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Nothing But Blue Skies
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Nothing But Blue Skies

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Author: Tom Holt
Publisher: Orbit, 2001
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Comic Fantasy
Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
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Synopsis

There are many reasons why British summers are either non-existent or, alternatively, held on a Thursday. Many of these reasons are either scientific, mad, or both-but all of them are wrong, especially the scientific ones. The real reason why it rains perpetually from January 1st to December 31st is, of course, irritable Chinese Water Dragons. Karen is one such legendary creature. Ancient, noble, nearly indestructible and, for a number of wildly improbable reasons, working as a real estate agent, Karen is irritable quite a lot of the time. But now things have changed, and Karen's no longer irritable. She's furious.


Excerpt

Four men in dark grey suits and black sunglasses climbed out of a black, fat-wheeled Transit and slammed the doors. The noise woke up the proprietor, who staggered out of the little shed that served him as an office. He blinked at them.

"Mr Denby?" said one of the strangers.

The proprietor shook his head. "No," he added, in case of doubt.

"But this is Denby's boatyard, right?"

"Yes."

The four men exchanged glances and nodded. "You build boats?"

"Yes."

"That's good. We want a boat built."

If the proprietor was surprised by that, he didn't show it. (But then again, he never showed surprise at anything. Simple demarcation. If you want emotions registered, go to an actor.) Instead, he carried on looking weather-beaten and authentic.

"Yeah," said another of the strangers. "Can you do that for us?"

The proprietor's shoulders moved about a thirty-second of an inch, which in the boatbuilders' dialect of body language means something like: Of course I can build you a boat, you fool, assuming that I can be bothered and you don't mind waiting a year or so, and what would a load of dickheads like you be wanting with a boat, anyway?

"Cool. Of course, we need it in a hurry."

This time, the proprietor allowed his lower lip to twitch, somewhere between fifteen and twenty thousandths of an inch.

"Like, we need it in three weeks, finished and read to roll. Can you manage that?"

"Depends." The proprietor half-closed his eyes, as if performing miracles of mental quantity-surveying. "What kind of boat do you boys want?"

"Ah." For some reason, the strangers seemed uncomfortable with that question. "We thought we'd leave that to you, really. Like, you're the expert here, you don't keep a dog and bark yourself, all that shit. A boat."

"A boat."

"You got it."

"What kind of boat?" the proprietor asked again.

To look at the strangers, you'd think they had something to hide. "A big boat," one of them said. "Not that we're trying to dictate to you in any way, shape or form; I mean, if it's gotta be a certain size, that's the size it's gotta be. Hell, last thing we want to do is come in here telling you how to do your job."

"A big boat," the proprietor said.

"Yeah." The tallest and grey-suitedest of the strangers nodded assertively. "A big boat's just fine by us. Something in the order of - and this is just me thinking aloud, you understand, there's nothing carved in tablets of stone or anything - something round about, say, 300 cubits by fifty cubits by thirty. There or thereabouts," he added quickly.

"Cubits?"

"Sure. Why not cubits?"

This time, the proprietor actually frowned; easily his most demonstrative gesture since 1958. "What's that in metric?" he asked.

"Metric?"

One of the other strangers nudged him in the small of the back. "He means, like, French."

"Ah, right. OK. Trois cent cubites par cinquante par ..."

The proprietor's eyes snapped wide open, like a searchlight switching on. "Are you boys French, then?" he asked dangerously.

"Us? Shit, no. No way. We're -" From the way the man's head moved a fraction to the left, you might have been forgiven for imagining he was reading notes scribbled on his shit-cuff. "We're English, same as you. You know: Buckingham Palace, afternoon tea, Bobby Charlton -"

By now the proprietor was staring at them as if trying to melt holes in their faces. "Where did you boys say you were from?" he asked.

"England," the stranger repeated.

"Ah. What were you saying about cubits?"

The stranger took a deep breath, as if making himself relax. "I was just thinking, three hundred's a good round number, for length. By, you know, fifty. By thirty. Give or take a cubit."

"Mphm."

"And," the stranger went on, "something else that's just occurred to me, like a real spur-of-the-moment thing, dunno where in hell I got this from, but don't you think it might be pretty damn' cute if you built it out of gopher wood?"

"Gopher wood."

"Yeah. Gopher wood rocks, is what I say."

The proprietor breathed in deeply through his nose. "Gopher wood," he repeated. "And rocks."

"Nope, just gopher wood. And while you're at it," another stranger put in, with an air of almost reckless cheerfulness, "wouldn't it be just swell if you pitched it, inside and out. Like, with pitch?"

"Hey!" His colleague's face instantly became a study in wonder. "That's brilliant, man. Definitely, we want to go with that. Will that be OK?" he asked the proprietor. "Pitch?"

"Pitch."

"And," the other stranger ground on, "what say we have like a window, say one cubit square? And a door in the side? And - get a load of this, guys - lower, second and third storeys - "

The proprietor let go the deep breath. "You mean like Noah's ark," he said.

The strangers looked at each other.

"Who?" they said, all at once.

"Noah. Like in the Bible."

"Sorry," said the tall stranger, "we don't know anything about any Noah. We're just, you know, sparking ideas off each other here, brainstorming ..."

The proprietor's head moved from side to side, a whole four degrees each way. "You want Noah's ark," he said, "and you want it in three weeks."

"At the most. We're kinda on a schedule here."

Lunatics, the proprietor thought. Mad as a barrelful of ferrets. Then he looked them up and down: the suits, the Ray-Bans, the thousand-dollar shoes, the brand-new custom Transit. Still, he thought, it takes all sorts.

"All right," he said.

If the strangers were trying to conceal their relief, they weren't very good at it. "Hey," one of them said, "that's great."

"Awesome," said another.

"But it's going to cost you," the proprietor said.

The tall stranger nodded. "Sure," he said. "We guessed it would." He nodded to one of his colleagues, who was holding a big aluminium case, the sort you transport expensive cameras in.

"Do you reckon five million dollars'd cover it?" he asked earnestly. "In cash," he added, "half now and half on delivery?"

"In three weeks," another of them pointed out.

It's very hard to stay looking weather-beaten, authentic and taciturn when, inside, every fibre of your being is shouting YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! But the proprietor managed to make a pretty decent job of it.

"All right," he said.

Copyright © 2001 by Tom Holt


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