Despite intense reservations, Perry agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that will test the limits of his body, seduce his senses, and fray his every nerve, (perhaps occasionally breaking the law) while Vin guides him toward his destiny as ”the one true king.”
Even as Perry rediscovers old grief and new joys within himself, Vin and his shadowy motivations remain enigmas: who is this offbeat stranger guiding them from danger to hilarity to danger? To emerge triumphant, Perry must overcome the greatest challenge alone: embracing his devastating past. But can he succeed by Sunday’s sunrise deadline? How can he possibly evolve from an ordinary man into King Perry?
In this excerpt, Vin insists Perry asks 50 strangers to take their photograph on the Golden Gate Bridge, all to honor the "Tourist king," King Diego. Perry is still furious with Vin for having been tricked into stealing a baby duck just an hour earlier.
This is a re-posting of an excerpt first posted over a year ago, on May 21, 2012. Two weeks ago I posted an excerpt from King Mai, which reminded me that I had King Perry in my "to be read" stack of books. Now that I've almost finished reading King Perry (!), I want to share that experience with others. Enjoy.
Dreamspinner Press (February 26, 2012)
ISBN: Ebook: 978-1-6372-379-1
Perry asks, “How does this photograph thing work?”
“You have to ask fifty people to take our photograph together. I have a second roll of film.”
“You, me, and the bridge?”
“Yeah, but if you want to ask someone to join us, I have no objection. You’re the creative director of this photo shoot.”
He takes the camera from me and fiddles with its operation, verifying that he knows how to work it.
He says, “For the record, if the police show up, I’m willing to photograph your arrest, ducknapper.”
“Duckling,” I say. “I wonder if Mr. Quackers wants his photo taken in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Perry shoots me a look.
“Too soon for duck jokes?”
He asks the first couple he sees, dressed in pastel greens, lemon, and beige, if they will take our photo, and although they present thin, terse smiles revealing mild reluctance, they agree. Who says no to such an innocuous request? Afterward, they hand the camera back to Perry as if it is slathered in spit.
Perry thanks them. He turns and mugs to me. “Forty-nine more to go.”
“Yeah, fifty. Or maybe sixty. You never know.”
“Won’t that put us behind for the four o'clock bank robbery?”
“Your ass is super hot,” I say loudly, causing him to jump, “but it’s not bank robber hot.”
He grumbles and turns away. “Sir, would you mind? Would you take our—thank you, yeah, that would be great.”
After we cuddle up together, Perry says, “When do we meet the King of Vodka?”
Around photo seventeen, it sinks in. Drinking in all this effervescent friendliness, immediately after I broke his heart yet again, changes something in Perry. The comments and the expressions on people’s faces start to wear him down.
“No, of course we don’t mind.”
“Absolutely, I’d be delighted.”
“Would you mind taking ours next?”
“Move closer together now, and big smile.”
Almost against his will, Perry’s smile keeps getting wider, more pleased.
Perry asks a straw-hatted woman in her midseventies, fussing with things in her purse. Our camera chatter reveals she’s from Illinois, road-tripping with her widow friends, grouped nearby fussing in their purses.
After she takes our photo, she says, “Aren’t you a cute couple. I wouldn’t think you’d go for bears, dear.”
“I don’t,” Perry says, surprised. “Not normally. But he’s got this weird, sexy vibe. After a while you let go and enjoy it, like Old Spice.”
I huff and say, “I’m going to take that as a compliment.”
“Definitely,” she says, handing Perry the camera and squeezing my arm.
Perry chuckles after she departs. “How the hell does she know about bears?”
I say, “Gimme.”
I take the camera before he can say anything else and aim for his smirk.
It’s beginning for you, Perry.
Several people refuse, including a woman who calls herself “butterfingers,” and her friend who vehemently agrees. They faux-bicker for us, and we enjoy the show. Two folks ignore us and walk away. But not many refuse; we all came to be tourists, after all.
A few clicks later we meet two best friends vacationing together, a gay man and straight woman, both in their midforties. They have been friends for twenty-one years and know now that if neither of them ever marries, they will always have the devoted love of this lifelong friendship. They decided to take an anniversary trip to celebrate their love, the flavor that it is.
We trade anecdotes with them, discuss favorite restaurants, and they tease each other like a married couple, making Perry and me laugh at their overly familiar commentary. Perry confides in them that we’re on a first date of sorts, and they ask all kinds of wonderful, prying questions.
I can’t resist saying, “Last night, I found out he snores.”
“He’s a criminal,” Perry says. “One of us is lying. And here’s a clue: I don’t snore.”
“You definitely snore.”
As we start making our goodbyes, Perry asks, “How about a picture of the four of us?”
A few minutes later, Perry approaches a family with three kids, two of them shy and one madly dancing brother, clearly the youngest. After the parents help us out, Perry asks each kid their name, but only the dancer answers directly.
He shouts at us, “NICHOLAS.”
After they leave, I say, “I bet Nicholas would like Mr. Quackers.”
I turn away as if heading back to the van.
“Way too soon,” Perry says, grabbing my shoulder. “I thought you picked that up after your first joke.”
After photo thirty-two, two Chinese men finally approach us. I noticed them a few minutes ago, but I did not wish to embarrass them, so I pretended I did not. With a nod, I invite them to speak, and in hushed words, they do. They noticed us having our photo taken, over and over, and thought we might be international tourists, like them. We discover that for the last half hour they have been looking for someone to approach. They really want a photo together in front of the Golden Gate Bridge; it’s important to them. But they do not want to make someone uncomfortable, nor do they wish to be judged.
“Would you take our photos, please?” asks the first man, with nervous pride.
His partner says, “We know it is more open here, but we are still careful.”
Of course we agree, and I fiddle with their camera lens, testing the light and such, delaying so that Perry has time to talk to them.
They won’t stand too close or put their arms around each other, but in the series of photos I take, you can see joy in their eyes. It’s definitely joy.
The task accomplished, we follow them, and they follow us, wandering down the nearby walkways, scattered with vibrant yellow flowers and shiny green bushes, everyone admiring the magnificent, sparkling bay this glorious day in Eden. We ask questions about living in China. We try to answer their questions about living in the United States.
Zhong and Jian are shy again when they announce their departure. But they are eager to experience the towering redwoods in Marin County. They really want to kiss in the forest. Big secret kiss.
“Maybe more than kiss,” Zhong says, scandalizing Jian.
They laugh together, blushing beautifully, and tip their heads toward us.
Perry stares at the departing figures with wet eyes.
Yup. Fifty photographs ought to be enough.
“Perry, check out that couple over there. Behind those three girls. What do you see?”
“What am I looking for?”
“No. Tell me what you see.”
I continue to ask this before each new photograph, and he eventually starts reading people better. Not that you can ever know someone’s life story by the way they wander around on vacation, but tourists repeatedly choose to make themselves vulnerable, so some of their tells are more obvious.
“Let’s ask them,” he says, pointing to two heavily pierced men wearing Harley Davidson shirts. “Hey, dudes.”
Somewhere around forty, I suggest that he find the ones who need it.
“Need what?” Perry asks.
I shake my head. “Just look around. Who needs it?”
We talk about the possibilities, mostly Perry asking questions and me refusing to answer. If he would give up and look, he would realize he already knows. After a whopper of a candidate wanders into view, I put my hand over his mouth from behind and rock him in my arms, giving him a chance to look around.
My hand muffles the sound when he says, “Her.”
I say, “Good choice.”
A stout woman patrols the second plateau, not far from us. She’s probably late thirties, with frosted-golden locks, a beautiful tangle of curly hair falling over her dark brown shoulders. Purple sundress. She slings three small backpacks over her right shoulder, packs that I bet her kids promised, promised, promised to carry themselves. She and her husband do their best to corral four eager children. The kids race to the chain-link fence to stare at the Golden Gate Bridge, pushing each other to get a better view, and I watch a young dancer named NICHOLAS run over to meet them. Her weary expression suggests they’ve been this hyper all day.
I say, “How are we going to put King Diego energy into her?”
Perry says, “Have we been doing that?”
We take a few steps toward her; then I stop him with a hand on his chest and say, “Did you love your mom?”
“Yes, I loved her,” he says, surprised.
“So there was never a time in your life where you were ungrateful, or a dick to her or anything?”
His open face creases in hurt, and I see I hit a nerve. Good.
“Go with this.”
He says, “Wait—”
I stride away, closing the distance, forcing him to scurry after me.
“Hi, will you take our photo?”
Tired Mom looks at me with bored anger, like I’m another kid demanding her attention and she has enough of those.
“I’m busy,” she says.
“Please. I bet you’d take a great photograph.”
This earns me a glimmer of real irritation, but I can do awesome puppy dog eyes. Please, Tired Mom, give us a chance.
I say, “I saw your kids so energetic and happy, and it made me think you’d take a great photograph, because you look like a good mom.”
She turns to her husband. “Tim. Watch Devon. I’m taking some damn tourist photos.” She turns back to me and says sharply, “No offense.”
“None taken!” I quack happily.
Perry’s smile isn’t quite authentic because irritating her wasn’t part of his plan, and I have once again made him complicit in another crime—this time, bothering a woman on vacation.
She snaps the photo and thrusts the camera back to me. Her expression isn’t as angry anymore, the experience already over.
“My friend Perry just told me about how the Golden Gate Bridge reminds him of his mom.”
Perry’s eyes open wider, a subtle change not lost on her. “Yeah. My mom.”
She listens attentively now; she recognizes a setup.
Without breaking eye contact with her, I say, “Big secret.”
“She was strong,” Perry says, the words popping out. “Real strong.”
He looks at Tired Mom with anguish and says, “My dad died young, and it wasn’t easy for her. We were broke from medical bills. I—I was horrible those first two years after he died. Even though I apologized over and over after I grew up, to this day I regret how I treated her.”
His voice cracks during the last part. I don’t think he’s going to cry, but the raw emotion coming from this revelation may have been unexpected.
He says, “She died about ten years ago. I would give anything to have those two years back. Anything to hear her voice.”
She looks at him carefully. The world can surprise you sometimes.
“She understood,” Tired Mom says, her voice quiet. “She’s a mom.”
She turns and walks back toward her family. One of the younger girls launches herself right into Tired Mom’s leg, pushing them both off center.
“My mom,” Perry says and turns to me, eyes wide.
I pull him into my chest and hold him. I think he’s taking a moment to see his mother in a new light. Perhaps she was a tourist as well, lost in a city where she never expected to find herself.
I don’t know much about his mom, just scraps I’ve been able to glean without his realizing. Tuesday at the art gallery, he didn’t associate that art gallery painting with Mother’s Day, my first volley checking out his mother issues. During Big Secret, he confirmed how much he missed her. I thought he might be able to see an inspiring bridge and relate it to something remarkable in her. But I don’t want him too emotional right now; we’re not ready for that.
Using a gentle tone, I say, “That one didn’t count because, technically, I asked her. You still have nine more photos to take, pardner.”
Instead of protesting, his chin traces mine until he kisses me.
Our lips meet soft and subtle, the right amount of mutual pressure. Though surrounded, I feel invisible, enjoying a private moment at our own private monument.
We break apart, and I turn him around, wrapping my arms around his midsection, my chin on his shoulder, seeking her. Not far away, I spot her husband retrieving their son from NICHOLAS’s family.
There she is. I nudge his head with mine toward her and say, “Check out Tired Mom.”
The woman stands a stone’s throw away. One child strains in her left hand while two more argue over who’s in the next photo with mama. Tired Mom considers the Golden Gate Bridge.
She looks different.
Maybe it’s an unexpected break. Hell, maybe she started chewing a piece of mint gum. Or, maybe she remembers a piece of her queenship, what it means to truly be strong. And now that I’m thinking of it, constantly run over. You might look at the Golden Gate Bridge and think: Oh. Moms. Got it.
When driving back from Sausalito, I love that first glimpse of the deep orange towers striking the rolling, lush hills, legs battered by the white-crested surf. Only a surrealist painter could juxtapose shapeless foam against steel pylons that will outlast all of us, man’s rare architectural improvement to a gorgeous landscape. On those days when shadow and mist rule the earth, I love driving across, straining to see the high-reaching cables, invisible while I’m directly underneath. Golden Gate’s power remains even when masked by magician’s fog, hidden only by our limited ability to recognize strength.
I whisper into Perry’s ear, “King Diego is not to be underestimated.”
We nuzzle for a moment longer, staring at the bridge, the sky, the everything.
He shivers and says, “It’s cold out here.”
“It’s always cold in San Francisco. At least in Minnesota we get to wear coats. You guys always pretend like this isn’t cold.”
He turns his head and searches the immediate area, another three dozen people replacing the three dozen who were here a while ago. He takes the camera from me.
Perry picks out an older man nearby who looks angry. “Sir, would you mind taking our photo?”
Contact the author on his website: http://www.edmondmanning.com/, or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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