The Mayonnaise Murders, Chapter 8, Scene 2

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Actually, it turned out to be a long three days, which was how long it took before Deep Cluck showed up early one morning pounding on the door like he was desperate to get inside before something grabbed him.

But pounding on somebody’s door early in the morning, especially after those somebodys have been playin’ cards for three days, damned near without sleep, ain’t exactly the best way to get a calm response. Which is to say that Cluck just about got his head blown off courtesy of Johnny Beardy who didn’t even stop to think – or remember – that waiting for Cluck was pretty much the reason we were all out there in the middle of the Dregs.

But Cluck didn’t even flinch – in fact he grinned – which wasn’t hardly what I expected from a nerdgeek like him. And, true to form, he was wearing pants that looked like they were patterned after a melting chess set and a shirt that could have been stitched together from a polka-dotted shower curtain. This guy was so weird it was scary.

“Oh. Dear,” he said, raising his hands in the air no higher than his shoulders, his long, skinny fingers spread wide. “A rock star with a loaded weapon. Perchance I should engage in rapid retreat? Or should I stand my ground, tempting fate? Life, indeed, is a bowl of unsavory choices and we mortals are left with nothing but the pits.”

Beardy reached out with his free hand, grabbed Cluck by the shoulder, then snatched him inside before kicking the door shut.

“Cards. Splendid! So is anyone going to deal me in?”

One of the chickens who’d been getting his butt smacked the whole three days stood up and forfeited his game with relief so Cluck could sit in for a few really crappy hands before the three-day marathon finally came to a close and we got down to business. Cluck eased himself back from the table, stood up and walked over to stand in front of the door with a rolled up newspaper under his arm that he’d grabbed out of a rather large bag he’d brought with him. He looked out over the expectant gathering with a twisted grin that really hadn’t left since Beardy had shoved that gun in his face.

“So. As to why we are here, and as to where we must go from here. I would like to show you, my beloved misfits, something in which I am quite certain you will take interest.”

You would have thought he was about to perform some kind of cheap magic trick the way he kept flapping that paper back and forth in front of us like he was trying to swat something that he’d never be able to hit.

“Enough already,” muttered one of the chickens, after Cluck had been at this for nearly a minute. “Just show us what you got.”

And with one quick, wrist-snapping motion Cluck popped open the paper and held it steady so we could all see the huge black type screaming across the top of the Daily Screamer that Vee, a well-known page scratcher for that very publication, hadn’t been seen in days and was presumed missing. A headshot of Vee looking alarmed was just below the headline before the story kicked in.

“Oh shit,” I said.

“Vid!” said Vee.

“Oh exactly,” said Deep Cluck, his grin stretching wider to expose his full front range of banged-up teeth.

Beardy stared at the story for a long time, eyes squinted, before turning his attention to me. He was giving me a look like he’d never seen me before.

Dude. Exactly who is this chick you’ve got riding shotgun with you anyway?”

“Exactly once again!” said Cluck.

Suddenly the chickens were all glaring at Vee like she was bait. I got over to where she was sitting real quick to stand next to her, putting my hand on her shoulder, which she grabbed and squeezed. I tried to look menacing but that just made Cluck start laughing. He opened his mouth to say something, but then that steroid chicken Butch, who was sitting a couple tables away, made a motion for Cluck to hush up while he leaned in my direction.

“Answer the question, bud. ‘Cause if this is gonna be a problem for us then we got a right to know. Who’s the lady really?”

Cluck giggled, no doubt ‘cause he already knew the answer. Right about then I would have loved yanking his smilin’ teeth out one by one with pliers. Instead, I had decided it might be in my best interest to comply with Butch’s  request and was opening my mouth to do just that when Vee squeezed my hand again, but this time really hard. She looked up at me, over her shoulder.

“You sure ‘bout this, Vee?”

She just smiled, winked, then turned to focus her attention on Butch.

“Butch, is it?”

He nodded, blowing a cloud of smoke from the corner of his beak.

“Yup.”

“OK, Butch. And you too, Mr. Johnny Beardy. I’m just a reporter, all right? I’m nobody real special as far as I’m concerned. I just do the job I was hired to do, and I do it really well. I’m proud of what I do. But the paper I work for? The Daily Screamer? Even as long as you guys have been stuck out here in the Dregs isolated and cut off all by yourselves I know you have to know it’s a big deal. You’ve got to know the influence it has, and not just here on Planet 10. The Screamer’s got clout on all the planets, in all the sectors, and that includes Earth. And that means a whole lot of power. And so, by extension, that means I have a lot of power. Because the stuff that I write can go a long ways, especially since we don’t have any competition. And those little happy-talk rags that get distributed in the sectors don’t count.

“So I’m saying this to answer your question in the following way: even though I’m just me? I’m not. Because I’m property of the Screamer. And the Screamer is verrrrrrrry, very serious about its property, believe you me. Which means that, yes, I guess I could pose a bit of a problem. But not because I want to.”

For the next few moments it was so quiet I was afraid to even think too loud, but then the rumbling and the mumbling began among the chickens and I was starting to get worried that this ugly little shack just might wind up being the last vision me and Vee were gonna have before being drop-kicked over to whatever there is on that Other Side. The smile on Cluck’s face by now was close to deranged, and Beardy was just standing there looking thoughtful, which probably scared me more than anything.

So then, why was Vee so damned calm…?

“But if you guys are willing to trust me, then I’m pretty sure I can see to it I won’t be a problem at all. There is a way around this, and I’m the one who knows the way.”

The voices were hushed again as all attention focused back on Vee. But Beardy was still looking thoughtful, and somehow that just didn’t fit.

“Chickee poo has a plan? Oh pray tell do share!”

Knowing Vee as well as I did, my first instinct, simply out of self-preservation, was to duck. Because I knew, from the minute I heard the ‘Chickee poo’, that something was about to blow.

“Unless your mother is in the room, Mr. Cluck, I’m not quite sure to whom you’re referring…?”

Vee always got real formal with her diction whenever she got pissed off. Cluck’s insane grin stayed plastered to his face for a longer time than I would have expected given the fact that Vee just dragged his mother into the equation in a less-than-real-friendly way, but then it started to sag like wax next to a blow torch. Butch’s eyebrow was arched high, like a cone with a sharp top, then he broke out in a high, shrieking laugh that I figured must have been painful to deliver. Cluck’s neck almost snapped with how fast his head turned to give a really hurt look to his feathered buddy, but Butch kept laughing like he just couldn’t help himself, and pretty soon the other chickens joined in. When they were finally spent, Vee looking confused as hell, Butch leaned back and gave Cluck a look the way a big brother looks at a kid brother who just dropped his ice cream on the ground.

“Cluck, relax. We ain’t laughin’ at you, OK?”

“Oh?”

“Well, OK, maybe we were, but you have to admit that was pretty damned funny. Look, you know we love you. And we’re with you ‘cause you always been with us. That’s always and forever, kid. But sometimes something’s just funny, you know?”

“And I am to believe that this is one of those times?”

“Well…yeah.”

“I see.”

I didn’t know Cluck was even capable of sounding that chilly, and by the look on Butch’s face I don’t think he did either. Saying that to say it was a bit awkward – again – in there for a few, until Vee made her move to bring things back in focus.

“May I continue please?”

Cluck looked out over his crew real slow, then gave a sharp nod.

“You may.”

“I appreciate it. And yes, to answer your earlier question – if that’s what it was – I do have a plan. The way I see it, and the way I know the Screamer, they’re going to be looking for me verrrrrrrryy hard. The Dregs isn’t the first place they’re gonna look, but it’s only a matter of time. And once they get started they’re not gonna stop.”

“Lady,” said Butch. “Do you have any idea how big the Dregs is?”

“Yes. I do. Do you have any idea how many investigators the Screamer has? Did you know that when the Keystones can’t find somebody, they hire a team from the Screamer? And that the Screamer investigators have only not succeeded in three cases out of 57 over the past five years?”

“Damn,” said one of the other chickens.

“Yes. Damn,” said Vee.

“OK.  Point taken. So then what’s your plan?” asked Butch.

“Simple. You take me back to the paper. But you gotta make it dramatic, OK? Meaning you can’t just trot me up to the front door, ring the bell, and hand me over. Besides, where’s the fun in that, hey? No, what you guys need to do is something way over the top, something that’ll make them run it on the top of the front page. Because once that happens…?”

“Once that happens what?” asked Butch.

“Then we win.”

“Pardonnay me, Miss Vee, but I always like to say that cuteness is as cuteness does, and right about now you appear to be a tad too cute for my taste. Or, to put this somewhat at a pedestrian level, something stinks.”

“I’m sorry, dear Cluckee, but nothing stinks about this plan. Or, to put this at somewhat of a pedestrian level? Perhaps you’re too dense to understand what I’m offering here.”

Butch put a wing up to his beak in a lame attempt to keep Cluck from seeing him giggle in the man’s red hot face. Some of the others didn’t even bother trying to hide their amusement. I’m guessing they hadn’t ever seen anybody give their boy Cluck as good as he gave. Insult for insult. And being the macho misfits they were they loved themselves a fight.

“Damn,” said Butch.”Who dropped the bomb in her punch?”

“Excuse me for the correction, but I’m not the one getting my ass blown up in here. Now can I finish my plan, Mr. Cluck, or do you want some more of this?”

Cluck just stared. Too angry to answer, too cautious to make a wrong move. I know he was asking himself just how in the hell he’d sized my girl Vee up so short. But that was Vee for you; she was good at sneakin’ up on you when you thought you were sneakin’ up on her.

“Good. So then here’s how it works guys, and why you’re each gonna thank me when this is all over and done. Once I’m back at my desk, and this whole episode has blown over for a few weeks, maybe longer, then that’s when I start calling myself ‘investigating’ this story behind Johnny Beardy being discovered face down in a mayonnaise sandwich – and then his disappearance. Who took him? Why? What was it all about? See? See? And that’s where I get to start telling your story, telling your side, about what it’s been like for you guys all these years. About what it was like living your lives as an experiment gone wrong, right? Hey? So then by the time you finish doing whatever it is you got planned on Earth, everybody up here is gonna be sympathetic, which won’t be as hard as it may seem since you know how a lot of critters feel about the Home Planet anyway.

“So. Whadda you guys think?”

For a few moments it was dead quiet before Johnny Beardy cleared his throat.

“Yo. If you keep your word? And you’re not tryin’ to put us on? Then I think this is fuckin’ genius. And Cluck, you gotta admit it. I mean, when it’s there, it’s there. This could work for us bigtime, dude.”

All eyes shifted over to Cluck, and this time there was no mockery. They didn’t mind teasing the guy, but when it came down to who had the final say on things, there was never any doubt it was still Cluck who had the most weight on the scale. And as pissed as he was for being embarrassed in front of his crew like that, I wasn’t holding my breath for him to rise above it and make the right call – but I’ll be damned if that ain’t exactly what he did.

“You annoy me greatly dear girl, as I’m sure you’re wonderfully aware. I would happily elaborate on all the reasons why, but time is indeed of the essence at this moment. So yes, I must admit there does appear to be more than a grain of merit to your proposal. I therefore vote that we take you up on this proposal – but with a few requisite modifications which I am sure you will understand. Just as a safeguard. And so I also will request – or, shall I say, require – that your boyfriend here, or whatever he is, be left in our custody throughout the duration of our operation until its successful completion. Because, of course, should anything go wrong with the execution of your masterpiece then, oh well, we will of course have no option but to terminate the life of Mr. Vid in a rather rapid fashion.

“Certainly this is more than fair, wouldn’t you agree, dear girl? Oh, and please do say something smart. Please please please do.”

Vee gave Cluck one of those tight smiles, the kinda smile with curse words all in it. But still a smile. She nodded.

“Sure. That’s fair. Hey, it’s your show, so of course it’s fair. So now how are we gonna do this?”

Actually, the plan turned out to be pretty simple, which was usually the best way. The simpler the plan, the less there is to screw up. Most of the wack jobs I got called in to investigate who got themselves caught got themselves caught ‘cause they figured they were too smart to put together a simple plan. Figured they had to prove themselves by showing off with some crazy scheme that had more moving parts than I got cells.

Deep Cluck obviously knew all this, had done his homework on what worked and what didn’t, so he decided the best thing to do was just what Vee said wasn’t flashy enough, namely getting her to drop herself off at the front door of the Screamer – but not until it was about two hours before deadline for the next day’s edition. That would give her enough time to shock the newsroom with her return and still leave enough to get a front pager about her oh-so-terrifying ordeal. And that would set her up for the next ‘investigation’ piece on Johnny Beardy, Deep Cluck, and the chickens.

Two days later, as I watched Vee stepping into her transport, Deep Cluck holding open her door like some sorta valet, my heart was thumpin in my throat even though I was tryin to look like none of this was worryin’ me in the least. I think maybe I cared about this kid more than I even wanted to admit to myself. That morning, after we’d had some breakfast that actually wasn’t half bad, we had a chance to spend a couple minutes alone outside the shack just out of earshot of our new best friends. Vee grabbed my hand and squeezed it tight, then gave me a quick peck on the cheek.

“So Vee, tell me this; everybody back in town is missing you, right? Stories all over the front page asking where could you possibly be. But nobody even knows I’m gone. Or nobody gives a damn. One or the other. Why you think that is?”

Vee giggled, which wasn’t exactly the sympathetic note I was aimin’ for. But then she bumped me hard with those wide hips of hers before pulling me close, and I was startin’ to feel that itch.

“ ’Cause I’m adorable! But seriously, look, I know you, hey? And you know I do. But I don’t want you to worry about me, all right? I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl, and you and I both know this isn’t the first time I’ve been close to trouble, hey? I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”

“Um-hm. So if you’re so sure, then how you figure you’re gonna pull this off? ‘Cause you know how this has gotta end, right?”

“I’m still working that one out, doll. You know I do my best work on my feet. It’ll come to me.”

“Somehow that just doesn’t leave me in a calm state of mind, kid.”

Like what you’ve read so far? Get the book to see how it all ends! Then get Part 2!

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kaoblues
Writer and musician.

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