|Men In Sync|
Joxer lingered on the crowded docks at Tenedos close by his stash of boxes and crates as warships, filled with men and materiel, were being loaded for transport to reinforce the Argive buildup on the jam-packed beaches of Ilium. Troops from all over the archipelago, from the sunny inlets of the Peloponnese in the south to the cloudy hills of Macedonia in the north, had descended upon this key staging area, preparing for the final onslaught, Ilium still standing defiant in its resistance after ten long and inglorious years of ceaseless struggle.
"Let's see what you got there, fella," the customs agent, quill and clipscroll in hand, was giving Joxer's inventory the once over before allowing it to be hoisted on board the private skiff which Joxer had chartered for the purpose. "A few dozen sacks of sugar, two lifts of baking soda, a couple, three of flats of peat moss, a half dozen cases of charcoal briquettes, some rolls of glistening kite string, and -- sniff, sniff -- what’s this huge tub of yellow, powdery gunk you got there? Phew, smells like rotten eggs. What’re you fixin’ to do with this stuff, buddy, whip up a ton’r more of recycled bathtub bubbles?"
"It's um..., it's um..., it's for a cake I’m baking," Joxer piped up. "It's for, um, Achilles. Achilles is having a birthday, and I've been asked to bake the cake."
"So where's the candles?" the custom agent wanted to know.
"The cand... The candles!" Joxer beamed. "Right, the candles! Well, you see, the big kahuna’s been getting a mite sensitive about his age and all? And he wants to keep his birthday kind of low key, you know what I’m sayin’? Just some flowers around the edges and squiggles on the frosting, nothing too incendiary that’s gonna blow anybody’s jocks... er, socks off."
"Heck, the ripsnorter isn't that old," the customs gave Joxer a suspicious look. "By my count, Achilles snagged more’n a dozen bases last season, drove in over a hundred runs and made some spiffy one-handed grabs out to the bullpen."
"It's the legs that’re the first to go," Joxer confided. "That’s your telltale sign. But hey, once Achilles hangs up his spikes, the old long ball hitter can look forward to a great future managing one of the league’s new expansion clubs, right?"
"Awright, I guess you can load this crap on board," the agent signaled to the steevies who proceeded to lug the boxes and crates into the hold. The inspector wandered away, leaving Joxer to heave a sigh of relief as he clambered onto the deck.
Unknown to poor Joxer, his tête-à-tête with the customs agent had been overheard by a trio of seedy looking characters in cahoots with the skipper of the vessel that Joxer had chartered to take him and his supplies the twenty leagues across the straits to the shores of Ilium. Little did the skipper know that, after they'd crossed the channel and had come within sight of land, Joxer was planning to commandeer the boat, tie the skipper to the mast and beach the craft well out of sight of the Argive encampment. Little did Joxer know that the skipper, with his three unsavory confederates, was preparing, when they'd come within sight of land, to chuck Joxer overboard and make off with the goods -- whatever they were -- which they would then seek to deal to Argive or Trojan, whoever would offer to pay them the higher price.
While Joxer let go a big, eye-closing yawn -- it had been a tiring day and a half since Joxer had left Meg's lunch counter to make his way to the nearest port where he’d assembled his inventory and had shipped out, posthaste, to the bustling quonsets and warehouses on Tenedos -- the skipper’s confederates darted behind Joxer’s back and sneaked onto the skiff. The skipper shooed them into the hold where they were to wait silently until they’d gotten the high sign to spring out of hiding and toss the unsuspecting shill over the gunwales and into the sizzling brine.
"Boy, it's been one heck of a long trip," Joxer stretched. "Maybe I'll grab me some shut eye once I get over to Ilium, have me a bath and a rub down and get to rockin’, for a few blessed turns of the sandglass, in my sweet Gabby's arms."
Animated by the joyful anticipation he felt at the thought of seeing his lovely Gabrielle again, Joxer hopped on board and felt a twinge of regret for the sake of the skipper whom, unfortunately, he was going to have to inconvenience once the boat dropped anchor in a sheltered cove along the Phrygian coast within earshot of Ilium's insuperable bastions. The skiff sailed past the jetty and sought the open sea. Joxer tried to make small talk with the skipper, a crusty salt with a black eye patch and a raggy, weathered cap. It was a tough way to make a living, transporting private cargo, and Joxer felt bad for the guy. "I'll bet you could make lots more dinars as a pirate," Joxer joshed, seated next to the skipper on the stern seat by the tiller. "A lot riskier business too, I’ll bet. You never know what kind of rotten t'mayters you're gonna end up having to slice: ones that tie you up, take control of your boat and make you walk the plank down to Davy Jones' locker."
When the skipper could endure no more of Joxer's jabbering, he told Joxer to go lie down or else he'd bring the craft around and head back to the relative peace and quiet of the incessant, sword-clashing commotion on the docks at Tenedos.
"Okay...," Joxer sulked, his feelings hurt. "If you wanna to keep to yourself, I'll go dream sweet dreams of my blue-eyed dreamboat who’s waitin’ for me over on that other shore."
Then Joxer went to the foredeck and climbed onto the poop. Gazing at the endless leagues of Poseidon's sun-sparkling, blue fields, Joxer began to hum, "G is for the girl I'd surely love to make my own; A is for the answer, 'Oh, dear Jox, I'm yours alone...'; B is for the bonnie lass whose praises I do sing; another B for wedding bells I hope one day will ring; Y is for the ‘Yes’ that I would dearly love to hear, and then I’ll be so happy I will buy the world a beer. Put it all together, put it all together, put it all together, it spells Gahhh-bee..."
When the skiff had nearly reached its destination, Joxer felt, regretfully -- as he meant no harm to any living soul -- that the time had come to commandeer the boat, even while apologizing profusely to the skipper and explaining that as soon as Joxer and his supplies were safely stowed on land, the fellow would surely get his boat back and a few extra dinars to compensate him for his trouble.
In the same instant that Joxer began to make his way aft to the tiller that was now being plied by the skipper's rugged forearm, the skipper gave three telltale stomps of his boot on the floor of the boat, alerting his associates in the hold that the time had come to jettison their annoying passenger. So just as Joxer was sneaking up on the skipper, the skipper’s three henchmen were sneaking up on Joxer, two of them hefting rowing oars for clubs, the third wielding an ugly looking dagger.
"Wellsir," Joxer strode up to the skipper and tried to look him in the eye, embarrassed by the slightly underhanded deed that he was now about to do, "when, in the course of human events, which is to say that we, the people, in order to form a more perfect union, meaning, of course, that four score and seven years ago..."
The skipper looked past Joxer and, with his eyes flaring, gave the signal: wallop this idiot and put me out of my misery! On either side of Joxer and just to his rear, the two guys who were toting the oars swung the flat parts of the paddles back and....
"Ha, would you look at that, my bootlace just came undone," Joxer noticed and...
...bent down to tie it.
Ka-plooey! The two assailants clobbered one another in the puss with the full force of the oars, knocking each other off their mutual feet and going down for the count.
Fury burst like a flame in the skipper's eyes as Joxer, bending back up, continued, "So scarf, if you must, this old gray head, but wear your country's skirt, she said..."
The third attacker lunged with his dagger but, in the same instant, a sudden shift in the wind caused a contrary gust to come shooting over the leeward side of the craft, jiving the boom which, as Joxer leaned down to pick up a gum wrapper he'd just dropped, came whipping around to conk the assailant on the head, sending him and the dagger flying to join the other two in the unconscious world of temporary uselessness.
With a roar of frustration, the skipper leaped off his seat, taking aim at Joxer's throat with the intent of throttling him but, as the skipper did so, the tiller, loosed from his hand and swinging wildly backward to recover its pre-jive equilibrium, smashed the skipper on the noggin and down he went as Joxer, his attention having been diverted while he'd deposited the gum wrapper in his shirt pocket, went on to say, "So in the long run, friend, keep in mind that the only thing we have to jeer is jeer itself... Gee, where'd he go? Oh, there you are. Hey, what's this snoozin' on the job, fella. That's no way to earn a day's pay..."
Joxer squatted down and got the skipper propped up against the keel. "Hey, Cap’n, wake up," Joxer shouted and slapped the skipper a couple, three times on the cheek, "the contract says you're on duty from nine to five and it's only three-thirty."
"Hosh, vosh, shlumpf...," the skipper rallied, murmurred and then passed out.
"Well, now I guess I gotta navigate this dinghy all by my lonesome," Joxer crabbed as he tried to bring the yawing craft about.
Then he noticed the three nautical stooges lying in a heap on the floor ribs. "Say, where'd these dudes come from?" Joxer puzzled. "Probably stowaways looking to cop a free ride to the mainland. Well, I hope you’re gonna charge 'em for the trip," Joxer said to the blitzed out figure of the boat's skipper.
Not knowing a halyard from the Queen of Namibia, Joxer and the boat were fortunately caught by the incoming tide which shunted them gently to shore well below the Argive positions and their roving lookouts.
Having debarked with his goods and arranged them safely on the beach, Joxer tied the skipper and his pals to the keel, then shoved the boat a little ways out to lap in the mild, lilting undertow as he settled down to wait, per instructions, to get picked up by a passing Trojan sentry.
He didn't have to wait long. Xena had alerted the patrols to be on the lookout for a fellow wearing a helmet with a pair of ear flaps and a breastplate that looked like -- and often served for -- a dart board and who'd be babysitting a half dozen large wooden crates with bumper-stickers pasted diagonally on their sides, sporting slogans like: Been There, Done That; King Con and When It Comes To Late Night Protection: The Pill Is Mightier Than The Sword.
There weren't many jolly rovers who fit that description, and it wasn't long before Joxer attracted the requisite attention.
A light-armored, horse drawn cart, very much like the one that had intercepted Xena and the Amazons a few days before, pulled up, and three soldiers, brandishing short swords, alighted.
"What sort of apelike creature might this be?" the lead member of the patrol scrutinized the incommodious sight that confronted them.
"One who swerves to be a glad ass," Joxer stood up and replied, "I mean one who's glad to be of service. You'll have to garden me, I've had a cuff duffel of rays."
"This must be the soldier of fortune of whom the Warrior Princess spoke," the patrol member said to his colleagues. "Still, one can't be too careful. What's the password, fellow? Out with it or we'll leave your hide as condiments for the crabs after we've relieved you of the goods that appear to be in your possession."
"Oh, Jeez, that's right. I'm s'posta give 'em a password," Joxer smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Now what did Aphrodite tell me the password was gonna be. You guys wouldn't mind givin' me a teenie weenie hint, wouldja? Er..., it isn't 'teenie weenie', is it? ‘Fighting with his little..., with his teenie weenie...’ No? Phew, that's a relief."
"Knock, knock," the sentry said.
"Who's there?" Joxer replied.
"That's what you're supposed to be telling us," the sentry signaled to his comrades who partially drew their swords from their scabbards.
"Oh, yeah. Right. Aphrodite said...," Joxer scratched his head. "Aeneas... Aeneas...," Then, snapping his fingers and strutting around on the beach, Joxer started vamping, "Aeneas connected to a... shin bone; a shin bone's connected to a... foot bone; a foot bone's connected to a... toe bone..."
"Allright, get in the car," the sentry gestured. "We'll send a wagon around to pick up your supplies."
Thus Joxer rode into Ilium much as Xena and the others had; and he, like they, marveled at its richness, beauty and charm.
"It’s about time you showed up," Xena gave Joxer a flat look when he dismounted between the tall, gleaming stiles of the courtyard.
"Easy as pie on Sunday," Joxer flipped his shades. "Hi, Xena."
"Lila! Hi, Lil."
"Hi, Joxer," went Ephiny, Solari, Eponin and the Amazons.
"Boy, it feels like old home week at the feather and leather farm," Joxer made his obeisance to the ladies and then retired to the comfort of a well earned bath and massage, courtesy of Ghisella who rolled her slightly offended eyes and wondered, "What other sorts of miscreants and ne'er-do-wells does our King, in his dotage, have in mind to spring upon us before our time on earth is at its end?"
"Thanks, ‘Ditie," Xena left a little steel nail file on Aphrodite's altar later in the day as a gesture of appreciation for having delivered the message.
"Ya' velcome," Aphrodite materialized and took up the nail file.
"Did you get to that poetry slam on time?" Xena said.
"Yeah, and you know what?" Aphrodite said, the ruffles of her pink, gauzy gown trailing behind her buxom figure. "It was such a ripoff! None of it rhymed!"
"Maybe they were reading from their rough drafts," Xena surmised.
"It's okay, Xee, I know what I'm gonna do," Aphrodite said with a little pout. "Next time I get dressed up to go hang out at some all-nite song and story swap, I'm gonna make sure it's one where I don't have to pay a cover charge to get let in the door.."
Aphrodite vanished and Xena went to rejoin the others.
"Who's he?" Velasca said quietly to Ephiny, looking at Joxer with disapproval. "He reminds me of someone I don't like."
"Autolycus, probably," Ephiny said.
"That detestable excuse for a grave robber," Velasca shuddered, thinking of her run-in with Autolycus at the Amazon village just before Xena's spirit had jumped into Autolycus' body on the day that Gabrielle was taking what would soon be Xena's ashes home to Amphipolis for burial. "I should have skewered that wise-cracking fool when I had the chance."
"Joxer's here to help Xena carry out her secret mission," Ephiny said.
"Are you serious?" Velasca raised a sceptical eyebrow.
"Joxer appears to have a very rare skill," Ephiny said.
"Being obnoxious simply by breathing?" Velasca said.
"I don't know what it is, but Xena seems to think it's vital to the Trojan war effort," Ephiny said.
Velasca shook her head. "I wonder if the times are passing us by, Ephiny. What happened to the days when noble champions stood forth, in plain view, on the field of battle and fought, with honor, to the bitter end?"
"Those days aren't entirely in the past. You'll see," Ephiny said.
Velasca gave Ephiny a troubled look. "Is Penthesileia truly intending to goad Achilles into battle?"
Ephiny looked away and said, "Yes, I believe she is."
"Oh, Ephiny," Velasca said with the sound of longing in her voice, "I don't want her to."
Ephiny risked putting a warm hand on Velasca's arm. "I don't want her to either."
Though Velasca didn't acknowledge Ephiny's hand, she didn't flinch at or back away from Ephiny’s touch.
Progress, thought Ephiny, stealing a glance at her hand as it rested on Velasca's arm, how slowly it comes and how vexingly hard every thumblength of it has to be fought for and won.
|Continued - Chapter 55|
|Return to The Bard's Corner|