Chewy’s progress through chapter seven continues apace; this is the last of the chapter six excerpts. And where better to close out this globetrotting chapter than in Fourside, the Big Surrogate Apple? In this excerpt it becomes clear that Ness failed to check out the map from his local library (or, perhaps, that while all the information is there, there’s a little more of the information that isn’t there than usual.)
The three kids crossed the Golden Bridge, made their way into Fourside and got a room at a small hotel to start discussing their next plan of attack. They avoided burgers for dinner—even if they’d felt tempted to grab some, the line was ghastly! They settled on a pizza delivery. After all, the pizza shop employees were probably twiddling their thumbs at this point.
Sure enough, the pizza arrived shockingly fast, and printed on the pizza box was a guide map of Fourside.
“Monotoli Building must be that huge, fancy skyscraper… Ahh, a dinosaur museum! I wanna gooo!”
“There’s Topolla Theater, too!”
“Hey—not until we fix up this burger mess,” Paula said, presuming the Big Sister role with a knowing extended finger. “I’d like to search through the Ness Burger kitchens if we could… There must be some kind of secret there.”
“… You mean break in?”
Paula is the Cool Big Sister.
But maybe I should back up a little—why do they need to break into a kitchen? Why is there a line out the door for hamburgers? Why is there a Burger Mess? Back in the Dusty Dunes Desert, George Montague offered the kids the following bizarre explanation for Fourside residents’ equally bizarre behavior.
“We go into Fourside sometimes to do our shopping. And everybody loves Ness Burger, so we usually have some. But… that’s when things got weird. One burger—two burgers—it wasn’t enough. So we buy some more, and by the fourth one, we still need more. Even after devouring ten, twenty burgers we weren’t filled up at all—any way you look at it, it’s just bizarre, right?
“…But even so, everyone still wanted more, so people are scramblin’ for the last burger. Things get wild—violent—and they start stealin’ ‘em from each other. But nobody can take it, they just need more. So by now everybody says they’re goin’ to get some more burgers, and that’s it. They never come home. So that’s… why I’m alone right now.”
This is somewhere between the Hawking Jet-Wheelchair and Hot Jeff on the list of bizarre Kumi inventions. Instead of a sort of generalized Monotoli hegemony, somebody’s controlling the biggest city in Eagleland with a new recipe.
“The people in Fourside are in trouble,” Ness said as he stood to his feet. “We have to go help them! …But, why—why on earth would Ness Burger turn into something like that?”
“Well,” George Montague said as he scratched his chin, “now that I think of it, the wrapping was a little different than usual. It wasn’t just a Ness Burger, it said it was a new product. Think the label said somethin’ about the appeals of biotechnology—‘Bio Ness Burger’.”
Strike one—against Montague, Fourside, everybody. I love biotechnology, and I also love fast food, but if you notice your friends and relatives are eating weaponized burgers with slightly different packaging from what you’re used to, pause for a moment and make sure they’re not being turned into a docile army in the service of the Universal Cosmic Destroyer.
“Bio Ness Burger?!” The three kids were on their way out the door, but at the sound of the name they screeched to a stop and wheeled around.
“Better watch out for that coffee, too. You haven’t heard or seen the ads flooding the TV and radio lately?” The three adamantly shook their heads. None of them had kept up with anything on TV or radio lately. “Not even coffee connoisseurs knew about it—for those who know the difference—different right down to the beans themselves—ten times more delicious; our competitors can’t make this claim.—Bio Ness Coffee.”
Help yourself to a free sample!”
“Come try our brand new product!”
Pedestrians and cars passed by the banner hung outside a skyscraper, over the intersection: “Try a Bio Ness Burger with Bio Ness Coffee!” A super-sized event truck opened up the mechanical back door of its trailer, suddenly presenting a sparkling billboard and makeshift stage.
“Okay, no pushing, no pushing, now. Come on over, everyone is welcome!”
“Now presenting the taste-testing booth for the new talks of the town, Bio Ness Burger and Bio Ness Coffee!”
Two young women in high-leg leotards appeared side-by-side at the display. They held out trays of small burger samples and paper cups as they gleamed their plastered-on cookie-cutter smiles for the crowd.
So this is why they’re breaking into a short order kitchen.
Now: back to Ness and Jeff killing Paula’s buzz.
“But all the shops are open 24 hours. Plus it’s totally impossible to get in just with all the customers packed inside.”
“I’m sure the people working at these shops are just as clueless as the customers are about the whole thing.”
“Grr… they can’t just go around roping in all these innocent people! They have nothing to do with this!”
“Hey, wait. Look, there’s a department store!” Paula pointed to its icon on the map and looked at each boy. “It’s called Monotoli Department Store—I’m sure it’s the same man who owns the skyscraper. A master businessman like that would never ignore the Bio Ness Burger fad, so there has to be a burger shop inside… and department stores close at night!”
It was nearing the evening. The three hurried to Monotoli Department Store.
You can admire Paula’s deductive reasoning without worrying about any chilling foreshadowing—in the novelization Paula avoids the wily tentacles of the Department Store Spook. When Kumi mentioned Ness Burger in chapter one we all should have remembered the literary law of Chekhov’s Fast Food Chain—if a character is a hamburger entrepreneur in the first act, those hamburgers are going to go off in the third act. So to speak.