Haven Page 31


Paci’s horse took the lead and Winky’s came just behind and next to us.


“Should we get our weapons out?” asked Winky.


“They should be easy to get to but not out. We don’t want to be threatening,” said Paci.


“I agree. And I also think everyone on foot and with the animals should stay back,” I added.


“I will take care of dem,” said Bodo, sliding off the horse’s back in a not very elegant maneuver. He disappeared behind us.


Winky snorted. “Can’t handle the horse.”


I turned around to watch Bodo go, and he was limping and reaching down to rub his crotch. A small part of me was glad I wasn’t the only one suffering.


Bodo gave directions to the people behind us to drop back.


Paci urged the horse more and we put more distance between the rest of our friends and the treehouse kids. Winky stayed even with us, and the swamp buggy was right behind. We were a pretty effective wall if anyone decided to start shooting, but I was hoping it wouldn’t to come to that.


As we got closer, several other kids came out of the trees to stand by the girl in red. I recognized one of them. “Who’s that girl? The one with the raggedy clothes?” I asked. All of them looked pretty well-dressed, all things considered, but not her. She looked like a homeless beggar.


“That’s that Gail girl. Remember? She came to Haven with me. She was with those two guys I picked up on the road as I came down.” Paci’s tone said he was about as thrilled to see her as I was.


My uneasiness increased. “She was bad news.”


“Maybe. She had an attitude, that’s for sure.” Paci’s voice lowered as we got close enough that they might hear us.


When we were just a few feet behind Trip we stopped. I leaned into Paci so I could swing my leg over behind the horse.


My plan to make a super cool getting-off-the-horse move ended in total failure. And happily for me, Trip turned around just in time to enjoy it along with all the treehouse kids and probably all the kids behind me, too.


I fell into the dust at the horse’s feet when my legs refused to cooperate. I’d lost circulation or something, everything numb except my butt, which was currently feeling the pain of having fallen from about five feet up.


Trip walked over slowly and lifted me up by my armpits, making me look like a toddler to these strangers. Several of them laughed out loud. Others were kind enough to cover their smirks with their hands or turn around.


“Thanks,” I said quietly. “Guess I lost my legs for a minute there.” I banged first one foot then the other on the ground trying to get the tingles to go away.


“Way to make a first impression,” he said. There was no smile on his face, but I got the distinct impression he was laughing at me.


“Never call me ordinary or boring,” I said, before stepping around him. I fell a little and grabbed onto his arm for support. He just stood there and waited for me to stop being an idiot.


I pretended to look behind me and spoke out of the corner of my mouth at him. “That girl in the rags came to Haven and refused to enter with some bullshit. Watch out for her.”


I looked up as I turned back to face our welcoming party, and caught Trip nodding so slightly I questioned whether I’d even seen it. He was ever so much cooler than me.


We both stepped forward to talk to the girl in red.


She stood there with her hands fisted at her sides. She didn’t look like a trained fighter, but she sure looked determined to be tough. She had dark skin and her hair looked like it had been hacked off with a dull knife. Her big boobs were the only thing keeping her from looking very boyish. She wore camouflage pants and had a canteen on a belt at her waist. Her other hip had a knife in a holder on it.


“Hi,” I said, stopping about five feet in front of her.


“Hi,” she said. Her eyes darted nervously from me to Trip and then over our shoulders to the group behind us. They had stopped about fifty yards away.


“My name’s Bryn, and this is Trip. We’re just trying to pass through. We don’t mean you any harm, and we’re not here to take anything.”


“This is our land. Our spot,” she said. “Nobody passes for free.”


“What are you, a troll?” asked Trip in a snotty voice. “We gotta pay your toll to get over your bridge? Please. This is Miccosukee land. Always has been, always will be.”


She looked at him calmly, only her flexing fists belying her nervousness. “Wrong on both counts.” Then she looked at me. “His history’s as flawed as his reasoning. Either you pay, or you go away. It’s simple.”


“We have stuff to trade,” I said. “What do you need?”


“We aren’t giving her any of our stuff!” Trip was indignant.


“Trip, can it, would ya?” I tried to give him my stern look but his was much more effective than mine. I just rolled my eyes and looked back at the girl.


“What’s your name?”


“Robson.”


I thought I’d heard wrong. “Say that again?”


“You heard me. Robson.”


“That’s a guy’s name,” said Trip.


“At least I’m not named after an accident someone has when they can’t walk right.”


I had to laugh at that. A snort escaped before I could stop it. I held out my arm to keep Trip back. “Relax, Trip. She’s right. Let’s get down to business, okay?” I pleaded with him using my eyes. I was going for the sad puppydog look.


“Stop staring at me like that,” he said, backing down and not pushing against my arm anymore. “You look like a canner lunatic.”


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I wiped my expression clean, going back to the girl. “Okay, Robson, what do you want to trade?”


She gestured over to Gail. “We’ll trade that chick over there for a gun and safe passage.”


“Uhhh, we don’t trade people,” I said.


“But we do, especially when they’re a pain in the ass like she is.”


“Hey!” Gail shouted. “I’m not the pain in the ass, you are!”


The few kids standing around her laughed a little, none of them looking at her. It was pretty clear they were behind Robson one hundred percent.


“How about we take her off your hands as a service and you just thank us for it?” asked Trip.


“You won’t have to feed her or put up with her anymore,” I added. “That’s got to be worth something. We can’t give you a gun. We don’t have enough.” That last part of my statement wasn’t even close to true with the armory we had at the prison, but the last thing I wanted to do was arm potential or future enemies.


“You’re in no position to bargain. Take the PITA, give us the gun, and we’ll let you through. Don’t and you turn around or suffer the consequences.”


“Troll,” said Trip in a soft voice.


“And one more word out of pretty boy there and the deal’s off too,” said Robson, not even looking at Trip.


“Fine,” I said. “Deal. But no bullets.”


“We have plenty,” she said.


I turned Trip around and pushed against his lower back. “Be right back,” I said over my shoulder.


I could hear Gail ranting behind me the whole way back. Apparently she didn’t want to go with us anymore than we wanted her to. Robson seemed pretty tough. Maybe Gail felt safe with her. Gail’s attachment to the treehouse couldn’t be for Robson’s sparkling personality, that was for sure.


“Why’d you tell her we’d take that idiot with us?” he asked. “And offer her one of our guns? We don’t have enough.”


I stopped pushing on him and walked at his side, keeping my voice as low as possible. “We have a ton of guns at Haven. Hundreds. And enough bullets to kill every canner a hundred times over. And that Gail girl hates me, so she isn’t going to agree to walk into Haven. We’ll get her out of the Glades and send her on her way if that’s what she wants. No harm, no foul.”


Trip stopped and faced me for a second. “Most of the time I look at you and I see a complete goofball. But then you go and do something like that and I see something else.”


I put my hand on my hip. “Oh yeah, like what? A brilliant mastermind?”


He smiled. “No. Someone not as goofy, but still a little goofy.” He walked over to the buggy, leaving me standing there.


I couldn’t think of a sharp retort, so I just shut up, waiting for Trip to find the crappiest gun in his cache of weapons.


Bodo came over as I waited.


“What happened over dare? Are we going to cross?”


“Yes. We had to do a trade, though. We take that Gail girl off their hands and give them a gun and we can go.”


“Dat sounds like dey get all da good stuff.”


I shrugged. “At least we get to go through. And like I told Trip, Gail won’t want to stay with us. She rejected us once already.”


“Yes, but now she iss getting rejected again. Maybe she hass no place to go now.”


“Maybe. But unless she wants to cooperate, that’s not my problem.”


“Maybe she can grow tomatoes,” said Bodo, getting a far off look. “Maybe she will be especially smart with eggplants.”


I couldn’t help but laugh. “Eggplants? Can’t we just outlaw those from Haven altogether?”


He smiled back at me, the first time in what felt like a long time. “I make a fairy, fairy goodt ratatouille. You will like it.”


“You keep your rat soup away from me, boy,” I said, walking away to join Winky at her horse.


“It’s not of rats. It’s of vegetables.”


I waved him away over my head. Things felt more normal now, or a least a tiny bit more normal. We were going to get through this grove and then we’d be almost home. Things were looking up, and for the first time in days, I felt my heart lighten just a little.


***


“I don’t know why you traded for me. She would have kept me there. I was helping them.” Gail was still yammering on and on, two hours after we’d taken her through the grove. She’d decided to walk next to Winky’s and Bodo’s horse, so even though Paci held back on the reins a little, we still had to listen to her.


“If you were such a big help, why’d they want to trade you?” asked Winky.


“Great question. It’s that idiot Robson. All she does all day long is bark orders like a freakin’ drill sergeant.”


“What are you goingk to do now?” Bodo asked her, finally getting to the part I was wondering about. I hadn’t pressed the issue because I didn’t want her to think she wasn’t welcome. She actually wasn’t welcome as far as I was concerned, but I knew it wouldn’t be fair to exclude kids who rubbed me the wrong way. Haven was not a dictatorship. It had to be a kind of democracy with more than one person making decisions. And even if everyone disliked her, it still wasn’t a reason to exclude her and send her out to starve, as long as she was willing to be loyal to all of us.


“I guess I’m going with you guys. It’s not like I have a choice.” She obviously wasn’t happy about being trapped, and I could hardly blame her.


“You have to swear an oath and mean it,” said Winky, “or you aren’t coming in. I don’t care how hungry you are.”


“You’re a serious bitch, you know that?” Gail had stopped walking and was staring at Winky with her hands fisted at her sides.


I stopped myself from mentioning out loud how much she looked like Robson when she did that.


“No, I’m not. I just tell it like it is. And you rejected Haven once, so there’s no reason for us to think you won’t try to do it again. But we have rules and you should know that before you walk all that way.”

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