We had just finished setting up our tent in among the buildings, although the buildings were in the wrong configuration. It was a farm I’d never been to before, in the disguise of one that, were I a bitter, unforgiving soul, I would charge with having taken too many lives. A couple of fox kittens trotted in to the clearing we’d chosen, and allowed themselves to be handled and played with, their mother, beside a bin, watching warily with bared teeth.
The kits trundled off and we zipped up our flaps and made our way into town for a bite at the Chinese café. And this is where things got weird. Upon arrival, the owner’s son – a young guy who looked just like his father 40 years and 100 pounds earlier – glared at me and told me I had some nerve showing up there. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. Didn’t really even know the guy, except that my father had pointed him out to me.
He said, “that case you left caused a lot of problems.”
“What case?” I asked. I mean. The last time I’d been at the restaurant was nearly a year ago, at harvest.
“Don’t play innocent with me, bitch. The case you got from -” He cut himself short when he saw the kids behind me. “My mistake,” he said, still glaring pointedly at me. “I have confused you with someone else.” Then he leaned toward me and whispered “You come and get the case later. I don’t want your problems.”
Mystified, I let the children go ahead of me as he seated us between the window and the top of the staircase in a part of the restaurant that has never existed.
“What was that about?” The Fenris Wolf asked.
“I have no idea,” I told him, although there was something in the back of my head, some niggling thing that seemed to indicate that Lord V would know what this guy was on about. Which, of course, in the manner of these sorts of things, is probably why he was already waiting for us at our table.
It had been a while since I’d seen him, and although he hadn’t changed much, I was struck by how inertia can hold a man to a place and keep him just “same” enough so as to be nearly on the edge – but not quite – of stagnation. Still a fine fellow. Still quick as a whip. The kids didn’t recognize him at first, but that changed soon enough. We ate our dinners and were joined by the Tall Man and that, altogether was Quite Nice.
Then “Kenny, the Chinaman’s Son”, as the townspeople called him, came back to the table carrying a small red plastic case. The kind that would have held a portable typewriter perhaps, or that a child might have used as a suitcase. He glared at me again, recovering quickly enough for a smile at the others at our table. “You forgot this last time you were here,” he said, and tucked the case between my chair and the table leg. “Don’t let them find it,” he whispered as he bent to wedge it in there. “And don’t come back.”
I knew, as my foot nudged the corner of the case, that it was full of drugs. Nothing major, really, just a pound or so of weed. It was enough to put me in the clink, of course, but, predictably, it wasn’t mine. It had been left behind by someone whose table was near mine, someone I’d known as a teenager, but whose life diverged drastically from mine after the summer we were both 14. “This isn’t -” I began, but Kenny was gone.
I excused myself for a moment, rose from the table, and went downstairs to find him. I needed to tell him the case wasn’t mine, that he should just call the police and have done with it. The main floor of the restaurant was dark, the only noises coming from the basement kitchen (which has, of course, never been there). I followed the sounds, heard low voices speaking what I assumed to be Chinese. I chastised myself for never asking where Kenny’s family was from; which of the Chinese dialects/languages he spoke.
The sound of the door chime snapped me out of myself, and I ran up the stairs. A half dozen men stood by the till, their backs to me. They looked like a cast of characters from a true crime expose on the Tong. I slipped around the corner and upstairs to our table. I took the case, my purse, and my jacket.
“Be silent,” I whispered, “take your plates, your things, and come with me.”
This must be the first time in the history of having a family and friends listened to me and did exactly as I said. We all filed in to a little-used upstairs prep kitchen. Several staff members were there, shuffling nervously and glancing at one another with wide eyes. Through low windows we saw a half dozen souped-up cars with tinted windows, left running. I told the children to get under the long stainless steel table and work themselves in behind some boxes.
I slid the case between a cooler and the wall and myself crouched under the table. The Fenris Wolf, The Tall Man, and Lord V stood and watched out the window. Voices from downstairs rose, fell, shouted. Footsteps on the stairs in the dining room. The tension in the prep kitchen was palpable. I saw beads of sweat on the temples of every person in that room.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The cars squealed away from the parking lot, the employees in the prep kitchen wilted like unwatered seedlings, and The Tall Man exclaimed “what the fuck was that about?”
I woke, thinking this would make an excellent start to a NaNoWriMo novel. Some names may have to be changed to protect the intercedant.