I was sitting in my cave, daydreaming a bit, I must admit. Things had gone off the boil for a while and, to be honest, it was a tad boring. Crashamanka was doing great business, so it wasn’t as if I needed clams, but a bit of excitement wouldn’t have gone amiss. Although there’s a curse Peking Man has: may you live in interesting times. That wasn’t what I wanted, but I wanted to get involved in something that would get my blood racing again.
My name is Magnon, Cro Magno, Pea Eye, and a whole heap of excitement was about to happen. I just didn’t know it yet. There was a clattering outside my cave and I went outside to look, and there was Sandalmacher, on a Dromeceiomimus. I was impressed, and then some. Those babies were fast, and almost impossible to tame.
He’d put a piece of what looked like Triceratops skin on her back and had lianas hanging down the side, with his feet in them. He also had lianas in the back of her mouth and he was pulling back on them, while she looked at me with wild eyes and a bit of foam around her mouth.
‘That’s an impressive ride you have there, Sandalmacher,’ I said.
‘Ya, and it vos not easy to ketch her,’ he said, with no small degree of pride. He and Swirling Moth used to regularly race each other, but there was no way Moth could win, not stacked up against this wild beast.
‘How did you manage it?’ I asked. I was really interested.
‘I puttink down some rotten meat on ze junkle floor, and vait for her. Zen, ven she come alonk, I throw a liana around her neck and tie her to a tree. I leaf her for vun veek, and ven I come back, she is too hungry and thirsty to do anysink, so I feed her slowly, and now she is mine, and only I can ride her.’
‘That’s pretty ingenious,’ I said, really impressed. Swirling Moth was never going to win another race around these parts.
‘Vell, nice to seeink you, but I must be off racink again.’ And he was off in a cloud of dust. That Drome could really move!
I made my way up to Crashamanka later and all the talk was of Sandalmacher and his Drome. Most folks were betting he would win every race, but some believed Moth to be a better rider. Still, it promised to be an exciting season of racing!
Skram was banging out Focused Locust on the bamboos and folks were drinking and dancing like there was no tomorrow! One ancient geezer, forty-five if he was a day, hobbled up to me. ‘This is a nice place you’ve got here,’ he said in a reedy voice.
‘Thanks,’ I said, glancing down at him, then looking up at the action again. Skram really knew how to tickle those bamboos, and I really believe as many folks came to listen to him as to drink. It didn’t matter; the clams were rolling in. The old man said something. I looked down at him. ‘Sorry, what did you say?’
‘Heh, heh, heh, no need t’ apol’gise, m’boy.’ He looked up at me with his rheumy old eyes. ‘How much do you want for it?’
‘Want for what?’
‘This place.’ He indicated the place with his hand. ‘It’s a good place; I’d like to buy it.’
I shook my head. ‘Sorry, it’s not for sale.’
‘I heard you wanted to move down to warmer climates because you heard there was an ice age coming.’
I looked at him in interest now. Where had he heard that? ‘Where did you hear that?’ I asked.
‘Word gets around, and I’d like to spend my last few years in a place like this. I like the feel of the place.’
I shook my head in disbelief. ‘How old are you?’
‘Forty-seven,’ he said, then cackled.
‘Forty-seven,’ I said tonelessly. ‘How would you even run this place?’
‘I’d hire help. I’d sit in your little alcove there in the back and come out every now and then to mingle with the crowd.’ He smiled at me. ‘It would be a good way to spend my retirement.’
I shook my head. ‘Sorry; it’s not for sale.’
‘I thought you wanted to move down south?’
‘I did: not anymore.’ I moved away a little. ‘This conversation is over,’ and I walked back to my alcove. The nerve of some folks.
It was late that night when I finally closed up Crashamanka and headed home, happily exhausted. It had been a particularly good day. Sandalmacher had predictably won, and I’d made quite a few clams betting on him so, all in all, a good day.
I crawled up onto my bedrock and fell asleep almost instantly. I usually sleep deeply and well, but this night was different. I slept restlessly and it was still dark when I woke up with something in my bed. I had a pot of fireflies next to my bed and shook them awake to get some light, and the sight that greeted me is one I’ll never forget.
Somebody had cut the head off Sandalmacher’s Drome and put it in my bedrock. I swung my legs out of the bed and they were covered in congealed blood. Who would do this, and why? I got the head out of my bedrock and went down to the stream to wash the blood off my legs.
The water was freezing and brought me to full wakefulness. I dressed myself and made my way down to Sandalmacher’s place to give him the bad news. He looked near to tears when I told him.
‘Will you find them, Cro, and make them pay?’
I didn’t know if he could see my nod in the dark, and I said, ‘They’re going to pay alright. When I find them, this is not going to be handled by the law!’
The next morning I sent Pee Jin to see what he could find out, and I sat in my alcove in Crashamanka brooding over this dastardly deed. Who and why? Why was the most important question. It wasn’t as if the Drome had belonged to me!
Later that day, the old guy turned up at Crashamanka again. ‘Well, young feller! Had a chance to think about my offer?’
‘No, but the answer remains no. Crashamanka is not for sale!’
‘What if I make you an offer you can’t refuse?’
I narrowed my eyes and looked at him. ‘What exactly do you mean?’ I grated out.
‘I heard, through the lianas, that you had an unpleasant experience last night. You wouldn’t want another, would you?’
I realised he’s been behind the beheading and was about to grab him, when I found myself looking into a double-barrelled club. ‘I would think very carefully if I were you,’ he said, backing away, the double-barrelled club between us. I let him go and started working out a plan of action. This would have to be kept from Olchap. I wanted Sandalmacher to see this evil old ape punished, and there was only one way to do it.
Pee Jin came back later with information on the old ape. He headed up a nasty gang of baboons who’s been terrorising the folks further south, where I never went. I had to come up with a plan. Without him those baboons, bad as they were, would not be able to carry out any evil plans. He was the head I would have to cut off.
The next day he was there again. ‘So, have you thought about my proposition?’
I sighed deeply, then said, ‘Okay. I’ll sell it to you.’
He rubbed his paws together. ‘Goo-ood! Two thousand clams.’
‘Two thousand clams?! It’s worth twice that!’
‘Who knows? Tomorrow it may only be worth a thousand clams if something accidentally happened to your musician.’
I looked at Skram, then looked back at him in horror. ‘You wouldn’t!’
He shook his head. ‘Of course not! But accidents happen…’
My shoulders slumped. ‘Have you got the clams with you?’
‘My henchape has them outside.’
‘Tell him to bring them to my alcove.’ I turned my back on him and went into my alcove and waited for him. He came in with a baboon following him, a heavy bag over his shoulder. I got up and emptied all the clams out of my safe alcove and put them into a bag, then took the bag from his ape and started counting.
‘It’s not necessary to count,’ he wheezed.
‘I’ll count, if you don’t mind.’
He laughed a wheezing laugh. ‘Be my guest! Literally!’’
I felt my bile rise enough to choke me, but bit down any sarcastic remark. When I’d finished counting the clams, I gathered everything together and walked out without looking back. The load was heavy and by the time I made it back to my cave, I was exhausted.
My bedrock was clean and I lay down and went straight to sleep, sleeping a deep, troubled sleep till I felt a hand shaking my shoulder. Pee Jin.
‘Fossey and the gang are outside, boss.’
I rolled out of bed and made my way out of my cave where Fossey and the gang were waiting. ‘Hi guys,’ I said. ‘Ready?’
‘Yup!’ growled Fossey, and I could hear he was raring to go. We made our way up to Crashamanka and hid in the bushes outside the entrance until the old guy and his baboons came out, with Skram following miserably behind. As they finished rolling the stone across the entrance, we charged and overcame them in seconds.
‘What do you think you’re doing?!’ the old guy shouted quaveringly.
‘Dispensing justice,’ I said and tied him and his baboons up with lianas. There were going to be no witnesses to this deed except Sandalmacher. We carried them up to the tar pits and threw them in one by one, saving the old guy for last. He was screaming piteously, but it was falling on deaf ears.
We watched him sink slowly, as he tried not to struggle, but he eventually succumbed.
I turned to Sandalmacher. ‘It’s going to take you a while to find and train another Drom,’ I said.
He looked at me searchingly. ‘You really do believe in justice and helping out friends, don’t you?’
‘Aah!’ I said in embarrassment. What’s the point of being a Pea Eye if you can’t help your friends when they need you?’