Praise Thee and fell unto our poisoned town.
A Little Chat
The Fellers’ drive through the center of Wuester to the public docks of Atacama Lake is, on the whole, a periless voyage, neither slowed nor interrupted once, not even by a car turning off Cannonball Road before the dirty cops make their own turn. The only peril which occurs does so inside the van; the grown men fart, belch, sweat, and occasionally mutter to themselves the whole ride. Not a single coherent word is spoken and Sarah Hammond is forced against her will to bathe in that verbal silence, to simmer in that soupy stew of odors and noises even after Chief Maxwell parks and sends Vern VanDunk to scope the place out and make sure the boat is ready to go.
Vern comes back after the longest several minutes of Sarah Hammond’s life – several of the final minutes of Sarah Hammond’s life – and reports the place is deserted, about which he is relieved because he just wants this business to be over.
“We all do, Vern,” Maxwell says gravely as he hits the unlock button. “Let’s get this done.”
The Fellers, all dressed up in their blue denim pants and red sweaters with the blue Rock symbol loud and proud dead center on their chests, file out of the van, Jim before everyone else and Herm Billings after Sarah. Herm tries to guide Sarah by placing a hand on her back, but she walks faster to avoid it. Vern tries to take her hand, but she shakes out of his grasp. Neither Gene Thorton nor Billy Gene try to help the Earthen girl walk across the lamplit, desolate parking lot, and Jim Hubert crosses the majority of the pavement in a dash.
After Jim Hubert takes off, Sarah looks up at the stars, holding her hands to the sides of her face to block out the glare of the streetlamps flanking the lot. They glimmer down at her and twinkle. Gazing up at the stars used to make Sarah feel safe, especially when her Mommy and Daddy were gazing with her. But her Mommy and Daddy are dead now. They’re dead as the black space between the glimmering white stars.
‘And it’s all because my skin is brown,’ Sarah thinks to herself. ‘It’s all because I’m black. They can justify it however their dusty white brains want to, but it comes down to the color of my skin. I’m being killed because of the color of my skin.’ She sighs. ‘God bless America, land of the free, home of the brave. God bless America…”
“You say somethin’, Sarah?” asks Vern.
Sarah doesn’t answer, but she looks away from the stars. She’ll be looking up there plenty when the meteor is coming to kill her, if that even happens. It’s only now, walking across this empty parking lot to the big police boat waiting to take her out to the middle of the lake, that Sarah comes to terms with what’s really going to happen out there. There is no meteor, there is no Rock. These are just dusty white folks, and nobody’s lookin’ at ‘em; they’re going to load her onto the boat, take her out to the center of the lake, and they’re going to shoot her like they shot her parents and dump her dead body overboard to feed whatever demented creatures swim in the dark waters of Lake Atacama. They’ll probably have Jim Hubert pull the trigger, too, just like they had him shoot her parents. And he’ll probably enjoy doing it. This whole thing was probably his idea in the first place.
‘But why me?’ Sarah wonders. ‘Why did they pick my family?’ Why indeed? ‘And how did they know we’d be driving down Cannonball when we were?’
The YWCA, obviously. Has to be. None of these damn dirty cops look familiar to Sarah, but that doesn’t mean she’s never seen them around town before. Or rather, that they’ve never seen her. Some of them are married – well, probably less than some – and their hypothetical wives might go to the Y. They might have friends who work or volunteer there, too; hell, they might have infiltrated the organization. When Herm Billings gave up the goose he never explained how long they’ve all been planning this, it could have been going on for weeks now, maybe even months. Maybe since before the chief found his book.
“Come on now, Sarah,” says Herm from behind her. She stopped walking to gape at the pavement, it seems. Good thing Herm was there to push her along. “It’s almost over.”
And it is, too. The splintery wood of the main dock is only a few steps away. Jim Hubert is doubled over with his hands on his knees, still catching his breath from his excited little dash. Beyond him the dock floats over the dark water and branches out into about a thousand other docks, each one lined with boats on both sides. All except one, which has a hulking blue and white police boat with a big deck in the back and a cabin with lights on the top. The red’n’blues are flashing, and some of the spotlights are turned on too. Yep, the boat is all ready to go. Too bad Sarah isn’t ready to die.
“Finally,” Jim wheezes between breaths. “Took y’all long enough!” He breathes heavily as his fellow Fellers stare tiredly at him, then he looks at Sarah for the first time since the van was revealed. “You ready to die, little miss ni–”
“Jim,” Chief Maxwell says abruptly. “Can I talk to you over here for a second?”
Jim Hubert straightens up in a similar yet gratefully different way than he does when he’s watching videos on his laptop. “Sure, Grand Martian! Anything for you!”
“Gran…?” Maxwell pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes. When he opens them, Jim is standing uncomfortably close to his face. Maxwell puts a hand on Jim’s chest and backs him off a few feet. “Fellers, take the girl to the boat and get the motors going. I’ll be there in a moment.”
“Yeah, Fellers, we’ll be there when we’re damn well ready,” Jim spits into the night as he walks away from the Fellers. Maxwell grabs him by the shoulder and gets him moving a little faster. When they’re far enough away from the docks that the footsteps of the other Fellers and Sarah Hammond are inaudible over the waves splashing weakly against the public docks, Jim asks Grand Martian what’s going on.
“I don’t know where you got that Grand Martin shit, Jim, but knock it off. This is serious business.”
“I’m sorry, Chief,” Jim says to Chief’s shoes.
“Listen, Jim,” Chief says, forcing himself to put a hand on Jim’s bony shoulder to establish some basic human contact, “I have a special task for you, and I’m afraid you don’t really have the option to say no.”
Jim looks up, visibly excited. “I would never say no to anything you ask for, Chief.” His voice is serious and level, as though they were discussing a promotion back at the station. “You say it and consider it done.”
“Good, Jim, that’s what I like to hear. I’m go’n’a need you to stay back at the docks.”
Jim Hubert’s entire world crumbles around him, the asphalt below his feet goes soft and gooey like a roasted marshmallow and crumbles like the marshmallow was burned. He feels himself tumbling infinitely downward, feels the air leaking out of his lungs, tears rolling down his face. He feels his stomach tying in knots and rolling itself over and over until the lining breaks and the acid spills out, corroding through the rest of his intestines and finally eating through his skin and spouting out like he was some sort of twisted human fountain.
“I don’t think I can do that, Chief…”
“I don’t particularly care what you think, Jim,” Chief Maxwell assures him. “We need a man to stay back at the docks and keep watch, make sure our mission doesn’t get interrupted or observed by any eyes which don’t need to be observing it, and that’s just what it is. You’re the only man for the job.”
“But why, Chief?” Jim damn near sobs, trying harder than he’s ever tried at anything else in his life to keep it together. “Why am I the only man for the job, why not… why not Vern Van-Bunk? ”
Chief gives Jim’s shoulder a little squeeze. “Because ain’t nobody cares about felling Rock unto Earth like you do, Jim Hubert. That’s why.” He gives this a moment to sink in, which it appears to do considering how Hubert’s face unscrunches and loses some of its purply red hues, then, “Are you up for the task?”
Jim hesitates, but only to take a breath. “Yes, Sir. For Rock… for you… anything. If you really need me to–”
“Great!” Maxwell hits Hubert with a hearty pat on the back, a pat so hearty it leaves a hand-shaped welt. “Listen now, you stay here for a few minutes. I’m go’n’a get the boat out on the water, then I’ll kill the lights for a second. That’ll be your signal – when you see the red’n’blues go out for a second, and I mean precisely one second, you c’n head on over to the docks. I figure you’ll get a great view of Rock comin’ down out of space from there.”
“Hey, that’s a good point!” Jim agrees wholeheartedly. “I’ll get quite the spectacle from the end of the dock!”
“Oh no, Jim,” Chief says. “You’ll be at the front of the dock, over yon’ where the pavement ends.” Chief gestures to where the pavement ends, as if Jim was incapable of discerning meaning from his words. “You got’a be, so you c’n turn any cars who come into the lot around and make ‘em skedaddle.”
Jim feels the asphalt breaking up again, but it doesn’t crumble away this time. There’s a great, deep-seated pain in his heart, but he’ll just have to ignore it for now, won’t he? For Rock, and for Chief Maxwell, he’ll just have to ignore it.
“You got it, Chief.”
“Good man, Jim. Good man.”
Chief Maxwell turns away and begins his trot back to the docks without giving the conversation a chance to evolve any further. He trots down the main dock, he trots across to the police dock, and he trots down to the end of the police dock where the blue and white police boat full of Fellers is waiting for him.
“What was that about, Chief?” asks one of the Fellers, either Gene or Billy. Maxwell always has trouble telling those two apart unless the light’s directly on their faces, their voices sound so damn similar.
“I’m having Jim stay back on the dock,” Chief says on his way into the boat’s cabin. He stops and turns to look at Sarah, then continues in. “Thought that might be better for everyone.”
“This is a hell of a rig, Sir,” Herm says from the back. “Reminds me of the vessels up on the Bur City Bay.”
The motors rumble to life, the props spin up. “That’s exactly where it came from too, Herm. Requisitioned just today. She’s Bur City tough, just like you.”
‘And me,’ Sarah thinks to herself. ‘Bur City tough, just like me… and now I’m going to be sacrificed on a boat in backwoods Wuester.’
“Sarah!” Chief calls out over the rumble. Sarah turns her head so fast she feels a twinge in her neck. “Come on in here with me, and close the door behind you. We need to have a little chat.”
Sarah goes to have a little chat with Chief Maxwell, Grand Martian of The Fellers of Rock, and closes the door behind her. Thus the police boat laves the docks, headed for the center of Atacama Lake.
Hello Commons, this has been the second subchapter of the last chapter of Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox, a novel about a man who likes to eavesdrop on his neighbors.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is the second book in the W-2222 series, a series of books which take place in Universe W-2222.
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