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Chapter 8

The Hoosegow looks like a nice new one. Y.T. has seen hotels that were worse places to sleep. Its logo sign, a saguaro cactus with a black cowboy hat resting on top of it at a jaunty angle, is brand-new and clean.

THE HOOSEGOW

Premium incarceration and restraint services

We welcome busloads!

There are a couple of other MetaCop cars in the lot, and an Enforcer paddybus parked across the back, taking up ten consecutive spaces. This draws much attention from the MetaCops. The Enforcers are to the MetaCops what the Delta Force is to the Peace Corps.

"One to check in," says the second MetaCop. They are standing in the reception area. The walls are lined with illuminated signs, each one bearing the image of some Old West desperado. Annie Oakley stares down blankly at Y.T., providing a role model. The check-in counter is faux rustic; the employees all wear cowboy hats and five-pointed stars with their names embossed on them. In back is a door made of hokey, old-fashioned iron bars. Once you got through there, it would look like an operating room. A whole line of little cells, curvy and white like prefab shower stalls -- in fact, they double as shower stalls, you bathe in the middle of the room. Bright lights that turn themselves off at eleven o'clock. Coin-operated TV. Private phone line. Y.T. can hardly wait.

The cowboy behind the desk aims a scanner at Y.T., zaps her bar code. Hundreds of pages about Y.T.'s personal life zoom up on a graphics screen.

"Huh," he says. "Female."

The two MetaCops look at each other like, what a genius -- this guy could never be a MetaCop.

"Sorry, boys, we're full up. No space for females tonight."

"Aw, c'mon."

"See that bus in back? There was a riot at Snooze 'n' Cruise. Some Narcolombians were selling a bad batch of Vertigo. Place went nuts. Enforcers sent in a half dozen squads, brought in about thirty. So we're full up. Try The Clink, down the street."

Y.T. does not like the looks of this.

They put her back in the car, turn on the noise cancellation in the back seat, so she can't hear anything except squirts and gurgles coming from her own empty tummy, and the glistening crackle whenever she moves her glommed-up hand. She was really looking forward to a Hoosegow meal -- Campfire Chili or Bandit Burgers.

In the front seat, the two MetaCops are talking to each other, They pull out into traffic. Up in front of them is a square illuminated logo, a giant Universal Product Code in black-on-white with BUY 'N' FLY underneath it. Stuck onto the same signpost, beneath the Buy 'n' Fly sign, is a smaller one, a narrow strip in generic lettering: THE CLINK.

They are taking her to The Clink. The bastards. She pounds on the glass with cuffed-together hands, leaving sticky hand-prints. Let these bastards try to wash the stuff off. They turn around and look right through her, the guilty scum, like they heard something but they can't imagine what.

They enter the Buy 'n' Fly's nimbus of radioactive blue security light. Second MetaCop goes in, talks to the guy behind the counter. There's a fat white boy purchasing a monster trucks magazine, wearing a New South Africa baseball cap with a Confederate flag, and overhearing them he peers out the window, wanting to lay his eyes on a real perp. A second man comes out from back, same ethnicity as the guy behind the counter, another dark man with burning eyes and a bony neck. This one is carrying a three-ring binder with the Buy 'n' Fly logo. To find the manager of a franchise, don't strain to read his title off the name tag, just look for the one with the binder.

The manager talks to the MetaCop, nods his head, pulls a keychain out of a drawer.

Second MetaCop comes out, saunters to the car, suddenly whips open the back door.

"Shut up," he says, "or next time I fire the loogie gun into your mouth."

"Good thing you like The Clink," Y.T. says, "cause that is where you will be tomorrow night, loogie-man."

"'Zat right?"

"Yeah. For credit card fraud."

"Me cop, you thrasher. How you gonna make a case at Judge Bob's Judicial System?"

"I work for RadiKS. We protect our own."

"Not tonight you don't. Tonight you took a pizza from the scene of a car wreck. Left the scene of an accident. RadiKS tell you to deliver that pizza?"

Y.T. does not return fire. The MetaCop is right; RadiKS did not tell her to deliver that pizza. She was doing it on a whim.

"So RadiKS ain't gonna help you. So shut up."

He jerks her arm, and the rest of her follows. The three-ringer gives her a quick look, just long enough to make sure she is really a person, not a sack of flour or an engine block or a tree stump. He leads them around to the fetid rump of the Buy 'n' Fly, dark realm of wretched refuse in teeming dumpsters. He unlocks the back door, a boring steel number with jimmy marks around the edges like steel-clawed beasts have been trying to get in.

Y.T. is taken downstairs into the basement. First MetaCop follows, carrying her plank, banging it heedlessly against doorways and stained polycarbonate bottle racks.

"Better take her uniform -- all that gear," the second MetaCop suggests, not unlewdly.

The manager looks at Y.T., trying not to let his gaze travel sinfully up and down her body. For thousands of years his people have survived on alertness: waiting for Mongols to come galloping over the horizon, waiting for repeat offenders to swing sawed-off shotguns across their check-out counters. His alertness right now is palpable and painful; he's like a goblet of hot nitroglycerin. The added question of sexual misconduct makes it even worse. To him it's no joke.

Y.T. shrugs, trying to think of something unnerving and wacky. At this point, she is supposed to squeal and shrink, wriggle and whine, swoon and beg. They are threatening to take her clothes. How awful. But she does not get upset because she knows that they are expecting her to.

A Kourier has to establish space on the pavement. Predictable law-abiding behavior lulls drivers. They mentally assign you to a little box in the lane, assume you will stay there, can't handle it when you leave that little box.

Y.T. is not fond of boxes. Y.T. establishes her space on the pavement by zagging mightily from lane to lane, establishing a precedent of scary randomness. Keeps people on their toes, makes them react to her, instead of the other way round. Now these men are trying to put her in a box, make her follow rules.

She unzips her coverall all the way down below her navel. Underneath is naught but billowing pale flesh.

The MetaCops raise their eyebrows.

The manager jumps back, raises both hands up to form a visual shield, protecting himself from the damaging input. "No, no, nor' he says.

Y.T. shrugs, zips herself back up.

She's not afraid; she's wearing a dentata.

The manager handcuffs her to a cold-water pipe. Second MetaCop removes his newer, more cybernetic brand of handcuffs, snaps them back onto his harness. First MetaCop leans her plank against the wall, just out of her reach. Manager kicks a rusty coffee can across the floor, caroming it expertly off her skin, so she can go to the bathroom.

"Where you from?" Y.T. asks.

"Tadzhikistan," he says.

A jeek. She should have known.

"Well, shitcan soccer must be your national pastime."

The manager doesn't get it. The MetaCops emit rote, shallow laughter. Papers are signed. Everyone else goes upstairs. On his way out the door, the manager turns off the lights; in Tadzhikistan, electricity is quite the big deal.

Y.T. is in The Clink.



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