I arrived home from a brief journey to the Canadian Rockies to find a large manila envelope propped against my front door. It was from Whinkla.
Hours later, after unloading the Odyssey and lowering the level in a bottle of Cakebread Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon to what would be minus four Celsius on a Canadian thermometer I ripped open the envelope with one prong of my Ah-So corkscrew. Inside was a handwritten manuscript of several hundred pages; a holograph with several dozen sketches and doodles not unlike Dali's "Secret Life". Clipped to the first page was a discount coupon to membership in a local skeet club and a short note:
"Larry, you know I trust your judgement and taste so I'm hoping you might find time to read the enclosed little story. It's the first part of what I envision as my somewhat fictionalized biography. Out of sequence of course, but one night, about six months ago, I had this vivid dream in which I was once again piloting a dirigible. Remember how we touched on this aspect of my life back in September of 06? Well, I've been thinking of those 'old days' more and more of late. Anyhow, here it is, the opening chapter. If you can't find the courage to read past the first page or so, let me know and we'll have a bonfire, another bonfire. Let's get together before Guido Fawkes Day, hey? We may not be dancing 'round a bonfire in Albion, or dangling our feet in the Guy Fawkes River in Australia but a few truck loads of pitchy pine will make quite a blaze despite the lack of gunpowder, and maybe, just maybe, we'll waken Robert Catesby. "
I dropped a small crystal of rose quartz in my goblet, whispered "Al Biruni", poured the last of the cabernet and turned to the first page of the manuscript.
"We're nearing Gulf Stream One," Rooney announced, scraping the arthritic index finger of his right hand across a burgundy-stained nautical chart of the Uterine Sea. "I see twenty-four coaling derricks and a Peabody clamshell sparing with the Devil’s spume.”
"Hold tight to your limes and hawser lines!" Captain Worley yelled, as he watched a whale-sized hump of bruise-blue water swallow the stern of the Cyclops, "and an eye to the lifeboats. Alert the crew!"
A bitter northeast wind hunched its shoulders against the curve of sky and blew till it rattled the rigging and ripped the words from Worley’s mouth.”
“Damn! This is what it must have been like on the Bedford back in 1783!” Rooney screamed, “I smell Sperm oil. Let’s have a whaling song Captain Worley. Do you know one?”
“No time Rooney,” Worley cried, “the gyroscope and compass are off the gimbals, and we’re probably flying upside down!”
The Cyclops lurched drunkenly to the crest of the stormy swell and paused, outlined for an eternity on its trembling Helium toes. It was at the apex, at the aphelion of all the gravity-challenging amusement park, theme park, and carnival rides dared and defied in youth. The one pivotal moment when the very act of living is given meaning, or tragically trivialized. Sensing disaster, Johan, the first mate, a primate of enviable size and agility, snatched one of the priceless snake and ebony-wood archaeological artifacts rolling about the tilting deck and vaulted clear of the ships railing. But the weight of the oversized phallic symbol he had grabbed provided just enough negative inertia to drag his hairy simian legs down, down, down, down against the green-pitted brass rail, and the ancient, time-corroded metal exploded with fifty-seven years of relief into a shower of forgotten symbols. The first mate, followed by Captain Worley's prized mahogany tea crate and a case of Tarragona wine from Catalonia, catapulted into a cream-flecked mustache of iridescent sea-foam. The spectral dusk turned Prussian blue as Jonah, flailing his left arm like the one-bladed propeller of a doomed Spitfire, disappeared, mouth agape, through the swinging doors of the Sargasso Saloon. Worley sighed and pressed a monogrammed carmine silk handkerchief to his oily brow. "The lousy bastard," he cursed, turning to Rooney, "did you see him make that obscene gesture with his right hand? and I swear I heard a vulgar comment about the queen?"
"I thought it simply a chimp salute, and a word of new-age good cheer," Rooney said.
“Nonsense,” said Captain Worley, grasping the spinning wheel a little tighter while trying, with only moderate success, to sip his triple rum and coke, “I’ll have him in leg irons if he shows his low browed, simian face aboard the Cyclops again.” "But I'll tell you what Rooney, I'm more concerned about my red and black lacquered Shanghai tea chest. Jesus Christ, my first-edition Henry Miller’s and Lawrence Clark Powells were inside. And wasn't the bastard wearing my Sunday Macintosh?
As Jonah fluttered desperately in the suffocating embrace of the wild water a wrinkled navy-blue Macintosh spread limply around him like the wilted petals of a winter-frosted water hyacinth, or an installation by Christo. The chimp, doing his best to remain upright, like the sexually aroused stamen of a Peruvian Lily, was finally sucked down into Poseidon’s hidden chamber to fertilize his garden of hybrid kelp. Germination in reverse.
Worley shrugged his shoulders, and like the Charioteer from Delphi stood crisp as hammered gold in the darkening cockpit. He gazed mindlessly toward the saw-toothed horizon, unaware the carnivorous sea still thrashed his vessel like a school of flesh-starved sharks. Thousands of goose bumps had lifted him above the counterpane of sleep; had carried him far above the confusion of his own dreams and nightmares. Worley was drunk on someone else's imagination.
The running lights flickered, flickered with green light, flickered, flickered. The lights were reflected in the polished lexan windows, and re-reflected in Worley’s rum-polished eyes. Worley felt nauseous. He sensed he had exceeded his threshold of tolerance for imbalance and steadied himself against the flickering, flickering instrument panel. He stood erect and tried to assume the posture of a ship's captain, bumping his polished head against a rough metal cross beam with a watermelon thud in the process. “Shit,” he said, rubbing his forehead with one hand and pouring the last sips of Santa Clara rum into his Lamprey mouth with the other. “Shit,” he said, and smiling like a Moray eel, slipped the empty glass into Rooney's jacket pocket. "Four pints to starboard Rooney," he sang, chuckling drunk on the fermented black-market Cuban sugar cane, "and batten down the south spinnaker and overcharge the Hatches in first class, cabin number five, and the Johnson’s in number eleven, and the Smiths cowering in Cabin Class number fifty-seven.” For a moment he was Robert Newton playing Long John Silver, thumb and index finger pressed against his chin, right eye closed, plotting an advantage and sailing the Hispanole to an imaginary Treasure Island “Them is me orders Rooney lad.” Worley ahah’d, “now step lively. We've a cargo of crocheted doilies to deliver, and more passengers than I care to imagine. And while you’re at it see the ship's wine cellar stays ship shape during this Napoleonic ordeal."
I riffled the remaining pages, chuckled, and wondered what beautiful and unexpected peregrinations and hallucinations Whinkla would take me on. In what arena would he reign?