He took George by the arm and led him away, stopping to wink at the secretary, who looked at him with a mixture of disgust and admiration.
Orville's office was buried in a twisting maze of door-lined, fluorescent-lit corridors, where busy soft ones talked on telephones and clattered on keyboards.
He led George through his door, into an office as big as George's cabin.
Orville paced and talked. "Did I say I was glad you came? I'm glad you came.
Now, let's talk about Bill. Bill's happy. He's got what he wants. A son. He doesn't have to take care of Joe. It's good for him."
He paused and looked at George. George nodded.
"OK. There's a problem, though. You want a son, too, only Bill won't allow it."
It didn't need any comment, so George kept quiet.
"My thinking is, Bill's so busy with Tom, he wouldn't really notice if you were there or not. You're an adult, you can take care of yourself. Do you see where I'm going with this?"
George a.s.sumed it was a rhetorical question.
"Right. What I'm thinking is, there's no reason that both of you shouldn't have your own son. This is Pleasure Island, after all. No one should be sad on Pleasure Island. You've worked hard and well for us for a long time here. We can take care of you."
George felt an uncomfortable sensation in his stomach, a knot of guilt like rising vomit.
"I thought about having another cabin built in the woods, but that's no good. I think that you and Bill need your own s.p.a.ce. So let me bounce my current thought off you: we'll put you up in the new Monster's Arms, that's the hotel we're building for HorrorZone. It's way ahead of schedule, almost finished now.
There's a penthouse suite that you can take for as long as you like. It's only temporary, just until you and Bill have had some time to raise up your sons.
Then, we'll get the whole family together back at the cabin."
The guilt rose higher, choking George.
"Don't worry about eating, either. I've briefed the house chef on your tastes, and he'll send up three squares every day; everything a growing boy needs." He flashed a grin.
"And forget about Bill. I'll smooth things over with him. He'll see that it's for the best."
Finally, George had something to say. "What about Joe?"
Orville had been almost dancing as he spoke, enchanted with his own words. He pulled up short when George spoke. "What about him?"
"I want to live with him again," George said.
"He's gone, you know that." Orville pointed his fingers alongside his ears.
"Hee-haw, hee-haw. The monthly ferry will take him to the mainland tomorrow."
"I don't care about that," George said. "I want him there."
Orville said, "I don't think that's such a good idea, George. You're going away to concentrate on _you_ -- Joe's a handful, even now. I don't want you distracted."
George said, "I want Joe."
Orville stared at him. George set his face into a blank mask. Finally, Orville said, "If that's what you want, that's what you'll get."
George didn't have anything to fetch from the cabin, and Orville thought it would be best if he spoke to Bill alone, so he sent George to the stables to get Joe.
The donkey stables were beyond Ops, at the very edge of the island, opposite the docks where the ferries brought new boys in. A different kind of boat docked there, large utility freighters that brought in everything the Island needed and took away braying, kicking herds of jacka.s.ses.
The donkeys shifted nervously in their stalls. George smelled horse-apples and hay, and heard fidgeting hooves and quiet, braying sobs. He wasn't clear on what happened to donkeys when they went back to the mainland, but he had an idea that it wasn't very pleasant. On the Island, donkeys were prizes, a sign that a boy's every wish had been gratified. What happened afterwards wasn't something that they were encouraged to think about.
He walked down the clean, wooden aisles, peering into the stalls, looking for Joe. Finally, in a dark stall in the very darkest corner of the stables, he found him. A large, pot-bellied jacka.s.s, who leapt up and brayed loudly at him when he clucked his tongue at it.
"Joe?" he asked softly.
The donkey brayed again and kicked at the stall's door. It was already splintered from many such kicks. George opened the catch and was nearly trampled beneath Joe's hooves as he ran out and away, braying loudly. George chased his brother. He didn't start very fast, but once he got going, inertia made him unstoppable.
He cornered Joe at the door that led out to the Island. The donkey was kicking at it, trying for escape. George locked his strong right arm around Joe's neck.
"Stop it, Joe," he said. "I'm taking you out with me, but you have to stop it."
Joe's eyes rolled madly, and he struggled against George, kicking and biting.
George waited in silence until the donkey tired, then used a bridle hanging on the wall to lead Joe out of the stables.
When Joe saw Orville waiting for them, he went wild again. George caught him by the hind leg and dragged him to the ground, while Orville danced back with a strange grace.
Orville grinned and said, "I guess he doesn't like me very much." He came forward and darted an affectionate pat on Joe's haunch.
Joe brayed loudly and George kept his own counsel. Orville led them down a utilidor and into an electric tram with an open car. George led Joe in and held onto his neck while Orville sped down the utilidor. He drove up a service ramp and out into HorrorZone, then to the doors of the newly completed Monster's Arms.
George and Joe lived in the Monster's Arms. Every morning, Orville paid them a visit and snuck looks at George's thumbs. They were intact.
George wanted to have a son, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Orville's visits grew shorter, and Orville's manner grew more irritated. Still, George had no son.
One day, he waited until Joe was napping, and slipped out through the iron-maiden elevator, right down into the utilidor.
The tram driver recognised him and took him out to the cabin. The last mile of the utilidor was dusty and disused. George leaped off the tram and walked quickly to the cabin, his heart racing. It had been so long since he'd seen Bill and little Tom. He missed them terribly.
The little cabin was even smaller than George remembered it, and it looked sad, sagging and ramshackle. He hesitated at the door, then, feeling a stranger, knocked.
There was movement inside, but no voices, and the door stayed shut. George opened the door.
It was a disaster. The kitchen cupboards were smashed in, the little table knocked over and splintered, the bedding scattered and soiled. Deep shadows collected in the corners.
"Bill?" George called, softly. A shadow stirred, an indistinct figure within its depths.
"Bill, it's George. I missed you. I need to talk with you. I'm confused."
The shadow stirred again. George crept forward, peering, his old eyes night-dimmed.
Bill huddled in the corner, wracked and wasted. He stared up at George through eyes filmed with tears. He held up his hands. They had already begun to shape themselves into hooves, but George could still see that both his thumbs were gone. His ears were pointed and long.
"Oh, Bill," George said.
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