I don't understand why you're telling this weird story.
Answer my question! Should "squidapalooza" be included in the Oxford dictionary or not?
Dear, Dear Jose,
When I first composed my answer to your linguistic query, I told you of my time in San Francisco after The War and the complicated speakeasy my cousin, Albert, operated in the labyrinths below Chinatown. His speakeasy, you will recall, was appellated "Squidapalooza."
Then, when that answer did not satisfy your curiosity I told you of how mysterious robéd peoples chased myself and the ill-fit detective John Tichy from the speakeasy and down to the waterfront, whereby a remarkably nimble Tichy effected an escape and I was captured, these same assailants purloining from me a mysterious key Tichy had entrusted to my care.
After my capture, I was unconscious for an indeterminate period of time. One of my captors was a nautical engineer, I later surmised, for it became apparent that he had both made minor repairs to my ailing suit—much be-stabbéd by the female assailant—and manipulated the oxygen exchange within my velocitational suit in order to keep me unconscious, yet alive while the robed individuals and their confederates effected their machinations.
I awoke, curiously, in a submarine. The nature of my confinement immediately stuck me ironical: I was a creature of the crushing depths, forced to don a pressurized suit inn order to traverse the drylands, only to become confined in the cramped quarters of a rigid vessel meant designed to ferry bony air-breathers from their terrible, dry upspace down to my benthic home. I was a supra-marine in a sub-marine—a bold extra-mariner, dwelling like a riddle within a mystery within a matroshka within a soup can within a shark's abyssal gullet.
Around me were the usual tubes and gaskets, cranks and ducting one finds in a submersible or on a supra-mersible. The light was dim, a reddish glow emanating from behind me. An audible dripping and muffled conversation were the only sounds. I attempted to move the limbs of my suit and found they had been repaired, but bound in ropes to a steel pole behind me. I flexed against the ropes, sure that the great robotic strength my chassis possessed would easily be enough to split the cords, when my concentration was perturbed by a gasping cry.
"Quit it, Squiddo!" Tichy's voice was labored; I wondered if he had been afflicted by asthma or emphysema. "They got us tied together. If you try and snap these ropes you'll break my spine like rock crab in a table vice."
"TICHY." My voice rang out in a bellow and I moved to adjust my audible controls,for subterfuge. "TICHY, EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT IS GOING ON. THE LAST I RECALL WAS LYING ON A PIER WHILST YOU MADE YOUR MERRY ESCAPE."
I could feel Tichy nod behind me. "Yeah, these are some religious wackjobs I think. After the Hat." He paused. "I think it'd be a bad idea for them to get it, in case you were wonderin'."
"I DO NOT BELIEVE IN MAGICAL HATS, DETECTIVE, BUT I HAVE A GREAT DESIRE TO DO THE OPPOSITE OF WHATEVER THESE PEOPLE ASK OF US. I AM FEELING CONTRARY." I extruded a manipulator arm from within my pressurized containment suit and flicked open the tiny saw attachment. I slowly sawed at the bindings, careful not to put such pressure on Tichy as to kill him. "TELL ME THIS, DETECTIVE. YOU HAD A KEY AND A DOORKNOB. WHERE WERE THOSE TO BE USED? AND WHERE ARE WE NOW?"
Tichy groaned as the pressure of the ropes increased upon his ribcage. "I got those off your cousin a while back. There was this skell with a drinking problem—funny guy named Marvin Hamburger on account of his skin condition—who left them as collateral with Albert, down in his bar. This guy drank there same time as me and he was jaw-er; Marvin Hamburger could talk the cock off a brass monkey. One day, after too few bourbons, he lets spill that at his work there is this secure building—disguised as a shed. And in that shed are all the things the cops here in Frisco collect that are too dangerous for public storage and too dangerous to destroy."
My saw cut through the ropes and Tichy sagged to the ground.
"And he says they got stuff there I wouldn't believe. He says they got a Japanese A-bomb. He says they got a cabinet full of wonders. And then he says they got Emperor Norton's hat." Tichy smiled and knocked upon the glass dome of my suit with a fat, round hand. "And y'know where he worked?"
"YOU HAVE NOT SAID WHERE HE WORKED."
"I know that, but guess." Tichy grinned widely.
"I DO NOT BELIEVE I COULD GUESS. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE NIGH UNTO ENDLESS. YOU SAID HIS NAME WAS MARVIN HAMBURGER, SO PERHAPS HIS EMPLOY WAS AT AN ABATTOIR OR BEEF PROCE—"
Tichy held up a hand, still grinning. "See, the shed was in a place where no one could find it. And Marvin Hamburger," Tichy arched his eyebrows, "he comes in wearing a fancy blue uniform," Tichy rotated his hand, in the suggestion of moving along, "You get it yet?"
I nodded. "CLEARLY, HE WORKED AT A PLACE WHERE ONE WEARS BLUE UNIFORMS. AND HAS SHEDS. PERHAPS A HOSP-"
"Alcatraz!" Tichy spat, "It's on Alcatraz, you bozo!"
Tichy's face was red. Perhaps that was the submarine's unique lighting. Perhaps it was exasperation at his inability to provide a sufficient guessing game. Perhaps it was hypertension caused by his obesity, diet and alcoholism. I regarded him coolly while I considered these options.
"We need to get there before these yahoos with the robes." He ran a hand through his lank, greasy hair and found it stuck there, ensnarled. "And what kind of religious cult has a submarine, anyways?"
"ONE WHO PLANS TO ROB AL CATRAZ, I PRESUME. THIS MR. CATRAZ, HE IS A RELATIVE OF MR. AL CAPONE, YES? I BELIEVE COUSIN ALBERT—" I paused, finally feeling realization sink into my psyche, "SO MANY ALBERTS," I marveled, "WHAT IS THE LIKELIHOOD!" Tichy was unreplying, and so I backtracked to my earlier thread, "COUSIN ALBERT HAS TOLD ME OF THIS AL CATRAZ, OF HIS EXPLOITS. THEY SAY THIS MAN—UNLIKE ALL OTHERS—TRULY IS AN ISLAND. THEY SAY HE HOLDS SWAY OVER HUNDREDS OF HARDENED CRIMINALS. THEY SAY HE HAS HIS OWN PRIVATE POLICE FORCE. AND," I paused for dramatic effect, leaning close to Tichy's sweat-frosted face, "THEY SAY HE IS SURROUNDED BY SHARKS."
Tichy gawped at me, mouth hanging askew. Clearly he was impressed by my hard-earned knowledge of this formidable adversary who possessed the precious chapeau. He shook himself. "Yeah. That's it exactly, Squiddy. So we got to be real quiet-like when we rob his shed of oddities. Real. Quiet."
I nodded and turned down my vocal amplifier. We were imprisoned in what appeared to be a storage room of the submersible. Stacks of crates and canisters and bales of rope nestled us. Opening a wooden crate I located lubricating oil, which I dumped about my suit's mechanical limbs.
"First thing is first: We need to get out of this sub." Tichy pressed his ear against the hull and grinned. "Once, I was working the Case of the Woman Who Lived on the Bottom of the Sea. Probably best not to go into details, but on that one, I picked up a knack for differentiating depths based on the sound of the hull of a ship." He rummaged through the crates, locating diving gear. "We're very near the surface."
"DID THAT CASE TURN OUT WELL?"
Tichy did not pause, "She paid up front."
"BUT DID IT TURN OUT WELL?"
As Tichy quickly donned his reverse version of my land-walking apparatus, and just afore he pulled on his mask, answered, "It did for me. You ready to do-do your voodoo?" I nodded, he strapped his mask tight, and I reared back on my hindmost four legs and drove my twin manipulators into a seam on the submersible's out walls; the pressure of the sea managed the rest handily. The explosive decompression hurled us from the vehicle and we found ourselves on the rocky shores of Al Catraz's island fortress. A shed stood humbly nearby.
Tichy removed his self-contained underwater breather apparatus and glanced back at the sinking submersible. "We shoulda grabbed that key and the doorknob. The guard, Marvin Hamburger, said we'd need them to get into the shed."
"I CAN RETRIEVE THEM FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR AFTER THE SHARKS, THE WATER AND THE PRESSURE HAVE MERCILESSLY DEALT WITH OUT BE-ROBED CAPTORS." I strode toward the shed and tested its walls. My manipulator easily tore aside the wood revealing a deep shaft piercing the island. "BESTRIDE ME, DETECTIVE. WE SHALL CLAMBER SPIDER-LIKE INTO THIS HOLE AND PERHAPS THIS HAT AWAITS US."
The rotund man climbed atop the rear of my chassis and whimpered as I lowered us into the darkness. The hole was far deeper than I thought possible given we were already at the sea's own level. After a controlled plunge of slightly less than one hundred feet, my arms gouging great furrows in the shaft's walls, raining dirt and rocks and insects upon Tichy, we met the bottom like lovers in an airport.
Tichy produced a flashlight—what the English call a "torch." A rough-hewn passage stretched before us as wide as three men and barely seven feet tall. I hunkered down and walked crab-like—shameful as it was—through the winding passage. After twenty minutes of walking we came upon a door crafted of solid crystal, carved with glyphs and runes. At the exact center of this door, hidden in whorls and whirls of design was a socket sized for a doorknob.
Tichy spat. "See, Squiddo! This is why we needed to go back and get that—" His tirade was cut short as I removed the door forcibly from it's frame. Revealed beyond was a veritable Al Addin's (Alberts redux!) Cave of wonders. In a vaulted room sat piles of documents and gizmos, gewgews and thingamajogs. "Don't touch a damn thing," Tichy cautioned. "In The Case of the Crystal Chimpanzee I heard about this place. Let's get the hat and get out."
Standing in the doorway, aware of the arcane energies at play, I extended my suit's mechanized arms to their fullest length and opened a crate marked "Hat: Norton, Emperor." Within was a purpled tophat spattered with glittered paint and mud.
A cough brought my attention about. Behind me stood the two robed figures from Squidapalooza along with a third man I recognized from his striking profile: Anton LaVey. He was young then, barely twenty-three years old.
In a nasal voice he spoke. "Give me that hat, Sthquid. Or the detective getth itth."
Tichy groaned, "Christ! Not only aren't they dead, but we got a flit in the mix!"
"I SHALL HANDLE THIS," I muttered.
LaVey—a noted Semitic Satanist and heterosexist—scowled, giving me the initiative I so sorely needed. I turned, stepping between our attackers and the huggable Tichy, and held the hat behind my back.
"GIVE IT TO THE DETECTIVE," I teased. "YOU AND WHAT ARMY, MITHTER LEVEY?" LaVey veritably glowed with rage, sputtering impotently and gesticulating, while the robed male groped within his togs, quickly extended an arm, and two shots rang out. The first pinging off my suit and embedding itself in the wall, the second thunked solidly into Tichy's shoulder.
"The HELL?" he cried out. "Stop handling things!" Tichy tore the hat from my claw, than wallowed and scrambled up into the edge of my chassis, cradling his injured arm, plopping the worn hat atop his head, and clinging to me for dear life. "Presto change-o!" he shouted, clutching his eyes with holy dread. And, in a nonce, the five of us stood upon the corner of Castro and Market streets; it was months later, and we were caught in throng of a raucous All Hallow's Eve parade. The street was choked with a crush of lighthearted, carefree, brilliant, and brightly colored male revelers; a treacherous riptide in the surge dragged LaVey from his parishioners, and the robbed man and women further down the lane, as I crept forward, Tichy upon my back. He looked up, blinkingly, then grinned.
"Ha!" he screamed at the robéd man and woman, then turned to repeat this to the slavering, sputtering LaVey. His serious wound forgotten, Tichy stood upon my velocitator's dome, tap dancing his joy as I slowly joined the parade of befeathered, partially clad All Hallow's reverents. "We're in the money, Squidso," Tichy sang. "We're in the money—we gotta lotta what it takes to get along!" He whirled, and the crowd cheered his joy. A young man in a feathered scarf and little else clambered atop me, his face a glow with the delight of the carnival, and Tichy embraced him like a long-last brother. The youth laughed hysterically, reared back, placed one hand to each side of Tichy's face, and kissed him with a full ardour to challenge any Lothario. Tichy laughed, shouting, "You crazy bastards! I love you crazy, crazy bastards!" The boy, still grinning, kissed Tichy's cheek, plucked the hat from his head, executed a graceful pirouette, then slid down my velocitator dome, swung off my chassis, and disappeared into the crowd. As we drifted down the avenue, Tichy starred blankly out into the crowd, his face slack, expecting nothing, not even mourning the loss of his fortune. Not even the champagnes and brandied Alexanders the cheering revelers passed our way could turn his mood.
Nonetheless, I had a very grand time—the belle of this odd ball, and was reviewed quite favorably in the next days San Francisco's Chronicle. It was, without a doubt, the grandest of Squidapaloozas the city has ever known, and worth any price.
As for the final resting place of Emperor Norton's hat, who can say?
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson