And the Frog

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15

Marigold was up before her. She knew this was true because before she even saw that the bed was empty, she saw Marigold, who was completely naked. She was drying herself off with a white towel, having evidently just stepped out of the shower. She was on the other side of the bed, facing away from Emma, and she must’ve heard her sit up because she said, “Morning.”

Emma looked away, and she might’ve responded with “More like mooning” but she didn’t know exactly where the two stood after the night before.

“I don’t like trying to dry in the bathroom,” said Marigold. “Too steamy.”

Emma didn’t quite know what to do here. Laying back and pretending to fall back asleep was not an option – too many variables. So instead, she reached over to the room’s desk and grabbed the channel guide. She didn’t read it, but just stared and listened for Marigold’s next move. She wondered if she was now about to be shot, but had more than a sneaking feeling that she wasn’t. She’d been allowed to wake up in the morning. In other words, not being dead already very possibly meant it could only get worse from hear. Everyone knows that if you’re going to take a shot at a killer, you best not miss, and you best best not take the shot by accident, and miss.

She shifted a bit on the couch cushion, wishing she could sense whether or not the gun was still under it. Then, for the second time, she heard the springs of the bed as Marigold sat on it. She risked a glance, and saw that the woman had regained her shirt and pants, the ones she’d been wearing at Walmart. No shoes or socks yet, though. She’d come around to the other side of the bed and was sat on the edge. “Hey,” she said, “remember when you tried to shoot me?”

A good answer in this instance may have been I was standing right over you. If I’d been trying to shoot you I would have shot you, but technically, for a moment, Emma had tried to get herself to shoot Marigold. Somewhere in that tense little bite of time there had been at least one pure second of intent and attempt, though it was much too feeble to succeed. So Emma said,

“Yes.”

“I don’t blame you,” said Marigold, “I would’ve tried to shoot me too. Can you believe I left that damn thing in the RV?” She chuckled, like she was actually expecting Emma to join in on the jocularity. “Stupid. I’m supposed to be a pro at this.”

“At kidnapping?” Emma asked.

Marigold smirked and said, “Good point.” But Emma wasn’t trying to make a point; she was genuinely curious as to whether that had been what she meant. “Well listen,” said Marigold, “you can keep the gun.” She stood and walked back to the other side of the bed. “I don’t need two of them.” She stooped over, probably to put on her boots. That reminded Emma, what about Marigold’s horse? They’d left it back on the Road. Curious, but not the time.

“But I could kill you,” said Emma, not sure if that was even true.

“You could.” Well, there’s that. “But I don’t think you will.”

Why the hell not? “Why the hell not?”

Marigold stopped moving and looked over. “Because if you kill me, you have to replace me. Do you want to be a Tiller?”

Hm. Was she bluffing? “I thought you said that Tillers were selected.”

“They are, and most of the time it’s a punishment. We don’t get to die, Emma. We roam around the living world, forced to take the lives of those who the Chairmen decide must go. Of course your penance for killing me would be imprisonment within the order.”

Chairmen, right. More questions. But luckily one came to her that may have been more useful, given the circumstance. “If that’s what Tillers do, why isn’t that what you’re doing?”

Marigold chuckled again, then grabbed her jacket out of the closet and opened the front door. “Come on. There’s something I want to show you, now that the sun’s up.” And she walked out. Nothing to do but follow. Always, more following.

Emma stood and lifted the couch cushion. There it was, still cocked. That was probably alright, right? No, obviously not, but she wasn’t about to hand it to Marigold and ask her how to fix the problem, and she definitely wasn’t about to show it to anyone else. And still, it made her feel better to know the gun was ready to go. Even after what Marigold had told her, which she wasn’t sure she should believe, she felt something in knowing that she was ready at all times to fire. Now she had something that main characters often struggle to obtain, or at least she thought this must be close to what it was: agency, the ability to do.

She put it back in her waist band, and hoped to goodness that she didn’t shoot herself in the butt, like pro sports players and actors show up in the news having done every once in a while. And then, she and her cocked and loaded revolver walked back out into the world. Marigold was at the check-in counter, checking out. An older woman stood behind it now.

“Thanks for staying again, Mary.”

Marigold smiled sweetly. “Lola, thanks for having a place to stay.”

“Hey, your room’s always here.”

“I hope so,” chuckle chuckle, “Have a good one, Lola.”

“You too, sweetheart. See you next time.” Marigold walked out the side door. Emma smiled at the old woman, who smiled back, and followed. There was no mention of a loud pop, or questioning of what exactly had been happening in room 13. Just a very cheery exchange.

Outside, Emma said, “That was gross.”

“I know,” said Marigold, who was walking not toward Ferrule, but toward the street. “They like me, a lot.”

“Why?” Emma didn’t hide that she legitimately didn’t understand how anyone could be all too fond of Marigold.

“Because I have a lot of money, enough to have them put a thirteen on one of their rooms so that no one else will use it.” They reached the sidewalk, and apparently were going to cross the street.

Excusing the question of why she had so much money, Emma instead went with “And why did you do that?”

“Because, idiot,” the road was momentarily clear and Marigold stepped forward, “It’s my favorite motel.” Emma said nothing as they crossed, because she had enough awareness to focus on not being run over. When they reached the other side, Marigold turned to her. “And its my favorite motel because of what I’m about to show you.”

But she didn’t move immediately. She actually seemed to be giving Emma a chance to question, this time.

“Why didn’t anyone care that I fired a gun in the middle of the night?” Sure, she had a lot of money, but no one had make sure no one ever calls the police because they heard a gunshot in my room kind of money, did they?

Marigold rolled her eyes, clearly upset that Emma had asked the wrong question. “It’s a Tiller’s weapon,” she said. “No one else even heard it.” That had to be believed just by virtue of the fact that Marigold had answered it in disappointment, if not because there had been absolutely no reaction to the shot. “Come,” said Marigold. She turned and started walking over dead grass, toward a large parking lot, like the one in which Emma had first stopped with John, when they’d had chili. And just like that she was aware that she was hungry.

Well, Marigold was walking toward a gas station, so that at least was convenient. Old letters under the roof of the building said Quik Serv in blue. Emma never trusted a place that purposefully misspelled words, but then again perhaps it was unfair to assume that the founders of the establishment hadn’t simply been illiterate. Marigold reached the entrance and actually held the door open, though she made no attempt at politely jawing like she had with the lady at the La Quinta. Emma looked her in the eyes as she walked past, gunned woman to gunned woman, fully aware that the gun in her hand was much different to the gun in “Mary’s,” but trying to wear the respect she was suddenly receiving.

“Mornin’ ma’am,” said a boy behind the register that looked too young to drive, and then Marigold walked in and he said “Mary! Oh shit, mom didn’t say you were coming !” Really? Marigold was exciting enough to make a young man cuss?

“Hi Jamie, always good to see you,” said Marigold.

The boy stepped back and spread his arms out and said, “Because I’m a specimen. ’Member when you said that? I’m a specimen?” He started brushing his shoulders like there was dust on them, which was an indication of boasting, Emma knew, though she never understood why. While he wasn’t looking, Marigold looked at Emma and raised her eyebrows and shook her head, as if to indicate that she in fact did not “’member. But she said,

“Of course I remember, kid.” She approached the counter, fishing something out of her pocket. “Hey, I’m not gonna be in long. Just wanted to show my new friend the exhibit.” She threw a thumb back toward Emma. “So you don’t need to tell your mom I was in.” She pulled some money out; Emma didn’t see how much. “I gotta leave fast, so don’t get her all excited.” She thrust the bills toward the boy, who thought for just a second before saying,

“Fine.”

“Fine,” said Marigold, then she looked to Emma. “Over here.”

Emma went with her down an aisle that included chips, candy, toothbrushes, and much more – gas station really could be useful places – and at the end of it they turned right. And Emma saw, in the corner of the room were the cold case ended, a large vertical glass case, inside which looked like a cowgirl getup very similar to the one Marigold had worn on the road. It was worn by a mannequin, standing stock still as mannequins do. Next to it was a plaque, at the top of it read in larget letters Outlaw Susan Humphrey.

“Take a look at that,” said Marigold.

So Emma did, though she had no clue what she was looking for. She scanned the clothing, up and down, started reading the plaque. These are the duds of Susan Humphrey, an outlaw with eight counts of murder to her name, who . . .

“Oh, don’t read that. It’s all bullshit.” Okay. Emma stopped reading, glanced back at the clothes, looked at Marigold, who gestured with her head back to the clothing, so she looked again, saw nothing new, looked back at Marigold and said,

“I’m looking.” Marigold said nothing. “What am I looking at?”

Marigold closed her eyes. “You are looking,” she said, opening them again, “at the clothes of your own great, great, great, great, great, great, grandma. Or something like that. I’m not really one for math so I don’t know if that’s too many ‘greats’, and also these definitely aren’t her real clothes. They probably got these at some Halloween shop.”

Emma said nothing about how similar they looked to Marigold’s own outfit. She only said, with no upspeak at all, “What.”

“Yup,” replied Marigold.

What? She was a far moved ancestor of some wild west criminal that had a shrine in a gas station in El Paso? Well, that explained why there was a six-shooter in her waist band, she supposed. But she’d never been told about this. Her grandmother was many things, and prideful (borderline narcissistic, you might say) was surely one of them. Why would she not mention such an interesting piece of family history? Emma scratched her left eyebrow.

“You said the plaque was lying?”

“Bullshit. I said it was bullshit.” Bullshit, yes.

“And these weren’t really her clothes?”

“Definitely not.”

“Then,” she scratched her right eyebrow, “then why’d you bring me here? You could’ve just told me.” There wasn’t any proof of anything here. Not even that this person really existed, let alone that she shared any blood with Emma.

“Because,” said Marigold, and Emma thought that if she said this is my favorite gas station she’d be using the ready revolver sooner than she expected, “because right here, this is where I died.” She pointed with both hands to her boots. Emma looked at them. “Well, not exactly right here probably. Somewhere here – it was a hell of a long time ago, and there wasn’t a gas station here then.”

Clothing that allegedly belonged to her ancestor, the spot where Marigold died. Whether or not there was any truth to the words, this was the first thing anyone had told Emma that actually connected her in any way to the whole situation, other than this woman wants you dead and this man doesn’t. However she decided to remain skeptical, not only because she had no reason to trust Marigold but also because she didn’t expect a straight answer anyway. She said, “And why do I need to know where you died?”

“You don’t. You need to know why I died.”

“Okay. I still don’t understand why we had to come here, then.”

That one, as her father said, hit Marigold right in the piss-off. “Girl, I goddamn died here. It’s important to me.”

“I understand that, Mary.” Perhaps the gun she didn’t even know how to use was giving her a mite too much confidence in this confrontation with an undead killer. “But I don’t see how it’s important to me.

Marigold tilted her head down and looked hard at Emma, and for all the world resembled a bully that isn’t used to being insulted, Emma thought. “You,” she said, “have less respect than I expected.”

Oh, please. “Respect? For who, the woman that kidnapped me with the intent to murder me just to get at some other guy?” Ugh, when she put it like that it almost reminded her of high school politics.

Marigold’s eyes broke away from Emma, and she could see that they were searching for something. A way to be right, perhaps? Uh-oh, did Emma’s rebuttal make a little too much sense? Poor thing. Emma crossed her arms. She was right, the dynamic here had changed. Amazing what a little gun can do for a relationship. Or maybe she was just getting weary – change was a good thing, after all.

Finally, Marigold’s eyes stopped searching and she closed them. “Jesus,” she said, “you’re actually starting to sound like she did.”

“Like who did?”

“Suzy.” She gestured toward the case. Oh, what a line. Isn’t that what they always say in movies, when a main character didn’t know some relative? Goodness, ____, how you so resemble your _____. Next she was going to hit her with the ____ would’ve loved you so much. “She really would’ve fucking hated you.” Oh, or that. Actually that did make this Suzy woman seem more like Emma. She definitely would never want to spend time with another of herself, no thank you. “I want to sit down,” said Marigold. “There’s a bench outside. Come with me and I’ll tell you what I brought you here to tell you.”

Never a please, or an if you’d like to. John certainly was a much nicer travelling companion. “I’m hungry,” said Emma. “I’ll meet you, but I’m going to get something to eat first.”

“Fine.” And Marigold was out.

“Bye Mary-licious,” said Jamie, and it sounded as odd to hear as it does to read. Mary did not respond to him as she pulled open the door.

So pouty she was all of the sudden, Emma thought. Was she actually gaining a real advantage on the moral high ground, or was it just the gun? Honestly, she was very curious about what Marigold had to say, but she felt it behooved her not to act like it. She re-entered the chip/candy/toothbrush aisle to peruse for some breakfast. It is important to note how good it felt to be alone in the aisle of a gas station – powerful, almost. Yes, agency is a wonderful thing. Marigold was waiting on her, right now. And – oh my, Pizza in a Bag. There it was, hanging on the aisle cap with all the other jerky, as if anything else even compared. Well, she hadn’t actually tried Pizza in a Bag yet, but nothing else was as strongly connotative for her personally. She had to buy it, if not because she was curious how it tasted, then because it was a satisfying call back within the plot.

She approached the counter with her triangular bag. “Find everything?” said Jamie. He actually had a very well-practiced cashier voice when he wasn’t talking to Marigold. And right then and there Emma had a flashback to when she’d met Saphal. She was buying a pineapple, and he was a cashier at, oh hell, Walmart. He always had a good cashier voice too, better than Jamie’s even. As she began preliminary thoughts on a head to head reality/game show called Clashiers, she pulled out her wallet.

“I did, thanks,” she said, handing him her credit card and looking out the glass door to see if she could spot Marigold. She couldn’t.

“Credit or Debit?”

“Credit.” She cranked her head back a bit, still looking for Marigold, and saw the tip of her boot at the right edge of the door. The bench must’ve been up against the wall outside.

“Need your PIN,” said Jamie.

“Oh, sorry.” She, turned back to him. He was holding her card out for her and she took it, then typed 2738 into the keypad, signed, put the card back in the wallet.

“Alright, you’re all set,” said Jamie, picking up the jerky to hand it to her. “Have a good one, Casey.”

. . .

Casey.

Casey?

Oh.


Casey.

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