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Authors: Patrick Ness

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Zealots,
Jarvis thought, and cautioned himself again on his
lack of charity. He caught a glance of Theophilus sitting down again in the gloom, a look of sour triumph on his face. Jarvis stifled another unkind thought and looked back to his text.

—Then if you’ll all turn with me to the beginning of canticle five …

13. Maggerty Eats.

The circumstance wasn’t noteworthy, but the sensation was.

Maggerty was hungry.

He had, more or less, ceased noticing hunger years before. The constant swirly, inky fog in his brain helped to push the subject away, and he had also managed to achieve a certain self-sufficiency that kept the deepest pangs in abeyance. He knew where to get fruit in the Arboretum, where to get vegetables from the larger local gardens, and where easiest to steal prepared goods from those shopkeepers who turned a blind eye when Maggerty ambled in. No one wished the Rhinoherd any ill and all did their distant best to see that he was provided for. Even in these conditions, if Maggerty got hungry enough, he would just eat grass with The Crash. It tasted unspeakable, but he had also learned the habit of ignoring his tongue.

So, in fact Maggerty was often hungry, but rarely noticed because there was always something in the way of provision, making it more accurate and more disturbing, then, to say now that Maggerty was
aware
that he was hungry. Acutely aware. The fruits on the trees were smaller than usual; the vegetables in the gardens also. The prepared goods were still theftworthy, but Maggerty had caught the eyes of more than one shopkeeper frowning at his repeat business. The grass was also different. There was still plenty of it, of course, there
was always plenty of grass, but Maggerty’s tastebuds were becoming less successful at ignoring the bitterness, mainly because they had only been taught to ignore the sickly sweetness of the greenest grasses of Hennington.

No, there was no doubt about it. Maggerty was hungry, hungry enough to momentarily clear his fogged brain and require him to take notice. His stomach paced up his torso in gurgly steps. A little while later it paced back down. He followed it with his attention every time, fingering his wound distractedly. Beneath the grime and under the lowered face – but oddly enough
not
underneath a beard; it remained one of the central mysteries of the Rhinoherd that he never grew facial hair, never grew it for there was certainly no way he could be
shaving
it off – Maggerty frowned. It was an effort for so expressionless and calcified a face to show much emotion, but there it was, an honest-to-goodness frown.

Somehow Maggerty knew the leader of the herd was also bothered about the grass. He had been with The Crash long enough to have seen her assume her leadership, albeit reluctantly, and had followed the herd faithfully through her entire tenure as leader. He could tell when she was bothered, even when it seemed the other animals in The Crash couldn’t. There was a look to her, a shaking of the head, a leveling of the eyes, there was
something
that Maggerty keyed into through the murk in his brain, something that addressed the unsettled aspect of him, which was a considerable aspect indeed. Maggerty, that wariest of suspects, could follow wariness in others, even rhinoceros,
especially
rhinoceros, with nary a batted matted eyelash.

He plucked a pinkish-green cherry from a wan cherry tree tucked away in the northern corners of the Hennington Arboretum. The branch did not give up the under-ripe fruit willingly, and Maggerty nearly mashed it into nothing before
he got it off the limb. When he finally ate it, it was so sour the tears temporarily blinded him. He let out a little gasp. After his vision cleared, he noticed the leader of The Crash regarding him. Not looking, but sniffing in his direction, her spearhead ears rotating this way and that, taking their measure of him. He croaked out some words to her.

—They’re green. Not ripe yet.

She looked off into the distance, but somehow Maggerty could tell she was still giving him her attention. She snorted, shaking her head and shuffling her front feet.

—What’s going on?

But of course she had no answer. She turned and moved off further among the rest of The Crash, all grazing happily in the green lea. They were in an area where a concentration of aeries hovered at the top of nearly every tree, homes to the massive Hennington Grey Eagle. She directed her attention to the treetops, as if pondering a question. Maggerty looked up as well. The huge nests seemed abandoned, ghost nests waiting to fall. The eagles were nowhere to be seen.

—Where did they go?

And again she had no answer.

14. Peter on the Move.

Peter Wickham unplugged the charger from his motorcycle and maneuvered out of the garage. His waiter’s uniform was neatly folded into a back compartment. Underneath his protective jacket and helmet, he was dressed in an expensive pair of black pants and a white, frilled shirt that was ridiculous. Big Boss Thomas Banyon had selected it though and thus discussion of its merits stopped there.

Peter had been brought from over the border the year
before by Thomas Banyon, ostensibly as a waiter, but really because one of Thomas’ regular young bucks had the gall to go and get himself murdered, under circumstances Thomas preferred not to spell out, leaving him short one Rumour boy to lease for general entertainment. Thomas’ experience was such, though, that the word ‘general’ rarely applied for long, and Peter ended up being not quite so ‘general’ after all. It turned out that Peter had a member just subtly shaped, curved, and pliant enough to be a perfect fit for those male and female clients whose tastes tended towards the mysterious pleasures of the anus. Thomas being Thomas, Peter had to work as a waiter anyway, so tonight he had pulled a full shift at Hennington Hills Golf Course and Resort’s Savannah Restaurant before heading out to what had turned into a regularly scheduled Wednesday-night clip. He pushed the cycle onto the freeway out of town heading for the immaculate but somehow sad home of one Luther Pickett, businessman.

Peter was remarkably unresentful of his clips. He wasn’t foolish enough to ever believe that Thomas Banyon would for one second make good on his promises of releasing Peter after the three-year work permit was up when Peter would be able, theoretically anyway, to look for work away from his sponsor. Peter brought in too much money and too many intangibles to the Golf Course and Resort, and he was well aware he would be used until his looks, talents, and penis were no longer so often requested. But that was the future; it would take care of itself. He shared in none of the griping the other employees of Hennington made about old men with bad smells or fat women with pudgy, inept fingers.

There was no doubt Peter had gone through his share of awful clips: the woman who, after sex, had walked into her bathroom and calmly died of a cerebral hemorrhage; the teenage boy who, halfway through the act, had begun to insist
that Peter start punching him; the man who had held him at gunpoint demanding that Peter fuck his large, blonde dog, not believing Peter when he told the man that he had requested the wrong employee. Thomas, in an act that could have been mistaken for kindness, had released this last man from the clip list. You never threatened the entertainment. Never. Unless, of course, that
was
your particular brand of entertainment.

Despite all this, as Peter drove towards Luther’s home, he was heartened, even a little excited. Though never having been with a man during his whole life across the border, Peter had unexpectedly made the rookie mistake of falling dangerously and recklessly in love with Luther Pickett, the boss’ stepbrother. Somehow, through his three or four clips during the week, through all the fakery and fucking he performed, through all the varying degrees of hygiene and taste that he put up with, this regular Wednesday appointment made up for it all.

He rounded a long curve in the freeway and slid down the offramp. He turned up into the hills, humming to himself as he went. Luther’s house was at the end of a private road, removed from most neighbors and traffic. A lovely house, Peter thought for the nth time as he parked his bike to the side of the garage. When he walked around to the front door, Luther was already there, waiting for him.

—Peter.

—Hey, Luther.

They kissed.

—Come in. I made chook. Hope you’re hungry.

Here was another thing: Luther Pickett seemed to be the only clip in the history of Hennington Hills to make dinner for the entertainment.

—Smells good.

—I hope so. I’m a little worried about the spices.

They stopped at the entrance to the kitchen for a longer embrace and kiss.

—It’s good to see you.

—I’m very glad to be here.

And there was the sad look again, the look that had caused Peter to fall.

—What’s wrong?

A laugh.

—Oh, you know, the usual.

—Yes, but you never tell me ‘the usual'.

—Just a little personal failure today. Nothing to worry about. Here, take off your jacket. Get comfortable.

—Do you like this shirt?

—Sure.

—You don’t have to lie.

—Then, no.

—I don’t like it either. Banyon insisted I wear it. Said it was all the fashion, as if he would know. Do you have a T-shirt I could borrow?

—Absolutely.

Luther disappeared for a moment and returned with a shirt. He watched while Peter changed. He sighed.

—Are you sure nothing’s up?

—I’m sure. Don’t worry about it. We’re here to have a good time.

‘We', thought Peter.

—Why don’t we eat then? And after that, I can help you relax.

—I’m all for that plan.

Luther smiled, and there was genuine warmth in it, Peter was sure.

15. An Offer.

—Good veal. Your room service has performed well, Eugene. —First I’ve ever had.

—First room service?

—First veal. I’m Rumour. We don’t normally go for veal.

—Oh, that’s right. It’s seafood or nothing, isn’t it?

—The Official Entrée of the Rumour Nation.

—And what nation would that be?

—A hypothetical one, so far.

—So far? There are ambitions afoot to make it not hypothetical?

—If you believe my father.

—Do you?

—Do I what?

—Believe your father.

—Before or after he died?

—Either.

—Then no and no.

—Ah, the bitterness of youth. We’re ignoring the, what is this?, crumb cake would be my best guess. —Blueberry-cinnamon bundt.

—How very exact.

—I work here. I’ve seen the menu.

Jon cut his way into the bundt with a knife. A quivering blueberry goo slumped out of the middle of the slice.

—I think that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

—You’re not going to eat it?

—Look at it.

—It looks good.

Eugene cut himself an enormous piece. He seemed so
pleased while eating it that Jon could have sworn he heard him humming. He
was
humming. A tune, even.

—What are you humming?

—What?

—That song. What are you humming?

—I’m not humming.

—Yes, you were. Just now.

—No, I wasn’t.

Said with an unusual sternness that Jon took as a dismissal of the subject. So be it.

—All right then. You weren’t.

—It’s almost eight. I should be going.

—There’s no need for that just yet.

—I thought you had somewhere to go, too.

—Not tonight.

—Why would you spend the first night of your vacation in a hotel room?

—It’s not a vacation. I told you, I’m visiting an old friend.

—Well, still. Why stay here? Why not visit your friend?

—I have found out she’s occupied this evening.

—She?

—She. Old passion from my past, I’m afraid.

—And she doesn’t know you’re coming so that’s why she’s occupied.

—How very observant from one who has seemed heretofore so opaque. I mean that as a friend.

—No, I know fuck all about most things. My girlfriend just dumped me.

—?-ha. So you’re currently attuned to the caprice that is occasionally named ‘woman'.

—What?

—Women can sometimes ruin you.

—Goddamn right.

He angrily speared another quivering bite of bundt.

—What do you want to be, Eugene?

Eugene smiled sourly, blueberries in his teeth.

—You mean when I grow up?

—How old are you?

—Twenty.

—Then, yes, definitely, when you grow up.

—I don’t know.

—Surely there must be something.

—Nope.

—At all?

—At all. I wanted to be a musician. I’m a bass player.

—If you
are
a bass player, then why the past tense? Sounds like you’re already a musician.

—Fuck it, I don’t want to talk about it.

—Surely you don’t want to work here the rest of your life?

Eugene said nothing, shoving more bundt into his mouth.

—How would you like to come and work for me?

—You just met me.

—I’m an excellent judge of people.

—Not if you’re offering
me
a job.

—Self-deprecation is more destructive than you can possibly imagine, Eugene.

—A job doing what?

—Being my assistant.

—I’m flattered, but like I said—

—Look, I don’t want to bed you or your single-tracked mind.

He turned his full gaze on Eugene. Apple-green eyes resting in a lined, deeply tanned face. Cropped salt-and-pepper hair pulling back from strong temples. A small nose resting above a generously lipped mouth. A chin that only seemed on the
weaker side until you heard the voice pouring from above it. Eugene began to sweat. He felt his skin pulling into goosebumps. He was entranced, trapped.

—I am not an average man, Eugene, and I don’t mean that in a boastful way. In fact, it has often worked to my detriment, but I do know a few things. My destiny is here in Hennington. I’m not prepared to share that destiny just yet but know this, I am not mistaken, misled, or delusional. I’m not just offering you a job, Eugene, I’m offering you a chance. A chance to be there.

BOOK: The Crash of Hennington
10.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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