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Somewhere in the middle of my walk to Anuk’s one of my phones began to ring. Withdrawing it from my pocket, I recognized the initials of the caller. While I would have rather ignored it, I knew the phone would just keep ringing if I did.
“Hey, what’s up?” I answered.
“Is that any way to greet your Mother?” Ma screeched. “Like I’m one of your degenerate friends? I raised you better than that.”
Like I had time for her crap at that point. I was already chastising myself for not turning the phone off instead of answering.
“I’m kind of busy, Ma. If you got something to tell me, could you just spit it out…please?”
Instead of talking I heard her ragged breaths. She was pouting, no doubt. While I should have cared, I had more important stuff on my mind.
“There was a woman here,” she replied. I heard a match strike in the receiver and figured she was lighting up another heater. Maybe if I was lucky she was burning the house to the ground, with herself strapped in a chair.
Again, I was faced with another caller who provided limited information. If I didn’t know any better, Ma and Riley had to be mother and daughter.
“Need a little more information than that, MA,” I replied, slapping my forehead. “Like did she leave a name? Or mention what she wanted?”
The silence on the other end of the phone told me that Ma was either trying to recall the conversation…or maybe had finally left the Earth.
“I don’t think so, Trent,” she stated in a very unconvincing manner.
“Did you recognize her? Maybe it was Riley perhaps?”
Again, a long pause of mind numbing silence followed. I’d be dead before she ever gave me the whole story.
“Um, no…I don’t think so.”
My eyes squeezed shut and I felt my left hand ball into a fist. “Can you at least describe her for me?” I begged. “Can you do that, Ma?”
“She left a note for you,” Ma exclaimed, the shrillness coming back to life in her voice. She seemed so proud I didn’t want to burst her bubble and ask why she hadn’t said that first thing.
But Ma was Ma, and she made me ask the obvious. “What does the note say, Mother?”
I heard the paper rustle as she drew it close to her face to read. “Painter Park; 13:00.”
One piece of the puzzle had been solved. Someone wanted to talk to me, nearby and within the next half hour. Now, if I could just extract a hint at the who my anxiety might have been manageable.
“Describe the woman, Ma.”
“She was short, kind of like Lucy,” she began. “Not as short as that cute sweetie that stops by once in a while—”
“Yeah,” she squawked. “What a sweetie pie she is. You should think about becoming more serious with that one, Trent. She’d be a good wife and mother I bet.”
I had begun to head in the direction of Painter Park. Ma’s ramblings caused me to stop and lean against a rawd iron fence, searching for breath.
“Back to the other one, Ma,” I muttered, fighting back the urge to race home and give her a piece of my mind. No good would have to from that; all it would have accomplished was making her crying.
“Probably mid-20s, kind of soft spoken, not really pretty but not what I would call ugly. Maybe a little homely.”
Good, I thought. That narrowed it down to about a half a million people. For all I knew the Governor’s daughter was looking for me.
“She had on an interesting scarf,” Ma continued. “It was a real funny looking green.”
“Chartreuse,” I whispered, recalling it from earlier in the day.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Ma screeched. “she said the color was chartreuse. You know her?”
I knew her alright. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to meet with her. Not in public, all out in the open and all.
I cased out the park carefully for a full 10 minutes before committing to the meeting. It was fairly open with limited trees for people to hid behind, enabling them to leap out and grab me. Surrounded mostly by residential housing, I surmised the coast was clear.
I spotted Margo on a bench beside the vacant basketball court. Fort her part she looked nervous, extremely nervous. But she’d looked the same when I saw her a few hours back; so as far as I knew that was her normal demeanor.
I’d made it almost to her before she spotted me and leaped from her spot. Racing towards me, the woman made me want to turn and run away as fast as I could. But something in her face, a terribly frightened, look told me to stay.
She when got to me Margo threw her short arms around my chest and hugged tightly. “Thank God you came,” she cried. “I was so worried you wouldn’t.”
I let her go on for a few seconds as I surveyed our surroundings. No one was paying attention to us – good. Likewise, no government vehicles had stopped on the road, unloading a dozen or more black jackets – very good. Except for the weeping woman hanging onto me like I was the last life jacket on the titanic, there was nothing usual about us being here – excellent.
Pushing her away from my person space, I held Margo’s shoulder at arm’s length. The water works were still in full gear, but she seemed to be able to talk.
“I know,” she whispered. “And they know too.”
I chuckled once and rolled my eyes, looking away from Margo. “You don’t know shit, lady. And they know even less. Whoever they is.”
Her head shook in small fits. “Trent,” she begged, pulling on my open jacket. “I know everything. She told me.”
She knew something, that much was obvious. But I doubt she knew anything of importance. And if the they she was speaking about was the same they that made my life difficult, she didn’t know the first thing about anything.
I took her by the arm and steered her back to the bench. First, I needed to determine how she knew my name. Then I could sort the rest of her rantings out one by one.
“How do you know my name?” I asked, watching her withdraw a cigarette from a silver case. She shook so much when she tried to light it I had to take the lighter and help her out. She offered me a smoke; who was I to pass up something for free.
I watched her take a couple of ragged drags before she looked at me to answer. “I’m friends with Lucy, you know that. At least you should.”
“So?” I played it cool, making her stay on the answering end of the questions.
Margo shrugged and went back to her smoke. “She’s told me everything about you. How you met, where you live, that you’re a glitch.” She peeked at me to see if I was offended, which I wasn’t. Almost everyone I knew, knew what I did to survive.
“She told me about how sweet you are,” Margo went on. “Told me how you proposed to her right here in this same park. That’s why I thought it best we meet here.”
My mind shut down after the word proposed. I heard her speaking still but nothing she said after that made any sense.
“Hang on there a second, sunshine,” I interrupted. “Did you say proposed, as in engaged to be married?”
Her head bobbed stupidly up and down. This was certainly news to me.
“Did she ever show you a ring or anything?” I asked, somewhere between laughing and shouting.
“No,” she answered plainly. “She said you were saving for one, sometime in the near future.”
Taking a drag from the nearly spent cigarette, I glanced away. Lucy and I were acquaintances, at best. I had always thought she viewed me as some type of creepy stalker type. When she did speak to me she usually kept her eyes focused on her shoes. I never really got much of a happy couple kind of vibe from her.
“I hate to tell you this, Margo,” I said, exhaling the last of my smoke. “Lucy’s been pulling your leg. Her and I are barely friends, much less lovers.”
Margo’s expression turned to that shock. “But you kissed her, right here on this bench.”
I shook my head and shrugged. “Never happened.”
“You made love down at Calhoun beach one night last summer, in the dark.” Her tone was getting a little excited, so I moved closer.
“I might have groped her a little,” I admitted. “She didn’t seem to mind. Wasn’t very romantic, though.”
Margo looked almost as confused as I felt. Sure, I was flattered that Lucy exaggerated our relationship. I mean, come on; I could do a lot worse than Lucy Tringle. But I wasn’t really the marrying type. So the rest of whatever happened between us was more fun and games than something that began to resemble love.
“I know Lucy,” Margo stated in a defensive tone. “She wouldn’t lie to me. And now that she’s in trouble, you need to help her.”
I threw my hands in the air. “I didn’t do anything, Margo. Lucy ain’t in trouble because I glitched on her. She’s in trouble because she was caught on tape passing a sensitive document to some unknown.”
If anything I had said shocked Margo, she hid it well. Actually, she looked more defiant than scared.
“She knows who he is,” Margo said, staring at my chest. “They’ll get a name from her, you know they will.”
I couldn’t help but grin at the naïve girl sitting beside me. I reached for her cigarette case and lit myself another.
“No one knows who he is,” I replied. “You probably don’t even know him by any other name than him or he.”
She slid next to me, as in hips touching next to me. “Before the end of the day the government is going to arrest Selmo Nithiw. Then the whole world is going to know who he is.”
I maintained my calm and reached for one of her shaky hands. “Trust me, Margo. When I tell you this, I mean it.” Her eyes narrowed. “You, Lucy, them; none of you know anything. You’re so stupid that you think I’m engaged to Lucy. The government is four times that dense. Lucy’s somewhere in the middle. They couldn’t catch Selmo if we sat him in one of their interrogation rooms. So don’t worry your semi-pretty little head about it.”
I got up to leave without so much as a goodbye. Quite honestly, Margo didn’t deserve one.
“Are you going to try and help Lucy? Are you, Trent?”
“Already working on it,” I answered, still walking away. I doubt Margo heard me since she began to cry again.
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