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Sonuachara Chapter 5

"You okay?" Trina asked, looking at Zoe worriedly. "You didn't show up for school today."

"Fine. Didn't feel like messing with school today," Zoe said. "Sorry. Should have let you know."

"Problems?"

Zoe shook her head, mouth tight. "Just the normal bull—" She looked down at the baby in her lap, and ended the word there.

"Jack?" Trina asked.

Zoe tucked the baby carefully in a bouncy seat. "Don't worry about it."

"Sorry," Trina said. "Won't happen. I won't bug you, though, if you don't want."

"There's not anything to do about it," Zoe said. "Eventually the sniveling little fool will buy into his... lines... and take him back, and he'll be gone again. Until then, he just needs to push someone around to make himself look big, and I can handle that."

Trina snorted. "You ought to do something to him."

Zoe laughed, shaking her head. "He gets too bad, I will. At the moment, it's not worth the trouble. There aren't any little kids in the house, and he behaves with his mother, so no harm's being done."

"So you're the only one in danger?" Trina asked.

"I wouldn't say 'in danger'," Zoe replied. "'In annoyance', maybe."

"Ah," Trina said, her tone half-skeptical, half-enlightened.

"Oh, come on," Zoe said, glancing sideways at her. "I can certainly handle myself with any little small-town hick boy, and this one's not even a particularly bright hick boy."

"Okay," Trina laughed, raising her hands in surrender. "I hear you."

"Good," Zoe said, handing her a baby. "Here, take Mikey. I've gotta talk to somebody."


"You okay?" Trina asked as they left the building. "You seem... upset."

Zoe looked at Trina thoughtfully, for a long, silent time, and Trina shifted uncomfortably.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want," Trina said.

Zoe shook her head. "It's not that. I... have a... well, I can't say I need it, but there's something I want badly enough to accept the debt for it."

Trina tilted her head and leaned back against the side of the car, silhouetted by the setting sun. "Oh?"

"It's a pretty big thing," Zoe said. "You'd need to spend another day in the office. Maybe show up with a wrapped wrist or something."

"Why?"

"I need some information. I made it plain when I started coming here, I don't type, and I don't do computers, and convinced them I couldn't even add columns of numbers straight, so even if they'd buy it from me, it'd blow my cover, and I'd end up running the damned office. But the information I need is in the case files... it might not even have been entered yet... that might be what they'd have you doing," Zoe said.

"What do you need?" Trina asked.

"I need to know the names and addresses for three sets of foster apps who visited with a particular child today. Especially the second set."

Trina raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Her name is Brenna Callahan. She's 6," Zoe said.

Trina nodded. "Why do you need the names and addresses?"

Zoe turned her head away. "I'd rather not say."

"Please?" Trina asked.

"I'm not going to burn their houses down, if that's what you're wondering," Zoe said.

"I didn't think you would," Trina said, looking at Zoe. "But what did they do?"

Zoe sighed. "They hurt someone. Without any good reason to at all."

"Brenna, I assume? What did they do?" Trina asked.

"Brenna... has some problems," Zoe said. "She's been through a lot. Too damned much. But they're totally physical, and if she gets proper care, she'll be fine. Just right now she needs some extra help. So, of course, our lovely ministering angels think she might as well be put out with the trash, and since she's— gaspcrippled, she's obviously stupid, too, and they don't even have to pretend to be polite about it."

Trina's face flashed with anger, gone so quickly Zoe wasn't sure she saw it, and she turned, looking at the sky for several seconds. Finally she looked back at Zoe. "Zoe, I'm going to ask you to do me a favor, and I'm going to ask you to trust me."

Zoe's eyes narrowed cautiously, and she asked, "What?"

"Let me take care of it." She looked Zoe in the eyes earnestly. "I've got power, Zoe. I do my best not to abuse it, not to just get my way the way some of the girls at school do, but I do have it. I have resources you don't. I don't know what you're planning, but there's a chance you'd get caught, and I'm betting you'd end up in a fair amount of trouble, am I right? Let me deal with them. I promise you they'll get what they deserve. You need to stay out of trouble so that you can keep coming to see her."

"What exactly did you think I was going to do to them," Zoe asked, taken aback.

"I don't know," Trina said. "Probably nothing too bad, but I'm betting it would be enough to get you in trouble."

"If I got caught," Zoe shrugged. "I don't intend to. And it would just be trouble, not serious trouble. Misdemeanor at best, easily worked off with public service."

"But that would be time you couldn't work here," Trina said. "Please, Zoe. Trust me."

Zoe sighed. "What do you think you could do to them?"

"Depends on how badly they deserve to be messed with. Harassment, mainly," Trina said.

"What do you mean by that?" Zoe asked.

"Little things. Running out of gas when they could swear they had a full tank the day before. Flats. Subscriptions to dozens of magazines in their name— all 'bill me later'," Trina said.

Zoe shook her head. "No. Too much of a pattern to be coincidence, and they start looking for someone to blame. Needs to be one thing, enough to get to them, but not enough that the police'll look very hard, then nothing to give them a clue after that."

"Trust me," Trina said, shaking her head. "I know what I'm doing."

"You might know the theory," Zoe said, "But you haven't got any practice. There's a difference."

"Well... look, can I trust you? With something that might cause my parents trouble if it got out?" Trina asked.

Zoe looked at her for a second. "Depends on your parents."

Trina looked puzzled, and Zoe said patiently, "They might one day do something that... puts them in a different category from what you currently think of them. If that happens, then there might be a need for any possible weapon to balance things."

"I'd be able to defend myself in that case. I already know it. And it's not something big," Trina said.

"That's a big assumption."

Trina grinned. "Not really. Look, no, I've never done this before. But Mom has. And I know how to get in touch with... the people she talks to when she wants something like this done."

Zoe's face went hard. "No. Absolutely not. If it's between you and me... you getting the info and me acting on it... that's one thing. But no favors from anyone else. Period. Those kind of 'people' you don't need to be owing."

Trina looked blank for a second, then laughed. "Oh! No, it's nothing like that, Zoe. We're not talking about criminals or the Mob or anything like that. It's just some friends of the family who happen to enjoy taking people down a peg if they really need it. Part of Mom's deal with them is that they'll do the same thing for us if we start needing it. It's nothing like what you were thinking."

Zoe shook her head. "Still too many people. If three people know a secret, it can't be considered a secret anymore."

"Trust me, please," Trina said. "They aren't from around here, so no one will connect them with what's happening." She hesitated. "And I'm going to be talking to them anyway about this, for myself. The only question is whether you're going to do something that could get you in trouble anyway."

"This isn't your business," Zoe said.

"You said yesterday I can only do what I can do. I can do this."

"Not on a broad basis, not without getting caught and ending up totally powerless against it. The reason I need... want... will do something is because this is personal. And because it's personal... not ethical, not...not political, or anything else, but personal, then I'm the one who has to do it," Zoe said.

Trina nodded, slowly. "Okay. I can understand that. But do you understand why I'm still going to do it?"

"No," Zoe said. "You should let me take care of it."

"It's personal for me, too," Trina said.

Zoe shook her head. "You don't know her. You've never even met her. And you can't do the same for all of them, so there's no reason for her to be different. Bren is my responsibility, not yours."

"I can't do it for all of them, but I can do it for her," Trina said. "It's a start."

"No," Zoe said. "There's no reason you should treat her any different than the rest. They all need help."

"I know," Trina said. "This is a start. I'm looking into what I can do for the others. I don't know how much it will be, but...."

"Look," Zoe said. "It is personal. She didn't tell me so that it could become anyone's cause. And I didn't tell you for that, either."

"I know," Trina said.

"Then if you know, you oughta be able to realize that doing so is just going to seriously piss me off," Zoe said.

Trina nodded. "But I can't not do something. Hell, you were the one complaining that no one ever does something. Well, I'm doing something."

"Not what you should," Zoe said. "Just help me, and it'll be taken care of."

Trina rubbed her nose. "I really can't, Zoe. It's a family thing. I know, so I'm obligated to help. I'll help you, but I still have to do something."

"Helping me is doing something," Zoe said. "And doing more just increases the risk of both of us getting caught, because the connection becomes more obvious."

Trina shook her head. "Trust me, please? I really have to."

Zoe sighed. "If you really have to, then you can help me. With more than the information, I mean."

"Thank you," Trina said.

"I'm going to regret this. I just know it," Zoe said, shaking her head.

Trina grinned at her. "If you do, I'll make it up to you."

Zoe just sighed and slouched against the door, and Trina opened the driver's side door, sliding into the seat. "C'mon. Where to tonight?"

"Home," Zoe said, hopping over the door and into the seat. "Can't really skip out two nights in a row, or they'll call the cops."

"Okay," Trina said, and pulled out into traffic at her usual breakneck speed. Zoe suspected she was one of the few who'd not complained about it.

"Here you go," Trina said, pulling up in front of the house. "See you tomorrow?"

Zoe looked at the house without much enthusiasm, her nose slightly wrinkled as if it were some large, smelly dead thing lying in an otherwise perfectly nice yard. "Yeah, probably."

"You sure you want to go in?" Trina asked.

Zoe shrugged. "Need to, anyway. S'okay, don't worry about it. See you tomorrow."