Read from the beginning

I slept hard that night. Harder than I had since this whole escapade began, despite the musty canvas of the cots and the echo of the building shaped like a gigantic overturned half-cylinder, and the others sleeping on creaking cots, unseen at the far end. Sometime during the night as temperatures dropped, someone had laid woolen blankets over Dimity and me.

That night I had another dream. But this time everything—the action and the characters—were in an animated comic book. I held the comic book in my hands and the characters moved on the page like a cartoon.

I saw Dimity again there on the page, this time she was in a drizzling dark alley at night. A single street light shone, all shadows and harsh lights. She was tall and tough. Her cheerleader gleam was changed into a hard, cold criminal mug. She wore a long black overcoat and a fedora with a feather in the band, and her tumbling blonde mane, now a cascade of perfectly coiffed curls, fell down her back. She was Marlene Dietrich, a femme fatale smoking a long thin cigarette as she leaned against a wall with one foot hiked up. Tough, jaded, and dressed to kill, she was sensual, like a bright splash of whiskey against the moonlit urban pall.

Car headlights pulled up and several dark figures got out. One man approached. She stood up and squared her shoulders. There was no dialog to be heard, but she stood face to face with the small gathering of other black-coated figures. She was confident, unafraid, and threatening in her own way. She and the lead figure discreetly exchanged something, a small bottle for a bulging envelope. She opened the envelope and thumbed through a stack of bills, then tucked it in the overcoat pocket, and with a sideways smirk, she flicked the cigarette butt and it bounced off his granite chin. Then she vanished through an unseen doorway.

Suddenly I was there myself in the comic book, watching the scene from an obvious, unconcealed vantage point, and as always in my dreams, I was completely naked. The four gruff men turned together to look at me and comment amongst each other, and I held my hands to cover myself, mortified.

I awoke. My blanket had fallen on the ground, and I was shivering in the bitterly cold morning. The sun was already up and I figured it must be nine o’clock. Dimity was gone, her blanket folded neatly on her cot. I heard voices outside.

I squinted as I emerged, my hair tousled and the blanket draped over my shoulders. Dimity and Ringo were talking. She heard me come out and she turned around and bopped over to me with a strip of thick bacon in her hand.

Finally! Mister lazy bones. Here, open.” I opened my mouth and she stuck the bacon in, and I gripped it in my teeth. “It’s sooo delicious. Look at this—sausages, fresh bread, fruits that I have never seen before,” she chuckled. “Tom says he can make pancakes if you want.”

They stood at a wooden camping table with dishes of food spread out. Tom Nightingale worked an open fire with an iron grill flipping breakfast meats with a spatula. Other Chickasaw residents came and went, watching us, nodding solemnly.

“Coffee is usually the first thing to pass my lips when I wake up in a fog.”

“There’s no fog, tiger. Just the most beautiful morning I think I’ve ever seen!”

Ringo was also looking remarkably better.

“Good morning, my young hero! Your dear lady-friend here has been telling me about your mission to bring me some, uh, medicine from our friend in the forest. I can’t thank you both enough.”

“Is there any of that medicine left over? I could sure use it.”

“Dimity tells me Lorenzo shouldn’t be far behind.”

“Yes, the snake. I’m surprised he’s not here yet.”

“Knowing Lorenzo, he probably stayed the night in some posh spa in town. My guess is he will be here any—well, speak of the devil. Listen you two, he’s going to want to get hold of more of…my product. You just watch. But he must not get it, understand? Don’t let on. Under no circumstances.”

Up rolled the black limousine with Vito in the driver’s seat and the diminutive Lorenzo in the back, still sporting his lilac fedora and matching pocket square. As he exited the car and stood for a moment stretching his legs, he put an upturned pinky fingernail to his nose and inhaled a dram of snuff. His eyes bulged wide for a moment and he blew a puff of wind. Then he walked toward us like old friends.

“Greetings my friends! Ringo, I’m so glad to see you on your feet. I feared the worst when I heard of your encounter with the Beaux Voyous. They are truly savages, amoral, without restraint or decency. And hello again to you mister Bo and, ahem, mademoiselle.” Dimity’s face was cold as ice. Ringo began,

“Lorenzo. You made it. Pleasant drive?”

“It was a lovely drive up yesterday, thank you. Vito and I stayed in the most charming little lodging some miles from here.”

I was feeling aggressive and jumped in. “I don’t know why you came, Lorenzo. I had the cordial. And the faster car. Your tagging along was unnecessary.”

“My nephew has a point, Lorenzo. So what brings you here?” I loved it when he referred to me like that, my nephew. I put out my chest a little more.

“Good heavens, Reginald! Are you so cynical? Can’t an old friend come to check on one who has suffered such an incident? Ah, dear, dear me. Reginald. Old friend. Have you forgotten those days in Italy? Some real adventures we had, eh? What ever happened to us Reg— or, uh, Ringo? Ha! Don’t you know, kids? Your Uncle Ringo and I used to be regular friends.”

“That’s being pretty generous. We were cordial. At best. At receptions and banquets. We were staunch rivals on the racetrack, I’m sure you remember.”

“Ha, ha! Yes, I also remember the days. Fondly, I do. Our contests at auto racing, I mean. Your skill against my best driver, Emile? Brilliant! I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. Those days were so sporting and lively.”

“Rivals in other matters too, eh Lorenzo? Mm? We had our falling out.”

His smile relaxed. “If you mean your heartless betrayal Reginald, then yes, I’m afraid we did. But! Don’t they say, all water under the bridge now? Here we are together in the United States, in the territory of Michigan I believe. My, my it does get chilly here.”

“Alright, cut the crap, Lorenzo. Why are you—fah! Who am I kidding? Of course, I know why you are here!”

“I am here to make you rich, Ringo. Beyond your wildest. Truly. You want me to cut the crap? Okay, in regard to a certain elixir you are fond of producing, I have interested buyers. Right now. Cash in hand. You will never have to—”

“Perhaps you didn’t know it, Lorenzo, but I’m pretty well set up. I’m retired now. And as for buyers? If I wanted to sell, I have ample. You propose to insert yourself as a middleman. You want a cut? For what! Quite the capitalist you are. But this discussion is already moot. You have just this past week demonstrated your ruthlessness, your willingness to use violence, coercion, and extortion, to apprehend the young and use them as bargaining tools. Hardly the principled business partner, wouldn’t you say?” Lorenzo suddenly advanced on Ringo.

“One bottle! Ringo, I’ll pay you handsomely for a single bottle. I’ll divide it up and sell smaller portions.”

“I’m afraid you are out of luck. I’m done making elixirs and potions. I’ve retired.”

And round and around they went. I was sick of Lorenzo’s tiresome begging and cajoling. I couldn’t listen anymore, and it was time for breakfast anyway. Dimity and I fixed plates of bacon and sausages, sourdough toast, orange and pink fruits, and a small stack of Tom Nightingale’s pancakes.

We left them to talk and meandered around the campus, chatting with Chickasaw teenagers and marveling at Indian crafts and culture. Dimity was drawn in with a group of other girls using beads and string to make bracelets. I left her and wandered down the road eating sausages. There was little to see without a guide. I looked at trees and gardens, humble homes and meadows. I passed some time.

After an hour of loitering, I wandered back to where Ringo was. I found him packing a khaki canvas duffle bag with borrowed clothes and shoes, relics and artifacts.

“Is he gone?”

“He is gone.”

“Good riddance. I hope we don’t have to see him again. Gosh, this place is pretty neat, don’t you think? Huh, well, I’ll say it is. I guess this whole crazy adventure is about over, isn’t it. I mean. Things have quieted down. I’m wondering how my mom is doing. I miss her, you know and, well, I‘m ready to get back home, you know? Mitts too. She was just saying—”

“Yes, Bo. You and Dimity should go back home. Go to your mother. I thank you for your partnership in my adventures this week. But your family needs you.”

“Right! Ha! Yeah, I was just thinkin’, whew! What a ride it’s been, you know?” He zipped up the duffle bag and took a leather coat from a chair and began to pull it on.

“I’m gonna think about what you said about, uh, you-know-who, ha, ha! Linda Lou, I mean. She’s amazing and I still cannot explain everything we saw. But, you know. Oh, I meant to ask you. I’ve been having these crazy dreams. About Dimity…hey, what’s with the bag? You look like you’re going somewhere.”

“I’m afraid I have to leave you, Bo. I’m going back to my hideaway in the Allegheny Forest. I’ll arrange travel for you two back to Ohio. I’m sure we will meet again soon.”

“Well yeah! I hope so too. Leaving? Look, it won’t be too long, will it? I mean, my family is a mess and I could, you know, we could really use your help with things.”

“I’ll come as soon as I can, Bo. I promise.”

There was something in the way he spoke. He wasn’t his usual self.

“Hey. Is something up? You seem—I don’t know, strangely…not talkative. And why are you going to your forest house? You should just come back with me.”

“I’m afraid I cannot, Bo.”

“Why not?”

“I’m going back to my home to brew the elixir. For Lorenzo.”

What! I thought you said—”

“There are things in this world, Bo, forces we cannot imagine.”

“Come on! What was all that stuff about Under no circumstances? He’s a villain, Ringo! You can’t do it!”

Ringo sighed and looked at me blinking, suddenly slow and tired.

“I have no choice, my boy. Lorenzo…can be quite persuasive.”

“No, stop. You have to tell me what’s going on.” The muscles in his jaw clenched.

“There is a man. He is called simply Poinard. He is the mastermind of the French underground. It is he who sent his minions, the Beaux Voyous in pursuit of us. Poinard is as powerful as any president or prime minister or chancellor in any country. His influence reaches into virtually every country on earth. There are some who believe he secretly directed the war itself, the war against Fascism, controlling both sides, increasing power through chaos and horror.

“I’ve only ever heard of him, never seen him. Very few have. But it seems that Lorenzo has aligned himself with him and come under his employment as a sort of field marshal; he showed me the tungsten ring of Poinard’s syndicate. And suddenly, boom! It is a different story. I could try to elude them. But I would spend the rest of my life in hiding and of course nobody that I love would ever be safe again.”

Under a pavilion across the dirt road, we heard Dimity’s musical chuckling with the Chickasaw girls. She waved to us beaming and held up a bracelet she’d made.

“I will distill the liquor for Lorenzo while I work on a plan to get out from under Lorenzo’s and Poinard’s thumb. It may come to very dire ends.”

I was electrified, physically trembling at this news. Goosebumps washed across my ears and neck in waves. I was a seething volcano, blind with rage at Lorenzo and the whole crooked system, and suddenly maddened with indignation that Ringo was going so quietly into the night. I was twenty years his younger, but I no longer felt it. I spoke as if I held guns held to each of our heads.

“Now, do not argue, Ringo. We’re coming with you. I want to tell you about my dreams on the way.”