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Book 2 – Chapter 2 – This Con Ain’t Big Enough For All Of Us – Part 4

On the television, Rutger Hauer released his dove and died while Trisha began to snore. Her leg slid against Ted but he wouldn’t touch her, even when he blinked longingly at the back of her head.

I wasn’t ready to go, so I left for the bathroom to brush my hair and check my eyes for crusties. One corner of the sink remained for my toiletries and I didn’t know where Steve and Meg would put theirs. Changing clothes, my white skin-tight top fit great, exposing my shoulders to give me a working girl edge; hopefully Tigerlilac would take me seriously.

My cell phone with Professor Lanyi’s number on speed dial was perched on top of my purse. Back in the room, Ted flipped through a take-out menu, bored and losing himself in this own thoughts. “Wish me luck,” I said, “I’m heading for the con suite.”

He examined me quickly but I think I was too pretty for him to deal with. “Right,” he said, “Good luck.”

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been out of the college – the dread of being late to an important class lingered, even when I was trying to recover what’s rightfully mine. The trick was to keep moving in the hall, checking for that one room hiding the person or party who I imagined would change my life. Everyone has that hope at conventions.

Flyers were tacked around the elevator advertising the con suite on the eighth floor. Someone had hit the “up” button before I came in, and the elevator still hadn’t arrived. I followed their example and hit the stairs.

Every floor in the hotel had the same bare wallpaper crying for small children armed with sharpie pens, so I had to trust the room numbers that I was on the right level. Signs directed me to a corner of the hotel, where the con suite’s door was locked with its hours printed in large text.

I rapped and placed my thumb over the peephole. A girl shouted back, “We aren’t open yet. Come back at eight.”

“I’m here to see someone,” I said.

The door cracked open. A girl leaned out with eyes so smooth, her cheekbones disappeared under them. Her saucy blonde hair was crimped to her shoulders. “Who are you looking for?” she said.

“Tigerlilac,” I said.

“Oh,” the girl said, “ Let me find her. I’m Brenda, by the way. Who should I say is asking?”

“Cheryl Montague,” I said, “Tell her I’ll be waiting out here.”

She shut me out, and I wasn’t sure if I should sit and prepare for a siege. I hunted for excuses in case Brenda returned with the inevitable announcement that Tigerlilac wasn’t in.

The door clicked and Tigerlilac stuck her head out with a smarmy grin on her lips. She had the same crew T-shirt and jeans as when I had first met her. Brenda hovered in her shadow, peeking around to see me. “Hey kiddo,” Tigerlilac said, “What’s shaking?”

I had to swallow before I ripped her a new one. “Where’s my tail?” I said, “I know you fixed it.”

Tigerlilac tapped the door handle, unimpressed. “Where’d you hear this?” she said.

“I am not kidding,” I said, “Professor Lanyi wants to know where it is and I have enough evidence that it was you. I haven’t told him yet, but I might.”

Tigerlilac backed away while holding the door wide. “All right, come in,” she said.

The kitchen counter and minibar were cluttered with Food Lion bags and plastic moving crates while potato chips and soda lined the edges of the living room. Several volunteers unpacked the food in a bucket brigade, passing cola cans to the open refrigerator. Tigerlilac dragged me through the chaos to an empty bedroom. Stacks of paper plates and cups covered the bed, which had been pressed against the window. She shut us inside. “What do you got?” she said.

I’m just as nervous when I lie or have a truth too heavy for me to defend. I licked the inside of my mouth. “Don’t bullshit me,” I said, “You rigged that door to smash my tail so you could take it. Your housemates saw you fix it. Kaylee and the bearded guy.”

“What’s the bearded guy’s name?” Tigerlilac said.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I’m sure Kaylee knows. Allyson wouldn’t like hearing about that either, with all the crap Lanyi was giving her when you stole it.”

“Allyson’s here,” Tigerlilac said, “She’s taping a documentary of the con. She’s seen me with the tail before.”

My threats were bound to crack, sooner or later, so I reached into my purse. “Then you won’t mind if I call Professor Lanyi and tell him to phone your house,” I said.

Tigerlilac gripped my arm and her doughy face contorted, ready to slap me. “All right,” she said, “But I don’t think you’ll get it back.”

“Why? Where is it?” I said.

Tigerlilac released me and circled the four dimples in the carpet where the bed had been. “If I tell you,” she said, “It’s between you and the person I gave it to. Okay? I have nothing more to do with it.”

“Uh uh,” I said, “You don’t walk away from this. You get me my tail or I will call him.”

“Then you better think about calling him,” she said, “I can’t get it back. And I know my housemates better than you. Kaylee is never in. ‘The bearded guy’ doesn’t get a shit about anything that doesn’t have UNIX commands. Maybe Lanyi will believe them, or he’ll think you’re a fucking idiot for wasting his time.”

Too much air circled around me to protect me from all sides. “He already thinks I took it.” I said, “And I don’t see why shouldn’t feed you to him.”

It’s possible that Tigerlilac made a living in not believing people. “No, you know perfectly well if you call him, you’re never getting your little tail back,” she said, “That’s why you drove out here.”

“I’d like an apology, too,” I said.

“Oh you would?” she said, “For what? What were you going to do with it? Wear it around until it broke?”

“This isn’t about me,” I said.

“Keep telling yourself that,” she said, “You screwed up. You’re a gullible girl and I bet it’s killing you.”

I slid my tongue under my sharpest tooth to press my stress away. I pointed to the floor. “Elory’s downstairs,” I said, “And she believes me.”

That, she bought. She was spitting fire until that moment, when she went cold. “Did she tell you to come to the con?” she said.

“No, I came on my own,” I said, “But she said to talk to you first.”

Tigerlilac draped her head down. If she wasn’t in charge, she would be flailing like a rabid wolverine soon, so I backed myself to the wall. “This is the most I can do for you,” she said, “Univore has the tail. He’s in suite 901 on the top floor. Talk to him and ask if he’ll give you the tail after the convention, or maybe you can set up something where you borrow it from him. Just tell them everything.”

“What’s he doing with it?” I said.

“I’m guessing he’s going to wear it,” she said.

Her attitude was so high school, I didn’t even need to care. “You’re unbelievable,” I said, “Do you know that? Why the hell that you give it to him? I know you’re moving somewhere.”

“Los Angeles,” she said, “That’s where he’s getting me my new job. And yeah, it’s worth it.”

“Well, I should have Professor Lanyi talk to them,” I said.

“The deal’s done,” she said, “The only way they’ll care is if Professor Lanyi files charges against me. And he might. But he might also file them against you.”

She would play with me all day if I let her, so I put a hand on the doorknob. “Whatever,” I said, “I’m going to talk with Univore and then we can decide what to do.”

“You don’t get it,” she said, “There’s no decision. He’ll say no, and you’ll call Lanyi. And then we see what happens.”

“Unless I find another way,” I said.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said.

I unzipped my purse and handed my cell phone to her. “I’m going upstairs,” I said, “I’m not calling Lanyi. You’re not calling Lanyi. We are working this out.”

Tigerlilac inspected my phone as if it was about to spray her. “All right,” she said, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

I made good on my threat and left for the living room, when I almost bumped into Brenda, who was leaning over bags of Kool-Aid mix and pretzels on the floor. I apologized but she insisted it was her fault.

Before I left the suite, Brenda checked that I was out of range and slipped into the bedroom. The door stayed open a crack, so I wouldn’t have a chance to listen to them unnoticed. I wondered if I blown the only advantage I had.

The little I knew of Univore, he’d be too busy to acknowledge me without reinforcements. I knocked repeatedly on my room and a groggy Trisha unlocked the door. She yawned and covered her mouth by instinct. “What’s going on?” she said.

I put my finger to my lips and led her over to the window. Ted was nowhere to be seen.

“Tigerlilac says she gave the tail to Univore,” I said, “He’s getting her job in L.A. for it. I don’t know why he wants it.”

“Get out,” Trisha said.

“Yeah,” I said, “I need to find him. Want to come with?”

“Let me get ready first,” she said and took her turn in the bathroom.

“Where’s Ted?” I called to her.

“Dunno,” she said, “He was out when I woke up. They had ‘Ice Pirates’ on the hotel channel. I’d guess the two events are somehow related.”

Trisha and I made our own wall as we took the stairs, side-by-side. Univore may have been an egotistical, scheming prick online, but he was a big player in furry, which meant that if he didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, it would be somewhere just as accessible. If he wanted brat, I would give him brat.

Univore’s suite number hung at the far end of the hall. Trisha and I summoned the courage to move mountains and put on our “you killed baby kittens” faces. I rapped several times.

The door rumbled from a pair of clumsy feet. “Yeah?” a guy said in a dazed voice.

“Is Hank in?” I said, “I need to talk to him.”

“No, he’s out,” the guy said, “I think he’s downstairs helping out with the booths.”

Trisha and I had been holding in our steam but then we exhaled at the same time. Univore was nine floors below us.

“Okay, thanks,” I said. The guy inside didn’t seem interested in taking our names.

“Elevator?” Trisha said.

I grumbled loud enough for her to hear. “Elevator,” I said.

Trisha and I had a merry old time waiting for our ride. The complementary daybeds numbed our butts, as hard as beef jerky. A few other convention folks joined us to press their luck in catching a ride down before dinner. We had fun counting the seconds that the elevator stopped on each floor. The first one opened, completely packed, and no one stepped off even though this was the top floor. People will jump in any available elevator, even if it’s moving the wrong way.

Of course, the next one was almost empty. We were wedged against the handlebars in the back, and remained silent as per the rules of elevator decorum. On the ground floor, we spread out until we had personal space again. “I swear,” she said, “They need a button or a scale so it only goes to the floors pressed if its full.”

“So, invent one,” I said, “Make millions.”

“The technical part’s easy,” she said, “But you need a social engineer to teach people to expect that. It’s like why they don’t replace steering wheels with joysticks.”

“Which work better, I hear,” I said, “Isn’t that Allyson over there?”

Her gold facial jewelry and the MIT duffel bag made her hard to miss. Her hands shook in the air, annoyed at the man in the purple business suit in front of her. They argued in a cubby beside the front desk that led to the service hallways. “I don’t know,” Trisha said, “You never introduced me.”

We crept to a corner across from them. Hidden behind the wall, a third person accosted the man alongside Allyson. A great giggling pig, Univore had shoulders that would have made Boris Karloff jealous. His mop-top haircut fell across his forehead near eyes permanently narrowed from eternal glee. He wore a T-shirt from Vericon ‘03 over his chunky frame. His index finger wagged at twice the speed of Allyson’s.

“But what you don’t seem to understand,” he said, “Is that there are no fursuiters in costume today. Ergo facto, this space is empty now.”

Despite his horn-rimmed glasses and ostentacious suit, the man, Musashi from the Furrificon board, was steadier than Manager Badger on a good day. His hands were stuffed in his coat pockets and he addressed Allyson, completely ignoring Univore. “I don’t care what they told you,” he said, “I am telling you now, this space is reserved. I’m sorry for the mix-up, but I can’t have space that’s allocated for con activities used by vendors.”

“I’m not a vendor,” Allyson said and kicked a tripod by her feet.

“That’s what you’re registered as,” Musashi said, “And you’re welcome to discuss adding new guest statuses with the 2007 board.”

“Would you listen to yourself?” Univore said, “She’s been promised space. She’s paid cash. And it’s not her fault you’ve got a total twink checking the con layout.”

Musashi waved a pen in Univore’s direction, still not looking at him. “Do you mind if I could talk with you somewhere, Allyson, without interruption?” he said.

Allyson shrugged. “I think he’s making sense,” she said.

“I’ll stop it,” Univore said.

“Okay,” Musashi said, “If you could wait a moment, I will have someone find you a spot.” He wandered to the front desk and spoke with the maître d’.

Univore leaned into Allyson’s ear, whispered and she laughed. He feigned innocence when Musashi returned.

“We don’t have anything yet,” Musashi said.

“How about the corner by the con front door?” Univore said.

Musashi almost inched his head towards Univore.

“What’s wrong with that?” Allyson said.

“It’s not in the fire lane,” Univore said, “We have to cover it in muslin anyway, so she doesn’t take any pictures of the con.”

Musashi squinted down the hall behind him. He excused himself and spoke with the maître d’ again. “Okay,” he said when he came back, “As long as you pick up everyday before five. I can’t send anyone to check on you, but if I hear anything from the hotel, you’re out.”

“I won’t go over,” Allyson said, “I’ll move the interviews to my room before then.”

“See? That wasn’t so hard,” Univore said.

“Again, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. Have a good time,” Musashi said, and stormed away toward the vendor’s room.

Univore helped Allyson to gather her roll of muslin and tripod. “I told you I could get you a better spot,” he said.

“Totally,” Allyson said, “I can grab the kids as they come in. You’re the best.”

Trisha tapped me and mouthed, “Now?”

I nodded and hurried intercept them. “Hey Allyson,” I called out, “I thought I saw you here.”

Allyson’s mouth ran through every consonant shape to find one to associate with my face. “Hi,” she said to me, “Do I know you?”

“Cheryl,” I said, “I was with Emma at Professor Lanyi’s presentation in February. Trombone girl.”

Univore made a 180° turn when he noticed she had stopped without him. His eyes flicked open as wide as they would go.

“Oh, right,” Allyson said, “Hey, I’m working on a documentary on science fiction conventions. I’m looking for people to interview. If you want to do one, you should come by tomorrow.”

“Totally,” I said, “I wanted to ask you about that piece of equipment the other night. You know, the one you said was missing, and the professor was giving you trouble over. Did you ever find it?”

Univore inched to Allyson’s side, ready to play security.

“No, I never did,” Allyson said, “But honestly, I haven’t spoken to him since then. It must not have been a complete showstopper.”

“Okay, cool,” I said, “I was worried something had happened to you guys.”

She turned away, confused by my questions but polite about it. “I really have to get going,” she said.

“No problem,” I said, “Hank, do you mind if we talked a second?”

Univore flashed me a schoolteacher’s condescending smirk. “I’m busy,” he said.

“I think you can spare a few minutes,” I said.

Univore leaned over Allyson and mumbled, “I’ll be there in a few. I gave you this, right?” He slipped a triangular card from his pocket.

She patted a small leather sack on her belt. “Yeah, I have it,” she said, “Tomorrow night?”

Univore nodded. Allyson drifted into the newly forming crowd.

Enough people were brushing by us that we had to herd Univore against the wall before I felt comfortable speaking. “Professor Lanyi wants to know where the tail is,” I said, “And he’s riding my ass for it.”

“You’re full of shit,” Univore said, “Why are you talking to me?”

“Emma told me she gave you my tail,” I said.

“And you got her the job in L. A.,” Trisha chimed in.

He chuckled, as if I’d repeated a rumor he started in a game of Telephone. “And what do you expect me to do?” he said.

“I want my tail back,” I said.

“Why?” he said, “Go tell Emma to take a flying leap.”

“Did she tell you what she did to me?” I said, “She led me to a loading dock while I had my tail on, and smashed it up when I had been wearing it for weeks.”

“Well, you should have been more careful,” he said.

As usual, I needed the big guns to make a dent. “Look,” I said, “If I don’t get it back, I call Lanyi and tell him everything. I know people who saw Emma putting the tail back together, and they’ll talk for free.”

“Who said I have it?” Univore said, “And, I mean, is that all? Hell, I’ll call Terry and straighten this all out if you want.”

“I want my tail,” I said, but he wasn’t buying it, “Look is there any way we can work out a deal? Maybe I can borrow it a few months out of the year?”

“No, I’ll take care of it,” Univore said, “I have to get these things to Allyson. Bye bye.”

I ducked in front of him. “What if I tell Allyson everything?” I said, “She can call Lanyi to confirm, and Emma had the best opportunity of anyone to steal it.”

“I said, I’ll take care of it,” he said, “You worry too much.”

“So, no deal?” I said.

“Make me an offer,” he said.

“A hundred a month,” I said.

Univore stepped around me towards Allyson without a word. I was so close to running ahead of him and screaming the truth.

Trisha noticed my balled fists and massaged my shoulders. “It’ll be okay,” she said.

I wouldn’t cry.

Trisha led me to the women’s room near the lobby, clean enough to rest on the sink counters. Only a couple of the stall doors were locked, but I didn’t care if anyone saw. I squeezed my eyes tight. “Thank you,” I said.

“For what?” Trisha said.

“You know. For being there,” I said.

Trisha folded her arms on her chest. “I didn’t help you much,” she said, “Besides, we have all weekend.”

I wanted her to calm me with an ingenious plan or a new friend with connections; something that could cut to the heart of the matter, but all we had were our bodies and our sympathy. “I’m going to get my phone,” I said, “I’ll meet you in our room and then we can do dinner with Simon and Chet.”

“It’s a plan,” she said and reached to hug me, “I’m so sorry.”

I skittered away from her and held up my hands. “Don’t,” I said.

Trisha swallowed and waved to me before she left. That was all right.

The monotony of the elevator ride soothed me down, and the walk to the con suite helped, too. Nobody cared enough to ask why I looked so glum. Brenda answered when I knocked. “I’d like my phone,” I told her.

She fetched Tigerlilac, panting and sweaty from whatever job she had. “Here you go,” she said and pulled out my phone, “So what did he say?”

“He said he’d take care of everything,” I said, “He’s going to handle Professor Lanyi.”

“That’s a relief,” she said, “You can come back at eight when we’re open.”

“I’m still going to get it,” I said.

“Let it go, Cheryl,” she said, and prepared to shut herself in.

I jammed my foot in the doorway. Tigerlilac was startled that the door wouldn’t close. She had to stare down to see why.

“You know I’m going to find it,” I said.

She nudged my foot out of the way, and drew the latch when I was sealed out.

My phone records didn’t show any calls made since I’d left. On the way to my room, I churned over everything I knew about Allyson, Tigerlilac, and Univore, waiting for something to make sense. In my best, most incredible moment of that day, I had mentioned Elory and Tigerlilac had stopped to contemplate my worth. Elory must have had some past legend or rumor embellished on the grapevine, or perhaps true. I could prove to Tigerlilac that I was just as desperate.

Categories: Book 2 - How Cheryl Lost Her Tail, Chapter 2 - This Con Ain’t Big Enough For All Of Us.

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