Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chapter 38

Chapter 38

It was two in the morning and I still hadn’t been able to sleep. I had an hour left on my shift and I was cringing at the thought of it ending. For the most part I had kept myself together and done my duty after the blow up with Thor but I knew I’d need to deal with it sooner rather than later and I wasn’t looking forward to letting myself feel anything.

The only concession he made was when I quietly asked that if he was going to call me on the carpet to at least do it in private. I was prepared to suck it up and take it like a grown up. I knew he was going to be upset. I thought he’d get some growling in and then I’d be able to tell him my side of things and then we’d work it out and I’d … I don’t know, I just knew that I was willing to do a lot to keep him from being angry at me. But I never got the chance.

He kept getting nastier and nastier and angrier and angrier. Every time I tried to say something he told me to shut up and not make excuses. After about the fifth or sixth time he said it I just didn’t bother trying any more. Then he started in with how disappointed he was and how could he have been so stupid to make such a mistake again. Again. Maggs I thought, or maybe he had a slew of women in his past … and now I was just another something in his past.

I wanted to get angry. I looked hard inside myself to find some, and if not anger something to fight with but I had nothing left. I’d stripped away all of my protective coloring thinking I didn’t need it anymore, at least not with him. The rest of my energy had gone into the fight. I was just spent. I didn’t have anything left to give.

I just stopped listening at that point. I heard what he was saying but I was trying to keep out the feelings that the meanings of the words were causing. I guess he thought I was blowing him off. He grabbed my arm and he just happen to hit the bruise left over from the dart. The pain penetrated my calm and I must have made a face because he dropped my arm like it was a hot coal and backed away from me. The look of disgust on his face hurt more than all the rest of it put together. He turned and left and I was a long time trying to pull myself together and not let out any of the tears that were trying to escape.

There wasn’t anything to do. I turned to go out to the main area and separate my gear from his. It was really strange how fast our stuff had gotten mixed together in such a short time. Shoushan came over while I was busy trying to act normal.

“Did he hit you?” she asked quietly.

Startled I asked, “What?”

“Did … Thor … hit … you?” she repeated.

Affronted I said, “Of course not.”

She nodded her head. “Good. I wasn’t sure about him. Even when they don’t mean to hurt you big guys like that sometimes don’t know their own strength.” She continued to look at me while I carefully tried to remain polite as every second ticking by felt like a strip of flesh was being peeled from my body. “You should let Elsapet look at you.”

“I’m fine. It’s just surface stuff.”

She nodded again. “The hurt you’re feeling won’t be helped by salve or bandaids.”

I stopped for a moment, not looking at her. “No. No it won’t. Um, do me a favor? Tell your mother to have someone put that bucket in the food wagon; it’s full of honey.”

“You fought for honey?” she asked stupefied.

“No. I fought to keep my head from being bashed in. The honey was an unexpected bonus.”

“So the fight wasn’t your idea,” she muttered.

“No,” I told her, unwilling and unable to explain myself while I was feeling the way I did.

“You should explain it to Tavit. He can …”

“No. Look Shoushan, I … I appreciate what you’re trying to do but … better to deal with this now than later when it would just hurt worse. It seems like it was bound to happen one way or the other.” Only I couldn’t imagine it hurting worse. There was no way that anything could hurt worse than I was feeling right then.

After I’d finished packing and then thrown it in another corner I’d tried to go outside but the rain was really pelting. As bad as it was raining there wasn’t any going back in. I climbed the cat walk and went up a level and decided to try and nonchalantly watch it rain though an opaque window.

I was up there I don’t know how long before someone joined me. “Pilbos, I don’t mean to be rude but I’m not in the mood. OK?”

“No. I mean I understand.” After a slight pause he said, “I’m sorry.”

I turned to look at him and then it clicked. “You were the one that blabbed before I had a chance to explain things.”

He looked very uncomfortable but also rather defiant. “I didn’t know he was going to react like … like he did. I thought it was totally cool how you won and I only got the story second hand. One girl against all those guys. Best caged fight battle ever if the stories are true.”

“I wasn’t there because I wanted to be,” I told him.

“Yeah, that’s what Shoushan said but … I don’t get it. If you didn’t want to fight how did you wind up in the ring?”

I looked at him and just sighed when I admitted to myself he wasn’t just going to go away without some kind of explanation. “Apparently it doesn’t matter who starts a fight, if you’re in one the local enforcers spread the blame around and everyone experiences equal opportunity punishment.”

“So who did you start the fight with?”

I rolled my eyes. “I told you, I didn’t start a fight. Two guys were hassling me and then ran us into another bunch that were already fighting. All of us got thrown in together.”

“Why didn’t you say something? They wouldn’t have made you fight if it wasn’t your fault. I mean, you could use the girl card and gotten out of it.”

I snorted and my bruised nose zinged making me cringe. “One, they don’t care about the girl card … because frankly I tried it a little bit. And two, I already told you it doesn’t matter if you start the fight or not, they feel like they are going to be the ones to meet out punishment however they feel necessary. Apparently it’s on the rule placard at each gate but I never read it.”

“Well then, why were two guys bothering you? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Pilbos I told you …”

“Look, I’m trying to understand. Uncle Bedros is already on my case. He called me a gossipy old woman. Can you believe that?!”

Beginning to lose my patience I told him, “I would have paid good money to see it. Now lay off will you. It was bad enough going through it the first time; I don’t want to relive it.”

“But what happened?”

“The Wicked Witch of the … where ever she’s from … happened. It was paybacks. Now will you leave me alone?” We were both being quiet – the warehouse echoed – but I was just about to get loud if that is what it took.

“Wait … the Roads woman … she had a hand in this? How did she do that? I thought that Charlie guy was going to put her in jail. We have to say something.”

“No ‘we’ don’t. You are going to be quiet about this and you are going to leave me alone. Got it?”

He was obviously confused. “But why? If you tell Thor, he’ll see it wasn’t your fault. I heard Tavit telling Tov and Sog about that man and his sister. They were a couple of backstabbers. Thor will figure out it was really that woman’s fault and you two … you know … you’ll get back together.”

“No. The fight wasn’t just about … about this afternoon and what happened. Thor said some things that … I guess everyone heard some of the things he said. I thought he’d accepted me for who and what I am. I guess I was wrong. I don’t think he really meant some of the things the way they sounded but I’m not about to go ask him either. Besides he is right about one thing, disaster seems to follow me wherever I go and people get hurt.”

After just looking at me Pilbos said, “You’re taking off. Because of this.”

“I don’t know. Right now I want to but I don’t know if it is for the right reasons. Tomorrow I’m going to talk to your Uncle and … and we’ll see from there. Either way I think maybe … maybe … oh I don’t know what I think. I don’t want to think at all right now.”

Suddenly serious he said, “You should still tell Thor. That it wasn’t your fault. Don’t you think he has the right to know?”

“It isn’t a matter of him having the right to know or not. I know Thor. If I tell him then he’ll feel bad. He’ll want to make things right. He’s that kind of guy. And right now … I’d probably jump at the chance to … to be with him again. But I’d never know … and he’d never know … if we got back together for the right reason.” I looked at Pilbos. “I’ve never had a boyfriend. And to be honest Thor isn’t a boy, he’s a man. I never even got my learner’s permit on how to handle this sort of stuff. I don’t know how this is supposed to play out but I do know that I still … still care enough that I don’t want to hurt him just for the sake of proving something.”

“Then I’ll say something,” he told me, indignant.

“No you won’t,” I told him calmly. “He won’t want to believe you and it could be a case of shooting the messenger. He and Chu … um Tavit … have finally ironed everything out and are friends again. If Thor … look, just let it go. The whole thing is just … it’s just not worth the trouble it could cause. Besides, I’ll have to … say something to you … if you blab. Got it?”

He finally left just shaking his head. Then Chuckri showed up and I got ready for another fight. Instead he was just calmly telling me I had midnight watch. He had scheduled me cover the front door. As he was turning away I asked, “Chuckri? Can … can I have the roof? Instead of the front door.” I was embarrassed that my voice sounded like I was practically begging. But I guess when it comes right down to it that’s what I was doing.

“So you can throw yourself off?” I looked up but he was only half kidding.

I shrugged. “No. Look … nothing against your family but …” I stopped because I sounded real closed to being a complainer. I straightened my voice up and then continued. “I would like the roof position please.”

He looked at me but only asked, “Why?”

I sighed. “Because … because people are looking at me, on the roof no one can see me.”

“After what happened did you really think people weren’t going to look at you?”

Trying to explain without explaining I told him, “If they were mad at me or disgusted or anything else I’d deal with it. It’s not like I haven’t seen it all before. But I can’t take pity. I can take anything but that. And that’s the way they’re looking at me. Please, I’ll forfeit my turn at the market tomorrow or whatever else it takes. I just … can’t … deal with them … watching me with pity in their eyes. Now right now.”

“Alright, under one condition.”

I probably would have agreed to anything by that point but I wasn’t stupid so I asked, “What?”

“Explain it to me. Pilbos is upset and it’s not just from the lecture he got from Uncle and Ludvig. So give. What’s going on?”

Refusing to meet his eyes I said with as little inflection as possible, “Two guys started something with me. I tried to avoid a confrontation but they wouldn’t let up. I was forced to defend myself. We fell into another fight. The market has some wonky rules that whether you start a fight or not you’re still guilty of fighting. We all got thrown together in that stupid cage and it was either fight or get pounded. I don’t like getting pounded unless there’s a football involved. End of story.”

“Did you tell Thor this?”

I huffed, “I thought that was your only condition. I told you what happened. If you don’t believe me apparently the rules are out there for everyone to read before they go into the market.”

Quietly he asked again, “Did you tell this to Thor?”

“You heard what was said. Apparently everyone heard what was said. It wasn’t really about the fight and you and I both know it.”

“Are you sure?” he asked but when I looked at him dead in the eye neither one of us could deny that I was right.

“Just drop it Chuckri. If you don’t want me on the roof, fine. I’ll deal with it. I’ll …”

“You go on at midnight. You relieve Tovmas.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. As he was turning away I said, “Thanks.”

“Yeah Kid, sure.”

“Chuckri? Don’t say anything. It won’t do any good and … and it would just hurt him. It’s … it’s over. Don’t make a bigger mess for me to have to clean up. OK?”

He looked at me, “You sure that’s what you want?”

“No. But it’s the way it’s got to be.”

“You leaving?”

“I don’t know. I already told Pilbos that I want to talk to your uncle first.”

He nodded. “That’s a good idea. You could do it now.”

“No. Not now. My emotions are too near the surface. If … if I start talking now I’ll just turn into a girl and then that would really confuse everyone.” The joke fell flat, both of us knowing that I was just doing it to cover up what I didn’t want anyone else to see.

It wasn’t long before it was dinner time but the smell nauseated me. I stepped outside under an overhang and stayed there while camp quieted down and most everyone went to sleep. I was just sitting in the dark when Barkley and Alfonso came out to smoke a home rolled.

Alfonso said, “Thor’s not back yet.”

Barkley answered, “Naw, he won’t be back tonight. He was going with that Major to Whiteman. Better for him to go anyway for a while. Might take his mind off of things.”

“I ain’t never seen him like this. Not even with Maggs.”

Barkley sighed. “Least said about it the better. I was wondering how long it would last. Rocky just don’t know how to handle a man like Thor. And she ain’t exactly your normal kind of girl to begin with.” The word normal made me cringe.

Alfonso for his part said, “You make it sound like the fight was all her fault. You heard that guy who we bought the tobacco off of. Sounds like the Kid didn’t have a whole lot of choice. You’d figure Thor would have known it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a dust up or two with her but she ain’t the kind to go looking for a fight on purpose no matter how she might look. And didja see her? She looked like …”

“Yeah, I saw her. And so did Thor. I’d keep my nose out of it if I were you. Neither one of them is the kind to appreciate that kind of ‘help’ and who knows? There ain’t exactly a lot of reason for her to hang around now is there.”

I had been thinking the same thing but it still hurt for someone else to say it out loud like that. I checked my watch and then slipped back inside and went up to the roof. It wasn’t raining by the bucketful but it was far from being just a drizzle. I pulled out a garbage bag I had scavenged weeks ago to keep the rain off and made sure my rifle was covered as well.

“Psst. Tovmas.” The brother in question separated himself from the wall and came over to the door.

“It’s wet out here.”

I wasn’t in the mood for any kind of play so I just nodded.

“OK,” he said getting the message. “Nothing has been moving. The rain is keeping everyone in. Not even the port-o-potties are getting much traffic in this weather.” He pointed off in the direction the little buildings were supposed to be. “Watch out for the edge, it’s slippery.”

I nodded again and then when I tried to go to the position he’d been at when I’d first come out he asked, “Are you leaving?”

I turned to look at him in the dark. “I don’t see why at this late date it should make a difference to anyone one way or the other. Why on earth do you care?”

“My mother cares. Elsapet and Shoushan care. Even Grandmother was asking. Uncle didn’t know what to tell them.”

Trying to keep my voice steady I told him, “I don’t know. You family is nice. I’ve … I’ve learned a lot from riding with your brother’s crew. But … but when Thor and I … I’ve never had anything like that. It didn’t take long for me to … enjoy being treated … special … like I was a real …” I stopped, refusing to sound as pathetic as I felt. “I just don’t know Tovmas. I don’t know if I can stay and just go back … go back to that half life I was living. I don’t even know if it is possible, not with things the way they are. If you were here, alone, no family … maybe not so many friends … how would you feel? What would you do? Tough it out or … escape … move on … try to put yourself back together some how?”

I could see him shrug in the dark. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t either. I’ll let everybody know when I do. Fair enough?”

This time it was a nod in the dark. “Fair enough.”

So I got to work … sitting … and watching. I put all of my remaining energy into it. It was all I had left at that point. And it rained. One o’clock. Two o’clock. I started to get very tired but just put even more effort into my duty. Then three o’clock came and Richards showed up to relieve me. He wanted to look at my bumps and bruises but by then I was hanging on by a thread and I just brushed passed him, unable to even utter a sound that wouldn’t have sounded like a whimper.

I made my way inside, down the catwalk, and then grabbed my gear. I had spotted a shed earlier and it was as good as any to hide in to lick my wounds. I headed for it after banging into Soghomon just enough to tell him where I was going without using words. I wrenched the door open and got it closed just in time. I fell to my knees and started sobbing. Luckily for me the skies really opened up again and the thunder and lightning covered the sounds of my breakdown.

I don’t know how long it went on. It was a while, that’s all I know. Eventually I was just empty and I crawled over to my gear and only out of habit bothered putting my bed roll under me before collapsing and falling asleep.

I woke up because I felt something crawling in my hair. I’m not normally squeamish but when I slapped it away and felt something fleshy I jerked awake and sat up …

And found myself practically nose to nose with Thor. All I could do was to give my heart a chance to slow down … or that’s what I kept telling it to do but it was banging around inside my chest like I was about to have a heart attack. I wasn’t saying anything and he wasn’t either so I just turned and started rolling up my bedroll … only he knocked it back out. I didn’t know what was going on but I thought it was just doing it to irritate me or get a rise out of me or something. I reached out to roll it back up and he was just there … all around me.

I stiffened not knowing what to expect. He pulled me backwards until I was sitting again only with my back to him. Every time I made the slightest movement to try and move his arm would tighten up. Finally I gave up and just waited to see what was going on.

In a hoarse voice he asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I’d had too little sleep and less food. My brain just wasn’t firing on all pistons. I couldn’t even seem to get it to work enough to respond to his question.

“Ok … OK, I … I deserve the silent treatment. OK, I get that. But I also deserve an answer. Why didn’t you tell me?”

I finally managed a croak but that was it. I’d cried myself practically voiceless. When I finally was able to get the words to form I didn’t sound like myself at all. “Tell … tell you what?”

He stiffened and I could literally feel the emotions held tautly in check where his arms pinned me against him. He turned me to look at him and I could sense he had to force himself to be careful. At first he was angry and then looking at my face it turned into something close to alarm. “You’ve been out here all night.”

Gosh it was hard making my brain work when it didn’t want to. “What … what’s the time?”

“Rochelle …”

“What’s the time? I … I came here after I got off watch … about … about three. Been here since then.”

He went to touch my face and I jerked away startled when I realized that my blurry vision wasn’t all the result of the lack of light in the shed. I touched my eyes and felt they were puffy. “Must look like I took a helmet to the nose. Need to go … go wash … my face I think.”

“When’s the last time you ate? Joan said you didn’t come to dinner last night and no one has seen you since Soghomon said you came out here.”

“It’s not a crime.” My brain was finally catching up with reality even if my voice was sounding worse. “Let me go. I need to go wash up. I think I told Chuckri that I’d take someone’s watch today so they could go to the market.”

“No.”

“Don’t. Just don’t Thor. If you want to do some more yelling then just do it and get it over with, but don’t go all gotta-be-responsible-for-the-Kid. It’s too late for that.”

“Is it?” he asked.

“Yeah. Way too late. I’m not ‘The Kid’ anymore. People may still call me that but that part of my life is over with.” I was not playing whatever game he was into. I was all played out. “Now let me go. I have to check and I need to …”

“@#$% @# why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Tell you what?!” I croaked. I was running on so little fuel that I was not going to be able to hang onto my temper for long.

“That Maggs sent those two guys!! Why … didn’t … you … tell … me?!” Then more quietly, “Why Rochelle? Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you just stand there?”

Ping. The last of my control was gone. “Stand there? Stand there?!! I had just saved myself from a whooping of gigantic proportions but whether it was my fault or not I knew you’d get upset and worried sick when you heard about it. I just wanted to give you a few minutes to get it out of your system then I was going to apologize for yet again messing up! But I never got the chance. You never gave me a chance! Every stinking time I tried to start you would tell me to shut the f-bomb up. Put yourself in my place Thor. For once really put yourself in my place. You think about that,” I said as I jabbed a hard finger into his chest. “And from most of what you were saying it wasn’t even about the fight that I got into so don’t even try and play off that me telling you that the fight wasn’t my fault would have made any difference at all.”

This time when I got up to leave we wound up in a tussle. “Let me go Thor. Right. Now. I was in one fight yesterday. I really don’t want to have to deal with another one today but I will if necessary.”

“If it will make you feel better, swing away,” he said.

Outraged I asked, “Are you completely mental?! Is that really how little you think of me?!!”

“Rochelle …”

I hated it that he could make all my efforts to get away seem so puny. I was tired and starting to hurt in places that had been hurt the day before but that wasn’t all of it. My voice was little more than a mouse squeak. Thor simply knew how to fight … and how not to fight … better than I did. I was so tired and so heartsick I just let loose and started crying again. At that moment I nearly hated him for the state I’d been reduced to. I don’t really know how it happened but before I knew it I was in his lap and crying like my heart was broke … and it was.

It was a moment before I heard his own broken whispers on the top of my head. He kept saying over and over, “Don’t leave. Don’t leave Rochelle. Don’t leave me.”

I pushed him away. “Leave you? You left me. In fact I’m not even sure that you were ever really with me … not the real me. I thought you knew me. I thought you knew I would never just go looking for a fight … not just for the sake of fighting. More than that Thor I thought you accepted me. Instead I find out that …”

“No. No. It isn’t like that.”

“Yes it is.”

“No. I admit it looks bad but I was just angry. I did say some things I shouldn’t have but it isn’t how I really feel. Rochelle … please … look at me …”

“No. No because you’ll do whatever it is you do that I keep falling for and …”

“Rochelle,” he whispered into my ear.

“Stop that. Just … just stop it. This is bigger than the way you make me feel … physically. I let myself …”

He wouldn’t let me go. I felt like I was under siege. “Rochelle …”

“I swear I’m going to kill Pilbos,” I ground out without really meaning to say anything aloud.

“What does Pilbo Doughboy have to do with this,” Thor asked suspiciously.

“He told you.” I was furious. “I told him not to. I didn’t want to deal with you getting your feelings hurt and now look at this mess.”

“He’s not the one that told me.”

“Yeah right,” I squeaked as my voice broke yet again. “Don’t cover him.”

“I found out when I went to Whiteman. Charlie brought the details of the fight from the market. He wanted to know how Maggs had gotten to those two guys. Turns out the Roads Gang had someone on the inside. A guy … yet another one … she’d hypnotized. The guy put a bullet in his own brain rather than face what he’d done. I was there most of the night helping to get it all untangled.”

I didn’t even want to think about it. “Fine. Whatever. So I don’t have to kill Pilbos. Now let me go. I’ve got work to …”

“No.”

I sighed. “Thor. I can’t do this. I don’t know how. I hate drama even though my life was built on it. But not like this. I’ve never had to deal with something like this. I can’t take it. I was only fooling myself that I could have a normal relationship with anyone. I’m done fooling my …”

I squawked a wheezy cough when he jerked me back against him roughly. “Don’t. Don’t … don’t ever … say that. You’re not leaving. We’ll work through this. We’ll …”

“Thor, I’m not doing this to torture you … or me. But be honest, just … be … honest. There are a lot of things about me you either don’t like or have a hard time accepting. And you’re still mad enough about me lying to you in the very beginning that it’s still there in the back of your head. Every time something comes up you’re going to remember all those things, you won’t be able to help yourself. You can pretend that …”

“Rochelle, I am not a nice man.”

“Huh? Wha … Huh? Are we even having the same conversation? Do you hear what I said? I wasn’t blaming you for anything. I’m just trying to lay it all out on the line.”

“And so am I. I have done things that under pain of torture I will never tell you about. But I’ve done them and nothing is going to change that. But more than that I’ll do them again if necessary. I’m that kind of man. When I have a goal, I meet it. Whatever it takes. And right now, my number one priority is to make sure you don’t leave me.”

“Thor …”

“Now you listen to me. I am not going to lose you. I messed up. I admit that I messed up bad. But you are taking some of the things I said the wrong way. Fine. I’ll be responsible for that too. I should have known how you’d take them even if I didn’t mean them that way. But as bad as this is it still isn’t so bad that we need to chuck it all. And you are not going to leave me @#$%@#. You made a promise you wouldn’t run off and you will by god, keep that promise.”

I just looked at him and shook my head. “You’ve lost your mind. How can this … this mess … be fixed?! Every time you look at me you’ll remember all the times that …”

“Is that how it is for you? Will you look at me and remember what I said for the rest of your life?”

“You’re not the freak! I am!!” I screamed with what little voice I had left. And then I stopped and started to panic. I’d never admitted out loud to anyone but Jonathon just how badly the words of others had hurt me. Even Jonathon didn’t know all of it. “Just … just go. Have some kind of life with … with a normal … with someone who … who can fit in … who …” I was scrambling, trying to get away.

I must have been getting slippery because we wound up full length on the ground, him pinning me and me really starting to panic at that point. “Rochelle. Rochelle! Look at me.” I felt like an injured bird with a viper on my tail. “Look at me. We can fix this. I … I didn’t mean what you thought I meant. We can make things all right again. You have to give me a chance … give us a chance. As bad as things are they are still salvageable.”

I wanted to believe him so badly but I’d never been hurt the way he’d hurt me. Thor must have felt me weakening. He whispered, “You’re so tired, probably can’t think worth squat right now. You haven’t eaten. Let me get you something to eat. We’ll go over to the market. There’s a little cantina there.”

“I can’t. I promised to take someone’s shift.”

“You offered. Chuckri didn’t accept.”

I didn’t know whether to believe him. “I still can’t. I’m a mess. I can feel my face. I look even more like the Bride of Frankenstein than I normally do.”

“Don’t say that again Rochelle. Just because you don’t look like the traditional beauty queen doesn’t mean that you aren’t beautiful.”

“OK, that’s enough. I don’t need to hear that stuff. It’s nothing but a load. I had a mirror you know.”

“That you obviously didn’t use. Or you were looking at it with your eyeballs inside out and upside down.”

I was getting exasperated. “Thor people are going to look, stare, talk, and maybe even start stuff just because they think I’m looking for it. If they see you with me they’ll start it with you too by default. You can’t want that kind of trouble.”

“One, you don’t know that people are going to be that way and two, the mood I’m in anyone messes with you and …”

“That’s what I’m talking about. You don’t need that kind of problem. Just let it go.”

“No.”

I thumped him in the chest and then grimaced at how sore my hands were; they felt like I’d hoed a couple of acres of tobacco but forgotten my gloves. “You are that fond of that word.”

“Yes … yes I am.” He sat up and pulled me with him. I felt limp as a wet noodle.

“Thor I … I can’t do this again. It … it’ll kill me. I may be left with a pulse but the stuff that makes me who I am will be gone, destroyed. I don’t even know if I have the strength to try again. I feel dead inside already.”

“Don’t say that.”

I sighed and shut up. I didn’t want to hurt him but I didn’t want to be hurt either. But Thor is Thor and no matter that I had meant to stick to my guns I found myself washing up and going with him to that cantina. We were joined by Richards and Elsapet. And just like I predicted people looked, stared, talked, and a few even tried to get in my face … but Thor was there and only one was stupid enough to cross the line. But Thor didn’t have to do anything because suddenly an enforcer was there and the guy backed off rather than pay a fine or get thrown into the ring to take his turn.

As we were leaving the cantina I dug the little bag out of my pocked and gave it to Thor. “These aren’t worth anything once we leave here. Use ‘em, trash ‘em, I don’t care. I just don’t want to see them ever again.”

I had meant to just leave and go back to the shed and try and get some sleep but Thor nixed that idea. “Good, then if you’re willing to contribute your earnings we’ll see if we can’t pick up some extra supplies.”

For the next hour and a half we walked … well they walked, I stumbled … around the booths. There wasn’t really a lot of stuff we needed so we put the money into food instead. I mentioned looking for medical supplies but Richards and Elsapet got all happy and said they’d been resupplied out of Whiteman in return for taking out the Roads Gang.

The Roads Gang. If I never heard about it again it would be too soon. I didn’t even want to know what happened to Maggs so long as she and her plots and plans stayed well away from me. I was told anyway. She’d be receiving a public trial the following week. But we wouldn’t be around for it as all they needed was a few depositions to present into evidence.

When we did finally go back to camp I headed straight for the shed only to find my gear gone. “What?!”

Pilbos grinned sheepishly as he leaned on the side of the building. “I didn’t think you’d want your stuff left out in the damp. I took it in, put it back where it belongs.”

I stumbled inside the warehouse and saw my stuff, including my bedroll, all laid out next to Thor’s stuff. I gave Pilbos the eye and he just shrugged, embarrassed. “Hey, if it works out for you two then maybe there’ll be some tall beauty waiting for me in Kentucky.”

Yeah, that kind of pressure I could do without. I must have looked like a zombie as I lurched over to my bag. I barely remember lying down.

But I remember waking up. My head was killing me and my stomach was rolling. The sandwich from the cantina was hours before and I’d already been operating on empty. I sat up … or tried to. There was a big arm draped across my chest. I slid over and reached for my canteen but it was empty. I was still tired but it looked like I was going to have to get up anyway.

Before I could get to my knees Thor was there. “What’s wrong?”

“Thirsty,” I whispered.

“Here,” he said holding his canteen to my lips. “You’re hot.”

“Not now Thor.”

He laughed unwillingly. “I … um … didn’t mean that kind of hot Rochelle. I meant you’re hot as in you feel feverish.”

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