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Book 2 – Chapter 4 – Storytime – Part 2

It must’ve been a popular dream, because the stairwells inside were a hornet’s nest, like backstage before a big production. Climbing around the corkscrew with Trisha was daunting enough, but when we reached the fifth floor, people ahead of us were still going up. The hotel had found a way to overbook “standing room only”.

Trisha was ever the expert navigatrix and I just puttered behind her, admiring the new room posters until we arrived at Galka’s. Not that we expected he would be there. First thing you learn is that you always got to wait.

But we knocked anyway. “Occupado!” a shrill guy called out, deliberately mispronouncing it in suburban English.

At first, this is a good sign but a couple minutes crawled by with no more words from him. Trisha’s frisky hand went for the door, but I held it back. The last thing we wanted to do was tick this guy off.

After a long toilet flush, he thankfully ran the sink before he spoke to us again. “Yes, what do you want? I don’t know you,” he said.

“We’re looking for Galka,” I said, “Loof and Barry said he’d be here.”

“Loof and Barry are great-A fools,” he said, “And I can’t help you. Unless you want to smell my feet. I have plenty of that go around.”

If that was some kind of lingo, I didn’t know it and neither did Trisha. “We’re just friends of theirs,” I said, “We don’t want to buy anything. We only want to find out what happened last night.”

“Well then, I have a special message for your friend on the staff,” he said, “Tell him that he, and you, I don’t discriminate, can take your soft, supple tongues and run them down my pristine, manicured, moisturized feet because I’m not telling you jack.”

I dealt with this sort of pompous prick before, who expects he’s king of mind games because anyone who hangs around him invariably agrees to put up with them. I played it straight. “Who on the staff?” I said, “We had a friend on staff  but she was kicked out last night because of you. Elory Burke.”

“No idea who that is,” he said, “Oh, wait, now I’m remembering. So that’s what happened to her. Well, thank you for stopping by. Ta ta now.”

Trisha and I were past the uselessness of arguing with a locked door, so I chose a ten from my precious roll of bills and tore it in half. The door had enough space to slide one under. “I’ll give you the other piece if you let us in,” I said.

The half-bill was sucked away from me. “No, I think I’ll just keep this,” Galka said, “That way, it’ll annoy you more.”

Trisha frowned with a great ridge over her nose, close to seething. “Come on. This kid isn’t worth it,” she said.

I tended to agree, but I was loath to go downstairs again. And it occurred to me, the con had so many people, the odds of having run into one stupid kid were fairly low overall. I’ve never met one so brazen before. I signaled for Trisha to wait, and deliberately raised my voice. “Okay, I’m guessing that you or someone you know sold to a ton of people yesterday,” I said, “And if I go around asking, eventually I’ll run into someone who will admit it to Musashi or someone on the staff. So, are we going to talk, or what?”

The chain rattled for that and the door cracked. Galka was a slacker Korean boy with a Magic: the Gathering T-shirt and sweat pants. He waved us in, “Git, git, git,” with the fury of amphetamines while squeezing his strung-out eyes tight. The shades were drawn as snug as they could be and the lamp light have been turned low. The fan buzzed in the corner and the pot scent was unmistakable. I couldn’t stop myself from glancing at his bare feet since he made a big deal about them before.

We tried not to touch anything as we tiptoed around the mountains of clothes thrown everywhere. My eyes took their sweet time adjusting to the dark and Galka charged by us, perching on the sweaty bed. Trisha and I stayed close in case either of us lost our balance and had to touch something.

I flicked the other bill half to him. He inspected and slid the two pieces in the night stand drawer, which blunted with plastic bags. “Got another one?” He said.

I extracted another ten dollar bill, for it in half, and handed him the pieces.

“Dur, that’s clever,” he said, “What do you want to know?”

“Why Elory got kicked out. And why Loof and Barry are still here,” I said.

“Berry’s cousin is Briarwood. He’s a good friend of Musashi’s,” he said, “Of course, he didn’t tell me that but, come on, it shouldn’t have been a big deal. They knew some people I knew so I sent the word up and got what they wanted. I only got them crap so don’t get your panties in a bunch about it. Anyway, I heard Briarwood stopped by their room to bring them a message from their mom or something lame like that. And he saw they were messed up and asked them about that drawing your friend put up. He told Musashi, Musashi got ticked that your friend didn’t tell him about it, and ordered her out. Briarwood stuck up for his kids so they got a chance to stay.”

“And the kids didn’t rat on you?” I said.

Galka picked up a nail clipper and nipped off the end of the toenail. The white bit flew up in the air and vanished. And he was planning on sleeping in that bed later. “I don’t know,” he said.

“How’d you find out about all this?” I said, “You thought we were Briarwood’s friends when we came here.”

“I know people,” he said clipped another nail.

“And the guy you buy from?” Trisha said.

Galka gave another of his exasperated laughs. “Yeah, he knows,” he said.

“He chewed you out, didn’t he?” I said, “Like you did with those kids.”

“Ding, ding, I think you’re done here,” he said, “Door’s that way. You can stay if you feel like worshiping a rather delectable part of my body.” He wiggled his toes at us. Trisha dug her claws into my shoulders.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” I said. I knew Trisha would be stunned so I reached for her hands and squeezed them twice. She got the message.

“You’re serious?” He said, “I expect tongue action. Not just fingers.”

“Give me a break,” I said, “I’ll start with fingers. Then we’ll see where it goes.”

Galka didn’t understand his disadvantage, sitting on a bed with his feet in the air. I had a loose sheet wrapped around his ankles in no time, while Trisha held his torso down and spit in his face before he could step back. I do need the nightstand drawer open with my free hand and helped myself to my money, with a couple of the bags.

“Hey, I totally knew you were going to do this,” he said, “This is thievery. I’m going to report you.”

“To who?” I said and yanked his legs up while he struggled.

Trisha loudly prepared a follow-up loogie and Galka surrendered. “Okay,” he said, “It’s Hank. Univore, whatever he uses.”

“Wait, you buy from him?” Trisha said.

“Not that often,” Galka said and wriggled like a drying worm, “But he’s trying to piss off Musashi this year. It’s like, Hank or his friends do something every year, the hotel gets on Musashi’s case and Musashi gets on Hank’s case. Would you just get off me if you’re not going to have your way with me?”

“Does Musashi know?” I said.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I don’t think so. Hank was selling lower than anyone here so nobody’s going to say anything.”

“What about us?” I said.

“Like Musashi would give you the time of day,” he said.

I let him go. Trisha bolted back before he could exact any retaliation on her. He sat up and I tossed his money and bags in his lap. “You can tell Hank everything,” I said.

“You better not be taking anything with you,” he said, “I’d be more than happy to spread the word about what I sold you.”

We left him in his jammies and hurried downstairs to deliver the news.

As the day went on, the convention traffic had settled, resembling the cool streams of college halls between classes. In the restaurant, Elory had disappeared from her old table, but Trisha spotted her near the front, hidden behind two women I’d never met. A colorful Chinese dragon tattoo ran down the shoulder and arm of the one who had the other two in stitches, tapping her plate with a gooey coffee roll. Her long hair was braided and bouncing off the back of her chair. “Ten minutes on the Stairmaster,” she said as she swallowed, “You think I’m kidding.”

Elory was in one of those good moods I wish I could have bottled up and sprayed her with later. “Why?” she said, “Aren’t you beating on Scott enough?”

The last woman was a frizzy blond with a stretchy shirt wrapped too tight over the folds of her belly. She was attractive in a hip-mom way, with dangly earrings and just enough makeup. Both of them were prettier than Elory, actually, if not as centered. “Why do you bother with the excuses?” she said, “Just enjoy it.”

“Yeah, Scott and I are still good,” the tattooed woman said, “But I grounded my son for sneaking out on a school night, so we don’t get to have any fun for the next two weeks.”

A waitress lifted her tray to squeeze behind me, and Elory didn’t seem to notice me until that moment. “Hold on a second,” she said, “This is a friend of mine, Cheryl, and her friend Trisha.” She leaned to the tattooed woman and then the blonde. “This is Paula and Louise.”

“Hi,” Paula said, crisp and spunky. Louise only grinned and nodded.

“Hey,” I said, “We had that talk with a guy upstairs and I wanted…”

But she cut me short. “Does it have to be now?” she said.

Her friends waited expectantly, as if I was holding back juicy gossip.

“I got into a tiff with the con staff last night,” Elory said, “But it’s been sorted out since then, as far as I know.”

“Ah, I hate that,” Paula said, “My kid took me to Bishocon last year and they were all uppity about me walking around with my dragon uncovered. I mean, look at it. It’s as G-rated as you can get.”

“Oh my God,” Elory said, while waving me near her. “Give me a couple hours, okay?” she whispered.

I agreed.

Louise heaped sugar in her coffee. “Yeah, cons are getting all snippy recently,” she said, “I got a booth at RenCon last year because I figured they’re corset people, and I’m corset people, and I’d lost a ton off my eBay sales when some bitch priced her stuff under mine deliberately.”

And I did want to hear the rest of her story because, honestly, Ren Faire people rub me as if they’re celebrating their flakiness. However, I was just standing there and the three of them were glancing at me, so I had to excuse myself and Trisha out of the restaurant.

We had two hours to kill so I made a proper run of the dealer’s room. I bought three comics and arranged for another sketch of Kassandra. I ran into Chet and Simon and I told them everything about Galka, Elory and Univore. I found Escaflowne near a chainmail booth and told him the whole story again. I wanted to spill the beans to Ted, too, but I couldn’t find him anywhere, and I really looked. I wanted to write the whole sordid affair on a piece of paper and leave it for someone to find. That would really blow their mind. You never hear about that stuff at a con until it happens to you.

When I was burnt out of shopping and my bags were secured in my room, Trisha split for the game area. She knew when she’d be a third wheel and took the polite way out.

On my lonesome, I trudged to the lobby on my second attempt to deliver the news. The three women hadn’t moved and with all the mostly-finished lunches scattered around, they weren’t going to anytime soon. Elory had her sleeves rolled up. Louise dabbed her mouth while she spoke. “Girls by the bar and guys by the hors d’oeuvres,” she said, “And the guys had gone right back to the cliques they used to have when we went to school there. I mean, Christ, one was a decorated officer who’d fought in Kosovo and he was giggling about that time one of the lacrosse team had shaved his legs.”

“Now, you see, I would never go to my twenty-fifth reunion of anything,” Paula said.

“I almost went to mine,” Elory said, “But I was thinking, I barely talked to those people when I went there.”

“I was a afraid I’d find one of them was a regular of mine on eBay,” Louise said, “At least when I worked the circuit, I could interview clients beforehand so I wouldn’t end up topping Bob from shop class.”

I couldn’t get a word in, but Elory scooted over in her booth before I could duck away. The other two went quiet as if they were genuinely interested in me.

“Hi again,” Elory said, “Do you have a minute?”

I was uncomfortable to accept Elory’s pre-warmed seat but I did. I snagged an abandoned French fry off her plate as payment. “Yeah,” I said, “So you know about last night?”

Paula and Louise nodded as if I’d asked them where groundhogs live.

“I met the dealer who sold to the boys,” I said, “And apparently the boys have a cousin on the Furrificon board. His name’s Briarwood. He showed up after we left and the boys told him about you. Briarwood told Musashi and Musashi decided it was easier to kick you out than admit they had a problem to the hotel.”

Elory began calculating some sort of vengeance in her preternatural silence, so I dropped the bombshell. “Oh, and the dealer buys drugs from Univore.”

Two slow smiles emerged on Paula and Louise, and Elory pursed her lips with Zen perception. “Well,” she said, “You were doing good up to there.”

Paula was the most sympathetic to me. “It’s okay,” she said, “Elory was telling us about Hank before.”

“What about?” I said. I was sure they were about to toy with me, which they did.

“I started searching for him on-line last night,” Elory said, “I read he was in big trouble for pulling a fire alarm during a bondage party, when he was trying to get back at one of the players. And that he sold so much pot at another con that half the staff were busted. And when I did a little more checking, the amazing thing was, both conventions happened on the same weekend, on opposite coasts.”

I was scatterbrained. “Wow,” I said, “He took a flight from one con to the other?”

This made these women’s day. They cracked up so hard, Paula slapped the table and everything on it jumped an inch.

“No, the first one’s a twist on a story I heard years ago,” Louise said, “There was a bondage party at a hotel where some idiot tied his partner off the sprinkler pipe in his room.”

“There’s a filk about it, I heard right after that happened,” Elory said.

“Don’t forget the part where they were doing a cement bondage scene in another room,” Paula broke in, “And they had to chip him out of the block before the fire department found them.”

I literally shrunk into my seat. “But, the guy told me that Hank’s been trying to tick off Musashi every year,” I said, “And I saw them together yesterday. Musashi wouldn’t even look at him or speak to him.”

“And why do you believe that?” Louise said.

“Because he does something every year?” I said.

“Do you know that for sure?” Louise said, “What did he do last year? Or two years ago?”

I had to shrug.

Elory pushed her remaining fries at me and shook her head at Louise. “Now, just knock it off,” she said, “Cheryl, thanks for asking about this for me, but I’m fine, really. Whatever’s happening between Hank and Musashi is between Hank and Musashi. I really don’t care what Musashi thinks of me.”

“But that’s still no fair to you,” Paula said. She leaned over and patted Elory’s hand.

“I know,” Louise said, “It’s like Black Bonds all over again.”

Elory huffed. “That’s not quite the same,” she said, “They were already out of business.”

“It was still hugely unfair to you,” Louise said, “It separated out the players for the poseurs and the poseurs won.”

“Lay off it,” Paula snapped.

Louise wiped her chin but I didn’t see anything on it. “I completely know how you fell,” she said, “Did I tell you, back when I moved into my new place, my sister snuck in and set up a ‘Lordy Lordy, Look Who’s Forty’ party for me? I almost put that cake in her face.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” Elory said.

“Mo co-workers tried to pull one of those on me,” Paula said, “But I heard about it and called in sick. Well, that my kid was sick. They’d never believe I could get sick.”

They all laughed again, softly and disbelieving, but I didn’t know why. I slipped away when their attention was off me.

Galka had made so much sense though. Trisha and I had him helpless on his back. All the pieces had fit together. Univore was such an easy target that I fell for it, too.

I swung by the game room and confessed to Trisha that we might have been hasty in judging Univore. We’d paid Galka and he had given us exactly what we wanted.

Trisha understood.

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

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