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Authors: James Kennedy

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BOOK: The Order of Odd-Fish
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“Knew I’d left that somewhere!” he said happily, and took a bite. Only then did he seem to notice Ken Kiang staring at him. “Oh, don’t mind me, just eatin’ my pie. Heck! What’s your story, champ? Some kinda Chinaman?”

“You know me. My name is Ken Kiang. I called you earlier, to—”

Hoagland Shanks grabbed Ken Kiang’s hand, shaking it vigorously. “I…AM…HOAGLAND…SHANKS! VERY…HAPPY…TO…MEET…YOU! WELCOME…TO…AMERICA!”

“I have lived in America for over twenty years,” said Ken Kiang.

Hoagland Shanks pointed to his handful of pie. “THIS…IS…PIE!”

“I don’t have time for this—”

“SAY
PIE
.”

Ken Kiang closed his eyes. “Pie.”

Hoagland Shanks winked at Jo. “See, they get it quick enough, if you give ’em half a chance.” He turned back to the Chinese millionaire. “YOU…GOOD…ENGLISH…TODAY!”


As I was saying,
” said Ken Kiang, turning back to Jo, “I intend to have my box back—”

“That’s real, real interestin’,” said Hoagland Shanks. “Now, the way I see it, Kenny, there’s pie and then there’s pie. Right? I like your good old-fashioned American pies as much as the next guy—heck, maybe even a little more—but I’ll be darned if I ain’t curious about pies they got in other countries!”

Ken Kiang whirled on Hoagland Shanks. “I will kill you!”

“Now, a
Chinese
pie…” Shanks smacked his lips. “I hear y’all eat dogs. You got such a thing as dog pie? Woof!”

Ken Kiang snarled, and was just about to leap upon Hoagland Shanks—and tear out the handyman’s larynx with his bare hands—when Jo staggered dizzily to her feet.

“Mr. Kiang!” she said, fighting to keep her voice even. “I…I don’t know anything about this box, or why anyone wanted me to have it. But I don’t want anyone to get hurt—”

She stopped.

Ken Kiang had drawn out a long, wicked-looking gun.


You
want?” he said quietly. “No. Listen to what
I
want. I want my black box back. And I want to kill you. And that is just what I am going to do.”

Jo stumbled backward in baffled terror. Everything was tilting—the smoke and heat of the fire rushed in, loud and suffocating—the world was spinning, flying apart—the gun clicked—

“Get away from her.”

Jo almost didn’t recognize the voice. Someone familiar was standing at the open double doors across the room, sparks and cinders raining down around her. Jo stared in woozy wonder. It was Aunt Lily. But different—taller, her voice clearer. Aunt Lily strode toward Ken Kiang, her lips trembling in a manic half grin, her eyes glowing wild and astonished, as if her body were moving on its own and she were only enjoying the ride.

Ken Kiang pointed the gun at Aunt Lily. “Watch it, old lady! Not a step closer, or I’ll—Hey! I’m going to—Okay, not one more step, or I’ll—”

Aunt Lily walked up to Ken Kiang. Then she yanked his gun away, and slapped him.

“Get out of my house,” she said.

Jo was flabbergasted. For a moment even Ken Kiang was too stunned to react.

Then the doors flew open, and in charged thirty-seven senior citizens, led by Korsakov and Sefino, all setting upon Ken Kiang at once, baying and coughing and hobbling. The Chinese millionaire turned, shouting and swinging wildly as he was thrashed, clobbered, and overwhelmed by the citizens of Dust Creek.

The old people of Dust Creek were rejuvenated in the glory of battle. Whether their enthusiasm came from the thrill of fighting, or the prospect of finally getting rid of Lily Larouche, it was difficult to say. Jo reeled through a violent, smoky blur, thrown from Mrs. Cavendish to Mr. Tibbets, who ran interference over to Mrs. Horpness, who slung Jo over her shoulder and carried her down the stairs; another mob led by Mr. Cavendish and Mrs. Beezy charged at Ken Kiang from every side, whacking him with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.

Jo never got a chance to thank them. Before she knew it Korsakov was hustling her up the gangway of his plane, its engines already keening in a rising wail. Seconds later the gangway swung shut and the plane rocketed down the highway, lifting into the air. Jo watched out the window as the ruby palace fell away, and then Dust Creek, and then the desert. Soon there was nothing but clouds.

         

“Blast!” screamed Ken Kiang, limping out of the burning palace.

Hoagland Shanks ambled out with his pie, chewing it happily.

“Quick, lend me your plane,” said Kiang, waving at the handyman’s crop duster.

Shanks seemed not to hear. He took another bite of pie.

Ken Kiang barked, “Listen up! I’m a rich man. I’ll pay you double what that plane is worth, on the spot! Cash! Just let me use it, now!”

Hoagland Shanks swallowed the last of his pie and looked at Ken Kiang blankly.

“Come on!” shouted Ken Kiang. “They’re getting away! Fine—I’ll pay
three times
what your plane is worth. Well? Do
you
speak English?”

Hoagland Shanks considered this for a moment. Then he said:

“I only speak the language of delicious pies.”

B
UT
who is Ken Kiang?

Let us rewind to several years ago. Imagine a room—a large room, the size of a theater or cathedral. The room is almost empty, the walls bare, the floor nearly deserted.

In the center of the room there is a small desk.

Sitting at the desk is a small man.

He is Ken Kiang.

He is a Chinese millionaire.

And he is watching a donkey.

It is a small, wind-up brass donkey. Ken Kiang watches it trudge across his desk. The donkey is a medieval Arabic automaton he unearthed at a recent archaeological dig in Syria. He wants to be impressed by its unique workmanship. He longs to glory in its exquisite detail. He aches to be fascinated by its stunning ingenuity.

It bores him.

Ken Kiang bites his lip. He plucks the mechanical donkey off the desk and turns it around. Then he gives a long, weary sigh.

Ken Kiang was a collector. He collected objects, the most rare and beautiful; he also collected experiences, the most exhilarating and sophisticated.

But there was something disquieting. Every time he would complete a certain collection—whether it be medieval surgical instruments, or elephant skeletons, or even mysterious black boxes—he would lose interest, and fall into depression. And there he would languish until some new passion grabbed him.

But nothing grabbed him anymore.

Still, Ken Kiang was a dynamic man. He would not stand by and let the world go on without him.

So he threw himself into doing good deeds. He built hospitals; he funded schools; he fought for the downtrodden, for education, for feeding the hungry…for…for…

It was no use. His connoisseur’s instinct would not let him rest. There was, in the end, something trite about yet another homeless shelter; something shopworn about one more literacy program. Where was the originality? Where was the style, the verve—the
showmanship
? Ken Kiang soon lost interest in conventional charities, and became the benefactor of ever more obscure crusades.

Ken Kiang started an ambitious program to ensure that all underprivileged schoolchildren had “postmodern yet easy-to-manage” hairstyles. Never content to merely watch, Ken Kiang became a crackerjack hairstylist himself, and led his own squad of elite barbers from school to school, meticulously styling the hair of the baffled needy. The program was a resounding success, and Ken Kiang followed up quickly: instead of the soup kitchens, he established a nationwide network of “mint kitchens,” where a fellow down on his luck could freshen his breath for free, using a pioneering mouthwash Ken Kiang had chemically engineered himself. Ken Kiang graciously accepted the dozens of humanitarian awards heaped upon him, but he did not rest on his laurels—and within a month he had toddler-proofed the entire city of Baltimore. This project was more controversial, but Ken Kiang held firm. “Baltimore is nice and safe now—no hard surfaces or angles to hurt baby,” he pointed out, and everybody had to agree.

But even this became tedious. And as suddenly as he had started his charity programs, Ken Kiang stopped them all. He closed up his hospitals, shelters, and kitchens; little by little, the hair of American schoolchildren became less postmodern; the poor were no longer minty; soon it was not even safe to leave one’s baby unattended in Baltimore.

And thus Ken Kiang entered the deepest depression of his life.

At the age of thirty-nine, Ken Kiang had done it all. There was nothing worth owning that he hadn’t collected, nothing worth doing he hadn’t done. He had drunk life to the full, but discovered to his dismay that no one was going to refill his cup. What could he do next? In what bold new endeavor could Ken Kiang set the standard for excellence?

Then, in the third week of his depression, it hit him. Ken Kiang had been huddled under the blankets in his darkened bedroom all day, rereading back issues of
Sassy
magazine and scarfing down candy corn (his secret vice), when inspiration struck.

He sat upright in bed, his heart pounding.

He would become evil.

Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Any idiot could be good—he had proven that. And every day, many a fool bumbled his way into being merely bad. But it would take a special kind of genius—Ken Kiang’s kind of genius—to be thoroughly, intentionally EVIL.

Evil! Who was evil anymore? The world was full of clods who were convinced they were doing the right thing. And even if they happened to sin interestingly, there was always their tiresome guilt—their ludicrous repentances—their pathetic attempts to lead a “better life”—

But pure, methodical evil—who did
that
anymore?

Ken Kiang got down to work, and for the first time in years he found himself absorbed in a project. He devoured books about evil; he interviewed terrorists, serial murderers, and dictators; he dabbled in strange and wild diabolisms, slit the throats of shrieking beasts on stone altars in far-off lands, drank kitten blood, and sold his soul no fewer than twenty-three times to any supernatural being who cared to bid on it. No price was too low: the fifteenth time he sold his soul it was for a bag of barbecue-flavored potato chips. Ken Kiang had eaten the chips with indecent glee as the demon looked away in embarrassment.

Then, one day, his studies were complete. He was evil! Theoretically, at least. Ken Kiang hadn’t exactly done anything villainous yet, but he was certain he would have a brilliant career. He danced around his house, exulting in his damnation.

“I’m a bad man! A bad, bad,
bad
man! Ooh, I’m damned…damned to hell for all eternity…hmmm. What’s that like?”

He looked up
hell
in the encyclopedia.

An abode of demons and lost souls, filled with fire and smoke
. “I expected something more imaginative than that,” he muttered, and read on.
The bodies are heaped upon each other, crushed and packed tight, without even a glimpse of air
. Ken Kiang put the book down, exasperated. “Why, it’s all cuddling!” He gave hell one last chance.
The devils are so horrible that one witness wrote that, rather than look again on such a frightful monster, she would prefer to walk until the end of her life along a track of red-hot coals.
“Oh, please.” Ken Kiang rolled his eyes. “Overreacting, surely. More likely the devil was just as afraid of her as she was of it.”

No, books had nothing more to teach him. Ken Kiang itched for practical application; he was ready for his first evil project. But what? How could he, Ken Kiang, prove to the world that he was the most stylishly evil man who ever lived?

Ken Kiang laughed diabolically! Then he stopped, disappointed: no, his laugh wasn’t quite diabolical. He made a mental note to practice his diabolical laughter for fifteen minutes a day. The devil, he knew, was in the details.

And a few years later, Ken Kiang would have a fine opportunity to use his diabolical laugh, and use it to great effect, as he pursued Jo, Sefino, Aunt Lily, and Colonel Korsakov, a thousand feet over the Pacific Ocean—holding his finger on the button that would destroy them all.

C
OLONEL
Korsakov’s plane, the
Indignant,
resembled a flying box cobbled out of bits of a dozen other planes, lashed together with chains, frayed rope, and duct tape. It seemed ready to collapse at any moment, but somehow kept sputtering through the sky, coughing and wobbling, plowing through the thunder and rain.

Jo was curled up under mothbally blankets, gazing out at the dark storm. She still couldn’t believe the ruby palace had burned down—but what shocked her most was how Aunt Lily had walked up to Ken Kiang, taken his gun away, and slapped him. Jo had seen Aunt Lily do crazy things, but she had never seen her do anything courageous.

Aunt Lily was just as startled. “I don’t know what came over me. It was like I was fifty years younger! And stronger…and braver, and…” Her gaze lost focus, but her smile lingered.

Jo had explored the plane, bracing herself against the steel walls as it jolted through the storm. The
Indignant
was Korsakov’s and Sefino’s home, and every inch was packed with domestic clutter: the cockroach’s smoking jacket dangled next to the engine crawl space, the colonel’s oboe hung in the bomb bay, and throughout the hull she found a dusty blunderbuss, a shoebox of cufflinks, the jawbone of some underwater animal, a plastic bust of Yuri Andropov…

Sefino strolled up, looking around the plane in distaste. “Of course, should Chatterbox find out I was flying around in this untidy bag of bolts, I’d be the laughingstock of society.”

“Who is this Chatterbox you keep talking about?” said Jo.

“You tell me! I don’t even know anything about his newspaper,” Sefino said, waving his copy of the
Eldritch Snitch
. “I’ve never even heard of Eldritch City.”

“Neither have I.”

“Nobody has. I’ve checked. And yet every morning I am somehow delivered a fresh copy of this nonexistent city’s newspaper. It is maddening.”

“Why don’t you just stop reading it?”

“That wouldn’t do,” said Sefino. “Must keep up on fashionable society, mustn’t I?”

“What fashionable society?”

“I have no idea. But I am definitely a part of it. Why else would they write about me so much?” Sefino trembled, his antennae standing on end; suddenly he exploded, “Jo! The eyes of the world are upon me! I must lead a life of daring exploits and breathtaking glamor, to satisfy my hordes of admirers!”

Something out the window caught Jo’s eye. “Um, Sefino…”

“What’s the point of life without spectacular, death-defying thrills? Where are all the beautiful ladies who might want to double-cross me?” Sefino twitched with excitement. “I wouldn’t mind being double-crossed a little!”

“Sefino, look outside—”

“Even if I met a femme fatale, though, I very well couldn’t bring her back
here.
” Sefino’s voice dropped low. “Korsakov doesn’t exactly keep a clean house.”

“Sefino! Look out the window!”

Sefino looked—and stopped in midsentence. His beady black eyes grew large.

         

Black zeppelins drifted toward the
Indignant
from all sides, floating in ominous battle formation. Then, roaring out of nowhere, squadrons of black fighter planes screeched past, buffeting the
Indignant
in their wake.

A phone call from Ken Kiang had summoned his “Fleet of Fury.” Ken Kiang had engineered the planes himself—sleek, terrifying machines, bristling with spikes and weaponry, the kind of planes that left no doubt about how
evil
their commander was.

With a precise ballet of maneuvers, the largest zeppelin opened its cabin bay doors and Hoagland Shanks’s crop duster flew inside. As giddy as a schoolboy, Ken Kiang leaped out of Shanks’s plane, leaving the baffled handyman behind, and scampered to the control room, hooting for joy.

         

Minutes later Colonel Korsakov plunged the
Indignant
into a steep dive, dodging a flock of screaming missiles that spun off in corkscrews of smoke.

“I can’t hold them off forever!” shouted Korsakov over the noise.

“It’s unjust! It’s
not fair
!” cried Sefino. “Struck down, in the flower of my youth! For what? The absurd whims of an errant digestion! Oh, pity me, world! Years of puttering around in this stinky plane! Oh, wasted youth!
A wasted life!

“I thought you
wanted
spectacular, death-defying thrills!” yelled Jo.

“I want to go home!” shrieked Sefino.

Aunt Lily exclaimed: “The box, Jo! Look at it!”

From her seat, Jo saw the black box rattling in the corner, drawers shooting open and snapping shut, spraying confetti and ticker tape, knobs and buttons popping out all over—the box was squirming, writhing, coming alive.

Colonel Korsakov banked upward, the old engines whining, but he was brought up short by a wall of zeppelins; the
Indignant
screeched in a tight arc, but the planes swung around behind, gaining fast.

“I
can’t
die!” wailed Sefino. “I’m not properly dressed! Everyone in heaven will snicker and make catty remarks about my shoes!”

“You’re not helping!” grunted Korsakov. Then: “Arghh! Get that infernal cube away from me!”—for the black box had sprouted wings and was now flying around, screeching and wailing, swooping at Korsakov’s head.

Jo unbuckled her belt and leaped after the box, swatting it away from Korsakov. The box tumbled across the cabin, shrieking and bouncing off the walls—and suddenly the plane’s radio turned itself on in an explosion of static.

“Good afternoon!” said Ken Kiang over the radio. “Just thought I’d call up. A friendly chat, you know, before I kill you.”

“Because of this box?” shouted Jo. “You’re going to kill us over
that
?”

“Uh…yes,” said Ken Kiang. “It’s not much of an excuse, but it’ll do.”

“You can have it back!”

“Oh, I don’t
want
it back,” said Ken Kiang happily. “To tell the truth, I just want to be evil. And rest assured, I’ve got some elaborate evil planned for today! Why, I almost envy you—the exquisite sensation of being crushed by my genius!”

The radio crackled off and four new missiles tore across the sky, streaming fire. The black box ricocheted around the cabin, beeping and squealing, banging into the controls. Jo leaped after it, shouting, “Sefino! Help me!”

“No, no, we’re all doomed,” moaned Sefino. “It’s all over! We
deserve
to die! The only thing left for us to do is degrade ourselves. Yes, yes! Grovel before our conqueror!”

“I can’t avoid these missiles!” shouted Colonel Korsakov.

“Don’t avoid them! Fly
into
them!” shrieked Sefino in a kind of ecstasy.

The radio popped on again. “Ken Kiang here! It just occurred to me—you’re about to die. Rather makes you wish you’d spent more time cherishing life’s little pleasures, doesn’t it? Well, too late for that. And you’re probably too panicked to remember those pleasures at all. But don’t worry, I’ve drawn up a list! Let’s remember them together.” He cleared his throat. “Ah, warm summer days…your favorite song coming on the radio…a hot dog at the ballpark, extra mustard and relish…”

“I can’t take it anymore!” said Sefino. “When will it all end!”

“In one minute ten seconds,” crackled the radio cheerfully. “The smell of freshly mown grass…peppermints…shiny pennies…”

“For the love of Lenin, shut up, Kiang!” yelled Colonel Korsakov.

“Chamomile tea,” droned Ken Kiang. “Funny puppies—oh, the silly things they do!…the smell of freshly baked bread…dandelions…”

The black box swerved past Jo’s head. She grabbed on to it but it kept flying, dragging her across the plane, banging her fingers against the walls, burping in her face.

“Babies! Beautiful, bouncing babies!” shrieked Ken Kiang.

There was a huge, gut-shredding noise. Jo was thrown across the cabin, and the
Indignant
shook as a missile exploded, just out of range; but the plane somehow still held together.

The radio buzzed again. “Oh, hello. Still there? Ah well, don’t you worry, you’ll be a ball of exploding flame soon enough. Speaking of which…did you know that I wrote a song all about dying in an exploding ball of flame? Shall I sing it for you?”

“NO!” said everyone.

“I’ve hired the London Symphony Orchestra.” A string section welled up in the background, and Ken Kiang crooned: “Oh, that crazy getting-blown-up feeling, it’s like falling in love…”

A familiar voice came over the radio: “GOT ANY PIE ON THIS PLANE? WHERE’S THAT PIE YOU PROMISED?”

“Ain’t it a shame, hoo-hah…being blown up in looooove…”

“PIE, YOU HAVE, ON PLANE?” shouted Hoagland Shanks. “Criminy, how can I make you understand? FOR ME A PIE, HOW? DO NOW!”

“That’s it,” snapped Ken Kiang. “Stop, everyone.”

The orchestra stopped, and fussy British musicians muttered complaints in the background.

“Enough,” said Ken Kiang. “Although there is a rich tradition in villainy of pointlessly toying with people before killing them, I’m finding it tiresome. Well, nobody can say I’m halfhearted at being evil, for I
have
done all the required toying. You will die in thirty seconds.”

Jo had finally wrestled down the black box—she could barely hold it as it shuddered and gurgled—and suddenly it spat out a pipe, a furry hat, and a moth-eaten scarf.

Then the box became still, except for the silver crank, which quivered expectantly.

“Hello, that’s my pipe!” said Sefino. “And that—that’s your hat, Korsakov!”

“So it is,” said Korsakov.

“Fifteen seconds,” said Ken Kiang.

“Well, what a coincidence.” Sefino tamped some tobacco into the pipe and lit it. “At least I can have a pleasant smoke before I die.”

“But wait!” said Jo eagerly. “What if I turn this crank?”

She turned it. The box exploded, covering her with soot and leaving a ringing in her ears. Nothing else happened. The box lay scattered on the floor in pieces.

Jo stared at the pieces hopelessly.

“Time’s up,” said Ken Kiang.

Ken Kiang insisted, as a matter of principle, that all his missiles be works of art, each hand-painted with scenes of famous historical battles. The first missile to hit the
Indignant
was lavishly illustrated with the Battle of Agincourt (1415), with thousands of men-at-arms and longbowmen clashing in the muddy fields of northern France; the next missile had a detailed mural of the entire Crimean War (1853–1856), from the destruction of the Ottoman fleet at Sinop to the final signing of the Treaty of Paris, and…

Anyway, they blew up. The
Indignant
plummeted into the Pacific Ocean.

Notably, before the plane reached the ocean floor, it was eaten by a large fish.

BOOK: The Order of Odd-Fish
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