed it. "That day will be your last, Xan."
"Until then, know that my curse shadows all your journeys," came the reply.
"Dude talks like a movie," Spicer muttered to Rawhide.
Less than a minute later, a LearJet screamed overhead, low enough to deafen them and shake the trucks with the force of its passage. The airplane bore no markings and flew with no lights.
Each man stood frozen in his thoughts until even the echo of the jet had faded from the hills. Then Buckaroo Banzai began to move around, casually taking command.
"Whaddya got?" he said to Rawhide.
Rawhide understood. "Some ribs and the same knee, nothing more. How 'bout you?"
"What you see is what I got," Banzai smiled. He was all but insouciant, despite having been so near death minutes before.
Baffled, Rawhide shook his head again. "This is Spicer. He's some kind of Fed."
"Call me Jack--" Spicer started again.
"What kind of Fed?" asked Banzai.
Spicer tensed, but went with the truth. "A Customs inspector."
Buckaroo Banzai was bemused. "You've had some interesting training for a suitcase shuffler," he remarked.
"Before that, I was with the Teams." Seeing incomprehension, he amplified, "Navy SEALs." Banzai was nodding with apparent pleasure. "So, how 'bout you, where'd you get your moves?" Spicer asked Banzai.
"Oh, Mom and Dad, mostly," said Banzai.
The three men made camp more or less at random, simply stopping at the first water they found, a little creek. They scrounged enough wood and brush to get a fire going, and Rawhide reached into his knapsack to pull out a bottle from the case of Jim Beam he'd picked up in town. The whiskey was all they'd bothered to pack before they started walking home.
They started drinking somewhat before sundown, and continued steadily as the moon rose and stars came out. Nobody spoke for hours, as if getting drunk on this night was much too serious a business to clutter with conversation.
Moonset, and the ceremonious opening of the fourth fifth, finally loosened their tongues. Questions and answers flowed freely, while the soothing warmth of the alcohol numbed their bruised bodies into a semblance of comfort.
"Lemme see if I got this straight," said Spicer, somewhere around midnight. "This dude's biggest ambition in the world is to wax your ass, and you wanna start some international scientific shindig so he can just look up your address in the phone book."
"I think I would have to say that Hanoi Xan's biggest ambition is to rule the world," Buckaroo said professorially, "and the Institute's telephone listing would be a secondary effect rather than a principal goal, but otherwise your summation is correct in its essentials."
"And this research deal is just gonna be a do-whatever kind of thing."
A side issue distracted Spicer. "What about making plastique out of toothpaste and... nah." He reached for the bottle.
"Nah?" said Rawhide, passing it.
"Nah," said Spicer, and swallowed. "Well ... maybe. You know, an awful lot of things in this world will go boom."
"Plastique?" filled in Buckaroo, taking a swig.
"Check," said Spicer. "Why not? I sure could groove on seeing that old guy go boom."
Rawhide thought about it. "I'd rather shoot him."
"I'd rather disembowel him with my grandfather's sword," Buckaroo Banzai said levelly.
There was a pause. "Well, yeah, that'd do him," Spicer finally agreed. "But I guess I jus' like to hear them booms."
"Armaments?" said Rawhide. This vision of the Institute was new to him. He decided to drink on it.
"You've seen the consequences of defenselessness," said Banzai.
Rawhide had to allow that he had, but it still stuck in his craw. "Only kind of bomb might interest me is one that'll kill the buildings 'n leave the people standing." He passed the bottle to Spicer.
Spicer was looking at Banzai fairly seriously. "We used to talk a lot about limited-range, shaped, target specific, and especially quiet . . . . that was our wish list. Quiet booms."
"Right up our alley."
"But this Hanoi cat's gonna be out there the whole time takin' pot shots at you?"
"If bees be."
Spicer took a long pull on the bottle. "Sweet Jesus, man, that ain't no way to be living. Why don't you just dig a hole somewheres and pull the daylight in after you?"
"Because I don't want to," said Buckaroo.
It took the others a minute or so to realize that these simple words were, in fact, a complete and serious answer. Silence wrapped the group.
Finally Spicer spoke. "Well, I guess I know a Team when I see one. But my Mama sure didn't raise me to die in New Jersey."
Banzai smiled. "Glad to hear it, Sluggo."
"No." Buckaroo waved the bottle back and forth slowly. "Who."
"Sluggo was bald," Spicer pointed out. It was simply the first objection that came to mind.
"He was white and bald," he added a minute later. A trifle ponderously, Rawhide nodded agreement.
"Ends in a vowel," Buckaroo said persuasively.
Spicer looked at Banzai long and hard, then shook his head. "You're a crazy man, so I'm gonna humor you," he said. Then, "pass the whiskey."
Buckaroo sent it the long way, by Rawhide. As he let go the whiskey, Rawhide gave Spicer a considering glance. "Sluggo," he nodded, straightfaced. Spicer nodded back at him, and then at Banzai. "Sluggo?" he queried, solemn as a gravedigger.
He lifted the bottle to the night sky. "Yo, Sluggo-o-o-o," he yelled. He brought his gaze back down to earth and nodded at his two cohorts. "How I spent my summer vacation," he said in salute, and drained the bottle.
Sheriff's deputies found them at first light; Aunt Betsy had raised an alarm upon coming out of church and finding neither her nephew nor her nephew's friend nor her husband's truck.
Of the panel truck and the five defeated bravos, there was no trace, though skid marks and the teenage hotel clerk's story made clear that events had befallen as they described. Banzai seemed unsurprised, and Rawhide was learning to be; Sluggo took his cue from them and was mainly grateful that he wasn't being arrested for impersonating a Federal officer.
When the sheriff's office was done with them, Rawhide went with Old Joe to tow the pickup home. Buckaroo was taken to the hospital to be checked for a concussion and would catch a lift from the deputies if the doctors okayed him to leave. Sluggo, who was unscratched but somewhat hungover, went back to his hotel room to call his boss and attempt to explain that he and his flu germs were moving to New Jersey.
Sluggo shook Rawhide's hand as they parted, jiggling the cowboy's freshly taped ribs. "I'll see you back at the ranch," he told Rawhide. "Damn, I've always wanted to say that."
Away from Banzai, and with the artificial cheer of the whiskey wearing off, Rawhide brooded: I left him alone. The sight of Banzai in the morning light, with a face beaten pulpy and wrists almost skinless from the scraping of the rope that had bound him, had jolted him to a deeper awareness of the danger his friend lived with. And that's just what shows, he thought. In less than a month, I got lax. He shook his head slightly. If it hadn't been for the intervention of Sluggo and his special talents, Buckaroo would be dead or on his way to Asia... I make a speech about licks and then I let him walk right into their hands. Shoot the piano player, he thought, disgusted with himself.
He was in the kitchen pensively swallowing a Bud when he heard the crunch of a car arriving on the gravel drive outside. It could only be Buckaroo returning, and when no one came into the kitchen, Rawhide poured down the last of his beer and walked out to the bunkhouse.
He found Buckaroo Banzai loading his rucksack and rolling up the mattress on his bed. Muscles tightened in Rawhide's jaw as he clenched his teeth over the words of dissuasion he wanted to speak. I shoulda been there. Period. He leaned in the frame of the bunkhouse door, watching the caution of Banzai's movements, dictated by his battered, stiff and sore body. Rawhide shook his head. He's got every right to go. He studied the grain in the floor's planking, but didn't leave.
Buckaroo turned around and looked at him; Rawhide looked up and met this scrutiny candidly, all his regret and sense of responsibility plain in his face. Buckaroo Banzai reached into the inner pocket of his jacket, and dropped a ticket folder onto his bed.
"What's that?" Rawhide asked.
"Ticket to Hikita-san's lab in New Brunswick" said Buckaroo.
Rawhide clenched his teeth again, and looked down, shaking his head. I shoulda been there.
Something slapped at his arm. Buckaroo was holding something out to him, also a folder. Rawhide took it. "What's this?"
Rawhide took the envelope, but shook his head. "Don't know if I should do this." It was an appealing image, building something out of nothing, a research facility that wouldn't be tangled up in red tape and blue pencils. A place that would have stock and music and good company and high standards. A place whose focus on results wouldn't secretly really be about getting tenure or attracting money from the NIH or the Departments of Agriculture or Defense or Commerce. Just do the work. That, and worry about keeping Buckaroo alive. "Not sure I can."
Buckaroo frowned, genuinely puzzled. Rawhide explained. "You could be dead. I didn't have much to do with it that you aren't. He's good; y'all won't need me."
The frown cleared. "Of course I will. You're Rawhide."
Rawhide shook his head. All that responsibility; all that future. "Not sure I can."
Buckaroo Banzai strolled into the ranch kitchen, where Old Joe handed him a beer without asking. Aunt Betsy had floured up the drainboard and was rolling pie crust, with a sack of California peaches standing by. Joe and Buckaroo popped their beers, and went out on the porch to drink them in the late afternoon sun. Aunt Betsy came out, and the three of them leaned on the porch railing and watched the slant light turn the plains gold.
Buckaroo turned to Rawhide's aunt. "Betsy tell me true, wouldn't you leap at a chance to leave all this behind and come live in an industrial park in New Jersey?"
She gave him a roguish smile. "Well, sugar, if it were you that was askin', I just might. I just might at that." But she threw a wink to her husband.
Old Joe glanced up at Buckaroo with no visible concern that the man was about to elope with his wife. From Buckaroo's face, still swollen from its battering, Joe's eyes travelled over to the ranch's small bunkhouse.
The bunkhouse door darkened. Rawhide, mending a snagged saddle blanket, looked up expecting Buckaroo and found Old Joe bearing down on him, carrying the ancient silver-mounted Henry rifle that reputedly had won this land for the family.
"I want to talk to you, boy," said his uncle. "Hard talk. And I mean to make you listen."
"Shoot me?" Rawhide gestured at the Henry.
His uncle ignored this. "What you got, son, is a lotta degrees and nothin' to do," he said firmly. Rawhide grew restless and stood up.
"Your foot, if I have to," said his uncle.
"Take m'whole leg," Rawhide said, half incredulous. A point blank hit from a Henry would knock down a buffalo, which was what they were intended for.
"It ain't loaded," said Old Joe, disgusted. "Don't turn stupid on me. Point is, I want your attention."
Rawhide sat down, and set his jaw. "Shoot," he said humorously. But he fixed his eyes to the floor, shy of what was coming.
"You're getting to the age where a man should do something with his life. You've been in school, so you know about bugs and Arabs and the criminal mind." Sic transit ent., anth., and psych., thought Rawhide. "You left out biochem," he said.
"Bug juices," grinned Old Joe. "And baseball. Damn near broke my heart when you quit playin'." He paused. "And piano playin'. And stock. Fact is, you're good at a lot of things and it don't matter a damn 'cause you got no purpose."
Rawhide's temper flared. "And you're gonna give me one?" he growled.
Old Joe was unimpressed. "Don't bare your teeth at me, boy. You turned down what I offered years ago, and you were right to. You could run this place in your sleep but some part of you would always be wanting to be elsewhere.
"Now look at yourself now, sittin' out here in the shadows and thinkin' you're not good enough to watch a friend's back, well, that's just pitiful, ain't it?"
Rawhide moved to rise again. His uncle slammed the butt of the rifle onto his foot, and he sat down hard.
Old Joe continued, "Get good enough, it don't take me to tell you that. But now here's what that part is: this Buckaroo Banzai has big big ideas -- ideas that are too big for him, and he has sense enough to suspect it. But two of you might could do some of those things."
"His things," said Rawhide.
His uncle shrugged. "You got plans of your own, walk away anytime. Put yourself together a band and hit the road. But just now you don't got those plans, besides which you like this Banzai."
Rawhide's eyes flashed up from the floor to stare at his uncle. Old Joe met the challenge impassively.
"You like him a lot," Old Joe said. "Otherwise you wouldn't have helped him plant those two reprobates in Hat Creek Canyon without a word to me."
Rawhide's head dropped and the breath whistled out between his teeth. For a long silent minute he shook his head back and forth disbelievingly. "You got a lotta moves for an old-timer," he said finally. His voice was low and shamed.
"My goddamn land, boy," said Uncle Joe. "You think I don't know what happens on it?"
Rawhide snorted, and sighed. "Guess you do." He sighed again, and raised his head to look his uncle in the eye. "I'm sorry." He pulled a thin smile. "Guess the damn coyotes tell you everything."
"Them and the buzzards." Old Joe moved forward and caught Rawhide's head in the crook of his arm, drawing the young man's face to his chest for an instant. Rawhide accepted the embrace, even leaning into it as the old man ran thick fingers across his nephew's mat of coppery hair. Uncle Joe smacked Rawhide on the top of the head for emphasis as he pulled away. "Go found yourself an Institute, y'hear?"
Rawhide watched in silence as his uncle stumped through the bunkhouse door. The silver of the Henry rifle blazed suddenly with reflected sunshine as the old man moved out into the daylight.
... Peggy Simpson, our ineffable chanteuse. Thus it was that Peggy's casual likening of the Institute's research facilities to "a topflight neurosurgical clinic with a house band" formed the earliest blueprint for the formation of the apprentice, intern, and residency programs, with the latter distinction reserved for those scientists who are willing and able to serve as syncopated music performers in the frequent forays of B. Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers on the tour circuit. The return of those early interns who did not remain to become residents to their natal lands could not sever their loyalties to B. Banzai, and their global dissemination proved the origin of the helpful network of Blue Blazes whose earnest and reliable efforts bolster the forces of social sanity around the world. Of course, once the "Crazy B B Circle" radio program began airing, the number of Blue Blaze Irregulars multiplied beyond anyone's conception except, inevitably, that of B. Banzai, who foresaw...
excerpted from Pictures from the Promontory Reno Nevada, Granite Press 1978
reprinted by permission
The screen door creaked open and slammed shut. The blonde slinked in like a woman who knew her own worth and sometimes got it. She addressed the big man first.
"Set 'em up, barkeep," she purred. "Whisky, and fresh men for my horses." The big man grunted and started to pour.
The siren spotted the stranger sitting alone at the room's only table, and oiled into his lap. "You're new to these parts, aintcha?" she cooed. She ran a hand down the stranger's decisive jawline. "Mmmmmmmmmm," she approved. "I bet you shave with Occam's Razor."
The stranger looked at the girl on his lap without visible surprise. His eyes were like blue nuclear fire, passionate yet distant. "What's a girl like you doing in a nice place like this?" he murmured.
The blonde tossed her hair arrogantly and sat up straight. "You've got black hair, stranger," she said. "Are you a 'breed?"
The big man interrupted, setting down a glass in front of the woman. "Mind your manners, missie," he told her, none too gently. "Drink your drink and run along home." He also refilled the stranger's glass.
"Dom'aregato," said the stranger.
The blonde arched her eyebrows. "If that's your story, son, you stick to it." She tossed her drink back in a single wild gulp, her blonde mane arcing in front of the stranger's cobalt eyes.
She rose and stretched like a cat. "Well, fellas, it's been a slice, but my sitter has to get back to Nome by dawn and Leroy hates it if his over-easies ain't on the table by six."
A moment later, the screen door banged shut again.
"Ichi-ban, neh?" grinned the big man.
And the stranger: "Who was that masked quark?"
The first time his fiancee field-stripped an M-16 in front of his eyes, Buckaroo Banzai owned to being startled. When she split a bamboo wand with a longbow at sixty paces, he sent her white roses. And when she shot the pips out of an orange perched on his head, he gave her his mother's Stetson.
She was wearing it now, crowning a white lace dress sashed with blue satin, on a spring afternoon; they were floating down the Isis just below the 'Varsity and the punting pole slid automatically through his hands. Lobster bisque and cucumber sandwiches from Fortnum's were waiting in a black tin decorated with the bespoke caterer's trademark clock. Buckaroo Banzai was thinking about Nirvana and his wife-to-be was trailing her fingers in the green, green slow waters of the stream.
"Tuppence for your thoughts," he offered.
Peggy's eyes were full of good secrets. She blinked slowly and smiled even more slowly. She sang to him,
Let it rain,
Let it pour,
Let it rain a whole lot more,
'Cause I got them deep river blues.
Buckaroo's face grew austere. "Oxonian water torture," he adjudicated. He lifted the punting pole clear of the stream, and swung it over his cringing fiancee. A big drop splashed to her forehead, rolled down one side of her nose and found its way down her throat. Continuing south, it disappeared behind the foamy lace of her collar.
Send me to the 'lectric chair sang Peggy, saucy but repentant.
Buckaroo abandoned his post, though he did think to ship the pole. He wanted to know where the drop had gone.
"Where are we drifting?" Peggy whispered in her lover's ear some minutes later. "The lost isle of Hy-Brasil," he told her.
"Great!" she whispered back. "I have cousins there."
I gave up a promising career as a truckstop waitress for this? The woman whose name had been Pecos for the last 10 hours questioned her own sanity for at least the 20th time.
She'd arrived near midnight on a Friday. Between the Ozarks and New Brunswick, the van had broken down in -- oh hell, it was easier to think of where it hadn't broken down. So she hadn't expected bunting and a speech, but gee, maybe, something. Instead of which her new boss had marched her into a room with twenty people, announced "This is Pecos," which was news to her, handed her a plate and pointed her to the chili. He himself then instantly resumed a conversation with a wizened Japanese gentleman in which the words boatswain or boson and oarlock or airlock (or Loch Eyre?) had featured prominently, and after five minutes she still hadn't been able to tell which.
It went right downhill from there, she figured.
She'd been pronging fiery beans into her mouth, eavesdropping on the incomprehensible conversation across the table (though it had been a relief when she'd realized that half of it really was Greek to her-- or more properly, Japanese), when a glowy, leggy, intensely beautiful blonde had breezed in, draped herself over Dr. Banzai's shoulder, stared straight at the recently baptized Pecos and, nuzzling Banzai's ear, said, "Say, Mugsy, who's the frail?"
And Rawhide -- Rawhide, the calm, friendly fellow who'd told her how to apply to get here a mere month ago -- had materialized in the guise of a slavedriver, invading her bedroom at five a.m., booming out, "Let's go! We got work to do!"
Anyhow, I don't have to dread being sore later, Pecos thought. I'm good n' sore right now. Under Rawhide's direction, she'd mucked stalls, hauled feed, unbaled hay, swept floors and washed windows since before dawn. At least washing windows involves water, she consoled herself. There might be some nexus with marine biology in that.
"You slop the hogs yet?" It was the gimlet-eyed blonde from last night. She looked even springier and more beautiful by daylight.
"No," said Pecos dangerously. "I'm still totin' that bale and haulin' that barge." The marine biologist unshouldered the cement sack Rawhide had said should go into the tack room. She planted her feet. "Maybe you'd like to show me where the hogs are." Her tone said the exact opposite.
"Ooooooo," said the blonde. "Scary."
"Hey, Pecos, let's get a move on, huh? You need a shower." Rawhide loomed up behind her.
That would have been the last straw, except that she'd already raked up the last straw sometime around six a.m. Pecos whirled to deliver her valedictory address as an intern of the Banzai Institute.
An instant later, a slender, muscular arm draped itself over her shoulder. The blonde was leaning against her like an old friend, heedless of the sweat and dust that covered her.
"Oh, Rawhide," breathed the blonde in the most seductive voice Pecos had ever heard, "I bet you say that to all the girls."
... the incalculable fortuity by which the Banzai Institute's first gold record and its first Nobel Prize arrived in the same week. In conceiving the Institute, B. Banzai realized that many brilliant scientists were being forced out of academic institutions by virtue of reaching their allotted threescore and ten without any reference to their continuing ability and desire to conduct basic research. He therefore addressed letters to many of these senior scholars whose leasehold in the groves of Academe would soon end, offering them unfettered use of the then barely-conceived facilities of the Institute. Thus it came to pass that in the very early weeks of our existence (I say "our" advisedly, for my advent was some twenty months in the future), entire research laboratories sought to relocate from numerous of the world's most prestigious universities.
One of these early arrivals, an Italian chemist, was awakened from his fitful slumbers with the traditional pre-dawn notification that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize while ensconced in the none-too-capacious rooms of the East Orange Motel Six, pending Rawhide's hasty negotiations for the suite of buildings on ten burned-out industrial acres which, greatly renovated and pastoralized, now form the heart of the Institute. The following Thursday, the duo of Buckaroo Banzai and Peggy Simpson were informed that their single release, "Annihilating All That's Made (To A Green Thought in a Green Shade)," recorded (with Rawhide and Sluggo backing them) during one of their first appearances at the nightspot now known around the world as Artie's Artery, had crossed the sales barrier to gold.
Needless to say, the media, always quick to pick up on a sure thing, arrived in their hundreds immediately thereafter.
Not only Professor Montovani and the Institute's founders were affected, however. The teams applying consisted in several instances not only of the invited distinguished elder but of a phalanx of gifted and altruistic graduate students who were...
excerpt from Fate Took A Hand, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1976)
reprinted by permission
It was two in the afternoon and the Institute seemed to be on siesta when the phone rang.
"This is Cary Schreiber at East Brunswick General. We have an urgent case-- is Dr. Banzai there?"
"One second," Miss Johnson said. Putting the anxious Chief of Surgery on hold, she rocked forward from her reclining position, put down her wake-up cup of coffee and buzzed the Cavaliers' common room all in one practiced motion. "Buckaroo?" "Not here-- try the stables."
Instead, Miss Johnson switched to the Institute's private communications system, punching in signals for Buckaroo, Rawhide, and the garage, meanwhile informing Dr. Schreiber it would be an extra moment.
The garage got through first. "Buckaroo'll probably need a car in a few minutes," she informed Sam. "I'll tell ya where." Buckaroo, who lately had tended to be forgetful in the matter of Go-Phones, predictably didn't buzz right back, but just as predictably, Rawhide did.
"East Brunswick needs a neurosurgeon on the phone," Miss Johnson said. "Right," said Rawhide. Rawhide tended to know, somehow, more or less where the Boss was at any given moment-- Pecos called it his mother-hen radar.
Sure enough, within three minutes Rawhide had tracked Buckaroo to the shady lakeside spot he'd chosen for an hour of quiet reading. Miss Johnson patched the hospital through on Rawhide's Go-Phone and sent the car to fetch Buckaroo. Rawhide decided to ride Buckaroo's Appy in from the lake and then follow him to the hospital.
"Sam-- we need someone to drive Rawhide to East Brunswick." Her last call completed, Miss Johnson picked up her coffee, not very much cooler, and rocked back to her previous nearly-supine position-- only to spill the coffee all over herself seconds later when, unheralded, the Institute's pair of air aces walked in, accompanied by a very Aussie cry of "G'day, love!"
"Wow!" Miss Johnson bounded to her feet, getting a big hug from young Rocketsox and a big hug and a serious kiss from Flyboy, who happened to be scheduled to marry her that evening. "I thought you'd still be airborne."
"We came over the Pole," grinned Rocketsox, exuberant as a puppy. Flyboy, whose hair showed scattered grays, shot him a quelling look.
"Refueling where?" Miss Johnson demanded. She pulled back a few inches in her fiance's arms. "You don't have that kind of range."
"Aw, we put a booster tank in the trunk," said Rocketsox uneasily.
"I love a woman with an elegant turn of speech," Flyboy declared. "Come along, my sweet, let's go dress in white." The sudden thickening of his New South Wales accent was a dead giveaway.
"You must have me confused with someone else," Miss Johnson stood her ground. "Someone dumb. I'm the one who's young, but not stupid."
Flyboy, whose fighter jock skills had been honed in three wars fought before his bride was born (and two since), sucked the breath in through his teeth. "You might say we coasted on the downhill parts," he explained.
Understanding dawned in Miss Johnson's eyes. "You came in empty," she said flatly.
"Needle on the big E," crowed Rocketsox, who couldn't see the look on her face. "They told us we're the biggest glider ever to land at LaGuardia."
"No foam," Miss Johnson continued.
Flyboy touched his fingers to her cheek very gently. "Bubblebath," he said. "Besides, they would've billed Buckaroo for it. How could we explain that?"
Miss Johnson stood rigid for an instant, then shook her head and unleashed a right that wouldn't have knocked over a dandelion. The veteran pilot held the fist to his chest for a moment, then bent his head to kiss it.
"God, I'd love to meet you at 30,000 feet," he told her.
Rocketsox snorted. "Smokin' hole in the ground is all you'd be," he pronounced in Kentucky hill-country tones. He brushed his long brown hair off his forehead and gave his scalp a good scratching. "She's got you crashed and burned right here."
The affianced couple laughed at him.
"I'm on for another four," said Miss Johnson. "See ya after that." She kissed Flyboy again, and settled back into her chair as the two aviators moved for the bunkhouse stairs. "Hey Rocketsox, be sure you take a shower," she shouted after them. "I want you smellin' like a rose at nine o'clock."
"Isn't that after your bedtime?" the flier shouted back. Laughter echoed out of the stairwell.
"No, just close to it," Miss Johnson murmured. Only sixteen, she had already been living at the Institute for eight years, having slipped over the fence one night and been found asleep on the grounds by Rawhide in the pre-dawn hours.
"Who might you be, miss?" the cowboy had asked the sleepy child.
"Miss-- Johnson," she had said. And then refused to say anything further for several weeks, while Buckaroo Banzai and the New Jersey police, and ultimately the FBI and Interpol, had attempted to trace her. No missing child in the world proved to meet her description; the Institute had custody of a very young enigma.
In the end, it was Peggy who'd gotten her to talk, Peggy who had realized what the child needed to hear before she'd risk another word. She'd been sitting by herself, rocking, in the room they'd given her, staring out the window at the cool pleasant view of maples and pines, a row of willows fringing the lake in the distance. Peggy knocked and came in and started talking without even waiting for the tense, thin little girl to look at her.
"You can stay here," Peggy said. "You can stay here forever."
And that was the key-- eyes closed, Miss Johnson remembered how the thin child had whipped around and shouted with every ounce of strength in her body: "I want to!"
How did I know? she wondered. What instinct led me here? She had lived with the stray cats in the subway for as long as she could remember. She'd learned to read almost by accident-- from the train schedules and the billboards, later picking up commuters' abandoned newspapers. Not long ago, she'd found it again in the archives, a reference in the Post to "the Banzai Institute, New Brunswick's newly-fledged asylum for stray geniuses. At this unorthodox think tank, no one has a past, no one even has a name that pre-dates his arrival...." Eight years old, she'd stowed away in the luggage compartment of a bus from the Port Authority to Newark. From Newark, she'd walked...
The Institute had been so small in those days. For the first year, Buckaroo, Peggy, Rawhide and Sluggo had been her teachers-- and even Professor Hikita, apprised of the peculiar results of her IQ test, had permitted occasional visits to his laboratory.
And then it had seemed there were new people every week, and steadily increasing funds as some of the early patents became money-makers: Buckaroo's nuclear magnetic resonator, Zoo Story's oil-eating microbes, as well as the suspension system, rejected by Sam and the Jet Car team in disgust, which had been joyfully greeted by racing crews from Indianapolis to Sears Point.
She had grown with the Institute, becoming its receptionist when, age 9, she picked up a ringing phone and answered in perfect train-announcer's diction, "Banzai Institute, can I help you?" Pleased and touched by her earnestness, Buckaroo made her the Official Receptionist and Putter-in-Touch on the spot. It proved to be a job that expanded its administrative scope every year, especially once Rawhide began delegating financial and musical duties to her.
And all through the years, when it became just a smidgen too much, when the little girl from the subway tunnels had felt a sudden impulse to run for the safety of darkness, there was Peggy, the person she loved best in the world.
It was Peggy who explained to her the mysteries of her own adolescent physiology, Peggy who shared the painful secret of her violent crush on a Cavalier, Peggy who had talked to her with absolute candor about what it meant to be in love with a man, particularly when that man was Buckaroo Banzai.
It had been too late to thank her when Miss Johnson learned that it was also Peggy, barely of legal age herself, who'd signed the guardianship agreement that made it possible for a very young enigma to stay where she belonged.
Miss Johnson opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling without seeing it, then smiled a little as a half-suppressed memory surfaced. She'd come upon Buckaroo and Peggy one afternoon shortly after they'd fixed a definite date, addressing them with a long-suffering air:
"Gee, Mom and Dad, it's about time you made it legal. It's been kinda hard to explain to the kids at school."
Last year, the much-awaited marriage of Peggy Simpson and Buckaroo Banzai had seemed to all of them to be the perfect garland on the Institute's success. The union celebrated every-thing the Institute stood for, its splendid achievements not only as a place of scholarship but as a family home.
And all of it turned to ashes in a single minute of apparent murder, followed by months of painful mystery. Buckaroo and Reno had even penetrated Sabah, stronghold of the venomous Xan, but to no avail...
And when they came home, they'd brought two new recruits along.
Flyboy and Rocketsox had joined up only weeks after Peggy died. Buckaroo and Reno had left for Asia immediately after the abortive exhumation of Peggy's empty casket. The two fliers, one a grizzled veteran, the other his extraordinarily gifted protege, met Buckaroo and Reno in a Rangoon bar. After hearing even a somewhat truncated story of Buckaroo's quest, they volunteered to help. In craft of their own, held together almost literally with the proverbial spit and chicken wire, they flew surveillance night after night, their planes' bellies all but scraping the jungle foliage. And they had managed the daring pickup of the Institute's heroes from atop Xan's very fortress, taking their homebuilt VTOL craft supersonic scant milliseconds ahead of Xan's surface-to-air missiles.
That remarkable jerrybuilt jet had been their ticket to residency, together with Rocketsox's pleasant baritone and Flyboy's startling proficiency with the blues harp.
The pair came through the door of the Institute's main house with Buckaroo and Reno as they returned from the jungle, and started automatically to follow them up the stairs to the bunkhouse. Miss Johnson, in the middle of greeting her comrades, had jumped to cut them off, only to be told, "It's OK. They stay."
"There, you see, little girl, we're all right. So retract your vicious clipboard and repeat after me, Pass, friend." The one Buckaroo called Flyboy had brilliant blue eyes with strong lines around them that told of many years of squinting into the dazzling light of high-altitude skies. A sardonic smile flashed in his deeply tanned face. The voice was pure Outback.
"Pass, friend," Miss Johnson intoned obediently, with a blisteringly accurate imitation of his accent. "Does Flyboy mean jets or trout?"
The man's young partner burst into laughter and clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, Rocketsox, don't hold up the show."
The Australian shot one last glance at Miss Johnson, whose blighting hauteur was already succumbing to her innate friendliness, then turned to follow his friend. "No, no, you're Rocketsox, I'm Flyboy."
Reaching the inner door, he asked, "Hey Reno, is that Munchkin down there one of your residents, too?" But it was Buckaroo, his face set in a mask of grief and exhaustion, who answered.
"Oh no," he said softly, "she's not a resident. She's a native."
Word of the team's lack of success had already circulated. The Institute, grief-stricken but hopeful for the past ten weeks, now settled into a kind of prolonged mourning. It would have been inaccurate to characterize the Institute as gloomy, for cheerful perseverance under all conditions was a fundament of its philosophy, but it was true that the living exemplars of that philosophy were, these days, somewhat altered at best.
Peggy, the brightest light of all, the woman whose mere presence in a room made everyone there feel more vital, as if suddenly privy to a joyous secret -- Peggy was gone. Buckaroo had little of his previous springy character, and plunged deep into arcane texts as he sought to make his life go on, substi-tuting sheer discipline for pleasure in his work.
Those were the months when the Hong Kong Cavaliers never picked up their instruments. Reno, Pecos, and Perfect Tommy were most often seen together, lunching silently, communicating in short, enervated sentences as they collaborated to engineer a respiratory system for a tiny submarine suggested by Pecos' friend Jacques Cousteau, one that would draw oxygen directly from the seawater at great depths, and utilize the pressure dif-ferential for motive power. Rawhide's quiet, massive presence served as the stabilizing influence it had always been, assuring the continuity of the Institute's routine -- but he too seemed essentially distracted and, while no one dared to voice it to him, it was widely believed that he was worried for Buckaroo's sanity.
And the other Cavaliers and long-term residents, whose scholarly yet serendipitous approach to life provided so much of the Institute's character, were also seen to draw protectively close around Buckaroo and each other. Altogether, in the bleak winter of '81-'82, the Institute seemed to have lost its bounce.
And in the middle of that, Miss Johnson and Flyboy had fallen deeply in love.
It happened fast. By way of apology for his initial snub, Flyboy invited Miss Johnson for a spin in his jet. At first he pulled the standard fighter jock stunts, hoping to part her from her skeptical self-possession with a dazzling series of inverted loops, zero-gee reverses and power dives. He began to actually like her when over the comlink he heard his youthful passenger respond to these acrobatics with an enthusiastic cry of "Rock 'n roll!"
After that, he whimsically leveled out, dodging in and out of clouds, joyriding, following the contours of a billowing cumulus formation he found over the Atlantic, flying for the sheer fun of it.
As they played in this airy landscape, Miss Johnson felt the numb shell she had lived in for months falling away, as if sluiced off by the brilliant light that flooded the cockpit. Sunshine, the color of Peggy's hair... She experienced a sensation of perfect happiness, followed instantly by the most profound grief.
Frightened that the erratic sobbing he heard from the front seat was symptomatic of oxygen deprivation, Flyboy had landed immediately, only to find the brash young woman he took into the skies transformed into a grief-stricken girl who needed desperately just to be held. Holding her, then and in the days that followed, the veteran pilot whose only previous permanent address had been somewhere in the stratosphere decided that in coming to the Institute, he truly had come home at last.
This flowering love was no secret; indeed, the wintered-in Institute needed this item of felicitous news as much as any bit of gossip that had ever circulated through its grounds. It seemed truly to presage a spring that would come after all, even to the heartsore members of Team Banzai.
The first crocuses were barely pushing their green hooks through the ground when Flyboy paid a purposeful visit to Rawhide.
"I need to ask you about a bit of Institute-- er, protocol, or procedure, or whatever," he began, uncharacteristically stiff.
Rawhide, running tests for the purity of his protein extracts from drosophila melanogaster in search of the perfect livestock feed, eyed Flyboy momentarily and turned back to his readouts. "Miss Johnson handles it," he answered. "Thought you knew that."
Flyboy went straight to the point. "It concerns her," he said bluntly.
Rawhide nodded, apparently unsurprised. "Then you want to talk to her guardian," he said, then brought himself up short with a memory. "That was Peggy."
The Texan let the printout run through his hands unheeded for a long second. "Guess you'd better talk to Buckaroo," he offered. He shut his comp down. "I'll come along."
The two men found Buckaroo hunched over a collection of papers on brain stem trauma in a corner of his study. Rawhide spoke first. "Uh, Buckaroo, we got a little matter that needs your attention."
Buckaroo looked up, impassive. Once again, Flyboy spoke directly.
"I want to marry Miss Johnson," he said, the Outback accent becoming strong in his speech. "But she's a minor -- and I don't know if -- well, if you let people marry each other around here."
Buckaroo frowned slightly. "I don't let anyone do anything," he said gently. "No one here is either master or servant. The question is whether Miss Johnson wants to marry you."
Flyboy exhaled. "I haven't asked," he admitted. "I do expect the answer is yes-- but it raises the other question: she's little more than a child, she must have a guardian somewhere whose permission I need." He paused. "Rawhide here says the guardian was, em, your wife."
Rawhide's eyes held Buckaroo's for several seconds; he'd guessed correctly that this was yet another consequence of Peggy's fate that hadn't occurred to his friend.
Buckaroo looked back to Flyboy, seeming a little more tired. "Then you need my consent, as Peggy's heir," he said levelly. "You have it. But don't mistake Miss Johnson for a child-- her years are few, but she ceased to be a child long before she came here."
"Thanks." Flyboy couldn't wait to leave. Buckaroo's old friends might be able to ride out the redoubtable physicist's diminished condition of the past few months, but the constantly active pilot missed the intrepid warrior and tactician he'd met over a shot of Jack Daniels in Rangoon. This Buckaroo, as close as he could be to clinically depressed, made Flyboy very jumpy.
The same nervousness prompted him to joke to Rawhide, as they left the study, "I dunno, what d'you think, then-- you think he'll be the sort of father-in-law that turns up on the doorstep now and then to cadge a few quid?"
The comic accent rang hollowly in the hall. Rawhide favored him with a glance from under lowered brows, then moved away toward his lab. Superficially, that glance was no more than unamused, but somehow one felt considerable menace in reserve. There's probably nobody, certainly including me, whose guts he wouldn't cut out for Buckaroo, Flyboy reflected. He thought of his first wingman, of the way they'd thrown their Spitfires into the low skies over Surrey and Sussex and the City of London itself-- and he thought of how he'd felt when he saw his wingman's plane vanish into the Channel water with hardly even a splash. Poor Rawhide, in some ways-- Buckaroo was alive. Flyboy moved off in the opposite direction.
Buckaroo and Rawhide returned from East Brunswick General at five o'clock. Parking the Saab, they ran into Reno and Rocketsox in the garage concocting streamers and sundry attachments for Flyboy's ragtop, which was to be used in the newlyweds' departure on a honeymoon the next day. They walked back to the house in a group.
Reno broke the silence as they went in the main door. "How're things at the allegemeines krankenhaus?" he asked.
Miss Johnson looked up from the desk with a smile, as Buckaroo began his answer. "Couldn't do much today; there's a bilateral subdural hematoma that's only partly fluid. We drilled burr holes to relieve the pressure-- today he just needed to be stabilized." Rawhide handed Miss Johnson a parking stub and a gas station receipt, which went straight into the proper drawer.
"Interesting case," Buckaroo continued. "A boy from the Correctional Institute. Apparently one of the other boys gave him a radio with a bomb built in. The one held the radio up to his ear and it exploded."
"A real boom box," cracked Rocketsox.
Buckaroo darted a glance at Rocketsox that said eloquently what he thought of the tasteless joke. Rocketsox subsided. Rawhide stepped into the silence.
"Kid's hair was a real interestin' color," he remarked. "The most vivid shade of--"
"Red," Buckaroo said tiredly. "Bright, wet, red." He walked away.
"shade of blond," Rawhide finished. His eyes followed Buckaroo.
"What's eating him?" marvelled Rocketsox. Buckaroo Banzai habitually discouraged negativism or defeatist thinking in any form. Even Reno, though he said nothing, was clearly taken aback by this unprecedented utterance.
Rawhide, meeting Reno's eyes, slid his gaze to Miss Johnson's desk and then looked back at his friend and comrade-in-arms.
Understanding, followed rapidly by a look of concern, appeared on Reno's face. "As bad as that," he muttered. The Institute had not known a formal festivity since the bitter events of the previous fall, and some of its residents had secretly feared that the celebration of a marriage there might slow or even reverse their founder's gradual restoration to normal spirits. This, however, had been the first sign of it.
Even Rocketsox had deduced the truth. Whirling with sudden violence, he shouted at Rawhide, "It would take me and Flyboy no more'n six hours to mount an airstrike that would blow Sabah right off the planet. Why don't we do that -- why?"
Rawhide took the question at face value, but his answer was directed at Rocketsox's unspoken sympathy as well. "Because there are innocent people in there," he said quietly. "You know that."
"Including maybe Peggy," said Reno reluctantly.
Rawhide drew a deep breath. His normal drawl grew even slower. "Yeah. Maybe." He headed upstairs.
As Rocketsox and Reno also headed for the inner door, Miss Johnson, who'd sat quieter than a churchmouse throughout this exchange, jumped up. Catching Reno's arm on a seeming impulse, she asked, "Mon vieux, mind the store awhile, OK?" and, without waiting for an answer, herself bounded up the bunkhouse stairs.
Buckaroo was in his room. Rawhide was with him when Miss Johnson arrived but left almost immediately, dropping a hand on her shoulder in wordless reassurance as he departed.
Miss Johnson watched him go. "What a swell person he is," she commented as if discovering it afresh.
An automatic smile, indicating abundant agreement, came and went on Buckaroo's face, but when he spoke it was of Flyboy. "Your fiance asked Reno the other day if I was playing with a full deck," he told her with a vestige of his old humor.
"No!" Miss Johnson was torn between outrage and amusement.
"Yes. I asked him to think about designing a jet that would fly on the ground," Buckaroo said. "He didn't seem to think much of the notion."
The Jet Car, Buckaroo's inherited obsession-- and with it, the mythical Oscillation Overthruster that had kept the Professor immured in his lab these forty-odd years. Miss Johnson smiled. So Flyboy was going to be caught in that project's toils?--Good.
"He will," she told Buckaroo. "Let him think about it a week or two, and then he'll get out a sheet of paper, and then another one, and then another one... you know."
Buckaroo nodded. That was how the Institute, his great brainchild, had been intended to work from the first. His thoughts shifted to Miss Johnson and he focused on her intently.
This scrutiny provoked an unaccustomed reticence in his youthful friend. "Uh, you know, about today..."
"...we could put it off..."
"No." Buckaroo's response came so quickly it was almost harsh. "Of course not."
Miss Johnson let her breath out. "I knew you'd say that," she confessed. "Why I really came is... I need something. You know, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue?"
Buckaroo's brows drew together. "You changed your mind?" He had offered her Peggy's wedding dress, in which, only a few months before, she had masqueraded as Peggy to unmask the traitorous Captain Happen, and she had been firm in declining that offer.
Miss Johnson's eyes widened in alarm. "Oh, unh-uh, it isn't that." No way she was climbing into that particular brocade again.
Swallowing, abruptly shy, she continued, "It's not the something borrowed, it's the something new... and I wanted to get it from you..."
A scant four hours later, the whole Institute had gathered in the big dining room to see Flyboy marry Miss Johnson. A murmur went through the crowd when Rocketsox had turned to the bride and said, "Do you, Evelyn Johnson, take this man..."
Flyboy's past military fame meant occasional recognition, and his real name was well known. But in eight years, Miss Johnson had never even hinted at her first name, nor indeed acknowledged to anyone that she had one. Nevertheless, her voice took up the response steadily, "I, Evelyn Johnson, take you..."
Rocketsox's tone suddenly grew flip. "That being the case, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the State of New Jersey, and by virtue of the currency invested by me in the Universal Life Church, I now pronounce you man and wife. You--" he waggled a finger at his friend and mentor, "may now kiss the bride, and the devil take the hindmost."
And much later, when everyone was considerably less sober, Buckaroo rose to address the assembled, and somewhat dishevelled, multitude. He seemed almost his old, vital self as he raised a glass to propose a toast.
"We are gathered tonight to observe a solemn occasion in the life of the Institute and the lives of our two dear friends-- I mean, of course, Flyboy and Rocketsox, who have managed to keep their feet on the ground for nearly eleven continuous hours. Credit for this unprecedented achievement goes to Miss Johnson, whose--"
"That's missus, mate," Flyboy called up to him.
A playful grin, rare in these latter days as a desert rose, and as lovely to those who beheld it, spread across Buckaroo Banzai's face.
"Mrs. Johnson," he corrected. Looking down at the groom, he added puckishly, "You couldn't really expect 'Mrs. Flyboy,' could you?" Rawhide shot a curious look at his lifelong friend, and, strangely satisfied by what he saw, ventured a smile of his own.
"I give you Mrs. Evelyn Johnson," Buckaroo said. "Her health, her happiness, and the continued nimbleness of her fingers on the keypads of our Go-Phones." This toast was met by numerous cries of "Hear, hear!" accompanied by copious, if wholly unnecessary, drinking.
His toast completed, Buckaroo settled back into a chair next to the newlyweds, the grin lingering on his face. He tapped Mrs. Johnson's wrist, and when she turned to him, said with a quiet chuckle, "Your Mom would've been proud."
In the course of these reports, I have frequently had occasion to advert to the philosophical admonitions with which Buckaroo Banzai, that tireless defender of the world's wellbeing, occasionally points the way to clearer reasoning for those of us who have cast our lives' lots with him. It has been drawn to my attention, however, that I have previously omitted to note that these precepts may be applied to the most mundane of circumstances as well as in those hours when the success of our various endeavors -- whether musical, scientific, or martial -- or indeed our very survival stand imperiled. Indeed, B. Banzai himself has provided many examples of the pertinence of his principles to even the most seemingly trivial of incidents, a fact which is of course axiomatic among the Blue Blazes worldwide who have devoted themselves to following in B. Banzai's giant footsteps, but is, it has been borne in upon me, less well known among those members of the public to whom, I confess, these aides memoires are tacitly addressed.
To rectify my inadvertent error, therefore, I offer the following account of an incident which took place on the pastoral grounds of the Banzai Institute, that tiny enclave whose band of hardy souls are nevertheless devoted to an enterprise that spans the globe.
The occasion for the conversation reported below arose when a Blue Blaze, who was present at the Institute on the occasion of my dearest Pecos' dramatic seminar on the evolutionary traits of nautiloids -- at which she stunned the scientific community by announcing her discovery that this exquisite genus of cephalopods, long thought to be evolutionary dormant, a "living fossil," is in fact actively speciating and indeed experiencing a dramatic "radiation" even now -- took advantage of her transitory presence in New Brunswick to complete an exchange of communications between herself and our stalwart Perfect Tommy.
As later inquiry developed, this Blue Blaze, who shall be nameless in this retelling not due to a desire to shield her from any shame but in recognition that her subsequent progress merits the provision to her of a clean slate, had met and enjoyed the acquaintance of Perfect Tommy at one of the Institute's frequent survival courses, this one being conducted in the malodorous albeit lovely expanses of northernmost Florida, where cypress knees reach up from fog-shrouded swamp water to tangle with the Spanish moss hanging from the branches above. The development of their friendship subsequent to the scheduled conclusion of this training had not followed a line satisfactory to the young Blaze, and one evening early in her tenure at our home base she returned a letter she had received from Perfect Tommy after their parting. It needs only to be added that her delivery of this missive took place with the lagniappe of a rock, around which the epistle was wrapped, and that the method of deposit was in the form of a pro-jectile, successfully directed at Perfect Tommy's window at an extremely early hour of the morning.
Although a peaceful body of souls, we at the Institute are not undefended, in light of our awareness of the existence in this world of malevolent powers -- not the least of them being, as readers of this series so well know, the venomous Hanoi Xan, who has sworn unceasing enmity to B. Banzai and all who embrace his moral stance. The breaching of the glass in Perfect Tommy's window accordingly triggered a variety of sensory apparati designed to register the presence of a threat to our security, and it ineluctably followed that nearly the full population of the bunkhouse roused itself and, heavily armed, investigated what proved to be, as I have told you, a simple stone with an unfortunately noncommittal (if I may be permitted to venture an opinion on this sensitive subject) communication from Tommy to the Blaze crumpled around it.
To her credit, it must be stated that the Blue Blaze in question at no point shrank from identifying herself as the author of the event which so rudely disturbed our night's sleep. Realizing that what had been intended to be a private communication had resulted in the alarums and excursions which she could hear taking place within the bunkhouse, she steadfastly remained in situ at her location in the garden until Rawhide and myself emerged to make a short reconnaissance of the house's immediate environs. Moreover, she instantly drew our attention to her presence and volunteered a frank account of her actions.
Refraining from offering any stricture on her conduct in that first, somewhat dismayed, moment of discovery, Rawhide ordered the Blue Blaze to present herself at the front door somewhat later the same morning for a further exploration of the circumstances and consequences of her act. Rawhide, customarily the most courteous and even-tempered of men, may have been a trifle short with the Blue Blaze due to his constitutional loathing of being interrupted on those rare occasions when he has allowed himself to anticipate an unbroken night's sleep. Certainly it is true that he gave no appearance of enjoying our nocturnal excursion, barefoot as he was and clad only in hastily-donned trousers and his hat. (How did Rawhide manage to don his hat in the exigency of the moment? My curiosity aroused, I put that question to him later that day, learning that the hat had been sitting upon his revolver, such that in possessing himself of the side-arm, he had naturally laid his hand upon the Stetson, and, all unthinkingly, equally naturally perched the hat where it belonged.)
At the appointed hour, the Blue Blaze appeared at our door. In the interim, a brief conversation among several of the Hong Kong Cavaliers -- those members of our scientific community who comprise the Institute's justly famed syncopated music ensemble -- during the course of the customary comparison of notes over breakfast, had established the Blaze's identity and her record while at the survival courses, which proved to be highly commendable. Her participation in Pecos' seminar had also been distinguished both for aptitude and attitude: so much so, my love imparted to us, that Pecos had planned to recommend her for apprenticeship. Perfect Tommy, deeply chagrined by the unforeseen publicity for his amorous adventure as well as justifiably, in my opinion, embarrassed by the revelation of his none-too-empathetic termination of that liaison, recommended the death penalty for the Blaze's transgression. Needless to say, his recommendation was rejected on the spot, but it is true that I had no inkling of B. Banzai's intended course of action when, attended by Rawhide and myself as material witnesses, should such be necessary, he met with the offending Blue Blaze to discuss her conduct. The colloquy that transpired richly illustrates the aptness of certain principles, which B. Banzai has identified as those we should strive to embody, for application to even so ephemeral an occasion as this one.
Buckaroo Banzai: In this place, an attack on any of us is an attack on all-- and thus, in this instance, an attack on yourself.
Blue Blaze: I didn't mean to....
Buckaroo Banzai: Intentions are no more than anticipatory excuses. To have discipline is to act with comprehension, not purpose.
Blue Blaze: I shouldn't have thrown the rock.
Buckaroo Banzai: Are you sorry that you did?
Blue Blaze: No, I'm just sorry I woke everyone up.
Buckaroo Banzai: To throw the rock is to wake everyone, whether that happens or not. An act is its consequences, even the ones which do not occur.
Blue Blaze: So, if I was going to throw the rock, I should have known why?
Buckaroo Banzai: At the risk of sounding like (smiling) Yoda, there is no why.
Blue Blaze: (joking) I should have known that there is no why and thrown the rock anyway.
Buckaroo Banzai: That might have been best.
Blue Blaze: But what about the crummy way Perfect Tommy treated me? Am I supposed to take that lying down? What about 'treat me bad, I'll treat you worse'?
The reader unfamiliar with this series may need a note of explanation here. The Blue Blaze was quoting from the motto we at the Banzai Institute have informally adopted, "Treat me good, I'll treat you better; treat me bad, I'll treat you worse." The audacity of the young woman's disingenuous effort to turn B. Banzai's dictum to her private ends snatched at my breath, but of course the master found no difficulty in disarming this neophyte's effort to turn his own sword upon him.
Buckaroo Banzai: That precept does not relieve an individual of the need-- which is also a most precious right-- to choose. It also does not relieve the individual of the responsibility for the choice made.
Blue Blaze: I know. I'll go quietly. (squaring her shoulders ) OK-- that's what I did, and I'm mostly sorry, but the other hand, that's what I did. What would you have done in my place?
For the second time in a single minute I found myself bereft of respiratory power. Could this Blue Blaze have truly realized what leap of imagination she had just requested Buckaroo Banzai to make? And was it possible that my chief was, in compliance with her bizarre request, even now imagining himself in the outre, if not entirely unthinkable, position of having been (though I hesitate to apply so unfeeling a term to what was doubtless a more kindly intended severance) jilted by Perfect Tommy? Certainly it is true that B. Banzai's expression grew abstracted, indeed even dreamy, as he entertained this question. I darted a glance at Rawhide, but was unable to discern upon the features of my cohort, whose habit it is never to be surprised by even the most extreme of developments, any fraction of the bemusement that had overtaken me.
Buckaroo Banzai: Oh... I think I would have thrown the rock.
At this point in the proceedings, B. Banzai stood up, signaling an end to the dialogue. The Blue Blaze, transfixed by the conviction that her fate had been sealed without an overt pronunciation of the sentence, posed, as she thought, one last question to him.
Blue Blaze: Do you know if there's a flight to El Paso tonight?
Buckaroo Banzai: Are you leaving us?
Blue Blaze: Aren't you throwing me out?
Buckaroo Banzai: It never occurred to me.
Rawhide: It occurred to me. Try and find a more peaceable way to express yourself, understand?
The astonished Blue Blaze, attempting to simultaneously convey contrition and delight, nodded mutely in acquiescence to Rawhide's admonition. Struck motionless by her rapture at not being physically ejected from the contemplative community, the desire to join which had for so long been the animating focus of her dreams, the Blaze stood like a stock as B. Banzai, Rawhide, and I made our ways past her out of the room. I am happy to be able to add to this account an averral that the Blue Blaze was indeed subsequently added to our complement of apprentices, and later gained an internship, and has shown herself worthy of the trust and faith so reposed in her on numerous occasions.
from Arkansas Aloha, And Other Tales Of The Banzai Institute, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1981)
reprinted by permission
Subsequent to the publication of my narrative of the instructive denouement of the incident of The Blue Blaze In The Night-time, I received inquiries from several readers. These readers noticed that B. Banzai and Rawhide at first blush may appear to have differed concerning the appropriate disposition of the Blue Blaze's case. However, appearances in this instance, as so often in our lives, are deceptive -- indeed do we not have B. Banzai's own word for it that not everything is what it seems, but everything is what it is? While, as B. Banzai has justly observed, every man can predict the past, I will venture to predict the past as it did not happen, and suggest -- though it is an educated suggestion, based on years of experience of the principals -- that if B. Banzai had not clearly said that the Blaze might remain among us, Rawhide would have worded his homily another way.
Indeed, though it is a venerable form of amusement for the two of them to appear to pit Rawhide's pithy common sense against B. Banzai's somewhat difficult (for those of us who do not match his deep level of enlightenment) maxims, the simple truth is that the two of them are in profound accord at nearly every pass. Indeed, in those periods when Rawhide has helmed the Institute during some necessary absence of B. Banzai, many of us have been taken aback by the degree to which this quiet gunsmith's "frontier justice" has been couched in reasoning worthy of our very Boss, albeit expressed in our range-bred companion's inimitable drawl.
It is thusly, then, that on this occasion Rawhide's apparent discord with B. Banzai's decision must be construed. That B. Banzai did not regard his judgment to be seriously, or even spuriously, controverted is richly evident in his treatment of Rawhide's further remarks:
Rawhide: . . . much too forgivin'.
Buckaroo Banzai: There is no such thing as forgiveness.
Rawhide: No such a thing, huh? All I know is, in Texas when a kid busts out a window, somebody spends a night in the barn.
B. Banzai, appearing to be much struck by Rawhide's remark, stopped in his tracks as if to contemplate it. Several seconds passed, during which our redoubtable leader's face became animated by a whimsical expression that accorded oddly with the features B. Banzai inherits from his Mongol ancestors. His retort was given in a tone of longsuffering patience, that of a teacher with a willfully dimwitted pupil:
Buckaroo Banzai: But Rawhide, there is no such thing as Texas.
excerpt from Arkansas Aloha and Other Tales of the Banzai Institute, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1981)
reprinted by permission
They'd spent the evening and the little hours of the morning playing knockdown rock n' roll with a garage band in Hoboken, and now Buckaroo Banzai and three of the Hong Kong Cavaliers were on their way home, tired and happy. The Institute's battered old Pacer, its exhaust manifold temporarily functional thanks to Sam's inventive use of paper clips and solder, rolled through the streets of the narrow little valley headed west to New Brunswick.
Perfect Tommy, sitting in the shotgun seat, put his head out the window and enjoyed the breeze. The moist night air brought him a brief fragrance from an all-night diner.
"How about pizza?" he asked enthusiastically. "There's a place..."
"Nope," said Rawhide from the back seat. He and Buckaroo both appeared to be asleep, but now Rawhide half-opened his eyes. "A beer would go down good," he said, adding "at home" firmly as Perfect Tommy's enthusiasm began to reassert itself.
Perfect Tommy pouted for half a second, then remembered there had been extra chili left after dinner. He realized he was starving and anticipated getting back to the house and devouring the chili with great pleasure. His good cheer returned and he put his head back out the window.
In the meantime Reno, driving, reached into his jacket and pulled out a hip flask, offering it over his shoulder to Rawhide. "Try this," said the saxophonist. "Great stuff."
Rawhide took the flask, uncapped it, and sniffed gingerly. Reno had a liking for uncouth spirituous liquors, and the worst of them were usually, as this one appeared to be, transparent. The whiff decided him to look before he leaped.
"What is this?" Rawhide's voice was rich with the assumption that this brew's provenance was dubious at best.
Reno grinned in the rearview mirror. "It'll put hair on your chest," he said buoyantly.
A wicked smile curved Rawhide's lips. "In that case, pass it to Tommy," he said. Reno chuckled and complied. On the rare occasions that Rawhide made a personal remark, the youngest Cavalier was his infallible target.
Ever sensitive, Perfect Tommy rose to the bait, opening his mouth to defend his muscular but decidedly non-hirsute chest. What came out, however, was a suddenly barked "Stop!"
It took Reno an extra split second to realize that this was not, after all, an unprecedented howl of surrender from Tommy, and thus to brake. All four men were wide awake and not laughing; Buckaroo was raking Tommy with a questioning glance and Tommy was already halfway out of the car.
"A fight," Tommy said briefly. "Something weird. Just a glimpse."
All four were out of the car by now, headed back down the street toward the alley Perfect Tommy was pointing to. Reaching it, they fanned out with the wordless coordination of a team that has seen combat together many times. Rawhide, Reno and Buckaroo formed a loosely equilateral triangle with Reno taking point as they entered the alley, while Perfect Tommy, apparently immune to gravity, climbed easily up a tenement via its drainpipe and traversed the buildings above the trio as they moved forward.
The alley was full of strange echoes, a clashing noise that sounded in turn like primitive pot-mending and like the ringing of bells; all four men recognized these sounds as a fight between heavy and well-made blades.
Picking their way past dumpsters and an abandoned car, the three on the ground moved well into the alley before they sighted the source of these sounds: two big men, apparently locked in life-or-death combat, using as their weapons two swords. Rawhide looked to Buckaroo for instructions; his chief met the look with a quizzically raised eyebrow and a nod that meant 'keep going.' Rawhide relayed this to Reno, who was in his sightline but not Buckaroo's, and the three of them shifted positions to get closer, remaining silent and hidden from the combatants.
As they drew nearer, they were able to distinguish the two fighters, though the light was poor: a thickset, balding, working-class man armed with a silver-mounted medieval broadsword was fighting a leatherclad punk wearing black biker chaps and sporting a foot-long ponytail of glossy black hair whose weapon was a huge blade of no perceptible origin.
The balding man was over six feet in height and burly, but his opponent was a giant. The younger man had his advantage in height, muscle, reach, and, it rapidly became apparent, even in skill. As the blades sounded against each other over and over, the watchers realized that the bigger man was fighting not only to wear down his opponent but also, contrary to the usual practice in mortal combat, to achieve a particular opening.
Reno and Tommy were handtalking in the Institute's own code, both signalling 'non-intervention.' Whatever the quarrel between these men might be, neither of them was trying to run away from the outcome of their private war. Buckaroo and Rawhide signalled assent, and all four of them settled into places of concealment to witness the result of this improbable conflict.
It wasn't long in coming. Powerfully assaulted, the giant pretended to lose balance behind his guard and fell back a half-step, bent his knees and allowed his swordpoint to drop. The older man stepped into the apparent opening, lifting his blade for an overhead coup, when the giant, with a hip-driven twist that sent his long hair flying, whirled up to his full height and flashed his sword upward in a 'ground-to-sky' sidestroke that instantly severed his opponent's neck.
"Ahhh," said the giant, savoring his kill. He stood calmly over his decapitated enemy, almost passive now.
Buckaroo's face reflected intense curiosity; ten yards away, Rawhide grimaced with distaste at this killer's reaction to his victory. He could see Reno's end of a silent conversation with Perfect Tommy. Reno was spelling out p-s-y-c-h-o-p-a-t-h and Rawhide was inclined to agree.
"That was an elegant stroke," said Buckaroo Banzai, stepping out of his concealment. Rawhide cursed himself for being distracted momentarily and shifted silently into a hidden position near Buckaroo, noticing that opposite him Reno was doing the same.
From his vantage on a fire escape three stories up, Perfect Tommy rolled his eyes in disgust. Reno was right; this dude was on a bad wavelength. No matter how much he loved the arts of the blade, did Buckaroo really need to discuss the niceties of swordsmanship with this weirdo now? Besides, Tommy was hungry.
Surprised, the huge man spun, bringing his sword to a position of disengaged readiness, held away from his body. He advanced on Buckaroo slowly, unthreatened, his eyes gleaming. This close, Buckaroo could see that those eyes were a lurid blue and the personality shining out of them seemed not fully human.
"Thank you," he said with a wolfish smile, sketching a mockery of a courtly acknowledgement with a right arm that was bare but for a biker's fingerless glove compounded somehow out of black leather and scraps of chain mail. His voice was a bizarre cross between a growl and a gurgle that gave an evil lilt to the sarcasm of his answer. His words were slow, drawn out.
Buckaroo's medical instincts were awakened by this voice. Intrigued, he looked closely at the warrior who was approaching him. There was little light in the alley, but he was able to see that the massive man had pale skin against his black hair, and that this very white skin bore traces of a fighting history strangely at odds with the giant's apparent youthfulness.
There was a horizontal scar on the throat that might account for the voice. There could very possibly be permanent deformity of the larynx after a wound like that, Buckaroo thought. Strange scar-- fascinated, he focused on that scar, almost unconsciously taking a step forward as he peered through the alley's dim light at the man's neck.
The fighter's blade flashed up toward Buckaroo's face as he advanced, but when the sword reached its resting point, it was millimeters from Rawhide's throat, with Buckaroo recovering his balance some four feet away.
Rawhide found himself looking along the blade, splotchy with the now-thickening lifeblood of the headless man a few feet away. The man holding the blade was both larger and heavier than he, and Rawhide experienced a moment's perception that the .45 in his right hand, unflinchingly aimed at the swordsman's heart, was somehow irrelevant.
The giant laughed, a cruel sound, but there was genuine if cold amusement in his eyes. "Bravado," he said.
"No," said Perfect Tommy, twenty feet behind him.
The swordsman turned without hurry to look at Perfect Tommy where he crouched at the foot of a fire escape, his Uzi nestled comfortably along his right forearm and bearing precisely on the huge man in black leather.
The massive fighter laughed again, longer. Tommy didn't bother to react; laughter at such moments was no more to him than another tactic, a distraction to a better-armed opponent. He himself had employed numberless times-- his use of wishes made on daisy petals to fatally distract Hanoi Xan's five gunbearing bravos on a spring afternoon in the Tuileries was a legend at the Institute. For similar reasons, he showed no reaction as the warrior advanced on him, until the big man whirled the sword around Perfect Tommy's head so rapidly that drops of blood were hurled off by centrifugal force.
Perfect Tommy's fire discipline was absolute, and besides, he understood that this lunatic was playing. His patience where his clothing was concerned, however, was limited. "Don't splash me," he said irritably.
The giant's eyes flared wide with amusement and challenge. Perfect Tommy read the man's intention to wipe the blade on his linen jacket and, despite the fact that the fibers were already hopelessly besmirched from contact with various drainpipes and window ledges, decided not to permit it.
Buckaroo Banzai, prescient as usual, quietly said "Do not fire" just as Tommy reached his decision. The giant's blade wiped itself on empty air as Perfect Tommy, complying with Buckaroo's wishes, simply shifted position with his customary blinding speed and brought the Uzi to bear once again.
Balked in his game, the dark warrior turned back to Buckaroo, who was standing with his hands in his jacket pockets. "We'll be calling the police in a minute," Buckaroo continued in his cool way.
The killer's amusement returned. "To report a murrr-der?" he mocked. He laughed contemptuously.
"A death," Buckaroo said in the same soft voice.
A shrewd intelligence glittered momentarily through the demented humor in the swordsman's eyes. Buckaroo knew his measure was being taken.
It was surprising to see that look in this leatherclad sociopath; he was accustomed to seeing it from the kind of men and women he liked, the kind who did not extend friendship easily but once bound would never back away, the kind would go into battle with just that clear-eyed appraisal of their enemies. All of Buckaroo's instincts told him there was nothing that sound in this man's character; expedience and a vicious carelessness were already written deeply into his face, no matter how young he was.
Buckaroo returned the giant's stare with an equally intense appraisal of his own, and the two men locked into a taut moment that stretched out and filled the alley with a sense of impending explosion. Perfect Tommy and Rawhide, still holding their weapons at the ready, found themselves tightening their grip fractionally.
It was Reno, the last of the Cavaliers to leave his cover, who broke the tension. He stood up and offhandedly began riffling through the dead man's jacket, which lay on the ground as if it had been hastily thrown aside at the start of the fight. Ignoring the frozen figures of his chief and the killer, he began announcing his discoveries to the general air.
"This guy's carrying a Polish passport," Reno said. "Osta Vazilek. Port of entry, JFK, three days ago. Big roll of dollars, also some zlotys. Purpose of visit: business."
At this last, the giant stirred, laughing again. He moved to stand over his victim, his eyes wide and vivid with pleasure. A smile of satisfaction stretched across his face. "Now his business is finished," he said in a near whisper, the curious elongation of his speech giving the words extraordinary emphasis.
Buckaroo inclined his head to indicate the alley, the battlesite. "Was this his business?" he asked quietly.
The giant's thin black eyebrows quirked at the question, first annoyed at the correctness of the guess, then pleased by it. "Yes," he said sharply, with an oddly proud lift to his head. "We gather for this."
Ten feet behind the swordsman, Perfect Tommy made an impatient face. His hands said to Buckaroo, Let's go. He'd come extremely close to unloading a clip into this psychotic D'Artagnan twice already, and doubted seriously whether they'd manage to leave the alley without having to kill him. What Tommy wanted to do was go home and raid the fridge, not spend the next twenty hours explaining to some Hoboken detective bucking for lieutenant why he'd had to waste this crazy biker.
Buckaroo glanced at Perfect Tommy for a split second that sufficed to tell Tommy that his chief had not yet satisfied his curiosity. He resigned himself with ill grace to staying a while longer, watching as Buckaroo walked forward to take a closer look at the corpse.
The giant backed away as Buckaroo moved closer, then turned aside and, with nearly invisible speed, used his sword to flick the dead man's jacket out of Reno's hands. Shifting the sword into his left hand, he cleaned the clotting blood off the blade with the skill and care of long expertise. Reno shot an exasperated look at Rawhide, who merely shifted his weight from one foot to another, content to let Buckaroo indulge his interest, at least for the moment.
Buckaroo, running a swift medical eye over the corpse, was fascinated to find that this was a second remarkably scarred body. He squatted down to lift the man's shirt for a look at his torso and felt a moment's strange tingling climbing his arm.
In that instant, the man's killer hurtled across the intervening space and slammed Buckaroo backwards with a one-handed push. The Cavaliers pivoted to fire and then held their fire, reacting instantly to both the assault and the fact that the huge warrior deliberately held his sword well away from Buckaroo.
The killer's figure loomed over Buckaroo. He raised his right hand, tendrils of chain mail dangling down from its glove, and shook an admonitory finger at Buckaroo. His voice came in a low, slow growl. "Do not touch him. He's mine."
Buckaroo rose calmly and dusted himself off.
"As you wish," he said. It was a fearless statement, a courtesy rather than a capitulation, and it restored the giant's good humor.
"You," he said. "Who are you?"
"My name is Buckaroo Banzai."
This answer produced an astonishing effect. The huge killer threw his head back and laughed with the simple pleasure of a child. "Comic books," he said, and laughed again. "I like them."
In the next instant, his face was serious, deadly. He extended his sword toward Buckaroo as if pointing a finger. "You have fifty years," he said in his peculiar, extended diction. His eyes flashed wide then narrowed with emphasis. "Enjoy them."
"Thank you," said Buckaroo. Was that a sentence or a reprieve? Either way, this man was an executioner and it was time to go. He nodded a farewell at the warrior, turned his back, and walked away casually.
Rawhide stayed where he was, watching the swordsman. Reno started after Buckaroo, as did Perfect Tommy, who had to walk around the huge fighter to leave the alley.
As Tommy passed him, the giant laughed jauntily and tossed his head. "Yes, you can go now," he said.
Perfect Tommy flinched microscopically and recovered. He curled his lip disdainfully and surveyed the man head to toe as he finished walking by. "Nice leathers," he said sourly.
The giant laughed at him and preened, settling his scalp-tasseled vest more squarely on his shoulders. "Kind of neo Attila the Hun," Tommy continued. The warrior's eyes lit up with a private joke. "No," he told the Cavalier with mock gravity. "He liked furs." Tommy kept going.
Rawhide fell into step with Perfect Tommy, though walking backwards for the first few yards. His sixth sense said the giant was a threat even well out of sword's reach. As he finally began to relax and turned to face out of the alley, the swordsman had long since turned his back on the departing men and moved to stand over his victim again.
Buckaroo and Reno were waiting at the mouth of the alley. "Weird, weird, weird," said Perfect Tommy. "You said it," muttered Rawhide, looking around to make sure the street and the car seemed normal. the four men started for the car.
"What do you think, have we just seen the tac. squad from the Society for Creative Anachronisms?" Reno's joke lacked conviction. He shook his head and said without humor, "That's one scary punk."
"No way," said Perfect Tommy. "Worse. Seriously foul. Did you see his eyes?"
"Did you see his face?" Reno countered. "And his neck? That guy's been through a windshield."
"Not in the last eighty years," Buckaroo murmured. He seemed distracted.
"You're crazy, man. That guy's twenty-five, thirty max." Perfect Tommy spoke sharply. Buckaroo's tone, let alone what he'd said, gave him the creeps.
"That scar tissue," Buckaroo said deliberately, "was old, as old as any I've ever seen. Childhood wounds on geriatric patients looks something like that.
"There's more. That wound on his throat bore every appearance of a severe, deep cut, deep enough to sever the carotid. Anyone would bleed out before such a cut could close itself-- the mere idea of a wound like that closing itself is hypothetical. It can't happen." He paused. "Then there were the stipples along the supraorbital ridge and the lateral aspect of the orbit. They are consistent with a blow from a mace. A lethal blow." He pursed his lips.
"There were no suture marks anywhere around those wounds. The other man was the same-- old scars, deadly wounds, no sutures. I saw a cranial bullet entry wound on the man's head. Absolutely fatal, no way around it."
"So what?" challenged Perfect Tommy, rude to conceal his uneasiness. Reno and Rawhide were also listening intently to this eerie disquisition.
Buckaroo spread his hands. "So I can't imagine an explanation that makes any sense. The ones I can imagine..." he drifted off. "I don't think I'd want that man's life," he said softly.
"What?" snapped Tommy. "Tune in, will you?"
Buckaroo snapped into the present suddenly, and grinned at Perfect Tommy. "The ones I can imagine are pretty entertaining, that's all."
"Think about it. We saw a superior combatant who survived a very deep slice to the throat fight with an inferior opponent until he could achieve decapitation. And that same man was notably unimpressed by our firearms." Rawhide nodded, remembering the eyes of the man who'd held a sword at his throat.
"No," Perfect Tommy was shaking his head, "you're out in space, man. This is just your basic psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est. Don't turn it into some--"
Behind them, there was a terrible yell from the alley, a cross between agony and ecstatic release. And then a sound of exploding glass and the splashing of shards down to pavement.
The men whirled and ran back to the alley, turning just in time to see a wild blue light fade and vanish from its walls. Crunching through the broken glass, they found the battle scene changed.
"He moved the body," Rawhide said. There was no sign of the giant warrior, though only seconds had elapsed since his great outcry.
"How'd he break the windows?" marvelled Reno. Not a single pane of glass was intact in the buildings facing onto the alley.
Perfect Tommy looked thoughtful. This was the sort of problem he could enjoy. "Ultrasound, maybe, but he'd have to localize the effect, scale it to confine it to the alley. If it went berserk on him, that would explain the scream: exploded eardrums."
"Blue light," said Reno.
"Could be anything, including the ultrasound device going haywire and putting off a little glow."
Rawhide looked at the two of them impatiently. "Why?" he bit off the word. "Forget the high tech, think about motive. Why blow all the windows out of an alley in Hoboken?"
Tommy turned surly. "Can you explain anything we've seen tonight? Any small single thing?"
Rawhide snorted, acknowledging the justice of this objection. "Nope." He looked at Buckaroo, who was stooped over the body again.
"It's cold," he said, rising to face them. His expression was puzzled. "Cold as if he'd been dead for hours."
"Let's go," said Rawhide. When Buckaroo got abstracted enough, he could forget to move, but they'd seen all there was to see and Rawhide had had enough of this place. The four men retraced their route out of the alley and walked to the car. On the way, Buckaroo roused himself out of his thoughts, looked back, and shrugged.
"Every question has an answer," he said, "but we may not be the ones to find it." He seemed suddenly to find the situation humorous.
"Swordfights, eighty year old scars on twenty year old guys, windows blowing up, blue light out of nowhere-- if you ask me, this whole thing sounds like science fiction," said Reno.
Buckaroo grinned. "It would make a great movie, anyway."
"Nah," said Reno. "Movies are made by committees. Better a book."
"Why don't you write it?" Buckaroo smiled. "It would be a break from the non-fiction."
"Movies," said Perfect Tommy. "Popcorn. Mars bars." There was a terrible urgency in his voice.
Perfect Tommy was the first to reach the car, and climbed into the back seat, followed by Reno. Rawhide moved to the driver's side and picked up the mobile phone to notify the Hoboken police. Buckaroo moved to the passenger side and started to get in, then paused as if he'd remembered something.
"You know, pal," he said to Rawhide across the Pacer's roof, "you've got to stop pushing me around."
Rawhide nodded. "I'll give it up," he said. "In fifty years or so."
... the origins of the Buckaroo Banzai videogame upon which quarters have been so avidly lavished in pinball parlors not only in this country but across the European continent and the Japanese islands. It was invented in a moment of frustration by Perfect Tommy, whose quicksilver reflexes proved more than a match for each commercial computer-assisted game he attempted. Thus, one rainy afternoon when he was prevented from free-climbing the World Trade Center as he'd intended, he devised a videogame both quick and multiplicitous enough to beat him at least some of the time.
We found that, with 75% of the variables and 80% of its speed removed, this game held a powerful attraction for those young and not-so-young members of the public who yearn to join, even if only vicariously, in B. Banzai's ceaseless quest to shield the world from the evil designs of Hanoi Xan. Indeed, this game has proven even more popular than Tommy's other idly-designed toy, the 4-dimensional cube game that can only be solved for 10 seconds at a time before its facets change color, which we...
excerpt from Extradition from Hell, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1982)
reprinted by permission
World Watch One was a hive of activity as its staff prepared it for assault status. Big Norse was running a hot check on exterior defense systems when a bulletin came in from Pinky Carruthers.
"World Watch One, notify Apache Group. Rawhide is down, Reno temporarily in command. Repeat, Rawhide down, Reno assumes command."
At the communications console, Big Norse's lips had parted and she was trying unsuccessfully to speak.
"Do you copy, World Watch?" Pinky's voice was hasty; they were going on a mission and there was no time for slackness.
"Roger. Reno commands," Big Norse said in a strangled, erratic voice. "Down" doesn't mean dead, she told herself. He just can't go on the strike. She was trying to breathe, noticed abstractedly that her hands were shaking.
Three seconds. Take three seconds and find out, she told herself. A terrible calm heat was taking possession of her gut now, because she was already sure. He wouldn't approve. She punched in the numbers for the front desk in the main house.
"This is World Watch. Request status of Rawhide," she said levelly. Her voice was back. Shock, she thought dispassionately. I'll be functional.
"Oh my God," came the reply. "Norse... Norse, I'm so sorry." It was Mrs. Johnson, a few years younger than herself, but vastly more worldly-wise. The first woman friend she'd really had. It was unmistakable even through the electronic distortion in the com lines that Mrs. J was crying. "Tommy and Reno are taking him down to cryo right now. Sam and Mac, too."
"Thanks," said Big Norse. Thanks?
"Norse, I know," Mrs. Johnson said urgently. "I'll see you as soon as I get back from D.C. Hold on, OK?"
Flyboy's in cryo, Big Norse remembered belatedly. She breathed deep. "Strap your best skates on, and give Widmark our regards," she said in the best voice she could muster.
"Give Whorfin mine," said Mrs. Johnson. "Burn it down for me." Grief gave her exhortation a ragged edge.
"Roger that," said Big Norse. "Will do." Her voice was affectless. Work. Work. Big Norse was observing as the seconds ticked by that she was frozen, remote, and perfectly capable of doing her job. But she didn't care anymore. The alien ship that had filled her heart with joy at the thought of contact, the sudden deadly threat to the planet's survival -- she just didn't care anymore.
Apache, who's that? Hollywood, call 46. Neon Highlander, call 82. The Argentine, out of town. Mustang Sally, call 43. Big Norse closed her eyes. Sally.
Mustang Sally had a lanky, graceful body, a big grin full of crooked teeth, and an air of inattention about her that masked absolute dependability. She had cloudy blue eyes, milky skin and a halo of pre-Raphaelite red hair that gave her the look of a character from Irish mythology, but her gifts as a number cruncher and her impeccable team discipline were purely modern. It was when Rawhide had become sure of this that he'd started smiling quietly at Sally's frequent "What? Huh?" replies. Very recently, he'd made Mustang Sally his deputy group leader, catching the mathematical intern so completely by surprise that she hadn't managed to say "What?" in time to make it look natural. Big Norse punched in 43.
"Sally, Big Norse in World Watch. Apache reports to Reno today. Rawhide's down, Sally." Down, crappy word. "Sally, he's dead."
"Oh no. No." There was a split second of silence. "Report to Reno, roger. Apache group has orders to fall in in twenty minutes." Mustang Sally's breaths were fast and shallow.
"Those orders stand. World Watch out." Big Norse bowed her head over the com console and offered a split second's prayer to whatever god Rawhide had liked to talk to. It's going to be like this, she thought. We'll do what we have to. There were many, many calls to be fielded, still some systems to hot check. She stayed at work.
Twenty minutes later the strike groups boarded and the bus rolled. They were going to a staging area, where Buckaroo would meet the Jet Car and go into Yoyodyne alone, 20 minutes ahead of the main force. The Black Lectroid ship had picked a geostationary orbit right overhead and communications were next to impossible. But by now, there wasn't much to be said.
Buckaroo came upstairs momentarily to call the White House. Mrs. J was enroute, personally flying the yellow record to the President. Buckaroo looked at Big Norse, and, in the middle of everything, spared a moment to check in with her.
He touched her shoulder. "Fast Eddie can relieve you," he murmured. It was half compassion, half a commander's concern that the most functional person be doing the job.
"No," Big Norse shook her head. "You need me." She was beyond any response but stating facts. She'd personally breadboarded the patchy but usable grid that was giving them audio/visual to the White House and the computer room at home, as well as the functioning uplink to the Lectroid ship. No one else would be able to figure this mess out, let alone keep it rigged and audible.
"Good," said Buckaroo. He squeezed her shoulder as he moved further into the command area. Big Norse went to work assembling a readable signal and got acknowledgement from Walter Reed that the President was coming on the line. She heard Buckaroo say, "Mr. President, I know your back is killing you..."
Big Norse's head dropped again. What he lost...
Perfect Tommy once sang a chorus of "Me and My Shadow" to tease the two of them. Buckaroo and all the Cavaliers were close, but Buckaroo and Rawhide didn't really need to talk. Rawhide knew whatever Buckaroo might need him to know at any given moment, and was all but prescient in taking care of details Buckaroo might not immediately think of. By the time Buckaroo would say, "Oh, we need to...," Rawhide would nod, "It's done." And if Buckaroo went off on a wild, brilliant tangent, Rawhide would be standing by, a vast reservoir of placid common sense, ready to reel Buckaroo in when necessary.
Peggy had said it years ago, Big Norse remembered. Mrs. J told her that when interviewed about how this unorthodox think tank worked, Peggy Simpson Banzai, blithe as always, answered, "Oh, Buckaroo makes the Institute possible, and Rawhide makes Buckaroo possible."
A variation in static tickled her ear, and she turned her attention to refining the signal. A Greyhound Scenicruiser wasn't the best possible earthstation for ground-to-orbit chitchat, but she did what she could. "World Watching, World Watching, John Bumblebee of Nova Police need speak Buckaroo Banzai," warbled her earpiece. Where did the aliens learn their English, from bootlegged Bob Marley tapes? Buckaroo's new recruit New Jersey, and Reno and Tommy were here, she realized, along with the Professor. She hadn't even noticed.
"Buckaroo, alien troop ship commander..." she started. Who on earth was the guy with the dreadlocks?
In less than two hours, it was over. In the bus, Big Norse started receiving feed from the Lectroid ship that must have been tapped off Whorfin's ship. She could hear Whorfin's cursing and Buckaroo's desperate scramble to pilot the jettisoned thermopod. She ripped off her headphones in pain when the gain jumped wildly with a screech as something blew. What, what? Trying to hear through her deafness, she caught a scrap of conversation between Buckaroo and the dreadlock guy, and was the first to know the earth was going to see another sunrise after all.
"...somebody's personal parachute," Buckaroo was saying.
"John Emdall will be glad," said the Rastafarian's voice. "She does not like to destroy civilizations, even very backward ones."
"You tell John Emdall this globe is just getting started," Buckaroo said. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll walk from here."
Concentrating hard on her headphones, Big Norse practically leaped out of her chair when New Jersey tapped on her shoulder from behind. "Where's the first aid kit?" he sshouted. "Now, now, now!" Behind him, Pinky and one of the Rugsuckers were trundling a very unconscious Penny Priddy up the narrow spiral of the stairs.
Silence from the Lectroid ship. Big Norse notified the White House immediately that it should stand down its defensive posture, that the alien threat was removed. Had they ever really understood what was happening? And she could stand down, too.
"Ed, take com, OK? I'm going downstairs."
It's over and I can relax. The very last thing I want to do, relax. She pulled a 7-Up out of the machine and went downstairs anyway, sitting in the back row of the bus seats, looking at the chrome cowboy without really focussing. Members of both the Apache and Chaparral strike teams came and went, she felt Fred power the bus up and drive it home, and people unloaded themselves in front of the main house. Big Norse knew she didn't have any duties at the moment. Among the duties she didn't have was ever getting out of that chair again.
It might have been hours after the bus got in, or just minutes, when Buckaroo came to sit next to her. Like all the strike force survivors, he was grimy and tired-looking, and grease from his palm blackened her fingers as Buckaroo took her hand.
She spoke first, somehow wanting to cut off what he might say. "I heard about Sally." Mustang Sally wasn't coming back from the raid. Buckaroo nodded understanding, both of the information and the impulse that prompted it.
"He died saving me," Buckaroo said gently.
Big Norse nodded. Of course. You were his main vulnerable point. Could she be bitter?
Big Norse was not given to staring, but now she examined Buckaroo Banzai's face as minutely as a puzzle or an artwork she might never see again. A taut, curving jawline that rose at the angle of an exponential sequence to join neat, shellshaped ears; a mouth like a strung bow. Delicate nose and eyebrows and cheekbones, framed by heavy, slightly curled hair that had inherited an Oriental shade of black from his father. Eyes that were blue like highly polished metal. Blue eyes.
She thought of her first days at the Institute, still less than a year ago, struggling with English and relieved to find in Mustang Sally someone with whom she could communicate in numbers and in Rawhide someone who could talk to her with music. Even then, she had seen that her piano teacher and his boss were in tune with each other all way down to their bone marrow. Aside from everything else, they always just enjoyed being around each other. They could be making music or sparring or debating some aspect of particle physics, it didn't matter. You could see it anytime. To look at Buckaroo Banzai was to look at what Rawhide had loved enough to die for.
Buckaroo looked back, also seeing the face of someone Rawhide loved, or had been coming to love. The years hadn't had a chance to write much on her face; she was a big, fresh-looking girl with long braids and a powerful grey-blue gaze. She'd come to the Institute straight from an accelerated doctoral program; tall enough to look Rawhide almost in the eyes, she had that same matter of fact candor. It wasn't something Rawhide would have spelled out, but he'd found a lot of time for Big Norse.
They stared at each other in this silence for a long minute, each seeking out the image of Rawhide to be found in the other. The young woman's mouth opened, and her expression took on a sparkle of tears.
"I love his eyes," Big Norse said helplessly. Present tense.
"Me too." Buckaroo smiled sadly and pulled Big Norse into an awkward embrace across the armrest of the Scenicruiser seat. He stroked her hair, streaking black into the buttery yellow.
Big Norse reached up to take his hand and pulled away from him. Buckaroo's face, always austere, was now drawn drum-tight with fatigue and sadness. The hand she held felt slack, debilitated.
Big Norse rubbed her fingers across Buckaroo's, then touched his face softly, inadvertently adding a small smudge. What could she offer? A fact.
"You know how much he would have hated it, the other way around," she said. Rawhide never spoke anything but the truth, and it was a good legacy.
His head ached something fierce. His tongue felt like a straw doormat. He was terribly nauseated and he was so weak it seemed like his muscles were just a lumpy rug thrown over his bones for warmth. And something in his back made him feel like a bug on a pin.
Not only that, but when he opened his eyes he found an intense, pop-eyed young man bent over him with a ludicrous expression of concern. And that had been the part that made sense, because the next thing to heave into view strongly resembled the Creature from the Black Lagoon, minus a few dorsal fins. Hallucinating, he told himself, his eyes drifting shut. Something happened... He opened his eyes a fraction again. The pop-eyed man was talking to the Creature, maybe. It sounded like "ooo- ooo." Ears don't work, he thought. There's that "ooo" again. The Creature from the Black Lagoon came toward him. He experienced a sensation of threat, and was jolted by a sudden associated memory-- Buckaroo, look out!
With a terrible effort he jerked upright, trying to shout. But the pain and nausea rose ahead of him and in the next instant he fell back in a dead faint.
New Jersey, ne Sidney Zwibel, whirled around as his patient abruptly groaned and collapsed. He checked quickly, but Rawhide seemed OK. The cowboy was going to be doing a lot of sleeping over the next few weeks, New Jersey deemed. He went back to John Kildare, and repeated once again, slowly, "You--tell--Buckaroo..." How could this guy-- if you could call him a guy?--be so dumb? Was he really the only Black Lectroid who didn't speak English? Was he really a physician at all? Or was he just pulling the leg of a susceptible human medico, making him look foolish by reducing him to babble?
New Jersey had a flash of resolution, fueled by his exasperation. Enough mishegas already. "Never mind," he told the Black Lectroid. He waved his hands nervously. "I'll talk to Buckaroo." The Black Lectroid didn't seem to change his expression, but then how could you tell if he did? She? Were there any female Lectroids? And why were they all called John? It would have to wait.
Agitated, he left the infirmary to look for Buckaroo. He didn't like the uncertainty of the diagnosis he had to deliver, though he was sure Buckaroo would have already reached the same conclusions for himself. Bad enough to treat a case with spinal involvement when you could pretty much tell what the spinal involvement was. Much worse when your only understanding of what might have happened proceeded from the haltingly translated syllables of a surgeon who was not only new to your language but new to your planet.
And much much worse when the patient your colleague called you in on happened to be his best friend, and the two of them happened to be the half-legendary Buckaroo Banzai and Rawhide. But he didn't have any choice.
Responsibility. Choices. The Cavaliers acted as if choices were easy, taking consequences and going on to the next choice. What if you chose wrong? "Forget wrong," Buckaroo told him. "It clouds your thinking. Attend to the choice." What the devil did that mean?
"In the tunnel," Buckaroo had gone on, "you chose." New Jersey shook his head. "I just fired-- reflex." Buckaroo grinned.
"Reflex is nothing but a very fast choice," he said. "Think about it."
New Jersey ran this dialogue through his mind once more as he climbed the stairs, three at a time, to the bunkhouse. Physiologically, of course, Buckaroo had a point -- most actions human beings consider to be reflexive are actually learned reactions, so often proved to be correct that they become nearly -- but never actually -- involuntary stimulus/response. But that shot in the tunnel...
Taking the last three stairs, he sighed, reaching a familiar intellectual impasse. If it was a choice, it was one he hoped he'd be able to make again.
He found Buckaroo noodling with his guitar. The amp made a grouchy sound as Buckaroo's fingers tensed on the strings when New Jersey came in.
"He's surfacing," New Jersey informed him. "He's out right now," the gangly surgeon added hastily, as Buckaroo made to leave. "He tried to sit up and went back under."
Now for the tough part. "I'm pretty sure it was the pain that knocked him back out," New Jersey said. He tangled his fingers together and wove them into a cross-hatch, then pulled them apart to gesture with doubt. "There's absolutely nothing visible, no pressure, no implant. But there's definitely a very high degree of response to any manipulation involving the entire lower body. And there's perceptible residual paralysis."
"Notably the left leg." Buckaroo's tone was flat.
"Yes." Buckaroo had seen it himself, then. Rawhide had climbed pretty steadily out of his coma for the past week. He had begun registering vast pain in Stage Three, and displaying limited responsiveness in the left leg in Stage Five.
"I'm sorry," New Jersey added. "John Kildare says -- I think -- that stinger absorption is consistent with autopsy results on Lectroids who've been killed by these, uh, spiders. Of course, they've never had a survivor so he has no idea -- I think -- whether the effects, uh, whether there might be a better response later on." New Jersey laced his fingers again. "He says there's no reason to hope so, though."
The last part of John Kildare's message, which New Jersey had thought would be the hardest to take, affected his friend perversely: he broke into a grin.
"Then John Kildare is an idiot," said Buckaroo Banzai.
New Jersey called for Buckaroo immediately the next time Rawhide woke up. Late morning light was streaming through the infirmary's windows as the Cavaliers' piano player opened his eyes and flexed his hands.
New Jersey approached him carefully. "How many fingers am I holding up?" he asked the drowsy cowboy. Rawhide frowned. "Do you know what year this is? Do you know where you are?" They were standard questions used to establish the degree of consciousness, and the neurosurgeon was distressed that no immediate response was forthcoming. "Do you know your name?"
Rawhide compressed his lips, then drew a breath, clearly preparatory to speaking. New Jersey leaned closer, in case his voice should prove to be weak.
"Last time I saw you, you were wearing an excessively silly hat," Rawhide drawled. "You look a little better today."
Taken aback, New Jersey laughed nervously, but proceeded with the appropriate routine. "Do you remember what happened?"
It seemed that he did, because astonishment flashed in Rawhide's eyes, but he was distracted from whatever he might have said by the appearance of John Kildare, together with John Parker, who commonly served as his translator. John Kildare gobbled something, and John Parker spoke to Rawhide.
"He says he is pleased you have made so much progress, Mr. Rawhide," came the Nova Policeman's lilting accents.
Two Creatures from the Black Lagoon. "I thought I hallu- cinated y'all," Rawhide managed to say.
"They're Lectroids, Rawhide," New Jersey said hastily. "Dr. John Kildare here helped to treat you." It hadn't occurred to him that Rawhide would be seeing the Lectroids' true forms for the first time; like everyone else at the Institute, New Jersey had grown accustomed to seeing them this way since Professor Hikita's formula had been piped into all the ventilating systems for weeks now.
Rawhide stirred, then flinched. "Lectroids? But Buckaroo said--"
"Those were Red Lectroids," New Jersey hastened to forestall the highly uncomplimentary words that would have followed. "These are Black Lectroids. They helped us take out Yoyodyne and deep six John Whorfin." A moment of extreme self-consciousness assailed New Jersey. Where had he learned to talk like that? He was a doctor, not a commando. Or at least he hadn't been, before Yoyodyne.
"Yoyodyne," Rawhide said urgently. "Buckaroo?"
"He's fine, everybody's fine. Everybody but you and Sam and Mac, and you're going to be fine. The Black Lectroids help us bring you back, all three of you." New Jersey instantly wished he hadn't said back -- would Rawhide ask back from where?
No. Instead, the big man started, "Speakin' of backs--" The Lectroid doctor and his translator headed for the door and New Jersey cut in again.
"You've been out for about three weeks, uh, one way or another," the neurosurgeon said. Now really wasn't the best time to tell the man he'd been clinically dead for eleven days. Nor, probably, to discuss his diagnosis...
Rawhide's eyes reflected his understanding that there was something New Jersey didn't want to talk about. Fine. He knew a neurosurgeon who was neither mealymouthed nor evasive.
"Right here." Buckaroo came in at a pace that indicated hurry, then, seemingly without transition, stopped and was perfectly still. His friend was lying weakly on the white sheets, his bulk looking terribly misplaced on a hospital bed.
Rawhide, seeming to read his friend's mind, smiled with a rueful self-consciousness. Buckaroo nodded casually.
"We need you on the job, pal."
Rawhide smiled again. "Got a little sidetracked," he said.
"I'm docking your pay," Buckaroo warned.
This provoked a laugh that ended a little too abruptly.
"How're you feeling?" The question was intended seriously.
"Trifle below par," Rawhide admitted. Buckaroo took this to mean he was in considerable pain. Rawhide gestured at his IV apparatus. "They've made a junkie of me."
"The needle to the last, eh, Watson?" Buckaroo said.
Rawhide chuckled carefully. New Jersey, feeling awkward in the middle of this exchange, said, "Oh, this is nothing. We had you hooked up like a Christmas tree for a long time -- catheter, trache, nasal..." his voice trailed off. "I think I'll go look in on Sam and Mac," he said. In defiance of his own nervousness, he turned back at the door and met Rawhide's eyes. "Glad to have you back," he said simply, and was surprised at the easy smile he received in return.
Left alone, Rawhide and Buckaroo looked at each other without speaking for a minute.
"For a while there, I thought you'd gotten one dimension ahead of me," Buckaroo said quietly.
Rawhide smiled. "Yeah. Me too." A silence fell.
Rawhide broke it. With typical forthrightness, he said, "Let's talk spinal trauma. What's wrong with my back? Dr. Zwibel and those Lectroids didn't seem to want to talk about it."
"That's because they don't know. I don't either. The Lectroids didn't know it was possible to survive this wound and we humans don't know what the wound is." Buckaroo smiled wryly. "You're an object of considerable medical interest right now, old son."
Rawhide's short grunt amply expressed his feelings about this distinction. "When can I get out of bed?"
Buckaroo spread his hands. "Theoretically anytime. As far as we can tell, the only thing wrong with you is that there's nothing wrong with you and you're hurting anyway."
"I feel fine," said Rawhide. Concealing the effort it took, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up next to the IV tree. And immediately fell, as an irresistible pain shot out from his lower back and his legs buckled under him.
Buckaroo's hands were on him even before his knees could touch the floor, pulling him up and onto the bed again. Rawhide's breath was hissing rapidly between clenched teeth and he was suddenly soaked with sweat.
"Wait until you feel a little finer," Buckaroo said, concern written deep in his face.
"Guess so," said Rawhide. His discontent was palpable.
Word that Rawhide was, or had been, awake and alert spread almost instantaneously. Though the piano player himself remained sunk in deep sleep for the rest of the morning and through lunch, New Jersey found his patient's room changing aspect each time he looked in.
Big Norse sneaked up to the bunkhouse and brought down the photo of Rawhide with his Tuareg friends Rashayd and Mohammed, as well as a pack of cigarettes. Perfect Tommy devised a game of magnetically retrievable darts with a dartboard that Reno promptly adorned with a cartooned arachtoid. (Pecos took down his first sketch, a caricatured Lectroid, as being in poor taste since John Kildare was officially one of Rawhide's attending physicians.)
Mrs. Johnson provided a boom box and some of Rawhide's favorite tapes; Billy rigged a terminal that was mounted immediately over Rawhide's head to be swung down at his convenience, anchored entirely with Superglue to avoid waking Rawhide with the sound of drilling. To complete the instant clutter, Hollywood brought plants from the greenhouse ranging from cacti to her favorite African violet (the Los Angeles variety, "too cool to bloom," that had driven her to distraction for months).
When New Jersey arrived for afternoon rounds in company with John Kildare, John Parker, Dr. Zorba the neurosurgical intern and Catnip the ICU nurse, he found Rawhide completely surrounded by companions who seemed to be trying to catch the half-conscious cowboy up on everything for the Yoyodyne assault to the autoclave breakdown in Bio and the Institute's need to find a new bottled water supply company. As New Jersey tried to enter the crowd, Mrs. Johnson had the floor.
"... you shoulda heard the guy from Sparklets. Remember Lily Tomlin's telephone operator? Like that." Mrs. Johnson launched into a singsong imitation of the outraged water supplier. "We understand that your Institute is, shall we say, an unusual facility, and we have been tolerant of certain irregularities in the past. You may recall that someone returned one of our bottles with a boat in it--"
"Boat?" Perfect Tommy was outraged. "That was a working model of a Trident-class submarine. And I gave it to them. What utter ingratitude. Peons."
Mrs. Johnson resumed her imitation. "...but when it comes to having one of this company's representatives bodily accosted by a person or persons from another planet..."
Buckaroo arrived, brushing past New Jersey, who had raised his arms in a vain attempt to get someone to heed him. Without seeming to push, Buckaroo moved straight through the group of people, got their attention, and dealt with the assembled multitude summarily.
"Out," he said. "No visitors until further notice."
Behind the crowd, Rawhide turned out to be very tired, clearly straining to keep his eyes open and his mouth closed. As his visitors left, Rawhide yawned hugely and faded out.
"Sparklets," he mumbled. "Tell 'em to try Purolator."
"You bet," said Buckaroo. Rawhide didn't hear it.
The medical team left Rawhide's room a few minutes later. New Jersey found it interesting, and annoying, that as the cowboy progressed, the Lectroid doctor's interest in him lessened. It was the pathology of strict survival that interested him, not the patient, New Jersey decided. As the group broke up, he found himself next to Buckaroo.
"He's asleep," said the lanky surgeon. "As simple as that. A nice, deep, sound sleep."
Buckaroo Banzai responded to the wonder and pleasure in his colleague's voice with a smile of almost childlike sweetness. "Maybe even dreaming," he answered, patting New Jersey's shoulder as he headed off.
New Jersey smiled after him, then turned back into the infirmary. He leaned on the frame of the door to Rawhide's room and watched for a few quiet minutes.
The sheets were rising and falling with slow regularity over Rawhide's chest; the face framed by white pillows was relaxed. Maybe the pain's receding, New Jersey thought. So far, Rawhide had refused to admit it was there, but his doctors knew better.
A thoughtful expression came over New Jersey's face. With bewildering speed, Rawhide had ceased to be just someone he'd heard of as Buckaroo's inseparable friend, materializing first as the scowling cowboy of the hospital in El Paso who visibly disapproved of Sid Zwibel's timorousness, then as a disciplined but easygoing team leader when they geared up to deal with Yoyodyne, and then as a dying man, joking a little and still demanding performance from his comrades even as he became aware his wound was fatal. All that had happened within thirty hours or so.
Then came the Yoyodyne strike, two wild hours during which Sidney Zwibel, the brilliant young neurosurgeon from Fort Lee, had shot and killed someone. Not a human someone, it was true, but a sentient being. That shot had saved Buckaroo Banzai's life and changed Sidney Zwibel's forever. Choice? New Jersey turned the thought over in his mind again. Well, it certainly wasn't an accident.
And the next time I saw Rawhide, he was dead, and I made him live. We made him live.
A few Red Lectroids had been abandoned on the ground; now they were the only survivors of Whorfin's gang. Perfect Tommy had immediately commenced field interrogations on site at Yoyo-dyne, using short stints with the Dream Goggles as an incentive. Late on the night of the summer solstice, one of the Lectroids had referred, purely in passing, to the fun of reviving arachtoid victims.
Twenty minutes later, Buckaroo Banzai had awakened Sidney Zwibel with no more explanation that "C'mon, we're busy."
Those first few days, decanting Sam and Mac and Rawhide, they'd invented a thermotactical strategy to reheat and stabilize them, and then had to hope each man would achieve thermal regulation on his own. That had worked.
Then came the concepts the Red Lectroid prisoners supplied, living tissue as electrical fields. As Buckaroo pointed out, this approach was not entirely foreighn to human medicine, and actually fell somewhere between the radical bioelectric theory published by the Karolinska Institute's Nordenstrom in 1983 and the millennia-old Chinese medical principles built around the body's flowing ch'i.
During their forty years in Grover's Mills, John Whorfin's followers had discovered that unlike Lectroids, human beings could be revived after suffering an arachtoid sting. But in reviving their victims, they had been bent on further torture, and had been most interested in neurological systems involved with perceiving and manifesting pain. New Jersey and Buckaroo had labored to adapt the Red Lectroids' techniques along lines suggested by John Kildare and John Eligius to ensure the restoration of the high order cognitive functions: reason, memory, intuition, emotion.
They'd worked out wild adaptations of traditional therapies, had bombarded all three men with music and scents and tastes and sights and touches, using a modified version of Buckaroo's intracranial microphone to deliver these sensory stimuli directly to the brain. All the while, they'd used every tool they had, EEG, CAT, PET, MRI, to try to chart their path. Buckaroo had even prevailed upon Professor Hikita to modify the particle accelerator in the Oscillation Overthruster to continuously generate the radioactive glucose they needed for their most helpful tool, the PET scan. Day by day, they'd relied on the rainbow images produced by positron emission scanning to watch variations in the metabolic function in the three chilled minds, trying to figure out what was happening inside those skulls.
New Jersey smiled. One night, he'd turned around wearily after yet another series of brain scans to remark, "You realize we've done everything but put a foot up on the porches of their ears and yell 'Anybody home?'"
Buckaroo had nodded with the utmost seriousness and concurred, "You're right, we should try that."
And then there had been the wonderful hours when all three men showed clear signs of being in a mere conventional profound coma.
New Jersey laughed to himself. A mere conventional profound coma. And then Rawhide had risen out of it like a skyrocket, passing through the eight comatic stages in a matter of days. New Jersey looked back in at the bulky figure in the bed. Right now, Rawhide was just a big guy who was sound asleep in a sunny room. Maybe even dreaming.
And he'd even found a smile for the same old Sid Zwibel. Who isn't the same, though God only knows what the difference is-- Sid Zwibel to New Jersey? Caterpillar to butterfly? New Jersey laughed at himself. Moth, maybe.
He moved past Rawhide's room to the next door, the room where Sam and MacIlvaine still lay comatose. They were both in intermediate stages, not completely unconscious all the time, but never fully conscious, either.
John Kildare and John Parker came up behind him.
"These patients are not improving as quickly as Mr. Rawhide," John Kildare observed. Or, more accurately, John Parker observed for him, prefaced by the peculiar sound effects that constituted the Lectroid language. "Is there a reason for this?"
"I wish I knew," New Jersey said. He shrugged his thin shoulders. "It could be anything. For one thing, they all got hit so differently. Sam was hit in soft tissue, no CNS lesion-- central nervous system," he enlarged for John Parker, who couldn't handle jargon. "So he doesn't have generalized systemic pain like Rawhide. Mac on the other hand may be quadriplegic." Mac's arachtoid had apparently burned vertically down the bony surfaces of the cervical vertebrae and 'bitten' him near the base of the neck.
"This is the paralysis you described," returned John Kildare. Paralysis of any kind fascinated the Lectroids; it was unknown to their species. If they suffered CNS damage severe enough to produce immobility, it was fatal. "But it is not certain?"
New Jersey shrugged again. "Bupkes is certain." Though as a scientist he understood it, the Lectroid doctor's enthusiastic anticipation of impending paralysis, first in Rawhide, now in Mac, bothered him.
"Bupkes?" echoed John Parker. "Is this a medical word, Dr. New Jersey?"
New Jersey grinned and spread his hands wide. "If you make a nice borscht and the Cossacks come to dinner, bupkes is what's left for you." That was exactly how his Russian-born grandmother had explained it to him.
The next time Rawhide surfaced it was to a background of metallic clattering accompanied by a strange gurgling, like plumbing backed up pretty badly. As he opened his eyes, he noticed the sun had shifted to the west; it was afternoon now.
The gurgling proved to be a conversation between the two Creatures from the Black Lagoon. John Kildare and John Parker, he remembered, pleased that his memory seemed reasonably well focused. One of them wore a white lab coat with 'Dr. Zorba' stitched over the breast pocket. The other one wore a silver lame jacket, hardly standard hospital garb, but on the other hand, this was the Banzai Institute. Both of them seemed to be wearing wet suits under their coats. Rawhide wondered if they had moist skin. Skin? Hides? Pelts? Don't get silly now; whatever this is ain't over yet.
The metallic clattering was coming from a basin that held numerous instruments; John with the white lab coat picked up a probe and started toward him. Rawhide decided to announce his awareness of this fact.
"Afternoon, gentlemen," he said. He was right, the Lectroids hadn't noticed he was awake. John with the lab coat flinched back and the two of them returned to their gargling conversation, accompanied now by considerable finger twitching. Apparently they reached some decision.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Rawhide," said the one in the silver lame jacket. "How are you now?"
"I'm fine, thanks," said Rawhide. "Tell me, John, uh..."
"I am John Parker of the Nova Police." That's a big help, Rawhide thought. But now he knew which was which. "This is Dr. John Kildare, Chief Medical Officer aboard the Nova Police cruiser the John Winterwheat. He and Dr. John Eligius have been assisting Dr. New Jersey and Buckaroo Banzai in your treatment."
"What kind of treatment are we talkin' about?" Something must have happened after he passed out. He remembered getting hit, creeping paralysis, hearing -- damn, this was the same silver lame coat who'd said it -- that there was no antidote.
"Your revival," answered John Parker. All of his inflections rose, not with a questioning sound but with Jamaican emphases that strangely de-stressed his most important words. 'Revival' came out 're-vi-va-al,' distractingly musical.
"Revival from what?"
"Oh, you were cold, they had you very cold. Cry-o-gen-ic." It was a hard word for John Parker, but even harder for Rawhide.
"Are you sayin' I was dead?"
"Oh yes, man." John Parker paused to consult with John Kildare, whose fingers fluttered. "Yes, you were dead, what you call it. Nothing at work in your body."
"Je-e-e-sus." The word came out involuntarily. Collecting himself, Rawhide asked, "How long have I been... out?" John Parker didn't understand. "How long was I in cryo?" Rawhide snapped, then moderated his voice. What would be easiest to understand? "What's the date today, can you tell me that?"
John Parker's fingers slowed down a little. "It is July too now man," was what Rawhide heard at first, then he adjusted for the idiosyncracies of the alien's speech. July second, he means.
Rawhide did some quick mental counting. If he'd been hit on June twelfth... three weeks, right on the nose. Right, New Jersey said something about three weeks. "How much of that time was I dead?" Why am I asking? But he felt a strong need to find out.
The answer was not at all what he expected. John Parker repeated this question to John Kildare, and received what was obviously a long technical answer. What he said to Rawhide was, "It is difficult to say. We cannot understand yet when it is that humans are dead. It is not the same as with Lectroids."
Oddly, the thought that flashed into Rawhide's mind was pure whimsy. That only leaves taxes. So death isn't a universal constant after all. He smiled at the thought, which set John Parker's fingers to trembling. Agitation, that had to be the meaning of the finger movements.
John Kildare came forward now, holding his probe aloft. He emitted a long speech which John Parker attended to carefully.
"Mr. Rawhide, he will take another sample of the cer-e-bral-spi-nal fluid. He will start with examining the entrance wound, please."
Incredulity swept Rawhide. He'd barely regained conscious- ness. His whole body, if he let himself think about it, was one gigantic ache, and this guy expected to do a spinal tap?
"Over my dead body," Rawhide said.
John Parker translated this for John Kildare, again provoking a lengthy statement from the physician. "Dr. John Kildare says it is possible. But, he says, are you certain you wish to go through the cry-o-gen-ic process again, that it is very difficult for the body to endure."
Lectroids-- no sense of humor. Rawhide rubbed a hand over his eyes. He took it literally. "You don't understand," he said, looking directly at the Lectroid doctor. "What I mean is 'no.' I will not permit you to perform a, uh, to take a cerebro-spinal fluid sample right now. Got it?"
John Kildare apparently did understand 'no,' because his fingers had commenced high-speed gyrations even before John Parker started translating.
Rawhide decided to pre-empt any response the alien doctor might make. "If y'all don't mind, I'm kinda tired," he said. "I'd like to get some shut-eye."
John Parker translated. Evidently this was a cross-cultural constant, because the Lectroid doctor set down his probe and walked toward the door. So a cranky patient is a cranky patient all over, Rawhide thought with some contentment. The universe makes sense after all.
"Sleep good sleep, Mr. Rawhide," said John Parker, following his colleague.
"I'll try," Rawhide answered.
Left alone, Rawhide lay awake and watched the Institute's ordinary life out a west-facing window. He saw two Blue Blazes go by on their way in from riding fence, mounted on Lily Marlene and Wishbone. A female cardinal flew among the branches of a maple, and from his third-floor vantage he looked into her nest, saw her feed the barely feathered hatchlings that squeaked and cried for the worm she brought. It occurred to him that Lily Marlene needed a shoe -- or at least she had three weeks ago.
Dead. He rubbed his eyes, closed them, and groped around in the darkness for some impression of it, then opened his eyes and stared into the daylight.
Being dead had never crossed his mind -- other people's not being dead, that was his responsibility. Buckaroo insisted on exposing himself to every kind of harm in the name of accessi-bility, of having an ordinary life, of just being able to play music for people. Perfect Tommy had once remarked, "Death is nature's way of telling you you've made an error." Rawhide didn't see it that way, understood the Secret Service agent who'd cried fully twenty years after Dallas because he hadn't been between the third bullet and John Kennedy.
Well, this time he'd caught the bullet -- an "arachtoid," what the deuce was that? -- and known he was dying and waked up with a nasty flavor on his tongue and a backache. In between...
People died, it happened. It happened to Sluggo and Flyboy and Rocketsox and Peggy. Peggy. And before them, Mohammed and Rashayd, who'd taken him into the deep desert to live the nomadic life of a Bedouin. And before any of them, the gentle hill-country school-teacher from Hebbronville, Texas, who'd given her cowboy son a nickname to last a lifetime and her own abiding love for the piano.
Rawhide closed his eyes again. Three weeks. It almost seemed like there was something, teasing him from the very edge of his memory, out of reach.
Years ago, he'd lived for several months in a flat off Kensington Church Street in London, only a quarter mile from the W.H. Hudson bird sanctuary. One morning he had waked up hearing a pure and poignant birdsong like nothing he'd ever heard before.
He'd described it to a friend, an amateur ornithologist, who couldn't begin to guess what it was. Instead, she told him that she had heard but never managed to see a bittern, and that as time went by she was glad. "It reminds me how much I like a life from which something is missing," she'd said. "Something that I know is amazingly beautiful."
Whatever it was that was tantalizing him at the edge of his memory seemed like that; he seemed to remember it as something fine, even without being able to give it a name or a shape. Not flights of angels, necessarily, but a tune you liked a whole lot even as you were writing it, playing its notes into the world for the first time.
A couple of interns were playing frisbee out on the lawn. Rawhide let his thoughts go and just watched the weightless drift of the plastic disc between the two youngsters, whom he recognized as microbiologists, one from Japan, one French. Thrown inexpertly, the frisbee lofted, hovered, then fell in a sharp arc toward the ground, but was caught before it touched. The next throw was just right and the orange circle seemed to simply float through the air...
Rawhide lay back, still seeing the frisbee glide in mid-sky though his eyes turned away from the window. Long before the disc completed its journey to the Frenchman's waiting hand, Rawhide was asleep.
... and quite possibly the strangest, in which our lives were saved by Perfect Tommy's sinuses.
This untoward event occurred at a biochemical research facility not far from our home base in Holland Township, New Jersey. B. Banzai, intrigued by a report in one of his scholarly journals of scientists who were cultivating a biologically active virus in an atmosphere approximating that of our celestial neighbor, Venus, arranged for an Institute team to visit their lab. The visit was scheduled during Northern New Jersey's halcyon spring, when many species of flowering trees add their gaiety to the riot of man-made colors and shapes which customarily define our landscape. Unfortunately, this glorious display is not without its cost, however, for those individuals to whom the tiny spora of these trees are systemic irritants. Perfect Tommy is one such sufferer, and by the time the team reached the antiseptic interior of our colleagues' lab, his nasal passages had been neutralized.
Unbeknownst to us, agents of the World Crime League had acquainted themselves with our itinerary. Thus, when B. Banzai and the other . . .
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
excerpt from Bastardy Proved A Spur, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1979)
reprinted by permission
The voices of the interns could be heard clearly as they came down the hall.
"I'm telling you, he was that reliever, the knuckleballer who got fined for writing a phony Looney article and sending it in past the editors at SI -- the one--"
"No way, man, no way Rawhide was flaky enough to be any kind of pitcher. Besides, he's a born hitter--"
"Are you kidding? With that height and that extra half-inch of bone in his forearm? He was born for the mound. He's built exactly like Stanhouse..."
"Yeah, and where's Stanhouse? One great year with the O's and then a crummy one and suddenly nobody knows the guy's address. Besides, I think he was that slugger, came up from the minors at like 19, spent a year with the Cubbies -- c'mon, you know, the one who blew out the windows on Waveland Avenue before King Kong got onto the team, drat, what was his name? Yeah, Petoski -- remember, Power Alley Petoski, only spent one year on the team, quit'n went to school or something."
"Petoski? Does Rawhide look Polish to you? You're zoned, man, you're grasping at straws..."
The voices fell silent as the two interns came abreast of Rawhide's door, which was cracked open five or six inches. They knocked.
"Yeah." Rawhide was already grinning as they came in. Reno's partially accurate eulogy, apparently being raptly read by everyone on the place, was producing some pretty entertaining inquiries. This looked like being the most fun yet.
The interns, who ordinarily would not have dared to approach Rawhide with a dumb question, let alone a personal and dumb question, came in shyly. "Uh, we were wondering..."
"Yeah?" Rawhide was still grinning, and this, paradox-ically, made them even uneasier. Rawhide was not exactly famous for grinning without specific provocation, and they wondered what they were in for.
"Did you, uh... did you -- when you played baseball, did you play in the majors?"
Rawhide's grin got a notch broader. "I thought y'all had already pegged me for the famous Polish pitcher who blasted 'em out of Wrigley Field."
The interns shared a mortified glance. "We were just, you know..." Rawhide chuckled. Emboldened, one of them said, "Well, were you?"
Rawhide composed his face into a somewhat more serious expression, rolled an imaginary wad of tobacco in his jaw, and sucked meditatively on his teeth. At the end of this performance, a smile broke through again. "That would be telling," he said.
"Awww..." the suspense had been killing the interns and now they spun half around with frustration. Their quarry chuckled again.
"I'll give you a clue," Rawhide said sympathetically. "I'm not a Hall of Famer." He slurped the imaginary wad of tobacco again. "At least, not yet. 'N I'll give you another clue -- I wasn't a Cy Young pitcher. That help?"
"Aw, man," began one intern, then looked up to realize that no matter how jocular his mood might be, this was still Rawhide, who was not to be carped at unless you happened to be Perfect Tommy. But Rawhide just laughed.
"Yeah, thanks a lot," said the other intern, who was dragging her comrade out by the collar of his "No Lights" T-shirt. Their voices, nothing daunted, could be heard as they left the way they came.
"What about that guy who played first base for the Mud Hens but got moved to left field when he came up-- he was only there for a year, what was his name? He was big and fast and had a great glove, you know, split three bats trying to hit Seaver..."
The putative Warsaw Whammer chuckled as the interns' voices receded. Today the last IV would come out and he would get out of bed. Rawhide stretched luxuriously, systematically clenching and releasing nearly all his muscles. His left leg still refused to answer. He threw the sheet back and gave it a prolonged stare.
There hadn't been time yet for visible atrophy; it just looked like his old regular left leg, nothing the eye could see suggesting either its complete refusal to move or the vague tingle, like an itch or a foot gone to sleep, that he felt there all the time.
He ran his hands down the leg, closing his eyes, running his fingers over the knots and slick areas that marked old breaks and cuts, and the small symmetrical starbursts that memorialized a clean shot through his calf in a skirmish with bravos belonging to the Pasha of the Nine Tails.
What a mess that was -- Hanoi Xan dusting the whole area with mustard gas, heedless of his suffocating minions, a firefight in orange fog with Buckaroo Banzai frantically adapting their Go-Phones and the lining of his jacket into two powered-air-purifying respirators while Rawhide stood over him spraying their last two clips of ammunition at barely glimpsed shapes in the cloud around them. But now he couldn't feel the pressure of his thumbs on the scars; he might as well have been handling a sack of grain.
Rawhide frowned at his leg. It was an expression his strike team would have recognized; they saw it any time they gave less than total effort to whatever Rawhide assigned, whether it was holystoning the Institute's many floors or securing a building held by a sniper from Sabah.
Dropping by before lunch, Reno spotted a thick print-out sitting by Rawhide's bed. The Institute's scribe riffled its edges. "You read this, compadre?" he asked.
Because of the public demand for information, Reno was writing as rapidly as possible about the Jet Car test and ensuing events: Lizardo's escape, the advent of the Black Lectroids and the Yoyodyne strike, and the culminating dogfight between Buckaroo's thermal pod and Whorfin's troop ship in the airspace above Grover's Mills. The sling on his wounded left arm slowed his typing somewhat, but he had nevertheless produced a rough draft in less than three weeks.
Copies of this ms. were already circulating. Billy Travers, anxious to see what would be his first appearance in an Institute chronicle, had bootlegged the text out of Reno's supposedly secure computer. Billy gave a printout to Rawhide, who thus had found himself reading Reno's version of his demise one sunny afternoon.
Rawhide chuckled. "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
Reno grinned. "You want me to take it out?"
"Nah," said Rawhide. "It's nice and private bein' dead." He thought for a minute. "Stuff about my wife, maybe," he said.
No point in getting sued, Reno agreed mentally. Rawhide was too much of a gentleman to say so, but Reno, an expert in such matters, had detected occasional signs that Rawhide's relation-ship with his former wife was not amicable. Aloud he said only, "dicho es hecho," no sooner said than done. Perfect Tommy and Pecos arrived at this juncture to say hey and collect Reno.
"Well howdy," said Rawhide.
"I bring a message from Garcia." Pecos was beaming. "Ghazal dropped her foal this morning. A filly, rose gray, the prettiest thing you ever saw."
"Y-e-a-h," said Rawhide, greatly pleased.
"And you get to name her, bub," Pecos added. Noor al-Barbazan, Rawhide thought instantly. 'Light of the Prodigal Son': homecoming. Ghazal, despite her name, was really Polish-bred, but the sire was from the Royal Jordanian stables, a thank-you gift to Buckaroo.
"Thanks, Pecos," he said. "I'll think on it."
"Hey there, Rip Van Winkle," greeted Perfect Tommy. "Getting your beauty sleep? Doesn't look like it." This was about par for a visit from the youngest Cavalier. His first words upon seeing Rawhide alive -- notwithstanding that he choked up and could barely get them out -- had been "You know, we could have used you at Yoyodyne."
"Unh-huh." Rawhide was unmoved by this flattery. "What else's new around the place? I keep forgettin' to ask: what happened at Penny Priddy's arraignment?"
"Nothing happened at Penny Priddy's arraignment, because Penny Priddy was not arraigned," Perfect Tommy said primly. Reno gave Rawhide a brief synopsis of Penny Priddy's capture and revival, adding that she had recently gone, at Institute expense, to Cody, Wyoming, to learn a little about the birth family she had only just heard of, and the lost twin sister who had been a living ghost in her heart all these years. "I'll bring you the newspapers."
"Yeah. Bring me some work, too, huh? I been doggin' it long enough."
The Cavaliers laughed. Only Rawhide would consider three weeks in a coma to be laziness.
New Jersey and the Lectroids appeared while they were still enjoying the joke. "Ready to get vertical?" New Jersey was full of eagerness. "How are you feeling today?"
"Pretty good," Rawhide allowed.
"Good, good," New Jersey nodded his head. "Let's try it." His attention was so intense that his eyes were open even wider than usual. "You understand I don't want you to try to walk, just stretch your legs down to the floor."
Rawhide hauled himself upright by the strength of his arms and maneuvered his legs over the edge of the bed.
"OK now, hold it right there for a minute," New Jersey held up an admonitory hand. "What you're feeling is the rush of blood back into your legs. It'll be uncomfortable for about one, one and a half minutes."
What Rawhide was actually feeling was the rush of blood back into one leg. The left leg was continuing with its mild tingling, nothing more and nothing less. He didn't say so.
Reno, Pecos, and Perfect Tommy were leaning against the back wall. It occurred to New Jersey belatedly that Rawhide might prefer to make this experiment in private. But wouldn't he say so? Maybe this is just another way these guys all stand by one another.
"Ok, I want you to touch your toes to the floor, no more than that. Let's not put any weight on it yet," New Jersey continued. "You're sure you're not dizzy, off-balance, your vision's clear?"
Rawhide shot New Jersey an impatient glance. The medico was treating him like an old lady.
It all happened at once: Perfect Tommy snickered with amusement at seeing Rawhide treated delicately; New Jersey, exasperated, turned around to throw the three Cavaliers or at least Perfect Tommy out of the room; Rawhide lurched up to a standing position, poised for a second, and tried to move forward at the exact moment New Jersey's attention was diverted. Pecos jumped and New Jersey whirled, but neither of them was in time. Rawhide set his left foot flat on the floor and collapsed like a felled tree.
"Shit, you can't walk!" Perfect Tommy said spontaneously. His face reflected a terrible confusion.
"This is how the paralysis works?" queried John Parker.
"I knew I didn't get something right," Rawhide said good- humoredly, pulling himself up on his good leg. He had never let Perfect Tommy's volatility affect him much. Still, he might have been a little extra tired as he settled his bulk back on the bed, and New Jersey cleared the room instantly.
"I'm going to kill you," Pecos hissed at Perfect Tommy almost before the door to Rawhide's room closed behind them. "You must have perfect vacuum for a heart."
"You and what army?" Tommy snarled. He broke stride, and let his tall frame fall back against a wall. "Rawhide could hit me -- Rawhide took me down once," he said miserably. "Shit!"
"Shit yourself," Pecos said, her voice considerably softened. She gave him a poke that was half-anger, half- sympathy. "He's still Rawhide." She moved to join Reno, who had simply turned his back on his comrade in arms and stalked off.
As Pecos reached him, Reno turned around to face Perfect Tommy. "Malo, Tomas, muy malo," Reno growled. Pecos gave Reno's shoulder a rub, and they walked away.
Perfect Tommy looked after them. There was agony in his expression, but he said nothing. They didn't understand. Whatever it was, they just didn't understand.
New Jersey made sure Rawhide was settled comfortably on the bed and suffering no ill effects from the fall before he left for dinner. He cursed himself every foot of the way to the dining room for having allowed Rawhide to try to walk in front of his friends. I knew they shouldn't be there, he berated himself. I knew it. Why couldn't I have just thrown them out? But he had elected not to, intimidated because his patient and his friends were the Hong Kong Cavaliers.
By the time New Jersey collected his meal, Buckaroo Banzai was polishing off his own light dinner of fugu and bean sprouts, chased with Slivovitz. New Jersey dropped his cheeseburger and fries on the table and sat down opposite his old classmate. He opened a bottle of catsup and poured a small lake of the sauce onto his plate.
This got Buckaroo's attention. New Jersey fidgeted, rolling the bottlecap along the tops of his fingers like a gambler with a silver dollar.
"Nice," Buckaroo approved.
"I think it's time," New Jersey said tersely. "He tried to walk this afternoon."
Buckaroo's shoulders squared slightly. "He has tingling."
"-- but no motion," New Jersey returned. "I think it's ghost pain, like an amputee's." New Jersey's tone moderated as he watched Buckaroo agree with this distressing judgment. "By now, he's working things out for himself."
"Yes," Buckaroo said. A little voice in the back of his mind said no. "Sid, there's something not quite right with this prognosis."
New Jersey wolfed half his cheeseburger. "Buckaroo... what? What?" He gestured with the remains of the burger. "Do you want to run more tests, call in a third opinion, what? If I'm wrong--"
"It isn't that we missed something," Buckaroo murmured. "But it is that there's something we haven't found."
"That's a paradox, and we have a patient." New Jersey folded his arms, then hastily pulled them apart, realizing he'd decorated his lab coat with cheese and catsup. "Anyway, it doesn't change what I'd tell him, because most of what I have to say is 'I don't know.' He needs to hear it, Buckaroo."
"Right after dinner," New Jersey pressed.
Buckaroo sighed. "Okey doke."
New Jersey drummed his long fingers on the table, then philosophically reached for another fry. This deference from Buckaroo had been terrifying at first. Ever since the captured Red Lectroids' first revelations in the course of interrogation that humans could survive arachtoid stings, Buckaroo had pushed his agitated colleague to the forefront on every occasion.
No, not pushed. Buckaroo did nothing more than wait with an air of calm expectation for his pal Sidney to voice a diagnosis, explore an observation, suggest a procedure.
And Sidney Zwibel, hideously nervous and thrillingly self-assured by turns, had filled each one of those silences with his best judgment, often receiving no more than a quiet "I think so, too," in response from Buckaroo Banzai.
New Jersey reached for another fry. Twenty-seven days ago, he'd been lost inside an Eskimo's skull somewhere near the vein of Galen and had to beg his old classmate to come and bail him out. You didn't screw up, he told himself. Because you know for sure if you'd made the tiniest wrong move with Rawhide, he'd have been on your back like a case of hives.
The sun, barely past solstice, was still westering when Buckaroo and New Jersey climbed the stairs to the infirmary. Its rich orange-red light gave Rawhide's room an elegiac feel, which was accented by the piano player's expression. As New Jersey predicted, Rawhide had begun to assess his condition.
"How're you doing, pal?" Buckaroo breezed in, New Jersey on his heels.
"Getting along," Rawhide said. "They pulled my plug, any-how." The IV tubes were out. He picked up the sense of purpose in the two doctors. "Have you come to give me the medicine?"
"Yah," said New Jersey. No use mincing words with this man. Rawhide looked him straight in the eye as he folded his arms, then pulled one hand free to gesture. "Here it comes:
"You are suffering some transient and predictable aftereffects of trauma to the spinal cord; these include the intense pain in the lower back that you're experiencing, as well as possible dizziness, nausea, occasional disorientation. Transient, much more likely than not," New Jersey emphasized.
"OK. The other part is that you're experiencing residual paralysis of unknown etiology in the lower body, primarily or perhaps wholly localized to your left leg. The prognosis for that--" New Jersey broke from his stiff, intense posture.
"The prognosis is also unknown, but there are no current indications of change." He took a deep breath. "That's all of it."
Rawhide's eyes hadn't wavered from his for even an instant, but now they swung to Buckaroo. Buckaroo nodded. "That's my assessment, too," he told his friend.
"This medicine tastes kinda nasty, Buckaroo," Rawhide said. He pulled a smile out of sheer willpower.
Distressed for the pair of them, New Jersey started up again. "You'll be able to ride," he said quickly. "With the brace, you'll have enough control of your legs to ride."
Rawhide stared at him. Dr. Zwibel -- New Jersey -- meant well, certainly. Enough control of your legs-- With the brace, you'll have enough control of your legs...
He'd been 6'4" and bulky by the age of 14 and had had more than twenty years since then to bring his size under control. Unlike many big men, he'd been quick; he'd had the kind of speed that could spot a baseball travelling 90 m.p.h., react to its arc, and put a bat's sweet spot onto it for a trip out of the park. The kind of speed that could beat a throw to second nearly all the time; the kind of speed that dared to steal third.
It was the kind of speed that survived, unarmed, a back-alley attack in MetroManila by three of Xan's bravos wielding sugar-cane scythes. And it had always been enough speed to put Rawhide between Buckaroo Banzai and anything that shouldn't reach him. Like an arachtoid. With the brace, you'll have enough control...
"Any questions?" New Jersey was intent on his reactions.
Rawhide shook his head. "Guess I've heard enough for one evening," he answered.
"Uh-huh. If you want me, I'm around." New Jersey left, hoping Rawhide would be able to talk to Buckaroo.
"So?" said Buckaroo, hoping the same thing. "How are you?"
Rawhide waved a hand. "I'm up to bouillon, and tomorrow, Jello. I'm finer than frog's hair, I reckon."
Buckaroo waited. For Rawhide to show discouragement, or even to feel it, was nothing less than extraordinary.
Rawhide knew it, too. He looked at Buckaroo somewhat apologetically. "Residual paralysis of unknown etiology," he said. "Prognosis also unknown, but no current indications of change." He rubbed a hand over the stubble on his chin. "All it means is, I can't hardly move my left leg and there's no particular reason to expect I ever will."
"Yup." Buckaroo was still waiting. Outright defeatism was not Rawhide's style.
"Also means there's no reason to expect I won't."
"Yup, that's what it means," agreed Buckaroo. "What're you going to do about it?"
"Eat my damn Jello." This was spoken with a tone of deep disgust that broke a laugh out of both men.
"You could punch out a window," Buckaroo suggested reflectively, looking out at the sunset again.
"That one? Seventy-nine ninety-five, if we install it ourselves," said Rawhide. Buckaroo grinned. "Now that chair you're sittin' on only ran to nine dollars, but I don't think I could bust up aluminum tubing." The cowboy paused to consider. "Might be satisfyin' to try," he allowed.
"What about this lamp?" Buckaroo was pointing to the one at Rawhide's bedside. It was white porcelain, vaguely spherical, with a pinkish design of unknown intention adorning its base.
"Thirty-five bucks," said Rawhide.
"It's pretty ugly," Buckaroo commented. "We might do better next time."
Rawhide chuckled. "Beauty of environment, huh?"
"Are you telling me I don't practice what I preach?" Buckaroo sounded hurt.
"Seems more like you're tellin' me I don't practice what you preach," Rawhide returned. "You can case the Salvation Army store from now on, if that's how you feel about it." He grinned.
Buckaroo looked intently at Rawhide. After all these years, it hardly even occurred to him anymore to think in detail about the job Rawhide shouldered as the Institute's chief administra-tor. "Maybe I ought to," he considered.
"Sure thing," Rawhide said easily. "The next time I'm dead."
"OK," said New Jersey. "This is it." He'd a let a day go by before returning to this touchy subject, but even a star patient had to face facts. Inevitably, John Kildare and his faithful translator John Parker had tagged along.
New Jersey's tall form was curled above Rawhide's hospital bed and his long fingers were tangled into a mechanical contraption that Rawhide already knew he didn't want any part of.
"It fits on your leg like so, see," New Jersey wrapped the object around his own long, skinny shank, "and you can adjust the knee either to be fixed straight or to bend while you're sitting." New Jersey's voice wavered as he noticed the storm clouds in Rawhide's eyes. "And it hardly weighs a thing," he ended. "Any questions?"
With their usual literalness, the Lectroids assumed the invitation included them. "So now will Mr. Rawhide run and jump as forever before?" queried John Parker.
Another golden moment in Lectroid bedside manner, fumed New Jersey. What did they do, take some class on how to say exactly the wrong thing? "He'll be entirely mobile," New Jersey said tensely. It was a lie -- a therapeutic stretcher, he soothed his conscience. John Kildare was playing with the brace on New Jersey's leg, snapping the knee guard back and forth.
"What I'll be," said Rawhide in his no-nonsense way, "is lame."
New Jersey straightened to his full height, focusing a fiercely frustrated stare on Rawhide. "Neurologically speaking, you are the luckiest individual I have ever seen. You had 98% of a miracle, and now you've got 99." He waved a hand at Rawhide's newly painless lower back.
"99% is not an acceptable performance in this outfit," Rawhide pointed out.
"Ah!" exclaimed John Parker, with the tone of one who has suddenly seen through a great mystery. "This is why the cry-o-gen-ic procedure is used? If you are not enough dead?"
New Jersey rubbed a hand over his mouth to hide his smile. Rawhide's expression had lost a good deal of its truculence.
"You're not strong enough to get up yet anyway," New Jersey said smoothly. "I'll leave this here." He left the brace propped against the beside table and bent a moderately stern look on his patient. "Try it on."
Buckaroo Banzai materialized in Rawhide's room that evening. "Band practice at ten," he said.
Rawhide wasn't fooled. He picked up the brace. It was aluminum, efficient, funny-looking.
I don't want to wear a damn brace, he told himself. He considered this proposition, and amended it. I don't want to wear a fucking brace.
He held it up. "Look at this, Buckaroo. It's the sort of thing only the Grand Inquisitor could love." He snorted. "The Lectroids think it's funnier than a whoopee cushion."
Buckaroo shrugged. "You don't have to love it or laugh at it. You don't have to think or feel. You have to do. And band practice is at ten."
Rawhide was a much less flexible personality than Buckaroo Banzai, a trait that frequently stood Buckaroo's Institute in good stead. But today it meant that he shook his head at his boss, and made it stick. Buckaroo Banzai crossed his ankles and leaned against the window frame, contemplating human nature.
"There's a pair of cardinals nested in that maple." Rawhide pointed out the window. "Chicks haven't fledged out yet."
Buckaroo was barely able to make out the shape of a nest in the blue of late evening. He ran his fingers over the windowsill and up the frame. When he spoke, his voice was very quiet.
"Rawhide, what do you remember?"
"Not a thing," Rawhide said. "It seems like there might have been something, but it's like a dream you forget right when you wake up." A memory stirred, and he met Buckaroo's eyes. "Didn't see Peggy," he said, and then, reminded, added, "About the penny paradox..."
"Yes?" Buckaroo's voice betrayed him. Rawhide realized how eager his friend had been for this memory to return.
"You could have asked," he admonished Buckaroo, who shrugged a little sheepishly. "I ain't that delicate." He shook his head with amusement, then went on seriously.
"Penny Priddy checks out as a real person, right?" Not even waiting for Buckaroo's nod, Rawhide continued, "but she has unaccountable scraps of Peggy's knowledge, maybe even some of her mannerisms?"
Buckaroo's brows drew together. Penny Priddy had been absent in Wyoming since before Rawhide's recovery. Rawhide had heard her amazing outburst at the press conference, but couldn't have seen that Penny tossed her head with a gesture that had been right for Peggy's shoulder length hair but was wrong for her own New Wave bob, or that Penny had surprised even herself one morning by flicking a finger at Buckaroo's chin in a way that everyone recognized instantly as one of Peggy's casual caresses.
"When I was fadin', I saw her superimposed on Peggy," Rawhide said. "It came to me that she might be both of them. Not how, just the vision of it."
"She has scars on her scalp," Buckaroo told him. "Not plastic surgery. We can't find any implants. Her memories are continuous -- no contact with Hanoi Xan or anyone we can connect with him. She's a hard-luck lass from Laramie, Wyoming." Buckaroo indulged in a rare sigh and looked back out the window. "And then she pops out with a discourse on Hilbert's posers and n-dimensional space."
"Hmmmm." Rawhide was pensive.
Rawhide scratched the back of his neck and was startled at the length of his hair. "I need a haircut," he said.
Buckaroo waited. "But, uh--I was thinkin' about some of Georgiana's stories about twins-- the two brothers who'd been adopted out, never met, both married women named Susan, both became engineers, and the two little girls with a language of their own that they forgot when they grew up, those kind of stories?" Georgiana Albricht of Duke was a parapsychological investigator whose integrity Buckaroo trusted entirely.
"Well, so this Penny Priddy's an unknown twin, with some kind of special pipeline into Peggy, wherever she is, and--" Rawhide shot a quick look at Buckaroo "--and whatever condition she's in."
"Penny Priddy," Buckaroo said softly. "Rawhide, she turned out to have a lot of grit. The Lectroids did everything but vivisect her, and she never told them the Overthruster was right there in her purse."
"Her own grit, or Peggy's?"
Buckaroo sighed again. "Maybe that's a difference that makes no difference?"
"Yeah, and maybe it ain't," said Rawhide. He scratched his scalp, not particularly wanting to say what had to come next.
"What came to me was that one light was growing and the other was fading-- not like a spark jumping flame from house to house, but like water pouring out of one vessel into another. One penny's perspective to the other, y'know? Like the penny paradox never was about fact, but about perception. But you couldn't have either without both. Which would mean Peggy's alive somewhere."
Buckaroo's eyes filled with pain. Thirty months had gone by since he'd thrust that possibility away from the center of his thoughts and gone on with the rest of his life. If Marguerite Simpson had never met me... During how many sleepless nights had he told himself he'd done everything humanly possible, had done what should have been impossible and penetrated the walls of Xan's jungle fortress, hunting for his wife? And there had been no trace of her.
He looked at Rawhide, who read the grief in his eyes and returned grief and concern of his own. Buckaroo rubbed his temples. "We did but greenly..." he said.
in hugger-mugger to inter her, Rawhide finished the off-quote mentally. Peggy Banzai had been buried in the family plot in Texas and her body had disappeared; since then, Institute casualties had gone into cryo in the Institute's safe-keeping -- a circumstance that made his own revival possible.
"You don't blame yourself," Rawhide said. It was advice, but he stated it as a fact.
Buckaroo shook his head and answered with an aphorism. "If something could have happened differently, it did."
"Buckaroo, I think it means she's out there," Rawhide said finally. "And I'll be back in the saddle real soon."
"This time we bring her home," said Buckaroo Banzai, suddenly fierce.
Five a.m. Mrs. Johnson climbed the inner stairs a bit wearily. Her shift was over, and her ears had been worn out by the tinny tintinnabulations emitted from a demo tape submitted by a group of would-be apprentices who called themselves Dog's Breath. It was pretty clear that there wasn't a lick of talent anywhere in the group. On the other hand, the sound engineer had obviously made the best of a very bad situation, and should probably be recruited. Clyde Von Drake-- was that a Blaze name or was the poor devil born with it?
Mrs. Johnson paused on the third floor landing, thinking a short spell with a soft-spoken pianoman might be the perfect antidote to the ringing in her ears.
She knew Rawhide was likely to be awake, though she walked softly down the hallway just in case he wasn't.
On an ordinary morning, Rawhide would be coming down the stairs just as she was going up, headed out for his regular morning exercise throwing around bales of hay to feed the stock down in the stables. It was scutwork that Rawhide never delegated, starting a day in the not-yet-light hours of the morning alone with the pleasant familiar noises and smells of the stable, the horses stirring and coming forward with their ears up, looking for hay and hoping for mash.
Buckaroo, who hardly slept anymore since Peggy's death, occasionally would find his way down to the stables and join Rawhide in his morning chores. The two men would work together in a wordless rhythm for an hour or two, and maybe saddle up and ride out to the East Forty to watch steam roll away from the sloping fields where the Institute grew its hay and oats and corn. The dawn fog clung to the border of the woods where, some mornings, they would see owls making a last few flights before the sun came up and lit and dried the ground.
Turning soundlessly into the hall where Rawhide, Sam and Mac were quartered, Mrs. Johnson almost plowed into a motionless figure topped with a snowfall of peroxided hair. The bassman for the Hong Kong Cavaliers was leaning on the wall opposite Rawhide's door, staring at the wooden expanse as if he might read there the answer to a question that held him in its grip.
Perfect Tommy's right foot checked itself half a millimeter below Mrs. Johnson's jaw.
"Hey, Mr. Low Notes, how ya doin?" said Mrs. Johnson gently. Everyone knew how upset he'd been.
Perfect Tommy held a finger to his lips.
"He's probably awake," she whispered. "It'll shock him out of his socks to see you up at this hour."
Perfect Tommy scowled and shook his head, hard. He's not going in, Mrs. Johnson realized. He isn't being considerate; he doesn't want Rawhide to hear his voice.
"Oh babe, you gotta bop through this," she said sadly. "He's gonna be righteous, you'll see."
Perfect Tommy shook his head again, but slowly. The scowl had been replaced by the same pained incomprehension Mrs. Johnson had glimpsed as she came around the corner.
Mrs. Johnson wrapped both her arms around Perfect Tommy's right arm and nestled her cheekbone very lightly on top of his shoulder. Buckaroo, Rawhide, Reno, Flyboy, and many of the others had brought fully-formed selves to New Brunswick; but Perfect Tommy was like her, and had only truly found an identity in his life at the Institute. It was not an easy process, Mrs. Johnson remembered. Many, many times, Peggy Simpson Banzai had had to coax her out of the mopes when she despaired of ever being a regular person. She recognized traces of that same feeling in Perfect Tommy's expression now.
"Sing on the wing, sweetie," she comforted him. "It's the o-o-only way to fly."
A moment later, Mrs. Johnson was saying quietly, "Hi there, cowboy," and Perfect Tommy had vanished into the stairwell.
... League had acquainted themselves with our itinerary. Thus, when B. Banzai and the other members of his scientific team (which included the biochemist Rawhide, the molecular geneticist Zoo Story, and the homeopathic botanist Hollywood, with myself along as a 'ringer' whose sole concern was to detect any hidden chemical-biological warfare experiment that might be lurking in this research) strapped on the breathing apparatus which would sustain us in the otherworldly air, we in fact supplied ourselves with cylinders charged not with lifegiving oxygen but with slow poison.
It was as we were donning our protective gear that Perfect Tommy announced his decision not to accompany us. More interested in the creation and maintenance of a Venerian atmosphere than in the actual environs of the lab, he elected to remain outside the growth chamber. As he apprised us of this choice, he was leaning on the desk of a research associate at the lab on whose desk was an open copy of Laura Fermi's Atoms in the Family, a doctoral candidate at one of our great universities to whose green eyes, auburn hair, and chiseled features I am doing scant justice by characterizing her as extremely attractive. I remember vividly the short colloquy between himself and Buckaroo:
Perfect Tommy: You kids run along and have a nice time. I'll just stay here and read a good book.
Buckaroo Banzai: Just don't dog-ear the
[eyeing the researcher] pages.
Perfect Tommy flushed crimson, and the researcher's giggles rang unpleasantly in his ears, but before he could frame a retort, we had masked up and entered the chamber where our lives were so nearly to end. We were sixty feet from the entrance before the poison . . .
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
excerpt from Bastardy Proved A Spur, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1979)
reprinted by permission
Breakfast on a rainy Friday. Reno and Pecos were talking about life aboard the Calypso, Perfect Tommy was basking in the adulation of five or six visiting Blue Blazes who had come to help with the ongoing Yoyodyne cleanup, Zoo Story had brought a slimy-looking petri dish to the table with her and was showing it off to the Seminole Kid and Pinky Carruthers with all the beaming pride of a new mother, and there was a general hum of morning conversation as the Institute's residents, interns, and Blazes all floated informally in and out of the dining room. Buckaroo Banzai was sitting at one corner of the long table, deep in thought. He had been the first into the room, and was carefully being left undisturbed.
Zoo Story picked up her petri dish and carried it over to Pecos and Reno, waving it almost under their noses. Pecos recoiled, then, as Zoo Story began to explain what was in it, leaned forward with fascination. Big Norse joined the group, and almost dipped her long hair into the culture as she looked. Reno drifted over to hear Perfect Tommy finish telling about Yoyodyne for the twentieth or maybe twenty-fifth time, thinking he might pick up a new detail or two for the book, which was going to be called either Adventures Across the Eighth Dimension or Buckaroo Banzai and the Invaders from Planet Ten.
"Of course!" Buckaroo Banzai sat bolt upright and slammed a hand onto the table. "If it was a snake---"
Suddenly aware of his surroundings, Buckaroo looked around to find the entire room silenced and all eyes fixed on him. His old friends looked at him with raised eyebrows and smiles, waiting for the familiar phrase to end.
Buckaroo smiled back. "--it would have bit me and been in the next zipcode by now," he said with immense cheerfulness. "Where's New Jersey?"
"Anywhere this side of the Hudson," Perfect Tommy said facetiously, but was drowned out by the real answer.
"Morning rounds," said Zoo Story, whose Recombinant labs abutted on the infirmary.
"Sid, Rawhide will recover full use of his leg," Buckaroo was saying five minutes later. "It's inevitable."
New Jersey frowned deeply. "What have I missed? The current level of voluntary motor--"
"--has nothing to do with why Rawhide will recover," said Buckaroo Banzai. "The recovery will be complete because it is in the nature of Rawhide for that to happen."
Sid's frown became a full-fledged scowl.
Observing it, Buckaroo exhaled and recruited his own patience. "You were present at the press conference where I explained the nature of the fifth force, the non-sentient consciousness of all that exists. And I-- and Penny Priddy--made it clear that that consciousness is characterized by making itself known; it is neither active nor passive, but becomes apparent. What we must do is look in the right way."
New Jersey was rubbing his forehead as if weary.
"Look at Rawhide's healing curve. He climbed out of the coma in a week flat. Where have you ever seen a case like that?"
On his mettle, New Jersey had an answer. "Head wound. Garden State Parkway, 1983. Severe trauma, all quadrants. Patient became fully conscious within six days and recovered full motor function as fast as the fractures knit."
Buckaroo was unperturbed. "Why?"
New Jersey's shoulders sagged. "No one knows," he admitted. With a rueful smile, he added, "We pulled out an antiquated bit of jargon to describe it: we called it a miracle."
Buckaroo smiled. "I know. It was in that person's nature; it was an element of the non-sentient consciousness immanent in that person."
"The way you put it, it sounds like something in between the immortal soul and voodoo. What it doesn't sound like," New Jersey said a little reluctantly, "is good science, the kind that you can verify empirically."
"I verified this theory at Mach 2," Buckaroo said coolly. "I did it by passing through a space where a mountain both was and wasn't." In another man, the statement would have been arrogant, defensive, but Buckaroo Banzai was merely stating a fact.
"Do you get it, Sid?" Buckaroo's eyes were gleaming. "The injury was not a neurological injury. It just looks like one --the way the space a mountain occupies looks like the mountain. The injury was an injury to the capacity of ch'i to express itself -- to be perceived -- and it will heal."
"Do you realize what you're saying?" New Jersey was getting excited. "Is there some way to affect the course of any illness, any wound? Does the nature of this consciousness vary from individual to individual? Is it affected by character, or vice-versa, or is it independent?"
"Beats me," said Buckaroo. New Jersey blinked with startlement, marvelling, as he had since their very first weeks together in medical school, at the man's unconcern in the face of the unknown. Somehow, Buckaroo Banzai was always sure he'd find out.
Buckaroo was continuing. "This is hindsight. I'm looking backward and saying, this where we've been. This consciousness is an entity, not an attribute. It can be manipulated, but we don't know how. Yet."
New Jersey's doubt returned and took full possession. He shook his head. "It could be luck, just luck."
Buckaroo also shook his head. "The more I live, the less able I am to believe in such a thing as luck."
New Jersey pondered. "So you're suggesting that we tell Rawhide that his prognosis is full recovery."
"It seems to be indicated."
New Jersey balked. "Seems to you. 'Primum non nocere,'" he quoted, screwing up his face. "Buckaroo, I not only hate to disagree with you, I hesitate to, because, well, you know." He spread his hands, palms up. "But this is a patient who's already having trouble dealing with limits. First, do no harm, the oldest ethic of all. False hope," he shook his head, "to me that's harm, unless there's a strong indication that it's needed."
Sid drew a breath. "I find your theory fascinating, but I consider a positive prognosis to be contra-indicated." I can't believe I'm doing this, he thought. Me, calling Buckaroo wrong?
Buckaroo tucked his hands into his pockets. "He's your patient," he said gently. "Are you ordering me not to give him my reading of the facts?"
It was a perfectly proper question from a subordinate colleague to an attending physician, and one that New Jersey found uniquely appalling. "No, no, no," he burst out. He waved his hands. "I don't doubt for a second that he'll believe you. But I don't see it that way. So we'll give him both versions."
"The medical version and the voodoo version."
New Jersey stiffened. "Good God, Buckaroo, you don't think that I--"
Buckaroo let it show that he was teasing. "No, I don't. It's good that you're sticking to your guns. Even though," he added with sublime assurance, "you're wrong."
"Truth is," Rawhide said, "I never did see myself with this thing on. No way, no how. Like I know that's not my future."
"Well, that's what the cards look like," Buckaroo agreed. "Aces up, ace in the hole."
New Jersey folded his arms determinedly. "You do understand -- how do I say this? Not that I don't agree with Buckaroo, but that I can't. This isn't medicine talking, not yet anyway, but intuition. Theory."
Rawhide favored New Jersey with a thin smile. "Columbus sailed his theory all the way to Isla San Salvador," he said courteously. "'N Neil Armstrong rode Robert Goddard's theory to the moon. I believe this one'll get me as far as the door."
Irked, New Jersey gestured at the brace. "In the interim, that will get you out the door right now."
"He's right, pal," said Buckaroo.
This was about as much pressure as Buckaroo Banzai ever applied to Rawhide, but the cowboy shook his head. "Truly, Buckaroo, I don't see it," he said. He gave a short laugh, prompted by his conscience to a slightly fuller exposition of the truth. "Can't say that I want to see it, either."
"so far, 2,164 TV's, most of them tuned to MTV, about six tons of Cheetos and Twinkies, a whole bookcase of horoscopes for Scorpio going back to the late 'Thirties..."
"... this project the inorganic folks are working on, Zoo? Some kind of custard that you can 1) eat for dessert, 2) use for cast concrete, or 3)..."
New Jersey threaded his way through the tables, headed for his colleague. He walked slowly, though, still new enough to enjoy the fragments of other conversations.
"... looked like a boat and handled like a bathtub, but God, how I loved that old baby. Super Eighty-eight, 1961, two-tone, sweetest music under the hood you ever..."
"no, no, there's authorized, allocated, appropriated, obligated, ..."
"...yeah, but can you dance to it?"
"decelerates sixty feet per second per second faster than she did in Texas." This was Perfect Tommy, explaining to Buckaroo the improved retro's he'd gone to work on while they still on the plane home from El Paso. For a tense second during the Jet Car test, it had looked like Buckaroo was going to have made it out of the Eighth Dimension only to end up squashed like a bug against the next mountain over.
New Jersey swung his leg over the back of a chair and settled in with Perfect Tommy's group, which included the Argentine, Pinky Carruthers, most of the engineering staff, Buckaroo, and the rarely-sighted Professor Hikita.
Perfect Tommy had turned pensive. "I'd like to roadtest this system," he said. "Sure wish Sam was healthy."
That's it? The guy's upstairs in a coma, and it's some terrible inconvenience? Perfect Tommy had a reputation for callousness, but this caught New Jersey, inured as he was to medical detachment, by surprise.
Perfect Tommy picked up some of the doctor's expression from the corner of his eye. He believed firmly that the best defense at all times was a fast retreat through your enemy's forward positions.
"Jeez, New Jersey, you want a little French fry with your catsup?"
New Jersey's public image around the Institute was changing over from the guy who dressed like a Lectroid cowboy to the guy who validated the theory that you are what you eat: he was built like a string bean and wore red shirts because he subsisted almost entirely on what Mrs. J called pommes frites a la sauce sanguinaire. Small potato-colored patches were visible inside the red glob New Jersey was just popping into his mouth. Professor Hikita was watching him with an expression closely approximating horror.
"Ahh..." New Jersey was caught short.
"The French fry, thoroughly immersed in catsup," opined Pinky Carruthers unexpectedly, "is a truly advanced dietary item. It is healthy, providing elements of most major food groups; it is physically appealing, consisting --if you will note, Perfect Tommy -- of our team colors, red and yellow; it is ecologically sound, since it leaves no petroleum-based container to dwindle out its half-life for the next several millennia; and, perhaps nicest of all, it is tidy, since it leaves not fork nor spoon nor knife to wash."
Sidney Zwibel didn't know whether to smile or gape in stupefaction as he listened to this oration. Nothing in this place is ever serious, he thought. And nothing in this place is ever not serious.
Doctoring: this, I know how to do. And singing: these are notes, this is the pitch. But do I know how run around a genius farm with a bunch of funny maniacs who are inventing the future, and oh, incidentally, pick up your Uzi, we're going on a raid?
Buckaroo Banzai watched New Jersey's introspection with some amusement. It had never been hard to read Sid's thoughts and now the man's small changes of expression might as well have been semaphores. Sid had come a long way very fast, Buckaroo reflected. It had been hard to stand back from treating Rawhide -- but that, of course, was the one absolutely critical contribution New Jersey had needed from him to cement his newfound confidence.
He'd known Sid was going to make the grade, Buckaroo mused, during their third day of the process Sid had dubbed "creative thermotaxis," the frantic efforts to revive their three cryogenically preserved comrades. That afternoon, the two neurosurgeons had suffered a setback that would have paralyzed Sid's judgment only a week earlier. New Jersey had turned around and simply said, "I'm telling you, Buckaroo, I think we should shove them in the microwave at 'Defrost' for five minutes and get it over with."
New Jersey guessed the train of Buckaroo's thoughts, and grinned. "You know, every day when I come down to breakfast, I keep waiting for someone to say, 'OK, we're onto you. Go home, you don't belong here.' And it never happens." He swished another fry around in the pool of catsup.
Buckaroo laughed. "You're looking good so far, pal. But belonging here is a choice that's truly up to you."
That word again. "How do I make that choice?" To truly belong among these brave, brilliant, free and easy comrades was something Sid Zwibel wanted more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life.
Buckaroo seemed to look right into his heart, but his answer was a stray bullet. "Do you remember the Beatles' movie Help!?"
New Jersey's face crunched up with puzzlement. "Sure; so what? What about it? Buckaroo, I was serious."
"Remember the scientist who gets his hands on the 'extract of certain rare orchids grown only in the Himalayas?' He holds up the little vial and says to his assistant, 'Do you know what this is, Algernon? Nobel Prize juice!'"
Buckaroo's eyes drilled into New Jersey's. "You were very, very smart, Sid, but you wanted that Nobel Prize juice. And the trick is to want nothing."
Sid ate the fry and licked off his fingertips.
"And then one morning you may find Nobel Prize juice in your coffee, or your shaving cream."
Perfect Tommy broke in on their colloquy. "Is that what's in the coffee? I knew there must be some excuse for it."
Within a week, Rawhide was spending most of his time out of bed. He converted the empty bed in the other half of the room into a makeshift office, and began catching up on the Institute's bills, contracts, patent and trademark licenses, procurement, apprenticeship applications, grant reviews, publications, reprint requests, and booking requests for the band.
There was also a great deal of new business relating to the recent Yoyodyne strike, though Reno and Mrs. Johnson had, during his incapacitation, taken over much of that work. Shuffling through the papers, Rawhide tried to think of a government agency that wasn't among the vultures picking over Yoyodyne's bones: the GAO wanted an inventory, the Smithsonian wanted any number of artifacts ranging from Lectroid Dream Goggles to the escape pod Buckaroo had used to zap Lord Whorfin, various branches of the military wanted the Red Lectroids' torture chamber, and the EPA wanted, what else, an environmental impact statement detailing the effects on North Texas of Buckaroo's trip through the Eighth Dimension.
Effects on North Texas, mused Rawhide, a hill country native. Improve the place, can't help but. He sorted another thirty pages of Federal forms. The IRS, thought Rawhide. I don't see anything here from them. Wonder how they missed it?
He was wearing his own clothes and could swing around the room quite easily without any help from his left leg. He looked altogether like the old Rawhide, even had his hat parked near the door where he could grab it on his way out. But he didn't go out. That would have mean crutches or a brace, and he refused both flatly.
He punched up the local papers on the terminal Billy had rigged for him, and scanned the classifieds, a daily habit that had produced many bargains over the past decade.
"Whoa!" he said out loud a minute later. He coded for a hard copy of the ad he'd just seen, reached for the phone and started dialing even before the printer could deliver it. "I want to talk to the agent handling the Thompson Chemical property in New Brunswick," he said into the phone. "Yeah, I'll hold."
Tucking the phone between shoulder and chin, Rawhide summoned the Institute's financial records. Buckaroo Banzai and The Hong Kong Cavaliers had piled up a good bit of cash the previous year, touring to promote the new album that had brought them three Grammys that spring. Rawhide had just found a use for it.
"Ms. Diaz? Morning. This's Rawhide, from the Banzai Institute here in... uh, thanks, that's real kind of you. Reason I'm callin', I saw this notice that the old Thompson Chemical plant has gone on the market... Yeah, we're right next door. What kind of shape is the lab in over there?" He listened. "That place runs about three hundred acres, doesn't it? Uh-huh. What're they askin'?"
Rawhide chuckled. "Well, they can ask it... Sure, I'll give the place a look-see, but I wouldn't pay that for the Taj Mahal. Uh, yeah, I'll be right d--"
Rawhide's sentence cut off. Unthinkingly, he had risen on his right leg and twisted for the door. Now he stopped. He looked at his hat on its peg, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
"Yeah, I'm here," he said into the phone. "Uh, Ms. Diaz, I'm gonna send someone over to pick up a prospectus on
the plant, 'n I'll want a complete schematic on the pipes and electrical facilities... yeah. Nah, I'll come look at it in a day or two... Right." He hung up, and sat down again. "Right," he repeated to the cradled phone.
Perfect Tommy lounged at his ease in the Common Room, picking idly at his bass and staring abstractedly at his boots. They'd come from San Antonio, Texas, made by a fifth-generation descendant of one of the heroes of the Alamo who was also the best living bootmaker anywhere. Jimmy Lucchese, the bootmaker, had a three year waiting list, but Perfect Tommy had been fitted for a pair within weeks of his first expression of interest because Rawhide had called the old man and asked it as a favor.
Perfect Tommy had not seen Rawhide since the cowboy's ill-fated effort to walk. Restlessly, he played a string of gloomy D's and E's and tapped the toes of the boots against each other.
On a nearby sofa, Pinky Carruthers sighed and slid a fraction lower into his already exceedingly relaxed slouch on the sofa. "It doesn't work unless you say, 'There's no place like home; there's no place like home,'" he said.
Perfect Tommy scowled. "Is that one of the unknown facts?" he snapped.
"Maybe," Pinky said languorously. His wonted beret was tipping forward over one eye.
Pinky's serenity acted on Perfect Tommy's nerves as an irritant.
"It's not possible to know an unknown fact," he asserted with the icy assurance of an empiricist.
"Yeah," agreed Billy Travers from his usual place at the computer station. After Buckaroo, Perfect Tommy was his greatest hero. Billy brought an additional refinement to Perfect Tommy's philosophical materialism: unconditional disinterest in any datum incapable of reduction to binary expression.
Pinky regarded the pair steadily. It really was incomprehensible that so talented a guitarist and warrior as Tommy could be so inflexible a thinker. But since that was how the gods had arranged the young man's molecules, it would be folly to interfere. And young Billy Travers -- well, the lad had very few years under his beret and should not be judged too harshly.
But then again, no one should be judged, ever, at any time, Pinky reminded himself. A moment later, he pursed his lips and added a rider to this train of thought: unless that individual happened to be Hanoi Xan, Lord of the Deathless Legion and Light of the Poisonous Sun.
"Okay," Pinky said equably.
"Then there are no 47,000 Unknown Facts!" Perfect Tommy crowed.
Pinky opened his eyes wider. "Of course there are," he assured his bandmate.
"But you just said--" Tommy snarled.
"--that it's not possible to know such a fact," Pinky finished. "I don't agree, but I'm willing to allow the proposition because it is immaterial to the fact that I actually know these facts whether or not it is possible for me to know them."
"Bad grammar and worse logic," Tommy said despairingly. "It's like sparring with smoke."
"Perfectly correct grammar," said Buckaroo Banzai, who had, as always, entered unheard. "And that misty paradoxical quality is a hallmark of all true zen-roshi." "Thank you, sensei," murmured Pinky, warmed by the endorsement from one whom he considered to be exactly such a master.
"What we need around here is a little common sense," Perfect Tommy grated.
Pinky looked at him with complete comprehension. "Our common sense is in the infirmary," he said. "He might like to be visited."
Perfect Tommy flushed and rose with the guitar clenched in his fist like a club.
As if he hadn't noticed this exchange, Buckaroo went on to the next thing. "You look at these?" He was waving a fistful of Jet Car telemetry in Perfect Tommy's direction.
Perfect Tommy, easily distracted at any hour into thinking about his beloved Jet Car, brightened. "Nothing to get excited about; not valve flutter," he said. "Maybe a rebore, ream it out a little." He parked the bass and trailed Buckaroo out of the Common Room, only the forceful cracks of his bootheels on the floor giving any sign of the violence that had raged in his heart a moment earlier.
Billy Travers chewed on his pencil for a minute, obviously impressed by Buckaroo's words. He sat down next to Pinky, who appeared to have slid into sleep.
"Could you tell me one of the unknown facts?" he asked, almost shyly.
. . . where our lives were so nearly to end. We were sixty feet from the entrance before the poison began to take effect; cleverly, Xan's agents had chosen a heavy gas which we did not begin to inhale until we were several inches down in our air reservoirs.
Only the phenomenal ears of Perfect Tommy, who detects every stray hemidemisemiquaver in the bearlike growling of Jet Car's rocket, could have detected the message that meant our salvation. Chatting up the young researcher, Perfect Tommy nevertheless heard the faint S-O-S that B. Banzai tapped out on the metal of his air tank in his last moments of consciousness. The stuffy sinuses that had so plagued Tommy earlier now proved a boon, for they helped prevent any absorption of the deadly atmosphere into which he now heedlessly flung himself.
Only B. Banzai even dimly remembers how Perfect Tommy dragged us back to the door, and labored to stimulate our dormant respiratory systems until we were able to breathe independently.
Perfect Tommy asserts to this day that this incident vindicates his claim to perfection, since only impeccable -- indeed, even, clairvoyant -- sinuses would have chosen that particular morning to occlude his nasal passages. We greeted this averment . . .
excerpt from Bastardy Proved A Spur, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1979)
reprinted by permission
Stopped at the Institute's entrance, the big Texan in the red Ford pickup repeated a phrase from the wire he'd received, with the result that Buckaroo Banzai got a Go-Phone call in the lab directly from the gate. "A guy out here just used the penguin code," said Pinky Carruthers. "This guy looks a lot like someone we know."
"I'll be right there," said Buckaroo.
Notifying Rawhide's next of kin was no easy task; only Buckaroo knew who they were and he had declined, even in the aftermath of what he had believed to be Rawhide's death, to share that information with anyone. There were brothers, but how many, and where...
Buckaroo knew that Rawhide's oldest living brother had had a steady address in Huntsville, Texas, in the wake of a few unauthorized borrowings of automobiles from the people who were actually paying for them. It turned out, however, that this worthy had been paroled and was working as a pickup musician wherever he could all over West Texas. Because discretion kept Buckaroo from using the Blue Blaze Irregular network, it took four weeks for Buckaroo's telegram to find this man, and by the time he arrived in New Brunswick, Rawhide was not only not dead, but hale.
True to Pinky's suggestion, Rawhide's brother did indeed resemble him strongly, hair a little lighter, build a little heavier, and signs of dissipation that were missing from his sibling notwithstanding. Buckaroo rode back to the house in the pickup and filled in its owner as they drove. The sight of a man resembling Rawhide walking in company with Buckaroo drew many curious glances as the two went up to the infirmary and into Rawhide's room.
I should have warned him, Buckaroo thought, seeing the blend of pleasure and wariness that came over his best friend when his brother entered the room. Buckaroo started to leave but glances from both men asked him to stay.
The two brothers studied each other. Finally, Rawhide spoke. "Well, I ain't dead, so you can go now."
The other man laughed. "Shit, 'n I thought I was inheritin' all your worldly goddamn goods."
Now Rawhide laughed; as his brother well knew, Rawhide never owned anything worth mentioning. "Tell you what I don't have," Rawhide said, "and that's wheels."
His brother laughed harder. "Damn, but you're mean," he said appreciatively. "But I gotta Ford truck now'll eat any dustsuckin' coupe for breakfast. All mine," his brother savored. "Had a six-month steady gig."
Rawhide smiled, not the tight grin of their combative joking, but something friendly. "That's nice." He meant it.
His brother couldn't let go. "Playin' drums," he said. "Only damn thing you left me." He looked at Buckaroo. "By the time he was twelve, this boy played nearly ever' instrument you can think of, including the shiteating zydeco. But he didn't like the drums-- never did understand why."
"Not enough notes," Rawhide said straightfaced. Buckaroo heard disappointment in his voice.
Maybe his brother heard it too, because he shifted tone abruptly. "Jay-jay's lookin' after the place. She and the Weasel were pretty broken up when I called."
Rawhide's niece and another brother, Buckaroo remembered. The ranch used to belong to Rawhide's uncle, now belonged to all the brothers; the niece was the child of the brother who'd died in Vietnam, and was Rawhide's favorite relative. Buckaroo and Rawhide had spent the summer on that ranch eleven years ago.
"I'll call 'em," Rawhide said.
"How you doin', anyhow? What the fuck happened? All I can tell from the electric TV is that Buckaroo here and two kinds of aliens had some kind of shootout with all y'all in the middle."
"That's about it," Rawhide said. "I missed most of it, myself."
"What hit you?"
Rawhide smiled. "They're still thinkin' about what to call it. But I'm OK now."
"Yeah, you're lookin' good." It occurred to Buckaroo that Rawhide, sitting at his makeshift desk, had yet to make any movement that would reveal his physical limitations. Even as this thought struck him, Rawhide leaned back in his chair and casually crossed his right leg over his left, with no suggestion in his manner that it was completely impossible for him to cross the left leg over the right.
Rawhide's brother was shifting feet as if a little nervous, and he shot a look at the door. "Well, since I don't gotta cart home your saddle..."
"Whyn't you stay? 'S plenty of room," offered Rawhide.
"Nah, nah, I'll be goin'. Gotta three-nighter in San Antone, better get back. But, uh, take it easy, you hear?" The man's voice, all but identical to Rawhide's, had a sudden conviction in it that raised Rawhide's warmest grin. He stood up without a trace of weakness. Appearing to bear weight on both legs, Rawhide held out a hand as if for a shake; his brother stepped closer and the two men shared a short, back-slapping embrace. They shook hands, too, as they pulled apart.
"You take care," the drummer said.
"You too," Rawhide answered.
"Fuckin' A, brother. 'S about the only damn thing I do know how to do." The grin that came with this assertion was both cocky and abashed. "Whyn't you come home sometime?"
Rawhide smiled in a way that plainly said I am home. "Do good in San Antone," he nodded.
His brother nodded back. "See ya 'round."
"I'll walk you out," Buckaroo said. Rawhide's brother was silent on the walk to his truck, and for most of the way to the gate. As they pulled up and Buckaroo made to get out of the pickup, its driver abruptly said, "You know, that sumbitch is stronger than horse piss."
As Buckaroo looked back, startled and amused, the man grinned and said, "If he wasn't my brother, I'd love him like one, but as it is I cain't stand more'n five minutes of him. He makes me feel like there's some goddamn geometry homework somewhere I need to finish."
The man noticed Buckaroo's expression and laughed. "I bet you always did your homework, didn't you? But you and me got this much in common: if our ass seriously needed savin', he'd show up and do it. But then he'd kick my ass for puttin' him to the trouble. I don't suppose he'd do that to you."
Buckaroo thought of the number of times and ways Rawhide had protected his life. The complex mixture of responses on his face resolved into a smile. "No, I don't suppose so."
Rawhide's brother scowled. "Well, it's a fuckin' pain to have a brother like that." The scowl turned hostile. "I gotta go."
"Right." Buckaroo hopped out of the truck and closed the door. "Have a good trip." The intern on duty opened the gate.
Suddenly the man was smiling again. "Don't plan on no other kind," he said smoothly, dropped the clutch and shot out the gate.
Back in his room, Rawhide was at work on Institute bills when Buckaroo returned. Rawhide looked over his shoulder and asked "You see him off?" rhetorically.
Buckaroo leaned on Rawhide's bed. "I liked your FDR imitation," he said.
Rawhide put his pen down and swiveled the chair around to face his friend.
"You noticed that, huh?" Rawhide didn't volunteer anything more, and that looked like the end of it. Buckaroo had been an only child, but it wasn't hard to guess that Rawhide's deliberate concealment of his weakness had its roots somewhere in the past. Especially not given that crack about drums, which reminded him--
"You never told me you play zydeco."
Rawhide smiled. "Nobody who plays it'll tell you I do."
"As bad as that?"
"Worse," Rawhide grinned. A pause followed, but Rawhide never ducked an issue, even one that had been tactfully dropped.
"Look, Buckaroo, if you say my leg's gonna be fine, then it's gonna be fine. I can wait."
"The fact that you'll walk better in the future is not a good reason not to walk as well as you can now."
Rawhide showed traces of anger. "Look around, Buckaroo. Around the whole place. You see anyone hobbling along? You see anyone in a leg brace?"
Buckaroo frowned. "There is no one who is not here because he or she wears a leg brace." That went without saying -- why was he having to say it to Rawhide, of all people?
"Well then it's a curious coincidence, but this outfit doesn't currently include any gimps."
Buckaroo looked at his friend as if from a distance. "You're right, I don't have any use for a gimp," he said curtly. "What I could use is Rawhide. You happen to be the only person on earth with the capacity to be Rawhide, so I suggest that you get up and do that."
"You sound like Christ callin' up Lazarus." There was a bitter edge to Rawhide's voice. "Nothin' in the Bible says Lazarus limped."
Incredulity was plain on Buckaroo Banzai's face. "Have we met?" he said.
The joke worked. The bitterness vanished into Rawhide's usual stoicism, and the cowboy sighed. He looked up at Buckaroo and said candidly, "Tommy just about went out the window at the sight of me. I don't blame him. I'm about as agile as a cow in a cage right now." He scratched his head. "Truth is, I don't know how to be crippled up, and if waiting a few days will save me havin' to learn, I'll wait."
Buckaroo shook his head. "There's only one way that can happen, pal, and that's if you cripple yourself. Remember what Peggy said about Stephen?"
Rawhide's jaw had set mulishly, but now it loosened. "Yeah," he said.
A decade ago, Buckaroo had taken Peggy, then in her final year at Cambridge, to meet his friend and her idol Stephen Hawking. They had discussed Hawking's theory that the present laws of physics had been inapplicable -- indeed, would have been unworkable anomalies -- in the minutes immediately following the Big Bang. It was a theory that Buckaroo and Professor Hikita had later given practical application with Buckaroo's trip through the Eighth Dimension.
That summer, Peggy had rhapsodized about the meeting over a communal breakfast at the Institute. She made no mention of Hawking's physical infirmity, a muscular degeneration so severe that even his voice was twisted by it.
"Isn't he disabled?" someone had asked.
Peggy shook her head in the negative. "Before him, we're all disabled," she answered. A smile lit her face as she turned to Buckaroo and tweaked his shoulder. "Even you, my love, are a bit weak in the ankles."
The memory made both men smile. Nevertheless, Rawhide looked steadily at his friend and boss, and said with some finality, "Buckaroo, I'm not doin' my job if everybody I get near drops what they're working on to get me a pillow or find me a chair or pour my water... and that's what's happening so far. I'd rather give it a day or two."
Buckaroo pursed his lips, visibly disagreeing, but said, "It's your call."
"Yup." Rawhide was firm.
"I can't make any promises about when you'll recover full function," Buckaroo added. "I may not be right."
Rawhide chuckled and leaned back in his chair. "You're right. It's kind of a habit you have."
Buckaroo smiled. "OK, I'm right. But I can't say when. It could be years, even."
Rawhide nodded seriously. "I know. But this is how I want to play it."
Buckaroo took a breath. "Just watch out for the jack of diamonds," he said, and left.
In the bunkhouse, Buckaroo found New Jersey assiduously practicing scales on the piano, a habit that soothed his nerves though it drove Billy Travers crazy. He looked up swiftly as Buckaroo came in.
"No dice," said Buckaroo. His disappointment was evident.
New Jersey grimaced, trying to sort it out. He had a glimmer. "Perfect Tommy's been staying away from him."
Buckaroo cleared his throat, looking at an early Jet Car sketch. Finally he said, "I know."
"Rawhide doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would let Perfect Tommy call his shots, though," New Jersey continued cautiously. Joking banter about various aspects of each other's character seemed to be S.O.P. among the Cavaliers, but serious character dissection apparently completely forbidden. "It could be that he's so used to running things, he wouldn't want to be perceived as diminished. He might be ashamed to be weak. It could be a vacation."
"Uh-huh," said Buckaroo unhelpfully.
New Jersey got a little impatient. "So what it is with him?" He threw his hands up. "Can we help?"
Buckaroo took his eyes off the sketch. First, last, and always a doctor -- a man could have a much worse stance in this life. "Sid, I don't know that we can."
"Fear of ridicule, denial, a desire not to recover at all, passive aggression, dependency, desire not to be dependent -- it could be any of those things," New Jersey tallied. His elbows came down on the piano keys, causing Billy Travers to flinch yet again. He spread his fingers wide, then closed them into fists. "I don't have enough information, Buckaroo."
Buckaroo took a deep breath. He thought about what Rawhide had told him so long ago, his mother wasting away, his father running out -- "Not too little love," Rawhide had said. "More like too much." It would give New Jersey the clue he needed.
It would be unpardonable.
"New Jersey, it's his choice. You'll have to ask him."
"Say the secret word and win a hundred dollars," New Jersey fired back angrily. "You know something that could help me, could help him. And you're not telling me."
Now Buckaroo showed a flash of impatience. "Then that's my choice, isn't it?"
It looks more like malpractice from where I stand, thought Sidney Zwibel. You never side with the disease. He shook his head. There had to be a better answer than that, because he knew Buckaroo Banzai would need a better answer than that. What is it that I'm not getting?
He shook his head, full of doubt. "I would have said there wasn't an ounce of give-up in that man's character."
"Believe that," said Buckaroo quietly.
New Jersey focused on him intensely. That's the clue. But what the dickens does it mean? He ran his fingers down his jawline and curled them under his chin. Why did Buckaroo have to get gnostic every time he had something important to say?
New Jersey concentrated as hard as he could, but couldn't eliminate any of the possibilities. He looked at Buckaroo in frustration, his mind going blank. In the next second, he snapped his fingers.
Choices. Responsibility. What a doctor could do for a patient, and what he couldn't do.
New Jersey knocked on Perfect Tommy's door a little after eleven.
Told to come in, he found himself in the middle of a strangely schizophrenic room, half immaculate, half disastrously untidy. A quick glance around told him that the immaculate half included the closet which held, he supposed, Perfect Tommy's fabled wardrobe, which, in his brief tenure at the Institute, had so far been everything it was cracked up to be. The untidy half, cluttered with books and an assortment of weapons, seemed to be work-related -- if you could call shuriken and nunchakos and a bullwhip part of Perfect Tommy's work. New Jersey supposed that you could.
"What's up, Doc?" the bass player greeted him.
"Well, this is a professional call," he said. "It relates to the therapeutic needs of one of my patients."
"Really?" Tommy's cheeriness grew cautious.
New Jersey threw his own caution to the winds. "Really," he snapped. "Specifically, I came here to tell you to grow up because one of my patients happens to need you to."
Tommy already looked like an approaching tornado, but New Jersey kept going. "If you keep treating Rawhide like he's dead, he's going to feel like it himself. Can you possibly be so immature that you can't--"
The rest of his sentence was caught in his throat and held there by Perfect Tommy's hand slamming him against the wall and cutting off his breath. If he crushes the trachea, I die, a cold-blooded part of his brain told him. If he continues this pressure for another hundred seconds, oxygen deprivation and brain damage. He didn't struggle and he met the redhot anger in Tommy's eyes with a cold ferocity of his own.
"I don't take that from anyone," Perfect Tommy whispered.
The pressure had eased, almost imperceptibly. New Jersey, still meeting Perfect Tommy's eyes, reached up and pushed the hand away from his throat. Tommy let it go but was still glaring.
"It's an easy thing to kill a man," New Jersey said contemptuously. "Much harder to help one live." Is this me? asked the voice of Sidney Zwibel, the eternal equivocator. What, did I hear this in the movies? But no trace of indecision showed in his face.
The two men stood at an impasse. New Jersey broke it, deliberately relaxing his stance and crossing his arms. After all, if Perfect Tommy really wanted to kill him, there wasn't anything he could do to prevent it.
The viciousness left Tommy's face suddenly, to be replaced with a desperate candor. "If something I design doesn't function optimally, I dump it," he said. "Weakness -- weakness is for enemies."
"If Rawhide can be hurt, you can be hurt," New Jersey's intuition took him to the real wound. "Imperfection. You'd rather die outright, wouldn't you?"
"So you're punishing Rawhide for being alive. If I were your doctor, I'd tell you it's perfectly natural to be terrified when someone you love is damaged, perfectly natural to be angry at them for their weakness." New Jersey drew a breath, and paused to notice that he was still breathing, that Perfect Tommy was taking it.
"But I'm his doctor, and I'm here to tell you that one of his best friends has run out on him, and even though I think he understands why and doesn't hold it against you, it's making it a lot harder for him to be what he is. And what he is, right now, is a guy who's got to get his tail out of bed and find out what he can do, and what he can't."
It was well past two when the door to Rawhide's room opened silently and a figure slipped through.
Gliding to a halt, Perfect Tommy noticed the fractional tensing of muscles as Rawhide awakened and decided to feign sleep. In the darkness, Tommy smiled.
"Hey, bud," he said offhandedly.
"You'll have to change aftershaves if you want to catch me nappin'," Rawhide drawled. He reached over and snapped on the table lamp. "That particular one smells like a cathouse in Waco." It was an easy joke -- Rawhide enjoyed ribbing Perfect Tommy's elegant tastes -- but Tommy noticed that his friend was watching him with unusual intensity.
Perfect Tommy stood poised as if to consider this advice. "While we're on the subject of good grooming," he shrugged, "metal is hot this year." He picked up the brace and dropped it at the foot of Rawhide's bed. "Might spice up that secondhand Marlboro Man look of yours."
It was a spirited attempt, but awkwardness infected Tommy's voice, and when he looked at Rawhide he found the older man looking back with a mixture of concern, humor, and gratitude that he found intensely embarrassing.
Rawhide stirred and sat up, bending his right knee to rest an elbow on it. It was a limber, comfortable movement of a man who had regained most of his customary strength, but Tommy found himself staring inexorably at the left leg that slid passively along with the body's action. Tommy's eyes, shot with renewed horror, met Rawhide's for a sharp instant. Rawhide started to speak, but Perfect Tommy got his words out first.
"Catch you later, man," he said, and was gone.
Behind him, Rawhide snorted, mostly with amusement, then sighed. He reached for the tangle of straps and buckles Tommy dumped on his bed and slid a finger down one thin aluminum slat. "Metal is hot this year," he repeated, an ironic inflection flavoring his drawl.
Like his friend, he looked at his unmoving though constantly tingling left leg as if it were a foreign object. "Thanks a lot," he told it. "Hurry up, huh?" He dropped the brace at the side of the bed and turned off the light. After a few moments, he lit a cigarette and leaned back in the darkness, thinking about Perfect Tommy.
Slow, heavy footsteps sounded on the stair, rare in this household of nimble, lightfooted people.
At the front desk, Mrs. Johnson was relaxing in the predawn hours with Echo and the Bunnymen after enduring some fairly arduous demo tapes. She noticed the unfamiliar cadence in the inner sanctum even through her headphones. Silently, she removed the 'phones and possessed herself of the Luftwaffe Luger she kept in a drawer, a legacy from her short marriage to Flyboy.
Cocking the Luger, she braced her back against the doorjamb leading to the stairwell, bobbed her head and the weapon into the open space and shouted upward, "Hey!" A highly familiar face appeared over the railing between the third and fourth floors.
"He-e-e-ey," she said in an entirely different voice. "Where you headed?"
The man looking down at her ran a hand through his untidy red hair as he considered this question. "Gonna get some health care," he told her finally. "A little PT."
"Whatever," she said, baffled. She uncocked the Luger. "Have a good one." Physical Therapy? Perfect Tommy? At this hour, neither one made sense.
The footsteps ascended to the bunkhouse and made their way to the Common Room, then stopped.
A few seconds later, the music began. First, the Tennessee Waltz, slow and sweet and sad. Then a lively scrap of Mozart's Alla Turca, and then Professor Longhair's Blues-Rhumba and Chantilly Lace and Caledonia and Buckaroo's old favorite,
Rocket 88. Chopin waltzes followed, and then a florid, funny version of Some Enchanted Evening that smacked greatly of Liberace, and then a series of the piano player's own rollicking tunes.
And then the music just wandered, fingers fooling around with eighty-eight old friends they might not have met up with again. Mrs. Johnson, able to hear it all the way at the foot of the stairs, smiled: Piano Time. She recognized riffs from Keith Emerson and Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and Jerry Lee Lewis and Otis Spann.
"Wow," she said to the empty air. "He's playing everyone but Barry Manilow."
Upstairs, the music was pulling the Cavaliers into the bunkhouse hall. By silent consent, no one went into the Common Room. Pecos grinned at Reno, who slipped his still slightly stiff left arm around her shoulders. "Rawhide's home," she told him comfortably.
Perfect Tommy's door swung open and Tommy appeared, clad only in a royal blue towel. He paused only momentarily, then moved swiftly toward the Common Room. The other bunkhouse residents followed as Tommy opened its door and went in.
Rawhide looked up as his friends came in. The brace on his left leg caught light from the piano's music lamp. Perfect Tommy stood stiffly at the front of the group, his arms crossed over his chest. His voice was crisp. "Do you take requests?"
Rawhide smiled a little. "I suppose so," he said.
"Then shut up so the rest of us can get some sleep," snapped Tommy.
Pecos, outraged, launched herself forward to administer retribution, but was snagged in mid-stride by Buckaroo, who was the first to understand Rawhide's reaction to Perfect Tommy's impeccably coldhearted words.
The cowboy was grinning broadly. It was a grin that only appeared on his face when he was sure that everyone was entirely safe and sound, and even then usually not until about halfway down a bottle of tequila.
He looked down at the keyboard and, one-handed, picked out the melody line of everyone's favorite piece, C-D-E-E, F-E-D-E... It was the bouncy tune Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers had written together years ago while in a state of advanced insobriety and adopted as their informal theme song ever since. Rawhide's hand came to rest after a few bars, and he stood up. He regarded Perfect Tommy with the unruffled calm with which he generally met the youngster's more obnoxious sallies.
"Think I'll grab some shut-eye myself," he nodded, and moved unselfconsciously toward the door. Passing Perfect Tommy, Rawhide shot out his right hand, grabbed the bassist by the throat and gave him one quick shake, all without looking at him. Perfect Tommy grinned like a born fool. "Night, bro'," he muttered.
Buckaroo fell in beside Rawhide, and the two of them headed off toward Rawhide's room, followed by a wolf whistle from Pecos and a splash of quiet laughter from people who'd begun to remember how sleepy they still were.
As the Cavaliers dispersed, Perfect Tommy passed New Jersey, leaning drowsily against the Common Room's back wall and rummaging for his glasses in the pocket of his pajama tops, which were decorated with tiny World War One fighterplanes. Perfect Tommy directed a quick smile at the bleary-eyed surgeon. "Thanks, Doc," he said.
Reno, overhearing, was curious. "What for?"
"Oh," New Jersey waved his long fingers dismissively, "a little medicine."
Perfect Tommy snorted. "Fairly stiff dose, I thought."
"Non-lethal," New Jersey yawned. His eyes opened a little wider, and he ran his fingertips along his neck as if by chance. "For patient and physician."
Perfect Tommy flashed an instant's vivid smile, then abruptly turned grim. He leaned toward New Jersey with an expression close to his murderous glare of a few hours earlier.
"If I ever have to look at those pajamas again," Tommy warned in a low, intense voice, "I will kill you." In the next second he was gone, and his bedroom door had closed behind him.
New Jersey was suddenly wide awake, adrenaline zinging through his system. Remember what you read about him and the guy who took his seat at McDonald's? said the Sidney Zwibel voice. For God's sake, go back to Sloan-Kettering while you still can.
Reno noticed the sudden visibility of the whites of New Jersey's eyes. "Aw, don't worry," the Cavaliers' chronicler told him, clapping the galvanized doctor on the shoulder. "Nine times out of ten he doesn't do it."
She found him sitting on the grass, watching the sun go down past the fringe of willows along the lake, his buckskin tethered nearby. It was rare to see Rawhide sitting still, but only two days had passed since his return to full health, two days during which he'd been relentlessly normal.
Big Norse had been sure the shock of the last few weeks would catch up with him, and equally sure that he would ask himself to shoulder that shock alone. What she didn't know was whether he would accept her company now.
She moved forward to join him; though he must have heard her approaching, he gave no sign of it and remained unmoved even as she settled down beside him. They sat silent for a time, and then she spoke.
"Beautiful, ja?" Big Norse said gently, nodding her head at the splendor in the sky.
Rawhide dropped a hand to the lush grass, curling his fingers into the rich green blades. "This's generous land-- anything'll grow here," he answered, seemingly off the point. "Sometimes beauty... is clearer where it's stark." Never a man to discuss his feelings easily, he shook his head as if impatient at the limitations of language.
"You would like Jutland," Big Norse said, thinking of the long gray sweep of Denmark's ancient peatlands.
"I've never seen it," Rawhide acknowledged. He turned his head to look at her. "Maybe you'll take me."
Big Norse dropped her eyes from his in sheer surprise. "How much I would like to," she said swiftly. There were many things she knew he would never say; some of them could be understood from the way he'd found time for her piano lessons from the very beginning, the way he shortened his stride to hers-- but there had never been anything remotely like talk of the future.
"Inshallah," she added, raising her eyes to his again. It was a word she'd learned from him one night over karakoumiss: if Allah wills it; I hope so.
It was the right word. Rawhide broke out with one of his short, powerful laughs. "That was Mohammed's favorite word," he said. Big Norse had seen Mohammed ibn Rashayd al-Whaafa in the photograph on Rawhide's dresser, a precious element in his handful of possessions.
"One night he told me something his father said-- 'Any idea too complex to fit into poetry is of no value to remember.' We were talking Erdisch prime number theory, and he just came out with that. So I got all set to argue the point. And before I could get a word out, he says, 'My friend, this means all our physicists must be poets.' And with a straight face, he said, 'Inshallah!'" Rawhide laughed at the memory. Big Norse, thrilled by this unprecedented reminiscent mood, kept silent.
Rawhide's expression grew serious. "A couple years after that, I met Buckaroo." His eyes focused somewhere in the far distance.
The physicist who is a poet, and more, Big Norse supplied, wondering at the dramatic change that meeting must have made in Rawhide's life.
He seemed to grow aware of his surroundings again. The sky had turned deep violet-blue, and starlings were making their nightly journey to the west.
Rawhide drew a deep breath and stood up, offering a hand to Big Norse. He pulled her up and hung onto the hand, then reached up to run his fingers lightly down her golden hair. He looked all around him, at the Institute's grounds, the gentle sweep of its hills, and the buildings where lights were coming on. He ended by looking down again, full into Big Norse's eyes.
He smiled at her, a gentle smile that widened and turned wry. "You know how much..." he started, waving his hand in a gesture that encompassed everything around them as well as their own presence in this exquisite evening. Rawhide stopped, seeming to search for the exact words.
Big Norse knew that if she waited, he would find the words, but why put him to the trouble? She slipped an arm around his waist and fitted her head to the hollow of his shoulder.
"Ja," she told him, "I do know."
Perfect Tommy took a quick gulp of his coffee and instantly choked. "What the hell is this?" he snarled, belatedly noticing that none of his fellow Cavaliers had cups of coffee before them.
"Dr. Zorba pulled KP this morning," said Pecos. "So what you've got is either kafe gleeko or kafe nero." Dr. Zorba, a neurosurgical resident studying under Drs. Banzai and Zwibel, was a fierce partisan of everything Greek.
"Mud, with or without sugar," Reno translated.
Big Norse appeared through the kitchen door, a thick blonde braid swinging off her shoulder as she leaned into the dining room. "Coffee's coming," she told them in the rising syllables of a Scandinavian accent. "ETA five minutes. It will be drinkable," she promised. She grinned and disappeared.
"A thoroughly non-melancholy Dane," observed Reno, the profound student of literature. "Rawhide must be around."
"Five minutes," said Perfect Tommy, seemingly disconsolate.
To distract him, Pecos offered a diversion. "Best and worst cup of coffee you ever had," she challenged the table. "You first, Tommy."
Perfect Tommy pushed at the cup in front of him hard enough to slosh liquid into its saucer. "This is a frontrunning candidate," he said bitterly.
"No, no, think about it seriously," Pecos said. "We'll come back to you. Reno?"
Reno grinned. "The worst cup of coffee I ever had," he said with great authority, "was in The Little Chapel of the Sweet and Sacred Heart, Las Vegas, Nevada, about two in the afternoon on Valentine's Day in 1969, on the occasion of my third wedding. We were the thirty-fourth couple to be married that day, and we were served out of a pot in which thirty-four consecutive quarts of instant coffee had been concocted without so much as a rinse in between. The only thing worse than that coffee," he reminisced, "was that marriage."
This pulled a laugh out of nearly everyone, and a grudging smile out of Perfect Tommy. Reno's endless anecdotes of his matrimonial misadventures, some of which might even have been true, were a constant source of amusement to his fellow Cavaliers, most of whom had won and lost love earlier in their lives in ways that could not, even now, be joked about.
"Best cup." This proved more of a stumper. Reno picked up his line of banter more slowly. "I do hate to say this," he reflected, "but Hanoi Xan provided the best cup of coffee I've ever had."
Reno grew even more reflective. "It was in the middle of the night following the obsequies for the Pasha of Three Tails. Pecos and myself, having freed ourselves from the lightless and rather odiferous confines of the yak's skin into which we had been stitched by the Pasha's minions, at length made our surreptitious way through the sewers of Sabah to a crawlspace above the very kitchens of Xan, which were at the time devoted to preparation of the valedictory feast for that lately-deceased factotum of the dreadful Lord of Ten Thousand Tortures. The funeral ceremonies and the attendant ritual inhumation of the Pasha's charred bones having been concluded at the appointed hour of moonset, the kitchen precincts were deserted. Pecos and I, dehydrated and famished by the rigors of our three-day internment in the luckless animal's pelt, crept forth to raid Xan's larder. We found on the stove a single precious, still-warm pan of caffeinous brew, which may not in fact have been coffee, but which nevertheless shines brightly in my memory as the finest individual cup of coffee I have ever imbibed."
An awed silence met the conclusion of this speech. "I always wondered if you worked with a Dictaphone," Perfect Tommy said. "That was really amazing, man."
"I was there," Pecos said. "That was the foulest, meanest, nastiest stuff-- 'caffeinous brew,' is that what you said? It was dishwater, maybe, if it was lucky, and I'd hate to say what was on the dishes washed in it." She met Reno's eye and grinned at him. "And we were toasting our betrothal with it."
Pecos considered. "Which means that that cup of coffee is both my best and worst cup of coffee ever." She looked across the table at the Cavaliers' auxiliary guitarist, who looked back at her from out of red-rimmed, half-closed eyes that closed completely as she watched.
"Just tell Big Norse to pump it straight into the main vein," Pinky Carruthers mumbled, sliding his left arm out among the salt and pepper shakers. A moment later, his head drooped down onto the arm.
Next to him, New Jersey reached over delicately and took the edge of Pinky's beret between two fingertips. He lifted it fractionally and regarded Pinky's reposeful countenance. "It is my considered medical opinion that this man is not fully conscious," he stated.
"I think we'll read that as an abstention," Pecos decided. She turned to the quiet man who had settled in beside her at the table. "You have any nominations, Rawhide?"
Rawhide scratched his forehead. "Let's see. Oh, Big Norse says two more minutes. Uh, best and worst, huh? Best... out in the Sahel, long time ago now, passing around some Turkish coffee out of a samovar, sitting around in a Tuareg tent and listening to traditional storytelling songs, I remember likin' that a lot. 'N, uh, one time at basecamp at 83o17' sitting out an Antarctic summer storm in what was basically a bat tent, Buckaroo and I split a thermos that I recall was pretty good."
The Cavaliers looked around at each other and found that this story was new to all of them. Naturally, Rawhide didn't tell it. He was still musing. "Worst, now, hmmm." He stared off toward the ceiling and scratched his scalp again. "Can't say that I remember a particular worst cup of coffee in my life."
"Just a lot of disagreeable ones along the way, right?" joked Reno.
Rawhide joined the others in chuckling at his own predictability. "Guess I have swallowed some bad brew in my time," he conceded.
"Jersey?" Reno turned to the long skinny figure of the newest Cavalier, who responded by pulling back from the table as if taken by surprise. "I'm still thinking," he said, waving his long fingers to indicate indecision. "The worst, that isn't hard at all." He looked up, grinning and shaking his head. "It was the morning of my first day on my very first clinical rotation, which happened to be path., pathology."
He stretched his fingers out taut. "I was so full of energy, so full of raw dedication. And I wanted coffee in the very worst way. I saw a pot of coffee and I saw a porcelain cup on a high shelf and I brought the two together and took a big swallow, all without looking." He grimaced and laughed at the same time. "There was an unlabeled specimen in that cup."
A uniformly grossed-out reaction registered around the table. New Jersey mirrored it, laughed, and curled his fingers in. "I never did find out what. For weeks, I thought I was coming down with plague, jaundice, beri-beri, anything."
"So that was definitely the worst, the very worst." New Jersey's hands came to rest, and the fingers interlinked in a steeple. "The best, well, I have to say this." He flickered his eyes around the table and then dropped them to his hands. "So far the best is the coffee I had at breakfast here on the first morning, just sitting down to breakfast with you people." He waved his hands. "Well."
"'S nice, man," Perfect Tommy said softly. "It's OK." There was a silence during which Reno reached over and gave New Jersey a small, friendly shove. New Jersey nodded and smiled, and looked up from the table at last.
"Hi, Boss," said Pecos as Buckaroo appeared. "You're just in time to contribute to our oral history of java."
"Greater Sunda?" Buckaroo was puzzled, but willing to add what knowledge he had. "I've only been there five times..." He broke off as he saw from the smiles around him that he was on the wrong track. "Coffee," he deduced. "Oh." He waited expectantly.
"Your personal best and worst," Pecos supplied. "Oh no--"
She was not in time to forestall Buckaroo, who had reached for Tommy's discarded cup and taken a long sip of its contents.
"This is quite good," Buckaroo said with pleasure. "Kafe nero, quite a treat." He had no idea what was leading his closest friends to laugh, possibly at his expense, but, being Buckaroo, was sublimely content that it should be so.
"I think you've just disqualified yourself," said Pecos. "Which leaves us..."
"Here it is," announced Big Norse, backing through the swinging door with a heavily loaded tray of filled coffee cups.
"Hah!" cried Perfect Tommy. In a single fluid motion, he rose, lifted two brimful cups off the tray, drained the one in his left hand, spun to return it to the moving tray, and settled back into his place at the table to savor the second cup at a somewhat more leisurely pace.
"Someday we'll teach this boy to say 'please,'" scolded Pecos, nevertheless marvelling as always at Tommy's unique grace. "As I was saying, you agile person you, it is now your turn."
Perfect Tommy, already beginning to feel the benefits of the presence in his system of a truly decent cup of coffee, favored his friends with a complacent smile. "Certainly," he acquiesced. "But first, Big Norse, man, this is good stuff. Infinitely approaching optimal."
"And have you ever had an optimal cup of coffee, my dear Zeno?" returned Big Norse. If Perfect Tommy really meant to invoke Zeno's paradox of the arrow which in each second covers half the distance to its target but can never reach it, the answer would have to be 'no.'
"Oh, of course," Tommy said cheerfully. "But going back to the most negatory cup first-- it came out of a machine, I regret to say, of my own design. A prototype, it's true, but something I built."
The other Cavaliers traded glances. For Perfect Tommy to dwell at any length upon -- or even to admit the existence of -- a less-than-perfect device of his own making was not merely unaccustomed, it was unheard of.
"I was working on a way to off that last little vestige of bite," Perfect Tommy continued, "in a machine that would deliver twelve cups in twenty seconds or less. The time, of course, was no problem" ("of course," Reno echoed in an undertone) "but there was a persistence of bite which, though most people couldn't've noticed it, I thought truly sucked.
"So instead of an extraction, I thought I might try an ultra-high-pressure admixture of something to catalyze out the resin, and I found myself playing with ultracool temperatures and that pushed the heating period past twenty seconds-- that is, if I was going to keep the unit down to tabletop size." Buckaroo had raised his eyes away from his concentrated enjoyment of the kafe nero and was listening intently. A small crease appeared between his brows.
"In the process, I did produce the numero uno worst bummer of a cup I have ever tasted," Perfect Tommy said. "Even worse than that grunge." He waved a hand at Buckaroo's cup.
"You're describing the Jet Car's miniaturized LOX-and-fuel injection system," Buckaroo said, his small frown easing. "The one that saturates the polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons so that they become naphthenic and non-carcinogenic." Perfect Tommy's revolutionary device had been hailed simultaneously by automotive engineers and cancer specialists as a great advance.
"You're right," Perfect Tommy told him, smiling beatifically.
"That's how you developed it? Trying to build a better Mr. Coffee?" Big Norse's voice climbed through a whole octave as she assimilated this story. Still relatively new to the Institute's routine, she had not yet become accustomed to the 'stray bullet' marvels with which the Cavaliers regaled each other over breakfast. "I love it!"
"It was pretty neat." Perfect Tommy nodded his agreement.
"... and now for the best coffee," Pecos prompted.
Tommy quirked his eyebrows. "The optimal cup." He smiled serenely. "It was Paris in the spring. The chestnut trees were in bloom, and the spring fashions that year were particularly elegant. For months, I'd been conferring with Alfonse at Maxim's, but it was an ex-Legionnaire maitre de patisserie on the Boul' Mich. who led me to my final inspiration.
"Setting the oven at precisely 525o Fahrenheit, I took thirty-five beans of French roast, twelve of an Indonesian dinner coffee colloquially known as The Parrot's Beak, fourteen of a Brazilian strain grown at precisely 8,000 feet-- but an auslese bean, from a plant known to have been slightly shaded by a liana... hey, where's everybody going?"
Mrs. Johnson yawned and hit the pause button on her Pioneer. She was listening to a band called the Drag Coefficient, a group of aerospace engineers (but not, she noted wistfully, transves- tite ones) whose percussionist had ambitions to sign on as an apprentice. Surprisingly, the music was semi-danceable and the percussion showed signs of real inventiveness. This one would be passed on for review by the musical residents.
Time for everyone's check-in. "Labs," she said, punching in the main lab number in the Institute's com system. "Secure," came the answer. The voice belonged to Chapatti, a geneticist from New Delhi; Mrs. Johnson's ears were so finely tuned that she recognized any voice -- and detected any effort to falsify it -- after hearing it only once, a legacy from the years when she lived in a world more of sound than sight.
That was New Jersey, eagerness brimming just in the single word. Pinky Carruthers had taken the lanky doctor in hand and part of his regime was nighttime gatekeeping. Pinky vigorously denied all suggestions that his helpfulness was motivated by a perceived need for a physician who might provide nostrums when Pinky's experiments in personal chemistry grew a little too esoteric for mere aspirin and Alka-Seltzer.
"Fence?" "All clear... uh, say, Mrs. J, do we have any wolverines here?" Mrs. Johnson's eyebrows climbed. "Gee, I dunno. Ask someone from bio in the morning-- unless you think it needs to be checked out now?"
"Oh no, no," the interns on the fence answered in chorus. Mrs. Johnson would indeed rouse a full-fledged security team on their say-so, but woe betide the fence-rider who turned senior residents and Cavaliers out of their beds because of a stray cat.
As if they read her thoughts, the fence team said, "Probably just a cat." "Yeah, a big fat one."
"Stay in touch," Mrs. Johnson said, giggling after she broke the connection. Nothing short of an elephant sighting would move those two to call her now.
"Computer room?" Silence. Perfectly OK. Mrs. Johnson ran her ancillary check, hiking the gain on her reception and feeding it into a security program. The program blipped: someone was in there. Two someones. Motionless. Mrs. Johnson gave the situation a moment's thought. The comp room housed the only terminals outside the bunkhouse Common Room that could access the Institute's most sensitive information; entry to the room was very limited at all hours. But Billy Travers and his current inamorata were both among the few with access.
Mrs. Johnson ran some feedback into the comp room speaker. "Rise and shine, Billy and Felicia," she said brightly. She got a sheepish callback within seconds. "I was just about to lock you in there," she informed them mendaciously. "We're gone, we're gone," said Billy.
Everywhere else checked out empty and secure for the night. Mrs. Johnson went down to the secondary kitchen for some fresh coffee, then returned to her chores, picking up another tape from the slush pile. This one was called Jelly Side Up. It was late afternoon on Mrs. Johnson's personal clock.
Buckaroo's private line buzzed. He put down The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and found Mrs. Johnson waiting.
"Sorry to bother you, boss. That Smirnoff, the President's guy? He's on the line for Perfect Tommy and Tommy's unplugged his phone again."
"I'll take it," Buckaroo agreed with her judgment. "I wasn't asleep."
"Right. Thanks. Sorry."
"Dr. Smirnoff, what can we do for you? This is Buckaroo Banzai."
"Dr. Banzai, good morning." The national security advisor sounded puzzled. "We were calling to speak with Perfect Tommy concerning certain ark-architectural peculiarities of the city of Tripoli, with which it is our information he is familiar." The charming stammer made the President's aide very popular on the Washington party circuit.
"Why Yakov, are you planning a little pubcrawl on the Sidra coast?"
"Something of that nature." The Russian's richly-accented voice was hesitant with this admission. Whatever it was, was serious. At least, it was as serious as the Widmark Adminis- tration was capable of being.
"I'll have Perfect Tommy on the line in a second," Buckaroo said crisply, and put him on hold. As he headed out the door, it occurred to him to wonder what D.J. had running on the hold system -- you never could tell, some days it was Beethoven, some days U2 or Laurie Anderson, and there had been one cruel week of Slim Whitman.
As he went into the hall, Buckaroo found Rawhide emerging as well. "What's up?" his friend asked.
"Smirnoff wants Tommy on the horn," Buckaroo said. Rawhide veered toward Perfect Tommy's room, understanding the rest of the situation instantly. Buckaroo smiled and went back to his book.
Rawhide knocked twice, gave Perfect Tommy five seconds and went through the door, which he opened loud and rudely with a boot. "Up and at 'em, Sleepin' Beauty," he said. "The White House wants you."
Perfect Tommy had been wide awake and possessed of his Uzi by the time the door swung open, and now he looked at Rawhide with a peculiar blend of disheveled outrage and well-armed savoir faire. Long tendrils of someone's red hair stirred beside him and a female voice somewhere in the tangle of sheets made an inarticulate sound of inquiry. "It's cool, but hold still," Tommy said over his shoulder.
"Let's go," Rawhide said. He was stooping over, groping for the wall jack where Perfect Tommy would have unplugged his extension.
"The adder's out--" Tommy started. He wasn't entirely sure he felt like warning Rawhide. It would teach the big cowboy some manners if he lost a hand to snakebite.
In the darkness, there was a sudden flashing movement.
"So I see," said Rawhide, standing up straight again. He was holding his right arm directly out from his body, and had his right fist clenched around the tail end of a yellow-backed serpent with a royal blue belly. He held it in the light from the open door. "Pretty thing, isn't it?" The snake writhed but couldn't double on itself.
Perfect Tommy regarded his pet with disgust, while Rawhide smiled. "I couldn't do this with a cobra," the cowboy said. "You'd know that if you ever read a book." Tommy glared at him.
"Phone's plugged in. Pick up line one," said Rawhide, leaving. "Buckaroo said you'd be right on," he added, ensuring that Perfect Tommy wouldn't leave the national security advisor on hold indefinitely just for spite.
Passing Tommy's closet, Rawhide held the snake's head close to a boot, an offer which the viper accepted, slithering into the close, secure darkness where it could coil up and feel sorry for itself. Help keep the kid's reflexes sharp to find a little snake in his shoe, the cowboy mused. Rawhide closed the door behind him as he left.
The house's big kitchen and dining room were filling with people coming in for breakfast, or, like Mrs. Johnson and New Jersey, for a late snack. Several of the residents had settled at one formica-topped table, and Perfect Tommy, breakfast in hand, was headed for it.
Tommy had a faraway look in his eye as he moved toward his friends, threading his way among other tables. Perhaps this abstraction was the reason his legendary reflexes didn't quite compensate for the jolt he received from Apache, a Blue Blaze who was also carrying her breakfast to a table and not looking where she was going.
Perfect Tommy caught his bowl and used it to catch most of his breakfast in mid-air, but a few ounces of cornflakes and milk, along with one stray raisin, splashed to the floor.
The Blaze, appalled, stammered an apology and hastily mopped up the spilled cereal.
Perfect Tommy's face was expressionless. "Good thing those weren't Rice Krispies," he told her. "If they were, I'd've had to kill you."
The Blaze shrank away from him, unsure if he was joking.
Tommy continued his progress to the table and settled in next to Reno, who was yawning over refritos and eggs and coffee. Reno's blue corn tortillas smelled good, so Perfect Tommy took one. "You and I are catching a chopper down to Washington in a couple hours," Tommy informed Reno as he chewed.
"Yeah? What for?"
"National Security Council meeting on the Middle East."
"Why me?" Reno, the former Beltway bandit, was displeased. "It took me ten years to get out of that town."
"Right," said Perfect Tommy. "So you'll know a good place for lunch. Besides, I think President Widmark's big solution to the whole problem of international terrorism is a mano-a-mano between him and Muammar Qaddafi, so he'll need you to explain the rules."
"Two scorpions," Reno answered, taking a sip of his coffee and remembering. "The best are the little white scorpions from the north Mexican mountains around Durango. You pin them an arm's length apart on a bar. Then you put your elbow in the middle and take the other man's hand, and you begin. At this moment, if you look into a man's eyes, you see his soul."
"I doubt whether Colonel Qaddafi would care to see Billy Widmark's soul," said Rawhide, joining the group. The cowboy had little respect to spare these days for the President who'd said 'Forget we're the good guys' and been willing to order an American first strike. Perfect Tommy glared at Rawhide, but it was just for show. The volatile blond was now looking forward to the NSC meeting.
"And Senator Helms would want to see the scorpions' green cards or else deport them as illegals," added New Jersey.
Reno chortled. It would really be worth the trip just to hear what Perfect Tommy had to say to Widmark, his none-too-swift Veep Winthrop J. Biddle IV, the well-meaning but frequently three-seconds-behind Dr. Smirnoff, and the panoply of lobotomized general officers and paranoid spooks who attended these things.
"OK, I'll go," he said. Actually, the icing on the cake would be whatever the august Secretary of Defense, carrying a grudge since Yoyodyne, would bring himself to say about any proposal Perfect Tommy might make.
Billy Travers joined the group, reading aloud from a magazine. "It says here you're a cowboy/entomologist/accountant/ piano player," he nodded towards Rawhide. "And you're," tipping his head toward Perfect Tommy, "an aerodynamic engineer/rockstar/ armaments expert/trendsetter..." ("trendsetter," Perfect Tommy muttered with a disdainful roll of the eyes in a vain attempt to hide his pleasure). "And I'm just a computer whiz/comic book consultant..." Billy sounded deeply disappointed.
"You're only seventeen," New Jersey pointed out consolingly.
"As long as it don't say I'm the worst man unhung," Rawhide grumbled. He loved the First Amendment but hated the press.
"Now who would that be?" Reno wondered aloud. "Idi Amin?"
"Hanoi Xan, no contest," said Mrs. Johnson. Everyone at the table had lost at least one dear friend to that murderer, and she, like Buckaroo, had lost a spouse.
"Besides him," Reno agreed. "Pol Pot? Papa Doc?"
"Rhyming tyrants," Pecos wrinkled her nose. Other names were proposed, with political figures making up most of the nominees. The world's living practitioners of genocide topped the list, with politicians ignoring famine within their borders and those permitting spoilage of ecosystems, ranging from Russia's high plains to Brazil's rain forests to America's coastal wetlands following closely. Corporations were named, but disqualified by Reno unless a specific individual could be fingered.
Perfect Tommy was paying careful attention. As a general matter, the Knight of the Lesser Boulevards disdained politics, but this consideration of politicians constituting a blight on the landscape drew a higher level of his interest as more closely approximating gossip, which, next to the Jet Car, was his favorite topic.
It crossed Pecos' mind, with some trepidation, that Tommy might be compiling a list of people deserving his personal attention. It was well known that Perfect Tommy refrained from killing people who annoyed him only out of deference to Buckaroo's known views. Pecos quailed inwardly at the thought that Perfect Tommy might request dispensation with respect to these global undesirables.
The boss, on the other hand, believed deeply in political self-determination. He also disapproved strongly of anything that wasn't a clean, honest fight, and no fight with Perfect Tommy in it could ever be an honest fight, unless Perfect Tommy chose to slow down and give you a chance, however slim.
Fortunately, Tommy's mind had moved on to other concerns. He turned to New Jersey, who was wolfing a liverwurst sandwich. "You know, since you're signing on for a long hitch, you'll have to pick up some mano-a-mano yourself."
"Yiddish, yes. Spanish, no," answered New Jersey.
"Hand to hand. Martial arts skills," Perfect Tommy amplified. "Reno here teaches a pretty mean knife, and I run courses in most of the poison-hand systems. Buckaroo teaches kama, kendo and a course with the balisong, those Phillipine butterfly knives. Pecos could teach you karate, jujitsu, or any other hard system that interests you. And any one of us can give you firearms training."
New Jersey finished his liverwurst sandwich. "I'm a doctor," he said with great solemnity. He sat back and folded his arms. "A surgeon."
Reno and Perfect Tommy traded a glance. It couldn't be that he was going to proclaim himself a pacifist -- they'd already been through Yoyodyne together.
"I shall stick to the knife," New Jersey announced ceremoniously.
Perfect Tommy smirked and shot the cuffs of his elegant linen shirt. "You'll be sorry, man."
"Actually," Reno deliberated, "with legs like yours you should learn savate, French kick-fighting. Or Korean boxing, also legwork. Rawhide's good at them."
The Texan looked up from contemplation of his coffee; he'd been listening quietly as the others talked. New Jersey glanced at him and grinned.
"One thing at a time," said New Jersey. "I'm already signed up for another kind of lesson from Rawhide."
"What's that?" Tommy hadn't heard that Rawhide was teaching anything at the moment.
"Goyische equitation," said New Jersey. He smiled at Rawhide and left. The cowboy looked down at his coffee again.
"Ek-what? What's that in English?" said Perfect Tommy.
"That is English, pendejo," Reno said, laughing. "Riding lessons."
"Okay now, climb aboard."
Grasping the saddlehorn firmly in his left hand and the cantle just as firmly in his right, New Jersey launched himself vertically up on the stirrup, crooked his right knee and swung his right leg over the grey mare's back, dragging the tip of his boot across her spine.
Completing his swivel, he braced both hands on the saddlehorn and, looking down, unbent his right knee and fished around for the other stirrup with his toe. Once fully upright with his weight distributed in both stirrups, he bent and spread both knees, dipping gingerly down to the saddle seat in a splay-legged position.
He released his weight onto the saddle slowly, at all times keeping his knees pointed almost at right angles away from the mare's barrel. Fully settled, he brought his knees inward a bit with a little grin of satisfaction.
Only then did New Jersey release his death grip on the saddlehorn and move his hands forward to pick up the reins, one in each hand, looping one completely around his left thumb and basketweaving both between the fingers. Finally, he settled his hands onto the saddle before him so that the reins trailed slackly over the saddlebow.
"Well, here we are," New Jersey smiled triumphantly. "Whaddya think?"
Throughout this performance, Rawhide stood impassive, holding the bridle and once flicking a glance at the mare's ears, which flattened when New Jersey scraped his boot toe over her back. As the ungainly doctor settled slowly into the saddle, Rawhide's lids had drifted equally slowly down over his eyes, so that if they held any expression, it was concealed.
What he was feeling was raw disbelief. He hadn't expected a boy from Fort Lee to look like Tom Mix the first time up, but this was incredible. For sheer excruciating awkwardness, this was worthy of John Cleese.
Now, as New Jersey finished his ascent and looked over to him, Rawhide cleared his throat and moistened his lips. He nodded at the physician. "Some things to work on there," he said. "Let's go for a walk."
He put his hat and gave the mare's bridle a gentle tug. Lily Marlene, fourteen years old, patient, sensible, and, in Rawhide's opinion, bone lazy, moved forward without complaint.
New Jersey rocked from side to side like a clock pendulum, thinking to sway with the mare's gait the way he'd seen in old movies. Rawhide glanced up at him briefly then looked back down at his boots.
"I'm sitting on a horse," New Jersey marvelled as they moved out of the barn. "I'm riding a horse and I'm not dead yet."
Rawhide stopped as they got into full sunlight and squinted up at New Jersey. "OK," he said. "You want to tuck your knees in, see?" He pushed New Jersey's extended left knee close in to the horse's body. "'N, uh, your toes are parallel here, right?" He straightened the foot in the left stirrup.
He wondered if New Jersey was repeating this operation on the right side, or if one half of him was still wildly angular in the saddle. Out of sight under his hat, Rawhide pulled a smile at the mental image this conjured, then looked back up at the new saddleman. He was met with an expression that was almost childlike in its frankness. Rawhide continued.
"The reins go in the left hand, horsemen call that the near hand. Left is near, 'cause that's where you climb on, and right is off. Like this, right?" He took the reins from New Jersey, mated them, and strung them through New Jersey's left hand.
"Now you don't rest your wrist on the saddlehorn unless you're lazy or real tired, 'cause you lose some of the feel of the horse's mouth if you do." New Jersey immediately elevated his left hand halfway to his chin. "And you don't have to move in the saddle. The horse'll take care of that for you."
"OK, right," New Jersey said, concentrating hard.
Rawhide smiled at him. You couldn't fault the man for sheer earnestness. In fact, it was pretty likable. "And the main thing is to relax, huh?"
New Jersey grinned back down at him. Rawhide shook his head and jiggled Lily Marlene's bridle again. "Let's go."
As they walked a careful line past the barn and down towards the near paddock, New Jersey speculated, "I'm not the first person you've taught this to, am I?"
Rawhide chuckled. "No." He thought for a moment and smiled again, beneath his hat where New Jersey couldn't see it. "First person was twenty-odd years ago -- was a little girl called Peggy."
Hikita To-ichi sat motionless on a stone bench looking carefully at the striations and cracks in the surface of the massive rock before him. It was one of six he'd set in this zen garden, carefully placed so that only five were visible from any point, an homage to Ryo-anji in his native city. He came daily to tend it, pulling away grass or weeds that pushed up through the various sands and pebbles, then carefully raking the surface into flawless patterns. The groundskeeper Hollywood might be responsible for the entire rest of the Institute's four hundred acres, but she was forbidden to touch here; this quarter-acre was Hikita's private country.
The stone, granite with quartz intrusions, was heavy and ancient, yet in some lights it had a character almost of whimsy. Hikita thought for the thousandth or ten thousandth time of the fires and pressures that formed it, trying to unbind his reflections and merely be present. But fire was a difficult, painful thought; as the crystalline quartz sparkled in the stone, so fire sparkled in his mind. The wild lightning of the other dimension. Masado-san.
Behind him, there was the crunch of footsteps approaching along the graveled path, then veering away. Without turning around, Hikita said "Buckaroo," and lifted his right hand with a slight gesture of beckoning.
Buckaroo Banzai sat down next to Hikita without speaking and also fixed his gaze on the great stone. They sat for long minutes, knowing that neither could truly meditate in company but preferring to share this silence. At length, the Professor spoke.
"What do you see, 'roo-chan?" Hikita asked very quietly.
Equally quietly, Buckaroo answered, "Mountains from a great distance. Enzan no metsuke." It was a bushido maxim Hikita taught him as a child; watch your enemy with a mind like that of a distant mountain. "And you, Hikita-san?"
"Chaos. A great collision of forces." He turned his head slightly and Buckaroo saw rare distress in his mentor's eyes. Hikita spoke softly, but with emphasis. "The Eighth Dimension is here also, Buckaroo."
"We are here, Hikita-san." The first truth at all times. Perhaps his earliest lesson from this second father.
Hikita smiled a little. The boy was presuming to repeat the lesson to the teacher. He nodded and made a gruff, wordless assent.
It was time to leave Hikita-san to meditate. Buckaroo stood, wondering at the source of his trouble. Poor Emilio Lizardo's renewed insanity? Or was it that they had at last seen the face of the Eighth Dimension, so many years after that first disastrous glimpse? The thought took hold of him.
"Forty-six years is a long time, Hikita-san," he ventured.
Hikita smiled again. Where had the child learned his peculiar intuition, and this very bad Western habit of making personal observations? "Not so long as this stone has endured," he answered.
So. "No, not so long," Buckaroo echoed, and left. What does one do after an event one has planned for forty-six years comes to pass? A koan surfaced in his memory, the one beginning, Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water . . .
Canary and the Neon Highlander, interns from widely separated parts of the world who shared the same oddly orange hue of hair, paused to watch as Mrs. Johnson posted a notice on the Institute's bulletin board. It read, "HKC-- meeting put back to 8:30 tonight."
Canary looked at the notice wistfully. So far, her soprano voice had managed a total of about forty seconds of backup vocal on one Cavaliers tune, and then Perfect Tommy or Pinky Carruthers or Clyde had mixed its level down so low she couldn't pick it out on the final master. Much as she liked peering down a microscope at paleolithic-era seeds, she would've liked to sing more. "Wouldn't it be great if that were for us?" she sighed.
"You'd not say that if you'd ever heard me sing," answered her Bobbsey twin in a watered-down Glaswegian brogue.
Canary had stepped closer to the bulletin board, which was thickly covered with its usual collection of gripes, notices, requests, clippings from the New York Times about Institute doings, and a goodly selection of Larson's Far Side cartoons.
Today, Chapatti and Hollywood were asking for suggested names for the new orchid they'd bred out of Hollywood's most treasured specimen, Perfect Tommy had tacked up a death threat for whoever'd filched his blueberries (handpicked from his favorite bush on Bread Loaf Mountain in Vermont) out of the fridge, Catnip wanted her sphygmomanometer back, the Hong Kong Cavaliers were scheduled to play the E Street Band for the rock 'n roll softball championship of New Jersey, Made Marian the Librarian wanted about forty overdue books returned, Felicia had posted a highly embarrassing revelation about Billy, and--
"Hey, there's one here for you," said Canary. "From Sam. 'Neon Highlander-- face it, honey, it's over. Give the Beast a bullet in the carburetor and find yourself another ride.'" Canary paused, knowing her friend would take this news hard. "I guess he couldn't bring himself to tell you in person."
Canary's theory was pure diplomacy. Even though she herself drove a red kit-built Lotus Super Six slightly spiced with airplane parts she'd pinched from her jet-building father, she sympathized with her friend's love for a stock economy car that all the other mechanics at the Institute freely stigmatized as a toad. Sam had been trying to get the Scot to scrap her beloved "wee buggy" since the day she drove it onto the place. The Institute's chief mechanic had taken one look at the black AMC Pacer whose tailgate bore the painted legend 'DIRE STRAITS', and said, "about all I could say for it is, it's truth in advertising."
"Och, crumbs," Neon Highlander said sadly. "It were such a grand car."
"It's broke, Highlander," Rawhide said behind her. Neither intern had heard the Texan walk up, and they both whirled around, startled. "Get a horse." He left with long strides.
The two young women stared after him, nonplussed. After a long silence, Neon Highlander summoned her spirits for a pronouncement. "What I am going to get is a Guinness, and that right speedily," she said. "It's Molly Malone's for you and me, eh lass?"
Canary smiled. "Lend me a tenner and I'll buy you a drink," she said. The little proto-wheat seeds had waited ten thousand years for her attention -- they could wait one afternoon more while the two of them held a proper wake for a Pacer.
Buckaroo and Pinky Carruthers were on their way in from an afternoon ride when they spotted Hollywood ensconced in her rocking chair in front of one of the two big greenhouses that provided lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, and several more exotic comestibles and spices for the Institute's kitchens. Hollywood also managed to raise rare plants from all over the world under those glass roofs. It was not often that any Banzai Institute scientist would manage to go to a conference abroad without being asked to dare the wrath of the Department of Agriculture by smuggling some horticultural specimen through customs on the return trip.
The groundskeeper herself, however, was not often seen; she tended to stick to the remote areas of the grounds. The best time to find her was in the afternoons when, as now, she would pull her rocking chair out, settle into it with a big black and white cat on her lap, and smoke a pipeful of something she grew in the greenhouses. In these hours, she was restful company.
"How're you doing, Hollywood?" Buckaroo greeted her. The black and white cat fixed intense blue eyes on him and blue smoke curled out of her pipe for a long minute before she answered.
"Roached," said Hollywood.
"Why's that?" Buckaroo pursued gently. That one word provided a good clue to her origins, which were mostly unknown. Perfect Tommy had identified it as a Southernism: "it's a bayou word," he'd said. "Cajun country people use it. It means severely peeved."
"Perfect Tommy's boa constrictor swallowed half a row of freesias and he won't let me take them back. Apache says it's perfectly legal, something called replevin, but Tommy says no."
Pinky cleared his throat while Buckaroo nodded sympathetically. "Would be kinda tough on the snake," he observed.
"It should have thought of that before it binged on my blooms," Hollywood said severely. She took a long draw on the pipe, and blue strands of smoke worked into her long dark blonde braid.
Buckaroo and Pinky fell to considering the justice of this remark, and the three people and the cat seemed to become a tableau in the yellow light of afternoon, with only the smoke moving. Both men were thinking that Perfect Tommy really shouldn't have let the boa find its way into the greenhouse and languidly considering what restitution was possible. In fact, nearly any thought you had during an afternoon visit with Hollywood seemed to become languid...
In the next instant, the tableau was shattered. Hollywood had leaped to her feet and jumped forward between the two men, propelling the big cat a good five feet beyond them. From under the cat, Hollywood produced a sawed-off shotgun modified for Silent Guns, levelled it, and fired, all in the split second it took the cat to hit the ground and hiss back at her.
"Got him," Hollywood said contentedly. She picked up her pipe and offered a silent apology to the cat.
"Which one?" Buckaroo was scanning the treeline she had fired into. Turning as she fired, he'd seen the flicker of motion but hadn't been able to tell who the target was.
"Clyde Von Drake." Hollywood smiled wickedly. "Bet his mind is on Mrs. J. I've been stalking him all day, and never even got a bead on him, and suddenly he's wide open."
"Nice job of tracking him," Pinky commented. He tipped his beret.
"Right out in the open is the best place to hide," Hollywood said. She picked up her chair and turned toward the greenhouse door. The cat, apparently mollified by her silent contrition, followed her with its tail straight up in the air.
As Hollywood disappeared into the greenhouse, Pinky laughed out loud. "Right out in the open," he said to Buckaroo, who grinned back. No one could understand how Hollywood had developed into the fifth-ranked Silent Guns player on the place, but computers didn't lie.
"It never was a small cat," Buckaroo reflected as they headed for the house.
Pinky shook his head. "Here come Reno and Tommy," he said. Caspar Lindley's helicopter appeared over the pines, adorned with the now-familiar "Price Wars" blazon. "You'd think he could find a new slogan," Buckaroo said.
"Meat loaf?" Perfect Tommy recoiled. "We had Chateaubriand and Grand Marnier souffles for lunch."
"In this outfit, you eat what you're served," said Pecos.
"You could try to hunt up your blueberries," Reno offered helpfully. "Somebody in this room has got 'em."
"It's called replevin," Buckaroo remembered.
The expression on Perfect Tommy's face resolved into a complex mixture of a temper tantrum, humor, and chagrin. So Buckaroo had heard about the boa. Oh well. With a lightning change of mood, Tommy shrugged and smiled cheerfully. After all, he had just had the pleasure of explaining to the Secretary of Defense in terms a child could understand exactly why you did not want to airlift tanks into a city prone to sudden sandstorms.
"Tactical considerations aside," he had said with maximum sweetness, "you have to think that it's something people would notice. We do want an element of surprise here, and while the sudden appearance of ten Sergeant Yorks in the air over Tripoli would indeed be surprising, it's not really the kind of surprise we mean."
The Secretary had gone along with him, and was nodding sagely by this point. "There is one way we might do this," Perfect Tommy had continued. Serious and eager, the Secretary had bent his full attention on the upcoming suggestion. "Paint 'em yellow and send 'em in as taxis," Tommy had finished. He got a full five seconds of continued sage nodding before Reno's choked laughter had tipped the rest of them.
So if he had to put up with meat loaf, he supposed he could.
As they joined a group already parked at the big, long table, they came in on a debate about a fence-riding report. It developed that the afternoon fence patrol had reported seeing a brown furry animal like a miniature bear, following up a morning fence-rider report that the horses seemed to be spooked by something they smelled in an area with unusual animal tracks.
The night Blazes, courting ridicule, had faithfully logged their possible wolverine sighting. Now everyone thought there might be something to it, and the people at the long table were brainstorming about how to flush it out.
"Maybe we could mix a little musk," Zoo Story was musing. "Throw in some wolverine pheromone. Lure it out and trap it and return it to the wild."
"Right, the wild of over the fence in suburban New Brunswick," scoffed Pecos. "How did a wolverine get in here?"
"Tunnel?" suggested a Blaze.
"Couldn't happen," Perfect Tommy said briefly. "Heat, sound, vibration, and motion detectors on the wall, over and under."
"Smuggled in," Reno said darkly. A day's exposure to the massed minds of the CIA, DIA, and NSA invariably left him disposed to see conspiracies behind every misplaced library book for at least a week. And of course, there always was the small but significant possibility that an apparently innocuous occurrence masked the latest machination of Hanoi Xan.
"I think we should get the wolfhound after it," said Perfect Tommy. "Tree the sucker and shoot it."
Perfect Tommy was known to have hunted with true Tennessee mountain hounds at some point in his cloudy past, but this suggestion was spurious. The wolfhound he had in mind was a completely untrained and sweet old animal, Sam's dog that lived in the garage and had, for obscure reasons, been named Cartune Dog by Reno.
"Why don't we just let it stay?" said Lagniappe, an intern.
"If there really is a strange animal here, it belongs to someone," Zoo Story said. She scratched an eyebrow thoughtfully. "If it's a wolverine, it belongs to a zoo, and it may not know how to take care of itself."
"It could eat cats," Perfect Tommy said callously. "'Way too many cats around here. What do you think, Buckaroo?" No answer came. "Buckaroo?"
Buckaroo had finished eating and was looking off into space, sitting opposite Rawhide, who was equally silently studying the swirls in his coffee. Buckaroo eventually looked over at Tommy.
"What's on your mind, boss?" Perfect Tommy asked curiously. Nothing he'd told Buckaroo about the NSC meeting deserved that deep a level of contemplation.
"Vikings," said Buckaroo Banzai, only halfway attending.
Perfect Tommy rolled his eyes. "Of course," he muttered. "Vikings."
"They undertook great voyages and discovered a continent that no one but its natives had ever seen. And they understood that it was a new land, but even so they let their settlements fall away and hundreds of years passed before it was all discovered again."
Several of the residents were rapt, fascinated by the odd turn of Buckaroo's thoughts, but Perfect Tommy wasn't one of them.
"What about this wolverine? Rawhide, what do you think?"
The Texan popped the cap off a bottle of Dos Equis and considered the question.
"I think we ought to let it go the way it came," he said.
This disappointingly passive approach interested no one but Buckaroo, who broke out laughing. Rawhide looked across at his friend, and finally allowed himself a slow smile at his own joke.
"What?" Pecos was baffled. Buckaroo flicked on finger at his temple, then turned back to Rawhide and started to talk quietly. The words "Texas" and "October" were barely audible in what he said.
"He means it's imaginary," Reno said, irritated. "Unless the little maldito turns up in his own bed--"
"I pity the wolverine that turns up in Buckaroo's bed," Zoo Story whispered to Pecos.
"Sure you don't mean envy?" Pecos whispered back.
For the group of musicians spread across the bunkhouse Common Room's furniture, the issue was whether to go on the road this fall or cut a new album. Feelings were more or less evenly divided, and the debate was taking a silly turn: Pinky had just pointed out how hard it was to find reliable drycleaners in small Midwestern towns.
Buckaroo picked up his white Fender, his fingers moving almost without conscious volition, as if they'd been dying to play, just waiting for him to catch up. Buckaroo smiled and looked down, beginning to give the instrument serious attention.
He reached over and powered up one of Tommy's five-seconds-to-hot amps. Then he just let it come over him and started really cooking with something old and powerful. It was the kind of sound that irresistibly makes some people get up and dance, and just as irresistibly makes others sit down and play.
Rawhide was one of the latter. He was still on his feet behind the piano when his fingers hit the keys and began looping melodies in and out of Buckaroo's lines, while his left hand took up the compelling rhythm Buckaroo had started with.
The two men looked at each other for a moment; it was very like how they had started out, a guitar and a piano and old music that said things to both of them. Buckaroo got a look of intense concentration on his face and sang, "I want to tell you about Texas Radio and the Big Beat..."
Rawhide laughed, a big belly laugh. Buckaroo ripped off a wild riff that dared Rawhide to counterpoint it. Rawhide found an answering run, and shifted back to the underlying song, singing the lyric low and wicked in his rough voice,
"Self-driven, slow and bad, like some new language..."
By now Perfect Tommy and Reno and Pinky were reaching for their instruments, and Pecos was uncapping her drumsticks. I guess we can settle about the road trip tomorrow, was the last coherent thought anyone had as Buckaroo Banzai and most of the Hong Kong Cavaliers settled in for a few hours of concentrated rock 'n roll.
Almost midnight on a summer night, almost too humid to move. Cartune Dog and a couple cats were sacked out under the Jet Car, and Sam was dismantling its ignition system, carefully laying the parts out in a tidy row on paper towels.
It had been good to wake up alive, and fun to join Rawhide and MacIlvaine in the "ghost squad" that struck at Hanoi Xan's Eastern headquarters, but it was best of all to settle back into the garage, tear down the Jet Car, and spend idle hours going over the miles of telemetry with Buckaroo and Perfect Tommy to rate its performance on the way through the Eighth Dimension.
He took another bite of the peach pie slice sitting at his elbow. It was dumb to expose the Jet Car parts to sticky fingers, and he would've royally reamed any Blue Blaze who did, but this was the very last piece of Illinois Kate's Hail the Conquering Hero pie and it was just right for a warm summer night. He could give all the little washers and stuff a gas-and-toothbrush bath later on, anyhow. Cartune Dog yawned elaborately under the car, as if agreeing with this train of thought.
"Hey, Sam," Buckaroo breezed in, wearing a full suit, jacket and all. Didn't the boss even notice it was 83o and 84% humid?
"Hey, Buckaroo," Sam said back. "What can I do ya for?"
Buckaroo came around the Jet Car and ran a knowledgeable eye over the magneto, at the same time pinching a tiny nibble off the pie. "I've been thinking about something," he said. "What kind of mechanical shape is the Jet Car in?"
Sam sniffed and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. "She couldn't go on the road right now, Buckaroo," he said apologetically. "I've got her halfway taken apart here. We could be streetable in a couple hours if I called in Cadillac Jack and Baby Driver and Canary." He thought for a moment. "And Tommy, if he ain't busy." Besides Sam, Lester, and Kate, those four represented the Institute's best automotive talent, and, except for Tommy, had formed the nucleus of the pit crew at the desert test.
More recently, of course, Perfect Tommy had taken the Jet Car to the beach, claiming he wanted to road test it. That short jaunt to Atlantic City was why Sam was carefully cleaning every part in the car, these nights. It would be hard to tell Buckaroo that the Jet Car was off peak because the carbs had been exposed to salt air.
"No, not city driving," said Buckaroo. "I want to go back," he added, as if that explained everything.
"Back-- where?" Yoyodyne?
"The Eighth Dimension."
"Holy sh--" Sam swallowed the word; Buckaroo really disliked idle profanity, though where Sam came from, it was the only way a man talked.
Sam took a deep breath. "Well, OK." After all, it was his Jet Car. "When you wanna go?"
"I'm thinking October," Buckaroo said. He seemed a bit distracted now, and headed back out of the garage.
"Gotcha," said Sam. "Well, g'night, boss."
"Goodnight, Sam," Buckaroo said. His mood shifted from pensive to buoyant in an instant, and he took another pinch of Kate's pie as he left. He walked out into the dense night air, taking pleasure in its pine fragrance. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
Of the tender scene which followed upon Peggy's first moment of conscious perception as B. Banzai brought her forth from the void of non-being to which villainy had condemned her for so many months; of the first words murmured between Buckaroo Banzai and the love of his life, the bride he had at last retrieved against all odds from a kingdom even more remote than that of Death; of what gesture passed between these immortally linked lovers following the harrowing of Hanoi Xan's private Hell, when sensate existence at last returned to the beloved frame, the wide mouth and unique nose, to the fingers equally at home on the controls of a cyclotron or a balalaika, and, pre-eminently, to the laughing gray eyes of Peggy Simpson Banzai; --- of these things I shall not speak. Common decorum, the simplest of decencies, must draw a veil over this most intimate of moments, even in this loquacious decade.
I will tell you, however, that the festivity which commenced upon the arrival at J.F. Kennedy International Airport (formerly sweet Idlewild) of the private jet (a rival syncopated music organization having generously lent it to B. Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers for our putative Asian "concert tour") was of not merely historic nor epic but millennial proportions. Even Pinky Carruthers, our redoubtable auxiliary guitarist, pronounced himself sated, once his larynx recovered sufficiently to enable him again to opine.
Even before the onset of our rejoicing, Peggy demonstrated that she was no whit altered by her long, strange trip. Ineluctably, as she deplaned, Peggy was accosted by a New Brunswick newsie who shouted for her attention, "Mrs. Banzai, Mrs. Banzai -- how do you feel?"
Peggy leaned against her spouse, swung one arm behind his back, and engaged the luscious music of her voice to drawl out a few bars of the wholly unprintable lyrics of a certain French ditty, a favorite of Buckaroo's since...
excerpt from Buckaroo Banzai Beyond the Deathless Void, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1985)
reprinted by permission
It was tea-time at the Banzai Institute, which counted among the many traditions it accommodated the genteel habit of 'elevenses' that Buckaroo and Peggy had brought home from their Oxbridge educations. Of course, adapted to the conditions of life on a four hundred acre ranch and high tech think tank in northern New Jersey populated by scientists and musicians from five continents, elevenses took on a somewhat different aspect then they'd had in the Junior Common Rooms of Merton and Christ Church Colleges. And the loss of Peggy Simpson, the Institute's nonpareil dispenser of tea and sympathy, had given the morning break an air of elegy that newer arrivals at the Institute acquired without ever knowing its source.
"I wish you'd get this fixed." Perfect Tommy directed this remark to Rawhide, as a refrigerator squeaked open with an unpleasant E or F-sharp above C.
His interlocutor merely grunted and continued to pour a cup of coffee. Perfect Tommy watched with a pained expression. "That stuff is probably four hours old," he warned Rawhide. "You'll be lucky if it hasn't actually boiled."
Rawhide shrugged. "So?"
Perfect Tommy grimaced and turned away from the gruesome spectacle of a man about to voluntarily drink sludge.
The Institute's kitchens, under the general supervision of Rawhide and occasional interference of the more epicurean Perfect Tommy, produced three meals a day. Kitchen service was a rotating community chore, the same as fence riding, grounds work, and laundry, but the big kitchen was open at all times and anyone was free to come and cook. Or eat, since Institute leftovers were dated and stored in a big 'frig; anything not specifically labeled with someone's name was free for the taking.
At the moment, Perfect Tommy was rummaging through the shelves looking for something he considered fit to eat. The Hong Kong Cavaliers had convened at an early hour to discuss a new recording contract, a chore that all of them found intensely boring. Whatever Rawhide said would go, but the cowboy insisted on a democratic vote all the same.
It had taken Rawhide about forty-five minutes to lay out the terms of the contract, discuss the alternatives, and ask for a vote. Vastly to Perfect Tommy's irritation, Reno had actually asked a couple questions and New Jersey showed signs of taking the whole process seriously, but after they had been attended to, it took less than two seconds for Rawhide's recommendation to be adopted unanimously.
"I've earned a beer," Reno had said. A bottle of Tsing-Tao was well within the established boundaries of elevenses, and the meeting had immediately adjourned to the kitchen.
They found Penny Priddy and Zoo Story already in possession. Zoo Story, the Argentine, Mrs. Johnson, and Buckaroo Banzai had become Penny's principal teachers as she struggled to transform her life into something worth keeping.
"... echinodermata and coelenterata," Zoo Story was saying.
"And a partridge in a pear tree," said Penny Priddy. "Genus, uh, passerine."
Zoo Story laughed. "Okay, okay, school's out. I've got some microbes cooking that need to get checked at 11:27, anyhow. Tomorrow at ten?"
"Be there or be square," said Penny Priddy with mixed emotions as Zoo Story exited.
"How goes it, kid?" said Perfect Tommy, looking up from his perusal of the leftovers with amusement.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm starring in our own private production of Penny Goes to College, and I can't seem to learn my lines," sighed Penny Priddy. The face under the blonde curls was woebegone. "Botany, Renaissance literature, the economic history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the alphabets of kanji, katakana and hiragana, and that's just this morning...."
Her face puckered. "I'd do anything for Buckaroo, I'd die for him, but I'm afraid I can't... Everyone here is a genius but me."
Rawhide shifted in his chair. "That's not so."
"Look at me," said Reno, who was drinking from a Foster's tallboy. "I'm no genius--"
"--that's for sure," said Perfect Tommy across the room. Reno shot a look in his direction that caused the bassist to return to his scrutiny of the available food with heightened interest.
"--but I belong here," said Reno. "You do too, and that doesn't depend on whether you master the intricacies of Balkan politics or any other blessed thing."
"No," said Penny, even more miserably. "It depends on my face."
An uncomfortable silence filled the kitchen.
"My sister's face," Penny went on. A note of spite entered her voice. "My DEAD sister's face!"
Anger flashed into the expressions of the Hong Kong Cavaliers. Rawhide stood up frighteningly fast, knocking over his chair; Tommy slammed the refrigerator door and Reno froze with the tautness of a snake about to strike.
Fearfully, Penny watched the storm of reaction sweep the room and leave. It was over in less than ten seconds. Rawhide walked out of the kitchen, and Reno, unclenching his fists, spoke with a strange gentleness.
"We're so sure she's alive, you see." His smile was almost apologetic. "And you're our best evidence yet."
Shocked out of her self-pity, Penny bent her head with embarrassment. "You all love her so much." She looked up, her expression wistful. "What can there be for me?"
"Respect." It was Rawhide, leaning on the doorjamb and lighting a cigarette. He inhaled and shook the match out. "Friendship. Whatever you make for yourself." He left again.
Tommy had reopened the 'frig and settled on leftover lasagna, using chopsticks to eat it directly from a plastic container. He picked up Rawhide's chair and settled into it backwards, facing Penny. He spoke seriously.
"Not everyone here is a genius, though some of us are." He gave Reno a sunny smile, then turned back to Penny. "Everyone here does work to the limit of his gifts."
"Or her," Reno introjected.
Perfect Tommy nodded. "Of course," he said. "And no one here lies to himself -- or herself -- about what he can or can't do."
"I don't know what I can do," Penny admitted.
Perfect Tommy's face clouded. "Find out," he said briefly. "And don't whine while you're doing it." He stood up, dropped the Tupperware and his chopsticks in the sink, and took off.
Penny exhaled. "Just when I thought he was being nice...."
Reno smiled at her. "He was. It's good advice. That doesn't mean you shouldn't admit difficulties -- just be honest with yourself about the difference between can't and won't."
Penny shook her head. "Never in my whole life."
Reno patted the blonde curls. "Penny, what Buckaroo taught us all is that human beings are made, not born. And for each of us, there is only one forge and only one smith. You must make yourself truly in that fire, or you make yourself something that will crack in the testing. Start now. There's no time like the present."
"There's no time but the present." The voice came from behind them.
Buckaroo Banzai walked in. "Come with me, Penny."
Penny followed her mentor, hero, brother-in-law and possible lover up the stairs toward the bunkhouse in silence.
It was next to impossible for Buckaroo Banzai to be objective about Penny Priddy, but then he was a man accustomed to doing the impossible on a daily basis. She was not Peggy....she was. There were moments when she looked at him exactly as Peggy had done, with the same bewildering and fetching blend of bril-liance and love that Peggy had beamed on him every day of their eight years together.
It had been like living without sunshine to lose her.
But now Buckaroo Banzai was beginning to wonder if it might actually be worse to have this excruciatingly close approximation of her back. Occasionally Penny herself would enlarge the distance between them, reluctant to be swallowed by a memory, desperate to become the individual she glimpsed within herself some of the time.
Hardest for both of them were the inexplicable moments when Penny knew something that only Peggy could know: the moment when she said "diamonds are a girl's best friend" about Peggy's laser project -- no one but Buckaroo had heard that joke when the idea of using artificial diamonds as refractors had first struck Peggy. Or the moment when she reached out to run one finger down the back of his hand, a gesture of Peggy's that dated from their earliest courtship.
Buckaroo Banzai and Penny Priddy had instantly been close, and almost as instantly had become wary of their feelings for each other. Since her return from Wyoming, and her first look at what should have been her roots, Penny, greedy as she was to be loved, had been notably brave in her desire for only genuine coin: "I never know for sure whose feelings I'm having," she said. "And I don't want to ever have to wonder who you're in love with."
Most of the time, Buckaroo thought, she did well in her effort to become an individual. But every now and then a streak of self-indulgence surfaced in Penny Priddy that could never have appeared in her sister. If she was going to stay on at the Banzai Institute, it had to go. Buckaroo Banzai knew a cure.
"Quiz time," said Buckaroo sharply, when they reached the bunkhouse Common Room. Billy Travers took one look at his boss's face and vacated the room.
"Kings of England, in order." Penny's eyes widened, but she started obediently. He cut her off at Ethelred the Unready.
"Periodic Table." "Hydrogen, helium, lithium...." Buckaroo let her get all the way to lawrencium.
"Function of a catalytic converter.... Process of sister chromatid exchange in toxin-induced mutagenesis.... How do you trim a wolf tooth in a horse that bites?"
"I don't know." This inquisition had lasted for nine and a half hours. She asked for a bathroom break and Buckaroo said "endure;" she made a funny joking answer, like the one that Zoo Story had accepted as a signal to quit, and got only a stony silence and a repetition of his latest demand. The light of day had died away from the windows; she was hungry, thirsty, tired...
Buckaroo Banzai held out a gun, showing her that it had a round chambered. "Disable this weapon."
"I can't, I can't--" tears formed in her eyes.
Now, at last, he was giving her a break. Buckaroo reached out and took the gun back from her. His face showed no expression. He moved too fast for her to see: there was a click--
"This is called the one-eyed stare," he said. His voice was as devoid of emotion as his face. She could see the rifling inside the barrel, inches from her eyes. Penny believed -- no, knew -- she was close to death -- closer even than when she'd held a tiny derringer to her own head.
"Buckaroo!" As hard as she could.
He must hear her, yet he didn't. She moved, and the gun -- the stare -- followed. Dead, alive: how could she have ever thought they were the same? She felt cold sweat break out all over her body, felt nauseated, feverish -- and flashingly, wildly, lustful. She wanted to--
"Now, what can you and can't you do?" Infinitely quiet, dry voice. The voice of Fate.
A door opened in Penny's mind. Dead, alive:alive, dead. She went through the door.
Penny Priddy laughed.
"Fire when ready," she said.
Penny Priddy laughed. Buckaroo had fired the gun, the bullet perceived only as a tiny breeze through her blonde hair and then the terrible noise of the explosion. Seconds later, Rawhide and several residents had spilled into the room, armed, ready for a firefight, and taking her, for a few confused moments, to be the enemy at hand.
She hadn't flinched at all, had felt like a spectator, or, more, like someone invulnerable. Buckaroo had been wiping at the powder stain on his hand, barely deigning to acknowledge the sudden deployment of a strike force in the Common Room.
In the middle of the chaos, Penny Priddy had reached over and tilted Buckaroo's face up to meet her gaze. She observed him through narrowed eyes. "Say, pardner, what's the average annual rainfall in the Amazon basin?"
Buckaroo had smiled at her with a sweetness and purity that took her breath away. "Exactly," he said. "Now you're like the porcupine. You know one big thing."
"The one big thing?" She murmured this question in absolute seriousness. Around them, the defensive force was melting away.
"Penny, there is only one thing." He seemed almost troubled. "There are many ways of knowing -- including not knowing, attaining the no-mind -- but only one known. You won't find it in the Encyclopaedia Britannica."
He smiled again, his eyes focusing on a memory. "At least, not under K. The Paladin of the Red Hand and his men trapped me in a library once, and I read that entire volume while I waited for a chance to get away."
.... entrusted to the defenses of the Thousand-Petal Tong, said to have derived its moniker from its commanding warlord's ruling passion, an obsession with breeding that perennial will o' the wisp of flower fanciers, a blue rose.
The battle to gain entry to the dread cave was brief and exceedingly nasty. The concentrated methane in the atmosphere meant, of course, that no firearm could be drawn, nor any metal blade clashed against another. Yet powered as we were by our own much more substantial will o' the wisp -- our collective memory of a living, breathing, cherished comrade -- we fought like berserking banshees and slew our enemy without let or mercy. In seventeen sanguinary minutes, we gutted and garotted and simply crushed our way toward the chill mouth of that cave that no sane man would ever elect to enter. No man, that is, but B. Banzai, for that cave was the door of the hell to which he must travel to reclaim his martyred bride.
It was Rawhide, a man not given to unnecessary verbiage, who set our final blessing upon B. Banzai's brow as he girded himself to pass through the looming hellsgate on his Orphic quest. Perhaps the ancient, beautiful myth, with its tragic outcome, was also plucking at Rawhide's mind at that moment, for it was Peggy's own frequent benediction that our quiet gunsmith pronounced: "Just keep singing, son, it'll get you there." Begrimed, bloodstreaked, exhausted, and terrified though we were, no one found the invocation of Peggy Banzai's cheerful speech incongruous. B. Banzai exchanged brief grips with each of us, and then our chief was gone, obscured in the malodorous mists of the place.
But indeed we heard him singing as he passed beyond the threshold of our comprehension. For what came next, we have only B. Banzai's report. His voice abruptly . . .
excerpt from Buckaroo Banzai Beyond the Deathless Void, Reno Nevada Granite Press (1985)
reprinted by permission
The guitars were on board, Reno's sax and Buckaroo's Fender safely stowed, Pecos' drums carefully encased. Slow Freddie the driver had been wakened from his snooze and Perfect Tommy had been confined to his usual quota of two female guests on the ride home. Rawhide took a quick look around the dressing room. Something was tugging at his memory-- onstage? in a closet? What was getting left behind?
"C'mon, bus is pulling out," yelled Reno. "Whose truck?"
Rawhide sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. The truck. Clyde Von Drake, who'd brought it down, was in no fit state to drive it home.
"I got it," he yelled back. He had the only complete set of keys on the place. He could order some hapless Blaze to leave the onboard party, but the youngsters were having so much fun... it was their first night out after some very stiff training. Let 'em go.
"Y'all go on home," he yelled down the hall. "I'll bring the truck."
"OK, see ya," Reno yelled back.
Rawhide compressed his lips. He disliked being separated from Buckaroo Banzai, but with the whole rest of the band on the bus and his Go-Phone in good working order, Buckaroo was as safe as he could be outside the Institute's walls.
Outdoors, the bus's engine roared and Rawhide heard the crash of gears (synchromesh on that thing doesn't have long to go, he made a mental note). He dug a hand into his jacket and pulled out the keys to the Institute's twenty cars and trucks. Let's see, Clyde was driving Hollywood's greenhouse van...
But somehow, he didn't feel like driving the van home just yet. There in the middle of the detritus in the dressing room was a can of Bud he knew he hadn't finished. He looked at it pensively for several seconds, then crossed to the couch, picked up the Bud, and drained it. It tasted OK. His eye travelled further, and found another Bud. He swallowed what was left. And then there was Reno's half-finished Old Fashioned, a little runny with the ice all melted, but what the hell. He took a deep breath and spotted Pinky's Southern Comfort, also with an inch or two to go. He took care of that. And over there by the mirror, somebody had left a whole lot of J&B. Somebody, hell. If it was by the mirror, it was Tommy's. Just like that kid to take the bloom off a bottle and abandon it. Damn crime, was all it was.
Rawhide rectified the bassist's wrong, rising (just a trifle awkwardly, he was interested to note) and retrieving the Scotch. He plopped back down on the sofa and began to give it serious attention. It was so quiet here... back at the house, Buckaroo and the guys and that huge pack of interns and Blazes would party all night. All he had to do was drive the truck back... why didn't he feel like it? He took a meditative pull on the Scotch, and laughed at himself. He was getting pie-eye high-schooled here backstage at Artie's, suffering premature melancholia for no reason he could figure. Piss on it. Shoot the piano player...
He swallowed another inch or two of Scotch. Used to be, late nights at the Institute were a regular drinkin' and singin' affair. They'd come to Artie's with a couple guitars and Peggy's translucent soprano and sing for ten percent of what that sharkskinned cheapskate had to pay them now... Damn, those had been nice days. And in the earliest days of all, before the Institute had been much more than a paper think tank and a lease on ten acres they didn't know how they'd make the next payment on, in the really hungry days... why think about it. He wasn't a married man anymore, and the Institute had its own cyclotron now.
Rawhide took another pull on the J&B. Hunh, the bottom was showing already. Better save a little. He sniffed, rubbed his nose. Music, that's what was wanted here. He pulled out his harmonica and started in on 'Red River Valley' and a few odd chords, a little mournful lonesome-train music.
"That's nice," said a soft voice.
Rawhide opened his eyes and looked around. "Oh go on, please," said the voice. It belonged to a small, plumpish woman with rich dark brown curls. It was a familiar face in fact, one that turned up a lot in the crowd at Artie's. Rawhide's memory, slowed but operative, added that he'd classified her in the non-menacing category long ago. He took a slow breath and smiled at her. "Okay."
He went back to the harmonica, pulling out phrases of the first songs he'd ever learned, old cowboy tunes and Hank Williams songs and bits of Louisiana blues his daddy's ranch hands had known. This time he kept his eyes open, though, watching as the woman crossed to a wooden chair and sat down to listen. Even through the haze of J&B and his other recent beverages, he realized what kind of attention was fixed on him. It was a kind that was generally devoted to Buckaroo and Perfect Tommy, which had always been fine with him, because he mostly didn't care for casual transactions of that sort. On the other hand, this woman was sitting a good ten feet away from him, so maybe he was wrong.
Either way, he was being a poor host. "Want a drink?" He offered the bottle of J&B. He'd made serious inroads, but there was definitely a drop or two left.
"Well... sure." The woman left her chair and came to the sofa. She took the bottle and looked around for a glass, realized there wasn't one, looked at him, and abruptly took a swig straight from the bottle. It was perfectly obvious she didn't have much practice drinking that way, and Rawhide laughed a little.
The woman cringed back, embarrassed. Much too embarrassed. Rawhide smiled at her again, and waved a hand sweepingly. "C'mon, sit down." He took the Scotch back from her and took a slug to show her that he could be at least as sloppy with a bottle as she was. He sure was enjoying the hot burn down his throat, not to mention a sort of comfortably padded feeling all over his body and the nice glowy warmth on the skin of his face.
The woman settled into the corner of the sofa opposite him--protecting her back, Rawhide thought with amusement. "What's your name?" he asked, adding "I'm Rawhide" as an afterthought.
The woman laughed at some private joke. "Yeah, I know," she said. "I'm Maureen."
"Mau-reen," he said emphatically. "Good Irish name. Have some more, Maureen."
She leaned forward to take the bottle from him, ducking her head shyly. She was somewhere in the area of the end of youth and young middle age, and she had terrible skin, he noticed. And a bit of a doublechin. He never could understand how people could let themselves go like that...
The lights went out. There was a splashing sound as Maureen bobbled the bottle at the other end of the couch and a scrape as his own bootheels hit the floor as he reflexively stood up. A split second later, reason, as much of it as was left to him at the moment, set in.
"Hey! Lights!" he shouted.
The lights came on again. Maureen, still gripping the bottle, was standing up, too.
They heard footsteps and the scrawny form of Artie Kosinski came into view, wearing a banana-colored coat with a purple tie. He missed a step as he caught sight of Rawhide's drawn revolver, which reminded Rawhide that he ought to re-holster it. "What're you doing here?" Artie asked unpleasantly.
Rawhide grinned slowly. He didn't like unpleasant people even cold sober, and Artie had been unpleasant to Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers for an even dozen years now. True, a lot of it was for show these days, and Artie probably had a grudging fondness for the band that had made him so much money-- but if so, he had never expressed it to Rawhide and it didn't have to be taken into account at this moment. And what made the moment truly sweet was that Artie had been afraid of Rawhide for no reason whatsoever since all the way back in 1974.
Rawhide took a heavy-footed step forward. Artie took a step back. "We'd like another bottle," Rawhide said, still wearing his wide grin. There was absolutely no reason for Artie to find that grin menacing, but Rawhide knew that Artie would anyway. Tonight, Rawhide was feeling just irresponsible enough to fail to relieve Artie of his fears. He looked over at Maureen, who had no way to understand what was going on, and winked at her. Intelligence flashed in her eyes, and she responded with a smile of wicked enjoyment.
Sure enough, Artie came up with another bottle of J&B. Rawhide broke the seal and took a long swallow as Artie stood and watched. He handed the bottle to Maureen, who took a small swallow of her own. He was glad she was bright enough to tumble to the joke, and she did have a nice, funny smile. He grinned at her again. Artie glowered.
"You can go ahead and kill the lights," Rawhide told Artie with a smile of serene dismissal. The cabaret owner huffed but didn't dare put his suspicion that he was being bluffed to the test. He left.
Rawhide reached over to put a hand on Maureen's shoulder. It tensed, but she let him steer her back to the couch. He took the J&B bottle back, swallowed another golden inch of Scotch, and sat down. He smiled at her. "Now where were we?" Out came the harmonica, and he picked up a sweet, slow tune. That kind of shyness mixed with desire... it was almost touching. She was sitting in the middle of the sofa, gradually relaxing, as the lights went off, and Rawhide kept playing low, coaxing melodies for a good while afterward.
The alarm on his watch went off punctually at five-thirty. Rawhide came to full wakefulness for a split second, just long enough to notice that he was lying on his back stretched out on a very scratchy old sofa, and that a woman was stretched out more or less on top of him. He managed to bring his hands together over the woman's back and shut down the alarm. It was time to get up and feed the stock... he was already sinking into drowsiness again. Maureen. Okay, Maureen, and she'd been hesitant and shy and underneath that, unbelievably open. Rawhide yawned and forced himself up toward wakefulness, even though he realized that a significant hangover was waiting there for him. Maureen, and she'd said...
Maureen stirred, woke, and lifted her head. The ends of her glossy brown curls tangled with the mat of fine blondish-red hairs on his chest. She smiled at him blearily. "Is it morning?"
"Mmm-hmm." It seemed the best answer. He shifted experimentally. She took the hint, sliding off, finding her balance and standing up next to the sofa. Rawhide stood up, and the woman called Maureen immediately sat down in the space he'd vacated. She leaned into a corner of the sofa and was asleep again by the time Rawhide turned back around, tucking his shirt in and pulling his belt through the loops of his jeans.
Rawhide leaned over and touched her shoulder. "Maureen." No response. "Maureen." He shook the shoulder lightly, but the woman was deep in sleep.
The piano player made a small grunting sound and gave up. Reaching behind him, he picked up the sleeper's coat and draped it over her, then scratched his head, puzzled about the best way to handle this. He had to go, but it wasn't right to just leave her to wake up alone. He rummaged around the still untidy dressing room until he found an unused paper towel, and scribbled "Maureen-- I have to go feed the horses." Well, that was truthful. What else? Certainly not "thank you"; that would be excessively cold. Not "see you soon"; that was an invitation he truthfully had no desire to extend. The more he thought about it, the more the etiquette of the situation eluded him. He finally just wrote, "Rawhide," but it didn't seem like enough. Underneath the flinching, shy demeanor, this lady had turned out to be very warm-- how could he avoid insulting her? "I couldn't get you to wake up," he wrote finally, unable to come up with anything more tactful than the truth. It still seemed insufficient. After looking at the note for a long minute, Rawhide pulled out his wallet and opened it to a credit card window that housed a pressed violet. He shook the flower onto the paper towel and folded the towel carefully around it.
He wrote "Maureen" on the outside surface of the towel and left it balanced on her purse on the way out. Clyde Von Drake's truck fired after a little coaxing (better get the battery charged on this one), and he was soon on the road to New Brunswick.
Rawhide spent the entire morning in the barn. Slinging around bales of hay was a fairly decent hangover remedy, and the quiet and dimness and pleasant smell of horses were just about perfect for the way he felt. He checked in with the desk to see if there was any urgent business and then devoted the morning to mucking stalls, oiling and polishing tack, and mending the odd latch or hinge that had come loose.
The barn's phone extension buzzed slightly after eleven a.m. It was the front gate. "There's a visitor called Maureen Buchanan who'd like to see you personally. Sorry, she says no one else can help her."
Rawhide sighed, but he was never a man to shirk conse- quences. "Send her up."
"Is she cleared?"
Whoa, he should've thought of that himself. This hangover must be worse than he'd thought. "No, use an escort." Because of the Institute's many top-secret projects, not to mention its unique need for security from attack from Hanoi Xan, it had its own security-clearance system. Only people who were cleared by Reno and Billy's teams were allowed to roam the grounds without at least one Blue Blaze or apprentice in attendance. As in so many of its endeavors, the Institute's concept of what made a person a worthwhile risk differed from the outside world's, and Buckaroo had personally cleared several former felons. Still, Rawhide had never heard of Maureen Buchanan, and he would have known the name if she held Institute clearance.
The lady herself and her accompanying apprentice arrived within ten minutes. Mentally renewing his longstanding appraisal of his night's companion as non-menacing, Rawhide dismissed the apprentice. It was a real safe bet he wouldn't want any other ears around when this lady said whatever was on her mind.
And she did bear the appearance of a woman with something on her mind. The nervous agitation of the night before was back full force in Maureen's demeanor, and she was once again looking at Rawhide with an expression of mixed anxiety and desire.
"Uh, hi," she said in a strangled voice. Her eyes jumped up to his face, then down to the barn floor, and then up again, but only momentarily. Rawhide began to wonder if she had come to press for a lasting relationship. Or maybe money, though his impression of her was that she wasn't the sort to come up with a hard luck story after the fact.
"Good morning," he returned easily.
She nodded, but didn't seem to have any words handy.
"Looks like you could use some coffee," Rawhide said. The tack room had a Mr. Coffee in it that Rawhide had already availed himself of this morning. He got generous cupfuls for both of them, went back out, gave a cup to Maureen Buchanan, and settled onto a bale of hay. She picked out a bale some fifteen feet away and also sat down.
The woman sipped at the scalding brew with lowered eyes; a silence stretched out. Rawhide decided to break it.
"How ya feelin'?"
Maureen smiled tensely. "It's lucky for me today's not a work day. I'm sorry, I guess I'm not very good at drinking."
Rawhide smiled. "That's nothing to be sorry for." Another silence fell. Rawhide finished his coffee and scratched the back of his neck, waiting.
Maureen Buchanan finished her coffee with a gulp. Her eyes met his for a second, then dropped to his boots.
"Um... why I came..." She dug into her purse, spilling a driver's license, lipstick case, and several pens into the straw before finding what she wanted. Rawhide recognized the brown square of paper towel; she took it out and unfolded it. The dried violet slid into her hand. She held it out on her palm.
"I thought I should give this back to you."
Rawhide's eyebrows flickered together in a moment of perplexity. "You don't have to do that."
"Oh, but I want to." There was a curious eagerness in her tone. "You should have it." She pressed her lips together, then pushed the next sentence out. "You see, I know where you got it originally."
Rawhide's eyes snapped onto her face. He swallowed hard. He was angry enough to explode and it showed.
The outstretched hand was shaking now, and Maureen let it fall back onto her lap. Her voice quavered, but she forced herself to continue, even to meet the weight of his stare. "You remember that I said I love you... last night?"
"Mmm-hmm." There was a little bit of relenting in his tone, but he still held her pinned with his eyes. She drew a deep breath.
"It's true," she said desperately. "It's been true forever. I've read everything ever written about you; I've got all the records; I've got so many photos of you..." Her face puckered, but she didn't cry. "And I know you got divorced a long time ago, and I know that Big Norse is teaching at MIT this semester..." She closed her eyes; her voice dropped until it was nearly inaudible. "Don't you remember, ages ago-- you told Marnie McBride of Rolling Stone about this flower..."
Her sentence trailed off despairingly. How could she tell this man about all the conflicting emotions she'd felt that morning, waking up hungover, realizing that she'd lived out a version of her dreams, realizing that he was gone, and finding the note with that blossom carefully folded inside? Ten years ago, before Rawhide had quit giving interviews, a friendly girl had noticed the flower stored in a window of his wallet, cooing, "oh, isn't that pretty!" Lulled and sweetly reminiscing, Rawhide had smiled and said truthfully that his former wife had picked it for him at a particularly lovely moment. It hadn't occurred to him that since the friendly girl was a reporter, she wouldn't hesitate to publish his most intimate memories.
Maureen Buchanan had always loved the idea of Rawhide carrying the pressed flower around with him in his wallet, cherished that one tiny verbal assurance of the emotional inner life of the laconic piano player. You could hear it in his music, but that story really confirmed it, made her certain of the depths behind the firm, impersonal look he always gave to cameras.
The anger was dying out of Rawhide's eyes, but Maureen couldn't see that. Her eyes were fixed miserably on the stable floor at her feet, and her head was down.
Rawhide exhaled heavily and moved to sit next to the distressed woman. "Maureen," he said quietly. She refused to look up. He stretched out his right hand to touch hers. She was still holding the flower, fingers curled protectively over her palm.
"Here, let me have it." Soundlessly, the woman turned her hand over and dropped the flower onto his palm. Rawhide stood up and used his left hand to pull out his wallet. Sitting down, he opened the wallet and put the flower back where it had been for so many years.
"It'll mean even more to me now," he said gently. "Because now it also comes from you."
That did it. Maureen's head came up and tears started in her eyes. "I couldn't believe that you really gave it to me," she said. "No, no, I don't mean that," she added hastily, as Rawhide reopened the wallet. "I mean this morning, when I found it, it was so amazing... but I really thought you should have it."
There was a good deal of warmth in Rawhide's voice.
"I'm glad it was you I gave it to."
Maureen shook her head, making an inarticulate sound of disbelief or pleasure or wonder. "I always watch at the stage door... you know, until you go? And last night I thought maybe I'd missed you, and then I heard the harmonica... I can't believe I finally met you."
Rawhide couldn't help it; he laughed out loud. "We did a little bit more than meet."
Maureen ducked her head and blushed, but also managed to smile back.
Rawhide's expression grew more serious and his drawled words came quietly. "I was very happy to have your company last night. I kinda had the blues before you came along."
Maureen frowned in confusion. "How come?"
It was Rawhide's turn to shake his head. "I dunno. I still don't know. I quit thinkin' about it 'cause I had you to play for."
A silence fell once again, but it was a comfortable, friendly silence that neither of them needed to break. Rawhide, who scarcely ever gave confidences to his friends, didn't mind the extent to which he'd shared his feelings with this woman who was still almost a stranger; and Maureen, who'd dreamed for years of becoming an intimate part of this man's life, didn't mind her sure sense that she'd just been given as much as she would ever have of Rawhide's heart.
In the end, it was Maureen who shook off their shared mood. "I better go," she said, rising. "You've got work, and I've got errands and stuff to do."
Rawhide nodded. "I'll walk you down."
They ambled down the hill companionably, lost in their separate thoughts. Rawhide was turning over what she'd told him-- all those years of devotion, and she'd never once approached him.
He was acquainted with this psychopathology from textbooks; it was close kin to the Valentino and James Dean fans who never married, or the thousands who converged on Memphis every year on the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, but this was his own first experience of such a thing. The depth of her feelings had overwhelmed him; even through the alcoholic blur he'd been immersed in a perception of being loved that from her very first touch had dissolved the odd isolation he'd been feeling. This woman's emotions were a far cry from the adolescent outbursts that came in fan mail or the predatory sexuality of the young women who found their way backstage. But in the end... it was time for her to go home. What could he do for her?
The gate had come into view when it occurred to him what he might say. "Maureen, you ever thought of becomin' a Blue Blaze?"
Maureen emitted a small, painful laugh. "I'm not a scientist or a musician or a doctor or anything. I'm a sales clerk, and I've been a waitress. I mean, I just don't have anything much to offer."
Rawhide's sudden grip on her shoulder stopped her cold and spun her half around.
"Never say that! Everyone has something to offer. And it's your responsibility to find out what. If you don't want to be a Blaze, that's one thing. But if you're tellin' yourself that you're not good enough..." The intensity of his eyes held her transfixed. "Listen. I want you to spend some of that love you offered me on yourself."
Maureen gulped and nodded mutely. His eyes seemed to be running into her nervous system like a jolt of blue lightning.
Rawhide let go of her shoulder, feeling uncharacteristically self-conscious. That kind of speech was more in Buckaroo's line... Well, okay. It was what Buckaroo would have said, and he would have thought Buckaroo was right to say it.
They reached the gate without any further talk. Maureen held out her hand. "I hope we meet again someday," she said. The shyness was back in her voice, but without the self-deprecating anxiety.
Rawhide regarded the outstretched hand impassively for a long second, then pulled out his wallet and shook the pressed violet onto Maureen's palm. She stared at it uncomprehendingly.
Rawhide nodded at the flower. "You give that back to me at the Mountaineering Camp next summer."
"I will," Maureen breathed. Her face had a wide-eyed expression that was strangely girlish for a woman who might be pushing forty. Maybe it was the look of a discovery she'd made this morning, a little belatedly, but better late than never. And maybe a little Blue Blaze discipline would help her get her life in gear.
"'N, uh, drop by backstage at Artie's sometime. I'll introduce you to Buckaroo." As far as Rawhide was concerned, that was the very best gift he had to offer.
"I will," Maureen Buchanan repeated emphatically.
Rawhide nodded with casual friendliness. "See ya then."
"Goodbye," Maureen said. As Rawhide turned and headed back up the hill, she turned her attention to tucking the pressed violet away somewhere safe.
Rawhide was thinking that he'd said an awful lot of things that were absolutely none of his business. All things considered, he was going to be pretty happy when Big Norse got home next month. Still, he was real fond of that flower, and he thought he stood a decent chance of getting it back.
...a phalanx of gifted and altruistic graduate students who were more interested in wisdom than in sheepskins. Many of these young new arrivals, putting up in inexpensive hostelries throughout northern New Jersey, were caught in the cross-fire of the misconceptions fomented by the working press. These neophyte biochemists, molecular geneticists, particle physicists and abstract mathematicians found themselves, to their deep bewilderment, being interviewed as arriving foreign musicians, and daily attempted to explain, in the dozens of their native languages, that their expertise was in splitting atoms, not spinning platters; gluons, not guitars.
And then of course there was the young radioastronomer from Kenya, whose avowed expertise in solar harmonics was misconstrued by a well-intentioned member of the Fourth Estate as signifying that he blew a mean harp. The subsequent success of Nairobi Slim with blues organizations around the United States and in Paris is well-documented, providing one of the best as well as earliest examples of B. Banzai's observation that the Banzai Institute is a place where, more commonly than not, Fate takes a hand.
excerpt from Fate Took A Hand, Reno Nevada, Granite Press (1976)
reprinted by permission
The door banged open: Buckaroo Banzai, Perfect Tommy, and Rawhide were returning from a long morning of briefing the Trilateral Commission on the consequences for international relations of Buckaroo's fifth force theory. Mrs. E. Johnson, barely awake at this hour, could tell the session had not been a howling success.
The policy pundits had made it clear that so far they regarded the fifth force of immanent consciousness as more of a Fifth Column than a helpful advance, and the Institute's efforts to translate the "behavior" of mass inorganic forces -- such as raw gold or uranium -- into an econometric model had met with skepticism and downright rudeness. Henry Kissinger, struggling to be at least moderately polite out of his longstanding respect for Dr. Banzai, had nevertheless ridiculed the theory, asking Perfect Tommy if he could predict what his pencil or his paperweight were going to do next.
Nettled, Perfect Tommy had suggested in a suave tone -- one which both Buckaroo and Rawhide recognized as extremely dangerous -- that he was pretty sure he knew what Kissinger's necktie was going to do next. Buckaroo had intervened to prevent his bass player from strangling the former National Security Advisor, quietly referring the Commission to his published analyses and getting Tommy out of the room in a very few minutes. The ride across the bridge had soothed Perfect Tommy's sensibilities somewhat, but he was still in a grousing frame of mind, which was taking the form of repeating his lecture to a thoroughly inattentive audience of Buckaroo and Rawhide.
They came through the Institute's door in a group, with Tommy still holding forth.
". . . never get anywhere until they cease to view nation-states as essentially inorganic entities. Locked into that paradigm, contemporary international policy simply won't be able to encompass--"
"--preachin' to the choir--" said Rawhide.
"--need to remember some of these people think you're reviving the lebensraum critique--" said Buckaroo.
"Sign these," said Mrs. Johnson, jumping up to thrust a small sheaf at Buckaroo. Rawhide leaned over her desk and accessed the World Watch Wire on her Mac, running a quick eye down the day's doings. Mrs. J shifted out of his way, gliding backwards on her wonted rollerskates, and ran a consoling hand down Perfect Tommy's back to cut off the tirade.
"We got a nice lunch out of it, anyway," Tommy told Mrs. Johnson, finally shrugging off his pique.
Caught, Buckaroo produced a pen and began to work his way down the pile. It was mostly correspondence, much of it scientific cross-talk with his fellow physicists; there were also answers to two Congressional inquiries and several responses to internship applications.
Rawhide finished his scrutiny of the computer screen. Turning to brief Buckaroo, he pulled a receipt out of his jacket pocket and held it out to Mrs. Johnson. "Satellite misfire at the Cape this morning," he said. "TelStar lost one, net cost a couple bil. Janetta is lecturing on microvascular decompression of the trigeminal nerve in the City tomorrow afternoon. Pinky's single is number 38 with a bullet, 'n the Hollywood Bowl booking is close to sold out. Interesting paper out of CalTech about four-coordinate wobble in an ordinary coin-flip--"
"I worked that out last year," Perfect Tommy said, bored and annoyed. "Yeah, but you don't publish," Rawhide said. He picked up his summary again "--and there's some peculiar paramilitary activity in Thailand that looks like Xan's gettin' his people prepped for a strike. You'll want to look at that, huh?"
"Yup," said Buckaroo, continuing to read and sign.
Mrs. Johnson looked up from the receipt in her hand. "Where's your bridge toll?"
"Waved through," Rawhide grinned. "The toll lady recognized us. Said she'd rather have an autograph."
"Another dollar and a quarter spared to us by fame," said Mrs. J drily. She twirled on her skates.
Perfect Tommy smirked. "What she really wanted was a kiss."
One of the internship replies was in the affirmative. Buckaroo pulled it out of the stack and handed it to Perfect Tommy.
"Here's your poet," he told his friend, "the Blue Blaze from Washington." He set the rest of the letters on Mrs. J's desk.
Perfect Tommy reacted with pleasure. "The one from the assassination attempt on Captain Cousteau."
"The one who almost put him in the drink savin' his life," Rawhide commented. He took the sheet from Perfect Tommy and ran a considering eye down it. The Blue Blaze had been routinely driving Pecos, Perfect Tommy and Captain Cousteau from the U.S. Capitol to the Anacostia River berth of Calypso when agents of Hanoi Xan launched an attack from adjacent cars. The Blaze's driving during the ensuing brief shootout had been crazy enough to earn her a pat on the back from Perfect Tommy, although, Pecos said, "it looked like Zheek was seasick for the first time in sixty years."
Rawhide finished reading and looked up. "She's a lawyer?"
"Her references checked out."
"A lawyer?" Perfect Tommy repeated with visible distaste. "No way. Really, she's pretty tolerable." If he'd known that, he'd never have recommended her; lawyers rated well below paramecia on his evolutionary scale.
"Mostly a poet," Buckaroo answered. "Her poem about barrel neuron research was in N. E. J. Med., and there was one about the pre-Cambrian era in Science '83. She'll do. Remember, three minutes ago you liked her."
"Can she play?" Mrs. Johnson asked warily.
Buckaroo shook his head in the negative. Mrs. Johnson shrugged, and executed a pirouette on two wheels. "Dommage," she sighed.
Rawhide rubbed his jaw. "We wasted $22,000 on legal fees last year fighting off that infringement suit." He thought for a moment. "She was at desert survival last summer -- good endurance, no upper body strength."
Perfect Tommy looked at the letter's last paragraph. "'Apache'?" He knew the Blaze under her given name.
Buckaroo nodded. "She's part Chiricahua." He smiled. "Plus, I liked the bloodthirsty glint in her eye when the subject of nuisance litigation came up. She said 'white man speak with bifurcated tongue.'"
Perfect Tommy shook his head and put the letter back on the pile. "Injuns on the place," he said. "I knew it would come to this."
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