BOOK THREE - 613!
CHAPTER EIGHT - “ALL OF IT?”
Turpin follows Broonzy’s heavy footfall up a long, odoriferous stairwell, finally turning the knob at a door on which the number 6 has been painted – perhaps years ago. Then down a corridor, dark and narrow and curving gradually, some sort of oily shellac-paper peeling off the walls. His feet are beginning to hurt after their long walk through the Baawl and the standing in line at the Guildhall; his head throbs with the heavy, recycled air as he trudges past doors… 618, 616, 614… 608, 606… then passes Room 604, where the door hangs open. A hyde is seated in a kitchen chair there, watching the hall like a great, dark spider as if waiting for some tasty morsel to pass. In fact, Turp thinks (but does not speak), the jim must have been decanted out of something, something and a spider… instead of mammalian hair he has these short, sharp thinning bristles that rise out of his oversized head; atop which is perched a centuries-out-of-style fedora. Jim’s dressed for church, or a funeral… he wears an ancient, black business suit , patched and shiny but formal, a shirt that was white long, long ago, even a dark blue necktie like the pluds in old, old antedispersal pictures used to wear.
He tips his hat at Turpin. “Mornin' young fella,” the stranger says.
Turp, startled, nearly loses a step on the loose, fraying carpet. “Uh… mornin'?” he answers back,
“Movin' in?” The hyde cocks his head, giving Turp a predatory smile – looking at his hands, nodding. “Nie luggage, light traveler…”
“I'm a snaker,” the new tenant explains. “Just between ships, sir, not lookin' for trouble here. Turpin!”
He thrusts out a hand which the hyde regards, then nods again.
“You can call me Al. That’s my name, I'm Al. Just Al, from down the hall...”
“Oh.” Turp wondered if he sounded disappointed, as if the jim might be somebody as had a job for him. Things were that bad. “And what do you do?” he asked.
“I'm retired,” said the old spider-hyde and raised one hand in a circular gesture. “This is one of the nicer wings of the Andromeda.”
“There's places in this building I wouldn't go. But I'm just an old man…” Al seems on the verge of confiding something more, but then shakes his head.
“I'm just waiting for a job, sir… Al… just passin' through…”
“That's what they all say!” the old jim says, but with a smile and a wink. “Don't let the bedbugs bite!”
“I won’t,” Turp answers by way of leavetaking as he lurches forward – one step, two steps. “Ad valorum!”
He is past the door before the hyde can finish another predatory little wave.
Turpin continues to the end of the corridor, turns right. At 613, he slides his cardkey, opens the door and turns on the light. Some millions of insects scatter. There's a bed, sink, card table and kitchen chair, like Al's; a moodbox bolted into the ceiling and a dresser with a cracked, dirty mirror affording Turp a glimpse of his own battered and unshaven face. He opens the scapescreen shade, then the window, drinking in the view of the tenements across the Shar-ast-Baawl… a vista dominated by the pawnshop's flashing inverted cruciform sign…
With a sigh, he lies down on the bed, slapping at something that's bitten him on the neck. When the banging on his door awakens him, it is night… or a simulation thereof.
“Turp? Turp! You in there? Open up!”
Opening the door a crack, with a tired groan, the snaker glares out into the dim hallway at his mate. “What!”
“Let's go out, man. Party! C’mon! Check out the neighborhood!”
Turpin shakes his head. Slowly. The bad air of the Baawl has woven its way into his sinuses like burnt insulation.
“Don't wanna! Hurt all over!”
He closes the door, measuring the steps he’ll have to take before he can collapse on the infested bed.
“But I'm hungry, Turp!” Broonzy pleads through the simwood. “I don't have a sol, you know that! I need something to drink! Lemme borrow your card! It’s only right, I paid for those heathers…”
Leaving the pitiful chainlock on, Turpin pulls his solcard out of a pocket of his scrubs, kisses it goodbye, and slips it through a crack under the door.
“I'll bring you back somethin'. Promise!”
“Just leave me enough for breakfast!” Turpin mutters, almost under his breath.
“You got it!”
Broonzy skips down the hall, and Turpin locks the door. Green and blue neon flashes from the pawnshop sign bathe the room and he slaps at something crawling across his neck. He hears music, voices that might be sims… might be actors on the mox or somebody’s qube. Coughing. A choir of coughing. Someone is banging on a door, down the hall and Turpin hears a voice… a voice like a fist reaching into his soul and wringing every drop of moisture from it…
“Bahbarah…” the voice croaks, “I need cigarettes, bahbrah… bahbarah!”
Turpin lies down on the bed, watching the green and blue neon flashing until it begins to fade. When the morning comes, it is still flashing, but its potency is diminished in the weak, hazy light of the Baawl.
He sits on the edge of the bed – laces and ties his old-fashioned snakers’ boots. Then he just sits. He feels his face and wonders what the men at the Yasrick did with his razor and his soap. He feels so dirty that he almost falls back and goes to sleep again, but catches himself; pushes himself up from the bed. He opens the door. The corridor is empty; he runs his fingers through his hair, closes the door and locks it.
He puts one foot in front of the other and walks down the corridor past odd-numbered cubicles that keep rising until he reaches a door, on which someone has painted the letter “E” in a red more like the color of long-dried blood. Reasoning that someone is using an old code for the antedispersal word “EXIT”, he pushes the door open to find a small landing. Stairs veer downwards in one direction, upwards in the other.
He places a foot on the first of these and hoists himself up. Two flights up and a few minutes later, he lunges through another E-marked door and finds himself in another curving corridor, similar to (but perhaps dirtier) than two floors beneath. He walks,
He reaches the door numbered 801 and bangs on it twice. Hard. No answer. He bangs again, harder.
“Go away,” Broonzy commands in a voice that might have traversed half a galaxy.
“It's almost eleven hundred.”
Turpin checks his com which, by the grace of the Most High, he managed
to slip on his wrist during their unceremonious eviction from the Yasrick. There’s
some queer reckoning of time on this planet that he hasn’t gotten his mind
around quite yet, but it seems that most of the government offices and other
official places use the old
“We gotta get over to the Guild, to the Snaker’s Relief,” Turp appeals. “I'm jammin' starvin! Broonzy? Gimme my card…”
Maybe forty seconds later, he feels a presence through the door – smells a raw and powerful miasma of ardent spirits. “Uh, Turp… i'm really sorry about this, but… but…” Broonzy stutters.
“All of it?”
“Place down below mooms! Dee-naa-mee! Al-gool, they call it. Sol and a quarter for the local rotgut, seventy five an ale… really fine people. Lotsa heathers…”
“All of it?” Turpin repeats. “What are we gonna do about breakfast?”
“Hey, I invited you,” Broonzy excuses himself through the door. “What about me? I'm wrecked! Had to drink for the both of us…”
“Not even a sol for the jammin' mag?” Turp accuses…
“Don't worry. We can climb over the wall… go way down at the end of the platform and sneak up. Nie problemo. Jus' let me be sick for a coupla minutes and we'll hit that relief office like, like… on rawthin’ Regulo they lay out free breakfasts…”
Turpin slumps against the door to the symphony of Broonzy's vomiting into the filthy Andromeda sink.