Where No Story has Gone Before, Ch. 2
by Robert Lee Beers
A Private eye and his pop culturist sidekick are pulled across time and space and forced to hitchhike alongside a wizard from another world.
Contact info for Robert Beers
* Website – http://asmbeers.wixsite.com/robertleebeers
* Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Lee-Beers/e/B00JCRVS3U/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1505455713&sr=8-1
* Audiobook – http://www.graphicaudio.net/a-tony-mandolin-mystery-1-a-slight-case-of-death.htm
“Toilet?” Milward peered at Frankie. “You can use a stream for washing, boy. Even as big as you are.”
Frankie growled, “Boy?”
The old wizard looked confused… again. “Should I have used lad instead? I mean, I am several centuries older than you. Well… most likely.”
I said, “It looks like we’re going to have some rough spots where social convention is concerned.”
Frankie said, “Huh?”
“Look at him,” I said to the big guy. “Doesn’t he look like he just stepped out of a fantasy novel? And then there’s that bit of magic he did along with all the various other bits of evidence. We may be in a different state, Frankie, but this fellow is in a different world.”
“Oh,” Frankie replied, chagrined. He turned to Milward and said, “Sir, I am terribly sorry I misunderstood you.”
Milward nodded, “Perfectly understandable, my huge friend. Now, since it appears I am the stranger here, how do we find food and shelter?”
I thought, and then said, “We hitchhike.”
Looking for a road in the Rockies is ever harder than it sounds. The trick, as it turned out was to head downhill. First, because it’s the best way to find one of the many creeks and streams that begin in the mountains, and two, there are more paths to be found that way, and paths often lead to roads, and roads to highways.
“What is this hitchhiking?” Milward asked the question as we stood on the edge of a two lane road. This was after he spent time marveling at the type of paving material we use. It seemed the guy had never seen blacktop before.
Frankie demonstrated. “You stand like this,” he said, arm extended and thumb stuck out, “When you see a car or a truck coming.”
It was getting late. The sun was down behind the mountains and our breath showed on each exhale. I was hoping we’d be seen by anyone passing.
Milward nodded after Frankie put his arm down. “I see,” he said, “And how will I know these cars and trucks. What is their appearance?”
Before I had a chance to explain, a fully loaded semi came around the bend in the road and, with the roar of a downshift came right for us.
Milward jumped in front of Frankie and me, “A demon from the pit!” He shouted. “Behind me strange friends. I will deal with the monster!” The head of his stick flared into an eye-burning brilliance.
“Milward, no!” I screamed, “It’s transportation, not a monster.”
The light flickered. “What? Not a monster?”
As if to fix the monster motif, the driver slammed on the air brakes and howled to a skidding halt just after the spot where we were standing.
“Deity,” The wizard exclaimed, “This… is transportation? How much does it eat?”
“About three bucks a gallon,’ Frankie replied. “Come on, let’s get in.”
I ignored Milward’s murmured, “Three stags per meal?” As it would just complicate things even further.
“What in the hay-ell is you three fellers doin’ the hay-ell up here?” The driver sounded like he was one of Jeff Foxworthy’s neighbors and had on the requisite battered ball cap, mullet, and slack-jawed expression. Other than that, he was fricking gorgeous.
I answered for us, “We got stranded. I was almost afraid we’d be walking all the way to the next town.”
He laughed, it almost sounded like a donkey braying, “Hee… yaw! Boy, you’d be walking for days. There ain’t nothing on this road twixt Grand Lake and Estes Park. I’m making a run from resort to resort. How about you three pile into the sleeper and get yourselves comfy. I got a beer or two in the fridge and I’ll bet a cold one’d go down real nice by now.”
Frankie said, as he climbed in, “Thank you so much.”
The driver shrank back just a bit and nodded, “Uh… yeah. Sure ‘nuff. Leave a can or two for me, all right?”
Milward’s appearance got a sidelong glance but no comment.
I asked if I could take shotgun and as I was buckling on the belt the driver held out his hand, “Name’s Vern. What’s yours?”
“Tony. Thanks again Vern. You may be a literal lifesaver in this.”
Vern nodded, jamming the truck into gear, “Glad to oblige.”
Behind me, in the sleeper section of the cab, I heard Milward ask Frankie, “What is this beer? Is it a potable drink?”
Frankie answered with, “Let’s see, shall we?”
I heard the familiar pshhht of a beer can being opened, the sound of glugging and then Frankie saying, “Here you go Millie, this Bud’s for you.”
The old wizard said, “Millie?”
Frankie replied, “Short for Milward. Think of it as a term of endearment.”
I heard another pshhht, the sound of drinking and then Milward said, “Millie… yes, I like that. Thank you lad. I am glad to call you friend.”
Vern asked me, “That geezer talks kinda funny. He a foreigner?”
I said, “Yeah, you could say that.”
The drive down into Estes Park took a couple of hours and by the time Vern pulled into the big rig parking section of the Best Western I was feeling pretty groggy. The combination of one of his beers, the motion of the ride and simple plain exhaustion were all catching up with me.
Verne waved away the offer of paying for our fare. “Hay-ell no, boy,” he said good-naturedly, “You wanna jinx me. I’m a trucker, not a cabbie. You pay it forward. That’s the way it’s done.”
“Tell you what,” I said as I pocketed the bill, “If we see you in the bar, I’ll buy you a beer, maybe a six-pack to make up for Frankie.”
He laughed his donkey laugh again, “Hee…yaw! You got a deal, Tony.”
The nice thing about getting a room in the Rocky Mountains in summer is there is always a choice. It’s during the winter that things get crazy. Go figure. I decided it would be best if I paid for three rooms rather than trying to fit Frankie, me and Milward into one. If it took a bit to get the old guy to figure out how to handle a modern toilet, so what. At least I stood a chance of getting at least a little rest.
Once we were checked in, and Milward was introduced to the wonders of modern plumbing, we wandered on down to a place called Hunters Chop House. Whatever they had cooking, it did not smell like pork chops. The décor was all natural woods to the point of using debarked logs as beams and supports for the ceiling, and unstained hardwoods for the floor. That was just fine as far as I was concerned. I wanted food, not velvet carpets.
“What an interesting establishment,” Milward remarked, “Do all of your gaffers hire nubile young ladies as guides to the tables?”
Frankie choked on a smothered chuckle.
“Come again?” the old wizard asked.
“Never mind, Milward,” I said. “I have a feeling there are so many differences between the world you came from and this one, that it may be best to experience first and then ask questions later.”
Milward nodded, thinking. Then he said, “A wise decision.”
A young man approached our table and said, in the best Castro District mannerism there was, “Hi, I’m Desmond. I’ll be your waiter this evening. May I tell you about our specials this evening?”
I glanced at Frankie, but the big guy had his nose buried in the menu. I could feel my wallet shrinking by the second.
“Hi Desmond,” I said. “I’m Tony and this older gentleman is Milward. What’s good this evening for folks unfamiliar with this area?” It always pays to be nice to the waiter, believe me.
This time the smile was genuine, “Well welcome Tony, and Milward. Who is your king-sized companion there?”
Frankie looked up from the menu and said, “Oh, oh I’m sorry. It’s just that everything looks so good. I’m having a terrible time deciding.”
Bingo, we had a waiter.
Desmond smiled and said in his best lisp, “Well then, I should think the wild game sampler would be best for you. It gives you a good overall experience with the assorted game meats we offer. It consists of an exciting culinary sample of game bratts- smoked buffalo, jalapeño elk, apricot boar, and pheasant paired with cheese, crackers and a delightfully picante raspberry chipotle sauce.”
Frankie nodded, “And what if your patron has a somewhat healthy appetite?”
Desmond sized the big guy up and down, “Yes,” He murmured, “You are a big one aren’t you? Well, don’t spread this around, but chef does keep a few 64 ounce bison steaks off to the side. He so likes a challenge. But if you order it done any more than medium he’ll send out a plate of charcoal as a protest.”
“Medium rare for me,” Frankie replied, “Along with a pitcher of draft beer?” He glanced at me.
I nodded, “I’ll have the same, but size mine down to human portions, okay?”
Desmond chuckled as he wrote, “Of course.”
Milward looked up and said, “Young man, I am a stranger here and I do not recognize a single item on this… menu. Would you please choose for me? I place myself into your obviously expert hands.”
I whispered to Frankie, “What do you bet he gets the best plate in the house?”
The big guy nodded.
As it turned out, Milward wound up with a plate of game medallions, a dish found nowhere on the menu and consisting of bacon-wrapped filets of elk, bison, and venison, and giving off an aroma kingdoms had gone to war over.
The platters placed before the big guy and I were no slouches, though, so I wasn’t complaining. In fact, there wasn’t much in the way of talking, mostly chewing, swallowing and glugging.
Eventually, Frankie came up for about three-quarters of the way through his pot roast masquerading as a steak. “Oh, Tony, you have got to try this meat. It’s incredible.”
I tapped the remnants of the somewhat tinier steak in front of me, “I have been, big guy, and I quite agree.”
The subject of steak reminded me, Greystoke, my German shepherd. He was all alone at the house. I got up, saying, “I need to find a phone.”
Desmond was busy at another table so I walked over to the cashier and asked, “Is there a public phone nearby?”
That got me shown to the guest phone with a warning that any long distance calls will be charged against the room. That was fine with me. Anyone who can’t justify a long distance call to check on their dog doesn’t deserve having one.
I figured calling Tiny, the owner of my neighborhood bar and grill and just about the closest thing to a dad I have would do it. Tiny’s front door was literally only a block away from mine and he’d make sure Greystoke was okay.
I dialed the number from my pocket address book and waited.
“Hello?” This was said after the third ring and the one answering certainly was not Tiny.
I said, “Sorry, wrong number,” and hung up. The problem was, it was not a wrong number. I know the one in my book was current and working. I’d used it just the other day.
I added another room charge and checked with San Francisco information. This time I had them look up the number for the bar and dial it.
“Snug,” Was the answer. I did not recognize the voice.
“This is Tony Mandolin,” I said, “Let me talk to Tiny.”
My reply was an annoyed, “Will you fanboys knock it off? Go back to your video games and leave my bar alone. Geeze.” And the click and a dial tone.
I got one of those over-all body chills. We may be in a world we recognized, but I was beginning to think it wasn’t ours. Not by several rows of redwood trees.
There must have been something in my expression when I got back to the table because both Frankie and the old wizard, Milward saw it.
“What’s wrong, Tony?” Frankie asked.
“Yes, lad,” Milward said, “You look as if you just lost a loved one.”
“We’re lost too,” I said to Frankie, “Maybe just as much as he is,” I pointed to Milward.
The old wizard nodded, “Aye, I’ve been checking on the sly. I find no landmarks to match what I knew. Even the coastlines are different.” He waved a hand, taking in the entire restaurant, “Technology changes, I know, and if this was a future I’d been transported into and not an entirely different world, I would still see similarities between my time and this one.” He paused and shook his head, “I have seen none.”
Frankie asked, “What about Greystoke?”
“Big guy,” I said, “I don’t think there is a Greystoke in this world. I called The Snug and there is no Tiny. I didn’t entirely understand what I was told, but I got that much.”
Frankie gaped at me and then asked, “Is the city still there?”
“Big guy,” I said, “I called The Snug. The bar at least is there, but there are differences man, real differences.”
A soft cough broke the moment and I looked up to see a couple of twenty-somethings standing next to the table with that cautious, I-know-I-shouldn’t-be-bothering-you-but look all over them.
“Yes?” Frankie asked, in his deepest Michael Duncan imitation.
“We don’t mean to bother you,” the blonde said timidly.
“But…are you the guy who plays Tony Mandolin?” The brunette finished.
I caught Frankie mouthing the word plays.
I shook my head, “Girls,” I said, “I am Tony Mandolin. What’s going on?”
I did not expect squeals. “It is! It is him!”
And then they turned on the big guy, “Is that Franklin Amadeus Jackson?”
Frankie puffed up and declared in his best diva, “Who wants to know?”
“It is! It is!” More squeals erupted.
Thankfully Desmond came to our aid.
“Run along girls. Run along now!”
He turned and looked at me. If anything he seemed embarrassed, “I am so sorry Mister DeSimone. I should have recognized you right away. Please be assured the hotel will ensure your privacy from now on.”
He turned to Frankie, “And, if I may say, Mister McBride, your portrayal of Frankie deserves every bit of that Emmy. The meal is on the hotel gentlemen, thank you.”
After he left, Frankie stared at me and asked, “Oh… my God… Tony, what is going on?”
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