Thao (that’s the woman who came to warn us, who actually is Elvis’s cousin) didn’t know where Elvis was. No one ever seems to know where he is. I wonder if his reputation for wandering the neighborhood like an itinerant monk fixing people’s clogged sinks and babysitting and helping them pirate electricity is just a cover and really he’s doing something nefarious. Madripoor seems like that kind of place. I read a book about Port Royal once called The Wickedest City in the World. It was about how the place was run by pirates. I remembering thinking – this can’t all be true, you can’t have a city where everyone is on the hustle. You need most people to be squares, otherwise who’s going to collect the garbage and clean toilets and other things no criminal wants to do?
But here we are. I realize now that notion was narrow-minded. In the Coalition, surrounded by roads and parks and Dairy Queens and drive-in movies and nude hot tubbing it’s easy to think that the world is a safe place, a tame place. It isn’t.
Thao didn’t know where Elvis was, but she knew where he was going to be later, washing dishes at a noodle house called Le Petit Point d’Arret Parlant. Which is a pretty weird name. I wanted to go looking for him, but Blue and Martialla said that roaming the streets like Hensel and Gretel (I always forget that birds came and ate their trail of crumbs, I wonder why that expression caught on since it didn’t work in the fable) would do no good, and in any case the Shadow Lords weren’t likely to kill him until later. Thao didn’t even support me, she agreed that “probably” nothing was going to happen to her cousin until that night.
I kind of checked out while they continued talking about the best way to sell the Burlington Industries murder suit to maximize profits and minimize risk. LBK doesn’t speak French, and even though they’re Canadian, Blue and Martialla don’t have real strong English (how does that make sense?) and the Tower of Babel stuff was getting old, so I chain smoked crappy cigarettes and drank crummy Chinese beer that seems to come in a “can” made of paper instead of paying much attention to what they were saying.
My grandmother would be very disappointed in me being sullen and withdrawn just because things aren’t going my way. I loved her dearly but she was a hard woman. It would have been nice if I had another grandmother who was more the nurturing sort to balance things out. I’m the leader of this group (obviously) so I should always be doing most of the talking, but I found myself sinking further back into my chair and wondering how the Tropics are doing this year. I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.
I haven’t even been in Madripoor for two months but it feels like I’ve been here forever. And I don’t see any chance of getting out any time soon. There’s no way we’re getting that money, I just know we won’t. Something will happen. When we try to sell this stupid robot suit, Mr. X or Superkill Shadow Lord or someone else I’ve pissed off is going to attack us. And then some other supervillain asshole crimeboss is going to show up while we’re fighting them and steal the suit. And then use it to give me tinnitus or an itchy rash on my thighs or some other damn thing to annoy me all day every day. I started wallowing in self-pity and it’s challenging to pull out of a good wallow.
While I was wallowing, I had a thought. That Stars and Stripes jerk who showed up during the fight – who was he and what was he doing there? Blue told me that a group called the New Founding Fathers are the ones that supered me up – a dude with an America flag chest seems like the sort that would be associated with a group like that. Maybe this is some kind of field test of my powers and he’s been watching me this whole time. Maybe the whole thing is a set-up. I started peering suspiciously over my beer at everyone and wondering who else might be in on it. I need some weed to calm my nerves. Of course, they probably don’t even smoke weed in Madripoor, they probably smoke something like weed that’s made from sea urchin venom or some bullshit that gets you high but also causes violent cramping. Stupid Madripoor.
Eventually it was time to go save Elvis so I had to pull myself out of my funk. Martialla found some clothes that she put on OVER her wetsuit like a lunatic. I think that thing is melded to her sick fish-flesh, she never takes it off. How does she pee? And she wasn’t even getting dressed to try and blend in, she just wanted someplace to hide her guns. Blue didn’t even bother, he had an AK (or whatever) in his hand – which is actually fine in Madripoor. How does he even pull the trigger with his giant lizard fingers? He must use the claw. Which seems fiddle. LBK didn’t need any guns of course, since his hands are registered as deadly weapons with the deadly weapon registration bureau.
I let Blue and Martialla go first (“taking point” as they called it) and I drifted back with LBK so I could feel normal for a minute. Just a foreign lady and her friend out for a stroll. I asked him how he came to speak English and he said that he went to a British School in Manilla before it was taken over by Japan. We chit-chatted amiably for a while and then he confided in me that he got his powers from a mystical jungle rooster that was fifteen feet high. So much for normal.
When we got to the noodle house, the woman in a red Cheongsam that was running the place acted like asking to speak to a dishwasher was stranger than the fact that we were there at all. A giant blue lizard with a machine gun and a fish-woman walk into your restaurant and what fazes you is that they want to talk to the help? She told us that we couldn’t talk to Elvis just then on account of he was washing dishes but she’d send him out on his break.
I was only too happy to take a seat and start shoveling mie goreng into my maw and hammering bintang beer. Blue and Martialla are used to it but LBK watched with fascination/horror. The fact that my super-metabolism seemingly makes it impossible for me to get drunk really makes me try that much harder to get drunk. I think I had four dozen beers that night. I didn’t even get a buzz.
Fun fact, even though he’s huge, Blue hardly eats anything. I guess lizards need far less food than mammals. I don’t even know what Martialla eats, she probably sucks slime off the bottoms of ships or something like a catfish. When my twentieth plate of noodles arrived, Blue gave me a concerned look (I think, lizard facial expressions are tough to decipher even for someone as emotionally keyed in as me).
“How are we going to pay for all of this?”
I ducked my head at LBK and talked around a mouthful of noodles “The new guy pays, it’s like an initiation.”
Lim seemed like he was going to say something but just then Elvis came over to our table. He looked clean for once and grinned at the sight of me. I never noticed before that he’s actually pretty handsome. Or maybe that was the forty-eight beers talking.
He wiped his hands on a towel and then threw it over his shoulder “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
I managed to stop eating for a second “We’re here to rescue you.”
He smiled slightly “From washing dishes?”
I shook my head “No, this is serious, the Shadow Lords say they’re coming for you tonight.”
He nodded “Yeah, I heard about that. Ela, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, there’s always someone gunning for me. I’ve learned the appropriate response is just to live my life. I live the way I like and I’ll die the way I’ll die. I get threatened all the time.”
“I think they mean it this time.”
He looked over at the other people at the table “So you came to defend me? I barely know you, these other people I don’t know at all.”
I gestured “These are my friends.” I pointed at LBK “Except him, he just glommed onto us like a slug.”
LBK threw his hands up “You told me to come!”
“Nobody told you to follow fish-lips back to our secret lair from the robbery.”
“Secret lair? It’s a bar in touristville!”
Elvis smiled “And you all came out to risk your lives for me? I’m touched, truly. But it’s not necessary. However, if you want to protect me at a few bars after I get off work, that sounds great. In fact, I was hoping I would see you, I’ve been working on a little surprise for you.”