Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made
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The Story of Fol Chen:
Traffic was thick, thick, thick and Samuel Bing was unwell, strung out on the latest psychotropic fads: sleeplessness and feeling crummy. The Northern State was crawling like a funeral procession for Robert Moses. Above the overpasses, the clouds were lined with gristle. Even the horizon seemed to be sinking. So, it came just in time when Donna Donna transmitted her message over the open radio waves – a phantom broadcast from a station whose signal had long since dissolved into static. You could barely hear her voice between the Crazy Eddie ads, but Samuel Bing had his radio loud. She spoke backwards for security, but Samuel Bing understood each word. “Initiates in the society of Fol Chen,” Donna Donna whispered, “Let’s get to it. While you sit in traffic, John Shade is busy spreading his black mischief. Here’s the Screamer of the Week: ‘Birds Fly’ by Icicle Works.” Samuel Bing turned off his car and opened his trunk. No one was moving, so no one bothered honking. His trunk was filled with what looked like garbage, but this wasn’t just any piled crap — Every object was a module in a greater, yet-to-be-created whole. Samuel Bing fished out a cassette tape and a broken ice-scraper. He inspected the sides of each, found the hidden grooves, snapped them together. He grabbed a faded Polaroid, an old paperback romance, a polyester potholder, and a pair of drugstore sunglasses. He snapped each edge to edge. He chose twelve items, then another six, and arranged all eighteen in interlocking circles that together formed a wider circle. Just to be safe Samuel Bing welded the grooves with a cigarette lighter, slapped the whole thing on his back. From beneath a crusty blanket where the spare tire should have been, he pulled a wide, machete-like sword, and shoved it in his belt. Then Samuel Bing leapt into the air and let the currents carry him.
Melissa Thorne and Phat Jeph were waiting in room 12A when Samuel Bing landed in the parking lot of the Desert Hot Springs Hotel Spa. This is where they met in times of elevated risk – when the Highland Park compound was out of the question. Phat Jeph was ripped on peppermint schnapps, but he was a gentle, melancholy kind of drunk, and hard to deal with sober, so Melissa Thorne made sure his glass stayed full. Samuel Bing didn’t bother knocking. He already had a key. He searched the bathroom, looked under the bed. “Where are the others?” he asked. “G-Bone and Wass are on the way,” said Melissa Thorne. “What about Baby Alex?” asked Samuel Bing. But they fell silent, just stared at the rug. Samuel Bing poured himself a schnapps and asked what happened, though he knew the answer. “John Shade got him,” Phat Jeph slurred. Samuel Bing gripped the pommel of his sword. “We don’t have time for this,” said Melissa Thorne, and elbowed Phat Jeph in the ribs. “Okay, here’s the idea,” he said. “We have to build a serious pyramid. That way we can measure the stars, the distances between them. Like the Aztecs and the Incas and King Tutankhamen. We have to take this battle to Shade.” “I’ve drawn up some plans,” said Melissa Thorne. She pushed the blueprints across the filthy bedspread. “You in?” Samuel Bing smiled for the first time all week. He pulled his sword from his belt, tested the blade with his thumb, nodded. “I’m in.”
– Ben Ehrenreich