BOOK ELEVEN - !BUSTED¡
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN - “FIRE!”
It's twilight when Broonzy returns to the Baawl and trudges up the steps of the Andromeda to Gargareeva's office, where a moodbox with the sound off replays the twilight news; images of Rateyes and Turpin being marched up the steps of the Yellow Palace.
“Back you be!” rails the great hotelier toad. “Friends no good time for the shurts! Room you no have, gone, rent I. Other only nine floor except… no good you for nine floor. Is be clean…”
“Got anything else?”
“One.” Gargareeva almost smiles as he dangles the key to room 640.”
“Don't want no room dead bodies been in…” Broonze shakes his head.
“Is all Andromeda… rooms of mawt! Only is. Make bargain…” the proprietor proposes, “ten soys first week…”
“Don't need a week! Getting' outta this rawth soon as I get paid… don't look at me that way. Don't jammin' look at me that way!”
Gargareeva swipes and gives the card back with a key to 640. “One night – kulk! For old times sake.”
Broonzy tosses and turns in the middle of the night. A shimmering shade, reflected in the dark mirror by the ocean scapescreen, teases him, faint lavender fog wafting through the room as Lyca Arbatax whispers… entreaties and palliatives…
“But I love my husband…”
He thrashes with nightmares in the mawt room 640; vapors infused with essences of the dead woman seeping through his memories… he sees, through her eyes, the love she made with Turpin, glancing at them both from far off… rising from the damp mattress and going upstairs to knock on the door to room 919. He sits up - Lyca's image in the mirror slowly dissolves. Down the hall, Walter cries out; thick, old shoes slimy with clear ichor, leaving puddles on the Andromeda's carpet…
“Bahrbarah! I need bread, bahrbara… I need kackles…”
Broonzy pulls on his shoes, splashes water over his face and runs a finger over the scars on his neck. He exits, skulking downstairs to the office. The moodbox plays at low volume but Gargareeva's not there. He looks over the window, sees the manager on the floor, dead… a mask and empty bottle of roar on the desk, along with a soycard which he swipes on the landlord’s fincom, just to see...
“There are… eighteen hundred twenty one sols and sixty four centis… on this card,” the voice on the box informs him…
“Presto!” Broonzy takes the soycard, puts it in his pocket and follows a trail of clear, foul slime that leads back upstairs to room 610, behind which comes laughter of preks and smashing of glass. Old Mallah replies to his knock…
“Go away, please!” the old joob replies from behind the door. “Don't need any help… aaugh!”
The scream isn’t Mallah’s, it’s Marina’s.
“Jam off, sikken!” one of the prekts snarls. “We're havin' a roar party, and you're not invited…”
Broonzy kicks the door down. Mallah sits on a chair, face battered, shirt off… one prekt looks up from burning him with kackles – arranged in what seems to be an occult pattern. Another lunges at Broonze with a stabgat… the snaker sidesteps his roar-impaired lunge, grabs the prekt by the back of the head and slams his face into the doorframe with a lethal crack. He drops in a soggy heap, and Broonzy grasps the torturer, hurling him through the boschian décor of the scapescreen mounted in front of the window through which he falls, flailing to the street in a plood of bloodspatter and breaking glass; allowing the neon of the pawnshop Guns/Money ilaam entry, tossing the roar on the bureau after him. A third prekt rises from the bed, grabs his trousers and scrambles away, partially exposing Marina, dazed and naked from the waist up, on the rumpled bed.
“Hey!” the yoot protests sleepily. “Jammin' bool… saved your jammin' life, you ‘member?”
“Now I save yours,” Broonzy replies. “Get out of here!”
“You can't do this to me…” Marina wails as he yanks the remaining bedclothes off, leaving her totally nude, totally enraged. “I'm a genius!”
She starts crying. Broonzy retrieves Mallah's shirt from the floor and pushes him into the hall, where he kneels over the dead prekt. The snaker realizes that the old jim is crying, too…
“There's eighteen hundred soys on this; last I heard, passage to Terra was fourteen hundred, which'll have to do you. Get to the Passport, get the first bird out and don't ever come back here again… ever!
Mallah strokes the dead yoot’s hair, then rises unsteadly. “Kin' I take my stuff?” he asks, meekly. When Broonzy makes a gesture of indifference, he leaps to the bureau, collecting papers from the top drawer and pushing them into a carpetbag, then pushes the bureau away from the wall and bends over to remove an old splaybox with a cunning smirk.
“My wife!” he says, turning box so that Broonze and Marina can see the image of a younger man in the uniform of a Regency swob embracing a different rouged-up prekt with narrow, reptilian eyes in one of the fake Polynesian bars of Gamma Gacula. “Veebs never found her…”
“Know what they say 'bout demon hunters, snaker? You want to take me, and you want to kill me… and you end up doing rawth…”
“Save it for the payin' customers, genius!” he says, pushing past her. “Just get gone! One more loose end to take care of in this place…”
Broonzy stalks towards the stairwell and climbs, proceeds to room 919, the red door seen in Lyca's nightmare, kicks in the door and surprises Meechee Chealls at his labors… distilling counterfeit bah-roor from the slime pouring down his inhuman, inhurtian face…
“Thought it'd be you…” he scowls, “…jammin' poisoner…”
The immigrant raises his hands, pleadingly. “No poisoner! Honest work. Sell carpet…”
He rises from his devices, standing in his long, reeking overcoat made from the same rough material as his rugs, sweating vile ichor as he gestures to the pile of carpets on the bed.
“Doc Kollucks was right… we aren't alone!” Broonzy accuses through curled lips. “Too bad we share the jammin' universe with rawth like you…”
He kicks out with his left leg, smiting the rug dealer and seemingly breaking him in half beneath the long overcoat. Chealls' upper body tumbles to the floor, the vaguely human aspect withering like a deflated balloon while slimy… things… scuttle out the door on what seem a million oily tentacles... The casing used to simulate human legs disgorges fluttering, flapping pale gray creatures… somewhere between octopi and spiders. Broonzy flails at and kicks at these, and squishes a few… most follow their host down the hall and disappear beneath doorways.
The screaming starts…
Broonzy hurries downstairs and steps back into room 640; the violet mist, the rustlings and ripplings of Lyca Arbatax are more pronounced, almost corporeal, embracing him with limbs strong and desperate as any living prue. Her face stares back at him from the mirror, unseen hands fingers his hair and trousers. He strips the bed, rips the scapescreen down, gathers various left-behind garments, hair and paper, sweeps everything into a trashbucket and sets this afire. Holding it to the walls and ceiling, he makes sure that 640 is burning briskly before leaving; passing Al's room on his way to the staircase. Ever courteous, Al tips his hat.
“Save those as value second chances,” he dictates, “let the rest of the jammin' veebs burn!”
Al replaces the old, black fedora and looks upwards. “Sir?”
“Have to trust you to make the right decisions… nobody else here will…
So Broonzy made of me what I'd dedicated my years to avoiding…a judge of others… and I walked up and down in the Andromeda, that evening, and it were as if a mark had been inscribed onto every door that showed me my errands… now an angel of mawt in passing, now a redemptor. And I saw in the flames the living and dead, and of the dead and vanished souls forgotten or concealed by infamy; I wept, but tears would not subdue these flames, nor would the Regency, nor God, nor Rassoul…
On the Baawl, Broonzy crosses the swarming, smoky nighttime street, threading his way through the arriving firemen, refugees and gawkers to the pawnshop, bracing the jackal-faced pawnbroker behind his window.
“Lemme guess,” says the shkook, “you're a seller, not a buyer?”
“How much for my unilator? Works good,” he promises, removing the device and handing it over to the pawnbroker, who attaches a monocular glass to one eye to inspect it.
“Piece of rawth! Ten sols ,,,” the shkook decides.
“Can't understand you!” Broonzy shouts back, pointing to his naked ear. The pawnbroker nods, holds up eight fingers. “Ten,” Broonzy replies, and the jim raises a thumb; the snaker nods, hands over his soycard for charging and takes it back, with his redemption ticket. Crossing the street back to al-Gool… inexplicably still in business, and crowded, despite the flames above and water cascading down the walls… he revels in the myriad mysteries of a hundred tongues that surround him, desultory conversations rendered foreign, even exotic…
“Gimme an ale…” he bids the publican.
“Draft or bottled?” comes the reply… and as his customer frowns…
“Draft or bottled??”
“One o' those…”
Broonze points to the tap, and quaffs deeply, sitting on the barstool the rising water laps at his ankles. A segment of Klub al-Gool’s ceiling near the front door suddenly falls, aflame – only now do the babbling patrons… the swobs and the heathers, the danks and sikken, methyard drudges and gamblers and shkooks waiting on Old Mort… all flee now (some still holding their drinks), emitting a torrent of incomprehensible, unimaginable curses. The publican scuttles out from behind his bar and disappears into the throng, but Broonzy remains on the stool, savouring his last drink.
Another segment of ceiling collapses with a fiery shriek.