It doesn’t take four Changelings long to clean up a bar, even if two of them are there under protest. When Killian’s is spick and span once more, Freddie Mercury shows up outside, ringing her bicycle bell to the tune of “Bicycle Race.”
Wiping sweat from beneath his nest of antlers, Dil trots out to have the messenger press a fat envelope into his hands.
“‘Ere y’go, luv,” Freddie says, “From Hanna. Says it’s to restock the bar and homestead, and anything extra is for y’troubles and bein’ a good loyal Springie and such. Tell Ice to take you — I MEAN DRIVE YOU — in his big fat caddy.” And with a wink, she rings her bell and rides out into the street, her agile bike easily outmaneuvering what few cars dare the frosted roads.
Ice ushers Will and Turkey out of the bar so Dil can lock up, and then goes to get his car, which is indeed a chrome platinum 1970 Coup deVille convertible half as long as a crosstown bus. At least there’s plenty of trunk space.
“Hop in,” he says, one arm hanging out over the door, gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. “I know an Asian market ain’t been cleaned out yet with a good liquor section.”
“Excellent,” says Dil, climbing into the passenger side. “Some Kirin Ichiban will round out the beer, and sake and soju would be a nice dash of something more refined. Japan’s supposed to be making really good whiskey now, too.”
“Soj-what?” asked Ice. “That sounds like that Four Loko or sizzurp shit some of my boys drink. Tastes like rank ass, but gets you zero to krunk in about 3 seconds.”
Dil goes slightly green at the thought of whatever could be called “sizzurp”. He pulls out his small pipe and stuffs it with some dried Hedge weed – a varietal called Ember Smoke that ignites to a glowing smolder just by being crushed, no matches needed; it settles the nerves and fills the body with a pleasant warmth when smoked, but does…“unpleasant” things if consumed, so naturally it was a favorite of Father’s.
“Sake is a Japanese rice wine. Really light, really smooth, great for relaxing. In fact, this snowy weather is perfect for sipping a shot in.”
Ice gives him some side-eye before saying, “Motherfucker, I know what sake is. This being California and all, I’ve had sushi once or twice.”
Holding his hands up in resignation, Dil apologizes. “Sorry, sorry. Soju’s Korean and it’s basically a rice spirit that’s mostly ethanol and water. Gets up to 90 proof for the strong stuff.”
Ice whistles. “Dayum. And I thought Grey Goose got me feelin’ loose.”
“Yeah. Sizzurp that shizznit and you’ll get way krunk.”
“Don’t say that. It just sounds wrong when you say it.”
Dil disguises a huff by taking a full drag on his pipe, watching the snow fall as Ice pulls into the parking lot of the Asian market, its name utterly indecipherable to Dil.
As Ice pulls into the lot, the tires skid and go into a fishtail, neither the car nor the driver being particularly prepared for the slick driving conditions. With a quick flick of his fingers, Dil sends a pale green haze of Favored Fate to settle over Ice’s hands, which suddenly turn the steering wheel in precise compensation for the car’s loss of control as the land-boat of a car slides perfectly into a space.
“Whew. Thanks,” says the Fairest.
Dil smiles and says, “Sure thing. I’m not so hot with the kicking of ass or taking of names, but good things do tend to happen when I’m around. For example, we don’t have to fight the rush for groceries.”
The two Changelings disembark from the Coup and head into the store’s warmth. Dil immediately goes for staples and specialty items: noodles, rice, spices, leafy vegetables, tea, and even throws in a box or two of mochi balls from the frozen desserts. Ice meanders around the store on his own, fulfilling the needs of his own shopping list as Dil heads to the front for liquor and to pay.
Beer and soju are found, as are a variety of standards: whiskey, rum, gin, and the ever-popular vodka. Nothing terribly fancy, but decent quality. Then, on one of the higher shelves, Dil spots a bottle whose name he can’t read, but whose distinctive style he remembers well: Bijin Sake.
“Oh, pretty lady, you’re going on our shelf at home,” he says, ordering the large bottle.
“That’s the good stuff, huh?” asks Ice, overhearing Dil’s quiet exclamation as he comes up to the register.
“Oh yes,” replies Dil. “Excellent quality. She’s coming home for a special occasion. There’s enough for everyone at the house to have a sakazuki or two – basically a large shot,” he says, noticing Ice’s blank stare at the foreign word, “So I figure we put it aside for a celebration.”
He pulls out the money from Freddie to pay for the groceries. “But if Will or Turkey use it for sake bombs, then we’ll be celebrating over a dinner of roast Beast.”
The middle-aged cashier puts down her Korean magazine when she hears the cart. She turns her visor forward and rings up the purchase so fast Dil’s eyes cross. She doesn’t bother to charge sales tax, which leaves more than enough for a month or so of amenities, if not enough to dent the back-rent.
The two Changelings are loading up the Caddy when a hand lights on Dil’s shoulder. The Wizened spins around to see the only other customer from the store, a square-jawed Chinese man hiding a suburban dad’s paunch under a winter coat. He’s smiling askew as if greeting an old friend, met by random chance in drag in Bora Bora.
“Will?” he says, “William Dillon?”
Hearing that name is like seeing a dog lost to a divorce settlement years ago. It’s not his anymore, and he’d tried to forget it. As the memories slam the Wizened right in the breadbasket, the stranger says, “How’s Brett? Far drive from Santa Cruz to go shopping!”
Stunned, Dil just stares for a second, unable to process the flood of memories and attendant emotions, as if they’d been locked away in some reservoir whose dam suddenly burst. Before they can drown his psyche, Dil snaps to, his durance having pounded out surprise and hesitation from him almost completely.
Recovering, he slips comfortably into the skill he mastered as a human and polished to a mirror shine at the Homely House, the failsafe that serves every bartender well when confronted by a stranger whom he should [maybe] know…
“Oh, hey! The cold must’ve frosted my eyes over for a second; I didn’t recognize you right away,” he jests with an easy smile. “I actually…haven’t seen Brett in a long while. Moved away from Santa Cruz for a job I couldn’t refuse. I only moved here to Los Gatos a few months ago. How are you? How’ve things been?”
The polite conversation flows easily, aided greatly by the fact not a single word said was untrue. The amiable mask hides the maelstrom in his head. Thoughts rage to try to organize and properly place the “new” memories now in his brain, including frantically searching for any information on Brett, Santa Cruz, and this man who knows his old name.
No memories surface of this pleasant gentleman or of anyone named Brett. But the former quickly sheds light on the latter.
“Oh, that’s a shame! You were so good together. Nice of you to let him keep that house out on Sunset. And what kind of job? Work’s hard to come by for old techies like us! I’m just lucky I took over my uncle’s laundromat or the family’d be starving!” he says with a half-hearted chuckle.
That seems to take some of the wind out of his sails for a bit, and Dil has to spread more blarney to imply it’s not the sort of job he can help the fellow get. It’s clear from the conversation the two were coworkers in the accounting department at Google after Dil was taken. Finally, slightly crestfallen thinking about his job prospects, the stranger shakes Dil’s hand and walks back to his ten-year-old Chevy Volt, rubbing the back of his neck.
Dil breathes a sigh of relief and turns back to the Caddy. Ice meets his gaze, arms crossed on the ragtop, some of the luster gone from the sardonyxes his Keeper gave him in place of Irises.
“You got a fetch,” he says, the way an exterminator might say, ‘You got roaches in the walls.’
Dil sighs again, a touch of weariness and sadness coloring the exhalation.
“I wondered if something like that would ever come up. Too much to hope that it wouldn’t I suppose. So…what does this mean? You had to deal with yours. What’s in store?”
Ice is silent till you’re back on the road, fingers drumming the steering wheel as he mulls over what to say.
“What’s in store? Maybe nothing. You could let your Fetch live its life and you live yours and never the twain shall meet.”
“Okay,” Dil says, “Now what’s actually going to happen?”
The Fairest’s chuckle comes out as a puff of bitter air. “The more in-tune you get with the Wyrd, the higher the chance your Fetch will realize you exist. Right now, it’s just a dude. Something that thinks it’s a dude. But when a Fetch realizes it’s a Fetch, it develops powers. To defend itself, or attack you. Only one of you should exist, y’know? Fetch thinks it’s the one.”
After a few more quiet moments, he says, “I killed mine. When I came back, I found him running my old crew. Running H. So I just blew him away in front of them. I can’t even describe how angry I was, man. Like, this thing pretending to be me, making my friends do shit I never would. Shit that’s beneath them. Beneath me.”
“What happened when you killed him?” Dil says, then corrects himself: “Killed it?”
“Collapsed into a pile of garbage, man. Twine and GI Joe parts and silver and gold tooth fillings. And then I felt—” he shakes his head. “I dunno. A bit more whole. More like who I was.” He stops at a stoplight and looks Dil in the face, his gemstone eyes somehow more expressive than they should be. “Like someone who could suddenly feel bad for blasting someone into junk under the open sky.”
Dil remains silent himself for a while, mulling over Ice’s words. He never really put much thought into the whole “Fetch” thing and is torn between being surprised that Ice just blew someone away and feeling that it’s totally expected (though the latter comes with a dash of White Guilt for leaping to stereotypes, but does it really count if Ice isn’t technically “black” anymore? Probably better to just avoid thinking about the issue altogether.)
“I don’t suppose there’s any way around the problem? I’d rather find something amicable. Like you said, it’s just some dude and it thinks it’s me, and what ‘me’ would do is live and let live provided we stay away from each other completely.
“Like I said earlier, I’m not much for fighting. These things,” he says, knocking on his horns, “Are mostly ornamental. I used ’em on Tony once when I really had to. It got the point across, but I damn near wound up in a neck brace for the efforts.”
Ice chuckles, says, “Amicable? Shit. Maybe I would’ve been amicable too if my Fetch was just some nice little nigga working at the liquor store. I guess if you could either ignore the fetch and hope it ignores you back, or you could go introduce yourself. I’ve heard stories of Changelings who wished the Fetch well, got wished well back. Even some who became friends with their Fetch.”
Dil’s eyebrows raise at the prospect of befriending a Google bean-counter, let alone one which happens to be a magical homunculus who stole his life. But just as he’s mulling it over, Ice says, “Way more stories about dudes being all, ‘Hey man, I’m the human you’re based on, just thought I’d say we cool — oh hey, why you stabbing your jagged wooden fingers through my eyes?’”
Ice looks over to see Dil turn a paler shade of white, claps him on the shoulder. “Only real advice I can give you is you’re better off confronting it than not. Better you know it’s hostile than it just wakes up aware of you and with buzzsaws for teeth. Talk to your Motley about it, though. See what they think.”
A few minutes later, the Caddy pulls up in front of Killian’s. Like any good draftees, Turkey and Will have taken the first chance to desert and are nowhere to be seen. Cursing them under his breath, Ice starts unloading the trunk while Dil heads inside to grab the dolly. Snow starts falling as they work, wafting lazily down on a threadbare wind.