PART THREE

London
"Nothing Hum-able"

And what was this London Symphony reviewer doing last night at a Q concert? Listening, my skeptical readers, attentively listening. Now there are many among you who already are dismissing this article: Mr. Rhue has obviously gone bonkers, right round the bend, attending a "spectacle like that!" I admit, it was vulgar. The facility was virtually teeming with wayward youth, a horrible horde of grotesquerie, shoulder to shoulder, buttock to glass-bottom-jeans buttock, a throng of the uncouthly clad and gauchely behaved. But the music, my dear readers, the music itself—sans hysterical schoolgirls and drug-sodden delinquents, sans the gimmicks and gadgets of high-tech mirages, the bedlam of visual stimuli, and the ear-splitting VOLUME, sans all that, when this musician—a title I use unequivocally—finally took the stage, and the salvos of Q-Q-Q-ing subsided—idolaters ceasing to bellow, devotees to bray—Q played. And from the first unisonant chords to his thrilling finale, we experienced the most exceptional, most extraordinary sounds a fellow human being, ever, has made.

So boil me in oil, cast stones, tar and feather me, but Q—whom heretofore musically one might have dubbed "an interesting heathen," must now be regarded to have found God. As both composer and performer, Q has come of age, and was, if words can do him justice, positively brilliant.

Yes, a rave. Too complex to be "hum-able" (on a first hearing), too innovative (and bizarre) ever to be considered "ho hum," Q is a force with which the music world must reckon. Legitimate or proscribed, where he leads, others can merely follow.

Stanley H. Rhue
Thames Times
UPI

 

 

Amsterdam
"Q in Concert. Worldwide Tour, Second Leg. Sell-Out or Sold Out?"

They get filthy famous. Quick. The way they get to spend money is obscene. They were doing it before, just because. Just because why? Fuck off, I'm just doing it. Nobody cared much. Before. Until some reviewer somewhere, writing for the Pulps says, "drastic" or for an up-market zine says, "stunning" or for a blue-chip publication says "positively fantastic, a must-see event." Puke, retch, puke. The end. Recognition. Grubbers crawl out of every pore in the Universe to "tongue the talent." It's fellatio, or cunnilingus, on a cosmic scale. Most succumb, pun intended.

Has Q?

The scene: usual superstar eat-'em-ups—elastic chic to crass couture, caviar-cravers to chewing-gum snappers, the gamut packed like anchovies into Dome Doom, the footballer's stadium, revamped to accommodate Q's (voluminous) gear.

I'm there. I have to be. I would have been anyway. I'm curious as to whether or not Q can keep it hard.

I'm like everyone else. Flame-feeders. Somebody says something's hot, it catches, we consume. Simple as that.

Q's standing in the dark. Why am I already priming myself to spit "FAKE," to write "Soldl Out" with the nib of my Photochron pen? Preconceived notions. Mine are in print. I proclaimed (past tense) "rare." As in "musical genius." So, in a sense, it's my ass on the line. I'm getting sick-green waiting. It hits me. I'm still itching to stoke Q's fire. Just once I want to see somebody make it and not turn into ashes the morning after.

Lights up. Q stabs the keyboard and my insides start to bleed. My brain is hemorrhaging through my eardrums. I'm not me anymore, I've leached out. I'm replaced by absolute sound. Not noise. Music. And it's so fucking beautiful I don't even write, not a syllable. I wait till he's finished.

So what's the verdict? I'm supposed to pretend I'm in-the-know so that the underground prospers. The fringes. We of the radical front guard.

Okay. It's pretentious, but here's what I think:

If you've fixed Q idol-wise, if his rage vents your spleen and you want his lyrics of irreverence to be your spokesperson, find another mouthpiece. The songs, if you can call them that, had few comprehensible lines. He used his voice. My God, did he use his voice! And, mostly, I think I 'got' what he was singing. Mostly. I think. But I'm biased; I know where he's come from—musically, that is; otherwise, like everybody else, I don't have a clue. But who he is, or rather who he was just an hour ago, is a man who stands alone in the avant-garde. You won't like it. I nearly didn't. You'll compare it, or try to, but the closest thing to Q is Q, last year. This year's version doesn't even qualify as an adaptation; it's a whole new species. Q reincarnated.

Now he's Q. If that sounds paradoxical, it sums ups his music. Q is out there. Way out there. Maybe too far. Maybe not. From the looks on faces I saw in tonight's audience, Q's tour will be a smash. Don't ask why. Buy the disc. Or better yet, be in Cairo next month. If you don't have the price of admission, sell your soul to get it, because hearing this man live, I guarantee, will buy it back.

Gunther Gruschke
Hieronymous Press
AP

 

 

Cairo
"The Ugly American"

It is tragic that the tastes of the West have continued their assault on Eastern mores. Capitalism is the principal culprit, flexing its corporate muscles before every consciousness in every land. And we are all the more fools for showing it little or no resistance, feasting our greedy eyes, greasy our eager palms on the suntan-oiled sleekness of uselessly overdeveloped egos. We are like Pharaohs who, through want of pulchritude, forget about the ugliness outside our palaces. And since example is our only credible teacher, the masses follow. They have gathered, our masses have, for another injection of the West's most potent drug. They have come to shoot up, snort, absorb or otherwise stupefy themselves with a foreign substance, a foreign culture. They have come, in droves, to conduct into their bloodstreams the narcotic called Q.

He is reputedly an American—his gravest fault. He is an emissary of "freedom." In the West, as the world has learned too well, said freedom translates into exploitation. Rape and plunder, rape and plunder. Hear the cadence, hear the beat? It is the rhythm of the Western heart, the very pulse that drives its single mindedness.

These were my thoughts when I was importuned to attend the "Mega Concert"—so named because it constituted, to date, the largest aggregate of its kind. I went, dismayed to see my countrymen, in such outlandish number, filing in like cattle to the Cairo Coliseum. Propaganda need not plead a cause, or rally round a flag, boys. The Arts are far more persuasive—the more abstract, the more insidious—if their goal is to warp the truth, in favour of furthering selfish aims. Having heard recordings by this ugly American—tattooed below the eye, his temples and his brows bizarrely devoid of hair, his height a lanky contortion of unabashed lewdness—I was unimpressed, my critic's expectations far from high.

I stood, however, in amazement.

I did not like so well the exhibition, the awestruck crowd and its blatant praise. In truth it seemed exorbitant and shockingly overdone. This mere performer holds people captive as might an Emperor, or an exalted Head of State, and all he has done to earn this hallowed homage is to make a colossal noise—though not exclusively a Western noise, nor even a Western noise predominantly.

At first, as I have indicated, I was offended by his very presence. Few, like I, had come prepared to judge him objectively. But after paying heed to the actual fabric of his music, which he made with a brand of intensity one was hard-pressed to ignore, my eyes forgot the gross distractions—and Q's gross appearance—and my ears began discriminating patterns rich in texture, drawn, if not from Northern Africa, from tapestries akin. I heard affinities for many places. One stood out. Allow me to illuminate.

For those not in attendance, or who failed to hear the delayed broadcast (a group that must be very small indeed) Q played only one hour. There were voices, his among them, which sang choruses at times. I failed to recognize, however, their mother tongue. So much was unfamiliar in the way of sounds (and sights; the concave ceiling shown with a panoply of images) words pale. Yet in the second "movement," is how I will describe it, the dome went black. The music softened. Its tones seemed to congeal, as if, within one lilting monotone, all notes from all the scales united to breathe a single strain, which grew prolonged, then subtly changed, until the song that filled the air became the wind's. Then came an echo made by panpipes, a simple child-like melody evoking, for me, a vision (though night prevailed) of snow-clad mountains. The Himalayas first sprang  to mind, but then I pictured the Andes. We were soaring, as did condors before their extinction, through a quintessential sky, a magical moment that epitomized the nature of Q's astounding impact. Spiritually, I confess, I was deeply moved.

Thus I must commend, however grudgingly, this ugly American. I clutch him to my bosom. I regard him as a friend. For he has found, within his own uniqueness, a core of commonality. And though Mankind's unkind differences persist throughout our troubled globe, one voice, on one night, near the banks of the river Nile, praise Allah, transcended them.

Ali Sahid
Today in Egypt
Al Jazeera

 

 

Satin sheets. Miles of nacreous luster. A sprawl of undulating mounds like whipped cream swirled, reflecting diffuse beams of Mediterranean light. Through a terrace window, breeze brushes aside curtains made of lace as would a surreptitious lover lifting a maiden's veil. Long limbs, one leg, one arm, yawn of ribs in a swarthy torso, half a man in the fabric lies exposed. HUGE shapes stir beside him—slowly swelling / slowly shrinking, the ivory-colored sheet like waves enlarged / and  then diminished, over a stretch of sea disguising an about-to-breach whale, who changes her mind, who, instead of surfacing, dives; the sheet grown limp, relaxed, resettled into folds and provocative furrows.

Witness Scratch, eyes barely open in a lazy-lidded stupor, scraggly whiskers mingling (chin to chest) with pectoral curls, naked elbow crooked at the edge of a monumental bed, where he—with the draped leviathan—stretch contentedly.

"You believe this she-it?"

He flicks his wrist, interest shifted from mound to hotel floor, where, strewn like post-parade litter, are the morning's international newspapers. Scratch reaches.

"This one's in A-rabic. All dots 'n' squiggles. Calls Q 'The Ugly American.' Translation's written in pencil between the lines." He squints to bring the lettering into better focus. "How Sam writes so friggin' tiny, sure beats the hell out 'o me." He bugs out his eyeballs, readjusting the paper—closer, farther, farther still—then tilts it sideways toward the flood of midday sunshine. "Too early for readin'." He sends the paper flying to rejoin its crumpled kin. "Loved us, no lie. Every friggin' one o' those re-views is a standin' o-vation—'less Sam's spoofin' us. Which I doubt. De-vious babe, Samantha, but this stuff reads legit—at least it seems to jive with the in-house crowds. Lately folks been eatin' Q up like Vegans gobblin' tempeh."

A listless shrug, from the sonorous mound distracts the master tech's attention. He appraises the mammoth proportions (whose rhythmic snores persist) with brows upraised and lips in a gratified pucker.

"Yes, in-deedy, life's sweet. Won't last. Got us some trouble brewin'. Might just have to X the New York gig. Thanks to Federalitis—which Q con-tracted. Kind o' like tetanus—you know, lockjaw(?)—only worse. Catch it from your government stickin' it in. Way-laid, I was. 'Would I please give a message to my employer?' Called 'im 'Private Van Schoonhoven.' Which made to me, at the time, not a speck o' sense. I blew it off. But once I's back on the is-land, things came clear. Samantha spilled the beans. Gill-green jealous, that woman is. Mean as chiggers. All because her property—namely Q—adopted some poor immigrant."

Scratch stretches luxuriously, his grimace turned to grin, as he spreads another glance on the sound-asleep form.

"Cute kid, too, this Maya. Tack-sharp an' petunia-pretty. Got Jeffrey to spruce 'er up. Made 'er look like a cover girl straight from Svelte—compared to how she used to look; Luth showed me a digital. Un-believable change, though the girl's not yet ripe—makin' Prada's full grown tan-trum look all the more ri-diculous. Youth, I s'ppose, goes rotten, once fallen from the tree. Q's behaved himself, I think, in spite o' allegations to the con-trary. In spite o' what I'd term a thaw in his ice-man's heart. Puddle-ized, I'd say, by this teeny-bopper's love-hate-love. Seems she's none too certain if Q's okay or a out-and-out fink."

Scratch smacks the mound beside him (from which a mellifluent moan arises), then soothes, with a fond massage, the spot he hit.

"This, or somethin' similar, would better cure what ails him—though papa-hood suits the bastard, I must admit. 'Señor' Q, of late, has been downright loose-as-a-goose a-greeable. No less schizoid, o' course, but the music... hell, the music's come together like nobody's business."

"Á qui parles-tu?"

Resonant and velvety, a feminine voice creeps out from under the sheet. Scratch smiles—a smile that starts at the corners of his good-natured almond eyes and spreads like maple syrup over the rest of his crossbred features. Decidedly un-handsome, Scratch is nonetheless sought-after—"wonderful in the sack"—or so his many conquests claim.

"Myself, mon amour."

He leans toward the mound and nuzzles it playfully, catching the sheet in his teeth, drawing it slowly down, denuding an expanse of chocolate-colored thigh.

"Now ziz iz a woman!"

The fabric distorts his words but not their sincerity. A supple hand attempts to re-drape the uncovered skin.

"J'ai froid; remet-ça."

He lets her outstretched fingers grope his face, discover the snag, and tug the sheet free.

"This is Suzette. From Marseille. I call 'er my sweet petite; she's a black-eyed bouquet."

"Parce que tu es aveugle. Mes yeux sont bruns, Monsieur Skin-and-Bones. Á qui parles-tu?"

She turns. The sheet turns with her, billowing, then clinging to her body, whose hefty pulchritude shocks the underlying springs.

"Another woman—une autre femme. But don' you fret; I sent 'er packin'. Tons 'n' tons too skinny, she was—trop mince."

"Comme toi?"

"Well, mostly. But somethin', mon amour, growin' mighty large."

Scratch indicates his lap. Several more shock waves register from Suzette's husky laughter.

"Tu me rends heureuse. Tu crève de faim et ti manges sans arretê mais tu donnes plus que tu ne prenne. Ça n'é etonne pas que tu sois mince."

"Got me Bulimia o' the balls."

"Comment?"

"A ravenous disease. Turn over."

"Maladie? Tu es contaminé!"

The sheet flies off. The bedsprings tremble.

"No, no, no! Not IT. Not me."

"Tu as l'autre!"

"No! Je jure. Clean bill o' health. Boyscout's Honor. Here; read my card."

"C'est une contrefaçon! J'ai entendu tarler de vous Americains détournés. Mon dieu, je suis perdue! O, Dauveur doux, je suis contminé! Je suis corrompu!"

The giant woman scrambles frantically to escape what she perceives her winding sheet. Scratch is helpless to restrain her. As Suzette utters desperate grunts, groans, and whimpers she gets dressed. Scratch shakes his head with resignation, lapsing into monologue.

"Good grief. IT's got folks so mentally de-ranged they're sicker then the sick. I mean, she-it, life's fatal. Nobody gets out alive. Not that I'm suggestin' that sooner 's better than later. Look at Luther, poor sot. Q arranged for home-care back on the is-land. Luth cried foul. Begged Q not to leave 'im. What does the ice-man do? Let's our half-dead outpatient tag along. In-credible. Pathetic, too, considerin' all the wear 'n' tear on Luth—who swears he'll snuff himself, if the symptoms get any worse. Life is tough to leave, though."

The door to Scratch's room definitively SLAMS—at which he flinches, his features drained of humour.

 

 

Height is less disguisable, but barren temples, hairless brows, gaunt cheeks, and a tattooed Q, in the hands of a cosmetician, are readily modifiable—and Jeffrey is a genius when it comes to modifications,
is flattered to be asked,
is glad to be enlisted as a co-conspirator,
is eager to achieve Q's Tomes-defying ruse; hoodwink Head of Security and the test is passed, the ploy will work:
     Maya will have her chaperone,
     Q his amends-making chance.

It is awful, also exciting and very much colorful, but we are khakaykuy, one and all, in a gilded cage.

Maya, lying prostrate on her bed with a chess computer, watches it 'think.' Blink, blink, blink, goes its indicator light until a "BEEP" signals a move has been made. Her hair is swept to the left, a pixy-ish sideburn pointing toward her chin, while wisps of mauve (she grew tired of purple) gracing the spiky topknot near her part, the right half full and angled gently with a flip beside her cheek (which bears a stick-on moon amid a cloud of stick-on sequin stars). She plucks a Rook from its square, and replaces her opponent's Knight—the move effecting a "BEEP" as the thinking-light blink, blink, blinks.

We are never without guards and limousines and nervous people. And the fans are always pointing, crowding, pushing, staring. And the paparazzi, constantly, are snatching at our souls; a hundred times a day I must clutch my ch'uspa tightly. Hide-and-seek, they play like mischievous elves.

Her hips appear fuller, housed in the latest peek-a-boo jeans (replete with see-through panels in less than chaste locations), her bosom (likewise developed), clad in a simpler, goat skin halter, one shoulder bare, the other netted in a crosshatch mesh.

He promised. Promised! He said, once we're in Athens, we'll slip away. Go to Rhodes, he said, spend a day, maybe TWO days. All alone; just the two of us. Señor Scratch has gone to Paris for preparations, so we have time. Mrs. Croft is in Gibraltar, to visit an ailing aunt.

"BEEP"—the computer moves. Maya purses her plum-tinted lips in concentration.

Stupido!

She repositions her Bishop in a King / Queen pin—"BEEP"—blink, blink, blinks recommencing.

Think all you want, you silly robot; I have won!

She nibbles at a hangnail, waiting with impatience.

I am looked on as a child with a hat made of felt. Why cannot he see that Maya is warmisitunta?

"BEEP".

I have breasts, now. Not so large, is true, but bigger than before. And fat, that hugged my middle, has almost disappeared.

The Black King has retreated.

I bleed each month, do I not? Does my lap not yearn for union? If only I were taller, he would kiss my mouth, not my head. I tried, with painful shoes, to reach his chin once. A disaster. A duck on stilts could walk with better grace.

She seizes the Black Queen.

Samantha Prada wants him for herself. She is more beautiful. She is taller, too, than I, but cannot give him happiness. Only my forgiveness can give him that.

"BEEP"

Maya scowls. She moves the indicated pawn onto the eighth and Queen-ing square. The "check" light beams. White's only viable option is to sacrifice a piece.

Sneaky, you are! You pretend to be defeated, then pounce like a cat.

Reluctantly, she interposes her Bishop.

The computer blinks.

Q requires a woman, it is true, to tame his savage nature. He hungers for a breast. His seedlings need a womb. Girls, In Paratía, take not boys to be their lovers. Girls, who would be women, choose to lie with men.

Black displays its move. White loses the Bishop. Once again the computer's "check" light beams. To save her King, Maya's Queen must be relinquished—meaning the game is over; White has lost.

I see I am not smart enough to beat you, Señor Robot. I learn quickly, however, and vengeance will be mine.

Maya makes her move.

"BEEP"

"BEEP"

The "check" light signals "mate."

 

 

Have you ever had to take a dump real bad? I mean, like pounds and pounds o' pasta the night before and a walk in the morning and The Urge comes on like explosives and you're absolutely stranded? Not a crapper for a thousand miles? And so you walk, all the time tryin' to hold it, but like, whoa, you gotta go, like every step is doomed to load your pants? Are you with me so far? And like maybe it's nice out, or you've just shot some geeze, or maybe it's your birthday—or maybe it isn't; you're just feelin' chipper, but what does it matter, when you'd hock your mother's dentures for a johnny-on-the-spot? At times like I'm describin' life is nothin' but you and your asshole. Can't think another thought, can't feel another feeling. It's all narrowed down to your quivering anal ring, your butt become Vesuvius fixin' to BLOW! Well, that's my situation, folks. Except what's got me hoppin' foot to foot can't be relieved. 'Cause I'm talkin' about Death. MINE, not yours, and there's the problem.

Luther strikes himself weakly with the back of his wrist, his arm bent out of shape as if from palsy.

Ain't that a pisser? Nothin' on my mind but I, me, myself—Luther's private misery? No more room for anything or anyone else. And that sucks big ones, especially for a gofer. A gofer's gotta tune in to other people's needs. You gotta have empathy. You gotta anticipate. It's not just hop-to-ing it. A gofer's like a psychic or he's not worth squat.

Slumped on the tiles with his back against a partition, pants round his ankles, wearing nothing but a T-shirt (on which Winged Mercury is stenciled), his spindly legs propped apart at obtuse angles, his tennis-shoed feet looming large as they anchor his knobby knees (splayed and lolling like knots in a derelict bowline), a tourniquet, ampoule, and syringe within (relative) easy reach, sunken-chested, hollow-eyed, pale as half-cooked noodles (except for liver-colored spots, that add an aura of premature aging), Luther watches, and waits, as a tear of blood drools the length of his emaciated forearm.

This helps. But it's more like goin' numb than gettin' a proper boost. Kickin' in, now. I'll be up soon. Just give me a minute. I was talkin' about... I was tellin' someone... somethin'. What was it?

His breathing becomes pronounced. Hhe nods off. He revives.

Hear that? Plug your ears, man, and listen to your lungs. Take deep breaths and you'll get what I'm sayin'. Hear it? That's you, soundin' like me in my sad-ass body, attemptin' to keep myself from droppin' dead. Ordinarily, you don't notice. But I do, all the time. Like I have to think to inhale / exhale or I'll stop. Do you get what it maybe means to will yourself into breathing? Yeah, you got it; a drag. One HUGE pain in the keester.

Luther rallies. He sits up a trifle straighter. He shivers. A draft from the bathroom's exhaust fan makes him feel cold. But, like the pain in his tissues that seldom subsides, the sensation, by the drugs, by degrees, is dulled.

Gotta mission. Gotta get my ass down to the lobby in a minute. What time is it, anyway? Is it noon yet? At noon Q's arranged for some fella to give Maya the three-dollar tour. Supposed to meet and greet and lead the gent upstairs. Whoa! No pants! Holy shit, I've been sittin' here with my yarbles exposed and not a sole clued me in. Damn!

Luther hoists himself (and his drawers), using first the bidet, then the wash basin for leverage.

That's the worst, man, the indignity. Death's got NO respect. It's not only the drag of all drags...

He pushes off, opens the door, exits the "ladies," he notices with a cringe...

... it's goddamn embarrassin'.

... and hustles down the hall.

 

 

Bo is in the lobby. He likes to watch the comings and goings of the guests. He enjoys imagining:
who is who
who is with whom
where they are from
where they are going
and makes up stories—based on the evidence, of course—relying on his powers of 'keen' observation, priding himself especially on his ability to spot the press. The armchair in which he is sitting has been gradually repositioned, inch by no-one's-looking inch, to afford him an ideal view. Aside from this bit of slyness, however, Bo's surveillance is patently obvious, ogling commonplace activities with a childlike captivation.

They's in love—look what she's doin' to his hand. Gots hold o' the thumb. Has to write his 'n' her names down in the register, but she won't let it go. Naughty, naughty. They's not married. I can tell on account o' she—and, look, him neither—gots on no ring, what's bad but not too bad so long as they's in love. See? He kissed 'er. When the desk clerk turned his back to fetch the key, he sneaked a little smooch. They's stopped, now'cept she's still got a hold o' the fella's thumb.

Bo stares intently, so intently that the woman seems to sense it. She turns warily to meet his impertinent(?)... curious(?)... simpleminded(?) gaze. Her scowl transforms to a smile of tender-hearted sympathy.

She sure is pretty, I'll say.

Bo smiles back.

The couple collects their key and follows the limping bellhop.

Must be hard carryin' suitcases when one leg don't work so good. His name's Constantine, he tol' me.

Ironwork round the elevator closes with an antique clang, making it an intricate cage for the love-birds steady ascent, visible only as far as the next-stop mezzanine.

Bo's chin descends, juts to the left, to the right, then locks itself on target.

They's British, them two is. 'Cept that brand o' cigarettes U.S.A. They's talkin' real low like maybe they's crooks or secret agents. I seen 'em afore. Twice. They come to our floor by mistake. Guess they pushed the wrong button. Tomes wouldn't let 'em off. Didn't say nothin'. Just frowned and blocked the doorway.

Bo raises his eyebrows.

That one's new. I thought for a second it was Q on account o' everybody looked. It's not, though. And no one's payin' no attention, now—'cept for me. Oops, I see a reporter! I can always tell, from the way they act when someone important walks by. He got fooled, too, I'll say. Now he's gone to talk with the "Thy-ro-ros," what's Greek for Concierge.

The lift returns. It opens, delivering Luther.

"Luther!"

Bo waves.

Luther grimaces an acknowledgment, then affects a comical walk. Bo giggles. An elderly woman looks askance. Luther scares her away.

"How's tricks, Bobo?"

"Fine, Luther. You look b-b-better. You feel better?"

"Fit as a fiddle playin' taps."

"Huh?"

"Right as rain, Bo. Thanks for askin'. Came down to pick up Maya's hired-hand chaperone. Seen 'im?"

"Pro'bly. If I knowed what he looked like."

"Tall, thin, hairy, I'm told. Goes by the name o' Keith."

"A beard and m-m-moustache."

"Carryin' a satchel."

"What looks like a p-p-purse?"

"That's our man."

Bo cranes his neck.

"Over there."

Luther notes the Brits (or Americans?), then redirects his glance to the figure Bo has indicated.

"Jesus H. Christ."

"D-D-Do you know 'im?"

"Where on God's green earth did Q come up with that? Looks like a geeze head dropout from UC Berkeley."

Bo stares at the stranger.

"What's a 'geeze head'?"

"A burn-out, Bobo. A man who's let narcotics cauterize his brain."

"Oh."

Bo gapes, as Luther takes a quick inventory of the lobby's few malingerers.

"Seen any more o' that lot, Bo?"

He refers to the Brits / Americans.

"Do you think they's s-s-secret service or somethin', Luther."

"'Or somethin's' would be my guess—plainclothes fascists. Keep me covered. If either of 'em draws, blast 'em to Kingdom Come."

"Sure w-w-will, Luther."

Luther strides, Dodge-City style, casting nervous glances right and left, to where the suspected chaperone idly sits.

"Howdy, partner." The stranger flashes a peace sign. Luther rolls his eyes. "You free-basin' mothballs, or what? Come along with me." The man hesitates. "You're Keith, right?" The man nods. "Then come along with me. I'm Luther. Q sent me."

 

 

"I do not want to."

"Come on, Maya. Q can't get away. He hired this nice man Keith to show you all the sights. Do you some good. You've been cooped up like a pigeon for days and days. Who needs it? Take off, kid. Spread those fledgling wings and fly for all you're worth."

Maya pouts—though Luther is flapping his arms like a demented canary, doing his level best to cheer the girl up.

"You may tell Señor Q he has broken his promise and Maya will leave unescorted." She turns. "Señor Keith, you will call me a taxi?"

Keith nods. Luther pleads.

"Have a heart, Maya. Please? You go out alone, 'Señor' Q will have my head—served up on a plate like John the Baptist's."

He drops to his knobby knees, walking on them, pursuing Maya to her wardrobe where she collects a pre-packed bag.

"I am not a child who is running away from home. You may tell him I will return, but only when I am ready."

"Keith, stick with her. Now, look, Maya, sweetheart, puttikins, listen to Big Brother Lu..."

Suddenly Luther swoons in a drop-dead faint.

Maya rushes to him, looks down—skeptically—then nudges him with her foot.

"You are faking." She turns to the chaperone. "He is faking. Luther is a crow. And everyone knows the crow is a hopeless clown."

Luther, eyes still shut, issues a last appeal.

"PLEASE?

"You see?" She turns to the gofer. "Trickster!" She stoops and tweaks Luther's nose. He squalls like a baby.

'WAAAAA!"

"You are silly, the silliest of all Q's rude compadres."

"So you'll go with Keith, like a good little girl."

Luther scrambles to his feet, encouraged by the youngster's ill-disguised amusement. Despite her disappointment, she cannot hide a smile.

"No."

"Kid, you're killin' me. Please?"

Maya shoulders her overnight bag, sidesteps Luther, and extends her elbow to the chaperone (who has not said a word).

"I shall go with Señor Keith like an adult. You may tell Señor Q exactly that."

Arm and arm, ward and chaperone, take their appointed leave.

 

 

Iskaykapunwhat was separate
now becomes whole

[I honestly didn't know if she knew or not. I disguised my voice some—when I spoke; but mostly I let Maya do the talking, and she played it straight. As if she'd actually been taken in by my charade. Which was fun. And also irritating. I mean, my intention was simply to honor my promise and spend a little time together, just the two of us, maybe rebuild the trust I knew I'd wrecked. Not as father to daughter; that wasn't happening. Not as Humbert to Lolita; that wasn't happening either.

Then Maya went off on this jag about Q and his insensitivity—to others, in general, to her, in particular—and I got defensive. Bruised my ego, I admit. Then a weird thing happened. I stepped outside of myself, out and into my role as Q's employee. I played Keith to Maya's Maya while she, in turn, seized the chance to analyze 'him'—Q. Insightfully, I might add, with remarkably good English.]

"Q is hopeless. He is very much brilliant in the making of music but in the making of love he is dim."

[She had dropped the Señor prefix when referring to me, to him, which struck me as significant, like it underscored her candor.]

"He is afraid."

[Candor to a fault; hers was damn near sadistic.]

"IT, and worry of catching IT, makes him fear sex. Sex is how the disease, I am told, is spread. This is true?"

[And frankly I was shocked at the stuff she came out with...]

"He hides. This is not good. To be careful shows intelligence. To be fearful shows stupidity. To hide from life and its troubles is to be forever alone."

[... embarrassed, too...]

"But there is something else Q fears much more than this disease. Can you guess it, Señor Keith? Do you know the man who hired you? Or were you simply bought and sold like me?"

[... and tempted, more than once, to put a stop to the subterfuge.]

"I will tell you. Q fears me. Because he owes a debt that cannot be repaid."

[But the kid had a lot on her chest and needed get it off.]

"He also fears my love, and knows that love needs touching or it withers away and dies. Am I not desirable, Señor Keith?"

[She also needed a swat for being such a flirt.]

"I am clean."

[Squirmed around in that rental car like vice-squad bait.]

Maya sits in the passenger side seat, hands in her lap, the countryside passing unnoticed.

"I am also unopened."

[Dropping invitations so shameless, a spanking was in order.]

"Q is numb to this, Señor Keith. He treats me as he 'thinks' a father should treat a daughter—but having never been one, his fatherhood rings false."

Maya lifts her sweaty thighs from the plush upholstery, a smacking sound emitted as they disengage and shift.

"I am hot."

With the touch of a button, a cool jet of air blows from the dashboard. Q also opens the floor vents. Relieved, Maya sighs.

"He feels guilty."

The car lurches, as Q veers to avoid a goatherd. Maya, unruffled, waits for her chauffeur to break his steadfast silence. In vain.

"For a tour guide, you are very much non-speaking."

Q shrugs.

Maya slips off her sandals, swivels sideways, and folds her legs underneath, kneecaps akimbo.

"Shall I tell you why Q is filled with fear and shame?"

Q looks straight ahead at the winding road.

"I shall not." Maya leans back, head propped on the door panel, bare toes toying with the gearshift, crotch an open hinge. "Not everything."

[She remembers only a few vivid images, whereas I can describe every detail of that dread-filled day, from the stench of the burning corpses to the stink of my own rancid sweat. I've played, rewound, and played it like some hideous digital flick, like some masochistic Nazi replaying Büchenwald. Ah, conscience. Conscience makes us human. Defines right and wrong. At gut level. Beyond dogma. Underneath the rules. Whatever system shapes us, the mold itself is conscience.]

"For him the memory is clear. For me it is faded. I was only a child when he, with his countrymen, came and shot my father in the face, my mother in the chest through the body of my baby brother. Flames came after that, then Señor Q, his dark eyes blackened like a scarecrow's. I think he would have killed me, had I moved. Instead he looked around. No one was watching. Then he knelt—I knew not why—and lay his weapon at my feet, staring all the while like a lost little boy. Forgive him, I cannot. Nor will I forgive him ever. And this, you see, Señor Keith, is the reason I am here."

[What could I say? I'd arranged for her adoption, hauled her off to the island, no questions asked. Hoping to accomplish what? Reparations? Payment for past crimes? Lies laundered? So typically American—making such a gesture: maim in the name of democracy, mend with a token patch. In God We Trust, of course; He forgives Americans anything.]

The landscape...

rocks on rocks upon pulverized stone,
an expanse of unyielding aridity,
a graveyard,
a plateau of shards like shattered pottery,
contents sucked dry,
brittle as bone,
under a sky so starkly azure it accentuates the bleakness,
by keeping it in focus for as far as the eye can squint,

... passes outside the bug-splattered windshield like a slab of infinity.

"We are where?"

[We'd driven for quite a while before Maya took any interest in where we were going. I didn't know myself. I'd mentioned Rhodes, but that meant tourists. Anything but tourists—the exception being fans. Same thing, really. Photographs / autographs, both are taken / requested, in order to possess. Anyway, I preferred driving to hassling with private planes or inter-island ferries. Never looked at a map, so, of course, we got lost. Good and lost. Lost and virtually anonymous—suited me, suited her. What could be better?]

"Search me."

Maya rolls her eyes toward the profile of her escort.

[I'd pulled off the roadway—had to stop and take a leak—before admitting to the kid we'd gone astray. Strangest look she gave me. Caught up in our vehicle's dust, we couldn't see a thing; only each other. It was then I knew she knew; I'd been unmasked.]

"You look very much silly in that wig, Señor Q. Also silly is that hair below your nose and over your chin. Would you please take them off?"

[She laughed, then. First time since she'd discovered I was "the scared one." I laughed, too. Like an imbecile. Hysterically. Each time one of us stopped the other started in, tears running down our faces, our respective make-ups trashed.]

Dust, with the pairs wild laughter, settles around the car.

"How long have you known."

"From the beginning."

"No. I don't believe you."

Q makes a grab for Maya's ribs, and tickles without mercy.

"Stop! Please, stop! I also have to pee!"

[Felt good. Not just the laughter, but the pee we took together, me standing, Maya squatting, facing in opposite directions but watering the selfsame plot, an acacia tree for shade, in the middle of... nowhere. Zipping up my fly, hitching up her panties, we promenaded back to the dust-covered Benz.]

 

 

Cobblestone streets. A donkey cart hauling home-grown figs to market. Women in kerchiefs and colorless shawls, black eyes, black mood, staid in the garb of medieval mourning. Dust and heat and harsh reflections from whitewashed stucco and sun-bleached walls. A taste of chalk in the air. A locust hum. A thirst that feels unquenchable. There are automobiles, of course, as there are power lines, antennae, satellite dishes, all seeming crass and conspicuous, as out of place as tinsel, to non-Christians, on a pine tree. And though clotheslines, strung from post to post, out windows, over alleys, in small backyards, hang with vibrant garments, the town and its inhabitants seem all-too-drab. Aged. Ancient. Q and Maya like next-generation, next-century, aliens—she in her peek-a-boo britches, he virtually undisguised, his tattoo like a stigma, labeling him "outsider."

"I do not feel we are welcome in this village, Señor Q. You cause the heads to turn wherever we walk, but the faces look unfriendly."

[We had finally stopped. It was late afternoon. I booked a room in the town's only inn. We wanted to take a nap, but the beds still lacked linen. So we dumped our bags and went for a walk, instead.]

"At least they're keeping their distance, not dogging my steps for an autograph. Better to be unwanted than under siege."

"Better to be loved, Señor Q."

"To each his own."

[I enjoyed it. We were definitely NOT a hit. It felt like the good old days to be so unpopular. Except that Maya got homesick, I think. Maybe the place's remoteness. Probably not. Another misconception: primitive bliss. Life as lived in Paratía, what Maya recalls of it, was a far cry from Eden. Pretty hand-to-mouth, though she did miss the mountains. Something about their mysticism attracted her, she once said. Unless it was I, recalling their timelessness, their mystery, their utter serenity. Mostly, according to Maya, her people were miserable, starving and freezing their asses off in "pristine" deprivation. Anyway, the stares started getting on my nerves, too. Viewed us more like turds on consecrated ground.]

"Whoops; spoke too soon."

[Then, out of the dreary shadows, stepped this girl not much younger than Maya, pen and loose leaf notebook in her outstretched hand. No doubt what she wanted. And there were others, hanging back, less bold, waiting to see what would happen; would their friend be eaten alive or awarded her precious autograph?]

"Fuck."

[I signed, making it clear to her pals, with my best savage snarl, that they were out of luck. We bought some fruit at a stand, then returned to the inn.]

"Why do you dislike the people who show you love?

"That was hardly love, kid, that was greed."

"Greed?"

"She wanted a piece from my—what's that pouch called; ch'uspa(?)—to keep for herself. They all do. Souvenirs. I give people music; in return they want my scalp."

Maya walks in silence, for a while... then finally speaks.

"If you had asked of her a favor, I am certain she would have granted it."

Q halts, looks at his ward.

"You're pissed? How come?"

"Because you are unfair to those who have no gifts. By asking for your mark, she admits that hers lacks worth. You are the maker of music. People clap by way of saying thank you. Clapping is not music, but it is all most people have."

[Kid had me thinking. Kept picking at me with arguments, like picking at scabs. Maybe I'd been harsh, in the past. Lately, people were listening. They were still rowdy, chanted nonsense, stomped their feet like hooves, but I must admit the level of attention had improved overall. By comparison, earlier gigs were like stampedes. People got crushed. Sometimes to death. In the States, especially, crowds were damn near psychotic. I didn't really care. Fuck 'em. Let 'em act like cattle. Just herd 'em through the turnstiles, to ensure their frenzy paid.]

The room is Spartan: no running water, no phone, no Web TV. The toilet, down a long hallway, is in a communal closet. Another tiny room next door plays host to the floor's only bath. With no other guests, however, it is private enough. Walls, off-white, are unadorned. Two windows do have curtains, but neither sports a shade. The ceiling slopes, its corners rounded, its plaster like a salt and flour map of lumpy, crumbly decay.

"I would like very much to bathe, Señor Q. You will come with me?"

"Tub's too puny for me. You go ahead."

Maya sheds her clothes, dons a nightshirt, and pads down the corridor.

[We're talking antediluvian. Digs were like an excavated ruin. One wall had a shrine, a little cubbyhole with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hail, 'Maya,' full of grace... For an hour, she took that bath. Finally went to check, make sure she hadn't drowned.]

"You'll dissolve."

Q fills the doorway. Maya rises nude, Venus on the half-shell.

"I am limp—like a noodle, you say? Lift me out, would you please?"

He tosses her a towel.

"Step out yourself. You do look a whole lot better with that goop washed off your puss."

Maya pats herself dry, nonchalantly flaunting her newly-ripened parts.

[It's hard to explain my relationship with Maya. One minute, I appeal to her, the next, she hates my guts—whereas I, with respect to her, feel a definite interconnectedness. Like a frequency. Two separate notes creating a third, an integral multiple of something fundamental. Our shared memory, for example. Discord merging into harmony. Atrocity turned to truce.]

Wrapped sarong-like in the bath towel, Maya steps—unaided—from the antique tub. Q retreats enough to let her pass.

"My turn?"

She lingers.

"I will stay."

"You will not."

He gives her bottom a swat, propelling her down the hallway.

[Of course that's bullshit. Truth is, I'm just happy to have the kid around.]

Q undresses. The last of Maya's make-up paints the porcelain pink. He replaces the plug, turns on the tap—having forgotten that the plumbing is nonfunctional.

[So we bathed. First Maya—who used up nearly all of the barrel-stored water—then me. Made mine quick. Still, when I got back, she was sound asleep.]

Posed carefully, on the room's only bed, so that the covers fail to cover, Maya breathes with the cadence of bona fide slumber.

[Or so I believed, as I stretched out on the bed—on the half reserved for me. But the kid, instead of shifting with my weight, held her position. Staged? Why?]

Elbow cocked, head supported by his palm, towel wrapped around his waist, Q, lying lengthwise on the mattress, ponders the provocation.

[Judging by the posture she'd struck—in 'supposed repose' —the little minx was flashing her squeaky clean pubescence. I admit, she nudged a nerve. Which went suppressed. Not for morality's sake; minors can consent to sex as wittingly as adults. Certainly not for the sake of observing laws; fuck laws. Laws are mostly made to subjugate the masses. No, the issue was, for me, one of exploitation. The whole idea of adoption was to make amends. Were I to gratify lust, after bloodlust, I do believe my soul, if I possess one, would've been doubly damned.]

Q grants himself a peek at Maya's private parts...

['The Lord be with thee...']

... lip-syncs, as he studies them, a childhood-era prayer...

['Blessed art thou among women...']

... having long since thumbed his nose at both religion and its kissing-cousin patriotism...

['And blessed is the fruit of thy womb...']

... God and Country guilty by sordid association.

['Jesus.']

Maya quivers.

"You're awake?"

She keeps her eyes closed.

"I am not. I am dreaming. I am waiting for the luli—the bird who knows everything—to whisper in his ear."

"Whose ear?"

"My lover's."

"You have a lover?"

"I do. A very shy one. But luli whispers a singsong that will make him touch me here." Maya gropes and finds Q's hand, lifts it unresisting, and presses it to the crease that partitions her plum-size breasts, holding it therein firmly until she feels its tension ease. "And here." She then guides it lower, inching it to her lap, eclipsing her peach-fuzz mons with Q's compliant fingers. "The secret luli knows is softer than a heartbeat. You must listen. You must bring your eardrum closer to my lips, so you may hear."

Q regards the upturned face, its ruddy cheeks, its readiness—lyrics of "Mister Cherry Picker" fleetingly come to mind.

Q relents...

['Holy Maya']

... gives in to an inclination...

['Mother of God']

... target much too tempting...

['Pray for us sinners']

... to resist...

['Now']

... maneuvering...

['And at the hour of our death']

... hovering...

['Amen.']

"No, PLEASE!" Maya squirms, SQUEALS, as Q proceeds to bury his mouth (and unshaven chin) into her unsuspecting bellybutton, giving it the raspberry with a slapstick disregard, driving Maya WILD with blubber-lipped vibrations. She screeches through her laughter. "YOU ARE MEAN!"

He makes a move to renew his prickly-pear assault. She cringes. He refrains.

"Not mean. What I am, Miss Little Bird Told Me, is your protector, your legal guardian, and, if I ever prove worthy, your lifelong friend."

Outwardly Maya sulks—inwardly reconsidering; perhaps this two-faced superstar might win back her trust.

[We slept together after that—chastely—Maya with her back to my stomach, me hugging her from behind. Dreamt that I was pregnant. She was the fetus—my heart pumping blood to her heart, her veins tapping mine, through forty winks of whimsy. Maybe some were shared.]

{Misti awa, will you speak?
The alpaca stands nobly, its blue eyes all-seeing through snowflakes hurled at random, alone, perched on high, Oracle of Delphi turned Andean Seer, tranquil and ethereal, mythical and sage.
Wind gives husky voice to the hoary apparition.
"Bewaaaaare. Forces, beyond your control, threaten to destroy you. Together, both endure..."
Wind gusts to a gale.
"... apart, only one survives."
}

 

 

"Where the FUCK are they? Tomes, you're the bodyguard; how could this happen? And don't tell me you were fooled by some half-ass disguise. I can understand Bo, maybe. Bo hangs his head sheepishly. Maybe even Luther. Luther shrugs, resigned, having no excuse. But you are a professional. At least that's what you're paid for. And to let them slip away, under your GODDAMN NOSE, is inexcusable! The height, the absolute epitome, of Grade A incompetence!" Samantha boils over. She has called for a staff meeting to cope with the crisis, but has thus far used the occasion to do little but heap abuse. "Two whole days! It's been forty-eight hours, and nothing, nary a sign of them: no calls, no messages, no brat, and, most important of all, no Q! Did they elope? Have they been kidnapped, abducted by terrorists? Has Q been assassinated, or what? NOBODY KNOWS!"

Jeffrey raises his hand, presuming to interrupt.

"Q once mentioned..."

"DON'T YOU DARE TO SPEAK! NOT A SOLITARY WORD! You should not be here; this is a staff meeting, and you, my Mister Make-up Artist, have been IRREVOCABLY fired."

Jeffrey retreats—though lingers on the periphery, loathe to be excluded, yet accepting his share of blame.

"Maybe they're already there."

"And where, pray tell, is 'there'?"

Luther states what he assumes to be the obvious.

"Paris."

"That's worse—considering our next engagement is in NEW YORK."

There are puzzled looks all around. Luther protests.

"But Scratch is in France."

"Correction: Scratch was in France. He's now in Manhattan. Which is were we should be, including our flown-the-coop love birds."

*

[Madison Square Garden Redux, New York City, USA: Scratch in the cheap seats—the "gods"—watching work crews prepare the hydraulic-levered stage.]

*

Samantha's tirade resumes.

"I've wangled, for that pervert, the biggest single event in the HISTORY OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS—global coverage, LIVE..." She pauses for effect. "... and Q, with his pop-tart accomplice, has gone missing like some pimple-puss groom."

*

[There are banners being programmed: "DRINK ENDORPHINA", at which Scratch shakes his head in utter disbelief. Everywhere there are flags—stars and stripes—unfurling, their red, white, and blue overwhelming the stadium's color scheme.]

*

"We have contracts to sign with our sponsor."

"Whoa! Sponsor? Since when has Q endorsed..."

"And there's a press conference scheduled at Trade Tower Memorial tomorrow at..."

"Time out. Halt. Take a breather. Since when, I repeat..."

Ignoring Luther's interruptions, Samantha presses on.

"... eleven hundred hours, on which our wandering minstrel has yet to be briefed."

Luther, flustered and flummoxed, resorts to raising his hand.

Samantha finally yields.

"Yes?"

"Well, I know I'm just the gofer and it's really not my place, but Q's not here to object, and it seems he's gettin' shafted—back-stabbed, so to speak—by you, Samantha. Seems you're sellin' Q out. Are you?"

"No. Any more comments? Good. This is what I think we have to do..."

"Wait; I'm not finished. You've been wheelin' 'n' dealin' and yankee-doodlin' for a good long time. Which is okay. I mean, you know, we know that's your thing, and, up till now, you've done your job just fine. But it looks like some heavy-duty shit's goin' down, and maybe—I mean in Q's absence—maybe you should let us know what gives."

*

[Scratch concludes, to himself:
Must be Uncle Sam, star-spangled-banner-ism and all, the government's turnin' some screws—assumin' Q's aware. Odds are that he's not. But sure as shootin' he will be.
Scratch, composing a mayday, heads toward an exit.]

*

Upon entering, Q repeats the gofer's phrase.

"Yeah, what gives?"

 

 

Boy, oh boy, is Q angry! Miss Prada made 'im. She done things what are bad without Q's permission. Leastwise he says they's bad on account o' he won't do 'em. 'Cept Miss Prada says he gots to, what only makes Q madder. They's trouble, I'll say.

The jet, with Q and his entourage aboard, is airborne—and has been for hours.

I'm ascared. Somethin' awful's gonna happen, I can feel it. Like Q's maybe gonna get arrested, once we's in New York. We's goin' to New York, not Paris, like everybody thought. That all got changed somehow when Q and Maya runned away and was late gettin' back. They won't say where they went, or what they done, but they look happier. 'Cept everybody' else is worried on account o' what Miss Prada done—talkin' to the military, I think, 'bout the time Q up an' quit. Oops! Not apose to tell that. Didn't. Bite my lip

 

.

"He went for it, sir? Well, well, well, Private Van Schoonhoven isn't as dumb a traitor as he looks."
"I don't know about that; we've been ordered
not to arrest him."
"By who?"
"I.F.A.T. It seems Peru was a major fuck-up. Publicity about 'Operation Condor,' it was called, would be 'counter-productive'—substitute:
embarrassing. 'Until our interests in the area have been secured, references—past, present, and future—are strictly prohibited. Any breach will be viewed as a criminal lapse.' That's a direct quote from the Chief of Homeland Security."
"So we're bluffing, sir?"
"Let's say we're experimenting. Have to see, for sure, if Q will play ball."
"And this announcement he's agreed to make is..."
"A trial. The first of many."
"If he makes it, then he passes? What if he doesn't?"
"I quote again, 'Should the soldier in question prove uncooperative, you are hereby authorized to terminate his influence, with all due haste.'"
"No shit! Pardon, sir. Do they mean 'kill' him or 'discredit' him? They must me 'discredit' him. Right?"
"Wrong."
"No shit!"

 

 

Cameras, like a swarm of mechanical locusts, click-whir into action, shutters winking, blinking their compound eyes, capturing a sequence of predictable events:

  • Q deplaning (dressed in a long, black overcoat)

  • Q descending portable stairs (he does not wave)

  • Q, welcomed by the Mayor, offered a key to the city (expressionless, he refuses, sunshades impenetrable)

  • Q confronted with microphones, hand-held (no comment)

  • Q escorted to a stretch-limousine (Tomes on guard)

  • Q glancing over his shoulder, climbing in (pang of concern?)

  • Q, in the back seat, invisibly (windows opaque)

  • Q whisked off (a host of amputated questions left in his wake)

 

 

"Ms. Prada. We were led to believe that Q would appear and answer for himself this time."

"Q, understandably, is tired. It was a long, rather stressful flight."

"In other words, he still won't grant the press any interviews?"

Samantha grimaces apologetically.

"What can I say. I tried."

"Will he meet with us later?"

"I wouldn't count on it. Next question."

"The concert in Paris that you've cancelled..."

"Postponed."

"... Is it true the promoters are suing?"

"Whatever for? Originally our itinerary specified New York then Paris. We've simply switched it back, due to problems here in the States."

"What kind of problems?"

"Suffice it to say, that all have been satisfactorily solved, hence our return to honor our previous obligation. And let me add, for the French contingent's benefit, that 'postponed' could be re-termed 'cancelled,' should their countrymen persist in threatening litigation. Yes?"

"It's been rumored Q has adopted a child from South America, a girl. True?"

"Next question."

"But that's..."

"Personal. This is business. Next question, please."

"Reviewers abroad have raved about the tour, but claim Q has changed. His music, that is. Do you think he'll retain his popularity here in America?"

"Q's material is constantly changing, evolving. His concert in London was not the same as the one he gave in Amsterdam, and by Cairo the entire score had been transformed. Will America like what it hears? Too soon to say. Q's music is like the future; you can't really know what it's like until it's here."

"Why the blackouts?"

"If you're referring to our policy of limited access, New York will see a shift, in that regard. We're broadcasting globally."

"Delayed, of course."

"Live."

A ripple through the press corps registers front to back.

"What about the ban..."
"...the Thirty Second Interval..."
"...and how about terrorists..."
"... isn't there a danger of..."
"Won't other countries follow suit?"

"One at a time, please."

"Has Homeland Security given its official blessing?"

Samantha inclines her head, as if to affirm.

"T.S.I. has been lifted?"

"We have the government's assurance; there will be no delay."

"What about security?"

"Q's or yours?" Samantha gets a laugh. "It'll be tight, of course. That's enough, ladies and gentlemen. Ten hours till air. See you all at the Garden."

Ms. Prada turns and leaves.

 

 

"Fuck me dead."

Q, with Scratch by his side, surveys the 'arrangements.'

"Didn't I tell ya?"

Q takes a critical stroll along the skirt of a flag-festooned stage.

"Am I giving a performance, or running for election? Un-fucking-believable! SAMANTHA!" Q's voice booms through the void like a detonated depth charge. "WHORE! BATHSHEBA! I WILL NOT HAVE MY MUSIC WRAPPED IN A GODDAMN FLAG!" He grabs a fistful of bunting and tears it from overhead. Stars and stripes pile up like patriotic scrap. He thrusts his finger toward the ceiling, pointing with incredulity. "WHAT IS THAT?" Presiding at dome center is a gigantic logo reading "DRINK ENDORPHINA." Q, beyond mere wrath, addresses the hard-at-it crew. "TELL WHOMEVER HAS HIRED YOU: THIS CRAP STAYS, Q LEAVES."

Spinning on his hip-high boot heels, Q stomps off the stage.

 

 

The Q tattoo bleeds from purple to a deep cobalt blue, thinly outlined with black, its tail a tear, colors duly faded through wear, tear, and time; they have merged, becoming integral, a permanent brand, a bruise, a wound slow to heal.

Marks are fateful; do not doubt them. Marks of birth, marks we make ourselves, marks that others give us, tell of things that have and will come to pass. This mark—Señor Q's—reminds, foretells of a bitter worry. It is K'ilo.

Maya reaches her finger, traces the letter—shy of touching it—careful not to disturb Q's much needed rest.

I feel the pain that pricked him, as if it were mine. Memories of a suffering we two have shared. Misti awa has spoken; Q and I are one.

Maya whispers.

"Never, Señor Q, will I, from you, be parted."

She withdraws her hand, self-assured, and continues her vigil.

 

 

"Sleeping, fornicating, sitting on the crapper, whatever Q is doing, tell him, get his ass out here!"

Tomes stands like a bulwark, unperturbed, immovable, barring Sam from the door of Q's bedroom suite.

"Closed one hour." Tomes displays his wristwatch, its timer indicating a remainder of six minutes, forty-two seconds.

"Bastard. BASTARD! COME ON OUT HERE! I suppose she's in there with him? GODDAMNIT, Q, THIS IS URGENT! WE'RE IN TROUBLE!"

Samantha stews. She has learned of Q's ultimatum from the Facilities Manager, whose work crews—overruling protests by the government and the sponsor—are hastening to comply with Q's demand. Three hours till air. T.S.I. remains rescinded—unprecedented since the Thirty Second Interval was first put in force (ostensibly to ensure the airwaves "stayed safe," practically to ensure the censors could intervene "whenever necessary").

"YOU'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE, MISTER SUPERSTAR! Christ, I've created a monster." Samantha paces like a caged jaguar. "No question you are big—and this concert is HUMUNGOUS—but business, followed by politics, always comes first. Q, I'M WAITING. Two lousy endorsements; that's all  they've requested; guzzle Endorphina, and, while you're at it, register for the Draft. What's the big deal? We've made billions from companies using your name indirectly. What's the goddamn difference if the words come from you? Especially if your doing so makes you immune. AMNESTY! CAN YOU HEAR ME? THEY'LL PARDON YOU FOR DESERTING! THEY'LL KEEP IT OFF THE BOOKS!" The door behind Tomes opens. Q and Maya emerge. "I thought as much."

Q ignores the innuendo. Samantha hotly glares. Maya, by prearrangement, detours to her room.

"You bellowed?"

"Are you crazy?"

Tomes, with a nod from Q, departs, as well.

"Sleepy, is all. You interrupted my nap with all that CATERWAULING."

He grins at Samantha's fright; his burst of VOLUME evidently startling her. She recovers.

"Have you any idea whom you're defying?"

"Only you."

"Only Endorphina Incorporated, not to mention the U.S. Government."

"Oh, them."

"Don't be facetious. We made a deal."

"You made a deal; I agreed to nothing."

"I have Power of Attor..."

"You have Power of a Twat. Yours. Flaunt it somewhere else. My decision's final."

Samantha falters, intimidated by this retrogressive Q, his old self again, chest puffed out, jaw jutting like a piss-proud cock, bestial, brutish, dominant, and oh, so sexually enthralling. Virtues / vices squandered on a pop-tart teen. Why not love a woman? Samantha has, for years, implied her availability.

"Q, listen for a moment, will you? They'll ruin us. If you're trying to be noble, this is hardly the time. Trust me on this; they're going to get ugly. You're not invulnerable. You deserted; they can throw you in jail—the 'brig,' they call it—or court martial and execute you. Tribunals. Remember them? They're still in vogue. I.F.A.T. doesn't fool around. You ought to know that. Weren't you their minion?"

Q is listening more to Samantha's tone than to the words actually spoken, sensitive to the shift from bitchiness to concern. 'Pleadingly sincere' is his assessment of her current ploy, a sentimental novelty—nonetheless self-serving.

[Under all that go-getter bullshit beats a love-me-tender heart? Unlikely. Still, it seems she cares—in her black widow way.]

For the very first time Q looks at Samantha with a semblance of affection—which she mistakes for derision, his smile, his lips, his unexpected kiss...

Shocked, she almost bites him, hates herself for the impulse, then hungrily responds, savoring this extraordinary, out-of-character contact; but Q draws back, shocked, in turn, by Samantha's utter abandon.

 

 

"OH!"

Jeffrey lets loose a cry at once effeminate and gravely alarmed.

In a corner of the penthouse, out of sight to the casual traffic, slumped like a rag doll, face to the wall, eyes wide open, if unseeing, a syringe—three-quarters empty—lodged in his scrawny arm, a safety-pinned note affixed to his shirtfront like a permission slip from school, Luther lies without breath, without pulse, without life itself, dead by lethal injection, self-administered.

 

 

"Nobody tells him." Samantha is emphatic. "Do I make myself clear? Everybody got that? Bo?" Bo nods through his tears (he was second upon the scene). "Tomes?" His shrug suggests that the news is best delayed. "Emerson?" Waylaid by the uproar, the chef assents, as well. "Q is about to perform; the show must go on."

Dear Q,
I'm sorry, man, to bow out like this, but when ya gotta go ya gotta go. Got me a shit-load of pain, just won't ease up, no matter how much geeze I shoot. Besides which I'm such a wreck can't hardly stand to look in the mirror. And, if that wasn't bad enough, I've begun to stink. Ain't life the pits? So I'll be goin' now, to meet my Maker. Sure hope He can take a joke. U have a good life. Be happy. Keep makin' music. That's what makes you Q; don't ever stop.

Love ya, man
Luth
best goddamn gofer in the business

 

 

Luther's dead. I seen 'im—'cept I promised Miss Prada not to tell. Not until the concert's over, that is. Afterwards, she thinks it'll be alright.
"Feeling the way you feel, Bo, would
you want to perform?"
"No, sure wouldn't."
So I won't tell, 'cause Q liked Luther as much as anybody—even me—and I liked 'im a lot.

Bo has stationed himself in a folding chair by the greenroom's closed-circuit monitor, where he can listen for the concert's opening while keeping an eye on Luther's bagged remains.

I just knew somethin' awful was gonna happen. This must be it. Poor Luther. I'm guardin' 'im. He's in a trash bag made o' plastic what you can't see through on account o' it being black. They's no tellin'  he's inside. I miss 'im already.

There is a hurly-burly of technical staff, reporters, riot police, medics, security, et. al. careening along the passageways like psychopathic pin balls.

Things is really gettin' cuckoo 'round here now. Means the show'll be startin'. 'Cept I can't watch, not till Q takes his place on the platform what lifts him through the stage. In the dark. It's really spooky. I done it once; Q let me. We done it together when he rehearsed. They's stuck down tape what glows so he can see, but it's still awful dark. And Q gots to be un'erneath all by hisself.

 

 

The chant commences:

"Q...Q..."

It is faint and erratic, a chaos of uncoordinated skirmishes out of sync, gaining influence, however, recruiting more and more voices, as cadences compete, rhythms clash, argue, vie, one beat taking hold, bending the crowd to its will, shaping forces of the many into a tyranny of one colossal whole...

"Q!"

... a mob driven...

"Q! Q! Q!"

... throbbing, surging, pounding, bludgeoning the senses—then dwindling, of a sudden, the frenzy premature.

 

 

"Mrs. Croft!"

Maya runs to her teacher, who, looking rather haggard, is being ushered by armed guard to the backstage dressing room.

"Insanity!"

She lets Maya embrace her, glaring askance at the troopers, as if to dismiss them through the power of sheer indignation. They leave.

"I have never, in all my days, seen such a hubbub. My trip to this stadium was a nightmare. Such foolishness! People shoving and shouting and jamming the thoroughfares. Why, Maya, what's wrong, child. Maya, look at me, dear." The hug, that greeted the tutor unexpectedly, tightens to a fervent, heart-wrenching squeeze. "Child, what is it?"

"Something very much bad is coming; khencha. I can see it. It is close. It will be terrible."

"Oh, dear. Come. Let's sit, shall we? Here, let me shut this door."

"No! I must not be parted from Señor Q!"

"Q? Where is he?"

Maya points to the room opposite, where two armed guards are posted, their uniforms unlike those who ushered in the teacher.

"Q's there?" Maya nods. "You can't go in?"

"No."

"Why? He's too busy?"

"No."

"Why, then?"

Maya scowls.

"Because of them."

She refers to the solemn-faced sentries, their orders nonnegotiable, their insignia reading I.F.A.T., their authority brass-tacks stern.

 

 

Lips move, can be read, but the are words so predictable they are best left muffled. Q, indifferent to the official's wagging tongue and insipid gestures, sits detachedly, within himself, confronting the inevitable.

[Smells like betrayal. This asshole's been spewing nonsense for fifteen, twenty minutes, nonstop, "delineating options," is the way he's put it. Lies. I'm fucked. Watch the way his face moves. Amazing folks get taken in.]

Q stares, unmoved—as a barrage of incriminating documents, depositions, reports from coroners, recruiting officers, COs, and fellow soldiers piles up in front of him, evidence of insubordination, cowardice, desertion, plus an affidavit alleging first degree murder—unmoved, stares Q.

[They've built an ironclad case; so why not draw and quarter me? Why take the chance I'll expose their precious I.F.A.T. for the sleazy underhanded con it really is? A pretext for capitalistic interests to meddle in other countries' affairs. 'Covertly.' Meaning no one's held responsible, so no one takes the wrap.]

Mute words persist. Q watches the mouth manipulating phrases, a dumb show of cajoling, heavy persuasion, and thinly veiled threats.

['Let's be reasonable,' they keep saying. They're concerned about my attitude. Took offense, it seems, at my trashing their precious flag. Worried, when the time comes, I won't recite the party line, convey the proper patriotism. Fuck 'em. I play music, sing a few lyrics. How is that a matter of national security?]

The material on exhibit is collected—a briefcase yawns—deposited—shuts—there follows a pause—reopens, the official having reconsidered.

[Never fails. Always something, someone, ripe for exploitation. Drag what little is decent into the... What the hell is this?]

Q, thus far, has refused to remove his onstage headphones (linked to Scratch, in the booth), preferring semi-silence to the full-force noise of his inquisitors. Now, however, he removes them, slowly, deliberately, allowing the sound, the words, to contaminate his ears, elicit a grimace of distaste, sicken his heart, as the authorities play their trump card to do their worst.

"And then there's this pretty piece of nastiness. What we call, in the civilized world, 'statutory rape,' compounded by 'transporting a minor for immoral purposes across international boundaries.' Tsk-a-tsk."

Fanned out on the dressing room table, reflected by the light-bulb-studded mirror, in living color, graphically, high resolution (though taken telescopically), lie pictographs from the island of Q and Maya nude, their poses innocent enough, in essence, but prurient out-of-context (which is how, of course, they will likely be exposed).

Q, at long last, breaks his sullen silence.

"Son-of-a-bitch."

The official merely smiles and readies himself to leave.

"Not to worry. As I said, the government has no intention of making any of this public or of pressing any charges—provided..."

Q replaces the headphones, having heard all he can stomach. The official packs up the prints, walks to the door, and hesitates expectantly.

[So what's the moral? Care, get screwed? Give a shit, you die?]

... looking for some indication that Q will conform.

Q lifts his eyes to gaze, obliquely, in the light-bulb studded mirror, catching sight of the agent still loitering at the dressing room door.

[Offer's only camouflage. They knew beforehand I'd refuse. Even the dirt about Maya was thrown in for effect. I'm dead. Go onstage alive, come back a cadaver. 'Q SLAIN. FAMOUS SUPERSTAR SHOT.' They'll leak some smear about me and the the kid, make everyone feel I had it coming. Wonder which group of 'terrorists' their credit with the dirty deed? Not that it matters. T.S.I. gets reinstated; they'll do it a blink. And I.F.A.T., like the Mounties, 'gets their man.']

"We can depend on you?"

Q responds with an enigmatic smirk, then erects his middle finger.

 

 

"Señor Q?"

Maya peeks in, the hallway having cleared. Q still sits introspectively, psyche gone numb. Finally, he half turns. For a moment, ward and guardian communicate mutely.

They have harmed you? [They have not harmed me.]
You will not let them?
[I will not let them.]
I am frightened, Señor Q
[Yes, so am I.]

Q waves her in. Maya runs to embrace him, her body trembling—Q's already returned to a meditative calm. Mrs. Croft enters.

"Maudie! Thank God."

Despite his spontaneous taunt, Q seems genuinely glad to see the tutor—who quells her irritation, being well-received.

"Nice to see you, too. Of course, it would have been far nicer had I found you two in Paris, where I was told..."

Q lifts his hand to cut her short.

"That can wait. We have trouble—big trouble. I'm going to ask you do things, to follow my instructions..."

"What sort of..."

"... without question; there isn't time. You're leaving."

"But I only just arrived."

"Taking Maya with you."

"Q, no!"

Maya clings to him, buries her face is his chest. He gently disengages her.

(A stagehand comes to the doorway, pauses, calls in: "Half hour.")

"Maya, trust me." Q frames the girl's upturned face in his palms. "You really have to trust me."

"No, we must not be parted. My dream..."

"Your dream was simply that. This is real. This is happening. My life's at stake."

"I know! That is why t'akankay—separation—must not happen."

"It has to."

Samantha bursts in, the chant of "Q, Q, Q" in her wake, the crowd's impatience grown to a thunderous uproar—echoes of which ricochet the length of an un-guarded corridor. She shuts the door.

"Where the fuck's security? Where the hell is Tomes? What on earth's going on?" She looks at Q in disbelief. "You're not even dressed! Jeffrey! JEFFREY!" She reopens the door. "Q!...Q!...Q!...Q!" She slams it. "You hear that?"

"Don't panic."

"With fewer than thirty minutes to air? Are you mad? Do you realize the number of viewers involved? Millions. Billions!"

"They'll wait."

"God, he is mad."

She stares speechless.

"Q!...Q!...Q!"

Jeffrey enters in a rush.

"I see those ruffians have finally left the premises."

Samantha finds her tongue.

"What ruffians? Where? Who? Christ, will someone please inform me what's going on?"

"Calm down, Sam." Q's voice is firm, almost cruel in its composure. "You two; airport."

"But..."

"Maya, don't argue. Maude, take her."

"To where?"

"Anywhere out of the country. Book anything that flies. We'll rendezvous on the island, in a week. Go. Leave. Right now!"

Led, practically dragged by her tutor, Maya moves to the door.

"Q!...Q!...Q!"

They depart.

Q confronts Samantha.

"Find Luther."

She blanches.

"Where? I mean, why?. Whatever for? I'm not leaving this dressing room until you tell me..."

"Jeffrey, you go. Check with Bo. He should be in the greenroom. Hurry!"

Jeffrey rushes out... "Q!...Q!... stumbles back in... "Q!...Q!... Tomes behind him with a burden in his arms, Bo bringing up the rear.

"Sorry. I d-d-didn't tell."

Bo looks from face to face.

Tomes, with a grunt, deposits the trash bag at Q's feet...

"Q!...Q!"

... as the door again slams.

"What's this?" Q looks down, up at Tomes, over at Jeffrey, at Bo, then fixes upon Samantha. No one answers; no one has to; Q has guessed. "Luther?"

He reaches for the twister-tie at the trash bag's mouth, but stops before unfastening it, staring blankly for a moment, without emotion, then starts to cry—soundlessly, but the tears are real, his shedding them exceptional; no one can recall his doing so before.

"Q!...Q!...Q!"

Scratch enters... "You'll deaf, or what?" ... hurrying, nearly tripping over Luther's bag-bound corpse. "God-damn, been buzzin' yo'all like crazy. What's the deal?" He picks up Q's headphones. "She-it, no wonder. Power's off. Hey, what's with the sack?"

{Scaffolding vibrates with rubber-soled footfall, as a figure, dressed in black, moves into position. Armed. Invisible. Past the spotlights, blinking images, and panoply of lasers. Perched, now, at the periphery of the stadium's massive dome.}

Q reads Luther's suicide note without a word.

"Jeffrey found it pinned to Luth's T-shirt. We all thought it was best... okay, I thought it was best to wait, to tell you later. After you'd performed."

Like a reflex Q trades grief for a bitter lapse into cynicism.

"Best for whom?" Samantha aptly cringes. Q regrets his remark. "Sorry."

Another first. Even Samantha is startled; Q never apologizes.

The door bursts open... "Q!...Q!...Q!"... Tomes leaps at the stagehand. Checks himself as "Fifteen minutes" is duly announced.

{A rifle sight—infrared—transforms night to day, lighting the shadowy stage with an artificial glow. Milky. Eerie. Colors wan and anemic. Textures slick and unnatural. Contrasts rendered flat. Stark. Bleak. Surreal.}

The bodyguard's over-reaction has sounded a general alarm; it was not the gofer's corpse that Tome leaped to protect. Scratch is still confused by the overall tension.

"Bomb threat?"

Q answers.

"Not exactly."

"What, then?"

"A plot."

Faces, already anxious, show more duress. Is Q about to explain, or poised to accuse?

{The countdown to twenty-one hundred hours begins, seconds blinking from a clock face. Cold sweat. Nerves on edge. Armpits reeking. Brow wet. Mouth bone-dry. Tick in the jowl from pressure of a freeze-frame aim. Waiting. In the anonymous dark. A solitary shot. Well-rehearsed. No margin for error.}

"If my hunch is correct, there'll be no concert. That was I.F.A.T. just in here. I told them no deal."

"But, Q! Why?" Samantha is incredulous. "They've offered you amnesty."

"To be awarded posthumously? Don't you get it? We've been set up, Sam. As in schnookered, hoodwinked, bamboozled. The minute they learned my name, my grave was dug."

"Who are 'they'?"

"The United States of America—compliments I.F.A.T. I'm a risk to Homeland Security: high-profile, disloyal, uncooperative—not to mention outspoken—thus wholly expendable. To be used, abused, then bulldozed six feet under."

"To what end?"

"Reinstating delayed-broadcast censorship, for starters."

Scratch, who has not taken his eyes off the trash bag since it dawned on him that Luther must be inside, speaks up.

"Did Luth, poor bastard, finally do himself in?"

Bo nods.

Q, having assumed everyone in the room already knew, passes the note to Scratch, who reads it, kneels by the bag, and mouths a silent prayer.

"Q!...Q!...Q!"

Emerson enters.

"All assembled?" Q looks round at his comrades. "Here's the plan."

 

 

"Q! Q! Q! Q! Q!"

The invocation is deafening. The stadium, like an overblown blimp, threatens to explode. Each shout pumps more air, as well as adrenalin, into the supercharged sphere, filling it to capacity, patience running out.

Live / Drastic / We love you, Q / Love you / He's only a pop star, for Christ sakes / Bewaaaaare / Unit forty to D-section / Copy / Code three / When he's hit, draw / Immediately / a cordon / Medic / He wowed 'em in Cairo / I saw it / You didn't / Pirated / Aisle nine obstructed / Unit eight / Keep clear / Monitor seven / Zoom ready / Mark / Sound / Pan the crowd / House lights dimming / No margin for error / Blackout / Platform stand ready / Take five / Four / Places / Three / It's starting / Two seconds / Trip holograms / One / Air

There is wind. Audible. So real that hair stands on end. Husky-voiced. Deep-throated. Powerful. Pervasive.

"Ladies and gentlemen..." A human voice in the darkness—timing words to lulls, albeit few, in the omnipresent roar—as an aperture opens at stage center—"...please welcome... "—and a misshapen crucifix rises—"... the incredible..."—to which, in silhouette, a figure is attached—"...the incomparable..."—dimly lit from beneath by an ultraviolet light—"...the original..."—while holograms all through the stadium appear as if ignited—"...the absolutely authentic..."—introduces—"...the flesh-and-blood Q!"

a
third
eye
all-seeing
point in the forehead
dead-center
from whence vision
mystically
springs
opens
if slightly
{the bullet makes contact}
blinks
{metal piercing frail flesh}
peers
{pale bone}
as the image of Q
a mirage
{brain invaded}
shimmers immune
{to the missile that bores, sears tissue,
and sizzles in a spiraling bloodbath
}
and smiles un-contentiously
blissful
elated
the ravenous bite of the gunshot ignored
by mind over matter
{though matter be maimed}
peacefully hovering
humbly enraptured
soul
to an Absolute nexus
released
{though forces of gravity drag at the torso
the crucified corpse on the platform
on stage
hanging limply
secured by invisible bindings
—Luther, in reality / Q in effigy—
}
freed
dissolving like ice crystals kissed by the sun,
disappearing
as
the
third
eye
goes
blind

 

Were the riot police not on alert in the wings to take instantaneous action...

crowd—shell-shocked, dumbstruck
media teams—stunned
tech crews—sensing trouble, unaware of what kind
home-viewers gaping at screens, tubes, and monitors—doubting the proof of their mesmerized eyes

... the gulf between spurring and quelling the chaos would surely have widened...

but the blockade of uniformed troops with attack dogs,
the picket-fence specter of weapons upraised,
the prescheduled blackout imposed by all networks,
left no room for doubt,
Q, indeed, had been slain

... hysteria primed to run rampant.

Then suddenly tumult—arrested by harmony—hovers, as chords of an old song are played, the sound system crackling with an ancient recording, the concert proceeding apace, un-delayed, surround-sound enveloping all in attendance with orchestra, soloist, and angelic choir, as the bittersweet lyrics of Q's all-time favorite convert abject panic to calm:

September Song
as sung by
Jimmy Durante

When I was a young man courting the girls,
I played me a waiting game;
If a maid refused me with tossing curls,
I let the old earth take a couple of whirls,
While I plied her with tears in lieu of pearls

And as Time came around she came my way
As Time came around she came

Oh, it's a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September...

 

 

Boy, oh, boy, the concert was awful excitin', I'll say! Q got all o' us together in his dressing room, even Luther—after he was dead, and we weren't apose to tell, but Q found out anyway, and he even cried, what he never-ever does, but Luther deserved it 'cause it was him, his body at least, what helped save Q's life. That part was Tomes' idea, who didn't much like Luther anyway, but Miss Prada said how Luther would wanna be included and how he liked to feel important. And boy, he sure was. He kind o' was the gofer right to the end. What none o' us saw, on account o' we escaped. But first Jeffrey put Luther into Q's costume and shaved his eyebrows off and drew a Q un'er Luther's left eye an' stuff—what didn't make him look too good or very much like Q, but Scratch said he could fix it with the lights, then Jeffrey done Q. And boy, you couldn't even tell that it was him. Then all o' us left. But not together, 'cause Q made everybody split up into different taxis to the airport, and that's the last time anybody—even me—has seen 'im.

 

 

(September Song continued)

When the autumn weather turns leaves to flame,
One hasn't got time for the waiting game.
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few,
September,
November!

And these few precious days I'll spend with you,
These precious days I'll spend with you.

 

 

The week within which all were to have found their way to the island has come and gone. Everyone made it back, except for Q:

Emerson—resuming his chef duties, if halfheartedly

Tomes—losing contact with his employer during the scramble from the stadium, searching in vain at the airport (every departure gate, every plane), eventually giving it up, returning in dishonor

Jeffrey—catching the one direct flight for an easy ferry ride home, passing the time with sinking spirits and low expectations

Scratch—just arrived, released by the authorities from "protective custody," until the coroner could confirm Luther's actual cause of death

Samanthaplunged into a maelstrom of litigation, deflecting constant inquiries concerning Q's whereabouts, mollifying sponsors, putting future gigs on hold, stone-walling with regard to the government's role in the attempted assassination (no one in point of fact murdered, though not for lack of trying, the sniper never caught, but his 'terrorist cell' identified, arrests forthcoming, critics of TSI shouted down and put to shame, the statute reinstated) all's well that ends well; or such was the spin Samantha chose to impart

Bocatching the same flight as Jeffrey, moping, waiting faithfully, moping, grateful nonetheless that Q got away

Mrs. Maude Croftfugitive-like, flying to Canada then to Brazil then to the Caribbean, taking Q's advice by going on the lam, finally washing ashore with her travel-weary pupil

Mayaever hopeful reunion will come

It is said among my people that to This World, called Kay Pacha, there will sometimes come from Ukhu Pacha, the World Within, an illa. Do not harm it; it is fragile. But it holds great power, too, for it has secrets that it whispered to the living from the dead.

Q is dead and Q is also living; both, I think, are true, so I have washed myself, and cleaned his house, and mourned for seven days. Apart, though we may be for now, the time will comeI know itwhen Q and Maya, Maya and Q, will be as one.

 

 

(September Song continued)

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few,
September.
November,

And these few precious days I'll spend with you,
These precious days I'll spend with you.

 

*     *     *

THE END