Pizzatime [16]

Grace paused, sensing I’d stopped. She turned to look over her shoulder at me, followed my gaze to the shelf, and then laughed.
“Yep, she’s a bright one!” she said to Al, who’d come out of the office the last ten feet to “help”, taking the boxes from her. He grinned.
“Hey, Laurel, git in here and eat. We’ll talk about all this stuff later on.”
So I followed them into the office.
Or rather, through the office. The back wall had a small doorway in it. The “door” was made to look like the rest of the prefab building’s walls- a hidden door! I loved hidden doors in books, but this one was rather boring, looking like gypsum board and office walls.
I followed them through it, and Al closed it behind us. There was a narrow concrete stairway to a brightly lit basement area.
In the center of the basement space was a huge table with a topographical map of the central US on it, from Texas north to the Canadian border, and east and west as far as the Rockies and east to the Appalachian range. It was green and beige to indicate climate/ soil, as was normal. There were the rivers, marked in standard blue, and the lines to indicate changes in elevation, in faint traces of gray, as you’d expect. And there were dots to show towns and cities, and black lines for roads, and little black squares for houses and buildings. But there were other markers on the map that were nothing like what you’d see on any other map.
Downright WEIRD markings covered the massive paper as well. Things that looked like hieroglyphs or Tibetan scroll writing or something, in flourescent orange and hot pink and lime green and dayglo turquoise. It looked like somebody on acid had done very careful, precise graffiti all over the map.
And, I decided, it was kind of pretty, in a riotous sort of way.
Charlie was carefully spreading a plastic tablecloth over one end of the big table, and we placed the goodies on it. Grace produced some paper plates and napkins from a shelf in the corner, and we all dug in. I hadn’t eaten since the day before and was downright ravenous.
“I’m sorry, I haven’t eaten today,” I managed, before chomping down again. I was on my third slice, unheard of for me.
“Never a worry,” said Charlie, graciously. “We have all missed a meal or two along the way.”
Al and Grace exchanged a look and began to chuckle. “Well SOME of us have missed more meals than OTHERS, Charlie.” Al smirked at him.
Charlie laughed, and in girlish tones whined, “I’m just BIG BONED.”
We all just about fell over laughing.
In the lull that followed I asked him, “So, as the oldest LOOKING person here, I feel I have the right to ask your… provenance. Is that okay?”
He grinned at me. “That is more than okay, my dear. Although I have been trying to reduce my tendency to promote myself, I do still very much enjoy it.”
Al rolled his eyes, and Grace stifled a giggle.
Charlie stood, harrumphed a bit, tented the fingers of his left hand on the tabletop and raised his right hand to a position just under his right collarbone. I got the feeling that he was looking for a lapel to grab, but realized that his blue polo shirt wasn’t really built for that. So he looked a little embarrassed, rocked back on his heels, and clasped his hands in front of his bellybutton instead.
“I was born in the Kansas Territory in 1860, a member of the Kaw Nation. My mother Ellen was of mixed heritage, with the blood of several tribes and the French, a proud Wild Rose of the Plains. She died when I was three, and my father, of European descent, was devastated and went off to fight in the Civil War while I was just a tot. I lived with my Kaw grandparents on the reservation.”
When I was eight years old, we were living outside of Council Grove. It was the beginning of summer. 100 Cheyenne warriors rode into town. The white settlers were terrified and ran off to Council Grove. The Kaw men put on their best finery and painted their faces, and met the Cheyenne on horseback. There was a wonderful display of Native manliness, with whoops and shots in the air and horse-maneuvering. This went on for about four hours, and in the end, we gave them a couple of horses, some coffee and sugar, and sent them on their way.
I was off riding with my uncle Joe to Topeka- sixty miles- to try to get help from the governor. I was eight years old, and this changed my life.”
He paused and took a long sip from his soda through the straw. Something about it was so silly that I stifled a laugh. He caught that and his eye twinkled as he looked at the cup and straw in his hand. “Yes, well…”
He resumed his oration. “I lived with my white grandparents as well, and with the encouragement of both of my grandparents I pursued my education. I began studying the law, and eventually became a prosecutor, then a politician.”
Al harrumphed, looking down at the table as Grace quietly picked up the paper plates and empty cups to toss out, and Charlie reddened a bit. “Quite right, you’re right. Sorry. The upshot is that I was sort of a bigshot once upon a time, and served as Vice President to Herbert Hoover. In hindsight, I have a lot to answer for, and am doing my best to make amends for all of it. In my defense, I didn’t know better at the time.”
I was busy picking my jaw up off of the floor, but managed to stammer out a “thank you” to him for sharing his story.
Al, meanwhile, was removing the tablecloth and folding it up, and Grace was pulling a binder off of a different shelf on the same unit.
“So what have you got for me, guys? Any great ideas?” she asked, plunking the binder down and opening it to the first blank page. She began filling in some kind of a form, and making notes below the checked boxes. “We need to make some decisions now, and cannot delay further. Laurel, I’m sorry that we can’t provide more ‘exposition’ right now, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to try to keep up”, she fixed her blue eyes on mine with a twinkle, “And I have every faith in your ability to do so, bright one.”
Al leaned on the table and pointed at our general area on the map. “All I know is that the stones appear to be holding, and the rift is NOT where we thought it was in Indian Rock park this time. My bet is that it’s somewhere south.” He jabbed a finger at a spot near Lindsberg.
Charlie chuckled, and Grace moaned and looked at the ceiling.
“Noooo. NO, Al. No. We’re not doing the dang Francisco Vazquez de Coronado y Lujan thing again.” her Spanish accent was impressively Castillian in tenor. “We don’t have time for this.”
“Well, hear me out. They ARE coming from the south, we know this. They came up following the west bank of the river. And the river passes close to- “
“The river,” Charlie said, in measured tones, “switches back and forth on itself a hundred times between Lindsborg and Salina. There are numerous places they may have broken through all along it. The one thing we know is that they can’t have crossed it except at a few points.”
“Unless the water’s low,” interjected Grace. “If there are any dried spots this season, they might have crossed on a sandbar.”
“Perhaps that should be our focus?” asked Charlie, “Survey the river south of Salina and see if it has dried up at all?”
“Yes, that makes sense,” Grace nodded, “This time you two can go. Maybe get hold of Skelty and take him too. Be careful. And yes, Al, you can check the Lindsborg rift zone too, once you get there. But don’t you dare step further.” She wagged a finger at him, and he grinned.
“Aw, you know me, hun, I’ll behave. Thank you.”
The two men headed for the stairs.
Grace looked at me, “Let’s begin your education, shall we?”

Published by goddesswest

I'm a painter and am writing something now. People keep asking me to put it together in an easier to access place, so here I am. Plan to get some of my artwork in here too, eventually.

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