Cave paintings can be very misleading: people believe them without ever giving the matter any thought. They look at them and think, that must be what happened, and it’s mostly not like that. As a result, people think a Pea Eye’s life is glamorous, and it’s not.
My name is Magnon, Cro Magnon, Pea Eye.
I was keeping an eye on a broad whose husband suspected her of straying from the marriage skin. He’d seen bumps on her head that he knew were not from his club, and he was suspicious as anything. She said she’d bumped her head, but he thought they looked like club marks, and definitely not his clubs!
So here I was, lying in wait outside this pottery cave, hidden in the bushes, with bugs crawling all over me, when she finally came out, with a whole bunch of women, and they were laughing and had wet clay on their hands. As she straightened, she hit her head on a jutting boulder.
‘Ow!’ she cried out, and then laughed. ‘I’m so clumsy!’
The other ladies clucked and made sympathetic sounds, while they examined the bump, then declared it wasn’t bleeding. After a bit of chatter they went their separate ways. These were ladies, but ladies of the most boring kind! Some were fat, some were old; one must have been about forty! But one thing was for sure, they were ladies, as was my suspect, except va-va-voom! she was some looker! I could understand why her husband was jealous.
I followed her discreetly for a while, but she went back to her own cave and started crushing some wheat and millet. Obviously getting dinner ready for her husband; he was a big shot down at the quarry. So I reported back to him and collected my clams, but I could see he wasn’t convinced. Still, I had done what I was paid to do, and had been paid for doing it.
I strolled down to Crashamanka, where Skram was tickling those bamboos like there was no tomorrow. Man, he could play! People had gathered around to hear him play, and the drinks were flowing; he was good for business, alright. At least here I could relax and forget about being a Pea Eye for a while.
I pulled aside the zebra skin that covered my alcove, so I could put away my clams, and found myself looking at a double-barrelled club. This was a nasty piece of work alright. The club was forked and one of the forks was covered with an ankylosaurus tail. That could do some nasty damage!
The guy holding it was a really big Neanderthal, and he looked me-e-ean! like he really wanted an excuse to use his club. The little guy behind him was sitting behind my rock, as if he owned the place.
‘Hey Cro, long time no see.’
‘What’s the matter, can’t you find the beach?’ Always with the wisecracks, it keeps them off balance.
He was blind, and I was the one who had done the dirt that caused his blindness. He’d had me trapped in a corner with a sabre-tooth on a lead and was about to release him, when I picked up a handful of sand and threw it in his eyes. The sand had been full of sharp pieces of basalt and he’d washed his eyes out with sulphur spring water and gone blind, and now he was out for revenge. Obviously.
‘You always did think you were funny, but this time, I’m going to have the last laugh. It’s just a pity I won’t be able to see it, but I’ll hear you crying for pity before your miserable life ends.’
‘And how do you think you’re gonna do that? Lotsa people have tried and I’m still around; they’re not.’ I said, sneeringly. ‘I’ve got at least twenty gorillas out there, and my faithful customers: you’ll never even get me out of here.’
‘Who said anything about getting you out of here?’ He laughed, a harsh, cackling sound, and I realised I was in serious trouble. ‘With the noise that ape of yours is making on the bamboo and the singing and laughing going on out there, nobody’s gonna hear a thing. You’re gonna die, right here in your precious Crashamanka, and nobody’s gonna know till it’s closing-up time.’
He nodded to the Neanderthal and I ducked, but not fast enough. The spikes connected with the top of my skull and I staggered with the force of it, blood running down into my eyes. The Neanderthal came at me again and I crouched, waiting for him, then slipped and fell. He roared with delight and brought the club crashing down, but I rolled to the side and my right leg shot out and connected him in the danglies.
He squealed softly and sank to his knees, looking piteously at me. I took out my club and finished him off. He collapsed in a heap and lay still.
‘What’s happening?’ yelled Sandy, my little name for him.
‘What’s happening is that it’s just you and me, pal. Your goon is dead and unless you tell me what’s going on, so will you be. You tried to kill me once before and failed. Now I want some answers!’
‘I’m already blind; what else do you think you can do?’ he sneered. I grabbed him by his danglies and twisted. He squealed like a pig.
‘How’s that for a start?’
His face had gone a pasty grey and he was sweating profusely. ‘There’s more where that comes from, pal. A lot more! I have ways of making you talk that you never dreamed of, like getting a compsognathus to nibble down there. Compies eat very slowly, and eat their food alive. Now, how about you talk to me?’
His sightless eyes went from side to side, as if looking for a way out, but there was none. He had to get past me, and I had my 45 Magnon and the double-barrelled club. He was now the one in trouble. But I’d never met him until the first time he’d tried to kill me, and he’d had no reason, so I wanted to know who was giving the orders.
I slapped the club gently in the palm of my hand, so he could hear it. ‘So, who wants me dead?’
‘I do!’ he grated out. ‘You stole my sight.’
‘That’s now. The first time you wanted to kill me, you didn’t know me from a bar of soapstone, so whydja want to kill me?’
He said nothing, just sat there, sweating, and unseeingly at me. ‘You’re gonna get yours,’ he sneered. ‘You think I’m the only thumpman on Pangaea?’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ I said. ‘Lotsa people have tried, and failed.’
‘Mr. Big will nail you for this, it doesn’t matter how many thumpmen he has to send. One day one of them will get you!’
‘Who is Mr. Big?’ I asked reasonably. ‘If I get rid of him, there won’t be any reason for any more thumpmen to come after me.’
‘I ain’t tellin’ you nothin’!’ he snarled.
I sighed theatrically. ‘Well, we’ll see if Mr. Compie can’t get you to change your mind!’
‘Wait!’ he shouted.
He was sweating torrents now. ‘I’ll tell you! But you have to promise to get me out of here. If he finds out I squealed, it’ll be the tarpits for me!’ He was frantic now. ‘It’s Nutty! Nutty Emtetwa, the big goon with the shiny eyes and sealfur coat.’
‘Why would he want me dead; I don’t even know him?’
‘Because you keep making trouble for Kameleonise!’ he shouted.
‘But Kameleonise is dead,’ I said.
‘No he’s not. He promised those baboons that, if they let him go, he wouldn’t set the cops on them and would pay them more clams than they’d ever seen.’ His sightless eyes were aimed straight at me, almost as if he could see me. ‘When you kill someone, make sure they’re dead or, like Kameleonise, they come back and haunt you. Don’t you know Nutty is in charge of the cops?’
This was the first I’d ever heard of Nutty. ‘I thought Jeh Fradebeh was in charge of the cops?’
He shook his head. ‘Nope. Jeh Fradebeh is in charge of looking after Kameleonise: Nutty is in charge of the cops.’
Well, this was a pretty mess I’d got myself into, and now I had to get myself out of it, and there was only one way. Get rid of the lot of them. The question was: how? I called one of my monkey waiters to escort Sandy off the premises, then got one of my gorillas to get rid of the Neanderthal’s body. I told him to drop him in the tarpits, then started working on a plan.
I went out looking for my favourite stool archaeopteryx. When I found him, he was looking real depressed, and I asked him what the problem was. I should have guessed it: the cops were harassing him and his family. Somehow they’d found out about his connection to me. Another score to settle.
Of course the baboons were not to be trusted. I don’t know what had made me feel I could trust them, anyway. This was going to be payback time in the biggest way! I asked Stoolie if he knew of any other stool archaeopteryxes I could trust, and he gave me the name of someone he knew, someone the cops didn’t. His name was Pee Jin and he knew Stoolie. If I mentioned Stoolie’s name, he would work for me.
So I went off looking for him.
When I found him, I couldn’t believe my eyes! He looked filthy and utterly disreputable. He was dressed in slothskin and stank, but I soon discovered this was his disguise. Nobody bothered him, because he looked so bad. And people spoke in front of him because he acted stupid, like he understood nothing. I’d found my new stool archaeopteryx, it seemed. Stoolie, through no fault of his own, was no longer of any use to me.
I told Pee Jin to find out everything he could about that mob and report back to me at Crashamanka. I cautioned him to make sure he wasn’t seen when he came to see me, and he shook his head pityingly. ‘How do you think I’ve been able to survive so long? By being stupid? Let me worry about that. I heard you pay good, so I’ll see you soon.’
I was sitting in my alcove one night, listening to Skram tickling the bamboos, the crowd having a raucous time, when the zebra skin parted and there was Pee Jin. I stuck out my lower lip. ‘You’re good!’
He just nodded in assent, then told me everything I needed to know, and it was good news, alright! He’d found out when the three of them were going to be together. They were going to be surrounded by baboons, but that was no problem: I knew their soft spot and their leader, Joo Leas, had ideas of being the big leader himself, so I would use him to turn the tables on those three, and this time it would be permanent.
I paid Pee Jin and sat for a while, gathering my thoughts, and came up with a plan. This time it was going to be zebra skins for those villains. I asked him if he could get Joo Leas to come to Crashamanka; I had some work for him. He just nodded and slipped out as silently as he’s come in.
Later that evening, Joo Leas came into Crashamanka, a red-dyed coconut shell on his head. ‘Hey there Cro,’ he said. ‘What can I do for you?’
I sat back and looked at him for a while, until he started fidgeting. I sat forward. ‘I told you guys to feed Kameleonise and Anallanall to the velociraptors. What happened?’
He shook his head. ‘Kameleonise made them big promises, even after you paid them. They believed him and took him back to his cave. Now they’ve surrounded the cave, and there’s no way in. Nutty’s got the cops looking out for Kameleonise, and they’re looking for any excuse to get rid of you.’
‘Are you still in favour?’
‘Yes, that’s why he gave me this to wear,’ pointing at his coconut shell.
‘Right! I want you to plant some bugs for me: do you think you can do that?’ He nodded.
I went into a hole in my alcove and took out a bag of mongolbatticuses. ‘Just let these settle anywhere they’re talking, and they’ll come back to me tomorrow and tell me everything they heard.’
‘And if they catch me?’
‘They won’t. There’re bugs everywhere, they won’t notice a few more. And I want you to work for me from now on. You know I don’t make promises; I pay.’
He left with the bugs and I decided to catch some shut-eye. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
When I awoke the next morning, my mouth tasted like the bottom of a bat cave, and I washed it out with some clean water. I settled back and waited for my bugs to return and, when they did, it was a clam reef. This was valuable stuff!
To put it in a coconut shell, this was the gist of the story. They were going to start trolling the paths again, they were going to put people away in caves if they didn’t pay the trolls. Kameleonise was going to make his cave even bigger and more secure, and make the people pay clams to him so he could do it. And Nutty was going to be sure the cops controlled the people, while Jeh was keeping everything secret and, if anyone spoke about it, they would get the chop.
I sent out a pterodactyl with a slab, and later that day, hundreds of gorillas arrived at Crashamanka. I told them what was happening and they already knew part of it, cause some of the good people had been put away in caves. The gorillas were jumping up and down, ready for action, and I had to calm them down.
I told them that Joo Leas had not turned and could be trusted, but Kameleonise had made him a leader, so he could influence the other baboons. The gorillas didn’t trust the baboons, and neither did I, but they were fickle enough to believe they could get away with getting clams from me, then saving their boss and getting clams from him, so I was sure they’d co-operate.
The next morning, early, we set out to the cave, where I knew the baboons were going to assist me. When we got there, the sun wasn’t even up yet, and Kameleonise and his gang were fast asleep in a drunken stupor. We swarmed the cave, making short work of the cops, who were a real bunch of Kimberlite cops anyway.
Kameleonise sat up, his eyes moving from side to side. ‘What…is the meaning…of this?!’ Nutty and Jeh rolled over and sat up, as confused as Kameleonise. They had a lot of very sharp spears and heavy clubs threatening them.
‘When you want to kill someone,’ I said, leaning right over Nutty. ‘Have the guts to do it yourself.’ I turned and slapped Kameleonise so that his eyes spun around in his crude double head. ‘And you, you’ve reached the end of the path.’
I stood up. ’Boys!’ I shouted to the gorillas. ‘The tarpits, then go release the people who’ve been shut away!’ They tied them up firmly with lianas, ignoring their protests, and the gorillas ran off, holding them high in the air, struggling like upturned beetles.
‘One more thing!’ I shouted. They stopped and turned around. ‘You don’t leave until you see their heads disappear!’ They roared in approval and raced off, the baboons following close behind. Joo Leas approached me. ‘So, I work for you now? Maybe you give me Kameleonise’s house?’
‘Yeah, why not!’ I laughed and he gave a big grin, showing those long canines. He loped off towards the free-standing cave and I made my way back to Crashamanka.
This time, I didn’t get the girl, but there was always Blooey and a light club back at Crashamanka. And the warm feeling that comes with s job well done.
Justice had won the day, and I was one satisfied Pea Eye.