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June 13, 2013

I Hraet You (65)

Beat 65: Anyone Up for a Pun with Scales?

“Wait a minute.  Now just -- just hold on a minute,” said Trixie.  “What do you mean, ‘dead or alive’?  Why would my dad give an order like that?  Okay, yeah, I ain’t gonna say he’s the nicest guy around, but I woulda figured he’d keep himself from goin’ that far.  I mean, I…I’m his daughter, right?”

Mrs. Overdose couldn’t do much more besides shrug and keep driving down the road. 

“So you met my dad, then?”

“Not personally.  He just rounded up a bunch of hunters and gave ‘em orders -- bring you back, dead or alive.  He might’ve lucked out in findin’ me, but he might as well have just put a price on your head and thrown it into a pig pen.”  She pressed her lips down on her reed.  “It’s like all that mattered was gettin’ the job done.”

“But that’s -- it’s crazy.  No way it’s true, right?  Right?”  Trixie looked at her with a strained smile, but the stoicism that greeted her sucked up what little cheer she could muster.  She slid down in her seat, and stared at the paint whizzing below the vehicle.  “I don’t understand it at all.”

“I don’t either.  And that’s sayin’ somethin’ -- ‘cause there’s more to this than just your dad’s orders.”

“What’s that?”

Mrs. Overdose opened her mouth to speak, but shook her head.  “I’ll tell you another time.  Maybe when us five are all together again -- save me a bit of time repeatin’ myself.  Besides, I figure you could do with a little time between little nuggets of info like this.  Especially if it’s about your family.”

“Hey, don’t look down on me -- I can handle some bad…”  Trixie couldn’t bring herself to finish the thought; even the words that came out of her mouth did so mechanically.  “Yeah.  Yeah, I guess ya got a point.  Let’s wait a little bit before we go any further.  I could use some time to get ready.”

“Smart move.”

Trixie took a deep breath and looked out the window.  “You know what’s goin’ on, huh?  At least a little bit of it?”

“Maybe.”

“So why’re ya tellin’ me?  Woulda figured I was just a pain in the neck to ya -- not someone worth lendin’ a hand.”

Mrs. Overdose shrugged again.  “Just felt like somethin’ you might want to know.  Besides, we’re both in this mess together, so if I help you, it helps me.  Easy, right?”   

“Well, when ya put it that way…”

“Yeah, I know I’m right.  But one more thing -- don’t take anything I say personally.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I give everyone crap.  Even the people I like.”

Trixie’s eyes widened at the thought of it -- but a moment later, she smiled and laughed softly.  “Thanks.  And you’re not half-bad, either.  Still a pain, though.”

“Then I’m doin’ my job right.”

“Guess so.”  She looked back out the window.  “So where we headed?”

“Police station.  I think it’s time we meet back up with the boys and put our heads together for a little bit.  Maybe figure out what’s goin’ on in this town.”

“Think we can?”

Mrs. Overdose didn’t want to answer that.  She’d learned to trust her instincts long ago, and to some extent those same instincts drove her to lend a hand to Lloyd and the others -- or at the very least, play along with their little games.  But those same instincts started to wave frantically at her.  Telling her to bail as soon as possible.

She would have thought Gaston was nothing more than a masked freak at first glance.  And to some extent, she still did.  But with armed thugs suddenly roaming through the streets -- and in broad daylight, no less -- she couldn’t help but get a little antsy.  Was Gaston the type to command foot soldiers?  Or was there someone even worse out there?  Someone ready to wrap his hands around their necks?

Mrs. Overdose didn’t want to answer.  But she did anyway.

“I sure hope so.”

*

If JP had been a smoker, he might have gone through an entire pack already.  He sat on the back bumper of the van, hands in his jacket pockets, heels clicking together, and (of course) brandishing his trademark scowl.  Hardly the most appropriate place to do it, though; the police station loomed over him just a few paces away, along with untold numbers of officers…and it would only take one sour look to land him in trouble with the law.

Not that he cared.  He doubted the police could handle a middle school miser, let alone a street punk.  Not to mention Patton; he came down the stone steps with his usual slow gait, with enough force to shake the station’s bricks well out of line. 

JP lifted his head.  He didn’t need to say a word; he already knew the answer that’d pop up.

“No good,” said Patton as he approached the van.  He threw up his hands.  “We can’t do anything right now.  Not until there’s an official report -- and their investigation’s all wrapped up.”

“And how long will that take?”

“No clue.”

JP banged his head against the van.  “Of course.  Because if there’s one thing that this town needs right now, it’s the so-called peacekeepers dragging their feet.  Really, what the hell is there for them to do?  They’ve got the resources, they’ve got the power -- just get a move on and be done with it already!”

“Mmmm.  Might not be that simple, though.”

“You don’t have to tell me.  We’re the ones who can feed them plenty of details, but they don’t want us around because…why, exactly?”

Patton shrugged.  “We’re civilians.”

“You’re a civilian.  To them, I’m just a kid.”  He punched the inside of his jacket pocket.  “The same kid that got kidnapped, trapped in a burning school, AND almost had his brain turned into shish kabob.”

“Maybe they don’t wanna get you involved anymore.  I wouldn’t.”

“Even if that’s true, there’s something really dirty going on behind the scenes.  I can feel it.”  JP looked at the station’s doors.  “There’s being guarded, and there’s being secretive -- and considering everything that’s gone on in this town so far, I’m guessing we’re dealing with the latter.”

“They let one thing slip, though,” said Patton.  “’Vipers’.  That’s what these masked punks call themselves…but that’s about all I heard.  Figured causing a scene wouldn’t do us any good; I’m already on thin ice with the cops.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but smart move, Dad.  We’re both in the crosshairs right now; we’ve got to make the right moves here, or things are bound to get a whole lot more irritating.”  His eyes followed a car moving through the street.  “And speaking of right moves, here’s my chance to make one.”

He had an eye on more than just a car, though -- more specifically, it was a police cruiser.  It pulled in front of the station, and with a pop of the doors a pair of policemen leapt out.  They didn’t come out alone; they tugged out and shoved around a thug in fatigues and a trench coat…and of course, a snake mask.

“Another one,” said Patton.  He popped his knuckles.  “Am I gonna have to go on a snake hunt?”

“Cool off, Dad.  We’re here for him.”     

Him, indeed.  They spotted that beige duster of his first, watching as it slid out of the car and brushed against the pavement.  And they watched as it rose into the air, revealing a flagpole-like frame.  He stood well over six feet, but had sacrificed width to do so; he’d likely put a few tailors through hell to get a vest and slacks that fit him.  But he’d succeeded, even if it made him look like he’d stepped out of a noir film -- a squared-off jaw, sharp sideburns, squinty eyes half-hidden by some thick brows…and the coup de grace, a banded fedora.

“That’s our man,” said JP.  “Detective Dex Hawkfield.”

“You’re sure?”

“Look how much he sticks out.  He HAS to have some key info.”  JP didn’t bother explaining himself any further -- he just started toward him, and hailed Hawkfield rapidly.  “Detective?  Detective, can you help me out with something?”

Hawkfield shoved the Viper in the back of the head.  “Serves you right, punk,” he growled.  But he caught a sliver of JP from the corner of his eye, and turned a few hairs toward him.  “What do you want, kid?  We’re busy here.”

“I wanted to ask a few questions.  I’m trying to --”

“Play detective, I bet?”  Hawkfield shooed him off and headed for the steps.  “Go back to school.  This is official business.”

But JP just kept following behind.  “My school burned down yesterday.  And I was in it.”

“So you’re one of the kids from Sondheim Middle, huh?  Well, enjoy your break; no telling when you’ll be heading back.  If at all.”

“I will, sir,” said JP (surprised that he could even say the word ‘sir’).  “But I was hoping you could tell me --”

“I’ve got work to do.  So if you don’t mind, go scamper off and play.  What is it you kids are into these days?  Twitter or Xbox or something?  Whatever -- beat it.”

“But I thought we could at least compare notes.  I’ve got some key information that could help you crack open this case.”

Hawkfield stopped on the station’s highest step, and turned back to stare down JP.  “I’m telling you right now that this is a case you DON’T wanna get involved in.  Scram.  I don’t need any help from a snot-nosed little kid who can’t even reach the top shelf.”

JP narrowed his eyes.  “I’m smarter than you.”

And to his surprise, Hawkfield narrowed his eyes even more.  But he just shifted his hat and shrugged.  “No you’re not.”  And with that, he spun around and headed through the station doors.

That left JP staring at the doors with a grimace.  He caught a glimpse of Trixie and Mrs. Overdose coming up to greet Patton, and Patton signaling for him to come back over.  But for some reason, JP couldn’t bring himself to move.  Somehow, Hawkfield had managed to piss him off more than anyone -- even Lloyd -- ever could. 

And he could guess why.  The people around him either acted like, or were actually genuine idiots.  But Hawkfield wasn’t.  He knew Hawkfield -- and he knew that somehow, the detective held the key to cracking the case.  Now all he had to do was crack Hawkfield.

JP smirked.  Looks like I’ve got myself a rival. 

He turned around and headed down the steps, hands in his pockets and head bobbing.  He’d have preferred to use that head of his to figure out how to make some money, but if it meant giving himself a future -- one with money in it -- he’d gladly make an exception.

“JP.  Ya all right, pal?” Trixie asked.  She shook her head.  “Listen, we got some news for ya.  These snake guys, we saw ‘em in person, and --”

“I hear you, Tex.  Let’s head back to the house and have a little pow wow.  I’m thinking it’ll do us all some good.”  He strode right past her, his face cool, but his mind whirring with heat.  “I’m starting to think that Dad and I have already made a mistake.”

“What kinda mistake?”

“I figured we couldn’t trust the police, but we went ahead and tried to confirm it anyway -- and wasted our time because of it.  If there was money on the line, we’d be wasting a ton of it.  So I’d say it’s about time for us to get a little active -- and put Dad’s plan into action.”

Patton folded his arms.  “You’re sure?”

“Yeah.  Let’s see if we can trap some Vipers.”

TO BE HEARTINUED… 

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