He stopped to adjust the tuning. "This is so anal," Alvin (ne Brandon, his pre-witness protection program name) thought, "After all this time, the strings are sure to be a little out of tune. The old gent at the music store can fix that." He reached down to confirm the presence of the gat beneath his trouser leg, and headed toward the el stop for the long ride downtown.
Once on the train, the guitar suddenly began playing by itself, as though driven by an obia. Stunned as he listened to the violent and off key melody, Alvin's mind reeled to a long ago visit to Cote D'Ivoire, where he'd discussed od and other forces, both natural and supernatural, with a native sorcerer. "Mirza," the sorcerer had said, addressing him by his honorary, but nearly-forgotten Persian title, "music is a force beyond our understanding."
On the way to the old gent's, Alvin stopped to see his mother, known to all as Ma. "Why, son?" she lamented, "Oh, don't answer. I'll never understand your motives."
"But Ma," explained Alvin as he picked a perfect "do" on the guitar and started his favorite song under his breath in French, "ut un cerf . . ." He caught himself and continued, "This guitar and the animation cel I showed you will ignite a coup that will revolutionize the entertainment industry."
"That's about as likely as vav being added to the alphabet, or xi for that matter," protested Ma, "We live in an English-speaking country--double u, ex, wye and zee--remember? You and your languages."
"Si, I mean, ti, I mean sh...sh...sure, Ma," Alvin stuttered, as he found the note on the guitar. "A drink with jam and bread," he continued the verse quietly.
The rest of the way to the old gent's, Alvin fantasized about the many coups that would be triggered around the world, and in turn the many lays he would enjoy with eager female fans from Ecuador to England to his hometown of Elizabeth, NJ (perhaps even Elaine herself), once his entertainment revolution got moving.
Oh, the joy his amazing guitar and animated op art would bring to the world! His jaw jut out with pride, Alvin strode though the door of the old gent's mysterious music shop.
Alvin showed the old gent his guitar. "It seems like an aeon since I ate," Alvin remarked. "Wanna split a za with me?" he asked, slipping into long-lost college slang for reasons he couldn't fathom at the moment. Well, at least it was English.
"Aye, za and perhaps a bit mae," the old Scot answered as he examined the gilt overlay on the guitar frets, but soon his eye was distracted by another recent addition to the shop. "Can you believe that the tare weight of that piano is over 5,000 pounds? Look at the packing slip if ya don't believe me, laddie."
No matter how banal the subject, Alvin couldn't doubt the word of the old gent. The Scot's impact on his life as both Alvin and Brandon had been too profound. Neither witness protection nor international fame could separate Alvin from the old man's wisdom.
Pizza and brownie bites reduced to crusts and crumbs in a Domino's box, the old man resumed work on the guitar. "Ha!" he yelped with a hop in both his voice and feet. Yet again the guitar had started playing on its own, this time an eerie air that the Scot recognized from the day of his mother's funeral back home when it was sung by a local chap who was part crooner, but mostly crower.
"Like acid his voice was!" the old man cried. "Make it stop," he pleaded, both to his young friend and to whatever or whomever was controlling the guitar.
"Qi sera, sera," Alvin crooned both to the guitar and his Scots mentor, fading gently as he thought. He started again, "Que sera, sera." He paused. "Now how does that go? Qi or que?" he puzzled almost aloud.
"Use the force, lad" offered the old man, trying to be helpful, but falling back on a trite Obi-Wan Kenobeism, given that he didn't know either the song Alvin was trying to sing, or any Portuguese.
"Force!" Alvin gasped. "Qi is the life force in Chinese philosophy. Is this guitar Chinese? If it is, Angus, we need to harness its qi." He continued the song, "Whatever will qi...will be." Sometimes Alvin wished that both the guitar's qi and his id were a little more unconscious.
The guitar quieted--the crowing sound giving way to a nearly tuneless whirring. Alvin wished he had one of the experimental depside anti-inflammatory pills for the chronic pain in his right hand, pain that had caused him to give up playing and hock the guitar many years ago.
The Scot murmured, "Aye, that's better. Is nae Chinese. Reminds me of the sound me whip and peerie made when I played with them as a wee lad." He began to croon along.
"Eh, eh, Angus," interrupted Alvin with some care, "Remember why I'm here? Until you finish with the guitar, I can't show Ray de Duplaise to anyone." Alvin had arranged a meeting with Plexar to introduce them to his animated guitar character.
Angus went back to work, and Alvin watched an English football player nearly deke a Scots opponent out of his kilt on the telly Angus kept tuned to the Soccer Network. "Nice move," he remarked, though the scorer's physical dexterity paled when compared to a guitar that could play by itself all the music ever composed.
The referee gave the signal for a goal and the announcer screamed, somewhat redundantly, "Gooooooooooo-aaaaaaa-lllll!!!" The kick reminded Angus of the pistol, borrowed from Angus's collections of gats, still securely strapped to his leg. He hoped there'd be no need to use it.
Angus made his final adjustment. "This unit is Ray de . . Du . . . Plaise, laddie!" he proclaimed, eyes twinkling at the thought of an old Scotsman like himself remembering the faux French pun (and knowing the word "faux" for that matter).
Alvin's eyes twinkled back under the tod-like clump of his unibrow (a somewhat ridiculous part of his witness-protection disguise) as he thanked his mentor, secured both the guitar and the cel, and set out to Ray-de-ate the entertainment world.
End of Chapter 1
Heigh, Ho, the Dariole
Though all the Frenchified talk left him craving, of all things, an obscure French custard called a dariole, Alvin headed doggedly to the train station to begin his journey to Los Angeles. A meeting with Plexar was almost more than he could imagine--like a prebuilt castle waiting to serve as a setting for his fairy tale.
First the craving and now the scent of darioles assaulted him. "Who mows their own lawn anymore?" he overheard a shirtless and overheated man question the woman standing next to him on the sidewalk, while both pointed at an overgrown front lawn about the size of a small bedroom.
Alvin squinted while thinking about why he was listening to this conversation. "Just a mo, you ox," the woman shot back, "You're not gonna fox me on this one."
"Some mot," thought Alvin, "She must have been reading Dr. Seuss before she came outside." He tried to refocus on the business at hand. How would he come by the specialized oxo compound needed to treat the toon wood guitar every day? And where was that scent of pastries coming from?
At this point he passed by a cafe where many a cud was being chewed by various lunchers. "Yikes," Alvin muttered as his stomach turned, "This city could use some table manners ed." His own id subconsciously tongued one of the delicious darioles he smelled.
The aroma led him to a neighboring bakery, a patisserie no less. Inside the bakery had an odd ambience, a mixture of a French village and an East Indian jungle, with a small al tree in a planter in the corner. The rim of the pot was decorated with icons that Alvin could not decipher. A metallic voice sounded from the guitar case, "Just a mo, Al. Let me take a look at it."
Alvin turned and the guitar case shifted subtlely toward one of the danglier icons. It had a starlike center and tubular projections in the shape of ziti, though Alvin might have voted for penne, if pressed. "It looks like a kachina figurine--quasi," the metallic voice speculated.
Unnerved by the suddenly cogent commentary of the heretofore notes-only guitar, Alvin whispered, "What are you, some kind of musical satyr?" When the guitar fell silent, Alvin shrugged, bought and consumed a dariole and boarded a boat on the adjacent klong, which unnerved him as well, given that they weren't within 10,000 miles of Thailand.
Game, jeu, trick, Alvin thought, What's going on? I half expect to see an inia jump out of that canal. What was it that Ma said about vav, or was it vaw? It just doesn't belong. Maybe I don't either.
"Nay, laddie," Angus's brogue popped into his head, "Follow the path to your dream, wherever it leads. Don't write Ray's obit too soon."
"Ta, Angus," Alvin mouthed in a slight brogue of his own, "And god speed, wherever may ye gae, to music or back to the ag world of old Scotland."
Just then Alvin noticed yet another oddity. The seats on the klong boat each had a small table, appointed with the finest French naperies. The monogram "en", spelled out, appeared on each napkin and place mat. "Even with Angus's encouragement, I can only take about half of this," he thought, "But Ray makes it worth it."
With this idea no more than formed in Alvin's head, the letter "ar" appeared on both the napkin and the place mat, as if marked in invisible ink to be activated by Alvin's thoughts. "Ar for Ray, I get that."
Steadied by this glimpse of reality, Alvin looked up to see a sign, "Union Station, 3 li". "Great, about a mile," Alvin said as he converted the Chinese unit of distance in his head, not thinking about why a road sign, or a canal sign for that matter, should be displaying Chinese units in an American city. "We'll be at the station and on a train to the airport before I can recite the Hebrew alphabet up to "fe." Within minutes the boat was ajee the landing. Alvin disembarked and headed toward the station.
End of Chapter 2
In the Land of Dreams
Vapor rose from the locomotive as Alvin walked along trackside. "Ow!" he cried as he walked through a jet of steam. Ray, as Alvin now thought of his guitar, sounded a perfect re, as if to calm Alvin with a homonymous note from his favorite song. Condensate from the steam engine flowed through a ditch and across a weir on its way to a storm drain.
It was an old-fashioned scene to be sure, but Alvin was no fud and refused to be sucked in. He headed up the nearest staircase to a more modern platform with a train that could take him somewhere other than the 19th century. He and Ray would dow once they escaped this misshapen world and reached the "lights of L.A."
A fresh cup of French-roast coffee in hand, Alvin boarded the airport special with new vigor and took a seat. Still, he felt he might need ephedrin before this trip was over. B-flat mews greeted him from behind. "What is it, Ray?" Alvin whispered as inconspicuously as he could, given his rising exasperation with his suddenly chatty guitar.
To the tune of "So Long, Farewell", Ray sang back, "Just like a cat, you're craving pickled britt."
Not a bad match. Bri..itt, Alvin thought while staring up at the transit map. "Exit zed, the end of the line," he read aloud. He would not be eating any pickled britt, however, as a vug-like cavity in a lower molar seared with pain in the presence of any salty food.
"By the light. . . of the silvery moon," he heard in muffled tones from the guitar case, followed by, "My funny valentine." Alvin shrugged, mystified at what to do, but hoping to jostle Ray back to the "off" position, wherever that was.
It worked. "Mi, mi, mi . . . bye," Ray signed off, although perhaps with a little too much pride on the "mi", as though he were beginning to understand what this trip was all about. Alvin tied the guitar strap to his belt and stepped off the train.
The sour smell of qat being smoked greeted him on the platform. "Surely they could enact a law against that nasty stuff," he thought, to himself he was sure until he saw a small man dramatically extinguish some burning substance under his foot.
"Ta," Alvin thanked the stranger quietly. "Perhaps you could try some other ag product that doesn't smell so bad." The lucky mig Alvin carried in his pants pocket clicked against his guitar picks, reminding him of the task at hand, but his alveoli continued to react to the secondary smoke.
"How far to the ticket counter?" he asked a uniformed agent. "About one li if you don't take any side trips or turn back," came the enigmatic reply as the agent pulled out his own qat cigarette and began to light up.
Rather than create a rift with the agent, Alvin moved on. "Li, again?" he pondered, "Turn back? Maybe I should give that a thought."
"Aw, now what?" Alvin moaned as he considered the ashy aa strewn in his path, "Is there a volcano around here I don't know about?"
"Nope! Just a quick mo, bo," answered a cheery young man in a T-shirt and jeans. "I know you're in awe of all this -- the dariole, the al tree, the klong, the monogrammed naperies, the li, the steam engine, the qat, the aa, and now me--but it's just our way of welcoming you to the fantastic world of computer animation--where anything, no matter how improbable, can happen."
"We could make it seem like aa is coming of out all the ora of your body, or that a ria full of boats is right around the next corner," he continued. "Come along for the ride."
Literal, unreflected light shone in the young man's eyes. "Depsides and ephedrins together might not be enough for this trip," Alvin mused.
"Oh no, perhaps not, Alvin," the T-shirt spoke as it boarded his train of thoughts. The lava was one thing, but a guy with a T-shirt that could read his mind and talk to it? A spray of sweet-smelling gas interrupted that thought and Alvin slipped into a much needed sleep.
"Sweet dreams, bo," whispered the young man, "You'll learn the whole story, by and by." The dentil molding in the concourse looked like piano keys, but neither Alvin nor Ray de DuPlaise were awake to appreciate the resemblance.
Scup and other salt water fish swam in aquariums built into the concourse wall. Alvin dreamt about water rising in a series of jails holding himself, Ray, Ma, Angus, and Elaine. In the dream, a Greek-Vietnamese vendor pushed his cart along the sidewalk. "Xi Phu's Bahn bao Kabobs--Drachma or Xu accepted," the hand-painted sign read.
Even as dreams go this one was particularly surrealistic--the street vendor; both his mentor, Angus, and his one time jo, Elaine, in jail with him, or at least in jails next to his; and the "ar" monogram appearing and disappearing once again on his cell wall, just above a rising water line that threatened Ray's guitar case. And he'd had to sorn his way into the situation with a story about them all being homeless and preferring jail cells to living on the street. Alvin awoke reeling and tried to determine where he really was.
End of Chapter 3
Chim Chim Chiree
Angus's first clue was a grinning donkey--a computer-generated one, his subconscious had somehow worked out. Still, he'd never been leerier of a meeting, even with all the prospects that this one held. He felt like a zek in Soviet gulag, somehow imprisoned by both Ray's magic, his own dreams and a growing army of half-real figures.
A futuristic el whisked him to the Plexar headquarters. As the doors of the train whooshed open, another young man vaguely resembling Dick Van Dyke in a T-shirt and overalls appeared out of nowhere to greet him. "I'm just a writer here, but I "flue" in to show you to the meeting." At this point, the overall bib glowed coallike and a plume of smoke rose from the top of his head. "We are so glad to meet you."
The erstwhile chimney sweep led Alvin down a hall, past a vending machine displaying the sign "Now Accepting Vietnamese Hao". That sight or something woke Ray from his long slumber and sounded a perfect fa to begin the song "Hi Lili, Hi Lo" from the 1953 film, "Lili", an unconventional hit about a puppeteer starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer, which Ray explained perfectly after playing the first verse and chorus. After meeting this chimney guy, Alvin had been half expecting "Chim Chim Chiree".
Not paying much attention to what Alvin thought was a remarkable performance, Mr. Chimney (the name of Alvin's sweep in the city) switched to a British accent to point out the presence of the loo on the left side of the hall. "Let's tarry here," he suggested, pointing to a dimly lit bar on the other side of the hall. "I'm dying for a gin and tonic."
Two gin and tonics later (on top of two Bahn bao Kabobs, albeit in a dream) left Alvin feeling fat and with the urgent need to visit the loo. He excused himself as Mr. Chimney wrapped up a story about a Plexar project on the military junta in Myanmar. "I can't see Ray in that," Alvin thought.
When he returned from the loo, Alvin decided to be proactive. "Um, Mr. Chimney, let's not make Ray look like a some kind of mome," although he wondered how he expected to revolutionize 21st century entertainment with such archaic language. He wished his former jo, Elaine (ne Claire, she too emerged from witness protection several years ago), were there to help. A linguist of prodigious breadth (linguistically, that is), Elaine would be invaluable translating both Alvin and Ray's eclectic idioms to modern parlance.
Mr. Chimney wasn't paying much attention. "So don't mind those fatsoes," he advised, motioning toward a couple of slightly overweight co-workers sitting across the bar, "That Myanmar thing was their idea. They could use a session or two of creative ed." He went on to explain that Plexar offered an extension school with a wide variety of courses.
"Now we're almost late. Let's jog on over to the conference center," Mr. Chimney suggested surprisingly, given his likely blood alcohol content. As they labored along the corridor, he offered some inside information. "You might find the senior development VP to be a bit of a hag. I'd be careful using a lot of foreign terms with her. She's something of a xenophobe."
Alvin understood that term. Ma shared that quality, though from her three-room apartment in the city, she had nowhere near the impact of a senior vice president. The thought of Ma seemed to jog Ray from his Lili-induced reverie. Fa and ti followed in quick succession as Ray picked out the ad jingle, "Monster....dot com", which somehow seemed appropriate, given that they were looking for work in a quite unnatural environment. Their path took on the appearance of a wadi, but after the klong and the aa, Alvin hardly noticed.
"Yo," a voice beckoned from an half-open door. "Come in as quick as you can."
"Ay," answered Alvin, quietly kicking himself for lapsing into faux-Scots, though the xenophobic VP was nowhere in sight.
"The FATE of HE who VIES for ENTERTAINMENT SUPREMACY is in our HANDS," the voice pronounced with Oz-like profundity.
Sensing that the conversation was moving too far too fast, Mr. Chimney broke in. "Let's handle some housekeeping first. The loos are at the back of the hall--a gauche for the gentlemen; a droit for the ladies," bringing a bit of Chevalier into what heretofore had been pure David Tomlinson. "I'll leave it to you to take care of the guitar's needs."
Alvin looked toward the rest rooms. At the side of each door were three glass cases. He moved closer to examine them, "Some kind of display of aas from different eruptions of Mauna Loa, it would seem," he thought. A strange sensation came over him, like aa inside his skin against his tibia. His mind went back to a conversation with Angus. A klong from Thailand; xu and hao from Vietnam--maybe qi was more regional than strictly Chinese.
Suddenly he had an inexplicable urge to repot a Chinese Evergreen. "Ex that," he judged, "no entertainment possibilities there, I mean really ex that." Re sounded from the guitar case. Alvin unfastened the strap and brought Ray out.
The Plexar team seemed to recognize the moment as six burly guys strode into the room in T-shirts spelling the company name--"pee", "ell", and the rest. "YOU ARE FATED TO TURN LOOSE OF THAT GUITAR," boomed the now disembodied voice. Alvin flinched at the thought of "turning loose" of Ray de DuPlaise.
"Aw, shut yer gob. That be nae guid ava!" lashed out Mr. "X" in a full Scots brogue.
"Good thing the veep's not here, or we'd be P-L-E-A-R for the time being," whispered Mr. Chimney to Alvin with a ginny puff.
A blinding op laser light display heralded the arrival of the senior veep. "Who in the name of Little Nemo going to understand a Scots pun?" Ava bellowed.
"That's Ava. Someone should throw a net over these loonies," remarked Mr. Chimney to Alvin. "Think anyone would notice if I ducked out for another gin and tonic?"
Ava continued in a calmer voice, "I think we've delved into Scots puns quite enough. Also, there is no more need for stories about military juntas. Got all that?"
Hearing and seeing Ava sent Alvin reeling back into a surrealistic state. Could she be. . . ? Ray strummed a perfect G7 chord and they focused again on their waking dream.
End of Chapter 4
You Say You Want a Revolution?All the blab had distracted Alvin momentarily from noticing Ava's amazing resemblance to his "own" Elaine. Her jawline in particular could be cut and pasted into the vodka ad Elaine appeared in just a year ago.
Ava continued her remarks, "That said, we'll continue to encourage revolutionary thought here at Plexar. So much so that the project to move from binary to denary programming of our features remains our top priority."
Hearing this statement, Alvin's felt the helium leak from his balloon of hopes, both professional and personal. What was Plexar doing working on leftover ideas from the 1960s? Would they be too lax about promoting Ray? Could Ray max his potential in this environment?
Mr. Chimney stumbled back into the room with a feint blue flame in his overalls and some wispy white smoke above his head. "Ex that denary program!" he called out in an unidentifiable, but clearly foreign accent.
"Aw, Chimney, what about that accent law?" Alvin whispered as he tugged on an overall strap, being careful not to pull his already off-balance friend onto the floor.
Sounding more like his ma than his sweet Elaine, Ava shot back, "That will be quite enough, Mr. Chimney!"
"May I play something to improve the mood in here?" offered Ray melodically, "You all know "All You Need is Love," right?"
WHOP! sounded unexpectedly in apparent response to what seemed like a reasonable question, as a stack of delivery pizza boxes thudded onto the meeting table. "OK, who ordered the "sauteed squid za, add broccoli"?" asked Mr. "P", reading the writing on the topmost box.
"Whoever whops any more zas in this room won't even be able to get a job with Hick Jr!" warned Ava, unaware of the lunch order placed by one of her subordinates.
Wow, Alvin thought, this is one of the mouthier groups I've ever met. I hope that creativity is truly the intent of all this talking and screaming.
"And who among you brainchildren bought a keir?" Ava continued berating her staff while consulting a cost report. "We're digital, you eejits! No need for a vat for fabric dyeing!"
At this point, no less an icon than Wordy of the Plexar megahit "Short Story" appeared on the meeting room's far wall. The sight inspired Ray to pluck a ti and begin the film's theme song, "Short Is Best", the tune of which sounded, some said suspiciously, like that of "Be Our Priest" from the Dinzey classic "Cutie and the Priest". Along the adjacent wall danced some of the beloved letters--"ell", "em", "en", "oh", "pee" from English; and "be", "edh" and "tet" from Hebrew--that had spelled out the lyrics to the theme song in the film's famous dream sequence.
Ray's playing and Plexar's visuals brought some harmony to the room, at least until two of the letter guys started demonstrating various judos they'd learned in the Plexar's fitness ed program. Right on time, the letters switched from English to Greek, now lambda, mu, nu, omega and pi. Then Ava howled at the still-judoing "R", "You nit! There's no judo in that dream!"
Alvin's rolled that insult around in his mind--nit--an egg of a parasitic insect--that's pretty rough. Elaine's, I mean Ava's, id must be pretty beaten up to go that far with her employees. Still, she looks great in that maxi and a lot of the old fiz is still there.
The Hebrew alphabet continued to cavort on the screen - pe, vau, edh - how wrong ma had been about the power of languages. Alvin cringed as an impressively proportioned delivery man in a Speedo tossed a parcel on the table.
Ava stared, but not out of admiration. "I remember you. You're the diver we hired as a body model for the pool scene in "A Bacteria's Life". This better be good," she added. "I already warned the rest of these paramecia about interrupting the meeting."
"Er," Alvin broke in quietly, "Can we get back to the song? Or how about "Do-Re-Mi? That's always fun." Upon hearing his name, Ray's ego kicked in. The song worked its simple magic once again, as Ava sidled next to Alvin, giving him hope that she could once again be his jo. With the mood lightening, the diver carefully opened the package, revealing a sego lily with a card that read simply, "To Elaine, Words Fail, Love, Alvin".
Alvin staggered as if he'd been hit by a felled sequoia. Was he a naif about the whole situation? His Adam's apple went "glug" in his throat. Would all the gains he and Ray had made be reversed in this strange world of imagination, mindreading, conflict and manipulation? With "Do-Re-Mi" continuing softly in the background, Alvin closed his eyes and thought hard about what to say next.
End of Chapter 5
"Don't those petals remind you of the butterfly alae?" Alvin asked Ava, deflecting the subject from the message on the card to the beauty of the lavender flowers.
Recovering her businesslike demeanor, Ava responded, "I don't know. Let me ask one of my indexers to pull up a picture from our database for comparison." Ava, nee Elaine, nee Clara certainly taxed Alvin's emotional reserves. The Plexar meeting had him feeling like his head was in a vise, but relief arrived unexpectedly when a purda on the other side of the room parted to reveal an enchanting dancer, her sitar-playing accompanist, and a turbaned servant who solicitously served pizza to everyone in the room.
"Ta," Alvin heard Mr. Chimney offer in thanks. A greenish-yellow gem glowed from atop the dancer's headdress. Its reflection prompted the projectionist, wherever secreted, to finally shut down the alphabetic light show, which had been stuck on "pe" for quite some time. "Um," Chimney continued monosyllabically, "Could I get a pint of bitters to go with this za?"
"Vum! Bitters?" came the dislocated reply, as the New Hampshire-raised servant/aspiring actor slipped out of character. Recovering, he replied, "Regretfully, sahib, I must inform you that we don't have bitters. A glass of stout would perhaps ape sufficiently the taste you desire?"
"Er, I guess," grunted Chimney, again disappointed that Plexar management had never seen fit to stock a decent bar.
The hair on the nape of Alvin's neck stood on end at what he saw next. "Oh!" he exclaimed inwardly. A knob of bristly hair near his right wrist joined the salute as Ava walked over to the Indian dancer and thanked her for the performance with a more-than-friendly kiss. So she's bi too, he speculated.
Suddenly he felt a yen to be anywhere else, perhaps in Tokyo at a noh performance rather than here, trolling for fame and his old girlfriend. If he just could filter out what was real and right from all the distractions he would avoid a lot of grief and wo, as Angus might say. His bio would be shorter, but his life happier.
But how could he leave those bice colored eyes? Surely we can work this out. Sensing the need for some tranquil music, Ray strummed "Sitting By the Dock of the Bay." Alvin daydreamed about himself and Elaine, wed at last, the dragons of their past slain.
Shaking Alvin from his reverie, "Pow!" exploded from the monitors and speakers that made up the walls of the meeting room, as Piaget, foe of the Dragons of Ignorance, and hero of Plexar's television division, crept onto the screen--the most beloved Pre-School Action Tortoise (PSAT) of them all. "B.F." Skinner, "Maria" Montessori and "Friedrich" Froebel followed in close order behind their leader, "Jean".
Alvin took a moment to con the scene, but instead noticed that a zit had developed at the end of his nose. Apparently, lunch wasn't quite finished as the turbaned waiter came around again to offer breadsticks with a ghi dipping sauce. This time he was accompanied by a young ama, a precaution against food poisoning that had occurred during yesterday's lunch.
"Ah, miss," interjected Chimney, "Would you by chance have any laudanum?" as he attempted to emulate another literary hero, Sherlock Holmes.
Alvin turned toward Ray, "Help me here. This is weird enough without any hallucinogenic drugs being involved." Ray understood and jumped into the middle of their theme song, "Mi, a name I call myself; Fa, a long, long way to run!" Right then the tortoises disappeared and the letter "es" flashed on the screens. For what? Alvin wondered. "U" and "Q" followed just as quickly. Suq - souk, a north African marketplace, Alvin remembered from his travels there. But why here? Why now?
Ava moved back to the head of the table to explain, "I'm no Central American jefe, but I am boss of this division," she started authoritatively. The universal "cut" sign quieted the room. Motioning the ama to the table, Ava continued, "My young friend here is wise in both the ways of healing and the power of qi, both critical to our quest for entertainment domination. She has traveled many li to be with us today." Ava then withdrew a razor sharp ulu from her suit jacket pocket and drove it up to the hilt into the conference room table. Recognizing the sign, the Plexar staff hurriedly left the room, leaving Ava, the ama, Alvin and Ray for the final round of negotiation.
The display screens changed such that the room now resembled odea that Alvin had visited in Europe. From the center of the table rose an aquarium holding a live version of the queen clamworm from the Plexar hit, "Lost at Sea."
In her sternest all-business tone, Ava spoke first, "You may think you're going to be the ravisher in this relationship, but you're wrong. You've probably seen the negative crit on our last feature "Well Above Average", but everyone agreed that the music in that film was way above average."
Her words came faster and more breathlessly. "And, for all I know your guitar can do one of those triple lutzes I saw at the Olympics last year. But we're only willing to go so far for this deal and not one fermi further. I've read your vitae and it's nothing special. We've got at least two oboes and a French horn that play without being fingered."
Ava paused for breath. Alvin thought that either he or the ama might get a chance to speak, but Ava just reloaded and kept firing. "I know Plexar has jived around with you some lately, but that phase is over. We're driving a piton into the rock face right here. You can decide if you want to climb the mountain with us, or go back to base camp. It is your choice."
Despite Ava's imposing style, Alvin couldn't stop thinking about those beloved Hebrew letters from the dream sequence in "Short Story"--"pe", "edh", "vau". He could envision an entertainment where Ray and his musical notes would become even more popular. Ray played "re", which once again brought Alvin back to the land of the living.
"We don't plan to tow the line for anyone," he responded, not sure if the idiom was "toe" or "tow" (it seemed that either worked pretty well). "This will be a partnership not a dictatorship. They be but ane singin' fiddle, and Ray be him," he continued, wondering where that Scots brogue came from, and then thanking Angus silently for being there when needed.
"I don't know what criteria you're looking for, but we're running an entertainment business here, not conducting ecotours," shot back Ava.
"Ef you, lady" muttered Alvin testily so that only he and Ray could hear. At this point it was a good thing that Chimney poked his head into the room and pointed at his watch fob. "Please do remember, ma'am. We're due at the quai at five o'clock."
The ama stopped knitting a bootee and drew the attention of the others with just a glance. Her skin was smooth as that of an eft, and her doe eyes evoked empathy from even the most cynical. "Be nice, friends," she advised.
In this room, however, her soothing manner wasn't going to be enough. "Nice?" sneered Ava, "Oh, I don't think so."
"Pah!" interjected Mr. Chimney, still following the action from the cracked doorway.
"Away!" thundered Ava, furious with Chimney's kibitzing and confused whether the faux-Englishman was supporting her view or that of the ama.
"Egyptian mythology teaches that your ba, your eternal soul, will be tormented by the lack of kindness and cooperation you display here on earth," continued the ama with Buddha-like serenity.
"That's gey guid thinkin', lass!" Angus channeled through Alvin's lungs, larynx, tongue, lips and teeth. Momentarily detached from his own voice, Alvin returned his thoughts to "Short Story" and his favorite Hebrew letter, "pe"--for peace, he hoped, even though he wasn't sure because he'd never learned to write Hebrew. He imagined Ray playing "Dock of the Bay."
"Don't get lax, laddie,"Angus warned Alvin, who then spoke again on his own. "Can we continue this discussion under the al tree in your park?" he asked, thinking that an al might be a good omen for someone named Alvin. "Perhaps a more natural setting can lead us toward a solution."
At the al, Alvin began with what he thought was his least controversial demand. "I'd like 10% of any salary or rights fee to be paid in Vietnamese xu. I've been thinking a lot lately about how I can support the Vietnamese economy."
"Xu?" Ava questioned, clearly ignoring the ama's advice. "I have no xu on hand and the exchange rate will kill the deal. You'll rue the day you made that request! No more bizarre requests or you and your banjo will be wandering like a bedu in the desert."
Despite Ava's emphatic instruction, Chimney did not "go away". There he was in the shadow of the al, swinging his watch fob so there appeared to be many fobs. Alvin was mesmerized by the sight, as he retreated from Ava's barb like response to his minimal request. Her words stung like iodines cauterizing multiple wounds. Alvin forced himself to look away from the watch toward a knur on the al. Sensing that music might still rescue the moment, Alvin sounded "la" and began the old Nilsson tune, "Put the Lime in the Coconut."
The song mellowed Ava. She turned to the ama and asked her to bring everyone some flan for dessert. Spying Chimney, she was less serene, "Git, you git!" she hollered.
The wens on Alvin's forearms prickled at the harsh sound of Ava's voice. Yow, thought Alvin, this was going to be a long, hard process--hardly the stuff of a dream.
End of Chapter 7
Knowing that Ray was indeed a prize possession, Alvin steeled his resolve. Just as he began to speak, however, the ama returned with flan, some leftover za, and two flagons of ale. A train sped by on the el track that ran above the park.
The interruption allowed Ava to get the next word. "It's just like a male for you to think you're going to put me out on some limb. Males have bruised me more than once on my way to this position, and it's not going to happen this time. You can quote me on that."
Alvin found himself caught up by Ava's adversarial tone. "Great, let me write that down in my book of quotes," he shot back. "Your taunts aren't going to bruise us either."
"Finally, a backbone!" Ava exclaimed. She leaped out of her chair and threw herself at Alvin, knocking them both to the ground, their limbs seemingly tied in knots while Ava decisively merged her lips with his, overtaking him with kisses.
Ray hit "ti" and played a merry jig, celebrating Ava's apparent change of heart. The ama grinned, "They'll be talking about this in ag ed tomorrow, for sure."
Jigs broke out across the park as the ama and several passersby joined in the celebration. After just a few seconds of dancing, however, the ama sat down. "I've had three flus in the last month. This is a little more than I can take."
Alvin untangled himself from Ava and helped them both to their feet, keeping an affectionate arm around her waist. Wow! He thought. Having won her heart, could he now appeal to her brain?
Once the ama stopped dancing, Ray switched back to "Do Re Mi" and was just up to "Fa, a long, long way to run" when the ama turned wistful, "I travelled a long, long way myself - many li to share in this moment," she sighed.
"Foh!" resounded a disgusted cry from a doorway that opened onto the park. "Ef all this lovey-dovey nonsense." Chimney had obviously found the rest of the ale. Ray scrambled to restore the mood, "Do, a deer, a female deer," he repeated, a little confused about how to react.
"Deer, dandelion or dog! I don't care! Shut that infernal banjo up!" roared Chimney.
"Ye be gey drunk, lad," Alvin offered soothingly in a faux Scots brogue that he thought might appeal to the faux Brit, "Sit ye a bit."
"Yah! I'll show ya, I will! Ava's mine, ya know!" fumed Chimney as he rushed toward Alvin.
"Hey, Chimney! That's enough, right there," called Ava, "You're fired! Chimney. . . fired. . .that's so good."
"Ho!" Alvin yelped as he realized how Chimney really felt about Ava. "Go and take him with you," he instructed the ama in a very authoritative tone.
A yag in the ama's simple necklace reflected in Ava's eyes, a sight of such beauty that it almost rended Alvin's soul on the spot. He'd seen gaudier jewelry. He even recalled both a yagi and a hoe that were exceptionally well designed and beautiful in their own way. But na so fair as an angel--the angel named Ava (nee Elaine, nee Claire) standing at his side. He hoped the ama would tell everyone in ag ed about what she'd seen.
"Blue Moon" wafted from the guitar strings as the sun set and the moon appeared in the night sky. Alvin envisioned the letters large across the screen of Ray's first feature film, Em..Oh..Oh..En...Moonbeams--the very same ones that now shone in Ava's eyes now that the ama and her jewelry were gone.
"Can we do that?" he whispered to Ava, not knowing whether or not she could read his thoughts. "Of course, darling," came the reply, "as surely as tav is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet." Linguistics will keep us together, thought Alvin hopefully.
"Liar!" hissed a voice from behind the al.
"What's all the ado?" inquired Ava, more politely than Alvin had ever heard her, particularly given the epithet that Chimney had directed her way.
"Chimney's out of touch with his ka just now," explained the ama. "You enjoy your time together while I keep working with him."Alvin pressed his advantage a little. "If not xu, how about lwei? Angola's economy needs help too."
"Er, lwei," Ava answered haltingly. "That's fine. Lwei are routine," she finished with a coo.
"Xi, xi, Miss American pie," improvised Ray in his best Don McLean impression. Alvin flinched, hoping that his own pectic compound deficiency (PCD) wasn't affecting Ray's memory. Maybe all the linguistics were having an effect on Ray too.
But by trusting Ray to play his music and Ava to lead the way through the surreal world of entertainment, Alvin felt the strands of their futures woven. Music, od, qi, obia, the force, or just plain love--whatever was driving them would keep doing so as long as they stayed together. For an instant, the cold steel of the gat against his leg chilled him like an oe, blowing in from the Faeroe Islands, but only for an instant as he took Ava's hand and Ray's strap to strike out once more in pursuit of their dream, and Ray improvised a new riff based on their favorite song, "Yowie, a ewe, a smallish ewe. Ray, a note of golden song. . ."
Or to be continued??
How Yowie Came To Be: On of my favorite writing assignments in 10th grade English was to compose a two-page story using the week's 20 vocabulary words. Most of the stories were outrageous, at least to my tenth grade mind) and many ended with screaming or bloodshed (I'm not sure why, since I'm generally a conflict-avoider).
As part of my writing in here, I thought it would be fun to renew this practice, and also renew a game I played years ago in my online Scrabble group. There we'd compose a story in the comments section of the play page using the words being played on the board (each writer had to use the word or words played by the previous player). With three or four players participating, the story would go every which way. Most ended up sounding like fairy tiles, but I remember one particularly good one about an interview of an aging actress by a smarmy magazine writer.
I wrote this story by myself, and didn't let my opponents know what was going on, so as not to influence their choice of words. I didn't let the story influence my choice of plays; I made every play to try to win the game or at least maximize my losing score.
The title of the story was already been determined by my first play--YOWIE--made before I thought of this idea. It turned out that this word wasn't as flexible as I thought--I was using it as an all-purpose interjection of happiness while the Scrabble dictionary defines it as a small ewe. Yikes! The protocol was to use each word played on a turn (even the small ones) in a sentence (or no more than two sentences) that moves the story along. I tried to avoid unexplained transitions. As I wrote the story, I highlighted the words played in the Scrabble games, rather than keeping a separate list.
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