BOOK FIVE - !JOB¡
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - “FEATHERS!”
“Al… Al, from down the hall here. Just talkin’, guy like you i can trust not to run to the shurts and there’s a jammin’ tale to tell. Unnecessary. But enlightening, all the same…
“Now if he'd bothered to ask me… I'd have told him that all Doobydie's in a hitchhiking panic… been so for about six months, Terran, due to one of those crime waves, happens every now and again. Grisly rawth! I mean… there's no creature lower than the body as depends on the kindness of strangers, then uses that to rob or kill them. Broonzy was lucky that the weather was bad, and the highway shurts had other problems to deal with…then again, maybe it would've been better if he had been picked up, and the whole mess gotten called off. I'm a retired jim… I don't question circumstances – that’s a job for another, Hai Rassoul!. But faq for yourself…”
Broonzy takes leave of the monge truck an hour and drizzit later, catches a quick ride in a hovercar… but only a short hop, leaving him waiting in blowing snow while the minutes turn to hours and the sleet to daggers.
In the deep, ruddy twilight, as near to actual night as Doobydie gets, another truck deposits Broonzy another hundred klicks north at a secondary crossroads, the veritable intersection of nothing and nowhere. The three suns… Dhubaaht, the homesun, Ankhubaaht and Yamsu circle dimly. A battered hovercar finally slows after it has passed Broonzy, who picks up the briefcase and begins to run. When he's almost reached it, the vehicle roars off with peals of teenage laughter. A bottle flies out of the backseat... Broonzy picks it up… empty. He falls on his back, making a bloody angel in the crimson snow.
Far from the city, a pair of headlights approaches. Broonzy rises out of the snowdrifts like a ghost. It's a cargotruck, a new Marrack Zipster with a big red Snoerlessen logo and, retrieving the briefcase, Broonzy approaches warily as it groans to stop at the side of the road.
The driver, urso-vulpic with plenty of hair showing under a tattered plaid shirt, calls out with a wide grin, “Where you headed, bro?”
“Away from here. Anywhere!” Broonzy shivers. “Just away!”
The driver nods, “Headed to town for a bite, then out the cargoway to Marrack.”
Broonze adopts a pokerface – not hard to do in the cold, red drizzle that Die has thrown up against him. “That'll help. Food any good?”
“At Minnie's? The best!
“Well,” Broonzy tries to close the deal, “dinner's on my card if you can get me into Marrack. When do we arrive?”
“'Bout ten in the morning.” The drive extends a meaty, hairy paw. “I’m Cason…”
“Broonzy! Been a snaker, but I can drive a Zipster, too, you want to take a nap later on…”
“Aayayy,” Cason answers, then points to the briefcase. “You some kind of salesman?”
“That's me. Parts.”
The gorple at Minnie’s is as good as advertised and then Cason hits the road… klicks and klicks of nothing and nothing almost all the way to Marrick. Broonzy gives the driver two hours’ relief between oh two and oh four, and is snoring in the truck, the dashboard clock reading 0500 hours, when his sleep is abruptly interrupted by sirens…
“Uh oh… spot of trouble here,” Cason warns. “Hate bored shurts… nothing to do but drive around wasting meth and shaking down honest taxpayers…”
“You're an honest taxpayer?”
“Long as they don't look in the trailer…” Cason grins, before putting on his game face to face the law.
The shurts force them over… there are two cars, boxing in the zipster. Two predatory officers in one, related probably… they have the sharp, suspicious eyes and extended beaks and claws of raptors… a lady shurt in the other. Short hair, bristly like a porcupine up top. Cason smiles innocently as the lady porcupine approaches.
“What can I do you gentlemen and lady for this early in the morning. Ma'am?”
The lady officer, clearly outranking the two avians, does not share the trucker’s early morning jollity. “Taking a chance, driving under these conditions are we?”
“Never a time up this way when I'm not,” Cason explains. “Carrying plenty of weight, though, I’ll be alright.”
“And just what are you carrying, if you don't mind my asking?” she presses him.
Cason gives what he hopes is a faux-rueful smile. “Fertilizer.”
The shurts hesitate, noses wrinkling, but the senior officer mounts the truck's running board, her head drawing even with the driver and with his passenger… whom she appears to notice for the first time.
“License and registration, sir.” Cason shrugs, flips down the sunshield… a conceit, dating back centuries as impossible to account for as the three suns of Die. As he assembles his paperwork, the porcupine shines her lume into Broonzy’s eyes, scowling. “You… are you a relief driver? Let me see your papers,” she orders, rewarding the snaker with something that might pass as a smile. “Need I remind the both of you that it is a criminal offense to solicit or offer rides in a commercial vehicle?”
“He's a salesman…” the driver blurts out, unbidden…
“Attorney,” Broonzy corrects him. “Actually, I do sell my services… company hires me to check out its drivers’ compliance with the local traffic regulations and rules of the road. Safety at any price,” and he rewards her with a salesman’s smile. “My supervisor at Smorlissn…”
He hands over the business card of the lawyer that Clegg had recommended to the lady officer, who has stepped down off the running board, circled the truck and re-emerged in his window. She merely stares at him, chewing… gum, probably, or maybe bah-roar. One of the officers elbows the other with a hawklike grin…
“One hauls the rawth, the other defends it!”
“Man who has to drive around with a lawyer in his truck interests me. Get out, the both of you! I'm going to have a look in that trailer…”
Broonzy and the driver step out into ankle deep snow on the cargoway embankment, with more drifting flakes making the early morning vision tentative. Cason opens his mouth to ask the officer’s name… humanize the situation… but sees that dark tape has been applied over her badge. Leaving the nameless senior shurt to monitor them, the other two go back to slide the trailer open…”
“Well, well, well, will you look at that!” one crows from behind the transport.
Broonzy, clutching the briefcase that he’d removed from the cab, makes a split-second decision to bolt. He starts running down the embankment, slips, and rolls to the bottom as the shurts atop it start calling out “Stop! Stop!”, then flounders through the snow towards several dark buildings that loom up ahead in weak light, like phantoms. “A blue laser beam, erratically aimed, sets a dry, dead bush on fire several meters ahead of and to the left of the fugitive… Broonzy darts between the nearest structures, panting, hurls himself through the door of a smaller nearest building without further peril. It's a holding pen for poultry… maels, somewhat larger than chickens, smaller than turkeys… thousands of them, ugly and aroused and cackling. Broonzy scuttles across the filthy floor and huddles in a corner behind a pile of feedbags until the door is opened and a voice cries out… a female voice, but high-pitched, elderly, avian like the junior officers, not the rodent…
“Anybody in there?”
The two avian shurts on the cargoway slip and slide down the embankment, the senior officer closing the trailer in disgust. Broonze hears them opening and closing doors and asking questions of the unseen old lady – the door flung open again,
“Rassoul!” a shurt cries out, “what a stink!”
“Nobody in here but us maels,” the other remarks. The door slams shut.
“Told you it was fertilizer,” Cason screws up the courage to tell the senior shurt on the embankment above.
“Get it out of here,” she points. And then, anticipating his next question, she rasps “…leave the jammin’ lawyer behind. You’re not going to miss him, are you?”
“Rawth, no!” Cason adopts a pleading tone, seeing that the shurt has taken out the little com they use to write up tickets. “Company made me take that guy! Honest! Looked like a salesman… if i knew he was a lawyer, I’d have pitched him out to freeze!”
“It’s not a crime to have attorneys ride along in a commercial transport,” the nameless shurt allows, “although it should be. Well, he’s gone now. Tell me Mister… Cason?” she pretends to have trouble pronouncing his name, “can we come to some sort of accommodation on this?”
The barn is dark and heated so, despite the stink and noise, Broonzy dozes; most of the birds go back to sleep too… until the door is thrown open and the old woman storms in, leading three knafes on a chain; these of course, start howling and lead her directly to a rumpled, befeathered snaker.
“Who the jam are you… and what the jam are you doing?”
As the grinding of gears and a whistle herald the departure of the transport, followed by the shurts… sirens blaring… Broonzy rises, briefcase in hand, extending his magic attorney's card as he glances around the mael shed, eyes briefly lighting on more bags stacked up against a far wall. “Ma'am, our firm is filing a class action against Snoerlessen fertilizer and implements, and I'd like to know if you'd be a party…”
“Get off my property!” the old woman screams, extending the chain and allowing the demented, furious knafes to lunge closer to the snaker.
“Uh, if you're not interested… certainly… but can I, uh, purchase a couple of eggs? Time for breakfast, you know… I’ve got a soycard…”
The decidedly avian maelkeeper takes a closer look at Broonzy in the dim light and apparently likes what she sees… pulling the khafes back, just a little…
“Well, I think we might be able to work something out,” the old woman ventures.
“And a cuppa caffa?”
From a darkened room, twenty minutes later, bedsprings squeak… then, a pause…
“Uh… ma'am…” Broonzy worries, brushing a cluster of mael feathers from the lapel of his overcoat, “is there any chance of your husband hearing this? I wouldn’t want to be responsible for… you know…”
“Oh just don't you worry your pretty ol’ horse’s head, Secretariat! He's lazy and he’s no good, and I got his hearing aid and unilator, both! Right over there. When he wakes up, you just hand out that old line about being Mister Big Shot Attorney here to look into our troubles with the rendering firm and Ted’ll go along, nice and easy-greasy.
Ten more minutes and Broonze is seated at a kitchen table with an old-fashioned oilcloth ahroud, listening to blue mael-eggs with white yolks fry in a cast iron skillet. With a nod and a smile, Broonzy pushes away from the kitchen table, rising to shake the farmer’s hand… a porcine little fellow with a quivering pug nose and a mien of greed as his wife waves her spatula and sets a plateful of the vittles in front of him; Ted slurping up the yolks, mopping the plate with bread, fingering his false teeth…
“You be sure to mail us one of them contracts? Never did like Snoerlessen…” the farmer snaps, “their wares are cheap, but I have doubts as to their u-tility,” he draws out the word. “You say you can win us a lot of skilk? I got receipts… well, the card company can get ‘em for me, down to the drizzits…”
“Plenty of skilk!” the snaker assures him, More feathers float from his hair and his clothes like greasy, oblong snowflakes. “Sorry I don't have any blank contracts left… used 'em all up! Got to get back to Marrack for more…”
“Well,” the farmer said, suddenly helpful, “well, you go six klicks up the cargoway to town… that's North Dixon, bigger than Dixon tell Rassoul’s own truth, you can get from there a hundred and fifty klicks to Marrack easy, sooner or late. I'd drive you in, but I got birds to feed, eggs to collect…” his voice trailed off, apologetically.
The family doesn’t believe in napkins, apparently, so Broonzy wipes his lips with bread. “Understand!” he says. In short order, he’s floundering heavily
through the snow towards
“Where do I get off to get to the maximag station,” he asks the driver…
“Dee naa mee,” Broonzy smiles.
He takes a seat with the briefcase held tightly between his ankles, smiling absently as any temporarily reformed sinner who has just narrowly escaped a horrible end and the fires of Hell. In only a few more minutes, he’s navigating the snowblown streets of downtown North Dixon, eyes fixed on a clocktower that informs him it's oh eight thirty! He quickens his pace, passing three heathers huddled in a doorway… it's another jammin’ Andromeda Hotel! They’re a jammin’ chain! Shaking his head, he makes for the blue neon of the maximag station! The building is open, but the ticket window is closed. He bangs on it until a thin, balding clerk opens the office door at the end of the counter.
“Gotta get to Marrack!”
“Too late! Morning mag took off fifteen minutes ago! Usually it'd be late in weather like this, but it's our lucky day. Yours, maybe not. Late afternoon mag leaves at eighteen hundred hours, night mag at twenty one.” The clerk wipes some imaginary dust off the counter and closes his window.
Too late to meet Pflogel. Rawth!
Broonzy heads back towards downtown, Clegg's briefcase suddenly heavy in his hand. His route takes him back past the other Andromeda, giving him an inspiration as one of the freezing heathers winks at him, tiredly, her friends not even bothering to try…
“Hey, good lookin'… know where I can get a hover?
“You a shurt?” inquires the bold one. “Whatcha had have in mind – back seat, like a coupla kids?
“Lora doesn't do cars…” says another of the heathers with the protruding jaw and overbite of a rodent – tho’ not, fortunately, with the porcupine-spiky hair…
“Cold weather discount, Spimmy? Got my own room…
“Anna boyfriend,” says another with a hostile smirk, “knock you onna head, jammin' shurt…”
“I’m not… no, thanks,” Broonzy raises Lucille’s briefcase in a salute. “Just thought of something…”
He presses on towards the mag, Lora shouting after him. “Loothee! Looth!”
Speaking about makhbool,
the Dixon passport had rawth for security, but Broonze was either too stupid or too afraid to try to find
a flight out before his deadline for the meet with that fellow with the queer name
in Marrack later that afternoon. As he told it to me… anyway, a ticket
would've cost him more than he was being paid for the job, more than a ticket