Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chapter 6: There Are Sixty-Five Synonyms For Surprise

(Z: If reading this is anything like writing it, this is a horribly depressing chapter. And heads up, it's also crazy-long.)

Time moved on (as it tends to do) and life in Appaloosa Plains was beginning to resemble something slightly normal for the little Snickerson “family.” Yes, Altin didn’t exactly have a nine to five job. And yes, instead of a doting wife and loving kids, he had a zebra and...whatever Bolt was.

Hey, I said slightly normal.

Work with the Organization was everything Altin remembered from before his incarceration and more. He was climbing the ranks quickly enough – this wasn’t his first rodeo, after all – and he was finally starting to make some decent money. Even Bolt, now as big as his mother, had fallen into the daily routine. All in all, things were beginning to go fairly well.

In retrospect, he should have guessed that wouldn’t last long.

She teased him about being a guy and never calling, and he teased back, without mentioning that the reason he never did drop in and see her was because of how thoroughly she had turned him away when they parted. So instead they both ignored the unspoken questions and pretended they really were two distant friends catching up on missed time.

“I thought you retired from the glamorous life of crime,” Altin asked as they watched Spot harassing a stray dog who didn’t value his survival nearly as much as he should. “What, did Appaloosa become a vacation hotspot and no one told me?”

“I guess I missed the glamour too much.” Kirk shrugged. “The Grey Meadow branch of the company is so large, they always seem willing to toss a few freelance jobs my way here and there. I manage to keep my hand in.”

“Still hiding from your dad, then?”

“He passed last month.”

“Oh.” The conversation stalled. “So...you’re here for the SimCentral Banking job, I bet? Oxendine was going on about the boss calling in teams from out of town for it. Is it really that big of an assignment?”

She nodded. “We’re hitting five branches at once. Lots of planning, and lots of people. My team alone has four people in it, all from Grey Meadow. We’ve been practicing for tomorrow for weeks.”

A thought occurred to Altin. “Does this mean you’re maybe moving back to Appaloosa Plains? I mean, since the reason you moved away was...well, you know.”

“I was going to. I mean, that was the plan originally. But I kind of...settled down. I can’t uproot my family, it wouldn’t be right.” (Z: Awwww.)

Altin stopped trying to sneak a hold of Kirk’s hand. “Settled down? You got married?”

What? Noooo, no way.” She looked slightly panicked at the thought. “No, not married. But I have a kid now, a little girl. Elsie.” A slight hesitation, then she added. “You’d like her. She’s...well, you’d like her.” Standing up abruptly, she dusted herself off and turned back to Altin. “Listen, I have to report in, and I think you’d better break up this catfight or zebrafight or whatever before you have to explain to Animal Services why you’re burying someone else’s dog in the backyard. After the job, though...can we maybe talk? I can call you when we’ve wrapped it up. I’ve got a couple days before I have to head home, you could give me a tour of what’s changed in Appaloosa since I left.”

He grinned and stood up. “Changed? In Appaloosa? Short tour. But yeah. I’d like that.”

Their parting was less painful this time, with the promise of new possibilities tomorrow.

In the morning, Altin had it all figured out. He called in sick to work with a brilliant impression of severe food poisoning and spent most of the day meticulously planning a tour path that would take them past all the most romantic places in town and with a little luck, “coincidentally” end outside Kirk’s motel room. He spent the rest of the day waiting for what had to be the best phonecall any guy had ever received from a girl.

It never came.

That was alright. The office got a little crazy after a big job, and an impromptu celebratory party always seemed to start up. Something about the adrenaline, he thought. Kirk probably got dragged into that, he’d just call her instead.

The office receptionist picked up after the first ring, and sounded almost disappointed when he identified himself, but when he asked for her to get Kirk Ripley on the line, she acted outright confused. But she gave Altin the expected “please hold,” so he didn’t question her on it. But when the phone picked up again with Sage Oxendine on the line instead of Kirk, he thought maybe he should have.

“Uh, hi, Ox. Listen, can you grab Ripley for me? I don’t think whoever’s working the front desk today remembers her. Or if she’s busy or something, can you remind her we had plans and ask her to call when she gets a chance?”

At the mention of Altin’s day off, Sage’s tone switched abruptly from annoyed to surprised, with a touch of horrified. “Snickerson, what are you doing, you know damn well — oh my Watcher. You were home today, weren’t you? You really don’t know. Oh, boy...Altin, the SimCentral job went sour. Badly. The boss is flying into town tonight to clean up the mess Ripley’s team left.”

An alarm switched on in the back of Altin’s mind. “The mess? Arrests? How many people did we lose this time? And...who did we lose this time?”

Oxendine sounded like she’d rather be in prison herself than taking that phonecall. “There were some arrests, yes...both of the thugs got taken. And their safecracker is in pretty rough shape, we’re trying to get him out of the hospital before someone manages to station guards on him.”

“See, thugs are overrated. We should be focusing on subtlety on the job, not muscle. I told you that last week.”

“It wasn’t at the bank itself, Altin. They had already gotten the cash, but the safecracker had gotten all jumpy – he’s just a kid, that was a bad pick for the assignment – so they left in a hurry, and took a turn too fast, and the car flipped. Altin, Ripley didn’t make it. The EMTs didn’t even get a chance to take her to the hospital.”

The mental alarm became an emotional punch to the gut, and it took Altin a while to realize Sage was still talking, and he managed to miss most of her awkward attempt at consoling him. Her social duty fulfilled, Sage switched back into business mode with audible relief. “Listen, Snickerson, we just finished clearing out her computer privileges on the network, and there’s a file you should probably see. Check your email. And, uh...take some time off or something. You’re a lousy thief when you’re distracted.” She hung up just as abruptly as she started.

Altin sank into his office chair and powered the computer up in autopilot. The cheerful ding of a new message seemed especially obnoxious today, but he pulled up the email anyway and opened the attachment, not sure what to expect. He anticlimactically realized it was a letter, a proper letter designed to be mailed, with an included address and everything. His address, actually. But the date on the letter didn’t make sense. He realized with a start that Kirk had written it almost a year earlier but never sent it.

Dear Altin,

I’m kind of glad you never took me up on that offer to visit. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, because I would have. But if you had, I wouldn’t have been able to go on pretending I didn’t have to tell you this for as long as I did.

I have a daughter. That’s not right, no. We have a daughter. You have a daughter. I’d like to think you remember the night before I left town...anyway, there it is, I finally said it. Or wrote it. Her name is Elsie, and she’s like a little you in a lot of ways. She’s always getting into trouble...the fun kind of trouble. And she always manages to find her way out of it.

I know it hasn’t been fair of me to keep this from you. And soon she’s going to be at the age where she starts noticing things, like how she doesn’t have a dad around and how all her school friends do. But I don’t want her to end up like us. I don’t want her to ever be on the run, or to treat other people like targets instead of people. We aren’t parent material, and I don’t know how to fix that. I don’t know what to do here, Altin, but I do know you at least deserve to know, even if I’m too afraid to tell you.

With love,

(Z: Cece, you're right, you didn't have to kill her.)


  1. D :

    You were right. I probably should have skipped this chapter... but still. I'm glad I read it. It broke my heart, yes, but Altin's hurting more. Give him a hug for me, kay?

    I'm excited to see his daughter though. And I hope they can make some sort of connection without Kirk there to introduce them.

  2. He got to spend three days with Kirk ingame while I was waiting for Elsie to be born. I figured I owed him that at least. D: They were so cute during it, too.

  3. Oh no, poor Altin *hugs him*

  4. Poor Altin. And this is why you shouldn't lead a life of crime, children. It will lead to the death of loved ones during messed up escapes.

  5. Ohw :( it is sad :'( Poor Altin, and poor Elsie!

    I hope they both can manage to get over it.

  6. Tamlyn: It's not Altin's fault. It was fate!

    And by that I mean a random number generator told him to do it.

    The silver lining of the situation is that now we can get into the good stuff, and really get the story moving forward.

  7. Oh, how sad. R.I.P. Kirk. D=

    "...It was fate!

    And by that I mean a random number generator told him to do it."

    Best. Line. Ever. ROFL! I definitely need to remember that excuse. To use in my legacy... or my real life. Lol, it's just too funny!

  8. Awe. =/ I feel so bad for Altin. But hopefully he'll end up having a great relationship with his daughter.

  9. Oh no! Kirk!!! And Kirk/Altin spawn!!!

  10. Finally catching up!

    Sad!! Single parent rolls... Terrible terrible things. Poor Altin and Elsie. Bet she's a cutie, though!