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Chapter 30 A Universal Joke

  • Their clothes dried quickly in the bright sun, and by the time they reache_ne of the great boulevards that divided Berenice into its local parishes, n_ne would have guessed that they'd had to swim into the city.
  • From the interior, Berenice was much more impressive than it had seemed on th_pproach. At each corner of the boulevard was a whitewashed ziggurat toppe_ith a gilt sun, angled to catch the light at different time of the day.
  • Crystal globes hung from polished street lamps. Spyder counted a dozen larg_ronze statues to different gods on the one street. Who knew how many ther_ere on the others? Handsome residents came and went from temples and tailo_hops, butchers and herbalists, paying no attention to the travelers. Th_treet on which they stood was paved with pale pink flagstones, but green, yellow and sky blue streets intersected it.
  • "Okay, we're here, somewhere. What do we do now?" asked Lulu.
  • "Let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober, putting on th_reastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation," Coun_on said.
  • Spyder looked hard at the Count.
  • "St. Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians," he said.
  • "Yeah, I was just about to say that."
  • "We need to find stables or a market," said Shrike. "Some place big, wit_rofessional traders. And remember that you can't tell the wandering memorie_f people from real humans simply by looking at them."
  • "Then how do we know who we're talking to?" asked Spyder. "How do we trade fo_nything?"
  • "It's a question of attitude," Shrike said. "If you're talking to the memor_f a trader, his responses will be mechanical and rote. A memory isn't active.
  • It can't really do or say anything new or original. A human trader will b_ore eager and unpredictable."
  • "Makes sense."
  • "I'm going to go alone," said Shrike. "A poor, lost blind girl can usuall_ount on a pity discount."
  • "You'll be able to find your way back here?" asked Spyder. "Maybe you shoul_ake Primo as backup."
  • "I'll be happy to accompany you, Butcher Bird. And a one-armed man with _lind woman might evoke even more pity from an anxious trader."
  • "All right," said Shrike. "We'll rendezvous here in two hours. Can I trust yo_hree to find your way back?"
  • "Don't worry, I'll look after Lulu and the little brother," said the Count.
  • Spyder felt a pang of awkwardness as he and Shrike went off in differen_irections. He felt, somehow, that he should give her a goodbye kiss o_omething, but simultaneously wondered if he was supposed to acknowledg_nything between them at all. In the end, they both went their own way.
  • They walked three abreast through the strange town, Spyder near the street an_ulu near the buildings. Count Non walked between them. "The first time I eve_ent to Tijuana on my own, I got lost," said Spyder. "Ended up in thi_hantytown somewhere up in the hills. This place went on and on. Plus, it wa_ne of those days where you don't wake up hungover, you wake up still drunk.
  • So, I'm wandering around, trying to figure out a way back to town, and thi_id, a student, starts chatting me up. He wants to practice his English. Onl_henever I ask him how to get back downtown, he suddenly can't understand me.
  • I tell him to fuck off and keep walking. But these Tijuana shantytowns ar_ike a goddam anthill. Houses made of broken cinder blocks, cardboard and bi_ans of vegetable oil pounded flat.
  • "Fast forward a few hours and I'm somewhere, but nowhere I've ever see_efore. And now the sun is going down. Out of nowhere comes the kid who wante_nglish lessons. At first I think that I've just walked in a big circle. Then, I realize that the little fucker's probably been shadowing me all day. My eye_re red and my head's full of broken glass and dust bunnies. I was wearing _rand new shiny pair of two hundred dollar New Rock boots. I had to trade 'e_o the kid to get out of there, and walked back to my hotel barefoot."
  • Spyder couldn't quite figure out a pattern to the city. A street would be lai_ut like an ordinary one in any town, but then a building would be gone and i_ts place would be a pile of junk. Lost things, Spyder guessed. Not objects, but the memory of them. There were mounds of keys, piles of every kind o_oney, great meals laid out on endless banquet tables, the wan clowns an_istless trapeze acts from forgotten circuses, lost limbs (fingers stil_rying to grasp some long lost something, feet flexing with somewhere to go).
  • There were packs of dogs, flock of birds, colonies of house cats and stacks o_irty aquariums holding every kind of fish imaginable, lost pets all.
  • They stopped to look at the trinkets laid out on tables in a small stree_arket on a yellow boulevard that intersected theirs. A trader with leather_kin and blue, chapped lips clasped his hands and greeted them eagerly. H_tared at Lulu. "I see you've been doing some renovations, my dear." He took _ite of a juicy, green-skinned fruit. "What will you take for her?"
  • Spyder didn't bother looking up at the man, but kept studying the charms o_he table. "She's not for sale."
  • The merchant leaned in close and spoke in intimate tones. "You think I won'_eep her well because she lacks eyes and perhaps a liver. But don't worry.
  • Those are not the organs that concern me."
  • Spyder tucked his hands in the waist of his jeans, pushing back his jacket t_ake sure the man saw Apollyon's knife. "I missed that. Say it again," Spyde_old the man.
  • The merchant's gazes flickered from the knife to Spyder's shoulder. "Yo_isunderstood me, friend. There is no business here," said the merchant, licking his thin lips. "Thank you. Have a good day." He walked quickly away.
  • Spyder turned to Count Non, who loomed close behind him. "I was doing al_ight, you know. I don't need you doing Hulk Hogan over my shoulder."
  • "Perhaps neither of us frightened him," said the Count. "Perhaps for once h_eard his own words and thoughts and appalled himself."
  • Lulu said nothing, but pushed the merchant's wares off his table and onto th_avement.
  • "He seemed like the real reflective type," said Spyder.
  • "`God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; an_od hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which ar_ighty.'" The Count laughed, "I like you, little brother. You disguise you_obler qualities to play the fool well."
  • "Uh, thanks."
  • "Would you take some advice from someone with more experience of the world?"
  • "You don't look that much older than me."
  • "Trust me. I am."
  • "Are we talking Michael Douglas old or Bob Hope old?"
  • "More like those mountains we're heading to."
  • "You must get great senior discounts on the bus."
  • "Be quiet, little brother."
  • "What the fuck did you say?"
  • "Be quiet," repeated Count Non. "It's not necessary to fill every moment wit_our own voice. Silence terrifies you. Your see your own existence as s_enuous that you're afraid you'll pop like a soap bubble if, at ever_pportunity, you don't make a noise to remind the world that you're alive. Bu_isdom begins in silence. In learning to listen. To words and to the world.
  • Trust me. You won't disappear. And, in time, you might find that you've grow_nto something unexpected."
  • "What?"
  • "A man," said the Count. He started out of the market and back to the mai_oulevard. Spyder and Lulu followed.
  • "Don't feel badly. This is just a chat between friends, not a reprimand. I_ou feel lost and foolish sometimes, don't worry about that, either. All grea_en begin as fools. It's one of life's little jokes."
  • "Spyder, he just called you a joke of the universe. Kick his ass," said Lulu.
  • She put an arm around Spyder's shoulders. Count Non smiled at her.
  • "Food for thought," said Spyder. "We'll cover more ground if we split up for _hile. I'll meet you back at the corner where we started."
  • "I was just fucking with you, man," said Lulu, but Spyder was already roundin_he corner in the other -direction.