The Dealey Five
Chapter 14 (or, "There Goes The Neighborhood")
Where We Last Left Off: The four kids had cornered whom they thought might be their fifth missing comrade, but their enemies are one step behind.
If there was a better moment for Carissa and Mac to arrive on Mac’s electric bike, Tamasine would be hard pressed to find it. But they weren’t showing.
His eyes stayed on the boy in the center, the Chinese kid whom he was sure would be their fifth member...and he was also with these so-called KGB men in black whom Milaya had been affiliated with. What was his deal? There was an emotion there that Tamasine couldn’t define -- and then did.
The boy was lost, probably didn’t know really whose side to be on. Who was this man who spoke Chinese, who also sided with the Soviets? If Tamasine didn’t know, then how would this boy really know? He couldn’t have been older than his siblings.
He took the boy by the arm. “Stay,” he said in quick Japanese, hopefully so fast that nobody else would catch it.
The boy looked up at him, and Tamasine hoped he was innocent enough to follow his instructions.
“I already told you people,” Milaya shouted, “I am not a traitor. You are the ones who keep playing games with me and refuse to care. Who is this boy you have taken into your care?”
The man smiled. “What does it matter to you? Because of your insolence, you will be excluded from our Soviet homeland’s great return.” He beckoned to the young Chinese boy. “Come,” he said in English.
A moment’s hesitation was all the boy gave, and that’s all that the man needed. Tamasine blinked, and Tao rushed forward, grabbing the boy’s shoulders and wrenching him away from Tamasine. The boy was no match for the other man as Tao threw the boy over his shoulder and started to run.
Tao only got three steps -- and the boy was only able to scream for three seconds -- before Mac’s motorbike slammed right into the two of them. The impact sent Carissa flying from the bike, thankfully into the fountain, while Tao and the boy skidded against the concrete. The boy somersaulted before coming to rest against the fountain’s concrete base.
Tamasine ran to the boy. “Are you all right?” he asked, reaching his side in seconds.
Tao growled and got onto his knees. “You will all pay for this,” he said.
“See if I care,” Jason said as he rushed toward Tao, putting forth an extra burst of speed. “You’re not getting away!”
And then, without warning, time stopped. The boy froze, still on the ground, and Jason stopped running in midair. Tamasine couldn’t move, but he could still watch as Tao got up and pointed at them.
“I will get all of you, if it’s the last thing I do. Mark my words, we will win. Glory to our Soviet mother.” And then, he was gone, and Tamasine felt the freeze lift, able to breathe again. Everybody seemed shocked. The area was quiet for a minute, until Jason’s voice shattered the silence.
“Shit! He took my boombox!”
“I swear I just put the thing down when I rushed him,” Jason complained over Saint Arbucks. “I figured some Mexican girl would watch it, but I guess that was too much to hope, huh?”
“And what were you going to do when you got to that guy, Jason? Flip over him?” Rosa rolled her eyes and sipped another strawful of berry tea.
“That would have been cool,” Jason said. “Not that I’m complaining about how it all went down. I just need my boombox back, man.”
“Bebe pobre. Maybe you should actually do something about it?”
“Not my fault I froze it midair, okay, pretty girl?”
“Stop,” Carissa said, putting her chai down.
Mac put his hand on Carissa’s. “There’s nothing we could have done.”
Carissa tried not to tear up. “This shouldn’t be happening. I don’t know how it did. I don’t have the power to stop time like I used to. If there is still a guardian of this world, that would be Isabel, and she -- I don’t think she was there.”
“I didn’t see her,” Milaya said, quiet otherwise. There was a disturbed look on her face. “We all saw the world stop, right? That wasn’t just me?”
“It wasn’t.” Mac leaned his head on his hands. “And the only other person who could have changed our world like that...would have been Dvorak, but he’s not here anymore. You sucked him into the limbo.”
Jason almost dropped his milkshake. “You keep mentioning this Dvorak person, but not who he or she is. I’m guessing your experience with him or her wasn’t such a good one?”
“As you may remember,” Mac said, “when two worlds merge, each is chosen to have a guardian. If a suitable guardian cannot be found, then a member of QWERTY has become the guardian by proxy and helped merge the lesser world into the greater. That was Dvorak’s job, but he didn’t exactly make things easy for us.”
“He kept messing with it,” Carissa explained. “Apparently somewhere down the line he went rogue, all James Bond on Sarah. He kept trying to stop us from merging the worlds, instead being hell-bent on destroying both. We worked it out, but that’s how Isabel became a member of QWERTY.”
“She should know about this,” Mac said. “When you guys see her again, make sure to let her know. Unless she’s here right now.”
“She’s not.” Rosa sipped her drink again. “We got our fifth person, though.”
“Well, at least we’ve got him now,” Jason said. He looked outside to make sure Tamasine and the kid were out there still, not that far from where they were sitting. Something about the kid not liking coffee. Whatever. “Maybe it won’t be so bad having him around. Doesn’t have a name, but none of us did. We could make him do stuff for QWERTY. You know, maybe he can be our greaseman or something. He’s small enough that he could probably sneak into the KGB headquarters without anybody noticing. If he goes in there, then voila! I get my boombob back, and then we can call Mick somehow and go back to headquarters. It will be a done deal, and we won’t have to worry about anything else. Besides, forget about Dvorak. You guys beat him, and there aren’t any worlds changing anyway. Maybe it was a fluke, or one of our phones froze time.”
“Something tells me it won’t be that simple,” Carissa said, still in her funk.
“Hey,” Rosa said, interrupting Jason, “forget about the kid for a minute. Where did Milaya go?”
Mac looked around the room for a moment and realized Rosa was right: Milaya was gone. “Should we look for her?” he asked, knowing at this point that, wherever she had gone, those still in the group probably couldn’t stop her.
While the others were in Saint Arbucks, Tamasine had been sitting outside with a very confused Chinese boy. They sat under an umbrella while the boy ate some ice cream from the nearby truck. Apparently, while he liked to work inside Saint Arbucks on his computer, that didn’t mean he liked their drinks.
“We have got to get you out of those clothes,” he remarked. “You stick out like a sore thumb in those. Dimitri and that other guy will find you too easily.”
The boy looked down at his clothes just as some ice cream dripped on his jacket. “I think they’re okay. I like them.”
“Did you arrive in those? Have you even washed them?” Tamasine remembered how Carissa had volunteered to do laundry for everybody in the group.
“I sleep in them, and I wear them all the time. Why? Is that bad?”
Dang. “No, I’m just surprised you don’t stink.” Tama looked inside the building and met eyes with Mac. It was enough of a communication; Mac came outside.
“Can we go...around here?” Tamasine asked, pointing around the Upper West Side. “This kid needs some new clothes, but I don’t think we all need to go. He’s almost done with his ice cream anyway.”
“I can hear you,” the boy said.
Mac laughed. “We know. That should be fine, but just be gone an hour? If you’re gone any longer than that, Rosa will probably decide to go on her own shopping spree, and we’ll never get back to Coney Island.”
“Got it.” Tama wondered if they should be staying so close to Brighton Beach and the KGB, but the men in black had only found Carissa’s apartment, not Mac’s. He waited until the boy was done with the ice cream and then stood up. “Are you coming?”
The boy looked at Tama. “Sure. Where are we going?”
It didn’t take them that long to get to the first store. Tama figured any store would do, unlike Rosa, who mostly shopped at high-end places. They took an escalator downstairs and found walls of discount shopping. “We should find a couple of things,” Tama said, “so that you have options. We’ve got your jacket back at Mac’s place. That’s where we’ll be headed tonight.”
“I normally go back with the men,” the boy said. “Do you think he’ll pick me up?”
Tama had to think about it for a minute. “Well, they were after Jason’s boombox for so long, I don’t know if they’ll bother us for tonight. If they do come, it’ll be a full-scale attack. We should find some way to notify Isabel, so she can be there. My guess is that now they’ll be after Milaya and you, seeing as how Milaya was with them, and you were…?”
“Working on the program.”
“Right. The program.” Tamasine tried not to ask a lot of questions. Too many and the boy would get defensive. But it still tugged at his mind. Was the boy just working for the Soviets? Or was he one of them? Regardless, he had to be really good to be as young as he was and so talented. Tamasine bet the boy had probably learned how to code in the old dimension. Maybe he had been raised for it, and trained since birth, like a gymnast or a piano player.
“Let’s look at clothes,” he said instead, changing the subject.
They perused the aisles and found two pairs of shorts, one in a grey and one in a brown. Tamasine figured the boy’s current sneakers would be okay, so he didn’t bother looking for shoes. Pants were a bit harder to look for, as they were out of season, so Tamasine figured they would get some back at QWERTY headquarters. Finally were the shirts, and Tama took the nameless boy through the aisles, letting him pick out whatever he wanted.
“You probably don’t get this much freedom with the guys in black, do you?” he asked.
The boy was quiet, then “No. I like these clothes, but they’re not the best to sleep in.”
“We borrow sleep clothes from Mac and Carissa, mostly because we’ll get stuff from QWERTY headquarters. Are you going to come with us? To QWERTY, I mean.”
He seemed confused. “QWERTY?”
“To make a long story short, they’re the ones who sent us here. Rosa and I had to go and find everybody else, all of the other members. Once we get Jason’s boombox back, we’ll go back to headquarters, probably get some training, and start going out on missions or something. And you’re part of our team. It’s me, Jason, Rosa, Milaya, and you. Hopefully, once we get back, we can start to put these differences behind us.”
The boy looked like he didn’t understand, so Tama left it alone for the moment. They left with two bags that Tamasine carried, one of them holding the boy’s jacket. “Hey,” the boy said, pointing, “can we go in there?”
Tama saw it was a computer store and laughed. “Of course.”
The computer store was packed with people gazing at electronics and representatives talking about the latest products. Tamasine had thought the cell phone he had was advanced, but even these products put his phone to shame. The boy was over at a display, listening to a woman talk about products. If Milaya required blini, then maybe this boy needed something te tie him in. After all, the boy didn’t have his computer right now. He was probably going through withdrawal or something.
“Call me stupid, but what exactly are these things?” Tama asked the lady doing the demonstration.
The sales lady gave them a smile. “These are the latest in LaPostale technology,” she said. “The LaPostale mobile line began with the Solo music player in 2005, and has evolved over the years to include our full line of computers, tablets, and smartphones. Any one of these devices can come with a connection to the wireless network, or can connect to any number of hotspots.”
Tamasine noticed the kid was looking at a small tablet. The screen was as big as a book, but it still looked light enough to carry, and the backside was in a glossy black. “What’s that one?” he asked.
The sales lady picked up another tablet, same in size, but in a white color. “This is the Lona, our newest tablet. It has all of the latest apps and can be used for anything. It comes in white or black. If that one is too big, the Rorita is the same operating software, but in a smaller size.”
“That one may do,” Tamasine said, looking it over. “Hey, omae.”
The boy turned his face towards Tamasine, not letting go of the tablet. “Yes?”
“If you got one of these tablets, what would you use it for?” Tamasine asked in Japanese.
The boy smiled. “I’d use it for coding, for writing HTML and Python and C++ and all of the programs needed to save this world. That’s what Tao told me to do, anyway. And I like doing it. It’s fun, making things happen on a screen.”
“Tao...was that the guy we saw in Corona Park?”
“Of course. He told me that if I coded the programs, he could run them, and they would make the world better.”
“Make it more Soviet is more like it. But I still don’t understand. How do you expect a computer program to update the world?”
The boy shrugged. “I wasn’t told to worry about that part. I was just told to write the code. The rest would happen later.”
“Oh.” Tamasine turned back to the girl. “Hey…” He looked down at her nametag. “Miss Lauren, can we go ahead and get this one?”
They soon left with the tablet box in another bag and the tablet in the boy’s hands. As he played with it, Tamasine voiced his thoughts aloud. “So you don’t remember your name at all, do you?”
The boy shook his head.
“Did Tao call you anything?”
“No. I’m just the boy to them. In Russian. Or Chinese. Or English, if they’re really mad at me.”
Tamasine switched back to Japanese. “What would you like to be called? You’ll remember your real name someday, I promise. But until then, did you have any clue what you could be called?”
“I’ll never remember who I used to be. That’s what they said. I have to focus on the future and the glory of the Soviet homeland.”
“That also bugs me. You and Tao are clearly not Soviet, so why are you guys helping Dimitri?”
The boy stopped. “But we are.” And then, he started to sing a song, one that Tamasine didn’t recognize, with a simple melody clearly in Chinese. The boy closed his eyes when he sang it, and it was clear he knew it by heart. “That’s the anthem,” he said finally. “In this world, our Soviet homeland was destroyed, but the heart of communism still exists in China. In our world, Russia and China are united in their pursuit of communism by the Soviet homeland.”
Tamasine forgot how to breathe. Yet, it made sense now, like it was a fact he had hidden away in his mind and just hadn’t remembered until now. “Do you miss it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember it.”
“Then do you miss Tao and Dimitri?”
“I don’t know yet. But you have goggles and ice cream.” The boy stopped walking. “Call me Didi.”
“Didi? Why just Didi?”
Didi smiled. “It means little brother, silly!”
And Tamasine could hear Hideko’s voice in his head. Tama-niichan… He shook his head, trying not to cry. This boy -- Didi -- wasn’t his brother, so why was he saying that?
“Is that okay, Ge-Tamasine?”
It didn’t make sense. “And that is…?”
“Well, you’re kind of like my older brother, aren’t you?”
Not at all, Tamasine thought to himself. But that didn’t stop him from looking at the boy in front of him and feeling just a bit protective. “Okay, Didi. I’ll tolerate it. But we’re not siblings. If you’re going to pretend you’re related to me, you’ll have to do it right.”
He took a deep breath. “Tamasine-niichan.”
Didi gave another smile. “Tamasine-niichan. I like it.”
Dimitri tapped his cigar against the desk, letting the smoke filter through the air. “Any news?”
Tao shook his head, seated across from the older Russian man. “Not as of yet. Only this.”
“Never mind the rest, then. As long as we have the program from the boy’s computer, we can take care of the rest.” He smiled, but it unsettled even Tao. “What are you waiting for? Turn it on.”
Tao wasted no time. He picked up the boombox from where it had been sitting under the desk and put it on top. With one switch, he flipped it on...and the music started.