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Unwind, p.23

Unwind, page 23

 part  #1 of  Unwind Dystology Series


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Page 23


  "How about a nice boot out the door?"

  Still, the kid shows no sign of fear or disappointment. He just lays the bracelet on the worn wooden counter with that same princely grace.

  "Why dont you just put that thing away and go home?"

  "Im an Unwind. "


  "You heard me. "

  This throws the pawnbroker for a loop for a whole lot of reasons. First of all, runaway Unwinds who show up at his shop never admit it. Secondly, they always appear desperate and angry, and the stuff they have to sell is shoddy at best. Theyre never this calm, and they never look this . . . angelic.

  "Youre an Unwind?"

  The boy nods. "The bracelet is stolen, but not from anywhere around here. "

  Unwinds also never admit that their items are stolen. Those other kids always come up with the most elaborate stories as to who they are, and why theyre selling. The pawnbroker will usually listen to their stories for their entertainment value. If its a good story, hell just throw the kid out. If its a lousy story, hell call the police and have them picked up. This kid, however, doesnt have a story; he comes only with the truth. The pawnbroker doesnt quite know how to deal with the truth.

  "So," says the kid. "Are you interested?"

  The pawnbroker just shrugs. "Who you are is your business, and like I said, I dont deal with minors. "

  "Maybe youll make an exception. "

  The pawnbroker considers the kid, considers the bracelet, then looks at the door to make sure no one else is coming in. "Im listening. "

  "Heres what I want. Five hundred dollars, cash. Now. The I leave like we never met, and you can keep the bracelet. "

  The pawnbroker puts on his well-practiced poker face. "Are you kidding me? This piece of junk? Gold plate, zircons instead of diamonds, poor workmanship—Ill give you a hundred bucks, not a penny more. "

  The kid never breaks eye contact. Youre lying. "

  Of course the pawnbroker is lying, but he resents the accusation. "How about if I turn you in to the Juvey-cops right now?

  The kid reaches down and takes the bracelet from the table. "You could," he says. "But then you wont get this—the police will. "

  The pawnbroker strokes his beard. Maybe this kid isnt as naive as he looks.

  "If it were a piece of junk," the kid says, "you wouldnt have offered me a hundred. Ill bet you wouldnt have offered me anything. " He looks at the bracelet dangling from his fingers. "I really dont know what something like this is worth, but Ill bet its worth thousands. All Im asking is five hundred, which means, whatever its worth, youre getting a great deal. "

  The pawnbrokers poker face is gone. He cant stop staring at the bracelet—its all he can do not to drool over it. He knows what its really worth, or at least he can guess. He knows where he can fence it himself for five times what the kid is asking. That would be a nice bit of change. Enough to take his wife on that long vacation shes always wanted.

  "Two hundred fifty. Thats my final offer. "

  "Five hundred. You have three seconds, and then I leave. One . . . two . . . "

  "Deal. " The pawnbroker sighs as if hes been beaten. "You drive a hard bargain, kid. " Thats the way these things are played. Make the kid think that he won, when all the while hes the one whos truly being robbed! The pawnbroker reaches for the bracelet, but the kid holds it out of reach.

  "First the money.

  "The safes in the back room—Ill be back in a second. "

  "Ill come with you. "

  The pawnbroker doesnt argue. Its understandable that the kid doesnt trust him. If he trusted people, hed have been unwound by now. In the back room, the pawnbroker positions himself with the kid behind him, so the kid cant see the combination of the safe. He pulls open the door, and the second he does, he feels something hard and heavy connecting with his head. His thoughts are instantly scrambled. He loses consciousness before he hits the ground.

  The pawnbroker comes to sometime later, with a headache and a faint memory that something had gone wrong. It takes a few seconds for him to pull himself together and realize exactly what happened. That little monster conned him! He got him to open the safe, and the moment he did, he knocked him out and cleaned out the safe.

  Sure enough, the safe is open wide—but its not entirely empty. Inside is the bracelet, its gold and diamonds looking even brighter against the ugly gray steel of the empty safe. How much money had been in the safe? Fifteen hundred, tops. This bracelet is worth at least three times that. Still a deal—and the kid knew it.

  The pawnbroker rubs the painful knot on his head, furious at the kid for what he did and yet admiring him for the strangely honorable nature of the crime. If he himself had been this clever, this honorable, and had found this kind of nerve when he was a kid, perhaps hed be more than just a pawnbroker.

  27 Connor

  The morning after the bathroom incident, they are rousted awake by the Fatigues before dawn. "Everybody up! Now! Move it! Move it!" Theyre loud, theyre on edge, and the first thing Connor notices is that the safeties on their weapons are oft. Still bleary from sleep, he rises and looks for Risa. He sees her already being herded by two Fatigues toward a huge double door that has always been padlocked. Now the padlock is off.

  "Leave your things! Go! Move it! Move it!"

  To his right, a cranky kid pushes a Fatigue for tearing away his blanket. The Fatigue hits him on the shoulder with the butt of his rifle—not enough to seriously wound him, but enough to make it clear to the kid, and everyone else, that they mean business. The kid goes down on his knees, gripping his shoulder and cursing, and the Fatigue goes about the business of herding the others. Even in his pain, the kid looks ready for a fight. As Connor passes him, Connor grabs him by the arm and helps him up.

  "Take it easy," Connor says. "Dont make it worse. "

  The kid pulls out of Connors grip. "Get off me! I dont need your stinkin help. " The kid storms away. Connor shakes his head. Was he ever that belligerent?

  Up ahead, the huge double doors are slid open to reveal another room of the warehouse that the Unwinds have never seen. This one is filled with crates—old airline packing crates, designed, both in shape and durability, to transport goods by air freight. Connor immediately realizes what theyre for—and why he and the others have been warehoused so close to an airport. Wherever theyre going, theyre going as air cargo.

  "Girls to the left, boys to the right. Move it! Move it!"

  Theres grumbling, but no direct defiance. Connor wonders how many kids get whats going on.

  "Four to a crate! Boys with boys, girls with girls. Move it! Move it!"

  Now everyone begins to scramble around, trying to team up with their preferred travel companions, but the Fatigues have neither patience nor time for it. They randomly create groups of four and push them toward the crates.

  Thats when Connor notices how dangerously close he is to Roland—and its no accident. Roland moved close to him on purpose. Connor can just imagine it. Pitch black and close quarters. If hes in a crate with Roland, then hell be dead before takeoff.

  Connor tries to move away, but a Fatigue grabs Roland, Connor, and two of Rolands known collaborators. "You four. That crate over there!"

  Connor tries not to let his panic show; he doesnt want Roland to see. He should have prepared his own weapon, like the one Roland certainly has concealed on him now. He should have prepared for the inevitability of a life-or-death confrontation, but he hadnt, and now his options are limited.

  No time for thinking this through, so he lets impulse take over and gives in to his fighting instincts. He turns to one of Rolands henchmen and punches him in the face hard enough to draw blood, maybe even break his nose. The force of the punch spins the kid around, but before he can come back for a counterassault, a Fatigue grabs Connor and smashes him back against the concrete wall. The Fatigue doesnt know it, but this is exactly what Connor wanted.

  "You picked the wrong d
ay to do that, kid!" says the Fatigue, holding him against the wall with his rifle.

  "What are you gonna do, kill me? I thought you were trying to save us. "

  That gives the Fatigue a moments pause.

  "Hey!" yells another Fatigue. "Forget him! We gotta load them up. " Then he grabs another kid to complete the foursome with Roland and his henchmen, sending them toward a crate. They dont even care about the one kids bleeding nose.

  The Fatigue holding Connor against the wall sneers at him. "The sooner youre in a box, the sooner youre somebody elses problem. "

  "Nice socks," says Connor.

  They put Connor in a four-by-eight crate that already has three kids waiting to complete their quartet. The crate is scaled even before he can see whos inside with him, but as long as its not Roland, it will do.

  "Were all gonna die in here," says a nasal voice, followed by a wet sniff that doesnt sound like it clears much of anything. Connor knows this kid by his mucous. Hes not sure of his name—everyone just calls him "the Mouth Breather," since his nose is perpetually stuffed. Emby, for short. Hes the one always obsessively reading his comic book, but he cant quite do that in here.

  "Dont talk like that," says Connor. "If the Fatigues wanted to kill us, they would have done it a long time ago. "

  The Mouth Breather has foul breath thats filling up the whole crate. "Maybe they got found out. Maybe the Juvey-cops are on their way, and the only way to save themselves is to destroy the evidence!"

  Connor has little patience for whiners. It reminds him too much of his younger brother. The one his parents chose to keep. "Shut up, Emby, or I swear Im going to take off my sock, shove it in your stinky mouth, and youll finally have to figure out a way to breathe through your nose!"

  "Let me know if you need an extra sock," says a voice just across from him. "Hi, Connor. Its Hayden. "

  "Hey, Hayden. " Connor reaches out and finds Haydens shoe, squeezing it—the closest thing to a greeting in the claustrophobic darkness. "So, whos lucky number four?" No answer. "Sounds like we must be traveling with a mime. " Another long pause, then Connor hears a deep, accented voice.

  "Diego. "

  "Diego doesnt talk much," says Hayden.

  "I figured. "

  They wait in silence, punctuated by the Mouth Breathers snorts.

  "I gotta go to the bathroom," Emby mumbles.

  "You should have thought of that before you left," says Hayden, putting on his best mother voice. "How many times do we have to tell you? Always use the potty before climbing into a shipping crate. "

  Theres some sort of mechanical activity outside, then they feel the crate moving.

  "I dont like this," whines Emby.

  "Were being moved," says Hayden.

  "By forklift, probably," says Connor. The Fatigues are probably long gone by now. What was it that one Fatigue had said? Once youre in a box, youre somebody elses problem. Whoevers been hired to ship them probably has no clue whats in the crates. Soon theyll be on board some aircraft, headed to an undisclosed destination. The thought of it makes him think about the rest of his family and their trip to the Bahamas—the one theyd planned to take once Connor was unwound. He wonders if they went—would they still take their vacation, even after Connor had kicked-AWOL? Sure they would. They were planning to take it once he got unwound, so why would his escape stop them? Hey, wouldnt it be funny if they were being shipped to the Bahamas too?

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