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Book 1 – Chapter 6 – Climax – Part 2

When Elory picked up, I only heard her voice, without wind or cars. I figured she was at home.

“Hi, it’s me,” I said. “I have a really big problem. I ran into Della, my ex, at the mob in Copley Square tonight. I don’t know if you heard about it. She has pictures of me and private entries from my journal and she says that if I don’t give her four thousand dollars, she’s going to tell Professor Lanyi that I stole my tail.”

She was silent for a very long time. “I’m going to ask you some stupid questions so we’re both on the same wavelength,” she said. “Do you mind?”

“Go ahead.”

“She won’t take anything less.”

“She won’t.”

“The evidence she has directly implicates you.”

“It does.”

“She wants it tomorrow?”

“Monday. The bank won’t let me take out that much on one day.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“No, that’s why I called. I have the phone number of a friend of hers who knows. Her name’s Kelly. She called me about the herpes. It’s a cell number, but I need to know where she lives.”

Elory mulled my words over. “I’m going to have to say no,” she said.

This was the only lead I had. “I don’t know if what I’m asking is illegal,” I said. “If it is, I’m sorry for bringing it up.”

“No, I’m not comfortable being a part of this,” she said. “I don’t want this girl accusing me of things. I’m sorry, but I won’t help you here. I can point you to a few agencies who could help, but I doubt they’d have anything by Monday.”

I tapped my foot on the rug. I circled my living room. “What would it take?” I said. “I’m asking because Kelly is not a popular girl right now either. It might be a new number for her, too. I need to find Della, to figure a way out of this.”

Elory’s voice became very firm and distinct. “If I help you, you will owe me,” she said. “And if I call you on that favor, no matter what it is, you will do it.”

“I agree,” I said.

“I’m not done,” she said. “I want an absolute guarantee from you that you will tell these girls, Kelly and your ex, that you were the one who found their numbers. You will not tell them I had anything to do with this.”

“Of course,” I said.

“If you break this promise, you understand that I will never trust you again,” she said.

I never intended it would come to that. I would have the address and Elory would be out. End of story. “I’m not going to,” I said.

She let off one of her world-on-her-shoulders sighs. “All right, what’s the number?”

I read it to her, and she copied it down. “I’ll get it to you tomorrow, if I can find it,” she said. “And I have no guarantees that will happen.”

“I understand,” I said.

“Fine. Have a good night,” she said and hung up.

I settled on my couch and wondered if this was such a good idea.


I hovered over the phone all morning. I fielded calls from Trisha and Simon. They were worried, but I explained I had to keep the line free. I typed up an email for them, and only stayed on-line until it was sent. I really needed DSL.

I passed the time with a smutty techno-romance Trisha had lent me. I was in the middle of a good nookie scene when Elory contacted me.

“I tracked her address in Brookline,” she said.

I grabbed my pen. “Fantastic,” I said. “Where is it?”

“Hold on. I can take you there,” she said. “You’ll have more luck getting through the door if I come along.”

She completely threw me off. “Okay,” I said. “Do you know where I live?”

“Near Davis Square, right?” she said. “Do you want me to pick you up anywhere in particular?”

“How about the train station?”

“We can do that. I’ll circle around if you want to wait inside.”

We said goodbye. I tore through my closet for an intimidating outfit. I went with a dark pleated skirt and a crushed red vest, professional and Satanic. I still had the rest of Della’s peanut butter balls in my cabinet, but I thought better of bringing them.

I waited in the glass terminal for Elory. The crowd swelled with every new bus’ arrival, and I had to give up my seat for a good view out the window. After a while, her Toyota pulled to the curb. She had sculpted her hair to its old burning aura shape. Her eyes stayed unfocused when I climbed in. Maybe I was still on the curb to her.

“I hope I didn’t make you wait too long,” she said.

“I’m fine,” I said.

She looped us onto Massachusetts Avenue. “How are you holding up?” she said.

“All right.” I adjusted my tail between the seat and the door so I could sit up farther.

“When you find her, do you know what you’re going to ask her?” she said.

“Nope. No idea,” I said.

“I doubt she really needs the money,” she said. “It’s just convenient to have.”

Della had left her bills in her sock drawer, and I had plenty of opportunity to read them when we were together. “No, she could use it,” I said.

“I’m sure she could, but right out of college?” she said. “All she needs is a job and minimum payments, and she can string out her loans for years.”

“I know, but who wants to?” I said.

Elory slowed for a driver on a side road trying to make a left turn across Mass Ave. The cars in the left-hand lane whipped by us, annoyed. “You’re absolutely right,” she said, “but you’re easier to squeeze than a loan. She knows you.”

Elory waved at the other driver. He could have made it through if he had inched out and let the left lane know he was coming. Instead he waited, and two cars pulled into the gap in front of Elory. She floored the accelerator, exasperated. “What a wuss,” she said.

I waited for her to calm down. Her advice wasn’t helping. “Can I borrow four thousand dollars?” I said.

“If I thought it would help your ex, yes,” she said.

“What do you think I should do?” I said.

“I’ve no idea,” she said. “I don’t know Della at all.”


We were stuck in traffic across the Charles River, which had started to form holes in the ice. We rolled over the Mass Pike and onto the far end of Harvard Street where the Asian restaurants and electronics shops were packed together. The traffic lights let us through at the speed of locks on a canal. I didn’t see how anyone could drive in the city without going insane.

She put her blinkers on when we crossed the first set of Green Line tracks, and we circled to a spot against the train’s fence. She pointed out an old apartment tower, covered in concrete sculpted as brick. Half the windows had foreign flags or protest banners. “That’s her place, room 216,” she said. “Nervous?”

“A little,” I said.

“Let me do all the talking until you’re in her room, okay?”

“Right.”

She blinked in the bits of sun that streaked through the clouds. She bugged her eyes out to wake herself. I shook my arms to get my energy level up, and we darted inside at the first break in traffic.

The hallways had the same ivory plaster as the Harvard dormitories. Elory rang the buzzer. Kelly didn’t answer the first ring, but she picked up the second one.

“Yes?”

Elory expelled a Southern accent which was disturbingly natural. “Is this Kelly Dunster? I’m lookin’ for Della. I’m a frien’ of her mother’s. Would you min’ if I came up a moment? I have somethin’ for her.”

“Hang on,” Kelly said and released the door lock.

We treaded up the stairs, and Elory whispered to me, “What’s her name, Della’s mom?”

“Elizabeth, I think,” I said.

She found the door and indicated I should press myself against the wall beside it. She knocked. Kelly mumbled behind the door scope, “What should I tell her this is about?”

Elory gave a rosy smile at the door. “Is Della there? I haven’t seen her in forever. I heard she moved and her mother said she’s havin’ a rough time about it. I wanted to offer her a lil’ present to help her out.”

“She’s not in.”

“Okay, then. Tell her Miss Rosalyn stopped by. I’m only in the city today, so I’ll catch her next time she’s home. Tell her I’ll leave it with Elizabeth.”

The latch clicked and I saw the shadow of a big girl on the floor. “It’s fine, you can leave it with me,” Kelly said.

Elory slid a foot into the door frame and reached into her coat. “I do appreciate this,” she said. She drew her hand out empty and yanked me over in front of her. “This is Cheryl. I think you two have a lot to talk about.”

I knew Kelly. I knew her burnt umber dreadlocks. I knew her vapid Goth-goddess face. I had bumped into her in Harvard Square before, even on my last night with Della. Elory nudged me through the door into Kelly and her smelly sweatsuit.

“I’ll be in the car if you need me,” Elory said, and disappeared down the stairs.

I held up my arms to apologize and scooted inside before Kelly changed her mind. I had caught her in her pink bunny slippers. She was beyond pissed.

“I want to know where she is,” I said.

“She’s not here.”

“When’s she coming back?”

“I don’t know. You going to wait for her?”

A mish-mash of beanbag chairs and folding chairs were spread out around the living room with a few Donnas posters and a corner with stacks of CDs.

“I guess so,” I said.

I took one of the sturdier chairs while Kelly flopped on a futon pillow and flicked on the bucket-sized television. She kept an eye on me during the commercials.

“How long have you been seeing each other?” I said.

“A couple years, on and off,” she said.

“She never mentioned you,” I said.

“She wouldn’t shut up about you,” she said.

I twisted myself over to face her. “What did she say I did wrong?”

“I don’t know. You took all her bullshit,” she said. “You didn’t fight with her. You didn’t fight for her either.”

“Is that what she thinks?” I said.

Kelly rolled over to face me. “She’s not going to change her mind, if that’s what you’re hoping.”

“I know that,” I said.

She drummed the remote on her chest. “That’s your tail, huh?” she said.

I tried to raise it, but it was stubborn. “Yes,” I said.

Kelly went crazy with impish glee. “She’s so going to screw you over,” she said.

“How much is she giving you?” I said.

“Enough for rent this month. You can check her room if you want. We’re not keeping any of it in there.”

The stumpy hall only had three doors. “Which one is hers?” I said.

“You’ll have to guess,” she said. “And if you go in my room, I’ll have to frickin’ kill you.”

I propped my elbows on my knees. “Why are you with her if you hate her so much?” I said.

She slowed her drumming down. “She’s a better person than you know,” she said.

“She tried to sleep with me, the last night she came over,” I said.

She wrapped one palm over the other to quiet it. “So why didn’t you?” she said. “It’s more action than you’ve seen since then.”

I slammed my boots down and knelt over her. “And how many times did she leave you for me?” I said.

Her cheeks twitched. She smiled to cover her tracks. “Don’t flatter yourself. You weren’t the only girl I called that night.”

It wasn’t easy to look at that sorry girl and relax enough for my shadow-mask to come. I stared through her to the invisible horizon. I focused on my nose and ears shifting. They settled in until my smile rivaled hers. She cowered on her pillow. Her princess attitude couldn’t hide the fact that she needed me to submit to her. I didn’t say anything.

“You’re creeping me out,” she said, and squinted her eyes. “Cut it out.”

This was a complete waste of my time. She had nothing to offer me. “Have her call me when she comes in,” I said. “Tell her I’m sorry she lost her job.”

Kelly rubbed her forehead. “She didn’t tell you why, right? One of the other girls flipped out. She camped out Della at work and attacked her right there in the kitchen. The other guys pulled them apart, and her boss fired her for trying to defend herself.”

I eased towards to the door. “Damn,” I said. “I might be here later. Tell her I want to help her, but not like this.”

“Okay,” she said, “Hey, who was that you came here with?”

I undid the chain. “A friend of Della’s mother,” I said.

“Uh huh,” she said.

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 6 - Climax.

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