It was really nice to see the sky again.
It looked like it was late afternoon by the time we emerged from underground. The commuter tunnels had forked several times, but each time Neil had known which way to go. The tunnels were bigger than the subway tunnels had been, and less claustrophobic, but I had still started to yearn for something above my head other than concrete.
Then I felt a cool breeze, and I saw a light ahead of us. The tracks curved, and we could see daylight not that far ahead.
"Everybody be ready," Neil said quietly. "We don't know what we're going to find."
What we found was a pleasant suburban street, at dusk. Learning that we had walked from the darkest hour of one night to the beginning of the next made me feel even more tired than I'd been already.
The tracks continued up an embankment of stones to a station, but we climbed over a low fence and down to the street.
That took a minute or two, and there was no sign of any living soul other than the six of us. When we were all on the street, we stopped and waited for a moment, but there was no movement and no sound.
"It's a little creepy," Vicki said.
Neil shrugged. "There's no point in waiting around for people we don't want to see anyway. Let's go."
Katherine lit a cigarette as we started out.
Neil was leading now, since he knew the way, and each corner we turned led to another pleasant street. Small houses with large, well-manicured lawns, driveways and garages, curtains in the houses mostly drawn. And no people, and no movement, except for the occasional bird.
"Stop right there! Who are you? Identify yourselves!"
The words were assertive, but the voice was shaky, apparently coming from a thick hedge. Katherine didn't react, and Tammy said, "You sound tired. You should take a nap."
"Yes, ma'am," the voice replied.
A couple of blocks later, we turned a corner, and, instead of another identical street, there was a tall hedge, higher than our heads.
"It's a pretty big park," Neil explained. "This is where I'm thinking we can camp. We will have to--"
"I'll check it out," Vicki said. There was a rustle in the hedge as she slipped through it, moving very quickly.
Katherine dropped her cigarette butt and put it out with her toe. She looked around. "This looks like where where we lived when I was small," she said.
Neil laughed. "Not where I grew up. I used to see streets like this on television and wonder if they were real."
"And look at all you've accomplished," Katherine said, "despite your humble beginnings."
Neil glanced at her sharply, but she was smiling, and he chuckled. I had the idea that he was quietly proud of his accomplishments, and he'd thought for a moment that she was mocking him. However, her smile had convinced him that she was only teasing him, as lovers and ex-lovers (and wives and employers, of course) will do, from time to time.
Vicki was back in a few moments.
"It's pretty big," she reported. "There are people camping in a couple of places, but we can stay away from them. Even if they see us, they don't seem to be armed, so they'll probably keep their distance."
We walked a bit until there was a slight gap in the high hedge, then we pushed our way through.
Inside, it was a forest, or at least it looked like one. We followed Vicki single file, and after a few hundred feet the trees thinned out and it looked more like I expected a park to look. There were bushes, grass, low hills, a couple of large outcroppings of rock, narrow dirt paths, and the occasional bench and picnic table.
It was starting to get dark, and there were old-fashioned light poles here and there, but they were dark.
We found a small clearing in a grove of trees. Neil pronounced it satisfactory, so we decided to make it our home for the night.
Perry lay down and fell asleep immediately, but the rest of us sat and had some food. I made a mental note to make sure Perry ate something in the morning, or he wouldn't be able to do much.
I spoke to Jan for a few minutes, bringing her up to date, then I realized Katherine had moved a little bit away from us and was lying down. I'd noticed that, whenever we took a break, she kept a little distance. I suspected that it wasn't from any reluctance to socialize with us, but more likely it was a habit, from being aware that many people wouldn't be comfortable socializing with her (and might also be hesitant to say so to her face).
Vicki was strolling around the perimeter of our little clearing. I was sure she was thinking about what would happen the next day.
Tammy and Neil were sitting near me and talking.
"Are you really an attorney?" he asked her.
She nodded. "Yes, though I no longer practice."
"Well, you're obviously not old enough to retire, so I assume that there just wasn't any demand in U-town?"
"Oh, that's not it. I quit before that. Attorneys would always be necessary in any really sophisticated society. But, what you've seen me do, to you and to those two women from your gang and to the people in the tunnel, I can do that to a jury. As long as I want to win a case, I will never lose.
"But the problem is that I believe in the jury system, flawed as it is in practice. And it can't be even close to fair if I'm involved. So, I retired."
"It must take a lot of self-control, to have that kind of ability and not to abuse it."
She smiled. "There are things I won't ever use it for. Some things should be voluntary, or they're not worth doing."
He leaned closer to her. "I don't imagine a woman like you needs to resort to mental control to get men to do what she wants anyway."
She leaned toward him and kissed him. I got up and moved away, but I don't think they even noticed.
Katherine was sitting up again and lighting a cigarette, so I strolled in her direction. As I walked, I glanced back and saw a small pup tent where Neil and Tammy had been sitting. Tammy was providing them some privacy, of course. Then I heard a sound and turned to see Vicki start to move toward the trees.
There was a shot and she crumpled to the ground.
Katherine jumped up, grabbed her shotgun and ran into the woods. Neil and Tammy burst out of the tent and ran to Vicki, and the three of us reached her at about the same moment. Neil was in his underwear, and I noticed absently that Tammy was now dressed again, though she had been naked when she'd come out of the tent.
Vicki's eyes were open, and her face was pale. "I'm alive," she said, grimacing, "but I am in a fuck of a lot of pain here."
Tammy sighed and stood up as Neil and I worked together to get Vicki's leather jacket off without causing her any more pain. She'd been shot in the upper arm, and there was a lot of blood.
Tammy looked around the clearing, her face grim. "Anybody in the woods, come down here now!" she said in a loud voice. "Come to the clearing, put your weapons on the ground, kneel and wait!"
After a moment, a man in his late twenties or early thirties appeared, wearing jeans, boots and a plaid jacket. He dropped his rifle and kneeled, as instructed.
We had removed Vicki's jacket, and Neil had ripped her black T-shirt off and was tearing it into strips as I applied pressure to try to stop the bleeding.
Tammy turned back and looked at the wound. "The bullet went right through," Neil said as he started to bandage her arm. "Good thing. I hate to have to dig out a bullet without instruments."
Tammy turned to the kneeling man, looked at him for a moment, and said, "You cannot breathe."
As he started to choke and claw at his throat, she sat on the ground, taking Vicki's tiny body in her arms as Neil finished bandaging the wound.
"I'll be okay," Vicki murmured, her eyes closed, her good arm going around Tammy's neck. "It will heal completely by tomorrow."
"I'm going to lessen the pain," Tammy said. "You'll hardly feel it. I won't make it go away completely, you could injure yourself more without even knowing it."
Vicki smiled and closed her eyes, her expression clearing, her arm clutching Tammy close. "I know," she murmured. "Thanks."
"Tammy," Katherine called. She was standing next to the choking man. Tammy turned, still holding Vicki.
Katherine gestured at the man. "We need to find out why he's here, and are there any more with him."
Tammy nodded and the man fell to the ground, taking in huge gulps of air. "He'll tell you the truth," she said, her attention again on Vicki.
Katherine waited until the man had recovered somewhat, then she asked, "Why are you here, why did you shoot Vicki, and are there any others?"
"I'm alone," he said, panting. "I was hunting, trying to find food for my family. I didn't mean to shoot her, she stepped in front of you. I was trying to shoot you."
Katherine frowned. "Why were you trying to shoot me?"
"I recognized you, and I know there's a reward for you, dead or alive."
Katherine nodded, pulled her revolver, and shot him in the head. He fell to the ground as she came over to us and asked, "How is she?"
It took a minute for any of us to respond. Even Neil appeared shocked at how quickly it had happened, and how calm she seemed about it.
"I'll be okay," Vicki said finally. "I heal very quickly. But Katherine, was that really necessary?"
She looked surprised at the question. "He shot at me," she said simply.
"But he was no threat at that moment," Tammy said. "He couldn't move, or even breathe, unless I allowed him to."
Katherine nodded. She was very calm, as if this was an interesting debate in an ethics class. "True. But you weren't going to keep on doing that forever, were you?"
Tammy turned her attention back to Vicki, clearly not willing to focus any more attention on this.
"Kat does have a point," Neil said after a moment. "We couldn't let him go, and we're not really set up to take prisoners." He shrugged. I don't think he was totally satisfied with the answer, and I know the rest of us weren't, but there wasn't much point in debating it further, since the man was already dead.
--Marshall? Is this a bad time? Jan asked quietly.
--Your timing is good, I said. It's all over, and we're okay, but we've had a few exciting minutes.
--I thought so, she said. I suddenly felt very anxious, but I decided I should wait until I felt a little better, so I wouldn't be interrupting in the middle of a crisis. What happened?
Reporting to her, accurately and completely and concisely, was one of my job skills, so I was able to give her a pretty complete picture in a couple of minutes.
Vicki noticed my expression. "Jan?" she mouthed. I nodded, thinking it was funny that she'd felt it necessary to lower her voice, as if her sister and I were talking on some sort of invisible telephone.
"Ask her not to tell Pat," Vicki continued. I passed this along, but Jan responded:
--I already have. She's sitting right next to me.
Vicki read my expression and sighed.
--How did she take it? I asked.
--She's a wee bit upset, Jan reported dryly.
I conveyed this to Vicki, who sighed. "Since I can't be there, I confess I'm glad we can't talk the way you two can."
After that, we got ready to move to a different area of the park to set up a new camp. We had no way to dig a grave for the man Katherine had killed, and we didn't want to stay near the body. One of the packs had held a small tarp, so we covered him with that, then Tammy woke Perry and we started out. Vicki indicated which direction was the best for finding another good place to camp. She wanted to walk, but Tammy insisted on carrying her. Vicki started to argue, but she gave in pretty quickly. Neil carried the pack she'd been wearing.
As in the tunnels, Tammy provided some illumination, and there were stars out as well, though there was no moon. I walked with Katherine, who had been very quiet since the shooting. She walked a little bit apart from the rest of us, not meeting our eyes, and I thought it was important to reconnect with her. It could easily become a life or death question, under the circumstances.
I said her name and she looked up cautiously. I smiled and leaned over to whisper, "Looks like Neil won't be getting lucky tonight after all." I jerked my head to indicate Tammy, who was carrying Vicki.
A corner of Katherine's mouth quirked up into a smile for a moment. "I guess he decided it wasn't such a terrible idea to be involved with a crazy woman after all," she muttered. She was trying to sound amused, but it came out more bitter than she had intended.
Well, that conversational opening hadn't worked out as I'd planned, so I tried to think of something else.
"Before," Katherine said slowly, "Vicki mentioned somebody named Pat. Is that her boyfriend?"
"Girlfriend," I said with a smile.
"Ah," she said. Then she said, "Oh," and glanced at Vicki, who looked like she was asleep in Tammy's arms.
"It just struck me sort of funny," she continued after a moment, "that she didn't want Pat to know."
"You'd tell Pete, wouldn't you?" I asked.
"Of course," she said. "I tell him everything. Well, not every little thing. But there isn't anything I'd hide from him."
She pulled out her cigarettes, and without thinking I brought out the lighter I used to provide "gentleman service" to my employer.
"Thanks," she said, smiling. "I'll tell Pete about everything when I see him. We usually talk things over before we go to sleep. Just talk about the day, what we did, what we thought about it." She smiled. "I'll have a lot to tell him about the next time I see him."
This made me think about Pete and Katherine. I didn't know them very well, but I had an image of them discussing things as she had described. I imagined them sitting together on a bed, cross-legged, in T-shirts and underwear, smoking, ashtray between them, discussing the events of the day. Later on, when I got to know them better, I learned that this image was fairly accurate.
Except, of course, that my mental image didn't include one essential element, which was their dog, Daphne, who would always be lying on the bed with them (or, if she had been ordered off the bed, on the floor nearby).
I wondered about Daphne. As Pete and Katherine were talking, did she ever sit up and give her opinion? Did she ever stop being a dog?
As we settled down for the night, Vicki stood up and we all looked at her. Neil had made her a sling for her arm, and she had her leather jacket zipped all the way up, over the arm and the sling.
"A couple of things before we go to sleep," she said. "For one thing, I don't suppose anybody happened to bring a very small black T-shirt? I didn't bring a change of clothes, and it's going to create the wrong impression if I try to win people over wearing a leather jacket and a bra."
Tammy leaned over and she started to unzip Vicki's leather jacket.
"Mother!" Vicki said in shock, trying to squirm away until she saw that she was wearing a T-shirt after all. In a pale shade of blue.
She giggled. "Tammy," she said, "if you can do baby blue, you can do black, I'm sure, which I would prefer."
"Do you really want to go through life looking like a little hoodlum?" Tammy asked. She was smiling, since she obviously knew the answer.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. Like the little dyke I am. I'm sorry."
"That's not baby blue, by the way, it's sky blue." She sighed. "But I can change it, of course."
Vicki's T-shirt became black, and she hugged Tammy briefly with her good arm. "Thanks," she said quietly.
She turned to Katherine and said, "Speaking of clothes, Neil and I had a disagreement before we started out, about whether it was better to have you dress and look like yourself, or whether it made more sense to try to disguise you. You probably noticed that when we were in the tunnels, he was sending you up to the front, and I was sending you to the back."
Katherine nodded. "I guess tonight settled it," she said.
"I'd say so." Vicki turned to Neil. "Any objections?"
He shook his head. "Not at all. I did indicate that the main advantage would be in the tunnels, where we would be coming up on people suddenly, and nobody would be able to see her from a distance."
Vicki turned back to Katherine, who was starting to unlace her boots. "Did you bring the clothes?" Vicki asked.
"I didn't bring the clothes I got married in." She smiled. "I don't want anything to happen to them. But I have some clothes from a while ago, when Pete and I were hiding out. They're pretty similar."
"That will be . . ." Vicki began, but her voice trailed off as Katherine stood up and unzipped her jeans. She dropped them to the ground and stepped out of them.
"You can go behind those trees or something," Vicki said hesitantly. "If you want to."
"Hm?" Katherine raised her eyebrows as she took off her coat and her shoulder holster. "That's okay," she said with a shrug. "I'm not modest."
"Well, if it was me," Vicki said, "I'd be hiding in a hole in the ground or something." She laughed as Katherine pulled off her T-shirt. "Nobody ever sees me naked except for Pat."
Katherine nodded as she squatted and started to pull clothes from her knapsack. Being a married man, I was not examining her body in detail, of course, but I did notice that it was lean and bore quite a few scars.
Neil chuckled. "Kat," he said, "is that really appropriate underwear for combat?"
Katherine's remaining garments were indeed black, sheer, and rather minimal.
"You know one reason I don't worry about that?" Katherine asked Vicki, pointedly ignoring Neil. "Because if I guy looks at me wrong, or says something I don't like, I kill him." She shrugged. "I probably wouldn't do that now, but I still could, if I wanted to." She smiled at Neil as she pulled on a pair of corduroy trousers.
"Besides," Tammy said, "this won't be combat. Combat is for the inarticulate."
Where's your cane?" Perry asked Tammy as Katherine pulled on a sweater and ran her fingers through her hair.
"I left it behind," Tammy said. "It was too much trouble when I was carrying Vicki. Besides, I don't really need it anymore. I've been working on an integration with Terry, and I think I've convinced her--"
"Really?" Katherine asked "I've read about--"
"I think perhaps we should get some sleep," Neil said. "Busy day tomorrow."
Katherine laughed. "Oh, you want to talk about my underwear, but you don't want to talk about psychology. You have not changed."
(to be continued)