Benevolent cannibal gods smiled on me from the entrance to the thatch-roofed a-frame, and I left the sun and smog for a smoky world of jungle jazz and driftwood furniture, where grass-skirted hips swayed beneath dangling coconut shells and leis delivering food and drinks while a lean, long pig was slowly roasting on a central fire-pit. The man behind the bar was a bare-chested Samoan Budai in a brightly patterned lava-lava, with plugs in both ears and an actual bone through his nose—though I had seen him off-work, and knew he preferred a much smaller, barbell-headed ring in his septum piercing. I gave him the finger and he took a break from extolling the different colors of rum to some haole touristas to mix me a tall zombie.
The walls were a ship’s graveyard—or at least Hollywood’s. A float from the S. S. Minnow was nailed to the wall above an autographed black-and-white of Bob Denver, and a pair of wooden rails that might have come from a schooner but really disappeared off a back lot once filming was done provided a handy aisle between to sets of tables. Nets and long, thick cables of manila and hemp with strange knots mixed with palm leaves to hide the bare beams of the ceiling, and the tiny black speakers. I walked on a mat of dried coconut shell and black sand to the back, near the kitchen, where animatronic parrots peeked out of strange corners to squawk and then return. This part of the bar had been cannibalized from a dozen failed ventures—sand gave way to marble tile and bamboo furniture, the intimate table fires replaced by hanging paper lanterns, and a wall-length aquarium sported exotic, spindly, and striped fish, weaving their way through a rainbow kelp forest and what might have been a real human skull, a tiny silver minnow peaking out of an authentic bullet hole.
The owner Lou was in the back with the Necronaut, both of them decked in outrageously bright silk Hawai’ian shirts. Lou looked Polynesian and spoke Yankee; his people had come over to Cape Cod from Fiji on the clipper ships; he’d outlasted and outlived the tiki boom, bust, and revivals, then swooped in to pick up the props and any drink or food recipes worth keeping. A grass-skirted, bare-chested himbo wearing less than most male strippers sashayed up with my zombie in a tall tiki-head plastic mug, then moved off to flash his bare chest to a party of cougars in the far corner. I sipped my drink and sat down to get a better look at the Necronaut.
The suit was old, and in a constant state of repair, but whoever designed it had a macabre taste—or maybe that was necessity. Black rubber coils with brass fittings outlined the rib-cage over the cuirass, mostly hidden by a red-and-white flower print shirt, and the pauldrons were huge, bulbous things of artificial ivory and aluminum; the arms coming out of them looked small by comparison, being only human-sized, and the metal-ring sleeves ended in bulky six-fingered articulated gloves of spun copper and mother-of-pearl; the legs and feet were more of the same, with some stiff ridge of something over the spine I never got a good look at. The centerpiece, though, was the helmet—not an old-fashioned diving helmet, or one of those NASA black mirrored fishbowls like you would see on a space suit, but something in-between; a high collar that came up along that back of the head and held a half-globe of some dark, quasi-transparent crystal, raised up about two inches so the Necronaut could sip his umbrella drink through a straw, revealing a pale, wrinkled jaw and a mouth full of stainless steel teeth.
“Detective,” he said.
Lou excused himself, and I squeezed into the booth.
“Got some work for you.”
“Of course, of course,” the old man said. “Where is the body?”
“Parking lot, in my trunk.” I took another sip, and noticed my zombie was half-gone. It always amazed me how easy it was to put away. “No rush, you can finish your drink.”
The Necronaut leaned forward a little, began to slurp. I watched the himbo make a volcano for the ladies in the corner, blue flame shooting up from the little vegetable mound on the tray; heard the music switch tracks to a ukulele piece—maybe something by Iz, but I didn’t recognize it right away.
Impulse seized me.
“Why do you stay here?”
The Necronaut leaned backward, bamboo creaking under the weight of his rig.
“This is a house of the dead, a shrine to the dream of a culture that never existed, save in places like this, and the lands of dream. Like myself, it is a relict out of time, sustained by the—reuse of old parts, and the donations of those curious and faithful. Lou does well, as a collector, to harvest the old things and put them on display here, to arrange them to maximize their power and better invoke it. I visited it once, you know, the dream, before I came here. A Disneyland volcanic island, in a Pacific ocean dyed bluer and greener than the real thing, with black lagoons where fish-men made love to stolen brides, and a wooden stair of a thousand steps led up to the platform of sacrifice for the great tiki that warded that sacred space, where the old chieftain-priests warred with cargo cultists, dreaming Cthulhu in sunken R’lyeh ousted by a wooden mock-up of an aeroplane…and there were deaths there, where the dream turned to nightmare, both closer to and farther from reality. Missionaries devoured, young men and women sacrificed to grease the launch of great ships, dark harbors at night lit by the fires of war fleets, as rival tribes prepared to battle each other…” The Necronaut smiled at the memory, then touched his glove to a stud, so the dark shell of crystal came down to hide it.
“Now, show me what you’ve got.”
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