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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The two worlds of Salisbury, the merits of ostentatious cutlery, and Johnny gets his turn at bat.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2656 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu
Salisbury was really two worlds.
When men came to Salisbury the first time, they found a gorgeous 18000 mile globe of gleaming white, a fluffy snowball with an iron core and layered drifts of carbon dioxide, water snow, and a thin nitrogen atmosphere. A beautiful 3000 mile rusty red moon with a matched pair of 800 mile satellites that chased each other between the two other globes made the whole system extremely attractive to the Royal Londinium Terroprospecting Society, which had discovered it. Founded for the purpose of protecting “certain valuable social and cultural customs” from the encroachment of the meta-culture, this seemed an ideal world, comfortably far away from undesirable influences. Terraforming procedures commenced quickly.
Because of the planet’s location in the solar system it was just outside of the zone where ice would melt. And while it was technically possible to move a planetary system, such techniques are insanely expensive and inherently dangerous. Instead, the world was heated by the expedient of huge mylar mirror arrays reflecting additional light and heat from the star, as well as a huge orbital “lens” that magnified and concentrated the solar energy. Once construction was complete the effect was dramatic, melting away glaciers of chemicals into liquid, and then gas. Within a decade, the planet had a thick, warming blanket of atmo.
Two of them, actually.
Once uncovered, the geography beneath the ice was divided into three rough gradients: a lowest area, encompassing about a third of the planet, which filled with the liquid run-off and became the four great oceans. Once sea-level had been established, the gasses in the world began a complicated dance, due to both their chemistry and the geology of the dry land.
About forty percent of the surface was 1500 feet or less above sea level – an area that became known as “The Bottom”, and included the oceans. Above this area a constant misty overcast of turbulent clouds formed, providing a near constant drizzle and not a few mighty storms. While it blocked much of the light of the sun (casting the land in near-perpetual shadow), it did an admirable job holding in heat. This gave the world an excellent jump-start on developing a highly coveted tropical rainforest, some centuries in the future.
The remaining 25% of the land was a winding plateau of gentle highlands 4000 feet or more above sea level – and well above the thick cloud cover. It was known as The Heights. It was far more temperate – and drier – than the lowlands, and a great deal sunnier. Crops that would not take in the Bottom could be grown here – plantations of coffee, sugar, tobacco, cotton, and the like spread out over the plain in carefully tended .
Most of the human habitation on the planet concentrated in the well-manicured estates owned by the elite of the Salisbury; the Bottom was the place of wilderness, a place where careful biospheric control had been abandoned in favor of allowing Mother Nature to run wild unrestrained. Life in the Bottom, for flora and fauna and humanity alike, was a chaotic Darwinian dance of survival.
It was predicted that in a few centuries the Enclouding would dissipate, and the entire Bottom would be exposed to the sunshine. At that time, the land below it would be extremely fertile, and highly valuable. But for now the lower reaches were nearly a different world, a literal underworld. The poorest of Salisbury’s settlers lived there: the freedmen in shady little fishing villages along the ocean shore, subsistence farmers and hunters in scattered settlements, and the corporate plantations full of indentured labor all shared the rich, wild lands of the Bottom.
The wealthy sat on the Heights, where the bulk of the industry had clustered.
Sunshine and shadow, rich and poor, arid and humid, fair weather and foul, the planet Salisbury was a sphere divided, two worlds as different from each other as two separate planets.
Lincoln City sat in a serene and lush valley in the center of the Heights. Founded by the First Steward, Baron Ernest Lincoln, who held in trust the charter from the ceremonial King of Londinium (thus giving it the descriptive marketing title “City of the Stewards” in promotional material and signage throughout the land), it was as planned a community as Apex on Epiphany had been, though less ostentatious and more self-conscious. It was a beautiful town purposefully modeled after 16th Century English architecture, with intricate stonework, ornate gardens, and carefully tended greenspaces. At the center of the city was a massive ode to ancient England writ in stone: a ponderous cathedral, the nascent University of Salisbury, The Royal Mercantile Exchange and the Steward’s Palace sat in a tight, well-designed knot of architecture that was the spiritual and cultural axis mundi of the world. The rest of the city spread out around it, and took pains to emulate the stately buildings. Even the more modern buildings took care to grow ivy on every vertical surface.
The spaceport was below the city proper, in an industrial suburb to its south, connected to the commercial center by a wide road called the Processional (should any royalty ever deign to visit the world to Process down it). The spaceport itself nearly matched the city in size. While remote from much of the rest of the ‘verse, when the company-owned traders came in to pick up the valuable cash crops they had plenty of room.
Wash dropped Serenity down through the upper atmosphere with a little more caution than he usually displayed because Kaylee was whining about those damn capacitors. She had now replaced four of them (she had picked up a case from the Sanchez Brothers) since they had left Madonna, and she was worrying over the strain atmo entry always put on the engines, which would in turn put stress on the capacitors. Despite the temptation to do a crash-dive that would shake everyone up, Wash resisted, and set Serenity down as gently as a feather on the designated landing apron. It was easy, in the rarefied and pacific atmospheric currents of the Heights; crossing the Enclouding would have been a much different story.
“Welcome, Travelers, to the far-flung world of Salisbury! Please allow handicapped passengers, elderly monks, and fugitive Imperial warlords turned to crime exit first in an orderly fashion,” he called through the intercom, before starting his postflight routine.
He was looking forward to a few hours groundside to stretch his legs and breathe some fresh air. The strain of Simon and Jayne at each other’s throats, five extra passengers, and, towards the end, an uncomfortable short supply of essentials like toilet paper and food had made things tense. And it had only been a little more than a week.
“Husband, I’ve got the grocery list,” Zoe said, kissing him on the top of his head. “Nice landing, by the way.”
Wash snorted. “Jayne could have made that landing. Did you make sure to add soy sauce to the list?”
“Honey, look outside,” she said, pointing out the viewport at the stately – and very Anglic – buildings in the distance. “Worcestershire sauce, maybe. Soy sauce? Probably not ideal.”
“They gotta have Chinese restaurants,” he whined. “Everyone’s got Chinese restaurants.”
“I’m just saying,” she said. “I don’t want you to get disappointed.”
“Get that . . . whatever sauce, then. It can’t be that different.”
Zoe raised her eyebrows. “You asked for it,” she said, making a note. “Anyway, Jayne, Book and I are taking the mule into town get supplies. Pick you up anything special?”
Wash let out a big sigh. “Cookies? Something with oats and raisons? This looks like a real ‘oats and raisons’ kind of world.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Be careful, looks dangerous out there,” he said, nodding towards the castle-like structures. “Might be dragons.”
“I’ll bring my extra lance,” Zoe quipped, and headed for the cargo hold.
“General, Heavenly Master, it’s been a pleasure having you aboard,” Mal said, shaking the hands of both men. “Sorry to see you go, truth to tell. In that same truthful bent, I wish we had more room for you.”
“It was fine, Captain, you have a good ship, here,” General Lei said. “That said, I’m looking forward to a hotel room something powerful.”
“When does your ship get in?”
“In the next twelve hours. There are certain . . . security matters that must be attended to before they land.”
“Understood. Where do we go from here?”
“Patience, Captain. In good time. But take on fuel – as much as you can carry. More. And plenty of food and water. Prepare for a journey of at least a month.”
“That’s a long time, General,” Mal said, rubbing the back of his neck. “A month . . . folk get loopity, they stare at each other that long.”
“Then bring a deck of cards, too,” Lei growled. “I never said it would be easy. But if you want to see the map reunited . . .”
“Of course. I’ll see to it. Enjoy a good night’s rest.”
As the General took his leave, the monk bowed, made a blessing, and likewise departed, the three Tongsmen behind them.
“Not sorry to see them go,” Mal murmured after them. “Pu, the big one? Eats more’n Jayne.”
“Noticed that,” agreed Book as he started breaking out the mule. “Glad I got my fingers out of the way.” Jayne appeared from the lounge, a piece of food in his mouth, and started to help.
“While you’re in town, stock up on ammo,” he murmured to the mercenary. Book looked up when he overheard.
“Sure thing, Cap. You don’t trust him?”
“He’s a nice fella. Good soldier. And utterly ruthless ‘bout getting’ what he wants. I trust him – that’s the problem.”
“Huh?” Jayne grunted.
“He’s a man of honor. He’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. That makes him dangerous. Cross him – well, let’s not, if we can help it. He can’t be bought, and fightin’ him might just be a losin’ proposition. But let’s be ready, just in case.”
“In case what?” Jayne asked, still mystified.
“Jayne, just buy the damn ammo.”
“Why didn’t you just say so?”
Mal closed his eyes and heaved a sigh. He looked over at Book, who was still watching him as he worked. “Preacher, is the Lord whisperin’ ought in your ear this mornin’?”
“Always,” assured Book with a tight smile. “This morning He’s saying to stock up on caution when dealing with criminals.”
“Yeah, figgered that one out,” said Mal, rubbing his jaw.
“Captain!” Kaylee called down from the catwalk, “Can me an’ River go into town after I get Serenity put to bed? It’s gonna be at least two hours afore those caps are cool enough t’pull!”
Mal considered. “You gonna be responsible for her?”
“’Course!” Kaylee said with assurance. “I need to find some way ‘round this capacitor thing. Maybe she can help.”
“Anythin’s possible,” Mal shrugged. “Just be careful. Take a radio. And a gun.”
“A gun?” Kaylee whined. “But Captain! This ain’t Beaumont—!”
“An’ it ain’t a safe zone, neither.” He countered. “This globe’s new to us, an’ we’re new to it. They might not be ready for River yet. Best you be armed.”
“Oh, all right. River too?”
“NO!” Mal, Jayne, and Book all said at once.
“She’s a better shot than I am,” Kaylee observed.
“When she ain’t hallucinatin’!” Jayne said pointedly.
“The child doesn’t like guns,” Book pointed out.
“Fine, I’ll be the big strong warrior princess,” she said sourly. “And I’ll take Johnny!” she said, brightening.
“That’d work,” Mal considered. “Just keep her out of trouble. Not much in the way of Feds around, ‘cordin’ to the General. He said the local Steward runs security. But you never know. An’ then there’s her own endearin’ personality.”
“Great. I’ll go get ready!”
“That such a good idea?” Book asked as Kaylee ran to tell River.
“Hell, no. But if I don’t let them stretch their legs a might when we get a chance, tempers are like to come unraveled. If we’re gonna be in the Black a whole month, that could be telling.”
“Occurs t’me that you might regret that,” Jayne noted.
“Hey, I told her to take a gun,” Mal said. “I’ll take one myself, when I go.”
“You had better take this, too,” Inara’s voice said, coming down from her shuttle’s hatch. She was wearing a dress of green silk and gold trim, something that flowed fetchingly from her shoulder and ended in a little half-cape. She was holding a sword, a slim rapier in a blue leather scabbard.
“Why would I want to do a gorram silly thing like that?” Mal asked, incredulously. “Last time I held one o’ those, I got three, maybe four holes poked in me.”
“Mal, on Haven or Beaumont wearing a pistol is considered appropriate. On Salisbury there is a definite, if casual, caste system. Trust me. While in Lincoln, at least, you should wear it. It marks you as a gentleman.” She made a sour face. “Think of it as the easiest disguise, ever.”
“Hey, I know my manners,” Mal protested.
“It isn’t about manners, Captain,” Inara said, shaking her head as she took the last step down the stairs. “It’s about appearances. By wearing the sword you are visually establishing yourself as a man of means, a property holder. Being captain of Serenity entitles you to that, according to local custom. But it also means that you are entitled to ‘special consideration’ when dealing with merchants, bureaucrats, the local aristocracy,” she said. “And cops,” she added as an afterthought.
Mal took the weapon gingerly. “I’d feel too silly,” he said with a laugh.
“Captain, this isn’t Persephone, where swords are exclusively the province of the nobility and only used in formal duels. The people who settled Salisbury established the custom of wearing them as a symbol of status. It’s a prop. But it’s a highly useful prop.”
“It’s allowed,” conceded Inara, “But most wear an elaborate dagger instead. It’s considered more feminine. It’s appropriate for you to wear it. You wouldn’t go meet some fellow petty crook without a back-up pistol, would you?”
“You know what I mean,” she chided. “Look, you like having me around because I can help you interface with the upper echelons of society. You don’t have to take my advice.”
“I’ll wear the gorram thing,’ Mal agreed, reluctantly. “As long as I can still wear a pistol.”
“That would be expected, as well, considering you are an off-world captain. Ordinarily, only constables wear them openly. Lincoln is a very peaceful city.”
“With everyone wearing pigstickers, no wonder!”
“Weren’t you the one who told me ‘an armed society is a polite society’?”
“Yes, but . . . but I meant perfectly sane folk with firearms, not a bunch o’ snooty ‘risocrats with a yard of poky sharp wire on their hip! I swear it hurts more to be stabbed than shot.”
“How lucky for you to know the difference,” she said dryly. “It’s unlikely that you will be called upon to use it, but note that your ‘gentleman’ persona includes the willingness to be stabbed before being shot. If you wear a sword, you are obligated to draw it before you draw a firearm.”
“Jesus! They got laws ‘bout how you gotta fight a man?”
“Most aristocratic societies do. And they are customs, not laws. But think carefully about violating them before you do.”
“And I’d take it as a kindness if you would not profane the Lord’s name in my presence,” Book added.
“Sorry, Preacher,” Mal said, slightly abashed. He clipped the sword to his gunbelt, on the left side. It sat there awkwardly, and banged his knee in an uncomfortable way. He looked up suddenly.
“Hey, where’d you get the sword?”
Inara’s face colored. “It was a gift. From a client.”
“Speakin’ o’ which, you gonna be doin’ any whorin’ while we’re in port? Should be here a few days.”
Inara colored still further. “As a matter of fact, I am going to meet with a few potential clients later today. Lincoln has several elegant restaurants, according to the cortex. I’ll be holding forth at a place called the Royal Boar, on High Street. The food is supposed to be excellent, and it’s where most of the local single gentry congregate. Perhaps you’ll stop by – always room for one more boor.”
“Hump the boar,” Jayne said, heartily. “You gotta try some o’ this yak jerky we picked up in Wuhan – best damn jerky I ever et! Got a . . . an earthy flavor. Savory.”
Mal looked at Inara, then at Book, who was also trying to restrain his mirth. “You best check with Kaylee ‘bout that,” Mal cautioned. “That were her private stock o’ . . . jerky.”
“Then why was it in the storage locker?” Jayne asked, as he mounted the mule and started it up. “Jesus, try writin’ your name on your crap if you don’t want to share – sorry, Shepherd.” He took off down the ramp.
“I ain’t gonna tell ‘em,” Mal said, raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to tell him,” Book said. “My dear, this does seem to be more . . . your province,” he said to Inara.
“Hell, I’m not telling him,” she said, a little horrified. “Let Kaylee do it. It’s her ‘jerky’. When I’m not around,” she added.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Mal said.
“It would be amusing,” admitted Book.
Inara just stared at them. “Ugh! Men are such pigs,” she said, and turned back towards her shuttle.
Kaylee, River, and Johnny were walking the Processional, window shopping and stopping at the quaint little shops that lined the way. Closer to the spaceport they were largely industrially oriented, but past the half-way point they became more refined in nature. The day was bright and sunny, and the air was sweet with the heady smell of heather and pine. There were many, many birds, ravens, sparrows, pigeons all cavorting in the air above the street. River was fascinated, and seemed to be trying to discern their speech, or interpret their aerial dance.
“You’ll have to help me, Kaylee,” Johnny admitted as they walked. He was wearing a heavy jacket and a bright blue baseball cap, a faded rucksack slung over his shoulders, while Kaylee had donned a wide straw hat and knee-length sweater-coat (which had a .38 revolver in the pocket). River wore bib overalls, and a buttoned-up sweater, and only wore shoes at Kaylee’s insistence. They all stood out among the townsfolk, who were dressed in muted dark tones of blue, brown, gray and black. Many wore hats – not the ubiquitous straw or leather essential prominent on most Rim worlds – but rather tall stovepipes, bowlers, and similarly “stylish” urban headgear. “This is only my second planet, and my first predominantly Anglic planet.”
“Not sure how much help I can be,” admitted the engineer. “Every time you get to a new world, you’re a stranger. Takes time to meet folk, get to know your way ‘round. You’ll catch on, Princey.”
“You seem to do it effortlessly,” hesaid, admiringly.
“Aw, I just like folks. I’m a fish outa water wherever I go, so bein’ different from the locals don’t bother me much. Even when I’m real different. Remind me to tell you some time ‘bout the time me an’ Cap’n went to a really fancy aristocrats' ball on Persephone – an’ that’s a planet that I’m right familiar with!”
“Sounds like fun,” he smirked, knowing the story was a good one by the way she grinned.
“Well, kinda boring, actually. But the floatin' chandelier was shiny! An' the food was yummy. But it were pretty tame 'til Cap’n decides to liven it up. Hey, look at those shoes!”
“Shoes?” Johnny said, a note of panic in his voice.
“Yeah! Them black ones, what have the heel way up to here!”
The wide window was etched in an elegantly classical font, the word Dunbarton’s Shoes. The footware in question was a pair of equally elegant black leather pumps, with a two inch heel and no illusions about innocence whatsoever.
“Aren’t they shiny?” Kaylee said, exuberantly. “Whaddya think, River?”
“Prolonged wear would place untenable pressure on the lower lumbar region and alter your center of balance by 8.33 centimeters,” River stated. “The total surface area of the foot-surface region would place considerable strain on an already stressed area of musculature. You can count on several excruciating hours of recovery.”
“Fine, they stink, healthwise. But consider the pros!”
“Well,” River admitted, “they would make your boobs stick out, and your ass would look shiny.”
“That’s what I’m thinkin’,” agreed Kaylee, intently.
“I wish I had boobs like yours,” River said, her eyes narrowing.
“More trouble’n they’re worth, honestly,” Kaylee muttered, while she continued to look at the shoes.
“Uh, maybe I should hang back, keep an eye on things while you girls have your fun,” Johnny said, nervously. “There might be . . . danger.”
“Ain’t no one knows we’re on this world,” Kaylee dismissed. “An’ I got cashy cash in my purse and a dangerously hollow space in my shoe rack.”
“And I came to this strange new world . . . for this?” Johnny complained.
“You don’t like shopping,” River said, more than asked.
“Well, no. I had this girlfriend once . . .”
“It is theorized that the male inclination against the retail experience is based largely on the differential between hunting and gathering task assignments in early tribal cultures,” noted River. “Females were in the more complex and selective assignment, determining ripeness and suitability for consumption. Men just killed it with a stick and brought it home.”
“This particular male’s inclination against shopping is due entirely to his personal experience with females. The first time I waited for an hour and a half for a woman to try on everything in sight, and then leave the store without purchasing anything, was the last day my mind was open to the retail experience.”
“You just don’t understand,” Kaylee said, shaking her head. “I bought two pairs o’ shoes on Epiphany. I didn’t like their pumps. Maybe if I find a pair o’ heels here . . . Oh, if they have them in my size, I swear I’ll have a special moment right here in front o’ God and everybody!”
“Definitely need to leave you two alone for a bit,” declared Johnny firmly. He looked around, spotted an escape route. “Look, I’m just going across the street to the tobacconist. Give a holler if you need me, but in the meantime I’m going to be looking at girly books and not buying anything.”
“Suit yourself,” Kaylee said, “coward.”
“Give me a room full of thugs or an impossible gunfight – I do fine. That many shoes in one place – I don’t think I could handle it.”
“The smell alone is intoxicating. Let’s go, River!”
Johnny made his way across the half-crowded street, cobblestones clicking under his boots. The tobacconist looked like every other type of shop he’d seen, though the aroma in this one was enchanting. He remembered that Salisbury grew its own tobacco, and with the help of the shop’s clerk he picked out two big boxes of local cigars, and as an afterthought purchased a few ounces of hempflower and some chocolate. He had found, long ago, that having a supply of such stores could come in handy when trying to influence people to do what he wanted. Another valuable lesson learned from his Father.
He wondered sometimes whether or not his father would have approved of what he was doing. Obviously, he had had his own reasons for not joining with the rest of the family in pursuit of the fabled Treasure. What were those reasons, he wondered? He would probably never know. More importantly, how would he view his flight from Epiphany and the Tong his father and grandfather had labored so hard to put together? Would he see it as cowardice? Or wisdom? There could be no doubt that Tortoise would not abide him within the organization. He was too popular with the people, and demonstrably ruthless – had the situation been reversed, likely Johnny would have not left a potential weakness, like the son of the former ruler, to stand unchallenged, just waiting for an opportunity to move against him.
He would have done it right, of course, and not screwed things up too badly.
Just how badly Tortoise had screwed up Johnny had not learned until his esteemed Uncle, the General, came aboard Serenity. During their long chats over go or cards he learned how the Yellow Sash was related to the Yellow Ribbon, and how the General had severely punished the Tortoise for his failure. Bad for discipline not to – the General understood that. The Tortoise now toured his brothels shy his left hand pinkie, and if his daughter did not have a bastard in her belly now, it wasn’t for lack of use.
In his heart of hearts, though, Johnny did not covet the job of Tong boss. He found much of the job distasteful. While being the head of the sharks in the cesspool seemed like a better fortune than being the minnows, Johnny would just as soon step out of the cesspool. His deepest regret was that he couldn’t take his people with him.
He thought of the thousands he had met, those who had been sent here in indenture, those who were contracted for two decades or more. Those who had won their freedom or bought out their contracts (sometimes with help from the Tong – at reasonable rates of interest) and those who came as free men and worked a trade to bring their families from crowded slums on Yuan, in the hope that in a few generations their great grandchildren would have a life worth living. He thought of the workers who toiled to build vast testaments to the wealthy, the thousands of residential units around Apex that would someday house the people who would hire their children to be servants – he thought of them with a sense of despair. Despite what his father may or may not have felt about his actions, there was no escaping the thought that Johnny himself felt guilt at abandoning them.
But he had little choice. Chance or fate had thrown him in with outlaws – but not common cutthroats; men and women of honor who had yet to treat him unkindly or cheat him out of his money. They had treated him like kin, and he was grateful to that. He secretly hoped that if the Treasure proved to be long-looted or simply a myth, that Captain Reynolds would give him a job in his gang. He had abilities and assets, after all, that the Captain might find useful . . .
He had wandered up and down the short stretch of the Processional across from the shoe shop. What was it with women and shoes? he thought impatiently.
It had been nearly two hours since the girls had gone inside. He had haunted the tobacconist until he had exhausted the man’s patience, had grabbed a crusty and allegedly authentic beef pasty from a street vendor, looked with amusement at what passed for fashion here, and perused a real estate office which was advertising excellent bargains of prime farmland in the Bottom, at prices that raised his eyebrows. One could buy a hundred acres in the Bottom for what a quarter-acre lot on the Heights sold for. The comparison brought some solace – even if the Sinic throngs of Meridian City were denied the opulence they had built in Apex, at least they enjoyed the same weather as the rich.
His thoughts were broken when something attracted his notice.
That man. A foreigner, by his clothes, and a cop by his bearing. Any decent Tongsman could smell a cop a mile away, and this guy reeked of expectant authority. He had walked down the same way thrice, now, trying to look like he was shopping. He was doing a decent job for an amateur, someone who had never had to hide from the cops or rival gangs, but he was obvious to Johnny. As obvious as the shop his “random” passage had taken him by thrice.
The shoe store.
It could just be a coincidence, part of him suggested. He rejected that the moment the man made a point of peering into the window the third time, then reporting to someone with a clandestine radio. With a sinking feeling, Johnny realized that he didn’t have a radio with which to warn Kaylee. Because she would need some warning – the man had that tell-tale bulge under his arm that indicated a concealed weapon, and he didn’t look the type to carry a child’s squirt gun.
What to do? Jayne, Zoe and Book were further back towards the ‘port, or were supposed to be, shopping for supplies. Captain Reynolds was back at the ship, as were Simon and Wash. There were no public cortex terminals here – they would spoil the archaic effect, and were located at a kiosk much further down the Processional. His uncles and their men had headed to some safe-house at a hotel in the downtown region, but he had neglected to get the address. Stupid of him.
It was up to Johnny. Because he doubted that the cop – security – bounty hunter – whatever was looking for Kaylee. He had spotted River. And he had friends. Johnny vowed to hang back and observe the man from a safe distance while he thought of a better plan. The man’s attentive manner towards the shop indicated that he was not aware of Johnny’s presence – and that could be an asset. He was waiting for back-up.
As he slouched on a heavy wooden bench provided by the Processional Merchants Association for the comfort of their patrons he started looking for a pickpocket. He was familiar with the breed, and hoped he could retain one to lift the man’s gun – and his wallet and radio, if he was good enough.
He had to stop looking when the man started by the shop the fourth time – and drew his weapon and entered in classic cop defensive choreography. The moment he did that Johnny was committed. He started across the street with purpose, eschewing the shiny revolver behind his back for the knob hidden under an old sock sticking out of his rucksack. With one smooth motion he drew the Blue Bomber in his left hand, choked up about a third of the way, and shouldered his way into the shoe shop, his mind racing.
There was, of course, that other part of his mind that was sarcastically pointing out that he was already getting into a fight after being on this world less than four hours. That must be some kind of record, it chided. The rest of his mind rejoiced, however – after weeks of being essentially useless and bored with inactivity, here was a head-busting opportunity any heroic thug would envy.
Hello, Salisbury! it seemed to sing as his shoulder hit the door and his adrenaline surged. An idle comment from some long-ago baseball coach came to him as the door slammed open – something about a batter “announcing his presence with authority.” That was just what he was doing.
The Prince was in the “City of the Steward” – and ready for his turn at bat.
Sunday, October 23, 2005 3:37 PM
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