A STRONG TOWER

 

PART TWELVE: BURGERS, BOMBS, AND BUSHES



"I'm no thinkin' this is verra safe."

"Broch? You ARE here!"  Bridgid exclaimed delightedly.

"She's read a good 250 pages. She's no afeared o' me sae much," Broch smiled, adding, "though she says she's no goin' tae do ma Scot full-out."



"Probably wise," Bridgid nodded, glad that she might now actually understand some of what he might say.

Right at that moment he said, "OCH!", which is Scotspeak for Ack!

"You oched?" Layne asked, clutching Cort's arm, still blinking from the sudden light at the end of the tunnel which, though not the headlight of an on-coming train, was still nothing to be sneezed at as it was, indeed, a SWAT vehicle.

"Ahhh CHOO!"

"Who sneezed?" Franki asked, reaching for her supply of garlic.

No one replied...possibly because they had all begun gasping from the billowing cloud of tear gas that was rising rapidly up their thighly regions.

"This way!" Himself hollered, grabbing Phyllis and plunging up a slope covered in brittle brown Queen Anne's Lace that had been recently frosted.

"You're sure, Himself?" Joimus asked, curious as to why their intrepid leader was leading them directly into the deepest, most fearsome section of the dreaded Squirrel Hill suburb.

"It's that way or...them!" He paused only long enough to point down to the massed riot police on the Parkway East.



"Ah, well, ok then," she agreed, praying under her breath as she broke through the brittle weeds, her eyes fixed on the higher ridge where who knew what waited, lurking and furry.

Maximus had his rust-colored cape wrapped completely over Dess, shielding his son from the ill vapors. He looked anxiously to the side, needing to know that Sid was taking care of Livi, his other son, but Sid had used his full nanocapabilities and was well ahead of them all.

When they had regrouped at the corner of Murray and Forbes, watched by thousands of unseen small beady eyes, Himself caught his breath then announced, "I think we should go on into Oakland. Oakland is where the Pitt students are and will be safe as the riot police will surely leave them alone."  It was, alas, not one of his better ideas.

"Now?"

"No, not yet," Hercathia replied. "In the next chapter. This one we leave to the combined law enforcement forces."

"Not...that?!" gasped the other.

"Yes...that," Hercathia smiled, stretching out on a limb to watch the unsuspecting cast pass below.



"It's getting dark," Steve complained, "and my feet are sore."

"We'll stop here in Schenley Plaza," Himself said. "Just stretch out on the grass and make yourself comfortable. This is a really peaceful, quiet area and we'll all be fine here."

Himself, Aubrey, Terry and Bud did a food run to a nearby restaurant catering to the University crowd, returning with bags of burgers, fries, onion rings, and little pouches of catsup. "It's America," Himself shrugged when Robin looked at him, one eyebrow dramatically raised.

"I never had a bite to eat in Australia," Robin continued, "as well as having no idea how I even GOT there, and now I find myself in...in...Pittsburgh with THIS presented to me as sustenance."

"Better than some of what you ate on crusade, I bet," Joimus retorted, handing Dess a French fry.
 

Robin quieted, remembering a meal of grubs soaked in a bit of vinegar warmed over camel dung.


Terry sat cross-legged beside Himself on the grass, carefully lifting the top half of a sesame seed
bun to see what all might lie beneath. "Who are you bringing to life here?" he asked.



"John," Himself sighed.

"You made me in New York," Cristofuoro hastened to say.

"And me in Canada," Biebe added, lowering himself with great care as his leg still throbbed despite the crushed garlic Franki had given Buggie to rub on it.



"And me in New Jersey," Nash spoke up, eyeing the pigeons who had come to stare at them while they ate.

"And me in Australia," Johnny said softly, pulling Marie's hand into his lap.

"I know...I know," Himself murmured, shaking his head. "I, however, do not name my characters. I merely give them life."

"I'm not so sure 'merely' is the right word, Himself," Lachlan said. "I, for one, am very glad for your gift."

Sid snorted loudly and with profound disgust. Himself turned his head, looking at his nanotech through half-lidded eyes. Sid could be a real pain in the butt, but, well, he did have his uses, so he let one corner of his mouth twitch in a smile.



Maximus saw that and was not pleased. Nor, alas, was he entertained. A low growl rumbled in the deeps of his throat. Sid, of course, heard and lifted Livi, dandling him on his bent knees. Maximus growled again and Sid smiled.


They were tired, most of them with no idea how long it had been since they'd had any sleep. For some it had been months. Many months. Those were especially tired. At least they were not bloodied and cleaved and lying in the mud. Not yet, anyway. Joimus smiled to herself. Ben, watching, shuddered.


Across a side street, a plump man sat atop a bronze diplodocus outside the museum, a nuclear bomb in his pants pocket. He was being interviewed by some journalist from DC.  "So, Mr. Hoffman," the journalist was saying, "and how often do you actually, um, use your personal cache of nuclear weaponry?"

"Will you be quiet!" Hoffman snapped. "Don't you know the world leaders are in town? You want to get me in trouble?"



"Could be interesting," the journalist smiled, his accent betraying him as a native of the current location.

"There," Himself said, nodding toward the two. "They've shown up."

"Who's shown up?" Terry asked, following Himself's gaze.



"Ed and Cal. I figured they would sooner or later."

"But they're not with us," Terry pointed out.

"They will be," Himself said. "They're not by the dinosaur for nothing, you know."

"At least it's not a T-Rex," Terry added. "We should be grateful for that much."

"It's bronze," Jeffrey supplied.

"You think in epis THAT matters?" Himself sighed.


"You sigh a lot, Himself," Terry observed.

Himself sighed again.

"Am I ever going to get a line to say?" Hando groused.

"Soon," Joimus smiled. "Very soon."

"He's cute," Ngaio said, actually being Beej but being New Zealandingly difficult to pronounce.

"Who, Ngaio?" Tonia asked, trying to remember that Ngaio was pronounced Nye-oh and not Nuh guy ee oh.

"Him...on the diplodocus."

"The one with the grey hair that looks like it was mowed?"


Ngaio frowned at her. "Well, just look at that nice bulge he has!" she huffed.

"It's a bomb," Terry filled in, "not...."

"Humph!" Ngaio humphed, getting up and walking toward the bronze, Alex looking forlornly after her.

"Perhaps you need more of a bulge, Alex?" Tonia tried. "She seems to find that attractive."

"I bulge just the same as the rest of them!" Alex blurted, angry now. "JUST the same!"



Tonia looked at Himself, still sitting cross-legged not far away. "Yes," she nodded, "yes, I expect that's true."

"Of COURSE it's true!" Alex huffed, standing and hurrying after the departing English Maori woman.

Ngaio stopped near the dino's nose, rubbing her left palm back and forth across its smooth surface. "Hello, there," she said, looking up at the seated man in the grey suit. "Do you sit astride dinosaurs...often?"

"Is it Thursday?" Ed asked.

"Friday," she replied, "all day." Though how she knew that was a mystery.


"Good!" Ed smiled, sliding down the twenty-foot long tail. "I only ride dinosaurs on Fridays."

Cal was writing down their conversation on a tattered yellow pad with a stubby pencil that had no eraser. Ed noticed and said, "Don't print that."

"Why not?" Cal grinned.


 

But Ed merely cupped his hand over the bomb and turned back to Ngaio, who'd almost fallen to the ground at the sight of his motion. "Are you all right, Miss?" he asked, concerned.

"She's fine! Just fine!" Alex snapped, stepping up close to her other side. It was merely her other side and not her far side as he was not Aubrey.

Ngaio looked back and forth between Alex and Ed, feeling like a piece of baloney between two slices of bread. Two? She was going to have two now? Her gaze was pulled inexorably back to Ed, though, as he kept his hand cupped over his bomb. Her knees went all weak again.

"How...how many...megatons?" she managed to gasp.

"Enough," Ed replied, a wide grin spreading across his face.


Even though he was not actually Himself, Alex sighed. How could a mere sausage compare with a nuclear warhead? And where was a dog when you needed one? He looked wistfully back at Wadsworth, wondering if the shepherd had a taste for weaponry.

It was getting late now and for some reason Pitt students were gathering on the Plaza's grass, talking in clumps, looking around as though not sure what to expect or just why they were there. "What time is it?" one asked another.

"10:41 PM," the other supplied.

"Ah, well, then, I guess nothing's going to happen."

A few strange people, one dressed as a cow, mingled among the students. "Anarchists," someone muttered.


"How can you tell?"

"They're Twittering the cops' announcements."

"Really?"

"Yup."

"What a marvelous modern world we live in!" And the speaker wasn't even the good Captain.

Suddenly from the southwest corner of the square a Long Range Acoustic Device split the night air. "This is an unlawful assembly. You will disperse...NOW!"

"What WAS that?" Zack exclaimed, blood dripping from his ears.



"An L-rad!" Stacey cried, bending over Sid, who with his extraordinary hearing, had almost melted in place. "Darling? Darling?" But his eyes were twirling in their sockets most distressingly and she couldn't help him because she was using her hands to cover Livi's ears.
 

"Disperse?" Richie shouted, trying to get Tonia to hear him above the horrendous belch of sound that was causing the autumn leaves to fall off the trees and their bark to splinter. "Why are we supposed to disperse?"



"Maybe it has something to do with the onion rings?" Robin ventured, trying to hold Lady Meggie upright.

"Did we arrive in Pittsburgh illegally?" Bud asked no one in particular.

"Do any of us actually have...papers?" Cort said.


"What's happening???" Marie cried.



"Oh...God," Bud sighed, recognizing the hammer and anvil tactic the riot police were beginning. "Hurry!" He grabbed Berti and made for the lawn between the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel, just across Forbes.



Oleoresin Capsicum filled the air. "Close your eyes!" Marcy moaned, pressing close to Marshall. "It can make you go temporarily blind!"

"Really?" Marshall asked, lifting his head. "Temporary, you say?"

"This is no time for levity, people!" Joimus snapped, peering briefly out from under Maximus' cape as they hurried past.
 

"Sorry!" Marshall called, obediently closing his eyes, his hand curled around Wadsworth's harness.

"That guy!" a cop from Florida shouted. "He's making off with a K-9!"

Terry swooped past, grabbing Marshall's elbow, hurrying him across Forbes and under a large rhododendron. "Not like Tuscany, is it?" Terry observed, breaking out a little tin of green camo and smearing it across his cheekbones.


 

A group of five Cleveland police were pursuing Hando. He was obviously a leader of the anarchists and must be stopped! Hando leapt over a low hedge, dropped and rolled down a small slope but was pounced on by all five before he could gain his feet. His white teeth flashed in a grim grin and he twisted, throwing them all into a bed of withered begonias. "Not me, coppers!" he hooted, darting under a low railing and disappearing into the darkness.

He stopped under a ginkgo tree, looking for Joimus. "Not me, coppers? THAT'S my line?" he growled.


 

"It's more than I've gotten," Arthur announced, peeking out from behind a bench. He had Ando by the hand, though, and was quite satisfied with his lot.


The rhododendrons were large and thick, serving to conceal most of the 62 or so members of the cast. Stephen had instantly changed into Charles for evasion purposes, which seemed to be working quite nicely for him... if only he'd remembered to drop Stephen's cello.


"This is utter chaos," Maximus muttered, not pleased to find himself crouched under a bush to avoid conflict.

"Yes," Joimus smiled happily. "And isn't it wonderful?"

"You know," he added, "I love you despite your being a Pittsburgher."

"I do know," she nodded, "and I'm truly grateful. You may kiss me if you like."

"Under a bush? With police running everywhere? With students screaming and the acoustic thingie breaking eardrums as far away as Philadelphia?"

"Yes. Now." Pittsburghers were like that. They enjoyed kissing no matter what.

Except for Hando under the ginkgo and Arthur and Ando behind the bench, all the cast spent the night tucked under the rhododendrons, avoiding arrest, but, alas, not the rain, which started again just as things quieted down.

"It is wet," Maximus stated.

"You noticed," Joimus replied.

Huge drops were dripping off the end of his nose. "Hard not to," he said, wringing out his beard. His hair was too short to wring successfully. "My faux fur is dampening."

"We'll find a public restroom in the morning and hold it under a hand dryer," she said encouragingly.

"It will...clump."

"Shhhh!" Nash reprimanded. "The pigeons and I are trying to sleep."



Joimus really wanted to ask him why he was sleeping with pigeons, but she knew better. Ever since Toronto she'd known better.

 

CONTINUED DIRECTLY NOW IN THE UNKNOWN PLOT

 

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