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"Who's doing it?" Freedy asked. "Josiah Secore?"
Sheila just looked at him like he was crazy. "The Cybermancer? I doubt he even knows we exist."
Freedy's face turned red. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to remove the Key and announce: 'I have the Cybermancer's doom, right here, dear girl. Me, Freedy Filkins. The most powerful human on the planet!'
Thankfully, Sheila kept talking. "I suspect Darrell Horn is behind this-- since your gold miner friends have been trying to put him out of business for years."
"Not true!" Charlie sounded offended. "We have simply been trying to organize his mining operations. For that, he has stolen our land...and now, apparently, he's destroyed our credit rating!"
He sounded like he wasn't sure which was worse.
"Wait --" Freedy said, the truth finally dawning on him. He hated reality shows, avoided financial programs, and rarely read the news. But even he had heard of Darrell Horn.
"Are we talking Horn, as in Horn's Spire?" This skyscraper, shaped like a unicorn horn, was the tallest building in New York City. "Horn as in Horn's Casino's? Horn of "Good Luck Finding a Job After This?"
"Yep," Jim said. "The Darrell."
"And, more specifically in this case, Horn Mining," Jay agreed. "People don't know he makes most of his money from coal mines. The dirtiest, most dangerous, lowest paying mining jobs in the industry."
"Didn't Garland tell you all this?" Billy asked. "I mean, you were hired to break into the penthouse of Horn's Spire...or Horn's Dingdongmcdork, as I call it."
"Horn's Pecker!" Bob joined in. "Horn's schlong! Horn's dildo! Horn's Dragon! Horn's Wanger! Horn's..." and on and on the others joined in, coming up with more synonyms for penis than Freedy thought possible.
"Uh, sure," Freedy said, embarrassed that he didn't know. Just when was Garland intending to tell him and how did the old hippie expect him to burgle maybe the most secure private building in the world?
Then again -- his hand went to his pocket and he fingered the jeweled surface of the Key as if taking confidence from it. Maybe he'd surprise them all.
"I've got it all figured," he finished lamely, expecting the others to scoff, but amazing, gratifyingly, they quickly accepted his statement.
"So, we've got food enough to last for awhile, we've got our sleeping bags," Charlie said. "It's how we expected to travel, after all. But the question is -- how we doing for gas?"
The silence spoke volumes. Everyone turned to Jim, who was the designated van driver. "I pulled into here on fumes," he shrugged
They looked to Steve and Sam, one of which looked smug and the other looked crestfallen.
"Told you!" Steve said to his brother. "You should have filled up at the last station like I did!"
"All right then," Charlie said, and fell silent.
"O.K." he said, a minute later, as everyone waited, again he trailed off.
"Well, now..." he muttered, "Uhhhhhh...."
Sheila snorted in exasperation. "Well, if you won't say it, I will. What have got around here we can sell?"
Everyone looked down at their toes, including Charlie. She looked at Freedy briefly who gave back a 'Don't look at me, all I got are the clothes on my back!' look. A small little, non-verbal transaction, but the first one they had shared since...since the betrayal.
Billy broke the silence. "I hocked anything of value months ago." The others muttered their agreement.
The truth dawned on all of them at the same time. None of them had anything of value that they could get more than a few bucks for. Even the van was a clunker. One by one, they turned toward Steve and Sam.
Finally, Steve turned to Sam.
"Wait a minute," Sam said. "Why me?
"Hey, brother, I happen to have a full tank of gas," Steve said. "That makes my bike worth more than yours!"
"No way!" Sam said. "Not going to happen." He shook his head violently and stepped off the sidewalk into the parking lot, as if ready to make his escape.
"It's all we got," Charlie said.
"What about the guns?"
"We're not going to try to sell the guns," Charlie said, firmly. "We need them and I for one don't want to cross the ATF's radar.
"They're legal aren't they?" Sheila said, sharply in her best Agent Moller voice.
"Of course!" Charlie said, then a little quieter, almost too low to catch. "Legal enough...."
"How about one of our cellphones!" Sam said. "We don't need all these cellphones!'
"Used cellphones are a dime a dozen, we'd hardly get anything for them. I'm afraid it has to be your Harley."
"Dude!" Sam pleaded one last time. "I owe more on my bike than we're likely to get for it!"
"We'll pay you back," Charlie said. "Before we split our shares..."
Sam almost spoke up, and everyone knew what he could've said. Yeah, as if there were going to be any shares....here they were, stuck in the middle of the country...broke, discredited in a literal sense, and chased by bounty hunters. But they were planning to take on one of the most powerful men in the country. Odds of success seemed pretty minimal at that moment.
"What is this place?" Charlie said, looking around.
"Beggs, Oklahoma," Sheila said. "Appropriately enough. Tulsa is about thirty miles north."
"So here's what we do," Charlie said. "Steve and Sam ride their Harley's to Tulsa. They sell one of the motorcycles, and come back. Sound like a plan?"
"Come on brother," Steve said, slapping a dejected Sam on the back. "We'll siphon some of my gas for your hog -- and maybe next time you'll listen to me when I tell you to fill up!"
They pulled the van up to the rest stop behind the Quickie Mart, and bartered one of their cellphone for the privileged of sleeping in the parking lot and the grass median.
He watched Steve siphoning gas from his bike, as Sam watched forlornly. They stood, heads together as if commiserating. "Hey, man," Freedy heard Steve say. "I'll probably have to sell mine too before this is all over."
That seemed to cheer Sam up, and they mounted their bikes.
Freedy had a last minute thought. "Hey! I want to go with you!"
"Why?" Charlie asked.
"I thought maybe I'd find an opportunity to ply my trade," Freedy said.
"What do you mean?" Sheila asked.
"Good man!" Charlie cried, slapping him on the back. "But how will you get back? Only two per bike, you know."
"You can pick me up later," Freedy said, He felt uncertain about that. Being stuck in a strange city, with no money and no friends would once have been his worst nightmare. But -- the flashdrive in his pocket was giving him all kinds of confidence. As well as some crazy ideas.
He walked over and started to climb onto the back of Sam's Harley. He didn't notice her until she was standing right next to him.
"Don't get caught," Sheila said. She put her hand on his shoulder for a moment, then turned and walked away.
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.