After a while, Marvin’s little brother, Cadwallader, stuck his head out of the apartment window. He looked over the group of people sitting on the roof.
“Who be this?” Abra said with delight when she saw Cadwallader.
“Cadwallader,” I said. “My friend’s brother. The friend will be here soon. He and I rented this place that the Tao woman died in.”
Abra got up and bent over Marvin. “What be your name?”
“We need to get clean you up.”
“Where be your brother, Caddy?” I asked.
“In the shower,” Cadwallader replied.
“How old be you, Caddy?” Abra asked.
“Five….” He held up two fingers on one hand and three on another.
“Be you in school yet?”
“Where you live?”
Cadwallader looked at me, then looked uncomfortable back at Abra.
“Along with Momma and Daddy,” Cadwallader said. “Marvin said I may be able to stay here sometimes.” He looked at me. “Can I?”
“That’d be good!” Abra said, delighted. “Have you a dog?”
“Cease, une momento. Marvin?” Columbine asked the little boy. “Marvin Rey Chiang? He be your brother?”
“Marvin Rey Chiang!” Columbine enthused. “Marvin’s living in Alias Ali Tao’s apartment. Cool. Neat.” Columbine’s excitement for Marvin tweaked the latent jealousy I had for him.
“Who be Marvin Rey Chiang?” Abra asked.
“Marvin,” I said, annoyed. “The Marvin. What more is there to say?”
“Why do you yond him ‘The Marvin?’” Abra asked.
“He is Marvin, the Marvin,” Columbine said. “You know, like, the girls my age digged him. What more is there to say?”
“And the boys my age figged the girls your age,” I added. I flinched. That may have been too forward.
Columbine smiled. “Oh…. I was always too busy studying to have time for that.”
The shirtless top half of Marvin joined his brother at the window. Of course, Marvin was shirtless.
“You be out here,” he said to me.
“Our new apartment doubles as a coffee house,” I told him.
“Um… Columbine, I think there is more to say,” Abra said. “Peace, Marvin.”
“And also with you.” Marvin nodded her way.
“I be Abra Hague Udele. I be out from Plantation. I school at the college. Come so out if you be dressed.”
Columbine giggled. “Come so out if you be not dressed,” she added.
Marvin grew in the attention that Columbine and Abra gave him. The bevy of younger girls who worshipped and shadowed him no longer hung around. He suffered from low wages, and, because of that, his harem had abandoned him. I didn’t mind that he captured Abra’s attention. I did dislike that Columbine responded to him.
I held up the box with the Gray Ladies. “Beer?” I asked Marvin.
“You’re sharing your beer now?” Columbine joked.
Marvin put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Come so. Your turn.”
“Now?” Marvin asked. “I want not to wash.”
Marvin gently pulled his brother out of the window. “We’ll return….” Cadwallader and Marvin disappeared.
“We’ll be here,” Abra called after him.
The little group on the roof sat quietly after Marvin and Cadwallader left. Ignatius picked up his guitar and began tuning it.
“Tomorrow be Wednesday,” Ignatius said. “The telibar, it changes the movie. They have a new one.”
“What’s the movie?” I asked.
“Smooth Rider,” Columbine said. “Effortless Rider. Some sort of rider. Something like such. Two guys on motorcycles.”
I searched my memory for any movie that had a name like that. “Is it Easy Rider?”
She clapped her hands. “Yes, that’s it.”
“Migone,” I exclaimed. “They know not what they are about to show. They must’ve gotten that movie from Colum Fountain Curio. He has a sense of humor like that. We best see it on the first day. There may not be a second.”
“Subversive?” Ignatius asked.
Sex, drugs, death and the South,” I told them, purposefully being enigmatic. “It be Vandal Horde recruitment propaganda.”
“Vandal Horde propaganda?” Ignatius looked puzzled. “I regarded it to be an Earth movie. There be no Vandal Horde on Earth.”
“Not Vandal Horde, specifically,” I said. “There’s nothing unique about the Vandal Horde. The same sort exists all times. Interesting movie, unusual ending.”
“Oh! Don’t spoil it!” Columbine said with a smile.
Ignatius asked, “Unusual with significance? The ending?”
I shrugged. “It’s what happens every day in the Unlaw.”
“Is it the chicken salad movie?” Columbine asked.
“What?” I asked. I was confused.
“Someone told a waitress to hold chicken salad between her knees,” Columbine explained.
“I… I don’t remember,” I said. “I think not.”
“Please,” Columbine pleaded. “Say nothing more. Abra? Going?”
“Pierrot,” Columbine said. “Come along with me. Tomorrow?”
“I want to come, too,” Ignatius said.
The door for the stairwell leading to the roof opened, and Xavi walked through. She had a guitar in a cloth bag slung across her back.
“Migone,” I exclaimed. “How many people will we’ve up here?”
“Typically five or six,” Xavi said. “At most, fifteen.”
“What have you done to me, Xavi?” I said.
She grabbed a folded chair leaning against the wall between my new apartment and the roof next door.
Xavi smiled and sat down. “Much better than the boat, no?”
I didn’t answer her questions and a lull fell on the conversation.
I broke the silence. “Easy Rider will be at the telibar tomorrow.”
“Migone,” Xavi said. “They’ll be… surprised. Colum….”
“Let me ask you this,” I said to Columbine. “Isn’t Shatwell a droll maternal name?”
“Truth, Pierrot,” Xavi sighed. “Now?”
Columbine looked confused, “My wrong… what? Where from out that come, so?”
“Imagine the first generation of Shatwells,” I said. “They took inordinate pride…”
Xavi interrupted and completed my sentence. “…in modest achievements. Truth.”
“Migone,” Columbine said. “I never aspected so.”
“The Mayor has a comic name,” Ignatius said. “Oz Zelfbelang Boniface?”
“Yes,” Columbine added. “What about him? What do you think about his name? It’s unreal.”
I said. “It has potential. It does not meet the Shatwell standard, but it could be comical.”
“Mayor Elf Bane Good Face,” Columbine said.
“Now so, such be funny,” I affirmed. “Truth. Much more than Oz Zelfbelang Boniface.”
“Let me tell you about what happened to Abra and me about a year or so ago,” Columbine said.
“A story, Columbine?” Ignatius moaned.
Columbine ignored Ignatius. “We went trekking along with two boys we know. You know them. Elmer Bozic Boniface, so now, the Mayor’s son. The other. Cornelius Pinas Madua. His friend. You know Cornelius? My age. Cornelius ‘PI-naz, not penis’.”
“Elmer Bozic Boniface,” I said. “That’s alliterative. His father still has the funnier name. But, yes. I know him. Or know about him. I’ve never talked to Elmer Bozic Boniface. I do know Cornelius Call Me PI-naz pretty well.”
“Can I have one of those?” Xavi asked, pointing to the Gray Ladies. I passed her a bottle. Three taken. Three left—one of those already offered to Marvin.
Columbine continued. “Anyhoo. Cornelius Pinas Madua and the Mayor’s son, Elmer Bozic Boniface, became friends when apprenticed as lawyers. The Mayor got a coveted apprenticeship on with Siv Sheikh Javier for his son. Yes. He watered the creek. Got his son set up. The only way to become a lawyer is to replace one. And Siv Sheikh Javier absolutely verges on needing a replacement. He does. He toddles on edge. Death’s going to come for him at any hour. Yes, I know Siv Sheikh Javier had already outlasted many apprentices over the years. But, no. That streak is finally over. Age and his health go against Siv. That puts the stakes in Elmer Bozic Boniface’s favor, so now. It’s even money whether Siv is alive next year. If Siv’s not, Elmer’s a newfangled lawyer.
“Woe be to Cornelius, though,” Columbine said. “Cornelius Pinas Madua worked for Lawrence Mistry Spoonhunter. That’s a healthy lawyer with many days to live. Lawrence Mistry Spoonhunter easily bounds up three flights of stairs to go to work each day. He eats well. His father lived into his seventies. He be a bright light who will shine long. Cornelius Pinas Madua was not going to be a law clerk for several decades. It would take long for before Lawrence Mistry Spoonhunter to die off.”
Ignatius started tuning his guitar.
“Don’t care for Penises and Spoonhunters, Ignatius?” I asked.
“No,” Ignatius objected. “Xavi be here. I want to play.”
“Play music if you have to.” Columbine slid her chair closer to me. “Abra and I, we accompanied Cornelius and Elmer trekking in the woods. Are you acquainted with those woods across the bayou?”
I nodded, yes. I had been there often in my wanderings.
“We saw deer and turkey,” Abra added. “And a peacock. It beautiful, it be.”
“It’s as if a zoo, isn’t it?” I said.
“And baby alligators,” Abra injected. “They be cute.”
“That’s where the mayor’s house is,” Columbine said. “Have you seen it?”
I nodded, yes. It overlooked the river on top of a bluff. When I see it from the boat, I felt like we were home.
“So nice,” Columbine said. “No other houses around.”
“They painted it nice, too,” Xavi said. “Greens and blues. On the outside. I haven’t seen the outside.”
“It’s fine on the inside, as well,” Columbine said. “They got us there, and Cornelius Pinas Madua talked on with me in one room, and Abra sat along with Elmer Bozic Boniface in another.”
“Nothing improper occurred,” Abra said.
“Cornelius aspired for the improper,” Columbine said. “He told me the buzz of what happens in the Mayor’s house. My guess, to impress me.”
Ignatius played a phrase of a blues song, then leaned against his guitar and stared at Columbine with impatience.
Columbine ignored Ignatius. “So…. This is good. One time the Mayor’s wife booted Cornelius and his sister from the house because the Mayor had a visitor. You know who it was?” Columbine looked at me.
“Adolph Hitler?” I answered.
“What?” She cocked her head like a spaniel listening. Thankfully, she quickly answered her own question. “No. Close. Stepan Gaiserice Ragnarsen.”
“Okay….” I remembered him and the crowd we refused passage to years before. “So?”
“You don’t know who Stepan Gaiserice Ragnarsen is, do you?” Columbine seemed surprised. “He’s the Vandal Horde’s main spy. Everyone knows that.”
“Well,” I said, “He’s not a good spy if everyone knows he is.”
Columbine gave me another quality spaniel head cock. “No. No. He oversees spying. Mayor Elf Bane Good Face had the Vandal Horde visit him.”
“An additional item. Cornelius told me that some folk out from the militia took him and his sister to the militia’s office. Justin Aigrefeuille Dignac, himself, talked to Cornelius and Caressa alone. He asked Cornelius about the happenings he saw in the Mayor’s house. Isn’t that interesting?”
Cornelius told too much to Columbine. If his conversation with Columbine got back to the Mayor it would be bad for him.
“Cornelius Pinas Madua tired of me, he did,” Columbine said. “He stood, left the room, and Elmer Bozic Boniface came in and took his place. What?”
I laughed. “He traded you for Abra? What did you do?”
“Nothing. Not one item, such like. Maybe it be because of what I wouldn’t do. Such annoyed me, so.”
“Nothing improper occurred,” Abra said.
“No. No, I didn’t say anything did,” Columbine said. “I know well that you would do anything improper. Lamentable, I bored him. I learned divers items about the Mayor. Good items, as well.”
Columbine sighed and sat back in her chair. Ignatius saw an opportunity to wrest control of the roof and hurriedly plucked the beginning of a tune. Columbine wasn’t keen on losing her audience.
“Lamentable, too, about the Mayor’s wife.” Columbine took up her narration anew over the strains of Ignatius’ music. “Modrialle Bozic Jakupi always loathed Cornelius. And his sister.”
I interrupted, “If Modrialle Bozic Jakupi didn’t like Cornelius Pinas Madua, why is he marrying her daughter?”
Columbine got excited. “You’re right! The Mayor’s wife thought their family too common, PI-naz. Even so, she let Cornelius visit Elmer and Caressa to visit Elmer’s sister, Balia. That was the only visiting the Mayor’s wife thought was going on. Truth. She didn’t know. So, the visits were much more involved than the mother knew. So now, there was some visiting between Cornelius and Balia that the mother knew not about. The Mayor’s wife thought Cornelius came to visit Elmer. But, Cornelius wasn’t there to only visit Elmer. No. He spent more and more time with the Mayor’s daughter. And Baila Bozic Boniface became enamored by the PI-naz Not Penis charm. And, in appreciation, Cornelius gave her the gift of a child in her womb.”
I knit my brow in a faux-serious concern. “Not good. I wondered how that marriage got arranged. Migone. Cornelius didn’t get Balia pregnant as a gift. It’s more of an unintended consequence of behavior.”
“It may not have been unintended, the pregnancy,” Columbine said. “By Cornelius, so. He knew well enough how to prevent that. I think it was a purpose. He ended well. Vocation be relation, relation be vocation. Once Cornelius got committed in marriage to the Mayor’s daughter, the Mayor watered Cornelius’ creek. Cornelius will keep Balia in the manner she has known her whole life. Cornelius is a now manager in the government building. He ended well. Baila Bozic Boniface has the most beautiful eyes. I always liked her.”
“Would you like a Gray Lady?” I asked Columbine. “And you,” I told Abra. “A Gray Lady for you?”
Down the hill from Mayor’s house, within the flood plain of a creek, the Mayor had several shallow pools built from concrete with a cement deck around each one. The Mayor raised alligators for their meat and hides. Mayor Oz Zelfbelang Boniface enjoyed being a gentleman farmer as a distraction from his job as an administrator. He didn’t favor the routine choices for livestock. Cows and pigs didn’t interest him. At first, he tried raising elephants only to find elephants to be expensive with a long before maturation. He settled on alligator as the perfect mixture of exotic, low cost, and reasonable time from birth to harvesting.
The Mayor learned the hard way that alligators climb fences. He had workers surround each of the ponds with barriers made of thick wooden bars that were tilted slightly inward at the top. He kept the alligators segregated in different enclosures by age. The alligators ranged in size from the hatchlings to a single large alligator, the Bull Gator. The Bull Gator was not old or large by wild alligator standards. It had been the only of the Mayor’s alligators not been harvested by the time it reached two meters in length. It spent its time floating alone in its own pen. Bull Gator was an experiment to see if spending the extra time and expense to get an alligator to get larger before harvesting would bring more profit margin per beast.
The Mayor’s wife tolerated “those damn lizards,” as she called them. The Mayor’s daughter took no interest in them, either positive or negative. Elmer Bozic Boniface used visits to the alligator pens as a way to impress his friends and girls. Columbine and Abra had received the standard tour when they visited with Elmer and Cornelius Pinas Madua.
The Mayor used the alligators to impress visitors as well. “I’ll be down at the pens,” he’d tell someone with who he had an appointment with. “Follow the path from the house down to the hill.” The visitor would marvel at the reptiles. The Mayor would throw a chicken or two over the fence into the pond with the larger alligators. That demonstration never ended well for the chickens but either horrified or thrilled his visitor.
Oz Zelfbelang Boniface eased down the hill to be at the pens before his visitor arrived. He sent a message to the Vandal Horde, asking to talk to someone in charge of making a trade agreement. They sent a man and his small retinue down from Causses in one of those wooden and fabric airplanes they have.
When the Mayor got to the pens, he discovered that his Bull Gator decided had dug under the fence enough to get its head under it. Not only can an alligator use its claws to climb, but they can also use them to dig. Alligators dig effectively. Apparently, the Bull Gator wanted to die of old age in a bayou around Aoustin.
When he saw the alligator, the Mayor swore and ran to the storage shed to get a leather mouth restraint to wrap around the alligator’s mouth. Bull Gator, still in the process of digging his way out and having the rest of his body in the enclosure, could do nothing while the Mayor strapped its mouth closed.
Still swearing, the Mayor entered the Bull Gator’s enclosure and stared at the part of the alligator that had not made it under the fence. Since only the head had made its way to freedom, all four legs remained on the unfree side of the enclosure. The Mayor grabbed the massive tail and yanked. The claws on the alligator’s back legs could not find purchase on the concrete deck, but the front nails dug into the deck’s rim and the dirt just beyond it.
The Mayor stood to the side and considered his tactics. In response, the Bull Gator furiously threw itself into digging.
Stepan Gaiserice Ragnarsen came down the hill to see the Mayor grabbing the alligator’s tail in a renewed effort to pull the whole of the animal back into its pen. It became a test of wills, with neither the alligator nor the Mayor ready to concede. The two had reached a stalemate with neither side clearly having an advantage.
Out of frustration, the Mayor wrapped his hands around the alligator’s tail. He flung himself backward to use all of his body’s inertia to break the animal’s hold. In one way, the Mayor was successful. He jerked the alligator back enough, so its claws scraped across the concrete deck. But the Mayor felt himself falling backward and let go to catch his fall. Unfortunately for him, he did not fall onto the deck around the water, but into the shallow water of the pen itself.
Stepan Gaiserice Ragnarsen saw the Mayor fall back into the water. As falls go, it was not a graceful one. The Mayor did desperate flailing and gyrating on his way into the pond. Then came the splash. For two long seconds, the Mayor disappeared below the water. Then he stood up in the knee-deep water coughing and sputtering. Then he retched and threw up three times. Alligator scat has a uniquely horrendous smell, and he had stirred it up with his fall into the tea-colored water.
The furious Mayor hit the water with his fist and burst forth with a wide range of expletives. A wave of dry retches came over him.
How fortunate, Stepan thought. The Mayor had been stripped of dignity as we met for the first time.
“I’m looking for the Mayor,” Stepan shouted, knowing that the man he spoke to was the Mayor. “Can you tell me where to find him?”
The Mayor climbed out of the water and exited the alligator pen. He Mayor stomped up the hill with that alligator scat smell proceeding him.
“Be you, Ragnarsen?” the Mayor asked. “You be late,” the Mayor added, despite the reality that Stepan had arrived early.
“Stepan Ragnarsen,” Stepan answered. “Be you the Mayor’s alligator keeper? You’re the worse smelling human I’ve met. I hope the Mayor pays you much. You have no luck finding a woman otherwise.”
“I be the Mayor,” the Mayor sputtered. He climbed the hill towards the house, and Stepan followed slowly, smiling.