Driver by Hossie

Part 2

Driver Part 1 | Part 3

Chapter 5

A different clerk was at the cashier's desk. He looked on with pained disapproval as he saw us approaching. A cross with a death's-head skull underneath dangled from his left ear. When I gave my room number, he became alert, smirked, and pressed a button to one side. "Nixon, huh?"
"Mister Nixon, thank you. What of it? I don't like stupid jokes about my name, if that's what you have in mind."
"Oh, no, sir! It's just that I've been trying to reach you for the last three hours. You didn't answer your room phone." He smirked again.
"Now I guess I know why!"
If it hadn't been for the bulletproof shield between us, he'd have eaten his next month's meals through a straw. I clenched my fists and my teeth.
"If it was so important, why didn't you try my co-driver's room?"
His eyes flickered toward Cerise, then back. "I certainly didn't expect you'd be in there, what with renting your own room and all. And I don't talk to animals, much less f--"
"WHAT did you say, Marcy?"
I turned to look for the source of the new voice. It belonged to a very large, very dark, very competent-looking man with "Security" written all over him.
"Er, I was telling Mr.Nixon that we've been trying to contact him, Izzy."
"That's Israel Lincoln -- Chief Lincoln to you, Marcy! And that's not what I heard you say. Marcy, you might as well start looking for work. This establishment caters to the transportation industry and its workers. All of them, understand me?" The clerk nodded, suddenly three sizes smaller and ten years older. "And if you ever open your mouth about our clients' private affairs, you might as well not even bother looking for that other job; you'd do better seeking a good plastic surgeon. My ancestors went though hundreds of years of crap from idiots like you. Now your kind has found another group to feel superior to. Call your supervisor right now, and tell him you need a relief. And tell him I want to talk to him and you together in half an hour.
Get busy!"
Darren Marcy (according to his nametag) started dialing his phone, a grim expression on his face.
Officer Lincoln turned to us.
"Mr. Nixon?" I nodded.
"We have a problem. Would you like to talk about it over breakfast?"
"Uh, well, we're running a little late. Just coffee, maybe."
"You'll have time. Come on, leave your bags in the security-check and I'll explain."
I looked at Cerise. She tossed her mane in the equivalent of a shrug, so I put the bags through the gate and accepted claim-stubs. We went into the special dining section. As I started around to seat my partner, she shot me a warning look, so I simply sat down next to the security man, across the table from her.
He gave us a chance to order our breakfasts and start on the coffee before he spoke.
"Your truck is gone."
I gulped, scalding my throat with the mouthful I inhaled at his words.
Cerise softly tapped a forehoof on the tabletop as she looked intently at the private cop, but otherwise held her silence.
"Look, I don't know all the details yet, but someone came in during the night with what looked like proper credentials and I.D., paid the fuel bill, and we released the vehicle to him. It wasn't until some time later that the cashier noticed that you hadn't checked out and began poking around. It seems that whoever got your truck didn't have an over-ride order."
"And you let it go?"
The security officer looked embarrassed. "Darren Marcy isn't the only one here who will be looking for a job; I might be in that line, too. I wasn't on duty, but security is my responsibility. Whoever took your rig gave the fuel desk a phone number to call for over-ride authorization, but when we checked back it turned out to be a phony number, a blind. They should have consulted the master list instead of simply accepting the crooks' word."
"That was stupid, but there shouldn't be any problem. Our rig has an automatic locator built in. The dispatcher should be able to find it in a couple of minutes."
"Normally, yes. But the whole system is down due to a solar flare. It's even knocked out some of the high-power commercial uplinks. Half the TV distribution is dead. And whoever took your truck can kill the locator if they have any competence at all. We're in the dark, at least for now."
"Wonderful. What do we do in the meantime?"
"Your dispatcher said they'd have a troubleshooter here as quickly as possible. Don't worry about the expense. I've already got authorization from my front office; you can stay here and we'll cover all your meals and reasonable expenses."
Cerise snorted. "That nice, but doesn't wet you off hook."
"I know. This is just a courtesy. The respective sharks will be exchanging briefs for years over this. But you are currently stuck through no fault of your own and we feel some obligation although-it-should-not-be-construed-as-an-admission-of-legal-responsibility." That last came out in a rush, like a prepared speech.
Breakfast passed in an introspective silence. Izzy (as he insisted we call him) stood as soon as he'd finished, paid the tab with a company medallion, then invited us to stay as long as we liked.
"Coffee or anything else you want is on us."
Cerise was obviously upset. No surprise. I was upset. But I was also sure neither of us wanted to talk about the missing truck.
After a quick glance around to make sure nobody was in earshot I looked her in the eye.
"Lover girl?"
Her ears snapped forward toward me. A hint of a smile appeared, even though equine mouths aren't really designed for it. "I wike dat, honey. Okay if I caw you `honey'?"
"It's wonderful. I can't believe how blind I was: riding day in and day out and never realizing what a treasure you are. There's so much I want to know, and I want to slurp it up all at once yet stretch it out so the process of discovery lasts forever. God, you're beautiful!"
She tucked her chin toward her chest and half-closed her eyes. I would have sworn she was blushing under her fur.
"Can I ask you something, darling?"
She nodded. "Anything. No secrets."
"It's about your name. `Cerise' is French for cherry, and the name of a shade of red. But you're gray with silvery spots. Why?"
A horsechuckle. "Nickname from when I was widdle. True name Pixel, 'cause of spots, but I had temper. . ."
I smiled at that.
We sipped coffee, drinking in each other with our eyes, making small talk -- growing closer together.
A voice shattered our visions of Paradise
"Well, well. Goofing off on the job, huh? I leave you alone for a single day and you start goldbricking! And just what else have you two been up to, hmmm?"
"Sam! How'd you get here?"
"Can't you come up with a better line than that, Kevin? I'm rather disappointed in you. I got here by plane--on the company's nickel."
I was not pleased to see him, although I would have been delighted only a few hours before.
"C'mon. Last I knew you were being dragged off to the slammer. How'd you get off so quick?"
"I passed my breath test. The cops had nothing to hold me for. If you'd stuck around another hour I could have ridden with you."
"The company gave us orders to go on. We didn't have a choice."
"Too bad. They gave me a ticket and told me to come find you here. By the way, you're fired."
I was stunned. Fired? Sam was never my best buddy, but he seemed to take a lot of pleasure in telling me this.
"That's not very funny, Sam. You need a better class of jokes."
"No joke, pervert. Some clerk named Marcy told me what you'd been doing when you should have been taking care of business; I called headquarters, and you're out." He turned to Cerise. "You're released from the company, too, Flicka."
She started to stand, fire in her eyes.
Sam waved a tiny pistol toward her. How he got it through the metal detectors, I didn't know, but it looked real enough.
"Siddown, Dobbin. Be glad they didn't sell you for dog food. Maybe you can go into business together giving pony rides at birthday parties."
I rose, slowly, and walked to Cerise's side of the table while Sam backed out of reach. I toed the control lever which slid her chair back and placed a hand on her withers
"C'mon, Babe. I feel a need for fresh air."
I looked at Sam.
"We'll see what the union says about this."
"You'll waste your time. The committee doesn't like bios any more than I do. Once they find out you've been fucking this filly they'll forget you ever existed. Meanwhile, you're supposed to give me your medallions and company credit cards. You'll find your final wages and severance pay credited to your personal accounts, all nice and legal-like. Now pony up those i.d's."
In no mood to take Sam's word for anything, I reached for the convenience phone at the table and called headquarters. They were very cool and professional, but they confirmed Sam's statements.
"We talked to the judge who handled your case before you came to work for us, and he agreed to let you retain your license provided you keep your nose clean. Your actions will not officially appear in your records but if you want another trucking job you'd best look for one with a human partner. The story will get around."
I reclaimed our luggage and dug out the requisite items. While I handed them to Sam, Cerise pointedly went to the recycling grid, turned her back, and excreted in Sam's direction with as many sound effects as she could manage.
He just laughed, took the stuff, and walked toward the main offices--whistling "The Old Gray Mare."
Darren Marcy watched all this with a satisfied smirk. I shot him some evil promises with my eyes then picked up the bags and headed for the door with Cerise at my side. We went through the personnel gate and I sat down on a roadside bench.
Despite the situation, the morning air seemed sweet and crisp, the sky a prettier blue than I'd seen it for years, the grass greener, the bird-songs clearer; even the roar of engines and the whine of tires sounded optimistic.
I faced the facts: I was head over heels in love, silly with it, filled with it, stunned by it. I looked toward Cerise to see her looking back at me.
Our eyes spoke volumes.Tired and worn as that old cliche is, it fit us perfectly, a truth renewed. Finally, filled almost to bursting with unvoiced emotion, I got down to business. I forced myself.
"Any suggestions?"
She lowered her head.
"Sorry, Kevin. Got you into dis."
I hugged her neck. "No, no! Don't be sorry. I might not have known what I was doing at the time, but I'd do it all over again now! Look, I have some money saved up. We'll be okay, somehow. And I'm still going to see a lawyer and raise a stink."
"Do you t'ink it'uh do any good?"
"I don't know, but it's pretty bad when the very company that created you has such prejudices of its own. Maybe the publicity will pressure them a little bit."
"Perverts! Hell-spawn! Creatures of the devil!"
I looked up and saw an anti-bio protester waving his sign at us from a few feet away. His conservative blue suit, white shirt, and tie-with-the-little-gold-cross-tie-tack showed shiny spots from age. A tattered bible stretched one jacket pocket while a bundle of pamphlets peeked out of the other one.
He froze, trembling, when my eyes met his.
"If you'd like your dick and balls to remain next-door neighbors, I suggest you get out of my sight." Something in my expression and voice communicated. I was in no mood for religious nonsense on top of everything else. With what could have been a muttered curse, the lone picketer sought out healthier climes. As he turned away I noticed an earring just like Darren Marcy's, except this one was in the right lobe.
A piece of paper fluttered to the ground. A pamphlet. Litterbug! I glanced around but didn't see a trash can, so I stuffed the paper in my back pocket and promptly forgot about it.
Cerise didn't seem to be in much of a mood to talk, although I heard a soft chuckle deep in her throat, so I picked up where we'd been interrupted.
"Look, we'll figure out something. Meanwhile, we're out here on the interstate five miles from town, sitting on the side of the road. I don't suppose you ever had much luck hailing taxis, eh?"
Cerise snorted, then nudged her largest suitcase onto its side and flipped the latches open with her teeth. She lifted the lid and rummaged around inside until she came up with a tangle of nylon straps which she dropped to the ground.
"Here. Put these on me."
I wasn't sure how, but she told me what to do and in a few minutes she was wearing a harness with snap-hooks, D-rings, and other tie points. At her urging I loaded her with our luggage, moving it around until she said it was balanced properly. Then she reached in and pulled out a halter and lead rope.
I put my foot down.
"No. I am not going to lead you like a pack mule."
"Don' be stupid, Kevin. I wudden carry a pack for anyone ess but you, but we can't walk along da road wiffout a lead. Ever'body would know us, then. Just don' yank it."
We set out on foot.
It was a good hour and three miles later (driving doesn't prepare you for walking, and cowboy boots really stink for it) when Cerise raised her head and looked behind, tugging the lead-rope from my fingers. I'd been so distracted I hadn't realized a vehicle had stopped on the road until I heard the door slam. I looked over my shoulder at the large man approaching us.
"Hi, Kevin. Hello, Madame!"
He stood beside us.
"What brings you here?"
"I was on my way home when I spotted you." He shook his head.
"Remember what I said about people looking for work? I oughta buy a tea-room and start telling fortunes."
"You, too?"
"I thought you were going to be okay!"
"So did I. The company was supporting me, seemed very contrite about the screw-up and all that. But it seems your former bosses also have a major share of my erstwhile employer. The worst of it is they gave that little weasel, Marcy, my job!"
I sighed.
"Sorry we've been so much trouble, Mr. Lincoln."
"Stuff that! And keep calling me Izzy. None of this is your fault; I was doing what I thought was the right thing, and I still think so. Look, why don't you come with me and let's see if we can figure out what to do?"
I looked at Cerise then back to him.
"Both of you, of course. I have room."
We walked to the van and made quick work of removing the luggage from Cerise's pack harness. I unbuckled it and she wriggled happily.
I gave her a quick finger-rub where the straps had been.
Izzy said, "Let's get going. I'm not really supposed to park on the shoulder, you know."
Cerise eyed the side door and interior, checking the height of the floor and the roof, then entered with a short bound. I climbed into the passenger seat and she poked her head forward between us.
I reached up to caress her jaw and she nuzzled my cheek.


Chapter 6

Izzy lived in a semi-rural area northwest of the city in a nice, older home surrounded by a large lawn. His wife saw us pull in and stood up from the flower bed she'd been tending.
A pleasingly-plump woman in her mid-thirties, Mary Lincoln's eyes widened for just an instant when she spotted Cerise in the van, but made no comment as Izzy and I climbed out. I opened the side door while he gave his wife a hug.
"Dear, would you mind fixing some iced tea and joining us on the patio?
We could use your insight, I think."
Cerise edged to the door and jumped down on the soft grass at the edge of the driveway. I hugged her.
Israel chuckled. "You've got it bad, don't you?"
"Me, too," added Cerise.
"Do you have a problem with that? I think we need to know."
He shook his head. "Not in the least. I think it's kind of sweet."
Izzy showed us around back to a flagstone patio complete with umbrella'd table where he and I sat down. Cerise stood close by.
Mary came out with a large pitcher of tea, three glasses and a bowl.
Izzy continued.
"I meant what I said back at the shop. This world has too much hatred in it--always has--to be looking for new reasons to pick on people. I'd rather see more love and understanding.
Mary spoke up.
"I think it's very nice. Izzy and I had it rough, too, since I'm white. But with a maiden name of Todd I couldn't resist the joke."
I looked at her.
"Mary Todd Lincoln?"
I shuddered.
Izzy laughed.
"She can't help popping that joke out at every new opportunity. To tell the truth it was my rugged good looks she found irresistible. That and my magnificent mind."
Mary smiled indulgently at her husband.
"You can believe whatever makes you happy, dear, even though I really married you for your money."
She poured tea for all of us, then looked at Cerise.
"Men need their fantasies. Remember that."
Cerise snorted then chortled softly.
"Now, Izzy-poo, would you like to explain what you're doing home so soon?"
He blushed and shot me a dirty look, then explained the story in precise detail.
Mary listened thoughtfully, sipping at her tea until he finished, then nodded.
"So, you're out of a job?"
"'Fraid so."
"It's a good thing you really are rich, then."
She looked at us.
"What about you two?"
"Rich, I'm not. I guess I'm out of the trucking business, too. They told me I'd never drive with another bio regardless of who I drive for. And I won't leave Cerise now that I've found her!" I hugged her neck, hard.
"Of course not. Hubby, dear, let's get our guests settled in."
The Lincolns had a large, detached garage with a small ground-floor apartment built in. It would suit Cerise and me admirably.
"What would you like for dinner?"
Mary asked us.
"I have some salad vegetables, but I'm not really stocked up on them."
"Pwease, if you don' mind, I'd wuv to have some fresh grass. Da company didn' like bios eating wike animals, but I miss it!"
Mary smiled. "Help yourself, by all means. That'll save some work with the lawnmower."
At her request, I removed Cerise's snap-on rubber E-Z Boots so she could enjoy full contact with the grass-covered earth. Izzy and I lounged on the patio, watching Cerise carefully crop the lawn.
"She is gorgeous."
I nodded.
"Yeah. I must have been blind, an idiot, or both."
"We all are, sometimes."
Mary brought out supper: soyaburgers with parsnip fries. She had a cold-vegetable plate, too, which lured Cerise to the table with us.
"Babykins, there are several things that bother me about this whole situation; some things just don't add up. Wasn't Darren Marcy that new employee you rejected for security reasons?"
"Yeah. His work record was spotty and he had some shady associations with hate groups and off-roader gangs."
"That's what I thought I remembered you saying. So why was he working there?"
"The corporation over-rode my downcheck. They said they needed to put some white Christians to work to fill their quota. I protested, because it didn't seem like his attitude towards bios was very good, and we--they--catered to the bio trade. But there was only so much I could do. They are--were--the bosses."
Cerise quit munching a carrot stick long enough to interject:
I understood, and expanded on her thought.
"That's right. Something is funny about Sam, too. He was busted for blood alcohol content, but I can't remember ever seeing him drink--at all. And he got out mighty quick. And Cerise says he was a company spy planted on us for some reason."
Izzy shook his head.
"I don't know. There are too many questions and not nearly enough answers. My experience is in security, but even that doesn't make me paranoid enough to figure out this mess. But you're right.
Nothing adds up to anything resembling sense."
Mary perked up, eyes widening.
"Paranoid? Do you think maybe we need the help of a real paranoid to figure this one out?"
"Who did you have-- oh. Oh! Yes, perhaps you're right. It's time to call in the preacher."
Cerise and I looked at each other in mild alarm.
I spoke for both of us.
"A preacher? Uh, they don't usually like folks like us very much."
Izzy chuckled.
"Don't worry. Just wait until you meet Reverend Hargrove."
Mary laughed, but refused to say more.With that, conversation changed topic. I learned that Izzy was, indeed, a moderately wealthy man who worked because he liked dealing with people "and doing something worthwhile besides spending inherited money."
Mary had a varied background. She held a law degree and was admitted to the Missouri Bar, but didn't practice. She also had teaching experience. She'd left both professions because she was tired at being shot at, either in school or the courtroom.
It didn't take long for me to get sleepy, since the previous night had been anything but restful. Cerise, as was her nature, was good for a few more hours but she made her excuses so we could retire together.


Chapter 7

"You real tired, Wuvver?"
I stretched and yawned. "Afraid so. I'm not as young as I used to be."
She lowered her head and pawed the floor.
"Too tired?"
I looked at her. She swished her tail agitatedly, and twitched her ears around like pinwheels. I grinned.
She reared up, trusting me to catch her forelegs. I arranged her hocks on my shoulders. She balanced most of her weight on her hind feet and we kissed. And kissed. And kissed.
When we both started to tremble, she slipped her feet off my shoulders and we both stepped back as she came down. "Whew! I love you, Babe, but I'm gonna have to work up to doing that for very long."
"Me, too. My hind-wegs are like jewwy."
"I wonder; how much is fatigue and how much excitement?"
She snorted . . . and showed me how much was excitement.


Chapter 8

Although I didn't get very many hours of actual sleep, I awoke feeling invigorated, refreshed, ten years younger. I also felt a big, soft, wet tongue bathing my face. I quickly stretched my neck and captured the tongue in my mouth, sucking on it. Cerise's eyes widened in surprise, but she didn't pull away. Instead, she lowered herself from her position standing astride me, slowly resting her torso on mine.
It got hard to breathe, but I wrapped my arms around her body and continued kissing. She pulled her tongue free and lightly nipped my nose. An hour later, Mary knocked on the door and called "Breakfast!"
I dressed after a quick shower, then brushed Cerise's coat to a healthy glow.
We casually wandered out, wearing our best innocent looks.
Another vehicle was parked in the driveway -- one that merited a second look. It was a crew-cab pickup with radio antennas sprouting like weeds from the roof and both bumpers. The hood was cluttered with miniature sculptures and models--crucifixes, machine guns, cavalry figures, horses, and a large rubber duck. Bumper stickers partly covered patches of rust:
"Former Fetus On Board"
"Stop Killing Babies"
"Abort Democrats"
"Vehicle Insured By Smith & Wesson"
"Rush Was Right"
"Fight Organized Crime -- Abolish The I.R.S."
"Hail Epona"
"Why Be Born Again? Grow Up!"
"Pagans Do It With More Deities"
Cerise was staring. Her lips moved.
"What're you doing?"
She looked at me and blinked. Reluctantly, she answered,
"Reading. I'm not too good at it."
"You're fine. I always thought you just memorized signs and menus. Like any of them?"
"I don't understand them all . . . but I know Epona!"
"Epona. Goddess and guardian of stables and horses."
Interested, I was ready to continue, but Izzy summoned us and we walked over to the patio table.Seated there was as disreputable a character as you might expect if you judged the driver by his vehicle.
"The Right Reverend High Priest Larry 'Ringo' Hargrove" who introduced himself wore dirty bluejeans, a two-day growth of beard, ratty rubber sandals over grimy feet, and a t-shirt showing a horse lying on a bathroom floor captioned: "I've fallen and I can't giddyap!" A large silver pentacle dangling from a chain around his neck completed the ensemble.
I was worried about approaching him from downwind, but couldn't detect any odor. He stared at us, looked Cerise and then me in the eyes, and nodded.
"You'll do."
I felt curiously relieved at having passed his inspection. For some reason, that feeling irritated me.
I pulled up a chair. Mary put a plate of bacon, toast, and eggs in front of me. They smelled great. Cerise's eyes sparkled as she was served a heaping platter of pancakes drenched in molasses.
Rev. Hargrove passed me a handful of cheaply-printed pamphlets. Most of them had the same cross-over-skull design that I'd seen before. I glanced through them. They were garbage: poorly-written, alarmist nonsense about bios taking over the world, tools of Satan, the usual crap. Then I remembered the previous afternoon and pulled the forgotten tract out of my pocket. It was the same sort as the others.
I glanced, puzzled, at the preacher.
"Look at the backs."
"'Published by Humanity First Holiness Tabernacle, Pineville MO.' Hey, that's not too far from here!"
"It's on a whole 'nother planet, boy! That there is a tax-dodgin', family-humpin', nigger-stompin', Bible-thumpin' passel o' skunks! They wanna kill ever'one who disagrees with their Brand X religion, an' they got the means to make a fair show at doin' it"
"Sounds like a basket of nutburgers to me. 'You want Holy Fries with that?'
Sure, I hate little groups of idiots and bigots as much as the next person, but they're mostly harmless to anyone who's had their shots."
Larry's eyes glittered.
"That's what they want you to think. Truth is, they're tied into a whole shitload of Bible colleges across the country, and they've got money invested in the damnedest places. Tobacco, liquor companies, abortion clinics, drug clinics, drug dealers -- any place they can make a buck -- and they don't pay a nickel of taxes on any of it! That's the sweet deal for them."
He laughed, a rather nasty, choppy chortle.
"I'd like to fry their self-righteous asses."
I turned to Izzy. "Who is this guy, anyway?"
He started to answer, but Larry slapped his knee and outspoke Izzy.
"Hell, boy! I'm a lot of things. Backyard cook, water-finder, antique dealer, auctioneer, stunt pilot, stump preacher, gunsmith, dog breeder, cat breeder, horse breeder--take those any way you want to--except the cats--radio ham, musician, writer, curmudgeon, snoop, reformed drunk, expert marksman, pool hustler, hypnotist, conspiracy buff, unrepentant Confederate Rebel, counselor, psychic, white witch, and all-around Renaissance man. But most people just think of me as a harmless, mildly annoying, nut."
"I can believe that."
He smiled, rather like a shark.
"I like it that way. Nobody worries about the local crazy man, as long as he doesn't come off as threatening. I learn a lot that way."
Cerise stopped eating long enough to comment,
"I trust him."
The preacher graciously bowed his head in her direction.
"You have horse sense."
Cerise snorted her disgust, spraying him with syrup. Izzy, Mary, and I cracked up while Rev. Hargrove wiped his face with a red bandanna.
He grinned.
"Ah earned that one."
Mr. Lincoln regained control first.
"Look, Ringo, what's the deal with this 'Humanity First' church?"
"They're gathering arms. Been doin' it for years. Sometimes legal through members who have gun-dealer licenses, mostly illegal from former military members. Plus, they gots plenty of underworld connections--an' it ain't all that hard to make simple machine guns and explosives from scratch."
"But why?
"They figgers this country is gonna fall on its ass. Of course, I agree with 'em, 'specially if assholes like them keep shovin' at it. They have plans which definitely include coming out on top. They's caves down there and all over the country where they've been stashin' non-perishable food, medicine, and arsenals like you wouldn't believe. I've even heard rumors that they're dealin' for some small nukes."
I gulped.
"Yep. You're too damned young, but I grew up when everyone was scared shitless that the Rooskies were gonna drop a bunch down on our heads any minute. We had movies at school and church and 4-H and scout meetin's showin' how to build bomb shelters an' what to do after we came out of 'em. One of the popular debates was whether to let anyone into your shelter or to shoot your neighbors -- and whether it was safe to eat 'em afterwards. Screwy times.
"Now everyone thinks the world is safe. Bullshit! Life ain't safe, never was. There maybe ain't as many bombs in total out there, but there's a lot more different people who have 'em. I'm surprised as shit that they haven't got pissed off and tossed a few of them around, yet."
"Jeeze, that's gotta take money!"
"Haven't you been listening? These bozos got money! Ever' one of 'em has sworn a vow of poverty and gives ever'thin' to the church. The church feeds, clothes, and shelters 'em, buys their cars and pickups, all wholesale with no taxes on the income or the sales. Besides, they's expecting the Final Battle to come any day, now. What good's money in the last fight between Heaven and Hell?"
"Okay. But what've they got to do with us?"
"Your truck has them signs on it, don't it? You know, the smiling ape logo?"
"How many of 'em is there runnin' around?"
"The company has three."
"Know where the other two are?"
"On the coasts."
"An' yers is parked in the Humanity First compound."
Cerise and I both pricked our ears and stared at him.
Izzy laughed again.
"You gotta trust old Ringo, here. He knows where the bodies are buried in the religious community."
The preacher grinned.
"An' damn few of 'em will ever resurrect if their congregations have anything to say about it -- or the thievin' preachers who put 'em there." His grin had faded.
"You sound like you don't have a lot of respect for your fellow clergy,"
I said."Them what's respectable, I do.Look, they's three basic kinds'a preachers as I see it: there's the poor-as-churchmice types who care a hell of a lot more for helping other people than feedin' themselves, there's the average HolyJoe who gets a decent salary and doesn't rock any boats and thinks he's doing a great job when he talks someone out of gettin' divorced, an' there's the assholes who trade on fear an' ignorance to get rich or powerful.There's damn few of the first kind, a shitload of the second, an' n+1 too many of the third. And the worst is that most of all three categories don't know much about what they think they're teaching."
"Well, I never had much use for most churches once I figured out the god they worship stacks the deck."
Ringo looked interested.
"Explain that."
"Hey, according to cherished legend, the big boss made Adam and Eve, knows all, loves all, is all-powerful, right? So, he knew what those two would do with the apple tree and the snake. He made them that way. So he punished them when they lived up to design specs?"
"HAW! It's amazin' how many folks miss that one!"
"Look, this is interesting," said Izzy,
"but hardly germane to the problem. Tell Kevin what you told me about the truck."
"Spoilsport. I was havin' fun.
"Okay. While you two were--er--waking up this morning, Izzy and I compared notes. My sources who spotted the truck took note of the time it come in an' give me a good description of the driver. Your buddy Sam has a scar running from the bridge of his nose down to the middle of his left cheek, doesn't he?"
Izzy nodded as Ringo donned his cat/canary grin.
"It makes sense. Sam knows how to disable the tracking, knows where all the goodies are hidden in the truck, he'd know how to fake up an authorization letter."
"Better'n that, ol' buddy, he has friends in the company."
After what had happened I was more than willing to believe bad things about Bio-Resources. But that may have been prejudice.
"He awso knew when we were smuggwing, and what."
Damn, that was one smart pony!
I looked at her.
"We were headed for Fort Leonard Wood. Do you know what was hidden in the load?"
She nodded.
"War bios."
Everyone except for Ringo and Cerise turned pale -- even Izzy.
"Those are the most outlawed of all the outlaw experiments! What do you know about them?"
"Dey're big cats, apes, and wuhves."
Shit! Wolves are awful smart to begin with, plus brave as hell. I hated to think about what kind of enhancements they'd have.
"How long does it take for them to mature?"
"Coupuh years. But dey aren't the first ones, jus' the watest."
"I'd heard some strange shit went on down there, but that takes the johnny-cake!"
"You didn't know?" asked Izzy?
"Nope," answered Ringo.
"Them bozos run a tight ship, an' my contacts don't get to see ever'thing. They's a big cave that's guarded real close-like; only the honchos go in there."
"Jee-zuss! Warriors!" I was stunned. "What now?"
Mary chimed in.
"We need some intelligence."
Izzy bowed.
"And you're just the one to help with that category, my dear."
She punched his arm.
"Listen to him! He claims to admire my brains, but for the first three years we knew each other he thought my I.Q. was 38C!"
"My darling," he replied in an injured tone, "I immediately saw past your physical attributes, intriguing though they may be, and respected the immense good sense with which you concealed your intellect from the world at large. I assumed you knew what you were doing and happily went along. It certainly worked on me! But I really only rarely notice your luscious body. Truly."
"Hmph! I'm not sure that's an improvement. Besides, you seemed to notice it last night!"
"Well, I couldn't sleep well with all that whinnying and clomping and moaning coming from the garage apartment."
Cerise and I ducked our heads while Ringo roared. He got up, clapped us both on the shoulders, and yelled
"Damn glad to hear it! You old married farts need a little inspiration to liven things up now and then! 'Sides, my daddy alluhs said a little tail never hurt nobody."
Cerise kicked him in the shin.
"Better don't stirrup no trouble with 'er, Nixon, or she'll nag ya t'death."
I couldn't help it.
I laughed.
She kicked me, too.



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George Willard
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