The Fox and the Wolf

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A vagabond, asked to choose between two reprobates.

Submitted: June 14, 2016

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Submitted: June 14, 2016

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The Fox and the Wolf

 i.

 She had heard his footsteps approaching for a while now – clang, clang, clang on the rusted iron steps. The harsh sound contrasted oddly with the soft colours of the sunset behind her.

 She didn’t look up, but continued attempting to tie her too-frayed shoelaces as he sat down beside her on the bridge. He removed his rucksack and laid it beside him: his mug clattered against the ground.

 He said, ‘Has he asked you yet?’

 She lowered her head, winding one thread around her finger.

 He said, ‘Did you say yes?’

 Opening his rucksack, he dug out something that was wrapped in tinfoil and began to unwrap it. ‘You like him?’ he asked.

 She said, ‘No.’

 He said, ‘I don’t like him either.’ With his half-eaten burrito in one hand, he reached back into the bag and took out another. This one, he handed to her. ‘Thank you,’ she said.

 ‘I’m going to talk for a while,’ he said, as she fumbled to unwrap the foil. He was a lean and scruffy man, his thin face and rust-coloured hair calling the image of a fox to mind. ‘Are you going to listen?’

 Her mouth full, she nodded.

 ‘Neither of us wants to prolong this,’ he said, ‘so I’m laying my cards on the table. I want to know where he is. That’s all. Once he trusts you enough to take you back to his lair, you drop a note in a location that I’ll name afterwards and never see either of us again.’

 She swallowed her last bite and let the foil drop from her hand, towards the railway tracks under the bridge. ‘Are you going to kill him?’ she asked.

 He said, ‘He tried to drown me once, and killed a little girl because she saw.’

 ‘Are you going to kill him?’ she asked.

 ‘Yes.’

 The tinfoil had landed. She briefly wondered which track it would hit, but saw that it had fallen halfway between both tracks at the junction. ‘Tell you one thing,’ she said.

 ‘And what is that one thing?’

 ‘I know who he’s going after next,’ said the homeless girl. She licked her fingers. ‘It’s you.’

 That surprised him. One eyebrow flickered up briefly, and then he began to laugh. ‘Raising the stakes, huh?’ he said. ‘Well, I suppose we’ve been playing this game for a while. Will you tell me one more thing, girl?’

 She didn’t answer. ‘If you help me, he’ll die,’ he said. ‘But if you don’t help me, and he manages to complete his task, tell me how that would be any different?’

 She bent her head again, winding and winding the lace around her finger. It slipped off. With a little sound of frustration, she blew on her hands and rubbed them together, trying to keep them from shaking. She pushed her hands inside her oversized jacket, rubbing them against her sides.

 She heard him sigh. ‘Do you need gloves?’ he said. ‘I’ve got gloves.’ He actually began taking off the black fingerless gloves that he was wearing.

 ‘Can’t,’ she said. ‘He’d know.’

 ‘That’s true,’ he said. ‘But he wouldn’t know if I tied your shoelaces for you.’

 She stood up quickly. ‘I’ll manage,’ she said, and walked away.

 

  ii.

  Now she stood on the street corner, shoving one hand inside her jacket and looking again at the scrap of paper in the other hand, which had landed in her bucket earlier that day. Surely this wasn’t the wrong place.

 ‘Hey, girl,’ came a voice.

 She hadn’t spotted the external staircase around the side of that bank. In the dark she could vaguely see him perched at the top of them, eating something out of a cup. ‘Aren’t you coming up?’ he called.

 There was a chain-link gate that had been pulled across the bottom of the stairs and padlocked for the night. ‘Can’t,’ she said.

 ‘Sure you can,’ he replied. ‘I left you a stepladder.’

 It was a wheelie bin dragged against the wall. Once she had joined him, he gave her the rest of his cup of noodles – he had brought along a second fork especially.

 ‘Those little white packets,’ he said, twirling his own fork between his long fingers. ‘You like ‘em?’

 She quickly chomped down her mouthful. ‘Been spying, old man?’ she asked.

 ‘Educated guess. If it’s not the white packets –‘

 ‘It is,’ she said. ‘Need’s different from like.’

 He nodded thoughtfully. ‘What was it, college experiment gone wrong?’

 ‘I never made it as far as college,’ she said. ‘Sorry to disappoint you, old man.’

 ‘I’m not judging you,’ he said. ‘I didn’t either.’ With both hands, he pointed over his shoulders at the reflective glass door behind him. ‘Let’s pretend there’s a big mirror behind me so you can always see my cards,’ he said. ‘What did he offer you?’

 She continued eating for a while, and when she was finished, continued staring at the empty cup.

 ‘A house,’ she said, a catch in her voice. ‘All expenses paid for the first six months.’

 He whistled quietly. ‘A high bid,’ he said. The fork spun, once. ‘But if you did get that house, how long do you think the white packets would let you keep it?’

 Her fork clattered to the ground.

 ‘What do you think I am?’ she demanded.

 ‘What do you think you are?’ he replied, unruffled. ‘You came and found me, didn’t you? Hoping that I’d have a better offer.’

 She had turned around before he could finish the sentence. ‘Thank you for the noodles,’ she said, and began to walk down the stairs towards the chain-link fence.

 ‘I’ll name the place,’ he said.

 She stopped walking.

 ‘I’m naming the place now,’ he said, ‘because I’m guessing you won’t let me find you another time. Drop a note there any time – I check most days. If you want to bring him along, good. It’ll shorten both of our missions, one way or another.’

 She hesitated, but finally turned back and took the slip of paper.

 ‘Now it’s really in your hands,’ he said.

 She climbed up over the bannister, hopped down onto the wheelie bin and disappeared in the dark.

 

 iii.

 She knew it would be soon but, still, it was too soon that the man on the roof of the white van turned around and started shooting at them. The grey-haired man had driven her in silence for a while, in the passenger seat of his silver car, and when the hooded figure clinging to the side of the van had come into view he had said, ‘Ah, he took the bait,’ rested his gun hand on the sill of his opened window, and fired at him. He had recoiled and swarmed up onto the roof like a lizard, leaving a trail of blood behind him, and then clicked out his own semi-automatic and returned fire. To either side of them, cars swerved out of the way, and she heard a wing mirror smash and a spray of bullets leave pock-marks in their bonnet. Then the wave of bullets swung up, and the homeless girl heard herself scream and found herself doubled over in her seat, fingers laced over her head as though that would save her. Bullets zipped and pinged over the reinforced windscreen. Although the white-haired man had told her it was safe, she expected the nightmare to end any moment with a hundred and twenty-four grams of metal through her frontal lobe.

 ‘Get up!’ cried the white-haired man. ‘He can’t see you!’ He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her up to look through the windscreen.

 He had said that they weren’t hunting anyone she knew, but she should have guessed by the fingerless gloves.

 An instant of recognition flashed across his face, the time it takes for a camera’s flashbulb to go off. The firing stopped. It only took him half a moment to swing the gun behind him, and another to jump from the van’s roof and into the flow of traffic.

 

 iv.

 A creak ran through the ancient wood and iron of the old steam ship by the pier. Once, it had been the best of its kind, rarely out of use. Now, chained to the pier, its last voyage was long over.

 ‘We did great,’ said the grey-haired man. ‘Just a little maintenance to the bonnet and I’ll be able to sell the car on in no time.’ The tired old floorboards gave a little under his feet as he crossed over to sit down on a crate, coffee mug in hand. He fished a key ring out of his pocket and threw it across the room to where she was standing, arms folded, in the doorway. ‘There’s your house,’ he said. She tucked the keys into an inside pocket and then folded her arms again. ‘Thank you for your help.’

 When she still didn’t say anything, he passed his coffee mug to the other hand and rubbed his chin. They were both avoiding the issue.

 ‘I’m glad,’ she said, ‘that my face was able to help you.’

 ‘Yes, well.’ He passed the mug to the other hand. ‘It was necessary. I understand that it may have – may – presented a –‘

 He caved in the face of her silence.

 ‘I wasn’t using you,’ he said, not meeting her eye. ‘I wasn’t.’

 She unfolded her arms. ‘That’s a shame,’ she said. ‘We were.’

 

 v.

 It was raining, so he had pushed himself as far as he could back inside the little temple-like building in the park. It had been built by some lord or other two hundred years ago and ironically was called a folly. The mould seemed to be creeping down the walls towards him. Footsteps! Looking up from the cast that he was trying to fasten around his damaged hand, he listened for a while, and then went back to the Velcro.

 ‘Need some help with that?’ asked the homeless girl.

 He tugged at the fastening. ‘Did I hurt you?’ he asked.

 ‘No. You’re the one who jumped in front of a moving car.’

 ‘Only a bit,’ he replied.

 ‘And you were shot.’

 ‘Only in the hand.’

 He finally managed to get the Velcro shut. Hearing a rustle, he looked up again to see the homeless girl taking something out of her jacket. She ripped it in half, and gave it to him. ‘Here you go.’

 He looked at it. The rain sounded heavily on the roof.

 He began to laugh. ‘You’re crazy!’ he said.

 ‘Yeah.’

 He took the opened packet of Haribos and tucked it into his sling. ‘My name’s ‘Melia,’ she said.

 Cola bottle in hand, he looked her in the eye. ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ he asked. ‘You’re a little young to be an accessory to murder. You don’t want it on your CV.’

 She reached over and stole a green gummy bear. ‘And you do?’ she asked.

 ‘I was sentenced to lethal injection six years ago,’ he said. ‘It’s not like I can get any deader.’

 ‘Can’t fold,’ she said. ‘Stakes are too high.’ She took another thing out of her inside pocket, a note scribbled on the back of a receipt. ‘It’s in your hand,’ she said, thrusting it at him. He heard her footsteps die in the rain.

 

 vi.

 There was a sharp sound as the grey-haired man’s coffee mug exploded in his hand. He clutched his wrist, blood seeping out from between the china shards embedded in it.

 ‘You bastard!’ he yelled. ‘What did you offer her?’

 ‘The truth,’ said the fox, levelling his silenced gun. ‘From the beginning. Melia, you may want to step outside for a moment.’ She did.

 ‘You know her name?’ he asked.

 ‘What – the slut?’ said the grey-haired man.

 ‘No, not Melia,’ said the fox. ‘The other girl. Three years ago – the girl you killed. You know her name?’

 ‘What? No!’

 ‘I did,’ he said, and fired.

 -

 Melia had found a yoghurt in his rucksack and was sitting on a railing and swinging her oversized boots as she ate it. It was one of those vanilla ones with a corner full of crunchy chocolate things. There was a rather nice sunset going on behind the sunset across the river.

 He came out, slowly, and sat down on the ground. ‘Hey, Fox,’ she said.

 He looked up, as if surprised. ‘Hey.’

 She threw a pear at him and he caught it in his good hand. 

 ‘Using him?’ he queried.

 ‘The house.’ She brought the keys out of her pocket and jingled them. ‘Legally mine now. Not that I’m staying – his friends’d know.’

 ‘Where are you heading next?’

 ‘Me? Where are you heading?’

 ‘I haven’t decided yet.’ He held out the pear and she snapped off the stem for him. ‘But I think it’ll most likely be Guadeloupe. I know people out there, and… after you’ve done some work, it’s always good to take a holiday.’

 ‘I’ve never been on holiday,’ said Melia, swinging her boots. ‘What’s Guadeloupe like?’

 ‘Safe,’ he said. ‘You want to come with me? You could be my niece. I haven’t had a niece in a while.’

 Melia raised the lid of the yoghurt into the air, and let the wind take it. It blew straight towards Fox, who smiled and brushed it away.

 ‘Yeah, OK,’ she said. 


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