Star Wars vs. Yolanda Be Cool – We No Speak Cantina mash-up…
Presently, Sandy emerges from the surgery, and his face is as grave as a four-by-eight hole in the ground.
“Homer has had quite a booboo on the old noggin!” he announces. “My brother A’Bandaiid is doing his best, but he needs stronger medicine, to reduce the risk of water-on-the-brain. I will have to go to the Caruncula, in the Spice Market. Miss Bellum – you will do me the honour of accompanying me there!”
“I will?” I ask, nonplussed.
“Your companions Mr. Bumgang and Mr. Slaughter will guard the camels, and my fine cousin Crispin will stay with his brother,” Sandy explains. “It may be necessary – Crispin has been researching a cure, you know,” he adds, confidentially.
Yes – that I most certainly know…
I look at Crispin, who turns his face away from me, and stalks inside the surgery without a word.
My heart sinks, bootwards. Still not talking to me, then… only the welcome emergence of Ace and Carvery in turn halts my dejectedly blood-pumping organ on its descent.
“You heard the gossip in the surgery?” Sandy asks them, and they nod. “Good men. Keep those eyes peeled! Come, Miss Bellum!”
Oh – the gossip…
“What is happening here?” I ask, scampering to keep up with Asum al Dj’eBraah – I mean, Sandy’s longer stride. “You haven’t told me what this gossip is – only something about thieves…”
“Treason, Miss Bellum!” Sandy hisses, in a stage whisper. He takes an impossibly unpredictable route through the dusty labyrinth of streets, as if following an inner compass, twisting and turning until I feel like a Whirling Dervish. “But we cannot talk here. The walls have earwigs, as you say!”
I nod. I’ve seen enough wildlife already today not to doubt that in the slightest. Any ‘earwigs’ being casually (or mistakenly) referred to, most probably occupy that context with maximum presence and ferocity.
“The Caruncula is a safe meeting-place,” he continues. “Here, people from all over come to buy and barter goods, in exchange for a quiet corner and a bar tab.”
We cross a square to a white pillared façade, above which – out-of-place, it seems – is a neon sign, reading Casabladder.
Sandy points at the signwriting. “My brother, the owner, also calls it The Wee House. From the Scots, you understand. Be careful, though! Mercenaries visit, and sometimes have scores to settle.”
We go through the arched doorway. The layout is open-plan, the bar in the centre and potted plants all around, with a pianist and woodwind players on a podium to our right. But what could easily be an elegant corner of The Ritz or Savoy Hotel is rendered seedy by the buzz of the eclectic clientele – arguing, bartering, dealing and partaking in every corner.
“I am sick of diamonds!” I hear a rotund man grumble, as he tosses something bright and shiny back across the table at his unfortunate zombie companion – who looks starved, wearing only rags with his lopsided turban. “Everybody brings diamonds. Nothing but cheap mistress-magnets. Show me something new…”
Distracted by the impromptu sideshow, I walk straight into a wall of scented linen robes.
“Of all the elbow-joints in all of the dive bars in the world, you have to walk into mine?” a voice exclaims.
“Sarah Bellum,” Sandy says, catching my arm as the man turns, drawing himself up to an impressive six foot six height, examining the damage done to his robe by the spilled Champagne. “This is my brother, the owner of Casabladder. May I present to you B’Dah B’Dim al Dj‘eBraah – but the customers know him as Cottoneye Joe.”
B’Dah B’Dim – or Cottoneye Joe – looks down at me, his eyes glittering like polished granite.
“So this is Sarah Bellummm,” he rumbles, and I feel it right down to my curling toes. He beckons to the bartender. “A Sloe Gin Sling for the lady! And another bottle of Champagne.”
“My brother, we need medicine,” Sandy tells him – although a Sloe Gin Sling is more like something I’ve definitely felt was missing in the last three hours. “Homer has had an accident in the Well of Our Souls.”
“That Well of Our Souls is a liability,” grunts Cottoneye Joe. He nods to an armed attendant, who hurries away. “Remind me again why we do not dynamite it?”
“Someone did, remember?” Sandy hisses, in a low voice. “And someone else was not pleased!”
I wonder if that was what caused the underwater rock-fall we had to negotiate our way through… and who might not be pleased…? But before I can expand on those thoughts, the largest, frostiest, most delicious-looking Sloe Gin Sling is placed on the bar in front of me.
Oh, my – never mind the Well of Our Souls, I’d walk across broken glass, hot coals and any number of even hotter corpses to get to one of those…
“Miss Bellummm,” Cottoneye Joe says courteously, passing it into my eager hands. He gives Sandy a filled Champagne glass, before raising his own, in salute. “To my many guests.”
“Here is looking at your kids!” Sandy toasts me effervescently, before drinking.
“Er…” I cough slightly, my mouth desert-dry – but a gulp from the Gin Sling is wonderful. “Thank you.”
“Play something special for my brothers!” Cottoneye Joe hails the band. “Play ‘Sign O’The Times’…”
Strange choice, I think, as the band strikes up anew, with the eponymous hit by sex-thimble Prince. Rather melancholy… but the clientele seem to indulge their host, and merely nod and smile benevolently at him, raising glasses in turn, or adopting distantly introspective expressions of empathy.
How very curious…
Cottoneye Joe’s attendant returns, with a case. He opens it upon the bar. Sandy and his taller brother inspect the contents.
I peer over Sandy’s shoulder. It contains many small brown glass bottles and vials.
“Gizzard of Vulture?” Cottoneye Joe suggests. “Sweetbreads of Mongoose?”
“Something a little stronger, I fear!” Sandy concedes. “It is the water on the brain we need to divert. And a tonic for the kidneys, perhaps…”
“Hmmm.” Cottoneye Joe’s deep rumble curls my toes again, and I knock back another huge slug of Gin Sling to try and unwind. “A dose of Tree-Frog Venom? Mixed with Tongue of Vampire Bat, perhaps…?”
They are discussing medicines, I guess. The drink seems to be bypassing my brain and heading straight for my lower limbs, and I find myself sinking into a seat at a small table.
My thoughts return reluctantly to Crispin, waiting for the medicines with Homer at the surgery. Damn. How did I upset him? I mentioned Mr. Wheelie-Bin at the body farm, that was all – and he acted as though he was jealous! All we were doing was discussing his job offer to me – and he thought I was turning it down on the grounds of his being dead – and I tried to give him a compliment… He took it completely the wrong way…
The band plays on.
Some say a man ain’t happy truly, until a man truly dies, oh why?
But if he believes he has so much to offer – how can he be threatened by the thought of my talking to a rapidly-liquefying corpse in a plastic wheelie-bin? Crispin can’t have any real insecurities, surely?
I let out a morose sigh, and a shadow falls across my table.
“Sarah Bellum,” a stranger’s voice jolts me from my musings. “I was just here hoping to see your boss.”
“My boss?” I repeat. “It’s too late to see my boss. Pizza Heaven doesn’t re-open until noon.”
The voice chuckles, and its owner seats himself opposite, uninvited. I can’t tell if he is a zombie or otherwise. What I can see of his face through his turban and headdress is badly scarred, and the skin of his hands has a green tinge, mottled with purple papillomas.
“You don’t fool me, Miss Bellum,” he warns. “I know you are here with Crispin Dry. If you give me what he owes, perhaps I will forget the fact.”
What? I’m horrified. Crispin has unpaid debts?!
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say, as coolly as I can muster. I wish Sandy or Cottoneye Joe would turn and see my little predicament. Even more, I wish Ace and Carvery were here, instead of camel-herding. They love any excuse for a bar-brawl. “I’m a delivery-girl for Pizza Heaven, and I have no idea what or who you’re referring to.”
“Don’t play games with me, Miss Bellum,” the stranger continues. “You are a secretary for Crispin Dry at Dry Goods Inc, and a traitor. More fast-food delivery boys and girls have disappeared before you than you can possibly imagine…”
A traitor?? What the Hell?
“The more you try to convince me, Mister Scary Weird Green Guy,” I tell him, trying to raise my voice a little to attract attention, “the more your words will slip straight over my head.”
Finally – Sandy turns and sees the stranger sitting across from me, and reacts. And what a reaction!
With a roar of rage, Sandy draws his scimitar – and with a dull thud, the stranger’s head bounces off the table – and rolls onto the floor…
A terrible silence rolls out across the bar.
“Nothing to see here,” Cottoneye Joe announces, and waves to the band to continue playing. He claps his hands to signal the staff. “Clean-up at table seven!”
An opening scene from ‘Casablanca’ with Humphrey Bogart – Enjoy 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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