“Alright, tell me about the ‘kittens’.”
“Stop making air-quotes with your fingers,” said Tankspin. The goblin was looking nervously around the bar, where the three of us sat in cool shadow, out of the blast furnace of Gadgetzan’s central ring road. He’d ordered for the three of us, sizzling turtle-steaks cooked troll-style in fireweed curry. Desert goblins first tried to import familiar food from the east, but soon turned their genius for jury-rigging to the possibilities of desert cuisine. The hot, greasy food helps cool you off, while also increasing thirst, thus ensuring nicely-padded bar bills for the establishment. The local trick is to soak up the spicy sludge with hunks of Narisloaf, a kind of local bread that uses a ton of olive oil to thin out the millet flour – no grains in the desert, see, but the olives will grow near the salty flats by the ocean.
“Sorry, the kittens. What’s the deal?” I asked. Next to me, Crosseye the Tauren was picking miserably at his food. He was another brother with an unfortunate name; apparently when he was being born the lads had seen some poor dumb wolf, caught up in the chase, plough straight into a tree. This was the funniest thing that had happened all year in his village (Mulgore is close to heaven but there isn’t much going on), so he got saddled with the memorable moniker of “Crosseyed Wolf Ironhoof”. Not terribly bright and (unsurprisingly) given to melancholy, Crosseye seemed to be on a perpetual, self-imposed wandering exile, and was following Tankspin around for lack of any other destination.
“People come to Gadgetzan – all kinds of people – to escape the restrictions placed upon business by irrational nationalism, friend,” he explained. “Horde, Alliance – that doesn’t matter here. Only the colour of your coin. Tanaris is a gold-coloured land, and we are its priests! Gadgetzan is its temple!” He was waving his arms around expansively, while somehow ingesting, at the same time, a continuous stream of turtle curry and narisloaf.
“Okay,” I said. I may have looked a bit wary. Now, I am a fish-and-let-fish sort of Tauren. If the ancestors damned dwarves would stop putting holes in things I would be happy to leave them alone. I’ve been in a few battles and managed not to piss myself; or at least, I remembered to wear dark pants. But fighting humans takes away valuable napping and fishing time, and trying to get a visa to go tour the restaurants of Stormwind – forgetaboutit! Blood elves can just take a bath in grape juice and they make great spi-er, tourists, but it’s pretty hard to disguise eight hundred pounds of what looks to the humans like an angry pot roast.
Just getting over to the bar, some night elf took a shot at me. If I hadn’t had my new copy of The Green Hills of Stranglethorn (chapters 1-3, 6, and 9) in my back pocket I’d have been digging an arrow out of my extremely well-formed glutes.
“One of the class of items that’s extremely hard to move around by conventional means,” Tankspin continued, “is pets. I’m not sure why humans feel that little felines have such important strategic value, geopolitically-speaking, but they keep a very close eye on kitten sales and exports. Which is part of the reason my companion might – might – be excused for thinking they come out of eggs.”
“Never seen a little cat before,” muttered Crosseye.
“In Orgrimmar it’s snakes. Little snakes.”
“Yes! What are they up to? Anyway, it’s not my business. My business is making sure people get the cuddly companion their heart desires.”
“What have you got instead?”
“Tickbirds.” Tankspin leaned forward and hissed this in a whisper. “I sent Crosseye to the port east of here to pick up the shipment, and some sly sonuvagoblin convinced him that this was our shipment. Right now they’re probably riding down easy street on the back of a hundred furry little kittens! Or eating them. I don’t even want to think about it. All that gold!” He covered his eyes with one hand and grimaced.
“What’s wrong with tickbirds?”
“There’s no market! they’re coming out of people’s ears! You get a tickbird for your cowfriend in Lovedays and she’ll break up with you!”
My eyes misted up. I’d sucked some of the sauce up into my sinuses, and the pain was making it hard to concentrate.
“What do you want me to do about it?” I said. Actually, I said something like wuhgdwnmmmddnnggt. The hairs on my ears were starting to singe and curl. Tankspin didn’t seem to notice.
“Listen, friend. No body knows you here. We’re just some friends having lunch with a newcomer in town. I want you to make delivery of the eggs to a gnome named Cranklehop. Crosseye has been working very hard all morning, painting them up to look like hippogryph eggs.”
“Hippogryphswhatnow?” the words dribbled out of my mouth. I felt like I was floating, lookign down on the scene from outside my body. This was serious food. “I dunno man, I get nervous around gnomes. I’m afraid I’ll eat them by accident. So are they, incidentally. Who is she?”
“She’s in a desert. And watch your mouth, my grandma hugged trees for a living. People said she made the herbs grow faster.”
“It’s a figure of speech. She’s an agent of the Cenarion Circle, but they won’t actually let her near the forest on account of, like decent goblin folk, gnomes love to be surrounded at all times by noisy machinery emitting gorgeous clouds of black smoke. In her case, she runs an Egg-o-matic that tests the viability of hippogryph eggs, and she pays well for samples.”
“She’s going to know the difference, then, when we try to sell her Tickbird eggs.”
“That,” explained Tankspin very slowly, as if to a small child. “is why we painted them to look like hippogryph eggs. Nothing can go wrong. You make the offer, she looks at the eggs, you take payment, we split it even-steven, eighty twenty.”
“You know, it’s a myth that Tauren can’t do math, goblin.”
Looking back on things later, while gazing up at the bloodied meat-hooks hanging from the ceiling of the arena into which I’ve been tossed, dictating the end of this entry to my attorney (who was kind enough to fly down), I suppose things could have actually gone worse.The Great Tickbird Caper, Part III: It Looks Like a Proto-Finish. »