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Xenolith, Page 43

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 35: Suspects

  Ara sat hunched, elbows on the table, chin cradled in palms, in the uncomfortably bright interview room. Canu sat rigid and quaking beside her, but Ara’s attention flagged. She found herself distracted by the way the mustache of the younger detective wiggled as he spoke.

  Her prior residency in Ur served them well. Although the detectives quickly pegged Canu as an illegal immigrant, Ara had a social security number and had left a sizable footprint in Vermont’s social services system, with registrations in the 3SquaresVT food stamp program, the Northeast Kingdom Community Action Center and the Caledonia County homeless shelter.

  “So at no point today you were on the premises of the old brass mill?” said the younger detective.

  “What’s that?” said Ara, coming alert. “Breast milk?”

  “Brass mill,” said the older detective, exasperated. “He means the factory across the river.” The older man paced behind the table, paunch threatening to burst the lower buttons of his shirt.

  “No,” she said, widening her eyes to get Canu to shake his head. He did, but a few seconds tardy and in the wrong direction.

  “You’ve never spent the night, there?” said the younger one.

  “I told you, we’re not homeless.”

  “Yet you can’t give us an address.”

  “206b Pearl Street, St. Johnsbury, Vermont, 05819,” said Ara, providing the apartment number of the damaged but gentle soul who had let her sleep on his floor for several weeks during her residency.

  “He means here,” said the older man. “In Greymore.”

  “I told you, we came down from Vermont to meet up with friends, but our plans got messed up.”

  “No cell phone? No phone number for your friends?” pressed the young detective.

  Ara shrugged.

  The older man hobbled over to the door and peeked out at the accumulating queue of ‘persons of interest’ and sighed. Ara had sensed all through their interrogation that he wanted to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible so he could get home to bed.

  “Let’s wrap this one up, Jack. Refer them to the shelter in Ansonia and let’s get onto the next one.”

  “But her story doesn’t jibe,” said the younger man.

  “These two look like a threat to you, Jack?” said the older man, deep creases arcing across his forehead.

  As they were led out of the room, Canu still bore the look of a man headed to his execution.

  “Cheer up, Canu,” she whispered in his ear. “They’re letting us go.”

  “Free?” Canu said, surprised. Ara nodded. His eyes rolled skyward. “I’ll believe it when I see the stars over my head and I can breathe fresh air again.”

  Ten inked fingers and two flashes later, they were headed into the cool breeze wafting in through the main door, passing a policeman coming the other way with an object wrapped in transparent film and dangling yellow evidence tags. It looked like a crossbow. Ara paused in the door frame, craning for a better look, but Canu was already churning down the street as fast as he could walk. She caught up with him at a corner.

  “That was not so bad,” said Ara. “I’ve had worse experiences with police before … in Vermont.”

  Canu still breathed hard, and sweat dampened his hairline, but the tension had finally seeped from his face. “What happened in … that other place?”

  “I was arrested,” said Ara.

  “For what?”

  “Don’t know. Poverty, I suppose.”

  “Being poor is a crime?”

  “I think they find poverty embarrassing,” said Ara. “They prefer their poor hidden away.”

  “But you went to the Philosopher’s Academy,” said Canu. “Your family must have been well off.”

  “It’s how Travelers train,” said Ara. “To truly understand a place, you start at the bottom. The bones of a place show more clearly. The teeth of the law; its rules, its constraints, bite hardest at the poor. So the poor know its blind spots best. I learned survival. Not well, but I could feed myself and stay dry.”

  Canu rubbed his stomach. “Perhaps now would be a good time to demonstrate your skills.”

  “Some food would be good,” said Ara. “You wouldn’t happen to have any money, would you?”

  “Money? That’s cheating. What about those survival skills?”

  Ara gave him a cold stare. “You want I should kill a cat?”

  Canu kinked the corner of his mouth and removed a few crumpled bills from his pocket. Ara grinned and snatched them from his hand. Down the street, one brightly lighted establishment stood out among the darkened shops. “Be right back.” She strode up to find a place that uncannily resembled a diner she had frequented in St. Johnsbury, right down to the red cushioned booths and round stools on pedestals. It sat empty but for a few policemen on break and a group of loud, young men. She bought a large order of French fries with brown gravy to go.

  As she turned from the counter, she saw Canu staring in through the window and looking antsy and disheveled like a junkie. No wonder they had been taken in for questioning.

  Outside, she opened the brown paper bag, gravy already soaking through the thin paper plate. Canu reached in and came up with a dripping handful, staring at them momentarily before shoving them into his mouth.

  “No meat?” he said, with his mouth full.

  “Not with the few bills you gave me,” said Ara. She nibbled one at a time as they walked through an empty lot, splashed with the light of street lamps. Canu, taking fistfuls, depleted most of the bag before they reached the next corner.

  They paused and peered down a dark side street, crowded with low buildings. An elevated road loomed at the end of it. Traffic was sparse at this late hour, with only the occasional truck whining over them.

  “Is that the river?” said Ara, pointing at the inky void behind the highway.

  “Yes,” said Canu. “I can smell it. That road underneath leads to the bridge we crossed. We’re on the same side as the stone.”

  “Good. Then we don’t need to cross.”

  Ara pondered whether she should warn Canu who they were about to meet, or whether she should let him find out for himself. Up till now, he hadn’t needed to know, but she worried he might act rashly if he were surprised. At least he carried no weapons. Baren had made sure of that. But the coming encounter had potential for much awkwardness, if not danger. It was difficult to find how to put it into words without making it sound like a crime against the state. Ara, herself, didn’t quite comprehend how the Venep’o could have ever been allowed to come to Greymore.

  “I have to warn you,” she said. “Baren’s guests may be a bit jumpy. You might want to let me approach them.”

  “No worries,”said Canu to him as they headed down the side road towards the massive concrete supports of the overpass. “They’ve probably already met my comrades.”


  “Yes. We left some of our group to watch the portal.”

  “The one’s you saw across the bridge?”

  “Among others,” said Canu. “Who are these guests, anyway? Politicians?”

  Ara stood, consternated. “Why didn’t you mention this? What if Baren’s guests are here in town, already?”

  “Vul and Pari stood alone,” said Canu. “I didn’t see anybody with them.”

  Ara’s eyes flickered from side to side as she thought. “I suppose we still need to check.”

  “So who are these people?” said Canu.

  “Emissaries. From Venen.” Ara said sheepishly, voice descending

  “From where?” Canu spat out a mouthful of fries. “Venep’o? In Ur?”

  “It’s to bring peace,” said Ara. “It was approved at the highest levels.”

  “Go by yourself,” said Canu. “I have no interest in meeting any Sinkor swine.”

  “Canu, I need you along. If your friends are there, they might be hostile to me.”

  “I might be hostile t
o you just standing here, knowing what you’ve done.”

  “Please Canu. I don’t want to do this alone.” Their eyes connected. The rumble and must beneath the pillars evoked memories of rainy nights spent under overpasses in Vermont.

  “I’ll take you part-way,” said Canu, his voice modulating.