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Chapter 53: Game Shows: Everyone Wants to Be the Host

The sound of music vibrated the air and stirred Lilly’s misgivings. Determined to be reunited with her dad, she held steady as Bobby painted her face.

“Left-handed I can’t guarantee a masterpiece. Give me the yellow. Some green. Maybe a little pink for the cheeks? The black around your eyes.” Bobby stepped back. “Not bad.”

“Hurry. I don’t care what I look like.” Not shaking was impossible. “Outline my mouth and paint flowers on my cheeks.”

“Done.” Bobby handed her a wig. “Here is yours. You’ll have to help me with mine. Man, I’m worthless if we have to fight our way out.”

“I’m not. You’ve never seen me fight.”

“And I don’t want to.”

Lilly tucked the edges of her black hair under the neon blue rag-mop. She tossed her head. The synthetic fibers hung in her eyes and to jaw level on the sides and back. “This isn’t so bad. No one will see my eyes and know I’m half Japanese.

“Now you.” She walked behind Bobby. “The hair is falling out of your ponytail.” She freed the rubber band, slipped it on her wrist, and finger-combed his hair away from his face. She gathered it in one hand and wrapped the band around several times, and then gave it a twist to get it off his neck. “There.” She touched the back of his neck. “Ah, Bobby?’

“Yes.” He craned to look at her. “What are you doing back there?”

“Your neck…in the hairline there’s a…hold on. Keep your head down. Stay in the shadows. There’s a tattoo. It glows in the dark.”

“So? They slapped that on me at the orphanage—one of Alya’s perverse punishments. I told you about her.”

“Do you know what is says?”

“No. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head and if I did I wouldn’t care. Let’s get moving. Help me get this thing zipped over my sling.”

“It’s Latin. Ancora. It means anchor.”

Bobby’s head came up. He stopped. The pull-tab of the zipper remained clamped between thumb and forefinger. “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I’m the protector. Did you need the tattoo to tell you that?”

“Do you know what sign you were born under? Is it Saturn?”

“Orphan, remember?” His hand rested at his waist. “Uncanny. Zilla’s predictions seem to be coming true. It’s like were all actors in a play she has written.”

“She’s a poor director. ‘The Dustman is your protector.’ She harped on that a lot. We both know he certainly wasn’t my guardian angel. Just the opposite.”

“I was thinking about that yesterday. Maybe he was a paladin, hero to Zilla. The dark energy gave her the courage she needed to survive being married to Max.”

“I never thought of it like that.”

“Enough brain strain. We don’t have time for a séance. We’ll talk this all out later, when we are far away from here.” He jerked one arm into his vest.

She just stared at him for a moment unable to let go of the idea that there was anything good in dark energy. When he groaned she recovered. “Let me help. The lump from the sling doesn’t look right. Take your arm out and rest your hand in the vest pocket.”

“You’re killing me girl.” The puffy hand had to be wedged in.

Lilly mopped his damp brow and zipped the vest. “Don’t move that right arm and you should be all right.”

“I’m not a glutton for pain, so no problem.”

“Sorry. Let me straighten your wig. Good. Tuck in your shirt. Tem might recognize his old clothes.”

They checked each other over and exhaled in tandem.

“We’re ready.” Bobby walked over to the pantry door. “Okay, do your magic.”

Lilly didn’t answer. Her feet wouldn’t move. Eyes swayed right, left, and up to the rowdy crowd above her. “I need a push.”

He took her hand. “Breath. Move one foot, now the next. Good girl. Think about your dad.” He gave her a half second.

They faced the door.

“Running out of patience here...kid, we’ve got a small window of opportunity and my hand is killing me. Open it or I’m kicking it down.”

“Fine. Do you have the flashlight?”

“Yes. Quit stalling.”

She turned off the pantry lights. “The kitchen is dark—let’s keep it that way. Shine the flashlight here.”

It flickered. He smacked it back to life.

She removed a soup can lid from her back pocket and went to work.

“What are you doing? The locks?”

“This is easier. Remember Tem built this room. The door hinges are on the inside.”

“I could have done that.” Bobby huffed.

“Not one-handed. Boys don’t notice the little details.” She slipped the three pins out, pivoted the door back just wide enough for them to pass through, and then walked the door back into its proper place. “They’ll think we are still locked inside.”

“Careful. Tornado Tem touched down in here. The kitchen is in shambles. Follow me.”

“Any sounds coming from Max?”

“Nothing. And even if he deserved it we don’t have time to be good Samaritans.”

They moved down the hall like cats walking over water afraid to get their feet wet. The festivities were much louder now that they were outside of the pantry.

The raucous music infiltrated Lilly’s body as they closed in on the waiting area. Her heart thumped. The bass tickled the bottoms of her feet.

“They’re using a monophonic synthesizer with voltage-controlled step sequencer—for the music.” Lilly quickstepped.

“You’re dancing? Now?” Bobby pinched Lilly’s arm. “Cut it out. Move.”

They paused outside of Zilla’s bedroom just to make sure. The door was open. Bobby peeked in. “Empty,” he whispered.

“Like you said she’s asleep on the sofa. Bobby could I tell…I feel bad, poor Zilla.”

“No extra stops. We’re on the clock here.”

The seating area for Zilla’s clients was just ahead and bathed in darkness. Flashing strobe and white lights flickered like an electric picture frame around the door leading to the foyer.

They inched past the drawn curtains to the salon. Lilly’s hand curled around the doorknob. “Here goes.”

Glass shattered. It was a distinctive sound, conflicting and as jarring as the disco music.

Bobby’s hand capped hers. “Shush. Wait! There are people in the kitchen.”

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