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I really need to figure out this time-management thing. Sunday has come and almost gone before I figured out that I should be posting something today. Linda and I managed to get some yard work done – I’m not certain, but this may be the first weekend all summer that hasn’t been either rainy or drought-ridden or mosquito-infested and oppressive. I also managed to break our brand new bathroom door. it hath been “fixed” with bits of wood, electrical tape, and spackle. Yay. And now, without further ado, we bring you another exciting episode of Kudzu.

Kudzu, a Novel

Book III: The Secret History of Trust

Chapter 16

Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII hurried down the gas-lit cobblestone street. A furtive glance behind him assured him that his pursuers had not yet found his trail. Even this late at night the Whitechapel streets bustled with activity, but most of it was on foot; few people whose business interests kept them on the streets at this hour could afford regular meals, much less a horse. Still, he wasn’t safe yet. Those who sought him were not the sort to give up so easily one the hunt had begun.

And they were uncannily good at what they did.

Grump poked his head into a drinking establishment. No, it wouldn’t do. There was no rear exit that he could detect. And not enough people to effectively hide him, but enough to become significant collateral damage should he be found in their company. He kept moving.

The sound of horse hooves on cobblestone came from behind him, and the shouts of people scrambling to get out from under them.

Heart in his throat, Grump ducked into a narrow, dark alley. They couldn’t bring the horses through here, at least. He caught his foot on something as he ran through the darkness, and spun into the wall. His elbow struck brick, and numbing pain shot down through his fingers.

There was an alcove here. A locked door. He took shelter there, gasping for breath, and willing his eyes to adapt to the nearly absolute darkness.

He reached into his coat pocket. Yes, it was still there. He drew the pistol out and checked it. As his eyes adjusted, he could barely make out the shape of the thing. It was cold in his hand, a heavy, offensive weight.

He had two bullets left.

He risked a look down the alley. No dark-cloaked shapes with glowing red eyes were coming down the alley toward him. Not actually glowing, he reminded himself. Just a side-effect of their ritual pharmaceuticals. No shapes, glowing eyes or otherwise, human or otherwise, were coming down the alley toward him.

He put the pistol back in his pocket, and stepped out of the alcove.

And into the blinding light.

~

The worst part of jail, Kevyn thought, was the constant, casual humiliation. As if by having broken some law or another, one had abrogated one’s right to even the most basic of human dignities. Being herded naked with a half-dozen other women through the cell blocks to the shower room wasn’t even the worst of it.

There were eight of them, from three cells, and three guards, one male and two female. They’d been ordered to strip for shower time, searched for contraband, and then escorted through the jail to the showers, past all the other prisoners, who whistled and catcalled.

Kevyn ignored the running commentary from the male guard about her tattoos and piercings. One of the female guards called her a cunt and told her not to “get any fucking ideas.”

Kevyn noticed that the other female guard’s lips tighten at the assault. But she didn’t do anything to stop it.

They were escorted through what looked to have been a locker room at one point, but the lockers had all been ripped out. Only some plastic benches remained, bolted to the floor. At the end of the locker room was a heavy, metal door. One of the guards unlocked it. Beyond that was a room that had once held toilets and sinks. The stalls had been removed, and the sinks, and plumbing. All that remained were three seatless, dry toilet bowls, stripped of their plumbing, and a single storage chest against one wall. The prisoners and one of the guards entered, and the the others locked the door behind them.

Another door marked the end of what had been a lavatory. The guard unlocked it. She pushed the door open, then rummaged in the chest.

“Okay, ladies,” she said, “you know the drill. Here’s soap and shampoo. If you have any known allergies, I’ll try to accommodate. You’ve got fifteen minutes.” She glanced at the locked door behind them, shook her head. “Shit. Might as well make it twenty.”

She shut the door, locking the prisoners into the shower room.

The showers were not pretty. There were four corroded shower heads, each controlled with a timer switch. The timers shut the water off after thirty seconds, and couldn’t be restarted until another half-minute had passed, destroying any chance of actually enjoying oneself. The floor was cracked industrial tile, green—and slippery—with mildew.

Kevyn had been looking forward to her first shower since her arrest, three days earlier. Now she was less eager; no telling what she might pick up here, all before she had even managed to get a meeting scheduled with a public defender.

“When I get out of here,” she said, “I’m going to have a long talk with the mayor about the conditions in here.”

Kevyn’s cell-mate, Melissa, laughed as she ran water through her long, dark hair. “You think anyone out there cares what happens in here? Besides, what makes you think you’re getting out? Pass the shampoo.”

“I’m innocent, that’s what. This whole thing is just a big misunderstanding. Once I get to meet with my lawyer, we’ll get ahold of Sir Reginald and he can explain everything.”

Another of the prisoners spoke up. “Honey, if you’re depending on a man to save you, you’re gonna be here a long time.”

Melissa stepped away from the shower head as she worked lather into her scalp.

Kevyn pushed the button impatiently until water spat from the fixture. She stepped into the spray of hot water and, for thirty seconds, thought of nothing but the feel of water running down her skin, and the steam filling her nose and lungs.

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