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November 12, 2012

I Hraet You (54)

Beat 54: Good Communication Begets Good Relationships (In Theory)

The light bulb swayed left and right above the table.  If not for the afternoon sun and the half-exposed windows, it would have been the only thing keeping the kitchen alight.  Trixie sat at the edge of her seat, legs shoved together and clutching Mrs. Overdose’s shotgun; just the sight of it made her uneasy, and the fact that she held such a deadly instrument (and in the presence of the trouble-magnetic Hoigleheimers) made her want to bury her head in the sand.   So she ran her eyes over the magnets on the fridge.  She counted their number over and over, hoping that strange circumstances wouldn’t lead to a misfire.

All three Hoigleheimers sat at the table, with Mrs. Overdose leaning callously against the far wall -- and she’d have to get past Patton if she wanted to escape just the kitchen, much less the entire house.  JP leaned back in his chair, hands tucked behind his head and eyes closed as if trying to doze off.  Patton rested his meaty elbows on the table, resting his chin behind his hands and groaning ever louder.  Lloyd sat in place with his arms folded, and one leg crossed over the other.  Trixie could only see him from behind, but she caught glimpses of his hand tightening round his arm. 

She glanced aside for a moment.  Why does this scene feel so familiar?

But she didn’t have much time to dwell on the thought; JP leaned his chair forward.  “It’s about time for grandma here to pack up and head out,” he said at last, sliding his hands into his jacket’s pocket.

Lloyd slammed a hand on the table.  “Treacherous skinflint!  I thought we agreed to let her into the group unconditionally!”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I never said that.”

“So you would have a potential ally of love and justice be flung into the unforgiving streets?  You would let her fall prey once more to Gaston’s siren call?  Imagine the consequences, brother -- to have this kidnapping, or something worse yet, repeated on the morrow!”

JP shot a scathing eye at Lloyd.  “And you’re assuming that just because she starts living with us, she’ll never attack us again?  And besides, do you really want to share a bathroom with someone who clubbed you in the face at least half a dozen times?”

“An offense I’m more than willing to forgive!”  Lloyd slapped a hand to his chest.  “I pledged myself as her servant, for as long as my body and mind will allow!  I refuse to go back on my word merely because of your unreasonable mistrust!”

“Unreasonable?  I-I’m sorry, did I hear you right?  Did you just say unreasonable?”  JP started shifting in his seat.  “Hold on a minute.  I’m gonna go grab my old baseball bat so I can smack some logic into you.”

“Sit down, JP,” said Patton.  “No need for you to get violent.”  But before Lloyd could start gloating (indeed, he’d already opened his mouth wide), Patton gave him a brutal glare.  “And no need for you to get too excited.  I know you’ve got good intentions, but JP has a point.  This old lady’s trouble.”

Mrs. Overdose shifted the reed in her mouth and stared out one window. 

“B-be that as it may,” said Lloyd, “I still feel as if we’d be better off inviting her to stay, rather than booting her into the unfamiliar nooks and crannies of Porbeagle!  And besides, we’ve yet to hear her side of the story.  The events we’ve witnessed may take on a different bearing in light of her testimony, right?”

JP grunted.  “It’s thanks to her that I got shot at, and my school almost got burned down.  And then she kidnapped me, dragged me, Dad, and Tex to some old mansion to meet Gaston so he could use his powers on us, and then the next thing I know I’m all tied up and waiting to get shot in the face at your school’s auditorium.  Pretty sure that covers everything.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”

All eyes turned to Mrs. Overdose, still gazing coolly out the window.  “Yeah, I kidnapped JP and made sure the three of you got to meet that masked freak.  That was a part of the deal.  Same goes for standin’ around in the auditorium.  But I didn’t set that school on fire, or try to shoot an arrow at you.  That was all his part…or at least him doin’ his business with whoever was around.  If you ask me, I think he was just makin’ trouble however he could.  Random stuff.  In it for the laughs, or the thrills, or whatever.”

Lloyd lowered his head and covered his mouth.  “A villain with a grand scheme, but all too eager to indulge in the use of variables to induce chaos…that does seem like something he’d do.”  He looked back at Mrs. Overdose.  “But suppose something were to go wrong -- if the fire at JP’s school happened to get out of hand --”

“Who knows?  I just thought I’d let you all know that I didn’t start that fire.  I may be a bounty hunter, but I got my standards.”

JP’s glare hardened.  “Speaking of bounty hunters…”

“Yeah.  Mask-boy was the one that hired me -- wanted me to grab Daisy Duke and bring her back home.  You probably already know why.”

“Because she’s pretty much a southern mafia princess.”  Trixie reddened and turned away; Lloyd’s eyebrows shot straight up, and he mouthed a few words in shock.  “So by the sound of things, Gaston’s got connections to Porbeagle and Rockwood.  He led her here, the place where he’s bound to build up his army and get all his plans in motion.  And if he can mess with Tex in her hometown, then it’s safe to guess he’s got some ties there, too.”  But suddenly, he shook his head.  “If that’s the case, though, why go through all the trouble?  If he could waltz right into her house, why lead her here?”

“Maybe he just wanted to engineer conflict,” Lloyd offered.  “It could all have been a ruse to have her family thrown into disarray, and pay a pretty penny to see her returned safely.”

“Maybe.  But you saw what happened in the auditorium -- Gaston was throwing around stacks of money without a care in the world.  If it was more money he wanted, why go through this little game of his?  And why be so loose with what he has?  And why create a situation where I’m the one in the most danger, not her?” 

Lloyd didn’t answer him, and JP didn’t bother going any further.  No one in the room spoke; they just lowered their heads in thought, or took a few moments to stare at the walls and ceiling -- as if they held the answers they sought. 

“Guess there’s still a lot we don’t know,” Patton said at last.  “And until we do, we’d all better watch each others’ backs.”

“Even Lady Overdose’s?”

Patton let loose a guttural rumble.  But before he could give an answer, Mrs. Overdose raised a hand.  “I got somethin’ to say -- that is, if you don’t mind trustin’ an old lady’s word.”

“You’re among friends,” said Lloyd.  “What is it?”

“Ehhhhhhhhh…well, I wasn’t gonna say anythin’ about it, but I guess I might as well.  Mask-boy’s magic -- that whole ‘illusion’ shtick of his?  Doesn’t work on me.”

“It doesn’t?  But why?”

Mrs. Overdose pointed to one of her eyes.  “I’ve been doin’ this bounty hunter gig for a long time.  I may be gettin’ old, but all that work I’ve put in hasn’t slowed me down at all -- especially when it comes to these eyes of mine.”

Trixie looked up at Mrs. Overdose.  “Wait a sec…ya were sayin’ somethin’ earlier about how ya could see my muscles shiftin’ all ‘round.  Is that a part o’ it?”

“Yeah.  I got sharp vision -- I’m good at pickin’ up on things that nobody else can, even at a distance.  Doesn’t even matter how small a motion it is, or how far away; you move, and I’ll see it.”  She shifted the reed from one corner of her mouth to the other.  “Thing is, I think it’s because of it that mask-boy can’t use any illusions on me; if he tries it, I just see right through it.  Like there’s nothin’ even there.”

“I get it.  So you can ignore his illusions if you’ve got strong enough senses,” said JP.  “So when Gaston took Lloyd’s auditorium key…”

“He just walked right up and grabbed it -- and you never would’ve known.”

“And back at the manor, when it looked like he was about to flatten us with those sliding walls --”

“Just his hocus-pocus.  Sure was a trip, seein’ the three of you squirm and shout like that.”

“I should’ve known.  You were right there, and you didn’t even flinch…”  JP ran a hand through his hair.  “No wonder Gaston didn’t mind having you around -- with an advantage like that, his power is completely useless.”

“ONE of his powers.”  Her lips tightened.  “I don’t know what’d happen if he tried to use his mind control on me -- and I hope I never find out.”

Lloyd gave her a nod.  “And if I can possibly help it, I’ll prevent such a grim future, Lady Overdose.”  He turned back to his family and leaned across the table.  “You see?  She’s not only a powerful and well-informed ally, but she’s willing to trust in us -- and be trusted in return!  No one forced her to give us such details, but because of it we have one more clue to use in the fight against Gaston!  Surely you realize that adding her to our ranks can only ensure our safety and strength?”

JP tucked his hands behind his head and leaned back.  “Tch.  Well, I guess bringing Tex into the fold hasn’t been so bad.  She did save me from getting headshot earlier, and at least tried to get me out of a burning building.  Could have done without the failure, though.”

“Yer welcome, pal,” Trixie muttered.

“And Miss Walters?  Do you have any objections?”

“E-wha?  Ya mean I get to weigh in?”

“Of course.  As I said, you’re among friends.”

Trixie blushed, and rubbed the back of her neck.  “Uh…gee…well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to keep her around.  I mean, y’all let me stay with ya, and I’ve only known most of ya for a day.”  She stroked her cheek with one finger, unable to hold back a smile.  “’Course, I already feel like I can trust ya…weird as y’all may be.  So I guess I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say she could hang around.”

“Excellent.  And that leaves you, Dad.”

Patton set his forearms on the table, nearly snapping the wood in half from the sheer weight.  He stared at Lloyd with his typical, yet hardy gaze -- a stare that would have been enough to send a tiger running for safe haven on the next continent over.  But Lloyd met his stare point for point; he couldn’t muster up as frightening a gaze, but a certain glint seemed to dance within his eyes.

“Hmmmmm…”  Patton looked up at the ceiling.  “What would your mother say to this, knowing that I let you keep two women in the house?”

“Y-you mean --?”

“You’d better take good care of these ladies, Lloyd.  A real man would never do anything less.”

Lloyd’s eyes started to twinkle -- and with a shout, he jumped from his chair and shoved his fists skyward.  “Joy of joys!  Truly, a great blessing has been afforded me -- one far greater than the summation of an entire generation’s worth of birthdays!”  He leapt from his spot towards Mrs. Overdose, and immediately seized both her hands in a hearty handshake.  “Did you hear that?  You can stay!  You can stay!  Oh, I can only imagine the joy you must be feeling -- and yet, alas!  It is but a fraction of the pure elation that I feel!  And now, milady, I can serve you in earnest!  May I offer you a meal?  A sonnet, perhaps?  Or perhaps a meticulous, soothing foot rub would -- and pardon my pun -- tickle your fancy?”

Now Mrs. Overdose’s eyes started to twinkle.  “Foot rub.  Let’s go with the foot rub.”

“Thy will be done, milady!  Steel your heart, for when I return from the bathroom to wash my hands of the day’s gathered grime, I will give you a massage so splendid, Hermes himself could not have asked for a better treatment!”  He pranced around the kitchen table and danced into the living room.  And then he toppled over, fell flat on his face, and started snoring.

“H-holy…!  Lloyd!  Ya all right, pal?!” Trixie yelled, leaping from her chair. 

“I’m never gonna get that foot rub…” Mrs. Overdose muttered.

“Forget about that!  What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s probably tired as all get out,” JP answered.  “Though why he suddenly collapsed and I haven’t is a mystery…”

Patton stood up and worked his way out of the kitchen.  “He’s had a long day.  We all have.  So I say let him rest.  I dunno everything he went through today, but I’d bet good money that he’s been through a lot…a whole lot.”

“Then you’d lose some good money,” JP grumbled.  He walked over to Lloyd and, with a few presses of his foot, rolled him onto his back.  “Look at this guy.  Collapsed out of sheer exhaustion, and he’s got a friggin’ smile on his face…jeez, even when he’s quiet he still finds ways to tick me off.”

“Guess he’s havin’ some sweet dreams, huh?” Trixie asked.

“Tch.  Fine.  I say let him sleep.”  JP threw up his hands and started for the hallway.  “I think I might do the same.”  And without even waiting for a “don’t let the bed bugs bite,” JP turned the corner and vanished. 

“He looks kinda peaceful,” said Trixie.  She looked back at Patton.  “So do we just leave him here, or…?”

“Let’s at least put him on the couch.  Wouldn’t want my boy sleeping on the floor like some kind of hobo.”  He took a few steps toward Lloyd, and stared down at his somnolent son.  It was just as JP had said -- Lloyd had gone to sleep with a smile on his face.

And for moments at a time, it looked like that smile had gotten even wider. 

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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