A fleeting shadow in the corner of the kitchen caught Tony’s eye. Its beckoning gaze had brushed the back of his head. An icy tingle stiffened his neck. Someone was watching him and ten thousand goosebumps followed.
In his anxiety to see everywhere at once he heard clearly the pulse in his ears give a terse command to “Get out,” and he diligently obeyed. He closed his book. The pages had unlocked a door within him. The cover was adorned by a painting of a tall red Peruvian horse with a Clydesdale’s huge hooves and a mane as sharp as a dorsal fin, plowing a rice paddy on a volcanic slope. The unusual beast of burden’s eyes were closed and his head bowed. A portrait to all the out-of-the way places the writer had been. The Wreckage of Saints and Sinners was neither a child’s book nor a grown-up story. That was perfect because Tony was neither a boy nor a man, but could be mistaken for either. His missing father was the author.
He pushed himself away from the breakfast table, then called out “Papa Anthony, I’m going up to The One-Buck Hut.” No answer. This was what Hollowers called the Museum of Spectacle: The One-Buck Hut. The roadside attraction was housed inside an old Quonset hut movie theater. They called its curator of oddities and curiosities “Mister Genie” because the old Hindi, with bulbous white beard and matching turban, would sit still inside his box office chattering his teeth as he barked out the price of admission: “One buck.” No hello. No thank you. His eyes would flash like some penny arcade fortune-telling machine as he waited for a patron to pass a dollar through the slot in the ticket window. The Museum of Spectacle was a one-man operation.
He’d found the book buried in an old box at his grandfather’s beach house. The old man had built it entirely of doors that he’d collected from abandoned sardine factories decades earlier. The chapters were an explanation of Tony’s father’s life, written to exonerate the author to the ones who knew him, or to provide a few hours of escape to strangers.
The Hollowers were glad that Mr. Genie had the patience to restore the hut that was built to entertain troops shipping out to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. According to Hollowers, their Mr. Genie had invented The Amazing Hypno-Coin—but had offered most of his fortune away in Kolkata’s ancient Hindu temples. It was a wonder the old man managed to stay in business year after year.
From the front porch of The House of Doors, Tony looked up the road at The Bean Hollow Museum of Spectacle and whispered to himself, “I know who you are Mr. Genie. And now I know why you are here.” Then, book in hand, he stepped out onto the dirt road and into the morning sun.
The Museum of Spectacle’s parking lot was wreathed in a vast collection of ridiculously huge fiberglass figureheads. Each once loomed large over one of the many gone places along the coastal highway between San Francisco and San Simeon. The colossal collection featured a horse with huge hooves and a mane as sharp as a dolphin’s dorsal, an old sea dog, a volcano from a miniature golf course, a mosaic mermaid, a python, a knight, a man with a snake head, and a dog wearing a chef’s hat. The forgotten sentries must have cast the illusion of the giant stone gods of Easter Island. Seen from the decks of passing ships.
The Typhoon Coast is full of stories of drownings, shipwrecks, earthquakes, and storms. A story about a mountain that came down like thunder and the descendant of a famous Wild West lawman was only one that the old Hindi will need to explain today.
Tony tapped on the window of the museum box office. “Mr. Genie, I know who you are, and I know why you are here.” The glass muffled his call. A string of red Chinese pavilion lanterns were strung from the corners of the marquee. Each lantern was painted with a panoramic landscape of a river among green mountains, dotted with golden lilies. It was ten o’clock in the morning and The Bean Hollow Museum of Spectacle didn’t open for another hour.
Tony knocked again. “I know who you are, Mr. Genie. And I know why you are here,” he repeated.
The Hollowers call him “Mr. Genie”—not because he wears a turban and paints a bright dot on the center of his forehead, but because his Hindi name is not easy on a Hollower’s tongue.
“Mr. Genie, I know who you are, and I know why you are here.”
The old Hindi straightened his crooked posture, then shuffled his way to the door. He stopped for a moment where the theater’s concession stand once displayed candy. Mr. Genie seemed to delay himself by reaching behind the glass to the shelves filled with shiny die-cast toy cars that looked half-bus, half-jeep. Small silver World War II bombers, a fleet of tin Bean Hollow souvenir sardine boats, a stack of Chinese-made Hypno-Coins, a pile of belt-buckle cap guns, a row of dashboard Buddhas and archangels.
Mr. Genie let his young visitor into the museum and locked the door behind them. He wore the surprised expression of a man whose true identity had been revealed.
“Thank you, Mr. Genie.” Tony turned in a slow circle, taking inventory of the artifacts. Monumental roadside icons, the Mystery Spot, black-and-white posters of an enormous glass palace and thousands of swimmers in a long pool, a gigantic mechanical clown that once stood at the entrance of an amusement park. Forgotten places.
“Tell me, Mr. Genie.” This was a command, not a question. “Why did my father never come home from the Philippines?”
Mr. Genie piloted his crooked finger over the book in Tony’s hand.
“Your Mr. Genie needs to know where you found that very rare book. It may not contain the Bhagavad Gita’s voice of god, unveiling answers to the all-important questions of who is man, who is god, and why men suffer; but The Wreckage of Saints and Sinners does contain a tale to fill one’s Hollywood-epic mind.” He spoke in code to Tony, “Does a rich man get his ice in the summer, and the poor man get his in the winter?”
“Yes,” Tony answered. “Every man gets what is coming to him.”
“This is the answer your Mr. Genie sought. You read the book, and learned.”
“Yes, I did. I found it in my grandfather’s attic.”
Mr. Genie took the book. “My full name is Sadua Satish Kumar. English is a very funny language, indeed. My Hindi is a very kind language. Satish will speak slowly, for my Hindi tongue tends to stick to the roof of my mouth when my words cross the English L and N.” But Satish’s Hinglish is very good.
“Why should you know Satish? Because Satish is the long-forgotten inventor of the once-famous Amazing Hypno-Coin. This, you must know. Satish is also the only person who can tell the story of your father.
“You probably ask yourself, ‘Is Satish’s Amazing Hypno-Coin real?’ Or, ‘Why had Satish, this old man, alone, been waiting like a young expectant father inside this Bean Hollow Museum of Spectacle?’
“Well, the beginning of this spectacle happened when a boy from an orphanage in the Philippines paid Satish handsomely with gemstones to build this museum. Here Satish was to keep your father’s story until it is time to tell it.”
Tony studied the vast mural of a jungle canopy across the domed ceiling. He’d watched Satish balance his old, tired legs on a ladder for weeks painting it.
“These curiosities are entwined with that book you brought,” Satish said. “If you look close, you can see three human shadows among the vines, branches, and leaves. One shadow is that of your father. Satish also placed those stuffed monkeys staring at us from the rafters.”
An icy tingle stiffened Tony’s neck.
“This too you must know. Satish had made many wooden Amazing Hypno-Coins when his hands were young. A genuine Hypno-Coin has its own memory—far more accurate than Satish’s old thoughts. Imagine a passageway twisting back and forth through time. Inside, before and after follow each other. Something and nothing create each other. Mystery and manifestation are but two sides of the same coin. To understand this paradox is to open the eyes to the wonders of Satish’s Amazing Hypno-Coin. Satish has made for you the gateway to all mysteries.”
“It is true, most coins are simply plastic replicas made in China. But Satish’s are real. Your father and his friend Eddy owned such genuine Hypno-Coins. Hand-carved on the trepid streets of Kolkata, India. This one in Satish’s hand is thirty years old and is working very fine today. This one has advised Satish that it is time to reveal the orphan boy’s treasured secret to you.”
The Museum of Spectacle’s parking lot would soon be filled with connoisseurs longing to stretch their legs before visiting the shoreline to fill buckets with common reds, browns, blues, purple, and the North American Sea Glass Association’s holy grail…the ultra-rare emerald green. This would make Satish’s business, once again, very very good, as fresh sea glass had washed upon Bean Hollow beach. Beachcombers were, once again, turning this sleepy town into a bustling vacation wonderland.
“Enough of Satish, who will now relinquish this museum to your father. We will begin where boys first discover their heroes. Be surprised at nothing, for nothing is impossible.” Satish will tell this story like the ancient Indian epic, the Ramayana. Like he had rehearsed many, many times. Those who listen to the Ramayana will live a long life. Those who recite the Ramayana will find love, wisdom, and strength. Such is the glory of the Ramayana. Satish continued,” If Satish finds you to possess courage, Satish may find it useful for you to look into this Amazing Hypno-Coin.”
Tony stared at Mr. Genie’s long white beard. The old Hindi’s crafty, gleaming eyes filled him with Amazing Hypno-Coin marvel.
The morning surf was performing the strangest carnival dance. The water mountains of some distant typhoon ended outside as waves, up and down, there, here, and everywhere, until the green sea curls to a milk-white crest of foam and crashes on Bean Hollow.