Samantha was the sweetest-tempered of our cats, the only one who would approach just anyone at all for a stroking, which she would appreciate with a low soothing purr, but like all the cats except Kiki, she was elderly, and had visibly been in poor health of late. When she did not come to the Circle all day, and was not to be found in her favorite basking spot by Kitty yurt, I assumed she was gone, and paced the grounds reciting a rosary of Om mani padme hum, 108 times for her. But the next day she was back, seemingly feeling much better, and Jean fed her pate' and brie, a far cry from the kibble she was used to, and all day Samantha walked around greeting every one of her human friends. The day after, of course, she was dead. Maureen wrapped the body in a little blanket inside a cardboard box in Butterfly yurt, asking Brian that is called "Brian" to dig a grave where she could look out her back window at it, and the rest of us to figure out some time we could get together, hoping that Samara might be able to attend the funeral, with or without Lori's permission. She gave me and Jean a plastic bag to put final words or tokens in, and Jean put in some of her special root and a bit of white sage, and I put in some yarn for Samantha to play with and a lucky penny I had found on the grounds her last day, but after I'd given the baggie with these and some other contributions to Brian, he shame-facedly told me the next day that Gina had accidentally thrown it out during a general cleanup of Unicorn yurt, which was always a gathering place and sometimes a mess, but I reassured Brian that it was the thoughts and not the things which count. Days went by, and Maureen was getting beyond annoyed that nothing had been arranged, neither Jean nor I knowing how to approach Samara, until I found a note on the table, "Samantha is ready to return to the earth," saw that the cardboard coffin was outside on the tricky steps, and talked to Brian, who had been digging a hole but was stymied by ground water coming up to fill it and walked away in frustration. I didn't know what to do either, as no-one else was around for a while, but when I walked over to the hole, the water had gone down, so I fetched the Tibetan bell, rang it once and chanted Om mani padme hum a few times as I deepened the hole a little, rang it again and chanted Om mani padme hum a few times as I dumped the body in its blanket out of the box, rang it a third time and chanted Om mani padme hum a few times as I filled the hole, rang it a fourth time and chanted Om mani padme hum a few times as I arranged rocks on top to deter animals from trying to dig her up, rang it a fifth time and stuck the shovel into the ground with a final Om mani padme hum, and rang it a sixth time. This was the funeral of Samantha, and that night Gina came, removing the middle one of the rocks to plant an aloe vera, and Samara, to decorate the grave with strings of beads.
A couple days later, Brandon was wearing the beads Samara had left, and said that Veny had given them to him. Maureen and I were both incensed that Veny would rob a grave, and Maureen laid a string of pearls, bought by the chairman of Oracle in her days as a business consultant, on the grave, defying Veny to take that, though it has since been replaced by a bronze butterfly from her porch. I feared that he had put some kind of hex on Brandon, and intended to ask Jean to put a protective charm on the boy, but I was too slow about it. That night, Pam drove Chris out to attend the Burning Man gathering and see his father, which was very important since Pam had healed a long-standing estrangement between them, dating all the way back to when Chris decided to stay at Lupin despite the wedding of Kassandra to Terrible Ed, but the very next day they had to turn around and come back. For Child Protective Services had been called about Brandon, which had happened once before, at which time Faye had put on her best ditzy-lady act and failed to find Brandon or Fairmont trailer for them, and I had been warned that if anyone I didn't recognize started asking about Chris or Brandon I should feign ignorance, but this time Cindy, who does not usually work the office, led them straight to Fairmont trailer, a brief inspection of which was enough to persuade them that they had to take Brandon away, telling him that he could take one toy, to which he replied, "I want to take Ronnie!" We all feared he would be put in some kind of foster situation, but he was taken to an aunt's, and then Pam was allowed to become his guardian, on condition that he not come to Lupin anymore, for they thought it unhealthy for him to see naked adults, even if he himself was always dressed outside of the pool, which was an insult to everyone of nudist lifestyle, for nudist children grow up the best-adjusted, in everyone's experience. Again my hands quivered for hours in ungoverned anger, but none of us, of course, was more emotionally devastated than Ronnie, who walked around bent over and looking hang-dog for days, drinking more than usual and leaving the water on for hours to soak the lawn excessively but who could care, for everyone felt terrible, and John Horne, who had taught Brandon to swim, said "Just another beautiful day in paradise!" with a particularly sarcastic sneer.
As it had been Brian's and my work that Veny had desecrated, and Samara he had stolen from, and Brandon he had hexed, I told Maureen that besides something of Veny's, for which I took the sideways Czech flag from the Restaurant eaves, and I think Dara may have seen me take it but she didn't say anything, and something of mine, for which I had a cat statue in mind, and something of Brian's, for which I would go down to the tent he sometimes frequented, by the upper reaches of our creek where the trail from the Taj Mahal, not yet lion-haunted in those days, crosses it on the way to meet Little Village road near the Blue House and Tiger Lily yurt, to pluck some straw, I would also need something of Samara's, for which Maureen produced a little toy sword, once held by a warrior-princess action-figurine, that had been left in the playhouse box, and something of Brandon's, and this I thought would be most tricky, but Maureen told me he had left his very favorite string of beads hanging on the chain by the front gate, and those beads proved to be black, which was perfect. In Tiger Lily yurt, I stabbed the Czech flag lightly with the sword, and placed it upside-down underneath the wastebasket, to signify that such a man was lower than garbage, and fashioned a frail straw-man, tying Brandon's beads into a noose from which to hang him from the cat's tail, pressing the head against the cat's rump. As this was not on public display, unlike the voodoo doll still gazing from the oak, Maureen asked what this would accomplish, but I said it would put the energy out there. And even if Lori was not directly involved, I blamed her for putting a creature like Veny in charge of children, so I had thought of taking the Phillipine flag as well as the Czech, but instead took the rock Gina had moved from Samantha's grave, and laid it on the threshold of the Blue House for a stumbling stone.
Jean speculated that Lori might have made the CPS call herself, which made me feel guilty, fearing that perhaps my mention of Brandon in the e-mail could have triggered Lori to resolve the situation by simply getting rid of the child, and so the idea of calling CPS about Simone and Samara came up openly for the first time, although I had certainly thought about it to myself often enough, particularly when the psychologist had been interviewing Maureen, when I had come this close (gentle reader, I am holding my thumb and index finger just so) to making that call, but I had searched my heart and found no genuine concern for the children in my motivations, and revenge would be a terrible reason to do such a thing. Maureen was vehemently opposed to such talk, wanting the Stout family kept intact, as it was vital for the future of Lupin that there be heirs, and it would not do for Simone and Samara to become hurt and embittered. Everyone was very testy, Maureen often telling Jean that the Circle was no place for her whining about Rob forgetting their anniversary and whether she should even bother going to Burning Man with him, Jean retorting that she didn't need to hear Maureen's moonings about Adam or Gregory either, and I was no better, asking Jean why she didn't just give Lori a formal invoice for her services instead of leaving everything hanging, and asking Maureen what had become of all her promises to take over the place and run it properly, the "parallel universe" campaign having ground to a halt with all Maureen's credit cards maxed out, and while Maureen thought at first that she had been identity-thefted, examination of the bills eventually proved that indeed the Army of One and Chef John had spent, well OK Maureen spent if you want to get technical about it, every bit of it. Around that time Redhead Diane gave me a very nice haircut for the start of the school year, making me look like a professional rather than the shaggy hippie I remain at heart, although math professors can get away with looking like shaggy hippies, and charged me nothing, perhaps because there was some licensing requirement before she could take a penny, and she said I should repay her by helping my students, but really what she wanted was to pump me for information about whether Maureen actually had money, and a substantial investment in Lupin, or whether that was all bullshit, and all I could tell her was that I was trying to figure that out too.
So that weekend, Maureen and I had the most dreadful quarrel. It started, of course, about everything except the real issues: I complained about the pesky flies, which often in summer make visitors do "the Lupin twitch", and she pointed out that it was all my fault for not emptying the trash, and for filling it with food that ought rather have been left out for the animals; an inquisitive visitor had asked, after Brad came by for a little negotiating, whom Maureen had been speaking to, and she had said "Brad, the lawyer" when I was under the impression that was a secret, but apparently not anymore, so when the visitor said "Brad sounds like a name for a lawyer" I answered "He's a judge, in fact" which apparently was crossing over into what was still secret, for Maureen kept needling me, "Oh, you know the judge, do you? You know the JUDGE!" as she drank more heavily from her "giraffe", originally a water bottle from Oracle, than at any time since the day of the Perseids, after which she had started mixing her wine with a lot of water usually, but not that night. Cindy brought in a guest speaker, whom Maureen told me I should hear, but I was not inclined to pay much mind to someone chosen by Cindy, instead chit-chatting with Adam about whether an Oregon trip was still possible, Labor Day looking like the last possible opportunity, until Maureen ordered me to leave Adam alone and listen to the speaker, who proved to be Neal Cassady's son, whom Maureen had known as a youngster, and indeed to have many interesting things to say, but Jean was annoying Maureen by chit-chatting on the phone about possible arrangements for making the final weekend of Burning Man, to which Rob had gone without her, and when the speaker was done, Maureen dressed us down, so to speak, for I was naked of course, and told us that if we weren't going to be respectful, "Get out of my Circle!" Jean wisely left, but I stood my ground, for I had finally had it up to here (I am holding my hand up near the top of my forehead).
"That yurt is yours, but this Circle is not yours. It is part of the public grounds of Lupin, and I have as much right here as anyone. You do not even own these chairs!" I insisted coldly. She was giving no ground either: "I can take over Lupin like that," she snapped, in both senses of the word, "and have you thrown right out of here." I said it appeared rather that Lori owned the place, and when Maureen insisted that Lori had no stake in the place, while she had it in her power to take it from Glyn any time she wished, I came perilously close to calling it a flat-out lie, saying that I would need to see documentation on that, "Show me the paper!" She demanded to know why, if I truly believed that Lori was the owner, I didn't just clear out, since I neither approved of how Lori ran things nor could grow the balls to confront her about it. What was a newbie like me doing, daring to lecture someone who'd been putting up with it for thirty years? I asked if she was releasing me from my oath to stay, for if so I would give Lori 30 days' notice on the 1st of the month, which was only a couple days away. "Why wait?" Maureen asked, demanding that I go tell Lori that very instant, which was a little silly since I was not going to bang on the door of the Blue House late at night, but I did go to Tiger Lily yurt and write my second e-mail to Lori, a brief note that I could not guarantee staying past the end of September and would likely be writing up a 30 days' notice, and returned to the Circle to tell Maureen it was done. And I did not, as is my usual habit, gather up her basket of CD's and music box and earphones, to carry them for her so that she only need carry the "giraffe" and the chalice, and stand on the tricky steps to wait for her to go in with a soft "Good night, my dear," but instead stood around glaring, or pacing about the Circle, with my last cigarettes of the night, determined to outwait her as she gathered up her stuff in gloomy silence.
All the next day I was in severe petulance, hunting through Tiger Lily yurt for every object that she had ever given me, of which there turned out to be surprisingly many for the relatively brief time of our acquaintance, and dumping them on the table without a word to her, each time thinking I was done, and then remembering something else, never in fact completing the task, for months later when I broke Hotei again, the fat Chinese Buddhist monk who is supposed to bring good luck especially about money, whose broken arm had been the only casualty of my move from Michigan, if you don't count the elephant I ran over while moving stuff from Jimbo's to Tiger Lily, I discovered that I still had an unopened tube of Crazy Glue that Maureen had given me way back in July when I fixed Hotei the first time. I went into her basket to snatch back Seventh Sojourn, the Moody Blues CD that I had lent her when she surprised me by saying that she had never listened to them back in the early Seventies when they were constantly in my ear, and had only seen them in concert once, whatever year that was but more recently, since she was with that stewardess friend who had quit after Lockerbie, because she had almost worked that flight and could not get it out of her mind and could never bear to fly again, and she and Maureen had gotten naked at Skyline Ampitheater and snorted coke while the security guards seemed too afraid of these crazy women to do anything about it, but until she had recently acquired the tape of In Search of the Lost Chord, which I had assumed to be a relic from the deep past, she had never heard any album of theirs. Lori came up to me, the first and last time that she has ever sought me out, rather than the reverse or a meeting by happenstance, on the Restaurant lawn of course since she has never set foot in the Circle since the day that will live in infamy, wondering why I would be giving notice, and I told her I had quarreled with Maureen. She advised me that perhaps I should stop treating Maureen as if she were someone important, for there were a hundred people at Lupin and she was just one of them, and while out of kindness she would keep Maureen on, she was concerned that Maureen was not acting "normally" anymore, wondering if I had any ideas why. I did not say that perhaps it was because Lori had been using this multi-talented woman as a menial servant, and treating her like dog shit, for years, or that her assertiveness of recent months was more "normal" than the docile submission Lori had evidently come to expect as her due, but I was thinking it, instead saying that I had never had trouble with Maureen except when she drank too much, which had only happened a couple times, and then delicately asking whether Lupin did not owe Maureen large sums of money. Lori said that the story had come back to her that way many times, but that there was absolutely no truth to it, shaking her head sadly at Maureen's craziness.
Her tone persuaded me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was lying. I recalled Johnny telling me that the Restaurant specifically, not Lupin as a whole, owed Clifford, and that Johnny was costing her every month that the Restaurant did not make enough profit to cover Clifford, which made zero sense because the Restaurant was not an independent business entity at all, so it seemed that Lori was at pains to deny the existence of encumbrances on the title, although it would be unsurprising for any property of such a size to be carrying a mortgage or note of some kind or other. So, I apologized to Maureen, and she said she was sorry too, or maybe she said she was sorry, and I apologized too, for as with so much of what I not only hear but even experience personally at Lupin, the details are fuzzy anyway. She pressed back on me everything she had given, and I slipped Seventh Sojourn back into her basket before she had time to notice it had gone missing, and e-mailed Lori to tell her 30 days' notice wasn't happening, paying September rent as usual, and Lori paid Maureen the $800 even though there was no agreement yet, which was a good thing because keeping everyone in cigarettes was getting to be a chronic problem: we can probably get them cheaper at Home Depot. But Johnny did not get paid, not at all, and asked me to draft for him in proper legal language what he wanted: full autonomy and control, profit sharing, even the right to take his share by withholding from the till rather than waiting for a check, much more than I expected him to get, but Glyn looked at this wish-list and said OK, so there was peace with the chef, which of course did not last long, since in the typical Lupin way, Glyn had not actually signed the Proposal for Operation of the Lupin Restaurant. Johnny asked me what I wanted in compensation, whether reefer or food or money or whatever, to which the proper response had to be, since I had no license to practice law in California: nothing.
Maureen then showed me her files, with copies of the deeds to Lupin and the originals of her notes, with the language that she could demand the full principal as a lump sum if the interest ever fell into arrears, and the accountings on those notes showing that the interest had been in arrears continually from the beginning, and all the cancelled checks from the erratic payments, with Lori calling them "loan repayment" right there in the memo field, and miscellaneous correspondence, from dubious legal advice by Ardis through a letter complaining about Lori telling Simone and Samara that Maureen was a charity case all the way down to Lori's latest communication, ordering Maureen not to speak to her anymore except through her attorney Brad or by e-mail, which would have been difficult for Maureen, hardly a techie, who has never gotten one of them newfangled computer thingies, or even a cell phone, using an aged phone with giant number buttons, suitable for someone who is nearly blind, which Maureen is not, continuing to do delicate sewing and knitting despite the cataract lenses which sometimes bother her when she neglects to take them out for overly long. I advised Maureen that her files did not belong on Lupin grounds, made copies for myself and her, and asked Turtle's Diane to safeguard what I took to calling the "nuclear weapons folder".