There are times when it’s good to be alive, and today was one of them. The air was crisp and clear, the breeze just strong enough to clear the ever-present volcano smoke that hung around like a mist and made folks cough and wheeze. It was a trifle colder than I would have liked it, but if it got rid of the smoke, that was good.
I seriously considered moving south, but my roots were here. Everyone and everything I loved. From Blooey to Crashamanka, it was all here, so it would have to get really cold before I moved.
My name is Magnon: Cro Magnon, Pea Eye, and life was good.
With the help of the cops and Olchap, we’d managed to clear out most of the scum who tried to prey on innocent folk and separate them from their hard-earned clams. I turned around and went back into Crashamanka, where Skram was tickling the bamboos the way only he can. He was playing We Will Rock You, which was a bit vicious, but the young folk liked it, and the customers seemed to enjoy it as well.
I went into my alcove and ordered a drink. The Pea Eye business had gone quiet, but that was good: I was making more than enough out of Crashamanka anyway. Trouble was, I was beginning to get bored. I was a Cro of action, and didn’t like to be idle for too long. I was approaching twenty-five and was still pretty fit and strong for a middle-aged guy, but I was itching for action.
I sent out a carrier-pterodactyl, but he came back empty – not even Pee Jin seemed to know of any bad deals going down. I decided to visit Olchap and see how he was getting on. The air was so fresh it seemed to sting the nostrils and even the air above the volcanoes seemed clear. It was just so good to be alive!
Olchap came out of the cop caves when he saw me coming and walked down the slope towards me. ‘Cro! How are you doing?’
I smiled at his greeting. ‘Never better! Especially on a day like this!’ I waved my arm to indicate the clear air and beautiful day.
‘Ah yes! It is rather rare to have a day like this, isn’t it?’
I laughed at his infectious good humour. ‘Things quiet for you?’ I asked.
‘Oh yes, indeed: aside from the occasional case of a fellow clubbing a girl whose not his to club, things are extremely quiet. Why do you ask?’
‘Truth to tell, I’m getting bored.’ I sighed and shook my head. ‘It’s been weeks since I had to do anything other than look after Crashamanka and, really, Skram does such a good job of it, I’m not really needed.’
‘Enjoy the boredom, my friend. You know what Peking Man says, “May you live in interesting times.” That, my friend, is a curse you don’t want. How old are you now?’
‘Twenty-five,’ I answered, and he stuck out his lower lip, obviously impressed.
‘I must say, you don’t look your age! But don’t you want to live into your forties, or even beyond?’
‘What? And die of old age? No thank you! I’d rather be killed by a velociraptor!’
He shuddered. ‘Perish the thought! Have you seen what those things do?!’
‘Have you seen what old age does?’
He laughed. ‘There is that, of course but, unlike you, I’m not brave enough to challenge death. I’ll wait until it comes after me.’ We talked for a while longer, and I made my way to my cave and, boy oh boy, was it my lucky day!
There was a visitor, a lady visitor, to be precise, and she was sexy as anything! She’d stained her lips with berry juice and rubbed some blue stuff on her eyelids. She was wearing a red half-coconut shell on her head at a jaunty angle, and the way she wore her bearskin didn’t leave much to the imagination!
She stood as she heard me approach and I got an even better look. Her stoop was so minimal as to be non-existent. I doubt she’d ever dragged her knuckles in all her life. I had a feeling she was a lady of rare class and breeding, but a rebel as well.
‘Mr Magnon?’ she enquired.
‘Ma’am,’ I responded.
‘I’m in trouble and I need your help.’
‘That’s why most people come to me,’ I answered. ‘What is your problem, and how can I be of assistance?’
‘My parents have disinherited me because I’ve fallen in love with a Cro, like yourself. They say he’s after their clams and doesn’t love me for myself. They also feel he’s not good enough for me, just because we’re Homo Habilis, they feel he’s beneath us.’
You can imagine how that rankled! Who did they think they were? Olchap was a full-on Homo Sapiens, and he didn’t think he was better than any of us! It turned out her parents had found out that her Cro boyfriend had taken her to a Stones concert, and they were dead against it.
‘You like the Stones?’ I asked. Silly question: all young people loved the Stones.
Her eyes shone. ‘Oh yes! Especially Fred and Barney!’
That was the problem with being middle-aged: none of this meant anything to me.
‘I have the clams to pay you,’ she said.
‘It’s not the clams,’ I replied, and it really wasn’t. I just didn’t see what I could do here. There was no investigation to be done, there was nothing I could see that I could influence in any way. None of it made sense.
‘What do you think I could possibly do to help?’ I asked.
‘I want you to tail Dunk, and do it for a week or so, then give me a written report. My parents will trust you; everybody does. If you say he’s fine, they’ll believe it.’
‘Okay, I’ll do it. It’s two clams a day, plus expenses. Are you sure you can afford it?’
She nodded. ‘My parents have lots of land, full of fruit and nuts and berries and suchlike, and they allow the common folk to help themselves, for a small fee. I know it’s free if they go into the jungle and just pick it, but here they can do it in complete safety.’
I’d heard of her parents and they seemed like decent folk, but it still irked me that they considered themselves above the rest of us common folk. I called in a carrier pterodactyl and chiselled a quick message to Pee Jin. I looked her over out of the corner of my eye and that bearskin covered very little. I could see almost all of her breasts and it stopped just short of the valley of death: if you catch my drift.
I sent the pterodactyl off and straightened up. ‘Perhaps if you dressed more demurely your parents would be more lenient?’
‘Oh Cro!’ she said, disappointment obvious in her voice. ‘I thought you would understand.’ She was pleading with me, but I had to be stern here.
‘If I wasn’t in a happy, stable relationship, I’d be tempted to club you right here and now.’
I swear she blushed. ‘Oh Cro, you say the nicest things!’
‘That wasn’t intended as a compliment. Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to walk around dressed like that?’ I shook my head in frustration. ‘If some Neanderthal sees you, he wouldn’t think twice about clubbing you, and taking you for himself.’
‘Oh no, Cro! Dunk would protect me!’
‘Really?’ I narrowed my eyes. ‘He would just slam Dunk, and then what would you do? Your parents would have to pay me big clams to get you back. Dress more demurely, or I don’t take the case.’ I had to be firm here, before I became hard.
‘No, you don’t understand! He’s got a group of friends, and we all hang around together and have a really cool time.’ She gave a shrug and simpering smile. She may only have been twelve or so, but she was plenty woman, and I really had to restrain myself.
‘A group of friends,’ I said tonelessly.
‘Oh yes! And we all hang around together and have fun and look after each other and have a really good time. Please, Cro!’ She suddenly grabbed my arm. ‘You have to convince my parents!’
‘I still don’t know your name,’ I said sardonically.
She giggled. ‘Oh, how silly of me!’ She held out a hand. ‘It’s Kiewty Pye.’
‘Okay,’ I said gruffly. ‘I’ll take the job, but if the news is bad, I’m not going to hold back. Okay?’
She looked a bit hesistant, then nodded. ‘Okay.’ She left and I watched her go, then walked over to the stream and dunked my head in the water.
Later that evening, I was in my alcove in Crashamanka when the zebra skin parted and Pee Jin was there. He never ceased to amaze me with his ability to appear, seemingly out of thin air. I’d also grown extremely fond of him in the time I’d known him. He was the best stool archaeopteryx I’d ever encountered, and I’d known a number of them.
‘Cro,’ he said, by way of greeting.
I nodded in greeting. ‘Pee Jin. So? Did you find out anything?’
‘Yeah, Dunk is a punk, and so are his friends!’
‘I’ll take you out with me this evening and we can spy on them, then you’ll see.’
I sighed. ‘I was looking for some action, but that action wasn’t supposed to be breaking a young woman’s heart.’ I shook my head forlornly. ‘I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’re mistaken?’ He shook his head mutely. I stood up. ‘We might as well go, then, and see what they get up to.’
We took a long walk through the jungle and eventually came upon a clearing. Pee Jin motioned me to silence, waving at me to stop. I stopped and waited: you learn patience in the Pea Eye business. He motioned me forward and we crept up to the clearing, hiding behind some bushes.
There were two rows of young thugs, facing each other, dressed very strangely. I later discovered it was velociraptor skin, all shiny and black, sticking up behind their heads. They all had flints in their west hand and were clicking the fingers of their east hand, while they moved towards each other in rhythm.
It was chillingly hypnotic to watch, because you knew the outcome. Suddenly they stopped. They were breathing hard, and not from exertion. It was fear that was making them breathe so hard. They started clicking their fingers and moving towards each other again. ‘The one at the end, on the north side, that’s Dunk,’ whispered Pee Jin.
I could see why Kiewty Pye would be attracted to him: He was a prime specimen of Crohood. They’d all sunk into a crouch, getting ready for a fight. It would be ugly, I was certain of that, and I wasn’t certain I wanted to watch, but watch I did, my eyes fixed on the impending drama.
Suddenly a voice shouted out, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ and an elderly Cro stormed into the clearing. ‘How are we ever going to put on a show if you can’t keep time?’ He clicked his fingers and took a step, all in perfect rhythm, managing to look menacing at the same time.
The young Cros looked at the ground an each other in embarrassment. This was all a show! They moved back to where they’d started, and the whole thing started again, only this time it wasn’t menacing, because I knew it was a show.
We slowly retreated out of the clearing and, once we were out of earshot, said to Pee Jin, ‘You got it wrong this time, my friend.’ And I laughed softly.
He shook his head. ‘No, I didn’t. He’s a punk! How can he ever look after a family doing that?!’
‘Pee Jin,’ I said patiently. ‘When you said punk, I thought you meant bad guy, like the baboons, or the Neanderthals.’
‘I didn’t say he’s dangerous; I said he’s a punk.’ He shook his head. ‘Have you ever seen such a waste of time?’
We walked back to Crashamanka in companionable silence. I hadn’t really, except for a brief moment, had any real excitement, but I did have good news for my client, and I would chisel a report for her parents that he was quite suitable. I would include in my report that it might be a good idea to offer him a job, so that he could do something worthwhile with his life.
Pee Jin and I settled in my alcove and sipped at our drinks. Today was not only a good day to be alive, it was a great day to be a Pea Eye.