Friday, October 30, 2015

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 16: Sojourn

Shorter but no less eventful. Enjoy!

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 16 – Sojourn

I. The Case of Caulder Gaunt and Ethan Byron

The peculiar case of the man called Caulder Gaunt was almost one case of spontaneous generation – he was seemingly born fullblown: an adult without parents or a past. But some force wished Gaunt to find his way; to retrace the steps of memory that had been wiped clean. Caulder awoke in Hallmark, in January 1955, wearing a costly suit and bearing a wallet with ID (which gave his birthdate as January 1, 1925) and thousands of dollars in cash. Instinctively, he sought out a bank and soon had some sense of security. One night, he decided to drown his sorrow and insecurity at the Lucifer Club.

There, he took a an immediate shine to the Indian belly dancer Acacia Blessing. He was mesmerized by her. When they were introduced by the club owner Javier, there was an immediate bond. But there another man enamored of Acacia, the businessman Ethan Byron. Ethan had a troubled marriage but his wife was about to have their first child. Ethan (b. 1920) had only been married for two years to Virginia de Ruyter (b. 1925) and the couple had suffered a miscarriage. They had high hopes for their next attempt at childbearing.

Acacia was married to Junius G. Hand at this time, though to date no one had told Junius that his son by Erszebet Singer survived and was adopted. Junius was overjoyed over Acacia's pregnancy, and did what he could to ward off the wolves at the club. Soon, however, she was showing and stopped dancing until after the child's birth. So all Ethan and Caulder could do was drink and fantasize over the lovely Acacia.

Virginia de Ruyter was the paternal granddaughter of the much-discussed Ananias de Ruyter, one of the founding fathers of Hallmark. Virginia's father, Victor de Ruyter, was something of a criminal, involved in all manner of vice and heavily entwined with the local mob. This made his daughter into something of a crusader for social causes, which was very compatible with husband Ethan's aspirations to one day become District Attorney and truly clean up Hallmark. But Ethan, unlike his bride's family, was not an heir to millions and his dreams seemed all but unattainable. That is, until he made the acquaintance of the mysterious Caulder Gaunt.

Caulder needed a job; Ethan needed a friend. And so, as fate would have it, Ethan brought Gaunt in at an entry level position at OrDeR Enterprises. Ethan had an uncanny knack for spotting sound investments and was soon rising at OrDeR. Ethan's son by Virginia, Clayton Ethan “Clay” Byron was born in early 1956, and his presence helped cool some of the friction between his parents. But in 1958, Junius and Acacia divorced but Acacia stayed at the club at Javier's urging. Ethan and Virginia had been arguing over money; Ethan soon had a drunken affair with Acacia. Caulder advised him to hide this from his wife, which he did, and definitely from the public as he had won the post of Hallmark District Attorney. Ethan and his wife were soon high on Tony Duarte's hit list.

II. The Chinese Connection

In 1963 Shun Ti the undisputed female master of Feng Qi (and originally the Omegan called Ish) was slain by Kith M'Nali, the “Black Tamerlane”. Kith was found out and he and the Black Skull Society, tolerated in Feng Qi for many years, were exiled permanently. Kith had been anticipating this for decades, and so fled to a new headquarters in Japan that he had set up in case of such an occurrence. He also had a secondary HQ in America that he had begun putting together as early as the 1850s. He had created an underground railroad for slaves in America. After they were free, many slaves indebted to him did his bidding, as did their descendants. Ironically, working for Kith M'Nali was akin to slavery itself. The man born Abasse Mathabane learned little from the struggles of his people; personal power was ultimately his sole objective.

Feng Qi was intended by Shun Ti to be ultimately inherited by Kar-Fai Liao, whose father Tsun-Lun was Shuni-Ti's son and her greatest disciple. Kong had slain Tsun-Lun as he had Tsun-Lun's father The Claimer and took his title for himself. With Kong now apparently deceased Kith was running out of allies and Shun Ti was running low on heirs. Ko Sui-Li (b. 1920), mother of Kar-Fai, took the reigns of Feng-Qi, but was constantly plotted against by her sons Li-Ang Liao and Zhey Liao. Zhey had always been loyal to Kong, and advised Li-Ang to build on the power vacuum left by Kong and Kith. Li-Ang envisioned himself an overlord in the manner of Kong, with the world's vice in his lethal grasp.

Sui-Li reorganized Feng Qi, and made her son its overlord. Under Kar-Fai's aegis, Archimedes Ko, son of Bram Vallard, was largely in charge of overseeing the temples and Solacium. Ko was young, but had been a monk almost since his birth (in 1943) and was a master of martial arts and Zen principals. His twin sister Mei-Chan Ko, the “Ghost Cat”, had also trained since birth. Kar-Fai needed the fresh blood, according to Sui-Li, as Kar-Fai spent much of his time ruminating on thoughts of vengeance against Kith for slaying his grandmother Shun Ti. Sui-Li refused to let her son turn Feng-Qi into an engine of destruction; Kith had tried and failed many times to do just that.

In 1964, Ethan and Virginia Byron were slain by Marco Allegretti. Under the advice of Bram Vallard (who that year co-founded the Aggregate), Archimedes offered to take in the eight year old Clay Byron. Kar-Fai felt he could mold Clay (pun unintended) into the instrument of vengeance he'd been yearning for. Not surprisingly, the Byrons left their fortune to Clay, but made Caulder Gaunt the trustee of the estate. Gaunt had power of attorney for the Byrons. Ethan had come to see Gaunt as a brother, and trusted him completely. Gaunt naturally agreed, but he asked one thing of Ko: that he be allowed to train alongside Clay at the monastery. Kar-Fai trusted his sincerity and felt bringing in those of different races, as Shun Ti had done, honored the original Pan-Asian creeds that Kith corrupted.

Most surprising to all was one other child who wished to train at Feng Qi: his name was Clive and his mother Jerusha Dharma brought him to the monastery she had heard so much about over the years. She was with Myrus T Fellbane, now her fiance (much to Clive's chagrin). They brought with them something Clive's father had entrusted Jerusha with – a sword and amulet that were said to be 1000 years old and once drove the vile Presence Vaikuntha from this plane of existence. Jerusha felt that Feng Qi would be the safest place on Earth to house the items, just as she felt that Exodesia would be the most unsafe place imaginable. These items were forged by a Hindu cult called the Black Cabal; legend had it that if one man was ever worthy of bearing sword and amulet, he would inherit the powers of the entire Black Cabal. Jerusha wished this for her son. Her motives were not exactly pure however; she harbored a deep resentment of Clive Dharma's father, Cary Bradcroft, for seemingly abandoning her in his quest for power in Exodesia. She felt Clive could be molded, as Kar-Fai was molding Clay Byron, into an instrument of vengeance.

Fellbane, however, had other plans. He desired the power of the Black Cabal for himself, and had schemed for nine years to be in the position to claim it. Fellbane asked Kar-Fai Liao if he could train Fellbane in some of his mystic arts. Kar-Fai was offended that such an interloper would see the training at Feng Qi as something so casual and superficial. Fellbane caused a mild uproar with his commentary following Kar-Fai's refusal to train him. Kar-Fai lost control and with one blow killed Fellbane.

Jerusha was shocked and asked to speak to Sui-Li Ko alone. Sui-Li felt Kar-Fai's action was rash and out of control, but she admonished Jerusha that Fellbane brought a potential evil with him to Feng Qi, and that was not to be tolerated. Jerusha confided that Fellbane had cast a spell nine years prior so that she and her son could not be found by Cary Bradcroft. Sui-Li was surprised, as the Shadow Baron had become well-known in mystic circles for his power and knowledge, though he'd not yet wrought the good he went on to accomplish leading the Aggregate.

Jerusha understood, but asked that Kar-Fai weave a new spell protecting her and Clive from Bradcroft. Kar-Fai did so, and added the caveat that only one who wielded the sword and amulet of the Black Cabal could banish the spell. All was made well for the time being. Jerusha was invited to stay at Feng Qi to live, and she agreed.

Thus, Clive Dharma, Clay Byron, and Caulder Gaunt trained together with Mei-Chan Ko under Archimedes for nine years. Caulder fell deeply in love with Mei-Chan but feared upsetting their dynamic at the monastery by sharing his feelings. Gaunt was a confident man, but he was troubled, as he still had no memory of his life before 1955. By 1975, Gaunt and his young fellow pupils had excelled at their training. But Clay Byron desired a slightly different path. He announced that he was leaving for training in Libania under the Marchessa. The others chose to remain in Feng Qi for a bit longer. Clay embarked, and Kar-Fai wished him well, and dubbed him “Sojourner” for his restless spirit. Clay promised Clive and Gaunt that he'd meet them again one day.

The one saddest about Clay leaving was Kar-Fai's young son, Jun-Kim Liao (or June Kim, born 1967) who saw Clay and Clive as older brothers and Gaunt as an uncle. Jun-Kim was the offspring of the marriage of Kar-Fai to Colleen Soh (b. 1940), a half-Irish, half-Korean whose father Kim Park Soh (b. 1918) had lived at Feng Qi in the 1930s and 1940s and became an agent of Bram Vallard via his connection to Feng Qi, where he had trained in the 1920s. Kim Park's other daughter, Lerby Soh, married Vallard's son Randolph Hoxworth (b.1947) and the couple settled in Hallmark and had three daughters: Betsy, Lerby, and Jill, all of whom would one day meet their cousin Jun-Kim, whose importance to this narrative will grow as we move along.

III. Lucifer Revisited

Alec Duarte first encountered Kicia Marie Blessing in 1971 when he came to Hallmark to finish off his father Tony Duarte and Tony's partner and lover Marco Allegretti. He set up his place of operation in a Hotel 6 and that evening, after staking out Tony's mansion, dropped in at the Lucifer Club for a few drinks and to see naked girls dance. He was sexually frustrated due to his time with Mariposa Marisol. Celibacy was getting old for him. Kicia was a stunning dancer at the club who caught his eye immediately. He soon learned after a table dance from Kicia that she was only 15 years old. The pimp Diggs Reale who, at that time, owned and ran the Lucifer Club had managed to persuade Kicia to start stripping at 14. He roped her in via her mother Acacia, who Javier, the founder of the club, enlisted as a dancer after he met her by chance on a trip to India in 1954. One year later, Kicia was born, the offspring of Acacia's marriage to Black Torpedo Ray, whom she had wed one week after meeting him.

Acacia knew her daughter looked much older than her age, and she knew the next stop on the illusory highway to fame and riches offered by Diggs was a life of turning tricks. In 1971, Kicia's father was in prison, framed by Diggs and Eli Singer; he and Acacia had divorced in 1958. Alec was the first man Kicia had danced for that didn't immediately attempt to score with her. She was fascinated by this 23 year old loner with pale blue eyes and a swanky moustache and soul patch. At the end of the evening, Alec bid her a fond farewell and she gave him her phone number. He said he didn't know how much longer he'd be in Hallmark; only that he would be back and look her up – and hoped she'd be in school by then.

Three years later, Duarte returned to Hallmark for phase two of the Marchessa's three mandates. He decided impulsively to make it a stealth mission, mainly to get a job in Hallmark and establish a dual ID so that he could move freely as Cowan, whose cowl he first donned on this trip (the cowl would have many configurations over the years). But above all, he stayed around to see Kicia Blessing. The job he chose was as a cab driver; he was utterly fascinated by taxi driving.

Alec began hanging out at the club for a few weeks, getting to know Kicia's father; they became fast friends. Ray approved of Alec, and Alec alone, as a match for his now 19 year old daughter. Acacia had returned to India for a time, but Ray wanted her back at the club, their differences aside. Alec made some young friends who frequented the Lucifer Club, much to their families' dismay. From Gossingham, he met Shirley Townshend Drake and her husband Shelby and son Lance. Lance was only six years old and already craved heavy metal and occult imagery; his favorite group was the infamous White Rabbit, led by the rowdy Hasty Greenhalgh, and his favorite shop was Bradcroft LTD. Lance loved Alec; Alec wasn't sure what to make of this kid but appreciated the cameraderie. Lance's uncle was preparing to open a comic book store in Hallmark called Origins, but for now, was holding mini-conventions at Northland Mall in upper Hallmark. H. Sidney Drake looked down on his relatives, especially nephew Lance's proclivities as Sidney was a devout born again Christian.

One of Alec's drinking buddies was a fellow cabbie at Zenith Cab: Renee Pointier, a French immigrant who was in her 30s and certainly an alcoholic. She and Alec had a few drunken nights of wanton sex, but he felt he was getting far off track from his fixation on Kicia, not to mention his impossible yearnings for his teacher the Marchessa. Renee dug Alec a good bit, and confronted him over Kicia. He made his feelings apparent, and Renee soon left Alec, Zenith, and Hallmark – at least for a good 10 years. Her replacement became Alec's “sidekick” for the duration of his time cruising Flicker Street for fares: a 16 year old cabbie-in-training named Hobie T Reale, Diggs' nephew. Alec taught Hobie some martial arts and Hobie referred to Alec as “teacher”. Alec said he was on a mission, Hobie could not come along, and when next he came to Hallmark, he would give Hobie a proper training. The two would often smoke ganja and ruminate on the nature of the universe, which Alec would soon be doing in a whole different venue.

In the midst of all this, Alec never wavered in using his tightness with Ray to see Kicia every chance he got. They had a sweet and tender dynamic that belied the violence and vice surrounding them. Alec practiced using his hard-won skills to hit the mob, and was only marginally successful. Finally, the time came for his mission: to infiltrate Javier's Order of Cosmic Emptiness. He managed to kill guest speaker Antioch Moldor, a powerful warlock and founder of the Aggregate analog group the Damnation Brigade. Javier let Cowan escape and was intrigued by him.

It had been two months of what was supposed to be a two week mission. Alec went to see Kicia one night when she was home alone studying (Ray got her back in school) and Ray was clubbing. They finally had “The Talk” (capital “T”, capital “T”), which was what Alec called the awkward crossroads a potential couple invariably arrived at, in order to decide to be a couple or not. Alec tried to spill his guts, and was doing okay when Kicia savagely seduced Duarte. She had wanted him for so long she was boiling over. After an hour of oftimes tender, oftimes tempestuous coupling, the two lay in bed and finished “The Talk”.

Kicia didn't think they would work unless Alec took her with him when he left and unless Alec got over his infatuation with his teacher. Neither seemed possible, and for the first time that he could remember, Alec Duarte – Cowan – cried. He said goodbye to Kicia and expressed that should their paths cross again, maybe they could be together. Kicia found this unlikely and said some soul-crushing things to Alec to disabuse him of this notion and get him to leave before she, too, lost it. And thus, Alec returned to the Marchessa for three more years, and consummated their attraction. Kicia dropped out of school and embraced the Flicker Street bohemian crowd, the hub of Hallmark's outcasts, freaks, loners, artists, and aesthetes. There she met the enigmatic Brother Zodiac and the two began a passionate affair filled with romance and music and – other, darker things to be discussed shortly.

IV. Sojourner's Solacium

Sojourner made it to the Marchessa's Solacium in Libania in 1975.He submitted himself for training, and was accepted. He met Cowan for the first time, having no idea yet that Alec avenged Clay's family's deaths. Duarte helped Sojourner adjust to the different approach of Marchessa's Solacium. Clay responded well to his new teacher. Clay was intrigued by the relationship Libania and FOPA had with Serafinia. While at the Solacium, he met Redmund Jeffrey, an African-American spy for REACT posing as a FOPA double agent. Jeffrey was there to aid in destabilizing relations ever further with Serafinia. Ironically he married a Serafinia native and had two daughters they raised in Serafinia: Laura (b. 1956) and Ophelia (b. 1958). Clay met and fell for Laura Jeffrey. With Redmund's permission they wed. Redmund despised Byron, however, and plotted to eliminate him without provoking the Marchessa.

Laura was soon pregnant, and, in her eighth month, she was killed by an explosion set at the Solacium by Redmund and meant to be blamed on the Serafinians. Laura's child, to be named Jeffrey Byron, survived however, and Redmund gave the baby to Ophelia and demanded she and her husband Charles Mourning raise the child as their own back home in the U.S. with Redmund's aging mother, the baby's great-grandmother, Cecilia Jeffrey. The child was born in June 1976 and was named Michelito Mourning. It would be many years before the truth of his parentage was outed.

Redmund's own wife Unocita Quonquonero tried to kill him for using her and playing with their family's lives. Redmund beat her badly and she confided in Clay that she contemplated suicide daily. She threatened to tell Clay the truth about why the Mournings left South America so suddenly after Laura's death. Redmund killed her, making it look like suicide. Unocita's brother Rajael cried out for Redmund's blood. Alec Duarte knew it was time for the monster Redmund Jeffrey to pay the price, and so he challenged him to a duel of hand to hand combat. Redmund was no slouch in this area, but hardly up to the training of the Marchessa. Alec snapped his neck and his threat was over. Once again, Cowan had avenged Sojourner without really knowing it; Alec was none the wiser than Clay was about Clay's son.

With Redmund's entire family gone, Clay Byron focused once more deeply on his training. When Alec left the Solacium in 1977 to fulfill his final mandate, Marchessa knew he may never return, and he did not. Clay was left behind to lose himself in honing his body and mind to their sharpest points in order to obliterate the pain of his lost wife and son. The Marchessa promised Alec that when Clay seemed ready, she would send him back to Hallmark to claim his fortune and, hopefully, his place beside Cowan in the Aggregate. Cowan did indeed find his place among the Aggregate, as recounted elsewhere, but he was pained to learn that Kicia was involved with the enigmatic Brother Zodiac.

V. Black Cabal Rising

In early 1977, Jerusha Dharma fell ill and could not be saved by anyone at Feng Qi. Clive felt it was time to conclude his training there and go to London to get his mother's affairs in order. He left behind Mei-Chen to train for one more year before she headed to Hallmark to petition for membership in the Aggregate. With the resources available to him via the Byron estate, Caulder Gaunt accompanied Clive and loaned him a large sum of money and helped to establish his credentials.

Gaunt called upon a friend and former co-worker at OrDeR Enterprises, Oswin Juan Clancey for help in Clive's ventures. Oswin flew to London from Hallmark with his associate Stephanie Ransom Avril, wife of Egon Avril of the infamous Avril clan discussed in our tenth installment. Gaunt and Clancey forged documents such as an archaeologist's degree, a tidy bank account, and any other identifying documents. These items were created for Clive under the name Randell Coventry. Clive Dharma wished the world to continue with their ignorance of his existence.

Oswin Clancey (b. 1953) is noteworthy as the son of Zachariah Clancey and Dawn Cheshire, both discussed thoroughly in earlier treatments. He was an executive in advertising at OrDeR. He and Clive bonded immediately and he used his resources to help “create” Randell Coventry. He was also looking to invest in new ventures. Stephanie was as well, and she had a degree in archaeology and shared Clive's interests. It was implicit that no one involved in this enterprise reveal the truth. Gault assured everyone that they would be rewarded richly when Clay finally took control of his fortune. Another investor, the Frenchman Aloysius Pascal, came on board in late 1977, and he and Clive became best friends. He, Clancey, Stephanie, and Gaunt set up shop in London, where Clive stayed for nearly two years, scraping together enough cash for one last grand expedition. Thus was Coventry Expeditions born. During his time in London, Clive/ Randell engaged in a short-lived and tempestuous marriage to Pascal's sister Margeurite.

Caulder worried that he had been corrupted by Clive's obsessions and that their years at Feng Qi were for naught. He missed the peace he had found there. But he found himself drawn in by the danger and clandestine nature of his activities. He wondered what kind of man he really was before his amnesia. He decided to forge ahead with Clive's plan and head to Hallmark, where he met with Cary Bradcroft and propose a merger with Bradcroft Ltd. Cary agreed to consider it, but felt he should meet with Coventry himself first.

For Gaunt's part, he decided to stay in Hallmark until the Ghost Cat arrived as planned to petition for membership in the Aggregate. He felt the time had come to tell her how much he truly loved her. But Mei-Chan rejected Caulder's advances, however. She simply did not see him in that way. Gaunt was frustrated beyond words. He began hanging out in Flicker Street, drinking heavily and filled with self-pity. He took up painting, producing abstract portraits inspired by his time at Feng Qi. The more he painted, the more bizarre the symbolism – images of vistas unimaginable filled his canvases, as visions of frightening planes and creatures filled his lucid dreaming. He dreamt almost nightly of Clive and his sword and amulet. In his dreams the Black Cabal was reborn as one man, wielding the ancient talisman against a mad god with a third eye and six arms.

As for Clive Dharma, he left Stephanie in charge of their London office and planned an expedition to Exodesia in 1979. He felt they needed a guide, a go-between to survive in Exodesia. Gaunt recommended Javier, who was grudgingly welcome in Exodesia. Javier went to London to meet with Clive, Oswin, and Aloysius, and soon the four of them were in Africa, making the expedition up the mountain where lied the city of Exodesia. They came before the priest Assias, whose attention was drawn to Clive's talisman. Assias attempted to barter with Dharma for the objects. This was in vain. Clive announced that he wished the defeat of the Shadow Baron and could assure it happening if Assias trained himself and Pascal in certain Exodesian and Piscean arts of dark alchemy. Oswin had no desire to learn and Javier was already well-versed. Assias agreed, and Dharma and Pascal trained for one year in Exodesia. During this time, Arch Priest Urias was in America working for SkullCorp and assembling a new Damnation Brigade to plague the Aggregate. This was fortunate as he coveted the secrets of the Black Cabal himself. Assias was not a member of the Obscuros; thus, Clive and Javier correctly believed that he could be trusted.

Oswin was housed in Exodesia's Azure City, a place where Exodesians of a more benign bent than the Obscuros dwelt. Assias was the prime minister of sorts of Azure City. Javier finally felt at home somewhere in Exodesia. The year at Azure City went by quickly and surprisingly well for Clive's party, especially given the dark forces at work all around them. Oswin attributed much of this to Clive's talisman, which Oswin believed gave Clive a certain aura that protected the group. Though this seemed to be mere speculation on the part of a layman, it actually was a correct assumption.

In the summer of 1980 Clive “graduated” from his studies in Exodesia. The next stop for the Dharma party was Hallmark. Pascal was sent to the London office to meet with Stephanie. He was to work there, while Gault and Oswin took care of business with Cary Bradcroft. Javier bowed out of the whole affair, but thanked all for helping him actually have a decent experience in Exodesia. Clive now assumed the identity of Randell Coventry and began traveling with Stephanie to archaeological digs to gain actual experience at the position he had faked his way into. Before he left Hallmark, however, he met with one final investor – someone he'd wanted to seek out for some time – Orphee deLander. What passed between them was to be revealed to the public late that year and will be discussed in our next installment, in which Clive steels himself to finally face Cary Bradcroft.

Welcome to Flicker Street!

Henry Covert
October 31, 2015

Flicker Street, all characters, images, and story elements are Copyright (c) 2015 George Henry Smathers Jr.

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