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May 20, 2013

I Hraet You (58)

Beat 58: It Can’t Possibly Go this Well, Right?

“I’m still not satisfied,” said JP.

Patton pulled the van into a distant parking lot and turned off the engine.  “Can’t say I blame you there, son,” he said with a slow shrug.  “But right now, I’m starting to think we’re running low on options.”

“Don’t remind me.”  JP tapped his against the van’s floor with arms folded; every so often, his foot would knock about a slim duffle bag.  “I would have liked a little help here and there -- but so far, nothing.”  The tiny tween shook his head and sighed.  “What was I thinking, expecting rational thought from someone here in Porbeagle?”

“Mmmm.  Can’t be helped.”

“Well, this is what I expected -- to some extent, at least.  The police aren’t about to let anyone too close to a crime scene.  Especially not now.”  JP reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a pair of binoculars.  “They say the culprit always returns to the scene of the crime.  So I’m thinking that he will eventually -- if he’s not already there.”  He started scoping out the wreckage.  “And I want to be able to figure out what’s going on.  I’ve got a pretty strong hunch that the boys in blue aren’t going to.”

“That’s how it usually goes, isn’t it?”

“Sadly.”  JP started his second sweep.  Sondheim Middle School -- the place he would have been heading right about then, under normal circumstances -- stood in the distance as a scorched and shambled mess.  Blackened chunks jutted up from the ground like abstract art; the still-suffocating scent swirling around it drove off any would-be admirers.  A few portables remained relatively intact, but plenty of them bore some nasty holes.  He doubted he’d be having science class anytime soon.

“Too much going on in this city all of a sudden,” said Patton.  “Schools burning down, kids getting shot at, and even big companies getting involved.  And I’ll bet dollars to steaks that Gaston’s behind at least some of it.”

“It’s ‘dollars to donuts’, Dad.  But let’s say that he is behind this.  Let’s say that all of this is Gaston’s fault.”  He lowered the binoculars and looked back at his dad.  “If that’s the case, then who’d want to help him out?  And why?”

Patton shrugged.  “Money?”

“Money would be enough for me.  But even so…”

“It’s not enough for everyone.”

JP jerked out a nod, and went back to investigating the school’s remains.  Money should have been enough for anyone.  But if it wasn’t...

His lips tightened.  He probably didn’t want to meet them.

*

The back side of L. Bernstein High paled in comparison to its front.  Cracked concrete and overflowing dumpsters stretched from the doorways to the parking lots, the spaces in which would be filled before the first bell even rang.  The paint on the doors remained chipped, and even a mole could have spotted the hasty attempts to cover the graffiti sprayed atop the brick walls.  The discoloration made it look as if a snake stretched from one end of the teacher’s lot to the next, and threatened to take a bite out of the breezeway.  In spite of that, a small smattering of students headed around and through the buildings, looking to shoot the breeze before the second day of school (and the actual learning) began in earnest.

If not for his entourage -- one lanky blonde and one stout-bodied old (?) lady -- Lloyd might have fit right in as a student.  On the other hand, a purple-haired loon dressed as if he had a court date might have stuck out the most of the three.  Still, that didn’t stop him from heading toward one of the building’s back doors -- though he did so with the occasional glance across the grounds.

“Ya got a right to be a little paranoid, pal,” said Trixie.  “Ya got expelled yesterday, right?  Woulda figured that you showin’ up here’d be a bad idea.  Get spotted, and it’s all over.”

“I’m well aware of my wanted status,” said Lloyd.  “But then again, it seems we’ve arrived early enough to dissuade suspicion.”  He spotted a mohawk-haired punk in the distance, but he seemed to show little care for Lloyd’s presence.  “My intent is to be in and out of here quickly enough.  Once I have a chat with the man I’m seeking, we’ll be well on our way.”

“And where would that be?” Mrs. Overdose asked.  “The principal, so you can beg for him to let you back in?”  She chomped on her reed and stared at her hands -- empty, naturally.  “Damn, I feel so wrong without my guns.  What am I supposed to do with my hands…?”

“Reasoning with Mr. Hansen is…well, not something I plan to do at the moment.  Not until more pressing objectives are taken care of.”  He raised three fingers.  “There are three people who I’d like to lend my aid, and my power.  Once I manage to finish my dealings with them, I’d like to think I’d be in a better place to start negotiating with the principal.”

“Because…?”

“Because…”  Lloyd stopped, and counted even further on his fingers.  “Because…because they’re all fairly attractive people?”

“Oh ho, this is rich.  So your plan is to round up three pretty ladies and line ‘em up in front of the principal?”  Mrs. Overdose cocked her head.  “I’ll give you this much, kid: you know how to play the game.  The key to a man’s heart is through his pants.”

“Th-there’s no way that’s Lloyd’s plan!” Trixie yelled.

“Actually, it just might work.  It was better than what I had planned, at least.”

“Dammit, Lloyd!  Don’t encourage her!”

Lloyd smiled sheepishly, but his grin gave way to a more serious look.  “As I said, the dealings with Mr. Hansen can wait.  The reason why I want to focus on those three is because I need to practice more with my power.  If I can enhance my understanding of it while simultaneously improving the lot of those I’ve wronged, then we may have a better chance against Gaston and his no-doubt-mobilizing forces.”  He held out a hand.  “If the issue in the past was that I rushed headlong into situations, then the remedy is to slow down my advance.  And I should be able to, once I have what I need; I’ll focus on each of them one at a time, and improve us all with one step after another.”

Trixie and Mrs. Overdose exchanged a look.  “Ya really put some thought into this, haven’t ya, pal?”

“I’ve had a bit of time, yes.  But I suspect I’ve thought about it a bit too hard.”  He folded his arms.  “I wonder if the inherent flaws will be a factor…”

“Inherent…flaws?”  Trixie looked to Mrs. Overdose, but the gunwoman just gave a sharp laugh. 

Lloyd waved a hand through the air, and gestured toward the door.  “The details can be sorted out later.  For now, our next venture awaits.”  He held the door open for the two of them, and offered a knightly bow.   Mrs. Overdose walked in first, followed by Trixie, and Lloyd brought up the rear.  “The classroom we need should be nearby -- assuming he’s taken to using the same room as before.  Given his nature, I’d say that’s a definite possibility.”

Trixie nodded, and folded her arms as she walked through the halls.  “Rather funny, isn’t it?” Lloyd asked with a laugh.  “First you visit a middle school, then a high school… all you need is an elementary school, and you’ll have a bingo.”  But to his dismay, she didn’t share his optimism -- likely because of the spiders that drew her eye.

“So what exactly did you need the two of us for?” Mrs. Overdose asked.  “’Cause the way I see it, you’re just takin’ us on a little tour.”

“Well, I was expecting the worst-case scenario.  So I assumed that I would need two women skilled in combative arts to guard me, should the need arise.  Or given the circumstances, a distraction.”  He gestured toward Trixie.  “For example, the intent was to have Miss Walters strut about in her underwear, so that eagle-eyed students would --”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, back the hell up!  What kinda plan has me struttin’ around in my underwear?!” Trixie yelled, with her face now a healthy shade of red.

“Well, given the choice, wouldn’t you prefer to see a college-aged young woman in her underwear?  Neither I nor Lady Overdose could handle the task, and you’d certainly make for a prime draw of the eye.  Misdirection, as they say.”

Trixie bit her lip.  “I miss gettin’ respect.”

“When did anyone ever respect you?” Mrs. Overdose asked.  Lloyd glanced at her, but she just threw up her hands.  “Sorry, sorry.  I just get really testy when I don’t have any guns on hand.”

As they came to another classroom door, Lloyd jumped to the head of the group and waved his hands.  “Aha!  This is the one.  Excellent; things are proceeding better than I expected.”  He pointed to a pair of bathrooms across the hall.  “You ladies have done well thus far.  But this will only take a moment; feel free to lay low, and relieve yourselves in the meantime, while I see a man about a horse.  Or trio of horses, as it were.”

“Lloyd, yer sure ya --”

Mrs. Overdose had already started for the bathroom.  “Friggin’ finally, some rest.  I’ve been holdin’ in a big one for the past half hour.”  She disappeared into the bathroom, leaving behind little more than raised eyebrows from Lloyd and Trixie.

“Is that a womanly thing?” Lloyd asked.

“I sure hope it ain’t -- otherwise gettin’ old is gonna be hell.”  Trixie let loose a sigh, but headed for the bathroom in kind.  “Yer sure you’ll be okay, Lloyd?”

“It’s merely a visit to an old friend.  What could possibly go --?”     

“Don’t, Lloyd.  Just don’t.”  She shook her head and slid into the bathroom.

“Feel free to come out in your skivvies, Miss Walters!  I’ll withhold my objections!”  With his partners gone, Lloyd took a deep breath.  “Now then.  Let us see if this plan will proceed swimmingly, or if I’m destined to flounder.  Historical precedents -- and my own non-ability to swim -- suggest disaster awaits, but I suppose time will tell.” 

He headed into the classroom with a bright smile -- one that wasn’t returned by anyone eyeing him.  Two dozen eyes turned to him, and would have shot literal daggers at him if they could.  He preferred to think they weren’t just glaring at him because he was…well, him…but rather because they’d all failed to get a good night’s sleep.  The room’s bland interior certainly wasn’t much to speak of, and the tables they used lent themselves toward catching forty winks.

“Ah, so this is this year’s student council.”  Lloyd waved cheerily.  “Salutations!  I trust you’re planning to make this year L. Bernstein’s finest yet, yes?”

A slew of mummy-like groans followed his words, and more than a few heads slammed against the tables.  But of course, one of the students remained fully alert -- the one standing at the head of the room. 

“Student Council President Arjuna Alles,” said Lloyd.  “Did you have an exciting summer?  Lots of fond memories forged, I hope.”

He didn’t get an answer -- and even if he did, he’d never get a coherent one.  Arjuna stood at the head of the room, but he hardly looked like a fitting leader, or even a mediocre one; for one thing, he stood a half-foot shorter than Lloyd, and his slumped posture made him look both shorter and shifty.  Seaweed-styled hair slapped against his cheeks with each quiver he made, and outside of an over-large head he looked to be made of cinnamon sticks.  He looked up at Lloyd with massive-yet-beady brown eyes, with his T-shirt and shorts (both baggy, and inexplicably trimmed with fish) soaked in coats of sweat old and new.  And as the coup de grace, he’d taken to wearing socks with sandals.

But Lloyd had more important things to take note of -- like the crossbow Arjuna aimed at his head.

TO BE HEARTINUED…   

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