Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Hey there, Sheiks and Shebas! Welcome back to Jazz Age Wednesdays. You already know I’m being a pantser as I write this story — flying by the seat of my pants, not planning anything. All the details, major and minor are triggered by the sets of things from Rob Goldstein, who creates the gorgeous images and videos for this series. (Click here for Rob’s entire collection of videos.)
Today I’m featuring music from the Jazz Age. There are videos for songs mentioned in this chapter from YouTube as well as some from Rob. I’m giving you those music breaks since this episode is about 2,000 words in length. That will help you save your place if you don’t have time. If you don’t like long posts — you’ve been warned.
With today’s episode of Hullaba Lulu I’ve finally gotten to the third “thing” for Chapter 9 of the series. The action picks up where Chapter 9.2 stopped.
Previously with Hullaba Lulu
Everyone but Lulu and the rose-gold angel-bot, Ginger had already left the train to go to the Cotton Club. To make up time, they took Valentino’s Rolls-Royce. Unfortunately, Lulu doesn’t know how to drive!
Valentino makes a dire revelation.
Now to Chapter 9.3. Do you hear Valentino’s trumpet?
Star of David
The runaway Rolls-Royce ploughed down the street sign for 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue. That slowed the automobile. On the outer wall of the building I saw a big mural that had pyramids, a sphinx, and a strange tower. I had only been to the Cotton Club a few times. I didn’t remember any murals on the outside, but the posters on the sidewalk looked familiar.
The Rolls-Royce bounced up over the curb and rolled to a stop right in front of the door to the Cotton Club.
Boom-boom had managed to bring the fortuneteller booth that housed the automaton, Sipsing. He and another angel-bot used a hand dolly to wheel the booth. I wondered at Boom-boom’s fascination with the gypsy automaton. It was not nearly as advanced as the angel-bots and it couldn’t communicate the way they did. Maybe it was like a pet to him.
Ginger and I got out of the vehicle. I bent over to inspect Rolls. A bit of steam trickled out from under the hood, but I figured it would be okay.
A group of angel-bots ran out and hustled us into the club. As the door opened I heard the song “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” and knew that it must be Dynamite singing. He carried a torch for Ginger.
The rose-gold angel-bot walked into the club just as he sang Boop-boop-de-boop! Applause erupted from the audience when they saw Ginger. With so many bots in the crowd, the clapping sounded like hundreds of little cymbals. I gave Ginger a little push to get her up onto the stage with Dynamite.
I had a glimpse of Rose and Pearl headed backstage. I figured they would sing or dance, or both. Those Shebas loved the spotlight. My eyes found Gramps and Valentino at a table, so I joined them. Gramps commented on the mural I noticed outside when I arrived. My grandfather asked if Valentino painted it. The enigmatic man nodded.
Earlier when I wondered if the Cotton Club might be like the strange version of Atlantic City, I was right. I was pretty sure it was “sideways” too. I had never seen a more elegant, sophisticated group of people at a night club. Their clothes were extraordinary. Those weren’t just glad rags, they were ecstatic! Wild and wonderful colors and designs, they didn’t conform to any convention or norm of fashion I had ever seen.
A woman at the table next to ours wore an exquisite Star of David pendant. It was made from some rare and precious metal that was unknown to me, except that the angel-bot I named Moon had the same metallic blue finish. In the center of the star was a sapphire as big as an eyeball.
When I looked at Valentino, I saw the woman’s Star of David reflected in the depths of his dark eyes.
Dynamite and Ginger left the stage. They were followed by Pearl and Rose. I took a sharp breath when I heard the first chord of the music. I hated that song! I slouched down in my chair and tried to pretend that I didn’t exist as Rose took the first part.
“You can bring Pearl, she’s a darned nice girl,” Rose sang and pointed to her friend. “But don’t bring Lulu.”
I slid farther down in my chair.
“You can bring Rose with her turned up nose. But don’t bring Lulu!” Pearl sang and they both pointed to me.
In utter mortification, my eyes wildly searched for the exit. Gramps laughed at the antics of my pals. Valentino smiled.
“Lulu, are you well?” he asked me in a puzzled voice.
My eyes and nose were the only thing above the tabletop, I had sunk down so far. I realized there was only one way around the embarrassing scene. Like the man said, “If you can’t lick ’em, jine ’em.”
With a motion to angel-bots Wicky, Wacky, and Woo I went to the stage and we sang “Back in Nagasaki.” When I belted out the words, “Hot ginger and dynamite,” the angel-bots in the audience got so excited that some of them jumped up onto the table tops.
As I went onstage, I saw Pearl and Rose move onto the dance-floor with a couple of swell looking Oliver Twists. Those four were such great dancers that I almost forgot the song while I watched them. However, I lost track of my pals while I sang. When my number was over, I went back to the table with Gramps and Valentino. The evening was beginning to wind down anyway.
“I haven’t seen you leave that train of yours without the trumpet,” Gramps commented to Valentino. “I don’t pretend to understand the many mysteries of the train, but it seems like you can use the trumpet to make the train come to you.”
The pained look on the enigmatic man’s face suggested my grandfather hit a nerve. Valentino gazed down at the brightly polished horn. He swallowed hard. His eyes were haunted as he looked from Gramps to me.
“I’m not able to go more than a short distance from the train,” Valentino began in a rough voice, but stopped to clear his throat. “Lately I can’t leave the train at all unless I have some aspect of it with me. The trumpet, the Rolls-Royce, the Ouija board, and other things are all aspects of the train.”
“When your daughter, Lauren traveled with me I underestimated her,” Valentino began with a regretful look at Gramps. “There was another passenger, the most brilliant man I’ve ever met. His name was Nikola Tesla. Your daughter mesmerized him.”
Both men turned their eyes briefly to me. Maybe they thought I would be defensive. I didn’t know how my grandfather might feel about something negative being said about my mother, but I already understood what kind of person she was.
“Wait a minute,” I objected. “I’ve heard of Tesla. He was too smart to be undone by a choice bit of calico. Lauren couldn’t have been smarter than him.”
“No,” Valentino continued. “However, Tesla was fragile in a way. He also had phobias that Lauren used to her advantage. I’ve never seen anyone get so upset at the touch of human hair. Or the sight of a woman’s earrings… It’s no wonder Nikola liked the angel-bots.”
“Lauren dissected an angel-bot to take the part that gives them intuition. She used that plus alcohol and drugs to mesmerize Tesla. Then she used the knowledge she pulled from him, along with the angel-bot’s mind… I think she meant to take over the train and failed. But in her attempt, she altered my connection to the train. That’s why I can’t leave the train without having an aspect of it with me. Now that glitch in my affinity with the train has grown,” Valentino stated, but paused and stared down at the trumpet.
“As my affinity with the train deteriorates, so do I,” Valentino explained. “I haven’t much longer to live.”
Applause for the jazz band interrupted that horrible revelation. My grandfather was speaking quietly to Valentino. Both their voices had serious tones. I was too stunned by what Valentino divulged to hear what they said. I was speechless. I couldn’t even look at either of them. I stared blindly at that trumpet and desperately fought tears.
The crowd had thinned. A group was gathered around the fortuneteller booth. The familiar words of the automaton cut into my fugue. Dazed, I turned to watch.
“Sipsing the Gypsy King knows all, sees all. What would you divine?” it asked.
Question after question was posed. The automaton dealt tarot cards in response. Sometimes he made a mechanical remark about the cards. Other times he remained silent. Though I stared, I wasn’t paying attention until I realized that Sipsing’s audience had quieted to worried sounding murmurs.
Valentino abruptly stalked to the group. His long legs took him across the room in a few strides. His expression reminded me of the way he looked when he pulled me away from that Pittura Metafisica he’d painted.
“Sipsing!” Valentino commanded the automaton. “What is wrong? What do you divine?”
The fortuneteller dealt a single tarot card ― the Chariot.
Valentino went pale.
Just then Moon, the engineering-bot burst into the club. His blue-gold finish was easily recognizable. I saw several scorch marks marred the shine.
“You were to remain with the train,” Valentino challenged the angel-bot.
Moon was so distraught that could barely form a sentence. His clockwork mechanisms clicked and whirred erratically.
“It’s the Tesla coil,” the engineering-bot blurted out. “It’s shooting lightning randomly, haphazardly!”
In his excitement, Moon’s Cuban accent more pronounced than it was when I met him. However, that wasn’t what took me aback. Just before I left the train, I had nearly knocked the Tesla machine off its shelf. I caught it, but when I put it back, I wasn’t sure if I set it down exactly the way it had been.
Valentino looked at me and I tried to act casually, but I couldn’t meet his eyes.
“I noticed the Tesla coil was turned backward. Naturally that wouldn’t do any harm,” Moon added.
Bless the blue-gold bot, he gave me a quick reassuring glance. I relaxed and looked Valentino on the eyes, and then raised my eyebrows inquiringly.
“But that made me examine the device,” Moon continued. “I found that it had been changed, sabotaged. It appears the initial sabotage was done quite some time ago.”
Moon paused awkwardly, looking down at his feet. I placed my hand on his arm and urged him to continue. He looked at Valentino.
“I have kept the knowledge to myself, because you did not share it,” Moon began. “But I know that your connection to the train has deteriorated. I think the damage to the Tesla coil slowly eroded as your condition became worse.”
Valentino cleared his throat uncomfortably. I gradually became aware of a noise outside the club.
“Surely that didn’t cause you to leave the train,” Valentino stated.
“It’s the train!” Moon cried. “The Tesla coil triggered the train. Neither the control angel nor I could get it in check. It will break free any moment.”
At that moment the trumpet spun around on the table. Of its own accord the horn blared out the notes that had been sensuous when Valentino played them ― and it played the notes backward.
I thought Valentino’s eyes would pop out of his head. That vein in his throat started throbbing. The ground trembled. The roar of the train filled the room. I knew it must be headed right for the Cotton Club.
Everyone ran outside. I saw that Pittura Metafisica of pyramids and a sphinx that Valentino painted on the wall at some past date. My eye was drawn to the sphinx because oddly, it wore a Star of David as an earring ― and the earring was glowing. Abruptly I realized the odd tower was a Tesla tower. The picture came to life and lightning bolts shot from the tower as the train bore down upon us. The pyramid in the painting started to glow.
Valentino played the trumpet furiously, but it had no effect on the rapidly approaching train.
It was in sight by then and looming large. Strangely it was the caboose that headed toward us. The train was going backward.
Valentino yelled something about the Rolls Royce. Gramps made sure Pearl, Rose, and I got into the car. Some angel-bots squeezed into the car too. We were packed like sardines.
It looked like my grandfather meant to give up his seat. He would be left behind to whatever disaster headed our way. Then Ginger got in and pulled Gramps inside to sit in her lap. Any angel-bots that couldn’t fit inside the vehicle held onto the outside.
Somebody pressed the starter switch and Valentino hit the accelerator. The Rolls shot out of the way just as the caboose rolled past. I cringed and threw up my hands reflexively because I was sure the train would crash into the wall of the Cotton Club.
However, it went into the Pittura Metafisica. I don’t mean it hit the mural, I mean it went into it!
Since Valentino said he could not be separated from the train, I was horrified. He said he didn’t have long to live. The train vanished into the painting, Valentino would surely die right away!
Bushwa! Lulu is afraid Valentino is going to die. Well, he said he would if he’s separated from the train. Will there be time to save him? Tune in again next week!
Real World Notes
The Cotton Club. It was the place to be for music in the 1920s. The club’s beginning is a bit dubious with gangsters and such. In 1920, Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, opened the Club Deluxe on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue in the center of Harlem. Owney Madden, a white gangster, took over operations in 1923, and renamed the venue the Cotton Club. However, it was legendary for featuring black entertainers.
I hope you’ll click over and check out Rob’s blog. You’ll find more fabulous images there, and terrific blog posts too.
Stay tuned for more spontaneously written fun. The things Rob sent to drive Chapter 10 promise to be a big challenge for me — Wave Frequency Machine, The Theremin, and The Oscillation Overthruster! Right now, I have no idea where the seat of my pantser pants will fly with those things. Wish me luck! I hope to see you on our diesel-punk train again next week.
Thanks for visiting. You’re the cat’s pajamas!
Now some shameless self-promotion for my other 1920s books — the original “three things” stories about Paisley Idelle Peabody, aka Pip, and her friends.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Artwork Copyright © 2018 by Rob Goldstein
Copyright © 2018 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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