Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oak Cliff Confidential: Chapter 23

  Sharon reached over and took the ruby from Hexom, studying it more closely. “Are you sure? Maybe it just fell off somebody’s ring while they were making the casserole.”

  “That would be one big-ass ring,” commented Alejandro, and then sucked down another forkful of casserole. What were the odds of there being another piece of jewelry to choke on, right?

  April wiped at her mouth. “That thing was on somebody’s hand? Oh my GOD.” She grabbed a half-glass of vodka lemonade (which was not really hers, but Raz wisely chose to not say anything), guzzled the contents, swished it around in her mouth, and then ungraciously spat the mess in to the sink.

  “Oh, please,” said Hexom, again taking the ruby from Sharon. “You were fine when it was just a stone, but the fact that it may have touched someone’s hand at some point is what put you over the edge?”

  “I don’t know where that hand has been.” protested April, using a dishtowel to basically scrub her entire head. “People are nasty.”

  “Says the girl who has never worn panties in her entire life,” muttered Hexom, squinting his eyes to look at something on the apparent back of the ruby. “I would imagine this was the cleanest thing your tongue has touched in a long time.”

  “I am SO sorry,” said Theresa, stepping forward and slightly wringing her hands. “We order from Spiral all the time and this has never happened.”

  “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Hexom. “I believe this had nothing to do with the fine folks at Spiral Diner.” He suddenly pocketed the stone. “Sharon, would you mind joining me on the front porch for a few minutes?”

  Sharon nodded her head, then glanced at the others in the room. “We’ll be right back. I think. Please, continue with your dinner.”

  “Not me,” said April, rinsing out Raz’s glass and reaching for the bottle of vodka. “I just went on a liquid diet.”

  “Whatever,” breathed Hexom, as he and Sharon traipsed through the living room and out the front door. The screen door slammed once again as they settled into two of the chairs. Then Hexom hopped up and snatched the tablet from Alejandro’s former seat, then held a finger to his lips as he sat back down near Sharon. “Might need this,” he whispered, then added in his normal tone “We’ll just talk until The Host buzzes us that we’ve crossed the line.”

  Sharon’s secret phone rang. “Well, hell,” she muttered. She flipped it open. “What, are you psychic now?”

  The computerized voice chuckled. “I am many things, Sharon. Telepathy is actually one of my lesser talents. First, please advise April of my apologies concerning the surprise in her entrée. Things didn’t go quite as planned.”

  “Then call HER, she has a phone.”

  “I’m well aware of that,” said the voice. “I pay for it. I just assumed that you could pass on the word after we were done chatting. If that troubles you, I can indeed call her. Or ask Hexom to do it. Hexom will do anything I say.” As the voice chuckled blandly, Sharon looked at Hexom. He had the same odd expression from the last time The Host had called Sharon. As if Hexom knew exactly how the conversation was going. But that was impossible. Unless…

  Sharon shook it off and spoke into the phone again. “Fine. I’ll let her know about your tremendous concern for her well-being. Now, what did you want to talk to me about? I’m sure we won’t be exchanging recipes.”

  “Your third clue.”

   Sharon was surprised. “Already? I don’t even know what the first two mean. Could you maybe help me out with that a little? What was I supposed to have learned? What does all of it-”

  “Sharon, you know the rules.”

  One of her nerves finally snapped. “No, I DON’T know the rules! I didn’t make them, no one has given me a list of them, and I only learn about them when I break one. And even THEN, I’m still not sure what I did.”

  “The rules can be a bit elusive,” admitted the voice. “They are fluid, like the game. And, of course, some of them are made up as we go. Like this one: I’ll pretend that I don’t know about the tablet. For now. But if it becomes an issue, I’ll take it away.”

  “Oh, you will?” asked Sharon, sarcasm dripping. “Don’t like it because people can figure out how to get around your stupid phones? Don’t like it when you can’t control everything?”

  “Not at all,” said the voice. “In fact, I greatly admire creativity. After all, that’s one of the foundations of the game. And as for complete control, who can ever have that? For instance, any one of you could actually have choked on the ruby. And died. Then we’d have an unfortunate mess. No, Sharon, sometimes you just set the pins up and see what the bowling ball does to them.

  Sharon paused, then: “You are missing some fundamental piece of humanity.”

  “Aren’t we all, Sharon?”

  “Don’t assume for one second that I am anything like you.”

  “Oh, but you are, Sharon, you are. Why do you think I chose you? Just give it time.”

  Sharon made an exasperated noise. “Believe what you need to, and I’ll do the same. So what’s the next clue? And don’t hang up right after you say it. I hate that, and I might have questions.”

  “Bishop Arts.”

  Then he hung up.

  “Gawd!” growled Sharon, throwing her phone down on a small table. “I really can’t stand him.”

  “Now, now,” soothed Hexom. “We really don’t know if it’s a man or a woman.”

  “Are you kidding?” asked Sharon. “The manipulation could be a woman, but that condescension is a MAN. I’m telling you. And the way he-”

  Sharon suddenly stopped, and her eyes narrowed as she looked at Hexom. “Wait a minute. You know it’s a man. You said so.”

  “I did not,” bristled Hexom. “I never said that-”

  “You called him Daddy. After he called the last time.”

  Hexom lowered his eyes and stared at something that was apparently very fascinating on the wooden porch floor. “That…. that was just a figure of speech…”

  Sharon stood and faced him directly. “You know this guy. You’ve actually met him, haven’t you? You've been lying to me!” When he didn’t immediately respond, Sharon grabbed his chin and forced his eyes on hers. “Haven’t you, Hexom?”

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