Verse 38: THE SHOW MUST GO ON
"The program regularly scheduled for this time will not be seen," the announcer spoke over the Special News Report graphic. "Instead we bring you this special In the Know News report." The graphic vanished, replaced by an impeccably groomed and coifed woman.
"This is Roberta Halliwell, speaking to you live from the parking lot of Gilda's Tavern in historic Mystic, Connecticut. On this very site, just under a week ago, life as we know it took a very strange turn. All our assumptions about our place in the universe went out the window, and the funny thing is almost no one noticed. You see, in the early morning hours of July 30th, we were visited by a man from another planet, who came not as conqueror or ambassador, but as a simple minstrel. His story will amaze and confound you, but it will also touch your heart as it touched mine. Join me for the next hour, and on my prime time special this evening, to meet the alien who walks among us and, in a very real sense, gave us the gift of song."
Bobbie's face vanished, replaced by a photograph of Lex, digitally doctored to give it an unearthly glow, and the words Lex Machallo: Singer from the Stars. Truly awful music played under the graphic.
"This is so tacky," Nate chortled, watching the monitor by the production van.
"Shhhh!" Hannah said. "She's back on."
"Yesterday, residents of and visitors to this picturesque Connecticut community were rudely awakened by word of a severe weather system heading this way. However, this was no mere freak storm, as the public and media were led to believe. Bizarre as it may sound, what threatened Mystic was not unlike the Leviathan of Biblical times, a serpent of legendary proportions. In the following exclusive footage, you will see for the first time, the awe-inspiring face of the creature that almost brought destruction to this peaceful town – and of the strange visitor who literally brought that creature down."
"Ninety seconds out," the director shouted and Yolanda ran in to fuss with Bobbie's make-up. Lex watched as the monitor showed him walking out of the speedboat and up to the sea serpent.
"Look at me," Lex pointed at the screen as Yolanda tried to add another layer of hairspray to his already stiff mane. "I'm like some big wet dog."
"It's a shame there wasn't any sound," Bobbie gave Mitch a dirty look. "But someone decided to take a nap and forgot to boost the levels."
"Good thing, too," Mitch retorted. "Otherwise you'd put half the viewing audience to sleep with the playback. That tune was one industrial- strength soporific."
"We're live again in five, four, three…." the director showed two fingers, then pointed at Bobbie.
"With me now is the man you just saw sing a monster to sleep, Lex Machallo." The camera pulled back to a two-shot. "What was the song you used to soothe that savage beast?"
"A lullaby my father used to sing to me when I was a babe in Allyn."
"And where exactly is Allyn, Lex?"
"At the westernmost end of the Shining Sea, on the planet Kal, in a system of stars and worlds called Novagrove, which translates to 'Shield of Heaven', so far away from the Earth that I have no words to explain it."
"How did you make such an impossibly long journey? What kind of spaceship did you use?"
"No ship, Roberta. I came here through a magic portal created, completely by accident, at the hands of a powerful Wizard. I was merely an innocent bystander."
"Pardon me, Lex, but I'm sure most of our viewers find that story hard to believe."
"Maybe they will be convinced by visual proof of what I say," Lex answered as prompted by the cue cards.
"I bet they will," Bobbie agreed.
The on-screen picture changed to the events of Sunday night as captured by Bobbie's trusty camcorder: the swirling disc, the charging motorcycle, and the sudden appearance of an armored stranger.
"The woman in the armor is Captain Polglase of the Imperial Dragoons, who came to rescue Lex from involuntary exile," Bobbie continued. "The Captain also provided security for this live broadcast in her own unique fashion."
Camera three panned over the faces of the crowd gathered to witness the events. It lingered on two men in dark suits and sunglasses pounding angrily against the invisible wall that separated the parking lot from the sidewalk. Next to them, a small boy waved and then pressed his mouth against the barrier, making a pufferfish face at the camera until his mother yanked him away.
"Captain Polglase declined to be interviewed for this special report," Bobbie advised, "but we took this footage several minutes ago when she cast a spell called Force Wall that encases us in a dome impenetrable to any weapon known to terrestrial science." A pre-recorded segment showed Polglase with arms outstretched.
"I look fat," Polglase complained.
"It's the camera," Gloria assured her. "They say it adds ten pounds."
"Then such things should be outlawed," Polglase snapped.
"Can everyone perform magic where you come from, Lex?" Bobbie asked.
"No. Magic is a specialized skill set and takes years to learn."
"Again, excuse me for playing devil's advocate, but I know that many viewers think this is some sort of trick, an illusion foisted on them by computer-generated images and camera hocus pocus. Is there any way you can prove, here and now, that what you say is the truth?"
"I am prepared to give a practical demonstration that should erase all doubt," Lex replied.
"And we'll be back after these messages with that proof," Bobbie spoke into the camera.
"Back after commercial," the director shouted. "Looks great so far, Bobbie!"
Lex walked over to the production trailer. Gloria handed him some bottled water and he drank gratefully. "You gonna let us in on this big secret?" she asked.
"Patience, my love," he said with a mischievous boyish grin.
"Not even a hint?" Gloria played with his shirt laces, almost dislodging his clip-on microphone.
"Let's say that it should hold everyone's attention for a considerable period of time." He took another drink then handed back the bottle. "Keep a good thought." He walked back to Bobbie's side.
"All right," she said, "when we get back I'll introduce you to our expert witnesses, and then you do your thang. The bigwigs are still peeved that you won't tell anyone what you're planning to do, and the director doesn't know where to set up the cameras." Lex mimed turning a key between his tightly pressed lips and then tossing it aside. "Have it your way," she sighed.
Back live, Bobbie presented Lex to two men and a woman, enlisted by the station to attest that no chicanery or legerdemain was involved in what would shortly transpire. Lex shook hands, in turn, with a football referee, an appellate judge, and a bearded man from Las Vegas who was both a veteran stage magician and a debunker of frauds.
"Okay, Mork," the bearded man said. "Let's see what ya got."
"What I have, sir, is a debt to repay to a lady," Lex told him. "If you will excuse me? I must go pay her my respects." Lex did not rejoin Gloria, however. Instead, he walked over to Gilda's half-demolished southern wall and ran his hands over the scorched wood. A cameraman came in close and caught the look of intense concentration as Lex leaned his forehead against the brick. The tableau resembled a penitent at an altar. The monitor showed Lex's hands begin to glow blue then blue-white. Columns of light, thick as a fist, emanated one from each hand, sinking to the foundation and rising skyward, stopping at the roof line. Their vertical progress halted, both beams sprouted a series of similarly hued horizontal branches, spreading along the wall and sending off more perpendicular lines as they sought the building's corners. In under a minute, as Bobbie provided unnecessary commentary in hushed tones worthy of a LPGA tournament, a lattice covered the entire southern side of the building. The network continued to grow, bending around the southeast and southwest corners, and over the rooftop. The director switched to an aerial view, grateful the station had opted to assign its lone chopper to help cover this event. The hovering cameraman, more used to covering Boston's epic traffic snarls than live magic, perfectly captured the full effect as a brilliant cerulean cage gradually gift-wrapped the entire burnt-out shell.
Lex stepped back. "Any moment now," he told the camera operator.
Then, before the wide eyes of all assembled – invited guests and curious tourists, children in strollers and one veteran in a wheelchair, shaded government agents and jaded newspeople – something entirely wondrous happened: the ghost of Gilda's Tavern began to live again. Timbers unburnt and uncollapsed. Bricks untoppled from the ground. Walls fell up straight and true, and paint erased the soot and scorch marks. The helicopter cameraman chronicled the roof spreading like a freshly laundered sheet over a newly made bed back to its original condition.
"How are you doing that?" Bobbie demanded, appearing at his shoulder. Lex stood back, hands on hips, admiring the building's reemergence from the ashes.
"I am doing nothing," he told her. "The building is doing all the work now. I cast a fairly complex spell called Reconstruction, which relies on the fact that most buildings – like the people who live and work in them – have memories. I reminded Gilda's of what she once was and she took it from there."
"Can we go inside?" she asked eagerly.
Lex shook his head. "Too dangerous now. Wood and plaster flying around. Someone could get hurt. However, once the framework fades, it should be safe to stand in the doorway and watch the second phase of the spell.
"You don't think a lady would concern herself only with her outward appearance, do you? I counsel your camera operator not to venture far past the entryway, though. Things inside may have a tendency to fly back into place.
"Looks like we may be back in business sooner than expected," Zoot told Tully, taking his hand in hers.
"This is way cool!" Nate shouted, loud enough for the onlookers to hear. A few of them began to applaud, and the ovation swelled until even the two men in black joined in. The blue-white gridwork faded and disappeared, and a crew rushed to the newly reconstituted doorway to shoot Phase Two.
Lex ambled over to Gloria and stood looking over her shoulder as she watched the monitor. The tavern's interior walls glowed with the same color, filling the dark, debris-strewn room with light. Tables and booths reassembled, scraps of paper flew off the floor and grew back into vintage movie posters, the front of the jukebox unmelted and its light came back on. Even shards of glass unshattered into mugs and bottles, albeit empty ones.
"That's what I was forgetting," Gloria murmured. "I knew there had to be something."
"What?" Lex asked her.
"I forgot to tell my mom goodbye," she replied. "Thank you for reminding me." She walked towards the entrance, Lex behind her. Zoot ran and caught up. All three pushed past the camera operator in the doorway, and walked into the now completely restored building. Only a few traces remained of the devastation that had recently reigned therein.
"Wow!" Zoot declared. "Just wow." She turned to Gloria and Lex. "Wow." She walked off, shaking her head in disbelief.
Gloria strolled around, running her hand across a tabletop here, adjusting a framed photograph there, righting an overturned chair. "It's so beautiful," she said as she caressed the gleaming surface of the bar. Something was missing, however. She walked into her office and returned toting the portrait of the tavern's namesake, ungashed, untorn, as whole as the rest of the decorations. She carried it behind the bar and held it up.
"Lex, can you get me a chair?" she asked.
"No need," he told her. He put his hands on her hips and lifted. Gloria hung the portrait reverently in place. Gilda Robinette's face smiled down on her daughter, who gently kissed a painted cheek.
"Bye, Mom," she whispered. "Okay, Lex. You can let me down now. I'm ready to go."
Outside, Polglase checked her battlengine. "Nearly time," she told Nate and Hannah. "Take your positions."
Nate reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a crumpled envelope, which he handed to Tully. "It's a letter for some friends and a couple teachers," he explained. "Could you please make copies and see they get delivered? I'd really appreciate it."
"I'd be happy too, bud. You take care of things over there, okay?"
"I will, Uncle Tully," Nate promised.
"Damn, I wish I'd thought of that," Hannah smacked herself on the forehead. "Why didn't you tell me you were going to do that?"
"You didn't ask," her brother replied smugly.
"Too late now, I guess," she frowned, then bussed Tully's forehead. "If anyone asks, tell them I'll miss them all and I'll think of them."
"Will do, sweetheart," Tully vowed.
The two youngsters donned their crash helmets and took seats in the Indian's sidecar, Nate holding Warlock's carrying case. A small black nose protruded from the metal gridwork.
Polglase reached into her pocket and produced a small brightly polished mirror, two amulets, and a corked bottle. She handed the first to Tully. He saw his reflection in its surface.
"What is it?" Tully asked. Zoot ran over and he handed it to her so she could see it too.
"Magic Mirror," the Captain replied. "Long range communications device. I do not know if it will be effective over so many dimensions, but it is worth a try. Both of you, hold it at the same time." They did. Polglase pointed a finger at the surface and a spark shot forth. Tully and Zoot both recoiled briefly, but held on.
"This one is now keyed to your touches alone," Polglase told them. "I shall give another to Gloria on the other side. If all goes well, you need only speak her name and you will see and hear each other despite the distance involved. Just keep it away from prying eyes. It should run forever, even off the meager mana this planet possesses."
Next, Polglase explained the purpose of the Sovereign Health amulets. Finally, she uncorked the vial and shook out two small white pills. She handed one each to Zoot and Tully. "Take these," she said.
Zoot held hers up and looked at it. "Does this return me to the Matrix or something?" she asked.
"Swallow The Damn Pills," Polglase Commanded. Both did so immediately. Zoot walked off to say her good-byes to Nate and Hannah
"What's up?" Gloria inquired as she and Lex joined the rest of the party.
"Parting gifts," Polglase said. Bobbie and a crew approached and the Captain held up a hand. "Private conversation," she said.
Bobbie walked straight into the newly erected Force Wall.
"Hey" she protested. "Let me in."
"Sorry, Bobbie," Lex said. "I fear you shall have to view the next part of the show from a safe distance."
"Next part? What next part?"
"It's time for us to go," he said.
"But we still have almost half an hour left! I was going to have you take questions from the crowd." She indicated a crew beyond the barrier, weaving their way through the throng.
"No time for that," he said.
Gloria, in contemplation of her last tearful farewells, dug into her handbag for a tissue. Her searching fingers encountered something else she had almost forgotten, something that gave her one last idea. She handed the memory crystal and magic player to Tully, then hurriedly instructed him in its use. "It's Lex's concert," she explained. "Share it with the world."
Tully promised he would. "You know, babe, I used to fantasize about dancing at your wedding. I guess this is as close as I'm gonna get." He reached for her and she came into his arms. In a gruff voice, he added, "Forgive me if I stoop to an old TV cliché. Live long and prosper."
Gloria, overcome with emotion could only nod and weep.
Lex left the now livid reporter behind and joined them. He shook Tully's hand with due solemnity. Gloria let Lex pull her away, and they both went over to the motorcycle and Zoot.
"A handshake won't cut it with me," Zoot told him, and gave him one last impassioned kiss. "Take care of her," Zoot said when she came up for air. "And let her take care of you."
"Lex!" Bobbie screamed.
Zoot and Gloria held each other tightly. "I don't have to tell you how proud your daddy would be of you right now, do I, G?" Zoot whispered in her ear.
"I think he'd be proud of both of us, Z." Gloria released her with great reluctance and straddled the motorcycle.
"Lex!" Bobbie bellowed. "We had a deal!"
"Captain?" Lex called, ignoring her. "Is our last party member ready?"
Polglase gestured and the minivan's rear door opened. A tall, blue-scaled creature stepped out and docile as a lamb took up his position behind Gloria and the kids. Polglase took point. They all faced the spot where, if fortune smiled, the portal would open for the final time in just under a minute.
"Minstrel!" the Captain called. "Get your ass over here!"
Lex obeyed, taking his accustomed seat behind Gloria.
"LEX!" Bobbie pounded against the invisible wall. "Please!"
All at once, the full significance of the line-up sank in. "Jesus Christ!" she yelled, heedless of the fact that her mike was still live. "The portal's about to open again and they’re all leaving! Camera! Get over here pronto!"
"I think we have time for one question," Lex said, breaking through her frenzy. "A quick one. That is, if you still want me to answer questions."
Out beyond the Force Dome, a gangly red-haired man wearing a t-shirt displaying a smiley face wearing a pointed witch's hat grabbed the microphone from a passing staffer. "Hey, Lex!" he called. "Do you have a message for the people of Earth?"
"Yes," Lex replied. "Life is short. Spend it with people you love doing things you enjoy. I know I will."
The Minstrel unhooked his clip-on microphone and battery pack and threw both into the dumpster whose acquaintance he had made when first he arrived. He leaned forward and rested his cheek against Gloria's. "If this doesn't work, we're going to look like complete doofusses," he told her.
"You could always start your own religion," she replied with a grin. "Walk on water, make the lame walk, raise the dead. You'd be a natural."
"No thank you."
The wind picked up suddenly. Polglase cast Chaos Shield on the entire party (except for Warlock who, like all ferrets, was naturally immune) and stared resolutely forward. Hannah took Nate's hand and gripped it as tightly as he held onto the cage."Come on, Shim Po," Lex said sotto voce. The portal sprang to life and the chaos wind blasted them, despite Polglase's protective spells. "It is all up to you now."