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.”
“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.