Friday, July 30, 2010

Chapter 16


Noon found the Dreadniks reunited at the Wherehouse.
“Anyone find anything?” Bear asked.
Everyone there, but Woodrow, shook their heads.
“I did.” he said, “I found the wagon.”
“Where?” Jon asked.
“Finorio Braneegan’s Car Dump.”
“Braneegan…where have I heard that name before?” Jon asked, “Wasn’t he the Azzamat who supposedly killed a guy?”
“That’s just a rumor.” Woodrow said.
“Azzamat…” Mike ruminated, “Someone refresh my memory?”
“They’re related to the Frellam,” Spencer said, “Cousins, you might say.”
Mike knew about the Frellam from books. They were a tall, broad, and hairy race that lived in the Skidderex Mountains, which separated Marriak from the cold waste of Sartholter in the north, where the Ridlaks (from which the Frellam descended) still lived.
“The Azzamat,” Spencer continued, “Are basically Frellam who decided to assimilate with civilization, rather than head for the mountains. You could say they’re more sophisticated than the Frellam; they wear clothes, they speak Thrist, they’re slightly less hairy, and they don’t eat people, but they can be just as dangerous when driven to anger.”
“That’s a stereotype,” Peggy said, “They’re not ALL hotheads.”
Spencer rolled his eyes, but did not reply.
“Where is this place, Woodrow?” Dom asked, “Is it far?”
“It’s in the outskirts, close to Elderberry; a good hour’s walk from here.” Woodrow answered, “It’s situated in a low area; from the street you can look down on it, which was how I happened to see the wagon. Braneegan hadn’t taken it into the Labyrinth yet. The spot is pretty isolated; hardly any traffic on the street. I’d wonder how he keeps a business afloat there, if I didn’t know better.”
“That’s good,” Bear said, “When the time comes to liberate the wagon, we can launch operations from there.”
“We’re gonna steal it back?” Callie asked.
“We sure as hell aren’t gonna buy it back.” Bear replied.
“There are problems though,” Woodrow said, “If we intend a febwith…”
“What’s a febwith?” Mike asked.
“A plan or scheme, to achieve certain ends,” Jon explained, “And the implementation of said plans.”
“The problems are thus,” Woodrow continued, “Though Braneegan’s employees leave work come evening, Braneegan himself lives there, at the dump. He has a small shack that serves as his home. The whole lot is surrounded by a high chain link fence with big double sliding doors at the entrance that are shut and padlocked at night. There are big light poles in various places that keep the place well-lit until dawn. While he doesn’t have any kind of professional security system, he does have five gallanashes that he releases from their cages when day is done. They roam freely around the place until morning. Gods only know how he gets them back in their cages before he opens for business.”
“I doubt you gleaned all that in passing.” Bear said, "How did you know to look in that out-of-the-way place?"
“I used to know the place when it was Jake’s Car Dump. Jake Hauge was a real nice guy who used to let us roundicant kids hang around in the Labyrinth. In winter, you could escape from cold winds there; and in the heat of summer, it was cool.”
“What is this Labyrinth you keep mentioning?” Jon asked.
“It’s the actual dump, where the cars are stacked. It’s like a maze in there, easy to get lost if you don’t know the layout. That’s why we called it the Labyrinth. When Braneegan bought the place, however; he was less than tolerant of us. He put up the fence and the lights; then he brought in the gallanashes. Who’s gonna mess with five blood-thirsty gallanashes?”
“We are, apparently.” Corrina said, with a sour grimace.
“Yes, we are,” Jon said, “But first, lunch.”
        They were all tired and hungry from the walking.
Foods were brought forth from the kitchenette, and they all sat down and ate. Ravenous as they were, there was little talking at the table this time around, except to ask each other to pass this or that.

After lunch, they all got up and sat at a different table; a planning table. It had a black slate top, and Woodrow now used a piece of chalk to draw upon it a rough diagram of Braneegan’s Car Dump; as well as a map showing how to get there.
The diagram described a circular area, two thirds of which was taken up by the Labyrinth; drawn as a large grid of cluttered squares. In the space between the Labyrinth and the front gate doors, was a small square under which the legend “F.B.’s shack” was written. To the right were representations of machinery and various trucks and towing vehicles; to the left were representations of garage stalls, as well as the cages where the gallanashes were kept locked up during the day.
“Do you still have the keys to the wagon, Mike?” Jon asked.
“Give them to Woodrow. If the wagon has been taken into the Labyrinth by the time we get there, Woodrow knows the layout and can go in and get it.”
Mike took out his keys, and slid them to Woodrow.
"What if it's on top of a stack?" Mike asked.
"Then the jig is up." Woodrow said, "We go home."
“Okay,” Jon said, “First, I think we should send scouts over there to keep an eye on the place.” He looked around. “Kevin and Edward. You guys haven’t had the chance to get out today. What about it guys?”
“Sure!” said Edward.
“When do we start?” Kevin asked.
“Not now,” Jon said, “But soon. This febwith is going down tonight, after Braneegan has closed up and gone to bed.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like a piece of the action as well.” Mike said, “I don’t want anyone thinking they’re out there taking risks I wouldn’t take. So count me in.”
“Me too.” said Callie.
“Okay, you’re both in,” Jon said, “But I only want to send a small task force; maybe six or seven people. I intend to go, that’s one. Mike and Callie make three. Woodrow, of course. Rak, to pick the padlock and open the doors. Add our scouts, Kevin and Edward, and that’s seven. Now, what are our tasks, people?”
“The gallanashes have to be dealt with; as well as Braneegan himself.” Dom said, “If he wakes up during the operation, things could get hairy. Pardon the pun.”
“I think I know how we can deal with those gallanashes.” Spencer said, “Gallanashes love raw meat, right?”
“That’s right,” said Rak, “We can use meat to distract them.”
“Not just that. We can poison the meat.” Spencer said, “That way, they won’t be a problem.”
“I don’t know about that.” Callie said, “Poisoning them? Isn’t that a bit cruel?”
“They’d kill you if they had a chance.” Corrina said.
“Just how badly do you want your wagon back?” Woodrow asked Callie, “If you don’t have the stomach for what we might have to do to pull this off, then maybe we don’t do this. No skin off my nose.”
“We don’t have to poison them, you know,” Callie said, “If we can find a way to sedate them.”
“That’s a good idea,” Bear said, “And if we can sedate the gallanashes, we can sedate Braneegan as well.”
“Now that you mention it, there’s this stuff called Tullaxiffan,” Spencer said, “It’s pretty lethal straight up, but when diluted and used in small quantities, it can be used to sedate large animals or people without killing them. They wake up a few hours later feeling like crap, but no worse for wear.”
“Do you know where you can get a bottle?” Jon asked, “And can you get it by tonight?”
“Yes and yes.” Spencer said, “But we’ll also need hypodermic needle syringes. You know---like what they use to give you a shot or draw blood? Also some raw meat the gallanashes will eat that we can spike.”
“What are the needles for?” Kevin asked.
“To take out Braneegan.” Spencer replied, “But also for the gallanashes. Some might get less of the spiked meat than others. Someone has to make sure they all stay down.”  
“I’ll provide you with baffin from the Wosh after the meeting.” Jon said to Spencer, “You get the Taxamuffin stuff, I’ll send someone over to the MetroMart butcher to get the meat, and someone to get the syringes at the pharmacy. Any other ideas?”
“We’ll have to deliver the meat while we’re still outside.” Bear said.
“We just toss over the fence,” Rak said, “In plastic bags. When the gallanashes smell the meat, they’ll just tear through the bags to get to it.”
“The fence is pretty high, and just throwing the bags is a little too random for my comfort,” Woodrow said, “What if we lower the meat down somehow?”
        “Rak’s fishing pole.” Bear said, “Remember when Rak got a little wacky with the shoplifting and pounded a fishing pole for no apparent reason?”
        “There was a reason!” Rak said, affronted; then smiled sheepishly, “Nah, there was no reason. I did go goofy there, for awhile. Remember the kitty cookie jar?”
        “You mean the one Kitty busted?” Edward asked.
        “You could never prove that, could ya?” Kitty said, smugly.
        “Guess the place wasn’t big enough for two kitties.” Dom said with a snort of laughter.
“ANYWAY,” Bear said, bringing them back to the discussion at hand, “We can use Rak’s fishing pole to lower the meat to the other side of the fence.” She pointed to an empty spot on Woodrow’s diagram, between the gallanash cages, and the nearby perimeter of the Labyrinth. “There.”
“Alright,” Dom said, “Let’s break this down. Who does what and when.”
“Simple.” Jon said, “Kevin and Edward leave around three or four to keep an eye on Braneegan’s place. Come nightfall, Mike, Callie, Woodrow, Rak, and I head off to the car dump with the stuff. When we get there, Callie, Kevin, and Edward go to that spot Bear just pointed out, with the bags of meat and Rak’s fishing pole. The rest of us will head down to the front gate, so Rak can start working on the lock. The gallanash team will feed the gallanashes. When the big cats go down, the gallanash team will head to the front gate to inform the rest of us. The padlock will have been picked by then, and we’ll open the front gate and go in. Except Rak, who will close the gates behind us and remain stationed there until our return. Gallanash team then goes make sure the kitties stay down, by giving them all an extra shot of sleepytime, while Woodrow goes off to get the wagon, and Mike and I go into Braneegan’s shack, with a syringe each of the Taxalax, or whatever it’s called.”
“Why do you need two people for that?” Callie asked.
“Because if Braneegan wakes up,” Jon said, “It may fall on one of us to be the distraction, while the other guy sneaks up behind him to give him the jab of sedative.”
“Oh,” said Callie, “Sounds like fun.”
“After that, Woodrow gets the wagon, should it be there, and drives it up to the front. Everyone gets in. Rak opens the gate and lets us through; closes the gate, re-locks it, and gets in the wagon. Then we drive back home in style. Any questions?”
Heads shook; no one had any.
“Okay then,” Jon said, “Let’s get it done.” 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chapter 15

Walking, Talking, Stalking

Elsewhere at the table, Edward, Rak, and Wes were laughing over something. Kevin (who had finished his breakfast before anyone else) laid his head down and fell asleep. Woodrow talked to Dom across the table. Jon listened to something Bear was saying, ignoring Corrina, who was trying to get his attention while ignoring Kitty’s attempt to talk to her.
Mike posed a question to the person at his left, Spencer: “So, how did Jon, Bear, and Dom get to be the leaders of this group?”
“They were the first. Jon befriended Bear, and they in turn befriended Dom. The three of them decided to find a safe warm place for themselves in that long cold winter of two years ago.”
“This place?” Mike asked.
“Nah man, there were several places before this one; most of them very temporary. The first place was a recently closed bookstore. The Boxwood Bookstore, it was called. Around that time, me and Rak joined up with them. We called ourselves the Dreads. Then later, we kinda melded with this other invidium that was falling apart: the Nogoodniks. Dinkish name for an invidium, innit? Peggy, Wes, Kevin, Kitty, and Corrina came over from that group. The ex-leader of that group went on to form the Skegs, but that’s a long story for another time. Anyway, a year later, Woodrow joined up with us, and a few weeks after that, we found Edward.”
Found him?”
“Yeah, he and his mother were living in their car. Couple of jackers tried to take the car; Edward’s mother wouldn’t cooperate, and got stabbed. They dumped Edward and his mother’s body out into the cold, and took off.”
“Damn.” Mike said.
“We found him and brought him here.” Spencer said, “Kid didn’t talk for a week. Can you blame him?”

At last, when all had finished eating, Jon called for silence. He stood up and addressed the group.
“Now that you have all met our new friends, Mike and Callie, they---Dammit! Would somebody wake Kevin up?!”
There was some laughter as Wes gave Kevin a rough shake to wake him. Kevin blinked and looked around, bewildered.
“What?!” he said.
Rak and Edward went into a fit of giggles.
Jon rolled his eyes heaven-ward, and continued, “Okay. Where was I? Oh yeah. Mike and Callie here have a problem. They had their wheels pounded at the CityScape Mall. Now, if their wagon hasn’t been scragged yet, it could still be here in Metromax somewhere. What I want us to do is to spread out and see if we can’t find it.”
“It’s a green Farrider station wagon.” Mike said, “A beat up old thing. New Heedol plates: BLS-44T.”
“If you happen to see it,” Jon continued, “Come back and tell us, so we can make whatever plans we need to get it back. Check out all the usual places and people that deal in this sort of thing.”
“It would probably be easier to pound them a new set of wheels.” Woodrow said.
“It’s not just about the wagon,” Mike said, “It’s all the stuff IN the wagon. OUR stuff. Our personal possessions.”
“All that stuff is long gone by now.” Woodrow replied.
“Either way,” said Callie, “We want OUR wagon back.”
“A waste of OUR time, if you ask me.” Woodrow persisted.
“Well, no one asked you.” Bear said, “Just do what you’re told and shut the hell up.”
Woodrow shrugged and fanned his hands out in a conciliatory gesture.
Jon continued: “Now Mike and Callie are new to the city and to our ways, so we’ll have to pair them off with someone. Callie can come with me.” he said, looking down the table at her, “If she wants to, that is.”
Callie nodded. “Sure.”
The scowl on Corrina’s face deepened.
“I’ll take Mike!” Peggy called out.
“Alright, we meet again at noon. Let’s go!”

It was Kevin and Edward’s turn that day, to stay behind and clean up the mess. Everyone else paired off and scattered: Jon and Callie, Mike and Peggy, Bear and Dom, Kitty and Corrina, Spencer and Wes. The two loners of the group, Woodrow and Rak, paired off only to split up a few blocks away from the Wherehouse.

“I fear our presence here is causing some tension in the group.” Mike said later, as he and Peggy walked through a more placid area of the city.
 They were on their way to a pawn shop belonging to a man Peggy was vaguely related to; someone who knew people in “the business”.
“What tension are you talking about?” Peggy asked.
“The exchange between Woodrow and Bear, for instance,” Mike said, “Or Callie’s run-in with Corrina and Kitty. It’s clear not everyone is happy with us being here.”
“Well, you can’t expect a uniform response from a group as big as ours.” Peggy replied, “There’s always gonna be naysayers in any situation. That’s why invidiums have palabrins; to end debate and make a decision. Otherwise, people argue forever and nothing gets done. As for Woodrow, he’s just blunt. As is Bear. It should not surprise you that they get along well with each other despite many such exchanges.”
“You know, the first time I saw Bear…” Mike started to say.
“You thought she was the leader, right?” Peggy asked.
“Yeah,” Mike answered, “She so looks like a natural leader. How is it that she’s not running the place?”
“Funny you should say that,” Peggy said, “In the beginning, Jon and Dom wanted her to be the palabrin, but she didn’t like the idea of having the yoke of responsibility fall wholly on her. So they decided to share the leadership position between the three of them, with Jon as the figurehead.”
Peggy stopped. “Look, there’s the place.”
She pointed to a squat grimy building with the word PAWN written in bold red letters on its front window, which peeked out from behind iron security bars. Mike and Peggy walked over to it, and entered.

They exited empty-handed not five minutes later. Peggy’s contact was no help at all.
“Don’t worry, Mike. I know a couple of other places we can check out.” Peggy said, as they stood outside the pawn shop.
Mike nodded. “Hold on, I want to try something.” he said.
He pointed to a public phone outside a store across the street; a heavy phonebook hung from a cord beneath.
“Sure, let’s give it a shot.” Peggy said.
They crossed the street. Mike picked up the phonebook and held it, while Peggy turned the pages. She found the L’s, and thumbed her way down the columns.
“Bingo! There are six Longstreets in Metromax City.” she said. She ripped out the whole page.
Mike released the phonebook, and looked. “She would be listed under Elizabeth.” he said.
“There’s one E. Longstreet, and one Liza Longstreet.” Peggy said.
“That could be it.”
“Wait a minute! Why would she still be living under the name Longstreet?” Peggy asked, “She’s been apart from her husband---how many years now?”
“Eleven. Damn, you’re right.”
“So what’s her maiden name?”
Mike furrowed his brow. “Her maiden name was…uhh…Shale!” he snapped his fingers, “Look under Shale!”
He picked up the book again, and Peggy looked up Shale.
“There are twenty Shales here,” she said, and tore off that page as well.
Mike dropped the book and looked at the page. “If we discount the ones with men’s names before them, we’re down to a dozen possibilities.”
“What if she re-married?”
“If she did, that’s it.” Mike said, “There’d be no way for us to know.”
“There might be one.” Peggy said, “Rynza Adreynac, the psychic. She’s a friend of ours, and she’s the real thing.”
“Well if these don’t pan out, we’ll have to give her a try.”
Mike took the two phonebook pages, folded them, and put them in his pocket. He and Peggy returned to the task at hand.

After two dead-ends, Jon and Callie were on their way to a third possibility. They engaged in small talk, for the most part, but at some point they both realized that they were holding hands; had been for some time. When this had started, they didn’t know; but it had happened unconsciously. Both hands were at home in the other’s grasp, and now that they knew, they were in no hurry to release.

A short distance behind, Corrina and Kitty followed, and watched. (Well, Corrina watched; Kitty just tagged along). When Jon and Callie started holding hands, the scowl in Corrina’s face cleaved even deeper, and threatened to split her forehead in twain.
As far as Corrina was concerned, Jon belonged to her. True, he didn’t have any feelings for her, but she was sure he could come to love her, given time. But this Callie shank was a distraction, and while Jon was distracted with her, Corrina feared she would lose the fruits of her long labor to get Jon to see her as indispensible, and always there for him. She could not allow this to happen!
I have to get rid of her, Corrina thought to herself, I have to get her out of my way! I can’t depend on their wagon being found, Jon might ask them to stay! One way or another, she has to go!

Before too long, a way of doing this would fall into her hands; and the results would be terrible indeed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chapter 14

The Dreadniks

Thursday morning.
“Wake up!” a voice called.
Mike and Callie awoke to find Rak standing in the doorway of their room. The windows in the building must have been uncovered, because gray morning light filtered in from the hall beyond.
“Time to get up.” Rak said.
“What time is it?” Callie mumbled.
“I don’t carry a watch; don’t believe in ‘em. We’ll be having breakfast soon, but Jon wants you to meet the rest of the gang first. We already told them all about you.”
“Everyone’s up but us?” Mike asked.
“Uh huh.”
Mike and Callie got up, and followed Rak out of the room. In the hall, they could hear voices coming from downstairs.
Rak led them to a restroom. There were two dozen plastic gallon jugs on the floor inside; most of which were filled with water.
“The water’s clean.” Rak said. He picked up one of the full jugs, “We buy them at a nearby store.”
He plugged two of the sinks, then poured the whole contents of the jug into both; a half gallon for each.
“You can wash up here,” he said, “And dry up with those.”
He pointed to a roll of paper towels on top of a hand dryer.
“The hand dryer doesn’t work, of course. Here.”
He produced a small, sample size, bottle of mouthwash from his pocket, and handed it to Mike.
“You’ll have to share that. See you downstairs!”
He made to leave, but Mike tugged his shirt.
“What about the toilets?” he asked, a little embarrassed.
“You need to go now?”
“No, not right now.” Mike said, “But…eventually.”
“Well, the toilets don’t work. If you have to go, there’s a small wooded area behind the building. Or, if you can hold it, you could walk over to the MetroMart. They have restrooms.”
“What do you do if you have to go at night?” Callie asked.
“You go up to the roof and drop it off the side.”
“Kidding!” Rak laughed, “Look, just tidy yourselves up a bit, then come downstairs. All questions will be answered later.”
Rak exited the bathroom.
“Well, let’s not keep them waiting.” Mike said.
They washed and dried their faces, then rinsed with the mouthwash Rak had given them.
“I wish I had a comb.” Mike said. An unruly cowlick at the top of his head resisted all attempts at control.
“It ain’t like you’re pretty anyway!” Callie chuckled, pulling him away from the mirror, and out of the bathroom.
        They walked down the hall, to the top of the stairs; and descended.

        Morning light streamed in through the uncovered windows, and gave the ground floor a sense of hard-edged reality it had not had the night before. They were all there, the Dreadniks, twelve in all. They lounged around on tables and chairs in small groups of two and three.
        “Here they are.” Rak said.
Heads turned and voices stopped talking, upon Mike and Callie’s arrival before them. The room fell silent.
        “I trust you two slept well?” Jon asked, and stood up.
        Callie nodded. “Uh huh.” she said.
        “I want you to meet the rest of the Dreadniks.” Jon said. He moved amongst the groups to introduce them.
        Jon tapped one of the boys on the shoulder. “This is Woodrow.”
        Woodrow was short, dark haired, and had knitted brows just made to express irritation. He gave them a disinterested wave.
        Jon tagged another; a brown-haired boy of about Rak’s age.
        “This is Edward. He was the last of us to join up. He’s been with us now about…four months is it, Ed?”
        Edward nodded shyly, but said nothing.
        Next, Jon pointed out a bubbly-looking girl with long blond hair. She looked to be about fourteen. She didn’t wait for Jon’s introduction. “I’m Katherine Cosciddy!” she said, with gum smacking charm, “But everyone calls me ‘Kitty’!”
        This prompted some nervous giggles to break out.
        “This is Corrina.” Jon continued.
        Corrina had short black hair, parted in the middle, and a pretty face marred by a deep scowl. “Hi.” she said, without much conviction.
        Kitty whispered something in Corrina’s ear, and both broke out in the kind of cruel laughter only young girls can emit.
        The last remaining girl was introduced as Peggy. She looked older than the two previous girls, about fifteen. Like Kitty, she had blonde hair, but hers was pulled back and ponytailed. She had freckles across the top of her nose, and a face that was plain, yet striking.
        “Hi there,” she said, and gave Mike a wink.
        “This is Spencer,” Jon went on, “Our resident smartypants.”
        Spencer was a lanky kid with wild red hair and slouching shoulders; a smattering of tiny red pimples fanned across his forehead.
        “Welcome to the freak show.” he said.
        “Last, and certainly least, this is Kevin.” Jon said.
        Kevin was the only other blonde male in the group, aside from Rak, and was possessed of a sleepy-looking countenance. He gave Mike and Callie a silent nod.
        “Now that we all know each other,” Jon said, “I think it’s time for breakfast.”
        “Finally,” Bear said, getting up, “I thought I was going to have to start gnawing on my leg.”
        “There’s enough meat there for all of us, if you’d share.” Dom said with a grin.
        “Remember I can break you like a twig, Hansen.”
        “Promises, promises.” Dom replied.
        Bear cracked an amused smile, as she and the others headed towards a single large table with chairs all around it. The table had been prepared with paper plates, juices, and various breakfast choices.
        Peggy grabbed Mike by the arm, and steered him to a chair near the end of the table.
“You like pancakes?” she asked.
“Sure.” Mike said.
She pointed to a thinning stack of them on a plate in the center of the table. Mike was closer to it.
“Get some before it runs out!” she said, “Around here you either grab or go without. Get some for me too, would’ya?”
She grabbed two paper plates and handed them both to Mike, who had to stand to reach the flapjacks. He speared four with a plastic fork he found lying unused on the table, and brought the pancakes back to the space between he and Peggy. Peggy grabbed two juice boxes, and handed one to Mike. “I figured you for a Jandra person, like myself.” she said.
“You figured right.” Mike replied.
Meanwhile, Jon escorted Callie to the chair beside his, at the head of the table. He snatched some pancakes for her as well.
“To drink?” he asked.
“I’ll just get me one of those chocolate milk thingies there.” Calle said, “What about you? What are you gonna eat?”
“I’m getting something from the kitchenette. I’ll be right back.” Jon said, and sprinted over to a little room by the stairs.
Corrina showed up beside Calle; a plate of eggs in her hand.
“I believe that’s MY seat.” she said.
“Oh, sorry! Jon just sat me here and---“ Callie started.
Oh, sorry! Jon just sat me here!” Corrina repeated in a prissy voice, while contorting her face.
Someone giggled. It was Kitty, who sat at Callie’s left. Callie turned to her and Kitty gave her an innocent “who, me?” look.
“Hey, subzat, I said that was my chair!” Corrina said, “I sit there all the time. Don’t I, Kitty?”
“All the damn time.” Kitty replied.
“Sorry, then.” Callie said, and got up.
“Well, now you know better, don’t you?” Corrina said.
Kitty brayed laughter.
Callie walked over to a seat at the end of the table. Mike and Peggy were there, eating their pancakes. They had not failed to see the exchange between her and Corrina.
“You okay, Cal?” Mike asked.
“Sure. I just wasn’t aware there was assigned seating.”
“Oh don’t bother about Corrina, or anything she says,” Peggy said in a half-whisper to Callie, “She’s a shank and everyone knows it. No one really likes her, except Kitty.”
“So what’s her damage?”
“Tell’ya later…” Peggy whispered, “Here comes Jon. Look.”
Jon returned from the kitchenette, and was surprised to find Callie at the end of the table. He walked over to her.
“What happened? Why did you sit all the way over here?”
“Oh, umm, there was a…misunderstanding…” Callie said, with vague gestures. She did not want to say anything that would get Corrina in trouble with Jon. The last thing she wanted to do was make enemies on her first day here.
“Oh.” Jon said. He nodded as if he understood, though the embarrassed look on his face suggested to Callie that he had understood wrong.
As he walked back to the head of the table, Callie put her head in her hands. “Oh booger,” she said, “I think I screwed that up.”
“You shoulda told him.” Peggy said, “I woulda like to have seen Corrina squirm.”
“She did the right thing.” Mike said, “We’re guests here. You don’t make trouble when you’re staying under someone else’s roof.”
“I doubt that makes her feel any better.” Peggy said.
Callie looked up to see Jon sit down at the head of the table and start eating breakfast. From her place beside him, Corrina glanced at him lovingly.
“See that?” Peggy whispered to Callie.
“Yes.” Callie whispered back.
“Now you know what all that was about, don’t you?”
Callie nodded. “Does he know?” she asked.
“Can’t tell.” Peggy replied.
“Has she made a move?”
“No, she hasn’t. I think she fears he’ll reject her, so she avoids the destruction of her romantic fantasies by not making her feelings for him known; though it’s obvious to everyone.”
Would he reject her?”
“Oh yes. Without a doubt.” Peggy said, “She’s not his type.”
“What is his type?”
“You, silly.” Peggy smiled knowingly.
Callie considered the implications.
There may be trouble here, she thought.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chapter 13

The Note

“Can I ask a question?” Callie asked Jon.
Already the two were quite bold with their mutual glances. The others in the room were beginning to notice.
“How many Dreadniks are there? I see only five here.”
“There are twelve of us, in all. Most are upstairs, asleep.”
“There are offices upstairs,” Dom explained, “Which we use as private rooms. Everyone gets a room to sleep in. If you don’t want to be alone, you can double up.”
“Why doesn’t anyone sleep down here?” Mike asked.
“Anyone can, who wants to, but this area is always kept lit during the night, for safety.” Bear said, “Every night, two are chosen for night watch duty. They stay down here and keep an eye out for the rest of us.”
“Like tonight, it’s me and Jon.” said Wes, “Tomorrow night it’s Kitty and Corrina. We rotate.”
“Which is why I’ll stay down here, while Bear and Dom show you up.” Jon said, “Sleep well, tonight. Tomorrow you’ll meet the rest of the gang.”
Mike and Callie followed Bear and Dom up the stairs, to the second floor. Rak started to follow behind them, but Jon tapped him on the shoulder and motioned him to step back for a word. He did.
“You know the Holdfast, Rak.” Jon said, “Why do you insist on breaking it?”
“I’m a pounder, Jon. That’s what I do. Don’t I always bring home plenty of baffin for the Wosh? Look.”
Rak untucked his shirt, which caused four fat wallets to fall out from under it. They plopped to the ground around him like dead fish. He picked them up and handed them to Jon.
“I woulda had more, but I ran into Mike and Callie. I almost lost these when the mall officer grabbed me by the collar. It’s lucky my shirt didn’t untuck, and that the officers didn’t search me.”
“You’re an excellent pounder, Rak; but you know that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s about you going out alone.”
“Woodrow’s out alone.”
“Woodrow’s not pounding, I sent him to Rynza’s. Besides, he’s fifteen; you’re not. The Holdfast forbids anyone under fifteen to go out pounding without a partner; much less at night.”
“I work better alone.”
“You almost ended up in Ragginarck.”
“Ah Jon, you know no prison can hold me.”
“I’m not kidding, Rak. No more going out pounding alone, okay?”
“And certainly not at night!”
“Yes, mother.”
“The Holdfast isn’t there to make things difficult, Rak. It’s the rules we live by, that keep us safe from the photes of the world. Get it?”
“So, what do you think of Mike and Callie?” 
Upon mention of her name, memory of Callie’s green eyes returned to Jon. How they mesmerized him! But…she was too young. At sixteen, he wasn’t exactly an adult, but he had what felt like adult responsibilities. He had his Dreadniks to look after and lead. For now, anyway.
Still, she lingered in his mind…
“Well?” Rak asked, shaking Jon from his thoughts.
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. You done good there, Rak. You done good.”

Up on the second floor with Bear, Dom, and Callie; Mike asked a question: “So, what’s up on the third floor?”
“More office space, but we don’t use it much.” Bear said, “Nobody sleeps there. It's a good place to go if you want to be alone for awhile.”
The second floor had a few lanterns, but just enough so one could see where one was going. Bear led them past offices with glass windows. Through these, they could see figures asleep on blankets or sleeping bags, on the floor. One of them slept on an old mattress, another was lucky enough to have a cot. Most had a whole room to themselves, and slept alone. One office had two sleepers in it. The offices were sparse and unfurnished, but each owner had personalized their room with their belongings.
“Here’s my stop.” said Dom, upon reaching his room, “Good night, and see you tomorrow.”
“Good night.” said Callie.
“Don’t let the rabid rats bite.” Bear added.
“Damn you, woman, don’t say that!” Dom said, as he entered his room and shut the door.
Bear led Mike and Callie further, to two thin metal doors. She opened the doors, reached into the darkness, and brought out a battery-powered lantern. She flicked it on, and walked inside.
It was a storage room. Some of its shelves held canned and boxed foods, as well as plastic bottles of sodas and juices.
“Did you guys steal all this food?” Callie asked.
“Some, yes. Some were paid for with baffin from the Wosh.”
“I’m afraid you lost me there.” Mike said.
“Oh. Sorry.” Bear said, “The Wosh is our group money pot. Our pounders keep us well-funded.”
“Pounders like Rak.”
“Yes. He’s a good one, a very good one; but not the only one.”
“So is there a lot in the Wosh?” Mike asked.
“Yes, but we don’t splurge. We use it to buy food and necessary items. Every Dreadnik earns their keep, one way or another.”
“There isn’t any electricity in this area, so how do you guys cook the food?” Callie asked.
“One of our guys, Spencer, is really good with electronics and such. He built this generator contraption out of crap from the junkyard. We can run a few things off it; though not all at the same time.”
Bear walked to where the shelves held blankets and pillows. She took out two blankets, and handed them to Mike. She then took out two pillows, and handed them to Callie. She gestured that they exit the storage room.
As they did so, they saw Rak pass by on his way to his room.
“Hey, Rak,” Mike said, “I just wanted to thank you for helping me and Callie out.”
“Yeah, thanks for getting us in.” Callie added.
Behind them, Bear turned off the lantern, and closed the double doors.
“Oh, you’re welcome.” Rak said, “Least I could do, right? Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow then, with the rest of the gang. I think they’ll like you. Well, most of them, anyway. Good night.”
He turned and walked to his room.
Bear rejoined Mike and Callie. “Are you guys gonna want a single room, or two separate rooms?”
“I don’t want to be alone in one of those.” Callie said.
“We’ll take a single, then.” Mike said.
“Okay, follow me.”
She led them to an office at the end of the hall.
“It’s all yours.” she said, as she opened the door for them, “Here take this.” she handed Mike the lantern she had taken from the storage room.
Mike and Callie entered their room; Bear closed the door behind them. They could see her silhouette through the window, as she departed.
Mike gave Callie a blanket, and Callie gave him a pillow. They made their beds on opposite sides of the room, and crawled under covers. Mike shut off the lantern, and the room fell dark.
“Do you think they can really help us find the wagon, Mike?” Callie asked.
“Don’t know.”
“If they can’t, maybe---and this is just a thought---maybe this will do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, maybe we could stay here…with the Dreadniks.”
“With Jon, you mean?”
Callie was suddenly aware that Mike was chuckling.
“How quickly you desert Mom!” he said, his voice merry, “Ready to toss her aside for a boy you just met and don’t even know. Tsk tsk!”
“Oh, shut up!” she said, crossly, “Jackass!”
Mike laughed, but brought his jocularity under control.
“I’m sorry, Cal. Just poking fun. I know what you’re saying. I can’t say that thought didn’t pass through my mind as well; but would you really want to live this way? A life led stealing; prey to the constant danger of capture?”
“Compare that to what might happen if we never find Mom and our money runs out. At least here, we wouldn’t be alone.”
“Maybe you’re right, but we don’t have to make that decision right now. Let’s see what happenes with the wagon first, okay?”
“Now let’s try to get some shut-eye. Tomorrow only knows what tomorrow has in store.”

Downstairs, Jon and Wes played cards at one of the tables. A series of rhythmic knocks came from the other side of the door.
“That’s Woodrow,” said Jon, “Open up for him.”
Wes got up, walked to the door, and pulled aside the black cloth. He opened the door and blinked out at the night.
“That you, Wood-man?” he asked the figure before him.
“Open the shigging door!” the figure said.
“Yep, that’s you.”
Woodrow stomped inside. He was the same age as Wes, but shorter in size and temper.
As Wes locked the door and reset the drop cloth, Woodrow walked on over to where Jon was, and sat down opposite him.
“So how did it go?” Jon asked, “Did Rynza have anything for us?”
“Just one thing.” Woodrow said, and produced a folded paper from his pocket. He held it over the table. It was light blue; Jon recognized it as Rynza’s stationery. He took the note from Woodrow, but didn’t open it.
“Rynza said you should take heed of this note for the safety of the Dreadniks.” Woodrow said.
“I’ll give it a look.” Jon said, “Have you read it?”
“No.” Woodrow answered, “She said not to, and I take seriously the directions of a woman who can speak with the dead. My guess is that you should too. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”
“Go ahead.”
Woodrow got up and walked to the staircase. As he ascended the stairs, Wes came over, sat down, and picked up the cards.
“Another game?” he asked.
“In a minute.” Jon said.
He got up and walked to the foot of the stairs, to read Rynza’s note in private. He sat down on the bottom steps and unfolded the paper. It’s letterhead read:
The message itself, was short:
They bring trouble with them. DON’T let them stay!
Jon stared at the message long and hard; reread it twice.
He thought of Callie and her hypnotic green eyes.
Of what could not be, between them.
Yet, even so.
He crumpled up the paper and threw it at a corner piled with trash.
Where it would be found…later.

In the bosom of the Wherehouse, Mike and Callie slept; unaware of just how much damage their presence would wreak upon the Dreadniks.
Damage, and death.