67)   Super Sunday, 2/17:   6:00 AM and After…  “Red Queen and the Wicked Shepherd”


Dazed, bruised… coughing with violent, wracking spasms as a smoke of a thousand toxins settled in their lungs – clutching their treasures, or each other – Savage Saturday’s few ragged survivors were reeling across the parking lot of the One World Mall, largely ignored, and grateful for it.  Craig Synch supported Vicki, who still retained the stick that had borne the Evan Augsberg placard into battle as her crutch. 

          “Can you walk?” he’d kept asking.

          “Do I have a choice?” she finally screamed.

          “I… I could try carrying you…”

          She looked at him, shaking her head… then planted the crutch down firmly and hobbled onwards.  Disguised in his rough clothes, shocked at the carnage that was, in part, his creation, Trent Lockett had intercepted a shattered Reverend Ellsworth Godwin who, like a somnambulist, had started towards the noisy crowd still gathered round the loading dock, trying to squeeze into Giga-Plex even as those who had entered were thrashing through the dark, plunder in hand, trying to find a way out as the flames encircled them…

          “Over this way, Reverend…” Lockett urged.  “Reverend?”

          “I don’t have anything to take.  Kill me, if you must… I deserve to die…” the preacher wept bitterly… seeing, now, the destruction of his dream…

          “Reverend… it’s Trent.   Trent Lockett, from the FCC?”  The researcher stepped forward and grasped Godwin by a sooty forearm.  “Come on, this way… believe me, you do not want to keep going back there…”

          “I have to,” Godwin staggered.  “Some of those people came out here because of me.  You took away their means of communication, and I led them through the door to perdition…”

“Forget it!” Trent pulled him away.  “All God’s people are headed out of here, fast as their legs or wheels can carry them, and as for the left behinds… well, leave ‘em behind.  The only help from upstairs this place needs is a Catholic priest to give it the last rights… what’s so goddam funny…”

Godwin had begun laughing hysterically.  “What a wicked shepherd?  I have led my flock into the valley of the shadow and deserted them, and I have lost my father’s raiment, then climbed his legacy, upside-down, out of the mouth of Hell…”

“Well that sounds just about right,” Trent Lockett nodded.  “By the ways, the President went on television… not that anybody really saw or heard, but no matter… transition’s off until Tuesday.  Everybody gets to watch the game tonight, eat and drink, forget about the world a little longer… I’m saying, we won, we won, Reverend.  Sort of…”

Reverend Godwin stopped laughing and looked back at the burning, barbarian-ringed Mall.  “Then all this… was for nothing…”

       “Nothing!” Lockett replied.

          In the chaos of the parking lot, Big Sonny’s retinue had broken up… Jarlo Knupp and the Soft Shell Dixieland Band drifting back towards the loading dock where… as visible flames rose up to blow out the remaining windows of Roasted World Nuts and the I. Prescott funeral home, the bandmembers picked up their instruments, donned their straw hats and launched into a lively rag that… in certain cadences… derived from “Nearer My God To Thee”.  The Giga-Grrrlz, Crystal and Rae, having deserted Marko when he kept pausing to grab this or that abandoned plunder in the parking lot – finally wandered off in search of rescuers… quickly found… but Effie Lou Wilson discovered herself surrounded by Sonny’s clowns, big shoes flopping against the hot pavement, greasepaint smeared and running with the heat… as she stopped to catch her breath, she turned around and began to count…

          “One… two… three… Omigod!… there are seven of you, and me,” Effie Lou clapped her hands, doing a slow pirouette in the snow.  “It’s like… like…”

          “Like we were the Seven Dwarves?” hinted the biggest of the clowns – he wore a frizzy red wig and polka-dotted overalls, but his nose was black, not red.

          “And you’re our Goldilocks!” said the sad-faced clown with the derby and unlit cigar.

          Another clown with an enormous, greasepainted mouth… wide and high like the Joker in the Batman movie… the one Jack Nicholson played… swatted Sad Sack with a rubber chicken.  “Snow White, you idjit!  Not Goldilocks… Snow White…”

          “I am a Princess, you know?” Effie Lou reminded her seven servitors.  “I was… like… working in the store in Waxahachie, then I was Miss Dominator, and now I’m a Princess…”

          “That’s right,” agreed the clown with the bright yellow flower poking out of his hat… supposedly an inverted flowerpot, although it looked more like one of those tassled fezzes, usually worn by Arabs and Shriners.  “You’re in charge of us all!”

          The green clown spread his arms.  “All of us around here…” he said, bouncing up and down on his big, green Styrofoam shoes, “we’re all your subjects…”

          “Then I don’t wanna be a Princess!  Don’t wanna tell people what to do…” Effie Lou glanced from the clowns to the burning One World Mall, back to the clowns.  “I just wanna go back to the hotel and sleep.  I’m tired!  I’d rather be Sleeping Beauty…”

          Joker-clown waved his rubber chicken aloft over her head, like a magic wand.  “Too late!” he cackled.

          The clown with the flower in his buttonhole pressed a button on a little tube that ran up his sleeve, spritzing Joker with water.  “I’ll be your Prince Charming…” he proposed.

          “No, me!” argued the green clown…

          “Me!” Blacknose cried…

          Within moments, the clowns had fallen to fighting with their clown-weapons as Effie Lou lay down on the snowy pavement and tried to sleep, but it was smoky and loud and uncomfortable… people kept running by or moving in slow-motion like cartoon characters, tugging their prizes in their arms or in boxes or garbage bags.  The last straw was a gigantic black helicopter whose transit obscured the stars and moon, put-putting overhead, looking for a place to touch down.  As two new, bedraggled figures converged on the royal party, Effie Lou sat up, as if waking from unpleasant, royal dreams…

          “It’s no fun being Sleeping Beauty,” she clenched her fist and scrunched up her face.  “I’d rather be the Red Queen!  Stop your fighting!” she ordered the seven clowns, “…or, no, keep fighting!  Harder!”

          Tha’s right, li’l lady,” came a voice from behind Effie Lou as something cold and metallic prodded the back of her neck.  “Just keep them fools up to their foolishness while you and us, we’s gonna take a little walk…”

          “Got so many nice trucks and vans around here, and no po-lice to stop us,” smiled a tall, dark man in a great, warm overcoat with deep pockets, brandishing a big, metal gun, “we gonna find us one with plenty of heat an’ a system – play a little music, an’ party…”

          “I got the party favors,” said the smaller man, who was holding a big, cardboard box with Chinese writing and one big, black English word: ‘GRENADES’.  It put Effie Lou in mind of the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons… all that was lacking was an Acme logo on the box.

          Four more figures were advancing out of the smoke to join Miss Dominator’s abductors while the clowns were lost in their buffoonery.

          Slim and Easy, slipping out the Giga-Plex fire door in Tenison’s office rather than trying to haul off its expensive, but heavy, electronics, had settled on a strategy of robbing the robbers, looting the looters… a task made easy once Slim displayed his gun and Easy held up the box of grenades.  They went for the small, but valuable prizes… the pockets of the civil rights leader’s overcoat were stuffed with cash, Rolexes and jewelry, a few big bottles of pills looted from the looters of a pharmacy down by the automobile showroom and a box of chocolates from Henri’s, with which Slim planned to romance a lady of his acquaintance.  Easy’s pockets were still empty, but he trusted his partner, and watching the eyes of the vikz go wide when he held up his box of grenades was worth a million dollars, just about…

          Slim’s fingers tightened around the Giga-Grrr’s abundant, blonde hair and he jerked sharply, Effie Lou rising with a painful gasp.

          The clowns looked up.  The four strangers kept advancing.

          Easy removed a grenade from the box and bounced it in his palm, anticipating.  He hadn’t had the chance to use one, yet, but he’d seen how they worked from television and the movies… there was this little pin you pulled, then you had… what, five seconds? ten?… to toss the thing and duck.

          Suddenly, Slim was surrounded by clowns, but he held Effie Lou with one hand and his new gun with the other, so it wasn’t exactly as if there was any sort of danger.   In fact, as the joey made up like a Joker drew back the rubber chicken he was wielding, Slim pushed Effie Lou aside, aimed his gun at the sky and invited the fool in.  “C’mon, you think you gonna clock me with that?” he sneered.  “Go ‘head… then I can put a cap in them great big teeth of yours…”

          “Ker-rang!” was the sound that the iron-skeletoned rubber chicken made, bouncing off the jackoff artist’s skull and, as Slim executed a pratfall worthy of Barnum and Bailey, the suddenly uneasy Easy looked from clowns to strangers, jiggling the box in what he hoped was a menacing gesture.

          “I got grenades!” he warned.

          The strangers were nearer, so he pulled the pin and hurled one egglike weapon at them first, then setting the box down, fumbling to open it to pull out more of the Chinese missiles.   His aim was perfect… too perfect… because Trent Lockett caught the pineapple on the fly and chucked it back at Easy who had only time to watch as it bounced into the box before detonating.

          The explosions came in a series of thumps and whistles… long, silver trails of fire that shot upwards though the smoke from the burning Mall, then bursting apart in rainbow waves of light and sound visible from the loading dock.  Fortunately, for Slim and Easy, the grenades were fireworks… theatrical props left over from Chinese New Years’ Day last week… unfortunately, they still packed enough wallop to crisp Easy’s hair and eyebrows and drive him, half-blinded and stumbling, out into the parking lot.

          As the Joker-clown grunted and pulled a steel rod from the innards of his rubber chicken, Ellsworth Godwin retrieved his father’s overcoat, somehow heavier by far than it was when it had been taken from him.

          Leaving Slim to whatever dreams were to wander his way, the clowns had stopped their fighting and looked to Effie Lou for orders – all save the impertinent Sad Sack, who began playing an imaginary violin.  She stomped her foot and pointed…

          “To the cornfield with you!”

          Blacknose removed a harmonica shaped like an ear of corn out of one of his many pockets, and swung into a tolerable version of  “Turkey in the Straw” as the newcomers approached… Craig Synch and a limping Vicki trailing Lockett and the Reverend Godwin, brushing dust and snow off of the lapels of his father’s overcoat.

          The seventh of Effie Lou’s dwarves… the only clown who really was a dwarf, costumed in the raiment of a medieval master of ceremonies… leered: “Pray, what would you have us do with these strangers, Princess…”

          “I’m not Princess anymore, I’m your Queen.  I’m the Queen of… Queen of all the malls,” she determined, “and my fish is your command.”  Miss Dominator waved an imaginary wand – first at her seven subjects, then the strangers.  “And who are you?”

          “Miss Dominator?” Craig ventured – accustomed, by now, to dealings and conversations with crazy.  “We’re from Giga-Plex…”

          And this made the Queen begin to cry.  “Giga-Plex is fallen,” she sniffled, then bawled outright, “and the King is dead!  The Dominator smooshed him!”

          “Long live the Queen!” the unctuous Shriner-Clown attempted to curry some royal favor.

          Effie Lou wiped her eyes, faced her subjects… and, beyond them, the burning mall… and said: “By my imperial command, be the King deemed dead and Giga-Plex his funeral pyre…”

          She waved her wand at the sky and everyone turned to watch flames erupting through the roof of the One World Mall.  They enveloped its sign, with its globe and friendly, clasped hands and the few tiny figures waving desperately from the roof; the flames shot showers of sparks like comets through the night while delirious applause arose from the mob still ringing the doomed shopping center and the helicopter, above, circled impotently…

          “The Lord have mercy on our souls…” exclaimed Reverend Godwin, his heart almost as heavy as his pockets…

          “All those poor people…” Vicki shook her head…




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