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August 23, 2012

I Hraet You (31)

Beat 31: Hope You Haven’t Been Holding Out for a Hero

Lloyd stared blankly at the ceiling.

“Did ya get all that, pal?!  We’re in some serious trouble here!” Trixie yelled, with enough force to nearly shake the cell phone out of his hand.

“…Eh?  Wha?  Oh, my apologies, I wasn’t paying attention.”  He rubbed his nose.  “I feel as if it’s been almost two months since I was last in action…”

“DAMMIT, LLOYD!  GET SERIOUS, WILL YA?”

“About what now?  I’d like a summary, if you don’t mind.”  He tilted his head a bit.  “In case there’s anyone just joining us, or someone has forgotten what last transpired.”  He tilted his head in the other direction.  “Miss Walters, have you ever heard of the fourth wall?”

Trixie let loose a groan so loud that it rang through the rest of the school cafeteria.  “JP almost got shot, and then his school almost burned down with us in it -- and then yer dad shows up and saves us, but he wanted to get outta town.  That’s when we met this crazy grandma who kidnapped us, brought us to this creepy old mansion, and made us meet this creepy masked dandy.”

Lloyd nodded and stroked his chin.  “It would seem as if you had quite an adventure.  A shame I missed it, but I had some…”  He looked around the cafeteria -- at the sighing Lien-Hua, at the table-banging Sheila, and the…well, the pretty-much-unfazed May.  “Let’s call them distressing affairs and leave it at that for the moment; I’ll explain in full detail later.”

“Good idea.  ‘Cause I ain’t done with my story just yet, pal.”  Trixie paused for a moment, though Lloyd could still hear a mix between a groan and a sigh.  “That guy -- Gaston Leroux, he called himself -- he’s got some kinda crazy powers.  He turned the whole mansion upside-down while we were still in it…and then he almost made the walls crush us.”

“My word!  Are you all right?”

“I don’t think I’d be talkin’ to ya if I wasn’t, pal.”

“So how did you survive?  Did my father manage to strong-arm his way to victory?”

“Nuh-uh.  The walls just came at us, real fast-like.  And then the next thing I know, I’m outside the mansion safe and sound.  Same goes for Patton.  But JP…there’s no tellin’ where he is.”

Lloyd gasped, and gripped the phone tightly.  “He’s gone missing?  He at least managed to escape Gaston’s trap, correct?”

“Patton busted down the door as soon as he noticed JP was gone.  But there was no sign of him, Gaston, or that grandma, Mrs. Overdose.  Just a messed-up hall.”

“This does not bode well.”  Lloyd covered his mouth for a moment, his brow starting to tense up.  “So in addition to a masked madman and his gun-toting associate, my brother has gone missing.  And without a trace, no less, correct?”

“Yeah.  Those two didn’t leave us a single clue.  Patton’s runnin’ ‘round town on a rampage, tryin’ to find out where Gaston or JP might be.  We were searchin’ together for a while, but we split up not too long ago to cover more ground…and after a couple hours of lookin’ I ended up near yer house.  So I figured I might as well check it out.  Ya know, wait and see if anybody showed up.”

“You managed to get in without a key?”  But Lloyd shook the thought out of his mind.  “No, that’s unimportant; what matters most is that we recover JP from that dastard’s foul embrace.”

“Yer sure?”

“Well, that seems like the most obvious motion to take at the moment.  Did you think otherwise, Miss Walters?”

“Y-yeah, I did, actually.  I mean, this guy…you don’t know him, do ya?”

Lloyd looked up at the ceiling, humming for a moment.  “I would assume that I’d remember someone as unique as this ‘Gaston Leroux’.”

“Just think about it for a sec, pal.  He’s a crazy, Shakespeare-talkin’, over-the-top dandy.  And he’s got some kinda weird powers, kinda like the one ya said ya got.  Yeah, they’re real different, but…ya know what I’m gettin’ at, right?”

Lloyd nodded slowly.  “Whether I’m aware of it or not, there’s some sort of connection between Gaston and myself.  And given that, it’s likely that he knows far more about me than I of him.”  He pursed his lips for a second.  “Perhaps my father had the right idea in trying to leave town…but that’s inconsequential for now.  I’ll do all I can to find and rescue JP -- and it would be my honor, Miss Walters, if you would lend me your aid.”

“I-I don’t know how much use I’ll be, but if ya need my help, ya got it.”

“Excellent.  Then I shall return home as quickly as I can fly.  From there, we can focus on our next act.”

“Right.  I’ll see ya soon, pal.” 

Trixie hung up first, with Lloyd ending the call just a few seconds later.  This is certainly a quagmire, he thought, folding his arms.  So, not only do I have to find my missing brother, but engage this villain and put a stop to his machinations, whatever they may be.  He couldn’t help but form a slight smile.  Rather fortunate, then, that I’ve just been expelled; with this newly-acquired free time, I’ll have more than a few opportunities to pursue him.

“Lloyd?  Are you going to be okay?”

Lloyd whipped around to face Lien-Hua.  Even though she’d been fired, that did little to stop her from wearing a concerned expression -- as expected of a young (ex-) teacher.  “You sound like you have quite the personal situation.  You aren’t about to do something dangerous, are you?”

“That may very well be the case, Miss Zhang.”

Lien-Hua sprang out of her seat, her hands pressed against the documents that had effectively ended four high school careers.  “Hey now!  I may not be your teacher anymore, but I can’t just sit and watch as you endanger yourself!”  She opened her mouth to start yelling -- even louder, no doubt -- but stopped mid-syllable and slid back into her seat.  “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shout at you,” she said softly, casting her eyes downward.  “I just…I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you.”

“I appreciate the sentiment -- I truly do, Miss Zhang -- but your fears are misplaced.”  He flashed a bright smile.  “I’ll handle this with great haste -- and then I’ll do all I can to have you reinstated as the school’s finest teacher.  That, I promise you.”

Lien-Hua’s eyes widened.  “Lloyd…”

“I’ll hear no objections from you, my dear.  All I ask is that you wait patiently while I wrap up these affairs of mine.  In an ideal world, I’d have this done in a day -- but I suppose I should leave my schedule open a bit in the event of some unexpected overtime.  Nevertheless…”  He fell to one knee, and lowered his head.  “I assure you, my word is as good as gold -- no, platinum.  No, super-duper platinum.”

“Lloyd, that’s not a…”  But she stopped herself thanks to an unforeseen giggle.  “Thank you.  It’s so nice to see such compassionate students.”

“You would expect otherwise from me?  Need I remind you that Passion was very nearly my middle name?  At least, that’s what I heard…in a dream…when I had food poisoning.”  He stared at Lien-Hua for a minute.  “The point is, it’s high time for me to be a hero -- first for my brother’s sake, and then for yours.”  He leapt to his feet, and started for the cafeteria’s exit.  “My regards, Miss May!  Miss O’Leary!  I assure you, soon enough I’ll be your heroes as well!  Count on it, fair maide-!”

While waving back at them, Lloyd crashed into the door.  “Heh heh, silly me.  These doors don’t open automatically.”  He waved one last time at the ladies just before making his exit.

As the door flapped shut, May walked toward the ex-teacher, cradling a cockroach all the while.  “That guy’s a weirdo,” she declared in what should have been a mumble, but loud enough to have the head-banging Sheila nod in agreement.  “What do you see in him?”

Lien-Hua sighed.  “The same thing every teacher should see in her student: potential.”

“Soooooooooo…it’s not love?”  But before she could get an answer, she held out a cockroach.  “Hey.  Put this in your mouth.  It’ll be fun.  I think.”

*

I need to act quickly, Lloyd thought as he headed down the school’s front sidewalk.  I’ll begin formulating my plan before I even reach home.  And the first step of that plan is…!

…Er…um…go home!  Yes!  I mean NO!  Blast and confound it, this is going to be harder than I thought.  He covered his mouth in contemplation.  Gaston Leroux…he may think himself a mastermind, but I wonder if that’s really the case.  Moreover, I wonder what he really is.  Why would he target my family?  Did I do something to make an enemy of him?  Perhaps our clans engaged in some sort of warfare generations ago?  No, inconceivable; I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make an enemy out of me.

He kept walking, stroking his chin as he walked in front of one of the school’s parking lots.  The lunch-ending bell had rung minutes ago -- and in a minute more, the tardy bell would follow.  Even with the last straggling students filing into the school, cutting across lots and distant fields, Lloyd paid them no mind.  What he did pay mind to was the young woman moving between the parking lanes, and carrying a hefty box of supplies and knickknacks -- one he recognized immediately.

It’s Miss Zhang.  And it seems she’s -- oh, that’s right.  I still have her phone, don’t I?  I’d best return it to her before my adventure begins.  He raised a hand to hail her, and even started calling her name -- but he couldn’t bring himself to speak, or even take a step toward her.

She opened the passenger door of her van -- a muddy, dinged, dilapidated mess of a machine that hardly looked like it could stay together, much less drive -- and leapt back as a tsunami of junk fell out.  Lloyd’s eyes started bulging as his brain sorted through it all -- hangers and towels and blouses and dresses, pots and pans and hot plates and long-emptied bags of ice, hollowed-out bottles and blankets and wires and brushes, a blow-dryer and pillows, a hose and a map, and something looking eerily similar to a baseball bat.  And none of it looked very clean.

What in the name of…?!  Lloyd, with mouth agape, watched as Lien-Hua scooped up all the junk and -- with what had to be superhuman strength -- shoved it all back in place with a few quick tackles.  Of course, that only invited him to look at the van’ interior; in addition to the junk in the passenger’s seat, he could make out the garbled, shambling mess in the rest of the vehicle.  For a moment, he thought he spotted a tentacle squirming inside.  Miss Zhang, what on earth would possess you to live like this?!

Wait a minute.  Don’t tell me…she can’t actually be living in there, can she?

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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