Sunday, November 22, 2009

the seventeenth letter, part 12

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

"let's take a walk," said barras. "see how much has changed."
"a lot has changed," major mudd told him. "i'll go with you, show you around,"
they walked through the gate.
"before i took this guy in hand," bates told major mudd, "he ate enough chalk to repaint the white cliffs of dover. he walked the chalk and he talked the chalk.

you know the type - walk around the track, talk to the jockeys, talk to the trainers, talk to the stable boys, to the horses, to the oats in the horses bag - then go to the window and play the favorite."

major mudd smiled politely.
"go ahead," said barras. 'i'm not here, you can talk about me."
"don't be so sensitive." bates took the racing form the major had given him and folded it and flipped through it with his one hand. "how many races left today, by the way?"
"just two, but they're good ones," the major answered. "we have three horses in the last race."

"three! as opposed to what?" bates continued to flip through the form.
"i see you have been away. most races these days are one or two."
"one!" barras laughed. can you bet on the one horse race?"

"you can bet the favorite," bates told him.
"you can bet on how fast it goes," major mudd said. "or whether it finishes."
"i'm looking at the next to last race here," said bates.
"it's my kind of race, an old-fashioned race with more than one horse. the favorite is 1 to 10, the other is 4 to 5."

he turned to barras, "you can play the favorite, i'll play the other."
"no, you taught me so well, i'll play the long shot, you play the favorite."

"all right. let's get to the window. how much time do we have?" bates asked the major.
"plenty of time. we'd hold the race up to take your bet, if we had to."
they had walked around almost half the track. it looked virtually deserted. there were more papers blowing through the stands than patrons. barras and bates looked around but didn't comment.
"do the horses have names by the way," barras asked, "or are they just the favorite and the long shot?"

bates was still flipping through the form. "in this race, frankie is the favorite and johnny is the long shot. it looks like frankie is the favorite and johnny is the long shot in most of the races." bates turned to the major. "what do you do, just call the favorite frankie in every race and the other horse johnny?"
"no, no. frankie and johnny are real horses. we ask a lot of them."

they reached the windows, one looked open but had no one behind it. the others were shuttered. major mudd slipped through a little door and quickly reappeared behind the open window.
as agreed, bates bet on frankie and barras on johnny, each with a single coin. the major looked a little surprised at the coins.
"these are fine coins, gentlemen. i might have a little problem adjusting them."

"don't worry about it," bates told him. "one of us is going to win and the other is going to lose. we'll work something out."
"thank you." the major handed them their tickets, which were printed on what looked like tissue paper.
:some things never change," barras smiled at the major. "if we pick the winner, you pay us, right?"
the major hesitated. "mostly."

"mostly is good enough," bates put in quickly. "thanks, major. we'll see you again before the last race. do you mind if we go down to the stables, look around, like old times?"
"not at all. be my guest. let me know f you need anything else."
"fine." bates nodded to barras and they moved off.

"mostly!" barras laughed again when they were out of the major's hearing.
"relax. we're here to relax, aren't we?"

'it's certainly changed."
"but it's still here."

the "jam" robot came around again and collected the bowls and spoons.

some of the prisoners looked a little longingly at their clean spoons as they surrendered them. those who hadn't finished their drinks were allowed to keep them.
"so," said corporal chappie. "a milestone. your first meal on jupiter. how did you like it?"
silence for a few seconds.
"it was very tasty," mac the mailman finally said. "i look forward to the next one."

"i am happy to hear it," said chappie. "and you had - "
'let's take a vote. how many of the mush choosers were satisfied?"
after a brief hesitation, nine hands went up.

"excellent." chappie smiled at barbarian. "i see even the ham and egg man was satisfied. and the gruel eaters?"
eight hands went up.
chappie nodded. "so it is unanimous. you see, it is not so bad here on jupiter after all."

"what's next?" hongwu asked.
"next you will be issued uniforms." chappie pointed to the cafeteria behind the prisoners, which was emptying out. "as you are excess, you will go last."
"does that mean we get last pick?" a voice called from the rear of the group.

"there is no last pick," chappie assured them. "the uniforms are all the same except for the sizes - and don't worry, we have all sizes."
'i have a question," hongwu addressed chappie.
"ah , the escape man. yes?"
"what happens to the clothes we have on now?"

"a valid question, often asked. the answer is - i don't know."
"you don't know?"
"they get taken somewhere, for what purpose if any, i don't know. perhaps for the purpose of giving you something to think about and scheme about, eh? as you dream of escape."
hongwu shrugged. "i was just asking."

"prisoners," chappie went on, "as a matter of course, please feel free to ask any questions, any questions whatsoever. you may not get answers, but you can ask. there is never a penalty for asking."
"suppose we just asked questions all day," mike asked. "and never lifted a hammer. would that be o k?"
chappie laughed. "no. it would be considered trifling with us. but a good question, mr private detective, it shows you're thinking."
"and thinking is good?"
"of course. what could be wrong with it?"

the prisoners fell silent. some who still had their drinks sipped them.
"now what ?" mac finally asked,
"now? we wait for uniforms."
"i mean while we're waiting."
"you are easily bored, i see. perhaps someone could tell a story. one thing i know about humans, they like stories. true, false, they don't care."

chappie pointed to mike. "you, mr detective, perhaps you have some thrilling adventures you could relate. you know, walking the dark streets, foiling dangerous dames."
this got a good laugh all around.
"not really," mike answered with a smile.
chappie smiled. " i am sure you are being modest. we would all like to hear a story.'

"all right, if you insist." mike thought for a few seconds. "i was sitting in my office one foggy night, watching the fleas fighting in the peeling paint, and the dust settling on my unpaid bills. i was ready to turn the light and the phone off and crawl under the desk and get some sleep, and then i got a call. it was from the duc d'avignon..."

"i've had enough," annabelle told tania. she tossed a folder back on the table. "pick a case. any case. we'll go out and talk to somebody on it. unless you'd rather wait for larry."
"no. i'll go with you. they're your cases now, you decide where to go."

"you must be pretty sick of the fairweather poker game case." annabelle stared at tania.
"it's all the same to me. you could say it's an old friend."
"fine. then let's pay a visit to the duc d'avignon."
tania nodded. "should we call ahead?"
"i'd rather not."
"suppose we get al the way out there and he's not there."
annabelle picked up a thin folder. "there's another case we look into on the way back. one not so well known, but i think it's kind of interesting. down by the waterfront."

the seventeenth letter, part 13

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