The Gypsy's Address
“Who am I?”
“You’re a soft, fat boy with nothing to brag!” Penny answered, endeavoring to his elbows and knees. The Popsicle Man applied more weight to Penny’s fingers. He didn’t ask his question twice, but maintained pressure until Penny struggled more agreeably: “You’re the Popsicle Man!”
The Popsicle Man released some degree of pressure: “Who else am I?”
“I’ve heard it said by heroes that your brain cells are zeros,” Penny defied.
The Popsicle Man applied more weight to Penny’s appendages. He looked at Strange: “Who else am I?”
Strange regarded Penny with his forehead pushing against the ground to withstand the pain as silently as possible. She strove quickly to think of something pleasing to say: “I’ve heard your authority is viable by sources reliable.”
“And what say you?” pressing more heavily onto Penny’s hands.
“I proclaim the same!” Penny endeavored to not shout.
The Popsicle Man removed his foot from Penny’s hands, flicked his thumb and pointed an index finger down at Penny. Two goons lifted him to his knees.
“You’re a liar,” said the Popsicle Man to Penny. Then to Strange, “Both of you. The penalty for that is death.” There was a murmur amidst the pygmies. At distances further from the Popsicle Man there were secret communications of dissatisfaction.
“That’s absurd!” Something declared.
“You question my word?” the Popsicle Man filliping his thumb again. A goon poised a rifle butt several inches from Something’s forehead, ready to bash. He waited for Penny to turn his glance from Strange to himself, then asked him directly, “Who am I?”
Penny was at a loss to know who else the Popsicle Man could be. He and Strange looked up at his towering figure in his white silk suit, the fires and torches about the camp glittering in his eyes. They looked about at the men in white bearing rifles, the pygmies apparently subservient, then each other, then at the Popsicle Man as they both said in unison, “The Great White Hunter!”
Which didn’t please the Popsicle Man in the least. He gave each a look for a couple of seconds, looked away for a couple of seconds, then: “Punctuator. Come see that your property is in good condition. Every measure the less, the more two slow deaths will make a mess. Have you any suggestions, Makin?”
“Hang them from a spit ear through ear so that their roasting meat they can’t hear.”
“Are you sure you’d not rather they be axed?”
“That I prefer if you think that, for them, it’s less relaxed.”
As the Punctuator approached the basket from which two pygmies were cutting free its cover, he stopped before Old Penny who, now on his knees, was just smaller. Glaring into Penny’s eyes, the Punc now gave him a loud backhand across his right cheek.
“One for the money! Two for the show! Three to get ready! Now go, cats, go! . .” sang the lead singer on the stage in the voice of Carl Perkins, accompanied by other musicians, one of whom was the woman who had been tending the fire when Alias arrived. At which signal Brian put his immaculate ’77 Grand Prix luxury coupe into gear and slept ahead of Lee Rocker in his rumbling ’68 GTO drop top, followed by Phantom in a ’53 Corvette which he drove at a deep purr. Alias took off with the puma who was the commander of the scores of cats which ran to the sides of the road on which Setzer, Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom were soon driving like lighting. It wasn’t asphalt for laying rubber. But Brian’s Grand Prix did the ruts quiet and smooth, Lee’s GTO was built for curves, and Phantom’s Corvette could catch up or pull ahead in a fine-tuned flash. As they would be taking the road into the murk of the jungle, Alias and the rest of the pride soon left them to take a more direct route. Even in full moonlight the scores of cats were but silent specters as they glided across the open savannah, then negotiated as only cats can the dense vegetation of the deeper forest. Leaping over streams, flying through trees where there was no turf, sending surprised fowl into the air, their plan was simple: instant strike without warning, one cat per man before a single dart loaded by a pygmy hand, a single rifle raised against the Stray Cats band.
As the score changed to a Stray Cats rendition of Rumble In Brighton the leopard that had lost three children to help cover the Popsicle Man’s sofa was the first to leap over the heads of several pygmies, taking the neck of the Popsicle Man into its jaws. At once the screams of pygmies mingled with the shrieking of cats grasping clumps of hair into their claws as they used human heads to pounce deeper into the fray. The commanding puma targeting Makin’, though, found her no easy prey. She saw him fly across the porch in her direction and gave him a block in the lower jaw with her forearm, sending him to the earth below. She then rushed down to the Punc and lifted him by his armpits into her grasp, just as a white tomcat barely missed taking his ear into its teeth. The cat left three deep claw marks, though, on his right cheek before Makin’ snatched him up and fled into the jungle. Tens of pygmies were scattering the same in every direction. All happened so quickly that Penny and Strange had barely stood to their feet when Brian braked with a cloud of dust, jumped from his car and ran up to them. He saw Cuddly hunkering in the basket between them, lifted him out and ran back to his car.
“Hey!” shouted Penny and Strange, chasing after him, just as Lee and Phantom pulled up.
“Get in!” Lee shouted to Penny. Penny gave Brian a look as the latter placed Cuddly in the passenger seat of his Grand Prix.
“He’s an ally!” woofed Alias, suddenly nearby. Penny ran to Lee’s convertible and jumped over the door into the passenger seat. Alias followed, barking, “Keys!” Penny glanced down at his wrists. He looked about the chaos, saw the man who had handcuffed him some thirty feet off and nodded. Lee took off as Alias sped toward the man in white, raising his rifle to fire at a flying alley cat. Alias leapt, knocking the man to the ground with all four paws to his head. The black tomcat who had translated for Alias joined her, digging its teeth into the man’s jugular and tearing it in two. Alias snatched the man’s key ring into her mouth, ripped it from his belt loop and raced to stand guard to Cuddly at the passenger door of Brian’s Grand Prix.
Strange hadn’t closed the door to the Corvette when Phantom sped off with Lee. Brian, racing to the driver side of car, noticed the commander lying wounded on the ground. He ran to the puma’s rescue, as a white lifted his rifle and took a bead on him, only to be dropped by a pygmy’s dart to the heart. Several other pygmies helped Brian with the commander through the violent melee. He opened the trunk of his Grand Prix where they quickly but carefully laid him.
“Thank you!” Brian yelled as he shut the trunk and ran to the driver door. He looked back a moment amidst the already ebbing chaos and gave the pygmies a lingering glance: “Come visit us! Just for kicks!” he smiled, then slipped into his Grand Prix and took off. Gearing his way out of the mess, he noticed a white standing to his feet to aim his rifle at a cat: “Damn! I hate this bodywork to undo. . .” Clump! “. . . but now there’s one dummy less in view. . . Sorry. . . Rosa,” which was the name of his machine, Alias loping alongside, keeping Cuddly seen.
As Lee returned Penny to his truck Penny tried to place the driver he could have sworn he’d seen somewhere before: “If you’re not Lee Rocker I’ll have a seizure.”
“Have any fit you please at your leisure,” Lee smiled, offering his hand.
Something Strange squinted at Slim Jim, following Lee to Something’s truck: “If you’re not Phantom you’re sure enough it.”
“Mmm. . . Sometimes I am. At others I bluff it. Like cats sometimes pretend to stray.”
“Meet a gypsy, pilgrim,” Strange smiled, forwarding her hand.
Cuddly, now on his haunches in the passenger seat, having investigated the mystery of the driver for the last half hour, of a sudden spoke, “Setzer.”
Brian blinked, turned his head to Cuddly, would have bet his life he’d heard “Setzer” quite aloud from somewhere. He gave Cuddly a frowning a smile: “Does the psyche to you have such charm that it tends, now and then, to alarm?”
The Punctuator, having traded locations from beneath Makin’s arm to atop her shoulders, didn’t find his way back to their trucks until sunrise. Neither would they find their way out of the jungle all that day. Makin’s high tech equipment might tell Something’s location, but getting there would not be easy with all the false routes on which to get lost and so many impediments common to a rainforest.
Long before Makin’ and the Punc located their trucks Lee and Phantom had returned Penny and Strange to theirs and led them to their mansion at the edge of the jungle. About midmorning Alias and Cuddly had already been out, rooting about the great white house, well-protected by the many cats lounging about, as well as those more vigilantly keeping watch at stations along the borders around the establishment. Perhaps seventeen perpetually seventeen year-old rock and roll queens performed various duties about the mansion in rhythm to the soundtrack, presently subdued, emitting a version of (She’s) Sexy + 17. They cleaned up after a good breakfast of eggs and tomatoes for all, lounged in lawn chairs in bikinis beneath the sun as they read books, played volleyball in the shade of tall trees to the rear of the large house, washed walls, brushed cats, nursed the wounded puma on the front porch. As there was no end of lively things to do their tasks with joy were never through.
Penny, Strange and the Stray Cats had missed the main breakfast due to the rescue the night before. They were now, mid-afternoon, put to ease with bread and cheese beneath the trees at one of the picnic tables behind the house. Between meeting various girls and musicians who dropped by Penny and Strange attempted to contact their broker and shipper. Without success yet again.
“Where are you headed?” Brian asked, popping a cap off a beer and presenting it to Old Penny.
“We have no address,” Penny replied.
“Where, then, do you live?” Lee inquired.
“Our home has no beginning nor end. If it did it would be but pretend,” responded Strange.
Slim Jim waved a beer bottle to indicate the mansion behind him: “We hope for as long as you please you’ll like a house this size.”
“That’s very generous. Nothing greater to prize,” Penny thanked, raising his beer to Slim.
“This is like winning a lotto to find myself here with guys,” seconded Strange. “To wish an appearance by Clapton would be a touch greedy, since for companions the best I’m not the least needy.”
“It would seem,” wondered Penny, “that with so many pygmies about you’d have more woe to show.”
“For many of them their reputation’s a sham,” enlightened Brian. “Some make us jam which they trade us for Spam. Last night was liberation to as many as not.”
“We’ve found that they won’t hunt for your head if you keep them fed,” Rocker added, playing an air bass as a rock and roll queen sat in Phantom’s lap to whisper in his ear, giggle, then hop away.
“Sweet harmony,” Phantom smiled to Old Penny.
As for Kia, you and I, resting on a limb nearby, we urge you to regard that rest is but a transformation of deed. Any child rests from small as it grows. One wisdom rests as another you heed. See, then, how restful are these words which here sprawl, each one the rest of the rest you read. Since there’s no rest from rest at any hour, the rest we’re getting is both minimal and maximal, having in fullness of rest both small and great power. Now that we’re rested let’s return to the resting rest. . .
“I’d have more expected to meet you guys in a concrete jungle,” Penny returned Phantom’s smile, then lit an Optimo and handed it to Strange.
“Landfill, you mean,” remarked Brian. Old Penny and Strange blinked and frowned, not comprehending.
“Eighteen miles from Memphis is too close,” Lee explained.
Phantom shook his head in agreement upon a swallow from his bottle.
“That makes five of us,” Penny and Strange said in unison, causing the Cats to laugh.
“This part of Earth yet has worth. So we bought it,” Brian informed.
“That these trees will remain is everyone’s gain,” offered Strange, waving her beer bottle to indicate the immediate forest.
“The Amazon,” Lee corrected.
“Here’s to the Amazon!” Penny toasted.
“We bought it,” Phantom corrected again.
“You bought the Amazon,” Something chuckled.
“We bought the Amazon,” Brian confirmed.
“All right. What’s the punch line?” Penny asked.
“The punch line,” Lee answered, “is that under our care life is more fair to the life living here. The Popsicle Man was a squatter. You’re arrival met our deadline. It’s why we’re here at the same time.”
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