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Книга Dhalgren. Содержание - 4

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Scorpions shuffled in the silence.

Priest kneeling over the ham squinted. He was so close to the fire his dark shoulders sweated.

Kid walked toward the scowling blond and took his shoulder. "Now you just go on and get yourself something to eat!" He shook the scorpion's shoulder in large motions. "There's enough for everybody, see?" Am I really getting away with this? Kid began to laugh. "Come on, give him a piece of ham." He pushed the scorpion toward the fire. And I'll just turn, walk away, and wait for a fork in my shoulder.

Kid turned.

Copperhead stood before the others, arms crossed, Glass to one side of him, Spitt to the other. The short-haired woman, shaking her head, was walking away.

Kid moved toward them thinking; I can't tell whether they're about to back me or jump me. Do the others know? "Whyn't you get yourself something to eat, too?" He walked by.

Some tension had broken with his laughter.

Thruppence said, "You got a ladle or a cup or something?"

Jack the Ripper said, "We got bowls and cups and things. Somebody washed all the fuckin' dishes."

Half a dozen crouched together behind the fire, shoulders smooth as great plums, hair wrinkled as prunes, holding forks over the coals, shifting hands suddenly sucking their knuckles.

He looked at a bottle.

"You want some of—?"

"Yeah." He took the bottle and another drink, "Thanks," and kept circling. Two were necking under a tree. Momentarily he thought they were both boys.

Dollar lifted his face from the girl's disarrayed hair. "Hey, Kid…" He blinked in the firelight, his stubbly jaw blebbed here and there.

Kid stepped over Dollar's boots.

"You got something to eat yet?" Denny asked.

Kid shook his head.

"You take this. I'll get another one."

The cup was hot and soup had run down the sides. "Thanks."

"You won't get trichinosis from that ham if it isn't cooked through, will you?" Denny asked.

"If it comes out of a can," Kid said, "it's cooked."

"That's what I thought," Denny said.

He sipped, stinging the roof of his mouth. The sensation took seconds to subside to simple heat. He was looking, desultorily, for either Pepper or the scorpion who'd harassed him. He could spot neither around the fire. And people were going in and out of the house again.

Glass, Spitt, and Copperhead, less formally posed, but still together, stood to the side of the yard eating ham and soup. Kid doffed his cup.

"Can you hear that?" Glass asked.

"Hear what?"

"Listen," Spitt said.

Kid bent over the soup while it steamed his chin. The yard was filled with voices. "What?"

"There," Spitt said.

Perhaps two blocks away, a man screamed. The sound went on and on, died at the length of a long breath, and began again, this time shaking and breaking.

"You wanna go check it out?" Copperhead took another bite of ham. A line of grease glistened from the corner of his mouth into his beard.

"Naw," Kid said.

"You're the big hero, man," Copperhead said. "Don't you wanna go help a gentleman in distress?" Copperhead laughed.

"No, I…"

The man screamed again.

Momentarily Kid pictured the four of them foraging beyond the firelight, through darkened streets, the ululation filling the night about them.

"No, I don't wanna. I got Pepper fed. That's my heroics for the night." He sipped loudly and walked back among the scorpions around the fire. When the neighbors are shrieking… went through his mind but could not remember who'd said it.

"Here, Kid. You wanna use my fork?"

It was the blond scorpion who had tried to eject Pepper.

"Thanks." It was a long-handled, three-pronged laundry fork. Kid took a chunk of ham and squatted beside the fire. He squinted before flame. Trying to drink his soup, he spilled more over his hand. And even with the long fork, his knuckles were painfully hot. The blond scorpion, squatting beside Kid, watched the meat bubble and char. "Thanks for the fork," Kid said again after a few minutes and sipped from the cup once more.

The screaming had stopped.

Or there was too much noise to hear.

4

"Hey, Tak!"

"Kid?"

"What are you doing?"

"What are you doing? Can you get down from there? You better watch out…"

Kid let go of the beam and crabbed down the rubble, raising dust banks behind and an avalanche before.

"That was impressive," Tak said. "You're still going around with one shoe? You must have a sole on that foot like an oak board."

"Naw." Kid beat his foot again his black jeans, both legs grey to the knee. "Not really."

"You exploring in there?" Tak pushed up his cap to watch the smoke curl back through the girders. "How come you don't have the rest of the nest? I didn't think scorpions ever traveled alone."

"I come," Kid shrugged. "I go. I take them on runs. Where you going?"

"I'm on a mission of mercy for your girl friend."

"Lanya?"

"I volunteered to help her with her dress for your party."

Kid tried to hold back his laughter. It burst his lips' seal and lights shot either in his eyes or in the windows of the warehouse across from them.

"What's so funny?"

"She's got you turned into a seamstress?"

"She does not. Come on and I'll show you something interesting."

They walked the littered streets.

"You're going to come to the party, aren't you?"

"Not," Tak said, "on your fucking life."

"Huh? oh, man, come on. Calkins wants me to bring my friends. I'm going to take the whole nest along. Don't you want to see what happens when all us freaks get turned loose in there?"

"Not terribly. But I suspect Calkins does — though I've never met the man."

"Aw, come on, Tak—"

"No. Somebody's got to be around to read about it in the next day's gossip column. That's my job. You just have a good time and drink a glass of brandy for me. Swipe a bottle if they've got any good stuff and bring it back. I'm down to Gold Leaf. Somebody got into my liquor connection and made off with just about everything worth drinking."

"We got a liquor store right around our corner. What do you drink? It's got everything. Anything you want. You just tell me, and I'll get it for you."

"Five Star Courvoisier." Tak laughed his whisky growl and hooked his cap down. "Come on." As they left the corner, he asked, "How long you been up?"

"A few hours."

"Oh," Tak said. "Because I got up very early, when it was still getting light. I came over here, and you could see flames…" He nodded down the side street where turbulent smoke blocked vision less than two blocks away.

"You could?"

"Now it's just…" Tak nodded again.

Smoke bellied and heaved about the upper stories. The sky was thick as cheese and eveninged without shadows. I don't (Kid thought) get thirsty any more, but I'm always hoarse. Three boots and one foot ground the gritty street.

'Tak, where's the monastery from here? I don't mean Reverend Amy's church. I mean the monastery."

"Now this is…" Tak stopped. "This goes up into the city and turns into Broadway. You just go straight on to the other end of Broadway and you run right into it."

"Yeah?… Just like that?"

"It's a long walk. I don't know if that bus is still running. Over here." Tak stepped into the street.

The freight ramp sloped to a wooden door studded with rivet heads the size of fifty-cent pieces. Above, on rust-ringed iron, aluminum letters, forward on bolts, announced cleanly: MSE WAREHOUSE SPACE. By the door a black plaque reflected Kid's face askew. White letters obscured his eyes and lips: Mateland Systems Engineering Warehouse. Kid struggled momentarily with a memory of Arthur Richards while Tak took the hasp in both hands, grunted. The door rumbled back from a plank of blackness. Tak looked at his hands, their cleanness emphasized by swipes of rusty grease.

"Go on in." Tak held his hands from his hips to keep them from his pants.

Kid stepped in and heard his breath's timbre change. Iron steps rose to a concrete porch.

"Go on up."

Kid did and stepped sideways through the door at their head.

The skylight, three stories above, mapped continents in dirt and light, among longitudinal and latitudinal tessellations.

"What's in—" the reverberation halted him—"what's in here?"

"Go on," and Tak was without face. He passed ahead of Kid. Each boot heel on the concrete cast back stuttering echoes.

It was very cool.

Blocked by eight-foot plank X's, spools big enough for underground electrical cable sat about the floor among twenty- and thirty-foot stacks of cartons. Kid passed two before he recognized what was wound on them.

Later he tried to figure out what the process of recognition had been. At the moment of seeing there was a period in which all emotions were dead, during which he had gone up to one — yes, he had put out his hand, pulled it back, and just stood there a long while.

In hanks, in dripping loops from the drum (hundreds of feet? Hundreds of thousands? And how many drums were there in the block-square warehouse?) the brass chain, set with prisms, mirrors, lenses, looped.

He stood before the ranked glitter, waiting for it to strike up some explanatory thought.

The end of the chain hung to the floor, where a few feet formed a full (c.300 stars?) Pleiades.

There was an open cardboard carton beside the spool. Kid bent down, pushed back the flap. They looked like copper beetles. He pushed his hand into the metal tabs, picked out one — there was a hole at one end — and tried to read what was embossed on it. The light was too dim, and the corners of his eyes were stinging.

On the carton, however, stenciled in white, was: PRODUCTO DO BRAZIL.

Kid stood.

Tak had wandered some forty feet down an avenue of cartons.

Kid's eyes had cleared to the dim light enough to make out the stenciling on the boxes piled around him.

FABRIQUE FRANÇAISE

MADE IN JAPAN — the initial smudge must have been an 'M.'

IIPARMATA EAAENIKAI.

Kid turned back to the chain. He had begun his observations in curiosity, but what generated had so little to do with answers that even curiosity blanked.

"Tak!"

"What? Hey, come over here. You seen these?"

Kid sprinted up the aisle between the piled cartons.

Tak kicked back a board cover. Nails squeaked, and the echo rolled among pyramided crates. "This is where you come to get 'em if you need any more."

The holders inside the slats reminded Kid of the square cardboards on which eggs were racked.

Some dozen had been removed.

The ones remaining, the size of golf balls and the color of gun metal, were blistered with lenses. The switch-pips all pointed to the left side of the crate. To the right were the metal loops to link them.

Kid picked up his own projector, watched it swing on its chain.

"They don't have any batteries inside them," Tak said. "You have to get those from stores in the city."

Stenciled across the Inside of the" crate top it said, "SPIDER."

On the crates piled around, Kid read:

DRAGON

LIZARD

FROG

BIRD OF PARADISE

SCORPION

MANTIS

MANTICHORE

GRIPHON

Kid lifted the corner of the holder. The layer beneath was full. "There must be—" he frowned at Tak—"thousands of them here?"

"I gotta get some stuff from upstairs," Tak said. "Come on."

"Tak." He looked at the myriad crates labyrinthed around. "There must be thousands of these things here! Millions, maybe!"

Dust filled a slant column from the skylight's marbled panes.

Tak went to the metal steps against the wall. "There's a whole lot of weird stuff in here." He leaned over the banister, grinned at Kid, and started up.

"Hey." Kid swung around the metal newel and followed him. "What did you come here to get?"

"It's upstairs."

The cardboard cartons piled by the wall were water stained. Plumbing rose beside them; the asbestos covering the pipes was mottled too.

"Here you go."

They walked down the balcony. Kid ran his hand along the rail, looking out across the warehouse.

"This place always remind me of the last scene in Citizen Kane," Tak said. "This is what I want."

Two bolts of… cloth (it was some sort of lamé. Kid couldn't tell, in this light, whether it was gold or silver) leaned against the wall.

"For the dress?" Kid asked.

"She was talking about it, and I told her I remembered seeing some stuff lying around." He picked up the bolt and unwrapped it. "I don't know if this is what she wants. It's pretty special. Go on and explore, if you want. I'll give a yell when I'm leaving."

Kid walked a dozen steps further, glanced back — Tak was still stretching out yards of cloth — then walked on.

The cartons near him — smaller and piled haphazardly — were stenciled with clumsy representations of zodiacal signs. He stepped around them. Another, opened like the box of tags downstairs, had been left in the middle of the plated walkway.

His own steps, even his bare foot, set off a metallic ring. The open top joggled with the shaking of the floor.

Diagonally across the cardboard was stenciled:

RED EYE-CAPS

He did not frown. All the muscles of his face urged him toward the expression. But something else was paralyzed. He squatted, pushed back the top.

They had probably all been stacked neatly together once. But movement had jumbled most of them. He picked up one. It was like a concave disk the size of a quarter, cut from a pingpong ball.

It was red.

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