The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
As Paul Rathbone sat riding caboose shotgun turret on a train of seven twelve-ton, solid rubber-tired, electric street lorries, his finger rested on the safety catch of a 37-caliber duel barrel Gatling gun.
Up until the present, this posting was more of a formality than a necessity, but the world was changing, and that which was certain was becoming ungrounded and might vanish into thin air, as necessities morphed into luxuries and that which was common became more costly than rubies.
The safety of the trolley that transferred this year’s precious imperial silk harvest from the holds of The St. Georgiana (where it was the last cargo in and first cargo out), dominated Paul’s conscious mind. The transfer of the cargo to the pride of The Black Ram Intercontinental Railroad, the late 19th Century Limited, should have been a no-brainer. The great train was expected to stand waiting at full steam to race javelin-like to the high fashion center of New York City.
But something was forcing its way into his thoughts as he kept in intercom contact with his five other loss-protection agents, in their electric Gatling gun turrets, spread about the cars of the electric trolley train as it made its way to the rail head and transfer point.
Much as he tried, he could not ignore it. The sensation was like the sound of the flashing howling color red.
It was Paul’s underwear, which he had not got around to changing since they hosed him down with ice cold fresh water he after he harpoon-cannoned the giant kraken nearly a week ago.
He had not been out of his clothes since then, and now his underwear was sandpapering his butt crack. But, ripping his skivvies off and going commando was no solution, since he was wearing Oshkoshbygosh rivet-reinforced, all-purpose overalls, which had the softness index of the frozen corn cobs in Grandpa Bill’s winter outhouse.
In the past, Paul had always consoled himself with the thought that hewould have the personal use of the private car of the president of the Black Ram Intercontinental Railroad, where he could soak in a hot tub and feel the soothing hands of Lien yi-sheng, who had worked nearly eighty years to become the first Oriental woman in memory to have the title of hand healer bestowed on her. But this release was not to be, it seemed, because the 19th Century Limited was not waiting for the seven-ton electric lorries. Instead, there was in its place an armored engine, looking like an ironclad battle ship with three cars all with 37-caliber Dual Dutch Bofors pom pom guns bristling from side turrets, each with twin Lewis guns mounted in transparent fiber glass turrets, bullet-proof to standard ball ammunition.
Even though the loading went quickly and smoothly and Paul would be transferring his men to the train, he knew he would have to break the ice with the Engineer Colonel Woody Wilson, his fireman Captain George S. Patton, and the conductor 1st Lieutenant Teddy Roosevelt, who Woody and George always called Four Eyes. All three of these officers were assigned to an armored train called the Black Mariah, on the basis of having taken and passed engineering courses at the U.S. Military Academy at Erie, Pennsylvania, or, in Roosevelt’s case, not flunking out of Harvard, because his family built a one hundred thousand square-foot addition to the Harvard Library, and endowed Charles Saunders Pierce for life to head the Center for the Study of American Pragmatism, much to the consternation of the James Brothers. William and Henry, who were fired and forced to go west to seek their fortune, got only as far as Harvard Square, where they became chess bums who really only wished to join their distant relative Jesse James’ band of bank robbers, but which was impossible since the both of them could only ride side saddle.
Paul, remembering that you only got one chance to make your best first impression, said to Colonel Woody Wilson and the other two train crew members, “So, who did you guys piss off to get this sort of shitty duty?”
Captain Patton put his hands on his pearl handled .45s and said, “That’s pretty lose talk coming from you, Rathbone, the guy who killed the kraken and now has Gaia, Mother of Titans so pissed off she’s going to chew off all our asses.”
First Lieutenant Teddy Roosevelt chimed in, “George, get your artsy fartsy art history myth-studying ass over here. It’s your turn to shovel this magnificent Pennsylvania anthracite clean coal into the Mariah’s firebox.”
Woody Wilson added, “Teddy, stop talking like you’re still running for president. Your family underestimated Bryan, and your family disowned you when Hearst ran the New York World newspaper headline, and published the photographs of you leading the retreat down San Juan Hill. Now you are on undercover duty shoveling shit like the rest of us.”
This was Paul Rathbone’s finest hour and he offered the three officers a deal they could not refuse. It went like this:
“I can hire six more loss prevention agents and shovel men, so you guys won’t have to shovel coal for the rest of the trip. What I need are five clean privates’ uniforms complete with skivvies, T-shirts and socks, four towels, and two extra pairs of shoes, size 14EEE.”
Woody said, “Is that all?”
“Not quite. I need a bar of lava soap and somebody to pull down the spout of the water tower so that I can wash off this God damn kraken smell!”
It was done and done, and before long the Mariah was heading for the Big Apple, with nothing in its way but Winston Churchill hat pins, and a Sioux Warrior with the battery-powered, ATV-equipped, short-ranged Congreve armor-piercing rockets that limey bastard had promised they could use to drive every white person into the sea.
What he really wanted, of course was a desolated, war torn, impassable North American Continent, which would then allow Her Majesty and the Last Empress to replace the American silk for silver bullion trade, with their Majesty’s opium-for-silk exchange, so then Britannia would not only rule the waves, but rule the world, through an opiate cloud where every conscious mind was subordinated. It was just as that great architect exploiter of alienated consciousness had observed: Don’t give the masses religion; give them the real thing. It kills them by the time they are thirty-five and too old to work. Besides, opium dens are a lot more profitable than churches, with much less overhead.
The bracing shower and fresh clothes had cleared Paul’s mind so he could calculate the distance between Seattle and Grand Central Station, New York, New York, which was 2400 miles as the crow files. Yet the armored train Mariah’s top speed was forty miles per hour, and it was lucky if it could average 25 mph, which realistically meant nearly a week’s trip – plenty of time for the price of imperial first silk crop to drop from fifty-one one-ounce gold pieces per ounce to the standard year round price of one gold piece per ounce, even if the Black Mariah fought its way through. Just then, Big Jack Kaveny, President of The Black Ram Railroad, pulled up in a two-passenger sports racing lorry, and Jack Kaveny motioned Rathbone into the lorry as the Mariah steamed eastward.
Paul Rathbone felt the soothing hands of Lien yi-sheng, who was agile enough to fit herself into the boot behind seat as she said, “The silk must make it to New York if we are to ally ourselves with the sky gods. Paul Rathbone’s double jumped on the armored train and Paul Jack Kaveny and Lien yi-sheng sped into the open country at 120 mph, leaving a trail of exploding gravel behind them. The thirty-six hours to New York plus another four hours for unloading the silk was running, and every hour after that, the fifty twenty-dollar-per-ounce U.S. double Eagles, the Market price for the first fifty tons of Imperial silk of the year, dropped by half. If this were a poker game you would say that Paul Rathbone’s family had bet the farm, and if they lost they would not even own the outhouse.
It was 34 hours until the New York Imperial silk delivery deadline and the fate of empires hung in the balance as they pulled into the parking lot of the biggest man-made thing Paul Rathbone had ever seen in his life. It was a shed a quarter of a mile long, two hundred feet wide, and large enough to hold the two largest ocean liners of human kind. The Titanic, about to complete her one hundredth voyage from the French Atlantic coast city of Brest to New York, and the Lusitania, just reaching her shake-down voyage and ready to go after the Titanic’s one-hundred-hour Atlantic crossing record. But as the hanger door opened with clamshell-like effortless power, by a two hundred horsepower direct current electric motor, Paul saw a ten million cubic-foot gas envelope attached to something called a lifting body, which, with its million cubic feet of helium, contained within its almost Gossamer web carbon lifting body frame (just like the shaft on the harpoon that killed the kraken) the fifty tons of silk destined for New York, already loaded, as the armored train was only loaded with fifty tons of frozen cow manure. The Blackbird was ready to launch for new York, and Paul was hoping that Professor Bernoulli’s conjecture and observations about 200 mph atmospheric jet streams would make the lifting body – even loaded with fifty tons of silk – generate the proper lift-to-drag ratio to get the silk to church on time. Also, the pressure seal system on the cabin and the oxygen capture devices had never been tested with human subjects. If they failed, Paul Rathbone, Lien yi-sheng, and Big Jack Kaveny would find their blood boiling in less than twelve seconds at one hundred and twenty thousand feet above sea level. Just at the point at which the gas bag was lifting the Black Bird, its cargo, and the three of them off the ground, Paul Rathbone looked at Big Jack Kaveny and asked,
“Where are we going to land this thing in New York near the garment district?”
Big Jack looked at the respected Lien yi-sheng, the venerable eighty-three-year-old head of R&D for Black Enterprises, and she said with her inscrutable oriental wisdom, “How the fuck am I suppose to know? I thought we would all be killed on takeoff.”
The gas bag carried the Black Bird the necessary twenty four miles into the atmosphere and separated from the lifting body, which caught the jet stream as its one hundred-meter translucents caught the lift like a great sea bird and seemed to dive towards the rising sun. All Big jack Kaveny could say was,
“Are you sure we are going in the right direction?”
Lien yi-sheng, always noted for her sense of humor, punched him in the nuts so hard he doubled up and then asked Paul Rathbone if he had any smart-ass remarks.
Meanwhile back in St. Louis, the day was unfolding as Anna and Little Eddy III Were finishing their schooldays. Little Eddy III got another nasty note from his teacher for continuing to prove him wrong by sneaking into the senior school reference library and finding the right answer, just so he could contradict his teacher and rub his nose in it. Anna came home with another gold star on her forehead, because it made people so happy to give them to her. And Melanie got another note from another one of Eddy’s teachers, who had washed Little Eddy’s mouth with soap when he said that life for him was nothing but a shit sandwich that you take one bite at a time.
Melanie said out loud, “I wonder where he gets that language.”
Just at that instant, Great Uncle Philip seemed to find the chess problem in today’s New York Times Midwest Edition particular fascinating as he shrank into a chair.
Melanie said, “Maybe somebody else needs their mouth washed out with soap.”
Little Eddy III did not want to lose the ally he saw in Uncle Philip, so he did what men have done since they came down from the trees: he covered for him. “It was not Uncle Philip who said that to me. I happened to be walking by the teachers’ lounge and someone, I think it was Mr. Wanker, our religion teacher, who made the joke, and the whole room laughed as somebody said, ‘I think you are a real Wanker, Mr. Wanker.’ I think that was Mr. Bates, who the other teachers call ‘Master Bates’ when he’s not around.”
Melanie seemed really angry that she had been out smarted by her eight-year-old, and just as the tension became so thick you would need a chain saw to cut it, Anna stood up, clapped her hands and said, “I want a story! More of the story you were telling yesterday.” Uncle Philip seemed to have avoided having his mouth washed out with soap.
He decided to start by clearing up a few things, like where the sheep came from that was provided for in place of Joshua The Unlikely. It was from Paradise Kosher Catering, whose motto is, “We were in business before Abraham.” Or to state it another way, “Before Abraham, we am.”
Uncle Philip Cleary had his own sense of humor. Melanie had once referred to him as the past master of the extraneous detail, which sadly launched into his relating a conversation he had had with his writer friend H.P. Lovecraft about whether knowledge was a source of power or terror. Uncle Philip had a special way of making people mad that Little Eddy III really admired.