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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 68: Hastings 24
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As they reached the street outside the studio, Lauren spotted Arnie, curled up like a beggar on the sidewalk outside a parking garage. She also saw her other self coming out of the building across the street, the radio studio building. Arnie was getting on his feet. The sun had already set, and dusk was fading to darkness; but the streetlights had come on, and there was light pouring out of the garage.
In the short ride over here, Raal had told her bits and pieces. Lauren Meyers had come back on the air today for the first time since having dinner with Lauren Hastings; and while she didn't say anything too blatant or direct, what she did say held a lot of meaning for those who understood.
"Ever come face to face with yourself?" she had asked. "I did this weekend, and I realized that there's a lot more evil in this world, and a lot worse, than I ever imagined. I'm almost embarrassed by how little I've done with how much there is to do. But I'm going to do my part. I know that there are some of you out there who put your lives on the line fighting the devil and his minions. I don't know that I have what it takes to stand with you, but I can do what I do best. I can help you communicate with each other. So if you're among those who stand in the front lines against this evil, the kind of evil that just sucks the life out of people, you are not alone. There are others fighting the good fight, raising the cross in the face of the enemy, and I'm here to support you." It was an excellent speech; Miss Meyers chose her words brilliantly. To the vast majority of her listeners, it would seem an inspirational word of encouragement laced with colorful images. But to those who knew the truth, it was quite clear.
Unfortunately it was also quite clear to someone in the hierarchy of evil. Not a vampire, probably, as they were mostly dead when she was on the air. But someone was looking out for their interests while they rested. And Arnie was involved.
Lauren leapt from her cab before it had completely stopped. Arnie was already drawing those guns of his and closing on the other Lauren. Time was growing short.
There was a click from one of the guns, and Arnie spoke. "Stop right there, Miss Meyers." Lauren Meyers turned around slowly.
Lauren Hastings lowered her rod. It was the one with the force field; she had always suspected it was for catching something, and now she was going to use it. She took a deep breath, and focused her thought into it. She felt the power surge from her to it, and from it outward.
He must have felt something, too, because he whipped around and fired one of the guns. But the bullet traveled only a couple feet and slowed to a stop, trapped in the force wall. He cursed, a single word, before continuing. "It's you."
"Arnie! May I call you Arnie? I can't have you running around fighting for the vampires, and I can't have you telling tales about me."
He swore again. "You're her!" he said.
She lifted him a few feet off the ground, and moved closer. "In a manner of speaking, I guess so. Yet she is not me."
"I hate riddles."
"Don't worry about it. You're not supposed to understand." And she took off into the air, taking him up with her. She saw Raal below them, going to the aid of Miss Meyers. "You're just supposed to retire, and not make trouble for me."
"How did you know what I was doing?"
"Oh, Arnie, do you think you could make a move against one of my friends, and I not know?"
"Look, I didn't know she was your friend. I don't want any trouble with you. I already told them, you're not my problem, and I'm not going to have anything to do with any plans against you."
"Then it's probably time for you to move. Philadelphia is mine." By now they were high in the air, overlooking the city, and she swept the staff in a quarter arc, giving him a panoramic view.
"Great. It's too cold up here anyway. I was thinking about Miami. You got any plans for Miami? My folks retired down there, ninety-seven years ago. Of course, they're dead now, but I could visit their graves. I feel kind of at home around graves. Miami work for you?"
"Miami is fine. And you'll leave me your guns, please. Drop them."
"No, I'm not giving up my guns."
"Yes, and the ammo, however much you've got with you."
"No, I'm not giving up my guns."
"Look, I'm being nice about this. I don't even know why I'm being nice. I think it's because you're being reasonable. I mean, you're a ghoul, right? We should probably be enemies. I should probably finish your miserable lifeless existence. But I know that you're a monster of your word, and if you say you won't give me trouble, I believe you."
"I am not giving up my guns."
"But if you were to become unreasonable, well, I guess I'd just have to drop you here instead of at the airport. I think the ground is closer at the airport--people land there safely all the time."
Arnie dropped the guns, and pulled a couple boxes of shells from his pockets. All fell into the invisible wall on which he was standing.
"I knew you could be reasonable," she said. "Is there something you need to pick up somewhere, or can I just take you to the airport?"
"No, I don't own much. I've got my cash card, and can have my stuff forwarded."
"Excellent. I can see the airport from here. Would you be more comfortable taking a direct flight, or the scenic route over the river?"
"I'm comfortable with whatever is safest," he replied.
"Then I think we'll go the short fast way, and get you on the ground at the terminal. I'm not overly familiar with Philadelphia International. Is there a particular airline you prefer?"
They talked little the rest of the way, but Lauren decided to pick up some speed and slow down again, more for practice than anything else. The landing was good enough, and she set him down and shut off the field. For an instant she thought he was going to pick up the guns, but he apparently thought better of it, and walked into the terminal.
"I'll stay right here to see you off," she called after him. "And don't tell anyone I sent you. In fact, don't tell them anything at all."
He waved in disgust, and as he disappeared into the crowd she picked him up on her clairvoyance, watching his movements from there. She also picked up the weapons. They were revolvers, and although she was not well informed about guns these seemed magnificent specimens.
Once he had boarded the plane, she contacted Raal. He was having a wonderful chat with Miss Meyers, he said, but could be there in a moment if Lauren didn't mind her tagging along.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #47: Character Routines. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: