Continued from Part III...
When I woke up, I thought I had died and gone to hell. Turns out it was just Bathurst.
I sat up sharply to find myself in a wooden cabin. A hot water bottle tumbled from my chest onto the floor. I was blanketed in thick wool, and at the foot of the bed there was a black wood stove, radiating extreme levels of heat.
There was a young woman attending to the room. When she saw that I was awake, she rushed to my bedside.
“My goodness,” she said, patting my forehead with a dirty rag. “You’s sweatin’!”
No shit, lady, I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud. That kind of restraint is called “diplomacy.” I’m really good at it.
“Where am I?” I asked her, but she didn’t answer. Instead, she went to the door and called out.
A few moments later, a quaint-looking middle-aged couple walked into the cabin.
The man, a husky fellow, wore mud-stained overalls and a red flannel shirt. Under his pink, triangle nose was a large, grey mustache. The woman had on a ratty sundress over a dirty pair of white spanks. Her long, stringy arms were veiny and bumpy from years of manual labour.
I mean, these guys were real losers.
“Hello,” I said, uncertainly.
“Ah,” said the man, joyously. “So the ol’ bugger is awake, I see.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, looking back and forth between them. “Who are you people? Where am I? How did I get here?”
“So many questions,” said the woman, disapprovingly. “You haven’t even had your tea yet.”
She pointed to a small porcelain cup of water sitting by my bed with a dead rat in it.
“It seems…uh, it seems a rodent has made its way into it,” I said.
“Blast it,” said the woman, smacking a fist into her hand. “We never can do nothing right. Here we have the premier of the province in our home, and we don’t even know how to serve him — we should have known he didn’t like rat tea!”
“Oh, that’s quite all right,” I said reassuringly. “I don’t need to be waited on…How did you find me, anyway? Last thing I remember was falling into the Reversing Falls…”
“I found you myself,” the man said proudly. “I fishing out on the bay when I hooked you. I thought you was about the damnedest fish I’d ever seen. I’d seen some prime fish in my day, but never a premier fish.”
With this he let out a loud, bellowing cackle. Regional humour, I thought. Delightful.
“Welp,” I said, kicking my feet off the bed. “I appreciate you saving my life and all — is there anything I can do to repay you…chores, or what have you, just let me know. I’d love to help.”
“Aw shucks,” said the woman. “Don’t worry about that, just remember to keep us little folk in mind when you’re voting on all that legislation down in Fredericton.”
“Nah,” I said. “I’d rather take the manual labour, please.”
“Well,” said the man, tapping his chin. “I suppose we do have a few things around the farm that need doing, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course not! After all, I consider honest, salt-of-the-earth people like yourselves to be the backbone of this province,” I lied. See? There’s more of that diplomacy stuff I was talking about.
“All right then, it’s settled,” said the man, happily. “In the morning, we’ll put you to work.”
He did, too.
The family would typically wake up at the obscene rising time of 5 a.m., but I wasn’t giving in that easy.
After a brief physical confrontation with the man of the house (he won), I found myself in the musty cow barn, with the farmer instructing me on how to manually extract the milk. It took me a few minutes, but eventually I got the hang of it.
I wonder what Coconut is up to right now, I thought, yanking on the veiny udders.
There were other chores, too, like feeding the livestock, cleaning the stables and hoeing the grounds (they should have gotten Horsman’s mom for that, I thought–Ha! ). I wasn’t particularly good at any of it, though. I tried blaming my shoddy workmanship on his wife, and I think he bought it. The two of them started fighting around the house a lot more, anyway.
I had never done manual labour like this before. It was a lot different from politics — in a good way. You almost never had to use that thing up in your head. You know…the thinking thing. The whatchamacallit.
Things went on like this for the better part of a week. Hard work through they day, drunken hooliganism through the night.
Nearly every evening, we’d drink a fifth of good tequila and go cow-tipping. Then, in the morning, we’d walk out and pick them up again. Honestly, I loved it there. It was like a haven for me.
Well, it was, at least, until I was forced off the property at gunpoint late that Friday night.
You know that old joke about the friendly farmer, and his irresistible young daughter?
Well, my benefactors didn’t seem to think it was all that funny. They made that point perfectly clear with a suite of poorly aimed shotgun shots directed at my naked ass as I hauled it off of their property and into the surrounding woods.
“He wasn’t doin’ nothin, Daddy!” I heard the girl cry from the chicken coup. “He was just showin’ me what an ‘incumbent’ is!”
I emerged from the woods about a mile north of the farm, my feet sore and bleeding and with a bushel of burdock hanging out of my asshole.
So there I was. Naked, hungry, and nursing a serious case of blue balls as I made my way down NB-11, my thumb stuck in the air toward the oncoming traffic. I had never hitchhiked before, and frankly, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about my prospects.
Miraculously, however, after just an hour of trying, a small service vehicle bearing the provincial coat of arms pulled up beside me, and a familiar face popped out the driver’s side window.
“Hiyah, boss,” said The Runt, a huge grin spreading across her face. “Get in!”
As we sped down the highway toward Fredericton, I became increasingly uncomfortable by the fact that I was being chauffeured by a 12-year-old.
“You think, uh, maybe I should drive?” I asked.
“Nah, I got it,” she said, waving away my concerns. “I’ve made some adjustments.”
She pointed toward the pedals, which had been boosted up with several Betty and Veronica digests roped together. I didn’t mind her borrowing them, I thought, but she had better return them to my desk when she was done.
“How’d you find me, anyway?” I asked.
“Remember that satellite tracking you installed that has the capability to locate any New Brunswicker at any time? You know — the Deus Ex Machina 3000?”
“That thing works?” I asked with disbelief.
“It does now. I did a little fixing up and re-organizing around the office. I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “Did you know just how many people in the government were paid to just sit around and do nothing all day? I was shocked!”
“No. How ‘bout that,” I said grumpily. I was happy she had found me, but I didn’t love the idea that the government was being run more effectively without me.
But as quickly as the thought had entered my mind, I dismissed it.
Don’t be silly, I thought. Of course a stupid kid couldn’t run a province as well as a democratically elected official like myself. I’m sure it was just chaos out there now. Things must have gotten so much worse since I had been away.
“Things have gotten so much better since you’ve been away,” Horsman gushed, once we arrived at the office early that morning.
“This girl…” he said, ruffling her hair affectionately. “She’s a real wiz-kid, you know?”
The Runt blushed. “Aw, shucks.”
“It was a real stroke of brilliance on your part to leave her in charge while you were gone, Brian.”
“Yeah, I’m a genius all right,” I said, bitterly glancing around the pristine-looking office. “Now where are my suits?”
I was still naked, after all, and covered in dirt, leaves, and bear feces. In all honesty, I was starting to feel more than a little ridiculous.
“Right over there,” he said, pointing to a closet. “Rebecca implemented a great new organizational system around the office last week. It’ a cinch to find anything around here now.”
“Fantastic,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Once I had dressed, the three of us met in the board room to debrief.
“All right,” I said. “So what do we know?”
“Us? Nothing,” said The Runt. “We thought you were handling it, so instead we focussed on squaring the provincial debt, which we’ve done — in record time, I might add.”
“All right, all right,” I said dismissively. “I’ll fill you in on what I’ve found out, then.”
I proceeded to launch into the tale of my travels, omitting only the most unsavoury details for the sensitive ears in the room (Horsman).
After several hours of this, however, it didn’t seem like we were getting any closer to the bottom of this mystery.
“Is there any other information you picked up this past month when you were out frolicking across the province?” asked Horsman, wearing an exasperated expression.
“No,” I said defiantly. If he was going to be like that, I thought, then we could forget this whole thing. To hell with the government. See if I care.
But then, something occurred to me.
“Wait, hold on,” I said, struggling to recall the location listed on the business card that Coconut had given me.
“I saw somewhere that the culprit’s business might be listed in…Florenceville!” I cried triumphantly, proud of myself for having remembered.
Horsman and The Runt looked at each other, then back to me.
“Florenceville,” The Runt repeated, flatly.
“Are you sure?” asked Horsman.
“Yes. Definitely. Florenceville. Why? Does that mean anything to you guys? Are there any businesses you know of in Florenceville?”
They looked at me, dumbstruck.
To be continued in Part V…