Just about the time the Grail began to fade from lack of nourishment, Layl’Annie showed up at my apartment and headed for the kitchen. I wrapped up the day’s session and was well into the first kiss of the evening when the telephone rang. I ignored it, of course, prepared to let it do its worst—remember, this was long before the days of cells phones, when common courtesy has been universally replaced by the need to stay connected and most people will answer the phone under any and all circumstances. I mean, who could it have possibly been that was worth interrupting what I was doing? If somebody had died, I didn’t really want to know about it until morning anyway—it would have ruined the evening with no positive benefits to compensate. But Anne made me answer it, demonstrating once again that women—even intellectually superior women—often have more curiosity than good sense.
It was The Boomer.
“I just finished it and I’m ready to check it out. You doing anything important?”
“I’m doing something very important, but not so important that I can’t stop and check it out with you, whatever it is. But in case you’re obsessed with secrecy or anything, I need to tell you something that up until now you’ve been too busy to listen to. It’s a woman, her name is Anne, and I’m crazy about her.” Even though she was right there listening, I didn’t figure I was giving out information she didn’t already know. Note that I didn’t say that I loved her—even if that just might possibly be true, she was going to have to find it out the hard way, not by innocently eavesdropping on a telephone call. “She’s here with me, and it’s high time you met her. We were just going to eat, and there’s plenty for one more. So come on over.”
Click, went the phone.
Anne, who had been monitoring my end of the conservation without intruding (possibly in case I did slip up and say the ‘L’ word), looked nonplussed. “Who was that, and why in the world did he hang up on you?”
“That, dear lady, was my very dearest friend Richard King, although his friends—and you will shortly number yourself among that elite and privileged group—all call him The Boomer. He hung up on me because he is a genius of such renown that he disdains wasting time with pointless niceties, such as saying goodbye when he has nothing else to say. In about ninety seconds he’s going to walk through that door, bearing his charming manner as well as a six pack or two of beer, and you are going to just love him. It’s inevitable. And if, because of some heretofore unrevealed flaw in your character so massive that it makes Mt. Vesuvius look like an inflamed pimple on a baboon’s butt, you don’t like him, I will consider that strong enough evidence that I have let my emotions override my good judgment and go searching for a new girlfriend.”
I wasn’t holding The Grail during this monologue, but it seemed pretty good nonetheless. Anne’s eyes opened wider than a tom cat’s on a moonless night. She knew I was pulling her leg, since I had taken the traditional pose of the Atlantian toastmaster, but I’m sure she was thinking that there are things that you don’t say, even in jest (not that I was jesting). All this had taken more than ninety seconds, however, and suddenly in marched The Boomer—knocking on a friend’s unlocked door being another of those pointless niceties that he didn’t always bother with—with a six pack in each hand, as predicted, and life was grand again.
“Gentle Anne, paragon of feminine mystery and delight,” he perorated. “Are you aware that you have been consorting with a practitioner of excess, someone who while researching a paper of The Marquis de Sade molested children and tortured animals just to feel at one with his subject? How has he managed to hide you away all this time?” The Boomer took her hand and, sweeping to one knee, kissed it ceremoniously. I thought I caught the tiniest wink as he mentioned The Marquis, but it came too quick for me to be sure.
“I have been hiding her away all of this time because you have been skulking in the catacombs, refusing to answer letters or calls, turning away visitors, taking only what nourishment that came by way of the unwary rats and bats that strayed too close to your foul experiments.”
“You two are crazy,” Anne said laughingly. “And don’t worry, Brad. Mt. Vesuvius is safe outside Pompeii where it belongs.”
“Well, don’t just stand there,” The Boomer exclaimed, not bothering to question the oblique reference to Italian geography. “Grab a beer and come see IT.”
I shrugged a ‘beats me’ response to Layl’Annie’s ‘What the heck is IT’ look and grabbed three beers, passing them around as we hurried down the stairs. The Boomer unlocked the trunk and threw it open with a flourish.
The gadget inside had been a yellow Samsonite suitcase in another life, but now looked like something from a bad Sci-Fi movie. Protruding from one end was an array that was either a miniature TV antenna engulfed in steel wool or a modern art rendition of Jimmie Hendrix’ hair; hanging from the other was a pair of headphones. Knobs and dials and switches and LEDs sort of randomly decorated the top.
“Oh, Boomer, you shouldn’t have. I mean, you already gave me a birthday present. Oh, all my life I’ve wanted one of these, and now I finally have one.” I put on the earphones and instantly began pantomiming a beatnik swaying with the music, snapping my fingers and dooby-dooing softly, then interrupting myself every few seconds to open my eyes, throw up my hands, and mouth a soundless scream. Taking the headphones off, I continued. “It’s more perfect than I ever dreamed possible. What the hell is it?”
“Count on a history major to spend his life cataloging what was important a thousand years ago while not being able to see history in the making in front of his very eyes. Look closely, Professor Schuster, so that you can remember this moment to tell your starry-eyed freshmen thirty years from now. That, my irreverent friend, is a mechanism that allows the living to communicate with ghosts.” The Boomer calmly took the headphones off my head and closed the trunk.
Communicate with ghosts. Aha. We’d reached a critical junction in this conversation. Should I buy it and risk looking as gullible as a first semester freshman from Backwater, Idaho? Or should I continue to opt for skepticism at the risk of hurting The Boomer’s feelings. I decided that if he’d really wanted to protect his own feelings he wouldn’t have sprung this tall tale, true or not, on me without warning in front of my new girlfriend, and opted for skepticism. “Hot damn. A ghost communicator. Let’s shag our butts over to a graveyard and check it out.”
“That’s precisely what we’re going to do.”
“What precisely we’re going to do is eat dinner,” Anne interrupted. “Discovering the universal principle that unifies the scientific and metaphysical realms once and for all can wait a half hour, but the lasagna won’t.” Damn, what a line. If this lady could hold her own in the repartee between The Boomer and me, I wasn’t ever letting her get away. “Not to mention that neither of you bothered to put the beer in the fridge.”
So we went back upstairs and ate like we were told.
During supper The Boomer gave us his best layman’s explanation of his machine, although as far as I’m concerned, any explanation that uses the words ‘Fourier transformation’ is not for laymen. My layman’s explanation is that the same process Razuni had discovered for bending thought waves in on themselves through space could be done across time as well. If in fact a ghost is actually a thought wave that exists across time—as good an explanation as I’ve ever heard, before or since—then the machine could detect and amplify them.
I held up my end of the conversation by telling The Boomer about how I might not actually be a history major any longer, bringing him up to date on what had transpired with The Grail since he had gone into basement seclusion, filling him in a little on the real story behind the legend of King Arthur, and letting him know about Layl’Annie and me. Needless to say, there wasn’t nearly enough time. He listened with half his mind—which was more brain than I ever get from anybody else, even when they were paying total attention, so I didn’t complain about that—charmed Anne at every opportunity, and fidgeted. For her part, Layl’Annie asked intelligent-sounding questions about the mathematics involved, accepted The Boomer’s attention with benevolent grace, listened with wonder at the crazy ebb and flow of the conversation between The Boomer and me, and touched my hand just enough to let me know where I stood in all of this.
“Do you think testing the machine will wait until we wash the dishes?” she teased as we were finishing up. But you could tell she was as eager as the rest of us. Without further ceremony we piled in the front seat of The Boomer’s Fairlaine and headed toward an address he had scrawled on a scrap of paper.