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Book 2 – Chapter 4 – Storytime – Part 1

Trisha crept into our room around 9:30 in the morning, while I was half asleep and convinced of the cleaning staff had washed everything in a “new hotel” scent of lemon oil and cocaine. She slipped into the bathroom and ran water, while I dozed through a series of sub-dreams involving laundry chutes and leaky pipes threatening to flood the world. Her footsteps woke me but I stayed under the covers, ready to ambush her.

“So, how was the nookie?” I said and pushed off my blankets to reveal my hideous nightshirt.

In spite of her towel straining to cover both her chest and her crotch,  Trisha couldn’t be rattled. “No nookie,” she said, “I crashed with some people from clawscratches. Not that I didn’t try.”

She rooted through the closet for an appropriate T-shirt to go with her pleather pants and boots.

“Univore is having a party tonight,” I said, “Ted’s agreed to scout. Will you help me get him an invitation?”

“Sure,” she said, “Just tell me who we are ‘getting’ it from.”

After my own turn in the bathroom, I was in the mood for my pleather bustier with the black straps and painting  up my eyes in red and white. My breasts needed a little help from a couple rolled-up socks before they fell out sufficiently. I figured I had a Charisma of 16 with a +5 bonus on rolls against Information Gathering.

Allyson’s documentary shack was set by the con entrance, out of yellow-tan cloth reminiscent of refugee camps. The line to registration filled faster than it emptied with the fans coming steadily inside, mumbling while waiting for their coffee to kick in. A few read the “Appointment only” sign and turned away. I tapped the muslin while Trisha watched my back.

A pen poked out and Allyson lifted the flap aside. The interview space was cramped, with her camera on its tripod right by the flap. Two plastic chairs faced each other, too much like the ones from Beechum University. “Oh, hi,” she said, “We actually have a lot of interviews already. Let me see.”

Her schedule was scrawled with names, none of which I recognized. “The afternoon is fine,” I said.

“Then why don’t we do that?” she said, “3:30’s free.”

I lifted a dollar from my pocket, which I had folded neatly on top – the best of all the ones I had left. “I’ll be here,” I said, “Hey, do you have any change on you? I don’t need the whole buck’s worth, but the restaurants are being real dicks about breaking bills.”

She reached for her purse hanging from the camera and rifled through it. Her fingers squeezed under a stack of cards, and I squinted to make sure the triangle point was on the top.

“Sorry,” she said, “The New Jersey Turnpike ate most of them, I guess.”

“No problem,” I said. She nodded and the flap fell between us.

Trisha and I were getting a little attention from a few interested faces around which, which was always nice. We smiled sweetly but we turned to the lobby, obviously not sticking around. “That’s a nice set up she has in there,” Trisha said.

“I saw it,” I said, “In her purse. Oh, the camera was good, too. I guess.”

“Uh huh,” she said, “I want breakfast. Do you want breakfast?”

“Sure but let’s get Ted first,” I said, “I owe him one.”

Ted must have been inspired by our early rising, since he was bent over and lacing up his engineer boots when we came in. Whoever had chosen the con T-shirt’s baby blue hue hadn’t considered its clash with stone-washed jeans, like  a bad pink with blood red, but as anti-fashion, Ted pulled it off very well. He could be festive when surrounded with festivity.

The closest reasonably priced restaurant appeared to have fallen into the parking lot of the Marriott next door, around which they had piled dirt and Tribble-hedges to cover the impact cracks. Most of the new arrivals and had the same idea as us, but we managed to snag the last free booth. Trisha shared her theories of elevator operation while Ted explained that some ritzier hotels did have some which skipped floors when packed. We devolved into a discussion of “The Matrix” for some reason, and I had the idea of people inventing the whole human-powered battery concept and using third-world children to power hydro-electric cars.

And then my subconscious warned me that the party behind us had said something critical. I leaned around to face a pair of couples.

“Excuse me,” I said, “What was that?”

The guy closest to me was glad to share. “I heard from someone in the Ops center that one of the con staff has been kicked out,” he said, “Something about not reporting a crime that happened last night.”

“But you don’t know what crime, or who it was?” I said.

He didn’t.

I spilled the beans to Trisha and Ted, and hoped they would have remembered some other news from the previous night, anything worse.

“Acid’s not a fucking crime,” Trisha said.

“Maybe they wanted her out,” Ted said.

We speculated long enough that my fork hit the plate with that “ching” sound it only makes when it’s empty. Out of steam, I phoned Elory and she confirmed the worst. She said she would meet us in the hotel’s café. The staff could only keep her out of the con areas.

We found her under a swan-neck lamp mixing a cup of plain, muddy tea, probably sugarless. Instead of dressing down, she had gone the other way with a full short-sleeved suit, satin-navy with an oversized collar. Her table had an empty booth. I sat and Elory stroked the drink in her hands.

“So what happened?” I said.

“Good morning,” Elory said and drank a long swig, “I figure it’s politics as usual.”

Trisha and Ted nudged me against the wall before they missed any more. “Why did they do that?” Trisha said, “The con would get in more trouble if they admitted there were drugs here in the first place.”

Elory nodded to Trisha, but extended a hand to Ted. “Hello, I don’t think we’ve met before,” she said.

“Amber, or Ted,” he said, “I’m rooming with those two.”

“He’s okay,” I said.

Elory sized him up and seemed satisfied. “And I’m doing all right,” she said, “Thanks for asking.”

Fifty million apologies swarmed in my head when she broke into a sly grin. “I know, you’re here for the gossip,” she said, “I actually have some friends coming by who I haven’t seen in forever. I’ll be quick. The head of the Ops team visited me this morning, but he was very polite about it. I don’t think he’d agreed with it. He told me they had found out about me and those boys last night – he did not mention you, Cheryl. He talked about the ‘official policy’ and how I should have told Ops about the boys first. I told him what was what and I was sorry it had come down to this. Like I said, I have a full day ahead of me, but there are two very interesting details you might want to check out.”

A waitress interrupted us while she delivered a croissant to Elory, who tore off an end and chewed it raw. Ted had his elbows on the table and, Gods help us, Trisha and I dropped ours down as well to listen closer.

“The first thing I asked him,” she said, “Is if the boys got out after we left, and he said they hadn’t. He agreed to keep the whole thing hush-hush so no one would be embarrassed. I didn’t ask him how he knew all this. If the boys stayed in all night, nobody should have found out about them.”

“Did they have their music turned up?” Trisha said, “I’ve heard of people getting reported that way.”

“It wasn’t that loud,” I said, “I had to have my ear on the door.”

“I don’t know,” Elory said, “But the second thing is, those boys are still here. I saw them go into the Merchant’s Alley on the way over, and they still had their laminates around their necks.”

I was speechless at the stupidity of Elory’s situation.

“That’s nuts,” Ted said.

“The boys obviously have some friends on the board,” Elory said, “And they’re probably angry with me. But you’re right, this is nuts. There’s some bad mojo going on, and I don’t think it’s a good idea if you stick your nose in it. But it’s really up to you to do what you want.”

“How long ago did you see them in the alley?” I said.

“Maybe twenty minutes,” she said, “I’ll be around all day if you need anything.”

The three of us tried to stand together, but we didn’t have the space. Like dominoes in reverse, we pushed ourselves out. “We’ll be back and I’ll tell you anything I find out, I promise,” I said.

Elory waved and took a bite out of the other end on her croissant, de-horning it.

Honestly, I had been looking forward to Merchant’s Alley since I arrived. Imagine the contents of a thousand kids’ rooms spread over the length of half a football field, marked up five hundred percent and watched over by people net-surfing or doing needlepoint. They always mixed up the vendors around the folding tables every year, so nobody could find who they wanted without a lot of roaming.  Costumes, fantasy statues and comics were always popular and some booths had shelves so high, their bottoms had to be weighted down.

Trisha, Ted and I flashed our badges and I recognized too many tables I needed to scope out. I was all about the custom-painted porcelain Inari fox masks, winged cat busts with new poses from last year, puppet dragons with control cables ready to hide in pockets, illustrated game books with good fox stories (forget the games themselves), and the restless artists hoping to draw enough sketches to pay for their trip. Desperate talent is still talent, even if it thinks it’s only worth twenty bucks a page. The stuff’s great on college walls but most of it should stay there. Most of what goes on in the artists’ minds never makes sense in any context.

Trisha poked me. “We’re not here to shop,” she said.

We were too late for Ted. The Artists Alley had torn him away from us, and I watched him take out his photo ID for access to the really good stuff.

It was easier to have Trisha follow me than to explain exactly what the boys looked like. With everyone still arriving, the rows between the vendor tables were pretty clear. I pretended to check out the vendor’s wares. One hippy girl was sandwiched between two signs, “Animal Totem Carved Stones, $20,” and “Artist is not a furry.”

We ran into Loof and Barry flipping through prints made by a bored, roly-poly hedgehog man. Trisha and I blocked off their roots of escape. “Hey guys, can we talk?” I said.

Their cute, defensive blood-eyes may have charmed bullies in their high school, but I’d been playing that game longer and I would’ve thrown in a pout, too. Trisha held a finger over her lips and let her head sway back and forth.

“You’re the girl from last night?” Loof said.

“Yes,” I said, “And if you don’t want me telling everyone what you did, you’ll come out with us. We won’t be long. I promise.”

Barry hadn’t settled down completely yet but Loof convinced him that bolting away wouldn’t win them friends with anyone. We escorted them escorted them boys outside, into the sunny humid day. Around the corner, line of trees kept the sun off the hotel wall. Cigarette butts covered the ground but no one was waiting there.

“Where’d you buy the acid?” I said.

Their eyes were magnetized together. Loof ‘s parents probably trotted him out to impress his grandparents, and he cracked first. “He won’t have any more,” he said, “He chewed us out after last night, about how he’ll never vouch for us again to the guy he buys from. And we told them about you.”

“I don’t want to buy,” I said, “I want to talk to him.”

The boys were afraid; not some little old me – nobody’s afraid of me – but by what their friend might do if I started squealing on them. “He goes by Galka,” Loof said. He told me his room number, near theirs.

I waved them off and they dashed as fast as their hairy legs could hit the pebbles.

“I haven’t heard of him,” Trisha said, “But that doesn’t mean anything.”

I stared up all the metal porches on the side of the hotel and wished I could fly.

Categories: Book 2 - How Cheryl Lost Her Tail, Chapter 4 – Storytime.

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