Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chapter 9: Adjustment

Unfortunately for Altin, Elsie had been sleeping all night. And also unfortunately for Altin, it was no longer nighttime.

See, this is why he had never settled down. He didn't speak Toddler, and the number of things he knew about kids could be counted on one hand. Even if that hand was missing most of its fingers. Altin knew when they smelled you changed the diaper...somehow. And that dropping them was bad. But that was the extent of his expertise on the subject.

It showed.

"Aren't there people who get paid to figure out what you want?!" Altin exclaimed. And then he realized...there were people who got paid to translate Toddler. And Elsie had one. 

Still carrying his howling daughter -- she didn't get that from him, he was subtle -- Altin hunted down the phone, which turned out to be as old as the rest of the house. He remembered the babysitter had said something about leaving her number, and as he reached for the phone, he saw she had left considerably more, in the form of a letter. Great. He had such luck with letters lately.

This one wasn't so bad, though. The babysitter, Kylee, had written down her number like she said, but added some essential information. Like how if Elsie was crying but didn't stink she was probably hungry. 

Altin retrieved one of the suspiciously colored bottles of formula the babysitter had stocked the fridge with. That one was definitely a keeper. "So, uh..." He looked at the toddler, who looked back at him. "Do I just give this to you, or what?"

Elsie didn't answer, but he figured that meant yes. She didn't seem to mind, anyway.

All the screaming tired Elsie out, and Altin was able to grab a few hours more sleep before he needed to go to work at his new office.

After finally getting some decent rest, he arranged a new babysitting schedule with Kylee on his way out the door, and hopped in the carpool to the office. That's right. The Grey Meadow Organization branch had a carpool. How fancy.

Work was both more and less nervewracking than he had expected. He kept expecting to see the boss show up around a corner, but it looked like she was still in Appaloosa Plains. It would happen eventually, though. With this being the Organization HQ, he wasn't working for middle management like Oxendine anymore. In the meantime, despite Kanzler's instructions, the local team didn't seem quite ready to trust him to be a thug yet, so he spent most of his day hanging around helping out with odd errands.

When Altin finally punched out, he noticed something odd across the street. It had been a while since he was last in a proper city, but he was pretty sure he could recognize a private club when he saw one. Come to think of it, he could use a drink...if they let him in.

Huh. Low standards.

Inside, Altin found only the bartender, an older woman who seemed ill at ease. Maybe that was due to the club's revealing uniform...

...or maybe her obvious inexperience at mixology.

"Did you see that?"

"Oh yeah."

Still, Altin had to admit this whole mixology thing seemed pretty cool. Thanks to his temporary and unwilling bout with vegetarianism in Appaloosa he had a bit of a knack for gardening. Maybe when he started to fix up the farmhouse he'd put in a bar.

"Is that supposed to happen?"

"I don't think so."

"You gonna do anything about it?"


This is Altin's cool face.

Eventually he made his way home, with a few more stops on the way. When he reached the house, though, it had a visitor. A creepy, possibly-serial-killer kind of visitor.

Perhaps it was the flaming purple drink thinking for him, but the blacked-out windows didn't stop Altin.

"Hey you," he said, rapping on the window with his knuckles. "Sell me something."

No response.

He turned to leave, but heard a noise behind him. Sitting there, balanced sloppily on its side, was a single ice cream cone, the darkened window already closed behind it. Okay, that was weird.


But now, Altin had presents to deliver. 

First priority was a bouquet of flowers to leave at Kirk's grave, in what he had deduced were her favorite colors. He had also found a squat, longlasting candle, which he lit and left at her headstone.

Huh. He actually felt a bit better now.

For Elsie, a puzzle blocks set. If she was going to grow up to be something better than a petty criminal, she'd need to get a head start on a proper education.

Elsie approved.

And last, for himself, bedsheets a bit less purple for the master bedroom, and decoration to match. Classic Western, to remind himself how he got here.

And then Altin climbed under the covers and almost immediately fell asleep. Maybe the wall hanging was working already, because he dreamt of only one thing...the pink diamond, whose theft had sent him to Appaloosa Plains, and to Kirk, and to here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chapter 8, part 2: Strange New Colors

Altin didn't want to risk drawing attention to himself by shipping a bunch of large boxes from a supposedly vacant old warehouse, so it didn't take him very long at all to pack. Clothing, books, only what he could fit in Spot's saddlebags. It was still well after dark when they finally arrived at the Grey Meadow farmhouse the Ripley family had owned.

It was an odd old house. The little stone wall was well-maintained, but the paint was peeling from the window shutters and the grass was thin and heavily trodden. The lot seemed...sad.

Wow, Altin was getting melancholy. He needed to get some sleep.

After letting Spot into the empty stall, he looked in on Eastwood, who seemed none the worse for wear.

He got a little lost looking for the front door, before he realized the entire house was built on the barn's second story loft. He turned the corner looking for the way upstairs and ran headlong into a young girl coming down the steps.

"Oh, hi!" she said, sounding out of breath. "You must be Elsie's dad. I guess the social worker found you and sorted everything out or whatever?" She didn't bother to wait for an answer. "Listen, it's way late so I need to get home, but I left my number by the phone if you need any babysitting. It's the one labeled Kylee."

Upstairs, Altin realized two things. First: he really didn't know Kirk that well, or her parenting rules, schedule, dislikes, likes... And second: one of those likes was color.


He tracked down the nursery. And Elsie, who had slept soundly through the noise from downstairs. 

Hey, she was pretty cute. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

The sun was starting to rise by the time he found the master bedroom, the light hitting the violet furnishings reminding him so much of that night in the Appaloosa house that he paused in the center of the room. The bedroom was so...not his. So Kirk's. He didn't think he'd be able to sleep here, not while it looked like this.

He bedded down in the nursery, in what he assumed was Elsie's grandfather's bed. This strange new house, new town, and new life would take some getting used to, but he desperately wanted a full night's sleep first.

He woke up once during the "night". He needed a bathroom. Badly. Back to exploring.

"Really, Kirk? Really?"

Chapter 8, part 1: Retirement Party

Oxendine wasn't in her office when Altin tried to hand in his resignation. Oxy was always in her office. Something strange was going on here.

"Ahh, Snickerson. The thief extraordinaire turned decoy."

Oh no. The boss.

Dozens of attempts had been made by underlings over the years to come up with a clever nickname for Erika Kanzler like everyone else in the Organization had, but only one had ever stuck. The boss. Head of the Organization. Rumor has it the codename the feds had for her was the "Empress of Evil."

And apparently, she knew who Altin was. This was either very good or very, very bad.

"So, Snickerson. The Ox is busy with some private work for me. What can I do for you today instead?"

Eeek. Now the throwing-things-at-his-head starts. "I had some paperwork for Oxendine," he said. "I'm tendering my resignation."

Kanzler seemed sincerely surprised. "Now why would you go and make a mistake like that," she joked (he hoped).  "You were just starting to show some promise. Why on earth would we want to let you go?"

"I'm moving. Family stuff. Or something like that," he muttered. "I need to leave for Grey Meadow immediately." 

"Well, then, we don't have a problem, do we?"


His employer laughed. "You are new here, aren't you? We're a worldwide network. There are hubs of the Organization everywhere, and they're all headquartered out of one central location...Grey Meadow. You don't need to quit in order to move, Snickerson. If anything, you need a promotion."

"What?" Oh, yeah, he was sounding really clever to his boss today.

"Thanks to this nasty business with the banks, we have some openings on the Grey Meadow team. Pack a barbell or something when you leave, because they're in desperate need of some hired muscle over there while we work on getting the janitors out of prison."

And now he was even more confused. "I thought we lost two thugs--"

"We did. And when they get back to us, I assure you, they will be janitors who used to have wellpaying jobs as thugs. I don't appreciate needing to come all the way out to this...what is this, a village? Do they still have villages?" 

Got it. Don't piss off the boss. Duly noted.

"I hope you're ready to leave immediately, Snickerson. I'll tell Grey Meadow to expect you by the end of the week."

Altin wondered if Kirk had this much trouble retiring.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chapter 7: Bolt's Grand Adventure

If Altin had learned one thing, it was that the world doesn't stop during a crisis, not even for the Grim Reaper. And while Altin might have gotten himself into a bit of a pickle, the rest of the household hadn't seemed to notice.

Bolt had never really gotten into the warm fuzzy family spirit the way Spot had. He just never paid much attention to the adventures of the twolegger. Consequently, he spent most days (and nights) on his own. Most of Appaloosa's inhabitants had gotten used to seeing him roaming free throughout the town and knew to leave him alone.

But not always.

Little Layla Melody lived on a farm -- in this town, everyone did -- but her father Jonah always told her they didn't have the time to take care of a horse. Layla knew that wasn't true, but her dad stood his ground, and had always refused to let her pick out one of the foals in the annual town horse adoptions. But she knew she could prove him wrong, and today was her chance. She had finally tracked down one of the Plains' wild horses, and once she caught him and brought him home, she knew her dad would realize she was grown up enough to take care of a horse.

Just a little bit closer, and...

Bolt was so not a fan of this idea.

Then again...she smelled like carrots. Carrots are good. Maybe she'd share.

True love blossoms.

Mr. Melody was less impressed when they showed up at the bookstore he managed. "Layla, we can't keep him, princess."

"But Daaad, I'm almost grown up. I can take care of him myself, you won't even notice he's there!"

"That's not it, honey. We can't keep this horse. I've seen him around, he belongs to the man who lives up on the hill past the Singletons. The one with the zebra."

"But Daaaaad--"

"No buts, Layla. Say goodbye to the pony so we can take him back to the house for the owner to pick up."

Layla unenthusiastically trailed along behind her father and the less than wild horse as her father spoke on the phone with the strange man who lived on the hill. He was already there waiting for them (with a real zebra, wow!) at home when they arrived, but as Layla reluctantly handed him the rope lead, he shook his head.

"Hold on a second, let me talk to your dad before you go anywhere," he said, stepping around her.

"So...your daughter really likes horses, huh?"

The elder Melody nodded. "Her mother was a farmer. Layla used to tag along on her visits to the horse farms to pick up fertilizer. The kid always used to beg to sneak over the fence to see the baby foals. Before my wife's mysterious disappearance, of course."

Altin wasn't going to touch that one. Too much drama of his own already, thank you very much.

"Do you have kids,....?"

"Altin," he filled in the unspoken blank. "And n-uh. Yeah. A two year old, Elsie." Damn psychic neighbors. He hadn't been planning on saying that. He watched the little cowgirl tease Bolt's mane, getting the beginnings of an idea he wasn't at all sure he'd enjoy. "Listen, I'm leaving town for a while, as of, well, right now. Do you...want to keep him? His name's Bolt, and he's probably overdue to leave his mother anyway. I'm pretty sure they're conspiring against me when my back is turned."

Jonah hesitated for a minute, then laughed. "I hadn't told her yet, but now that Layla's almost a teenager, her birthday present this year was going to be a foal at the town adoptions. But she does seem to have taken a shine to your boy here...alright, we'll do it."

As the father told the little girl the news, Altin's idea grew into a plan...and yes, he was definitely sure he wasn't going to like it very much at all. Leaving town wouldn't be so bad, and what waited was a bit of a mystery (a short, crying, diaper-wearing mystery). But first he had to tell Sage Oxendine he was quitting the Organization. She was definitely going to throw something at him.


(Z: Don't worry, Spot got to say goodbye.

The "townies" got up to some hijinks during the course of "filming" this chapter. Consider the following a teaser for the next update. That woman is a menace, a menace I tell you.)