Special thanks to Katy Reynolds and Chris Reed for supplying some of this week’s .gifs!
Episode 4: The Miraculous Six Plus One
Hello there, noble reader! Dr. Jackson O’Brien here. Globe-trotting author, Country-trotting reader, State-trotting book enthusiast, and horse-trotting writing tourist. Currently, I serve as a freelance detective into incidents off of the beaten path of reality.
It had come down to this moment. With Agents Ein and Zwei—and presumably the rest of the I.I.H.Q.—shutting me out, I had been left with but little choice to call upon an eldritch force that I had hoped beyond hope to never need to call into action.
The Order of the Velvet Elvis.
But, as my engrossing engaged and alarming assiduous nemesis The Man in the Paisley Scarf had managed to collect unto himself a force of competent and arguably preternatural help, it stood to reason that I should do the same. To fight fire with demonstrably larger and stranger fire, as it were.
But this conflagration I had summoned was ostensibly the nuclear option. This ancient order attracted only the most society-shunned of the transmundane; “people” for whom which the term only loosely applied, and who would therefore not be automatically inclined to render aid unto the civilization that had cast them out. It was said that dark things had taken root in their hearts, germinating over the long years into a worldview that held a conceit for a longer game whose finale would ultimately prove our undoing.
How do I know this? Because our meeting was held at Denny’s.
I was collected at my home by the Order’s notorious liege-men, Waltz and Money, who predictably announced their arrival at my doorstep with a searing polka rendition of “My Heart will Go On” to solidify the unease that all whom look upon them should feel.
I was transported to the meeting location by way of their refurbished Model T that the industrious urchins had combined with one of the original helicopters from M.A.S.H. I’ve since been told that they acquired both through sheer providence and a keen understanding of eBay.
Upon arrival, I was ushered into the franchise greasy spoon by these mutated ushers, and promptly seated at the end of an already occupied long table. Well, now. It seems as though my request had been given substantial weight, for here at this restaurant sat the heads of the Order in the flesh.
To my right, enjoying three identical salads save for the three different dressings sat the Operations leads for the Order, who cheerfully consumed their meals in a synchronized and titillating bit of choreographed dining etiquette, replete with the light show that seemed to follow them wherever they went.
I admit, I’ve often wondered what problems arose from this illumination during more sensitively mundane tasks. The sisters Troika, Ternary, and Rachel—who had legally changed her name in what I can only assume was a pique of nonconformity—eyed me as I took my place. Six eyes sized me up and down before they returned to their reasonably healthy meal option without further comment.
Waltz and Money clambered up onto the two empty chairs to my left, where plates piled high with what one could only charitably call “fries” were awaiting them. Next to them, further down the table, sat a gentleman that I recognized as the Chief Financial Officer for this group. He was an unsavory character that went by the handle of Sammy the Shoat. He, unlike the sisters, was eyeing me intently.
It should be noted, dear reader, that while the porcine Sammy was tucked into a half-finished dish of “Moons Over My-Hammy” I would challenge this as an example of cannibalism. Appearances aside, Sammy is, at least on a fundamental level, human. Whatever psychological malady you might draw from his actions, however, are open to personal interpretation. You are also free to speculate upon the deteriorating condition of his struggling cardiovascular system due to the campaign being thrust upon it by the meal itself.
(Today’s episode was brought to you by Denny’s. “Denny’s: when your average methods of self-mutilation would be so much better if they came with a side of syrup-coated grease!”)
Beyond Sammy, seated directly opposite me at the head of this table, sat a figure whom I had only heard whispers of within the community. He, or it, was the de facto head of the Order of the Velvet Elvis. In point of fact, it was rumored that the individual had founded the group back in the ancient days of 1960, which gave him both an impressive pedigree, and a kind of pop immortality that goes with being a living legend.
August Marx, a man noted for his business sense, command acumen, and—due to a genetic condition that misplaced his facial features—having the most expressive hands this side of a Broadway musical.
“To what do we owe this esteemed pleasure, Doctor?” mused August. I noted that he had deigned to not eat anything this evening, which I supposed made it easier for him to converse.
I, not so much as being offered a menu by the waitstaff, which were even now studiously avoiding further contact with our table, decided to skip the breaking of bread as August had.
“In a word, Mr. Marks-” I began.
“August shall suffice,” he quickly replied.
I inclined my head in acknowledgment. “In a word, August, I’m calling upon your group to lend their aid in an ongoing investigation that has turned since into a pressing crusade. I wish to enlist your services to stop the continued actions of an individual known as The Man in the Paisley Scarf.”
The various utensils being employed by the group dropped upon their respective plates with a clatter, which was more surprising when one considers that Waltz and Money had been eating using only their hands.
“We’re more than aware of this . . . man,” August said with a knowing whisper. “Why then should we be concerned?”
I laid out the last few months for them, from my first encounter with my nemesis, through the events of Chance Valley, Serendipity Commons, and beyond. Every twisted act of chaos and reality warping, every peculiar underling he employed, and every questionable fashion choice exhibited. It was a litany of malfeasance and unquestionably smart bargain hunting that would prove as damning evidence in any court.
Save this one, apparently. Their expressions ranged from the disinterest of the sisters, the wall-eyed mania of Waltz and Money, the leering judgment of Sammy, and the well-manicured inscrutability of August. Any follow-up I might have had was interrupted by a nearby dining drama as one of the patrons was having an unforeseen reaction to the Santa Fe Skillet.
Once the customer had finished shaking himself to base molecules and had been mopped up, (one must note the efficiency of the staff for remembering to deposit his bill atop his remains in the bucket) August began to speak before I could plead my case further.
“You misunderstand me, Doctor. I repeat: Why should we be concerned? Why ever should we lend aid to the wider world when it has no love of us?”
Sammy leaned across his empty, grimy plate, and grinned. “Indeed! Look now! We’ve got our comfortable life! Reasonably-priced pancakes and other griddle prepared food!”
“We can enjoy this easily reproduced non-threatening Americana ambiance in relative peace,” echoed Troika and Ternary. Rachel opted to remain quiet, yet maintained simultaneous rhythmic movement.
“Just so,” continued August. “And here we are, enjoying these pleasantries while being serenaded by lyric-less covers of popular Adult Contemporary classics, courtesy of corporate eatery focus group testing.”
I had to admit, the melody-only saxaphone rendition of “Time of My Life” was soothing enough, albeit not without the unfortunate side effect of conjuring the mental Ghosts of Patrick Swayze Past.
August’s hands smiled in a self-satisfied way. “You see, Doctor, we’ve no incentive to strike out under your banner, as it were. Why then, in your estimation, should we bother?”
All assembled turned to look at me, as if expecting something. I considered how best to respond carefully. With this group a misplaced word could very well lead to utter calamity. I was given a few extra moments as the son of the unfortunate customer from earlier began to come to terms with what had befallen his father.
It was a touching scene, and I wished the lad a speedy psychological recovery. But I could not spare more thoughts for the boy, as my need was dire. I decided to play my hole card, and reveal to them information that had come into my possession only a week ago by way of my dinosaur-friendly compatriot, Jane Woodardson.
“The plots of The Man in the Paisley Scarf run fouler than you realize,” I intoned with my best serving of gravitas. “You will not be spared this peril, even if you choose to sit idle. For I know his plans, at least where your diner is concerned. He intends to replace every Denny’s in the world with-”
“Not IHOP, surely! Not that!” cried Sammy.
“Worse,” I countered. “He means to replace them with distasteful and inaccurate reproductions of Bob’s Big Boy, which he will instead name ‘Robert’s Roomy Runt’. They will be the only option in the world he means to create. That, and White Castle.”
A collective gasp arose from the Order, as they were suitably aghast. The Sisters’ gyrations ceased. Sammy halted the greedy slurping of the remaining film coating his plate. Waltz and Money whimpered. August lowered his hands, and therefore his expression was truly downcast.
I seized the emotional momentum. “What’s more, I am calling in my favor that the Order of the Velvet Elvis owes me for my help in solving the Ectoplasmic Molasses Fiasco of ’96. Were it not for me putting a stop to the sweetened militaristic coup launched by every sentient container of maple syrup in the tri-state area, those pancakes of yours would be only buttered, and therefore doomed to a fate worse than staleness!”
Sliding my chair back, I stood to tower over them as the contemplated that dark potential breakfast future. “Join me!” I pleaded. “Together, and only together, we can put an end to The Man in the Paisley Scarf’s devious designs! Not for the world that fears you, but for the world that appreciates franchised fair-to-middling breakfast, lunch, and dinner options regardless of the time of day!”
August’s face clapped slowly, appreciatively. And soon, the others followed suit, their applause becoming more hearty and confident. I knew then that I had won them over. The only thing to do now was to consolidate, and plan our strategy. For our mutual enemy was still out there, still active, and still poised to remake the Earth in his own paisley-swathed image.
As we exited the diner to make for their base of operations, there was the squealing of tires, the distorted thump of radio-friendly bass-driven Hip Hop, and the chattering thunder of automatic weapons fire. A vehicle with three persons occupying it screamed into the parking lot, and came to a stop before us.
It was the Director of the I.I.H.Q., in all of his glory. His personal assistants continued bobbing their head in time with the rap music as he finished shooting off the clip of his assault rifle.
“Director?” I questioned in disbelief.
“The same!” he crowed. “And just in time! I see you managed to pull some strings to get yourself a posse! That’s the kind of ingenuity we’re going to need, Doctor!”
“Need? For what? I was told that the entire I.I.H.Q. Wanted no part of my case.”
The Director popped in a fresh magazine, and worked the slide to chamber a fresh round into the breach with a loud click.
“My boy,” he said, “Don’t you know? The I.I.H.Q. Was taken over months ago. Welcome to the Resistance!”
The War, it seemed, had begun. And with that, dear reader, I bid you a fond farewell for now until our next meeting. This is Doctor Jackson O’Brien wishing you clarity of vision, smartness of dietary choices, and an unending supply of antacids should those choices go astray!
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