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"I have to leave you fellows for awhile," Garland announced at breakfast.
The crew was decimating the small Continental Breakfast room, which was down to few packets of jam and some creamer. The coffee was played out, and the rolls were crumbs or being digested. Jim went off to demand more, and they got another tray of pastries and a refill on the coffee. From the maid's disgusted expression, that was all they were likely to get.
Freedy hurried to be one of the first to get the coffee -- he needed it. He felt like he hadn't slept at all, just been in some kind of tussle with bedsheets all night and bedsheets had won.
Sheila hadn't even shown up. She'd sent Bob down to load up a plate for her. Freedy was just as glad. Seeing her ignore him was worse than not seeing her at all.
"Where you going?" Charlie asked Garland, for all of them.
"The Cybermancer is up to something. There is a "Council" of sorts, just informal, which meets in emergencies -- Bill, Paul, Larry, Akio, Sergey, Mark, Elias -- Steve, when he was still alive -- some others who were there in the beginning. Elias has finally convinced the others to confront Secore...though I'm not sure what we can do."
He stretched out and yawned. "I was enjoying our little Adventure, so I'll be back. In the meantime, here's my credit card, go ahead use it for anything you need. Apparently, according to Agent Moller. the authorities aren't looking for us anymore. So that should make the trip a little easier.
"Be careful, there are still some private bounty hunters who work for the enemy, but otherwise stay in motels if you want." He handed the credit card to Charlie. "Just in case, load up on supplies -- I don't know why we've been let off the hook, and I don't trust it."
He looked over at Freedy as if expecting him to speak up. Freedy pretended he didn't see the hint.
"Head for Centercity and I'll meet you there. But the closer you get, the quieter you need to be. Try not to let Darrell Horn know you're coming, all right?"
"Don't worry. "The Darrell" won't hear a thing."
"Do you mind if we drop by Nashville along the way?" Charlie asked. "Some of the boys have relatives there they haven't seen in ages."
"I don't suppose it would hurt. But only for a day or two..."
Garland rose from the table. "Freedy, can I talk to you for a moment?"
Dreading the coming conversation, Freedy followed him outside.
"Anything you want to tell me?" Garland said.
It was getting cold again and slightly drizzly. Freedy hunched down, as if it was the weather that was making him hide his face.
The story almost spilled out of him -- the labyrinth beneath the data center, the confrontation with Harry Fallom, and most especially the Key. But...Freedy wasn't ready. He could still see his companions through the window and he still wanted to prove that he belonged among them. Knowing in his heart it was a mistake, he shook his head and stayed quiet.
"I don't have time to play games with you, Freedy -- so whatever it is you're holding back will just have to wait. But..." Garland's voice rose. "We will have that conversation as soon as I get back. Meanwhile, try to keep the boys from getting too out of control."
Through the window he could see the gold miners were throwing the packets of creamer at each other and several had split apart, spraying white power all over the place. Charlie seemed unaware of the chaos -- no, worse, he picked up a packet of creamer and poured it on the head of Sam, who was sitting next to him.
"I'll try," Freedy said. Yeah, make me the party-pooper, he thought. Not likely.
Garland turned away, but at the last second turned around. "Don't give up on Sheila, Freedy. She's embarrassed and she doesn't know what to say to you...but she'll come around."
She doesn't know what to say to him? Freedy wanted to laugh -- but it came out as some kind of strangled sound. Who betrayed who, here?
Garland got in his white Miata and spun out of the parking lot with a final wave.
Somehow with Garland not there, everything slowed down. They didn't actually leave until check-out time, which was noon. (Actually 11:00, but Charlie got them to extend it by promising to clean up the mess in the Continental Breakfast room.)
They were loading up the van when Charlie returned, looking as though he had a black cloud floating over his head and shoulders. "They refused the credit card," he said. "In fact, they wouldn't even give it back!"
"Call Garland," Freedy said.
Garland wasn't answering. Freedy remembered how Elias had insisted they turn in all their digital devices before entering the The Last Cozy Cottage. Apparently, when confronting Josiah Secore, one wanted to control the digital exposure.
"What do we do?" Steve asked. "Make a run for it?"
"I'd rather not become a fugitive again quite so soon," Charlie said.
Sheila came out of her room. Her hair was tied back, she was wearing beat up jeans and a formless sweater and no make-up. She was beautiful
No, not Sheila... Freedy reminded himself. She was Special Agent Moller of the Cybercrimes Unit.
She saw the look in their faces. "What's wrong?"
Charlie quickly explained the situation.
"So where's Garland?"
Charlie told her about Garland's detour. "But he'll rejoin us. He told me to tell you that you're to help us as best you can until he gets back."
"Oh, for goodness sake," she said, exasperated. "I'll pay for the rooms, but you'll damn well pay me back." She marched off the the motel office but returned quickly.
"They turned down my credit card too!" she said, sounding amazed. "They wanted to take it, but I flashed my F.B.I. credentials at them and told them it was all a big mistake."
"So now what?" Sam asked.
Sheila dug into her pockets -- she had $153.25. Between the rest of them, they came up with another $155.00, just enough to cover the motel bill.
"We have to stop at the first ATM we see, though," Sheila said.
There were a few moments of awkwardness, as they tried to arrange the transportation. Steve looked at Sheila and Freedy as if uncertain what to do. Sheila resolved it by getting on the other motorcyle behind Sam.
Freedy felt a vague sense of relief -- as well as disappointment. What did he expect? He squeezed into the back seat of the van with the others, who were uncharacteristically silent.
In the next small town over, they stopped at Quickie Mart with an ATM on the sidewalk outside. One by one the miners tried their cards and one by one they were refused.
They stood clustered beside the machine until Charlie, his voice radiating in anger, finally said what they were all thinking.
"The authorities may not be after us, but someone is..."
I'm Duncan McGeary, owner and/or operator for the last 33 years of Pegasus Books in Downtown Bend, Oregon. These days I'm writing books as well as selling them.
I'm the comic book guy. But even more so, I'm a book book guy. Books of all kinds. Big books and little books, children's and adult, fiction and non-fiction, hardback and paperback and trade paperback and graphic novels. Books with more words than pictures and books with more pictures than words. They are all part of the book world to me, and I love being surrounded by them every day.
I also have a second blog: Pegasus Books, where I list the product coming in over the next week.