mac the mailman was still frightened five days after his encounter with tania kelly and larry
lyndon. he eased his weary bones onto the bar stool at chuckie's and looked
around through the murk. there were five other customers at a bar that would seat
fifty. the television was showing the parliamentary debate on the proposal to raise
the human corruption tax. the sound was turned down to a hum and no one was watching it.
barbarian the bartender was down at the other end talking to someone mac couldn't recognize in the dim light.
"nice place they've got here."
mac looked up. a friendly roundfaced fellow, a stranger, had sat down beside him. this was the first stranger who had spoken to him in a while.
"yeah." mac stared at his ginger ale
"francis rondelay farqhuar." the stranger extended his hand. mac had heard of people "shaking hands" but had never done it or seen it done. he ignored the outstretched hand.
the friendly roundfaced fellow did not seem to mind. "and what might your name be", he enquired.
"and what do your friends call you?"
"i don't have any friends."
"well then, what do you call yourself, in the silence of your lonely room?"
"i don't have a room - i sleep on the radiator at the postal annex."
the friendly roundfaced stranger glanced at the empty-looking bag at mac's feet.
"hot work, eh?:"
"no, the streets are air-conditioned"
"what's in the bag, if you don't mind my asking?"
mac was visibly agitated. "look, why don't you just arrest me? whatever i did, i did it. i confess. just get it over with and take me away." he started to cry.
"my friend, my friend, you seem to be under some strain. what gives you the idea that i am a police person? i'm just a friendly guy."
"you sure?" mac pulled himself together, "you got to understand, this police person over on level 15 gave me a pretty good hiding the other day. maybe i'm a little bit jumpy."
"a good hiding, eh? i like a person familiar with the good old human usage." the friendly round-faced stranger nodded at mac's bag again. "so, what's in the bag?"
mac shrugged. " a book. a couple of books. take a look, if you want." he took a sip of his ginger ale.
the friendly round-faced stranger took a quick glance around the bar. he reached into the bag and took out a small book.
"sherlock holmes in the lost city of the queen of darkness" he read the cover.' with guest stars jesse james woodrow wilson mata hari orson welles and pope anastasius xvii. hey, this looks pretty good." he flipped it open. "lots of pictures."
"that's right - i like books with pictures."
"a man who likes pictures and is familiar with the old usage. what else have we got here?"
suddenly barbarian the bartender appeared in front of them wiping the bar with a clean rag. "can i get you something, citizen, or are you just talking to my friend here?"
"i'll have a cherry coke with just a touch of ice," the friendly round-faced stranger replied cordially.
"coming right up."
as barbarian the bartender turned to get the cherry coke, the door opened and tania and larry and mike mean entered. mac put his head down into his ginger ale. the place grew so quiet the sound of the parliamentary debate could be clearly heard.
walter cronkite was moderating a debate between william gladstone and catherine de medici.
gladstone was taking the blue position.
"the human corruption tax was passed for the express purpose of raising money for the schools. but with the implementation of the new population freedom initiatives there is actually a surplus in hand - hardly a reason to raise the tax." he nodded to walter cronkite.
"all the more reason," catherine responded for the green position. "to use the surplus money to actually fight corruption, whether or not this was the stated intent of the original bill. i think we can all agree that human corruption remains our most pressing problems - at all level and all parallels."
"but citizen," walter cronkite asked, "don't you think many people would argue that human contact, not human corruption, is still our most pressing concern?"
barbarian the bartender looked at an anonymous customer with a root beer float in front of him. "pretty interesting stuff, huh? but i liked last week's better, the one between che guevara and ann coulter -"
larry looked up at the screen. 'turn that garbage off"
mac glanced up, he noticed that francis rondelay farquhar had disappeared. he looked around to see if there was a back door. then he looked down into his drink.
the friendly roundfaced stranger had shrunk to the size of a spider and was flailing around in the ginger ale. he signaled frantically to mac to drink the ginger ale so he wouldn't drown. mac was a malleable individual and he complied with the request without thinking through the hygienic consequences for himself.
"is it really you, little man?" larry was looking down at mac. he turned to tania behind him. "didn' t we see this guy in level 15 a few days ago? how coincidental is this?'"
"sir,' mac began, "i'm with the communications services - in a subordinate position to be sure -"
"did i ask you anything ?" mac was so nervous he knocked his glass to the floor, where it shattered. francis rondelay farquhar scurried away under the rack of displayed bottles.
mike mean shoved tania aside and put his hand on larry's arm. "hey fella, this is parallel 12. we don't do things that way here."
"oh? what's this character to you?"
"just stop bothering him."
larry looked down at mac. "i was just talking to him," he said. "what's the problem? "
"i don't like the tone of your voice. and he just looks like a great little guy."
'a great little guy?" larry looked over at tania and at barbarian, who was standing behind the bar within earshot. "what's that supposed to mean?