UNITED STATES—Detective Zorba was battleworn, so battleworn, by the fear and fatigue of the forced journey to “up here” from the Underground Cities, so worn that only through gaps in his feral awareness intruded the harsh knowledge that he’d been stripped of the title detective. He lay still in the farmhouse bunk and all his limbs hummed.

The limbic system had over-dosed on an onslaught of questions and resulting unknowns, that taunted him. The tables had been turned; Zorba was customarily in the comfortable position of asking all the questions instead of receiving them.

“Why is you poking your nose where it don’t belong?”

“How much does you know?” asked the plaid-shirted boys.

“How does you find these codes?”

The tone of the barrage soured after the brief outbreak of cordiality with which they’d ushered him to the farm, “up there.” Zorba suppressed an urge to make light of the situation and ask if anybody had ever taught them the difference between singular and plural, but Zorba, alas, was versed in the culture of “up there.”

He knew that after the Vegan Wars, their language had simplified and could be peppered by phrases in Chinese, Lebanese and Spanish.

Nothing, in chronicles and clandestine reports had prepared him for the pristine skies and the dumbfounding silences that allowed ever sound of nature to be registered. That way, Zorba was a dupe like 99 percent of the schmos in the Underground Cities: picturing that beyond the meadows there’d still be guttering skyscrapers and three-legged frogs hopping around the scorched radioactive ground, and one-eyed cats slinking around the ruins.

“Do you know who you is messing with?” asked the raw-boned younger one, who’d slapped him a pill-pod in the Metro Station?”

“Father are going to be happy.” “Who is he?” Zorba asked. “We asks the question.”

“Mother!” barked another. This hot-tempered brother raised a threatening fist, and looked like he’d burst a vein. Two of his brethren came to restrain him.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Zorba reverted to the bad movie. There wasn’t the reassuring veneer of objectivity to hang your sanity on when on a case; he was the case now.

He looked around, pushed to the edge of overwhelm. Devon Zorba who are you? He rotated his eyeballs to trigger the sebaceous screen: it wasn’t there. These were the boondocks. Clearly they were deep “up there” in this stark farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, the golden wheat plain.

In the other room sounds of cooking, wooden spoon on cast iron. One of the plaid-shirted brothers came in with pieces of steaming animal flesh on a platter.

“Why am I here,” Zorba asked abruptly, propped violently on elbows. He dropped the detective demeanor, exposing a nerve of raw emotion. A nerve had been hit.

“Go ahead, eat something first. You must be tired from the journey.”

To be continued…

For holiday reading with heart, “A Very Grady Christmas” https://amzn.to/37pjzMb.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)