As Li Li-jing stood knee-deep in dinosaur manure, facing certain death in the jaws of a slavering Tyrannosaurus Rex, he seriously regreted leaving China and joining the SubGeniuses. Had he foreseen this eventuality, he certainly would have declined Stang's invitation to the Church campout.
As the fetid typhoon of saurian's breath roiled over him, his mind raced at top speed, perhaps compensating for the lack of time remaining to it. At least he would die honorably; being devoured in defense of all humanity, eighty million years before his own birth, by the most efficient killing machine nature had ever produced, until humankind anyway, wasn't really a bad way to cap off a life. Maybe someday, he speculated senselessly, the fossil of his skeleton might be found. That would certainly confound the historians. Perhaps, he mused in detached hysteria, the fossil of Peking Man in the museum was his own skull !
Probably not, he realized. His half-digested bones would more likely dissolve, scattered among those of lesser animals in the droppings of this beast.
Was there anything he wanted to do before he died? Yes. He wanted to go to sleep. As the rows of gore-encrusted teeth drew nearer, he closed his eyes and thought back -- ahead, technically -- to his arrival at Dokstok in the early 1980s... the early years of the Church...
He really shouldn't have felt so insecure about meeting Ivan's friends. He was a proud and intelligent Han Chinese, and he'd managed to achieve something only one in five million of his countrymen had done: he had quit his job as sound recordist at Beijing Film Studios and travelled to America.
In 1984, assigned to a Chinese-American documentary co-production, he had become fast friends with the Texan film editor, Ivan Stang. Despite language barriers, each recognized a kindred spirit shared an almost telepathic rapport. Both were kindly but driven family men who had developed ornery, acutely sardonic senses of humor as buffers against their frustrations. Li had taken the culture-shocked Stang under his wing in Beijing, and in return Stang had offered to sponsor Li's American education. After three years of paperwork, Li had finally made it to the U.S. But... either both his English and jet-lag were much worse than he'd imagined, or these people really were crazy.
In his Dallas home (a mansion by Li's standards, a hovel by its owner's), Stang was an entirely different man than he'd been in China. Li had quickly realized that Stang actually made his living not by editing film, but by administrating his strange Church of the SubGenius. The "Church" had almost made sense to Li, the way Stang had explained it three years earlier in China; but Li now knew Stang had been holding something back.
Li still liked Stang, though; the bespectacled Caucasian behaved honorably, worked hard, and had been sensitive to Li's loneliness and confusion in adjusting to the States. He'd struggled -- vainly, of course -- to help Li find work as a soundman.
But something was being left unsaid. Li was fairly certain Stang hadn't really wanted to take him to the big SubGenius party and wilderness campout called Dokstok, that the invitation had been extended painfully, purely out of a sense of politeness. Stang kept stressing that this "SubGenius thing" wasn't "typically American," but would in the same breath almost shout that it embodied everything the Spirit of America stood for. Stang's mysterious ambiguity made Li all the more anxious to attend.
From Dallas, they'd driven a whole day to reach the island encampment on a remote Arkansas lake. Li thought he'd prepared himself for the unearthly American propensity for obstreperous individuality; he was far wrong. The uneasy feeling began when Li first saw the Dokstok site.
An open-sided pavillon stood at the center of several rough cabins, with many vehicles parked randomly nearby. All else was clear lake and dense, breathtaking forest landscape. Li couldn't imagine more than a city park's worth of such rich land going uncultivated in China. Nor had he ever seen, not even on TV, such a crazy-quilt variety of white men as peopled Dokstok.
Here a man was totally bald, but sported an enormous handlebar mustache, tweaked and curled fantastically. There a black man had shoulder-length hair in Rastafarian style and a beard uncut for years. And there was a woman without a shirt on, kissing a man with a full head of hair on his neck and dozens of mustaches on his otherwise shaven scalp. Altogether there must have been a hundred guests, few of them fitting Li's idea of a normal American.
Stang leaped from his Japanese car and began excitedly talking with a large man wearing an extravagant goatee. Li understood only a few words of the high-speed stream they spewed at each other simultaneously. He recognized several grossly indecent invectives, but, instead of coming to blows over the vulgar insults, the two men embraced. The big man was Doctor Sterno, one of the hosts of Dokstok. Li was then introduced to co-host Doctor Snavely, who looked twenty but who was, Li learned, well into his forties. This strangely childlike man was possessed of not only a crazed, manic friendliness, but also a 'wandering eye' which seemed to look off towards distant horizons while his other was focused straight at Li.
Li had just begun to feel hypnotized by Snavely's weird eye when the fellow abruptly hopped into Li's arms, clinging to him like a lemur, causing him to stumble backwards in confusion. Just as suddenly, Snavely let go and jumped back to the ground, reverting to ordinary behavior as if this stunt had never occured, offering Li food and drink from the nearby pavilion. He now seemed quite sincere and gentlemanly. Li hoped that Snavely's startling, overly familiar shenanigans had been meant as some sort of inscrutable friendship gesture; maybe Arkansas customs were as different from those of Dallas as were Beijing's from Shanghai's.
Li was rescued from his helpless befuddlement by the impersonal, merely physical task of helping Stang carry his gear -- sleeping bags, a tent, and many recording decks -- down to the pavilion area where crouched other little tents.
"Li," warned Stang under his breath, "These guys all act crazy. I will too. But, just remember, it's all okay. It's all just...." he looked off at the lake, sighing, "...it's all just SubGenius." He shook his head as if in resignation.
As they reached a clear spot and plunked down their burdens, at least a dozen aberrant people, apparently old friends, came to greet Stang and meet Li. Li was once again reminded that he hadn't thoroughly adjusted to these huge, heaving, loud, round-eyed, big-snouted Caucasians. Moreover, these particular Caucasians seemed somehow larger (or else much smaller), louder, more round-eyed, more big-snouted than most. And bigger-breasted. Everything about each person was extreme. Only one thing was obviously held in common: all bore, somewhere on their persons, a picture of "Bob". And they all seemed to be laughing, perpetually, some to the point of tears, but always at rapidly spoken words that meant nothing to Li. He was seized with an irrationally acute sense of his own incongruity. He was very Oriental, his English was rudimentary, his clothing shabby, and he had no money of his own to speak of.
Li was unanimously regarded as one of the funniest, hippest young fellows at Beijing Film Studios. But here, his skills were useless. Not that any of these "doctors" -- as the SubGenius oldtimers ranked themselves -- were hostile; in fact, they were friendly to a degree that seemed to Li uncalled for and even undignified.
Li mulled over this as he surveyed the open-air pavilion. Several musicians had started setting up electric guitars, synthesizers and amplifiers on a crude stage made of planks. A huge sheet of plywood bearing "Bob's" image hung behind the stage. It must have been crafted by an extremely devoted artist, Li thought, for every one of the ten thousand dots of that grinning halftone face was perfectly hand-painted on the flimsy sheet of wood.
Striving to overcome his shyness, Li joined a group sitting on the ground in a big circle, laughing. He sat between Stang and a shirtless, bearded man in a straw hat who was by far the hairiest human being Li had ever seen outside of a circus. The hirsute man introduced himself as "Reverend Buck Naked" and happily engaged Li in conversation of a sort; Buck did most of the talking.
Much to Li's embarrassment, Buck immediately mentioned his own hairiness. "Bet you don't see many people like me in China, huh, Li?" he asked proudly, displaying his furred pelt. "It's because I'm part Yeti. You know what a Yeti is? Sure you do. You know, in Tibet -- Himalayas -- big hairy ape-man. We call 'em Abominable Snowman, too. And Bigfoot. I know you have them in China."
"Oh yes," laughed Li, hoping that laughter was the correct response. "We call them Wild Mans. But... I think maybe he is just big story. For children. Or just big monkey."
"Oh no, Li," said Buck quite seriously, now rocking rapidly back and forth on his heels like a hyperactive child. "My great-grandfather was a fullblood Yeti, I'm sure. You're probably part Yeti, too..." He eyed Li up and down. "Yep. Long arms. Short legs. You're one of us, brother!" He chortled idiotically.
Li nervously lit up one of his treasured Seven Heavens cigarets. Then he noticed that several pipefuls of a foul-smelling, unidentifiable white vegetable were being passed from person to person. Li was startled to see that some, rather than smoking it, packed the leafy substance under their eyelids, into their ears, even beneath their eyelids and down the backs of their pants and -- he had to avert his eyes when he saw what one man was doing with it. Soon the talk became louder, more seemingly disjointed, finally reverting into a kind of ritualistic chanting peppered with strange hoots, ululations, vulgar farting noises, and bouts of hysterical laughter. Li laughed too at first, but it kept going on and on until, he realized, they sounded frighteningly like deranged savages in the Cambodian jungles. With a start, he wondered if this "'Frop" might not actually be the opium-like American drug, marijuana. He didn't want to believe that; it smelled more like K'wang-Ji, a harmless herb smoked by many old Mongolian and Tibetan gentlemen of the lower classes. His good friend Ivan couldn't possibly be a drug user! That would be heart-breaking. He steeled himself to ask.
"Ivan -- is this bad drug?"
"Oh, hell no!" Stang assured Li in a hideous new croaking voice. "That stuff's for sissies. This is 'Frop. Grows in Tibet." Then he coughed out the gigantic lungful he'd been holding in, tears welling in his eyes, which now seemed to glow ever so slightly with an inner light. Li thought it was a freak reflection, until he realized that all eyes in the group now displayed the same preternatural glow.
Li was most uncomfortable. This seemed dangerous. He politely excused himself and hurriedly made his way back towards the pavillion.
Dozens of people were eagerly crowding into one of the little cabins; others staggered out, clutching tightly inflated balloons and sucking on them. Curious, Li stood on tiptoe at the doorway to peer in. Over the crowd's shoulders, he spied a large metal cannister boldly labeled "BOBBIE SOULS". A tall Englishman with a gratingly loud, authoritative voice, Stang's friend G. Gordon Gordon, was filling balloons with gas from the cannister and doling them out selectively to clutching hands. "Church Air, one soul per breath!" he growled repeatedly. People were so anxious for balloons that Gordon threateningly waved what Li hoped was one of the many replica toy handguns that littered Dokstok.
Outside, those with balloons were inhaling the gas from them and holding their breaths until they turned half blue; they would finally exhale, uttering cryptic statements in unnaturally deep voices. Others were rushing around tape-recording these odd, seemingly random statements. Conversations took on a dreamlike, surreal quality, disconnected from each other. Braying laughter echoed to the lake and back.
Li gawked in absolute bewilderment. This was a party? He looked down at a scrawny, swarthy, rather ratlike man sitting cross-legged on the ground, wearing an Egyptian-style goatee, with his kinky salt-and-pepper hair cut only on the sides so that its top rose like a pencil eraser. The man, "Palmer Vreedees," had just managed to inhale an entire balloon's worth of this "Church Air," and the white streaks in his hair appeared to become visibly whiter, spreading further across his hairdo. Then, to Li's utter astonishment, the man literally levitated two or three feet off the ground, his eyes rolled back. He hovered briefly and then, as he slowly descended, exhaling, he looked at Li and solemnly intoned in a supernatural baritone, "Hi, Li. Your relatives in China are fine. Lao Wang honored your bribe. "Bob's" looking for you. He'll pick you up tonight. But it's all Stang-and-Drummond's fault, you know. Call... my... lawyer..." and then the man crashed over onto the ground, flat on his back, unconscious.
Li bent to the man's aid, his heart pounding. No one else seemed to even take notice! But suddenly the rodentlike man was again conscious, and forcing himself upright. A trembling wracked his bony, starved-looking form, and he dashed past Li holding out his balloon, shoving into line again as near the Air-tank as possible. His emaciated claws clutched convulsively towards the cannister.
Both frightened and disgusted, Li turned away from the Church Air cabin and strode back to the pavilion. What a sad display, he thought. But at least they weren't throwing up. And... he halted in his tracks. How did that man know about Lao Wang and the bribe?? He started back to question Vreedees when a man wearing a military jacket, sporting one continuous and very black eyebrow across the top of his otherwise handsome features, accosted him and held a cassette recorder up between their faces. He expectorated several sentences so fast that he sounded like a tape recorder in fast-forward mode. Then he made a sound with his mouth that mimiced exactly a high-speed rewinding, followed by a quiet chuckle. He then walked on, talking to himself or his recorder, ignoring Li completely.
That must be Puzzling Evidence, Stang's military friend, Li thought. Maybe he thinks I'm North Vietnamese. This was getting downright insulting. He quietly edged off towards the pavilion where a tall, skeletal man stood on the makeshift stage, shouting rhythmically into a microphone that wasn't plugged in, to an audience that wasn't there. He gestured frantically at the huge picture of "Bob" behind him. "You can't run from your own legs. How you gonna run from your own legs? 'Cause they're what you're using to run from 'em with! You can't run from your own legs, you can't hide from "Bob". 'Cause he's dumber than you. He packs more 'Frop up his exit wound than you do. His face has been mimeographed and stuck up in more places than yours has. You can't hide from J.R. "Bob" Dobbs! Heunh! Help me somebody! She ain't got no legs! Preacher, my legs are on fire! Pull the lever, down ya go." The man did a little dance to unheard music.
Nothing made sense. These people seemed harmless enough, but definitely crazy. Crazier even than any Japanese Li'd met, and that was saying a lot. Li's opinion of Stang had plummeted far.
It was getting dark and storm clouds were rolling in overhead. Making for the privacy of the lakeshore, Li noted a long line of men waiting before a filthy tent. One man emerged from it, zipping up his pants and grinning broadly, as another man ducked down to enter eagerly.
Li was appalled. There must be a woman in there -- a prostitute! No wonder all Americans had AIDS!
Gordon Gordon, the loud Englishman from South America, accosted Li from behind, startling him. "Mr. Li! I'll bet it's been a while since you had yourself some good healthy prairie squid!"
"What? Sorry, I don't understand."
"Prairie squid." He leaned over towards Li, winking conspiratorially. "C'mon, I know you aren't one of these sissy guys who never heard of prairie squid."
"Squid? Squid is... is fish, with arms, right?"
"Yeah. But I'm talking about the prairie squid. That mighty land mollusk which is every country boy's delight. And girls', too."
"Pray-ree squid," repeated Li. "What you do with it? Go in tent... play with animal?" He was profoundly puzzled.
"No, no, Li!" growled Gordon merrily. "You fuck it."
"What! No! You make, like, make love to animal??"
"You got it, sir. And never could a man ask for a more generous and tender helpmeet."
He laughed at Li's shocked expression.
"Go ahead, try that cephalopod out. I'm surprised you don't have those in China. But I'll bet some of your peasants in the Hubei countryside could tell you a thing or two about the Yellow River prairie squid."
Li looked towards the tent, aghast, as the another man stepped in and the last came out, this one also lashing together his pants and grinning sheepishly.
Li made an immediate decision to return to China as soon as possible. He'd always thought the Mao-inspired anti-American propaganda of his childhood was grossly exaggerrated. But if this was America, it was far worse, morally, than his government had even begun to suspect!
He wasn't sure what to do. Perhaps hitchike back to Dallas, where he'd left his passport, and then go to the Chinese Embassy. He could never live in a place like this. These people... now he noticed how bad they all smelled: that unfortunate doglike odor common to white people seemed amplified here. Everything smelled, looked, sounded and tasted funny. He absolutely hated all the food these people ate, the raw vegetables, big, ugly chunks of meat, and unidentifiable synthesized junk foods.
And then the music started.
It was, beyond question, the most horrible and physically painful sound Li had ever heard. Normal American rock and roll was bad enough to his ears; he'd expected perhaps some weird jazz from these "doctors." But what now came crashing from the over-amped speakers, pealing monstrously across the lake, was a wall of the most noxious and ear-splitting noises he'd ever imagined. And yet the audience seemed to enjoy it! Indeed, many were tapping their feet in time to a rhythm Li could'nt hear, and a few were up and dancing. Then he noticed that all were dancing or tapping to a different beat. It wasn't just his ignorance; there was no beat. These drug-and-religion-addled people were simply imagining one!
Clamping his hands over his ears, Li grimaced and looked down at his feet where several bugs lay unsquashed yet dead on their backs. As he stared, a fat mosquito halted in flight and plunged to the floor to join the other dead insects.
This music was literally killing small animals by sheer sonic ugliness alone!
Filth. Vulgarity. Immorality. Sloth. Drugs of some heretofore unknown kind. What next? Violence? Enough was enough. He would bend like a reed in the wind -- and leave. He strode rapidly away from the pavilion, unnoticed by the audience of Caucasian fools who sat entranced by the inhuman display.
The night bristled with lightning, and a downpour started. Li hurried towards a short causeway bridge that led back to the main highway. Drenching rain or not, he wasn't going to rot in an American jail with mentally ill people.
Lightning writhed overhead as Li toiled on through the pelting sheets of rain. Once off Dokstok Mountain and back on the mainland, he kept to the side of the road, hugging the treeline.
Soaked to the bone, shivering, Li finally spied ahead a lighted tavern, surrounded by pickups. He approached cautiously, suspecting that a soaked, penniless Chinaman might bring out the worst in some of the more backward natives.
As he approached the ramshackle honkytonk, he saw that his worries were entirely justified. A hand-lettered sign on the door read:
Li hurried away, clinging to the woods along the roadside. The rain grew colder and his teeth chattered in the cold. So this was America.
Headlights were approaching. Fearing for his health, he resolved to throw himself upon the mercy of the natives and pray for some shared sense of common humanity. As the car approached, he thrust out his thumb as he'd seen in American movies. He decided to say he was from Taiwan, not the communist mainland.
He had worked up a whole story about escaping from the evil communists when the large, powerful roadster -- of an ancient make, at least 20 years old -- pulled to a stop beside him. He yanked open the door and begged of the driver, whose face was swathed in dark, "Can you give me ride to nearer to city?"
"Ya got me," intoned a deep but amused voice, chuckling. "Me, I'm just as lost as can be! Maybe we can help each other!" As Li climbed into the front seat, thanking his benefactor, he began to distinguish the man's features.
The face was startling. It might have been molded of solid plastic! Li half expected to see a seam down the side. The head was almost too perfectly proportioned to be human. A remarkably high forehead, lantern jaw and strong smile denoted either a rare power of character, or severe mutation from inbreeding. His hair lay straight and smooth, as if molded from the same plastic as his skin but painted black and shellaced. A long, straight pipe jutted from his grinning mouth.
But most striking of all were his eyes -- like pools of fine flake jade, swirling in depthless blue. These eyes possessed an almost hypnotic quality, a strange suggestion of being able to give orders at a glance, without speaking them.
Of course the personage was none other than J. R. "Bob" Dobbs.
Li stared, thunderstruck, as Dobbs pulled back onto the highway.
"Stang lie to me," uttered Li. "He say you dead man."
"Hmph," grunted Dobbs. "Is that so?" He looked thoughtful, drumming his fingers on the wheel. "Stang." Many cloying smoke clouds issued rapidly from the pipe clenched in his teeth. "Name seems familiar," he allowed, finally. He cocked an eyebrow at Li, as if expecting an explanation.
Li had trouble answering, as he'd realized that Dobbs was driving back towards Dokstok, and, in fact, already crossing the causeway. Even with the car windows up, they could already hear the awful "music" pulsating from the island.
"Hmm," mused "Bob." "Listen to that horrible noise. I could swear it sounds just like a Dokstok. Now, wouldn't that be a coincidence!"
Li gaped at Dobbs in dumbfoundment. Could this be happening?
"Well, might as well stop in and see the boys," announced Dobbs happily as he pulled his enormous old car into the parking area.
"But, "Bob"! These people... There will be police! Big trouble! I don't know... I think maybe they crazy criminals!"
"Tell me something new," quipped Dobbs, quitting the car and striding purposefully towards the pavilion. In his business suit and tidy haircut, he looked as out-of-place as an FBI agent.
Stang, Sterno, and many others were clustered together, jabbering excitely. The band, which had dwindled to three guitar players, thumped out slow, tired blues. Dozens of people had retired to tents or had fallen asleep right on the ground around the pavilion.
No one noticed Dobbs as he stepped gingerly over the prostrate bodies and stood on the outskirts of the chattering group. He tried repeatedly to interrupt the conversation -- "Hey, boys -- ahem... hey, uh... " But, so absorbed were they in re-recounting past anti-establishment exploits, none noticed him.
Finally, Dobbs became bored. He wandered over to the stage and watched the musicians, none of whom looked up from their instruments. He stood next to a young man with a balloon taped over his face so that he could breath and rebreath his "Church Air" without interruption. The young man looked up at "Bob," did a surprised doubletake, then shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention back to the band, shaking his head as if amazed at the concrete realness of this "Church Air hallucination".
Dobbs walked back to Li, who had waited by the car.
"Those fucked-up hop-heads can't see past their own 'Fropsticks," chuckled Dobbs without a trace of resentment. "Should've known." He clamped a broad hand on Li's shoulder. "Li Li-jing, you're probably the only one here innocent enough to believe in me," he said absentmindedly, gazing off into the distance. Then he turned and looked directly into Li's eyes. Li found he could not turn away... nor did he want to. Dobbs exuded a friendliness of almost seductive purity.
"Say, you're a Chinese fellow, or something, aren't you? You speak Chinese?"
"Well, yes, "Bob,"" answered Li, puzzled. "Of course. Three dialects. But is many kind Chinese..."
"Great!" interrupted Dobbs. "How about kung fu? Can you do kung fu fighting? Like a ninja, or whatever, you know, HYAH! HAH!" Dobbs playfully executed a clumsy imitation of karate against imaginary foes.
"I am good boxer," admitted Li. He saw no use in false modesty with Dobbs, who seemed as sincere and direct as he was simple-minded.
"Ah, what luck!" He suddenly became quite serious. "Listen, I need your help, Li. But don't feel you have to join me in this noble quest. It could be very dangerous. We'll be facing madmen, mudmen and dinosaurs."
Li leaned in closer, suspecting he hadn't understood "Bob" correctly. Dinosaurs? Mudmen? Madmen, he'd already faced.
"I'm on a quest to save the human race," continued the inappropriately grinning white man. "Other than that, it isn't really your concern. But I need a SubGenius boxer who can fight like a son-of-a-bitch, and I need someone to translate Chinese, because the Chinese "Bob" doesn't speak English. It hasn't been invented in his time. Do you have a minute?" he suddenly asked, rather belatedly. "I'd like to tell you about this once-in-a-lifetime chance."
Despite the feeling that he was being sold something, Li felt an irresistible urge to do trust this odd man. This holy man, he realized. For there was no question now in Li's mind, despite Dobbs' manipulative air and lack of miraculous performances, that this man Dobbs was all that legend claimed him to be. Proof wasn't required; in the actual presence of "Bob," rationality was as nothing compared to the charisma veritably oozing from his dot-like pores. That Dobbs had chosen Li over his supposed Hierarchites -- most of whom were now snoring drunkenly -- had much to be said for it, as well.
"Please. I want to help you, "Bob,"" said Li awkwardly.
"Alright, Li. Now this is all going to sound crazy, and I won't blame you if you don't believe me. But it could be the most crucial mission of my life. JHVH-1 Itself bespoke to me what I must do." Dobbs pronounced "JHVH-1" almost nonverbally, yet in a manner which grated on Li's nerves. "The very fate of the universe hinges on the success or failure of this mission, the outcome of which will dictate whether all mankind shall crumple under the jackboot of history, or scale the heights of his rightful destiny as decreed in our genetic inheritance!"
Dobbs regarded Li gravely for a second, then burst into laughter.
"Ha! Had you going for a minute there, didn't I?" Then his laughter was stifled as suddenly as it had begun. "But seriously now, JHVH-1 has told me in a mystic vision that the AntiBob is gaining power in our Past-That-Might've-Happened. The Beforelife, I like to call it. If he isn't stopped, he will -- or did -- taint and pervert all humanity, and all SubGeniuskind, even worse then they already are. Eventually this evil will culminate in his literally fucking the earth... And Li, I don't mean that figuratively. This won't be just acid rain and volcanoes and plagues and monsters and nuclear war. I mean he will actually take out a gigantic Antibob dick, and fuck this planet with it." To Li's shock, Dobbs held up his hands and made a grossly obscene, childish 'fuck' gesture, pumping away at a 'hole' formed by circled fingers on one hand with one straight finger of another hand. "He will do this, or has possibly already done this, by manipulating the past... indeed, his villainous actions may just be what has made our present, all this world around us, the way it is!"
For some reason, when "Bob" uttered such statements, they didn't sound at all ridiculous.
"And worse than that," continued "Bob," his eyes starting to water with tears, his grin changing almost imperceptibly into a grimace of agony, "... even worse than that -- the Antibob has kidnapped my wife and taken her somewhere back in time!"
"Let me show you a picture of my beloved," sniffed "Bob". "Check this out..." He unfolded his wallet and slid out a snapshot of a lovely woman in her thirties, wearing her hair in an old-fashioned "beehive" hairdo. "Connie!" snurfled "Bob" to the picture, his hands trembling. "I would do anything to get you back." Li then noticed another picture which remained in the wallet, a crude Polaroid that had been revealed when Dobbs removed the snapshot. It showed the same woman, grinning lasciviously, stark naked, her legs spread wide open...
Li averted his eyes in shame, and Dobbs, noticing, coughed with embarrassment and shoved the snapshot back into his wallet.
"Anyway, " he continued, granite-voiced now, "The only way I can rescue my beloved, and smite the AntiBob for the sake of humanity's Slack, is to journey back in time via..."
He paused portentiously.
"...The Vortex. You see, the AntiBob's anti-luck powers shield him from even my 4-D Vision. To learn his identity, I must travel back in time and consult with all the Other "Bobs"!"
As Dobbs spoke, lightning crackled dramatically in the sky behind him. Li shuffled uneasily.
Dobbs solemnly intoned, "As I'm sure you know, I am merely the Caucasian "Bob." Even though I'm half Mayan. " He halted, inwardly emotional. "I must travel through the Dream Time to meet in days of yore with the Oriental "Bob," the African "Bob" and the American Indian "Bob"... for they will help me reach the most ancient "Bob" of all, the First "Bob," the King of Atlantis called the Yeti "Bob". You follow me so far?"
Li blinked in a sort of semi-comprehension that smacked of schizophrenia. "Yes, "Bob." I think so. But what about... Aborigine "Bob"? Australia-men?"
"Oh yeah, him too," exclaimed Dobbs, slapping himself on the forehead. "That's right! I always forget those guys! Anyway, I have to cross the backside of reality, and I will need help -- translating and fighting."
Li stood, staring blankly. There seemed little to say. His exhaustion had hit him viscerally. He hadn't slept well since leaving China; in this dreamlike condition, rational decisions seemed irrelevant. But this was Dobbs, the Dobbs, asking him to risk his life for what would be either an authentic magical quest, or a stupid drug-induced wild goose chase.
"Okay. I go," said Li Li-jing.
"Well," said Dobbs, "nothing left to do now but summon the Vortex."
Dobbs put his fingers to his mouth and whistled. Then he stood expectantly, striking a noble pose. He held this overly self-conscious pose for a full minute.
But nothing happened.
"Hmm," he reconsidered. "Musta changed the frequency. Oh well. I'll try it the old fashioned way."
He held his arms up to the sky, his pipe jutting skywards. It occured to Li that he had seen Dobbs neither refill nor light the pipe, yet it had incessantly smouldered, relentlessly productive of abundant, cloying fumes.
Dobbs chanted, "From the Land Beyond Beyond, from the World Past Hope and Fear, I bid you, Vortex, now appear!" He winked at Li. "I got that from a movie!"
The brightest bolt of lightning in Li's experience rent the sky -- but no thunder followed. A vast glow began at the distant horizon and swelled, as if a great curtain of darkeness and stars were being rolled up across the sky. Revealed behind this curtain of reality was a psychedelic, ever-metamorphosing fountain of spiraling shapes in colors too intense for names. The swirling light-show swallowed more and more of the sky until it passed over and behind them. It reminded Li of computer animation from Japan that he'd seen at the Studios. When it had almost reached the far horizon behind them, also somehow obliterating most of the ground around them, Dobbs suddenly shouted, "Oh, golly-gosh-darn-it! Wait a minute! I forgot, we need something to ride on!"
He dashed off into the colored fog of the Vortex momentarily, but reappeared carrying a huge sheet of plywood with his face painted on one side. It was the backdrop that had been mounted above the stage in the pavilion. A few bent nails protruded from its edge.
He threw the plywood to the ground -- Dobbsface down, Li noted -- and led Li onto it with him.
Li instantly felt the board lurching forward like a Disneyland ride. The ground itself vanished, leaving only the quasi-material sworls of light around and below them. There were two layers to the vista of color-light-waves, however -- one moving beneath the plywood, carrying them, while another field of cloudlike light flowed more gradually overhead as they passed beneath it. Li and "Bob" were riding the plywood through a 'sea' of light, Dobbs standing at the front and holding his arms outward exactly as if he were surfing. And now Li felt it -- a heaving up-and-down motion combined with a sense of zooming forward at high speed against a strong wind. They were surfing on light waves!
"Hey, there's a curl starting up!" yowled Dobbs. "Let's hang ten into Indian territory!"
The sense of velocity increased. They were speeding headlong into some new whorl in the Vortex, a spinning tunnel of light that had forked away from the main, sweeping stream of energy. As they banked into it, they accelerated so fast that they spiraled end over end along the tube of the Vortex as if riding the screw of a great whirlpool into the bowels of Inner Reality. Up and down were nonexistent. All was Vortex.
Li could see nothing but the tunnels of light, the board beneath his feet, and "Bob."
"Fun, huh?" quizzed Dobbs, winking. Then, as they gained even more speed, he howled, "KOWABUNGAAAAAA!"
Dobbs was enjoying this immensely, somehow using his inborn sense of cosmic balance to guide the board in its headlong careening. His movements had a flowing smoothness, like great springs uncoiling in oil. Though his necktie flapped in the solar winds, his perfect hair was unruffled.
"But... how you do this?" queried Li, only now becoming less stunned than incredulous with admiration at Dobbs' surfing skills.
"Bob" returned a startled look, as if he'd never before considered that detail. "Huh! Good question! I dunno... path of least resistance, I suppose. Hmmm..." He looked thoughtful. "Hell, ya got me!"
"But..." stammered Li. "How you know where we going?"
"I'll be honest with ya, Li. I don't really know where the hell I'm going. But what the heck, I always seem to get there! Just kind of follow my nose, you know? It always seems to work out..." Again, Dobbs gazed off into the distance, the center of the Vortex. "But, you know, this reminds me of those nights... with Connie..." He sniffed piteously, his grin now an ironic one. "Whoa -- this is where we get off! Hang on!"
"Bob" suddenly gave the board a downward push with his feet, and the Vortex skinned itself back from around them, revealing a dismal, smoky landscape. They were now skidding wildly over grass and mud, the Vortex gone.
The board went into a spin as they decelerated, throwing both Li and Dobbs off. Li bumped to a stop on his behind, but "Bob" managed to maintain his footing. His fine, straight hair remained undisturbed.
The duo took in their surroundings. It was cold, daytime, and a light fog covered an endless vista of ruined, bombed-out, European-style buildings. Clouds of smoke wafting through smelled of gunpowder.
"Hmmm," pondered Dobbs. "This was supposed to be the American West of one hundred years ago. But I could swear this looks like wartime Germany. And if I remember my war days right, we're just outside Berlin."
Strange lights came into his azure eyes as he evidently arrived at some conclusion. "I would deduce from our surroundings, Li," he intoned distractedly, "that I either took a wrong turn at that last Mutron, or else the AntiBob himself is aware of my movements and has saboutaged our Vortex journey with his insidious tricks, trying to distract us with such trivialities as World War Two. He knows full well how I hate Nazis." "Bob" smirked grimly.
They were standing on a muddy road, with not a soul in sight. But a deep rumbling captured their attention.
Emerging from the fog was an army tank, sporting a Swastika on its tattered flag!
"Panzer!" shouted "Bob." "Yep, this is Germany alright. Well, while we're here, might as well strike a blow for freedom, truth, and Jews. Some of my best friends are Jewish," he added.
Li stood agog as Dobbs broke into a full-speed sprint, charging the massive tank head-on. The turret swiveled menacingly and the barrel came to bore on "Bob." Li was thunderstruck. Did this fool "Bob" think he could destroy a German tank by himself??
It looked like curtains for Dobbs and Li!
But, within a few dozen yards of the juggernaut, Dobbs lost his footing and tripped spectacularly over a long, bent piece of gas pipe exposed by some previous explosion. He fell flat on his face in the mud. But, in the process of tripping on the pipe, he'd caused it to swivel sideways towards the treads of the tank now bearing down on him. Just before the machine could crush Dobbs beneath it, the broken pipe slammed into the gears at its side upon which the treads rolled. Caught in the machinery, the pipe was drawn into the works of the relentless Juggernaut. It must have then impaled some crucial mechanism, for the tank suddenly slammed to a halt.
Nazi soldiers threw open the hatch, about to spray Dobbs and Li with machine guns, when a hideous scraping noise erupted from the bowels of the tank. The entire machine shuddered like a wet dog, groaning horribly, and suddenly exploded in a ball of hot gas. Machine and bloody Nazi parts sprayed into the air.
"Bob!" You saved us! Are you alright?" demanded Li as he rushed to help extricate Dobbs from the mud that had shielded him from the explosion.
"I'm fine, Li. Thanks," muttered Dobbs as he stood up, scraping mud off his suit, his composure again perfect. "Those god damn Nazis. Boy, I hate Nazis. In fact, I don't hate anybody BUT Nazis. And the AntiBob!"
They continued down the destroyed road, approaching a deserted, bombed-out German village.
"You know," mused "Bob," "Nazis are like Commies. No offense if you're a poor misguided Commie, Li." Li shook his head in the negative. Dobbs continued. "They cannot understand the eternal verities of Patriopsychotic Anarchomaterialism -- you know, 'every yard a kingdom.' It is beyond their beaten-down emotional grasp. They perceive Slack only for other Nazis. Why, I remember the time I killed Hitler. Now that was a blast, I tell you."
Li, dazed, barely listened to Dobbs' insane reminiscing.
"Yep, that one time when I killed Hitler. I'd been prepping him all along, you know, waiting for the right moment. I'd infiltrated the Reich for the Allies... Churchill said it was our only hope. All I had to do was put on a devil mask and a blanket, like a Dracula cape... that dumb Kraut never suspected I wasn't really the New Man of the Age of Thule from Atlantis, or whatever! First I drove him crazy, showing up when he least expected, telling him just what he wanted to hear in bad German and Latin I got from notes I wrote on my hand. That dumb-shit fell for it," Dobbs chuckled. "I'd give him these completely fucked-up suggestions, then he'd go and force these suicidal strategies on his generals... finally, I throttled the nasty son-of-a-bitch with my own bare hands, in his bunker. Took my own sweet time doing, it, too. Played cat-and-mouse with the un-American bastard. Just when he thought Death had come, I'd allow him just enough air to prolong his terror. Yep," he chuckled with undisguised cruelty, "I taught that fuck-head a lesson. Not that it did him much good in the end! Pardon my language... In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I wasn't also in downtown Berlin right now, strangling him even as we speak!"
"Bob" stooped to pick up trash as they toiled down the cratered road, conscientiously pocketing the shreds of paper. "People shouldn't litter," he muttered disapprovingly.
They discovered an old woman begging by the roadside -- almost blind, judging by her pitiful movements. Her clothing was shabby and she looked to be starving. "Bob" gazed upon her pityingly.
He dug in his pocket for loose change. "Darn, I left my wallet in the car!" Then, to Li's dismay, he retrieved from his pocket two random pieces of trash he had collected, one a slip of paper, the other a ruined paperback book. He gave them to the pathetic hag, a look of grand benevolence on his face, and walked on. At first, neither the old women nor Li could believe "Bob" had done such a callous, mocking thing.
But the old woman held the piece of paper close to her face, scanning it. Then she blinked in astonishment. For the ragged piece of paper was the business card of the top German eye specialist of that century. And from between the pages of the tattered paperback fell a 100,000 mark bill.
The old woman burst into tears. It was enough money to cure her blindness, and put her grandchildren through Harvard as well.
This seemed a strange thing for a man to do who had just dealt cold and terrible justice to a tankful of soldiers. But, thought Li, "Bob" Dobbs was indeed a strange man, at least when judged by the look-out-for-yourself code of civilization.
"Well, gosh," exclaimed Dobbs suddenly. "Enough of Nazi-killing. We have to find the Indian "Bob" a.s.a.p., or it's curtains for Connie. And humanity," he added, rather parenthetically. "Let's scram back to the Vortex."
Dobbs again summoned the Vortex, and it rose from the horizon with a great wind -- which, with uncanny synchronicity, just happened to blow the piece of Dobbshead-stenciled plywood from the road far behind them to a spot right under their feet.
"Lucky break," mused Dobbs, as they borarded the plywood and were swept up once again into the whirlpool-like whorls of Vortex-light.
This time, the trip was much shorter. Riding the plywood back into the main Vortex tunnel, and then down another smaller one, they came sliding to a stop in the middle of a Western prairie on a bright sunny day. A light breeze ruffled the prairie grass like waves on an ocean as the Vortex rolled back. But the breeze also bore the unmistakeable stench of death.
Just behind them was a flaming, overturned American stagecoach. Its two drivers, obviously dead of gunshot wounds, sprawled nearby, their own gore pooling in the dust. Four horses lay dead on the ground, still bridled to the coach, their throats cut.
Two people in turn-of-the-century suits, evidently passengers, were tied to a nearby tree stump, likewise dead -- but also scalped, their raw heads buzzing with flies in the hot sun. That, and the profusion of wounds on their bodies, bespoke that they had been waylaid and tortured into revealing how to open their box of money.
Gagging, Li whispered, "Indians?"
"No, Li, only white outlaws could have perpetrated this heinous act! They scalped these poor innocent monopoly bankers to make it look like the work of Indians. The Sioux around these parts don't do that kind of thing." He gazed disapprovingly at the bloody spectacle. "No, they usually cut the balls off their enemies. And they'd never kill the horses. White bandits, or corrupt cavalry soldiers, did this. We must warn the Indians!"
Before they could act, a hue and cry of distant battle wafted to them on the wind. They climbed a bluff and ascertained the source of the increasingly dreadful sounds of cries and gunshots: a valley nestled just below amid the rolling amber hills.
A regiment of well-armed U.S. Cavalry had surrounded a small Sioux encampment. Most of the warriors must have been occupied elsewhere, for only helpless women, children, and oldsters were visible dashing back and forth among the teepees in a futile attempt to repel the mounted soldiers gaily firing rifles and Gatling guns into their midst.
"Why, those dirty bastards," shouted "Bob," enraged. "It was never like this in the movies!" To Li's horror, Dobbs dashed to one of the prone corpses and scavenged from it a white cowboy hat and gunbelt. "I need a horse," he muttered as he hurriedly donned them.
As if at Dobbs' command, an entire herd of Indian ponies thundered up onto the bluff, apparently fleeing the horror below. Without time for thought, Dobbs leaped upon one of the horses as it passed. The animal immediately came to a halt, and, as if according to orders whispered by Dobbs into its ear, spun around and carried Dobbs, riding bareback and firing his new six-guns into the air, back down towards the battle. Li could hear Dobbs hollering, "Yeeeee-HAW!" as he vanished over the bluff's peak.
Li, without a mount, and unfamiliar with horses on any account, could but watch helplessly as the mighty Dobbs rode straight into the heat of battle. The evil Cavalry rednecks were routed in confusion upon seeing this white man in a white hat blasting six-guns in all directions, each shot somehow finding its target. Cavalrymen plunged from their horses all around Dobbs.
Finally, one rifleman downed the horse upon which Dobbs rode. Even before the luckless steed hit the ground, Dobbs was airborne in a flying leap, landing amidst the blue-clad bullies. His guns now emptied, Dobbs waded into the fray barehanded, lashing out with what looked to Li like a peculiar form of martial arts. Without even really even seeing his victims, Dobbs became a blurred tornado of whirling and jabbing fists. In scant seconds, the area around him was peppered with dead or injured cavalrymen. Hundreds of shots had been fired at him, but, miraculously, none had hit their mark. Most had, in fact, struck other soldiers.
Within the space of ten seconds, Dobbs had rubbed out some forty men. Li was staggered by the Pipe-Bearer's amazing luck powers. "Bob" had merely closed his eyes and struck blindly at his attackers -- and with far more ease, seemingly, than an average man would exert in zipping up his pants. It showed how little "Bob" needed of either strength or agility.
With the tides turned, the embattled Indians surged from their camp and overpowered the few remaining soldiers. Before Li reached the Sioux camp, the battle was won. Surviving soldiers were already being bound and hauled into the camp to be slowly castrated by joyous Sioux women.
Li felt dizzy as he entered the Indian camp, so long had it been since he'd slept. The unfamilar stench of the Indian camp -- composed entirely of skin and bone, sewed together with sinew -- hardly affected him. He had seen, heard and smelled too much in the last two hours; he was truly "freaked out."
Indian women knelt over their slain loved ones, wailing piteously. Dobbs strode through the center of the camp, supporting a limping but particularly attractive young Sioux woman who'd been grazed by a bullet. None took notice of Li; being Chinese, he simply looked much like another Indian despite his bluejeans and plaid shirt.
A group of Sioux warriors on horseback belatedly topped the nearby hills and sped into camp trailing a cloud of dust. A tall, noble-looking Indian at the head of the group dismounted and strode straight to Dobbs.
Dobbs whirled around, dropping the injured young woman rather abruptly, so that she landed on her behind, squalling.
"Crazy Horse! You nutty bastard! Good to see you!"
"Hau, Dobbs," intoned the tall, severe Native American warrior in awkwardly pronounced English. "Once again you come to aid of our people."
Even Li had read of the exploits of Crazy Horse, mystic warrior hero of the doomed Sioux. Had he not already endured hours of equal impossibilities, he'd have doubted his own sanity.
"Crazy Horse," said Dobbs as Li sidled up to them, "Let me introduce my faithful Chinese companion, Li Li-jing. Li, this is Crazy Horse. Oh, I'm sorry... his real name is Shunka Wakan Itomni." Dobbs grinned sheepishly. "My Injun is a bit rustier than his English, I'm afraid."
Li ignored Dobbs' racist remark about a "faithful Chinese companion." It was, after all, true.
"We hear of your mighty deeds even in my land, Mr. Itomni," said Li, bowing.
"You resemble the people of the old land whence came our forefathers," replied Crazy Horse, his brow furrowed. "We are honored by your presence. I have conversed with others of your kind held in slavery by the Washeechu, the pale boogie men who keep them slaves, making them work on the evil railroads which distract the buffalo and make them sick."
"Hey, Crazy," interrupted Dobbs, somewhat rudely. He leaned close to the proud warrior, whispering confidentially.
"Listen, man, we need to do some business with the Indian "Bob" and the two Pipes." He pronounced 'Indian' as 'inden.'
He pulled his own pipe from his mouth and tamped it with his finger suggestively. "Pipes, you know? Savvy, Kimosabe? If I can get the two Pipes together, maybe I can get to the Yeti "Bob" -- you know, the ChiChi Man, hairy guy. Me have-um big business with him. Dig?"
A scornful expression darkened the proud face of Crazy Horse momentarily, but he chuckled and said, "Yes, "Bob," I understand. You are in luck, as always. In His wisdom, Wakan Tanka, the Grandfather of all things, has seen that the Great Pipe of the Lakota is in my possession now. We may combine the two powers of your Pipe and ours, and you will be taken to the Indian "Bob" who lives in the Dream Time."
"Wow, that's cool!" exclaimed Dobbs excitedly, jumping up and down like a child.
Crazy Horse disappeared into a teepee and emerged carrying, most gingerly, a package wrapped in smelly buffalo hide. From it he carefully withdrew a 'peace pipe' -- a soapstone bowl attached to a long wooden stem hung with eagle feathers.
To Li's surprise, Dobbs gasped and fell prostrate before the revealed Peace Pipe. "My God," he mumbled into the dirt, "More juju than I remembered from last time! Well, let's not waste a minute. God only knows what the AntiBob is trying to get my wife to do... on him..."
He leaped to his feet and brandished his own Pipe. Crazy Horse held his Indian Pipe in the air facing Dobbs'. They pointed both Pipes towards the Spirits of the Four Winds, then touched the two together, stem to bowl, forming a magic rectangle. The other Indians drew back in fearful suspense.
A great flash of white light enveloped the two Pipes. Through the glow, Li discerned Dobbs and Crazy Horse grunting and heaving them back and forth with an almost sexual movement. Li thought he saw a great bulge rippling on Dobbs' pants near his groin. Suddenly, as if from the clear blue sky overhead, there dropped to the ground between the two men a third Pipe -- strangely carved, of unidentifiable metallic composition, illuminated with intricate scrollwork.
"Hoooo-eee!" shouted "Bob," lifting it reverentially from the ground. "It's the god-damned real thing! The Third Pipe! A god damn Xist artifact! From outer space! What else could I need?"
""Bob,"" glowered Crazy Horse, "You are truly a Sacred Fool, a heyoka. It is a true thing that this is a Pipe from beyond the stars, from the Thunder Beings themselves. But you cannot smoke of it without the protection of the yuwipi washeechu, the White Stone of Strangeness, kept by the Indian "Bob" in his Dreamtime lair."
"Yeah... right... MWOWM..." mumbled Dobbs, dejectedly. "The only one on earth until 1998. They'll be a dime a dozen then... but I need one now and I doubt the Indian "Bob" is gonna let his go cheap."
"Being a chief, I can accompany you and bargain the price down... for a percentage," said Crazy Horse, "but before we enter Dreamtime, I insist that you honor us by making jig-jig with our sacred virgin."
"Hey -- no prob!" exclaimed Dobbs. Doffing his white cowboy hat and eagerly shucking the shirt from his back so that he stood bare-chested, he darted to the teepee indicated by his host. His tongue hung out grossly, like a dog's, and he panted uninhibitedly.
Li noted that "Bob"'s frame, stripped, was an amazing piece of organic machinery. While his muscles were not those of an Atlas, far less grossly knotted than a bodybuilder's, they yet resembled haphazardly bundled piano wire lacquered under deep plastic. He looked not unlike the 'Popeye' character from American cartoons. The assymetry of that great form was such as to stun an onlooker. Indian maidens swooned right and left.
Crazy Horse turned to Li. "Son of my forefathers, " he spoke, "I suggest we now leave our friend "Bob" to pleasure himself with this unsullied woman and lend his strange but mighty Washeechu Itomni seed to our tribe."
Li and Crazy Horse sat outside the teepee, sipping from bowls of dog soup. Neither spoke for a time, prefering to listen to the almost laugh-provoking grunts and hollers from inside the teepee. Li nearly nodded into sleep.
Eventually, Dobbs emerged.
"Ahhh... I feel like a new man," he gloated, expansively. And then, to Li's embarrassment, Dobbs unzipped his slacks and exposed his inhumanly large, Moray Eel-like organ, urinating profusely on the grass. He accompanied the splashing sounds with indecently loud groans of pleasure.
Agog, Li witnessed bright yellow and blue prairie flowers springing up magically along the line of "Bob's" holy pee spray. However, as bladderial pressure disippated, the flowers were replaced by thorns and thistles.
"Ouch," grumbled "Bob," addressing Li while tucking his prodigiously large self back into his pants. "It kinda burns at the end, ya know?"
Turning to Crazy Horse, he said, "Hey, thanks man, thanks a million. No, really! I mean it! But Li here, and me, we gotta move on and meet up with the Indian "Bob", what's his name, uh... Smoking Butt or whatever?"
"He is our greatest Weechasha Wakan, "Bob," and I remind you that his name is Smokes-While-Trading. Do not insult this great medicine man. I suggest you approach him most cautiously, for he is now plagued with boils on his backside, and is possessed of a foul temper, making him almost as crazy as you," warned Crazy Horse.
"Ah, hell, it runs in the family. Well, HEUNH," hooted Dobbs, stepping onto the magically-decorated buffalo hide which Crazy Horse had laid out before them. Li and Crazy Horse followed. "You almost forgot this," Crazy Horse reminded Dobbs, holding out the Third Pipe.
"Oh, gosh," exclaimed Dobbs, exasperated. "What am I gonna do with myself??"
Almost immediately, they were enwrapped by the Vortex.
Scant seconds of light-surfing later, the three found themselves standing astride the same hide rug, but now inside a vast cavern. Flickering torchlight dimly illuminated an altar-like rock throne. The walls swarmed with ritual carvings and hieroglyphs.
An incredibly ancient-looking Indian -- remotely resembling "Bob", if in grin only -- sat cross-legged on the natural rock throne (naked but for a pillow under his afflicted backside), surrounded by beautiful naked maidens. Li's groin heaved urgently.
"Hau, hau," the holyman muttered. "Of course, I saw in the spirit your coming, "Bob" Dobbs."
"Well, HOW, Chief!" exclaimed Dobbs loudly, stepping off the hide and proffering his hand. "Smokes-And-Sells, if I'm not mistaken? Have I got a deal for you!"
Smokes-While-Trading cast a baleful eye on "Bob." "Truly, you are the essence of your kind," he grumbled. "But no problem. Though the patterns of your smoke and the presence of Crazy Horse prove you are chosen by the Wakinyan, the thunder beings from the twin stars, this nevertheless warns the wise man to be most careful in trading with you. What deal? You talking firewater?" The medicine man sighed resignedly, shifting on his throne with the extreme caution befitting a severe hemmorhoidal condition.
"No, no!" exclaimed "Bob." "Not booze! I mean MONEY! You know, the mean green! Cabbage and gravel!" Winking, he rubbed his two forefingers and thumb together in the pan-cultural sign-language gesture for 'greed.' Li cringed.
But the wizened medicine man's eyes lit up.
"Oh! You mean money! Hau, hau... MONEY! Yes, this is surely the Unknowing Clown-Man of the prophecy. With money, we can buy firearms... lawyers... senators..." He gazed with a mad, vengeful, rapacious grin into unseen futures. "Not even the Mormons can seduce us, if we possess this 'money' of which you speak."
"Yeah!" shouted "Bob." "Right, Chief! Let's talk turkey." Extracting from his pocket a sheaf of Confederate bank notes, "Bob" suggested greasily, "Me give you bucks, you give me White Stone, tell me place to find Wildman. Then me talk to First "Bob"! Savvy?"
The medicine man snorted derisively. "Not only do you speak down to me like a condescending White Pink Man, Caucasian "Bob", but you take me for a fool. These notes are worth nothing; the Southern White Men will lose their war. You must offer a better thing. Give me... give me your ring."
The old man was eyeing, with barely-concealed lust, a cheap plastic toy ring on Dobbs' left pinky. It sported the image of Ronald McDonald.
"This?" asked Dobbs, cautiously.
"Yes. It bears the image of the One Truly White Man, the Man of Pinkness. By possessing and gradually defacing his stupid image, I would attain new power over him and all he represents. Secret rites performed over this trinket, known only to me, will win many lawsuits over the next one hundred years for what's left of our tribe. The hexes empowered by this Future Object will be almost as sweet a revenge on your people as was tobacco."
"Fine! Great!" exclaimed Dobbs, wrenching the cheesy ring from his finger. "Take it! All yours! Now gimme the White Stone and tell me how to find a Yeti somewhere hereabouts!"
Shifting his buttocks with great care, the old man fetched from his loincloth what looked, to Li, to be a simple white river rock, its edges worn smooth by erosion.
""Bob," you ask for a passkey to the Indian "Bob" and the Other "Bobs." This may be that which you seek. To me, this is nothing but a stupid piece of rock, useless to our tribe. But our legends say that this rock was once owned by the First "Bob" himself."
"Hot damn," muttered "Bob," reaching eagerly for the rock. "This motherfucker is a god damn Xist computer and time radio!" Suddenly he covered his mouth. "Oops... language!"
"But even with this Stone and the Pipe, your luck is gone."
Dobbs looked stricken, grimacing.
"Yes. Wild Chi-Chi Man is no longer friend to Indians on this land. Too many white mans with guns, shoot at poor Chi-Chi. Too many Indians betray the Wild People for payment of firewater. You must go to the Next-to-First "Bob" in the land from whence came your companion." The man indicated Li.
"Chinese "Bob" has the Bigfoot connection, eh, Chief?" said Dobbs. A crafty edge then came into his voice. "Okay, no prob. But one thing before we go, Chief. I just gave you a lot of money's worth of magic plastic." (He winked at Li.) "The rock's great, whatever the hell I'm supposed to use it for, but, well, since you can't give me the Yeti... don't you think I'm entitled to... oh, I dunno, a magic word or something?"
"White men... always finding something more to snatch up." The Indian snorted disgustedly, but from his medicine bag he extracted for Dobbs an ancient glass vial. Its faded label read faintly: "Rev. Dr. McNutt's Holy Snake Oil Tonic. Cures All Ailments Or Money Back."
"Is great medicine," said the Native American holy man. "Makes old men young, weak men strong, limp men hard. Oil of snake. Given to me by a great holy man as a gift for my services. Take it for magic protection against all curses but one -- sores on backside." Only Li noticed the old man winking to Crazy Horse, just as Dobbs had winked to Li over the worthless Ronald McDonald ring.
Dobbs took the vial gratefully and pocketed it, gushing with complete sincerity, "Hey, thanks, Chief. I dunno how to repay you."
The old man took a long draw on his peace pipe. "Just vanquish the AntiBob, and in so doing, strain the shit from the bowels of the soul-less Washeechus who wreck our land. That is enough. Be always itomni -- crazy, happy, drunken... slackful. But I warn you, bad spirits lay in wait for you. They serve AntiBob and know you are here to hurt them and aid the wise spirits, who meddle not in the silly affairs of men."
"Uh... right," nodded Dobbs enthusiastically. "Me kick ass on bad demons. No prob! ME BAD MOTHUHFUCKAH!!!!"
"Truly, your mouth is as great as your mind is simple," grunted the Indian "Bob", looking skeptical. "For this reason, and also to show good manners, I strongly urge you to consult the two remaining major "Bobs" along the way." Chuckling at some private joke, he added, "Give my regards to the African "Bob" especially!"
"Yes! How! Me comprendee, Chief! African "Bob!" Abo "Bob!" Me get big medicine from blackfellows!"
"One thing last, Dobbs," sighed the shaman, ignoring Dobbs' stubborn and transparent attempts to play Indian. "Tell me. What will happen to our people, in their battles against your relatives, the white-faced monsters?"
"Oh, you get mostly wiped out," replied Dobbs, grinning with insensitive joviality. "But the ones that are left, hell, they get free tract houses and canned food."
"Figures," muttered Smokes-While-Trading, shaking his head. "But enough talk. You must reenter the Vortex. Despite your stupid ways, I bless you. May you never be afflicted with incurable backside-sores."
Li, Crazy Horse and "Bob" boarded a large beech canoe furnished by Smokes-While-Trading.
"Next stop: Africa!" "Bob" shouted above the airless rush and noiseless roar of the Vortex, as they were engulfed by the metamorphosing lights of that whirlpooling cosmic time-subway.
Continued in Part 2
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