Updated: May 24
Blair left the highway, made a few quick turns, and pulled into the automated parking garage adjacent to a mall. She took the car up three levels and whipped it into an empty space.
“Let’s go,” she said to Dodge, then turned back to Klaxon. “You too.”
“I feel like a rhesus monkey shat in my head,” Klaxon said, slurring his consonants.
“You’re fine,” Blair responded.
She sprang out of the car, opened the trunk, and shouldered a large brown duffel bag.
Klaxon continued to stare straight ahead, unfocused, but still mechanically opened his door and left the car. Dodge took one last breath and forced himself up and out too, hurrying around Klaxon to catch Blair.
“Are going to tell me what we’re doing here? People are trying to kill us and you want to shop? We need to hide somewhere, not run around a fucking mall.”
She kept walking, searching the garage. “Thank you for the tactical advice, Mr. Dodgson. But perhaps, since you’re so keen on planning, you’d like the full situation report.” She stopped and glared at him.
He looked away, brought his hand to his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was too tired for another lecture. “No, I just …”
“The Tesla is Entropy’s, and is being tracked as we stand here chatting. You don’t think they gave me permission to jaunt around the city with their single biggest revenue generator in tow, do you?” She patted the slight lump under her jacket Dodge knew was her gun. “I’m no longer covered under their health plan.”
Blair motioned to a rusted Suzuki hatchback. “We need a new car. One that Entropy doesn’t have constant eyes on.”
Dodge frowned at the ancient pale blue two-door. It looked as though it might melt away in the next rainstorm.
“You think stealing a gas-guzzling death-trap of a rust bucket held together by duct tape and crossed-fingers will help us stay ahead of your bosses?”
Blair dropped the bag from her shoulder. “How much do you know about cars?”
“Ok then, so you must know that most vehicles come equipped with a built in kill switch. And you must be well aware that attempting to circumvent a kill switch will render the vehicle about as useful as two tons of scrap metal on wheels. Do you know how to bypass a kill switch, Mr. Dodgson?”
“No,” he shot back, his strength returning. “Do you?”
Blair grinned. “Yes, but I have neither the tools nor the time to waste, so this ‘rust bucket’ here will have to do.”
She bent over, unzipped the duffel bag, and pulled out a screwdriver. “Now wipe the scowl off your face, make yourself useful and get us a new license plate.”
“Where am I supposed to find a new license plate?”
Blair looked up, visibly straining to contain herself. “You’re surrounded by cars. Pick one.” She tossed him the screwdriver. “Can you handle that?”
Unable to think of anything to say that wouldn’t sound like a lame playground retort, Dodge turned and stalked off.
“And Mr. Dodgson—” Blair had already opened the Suzuki’s door and was fiddling under the hood. “—make it quick.”
Dodge stumped twenty paces, picked a car at random—a black Tata with a ridiculously oversized tail fin—sunk to one knee and jammed the screwdriver into the first plastic screw. It twirled in place, the screw’s thread stripped. Gritting his teeth, Dodge thrust the flat head of the screwdriver behind the plate and heaved. It flew off past his head, landing behind him.
Who the hell did she think she was, ordering him around like an older sister put in charge for the evening? He had a genius-level IQ. He had been taught by Nobel Prize winners. Had been invited to guest lecture to the advanced bio-engineering program at MIT—so what if the thought of standing at a podium in front of a few hundred people had sent him into a panic attack so acute he was forced to spend the day cowering in his apartment compulsively chewing pills. She had no right to treat him like a defective.
He grabbed the plastic wafer from the garage floor and marched back to where Blair was stowing the duffel bag in the Suzuki’s open hatchback. The car was already running, engine idling with a ragged chortle. A red handle protruded from the stripped ignition switch.
“Here’s your license.” Dodge thrust the plate out at her.
“Good,” she said, not noticing his carefully arranged contemptuous expression. “Replace it and then take Joshua and get out of here.”
She wanted him to take care of Klaxon Overdrive?
“Before you said you wouldn’t let me out of your sight until you got what you wanted. Now you’re putting me in charge of your—” he was going to say ‘puppy,’ but didn’t have the guts “—Klaxon?”
“Yes. I’ll meet up with you shortly.”
Dodge laughed, nothing made any sense.
“Why wouldn’t I just ditch him and take off? You know so much about me, you know it’s what I do.”
“Because I’ll find you.” She paused, and then said something that grabbed Dodge’s complete attention. “Plus, I assume you’d like to get paid for the merchandise you acquired at the Needle.”
There was no way he’d be getting paid by the Paradise Mind now. If Blair was offering payment, he might come out ahead after all. But he couldn’t show his excitement.
“I would be willing to discuss terms of sale.”
“Don’t be a smart ass. If you ever want to see your payday, and want to be alive to spend it, you’ll take Joshua and get out of here. Entropy will have agents on the ground any minute now.”
She gestured at Klaxon.
“His name’s Joshua? I thought …”
“You thought someone named their child Klaxon Overdrive?”
Dodge shrugged. In his research on Klaxon, Dodge hadn’t been able to find anything about his childhood or early teen years. The first records didn’t start until Klaxon appeared fully formed when he was eighteen.
Blair wanted him to take Klaxon—Joshua—out in public? The possibility of getting paid hardly compensated for that kind of risk.
“I’m not going anywhere. What if someone recognizes him?”
“Then don’t let that happen.”
“But what if?” Dodge insisted.
Blair sighed. “Then if, tell them to mind their own business. But if you have to, say Joshua’s a Klaxon impersonator. There are dozens of them, and they’ll all be on their way here.”
“What if it’s a cop? What if he wants ID?”
“You really aren’t very self-reliant, are you?” Blair said, shaking her head.
“I’ve never been accused of deicide before.” Dodge snapped. “Lots else, but not assassinating any living gods.”
“Fair enough. If anyone asks, and no one will, tell them the truth. That this—” she pointed to Joshua “—is Joshua Warner. Legally speaking, Joshua Warner still exists. They can run all the checks they want. There’s nothing to find.”
“Ok, fine then, where the hell am I supposed to take him?”
Blair had an answer ready. “There’s a row of short-term rental condo units on Lakeshore, out by the treatment plant.”
“Go to the Sundowner. Get a room. Pay with this,” she pressed an anonymous cashcard into his hand. “Don’t show any ID. Bribe the clerk if you have to. I’ll be there after I deal with the Tesla. Think you can handle that?”
Before Dodge could say anything else she touched Klaxon gently on the shoulder and said, “Do what Mr. Dodgson tells you, Joshua. I’ll see you soon.”
Blair turned, her hair whipping behind her like a poisonous tail, and ran back up to her car.
Dodge looked over at Klaxon. “Joshua, huh? Just call me Dodge.”
Klaxon stared, cow-eyed.
“Like the car?” It didn’t even seem like he was breathing. Dodge tried again, “So I guess you’re not really dead, huh?”
Klaxon blinked, dropped into the passenger seat, fastened his seatbelt and waited.
Dodge sighed and began to replace the license plate, his knees creaking as he bent. He didn’t know what was worse: what would happen to him if he were caught, or remaining alive but trapped with Blair.
Either way, he really needed a pill.