part one (arrival)
I suppose the news will leak out soon enough. I'd rather get on the front end of this thing, so the record is set down straight. So no exaggerations or gossipy extrapolations ensue. I'll put it down in narrative and dialog as best I can remember it.
It happened last Friday night.
One month ago, I sent out invitations to some Facebook friends. I wanted to meet them in person. Get to know them in physical form. Hear their voices. Construe stuff about them by closely observing body language and subtle gesture.
For the record, I invited three-dozen people, but only half of them showed up. Apparently these are the ones who had access to rocket-powered helicopters, or in Kris's case, a less-stable mode of aerial transport. Here's who showed up: Kris Saknussemm, Robyn Field, Fatima Gomes, Regina BOu, Chansonette Buck, Charles Bane Jr., Nabina Das, Miriam Louie Brown, Paula Lietz, Bonnie Hudgins, Matt Dioguardi, Olga Mjelde, Yael Tomashov-Hollander, Sonja Copic, Nels Byron, Lisa Alvarado, Peter Lobell, and Joseph Choi.
I had rented the top floor of an abandoned skyscraper 15 miles southeast of Tupelo, Mississippi. No one has a clue who built this skyscraper or why. It stands forlornly in a large clearing, surrounded by thick forest strangled with kudzu vines. There is no road in to this edifice. Only a concrete helicopter landing pad near the front door. That pad has ugly, poisonous-looking weeds growing between the cracks.
This building has 50 floors, and the decay inside has settled over everything with a kind of moldy morbidness. Only the lights and electrical outlets on the top floor are still working. The elevator is defunct, and the stairs -- steep and frightful – are made of rotting wood.
I hired three rednecks (Merle, Jasper, and Bow-legged Pete) who had been loitering at Clyde's Diner, which is located near the tracks on the seedy side of Tupelo. I hired them to spruce up the top floor of the skyscraper and to keep the wine glasses refreshed during the party. It so happens that all three of them are classically trained musicians – xylophone, nose flute, and gong. That would work out nicely!
Around 8:00 PM last Friday night, the helicopters began showing up. One after another descended to discharge a guest, then lift off so the next one could land. An hour later, everyone but Kris had arrived and made their creaking way up to the 50th floor. I had asked all to bring a pot-luck dish, since cooking and stuff is too much trouble for me.
The mingling began. Things were going smoothly. Wine was flowing. Laughter was heard amid low tones of deep conversation. Some remained standing, some sat in the plastic lawn chairs and dubious sofas I had acquired at a pawn shop in town. The exotic music from Merle, Jasper, and Bow-legged Pete wafted through the large open area (this floor must have once housed a vast restaurant).
At 9:45, someone announced: “I think I hear Kris's plane circling overhead!”
We all rushed to the stairwell and made our way to the roof. The rednecks had installed a tail-hook cable about 20 feet from the edge of the roof. Kris's single-engine plane (from the 1930s) sputtered black smoke overhead, beneath a bright moon, as he made his approach to the roof. We stood as far out of harm's way as possible, holding flashlights -- we all had to see this landing with our own eyes. The wings were wobbling, the engine whining, the smoke pouring. And as he zoomed a few feet above the roof, the plane seemed to drop like a weight onto the gravel surface. It skittered and shimmied and complained as flaps were flapped and brakes wrenchingly applied. The cable, held up by Merle and Jasper, caught the front tires, and the plane jerked to a stop...about three feet from the edge of the roof. Kris hopped out, smiling oddly and smoking some kind of unknown substance rolled up in a tube of Venus Flytrap leaves.