Henderson Saga - Part 2
“Wild Bill” Henderson took a cautious look around the new place.
He felt disoriented and a bit woozy; his head ached from a massive hangover;
his body was hard to move, as if festooned with invisible chains.
This one was a big space, like a railway station, with a remotely high
vaulted ceiling and dark tunnels leading off in unknown directions. It was crowded
like a railway station, too, by sluggish, miserable people, carrying
mountains of luggage.
“Next!” snapped an imperious, sexless voice. “Hey, Mac, ye’re holding up the line.”
Bill obediently stepped up to the glassed-in booth, noting that there was nobody behind him.
This again? He sighed, but didn’t argue – what was the point? The faster he got through the interrogation, the sooner they’d let him go. “William Nesbitt
Henderson the third.”
“Time spent on Earth?”
“List of assets.”
“What, the whole list?”
The skinny clerk raised its eyes for the first time. The whites were bright red
and the irises black as the pit of He…. Yeah, it must be a demon – what else?
“In decreasing order of US dollar value. Proceed.”
“Oil wells, too?”
“Uh-huh. Oil wells are a specialty of the house. Come on, we haven’t got all day.”
The demon gave him an oblique leer, one clawed hand hovering expectantly
over what looked like an oversized receipts book. “No, wait, we do! All century,
if you need it. Proceed.”
As Bill groped to recall each item of his wealth, the scaly hand of the clerk swept
over the big pad, a line of script lit up, and a weight was added to Bill’s person.
By the time he’d named the vintage cars in his collection, he was loaded down
from a tall pile of boxes on his head, to saddle-bags full of things that thumped
and clashed, to great cargo nets attached to his ankle-irons.
“Tunnel Three,” the clerk directed. “Have a nice hike!”
Bill heaved his enormous load in the direction indicated. As he shuffled toward
the dark opening in the wall, he noticed an untidy spoke-like pattern in the
movement of his fellow travellers, making their slow, painful way from hub to periphery, heading for their assigned tunnels, each carrying and pulling his,
and in a few cases, her, own load. In the Tunnel Two ray, he spotted a pale yellow
face a short distance ahead, as it turned to look over a shoulder humped with baggage. Something familiar about those funny little sticking-out earlobes?
Of course: Liu Han of the Hanlong Group! Mining and energy interests. Henderson used to run into him in Monte Carlo, before the Chinese government put him
out of everyone’s misery. But that was over six years ago. Either Han had got up
the nose of that sarcastic official at reception, or this was one damned slow parade!
In fact, if he wasn’t mistaken, there seemed to be one swarthy guy going
the wrong way. He’d just elbowed his way out of Tunnel Three, and was making
good progress, unencumbered except by the gold staff he used to wedge between impeding bodies. He wore floor-length silk robes and a garish gold crown.
As he approached Bill, who was taking a rest, he stopped.
“Hey, sonny, have you seen any camels around here?”
Sonny? Bill was first taken aback, as the man couldn’t be much older than himself, and then pissed off at his rudeness. “What about a ‘pardon me’, or something?
Who d’you think you are?”
The paunchy little man pulled himself up to all of five foot seven.
“I am Mansa Musa, king of Timbuktu,” then instantly deflated again. “Or was.
I keep forgetting I’m in hell.”
Bill glanced about. Somebody could forget? King or not, the guy must be a
prize idiot! “S’okay. What camels were you babbling about?”
“The ones laden with gold. I left six of them by the gate.”
“Hey, listen,” Bill was quick to grasp an opportunity for enlightenment, not to mention plain old human contact. “I was always told ‘You can’t take it with you’. What’s up with this?” he gestured as widely as his harness would permit.
“Hah!” Musa replied, “that’s a crock. You have to take it with you! I’ve been
humping camels – get it?” he poked Bill in an unprotected rib with his gold staff, “through one cursed tunnel after another since 1336. I should be assigned to Two
this trip. Look, here comes poor old Qin Shi Huang, “he cocked a thumb toward the entrance of Tunnel Five, “for another load of clay soldiers. Those olden times, they wanted to bring all their stuff. More than two thousand years, he’s been lugging them things." Becoming aware of the disgruntled murmurs around them, Musa concluded: “We’re holding up traffic. Better move on before we’re lynched.”
On each rest stop, he took notice of the people around him, slowly converging.
Most were old and overfed; nearly all were too mad and miserable to chat.
It would be awful, thought gregarious Bill, inside that dark tunnel, with these
grumpy people. Just as he was about to heave himself up for another long slog,
a bony old man came jogging up from behind, with nothing more than a hefty knapsack to hinder his progress.
“Excuse me,” Henderson halted him, “Aren’t you Bill Gates?”
“Do I know you?” asked Gates, though with little interest: his eyes kept
anxiously raking the line ahead.
“You were the richest man in the world. How come your load’s so small?”
“Oh this?” Gates shrugged the straps into a less uncomfortable position.
“I meant to give it away. Got distracted and ran out of time.”
“Then how come you’re not assigned to Tunnel Six?”
“Oh, I am. Just want a word with Steve. He must be up ahead a little ways.”
And he was off.
Henderson finally got his load moving. “Give it away? That’s all?
Why didn’t someone tell me?”