“She’s just a normal girl in over her head, and I’m gonna make sure she lives to learn from her mistake.”
Hudson Kayode rocked back on his heels, nodding quietly at their words. After a moment, he straightened up and packed up his doctor’s bag.
“Alright, the salves should all be in place,” he said. “Just close your eyes and relax for a moment, give them a bit of time to take effect. I just need a moment to collect myself.” Kieran lifted a hand in assent, eyelids growing heavy as she and Deacon reclined on the curtain-covered sofa.
Closing their eyes, the Cousins Quick stole perhaps the most valuable bauble a thief could attain: a few perfect, peaceful, uninterrupted minutes of sleep. Kieran waited for the synaptic flurries of her overbusy brain, waited for the deep waters of her subconscious to dredge up memories to overanalyze and failures to bemoan, but none came. She slept like the dead, no matter how vinyl-shrouded the surface she slept on was. She felt like she slept for hours, and she felt like she slept for no time at all. Some time must have passed, though, considering when Hudson woke her with a clearing of his throat he had managed to pack up his medical bag and change his clothes.
“That should be enough for the salves to have worked,” he said, back ramrod straight. Kieran sat up and chuckled.
“What’s with the getup, doc?”
Hudson looked away, blushing slightly. He had donned a tasteful pair of grey slacks and a cable knit sweater, over which he wore an autumnal brown overcoat. In one hand he held a driver’s cap and in the other his doctor’s bag. He affixed the hat atop the curls of his hair, and as evenly as he could, he answered.
“Well, I couldn’t exactly accompany you in my pajamas.” Deacon and Kieran exchanged looks, and he pointed at a pair of folded shirts that hadn’t been on the nearby footstool when they’d closed their eyes. “I also found a couple of replacement shirts for you; I don’t have any trousers that would fit, but t-shirts don’t look as strange if they’re a bit big. You’re both taller than me, but I’m wider, so it should even out.”
“I don’t understand, doc,” said Deacon. Hudson scoffed.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “You put the big opening over your body and stick your head and arms out of the smaller bits.” Kieran couldn’t resist a chuckle at that. In the lamplight, Hudson’s eyes glittered. Eventually, he relented.
“Look, you don’t think the Unquiet have killed Betsy yet, or you wouldn’t be attempting to rescue her. If she’s alive, there’s a good chance she’s going to require medical attention when you do manage to save her.”
Kieran and Deacon looked at one another again. The lack of uncertainty in the doctor’s voice didn’t escape them. He believed they were going to do it. In the bottom of her heart, Kieran was glad that one of them did. She reached for one of the shirts and began pulling it over her head. Deacon was less convinced.
“Listen, doc, I appreciate the courage,” he said. “But this isn’t just anywhere we’re headed. We’re going to Memento Mori. You know, the biggest stronghold of the undead mob? The richest casino in Lowcourt? Where luck goes to die?”
“I assure you, young man, I’m well aware of the dangers of upsetting Mister Dunne and his ilk,” said Hudson, sternly. Neither Deacon nor Kieran had ever experienced any traditional schooling, but they both at that moment imagined that this is what a disappointed teacher sounded like.
“However,” he continued. “Knowing that a person is in over their head, and needs my help… how could I not try?”
“Oaths and shit,” breathed Deacon. Hudson nodded.
“Indeed. Now get dressed, we have a powerful undead mobster to upset.”
Kieran couldn’t stop a grin from rising to her lips. She pulled on Hudson’s replacement t-shirt; it was an ancient, minty green, and was emblazoned with the words 9TH ANNUAL KAYODE FAMILY REUNION, 3204 OS in bright white block letters. She quirked an eyebrow at it.
“Your family uses the dwerga calendar?” she asked. Hudson chuckled.
“The old folks say we descend from them,” he said. “I told you my family venerates the Brothers Three? They feel a certain… kinship, let’s say, with the old tales.” Deacon snapped his fingers.
“Right!” he said. “You were singing a smith-song when you were asking all those questions!” Kieran furrowed her brow.
“A what?” she asked. Hudson sighed.
“It’s a type of magic,” said Deacon. “Old magic. Felt like the doc was using it to keep us talking.”
“What?” asked Kieran. The temperature in the doctor’s apartment dropped a few degrees as she slowly rounded on Hudson. “Did you hypnotize us?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” said Hudson. He took a step back and put up his hands. “I’m not a mesmerist. The song dulls pains and reveals truths. I had to be sure.”
“Sure of what?” asked Kieran. Her dark eyes flashed as she scrutinized the doctor’s bearing. Hudson stared back evenly, hazel eyes set deep in a worry-worn face. Kieran’s mind piped up that he was about the same age her mother would have been by now, a thought that Kieran immediately squashed. She must have winced, because Hudson’s expression softened.
“Sure that I was making the right choice by helping you,” he said. He chuckled. “After all, this is very far out of my wheelhouse. If I’m going to be going into the dragon’s den, I need to understand the person I’m following.”
“You don’t have to come,” said Kieran. Their eyes met again, and Kieran knew that he did. Perhaps not for the same reasons that she had to, but there was a need within him all the same. The doctor smiled and held out a hand.
“Now,” he said. “Do you have any further objections to the free medical aid that I’ve rendered, or are we done burning moonlight?” Kieran grinned and took it.
“Can’t think of any,” she said, shaking it firmly. The doctor’s grip was strong, but she could feel the tiniest tremor in it as he pulled away. He did a good job hiding his fear. Deacon looked to his cousin, watching for her signal. She nodded and he grinned, snatching up the second t-shirt and donning it.
“Man, a real smith-song,” he mused, threading his hair through the collar. “I thought it was an extinct art.”
“For the most part, it is,” said Hudson. Deacon looked down at his shirt, and the doctor cleared his throat. The garment was a simple black with a smiling cartoon pig on it, declaring the wearer to be the BOZAAR COUNTY BBQ CHAMP ‘09. Deacon raised an eyebrow at Hudson.
“That one is… more sentimental,” the doctor admitted. “Try not to get it too damaged.” Deacon chuckled and Hudson clapped his hands in anticipation.
“No matter,” he said. “Now, how are we getting to Memento Mori?”
Silence reigned completely in the little apartment for the first time since the Cousins Quick arrived. Hudson looked back and forth between the two of them, slowly furrowing his brow.
“I mean, you have a vehicle, right? You haven’t just been walking all over town tonight, you just forgot to mention it, yes?”
The two cousins were determined not to meet the doctor’s gaze as a stream of excuses shamefully pussyfooted out from their lips. Somewhere in the miasma of deflections, Hudson caught a “they make you register” and “off the grid” from Kieran, and an “I mean, the cost of petrol” from Deacon. The doctor sighed.
“I figured that this might have been the case,” he said, tutting. “Young people these days.”
“…the economy,” mumbled Deacon.
Hudson waved a hand, signalling for them to follow as he strode to his front door and unlocked it.
“Luckily for you, I happen to have my own set of wheels. Come, the garage beckons.”
The room that Hudson’s landlord called ‘the garage’ was in fact a cramped concrete box carved into the foundation of the Locksley Baronet. It was a room where, under the harsh and uncaring gaze of buzzing fluorescent tubes, a dozen or so tenants who could afford to played a dangerous game of chicken, seeing just how much steel and heavy machinery a group of people could wedge into an area nearly as small as the apartments themselves.
“Good gods, doc, how do you even move through this place?” Kieran asked, sidling out of the garage’s entry door. With space being at such a premium, a mid-sized sedan had been parked immediately in front of the only door into or out of the chamber that didn’t require a remote to open. There was only about a foot and a half of leeway before the door’s handle clunked solidly against the sedan’s driver-side door, leaving the trio little choice but to awkwardly sidestep through the gap.
“Very carefully,” answered Hudson, sucking in his gut and still wincing as the handle scratched against the softness of his belly through his sweater.
“This can’t be legal,” said Deacon.
“Oh, certainly not,” said Hudson with a shrug. “But what am I going to do? Find a new apartment? This is the only place this close to my clinic that offers any kind of complimentary parking, and I can’t afford to rent a space at a local garage. I’m a doctor, not a tycoon.”
Kieran nodded in solidarity.
“Still,” she said, “There’s gotta be something you could do. Maybe talk to the other tenants?”
“I could try, certainly. A conversation for later, in any case. Here we are.”
Nestled into the corner of the garage, expertly parked so as to give the most possible access with the least possible space, was the only vehicle in the room protected by a dust cover. Hudson sauntered over, concealing his excitement with aplomb. Kieran almost didn’t notice the tiny flourish in his hands as he gripped the shroud and whipped it off of his motor carriage with a single, fluid motion. Deacon let out a slow, appreciative whistle.
The vehicle in the garage of the Locksley Baronet, the vehicle that Hudson Kayode debuted to the Cousins Quick that night, that vehicle would be done a disservice to be referred to simply as a “car.” A car is a simple thing of steel and rubber and glass, a thing that people used to ferry themselves to and from their places of work and sometimes, if they were lucky, to cruise down the highway with the wind in their hair.
Hudson Kayode’s vehicle did all those things too, but even in the buzzing fluorescents of the Locksley Baronet’s tiny overstuffed garage it glimmered like a shining knight, standing in repose but never at rest, heavy with the overwhelming implication of being something more.
This vehicle was a chariot.
It was sturdy and broad, painted a beautiful verdant forest green. The chrome of the bumpers and grille were polished to a mirror sheen, as were the hubcaps and mirrors. The hood ornament seemed to be custom, as neither Deacon nor Kieran could place it, and depicted a crescent moon sitting atop an anvil. Whitewall tires supported the vehicle’s mass, treads nigh-obsessively maintained against wear and damage. Kieran took in the vehicle’s curves appreciatively, then looked at Hudson.
“It’s real impressive, doc, but I gotta ask. How’s a guy with such a small apartment afford a cherry piece like this?”
Hudson swelled with pride despite himself.
“Very easily, actually: one piece at a time. Would you believe me if I said this used to be a rusted-out lemon I got for a pittance at a junkyard in Carlin?”
“You’re shitting me,” said Kieran, running a hand across the hood. “This thing’s absolutely pristine.”
“It is now,” said Hudson, grinning. Deacon chuckled.
“I guess it ain’t just bodies our doc is good at fixing up, eh? You’re a regular gearhead, too.”
Hudson smiled at Deacon before he managed to remember himself.
“Ahem, yes,” he said, opening the driver’s door and sliding behind the steering wheel. “That’s enough frivolity, my friends. We have a job to do.”
“Absolutely,” said Kieran.
“Shotgun,” said Deacon.
Kieran snapped her head to look at her cousin, who returned the glare with a sly grin. In an instant, they were locked in a pitched battle, grappling desperately to be the first to the passenger seat. Hudson sighed and rolled down the window.
“Kieran!” he said. The two of them froze, Deacon’s face slowly regaining its color as his cousin’s headlock loosened slightly. Hudson shook his head at them.
“Deacon called it.”
Deacon grinned and wriggled out of Kieran’s grip, hopping into the passenger’s seat as Kieran rolled her eyes and sat in the back seat and tried her best not to sulk. Hudson looked at the two of them in the rearview window, suddenly curious.
“How old are you two?” he asked.
“Twenty,” said Kieran.
“Nineteen,” said Deacon.
“Bragi’s beard,” said Hudson. Struggling to reconcile this new information with what he already knew, Hudson Kayode inserted his key in the car’s ignition and turned the engine over.