CALLING YOU-OOO-OOO! Jan 21, 2010 0:04:27 GMT -5
Post by huronna on Jan 21, 2010 0:04:27 GMT -5
By Paul E. Jamison
Part 1 of 2
By Paul E. Jamison
Part 1 of 2
“Well, hello there, Rabs! It’s been a long time since you’ve been in!”
The human waitress smiled down at the two ferrets. The one wearing the black yarmulke with the red trim managed to smile back without looking too embarrassed. The other ferret, in his crisp uniform, holding a campaign hat in one paw, kept a straight face.
Rabbi Sammy replied, “Um, yes, hello. Murphy and I have been busy lately. This is the first spare time we’ve had in awhile.”
The waitress nodded. “Yes, I can understand that. I’ve been following it all in the papers. It’s remarkable what you’ve been going through! Where is Constable Murphy, by the way?”
“There are still a few points to clear up about the recent incident and Murphy’s running a little late this morning. He intends to join us a little later. In the meantime – may I introduce a friend of Murphy’s? This is Sergeant Virgil, of the Minot Police Department in North Dakota. He’s in town to visit. Virgil, this is Suze, our favorite waitress here at Corbalee’s.”
The Silver Mitt ferret in the pale-blue uniform smiled and said, “How do you do, Miss Suze?” Virgil and the waitress shook hand and paw.
“Pleased to meet you, Virgil. A table for three, then.” Suze picked out three of the restaurant’s special miniature menus and said, “If you’ll follow me.” She walked across the restaurant floor with the two ferrets trailing behind.
For ferrets, finding a place to eat out in Wichita, Kansas, isn’t easy. There are of course several establishments that are ferret-exclusive. It’s not uncommon, alas, for a human restaurant to display a sign at the entrance saying WE DO NOT SERVE FERRETS. This is partly due to the issue of prejudice, but the size difference is also significant. Some human restaurants will do what they can to accommodate the rare ferret patron, but it always tends to be awkward.
Corbalee’s is different, and it’s in keeping with the restaurant’s history. During the early 60’s, when segregation in America was beginning to die an ugly death, George Corbalee announced to Wichita newspapers that his restaurant “would not turn away any patrons due to the color of their skin”; this policy was then prominently posted in the restaurant’s lobby. Some people did not accept this gracefully. Over the next few years, the owners would replace the broken windows, clean up the arson attempts, wipe down the policy statement in the lobby, and continue business as usual. Soon, bricks were no longer thrown, fires were no longer set, and Corbalee’s prospered.
When Mustela sapiens began to appear in Wichita, George Corbalee’s son Arthur took a long look at these strange little creatures and made a decision. For the first time in years, the Policy announcement in the lobby was revised. Now it says, “This restaurant will not turn away any patron due to the color of his skin or of his fur.” It’s no surprise that Corbalee’s is one of the most popular eating establishments in the Wichita ferret community.
There was still the size issue, of course, and Corbalee’s solution was ingenious. All of the walls in the dining area had been modified by the installation of shelves, wide enough and strong enough to accommodate ferret-sized dining tables and chairs, with several access ramps from the floor. This arrangement put the ferret patrons up to waitress level.
Suze led Sammy and Virgil through a maze of human dining tables. The restaurant was busy and there weren’t many seating choices. The mixture of human and ferret diners presented difficulties, primarily because human diners can be such boors.
Suze stopped at an empty ferret table near the back, and Sammy and Virgil climbed up to the shelf. Nearby was a human couple that could be described as “middle” – middle age and middle class. The husband was loud and thought he was funnier than he really was. The wife was quiet and looked long-suffering. As Suze walked by, the husband snapped his fingers and said, “Hey, Honey! I need another drink here!” The wife sighed, but her husband didn’t notice.
Suze smiled and said, “Certainly, sir, as soon as I seat these gentlemen.” The husband looked at the two ferrets and shrugged his shoulders. At least he wasn’t hostile to ferrets.
Sammy and Virgil sat down, and the waitress handed them the menus. She said, “I presume that you’ll want some Ferretone tea to start with.”
Sammy nodded. “We’ll wait until Murphy gets here before ordering, if you don’t mind.”
“Anytime. The gefilte fish is very fine today, Rabs. I’ll be back with the drinks.” Suze walked away.
Virgil leaned forward and said, “‘Rabs’?”
Sammy nodded. “She picked that up from Murphy.”
“I see. That’s Murphy, all right.”
The two ferrets began studying their menus. Sammy said, “I think you’ll like the food here. They do terrific kosher. They also specialize in meat dishes for ferrets. I don’t believe that the Skippys have shipped their enzyme supplements up to North Dakota, have they?”
“Nah, we’re still exclusively carnivore up there. We’re talking with the Skippys, though, so that should change soon.”
“Glad to hear it. Don’t worry about the price. The ferrets in Wichita have a line of credit with several businesses here, like this place.” Sammy thought gefilte fish sounded good, but the other kosher dishes looked tempting as well. “I hadn’t known that there was a colony of Mustela sapiens in North Dakota until Murphy mentioned it. It was a bit of a surprise.”
Sergeant Virgil was leaning toward the beef stew, but he was also looking closely at the fish platter. He replied, “Our ancestors were originally from Canada, but some of us moved south across the border. There are small colonies in several of the northern states. They tend to keep to themselves and don’t make waves.”
“I know about the ferrets in Oregon. Max came from there originally. Do you get along with the humans?”
“Fairly well with most of them. Some of the human businesses extend credit to us like this place does for you. But some folks don’t like us and they don’t care who knows it. There have been a few serious problems, but we’ve learned to watch our backs.”
“I think that’s true for ferrets everywhere. But the humans have obviously let ferrets into the police force.”
“Oh, yes. Besides me, there are five other policeferrets. It’s an experiment, and things are going fairly smooth so far.”
“From what I’ve seen and what Murphy has said, the RCMP seems more comfortable with interspecies law enforcement than the States. Speaking of which, Murphy says he’s known you for – what, three years? How’d you meet him?”
“It’s getting close to four years now. We worked together on a smuggling operation between Manitoba and North Dakota.”
“It wasn’t rutabagas, was it?”
“Oh, Murphy told me about that one. Weird. No, it was drugs. Some First Nations kids were getting some nasty stuff from the States and Murphy was involved with hunting the suppliers down. He tracked a connection to Minot and that’s where he met me.”
“Murphy’s good at what he does, so I’m guessing you two mopped it all up nice and neat.”
Virgil was paying attention to the desserts. “Of course. I wasn’t sure how good we’d do when Murphy blew his top, but it turned out all right.”
There was a clatter, and Virgil looked up. Sammy had dropped his menu and he was staring at the other ferret with his mouth hanging open.
Sammy said, “Murphy? Murphy blew his top?!”
“Well… yes, he did.”
Virgil frowned. “What, hasn’t he ever lost his temper?”
Sammy shook his head. “Sometimes I’ve seen him get angry, but nothing that I’d describe as ‘losing his top’. Whatever happened to cause that?”
“Hm. Not everybody knows this about Murphy. I don’t think he likes to talk about it much. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
Sammy thought about it. Murphy was his best friend. There were very few things that they didn’t know about each other. But in some ways Murphy was very private. Sammy knew that if Murphy hadn’t mentioned it before, he had a reason.
Sammy leaned forward. “I’m all ears.”
Virgil began talking. “Well, Murphy had turned up a human’s name, and we’d traced him to a human bar…”
“I hope, Constable, that you don’t mind that I’m taking my time parking the car.”
“Oh, think nothing of it! A good parking spot is important.”
“That’s right, especially for cars our size. Some human came real close to running this car over once.”
Sergeant Virgil finally parked his ferret-sized squad car right beneath a fence on the perimeter of the parking lot. The lot was full of human-sized cars. The Don’t Drop Inn was doing a strong business for a Thursday night.
The policeferret and the ferret Mountie got out of the car and walked toward the seedy-looking bar. Right next to the front door was a large, hand-lettered sign: NO RATZ ALLOWD.
Constable Murphy said, “They don’t mean us, do they? We’re not rats.”
“Constable, I’m sure they do mean us. A lot of humans around here don’t like Mustela sapiens. There’s been no violence for several years, but we’re still careful.
“I’ve never been in the Don’t Drop, but it’s got a reputation. This is a rough crowd. I’m sure no ferret is safe here, and neither are a lot of humans.”
“If you’re wary about going in, Sergeant, I won’t hold it against you. I can handle myself, I’m sure. No need for you to risk it.”
Virgil shook his head. “If any of the humans know about drug smuggling, they’d be hanging out here. I won’t have you facing a dangerous situation alone. I’m a cop; it’s my job.”
“Mine, too. Good man.” The two ferrets pushed the front door open.
A bouncer was sitting by the front door just inside. He was built like a major kitchen appliance, with a shaved head, several tattoos and no neck to speak of. However, it was easy for the two ferrets to bypass him – he was used to looking at customers at more-or-less eye level, not at very-much-less eye level. By the time it had occurred to him to look down, Sergeant Virgil and Constable Murphy had hopped up on a small table up against the back wall.
Murphy took the initiative. He held up his paws and said loudly, “Excuse me? May I have your attention?”
The bar was ill-lit with overheard lights and neon bar signs, but it was enough to show that the place was poorly furnished with battered and wobbly chairs and tables. A cloud of cigarette smoke hung at about human head level. The bar stank of alcohol and tobacco and other, even less savory odors.
The place was packed with male and female humans – tattoos, piercings, leather and faded blue jeans. There was no music coming from the juke box. No one could have heard it above the loud conversation – laughing, swearing, calls for more beer.
But after Murphy had spoken, the conversation had died down and there was silence. The bartender put down a glass and joined everyone else in staring at the two ferrets.
Constable Murphy continued. “Thank you. My colleague and I have some questions to ask –”
Something went Thoiinnngg, and a large knife was sticking in the wall, right between the two ferrets’ heads.
Murphy turned around and looked at the knife. The whiskers were now sliced off close to his right cheek.
Murphy looked at the knife and frowned. “Now was that nice?
“Look, we don’t want any trouble. We just want some information, that’s all. We’re looking for a human named – um, what was that? – oh, yes. Aloysius Crumm. We wanted to ask him some questions about something we’re investigating. Can anyone help us?”
There was no answer. Sergeant Virgil could feel the hostility.
But apparently Constable Murphy couldn’t. “Nobody? Any help we can get will be appreciated.”
“You read the sign outside, rat?”
The human was sitting at the end of the bar. Sergeant Virgil had heard of him. Steven Rollins, known as the “Steamroller”. He wasn’t as massive as the bouncer, but he was far more muscular. The black T-shirt was molded to his abs, and showed off the tattoos that covered his arms. The arms looked like bundles of cable, and were bigger around than a ferret. The human’s eyes were cold as ice as he scowled at the two ferrets. The Steamroller was easily the toughest man in the bar.
The Steamroller spat at nothing. “Rats aren’t welcome here.”
Murphy smiled. “Well, we’re not rats; we’re ferrets. It’s a common misconception –”
“Hey.” The human was curious now. “Why you dressed in red, rat?”
“This is the traditional uniform for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, sir.”
“A Mountie? The Canucks are hiring rats for Mounties?” The Steamroller laughed. “That is rich!” Other humans started to laugh, too. “You gonna sing for us, Mountie?”
“What do you mean?”
At first Virgil wasn’t sure who had spoken. Then he realized that it had been Constable Murphy. He’d not heard Murphy use that tone of voice before. He looked over at the other ferret. Murphy’s eyelids were narrowed to slits. Virgil hadn’t seen Murphy do that before, either.
The human laughed. “Aww, ya know what I mean! You gonna sing that song, ain’tcha? You know the song I’m talking about! Indian, um – ‘Indian Love Call’, that’s it! From that old movie! You oughta know how it goes!” The human began to sing, terribly. “When I’m calling yooou-ooo-ooo – URRK!!”
It happened far too fast for Virgil to follow. There was a blur flying through the air, and the barstool was knocked over. The human was laid out flat on the floor, and Murphy was face to face with him.
The human snarled. “You’re in for it now, rat! Ain’t nobody – especially no rat – does that to the… the… Steam… roller.”
The anger in the human’s voice had leaked completely away by the time he’d finished. Apparently he’d worked out something that Virgil – and everyone else in the bar – had realized already.
Ain’t nobody does that to the Steamroller – who weighed over two hundred pounds – because ain’t nobody could do that to the Steamroller. Especially not a creature that tipped the scales at less than four pounds.
The human looked into Murphy’s eyes and realized that size wasn’t everything.
The ferret grabbed the Steamroller’s T-shirt and lifted his head and upper torso off the floor. This was impressive, considering that Murphy was standing on the human’s chest. He began to shake the human.
"I – WILL NOT – SING!!”
The Steamroller’s only response to this was “Uh…” Or more precisely, “Uh – uh – uh – uh –”
One other human tried to do something. The bouncer walked over. Virgil figured he was going to pull Murphy off. But as the human bent over, Murphy looked up at him. And hissed.
The bouncer looked into Murphy’s little black eyes for one second, and then turned around to head for his chair by the door.
The bar was even quieter than before and far less hostile. Everyone was glancing at the front door. The bouncer wasn’t there. He hadn’t stopped at his chair, but had left while the leaving was good.
Murphy stood up and looked around. He said, not as politely as before, “All right, yes or no, can anyone here tell us about this Aloysius Crumm?”
“Anyone? I won’t ask again!”
Virgil began to hear a peculiar clicking noise. People had pulled out ball-point pens, and the bartender was experiencing a brisk run on paper napkins. People were already feverishly writing.
Murphy looked down at the Steamroller. “Yes?”
“You’re, uh, standing on my pen.”
To be concluded...