I burst into the house, Lance and Trinity at my heels.
“Quincy, is he okay?”
Lance and Trinity’s mother looked up from the table where she was feeding Macy. She shook her head. I patted the toddler on her head and dropped a kiss on Quincy’s head.
I paused in the bedroom door. My grandfather lay in his bed, face towards the window watching the sun move across the sky.
“Grandpa,” I said slowly walking to his bed. “I hear you decided to take some time off.”
“Crystal.” He held out a hand towards me and I took it in mine. “Sit. I need to talk to you.”
I sat on the side of the bed. “Grandpa, what did the doctor say?”
“He said I’m an old man who needs to take it easy for the next few weeks.”
“Did he give you anything?”
“He said he couldn’t until he got money.” Grandpa turned to me and I saw the pallor of his face.
“Grandpa, tell me the truth. It’s bad isn’t it?” I forced him to look at me.
He sighed. “It’s bad, Crystal.”
He flipped back the blankets and I gasped. The bandage across his stomach was soaked. I reached out with one hand and touched the blood.
“Grandpa, what happened?” I grabbed a wad of the cotton the doctor had left on the bedside table.
“I got shot, Crystal. Look, I need you to do something for me.”
I continued layer the wound with cotton, pressing down to stop the bleeding. He grabbed my hand and stopped me.
“Grandpa, you have to let me help you.”
The tone was one that was not to be disobeyed. I raised my head and looked him in the eyes.
“Honey, you have to do something for me.”
“Anything, Grandpa, anything.” I stroked his face and tried to smile but the tears where forming.
This was the man who had raised me since I was seven, the man who had taken Pete and Quincy and they’re family in off the streets. And now he was lying here bleeding and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.
“Crystal, I need you to take something to some people.”
“Can you not be any more cryptic?” I slipped onto the floor and knelt beside the bed.
He laughed a little. “Sorry, but I can’t say much more. There’s an envelope in my end table. Take it west.”
“West, what’s there?” I opened the drawer and peered inside. There, lying in the bottom was an unmarked yellow envelope. I pulled it out and felt it. It was thick and bendy. Papers were my best guess.
“Go west, follow the music and they’ll tell you what to do. Listen to them, trust them, do what they say.”
“Who’s ‘they’? Grandpa, you’re confusing me. How far west? I’ve been west. There’s nothing out there but the harbour and more slums.”
“Farther west then that, Crystal. Go farther west then you have ever gone and follow the music from there.”
“What music?” I fingered the flap but his hands stopped me.
“Don’t open it. Only he can. Just do what I say. Give it to Dante. He knows what to do.”
I frowned. “This is ridiculous. I’m not going.”
I crossed my arms and stared him down. Or tried to. No one ever stared my grandfather down. No one defied him either. What he told you to do, you did. That’s just the way it was.
“Crystal, I can’t tell you anything. It’s too dangerous. Once you get this to Dante tell him to tell you everything. He can’t leave a thing out.”
“Who’s Dante?” I fingered the flap on the envelope again.
“He’s a friend. Crystal, you have to do this. To protect Robyn and Macy. This will help them get more out of life then they would.”
I sighed. It wasn’t fair, him pulling the ‘protect Robyn and Macy’ card. Everyone knew that was just what got me moving and doing things. And just like always I found myself nodding.
“I’ll go find this allusive Dante and deliver this mysterious envelope.” I stood up and kissed him. “
“That’s my girl. Go now and you can get there by morning.”
I waved at him and headed to the kitchen. Quincy was cleaning up Macy and she reached out for me.
“Hey, Macy.” I took my baby in my arms and danced her around the room. “How are you?”
“Mommy, me happy.”
“So am I, Macy. Now you go play. I have to talk to Aunt Quincy.” I set her on her feet and gave her a small tap.
“Quincy, I have to go away for the rest of the day. Give Pete this money and ask him to pay off the doctor and get some more medicine for Grandpa.”
Quincy took the money and tucked it into a canister in the pantry. “I’ll get you some food.”
“And make sure you use some of that money to get food for you and the kids. You need it, Quincy.” I nodded towards her stomach and she rubbed a hand over her unborn baby.
“Crystal, I can take care of myself. I’ve had four kids already. I know what I’m doing. Having one doesn’t make you an expert.” She patted my face and handed me a water bottle and a small paper bag. “Go. We’ll take care of things here.”
I kissed her cheek and ran up the stairs. I hurried into the bedroom I shared with Robyn, Macy and Trinity. Robyn sat on her small bed playing with a few toys.
“Where are you going, Crystal?” She clambered out of her bed and came to stand by me.
“Why do you think I’m going somewhere?” I shoved my head into the small closet and yanked out my back pack. “You should be in bed. That fall yesterday wasn’t a walk in the park.”
“Crystal, I’m fine.” She bounced up and down on my bed and then held a hand to her head.
“Oh, you’re really fine.” I led her back to her bed and tucked her in. “Now, you stay here until your mom says you can get out. Stay.”
“I’m not Truscott.” Robyn rolled her eyes but laid back down on the pillow.
“Speaking of Truscott, where are the dogs?” I looked around for my faithful hound.
“Mom locked them in the back yard. They were making too much noise.”
I blew her a kiss and tossed my back pack over my shoulder. “I’ll be back soon. Tell you dad and Alex I love them. You can share the bed with Trinity tonight.”
I ran down the stairs and out the back door. Truscott jumped to his feet and bounded over to me, his tail wagging, a doggy grin on his face.
“Hey, boy, how’s it going?” I rubbed his ears and planted a kiss on his head. “Shall we go for a run?”
Buddy and Anne, the other two dogs came over and I stroked them before sending them back inside. Through the screen I could see Buddy run up the stairs and Anne head straight for Macy. My girls would be fine without me for a few days.
Grandpa had said I could get there by tomorrow morning but I was going into unknown territory. Who knew how long it would take? Another thought kicked in. He never said when I would be able to get back home. If I made it there by morning and then spent an hour, two tops with this Dante I would be home before eight tomorrow. That would be just over a day gone. They would be okay without me.
Quincy appeared at the back door, Macy in her arms, Anne at her side. In the upstairs window Robyn and Buddy peered down at me. I waved at them and smiled. My heart was pounding again. This was not like what I had done this morning. There was no routine with this one. It was entirely new.
I opened the doors to the underground cellar. The few weapons we had were stored in the cool, darkness of the underground cavern. I made my way down the shaky wooden steps. A lantern sat on a shelf and I shook it. Oil sloshed in the base and I struck a match on the rock we used as a step stool. The wick flared to life and I made my way down the room.
There at the end was a cupboard, locked with a padlock. The key was under a jar of pickles that had sat on the shelf for years. I don’t think anyone dared open it.
The padlock groaned as I turned the key in it but it opened. Laying the padlock and key on the shelf I swung back the door. Inside was the shotgun and pistol we had managed to find. A box of cartridges sat beside each gun. A collection of throwing and fighting knives sat on another shelf and there on the top shelf was my favourite, my father’s bow.
Taking it down, I bent it and attached the string. Giving it a feel practice tugs I nodded. It was still good. Unstringing the bow I reached up for the quiver. Ten arrows knocked against each other. I sighed. I still hadn’t had the chance to make more to replace the ones I’d used up hunting. I usually managed to save them afterwards but the last trip had been hard and I had lost a good dozen. Well, I would just have to be extra careful and make each shot count. Not that I was expecting a fight. But it was good to be prepared. There was no reason to die needlessly, like my father had.
I swung my backpack to the ground and pushed the bow into its holder. A few years ago my grandfather and I had modified my backpack to make it work for hunting. Two straps held the bow onto the side. We had used tie strings to make it easy to grab. Another string held the quiver to the other side. I hurriedly attached both the bow and quiver and then reached up to gather a few knives.
I tucked a knife into either side of my jacket. I could throw with both hands. A knife went into each of my combat boots and a fifth was shoved into a sheath in my backpack. I already had a small jackknife attached to my belt.
I straightened and locking the cupboard left the cellar. Lance and Trinity waited for me at the top of the stairs, arms crossed before them.
“Whatever you two want the answer is no.” I shut the doors.
I snapped my fingers and Truscott bounded over. I rubbed his head and headed to the house.
“Crystal, we want to come with.” Trinity touched my arm.
I sighed. “I know. But you can’t. I’m going into unknown territory and I can’t be worrying about you two the whole time.”
“We can take care of ourselves,” Lance protested. “Come on, Crystal. We want to help.”
“You’ll help by taking care of everyone here. Lance, can you take a message to Bone, Jacker and Justice? Tell them I’ll be gone for a few days. If you need something you can ask them for help.”
“You know Mom doesn’t like us talking to them. She thinks they’re a bad influence.” Trinity twisted a black curl around her finger.
“Well, bad influence or not, they do help keep us from starving,” I said opening the back door. “Look, I need to know that some around here can protect Robyn and Macy from harm. And your mom. You two can fight and so can Alex. Your dad is a good shot but he’s gone most of the day. Robyn and Macy can’t protect themselves.”
I knew that pulling the ‘Robyn and Macy need protecting’ card would work. Lance shrugged and Trinity hugged me.
“Be careful,” she whispered. “I’ll look after the girls.”
Macy toddled into the hall. I scooped her up and breathed in her sweet baby scent.
“Mommy loves you, Macy,” I said. “But I have to go away for awhile. Aunt Trinity will take care of you. You be a good girl.”
Macy leaned back in my arms and studied my face. Her blue eyes were so much like mine but her blond hair was her father’s. And those blue eyes were much too serious for a two year old. “Okay. I wuv you. I be good.”
“I know you will.” I gave Macy another squeeze and handed her to Trinity. “I’ll see you late tomorrow or early Thursday. If I’m not back by then tell Patrol Justice and tell him I went west beyond the harbour district. He’ll find me.”
I peeked into my grandfather’s room and found him sleeping, albeit restlessly. I scooped up the envelope and added it to my backpack. I went back into the kitchen. Quincy handed me a few apples and another water bottle. I tucked them all into my pack and then smiled at them. It was best not to let them know that this scared me. I had to remain strong for them.
One last kiss for Macy, a quick hug for Trinity and Quincy, a squeeze for Lance and I opened the front door and went down the steps. Without looking back I took off down the street, Truscott loping happily beside me.