Me tanner, you jane, p.6
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       Me Tanner, You Jane, p.6

         Part #7 of Evan Tanner series by Lawrence Block
 
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Page 6

 

  I said, “They didn’t have any drums. ”

  She looked at me oddly.

  “Drums,” I insisted. “They were beating drums, it was driving me crazy. Then the drums stopped and I got out of there and I didn’t see any drums. Just these things. ” I held up the bone. “What happened to the drums?”

  “They used the bones. ”

  “How?”

  “They beat on the ground with them,” she said. “Evan, we have to get out of here. ”

  I knelt down, pounded the bone on the ground. I could have made as much noise pounding a pillow with a sponge. “There must have been more to it than that,” I said.

  “There were a great many of them, Evan. ”

  “I noticed. ”

  “And they pounded with great fervor. ”

  I pounded with great fervor myself. I began to see how it could have sounded like drumming, especially when it was all going on over my head.

  Plum was busy apologizing. “I was sorry to run off without warning, Evan. But when I saw them coming I was frightened. ” I couldn’t exactly blame her. “I wanted only to get away without attracting their attention. Others who have spied on their midnight rituals have been killed. I was afraid. ”

  “Who were they, anyway?”

  “The Nishanti. ”

  “Oh. ”

  “They are outlawed, Evan. They have always been outlawed, but with the new government the penalties are most severe. And yet the Nishanti flourish. There are more of them than ever before. ”

  “What do they do? Besides pound bones on the ground?”

  “They raise the Devil. ”

  “I’ll say they do,” I said. “They raise the devil, all right. But what’s the point of it all?”

  “No, no, Evan. That is what they do. ” She gestured. “Raise the Devil. It is their belief that they can come to the cemetery at midnight after a burial, and that they can chant their chants and beat bones upon the ground, and that the Devil himself will rise up out of the new grave and wreak havoc upon the entire world, and that all who do not believe will be destroyed, while the chosen believers, the Nishanti, will be carried into the Kingdom of Eternal Life. ”

  “The Devil Himself,” I said.

  “Yes. They must have thought-”

  “Up popped the Devil. ”

  “Yes. That is why they spared you, you see. And why you struck terror upon them. ”

  “They tried to raise the Devil, and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, and they ran off screaming. I suppose it’s always that way. I suppose the Jehovah’s Witnesses will be upset when the world comes to an end. But why should they be frightened if they’re the chosen believers?”

  She pondered this. “Perhaps they did not truly believe,” she suggested.

  “Well,” I said, “they do now. ”

  We left the cemetery without encountering devils or devil raisers. The bone yard was on the northeast edge of Griggstown, and the road which led to the interior of the country began in the center of town and cut northwest from there, so we made our way through the suburban sprawl along the top of the city. The rain lasted long enough to wash most of the mud off me, then turned itself off. We were both soaked through to the bone. I walked along shivering, and Plum ’s teeth chattered in the chill air. One of those hidden blessings – the cold and wet kept us from realizing how hungry we were.

  The suburb we walked through had no formal name. It wasn’t a formal political division but was merely that part of Griggstown which had occurred during the last ten years or so. I couldn’t imagine why it had bothered. It was a suburb, and there is a sameness about suburbs which transcends geographical distinctions. It could have been a suburb of London or Rio de Janeiro. It was distinguished from the Eastern European suburbs in that its houses were all painted in pastels, here a pale green one, there a pale blue one, here a pink one, there a yellow one. Behind the Curtain all the houses are gray, that very gray used for the interior of every apartment building in Manhattan. But here all the little boxes were the color of infant apparel, and all the little boxes were made of concrete block, and each had a young and spindly tree in front, and a lawn of coarse-bladed grass, and an attached garage, and a car. Every once in awhile we would see a car that wasn’t a Volkswagen.

  The car we stole was a Volkswagen. I could have saved a lot of time and trouble by stealing the first car we came to, but at the time I hadn’t yet decided on auto theft. It wasn’t that it hadn’t occurred to me. It came immediately to mind, but seemed extreme. As things stood, we were just a couple of nuts out for a walk in the middle of the night. We were both of us under house arrest, but house arrest didn’t seem to be that rigid a system in Griggstown. I was also supposed to be dead, so they had probably left off looking for me entirely.

  So I figured that stealing a car would just be asking for trouble. At least it seemed that way at the time, and an hour’s worth of cold wet walking reduced the arguments against stealing the car a hundredfold, and Plum began talking in that mindless thick-tongued toneless way young girls talk when they are about to fall asleep on their feet. We came to a house with two Volkswagens, one in the garage and the other parked on the street, and I took it as a sign from Providence. The man was prepared. He had a spare, a reserve Volkswagen. He might miss the one I took, but he would not be utterly discommoded by its absence.

  It was locked. I took out the Swiss Army pocketknife, examined the various blades, closed them all up, and popped the vent window with the edge of the closed knife. The glass starred. I hit it again and it shattered, and I reached in and opened the door and tucked Plum inside and climbed in after her. I located the screwdriver blade and loosened the screws on the ignition plate, and I went around back and opened the engine compartment and found a wire to yank. I picked one that looked unimportant, and it turned out later that it had something to do with the directionals. At least I think it did, because they didn’t work and everything else seemed to.

  I used the wire to jump the ignition terminals. The whole process made me feel like a teen-ager again. I started the car, and Plum giggled with delight, and I waited for lights to go on in the house to which the car belonged. They didn’t, and I drove away. It took a few minutes to get the hang of the car. But I had driven VWs before, and there was no one around to complain if I ground the gears or oversteered.

  When I had the car more or less mastered I turned to look at Plum. Her huge eyes were sometimes brown and sometimes green and sometimes in-between. Her face was dusted with freckles across the bridge of the nose and high on the cheekbones. Her face was longish, the features sharply drawn, the chin strong, the forehead broad, the mouth full. Her hair was almost blond and almost kinky and not quite either. Like the car, she took a little getting used to.

  I said, “Last chance, Plum. ”

  “No. ”

  “You sure?”

  “Yes. I can help you, you know. You are a stranger in my land, Evan. You do not know the customs of the people or their speech. The geography is foreign to you. My assistance will smooth the way for you. ”

  “I’m not sure it will be safe for you. ”

  “Griggstown would not be safe for me either. ”

  “I don’t see-”

  “They are probably searching for me right this moment,” she said. “To arrest me for helping you escape from the grave. Or for violating house arrest. Or for mmmmmfrzzz. ”

  “Huh?” I turned again, and she was asleep.

  It had never occurred to me to take her along. During our traipse through the suburbs I had mentioned something about having to get her back to her house, and it was then that she insisted on coming with me. I offered up the usual sort of objections, citing her age and her sex and the fact that Griggstown was her home and that, if she left it, she might not find it easy to return to it.

  None of these arguments carried much weight. She defeated them by agreeing wholeheartedly. She admitted that she
was fifteen and female, and that it would be far easier to get out of Griggstown than to get back into it. But she went on to insist that it would be less dangerous for her to come with me than not, and that Griggstown wasn’t much of a home for her at all because she couldn’t possibly belong in it. “I’m neither white nor black,” she said. “I’m in-between. Everybody gives me a funny look. I make people nervous. White or black, I make them nervous. Even the people in the MMM. They insist it’s perfectly all right for the races to intermarry and that someone like me is as good as anyone else, but they don’t like to look at me. I get on their nerves. ”

  “Where would you want to go?”

  “I don’t know. Once I wanted to go to Capetown. There are mixed-blood people there, the Cape Coloreds. I thought I would go there and be one of them, but they seem to have the same problem, only it’s worse for them because the whole country is so involved with race. Perhaps you will take me back to America. ”

  I wasn’t sure that was the answer, but neither was sending her home again. And I couldn’t really see how it would be that much more dangerous for her to come along. We would just drive up into the interior of Modonoland far enough to establish that Bowman and Knanda Ndoro were with their ancestors. If there was any sign that Ndoro’s treasure still existed, maybe we would have a shot at it. If not, we would find a border and get over it and find civilization and think of someplace to go next. There would be a certain amount of adventure, but that was what we were all here for. But there shouldn’t be much in the way of danger.

  Ha.

  Chalk it up to shock – the burial bit, the madmen with their cattle bones, the rain and the chill. Or write it off as the system’s tolerance for terror; after all the various anxieties I had suffered in the past few hours, nothing as far away as the remote Modonoland hinterlands held any fear for me. Besides, I was the Corpse That Walked. You can’t kill a dead man, so what was there for me to be afraid of?

  I drove through the geometrical precision of suburban streets until I came to the highway running northwest out of the city. I turned obliquely into it and held the car at a steady eighty kilometers an hour. Almost at once the suburban pattern thinned out and gave way to stretches of open farmland with houses few and far between. It began raining again. I hoped I hadn’t ripped out the wiper system. I hadn’t. They worked, flipping hypnotically back and forth. They didn’t keep the windshield clean, but they did their best.

  Plum sighed occasionally in her sleep, and made little purring noises. She shifted in her seat and wound up with her head against my shoulder, her little body curled up beside me. In sleep her face looked even younger and more completely innocent than it did when she was awake. I put a paternal arm around her. I thought of Minna, I thought of Kitty. I removed the arm and kept both hands on the wheel.

  I went on driving. The rain stopped again, and shortly thereafter the sky lightened up and dawn broke rather abruptly. I thought about food. At first I just sort of thought about it, as one will, and then it began to become an obsession. I thought about the last meal I had eaten, and calculated the number of hours that had elapsed since then, and remembered the ingredients of that last meal, and compared it with other meals, and began to consider all of the meals I had eaten over the course of my life, and remembered what one after another of them had tasted like, the appearance and aroma of the various foods. I thought of the cheese and the ham sandwich which I had abandoned in the coffin. I cursed myself for abandoning them. I devised plans for returning to the grave and digging them up again. I was not wholly irrational – I knew that this was absurd, but I was driving on a dull road with nothing to do but think, and my body was determined that those thoughts would concern food, since that was what it wanted, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.

 
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