Piles of corrugated iron, plastic sheets, laminated particle board, even a few pieces of plassteel were welded together with a purplish gray pasty ooze. She watched as Maria passed a backhoe spew a thin black cloud as it lifted a rusty I-beam into place. "It's a dump."
Painter was firm. "Gomi. Here it is called gomi."
Whitehot momentarilly piped into reality. "Japanese. Loose translation -- stuff not usable. No function for it. Trash."
She continued to look from behind tinted windows. "What's the difference?"
"People live here -- good people."
She caught sight of organized effort. "What are they doing?"
"Over there." She pointed to a patched oil drum steaming over a fire.
There was that half moment of pause where Painter did something only he seemed to do. "Getting ready to build something. Probably more living space. Maybe corridors. That's the paste that holds things together. The stuff sticks to anything -- wood, metal, plastic, whatever. The stuff's increadible."
She turned her head to watch as they passed. "How they make it?"
"There is someone here who is good at that kind of stuff."
"With smarts like that what's he doing here?"
Painter tapped her shoulder to make sure she was looking at him. "Listen, there are a lot of people here who have Pasts. The less that everyone knows, the better off things are. It's just safer that way. Be careful what questions you ask."
Her eyes ran over his face, the just taught muscles in the edge of the face nearly twitching. She locked onto his eyes. Within the depth, for just that brief moment before he looked away, she saw a the outskirts of a memory. It was pain and longing swirled into a marbled mix of angers. Then his eyes were the road.
Three turns and she knew she was lost. Strips of tra... gomi formed into Picaso walls. Whatever order was lost on her. She tried to look about. "You know where we're going?"
Tiny's bulk blocked her view. He moved his way through the alley streets, his imposing form moving the ocean of daily activity from their path. She looked to the side with Whitehot and found him glaring at her. He pointed strait ahead in a way that clearly indicated that she wasn't to be looking about. She focused her eyes on Tiny's back as his deep bass voice rising and falling with the step of his stride. "Iz known here. Keep wit' me 'til after 'e meetin'." Something in the way he said it just told her... this was home.
"We'z seein' some friendz o' mine." His voice dropped and reverbrated as do volcanoes and earthquakes. For a glimmer, she saw him as that... a moving earthquake. "You wanna keep quiet durin' it. It'll be hard, buh don' ask no questions."
"Like I understand what the three of you talk about anyway. It's really starting to piss me off." After a moment, "Why would I ask questions?"
Tiny almost stoped and whirled on her. She saw the start of momentum within the massive bulk just before Painter put his hand on Tiny's arm. Whitehot, intense on the surroundings of the real world, whispered at her. "'Cause it's about you."
It wasn't hard to follow the wedge. The place had a motion to it. It was like the time her father took her onto a company boat. The water flowed about the fishing craft, swirling, ebbing, rising, flowing, moving. It brought back memories of watching the water and waves to where she could see the little bubbles from the boat rising and falling dance. "Oceans."
"Wha?" Whitehot, still intense, was nervously trying not to look about.
"The people... it's like an ocean."
"Really? I've never been there." She could see him focus on the conversation.
"Well, the water is like the people -- how they flow. You should see it."
"What's it like?"
She described it, the ocean. She started with the bigness and tides, then how it felt surrounding you, how the saltiness floated you to the surface, how it sounded when you were beneath it, and how it tasted on your tongue.
Whitehot paused and took everything in. He visibly shivered off the uneasiness. "No, Harold and I can avoid that."
The corridors of gomi turned, twisted, wound, twirled about in an overgrown maze green and brown with rust. Viny leaves grasped and choked at bodies of buildings, cleared only by the passing of people. She was past the point of tiring. First was the dull pain in the stomach, which she knew from years of corporate-gym aerobics. Then there was the second wind. That had passed and now she was just feeling that tenseness that told her she would be sore later.
Whitehot wasn't faring any better. He was lugging about an angled satchel that bounced badly against his side. Was it hours ago that he started to talk to Harold? Harold was not happy and it was making Whitehot irritable on top of his uneasiness. The incessant chatter was getting to her.
All about, she caught glimpses of children playing in the patched rags of clothes. They tumbled about as they wrestled, used fingers as mock pistols, arms as mock shields, sticks as mock sword. They rolled about in old tractor tires and tossed about what looked like a wad of melted plastic bags. The smells of human living, the open air living in piles of gomi -- piles upon endless piles of gomi with an entrance, a window, maybe tall enough for a second story. Within it all, the shouting and laughing. If she closed her eyes and ignored the smell, it was just another Christmas special, touch of chill cold and all.
"I really need a drink."
Tiny halted abruptly, turning about on the edge of his heal into a low bow. "Ladeez first." He was motioning to a table. It was made of old tarnished car antennas woven into a meshed surface and was propped up by an antiquated ceramic pedestal painted over black. Years of spilled food and drinks laminated the black surface so that it was traced with drizzled pathways of browns and reds and oranges and just one of purple, fresh and shiny, making its way down as she watched.
Across from her was a figure folded within the origami paper folds, making it look like some storefront swan at a korean place owned by a brazilian friend of her father's. The figure didn't move. The only sense of life that came from it was a thin tube that carried a thick yellow liquid up to where the head was. The crisp folds of layered, sheer cloth precisionly placed with a sharpness that punned at one thing.
It had edge.
"What brings you here?" A second figure stepped from the shadowed overhang. Also wrapped in cloth, the anonymous voice was just there from the amorphous pseudopod of a dusted black cloth.
Tiny was unmoved by the cold greeting. "We'z welcome."
"You are. These we do not know." Something about this was familiar to her. It was just nagging at her, not quite aware, but still there.
Tiny drifted a hand in a casual brush. "They'z friends."
It almost pointed at her. "She is with you? Your friend?"
Tiny shifted his weight back a bit. The chair creaked beneath him. "She'z the job."
"Which brings you here?" She couldn't tell what the one she decided was Mass was thinking. The other, Folds, just sat there, the level of the yellow liquid rising and falling as Folds drank.
A slight shrug. "Need a place."
"And info." It was a flat tone. Accusing in a way that had already reached a certain conclusion before she even sat down.
Tiny nodded. "An' info." Somehow she felt Folds motion to continue. Mass burned an aura of not being pleased. "We'z hired by the ladyz da ta keep a' eye `n her. Her da said he were workin' a deal `n the competit'n was not friendly, like. Three dayz `go we see couple o' local boyz tak'n par-tic-ular interest in the lady. The check sayz someone with rezourcez iz behind it."
Folds twiched in a way that spoke curiousity. "Why do you say that."
Whitehot seemed to shuffle a bit. "They were paid a lot real fast -- I mean *real* fast. Funny thing is... the bills just were there, phantom-like." Something in Whitehot's timing made her feel this was something that had been rehersed, maybe something they had done before.
Again the feeling of Folds just asking, "Why?"
Painter chimed in. "'Cause things are up. You know as much or more than anyone, depending on how much you have told us before. If there is one thing I remember is that guts are your best friend. Guts tell us we should talk to you." She decided. It was rehersed.
The last of the yellow mush slowly made its way along the tube. She had been watching it move up and down and along and back as they had been talking. Now, as the last of the yellow fluid moved within the folds of Folds, Mass made a bow that looked more like a folding. "The matter will be looked into." Mass melted back into the shadows. Tiny motioned for her to follow him as Painter and Whitehot fell in behind.
After a couple minutes of walking, they came to Maria.
Whitehot called from his false-rust vehicle. "Harold wants to know if she is still upset."
Painter skipped a stone down a rivulet. "Yea, but she's calmed. She'll come around in a bit."
Tiny rubbed the sore spot in the back of the ribs. "Don' bet on it."
She had found a hole in the wall that sold something resembling stew then found a passageway where she could crouch down within. The pile of trash about her was warm. Pipes twirled a thin smoke above her. She smelled the stew as her hands waved within the steam from the styrofoam cup to warm them from the chill night air. People were about, even at that hour -- people who walked from warm place to warm place, people who wandered about on business, people who stood about amidst laughter and talk. Occasionally, someone flapped his arms or she pranced about. Her eyes wandered about and came to rest on a couple. He was behind her, she was within his arms, he was draped in layered collage of remnant blankets, she was smiling enough to warm the both of them. She tasted the stew and believed that she had never tasted anything better in her life.
Painter had explained about travelling through the streets. She had needed to be seen with them. Having been seen with Tiny, she could request help. If she got into trouble, he explained where she could contact someone from Gomi... go to a site she had memorized and give one of the oldest codes... three dots, three dashes, three dots... morse code for S.O.S.
She was halfway through the stew when she knew someone was behind her.
The weight of her body had moved forward, allowing a foot, the left foot, to take her weight. The other foot, the right foot, slipped beneath her then snapped back and up to where it contacted with hardened flesh. An oomph and the form went down to one knee.
It gasped for air. "Miss," a male voice, "I was just sent to escort you."
She stopped catching flies and turned slightly, putting the right foot on the ground. "Excuse me?"
"Someone wishes to speak with you. Only you." The gasping was more of a wheezing now.
The otherwise non-descript figure was shrouded in rags, hiding all appearance. "Who?"
"I was told to tell you. . .," he paused for memory or effect or maybe just for breath, she wasn't sure, "Folds."
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