BOOK FIVE - !JOBˇ
CHAPTER SIXTEEN - “LUCILLE!”
Two days later, the unholy duo of Rats and Broonzy take the mag to Im-Nasr, at the black heart of Tao City’s poshest casino strip, find a table at the bar and order up khegma of a brand that the snaker couldn’t have afforded just a few weeks ago. Turpin, by mutual agreement, has been left behind to do what it is he does best… wander down to the Guild and look for jobs that aren’t there, hang out on the stoop of the Andromeda, shooting the rawth with Quaia and her friends, worrying over the state of his health. By and by, a short, angry-looking wiseguy in a shiny jeel takes the fourth seat without so much as a solicitation, grunts at the heather serving drinks and nods towards Rats, planting a thin, odoriferous cigar between his amphibious lips.
“Gentlemen,” Rateyes undertakes introductions, “this is Mister Clegg. Clegg… Snaker Broonzy…
Clegg declines the snaker’s hand, removes his smoke and lays it on the table, barking for the server. A waiter arrives, bearing their lunch, and Rats kicks Broonzy under the table, bidding him wait until Clegg tucks into his thick meerfleisch steak. The wiseguy talks with his mouth full, sucking on the brown cigar until it’s barely more than ash, stubs it into his plate and lights another. If anybody at Im-Nasr is offended by the smoke, they don’t object, nor even look at the table of danks.
Following Rateyes, Broonzy slices a small vector of meerfleisch steak; it’s moist, tender, leaves a tingling sensation on his tongue.
“Make this simple… not gonna lie to you,” Clegg grunts, “you ever known me to lie to you?” he questions Rats.
“Never. Not a once.”
“We’re on the same frequency, then. Maybe I just leave a few details out so if something goes foul and the shurts come round asking questions, you'll be able to say you don't know and they won't be able to ice it outa you. They know what a joe knows and what he don't… ain't gonna put you in no positions, you don't ask questions that give them ideas about your past. 'Tifaq?”
“We’re presto,” Rateyes agrees, laying down his fork and nodding at the snaker.
“Nie worry, I'm good at not knowing things,” Broonzy says.
“North and west of here, 'bout a thousand klicks,” Rateyes says, perhaps a little bit too eagerly. “Where they make hovercars...”
Broonzy puts down his fork. “OK?”
“Now, Mr. Broonzy… the details of this trouble need not concern you, only that the lawyers who might or might not have become involved in this affair believe it can be made to go away on account of a certain item being prepared for us in Tao City. Ain't gonna lie to you, Snaker, it's a gat. Unregistered gat, unregistered but clean. Never been fired. See… it looks like this other gat, which might've been fired, might not… and this shurt up in Marrack, one of ours, will make the old switcheroo. You don't get your hands dirty, see, all you do's provide the fellow with a clean gat. Worst that happens is you get busted for possession, happens all the time, snaker needs protection, right? Coupla months, no problem… except with us! You ain't gonna get busted, right?”
“Right! Uh… you do got a way to get it through the Passport security…” Broonzy ventures and Rateyes gives him a pained look.
If he’s angry, Clegg doesn’t shout it. “What I mean!” the wiseguy nods. “You ain't gonna get stopped at any Passport because you're not flying. Got a Maximag ticket for you… one way…”
“Rawth!” Broonzy can’t help ejaculating…
“Hey, it's uncomfortable, I faq… and some of your fellow passengers might stink,” Clegg allows, stubbing out his second cigar on the remains of his meal. “We appreciate this, me and my people. It's why we're paying four hundred sols… plus the flight back, first class, plus hotel and meals in Marrack - a good joint, not like that rawthouse on the Baawl. It's a good deal! Half now, the rest and return fare in Marrack…”
Rateyes has been squirming as details of the transaction unfold, and now he interrupts. “We get paid if he's busted through no fault of his own?”
“We?” Clegg snorts. “What are you? His agent?” And he chuckles, Rateyes joins him and Broonzy just stares at the two of them. “Yeah, in the case of bad luck… but not if you do anything jammin’ stupid… you'll be paid, and this is the card of a lawyer in Marrack who's in on the action. Thing is, you dress like an ordinary jim, walk and talk like an ordinary jim if somebody speaks to you… otherwise you keep your mouth shut! 'Tifaq?”
“Aayay!” Broonzy agrees.
Clegg nearly pushes over the tabke, getting up. “OK. Sailor and I gotta take a dump…”
Broonzy frowns. “No, I'm OK…”
“We gotta take a dump, you and I. Faq?” Clegg glowers, lifting a briefcase which has a calming effet on the snaker – it’s business. Just business. “Keep an eye on the table, Rats.”
“Will do!” Rateyes salutes. As Clegg leads Broonzy off, he glances about and then, confident that nobody is watching, sneaks a fry off Clegg's plate.
In the Im-Nasr restroom, Clegg checks under stalls, sets a qube down on the washstand that emits a high-pitched whining sound, then places the briefcase on the sink, opening it.
“Presto! No little peepin’ friends,” said the wiseguy, giving a little smirk. “Business, now… shurt takin' this off you's called Pflogel… don't make fun of his name, he's a mean jim. All those shurts up in Marrack are, don't take it personal. Don't make it personal. Pflogel will be in the Taproom at Sleepaway Inn between seventeen and eighteen hundred hours Vornaday. Happy hour. He'll have a peppermint lager in the blue and silver bottle in front of him, you order the same. They always have a game on the box, so he'll ask you "looking for a window?" You answer, "I don't bet on knauf."
“But I do…” Broonze protested…
“Vornaday in Marrack, you tell Pflogel you don't bet on knauf, intifaq? Can you remember that or do I have to go out, find another courier? That would make me unhappy.” Broonzy nods and Clegg wipes his brow clear of the milky perspiration that has been gathering, as if thinking this isn't a very good idea, then sighs and opens a plastic box within the briefcase, revealing an antique laser pistol. Despite his concerns, he smiles like a groom on honeymoon. “Lucille. Beautiful ain't she… and a virgin! Never been fired! You and Pflogel go into the rawther there like we're doin' here and switch cases. Maximag fare to Marrack's a hundred sixty-five soys and a room at the Sleepaway's seventy… there's two-fifty on this card, just to be safe. Mag leaves Tao at oh nine hundred, Terran, gets into Marrack around twenty zero hours, plenty of time for a night's sleep. Don't wander, Marrack's a killer – especially the froomshops! And the heathers’ll rob you if you fall asleep. Mag's local, lotta stops… get a reader, download something long. And an overcoat, freeze your ass up in Marrack. Maps, directions… here's the lawyer's card,” he removes papers from the briefcase and hands them over, then closes the case, hands it over and steps back. “Just don't even think of taking Lucille to that bucket of rawth pawnshop across from the Andromeda. This is serious business! You do your job, we take care of you. You don't…”
Broonzy, put in mind of the knauf fights, heads to the pits after hiding the briefcase in his room – under the mattress. He goes alone – Rats has gone out to his project, taking Turpin with him… Turp hates the knauf fights which are, admittedly, bloody. “Some of those jims seem nearer a hyde than hydes I know,” Turpin told him, once, “…it’s a mighty thin line between hydes as are property of others who set them up to fight to the death to cover their windows…”
“The scientists have it all worked out,” Broonze had answered. “There’s a very strict line down from the pluds – outer systems like this might even overlook a great, great grandmother or something. And there’s another line that separates the hydes from the animals. It’s all very legal…”
“Maybe,” Turpin had persisted, “but it’s wrong.” So Broonze had told him to go jam himself and, proving that he was on the right course, won twelve soys at the pits and slept like a baby atop the bump in the mattress.
At eight hundred thirty, Terran, Broonzy approaches the ticket counter clerk, holding Clegg's briefcase in one hand, a cuppa magville caffa in the other. A uniformed shurt is talking with the magville station security… another is poking around the tracks and a third, outside, seems to be patrolling at random. He pulls one of Clegg's maps from his pocket.
“Next,” the clerk calls out.
“Uh… uh… what's the nearest stop to the first Trucker's Allport north of here?” he ventures.
“Gacy. Downtown…” the official replies, “it's about a two kilo hike north on 741 to the cargoway… local going in ten minutes.”
“Cash this,” Broonzy decides, seeing one of the uniforms step onto the Maximag. “Gimme a ticket to Gacy.”
“One sixty five less thirteen sols and two service charge is credit,” the clerk says, swiping Clegg’s ticket.
The ride is uneventful… no shurts, no problems. At eleven hours, Broonzy hikes to the cargoway, stands on the side of the ramp with his thumb out, another caffa in his fist and the briefcase between his ankles. Despite all three three suns, the morning light is dim… dark clouds and wisps of blowing, copper-colored snow – like blood, the snaker shivers. Fortunatly the air is not so bad out here. Ten minutes later, a cargovan with a company stencil slows and its driver gives him the once over…
“Headed towards Marrack?”
The driver spits out his window and smirks. “Just wanted to see what you were, nag. Don't pick up equines!”
And he speeds off with a taunting toot - Broonzy puts down the briefcase and hops on one leg, then the other. It's cold! After awhile, it's grown even colder… a hovercar slows, but speeds up, another truck passes. Finally, a battered cargotruck with an open rear end, full-up with produce that gets grown in the sheds south of Tao City, monges, sort of a cross between melons and squash, stops…”
“Going to Marrack?”
“Jam that!” the driver scoffs. “They're havin' a jammin’ blizzard up there. I'm headed to Yantau… but I'll be going about two hundred klicks up the cargoway before I turn…”
“That'll do,” Broonzy decides, opening the door before the driver even reaches over. “It’s freezing out here!”
“Lot worse up in Marrack,” the driver says.