The wind was cold and nipping around my ankles. This was no way to live, I thought. I blew into my hands to keep them warm, but that didn’t seem to help much either. My fingers were numb with the cold, but fortunately, you don’t need a lot of dexterity to handle a club.
My name is Magnon, Cro Magnon, Pea Eye, and I was on a stakeout, but this guy could have chosen a better night for it. He and his business partner imported fancy skins, like sealskins and otter skins and even skunk skins, and he was sure his partner was ripping him off. He’d found a piece of stone with some suspicious writing on it, and he recognised his partner’s chisel marks.
So here I was, freezing my goonies off, trying to catch his partner. If his partner was guilty. Still, it paid the bills. Even if Crashamanka was making a load of money, it wasn’t enough. I’d heard rumours of another ice-age on its way, so I wanted to move down to sunnier climes, where the animals went every winter.
I heard a faint noise and pulled back out of sight. A brontosaurus, then another, then another, and they were piled high with skins. So it seemed my client was right! His partner was hiding some of the skins, and having the rest delivered to their warecave, which was huge!
I took out a piece of slate and started painting: I’d need evidence if this went further. A handful of baboons clambered over the furs, taking the choicest ones and hiding them in this tiny cave, then rolled a rock in front of it. They turned and went back the way they’d come and, as soon as they disappeared out of sight, I turned to make my way back to my cave and some warmth.
I felt something very sharp go through my bearskin and enter my flesh, and felt a warm trickle of blood. ‘This is obsidian, pal, and it’ll go in so deep and so smooth, you’ll be dead before you hit the ground.’ I froze, but this time not from the cold. ‘Now walk very slowly until I tell you to stop.’
I did as I was told and walked slowly, as I’d been told, feeling the obsidian grate against my ribs. We’d walked about a hundred paces or so when he told me to stop. ‘What must I do now?’ I asked.
‘Nothing. Not until I tell you.’ I could feel his hot breath on my neck, and worse, I could smell what he’d eaten, and what he’d eaten had been dead a couple of days. Baboons! They ate anything and everything and, if it had been dead a few days, so what? I’m not a specist, but I really hate baboons.
A shape loomed out of the darkness: a Neanderthal. Why was I always getting mixed up with these guys? They were big and nasty! ‘What were you doing, spying on me?’
‘And who are you?’ I asked. He nodded to the baboon and I felt the obsidian slide along my ribs, and the blood pouring down my side.
‘I ask, you answer. Got it?’ I nodded. ‘What was that?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Good. Now perhaps you’ll be so good as to tell me why you were spying on me.’
‘Your partner hired me because he thought you were stealing from him,’ I said.
‘And who are you?’
‘I’m a Pea Eye, name of Cro Magnon.’
‘Cro Magnon! I’m impressed! My partner must be very certain of his facts if he hired you. Word is, you’re the best.’ He looked at me for the longest time and the combination of the blood dripping down onto the ground from my ribs and the baboon’s foetid breath were enough to make me forget about the cold.
‘I’ve got an offer for you, and it’s the best offer you’re going to get, so I advise you to think about it very carefully.’ He brought his face up against mine and let a long moment pass before he withdrew and spoke again. ‘You’re going to go back to Og and tell him you saw nothing. Pass me that painting.’
I gave it to him, moving very, very slowly, and he looked at it. ‘Not bad! Not bad at all!’ Then he dropped it on the ground and crushed it under his huge foot. ‘Now you have no evidence, but you have an offer, which I suggest you consider very carefully.’
‘That’s it?’ I said. ‘You want me to go back to your partner and tell him you’re clean, and you’ll let me go?’
‘We-e-ell, it’s a little more complicated than that.’
‘You’ll come and work for me, while you report to him, and make sure my guys behave. You’re going to be in charge of my security and be paid by Og to lie to him. Pretty neat, huh?’
‘How do you know I won’t go back on my word?’
He laughed, showing huge canines. ‘Everyone knows about Crashamanka, and that you own it. Go back on your word and Crashamanka and all the people you care for will be destroyed.’
He had me, and knew it: my shoulders slumped. ‘I’ll do it,’ I said softly.
‘You can let him go now,’ he said to the baboon.
I stepped forward and he said, ‘Go back and tell him you saw nothing untoward. He’ll carry on paying you, because he’s suspicious, but he won’t find this little hideaway, and you won’t tell him, so he’ll give up after a while. Then you suggest to him that you take over security, that way you can be sure nothing is happening. Got it?’
I nodded. ‘Yeah, I’ve got it.’
‘Okay, off with you. It’s a bit cold to stand around and gossip.’
I turned away, utterly defeated. There really was no way I could see out of this mess. I’d have to play along for a while and work out a plan of action. One thing was sure. I wasn’t going to work for this low-life.
‘I still don’t know your name,’ I said.
He smiled wolfishly. ‘It’s Yag, not that it’s important, but it’s Yag.’
I walked back to my cave in a daze. What was I going to do? His apes were going to be watching me, so there was no way I could even send out a message. I got to my cave and lit a fire, then sank back with a coconut shell of fermented berry juice. I slowly warmed up and tried to think of a way out of this mess, but fell asleep while I was thinking, though that was a good thing.
I woke up with an idea. I would send a mongolbatticus to find Pee Jin, and he would round up the gang for me. I knew that, if I went to Crashamanka, as I was sure to, his apes would have people there spying on me, so I wouldn’t be able to do it there. But Pee Jin? He was a different gourd of fish.
I cleaned myself up and went to see Og. I waited in his outside cave until he was ready to see me. I went into his inner cave and pulled the zebra skin closed behind me.
He sat back. ‘So? What did you find out?’
It killed me to lie to him, but I did, because I had to. ‘I trailed them last night. Three brontosauruses loaded with furs went down to your warecave and unloaded their merchandise. There was a big Neanderthal and a whole bunch of baboons, but everything seemed straight up.’
‘That big Neanderthal is Yag, and he’s been my partner for a while now. I don’t know why I don’t trust him. It’s just a sudden hunch. You ever get those?’
I nodded. ‘Yeah. It’s how I survive half the time.’ I leaned forward. ‘I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you send a carrier pterodactyl to Yag, telling him I’m in charge of security from now on. That way, if he tries anything, I’ll catch him.’
He brightened up at that, and I felt like a pseudopulex magnus. I was being paid by this guy, and he trusted me, but here I was betraying him. But with any luck, it would be too long.
He chiselled out a message and tied it to the pterodactyl’s leg and sent him on his way. I told him I was going to Crashamanka, where I would wait for his message. I left there with a heavy heart and made my way to Crashamanka, where I cheered up a little. I mean, I had to! Skram was tickling those bamboos as if his life depended on it and the noise level had to be obscene to be believed.
I went into my alcove and a baboon slipped in through the zebra skin. He looked around. ‘Just wanted to check you’re alone; that you’re not trying anything funny.’ He looked around again, carefully, nodded in satisfaction and left.
I sipped at my fermented pineapple juice and pondered my predicament, when the zebra skin moved slightly and Pee Jin was there. ‘You wanted to see me?’
‘Man! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. You are good!’
He just nodded. ‘So, what do you want?’
I explained the entire incident and predicament to him, then said, ‘I need this done without anyone, I don’t care who it is, knowing about it.’ He looked at me without expression. I shook my head. ‘I shouldn’t have to tell you, should I?’ He shook his head and, just like that! he was gone. I had never believed anyone could move so silently.
That evening I met up with Yag and his gang to do another delivery of furs and, as seemed to be usual, he kept back the choicest furs for himself and put them in the tiny cave and rolled the rock in front of it. All of this happened in near silence.
We then set off for the warecave, and it was huge! All the stalactites and stalagmites had been broken off and levelled to make space for the furs. I was impressed alright. ‘Who buys so many furs?’ I asked and Yag strolled forward.
‘People who are too lazy to hunt. They catch clams and give them to us, and we give them the furs. Some people, people who have more clams than brains, they get the fancy furs.’ He looked me straight in the eye. ‘My fur, the fur Og knows nothing about, and will never again suspect, because you’re his security.’ He smiled then, a lazy, evil smile that reminded me of a veloceraptor. He was not someone I’d happily cross.
I reported back to Og the next day and felt really lousy when I saw just how pleased he was with my efforts. ‘With you on my team, I can sleep easy at night.’ I felt like crawling under a rock. I mumbled something appropriate and left.
This went on for the next week or so; a delivery twice a week, and trying to work out what Pee Jin was up to. My nerves were on edge, trying to pretend to Og that everything was fine, trying to pretend to Blooey that everything was fine, but I felt like an ischyromys caught in a trap.
I was sitting in my alcove when Pee Jin slipped in, finger to his lips and slid behind my deskrock, right under my knees. I don’t know how he did it! A few seconds later, the zebra skin opened and one of the baboons looked in. ‘Oh! I thought I saw somebody come in here!’
‘Who?’ I asked, nonchalantly as I could.
He shook his head. ‘I don’t know: I must have been imagining it.’ He withdrew and I sat back, about to talk to Pee Jin, who held his fingers to his lips. I said nothing, and about a minute later the zebra skin opened again. The baboon looked around, shook his head and left without a word.
‘Chisel your instructions tonight and leave them in your cave. I’ll collect them after you go out.’ I just nodded then, at his urging, got up and left my alcove. I wandered over to where Skram was tickling the bamboos.
‘Play it, Skram. Play “As Millennia go by”.’
He looked at me and smiled, a real dreamy smile and started playing, and it brought back all the memories. Everyone crowded around and no-one, including me, saw Pee Jin leave. I walked around, greeted the regulars and had a drink or two myself. I looked up and saw the baboon gesturing to me to come outside with him.
I went outside, where it was cold, but fresh. ‘There’s another delivery tonight: Yag wants you in on it.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘You want to leave now?’ He nodded. ‘Lemme just tell Skram, so he knows to close up tonight.’
‘Okay,’ he said. He followed me in discreetly, and I told Skram to close up when he was finished. It was unnecessary: Skram always closed up. But Pee Jin would get to hear of it, and know I would be at my cave much later than normal.
The delivery went off as normal, with the short stop-off at the little cave to offload the prime furs, then continue to the warecave, where we offloaded the rest. Then it was home.
I got to my cave and made myself a drink and slowly sipped it and, once I was finished, chiselled out a detailed message to Pee Jin. I went to my bedrock and went to sleep and, in spite of my nervousness, fell asleep almost immediately.
When I awoke, it was late morning, and the message had been taken. I just hoped it was Pee Jin and not one of those baboons who’d found it. I went out to the stream and dunked my head in it. There! That felt better. Now to see Og.
Og looked very happy to see me and said so. ‘You know, Yag and I have been friends for years; I don’t know why I distrusted him, but at least now I know he’s trustworthy, and it’s all thanks to you.’ He went behind his deskrock. ‘Drink?’ he asked.
I nodded and he poured us each a shellful of fermented pineapple juice. I felt terrible, but it wouldn’t be for long. The next delivery would be the last, I hoped.
It was two nights later that I was called out for a delivery and I joined the gang with mixed feelings. As much as I needed to expose Yag, it was going to deeply hurt Og, and I’d come to like him. We went along in near silence, until we came to the little cave, and it was standing open, and empty!
‘What do you think you’re playing at?!’ yelled Yag, as he grabbed me and two of his baboons rushed me.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked in sheer terror. I had no idea what was going on here.
Suddenly I heard a voice I knew and a long sliver of obsidian was at Yag’s throat. It was one of my gorillas, but the voice was Pee Jin’s. But I couldn’t see him anywhere! ‘Let him go, or there might be a little slip, and you’ll never breathe again.’
You could see he wasn’t a Pea Eye: very poor wisecrack. I pulled away from him. ‘Or you’ll be breathing a lot more than before, for a very short time.’
The baboons crowded in on me and, without warning, my faithful gorillas attacked. Within minutes, they were lying unconscious, or dead. I didn’t know, or care. ‘What do you have to say for yourself now, Yag?’
‘I’ll get you for this!’ he rasped, not daring to move.
‘No you won’t. I’m taking you to Og, and he can decide what to do with you.’ We tied him up and took him to Og’s cave and he came out, obviously having been woken from his sleep.
‘What’s going on here?’ he asked. He was hugely perplexed.
‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you were right. Yag has been stealing the prime furs for a long time. He threatened to kill me and everyone I care about if I didn’t play along. So I did, but I was hatching a plan all along.’
He looked as if he were ready to cry. ‘Yag, how could you? After all we’ve been through together!’
‘Aah! Stop being a sissy! You were making enough clams anyway, and I was doing all the work, so I deserved more.’
Og shook his head, shoulders slumped, and turned to go back into his cave. Then he turned to me. ‘Good work, Cro.’ He sighed then, a deep, shuddering sigh. ‘Do with him what you will. Just don’t call the cops.’ He turned around and went inside.
I’ve been a Pea Eye for a long time, and no-one can ever call me squeamish, but to see someone slowly sink into the tar, struggling to get free, and knowing that their struggling only hastened their end, was something I never wanted to see again.
I paid my apes and Pee Jin and gave them a bonus, then said. ‘If any of you see any of these baboons around here again, they go to the tarpits. Understood?’ They all nodded and the baboons nodded in terror. ‘You can untie them now.’ They untied the baboons and they headed for the hills, howling as if they were headed for the tarpits.
Being a Pea Eye is a great job, but sometimes it’s a really tough job, but here’s the thing. Somebody’s gotta do it. And this time, that somebody was me.