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Punk strolled towards McDonalds, taking her time while also keeping an eye out for enemies. She glanced at the sun, knowing good and well she was running behind time.
She came to the dumpster and leaned her shoulder against the fence. The man stood with his back to her, craning his neck around. Punk coughed.
He jumped and turned.
Punk smirked. "Hiya, slacks."
"Nice of you to come." The man glanced at his watch. "You're late."
Punk rolled her eyes. "Ya expect me t'know the time?" She thrust out one arm to display her bare wrist.
"I can get you a watch. Timing is vital with this job."
"Dunno how t'read one anyhow." Punk shrugged and observed the man's from the corner of her eyes, finding amusement in what a perfect shade of cherry it could turn.
"Fine. Let's go." He turned and strode off.
Punk followed him to a black car with darkened windows. He opened the back door. Punk raised an eyebrow. "What kinda fool do ya take me for?"
The man let out a sigh. "Maybe it was a mistake asking you to take this job."
Punk didn't move as she weighed her options. Run, and not get the money, and therefore let Grace go hungry, or stay and possibly get killed and Grace would still go hungry. But wouldn't he have killed her yesterday if he wanted to? Or at least, tried to kill her?
Punk shrugged and plopped herself into the car. The man shut the door and got into the driver's seat.
"How far's it, slacks?" Punk inquired as the car hummed to life and pulled out of the parking lot.
"You can call me Fredrick." The man glanced in the rear view mirror. "And it isn't far." Punk considered the new nickname of Frowns.
"In this city?"
Punk leaned back in her seat and ran her fingers across the leather seat.
"Buckle up," Fredrick instructed.
Punk raised an eyebrow. "Do what, Fred?"
"Buckle!" Fredrick braked at a red light and twisted in his seat to point at the seat belt. "Put it in there." He pointed again, this time at a plastic contraption on the seat next to her.
Punk tugged the seat belt around her and snapped it in. Fredrick returned his attention to the road. Punk hummed and twirled her hair around her fingers, watching the scenery whoosh by.
"What'm I gonna be listenin' to?"
"A meeting." Fredrick adjusted his hold on the steering wheel. "You don't need to worry about it. You'll just listen, then report to me. You'll get paid and if I need you again I'll let you know."
Punk thought for a minute. "Why'd you pick me?"
He paused. “How long have you lived in this city?”
“All my life.”
“How long is that?”
“And in that seventeen years, I have never once seen you.” He took a turn. “You've learned how to blend in. How to keep out of sight. And that is what you'll need to do for this job.”
“I do love a good life endangering job.” Punk rolled her eyes and looked out the window, debating the wisdom of accepting the job.
“If you're smart, it won't be life endangering.” Fredrick glared.
Punk smirked. “Right then, Slacks.”
Fredrick didn't answer, but pulled to a stop in front of a big stone building. The courthouse.
“The fourth room to the right of the main stairway on the second story.” He tapped a finger on the steering wheel. “There should be a closet or something you can hide in to listen. Don't be seen. If you're caught and you tell on me... Well. Let's just say you'll regret it.” His eyes glinted. “Meet me at the pizza place on Seventh street at two.” He stopped. “You can read, I hope.”
“Enough t'get by,” Punk answered, running a hand through her hair. “Seven is the longer one that starts with an 'S', right?”
Fredrick rubbed his forehead. “Yes. Just take this road here down to Seventh, then turn right. The restaurant's name is Italian Delight.” He shifted, pulling his billfold out of his back pocket and taking out a bill. “Ten dollars. You'll get the rest at the restaurant. If you get the required information.”
“Duh.” Punk snatched the money and stuffed it in her pocket. “See ya.” She popped open her door and slipped out. She surveyed the area, then slammed the door and strode for the building. Fredrick drove off.
Punk pulled her hood up and circled the courthouse. No good entrances presented themselves, so she went back to the front and walked up the steps. She pushed open the door and peered in.
"Can I help you?"
Punk jumped and almost left, but she forced herself to step the rest of the way in. "Uh... Yeah. I need to meet someone here."
The lady gave her a critical looking over, then nodded and went back to tapping on her computer.
Punk stood with her back against the wall, hands clasped behind her, glancing around for the stairs. She studied the lobby lady. "Is there a bathroom I can use?"
The lady pointed. "Down that hall on the left."
"Thanks." Punk strolled down the hall. She passed the bathrooms, glanced over her shoulder, and stepped into a new hall. Now she just needed to find the stairs.
She trotted forward, twisting her head around to look down all the halls she passed. Finally, she caught sight of the stairs. She
darted down the hall and scrambled up.
“Ah, good to see you.”
Punk ducked as she heard the voice. Had it been intended for her?
“Good to see you too! Is everyone here?”
Punk let out a sigh of relief and tiptoed to the specified door. She cracked it open. Empty. Perfect.
She stepped in and closed the door. A closet stood at the far end of the room, behind a table surrounded with chairs.
Footsteps sounded in the hall outside, and Punk ran to the closet and closed herself inside. Something jammed into her back. She winced and felt around. A vacuum. She frowned and shifted down to a crouch. Voices heralded people entered the room.
“Are you sure this is secure enough?”
“Nancy, we haven't had any spies for ages. Chill.”
Chairs scraped over the ground as people took their seats.
“Sorry. But I just don't feel comfortable here.”
“Well we couldn't have it at Point A. You know that.”
“Yes, but I still don't like this.”
“Very well,” a new voice broke in, “Let's start. The sooner we begin, the sooner we can leave.”
Punk plopped onto her rump and hugged her knees against her chest. “I'm all for that,” she muttered.
“Now. First order of business. Nancy?”
“Yes. Hairy Bob's eyes are steady, but nothing has been reported.”
Hairy Bob? Punk raised an eyebrow.
“Also, Fuzzy Puppy is getting nervous about her position. Apparently, there is suspicion. She thought some people were following her the other night, and her apartment was broken into. A bit of a coincidence, I think.”
“Quite. We'll have to move her.”
“An hour after she gets home tomorrow, you drive to her apartment. I'll give her a call and let her know to be ready. Take her to Position Seven.”
Nancy answered in the negative.
“Okay. Harold? Are we ready for our strike at the warehouse?”
“Yes. All's ready.”
“Good. Elliot, you have a question?”
“Yes. Are we meeting here next time?”
“No. Point A will be open by next time. Anymore questions? Okay then. Moving on. We need to decide about Barry.”
“He needs to stay at his position,” Harold spoke. “It is imperative.”
“He is in danger there!” Nancy exclaimed. “You can't possibly think of letting him remain there!”
“He thinks he can handle it. He is a good cover-agent.”
“But he's held that position for six months now. Things are going to start getting hot.”
“Things have been hot. No matter where he is placed, things'll be hot.” Harold sighed. “We can't wimp out at the first sign of a struggle. I think Barry's right, he should stay put.”
Punk could feel the tension, even from the other side of the closet door. Who were these people?
“Well... Let's put it to a vote them. In favor? Okay, hands down. Opposed?” Quiet fell over the place. “There we have it. Barry stays in position.”
“Is that it then?” the leader asked.
“I believe so.” Harold stifled a yawn.
“Then let's get out of here.” A chair pushed back and Nancy clacked out. The others followed, and at last the door shut.
Punk breathed easier. She edged forward and listened at the door for a moment, then pushed it open to examine the room. Empty as when she had first arrived.
She scrambled to her feet and hurried out, having her doubts as to whether she would get her fifty dollars or not. She shuffled down the hall, tiptoed down the stairs, then started for the bathrooms. She pushed open the door.
“Oof!” She jumped backwards as she ran into someone.
“Oh, I'm sorry.”
Punk stared at the woman before her. She had thick, chocolate colored hair that hung in wavy locks. Her height was made greater by the heels she wore.
“Can I help you?”
It was Nancy. She recognized the voice.
“No. Sorry about that.” Punk stepped to the side.
“Are you here for a hearing?” Nancy's posture screamed suspicion.
Punk frowned. “No. I'm meeting someone here.”
“Where did you just come from?”
“The lobby.” Punk scowled. “Why?”
Nancy seemed a little taken aback by Punk's irritation, but she let it go. “Okay, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause offense.”
Punk shrugged. “Doesn't matter.” She turned and walked down the hall. Towards the lobby.
“Don't you need to use the restroom?”
She glanced over her shoulder at Nancy, who still stood in the doorway of the bathroom.
“Nah, I can wait. I think my friend's here now.”
Punk sauntered back into the lobby. The lady glanced up at her, then went back to typing. She could see why Nancy didn't think higher of the security. She tugged open the door and walked down the steps. Mission accomplished... hopefully. She frowned as she went over the happenings of the meeting. A confusing jumbled mess, if you asked her. But perhaps ol' Fred could figure out the riddles.
Seventh street pizza place called Italian Delight. Punk jogged down the sidewalk, hoping she'd run across a clock to show her how much time she had to get to the pizza place.
The streets didn't even have numbers yet.
She slowed her pace. Who cared if she arrived late? She didn't. Fredrick would, but why should she care about that? City people could do with a bit of waiting for someone else. Others did plenty of waiting of them.
After a several minutes, she came to the numbered streets, and the busier part of town. She walked to a corner, crossed the road, and turned down Seventh street. She caught sight of a store front. It had a two word name, and the words started with “I” and “D” respectively. She went up to the window and pressed her face against it. Pizza sat under heat lamps and on tables. She'd found it. Stepping away from the glass, she half smiled at the dirty smudge she had left by accident. She pulled her hoodie sleeve up and scrubbed at it. It smudged even more, and she shrugged, going to the door.
She pushed it open. A bell jingled overhead as she looked around the small restaurant.
“Can I help you?” a woman behind the counter asked.
Punk didn't answer. She spotted Fredrick sitting at a corner table and headed for it.
“Heya,” she greeted him as she flopped into a chair.
He eyed her. “It's three.”
“Nah, I'm seventeen.”
“No. It is three o'clock. You're late. Again.”
She shrugged. “I'm here, ain't I? More'n you deserve.”
Fredrick stiffened. "What do you mean by that?"
Punk blinked at him. "I mean, it ain't yer right to have me workin' as a spy for ya."
He leaned back in his chair, seemingly relieved after her explanation. "True. But there are conditions to your getting paid. Now do you plan on telling me what you heard or not?"
"A buncha nonsense that I doubt you'll like." Punk twirled a cup coaster.
"I'll be the judge of that. Just talk. Tell me everything you heard."
“Where's the money?”
“In my pocket. Talk.”
“Show it. Then I'll talk.”
Fredrick huffed, but pulled out some bills and slapped them in the middle of the table. “Talk.”
Punk nodded. If he ended up not being pleased with her information, she could always try grabbing the money and running with it. "Hairy Bob's seein' straight, Fuzzy Puppy's gettin' nervous with her position, they decided to move her to Sector Seven and also decided to keep Barry where he's at." She watched his face, waiting for a reaction to the nonsense.
"Hm... Did they say anything else?"
"Just that Point A was unavailable to have a meeting at this time, but that it'll be available next time."
"What about names? Who was there?"
"Nancy," Punk named the most memorable first. "And Harold. That's all I remember."
"Did you see any of them?"
"What did she look like?"
“What did Nancy look like?”
“Whadda ya need t'know for?”
“I'm assuming you want to get paid.”
“No, not at all.” Punk rolled her eyes. “I just risked life an' limb, an' time in prison or a foster home, an' I don't wanna be paid.”
“Then answer the question.”
Fredrick sighed and pressed a hand to his forehead. “Do you want to get paid?”
Punk narrowed her eyes. "She 'ad puffy blue hair an' purple eyes."
"I don't see why ya need t'know," Punk insisted. "Unless you're a kidnapper or somethin'."
"I'm not a kidnapper." Fredrick sat up straight again. "But this is important information, girl. I can't have you fooling around. What did she look like?"
Punk sighed. "Brown hair, green eyes, a few inches taller'n me."
"Mm... Okay, good. That matches up." He rose. "Stay here." He walked to the counter. Punk stretched her legs out under the table and watched the football game in process on the television in the corner.
"Hope you like pepperoni pizza."
Punk look at Fredrick. “Yeah.”
He held out a cup. “Go ahead and get a drink. The pizza will be out in a little.”
Punk glanced at the soda machine. She hesitated a moment, then strode over and stood in front of it, wondering how on earth it worked.
“Press your cup against the lever, like this,” Fredrick instructed from beside her. He stepped forward and demonstrated.
Punk raised her own cup and imitated him. Soda splashed into her cup. She watched as it filled to the top, then pulled it away and inspected the foam. Fredrick turned walked away with a full cup. Punk followed him back to their seats and sat down again.
Punk focused her attention on the television screen for a moment, then looked around at the paintings on the walls and the plants growing on various stands. Grace would love it there.
Fredrick drummed his fingers on the table, looking as if he wanted to say something, but didn't know what to say.
Punk looked up as a man set a pepperoni pizza on their table
“Ah, thank you,” Fredrick said. The man nodded and walked away. Punk watched Fredrick choose a slice and begin eating, then grabbed a couple pieces of her own and began stuffing them in her mouth. The sauce burned her mouth. She swallowed, rubbed her tongue against the roof of her mouth, and gulped down a mouthful of water. As soon as her mouth had returned to its normal temperature, she started on her meal again, at a slower pace.
Fredrick looked somewhat appalled by her antics. He glanced around before setting his attention on his food. Punk almost grinned.
After she had gobbled down three slices, she leaned back in her chair. Fredrick dabbed at his mouth with the napkin. “Enjoy your meal?”
Punk nodded. “Yeah.”
“Then I'll bid you good day. If I need you for another job, I'll let you know. Do you often go to the McDonalds dumpster?”
“No.” Punk crossed her arms.
“Do you live close by?”
Punk paused. “Maybe.”
“Ah. Then how about this, if I need your help again, I'll park my car on the left of the dumpster. If you see it there, you know to meet me there at noon the following day. How does that sound?”
Punk shrugged. “Fine, sure.”
“All right. Go ahead and take your pay.” He nodded at the money. She stared at it, then stuffed it in her pocket. She picked up two of the remaining pieces of pizza, wrapped them in her napkin, and put them in her hoodie pocket. “I'll see ya around,” she commented before striding out of the restaurant.
When she had put a couple blocks between her and the pizza place, she let out a relieved breath. She had survived. A very good thing. She turned her path in the direction they had came, eager to get back home to Grace. The journey hadn't seemed very long in the car, but cars were deceiving. She figured she'd have to hurry if she wanted to get home by dinnertime. Grace had already gone without lunch while she had been stuffing her face at the fancy restaurant. Punk frowned to herself at the thought.
She caught the sound of footsteps behind her. She glanced over her shoulder. A shadow lurked in an alleyway. Turning her head forward again, she quickened her pace. Who would be following her here?
The footsteps still kept up with her. She began readying herself for a fight. Perhaps she was simply in someone's territory and they were making sure she left, but one could never know for sure. Maybe...
Punk whirled around, tripping over herself and bumping against a stop sign. She stared, then let out a breath. “Art!”
The brown haired boy before her grinned, and she tackled him in a hug. “It's been forever!”
Art laughed. “I know. How's Grace?”
Punk chuckled as she bounced away from him. “She's fine.”
“How's life treating you? How's the food over there?”
“Fine! How's life treating you?”
“Grandly, thank you. Why don't you come by my nest for a bit? Since you're up this way. I have a few new paintings that I think you'd like.”
“Well...” Punk hesitated. “I... Don't like leaving Grace alone.”
“Just for a minute. I promise not to keep you long.” He crossed his heart with a grin. “I still think you should move up here.”
Punk rolled her eyes. “Sure.”
Art's eyes nearly popped right out onto the sidewalk. “You'll move up here?!”
Punk suppressed a grin. “No. Sure, I'll drop by to see your paintings.”
“Ah, okay.” Art waved a hand at the nearest alley. “This way, if you please.”
Punk stepped into the alley. Art took her hand and strolled forward. “It's been ages. You really do need to move here, Punk.” He gave her a sideways glance.
“And why not? Can you not tell the difference in the air?” He lifted his head and sniffed. “The difference in the serene atmosphere?”
The honking of a car erupted behind them, along with the crashing of glass and metal. Punk burst into laughter. “Ah, yes, it is just heavenly.”
Art turned red, contorting his face into various forms of embarrassment and amusement. “Quite. But...” He glared over his shoulder. “That is a rather rare occurrence.”
“I feel just so special,” Punk muttered, mouth still turned up at the corner.
“That's because you are!” Art declared. “Anyways... That usually doesn't happen. And food is a lot easier to get here too. And water.”
“Yes! First of all, there's this really nice old lady down on Elm Street. Has a garden and all. And there's a lake nearby. Lots of water! Ah, here we are.” He pulled aside a curtain made of various bits of cloth sewn together. “You'd be a lot safer here too,” he added.
Punk sighed, shook her head, and walked into his nest. A hammock hung overhead, spanning the width of the alley and attaching to either wall. But this wasn't the interesting thing. Formerly white sheets hung from the alley walls, covered in paint and charcoal.
She walked down the alley, smiling as she took in the new accomplishments. A barking pit bull snarled out of one sheet, painted with the accuracy only someone who had been in the position before could have pulled off.
A fountain surrounded by people, a moon hung in a purple sky, a running horse, all done with precision one would not think to look for on the streets.
“They're wonderful,” Punk breathed, reaching out to touch the fountain. “I love it.”
“Yeah...” Art put his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels. “That one was fun to do. They all were. Y'know... if you move down here you'd be surrounded by them. I could teach Grace and you how to paint.”
Punk laughed. “You're not going to give that up, are you?”
“Not in a month of Sundays,” Art declared.
“I can take care of myself,” Punk snorted. “I'm not a three-year-old.”
“But Grace is.” Art sighed. “You're strong, but you can't take care of you and her both.”
“Who says?” Punk raised her chin, but knew the truth in what he spoke without a doubt. She had known it for a while.
“Says me.” Art jabbed her in the side. “Stop trying to be so tough all the time. Let me help some. I'm getting so lazy around here with nothing to do.” He waved a hand at the walls. “Except for paint.”
Punk shrugged. “I'll think about it.”
“That's what you always say.” Art scowled.
Punk half smiled.
“So what were doing here, anyways?” Art sighed. “You aren't the type to take a tour.”
“Secret.” Punk glanced at Art, then looked away, trying not to smile.
“Ah...” he laughed. “What kind of secret?”
“The kind that you keep.”
“Oh come on.”
“Got a job for the afternoon.” She looked up at Art.
“Oh really? What sort of job?”
“Had to listen in on a meeting of some sort.” She shrugged. “Really uninteresting, but the guy that wanted me to was pleased with the info I brought back, so...” She shrugged again.
“Hm.” Art frowned and looked at the ground.
“Come on.” Punk nudged him. “It was just a job. To feed me and Grace. By the way, do you need any money? It paid real good.”
Art shook his head. “Nah. I'm good. Did he say he'd have another job for you?”
“I hope not.”
Punk rolled her eyes. “Whatever gets us fed.”
Art's frown only deepened. “Listening in on people and then reporting back. Spying. That isn't... right. Even if it gets you money. It isn't right.”
“Whatever. I need to get back to Grace.” Punk started for the exit.
“Okay, all right.” Art scrambled after her. “If you change your mind about moving, let me know.” He bear hugged her from behind and she let out a squeak. Art chuckled, then sighed. “Be careful, Punk.”
“I will be,” she promised as he let go. “I'll try to come by again sometime soon.”
“You do that. I miss seeing you. Look after yourself and Grace.”
“I will,” Punk called over her shoulder.
As Punk neared the outskirts of her town, she heard a sound. A scream. She pushed it out of her mind and kept walking. Screams were not uncommon in this neighborhood.
The scream came again, this time accompanied by, “Punk!”
She froze as she recognized the voice.
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