With her riot gear and binoculars, Rio hunkered down near a shrub growing alongside the redoubt. She scanned the whole of the house as Hank climbed onto the sunroom roof. With little effort, he jimmied open the window and dove in head first. After a moment that seemed like forever, he reappeared, closed the window, and disappeared inside.
Rio continued scanning. She had felt safe with Hank at her side, but now he was gone. Cussing and keeping her head low, she scrambled back into the redoubt. She found a block of glass that was reasonably easy to look through and pressed her binoculars to it.
She couldn't see a thing. Ditching the binoculars, still cussing and scrambling, she found a pistol and began searching for the right ammunition, until she heard a familiar squeak.
The laundry room window! Rio returned to her block glass window but couldn't see the part of the house near the laundry. With no bullets for the pistol, she left it behind and brandished her cattle prod. Her head was too small for her riot gear helmet and, as she ran back to her shrub to hide, it bounced around painfully.
She could now see the laundry room window. Someone had opened it. Breathing quietly, she heard metal scraping across concrete and the sound of someone climbing on top of one of Milton's washing machines.
Rio whispered to herself to keep from panicking. "You better be Hank. Be Hank. Be Hank."
Hank didn't climb out the laundry room window, and Bumbles didn't either. What came out was a ten pound bag of dog food. It sailed as if someone had thrown and burst upon impact when hitting the ground, sending kibbles and bits everywhere.
"What the fuck?" Rio asked herself.
Another bag of dog food came out the window, this one being treated more gently. After that came Bumbles, and after Bumbles came Hank, doing a shoulder roll onto the ground. The dog ran around in circles, munching on the spilt food, until Hank tapped him on the butt and got him to run to the redoubt. Hank scooped up the unbroken bag of dog food and took off after him.
Neither Bumbles nor Hank stopped for Rio. They ran for the carriage house door.
"Wait!" Rio griped. "Where are you going?" Her ridiculously large helmet slipped over her eyes, forcing her to remove it while running after them. She then cursed and returned to the redoubt, turning off the light and locking the door.
"We're getting a car!" Hank said. "The Aston Martin!"
Once inside the carriage house, Hank used the key Milton gave him to open the strongbox. Inside was a jumble of car keys, some garage door remotes and other junk. He couldn't figure out which key was for the Aston, but realized that regardless, the back seat would be too small for Bumbles. So he took the keys to a Ford Fusion and stuffed Bumbles in with his bag of food before trying a garage door opener. As one of the overhead doors crept up, Hank locked the strong box and piled into the car.
Rio was already inside. After a quick glance at the helmet perched on her head, Hank started the car. Once back in the warehouse district, heading for main city streets, he gave her another look.
She stared straight ahead, not saying a word. He slowed down to drive more carefully while fishing around in the back with a free hand to tear open a corner of the dog food bag before Bumbles finished chewing a hole in it.
The dog dug into his food. Hank examined the look on Rio's face.
"What?" he asked.
She shook her head as if trying to think. "Nothing," she said.
"He was hungry. I got him some food."
"No. That's not it."
Where time with Anna and her friends flew by, an afternoon with Rio felt like a week. "Tell me what's bothering you," he demanded.
Rio removed her cattle prod from its holster, to set it more comfortably on her lap. She made sure the power was off before removing her helmet and placing it on the prod.
"That's not Bumbles," she said to her lap.
"What are you talking about?" Hank asked. "That is totally that stupid dog."
Rio toyed with the cattle prod laying in her lap, using her hair to hide the concerned look on her face. "You think so?" she asked, sounding small and uncertain. "It feels like Bumbles. But do you see?"
Hank couldn't stop from thinking it, so he spoke his next thought out loud. "The only thing I see is you drive me nuts."
Still hanging her head, Rio let out a laugh. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe."
"There is no maybe about it. You drive everyone nuts. Milton has said so himself, and he's right."
"Please help find him. Hank-sama. Please."
"Let's stay on topic. What about the dog?"
"Okay. Well, it looks like a dog."
"That's because it is a dog!"
"I know. But come on. Think. Has Bumbles ever looked like a dog?"
Hank glanced over his shoulder at the dog. It sat on the back seat directly behind him, swinging its head in great arcs, first looking at Rio, then Hank, and then out every window of the car. Its cartoon eyes and goofy grin were gone. It looked for all the world like a normal black-and-white border collie, happily drooling on the seat.
"That has got to be Milton's dog," Hank said. "it was in the basement."
"Yeah I know," Rio said. "Remember, I felt him there."
When Rio finally lifted her head, Hank had never seen her look so sad. Though the sun shone full on her face, her hair and eyes remained a perfect black. Without a word, she gave him the prettiest smile she could muster.
It was dreadful. "I don't know," Hank said about Bumbles. "Maybe Milton fixed it."
"Maybe you did."
"Ah… okay. Whatever"
"Maybe bad guys did it."
Hank was getting his fill of Rio. "Look, you've got to tell me where we're going, because all I'm doing now is heading west."
She stared out the windshield. "Okay."
He huffed. "So where are we going? Let's take this dog to your place."
"Augh! Well then, where?"
Rio became more flustered than Hank. It was clear she didn't like riding in cars, and acted as if she'd jump out the window if it were rolled down. Hank pressed the buttons that locked both the windows and the doors, just in case she did.
"I'm taking you back to Milton's if you don't tell me where we're going," he said.
"I'm using Bumbles to find Milton, you see. Set him loose and let him run, and then follow him."
Hank no longer cared about Rio and her sad face. He rolled his eyes and groaned. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
"No it's not. I know he's somewhere near."
"He could be in Timbuktu!"
"He's not. I can…"
"Yeah, I know," Hank interrupted, finishing her sentence. "…feel him. Cripes, Rio-chan! If you know where Milton is, let's go there and get him."
Rio sat silent and motionless, staring straight ahead. Between wayward locks of hair and her big red glasses, Hank couldn't see much of her face. But when she spoke again, it was obvious she was bawling.
"I'm scared, goddamn it! Can't you see? Do you even care?"
Hank placed an understanding hand on her shoulder. She grabbed it and pressed it in place, making sure he kept it there.
"It's okay," he said. "I understand."
"No you don't! How could you? You're so… so…"
Hank squeezed Rio's shoulder. "Don't you say bad things about me, you big crapper."
Rio also squeezed, her hand still on his. "Aw shit, Hank. I wish I were like you."
"No you don't. Cuz then you'd have to put up with you."
Rio afforded herself a more pleasant smile. "Well anyway, now I do. Look, let's go to my place later, okay? But can we please stop this damn car and try walking around? Follow Bumbles and see where he goes? It's what he's made to do, you see. Find Others like you and me."
Hank stared at Rio's tear-sopped face. Your eyes are so pretty when you're not being mean.
Rio sniffled. "Thanks. You're eyes are pretty, too. When you're not hating me with them."
Hank parked the car by the curb. He pulled out the key and opened the door. "I hate it when you do that," he remarked while exiting, about her reading his mind.
Rio couldn't get out fast enough. She breathed audibly while standing on the sidewalk, puffing her cheeks and blowing.
"Hank-sama. Dōmo arigatō," she said, stripping herself of her cattle prod holster and dungarees. "Gozaimasu," she added.
Hank let Bumbles out. "Yeah. Don't gozaimasu me yet. I might be ditching you, and get in and drive away."
Rio struck a pose, trying to look sexy. "What? And miss out on this?"
Hank bent low to shove Bumbles towards Rio, and to hide his smirk behind the car. "Yeah. And not miss that at all."
Bumbles circled Rio's legs until she began to pet him. The dog responded by trying to make her pick him up. As Hank approached, he noticed not only did Bumbles look more like a dog, but it seemed bigger as well. When Hank had first met Rio after wandering onto Milton's estate, she picked it up and carried it away under one of her arms. There was no way she could do that now.
"Aren't you the sweetest thing?" Rio cooed while mussing with Bumbles' face. "Find Milton, Bumbles! Where is he? Find him!"
All Bumbles did was run in circles, chasing after its tail. Each time its head pointed towards Rio, it returned for more of her loving.
Hank rubbed his tired eyes. "This dog is an idiot. He's still got that going on."
Upon hearing Hank's voice, Bumbles approached, expecting the same treatment that Rio had given. Instead, Hank bent at the waist with his fingers in his pockets, to keep the dog from jumping on him.
"Find Milton, you stupid mutt," Hank said.
With that, Bumbles was off in a flash. It still ran like Hank remembered, with nothing but a blur for legs. It zoomed to the next intersection and stopped, before turning and sitting down, its tongue hanging out of a ridiculous, real dog grin.
Hank looked at his strolling partner while picking up the pace. "Ah… he expects us to move fast if we're going to follow."
"Hai," Rio huffed.
The scene kept repeating for the next forty minutes. Bumbles would run to an intersection, then wait for them to catch up, until Hank could no longer stand it. At the next intersection, he held the dog by its collar.
"What?" Rio asked, confused.
"I know something's bugging you. Tell me what it is."
Rio squatted to pet Bumbles. The wind blew the floral scent of her hair up Hank's nose, mixing it with cloves and anise from her bidis. He reveled in it, enjoying her fully.
"I think I know where we're going," she said. "To my place."
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me."
Rio kept her mouth shut, focusing on the dog, while Hank surveyed the area. "You live in a nice neighborhood."
He kicked a small pebble. "So now what? Let's go home. I'm starving."
She stared up at him from her haunches, looking fit to be tied. "I'm supposed to feed you? Shall I bathe you, too?"
Hank knew enough about Japanese culture to understand what that meant. "Yeah. I want you to bathe the crap out of me."
Rio straightened up. She dug in the breast of her jacket, finding her smashed pack of bidis. Upon discovering it held one, she dug it out and smoothed its wrinkled surface with her fingers.
"You and I are not bathing," Rio said as she lit up and drew hard.
Hank crinkled his nose. "Not if you smell like that, we aren't."
Rio puffed all the harder. "Well, then. I'd better buy another pack."
Bumbles strained to be released, but Hank only held on firmer. "Settle down, dog," he said. "Rio's gotta get high."
Hank received a death-ray glare. "Watch your lip, Loverboy. You're about as homeless as this dog is now."
"I have a perfectly good place of my own. And I ain't your Loverboy."
"You have no intention of living there. And you wish you were."
"Why do you say stuff like that?" he asked in exasperaion. "What makes you so sure?"
After a healthy draw and exhalation, Rio approached Hank. She stood close and removed her glasses, staring straight up his nose.
"I see inside you," she said.
With care, Hank plucked Rio's bidi from her fingers and flicked it far away before wrapping her up in his arms. She breathed in as much of his green scent as she could. If he smells like this now, what does he smell like indoors?
"I'll make sure you and Bumbles are safe," Hank said. "Let me get the car and get Bumbles his food."
"Hai. Okay. But dōzo. Not just yet."
"He's probably heading to your house because he's thirsty."
Rio snuggled deep in Hank's embrace. "He's never been there before."
"Neither have I, my little ass pain."
She refused to let go. "You're just getting the car. You're not leaving me, you see."
He kissed the top of her head before burying her face back in his chest. "Yeah. I'm actually going to Aika's. She's got sexy clothes she wants to wear."
"Leave Aika alone, okay? Do you hear?"
"And why is that, Ass Pain?"
"A powerful RMer like you could drive a Dreamer like her bananas."
"Like she isn't already?" Hank wondered, saying it out loud since he could tell Rio was studying his thoughts. "Plus, it seemed more to me like she was driving me bananas."
Rio unwrapped herself from Hank's arms. "Hank-sama. Dōzo. Let's walk a bit more. It helps me think." They kept their arms around each other as they followed Bumbles. "You and Aika could Real up, you see, a whole new world for us," Rio said. "For everyone, especially if no Preventer like me stops you."
Hank teased Rio by roughing her up. "Are you afraid of Aika, too?"
Rio spoke in serious tones while enjoying Hank's rough love. "Reality Makers and Dreamers shouldn't be in the same room. Aika is so strong that even I have to be careful around her, so she doesn't take the mud I Real up and blast it into space."
"Wait wait wait. You say Aika's a Dreamer? Like a… what? A Reality Dreamer?"
Rio grabbed the big hand Hank had on her hip, to make sure he didn't let go. "Hai. Aika is a Dream Watcher. She takes stuff people like you Real up and sends it out to the world."
"Huh," Hank said, and nothing more.
Rio continued explaining. "She doesn't know she does it, but she's really good. It's what makes her a great PEP Sponsor, you see. She gets people what they need."
"Huh," Hank said again, thinking about how Aika had delivered him to Rio. "Okay. I'll be careful."
"Hank-sama, thanks again. Dōmo. You really are the best."
Rio wished the growing breeze would die, as it was blowing away Hank's green scent. After a along and anxious day, she looked forward to reaching her home. She thought about how Teek had probably prepared afternoon tea by now, and other snacks for Aika.
For Aika and for Anna, Rio guessed while grumbling internally. Still, she had Hank and those women didn't, and they could stuff their faces with all they could eat, so long as he kept his arm around her.
- Upright. In the Den.
- Sci-Fi Action Adventure, propelled by a little Romance.
"Arise!" The star-studded empress of night
Gave me the keys to her city.
Bathed me in breath, told me of plight,
Force-fed my conscious with pity.
Pointed toward East, down past the yard
Through revolving doors of her courthouse.
Megaphones cry. "A guinea a head!
"Everything's fun at the Circus!"