Serial Saturday: Road Trip, Part 9

“Christ, I guess I’m never coming back here,” JT said.

Israel glanced around the pizza joint. They were attracting a lot of attention. “Is this someplace you want to visit often?” he asked. He picked up the slice of pizza in front of him and eyed it dubiously.

“There ain’t that many fucking places in this town to grab lunch on a half hour break,” she said, earning a glare from the mother at the table near them. She returned the glare until the other woman dropped her gaze. Israel shrugged and took a bite of his pizza. It wasn’t that bad, for something that had been sitting under a heat lamp. It was nice to be back on the east coast, where one rarely hit truly dire pizza.

The woman at the next table was gathering up her kids and leaving, getting away from the strange people and their profanity, and JT took the opportunity to lean across the booth and speak lower.

“So you don’t quite get the ‘secret’ part of ‘secret society’, is that it, cowboy?”

Israel grinned and patted the hat that sat next to his paper plate. “I’m not really a cowboy,” he said. “I just picked up the hat in Wyoming.”

“And you wear it here because the fucking tattoo on your face isn’t quite memorable enough on its own, is that it?”

Israel sat back in the booth and patted his lips with his napkin. “You don’t exactly fade into the background yourself,” he said.

JT took a large, savage bite of her pizza. “Been five or six years, and people around here have just about gotten used to me,” she said through a mouthful of dough. “I don’t need you coming around and making everyone notice me again.” She swallowed and took a sip of her soda. “So tell me what you have to tell me about my mother so I can get back to work.”

She said it with an elaborate disinterest, and Israel fought to keep from grinning.

“Amity and I were in Kaycee because of a similar problem.”

“You burn down your house while your kid was asleep inside, did you?” JT asked, and took another bite of pizza.

“We were both chosen by the Old Ones to receive gifts, and reacted poorly to it. As you can see, though, I’ve recovered.”

Slyithtra’ha, Lucien said.

JT was giving him an odd look, and he suspected that he’d suffered a bit of a tick, as he often did when Lucien shoved words of the Old Tongue into his brain without warning.

“What kind of gift did you get?” she asked in a dangerous tone.

“Something like an Old Weapon,” he said, and saw her perk up behind the eyes.

Don’t get cocky. Had that been Lucien, or just his own inner voice? The fact that it was getting hard to tell sometimes lit up a flicker of unease in him, but he pushed it aside.

Something like an Old Weapon?” she asked. Her voice was skeptical, but she couldn’t completely hide her interest in what he’d said.

“A flute, actually.”

She stared at him for a long moment. “And how the fuck is a flute like a weapon?”

“Well, it isn’t really, but it’s old the same way the Old Weapons are–made the same way, I think.”

“And what does it do?”

“It plays tunes, so they say.”

“So they say?”

“If you had a flute that belonged to them, would you set it up against your lips?”

Fuck no.” She set her straw against her lips instead and took a slurp.

“Well, I only tried once, and it had a bad effect on me.”

“What kind of effect?” JT asked, and took another bite of pizza.

“The same kind of effect whatever they gave Amity had on her. Enough to make exactly what else happened hard to remember.”

“How is it you know anything about what happened to my mother, anyway?”

“I ended up in Kaycee, like I said. Pretty much for the same reason she did.” Israel took a sip of his soda. “There was this one doctor there, Waltrip. His thing was to try to get residents together who had the same problem, get them talking.” He paused and looked off into space for a moment. “It didn’t work so well when the ones who the welters had gotten to all ended up in the same room–they’d talk, but it was in the Old Tongue, and they were making…plans. But it’s nice, getting a reformer in there now and again, someone who wants to try something other than the ice water baths and shock treatments. And it helped me, talking to Amity. I came to terms with things. You can do that, it turns out, accept the part of you that belongs to the Old Ones, but not give in.”

“That so.”

Israel nodded. “You can even use them–use the fact that you’ve got an Old One living with you, twist it, so it’s more human.” He took another bite of pizza.

“Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out,” JT said.

“I have,” Israel said. “There’s just one thing. The Old Ones know I’m different, they may even know I’m beating them. They find me, come after me. I didn’t dare leave Kaycee, even once I felt better, because I wasn’t safe anywhere else. But I think I’ve figured out how to end that part too, thanks to the piece of the Old Ones I’ve got. I need to find that flute to finish things off.”

JT leaned back in the booth and stared at him for a few moments. “And that’s where I come in, is it? I’m supposed to be your muscle, keep them off your back?”

She’d been a bit quick to the mark for Israel’s comfort. “Basically, yes. Just for a while.”

“Why me?”

Israel hesitated. “I didn’t win many friends in the society when things went bad for me, with the flute. There was collateral damage, and I lost the flute, sort of blocked it out of my mind so no one else could find it either–that kind of annoyed people.” He took another bite. “Some people even think I just faked things to avoid the consequences of my actions, get myself tucked away in a safe place for a while.”

JT gazed at him evenly for a while, picking something out of her teeth with her tongue. “You think you’re pretty cute, don’t you?” she said at last.

Israel raised his hands. “I didn’t mean anything by that. It’s just a coincidence we ended up tucked away in our respective prisons for a while, and that’s not why I came to you. I understand from your mother, though, that you’re something of a free agent, that you might be willing to help me when the rest of the society wouldn’t.”

JT snorted. “Don’t know where she, or you, would get the idea I’d want to piss off the society more than I already have.”

“If this works, what I have planned,” Israel said, “it might work for your mother.”

JT swept what was left of her pizza into a wad with her paper plate, and Israel had a feeling she would have stood up quickly if they hadn’t been in a booth. “Half hour’s up,” she said. “You can drop me off at the Henderson’s.” She slid out of her seat and headed for the door without waiting for him.

The drive to the next lawn on her schedule was silent, except for her occasional grunts to point out turns for him to take. Finally, they pulled up next to a house, and lawn, even larger than the last, on a lake Israel didn’t know the name of. The kid and the pudgy guy were already there, busying themselves with a mower. JT got out and slammed the door, then turned and leaned into the passenger side window, ignoring the stare of her boss. “I’m guessing you know where I live,” she said. “Be there tonight. I have some questions for you. But don’t show up too early and hang out in my driveway. I won’t be back until after six, probably.”

She turned and left, holding the hatchet, and Israel tried to remember where her trailer was.

Copyright © 2011 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on June 4, 2011.