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Chapter 7

Prepare for a tumultuous Tuesday, my cranial compatriot! I'm walking down the hallway toward lunch with only a slight limp, drawn to the smell of tacos, and who do I see in my way? You guessed it: Paula the Papergirl, striding straight toward me and wielding her voice recorder like a sword.

"What can I do for you, Lois?" I ask in my most mild mannered tones.

"You can spill the beans on that limp, that's what! Word is you were attacked, but there's no agreement on who did it. Care to talk?"

"Sorry, but I never get kicked and tell."

"Was it was Wheels?"

"No, it was a foot."

"The foot of Wheels?"

"Is Paula's Foot of Wheels anything like Dillan's Fist of Doom?"

"Who?"

"Bunch of losers, don't worry about it. They've never touched me."

"Dillan as in Dillan Ashcroft?"

"I have no idea. Hey, you've got Mrs. Donner for lit, right?"

"Second period, yeah. There is no way she's the one who attacked you, so what does this have to do with your injuries?"

"Everything! I have her fifth period, but I missed that part of yesterday on account of this highly interesting damaged thigh of mine. It is oh so interesting. But alas, I am in dire need of finding somebody whose notes I can borrow, and also tacos, therefor I can spare no time for-"

"Fine, fine, you can borrow my notes. Now talk!"

"Okay, so I was heading to my friend Joe's house to slay some scurvy space pirates when Mom called me to pick up some butter on the way home. We're big fans of butter at the Thompson household. None of that margarine junk. But then Mom said some bald guys were accosting her, so I skated really hard, scoffed at some unimportant traffic laws, and helped her beat up the bad guys. But bad guys don't like getting beaten up, so one of them kicked my leg where it was already leaking important George fluid on account of a pre-existing integrity breach that I'd re-breached during my transit from Elsewhere Avenue to Buttkicking Boulevard. So that kick sent me on a quick vacation to Asphaltia while they grabbed their wounded and fled before our terrible might. And now my leg's pretty sore."

"But your leg was already injured before that? How?"

"It was a little torn up, but it was healing until Mrs. McKickface stuck her foot in it. Now I've got all these foot cooties in there waving their little gang signs around and making it hard to skate."

"How'd you get the original injury?"

"Oh, I screwed up and hit a railing when I was skating the night before. The railing was sharp to me, but to be honest, it didn't deserve what I did to it. I only hope that someday it will forgive me for my violence against it."

"Who were they?"

"I dunno, just some random railing behind a-"

"No, the gang who attacked your mom."

"I think they were from the Cueballs. There were three bald guys and a bald woman. One of the guys didn't even have eyebrows. The woman had a blackjack, two men had shovels, and one had a club. That seems like the Cueballs to me. Anyway, we scared them off, and my leg's doing a bit better today. I tried skating again yesterday and it was a bad idea, but hopefully today will be better. Especially once I apply those tacos. I'd definitely rather skate home than walk more. Being a pedestrian is so boring."

"Speaking of skating, where was Wheels when this was happening? Isn't he supposed to be helping people like you?"

"People like me, huh? Well, I dunno. It was a Sunday, so maybe he was at church or something. He probably stays late to help clean up because he's such a great guy, you know?"

"So you don't think she or he was one of the protesters outside Tonbosa Memorial Hospital? There were a number of skaters there who had to be chased off."

"You mean the lonely, shortsighted protesters who want to get the whole city sick because they don't understand what a quarantine is? No, I don't think Wheels is involved in villainous things like that."

"Okay. Getting back to your alleged encounter with the Cueballs, can you tell me more about-"

"Nope, I'm too hungry. People like me need to consume nutrients, calories, and so on, or we sort of die. But I'll email you more details if you hand over those notes so I can go eat tacos so I can heal so I can once again skate joyfully across the open lanes way my people were meant to." My stomach backs up my demand with a stern rumble.

"Fine, fine." She digs out her notebook and scribbles an email address onto it, then she jogs off toward a guy who, if rumor is to believed, rear-ended Principal McGreevey yesterday afternoon at the supermarket.

A few minutes later I'm heading toward my table when I look up from ogling my taco to see that Tiffany is already there, chattering away with Joe and Hannah. I try not to frown as I sit. She's cool, but if she becomes a fixture at our table it's going to really get in the way of talking shop with my friends.

Then I notice Hannah glaring at me, and it turns out I'm feeling pretty happy with the situation, actually, since Tiff's presence means I don't have to argue about whether I took unnecessary risks yesterday.

"You took unnecessary risks yesterday," accuses Hannah as I sit.

Well then. I deliberately eat a much needed bite of taco before answering, because I really am pretty hungry. Also, I need time to prepare a rebuttal. Hmm... aha, I know! "That," I say with all the gravity I can muster, "is what she said." As I open my milk carton, I add smugly, "But I stole those two bases fair and square."

Hannah is not amused, but Joe is. "No curveballs then?" he asks with a laugh.

"Nope. In fact, I think I've got a pretty good read on her now, if you know what I mean."

Tiff looks around the table and frowns. "No, actually, I don't know what you mean. Is this innuendo? I'm not good at that."

Hannah shakes her head, still glaring at me. "He's trying to make it sound that way to be cute, but we're really just talking around the fact that he's secretly a superhero, and I'm annoyed at him for overexerting himself when he has other options available."

"Well, you don't have to be sarcastic. I do know a thing or two about wanting to keep secrets, after all. Do you want me to give you three a minute?"

Hannah sighs. "Don't worry about it, I think we've said everything we needed to. If I'd been really worried I could have tracked him down and helped instead of hitting Flywell for an angry workout. And everything was okay in the end."

"Speaking of Flywell," I ask, "why don't you have Paula grilling you for interviews all the time? You fought and were shot at Flywell that day too, just like me, and you do all that community outreach stuff with your roller derby team. I don't do that kind of thing at all. So why am I the one with paparazzi? I swear, if I so much as stub a toe, she's all up in my face with that microphone, demanding my opinion on whether I think table legs collude with Wheels to prop up the patriarchy."

"You are hopeless, George. Joe, are you going to eat that carrot or not?"

"Don't you see how it's shaped?" he says while frowning at the vegetable. "It looks like a snail. It's creepy."

"It's just a carrot."

Tiff chuckles. "It's escarrot."

"Yeah!" Joe says. "It's disgusting."

"Well," says Hannah as she stabs it with her fork. "If you're not going to eat it, I will."

We all give a big "Eww!" as she pops it into her mouth, then I turn to Tiffany. "So what did I miss in history yesterday? Are we still assassinating Jackson?"

"Nope, we've moved on to Martin Van Ruin." She goes on to give me a quick rundown of the Panic of 1837 that is much more digestible than Mrs. Glenn's lectures. Premastication for the win!

"By the way, George," says Joe as the history lesson wraps up, "you're probably going to have to swap that bun out of the oven on your own tonight, as much as Hannah and I might not like it. I've got a meet, and she's got a game. I'm going to try to catch the end of it, and then we'll probably go out for ice cream after. So, you're gonna be on your own."

"A meet?" asks Tiff.

"Wrestling, first meet of the year. It'll be in the gym at six if you want to watch."

"I'll, um, think about it." She turns to Hannah. "And you roller skate? Like, as a sport?"

"Yeah," says Hannah. "Roller derby. We're playing at the Fortuna Rink at seven."

"How's that work? It's not like what George does, right?"

"Not even close. I do some freestyle like him for fun sometimes, but roller derby is completely different. We use quad skates instead of inlines, and it's basically a team contact race instead of a trick contest. Each team picks a jammer whose job is to try to lap the group as they skate around the rink, and the rest try to help their jammer and block the other one."

"Cool. That definitely sounds more up my alley than watching sweaty guys grope each other. Sorry, Joe." She hesitates, then turns to me. "Um, unless you need help with whatever secret bakery stuff you're doing on your own tonight?"

"Uh, no thanks. It is secret, and I actually just found out last Sunday that somebody else who wasn't supposed to know about it already knew about it." I glare at my cohorts and then shake my head. "So I'm not too keen on spreading it around even more just now. I appreciate the offer though, and I'll keep your kindness in mind when my plans come to fruition and I subjugate the world beneath me with the magnificent might of my baseball bakery empire of innuendo."

"Well, that's good to know. Thanks!"

The bell shrills its life-shattering cry and we all split up to complete our individualized torture regimens. Now, the rest of the school day is typical non-tumultuous tedium, but tumult will traipse out to the forefront soon enough, so please bear with me as I gently skate west after school to the general vicinity of the Tasty Chops Harris is holed up in, or as I think it should be call now: the Harrishaus.

I pick up my gear and a stoner disguise along the way and come to a stop behind the building I did my stakeout on yesterday. According to my tracker, which I seem to have forgotten to give a snazzy name to, Harris is still home unless he walked somewhere. That's unfortunate, because I need to get inside to download the data from the bug and replace its battery. I'll have to wait, so I climb up to my lookout, pull out a small notebook, and get cozy with some quiet reggae humming in my earbuds. I pass the time by playing with more designs for my grapple gun. I've done some math and research, and my original plan to have it just lodge a metal spike into whatever it hits is starting to seem unreliable.

Around the time my stomach starts to grumble about dinner, movement catches my eye and I see an unfamiliar silver SUV pulling into the parking lot. A glance at my tracker shows that the car I tagged yesterday is nowhere near and probably not moving. I hunker down a bit better and peek through my spyglass and listen with my ParaMic. Rob steps out of the passenger door and moves to get the rear door, but the woman -- Jones -- opens it and gets out before he can. The big guy, Jacob, exits from the other side of the back.

The driver stays inside as the other three go into the Harrishaus. They seem tense. Through my ParaMic I hear the TV go silent. Somebody claps, and then Harris says, "About time. We should have just done this in the first place. Skip all that buildup."

I can understand him because he's loud. Rob responds more quietly, and the only words I catch are "us seriously" at the end as he opens the door.

As they all head to the SUV, I notice that Harris has cleaned himself up a bit. His beard is neat and he's shaved his head again. He also looks very eager, unlike the rest who seem to be more grim or apprehensive, not to mention a bit sore from our encounter on Sunday. "You're sure she'll be at the Chester Mart?" he asks as he waits for Jones to stiffly climb in ahead of him.

"We don't have time to be sure now that we've tipped our hand," says Rob, "but that's what the other janitor thinks, and he seemed pretty sure. If not, we'll have to just hit her home. It won't have the same impact, but the only alternative would be to grab her at the lab itself, and that's too risky."

"Fine by me. I don't like all this grandstanding anyway." Harris slams his door shut as the engine starts.

Crap, sounds like they may be targeting Mom after all, although I have no idea why. The good news is the other janitor was either wrong or lying to them, because we don't shop at Chester Mart very often and Mom's at work right now anyway. But I need to end this tonight if they're going to start going after us at home. It's not like I trust the police enough to guard my apartment even if we could convince them to. We had two break-ins and one attempted arson after the Flywell incident before I distracted Hemopalooza enough as Wheels that they didn't have time to mess with George. And that was with the police supposedly guarding our building. The Cueballs probably have fewer cops in their pockets than Hemopalooza did, but I'm not taking the chance.

I read their plates through the spyglass as they drive away and then send Uncle Jeff a text message. "Silver SUV ZCM-71D almost hit me on my way to Chester Mart." That should be informative enough for him to prepare to respond while maintaining my plausible deniability. Now that the coast is clear, I pack up and climb down to take care of business in the Harrishaus. With any luck I won't need this data, but since I'm already here and Mom's not at Chester Mart, it won't hurt to spend a minute to grab it. I don't see anything interesting lying around inside, so I make the swap quickly, then hop a bus downtown.

The bus ride is boring. An old lady across the aisle keeps eyeing the skates strapped to my backpack and giving me dirty looks. The grungy dreadlocks wig I'm wearing probably isn't helping. When I smile back, her eyes go wide and she snaps her head around to stare out the window. I snort and turn up my music until we get there.

I successfully resist the urge to jump the steps and instead calmly walk out of the bus. So far I haven't been feeling much from my injuries, but I don't want to push my luck. As I plod across the parking lot toward Chester Mart, I scan my eyes over the parking lot. There's no sign of the SUV, but maybe they parked down the road or only got dropped off. I hold the normal outer door for a family with a screaming toddler, then I follow them through the inner doors into the store itself. My plan for now is to just wander the aisles for a bit to see what's going on. I've got a pocket full of lonely tracking beacons that I might try to plant on a Cueball or two if I get a chance. Ideally, I'll spy on them until they give up, then track them to somewhere less public to pick a fight with them in my full costume. I certainly don't want to fight them here in the store. Too many innocents would be put in danger by a tumultuous event like that.

Oh, wait. There's Rob and Jones trailing behind Tamara Winston. I get a sinking feeling as the pieces all fall into place. Part of me is relieved: they don't care about Mom after all, they just wanted information on Tamara's routine. Tamara is the true target. But the rest of me is ramping up into action mode, because things are about to-

"Everybody be cool, this is a robbery!" yells Tom's scratchy voice over the PA system as Jones and Rob pull white hockey masks from their coats. "And if any of you pricks move, we're gonna execute every last one of you!" Somebody punctuates that with some gunshots from back near the doors. "But nobody has to die here today. We can all get to go home today. So everybody be cool."

Spoiler: I'm not going to be cool. But unlike Hemopalooza, who I knew was going to cause a bloodbath no matter what I did, the Cueballs do not have a reputation for causing senseless death. They've done a lot of senseless property destruction lately and are currently endangering a lot of people, but I don't expect them to just start killing people at random if I do nothing. That means trying to fight them would probably make things worse instead of better.

But that doesn't mean I'm just going to play along.

Instead, I loosen my earbuds and crank up the volume until it's abundantly clear to anybody near me that I can't hear anything. Then I pull out my phone and stare at it as I stumble right into Rob and Jones as they're in the middle of pulling a bag over Tamara's head. I look up and act startled and confused, then bolt to the bathrooms while they're still too busy trying to keep a very angry Tamara from knocking them down to chase after me or notice the tracking beacon that's now in Rob's coat pocket.

I make it into the hallway servicing the bathrooms and slow down, but the bathrooms are not my target. The rear emergency exit is my target. The rear emergency exit that is apparently being guarded by Harris. A grinning Harris with a visible gun at his side and a blackjack idly twirling in his hand. A Harris who is not wearing his helmet today, having carpooled with his buddies instead of taking his bike. A Harris who is also not wearing any sort of mask. I guess he figures he doesn't need to hide his face like the others since he's already a fugitive.

His mouth moves as I stroll blithely toward him. "Sorry man, I can't hear you," I say while pointing at my earbuds with one hand. The other palms a canister of pepper spray. "Mind moving over so I can get through? Kind of in a hurry here." I'm using a different accent from the one I use as Wheels so he won't recognize my voice from when he refused to complete my survey.

Harris's mouth moves some more and his grin gets bigger and meaner as he brandishes his blackjack. Then he moves to block his eyes as my other hand comes up with the pepper spray, and before he knows what's happening I've shoved past, stole his gun, and sprinted through the door and around the corner.

If that sounds pretty slick, it's because I left out the part where I was so close that I got some backsplash from the pepper spray, and also the part where sprinting made my leg start throbbing again, and even the part where somewhere in the process I snagged the gun's trigger and nearly shot my foot. That was a painful intake of breath, let me tell you. But when all is said and done, I'm outside and in the clear. A quick application of skates later finds me up the road a ways, cooling my heels at Desmond Park and using a water fountain to flush my eyes a bit. I only caught a little of the pepper spray, so I'm not exactly blind, but my eyes are pretty puffy and unpleasant right now.

After that's more under control, I get out my phone and send Uncle Jeff a text. "Shopping sucked. Going to skate more instead." Somebody at Chester Mart will have pressed the alarm or called the cops, so I don't need to notify the police myself that stuff's going down. I just want to make sure Uncle Jeff knows I'm not in there, since I mentioned it earlier. Then I sit down on a bench and rest. Although it's sore, I didn't re-open the wound on my leg this time. Within about fifteen minutes the throbbing has died down and my eyes are mostly back to normal.

Now that I'm ready for more action, I pull out my... KaTracker? Tracker-Jacker? WheelTrack? Nah, those are all stupid. I'll just keep calling it a tracker for now. Anyway, the reason I grab it is because I don't expect that the Cueballs stayed at the Chester Mart. It sounded like their primary goal was Tamara, and scaring all those shoppers in the process was a stunt intended to... I don't know. Encourage people to comply when they try to trade Tamara for whoever or whatever they were talking about with that "release them" sign from last week? Could be.

Whatever their reasoning, one of the readings on my tracker is changing, getting smaller. I skate around for a while to get a feel for which direction they're heading, then I stow my skates and hop a bus. Lather, rinse, repeat. I inhale some energy bars along the way to stave off my hunger, and eventually I end up standing in the sparsely used parking lot of strip mall in Parkville, an hour after sunset. The signal is coming from a clothing donation bin, beside which is parked the SUV they'd been using. The empty SUV they'd been using. They must have discarded their outer layers and changed vehicles to throw off any pursuit.

Well, all is not lost. I hop on another bus and head to the Harrishaus. There are no vehicles in the parking lot, but I do pick up the sounds of the TV, so somebody is home. Or was home and left the TV on. I sip an energy drink I picked up along the way and watch the place for a while, listening with my ParaMic for sounds, but I don't hear anything but the TV. That makes me think Harris is the only Cueball in there. Would they leave Harris to guard Tamara on his own? That seems like a bad idea, but then again he's the only one already on the run. The rest of the Cueballs might need to make token appearances at home or wherever to support their alibis.

I debate waiting until he goes to sleep vs. barging in now. The fact that he's alone is what decides me -- if I wait, the others may return to interrogate her or film ransom demands or whatever. After all, if they do that overnight, they won't have to have suspicious absences from work during the daytime. I don't want to risk having to wait for all that to be over; I'd be very tired at school tomorrow.

Mind made up, I switch over to my Wheels costume and sneak up to the broken window in the front of the Harrishaus, careful to avoid stepping on any glass. I'd be sneakier on foot, but I want to be able to bail if things go wrong. I don't hear any changes inside as I climb through, so I crouch there for a bit, ready my Pepper Soaker, and then explode toward the hallway. My momentarily forgotten leg burns in protest, but it's too late to do anything about it now. I skid to a stop in front of the office, aiming my Pepper Soaker inside at... at a dirty looking man who is most definitely not Harris.

"D- don't shoot, man! I'll leave!" He starts scrambling toward the office's window. "It's all yours, man. I'll leave. Don't shoot me. Don't shoot me, man!"

"Stay away from the window!" I gesture at the corner. "Sit there. I'm not going to hurt you. I just want information. How long have you been here?"

He stumbles over to the corner and plops down. "Um, an hour? Give or take? I didn't know this place was yours. I won't tell anyone. Just don't shoot me."

"It's not mine, and you can have it for all I care. But a Cueball named Harris was staying here. You know him?"

"No, man. I just came here tonight."

I glance at the TV, then back at the bum. "Alright. Did you watch the news?" He nods. "What did they say about the kidnapping?"

"They said some people attacked Chester Mart earlier this evening, and that they kidnapped that pretty Ms. Winston. I hope they find her. She helped my little brother get a new arm, you know. He didn't have no money, but she helped him."

"They didn't say anything about who did it or what they want?"

"No sir. Just called 'em cowards."

"Well, it was the Cueballs, and I'm trying to find her. One of them was staying here." I rifle through the desk drawers, but the ammo boxes are gone. "I don't know if he's coming back, so be careful, alright?"

"Sure thing, boss."

I give him a salute, then back out of the room and exit the building. Through the door this time. Before I leave the parking lot, a thought occurs to me. I check my tracker, and Harris's bike is nowhere near. Well, that was dumb. I should have checked that before.

So, now I'm back to having two leads. I can track down the bike, or I can scope out Rob's house. Rob's house isn't going anywhere, so I decide to hunt down the bike instead. Besides, with Harris in hiding, he's likely to be wherever they're keeping Tamara.

And so once again I resume the tracking dance. I do the hokey pokey and I turn myself about, and I find myself outside Deepwell Elementary, an abandoned school not too far from the factory I first spied on them in. Deepwell took a lot of damage from the fires twenty-five years ago and was never repaired. Nowadays kids go to Swiftbrook, not too far from Coldriver. Which is good, because this place is a death trap. Half the building is collapsed, the rest seems to be tottering, and I can almost hear the muffled protests of the remaining supports.

No, wait. I can hear muffled protests. Must have the right place this time. There are voices too, but I can't make them out from here. I hide behind a slide in the playground and start getting my ParaMic out-

"What's up?" says a voice that resonates through my skull. The voice is followed by a dull clang as I jerk in surprise and bang my helmet against the slide's ladder.

I bite off the start of a curse and then hiss into my Wheeldio mic. "Man, don't spook me like that. Are you trying to get me killed?"

"Well, maybe you shoulda thought about that before you named me Spook. But seriously, what's going on? I was on my way to the Fortuna Rink to watch the rest of Hannah's-"

"You mean Halon. OPSEC, Spook."

"Why would she be- whatever. I was going to watch Halon finish her game, but I heard about what's going on with Tamara Winston and figured I should help. So what's up?"

"Well, I've tracked them to Deepwell Elementary. If you hold on a second, I'm about to start slurping their sounds."

"That's disgusting. Why can't you just talk like a normal person?"

"Shh!" I shove my pack aside, plug in the ParaMic, and listen.

"-ish this gag worked better," says Harris. "We should just knock her out."

"What part about 'no concussions' did you not understand?" says Rob. It sounds like he's talking through clenched teeth.

"Well, we could at least drug her. How am I supposed to sleep with all those mmmms and rrrrs and umrrrwwrrwrrrms?"

"Harris, unless you show me a medical degree, you are not drugging my hostage!"

"But then how-"

"Earplugs," says Jacob with some edge in his deep voice. "Now hush."

"Have you ever tried to sleep with earplugs on? They're-"

Harris's complaint is interrupted by an impact and some muttered cursing.

"Thank you, Jacob," says Rob. "Harris, since it's clear you'll just have an aneurysm if you continue sharing space with our guest, I want you to go prepare us a location for interrogation in case our demands continue to be ignored. This school doesn't have enough sound damping for that. Let's go with somewhere outside the city. A nice cave, maybe."

"I don't know nothing about caves, Rob."

"Perry, Swanson? No? Then it may as well be you, Harris, since you're the one complaining. Maybe start by looking up abandoned mines."

"Fine. I'll find you a cave."

"You will find us a cave, Harris. You'll be staying there too, so don't waste our time with mud-holes. And the rest of you may as well go home now. Jones and I will guard her for tonight. Swanson, I want you and Perry here tomorrow morning. Jacob and Tom will take over in the evening, and Jones and I will relieve you at around midnight. Agreed?"

An assortment of voices say "Yes" or some equivalent, and then people begin leaving the building. I'm in a good shadow and my mask light is off, so I just wait silently. When it's safe to make noise again, I think I'll have Joe tip off the police about Tamara's location while I plant a tracker in the beaten up van they've got parked behind the school. That way if any dirty-cops warn them and they run, I'll be able to follow. After that I can just find a good hiding place and watch.

"So what's happening now?" Joe asks. Of course, I can't answer since there are Cueballs walking past. We need to add a button I can press to send a signal when I'm trying to be silent. Now would be a really bad time to give my position away. I'm not afraid of being outnumbered in a fight, especially when I've got the element of surprise, and that was my original plan for tonight before I realized they weren't actually after my mom, but why even bother fighting them when I could just let the police-

"Surprise!" shouts an unfamiliar voice from off to my side as a shovel strikes my back and part of my Pepper Soaker. Well, so much for that plan. At least the shovel isn't sharp enough to penetrate my vest like a knife would have. Bad news is that my back is still mighty sore from getting shot the other day... and also? Getting hit in the back with a shovel just plain hurts, pre-existing wounds or not. So it should be no surprise that I shout a garbled combination of vulgarities as I drop the ParaMic and convulse. Lucky thing, too, because convulsing moves my neck out of the way of the second strike.

Now, this is the point where having experience is helpful. Most people's gut reaction -- if they could manage to do anything at all -- would be to roll away from the mean shovel so it can't keep hitting them, but that's actually a bad idea. Why? Because rolling around on the ground is slow, and the person with the shovel can just follow me. Instead, I roll towards the person, who turns out to be Jones. This accomplishes several things. First, it avoids the third swing. Second, it makes any potential fourth swing more awkward, possibly forcing Jones to move back a step. So far, that's no different from moving away. But the third thing it does is throw Jones off balance since she expected me to move away. That buys me milliseconds. And, most importantly of all, it puts me in range to make my own attack.

In this case, that attack is to just keep rolling right into her legs, tripping her up. I'd kick at them, but I'm not actually in full control right now. Still convulsing, and maybe even panicking just a little. You try getting hit by a shovel in the same place your vest caught a bullet three days ago and we'll see if you do any better.

Anyway, tripping up Jones seems to work. By the time she gets herself extracted and aims a kick at me, I'm rolling into a crouch. I abort my attempt at standing and continue my roll instead. This brings me into range of the shovel again, but I'm expecting it now. Instead of standing up, I leap forward and grab her right leg as I plant my skates and surge upward and outward. Over she goes!

By now half a dozen Cueballs are pouring across Deepwell's cracked blacktop and running toward me with their typical motley collection of melee weapons. I ignore the pain in my back and leg as I shove myself backwards away from Jones, yank out the cord on my dangling ParaMic so I can toss it aside, and draw my Pepper Soaker. "Y'all done goofed," I say before launching myself into the fray.

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