The Calling: Part 3

December 17th, 2010 by Wordsman

Though he had neither address nor phone, Larry was not a hard man to track down.  It just took a while.  So Escobar cut straight into Simon Park, skipping his patrol car, where he might have been distracted by reports of mild rioting near the university.  He strained his eyes until he spotted one of the people he usually could not see.  He inquired after Larry, and the man on the bench simply pointed north.

Escobar nodded curtly and followed the directions, looking for the next link in the chain.  It took all his focus to seek out those he had trained himself not to detect, so he remained oblivious to the shouts and the sirens—while still a far cry from Rome in 44 BC or Paris in 1848, Crescenton that night was a city of discontent.  But Escobar was single-minded.  Following the fingers of those who, like him, had much bigger problems than the ones who were making all the fuss, he went east, then southeast, then east again, then south, then east, then, aggravatingly, back west, until he found who he was looking for.

“Evenin’, Officer,” said Larry, though by that point it was closer to morning.  He was smiling broadly, but with Larry you could never tell if a smile was genuine.  The cap he was never seen without seemed designed to droop down and cover his eyes.

Escobar, out of breath after nearly an hour of walking, took a moment and then explained that he wanted information about a presumably homeless woman living in a subway station.

Larry chuckled.  “Whaddaya think I am, King of the Bums or somethin’?”

Larry, the self-proclaimed King of the Bums, was the leading expert on the city’s “free” population (he chose to refer to them by what they had rather than what they lacked).  He could tell you everything there was to know about the free people of Crescenton, unless of course you actually wanted information, in which case his normally overactive mouth snapped shut and could only be pried open by the careful application of money, foodstuffs, or spirituous beverages.  Since Escobar did not have any cash, baked goods, or booze on him, he resorted to Larry’s other favorite thing: flattery.

“I dunno . . . you say she’s in the subway?  I don’t go in much for that public transportation.  Not that I can’t afford it.”  Despite his steady business as an information dealer, he probably couldn’t afford it, at least not on a regular basis.  Though he never left the city, his job called for a considerable amount of travel.  “A man’s not a man unless he can get where he needs to go on his own two legs.”

This may have been a crack at Escobar, who was built much more like a shotput than a javelin, but he did not have time to crack back.  If Larry was in a philosophical mood, the conversation could last until sunrise.  Escobar repeated his query, and his faith in Larry’s omniscience, and this time he threw in a promise that next time they met he would be carrying a bag of goodies from his favorite bakery.

“Hmm.”  Larry stroked his beard.  The condition of the beard, like that of all the other elements of Larry’s appearance, was remarkably consistent: unkempt, but not dramatically so.  Like all kings, he spent a great deal of energy maintaining his appearance.  “What does she look like?”

Escobar gave the best physical description he could, which, despite the fact that he had been standing only a few feet from her, was not that good.  “And what’d she say?”  Escobar repeated the phrases, which, despite their seeming meaninglessness, he remembered perfectly.  “Eh, I’ve heard stranger, but not much.”

Larry flashed his ambiguous smile.  “I gotta say, I’m surprised.  I don’t think I know this lady.  And here I thought I knew everybody in our fair city.  Maybe she’s a visitor.”

This explanation did not ring true with Officer Escobar.  Something about her had made him feel that she was a fixture, a part of the station, that she could no more come and go than the pillar she was slumped against.  But questioning Larry’s judgment to his face was often an expensive move, so he did not share his misgivings.

“I can try to find out more if you want—as long as I’m compensated, that is.  You want me to keep an eye on her?”

Escobar thanked him for the offer but said that he would be taking care of that himself.

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