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       Dinner at Deviant's Palace, p.1

           Tim Powers
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Dinner at Deviant's Palace


  PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF TIM POWERS

  “Philip K. Dick felt that one day Tim Powers would be one of our greatest fantasy writers. Phil was right.” —Roger Zelazny

  “Powers is a fine writer with an elegant and imaginative style, and the things that happen in his story are just weird enough to make us wonder if everyday life might not be as normal as it seems.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

  “A Tim Powers science fiction novel never fails to titillate and elucidate with the dark and the bizarre, and all with such original, eccentric color and style.” —Los Angeles Times

  Earthquake Weather

  “Influenced by SF master Philip K. Dick, Powers taps into Dick’s surrealistic style to great success.” —Library Journal

  Expiration Date

  “Expiration Date is fascinating. . . . It’ll have you turning pages as much for his sheer inventiveness as for the plot . . . for the remarkable frisson that sparks from the page, the playfulness of the language.” —The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

  “Only a writer of Powers’ skill and imagination could make this goulash of outlandish material work. He blends every outré ingredient into a satisfying and cohesive whole, so that the reader has no choice at the end but to think: ‘Of course. Everything fits. I can see that now.’ Expiration Date ranks with his best work.” —San Francisco Chronicle

  Dinner at Deviant’s Palace

  Tim Powers

  To The Thursday Night Gang:

  Chris Arena, Greg Arena, Bill Bailey, Jim Blaylock, Jenny Bunn, Pete Devries, Phil Dick, Jeff Fontanesi, Don Goudie, Chris Gourlay, Dashiell Hamster, Rick Harding, K. W. Jeter, Tom Kenyon, Dave Lamont, Tim Lamont, Steve Malk, Phil Pace, Brendan Powers, Serena Powers and Phil Thibodeau…

  …and the honorary members: Russ Galen, Dean Koontz, Roy Squires, Joel Stein, Ted Wassard and Paul Williams…

  …and with thanks to Beth Meacham, most perceptive, persuasive and tactful of editors.

  Contents

  Introduction: Staking a Claim

  BOOK ONE: Whatever I Can Carry In One Hand

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  BOOK TWO: Leaving the Dogtown Gate

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  Introduction

  Staking a Claim

  I worked on this book for a long time before it finally got published. All the way back in 1975, when I was still in college, I was writing a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles book that I mostly called Dinner At Deviant’s Palace—it never got finished, which is just as well, but I remained fond of the title. I derived it from E. R. Eddison’s A Fish Dinner in Memison—I hadn’t read it, but I loved the idea of a book being about a dinner somewhere—and Robert Downey’s 1972 movie, Greaser’s Palace.

  Shortly after graduating from college, I read Ted Patrick’s 1976 book, Let Our Children Go!, which described Patrick’s hair-raising adventures in finding and deprogramming people who had been brainwashed by crazy cults. In those days, you’d see a lot of robed characters handing out incoherent religious fliers on Hollywood Boulevard, and even at my college, my friends and I would often be approached by weirdly smiling young zealots of one obscure sect or another, and it was impossible not to speculate on what had bent their life story in this direction, what peculiar power the cults brought to bear. And I wondered what a cult would be like if its messiah really did have some sort of superhuman powers.

  After I had graduated and sold a couple of novels, I went back to the post-apocalyptic Los Angeles setting, but now I made my protagonist a deprogrammer—a redeemer, as the characters in the book call the job—of such a cult.

  Often, post-apocalyptic stories involve characters who are trying to restore civilization; they’re working to get electricity functioning again, or to rediscover penicillin. I’m all in favor of civilization, but in my book, I wanted not to do that. My characters, except for the bad guy, take their world as it is, and even my fairly curious and intelligent protagonist is only mildly interested in the legendary “bright electrical world” of previous centuries. Gregorio Rivas has more immediate concerns.

  Samuel R. Delany used the Orpheus myth as a basis for his first novel, The Einstein Intersection, but it’s an intriguing myth and I figured he had not exhausted it, so I made my protagonist, too, an Orpheus figure—a musician who loses his true love to a sort of underworld and sets about getting her back, partly through the use of music. (In the first draft, her name was Urania Dice—Uri Dice, Eurydice?—but upon sober reconsideration, that seemed a bit heavy handed.)

  I sold the book to the Timescape line of Pocket Books in 1983, but Timescape was being discontinued right about then, so I returned the advance and got the rights reverted and sold the book instead to Ace Books. There, it fortunately fell into the hands of editor Beth Meacham, who made me re-write the thing entirely, to its enormous improvement, and editor Susan Allison, who read that improved text and prompted further beneficial changes. I’m very grateful that the version Timescape had was never published!

  It’s entertaining to read the book again, these thirty years later. I can see echoes of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and Frank Utpatel’s illustrations of that story, in my description of Venice: “Its seaward side, where the most altered of the city’s denizens limped, hopped and swam about on unimaginable errands in the canals of poisonous Inglewood”—and I remember that my account of the crowd of Jaybirds doing Sanctified Dancing in the rain was inspired by the 1982 video for the Fleetwood Mac song “Gypsy”—and I came up with the alien name Sevatividam by reading the words made and no preservatives on the can of Coors beer I was holding at the time, and more or less reversing them.

  Ace Books published the book in 1985, and it won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award and was a finalist for the Nebula Award. My next book was a historical fantasy about eighteenth-century pirates, and the one after that was a historical fantasy about Shelley and Byron and Keats, and I’ve never gone back to setting a book in the future as I did in Dinner At Deviant’s Palace. I may never go back to it, but I’m glad to have staked a claim in that territory with this book.

  BOOK ONE: Whatever I Can Carry in One Hand

  And suddenly there’s no meaning in our kiss,

  And your lit upward face grows, where we lie,

  Lonelier and dreadfuller than sunlight is,

  And dumb and mad and eyeless like the sky.

  —Rupert Brooke

  Chapter One

  CROUCHED WAY UP AT the top of the wall in the rusty bed of the Rocking Truck, Modesto tugged his jacket more tightly across his chest, pushed back his hat and squinted around at the city. At the moment there was no one in particular that it would be lucrative to watch for, but just to keep in practice the boy liked to climb up here and keep track of the comings and goings in general. Below him to his left was the South Gate area, not quite its usual crowded self because of the recent rain, and beyond that to the southeast—the direction that was nearly always downwind—he could see the ragged shacks and black mud lanes of Dogtown, canopied by the snarls of smoke rising from the eternal fires in its trash-filled trenches.

  The boy clambered over the collapsed cab to sit on the hood and look north. The broken-backed truck, as immovable as the age-rounded concrete wall it straddled, didn’t shift under him; nor had it ever moved in the memory of anyone now living.

  The towers made ragged brushstrokes of bl
ack down the gray northern sky, and at the skeletal top of the Crocker Tower he could see bright orange pinpricks that he knew were torches; the night watch was coming on duty early, and Modesto knew that their various spyglasses would be turned to the east, watching for any sign of the army that was rumored to be approaching from San Berdoo. And though even Modesto couldn’t see them from here, he knew that out beyond the north farms there were armed men on horseback patrolling the Golden State Freeway from the Berdoo Freeway in the north to the Pomona in the south.

  Thirty feet below his perch he noticed a grotesque vehicle moving south down Fig Street toward him, and with a grin half-admiring and half-contemptuous he identified it as the carriage of Greg Rivas, the famous pelican gunner. Like most kids his age, Modesto considered gunning a slightly embarrassing historical curiosity, conjuring up implausible images of one’s parents when they were young and foolish…. Modesto was far more interested in the more defined and consistent rhythms of Scrap, and the new dances like Scrapping, Gimpscrew and the Bugwalk.

  With a creaking of axles and an altered pace in the clopping of the horses’ hooves, the vehicle turned west onto Woolshirt Boulevard, and Modesto knew Rivas was just arriving early for his nightly gig at Spink’s.

  Bored, the boy turned his attention back to the thrillingly ominous lights in the Crocker Tower.

  The carriage was an old but painstakingly polished Chevrolet body mounted on a flat wooden wagon drawn by two horses, and though the late afternoon rain drabbed the colors and made the streamers droop, it was by far the grandest vehicle out on Woolshirt Boulevard. Old superstitions about rain being poisonous had kept the usual street crowd indoors today, though, and only two boys emerged from a recessed doorway and scampered up to cry, somewhat mechanically, “Rivas! Hooray, it’s Gregorio Rivas!”

  Rivas pushed aside the beaded curtain that hung in place of the long gone door, stepped out onto the flat surface of the wagon and, squinting in the light drizzle, braced himself there as his driver snapped the reins and drew the vehicle to a squeaking halt in front of the building that was their destination.

  Like most of the structures that stood along the north to south midcity line, this one was a well-preserved shell of old concrete with neat sections of woodwork filling the gaps where plate glass had once fabulously stretched across yards and yards of space. The building was three stories high and, again typically for this area, the wall at the top, now decorated with a profusion of spikes and ornaments and sun-faded flags, was jaggedly uneven with an ancient fracture. Over the doorway strips of metal and colored glass had been nailed to spell out, in letters a foot tall, SPINKS.

  “Here,” Rivas called to the boys, “never mind it today, no one’s around. Anyway, I think I need a couple of new prompters—lately the goddamn parrots sound more enthusiastic than you guys.”

  As if to illustrate his point, one of the parrots nesting in the top of the nearest palm tree called down, “Rivas! Rivas!”

  “Hooray!” added another one from a tree farther up the street.

  “Hear that?” Rivas demanded as he reached back inside the car for his hat and his vinyl pelican case. “I think it’s because they work free, just for the art of it.” He put on his hat, glanced around below him for unpuddled pavement, spotted an area and leaped to it.

  “We don’t, though, man,” one of the boys pointed out cheerily. Both of them held out their palms.

  “Mercenary little mules,” Rivas muttered. He dug a couple of small white cards out of his vest pocket and gave one to each boy. “There’s a jigger apiece, and you should be ashamed to take so much.”

  “You bet we are, man.” The pair dashed back to their sheltered doorway.

  Rivas paused under the restaurant’s awning to set his antique hat at the proper angle and comb his fingers through his dark Van Dyke beard. Finally he pushed open the swinging doors and strode inside.

  A moment later, though, he was pursing his lips irritably, for his careful entrance had been wasted—the chandeliers, which had been lowered after the lunch crowd, still sat on the floor unlit, and the room was so dim that if it weren’t for the faint smells of stale beer and old grease the place could have been mistaken for a between-services church.

  “Damn it,” he yelped, stubbing his toe against the edge of one of the chandeliers and awkwardly hopping over it, “where are you, Mojo? How come these things aren’t lit yet?”

  “It’s early yet, Greg,” came a voice from the kitchen. “I’ll get to ’em.”

  Rivas picked his way around the wooden wheels of the chandeliers to the bar, lifted the hinged section and stepped behind it. By touch he found the stack of clean glasses, and then the big room echoed with the clicking of the pump as he impatiently worked the handle to prime the beer tap.

  “There’s a bottle of Currency Barrows open,” called Mojo from the kitchen.

  The edges of Rivas’s mouth curled down in a sort of inverted smile. “The beer’s fine,” he said in a carefully casual voice. He opened the tap and let the stream of cool beer begin filling his glass.

  Old Mojo lurched ponderously out of the kitchen carrying a flickering oil lamp, and he crouched over the nearest chandelier to light the candles on it. “That’s right,” he said absently, “you’re not crazy about the Barrows stuff, are you?”

  “I’m a beer and whiskey man,” said Rivas lightly. “Fandango or the twins here yet?”

  “Yeah, Fandango is—them’s some of his drums on the stage there. He went for the rest.”

  There was a shuffling and banging from the direction of the back hall just then, and a voice called, “That you, Greg? Help me with these, will you?”

  “Whatever I can carry in one hand, Tommy.” Tucking the pelican case under his arm and sipping the beer as he went, Rivas groped his way to the back hall, relieved the puffing Fandango of one of his smaller drums and led the way back across the already somewhat brighter room to the stage.

  Fandango put his drums down carefully and wiped sweat from his chubby face. “Whew,” he said, leaning against the raised stage. “Spink was askin’ me this morning when you’d be in,” he remarked in a confiding tone.

  Rivas put down the drum he’d been carrying and then glanced at the younger man. “So?”

  “Well, I don’t know, but he seemed mad.”

  “How could you tell? He probably sleeps with that smile on.”

  “He said he wanted to talk to you about something.” Fandango avoided looking at Rivas by concentrating on tightening a drumhead screw. “Uh, maybe about that girl.”

  “Who, that Hammond creature?” Rivas frowned, uneasily aware that Fandango had been seeing the girl first, and had introduced her to him. “Listen, she turned out to be crazy.”

  “They all do, to hear you tell it.”

  “Well, most of them are crazy,” Rivas snapped as he climbed up onto the stage. “I can’t help that.” He untied the knots that held the vinyl case closed, flipped up the lid and lifted the instrument out.

  Though not even quite two feet long, it was said to be the finest in Ellay, its neck carved of mahogany with copper wire frets and polished copper pennies for pegs, and its body a smoothly laminated half sphere of various woods, waxed and polished to a glassy sheen. The horsehair bow was clipped to the back of the neck, and in profile the instrument did look something like a pelican’s head, the body being the jowly pouch and the long neck the beak.

  He put the case on the stage floor, sat down on a stool with the pelican across his knees, and plucked out a quick, nearly atonal gun riff; then he swung it up to his shoulder, unclipped the bow and skated it experimentally across the strings, producing a melancholy chord.

  Satisfied, he laid the instrument back in the open case and put the bow down beside it. He picked up his glass of beer. “Anyway,” he said after taking a sip, “Spink wouldn’t be bothered about any such crap. Hell, this is the eleventh year of the Seventh Ace—all that chastity and everlasting fidelity stuff left by the Dogtown gate
before you and I were born.”

  As was very often the case, especially lately, Fandango couldn’t tell whether Rivas was being sincere or bitterly ironic, so he let the subject drop and set about arranging the drum stands around his own stool.

  “Say,” he ventured quietly a few minutes later, “who’s the guy by the window?”

  Mojo had got several of the chandeliers lit by now, and the kitchen corner of the room glowed brightly enough to show a heavy-set man sitting at a table just to the right of the streetside window. Rivas stared at him for a moment, unable to tell in that uncertain light whether or not the man was looking his way, or was even awake; then he shrugged. “Jaybush knows.”

  “And he ain’t tellin’,” Fandango agreed. “Say, is it still gonna be mostly gunning tonight? I’ve been practicing some newer songs, some of these bugwalk numbers, and it seems to me—”

  Rivas drained his beer. “Catch!” he called, and tossed the glass in a high, spinning parabola toward Mojo, who looked up wearily, clanged his lamp down and caught the glass before it could hit the floor.

  “Goddammit, Greg…” he muttered, getting to his feet and shambling toward the bar.

  “Yeah,” said Rivas, frowning slightly as he watched the old man’s progress, “it’ll be gunning. They don’t pay to hear Rivas doing bugwalk.” No, he thought. For that you want those savage kids coming out of the southeast end of town—Dogtown—the kids who rely on the ferocity of their voices and ragtag instruments to make up for their lack of musical skill. “Why?”

  “I still can’t get the hang of the beat on it,” Fandango complained. “If you’d just let me bang away in the same time as what you’re playin’, or even the time of what you’re singin’, I could handle it, but this third and fourth layer stuff, all at different paces but having to touch the peaks and bottoms together…”

 
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