Friday, February 15, 2008
Apology Accepted, General Mowk
I was famished, so I decided to pop in on Dex Jettster. He’s the only one I know who can make graschner slugs taste better than my grandmother can. “Hey, Red!” Dex boomed as I walked into the diner. “The usual?”
“Please. And a cup of threein caf.”
Wiping his two dirtiest hands on his food-splotched apron, Dex poured me a steaming mug of black caf. With a flourish he flung two cubes of dried, fermented threein eggs into the mug. He placed a cap on it and shook it until it was finely mixed. Another minute and my graschner slugs were ready. Dex threw them into a to-go container and winked at me. “On the house, Red.”
I grinned and nodded my thanks to him as I left. I hopped into a cab and directed the driver to my barbershop. Oh, perhaps you didn’t know that barbershops existed on Coruscant? Well, mine’s one of the few (and probably the best) around. I mean, Jedi and Wookiees have to get their hair cut sometime, right?
Anyway, I walked into the shop and hungrily devoured the delicious food. When I finished, I started cleaning one of the razors that I regularly used. The bells above the door jangled barely a few minutes after I finished. I turned and saw a figure I truly never want to see again.
General Daqqer Mowk was a Gran…a Gran who had brutally murdered my family on Malastare. He didn’t know the identities of the people he had killed. No, it was just business, just a random raid formulated to enforce the idea that Grans were in charge on my homeworld. The Separatist scare was, and still is, in full force, and many of the people on my homeworld were torn between the Separatists and the Republic.
I clutched the razor. How I wanted to jump at him, slash his throat as he had my mother’s, tie him to the wall and cut his wrists as he had my father’s, cut out his heart as he had my brother’s…but I forced myself to smile at the general. He hadn’t even bothered to evict hundreds of families from their homes before he burned them down, but I plastered a smile and looked up at him.
Many Grans were congenitally hairless or shaved their hair, but Mowk had evidently not shaved in weeks, maybe even a month. His cinnabar-colored beard was nearly to his waist and his shiny belt buckle.
“Hello, Barber. I need a shave.” He removed his cap to reveal a head of curly red hair. “Head, too. All of it.”
I croaked past the ball forming in my throat, “Alright, sir. If you’ll kindly step this way and take a seat.”
As I prepared the razor, I glanced down and my eyes alighted on the drain in the middle of the floor. It was designed to drain used water. It funneled the water into plants specifically designed to recycle it. The water was boiled, captured as it evaporated, and frozen in its pure state. The excess was thrown into an incinerator.
The drain could easily funnel blood…but no. I would not disgrace my name…or would I?
I was nearly shaking as I wetted the razor. The Gran closed his three eyes with a long, low sigh. Few words were spoken as I cut, inch by inch, the beard adorning his smooth skin.
Not once did this…monster…I controlled the life of open his eyes. Not until I had finished did he open them, slowly, as if he were some creature awakened from a deep, peaceful sleep.
Despite my shaking, clumsy fingers, not a bit of stubble had been left unshaved. Mowk closely inspected his chin in the tall mirror, and then nodded in obvious satisfaction. He leaned back once more and awaited the touch of the razor on his scalp.
I watched out of the corner of my eye as the soapy, foamy water flowed and collected in a little whirlpool as it drained. I could almost see General Mowk’s blood flowing, running down the sides of the chair in little cascades. I looked upon this monster, upon his smooth, vulnerable throat, and could almost smell the distinct, metallic smell of blood.
With one slice I could finish him off once and for all. But what would my fellow Dugs say? What would they call me? “Rednax the hero,” or “Rednax the murderer, killer of a loyal government servant”? My name would be whispered in the alleyways, and all would know who was under discussion. “Rednax, the one who saved us from General Mowk — just to subject us to another tyrant, worse than the first!” The galaxy would no longer be a safe place for me, especially not Coruscant or Malastare. No, the Grans would make it worse for my kind, until the Dugs turned on me as well. Then they, the Grans and Dugs, would in all likelihood team up to hunt me down. They would not care that I was avenging my family. I would be forced to forge a new identity, become someone I was not.
I looked back down and found Mowk’s three eyes staring into mine. And somehow…he knew. He knew that I was an indirect victim of his massacres, but more so than most Dugs. He knew that he had butchered my family. I could feel it…and I hated him all the more for it.
I jumped back into action. Within a few standard minutes, the General’s head was glimmering, but it was as tough as a dewback’s hide.
With another forced, and hopefully not-too-nervous smile, I applied a lotion to soothe the scalp. “K-keep using this, sir, and your head will soon be smooth and soft, like a baby’s. Careful not to get it in your eyes,” I cautioned, waving a slightly quivering finger at him. “It’s potent enough stuff to cause temporary blindness.”
Mowk nodded as I removed the bib. “Thank you, Barber. You do your job well.” He moved to the door in a few brisk strides and with a very noticeable, self-confident swagger, and then stopped with his hand on the doorknob.
My heart seemed to boom like a shipful of exploding thermal detonators, one after the other after the other.
Mowk turned, and my hand once again tightened its grip on the razor. A slow, slow smile turned the corners of his lips toward the sky. “They told me you are a good man, Rednax. They told me you would not harm me.” He nodded again. “They were right.” He looked down at his feet and seemed to deflate as he sighed. “What I did to your family…” He swallowed hard. “It was…I was merely…I was just following orders, Rednax. Orders are orders.” He looked up, and I was astounded to see tears glittering in his eyes. “I know that ‘sorry’ doesn’t do a thing, but…I’m sorry. I truly am.” Mowk turned back towards the door. As he left, Mowk said quietly, “Goodbye, Rednax.”
TWO DAYS LATER
I stood staring at my family’s graves. There I still stand, and recount this tale as I do. General Daqqer Mowk was wrong. “Sorry” can mean a lot.
©2008 Benny Heather
Friday, August 3, 2007
“Would you like a cup of ardees ma’am?” said WA-7.
“No, I’ll take some strong caf,” Lowle replied.
From across the diner she could hear Dex and Kenobi speaking about Kamino, and after Kenobi left, Dex came over. “Well what is it this time Shredder?” he said in his deep voice.
“Oh, you know, the usual. You get a lead and you follow it only to get nowhere,” she answered in her thick coruscanti accent.
“Who is it this time?”
“Hmm, I may have something on him. I hear he had some part in the election of the new Queen of Naboo.”
“I’m afraid so, and here’s that caf you ordered. I’ll let you sit and think about it for a while. Have you tried the Jedi yet?”
“No, I’m afraid they’ll take over the whole investigation.”
She thought long and hard while Dexter went back to the kitchen from whence he came.
The caf was the strongest she had ever tasted and was perfect.
Later that day she stopped by the Jedi Temple archives, only to see Kenobi again. Jocasta Nu was just finishing helping him, and she walked away leaving him looking very confused, which was strange for a jedi.
As Lowle caught up with the elderly Jedi Knight she was shocked that the older jedi had noticed her without turning around. Shredder hadn’t had much experience with the jedi yet.
“Can I help you?” Jocasta said in a curt but still polite way.
“Yes, I was wondering if the jedi order is able to help me with an investigation. I need to find out if there have been any notorious hackers on Naboo in the last few years,” she said
“My, that’s going to be quite a lot of names but I’ll see what I can do,” Nu replied obviously a little surprised, “and I’ll need to see your identification.”
As Lowle handed over her identification chip the jedi slid it into a slot on a nearby empty terminal and quickly summoned her with a hand motion.
“It appears that the list is rather short, and seeing as Naboo is one of the more wealthy worlds, that is strange.”
“Can you make it go back to a few months before the election of their new queen?
“Why of course.”
The list showed one coded name. It was displayed in a deep red that signified that they were off limits until she had a warrant or went back to intelligence to get permission in person. It was so classified she couldn’t even ask by comlink, or see their name, just their number.
“May I ask why you are using the jedi database instead of the Republic’s, Miss Ch’red?”
“Just between you and me, the Republic’s database is a little out dated, and has been known to be missing a few important entries”
“Well we do have the finest of all libraries and I have heard that a lot lately from other detectives.”
“I’ll just take this code and see if our database has him on file, and then get permission. I’m sure I’ll be back.” Lowle said, rather flustered
Back at HQ she went directly to the director’s office. She didn’t even knock on the door into the inner office and walked right past the secretary who did her best to tell her the director was in an important meeting with the Chancellor.
‘Well this should be interesting’ she thought, ‘since the Chancellor is from Naboo he might actually find this interesting’. As she reached to punch the button to open the sealed door it rapidly opened to reveal the Supreme Chancellor and the director with several of his guards.
“Why, we were just coming to see you, Lowle,” said the director as he ushered her quickly into the room.
The curtains were drawn and a large map of the republic slowly revolved on the table in front of her. It was the most detailed map she had ever seen. It had the different sectors shaded and Hutt space clearly marked, with another she had never seen in the Unknown Regions
“Miss Ch’red it’s so nice to see you again.” said the Supreme Chancellor.
“I’m sorry we can’t be louder but we are worried that someone may have infiltrated HQ,” whispered the director.
“But shouldn’t our sweeps or security droids have found them, or the bugs?”
“I’m afraid that there has been a large abundance of biological devices found around HQ and they don’t register on our scanners. They are being entered into them as we speak.”
“I heard from the jedi council that you stumbled across some evidence that says some major hackers were on Naboo in the months before the election of the Queen,” whispered the Chancellor, “I was convinced that the other candidate had gained a majority of votes from people I spoke to when I was visiting.”
“But the name on the list is of the highest security. Even the jedi don’t have access.”
“Only the Chancellor and I have clearance.” whispered the director
“What could they have done, or be doing, to have that kind of influence?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you just yet. You have to promise us this information never leaves this room.”
“We all know of the person known as The One. But what you don’t know is that he isn’t one person anymore. Intelligence just came in that he has been cloned using spaarti cloning cylinders.”
“I think we have him now!” said the chancellor in a loud voice.
Seconds later there was the sound of an explosion and several blaster shots. The room was already filling with smoke.
“We need to keep the chancellor safe,” said the director, “Take this spare blaster rifle,” he gestured to the Chancellor, “Chancellor Palpatine, here is a pistol just in case. Quick, into the closet, just keep going. Lowle, keep the Chancellor safe, here is the data card.”
Lowle took it wearily, thinking something was very wrong. “But where will you be?”
“Buying you some time, and be sure not to let the chancellor out of your sight.”
She turned around to see the Chancellor pushing some random spots on the back of the closet. As she entered the closet he quickly shut the door and pulled out one of the shelves. She watched the back wall open and they stepped inside the small cavity. There was a blaster shot and a thud as the director’s body hit the ground just as the door sealed itself.
“Where does this go to, Chancellor?”
“To the closet in my office.”
“But that’s impossible, your office is in a different building.”
“You may want to hold on to something my dear.”
Just then the room suddenly dropped and the lights started to come on.
“Do you have your data pad with you?” he said as he turned around, only to see that the card was already in the slot.
“It says I need the password…” as she quickly handed it to him
“Yes of course do you know what time it is?”
“5:13.” She replied, looking confused”
Just then the closet stopped and a panel on the other side opened revealing the chancellors dark red office. She had never been in the chancellor’s inner office before. It was very ornate with expensive statues scattered around and a large stone carving in the hallway. All of them had something to do with the jedi.
“Let’s call some extra guards to protect us. They seemed very serious back there.”
“I completely agree with you” he said as he was pressing the com button to call the guards, “I need 10 of the finest guards outside my office door immediately.”
“We heard that the intelligence office has been attacked, My Lord, are you all right, do you need a medic?” asked the commander at the other end.
“No, commander, I am fine but you must get here as fast as possible. I think they are out for me personally. Do not release this to the public under any circumstances except in the event of my death.”
Lowle hurried over to Palpatine's holocomputer and uploaded the information. The Chancellor moved quickly to his desk and activated lockdown. It sealed the door and several blast doors came down from the ceiling for more protection. Suddenly ray and particle shields covered the windows and the lights changed to a dim red. Nothing was getting in or out of the office anytime soon.
She read the information on the holoscreen. It said that the villain was right in the room with her. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was the person known as The One.
“But that’s impossible!” she stammered as she pulled out her blaster.
“You are not really going to shoot me now are you Miss Ch’red. You would be arrested and surely executed.”
“If I have to, but is it really true?”
“Why wouldn’t it be? Why can’t I be a notorious criminal? No one would suspect me. I have fame, power, and enough money to live in luxury forever.”
“First tell me who you really are.”
“I am Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Dark Lord of the Sith, and the soon to be ruler of the galaxy.” he said in a changing voice.
He moved so fast that she couldn’t even get a shot at him. He seemed to just teleport to a statue on the other side of the room flip the statue over and grab an electrum plated lightsaber.
As he activated it with a snap hiss and a crimson blade extended she stammered “Sith Lord? That’s impossible the jedi would have sensed it.”
“No, they should have, but I have hidden my presence well. They are not as powerful as they believe. All this time I have been manipulating everything and they haven’t even taken notice.”
She shot at him with perfect accuracy straight at his heart, except that the lightsaber intercepted it and the beam bounced right back into her abdomen.
She had only minutes to live, she thought, as she fell to the ground.
The pain was worse than she could have ever imagined. She saw her childhood flash before her eyes. The death of her family while she was forced to watch when she was eight, her graduation from Republic Investigator College, the day she got her dream job at Republic Intelligence, her first arrest and subsequent career.
“How did you do it underneath all of our noses?” she whispered
“Lots of planning and a supreme grasp of the Dark Side. If you vow to become my apprentice I can save your life and you will be more powerful than you could ever imagine.”
“But I’m not force sensitive. The jedi checked.”
"But the jedi didn’t know I was interfering. I have foreseen this moment for a long time.”
“I will never join the sith, and will never help a criminal!”
“Then die!” He said as bolts of blue lightning shot out of his fingertips.
The pain was even worse than the blaster shot. She could feel her bones becoming calcified the longer it went on, and could see smoke coming off her body.
All of a sudden the lighting stopped and she heard him say, “Would you like to change your decision now? Join me and you can wield this power at my side.”
She looked over and saw her blaster lying on the floor next to her. Her vision was getting blurry, and fast. She reached for it, only to see it fly into the Sith Lord’s hand.
“Did you think you could shoot ‘me’?” he said as he loomed over her.
“Yes!” she said as she brought out her spare blaster from her skirt and aimed, only to feel his red blade connect with her neck.
©2007 zach starwalker
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
'I think I’ll have lunch at Dex’s today', he thought to himself, 'a big cup of ardees, and an extra-large plate of sliders. And for dessert, red-hot Triffian wafer beetles. Dex is the only non-Triffian I know who can make them right.'
A shrill voice cut into his thoughts. “Going somewhere, Ony?”
Ony rolled his eyes before turning back to face Skoo Runkin, his former co-worker – and new supervisor. He tried to put a friendly tone into his voice, even though the crabby Nuknog had only become even more unbearable since his promotion. “I’m just headed over to Dex’s Diner,” he said. “Do you want me to pick something up for you?” Inwardly he cringed, hoping Skoo wouldn’t offer to join him.
“I cancelled your lunch break. Get inside and get back to work.”
Ony just stared blankly for a few seconds before he figured out that Skoo was completely serious. “Um, Skoo? You can’t cancel lunch breaks. They’re mandated by law. Besides, I’m really hungry. Don’t worry, I’ll have that T-4 operational again by the end of the day.” He turned to walk away, but he’d only made it a few steps before Skoo grabbed his arm.
“I’m the boss now, Ony. You have to go back to work. I need that T-4 up now.”
“Skoo, the lesser coil is crystallized. It took me all morning to extract it. I already put it in the vibrotank for cleaning, but it won’t be ready until after my lunch break anyway. Then I have to reinstall it, reboot the T-4, and route the integrator. It’s a lengthy process, but we’re not losing any time by my taking lunch now.”
“I could’ve had it back up by now. I don’t get why everybody else is so slow about these things.”
Ony held his tongue. Skoo was certainly one of the fastest techs the department had ever had, but he took shortcuts and disregarded quality checks. The rest of the maintenance team was constantly redoing his work, but management had only seen that Skoo was fast while the others were even slower than usual.
Skoo took his silence as an invitation to keep talking. “ I think I know why Mr. Stomk quit. It’s because everybody kept taking these ridiculous lunch breaks.”
“Stomk didn’t quit. He was promoted to department manager. He’s still your boss. Please, Skoo, I really need to go now.”
The Nuknog was stubborn. “And I’m your boss. Lunch is cancelled. Get back to work now. I need the T-4 online immediately, and there are three blown power couplings in Sector 7G I need you to look at.”
“7G? That’s not my area.”
“It is now. I fired Castellaneta this morning.”
That surprised Ony. Castellaneta had been at the plant for 18 years, and was close to retirement. He was about to say something about that, but just then he saw Brb Stomk coming out the door. He brushed past Skoo and caught the Ugnaught by the sleeve.
“Mr. Stomk, there’s a problem I think you should know about. I’m due up for my lunch break, and—“
Stomk cut him off with a chopping gesture. “I don’t have time for scheduling concerns, Bobbisia. That’s Mr. Runkin’s responsibility now. Take it up with him. Besides, I’m on my lunch break right now.” The diminutive Ugnaught then waddled off, leaving Ony flabbergasted and Skoo with an expression that could only be a Nuknog smirk.
“You heard him. I’m the boss. You have to go back to work now.”
Ony shook his head in frustration. “This is stupid. You can’t cancel lunch breaks. I’ll be back when I’m finished eating.”
“No! You get back to work NOW!”
At that, Ony lost his patience. He started waving his arms in a Triffian display of anger. “You’re crazy! You’re a shift supervisor, not the gorram Supreme Chancellor! I don’t get paid nearly enough to put up with this kind of poodoo! I quit! Go fix the power couplings and the T-4 and the frakking schedule yourself!”
Skoo looked confused. “Quit? How can you quit? You’re an employee! TriSpark is your work.”
Ony pulled his employee ID badge off his chest and threw it on the ground. “That’s how I quit! I can get another job!”
Skoo didn’t answer. He was glaring past Ony, toward the diner. Ony followed his gaze and barely saw a brown-robed human entering the restaurant. Ony looked back at Skoo, confused himself now.
“Jedi,” growled the Nuknog softly. “I don’t trust those Jedi. Destroy a person’s livelihood, they will.” Then he turned and fled with a remarkable resemblance to a frightened ikopi.
Ony stared after him in confusion, then belatedly recalled that Skoo’s homeworld of Sump had been liberated from a corrupt mining consortium by the Jedi hundreds of years before – but when the planet’s only employer went bankrupt, the Republic couldn’t give them unemployment compensation. Ever since, the Nuknog had been bitter against the Republic and the Jedi.
Suddenly Ony felt curious about the Jedi entering Dex’s Diner. He didn’t know much about Jedi, but if it was part of their duty to dispose of bad employers, he had a job for this one. He made it two steps closer to the diner when another thought struck him.
What if Dex was one of those bad employers? Was he not paying Hermione according to fair and comparable market wages? Did WA-7 get regular maintenance? What kind of medical benefits did Dex give his workers? Ony didn’t want to see his favorite lunch spot shut down, but he was certain it would be if the Jedi found anything amiss.
Ony glanced at the windows and saw Dex sliding into a booth across from the human. It must be serious, then. He stood under the window and pressed his ear against the wall, straining to hear their conversation.
“So my friend, what can I do for ya?” he heard Dex say. Poor guy, he didn’t even know he was about to lose his business.
The Jedi went straight to the point. “You can tell me what this is.” Ony surmised that the Jedi must have found some physical evidence against him.
“Wow! Whaddya know! I ain’t seen one of these since I was prospecting on Subterrel, beyond the Outer Rim!” Ah, so Dex was going for the “that was a long time ago” defense.
“Can you tell me where it came from?” Oh dear, the Jedi was going to interrogate Dex before he arrested him. Ony wondered if the Jedi would go easy on him if he gave up quickly.
Then Dex said, “This baby belongs to them cloners. What you got here is a Kamino saberdart.” Blaming someone else? 'Oh Dex', thought Ony, 'that’s never a good idea'.
“Kamino saberdart,” mused the Jedi. “I wonder why it didn’t show up in our analysis archives.” Suddenly Ony was confused. Was the Jedi, defender of the hapless laborer, falling for Dex’s flimsy excuses?
“It’s these funny little cuts on the side that give it away. Those analysis droids you got there only focus on symbols, you know. I should think you Jedi would have more respect for the difference between knowledge and, hehehe, wisdom.” Ony gasped. He had it all wrong! Maybe these saberdart cloner people were the oppressors, and Dex was nobly assisting the Jedi on his quest to free the – uh – Kaminoan downtrodden…
Ony listened as Dex explained where Kamino was, and told the Jedi about the cloners there. Then he heard the Jedi get up to leave, and brown-robed human was outside and walking right towards him. Ony froze, sure he was about to get arrested for listening in on a classified conversation. But the Jedi walked right past him, didn’t even seem to notice him.
A rumbling in his belly reminded Ony why he was outside the diner at all. He straightened up and headed for the door. He held it open so that two Rodians and a human could exit, then stepped inside.
WA-7 greeted him at the door with “Can I heeeeeellllllllpoooooooooo…” Hermione, the human waitress, flipped a switch on the back of the droid’s neck to silence the tone.
She smiled down at Ony. “What’ll ya have?” she smiled.
“Ardees – oh and a double helping of sliders, please.”
“Double sliders, Dex!” she shouted over her shoulder.
Ony thought for a moment about the conversation with the Jedi that he had overheard, then asked Hermione, “Is he a good employer?”
Hermione shrugged as she slid a cup of ardees across the counter. “Sure, I got no complaints. He’s helped me outa some real tight spots before.”
Ony looked at WA-7. “Does this sort of thing happen often?”
“From time to time. Usually I just switch her off, and then back on again. She’ll be fine.”
Dex came out of the kitchen, carrying Ony’s sliders in one of his four huge hands. “Hermione, she's no use switched off off like that. Go turn her back on.”
Ony gratefully accepted the plate, then remarked, “You know, Dex, you look like you could use a good maintenance tech. I’d be glad to bring in a copy of my résumé.”
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The other Rodians at the table groaned and pushed their cards over to Sidewa. His bulbous eyes were glazed over, his suction-cupped fingers shaky. Downing another glass of Merenzane Gold, he shuffled the cards and slurred, “Plaze yer bets, people.”
The extremely attractive female directly across from him squeaked, “I’m out. Unless you’ll take a rather…insulting personal piece.” She pulled out a shimmering box in her hand. It had an inscription on the top. The box swung open with a touch of her fingertips, revealing a cheap crystal ring. “Tann crystal,” she explained. “Not as rare as some other types, but it’ll bring a good price.” She sat back and steepled her suction-cupped fingertips. “Good enough, you drunken fool?”
Sidewa leaned forward and hiccupped. “Miztrezz Cryztal-Giver, I accept.”
She placed the box, now closed, in the middle of the table. Sidewa read the inscription silently as the others placed their bets. It was in Rodian and said, You are the only one I love. That love is boundless, rising with the suns. Sidewa suppressed a gag and passed out the cards. A hand landed on each of his shoulders and he looked up. “Hello, boys.”
The huge Rodian on his left growled, “Deal us in.”
Sidewa shook his head, his snout flapping. “Bets’ve been plazed, boys.” He hiccupped. “Wait’ll da next hand, willya?”
The two exchanged a significant look and the smaller one on his right whispered in his antenna, “Glendo the Thrice sends his greetings.”
The words cut through the haze the alcohol was casting in Sidewa’s mind and he sat up straighter in his chair. He swallowed against the lump forming in his throat and he gulped, “I’ll be withca afta’ dis hand’s ova’, okay, boys?”
The one on his left nodded and moved swiftly over to a table where he could watch both the door and his target. A holo-advertisement above the table showed a picture of the holo-star, Naftrat D’an and his newborn son, Figrin, making it one of the few tables in the bar with a source of light next to it.
Sidewa laid down a negative twenty-three and raked in his winnings, stuffing them in his jacket. Sidewa’s escort, the smaller Rodian, shoved him towards the table. Sidewa raised his glass to his lips to finish his drink, but found it ripped out of his hands by the small Rodian. It crashed into the mirror above the bartender’s hastily ducked head. The bartender was showered in shards of glass as he boomed, “Hey that’ll cost you!”
The short heavy dug in his pocket for a credit chip and flipped it to the bartender. “Here,” he rasped, “and a little something extra!” He roared, drawing his blaster. A blaster bolt ripped into the bartender’s stomach and he fell backwards, smashing a line of booze bottles.
Sidewa gasped, but found the blaster in his back very quickly. “Move it!” hissed his escort. He sat down, sandwiched between the two heavies.
The other patrons of the establishment left in a hurry. The big one was evidently itchy to use his disintegrator, but Short was apparently the one in charge.
Throughout the night they talked, the two heavies wheedling and threatening, cajoling and bullying Sidewa, offering him money, starships, personal planets, anything…if he would only marry Glendo’s daughter (and Sidewa’s lover), Prassi Glendo. When Sidewa’s tongue slipped and he called her “Prissy”, he got a quick punch in the chest from the big one, who’d been introduced to him as Guido. The captive guessed it had cracked a rib or two. The small one, called Pampli, said, “I saw you win that ring at the sabacc table. I also saw its inscription. You know, Prassi loves poetry.”
Sidewa thought derisively, As if I didn’t know! Then, Pampli’s meaning clicked in his brain. Of course! The ring! The box! He pulled out the box and squeezed its edges. It snapped open and he grabbed up the ring, frantically searching. Finally he found it, on the bottom of the box. An engraving that read, Will you marry me? He replaced the ring and closed the box. “Give this to Prassi with my undying love and regards.” He slid it over to Pampli. He looked over at Guido. “May I leave now?”
It was the worst thing he could have said. Guido cackled and grabbed him up like a sack of topatoes. The heavy launched him towards where the bartender lay dying or dead.
Sidewa curled up into a little green ball to protect what wasn’t already broken. As he smashed into the wall, the last thing he saw was the bartender’s motionless face staring at him.
Sidewa groaned and coughed, a flat noise that sounded like an offkey Fizzz. He sat up, stretched and looked around at his dimly lit surroundings. His head was throbbing, but as his multifaceted eyes passed over the broken mirror and dead bartender, the events of the previous night came back to him. He found it extremely hard to breathe, which did not make his hangover any better. When he tried to stand, he felt his chest erupt in flaming pain. He grabbed the base of the bar with his fingers and hauled himself up. His knees, shaky as they were, would not hold him for long. Pain coursed through his left leg when he moved, starting at the ankle and moving upwards. Probably either sprained or broken, he thought as he limped to the exit. He stumbled out the door into a knot of loud people. Apparently, they were watching a fistfight and cheering on their favorite. Only one, another Rodian, saw him fall to his knees. Fighting back against the crowd, he carried Sidewa off to the side, away from the crowd.
The other’s smooth voice rose above the din. “Well, hello there, friend. What happened to you?”
Sidewa croaked, “Barfight.”
The other nodded sagely. “Ah.”
Sidewa squinted up at him. “You a Jedi?” he asked, gesturing at the brown robe and cream-colored tunic.
“No, this is just a disguise. I prefer not to let people know who I really am, especially this low in Coruscant.”
Sidewa sat up a little straighter as he watched the fistfight apprehensively. “Can we get out of here? I’ve got a bad feeling about this place. It’s just a hunch, but…”
The other nodded as he broke off. “I understand. Let’s go.” The other helped Sidewa up, then looped Sidewa’s left arm around his shoulders. When they had traveled but a few blocks from the bar, the other started to take them higher. “I know a good medic,” he said, “a few levels up. He can help you.”
Thirty standard minutes, four levels, and 100 credits later, Sidewa had been bandaged up and sent off. He had also overheard the doctor talking with the friendly Rodian, catching the other’s name in the process. It was Honka, a very common name on Rodia.
Sidewa pondered how he could repay Honka for his kindness while cleaning Hutt suites, a job acquired through Glendo’s “generosity”. Glendo had actually arranged for him to be fired from his previous job as an air taxi driver and put in a good word for him at his current job. He was now working for less pay and fewer hours. After a hard day of scrubbing suites, made harder by his hampering injuries, Sidewa decided to check out another diner on a higher level ¾ of Coruscant and of clientele. The diner was run by a greasy, four-armed Besalisk by the name of Dexter Jettster.
As Sidewa took a seat at the only available table, a waitress droid rolled up to him. “Ya wanna cup of jawa juice, hun? This week’s special.” Sidewa nodded absently. “Be right back, hun!”
A finger tapped Sidewa on his shoulder. He reluctantly looked up, gingerly remembering what had happened the last time he had done so. The helmeted man next to him grunted, “You mind if I sit here? Sidewa shook his head and the man slid into the seat opposite him. “You Sidewa?”
Sidewa nodded slowly. “Who are you?”
“You can call me Silver Wolf. Bounty hunter.”
Sidewa’s eyes widened slightly. “You looking for me, Wolf?”
Wolf cocked his head like a confused goor hound. “You don’t remember me? I was at that bar the other night.”
“I don’t remember much from that night.”
“You remember the ring, of course.”
“You remember how you got it?”
“From a female Rodian. A very attractive one, too.”
“You remember the inscription?”
Wolf chuckled. I gave that to her. Naturally, she wouldn’t stoop down to my level and marry a human. So, she lost the ring in a sabacc game. No doubt on purpose.” He leaned forward. “Sidewa, here’s the deal…”
The next day, Sidewa went back to Dex’s Diner. He had grown rather fond of their jawa juice and he had been told it was a good place to get information. He quickly sunk into deep thought. Being too recognizable at Glendo Manor, he had thought of hired help. Now to go about implementing his plan. When the serving droid returned with his cup of juice, he inquired, “May I talk to the owner of this establishment?”
The droid nodded and yelled in the general direction of the kitchen, “Someone to see ya, Dex!”
The burly Besalisk strolled over to Sidewa’s table and slid in across from him. “Mr. Jet¾”
“Call me Dex.”
“Alright, Dex. I need some information. Do you know of a Rodian named Honka? His whereabouts?”
Dex drummed one set of fingers on the tabletop. “That depends. What’s in it for a poor restaurant owner?”
Sidewa slid a five-credit chip across the table.
Dex rumbled, after a bit of thinking and lot of stroking his thick black mustache, “I’ve heard of him. Comes here, on occasion. In fact, I think that’s him now!”
Sidewa spun around in his chair, half expecting a “Made you look!” from Dex. But no, there was Honka, standing in the doorway. Sidewa gestured to Honka to join him. “Thanks, Dex.” Dex pocketed the chip and sauntered back behind the counter. Honka sat down in the seat the Besalisk had just vacated.
“Hello, Sidewa.” Apparently Honka had been doing his own research. “How’re the upper levels treating you?”
“Decidedly better than the lower ones, Honka.” With a touch of pride at Honka’s hastily hidden surprise, Sidewa leaned forward. “Listen, Honka. I know you don’t owe me any favors, but there’s 2000 credits in this for you. It’s just a little…retrieval mission.”
Sidewa took the next workweek off so that he could take a trip to Yasooka, the largest inner moon of Rodia.
When he arrived on the moon, he immediately went to a public computer terminal. By comparing what he gleaned from his memory and what he found on the computer, he was able to compile a complete set of blueprints of Glendo Manor, the sleeping patterns of one wing of the manor, and the locations of various pieces of furniture in Prassi Glendo’s bedroom and bathroom and download it onto his datapad. He also went to the bank and got 4000 credits out of his account. This information and money gathering took most of the day, but he managed to get a full night’s sleep for once.
Within two days he was back on Coruscant. He and Honka met again at Dex’s Diner, and they transferred files from Sidewa’s datapad to Honka’s.
Honka left the next day for Yasooka.
Meanwhile, Sidewa went back to scrubbing Hutt suites. After another particularly hard day at work, he was visited at Dex’s by Silver Wolf. Wolf seemed to have a knack for picking out days on which he was completely exhausted to speak with him.
“Do you have the ring, Sidewa?” Wolf asked hungrily.
“No, Wolf, not quite yet. I have all the information I need, however. Just one more piece in this game of wit and intellect has yet to be played. You need to be patient, Mr. Wolf. Patience is ever a virtue, Mr. Wolf, and you’ll realize that soon enough.”
Within five days of his departure from Coruscant, Honka was back. When Sidewa greeted him, he was a complete mess, with his clothes tattered and torn, stained black by the many different forms of terrain he had traversed. Many parts of the exposed flesh on his body were also scratched open and raw. Saying he’d meet up with Sidewa later, Honka went home to clean up and put on a fresh change of clothes.
Sidewa went to Dex’s to wait and to talk to Silver Wolf. “It is being transported now, Wolf. It will be here soon. You will need to wait outside, however.”
Sidewa ordered a cup of jawa juice. “I’ll have the same, and a large pastry,” said Honka and sat back in his seat. He rubbed at a particularly annoying patch of raw flesh on his left cheek. A few minutes of small talk led into a discussion about Honka’s mission. “You know how hard it was to get this thing? I nearly got disassembled by a giant with a disintegrator.”
Sidewa winced and replied, “He’s one of the two who beat me up at the bar the other night. Calls himself Guido.”
Honka nodded and chewed away at his pastry.
Sidewa cocked his head. “Where’s your blaster?”
Honka snuffled. “I lost it climbing in a bathroom window. It fell out of the holster and landed on the grass. I had no time to pick it up.” He sighed and absentmindedly tapped the box on the tabletop. “I’ll have to find another one somewhere.”
Sidewa snuffled with laughter. “That I can’t help you with. Sorry.” He slurped at his jawa juice, finishing it off. He heard Dex greeting a brown-robed female senator who had just walked in. He greeted her personally, coming out from behind the counter to do so.
Sidewa pushed the glass away, wiping his snout on the sleeve of his jacket. His hand shot out and, with barely restrained excitement, he said, “Can I have it, Honka?”
Honka’s eyes narrowed. “Where’s the chip first?”
Sidewa had forgotten all about the money. He slapped his head with his sucker-topped hand. “Of course! How could I forget?”
Honka snorted derisively as Sidewa dug in his pocket. His fingers brushed the credit chip and he slid it over to Honka. The other inserted it in his wrist reader. Apparently it was the correct amount, for the other stated, “This seems to be in order. Now we’re even.”
Sidewa snatched up the box and opened it. The ring glinted at him. “Consider it so.” He leaned back up against the wall. “Good work, my friend.”
“Here’s a suggestion,” Honka proffered as Sidewa sealed up the ring and pocketed it. “Next time you want to propose to an heiress, be ready to get your hands dirty.”
Sidewa laughed and held his hands out like a professional Ommni Box player. “These are the hands of an artiste, not a Hutt scrubber.” He chuckled as a thought came to him. “Thanks for breakfast, by the way.” He heard Honka’s exclamation of surprise as he walked out the door. Slipping to one side of the door, he hissed to Silver Wolf, “He’s coming. No blasters…yet.”
Honka ambled out the door, but Wolf was already upon him, his helmeted head next to Honka’s antenna. Wolf growled, “Back in the diner, bub. Now!”
Honka’s face was a mixture of horror and disappointment. He shot Sidewa a questioning look, but the other only shrugged. With a shake of his green head, Honka turned around and walked back into the diner.
Not thirty standard seconds after they had all seated themselves, another brown-robed human entered, this time a male. Judging from the lightsaber hanging from his belt, he was a Jedi. He was, in short order, given a huge hug from Dex and they sat down in the seat behind Silver Wolf.
Grinning mischievously, Wolf said in Rodian, “You are Honka?”
“I’m dreadfully afraid I’m going to have to kill you.”
Honka’s flesh tone paled slightly, and he looked over at Sidewa.
Sidewa grimaced and nodded slowly.
Honka snuffled in indignation. “Many have tried, for one reason or another,” he spat. “All have failed.”
Sidewa said gruffly, “I’m sorry, Honka. Really, I am. I needed to get the ring back. Otherwise, he would have killed me. You see, the woman he proposed to…she was the one I got the ring from. He wanted the ring back, I subcontracted it out to you.”
Honka glared at him. “Thanks for the setup. But why kill me?”
Silver Wolf grinned. “No one except Sidewa here was supposed to know about this little operation. I trust him, but not you. Sorry, Honka. Out we go, now.” The three walked out the door, a few minutes behind the Jedi. Silver Wolf spun Honka around and pushed him backwards. Honka stumbled. Silver Wolf pulled his blaster and fired twice. One hit Honka in the stomach, doubling him over. The other caught him full in the face, knocking him backwards, off the ledge, sending him plummeting to his death.
Sidewa forced down the bile that shot into his throat as he saw his friend gunned down. He pulled out another 2000 credit chip and the box and tossed them to Silver Wolf. The bounty hunter pocketed it. He grabbed Sidewa’s shirt front and snarled, “You were supposed to keep it between us, you green goon! You agreed not to subcontract!”
Sidewa whimpered, “I altered the deal! You’ll find due compensation on that chip!”
Silver Wolf fired once into Sidewa’s belly. The Rodian fell to his knees, clutching his stomach. Wolf’s knee came up, smashing into Sidewa’s face. Blood flowed freely from it. Sidewa rolled over on the ground. “I held you to that deal, alien. You lied to me!” Wolf holstered his blaster and walked away.
As black fog started eating away at the corners of his vision, Sidewa wished Honka was there to take him to a good medic.
©July 2007, Benny Heather
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Honka forced his way through the last of the grapple weeds and hauled himself up onto a mossy plateau overlooking the undulating, crimson marsh he had just traversed. He peered back into the rising mist, his antennae twitching, frantically trying to locate sounds that did not belong in this forsaken swamp. Almost masked by the hoots of squarmiks, the whistling chirrups of tankoo grubs and the soft bubbling of the marsh itself, the sounds soon came; several wheezing breaths, high pitched at first, and then dropping in timbre as his pursuers gained on him. Honka turned to look at the mangrove that sprawled between him and his ship, and to his relief he could see that the stubby blonna trees were lightly spread, hovering above the water and gently drifting in the warm air currents.
The Blonna Mangroves were the only reason for visitors to come to Yasooka, the largest inner moon of Rodia. Second only to the Whistling Waterfalls of Kiffex, the mangroves romanced touring lovers with their serene bobbing and drifting, lulling them into hitherto unheard of relaxed states through the melodic chimes of their sap-lined leaves. The trees themselves rode the airstreams, their musical leaves extracting moisture from the wind, a process within the heart of their stout trunks converting that moisture into food and fuel, the latter of which was then expelled through their roots, making the trees float. These thick, gas filled tubers were known as ‘booster roots’, and the children of Rodian settlers frequently sucked on them for a cheap thrill, that usually ended with a messy landing as the gas was released.
Honka knew that a couple of clicks of blonna trees shouldn’t be too taxing for a Rodian in his shape, but his legs were already tired from struggling through the damp grappler weeds, and now the hounds sounded even closer. He checked his inner pocket and felt the small box next to his chest, and then gritted his teeth as he plunged between the trees.
Drifting saplings glided out of his way as he splashed on, but the older trees were less forgiving, and Honka soon found himself skirting around several stoic groups, slowing his escape. Diamonds of moonlight sparkled through the branches ahead and he sighed a little trumpet through his snout as he realized he was close to the edge of the mangrove, and therefore close to the rocky island where he had landed just a short time ago. His elation was soon dashed however, when he heard the sound of trees slamming into each other, and the victorious baying of the hounds. He spun around, wishing his blaster was in its holster, peering frantically into the murky liquid for a weapon of any kind, but to no avail. A small tree skidded across the surface toward him, barely missing his left shoulder, and two larger trunks parted like blast doors to reveal the pack leader, one of three goor hounds. The beast paced forward, each of its three muscular legs picking a sure footing between the booster roots, its trio of limbs joined at their apex in a large, ugly mass that was all brain and teeth. The goor hound knew the chase was over and it purred contentedly as its companions appeared, flanking Honka, savoring the final kill. Honka quickly turned his back, knowing this would afford him vital seconds as the hounds tried to comprehend his strategy, then he quickly sank, gathering up one, fat root and plonking it into his snout, sucking on it furiously. His cheeks and throat swelled as the gas poured into his body and he felt his chest would explode, which was infinitely preferable to what the goor hounds had in mind. Just as the lead hound leaped forward, its head peeled back to display innumerable rows of teeth, Honka floated up, and the hound flew beneath him. Honka grabbed onto an upper bough, his chest arched to the sky, his legs dangling, as the hound’s momentum sent it crashing teeth-first into the tree. Evolutionary instinct kicked in, and against its better judgment, its jaws slammed shut, tearing a jetpack-sized chunk out of the side of the trunk. As raw fuel erupted from the wound the tree burst forward, shooting the hound back like a cork from a bottle of Ithorian plum fizz, slamming it away into the depths of the mangrove. The other two goor hounds watched, dumbfounded, as Honka’s tree sped off, scattering all plants in its path. Deciding the hunt was over, the hounds snuffled at each other and then began the long trot back to their master’s mansion.
Honka held on tightly, his adrenalin a cocktail of terror and exhilaration. High branches whipped at his face and torso, singing as they beat him relentlessly, and he curled up into a green ball to protect his delicate eyes. After a short spell the whipping subsided, and he risked a look, only to see the small, rocky island drawing closer and rapidly at that. He tentatively released one hand, and realized with alarm that he would not be descending any time soon. So began a frantic attempt to belch, swallowing great gulps of air through his snout, then holding it before letting fly with the contents of his lungs and stomach. The resulting toots sounded like a child’s plastic kloo horn, and he began to panic as the lumpy shape of his camouflaged ship loomed ever closer. Then, as he was almost upon the craft, an enormous expulsion of gas and air bellowed from his snout, and he tumbled to the ground like a blasted mynock, rolling to a stop at the front skid of the ship as the tree continued on its unexpected jaunt across the Yasooka marshland.
Only once Honka was safely strapped in the pilot’s chair, once the nav-comp had plotted the fastest route to Coruscant, and once the ship had broken the moon’s atmosphere, did he allow himself the luxury of contemplating the events of the previous lunar hour.
Landing on Yasooka had been the easy part. A sightseeing visa from the Rodian Ministry of Agriculture was easy to obtain, and this being the low season meant that he would not have to contend with snouty tourists. After piloting his ship to a small, rocky land mass, then activating the camo-tarp, he straddled his mini-skimmer and flew across the mangroves and marshes to Glendo Manor, home of Glendo the Thrice and his clan.
Honka parked the skimmer by the west wall and used a brief repulsor spurt to launch himself over, landing comfortably on the mossy terrace of Glendo’s Naboo-themed garden. He paused, listening intently for any sounds of trouble, especially the kind of trouble that arrived on three legs. When there was none forthcoming, he stole across the immaculate lawn and grasped the base of a towering trellis that snaked up the side of the black stone building. As he climbed, he passed several dark windows, and hoped that Sidewa’s intel was accurate regarding the family’s sleeping pattern. He climbed one more story, then reached a small window that had been slightly cracked open, no doubt to air out the refresher within. Honka slid it fully open, then climbed up a little further before swinging his legs in and sliding into the room. His holster caught briefly on the sill, then snapped in, making a sharp slapping sound against his thigh. The pistol itself was jettisoned from the holster and flew out into the night air, landing several seconds later with a soft thud on the grass below. Honka froze, silently cursed, counted to twenty, and then continued his entry, sliding the window back to its original position.
Judging by the profusion of powders, spice bombs, bejeweled snout tweezers and sweet smelling swabs, he had lucked out. He crept to the door and pressed both antennae to it. Sure enough, the rasping squeak coming from behind the door suggested his target was slumbering deeply. Honka slowly pushed open the door and poked one, bulbous eye in, now fully adjusted to the low light.
The room was huge and frilly. Nowhere could be found a clean edge without some form of fringe, lace or fluff, and the overall hue, when combined with the pale green moonlight slicing through the curtains, was one that would induce nausea in most sentient beings. Soft furnishings lined the walls, one or two with specific functions, the others there merely for show. Artwork depicting nexu kittens hanging from trees and mono-horned nerfs prancing merrily in fields of flaxen craff looked like they would be more at home in a younger child’s bedroom. Hanging over the preening table was a large, signed poster depicting the latest holo-star, Naftrat D’an and his boys, who were currently riding the top of the charts with the kloo horn serenade, ‘You Might Have the Flanks of a Dewback (But I’d Gartal your Kworks Any Day)’.
A hooting snore drew his attention to the far end of the room and there he could see a colossal bed upon which lay the prone form of Prassi Glendo, heiress of the Glendo fortune. Honka tiptoed cautiously in, scanning the room for any hidden pets that might raise the alarm, and reached the bed without incident. He gazed at the sleeping female.
Prassi was certainly attractive, though a little bony for his tastes, and her scarlet mane was spread in a fan on her undulating water pillow. He sidled around to a thin cabinet at her side and slowly pulled open the top drawer, parting hairgrips and snout wipes to find his goal. Eventually his finger suckers brushed a small, hard cube, and he pulled out the box, turning it in his hand in the moonlight, mesmerized by its shimmering surface. Suddenly a hand touched his leg, and he stumbled back in shock.
“Sidewa? Is that you, love?”
Honka froze, staring at the woman as she slowly began to prop herself up on one elbow, raising her eye mask. Honka approximated Sidewa’s voice the best he could.
“Hi, um, baby…”
“What are you doing? Daddy will kill us if he knows you’re in here!”
Honka thought quickly.
“I, er, had to see you… shnooky.”
“Oh, you’re so impetuous! Come here, Sidey, I love it when you do dangerous stuff just for me.”
Honka debated whether or not to make a bolt for the window, but he had no idea what was outside it. He sat on the edge of the bed.
Prassi sat up.
“Turn the light on, lover.”
Honka brushed her hand away from the illuminator cords.
“No, I like it like this; it’s more… romantic…”
Prassi giggled and nuzzled his neck, then pulled away sharply.
“You smell different.”
“I’ve been busy, um, working on the ship.”
“What ship? Not that nasty old needle ship I hope. I thought daddy said he would give you a corvette.”
“I can’t accept his gifts.”
Prassi drew away and, to Honka’s relief, looked the other way.
“Look, Sidey, I know you and daddy don’t see eye to snout, but he was only trying to help you when he got you that job swabbing out the Hutt suites. He thinks you should work your way up as he did, that you would appreciate your position once we inherit his hotel chain.”
“It’s not that,” countered Honka, almost enjoying the charade now, “I just want to be my own Rodian, earn my rides rather than be given them.”
“Oh, Sidey!” exclaimed Prassi, swinging around and embracing him, “you have no idea how many of my suitors are no good deadbeats who just want to enjoy my fortune without lifting a suction cup!”
She grabbed Honka firmly by the back of his head and planted her snout firmly on his.
The kiss was hot, sweet, and all too brief,
“You’re not Sidewa!” Prassi screamed, lashing out with her foot and kicking Honka to the floor, then punching her security alarm.
As sirens blared and the room was flooded in blinding yellow light, Honka staggered to his feet, pocketing the box and shielding his eyes.
“I can explain.”
Suddenly the bedroom door flew open, and the silhouette of an enormous Rodian filled the frame.
“What’s going on in here!?”
Honka decided against an explanation, especially when he recognized the outline of the disintegrator in the huge newcomer’s hand.
He threw himself at the bathroom door, barely squeezing through as a blue beam disassembled the wall behind him. As he lunged at the small window he heard the unmistakable sound of a comlink being activated, and a gruff Rodian voice shouting, “Release the hounds!”
Honka’s descent was markedly quicker than the climb up, and he surprised himself when he reached the top of the surrounding west wall on his first leap. He turned to see three gruesome shapes bounding across the lawn in his direction, and dropped off onto the edge of the marsh, where his skimmer should have been. The spongy ground was barren, save for some small pebbles, and then Honka saw the tip of the skimmer disappearing into the murky swamp, pulled under by the indiscriminate grappler weeds. With no time for a flowery curse, Honka launched himself into the swamp.
Honka idly tapped the edge of the box on the tabletop as he watched Sidewa finish the last drop of his jawa juice with a noisy slurp. Behind his friend, a brown robed human had just entered and was at this moment being greeted by the greasy owner of this equally greasy establishment.
Sidewa pushed the glass away and wiped his snout on his sleeve, then held out his hand.
“Can I have it, Honka?”
“Where’s the chip first?”
Sidewa dramatically slapped his own forehead.
“Of course, how could I forget?”
“Pretty easily, “murmured Honka as Sidewa reached into a side pocket and pulled out a small metal wafer. Honka took the chip and inserted it into his wrist reader. The display read ‘2000’.
“This seems to be in order,” Honka said, pushing the box over to Sidewa, “now we’re even.”
“Consider it so,” replied Sidewa, picking up the box and pressing the edges so that it sprung open, revealing a cheap and deeply flawed tann crystal ring, “good work, my friend.”
“Here’s a suggestion,” offered Honka as Sidewa closed the box, sealing in the ring, and pocketed it, “next time you want to propose to an heiress, be ready to get your hands dirty.”
Sidewa snuffled a laugh and held out his hands.
“These are the hands of an artiste, not a Hutt scrubber.” He grinned, and started to leave. “Thanks for breakfast by the way.”
“Wha…?” began Honka, but his friend was already out the door.
The waitress droid rolled over. “Anything else, hun?”
“That’ll be twenty two creds then.” The droid held out her check cube and Honka slid in his new credit chip, adding a one-credit tip, his customary gesture.
“Thanks hun, have a nice day.” The droid rolled away and Honka checked the chip once again. It read ‘1977’.
‘A fairly decent number’ he thought to himself and, snuffling up the last of his pastry crumbs, sauntered outside to hail an air cab.
©July 2007, Neil Baker