Tap, tap, the band is in position on the stage and Bixxter leans down over the microphone. Tap, tap, “is this thing on?” He asks.
The crowd at the party has grown to about 60. It is an amazing turnout. Some are decked out in full classic and alternate circus regalia. There are clowns and jugglers wire acts and tumblers, stilt walkers and animal lovers, and the rest make up an interactive audience, a cacophony of anti-matter. Some are full juiced in full laughter, and others have their heads down plowing through a plate of food. Comma is manning the grill, Chili mans the keg, and Phoebe flitters about as a butterfly happy on milkweed. She moves from table to table, clique-to-clique, dirty plate to empty glass; she is the penultimate Martha Stewart of the churrascos world. She is polite and curses on queue to guest expectations, remembering all of their names while carrying a pitcher of beer and a carafe for wine.
“Hello.” Tap, tap, “can you hear me.” Bixxter calls out and Jaeble ducks down around the power cables and jiggles a few connections. The PA squeaks and squawks, and everyone at the party squirms. They turn and look towards the improvised stage. A quiet comes over the audience.
“Sorry folks,” Bixxter says. He looks back to Jaeble who rattles more cables and looks up with a thumb in the air. “Hello,” the PA comes to life. “Welcome to The Fillmore,” he laughs. “Just kidding, welcome to our wonderful hosts, Phoebe and Comma’s Cirque du Fete.”
The crowd revels with claps and cheers, finger snaps, whistles, and cowboy whoops.
“If you need a bite, Comma’s on the grill; if you need a beverage, draftee Chili’s on the suds, thank you Chili; and our hostess with the most legs and smiles roams at your leisure. Don’t forget your manners, say thank you.” Bixxter instructs.
The crowd cheers again and roars to life with a loud salute “thank you.” New arrivals are entering every few minutes through the house into the backyard; neighbors and late carneys join the cacophony.
“Fresh off their tour of the subcontinent, inter-verse, and outer Oakland, where they’ve sung for Medusa herself and ruffled the wings of harpies; the mysterious and ever fascinating sounds of memory and marshmallow circus peanuts, we present to you this evening; give it up for, THE ARGONAUTS.” Bister turns and points with both hands at the band.
The party rises to its feet. They clap and cheer as the band bows, and then, Veronica pumps the pedals and fingers the keys of the calliaphone. She plays a medley of circus songs.
The machine hisses steam and pops, Veronica smiles. The rest of the band hold their instruments and bob or bounce in rhythm to the up, up and down notes; the brass squeaks and low tin rumbles. In the left front of the stage or ring, several of the amateur jugglers face each other’s and trick toss plates, glasses, silverware, hats, anything heavy enough to float. Tennis balls and sand-filled plastic bowling pins appear from nowhere and are added to the air traffic. Beer bottles, wine bottles, and soda cans are integrated into the up and over, under and around. Acrobats join in flip and tumble between and in time to the magic balance.
Chili hands the keg spout over to Joel, the in next line, “I’ll be right back.” He walks over to the grill. Comma is flips burgers and hot dogs as fast as he can. “I don’t think the beer is going to last?”
The Argonauts trip back in time with a short song by Django Reinhardt, Three Little Words.
“Shit.” Comma flips all the hamburger patties on the grill. “The food too,” he shakes his head, puts his spatula down, wipes his brow, and looks at Chill. “Go tell Phoebe. The current round of burgers, beef and soy, sizzle their final gasp. “I don’t think she realized how many people were going to show?”
“It’s a great party, man.” He says and walks off.
Everyone else watches the performers and as the traditional Paris Swing ends, Veronica stands and inhales deep to catch her breath. She bows. Nathan fingers a high C. The band follows with a song by Tom Waits A Good Man is Hard to Find. Veronica sings. Partygoers release the moment with claps and hurrahs. The juggling, tumbling ballet continues and the clowns form a dysfunctional conga train.
Just as Phoebe returns to her table, Ethan sits down across from Bridget and knocks the industrial spool with his legs. Bridget grabs their drinks and leans down on the spool to stabilize it. Phoebe’s knife falls over the edge of the spool and sticks in the ground at her feet.
“Whoa,” she looks up at Ethan. His eyes are as big as tambourines.
“Sorry, Phoebe,” Bridget says as she sits in her chair. “At least, I saved our drinks.”
Phoebe and Bridget laugh out loud at each other. Ethan giggles and sits, uncomfortable.
Phoebe sits down and sets the empty pitchers on the table. She bends down and pulls her knife out of the ground. She wipes it in on her apron. She cuts another piece off of her steak and eats it.
“I hate this fucking traffic,” Lieutenant Inspector Emily Cochran exhales. Interstate 80 is a slow crawl, but steady.
“I only leave the city out of absolute necessity.” Seven replies. “Exit here and take neighborhood roads.
“You know your way around Emeryville?”
“Well enough,” he replies.
Her phone loudly rings once. She reaches in her pocket to retrieve it and scans the screen.
“HEY.” Seven yells.
She looks up taps the brakes hard. The cruiser lurches forward and Seven puts out his hands to stop his forward motion. The car in front of them has suddenly stopped. Seven puts out his hands to keep from banging his head on the dashboard.
“What the hell are you doing?” He grabs the phone out of her hands. “I can answer it for you.”
“It’s a text. It’s from Sergeant Ed Rice [ Special Operations with BART].” She answers and turns to grab it back.
“Drive,” he says and points at the two empty car links in front. The Mercedes behind them honks as a Civic cuts into the open space.
“Fuck you,” she looks in the rearview mirror.
“Use your lights and go around them all.” Seven suggests.
“I can’t do that. I am not in the city.” She looks to her left to move over to the exit lane.
“Who’s gonna care?”
“I care.” She turns on her blinker and a car lets her in.
“What does the text say?” Emily asks.
“Recog works. Face fills. Txt photo ASAP.” Seven reads. “I thought you were off the case?”
“Sergeant Rice is not stupid. C Y A. He has my number, remember?”
“Oh, yeah, but what can you do?” Seven is puzzled.
“Time stamp.” She answers.
“Rice is using me as a back up, so Chief Fire N Pants can’t deny it was sent in a timely fashion.” Emily explains.
“But, doesn’t that keep you on the hook?” Seven inquires.
“No. Not really. It’s just a precaution. I’m one name in a distribution, a simi- independent name.”
“Ah. Unless, the Chief blows it, he’ll try to blame you?” Seven suggests.
“He can’t. Too many witnesses.” She replies, “Right, witness?”
“Shit.” Seven realizes he is in the chain of responsibility too.
Thirty cars from a queue at the exit ramp, “fuck it.” Emily switches on the cherry toper.
Chile steps up to Phoebe and bends down to speak in her ear, “Comma said to tell you, we’re at the end of the keg.”
“Already. Wow. Well, tell you what, grab my car keys next to the front door above Comma’s monitors and go to the BevMore in Emeryville for another.” She tells Chili. “Ask Bixxter or someone else to go with you.”
“Uh, okay, what kind? Do you want me to pay?” He asks.
“Get a card from Com.”
“Okay. One? What kind of beer?” Chili inquires.
“Maybe two? Ask Com. I don’t think it matters, Chili; cheap and your choice.” She replies. “Oh, and thank you.” She turns and kisses him on the cheek. “I owe you, so come by the Church Key in North Beach.”
Chili smiles and walks off.
“Excuse me,” Phoebe stands and returns to the kitchen to check her wine supply. It’s good, and so she hauls two more boxes to the food table.
“This is it.” Seven says.
Lt. Inspector Cochran stops in the street in front of the warehouse. “Where should we park?” She looks to her rearview then side mirrors.
“You’re in a police cruiser; anywhere you want.” He shrugs.
“I don’t want to block anyone.” Cochran says.
“How about over there?” He points to the apex of a corner, next to a stop sign.”
“That’s, illegal?” She replies.
“Who’s gonna care? You’re The Man, you can park anywhere you want.”
“Seriously?” Cochran shakes her head.
“Yes. Leave the flashers on. You’re just stopping for a bite to eat, and it shouldn’t take longer, than half an hour or hour at the most?” Seven reassures her.
Cochran awkwardly parks the SFPD black and white in the corner space. She turns the hazard lights on and exits. Seven is already standing outside her door.
“Remember where we’re at?” Bridget asks Ethan.
“Sure, but you’re going to sum at the end, right, when you cast my future?”
“Of course, that’s the most important.” Bridget slyly winks. She straightens the reading and the deck; both spread a little on the bump.
She pulls the top card off of the deck and lays it in the 5th position, to the left of the crossed cards. It is The Lovers. The tip of her tongue touches the corner of her mouth; she giggles and blushes.
“The Lovers in the position of future influences,” Bridget explains. “Future influences are emotions, events, personalities that will influence you in the near future. They may be subtle or not.”
“The Lovers? Really? Are you hitting on me?” Ethan asks. He smiles and laughs at the joke.
“No, silly. You saw me shuffle, and I didn’t stack the deck. Besides, it wouldn’t be professional.” Bridget replies. She snickers with him.
Ethan looks serious for a moment. He flashes his eyes left and right as if looking around for a shill. “Professional?” He laughs out loud and Bridget shakes her head.
He finishes his beer. “Do you want another?” He tips his glass towards her.
“I think they’re out,” she answers. “But, they’re going after another keg. I heard Phoebe and Chili talking.”
“It’s out already?” Ethan looks around and realizes the party has swollen to around 75 people.
Joel comes stumbling over. He’s carrying three glasses. “I think I got the last.” He sits them down on the table. “You might want to let them sit a moment. Foamy.”
“Thanks, Joel,” Ethan says. He places the fresh cup inside the old one. “That’s an ugly head.”
Bixxter walks across the front of the stage as the band continues to play. He flashes a handmade sign, revolving it from side to the next. It says, “Sorry, Out of Beer,” on one side; and on the the other, “Goin’ 4 More Beer.” It generates a mournful sigh, and then an upbeat gasp in his immediate vicinity as he flips it between the two sides. After crossing the band, he head off into the audience on a random path.
“They’re going after more.” Bridget admonishes. “Be patient.”
“That’s good.” Joel responds. “After hanging with these amazing clowns and acrobats, I wouldn’t want to them to fall off the wire.”
“The Lovers are not exactly what they appear to be.” Bridget says and points at the card.
“The Lovers? My boy works fast,” Joel adds and laughs.
Ethan frowns, “really man?” He picks it up and turns it over in his hands. “Hum?” He suspiciously, but not seriously shakes his head. “Was this your plan all along, Bro?”
She takes the card from him and places it left of the two-stacked cards. “It’s more about you and your choices.” She explains and looks sternly at Joel.
“I am going back to the clowns. There’s a cute acrobat who’s flirting with me.” Joel responds.
Are you sure she’s flirting with you, Joel? Ethan asks. “What about your date?”
“She not coming.” He says haughtily and walks off. “I’m going to learn to tumble,” he drunkenly shouts over his shoulder.
Veronica and the Argonauts strike up a calliaphone version of A Tap Dancer’s Dilemma, Diablo Swing Orchestra. Jaeble joins in on the vocals through an auto tune microphone. She sings the male part through a tin echo chamber.
“You’re going to have to make a decision between two parts of you life.” Bridget stares in his eyes to evaluate his reaction, and get him to focus. “It could be between a new lover and old lover, a new lifestyle and new one.”
“So, this isn’t me and you?” He squirms in his seat.
“No, no. Well, it could be?” She smirks. “It’s more about the choice between two people, places, emotions, whatever is troubling you in the immediate future. It could actually be now to 30 minutes from now.”
“Half an hour, why half an hour?” Ethan stiffens and sits up right.
“No. It’s not that exact.” Bridget reiterates. “It’s just a point of reference.”
His mood slackens, but his back is still rigid. He sees Suzy’s eyes for a moment, her confusion. He thinks about yesterday and the BART station? Did it really happen? It couldn’t have. I’m not killer, he thinks to himself. No one’s talking about it?
“This is not science Ethan; it’s really about you helping you answer your own question.”
“Sorry. My mind went elsewhere for a moment.” He answers.
“Is there something you want to tell me?” Bridget asks.
“No. No. I just spaced out. I think I just need more beer.” He swigs through the foam.
Bridget sips too, and then sits her glass down. She points to the card, “the nude man and woman face each other, behind the man is a tree of flowers; he attracts her with blooms of manhood. She stands in front of the fruit-bearing tree with a snake. The snake represents the hard truths of the natural world. The fruit is her potential. Behind them both is an angel; it represents all things, actions, and emotions. It is smiling and will do so no matter what the consequence. The mountain apex under the angel indicates a pivotal moment in life.”
“So, this is about us?” Ethan repeats with a quiver on the last word.
“It could be, but it’s more likely a metaphor for the commitment humanity makes to itself and to life. Making decisions may change things, but all life is change; and in deciding, one commits to it. You decide and fate follows. The act of deciding is the root of all human experience.”
“I’m not sure that I understand what you are talking about?” He points at the card “it’s a naked man and woman with a giant angel behind them. It seems obvious and terrifying.”
“Yes. I suppose, but the angel is smiling. What ever you commit to in life usually works out exactly as it is suppose to.” She explains
“Okay?” He is still unsure.
“What ever you are worried about, you will figure it out, and decide what’s best for yourself.” She reassures.
Ethan shrugs, half in agreement. So far his desperate decisions have had no consequence. Will there be a consequence or can he avoid them?
“You’re still uncertain? It’s only one card in one position of the entire reading. It should all become clear at the end.” Bridget smiles.
Steve McSwain inches the International Harvester forward as he merges onto I-80. He looks into his side mirror and can see a red Ford pick up about 10 cars behind him. “Shit,” he exclaims to himself and pounds a fist on the steering wheel. How will I ever make Amtrak? This delivery is going to turn into a two-day or all-nighter. “Fuck,” I don’t want to drive to Sacto; I don’t give a shit how much they’ll pay me.
Seven and Emily walk up to Comma and Phoebe’s front door. They read the sign on the door in silence. Cochran looks up at the surveillance cameras.
“It seems a little informal,” Cochran says.
“It must be busy back there.” Seven answers. He looks inside then at her as she adjusts her holster further behind her back. “Do you have to carry that now?”
She sighs, “you know the answer to that.”
Phoebe returns to the table, and while still standing, eats the last bite of her steak.
“Busy,” Bridget asks, “do you need any help?”
“No, I am fine. I love this. I’ll be back.” She picks up her glass and heads for the stage.
Bridget pulls another card off the deck and lays it to the right of and aligned with the bottom of four-card cross. It is the Knight of Wands, upside down. She looks up at Ethan, but his reaction is still stiff. I wonder what he is thinking? She says in her mind.
“I’m upside down,” Ethan says and smiles; he takes a long draft off the beer. Foam covers the tip of his nose.
“Let me,” Bridget says. She reaches up with a napkin and wipes the end of his nose.
Ethan sighs, “gee, thanks, smooth move?”
Bridget blushes.“Are you projecting, Ethan?”
“Uh, no,” he thinks for a moment, “yes, I mean no; I mean, I enjoy hanging out with you.”
“The Knight of Wands implies travel, determination, unpredictability, and challenges.” She begins. “The 6th position means attitude and circumstance in your current time, right now.”
“Tally ho! I’m galloping on my head.” Ethan gallops in his seat with his hands about his head holding invisible reigns.
“Foam is going to your head.” She answers. “The Knight is holding a staff with sprouting leaves while riding a horse. Both are expressions of energy and movement. The Knight is galloping through a dessert, if he stops, his horses hooves will burn. His armor is covered in a yellow coat of arms and red feathers, the color of flames. Flames are change. The horse is galloping left of the path which is sometimes associated with left thinking or alternative choices.”
“And galloping on my head?” Ethan asks. He gallops in his seat again.
The Argonauts cover Tangled up in Plaid, Queens of the Stone Age.
“Reversed, you are feeling overwhelmed with restrictions of your forward movement, indecisive and even apathetic about your progress. You are confused about your self and this is creating disruption in your life.”
“Bummer. Galloping is getting me nowhere. I should stop.” Ethan replies.
“No, no, no, don’t let the confusion hold you up. Embrace it and let it happen, as it should. If you continue to block it or reverse it, or stop, it will be much worse.” Bridget encourages him.
“I hope the keg comes soon.”
Phoebe laughs, “Yes, it’ll cool your hooves.”
The Argonauts finish their first set with another Tom Waits song, Dead and Lovely.
After the song, Bixxter returns to the microphone, “let’s give a big HELL YES and hallelujah for the band, THE ARGONAUTS.” He puts his fingers together and in his mouth and whistles through the p.a. Everyone, who isn’t already, stands, claps, cheers, summersaults; whatever is handy to the imagination.
As the remittance dies down, Bixxter returns to the microphone “the band will take a short break for meat snacks and suds, then another set with the juggling team of Mike, Mike, Mike, and Harold.” He claps and exits.