The Seeder, Chapter Nine: The Curse of Childhood

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Arbogast, Arbogast, ugly face and a big fat a**!

Arbogast, Arbogast, ugly face and a big fat a**!

Homer woke, sweating and swearing up a storm. Every time he dared hope the curse of childhood might finally be behind him, something like this happened. Classmates had grown out of taunting him with that nasty rhyme by sixth grade, but the damage had been done.

“Can we change our family name, Dad?” He’d once asked that question. Abraham Arbogast had promptly backhanded his son, sending both boy and chair flying.

“Arbogast is a proud name, young man,” he’d been told firmly. “A lot of good men have worn it.”

“I’d say they about wore it out,” the ten year old muttered. That time his Mom hit him with the spatula. One thing about the old lady, she didn’t put up with her kids dissing her man.

That one, he should have seen coming.

With no other recourse available, he’d determined to do something about the endless, unmerciful teasing. It took two years of frequent schoolyard fights and several suspensions from school to settle the matter, by which time puberty gave him a break. Muscles began popping up all over his body like zits did on other boys’ faces. The fat of his youth melted away without effort, a respite that lasted through high school, college, and the first few years on the force.

Until Nora died.

Nora. College sweethearts they’d been, him a big clunk of largely German stock, she the cutest little Jewish American Princess on God’s green Earth.

“A good Jewish boy you should marry!” Her mother had shouted. “Not some neo-Nazi putz the size of a Jovian tank!” With Mama, every sentence ended with an exclamation point. Never mind that the Arbogast family had fought on the side of freedom in every conflict from World War I right on through the Jovian War; Nora would be disowned if she married outside the faith.

Nora’s final words to her family had been, “I’m not a prejudiced yenta shtick drek like you, Mama.” No exclamation point; she’d been calm, cool, and collected. Even so, that single sentence had been a grenade with the pin pulled. Homer had never quite gathered enough nerve to ask his beloved exactly how those three Yiddish words translated. Not that he needed to.

All those shocked faces, no one saying anything…that was more than enough.

After they’d officially wed, word had been passed through gossiping neigbors like a wildfire leaping through dry timber after a ten year drought. True to Mama’s loudly voiced threat, Nora was dead to her family. The younger woman never did indicate any remorse for having stood up to her domineering mother; her husband would have loved her for that alone.

When a Jovian spore took her at age thirty-one, most of Patrolman Homer Arbogast died with her. No Earthling who ever watched a loved one go like that could ever be quite the same afterward. The burly young beat officer was a changed man. His hatred for the invaders from the gas giant burned deep and long and hard, but the last Jovian contingent had unfortunately already departed. He couldn’t ease the pain by killing Twiggies who were simply not there to kill. He lacked any political power with which to cut off the nominal trade treaty that remained.

Still, he did what he could, signing every petition that came along attempting to revoke the treaty and/or close the style shops on Alien row.

Probably the governments on both planets were exchanging various ugly secrets. Spying on each other, except Earth would always get the raw end of that deal. How do you spy on a Jovian when you’ve no eyes and ears on Jupiter? Or maybe they did have such. Who knew? For that matter, who cared?

“Meowr-r-r!”

“Okay, girl, breakfast a-comin’.” He rubbed sleep from his eyes with one hand while scratching behind Sheba’s ears with the other. Daylight in the swamps; time to get it in gear. In two hours, a stunning, long legged young lady just about young enough to be his daughter would be arriving to pick him up. This was Sunday. Unofficial Scene Of The Crime Day. The heck with looking for clues. She could do that; he’d look at her. Might as well, since he’d been fantasizing about Miss Corolla Nails Hendrix constantly. Not masturbation, not yet. Maybe not ever. He was polite and something of a gentleman, no matter how hard he tried not to be.

Yeah. Right. In truth he was just chicken, afraid she’d feel him thinking those horny thoughts about her and tell him she no longer needed to go see a rundown house at the edge of the dangerous Jovian Joy district.

Homer, Homer, made of jelly!

Chicken livered yellow belly!

Great. He really had forgotten the worst of those Homer poems. Once the other kids found out his father’s name was Abraham, the Homer Simpson jibes multiplied like Jovian diseases cut loose in the tropics. Those 2D flattoons had begun back, what, close to a hundred and fifty years earlier? Something like that. They’d achieved worldwide popularity long before Earthlings even knew Jupiter had a sentient population, faded for a while, then come roaring back and somehow maintained their popularity with the lowbrow crowd through all those seemingly endless war years, appearing to be as well loved today as they’d ever been.

Not even young Arbogast could truly hate those politically fearless animated cartoons, no matter how much ribbing he received. Still, the Simpson-inspired jokes had been the worst.

Deliberately cutting off that line of memory, he forced himself to focus on the present and the positive. He was positive he wanted to impress Miss Hendrix. He’d marry her if she’d have him, the heck with so much as a background check (in case it might turn up something he didn’t want to know about), and he hadn’t even dated once in the past nine years. Not once, not since Nora. This would be his only chance to line up future contact. He had a dead Seeder to thank, or rather a former Seeder who might not be dead, but it was up to him to make the most of it.

He’d been a defensive lineman in college, cat quick and bull strong. Back then, his competitive weight had run around two-twenty, small for the front line but every ounce composed of compressed spring steel. The steel had softened, but it could be retempered. He could tell already, walking to supper and back just these past few nights. The scale agreed, showing a drop this morning from his high of two ninety-two to two eighty-eight.

Four pounds in four days. Good numbers.

Black jeans and black Raybo tennies were easy choices, being relatively new and allowing freedom of movement, not to mention slimming his appearance a touch. A pearl gray turtleneck went back into the closet after close inspection in the mirror showed him looking even more like The Frog than did his beloved Muni Building.

After much agonizing, he settled on a checked flannel shirt in muted earth tones, open at the collar. In vogue this year and neither too badly worn nor too stinky in the pits according to the standard single guy sniff test. With his favorite brown leather jacket added to the ensemble, he looked all right. Nothing to brag about, but all right; a lot of people were wearing brown over black these days.

Wyoming Militia units had worn those colors during several key battles with the Twiggies, triggering a bit of a fashion trend nearly fifty years after the fact.

There wasn’t much left of Wyoming these days, of course, but it wasn’t like much had been there in the first place except for extensive coal reserves and a few hundred thousand rednecks whose favorite pastime had been nailing captured Jovian soliders to fence posts. Extensive bombing had cratered the area much like the moon, yet a number of those rednecks still survived.

The Twiggies called Wyoming The Dying Ground.

Most importantly, the jacket provided room for a well concealed .380 Smidgen under his left armpit, spare clips in a carrier under his right, and a flat Shinkle Shaver in its custom designed sheath between his shoulder blades. A really sharp Curlew hat completed his outift, essential not so much against the nippy February weather but because its crown concealed a backup nine shot .22 Palero.

Anyone who needs to carry a gun needs to carry two.

He’d heard that at his father’s knee. Most cops wouldn’t use a lousy .22 for the task, but most cops weren’t the Arbo Man. His fellow officers of the law thought mostly in terms of firepower, not accuracy. He’d only had to use the Palero once in fourteen years of ownership, but that once had saved his life. He’d go with it.

Police Chief Courson was one pro who did agree with him. They’d gotten to know each other well during their mutual undercover days, so the up and coming Calvin P. Courson had eventually come to know what his partner packed.

“You make sense,” he’d admitted. “Most of us go for nines on up to forty-fives for general service, then nothing smaller than the .380 for backup. But an awful lot of our brothers in blue couldn’t hit the floor if they dropped the gun, and an awful lot of beat officers end up developing spine problems from carrying all that weight around on their hips.” The future Chief had grinned, black eyes sparkling in amusement. “Remember The Cheese? He insisted on that gigantic .454 Casull hogleg, must have weighed a good six pounds loaded. I saw him blasting away with that thing at the range one day. Didn’t do badly with his first round, but by the end of just one cylinder, he was all over the place. That cannon intimidated the Devil out of him. But he insisted on it.

“Got him killed, too.”

Homer remembered. William “The Cheese” Strakeber and his partner had gotten into a gunfight with six Looters who were running Jovian Joy. The partner lived. The Cheese didn’t . According to witnesses, it seemed likely the monster Casull’s blasts had deafened the officer. He’d never heard the blade man moving into position behind him despite the broken glass and plentiful gravel covering the street.

Biggest wheelgun available anywhere after the war, and all it had done was get Strakeber terminated by a fiifteen year old punk with a kitchen knife.

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