Titans West: Holiday Blues, Chapter 1: Trippin’

by Martin Maenza

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Karen Duncan crossed the kitchen with a small open shoe box in her hands. “Mal, can you do me a big favor?” she called to her husband, who sat at the table reading the morning paper.

“Sure, baby,” the African-American man said. “Just name it.”

She put the box down on the table, jostling the many small white envelopes that were inside of it. “Can you take these by the post office and mail them?” the woman asked. She grabbed her white lab coat off the chair and started to put it on. “It’s out of my way, and I’ll be late for work if I do it.”

“No problem,” Mal Duncan said. Then he noticed the sleepy-eyed blonde young man who was staying with them entering the room, looking for some coffee. “We can take care of them when Charley and I head downtown. Right, Charley?”

“Huh?” Charley Parker asked. He brushed the long hair from his eyes. “Like, take care of what?”

“The party invitations,” Karen said. She picked up her empty coffee mug and carried it over to the sink. She then grabbed a clean mug, went to the pot, filled it, and handed it to their sleepy house guest.

Charley took a sip. “Ah, that helps,” he said. “So, like, what’s this about a party?

“Karen and I throw an annual holiday bash down at Gabriel’s Horn,” Mal said. “We close the club for the night and invite all our friends and such. Really blow it out and raise the roof.”

“Yeah?” Charley said. “Who’s invited?”

“You, Hank, Dawn, the folks that work at the club, some of our neighbors, some of the folks I work with over at STAR,” Karen said, ticking off names. “Of course, we won’t know who’s coming until they RSVP, and they can’t do that if they don’t get the invitations.” She walked over to the table, gave Mal a peck on the lips, and tapped the box. “Don’t forget, OK?”

“I promise,” Mal said. He went back to the paper as Karen walked out the front door. After a few minutes, he realized that Charley was still standing by the counter rather quietly. “Say, Charley, what are you so deep in thought about?”

The young man put his cup down on the counter. “Just, like, going over my options?” Charley said. “Gotta decide, like, who I’m taking to the party.” He started to head back to his room to shower and change. “Let’s see. I know Renee would, like, love to go. But, like, Arisia might be there, too. And, whoa, like, maybe that Lisa is coming.”

Mal shook his head as the young man’s voice trailed off into the other room. “Ah, the problems of being young and single.”

***

Even days later, Charley Parker was still in a quandary when he met Hank Hall and Dawn Granger at a small fast-food restaurant off-campus for lunch. “So, like, guys, I’m really struggling here. What should I do?”

“About what?” Hank said as he crunched on his third taco. He wore a white T-shirt under a blue V-neck sweater and jeans.

“About the party on Saturday night,” Charley said. “I’m totally confused over who I should invite, you know?” He was dressed in a hooded sweatshirt with long shorts.

“Well, who do you want to go with?” Dawn asked as she cleaned up the last bit of her salad. She was dressed in a white shirt under a green coat.

“That’s just it,” Charley said. “I’d love to go with all of them. You both know Renee, right? She’s a lot of fun and all that. But I know Arisia’s gonna be there, so if I, like, take Renee, I totally lose any chance of starting something with her.”

“So ask Arisia,” Dawn said. “She might not be bringing a date.”

“Yeah,” Charley agreed. “But if I ask her, and she, like, already planned to bring someone else, I look like such a total lame-o.” He took a drink of his soda. “Of course, then what if that babe that Karen knows is at the party? I told you about Lisa, didn’t I, Hank?”

The brown-haired young man nodded.

“Lisa has both brains and looks,” Charley said. “Plus, she’s an older woman, you know? And that’s a plus, too. If I show up with a date and she’s there, then I can, like, totally kiss that opportunity goodbye, too.”

Hank began to roll his eyes. Dawn tried her best not to laugh. “Then maybe you should just go stag,” she suggested. “That way you have your options open, right, Hank?”

“Yeah, sure,” Hank replied. “Whatever.”

Dawn frowned at him. He wasn’t being much help, especially given that he had been friends with Charley a lot longer. “Tell you what, Charley,” she said. “I don’t really have anyone in mind that I’m going to invite, and I know Mr. Charming, here, isn’t seeing anyone regularly, either. Why don’t all three of us go stag together?”

Dawn smiled at Charley, and his mood seemed to perk up a bit. “Yeah, I guess that could work,” he said. “But what if I go stag and they all have dates?”

Hank just rolled his eyes again.

Charley, Dawn, and Hank continued to chat at they walked back up Divisidaro Street in the Haight-Ashbury district of town. “Look, Parker,” Hank said with a rather firm tone, “just make a decision and go with it! When it comes to women, you’re even more indecisive than my brother Don was!”

“But, like–” Charley started to protest.

Suddenly, he was interrupted by the yelling of a man. “Help me! You’ve got to help me!” The trio turned to see the source of the distress calls. A man with long, stringy brown hair and a similar mustache and beard ran toward them. He was around forty years old and wore ripped jeans, a blue tie-dyed T-shirt, and rose-tinted glasses.

“Oh, great,” Hank sighed. “We’ve rustled up the natives.” Haight-Ashbury was reputed for being a haven for folks who came of age in the 1960s and were part of the hippy movement. Many of the locals who lived there still held onto those beliefs and dressed as they did in those old days.

Dawn gave him a sharp elbow for his remark. “Sir, what’s wrong?” she asked the man.

“You kids got to help me!” the man exclaimed. “It’s my old woman! She’s, like, freakin’ out, man!” His eyes were wide with pupils dilated, and he began to clasp Charley about the shoulders, shaking him. “She needs help! Help!”

Hank grabbed the guy and pulled him off his friend. “Hey, buster, chill out a bit!”

“He’s right,” Dawn said, a bit more reassuring. “Just tell us what happened and go slow.”

The man looked frantically at the two young men and then to the young blonde woman. “It’s my Jeanne! We’re just hangin’ out, listening to some Hendrix and whatnot. Suddenly, she starts trippin’ really really bad and then boom! One of the speakers blows! It was wild. Stuff everywhere.”

“The speaker, like, shorted out?” Charley asked.

“No, man! It blew up! Bam!” The young men looked like he was crazy, so he turned back to Dawn. “No, by itself! Jeanne did it! Just by looking at it!”

“We should investigate this,” Hank said. “Parker, you know what to do?”

“I totally get your vibe, Hank,” the blonde surfer said, and he took off down the street in a sprint.

“Mister, show us where Jeanne is,” Hank said.

“This way, man!” the older man said as he gestured toward one of the old Victorian town homes across the street. “Come on!” Hank and Dawn ran after him.

As they ran up the stairs to the second floor, Hank called up to their guide. “Hey, were you two doing drugs or something?”

The man spun around and flattened against the wall. “Hey, man, what we do in our home is our own business!” he said defensively. “This is a free country, you know.”

Hank caught up to him and looked him in the face. “I got that,” he said. “Just answer my question: yes or no?”

“Well,” the man said, “yeah, I guess. Just a little something to take the edge off, y’know. This time of year can really be stressful.”

Hank was about to lay into the man when suddenly a loud, concussive blast slammed into the top landing of the steps. “Look out!” Hank called as he dived for cover.

The older man was caught off-guard from the blast and fell toward the stairs. Dawn lashed out to grab him; she kept him from tumbling down the fifteen steps, but he hit his head on the wall as he came around. Dawn carefully lowered him down to the step.

“Is he OK?” Hank asked.

“Yeah, but he’s out,” Dawn said, checking his pulse.

“Get him downstairs to someplace safe,” Hank ordered, “then meet me upstairs! Time to find out what’s going on here! Hawk!” And with that last word, Hank Hall’s clothes transformed into the red and white costume of his alter ego.

“Dove,” Dawn said, which changed her appearance as well. She now had platinum blonde hair to go with the blue and white costume of her alter ego. This transformation gave her extra strength and speed, allowing her to get the man safely to the first floor.

She then ascended the stairs once more, three at a time. She rounded the corner where her partner waited for her. “What do we have here?” Dove asked as she surveyed the various items strewn out in the hallway.

“I think Jeanne’s been redecorating,” Hawk said. They stepped into the room from where the concussive blast had originated. Photo albums and other mementos swirled around the air as a red-haired woman sat with her back to the doorway. She appeared to be looking for something in the large wooden trunk before her.

“Knock, knock,” Hawk said.

The red-haired woman spun her head around quickly. Her hair flew out in an odd way, and her eyes crackled with energy as she glared at the newcomers. The ornate mirror that hung behind her ripped itself from the wall and went hurtling dangerously toward the pair of heroes.

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