“Ball Lightning” is a serial novel
at The Coming of the Toads
begun 27 July 2020
1 - Riding Harley in the rain in Seattle. Ball lightning. The gods.
I throttled my green gnarly Harley across I-90 from Bellevue, wind chopped waves blowing over the wall on the south side of the bridge, the water as smooth as a coffin lid on the north side. I raddled through the last tunnel and merged onto I-5 north to downtown Seattle. A glob of ball lightning looped out of a smoke ring cloud hanging over the ball park. The ball lightning bounced across the closed roof. The baseball stadium looked funereal. No game tonight. The winter circus was in town. On nights like this the gods might get bored and when the gods get bored no amount of prayer satisfies these hungry clouds, and we lose paradise. (27 Jul 20)
2 - Late for a meeting. "extreme and unusual risk." "hacked and...gobsmacked"
I was late for my meeting with Walter. I had some explaining to do, but I wasn’t in the mood for working together as a team in the spirit of cooperation toward common goals for the mutual benefit of all. Nor did I feel like throwing any bums a dime. I was their in house Risk Manager. Walter was itself a Risk Management Brokerage, specializing in extreme and unusual risk. Sometimes avoidance was the best answer. I rode down Pine to First and over to Pike to the Market and looked for a place to pull the Harley over and park. Cleo nodded I could squeeze into the space in front of his international news stall. The rain had stopped, the clouds still low and grey and blue and hanging bushed like wads of cotton candy over the diamond. Out on the water a ferry would be approaching, carrying Walter from his The Breakers West on Bainbridge Island. I was late with my quarterly report. We’d been hacked and I was still too gobsmacked to explain it. Walter would want to know who, when, what, where, why, and how. “Damned if I know,” was not the answer he’d want to hear from his six digit plus bonus contracted Risk Manager. (28 Jul 20)
3 - Chased by Corvette. Vespa. Candy apple red. Not Bulldog Drummond.
A real nice fellow turns out driving the candy apple red Corvette, vanity licensed MYID. Catches up with me, powers up and flips me the bird as I try to negotiate the Harley kickstand. Vetteman angry with me for some reason. Cut him off. Where? When? My anger management pills must have finally kicked in because I felt little urge to cut Vetteboy down to size and make him eat his license plate. Little, not none. I wanted to feel none, nothing. The little urge didn’t come on from getting the bone, and not even the vanity plate was to blame. Those were little nubbers up along the first base line. You picked them up bare handed, stepped on the bag, and tossed the ball to a kid in the stands above the dugout. Big hitter, little nubber. Maybe the candy apple red drew the little urge out. Very few cars should be painted candy apple red, and never a Corvette, an old pick up truck in retirement maybe, I don’t know, but not a Vette. Candy apple red is a very special color. But like I said, little urge, but not none, but still, the pills seemed to be kicking in. Maybe I should up the dosage again. I wanted to experience nothing. Why did the gods keep me alive? To do their dirty work. Then Vettepunk said it, one of the words, called me one of the names, the names no one calls me and gets away with it, without a bit of divine retribution sits you back on your butt and gives you something to think about other than your Corvette id. First, let’s back up. I don’t ride a Harley. I ride a Vespa, candy apple red. I am not Bulldog Drummond. I am not Mike Hammer. Not Philip Marlowe. I’m not Sam Spade. I stand five foot two, and my eyes are blue, but I’m no stereotype. I learned early on to mind my own business. But minding your own beeswax is not so easy with dudes like Vettedog off leash and full of road rage and megalomaniac vitamins. “That scooter a little big for you?” Vettestalker says, sneer and all. (29 Jul 20)
4 - Mistake of the gods. Changing size. Sylvie. Neutrinos.
But I digress more maybe than necessary. Sylvie was calling. I was still dismounting my Vespa, emptying saddle bags, when my cell phone buzzed and lit up and I could hear the call was from Sylvie, my unfaithful half goddess psychotherapist and part time partner, probably calling to warn me off another one of my bad decisions. We shared office space in a little place I owned up on Queen Anne, a folk Victorian from 1907, inherited from my mother. Glaucus, Sylvie said, when we first met, fate is the decisions you make. Sometimes I think she remains my occasional companion just so she can restock this rune of hers into my road weary bag of regrets. Decisions I made? When was there ever a decision I made that was mine alone and not influenced in some way by the gods? And the gods make mistakes. In any case, and to bring to a close that business with Vettebug, and before we go on too much further here, I should probably make clear, I am not some comic book hero, or villain. I am a mistake of the gods. I am at least part human. The rest I’m not sure of, though certainly not from planet Earth. I am able to adjust my size at will, though at a huge cost of energy, and at risk of random results, coming and going. Having made a change in size, I require rest. Indeed, I am often near death. I prefer small sizes, the easier to negotiate and move about without attracting much attention, to move through crowds, for example. To explain in a way you might understand (indeed, in a way I might understand), I’m able to break myself down into an emergent group of neutrinos. Thus I’m able to move through solid masses – walls, mountains, trees, Corvettes. But I say emergent because it’s never totally certain what the group will reform into. In other words, I’m never certain I’ll be able to return to what you might call normal, that is, my normal size, the size in which I choose to live most of my life. I’m subject, then, to a certain amount of randomness, to noise, to use a word the actuaries are fond of. To bring to a close, then, the Corvette incident: I changed the Corvette to the size of a Matchbox toy car. Vetteman was now the giant he wished for. (30 Jul 20)
5 - Wally mollified. Gas for the hog. Vetteboy unbolted.
I managed to mollify Wally and his team by announcing I was bringing in Ray to work the computer hacking case. Now north on a wet Elliott toward Pier 91, where I’ve a small package to drop off before meeting with a damsel at risk in a mansion on the waterfront in Magnolia, but pull over to gas up the Vespa hog, and what do I see ahead of me but an unattended candy apple red Corvette, gas pump hose sticking out it’s side, Vettebugger in heated conversation with gas station attendant. Machine won’t take Vetteboy’s card. He’s in one helluva hurry. Attendant tells him their system is down, cash only. Vetteboy no cash, now notices me, starts to make a run for it, hops in and pulls away, glances back, gas pump stand leaning toward him, sounds of breaking bolts and plastic ripping, forgot to take the nozzle out, pulling the pump stand off its base. Vetteboy looks out window to take a look, attendant yelling. And now some first classman in a deuce and a half pulls in and blocks the drive, no exit, so Vetteboy tries to hop the island, again the sounds of hounds and ferry horns, looks over his shoulder to see the gas pump shaking on the bolts on the cement stand, the gas hose stretched tight like he’s got a fish on, now the hose coiled around his back wheel. Stops, backs up, gas pump bent, attendant holding his head, nozzle on the ground. Finally, Vetteboy, worked free, takes off like a rice paper butterfly in a cyclone. (31 July 20)
6 - The gods. Love and jealousy. Specialists. Qualia. Drugs. The Archangel Michael.
The gods are unable to love unconditionally. They each have a job to do. They are specialists. They’re always asking for something, wanting to cut a deal, cover a risk. Conditional love begets jealousy, a kind of anti-love. Having bestowed on humans the gift of qualia (i.e. feelings and the ability to think about those feelings), a bit of a battle ensued when it came to dispensing drugs to humans. Why, it was argued, now that they have consciousness, give them the means to tamper with it? When the gods get together, as for a quarterly offsite conference, for example, there’s often hell to pay. It came as no surprise then, when I stopped at Smith Cove to hand off my small package to Archangel Michael, a World War One vintage sloop-of-war converted for a tourist outings enterprise in the San Juan Islands and housed in the Elliott Bay Marina, I saw parked in a long term lot the candy apple red Corvette. (1 Aug 20)
7 - Skid out. Conversation with a cop. At home with Sylvie. Lightning balls over the Sound.
A hard rain falling, still blocks from Val’s Club, through the red light at the Seneca exit coming off the freeway, spin out of control and slide into a flooded work zone, taking out an orange CAUTION sign, and the engine dead, and I push to the nearest curb out of the water, not quite clearing the lane, hog’s tail sticking out. I try to kick the engine over a couple of times before surrendering to the waterlogged fact. I reach into the saddle bag for my briefcase, thinking I can run the rest of the way to Val’s Club, and wake up to a blue and red light show and a uniform walking toward me. License and registration, please. The young fuzz looked to be under twenty-one. More fate. A ’56 Buick 6 full of sailors speeds past. Fuzzball gives them a glance but doesn’t seem interested, repeats, license and registration, please. Very polite, very determined. The fuzz is super starched, but getting wet. And there’s now a backup examining my bent license plate. What seems to be the problem, officer? I mean, I’m sort of in a hurry here. Very late for a very important meeting with some very influential people, if you know what I mean. License and registration, please. But what’s happened is, the city needs to clean the crap out of its storm drains. What’s happened is, I’ve asked you for your license and registration. Yes, sir, I say, deciding a little compliance might soften the starch. You Charles Murphy? Yes, sir, though as unsure as ever, but decide not to get into that with him at this point, my collection of identifications. Tie Your Own Trailer Park, Mt. Si Road. Is that your current address? Yes, I say, thinking, one of too many. You know, Mr. Murphy, here in Seattle, we like to think of stopping at red lights as the law, and not merely a suggestion. Ray is a veteran Seattle PD detective. We were in the Army together, buddies in Vietnam. Sounds cliché, but true story, so I’m using it to get out of a jam. I was a clerk typist. Ray was a grunt promoted to sergeant, result of his optimistic volunteerism, otherwise known as MF crazy. But he credits me with saving his life out on a walk for a late evening smoke one night. I suspected Ray of being a god even then, before I knew much about the gods, just the stories Mom raised me on. Ray saved my life one too many times. He kept throwing me in and pulling me back out. Slowly over the ensuing years I began to realize that the gods make mistakes. A clerk typist just doesn’t see that much action, get into that many fire fights. Anyway, Ray’s out in the rain tailing the fuzz newbie in a training exercise, and while he doesn’t save my life this time, I am let go, as the saying goes, with a warning. Back home on the upper balcony with Sylvie and a bottle of Pinot Noir chasing one of Pinot Grigio and we’re playing a game of whiffle ball with lightning balls made on Sylvie’s magic cop spindle trying to hit the islands in the Sound. The rain falls and falls as thick as the Anything Goes chowder Sylvie whipped up for a simple evening of sitting out and bouncing lightning balls skipping like rocks across the Sound. (2 Aug 20)
8 - Choice. Happy and peaceful. Love. Blurb.
We can’t choose to be happy, but we can choose to be peaceful. We can’t choose to be loved, but we can choose to love. We don’t need sacrifice, but we are able to choose altruistic behavior. Life is not a blurb. Just so, the gods are not mobsters, nor do they emerge ever as a rabble or a swarm. Gods sometimes work together, as Sylvie and I do, but most remain independent, and of these, many are often rapscallions, attempting to escape the grace of the father or mother. Grace is not always a party calling, grace being what one needs, not necessarily what one wants. We can’t choose to be gods, and we can’t ignore them if we don’t know where they hang out. We enjoy the gods at our own risk. (3 Aug 20)