Friday, August 27, 2010

Oak Cliff Confidential: Chapter 25

  Hexom flipped his phone open. “What?”

  He glanced at Sharon while The Voice let loose with a stream of apparent invective. She couldn’t hear the actual words, but the tone was clear. Outrage. Sharon started to step closer, but Hexom held up his hand. She paused, then shrugged her shoulders and grabbed her glass. When all else fails, drink.

  Eventually, Hexom was able to get a few words in. “I understand that, but I think you’re over-reacting a bit. It’s not like-” The stream started up again, this time with more intensity. Hexom rolled his eyes at Sharon. She smiled and made a dismissive gesture with her hand. Get rid of him so we can have some more fun.

  Suddenly, The Voice said something that had Hexom’s full attention. “Wait, no, you can’t do that.” The Voice appeared to reply that he most certainly could. “But we haven’t even been able to-. No! WAIT!” Hexom’s phone went completely dark.

  Startled to see this, Sharon looked down at her own phone, then picked it up. No signal, no power. She glanced at Hexom. “What’s going on? How can he control the phones?”

  Hexom slid his phone into a pocket. “When money is no object,” he muttered, “you can do anything you want.” He reached down and took another cigarette from Sharon’s pack, lighting it and then releasing a surprisingly powerful gust of smoke out over the yard. “But it does give us a very short opportunity that we normally wouldn’t have. While they reset the grid, they can’t hear us.”

  Sharon lit her own cigarette, but her expulsion was much more dainty and demure. “Reset the grid? What are you talking about?”

  “Alistair just invoked protocols for a security breach. Everything is being reprogrammed and re-encrypted. The phones will be back in a few minutes. But I probably won’t be here for that. Alistair has also dinged me with a three-stone suspension.”

  Sharon’s head was spinning, but not in a pleasant, adult-beverage kind of way. “I’m very confused, Hexom. Can you maybe start over? Like with this morning?”

  Hexom shook his head. “Seriously, we have a very short amount of time, so I need you to listen to me very carefully. Can you do that?”

  Sharon nodded absently, reaching down for her glass and draining it. “Yes, I can do that. Go.”

  Hexom took another drag on his cigarette. “Alistair is my brother. We are NOT close at all, emotionally, but we are forced to tolerate each other because of this game. It’s a very long story and we don’t have time for that.”

  Sharon interrupted. “So Raz did see someone that looks like you.”

  “Probably, but not necessarily. More details for later. This three-stone suspension. We will not be in contact with each other until after you have found the fifth stone.”

  “How in the hell am I going to-”

  “Just listen, Sharon. The van is coming, I can hear it. You need to find the next three stones. Talk to April. She knows more than she lets on, and she’s helped find a lot of these things. She goes by the book more than I do, but it’s because they pay her and she needs the money. I, obviously, don’t.”

  He took another drag. “Your next clue is ‘Bishop Arts’.”(How does he know that, Sharon briefly wondered. I don’t think I told him yet. But she kept her mouth shut.) “I’m not sure what that means, but clearly you should head to that part of town. Get some sleep and go in the morning. Sometimes the clues can only be seen in daylight, and you might waste your time tonight.”

  Sharon couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “But what do the first two stones mean? A piece of concrete? What is that? Are the stones also clues, or just….stones?”

  “Sometimes they’re clues, sometimes they’re not. Or at least not clues that proved to be important in the end.”

  Sharon suddenly thought of something. “What did you see on the back of the ruby earlier? I meant to ask, but then-”

  “I think it was a pentagram,” said Hexom. “But I don’t really know. My eyes are not the greatest. Good thought, get someone to look at that.”

  A dark van slid up to the curb, but whoever was inside did not seem to be in any hurry. No movement, the engine idling.

  Hexom glanced at it. “Good. It must be Sebastian. He’s giving me time.” He turned back to Sharon. “Okay, my mind is racing. It’s hard for me to think of everything you might need to know. I’ve done this too many times and it’s almost second-nature. You try. What pops into your mind first?”

  Sharon frantically tried to focus. “Um…. The clues and the stones. Am I supposed to be learning something? What triggers me getting a stone?”

  Hexom nodded. “Okay, each stone is designed as an experience. And the experiences are different for everybody, it’s based on you, what’s happened to you in your life. You get a stone when you’ve worked your way far enough into a situation that you’ve seen what you need to see. Or hear, whatever. But it could be anything. And sometimes the stones work together to tell you something else, something unrelated to the individual stones. I haven’t seen enough of your clues to even guess where he’s going with this.”

  “Alistair, you mean.”

  “No, Sharon. Alistair isn’t in charge. He’s just a player.”

  The passenger door on the van popped open, and someone stepped down onto the street.

  “I’ve got to go,” said Hexom. “Find the three stones, Sharon. So we can talk again.” He stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray next to Sharon’s phone. Then he briefly hugged her. “It will be okay,” he said softly. “Just think. Think about everything you see and hear.”

  She smiled weakly. “I’ll try. It’s all I can do.” He patted her on the shoulder and turned to go. She suddenly grabbed his arm before he could pull away. “Hexom?” He turned back. “What’s it all about? What’s the end goal with this whole thing?’

  He returned his own thin smile. “If I told you that, you may never find all of your stones. Or want to. And I need you to find them.” He patted her a final time. “Good luck, Sharon.” He trotted down the stairs with a wave behind his back, then walked to the end of the sidewalk, where he shook hands with the shadowy passenger. They both walked around to the other side of the van, and a door slid open. A few more sounds of people getting situated, doors closing, and the van pulled away from the curb.

  Sharon sat down on the second porch step, finishing her cigarette. This was just wild. This whole mess. Sharon hesitated at throwing her butt on the ground, then noticed that someone else must enjoy smoking while sitting on this step, because there was a tiny, overstuffed ashtray near the handrail. She stubbed out the remains of her cigarette.

  Her phone rang back on the table.

  She thought of just letting it go, but then changed her mind. Snatching up the small ashtray so she could empty it, Sharon crossed to the table and picked up the phone. “Hello, Alistair.”


  “Fine. Hello, Roboto.”

  “Greetings, Sharon. Have a bit of excitement, did we? Do you miss your buddy already?”

  “When do I get him back?”

  “Well, that depends on you, Sharon. I trust that Hexom, during the downtime that he caused, vented a bit and you are now a fount of knowledge. Bullseye, Sharon?”

  She made a disgruntled noise. “Do you have anything interesting to tell me, or are you just fishing?”

  “I have a proposition for you. Are you in the mood for such?”

  “Why not,” said Sharon blithely, because that seemed like an interesting way to say things. “The night is relatively young, and you seem intent on snatching away my playmates.”

  “And that is exactly what I’d like to discuss.” There was a slight pause and the possible shuffling of papers. “This is what I propose: Let’s get you a new handler. And if you agree to such, I’ll let you have him or her now, rather than waiting until the five stones are collected. Did Hexom explain the penalty?”

  “Yes, he did,” said Sharon, absently fiddling with the full ashtray as she stood there. She looked down, realized it was still full, and dumped the contents into the larger ashtray on the table. She was just about to flip the smaller ashtray back over when she noticed something on the back, tiny and barely noticeable. She brought it closer to her eyes as she continued talking. “And if I don’t agree to a change?”

  “Then you will have no assistance for the next three stones. None, not even from me.”

  Sharon chuckled. “You really hate Hexom, don’t you?”

  “I wouldn’t say that. I also wouldn’t say that I care for him very much.”

  Sharon suddenly realized what she was looking at on the back of the ashtray. A pentagram.

  She made up her mind. “I believe I’ll just wait for Hexom’s return. Thanks, though. I’m sure you do what you do out of complete love and concern for humanity. I’ll be going now.”

  She broke the connection.

  And flipped the ashtray back over. Now that the contents had joined their friends in the bigger bowl, she could see something printed at the bottom of the ashtray. Two words.

  "Ruby’s Diner"

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