If you just stumbled in, I’m apparently writing a book or something. Start here: Some Enchanted Place
Then here: Some Enchanted Place, Part Three
Then here: Part Three, Episode Two
Then here: Part Three, Episode Three
Then here: Episode Four
You must have had someone you cared for — maybe even loved — sneak up behind you and put their hands over your eyes and say: ” Guess who?” in a playful sort of a way at least once in your life. They figured you’d realize they were there long before they touched you, but occasionally a person can be concentrating on something, or distracted somehow, and be truly startled.
OK, now imagine a leper does it.
A man has to be careful in these situations. A real man, I mean, not the entirely gelded variety. A man who has not sublimated every aspect of the animal instinct we’re all born with. Most of us get plenty of it to start; too much, really. The organized world draws it out like venom or beats it out of you when you’re little, fitting you for a lifelong wardrobe full of little mental jackets with sleeves that tie in the back. Civilization tries to replicate itself again and again from the born anarchy of the little boy. But the dirty little secret of the civilized male is that we’ve squandered more than controlled our essential nature. Nothing particularly important was harvested from us; we just go to seed on our own after a while. But there’s still fast-twitch muscles available if you’ve got the urge, and if your hand is a little too slow to twist the lever on the rattletrap governor we all keep in our heads, you can still get in a lot of trouble in a hurry in this world.
I was in luck. Maybe one of Aesop’s Fables I’d be hard pressed to name came halfway to mind; some ignored and leaden homily delivered in a dreary church that leaked into my head anyway crept back from its oblivion; some little tidbit of a juvenile aphorism my dear mother whispered into my childish ear while my knothead straddled the line between awake and asleep reappeared; perhaps a vision of a nun, now long dead, hovered over my shoulder with a ruler ready to strike one more time — something kept me from spinning around in a fit of awkwardness, embarrassment, mortification, or maybe just plain fear, and putting my fist right in Pecksniff’s face.
I flinched and restrained from flinching at the same time, like a man in the electric chair. I felt as though I was a volcano, just warming up, and a giant had sat on me. I emitted a little something from every aperture imaginable, and then it all slammed shut. My thoughts ran across my eyes like a ticker tape, and I wondered absurdly if Pecksniff could read backwards, like Leonardo da Vinci, or a gypsy calling for Beelzebub in the mirror. Think fast, talk faster, the ticker came up with much too slowly.
“I, um, er, a Shriner maybe?”
“My dear boy. A Shriner is a Freemason.”
I liked this line of country. Pecksniff was off the scent.
“So what club is it that your boss belongs to, exactly?”
He cleared his throat in particularly weary way. It’s better to be thought stupid than up to no good. I figured I was home free.
“He does not belong to clubs. Many clubs, however, belong to him. The handbill that has caught your fancy is mine. I am a Deputy Master of The Royal Black Knights of the Camp of Israel. Though I am Irish descent, as I infer you are, they have graced me with their trust and fraternity.”
Light dawns over Marble Head, as they say. Now I get it. Pecksniff didn’t just throw off a metaphysically creepy aura. He had something else going on. He wasn’t a snake in the bathtub. He was a snake in the grass.