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Running, well trotting I suppose, it took me 15 minutes to get to Anuk’s place. But there was a surprise for me when I arrived. Her front door was locked and from the looks of things she wasn’t home.
I knew she couldn’t have gone far. I mean how much distance could she make with those short legs. Turning for the sidewalk, I scoured the area in case she was nearby. Instead of Anuk, I found trouble.
It was the gray raincoat that gave her away. The one cinched at her waist so tight I wondered if her legs were getting any blood. If nothing else the tightened belt showed off her tiny waist. And those two nylon coverage legs that stood below the bottom of the coat were pretty noticeable as well.
“Hello there,” she said in a voice that was far too friendly for who she was, what she represented. “Would you happen to be Trent Slate?” she asked, her beautifully full, red-painted lips pursing into a smile.
She knew exactly who I was. She knew everything about me; my birthdate, my ma’s name, my shoe size…everything. Hell, she probably knew what my favorite color of underwear was.
I knew I couldn’t avoid her, or run away, so I gave her what she wanted. “I don’t know Miss Government nark,” I replied with a grin. “Do you have a name?”
She extended a demur hand my way, her nails painted a color that matched her lips. Staring at it for a moment first, I finally shook it. It wasn’t like she was going to bite, right?
“My name is Cassandra Lundt,” she replied in the friendliest of voices. That caused me to smile.
First off, it probably wasn’t her actual name. These government types that chased glitches around were notorious for having fake names. Next, there was the fact she wanted something. No one treated me like a human, much less ever smiled at me. Her over the top happy do-dah attitude was lost on me.
Lastly, and this one was a biggie in my mind, no one in the world was that happy any more. Absolutely, positively no one. If you worked for the government, you most likely hated your job. If you were a supplementary worker, or a glitch like me, you hated your life. If you were a peeb you spent most of your time avoiding people… people who all hated you and wanted you dead.
Thus, Cassandra Lundt was a fraud.
“What can I do for you, Ms. Lundt?” I replied, nowhere near as happily as she spoke.
She snaked an arm through one of mine and turned me down the sidewalk, walking and patting my arm with her free hand. “Oh, why don’t you call me Cassie? I’d so like it if we could think of each other as friends.”
I couldn’t help but grin. How stupid did she think I was? “Okay, Cassie. What do you want? You know, if my girlfriend sees us arm-in-arm, she may get jealous.”
Giggling at something I said, Cassie pulled me onward. “First of all, I don’t think either Lucy or Riley are actually your girlfriend. And if you must know, you can do so much better than either of those two.”
I shook my head as we continued our stroll. I had only tossed out the girlfriend comment to see how she would respond; at her reply spoke volumes. This Cassie, or whoever she was, had been talking to someone, and that someone was most likely Captain Collins.
“I’m looking for a man,” she continued, only softer and less jovial.
“Well, I could free up some time for you, if you’re into guys like me,” I replied, fighting back laughter. I knew that wasn’t what she meant, but Cassie wasn’t getting crap from me.
“Not like that,” she said, slapping playfully at my arm. “I’m looking for a particular man and I’m told that of all the people in the city, you just might be able to help me find him.”
I grinned. It was the one and only Captain Kumquat who had sent her to search me out. Now, who was she looking for? I needed to play her slow. Maybe the dumb angle would work, since it came so easy for me.
“I’m just a lowly glitch, Cassie,” I said, shrugging softly. “I barely get my quota each month. I hope you’re not looking for someone too difficult to find.” I flashed her my sad eyes. “I’d hate to let you down.”
“Oh Trent,” she cooed. “I have it on good authority that if anyone can help me it’s you.”
Man, was she overselling it. She had to be desperate to find the special someone.
“Who you looking for?” I finally asked, hoping to get this lovefest over with.
Checking all around us first, she glanced back at me with pursed lips. “There’s been a lot of chatter today and it’s all revolved around one person…a man.”
Her pause made me sigh. Why had everyone I talked to today decided to hide everything so close to their chests?
“This will be easier with a name,” I replied. “Otherwise, I’ll just be wandering around looking for a guy without a description.”
She rubbed my arm and leaned in for what looked like a kiss. However, her lips slid past my face and close to my right ear.
“Selmo Nithiw,” she whispered.
I let out a loud throaty snort. Her and everyone else in the government were looking for this guy. Most of the peebs were looking for him as well, for a very different reason of course. If she thought I could help with this task, she needed a new job.
“You want me…” I poked a finger into my chest, “…to help you find the mythical leader of the peebs? A guy we aren’t sure even exists. A guy who, as far as I know, no one has ever met. A guy we’re not even sure is a guy; he could be a woman for all I know.”
She shot me a beautiful smile and nodded two or three times. “That’s right. Can you help me?”
Lady, I thought, you don’t need my help. This guy is unfindable as far as I’m concerned.
I shoved my hands in my pockets and shot her my best “you’ve got to be kidding me” look. But even that didn’t slow old Cassie down…not that she was that old.
“Someone’s been filling you full of shit, lady,” I replied. “I wouldn’t even know where to start looking for him. This is a pretty big city; he could be anywhere.”
I had to hand it to her, she didn’t look like she was going to give up easy. “He has to be somewhere near here today. We’re picking up a lot of chatter from this area. I have it on good accord that he’s keeping an eye on the Lucy Tringle situation.”
I shrugged and backed away. “I don’t know anything about any of that.” Sure, it was a lie, and she probably knew I was lying. Two words: plausible deniability.
“But you know all about poor Lucy, Trent,” Cassie countered. “You must have seen her taken away this—”
“I mean I don’t know nothing about this Selmo guy having an interest in it.”
Her face lit up. “Oh, but he does. We believe she can give us a name. And that name will eventually lead us right to the man himself.”
I acted as uninterested as I could. “Then grill her and get the name. Everyone knows you guys are good at getting people to spill their guts. I mean, after all, isn’t that the whole purpose of the government nowadays? Getting the poor citizens of this country to squeal on other citizens, regardless of their innocence or guilt?”
“Oh, Trent,” she purred. “If you help out maybe we can save poor Lucy some of the anguish she’ll have to go through otherwise. Do you really want her to have to suffer like that?”
I’d had enough of her bull. It was time for me and Ms. Government-information-persuader to part ways.
“Don’t you have puppies to torture somewhere?” That failed to elicit any sort of response from Cassie so I hit her head on. “I’m sure Lucy doesn’t know shit. So go ahead and torture her for all I care. She’s going to give you some false name just so you can end your crap and put a bullet in her head. Good luck.”
I turned to leave when I felt Cassie grab my arm from behind.
“I’ve got a deal for you,” she whined. “And it’s a really good deal, Trent.”
That I doubted very much. But what the hell, I wasn’t too busy to run off and not hear what she had to say.
“If you help us track down Selmo Nithiw, you’ll be placed on easy street.” She made it sound like a happy place, this easy street. I doubted it, but stared at her. “No more glitching. No more monthly quota. You and your mother will be taken care of for life.”
Cassie had my attention. Well, besides her tiny body, beautiful face, and delightful personality, her words had me interested.
“Go on,” I droned.
“You’ll be given the same rations as the government workers get,” she continued. “No more questionable meats. No, Trent; you and your mother will be eating the very best beef and pork available. Your fruits and vegetables will be flavorful and abundant.
“I think I can even talk the Housing Authority into moving you out somewhere on the west side of Lake Calhoun. You know those are much larger and newer homes. You might even have your own wing, if you play it right. And perhaps a car could be in your future. A new car. Would you like that, Trent?”
My puny brain was still back on the decent food. A few months back most of the meat Ma and I had gotten was rancid by the second week of the month. I hadn’t had a decent piece of fruit in years; not since I was a kid and we took a field trip to an apple orchard way out on the east side of St. Paul.
A bigger house was a nice enticement, but a car? Holy shit. That was a wet dream as far as I was concerned. I think I knew one person who had a car. Well, a legal car. One that wasn’t stolen or pieced together like some kid’s toy.
“And all you have to do, Trent, is help us find Selmo Nithiw.”
And then reality slapped me sober.
“You want me to find you a ghost, is what you’re saying,” I replied as my face went sour. “Find a guy that no one has any idea what he looks like. Yeah, I think I’ll go back to real life here, sister. Because I ain’t so sure I can help you find what you’re looking for.”
She stared at me with those beautiful baby blues and I felt my heart melt. “But you can try, can’t you, Trent? You’ll try…” she inched closer, pressing parts of her body against mine. “…for me, won’t you, Trent?”
I’d say she drove a hard bargain, but that wasn’t what was hard at that moment.
“I’ve got a little free time today,” I said. “I could make some inquiries.”
Cassie’s face lit up like a Halloween pumpkin. “I just knew I could count on you.” She raised up on her toes and gave me a peck on the cheek. “Now here’s my card. Call me the minute you know anything.”
As fast as she came into my life, she turned and headed down the sidewalk. When she got to her car, Cassie turned and gave me one last marvelous smile and a dainty wave.
Three things were apparent to me. First, I wasn’t wasting my time looking for Selmo Nithiw. He didn’t want to be found. Let sleeping mongrels lie, my ma always said. Second, something big was going down inside of the government. Maybe they believed they were about to have the lead they needed to hunt Nithiw down themselves. As if…
Third, and most important in my mind, Lucy was in trouble. They were going to interrogate her and if she didn’t give them what she wanted the torture would begin. Fun and games Collins had once called it. But I knew for a fact that if anyone thought for a second there was any fun when the blood started to flow, well that person was a masochist.
I needed a plan. A good plan. Perhaps my best plan ever. But I had no idea where to begin.
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