House of Pain vs Bel Biv Devoe – Jump Around/Poison mash-up…
I drain my Sloe Gin Sling quickly, as Sandy hurries to my side.
“Are you all right, Miss Bellum?” he asks.
“I think I just need some fresh air,” I say, rising unsteadily from my seat. “Who was that?”
“No-one of interest,” he assures me. “There are other parasites here besides the Squidmorphs! We will take a turn around the fountain in the courtyard. The scent of the lilies and wisteria will revive you.”
He gallantly offers me his arm. We head through the bustling bar and out through the far side, into the glorious dappled sunshine of a shady walled garden within the buildings. A bubbling fountain in the centre cools the air, and the rainbow array of flowers are a soothing contrast to the harsh hubbub indoors.
I try to take deep breaths as we walk around this little oasis, before my brain is overwhelmed with further adjectives.
“This is quite normal for the Caruncula Casabladder, Miss Bellum,” Sandy reassures me, as I rest on the tiled edge of the fountain. The decoratively cool mosaic design is a relief through the seat of my all-too-thermal Naval uniform. “You must not take anything personally. But it is safe to talk here. It is one of the few places where it is safe to talk.”
For some reason I don’t feel like talking right now. I’ve just seen a man decapitated for sitting down at a table with me, and calling me a traitor. I’m more wary of further offending any other law-abiding citizens of the Eight a.m. Lounge, after that little display.
“You did mention treason,” I say at last, cautiously. “What constitutes treason here, exactly?”
“Attempting to broker or sell sacred hereditary objects, either whole or in constituent parts,” Sandy replies. “Sleeping with one’s mistress within the Palace walls, or courting a new one in his Lordship’s apartments. Procuring a beast for carnal knowledge. Watering-down of lamp-oil or medicinal spirits. Entering the Temple of the Moon on a Tuesday morning after 09:20 hours wearing a blue feather – Homer has had some narrow escapes there, I can tell you. Public preaching of sacrilegious texts, or unconfirmed UFO sightings. Many things, Miss Bellum. There is a six-hundred page moral addendum in the Library of Scrolls here if you would care to look – but it can only be accessed on a Thursday between 10:04 and 16:17 hours without committing…”
“Treason?” I guess, and he nods.
“Wise indeed. I can tell you are a woman who respects cultural differences!” he approves. “And what is your own personal heathen faith, if you will permit me to ask?”
“I would not dream of offending you by mentioning it aloud,” I reply, politely.
He grins broadly, revealing several gold molars.
“Clever girl.” He gestures around the courtyard. “We like to consider this a free society, in our decadent little Eight a.m. Lounge pied à terre, away from the rest of the civilized world – but you would be amazed how careful folk are. More than anywhere else. To do business in such a confined and limiting space, you will find good manners are learned quickly.” He sighs. “Life here functions very well. But there are others who are envious, who would wish to tax and regulate such a successful independent enclave. Introduce their hypermarket monopoly culture, and fast-food chains. Their modern places of mass consumer worship. Destroying the solitary businessman. Destroying the soul’s own unique journey through life – and the afterlife.”
“I can see why defending the Lounge is so important,” I venture.
“You will have noticed similar tendencies elsewhere also!” he agrees, in his usual enthusiastic way. “Arming themselves to the teeth, ready for any invasion from either side, yes? Practising their skills and manoeuvres, maybe?”
A small part of my hindbrain kicks me in the upper lobes. Perhaps what he means, is: HAVE you noticed similar tendencies elsewhere?
Is he fishing for tactical information on the sly…?
“I wouldn’t be qualified to answer,” I reply at last, honestly. “I saw a lot of laundry being done, and some failed attempts to brew Guinness. But that’s about it.”
“Hmmm,” he muses. “Yes… where Guinness is concerned, a plentiful supply of clean laundry is certainly necessary. I do not think you have anything to concern yourself about there, Miss Bellum.”
I’m already concerned… in a tactic of my own, I try changing the subject.
“Will Cottoneye Joe – I mean, your brother B’Dah B’Dim – will he have the right medicines for Homer?” I query.
“The best tonics known to mankind are right here in the Caruncula Casabladder,” Sandy confirms, proudly. “We will soon have that curious brain and those wayward kidneys of my cousin’s functioning properly again.”
A sudden supersonic roar overhead makes me jump, and three triangular flat shadows streak above the courtyard. Across the walled city, a Doppler of automatic rifle-fire follows them, joined by a chorus of indignant shouting.
“What was that?” I ask, half-deafened by the noise.
“Those are aerial spies from the Nine a.m. Lounge,” Sandy tells me. “Every day, they fly past, hoping to find us swallowed up by the desert, so that they may move in and expand their territory. Fools. They look forward to the day they believe that the taxmen and regulators will flatten our haven of peaceful business, and turn it into some ghastly modern theme park of glass and cement. They are too narrow-minded to see that without the Eight a.m. Lounge, there is no Nine a.m.”
He reaches inside a fold of his robes. I gulp.
Am I about to be sacrificed also?
But instead of the dagger I am expecting, he produces a tiny handmade notebook – almost an exact miniature replica of Mr. Dry Senior’s diary!
He turns it reverently in his fingers. It is only about an inch tall.
“You will take this micro-text to the Nine a.m. Lounge,” he states. It does not sound like a request. “There, you will give it to our contact in the Dry family empire. He will know what to do.”
Oh, my God – I’m being press-ganged into becoming a spy!
“But…” I begin, as he presses the small leather-bound book into my hand and closes my fingers around it. “Who? How will I tell?”
Before Sandy can speak again, there is a crash in the wisteria behind him, as something falls heavily from the roof. We both turn to view the damage.
A dusty shape groans, and tries to stand upright.
I’d recognise that brown Christian Audigier hooded jacket with the gold skull motif on anywhere…
“Luke!” I shout, as Sandy’s scimitar finds his sword-hand again, prepared to strike.
Our Nigerian taxi-driver – and thief, Mr. Lukan – leaps free of the shrubbery, eyes widening wildly. From a standing jump, he avoids the sweep of Sandy al Dj’eBraah’s blade, flying onto the uppermost rim of the stone fountain.
“Sarah!” he cries out to me, running around the narrow circumference to evade the slashing thrusts, kicking up diamond-like droplets of water from the shallow marble bowl. “It’s not what you think!”
“You stole the clockwork hand!” I shout back at him. “That was given to me to look after!”
“You don’t understand!” he yells, on his second or third lap of the fountain. “It doesn’t belong…”
He is interrupted by a second flying shadow. From the terracotta tiled roof of Casabladder, a glistening flash of bare-torsoed wiry muscle and dark Naval uniform trousers leaps, coiled like a spring, and lands with a menacing splash – right in the marble alongside.
My heart implodes. Oh boy – Ace Bumgang sober…
“Cough it up, dude,” Ace says, without any attempt at preliminary Machiavellian wordplay.
Luke curses, and jumps the opposite way, desperately. Fear propels him to the far side of the roof, where he barely grabs the guttering before scrambling upward the rest of the way, and disappearing across the protesting clay tiles.
“Ace!” I cry. He glances down at me briefly, muscles twitching and ready, like an Adonis on Aspartame. My heart is using my uvula as a trapeze! I try to swallow it back down. “Ace – who’s looking after the camels?”
Nice, Sarah Bellum, says my self-esteem – putting my ego into a headlock and drop-kicking it into my large intestine. Show him where your priorities lie, why don’t you?
“Carvery and Amiira,” he replies, flatly. He shrugs to flex his shoulders, and clicks his neck. “Stay there, I’m going after Luke.”
And he jumps clear across the square to the other rooftop, landing with both feet on the tiles before running after the taxi-driver, in pursuit.
“They must be stopped!” Sandy gasps as they depart, sheathing his sword. “It is forbidden. There will be uproar! The hounds will be unleashed!”
“Let me guess,” I say, once my heart has recovered from Ace’s energetic display. I wave my hand in the direction he has just taken. “Treason?”
“Yes! You have a keen mind, Sarah Bellum!” Sandy claps me on the shoulder, almost knocking me over. “But not by Mr. Bumgang…”
“I meant Luke – for stealing the clockwork hand!” I interrupt, trying to explain.
“No, no, Miss Bellum!” Sandy is almost frothing at the beard. “Our sister Amiira has been left alone with the camels – and Mr. Slaughter! No chaperone! It is forbidden!”
“Really?” I exclaim, but he is already ahead of me. I hurry after him, back into the bar.
Ooohh – I wonder which bits of Carvery they’ll cut off first?? I hope we’re not too late to see that…
District 13/Banlieue 13 Ultimatum original trailer (en Francais) – Salut! 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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