“As someone with ample experience in suicidally risky endeavors, I can say with authority that this 1’s ’specially shaky,” Autumn said just before a puff ball was patted o’er her face, causing her to cough from the swarm o’ white dust it spawned.
“Don’t tell me you’re having 4th-thoughts ’bout this; after all o’ the other stuff you’ve done,” Dawn said from the other room, her face down inside Autumn’s backpack.
“No; I’m simply warning you that this likely won’t end well—like most o’ my ventures, actually.”
“The opportunity to possibly unseat your professional harasser should be worth it, though,” said Dawn.
“I still fail to understand how this will help us much in that regard, considering he’s already despised by so many people anyway,” said Autumn.
“Yes, but the kind o’ info the Ol’ Factory holds will likely be much direr than him just being an annoying ideologue.”
Autumn waved a hand.
“I’m ignorant o’ politics, so I’ll just take your word for it.”
“I think we’re ’bout done,” Edgar said as he straightened the top hat o’er Autumn’s head.
“Let me see.”
She hopped out o’ her chair & scrutinized herself in the mirror as an artist might scrutinize a painting for any perspective errors, smudges, or dogs inexplicable included, tilting her head left & right as an owl. She rubbed her checks vigorously, curious how well the white powder would remain; then she rubbed the tiny spikes o’ hair that protruded under her top hat & found that they, too, seemed to keep their new golden blonde.
She couldn’t stop herself from blinking repeatedly, being still unused to the contacts in her eyes. I’ll need to get used to these by the time we reach the Ol’ Factory or it’ll seem suspicious.
“¿Are you sure our different face sizes won’t be a problem?” she asked as she leaned closer to the mirror for a better view, 1 eye closed to increase the other’s focus.
“Not ’nough for anyone to notice,” said Edgar. “It’s a good thing the Programmers hired lazy artists when designing the earth so that you humans all have the same general body shapes.”
She deepened her voice further into her throat & made it a li’l mo’ nasally. “¿Does this sound ’nough like him?”
Edgar nodded. “Just like him.”
“Augh,” she said, still in the new voice. “Some skills are mo’ shameful to have than not have.”
“It’ll be for a good cause, a’least,” said Edgar. Then he started scratching his head & added, “I hope.”
Then he put his hands on her shoulders & said, “Now, you need to get out so I can get into my costume.”
Edgar shut the door ’hind her & she could hear from the clattering o’ objects inside that he was changing. She walked o’er to Dawn, who was now sitting @ her desk, face to the monitor,
“You said you tested the software & everything, ¿correct?” asked Autumn.
Dawn turned to her with mild surprise, & then nodded.
“’K, I’m ready,” said Edgar.
They turned back to the bathroom door to see Edgar emerge in green pajamas covered in pig-face patterns.
Dawn’s eyebrows rose. “¿Won’t they recognize your face? I mean, no offense, Edgar, but skeletons are not exactly common round here…”
“We’re going to tell them he is in disguise,” said Autumn.
“He is in disguise. That’s what we don’t want them to know,” said Dawn.
“No, his disguise is his disguise,” said Autumn.
Dawn smiled. “¿Is this a joke or something?”
Autumn shook her head. “Please think beyond 1 dimension, Summers. He is 1 o’ Lance’s henchmen—we’re going with Agent Magic Mint—since they might recognize Winter Wizard from last time—disguised as Edgar. It’s an act straight from his moveset, I’m certain.”
“¿So Edgar’s disguised as Agent Magic Mint disguised as Edgar?” said Dawn.
“Yes—& I take it by your own befuddlement, despite it being ’splained in detail, that Lance’s incompetent minions will most certainly not unravel the scam.”
“¿& why is he wearing green piggy pajamas?” said Dawn.
“Ah, the answer to that 1 is simple,” said Autumn: “His minions are idiots. Edgar… Sorry, Agent Magic Mint, appearing in pajamas won’t shock them; appearing in an accurate costume would.
“Furthermo’, the oddity o’ Edgar’s apparel will distract them from noticing the other parts o’ his disguise being too good. Now, you’re probably wondering why I chose pajamas & not something much mo’ bizarre, like a lion’s suit. Well, I wanted it to be odd, but not exaggerative—to distract attention without attracting suspicion.”
Dawn turned back to the computer.
“Well then, it seems that you have every box numbered. ¿Are you all ready?”
“Nobody is all ready,” said Autumn. “One’s only as ready as one can be before it’s time to leap.”
As usual, ’twas drizzling under the dense cobalt clouds o’erhead, which burst out into swirling splotches o’ orange, yellow, pink, & periwinkle, as if an artist had arbitrarily splattered various paints ’cross the sky.
They already knew they were going in the right direction by their environs: mushy soil that stuck to their soles strewn with wrenches, screwdrivers, cattle prods, mallets, molding gray brains, the broken pieces o’ a white plastic fan, & other instruments. A line o’ rail stretched from horizon to horizon ’side them, which Autumn guessed had hardly been used in the last 30 years.
They saw the Ol’ Factory emerge from the crest o’ the knoll: an immense structure shielded in steel scraps o’ rusty grays, greens, blues, & browns. Bent pipes jutted from ’bove, adding black smog to the celestial canvas. But what snatched their sight was the entrance, formed into the shape o’ a giant nose.
As they neared, they noticed guards garbed in golden tuxedos & top hats standing ’long the entrance with arms crossed ’hind backs. She saw some aim their emotion-concealing masks in her direction, only to quickly turn them straight afterward.
Here we see if our keys fit the lock, thought Autumn.
“Good to see you ’gain, Mayor Chamsby,” said the closest guard. Then he looked @ Edgar. “I see that your venture to capture Edgar has been victorious, Sir.”
“As wondrous as that’d be, I’m ’fraid that is only Agent Magic Mint,” Autumn said with feigned annoyance, attempting to match Chamsby’s nasally voice.
Then she smiled & raised a triumphant index. “¡But you shall be right soon!” She began twiddling her fingers together, staring down @ them with a dastardly smile. “You may have noticed that Agent Magic Mint here is disguised as Edgar. This is so we can trick that vile ponytailed looter into stumbling right into our trap. Then, ¡bam!”—Autumn smacked fist gainst palm—“Justice is served with coffee & croutons.”
“Ah, yes, Sir. Absolutely brilliant,” said the guard.
“’Course it’s brilliant: I came up with it.”
“Most excellent, Sir. ¿Want me to hoist you up into the factory?”
“Both o’ us.”
“Yes, Sir,” the guard said as he dropped on 1 knee, his back arching forward.
Autumn turned to Edgar. “You 1st.”
Edgar nodded & nimbly climbed onto the guard’s back. The guard clutched his legs & rose to his feet, raising Edgar into the dark right nostril o’ the entrance—a dark, cold cave that stank o’ rust, which to Edgar’s own nonexistent nose might as well smell as mucus. But what truly pumped his marrow with ice was the tiny glowing red light, flashing bright & dull repeatedly before him, as if a robotic eye blinking @ him.
“I must say, Magic Mint, that your disguise is spot on,” the guard said as he felt Edgar’s thin legs shiver. “’Cept for those admittedly nifty pajamas, that is. ¿What’s that all ’bout?”
Edgar’s shivering doubled. ¡O no! I’m definitely going to mess up Autumn’s whole scheme.
OK… What did Autumn say: Just act dumb. That shouldn’t be hard.
He answered shakily, “I, uh… I made a mistake in my re-research.”
“I’m surprised Chamsby wasn’t mo’ mad.”
“It’s a, uh… sore spot with him.”
Autumn, who had spent the last few seconds standing round with an impatient glower, looked up @ where Edgar would likely be, planning.
Hmm… I wonder if my cloak will be as well-protected as Edgar’s usually is… I can count myself lucky that I don’t recall that miscellanea regarding Sir Chamsby.
She shouted, “¿What’s the hold up? ¡Get inside already!”
“Just push the glowing red button to the side & climb in,” whispered the guard.
Edgar did so & almost toppled o’er backward when he heard a sharp swish. He saw no change in the total darkness before him, but sensed an added airiness in front o’ him. He edged his hand forward & felt an opening with hard floor below it. He grasped the floor & carefully climbed in.
When Edgar had left the guard’s back, the guard ducked down ’gain.
“Your turn, Mayor, Sir.”
“’Bout time,” Autumn said as she stepped onto his back as obnoxiously as she could.
She wasted no time pushing the glowing red light & climbing inside. When Edgar saw her enter, he turned & they both walked up the slightly sloped hall. ’Twas just as ash-black inside as ’twas in the nostril, forcing Autumn to whip out her flashlight. The silence was so deep, they could hear nothing but their own feet scraping gainst the cement floor, as well as dripping. What liquid ’twas & where ’twas happening, neither knew. It made Edgar triple his shivering as his mind flew through many possible explanations.
Edgar jumped when he felt plastic enter his hand & turned to see Autumn glare @ him. Then he looked down @ said hand & saw Autumn’s phone in it, a message on-screen:
“Good job hesitating; my shouting was acting, ’course”
The walls ended, followed by red metal railings, opening out to the rest o’ the factory. Scattered round the dusty floor sat rows & columns o’ desolate wooden tables covered with sewing machines, buzz saws, & other instruments, none o’ which seemed to have been touched for years: the barren remain o’ the jungle, cut down so that its capital could be better used somewhere else.
Autumn grabbed Edgar & stopped him.
“Shhh, stand back & be silent.”
They both did, & heard muffled voices gradually rise from the distance.
“—need to hurry & greet him or he’ll be angr—”
The voice stopped when the face it came from was attacked by a beam o’ light.
“¿Who goes there?” the guard asked as he put a hand o’er his strained eyes.
“It’s me, you idiots,” said Autumn.
“O, Mayor Chamsby. Good to see you. Might I say that you are looking very fetching today?”
“You can’t e’en see me, idiots,” said Autumn. “Just lead me on to the document so we can get out o’ this place, already. My shoes are getting dust on them.”
“Yes, Sir. Right this way.”
The guards turned & led Autumn & Edgar the rest o’ the way down the hall. Throughout the way, Autumn swung her flashlight round them, which revealed that the latter half o’ their path went through a narrower metal pipe. A principle she’d always held was that one should try to know as much ’bout one’s environment as possible—in case one needed to bake a hasty ’scape.
They exited the pipe & entered a much mo’ open & lit room, full o’ e’en mo’ uniformed guards—as well as Vizier Thursday O’Beefe—standing round with white paper cups in their hands. Autumn & Edgar caught snippets o’ a few awkward conversations ’bout newborn nieces, dating dilemmas, & trying to get into college.
Autumn turned her head left & right, looking ’pon them all.
“OK, ¿what have you slackers accomplished?”
They all turned to Autumn & she suddenly found herself assaulted by a babble o’ “¡Good evening, Mayor, Sir!”, “That’s a fetching hat you’ve got on, Sir!”, “¿Would you like me to shine your shoes, Sir?”, & “¡Mayor Chamsby has arrived in his own abandoned factory! ¡What a spoonful!”
Autumn held her Mickey-Mouse-gloved hands out to shove the flies ’way.
“All right, get off me, you freaks ’fore you get your viruses on my new cape.”
She brushed said viruses off & then turned to the crowd.
“OK, ¿which o’ you is in charge ’gain?”
They all pointed @ her.
“No, no, no. I mean which o’ you is the leader ’mong you guys?”
1 o’ them raised his hand.
“Ah, yes. ¿& what is your name ’gain?”
“Uh, Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty, Mayor. I-I just wanted to ask if that if you succeeded in capturing the scandalous skeleton or if that is only someone in disguise so I can either congratulate you for a job well done or for a job ’bout to be done well.”
Autumn blinked @ him in genuine confusion ’fore answering, “The latter.”
“Then may I congratulate you on a job ’bout to be—”
“That’s good,” Autumn said as she waved her hands toward him as if blowing ’way a noisome odor.
“OK, ¿what game are you idiots playing, now?”
Everyone 180’d to the source o’ that voice & gaped—’specially Edgar, who also sneaked glances to Autumn.
Standing there before the pipe entrance was Lance Chamsby.
Wary o’ the importance timing would play in this spanner, Autumn didn’t give Lance an opportunity to resume:
“¿Who is this communist spy masquerading as me?” she demanded with a violent thrust o’ her finger toward him. “I ought to call the CIA on this sneakiness.”
Lance crossed his arms.
“OK, explain this boblunacy.”
O’Beefe swung his head back & forth ’tween the 2.
“¿There are 2 Mayor Chamsbys? ¡This is bigger than a scoop—this is a whole bowl full o’ journalistic gelato!”
Lance stepped forward with a foreboding scrape o’ his heel gainst cement, which shot shivers through everyone’s marrows, which wasn’t quite nice o’ him.
Then he thrust his own violent finger @ Autumn & said, “Whoever you are, take that stupid costume off or I’ll make you read The Jungle.”
Autumn held her arms akimbo.
“Thought I’d fall for your swift kicks to the crotch o’ truth, ¿huh? Well, if you don’t take off your costume, I’ll make you read Das Kapital.” Her eyes darkened when she added, “All 3 volumes.”
Gasps ’scaped from ’mong the crowd, with guards turning aghast faces toward each other.
“¿Isn’t that a li’l too cruel?” muttered 1.
“¿O’er 800 pages o’ dry mathematics & pontifications? No one could live through that,” whispered ’nother.
“¿There are books called The Jungle & Dust Capital? ¡What a handful!”
“If you don’t stop this nonsense this instant, you’re all fired,” Lance said as he pointed his finger all round the room.
“¿You dare threaten me in my own factory?” Autumn pointed @ him. “Seize that imposter & take him to justice.”
The guards & O’Beefe looked ’mong themselves.
“¿Which is real & which is fake?”
Agent Screamin’ Green put his hands to his head. “¡Ooo! ¡This is truly making my blood sweetener spike. My heart can’t take such pressure!”
Autumn cleared her throat, causing all—e’en Lance—to turn their heads in her direction.
“There’s obviously only 1 way to settle this conundrum.” She raised a squeezing fist: “we’ll have a quiz to see which o’ us know the answers to questions only the true Lance would know.”
The guards all turned ’mong themselves with muttering nods:
“O yeah, that’s a good idea.”
“I’m glad I thought o’ it.”
“You didn’t think o’ it.”
“¡Ooo! You’re making my self-esteem deflate.”
Lance’s eyes twisted @ Autumn in deep suspicion.
“OK…” he said slowly. Then he puffed up his chest & added, “Let the better man win, then.”
The entire spectrum o’ primary colors flashed through a dark room as Lance & Autumn disguised as Lance stepped up to their respective booths. Both aimed cocky grins @ the crowd & then, ’pon seeing each other giving the same expression, glared @ each other.
O’Beefe slapped his hands together with such force that they shattered into a million li’l pieces. None o’ this caused him to lose his gigantic smile, though—probably ’cause he wasn’t wearing a grin @ all, but a comfortable swede vest.
O’Beefe slipped a newly-grown hand into his vest & pulled out a li’l yellow card. Eyes purely on-card, he read, “You have won 2nd prize in a beauty contest—collect 1,000₧.”
Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty pulled on O’Beefe’s sleeve & whispered, “Wrong card.”
“Oops. Sorry,” O’Beefe said as he tossed the card ’way. He pulled out ’nother & grunted the gristle out o’ his throat.
“1st question: ¿What is Lance’s favorite colo—?”
Before O’Beefe could e’en finish, Autumn’s hand smacked the big red buzzer in front o’ her like a mountain cat snapping @ its prey.
“I hope you treasonous fools don’t think you can stump we with that trifle,” Autumn said with a sneer. “It’s gold, ’course.”
O’Beefe turned the card to them & exclaimed with a beaming smile, “¡That’s correct!”
Lights flashed ’hind the counter on Autumn’s booth & the 0s tilted upward till it now said “020.” While Autumn leaned back in her seat with her arms tied ’hind her head in cocky serenity, Lance eyed her as one would one’s mother if her head had been replaced by a lit bomb—with both befuddlement & fear.
Something’s smelly in the state o’ Boskeopolis, & I don’t like it… Obviously 1 o’ my men must a’least be a part o’ this, since they’re the only ones who know my plan. ¿Is this just some stupid joke taken too far or… are these scoundrels attempting a coop now that I’ve found myself political success?
No matter. The chances o’ this imposter beating me @ my own quiz is simply inconcei—
“Galt Aureus,” said Autumn.
Autumn’s counter flashed ’gain. Now it said “050.”
Lance slammed his fists gainst his booth.
¡Galbraith! OK… you can’t let yourself get distracted by such mental cacophony. The time now is not for idle thought, but for pure, powerful, vigorous action that will strike the world to the—
“Fortune Street,” said Autumn.
“That is correct, Mayor Chamsby.”
Autumn’s counter now said “090.”
“¡Henry George!” shouted Lance as he slammed his fists gainst his booth ’gain, this time with much mo’ force.
He was briefly distracted by the counter, whose #s were now spinning wildly. A few moments later, it stopped on “-127.”
Lance threw his arms up & then stabbed his finger rapidly @ everyone else as if shooting blame bullets.
“¡I’m telling all y’all, it’s sabotage!” he shouted. “I demand you stop this violent chicanery this instance before I get irate!”
“Don’t worry, Sir: you still have a chance to catch up,” O’Beefe said with a polite smile that indicated it wouldn’t be a smile if he weren’t so polite.
“Rare-cooked steak covered in golden-frog sauce,” said Autumn.
“¡You didn’t e’en ask a question yet! ¡I was listening to everything!” shouted Lance.
O’Beefe shrugged & turned the card toward Lance.
“He got the answer right, ne’ertheless.”
“Yes, isn’t that convenient,” said Lance, leaning out his booth.
“I ne’er thought an imposter would portray me in such a despicably libelous way,” said Autumn. “¿What kind o’ quiz welfare-president do you think I am? Pull yourself up by your own hat ears & stop expecting your redistributed pity ₧.”
Lance stopped, his eyebrows drooping in renewed rumination. He turned & strode o’er to Autumn.
Autumn stepped backward, pointed @ him, & said, “Well, ¿are you idiots going to let this maniac violate my individual rights? ¡Abscond him!”
Just as Lance was reaching out for 1 o’ Autumn’s hairs, Agents Purple Mountain’s Majesty, Screamin’ Green, & Banana Mania rushed to him & grabbed him by the arms & legs.
“¡Unleash me, you jackasses! ¡I’m the real Chamsby! ¡That imposter is that ponytailed bitch! ¿Do you not hear me? Damn it, when I get through with you all, you’ll…”
Lance’s voice tapered out as he was dragged ’way.
O’Beefe walked up to Autumn with a plastic smile.
“Phew, that was close, Mayor, Sir. Can’t be too careful with all these identity terrorists galloping round.”
“It seems you weren’t careful ’nough, considering how close I came to being assaulted,” said Autumn.
“O, you need’nt worry ’bout that, Mayor, Sir,” O’Beefe said as he pulled a cigar from his coat pocket & began lighting it. “You’re far too valuable for us to let that happen to you.”
Autumn didn’t like the way O’Beefe’s smile turned or his tone. She also didn’t like the time inefficiencies the cancer juices in his cigar smoke might cause her later in life, so she took a few steps back—just ’nough not to attract suspicion.
¿Do they already know? ¿Are they just trying to trick me into false safety so they can lock me up when I’m distracted?
Autumn suddenly remembered the stories she’d unwisely read ’bout what General Clay did to his prisoners. ’Course, Autumn wasn’t ’fraid o’ agonizing death—no one who would willingly leap into Tangerine Temple or Pepperoni Pyramid would be; Autumn was ’fraid o’ the opposite: unbearable torture & submission without death.
“Well then, let’s stop lazing round like unioned workers,” said Autumn. “Show me to the ill-begotten evidence already so we can leave this low-class hive.”
“Indigo’s already getting it,” O’Beefe said with a puff o’ his cigar.
Autumn almost blurted, “¿Who?” but managed to still her lips.
“Well, ¿where did… Indigo go? I don’t have time to wait; I have very important taxes to cut.”
“I think she went down that tunnel.” O’Beefe pointed down a metal sewerlike pipe that looked just like the 1 she used to enter this room.
Edgar, who briefly left the story to pick up a carton o’ milk, walked up to Autumn, sensing that they would resume their trek soon.
“Stay here just in case she appears or anyone else important appears,” Autumn told O’Beefe.
O’Beefe gasped. “That would make such an amazing story: ‘Famous reporter guards Ol’ Factory from people trying to sneak into it to steal documents showing Chamsby’s father’s involvement with the Protectors.’ That’ll be e’en mo’ than a bowl—it’ll be a whole box.”
Autumn & Edgar quickly walked ’way from him as one might walk ’way from a sexual predator or solicitor for the Heavenly Republic.
As they went, Autumn heard Dawn’s voice in her ear:
“Firefox, ¿you ’way from the others?”
Autumn’s eyes bulged, as if she’d just come to an epiphany. Then she clasped her hands together & murmured, “Yes…”
“Good. I just wanted to tell you you’re headed in the right direction—a’least if the map I found is accurate—but you’ll need to take 2 turns to the right & 1 to the left later. ¿You get that?”
“’K. I’ll keep you posted on my research. Control-W.”
Autumn had to resist the urge to shake her head in annoyance.
The tunnel darkened as it led ’way from the light o’ the other room, forcing Autumn to extract her flashlight ’gain. She saw that the tunnel was gradually narrowing, till it opened to ’nother larger room—much larger than the previous, actually, & crowded with many mo’ rusted structures o’ various shapes made o’ metal & steel, covered in multicolored buttons & diodes. Scattered round these dusty towers were bloated tires & bent oil drums. Neither she nor Edgar could interpret what this junk was used for.
Though there was light in this room, it constantly flickered on & off as if they were in a game o’ “Red Light, Green Light.” ‘Twas during 1 bout o’ “Green Light” that she noticed the shape o’ a figure lurking.
She ducked ’hind the 1st machine she saw, yanking Edgar after. Then she waited for a few seconds, glancing round her to see if the figure saw her & was coming for her. When she saw nothing appear to near, she carefully peered out the side.
Her pupils sunk till they were microscopic when she finally saw the figure in detail. So unbelievable was it that she thought ’twas the flickering lights screwing with her eyes somehow. But when she watched the figure for the 5th light cycle, she found confirmation.
She slunk ’way from the corner back into her hiding place. Edgar, seeing Autumn’s puzzled expression, texted her, “Who is it.”
Before she could answer, the figure walked by.
“Ah, Lance. There you are.”
Now ’twas Edgar’s turn to gape up @ this bizarre guest he found so familiar—the uncombed orange ponytail; the yellow-tinted, sharp-rimmed glasses windowing e’en sharper eyes; & the unmistakable black shirt with the words “PHAT LOOT” & gray sweats.
The figure’s eyes flicked to Edgar for a second ’fore returning to Autumn’s.
“I see you’ve brought me my partner. I wasn’t told ‘bout this. Plus, I don’t remember the shaky boner e’er wearin’ swine pajamas.
Autumn quickly recaptured her composure.
“Ah, you must be Indigo. ¿Did you find the documents?”
“Yes, I got them in my pockets,” she said as she patted her right pocket. Then she delivered Autumn a sour frown. “& that’s ‘Cap’n Clearbeard’ to you, grasstickler. You may be mayor o’ this dumpster o’ a town, but I’ll be keelhauled if I’ll accept that kinda disrespect from no earthling—not e’en a king.”
“I’ll call you Queen o’ the Calamari, for all I care. Just give me the documents,” Autumn said as she reached out a hand & waved it toward Clearbeard.
Clearbeard raised an eyebrow—1 o’ Autumn’s, which the real Autumn couldn’t quite get used to seeing for some reason.
“You’ve gotten a crab in your shoes since we last met, ¿haven’t you?”
“That’s none o’ your business,” said Autumn. “Just give me those documents already so I can get out o’ this rancid place.”
Clearbeard rubbed her mouth. “Hmm… Dunno. Your man-butter fingers’ll lose them, you might.”
Autumn’s fists shook to her sides.
“¿What? I haven’t heard such lies since The General Theory was published. Now, those are my papers & I will not tolerate my property rights being… bludgeoned”—Autumn threw her arms out—“¡in my own factory!”
“Can’t say I’m much interested in your human laws, Mayor,” said Clearbeard.
Autumn saw this wouldn’t go the way she wanted, so she improvised: while Clearbeard pinched her cheek, her hand shot out, dug into Clearbeard’s pocket, & then yanked out the papers.
“Ah, buryin’ for barnacles already, I see,” Clearbeard said with a deep frown & wrinkled eyes o’ anger.
“Silence,” Autumn muttered as she dug it into her cloak. “I’m in no mood for games. Now, let’s just find the bozos & leave.”
Clearbeard clutched Autumn by the scruff o’ her cloak & pulled her right up to Clearbeard’s face so close Autumn could smell the clam & horseradish on her breath. She could see that Clearbeard’s scowl was so tight that a tooth jutted out.
“Listen, kid, I was going to give you those documents ’ventually, anyway, & I still have a use for you, so I’m going to tolerate what you just did. But if you e’er play some game like that ’gain, I swear you’re gonna find yourself neighbor to the skeletons @ the bottom o’ my chamber in the sea. ¿Got it?”
Autumn nodded in feigned fright.
“Good.” Clearbeard shoved Autumn gainst the wall so hard that she toppled o’er & turned to the tunnel Autumn & Edgar had entered from.
“Shit,” Autumn muttered quietly in her own voice.
“¿What’s wrong now?”
Clearbeard turned back to see Autumn scrambling round the floor. Autumn looked up in Clearbeard’s general direction & scowled as she pretended to stuff something inside her cloak.
“O, nothing. Thought I lost something for a second.”
1 o’ Clearbeard’s eyebrows rose. “You still have those documents, ¿aye?”
“Yes,” Autumn said as she returned to her feet. She remembered to brush the dust off her cloak, as Lance would likely do.
Clearbeard stepped forward threateningly. “Let me see them.”
“’Cause I don’t believe you any better than an ocean in a desert.”
Autumn quickly pulled the documents out her cloak, unrolling them so she could see the text on them, & then quickly stowed them ’way ’gain.
“Good. Now quit pegleggin’ & let’s get a move on.”
Autumn squinted as she followed after the blurry image o’ what she hoped was Captain Clearbeard. Edgar followed Autumn, concerned by her straining eyes & wobbly gait, but saying nothing.
Suddenly, Clearbeard stopped, turned back to Autumn & Edgar, & waved them forward.
She must know, thought Autumn. ¿Why else would she do this but to keep me from ’scaping?
On 1 scale, if she hesitated, it’d only rile Clearbeard’s distrust; otherside, if Clearbeard was already distrustful, then she was clearly just setting Autumn up for a trap.
She shined her flashlight round Clearbeard’s face in the hopes that it’d stun her eyes, grabbed Edgar, & fast-moonwalked back into the blinking room.
“Watch where you’re aiming that, hammerhead,” Clearbeard grumbled as she squinted & held her hands ’bove her eyes like visors.
When Autumn reached the other room, she clicked off the flashlight & quick-crept through the li’l maze o’ materials, moving when the lights were off & stopping & hiding when the lights returned, her free hand touching round her surroundings to sense what her enfeebled eyes couldn’t.
She whispered directly into Edgar’s ear hole, “¿You see ’nother pathway out o’ here? I can’t see ’cause my contacts fell out.”
Edgar silently led her to ’nother tunnel. E’en with her vision weakened, Autumn could tell the stark difference ’tween the abrupt shift from bright to dark & the consistent dimness here.
She wasn’t sure whether her impaired eyesight strengthened her hearing, as is oft claimed, or not, but felt a bolus rise in her throat @ every heavy thump o’ her feet gainst the steel floor as they scampered through.
Our only chance is to maximize velocity to maximize our distance from her, since she’ll likely hear us no matter how fast we go.
So she ran as fast as she could, practically dragging Edgar ’hind her. Now she was leading the way, which gave her a meal both nourishing & poisonous: the path was straight, making it less likely that she’d smack into a wall & lose precious time; but it also meant she had fewer corners or forks to curve through to evade Clearbeard’s sights. Then ’gain, ‘twas so dark, & Autumn saw no flashlight beam touching them, so she figured Clearbeard wouldn’t be able to see them anyway.
This also meant that they’d be unable to see a wall in front o’ them should 1 appear.
“That’s ‘Earthwolf,’ Firefox.”
“Whatever,” Autumn whispered breathlessly—from exasperation & exhaustion. “Just tell me if there’s any forks or turns or anything in a dark tunnel after the blinking light room after the dark tunnel you led me through.”
“Slow down, please. ¿What was that?”
“After the tunnel you led me through… there was a room full o’ flickering lights, & then ’nother tunnel. ¿In that tunnel is there a—”
Autumn was briefly interrupted when she felt heavy metal plow her in the face.
Dawn replied, “Yes: farther in there’s a couple forks. ¿Remember? I told you to take 2 rights & then a left. The tunnel you entered was the 1st right, though I s’pose you’ve already gotten the documents, so you don’t need to follow the rest o’ the—”
“¿Do any o’ these paths ’ventually lead to an exit? That’s where I want to go.” Autumn’s voice was stuffy from holding her bruised nose. However, she didn’t feel any blood trickle.
“I can check.”
“No time. I’ll go rightward & you can check where that can lead.”
“If you say so…”
Autumn was already running down the rightward path.
“¿Where’s the next fork or turn? Just so I don’t smack into ’nother wall,” she whispered.
“There’s 1 just coming up.”
She slowed. She couldn’t hear any footsteps but hers & Edgar’s, anyway, so she figured that if Clearbeard were still following them, she was still kilometers ’way.
After a few turns, Dawn’s voice returned:
“Huh… I don’t see any exit from any o’ these paths. ¿Which turns have you taken so far?”
“I don’t remember exactly… I think a left & then ’nother right.”
Autumn felt ’nother wall ’fore her—’cept this 1 had a bump sticking out.
A knob. A door. Perfect.
“That way leads to a brig o’ some sort.”
“Perfect hiding place.”
She fumbled for the knob & then quietly turned it, opening the door just a crack ’nough to see inside. She was so used to the darkness in the tunnels that e’en the sliver o’ white light that ’scaped burned her retinas, as well as returning the uncomfortable blurry sensation that had been masked by the lack o’ light before.
“¿Who’s there?” asked someone inside.
Sensing that there was no choice but to enter, she entered, waiting just ’nough to let Edgar in ’hind her ’fore closing the door, carefully so as not to make any noise.
“Ah, Chamsby ol’ chap, it’s just you,” said a voice she could faintly recognize through its blurry blob o’ browns & grays & could fully recognize through its ditsy diction as O’Beefe.
“Quiet, fool,” she whispered to him. “Don’t let anyone know I’m here.”
“My lips are glued.”
“Show me to a good hiding place,” whispered Autumn.
“I can see it in the headlines: ‘Mayor Chamsby Hides.’ ¡What a fullful!”
Autumn scowled. “Just shut up & show me,”
“There should be a closet right o’er here.”
Autumn followed the blob forward, straining her eyes so that she could a’least see ’nough o’ what was round her not to bump into anything else. The problem was, she also had to pay attention to O’Beefe in case he turned round. He’d probably wonder why she was straining her eyes so.
¿Why couldn’t that li’l runt have worn glasses, too? This’d be so much easier…
So’d many other things be if reality were different. That’s how reality is: it isn’t there to make life easier; it’s just there to be there, utterly indifferent to anyone’s desires.
“Um, Aut—Chamsby, Sir…” said Edgar.
“¿What is it, Agent Mag—Is that you grabbing me?”
She heard sniffing. But mo’ importantly, e’en with her bad eyesight, she could tell ’nough from the blobs before her that she was standing in front o’ a row o’ cage bars, & that ’hind those bars was the familiar shape o’ blacks & whites…
In a deep but soft whisper o’ bitterness, Lance said, “I knew it. I recognize that stench o’ leaves, maple syrup, & sweat anywhere. ¿How d’you figure out my plan?”
Autumn squeezed Lance’s hands till he let go & then backed ’way so he couldn’t try something like that ’gain. Then, remembering her need to play her part properly, she started brushing off the part o’ her cloak Lance grabbed.
“You ne’er cease your petty games, ¿d’you, imposter?” she said with a sneer.
“That’s a bad imposter,” said O’Beefe. “Go & get back to your boring book ’bout the dust capitols; there’ll be a quiz on it when you’re done.”
Autumn jumped from the invisible heavy thumping o’ something hard—probably a baton—gainst the metal bars, suddenly flashing back to her time @ the Kennel.
Lance lowered to a sitting position. Autumn could faintly hear him mutter, “I think Marx hoped to take o’er the world by boring everyone else to sleep.”
O’Beefe stopped before a door @ the other end.
“This boring ol’ research basement oughta work. S’posedly nobody’s been down there for decades, so it should be as safe as slumber under there.”
When Autumn saw him open the door, the flat whiteness gradually opening to a rectangle o’ dusty dark gray, she walked in, slowing as she reached it in case there were stairs there.
As it turned out, there were. Autumn grimaced @ every shaky step she took down, hoping O’Beefe wasn’t paying attention or chocked it up to 1 o’ Lance’s many neuroses. He didn’t say anything ’fore closing the door ’hind them, a’least.
Then ’gain, ¿would he? ¿Wouldn’t he mo’ likely lock us in, trapped worse than young doctors in debt?
Well, too late to think o’ that now…
They went as deep into the room as they could to maximize their distance from possible eavesdroppers, & then sat gainst the back wall somewhere obscured from the door by shelves o’ unidentifiable vials, huddled to protect them from the unventilated cold. Autumn grimaced when she felt herself sit in something cold & wet, but then relaxed when she realized such an occurrence was perfectly consistent with Lance’s luck.
“¿So what’s the plan now?” Edgar whispered as quietly as he could, directly into Autumn’s ear.
“Ah… Now, that’s the tricky part.”
They waited, listening for any commotion outside. So far, all they could hear was the guard & Lance arguing & the constant dripping o’ some liquid from the ceiling.
Then they heard a door burst open outside, & mo’ loud talk.
Autumn shuffled uncomfortably when she recognized the new voice as Clearbeard’s.
“¿D’you see any better hiding places?” whispered Autumn.
“I don’t think so…”
“Well, ’twas nice knowing you…”
The door burst open—a much clearer door bursting open. Their door. Edgar glanced sideways, hoping to see Clearbeard a’least halfway before she reached them, but not daring to poke his head out & risk being spotted himself.
But in the moment he was able to see the stretched shadow o’ their guest before the door slammed shut, Edgar noticed its shape was not Clearb—Autumn’s.
Then they heard fists pounding gainst the door.
“¡Hey! ¿What is the meaning o’ this johncraziness? ¡Let me back in!”
Autumn leaned her face out & screwed up her eyes. The voice she heard from ’hind the door was not Clearbeard’s, but O’Beefe’s:
“I’m ’fraid we can’t let you do that, pal.”
Lance continued his diplomatic inquiry:
“¿D’you hear me? ¿What’s the meaning o’ thi—You think I didn’t just hear that?”
Edgar, who was now leaning out with Autumn, saw him fumble round his pockets.
“¡This is high treason! I’ll have you… Well, I’ll have you poked by various gradually-poisonous substances, thanks to those whiny liberals… But I’ll have you executed, ¡highlight that! ¡Augh! ¿Where’s that infernal phone o’ mine?”
Then he stopped, his arms stiffening.
He turned & scowled when he saw “him” & Edgar.
“If either o’ you idiots want to live, give me 1 o’ your phones.”
“¿Why? ¿What’s going on?” asked Autumn.
“¡They’re going to blow us up! ¡Just give me a phone!” Lance waved a hand toward himself impatiently.
“Dawn… Earthwolf, could you alert the authorities.”
“¿Who’s ‘Earthwolf’?” asked Lance.
Autumn waved a hand ’way. “Ne’er mind. We’ll probably be a million husks o’ bloody flesh by the time they arrive, anyway.”
Confirmed that her disguise had been unlocked, she reached into her cloak & put on her glasses.
“Give me 1 o’ your phones so they know it’s me & so I can make the other 2 idiots culpable & possible convince them to let us out to save their own skins. They won’t trust whoever your thuggish friend is.”
“That’s the best you can hope for: neither o’ us has a phone equipped. Would be quite an embarrassing disguise if someone searched us & found Autumn Springer’s phone in Lance Chamsby’s pockets.” She turned to Edgar. “Granted, we could’ve gotten ’way with giving Edgar 1, ¿but why take the risk for such an unlikely scenario as this?”
“No, I wouldn’t expect an imbecile like you to think ’head in any shape.”
Autumn ignored him & strode up to the door.
“You won’t be able to open it. It’s locked tight.”
Autumn turned back to him & glared, mouthing, “Shut up, idiot.”
He crossed his arms.
“Go ’head & waste your time if you so desire. I’d rather spend my last minutes doing something useful.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Better not waste my time…”
“¿Then why are you still examining the doorknob?”
Autumn turned back ’gain. This time her glare was wide-eyed & bewildered. She stabbed her finger toward the door with 1 finger while the other pointed @ her ear, & then she thumbed her forehead with her palm.
“Captain Clearbeard, would you be so kind as to put some o’ those heavy crates in front o’ the door. I’d hate for our guest Madame Springer to accidentally leave our festivities.”
Autumn pinched the bridge o’ her nose in frustration.
“Well, now it definitely would be a waste o’ time trying to unlock that door,” whispered Autumn.
“Thanks a lot,” said Lance. “None o’ this would’ve happened to me if you hadn’t arrived & impostered me.”
“If I weren’t here, I wouldn’t care if ’twere happening to you, so it’s a scrub,” Autumn said as she walked ’way from the door. “¿So what’d you do to piss them off so much that they betrayed you?”
“That’s none o’ your business.”
“I think it’s ‘Earthwolf’s’ business, since she’s probably recording everything we say & can get your testimony as evidence gainst them.” She said the latter part as loud as she could, hoping her hosts could hear.
Lance’s eyes vacillated back & forth while his chest rose & lowered stressfully.
“Fine. They said they’re framing you for assassinating me in some fabricated terrorist plot.” The bitter mumble in which Lance said this didn’t fit the content ’hind it, Autumn thought. “I had a feeling that treasonous traitor O’Beefe would try to get rid o’ me so he could take o’er…”
“& he’s making it a terrorist plot so he can ’scuse some militarist lockdown he presumably fantasized ’bout unleashing on Boskeopolis. It seems our li’l buffoonish journalist aspires to be the next Clay.”
Lance gave Autumn a look drenched in lime.
“You seem so distraught by this.”
Autumn’s eyes widened in surprise.
“¿Would my panicking help us ’scape somehow? ¿D’you think if I pounded on the door & screamed for them to let us out, they might just do it ’cause we told them to?”
Lance was steaming so hot you could cook an egg on his face—though you wouldn’t want to, ’cause it’d have all o’ his face germs on it. Seemingly out o’ nowhere, Lance strode forward & thwapped the top hat off Autumn’s head while shouting, “¡& take that stupid hat off! ¡As much as you wish you could be me, you’re not, so stop pretending!”
The hat made a tiny thunk as it hit the cement floor.
Autumn stared wide-eyed @ Lance as if has just puked all o’er himself.
She walked ’way. “OK… I’ll tell you what: you just sit there quietly & try to recollect what li’l sense you might still have remaining & we’ll try to calmly think o’ a way out.”
“You have the documents, ¿don’t you?” Lance said, his voice huffy from heavy breathing.
“Don’t lie to me. I saw the look your spineless skeleton partner gave you. He’s a terrible liar.”
“No, I think that look might’ve been due to your enthralling battle gainst my top ha—¡Hey!”
Suddenly, Autumn felt a yank on the side o’ her cloak & saw Lance was the 1 doing said yanking.
“¡Give me those documents!” he growled as he held 1 half o’ her cloak open & dug through its inside pocket.
Autumn shoved forward, pinning him gainst the floor.
“Lesson: ne’er try robbing a robber.”
“¡Unprison me, vile harpy!”
Once ’gain, Autumn’s eyes twisted in confusion.
¿Has he been so spoiled that he literally thinks that if he tells people to do something, they’ll do it?
Autumn rose & immediately turned round & walked ’way, wrapping the cloak round her ’gain to protect the documents, as well as her skin from the cold air.
“Now, I hope you won’t waste any mo’ o’ our limited time playing such inane games…”
“You’re not leaving with those documents, whether I get out o’ here ’live or not.”
Autumn looked @ Lance with a raised eyebrow. He was now leaning gainst a wall, shoulders slumped, panting heavily. His eyes were mo’ penetrating than she’d e’er seen.
“¿What is that s’posed to mean?”
He burrowed through his cloak & extracted a pistol, chuckling like Igor.
“You’re off your crackers,” said Autumn; “& as someone intimately experienced in such matters, I would know.”
He shakily raised the mouth o’ his gun & aimed it @ Autumn’s chest.
“O… I’m crazy, ¿am I?” Lance spoke in loud laughs. They didn’t seem like happy laughs. “Completely bonkers, ¿eh? ¿Coo-coo for Fruit Loops?”
“Yes, that’s fairly accurate,” Autumn said with a nod. Her arms were tied ’hind her back & her lids were drooping listlessly; but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t keep her limbs from shaking slightly.
“’Course you think so. I’m just the deranged li’l Objectivist, ¿aren’t I? Well, let me tell you something…”
“¿Who’s stopping you? It’s not as if I have a gun to your heart…”
“You may think I’m some paranoid freak, that I’m the 1 who’s evil; but I know for a fact that we are slaves to the ultimate socialist totalitarian in this world.”
“¿& who might that be?”
Lance’s eyes darkened. “The author.”
“But nothing. Don’t deny it. He controls everything we say, we think, we do. Everything,” said Lance. “You’re probably thinking, ‘O, ¿but why’s he letting you say all this, then?’ Well, that’s a mighty fine way to make himself look like the goody-goody leftist who always gives his opponents a fair say—so long as it can be twisted into something utterly ridiculous.”
“Yes, but that’s truly not relevant…”
Lance started chuckling ’gain. “But it won’t matter now. I’ll keep my dad’s name pure once & for all, e’en if I must die doing it.”
His index touched the trigger.
“Goodbye, ponytailed devil. May you finally be sent to the bowels o’ the ultimate hell—nothingness, which is all that you’re worth—where you belong.”
He clicked the trigger. Nothing happened.
He clicked it a few mo’ times. Nothing happened ’gain.
He continued pulling the trigger while turning a puzzled stare @ it, & then finally turning the muzzle round to him so he could see inside it.
It just so happened that the gun finally worked this time. However, ’stead o’ plunging a large chunk o’ metal directly into his brain, destroying so much matter that his mental capacities are completely shut down, & thus any life within him in general, it simply propelled him backward gainst the door, sitting in a daze with li’l metaphorical birds twirling round his head.
“See, now that’s bullshit.” Autumn turned to Edgar. “If that happened to me, I’d s’posedly be dead. So, if the gun doesn’t do any lasting harm, ¿what’s the whole point?”
“¿Shouldn’t we still worry ’bout the bomb?” asked Edgar.
“I wouldn’t worry ’bout that just yet,” said Autumn. “Lance may be crazy, but he’s right ’bout the author arbitrarily deciding everything. He’s not e’en pretending to have an objective rubric for when this bomb should go off. It won’t go off till the story’s o’er.”
“Um… ¿do you happen to know what time it is?” asked Edgar, sweat dribbling down the side o’ his face, as he stared down @ the watch that magically materialized on his wrist.
“I dunno. Must be a’least 8 PM by now.”
“No, I mean… I mean the other time.”
“We’re just ’bout @ 8,000 words.”
“Yes, but what kind o’ idiot would just arbitrarily stop the story in the midd—O shit, we need to find a way out o’ here, ASAP.”
She saw Lance get up & scrunched her face. Then she decided to pretend that she hadn’t seen him, & started wandering, looking for weak spaces in the wall or e’en secret ’scape passages.
“‘Just so happened’… Sure…” muttered Lance, stumbling forward like a drunk. He winced bitterly @ Autumn, his eyes suddenly becoming surrounded by copious gross wrinkles & lines. “You just can’t leave me ’lone, ¿can you? Always have to come round & cause me trouble—just out o’ spite… just ’cause you have no life o’ your own.”
Autumn & Edgar continued their revolution round the room, stopping here & there to bend down for a closer look or to peer round shelves & other objects.
Don’t respond to his thought vomits, thought Autumn. It’ll only make him worse.
“Ah, ignoring me, ¿huh? Typical o’ your kind: can’t e’en logically defend your position ’cause you absolutely reject logic. Logic is like your Kryptonite. It’s for the ‘bourgeoisie.’”
Still no reply. Edgar picked up & put down a few vials on the shelf.
Autumn whispered to him, “Edgar, I don’t think a human-sized passageway’s going to be under 1 o’ those.”
Lance straightened himself, his arms held stiff to his sides.
“Just answer me this, then, Queen Looter. E’en you must admit this is a fair question: ¿why do you want those documents so bad?”
Autumn considered as she gently slid a metal barrel out o’ her way. It’s certainly a logical question to ask…
“Let me ask this,” Autumn replied: “¿why d’you want to keep them hidden so bad? I’d think that someone who truly respected honesty as much as you do would not go to such lengths to protect e’en one’s father with such comfortable lies.”
Lance stomped a foot toward her & raised a fist. “Don’t you dare e’en think ’bout libelling my father ’cause yours clearly did such a terrible job o’ teaching you how to be an upstanding human being.”
Autumn shook her head. “See, the fact that you would e’en consider that a useful argument is proof that he failed @ that role. You know, you are probably under the misapprehension that I think your problem is that you’re too selfish. In fact, I think quite the opposite: you’re too obsessed with others’ problems, whether it be mine as a ‘dirty thief,’ primarily gainst people you’ve ne’er e’en heard o’, or your father. Let me just give you advice: I recommend you forget ’bout your father & think ’bout yourself for once, ’cause you’re ’bout to find yourself in a mess e’en bigger than his—soon people won’t e’en care that you’re the son o’ the fawning friend o’ General Clay & will care mo’ ’bout you being the new General Clay.”
“You can keep your advice to yourself,” said Lance.
“As I will, ’cause as I’ve thought ’bout it, I’ve made the same mistake you have in obsessing o’er other people’s problems too much without that vital ingredient: said people’s own ideas. Here I am, wasting my time going through all o’ this trouble, ¿for what? ¿So I can show that you’re related to someone terrible? Why would anyone care ’bout that? ¿Can’t they see your own obvious faults as mayor? ¿& if they can’t, well, should they not be taught the hard way? What I’ve been doing is not helping people but “helping” them by manipulating them—a significant difference. That doesn’t make me much better than a dictator, ¿now does it?”
“Absolutely,” Lance said with a nod, though in the back o’ his head he thought, OK, ¿what twisted wordplay will she use to ’scuse herself ne’ertheless?
“Thus, I’ll make a deal with you, Lance: leave me ’lone for once—& maybe focus on drastically improving your own work as ‘mayor’—& I will keep these documents under lock while you’re mayor. After your reign ends, I’ll release the information, ’cause I think the public does have a right to know the facts here. But I refuse to let you fail due to such a shoddy reason; I demand that you fail for the apt reason.”
“¿& why should I trust such a liar as you to keep your word?” asked Lance.
“’Cause I have a selfish interest: so long as I keep the documents hidden, you’ll leave me peace. My peace is worth far mo’ than proving to the public something they already suspect. I am well aware that what you & your ‘pals’ could do to me would be much direr than what these useless documents could do to you.
“That is, ’less you don’t keep your word, in which case the verbal contract will be void, anyway, & me keeping my word will be nugatory.”
“¿& what is ‘leaving you ’lone’ specifically?” asked Lance.
“Don’t try to directly or indirectly affect me specifically in any way. Something that affects the whole population is fine, but not specifically me. If I am the 1 who starts the infringement—such as this situation here, actually—it won’t count. I can trust your mind to understand the boundaries o’ these rules.”
“& so… you’ll only release the documents if I stop becoming mayor.”
“If you don’t ’ventually stop being mayor then you’ll already prove yourself outright that you’re no better than General Clay himself, & thus releasing the documents will hardly be significant. Plus, you’d still have to keep your promise for eternity, so I actually would benefit mo’ myself, ironically.”
“It’s all pointless, since we still can’t e’en ’scape from this place.”
Autumn smiled, glad that Lance had said just the perfect thing @ the perfect time. She put an index to her lips & then waved him o’er to her.
Lance opened his mouth, but then saw Autumn push her index gainst her lips ’gain. He looked back @ the door & then crept o’er to Autumn.
When he neared, Autumn pointed to the black rectangle o’ a passageway, previously hidden by a shelve full o’ dusty, thick manuals, & then she & Edgar swiftly walked inside before Lance, paranoid that he might try to find a way to lock them in the other room if he entered 1st.
Autumn whipped out her flashlight & saw that this passageway was just like most others: a long metal tunnel. ’Cept this 1’s floor gradually became full o’ cold liquid; Autumn didn’t want to ruminate o’er what substance it could be.
The tunnel stopped @ a faucet-shaped turn. Autumn stood carefully @ the edge & looked down to see a waterfall o’ liquid splashing down into a short lake with the top corner o’ an oil drum floating in it. Autumn recognized it as the lake she’d seen ’side the Ol’ Factory from the outside.
“Ugh. You don’t mean we have to jump into that stuff, ¿do we?” asked Lance. “That’s gotta be practically full o’ cancer juices.”
“If you’d like being blown up, sure,” said Autumn. Then she turned her head to Edgar while her hands dug through her cloak. “Huddle inside my cloak. I think I might be able to protect you from it.”
She took out a pair o’ goggles & a mouth & nose clamp & quickly put them on.
“¿But what ’bout you?” Edgar asked as he did the same with his own.
“I’ll be fine. Just hurry.”
She turned back to Lance, who was still standing back a meter or so, scrunched up in frightful anticipation o’ what he must do. “Here, put these on,” she said as she handed him a pair o’ goggles & a clamp.
Edgar dutifully walked in front o’ Autumn & let her wrap her cloak all round him. Then she made a short hop into the lake—though far ’nough to avoid touching the falling liquid—& splashed down into the lake. The second she landed, she paddled them back to land with her left arm while her right held Edgar to her.
When they ’scaped, Autumn opened her cloak so Edgar could leave, & then took the whole thing off, dripping wildly as she dropped it on the ground. Finally, she ripped the mouth clamp, & then goggles, off, gasping as air returned to her lungs.
She examined Edgar & saw that, while his pajamas did get a li’l wet, ’twas much less than her cloak did. Both stood there hugging themselves, shivering, however; but Autumn knew that she’d be shivering e’en mo’ if she subjected herself to the constantly cold wetness o’ the drenched cloak.
They turned back to the lake just in time to see Lance scramble up to ground, & then immediately pulling his own mouthpiece & goggles off. He stood with his arms outstretched like a scarecrow, the liquid falling profusely from every part o’ his cloak. His face was noticeably turned ’way from Autumn.
“So… ¿you going to call the police on O’Beefe & them?” she asked.
“That’s my business,” Lance said sourly. “@ this point we have no reason not to part ways.”
& with that he turned & walked ’way.
That’s 1 thing ’bout mutual dislike, thought Autumn; we both can agree on separating as quickly as possible, making both o’ us happier.
She figured, from Lance’s perspective, he’d be smart if he didn’t call the police yet & ’stead waited for O’Beefe to give his claim for Lance’s death before revealing O’Beefe’s treason. If Lance called O’Beefe out before O’Beefe did anything, then that would only make Lance look e’en mo’ like a paranoid idiot to the public.
But then ’gain, if Lance did wait, this would only bulk his popularity. Imagine how great he’d look as the martyr who bravely ’scaped death from these scoundrels. Best o’ all, he could portray them as communists or terrorists or whatever.
No, I rather prefer the interesting power struggle we’ll see ’tween O’Beefe & Lance. If things go well, hopefully the public will rightful despise them both & the whole corrupt gang loses, while our corrupt gang… Well, we’re not bathing with the piranhas, a’least.
Though Autumn had to admit feeling a slight tinge o’ guilt: such a power struggle would not be… healthy for Lance.
How that stupid kid got wrapped up in all this, I have no idea… she thought, shaking her head. Then she added, Then ’gain, how I got roped up in this nonsense is e’en mo’ bewildering.
She wrapped her arms round Edgar, hoping their combined body heat would be better than the sums o’ their separated body heats, & then they walked off down the hill back to downtown Boskeopolis.
“¿So what’s the plan now, Firefox?” asked Dawn.
“We’ll discuss that later. Hold on,” whispered Autumn.
Then she added in her mind, Well, ‘Earthwolf,’ I hope you & Edgar like playing with these disguises, as well as playing hide-and-seek, ’cause from the looks o’ it, we’ll have to be doing both for the long-term.