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~6.13~

The first thing that Ed did at the library was take a look at the pedestal by the stairs, where Liv said she lived. Not too close a look, though. He didn’t want to get too close to the statue. Part of this reluctance to get near it he rationalized away as self-interest. If he was under watch, he might give too much away too soon by revealing his interest in it.

He couldn’t imagine why Ivan would bother double-crossing him, when he wasn’t looking for anything exorbitant for his help… but he didn’t know how much reason someone like Ivan would need to double-cross someone like Ed.

Having passed by the library before, he wasn’t surprised to see the figure of the sphinx… he couldn’t have called it to his mind for trying, but it was familiar on sight. Having never studied it much before, Ed was arrested briefly by the sight of the bare stone breasts, which almost prevented him from noticing the face. It was a simple and rough likeness, but a clear one.

Shesepankh, he thought, though he couldn’t begin to spell it. Maybe he would do some research while he was in the library, he decided. Hellenes, she’d said. Those were Greeks. “The Living Image”. He’d Google that.

Even though he’d never been in the downtown branch of the Jericho Public Library before, he felt the same sort of familiarity, the same level of “Oh, yes. That’s what it is.” that he felt when he looked at the statue. It was a public library. Clean and shabby. The interior was redone in the seventies, and it showed both its age and its vintage.

It reminded him of the libraries he’d been in, and the elementary school he attended long ago. It took money to make an institution look like anything other than an institution. Take away the money and there’d be nothing left but fluorescent lighting and painted-over brick walls with photocopied and laminated signs hanging off them.

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.12~

In order to kill time, Ed headed to the library early. He was curious why Liv had been so desperate to get a library card. Before he lost his job, the last time he’d been to a city library was as a kid. He’d never gone as an adult. Since joining the street life, he’d found reasons to duck into them, but hadn’t done more than read a few magazines or a newspaper.

Those who had steady jobs and warm, safe places to sleep at night tended to think of street folk using libraries as simply homeless bums who went there to sleep off their drug or alcohol-fueled hazes. People with such advantages were also rather quick to dismiss the importance of having somewhere safe and relatively quiet one could go for a few hours at a time.

It was true that libraries provided at least temporary shelter from the worst weather and other hazards of urban life, but they also represented important resources for information, entertainment, and education that were within the price range of almost anyone.

There were limits, of course. Access to the libraries was theoretically free but just as the law forbade the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges and steal bread, so too did society place limits upon the ability of the rich and poor alike to go certain places in a less than suitable state of dress, or in a manner judged to be disturbing to other patrons. The standards varied from place to place and even from time to time… the inner city libraries were more accessible than the more modern ones that served the west side, and they became even more so outside of peak hours.

Under the new budget, of course, those libraries were only open during peak hours. Ed was lucky. While anyone who saw him might think he was down on his luck, out of work, and maybe even out of a home, he didn’t look like trouble.

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.11~

The man excused himself from Ed’s company after their conversation, having made Ed confirm that he’d be there by the steps of the downtown library just before sundown but making no promises as to who would be there to meet him. Ed found himself torn between thinking that he’d be meeting the Ice Man himself and that this was all too easy and the guy had just been jerking him around.

That seemed unlikely, though… pretending to be one of Ivan’s people for fun was probably one of the things that would get his attention, and not in the way that Ed wanted it.

He tried to just go about his business for the rest of the day like it was any other day, though he had the feeling a couple of times that he was being watched. Someone would be checking him out, he was sure. Someone would be asking around about him. Maybe not Ivan… probably not, probably nobody would bring something to him without checking it out themselves first. Though he imagined Ivan was the sort of man who’d want to check everything out again to make sure it was done right. There wasn’t that much to check up on… Ed had just been a regular guy before he lost his job, and he hadn’t exactly made waves since joining tribe. He tried to imagine what his acquaintances in the group might say about him: seems harmless, seems like a good guy… at least, he hoped they’d say things like that.

Could all the checking possibly be done in time for a meeting that very night? He hoped so. Being in tribe was better than being outside it, but when you came right down to it he was still living on the streets. He wanted to move up a little. He wanted to move out of the cold.

Ed had no idea where someone like Ivan might sleep, but he was willing to bet it was somewhere warm and comfortable.

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.10~

“So what exactly are we talking about?” the man asked, breaking in on Ed’s thoughts. “Do you know a new witch?”

“No, no,” Ed said. “I would go to Mama if I knew someone like that who wanted to come in. This is really more in Ivan’s line, I think. Wait… how did you know I wanted to talk to Ivan? I didn’t mention him until you did.”

“Because you’re talking to a random bum you barely know instead of going to Mama,” the man said. “Anyone can come to Mama. You must be looking for Ivan to come to you.”

Ed felt a flicker of hope. He’d thought he would have to wait for word to get around, but this man was either connected to Ivan or else just very perceptive and logical… of course, someone like that would probably be working for Ivan, anyway.

“So when you say it’s in his line, do you mean it’s dangerous?” the man asked.

“Not necessarily,” Ed said, trying to skirt the line… he didn’t want it to sound like he was involved in something that could be a danger to tribe, but he also didn’t want to sound like he was trying to turn Ivan onto something harmless.

He didn’t know what kind of capabilities Liv had, really, but there was no point in underselling them.

“I think more… stealthy… would be the word I would use,” Ed said.

“Hard to notice?” he asked, in a way that sounded significant.

“In a way, maybe,” Ed said, not knowing what the man meant, but not wanting to give the wrong impression. “The truth is, I think it would take someone like Ivan to really… evaluate… just what it is I have here.”

“So you want to meet him, just like that?”

“There’s a time-sensitive element involved,” Ed said. “Sooner would be better than later.”

“How soon?”

“Tomorrow night, at sunset.”

“Where?”

“Will he meet with me?”

“Someone will,” the man said.

“The downtown library, then.”

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.9~

“Oh?”

“Let’s say I know someone with special talents,” Ed said. “The kind of talent we could maybe use. The kind that’s always in short supply… especially now, I hear.”

“What? Military? We’ve got a lot of that coming in,” the other man said. “Not that we can’t use it. Or when you say ’special’, do you mean special forces? Because I know we can use that. Hell, just bring the guy in. He’ll know who brought him.”

“No,” Ed said. He was choosing his words carefully. Everyone in tribe knew if not the actual truth of the world then the fact that there was a lot more in it, and in Jericho, then most people let on. It was how tribe survived. But not everybody knew as much about this area as everyone else, and not everyone believed as much, either. The last thing Ed wanted getting around was the idea that he was a crackpot. “I mean special-special. Not military. Not… ordinary.”

“Oh,” the man said. Recognition showed in his eyes. Recognition and nothing else, to Ed’s relief. “Are you sure you don’t want to be talking to Mama? Ivan doesn’t really have any business with the witches.”

That had never occurred to Ed, somehow. His first thought had been to go to Ivan, because his first thoughts on how to use this unearthly woman had been dark. She’d managed to get his wallet off him without his noticing, and she’d apparently done the same to others. She lived unnoticed in plain sight.

Maybe Mama could find a use for someone like that.

Certainly Ivan could.

On the other hand, Mama would welcome a messenger and set of eyes who could move around unnoticed, and she could certainly get the poor girl a library card. She would ask less of Liv… maybe use her no less often, but more gently.

And what would Ed get for that?

Mama’s goodwill counted for a lot.

That didn’t mean it was worth a lot.

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.8~

The next morning Ed started making the rounds of the streets.

When he’d told the woman he was now calling Liv that he “knew a guy who knew a guy”, he had been oversimplifying. He knew lots of people, and everybody… at least everybody in Ed’s immediate circle… knew about Ivan. Many had seen the big man who handled tribe’s security concerns in the eastern half of Jericho. A few of them had met him, talked to him… or been talked to by him.

Finding someone who knew where he was and how to get a hold of him was a little more difficult. Getting Ivan’s attention wasn’t really all that hard. Most people who did it, after all, weren’t even trying. In fact, according to the stories on the street, it was the people trying hardest to avoid his notice that most often received it.

How to get his attention on purpose was the problem. Few people could conceive of wanting it. His own people probably knew how to get in touch with him, but there was no way of knowing who they were, exactly. Oh, tribe’s security forces weren’t that hard to spot. But while Ivan directed them in his half of the city, they weren’t his people. They were tribe’s.

And approaching them could be as fraught with danger as anything else that might get Ivan’s attention.

It was frustrating, because for the first time in his life Ed had stumbled onto something wonderful, something magical, something miraculous… the kind of thing it seemed like folks in Jericho stumbled over all the time. He didn’t have the first clue what to do with it… but Ivan would.

In the end, he decided he would lead with the only thing he knew for sure, and hope that would be enough to bring the big man to him.

“So,” he said to a guy he sort of casually knew, from around tribe’s safehouses and shelters. “I think I might know something useful.”

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.7~

“Do you have a name?” the man asked. “One you can tell me?”

“Shesepankh,” the woman said.

“That’s a little… do you have a nickname?”

She thought about it.

“The Hellenes called me ‘Strangler’,” she said.

“That’s not really better,” the man said. “Do you know, is there a more modern version of your name?”

“Modern?” she repeated.

“Like, English?”

“Oh… in English, it would be ‘The Living Image’,” the woman said.

“How about I just call you ‘Liv’?”

“I have no objection to that,” she said.

“Great,” he said. “You can call me Ed.”

“I am very pleased to meet you, Ed,” she said. “Now you will take me to one of the guys?”

He looked up and down the dark street.

“You know, I kind of want to get out of sight for a while,” he said. “And then I’ll have to get a meeting set up anyway. How about we do this tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow night?”

“I was hoping during the day,” Ed said. “The streets aren’t as safe as they used to be, even for… people with connections.”

“To guys who know guys,” Liv said, nodding. “But I cannot be out during the day. If I could, it wouldn’t matter that the library hours changed. I would just go in when they opened in the morning, and stay until they closed…”

She trailed off as though in a pleasant reverie.

“Well, okay,” Ed said. “Is sundown too early to meet you?”

“It’s the earliest I can be met,” she said.

“Where would be the best place to find you at sundown?”

“The only place you could find me at sundown is the steps of the library,” she said.

“The downtown one? With the lion st… oh,” Ed said.

“Yes, that’s where I will be,” Liv said.

“Okay,” Ed said. “Well, I’ll be there. I can’t make any promises about results. Just so I’m clear: what’s more important, the library card or the ID?”

“The library card is all that matters.”

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.6~

“Why do you ask?” the woman asked. “Do you think it will matter? To the librarians, or the DMV?”

“It would matter a lot if they knew about it, but first they’d have to believe it, and I don’t see that happening,” the man said. “Most people… most people wouldn’t even see you, if you didn’t look so… well, you’re probably kind of hard to notice, anyway.”

“I am,” the woman said, nodding in agreement.

“You know when I said I know a guy who knows a guy?”

“Yes,” the woman said. “That much I do know.”

“I think… I think he could probably help you out.”

“Who could?” the woman asked. “The guy that you know, or the guy that he knows?”

“The second one,” the man said.

“Well, then I should be talking to the guy that you know then.”

“What? Why?”

“So he can introduce us.”

“I think I can get him to introduce you… the thing is, it wouldn’t be for free,” the man said. “This guy doesn’t do ‘free’.”

“I told you that I don’t have any money,” the woman said.

“It wouldn’t be money,” the man said. “This guy has money, probably, or he can get it. But he’d probably be really interested in what you can do for him… you know what? Forget I mentioned it… a library card can’t cost you much more than fifty dollars or so. You could come up with that way easier than…”

“I wouldn’t know how,” the woman said. “Could you teach me?”

“Lady, I can’t find a job for myself in this economy,” the man said. “And I have a social security number and a driver’s license already. But if a library card is all you need, there’s got to be some way you could come up with to scrape together fifty bucks.”

“And what if the librarian still wants to now who I am before she will give me one?” the woman asked. “Take me to your guy.”

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.5~

“Wait… this is about a library card?” the man said.

“Yes,” the woman said. “They will not give me one if I cannot prove that I am a resident.”

“Maybe I missed a Tea Party victory somewhere, but I don’t think you have to have proof of citizenship in order to get a library card,” the man said. “You just to to show them something with your address on it. Bills or something.”

“I don’t have bills,” the woman said. “And the new librarian said that I needed a picture ID with my address on it. Otherwise I will have to pay a fee.”

“I don’t know how much the library charges for a card, but it can’t be nearly as much as a fake ID would set you back.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter how much it costs. I don’t have any money.”

“Then how were you planning on paying for the ID?” the man asked.

“I wasn’t… I didn’t know how this worked. I’ve never needed an ID before,” she said. “The library used to be open at night, I could go in there and read for hours. Nobody ever bothered me… the old librarians were nice, or else they left me alone.”

“And you’ve never had an ID?” the man asked. “At all?

“I’ve never needed to prove who I am before,” she said. “Or where I live.”

“Do you live on the street?” the man asked.

“No, not on the street,” she said. “On the stairs.”

“On the stairs?”

“Well, I suppose it’s more like a pedestal of sorts,” she said. “Next to the stairs.”

The man looked at her.

“You’re not… you’re…”

“What?” she asked.

“Are you… are you human?” he asked.

She looked at him the way he would have expected anyone to react to such a question: as if it were insulting, but also so incredibly absurd on the face of it that it was hard to take the insult seriously.

“No,” she said. “Of course not.”

Posted in Arc 06.

~6.4~

“But if I could get to the DMV while it’s open,” the woman says, “they’ll help me get a picture ID with my name on it? And my picture?”

“Well, sure,” the man says. “As long as you’ve got some ID to show them, and the fee.”

“Oh, I have lots of IDs,” the woman says. “Just not the right one.”

“Are you… are you illegal?” the man asks her, leaning in close and lowering his voice. Now that he really looks at the woman, he can see that she’s not white, that there is what he thinks of as a slightly unusual, exotic cast to her features. She doesn’t look like the image that comes to his mind when he thinks about illegal immigrants, but… as he thinks to himself… there is a whole world out there that people could be immigrating from.

“Am I against the law?” the woman asks, her eyes blinking with confusion.

“Are you here illegally?” the man clarifies. “Did you… you know, sneak in?”

“I was brought here,” the woman says. “In a crate.”

“Oh,” the man says. “I’m sorry. Look… I kind of know a guy who knows a guy, you know?”

“I don’t think so,” the woman says. “I have to confess, I don’t know many guys. At least not ones who are still alive today.”

“What?” the man says.

“I don’t know a guy who knows a guy you know,” the woman says. “Or at least, it’s very unlikely that I do.”

“I mean, I think I might be able to help you out with your ID problem,” the man says. “I can’t make any promises, especially if you need a social security number… but I think I can help you get a driver’s license, at least.”

“I don’t need to drive,” the woman says. “I just need to prove my residency.”

“To the INS?”

“INS?”

“Oh, I guess they’re the ICE now,” the man says.

“No,” the woman says. “To the public library.”

Posted in Arc 06.