In Memory of Ed Wooton
For the Love - 26. The Guns of Piedmont
The first bullet whizzed past my nose, kicking up a cloud of dust as it slammed into the concrete an inch from my shoulder.
I frantically scrambled backwards, desperate to get out from under the table, knocking over a crate of car parts, which scattered all around me as I did. A second bullet slammed into the jumble of car parts, and I felt a sting on my arm from the shrapnel it blasted loose.
Leaping to my feet in the narrow walkway, I ran back in the direction I had come. A flashlight beam shone through a gap in the boxes ahead, so I doubled back, darting past the table, hoping like hell that I didn't end up in a dead-end.
Muffled shouts from the main work area filtered through the high stacks and let me know that at least one guy was heading for the back of the building to head me off. I knew there were at least two mechanics. So that made four people that I had to worry about, at least one of them armed.
At a T-junction in the walkway, I looked to my left at stacks upon stacks of old car parts littering the walkway. Spinning around, I hoped to have better luck with the other branch only to find myself staring down the barrel of the sheriff's revolver.
I ducked back the way I had come just as he fired. I felt something hot on my ear and my head was slammed by the loudest thunderclap I'd ever heard. I stumbled, trying to run, bouncing off the walls of precariously stacked boxes, frantically trying to dodge the random protruding rusty junk and barely aware of the warm liquid dripping down the side of my neck.
My ears still ringing, I couldn't hear, nor could I spare a glance behind me. I spotted, almost in time, a length of rusty exhaust pipe at knee level, right in front of me. I tried to jump over it, stumbling, as my foot caught it, hurling me forward. As I fell another shattering bang split the confined space followed by the whine of a bullet passing through the area occupied by my torso a split-second before.
Hitting the ground hard, I flipped over as the sheriff lumbered down the walkway, just a few feet from me, raising his gun.
Everything seemed to slow down. I watched as the gun came up, and knew there was no way I could evade in time. The sheriff completed one final stride, coming to a halt just a couple of feet from my legs, as he brought his gun to bear on my head, the muzzle looming enormous in my vision.
I turned my head away, not wanting to see the final flash, staring instead at the old boxes and crates stacked high on both sides of us. Before I could even think the thought, my arms shot out, seeking purchase, I kicked as hard as I could against the wall of junk.
Nothing happened, and I waited for the bullet. I glanced up at the sheriff, just in time to see the expression on his ruddy face change from anger to concern. I watched, still seeing everything in slow motion, as he looked to his right at the crumbling wall of heavy crates. His eyes darted once, from the crates, back to me, and then to his gun. With a roar of rage, he turned slightly, raising his free hand to push against the teetering stack of boxes, blocking his line of fire in the process.
I scurried, still on my back, scrambling to get up, still expecting a bullet at any moment. The sheriff directed his attention to the boxes, as one from the top of the pile, a few feet above his head, teetered, tipped, and began to fall.
I was a dozen feet from the sheriff, and I hesitated for a moment as I pulled my knees under me, entering a crouch, hoping that the falling box would distract him enough, and give me an opening to attack and get his gun. No such luck; he swatted the box aside and focused his attention on me again.
The table where I'd been discovered was beside me, so I spun and rolled under it then scrambled through the gap in the boxes beneath it, coming back upright on the far side. I stood up to find a welcoming committee; the two mechanics a car-length away, one swinging a heavy chain. Spying an old camshaft on the table beside me, I snatched it up as I backpedaled away, toward the rear of the building. I turned and ran, heading for the door that I hoped would be there.
Sure enough, I spotted the door as I neared the end of the building, but I also noticed the padlock. I turned back to find the two mechanics still where I'd left them, blocking my route to the front of the building, with Eric leaning nonchalantly against Steve's Charger, watching the proceedings with a bemused look on his face.
I figured I had a good chance against the two mechanics, but not with the sheriff and his gun about to appear at my back at any second. To my right was a likely looking walkway into the maze of stacked boxes and parts. The sheriff was in there, somewhere, but I hoped I'd have more cover than out in the bay.
Still clutching the camshaft, I ran for the opening as the mechanics closed in on me. I passed a wall of parts trays, and paused long enough to grab a tray and heave, bringing the stack down behind me with an enormous clatter, blocking the mechanics from following, at least for a while.
The walkway doglegged to the left, heading in the general direction of my hole in the side of the building, raising my hopes. Another dogleg crushed them, as I entered the gap between the stacks and the wall of the building to find the Sheriff, his gun drawn, bearing down on me but still thirty feet away. I ducked backwards, and had cleared the walkway by a few feet before I heard the now-familiar bark of the sheriff's gun. He'd missed me by several feet and almost two seconds, but now I had the mechanics ahead of me, the sheriff behind me, and no other route out of the maze. I was trapped.
The clang of metal from beyond the dogleg informed me that the grease-monkeys were clearing the blockage I'd thrown in their path.
Tossing the camshaft aside, I studied the wall of crates for a second. I didn't see any good handholds, and figured it would probably collapse on top of me, but I couldn't see any other options. I began to climb, frantically pulling myself up, scrambling for handholds as the old wooden crates began to shift sickeningly. I shot up the stacks, I don't quite know how, hauling myself onto the top boxes just as they began to fall. I tucked my shoulder and rolled, wincing as my bare skin hit uneven metal, barely managing to clear the top of the falling boxes in time. Finally on firmer terrain, I looked out across the sea of crates, randomly pilled higher in places, wondering what the hell they would ever do with all that rusty, greasy, dirty old crap.
Running my hands down my sweaty torso, I encountered a trail of blood. I followed the trail with my hands, up to my shoulder, then to it's source on my ear. I felt the wound, relieved to find just a small nick. Nothing too bad judging by the way it felt; a few cuts were the least of my current concerns.
I heard a commotion below me, raised voices as the sheriff encountered the mechanics;"Where the hell is he?" I heard the sheriff yell.
Staying perfectly still, trying not to breathe, I waited, doing some mental counting as I tried to calm my pounding heart.
"He must have found another way through," said one of the voices, "I'll head for the front, and make sure he doesn't get away."
I relaxed, slightly, until I heard the sheriff holler, "See this pile of scrap between us? How do you think it got here? I didn't see any other way out of the walkway, so he must have pulled it down, then used it to climb out."
Crap. I had to make them think otherwise, and fast. Grabbing an old radiator fan, which stuck out of the top of a box beside me, I heaved it, watching as it arched across the open space before coming down with a clatter near the far end of the building.
The sheriff yelled, "Hear that? He must be over th..."
The sheriff never finished his sentence, because Eric's voice came echoing from the front of the dimly lit building, "He just threw something to make a noise. I saw it come from down your end."
"He's above us," said the sheriff in a low voice, "one of you climb up somewhere and flush the bastard out for me."
I heard the clang of metal, and expected to see a head poke over the edge at any moment. I stood up, and took a flying leap over the gap. I glanced down as I passed overhead, seeing the sheriff and the mechanics looking up at me, their eyes wide in surprise.
Again a shot rang out, as I landed on a heap of old hubcaps, slipping to a crouch as I skidded to a halt.
And that made six! The sheriff's gun was a revolver, and he'd just fired his sixth shot. I hoped like hell that he hadn't reloaded before now, and risked a peek over the edge, down into the walkway.
The sheriff had the gun open, a black speed-loader in hand, giving me a chance. I grabbed an old alternator and chucked it down; smiling at the dull thud and the mumbled cry of pain that met my ears. A box crammed full to overflowing with valve stems was the next item over the edge, and I heard a yelp and a gasp as it slammed into the sheriff. Below it was pay dirt; an old cylinder head. I heaved it up, flinging it into the space above the sheriff, but it slammed into the concrete, having missed its target by inches.
I looked behind me at the hubcaps I'd landed on, especially at their sharp metal edges. I scooped up an armful and sprang back to the edge overlooking the walkway and the sheriff. The sheriff was struggling to get up off the ground, still hunched over, feeling around on the floor, presenting me with a perfect and very large target. Whipping it down as hard as I could, I hurled a hubcap like an oversized Frisbee, letting out a grunt of joy as I nailed the sheriff right in the ass. I heard him howl and saw blood, as my next shot knocked his hat off, pegging him in the back of the head with a very satisfying 'clang'.
The sheriff collapsed like a sack of wet cement, leaving me with just the unarmed mechanics to deal with. They were still standing, edging backwards, on the far side of the debris that I'd knocked into the walkway. In two long bounds I was above them, hubcaps still in hand. I let one fly, but the mechanic ducked, and it clattered into the walkway behind him, having missed his throat by mere inches. I kicked over a box of old mufflers, hoping that would keep the mechanics occupied, as I turned back to finish what I'd started with the sheriff.
I snatched up another alternator then stood on the edge, right over him, and watched as he struggled to get up again, clutching at his shin. I raised the alternator over my head with both hands before hurling it down it as hard as I could. I swore as it slammed into the concrete, after missing the sheriff's head by inches. Another crate teetered nearby, so I began pulling on it, trying to send it crashing down on the sheriff. Just as the heavy crate started to move, I looked down.
The sheriff stood up, a small gun in his hands. That's why he'd be been clutching at his shin; he was going for a backup gun. The crate was moving, he'd never get the gun up in time. The crate slid forward, and then jammed between two others, coming to a stop over the sheriff's head.
I turned, struggling to navigate the precarious footing over the piles of junk, glad that I was at least out of the sheriff's line of fire. I leapt over another walkway, barely keeping my footing, heading in the general direction of the front of the building.
Lowering myself over the edge of a walkway, I dropped, landing on my feet, running for the opening into the main bay just feet away. I dashed out to find myself just feet from Steve's Charger. The only thing in my way was one large, mean-looking mechanic. He lunged at me, so I rushed into him, bringing my knee up squarely in his nuts. He wheezed, clutching himself as he hit the ground, and I stepped over him, looking up at my salvation; Steve's Charger, with only Eric, leaning against a fender, in my way. Eric turned and trotted away, so I yanked open the driver's side door, jumped in, and turned the key.
Or, I would have, had the key still been in it. Oh, shit!I looked out the windshield to see Eric smiling back at me from twenty feet away. Behind him, at the opposite end of the building, an even less welcome sight presented itself: the sheriff, as he limped and staggered into the main bay, his small gun in hand.
I jumped out of the Charger and ran for the main door. I shoved the doors hard, and even though they were chained shut, I forced enough of a gap to allow me to squeeze through into the dazzling sunlight. I turned, running hard, only to find the sheriff's cruiser parked in my path. I doubted there was any chance, but I slowed enough to glance in the side window.
Keys... He'd left the keys in the ignition! I tugged open the door and jumped in, turning the key. The engine purred and started right away, and I whooped like a banshee as I spun around to look behind me and slammed the cruiser into reverse. I floored it, lurching backwards, heading for the scrap yard's main gate. I whipped the steering wheel hard over before slamming on the brakes, trying to skid the big cruiser around. My maneuver worked perfectly, except for my arm hitting some dashboard controls as I spun around in my seat to look out the windshield. The howl of the siren scared the hell out of me and I frantically tried to find the off switch, but couldn't. In my rearview mirror I saw the building's door open wide, the sheriff and a mechanic trotting out, the sheriff clutching his ass with one hand and his gun in the other.
I looked straight ahead, at the heavy gate of the scrap yard, which was closed. To the right of it was chain link fence. I floored the accelerator, surging forward in a cloud of dust, I veered right, aiming for the fence.
Fishtailing a little, I braced myself as the cruiser lurched over the rough ground, sideswiping a pile of wrecked cars moments before I crashed headlong into the fence.
The car shuddered as I hit and even over the wail of the siren, I heard a loud whangas the fence stretched, then gave way. The cruiser skidded into the street, the chain link fence wrapped around its nose, and I kept my foot on the gas, aiming down the street. Something jerked the car to the right and I struggled to steer against it. The screech of protesting metal met my ears as the other end of the fence gave way, and I rapidly picked up speed, with fifty foot of chain link fence trailing along behind me. I whipped around the first turn to the right, only to find myself in a cul-de-sac. I spun the car around, the fence lashed out like the world's largest weed whacker; shredding any mailboxes and bushes in its path.
Cursing the delay my detour had cost me, I turned right onto the street again, catching sight of Steve's Charger emerging from the scrap yard to my left, Eric at the wheel and the sheriff in the passenger seat.
Two blocks later, with the Charger well behind me, I skidded around a likely looking right turn a little too fast, skidding almost off the road as the trailing fence took out another row of mailboxes. The road turned to pavement again and I picked up more speed, glancing nervously at the trailing chain-link as it raised a cloud of sparks. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the Charger wasn't following me.
I approached Piedmont's main street, planning to turn left then run for the county line, when I saw, up ahead at the corner, the Piedmont sheriff's station. I suppose it was too much to hope for that they wouldn't notice their sheriff's personal cruiser roaring by, siren howling, trailing fifty foot of disintegrating fence and a big cloud of sparks.
They noticed all right. Two officers, standing by their vehicles in the parking lot, watched open-mouthed as I drove by. I saw them diving for their patrol cars as I whipped around the corner onto main street, not bothering to stop. I felt the cruiser drift a little in the turn as the fence whipped to the right, scything through a row of newspaper vending machines on the sidewalk. I kept my foot on the accelerator, hard against the floorboards, the cruiser shuddering as I passed ninety, screeching past the diner, siren blaring, my view out the mirror obscured by the sparks and smoke, but I was glad to see that Piedmont's only traffic light was green in my direction.
Ahead of me lay the highway back to Lonesome Valley. Under me, though, was a new and unwelcome sound: a thumping tire. I blanched, taking my foot off the gas, slowing down to sixty before the left front tire ripped apart, lashing the side of the cruiser in a hail of smoke and rubber, the metal cords of the tire's steel belting ripping the fender to shreds before finally leaving the rim bare. I felt the shudder and heard the screech as the rim hit pavement, the cruiser swerving to the left as I wrestled with the steering wheel, coughing from the acrid smoke.
I kept my foot off the brake, slowing down to thirty before taking a left, decapitating another mailbox with the trailing fence, trying to think up some way out. I fought to keep the car pointing down the street, goosing the gas a little, keeping as much speed as I dared, hoping to find somewhere to pull in, change the tire, remove the fence. I tried again to find the off switch for the damn siren, but couldn't see it.
In my rearview mirror, I saw a patrol car roar past the turnoff, heading up the highway, lights blazing. I breathed a sigh of relief, until a second patrol car turned off the highway and onto the street behind me, just a few hundred yards back.
Blind panic at the sight of the Piedmont cruiser closing in gripped me as I took the next left then stomped on the gas, barely holding fifty miles an hour, fighting against the pull of the steering wheel as I straightened the car out, heading back towards downtown Piedmont.
I saw the patrol car whip around behind me, gaining fast, as I neared the end of the street. I was relieved to see that the street didn't dead-end; it just turned back to the left. I took the corner and then floored it, the left front rim howling in protest. I passed the diner again as I accelerated through fifty miles an hour, still trailing the fence, with both the fence and the bare rim raising shimmering columns of sparks. I turned right, siren howling, careening around the diner's corner, and back onto the main street, but the right turn was too much while running on a left front rim, and I skidded through the intersection, jumped the curb, finally straightening out on the sidewalk after sideswiping a building, barreling up the pavement on the wrong side of the road. I had no chance at all of avoiding the fire hydrant ahead.
Bracing for impact, I kept my foot on the gas, slamming into the hydrant dead-on. I felt a sharp jolt against my foot as the broken hydrant tumbled and ricocheted under the floorboards, between the car and the sidewalk, I glanced down to see pavement through a jagged, gaping hole an inch from my foot.
Once clear of the hydrant, and after demolishing a mailbox, I pulled the car to the right, shooting diagonally across the opposing, and fortunately empty, lane of traffic. I straightened out, the training trailing chain-link fence again whipsawing out, shredding the town's only public flowerbed. I looked ahead, hoping to duck down a side street before the pursuing patrol car caught sight of me. If I could run for it on foot, I could call Betty and have her pick me up, maybe. I knew she had to be around somewhere, and Piedmont was pretty small, nowhere was more than a few blocks from anywhere else.
Nearly out of control, I spun the wheel hard over at the next right, finding myself on a very familiar street: Oak Street. Ahead of me was the sheriff's house, so I floored the cruiser as the patrol car entered the street behind me, just fifty yards back and closing rapidly in spite of the sparks from the fence. I kept my foot on the gas, passing fifty as I started to loose control. The cruiser began to fishtail and I pulled the steering wheel to the right just a little too fast. The bare rim dug in, and the car began to swerve sideways at sixty miles an hour. I knew there was a left at the end of the street, but I had no chance of making it. I could only think of one way to shake the patrol car long enough to get away on foot; drive through the sheriff's fence, hoping the patrol car wouldn't follow, swing out of sight around the sheriff's garage, then run for it, maybe back through the drainage ditch I'd used, what seemed like a lifetime ago.
Fighting for control, I kept my foot on the gas, lining up on the sheriff's gate, which was now just yards away. I slammed into the fancy wrought iron, the impact bouncing me off the steering wheel, but the cruiser smashed through the gate, ripping the hood from the sheriff's car in the process. After I pulled myself back upright, a panicked glance out the windshield gave me a spectacular view of the sheriff's onrushing living room windows, right before I plowed through them.
I held on as the world exploded around me, slamming me with concussions. The cruiser careened upwards, the windows almost covered with debris, and I had a fleeting glimpse of the sheriff's ornate living room as the cruiser tore through it, sideways.
Finally, everything stopped moving, the engine died and the siren whined to a halt. I tried to open the car door, finally crawling through after slamming it with my shoulder a few times. I staggered through what was left of the kitchen, dazed, coughing in the choking clouds of plaster dust and smoke, stumbling on the haphazard debris, wondering why I could smell rotten eggs.
Through the debris and dust, I saw a door and stumbled towards it, skirting the still-glowing left front wheel rim of the cruiser, only to find that the door wouldn't open. I kicked it, and nearly fell through as it flew open. I staggered forward, rubbing the stinging dust from my eyes, to find myself in the sheriff's back yard, right next to his garage. There, too, was the sheriff himself, stumbling out of a tool shed; he did not look overly pleased.
The sheriff dropped the roll of bandages that he had been holding and pulled up his pants as I stood there gaping. Movement to my left caught my attention, and I looked to see a deputy running around the front corner of the house, less than two hundred feet away. I turned to run as the sheriff scrambled for his gun. I ran past the end of the garage, glancing back to see how close my pursuers were, when I spotted Eric standing next to the closed door of the garage. I was about to turn forward and run as hard as I could, when I remembered Eric's grin at the scrap yard. They must have come straight back here, and Eric had been driving.
I knew I had no real chance of getting away on foot, so a slim chance being better than none I turned, sprinting hard to close the gap with Eric. Eric turned to run, but I grabbed him by the hair, yanking him back towards me so that I could reach into his pocket.
Cold metal met my fingers, and I yanked it out, relieved to see that it was indeed the key to Steve's Charger. I pulled my arm back, still gripping Eric's hair, and straight-armed him face-first into the stucco of the garage wall, where he bounced off with a very satisfying thud, blood gushing from his nose.
Throwing the garage door up with a bang, I darted inside, leaping into the driver's seat of the Charger, turned the key, and sighed in relief as the big V-8 roared to life. I slipped the car into reverse, screeching the tires as I pulled out of the garage. Checking that the back gate was still open, I accelerated towards it in reverse, glancing through the windshield to see the deputy drawing his gun, standing by the sheriff who was still struggling to hitch up his pants, less than fifty feet away.
I passed through the gate at a high rate of speed, swinging the back end around to head down the street, still in reverse, wobbling slightly as I over-corrected, desperate to get out of gun range as fast as possible. I had one last glimpse of the sheriff and his deputy, silhouetted against the sheriff's house, as the sheriff's kitchen windows flashed white, then blew out in a cloud of bright orange fire. My eyes opened wide as the fireball climbed into the sky, accompanied by sizable chunks of the sheriff's house, and I felt more than heard a deep, powerful 'whump'.
The fireball rose skyward, slowly transforming into a column of roiling back smoke with a flaming pyre beneath, rapidly spreading to the as-yet undamaged side of the sheriff's formerly palatial home.
Mesmerized by the sight, I barely missed a parked car. I slowed down a little, then used an intersection to flip the Charger around and head for downtown.
I began to breathe again. I was in a working car and all I had to do was get the hell out of Piedmont. I flipped a left onto the main street, slowing to a crawl as I drove through the water gushing from the broken fire hydrant, carefully dodging some of the debris from my earlier pass that littered the street. The light was red, but there was no traffic so I drove through, putting my peddle to the metal and passing a hundred miles an hour as the powerful engine surged to life with a throaty roar.
Digging in my pocket for the cell phone, I pulled it out and was relieved to see that I had three whole bars of actual signal. I hit speed dial for Betty's cell, and she picked up on the first ring. I had to hold the phone away from my ears as she screamed, "You fucking moron. I just saw you drive by in Steve's car. Are you out of your freaking mind?"
"Maybe," I admitted, "but things went kinda wrong and I had to get away. I'm heading for Lonesome Valley. They can't catch me in this." I said, finally starting to calm down a little, my hands trembling from the ebbing adrenalin high.
"Head straight for the sheriff's office there, I'll be right behind you. Jeeze, please tell me you didn't have anything to do with that big car chase earlier that damn near wrecked downtown, or the big explosion I just saw?" Betty asked.
I felt a lump in my throat as I answered, "I'll tell you later. I have to concentrate on my driving, bye." I hung up, just in time to catch sight of police lights closing in, half a mile behind me.
They were from a single cruiser, gaining slowly even though I was cruising at a hundred miles an hour. I put my foot right to the floorboards, causing the engine to roar as I felt the surge of acceleration. The speedometer needle climbed past a hundred and forty as I slowly gained ground, pulling away from my pursuer. The highway undulated slightly in places, causing the tires to squeal as I crested each slight rise, so I eased off, holding a hundred and forty five, as I raced for the safety of the county line.
In the distance I spotted another set of police lights, far ahead but closing in fast. I eased off the gas, the Charger rapidly slowing to eighty as the oncoming patrol car neared. I saw a cloud of white smoke as he slammed on his brakes, slewing his car sideways to block the highway. I dynamited the Charger's brakes, slowing down to fifty as the patrol car behind me closed the gap. I eased to the right, onto the rough gravel verge, missing the nose of the blocking patrol car by inches before struggling to steer the wildly bucking Charger back onto the road.
The impact on the Charger's back bumper threw me into a sideways skid, the Charger rotating through one hundred and eighty degrees, giving me a great view of the patrol car that had just bumped me. I slammed on the brakes as the patrol car closed in again, forcing him to swerve to avoid me. I came to a stop, flooring the accelerator, burning rubber as I accelerated back towards the patrol car blocking the highway. I was trapped between the Piedmont vehicles.
The pursuing cruiser closed in again, aiming for my back bumper. I'd seen the tactic on TV so I knew what to watch for; he was trying to hit me off-center to throw me into another spin. I eased off the gas as I approached the blocking patrol car, waiting until the pursuing vehicle was inches from my back bumper, ready to spin me out as I went around the blocking vehicle. I lightly tapped the brake pedal, just enough to light up the Charger's brake lights, and watched as the patrol car hit his brakes for real, allowing me to pull away and open a gap.
Swinging past the blocking car at only thirty miles an hour, the pursuing car now yards behind me, I flipped a U-turn, roaring past the nose of the blocking vehicle before the driver had a chance to react. Now past both Piedmont patrol cars, I was heading for Lonesome Valley in a car that could easily out-run them.
Both patrol cars pulled into pursuit, but I floored the Charger, running it up to a hundred and forty-five again, relieved to see my pursuers gradually falling behind. I slowed down slightly as I dialed my phone, punching in the Lonesome Valley Sheriff's office number, and feeling relieved when they picked up on the first ring. I found that I was speaking to an officer who was aware of much of the situation with the Piedmont Sheriff's Department.
After telling him who I was, I said, as calmly as I could manage, "I'm on the Piedmont road, heading towards Lonesome Valley and the county line, with two Piedmont patrol cars in pursuit. I've got hard evidence against the Piedmont Sheriff and they've been trying to kill me to get it back."
The response was an ominous silence, with a just a dash of static.
A few moments passed, and the officer returned to the line, "Keep ahead of them. One of our patrol cars is on its way and will turn those Piedmont cars back if they attempt to pursue past the county line. Our car gave an estimated time of arrival of five minutes for the county line, so you'll get there first, but just keep on coming and stay ahead of them if you can. Just get across that county line and proceed directlyto this office." The last part, I knew, was an order, one that I was more than willing to obey.
Entering a straight and level stretch of highway, I goosed the Charger up to a hundred and fifty, the wind noise so loud I could barely think. I breathed a sigh of relief as the Piedmont patrol cars fell further behind, with the county line just a few quick miles ahead.
Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to Conner for editing, support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions on this chapter.
Many thanks also to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions (and for thinking up a title!).
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading and advice, and for putting up with me.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.
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