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Authors: Michael J. Nelson

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BOOK: Mike Nelson's Death Rat!
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CHAPTER 20

D
ean, you're wrong! You're always wrong, and it's we honest Minnesotans who suffer!” bellowed Bart Herzog, Minnesota's duly elected governor. He was splayed out on the couch in the entertainment room of the governor's mansion, alone, wearing combat boots, Zubaz, and a sleeveless Gold's Gym cutoff T-shirt, watching the nightly news. He was becoming agitated over what he perceived as a lack of competence in the weather-forecasting abilities of Channel 4's Debbie Dean. “That's what you said last year, and I didn't get my jet ski in the water till June, liar! Filthy
liar
!”

Barb Herzog. Minnesota's first lady, pushed her head into the room.

“You all right, honey?” she asked.

He let out a groan that sounded like a bus decelerating. “It's this Dean character. She really frosts my strawberries, is all.”

“Well, try not to let her get to you,” Barb counseled, adding, “Would you like some cereal or something?”

“Huh? No. No, I'm fine.”

She paused in the doorway. “I got you your Count Chocula. You're sure?”

“I'm right as rain,” he said, putting his combat boots up on the Rhodesian-teak coffee table.

His wife bade him good night and withdrew, leaving him alone with Debbie Dean and her web of lies. When Debbie had finished spreading her poison, she tossed it back to anchor Alisha Poole, of whom Herzog was fond, mainly because he imagined she looked like the dark-haired woman from ABBA, only with blond hair.

“Thank you, Debbie. Looks like it's going to be a pleasant Thursday,” Alisha said pleasantly.

“It should be,” agreed Debbie.

“Liar!”
shouted the governor.

Alisha thanked Debbie again and then announced their final feature of the evening, something called the Holey Watch.

“What in the grits and gravy is this?” shouted the governor, and then he watched in horror as Daniel Turnbow lubriciously reported from the site of the mine. He became especially agitated when King Leo appeared onscreen in a jumpsuit filled with cutouts.

“Filthy freak!” he cried. “You defile our state. Real estate prices are declining because of you!” He reached for his
Sports Illustrated
football phone and quickly dialed.

In just one and a half rings, his press secretary answered. “Adam, what are you doing?” the governor demanded.

“Um, I was just putting away some socks. Why?”

“Never mind. Turn on the TV.”

“Okay. Hang on,” and the governor heard the sounds of his
press secretary moving away from his sock drawer to get near a television, then the sound of it switching on. “Okay.”

“Tell me what you see,” the governor demanded.

“I see an African lungfish. Of course, I'm trusting the graphic on this one.”

“What the Buddy Guy are you watching? I mean turn on the news. Channel Four, man.”

“Okay. Yes.”

“What do you see?”

“I see King Leo singing upside down and backward through his own legs.”

“Exactly. And where is he doing this?”

“Oh, it's this Holey thing. He's started some strange ratbased religion up there.”

“Why wasn't I kept abreast of this situation?”

“I thought you weren't a fan of his stuff. I guess I misjudged.”

“I'm not, you toadstool! I want to put a stop to his brand of anti-Minnesotan filth. Hang on. Check out this three-dollar bill,” he said as Jack appeared onscreen answering Daniel's questions and looking fit and rugged. “Oh, that's right, milk it like a junkyard nanny goat, you phony.”

“Me, Governor?”

“No, dolt. This four-flusher, this Jack Ryback.” “Why do you say that? I like him.”

“You like everything that isn't tied down. You have no barometer, that's your problem. You're barometerless. We need a good war to temper people like you and give you barometers. Okay, who's this piece of work?” asked the governor.

“That, I believe, is the mayor of Holey.”

“Really? I thought I knew all the mayors in Minnesota. Didn't I throw a luncheon for them all once? Planet Hollywood, right?”

“No, sir. Those were producers. You were courting Hollywood at the time, trying to entice them to Minnesota, turn it into a destination for film production, Governor.”

“Did it work?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, remind me to try again sometime. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Look at the screen. Who's this Peter Yarrow mutant?” asked the governor, referring to Gerry Iverson.

“Who's Peter Yarrow?” asked his press secretary.

“Peter, Paul and Mary? He was Peter.”

“Oh, right. Well, then, perhaps it's Peter Yarrow,” Adam suggested.

“No, not his type of thing. Now, listen, Adam, this whole boondoggle up in Holey has got to stop. It's not good for our state.”

“What do you mean? We're getting a lot of attention on a national level,” Adam objected.

“Gigantic rats, big-headed lugs in logger's shirts, abandoned gold mines, filthy funk stars, ponytailed hippy rejects, rat-based worship—is this all adding up to ‘Minnesota' by your reckoning?”

“Except for the rat stuff, I'd say it's not far off.”

“Well, the world can't know that! It's your job to see that they don't! Now, how do we go about it?”

“I don't know that there's anything we can do. It's very hip right now. King Leo's got a bunch of his cronies up there. The press is crawling all over it. You rain on that parade right now and your approval rating's bound to take a hit.”

“Feh! To the dogs with my approval rating!” the governor announced bravely. “How many points, would you think?”

“Let me do some quick calculations. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And . . . okay. All right. I'd say at least fifteen points.”

“Fifteen points! That's Wilson Cott territory!” he said, referring to his predecessor, a hardworking but bland career politician whose rating always suffered because of an unfortunate comb-over.

“A couple points lower than his term average, actually.”

The governor wailed. “That can't be good for the upcoming book.”

“No. I'd certainly call Williamson-Funk before making any kind of move.”

Herzog's voice rose, sonorous and bold. “You think I call my publisher before I make a move in my position as governor of this state, a title entrusted to me by the good people of Minnesota? That's
your
job. Call them and see if it's worth the risk of me busting up this little cadre of freaks in Holey.”

“Got it.”

“Remind them how well it worked out when I beat up that protester.”

“Right.”

The governor snapped the elastic band of his Zubaz. “And, Adam? Tell them I'm out of cigars.”

T
ERRACE BERRY COURT
Lane was completely unfamiliar to Gus Bromstad, and that was too bad. Making a left from Terrace Berry Court Lane onto Linden Grove Boulevard Circle is difficult; the turn was easy to miss. But making that left from Terrace Berry Court Lane onto Linden Grove Boulevard Circle and then taking a hard right onto King John's
Plaisance Way was the only way to get to 1287000 Friar Tuck's Path, and 1287000 Friar Tuck's Path was the address to Stig Stou-Thorup's duplex at the Sherwood Forest Dell housing park in Brooklyn Center. Gus, lamentably, missed the turn onto Linden Grove Boulevard Circle and ended up in the City Park East Northern Technology Center, where he got lost. He had to ask for directions in the DigiTelCo Building, at the offices of Brite Ideahs Marketing, LLC, just as they were opening their doors for the day. His presence there caused something of a fuss, and he was forced to sign the receptionist's teddy bear before he could get any useful information out of her.

Thus, when Gus eventually showed up at Stig's place, he was late, tense, and highly intolerant of people who live in duplexes in the Sherwood Forest Dell housing park.

“Have you no self-respect, man?” he asked Stig. “Your lawn looks like it was just unrolled yesterday. Your trees are no taller than your trash cans.”

“I like it here. It's quiet, and there's a Mamma Pepperoni's Pizzeria Italiana right up the street.”

“There's a Mamma Pepperoni's Pizzeria Italiana right up every street in Minnesota. They're like snowflakes in this state. You're Danish. I thought you people liked old, crumbling things?”

“We are a practical people as well, and if by living here I can get a gingerbread latte within ten minutes of waking, then so be it.”

“Mother of pearl, man! You like those dissolved baked goods? You're more of a freak than I ever would have been bold enough to imagine.”

“Mr. Bromstad, if you're angry that my Volvo is in the shop, I assure you, I can contribute toward petrol for the drive.”

“Let's just get going.”

With Stig's guidance they were able to get on 169 headed north without wandering into any office-park snares, and they made the nearly five-hour trip up to Holey having spoken a total of eleven words between them.

“You were lucky to get a room,” said Patty Perpich when they arrived at the Bugling Moose. “Everything within miles of here is filling up because of King Leo's revival. But for Gus Bromstad we just had to do it.” She smiled sweetly.

“You got my keys?” Bromstad said.

“Thank you. Thank you so much,” Stig added.

They had found their cabin, unloaded their belongings, and staked claim on their separate rooms when Stig appeared in Bromstad's door naked save for the towel he was holding. Since this was really covering only a portion of four fingers on his right hand, he was in practice naked.

Bromstad shrieked, calmed himself, and then summed the situation up accurately.

“You are as naked as a newborn.”

“Yes.”

“Will this be happening frequently during our stay together? If so, I'll need to make some plans to blind myself.”

“I am going to the sauna.”

“There's a sauna?”

“Yes. It's fifty yards on toward the lake.” “And you're going there naked?”

“Yes.”

“I see you have a towel. Might you not want to use that to cover things?”

“No.”

“I strongly advise it.”

“The Danish way is to sauna naked.”

“And to actually
go
to the sauna naked as well?”

“When one has one's aquavit stowed in one's towel, yes. Are you ashamed of the male body, Mr. Bromstad?”

“Yes. Deeply. It is a travesty of engineering.”

“So be it. I came to ask if you wanted to join me,” Stig said.

“Well, you've got the aquavit, so I suppose I'm in.”

Soon there were two naked, sweaty men in a small cedar-lined room flogging their own backs with birch branches.

“Not so much force, Mr. Bromstad. Just gently flagellate yourself,” Stig advised.

“Don't get fresh.”

“And you really should take your hat off.”

“I take my hat off for three things, and that's it: haircuts, showers, and bed. Well, most nights anyway. Now, loose your grip on that hooch.”

Stig poured out two shots, and they quickly disappeared.

“Ah,” enthused Bromstad. “You know, we should have brought along a bag of pretzels or something. You getting peckish there, Stig?”

“Ja,”
Stig said automatically. He then leveled a question that has been bandied about in saunas since man first stripped and got into one. “Do you think, ultimately, one is punished for one's sins?”

“What? You mean failing to bring pretzels? I shouldn't think we'd be in big trouble when the cosmic bill's all tallied up.”

“I mean it. Kierkegaard would have us believe that there is no logic that would lead us to a belief in God, and despite that,
he
believed strongly in Him. Is there—”

“Kierkegaard: Danish?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Copenhagen, right?”

“Oh, yes. Excluding a few travels, his entire life was spent there.”

“That explains the apparent dichotomy right there. I was on a book tour in Denmark for a week, so I think I can help. You see, anyone living in Copenhagen who has ever tried getting a taxi is bound to conclude that there is no God. And yet, when one is living in the pallid despair of a taxiless city, one needs something to believe in besides bad coffee and boiled fish. Hence Kierkegaard's invented ‘loving' God.”

“Bromstad, you are—”

“Well, down the hatch.”

Stig shook his head sadly. “Sooner or later we will all have to answer, Mr. Bromstad. As for me, I am going to jump in the lake.” He stood up to leave.

“What? Where are you going?” asked Bromstad.

“It is tradition after one has experienced the heat of the sauna, what the Finns call the
löyly,
to run into a cold body of water or roll in the snow. There being no snow to roll in, I'm going to jump in the lake.”

“I'm coming with you.”

The naked men splashed about in cold Lake Vermilion and soon returned for more
löyly.

Once they'd thrown some water on the stones and got down to the business of sweating a whole lot, Stig asked Bromstad, “So who is this man, this person whose photo you punched? Why is he so significant?”

Bromstad gently flagellated himself several more times without
responding. Then he stopped his hand and stared at the wall in front of him. “His name is Feeb,” he said.

“Feeb?” asked Stig. “Feeb what?”

“Feeb. Pontius Feeb. He's a history writer. You know the type.”

“I confess I don't,” said Stig.

“Bookish. Smart-mouthed. Face like a conch. Often they smell of rancid salad oil. They're jealous, corpulent little freaks with no social skills, and yet they . . .
they've
got the gall to get on their on high horses and preach down from Mount Wisdom at the rest of the world as though some high council had given him permission to write
All the Rules to Everything in the World
, as opposed to dusty little volumes on German immigrants—”

BOOK: Mike Nelson's Death Rat!
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