Had Sergeant Arbogast chosen to augment his evening meal at Railway Restaurant with a stroll into the adjacent Railway Comedy Club, he’d have been quite surprised.
However, there was little chance of that. The headliner, an attack comic who went by the stage name of Snorty Bull, was enough to keep the big cop well away from the Club. Homer had seen the guy’s act just once, more than enough in his view. Attack comics should all be lined up against a dumpster and beaten unconscious with rubber chickens. Nasty, biting things thought they were funny.
Nothing funny about ’em.
That being the case, and with no marquee credits allotted to any lesser lights than the headliner himself, the average diner had no way of knowing the second of those lead-ins was a tall brunette who called herself Edsella. Not even her Sling Sleaze coworkers knew that Nails Henrix spent almost as many hours rehearsing and performing standup as she did digging out delightful morsels for her yellow press articles. Finished columns were emailed to the editor, who didn’t even know what she looked like.
Even her landlady made no connection between the quiet young female tenant and the controversial columnist. Not that she bothered to deny her identity when someone did occasionally make the connection; she just didn’t advertise the fact. Nor did she point to it with jokes about her day job.
By non-headliner standards, her fifteen minute gig was excellent. With no more than a thousand comics in all of EC able to command that kind of time slot at a recognized Comedy Club, she was already running with the big dogs.
She’d been wearing part of her onstage attire by the time she’d approached the Sergeant, which explained the square dancing outfit. Much of her humor centered on life in the mountains of Montana. The Treasure State had suffered massive population growth during the middle decades of the twenty-first century, following which the Jovian war had slowed things down considerably by absolutely flattening twenty or thirty sizeable mountains and burying everything from Missoula south, including the entire Bitterroot Valley, under the rubble.
Even so, Montana was still the Big Sky Country and a great unknown to the inhabitants of the East Coast megalopolis known to most as simply EC. Few EC denizens could realistically picture life anywhere west of the city limits, except of course for the parts of California that remained above water.
That level of mass ignorance gave her a lot of leeway in writing her material.
“My grandfather fought in the Jovian War,” she told her audience of mostly middle aged men with beer guts and bad eyesight. Later she’d mention that: Their eyes must be bad because they had to stare so hard just to see the stage. They would laugh, or at least should laugh if most of them weren’t too dense to get the joke. She still had it, just like her cousin Camry.
Lord, she missed that crazy little redheaded firecracker. Maybe they could get together again sometime. If. Always if.
“My grandfather fought in the Jovian War,” she repeated, “As did many of your own people.” Quiet murmurs of appreciation. Jovian War lore still cut close to the bone for many Earthlings. “Now, I don’t know about your grandaddies, but mine figured the Twiggies did us a favor, coming here with all that attitude like they did. Before that, we were getting so-o-o-o bored, you know? I mean, before the Stick Men came along, you know, just to stay sharp, my ancestors in Montana had nobody to shoot but politicians!”
Solid laughter. Comparing a politician to a Twiggie and implying they should both be shot wasn’t particularly original, but her timing and delivery were both impeccable. Not to mention her sex appeal.
She could remember when she and Camry would go out on the town, usually Helena, occasionally Great Falls. What a team they had been, nine inches difference in height but both with baby faces and booties that drew men like rats following the Pied Piper of Hamlin. All they had to do was stroll down the street for three or four blocks, and they’d have a dozen guys on their trail with tongues hanging out.
. “Of course,” she told her audience, “My cousin and I grew up a little late for popping Twiggies, and what with the politicians beginning to cry like babies if you even aimed a squirt gun at them ” (pause for laughter, no laughter, go on), “we had to come up with a different hobby.
“Did, too. We found out those Montana cowboys might make the sheep nervous, all right, but if we pranced down the street just so….” She did a Bendix Strut across the stage. Several men’s tongues fell into their beer. “…a whole lot of men would line up behind the two of us. Now I ask you, have you ever noticed the silly things a dude in heat will do?”
The rest of her time flew by. She was on a roll. Males of all colors laughed in admission that they and of course the other guys they knew were just exactly that idiotic when it came to admiring a woman’s backside. Most of the women in the audience, and there were some, began hooting agreement.
Naturally, there had to be one biddy. There always was. This one was a pinchface, maybe forty-five years of age, who just glared. At least, she wasn’t in the front row, so shining her on wasn’t too tough. Most likely Snorty would tie into the woman and have her running out in tears, but Nails had promised herself never to destroy a customer during a gig unless he or she was actively heckling.
“Oh, and my name? Edsella? Well, see, that came from a mouth fight between my Mom and my Dad. Dad was a good old fashioned chauvinist pig, which we all know is the natural and proper state for a man.” (laughter) “Yup. You folks know all about it. Now my Mom, she didn’t put up with all that much from him, you know? I mean, she loved the guy, still does, but enough is enough. My Dad’s name is Ed–don’t get ahead of me now! And he wanted a little boy in the worst way. When I came out without any of those tumors between my legs you guys are so proud of–” (laughter) “When I came out a girl, Daddy threw a fit.”
“Finally, Mom had had enough. I wasn’t an easy childbirth, you know, and she’s hurting and mad as Hades at her husband. In our family, one of those things they always told us little kids was, if we were bad, we’d get sold to the circus. So my Mom, she stares her old man right in the eye and says, Ed, sell her!”
“Now Daddy, he’s really okay, you know, and that brought him up short. He thought about it a minute, and you have to understand my father is also an antique car buff. The older the jalopy, the better. So he looks at me and says, well, I always did think the old Ford Motor Company had a girl in mind when they designed that grill on the Edsel–which by the way, woman, didn’t sell worth poo in a punch bowl. I don’t figure that brat would do all that well on the open market, either, so maybe she’s a human Edsel. An Edsella.
“Now, I ask you, does this look like me?” She picked up the prop, a 3′ x 5′ full color poster of the notorious lemon-puckered Edsel grille–the center part that does indeed look a bit like an oversized vagina–and waited, dead still.
It took a moment. She thought for a couple of long seconds she’d blown it. She waited another beat–and the room exploded in laughter.
Take that! She thought triumphantly. Let’s see Snorty get a bigger laugh tonight! A good night all around. She was hot, oh yeah, she was hot. The thrill of it. She’d make it to the Comedy 500 yet, and when she did. Oh yeah.
For a time after her set, she hung out backstage to see how the others did. Opener Rod Smockman hadn’t done badly, but neither had he killed. Roughly a C rating compared to her A showing. Number three lead-in Vojman Hojman stunk up the place, lost all the audience heat she had stirred up. That didn’t trouble either the bar owner or the headliner. Fifteen minutes of third rate stuff helped guys notice their mugs were empty and order more, and any comic prefers, really, to follow a bad act.
Snorty Bull did his full hour in typical form, nasty but effective. Edsella rated his audience repsonse a B plus and felt quietly, smugly satisfied. It didn’t even matter that she’d called it wrong on one point.
The pinchfaced hag loved Snorty to pieces.
Well, no accounting for taste. She finally headed for the parking lot, by herself but not terribly concerned. This section of the The City was not exactly crime free, but it wasn’t the worst, either. Not by a long shot. Gangs existed, but graffiti was removed as soon as it appeared and turf lines were blurred. Good lighting and security cameras were adequate if not quite numerous enough to be termed abundant.
She did of course follow standard practice: Car door key protruding between thumb and forefinger, ignition key next over. Her nondescript Jetaway flycar was waiting where it had been left.
Even so, two very large young men had to try something stupid. Their timing wasn’t bad, one angling between her and the flycar while showing his teeth in a confident grin, brandishing an oversized pistol in an oversized fist. Not a laser. Not even one of the late model composites but a stainless big bore retro beauty that gleamed in the security lights as brightly as the predator’s expectations.
The other fellow stepped out from behind a larger landvan a good twenty feet away but somewhat at her back so she couldn’t keep them both in sight at once. They no doubt cared less for her credit disks than for the use of her body, wth or without leaving said body alive after. It was a mark of distinction for the Looters to leave a victim alive but shattered, equally a matter of pride and joy for the Jammers to leave her dead and mutilated.
Unless the viction happened to be a transvestite; even Looters generally terminated shemales when they were done with them. In either case, these bangers had planned their tactics well. Extremely well. As far as she could see, they’d only made one mistake.
They’d picked the wrong target.