Chapter 2, 41: He is Old Crow Chapter 2, 40: Light in the Darkness
“Who was Mr. Vezina, Chris?” Chris’s stomach dropped. Old Crow’s talons tightened gently on his shoulder, and its sleek, feathered head rubbed across his temple. For some reason, it was comforting. Only, he didn’t know why he reacted like that. Was it because Morning Glory somehow knew something so important about him? Where had she found that out? What else had she and her gang found out, if they really had disguised themselves as the Tatammy Drama Club and followed the decorating committee to Lythrum? What else could go wrong –Oh my God, Chris thought. The Apocalypse Plague. They were still after it. What would Professor Paradigm do if he figured out that he could just dip it out of the slough behind Chinese Bar at the next thaw? What was the weather in Oroville like these days, come to think of it?
Chris looked around. There was an arcade between the trees, cut directly through the hedgewalls of the arcade in which they had fought, weirdly neglected, as though no-one ever used it any more, almost like the criss-crossing corridors in the abandoned second of the Advanced Research Institute. A tree rustled in the breeze, and the shadowy mass of its leaves looked almost like a hand, beckoning him.
Uncertainly, one hand on the Blue Tranquility in its scabbard, Chris headed down the arcade. He was going east, or, anyway, the direction opposite Lythrum’s always-setting sun. Far away, across the road on which the Cadillac arrived, over a block of buildings, orange light shimmered on distant mountains. Chris’s eyes came back down to the buidlings. It almost looked like a subdivision, and he smirked to himself. Sure, of course it was a subdivision. Of houses, where regular Lythrumites lived when they weren’t going to work at Lythrumite real estate management firms in Lythrumite busses. It was funny to think of regular people doing regular things in a place like Lythrum, but his mood turned serious again quickly. He was afraid.
He was also nervous. What would he say when he saw Morning Glory again?
Walking towards the distant shimmering brought Chris out onto the road the Cadillac was still parked there, drawn over to a shoulder paved with flat, pinkish stones set into hard gravel, and scattered with fallen nuts from the trees overhead. A tree just beyond the Cadillac got into the whole waving at him act, and Chris walked towards the funky old car.
As he came abreast of the car, the driver’s side door swung open. He heard a familiar “Psst,” from inside. Old Crow flapped off his shoulder to perch on the roof of the car, and Chris so ducked in and sat at the wheel. A shadowy form rose from the backseat and turned into a girl, who poked her head over the seat, chin propped on a fist sandwiched against the leather of the seat top so that her hair fell on his shoulder, and the smell of green tea and flowers filled his nose.
“Hey,” Morning Glory said.
“Um,” Chris answered. “Unh, Battlecomp? Is it okay that she’s in here?”
The car’s computer answered. Chris wasn’t sure that it would, given that Lythrum was so high on magic, but apparently the basic AI still functioned, if not its targeting capability. “Yes, Chris. She is on Rosa’s list as an agent of influence within the Paradigm Pirates organisation.”
“Hey!” Morning Glory repeated herself, in an irritated voice. “I am so not a snitch.”
“Agents of influence and informants are different classes of intelligence assets, Ms. Morning Glory. If you would like me to explain, I can go into some detail?”
“Yeah. You can totally jack the downlow. Later. When I’m not doing something more important. Say, when I’m done listening to the latest Miley Cyrus track.”
“You are a fan of Ms. Cyrus? I can assemble a mix tape to play during your tête-a-tête, Ms. Morning Glory.”
“Can’t you recognise sarcasm when you hear it, Battlecomp?”
“Takes one to know one, young lady.” Music began to well up from the depths of the car. It sounded like jazz to Chris.
“That is supposed to be an improvement on Miley Cyrus?”
“My interior, my music. This was big in 1955. Now don’t let me interrupt you young people talking about young people stuff. You have your whole sock hop to plan out together.”
“Together?” Morning Glory asked, alertly.
“I, um, I…” Chris began. He felt his cheeks flushing, and Old Crow rapped on the roof of the car, loudly, and Chris felt even more embarrassed, as though he had just let one rip in an elevator. Stupid bird. What did it think it and this computer were doing?
“Did you have something to say, Chris?”
I, um, do you want to go to the sock hop, I mean, the Valentine’s dance with me, Morning Glory?”
“No! You’re a stupid jerk, Chris Wong!”
Chris sagged, and the feeling in his stomach came back, as though to say, “I told you so!”
“Unless,” she continued, “You can prove that you’re not a stupid jerk by answering my question. Who was Mr. Vezina? Tell me, and I’ll consider it.”
“How do you even know that name?” Chris asked.
“You’re, like, Mr. Mysterious, aren’t you? Well, I wanted to know a little more about you, like, whether you had a girlfriend already. Which you did, by the way, so smooth move moving to 2011 to dump her. So I kinda looked at your permanent record. He used to go to parent meetings. Was he your stepfather?”
“No!” Chris said. “He was just a neighbour. Looked out for the kids in the trailer park!”
“Hunh. Your old principal thought he was your stepfather. Said he was a pretty steady guy, mostly.”
Chris nodded. Except for liking to drink a bit too much, Mr. Vezina was pretty steady.
“Mr. Vezina stood in for your Dad, because your Dad wasn’t around very much, was he?”
“Hey! Leave my Dad out of this!”
“And you say that I have Daddy issues.”
Chris jerked away from that stupid hair and turned around to yell at Morning Glory, but she was already peeling her mask off.
Chris looked at her, astonished. Morning Glory was Kumi, the waitress from the Golden Dynasty. “You set us up to be kidnapped!” He blurted. Today was his day for jumping to conclusions.
“That I did,” she said. “The Professor thought it was so smooth. Insert an agent into the family restaurant to warn us when you showed up, and then snatch you out in the middle of redneck country, where there were no other superheroes around. Oops. Who would have figured that your entire bloody family was superheroes?”
Chris’s earlier anger for his father warred with his anger for Miss Bryce, the ageless woman who had managed the family restaurant since his grandfather died. “You backstabber!”
“I’ve got to give you this, Chris, you’re not subtle. Your aunt said the same thing to me with a look.”
“What?” It was torn out of him.
“That’s right. Mrs. Wong just looked across the table at me when I spilled that teapot, and it was like she’d figured it out right there. After the fight, she just took me aside and gave me a card for an appointment at a spa in Kelowna the week after. I went, she was there, and she ripped me a new one over that vile tea she drinks, and then sent me off for a pedicure and the works. It had butter in it. Not very Chinese.”
Chris was confused for a moment. They did pedicures with butter? What was a pedicure? Then he realised what Kumi was saying and made his own face, remembering the horrible, cream-of-mushroomy-soup taste of Auntie Ma’s milk tea. “Well, she says that there are ways and ways of being Chinese. Milk tea was big in Xi’an in the seventh century, she said. Now stop distracting me. Why did you go to the spa if you knew she was going to be there?”
“Chris, hon, it’s the Tea Jade Spa. It’s, like, a thousand bucks for a daylong. Girls save up for months to do a day there before their weddings. I thought it’d be worth it. And they did my hair. You like?” She shook her head, and as Chris relaxed into the chair, the long, lustrous black strands fell over his shoulder again.
“Yes,” he said, weakly. He was thinking something stronger, but didn’t dare say it.
“Then your uncle arrived, and he tore it open again. Said I could do what I liked with Professor Paradigm, but that I’d pay for any real crimes I committed, and double if I didn’t play square with you. And your sister, but you’re cute, and she’s an obnoxious squirt.”
“Really, I’m cute? I can’t believe you would say that.”
“Why? Because I’m on your case about your deadbeat Dad?”
“No. Because you’re beautiful.”
Now it was Kumi’s turn to blush. “Look, Chris,” she began, then stretched up her fist to knock on the roof. “Dads aren’t just the guys who knock your mother up. They’re your guides.”
Old Crow tapped back.
“They’re supposed to lead you through the paths of life, to wisdom. To …the dharma.”
Old Crow tapped again.
“Your real Dad didn’t do that. Who did?”
Old Crow tapped again.
Chris looked into Kumi’s eyes, long and steadily, his anger ebbing away. “Lots of people. My uncle. Father Asplin. Mr. Guzman. But Mr. Vezina was the first.” And a single, overwhelming thought that he had somehow managed not to think came to him. “You’ve been snooping. You would know. He’s dead now, isn’t he?”
She nodded, and Chris felt hot tears trying to force their way out of his eyes. He wouldn’t cry. He wouldn’t.
“He retired in 1978 and went to live with his sister’s family in Prince George and died of lung cancer in 1989. His sister’s daughter had twins in early 1990. Brett Christopher and Brittany Charlotte. I think he missed you guys.”
Old Crow tapped again.
“I’m not going to cry,” Chris announced.
“I knew you wouldn’t,” Kumi answered. “You’re stronger than that.” Strangely, she ignored the fact that Chris was crying.
“But his spirit stayed to guide me,” Chris said.
“Spirits do that,” Kumi answered.
Old Crow tapped again.
“But the troubles of two people don’t add up to a hill of beans,” Chris continued.
“What?” Kumi asked.
“It’s an old movie.” He answered.
“And you’re old.”
“No! Well, in terms of when I was born.”
“What’s happening at Chinese Bar?”
“You mean that pond my Mom was trying to study?”
“Well, for some reason the Irrigation Board is letting it dry out. No more ecological reserve if that happens! So there’s a melt on in the Okanogan, and the developer is going to breach the bar. Woosh,” she said, gesturing with her hand. “The water’ll drain away into the lake, and all those ‘limited range lacrustine species’ will have to sink or swim. Hopefully they’ll swim, and my Mom can go on studying them.”
“What? There’s a restraining order on the developers!”
“Which a judge can overturn. And will, if you’re the actual owner and you talk to the judge nicely about the perfectly reasonable thing that you want to do with your own property and you present the motion with five minutes to go to the end of court, with your bulldozers ready to go. That’s how you deal with Not-In-My-Backyard types, my Mom says. Normally, she’s on the other side, of course.”
“But . . . .Someone’s got to do something!”
Kumi looked at her phone. “Good luck with that. It’s 4:55 in Osoyoos, and Judge Samujh is flying out to Honolulu at 8. Chances of him not handing down his ruling by 5 are exactly zero."
“You don’t understand. The Apocalypse Plague is in that water. The only thing that’s kept it contained until now is that hardly anyone who isn’t immune gets exposed to slough water, and the disease has to mutate to be virulent. But once it’s out in the lake water, it can run right down into the Columbia. There’s no putting it back.”
Kumi’s face went pale. “What? I didn’t . . . we didn’t . . . The Professor didn’t. . . .”
“But?” Chris prompted.
“Mom must know.”
Kumi’s head collapsed on the broad leather shoulder of the Cadillac’s seat and let out long, shaking sobs. Finally, she said, “Mom used to say that she’d show them. And now she is.”
“Ahem.” Battlecomp was a computer, so it didn’t have to clear its throat, but it could still make the noise.
Kumi looked up a the ceiling, at where the AI might be, if it were located anywhere except just in the car. “Have you been listening?” She snarled.
“Of course. I like soap operas. Not to everyone’s taste, I know. I wouldn’t interrupt, except that I need to point out that you’re sitting in an interdimensional time machine.”
“What? You’re going to help?” Chris asked.
“Of course,” said another, unexpected voice over the Cadillac’s intercom. A woman’s voice. The Black Rose’s voice.
“You’ve been listening, too?” Kumi snarled.
“Of course,” Black Rose said. “Someone had to: the hard freeze broke in the Okanogan this morning, so the Furious Fist figured that the bad guys would make their move, and that you’d come and tell us about it. Whether you understood your own motives or not.”
“What?” Kumi said, still sounding furious.
“Really, young lady. You’re a smart girl. You figured it out.”
“I hate you!”
“And that’s okay, because you don’t know me from a hole in the ground. Well, except for the part where you’re planning to go to my party, but we’ll get to the part where you apologise for abusing my hospitality later. After the world is saved.”
“Battlecomp?” Chris asked.
“There’s a document my grandfather produced in court in 1943 to get an injunction on someone who wanted to log the slough behind Chinese Bar.”
“What is it? And where the hell is it?”
“I don’t know. I’m just a tactical computer. Perhaps you should ask him?”