by Colin P. Davies
Table of Contents
appear in this issue.
Henry hampton hobby horse: an equine biped with vocal capabilities. Obsessional by nature and lacking in essential social skills. Often encountered in the darker corners of bars and hotel lounges, drinking coffee and chattering in monotone to anyone who will listen.
“When I was a boy,” said Gregory, returning from his phone booth, “...there was a girl who vanished — apparently eaten by benedicts. Completely. Every last bone, apparently.”
Parvo was sceptical. He’d heard the story before, but he’d never known of any evidence. “That doesn’t help me now. I’m more concerned with losing my job than about becoming something’s supper.” He threw his coat over a table and settled back into a deep armchair. “I have to succeed, and the money would be a bonus."
“When Old Fool Marat was a fresh and enthusiastic Pestmeister, like you, he had me build a cage,” said Gregory. “It took four men to carry it into position.” The old man crossed from the stove and held out a cup of steaming dreamtea for Parvo. “Apparently didn’t work.”
Parvo sniffed the liquid and winced. “Oh.”
“The bait was effective enough — a state of the art trivee unit with more flashing lights than Domino’s Casino — and the triggered gate crashing shut was apparently heard at the top of the cliff by students stargazing in the grounds of the Academy. But the creature twisted the bars and escaped, before Marat even got through the door of the hide.”
Parvo held the hot pewter cup with both hands and lifted it to his mouth. He inhaled slowly through his long straight nose. The narcotic fumes already had his head swimming. He gnawed absently at the rim of the cup and stared through the dancing steam at Gregory. It was strange to think this bearded old character had been born at the time of the Infestation. With his loose canvas pants hung from copper shoulder-chains, he appeared eccentric, even foolish. But Parvo had learned not to trust appearances — the most innocuous, cuddly, friendly pests were only devils in fur coats.
“Still...” said Gregory. “Should you manage to capture a benedict, you’ll certainly be a celebrity.”
“Many have craved celebrity, but it’s difficult to attain without dying in the process.” Parvo knew the stories of his profession. In the annals of Pestmeister history, only once had simultaneous celebrity and longevity been achieved, and that was by Old Fool Svenditch, who had managed to mire himself in the ethics of lycanthrope rehabilitation and could now, on warmer nights, be heard howling at the moons.
Gregory’s telephone chirped and the old man hurried to his booth to face-exchange.
Parvo shouted after him, “What I need are ideas!”
He sipped the dreamtea and, shortly, his anxiety faded.
He examined his fingers. He had shaped his nails with exquisite care into the pseudo claws of a rat. Old Fool Bream had initiated the fashion for Pestmeisters, though Parvo had elected not to follow down the ear surgery route.
He noticed a framed picture on the wall — Gregory’s parents. An ugly pair. Parvo had never known his own parents. They had died and that was that. He could not do with pity. He was not disadvantaged by the lack of a mother and father, and he had bloodied more than one classmate’s nose for suggesting as much.
Gregory returned with a serving dish of imported black coin-beetles and held it out for Parvo. “Try one. These cost me dearly. Apparently they’re popular in Plateau.”
Parvo shook his head. “If God had meant us to eat bugs, he would have made them less crunchy.” He waved them away with a flick of his fingers. It was important for Parvo to establish his disdain — it would not be wise to appear too accommodating. That way led to expectations and camaraderie and money lending.
“Please yourself.” Gregory put the dish down on a polished brass table. “That was Winnie calling back.”
“Should I know her?”
“An intelligence gatherer. We’re talking about a big, life-changing bounty here. I want to protect my cut.”
Parvo sat forward. “Do you mean the word is out?”
“More than you think.” He picked up a beetle, cracked it between his teeth, and held it clamped there as he mumbled, “There’s a truck full of bounty hunters on the way up here and the leader, apparently, has a grudge to settle.” He sucked the beetle empty, then spat the carcass into his palm. “Apparently with you.”
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Copyright © 2007 by Colin P. Davies