(Warning! A character nearly gets assaulted in this chapter!)
“Don’t play with your food, Ox-Head,” Horse-Face whispered, tapping a spot next to his partner’s plate. Ox-Head just set his fork down and stared at his plate.
“Sorry. Just worried about that blue woman The Builder’s off looking for.”
There was silence at the table for a few moments, before Horse-Face spoke up again. “I think we all are.”
Sunny and Moony didn’t say anything, though Moony did sidle up closer to Sunny. Horse-Face could’ve sworn he’d seen him shiver when The Builder was mentioned.
“Say she fails. Then what?”
Horse-Face shrugged. “Then I suppose we’ve a new companion in our midst. As much as I don’t want her to be.” He sighed. “There’s nothing but terror waiting for her if she were to end up here.”
Ox-Head picked his fork back up, and poked at his cooling dessert. “Hope she’s okay, hope she’s okay…”
“Sinbad, no! She didn’t realize what she did!”
“Mister Rotter, calm yourself!”
Annette barely had time to sit back up when she heard stomping and growling. When she got to her feet, Sinbad came into view with his fists clenched. She could already tell he wasn’t in a talkative mood.
The second he caught sight of her, his lips curled back in an angry snarl. Annette barely had time to react before he hollered:
Before she could move out of the way, Annette was slammed up against the wall.
She could now see his face close-up. Sinbad’s pupils were dilated, and his eyes were narrowed even more than usual. She could smell his breath in her face now. Or she would, if she wasn’t currently having the air being choked out of her.
Annette could see Sinbad raising his fist up, as if to strike her. Next to him, Sagebear began growling, pulling her ears back. When he noticed she was there, he growled right back at her.
“Back off, dog,” he said in a voice thick with fury, “my problem’s with your owner, not you.”
Much to her astonishment, Annette watched as Sagebear’s anger dissolved. Instead, the dog sat down and took on a more quizzical expression.
Just before Sinbad was about to punch her, his arm was clutched onto in an attempt to delay him.
“Stop it, Sinbad!” Shark’s face showed evidence of fear and desperation. “She didn’t know what she was saying! Let her go!” Annette waited to see what Sinbad’s next course of action would be.
It was to lower his arm, and drop her down to the floor. Taking deep breaths, she watched as he stalked back to his room. A moment later Shark followed, leaving her with Dennis and Sagebear.
“So exactly what is it I did?” Dennis heard Annette rasp out when she could speak again. He grimaced, then took a seat on the floor in front of her.
He sighed heavily. “It isn’t something I should really be mentioning to a virtual stranger, but not knowing almost got you killed just now, so…”
Reaching over to scratch under Sagebear’s chin, Dennis pondered what the right words were. “The thing about the boy is that…Well, it requires delving into something that transpired a few months ago.”
Annette watched as he leaned back away from the dog. “Sometime after my divorce was finalized…” Hearing the words ‘divorce’ and ‘finalized’ at least confirmed what happened to Silver in this universe. “The three of us were at the mansion…Looking for something, I suppose. I forget now.”
“What’s important was whatever got Shark to do what happened earlier.”
Solemnly, Dennis nodded. “At some point, Mister Rotter and I ended up in the garage. Don’t know how, we just did. And the boy was there too.” He began twirling his hands, as though conjuring returning memories.
“She’d been drinking, but then that didn’t surprise me one bit. She’d had that problem for years. We tried getting her help, but that didn’t work. I’d had enough of it, and when she got back I handed her the papers.”
Annette then saw him slump down into himself. “Perhaps that’s what drove her to revenge on me. I mean, what could be worse than offing a firstborn child in front of you?”
This admission bothered her. “And then she…what? She tried killing Shark like that?”
“Yes, indeed.” Dennis began drumming his fingers on the floor. “Stabbed him once in the belly, then once in the chest. It’s a miracle he didn’t die, there was so much blood. But it did intensify his hatred for alcohol, and I suppose his mother-”
“So where is she now?” Annette had a feeling she already knew the answer, but she felt like dispelling the doubt anyway.
Dennis just shrugged. “She’s in prison now, where anyone who attempts filicide belongs. I don’t go visiting her, my kids don’t, Mister Rotter certainly doesn’t…”
Drawing her legs up to her chest, Annette held herself in while he concluded his tale. “I just wonder if she knows how much she damaged the poor boy.”
He leaned towards her and patted her on the knee. “Now don’t you go blaming yourself for this, Miss Annette. Like Shark said earlier, you had no way of knowing what you said.”
“I’m not blaming myself, but what about you, and Sinbad and Shark?”
He shook his head. “Were you the one that drove the knife into him? No? Then of course I don’t. As for the boy and Mister Rotter? I think what happened earlier spoke for itself. Or Mister Rotter just flew off the handle without thinking. It’s hard to tell with that man’s temper.”
After Dennis went back to bed for the night, Annette sat outside on the front steps.
“Sorry you had to see that,” she whispered as Sagebear lay onto her legs. “Guess he’s just as hot-headed here as he was when I knew him.” Sagebear said nothing, but looked up at her with sad puppy eyes.
“I’ll be fine, Sagebear. You know it takes more than that to really hurt me.” She began to pet her. “That said, maybe staying here isn’t such a good idea. Maybe I could…”
Here she took a gentle hold of the dog’s face, and looked her right in the eyes. “I pretty much have this deal in the bag. What do you say we make it official with Bill again, hmm?”
“This town smells funny…” The Builder grumbled to themself when they entered the chilly atmosphere. “It always smells funny. Must be all the corpses in that damn swamp of theirs.”
Pulling out their hunting knife, The Builder twirled it in their fingers as they walked through the empty streets.
“Now let’s see…If I were a blue-skinned woman with a dog running from me, where would I hide?” No one answered them. But then again, they hadn’t really expected one.
Unless having a golf cart hurtling towards them counted as an answer. The Builder jumped out of the way in the nick of time. Looking over their shoulder, they saw a man practically fly out of the driver’s seat.
“Uh…” Now The Builder proceeded to gawk as Bill shredded his clothes, and called out for ‘Netty!’
“I get the feeling I need to watch that guy.” He then rolled around in a nearby patch of dirt, and declared mallomars to be pure evil. “Well, maybe not literally.”
The next morning, Annette made her intention to leave very clear.
“Given the events of last night, I think Sagebear and I should find some place else to stay until we leave-”
The instant she said the word ‘leave’, Shark fell to his knees and wrapped his arms around Sagebear.
“No! Don’t take the doggy away! I love the doggy!” He began hiccuping, and tears streamed down his face. In response, Sagebear licked the salty water from his face.
“Boy, please,” Dennis calmly said as he tried prying his son off the dog, “she isn’t your dog. She belongs to Miss Annette. And the two of them were going to leave town in a day or two anyway. Isn’t it easier to say your goodbyes now, so it doesn’t hurt as much?”
Shark looked at his father, letting loose with a few sobs. He seemed to understand that Sagebear needed to leave now. He made as if to reach for her again, and then stood up to his feet.
All this time, Sinbad quietly watched from the back of the room. He did appear remorseful over what he might have caused, but remained speechless. Shark just wiped his face to get rid of the still incoming tears.
“I’m sure you’ll get a chance to see her again before we leave town,” Annette tried to reassure him. “Sound like a plan?”
When Annette left, she could still hear Shark’s wailing from a few feet away. At least once, she could hear him say “Doggy’s gone!”
Sagebear appeared to look behind them, but remained at Annette’s side. For a time, they tried getting far enough to have Shark’s cries dissipate.
“Did I tell Bill where we could meet up tonight?” Annette took a glance around the current area. In answer to her question, Sagebear pressed her nose to the ground and began sniffing. “Oh, good idea!”
Slowing her own gait, Annette now let Sagebear lead the way. For about a minute or two, Sagebear led her around in at least one circle.
It was after she pressed her nose against the bathroom that she jumped back and began barking at the door. Warily, Annette opened it to find Bill tearing a urinal out of the wall.
“I never knew you to be so strong, Bill.” When he heard her voice, Bill dropped the urinal and stared at her. He then lifted his hands up and made grabby motions towards her breasts.
“Now hold on, Bill. Something’s come up, and…” She took hold of his hands to get him to pay attention to her, and dragged him outside. “Let’s face it. You want to. I want to. But what say we just get to City Hall and get it over with tomorrow, huh?”
Bill seemed to realize what she was getting at. His eager nodding certainly gave her an answer.
“Great! Now then…” She leaned in to kiss him, causing Sagebear to run back towards the bushes.
At no point did Annette realize she was being watched.