chapter thirteen – the forces at work (part one)

The next time Pete opened his eyes the morning sun was lighting up the room and the first voice he heard was Inspector Novak. "Where's your girlfriend, Peterson?" Novak asked in his flat, dry voice. "I want to meet her. Bad."

Pete rolled over slowly and saw Novak sitting at the kitchen table, sipping coffee from Pete's favorite mug, his legs extended in front of him. He had his squad with him, standing casually around the room. Pete had a feeling that he was going to find it hard to come up with witty repartee until he got some clothes on. He sat up, trying to look like he wasn't looking around the room.

The bedroom door was open but from where he was he couldn't see very far inside. starling's sleeping bag was rolled up under the window where she slept and her few other possessions were still piled in the corner where she kept them. But where was she, and where was Daphne?

"Come on, you're no criminal, Peterson," Novak said, lighting a cigarette. "Help me on this and you're in the clear. Don't help, and we'll take her anyway, and then we'll cook you and her in the same pot."

"Can I at least get dressed?" Pete asked.

Novak shrugged, stretching his legs out in front of him and hooking his thumbs in his belt loops. "Oh, I don't know," he said with a shrug, "seeing you naked isn't doing anything for me, that's for sure. How about you, boys?" He looked around at his men, but they only grinned. "Sure, go ahead," he said.

Pete dressed quickly, trying to think what he should be doing. He thought for a moment that they had taken starling already, but that wasn't possible. She wouldn't have given in without a furious fight, and there was no way he could have slept through that. Somewhere in all the articles he had read about her he knew she'd killed a couple of cops, and that meant that if they did take her alive she'd be lucky to make it down to the squad car without being killed for "resisting arrest," and he was sure she knew it. As for Daphne, he wasn't sure whether she'd slept there that night or not. The bedroom door had been closed when they'd got home.

"Well, this will be a great day for you, Peterson," Novak said. "You're the kind of a guy who likes to know how things work. Now you'll get a very entertaining and informative tour of the criminal justice system."

"Well, technically," Pete said, feeling bolder now that he had his underwear on, "you don't have any jurisdiction here."

Novak laughed and a couple of his men chuckled, too. "Oh, come on," he said, finishing his coffee and tossing the mug into the sink where it shattered. "You're not that naive. You know that cuts both ways. Nobody has jurisdiction over anybody here, technically, but that means us, too. So, we're going to take you down to the docks and we're going to loosen you up a little bit, then we'll take you over the river to headquarters to get a nice official statement." He smiled. "How's that sound? Of course, you could bypass the unpleasant parts by telling me where your ladyfriend is."

Pete didn't respond, concentrating on getting his T-shirt on. He was tucking it in when Novak said, "Yes, she's led us a merry chase, but I don't know what made her think she would ever be safe here. Every cop in the country is looking for starling, and she doesn't even try to hide where she's staying."

"Novak, Rex is right about you. You couldn't find a cow on the front stoop. starling didn't just get here yesterday, you know. She's in plain sight, looking just like herself, and it takes you a week to–"

"Look, this–"

There was thump from the hall and Novak stood, turning, reaching inside his jacket, and then the room exploded.

The next thing Pete remembered, he was lying on the floor. His ears were ringing as if he'd just played a gig, and the apartment was full of smoke, but through it all he realized somebody was yanking at his shoulder and screaming his name.

Pete rolled over and threw his arms around her. "It's okay," he said, squeezing her with all his strength. "I'm okay." He said this even though he was still so stunned that he had no idea if he was telling her the truth or not. He thought he could feel her heart pounding through her coat.

The "explosion" had been starling, of course. She'd been crouching on the fire escape, out of sight of the window, and when the noise in the hall had distracted them she had opened fire, shattering the window, shooting quickly with both hands until her guns were empty. And Pete had been on the floor. Either he'd dived for cover, slipped or fainted, he had no idea which.

"I think one of them got out," she said. She was still holding onto him, but he pushed her firmly back to arm's length, his hands still on her shoulders, and he looked around the room.

"Shit," he said, "Novak's not here. He was headed for the door when the window broke, he must have just kept on going."

"There were two police cars in front," she said, reaching into the small of her back to pull out a gun. "Daphne and I saw them from the roof."

Pete stood up, moving quickly to the stove. "Time to bail out, then," he said. He squatted, popped the front off the stove and reached in. He pulled out a couple of notebooks. starling was beside him by then, holding open her battered airline bag. He stuffed the notebooks in and started to stand up. She bopped him on the side of the head. "Save the comics," she said derisively, as if the house was on fire and he was leaving the children inside.

"Okay," he said. He reached in again, pulling out a big sheaf of paper held together with a clip. He managed to get this into the bag as they stood up, and he slung the bag over his shoulder as she reached in and pulled out a fresh clip for her automatic. She slapped it into place as he ran to the closet and went through what suddenly seemed like a ridiculous number of flannel shirts before he found the one with the two bulges in the pockets. He pulled that on, and starling emptied the shells from her revolver and started to reload it from her coat pocket. He grabbed his jacket, flipped the lock on the door and zipped the bag closed as they moved to the window. He peered out and said, "Looks clear. Let's move."

She followed him out and up the metal stairs to the roof, carrying her revolver in one hand. As they reached the roof he thought he heard the apartment door crash open below them. There was an opening for a airshaft in the center of the roof and he ran over there. "Come on," he said, swinging one leg over the little brick ledge.

"Down there?" she asked dubiously, peering over.

Pete nodded. "It's not as bad as it looks. Carl showed me. This is how he used to get down to Amelia's apartment when her husband was drinking out on the stoop with his friends." They were halfway down by this time, moving down a series of windowsills and other stone decorations that were never intended for this purpose. When they reached Amelia's apartment the window was closed, but Pete pulled his jacket over his hand and smashed it. He knocked more of the glass out and reached in to lift the window enough so he could get a grip outside and open it all the way.

They were through the apartment so fast that Pete didn't actually know if anybody was home or not. Out in the hall they ran down the single flight of stairs and out the front door.

The two squad cars were still in front of the building, but there were no cops in sight. As Pete had figured, Novak had probably left one or two men outside when he went in the first time, then he would have collected them after the shooting for his return.

Pete and starling were off, around the corner and gone.

Any of the obvious places were out, Novak probably knew Pete too well. So, they had to stay away from Chet, Barry, Frances, Donna, Fifteen and Henshaw. And he could just imagine the Jinx' reaction if he brought the police to their doorstep, even he'd known exactly where that doorstep was. So, they spent most of the day hiding in basements, alleys, and in the hallways of abandoned buildings.

As soon as they stopped running the first time, hiding in a basement doorway, Pete asked about Daphne. starling said that she and Daphne had been playing fetch up on the roof of the building, waiting for him to wake up, when they'd heard the police cars pull up. They'd waited for the cops to go inside, then starling had climbed down the fire escape, which was on the back of the building, and Daphne had gone down the roof stairs. starling had waited for Daphne to make the noise in the hall, providing the distraction, and then she'd opened fire.

"I have no idea where she would have gone after that," starling finished.

"I'm not worried about that," he replied. "She's probably completely safe as long as she's not with us, so the last thing we should do is try to find her."

Pete remembered saying a couple of times that they needed a plan for what to do next, but starling was obviously leaving that to him. This was, after all, a life she was pretty well used to by now.

By the middle of the afternoon they were starving, so Pete took them to the basement Chinese take-out place. He thought that they might well have been the first people in history to actually want to eat in that unpleasant, greasy little room. Most people he knew wouldn't even eat the food. There weren't any tables or chairs, so they just stood along one wall, leaning against a cracked mirror, wolfing down food from cardboard containers with plastic forks. Then he gave the family's youngest son a few dollars to run down the block to a deli to get them cigarettes and four containers of coffee, which they drank almost as soon as he brought them back. After that they felt somewhat better and they stayed hidden until it was well after dark. Pete had one idea of who might help them, but he didn't want to try it in daylight.

"Hang on," Pete said, holding starling's arm as the police car cruised by. Then he said, "Okay, come on," and they ran across the street and into the park. They found George's tent and approached it. The flap was closed tight. Pete leaned his head close to it and hissed "George!"

"Now is not a good time," George said from inside in a rather strangled voice.

"I'm sorry to bother you, George, but I'm in some bad shit."

A minute later George unzipped the flap and poked his head out. "How deep?" he asked.

Pete gave him a brief synopsis of the events of the morning. He finished by saying, "I need sanctuary. As soon as possible."

George shrugged. "Fine. I'll set it up. But only for you, not for her." He tilted his head toward starling.

"But she–"

"It doesn't matter," he said wearily. "They're still mad at me for sending her down there the other day. They won't go for this, that's for sure, no matter what the Code says." He cut Pete off by turning to starling. "Would it be okay if I talked to Pete alone for a minute?"

She nodded. "Okay," she said, and she moved a little distance away.

"Pete," George began, then he burst into giggles. "Let go of my foot!" he hissed behind him into the tent. He turned back to me. "Stop and think this through," he said slowly. "You've got a fair amount of credit with people around here, but not enough to cover her, too. Even apart from the moral questions, people know they'd be cutting their own throats by getting tied up with her. And that probably applies to you, too."

Pete shook his head. "I'm afraid it's all or nothing," he said.

George gave him a wry smile. "Then good luck. And don't come visiting again anytime soon."

Right after that, as they climbed over the wall to get out of the park, it started to rain.

"I hate it when my feet get wet!" starling said. It was about the most passionate statement Pete could ever remember hearing from her. They were walking down the pitch-black hallway of an abandoned factory building. The big steel front door was still locked tight, and all the ground-floor windows were covered in steel gates, so he was hoping that nobody else was living there ahead of them. He'd let them into the back door with a key. As they walked down the hallway, he could hear both her footsteps and his own, going squish-squish-squish.

"This is a weird place," she said.

"Here, the corridor turns here," he said, snagging her sleeve before she walked into a wall. She took his hand.

"This is like when we were down in those tunnels," she said.

"Pretty much, except for two things. One is that I think we're alone here, and anybody we do meet will probably be more afraid of us than we are of them. The other is that here I have a lot better idea where we're going. I used to work here, when I first came to U-town. I used to work late sometimes, so they gave me keys to lock up. Then the company went bankrupt and, as far as I know, the building was abandoned right after that." They turned another corner.

"Okay," he said, "this is it." He unbuttoned the pocket of his flannel shirt again and took out the ring of keys, then he felt around on the door searching for the keyhole. He found it and let them in.

Inside the shop there were windows, so there was a little moonlight to find their way around. They moved along the narrow paths between the drill presses and work tables until he found a couple of stools. He wiped them off with a rag which was probably as dirty as they were, and they sat down. He located an ashtray on one of the cluttered tables and emptied it into a wastebasket. They lit cigarettes and sat on the stools in silence for a minute.

"Well," Pete said, "it'll be a shame to leave U-town, but I don't see how we can stay here, not now. We're going to have to get going."

"Right now?" she asked, obviously startled.

He shook his head. "Oh, no, we're safe enough here for tonight. I meant we need to think about getting out of town, going somewhere else, because I don't think we can stay here."

She thought about this for a while. He could tell she wasn't satisfied with this idea, but all she said was, "Maybe we should get some rest. I'm pretty tired." She looked around. "Where are we going to sleep?"

"Come on," he said. "The storage room in the back was pretty empty when this place went belly-up." The storage room only had one small window, and he felt around. "We used to have some big blankets here somewhere, to hang in the freight elevator when we were moving fragile equipment." His fingers found the dusty, quilted material and he picked them up. "Here they are. Help me get them spread out."

There were four blankets, fortunately, so they each had one to lie on and another to cover them. When they had their clothes off they draped them all over the big cartons, hoping they'd be dry by morning. Pete felt weird tip-toeing naked around the cold linoleum floor of that familiar place and he was just as happy when he dove into his makeshift bed. There was silence for a few minutes, and he wondered if starling had fallen asleep.

"Pete?" she whispered.

"Yes?" he replied.

"Have you thought that George may be right? Maybe you are screwing things up for yourself by being with me."

He sighed, knowing he should be stern but feeling just the opposite. "You weren't supposed to be listening to that," Pete said.

"I can't see why not," she replied. "It was about me."

He laughed, which sounded so spooky in the big, dark storage room that he quickly cut it short. Not because he was afraid of anybody hearing, just because the way it sounded reminded him that they weren't at home anymore.

"No chance," he said. "You made a promise, and I'm not going to let you out of it."

"Well, okay," she said. "I just thought I should give you the chance. Now, let me ask you this. Do you want to leave U-town?"

"Well, I admit I don't. I like the people here, at least most of them, and there's always something interesting going on. But my apartment is full of dead cops."

"I agree," she said. "Even apart from my family and stuff, I don't want to go either. I mean, I like it here, too. It's . . . people don't act like they do in other places. So, I want to stay. You want to stay." She reached over and squeezed his arm through the blanket. "We should stay. You're smart. You'll think of something."

By the time his brain had stopped reeling, she was fast asleep.

Pete had known the apartment was only a squat, and he'd told himself many times not to get too comfortable there, but it was probably impossible to avoid feeling settled. And having Carl there, and then starling, had made it even more homey. Even a dog. Couldn't be more homey than that. But now it was time to let that all go, to forget about the clothes and the notebooks and so on, the same way he'd been working on forgetting about his bass and his amplifier, destroyed in the explosion at the Quarter.

It was silly to get attached to things, of course. He heard starling shift in her sleep.

He missed his notebooks most of all. He had saved the current ones, and the comics, but there were about ten left behind. He raised his head a little. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness and he could see some faint light coming in through the little window. It illuminated the shapes of the huge cartons and packing cases. It was a weird place to sleep after the comfort of the apartment.

It was the first night in a long time where the following day was completely mysterious to him. He had no idea what would happen. No more breakfasts at Feb Isle, no more nights at the Q. No more Quarter, of course. No more job.

Well, that part wasn't so bad. His emergency shirt had held some cash as well as the keys to this place, and starling had money. But they had to think about how they were going to live.

Of course, he could go into the undertown. He needed sanctuary if anybody ever had, and they liked him. There wouldn't be a problem. But they wouldn't take starling, so that was out. And the same was true of the park people. It was too bad . . .

Then he had it. He wasn't sure if it would work, but he thought it probably would if he sold it the right way. This had to be planned out very carefully in advance. He tapped one foot against the other. This could really work.

starling reached over, rested her hand on his forearm and squeezed it through the blanket. "I knew you'd think of something," she whispered.

The next morning, as it started to get light, Pete got up and located his sneakers. They were still wet, of course, but he put them on anyway. He knew from experience that the floor of the shop contained many opportunities for cuts, abrasions and stubbed toes.

"What are you doing?" starling asked, sitting up.

"Well, if my big plan is going to work, we're going to need some help. So, I've got to go out for a few minutes to arrange for that help."

She frowned, looking down. "I shouldn't go, I guess."

He shook his head. "You need to stay completely out of sight until we can set up a few things."

She nodded. "I know. Listen, sit down for a second." She patted the worn quilt and he sat next to her. She stretched over and snagged the handle of her airline bag, pulling it to her. "I've got something," she said. "I've been wanting to give it to you, but I didn't really know . . . I wasn't sure . . ." She had put her hand in the bag, but he couldn't tell if she was going to bring it out again or not. She was obviously trying to say about three things at once, the result being that no words were getting out at all. Then she sighed and quickly pulled out the small package and handed it to him.

It was very heavy, wrapped in rough paper and tied with a piece of twine. She watched him as he untied the string, and Pete was sure he already knew what it was. "It's a gun," she said. "I took it off of one of those guys in the basement practice room. It was the best one. And then I cleaned it and oiled it for you. But then, I didn't know . . . I thought maybe it was a really bad idea." Pete had never seen her in such a dither, and he half expected her to reach over and take it back from him.

But she didn't, and there it was in his hand. It was small and heavy, and he knew enough to know that it was an automatic, but that was about it. It scared the hell out of him, but he couldn't refuse it. It would have been rude, and she would have taken it as a personal rejection, but even more important it would have been hypocritical. To refuse it would have been to say that it was okay for her to shoot people on his behalf, but that he didn't want to soil his own hands.

"starling, thank you," he said. "This was very thoughtful."

"Have you ever used one?" she asked.

He shook his head. "You'll have to give me lessons, some time when we're not hiding out."

She nodded at the wisdom of this. He started to stand up, but she said, "There is one thing you need to know. In that basement room, when you and I came out of the bathroom and then you went outside?"

He nodded. "I remember."

"That was when I checked the guns, to see which one I wanted to give you. Well, one of them was already missing." She shrugged. "I think we have to assume Henshaw took it."

He nodded, trying to remember the sequence of events. "I suppose it could have been somebody else, but I'm sure you're right. However, if there's a bright side to this mess we're in now, it's that we probably don't have to worry about Henshaw. We're trying to stay hidden from professionals now, after all. If we can keep away from them, how is he going to find us? And if Novak does find us, Henshaw will be the least of our worries."

She frowned in thought. "Yes and no, I think. You're right, except that Henshaw knows you better than Novak does."

"I see what you mean," he said, "but I'm not sure that's true. I don't think Henshaw does know all that much about me. In a way, we were never actually that close. It was only the band, really, we were never very friendly apart from that. He was never interested in hanging out socially, and after the thing with Jenny started I tended to avoid him because I felt guilty."

She smiled gently. "So, what you're saying is that when you refer to Henshaw as your 'best friend,' it's just so you can whip yourself even harder for sleeping with his girlfriend."

Pete laughed, standing up. "If I'd have known you were this sharp when I met you, I would have been more careful about what I was saying. But you're right, of course."

"So, where are you going now?" she asked as he got his coat, also still damp.

"I'll tell you when I get back," he said. "I want to do this as early as possible, when the streets are still deserted."

"What about breakfast?" she asked.

"That's part of it."

She smiled. "Good."

He went into the shop room and located a pad of paper. As he wrote the note, he thought about starling. It had always been a possibility that at least some of her rather spacy and distracted air was put on as a defense mechanism, but he hadn't realized how much until she'd obviously decided to drop the pretense completely when they were alone together. This was one of the things which had changed after they'd sat on the steps together the night of the funeral and she'd agreed to be his friend, to replace Carl.

With everything that had been happening, he knew he deserved to have "Do Not Trust This Man" written across his forehead, and he found it meant a lot to him that she'd obviously decided to trust him anyway. And if there were words written across her forehead also, written there for him to read and remember whenever he looked at her, those words would have read "This is another chance, a chance you don't deserve. Do not fuck this one up."

He finished writing the note, and then he looked around until he found a scrap of cloth. Then he put his incredibly heavy gun into his coat pocket and left. He went down the gloomy stairs, out the back door and down the alley to the street. The weight of the gun slapped his thigh as he trotted to the corner. He tied the cloth around a lamp post, stuck the paper into it and then ran to the alley and back into the building. He went up the stairs and let himself into the shop with his key.

starling peeked around one of the units of steel shelving along one wall and then stepped out, naked but holding her revolver. "My clothes are still wet," she explained.

"Mine, too," he said. "Come on. We're going to have to wait a while now, and we might as well be comfortable." Back in the small storage room, the one window deposited a rectangle of early morning sunlight on the dusty floor. They moved their shoes into the light, Pete took off his clothes again and they got under the covers.

"So, what are we waiting for?" she asked.

"Fifteen. I left a special priority on the pole outside, but I don't know how long it will take to get to him. The first runner who sees it will grab it, but then they'll have to find him."

"What if whoever finds it takes it to Novak?"

"It's not signed, but Fif will recognize my scrawl. And it's written in such a way that nobody but him wll be able to make heads or tails of it."

She nodded. "He won't tell Henshaw where we are, will he? Fifteen, I mean."

He shook his head. "No, though that's a very good question. The note is pretty clear that he's not to tell anybody, and he's certainly my friend more than he's Henshaw's." He lit a cigarette and then tossed her the pack and the matches. "I think Henshaw thought it was beneath him to hang out with the roadies very much."

"Hey," she said after a while, "show me some comics."

"Ah," he said, "I knew I brought them for a reason." She still had her bag on her bed, and he scooted over there and got under her quilt. "Do you know a lot about comics?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Nothing."

"Good. You're my ideal audience, then."

Then, after a while, they heard the jingle of a bicycle bell outside the window.

"That seems pretty fast," he said, standing up, "though I have no idea what time it is."

"I think it's lunch time," starling said as he started to get dressed.

"Well put," he said, pulling on his jeans (still damp), his T-shirt (dry) and his sneakers (squishy). "I'll be right back," he said.

"Take your gun," she said.

"Oh, well–"

"Is Fifteen the only person in the world with a bell?" she asked, peering at him over the top of her glasses.

He shook his head. "No, of course not. You're right, obviously." He picked up his gun and looked at it. He found himself reluctant to learn any more about its operation, but that was outweighed by his reluctance to blow off any part of his anatomy. "Is this thing about to go off?" he asked.

She pulled his hand down and looked at it, then shook her head. "You have to flip this little thing forward to fire it," she said. "Otherwise it won't shoot."

He nodded and stuck it in his pocket. "I'll be right back," he said again.

Downstairs, he opened the rear door and Fifteen came in quickly, wheeling his bicycle, his bandanna pulled up to cover the lower half of his face. "Can I leave this here?" he asked, not looking at Pete.

"Sure," Pete said, "just lean it against the wall. We're the only people here." He locked the door again as Fifteen picked up the big grocery bag which had been in the bicycle's basket and moved a little way down the dark hall.

"Is it this way?" he asked.

So they walked down the hall, with Fifteen in front, and Pete suddenly felt like he was imposing or something. It wasn't like Fifteen to be so curt. "Thanks for coming so quickly," Pete said, but the young runner just nodded.

When they got to the shop starling was dressed, sitting on one of the stools by the windows, and, as Fifteen turned to look at her and Pete could see him in the sunlight he understood. He motioned for Fifteen to pull down the bandanna. After all, he had already seen the black eye.

"Dear God," starling said, coming over to them. She reached out and then dropped her hand.

"I didn't tell the bastard anything," he mumbled through split lips.

"Novak?" starling asked. Fifteen nodded, and the expression on starling's face told Pete that Inspector Novak wasn't going to be around much longer.

Pete started to say something, but Fifteen cut him off. "No sweat," he said. "I didn't do it for you. I've never really liked you all that much. I only did it for Miss Starling here."

She looked at him for a moment, then she leaned forward and pressed her lips very gently to an undamaged part of his forehead. "Anything you ever want," she murmured.

He looked around, embarrassed. "Well, right now I'd like to sit down," he said, walking toward the side of the room with the windows.

starling and Pete followed him more slowly, and Pete leaned over to whisper to her, "That was very nice, but the one thing he really does want is probably beyond your power to provide."

Pete cleaned off a third stool for Fifteen and they all sat down. Pete cleared a space on one of the work benches and laid out the meal Fifteen had brought. There were fried egg sandwiches for all three of them, plus orange juice and coffee for him and starling, and a soda for Fifteen. There were also two packs of cigarettes. They both thanked him. Pete noticed he sat somewhat uncomfortably on the stool, but it was clear he didn't want them to make any more of a fuss over his injuries than they had already.

"T.C. is hopping mad," Fifteen said between bites at one point.

"How come?" Pete asked. "Price of coffee go up?"

"Nope. Miss Sleet and Marshall and Vicki vanished."

"Vanished? You mean they left?"

"No, Miss Sleet and Marshall went to the radio broadcast, and they never showed up at the apartment again. Plus they managed to get their luggage out of there without her noticing, so she got stiffed for one day's rent. She's still trying to figure out how they did it."

Pete laughed. "I'll bet she's mad. She thought she knew every trick in the book."

"But where did they go?" starling asked.

Fifteen shrugged with one shoulder. "Where do tourists go when they leave? I guess they went home."

After they'd finished the sandwiches and were sipping the coffee, Pete handed Fifteen a piece of paper on which he had written three names with some instructions after each. "Here's what we need," he said. "You think this is possible?"

Fifteen looked at the paper and grinned lopsidedly. "Is this all?" he asked. "Done."

"One more thing, though," Pete added. "Don't go out of your way, but if you happen to hear anything about Daphne, let me know. She saved our bacon yesterday, and I'd like to be sure she's okay."

"Daphne's a good dog," Fifteen and starling said, almost in unison.

"True enough," Pete said.

After Fifteen left, they were back to waiting.

"I can't see how he rides the bicycle, as banged up as he is," starling said.

Pete shrugged. "I asked him about that as we were going down to the door, and he said it's easier to ride than it is to walk right now. Oh, by the way, I gave him my keys, so he can get back in. I didn't want you to get startled when he unlocks the door."

She nodded. "I'm glad you told me that. I'm trying to be calm about all this, but I am a little jumpy."

"I seem to be pretty relaxed," he said. "I'm probably just in shock." He ran his fingers through his hair. "I just had an awful thought. I wonder if the rest of my friends all took a beating last night, too."

starling looked at him seriously. "If they did, it's because you have good friends. The more important question is, who else knows about this place? Especially anybody who wouldn't take a beating for you."

"That is a good question. Well, Chet does, he used to meet me after work sometimes and have a few beers at a place down the block. He would take a beating for me, but it won't happen anyway. Randi will protect him. I'm not sure anybody else knows about it. I didn't know Henshaw or Drenkenson back then. I don't know, I might have mentioned the job to either of them later on, but I don't think I would have told them the address."

"What about Frances?"

"I don't think so, but I can't really remember. Frankly, I think we have to assume that if she did know, Novak would be here already."


He shook his head. "Definitely not. One never discusses anything as plebeian as a job with her. Besides, Novak won't touch her. He'd have a full-scale war on his hands, and every evidence is that he's under orders not to push anything that far. The same reason the cops only skirmish with the Jinx but never go over the line."

"Why?" starling asked. "I mean, I understand about the Jinx. I've had cops on the street look right at me and then turn and walk past me, so I understand that. You pick your spots. But what's up with Emma?"

"Well, U-town, being a fairly 'anything goes' kind of place, has attracted a lot of gays, men and women. But then, for the same reason, it started to attract a lot of gay-bashers. It became a regular Saturday night event for this or that bunch of drunken louts to drive over here, pound a few fairies and then go on home, knowing there was no law around here to stop them.

"Well, first people started to trying to get the Jinx to help, but the Jinx aren't much for helping people besides themselves. So, Emma and a few others, including Paris, who I think you met, started the Wild Fruits, basically a gang–"

She burst out laughing. "The Wild Fruits? Not really."

He nodded. "It's from a book. About a gang of gay gunfighters in the Old West. Anyway, they started fighting back with a vengeance."

It was late in the afternoon when the door opened. starling was up and toward the door, gun in hand, before Pete had even heard a sound, but then he saw her arm drop to her side. He stood up and followed her as Fifteen and The Amazing Frankie came in. Each was carrying a large gym bag.

Frankie looked around. "I've done this in a lot of apartments, and even in some bars and on the street, but never in a factory."

She came around to the area near the windows and Pete showed her the space he'd cleared on one of the counters. She put her bag there, unzipped it, and started to unpack combs, brushes, scissors, trimmers, bottles, jars and some items he'd never seen before. "So," she said, "what do you want?"

"We want to look completely different," Pete said. "Especially my friend here." He indicated starling.

Frankie looked at her for a moment. "Well, losing the gunbelt might help."

"Clothing is all taken care of," Fifteen said, hefting the bag he carried and patting it.

"Okay," Frankie said, "and I'll do what I can about the hair, but the biggest thing in people recognizing you is how you stand and walk. If you don't change that, people sometimes don't even notice your hair at all." She looked critically at starling. "You stand like a race-track tout." She moved around starling, who turned, trying to keep Frankie from getting behind her. Finally, Frankie grabbed her shoulders, spinning her to face Fifteen and Pete.

"You got tits?" Frankie asked sharply.

starling looked down in confusion. "Yes."

"Good. Stop trying to keep them a secret." She pulled backwards on starling's shoulders. "Keep your shoulders back and down, stop trying to hunch them over all the time."

Frankie came around in front of starling again. "It is okay to breathe," she said. "Just remember to keep your shoulders back. Now, that's a good beginning. Sit down and we'll do your hair." starling sat on one of the stools. "Shoulders!" Frankie barked and Pete thought starling was going to fall on the floor.

At one point, as Frankie worked, starling stuck a cigarette in the corner of her mouth and lit it. Frankie plucked it from her lips and held it out. "Bogart's dead," she said. "Hold it in your hand when you smoke it."

starling couldn't have looked more self-conscious if Frankie had been putting little pink bows in her hair and dressing her in a strapless gown, but Pete had to admit that it was making a difference.

After she was done with starling, Frankie motioned for Pete to sit down. He took his gun out of his pocket and lay it gently on the counter, making sure it wasn't pointing at anybody.

"How long you been carrying a gun?" Frankie asked as he sat down.

"Oh, for a while now," he said casually. "At least twenty minutes."

She nodded. "Okay, then here's what you can do so no one will recognize you. Walk like you've got a gun. Until now, you've always walked like everybody in the world had one except you."

Of course, every plan has its down side, and Pete knew all too well what the drawback to this one was going to be. Frankie wrapped the towel around his shoulders, spritzed his hair until it was dripping, picked up her scissors, snipped them a few times as if she was warming them up, then said, "I heard you on the radio night before last."

"Oh, on Barry's–"

"Yes, Barry's show," she said briskly, starting to snip at his hair. "You know, you were the second guest of the night, after Denise. That's a pretty plum spot." She snipped a few more times, then started to comb.

"Well, I guess–" he began.

"So, is Tom back in the fold, or are you going to be looking for a guitarist?"

"Oh, I don't know. As I said–"

"Oh, of course, Henshaw has to get healthy again. That's the most important thing. Now, I have a friend who's a drummer. She's pretty good. Maybe we can try it out as a foursome once Henshaw is back on his feet." She yanked hard on his hair with the comb, pulling his head over to one side. "starling?" she asked.

starling was obviously surprised at being addressed by name. "Yes?"

"Do you think you could prevail on your friend here to brush his hair from time to time? It would really make a big difference. I'll even give him a brush for free."

starling looked pleased. "Well," she said, "I don't want to promise anything, but I'll work on it."

Frankie nodded, yanking his head to the other side with the force of her combing. "It doesn't have to be every single day. Even three times a week would be a big improvement." Pete looked past her at Fifteen and starling, who were sitting side by side on stools about ten feet away, leaning forward, watching this process. Fifteen reached up and rubbed his own shaved head, perhaps indicating that hair was more trouble than it was worth.

"Now," Frankie continued, going back to her cutting, "I was thinking about replacing your equipment, and I have a plan. We can borrow some equipment, maybe from SL, then go out and play some colleges. That's where the money is, you know, colleges."

This continued throughout the haircut. Frankie hinted and suggested, Pete temporized and evaded. He didn't say anything that was actually untrue, but the end result of all that truth was a massive lie. He felt bad about that, but they needed the haircuts. And he liked Frankie, but there was no more band for her to be a part of.

While this was going on, Fifteen unpacked the clothes he'd brought. Frankie examined her handiwork one last time and then turned to starling and said, "Take off your clothes."

"Hang on a minute," Pete said. He turned to Fifteen. "Turn your back, young man," he said.

He did so, looking disgruntled, as starling pulled off her T-shirt.

Ten minutes later, starling stood stiffly as Frankie walked around her. She was wearing corduroy slacks, a tan sweater and over a white collared shirt, with a tweed jacket over that. Her hair was now dark red and trimmed with bangs so it framed her face rather than hiding it. Frankie had thinned and lightened her eyebrows quite a bit, making her look less fierce. She was, Pete had to admit, quite transformed. She was surprisingly pretty, in a country club-ish way.

Fifteen stepped forward, grinning as much as he could with his banged-up face. "Why, Miss Starling," he said, "without your glasses, you're–"

"Oh, shut up," she said, but she was smiling. Frankie held up a mirror for her to inspect herself.

"Stop twitching," Frankie said. "You're just not used to wearing clean clothing. Soon it'll seem perfectly natural to you."

"I look like Chet," starling said, a little mournfully.

"That's where we got the clothes," Pete said.

"Shoulders," Frankie said, demonstrating by sticking out her own chest.

starling looked from Frankie to herself. "I–"

Frankie grinned. "Well, do the best you can."

Pete settled with The Amazing Frankie, giving her a substantial tip. She grinned, sticking the money into one of the many zippered pockets of her leather jacket. "Too bad I couldn't take before and after pictures. This could make me famous."

"It could also get you what Fifteen got," he said quietly. "You should probably get famous some other way."

"Hey," she said, "hairdressers are like doctors, lawyers and priests. If we blabbed our secrets, we'd be out of business." She winked, hefting her bag over her shoulder. "If you knew what I know about some of the people in this town, then you'd really have some hot stuff to write in those notebooks of yours."

Fifteen took her downstairs and let her out, then he came back up. "I didn't want to ask when she was here," Pete said, "but is Chet okay?"

Fifteen nodded. "Oh, he's fine. He's having a huge party at his place. That's where I found the Amazing one, in fact."

Pete laughed in surprise. "A party? Well, I'm glad somebody is having some fun today, but he never mentioned a party to me."

Fifteen was grinning. "You don't grasp the angle here. Daphne scooted right over to Chet's after the business at your place. They figured that Novak might try to pick them up and sweat them, like he did me, so Chet started getting out the word that he was throwing a big bash. All sorts of folks, including the WF's, Jinx and so on. Especially hinting to the Jinx that they should come, so Daphne could fill them in on what happened with you and the missus."

"So," Pete said, getting it at last, "the point is that it raises the ante if Novak wants to drag Chet and Daphne away. All the people at the party are running interference, even if they don't know it."

He nodded. "That's it. Pretty slick, huh?"

"But what about when the party ends?" starling said. "How long can they keep it going?"

"Probably forever, as long as Chet and Randi supply the beer," Pete said. "And she can make beer out of thin air, so they won't ever run out."

Fifteen nodded. "The record for a party is seventeen days, I think." He looked at starling. "Ask me when the party at Duffy's was over." She inclined her head, obviously asking the question. He shrugged. "It isn't. It moved over to Chet's this afternoon."

"Is the Drone there?" Pete asked.

He rolled his eyes. "What do you think?"

"Good. You get enough beer in him and he'll take on Novak all by himself."

"Oh, sure, especially since he knows Novak is after Miss Starling." He turned to her. "You know, he has your picture over his bed, and every night–"

"You'd better get going," Pete said quickly. "Come on."

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