Jon remained silent throughout Bear’s telling of the events that had transpired during his absence. Bear could see that he took hard the deaths of Corrina and Kitty, as well as Rak’s misfortune. Had Corrina succeeded in killing Callie, it would have broken him.
“This is all my doing,” he muttered, “All of this.”
Bear and the others tried to talk Jon out of this notion, but he wasn’t in any mood to listen. When at last they arrived at the Caprice Motel, they all clambered out of the Longstreet’s station wagon, and helped Rynza to her wheelchair. Carissa and Rak were waiting for them at the room.
This was Jon, Dom, Wes, and Peggy’s first glimpse of Rak in his current state.
“I’m sorry I let you down, Jon.” Rak said, his voice tightened by pain, “You were right all along; about the Holdfast, about me going off by myself…I should have listened to you.”
“Just hang in there, buddy,” Jon said, patting him softly on the shoulder, “Don’t worry about any of that right now.”
Jon turned to Bear and Rynza. “How do we help him?”
“Rynza thinks this Rufus Kantry guy is the answer.” Bear said.
“If anyone can help Rak, it’s him.” Rynza said.
“Then we have to get Rak to him as soon as possible.” Jon said, “Bear, get Dom over here. The four of us need to have a talk; and you’re not gonna like what I have to say.”
A short time later, there came a sharp rap on the door. The door was unlocked and opened, and Spencer and Woodrow stepped in.
“What the hell happened to you two?” Bear asked.
“We got lost,” Woodrow said, “But it wasn’t our fault.”
“My friend gave then the wrong directions by accident.” Siana said. She stood at the threshold of the door, but did not come in. “I have to go now.” she said.
“For what it’s worth, thank you for your help.” Jon said.
“I was just helping myself.” Siana said, “Our aims happened to coincide. And for what it’s worth, take my advice. Once I’m in as Crellat: do not cross my path.”
With that, she turned and left.
“Boy, that’s a scary broad.” Dom said.
“I wouldn’t worry about her.” said Bear.
“Why?” Jon asked, “What do you know?”
Bear motioned to Rynza. “Tell him.” she said.
“Let’s just say,” Rynza said, “That woman will never be Crellat.”
It was time for a meeting.
The eleven people crowded in the room quieted down and gave Jon the floor.
“Bad news first. This will be the last time I preside over you as palabrin.” Jon said.
Like before, there was open dismay amongst the Dreadniks; but now there was an air of resignation to it.
Jon went on. “Nothing has changed in my decision to hand over the reins of this group to Bear and Dom. If anything, recent events have solidified my resolve. And certainly Bear has proven herself more than capable of running the show.”
There was a smattering of hoots and handclaps for Bear.
“Anyway,” Jon continued, “As you have probably guessed, I still intend to go after Callie and Mike. I have their station wagon, and I intend to get it back to them. But before then, we have another matter to deal with: getting Rak to Rufus Kantry. Rynza has volunteered to lead a small group into the Rough Country to find him.”
“If anyone has half a chance of locating Kantry in the heart of the Rough Country, it’s me.” Rynza said.
“Are you sure you wanna do that, Rynza?” Peggy asked, “Shouldn’t you discuss this with Carissa first?”
“Rissa goes where I go; she’ll tell you that herself.”
“In what?” asked Wes, “If Jon is taking the station wagon, what are you guys going in?”
“I’ve already called my friend Clyde,” Rynza said, “He agreed to loan us his pick-up. Dom has already volunteered to drive, as neither Rissa nor I can. Well, I used to, before the accident…” she pointed to her useless legs, “But not anymore.”
“You’re gonna have to lay up somewhere along the way, you know,” Jon said, “There’s no crossing the Rough Country come nightfall; and you will not get there before then.”
“I know,” Rynza said, “I just hope Rak can hold out.”
“And the rest of us?” Peggy asked, “What do we do?”
“We go on, like always.” Bear replied, “Tomorrow we start looking for a new place.”
About twenty minutes after Rynza called him, Clyde Diggins sent one of his people down with the pick-up, and another in a car, to pick up the first one and drive him back.
“Good luck.” Jon said to Rynza, once she, Carissa, Dom, and Rak were in the pick-up, ready to go, “Any last words of advice for me?”
“I’d advise you not to go, if I thought you’d listen.” Rynza said, “So I’ll give you this advice instead: take care of yourself. Mike and Callie walk upon some very dark roads. I’m not sure anyone is meant to walk with them. Watch yourself.”
“I will.” Jon said, and waved them off. The pick-up rolled out of the motel parking lot, and went out into the world.
When they were gone, Jon turned to Bear.
“If we never see each other again, Bear” he said, “I want you to know that you’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had. You were there before anyone else. I wouldn’t have survived without you.”
“Likewise.” Bear said.
The two hugged for a long time.
“The Dreadniks are now in your hands, palabrin” Jon said, “Take good care of them.”
“I will, Jon.” Bear said, “You know you can trust me. Go on and find your girl. We’ll be alright.”
Jon gave each of them a final hug. When he hugged Peggy, she whispered in his ear: “Tell Mike I’m sorry I couldn’t come with him. This is the only family I have, and I just can’t leave. Okay?”
“I’ll tell him.” Jon said.
“Oh, and give him this for me.” she said, and gave Jon a soulful kiss.
“I’ll tell him you said hi.” Jon said, when he regained composure.
That was that. Jon got into the Longstreet’s station wagon, waved his friends goodbye, and drove away.
The remaining Dreadniks filed back into the motel room, only Bear remained outside.
“It’s been a long day.” she said, and sighed.
As for Siana Nandehl, she got what she wanted. Mallacharr was indeed fired by the Vignach, who needed a scapegoat to absorb the scandal after the Judicial Complex incident.
That Monday, after the week-end, Siana Nandehl was called to the Vignach’s office to be officially promoted to the position of Crellat.
Unbeknownst to her, the disgraced ex-Crellat, George Mallacharr, entered the office behind her; loaded gun in hand. The Vignach looked up at her, then at him. His brow furrowed and Siana turned around, to see who Freath was looking at behind her.
She had one blessed second to realize how all her machinations had come to naught; then Mallacharr blew her head off.
Blood and brain matter splattered all over the Vignach and his office, and Freath managed to take his final stammering breath, before Mallacharr took his head off as well.
Mallacharr saved the last bullet for himself.
As for Siana’s friend, Herb; he had to make do without the cushy job Siana had promised him, but he had no reason to complain.
In the chaos and confusion caused by the sudden vacuum of power at the top, and the bitter internal power struggles that came after; the investigation into the Judicial Complex affair ended up being heroically inept.
Herbert Macwadden, and the nameless others who had helped Siana pull strings at Judicial were questioned, but none were ever implicated in anything.
Early Saturday morning.
As Dom, Rynza, Carissa, and Rak met with Rufus Kantry in the heart of the Rough Country; Charles Longstreet, back in a motel room in Metromax City, came to wakefulness in slow waves.
For a time, he did not know who he was or where he was; nor did he care to know. Recollection eventually returned unbidden, but he was still confused. What time was it? How did he end up on the floor? Why did his face hurt?
He looked down the length of his body, and saw the empty hypodermic sticking up out of his side.
Now he remembered.
Just how Rak had broken the chains of Malevolencia, he could not fathom. From his own experience, once it was in you, it rolled over you like a tidal wave. Resistance was unthinkable. Sooner would a flea think to resist the will of the gods.
And yet, somehow, Rak had done it.
Longstreet removed the needle; it slid out quite easy. A thin streamer of black blood followed the tip out like a strand of dark hair.
He got up. There was a moment of dizziness and nausea, but it soon passed. That hung-over feeling, however; did not.
He went to the bathroom and washed his face with cold water. He looked at his reflection in the grubby, but intact, mirror. The kid had worked his face over pretty good.
He went ahead and took his long-awaited shower.
Once out, he packed his things quickly. Mike and Callie were headed toward Cathim, and they had a helluva good head-start.
Luckily, Rak had not taken the car, and by nine-thirty am, Charles Longstreet was ready to go.
The room across his, on the other side of the pool, was already empty. Its temporary occupants had left early.
Had he known of their presence, the enormity of the coincidence might have given him pause. Perhaps a hand greater than Sinestri’s had it’s fingers in this affair, he might have thought; perhaps deeper issues were at stake, than anyone suspected.