Thursday, July 24, 2008

One Day in a Small-Town Desert, chapter 19, page 9

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Lawperson Séara Nulıpésha drove her cruiser slowly forward toward the mob of news reporters and photographers. They obviously could see Bhanar sitting in the front seat and focused all their cameras on him.

She didn’t think Vomıvé would agree to let her lead the hunt for Zhudıro at Rosí Spring, but she wasn’t about to call in the information. It could wait until they got to the Kılímos’ house, when she might be allowed to join the hunt. Vomıvé probably wouldn’t believe the divine information, anyway, at least not till he heard it direct from Bhanar. The emperor exuded confidence and honesty.

Once the cruiser stopped, Séara turned off the engine and got out to close the gate, locking the auto door behind her.

“Where are you taking Bhanar?” “Has he been released?” Microphones shoved at her face from all directions. “What does the emperor have to do with the Enforcer murder?”

Séara staggered back against the side of the auto, shutting her eyes to the swarm. Quickly, though, she steeled herself and opened her eyes, her jaw tight.

“Get out of my way,” she commanded, with a wave toward the back of the cruiser. Before the reporters could react, she started walking toward the gate, forcing them to scurry backwards out of her path.

“If I may make a few comments,” declared Bhanar in a loud, clear voice, from the other side of the auto.
The lawperson forgotten, the reporters surged around the vehicle, racing to stick their microphones and cameras in Bhanar’s face and get the scoop.

With a sigh of relief, Séara walked unimpeded to the gate. As she pulled the chainlink gate shut and locked it, Bhanar began his speech. When she turned back toward the auto, he was already standing atop the cruiser’s engine hood, addressing the reporters.

“I would like to thank everybody from all the worlds who has . . . supported me. I enjoy your support. I have not shown this, fully, in the past, but I do.”

For someone learning Sarıman as a second language, Séara thought he spoke the language rather well. He certainly didn’t cover his imperfect vocabulary with timidity. She headed back to the driver’s door of the cruiser.

He waved a hand at the precinct building. “This was . . . a misunderstanding. The Pívo County Constabulary were doing their jobs. They have now . . . let me go and dropped charges.”

What about Pí‘oro’s death? thought Séara. Was that a part of the constabulary’s job, too?

“They . . . concentrate on catching the killer of the Colonial Enforcer, Zhíno Zhudıro.”

A few reporters shouted questions, but Bhanar waved them down, shaking his head.

“I have agreed to help them . . . in their search, as emperor and as having experience with Zhíno in . . . the trouble of last night.”

How skillfully Bhanar glossed over things like Pí‘oro’s death--and making it sound like Vomıvé had asked for Bhanar’s help. Séara knew Bhanar hadn’t forgotten Pí‘oro. He must just be keeping it from the public until the right time. He knew the information would just distract everyone from the true mission of catching Zhudıro and Parızada.

Standing regally with feet apart on the hood of the cruiser, Bhanar kept talking about his experience the night before and his desire to bring justice not just to this one situation, but to the entirety of the old empire. All the reporters were enthralled by the pseudo-emperor who till this moment had shunned their kind.

A man in black burst out of the building, rifle in his hand. Séara placed her hand on her pistol, but didn’t draw. The rifle pointed downward and his hands were nowhere near the trigger.

“Your Royal Majesty!” he called.

Who was this man? Was he really a royalist?

The crush of reporters parted, half the cameras swinging to focus on the newcomer.

Bhanar stopped midsentence, his mouth slightly agape, and stared at the oncoming man in black.

The man raced up to the auto. “Your Majesty, your rifle.” He thrust the gun upward.

Bhanar snatched up the rifle with a crisp nod to the man in black. He raised the rifle overhead and, to the assemblage, declared, “If you will excuse me now, I have a killer to catch!” With that, he jumped to the asphalt.

The reporters shouted more questions en masse, but Bhanar ignored them. With one more glance at the mysterious royalist, Séara reopened the auto door and unlocked Bhanar’s. They climbed in and slammed them shut, cutting off the yells of the crowd.

A gleam in his eyes, Bhanar asked, “How was that?”

(end of chapter)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

One Day in a Small-Town Desert, chapter 19, page 8

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Umo Amuéné followed the detective between two rows of orderly desks, devoid of lawmen, as they headed toward the evidence storage room. Lango cracked his knuckles as he trailed behind.

Why did small-town policemen have to be so sensitive about their territory? Like dogs. Umo knew he should have known to be more careful about that. You have to sweet-talk these people. Hérazhahívo didn’t get Rakazhazhíní into bed by yelling at Her, that’s for sure.

“Zhudıro is from the Míníhépamí area, in and out of prison a number of times,” said Umo. “Drugs, theft, small stuff.”

Marıdaré opened the door to the evidence room, scowling at Umo.

“Yes, yes. We know all that. Tell me something new.”

Lango huffed, about to say something, but Umo cut him off.

“What would you like to know? Perhaps this would work better if you let me know where the gaps in your knowledge are.” Umo glanced around the evidence room, but didn’t see any boxes or bags that overtly looked like Gogzhuè’s weapons shipment.

“Well,” said Marıdaré, before pausing to spit tobacco juice into a glass bottle. “What’s his support network? Where will he run?”

Umo averted his eyes from the nasty bottle of cloudy brown liquid in the detective’s hand.

How much information could he divulge without compromising his mission, without compromising Gogzhuè?

“He doesn’t have much of a support network. As I said, Zhudıro’s a low-level runner. I doubt anyone in the organization would lift a finger to help him now.” He gestured at the shelves of boxes. “Where’s the evidence for this case? Maybe I’ll recognize something useful.”

The detective grunted and grabbed a three-foot-long cardboard box off a shelf. He plonked it down on a nearby table and opened the lid. Inside were a pair of tagged rifles, a handgun, some bagged bullet casings, a stack of photographs--duplicates, likely--and bags of what looked like broken glass and bloody gravel.

“Is this it?” blurted Lango. He needed to learn to keep his mouth shut.

“Were you expecting something more?”

Umo gave a brief glare to his greasy partner. “Can we see Zhudıro’s auto?” He must’ve dumped the weapons, but it was still worthwhile to look at his vehicle. Umo didn’t trust the locals to catch every clue.

Umo picked up one of the rifles--a solid, older model--and flipped over the constabulary’s tag.

“Yes, his auto is--”

“This rifle is Bhanar’s,” interrupted Umo. “Is he still a suspect?”

“No,” replied the detective. “Actually, that can be. . .” He spat into his bottle and reached for a telephone on the wall by the door. Without dialing, he said into it, “Lawman Nulıpésha, please report to Evidence.” His voice crackled on a loudspeaker overhead.

Another man’s voice responded on the loudspeaker, “She just left. Should I order her back?”

A deeper man’s voice answered, “They’re stopped out front. Reporters.”

“I’ll take it to him,” offered Umo. His pulse quickened. He was going to meet the emperor!

Marıdaré commanded on the telephone, “Laparıpasamé, tell her to wait a minute.” To Umo, he said, “I’ll need to sign it out, Agent.”

As Umo gripped the rifle with both hands, the detective checked the number on the tag with the box’s list and scribbled on one line. He nodded to Umo.

Thus released, the pompadour-bedecked royalist spun and slammed through the door. Racing across the office, a smile cracked his lips for the first time in a year.

(next page)

Monday, July 21, 2008

One Day in a Small-Town Desert, chapter 19, page 7

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Zhíno Zhudıro needed to get out of the void. He could hear Pí‘oro and Fírí talking, preparing to ride, on the run from the police.

But once he got back to the real world, what would he do? Could they really escape the police? Could they really escape the long reach of Gogzhuè? It seemed so unlikely.

If he had his choice, he’d go back to the way it was before the void, when he could run free with the buffalo, fly with the eagles, swim with the sharks. If he had his choice, Fírí and Pí‘oro would be able to join him there for eternity.

The universe exploded in a flurry of colors, noise, and odors. Solar yellow and rotting fish and rushing wind and sharp teeth in his flank. Zhíno cried out, but he couldn’t hear himself.

Névazhíno coalesced before him, a buffalo with the head of an eagle. He snapped His several rows of teeth at Zhíno as He stalked in a circle.

Zhíno fell to his knees, staring at the god. Was this the end of his existence? Had Névazhíno come to punish him for undoing what He had done?

“Good day, Zhíno. Are you well?”

Slowly twisting around as he watched the god, the human fell on his side. “‘Well’? I am lost in an infinite void, safe from those who wish me harm, but also separated from those I love. Are You not going to kill me?” Zhíno paused. “I can’t think a thought without saying it.”

Névazhíno flicked His antlers, tossing His head. “I know. That’s the way it works.” He pounced forward, his muzzle stopping centimeters short of Zhíno’s face.

Zhíno yanked his head inside his hard shell, but couldn’t resist peeking another look at the god.

With gouts of hot, odiferous breath, Névazhíno growled, “You healed My sacrifice. I should kill you now, but I won’t. It’s what you think you want, to have your soul run free through the infinite universe--not that death would bring that to you--so that would hardly be a punishment. No, you have unfinished business in the physical realm. By sacrificing yourself, you were avoiding your responsibilities. By giving your lifeforce to Pí‘oro, you were avoiding dealing with the consequences of your decisions.”

Zhíno snarled and coiled around himself. “The Tara-fucking void should count as a consequence, don’t You think?”

The god’s spiked tail swung towards the small animal, four razor-sharp barbs aimed to gore.

“Wake up now,” demanded Névazhíno.

Zhíno burrowed deep into the ground, but not quick enough. The God of Animals snatched Zhíno’s hind legs with His powerful jaws.

No pain. No bones cracked. No flesh tore.

Instead, a jolt of energy washed through Zhíno’s body, electrifying each and every cell.

The wave subsided. A heavy weight pushed inexorably into his gut. His entire body ached. Birds twittered. A horse snorted. He licked his cracked lips and managed to open an eye. A wall of short brown hair--horse hair--greeted his gaze at the tip of his nose.

“Fírí,” he rasped. “Pí‘oro! I’m awake.”

(next page)

Friday, July 18, 2008

One Day in a Small-Town Desert, chapter 19, page 6

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Vata Kılímí swam in the tightening essence of Névazhíno. This was how a prayer was supposed to feel. Uplifting, invigorating, empowering--as One with the Love of the Universe.

Dust swirled around the altar with a musky odor, closer and closer to Vata and the now-deceased cow.

Arms outstretched, knife held high, Vata intoned, “O Névazhíno, most pure and noble of all the gods, I beseech You to hear me, listen to me, speak to me. I beseech You to aid my husband. I beseech You to let Pí‘oro regain control of Pí‘oro’s body from the betrayer, Zhíno!”

She swayed to and fro, but Névazhíno’s spirit supported her. An ever-increasing roar consumed the chapel, the bellows and chirps and calls of all the worlds’ animals. Lightning snapped out of the dust cloud, striking the ceremonial knife, sparking each of the flaming braziers, seeking out each and every drop of sacrificial blood that flew on the wind. The divine spirit of the God of Animals coalesced around Vata and her deceased cow.

“O Névazhíno, I feel Your presence. Will You accept this sacrifice?”

Sunlight hit her face, warm and intensely bright. Vata squinted into the light, which was suddenly eclipsed by a enormous, antlered baboon with the wings of a pterodactyl. Névazhíno flapped his thunderous wings, swirling eddies in the howling vortex of dust and blood.

The god’s intense black eyes drew Vata close as He loomed taller. He sucked in a breath through his jagged teeth. The universe fell silent. For a brief moment, a flicker of fear passed through Vata’s soul.

Névazhíno tilted His head and replied, “No.”

Vata lost her footing, falling backwards to be sucked up by the demon-wind into the infinite sky.

“What?” she cried. “I’ve always honored You. I’ve always worshipped You above all others.”

Her world was nothing but a dark cloud of buffeting dust, pounding her body, knocking her nearly senseless.

“What more could I possibly do? What more could You possibly want?”

A massive object slammed into her back, pinning itself to her, not releasing.

She whispered, “What went wrong?”

As the dust cloud settled and Vata’s eyes began to focus on the chapel’s dark ceiling, Névazhíno’s harsh words drifted through her brain: “Pí‘oro was a sacrifice, as you should know. Zhíno has never controlled him. Stop wasting animals and stop bothering Me.”

No further thoughts crossed Vata’s mind but her god’s words, repeated incessantly by her own memory. “Stop wasting animals and stop bothering Me. Stop bothering Me!”

Vata wept.

(next page)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

One Day in a Small-Town Desert, chapter 19, page 5

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Tamé Vékídıpaíro parked his towtruck on the gravel in front of the Colonial Enforcer cruiser with a cracked front windshield. Despite the aspirin, a pain hit him between the eyes. He sincerely regretted the previous night’s activities, and the hangover wasn’t half of it.

As he climbed down from the cab, he spotted an Enforcer marching down the driveway towards him. “Oh, come on,” muttered Tamé. “This isn’t your auto I’m towing.” This one belonged to the dead guy.

Tamé hurried to the controls and began lowering the hook at full speed. He needed to get to a phone and call his cousin, Képé, as soon as possible, and he couldn’t do that till the police were off his back. He now had something that Képé might be interested in, something that might just save Tamé’s hide and his business. It was a good thing Séara had backed down so quick when he blamed her for ditching him. That could have been the end of it, right then and there, if she had known her speed had been reasonable.

When the hook hit the ground, Tamé shut off the motor and almost ran to the gap between the cruiser and his truck.

“Hey!” called the Enforcer, ten meters beyond the cruiser.

“Busy here,” replied Tamé as he hooked the chain to the auto’s frame below the bumper, his hands shaking. Had the police realized what he’d taken? No, if that were the case, they wouldn’t even bother with a “hey.”

The Enforcer stood over him. “Don’t give me that or I’ll have your Nazhoro ass in jail so fast you’ll--”

“What do you want?” Tamé interjected. He popped to his feet and walked back to the controls, deigning a glance at the annoyance of a policeman.

After a moment, the Enforcer answered, “They said that you’re only supposed to take this cruiser, and not the blue truck.”

Over the clattering of the chain lifting the cruiser’s front end off the ground, Tamé replied, “Yeah, I know,” even though it was news to him.

With the auto high enough, Tamé shut off the lift and hurried to lock the auto into place.

“Good.” The Enforcer turned and left. Tamé didn’t give him another thought.

If this new deal with Képé fell through, if Tamé had to sell his auto repair shop to Mapé, if he had to rename the place “Mapé’s Garage,” Tamé just might never come out of a drunken stupor. Life wouldn’t be worth living with that Voro-fucking lout in charge of things. He had to talk to Képé.

After scurrying under the cruiser to get the other side, Tamé paused to lift his cap and wipe his brow with a sleeve. It wasn’t hot out yet; he just hadn’t worked this hard in years.

He locked down the wheel and sprinted around to the cab door as fast as he could. His life and livelihood were on the line.

(next page)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

One Day in a Small-Town Desert, chapter 19, page 4

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Emperor Bhanar followed Nulıpésha into the room where they had previously processed him, fingerprinted him, and took his personal belonging and his belt.

He had to get Zhíno--for justice, for his empire, for Nulıpésha. But where did Zhíno disappear to, if the police couldn’t find him?

Outwardly patient, Bhanar waited while the heart-faced woman opened a file cabinet and retrieved a large, bulging envelope. “Here are your things.” She plopped the envelope onto a desk and shook out the contents.

Bhanar slipped his wallet and keys into his trouser pockets and began snaking his belt through the loops.

What had Zhíanoso said to him during his healing? Something about going to the springs and following the water downstream. It had stuck in his head because of the whole water/fire dichotomy.

“The wife of Pí‘oro said a water spring is north of the house. I need to go.” It had to be where Zhíno was, or else why would the High God of Fire mention it? Finding him was Bhanar’s goal. Zhíanoso would have known that. Zhíanoso knew everything: past, present, and future.

“Rosí Spring,” she replied. “A nice place to visit.” She eyed him suspiciously with a smirk. “Why?”

“Zhíno is there.”

Her face turned impassive. “How do you know?”

“Zhíanoso said to me.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Then let’s go. First, though, I’ll need you to sign here.” She held out a pen and pointed to a form on the desk.

Bhanar signed with a flourish--just his first name, even though the paper still had “Bhanar Narak” printed on it. He mentally growled at his father for shortening the family name and at his grandfather for giving up the empire. What a waste of potential.

Nulıpésha tucked the form away into a file. “It’s done.” She gestured to the other door in the room. “The lobby is through there.”

Bhanar opened the door--unlocked--and saw daylight for the first time since before all this madness began. Out the windows, bright sun bathed a fenced-in parking lot. Zhíno’s brown sedan sat out there like a lump, the rear window a maze of cracks from a bullet hole right in the center. Was that my shot? I am good.

“Tépíto,” Nulıpésha said, “I’m taking Bhanar back to his vehicle at the Kılímos. Here are the lockup keys.”

“All right, Séara,” said the dark-haired man behind the counter. “I’ll be here.”

Séara. Her name is Séara. Séara Nulıpésha. Beautiful.

Séara pushed open the exterior door. Bhanar followed her in a near-trance. She led him over to a police cruiser with “Pívo County Constabulary” written in large, red letters on the side. The sun hit him hot on the right side of his face.

“News reporters from all over the colony are swarming in the front parking lot. It’s not every day an emperor gets thrown in jail.” She gestured toward the passenger side of the auto. “You can sit in the front.”

As he headed that way, Bhanar replied, “I would like to talk to the reporters.”

He hadn’t expected to be addressing his public so soon, but he really should take the opportunity. He needed to make a proper speech of it--explain his night in the jail as a misunderstanding, show the worlds how an emperor should act, announce his coming aid--and Séara’s--in apprehending Zhíno, and be the friendliest, most regal version of himself.

Séara unlocked his door from inside and he climbed in. The dashboard confronted him with a marvelous array of electronics. Bhanar fought his urge to touch.

“Very well.” She frowned slightly, her lower lip protruding in a most enticing way. “I’ll stop the cruiser when we get around to the front.”

“Thank you, Séara.”

(next page)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

One Day in a Small-Town Desert, chapter 19, page 3

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Pí‘oro Kılímo stood up from where he’d been sitting against the wall of the cave. It was time to start moving again. The horses had cooled off.

A helicopter whirred in the distance. Pí‘oro paused, holding out his hand to shush the blonde girl before she said anything. The helicopter was getting closer.

“Helicopter,” he said while grabbing the reins of the horse furthest out in the open. She whinnied as he yanked her up the rocky slope to the back wall of the cave.

Fírí grabbed the other horse and tugged her out of sight, too. Unconscious Zhíno and the bags were already as far back as possible.

The helicopter grew louder, obviously heading for the spring. The trees were thick enough that the police wouldn’t be able to see into the cave from any angle, but if the police landed, Pí‘oro would be out of options. Should he try to make a break for it now? Pí‘oro glanced at his soul brother. He wouldn’t have enough time to secure him to a horse.

The helicopter paused overhead; his time was up.

“What do we do?” whispered Fírí, panic evident in her voice.

The cottonwoods flapped around in the helicopter’s downdraft. What are they doing up there?

An idea came to Pí‘oro, as good as any the goddess Sívorí would have. He rooted through the saddlebags till he found Zhíno’s pistol. He didn’t intend to shoot anybody, but the police wouldn’t know that. The police wouldn’t know that he and Fírí were working together, that she wasn’t his hostage.

“Load up the horses,” he ordered.

“What are you doing?” hissed Fírí as she stepped back, her eyes huge.

“Just load up the horses!”

Shoving the handgun in his pocket, Pí‘oro grabbed Zhíno and set him over the rump of his gray, tying his belt to the saddle straps. Fírí began tying the saddlebags to the roan.

Then the helicopter flew away, heading downstream.

Pí‘oro heaved a sigh, slumping back against the cool cave wall. Fírí stared at him, but Pí‘oro just rubbed his forehead. The next time the police came, he wouldn’t be so lucky.

(next page)