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May 16, 2013

I Hraet You (57)

Beat 57: Putting the “AHHH!” in Entourage

Lloyd might have kept himself busy at the moment, but he didn’t dare ignore the footsteps echoing down the hall.  He craned his neck toward it, and his hopes -- for once -- weren’t dashed; Trixie lurched out of the hall with a yawn, stretching her arms and limbering up her back as sexily as possible.  She pressed a hand against the wall for leverage, and for a second Lloyd almost felt the need to do the same.  “Ugh…hey, pal, I ain’t about to start whinin’ about yer hospitality, but I’m thinkin’ maybe that bed o’ yers ain’t right fer me.  Too classy an’ all.”

“Ah, my apologies, Miss Walters,” said Lloyd.  “I’ll keep your preferences in mind for tonight.  Though I wonder just what I can do about it outside of offering a new mattress.”

“Don’t stress out over it.  I’ll just…”  Trixie rubbed her eyes.  Lloyd would have loved to to hand her a plate of pancakes.  Instead, the most he could offer was a full view of the prince held at gunpoint.

“Is something wrong, Miss Walters?” he asked, wearing a cheery smile in spite of the gun barrel lodged in his temple.

Trixie stared at Lloyd.  She didn’t know if it was because of her morning grogginess or Lloyd’s too-early-for-this optimism, but she started to feel a headache coming on.  “…Yeah, sorry, pal,” she said at last.  “Guess I’m still sleepin’.  See ya when I wake up.”

“Pleasant dreams, Miss Walters.”

“Okay, bye.”  Trixie waved at him and headed back down the hall.

Lloyd giggled to himself and resumed his work.  “Well now, that was an interesting way to start a morning!  And my, oh my -- such fascinating bed hair!  Ah, do the wonders of the fairer sex never cease?”  He ran his fingers over and around some particularly gnarly feet -- and suddenly, maintaining his cheer became ten times harder.  “Hmmm.  Perhaps they do.”

Mrs. Overdose prodded Lloyd in the head with her shotgun.  “If I wanted your sass, I’m pretty sure I’d ask for it,” she snapped.  She leaned back in the chair -- one several sizes too large for the average man, let alone a penguin-bodied woman -- and swished a reed around her mouth.  “Then again, can’t say there’s anyone out there who’d want some sass.”

“Not necessarily,” said Lloyd.  “I would think that there is indeed a market for sass enthusiasts.  Much in the same way I’m a cantaloupe aficionado, there are those out there, I’d wager, who can’t go a day without a healthy helping of sass!”

For a moment Lloyd could have sworn he saw wrinkles starting to form on Mrs. Overdose’s face.  “It’s too early for this crap,” she muttered.

And then Trixie rushed back into the den.  “Wh-what the hell is goin’ on here, pal!” she yelled.

Way too early for this crap,” said Mrs. Overdose.

Trixie pointed at the purple-haired loon, and then the bramble-haired gunwoman.  “What is this?!  Lloyd, don’t tell me she’s got ya doin’ her dirty work!  And you!  That any way to treat yer host, lady?  Ya oughta be ashamed o’ yerself!”

Mrs. Overdose raised an eyebrow, but beyond that hardly showed a reaction.  “You know, you’re right.  I SHOULD be ashamed…but I’m not.  I’m really not.  I know, I know, I’m a terrible person.”

“Perish the thought, milady!” Lloyd blurted.  “Then again, doing otherwise may lead to you making a mess of the Hoigleheimer den, and we can’t have that.  I imagine my father would be quite cross with you.”

“Lloyd, get off yer knees and stop rubbin’ her feet!  What are ya, some kinda errand boy?  A-and you!  Take that gun offa his head, or I’ll come on over there and give ya a taste of some good ol’ Rockwood rasslin’!”

Mrs. Overdose stared at Trixie, and she stared back with a heated glare.  But before either could come to blows or bullets, Mrs. Overdose jerked her head aside and snorted.  “Pfft.  She actually said ‘rasslin’’.”

“Stop makin’ fun o’ my accent!”

“Stop makin’ it so easy.”

Trixie ground her teeth.  “So what’s this all about, anyway?  Gonna shoot Lloyd if he doesn’t rub yer feet?  Don’t ya think that’s goin’ a little overboard?”

“Oh, I hardly think so,” said Lloyd; he’d raised a hand, but the sudden thrusting of gun metal into his skull made him slap his hand back down on her feet…her rugged, rugged feet.  “I agreed to offer Lady Overdose my services in massaging her…her…these…and she was quick to remind me of our arrangement this morning.  And frankly, I’m glad I did; it would be outright foppish of me to progress to another task before handling one binding me to my fair lady.”

“This is what you call a fair lady?” Trixie asked.  “Would ya just look at her?  She don’t even look like she’s enjoyin’ it!”

“No, no, that’s not quite true.”  Lloyd gestured with his head toward her mouth.  “See?  She’s smiling.”

“No she ain’t!  She’s just doin’ that scowl o’ hers!”

“Look a bit closer.  It’s subtle, yes, but it’s there.  See?”

Trixie came a few steps closer, and bowed forward to have a better look.  “I still don’t see a thing.”

“No, it’s there.  Weak though my vision may be, in this instance my eyes do not deceive me.”

“Yer just lookin’ for any reason to stop thinkin’ about those feet o’ hers, pal.”  Even so, Trixie stepped forward again, and leaned in toward Mrs. Overdose.  “Lloyd, there’s nothin’ there!  I’m lookin’ right at her!”

“Closer still, Miss Walters.”

“What, is it microscopic?”  Nevertheless, she leaned in closer -- and of course, saw nothing.  “Does she even know how to smile?  ‘Cause I’m startin’ to have my doubts.”  She leaned in even closer, almost as if going for a kiss, and --


Mrs. Overdose walloped Trixie with her shotgun and sent her tumbling.  “Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to get in someone’s personal bubble?” she asked, her face unchanged.  “Jeez.  What do they teach you kids in Rockwood?  Hogtying and moonshine-chugging?”

Trixie climbed to her feet and rubbed her face.  “Ya never told me nothin’ about a personal bubble!  Yer brain workin’ right, old lady?”

“It sure is.  But look at you, all flustered and confused -- maybe we should go right back to the drawing board.  See, there’s this thing that we smart people call a ‘bubble’.  It’s like a ball that you can see through…oh wait, you know what a ball is, right?”

Trixie nearly ground her teeth into dust.  But rather than press (or get heckled by) Mrs. Overdose any longer, she turned to Lloyd.  “Hey!  Ya just gonna let her talk to me like that?  And ya just gonna let her bully ya into rubbin’ her feet?  Come on, pal -- yer a man!  And this is yer house!  Grow a spine, will ya?”

Lloyd looked back at her -- with a smile on his face, but a weary one; the glimmer in his eyes had vanished, as if they’d been replaced with a pair of dull rocks.  “I’m quite all right, Miss Walters,” he said in a mechanical tone.  “Quite all right.  I’m fine.  Just rubbing feet.  I’m fine.  Just rubbing feet.”

“Holy…Lloyd, get away from her feet!  Those things’re suckin’ out yer soul or somethin’!”

“But Miss Walters, I must rub her feet.  I’m fine.  Just rubbing feet.  Rubbing feet is fine.  Rubbing feet is fine.  Rubbing feet is fine.  Rubbing feet is fine.  Rubbing feet is fine.  Rubbing feet is --”

Trixie tugged Lloyd away, and very nearly flung him into the far wall.  She didn’t, thankfully, but he did stumble and slam his head into an ironically-hung painting of a sledgehammer.

“Ow!  Oh -- oh, wow.”  He shook his head, and his eyes went back to their usual luster.  “What?  Where am I?  The last thing I remember was rubbing feet, and suddenly it felt like there was no more reason for me to live.  Except to rub feet.”  He scratched at his crown, and then set the painting back up on its hook.  “It would seem you and I both could use a few more visits from Mr. Sandman, Miss Walters.  Lady Overdose, how are you faring?”

Mrs. Overdose inspected her feet and sighed.  “Guess that’ll do for now.  We’ll pick this up later.”  She crammed her feet into a pair of browning shoes, and slid out of the chair.  “So.  What’s the plan for today?”

“Eh?  You mean you’ve chosen to follow my lead?”

The gunwoman shrugged.  “Can’t think of anything else to do with my Tuesday.”

“That’s good enough for me!” Lloyd said with a pump of his fists.  “And it’s quite a good thing, too; for you see, in the wake of my foot-rubbing -- and some interstice of time that remains missing from my memory for some reason -- I may have come up with a strategy that can give us an advantage against the fiendish Gaston Leroux.”

“Gaston Leroux,” Trixie repeated.  She hadn’t forgotten about that masked freak, and she wasn’t about to anytime soon -- especially now that he knew where the five of them were staying. 

Lloyd stroked his chin.  “I’ve put a bit of thought into our next move -- and while the long-term goal is fairly obvious, the issue is going to be the short-term steps taken to reach it.”  He looked at Trixie and Mrs. Overdose in turn, and then held out his hand.  “It was this power of mine that affected your hearts, and helped you come over to my side.  That much is clear enough, though there are more than a few particulars that remain elusive.”

“Such as?” Mrs. Overdose asked.

“Truth be told, I’m not exactly certain what the full extent of this power is, or its effect on either of you.”

Trixie reeled.  “So wait a sec -- yer sayin’ that ya screwed around with our heads, and ya don’t even know exactly what it does?  What if ya broke somethin’ in there?”

“That’d explain a lot in your case, Colonel Sanders,” said Mrs. Overdose.

Trixie nearly socked Mrs. Overdose, but Lloyd held up a hand.  “It’s true that I don’t know the full extent, but I would think that there’s enough evidence to assume there’s no harm done.  My power, I’d wager, is to boost your esteem.  Bolstering your well-being and zeal for your benefit far more than my own.  That much should make itself clear soon, if it hasn’t already.  That said, it may be time for me to apologize -- and in doing so, you’ll understand our next course of action.”

He turned to Trixie.  “Miss Walters.  You were the first one I used my power on, and the first one I managed to raise to a four-star level.  I’m glad that I had the opportunity, but looking back -- considering those that followed you…”  He looked to Mrs. Overdose for a moment.  “I suspect that the events that played out within you were a stroke of good fortune, and nothing more.  Had I encountered milady first, I doubt I would be so eager.”

“S-so wait a sec.  Yer sayin’ that when ya did -- well, whatever ya did to me --”

“Yes, that’s right.  I faced off with three trials unique to three individuals, and couldn’t even begin another with a fourth.  Given that, I’d say that what happened between you and I was based on dumb luck.”

Trixie’s shoulders slumped.  “I’m startin’ to think the universe hates me, pal…”

“Think nothing of it.  It was good fortune that brought us together, and showed me what I could do.  It’s hard to say exactly what separates you from, say, Lady Overdose, but if I had to guess I would say it’s a matter of your natures.  Perhaps by default you’re more willing to cooperate and trust, and considerably more fluid in your character.  So it follows that you were more willing to trust me, and as a result be more easily affected.”

“So it worked with her because she’s an idiot?” Mrs. Overdose asked.  “I can buy that.”

“What the -- Lloyd, don’t let her get away with --!”

Lloyd stroked his chin and nodded.  “Perhaps so,” he said calmly (and Trixie considered dropping to all fours).  “But if that’s the case, then it would certainly explain why your abrasiveness put me through my greatest trial yet.  I’d prefer not to think about what would have happened if I’d made even one more misstep…but again, I would assume that my victory there came down to dumb luck.”

Mrs. Overdose swished her reed around her mouth.  “So wingin’ it worked twice, but that’s it.  And two out of five’s not the best record.”

“True.  Which is exactly why I intend to take steps toward improving my record.”  He started for the door.  “My brother and father have gone on their own mission this morning; if we’re to succeed and honor their efforts, then we must do the same.  The time has come for us to venture onward, my comrades…or should I say, my entourage.”

“Entourage?” Trixie repeated.  She pointed at Mrs. Overdose, who immediately pointed back at her.  

“You want me to work with her?” Mrs. Overdose asked -- and Trixie looked about ready to ask the same.

“Work with her, work with me, it’s all the same at this point,” said Lloyd.  He unlocked the door.  “And I assume that things will work more easily if I have the two of you around.  Things might get a bit tricky otherwise.”

“And where are we headed, exactly?”

Lloyd looked back at her and grinned.  “We’re off to school!”


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