Friday, December 31, 2010

More of those guys…

Can't get enuf… test me, test, go ahead, arrest me. Yeah, the old guys played the same songs over and over, but never the same. Put on your headphones, turn this one up loud. You will hear The Righteous Beast taking possession of twenty limbs, 100 fingers, swinging and singing… and thousands of hearts beat together.

Love Does Not Fade Away…


The Mighty Grateful Dead…


Some more than three decades ago, some of these experiences started to flow over the transom of my world, later to be recalled.


Well, well, well…

Yummmmmm... it finally stopped snowing. The sun came out crystalline and the wind was warm as I started my walk. “Playing in the Band” from “Nightfall of Diamonds”, 1989, was tearing up the ear buds on my iPod. The goddamn, mighty Grateful Dead.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm... it was just 31 years and 30 or so days ago, that I was intercepted on my first journey with Uncle ‘Cid by my good and life long friends who would become the Notorious Hooligan Family. I was “taken in” and given the treatment, but good. A platter named “Ace” was placed on the Victorola and that song, “Playin’” came roiling and boiling and gullumphing out of the raggedy speakers in full testosterone drenched, florid, lurid, weird glory. I have never since been the same.

Today, I could barely keep from crying with happiness. It is so good to be free. It is so good to have comfortable boots, nice new boots, to walk with in the snow. If you haven’t been in jail or homeless or a refugee, you probably don’t know how rewarding nice new boots that actually fit are. Well, if you can remember being a little kid and taking a walk in the new snow boots that mom bought you, you might have some clue.

As I’m trying to keep myself from looking like a middle-aged version of one of those orgasmically happy kids in the iPod commercials, and the band steers the tune out of “Playin’” into Catastrophe Orchestra-mode… Whatever. Yuh... this is where I live. This is good, gooey, star-trippin’ strange. Here we go... here we go!!!

A not so passable transvestite is trying to navigate the sidewalk in the new snow on her high heels. She does not remember the value of appropriate shoes. Her high heels are not providing a reliable platform for her 6’3” frame. Her hat is wiggling on her bobbing head, turning her wig askew. It is so good to be free. I wish her a happy thanksgiving.

A moment later, the band lassos the musical confusion into “Uncle John’s Band”. Whoops... I’m about to get all goopey, again. It’s that sound that I knew before I ever heard it. It glows like a perfect new day when every day forward will be new and full of beautiful, fuckin’ freaks all dancing and there is this glorious, beautiful girl a foot off the ground  with me and I am lit up drunk on her perfume and so happy to be positively frightened by the look in her crazy eyes. I am, for a moment that I can barely believe, one and the same as that girl and she knows all of my secrets and she is me and this is just exactly perfect.

Just exactly perfect!


An Observation…


Here's something that occurred to me about three year's back. It still sort'a makes sense, and I continue to ponder the notions.

© Solomon 12/7/07
In these days of celebrating a biblical miracle and the trust and hope that Winter again will melt into Spring, and bring with it renewed life and long days filled with sunshine, I’ve been thinking about that word, miracle. Here’s what Oxford’s Dictionary has to say about that word.

noun    — ORIGIN Latin miraculum ‘object of wonder’.
1 an extraordinary and welcome event attributed to a divine agency. 
2 a remarkable and very welcome occurrence.
3 an outstanding example, specimen, or achievement.

Well, as to definition one, I’m not superstitious nor given to belief in the supernatural. I am by nature a rationalist and a bit of a scientist in my outlook on this Universe.

But, definitions two and three, more contemporary meanings of the word miracle, are ones that I resonate with. Isn’t the advent of this Universe, and perhaps countless others, the very definition of a miracle; a very fine and operational definition, at that? What could be more welcome than a Creation that is somehow is perfectly suited to our own and has set us on our own way? It created for us challenges, troubles and opportunities as innumerable as the stars and atoms in that first Creation and our own beings.

That brings me to number three. In a previous, more demon haunted world, a great bard wrote the following thought.

“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god.”

So, I am content to honor the notion of miracles, even as I understand them differently than my ancestors and even my grandparents. I and those I love are living miracles, pretty fine specimens, living in a miracle that is, thankfully, an object of wonder.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

More weirdness, perhaps poor choices…

Here ya go…

Introduction and Disclaimer, November 1993.
What follows are some strange stories dealing with a strange, many faceted topic that resists definition. Most would term this topic the psychedelic experience. Unlike so many other books and numerous articles written on the subject by esteemed and highly articulate investigators, this work will make no effort to achieve even a minimum of scholarly interpretation.
Instead, the author hopes to present a bodacious range of insights and anecdotes, true life stories, collected from dozens of "ordinary" individuals. In Fever Dreams, expect to find the unvarnished and entertaining recount of sometimes humorous, often harrowing, life-changing, and primarily inscrutable experiences told by those everyday people who lived them. These stories are of the kind that we who seek meaning in experience love to tell and love to hear, even as understanding seems to inevitably escape us- like the the works of a mad Master Painter that disappear into the Moment just passed, mere shadows in the Moment of Now. 
Just as the subject itself resists definition, the stories told resist categorization. For some subjects, their tales presage lasting, life-affirming change. Others forebode disaster. Others herald a moment as fleeting, incendiary and impossible to fully grasp as the passing of a shooting star. Still, with some tip of the hat toward editorial organization, they have been loosely grouped under the subjects noted in the table of contents.
Finally, a word on the method of collecting the material in this book.  Some stories were gleaned in taped, personal interviews. A couple resulted from anonymous response to advertisements and leaflets. Most gratifying were the number of submissions through the emerging medium of personal computer telecommunications; humanity’s most recently developed psychoactive technology. And, I'll 'fess up, a few of the adventures, prevarications, fabrications and outright hallucinations, are my own. Whatever the source, they are experiences that have left an unforgettable mark on all of those that have  lived them. These are real-life fables that should bring some joy, some measure of awe, or at least fascination in the retelling.

Riding the Wave & Phenomenal Oscillations.
The Rueful Saga of Mario & Squatch: October 1976, Recounted Memorial Day, 1991.

Let me first put a frame around this one. It's an unusually warm night at the end of May; feels more like August. Me, Marco, Dana, Sal and his younger brother, Gil, are sitting around at about one in the morning. Even with the air on, it's still eighty degrees in Marco’s apartment.

He’d earlier scored something very special, something from the hand of the Master Chemist, Bear, himself. We’d dropped an hour ago, Marco excepted. He no longer partook. Anyhow, where ever these little purple barrels came from, they worked. As we journeyed into the Hour of the Tiger, the conversation turned, as it almost always does, to tales of altered exploits and comedy at the edge of chaos. I popped a cassette into the machine, and here's what was captured.

"M: ...and, see, the Grateful Dead had not been on the east coast for over a year. They booked three nights at the Music Hall in Boston. Now, the Dead were back and every one wanted to see them real bad, and to see them real, real right!
AS: There was that little Chicano guy, you remember, that Mexican kid outside the hall. I walked up him and said, ‘Hey, man, you got?’. He said, ‘Yeah, I got’. We were used to getting some pretty lousy stuff right then, because... well, because... because the Bear had been locked up. That's why we weren't getting anything good. We were getting really stupid shit. It was a totally normal thing to be gobbling down five, six, ten hits of weak blotter (peels of crazed laughter in the background).
M: Yeah, it was totally ridiculous. So this guy goes, ‘This shit is real good’.  I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Mucho-  all my feathers were out.  He says, ‘Hey, man, a buck a pop.’ 
So, I said, ‘does it really work?’ He points over to this guy all sprawled out on the hood of a car, gagga, zonked. He says, ‘That guy, he took two.’ Well, I still don't get it, totally don't get it. I ask him for five hits. (more wicked laughter)
Anyhow, I then I get five more for each of my friends. Five, ten, twenty, five more, five more. ‘Oh, better give me some more’, you know. You get it? This kid's like, ‘Hey, man, you sure? Hey, hey, hey, this here's alright!’  I remember hookin' down the six or seventh one just as we were walking into the lobby. We weren't even in the show yet, and we were totally skied! We'd started taking two or three at a time, and within an hour... Yeah within an hour, we were going into this place, baroque angels and crystal chandeliers and beautiful red carpets. The Dead had returned and there were beautiful girls carrying bouquets of red flowers and throwing the roses on the floor and we walked in there and we were way, way gone before this thing ever even started! Really gone.

AS: I think they opened with ‘Lazy Lightning’ into ‘Supplication’, that Kingfish jam. I'm already higher than I'd ever been and still climbing. At this point, I thought, I mean I knew, absolutely believed, that the Dead were singing the song backwards. Oh, shit! I'm thinking, ‘My, how clever, they learned to sing backwards’, not knowin’ that I was the only one hearin’ it that way. Damn, by half-time, I was so high that I had totally lost the ability to speak or understand human language. My consciousness was totally pre-verbal. Human voices, their sound, simply froze in mid-air, shattered and fell to the floor like shards of broken ice, tinkling away in echoes. It was a little scary.
M: The whole thing was completely hallucinogenic. I spent most of the first set just staring at the hair of the guy two rows in front of me. (the laughter has now become completely evil) It's his hair man, it shimmered and stuff and...
AS: He disappeared, right?
M: Yeah, he could disappear! Like, he could dance and disappear and reappear, like...
AS: He'd gyrate and shake in that boneless Grateful Dead dance and split into two and four, eight and ten and then, poof, he was gone! A second later, he was back and...
M: This is scientifically verifiable. We both saw it! No joke. 
Yeah, that was pretty far out, but you know, Squatch, he went off to the men's room. Now, he'd done as much as everyone else. After having done this, half a dozen strong hits, in this state...
AS: He bumped into this guy in the men's room who had a wafer of something, Squatch recalled it as orange sunshine. Fuckin' Squatch, offered a hit, goes up to the guy and proceeds to bend over, Squatch’s a big, big fella, totally high...
M: And he bites off half of the wafer, right?
AS: Yup! Like maybe twenty hits. That must have put him at, I don't know, some ungodly amount of micrograms... shit, maybe four or five thousand. 
M: Maybe more. Maybe as much LSD as any human has ever consumed!
G: And he didn't die?
AS: Naw. It's funny, but they've never established a toxic dose for mammals. It doesn't seem to screw anything up metabolically, at least at the doses that they've tested. There is one weird story about an elephant that died on Acid.1   I don't know why they were giving Acid to an elephant, but it wound up dead. It must have drunk a gallon of the stuff. Weird, and, what a waste.
M: Whatever! Squatch, this guy, he took over twenty hits. I don't think he's ever come down. He's still tripping. Today, he's teaching school in Hawaii, a very noble and wonderful thing, but strange to consider, givin' his experience. Yeah, I think it's safe to say, Squatch never went the prescribed route.
AS: Anyhow, by the middle of the second set, we are all in the thick of it. I'd lost my ability to converse and subsequently seen my earthly vessel, my body, melt into a starry void. I was momentarily free of the shackles of flesh; flown this veil of tears. Or, so I believed. Could’a been, but what happened was I was absolutely peaking at this point, n' I happened t’look down at my left hand. Oh-oh! My finger- tips are missing! ‘Sorry, did you see my fingers?  Seem to have misplaced them.’  
Of course, I couldn't actually speak, so I didn't say anything to alarm anybody. But, above the top knuckle my fingers were sheared clean off! There, there was no gore, nothing inside, just black. Just black. I held up my hand closer to my eyes. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and then it got even weirder. The skin started to melt back from the finger tips. I was disappearing and nothing was left in my place, but inside my skin I could see this blackness. As I stared at my arm, it had gone all the way up to my shoulder by now and was quickly moving into my chest... as I was watching this, speechless, I began to see beautiful, twinkling stars all inside of me!

My recollection is that this black, star-filled emptiness began to fill my entire field of vision. It was like I'd zoomed-in but could still look away and see the rest of the world, this wild concert with the Grateful Dead and all the people, but as I glanced back at myself I was stars.   
Somehow, I remembered that I'd taken lots of a powerful chemical and that it'd eventually wear off.’ I’m not forever banished from the realm of human forms.’  Then, all of the sudden, my human form reconstituted; Shazam! And, Jeezuz Christ, looking up on stage, I saw at this big purple cloud and some guitar necks and Garcia's sun-glasses sticking out while this alien music with Martian lyrics bounced off the walls of my skull. By the end of the set, the cloud blew off, showing six flourescent skeletons playing the music. Once again, I didn't have a clue that I was the only one seeing this shit. 

I thought that it was some trick with the light show! It was only much later, when I was telling somebody about it, our friend Geoff, that I found out the truth. 

M: But two of us, Mario and Squatch were even further gone. Mario was off on this trip where he thinks he's in Hell. Then, he thinks he's in Heaven. He's running all over the place, almost getting too wierd, even for the Deadheads. We lost him for most of the first set, only to get him back a while later. I tried to stick close to him. Shit, I made him sit down next to me and wouldn't let him even get a drink of water without supervision. 

AS: Squatch, though, he's totally weird. He's not in any space where humans relate. Space! He's making these vocalizations: "Eeep, Orp, Time, Space, Infinity!". He's lieing on the floor of the lobby, cradled in Ozone's arms after the show, completely zoned. Oh, boy, I'd just gotten straight enough, not really straight at all, but straight enough to talk and walk and I thought things were coming together in some way. No way!

M: Now, Mario, I figure that he's alright, he's ok, cuz he can stand up! This guy, Squatch, he's not okay, cuz he's totally deep-fried in his own grease. So, I'm keyed into Squatch, now, cuz he's like...
D: Totally lost?
M: Yeah, like totally lost. Then, this whole thing happens, we need to get Squatch into the car and I just turn around and, oh shit, now I've lost Mario again. There's no time to deal with that, though, cuz Squatch, who'd been catatonic on the sidewalk, we're outside the hall now, is suddenly mobile.

AS: He'd been hanging his head in the gutter, flat on his back, eeping and orping and fondling a fire-hydrant's nozzles like a pair of breasts. All of the sudden...

M: All of the sudden, he's on his feet and running at maximum tilt and straight at a cop! Holy shit! We got a two hundred pound-plus, six foot-four, bigfoot drenched in LSD and on the stampede. There's a cop walkin' down the street. Squatch is two feet in front of him and he lands his hands on the cop's shoulders and leap-frogs over the sonuvabitch! The cop didn't know w'happened.

AS: Squatch continues to hurl himself down the street and turns the corner at full throttle... 

M: Where upon he evidently decides to lie down again and resume his, his, what ever that was...

AS: Eep, orp, time, space, infinity...

M: And the cop takes one look at this shit; he's ready to kill as he turns and runs after him, but when he finds him, well, this, this is just too weird. The cop turns around and walks away. Squatch is on the pavement, gorping and blorping and this little Dead-head gal, dressed in black, dropping roses on his chest and, and...

AS: She's saying, ‘In the name of the Father, the Sun, and the Holy Rollers’... I don't know. Something like that. 

M: Well, Ozone has now pulled up in his dad's car, a big old Old’s. In the process, he managed to smash up the front, hitting a trash can, and the back, hitting a street sign, and damn near ran over poor Squatch...

AS: Stiff as a board, we pick Squatch up and dump him in the back seat. I sit on his chest, making damn sure that he doesn't go anywhere this time, and we rocket off to safe haven, trailing pieces of side-trim and busted tail-lights behind.  I'm not sure how Ozone managed to explain smashing up his Dad's car. It was a mess. The kind of thing that's only funny in retrospect- like maybe two minutes later when you make your get-away. 

M: Yeah, so, now I've got to go find Mario and people are still comin' on out'ta the concert and I don't see him. I look up and down the street, holy shit, I can't find him anywhere. Jane comes around...

G: Jane was there?

M: Oh, yeah. It was her first show! It was Mario's first, no, second show. Anton's first. First show for Ozone and Squatch, too. Anyhow, we couldn't find our brother anywhere. Now, we lived in Valleyshire, up in New York state, right, and Jane lived in Boston. So we went back to her place. And, ann...nnd we had no word of Mario, no sign of him.

G: Mario lived in Valleyshire, too?

M: Yeah, he lived with me and Anton. And he was lost, no sign of him. He vanished, he vaporized, y'know? Evaporated! Gone!

D: W'happened?

M: We lost him! Who knows. I mean, here's a guy who had been giving away his wallet, his jewelery.

AS: Shit, he tried to give away his clothes; angels don't need clothes. A bunch of Deadheads, thank God, had the inspiration to just take 'em, thank him, pass 'em on to the next, until they went around the circle and came back to him.  Mario, being a good angel, he thanked them for this gift and took back the clothes.

M: The thing with Squatch, though, it was done, he was in the car. Babbling incoherently, but in the car. I looked around, and, sonuvabitch, I'd lost Mario!We got back to Jane's and I called the police. I thought maybe he'd been picked up; maybe, just possibly. I mean, I was afraid that worse could happen. Well, they tell me, after putting me on hold for a while: ‘No, sir, we have quite a few...’

G: You're tripping this whole time?

M: Oh, yeah, but compared to these two guys, I'm fuckin' straight. Anyhow, the cops tell me that ‘we've got quite a few individuals here, but none of them are Mr. Sebastiani.’ At this point, I was kind'a hopin' that they’d him in the can. At least we'd know where to find him. So, next afternoon, no sleep, we gotta head back. The band,the Jack a’Ro’es, they had a gig that night up in Corinth. Mario's the lead singer. And, we'd lost the band's singer.

AS: I'd spent the whole morning waiting to see if he’d come back to the theater. No way. Must'a met a dozen people looking for lost friends, folks that floated away in the course of this amazing night.

M: So we go back to Valleyshire, totally wrung out. We  change our clothes and get ready to go on up to Corinth, to a joint called K.O.'s. At this point we had no idea what else to do. I mean, we just had no idea! Zero, zip; runnin' on autopilot.

AS: And Mario had no money, nothing?

M: No! He'd given it all away.
AS: Then this thunder-storm came!  As we arrived back at the apartment, it really started to come down. We already felt awful, and awful tired. Then the sky, the weather started to close in. Ka-boom! Thunder and lighting and sheets of rain and the the whole thing seemed to reflect what was happening inside our heads.
 It was terrible. We'd lost our friend and it seemed like there was nothing that we could do. Somehow, we just kept on marching toward that gig. What a mess! Totally shredded. Then came the knock on the door!

M: It's Mario: he'd slept in the park, no, on some median strip underneath a statue or something. He'd literally lost his shirt. He was soaking wet. He was so broke he couldn't even panhandle a glass of water! So he'd hitchhiked, shirtless, sleepless, all the way up north.

It was unbelievable, but there he was. He'd even given away his keys, so he had to knock on the door to his own apartment. But, we hooked up with him there and bolted to KO's, where Mario somehow fronted the band...

G: So how was Squatch?

AS: Jeez... I dunno. He was pretty strange to start off with. After twenty hits, he was just a bit... uh, stranger?

M: Like we said, he might've never come down. Naw, he's okay, today. But,I guess, if there's a lesson in this, it's that the Grateful Dead should never stay away too long. Weird shit happens when they don't come around for a while. I dunno, it seems..." (cassette runs out)




Patti Smith and the Bard, Dylan messin' things up pretty well with Hunter's words, doing fine. Black Peter.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hurt & Love…


Here's some notions from the archive. It's a letter I wrote not too long ago; a letter to a beautiful flame. As she's well rid of me, I don't suppose she'd much care if I pass it on for digital posterity. There are also a couple of links to music with real depth. Yeah, it's all on the theme of being sane and able to love without causing pain. It's about recovering one's own heart.


Precious Gift,
You know, you were right to pick up on something in my tone, if text in broken cadence with no meter or rhyme can have a tone. Melancholy I guess it was that you heard. I did post that video from our Man in Black for a reason that even I didn’t appreciate until I started writing, just now. That man, Cash, was a titan. Another one of God’s own prototypes, never intended for mass production. Reznor may have writ the lyric, but it took Cash to make that monster live, to claw its way out of the grave, not dead but walking with Mr. Death, his bad old self… Hurt.
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt 
Gawd! That is a junkie’s refrain, right there. Right there, he nails it. That, right there, is what a junkie does. He lays waste to what he most loves. His beautiful, steadfast wife, June… she must have been made of steel. What he put her through and how he missed her when she was gone and he was left alone… then, he  would then follow her to his own very end.
I don’t know if you noticed, but both you and Gracie clicked the “Like” button on the link to “Hurt.” I should have known that she’d be looking over my shoulder as I posted that. She knows what it’s like to be walking dead and to hurt people, to destroy their lives while your own refuses to die, no matter how severely you punish it. That’s just par for the course, part of the curse, our spiritual malady. We two are also apparently made of steel, often stronger than the metal of our loved ones.  She is my friend. She’s tough, tough, tough and she’s sweet. She knows me even without us ever sharing more than a few words. Deep down we have the same soul… a junkie’s soul. We both crawled out of the same crypt. I can trust her to know me. I know that we can never be together. That would be like tossing fire into the powder mill.
Okay. Let’s invoke the gloom so that we can dispel it. I can smell it on the air. The season is turning. It’s the Time of Returning. Halloween is right around the corner; the one night when everybody removes their masks. Sunshine comes in the dead of night. Ho-ho! That can’t be right, but there it is. Let’s dance at the crossroad, the crack between worlds. Let’s dance with our ancestors. Let’s dance with our dead friends. Let us honor them with our lives. Let’s dispel the night.
So we dance, you and I. I had the feeling that you were a Halloween kind’a woman. Yes? You like to dress in black? How is it that you and I seem to be of similar feeling, to be kindred souls… two versions of the Same Thing.
What makes me feel so good
when my baby's in her evening gown
What makes me feel so good
when my baby's in her evening gown
Must be that same ol' thing
that makes a preacher lay his bible down
Must be that same ol' thing…
Must be that same ol' thing…
Oh, nothing like the blues to blow away sorrow, burn it up, tear it up, shake it loose and make it dance, making two souls shine in communion.
Thank you, my friend. You are a precious gift. You have allowed me a little time in your mind. You’ve put up with my meandering and rummaging through my own emotions, perhaps touching your imagination, maybe making a little magic lantern show in your sweet heart. Thank you for lighting up my own heart.
With Love, Always,
Your Brother

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Burning Buddha…

Dear Friends,

Well, here is a bit of weirdness from a couple of decades ago. I then thought that maybe I'd become a writer of crime fiction. I actually sold this story, and the Managing Editor told me it was a classic, a classic! Alas, the periodical went broke in the week between my submission and the coming issue's print run. Never got paid. There's a pattern there.


How Does the Buddha Burn?  © Steven Solomon
A stinging, half-frozen spittle rained from the autumn sky, and Lt. Detective Andrew Gateway wasn't dressed for the weather.  Ice water dribbled down his collar as he waited to be rung into #238 Quay St. He swore he'd get himself a proper winter coat with the very next paycheck.

The apartment was a one-room, four-story walk-up and, typical of the neighborhood, it was cold, had bad lighting, peeling paint, and roaches. It also featured the incinerated remains of one human being in the middle of the floor. Gateway arrived panting, shoes sqooshing, clothes dripping as Sgt. Januszewski and a couple of uniforms were mopping up. Some three hours after the body was discovered, young Johnny was the ranking officer on scene. "Hello Lieutenant. Welcome to the party."
"Thanks, Johnny. What'a we got here?" Gateway tied a hanky over his face and crouched over the corpse. He gently poked with the tip of a plastic pen at what appeared to be the detached remains of a foot. "How the Hell did this happen?"
With not a hint of sarcasm, Johnny replied: "Spontaneous human combustion, sir."
Groaning, Gateway erected himself. "Pal, my knees hurt, my back aches, I'm hungry, cold and tired. It's one-thirty in the morning. Cut the wisecracks; we got a homicide here, or what?"
Januszewski flipped open his note pad with an officiousness usually reserved for greeting citizens, not superiors. "We got one body burned to the bone. According to the pathologist's on-sight report, it apparently burned from the inside out .  No fire damage to anything but the body and the area directly beneath it on the floor. At this time, we've found no traces of accelerant or source of ignition. The only door was dead-bolted from the inside. The key is a security key. We have no record of copies being made, other than the super's and that of the victim, found among his remains. The windows are securely locked." He concludes with barely a wink, "Spontaneous human combustion is our best theory."
"Uh-huh. Okay, so who is this guy?"
"We think it's the resident, Henry Ping, but it could be Elvis for all we know; they're still checking the dental work. Downstairs neighbors made the report when they smelled something funny. Fire arrived minutes after the call to find our friend already 'self-extinguished', out like the stub end of a smoke left in the ashtray. The neighbors had seen no one come or go in the interval."
Gateway cast about the small apartment, his eyes pouring over the walls, ceiling and floor. It's only seven paces corner to corner, and the detective nonchalantly stepped over the body one, two, three times before coming to rest, kneeling in front of what seemed to be some kind of religious altar; candles, scrolls with oriental characters, a green velveteen sash, tassels and adornments of hammered tin lotus blossoms and twin, brass incense stenchers. Gateway's left knee made a loud pop as he sank cross legged onto the floor at the foot of the corpse. "What'a ya make of this, smart-guy?"
"A bit of a loose end, but we're nailing it down. Got the guy from the university due to arrive any minute; we yanked him out'ta bed. Figured you'd want to talk to him."
Gateway pulled a plastic baggy from his coat pocket, put it over his hand and gently lifted the lid off of one of the incense burners. Inside was nothing but ash. "Who's this guy, the university guy?"
"Leonard Geoffrey, PhD., a professor of, uh..." Johnny looked again to the note pad; "Professor of Religio-archaeology. Specialist in ancient religions and their artifacts. One of the officers, Chou, recognized that thing as a shrine, probably Buddhist. Thing is, there's no Buddha there. There's supposed to be a Buddha or an ancestor or something in the middle."
The venerable detective was now procumbent with his chin on the floor, a penlight  in his mouth shining at a severe angle upon the little altar. "Welp, sheems we might have shomething." He cocked his head to the side and squinted through one heavy lidded eye. "Yuh-huh... you can shee it, the indentation. There was shomethin' shittin' here." Collecting himself off the floor, Gateway offered, "When the brain arrives, let's see what he knows, but I'm thinking that what we got here is..."
"Excuse me, but your brain has  arrived." A hyperthyroid Christmas elf, six-three, gaunt and gray of beard, dressed in bright red jogging togs and a ski cap had appeared at the door. He extended his hand to a startled Detective Gateway; "Good morning, sir, I am Professor Geoffrey, but please call me Leo." Then, glancing toward the remains on the floor he gasped, "My God, what is this?"
"Ya'sir. I'm Andy Gateway, Lieutenant. As I was just sayin' to Sargent Januszewski, we seem to have a murder/theft on our hands. We hoped you might help us identify the stolen property. Seems the owner, a Mr. Henry Ping..."
"Excuse me?" Leo blanched at the mention of the name.
"I was sayin' that Mr. Ping, the apparent victim... say, do you know him, Professor?"

Staggering to the chair by the window, the old man collapsed, eyes cast heavenward and upwelling with tears. "My God, not Hank! I didn't know that this was Hank's apartment. I didn't know what this was about, the murder... Oh, dear." 
He ran five shaking, spindly fingers through his long, unkempt hair, sobbing; "Oh, God, oh, poor, young Hank, poor Hank..."
"Johnny, get the Professor a drink of water." Gateway moved to Leo's side, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I'm very sorry for your loss, uh, the shock of it all, but pardon my asking, how exactly did you know the victim?"
Gazing vacantly into the glare of a naked ceiling light, Leo was deathly white, grief stricken, almost struck dumb. Gateway saw the throbbing purple veins in his temples as he replied in a croak of a whisper; "He was a student of mine. One of the best. I hadn't seen him in some time... since summer. He'd gone off on his fellowship. Still, we were very close. I was to chair his dissertation committee in the spring. Oh, dear, the tragedy, the tragedy."
Gateway and Johnny looked silently to each other, exchanging that cop telepathy that's says "coincidences don't happen". Johnny was first to inquire out loud: "Scuse me, but, uh, Doc, do you know why somebody would kill your friend?"
Absently, Leo responded: "You said something appeared to be missing. It was a small statuette? Over there, with the ancestor shrine?"
"Yes sir, we believe it was. That's what we were hoping you could identify."
Taking a deep breath, Leo rose and shuffled over to the shrine. His right hand outstretched before him, he knelt, lips moving silently as he read down the rows of calligraphy. Using his index finger as a ruler, he took measure of the space between the incense stenchers, examining their contents and inhaling deeply the expended perfume in the ash. "Yes, it must be. Smell the poppy, the opium flowers. Yes, and it's the right size; about nine centimeters wide, four deep. He found it, alright." 
"Pardon, Professor? What did he find?"
"Why, the Burning Buddha! He found it. Hank had found it!"
Januszewski was impatient. "Ya gotta 'scuse our ignorance here, but what the f..."
Gateway, ever the diplomat,  jumped in: "What my associate is wondering is, what is a Burning Buddha? Just start at the beginning and keep it simple."
"I'm sorry, gentlemen. It's just my nerves. Well, ahem, it's actually not a Buddha, at all. It goes back much further, perhaps before the time of neolithic man."
"What kind of man?" said Gateway. "Ya gotta stick to the basics, Professor."
"Right. Oh, maybe thirty or forty-thousand year's ago, at the very beginning of religion and human society, the Burning Buddha, as it is called, was actually the father, more factually the mother, really, of all subsequent deities. Before the fertility goddess, before the sky gods, there It was, or so it has been supposed. No one actually ever found one of the figurines. There was no proof, just conjecture."
"Until now?"
"Evidently. I knew that Hank had been tracing one alleged to still be in existence. According to the lore, it had originated in the Himalayas over thirty centuries ago. At the  height of the last ice-age, it began a journey through the ages, carried by successive tribes of nomadic hunters into what is now southern-most India. By the dawn of written history, it had made it's way to the Isle of Scot, then a seldom visited way station to the premier maritime explorers of that day." 
Leo was getting pumped up, getting excited in a kind'a professorial way. "It is likely that the Phoenicians were then in possession, burying It for safe-keeping in a cave consecrated as a shrine. This was prior to one of the first deliberate attempts to find out what lay on the other shore of the Great Sea, the Atlantic. This shadow history, part legend, part fact, is told in the record of bone carvings, painted caves, etched stone and clay tablets spanning the better part of Humanity's stay on this planet. The Burning Buddha is said to be endowed with vast power, and to endow its possessor of same, for good or ill." He looked sadly to the vaporized remains of his young colleague. "Alas, it seems for ill."
What line of questioning should follow such a yarn? Ordinarily, you ask things like, "was this alleged Buddha angry enough to set fire to somebody?", or "why did the Buddha flee to southern-most India in the Tenth Century B.C?". Gateway  improvised: "Okay, is this thing, the Buddha, of value? Can it be sold? I mean, this looks like a case of art theft, stealing a church relic, that kind of thing. Right?"

Leo smiled grimly. "No, no, no. Not at all. You see, you couldn't sell it. Few enough people would know what it is, then to find an institution willing to purchase an item implicated with a murder... Even so legendary a piece would be of little value other than the scientific or, perhaps, spiritual."

"Wadda'ya mean spiritual?"

Leo looked to the window. The sky was velvet black, so dark that it seems to drink up even the memory of daylight. "How does one explain that; the Magick? Yes, what do we really know about it? Well, it is said that the possessor of the Burning Buddha braves great risk for great reward. Through its worship and through sacrifice, perhaps human sacrifice, he who is pure of spirit may become as the First Man, God's Prize, Master of Fire. The impure? Pray that I'm wrong, but one has only to look at what has become of young Hank."

In the moment's silence, Gateway rocked on his heels, shoes squeaking. Johnny rattled the change in his pocket, and then rejoined, "Spontaneous human combustion!"

Gateway still bought none of it: "Yeah, welp, it's very late, Professor. We might want to speak to you again tomorrow. Where can you be found?"

"I think I'll be taking some time off from work; I'm very upset. I'll probably go up to the farm. We've got a place in New Hampshire, you see."
Fine. Sargent Januszewski will see you out. Johnny, get the address and number. Oh, and get a description of the Buddha, it's appearance, okay?"

Gateway instructed the uniforms, "Wait for me in the hall; just a second.". For a moment, he quietly poked about the room. Then he halted, straddling the deceased, head down, clucking his tongue, tapping a middle finger into his brow over closed eyes. He reached out to arms-length, hitting the light switch and the room was in darkness, but for a thin shaft of yellow light falling through the crack between the door and the door-jam. It cut across Henry Ping's cindered breast like a golden dagger. 

"Beautiful morning, Johnny!" Gateway grandly surveyed the pastoral expanse of Leo's farm. "Birds are singing, the sun is shining and no trouble is winging our way!".

Johnny was less sanguine at such an hour. The farm was ninety minutes out of the city, and he'd only gotten four hours sleep before hitting road. "I don't know how you do it, Andy. Anyhow, here's the latest from the lab." He handed Gateway a folder over-stuffed with carbonless copies. "Check out the chemical analysis... yeah, that one. Seems our corpse was pickled; pickled in somethin' real flammable prior to being torched. The lab hasn't ID'd it. It's unusual, real unusual, but that's got'ta be our accelerant." 

"Walk with me and talk with me. We're supposed to meet the Professor back at the stable." Gateway strode briskly, reading and speaking all at once. "Yeah, this makes some sense. Sulfur residue; yeah, that fits."

"How's that?"

Gateway ignored the question and responded with his own. "Was the body, I mean Ping, dead already when he burned? It was Ping, wasn't it?"

"Uh-huh, the dental records are confirmed. And, he was dead when the match was lit. Strange thing, though, Ping's tissues were in real good shape. We don't think he could'a been dead more than a few hours before the fire. The coroner was impressed; said it was mighty odd."

"Odd how?"

"That residue was all through the remains, distributed evenly, right down to the marrow. You'd have to soak a guy in something like gas or alcohol for weeks, months, to get that kind of saturation."
"And that would break down the tissues, right?"
"Right! Ping was in fine shape; burned to a crisp, but otherwise fine."
"No other physical evidence? No fibers or prints?"
"No. How'd you..."
"An educated guess. Doesn't matter; they'll find it eventually."

Just inside the stable, Gateway turned, stopping Johnny with a conspiratorial arm around the shoulders: "Okay, follow my lead.".  At that, Leo came round the corner and, with a gesture of mild surprise, announced: "Oh, gentlemen! I'm sorry, I didn't realize that you were here. Come in." He ushered them to the tack room. "So, how can I be of help?"
"You know, I think we've got a solid idea where this case is going, Professor. I hope you won't be offended when I tell you that we are not considering spontaneous human combustion, Buddha-induced or otherwise, as the prime theory."
"Detective, you know your business better than I. Last night, I was merely trying to be helpful, sharing with you all that I might know. "
Gateway smiled broadly. "Yes, of course. And, perhaps you might know how one would lock a dead-bolt from the outside without a key?"

"I, uh, I'm not sure what, uh..." Leo's face took on a look of confusion that drained quickly into stark pallor. "How, uh, would... what's this got..."

"All right, Professor, I'll demonstrate. Sargent Januszewski, please give me your shoe-lace, right or left, doesn't matter."


"Your shoe-lace, please. Hurry; we're trying to solve a murder mystery here!" Johnny had not clue-one as to what Gateway was doing, but as instructed, he followed along, hopping on one foot, yanking the lace from his left shoe. "Here you go, Detective."
"Thank you. Professor, do you know what a noose looks like?"
Regaining a small measure of composure, Leo replied; "I should think so, but if this is an attempt to intimidate me, if it is..."
Gateway raised his hand in a firm gesture of silence. "Please, Professor, allow me to hold forth. You'll be glad you did. See, you take the shoe-lace, like so you wind it round thirteen times...", and thus Gateway produced a perfect, albeit lilliputian hang-man's knot. 

He turned to the door and draped the loop over the dead-bolt latch, motioning Johnny to take hold of the other end. "Sargent, if you would, please step outside, holding on to the shoe-lace."


"Yes, and when I say so, pull the string." Gateway shut the door in his associate's bewildered face and ordered, "Now!". The lace went tight, the noose closed over the beveled latch pulling it locked and flipping the latch downward. "Pull again, all the way!" With the second yank, the noose slid smoothly off the latch and disappeared through the crack in the door-jam. "That, Professor, is how one locks a dead-bolt from the outside without a key." Gateway flipped the latch, letting Johnny back in. The Sargent remained, hands on hips by holster and chemical mace, resting on the balls of his feet, feet at shoulder distance apart, knees unlocked, blocking the doorway like a human jersey barrier. He was just following Gateway's lead. Motioning to the rocking chair by the tack board, Gateway suggested, "Let's see if we can answer yet another question." 

Leo took a seat, nervously maintaining his gaze on Gateway, but his legs were ready to run and his mind was racing like a doped up nag in her final stretch. "I don't think I like the tone of your questions, Detective."

"I'd be very surprised if you did, Professor. Just the same, it's my job to answer difficult questions."

Leo was looking quite dispirited. Any resemblance to a Christmas elf was now utterly unimaginable."So that's it; you are accusing me of murdering Hank Ping. Ridiculous!"

"Just the same, we are left with a couple more questions, and I believe that we've got the 'solution' to the first of them." Gateway pulled from his coat a pint-sized bottle with a blue and white label. He squinted as he held it at arms length, searching his vest pockets for specs. 
"Ah, yes, here we go. You know, I ran into your veterinarian when I first stopped by this morning. He was using this on the old mare with the bad leg. You know, Stardust, she was getting a rub-down."
"I own a horse named Stardust, but I'm afraid I have no idea what that is in..."
"I'll refresh your memory. Let's see..." and he read from the container's label, "Domoso®, manufactured by Diamond Labs, chemical name, dimethyl sulfoxide. Used to treat muscle inflammations in animals. A very, very powerful solvent that penetrates quickly through the skin, tendon, muscle. Does this ring any bells yet, sir?"
"Cut to the point, please. You're loosing me."
"No sir, I think you get the point. DMSO, is also very flammable. It's flashpoint is just over two-hundred degrees. It burns a lot better than most of the stuff we'd look for at the scene of a suspicious fire. I may not know a whole lot about chemistry, but I would guess that if you gave a person, a dead person, a good soaking in this stuff, what with all the fat in a human body, you'd have a pretty good approximation of a two-hundred pound candle wick. Would you agree, Professor?"
Leo stared dejectedly at his socks. "I wouldn't have the slightest idea."

Gateway turned to Johnny, tossing him the bottle of DMSO. "Let's get a team out here to see if we can find our little friend, the Buddha." The detective stooped to the old man, now slowly rocking in his chair; "That's it, isn't it sir? That's why you killed Henry; that's the answer to our last question; correct?"

A tear crept from the corner of Leo's eye as he started to tremble. Words came with a sound like the shearing of dry, yellow newspaper; "Hank had no idea of the power, no respect for the value of the Buddha. He was going to have it examined, X-rayed, sliced, dyed and microscoped. 

He would have it be just another relic, a curiosity of the past to be cataloged and put upon the unknowing world like so much bad art... bah!" 

Johnny helped Leo to his feet. He was unsteady, as though he'd gained a decade's years since the last evening. As they escorted him into the bright, warm sunshine of a fresh morning, he continued to jabber, his cold, blues eyes afire with madness in the light of day: "I searched my life for the Burning Buddha and worshiped it, even as I prayed to possess it. He would defile that which I loved, and that could not be permitted! It is hidden now. It is hidden and it is safe. It will be forever protected. I've seen to that! I've taken the precautions."

Leo was cuffed and placed into the back of the car. He made no resistance other than to comment on the poor amenities provided by the Awards Committee. "Tell them that I expected a private car! I want my own limousine. Where is the bar? There is supposed to be a bar and telephone back here! Summon the Ad Hoc Council; I must speak with the Chairman, immediately!" 
Johnny called in and a forensic team was dispatched. Messages went out to the Boston and local DAs. An hour later, watching the green hills fade over the horizon, replaced by endless miles of interstate highway and suburban arteries, Gateway was somehow sure that the Buddha would not be found, perhaps not for another dozen millennia.

Hic Finis Est