by Colin P. Davies
Table of Contents
Part 5, Part 6
Part 8, Part 9
appear in this issue.
Westchester white-chested warbler: formal name for the common diva, a large rodent with generous lungs, but a tiny stomach. A skilled mimic, often heard at choral events, the diva is despised by performers, not for its tendency to strike up at moments of greatest drama and poignancy, but for its ability to hit perfect pitch, thereby showing up the inferior efforts of the humans. Attempts at eradication having failed, the diva is now controlled via its stomach. Always ravenous, the diva can be silenced by the judicious distribution of food at critical moments of the performance. It is therefore a truism that, unlike our modern starving artists, the diva does indeed sing for its supper.
Parvo opened one eye slowly and only slightly. He knew not to move. He could smell he was not alone.
First he had to figure out where he was. There was movement — he could feel it through the floor pressing into his cheek. He could hear wind sighing through gaps. And there was the pungent smell of slowbeef fur unholstery.
He was in the cablecar.
So he’d been duped. Jay must have offered Gregory a better deal. Parvo could respect that. But he would still make the Old Fool pay dearly — and not only for the cost of having this coat cleaned again.
His one open eye scanned the car. A lone figure was in his view. In a car that usually squeezed in about twenty people, that stark fact suggested the car had been commissioned , or hijacked. The kidnapper was a man, and tall, and stood with his back to Parvo, facing out of the window into the darkness. To one side, illuminated by the car lights, the craggy cliff-face fell as the car rose up towards Plateau.
The man was being careless. He should have been watching his prisoner. Parvo tensed his muscles, feeling for sensation, checking if they would obey him when the time for action came.
He opened his other eye and was ambushed by a hammering dreamtea headache, which had been nagging on the perimeter of his resurfacing awareness. His temples threatened to implode. He took a moment to settle his heart rate. He felt like dung, but it would take more than a hangover to hold this Pestmeister down.
Feeling was returning to his fingers. He could move his hands.
He raised his head from the floor and immediately there was the rattle of a chain and the hard pressure of a steel collar around his neck — no doubt one of Gregory’s.
The noise alerted his companion, who turned sharply. It was Beard. He smiled. “So you’re awake.”
Parvo pulled himself up on one of the benches that ringed the car. The chain, locked to a bench leg, pulled taut, but he was able to stand. “I could be witty, but my head hurts too much.”
“You mean your nose... .”
Parvo touched his nose and groaned. It was sore and swollen and his fingers came away bloody. “So I fell on my face.”
Beard laughed. “No... you fell on a fist. Jay had a score to settle with you.” His accent was unusual — clipped. Undoubtedly an offworlder.
Parvo eased himself down on the bench. Either a strong wind had got up and was tossing the car about, or his brain was still swimming in dreamtea. He tugged at the metal collar. There was space to get his fingers inside, but the diameter was smaller than his head. “So where are you taking me? It would have been easier to dump me in the river.”
“It was debated... but someone wants to see you enough to pay for the privilege.”
“He’s preparing a room for you in his laboratory.”
“I’m only staying if there’s a trivee.” Parvo noticed the bounty hunter was wearing a handgun at his hip.
The moving cliff-face was briefly lit by the amber halfway beacon. They were four hundred metres up the mountain.
“We’ll be passing Saint Jane’s cave very soon,” Parvo said. “It’s traditional to throw her some food.”
Beard’s furrowed brow told Parvo that the brute had never ridden this car before.
Parvo sat forward in his seat. “They say she’s suffering for the sins of the students. Some say she was a student once, and may be responsible for creating the janewski razor-fingered rib-tickler.”
“Jay’s not told me about that one.”
“It’s claimed more lives than any pest, other than the benedict.”
“So why is she in the cave?”
“It’s called guilt. You may not be familiar with the concept.”
Beard turned to look at the cliff.
Parvo grasped the collar in both hands. “Sometimes you can see her eyes glowing.” He tucked in his chin and began to push the steel ring up towards his ears. An odd clicking sound inside his head told him that the joints in his skull were shifting. His head was elongating, distorting like a squeezed lemon, as he pushed the ring higher. The dreamtea headache screamed for him to stop. He almost lost his balance when, as the collar passed his eyes, left and right were looking to opposite points of the compass. But one remained locked on Beard. Surely any moment now even this oaf must realise there was no cave. Then the collar was off and Parvo’s head slumped back into shape.
He’d first discovered he could do that when, as a horny and hard-up adolescent, he’d found himself locked in a store adjacent to the girls’ shower room. The choices were either to be found missing from his dorm at morning roll call, or attempt to squeeze out through the window bars. He’d made the roll call.
Parvo dropped the collar on the floor. The sudden noise made Beard spin around. For an instant he seemed to forget he had the gun and in that same instant he no longer had it. Parvo levelled the barrel at the taller man.
But Beard had been a soldier. With his huge hand, he struck the gun and sent it across the car. It bounced off the closed polished-timber door.
Beard ran to collect the weapon. Parvo was faster. He kicked the big man in the back. The door crashed open with the impact and Beard fell out. He grasped at the threshold, managed to get a hold and swung down to hang below the car. But his fingers were slipping.
Parvo threw himself onto the floor and grabbed Beard’s wrist just as the soldier’s grip failed. Cold wind blew into Parvo’s face as he supported the huge body.
“For pity’s sake don’t drop me!” Beard cried. “I can tell you about Dimitri... and the Palace. They’re involved too. They’ve got your records.” His eyes were wide and white. Far below, the lights of Screetown shone like stars in the blackness, disorientating Parvo. Nausea swept over him.
The soldier’s words were tight with fear. “There are things you don’t know. It’s not about Dimitri. It’s not about him at all. Is it a deal? Is it a deal? For God’s sake have pity.”
“I feel many things,” said Parvo. “Anger, hate, confusion, indecision... but no pity.”
Parvo looked at the terrified man, this hunter who would have given him to Dimitri.
“No pity,” he said. “And no deal.”
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Colin P. Davies