The Mayonnaise Murders, Chapter 9, Scene 2

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When the lights did come back on, I guess I wasn’t that surprised to see our hosts were nowhere in sight. I was a little surprised to see we were all in what looked to be a whole other room, even though not one of us had flexed so much as a gill or a beak since the departure of the Twins. And right there on the table in front of us (for some reason the table was the same) was a copy of the latest edition of the Daily Screamer. Neatly folded. Looked like it hadn’t even been opened. The story that ran above the fold featured a boxed headshot of my girl Vee, smiling like her life depended on it. Her byline ran just underneath the photo and above the headline, which read, “Missing Page Scratcher Mysteriously Returns to Work. Tells Horrific Tale of Flesh-Eating Chickens.”

“Dude, is it just me, or is this not a good sign?”

“No. It is not. Now let’s go. Quickly.

Butch looked like he was about to explode.

“Flesh-eating chickens? Flesh-eating chickens???”

“OK, now wait a minute, Butch,” I said, trying to invent an explanation in my head on the spot because I was pretty sure if I didn’t my life expectancy was going to shrink from years and months to, well, any minute now. And sure enough, just the sound of my voice was all Butch needed to try and leap over the table. Beardy, who was a lot stronger than he looked, grabbed Butch by the wing and used his brief momentum to slam him to the ground.

“Yo, now’s not the time. We’ll get our answers later. Right now we need to do like Cluck says and get the hell outta here.”

“I promise you there’s a reason for why she did it this way, Butch, OK? I know Vee. Known her a long time. There’s no way she would ever go back on her word. If she says she’s gonna do something then that’s what she’s gonna do. Plus she knows you guys have got me. She’s not gonna say anything that could get me killed, guys. C’mon.”

Or at least I hoped she wouldn’t. But right then, as Beardy was cautiously letting Butch up off the floor, I couldn’t help but wonder about what I thought was the real concern here, namely why the Twin Uglies thought it might be fun to drop this article in front of us like this. Exactly what kinda message were they trying to send…?

The next day, as we were all beginning preparations for the trip, I took Cluck aside and suggested he let me make contact with Vee. I didn’t expect him to go for it.

He went for it.

“Perhaps that might not be such a bad idea. Indeed, had you not suggested it I am afraid I quite likely would have been forced to insist. Scary, yes?”

“Yeah. Scary. Sure. Now here’s the thing, OK? You guys have gotta give me some leeway with this. With Vee, I mean. I know how this looks, but I’m tellin’ you again; there’s no way she’s screwing us on this.”

“I see. So when you say’leeway’, you mean…”

“I mean don’t just use this as your chance to use me to draw her out so you guys can put a hit on her. I know it’s against your nature, but we gotta go innocent until proven guilty here. You are familiar with the concept, right?”

“I am familiar with quite a few things that I do not agree with or condone, Mr. Vid, but in this instance I will give you the leeway you request. Simply because my gut tells me you are probably correct.”

I extended my hand so we could shake on it, but he just gave my outstretched hand a look like it was carrying a special sort of disease and walked away. I shrugged.

“OK then. Fine. Hey, I’ll get back to you.”

“Yes. You will. And don’t let it take too long.”

It took three days. It probably didn’t have to, but I didn’t want it to look like making contact with Vee was all that easy, even though it was much easier than it should have been after the story she’d just written. Since my name wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the story, and since it didn’t seem like anyone much cared that I’d been missing – very much unlike Vee – I pretty much slipped into a poor man’s disguise (just in case anyone really had been missing me even if it was for all the wrong reasons) and then appeared on the first floor of the Screamer at the front desk, half my face hidden behind a pair of monstrous dark glasses, telling an amused-looking grossly overweight security guard that I had come to leave a secret message for Vee.

“A secret message, eh? From somebody who looks like you? Gee. I don’t think so.”

“Oh. You don’t think so? Or you just don’t know how to think?”

Instead of getting pissed off, which is definitely what I was going for, the guard’s amused half-grin exploded into a full grin, exposing a row of sharp little teeth.

“You got jokes I see.”

“No. You weren’t listening. Your mother’s the one with the jokes. I said I got a secret message for Vee, and it’s a message I can guarantee you she’s gonna wanna hear.”

“OK. Now you’re starting to get annoying.”

“Not yet I’m not. Just wait, though. HEY! VEE! IF YOU WANNA HEAR MY MESSAGE, COME MEET ME. YOU KNOW WHERE. I WON’T LEAVE TIL YOU GET THERE.”

I was looking straight into the security camera when I said this because I knew this meant they would have to show it to Vee to see if she could identify me as any kind of threat, or if she even knew me at all. I knew the cheap disguise would make it easy for her. And I also knew I had to get my ass outta there in a hurry soon as I left my message, because now Mr. Way-Too-Damned-Fat-To-Be-A-Security-Guard was radioing all his other rent-a-goons to come to the front desk right away so they could stomp me into dust. That’s not actually what he said, but I think it conveys the general meaning.

I was back out the front door and around the corner before he’d even put the receiver down. It was hilarious to me how security actually expected somebody to ‘come back here’ just because they were wearing uniforms. If crooks were that obedient there wouldn’t be any need for security, don’t you think?

Half an hour later I was at the Potta Crocka, which had always been our favorite spot for havin’ a long sip of hot crocka, or just to sit around and talk about whatever if we couldn’t come up with any particular excuse not to be wherever each of us should have been at the time. The Crocka, which is what everybody called it for short, was pretty much built to be everybody’s favorite little spot. Just a comfy little spot, the kinda 24-hour nook where there were always enough folks inside to keep the hum and buzz going, but never enough to cause a racket. When you thought about it, it really was kinda magical how a place could always manage to steadily attract just the right number of people and the right kinda folks attracted to the right kinda dim lighting where nobody much stood out or attracted any attention unless they wanted to, which nobody ever did. The kinda folks who wouldn’t bother to notice that a celebrity page scratcher and an on-the-lamb private detective in a cheap costume. It was like critters who didn’t fit knew it before they ever set foot inside and just kept walkin.

It was beautiful.

Anyay, it was still light outside, but it was gonna be getting dark soon, which meant the older crowd was due to start rolling through pretty soon. That was good ‘cause it meant the atmosphere was likely to be even more relaxed, which is just what was needed for whenever Vee showed up. I looked at my watch and saw it was close to 4, which meant it would probably be a few more hours before she could find a way to make it over without someone trailing her. When the waitress came around I calmly put my hand to my forehead, covering most of my face while I put in an order for an extra tall cup ‘cause I suspected this could be a long one.

Five-and-a-half hours later, Vee comes sashayin’ through the door, those beautiful hips swayin from side to side like a metronome. Even though there were a fair number of critters lounging around, she made a straight line for where I was sitting before she’d even really looked in my direction. Like I said, we’d been comin there for quite awhile. Soon as she sat down a different waitress showed up who I recognized as a young kid that had always looked up to Vee as some kinda role model. I guess what the kid didn’t know couldn’t hurt her.

“You want the medium crocka with cherry cream, and one of those little yellow rolls, right, Ms. Vee?” she said, her eyes sparkling.

“You got it, sugar. So how’s that book you’ve been working on? You finish that second chapter yet?”

The kid shrugged, looking kinda shamed.

“Naw, not yet. But almost! Havin’ a hard time deciding how I think it ought to end, you know? Every time I think I got it nailed, I realize it doesn’t fit and then I’m right back where I started all over again. That ever happen to you?”

“All the time, sugar. All the time. Goes with the territory. Listen, you hang in there and don’t let me catch you thinkin you’re gonna give up. You keep at it, hear?”

I swear you coulda plugged in the whole city to that girl’s smile and still had power left over to run the suburbs. Kid was ecstatic.

“Oh you know I would never do that, MissVee! And next time you come through here I’m gonna have it all done, you’ll see! Man, I’m so glad you’re back, you know? We all are. I don’t know what I would have done if…well…”

“Shhh…It’s OK, honey. And thank you. I’m glad I’m back too. Now me and my friend here, we’ve got just a little business we’ve got to tend to so…”

“Oh! Miss Vee I am so sorry! And here I am running my mouth and you’ve got company sitting right there and here I am…anyway. I’m just such a fan! But if you need anything you just flag me down and I’ll be right here, OK? Just flag me down! And Mister, please accept my apologies, would you? I certainly did not mean to intrude on your lovely evening.”

I grinned and nodded, working to keep the front edge of my brim over just enough of my face that she wouldn’t be able to tell who she was looking at between the shadow and the size of the hat.

“No charge, doll. No charge at all.”

She beamed a smile, then backed away so fast I was surprised there wasn’t a draft.

Vee and I looked at each other. We smiled.

“Now you? You I may have to charge just for how good you look, babe.”

Vee’s gills flushed purple on the edges, which was just what I was goin for.

“Stop, Vid. Besides we don’t have a whole lot of time.”

“You know how long I been waitin’ here?”

“You know what I mean.”

I sighed.

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do. So we should probably get right to it, and you gotta know what’s at the top of my list, right?”

For a split second Vee looked almost scared, which was highly unusual for her, but then I realized it wasn’t fear I’d glimpsed in those eyes but something else. Something that sent a bit of a shiver through me.

“Vee..? What is it, doll?”

She looked away, then started chewing her bottom lip, which definitely was not a good sign.

“You know, maybe we ought to wait until the crocka gets here…”

“And you know, normally I might think that would be a good idea? But something about the way you’re actin’ all of a sudden makes me think maybe I oughta hear this sooner than later.”

She kept staring away from me at nothing in particular, or at least at nothing I could see, until I was just about to say something else to bring her back from wherever she’d drifted to.

“You’re right,” she whispered.

I leaned forward, my heart startin to pump a bit faster.

“What’s that…?”

She turned to face me again, and right then I told myself that no woman with eyes and lips like that, and all the trimmings that came with them, could ever say anything that would bring me any kind of pain. But right after that I told myself how stupid that sounded because it was precisely from women who looked this kinda good that all the best pain came hand-delivered and wrapped with a bow.

“You know I wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt you, right? I mean, not on purpose. You know that, right?”

I mean, not on purpose.

“Sure…sure, babe. I know that. I’ve always known that. We go back, you and me.”

It was a tiny smile, but at least it was a smile. Enough for me to hang my hope on that my Vee was still my Vee.

“Yeah…yeah I guess we kinda do, huh?”

I nodded with a hopeful smile.

“You wanna know the thing that I’ve always loved about you the most, Vid? I mean absolutely more than anything else?”

“My drop-dead good looks?”

Normally my corny style of humor would have gotten a loud laugh from my girl, but this time all I got was a soft chuckle that I could barely hear.

“Silly. You know, you are a good-lookin critter, even though you’ll never let yourself believe me when I try to tell you. But naw, that’s not it this time, Vid. No, the thing I’ve always loved about you so much was how I knew I could always count on you, no matter what. No matter what. You’ve always been so dependable, so reliable. I could always count on you to be you, you know?”

I nodded again, but my smile was slipping. I could smell where this was going and my whole body was starting to tense up, getting ready for whatever.

“Kinda the same way I’ve always felt about you, kid,” I said. “You’ve always been my Vee.”

“And I always will be, Vid, which is what’s making this so hard. See, the thing is? The thing is it looks like I’m not the only one who knows how much they can count on you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re here to ask me about that story, right? The one about the flesh-eating chickens? Vid, you know how much those crazy clucks get on my nerves, but you know I know they aren’t flesh-eating. And you know I would never write anything I knew wasn’t true, especially if I thought it was going to get you into any kind of trouble. And a story about flesh-eating…”

“So you’re saying…?”

“I’m saying they knew enough about you to know how you’d react. They knew this would flush you out. God you don’t know how much I was hoping this time, just this one time you’d be different. Or that Cluck and them wouldn’t let you come. Anything. But then…”

“Wait. Vee. Something here isn’t right. But first of all, who are they? You couldn’t mean…

Vee just stared, her fearful expression answer enough. Jesus. If this was true…

“Then I’m already dead.”

“Don’t say that! Don’t you ever say that!”

“Vee, you know who they are and you know how they operate. Hell, you’re the one tried to write that story about them three years back, and you remember how that turned out, right?”

Vee suddenly started to shake, as if the temperature in the room had suddenly dropped 40 degrees, but then forced herself to come back under some measure of control. I was sorry I’d brought up that episode, especially since I knew more than anyone how much she wanted to forget it.

“But why are they running me down, Vee? What did I do? I know I’ve been missing for awhile, but you’re the only one anybody actually missed, or at least I thought. Is it because of that stunt I pulled at the paper in the lobby? But then you said they knew how I’d react so why would that piss them off enough to…I’m confused…”

“Not as confused as I was once I got back to the paper, Vid. I thought everything was the same, until I found out it wasn’t. I haven’t got time to explain a whole lot, but you’ll figure it out soon enough. What you need to know is that somebody saw us when we made contact with Deep Cluck that night, and somehow that was enough for them to start putting together some pieces that they’ve been looking at for a real long time. They’ve been after Deep Cluck for years, Vid, hey? Years.”

I started to ask another question, but that was when I spotted the waitress on her way back from across the diner, her face glowing as if nothing in the world could possibly be wrong. Right then, at that moment, that simple, happy way of looking at things was worth more to me than anything else in the world. Right at that moment I would have traded whatever was left in my shabby little bank account just to be living inside her innocent view of the way things oughta be.

Then I noticed the door swing open just as she was passing it on her way towards us, and that snatched her attention away. What she saw put a question mark on her face, as if she couldn’t quite make sense of something. What I saw pumped my chest so full of ice I couldn’t breathe, my mouth sucking air like a fish out of water.

“Vid? What is it, hey? Vid!”

Then she turned to see what it was I was looking at.

“Oh my…but how…? I mean there’s no way that soon, there’s just…no way…

The confusion and fear in Vee’s voice made me pull myself together real fast, because I knew I had to. A sudden realization that my time was running out on me, that it might be over within the next few minutes, forced me to focus like my life depended on it. Because it probably did. What came through the doors at Crocka wouldn’t look that terrifying to anyone who didn’t know what it was they were looking at, which was probably why the waitress looked more confused than anything else. Unlike any of the other critters on Planet 10 – or anywhere else, for that matter – the two Gerruh didn’t have any gills, and their skin color was kind of an off purple that tended to make critters wince involuntarily, as if it hurt to look at them. And in a way it kinda did because they were ugly as all hell, but in an unsettling kinda way, not the kinda way that puts ice in your chest and makes it so you can’t breathe right. The other unsettling thing about the Gerruh was how they could appear so calm and ready to explode all at the same time. And they loved to kill things, which was exactly why the Keystones loved to hire them for the hardcore jobs they weren’t qualified to do, which was actually a lotta jobs since the Keystones were just a buncha clowns who liked to strut around in uniforms blowin whistles.

So as they stood there just inside the doors, both of them wearing the same jet black suits and square top hats, their reddish-green eyes scanning slowly from left to right across the thick and curious crowd that almost instinctively started stepping aside to give them a wide berth of space they hadn’t even asked for, my hand clamped on Vee’s leg under the table, which was something I normally would have never done no matter how much I flirted with her. I never wanted her to think I disrespected her, but this had nothing to do with flirting or disrespect, and she knew it. Gently, I felt her small hand settle on top of mine.

“Vee, there’s just one thing I want you to tell me, and you’re gonna have to tell me real quick because…”

“You’ve gotta take me with you.”

“What…? What?!??”

“Look, I’ll answer whatever you want me to answer, and I’ll help you explain everything to Cluck and his crew, but if you don’t take me with you right now, they’re going to kill me, all right? Because the only way they know you’re here has got to be because they know I’m here. Otherwise, as long as you’ve been waiting for me, how come they didn’t come looking for you earlier? Vid, please…”

I noticed two doors leading into the kitchen flapping open just off to my left, then squeezed Vee’s hand real hard. She winced and started to say something else, but then her eyes followed my line of sight and she simply nodded. I started to get up, but then next thing I knew the waitress was back at our table. I couldn’t help but notice how she had stood herself almost exactly in the right spot to block the Gerruh from spotting us right away. She was holding a large tray expertly on one hand with our orders, which was fine, but there was something funny about her smile…

“Oh! You know what? I almost forgot we’d even ordered and I think we’re just going to…”

She leaned over like she wasn’t paying attention to a thing I was saying as she methodically unloaded the tray, placing our orders in front of us real neat.

“You guys can’t make your move until I say, but when I do you’re gonna have to stay real low and head straight for those doors. There’s an alley out back. My transport is parked right next to the dumpster with the keys in it. It’s the only transport back there. As soon as you move, Voris and Varnella here are going to take your seats. Do this right, and everything should work out fine, OK?”

Not much in life confused me, but this little maneuver was putting my brain in a pretzel twist that hurt.

“Excuse me, doll, but exactly what kinda waitress are you anyway? You the new super duper improved factory model or what?”

“One of these days maybe I can explain, but right now it’s time for you to go. Now. GO.”

Vee and I exchanged quick glances, then we slipped out of our chairs without another thought. Voris and Varnella, a couple that somehow looked a hell of a lot like us, was in our seats just that quick and starting to eat our order. I gotta say it kinda pissed me off as well as made me hungry, but first things first, right? And the first thing was to get the hell outta there before the Gerruh found out what was going on.

And sure enough, just like the Super Waitress said, there was a transport parked and ready right next to the dumpster out back with a pair of keys hanging in the ignition. I looked at Vee, raising an eyebrow.

“Tell me you’re not wondering the same thing,” I said.

“You mean that this is some kind of set up?”

“Yeah. That.”

“Look, if we’d stayed in there then we were dead anyway, hey? The Gerruh would have killed us right there in front of all those critters before we even got a chance to take the first bite. So in a way we’re really dead already, we just kinda got an extension, right? And if this transport actually starts, and we put some distance between ourselves and this place, then that extension just keeps getting longer. So let’s get in the damned transport already, Vid, OK?”

“You drive,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because I got this feeling we’re gonna need a female driver.”

“What’s that supposed to…? Oh never mind. Fine. Just get in.”

And so that’s what I did, and the key actually did work, and the car actually did start, and 10 minutes later we were approaching the city’s border. The Dregs stretched out in front of us like a big black stretch of nothing, which was pretty much what it was. I looked over at Vee, scrunched my eyes.

“What?” she asked.

“You had that worked out with the waitress the whole time, huh?”

Vee grinned.

Damn you’re slow.”

Like what you’ve read so far? Buy the books! The Mayonnaise Murders Part 1 and Part 2

 

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kaoblues
Writer and musician.

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