Every now and then, someone decides they want to direct traffic. Not one of my officers, whose job it may be. Some citizen just feels the urge to wave their arms and make the carts go. Or, more generally, not go. There’s something about the idea that appeals to a certain sort of mind; often one a little bit sideways of most people’s reality. Then again, this is Scalentine. Flexible perceptions of reality can be useful.
It isn’t the sort of thing I usually deal with myself, since it doesn’t generally involve either murder or city politics. But on this particular afternoon I’ve taken a break from the Barracks to go out for a stroll. The constant click of game-tiles and the looks of guilt on people’s faces when I catch them playing Jorf instead of doing their jobs are driving me full-moon. Besides, it’s good to walk the streets, catch any strange scents on the wind.
I get to the crossroads at Gravestone Yard and Sideways Street to find a state of confusion, and Officer Prokikk trying to persuade a citizen to stop waving his arms about and pointing, when said citizen shinnies halfway up a lamppost. He looks about fourteen, and human, or mostly – I can tell due to the fact that he’s wearing not a stitch. It’s not that warm a day, either.
We don’t have laws about clothing in Scalentine. With people from so many cultures living here, there’s little point – one person’s formal wear is another’s outrage, so everyone just has to get along and if they don’t like it they needn’t look. However, we do have customs, and climbing lampposts in the nude while shouting at my officers violates several of them.
Officer Prokikk isn’t bothered by the nudity – for one thing she’s an Ikinchli. They look a lot like handsome lizards and are generally as comfortable with skin – or scales – as with cloth. For another, she’s a good officer and isn’t going to let a little thing like that upset her. However there’s already a fair old traffic jam forming and a few citizens getting hot under their various neck-apparel. Along with gawpers and the ones who are stopping to see what everyone else is gawping at, things are getting potentially lively. Officer Prokikk’s tail is beginning to twitch.
“You don’t understand!” shouts lamppost-boy. “I have to keep things moving….look, they’ve stopped! They can’t stop!” And he starts waving so vigorously I’m afraid he’ll fall off.
“Yes, well, sir, they’ve stopped because you’re there, you see,” Officer Prokikk says. “Now if you’d just be kind enough to come along with me…”
“But they’re going the wrong way!”
“Generally, sir, they find their own way, and it just works out all right, as a rule,” she says, with the patience beginning to show in her voice.
“Can I be of assistance, Officer?” I says.
“Well you see, Chief…well, you can see,” she says.
“Hmm. All right Mr…”
“Legfrill. Josephas Legfrill,” says the nude citizen. “No, no no, not that way!” He yells at a cart which is trying to manoeuvre its way past the lamppost. “You’re the wrong colour!”
The cart-driver is one of Scalentine’s green-skinned citizens. He gives Legfrill a look that suggests he is not happy with this description. I do not need a riot.“Sir,” I says, “Could you explain to me exactly what it is you’re trying to do?”
“Well,” he says. “That one’s red, you see, but it’s going crosswise. There’s a blue one, look, that should be where that is, but it’s in front of a yellow one, and now that’s going backwards, yellow ones can’t go backwards!”
“I see,” I says. And I do, suddenly. “Is Sir purple or green?” I says.
“I’m purple,” he says, although frankly he’s pinkish with a tinge of blue and goosebumps for texture.
“Sir?” Officer Prokikk says, obviously worried that I’m going a bit sideways myself.
“It’s Jorf, Officer. He’s playing Jorf.”
“That stupid game with the coloured tiles everyone’s been going mad over?”
“Well yes,” I say. “Literally, it seems. Now, Sir, if you’re purple, who’s playing green?”
For a moment he looks thoroughly confused. “I…oh, my friend Prin. He’s the one I usually play with. Only he said he didn’t want to play with me any more…something about having a job…”
“Yes, well, I’ve just spoken to your friend Prin,” I said. “He’s conceded the game.”
“He can’t do that!”
“It’s in the rules, I believe,” I say, hoping I’m right.
“I have a rule book somewhere, I’ll need to check, people always assume things about the rules and they don’t check…”
Apart from anything else I don’t want to discover where he’s keeping that rulebook, so I wave my notebook at him and say, “I’ve got it in here. Why don’t you come and look?”
“No-one’s to move while I’m not looking,” he says. “That would be cheating.”
“That’s all right, Sir,” I say. “Officer Prokikk here will make sure no-one cheats.”
And down he comes meek as a lamb, and I give him my notebook and lead him to the station while he’s thumbing through it trying to read my handwriting.
I send one of the officers in ahead to make sure everyone gets their Jorf games out of sight.
We track down his mum. I tell her to keep him away from Jorf boards and she says a few words I shan’t repeat and tells me she’s already thrown his out.
I ban the game from the Barracks. Not a problem since most of them have seen the state of poor Legfrill and the rest hear about it pretty quick.
Don’t understand it, myself. Trying to keep this city working’s a far more interesting game than moving some tiles about. And I’ve never yet felt the need to take my clothes off to do it.