"Tomorrow then," he said with his small smile. "Right before lunch."
"Tomorrow," she repeated. And then turned to leave. At the door, she turned back to him with a worried look. "It must keep perfect time," she said gravely. "Even a second can mean the difference between life and death."
After she left, Hermux set right to work.
He took the watch over to his workbench and adjusted the light. Using fine pointed tweezers, he removed each sliver of broken crystal. Then he took a tiny pair of pliers and detached the delicate hands, placing them in a small glass dish. He pried off the back of the watch and examined the inside. He stopped occasionally as he worked and made notes in his notebook.
A Fur-raising Encounter
It was quite late when Hermux arrived home that night. He got the mail from his mailbox and thumbed through it as he waited for the old elevator to lumber its way down to the lobby. The ride up was even slower, but he didn't care. He was looking forward to a nice bowl of soup and a quiet, pleasant evening of reading.
On the fourth floor the elevator let out a rusty creak, an oily thunk, a shivery shudder, and then yanked to a stop. Hermux pushed carefully on the elevator door, opening it just a crack. Then he poked his nose out stealthily and peered down the hall. The door to Tucka Mertslin's apartment was closed.
He stepped out of the elevator and crept toward the door to his apartment as quietly as a mouse.
He carefully took out his ring of keys. He sorted past the silver key to his bicycle, the round key to his store, the little gold key to his safe, the silvery square-topped key to his locker at the gymnasium, the oval-shaped key to his file cabinet, and finally reached the double-sided, brass key that opened the door to his apartment.
He slipped the key carefully into the lock and turned it cautiously.
"Why Hermux Tantamoq! Sneaking past my door like a burglar!" scolded someone directly behind him.
Hermux whirled around in terror. There was Tucka Mertslin standing not one step away. A great fog of perfume enveloped her and was now working its way into every crevice in the hallway. A cloud of it settled on Hermux tickling his nose like a longhaired squirrel tail. It was a horrid smell, like flowers that had been trampled to death in a candy store.
Tucka towered over Hermux in her pink and green lizard skin platform shoes. A huge cone-shaped hat added even more to her height. From the top of her hat sprang a fountain of metallic ribbons that fell past her waist. The shiny ribbons swirled about her body like a swarm of hungry eels and made it difficult to see her face clearly. What he could see of it was unsettling.
Tucka's cheeks were dusted with a fine orange powder that gave her fur the appearance of being on fire. The whiskers above her smallish eyes had been extended so dramatically that they bobbed about like antennae nearly tangling in the ribbons. Her lips were drawn coal black, shiny and glistening. She smiled at him dangerously.
"I suppose you didn't get my invitation?" she said. "I distinctly said the meeting would begin at six o'clock. It was quite productive actually. A pity you missed it. But then I suppose you had more important things to do. In any case decisions have been made. And you'll be seeing some real changes around here starting quite soon."
"Changes?" asked Hermux. "In what?"
"In the hallway you dunce," she continued irritably. "I'm heading up the Hallway Decoration Subcommittee. Or have you forgotten that too?"
At that Hermux let out a tremendous sneeze that shook the iridescent ruffles on Tucka's low-cut blouse. It was a wet, splashy sort of sneeze. The kind you hope you can aim into a handkerchief. But it happened so fast, it surprised even Hermux.
"You horrible little...rodent!" Tucka hissed, dabbing her face with a bit of spider lace. "You nasty little vermin! In any case I've given you fair warning. Decisions have been made. Made and seconded. And passed unanimously. Now stay-out-of-my-way! And you can start by getting this hideous umbrella stand out of my hall."
Copyright 2000 Michael Hoeye. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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