Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the seventeenth letter, part 29

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

"good king horace was ready to roll
with a satisfied mind and a satisfied soul
he told the fireman to pour on the coal
and he gave him a bottle of wine
he gave him a bottle of wine
he had a basket of roses and ninety-two bottles of wine
a basket of roses and ninety-two bottles of wine!

the van seemed to speed up as the singing got louder.

only the pigtailed girl, the big man beside her, and the blonde girl and her two friends seemed to know the verses to "good king horace" but the others quickly picked up on the chorus and they shouted each one louder than the one before. are they all singing but me, bettina wondered.

good king horace leaned back in his seat
the conductor came by with his shoes shined so neat
good king horace had to give him a treat
so he gave him a bottle of wine
he gave him a bottle of wine
he had a basket of roses and ninety-one bottles of wine
a basket of roses and ninety-one bottles of wine!

good king horace watched the houses go by
under the dark and cloudy sky -

suddenly the van stopped. the pigtailed girl, alone, sang

it made the good king want to cry
so he drank a bottle of wine -

then she stopped too.

"you want me to go down the pier?" leslie asked.
"no, no. we'd probably go right through it. just pull up in front of it. so the back door is right at the top of it."
"like this?"
"yes. that's good enough."
"are you really going to - "

country girl reached over and put her hand over leslie's mouth.

country girl nodded her head in the direction of the door. she took her hand away and they both scrambled out the drivers side door.
the van was quiet.
"maybe we should just warn them again," leslie whispered, as they started down the outside of the van.
'they had their warning." country girl looked down the beach and back to the road.

there was nothing and nobody in sight. she whispered something right into leslie's ear.
"are you ok with that?"

"i guess, if you think it will work.'"
"it will work. let's do it."
they reached the back door. country girl positioned herself on the left side and motioned to leslie to get on the right.
"when i say 'now' open up," she whispered "i'll grab the guy right inside. leave the door open a little so they can hear the splash. slam it if they try to rush you."
"how about if i just slam it and they can hear the splash through the door?"
"all right."

bettina's heart was pounding. the silent seconds had now stretched to almost three minutes. suddenly the side of the door to bettina's left was yanked open. hands reached in and grabbed the young man sitting across from susan, and he was pulled out and fell outside.

as soon as country girl had hurk dragged a little away from the van, leslie slammed the door shut again.
country girl had hurk on his feet in two seconds. with one hand on his cuffed wrists and the other on his collar, she ran him down to the end of the pier.

"all right, sib, here's the drill. i'm going to spring these handcuffs, i'm going to kick you off the pier, you are going to land in one foot of water, you are going to get up and you are going to walk home. now tell me we are on the same page here."

"how do i know you are telling the truth?"
"i guess you'll just have to find out."

she sprung the handcuffs with one hand and pushed and kicked him into the air. he fell face down and landed with a splash that was loud only because of the surrounding silence.
hurk's cap had fallen off and leslie picked it up. she started backing up down toward the cab on the passenger side.

country girl stared down at hurk in the water.

when he started to pick himself up she turned and raced back down the pier toward the van.

leslie took hurk's cap and threw it down the beach in the direction they had come.

she jumped in the passenger side and over to the drivers seat.
country girl was right behind her.

leslie skidded out of the sand and back on to the highway.
after about a minute leslie started to laugh.

"want to stop at that place and get some more sandwiches?"

after three bottles of jaspers best wine, barras and jojo were ready to play tennis on a tightrope, but bates was getting a little tipsy.

he picked up the third empty bottle and shook it. "you sure you don't want another?" he asked. he looked down the row of booths for nero or agrippina.
"i think you've had enough. and spent enough," said barras mildly. "and some of our guests might be falling asleep back there." he looked at jojo.

"i don't sleep much," said jojo. "some of them might."

'fine, fine," bates agreed. "and we still have to get back to the office. start reorganizing the universe."
"i think it's probably been reorganized without us." barras smiled. he glanced at jojo again.
"i told you," bates replied. "you might as well talk in front of him, he knows more about what goes on in the tower than we do. i think he sleeps in mrs roosevelt's desk drawer."
"no," said jojo. "just in the room she grows the flowers she puts in her hair."

barras smiled politely. most people didn't know that mrs roosevelt existed, or that she always wore a flower in her hair.
"what time is it?" bates asked. he looked up at a clock on the wall. "nobody will even know we were gone. "

"you guys slay me," said jojo amiably. "sitting here talking about doing this and that with the universe. i know you're serious. you think the universe cares what you do? or knows that you exist?"
"i like that," said bates. "that's really deep, jojo. and we didn't even have to buy your little pamphlet to hear it. thank you."

"speaking of buy," jojo answered. "what do they do in a place like this? they still bring a check?"

"no, no," bates laughed. "it's like everywhere else. you just pay what you think it's worth. why, did you want to contribute?"
"i'll leave that to you."
"all right, let's go."

"it worked," said leslie. 'they sure are quiet back there."

"i know all the tricks."

major mudd was a little glazed.

captain dave deadman was smashed into little pieces, and had to be dragged out of the booth by nero and the major.
"fine fellow," captain dave mumbled. "splendid ... never should have said the things ..."
the two jockeys and two stable boys looked good to go, and bored.

there were no wine bottles in their booth.
"are you all right, major?" barras asked. "i could have jerry drive you back to the track. i could follow in our vehicle."
"no, no, we're good. one of the jockeys can drive. i can adjust the seat and controls for her."
"all right."

bates took agrippina aside. he took some coins and a couple of bills out of his pocket and gave them to her.
"that's very generous, mister bates, even for you."
"take it. i don't know when i'll be back. i might be back next week, i might never be back."
agrippina nodded. "i guess we'll just have to wait and see."
"i guess we will. carry on, captain."

barras and bates stepped out of the restaurant. the first thing they saw was the green van going by on the highway.
"it's them!" bates seemed instantly sobered.
"those two we saw back at the track. they're following us - i knew it."

"they were coming back from wherever they were going. if it even was them."
"they are a couple of succubi - they are after me."
"forget the succubi. what are we going to do with him?" nero and jerry had hauled captain dave out and laid him on the ground.
bates looked down at him. "maybe we could drop him at the first station we pass and they can send him on to jupiter."
"that would violate the universal laws of good hospitality. "

'we can just leave him here. or they can can take him back to the track."
"let's take him back to the tower."
"to the tower!"
"not up in to the tower. we'll let him sleep it off in the cafeteria and big boy or whoever is on can send him on his way in the morning. we started off as good hosts we might as well finish. you invited him, remember?"

"whatever." bates looked around. the major, jojo and the others were milling around beside the major's pickup. "jojo!"
jojo walked over. "you wanted me to go back with you?"
"no, you don't have to come with us. take this." bates took a skip of paper out of his pocket and gave it to jojo. "there's a time and place on it."
"be there, jojo. i'm not asking you to give up your game. but we can help each other out, just like the old days."

the seventeenth letter, part 30

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