Chapter 27

The tent city, which served as the ramshackle home of the infamous Underground, was underwhelming. It was mostly just cluttered and smelly and not very organized. Bins of various goods; perishable, dry, and electronic, splayed out on folding tables under tarpaulin roofs. There was no easy to navigate grid pattern, just loops and back alleys, and endless turns that felt like she was walking into a trap. It felt as though the tents were huddling together for warmth, rather than commerce.

Alex shook her head, and nudged Leo, who was transfixed by her smartphone wrapped in a GPS blocker.

“What are we doing here?”

“I need parts.” Leo said, fiddling with a wire on the side of the blocker. She jumped as a small amount of current zapped her probing finder. Ray sighed pointedly and took the device from her, extracting a roll of black electrical tape from his pocket and gently wrapping the exposed wire.

“And more tape.” she grinned. “And we all need more secure phones and the stuff for your break in. No better place than Blossom’s place."

“Who is Blossom?” Alex grinned. “The retired Power Puff Girl?” They rounded the corner to find...

“It’s a bar.” Alex slapped her face with her palm. “We passed three booths selling bins of parts and stolen cell phones. And you’re going to a bar?"

“You need to have more faith in me, my friend."

She followed her disreputable woman into the bar, which had been set up in an actual structure, albeit a double wide trailer. The sign out front was cardboard on sharpie, though whomever had written the letters was very good at hand lettering, and at drawing cherry blossoms. 

Ray opted to stand outside, giving Leo her phone back and pulling out another circuitboard from somewhere on his person, twisting wires and taping things into place.

The screen door of the establishment, torn and duct taped together, acted as the only barrier during opening hours, with the real door for the entrance displaying high paranoia dead-bolt security. Leo walked in as if she had been there a thousand times, waving to the bouncer; classic meat with clipboard and barely fitting suit; and being accosted by several people at varying levels of intoxication, despite them being underaged and it being just barely two in the afternoon.

“WELL!” Boomed a voice from behind the bar. “If it isn’t God-damned Sonya effing Herring.” She really did self censor her-self with “effing”, despite the cuss just two words before. 

“Maybe,” Alex thought to herself. “If I had some memories of the army back, this wouldn’t be such a shock. I might actually be desensitized to cussing.”

“Hey, Blossom!” Leo leant over to shake the bar tender’s hand. Alex had half expected Blossom to be male. She sure sounded male with her voice. But the woman was slim, beautiful make up, large breasted, pink acrylic nailed, with a leopard print top and black leather mini-skirt. She wasn’t half bad looking. Blonde hair, eye brows were perfectly symmetrical…

She was male. Drag-queen? Transgender? Just gay? Alex was trying really hard not to stare. Blossom caught her, the look of utter confusion must have been plastered all over her face like a neon sign.

“Who is this beautiful lump of sugar?” Blossom relinquished Sonya’s hand and leant over the bar. She squeezed her “breasts” together with her arms, to excentuate them. This was clearly a ploy to make her uncomfortable. She should just play along and let Blossom know that she was fine with anyone deciding who they wanted to be. It was just a culture shock.

Blossom took pity on the stammering Alex, erupting into laughter.

“I’m just playin’ with you!” Blossom slapped the bar and spun, pouring two glasses of water and handing them to her new arrivals. Leo took a seat at the bar, sipping the cold water andAlex came to sit with her.

“Did you give up on that pretty air-head, Rod, and decide to go with pretty jar-head instead?” Blossom gestured at Alex.

“How did you…?”

“If it weren’t written all over your face, Hun,” Blossom pointed an acrylic nail, pointed and terrifying, right at Alex’s eyeball. “It would be written all over your muscular form and the way you scanned everything as soon as you walked in the door. How many guns in the room?”

“Four.” Alex said without pause.

“See.” Blossom snapped. How did she snap with those nails? It should be impossible to do anything with something that long on your finger tips.

“No.” Leo leant forward, taking back the conversation. “I didn’t get rid of The Rod. He’s just back at headquarters right now.”

“Too bad.” Blossom “cleaned” under a nail. “I had that cinnamon whiskey he really likes.”

“How much to set aside a bottle?” Leo sighed.

“You know I don’t do layaways, Sweetie.” Blossom coyly slapped Leo’s resting hand on the counter. 

“Would you if I were buying some other merchandise?”

“I knew there was another reason you came in here. Not just hydration and to show off your G.I. Jane. I hope she comes with kung-fu grip.” Leo busted up laughing and Alex felt the blood rise to his cheeks. This lady was too much. She couldn’t take much more of this.

“Really,” Leo said breathlessly. “I need five, clean, untraceables. And a few other parts.” She took a peice of paper out of her pocket and slid it across the bar. Blossom picked it up between thumb and forefinger, making a show of pulling out reading glasses from her back pocket. Alex doubted she needed them, they didn’t look like they had prescription lenses. They probably were just a fetish for some good clientele.

“You know you came to the right place.” Blossom, smiled at Leo, taking her hand and leading her around the counter. “I just got all of this in. CLOVER!” She shouted to the only waitress working the floor. She was also a drag queen, wearing all green, green fingernails, and… lipstick? Alex didn’t even know they made green lipstick. This drag-queen must be the one customer of the shade and probably kept the whole industry of green lip-stick afloat.

“Be a dear and tend the bar.” Blossom pushed aside the curtain. “But no more ANYTHING for Mister Brava! If he asks again, have Kai handle him!”

The clock ticking on the wall, making the world march to it’s beat. The music from the other room was oddly deadened by the walls in the trailer, making the back room feel like an oasis. A half smoked cigarette sat in the saucer of a white porcelain coffee cup, like those found in diners the world over. 

Blossom collapsed into the faded orange chair at the desk, pulling her wig off her head. Her cropped hair was spiked with sweat and she scratched her scalp with her long nails, showing all signs of  ecstasy. She lit the cigarette and took a draw; the tobacco was cheap.

“So,” the tone of her voice changed slightly, just a bit more masculine, less like she was on stage. “How many phones and do they all need GPS scramblers? Or do you need full blockers?” 

Alex wasn’t sure at this point if she should keep using feminine pro-nouns to describe her, or if she should switch to male. What was the protocol here? As if just thinking about her in the wrong way could insult her, and she wanted to like her, not just because she was going to sell them phones. But also because she was a full and unique person, not just a chess piece on a board, not just an odd quirky person she could talk about later. She was whole.

“I’d prefer full blockers,” Leo said, inspecting the wall of bins, containing smartphones and cell phones. “But if we don’t have enough, scramblers can work, too. We just can’t afford them taking the cluster of signals and trying to triangulate us.”

“Little, Sonya.” Blossom shook her head. “What danger have you gotten yourself into this time?”

“Worse than Israel.”

“That bad? That instance will live on in the underground’s hearts in infamy.”

“How bad was Israel?” Alex stared at Leo. 

“Bad.” Leo shook her head. “Rod still has nightmares about goats.” Alex left it at that. She would probe those depths another time. Blossom had risen and went to go get the merchandise, piling them in a cardboard box as she went. 

“I don't have a plain suit, sweetheart,” she dug through a bin and carefully placed several large tablets into the box, along with a few cords and keyboards. “That you're going to have to ask for down the road a bit.”

“I figured,” Leo nodded, taking a seat on one of the chairs. “But it's worth a shot. I'd rather buy from you first. I can trust you.”

The woman just smiled over her shoulder and kept piling things into the box. She brought it over when it was full of components and devices. She went into the back and dug around. Alex heard her swear and slam a few things. She came out with several ID cards, all of them from various private IT contractors. 

“You just had these lying around?” Alex took them from her proffered hand, astonished.

“Please,” Blossom gestured to the little room. “There is an order to the madness. They're carefully filed to be brought by my best customers.”

“Aha,” Alex nodded. “I am impressed with all of this. You are a worthwhile woman to be friends with, and not just because of your stash. Thank you very much for helping us.” She stretched out a hand. Hoping that it wouldn't be seen as cheesy or manipulative. Blossom took it and patted it with her other hand. 

“Bless your heart, sweetie.” And swept from the room. She came back with a set of keys and a business card.

“I can’t customize the van for you,” Blossom shook her head. “But this is the guy who can and will do it cheap if you mention my name.”

“Thank’s, Blossom.” Leo hugged the woman. “I appreciate it.”

“Stay safe, little Sonya.” Blossom patted her back.

Zoe FleischerComment