Authors: Ron Goulart
“Ahum,” put in Electro. “May we begin our interview with Mr. Hamfixin? I’m planning an entire chapter in my forthcoming book about this little jaunt. Of course, Mr. Bunner, you’ll figure prominently in the text and several laudatory footnotes.”
“I’ve always treated Hamfixin well, insisted to the guards that they never break too many of his fingers at one time.” Bunner chuckled. “Gather up your equipment and I’ll escort you to the little maximum security cottage where we have Hamfixin stashed.”
“This is altogether fascinating.” Hohl watched Tad lift a recording box from out of the landvan. “I’d like to observe your recording session.”
“You may tag along,” said the supervisor, “only if you promise not to shout and hit at people.”
“Heaven fordid,” said Hohl. “It’s only my unfortunate allergies which cause such unhappy outburts, and I feel I’ve got them under control again.”
“You won’t mind if Mr. Hohl accompanies us, Dr. Brattle?”
“Well, one tries to keep all unsettling elements out of a recording session,” said the robot.
“I won’t unsettle anybody,” promised Hohl.
Electro shrugged, hesitating. “Very well,” he said finally. “You may join in the fun, sir.”
“I hope one more observer won’t give you trouble, doctor,” said the lean man in the gray cloak who was walking their way.
“What do you say, doctor? I know Mr. Taine is a student and admirer of folk music.”
“Yes, I certainly am,” said Jana’s husband in his harsh, nasal voice.
Electro had obviously made a decision. “Come one, come all,” he invited. “This bids fair to be a memorable evening.”
“Shoo! Scram!” Supervisor Bunner swatted at the night. “It’s a shame the way these seagulls plague us. So far inland, too.”
Jana’s husband had chosen to walk beside Tad across the plantation grounds. “A very interesting field you’re in, Mr. Conn-Hedison.”
“Many people don’t see it that way at all.”
“My own collection of primitive music of this planet is quite extensive,” said Taine. “My late wife wasn’t as fond of simple—”
“Your wife is dead?” asked Tad.
“Excuse me, a slip of the tongue. I tend to think of her as such, although as yet. . . . But no need to burden you with my domestic problems.”
They passed the enormous stone warehouse, three giant buildings ringed by parked landvans. There was a strong musky smell in the night air, caused probably by the dreamdust pollen. The maximum security cottage was apparently nowhere near the men’s barracks buildings. Tad had expected to feel anxious and excited, now he was this close to his father. Instead he was extremely calm, feeling almost numb.
“. . . your favorite?” Taine was asking him.
Tad coughed into his feathery hand. “Difficult to say.” A feather left his hand, went spinning away.
“In other words you feel—”
Supervisor Bunner raised a cautionary hand, stopping. They were a few yards from a low stone building with heavy metal doors and barred windows. “He may be in one of his moods,” he told Electro.
“Feeling murderous, is he?”
“I suppose you can’t record Hamfixin if he’s in a restraining coat?”
“Be difficult for him to pick his guitar.”
Bunner’s chubby chin went up and down. “Yes, I can understand that. How about if some of my guards sit on him?”
“That, too, would be inhibiting.”
“Let’s bust in there and stomp the nerfing bastard!” suggested Hohl. “Let’s take his frapping banjo and stuff it in his bafflebar!”
“He doesn’t play a banjo,” said Electro, scratching at his beard.
“Whatever he plays, let’s jam it in—”
“Perhaps, Supervisor Bunner,” continued Electro, “we’d best postpone our visit until morning. By then Mr. Hamfixin may be in a calmer mood.”
“Hard to predict,” said the supervisor. “These homicidal rages of his sometimes drag on for days.” He sighed. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have let him read the recording contract you people sent. I really fear that’s what has set him off this time.”
“Grop! Wowsie! Twenty-five percent of offplanet sales!”
“When he gets to throwing the guards around,” said Bunner, “it usually indicates he’s very upset.”
“You’re losing feathers,” said Jana, close to Tad.
“Only a few. Most bird people do.”
“Be careful. Don’t bounce or wiggle any more than necessary.”
“Wasn’t planning to.”
Bunner ventured up to the cottage door. “Let me try a few standard subduing tactics,” he said, placing an eye to the spyhole in the door. “My, six guards out cold and three more woozy.” From somewhere within his cloak he took a copper rod. “This gas, though not always, has a calming effect on him.”
“He’s of no use to us if he’s too subdued,” said Electro.
“We’ll hope for a satisfactory mean between crazed violence and doddering docility.” Bunner twisted the end of the rod and a yellowish mist went whispering into the cottage through the spyhole.
“Fifty percent of
“Ah, he’s not throwing them as far,” said Bunner, chuckling. “I do believe we’re making progress.”
A full minute went by with no further indication of violence from within the cottage.
Electro peered into the spyhole. “He’s plopped down in a chair, tuning his guitar.”
“Splendid.” The supervisor pulled out a multikey and inserted it into the multilock on the thick door.
Tad, after a quick glance at Taine, put an arm around Jana’s shoulders. “Hold back until we’re sure it’s safe.”
“Good evening, Hamfixin.” Bunner took a few steps into the place.
“Evenin to yer,” said the large black man seated in the synskin chair with a twelve string-guitar resting on his knee.
Four guards were still standing, several more were strewn on the padded floor or draped over the simple furniture.
“Done been thinkin,” said Hamfixin, huge fingers resting on the guitar strings. “Been done thinkin bout how I uster work on that cabbage farm when I weren’t no more higher than a snerg’s belly button an one day my old mam done—”
“Whoa,” said Electro. “We should be catching all this. Could you curb your recollections till we have our equipment set up, Mr. Hamfixin?”
“Who are this whiskery joker?” the singer asked Bunner.
“Why, this is Dr. Martin G. Brattle, come all this way to record you and your marvelous music.”
“Ugly motherfuyer, ain’t he? Remind me of a joker I done killed back when I was picking garbanzos down in the delta country round—”
“Save the memoirs until my associate is ready for you. Harvey, let’s get cracking.”
“Yes, at once.” Tad left Jana, came into the room and placed the recording box on the floor near Hamfixin’s chair.
“Who am this dude with all the plumage?”
“I’m Harvey Conn-Hedison, Dr. Brattle’s devoted aid.”
“Asswarmer,” said Hamfixin. “You know, I done been all over this planet an I been down so low sometime as I hadder look up at—”
“Are we getting this now, Harvey?”
“Everything is functioning, doctor.”
“Good, good. Then you can go ahead, Mr. Hamfixin.” Electro circled the room until he was close to Tad. He whispered, “When all these nitwits are in here I’ll stun the lot. Then we hightail it for the Ad Building.”
“I’m ready.” He turned to summon Jana in from outside and noticed she was talking to her husband. “Marcia, can you get over here, please.”
“Yes, of course, Harvey.” The girl entered, came to Tad. “What?”
“How come you’re talking to—”
“I couldn’t very well avoid it without making everybody suspicious.”
“When everyone’s in here, Electro’ll stun them. Then we move.”
“Okay.” She returned to the doorway. “Do come in, Mr. Taine. You too, Mr. Hohl.”
“The door ought to be shut,” said Bunner. “You do have a tendency to escape, Hamfixin. You’re quite footloose.”
“I is as footloose as a snickerbug hoppin on a—”
“Suppose you start with one of your blues tunes?” Electro, once Hohl and Taine were inside, shut the heavy door. He remained with his back to it.
“You alls the time is talkin over my talkin, motherhumper,” said Hamfixin. “Got me in mind of a joker I cut up whiles I was plucking dummler beans on a plantation long ways from here. That was when I done made up my ‘Nineteen Sacks A Day Quota Or They Gone Bust Your Ass Blues.’ I believes I do that one right now.” The fingers of his left hand pressed down on the strings, his right hand commenced strumming. “Woke up this morning with them ol dummler bean bugs nibblin on my—”
“Could you wait a second, Mr. Hamfixin,” said Electro. “I’m not absolutely certain our recording box is working. Harvey, cart it over here. You come have a look as well, Marcia.”
Tad was bending for the box when Hamfixin leaped from his chair.
“Growr!” cried the black man. “It ain’t bad enough you interrupt my bio, it ain’t bad enough you step on my patter . . . you got to interrupt my musical narratives also! I gonna kill you, you ugly motherfuyer! Gonna kill you graveyard dead!” He flung aside his guitar.
The instrument whacked Tad across the bridge of the nose before continuing across the room to land among fallen guards.
“Temper, temper,” warned the supervisor, reaching for his superduing rod once more.
“Gonna pull them ugly whiskers out by they roots!” Hamfixin lunged at Electro.
The robot was swinging up a hand. “I have to warn you that—”
“Never did done like a man with facefuzz since the time . . . well, I’ll be dipped!” Hamfixin stumbled back from Electro, glancing from the robot’s exposed metal chin to the full beard he was clutching in his hand.
“The robot!” bellowed Hohl. “It’s the nerfing robot!”
“Then it’s obvious who
must be!” Taine lunged for Jana.
All at once there was nothing else in the room except that charging figure. “You aren’t going to hurt her!” Tad tackled the girl’s husband.
Taine swung down with both fists clasped, striking Tad hard against the side of his head. “So you’re the one. The bastard she ran off with this time.”
Tad held on, succeeded in pitching Taine over onto the padded floor. He let go, dived for the lean man’s torso. He got one hand around Taine’s throat, struck at him with the other.
Taine twisted, brought his knees up into Tad’s groin. “She won’t stay. She’ll run. She always does.”
“Shut up! Just shut up!” He jabbed his fist into Taine’s face. Twice, three times. Again.
Finally, he realized the man was unconscious beneath him. He took a deep breath, lifted up and away from him.
“Look out!” warned Jana’s voice.
Tad spun, saw Hohl hurtling at him.
“Feathered little freak!” shouted the overseer. “I’ll stomp your nerfing head into—”
“Not yet.” Pivoting, Tad dodged the charge. He drove a fist into the passing Hohl’s stomach.
“Foul me, will you? A man with multiple allergies!” Hohl growled, leaping for Tad.
This time he couldn’t dodge.
Hohl’s body hit him and they both slammed back into the wall. “Teach you to skip out!” He pummeled Tad with both fists.
“I don’t like you, Hohl,” said Tad, feeling the remark wasn’t quite strong enough. He struggled to avoid the overseer’s blows. But it was impossible. The air was being slammed out of him, pain was zigzagging through his body.
“Yow!” Hohl screamed, brought both hands up to the sides of his head.
Hohl howled. Danced back away from Tad. Tripped over someone, fell backwards. Let go his head, flapped his arms. Dropped unconscious, flat on his back. Next to the unconscious form of Supervisor Bunner.
Tad held onto the wall with one hand. “Thanks.”
“If you persist in fighting fair, my boy, you’re going to continue to have difficulties.” Electro stood in the center of the room, casually rubbing the tips of his metal fingers together. “Although you didn’t handle things too badly.”
Only Tad and the robot and Jana remained upright. Everyone else was distributed somewhere on the floor of the maximum security cottage. The guards, Supervisor Bunner, Jana’s husband, Hohl and even Hamfixin.
“I lost track of what was going on,” said Tad, still bracing himself against the wall. “When I saw Taine going for you, Jana, I—”
“Yes, I know. I saw.” She wended her way through the stunned bodies to him.
“Very old-fashioned approach you have, my boy, very organic,” remarked Electro. “But then you don’t come equipped with stunguns, subduing mist and—”
“We aren’t going to have much time,” Tad cut in. “We better get to the Administration Building.”
“You’re absolutely right.” Electro stepped over a sprawled guard, rolled over another and stooped. He retrieved his beard, slapped it back on his face. “Hardly as convincing as it might be, but I trust sufficient to get by on a dark night.”
“You haven’t lost too many feathers,” Jana told Tad, putting an arm around him. “Let me help you walk.”
He shook his head, which made his new headache worse. “I’m going to have to walk into that place unaided, otherwise it’ll make people suspicious.”
Electro, avoiding the scattered bodies as much as possible, tromped to the door and opened it a fraction. “Apparently everyone is used to sounds of violence from this joint. No one is lurking outside. Shall we depart?”
“Yeah, let’s go.” Tad moved free of the girl, managed to walk across the room and out into the night.
“A most sentimental man, your Supervisor Bunner,” Electro was saying to the two guards and the assistant supervisor who stood on the stone steps of the Administration Building.
“What do you mean, Dr. Brattle?” asked the assistant supervisor, a small near-sighted lizard man.
“I mean the fellow insisted on remaining in Hamfixin’s cottage while the singer ran through his entire repertoire of ditties about mother and fireside. Extremely touching.”
“Meantime,” said Tad, “he told us we might use his office to go over the material we’ve recorded.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s all right.”
“Fishy,” commented one of the guards.