Signs & Portents
Robert had returned from his walk and announced to Miri and Carl, "I just saw a grand vehicle on the supermarket's lot. It was a real prairie schooner."
He paused and said, "I think both of you know that we live in, for lack of better words, a world that has started to unravel."
Neither Miri or Carl spoke for some minutes. Both stared at Robert.
"I've been doing a lot of research into this," he began somewhat hesitantly. "It's barely possible that I've found an answer to the unraveling of the world. It may actually be concealed in Zoroastrian doctrine."
He had not told Miri and Carl the real reason he had come to San Francisco that first time. So he began to tell the story of B. J. Thomas and the Cup of Ahura Mazda, ending when Prince Subroto, who had witnessed the Cup in action and his advice that Robert should follow the path that Thomas had taken.
"So I did, and when I got to San Francisco, I did find a trace in the form of an old newpaper story—it told of B.J.'s purchase of a ghost town, I guess that the reporter was angered by the audacity of the purchase, the name of the town, the state where it was located, were conspicuosly missing from the story. That's where following the trail ended."
Carl inquired, "Ahriman was the dark god of the ancient Persians? Are you telling us that this god is now destroying reality, Robert?"
Robert chuckled and said, "Ahriman wasn't a god, he was sort of a counter-entity who spread over the Good Creation of Ahura Mazda. When Zarathustra said the formula, Ahriman was pushed back and bound up. In the history of religions, there are lots of parallels. What you have to accept is just maybe this bit of ancient history was describing a physical reality—not a mythology. And if the Zoroastrians were right, man's own role is important, he is needed by Ahura Mazda as an ally to defeat the Lie in the world. Ahriman, "Rahoman," as the Javanese called him, the destroyer is on the loose again. Only finding the Cup can stop him," smiled Robert, "Well, God alone knows what that means or would mean to a physical scientist. But it does have something to do with these odd things that are happening, world wide—it's the 'undoing' of creation."
"Well," Carl, looking a little befuddled, but not entirely disbelieving, "what has this to do with this grand vehicle you saw at the supermarket?"
"It was a splendid vehicle," smiled Robert. "and it looked to me like just what we need for the publishing enterprise. I spoke to the chap who owned it, and you wouldn't believe what it cost him. It's far too rich for our blood."
Carl rose and went to the kitchen, returning with coffee cups and a pot of coffee and they all settled to discuss their publishing enterprise.
"Well," Robert began, "as we all know, we want to publish works that express intangibles—spiritual values, but I dislike to use that phrase. We are in a spiritual fellowship, at the present time it's called Subud—I think it may have been called other things in other places and times. It would be good if we could contact fellow spirits, those who are also members of the secret brotherhood I told you about—and for that, we would also need to travel."
"We need to locate rare and precious works, things long out of print to republish—that might entail some travel as well,"volunteered Miri.
"If we don't distribute our end product, they won't get around. I think an RV is practical and anyhow, it would be fun," said Carl.
"We would sell our books as we travel around the country," agreed Robert, "working out a good distribution network. And could be a way to widen our network of kindred spirits. There's just a chance of discovering the ghost town where old B. J. may have hidden the Cup of Ahura Mazda. It's just a remote chance, but we are dependent on significant coincidences, or sychronicities. There is no other way. I think that travel is a part of our destiny. Oh, yes, we must find a way to get hold of an RV, an old one would do quite nicely."
Miri said, "Let me see—the Gnostic university said that apart from the translating, they want us to do the typesetting, so, just let me work that out. Maybe it's enough for an old model."
Robert offered his pounds and was figuring out what they might amount to in dollars, but Carl waved him aside, "We might need those, keep them in reserve, I'll toss in my savings, that should be enough."
Robert pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, "This might be a possibility. I took down the phone number from the supermarket's bulletin board."
Carl took the scrap of paper and read aloud. "Westwind RV, engine sound, but needs work."
"Westwind," murmured Miri.
The name "Westwind" caught everybody's imagination. Carl reached for the phone and rang the number and only to be told that "there had been a firm offer already," but the man seemed vaguely hesitant, and firmly insisted they should come over and see it, just in case the other buyer did not turn up after all.
Carl wrote down the address. "It's in Alameda," he remarked.
"Alameda," said Miri enthusiastically, "in Spanish, that means avenue, or path. Let's take that for an omen and go."
About an hour later, they crossed the High Street bridge from Oakland into Alameda and began
searching through the old part of Alameda for the address the man had given. Robert was captivated by the town itself, and Miri explained that Alameda had once been an old naval port. Many of the old houses were deserted now.
Finally, Carl found the address and knocked on the door of a rambling ranch house with a yard overgrown with weeds. A silver haired man with an earring in one ear answered and recognized them without any spoken words.
"Just showing some people the rig, Mary," he called over his shoulder.
He led them around to the back of the house, where they threaded their way through a maze of old cars, snaking pipes, engines, and unidentifiable machinery to the old Westwind which was moored in the high grass between the house and garden. The outer paint work had long faded, and one tire was going flat giving it a slight list.
He slapped the side of it and said, "Yep, this old beauty has taken me and Mary all over the states, the United States, as it was in those days. When I retired from the navy, Mary and I took off like we'd planned. We've been all round the country, and the only time we got stuck in 20 years was one time in a hailstorm in South Dakota. Thought that son of a bitch would blow us clean off the road, but this old Westwind weathered it."
Robert, Carl and Miri, feeling mildly apprehensive but excited, climbed inside of the Westwind. They were pleasantly surprised by the interior, which if a little worn, was neat and cozy and was like the interior of a sailing ship or yacht, maybe because Buzz was a seafaring man. Old maritime charts and paintings of sailing ships were on all the walls making it look like a ships cabin.
A certain enchantment began emanating from the Westwind to his potential new owners. Miri sat down in the Westwind's third chair just behind the cockpit and smiled happily at the sofa across from her. Politely, the Westwind extended to her a small table just beside the chair where she could write, or have a cup of coffee. Miri was a little started, she hadn't expected anything to actually move.
Buzz grinned observantly and began to explain the mechanism to Miri. "You see you sort of waived your arm when you sat down, doesn't take much, the sensors said you wanted a table. If you don't want it,Ó he waived his arm, and the table retreated. "You've got to watch what you do in here, Darling," he said with a flirtatious wink.
He turned and proceeded to the rear, followed by Robert and Carl, pausing and stroking the dinette, which turned into a small bedroom where the happy traveler could be at ease, ample storage compartments, and even a compact bathroom.
Down the end of the Westwind, Buzz put both hands against one side and began jumping up and down,
"Don't worry," he said, "it's just to get the generator going. Haven't driven her in years, sometimes things get a little stuck."
The Westwind responded by brightening through unseen light bulbs, and the whisper soft whir of the generator.
"That's just the solar taking over," Buzz grinned and darted around like a large leprechaun, earring
sparkling as he pointed out where everything was, storage, microwave, generator, controls, etc.
From the cockpit, he caused the engine to spring exuberantly to life and smiling to everyone, stated, "She'll attend to her own tires, saw the front left was a little low. Well, what do you think?"
"Well," Carl, in spite of rapt looks on all their faces, felt he should not appear overly pleased. "What sort of mileage does it get?"
Other of the Westwind's mechanisms began to come alive, the old computer flashed from the control panel. Suddenly a deep bass voice with a slight bit of static reverberated from the Westwind's interior panels.
"I am a Westwind, model 47P. At the present time, I am approximating 37 miles to the gallon of gasohol, and in good weather, my solar panels take over."
Buzz ignored this announcement and declared, "Okay boys, I'm looking for around $6000. It's an old model and the motor will need a little fixing. Does that suit your pocket?"
"My engine is functioning at 78% efficiency at the present time..." continued the computer.
Buzz snapped off the speaker at this point, although the others were obviously spellbound by this development.
"Why don't you let it finish it's diagnostic?" asked Carl, a little stiffly.
"Well," said Buzz, switching back on the speaker, "I won't claim that the computer is a hundred percent accurate after all this time—but okay, if that's what you want."
Nothing further issued from the speakers and Buzz struck the control firmly with a clenched fist.
"See what I mean," Buzz said. "But that was just a frill, you don't really need that. In fact, it's more of a nuisance than anything. I always meant to have it disconnected. It's nothing you could rely on."
"I am a Westwind..." intoned the speaker in unabashed dignity. Suddenly a deep rich chuckle issued from the innards of the vehicle. "You know, I think I will be happy with these people, Captain Buzz. I feel the urge to be on the road again."
"Yeah," answered Buzz, "but you've got a screw loose."
"No," responded the Westwind, "it's only a burnt out capacitor in the 0.5X relay compartment."
"Don't listen," Buzz said in agitation, "Don't listen! I replaced that capacitor 15 times as the years went by, just in case and there's a spare," he snatched opened a drawer in the console, "right here!"
"Well," conceded the Westwind, amiably, "maybe I am mistaken."
Carl was astonished at the response, a computer that argued with you and conceded a mistake. He
chuckled amiably while Buzz looked annoyed.
"This must have been a really deluxe model," said Miri in a placating tone.
"Still a wonderful machine," said Buzz, easily mollified. "Right, blabber mouth," he inquired of the computer.
"It would be good to be on the road again. I think I will be happy with these people, Captain. I do feel the urge to be on the road again."
An unspoken rapport had formed, helped along by the Westwind's easy hospitality. Buzz began to tell his life's story. He had been a sailor at the old Alameda naval base, retiring shortly before the base closed down. He and his wife had taken to the road then in the old Westwind, and the reason he was selling it now was that he had acquired another RV which his wife liked better. In fact, he explained, they were selling their house and planning to move into it permanently.
"Well," Carl said cautiously, "I guess we can come up with about $4300 cash. Maybe we could make up the balance with weekly payments."
Buzz, thought this over for a minute and said to their astonishment, "It's a deal! There's an old saying, take the cash and let the credit go. Never mind the payments, you can pay me if and when you can."
Buzz seemed quite anxious to make the sale, so much so that it made Carl suspicious. Apparently, the tale of the other buyer had been a crude sort of bluff. But Miri, seconded by Robert, oversaw the signing of the papers that transferred the Westwind to their ownership.
Back at the O'Leary apartment, they decided that an old unused driveway at the side of their building would be the best parking place for the Westwind. It was a bit overgrown, but Carl went to get Farlan's permission to park it there. Farlan frowned at the request, but grudgingly gave in. Carl and Robert set to work cutting back some of the shrubbery, and soon, the Westwind was moored safely in the driveway of the O'Leary apartment building.
The three felt it was something of an occasion and they should christen the Westwind.
"Just Westwind," Miri suggested, "there's a line in Homer about the west wind, going over a wine dark sea."
"Now wait a minute," Carl complained, "we should call it something in keeping with our enterprise."
"Karshipta," announced Robert solemnly.
Both stared at him perplexed. Then Miri smiled. "Karshipta," she agreed. "Karshipta was the heavenly bird messenger of Ahura Mazda. It was Karshipta who brought the message to Yima that the deluge was over according to the ancient Zoroastrians—it's a good name."
Seeing Robert and Miri had agreed, Carl said with good humor, "Sounds a little funny, but I'll try to tell him his name tomorrow. He never said a word on the way here, maybe the speech center has gone out finally. In the mean time, he's taken a big bite out of our finances. Let's hope he lives up to his name."
Once the Westwind was moored in the driveway, the trio began gradually to pack the vehicle with odds and ends that each determined would be useful for a long journey.
Some for the Glories of This World; and some