Thursday, July 16, 2009

Party Time Elusive, chapter one

Inside the alley in the late afternoon sun of a major metropolitan city sat a girl. She looked pale and frail and yet maintained a bit of fat around her mid section that was indicative of a woman who had only recently given birth. She sat hunched over breathing heavy and crying incessantly and aside from the distant sounds of cars and people and the hustle and bustle of the city, in this alley the only noticeable sound was her; breathing and wheezing and weeping. It had been like this for a short while, and it would be like this for awhile longer. She wore a conservative yet fashionable two piece outfit that seemed out of place on her in this alley. It also seemed a couple sizes too big, but it's what she had been wearing when they took her to the hospital, so its what she had to wear when they let her go. Her feet were bare, and now one of them was bleeding, but she hadn't noticed yet. She had the shoes when she started running, but took them off when she felt they slowed her down.

She sat there on the edge of the cement docking platform behind a practically abandoned warehouse. She didn't know that the warehouse was abandoned. She didn't know she was sitting on a dock. She barely had allowed it to register in her mind that she was sitting on cold dirty cement. She didn't know this was an alley. She didn't know other people would consider this a dangerous neighborhood. She didn't pay attention to the pigeons swooping down checking on the stinking garbage a few feet from her in the dumpster. She ignored the pain in her legs, the blood on her feet, and the emptiness in her gut. She had told them at the hospital there were people waiting for her, and when they wheeled her out of the hospital but didn't see the imagined friends she lied to them about, she stood up as best she could and she ran. It hurt. She was still weak and tender, but as she had done a thousand times before in her life, she pushed the pain away and did what she knew she had to do - the one thing in the world she was good at doing: get away.

That's when she found this alley, only a few blocks from the hospital. That's when she sat on the warehouse dock, unable to take another step without falling into the puddle. She had been there for awhile. The sun was still in the sky but it would be gone soon. With streaks of tears on her face and mucous coming out of her nose, she came to the numb understanding that she didn't know anything, other than the fact she had just lost the only creature in the entire world who would have unconditionally loved her.

They took away her baby.

She had signed the papers weeks before. She knew that much. She had been in total agreement that she was an unfit mother. Orphaned only four months after her birth, Elsie had only her initials to make a name. E. L. S. That's all she knew about the first four months of her life. She had been told her initials were on the linen and on the basket and monogrammed on her cloth diaper. The person who found her, a priest, noted more than once that he found it odd she was in cloth diapers. "People just don't use those as much anymore," he was fond of saying. She came from money. He made that clear. However, she'd never known a cent of it, and had a presumption that she never would.

She was cared for in an orphanage run by catholic nuns and the priest. She recalls seeing other orphans come and go but she'd always be left behind. She had many friends, and she tried to remember their names, but the only one that really stood out for her was Virginia. During their time together they were inseparable, like peas in a pod, the nuns would jest. Then, one day a couple wanted Virginia but they didn't want Elsie. They couldn't care for two. So Virginia went away and Elsie was alone again. No one wanted her, partly because strange things happened around her when a couple seemed interested. Unlucky things. Things she couldn't explain, but would keep her up at night, with tears streaking her cheeks, like they were now.

They took away her baby.

After the orphanage burned down, Elsie was carted about to different foster families but by law she wasn't allowed to stay in the same place for long, so she learned quickly not to build attachments to people. They would come and go and by the time she was fifteen she had accepted that saying goodbye was a natural part of life. She used the same false bravado for goodbyes as she did for hellos, ignoring how much it felt like breaking each time. Over time she developed a tough shallow exterior that was simultaneously welcoming and provocative without being too inviting. People loved being around her, but they didn't really miss her when she was gone. She liked it that way. She'd learned to prefer it that way. Then at the age of fifteen she learned she was pregnant: and they just took away her baby.

By then she'd fallen out of the foster family program. She slipped through the cracks. Although most foster families were very kind to her for many years, and the only reason why she'd move on was because the law required, in her situation, to stay with no particular foster family more than a few months. Well, that and the accidents. Strange things happened around her after awhile, and while all her previous foster parents had nothing but wonderful things to say about her, they wouldn't always have wonderful things to say about the time they spent with her. Strange luck.

Then there were the Courtneys. On the surface, to Child Protective Services, they were a middle aged, salt of the Earth couple. Around the time of Elsie's thirteenth birthday (even though she didn't know it was her birthday) she became a part of their family. When alone, they'd boss her around and shove her about and were all kinds of bitter and mean to her. When she threatened to complain to her social worker, they told her about Virginia.

They knew where Virginia was, and they knew she used to be friends with her. They told Elsie that if she didn't do what she was told, and if she didn't keep quiet, they would make sure Virginia never breathed again. She had no reason to doubt them. She never told them about Virginia. She couldn't understand how they knew about her.. unless they knew about the people who were there that night.. the night of the fire.. She did what they told her to do, and when they felt she was completely under her thumb, they started trying to get her to help them with their scheming. Oh, they were always scheming. Mostly small time con games and swindles. Never got caught. They were too good for getting caught. They taught her all kinds of things. Things she really didn't want to know. The Courtneys were a couple who could pretend in an instant to be kindhearted souls but deep down they were evil incarnate, and Elsie's gut churned to be so close to such utter despicable contempt for the human race. These two were leeches on society in a manner that was thankless and heartless. She was doomed to be her patsy, to protect Virginia. However, one night she awoke with a start to find that the two of them had been practically hovering over her bed like a couple vultures. She learned that night that the reason why they knew about Virginia was because they overheard Elsie talking in her sleep. They didn't really know where Virginia was. They had no way of harming her. So with that realization, Elsie ran from the Courtneys to the police, who of course didn't believe her, because one sweet conversation with Mrs. Courtney and the police learned that Elsie was just a troubled girl who caused all manner of hell to the Courtneys but they loved her and they wanted to take her home.

So she ran. And she kept running. For two years. She ran all up and down the eastern seaboard. She hitched rides in cars with strange men. She rode ferries and got on busses. She even stowed away on a commercial jet once but they found her and kicked her off. Sometimes she could pay. Usually tho she was just surviving the day, and she was ashamed to admit the Courtneys had taught her how to survive. They taught her how to use what she had to get what she needed, and how to leech off humanity like a blood tick. She hated herself, but people were always so friendly to her if she just turned on the charm. She developed a warm hard exterior that hid deep inside a cold soft broken heart.

Then she got in with a street gang, and fell in love with one of its leaders. Then she fell out of love with him and in love with a member of another street gang. She didn't know they were enemies at the time she fell in love with them. At the time, had someone pressed, she would have had difficulty explaining to you what a gang even is, and would probably rather attempt to explain to you how "it's more complicated than that. We're like family."

She found out she was pregnant. Then they found out. There was a question as to whose baby it was, and that led to an.. incident. She tried to fix it. Tried to get them to stop fighting, but it had become bigger than her now. They had always wanted to kill each her. They just used her as an excuse. So she ran.

She ended up in Bridgeborough. Again. Elsie had been in Bridgeborough New Jersey before. She didn't know why she'd been drawn to the city. Well, that wasn't entirely accurate. This was where the orphanage had been, and she had been told where the priest had found her. Although that orphanage was now long bulldozed and replaced with a shopping center. Still, she traveled far and wide the past eight years, but always ended up back where she had sort of started.

She learned from people in coffee shops and libraries and truck stops all along the east coast that if you were a girl 'in trouble' there were places in major metropolitan cities that could help a young gal out. Bridgeborough just happened to be the closest big city to her at the time she decided this was too big for her to handle alone. Elsie found it amusing that this particular kind of trouble could be easily discussed without ever actually using the words 'pregnant' or 'illegitimate' and if anyone ever asked her "where's the father?" she only had to give them a "you've got to be kidding me" look and that would end that. Truth of the matter was, she didn't know. There were a number of possibilities, but she'd quickly exhausted them as avenues for successful resolution to the problem. They all either didn't want anything to do with her, or wanted her to have an abortion. Or, in the case of her two primary suspects, the boys in the gangs, they were dead. While not averse to abortion as a choice for other women, she discovered early on it wasn't a choice she could make herself. She was carrying this baby to term, but she didn't want to keep it for life. Or so she thought.

Upon arrival to Bridgeborough, after waving the nice truck driver goodbye for dropping her off, she went to the first building that looked like it might have a doctor in it, and told them she was pregnant and had no money. That was pretty much all she said. She didn't even have to mention the orphan part. Somewhere around the ages of twelve and fourteen that word stopped illiciting from strangers any kind of sympathy. However, pregnant and poor made people even more sympathetic than ever, usually for only short periods of time.

The people in that doctor's office took pity on her, but as this was a veterinarian doctor, they couldn't help her directly. The receptionist there spoke with the doctor, who made a few calls, and less than a year later Elsie was in a hospital operating room with all kinds of equipment and doctors and nurses and strangers waiting outside the door. She had enjoyed the time from the vet's office to the operating room. She'd always been cared for and always had a place to sleep and someone would always make sure she had enough to eat, constantly reminding her she was eating for two now, but after the operation she somehow knew all that was going to go away. She dreaded that moment, but when it came she knew what she had to do: run.

Somebody else was paying for all of it and she'd signed papers, and she understood distantly that her payment for all this fuss was to give them her baby and she was completely okay with that. Then she saw her. She only got a glimpse. They wouldn't let her hold it. She doesn't even know what gender it is. They took it away. She was sixteen now, and a part of her was released into this world, into the hands of strangers, and she would never know anything. She would never even know the baby's name. This was oddly comical she thought, the tear streaks still on her face. Her body numb from the run but her breathing now returned to normal. She didn't even know her own name. Why should it make any difference that she doesn't know her child's name? It was all... somehow.. fitting. Yet she continued crying about it.

She did notice the limosine at the mouth of the alley, negotiating its way onto the small street like a young walrus negotiating its way onto dry land. It inched slowly towards her, partly because it was only inches on either side from debris and dumpsters and a lump of newspapers that might have had a dead homeless person under it, but also because it was almost as if the chauffeur inside were keenly aware this young girl was not unlike a startled fawn caught in headlights, and would run if spooked and startled.

When the limousine could move no closer to her without risking the paint job, it stopped. She looked at it with wide-eyes and a desire to run but a numbness in her legs that made it clear she wasn't going to be able to run this time. Not yet. Her legs were still in fine working order, but because of the way she sat and the stress she had put them under so soon after the delivery, they had decided to fall asleep. Her butt tingled in an uncomfortable way, and she began to have an inkling that something was wrong with one of her feet.

The chauffeur got out of the driver's side and attempted to walk around the front of the car. When that was blocked by a dumpster, the chauffeur cursed in a mumble and then crawled over the hot hood of the car, utilizing various F and S words wherever inappropriate. She then returned to an upright position on the other side and made her way to her employer's door, where she opened it. Elsie marveled at how despite her cursing and crawling, the dark-skinned lady chauffeur had managed to go about the ordeal in a very graceful and elegant manner. In fact, for a green uniform and snazzy cap, the woman belonging behind the wheel of the vehicle looked to Elsie like she should have been the one being driven.

The driver's employer however looked to Elsie more like he was playing the part, but didn't belong at all. He was a tall, thin, lanky man who unfolded himself out of the limo like a praying mantis climbing over a stalk of celery. The tuxedo he wore was plainly very expensive and fit him perfectly, yet it seemed as out of place as a poodle wearing a hoop skirt. He didn't have much hair on his head by choice, a full buzz cut that didn't show signs of receding. He wore horn rimmed glasses and a trite trim mustache that might have looked more at home on the face of a Latin lover. His skin was as pale as Elsie's but more gaunt and less healthy. His bow tie was red as were his shoes: sneakers. A full black tux with red sneakers. He smiled a toothy grin that made Elsie immediately want to punch him, and had she felt in better spirits, she would have.

In his hands, the gentlemen held two glasses of champagne. One of them was less full than the other.

"Ah. Thank you Daphne."

"Dagny!" the chauffeur corrected him.

"Yeah whatever." He looked at her and she at him, him expectantly and her annoyed, until it dawned on her that the only way he could move in this alley were if she went back the way she came and he followed. Elsie watched with amusement and disdain at the spectacle that then took place. Taking a full minute and a half at least, Dagny crawled back over the hood of the car, then took the two glasses of champagne from the gentleman in the tux. Then the young looking gentleman in the tux negotiated the hood of the car like a spry elderly man. Once back on his red sneakered feet, his tux only a bit crumpled, he took the two glasses of champagne back from Dagny and turned his spectacled eyes towards the only other lady in the alley.

"Whatever you're sellin' man. I ain't buyin." Elsie looked away, despite the fact she couldn't deny the spectacle had whetted her appetite for curiosity, and somehow she had a suspicion that he knew it. The entire display seemed to her fake - particularly him. As if this entire display was a show for her alone, and she wasn't sure if she was comfortable with that.

"Miss Seavers, allow me to introduce myself. I'm Sly Stephens, and I know this is the worst day of your life, but that's why I'm here. I want to change that." He now stood before her seated self, but because of the cement dry dock this still placed her easily a head taller than him. He extended the fuller glass of champange to her and took another sip from the one he'd obviously been imbibing from for awhile. "Dagny? I forgot the rest of the bottle. Can you be a dear and fish it out for me?"

Dagny cursed inappropriately and once again crawled the hood of the car to get to his compartment.

"You're not used to ordering people around are ya?" Elsie wiped a tear off a cheek and sneered at him. She didn't take the glass of champagne.

"I do it all the time."

"You suck at it." He offered the champagne again with a gentle gesture of the glass, but she didn't budge. He also didn't budge, and the crooked smile on his face made Elsie aware he would be able to stand there holding the glass of champagne for her for a good long while. She chose to test that theory by continuing to not take it, and he continued to stand there with a crooked smile, awkwardly hoping she would change her mind.

"Look," she said defiantly, despite the fact she was still obviously weeping, "I signed the papers. You have my baby. I don't want anything more from you people and believe me you don't want anything more from me cuz I got nothin'. I just wanna be left alone."

"With all due respect Miss Seavers, I'm not with them. I represent a ..a consortium of interested partners--"

"A what?"

"A consortium."

"Of for God's sake, Stanley!" Dagny stuck her head out of the back of the limousine, "You're a pig!" She stuck her head back into the limo but they could both still hear her shrieking clearly, "You been back her less than an hour and look at the mess you've made!"

The gentleman in red sneakers laughed nervously and then called back to Daphny, "Dearie the name is Sly. Mister Stephens to you Daphny."

"It's DAGNY!" the green-suited chauffeur reappeared out the back of the limo with a bottle of champagne. She closed the door with a slam and steeled herself for the hood of the car once again, "I'm not cleaning up back there. That's your mess you clean it up - and don't use big words like consortium on the gal. You and I both know she's been through hell and back - have some common deceny you pig!"

Elsie was keenly aware, having experienced hanging out with people used to being served and serviced by other people, that such insolence would normally be handled by immediate expulsion, or at least a fevered taunt and a dock in pay. However, Stanley's response was to look back and forth between the two ladies and laugh nervously, still offering the full glass of champagne to Elsie.

"Alright, not a consortium. Think of them as ..a party. You like parties Ms. Seavers, I know that."

"You don't know me. My name ain't Seavers. It's Elsie."

"Your name is Miss Elaine Lucille Seavers," began Stanley as if he were reciting from a file by memory, and still holding the glass of champagne for her. He took a brief sip from his own. "You were born right here in Bridgeborough New Jersey sixteen years two weeks and three days ago. In that same hospital coincidently enough from which you ran only a few hours ago. Not the same room though. Wouldn't that have been interesting though had that been the case? Your mother was Valerie Witcher, the daughter of a curious man and a celebrity of his time among the likes of The Amazing Randi and Harry Houdini."

"You're saying I'm Bewitcher's granddaughter?" Elsie

"Oh so you do know him?" He asked as if he already knew the answer. Stanley still held the glass aloft before Elsie and she she still declined.

"Yeah pull the other one. He was a debunker back in the seventies and eighties. Told people there was no such thing as magic. Then he saved the world a couple times using magic but later insisted those were just spectacles he'd staged to sell his books."

"Then he disappeared."

"Yeah so how convenient for you that you can claim he's related to me. I can't doublecheck that cuz he's dead."

"Not dead. Disappeared."

"So you say. He's been gone like twenty years and his daughter was my mom?"

"More importantly your father was Jonathan Seavers, then assistant district attorney who'd had a bit of a disagreement with the Vizzinis. They had both your parents killed, and you were to be killed too, but curiously enough you ended up on the doorstep of St. Michael's cathedral, where they clergy took you in and cared for you until the age of eight. The rest of the story you already know."

"I gotta say you do your homework. Now if you'll excuse me I had this alley first and I got some more crying I gotta do before the sun sets and I go find a corner to crawl in."

"You're not going to do that."

"I'm not?"

"No. You're going to come with me."

"I most certainly am not. I just spent the last six months with you people-"

"I'm not with the people you just left-"

"Your KIND of people! The people who got more money than brains and you use it to buy off flesh from folks like me and then you leave them on the curb like garbage."

"They didn't leave you."

Stanley spinned his head back at Dagny and hissed at her. Dagny rolled her eyes in response.

"What did you say?" Elsie tried to sound like a regal tiger ready to pounce but it came out more like a wounded lion with a limp paw.

"You ran away from them."


"Can it Stan."

"It's Sly!"

Still standing in front of the limo, Dagny ignored him and looked at Elsie. "You ran away but they had plans for you. They weren't necessarily plans you would have liked. They were gonna try to find you a job and a place to live and that kinda stuff. But you ran. And you end up ekeing out a life on your own for the next several years but it's gonna be a rough ride until you're twenty-three when-"

"Dagny so help me God if you don't shut up I will-"

"You'll do what Stan?"

He changed his tactic from a faux authoritative shout echoing the alley walls to a plaintive faux whisper that he hoped Elsie wouldn't hear but knew she would, "she's not supposed to know any of this you're ruining everything."

"Sly I love you, you know that. Otherwise I wouldn't put up with your shit. But we both read her file. This, none of this is gonna work on her. The only thing that works on Elusive is the truth. That's always been true and you know it."

Sly looked down, defeated. "I just thought I'd try something different this time." His arm still remained aloft before Elsie, holding the glass of champagne.

"Yeah well you're wrong and you suck but I still love you. We all do." Dagny took off the green cap and Elsie marveled at how her blonde hair fell out of the hat and onto her shoulders. Dagny was beautiful. Elsie was distantly disturbed by the fact her heart actually skipped a beat at the sight of Dagny loosening her appearance. Dagny unbuttoned the top button of her green uniform self-consciously, as if she were aware of her affect on Elsie. She stepped forward and took the glass of champagne out of Sly's hands as Sly took a step back and looked up, still smiling.

Now it was Dagny holding the glass before Elsie, and Elsie found herself tentatively reaching for it, but she still didn't take it.

"What Stan's trying to say.. Elsie is it? You still call yourself Elsie right?" No response. "Stan's telling you stuff you're gonna find out on your own eventually anyway, but we're here to speed up the process a little, and make the next few years easier on you than it was before."

"Before what?"

"We're time travelers!" Stan said with renewed exuberance. Now it was Dagny hissing back at him but he was nonplussed.


"Well you said yourself we should be honest with her. That only the truth works on Elusive. You saw it yourself. It's in the file."

"But she never believes this part!"

"Believes what part?"

"I know, Daphne-"


"Whatever. I know she never believes us so I thought we'd try something new but if you wanna go back to the same tired truth tactic then that's fine with me!"

The two of them continued to argue and Elsie started working it out. From the moment they drove into the alley with the limo, this entire fiasco was a staged spectacle. One they had done before. The two of them were performing lines as if they were reading off cue cards on a Saturday Night Live skit.

But this was crazy. Were they actually time travelers? Were they making up stuff about her past and future or did they honestly know things about her that would make her future easier? She absent-mindedly took the glass of champagne from Dagny's lips just before Dagny walked away to get into a more fevered argument with Sly Stephens but she wasn't listening to what they were saying anymore, rather how they were saying it. It was a performance by two bad actors orchestrated merely for her amusement. That was plainly true to her in ways she couldn't completely describe.

She took a sip of the champagne. It was actually very good. Her favorite, in fact. She recognized the taste.

What perhaps clinched it for her was the two of them were obviously familiar with one another and yet both insisted on getting each other's names wrong, as if they were pretending to not have a familiarity. This was not an employer employee relationship. These were two friends, or rather two strangers who had recently become friends due to some predisposed similarity they'd discovered. The one thing they both had in common was that they knew Elsie better than she knew herself.

She stood up, suddenly finding herself strangely comfortable with these two as if she'd known them before too, although that couldn't possibly be. Elsie's legs were wobbly and her butt still tingled, but she managed to stay upright. She took the stairs down the platform cautiously, still sipping from the champagne. Stanley and Dagny were now in a fevered discussion, citing previous times this had been attempted by other people, and how many times they had succeeded and failed. Also citing events in their past and Elsie's future that proved or disproved each other's suppositions. Elsie wasn't bothering to remember details.

..they were fans! How she didn't quite understand but if they knew her future then they had studied it. She made her way to the back of the limousine, fully expecting it to be a pig sty as Daphy had described, but found it to be pristine, immaculate, filled and stocked with either things she already knew she liked like green M&Ms, another bottle of her favorite brand of champagne chilling on ice, freshly chilled sushi inside a quaint little icebox, and a CD of the music group Beholden. There were also things she didn't know she liked but had a sinking suspicion she was gonna find out she did, like peanut brittle and black licorice. Elsie smiled to herself. Even Daphny's description of the back of the limo was staged. Stanley wasn't a pig. They were both fans of her work. Work she hadn't done yet. They knew exactly what would interest her better than she knew herself: they invented a mystery. She liked solving mysteries. It's often what would get her from one place to another. Mystery. Maybe that's what happens to her when she's twenty-three. The thing Stan told Daphne not to tell her: that she becomes a detective.

She waited paitently inside the limo for the heated discussion to die down to a curious silence outside. She had been swirling a black whip of licorice in the air for her own amusement. She never realized before but yeah she likes black licorice. She took another bite from one and looked over at the still open door. Daphny and Stanley both peered into the limo at her, shocked that she was inside.

Elsie looked at them both in a way that was new to her but that they'd seen her do before but always on vids or in pictures. Never to them. Elsie pointed at Dagny with her licorice. "Your real name is Daphny but you want me to call you Dagny." She then pointed at Sly. "Your real name is Stanley but you want me to call you Sly, right?" They both nodded. "Are there others like you? And you all do that?"

"Some of us do," Dagny looked embarrassed.

Sly was far less embarrassed about it but probably should have been, "It's kind of in honor of you. You go by Elsie right now, but your real first name is Elaine, and in the future the world knows you as Elusive."

She thought to herself a moment. "That... that's actually kinda cool!" She took a sip of champagne, and marveled at how champagne and licorice really don't go together in a way that she really liked.

Sly continued, "of course our telling you this kinda changes history. We don't know what happens from here on out this time."

"Yeah I'm not a scientist. You're talking over my head, Sly. Get in! Where we going?"

They both smiled at her and closed the door. Then Sly climbed into the passenger side up front and Dagny took her place behind the wheel.

"First," Sly said as he strapped himself in, "We have to make a few stops along the way to the hotel we have purchased for you."

"Hotel room you mean?"

"Nope," Dagny smiled at Elsie with the rear view mirror and Elsie smiled back. "We bought a hotel, just a few blocks from here."

"Dagny I hope you don't take this the wrong way.." Elsie noticed Dagny and Sly share glances, "but in the future do I find out that I'm a bisexual?"

"Yes ma'am." Dagny smiled again in the rear view mirror.

Sly groaned unhappily, "She never picks me."

"That's cuz you wear that stupid tux every time."

"Then you're gonna buy me a drink Dagny when we get to the hotel."

"Yes ma'am!"

"And Sly you're gonna change into whatever you normally wear and I'll let you try again. Keep the sneakers tho. I like the sneakers."

"See!? I told you!"

"So you got the sneakers right," she said to Sly. Then she turned her attention back to her idol, "but we're going to take it slow ma'am, because of your condition and the fact in the original time line you didn't know you were bi for a couple years yet."

"I think I always kinda knew."

"And because of your present condition."

"What's wrong with my condition?"

"You just had a baby, ma'am."

"Oh. Well. I'll manage."

"I'll be gentle. No pressure, ma'am."

"And stop calling me ma'am."

"Yes.. Elsie?" she looked into the rear view mirror quizzically and Elsie smiled back. She liked smiling at this one. It was going to be a fun evening, she hoped.

"That'll do for now. Not sure if I like Elusive. Sounds pretentious."

"You're very pretentious in the future, Elsie." Sly laughed nervously, "It's a part of your charm."

"Yeah well I ain't there yet." Elsie looked out the window and noticed Dagny taking a left onto a boulevard where her old friend the priest was. After the orphanage and cathedral burned down, he went into a decline for many years but last Elsie heard he was working at a homeless shelter not too far from what had been the orphanage but was now a shopping center. "Where to first?"

"You like hats, ma'am," Dagny had negotiated their way out of the mouth of the alley and was now on the road.

"How do you know I like hats?"

Dagny cleared her throat, now obviously even more self-conscious than before. "Because there's one hat in particular that Father McKenzie has which is yours but he doesn't give it to you for a few years. You're going to go in there now and ask for it. We'll wait outside."

"Why do I need the hat?"

"Because your fans want to see you with your hat," Sly said.

"You mean there's more of you future people than just you two?"

"Why do you think we reserved an entire hotel?"


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