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Lizard music, p.4
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       Lizard Music, p.4

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  I had an idea—sort of a hunch. “Excuse me,” I said, “Do you know someone called the Chicken Man?”

  “Of course, Majesty,” the little fat guy said. “He is my friend. He comes here every night. We watch the lizards together.”

  I almost choked on my grape soda, “You watch the lizards?” I asked.

  “Isn’t that what I said?” the little fat guy shouted. “You’re maybe a music critic? You have something against lizards? You prefer rock and roll? Who asked you? That’ll be ten cents for the soda.”

  “No. I mean, I—I watch the lizards too. I’m just surprised—I mean, I’m a friend of the Chicken Man—I mean, I met him—I was sort of looking for him.” I dug out a dime and put it on the counter.

  “Ah, that’s different. Any friend of the Chicken Man is a friend of mine. Would you care to leave a message for him?”

  “Just tell him that Victor was looking for him.”

  “Exactly so. Victor. And my name is Shane Fergussen,” the little fat guy said.

  “Pleased to meet you,” I said.

  “Precisely. My good friend, Matthias Grunewald, also known as the Chicken Man, will be here late tonight. Here is the number, if you should care to call him.” Shane Fergussen handed me a card. It said:

  HUBERT VAN EYCK

  (The Chicken Man)

  Old and Rare Poultry Books

  Investment Counsellor

  Bail Bondsman

  Telephone HO7-8937

  “You said his name was Matthias Grunewald,” I said.

  “Without question. His professional name, however, is—” Shane Fergussen took the card back and looked at it—“Hubert Van Eyck.” He handed me the card again. I put it in my notebook, and noticed the last note I had made, “Take special zoo bus.”

  “Do you know where I can catch the special zoo bus?” I asked Shane Fergussen.

  “Right on the corner. You can’t miss it. It’s got a big lizard on the side.”

  I said good-by to Shane Fergussen and went outside to wait for the bus.

  Chapter 8

  I didn’t have long to wait—but not for the bus. A green taxi pulled up. The driver had an enormous cap, like the caps they always show golfers wearing—plaid with a little pom-pom on top and a bill. The cap was so large it completely covered his face.

  “Your transport has arrived, man,” the cab driver said.

  “I beg your pardon?” I asked.

  “Wheels! Locomotion! Speed! Make the scene in the green machine!” the cabbie said.

  “I’m waiting for the special zoo bus,” I said.

  “The zoo! Scooby Doo! How true! Enter the vehicle. The zoo! One dollar without the tip, man.” The cabbie was pounding on the dashboard with his fists.

  “No thanks,” I said, “I’ll wait for the bus. It only costs a quarter.”

  “Egad, a proletarian!” the cabbie said. “Let me advise you, Daddy. Don’t travel with hoi polloi, the many, the common crowd, you dig it? Not when you’re on the trail of pleasure and high adventure. Ensconce yourself in this limo and ride in style—fifty cents.” The taxicab had a very bad sounding engine. It made a lot of smoke. The whole car was painted green with little yellow squares—like scales.

  “All right! Twenty-five cents to the zoo, but I don’t play the radio,” the cab driver said. There was something familiar about the cab driver’s voice. All I could see of him was the gigantic golfer’s cap and his brown knuckles on the steering wheel. I got in. There was a card on the back of the driver’s seat.

  HOGBORO CITY TAXI LICENSE

  Charles Swan 04011

  On the card was a picture of Charles Swan, the cab driver. He was wearing the golf cap, which cast a shadow over his whole face. All I could see were two eyes peering out of the darkness.

  “Goin’ to the zoo-oo, sorry but I can’t take you; Goin’ to the zoo-oo, sorr-i-ee but I can’t take you—” Charles Swan was singing. As I said, I am not used to black people. I had an idea that Charles Swan was kidding me. On the other hand, maybe he really talked like that. He was singing another song now, something about Nagasaki.

  “It certainly is a nice day for the zoo, Mr. Swan,” I said.

  “Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk, sho’ nuff, bless yo’ heart, chile, hyuk, hyuk, hyuk!” Charles Swan said. I settled back in my seat. “Hot ginger an’ dynamite,” Charles Swan sang. I had a funny feeling about Charles Swan. There was something I wanted to ask him, but he always went into the “Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk” thing every time I was sort of clearing my throat, getting ready to try and start a conversation.

  The cab was very noisy. There wasn’t much in the way of a muffler, and the doors and windows all rattled. Every time we went over a bump, stuff rattled and crashed in the trunk. Charles Swan was singing, and sort of talking to himself the whole time. I wanted to know if he knew the Chicken Man, but he never gave me a chance to talk. The taxi screeched to a stop outside the Hogboro Zoo. Charles Swan stamped on the brakes, and the door swung open all by itself. I handed him his quarter. The engine had died, and he was trying to get the cab started. I started to walk away, then turned back and asked through the window, “Mr. Swan, do you know anything about a guy called the Chicken Man?”

  “The Chicken Man?” The engine came to life. There was a rattle and a roar. “Never heard of him.” The cab pulled away and left me standing in the gutter. “Bye, Victor!” Charles Swan shouted. I was certain I heard a chicken clucking over the engine noise. I took out my notebook:

  8. Chicken Man disguised as cab driver.

  I went into the zoo. It occurred to me that I had never been in a zoo before. It had a weird smell. There was a big gate to go through. Then there were a lot of big brick buildings. People were walking around. Most of them had little kids with them. Some of the brick buildings had iron cages along one side. In one of them was a tiger! I went closer and looked at the tiger. It was fantastic! In the next cage was another tiger, and a leopard next to that, and lions! They were beautiful. I spent a long time looking at the big cats. I kept going back to the tigers. I just couldn’t believe how beautiful they were. I didn’t like the idea of all those animals being kept in cages, but I was glad they were there to look at just the same. I spent the whole day at the zoo, and I never did find out where they keep the lizards, which I had come to look at in the first place.

  From the cats, I went to the elephants and the bears. I spent a long time with them. I was just getting to appreciate the different kinds of antelopes, and zebras and buffaloes, when a guard kicked me out of the place—closing time. I had already decided that I was coming back the next day. As a matter of fact, I was planning to come back every day for the rest of my life. I never dreamed that zoos were so wonderful. I mean, I thought they’d be interesting—sort of like the animal programs on television—but looking at the animals for real and hearing them and smelling them—and sometimes the animals look back at you. Wow. It’s just great. There was one thing called a lesser kudu that I was looking at just before the guard kicked me out. It had wavy horns and a gray body with thin white stripes and these nice warm eyes. I could still see the lesser kudu on the bus ride to the Hogboro terminal and then home.

  I didn’t get home until the middle of the news. I switched on Roger Mudd and turned the volume way up so I could hear him in the kitchen. I had forgotten to eat all day. There was stuff to eat for sale in the zoo, and I had bought some peanuts for the bears, but I hadn’t remembered to eat anything. I checked the TV dinners. Somehow none of them appealed to me. I thought maybe I’d try some eggs. I had never actually cooked eggs, but I had seen it done often enough.

  First I got the frying pan and put about half a stick of butter in it. I turned up the burner under it all the way to get the butter melting, and then I put a couple of slices of whole wheat bread in the toaster. It felt funny to be making a breakfast in the evening. I decided to have some orange juice too. There wasn’t any made up, but there were little frozen cans of concentrated orange juice in the freezer. I
make this stuff all the time. It’s tricky to get the half-frozen lump of orange juice out of the can, and then you have to stir it a lot to get the lump to melt. I was in the middle of this when I noticed that the butter was starting to smoke and sputter. I figured it was ready and got a couple of eggs.

  Breaking eggs is much more complicated than it looks. The first one that I tapped on the edge of the pan ran mostly down the outside and sort of got in amongst the burner. I got the next two eggs to go inside the pan, but a lot of shell went in too. I tried picking it out, but it was pretty hot and splattery in the pan, so I left the shell in, figuring I’d pick the pieces out later. At the last minute, I thought I’d like ham and eggs—there was some sliced ham in the icebox—and I threw that in too.

  Everything came out at the same time. The eggs were kind of black. So was the ham. So was the toast. The orange juice was just perfect. Everything tasted okay, and I learned something—you can eat egg shells.

  Roger Mudd was telling about how the natives of some island in the Pacific were saving their money to buy the President of the United States to be their chief. They wouldn’t pay taxes or anything. They had over sixteen thousand dollars saved up. I wondered how they made their money. Fishing, maybe.

  After the news, I didn’t pay any attention to what was on TV. I had a lot of work to do on my investigation. I had gotten sort of sidetracked at the zoo. I wanted to go over what had been happening during the day. I was certain that Charles Swan was the Chicken Man in disguise. I knew that he went to Shane Fergussen’s candy store every night and watched the lizards with him. I had the phone number, HO7–8937. I was sure that the Chicken Man was the key to the lizards. I felt very excited. I was going to find out what was going on. I didn’t know how, but I just had this strong feeling that the whole thing was going to make sense soon. I looked at my notebook. None of the things in it made any sense—but they would. I just had to wait for the next thing to happen.

  Then it happened! It had been happening all along right in front of me—on TV! I was looking at it. There was this talk show. Ordinarily I never watch talk shows, but as I said, I hadn’t bothered to change the channel after the Roger Mudd show. There was this talk show—there was a host with real wavy hair and there were all these guests sitting in a row. One was an actress, and she smiled all the time. She had real big boobs, and the host kept staring at them and making faces and making jokes about how she had real big boobs. The audience screamed every time he made a face, and this actress would smile and sort of move her boobs around. Then there was this other guy—he had a sort of Jungle Jim suit with a fancy scarf, and he was smiling all the time too. Every now and then he’d say something, and the host and the actress would smile and shake their heads, and the actress would move her boobs. And there was a little short guy who was sweating; he’d jump up and down and run around the stage, and the audience would scream. Another woman came out. She was the daughter of somebody famous—I didn’t catch the name—and she came out to talk about this cookbook she’d written. She brought out all these weird dishes from her cookbook, like baked beans with marshmallows on them, and sauerkraut with coconut on top. The host tasted the dishes and made faces and rolled his eyes, and the audience screamed. All this stuff was flashing past me a mile a minute. It was happening like a speeded-up movie—and it was very important! I wasn’t sure why it was, at first. It seemed like the usual dumb stuff they have on television. There was something special about it, something that had been there all along, only I hadn’t ever noticed it. The daughter of the famous somebody was holding up the cookbook. Everybody was clapping. I was noticing something weird. It was very strong, the thing I was noticing, but I couldn’t quite think what it was, how to describe it. These people on the talk show—there was something the same about them, something special that I didn’t like. What was it? I was very excited. Stuff from the zoo was flashing through my mind. I thought about the lesser kudu. I could see her beautiful brown eyes. I wanted to cry, I loved her so much. On the talk show they were wheeling out a watermelon cut in half and filled with shredded carrots, and there were little American flags on it. Pod people! The movie! It was a true movie! There were real pod people. I smelled the tiger. I heard the lizard band. Tears were rolling off my chin. We had been invaded by the pod people. It wasn’t all clear yet. I didn’t know what this had to do with the Chicken Man—or with me. But I just knew that somehow the whole thing was connected. I couldn’t hear the sound of the TV screen anymore. My ears were filled with lizard music. The credits on the talk show were coming down, and the people who had been on the show were pretending to shake hands.

  Chapter 9

  I wondered why I was sobbing. I didn’t feel sad, and the sobbing seemed to be going on by itself—in another room, or somewhere away from me. I was trying to pull myself together, but I was together. I had a feeling that this was all leading somewhere, and I was happy about it. But this was serious. Pod people were no joke. I felt myself calming down. I wondered why I wasn’t worried. Nothing like this had ever happened to me, and you don’t discover that you’ve been invaded by the pod people every day. I was feeling very certain about all sorts of things that I didn’t really understand. One thing I was certain about—not everybody was pod people. There were pod people—and what? Lizards! The lizards were not podish at all. The Chicken Man was unpod. Shane Fergussen was no pod. I wasn’t. Mom and Dad weren’t. Leslie definitely was. I couldn’t make up my mind about Walter. I hoped he wasn’t.

  I spent a long time thinking about people I knew—pod or not pod. Most of them were. The late movie was the one about the guy in the marines who is a coward all through boot camp, and then he has a talk with the old sergeant, who turns out to be his father or something, and he’s a hero in the war. Just as well—I couldn’t have enjoyed anything good. I was waiting up for the lizards and my phone call to the Chicken Man.

  The lizards came on right after the late movie. The music was great. I flipped the knob, and sure enough, they were on every channel, just as I thought. It was hard to tear myself away from the set and dial the number. When the receiver picked up on the other end, I could hear lizard music coming through the phone. It sounded good. For some reason I thought of hot soup.

  “Fergussen’s Confectionery,” I heard.

  “Mr. Fergussen, this is Victor,” I said. “Is the Chicken Man there?”

  “Never heard of him,” Shane Fergussen said. “Hold the line.” I held.

  Then a voice, “Milo Schtunk, here. To whom am I addressed?”

  “This is Victor,” I said. “Is this the Chicken Man?”

  “How should I know?” the voice said. “You just said it was Victor.”

  “I mean, am I talking to the Chicken Man?” I shouted.

  “You are talking to Pieter Breughel the Elder, known to some as the C.M.,” the voice said.

  “I’m Victor, the kid you’ve been following around,” I said.

  “My man! Victor, how are you?”

  “Mixed up, sort of,” I said. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you. I want to make an appointment.”

  “Fine. Come to my office tomorrow,” said Pieter Breughel the Elder, also known as Milo Schtunk, a.k.a. Charles Swan, Hubert Van Eyck, Matthias Grunewald, Lucas Cranach, Jr., Herr Doktor Professor Horace Kupeckie, Plt.D.

  “Where’s that,” I said.

  “Umm, what’s tomorrow, Wednesday? Try the Reptile House, Hogboro Zoo, in the late A.M.”

  “I’ll be there,” I said. “By the way, how much do you charge?”

  “That depends on what you want done.”

  “I want some things explained,” I said.

  “No charge for explanations,” the Chicken Man said. “However, there is a charge for guiding. I’m a licensed guide.”

  “What?” I said. Buzzzz—he had hung up.

  I finally got to see the end of the lizard show. They just finished playing and left—packed up their instruments and walked off, carrying the little blac
k musical instrument cases. Then the camera showed the empty chairs for a long time.

  I guessed it was time to go to bed. I had a lot to do in the A.M., as the Chicken Man said.

  “It’s time to play You Bet Your Duck!” a voice said. I jumped. It was coming from the TV set. The picture was still the empty chairs. “Yes, friends, You Bet Your Duck, the exciting lizard quiz!” The picture had changed. There was a lizard wearing a Donald Duck mask! “And here’s your old friend, the genial quizmaster, the Inept Eft!” the lizard announcer in the duck mask said. Another lizard in a duck mask came onto the screen. He was smoking a cigar through the mask. “Welcome, welcome to ‘You Bet Your Duck,’ ” the Inept Eft said, “and now, let’s meet our first two contestants.” Two more lizards wearing duck masks came out. The Inept Eft asked them their names.

  “Jim and Linda Lacerta,” they said. It was interesting listening to lizards talk. They sounded perfectly normal. Up to now, I had only heard them play musical instruments.

  “As you know, every correct answer is worth 75,000 Agama Dollars,” the Inept Eft said. “Twelve wrong answers in a row, and you lose the game.” I wondered what an Agama Dollar was. “And now it’s time to play You Bet Your Duck,” the quizmaster said. “The first question is, Who invented the telephone?”

  Jim and Linda Lacerta sort of whispered to each other. Then they turned to the Inept Eft. “Was it Salamander Graham Bell?”

  “Correct, for 75,000 Agama Dollars!” the Eft shouted. “Next question. Name a famous Spanish painter who was a lizard.”

  Jim and Linda whispered again. They were still whispering when the bell rang.

  “I’m sorry, there goes the bell,” the Eft said. “The correct answer is El Gecko. Remember, eleven more wrong answers in a row, and you lose the game. The next question is, Name the lizard who conquered the ancient world.”

 
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