II. The Farmhouse.
"Who's this?" a girl asked, somewhere.
"Beats me," a man answered.
"Where did he come from?"
"Weldon must have picked him up last night."
"Where? You're his friend, you must know what's going on."
"I don't know anything. I'm just along for the ride, like you."
The ghostly outline of a ceiling slowly came into view. It was white plaster, flaked, peeling, spiderwebbed with cracks. Blake stared up at it, laying on a sleeping bag. He still felt incapable of movement or speech, powerless, though he did not feel in any pain.
"What's wrong with him?" the girl asked. "He looks like he's in a coma."
"Don't you care? Don't you think this is just a bit strange?"
"What isn't? Go with the flow."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Where's Weldon? He should be here now. What if this guy wakes up and goes nuts?"
"Then we calm him down. Weldon should be back soon. I bet he went to get us something to eat."
"Don't you know?"
"Like I said, I don't know anything."
Blake assumed that Weldon was the big man who had abducted him from the hospital last night, as part of some unorthodox therapy or perhaps for some other reason. He wondered who these two were.
"Hey Freek," the girl said.
"What were things like here back in the old days?"
"I don't know."
"Isn't this where you and Weldon used to live in a commune?"
"You know what they say about the Sixties; if you can remember them, then you weren't really there."
"So you're too fried to remember anything?"
"No, I remember a few things. We were young. We had long hair, beards. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, not necessarily in that order, or in any order, for that matter."
"Sounds like you guys had a lot of fun."
"We did, for awhile."
"What do you mean, what happened? That covers a lot of territory."
"What happened to the commune? Why didn't things work out?"
"We found out it wasn't that fun getting back to the land and leading a simple peasant lifestyle, growing your own food, that sort of thing. We found out it was a drag, as we used to say. Most of us just wanted to get high and have fun. Self-sufficiency is a myth."
"Is this why you and Weldon came back here, to try and do things right this time?"
"Not me. I can't speak for Weldon. I'm not really sure what he has on his mind."
"Haven't you asked him?"
"Nah, I figure he'll tell me when the time comes."
"Don't you care?"
"Not really. It's pretty amazing, actually. I was in this soup kitchen, just sat down to eat, when who sits opposite me but Weldon, with his own tray. How's it going? he asks. Fine, fine. How would you like to take a trip? Where? Back to our old stomping grounds, where we used to live in a commune. Why? For old time's sake. I don't have any money. Don't worry about that, I've got plenty enough for the both of us. So I finished my meal and left with him. On the way here we picked you up, hitchhiking. Weldon always did like feminine company."
"Do you think he meant it about going to California?"
"I don't know. First I heard about it was when you told him that's where you wanted to go. He seemed to think that it was a good idea."
"How long do you think we're going to stay here?"
"I have no idea."
"Think Weldon will give me some money, if he's loaded?"
"Probably. Just ask him."
"For how much?"
"I don't know; start at a thousand. Tell him you'll pay him back when you get on your feet."
"I will, you know. I'm going to make it, I'm going to be a star."
"Movies or music?"
"Why not both?"
"Why not, indeed. Never set your sights too low. I do like your stage name; Mink. Think of it yourself?"
"Yeah. Pink was taken. That's too obvious, anyway."
"I agree. Mink is much better."
"Now you're making fun of me."
"Not at all. I remember one time I wanted to be Neal Young, but the job was taken."
Blake was no longer sure he was undergoing some form of unconventional therapy, not that he had been that sure to begin with. Perhaps there was another explanation. Could he be hallucinating these two individuals? Perhaps unbeknownst to him certain drugs had been pumped into his system in order to rouse him from his stupor, and this was one of the side effects. It seemed an interesting possibility, one he could not dismiss out of hand, as valid an explanation for his circumstances as the unconventional therapy theory, if not more so. Perhaps both theories had some element of truth in them, but in that case, where did one leave off and the other begin?
A vehicle pulled up outside, a motor shut off and someone came in the room. "Anything happen while I was gone?" a voice boomed. Blake assumed that this was Weldon, the giant who had taken him from the hospital.
"Did you expect something to?" Mink asked.
"Not really. I was just hoping."
There were sounds of paper bags being handed out and opened. "Who is he?" Mink asked.
"My son. He was in a nursing home not far from here. I thought he needed a change."
"What's wrong with him?"
"No one knows, it's a mystery. One day they just found him like this in his room at college, completely unresponsive. The doctors have tried everything, but they can't wake him up. They don't know what's causing his condition. How's your Mcsandwich?"
"It's all right."
"I'll get donuts next time."
Blake wondered if he was Weldon's son. He never would have thought of that, which made him feel like it might be possible. For some reason he wanted to believe that it was true; why, because he needed a father that badly? Or was it because he did feel some deep connection to Weldon, though he could not remember anything specific.
"What time did you pick him up last night?" asked Freek. It must have been pretty late."
"It was, after midnight. I didn't want any doctors around to try and change my mind. I was sure I was doing the right thing."
"Time will tell. I'm sorry if that sounds cavalier, but I'm at my wit's end. I would have told you what I was going to do when I left last night, but I thought I could better answer all your questions this morning."
"Yeah, that too. Can't get anything by you, Freek."
"Oh, yes you can."
"How long are we going to stay here?" asked Mink. "In case you hadn't noticed, this place is a dump."
"It has fallen on hard times," agreed Weldon. "I thought we'd stay here a week or two."
"A week or two!" cried Mink. "No way, I'm not staying here that long. I've got to get going."
"Why, are you afraid that Hollywood is going to fall into the sea? It'll still be there in a week or two."
"I don't care, I've got to get going."
"The impatience of youth," sighed Weldon. "All right, what if I paid you to stay here?"
"A couple hundred a day."
"For what, just hanging around?"
"No, you could look after my son, too."
"I'm no nurse, I wouldn't know what to do."
"Just talk to him, be with him. Take him for rides in his wheelchair. You can do that, can't you?"
"Yeah. For two hundred a day?"
"Two hundred a day."
"He is kinda cute. How are you going to pay me?"
"When? At the end of every day?"
"I could, if you promise not to split after you get a few hundred. I tell you what; if you're still here when I'm ready to move on, I'll double whatever I gave you."
"We're still going to California, in a week or two?"
"All right, it's a deal. What's his name?"
"Mystic English poet," said Freek. "Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night. Inspiration to Ginsberg, hero to the counterculture. Is that who you named him after?"
"How did you know?" asked Weldon.
"Lucky guess. At least you didn't name him Groucho."
There was that name again, Blake. Maybe it was his real name, then, except how could his ersatz family have known it earlier? Coincidence? Unless that had been his real family, which just didn't seem possible, he refused to believe it. There had to be some other explanation, even though he couldn't think of one at the moment. He closed his eyes, overwhelmed by confusion. He didn't want to think any more, but it was as if that was the one thing he couldn't stop doing because there was nothing else he could do. He kept his eyes closed even when he felt himself being picked up, put back in the wheelchair and moved, determined to ignore whatever was happening until he could make sense of things, but when he stopped moving he could not resist the temptation to open his eyes once more.
He was outside in a yard under a big tree with a tire swing. It was warm and sunny and a gentle breeze was blowing. Weldon stood before him in profile, basking in the sunlight, massive, with a red beard, hands on his hips and wearing khaki shorts and an orange, tie-dyed t-shirt. "Doesn't being back here on a day like this bring back memories, Freek?"
"Not really," said a small, pudgy man in a light blue windbreaker, brown pants, and a Red Sox baseball cap, sitting down on the ground under the tree. "I am beginning to believe that those days never really happened, it was all an illusion. Perhaps there is no such thing as the past."
"Nonsense. For some time now, those days have seemed more and more real to me. A day like this, it all comes flooding back. We were alive then, we knew we could change the world, we believed in things!"
"Where did it get us?"
"Nowhere, but we should have kept trying. We gave up too easily, we should have stuck to our ideals."
"Like getting high?"
"That was a mistake. We should have just gotten high on life."
"Oh, Jesus. That isn't the Weldon I used to know."
"I've changed. I've learned from my mistakes, or I'm trying to, anyway."
"Yeah. Me too."
Weldon looked up into the tree and pointed. "Look, some of the boards from the treehouse are still there."
"The hippie ideal," Freek commented. "That was all we wanted, for everyone to live in a treehouse. It's a wonder that idea didn't go over."
"Remember who's treehouse it was?"
"Free Love's. She was quite a gal."
"She wanted to use promiscuity as a weapon to undermine and overthrow the Establishment. I agreed with that part of her program, but I drew the line when it came to blowing up banks and post offices, or chickened out, as she put it. I did like her idea about kidnapping Nixon, though."
"She wanted to bring him back here and turn him into a hippie with sex and drugs. I would have gone along with that plan, except it never got beyond the talking stage."
"Too bad. I bet you would have liked prison."
A tall, slender girl with long, straight brown hair, wearing jeans and a baggy grey sweatshirt, sat on the tire swing. "Who's Nixon?" asked Mink. "One of your old hippie buddies?"
"Nixon?" Weldon repeated incredulously. "The disgraced ex-president of the United States who brought us Watergate and tried to turn this whole country into a criminal enterprise?"
"Oh, him. Before my time. Ancient history."
"That doesn't seem real to me any more either," said Freek. "Life is too strange. There's nothing to hold on to."
"My point exactly," said Weldon, waving a finger in the air. "That's why I came back here. Aren't you glad?"
"Why did you guys make up funny names for yourselves?" asked Mink. "Like Freek and Free Love. What was the point?"
"It was a declaration of our individuality," answered Weldon. "Rebellion against conformity, though most of us wound up picking names like Star, Free, and Sky. Oh well; you should talk, you've got a funny name."
"That's just my stage name. It's for theatrical purposes."
"So were ours, except our stage was the world and it was guerilla theater we were practicing. We wanted our every act to be a protest against the system, the status quo. Long live the Revolution!"
"What was your hippie name?"
"I didn't have one. They weren't mandatory; only if the spirit moved you. I was always just Weldon."
"Didn't they used to call you the Big Bopper, sometimes?" said Freek, laying back in the grass.
"Yeah, but it didn't stick. You can't force these things."
"Maybe you should pick a name for yourself now. How about Wavy Gravy? I bet that's no longer being used."
"Nah, the original Wavy is still going. Maybe in a hundred years or so someone else can use it. That was one of the better names; there were some good ones, like Janet Planet. Memories of a bygone era."
Mink got off the tire swing and came over to Blake, bending down so she was looking into his eyes. "Do you think he can hear us?"
"Every word," said Weldon.
"How do you know?"
"I just have a feeling."
"But he can't do or say anything?"
"Either can't, or won't."
"How long has he been like this?"
"Not for very long. The problem is, the longer he stays in this state, the less chance there is that he will come out of it. Something's got to be done."
"Mind if I take him for a ride in his wheelchair? Just down the road aways, into town."
"Sure, couldn't hurt. Be my guest."
Mink smiled. Her eyes were sky blue, set in a smooth, symmetrical face, framed by long, light brown hair that was straight and clean. Blake had the feeling that he had seen this face somewhere before---on the cover of a magazine?---but before he could figure it out, Mink was pushing him down a dirt road, woods on both sides, telling him her life story.
"My aunt brought me up," she was saying. "My mother left after I was born, just dumped me with her sis and lit out. I guess she couldn't take the responsibility. She's living in California, which is another reason I want to get out there. Also, I guess it's why I want to become a star, so she'll be proud of me and love me like she should have all along. Funny how it is; if you want your kids to always need you, just abandon them when they're young. My dad's a ne'er-do-well; sometimes he shows up around here, but mainly he lives in Canada. He's a trucker."
The dirt road had become paved, and now on one side they were passing by a lake, and some cabins. "It's really weird that Weldon brought me back here, almost as weird as you, no offense. I thought I had lucked out when he and Freek picked me up and he seemed interested in going to California, but first we've got to make a side trip to this place where he and Freek used to live in a commune, which also happens to be in my hometown. I bet no one's even missed me yet."
Mink pushed him into a dirt driveway, past a flatbed truck. "Home sweet home; wonder if anyone's up."
They went to the back of a one story, clapboard house that overlooked the lake. A woman in a blue bathrobe and fuzzy pink slippers was sitting on the back steps smoking a cigarette and having a coffee. "Well, little missy, where have you been? Where were you last night?"
"I figured. I sent Gus out to look for you in the usual places. Who's this?"
"Blake. His father asked me to look after him."
"What's wrong with him?"
"He's allergic and he went into shock, and he never came out of it. That's my theory, anyway."
"His father doesn't know why he's like this. It's a big mystery."
"Maybe he was in an accident. Probably something stupid, you young people are so careless sometimes, you think you're invulnerable and immortal. His father one of those friends you stayed with last night?"
"Yeah, him and this other guy. They're camping out at the old abandoned farmhouse up the road. I guess it used to be where they had a commune way back when. They're old hippies."
"How did you meet them?"
The woman shook her head. "You're as wild as your mother. Are you hungry? I can make you something."
"Nah, I just ate."
"What about Blake?"
"I don't know if he eats."
"He's got to, or he'll die. He'll eat when he gets hungry enough. Doesn't look like he's starving. Want a cigarette?"
"I forgot. You're going to be a singer, or a movie star, or both. It must be nice to have dreams."
"You've got to believe in something, Tina. Otherwise, how do you keep going?"
"Force of habit. Also, it gets mighty boring sitting around doing nothing all day long."
"Shhh. Are you sure you don't want a cigarette?"
"A movie star; I used to have dreams like that too. Think you'll be happy?"
"When I'm rich and famous? How could I not be? What else is there?"
"Don't ask me."
Mink and her aunt laughed, then they started wavering, fading out, and he was back under the tree with Weldon and Freek, as if he had never left them. Psychedelic sounding music was playing, coming from the van.
"Blake isn't really your son, is he?" asked Freek, twirling a dandelion under his nose.
"No, he isn't."
"I knew it; I don't know why I bothered to ask. Ignorance is bliss."
There was silence for a few seconds. "Aren't you going to ask me who he is?" asked Weldon.
"Nope. That's your business."
"Don't you care?"
"Jeez, Freek, I feel like I should poke you with a stick to see if you're still alive."
"All right, you want to play games, I'll play games. Who is he?"
"Well, if you don't really care---"
"Who is he!?"
"A college student. I found him at a hospital."
"What do you mean, you found him?"
"I liberated him, then."
"Jesus Christ; I knew this wasn't going to be easy. What the hell are you talking about?"
"I read this newspaper article yesterday about a college student found in a trance at his school. He was taken to a hospital not far from here, so I went and picked him up."
"You mean you kidnaped him?"
"It's not like I took him against his will."
"He's in a trance, for Christ's sake, he doesn't have a will."
"All right, I kidnaped him. But I had a reason."
"Does this have anything to do with bringing me out here?"
"As a matter of fact, it does."
Freek sighed. "This ought to be good. Okay, tell me about it."
"Do you remember the first time we came here, we wanted to create our own little utopia, start our own religion, in effect?"
"I still feel the same way, except now I need something to believe in more than ever. That's why I want you, and Blake, and Mink too for that matter, to help me start some kind of new religion, one that doesn't believe in God or anything supernatural, because that always seems to lead to a lot of conflict. There must be something else we can think of, some practical alternative everyone can agree on that will lead us to the promised land, a world free of violence, pain, and suffering."
"Uh-huh," said Freek, nodding his head. "So that's what you were doing in that soup kitchen; you were trolling for someone that you could bring up here and brainwash with your ideas, someone down and out who might be more susceptible, or would at least listen to you. When you saw me, you must have thought you had lucked out. I was perfect for your plans, Mink too, some poor little runaway who wouldn't mind listening to you if you fed and sheltered her, gave her a ride to wherever she wanted to go. You know, that kind of makes you a sneaky, manipulative, devious son of a bitch."
"Can't pull the wool over your eyes, Freek."
"Umm. But what about this kid, Blake? What made you think it was a good idea to kidnap him?"
"I had a hunch, a feeling, an intuition. I'm sure he's like this because there's nothing to believe in. What is there if you don't believe in God or some reality beyond this one? Money? Sex? What are we living for, then, just to work all our lives and have kids? There's got to be something more."
"So you thought you could help him?" Freek asked.
"I thought he could help me. I thought he might understand what I wanted to do and feel the same way because of his condition."
"You think he's going to wake up any time soon?"
"Another hunch. I like playing long shots."
"I don't know, Weldon. I knew you were nuts, but I thought you had grown up a little. Obviously, I was wrong. Just what kind of religion did you have in mind, anyway?"
"I don't know. I was hoping we could think of something, working together."
"Bullshit. If I know you, you've been planning this for a long time. Let's see; a religion that doesn't believe in God or anything supernatural, that doesn't believe in a world beyond this one." Freek chuckled nastily. "What else did you have in mind?"
"Not that much, really. Just a religion that believes in a world where everyone is friendly. Anything that conflicts with that is wrong."
"The same old hippie pipe dream," sighed Freek. "That was why we wanted everyone to take drugs and get high, remember? It's the only way you can have that kind of world."
"Maybe you could make that kind of world without getting everyone high, if you could make a religion out of the idea."
"How are you going to do that?"
"You would have to get people to believe in two things; one, that it is wrong to kill under any circumstances, even in self-defense, because it's too hard to know where to draw the line. I'm just as bloodthirsty as anyone, but it seems to me that you can use just about anything as a justification to kill, so somehow we've got to learn that it is never permissible for any reason, even to save lives or as punishment for some heinous crime. Does that leave us defenseless against evil? At times do we have to become murderous to resist it? I don't know. It just seems to me that some day, we're going to have to believe that it's wrong to kill, really wrong, not just sort of wrong, depending on the situation. Until then, nothing is going to change."
"The other thing I think you would have to get people to believe is that all forms of money should be abolished, because it just seems to screw up too many things, not the love of money, but money itself. It simply has too much influence over our lives, trying to make it, hold on to it, decide how to spend it. It's ridiculous, we worry about it constantly. We need a new economic system, one that doesn't require any form of currency in order to function. What if everybody agreed to work for nothing, to keep doing their same jobs or find some other kind of work, in return for all the goodies we have now? How's that for an idea?"
"It's a beaut," said Freek. "Not to throw cold water on your proposal, but what about all the people who don't want to work for a living, or couldn't because of some infirmity? Would they get a free ride?"
"I'm sure some kind of system could be set up. The elderly or physically handicapped wouldn't have to work, unless they wanted to. The young wouldn't have to work if they were in school, and their eligibility for certain consumer items like computer games could be tied to their school performance, as well as by avoiding teenage pregnancies or not using drugs, compliance with which could be ensured by random testing to which they would have to submit if they wanted their computer games and other goodies, minors recognized as having less rights than adults. If you were an able-bodied adult who didn't want to work, I suppose you could starve, steal, taking your chances with the law, depend on the charity of others, or be given the barest minimum eligibility possible for consumer necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter; or, perhaps it could be made a crime if you didn't have a job or some form of occupation and were physically and mentally fit, and you could be put in some kind of camp and taken off the streets indefinitely, like someone with a mental illness, or for your own safety and protection, until you learned the error of your ways, adopted a trade and became a contributing member of society. How does all that sound? Of course there would have to be some mammoth bureaucracy to oversee things to make sure no one was cheating too much, everyone would have to have an I.D. card like a driver's license to show that they were a member in good standing of the work force, and it wouldn't bother me if people in certain professions like medicine, teaching, coal mining, had preference for consumer items over other types of workers like entertainers, athletes, but that's something that could be worked out. I think all the bugs could be worked out eventually, if we wanted to do things that way. What do you think?"
Freek laughed. "Given this some thought, haven't we?"
"A little bit."
"Everything should be free, another warmed-over hippie fantasy, though you have gone into more detail. All property should be owned by the community, or state, everything held in common?"
"Nah, that's communism, it doesn't work. I see no reason to eliminate private ownership, subject to all the rules and regulations there are now. You could still have your own business, as long as it wasn't a sham, agencies could be set up if you wanted to start something from scratch, if you weren't lucky enough to inherit or be given some enterprise; like I said, everything could be worked out if we decided we wanted to free ourselves from the tyranny of money, and develop an economic system whose wheels didn't need to be greased by any form of currency. It could be done, and it wouldn't have to be some crude barter system, either."
"You don't want us to help you, you just want us to be your followers, your disciples, spreading the gospel of Weldon," Freek cackled. "What a ma-roon, as Bugs Bunny would say."
"I really do want your help. I'd be interested in hearing any ideas you have to contribute."
"To starting a religion that doesn't believe in God, or anything supernatural or mystical? I admit that it would be nice to have something more down to earth than God to believe in, and under that restriction I can't really think of anything either besides a planet where someday we're all friendly and living together in peace, no matter how far off that might be, but Jesus, Weldon. The problem is at heart we're basically just savages, animals, and always will be, ready to use violence to solve all our problems, no matter what the consequences might be. It's an instinct that we're never going to be able to completely overcome. That's why we need something more to believe in than this world, no matter how perfect or utopian you make it."
"Interesting point; will you at least think about my idea?"
"I'll give it all the consideration it deserves."
Blake closed his eyes, weary from Weldon and Freek's talk. When he opened them again, he was still under the tree, but he was alone, Weldon and Freek were gone. Was this all some kind of charade, merely a performance for his benefit? Who were these people, though he did have to admit that he found something oddly familiar about them. Had he known them somewhere before, in a time when he was more active? He could not remember. He found it difficult to concentrate. ---what is there to believe in? a voice in his head asked. ---what is there? He didn't know; why would he ask himself such a question? To be honest, the only thing he could think of was money. With money, you could buy a lot of freedom. Everything seemed to run or depend on it in some way, everyone wanted it, couldn't get enough of it, and would do just about anything for it. What was more powerful than money? Of course, even with money you could still be unhappy, lonely, miserable, get sick and die, lose something or someone precious to you, or the money itself could become worthless by some strange, perverse, inexplicable alchemy, depending on what currency you were holding, and maybe there were a host of other drawbacks but all in all in this world the one thing that Blake could think of to believe in, the one thing that most easily came to mind, was money, which, considering the condition he was in, he supposed was quite ironic. What else was there then, God? Heaven or hell, eternal damnation or eternal paradise? What difference did they make when you were alive, which perhaps was the point, but as a late Twentieth century, early Twenty-first century man, Blake didn't especially care about his immortal soul. He supposed that meant he didn't believe he had one, a ghost in the machine, though he wasn't completely sure. If anything was possible, which seemed more true in this age than any other, why close the door? It just didn't seem to make that much difference, though; when you were dead, you were dead, unless there was life after death, but since it probably wasn't going to be anything like the one you had known, who cared? Unless you believed in reincarnation, which just seemed to be an endless process of recycling until you got things right, and then if you so desired you could go to your reward of eternal oblivion, which didn't seem like that great a deal either. What was there to believe in, then? Blake wished that Weldon hadn't put this question into his head with all his talk. He supposed that there were a lot of other things to believe in, like politics, all the various ideologies, pleasure, having a good time, helping others, my religion is to do good\Thomas Paine---where had he heard or learned that?---but nothing he could think of really appealed or made that much sense to him. Did that mean that Weldon was right, then, about the reason for his condition? That somehow he had fallen into this lifeless state because he was subject to a meaningless world in which there was nothing to believe in? He had a feeling that there was another explanation, something more concrete, but he could not think of what it was. It was beyond him and once more he let his eyes close, tired, defeated, confused beyond endurance.
"Hey! Are you there?"
It was Mink. They were in a rowboat in the middle of a lake, Mink pulling at a pair of oars. The water was calm and a couple puffy white clouds were overhead in an otherwise blue sky.
"You're the shyest boy I've ever met. Most guys I know would be all over me by now, which I find refreshing, but you can carry things too far, you know."
Mink rowed in a leisurely, unhurried fashion, heading in the direction of a small, deserted beach with an empty lifeguard tower until she veered away to follow the shoreline. She was wearing a pink halter top with white short shorts now, her slender brown arms glistening with sweat.
"If I fell in, would you rescue me? It could happen, you know. I could lose my balance, fall in, and you would have to rescue me, because I'm not a good swimmer. In fact, I can't swim at all."
Mink stopped rowing and stood up on her seat, shielding her eyes as if she was looking for something in the distance. "Nope, I don't see anyone else around who could rescue me. It's you or nothing."
Mink began rocking the boat, causing it to sway from side to side. "Oh no, Blake, I feel dizzy all of a sudden, I don't know why. Oh no, help!"
Mink went over the side and there was a big splash, followed by a lot of thrashing. "Help me, Blake, I can't swim! Help me, help me!"
There was more thrashing, with water being splashed in his face, then it stopped. He wondered if Mink had swam off and left him, or maybe she was drowning, it wasn't an act and he had to do something, except he still felt incapable of taking any action.
Time passed. He was wondering what was going to happen next when Mink came up on the other side of the boat and splashed him again. "You would have let me drown, wouldn't you? Lucky for you, I swim like a fish. I know I lied about that, but it was a white lie, and you couldn't have known for sure; maybe I really was in some kind of trouble. You should have rescued me, or at least tried to. I can see you're going to need some more work."
Mink pulled herself back into the boat and sat beside him. She tapped the side of his head. "Anybody home? You in there? Earth to Blake, respond please. Wake up, snap out of it."
He realized that he didn't especially want to, not yet, anyway. He wanted to stay just like he was, though he didn't know why. Was he afraid of something? He sensed that he was afraid of many things, so many that it seemed his safest course of action was to do absolutely nothing, freeze like a small, desperate, hunted animal, until the danger had passed, though what that danger was he had no idea. He just didn't want to make any more mistakes, no more mistakes, no more wrong moves, though what previous mistakes he had made, perhaps leading to his current predicament, he couldn't imagine. If only he could remember something about himself, that would make a big difference, but everything was still a blank, even his name though he was getting used to Blake. Was he going to have to make up a whole new identity for himself, starting from scratch? If only someone would tell him something, something definite that would ring a bell, but so far everyone seemed determined to keep him in the dark, as if they didn't know any more than he did or weren't telling.
"I suppose we oughta go back," Mink said, picking up the oars and starting to row again. "Your old man's probably getting worried about you. Though if he was that concerned for your welfare, I'm not sure why he brought you out here in the first place. If you don't mind me saying, I think your old man's a little nuts."
He watched Mink as she rowed, seeming to make little effort but propelling them along steadily. She smiled and for a moment everything was perfect, he wanted to hold on to this moment and make it last forever because it was so peaceful and right, then everything started fading and he wasn't in the rowboat anymore, he was sitting on the floor of a school bus, albeit one whose interior had been drastically transformed, the passenger seats removed creating a space that was carpeted with rugs, filled with odds and ends of furniture such as a legless couch, chair cushions, a couple mattresses on which several people wrapped in blankets were snoring away, the inner walls of the bus painted with flowers and gamboling, deer-like creatures in a style reminiscent of a prehistoric cave painting. Sitting cross-legged on the floor opposite him was Weldon, a much younger, trimmer Weldon, though still big, wearing sandals, jeans, no shirt, sporting a bushy red halo of hair as well as a full beard, a deranged gleam in his eye.
"Are you on the bus?" asked Weldon.
Blake didn't know what to say, which was troubling because he felt like he could actually respond this time. He tried to choose his words carefully. "This bus?"
"No fair answering a question with a question. No, I mean something more metaphorical, though not necessarily the Sixties metaphor of sex, drugs, especially the drugs, and rock and roll, though that's still not a bad trip to be on, at least to my mind. No, I mean, have you found your own bus yet? What turns you on, to coin a phrase?"
"Turns me on?"
"Excites you, to put it another way. Gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning, keep on going on."
"I don't know. I can't think of anything."
"You're not trying. What about---golf?"
"A lot of people take it very seriously these days. Don't ask me why. Perhaps there's just something fundamentally profound about hitting a little white ball with a stick, some hidden meaning. It certainly seems to be a religion with some people; but if golf doesn't turn you on, what does? Perhaps another sport, or form of competition. Football? Baseball? Chess? Amazing how obsessed we are with those kinds of activities, isn't it, like they are you-know-what. Perhaps they're a substitute for something---you think?"
Blake still didn't know what to say, which, considering that he seemed to have recovered his power of speech for the moment, was very frustrating. "I don't know," was the best he could come up with.
"You're still not trying. How about money? You believe in that, don't you?"
"Of course, who doesn't. That's something we all respect and take seriously, we'd have to be fools not to, or just plain crazy. And you know, not to be cynical, maybe that's all we need to be truly happy, enough moola to buy anything we want or need, to keep us comfortable until we shuffle off this mortal coil. Maybe life really is that simple; sure, bad things can still happen to you, tragedies, disappointments, but don't sweat the small stuff, right? And if it's all small stuff, as some sage once said, then screw it, don't worry, be happy, which may be just false bravado, whistling past the graveyard, but I'm not so sure. Maybe having money, or being rich, is the answer to everything; wouldn't that be something! Maybe we don't need any special reason to be alive, any special purpose, it's enough to live from day to day keeping your belly full and taking care of your family. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Sure, it would be nice if there was something more you could believe in without being a religious fanatic or an ideologue, but what is there? That's sort of like searching for the Holy Grail, it doesn't exist. There is no one philosophy or idea that everyone could settle down and accept, besides money; maybe some day the idea that there is nothing more important will lead us all to the true promised land, an enlightened world united in its greed and an insatiable desire to become wealthier and wealthier."
Weldon grinned devilishly, making Blake think of something. "You're not the real Weldon, are you? You're like a fake Weldon, trying to confuse me."
"Nice try. Next question."
The bus lurched around a corner, going recklessly fast. "Who's driving?" Blake asked.
"Thefastestmanalive, Kerouac's Holy Goof. A special guest appearance."
"Time, Time, Time, we all know Time!" burbled the driver, a muscular man in a white t-shirt bobbing and weaving in his seat as if unable to sit still, thumping the wheel and dashboard in tune to his own private music. "Time, Time, Time, we all know Time!"
"I don't understand," said Blake.
"What's to understand," said young Weldon. "Life is but a dream, here today, gone tomorrow. Everything we do is but a vain attempt to hold onto it, as if we're never going to die. Let's hear it for vanity, yee-hah!"
The bus was definitely going too fast, vibrating as if it might fall apart, and then it did, disintegrating and hurling Blake into a void. He wondered if this was the end, but instead after a moment everything cleared and he was back in the wheelchair, being pushed down a dirt road. Off to one side was a gray, derelict, ramshackle house that looked ready to fall down. A white van was parked out front. Freek was sitting on the tire swing, facing the house.
Mink turned off the road, pushing the wheelchair over dirt and grass to the tree. Freek ignored them, apparently lost in thought. "Where's Weldon?" Mink asked.
"Around somewhere. He's looking for a sign."
"You mean---like an omen, or something?"
"No, a real sign. We made one when we first came out here, a wooden sign with the name Freedom Farm painted on it. It was pretty much our only accomplishment. Weldon thinks it might have gotten tossed out back, or thrown in the house. I don't know why he cares. How's our friend?"
"He's okay. No better, no worse." Mink stepped out in front of him, stretching her body like a cat. "Sometimes I get the feeling that he's not really here, like his spirit is somewhere else. Know what I mean?"
"Yeah. I think he's here, though."
"I don't know. I thought it would be easy to wake him up, now I'm not so sure. I might have to resort to extreme measures."
"Maybe you shouldn't."
"Why not? I'm not going to hurt him, I didn't mean those kinds of extreme measures."
"I know. I was just thinking that you shouldn't wake him up because he isn't really Weldon's son; he's just a college student that Weldon liberated from a hospital, to use his terminology."
"What are you talking about?"
"This isn't really Weldon's son."
"Are you kidding?"
"Nope. Cross my heart."
"Who the hell is he, then?"
"According to Weldon, he's a college student who fell into a trance at his school and was taken to a hospital. Weldon said he read about him in a newspaper, unless he's lying about that too. I suppose this poor kid could be just about anyone."
"I still don't know what the hell you're talking about. Are you sure you're not making this up?"
"Why did Weldon kidnap him, then? I don't get it. Was it something about starting the commune again?"
"Worse. Weldon wants us to help him start a new religion."
Mink collapsed on the ground before Blake, and folded her arms around her knees. "Man...are you sure you're not making this up?"
"What is Weldon thinking?"
"That we need something to believe in, something besides God, or money. Any ideas?"
"No," Mink replied crossly, as if that was a stupid question.
"Me neither. Weldon does, though, he's got ideas to burn. Mainly he wants everybody to believe in a world where there's no violence and everybody's friendly, which he believes can be brought about if everybody believes that it's wrong to kill for any reason, and if all forms of money are abolished. It's an old hippie fantasy, John Lennon wrote a song about it once, Imagine. Maybe you've heard it."
"No money? How is that going to work?"
"Everybody who was able would have to agree to work for nothing. Don't worry, Weldon's got it all figured out," Freek laughed.
"Man, you're as crazy as he is!"
"Not me, I don't want any part of this nonsense."
"Then why are you here?"
"Like I told you in the beginning, I'm just along for the ride."
"This means Weldon's lied about everything, hasn't he? There's no money, he's not going to pay me any money, or take me to California!"
"That I don't know. Don't ask me why, but I get the feeling that money is no problem for Weldon."
"Changes things, eh? I'm beginning to get the feeling that I may have underestimated you."
"Well, you know, money makes a difference. If he's rich, Weldon can be as crazy as he wants to be. I'll play along with him, to a point."
"What about Blake, if that's his real name?"
Mink sighed. "I don't know. Jesus, he should be in a hospital, shouldn't he? His real parents or family must be worried sick about him. But why did Weldon kidnap him, anyway? Because he's in a trance?"
"Exactly. Weldon thinks he's out of it because there's nothing to believe in, so he was hoping that Blake would wake up and be sympathetic to his cause."
"What are we going to do, then?"
"You're his old buddy, you know him better than I do. What are we going to do?"
Freek shrugged. "I don't know. I suppose we could wait and see what happens."
"Wait and see what happens? What kind of a plan is that?"
"It's not a plan, it's a suggestion. Maybe if Weldon sees that Blake isn't going to wake up, he'll take him back to the hospital. He could drop him off at the emergency room and run, I wouldn't be surprised if he hasn't already thought of that. If that isn't enough of a plan for you, I suppose we could go to the local police."
"Nah, that's no good."
"They're idiots." Mink sighed again. "All right, we wait and see what happens. But not for long."
"Excellent suggestion. Sometimes the wisest course of action is to do nothing at all."
"I found it!" said Weldon, coming out of the house holding a board in his hands. "It was in one of the back rooms, under a pile of debris. Think we should nail it up again?" Weldon stopped. "Something wrong?"
"You know what's wrong," accused Mink. "Why did you lie to us? Why did you kidnap this poor guy?"
"It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"What idea, to start your own religion?"
"Well, it wasn't going to be my own religion. I wanted you to help me."
"Freek told me all about it. We've decided that you're going to take Blake back to the hospital you stole him from, and drop him off at the emergency room."
"All right, I will. Tomorrow."
"Why not today?"
"Because it's late. But mainly because I still want to see what would happen if he wakes up."
"Most likely he'll want to go to the police," said Freek. "Haven't you thought of that?"
"I'll take my chances."
"What about us? Are you trying to get us in trouble too? We'll be like accessories to kidnaping or something now if we don't turn you in."
"Just tell the police you thought he was my son, like I told you originally."
"Got an answer for everything, don't you? You must have some kind of death wish."
"Not me, brudda, I want to live."
"But you are taking him back tomorrow, right?" Mink said firmly.
"Right; if he doesn't wake up, I'll just take him back and drop him off at the emergency room, with no explanations. I'll just wheel him right up in front of the desk and split."
"I still don't get it," said Mink. "What made you think that we would help you start some kind of religion anyway? I can see Freek, maybe, but me or Blake?"
"We need something to believe in," said Weldon. "Can't you feel that emptiness out there? The idea of God doesn't work anymore. We need something else, and the only thing I can think of is a religion that believes in a utopian world where there's no violence and money is obsolete. I was hoping that I could convince you to help me somehow, join me, but maybe we don't really need anything to believe in. Or maybe even if the world was perfect, a paradise, we'd still need something more to fulfill our spiritual needs, like the idea of a reality beyond this one. I don't know. Maybe we're just screwed." Weldon laughed.
"I don't know either," said Mink. "I'm not that religious. I just want to be rich and famous."
"God bless you," said Weldon. "May all your dreams come true. Money rules. That's what counts."
"Are we still going to California, after you drop Blake off?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Planning on doing some proselytizing out there?" Freek asked.
"Thought had crossed my mind. Be easier if I had some help."
"Nah, you'll have to make your converts in La-La land. I've never been to California, though, so if you don't mind, I'll tag along. I'd like to see those beaches before they fall into the sea."
"Sure. The more the merrier."
"Maybe you should all wear robes, white robes."
"You and your followers, once you get some."
Weldon chuckled. "I don't know, Freek. Are you sure you don't want to help me? Get in on the ground floor?"
"Nah, that's okay. I'll just keep giving you free advice, anything for a friend. Well, almost anything."
"You're too good to me, Freek. Too good. You can be my unofficial advisor and keep me from getting too crazy."
"I think it's a little late for that."
Blake was beginning to develop a new theory to account for what seemed to be going on around him. Some of it seemed real, or almost real, everything with Weldon, Freek, and Mink, while other parts didn't seem real at all. Or was it that everything that was happening was happening in some way, but it was just being exaggerated in his mind?
As if in some perverse answer to his question, he started hearing sirens; faintly at first, then louder, and Weldon and the others disappeared and it was no longer day, it was night, and he was in an urban environment. Sirens were blowing, buildings were burning, cars were overturned and people were running around carrying things. To his astonishment, Blake realized that he was standing on the roof of a police car and relieving himself. To his further astonishment, judging from the color of his hands and the equipment he was holding, he was a much darker shade than he had thought he was.
"Rodney, what the hell are you doing? Are you high? Get down from there and give me a hand."
He was being addressed by a tall, skinny black man with a goatee, cornrowed hair, wearing a basketball jersey, who was wrestling with a big screen tv hanging halfway out of a storefront window. He zipped himself up, jumped down and lent a hand. He and his new friend started making their way down the darkened street with their prize.
"If we can make it back to my apartment we should be all right," his new friend said. "Maybe we can come back and get some more stuff, the night's still young. Uh-oh."
Several police cars had pulled up at the end of the street, lights flashing. "Let's try down here," his companion said, and they took a sharp right down an alley.
The tv felt light, weightless, in fact. Blake tried holding his end with one hand to see what would happen.
"Rodney, what are you trying to do, kill me? Quit foolin' around, this ain't no time to be playing games."
"Yassir, boss," Blake heard himself say, then he let go of the tv set and started back down the alley the way he had come. He didn't know why, but he had to go back. When he came out on the street, a phalanx of helmeted police with nightsticks out were marching towards him. They stopped and surrounded him.
"I think I just saw this son of a bitch pissing on a police car," one of them said. "I think he needs to be taught a lesson."
"Definitely," another said, raising his baton and bringing it down, Blake instinctively blocking the blow with his arm and getting knocked to the ground.
"Son of a bitch must be high on something, that blow didn't affect him at all. He still wants to fight; who's got the pepper spray?"
"I don't want anything," Blake said, though in a voice he did not recognize as his own. "That's the secret, not to want anything. Of course, if you don't want anything, you might be happy, but you won't have much reason to do anything except sit and stay at home. So what's the real secret, to want things but only in moderation? How does that work? If you want something, then you've got to really want it, it can't be something you can take or leave, only half-want, otherwise you won't bother. But if you want things and don't want to share, that causes problems too, so maybe we have to learn to share everything, but everything, like even your wife and girlfriends? Who's that generous? I guess there's no solution to the problem. You'll just have to beat me."
"Kinda takes the fun out of it if he doesn't fight back," one of the police said.
"No, it doesn't," another said, and they all began closing in, batons raised and pepper spray at the ready.
"Hey, you bastards, catch this!" someone shouted from a rooftop and a big screen tv set came crashing down, scattering the cops. Blake took this as his cue to leave, and he got up and bolted down the alleyway. He ran and ran, down alleyways, across side streets, until he realized that he wasn't being chased. He stopped on a street that seemed calm, no fires, no looters, just rundown buildings, tenements, warehouses. Skid row, he supposed, if there were such things any more.
"Looking for something?"
It was a black woman, sitting on the curb. She was gaunt, painfully thin, expressionless, wearing a sleeveless top, dark pants, and sandals.
"No, I don't think so. What am I doing here?"
The woman chuckled. "If you don't know, I can't tell you."
Blake sat down beside the woman. He decided to ask another stupid question. "Are you all right?"
The woman didn't answer. She just kept staring ahead. "What's your name?" Blake tried.
"I don't have a name."
"Everyone has a name."
"Not me. Not any more."
Blake looked at the woman more closely. "Do I know you?"
"Have I seen you before?"
Blake remembered. It was some tv show, some documentary about the hunt for a serial killer who preyed on women like---this one. She was one of the victims.
"Life is hard, and death isn't much easier," the woman said. "Does that answer your question?"
"I don't know. Are you a disturbed spirit?"
The woman cracked a smile. "That's the best one I've heard yet. He wasn't a bad man."
"My killer. He was just a little man, physically and in every other sense of the word. Sometimes, they like to strike out. It makes them feel good. We all got to get high somehow."
"Rodney! What the hell are you doing sitting down on the job? We've got work to do, let's go."
It was the tall, skinny black man he'd met earlier. He looked at the woman. "I've got to go."
There was nothing else to say. He got up and followed the tall, skinny black man through dark streets and alleyways back into the war zone. "Slim pickings now," assessed his companion as they prowled past burning buildings, looted stores with their metal shutters pried off. "I shouldn't have rescued your dumbass earlier from those cops. What the hell did you go back for? What were you thinking? Were you going to take them all on? Shee-yit! If you weren't my favorite brother-in-law, I would have let them whomp your ass, but the wife would never forgive me. Hold up."
They stopped and peeked around a building corner. "Just as I thought," Blake's companion said. "Probably the only place around that ain't been touched. And it's pretty easy to see why."
Across the street on the rooftop of a store untouched by fire, its windows intact, stood two men armed with rifles. "Doesn't look good," his companion commented. "I guess we'd better look for some place easier. Too bad, it's the mother lode; I know they've got my tv over there, along with a whole bunch of other good stuff."
Blake stepped out from behind the building into the middle of the street. "Where you going?" hissed the other man. "Now what are you up to? Get back here, Rodney, get back!"
Blake kept walking until he was in front of the store. The two men on the roof watched him. A stocky white guy in a v-neck pullover came out, holding a pistol down by his side.
"We're closed. Come back tomorrow."
Blake looked around at the broken, burning buldings and cars. "What started it?"
"Hard to say. Sometimes we just don't get along, y'know?"
The man shrugged. "Everyone. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white, men and women, cowboys and indians, the list is endless. I don't think that will ever change. There's always something to divide us. Our differences have always been greater and much more numerous than our similarities."
"I think one of your people got shot," one of the men on the roof called down. "Some street corner preacher. A cop told him to move along, he wouldn't, there was a scuffle and somehow he got shot."
"No, no, no, it was a celebration that got out of hand," the other man on the roof said. "A high school basketball team won a championship, so the fans started a few fires, turned over a couple cars, and the next thing you know, the whole city is burning down; go figure."
"We could debate this all night," the man with the pistol said. "All I know is, if anybody tries to rob my store, I'm going to shoot the son of a bitch. I've got the right to defend my property. You'd do the same thing, wouldn't you? Let's say you grabbed something from my store, then some other looter came along and tried to take it from you. If you had a gun, you'd shoot the sob, wouldn't you? Because once you've stolen something, it becomes your property, finders keepers. It's that simple."
"Money," said Blake. "It all comes down to money."
"Damn straight. It's not everything, it's the only thing, as some wise man once said about something else. What else do we work all our lives for, or measure ourselves by, or continually worry about? What is life without money? Being poor is hell, and if you don't think so you haven't been there. If you look at things objectively, there's nothing more important than money. Maybe as important, but not more important."
Blake looked at the man's store. The lights were off, so he couldn't see inside. "So if I tried to steal something, you'd shoot me?"
"I'd have to."
"What do you mean, you'd have to?"
"Haven't you been listening? I love money, nothing is more important to me except maybe my family, and my country, but to support your family, and to pay your taxes which keeps the country running, you need money, don't you? So you tell me which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Money isn't the superficial thing you liberals like to pretend it is. In fact, if somebody gave me a choice between seeing my family again or a hundred million dollars, I'd have to think about it."
"I wouldn't," one of the men on the roof shouted down. "Give me the money. Hell, I'll take less."
"Of course, a choice like that would never happen, and I exaggerate about money being the only thing. But sometimes it sure is hard to see what else there is, isn't it? Maybe if you're really, really rich, money means nothing to you, but I'm not there yet. I still want it and aim to keep what I have, no pun intended."
"Does your family know you feel this way?" Blake asked.
"Of course they do; do you think they're any different than me? We love money and all the things it can buy, everyone loves money. Is there anything more beautiful? Money doesn't care who or what you are, it's transferable, transportable, tangible, I could extol the virtues of money indefinitely. It's almost perfect; maybe it is perfect, which is why it has been around so long in one form or another. Generally speaking, it's just a very nice thing to have. God; thank you for giving us money, thank you."
Blake waited a moment. "So there's nothing more important?"
"Nope, not even sex, which is amazing. Or love, if you look at things rationally. Can't take it with you, but somehow I doubt you're going to need money when you're dead." The man looked at Blake. "You know, I haven't had this stimulating a conversation in a long time. That's worth something to me. I tell you what; I'll let you in my store, and you can take anything you want. I'll give you fifteen minutes."
"No tricks. I won't shoot you in the back when you're leaving."
"Wasn't our conversation worth more than any amount of money?"
"Not if I can put a price on it, as I have."
"What about your own life? How much is that worth to you?"
The man laughed. "I don't know. Worth more than any damn electronic toy that you're trying to pick up tonight, I know that for sure."
Blake went inside the store, immediately heading to the rear where he hoped he might find a handcart. There was a light on and he did, then looking among the boxes in a storage area he found one containing a big screen tv and loaded it on. He wondered how much time he had left as he headed for the door, sweating both from fear and physical exertion.
"See you the next riot," the man with the pistol said cheerfully as he wheeled away. "If the cops stop you, just tell 'em Manny is giving away free tvs! Haw haw haw!"
Blake kept expecting to hear or feel gunshots, but nothing happened and he made it around the corner where the tall, skinny black man was waiting for him with open-eyed amazement.
"You crazy fool! What did you do, hypnotize them?"
"Freedom is more important than money," Blake said, "though, I suppose, one could argue without money, what good is freedom? Why do we even want our freedom, except to make money? Perhaps the real question is, what should we do with our lives? What should we devote ourselves to? God, money, knowledge? Each has their own rewards, and shortcomings."
Blake let go of the handcart and walked away. "Where are you going, Rodney? Now what are you up to? Hey man, maybe we can pull this stunt again!"
Blake didn't answer or look back. He walked past burning buildings and overturned cars, glass crunching under his feet as sirens wailed in the distance, punctuated by occasional sounds of gunfire. He wondered if he could find the woman he had spoken to earlier, but doubted it. He stopped and looked up at the stars, glinting like sharp teeth. He wondered what they thought of everything, then, one by one, they started going out. The city and noises around him faded away too, until there was only a single flickering glow in the darkness, as if from a candle, or perhaps a lantern. It was still night and he realized that he was back in the room in the farmhouse, in a sleeping bag, and someone was in the sleeping bag with him.
"Kiss me," whispered Mink, her arms around him. "You can do that, can't you?" She kissed him on the cheek without waiting.
"You need a name," Freek said.
"A name for what?" asked Weldon, somewhere else in the room.
"A name for your religion, assuming you're still determined to start one."
"I am. Any ideas?"
"The Church of Weldon? The Church of Universal Brotherhood?"
"The second one wasn't too bad. Got any more?"
"How about the Church of Peace, Love, and Tranquility?"
"Too long. Maybe this is a bad idea. Maybe I don't need a name."
"You've got to call yourself something, unless you don't want people to know who you are. Just what is it exactly that you believe in?"
There was silence for a few moments. "A world where there is no war, no violence," said Weldon. "A world where some day all the differences we have now are as nothing."
"Do you really believe that that will ever happen, that the world will be like that some day?"
"There you have it, then. That's your name."
"The Church of SomeDay. No need to thank me."
"Hey," said Mink, taking a break from nibbling on Blake's neck. "What about my money? I know this isn't your son, but are you still going to pay me for taking care of him?"
"Sure. A deal's a deal."
Blake heard Mink catch something thrown in the air. "Holy crap, what's this? These look like---hundreds."
"A pack of five thousand, I believe," said Weldon. "Give or take a hundred or two."
"What did you do, rob a bank?" asked Freek.
"As a matter of fact, I did. Inside job."
"Ho, ho, ho," responded Freek. "That's good, an inside job. What were you, a bank teller?"
"No, I was the bank president."
"Oh, Jesus Christ, Weldon! Are you serious, or are you just playing let's yank Freek's chain?"
"No, I'm serious. I embezzled about six million dollars."
"And it's all in that bag?"
"Yup, most of it. Want some?"
"Oh, shit. Bank robbery; kidnaping. Hasn't it occurred to you that that's the wrong way to start a new religion?"
"I'm in a hurry."
"To what, go to jail? How are you going to start your religion with the police after you? What are you going to do, disguise yourself, wear a mask? Go underground?"
"I'll think of something. Besides, it doesn't matter. I've got the courage of my convictions; if I didn't think money was something that should be abolished, its power over us completely destroyed, eliminated from our lives, I wouldn't have stolen it, would I?"
Freek laughed, but it was a dry, thin laugh. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. I must be imagining things." There was silence for a moment. "You really do have a death wish, don't you?" said Freek, in a surprised tone. "I mean, you don't care what happens to you at all, do you? What happened?"
"We haven't talked about that much about personal stuff, since you picked me up. Are you married?"
"No, she died. Ovarian cancer."
There was a pause. "I'm sorry," said Freek. "That was when you started thinking about things? Getting ideas?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it. Probably just a coincidence."
Someone exhaled. "What about you, Freek?" asked Weldon. "Are, or have you ever been married?"
"What woman would have me?"
"None, I'm sure. Wait a minute; didn't you use to want to be a writer? Wasn't that your one major goal in life?"
"I gave it up as a bad habit. Now I'm happy."
"As happy as you are, I bet."
"That's not saying much. Well; tomorrow's going to be a busy day. Think I'll get some sleep."
"I'm bringing Blake back, remember? Then it's off to the golden west, California, land of earthquakes and movie stars, to seek my fortune, so to speak."
"You're still going?"
"Why not? What's changed? Besides, I want to see those legendary California beaches too."
"I'm still going," Mink said, riffling her package of bills. "Now that I know just how crazy you are, everything seems to make sense."
"That's the spirit. How about you, Freek? Want me to take you back to the soup kitchen?"
"No, that's okay. Not much future there, either. I guess I'm stuck with you; or you're stuck with me, whatever."
"Excellent. We'll be like the three Musketeers, one for all, all for one, at least until we reach the coast. Then, who knows? Maybe we'll stay together, maybe not. We'll see. Good night, Freek. Good night, Mink."
Mink snuggled closer to Blake, clutching her money tight to his chest. In some way he did feel like he had a family, and these people were it, whether they were real or not. He closed his eyes and drifted off, unconcerned about tomorrow.