The crowd of ninety thousand was so quiet you could hear someone thinking that it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
"Shush," shushed eighty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine at a beet-red me. The huge gathering was not there to hear me think. They were there, in Barcelona, to witness the gold medal round of the bowling competition. Bowling, a new sport added to the Olympics at the last minute by yours truly, had captured the fancy of the fancier fans and now, after many rounds of grueling elimination matches, the field had narrowed to just two, the two best bowlers in the entire world: "Righty" Gomez, of Spain, and "Whitey" Farley of Uganda. Gomez, left-handed, in spite of his nickname, was the heavy favorite. Farley, black, in spite of his nickname, had his supporters, too. So, the stage was set, and if only Uncle Lupo would return with the pizza and the nachos the situation would be ideal.
"No nachos, I got you French fries," explained Uncle Lupo as he trampled the feet of everyone seated in Row 33, Section FF, Mezzanine Level. Our vantage point for the bowling competition was perfect, the angle an excellent one to judge the curve of the ball and it's impact on the pins. I was excited, Lupo was excited, Dancing Cloud was excited, and then there was Mr. Note's spoiled son Ed., another story altogether. (I'm chilly. Why don't we leave now and beat the traffic? -- Ed.)
I explained to Ed. that the tickets, a gift from Maureen, were good for fifteen hundred a pop just outside the stadium, and that it was he, Ed., who had begged for the opportunity to be there in the first place. (I know, I know, but that was before I knew you were going to concoct this ridiculous bowling competition. Might as well add pinochle while you're at it -- Ed.)
"Why are you so ungrateful?" Dancing Cloud asked Ed., hoping to get a few lines in before the book ends. (I'm not ungrateful, I just didn't expect all these changes -- Ed.)
Don't you like bowling? I asked, implying Ed.'s loyalty and patriotism could come into question if he really didn't like what, for many, is America's Game. (I like it, but not in the Olympics, and especially not as the subject of a novel! -- Ed.)
You're a snob, Ed., I finally said with finality, and that was that. Meanwhile, it was Gomez's turn to roll the first ball. It became so quiet you could hear someone write that someone was thinking that it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. (Don't forget -- proof of purchase of six copies of this novel at six different retail outlets qualifies you for the Write Your Own Chapter drawing, and, don't look now but I think this is the chapter I'm going to let You write.)
Gomez stepped toward the line and released the ball and watched it as it curved and spun its way from the far left of the lane to its inevitable collision with the pins. While sopping my greasy undercooked French fries in the contents of about twenty packets of Heinz Ketchup -- not nearly enough of the ketchup worth waiting for -- I imagined the bowling ball conforming to the laws of Zeno's Paradox, that goofy mathematical conundrum about how a moving object, in order to reach its destination, must first travel half the distance, and then half the distance from there, and then half the distance from there, and so on. By doing this I was able to keep Gomez's ball from ever reaching the pins, and created quite a stir among the eighty-nine thousand plus. And then it began to rain. Rain and outdoor bowling don't mix too well so everyone rushed for cover, creating a human tidal wave that overwhelmed the understaffed corps of stadium ushers. The police had to be called in and some arrests were made.
The next morning Dancing Cloud, me, Ed., and Uncle Lupo were all awakened abruptly and unceremoniously dragged out of our cell in the Barcelona city jail. Maureen, bless her heart, had put up enough pistoles to spring us, and we were plenty grateful, even Ed., slobbering our thanks through the tears. A guard came over and broke it up.
"Phone call for a James M. Reynolds. Any of you him?" he asked in a nasal Brooklyn accent.
I nodded and went with the guard, leaving Maureen, Lupo, Ed., and Dancing Cloud to figure out what to do about breakfast. They all had the exact same thought at the exact same moment: PANCAKES! So they headed for that luncheonette around the corner from the courthouse, and we'll have to catch up with them later. In the meantime, I had a phone call. Hello?
"Oh, no, I didn't want you. They misunderstood. I wanted Jack Reynolds. Give me the operator."
It turned out, however, that the police had some questions for me.
"What is your business at these Olympics?" the Barcelona Chief of Police asked me through an interpreter, an interpreter who happened to be the world famous comedian and ventriloquist, Señor Wences.
"Hello, Yonnie!" squealed the interpreter's heavily lipsticked hand, the voice charmingly thrown by the legendary Wences, who is (was?) from Spain by the way, so this isn't as far-fetched as you think.
I couldn't answer, I couldn't talk, I couldn't breathe, I was laughing so hard. Señor Wences is one of my favorite comedians.
"Is all right?" "Is all right." "Is all right?" "Is all right." "Is good?" "Is good." "Is all right?" "Is all right."
The voices were coming from his hand, from a box, from the telephone, from everywhere, and even though Wences is (was) considered a national treasure in Spain, the Chief of Police was losing his patience. He wanted to ask me about the time-travel rumor, but getting Señor Wences to play it straight was near-impossible. The comedian was ninety-something and had no intention of cutting his act short just to help the local police scare away tourists, even if the tourists were from another century. Besides, it wasn't Franco barking out the orders, but a glorified security guard. Finally, with Wences simultaneously talking to his fist, his arm, a box, and the telephone, all the while lighting a cigarette and drinking a martini, the Chief of Police exploded.
"!$#%$%" he bellowed, ready to strangle the national treasure, but he had the good sense to restrain himself, perhaps realizing he'd be put to death for merely touching a hair on Wences's head.
"He wants to know if you are here from another time," Señor Wences finally asked, reluctantly.
I smiled and answered that, sadly, no, I was not from another time.
"How about your friends?" Wences interpreted.
I stopped smiling. It was hard to lie to Señor Wences. I could vouch for Ed., but as for Lupo and Dancing Cloud, the thought occurred to me that their best move might be to climb out a bathroom window and run. I looked at Dancing Cloud who looked at Uncle Lupo who looked at me, then I looked at Lupo, then he looked at Dancing Cloud -- and then the plan, somehow, went into motion.
"You'll have to excuse us, gentlemen, but we have to go to the bathroom," Uncle Lupo announced, with near-aplomb.
"El también?" the Chief of Police asked, raising an eyebrow in the direction of Dancing Cloud.
"Him too?" a voice from inside Señor Wences's cigar box asked.
"Yeah, him too," Uncle Lupo barked confidently, and with that he grabbed Dancing Cloud and pulled him along to the alleged men's room.
"It says 'Muchachos'," Señor Wences's hand pointed out helpfully.
That left me and Ed., the complainer.
"Come on, let's go," Ed. whined, impatient with the Barcelona police.
"Just a few more questions," the Police Chief asked, doing an insulting English language end run around the revered Wences. "First, how are you going to resolve this mess? And, before I forget, what have the Ritz Brothers got to do with anything? Nowhere are they mentioned in this entire book -- why the photo?"
Au contraire, I pointed out, directing the Police Chief's attention to the above sentence.
"Are you saying that by my mere mention of the Ritz Brothers you'll include their photo?"
I chuckled to myself, recognizing the delicious, if somewhat curious, irony. Now Señor Wences was getting bored and started to pack away his ventriloquist's equipment, consisting of the cigar box with a hole in the back, some lipstick, and a dark handkerchief.
"See you later!" Wences said, almost as an afterthought, and he made a hasty exit. I, too, decided I'd had enough of this situation and tried to think of some new venue that I could establish as my fictional bailiwick, but I couldn't come up with anything terrific. And then, guess who dropped in? No, not the late Bertrand Russell.
"Jim," Maureen began, "I'm not normally this pessimistic, but unless you're planning to switch to another language, like Japanese or Farsi, I'm afraid you've painted yourself into one hell of a deep hole, if I may meld metaphors, and I guess I may, and I don't know how you're going to paint your way out, and in such little time. Why did you have to go and impose such a restriction upon yourself? What if, and I'm not saying this will happen, what if you think of something new that really takes this thing to a higher, somewhat more intelligent level? What if Bertrand Russell does drop in and you want to go past the sixty-fifth chapter? What if?"
It could happen. And if it does I'll make the best decision possible at that time. Or I won't. I'll see how I feel at that time.
"Don't be a dope, Jim. In the Bubble, by James M. Reynolds, could turn out to be a pretty nifty little novel if you can just straighten out a few dozen loose ends and get to the point. Do it, you've got a shot. Don't do it, you've got a problem. Take it from someone who took it from someone. I know."
Maybe you do, Maureen. And believe me, I wish Lord Russell would drop in, or I could switch to Japanese -- they like meaningless English words and phrases, don't they? They like the words, they don't even care what they mean. I can relate to that.
"Tick, tick, tick, tick... "
Okay, okay, I'm going to do it. But I'm going to do it my way, in private, and spring it on the world in Chapter Sixty-five. A dramatic unveiling of what it all means, the answers to all your questions, the solution to last week's puzzle, and then some.
Ambitious, I know, but it's within my grasp. I've got long arms.
"It's your brain that better have some reach -- but wait, I'm sorry. I'll be more optimistic than that. Good luck, Jim. Good luck. Just one request, though."
"Take my name out of the Index."
You don't want to be in the Index? Why?
"It's a weird feeling I get, being listed like that, so cold, as a number, a page number."
But you're on a lot of pages.
"The readers don't need to look me up in the Index. Lincoln, maybe, but not me."
You're right. Okay, it's a deal.
"You're a prince."
Yes, I know.
(This ends Chapter Sixty-four. Drumroll, please... )