Sunday, August 5, 2018

Side Story #1 - Colt - Page 2

Rex’s brow receded. “That right?”

“It is.” Colt bent down to pull his kids out of the car and show the man.

Rex’s brow receded even farther upon laying eyes on them. “Wow. Well. Color me surprised. Shocked, even.”

A child in each arm, Colt closed the door with his leg. “Shocked, huh? Is it really so unbelievable? Seems like a great little town you’ve got here.”

“Oh, it is. It is.” It took the sheriff a moment to find his smile again. “Of course it is. Just don’t get many visitors around these parts, much less folks who actually want to stick around.”

“Why’s that?” said Colt. “Any reason I should change my mind right now and turn around?”

“Oh, ah, no, nothing like that. Unless you count my ex-wife. Which I would, if I were you.”

Colt was able to smirk at that. “I hear you, brother.”

The man gave a short but hefty laugh and stepped closer. “I’m sure you’ll find that the locals around here are as friendly as can be. But we have had a string of burglaries lately.”

“Oh?” That piqued his interest. He hadn’t seen or heard anything about that during his scouting.

“Yes, sir. It’s nothin’ too outrageous, not like you might see in the big city. Probably just some teenagers getting up to no good, but all the same, you’d do well to keep a close eye on your belongings while you’re here.”

While he was here? He just told him that this wasn’t a temporary visit. “I appreciate the warning, officer.”

“Sheriff,” the man clarified, pointing to the silver star on his chest.

“Ah. My mistake.”

Rex gave him a shrug and another smile, then eyed the children. “Adorable little darlings. Twins?”

“You can tell?”

“Sort of. Lucky guess, mainly. What’re their names?”

“Stephanie and Thomas.” Colt had thought long and hard about changing their names, but he’d ultimately decided against it because of what that doctor had told him. Getting them to learn their own names at this stage in their development was important, so changing it on them now seemed like an unnecessary complication. No one was going to identify him through their first names. No one was even looking for him.

“Fitting. Oh, and what’s your name, sir? Never did ask.”

“Colton Thompson.”

The sheriff paused. “Thompson, huh? So then, your son’s name is Thomas Thompson?”

Colt didn’t even blink. “That’s right. And don’t blame me. His mother named him that.”

“Ah. And where is the little lady, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Colt did mind, actually, but he figured it would be best not to say so. “Dead,” he said flatly. That was a lie, of course, but he preferred it to the truth, not the least because admitting that she was in an institution for the criminally insane would likely spark more questions. Maybe Rex wouldn’t actually ask those questions, but Colt didn’t want the man thinking them, either.

And hey, maybe it wasn’t actually a lie. It had been a long time since he’d seen her, so technically, for all he knew, she could have died.

That would’ve been nice.

“I... see,” the man said. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It took Colt a moment to realize that he was supposed to act sad. “Thank you. It’s been difficult since her passing.”

“I can imagine.”

That was good, because Colt honestly couldn’t. As far as he was concerned, his life had improved a thousand fold after that crazy bitch had been removed from it.

“Might I ask what it was that made you choose our humble little town?” said Rex. “Not every day we get new residents.”

Colt didn’t want to admit that he had come here because his grandparents were originally from Snider. He figured that would only lead to whole new line of questioning that he didn’t wish to answer, especially if this guy somehow happened to be familiar with Colt’s grandparents. Unlikely, maybe, but not outside the realm of possibility. Small towns were like that, after all.

Instead, Colt gave an answer that he felt would be much safer. “Wanted somewhere nice and quiet with a good community. This place seemed like a good choice.”

“Ah, I see. You’re a man of real taste, then! Orden is a great little town. And quiet, of course, yeah, I understand that. Unfortunately, I’d say we’re not quite as quiet as we used to be, what with being so close to the capital ‘n all. That city’s been growing like mad in recent years. That’s somethin’ we’ve all been worried about, actually. Don’t want our humble country lifestyle to disappear as those city lines inch closer, but ya know how it goes, sometimes. Not much we can do about that, eh?”

“I actually liked that the capital was so close,” said Colt.

“Oh.” A brief frown crossed the sheriff’s face before he wiped it clean with a smile again. “That so?”

“It is,” said Colt. “The big city has its benefits, after all.” Health and education came immediately to mind. In the even that the modest facilities here in Orden proved somehow inadequate, Colt had liked the thought of having relatively easy access to the more extensive ones in Lagaroc.

“That, it does,” said Rex. “Plenty of extra appeal for young bucks like us, am I right?”

Colt cocked an eyebrow. “That sarcasm I hear?”

“Why, yessir, it is.”

“You don’t think you’re young anymore? You can’t be a day over thirty-five.”

“Heh, I appreciate the compliment, friend. I’m thirty-two but sometimes, I feel twice that.”

Thirty-two was pretty damn young for a sheriff, Colt thought. “Maybe you should go see a doctor, then.”

“Nah, it’s just the job. Makes a man feel his age, this line of work.”

Oh, yeah, patrolling a sleepy little town for rowdy teenagers must’ve really been eating away at his soul.

Fuckin’ dumbass had no idea how good he had it.

Rex wasn’t done running his stupid mouth, however. “You sure you wouldn’t be happier living somewhere with a bit more excitement? I know you got kids ‘n all, but somethin’ tells you’re a man who lives for adventure.”

“Oh, no, not me,” said Colt as genuinely as he could manage. “I’ll take order and stability over adventure, any day.”

Rex squinted at him. “That right?”

“Yes, sir.” Colt knew exactly what he was doing. He was trying to look him in the eye, get the measure of him. Too bad Colt’s sunglasses were in the way, and the sheriff had no justification for asking him to remove them.

After a few moments, the man relented. “Well, if you say so. But are you sure your kids’ll like it here? Youngins need stimulation and whatnot, right? Won’t find much of that here in Orden, I’m afraid.”

At that, Colt paused. What the hell was this? It was perfectly normal for the local sheriff to take an interest in a new resident, but was that really all this was? Because it was starting to sound like he was trying to dissuade him from living here.

But what sense did that make? Colt had already asked the guy if there was any reason to change his mind and go live somewhere else, and the man hadn’t offered any actual reasons.

Maybe this guy really was a fucking idiot.

Well, shit. It was best to be direct with idiots, Colt had always found. “...Sheriff, is there some reason why you think we shouldn’t stay here?”

And Sheriff Rex Margot just stared at him for a moment.

A long moment.

“Ah,” Rex finally said. “Sorry, did you say something? I must’ve missed it.”

Colt resisted the urge to conclude their conversation by strangling him. “...I said, is there some reason why you think we shouldn’t stay here, in Orden?”

Rex gave him another big smile. “Oh, no, no, no. Orden’s a wonderful place. If everything you just told me is true, then I’m sure you’ll find it very cozy and welcoming.”

Why was he becoming less convinced of that, all of a sudden?

“Anyway, I suppose I’ve taken up enough of your time,” said Rex. “I’ll leave you to it, then. Pleasure meeting you, Mr. Thompson.”

“Same here, Sheriff.”

Colt watched him walk over to his patrol car and drive away.

Hmm.

He supposed if the sheriff’s intention had been to unsettle him, then the man had achieved his goal.

Fuckin’ prick.

Colt filled up his own car’s gas tank and then went inside the shop, taking the kids with him. It wasn’t particularly hot outside, so they probably would have been fine on their own for a little while, but there was no way he was going to risk it. For all he knew, some fucking psycho could come along and kidnap them while he wasn’t looking.

Also, he felt like having the kids with him made him look like much less of a suspicious asshole.

It was all for naught, though, because the store didn’t have much that he was interested in. Not even any diapers. What kind of grocery store didn’t have diapers? He paid for his gas and left.

With Orden being so small, there wasn’t a whole lot to do or see, but it did help him to remember where everything was. With all the scouting he’d done, he already had town’s layout memorized, so he already knew where he would most likely be able to find diapers. The local market was one of the largest buildings in Orden and the big neon sign with the word “ANYTHING” on it was pretty difficult to miss.

It was a strange name, Colt though. What kind of person names their store Anything? The kind of person named Fred Millerman, apparently. Colt had scouted this guy, too, of course. Owning the largest shop in town obviously pointed to him being one of the most influential people around, and what Colt was able to learn of the guy only seemed to confirm that.

Fred was a middle-aged man of above average height and a full head of inky black hair. And yet, Colt didn’t think that anyone would claim the guy had been burdened with an overabundance of physical charm. Colt wasn’t usually one to give even half of a shit about anyone’s appearance, but Fred’s lopsided face was difficult to ignore, as was the scar that extended down the left side of it.

Often, scars had an odd appeal to them in their own way, but not Fred Millerman’s. His scar had a discomforting sort of sheen to it, and rather than looking twisted or gnarled, the flesh looked more bloated and sickly smooth, as well as paler than his already pale skin. It was a burn scar, Colt was fairly sure, and it looked like the guy might’ve endured a botched surgery or two in an attempt to fix it.

Colt pitied the poor bastard, but not that much. Instead, he was more interested in learning what kind of person was behind that fucked up mug, though not because Colt was looking for a friend. In his time as a cop, Colt had encountered a few other people cursed with that level of hideousness, and he’d come to notice a few similarities between them.

He felt that there was something that happened to a person psychologically when they had an appearance like that. Other environmental factors were at play, of course, but in Colt’s experience, it seemed like there were basically only two possible outcomes for something this extreme. Either the person was one of the nicest, most compassionate people Colt had ever seen... or the exact opposite. A real, genuinely heartless monster.

Colt wasn’t sure why that was. It was just something he’d noticed. He suspected that it had something to do with how different people reacted in overwhelming cruelty and trauma, but then again, maybe it was a chicken and egg scenario. He might’ve asked a psychologist about it, if he’d ever met one who seemed like they actually knew what the fuck they were talking about.

Regardless, all of this meant that Colt had become keenly aware of Fred Millerman. From what Colt had seen during his time scouting the city, Fred didn’t seem like an especially dangerous son of a bitch, but that was far from confirmative. It was true that people who were genuinely monstrous usually didn’t know how to regulate their behavior, much less hide it, but exceptions certainly existed.

He was one such exception himself, Colt knew.

Whatever the case, he didn’t intend to let his guard down around this Fred Millerman anytime soon. Or ever, for that matter.

“Will this be all, sir?” said Fred after Colt had finished placing the items from his cart on the checkout desk.

Diapers, baby food, and a can of mixed nuts was all he’d picked up, but the shopping cart had been useful to let the kids ride in. He would’ve liked to pick up a stroller, but he hadn’t been able to find any. Pretty disappointing for a store called Anything, he felt.

Maybe he just had to ask, though.

“Actually,” said Colt, “do you have any strollers?”

“No, sir,” said Fred, “but I can custom order one and have it here by lunch time, if you like.”

Huh. Interesting. “Alright, how much?”

Fred held up an index finger and turned to his computer.

While Colt waited, he stopped Thomas from chewing on his own thumb. The kids had pretty much all of their teeth now, and they’d become quite the annoying little biters.

Colt kept an eye on Fred, too, though. It was strange that the owner of the bigger store in town was tending the checkout himself. Granted, that wasn’t saying much in terms of size, but Colt was pretty sure the guy normally had a couple teenagers working for him. An airheaded-looking girl and a boy with a serious acne problem. He might’ve asked where they were if it wouldn’t have given away how much he knew about Fred’s life.

“Would I be correct in presuming that you would like a double stroller?” said Fred, eyeing the twins.

“Yeah.”

“Are there any other features you’d like it to have?”

“Ah... what sort of features?”

“Cup holders, extra wheels, extra pockets, extra cushions, a pull down cover--it’s a pretty long list.”

This was turning into a more complicated purchase than he’d expected. The old stroller that he’d used back in Atreya had just been some barely-holding-together piece of shit that the twins’ mother had shown up with, one day. He hadn’t been missing it terribly.

And perhaps the scarred businessman could sense, because he started scribbling something on a piece of paper. “Here are the general price ranges we’re talking about.” He slid the paper over. “I can show you some pictures as well, if you like.”

Hmm. Pretty steep, some of those prices. But you got you what paid for, right? He didn’t really want the kids riding around in another cheap pile of crap.

Agh, but he also had to conserve funds. And from what he’d come to learn of Sniderian financial law, all purchases over a thousand marcks were supposed to be logged and reported to the government for monitoring. The country had been infamous for its financial crimes a few years back, and international pressure had mounted in a pretty frightening way for the government here, as he recalled.

Of course, Colt had everything he needed in order to pass an identity or background check, but he still wasn’t exactly in love with the idea of having his activities logged in some database.

He was living in the woods, after all.

“Just give me something from here,” he said, pointing at the mid-tier price range.

“Very well, sir. One moment.”

Colt waited again. He’d heard someone’s footsteps approaching from behind a few moments ago and now turned to see who was there.

It was a blonde woman, maybe a few years younger than him. She was stunningly gorgeous as well, the complete and utter opposite of the man on the other side of the counter.

She was Alice Ridgemont, Colt knew. The local nun. Or priestess. Or whatever the fuck the women who devoted themselves to Cocora and covered themselves in white-and-gold robes were called.

Colt had never much cared for religion. And from what he’d seen, Orden didn’t much care for it, either. Alice’s chapel was a rundown pile of dogshit on the edge of town, and she was the only one using it. She, alone, comprised the entirety of the clergy here, apparently.

She was looking at the kids, then noticed him eyeing her. “Beautiful children,” she said.

“Thank you,” Colt told her.

“They’re yours?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

She held a hand up toward the kids and smiled warmly. “Do you mind?”

“...Do I mind, what?” he said flatly.

“Do you mind if I lay hands on them?”

“...Yes, actually, I do mind.”

She blinked at him, but her smile hardly diminished at all. “I... see. My apologies.”

Hmm. If her reaction was anything to go by, that wasn’t the first time she’d been shot down.

Colt almost felt bad. “I’m worried about your germs, not your religion.”

“Oh.” She pulled out a small bottle of hand sanitizer. “Then, would you be okay with it if I use this first?”

Colt’s expression remained unchanged. “Do you always carry that around with you?”

“Only when I go out looking for kind souls to bless.”