Monday, September 5, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Chapter Four - Be Careful What You Say When Holding a Magic Diamond

We open this chapter with Palmer on his way to work, driving the streets of Seattle.  Now, two chapters ago we saw him wake up and head to work, only for the intervening chapter to cover a full day with Tiger escaping from Balou.  So either this is a different workday than the one Palmer was about to start in Chapter Two, or the author has completely forgotten how the 'two worlds one soul' mechanic functions.

Palmer's on his way to meet some other Bering Steamship bigwigs at a ship's christening ceremony, and is dreading the human interaction this will require.  And as he drives, he's dogged by the suspicion that this extreme shyness is something new, and that other people are surprised that he's suddenly become so timid.  But nothing comes of it because he's forgotten about his other life as Tiger the Hubbard Action Hero, so on he goes.  Way to stick it to him with that curse, Zongri.

The ceremony, as the next page summarizes for us, doesn't go entirely smoothly.  Palmer parks in the wrong spot, joins the crowd hanging around the entrance, and takes half an hour to realize that everyone's waiting for him to arrive but no one's noticed him yet.  The lady supposed to break the champagne bottle against the ship's hull gets paint on her dress, and the ribbons on it get tangled in her bracelets, and she forgets to actually give the ship its name.  Her kid nearly plummets a hundred feet from the announcement platform to the dock not once, but twice.  The newly-named Zachariah P. Palmer almost hits a ferry boat on its way out.  But the narrator ultimately concludes that "It was, all in all, a highly satisfactory, extraordinarily average christening," which is either an attempt at dry humor or an indication that Bering Steamship is going to go bankrupt in a few years due to gross incompetence.

Once the farce is over, everyone but Palmer goes to have fun, leaving our protagonist hanging out at the docks, fumbling for a cigarette.  But when he retrieves his lighter and tries flicking the thing on, it doesn't work, and in fact rather feels like a hard, heavy diamond.  Needless to say, Palmer's cigarette remains unlit.  When he finally looks at what he's holding and sees a brilliantly-shining precious stone obviously worth thousands, even millions of dollars, he's so startled that he shoves the thing back in his pocket in case someone sees him with it and causes a commotion.  He tries to reason that this must be a paste fake or something, but it's just too shiny, and hard enough to cleanly cut a piece glass in two.  So Palmer is stuck with an immensely-valuable diamond, making him a target for thieves or thugs or whoever the rock's original owners were.

You'd think a millionaire shipping magnate would be used to this sort of thing, but remember that Palmer has been zapped with a character development neutralizer, so his spine is as stiff as wet cardboard.  So his response is not to smirk to himself and plan on giving Alice a hell of a surprise later, or a puzzled frown as he tries to figure out where this rock came from, but to moan "Good lord!  I wish I was somebody else!"

No sooner can you say doodily-doodily-doodily than Palmer is suddenly up on a tower two hundred feet above the dockyard, running cabling between his broad hands, dressed in leathers and drab wool instead of a business suit.  This is a bad place for an acrophobic to be, but eventually he's able to look down to where the distant Zachariah P. Palmer is pulling out of the harbor, and spots someone who looks rather like Jan Palmer standing on a lower platform, staring puzzled at a diamond he pulls out of a pocket.

This story was published ten years after If I Were You, by the way.  Just felt the urge to mention that for some reason.

Now Palmer of course has studied the totally legitimate field of Arabianology, and thus "had some inklings about magic and demonology," so he knows that if he wants to reverse whatever happened to him, he needs that diamond back.  So he manages to climb down to where the dock worker-in-Palmer's-body is still examining that diamond.  A foreman looms out of nowhere to tell him to get back to work, and while Palmer tries to say "I beg your pardon, sir," what comes out is "Dry up, Donovan!  You want a spanner around your neck?"  When the foreman scampers off and Palmer confronts not-Palmer, the interaction quickly becomes "The glass, dummy.  Fork it over before I beat your skull in!"

And this is all a little problematic, I think.  This Two-World Diamond is supposed to be pretty powerful, right?  Like the next tier above the old, forgotten Seal of Sulayman.  Except when Zongri - who did not have the Seal - cursed Palmer with "Eternal" Wakefulness, his personality overrode Tiger's for the first day or two spent in the other man's body.  Whereas here, after Palmer has accidentally done a body swap thanks to the Two-World Diamond, he can't seem to get his mouth under control.  So the thing that the genies know must absolutely not fall into human hands can't do as good a soul transfer as a genie relying on his innate magic.  In a word: weak.

In the end, worker-in-Palmer bolts, forcing Palmer-in-worker to chase down and grab the guy, then yank the diamond out of his clutches.  While Palmer-in-worker tries to remember what he did to switch bodies with a stranger, that foreman reappears to yell at him for accosting the very rich and therefore important Mr. Palmer.  Palmer-in-worker says "Good lord, I wish I was somebody else!" and then whoosh, he finds himself with a mouthful of chewing tobacco watching Jan Palmer standing close to a dock worker - he swapped bodies with the foreman by mistake.

Let's just fast forward through the next two pages, skip the parts where Palmer feels more powerful and confident in the foreman's body than in his own.  First he confronts the very confused dock worker, takes the diamond, and says "Good lord, I wish I was Murphy."  Once the foreman is himself again, Palmer grabs the rock again and say "Good lord, I wish I was Palmer."  So everyone gets back in their own bodies, the other two guys are freaking out, and Palmer leaves after his assurances that "there has been some mistake" fail to calm the others down.  He flees to his car, feeling shaken, like "he had somehow been stretched like a sweater tried on by too big a man."  A sensation he didn't get after ending up in the body of the brawny Tiger.  Step up your game, Two-World Diamond.

In the safety of his parked vehicle, Palmer takes a closer study of the diamond, and finally recognizes the three-dimensional Seal of Sulayman in its depths.  He remembers that at least, and the death of Frobish and his own stint in jail and the fate of Green the corrupt businessman, but the stuff in between all that is still a bit of a haze.  All he knows is that he was "somebody else somewhere else," and recently all his self-confidence and vitality had been drained away.

Still nothing about what happened to the physical Seal of Sulayman that Tiger was having fun with last book.

So Palmer goes home to try to figure out this puzzle.  All he knows for sure is that this diamond is otherworldly and capable of switching the souls of two bodies, and it's very important to keep his hands on it.  He goes to his room, puts the thing on his desk, suddenly becomes very sleepy, and leans back in his chair for a nap.  Sigh.

Then Alice comes in to "go over the household accounts with her and demand an increase in her expense allowance for, romantic as she might have been as a secretary, she was, after all, a woman."  Ah, that classic 1950's 'humor.'  Alice gasps at the diamond, assumes it's next week's birthday present, and can't resist taking it to show off to her visiting girlfriend, then they move on to talking about another woman's dress, and then Alice goes off to the theater, so by the end of the night the priceless diamond and magical artifact is sitting forgotten in the pocket of Alice's frock.

And now we know what Palmer will be doing when the narrative's focus returns to him in two chapters.  Tune in next time as we check on our friend Tiger, who must have suddenly awoken a few hours before dawn if Palmer suddenly fell asleep before his bedtime.

It bothers me that the Two-World Diamond works by invoking the Good Lord directly.  My conception of God isn't as an active force who likes to intervene directly in worldly affairs, but if I'm wrong and He is, I'd like to think that He shows more discretion than helping a nerd get into trouble.  Unless Palmer and the dock worker and the foreman's souls and bodies getting swapped around for half an hour is all part of His divine plan, which is more worrying than reassuring.

Back to Chapter Three

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