Monday, August 30, 2010


1968 was a record year for men in ape suits. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, an aggressive primate hurled a bone into the sky which famously morphed into a space satellite. In the same year's Planet of the Apes, a space ship containing a cargo of pure Charlton Heston crash-landed on an eerily familiar planet dominated by intelligent apes. The prosthetic make-up effects in the latter were the work of television veteran John Chambers, and earned him a special Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Make-Up. (Chambers was the man who famously gave Leonard Nimoy his iconic Vulcan ears in Star Trek, which then cost the show's notoriously strained budget 25 bucks each. We will encounter Chambers again in the course of this strange tale.) It was a year earlier, however, that saw the release of perhaps the most iconic and enduring man in a monkey suit movie of all - but we cannot emphasize the "perhaps" enough.

Roger Patterson was a resident of Yakima, Washington, a former rodeo rider and, by some debatable later accounts, a conman who exhibited a considerable reluctance when it came to paying his dues. Sometime between '55 and '59, Patterson encountered the Yakima man who would play the role of his side-kick in the strange adventure of '67. Robert Emory Gimlin was a mild-mannered rancher of Chiricahua Apache Indian decent. The two men were drawn together by a very strange mutual passion. Many indigenous peoples around the globe possess a lively folk tradition regarding the existence of creatures that fall into some intermediate category between man and beast. These wildmen of ancient legendry are usually giant in stature, and highly elusive, mysterious creatures. They live somewhere out in the wilderness, but nobody knows quite where. Like the faeries, the wildmen are encountered only occasionally, by solitary travellers who have often lost their way. These chance meetings are brief, gnomic affairs that usually engender feelings of fear and awe - a sense of encountering an alternate order of being, of threading into a hermetically sealed world that human eyes were not meant to see. The wildmen rarely harm their inadvertent witnesses, but appear largely indifferent to the human world - they soon saunter back into the deep wilderness, and whatever strange spaces they inhabit at the edge of reality. In the Australian outback, they are called the Yowie; in South America, Sir Walter Raleigh was one of the first Westerners to record local tales of the Mono Grande, or Large Monkey; and of course, the snowy wastes of Nepal and Tibet are scattered with eldritch footprints, said to mark the passing of the Yeti.

In the increasingly technologized frontier of North America in the twentieth century, this type of mythical beast came to be called Bigfoot. While traditional societies have always taken the existence of otherworldly beings and realms for granted, modern Western culture has never known quite what to do with the denizens of its particular twilight zone. Hence the birth of the supremely paradoxical "science" of crytozoology, an earnest and often impassioned attempt to capture and classify the creatures of folklore's ever teeming bestiary. Crytozoology is a paradoxical endeavour indeed - for any potential victory for the field is also intrinsically a defeat. Once a fabled species had been definitively documented, it has lost the qualities that made it so alluring in the first place - its liminal status as an entity poised between reality and rumour, and the exciting jeopardy of committing one's self wholly to the pursuit of something that may, after all, be nothing more than a mirage of whispers and shadows. (Ufology similarly derives much of its appeal, it's raison d'etre, from information of an inherently ambiguous character. All impassioned dreams require, to a greater or lesser degree, the jeopardy of unreality and impossibility.)

Crytozoology emerged in large part from the surreal landscape of pulp magazine publication in post-war America - a scene dominated by titles like Raymond Palmer's FATE and Frank Munsey's Argosy, and populated by a menagerie of serious-minded monster-hunters and dimestore journalists, men in every regard as marginal and bizarre as the phantoms they pursued. (This is the unique, long vanished netherworld of print journalism that the great John A. Keel made his own.) The pulp magazines can actually be seen as torch bearers for a certain tendency that was very widespread in American newspaper journalism around the turn of the century - a streak of PT Barnum-like showmanship that was not at all adverse to occasionally outrageous crytozoological hoaxes. For example, on August 25, 1835, the New York Sun ran a story with the headline "Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel L.L.D, F. R. S." The piece attributed to a real astronomer the discovery on the moon of trees, beaches, rivers, and a variety of lifeforms including unicorns, two-legged beavers, and a species of furry, winged, bat-like humanoid.

In 1961, Ivan T. Sanderson, the originator of the word "crytozoology", wrote a book called Snowmen: Legends Come to Life, which somehow fell into the hands of rodeo rider and lean roughneck Roger Patterson. The book had a strangely powerful effect on Patterson's imagination: he corresponded with Sanderson for six years, and self-published his own contribution to the genre, Do Abominable Snowmen of North America Really Exist?, in 1966. Patterson's chaotic life discovered a sense of purpose, an ordering principle, in the myth of the unclassified, unfettered beast-man roaming the wilds of an increasingly civilised and tame nation. He had similarly inflamed Bob Gimlin's imagination with tales of terrifying sightings and mysterious tracks, and 1967 the pair were working on an ambitious pseudo-documentary called "Bigfoot: Americas Abominable Snowman." The movie's proposed storyline involved Patterson, a wise Indian tracker (Gimlin wearing a wig), and a trope of cowboys setting off on the trail of Bigfoot. ( The project was later realized, under the alternative title of Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot, by Ron Olson of ANE studios.) The adventure had a touch of vaudeville from the onset.

Following reports of intermittent sightings and tracks, the pair made their way to Six Rivers National Forest in North California, armed with a couple of rifles and a 16 mm camera which had been officially classified as stolen until Patterson later returned it in perfect working order. They were wandering through an area portentously named Bluff Creek in the early afternoon of October the 20th, when sheer, fortuitous lightning struck. As Roger would later tell Ivan T. Sanderson and the readers of Argosy magazine: "Gosh darn it, Ivan, right there was a Bigfoot, and, fer pity's sake, she was a female! I don't think you'll see it in the film, but she walked like a big man in no hurry, and the soles of her feet were definitely light in color."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Untitled Short Story Part 3: racing eternally nowhere

Guided by vague memory and fits of good fortune, Sandro made his way back to the Greyhound depot. The afternoon heat and his baleful hangover combined to make the journey stretch out like an interminable fever dream of sweet, dehydration, and livid, shimmering mirages of asphalt and glass. And children; the world was always full of damn children when you had a hangover. He was depressed by his conduct during the night, and by the memory of the sad, inebriated vacuum of Jackie Sloane's eyes. She would have bruises today that would have to be explained to her husband. He tried not to dwell on it. Once he was back on the road, it would recede into the past and vanish, becoming one of those street corners or road-signs that you saw only once: the vast, vanishing country that other people lived in. Finally, he saw the depot in the distance, a long, oval building standing adjacent to an old movie theatre whose marquee jutted out over the street like a brassy starlet's décolletage. The bus depot was a light turquoise green. It had a smaller sign over the door that read Air Conditioned Post House Restaurant, and a larger silver Greyhound fixture thrust up into the sweltering sky, with the company symbol of fleet dynamism at its apex, racing eternally nowhere.

The restaurant was narrow inside, with a row of chairs along the counter, and a couple of tables by the window. Behind the counter, the alcove that overlooked the kitchen was cluttered with little handwritten signs that alerted to customer to various specials, combination deals, and famed specialities of the house. These little missives were written in the giddy, exuberant style of the day, with certain prices and food items popping off the stationary, letters taking flight with the same sleek, aerodynamic curves that made the automobiles and truckstop restaurants seem barely tethered to the gravitational pull of the roadside. On the left-hand corner of the counter a small rack sold a selection of magazines and comic books. Sandro saw an issue of Fate magazine, and squinted at its contents through the glass: The Girl Who Sees Without Eyes by Stuart Allen, Air Force Warns Flying Saucers Are No Joke by Frank Edwards, The House-Wife's Hair-Raising Miracle....Latest News....The "Ghost" in the Photo....My Proof of Survival....Made to Order Children. Sandro strolled across the street, and sat at one of the benches to wait.

It was very quiet. A thin man stood in profile against the wall of the depot, talking to a young redhead. He wore a grey polka dot shirt, tucked into green canvass trousers that clung tightly to his gaunt physique. He wore thick spectacles, and his prematurely greying hair in a stark buzzcut. The redhead was tanned and glamorous looking. She had a white scarf tied tightly around her head, and she stood with her hand on the thin man's shoulder, looking intently into his eyes. The thin man held a half-smoked cigarette in his hand, and it burned slowly away, seemingly forgotten about. An elderly woman, wearing a smart red skirt and a white Macy's overcoat, wondered back and forth with a distracted expression, as though waiting for somebody whose identity she had forgotten, and whose intentions she no longer trusted. (Reviewing this memory now, Sandro was struck that these people were unmistakably los quē no son gente - "those who are not people." He was stunned and deeply unsettled that this had never occurred to him before.)

It was then that Sandro first noticed the Indian sitting across the road at the bench by the Post House window. The old man was of medium height. Sandro guessed his age for late sixties. He hair was short and white, and his skin very dark and wrinkled. Despite his age, his body appeared trim, wiry, and athletic. Even seated as he was, there was a palpable air of nimbleness and vitality about him, like a cat calculating the precise second to pounce. Sandro was most struck by his eyes: they had an appearance of great age and experience, but also something of the quality of childhood, of seeing each each thing as though it were freshly-minted, mysterious, and perfect. Studying the bright-eyed, serene old Indian had a peculiar effect on Sandro. He found that his depression, and even the physical effects of his hangover, began to dissipate. Acting on a sudden whim, he got up, and strolled across the road. The old man looked up with mild curiosity, squinting against the sunlight.

Sandro grinned foolishly, and introduced himself. He explained, with increasing mortification, that he was a student of anthropology, specialising in the subject of botany and Native American religious practises.
"I would very much like to discuss these things with you, if you have any particular experience in this area. Even if you yourself aren't.....even if you....perhaps...."
Sandro's face suddenly scalded with shame, and his speech trailed off. The old man, whose name he never learned, fixed him with a brief look of severe contempt, and then returned his gaze to its former vantage. Sandro remained where he was for an awkward couple of seconds, and then returned to his seat, never making eye contact with the old Indian again.

The untruth took root very slowly in Sandro's mind at first, but when it finally got rolling, it would eventually transform every facet of his existence, and define him in a way that no real or tangible entity ever had. Not his parents, not his childhood, not the size of his prick nor any of the legitimate contents of his memory would have as profound an impact on his destiny as the fiction he slowly began to weave around that brief encounter at the Greyhound depot. This paradox pleased him immensely. He saw himself as a true practitioner of the occult, in the sense that he had altered the physical properties of his life by creating an imaginary path forking off from the real course of his life; a surrogate history whose skilful manipulation afforded him immense power. The lie first conquered his own mind, and then every part of the world that shared in the swirling quest of self-discovery that enveloped California in the late sixties.

Sandro returned from Yuma that day to a life that was characteristically on the brink of disaster. As a youth, he aspired to being an artist. At age nineteen, he left his family home in Santa Monica, and hitch-hiked his way to New York City. He had 500 dollars in his wallet that he'd stolen from his father, and a scrap-book full of images in his brain he'd cobbled together from an adolescence buried in motion pictures, magazines, and novels. Three years later, he returned home with his tail between his legs, his bold escape from everyday life having ran aground in a cul-de-sac of dead-end jobs and half-hearted forays into petty crime. All his artistic aspirations dried up in a matter of weeks. He'd washed dishes, waited tables, and even drove a cab for a couple of months. His ambitions gradually narrowed down to the modest desire to have enough change in his pockets to run around like a wild-cat at night, bouncing from bars to liquor stores to ramshackle parties that spilled out onto fire-escapes at dawn. It began to occur to him that he had never really wanted to be an artist at all. All he'd really wanted was to play truant from the world; to evade responsibility, monotony, and all the other trappings of respectable middle-class life. He was, at heart, gregarious and hedonistic: he loved telling stories and jokes, drinking wine, chasing women, and conducting all-night philosophical bull sessions with his cronies. Most of all, he didn't want to be like his father Luis Fernando: a modest, decorous, sanguine, and self-sacrificing family man.

Naturally, however, it was to his father he returned when he finally became weary and depressed by his lifestyle in New York. Luis Fernando was unusually indulgent of his son. Sandro was the type of man that he secretly admired: like his uncle Fabio, Sandro was a man of spirit. Men of spirit were turbulent, boisterous, passionate men who followed, in all things, the dictates of their own individual spirit, their own personal daimon. Luis Fernando was himself in every regard the opposite of this kind of man: he was timid and self-effacing, and sought always to appease and satisfy other people, to maintain every status quo in placid, untroubled equilibrium. But he really admired men like Fabio and his son Sandro; they were, in his estimation, the most honest and life-affirming of people. So he welcomed his son back warmly, and made a deal with with him. He would give him an allowance in order to complete a university degree. After that, Sandro would have to make do for himself. After all, Luis Fernando reasoned, for what did men of his generation toil away all the years, but that their children would have better, more rewarding lives?

While working and carousing in New York, Sandro had somehow remained a voracious reader, and his interests had migrated from literature to ancient history and esoteric traditions. Thus he found himself, in the late fifties, an anthropology undergraduate at UCLA. Humbled by his father's generosity, he had started out with the noblest of intentions, but by 1960 he had fallen back in a familiar rut. His innate laziness and inveterate appetite for alcohol and unadulterated trouble quickly reasserted themselves. Not only that: he was slowly developing a white-hot contempt for the whole field of anthropology. It's implicit intention, he resolved, was not to learn anything, but rather to confirm its own pre-existing prejudices, its sense of the innate superiority of the narrow prism through which it viewed indigenous cultures. It sought to translate every other culture into its own language, and then abandon each native tongue as little more than a crude stepping stone to its proper completion in the antropologist's translation.

It was with these misgivings, and his own catastrophic lack of preparation, that Sandro faced the onset of his PhD. For many weeks after he returned from Yuma, the image of the old Indian remained in his mind as a strangely crisp, almost eidetic memory. He first saw his face in brief hypnagogic flashes when his attention drifted away during a lecture, or when he was driving around. Gradually, these flashes became longer lasting, until Sandro reached a stage where he could close his eyes, and summon up the old man's image at will. But it was so much more than just an image: it was a presence. By merely contemplating the stranger's appearance, Sandro felt as though some kind of telepathic exchange was taking place. He felt that the image alone conveyed volumes of information, all of which was graspable on the level of intuition, the level of grokking. He looked at the eidetic ghost who had mysteriously lodged itself in his mind, and he knew the sound of the man's voice, the character of his speech, the totality of his history and the nature of how he viewed the world. When Sandro tried to articulate this world-view in familiar words and concepts, he saw only incredible, ineffable visions; units of abstract information that utterly defied translation into anything other than themselves. He imagined engaging the old Indian in an ongoing dialogue, gradually teasing him to yield reluctant vocalizations of the nature of the visions over a period of years. An idea was slowly forming in his mind. One day when his PhD supervisor was pressurizing him for details about his research project, Sandro told him that had enlisted the assistance and friendship of an old Huichol shaman. "His name" he said, "is don Lorca." The name, like the old stranger himself, seemed to have materialized out of thin air.
Continued shortly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Untitled Short Story Part 2: no journey in the well-decked ships

So I, my friend, must purify myself, and for those who offend in the telling of stories there is an ancient method of purification, which Homer did not understand, but Stesichorus did. For when he was deprived of his sight because of his libel against Helen, he did not fail to recognise the reason, like Homer; because he was a true follower of the Muses, he knew it, and immediately composed the verses:
This tale I told is false, There is no doubt:
You made no journey in the well-decked ships
Nor voyaged to the citadel of Troy.
Plato, Phaedrus.

Sandro was driving a Candy Apple Red Shelby GT 500 - the last model Carroll Shelby had ever made with Ford, gifted to Sandro by some crazy Hollywood people in the summer of 1970. It was just after dawn, and he was driving through Pandora Avenue, Westwood, past the sloping lawns of Art Deco/Mediterranean-style mansions and the security perimeters of gated communities that seemed to hum like electronic bee-hives in the early morning. He felt a strange impulse to try to burgle one or other of the mansions - the absence of people and the pristine quality of the dawn light made the Westwood villages look like an absurd world of brittle doll-houses, with sleek European sports cars and brightly coloured trampolines the only outward sign of habitation. Sandro had stolen out at first light, leaving First Priestess snoring in his bed, Second and Third sleeping in their dorms, and a small group of visiting witches sprawled out in sleeping bags around an eerie Caribbean totem on the coffee table in the den. He had received a summons from don Lorca - a summons which was not to be taken lightly, if for no other reason than the fact that don Lorca was, to all intents and purposes, a figment of his imagination.

It had all started at a Geyhound bus depot in Yuma in the summer of 1960. By all subsequent accounts, Sandro had been hovering up and down the border towns for a month or two, researching local Indian customs and beliefs relating to medicinal plants and hallucinogens. Which was true, up to a point, but on that particular weekend he was in Yuma to catch up with a married woman he'd been carrying on with back in LA. Jackie Sloane was twenty years his senior, and married to a failed rancher who worked as a high-school janitor and sold vacuum cleaners door to door in places where people had no carpets and didn't give a shit. Jackie came out to California one weekend to visit her modish little sister up at UCLA, and that's how things got started with Sandro. Sandro coming down to see her in Yuma was more or less how they ended.

And they ended badly. Jackie was half-drunk when she arrived at the station to pick him up, and they drove mostly in silence to a motel called Geiger's that had a stylized neon motif of a gamma counter swinging back and forth at the top of its tall cylindrical road-sign. Sandro taught it looked ominous against the haunted panorama of desert skyline, like a sober truth mockingly spelled out in skid-row architecture. (He experienced the same eerie feeling a couple of years later when the Outer Limits started showing on ABC, and each week a grim voice seemed to issue from the hidden depths of the American technocracy: "We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear.")

When they got into a room, Jackie said she wanted to talk, so they both got drunk on bacanora tequila. Then she adopted a very grave expression, and told Sandro she'd asked him down to Yuma to see how serious he was. She said if her husband didn't kill her, she'd kill herself, and she was going back to California with him to have a real life. Sandro told her it was impossible, but she insisted, clutching his shoulders and looking at him in an intense way that suggested both obligation and inevitability. Sandro struck her twice in the face, and then lurched onto his feet and backed away from the bed, as though he himself had been slapped. Jackie looked stunned for a second, and then went into a weird catatonic trance. He woke up intermittently during the night, and every time he looked she was still sitting at the edge of the bed, the back of her head illuminated each time the gamma counter sung back in the direction of the motel window.

The next morning she gathered her stuff briskly, and when she paused at the door to say goodbye, she never turned her head. Though Sandro would do much worse things to people, particularly women, in the course of his life, his mind often returned to this incident. It was only that image of the back of Jackie Sloane's head that instilled in his otherwise unyielding nature the vague, perhaps wholly superstitious intimation of having done an ineradicable wrong, of having blotted a ledger that couldn't be hidden or forged. He could never fully reason it out, but he suspected that the memory had become coloured by the subsequent events of that day - a day suffused with a sense both of destiny and severe personal judgement.

Weaving recklessly in and out of the past, Sandro drove slowly down Ocean Avenue, past decaying tourist restaurants, palm trees, and strange geometries of pastel apartment towers to the east, and Palisades Park to the west, with its yin and yang of jogger and tramp greeting the morning in their respective fashions. The traffic on the roads had been steadily increasing since about seven, and Sandro, who had not driven for many years, was struck again by the oddity of automobile culture. You had to constantly remind yourself that every car that whizzed by was another person, was the intersection with another world as dense, complex, and significant unto itself as your own. But the highways and their ceaseless traffic nullified everything; the great dream of speed and freedom eradicated individuals and histories, and transmuted the people of this land into a river of blurring vision and snarling sound. Sandro used to study traffic years ago. He watched it until its familiarity ebbed away, and the endless renewal of vanishing automobiles became a perfect abstract of every impulse and predilection of the modern world. Studying man-made things was a valuable exercise in order the dismantle them, to divine their secret purpose. But it was not the same as looking at trees, rivers, or mountains. These things belonged to the order of the ineffable; if they had a secret purpose it was beyond our ability to fathom. Sandro believed that there were beings on earth who didn't distinguish in their vision between man-made and natural things. He remembered that they had once spoken to him in the desert. They told him that they saw the highways as rivers that carried swarms of shiny beetles to buzzing colonies of beehives in the west. He thought he had spoken to them; but maybe it was just another of the many stories he had invented.

A group of long-haired teenage boys, clad in baggy shorts and tee-shirts, emerged from the park. Their eyes followed Sandro's bright muscle car as it sailed alongside. The boys carried skateboards - decorative wooden boards equipped with wheels - under their arms at the waist. Sandro had heard about these boys - they prowled like alley-cats through the rear-gardens of palatial homes in Mar Vista, Brentwood, and along Ocean Avenue, searching for drained swimming pools in which to perform their brief miracles against gravity. Held up in traffic, Sandro glanced at the youths, and was struck by how otherworldly the Californian look was becoming, like a breeding experiment overseen by Third Reich pederasts. It seemed unsurprising to him that many of California's mystics and channelers were having visions of Aryan extraterrestrials coming down from the skies in glittering discs. The aliens were their own children, wondering starry-eyed through the vacuum of all their parent's botched and incomplete experiments. Sandro was surprised that Leary wasn't among the kids, a tie-dyed skateboard clutched under his dessicated arm. He flipped the boys the bird, and eased his foot on the accelerator.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen....On Wheels!

Check out this unmissable mid-seventies BBC documentary about British Hell Angels here. Pure comic gold. (Hat tip: Found Objects.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Untitled Short Story Part 1: the vast world above the water

Though he was old, Sandro Estrada maintained an appearance of wiry, athletic vitality and strength. His body was lean and muscular, and his hair, though white as snow since the middle of the eighties, was as full and thick as it had been when he first became infamous in the late sixties. The skin on his face was like a thick, brown, wrinkled leather, but his large, expressive features had scarcely changed. They still radiated the same warmth, fierce intelligence, and playfulness they always had. Many people told Sandro that he had become identical to the picture they had always formed in their mind's eye of don Lorca. Sandro smiled graciously when people said this.

It was Monday afternoon, and Sandro was in his study working on an address he was giving to a workshop in Palo Alto on Wednesday. The word had been put out through the usual surreptitious channels. Arthur told him to expect some Hollywood people, an exec from Geffen records, and possibly one of the Eagles. Arthur didn't know which one; Sandro was long past caring. He wrote: "A fish perceives the vast world above the water only as a subtle texture that is diffused into the water - a colouring that is suffused through the whole medium by which the fish exists. I believe that don Lorca envisioned his training as a process whereby the fish - which was myself - could be taken roughly out of the water, and allowed for one one terrifying moment to take full cognisance of the higher world, the world of gods and monsters." At this point he became distracted, and wondered over to the wicker chair he had placed by the study's large bay window.

He sat in the chair and gazed very intently out the window. The art of seeing correctly, he had written, was the essence of the teaching of don Lorca. Sandro had been fascinated since his youth by the poise and concentration of predatory animals. He believed that the truth of things was ever-present and self-evident, but human concentration, without rigorous training and practise, could only perceive the names it had learned for things. Only the names: the mind revelled in its crude ability to link a name to a quality, as though its work was thus completed. Sandro particularly liked to contemplate bodies of water and trees. He looked at the trees now, stirring in a light breeze. Then he watched as three crows soared over the treetops, wheeling about one another as they climbed the air. Sandro watched as the crows departed from his visual spectrum, becoming tiny, almost metallic points of light, and then vanishing altogether into the shimmering haze of the sky.

Somebody knocked cautiously on the study door. Feeling his temper rising briskly, Sandro ignored it, and attempted to renew his concentration on the trees. The knock came again, with an even greater timidity. "Yes?" Sandro finally declaimed, having calmed his nerves. It was Second Priestess. Second Priestess was a tall, willowy Californian blonde in her late twenties, the daughter of real estate people from the Valley. She wore stone-washed denim jeans and a faded pink Fruit of the Loom tee-shirt. "Somebody on the phone" she said, "for you." This was unusual. Sandro Estrada did not live in fear; however, he required for peace of mind an absolute degree of control over his interaction with the world. There was a time when he had changed his phone number on an almost monthly basis. Now, he had entrusted his number to two associates: Arthur Woronov, the managing director of Ixtlan Incorporated, and Louis Alpert, his old friend and literary agent. Only Arthur and Louis were allowed phone the ranch, and only on Thursday afternoons. That was the rule. "Who is it?" he asked. Second Priestess scowled. "He wouldn't tell me. But he sounded very, very serious. He said that it was a matter of life and death seriousness. Those were his exact words".

Sandro rose from the wicker chair, and stalked reluctantly out onto the landing, with Second Priestess trailing behind him. Two conjectures had already arisen in his mind. The first was that one of his many admirers, insanely industrious creatures that they were, had somehow managed to acquire the ranch number. There were always life or death situations with his admirers: suburbanites and pot-addled boomers who wanted, god love them, to be warriors and sorcerers, Wasps who wanted to be Indians, and always women, endless scores of women who wanted to be breathless voyagers along the path of knowledge.

However, a far more ominous possibility presented itself, which had emerged during the previous Thursday's conference with Louis Alpert. Once again, Louis had been hectoring him to buy a personal computer, and singing the praises of his latest faddish obsession with typical extravagance.

"It's the way of the future. Way of the future. It will impact itself on every facet of daily life, on every aspect of our culture. It is widely known, in business circles, that in the coming decade computer illiteracy will basically be tantamount to suicide, to sheer, self-willed obsolescence and extinction. It's the new frontier. New frontier. They say that people will buy and sell on the computer. They say that people will have sex on the computer. There are certain libertarians in the Bay Area who have already declared the computer a free and autonomous territory, a new country that the government can't tax or patrol. Leary says that the computer is the LSD of this generation!"

Sandro snorted: "That fatuous prick! It doesn't surprise me that he would say that! It doesn't surprise that he would be hanging off the bandwagon, peddling his old bullshit slogans."

Louis enjoyed his friend's mock-exasperation. He was going to let him carry on with his routine, his familiar schtick about how young people had once aspired to be wiser than old people, and now old people tried to be dumber than kids, and how Tim Leary was the instigator, the clown prince, of the whole sorry malaise, when another thought occurred to him.

"Speaking of old friends, I have some news for you, Sandro, that you're not going to like one bit. Your very oldest and dearest friend has been sighted in Yuma, and he has been sighted at UCLA. The word is out: he is putting the finishing touches to yet another book in your honour."

Now Sandro became angry in earnest. Louis Alpert could only have been referring to Lincoln DeMille, the author, psychologist, investigative journalist, distant cousin to Cecil B. DeMille, and tireless arch-nemesis of Sandro since at least 1973. To the best of his knowledge, Sandro had never met DeMille, and never did the slightest thing to incur his wrath. Nevertheless, Lincoln DeMille had published eight articles in the anthropology journals, written two books, and given countless interviews, all of which accused Sandro of being a charlatan, a plagiarist, and worst of all, an author of fiction. It wasn't, as such, that he could do any real damage to Sandro. Whatever damage he could do had already been done; Sandro's followers remained loyal, and his books continued to sell. It wasn't anything like that that really troubled him. It was the inexplicable obsession and industriousness of the man that was so unsettling. He was a bloodhound. He seemed to prowl through every conceivable trace that Sandro left after him. He had diligently collected all of Sandro's library slips from his UCLA days; he had gone, on more than a couple of occasions, through Sandro's trash looking for evidence of chicanery; he had spoken to every woman who had so much as refused to give Sandro a hand-job in the sixties. Now, any person with even a modicum of concern for his privacy would find his nerves a little frazzled by the idea of someone who was actually prepared to shift through their trash for personal dirt. It was somehow deeply unnatural. Sandro was convinced that DeMille would keep digging until the end of days; keep searching until he discovered some awful truth about Sandro, or even about himself, that neither had ever conceived of before, and that would destroy them both.

Louis tried to calm him down: "Look, this business has reached the end of the line. DeMille is taking one last shot at his white whale, one last attempt to justify what he's being doing with the last twenty years of his life. That's all this is. It's not that serious. You know, one of these days, one of you will look for the other, and find that he's gone, finito. Then you'll miss him. Then you'll wonder who the hell you are, without him sifting through your trash. I'll tell you one thing I know about Lincoln DeMille. I tell you one thing I can say for a fact about Lincoln DeMille. He uses a personal computer. That's how he's so organised and efficient. If you had a couple of kids like a normal person, you'd understand about computers. Way of the future."
And so it went. Louis was always trying to persuade him to buy a personal computer, and have children. Sandro would have neither.

Second Priestess, in her peculiarly artful and inappropriate fashion, had arranged the phone in such a way that the receiver lay at a perfect right angle to the dial. It appeared to point directly at Sandro like a weapon. He looked intently for a moment at the tiny black holes that dotted the earpiece, each of them extending by some ineffable magic into a faraway place, where faceless men made plans against Sandro. Finally, he picked it up, and barked "Who is this? How did you get this number?"
The voice that answered was that of a Huichol Indian, Sandro guessed, in his early twenties.
"Who I am is not important. I am passing on a message from my benefactor, don Lorca. The message is that don Lorca wishes to speak urgently with Sandro Estrada."
Sandro repeated: "How did you get this number?"
"I have answered that question. I said I am speaking for don Lorca. You of all people should know that nothing is secret from don Lorca."
Sandro shuddered, and briskly composed himself.
"I don't know you. You do not represent don Lorca. If don Lorca wished to speak to me he would have sent me a sign, and I would have understood it. Who are you?"
"Don Lorca sent the sign, and you understood it. I will meet you on Wednesday at noon, at the bus-stop in Yuma, and I will take you to see my benefactor."
With that, the phone went dead.
Continued shortly.