Then, there was a third.
Wo’ang came through and the message got down to the girls safely onto the settlement. Mr. Lambast thought it was kind of weird to get a Noodle shop advertisement addressed to the girls (Free Hub delivery for all orders or $5,000 credits! - which, if it seems kind of steep, that’s because it is). But they still got the message.
Meet me at the Wo’ang Ramen King noodle uh, restaurant? Two days from today noon sharp.
Now, both girls entered into the Noodle shop brimming with nervous energy. They found a slightly less suspecting booth and carefully positioned themselves away from the fresher stains.
A noise creaked from the kitchen. “Eh?? Are those customer?” Bespectacled eyes edged up over the serving window.
The owner of the telescopic eyes shuffled out from behind the kitchen door draped in gray, dingy frock and a black, rubber apron. A paper hat looked like it had been recycled still attached to the tufts of silver hair years ago.
He shuffled up to the table. “What you want?”
Both girls chanced a look at the menu. Finally Lambast started, “Good Morning my good Sir. I think, first we would like a gallon of bleach and a sponge.”
“You want bleach in noodle? That cost extra.” He scribbled it down on his pad. Before Lambast could protest he looked at Kai, indicating her with his stub of a pencil. “Your turn. What you want?”
Kaisla looked up at him, “Um, the Moo Goo Gai pan please.”
Wo’ang contemplated a second. “Hmm no, you no want that.”
Goo shoo Po po?” Kaisla tried.
“You no want that either. Not if you want to keep liver.”
“Kung Po Cattle?”
“Mein Don Noodle?”
“I no recommend.”
Kaisla stared at the dwindling options. “Erm, how about just a bowl of rice then?”
“You want with bleach or no bleach?” Wo’ang kept a straight face.
“Good choice, I’ve been out of bleach for years.” With that, he snapped his sad notepad closed and shuffled back to the kitchen.
Lambast called out, “Can we get some tea?”
The voice from the kitchen called out, “No.”
Johnston finally walked in. “Ah, I was worried you ladies wouldn’t show.” He says to them sitting down carefully.
“We were worried you were going to arrest us.” Kaisla responds.
“The day is young yet.” Johnston says looking over to her. “You haven’t ordered anything have you?”
Lambast pips in, “A Bowl of rice, no bleach...I think.”
“Could be worse,” replies Johnston, “I don’t think there’s been any bleach in this restaurant since the hundreds.”
“Mr. Johnston, if you didn’t summon us here to arrest us, then why, precisely did you?” Lambast interjects.
A fireball erupts from the kitchen door. The sound of a fire extinguisher can be heard.
Johnston slides a file folder across the table. “Listen, here’s who I think are the people that are more than likely responsible for your parents death, directly. I wouldn’t recommend looking any further than the pages in that file. If you try to dig any deeper, it will equally amount to how deep your graves are. These are nasty characters. I mean, they torched two houses and openly killed five people as it is. Two more teenagers isn’t really going to matter to them.”
Wo’ang shuffled back out from the kitchen carrying two bowls of black rice. He sets them on the table between the girls. Everybody at the table looks up at him as he coughs - or more accurately - hacks politely.
Lambast looks up, “You want us to pay - now?”
“Some customer do not last long after eating.”
“The rice is burnt.” Kaisla observes indicating the bowl of charred remains.
“Special recipe.” Wo’ang deadpans.
“Fire extinguisher seasoning?” Lamb asks.
“Just be happy there no bleach.” Wo’ang says as he shuffles away.
“Why are you suddenly so willing to help us?” Lambast asks Johnston, voice dripping with suspicion.
Johnston sighs as he leans back on the bench, stretching both arms out across the back of the seat. Kai pokes idly at the charcoal that was her rice. It steamed slightly.
“Because I’ve been going nuts all week waiting to get a homicide call and finding the two of you killed. I don’t support what you’re planning to do but I can’t let your deaths sit on my conscious either if there is even a shred of something I can do to prevent it. Just, do me a favor? Cover your tracks. Be smart, if you think you’ve been smart, then take a step back and re-think whatever you’re about to do. Most of all, just don’t do this.”
Kai attempts to chew a chunk of rice, “I think that’s just about as impossible as digesting this,” she says as she rubs her sore jaw.
“We won’t forget this.” Lambast says, looking at Johnston.
He avoided her gaze, “No, please, whatever you do, please forget that we ever talked. I would prefer it that way.”
Johnston continued to sit there for awhile even after the girls left. Wo’ang brought out several shots of something strong that tasted like pure rocket fuel. He downed them greedily.
Just as he was about to leave, a tall woman emerged from the kitchen. She was older, maybe mid-50’s in earth time but it was subtly obvious that she had clearly had some life-extending work done. That could easily put her in her hundreds. She walked ram-rod straight and despite her possible age, would even be considered by most as attractive. She wore her salty hair cropped close to her head in a stylish fashion and her makeup was minimal but well accentuated her features.
She took the seat opposite of Johnston. Johnston exchanged a look between the new stranger and Wo’ang. He shrugged a polite gesture.
“Can I help you ma’am?” Johnston asked.
“As a matter of fact Mr. Johnston, you can.” The newcomer responded curtly.
Johnston appeared confused.
“You may call me Adele Mr. Johnston. I am the chairperson of an organization that is seeking to expand our influence.”
Johnston put his hands up, “Hey lady, I’m no dirty cop.”
“And I’m not asking you to be a dirty cop Mr. Johnston if you would just shut up and listen.” She responded quickly, cutting him off. “Just the opposite in fact - my organization has sought you out precisely because your not a crooked police officer.”
“I’m listening.” Johnston stated.
“My organization has sought to expand our influence into Eravate. We see Eravate for the potential that it is, a gem of a system with a dedicated board of settlers that could become a beacon in these parts with the proper influence. We are well aware of the criminal influence that has plagued this system for the last twenty years and we wish to put a stop to it. We’re willing to invest a - significant - sum of resources in order to do this. Although, most of criminal activity here is low-level and therefore, tolerable, one particular organization would be at odds with our expansion effort and would likely put up some inconvenient resistance.”
Johnston noted her use of the word inconvenient. “That’s all nice and good Ms. Adele but I still fail to see what this has to do with me.”
Adele continued, “Mr. Johnston, we’ve scouted our allies carefully and had you under surveillance for quite some time. We understand the frustration you experience in trying to uphold a sense of order in this station. We seek to change that. We have also come to discover that you’ve been in communication with the two young ladies that just left here a few minutes ago and they seek to eradicate the same organization we also have issue with. And, before you say anything, we’re well aware of the contents of that thick dossier you just provided them. Here’s the pitch Mr. Johnston - precisely because you’re not a crooked police officer, we want to enable you to help those two young ladies achieve their goal and for your efforts you’ll be rewarded with nothing. No special treatment, no promotion, no extra salary. Merely, you’ll keep your job and your life and be afforded the opportunity to continue to work at your present post until your eventual retirement at a nice, old, age.”
Johnston sat up a bit, “Well, I mean, a slight increase in pay or promotion to Captain would be nice.”
A sly smile crossed Adele’s thin lips, so brief you had to be watching for it. “We’ll see Mr. Johnston. It depends how successful those young ladies are. You’ll also notice that upon leaving this meeting that you suddenly have far more access into the station’s data base than you had previously and that there may be fewer hidden surveillance devices watching you at work. Have a good day Mr. Johnston.”
With that Adele stood and left.
Johnston sat dumbfounded. “Wo’ang! I think I need some more of that fire water!”
Wo’ang called from the kitchen, “Fire water? That disinfectant!”