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A Whisper on the Morn
Last Whiteman Chapter 1
The prophecies, of a hundred years and more ago, penned by the storied scribe of Providence Rhode Island, that the rule of his race would come to pass, was not known to the man out of the Hinterlands as he stalked the market tents. Within those tents of many colors rendered gray by smirking Squalor, the merchants but barely stirred as the soft light of wan Dawn crept across the rubble of a once great place. There he strode, all in black: hard-booted, long-coated and slouch-hatted, come alone and in ill-content.
His hard-lined face was soot-gray, his heavy brows black and between the eyes were a smoldering blue. The once proudly beaked nose was long ago broken, the cleft chin accentuated by a black beard braided in two wicked strands. Those sinister knots of greased hair suspended from either side of the jut of cloven chin, were fastened to the left with a tarnished brass ring worked on its face as a Celtic cross, and to the right, a simple blued steel ring emblazoned with a hammer and thunderbolt.
The broad, black slouch hat was rimmed with a black belt of cloth, tied at the back and tailing down past the broad, lean shoulders in the fashion of the karate masters of Japan. The coat itself, was a greased canvas slicker in fashion among the ranch hands of Chinese-Conquered Australia. The boots were those of a train engineer and lent an aspect of robotic menace incongruent with the rest of his scrap-gathered attire.
The coat was unsnapped and revealed black jeans belted with a blued steel buckle threaded by a black leather belt. The buckle was worked in the manner of the symbol of this ravaged dame of a city, in the proud pointed tower borrowed from Egypt of old, both of whom shared now the eclipse of her woe. Above that buckle the wanderer wore a simple black sweatshirt of the kind sported by collegiate football players of another age, but now long out of style. Whatever school proclaimed there above the heart had long ago faded to mottled gold paint—the only color about the entire outfit, half hidden by the greasy coat.
Below that curious buckle, rode aslant on narrow hips, a web-belt, not of military green or of lineman brown, but of black. If such a one as noted such things were about—and he was, cringing behind a tent flap—paid attention to the stride of leg and swing of open coat, could be made out two tied down weapons, hung from the web belt and secured above the knee with black electric wire, apparently taken from some toaster or clock marooned and useless on its kitchen counter: on the left a Bowie knife, honorary weapon of lost Texas—now a nation-sized Alamo, on the right a ball-peen hammer, a heavy one of the kind favored by certain motorcycle gangsmen who a century before had resurrected barbarism from the grave of Yore.
An even more astute observer, such as the motorcycle mechanic curiously peering up from his work and noting the stalking hunt of a certain procurer shivering behind Yusef Allen's tent flap as dread stalked on booted feet, would also note the slight bulge under the left armpit of the coat made by an automatic pistol of some heft—he would have to guess an ancient 1911 .45 Cal APC. The only question that remained in the mind of the motorcycle mechanic was whether the TV watch under the unsnapped cuff of the left sleeve was Corporate, Military or Rogue?
He guessed, 'Rogue.'
So the Hinterlander stalked along the weed-cracked black pavement among the merchant tents, where lesser creatures skulked and greater beings marched. The tents fluttered in the April wind for a mile along Harford Road, down a steady grade into the still heart of a stolen city, from Cold Spring Lane to Hamilton Avenue. The market was a place of truce where the feuding factions of the 'Once Great Medieval' modern city made uneasy peace under the mechanical eyes of the robotic police of the titular Baltimore Corporation.
The stalking stranger—just in from the Hinterlands by his make and mien, and standing six feet-two inches and 200 pounds if the mechanic were any judge of such men—then stopped before the flap of Yusef Allen's tent flap. There the weasel called Grope shivered to his knowing and to the Hinterlander's sensing, having just secreted himself there moments ago. This creature, a scrawny grifter from up Philadelphia way, had access to the pimp's tent, for here he brought drugged darlings and duped boys to be traded for corporate credits for heated moments in the songless night in the depraved suites of the office building towers downtown.
The mechanic never partook of such misdeeds, for he had an old soul. Nor did he object to such misdeeds, for he had a sold soul. Thus one part of his being chaffed against the other and consigned him to observation rather than action. There was a hero part in him and it struggled silently in the leased precincts of his soul against the world to which his social parts had been betrothed. Some part of him—perhaps those imprisoned and hated avenging angels of his nature—now defiantly assigned their hopes to the Hinterlander.
Out from the tent darted the sly, swift Grope—the little man that no boy or girl could escape, making for their escape from ravaging and rape. Nor had any many ever been known to overtake darting Grope. Then, as Grope crouched to spring right away from the menace to his left, for some reason the wiry thief of innocence looked up and met the eyes of the Hinterlander. There could be no doubt of a getaway if it were a footrace. For Grope wore his grey sneakers and sweatsuit, his little brown ankles and hands showing like the very wings of Hermes, his ancient Baltimore Orioles ball cap sweat-stained upon his sun-tarnished brow. By contrast, the Hinterlander was as heavily encumbered as a robotic policeman.
But something in the eyes of the Hinterlander, unseen by the mechanic as he worked on his old Indian, must have told of a hunt never-ending, of a determination unforgiving, of some future moment when Grope would be torn from his hiding place and made to gaze up into that granite-like face. The grift-grabber of Hamilton, prince to Pimps far and near, Grope, froze, shivered and squeaked, “Please, Sir—mercy Sir...mercy on lille Grope?”
The tablaux held.
The mechanic rose and wiped his hands, awaiting the signal to witness or look away from the Master of the Moment, he who now owned a mean soul. Such was the code that men lived by that remained men in this Aftertime.
The Hinterlander raised his chin slightly and Grope rose. A right hand, gloved in black, the knuckles insewn with lead sap plates, the fingers cut away, rested upon Grope's narrow shoulder. Grope looked to the mechanic as a courtesy, letting his new Master know if he did not, that there was a witness to be bound or dismissed.
The Hinterlander turned to regard the mechanic, a broad, stocky man of mixed ancestry, one part Italian, one part Nigerian, one part Jordanian and one part Shanty Irish. The mechanic stood to with pink and black rag betwixt his oil-stained hands and regarded the Hinterlander with a mixture of admiration and resignation, knowing that in those eyes still flowed the mostly forgotten river of fair play. The Hinterlander did not speak, but asked a general question with his eyes.
The mechanic answered, “I be Buck Garrison. My tongue ties tight and I tend to all kine a' mechanical matters, if needs be inta da night. I owes ya a fava fo me not havin' ta see dis muvachucka bring a light-skin boy ta dat tent flap. Ya names it when da time do come. I be yo widness ta dis just ting, so dat if Grope bring da poleese on down, den ALL da Market 'ill know dat he an outcast clown.”
Grope shot him a sour and half-fearful look—then the mighty right hand shook him so he waggled in his slinky threads and then trembled to look at the raised left wrist. The Hinterlander shucked his shoulder sleeve and a hanging question was dropped through Hangwoman Fate's trap door: 'Rogue' he was.
For a man who had sold the better parts of his soul, it was a comfort to be accurate in his observations of the unsold.
The old aluminum stamped TV watch was not much larger than the Old Time watch that Buck Garrison's granddaddy had owned, what just told the time of day.
A police watch was aluminum too, and would slide open up the arm, instead of flipping open at a 90-degree angle to the base, and become a two-way screen for the judge's visage to appear and pronounce sentence, to be administered by the police.
A military watch would be made of titanium alloys, slide up the forearm as a tactical map, and also flip up like this traditional TV watch to reveal a command panel on the wrist. The top of the watch that flipped open would reveal the officer giving remote command or serve as a video display of a battle-space recording.
The Hinterlander's TV watch was an old, simple aluminum casement on a buckled wrist band that was no wider than the wrist, being a two by two inch pentagon, that read the time and date on its top like a traditional watch. This watch was activated without need of the right hand like the others, by tilting back the fist to press the side button to activate the TV function.
This the Hinterlander did, and the somewhat bent aluminum watch-top whined and creaked open. What the screen on the inside of the vertical top displayed, Buck Garrison could not see. The base of the watch was for manual or audio input. The Hinterlander did not speak into it like most, and pressed a single key to actuate the display, which caused Grope to gasp when he peered at it, as if his soul some devil had grasped.
Shaken nearly to ash by the visual image he saw, Grope began to babble, “Not me—weren't me, Sir. That all way above the Market doings in these tents, Sir.”
The grim gloved hand shook him and Grope continued, “En please, Sir, you not whackin' me right off, Sir—id's a high favor. I'm no good en da poleese hates me somethin' fierce. So please, Sir, do not stay at the Hostel of Offica Blatz.”
The man then touched the panel and another image must have come up, like a question. Buck Garrison wondered if that terrible forked beard concealed a throat injury of some kind as Grope babbled on, “Sir, I knows dat outsidas, travel-kind en such, cain't get no proper hotel room witout da Bal'more Corp Credit Check—muvachuckas don' take no cash. But Offica Blatz, he gives up wayward folks ta sorts way worse den me o' Yusef. He tight wit dem Tenties dat live ova Norden Parkway where da White folk when dey was still aroun' played dey golf.”
The Hinterlander nodded down at Grope, a nod of affirmation, and then pointed with his chin in the direction that Grope was to go, and he did, treading lightly in the misty morning across the crumbling asphalt creeping with weeds like a just-born demon wondering if the umbilical cord of its diabolic sire yet leashed him to Hell's dark door.
The man then turned to regard Buck Garrison with a direct gaze that bespoke gratitude. Buck, already standing, rose to the occasion, “That ole watch dare could use a new pin, Sir. I'd count it an honor to fix 'er up right here and now as you appear to have bidness. Got some spare rounds fo what rides under dat left arm too, Vietnam era issue, but 'ill still do fer six outa seven live fires—on Me Sir. That fava I owes ya still awaitin'. Buck Garrison's neva been a man ta stand between Justice en he dat earned its bringin'.”
The man simply walked by Buck into his tent, as if he knew where the customer's seat was, almost, Buck would latter muse, as if he had been Heaven Sent.
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