Dear Brother #7: In which our heros go back to Washington and parley with unsavory characters.
As it turned out we decided not to go right to Chicago after all. What with the coal king and Danny’s prophecies and Black’s hoodoo and all, it is easy to forget that there are other things in the world besides the cause. But you know, Angie and Joe are musicians and what good is America if you can’t listen to a song every now and then? And who will give us the songs?
So instead of driving down to Chicago and giving the Pinkertons a kick in the ass we drove back up to Washington to meet Blind Joe and Angie and maybe go listen to them play and sing. When we got there we found out that things were a little rough. Joe was drinking more than he was singing and Angie never knew if he’d be there or not. But she was doing good, got herself a regular night at some coffeehouse.
She said while she was playing one night a man named Lewis Felt came up and wanted to tape her. He had that song she and Blind Joe played back in Sun Records in Memphis, which has gotten to all kinds of places it should not have, and this Felt man was maybe one of those places. Well, it turned out that he was behind that offer from the man out in Los Angeles that the other Joe was tempting her with.
Angie is a smart girl and she told Felt to go jump. But he was persistent like a stain. His kind always are. He said he went down to Clarksdale, where Blind Joe was from, and he said he found out a few things there. He said the name of one Delilah West, who would tell the truth about Joe, and he wrote down the name and her number on his business card and made Angie take it.
Well, it was a good thing she did, because when we all got a look at it we recognized something on it. I told you about that symbol we saw back in New Orleans, on the wall. It was a triangle with a little stem pointing down and two cross-lines on the stem. He had that same symbol on his card.
Me and the crew and Angie and Joe met up at the coffeehouse where she was playing, which is when we saw the card. There was some argument then about what to do. I wanted to go talk to Alan Greenspan, but was convinced out of it by the others, so I just wrote him a letter about what happened in the mines instead. I don’t recall how it came up, but Angie’s friend happened by and mentioned that “Oz” means “home” in Turkish. Well, that seemed like it mattered at the time. Maybe it was just that she was easy on the eyes, Angie’s friend Shaloni, I mean. But that Frank Baum who wrote the Oz books was one of the League of Good Roads, so you never know.
After a lot more fuss we decided to go ahead and call this Lewis Felt and see what we could find out. Blind Joe picked us a place to meet up, a pool hall on the wrong side of the tracks, if you know what I mean. I did not mind going there but I felt like the people there did. That all gets more important later.
Felt was a little man in a brown shiny suit. I tried to buy him a drink and all he wanted was the Pepto. Even if I did not know he was a strange man I would have known he was no good. We got down to talking serious pretty quick, because he was nobody I wanted to talk about the weather with. He smelled like shit and I do not just mean he smelled bad.
We asked him, Felt I mean, about the symbol first. Well, he is worse than you or me when he gets to talking. He said it was the alchemical symbol for gold, and that gold is the same thing as feces, which Ben told me later means shit. He wanted to know where we saw the symbol. I have bargained with plenty of men with more on the know than Felt in my life so I sat right up and took that chance and said if he wanted to know things from us we could just start playing the question game.
He said he was alright with that, and I told him we saw the symbol in New Orleans for our first answer. Then I asked him why he was so anxious to get this one song in particular, the song from Memphis, I mean. He said he was a songcatcher and that this song had effects. We knew that, of course, but I suppose now we knew he did too.
He asked Angie and Joe if they knew the song. I guess we had to admit it then, so we did. I asked him where the city of gold was, if he knew so much about gold. He got to talking again, because he had no good learning in how to win the question game.
There was a long story about Coronado, who captured someone named the Turk, so there is Oz all over again and now I am glad I remembered it. The Turk told him some story about the cross of gold, and Ben and Danny looked all alert like hounds catching the scent. I do not think Felt noticed. He went on to tell about Coronado going to Kansas where he crucified the Turk or the Indian or some such. I thought quick and spilled my drink so as to keep Felt distracted, but the story had the sound of truth about it and it is pretty clear how it all ties up with our story like a ball of snakes. We will have to go to Kansas by and by.
Felt had some more of the Pepto and asked Blind Joe why he only recorded the six songs back in the day. Well, you are not supposed to lie in the question game but I think Blind Joe did. He said that this Harry Smith gentleman, who you will recall from those alchemical record albums, stole his music. But he looked shifty while he was saying it.
I tried to get past that quick by asking Felt who he was working for but just around then a fight got started. Now, I am pretty certain that Joe might have had something to do with that, and I will have to ask him some hard questions sometime as a result. Anyhow, I took the chance to hit Felt during the fight and he was all soft in the middle, not like a man is soft but like a bag of crap.
Then people from the bar started talking about how I was a coward or some such for leaving the fight, which I was trying to do, and I got mad and you know how that is. In the end Black shot some fool who was holding me down and it seemed like a good time to leave so we did. The police showed up not so very long after we left and I just hope they did not see my license plate but I fear my hope is badly placed.
Well, so Washington is another city we should not visit again any time soon. I did not expect medals when I set out on this road trip so I don’t mind that, and except for that museum I told you about I did not like Washington all that much anyhow. Still, leaving cities quick is getting to be a habit and I start to worry about running out.
I just realized I did not go through all that to tell you which parts not to tell Ma but I am sure you have a good idea, so you can figure that out for yourself. Hope the engine block is coming along well. I will write you again from Chicago.