Stream of Consciousness
A serial adventure in fiction by Brad Sondahl
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The Lost Treasure of Iraq

     A day without OD Esse is always a good day.  So it wasn't the best day when he showed up at my doorstep with a stranger in tow.
    "Phil!  Long time no see!  Wait until you hear about..."
    "Whatever it is, I don't want any.  Scams, pyramid schemes, protection money, you name it--I don't want anything to do with it."
    "How does $8.8 billion  in unmarked currency sound?"
    "It sounds like half of the spam emails I got this morning," I said.
    "You haven't even let me introduce my friend."
    "A friend of yours is probably an enemy of mine..."
    "Phil, you've got to quit living your life on the straight and narrow, or you'll never see new horizons..."
    "I suppose you'd prefer the crooked and barred..."
    OD said to his companion: "Don't worry, Zoltan, he's always like this at first."
    "Okay, let me guess.  Your friend has a notarized map to King Solomon's mine."
    "Mines are a waste of time.  Zoltan here, better known as the Ravine Runner, has figured out the most lucrative mystery of 2007."
    Zoltan finally spoke: "I know where the missing Iraqi currency is."
    "What?  The 3 tons of missing cash?  I suppose it's stored with the WMD's," I said.
    "Even I know they never existed," said Zoltan.
    "My faith in you grows by leaps and bounds" I said.

    OD said, "Phil, we're talking Arabian Nights style adventure here.  Babes in Burkas.  Mystery, intrigue."
    "It sounds like the old movie channel to me," I said.

    "Please listen to my proposal, Mr. Steen.  I know you think OD Esse is certifiably insane, and I'm not one to argue.  But consider this.    What do you think happened to the money when it hit Iraq?"
    "I think the first person to come in contact with it stole it," I said.
    "That is correct.  And where in Iraq would you hide such a treasure?"
    "I'm no Iraq scholar, but I'd say--outside of Iraq..."
    "Right again.  And where could you hide such a fortune with no one paying special notice?"
    "I've no idea," I said.
    OD piped up, "And that's Zoltan's genius...  If you are in with us on this, it's even shares.  We need to put together a string to pull this one off. "
    "This sounds illegal."
    "The money is already off the books, possibly stolen several times.  It's finders keepers at this point," said OD.
    " I think this operation will require peculiar talents.  That's why we thought of you."
    "Like what?  I'm not a safe cracker or an explosives expert..."
    "No, you are a banjo player, and apparently one that OD trusts."
    "I wouldn't say the same for him, " I pointed out.
    "Which is only sensible, " said Zoltan.   "If you join us, you can expect to clear one billion dollars."

    Of course, one billion dollars is a lot of banjos.  And it had been weeks since I'd participated in some fruitcake adventure, so in the end I joined their merry band.  Once in the group, I learned that Zoltan's profound intuition as to the location of the Iraqi Billions was Las Vegas.
    "Las Vegas?  Why not Iran, or Cairo?"
    "Where better than Las Vegas to bring in huge amounts of undocumented cash, with no one noticing?" he argued.
       His plan, if you could call it that, was to get some of us in as a casino band, so as to be able to keep an eye out for anyone waving large clumps of Dinars.
    "Well, if it's a band you want, we must have my friend Vladivostock Bahclava, who's well known as  a bitar player..."
    OD said, "Isn't that the guy that turns into a fox at night?"
    "Don't we all?" asked Zoltan?
    "Maybe figuratively," said OD, "But this guy goes the whole way, bushy tail and all...  It would make it hard to play in a band at night..."
    "Yes, but this is Las Vegas we're talking," I argued.  "It could be the best part of the act...  Besides, as a werefox he could probably do some valuable scouting in the night time..."
    Zoltan was skeptical.  "The more guys we cut in, the smaller the shares... You know the old saying, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money..."  But in the end he conceded a bitar playing werefox would be a useful addition to our band.

    We assembled our forces and started driving to Las Vegas in an old school bus which Zoltan had bought for cheap, since many vital components were missing.  Our route led us onto small empty roads traveling through the desert in the  moonlit night.   Zoltan, who insisted on doing all the driving,  was beginning to get irritated at the werefox's whimpering to escape the bus.
    "Hey, did you see that sign?"  he called to us abruptly.  I'd caught a glimpse of the weathered sign as we went past.
    "Yes," I said, "It said we are not going by a secret base called Area 59, so we should not exit or stop on pain of death..."
    "These Nevada locals and their sense of humor," said OD.  
    The bus began to shake.  
    "We seem to have some trouble with the front end," said Zoltan.  
    "I hope we don't have to stop and irritate the locals," said OD.
    "Hey, what's the funny light moving across the sky?" asked Zoltan?"  "Oh well, the ride has gotten smoother."
    "Dang, here we go again," I said.

The Felines of Sheldorf 3 seem to have a knack for abducting me, where ever I go.  As we entered the space ship, OD, always a man of action, suggested we try to hijack this ship, fly it up to the mother ship, and sacrifice our lives to save the world from alien domination.  I told him it wasn't necessary, as this was just a ship full of bored pussy cats that always abducted me by mistake.   This time, however, they were not surprised to see me.  Snickersnack, a leader of this juvenile Feline band,  greeted me as we stepped off the bus into the cargo hold of their space ship.  
    "We have been following your noble exploits on the uweb, and have interrupted your journey to offer you aid and advice," said Snickersnack.
    "Besides, we have a bet resting on the outcome with the Bladderbeasts of Orion, so we have a personal interest in this," said Vorpal.
    "We think it very noble of you to take these efforts to return this money to the American taxpayers.  That's over 30 dollars per person, and I'm sure they can use it."
    "Uh, we're not returning any money..." said Zoltan.
    Nudging him sharply, OD cut in.   "To the Americans.  It was the Iraqi oil money, so of course we'll return it to the Iraqi citizens."  It's a good thing aliens can't read human expressions, or they would have thought OD had something in his eye, the way he was winking at us...
    "Besides our sizable bet on your successful outcome, we wanted you to know that the fate of your world also hinges upon your actions.  Used properly, that money could, as you say, grease a lot of palms in Bagdad, instead of just enriching the few who grabbed it and ran."
    "I didn't know palm trees needed greasing," said OD.
    "Your lack of intelligence does, of course concern us, as we foolishly bet on your success in this mission," said Snickersnack.  "None the less, we'll try to give you some help on accomplishing our mutual goal.  The Araby Casino is where your quarry is located...

    Suddenly the spacecraft gave a lurch and started shaking, and the lighting shifted to a weird blue.  
    "Something must be wrong with the front end," said Vorpal.  The ride became smoother.
    "There, it's fixed," said Vorpal.
    "That's what you think," I said.  "I think you've just been abducted, speaking from my own not inconsiderable experience..."
    A large shimmery hand appeared above us in the cargo deck, which reached down and petted the Felines.
    "Is it a Bladderbeast?"  I asked.
    A calm majestic voice filled our heads soundlessly.
    We are the Galactic Overlords.  We come to offer you advice.  This journey, which you are about to embark upon, is not just for the fate of your second class planet, but for the entire universe.  This would not concern us, being multidimensional energy beings, except that we have placed a bet on the outcome with the Stellar Diamond Minds of the Spiral nebula, and WE DON"T LIKE LOSING.

Boy, talk about upping the ante...  Still, when the fate of the universe is in the balance, a human's gotta do what a human's gotta do.  We'll steal that money, I thought.  Even if it means returning it to the Iraqi people.  Just listening to the Galactic Overlords inside my head was a real treat, at least till they sort of yelled at us at the end about the "losing" bit.
    The Araby Casino was out on the edge of the Strip, out where you actually parked your own car, nowhere near where this photo was taken... We were to be the warm up band for some jugglers known as the Frying Sushi Brothers.  It was hard to believe that truckloads of money would end up in a dive like this, but then we had been given a hot tip, which was better than nothing.
     Things went reasonably well in our first performance.  Once the audience discerned that no one in the band was likely to remove their clothing, nor would they desire that outcome, we were pretty much ignored in favor of the cheap food and drinks offered to them to inspire their gambling frenzy.  The set ended just as the moon rose, so technically Bahclahva did remove his clothes, but he turned into a werefox so fast no one saw much of anything, but a tail streaking out the door.
    The rest of us sat in the back of the audience for the Frying Sushi Brothers act.  Theoretically we were watching for rich Iraqis, but actually we all watched the juggling.  The Sushi Brothers started with the ingredients for Sushi, like raw fish of various sorts, and juggled them.  Then they added some knives, and started chopping as they juggled.  Then one of them balanced a flaming wok on his head while the others tossed the pieces in.  It could be argued that cooked Sushi is a contradiction in terms, but then this was Show Biz, and the schtick worked.  
    After the jugglers were done, we headed out to the casino floor to look for treasure.  It appeared to be mostly flowing into the slot machines.  The choices were to drink, walk around and look, or to gamble. Most of us tried a bit of all three, but ended up the evening back in our rooms, thinking the Sheldorf cats could be barking up the wrong tree...

    Early the next morning (that's noon, Musician Standard Time), we met at the food area to discuss our lack of results.
    "If the treasure is really here, it's probably in one of those high tech safes with laser beams and all," said OD.
    "I checked the surrounding desert, and only found a packrat," said Bahclahva.  "Not bad," he said, although no one asked...
    "I wish we could contact the Galactic Overlords," I said.  "I think they probably know exactly where we should look."
    Zoltan then showed his leadership ability.  "If we're going to go whining to the Galactic Overlords about every little detail in this operation, I'm out of here.   Give me human intuition any day!  Wasn't it my hunch that said we'd find the money in Vegas?  We just have to work at it."

    We decided to do a floor by floor search of the casino.  We figured that knocking on doors would invite a visit from the security staff, but that we could probably walk up and down the halls without getting in trouble.  So after spending a couple hours wandering by enough doors to allow Bugs Bunny to escape from both the Tasmanian Devil and Yosemite Sam (while Verdi provided the music), we met again and figured out that the top 3 floors were untouchable by the likes of us, so that was probably where the money was.  So the plan was for one of us suave debonair types to romance a rich gambling heiress and have her take them to the upper floors, where no doubt the Iraqi treasure would miraculously appear.  
It wasn't much of a plan, but it had possibilities, and it was a plan...
    Being monogamous and  married meant that I was excluded from duty in this area.  This left OD, Zoltan, and Bahclahva.  Bahclahva, admittedly a fox,  did have the problem that after moon rise he resembled a fur coat more than a hunk of burning love, so he was excused.  OD, the intrepid explorer, and Zoltan, the dashing adventurer poet, both fancied themselves as ladies' men, so on the second night in Vegas we set them both to the task, and awaited surreptitiously in the wings for the results.

    The attempt by OD and Zoltan to insinuate themselves into the richer strata of the fair sex was too painful to relate here in detail.   I guess as self inflated adventurers and moody poets go, they did reasonably well.   The hotel security did not throw them off the premises, just warned them never to be seen there associating with any guest again.  I guess they needed our band services to help make the jugglers look good.  We discussed it during a band break...
    "I really thought the sugar heiress was going for me," said OD.  "Then she said she had to powder her nose, and disappeared.  I didn't even know women still powdered their noses..."
    "I think the meaning has changed," said Zoltan.  "But the result is the same...  I tried to discuss Heinrich Heine's poetry as used in the fiction of Philip K Dick with a beautiful blonde.  She just slapped my face and left.  I guess she doesn't like science fiction..."
    "So," I said, "I guess we're back to plan B.  What is plan B?"
    "Oh Galactic Overlords, give us a clue!" sang Bahclahva.
    "I know," said Zoltan. "Let's bribe a shoe shine.  That always works."
    The only problem with that idea was that most of us wore tennis shoes or sandals, that don't usually need to be polished.  But we convinced Zoltan, whose idea it was, to try it anyway.
    "You want your Birkenstocks polished?"  said the hotel shoe shine.
    "Well, really," said Zoltan, dropping a 20 dollar bill,  "I'm looking for information.  Seen any Iraqis lately?"
    "Oh, Iraqis!  You with Homeland Security?" he said, pocketing the money.
    "I just might be," said Zoltan, figuring an answer like that wouldn't get him in trouble in court.
    "Yeah, I see some staying here at the hotel.  Probably in one of those penthouses.   They looked like high rollers..."
    "You wouldn't know what room they're in?" said Zoltan, dropping another twenty.
    "No, I wouldn't," he said, pocketing it.  "I'm stuck here in this shoe shine booth all day.  I've never been above the first floor in my life..."
    "Well, then, you could give me that last $20 back again," said Zoltan, a bit miffed.
    "What $20?" he said.  "Did you want these Birks spit shined?"
    "No thanks.  I'm beginning to think I'm better off trying to  pump a one-armed bandit..."

    We stayed around a few more days, but failure glared at us on all sides.  Even our music sucked.  If the Iraqis were still in the hotel, we never saw them, in spite of maintaining round the clock surveillance on the entryway.  By the weekend, our act was canceled and replaced with a dancing penguin act.  I got an email later from the Frying Sushi Brothers, saying that although our music sucked, at least we didn't run on during their act and steal the fish they were chopping up like the penguins did...

    Anyway, we packed up and headed for home.  I  worried a lot about the fate of the universe, which apparently now was pointed towards the cosmic sewer.  But as I glanced at the headlines in the newpaper racks at gas stations, the world seemed to be headed that way anyway, without our help, so I felt better.  There were a couple unexplained large explosions alongside us as we drove through the desert, which I attributed to those playful Felines of Sheldorf IV.  I knew those cats well enough that they might shoot near us out of pique at losing their bet, but not take us out completely.  

    So we were nearly back home when, without blue lights or anything, we found our vehicle in some weird noiseless other-where.
    Your stupidity was astounding, said the Galactic Overlords.  Why didn't you just bribe a desk clerk?
Zoltan smacked his head.  "Of course, bribe the desk clerk!  Why didn't you suggest that to us in Vegas?"
    We were busy with more important matters.  Now, though, having lost our bet, we are perturbed.  Don't take it personally if we now painfully entropize you all for our amusement.
There was a clunky noise heard in this otherwise silent dimension.  
    WAIT! said a louder voice in our heads than the Galactic Overlords.
    Sorry, gotta run, said the Galactic Overlords.
    NOT SO FAST, said the Stellar Diamond Mind, which had apparently just hijacked us to its own dimensional hiatus.
There was an explosion of colors and smells, and suddenly we were back on the bus headed home.  
We spent the rest of the drive trying to figure out what to say to our friends and spouses about the whole thing. We decided to stick with, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."
    But if any disembodied voices start talking in italics in my head, I'm out of here...

Use this chart to find the next of the cartoons (first 47  entries) or the stories (starting with  1 A River Too Far 5 rows below week 8)
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Week 47
(cartoon ends)
1. A River Too Far
2.The Reunion
3.The Daily Grind
4 The New Car and Treasure
5. The Big 
6. The old
7. The Ravine Runner 8. The Fabulous
Folk Festival
9. Druid
10. Goats of
Christmas Past
11. The Secret Six 12. The Great
White Hunters
13. The Old School
Lost in the City

What's in
a name?
The Curse of
Bently Manor
Shortbottom Possessed
The Lost
of Iraq
Phil Steen
for President!
Phil Steen
for Rehab
The Adventures
of Handiman
and Fiberwoman
Pirates of the Puget Sound
Building a platform, plank by plank
The Quest
for meaning
Larry and
Phil to
The Rescue
Hurrah for
the Reds,
Whites, and
How I spent
my summer
I am
trapped in
the Present
Help I am trapped
in the future
Nose of Death