Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 20

When Maxwell came out of the Time building; the stars were coming out and the night wind had an edge of chill. The great elms were clumped masses of a deeper darkness, blotting out the lights of the windows in the buildings across the mall.

Maxwell shivered and turned up the collar of his jacket close about his throat, and went quickly down the stairs to the sidewalk which flanked the mall. There were few people out.

He realized that he was hungry. He had not eaten since early morning. And that he should think of hunger when the last hope he had held had been shattered seemed to be amusing. Not only hungry, he thought, but roofless as well, for if he hoped to dodge the newsmen he could not go back to Oop's. Although, he reminded himself, there was no longer any reason he should shun the newsmen. Now there'd be nothing gained or lost in the telling of his story. But he shrank from the thought of it, from the thought of the incredulous expressions their faces would assume, from the questions they would ask, and then, more than likely, the tongue-in-cheek style they would employ in the writing of the story.

He reached the sidewalk and stood for a moment, undecided as to which direction he should go. He tried, vainly, to remember where he might find a cafe or restaurant which would not be frequented by any of the faculty who might recognize him. Tonight, of all nights, he had an aversion to facing the kind of questions they would ask.

Something rustled behind him and he turned quickly to come face to face with Ghost.

"Oh, it's you," he said.

"I've been waiting for you," Ghost said. "You were a long time in there."

"I had to wait. Then we got to talking."

"Do you any good?"

"None at all. The Artifact is sold and paid for. The Wheeler hauls it away tomorrow. I'm afraid that's the end of it. I could go up and try to see Arnold tonight, but there's no point to it. Not any more, there isn't."

"Oop is holding down a table for us. I imagine you are hungry.."

"I am starved," said Maxwell.

"Then I lead the way."

They turned off the mall and with Ghost leading, wound their way for what seemed to Maxwell an unusually long time, through back streets and alleys.

"A place," Ghost explained, "where we won't be seen. But where the food is edible and the whiskey's cheap. Oop made a point of that."

They finally reached the place, walking down an iron staircase to reach the basement level. Maxwell pushed open the door. The interior was dim. From somewhere in the back came the smell of cooking.

"They serve family style here," said Ghost. "Plank it down upon the table and everyone helps himself. Oop is delighted with that way of serving."

Oop's massive figure moved out from one of the tables in the rear. He waved an arm at them. There were, Maxwell saw, only a half dozen or so other people in the place.

"Over here!" yelled Oop. "Someone for you to meet."

Followed by Ghost, Maxwell made his way across the room. From the table, Carol's face looked up at him. And another face, a bearded, shadowed face-the face of someone that Maxwell felt he should remember.

"Our guest tonight," said Oop. "Master William Shakespeare."

Shakespeare got up and held out his hand to Maxwell. A white-toothed smile flashed above the beard.

"I deem me fortunate," he said, "to have fallen in with such rough and rowdy fellows."

"The Bard is thinking of staying here," said Oop. "Of settling down among us."

"Nay, not the Bard," said Shakespeare. "I will not have you call me it. I be no more than an honest butcher and a dealer in the wool."

"A mere slip of the tongue," Oop assured him. "We have grown so accustomed."

"Aye, aye, I know," said Shakespeare. "One mistake treads hard upon the footsteps of the one it follows."

"But stay here," said Maxwell. He shot a swift glance at Oop. "Does Harlow know he's here?"

"I think not," said Oop. "We took some pains he wouldn't."

"I slipped the leash," said Shakespeare, grinning, pleased with himself. "But with assistance, for which acknowledge gratitude."

"Assistance," said Maxwell. "I just bet there was. Will you clowns ever learn."

"Pete, don't carry on," said Carol. "I think it very noble of Oop. Here was this poor fellow from another time and all he wanted was to see how the people lived and-"

"Let's sit down," said Ghost to Maxwell. "You have the look of a man who could stand a good stiff drink."

Maxwell sat down, next to Shakespeare, Ghost taking the chair on the other side of him. Oop picked up a bottle and handed it across the table to him.

"Go ahead," he urged. "Don't stand on ceremony. Don't bother with a glass. We're informal here."

Maxwell tilted the bottle to his mouth and let it gurgle. Shakespeare watched him with admiration. When he took it down, Shakespeare said, "I cannot but admire your fortitude. I essayed a drink of it and it fair to shriveled me."

"After a time you get used to it," said Maxwell.

"But this ale," said Shakespeare, touching with a finger a half-filled bottle of beer. "Now, there is stuff soft to the palate and pleasing to the stomach."

Sylvester wormed his way behind Shakespeare's chair, squeezed in beside Maxwell and laid his head in Maxwell's lap. Maxwell scratched behind his ears.

"Is that cat bothering you again?" asked Carol.

"Sylvester and I are comrades," Maxwell told her. "We've been through wars together. We took on the Wheeler last night, you must remember, and we vanquished him."

"You bear a cheerful countenance," Shakespeare said to Maxwell. "I would presume that the business you have been about, and which had detained you until now, has gone favorably."

"The business did not go at all," said Maxwell. "The only reason I have a cheerful countenance is because I am in such good company."

"You mean Harlow turned you down!" exploded Oop. "That he wouldn't give you a day or two of time."

"There was nothing else for him to do," Maxwell explained. "He's already been paid and the Wheeler carts off the Artifact tomorrow."

"We have the means," Oop declared darkly, "to make him change his mind."

"Not any longer," said Maxwell. "He can't pull out now. The deal is done. He won't give back the money, he won't break his word. And if what you have in mind is what I think it is, all he needs to do is call off the lecture and refund the money for the tickets."

"I suppose you're right," Oop agreed. "We hadn't known the deal had gone so far. We figured we might pick up a little bargaining strength."

"You did the best you could," said Maxwell, "and I thank you for it."

"We had figured," said Oop, "that if we could buy a day or two, then all of us could go marching up the hill and bust in on Arnold and explain things to him by hand. But it's all over now, I guess-so have another drink and pass it over to me."

Maxwell had another drink and passed the bottle to him. Shakespeare finished off his beer and thumped the bottle back onto the table. Carol took the bottle from Oop and poured a couple of inches into her glass.

"I don't care how the rest of you conduct yourselves," she said. "I will not go utterly barbaric. I insist on drinking from a glass."

"Beer!" yelled Oop. "More beer for our distinguished guest."

"I thank you, sir," said Shakespeare.

"How did you ever find this dump?" asked Maxwell. "I know," said Oop, "many of the backwaters of this campus."

"It was exactly what we wanted," said Ghost. "Time will be beating the bushes for our friend. Did Harlow tell you he had disappeared?"

"No," said Maxwell, "but he seemed somewhat on edge. He mentioned that he was worried, but you couldn't tell it on him. He's the kind who can sit on the edge of an exploding volcano and never turn a hair."

"How about the newsmen?" Maxwell asked. "Still covering the shack?"

Oop shook his head. "But they'll be back. We'll have to find some other place for you to bunk."

"I suppose I might as well face them," Maxwell said.

"The story will have to be told someday."

"They'll tear you apart," warned Carol. "And Oop tells me you are without a job and Longfellow's sore at you. You can't stand bad publicity right now."

"None of it really matters," Maxwell told her. "The only problem is how much of it I should tell them."

"All of it," said Oop. "Tear the thing wide open. Let the galaxy know exactly what was lost."

"No," said Maxwell. "Harlow is my friend. I can't do anything to hurt him."

A waiter brought a bottle of beer and put it down.

"One bottle!" raged Oop. "What do you mean, one bottle? Go back and get an armload of it. Our friend here has a dry on."

"You didn't say," the waiter said. "How was I to know?" He shuffled off to gather up more beer.

"Your hospitality," said Shakespeare, "is beyond reproach. But I fear I am intruding in a time of trouble."

"Trouble, yes," Ghost told him. "But you are not intruding. We are glad to have you."

"What was this Oop said about your staying here?" asked Maxwell. "About your settling down."

"My teeth are bad," said Shakespeare. "They hang loosely in the jaw and at times pain exceedingly. I have intelligence that hereabout are marvelous mechanics who can extract them with no pain and fabricate a set to replace the ones I have."

"That can be done, indeed," said Ghost.

"I left at home," said Shakespeare, "a wife with a nagging tongue and I would be rather loath to return to her. Likewise, the ale that you call beer is wondrous above any I have drunk and I hear tell that you have arrived at understanding with goblins and with fairies, which is a marvelous thing. And to sit at meat with a ghost is past all understanding, although one has the feeling here he must dig close at the root of truth."

The waiter arrived with an armload of beer bottles and dumped them on the table.

"There!" he said, disgusted. "That'll hold you for a while. Cook says the food is coming up."

"You don't intend," Maxwell asked Shakespeare, "to appear for your lecture?"

"Forsooth, and if I did," said Shakespeare, "they would forthwith, once that I had finished, whisk me home again. " "And they would, too," said Oop. "If they ever get their claws on him, they'll never let him go."

"But how will you earn a living?" Maxwell asked. "You have no skills to fit this world."

"I," said Shakespeare, "will surely devise something. A man's wits, driven to it, will come up with answers."

The waiter arrived with a cart, laden with food. He began putting it on the table.

"Sylvester!" Carol cried.

Sylvester had risen swiftly, put his two paws on the table and reached to grab two slabs of rare roast beef, which had been carved off a standing roast of ribs." Sylvester disappeared beneath the table, with the meat hanging from his jaws.

"The pussy cat is hungry," Shakespeare said. "He harvests what he can."

"In the matter of food," Carol complained, "he has no manners whatsoever."

From beneath the table came the sound of crunching bones.

"Master Shakespeare," said Ghost, "you came from England. From a town upon the Avon:"

"A goodly country to the eye," said Shakespeare, "but filled with human riffraff. There be poachers, thieves, murderers, footpads, and all sort of loathsome folk..."

"But I recall," said Ghost, "the swans upon the river and the willows growing on its banks and-"

"You what?" howled Oop. "How can you recall?"

Ghost rose slowly to his feet and there was something about his rising that made all of them fix their eyes upon him. He raised a hand, although there was no hand, just the sleeves of his robe, if robe it was.

His voice, when it came, was hollow, as if it might have come from an empty place far distant.

"But I do recall," he told them. "After all these years, I do recall. I either had forgotten or I had never known.. But now I do..."

"Master Ghost," said Shakespeare, "you act exceeding strange. What queer distemper could have seized upon you?"

"I know now who I am," said Ghost triumphantly. "I know who I am the ghost of."

"Well, thank God for that," said Oop. "It will put an end to all this maundering of yours about your heritage."

"And who, pray," asked Shakespeare, "might you be the ghost of?"

"Of you," Ghost keened. "I know now-I know now-I am William Shakespeare's ghost!"

For an instant they all sat silent, stricken, and then from Shakespeare's throat came a strangled sound of moaning fright. With a sudden surge, he came out of his chair and leaped to the tabletop, heading for the door. The table went over with a crash. Maxwell's chair tipped back and he went sprawling with it. The edge of the tipping table pinned him to the floor and a bowl of gravy, skating off its edge, caught him in the face.

He put up both his hands and tried to wipe the gravy off his face. From somewhere above him he heard Oop's raging bellows.

Able to see again, but with his face and hair still dripping gravy, Maxwell managed to crawl from beneath the table and stagger to his feet.

Carol sat flat upon the floor amid the litter of the food. Beer bottles were rolling back and forth across the floor. Framed in the kitchen door stood the cook, a mighty woman with chubby arms and tousled hair, and her hands upon her hips. Sylvester was crouched above the roast, ripping it apart and rapidly swallowing great mouthfuls of meat before anyone could stop him.

Oop came limping back from the door.

"No sign of them," he said. "No sign of either one of them."

He reached down a hand to haul Carol to her feet.

"That rotten Ghost," he said bitterly. "Why couldn't he keep still? Even if he knew..."

"But he didn't know," said Carol. "Not until just now. It took this confrontation to jar it out of him. Something Shakespeare said, perhaps. It's something he's been wondering about all these years and when suddenly it hit him."

"This tears it," Oop declared. "Shakespeare never will quit running. There'll be no finding him."

"Maybe that is what Ghost is doing now," said Maxwell. "That is where he went. To follow Shakespeare and stop him and bring him back to us."

"Stop him, how?" asked Oop. "If Shakespeare sees him following he'll set new records running."