(01-09) Small Businessmen

When A-Bomb bopped into the Midget Underground he was the only giant and Lewis was the only midget. The rest of them were trolls in suits. At first A-Bomb had assumed that a troll was a psychic projection on a dwarf, but now he understood because Troll cuffed him hard enough to shock his system. It was unnatural strength. “I’m the master of the dogs,” he said. “You know what I mean?”

“I do,” A-Bomb said. He appeared to have no discernible emotional reaction to the exchange, nor any issue of dominance. It was like meeting a bear, or a tiger, to meet Troll. He was strong enough to kill you but he was normally harmless and often even playful, though there is by instinct a thin line between play and killing in wild predators. Two of the other trolls were arguing about whether there was a bad call in a football game, one which influenced the outcome.

“It wasn’t a bad call,” Troll said. “He scooped it off the ground. Besides, even if it was a bad call you’d still have to pay me, idiot.”

“I know that,” the dwarf with the bad bet snapped. “I was just pointing out that if there was any justice involved in this interaction, you’d be paying me, is all I was saying. There ain’t no justice.” When he talked he touched a scar that ran from beside his eye to the edge of his mouth. When he was angry to scar glowed red, to give him away. Before he got the scar he was inscrutable, and unruffled. Now his emotion seeped through the cracked surface like liquid fire.

“There sure as fuck ain’t,” Troll said. “Don’t be pissed off at me about it or you’ll get your ass kicked.”

Louis hauled a snub nosed .38 out of his pocket and hammered on the card table to get everybody’s attention. “We’re all here now,” he said. “This is A-Bomb. I think you met Troll himself.”

“I’m the pretty one,” Troll said in a whiskey voice. He beamed a smile for a second, and then it disappeared without a trace.

“The master of the dogs,” A-Bomb said. Troll nodded ascent.

“These are the other members of the band. The unlucky gambler over her is Dallas, the bass player. “Beside him is Fireplug, and next to him, that’s Bulldog.” Bulldog was Chinese, with flattened features and laser sighting eyes. Fireplug had bright red hair and freckles.

“He’s called Fireplug because I piss on him,” he said, reading the moment. “I’m not Bulldog just because I have a flat face. I got instincts like a dog. I can smell like a dog, so I know trouble before it gets too close to me. I can always smell a rat if there’s a rat in the building.

“That would be more a cat thing, wouldn’t it?” Fireplug asked. “Dogs might smell rats but I don’t believe they’re interested in them.”

“Bulldog’s slightly paranoid,” Louis said, “one of the other side effects of an unfortunate alteration in his brain chemistry, self-induced. Along with the enhanced sense of smell and instinctual reactions he suffers almost constant paranoia. Information overload most likely. But he’s the best lookout man in the business. And speaking of business, can we get down to it, gentlemen?”

Besides trading insults, the dwarves studied the building plans and traced the HVAC ducts to the most logical entry point for Louis to get into the circulatory system of American Futures and steal the seed stock. They settled on a plan set in motion by Louis going in for an evaluation appointment, and disappearing from the examination room. “You don’t think they’ll suspect anything?”

Bulldog shook his head. “If you aren’t there the counselor’s going to figure you walked out. Nobody’s going to think you went into the HVAC.”

“What if she asks questions?”

Bulldog shook his head again, his voice moved along with the calm certainty of a bloodhound on a scent. “The only person she’s gonna ask is the girl at the desk, and the desk is behind the security window. So if you did walk out she didn’t see you because you’re too short. However if you want to play it completely safe, do a switch.”

“What kind of switch?” Troll asked.

“A midget switch.”

“I got it,” Dallas said. “Lou rides in and Paris rides out dressed like him.”

“That’s better,” Troll said. “We don’t have to mind read. I don’t like mind reading.”

“That’s because you can’t do it,” Bulldog said. “You don’t have the sense.”

So Paris was included in the plan to burglarize the American Futures Corporation of the best and brightest genetics in their arsenal. Her being included in the plan was a great distraction to A-Bomb, who realized she would be riding on his shoulders. That would be a lot more fun than Lou, waving his cane like a sword and challenging people to duels, safe with his bodyguard. “We could be married,” he said.

“Who could be married?” Troll asked.

“Him and Paris,” Bulldog said.

“You treat my sister with the same respect you treat me,” Troll said. “I’ll snap your neck off.”

“He wasn’t talking about Paris,” Louis said.

“Yes he was,” Bulldog insisted.

“I was, but not with any disrespect,” A-Bomb said.

“There ya go,” Dallas said, popping open a beer. “He was thinking about marrying her first; no disrespect.”

The trolls all laughed at this; in fact they seemed to not be able to stop for awhile, as one of them would catch the other’s eye and they would both be overcome by a joke which eluded A-Bomb. Louis seemed equally baffled. “I guess that’s all we’ve got for today,” he said, with a single tap of the pistol butt on the table, like punctuation to close out of ritual time. It was hard for A-Bomb to look away because each of the trolls seemed to be battling for composure and losing. At one point Dallas exploded as if he’d repressed a river of hilarity and it was breaking through the levees.

“No disrespect,” Troll said, and collapsed, laughing helplessly. “No disrespect.”

Louis gestured with this head toward the stairs. “You go on up,” he said to A-Bomb. I’ll be up later. I have to talk to these knuckleheads about something.”

A-Bomb went through the curtain and up the stairs. Paris’ door was open and he paused, knowing he had to look in, and that she was watching him. He wondered if Bulldog was feeling this in the air, the scent of arousal. She was wearing a gown thin as gauze, through which he could see the outline of her body. “Come inside,” she said.

“What about Louis?” he asked. “And Troll?”

“Come here,” she said, “and look.”

He moved on into the room and followed her gaze to a bank of security monitors. She picked up a remote and pressed a switch to bring up the volume. He could hear Fireplug telling a joke about a man with a talking dog. “The guy says, ‘Fluffy, you never did anything like this before,’ and the dog says, ‘I never had twenty dollars before.’”

“They’re getting dunk,” she said. “Besides, I sign the checks.” It was the last thing she said before she kissed him. “I was listening to the meeting,” she said. “I heard what you said about wanting to marry me. Do you know I’m ten years older than you are? And did you know that you’re way too big for me?”

A-Bomb didn’t say anything. He thought about telling her that he was just an Indian shadow, without much history before he got hungry for a sweet potato, and that a kiss from her was plenty. “I’m pretty big all right,” he said, “and you’re a midget.”

“That’s right, I’m a midget. My dad was a midget and my mother was normal sized. But it’s different the other way around. I mean, what’s smaller can fit into what’s bigger …”

“In that book you said your mom and dad were the same size, both five foot tall. But then Louis said they were both normal sized. Now you say your father was a midget and your mother was normal sized.”

“I’m a writer, A-Bomb. We make things up.”

“I know that.” There was a long silence. “Did you think I made it up that I want to marry you?”

“Yes,” she said, “You made it up. That’s why I kissed you, dummy.”

Posted: Mon - April 7, 2008 at 04:09 PM