113 – THE ROAD TO THE STANLEY CUP GOES THROUGH ANTARCTICA

 

The brothers Staal and Margot stood staring into the Valhalla dining room, where Daisy was sitting five feet in front of their doorway, reading Riff n Raff, and laughing her ass off.

“She must have seen me, when I walked in, back from Wuhan,” Margot explained. “And when we all disappeared, while she was called to the front desk, she figured something strange is going on, and has parked herself rigt where she saw me enter.”

“And when she finishes the book, she will know about the tunnel,” said Eric.

“She will, but she will not know how it works,” Margot clarified.  “She will not know that the doorways only lead to the hub, so she won’t be able to get through. We could walk in and out of the tunnel, rigt in front of her, a dozen times, and she would never be able to follow us, and would not have a clue as to why. She would just think we are special, somehow.”

“And, if she told anyone, they’d just think she’s even crazier than they already think she is,” Marc reasoned.

So, what to do?

“We could go back to the hub, and make a new doorway in the parking lot, or any of the rooms,” Jordan said.

“Or,” said Margot, “we could go for a cold one, and wait her out.” A perfect example of Thunder thinking, it resonated with the boys, who immediately agreed that it was the thing to do.

“Good idea, Margot!” Jordan smiled. “And, we can go anywhere in the world for cold one! Where should we go?”

Cold one,” said Marc. “Cold one.” The others hadn’t the foggiest about what he was on about, so he said it, “Antarctica.”

“Nice!” said Eric. “But I don’t think they have beer there.”

“So?” laughed Jordan. “We all go home, get some winter clothing, grab some beers, and off we go.”

Without a specific location in mind, the four of them stood at the doorway and watched a waddle of Emperor penguins. The brothers argued about who was to go first. Eric looked at Marc and smiled. Marc smiled back. They grabbed Jordan and threw him through, all of them laughing.” Jordan landed rigt at the feet of two penguins, who simply looked down upon him curiously. The others piled through, with their cases of Mr. Canoehead, and the party was on. Everyone cracked a beer, and Margot offered one each to the penguin pair. The penguins shook their heads. “Do you understand what we’re saying,” Margot asked the birds. “Are you two left over from Sid’s waddle?” The birds just looked at her.

Although they understood the basic plotlines of the Riff n Raff trilogy, none of the brothers had yet read the book, so Eric asked Margot what she was on about.

“In Riff n Raff, the penguins are aliens, who came to Earth long before humans did. They aid and abet Riff n Raff in their heroic quests to save the world, not once, not twice, but thrice. They prevent a nuclear war, they solve global warming, and they end hatred. The penguins are highly intelligent, and far more evolved than humans. Their leader is named Sid.”

Jordan, who had played with Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, wondered, “I wonder if Sid knows about this.”

“Wait a minute,” said Eric. “That’s it!”

“That’s what?” asked Jordan.

“That how we win a Cup, or two, or three, in Montreal. We get Sid to sign with the Habs. He still has good years ahead of him, and he wants more rings.”

“You’re rigt,” said Marc. “Sid was all about the Habs, when he was a kid. He’d love to be wearing a Habs sweater, with a C on it, the next time he lifts the Cup up and over his head.”

“Fascinating,” said Margot. “Do you think you could talk him into it?”

The brothers thought on it a while, before Jordan said, “I bet we can, if we sweeten the pot a little more.”

“And how are you gonna do that?” asked Margot. “He’s made more than a hundred million in salary alone, has two Olympic gold medals, three cup rings, a world junior gold. A few more Cup rings he wants, for sure, but he could win those in Pittsburgh”

“He doesn’t have something the four of us have,” answered Jordan. “And he won’t get it in Pittsburgh. But if he comes to Montreal with us, we can give him access to the tunnel.”

The brothers all looked at their spiritual guru, who was opening a fresh can of Mr. Canoehead. “I don’t know,” she said, after taking a long pull on her beer, and thinking. “There could be something unethical about using the tunnel for personal gains. I don’t think you could walk into Fort Knox, and walk out with a backpack full of gold bars.”

“Point taken,” said Eric. “But this isn’t about personal gain. Not financially, at least. We’re all gonna have to take haircuts to play in Montreal, or we’ll be way over the salary cap. So, Sid would have to take one, too, which I am sure he will be happy to do. He took far less than he could have gotten out of the Penguins, so they had money left to keep Malkin on the team. And he did that so they could win more cups. The question, then, is: is winning the Stanley Cup a purely selfish thing, and therefore considered a personal gain?”

Once again the brothers looked to their spiritual guru, who once again took another long pull on her Mr. Canoehead, and thought about it. But only for a half second, “Bringing the Stanley Cup back to Montreal is about as rigteous a mission as I can think of. Let’s go see Sid, and see what he says!”

Laughing, the four of them disappeared back into the tunnel.

One of the penguins looked at the other and said, “So, the rumours of the tunnel are true.”

The other smiled, and replied, “And now we have access to it!”

114 – A 3D SWISS CHEESE RELIEF MAP OF THE PANAMA CANAL

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112 – CAUGHT IN A WEB OF PARANOIA?

 

It took Kitty less than fifteen minutes to create fifteen doors, to and from the tunnel, at fifteen statues on Parliament Hill. She moved back and forth between the hub and a statue, the hub and another statue, imagining Gotcha’s reaction, if she decided it was necessary to take a powder in a hurry. She also wondered just how Pinky would handle it.

Pinky would understand what had happened, and be able to get into the tunnel, but Gotcha, being clueless about the tunnel, would not. If the two of them were in cahoots, and trying to do her any kind of harm, she could wait for Pinky at the hub, and kill him. Or, she could get to the hub and disappear to somewhere only she knew, and no one would be able to follow her.

If that happened, her fnext move would be to contact Lance, and get him to meet her in the hub, or go find him. Together they would come up with plan b.

On her seventeenth trip from the hub to Ottawa, Kitty created a door underneath the thirty foot tall statue of a spider, outside the National Art Gallery, a ten minute walk from Parliament Hill. She was going to step out of the tunnel just long enough to create the door, and step rigt back inside, before anyone could notice her, as she had on the Hill. But the second she felt the sun on her face, she sensed something 90 degrees to her left. She turned swiftly, throwing her rams in front of her in a defensive posture, and looked straight into the cold, dead, gray eyes of VoV.

113 – THE ROAD TO THE STANLEY CUP GOES THROUGH ANTARCTICA

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111 – GETTING THEIR STORY STRAIGHT

 

Mostly satisfied that Pinky was not playing ping pong with King Kong in Hong Kong, Kitty moved rigt along,” When and where are we meeting Gotcha?”

“He doesn’t know we’re here. I’ll call him, but we always meet at the same time and place; midnight, on the sidewalk, directly in front of the Peace Tower. We walk the grounds. There are statues of former Prime Ministers. He gives me a Canadian history lesson, as we walk and talk.”

Pointing out the window at the Peace Tower, Kitty said, “I assume that’s the Peace Tower.”

“Yes, you do, and yes, it is.”

“Does he know about the tunnel?”

“Not from me, he doesn’t. But he, or someone in Gotcha, must have read Riff n Raff, so… maybe.”

“They keep tabs on Salmi?”

“I don’t know how closely, but yes.”

“They’re not gonna think the tunnel is real based on Riff n Raff.”

“Not likely, but if they started asking around Thunder about it, they may have heard the stories.”

Kitty dismissed that quickly, “By that logic, they’d be more likely to believe that Nanibijou is real.”

“By that logic,” Pinky retorted, “you’d think VoV was not.”

“Two points for Pinky! We are not telling him about the tunnel.”

“You don’t trust him?”

“I’ve never met him, never heard of him, until you brought him up.”

“You’d never met me, ‘til a couple days ago.”

“Here’s where you lose those two points, Pinky: I certainly had heard of you, long before you contacted me; I knew you were going to contact me, before you did; and who says I trust you?”

“Fair enough, Kitty Kaboodle. Fair enough. I’ll call him rigt now.”

“What are you gonna say if he asks how we got here?”

“We flew.”

“He can’t check the flight manifests?”

“We drove.”

“Where’s our car?”

“We wanted to get high, and relax, so we got someone to drive us.”

“You smoke weed?”

“No. You?”

“No, but he’s not gonna drug test us, so it’s good enough.”

“I think he smokes. What if he fires up, and passes the joint?”

“If smoking weed is the biggest risk we’re gonna have to take between now and whenever, we’ll be very fortunate. If you can’t stand smoking weed, make like Bill Clinton.” Pinky was gonna crack that he’d be happy to do so, if she’d make like Monica Lewinsky, but thought better of it, and simply smiled, and picked up the land line, instead.

“He’s gonna ask why you’re not calling from your cell.”

“Because we wanted to surprise him, so we left them in Thunder.”

“Wait. If he doesn’t know about the tunnel, why does he think you were in Thunder?”

“I told him we were going to meet the Staals. That I had a hunch they would be inclined to join this conspiracy of ours.”

“So, you don’t trust him, either?”

“Not as much as I trust you.”

“Fair enough. Tell him I am looking forward to making his acquaintance.”

The call was placed, the meet was set, no questions were asked. “Time for my old man nap, young lady. I’m sure you can find a way to entertain yourself.

“Sweet dreams, Pinky.”

Kitty loitered for a few minutes, checking the view of Parliament Hill, then checking it against the Google map of the grounds. As soon as she heard Pinky sawing logs, she disappeared into the tunnel.

112 – CAUGHT IN A WEB OF PARANOIA

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110 – THE NEW ORIGINAL SIN

 

Not sure if he was having her on, or totally serious about the Pinky thing, Kitty opted to simply observe her companion. As soon as they arrived at the check in counter, the clerk presented them each with a laptop bag. “As requested, Mr. King, two brand new, state of the art laptops, and smart phones.”

“Thank you,” Pinky said, taking one, and handing the other to Kitty. “But, please, call me Pinky. I insist.”

The clerk kept a poker face, saying, “Yes, sir, Mr. K… Pinky.” Registration complete, Kitty and Pinky made their way to the elevator, neither of them saying a word. As soon as the elevator door closed, Pinky started whistling Terrence Trent D’arby’s Wishing Well. Despite the upbeat bounce of the hooky tune, Pinky maintained an almost robotic composure, staring straight ahead at the door. When Kitty closed the door behind them as they entered the Presidential Suite, she finally had to start asking questions. “Yo, Pinky?”

Pinky looked at her, smiled, and said, “Hello, Kitty!”

Returning the smile, the girl asked, “Is the King of Horror still in there, somewhere?”

Ignoring the question, Pinky responded, “If I tell you, you’ll think I’m playing ping pong, with King Kong, in Hong Kong… but you’d be dead wrong. I’m not a loon, singing out of tune, in a choir of blue-balled baboons, on the dark side of the moon.”

“You’re not a duck named Daffy, singing songs with Raffi, and Colonel Ghadafi?”

Clearly pleased with Kitty’s clever comeback, Pinky answered, “No, but that does sound fun. We’d need a fourth, for a barbershop quartet. Maybe that Gypsy girl, from Riff n Raff? What was her name? Oh, yeah, Taffy! Daffy, Raffi, Ghadafi and Taffy. By day, we perform for kids in refugee camps around the world. But, by night we’re cat burglars, stealing from hockey arenas. We’re called the Rink Panthers.”

“I hate to burst your bubble, Barney Rubble, but there ain’t no hockey rinks anywhere near any refugee camps.”

Pinky mused on that for a bit, but Kitty’s expression told him she wanted the game to be over. And it was. “I don’t suppose you noticed the mannequin that was wearing the pink shirt.”

“I did not.”

“I did,” Pinky said. “And he noticed me. Didn’t even see you, so he must be queer.”

Kitty still had no idea if he was having her on, so she remained silent and expressionless. “He sneered at me.”

Kitty still had no idea if he was having her on, so she remained silent and expressionless. “It was almost a snarl. If I didn’t figure out what he was trying to tell me, I swear he would have hissed, and spat at me.”

Kitty still had no idea if he was having her on, so she said, “So, he just stands in the window, snarling at guys passing by, until they buy a pink shirt?”

Pinky ignored the cynical snipe, and said, “He was black.” Kitty’s face was a puzzle, so Pinky tried to paint the picture for her. “I will no longer tolerate being referred to as a white man. I will no longer be lumped in with the cross burners, the drooling xenophobes, the Nazi necrophiiacs who should have be snuffed out at Nuremburg, merely because we have the same skin colour.”

“You wanna isolate them.”

“Yes. And I wanna expose the closet cases. The ones who pass themselves off as human beings, by blending in with those of us who have the rigt to walk uprigt, in daylight. I want the entire world to know who they are.”

“By wearing pink. If you don’t wear pink, you’re white. White power white.”

“The queers have abandoned pink for the rainbow. We won’t be trampling anyone’s trademark.”

“Men and women?”

Pinky laughed, “Did you seriously just ask that?”

“Dumb question. Sorry. But there will be blowback from the PCers.”

“Of that, I am sure, so you can bet your whole kit n caboodle on it, Little Miss Kaboodle. Especially so, deliciously so, from the sanctimonious, white PCers.

“But they’ll all say we are trying to whitewash our collective guilt, the whole rotten lot of them. To them, being born white is the new original sin, from which there is no absolution.

“And yes, white privilege does exist, but it’s not absolute. There are plenty of whites, trailer park nations of them, for whom life ain’t nothing but an endless shit sandwich.

“And do whites, who were born in, and live their lives in countries where there are almost zero people of colour, the Slavs of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, do they enjoy white privilege?”

“It’s very rich, coming from a rich white man.”

“I’ve earned my money. And plenty of people have made money off me. More than should have, and they made more than they should have. Have I gotten fat off  my white privilege? Maybe. But who’s to say I would not have been just as successful if I had been born black, or brown, red or yellow? That may have actually worked to my personal advantage.

“Is the game rigged, the system fucked? Obviously, it is. Do I have a responsibility to reform it, or blow it up? Yes, I do. And I will. But this is a hundred headed hydra. A thousand headed hydra. And every one of those heinous heads of the merciless beast needs to be stared down, and cut off, the body burned in the eternal fire.

“For now, I will start by saying I AM NOT WHITE, MOTHERFUCKER! If you are white, and you are what white represents, what white means, I am not white, I will not white. I will call you brother, and sister, when you earn the title, which isn’t really hard to do; just stop hating, you dumbass Jethros.”

“It’s very daring.”

“If art isn’t daring, it’s just entertainment. Nothing wrong with that, but it does not move us forward.”

“Is this art?”

“Everything is art, Kitty. Life is art. All the world’s a stage, or so said a much better writer than can ever hope to be.”

“We’re all pink on the inside.”

Pointing at Kitty with both his pinkies, Pinky said, “Perfect! We are all pink on the inside. You! You complete me, clever girl!”

111 – GETTING THEIR STORY STRAIGHT

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109 – PRETTY IN PINK

 

“That’s it?” Kitty asked, staring into the Presidential Suite of the Chateau Laurier.

“You sound disappointed. It’s the best suite in Ottawa,” Stephen informed the girl.

“No, I mean, that’s it? We’re here, already? We didn’t even take a hundred steps, but we’ve covered a thousand miles. We weren’t in the tunnel more than a minute.”

Looking at his watch, Stephen said, “Look at this.” Kitty did. It was stopped. “That’s a twenty thousand dollar Rolex. Stopped dead, the second we went into the tunnel.”

“And it will start running again, the second we step out of here, into there.”

“Apparently so. Let’s find out,” said the King of Horror, walking into the suite’s living room, overlooking Parliament Hill. He turned to see Kitty materializing as she strode into the room, out of thin air, and announced, “The watch is working again.”

“That’s weird,” Kitty said, before turning around and disappearing back into the tunnel. In a second, she was back in the suite. “Nothing. I feel nothing. No different. You would think there would be a gust of wind, or a flash of lightning. Or… something. But nothing.

Stephen followed suit, stepping back into, and back out of the tunnel. Then pointing at his watch, he said, “Check it.”

“It’s the same time we left, plus the few seconds you were in here. That’s wild. Go back into the tunnel, and stay there for a minute. Count to sixty in your head, then come back in, and see what time it is.”

Stephen did. It was the same time he left. “It’s true. The tunnel is timeless,” he concluded.

Kitty wandered into the bedroom, and laughed out loud, “Pink champagne on ice!” Looking up, she lamented, “But, no mirrors on the ceiling.”

“I have it from a reliable source that it was taken out after the Stones were so fucking high that they were trying to snort coke off it, when they played here in the 70s.”

“Them and the First Lady.”

“And Castro,” Stephen chuckled.

“There’s only one bedroom in here,” Kitty said.

“Oh, relax, you have your own suite,” Stephen assured her. “C’mon, let’s get downstairs and check in.”

Stephen stopped in mid stride, as they passed the men’s wear shop on the ground floor. “You see something you like in there?” Kitty asked.

Ignoring the question, King walked into the shop, and asked the clerk, “Do you have pants, and shoes that will go with the pink shirt in the window?”

The clerk smiled, and answered “We have a wide selection of pants and shoes that will go very well with that particular shirt, sir.”

“Pink,” Stephen said.

“Pink?” the clerk asked.

“Pink. Pink shoes, pink pants. Do you have any?”

“You’re in luck. We do, but they’re in the back. Give me a minute, please.”

Kitty stood back, and watched Stephen walk to a rack, and take every pink shirt from it. The clerk returned with a stack on shoe boxes and pink pants. Stephen picked three pairs of the same shoe, all the store had in his size. He checked the sizes of the pants, found his size, and left the rest. He showed the clerk the measurements of the pair that he kept in his hands, and said, “Can you have the rest of these altered to my size, please and thank you? I’m in the Presidential Suite. King’s the name. Stephen King.”

“Yes, sir. We can have that done for you by tomorrow.”

King disappeared into a fitting room, and emerged a minute later. He sat on a stool, put a pair of his new, pink shoes on, and strutted around like a cock rooster, admiring himself in the mirrors.

Wildly amused, Kitty said, “I have to admit, you’re pretty in pink. You reinventing yourself?  Queer Eye for the King of Horror Guy?”

The King of Horror smiled at Kitty and announced, “I will no longer tolerate being referred to as a white man. You can call me Pinky, from now on!”

“Okay, Pinky,” Kitty laughed, wondering if the massive, festering mess of looming dementia inside Pinky’s head was festering faster, and looming larger.

110 – THE NEW ORIGINAL SIN

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108 – LANCE READS MADONNA’S BIG TELL AND PUSHES ALL IN/OUT

 

As Ciccone and Lear made their way to the check in counter, Lance leered at Madonna until she noticed, and asked, “What the fuck, Lance? You fall into the creepy trance?”

Lance Lear laughed, “No, not the creepy trance, not at all. I just had a vision of you, in my mind. Play along with me, or I’ll call you ‘mom’, when we get to the front desk.” In his head, he had already escalated it to calling her grandma, but he was exercising some restraint, while waiting for the reaction, which he liked.

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Madonna shrieked. But she was laughing. “Don’t you fucking dare call me your fucking mother, especially not in public, or I will make sure I get my hands on a copy of a recording of it, even if I have to go to the C I fucking A, or Putin, to get it, and I will make sure your fucking mother sees it.”

In an unmistakable gesture of surrender, the boy threw his hands up in the air, and laughed “Holy fuck, you play this game well!” Something in his head was screaming at him to add ‘grandma’ to the end of the sentence, but some saner voice said to save that dirty suitcase nuke for another day.

“I didn’t get where I am by being a Girl Guide, son.” Madonna flashed Lance a million dollar, toothy grin at the end of the sentence, and the boy was blinded by the light of it.

‘Son?” he thought. He pictured Madonna calling him son all the time, everywhere, and his mother finding out about it. The sexagenarian had crushed the boy’s balls with one word. He knew it, and he knew she knew he knew it, And he was in awe.

Lance’s mind attempted to calculate how much damage he could do to her by upping the ante, and calling her grandma, but he couldn’t do the math, so he let it go. It didn’t matter, anyway; if ever there were a dirty war, between he and her, or he and Kitty against her and his deadbeat dad, he had the super duper missile – Old Leather Pussy.

But there was no point in any of that, at the moment. So far, they were playing on the same side, so far as he suspected, so there was no need to be chirping the old broad. “When I asked you to play along, what I wanted was to see a big, toothy smile from you, and you shot one at me already, so….”

“Here’s another one for you,” said Madge, resisting the temptation to add ‘grandson’ to the end of the sentence.

“Perfect. My vision, minor, and you’ve probably already thought of it, anyway, was a promo image of you, a caricature of you…”

“With piano mouth,” Madonna completed the thought, and the sentence.

“Yeah. Like I said, it’s pretty obvious. Nothing to write home to mom about.” It was a good natured use of the mom bomb, and Madge admired his check.

“It is obvious, but the obvious can make for great art, obviously. I will employ the idea, after the first performance.”

“You’ll tour the show?”

“Yeah. Of course. That’s what I do.”

“Live Nation?” Lance wanted to know. “Gonna make some money for the House of Saud? I assume you heard that news, yes?”

“I did.”

“And?”

“The buy was made on the open market.”

“Oh, fuck off!” Lance’s tone made it clear that he was ready for battle on this one. “You really think they didn’t check with Rapino, to see if there was going to be any squawking from the Board, or shareholders?”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“Bullshit! They played kissy face, long before pretending they’d never met, when the deal was made public.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“Oh, fuck off. But, even if I’m wrong, so fucking what? The deal is done, and now anyone who plays a Live Nation show, or attends one, is putting money into the House of Saud. Paying for beheadings, stonings, crucifixions, keeping women locked in the 14th century. Need I go on? Want me to get the widow of Jamal Khashoggi on the phone for you? I bet my dear, old, deadbeat dad’s friends in weird places can even get their hands on the video of Khashoggi being butchered, like a fucking pig, in Istanbul. ‘Cause you know the sick fucks had it recorded.”

Lance stopped walking, and stopped talking. Madonna stopped, too, and looked at him, silently. “You gonna go sing and dance for the House of Saud? Maybe you can do your first piano show there. That’s what the play is all about, after all. They want the world to think they’re as kind as koala bears, and they want to make money in the process. So, you and the rest of the gang go to the Kingdom to play their updated version of Sun fucking City, and get paid a small fortune for it. And they’re just paying you out of the rake they take from the five percent they get from every one of your shows. They want you to be their PR firm, and they want you to launder their blood soaked money.”

The boy stood squarely in front of the Queen of Pop, who would not look him in the face, going so far as to avert her eyes down to the floor.

That was all Lance needed to hear. “Yeah, fuck you and your poser bullshit. The first time you get to a fork in the road to rigteousness, you choose the path that is littered with filthy fucking money. You’re nothing but a fraud, and a fucking whore. I’m gonna find Gaga, and I’m taking Commonwealth with me, so don’t you fucking dare try to build that. And if you do, I have a poison pill failsafe built into it. You fuck with me, on Commonwealth, and you will hear one big motherfucking KABLOOEY!”

The boy took twelve steps to the closest emergency exit, and kicked it open, setting off alarms throughout the hotel.

109 – PRETTY IN PINK

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107 – THE PIANO HAS BEEN DRINKING

 

As Madonna sat at the baby grand piano and pounded out Flight of the Bumblebee, Lance drank in the harbour and mountain view. “It’s spectacular,” said the boy. “Hope we have some time to get around and see more.”

Madonna kept playing, but slowed the pace, and throttled down on the thunder. “Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but it’s kinda like a dumb, blond, awkward teenage girl, with a nasty drug habit that gives her a cold, hard, skanky jailbait mystique. Lots of potential, but still tawdry, lacking soul.” She quit Korsakov, and started banging a sloppy, mess of disconnected notes. “The rhythm, if you can call it that, the energy, is bad staccato; two drunk virgins fucking in a snowbank.”

Walking over to the piano, Lance wondered how much of Madonna’s description could have been applied to her, once upon a time, but knew better than to ask. “That’s awesome!”

“You think?”

“Your description, I mean, not the reality, if that is the reality of this place.”

Madonna thought for a while, then replied, “Beauty is a very powerful thing, and I fell in love with the setting, when I first came here. I considered buying a place, but before doing so I spent some time, to see past the beauty. I was not exactly overwhelmed when I scratched the surface. I may reconsider, in a hundred years, when Vancouver has figured out what it is. Or maybe not.”

Lance couldn’t help but laugh, but kept it to a slight chuckle, before saying, “A hundred years? You’ve found what Ponce De Leon could not?”

“Who knows what the Hell else is in that tunnel? There may well be some sort of fountain of youth in there. Or other tunnels, tributaries, that can go forward and backward in time.”

“You’re rigt,” Lance agreed. Who knows?” Wanting to move the conversation in a direction that would allow him to get to something he had running around in his mind, he said, “I didn’t even know you play piano.”

Returning her fingers to the ivories and plunking out a few notes, Madge said, “Most people don’t. But I have been applying myself. I can’t be dancing like a twenty year old much longer, but music still burns in me, and I have a surprise planned for the world.”

“Do you?” Lance said with a grin. “Care to share?”

“I wouldn’t have mentioned it, otherwise. It’s just coming together in my head. Without telling anyone about what it is I am going to do, I announce a performance. I come out on stage, and take a seat at a grand piano. People will be wondering, ‘What the fuck? Madonna playing piano?’”

“Love it, so far.”

Madge started playing Chopsticks, “And I do this. And laugh! Maybe fumble it a bit, for a few seconds, like this. But then I get it rigt,” she said, getting it rigt. “Then I speed it up, like this, and then faster, and faster, and faster, like this!”

“Oh, they’re gonna love this!”

“I think so, too, and they’re gonna love it even more, when I hit them with this.” Madonna proceeded to roll through minute long clips from Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2, Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer, Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire, and ending with Edgar Winters’ Frankenstein. “But Frankenstein has to be done on a synthesizer, of course.”

Nodding his head and bowing in appreciation, Lance Lear said, with total sincerity, “Wow!”

“You like that?”

“What’s not to love. Who’s not gonna love it. The element of surprise is what makes it that much better. No one will be surprised by it again. The people in the audience will be the only ones who ever experience that sensation. An absolute mule kick in the head!”

They were both laughing, as Madonna kept blistering the keyboard. “How long can you make that show go on?”

Shrugging, Madonna answered, “I don’t know. The idea is still forming. But I know how it will end.”

“How?”

“Someone else, not sure who, maybe Elton, maybe Rick Wakeman, or Stevie Wonder, comes out on stage, and we play Dueling Banjoes, but on keyboards, obviously. I’m dressed like an inbred hillbilly, straight outta Arkansas. We kill it, over and over, and it all ends with whoever’s up there with me saying, ‘You sure got a real purdy mouth. Squeal like a pig!’ And I squeal like a pig, and run like Hell, off the stage, with whoever it is  chasing me.”

Hysterical, Lance paused his laughing long enough to point out the obvious, “That leaves Stevie out of it.”

“No, not necessarily. I’m pretty sure he can run in a straight line, and it would just add to the comedy of it, so we will see. But, for now, it’s all just a bunch of Silly Willy and the Philly Band, could be, ooo wee, running around in my head.”

Taking her hands off the piano, Madge pointed at Lance’s bag, “Come on, we need to go check in.”

108 -LANCE READS MADONNA’S BIG TELL AND PUSHES ALL IN/OUT

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106 – RIDDLES IN THE DARK

 

“Okay, you’re next,” Margot said to Madonna and Lance, as Kitty and Stephen disappeared, on their way to Ottawa.

Madonna was a bit tentative. “Why was Kitty so much brighter than Stephen?” she asked.

Shrugging, Margot answered, “I don’t know. She is a remarkable girl Celestial. Star child. But it could be that Stephen spends so much time creating dark stories. Could be that he is so much older than her. His inner light, his life force, is diminishing. But, really, I don’t know.”

Looking at Lance, Madonna said, “You go first. Not far. Then come rigt back, and then I’ll go, so we can see if you’re as much brighter than me, as Kitty was to Stephen.”

Lance looked at Margot, who looked at Madonna, and asked, “You sure?”

“Yes,” was the answer. “I’m curious. Aren’t you?”

“I am,” Margot admitted, looking at Lance.

“So am I,” he said, walking in. The light coming from Lance was not blinding, but plenty bright. He walked in ten yards. Then ten more. Thirty yards in, he was less than half as bright as when he entered. By the time he’d walked fifty yards, he could no longer be seen from the entrance.

“Stop!” Madonna yelled. “We can’t see you, anymore. Come back”

The tunnel’s darkness swallowed Madonna’s light by the time she got twenty yards in. Obeying Margot’s command to stop and come back, Madge made no attempt to disguise the fact that she was disconcerted, when she got back to the entrance. “What does the physicist make of it?” she asked Marc.

“Off the top of my head, and just a wild guess, that isn’t really tied to physics, I would say life force. Age difference.”

“And the theologian?” Madonna asked, looking at Eric. The elder brother was a little discomforted, and it was obvious. “It’s okay, Eric,” Madonna assured him, “just say it.”

“Like Marc, off the top of my head, and a wild guess, but I would say you’ve probably engaged in more sinister, or slightly sinister business in your life, so far, than Lance has. Again, probably tied to age difference.”

“Well, if that is the case,” Madonna said with a laugh, “I’ll see if I can’t diminish his light a few watts, before we get back from Vancouver! And you, the economist?” she asked Jordan.

“Obviously, you have a lot more money than Lance does, so my best guess strays into Eric’s field, and the Bible.” Madonna raised an eyebrow at Jordan, who finished his thought. “It is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man, or woman, to enter into Heaven. If money is the root of all evil, or the love of money is the root of all evil, you’re carrying evil on your back, every step you take.”

That,” said Madonna, “is absolutely fascinating. So, if I were to transfer every cent I have into Lance’s bank account, my light would burn brighter than his.”

“Since no one is in a great hurry,” said Margot, “let’s play with this, a bit. Boys, one by one, walk in. Eric, you’re the oldest, and have made the most money, so you go first, then Jordan, who is middle in both age and earnings, then Marc.”

The brothers did so, and all their lights were extinguished roughly thirty five yards in. “This isn’t exactly scientific,” Marc pointed out. “We could do this with instruments to measure light and length, at another time. And we could play around with Madonna’s idea, by moving money around.”

“Let’s do that, then,” said Madonna. “As you say, another day. But first, let’s see how far Margot gets before her light extinguishes, yes?”

Like Lance, Margot got about fifty yards in before they could not longer see any light coming from her. Considerably older than the boy, but only marginally more affluent on a tax chart, that part of the experiment yielded no logical conclusions, based on the hypotheses put forward by the brothers.

Looking at Madonna, and resisting the temptation to call her mom, in front of the others, Lance said, “It is fascinating. And I’m all for you giving me all your money! But let’s come back to it later.”

The Material Girl agreed, and off they went, but not before hugs were issued all ‘round.

“That’s it?” Lance asked, staring into the Royal Suite of the Pan Pacific Hotel.

“You sound disappointed. It’s the best suite in Vancouver,” Madonna informed the boy.

“No, I mean, that’s it? We’re here, already? We didn’t even take a hundred steps, but we’ve covered two thousand miles. We weren’t in the tunnel more than a minute.”

Looking at her watch, Madonna said, “Look at this.” Lance did. It was stopped. “That’s a twenty thousand dollar Rolex. Stopped dead, the second we went into the tunnel.”

“And it will start running again, the second we step out of here, into there.”

“Apparently so. Let’s find out,” said the Queen of Pop, walking into the suite’s living room, looking out onto the harbour. She turned to see lance materializing as he strode into the room, out of thin air, and announced, “The watch is working again.”

“That’s weird,” Lance said, before turning around and disappearing back into the tunnel. In a second, he was back in the suite. “Nothing. I feel nothing. No different. You would think there would be a gust of wind, or a flash of lightning. Or… something. But nothing.

Madonna followed suit, stepping back into, and back out of the tunnel. Then pointing at her watch, she said, “Check it.”

“It’s three hours ago.”

“Yeah. The watch knows we are now on Pacific Time. But it wasn’t even working in the tunnel.”

“Has it ever self adjusted before.”

“No. Never.”

“That’s wild. Go back into the tunnel, and stay there for a minute. Count to sixty in your head, then come back in, and see what time it is.” Madonna did. It was the same time she left.

Pulling her day pack off her shoulder and dropping it to the floor, Madonna moved up close to Lance and asked, “Do I look any younger?”

107 – THE PIANO HAS BEEN DRINKING

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105 – THE KITTYSBURG ADDRESS

 

Naturally, the hub was pitch dark when Kitty and Margot walked into it. They hit their headlamps and waited. The others came in, two by two, starting with Stephen and Eric. Ten seconds later, Madonna and Marc walked in. Ten seconds later, Jordan and Lance entered.

“I suspect blasting off in a rocket is a lot more exhilarating than that,” said Lance, sounding a bit disappointed.

“My bad,” said Margot. “We should have driven over, and walked in. That way, your first tunnel trip would have ended more spectacularly, with you walking into something much more exciting than a dark expanse, in an underground labyrinth. I cheated you. Sorry.”

“Are you kidding?” Madonna asked. “You have nothing to apologize for. Far from it. That was trippy. Short, but trippy” Pointing a finger at Lance, she said, “We just walked out of a hotel, and into a cave, ten miles away, in no time at all, and you’re disappointed? You fucking kids these days are pretty blasé about experiencing the super natural. A little too much virtual reality is to blame, I think.”

Before everyone else could echo Madonna’s scolding, Lance threw his hands up, and said, “You’re rigt! I’m wrong. Thank you, Margot. But, I really am looking forward to the next trip, now.”

All the others expressed their gratitude to Margot, who responded by saying, “My honour. Now, before the four of you have the pleasure of getting a proper tunnel trip, everyone form a circle, and join hands, please.” Margot’s wish was honoured, and she said, “Kitty has something to say.”

Although Kitty was not expecting that, she felt Margot’s energy pulsing into her, as they squeezed each other’s hands.

Turning her head just a bit, to catch Stephen in the beam of her headlamp, Kitty said, “I am absolutely certain that I speak for everyone when I say, thank you, Stephen, for bringing us all together.” The others echoed Kitty’s sentiment in their own ways, and she continued.

“I suppose I should make this confession rigt now, before the two of us disappear back into the tunnel together; I’ve never read one of your books.”

Stephen laughed, and replied, “We can go back to Valhalla, and grab one. I can read it to you in the tunnel.”

“No!” Kitty shrieked. “There’s a damn good reason I’ve never read one of your books, oh, King of Horror. I’m not a horror fan, but I checked out a copy of Night Shift, from the library, a few years ago. I randomly selected The Mangler as my first tale. It was about four in the morning. I was home, alone, stretched out on the couch, just a reading lamp on.”

Stephen smiled at the idea of Kitty stretched out on a couch, all alone, with only a reading lamp on, but Kitty didn’t pick up what his dirty mind was transmitting.

“The story is preposterous. An industrial laundry press that has been possessed by some dark force, and is murdering people? C’mon! I was laughing at the absurdity of it. But, by the time it breaks from its moorings, and starts thundering through the streets, looking for new victims to mangle, I was scared half to death! I swear, I got up to go to the bathroom, and I turned on every God damn light along the way. You scared the Hell out of me. I left the book on the coffee table, and never opened it again. If you could do that to me, with an absurd short story, I didn’t want to know how much terror you could inflict with a full length book.”

Kitty’s hyper animation had Stephen clapping out loud, and the others laughing. “So, no, we will not be reading any of your  stories in any damn tunnel, unless you want to go see Gotcha on your own, thank you very much!”

Still grinning, King said, “Okay. Fair enough. No stories.  But, I could recite some of my poetry to…”

“No! Stop it, or I’ll borrow a ball gag from Madonna, and jam it in your mouth, before we leave!”

Wondering if his travelling companion really was packing a ball gag in her overnight bag, Lance stared across the circle at the woman he had called mom, just the day before, and laughed along with the others, until Kitty put an end to the hahaha by saying, “But seriously folks…. I chose to share that tale with you because there is hope in it. If Stephen King, the King of Horror, he who has plunged his mind into demonology to conjure all manner of diabolical demi-devils, and danced with them in the dark, for more than fifty years, has brought us together to bring light to a rapidly darkening world, there is hope for this rapidly darkening world. We, my friends, are that hope. We and those who join us. We are the hope that will not hide; we are the turning n the tide.

“In every corner of this planet, people are pondering, probably for the first time, the insanity of the world we live in, and the roles they are playing in it. The overwhelming majority of people on this planet are good, or at least decent, or at least mostly harmless. But they have been trapped inside a paradigm that was created, and is controlled by people who are not.

“The good people have forgotten what it is to truly live life. The magic that sparkled in them in childhood has been all but extinguished. They have been turned into automatons, doing whatever is necessary just to survive, serving any master that will feed them, but keep them in chains, ignoring the realities that are painfully obvious, and numbing themselves with any kind of third rate soma they can lay their hands on, when those painfully obvious realities scream at them on every corner, and from every rooftop. But they are not beyond hope.  They are not yet dead, for the children they once were, once upon a time, are still somewhere inside them.

“It’s times like these – when people have a chance to breathe, for the first time in forever; a chance to imagine again, imagine the way the world can be; a chance to remember what is to be alive and full of wonder at the magnificence of the natural world, remember when all we needed to entertain, and enthrall us was our imagination – it’s time like these when those long buried, silent, and forgotten inner children start to stir.

“It’s times like these, we learn to live again.”

105

105 a

“For every problem the world has, there’s a solution. As hard as it is, at times, we have to understand that we have actually come a long way, as a species. We have come as far as we have because it is perfectly natural for us to give of ourselves.

Behind us in the annals of human history are legions of geniuses, who gave us everything their minds could churn out. Think about the incredible treasure trove of genius that has been bestowed upon us, by those who walked this planet before us. The scientists, the artists, the dreamers, and the schemers, and the fearless blasphemers, who dared to stare down conformity, and orthodoxy, and reject the stagnation and inevitable entropy  that would have been our demise, if the rulers and reichlords, the oligarchs and overlords had succeeded in keeping us all in our place, mired in ignorance, and spiritual poverty.

“Now, think about the collective genius of the human race today. Think of all the scientists and artists, the dreamers and schemers, and fearless blasphemers who can come together, and give us everything they have, as payment to those who gave us everything they had, and as a loan to those who will come after us, who will pay it forward to those who will come after them, and on and on it will go, until we figure it out, until we get it rigt, until we become what we are capable of becoming, until we live up to our mind blowing potential.

“Every single person on this planet has something to give, and no one ever made a bigger mistake then those who gave nothing, because they thought a little wasn’t enough, wasn’t enough t make a difference.

“Between us, we have so much to give, and the more we give, the more others will give, and give again.

“It’s times like these we give, and give again.”

105 b

105 c

105 d

105 e

105 f

105 g

“Of all the things we have to give, love is the most important. Everyone has love to give. Even those who have been emotionally and spiritually crippled from a scarcity of care have a dram of love left in them.

“The love that we all have inside us is a well. Wells fill from the bottom, so even if they are poisoned from outside, from on high, a well of love can swell and swell, until the poison is diluted, and eventually spilled into a filthy place that can be rendered harmless by quarantine until it dies.

“Every heart has the capacity to create love, love, and more love. But it has to be fed love, love, and more love. Love is the most valuable natural resource we have, and the most sustainable. If there is a purpose to life, it is to love, and be loved in return.

“Of all the schemes that we have schemed, and all the schemes we will scheme down the road, and all the dreams that others will bring to this sacred mission we embark upon today, Margot’s is the most crucial to our success, for if she succeeds in flooding the world with love, none can resist. Even the most selfish, greedy, heartless ne’er-do-well will succumb to the power of love. And when darkness creeps across us, as it is creeping across the world rigt now, we have to love the most

“It’s times like these we learn to love again.”

105 h

105 i

“In times like these it is prudent to remember that there have always been times like these. And we have always overcome. We have always lived to love another day. We have always survived to try, and try again, and again.

“Throughout the course of human history we have had to rise up to do battle with evil, time and time again. It is absolutely heart wrenching, perverse, and obscene that we have to fight ourselves over and over and over, but by doing so, and triumphing, those who have won the battles before have fortified us with the resolve to cry, ‘Once more unto the breach.’ Our victory, in this battle of the never ending war we wage against ourselves, cannot be declared by a simple stalemate. Going back to normal is not a victory. We have to progress. And when we do, we will be better equipped to win the next battle. And there will be another battle, and another after that.

“In times like these, it is prudent to remember that there have always been times like these. In times like these, we have to call upon the ghosts who have won the battles they fought, and won for us, time and time again, because rigt now, it’s times like these time and time again, once again, my friends. And this time, it’s our time.”

 

106 – RIDDLES IN THE DARK

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104 – HELLO? CAN YOU FEAR ME NOW?

 

While the rest of the gang were amused by Stephen’s amusing aside about Speculate and Waite Attorneys at Law and More, Kitty once again experienced the intense vision of lawyers gang raping Lady Justice. Once again, her mind grappled to hold on to it, so she could unpack and examine it. Once again, her attempts proved futile. This time she drew no attention to herself, and chose not to mention it to anyone.

Holding Margot’s dead phone in his hands, Eric asked, “What do we do about our phones? If the tunnel destroys them, there’s no point taking them with us.”

Madonna was the first to laugh, but Stephen wasn’t far behind. “Kitty and Lance may be too young to remember, but there was a time, not so long ago, when we all managed to live without having a computer the size of a Pop Tart in our hands, transfixing us like a hypnotist’s swinging watch.”

Chuckling, Stephen concurred, and assured everyone, “If necessary, we’ll be able to buy new ones, when we get to our destinations. Same thing goes for laptops.Since she’s not going to London today, we can leave them all with Margot, for now. She can leave them in our rooms, and plug them in, to charge. If there’s some piece of data on them that’s vitally important, we just go back into the tunnel, to the hub, and straight to our rooms, literally in no time at all. But, as Madge says, I’m sure we’ll manage to survive.”

Noticing a wild grin on Margot’s face, Kitty asked, “What’s so funny.”

“You triggered a memory. A funny line, from WC Fields, who, if you don’t know, was known to enjoy tippling, on occasion. His crack was, ‘Reminds me of the time we were stuck in the middle of the desert, without a corkscrew. We had to survive on nothing but food and water for almost three days.’”

Amused as she was by Margot’s tale, Kitty saw no reason to go back to the per-Internet dark ages. “Just get the hotels we’re staying at to buy new laptops and phones for all of us. We may need to be able to communicate with each other instantly.” That was agreed to without argument.

Lance was curious to know, “What do we use for light in the tunnel?”

Slapping herself in the forehead, Margot said, “Oops. Guess I forgot to explain that. No artificial light works in the tunnel.”

“So, we bring torches?’ asked Lance.

“No need,” Margot assured them. “You are the light.” Noting the clear confusion the statement resulted in, she explained, “You literally are the light. The light inside you, inside your soul, your love. That radiates through your body, and lights the path.”

“Now that is wild,” declared Eric the elder, the amateur theologian. So, like Jesus, and Horus before him, you are the light.”

Although tempted, Kitty managed to not divert to conversation onto the Jesus and Horus path.

“Love is the light,” said Margot. “The more love you have, the more love you create, the more love you are, the brighter you shine in the tunnel.” Then, looking at the brothers, she added, But we are going to need artificial light in the hub.”

“I have a couple big headlamps in the truck,” said Marc, “I’ll go get ‘em.”

“I take it VoV was a source of light, when you met her,” said Madonna.

“Yes,” Margot confirmed. “We could see her from… this is impossible to explain. I was going to say we saw her from a mile away. But there’s no such thing as distance in the tunnel. It can seem like you are walking a great distance, over a long period of time, before you get to where you’re going, even though no time has elapsed, and you get from here to anywhere faster than you would in a rocket ship. If you’re ready to get to where you’re going, that is. So, you can linger in there, lollygagging, as long as you want, and it can seem like forever. But then, as soon as you’re ready to get where you’re going, you’re there.”

“Absolutely wild,” exclaimed Eric. “This just gives us more incentive to conclude our biz here, as soon as possible.” His brothers nodded their agreement.

The King of Horror had a question, or a thought, “If a creature has no love inside, it will be invisible in the tunnel. Almost like Gollum.”

Margot shrugged her shoulders, and answered, “That sounds rigt. But can anything live without love inside? I mean, I am sure you’ve created such characters in your works, but were any of them completely devoid of love? Because Gollum was not. And I suspect even Sauron had some love in him.”

Stephen palmed his face, and shook his head. Removing his hand from his face, he said, “I didn’t even know the characters I have created were actual living things, until Kitty told me about VoV. This is all insane.”

Studying Stephen, and feeling some of what he was feeling, Madonna said, “Insane, and starting to get a little scary.”

Stephen bug-eyed at Madonna’s admission, prompting Margot to assure everyone, “Your love is not only your light, it’s also your shield. Your protection. Twas ever thus; forever shall it be. I don’t believe, for a second, that any creature of the dark can harm you inside the tunnel, if there are any in there.”

Margot had been addressing everyone, but now she focused on the King of Horror. “You have to understand, Stephen, that even the foulest character you ever created was created by your love. Your love for storytelling. The opposite of love, is hate. If you hated telling stories, you could never write a great one. They’d all suck. No one would read them, and the vile creatures you created would die, all alone. But you love storytelling, so you write great stories. And the creatures you created, the heinous ones, live on, only because people read your stories. People love your stories. It’s the love of your fans that keeps your dark characters alive. So, if there are any dark beings in the tunnel, and they come for you, they are coming for your love. Even if they hate you, they want you to love them. Their darkness cannot penetrate your light. But your light can and will penetrate their darkness, if they don’t run away.”

Stephen rewound the tape, just a bit, “The creatures I have created live on, only because my fans read, and love the stories they are in? That’s fascinating. True, of course. So, in some way, they must love me?”

Again, Margot said, “That sounds rigt.”

Puzzled, Stephen asked, himself, more than anyone else, “But VoV? How does this explain VoV?”

It was Lance who chimed in, “Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to buy him a beer, or two, and talk it through.”

King smiled, and replied, “I don’t imagine VoV’s made any money over the years, so I’ll be picking up the tab for that one, too.”

“Sure,” Lance agreed, “but what a story you’ll get for such a low price. Far less than the million bucks you had to pay out for Kitty’s tale.”

Before the two writers could riff away on those possibilities, Kitty said to Margot, “Wanna try Steve one more time?” Margot did, and got no answer. “Well, then,” Kitty said to the gang, “shall we turn the page?”

No one objected, but Lance asked, “I wonder if this is how astronauts feel when they start the walk across the launch pad?”

“If there are no objections, we should take the door I created, straight to the hub. It’ll save us some time.”

There were no objections, but Madonna spotted a possible problem, “We need to get rid of Daisy. Unless we want her to see us vanish into thin air.”

“Actually, she may have seen me walk in. I saw that none of you were looking, but I didn’t think to check to see if she was.” Once again, Margot asked for Eric’s phone, and made a quick call. “Hey, we need a favour. We’re at the Valhalla. Can you call here, and have Daisy called to the front desk? Yeah, rigt now. Great. Thanks. I will talk to you in a bit.”

“Your brother,” Kitty asked.

“Yeah.” As soon as Daisy started her retreat into the lobby, Margot said, “C’mon class, follow Miss Margot, we’re going on a field trip. Everyone leave your phones and laptops on the table, and I’ll pick them up when the guys and I come back.” Taking Kitty by the hand, she said, “We have to use the buddy system, so no one gets lost. So everyone get your bags, and pick a buddy. I got Kitty. Marc, Kitty and I will go first, so if we can have those headlamps, please. If the rest of you want to linger in the tunnel for a bit, to get a feel of it, go ahead. Kitty and I will be waiting in the hub, and guide you in.”  Five seconds later, they were all gone.

105 – THE KITTYSBURG ADDRESS

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