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yourselves, and we won't bug you."
"Yeah," Strider said, seconding the guard's advice.
"Okay," Sai said. "Okay. But I don't like this, Strider. I want you out of here."
"No chance for bail," Strider said. "I just hope I don't lose my tan."
"Don't be a pain," Tick-Tick said. "You just make it worse for Sai when you act like that."
Sai quickly shook her head. "No. I understand."
"Hey," Strider said softly, and he stroked her chin with his forefinger. "I'm okay. Maybe I'll get a lot of
reading done."
"Rico said the charge is Murder One," Sai said. "I don't want you to get that much reading done."
Tick-Tick's elvin features were very grim as she said, "You won't get any reading done if they opt for a
memory-wipe, Strider. Not until you learn how again. And if they pick death "
Strider turned away suddenly. "Trial's weeks away. 'Sides, they'll do what they'll do, okay? You guys
better leave now."
"No," the Ticker said.
"I can go back to my cell anytime," Strider said.
"You certainly could," the Ticker admitted. "That won't help you, and it won't help Sai. Is that what you
want?"
"I want out," Strider said.
The Ticker nodded. "I know. We have to find who did it. The cops need someone to hang for this one.
Maybe literally."
Strider glanced at Sai. She looked at her lap, and I suddenly knew why Strider was being so stupid. I
suspected it earlier, but I knew it then. He thought Sai did it. He was too stupid to realize that if she had
and he'd been arrested, she would've confessed immediately. I wondered if she'd already considered
confessing anyway, just to save Strider. I decided to ask Tick-Tick or Orient later. No point in giving Sai
the idea.
I pulled out a sheet of scrap paper and wrote out something like what I'd written for Rico about my
theory, then added: Problem is, we don't have anyone likely. Any ideas?
One of the guards read it before letting Strider have it. Strider read it and his eyes flicked wide from their
usual squint. "You sure about this, Wolfboy?"
I held my hands wide, like: Who's ever sure! Then I nodded.
Sai and Tick-Tick read the note together. Tick-Tick said, "You should've said something Oops."
I waved downward to show I'd let that pass, then grabbed the note back and scribbled: Rico didn't like
it. Where's a suspect? Who'd want to carve a stranger, even one as bad as Yorl?
"Wharf Rats, perhaps," Tick-Tick mused. "A chance for fun, and a chance to blame someone else."
"Not all the Rats are like that," Sai said. Her brother's a Rat.
"It only takes three or four like that," Tick-Tick said.
"There were five Rats in Danceland last night," Strider said, and we all got very quiet.
"Is it my turn to call you an idiot?" Tick-Tick asked.
"No," Strider said. "Hers." He pointed at Sai.
"I'll save it for later," Sai said. "What about these Rats?"
"They had a table up on the left balcony. Near the worn-en's room. I was watching them before Yorl
decided I was a fencing dummy."
I lifted my hand. Tick-Tick glanced at me, then told Strider and Sai, "After you two left, Lobo filled in on
the floor."
"Did you see the Rats?" Strider asked, surprisingly hopeful for Strider. "One was a little brown-haired
guy with tiny round glasses. Wire rims. The rest were, well, Rats."
Rats aren't usually distinctive as anything more than Rats. Sai's brother is a nice guy, but he's a River
addict like most of them, and he dresses poorly and smells a little funny& I didn't think about any of that.
I just shook my head.
"You went by that corner," Tick-Tick said to me, 'cause she likes things very clear. "After Strider and
Yorl fought. And the Rats weren't there." I nodded. I'd remember Rats. The Ticker added, "Was this
when you and Goldy first made the rounds?" I nodded again. Tick-Tick smiled. "Rico might like your
theory a little better, now."
"Yeah," said Strider without any emotion at all. "Some Rats did it. She'll love that."
"Still& " Tick-Tick said.
"We'll find them," Sai announced.
Strider nodded, not particularly hopeful, and said to Sai, "I thought& "
"I know," she said, and the Ticker and I looked away again. We talked for another couple of minutes
about nothing particularly promising. When it was time to go, I gave Strider a poem I wrote late the night
before. It was a stupid thing about owls flying over dark forests, but he read it and said, "Nice. I'll put it
on my wall."
His own damn wall. That was when I could've cried.
Tick-Tick watched me give him the poem, then suddenly began patting her pockets. She came up with
the new Stick Wizard and passed it on, saying, "From Orient and me."
Sai looked sad. "I didn't bring you anything."
"Yes, you did," he said, and kissed her lightly on the lips. Then his mouth quavered a fraction, and he
turned and said to the guards, "Let's go."
Sai watched him leave, then said, "Where to?"
"Orient," Tick-Tick announced.
"He can find a Rat with round glasses?"
"I don't know," the Ticker admitted. "But it's worth a try."
And it would have been, if we could have found Orient. We went to his flat, then to Danceland, where
we told Goldy and Dancer and Val what we'd learned. None of them had seen Orient. Val was annoyed
because he'd promised to buy her lunch at Taco Hell. So we went back to Orient's apartment. The
Ticker had a spare key, so we went in and bitched about him being out of anything worth drinking. Then
Sai saw his diary open on the kitchen table.
"You shouldn't read that," Tick-Tick said.
"It's about last night," Sai replied.
"Ah," Tick-Tick said, and she read over Sai's left shoulder while I read over Sai's right. Tick-Tick
finished first. She moved away and said, "Why didn't he come get me?"
"He didn't want to wake you," Sai said hesitantly: "Maybe he didn't want to wake me."
Tick-Tick didn't answer. She looked out the window, then said, "I'm spreading the word. I'll tell Horn
Dance, I'll tell Scully, I'll tell Commander X's Kids. Somebody must have seen him somewhere."
"I'll go too," Sai said.
"Someone should wait here, in case he returns."
They both stared at me until I volunteered with a nod. I reread Orient's entry, then began my own. No
Orient. I woke up this morning on his rug which needs to be swept or beaten. Goldy came by with a
turkey sandwich and a quart of orange juice. He brought coffee beans. (I write that hoping Orient will
read this and suffer a little for troubling his friends.) Goldy made a big pot of coffee and told me that the
gangs are turning B-town inside out. Everyone was calling in favors. Sai has her brother's friends cruising
the wharfs. Goldy talked to a few Pack leaders who hope he'll join their gangs someday. Tick-Tick
spread the word among the Bloods; what with the ones who like her and the ones who admire Strider,
there'll be a lot of elves in red leather cruising B-town. She even made a run up the Tooth to speak with
Scully and some of the Hill kids, Dancer and Val went to talk with Farrel Din and other old-timers.
Goldy says the streets are alive. We'll find Orient and we'll find the Rats who were in Danceland Friday
night, and maybe we'll even find who killed the Elflander. Sometimes I'm rather proud of this stupid town.
Reading Wolfboy's entry, I almost felt as if I was dead. Are there ghosts? If they walk, do they suffer
from the guilty looking-over-someone's-shoulder feeling that I got from Wolfboy's introduction?
There's a lot of comfort, for me, in reading his account of what happened. The knowledge that Wolfboy
and the Ticker were at work on the other end of the puzzle and that we eventually met in the middle it
puts everything in context. I wasn't alone, I wasn't isolated; I was helping to solve the larger problem in
my own inimitable nitwitted fashion. But that's not what it felt like in that room. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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