Hello, dear readers. Today we return to two of my favorite characters, Thimblerigger and Stevedore in the poorest of Outlands, so let’s jump right into it. And don’t forget, you can buy a full copy of the novel through this link. Purchase the print version and get the ebook for free. Enjoy.
LXXII. Thimblerigger and Stevedore
Thimblerigger and Stevedore slept—or stayed awake as the case had actually been—in their makeshift tent on the shaded corner of Momma BB’s Safehouse’s veggie garden roof just like they used to do when they were little kids, before they had important chores to perform in the mornings. Mr. Kitty never showed up, though, so most of their time was spent under the almost gray darkness of a light polluted sky, wondering if there really could be stars beyond it like Momma BB had taught them. That, and of course, Thim kept experimenting with coin flips, but Stevie tried to ignore the sound of it and focus instead on the dull white noise of the cityscape. They stayed up in shifts all through the night, doing one or the other, until morning came and Stevie went down to bring breakfast back up so they didn’t have to listen to any more of Thim’s coin flips.
“Ugh. You always pick the ugliest sausages,” Thim complained when Stevie had brought a plate up to them, but that didn’t stop Thim from diving into the meal. “I swear, it looks like this one still has a tail. Who ground this batch, anyway?”
Stevie shrugged, eating their meal and happy to have a short break from Thim’s never ending repetition of the word “tails”, allowing them to finally listen to the soothing background noise of the Streets. “It makes no difference to me,” they said. “It all tastes the same going down.”
“Maybe it still is the same,” Thim said, thoughtfully. “The same sausage we ate for lunch yesterday because time still hasn’t started back up again.”
“God, no.” Stevie groaned. “Not your coin flips again. Please. The sun has set and risen. We’re in a new day with no chores in front of us. Of course time has gone forward.”
“I don’t know.” Thim shook their head. “I still say the evidence is inconclusive.”
“Then I don’t care if time has stopped,” Stevie said, exasperated. “It feels the same to me either way, so let’s just get on with our lives.”
“Yeah, but get on to what?” Thim asked, done with eating and back to flipping their coin. “We don’t even have chores to do, so what else is there?”
“Everything. There’s everything in the worlds to do. Anything we want. Starting with what we came up here to do, find that Mr. Kitty.”
“Yeah. But we just have to sit here and wait for that,” Thim said, making a face each time they flipped tails again. “I might as well keep flipping while we do. It’s more efficient.”
“Or you could relax for a minute. Sheesh. Why do you need to be so efficient with this coin flipping anyway, huh? What’s the hurry?”
Thim shrugged, still flipping. “I don’t know,” they said. “I just gotta know.”
“Well it doesn’t look like you can hurry your answers any more than we can hurry Mr. Kitty. So sit back, relax, and cool it with that coin flipping for a minute. Please.”
Thim flipped the coin one more time, cringed at another instance of tails, then stopped to actually consider the prospect before deciding on a compromise and going back to flipping the coin in a more leisurely manner, something more like twice a minute instead of the twice a second rate they had been going at.
“So, you’re really interested in where this cat comes from. Aren’t you?” Thim said.
“Yeah. So?” Stevie shrugged. “I thought you were, too.”
“Oh. Sure, sure,” Thim said. “But I have been ever since we first saw Mr. Kitty. So… What I’m wondering is why you’re so interested all of a sudden.”
“I don’t know…” Stevie said, looking away so Thim couldn’t really see their words. “I guess I…”
“Look at me when you’re talking,” Thim complained. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
“I guess I’m just curious,” Stevie said, making their mouth motions as big and obvious as they could while they spoke. “Aren’t you?”
“Curious, you say?” Thim said, holding back on flipping their coin for a while. “What a curious choice of words.”
“And purposeful,” Stevie said, nodding
“Nah.” Thim didn’t really believe that. Did they? “Really?”
“You don’t think it’s possible?” Stevie asked.
“Who? Mr. Kitty? The Curious Cat?”
“I thought you were making fun of me when you used to say that,” Thim said. “Pulling my leg. Like that time you said Momma BB had gullible written on her butt and I actually went to check.”
Stevie laughed. “I still don’t know how you believed I could have known. I never went around feeling Momma BB’s butt. Huh huh ha.”
“I don’t know,” Thim said, embarrassed. “Sometimes I forget. But that’s beside the point. Do you really think Mr. Kitty could be the Curious Cat? You weren’t just kidding?”
“Why not?” Stevie shrugged. “He comes and goes as he pleases, appearing out of thin air.”
“We haven’t seen him appear out of thin air,” Thim corrected Stevie.
“No, but that’s what we’re here for, right? To finally see it. So you better be paying attention and not flipping some stupid coin.”
“I’m not,” Thim said, and they actually hadn’t been, but Stevie had reminded them so they flipped one more tails before taking the stakeout seriously again. They hadn’t known that Stevie actually cared, or they would have been paying more attention from the beginning. “I promise.”
“Good. Because Mr. Kitty could come out anywhere at any time, and I’m afraid he won’t make a noise when he does.”
“I’ll be looking,” Thim said. “I’ll make sure to find him. I didn’t know it was so important to you.”
“It’s not that important,” Stevie snapped, getting defensive for some reason. “I mean, it is important. Keep your eyes peeled. But I— I’m not pinning my hopes on it. Okay. I’m not that stupid. I just thought it might be nice if he was the Curious Cat. That’s all.”
“Nicer than what?” Thim asked. “The revolution?”
“I don’t know,” Stevie said, embarrassed again. “Yeah. No. Nicer than this. Just better than what we have now.”
“But we’re working to make this better for ourselves,” Thim said. “We don’t have to wait and watch and hope for Mr. Kitty to show us the way to Prosperity. Prosperity ain’t even real. Okay. It’s not a place. It can’t be.”
“Oh. And how do you know that? Why are you out here watching with me if you’re so certain he’s not the Curious Cat? Why do you even care?”
“I can go back to flipping my coin,” Thim said, flipping it and coming up tails again. Stevie started to protest, but Thim cut them off. “But I won’t. Because you care. And I want to help you. And I want to know where Mr. Kitty comes from whether it’s Prosperity or not.”
“Yeah. Okay,” Stevie said, nodding. “Those are pretty good reasons. But what if Mr. Kitty did come from Pro—” But they didn’t finish their sentence, instead standing up and turning their head in every direction like they had heard Mr. Kitty. “Did you hear that?”
“Uh.” Thim shook their head. Of course not.
“I can’t hear the rocks rattling around in your head,” Stevie complained. “I said did you hear that?”
“I didn’t hear anything, you dolt,” Thim complained right back. “Look at me when you’re talking. It’s like I’m getting bad reception on a radio. What’d you hear?”
“Gun shots,” Stevie said, looking truly worried.
“Gun shots?” Thim tried to laugh but they ended up kind of just snorting instead. “That’s it?” They went back to flipping their coin every minute or so. “Ain’t never seen you so afraid of gunshots before.”
“These are different,” Stevie said, shaking their head. “Louder somehow. I don’t like the sound of it.”
“They were prolly just closer than you’ve ever been to shots actually fired,” Thim said, trying to convince themself just as much as they were trying to convince Stevie by that point. “Someone done something they shouldn’t have, or stuck their nose in somewhere it doesn’t belong, and now they’re paying the consequences for it. Simple as that. You know how justice works in the Streets.”
“Yeah. I do,” Stevie said. “You do, too. Mostly it doesn’t work at all, shooting blindly into the crowd and punishing the least guilty. You realize that, too, don’t you? You should. It’s what Momma BB’s always taught us.”
“I know what Momma BB’s taught us,” Thim snapped. “But that’s still how the world works,” they added with a shrug, flipping tails again.
“And there goes another gunshot,” Stevie said, leaning over the edge of the building in an attempt to hear what was happening on the street below, which direction the sound was coming from, anything. “I really have a bad feeling about this one.”
Thim stood to look over the edge of the building, too, but they were too afraid of heights to lean out far enough to actually see anything, so they retreated to the safety of the rooftop and said, “Well, if you’re so worried about it, why don’t we go down and see what’s really going on?”
“You’d come with me?” Stevie asked.
“Got nothing better to do but look for Mr. Kitty, and I’m pretty sure he won’t show up again until lunchtime. So, why not?”
“Let’s go then,” Stevie said, grabbing Thim’s hand and running toward the stairs. “Hurry up. Before they get too far away.”
Thim got the message and sped up now, leading Stevie to the stairs then racing them to the bottom where both burst out into the cool Streets, sweaty and hunched over, trying to catch their breath.
“It’s— No— Fair—” Stevie complained between heavy breaths. “You— Always— Get— A— Head start.”
“You wouldn’t want me giving you special treatment, now. Would you?” Thim said, laughing. “Besides, you know I’m faster than you. At least this way you have an excuse instead of just being slow. Ha ha ha.”
“You don’t have to treat me specially,” Stevie said, finally recovered from the exertion. “Fairly is all I ask.”
“Next time I’ll give you the head start, then,” Thim said with a chuckle.
“Oh, ha ha. Very funny.”
“I know,” Thim said. “That’s why I said it. Now, which way to your gunshots, oh dear Lord and leader? Take me away.”
And so Stevie led the way, up a street here, down an alley there, this way and that until it seemed to Thim like they were going in circles. When it became clear that they really had passed the same intersection two or three times already, Thim finally spoke up.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” they asked.
“I’m sure we’re near where the original shots were fired,” Stevie said. “But there’s no telling where the shooter could have gotten to since then. I’m just trying to circle the area. Keep your eyes peeled.”
Well that explained part of it. But, “For what?”
“I don’t know.” Stevie shrugged. “Anything suspicious. Either someone with a giant gun, someone with a giant bullet wound, or both.”
“You really think it’s gonna be that easy?” Thim asked. “And that bad?”
“I don’t know,” Stevie repeated. “I just have a feeling, okay. I’m not sure what I—”
But they didn’t have to time to finish their sentence because Thim grabbed them by the arm and pulled them down an alley to hide behind some dumpsters.
“Shit,” Stevie complained, rubbing their arm where it felt like a bruise was forming. “What was that for?”
“I think I found them,” Thim said, peeking around the dumpster for a moment but more interested in staying hidden than in getting another look.
“Wha— Who? What is it?” Stevie asked.
But, “Shhh.” Thim shushed them, heart still pounding from the adrenaline rush produced by what they had just seen: the biggest, scariest, whitest monsters they had ever experienced the presence of in anything more than nightmares.
“But—” Stevie tried to say again.
Thim held their breath, trying to make as little sound as possible, and Stevie finally got the point, holding their breath, too, and trying to listen close to whatever monster had been capable of scaring Thim like that. They sat in mostly silence for a few minutes, some garbled nonsense sound like a robot screaming in pain the only thing to fill it, before Thim started breathing again and Stevie gulped down a big breath of air to say, “Well?”
“Well, shit,” Thim said. “Maybe you were right to be worried after all.”
“What was it? What did you see?” Stevie demanded, grabbing Thim by the shoulders and shaking them for answers.
“Giants,” Thim said, pushing Stevie off.
“Bigger than Momma BB,” Thim said. “Twice the size at least.”
“Giants…” Stevie repeated. “Did they have guns?”
“The biggest I’ve ever seen,” Thim said.
“I knew it. I told you so. What else?”
“Well there was three of them,” Thim said, still hiding behind the dumpster, just in case. “And they were wearing all white, including their helmets, with masks that looked like they were screaming neon colors at each other.”
“They must have been talking to each other in code,” Stevie said. “That was the strange noise I heard. Like androids with broken voice boxes, or something.”
“I don’t know,” Thim said, shaking their head. “But if they sounded anything like they looked, I’m sure it was terrifying.”
“Hair-raising,” Stevie said. “Who do you think they were?”
“Scary, white, giants,” Thim said, the hair on their arms and neck standing up on end. “Who do you think they were?”
“I think they’re trouble,” Stevie said. “We should get back to the Safehouse and make sure everything’s okay.”
“I’m one step ahead of you, as always,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie’s hand and pulling them in a loud stomping run toward home.
When they burst through the doors of the Safehouse lobby and stumbled to a stop inside, still filled with adrenaline from their sighting of the White Giants, everything seemed to be in order. The lobby was empty, of course, because even though it was Thimblerigger and Stevedore’s day off, it wasn’t anyone else’s. Only slightly relieved by the normalcy, the two of them plopped down on one of the old raggedy couches in the lobby, staring at the entry door just in case any giants came through and generally trying to calm themselves down after what they had witnessed.
“So, we agree it was them, then. Right?” Stevie asked.
“What? Look at me.”
“We agree that they were the ones who were shooting the guns,” Stevie said.
“If they were as loud as you said they were.”
“As loud as you say they were tall.”
“Then, yes. I’d say so.”
“That cannot be good.”
“No. No, it cannot.”
Both of their hearts beat faster at the realization. Stevie stood and paced to try to calm themself while Thim pulled out their coin and went back to flipping it.
“Who do you think they were shooting at?” Stevie asked, still pacing.
“I don’t think I wanna know,” Thim said, still flipping tails.
“You know. Neither do I.”
But of course, they were both forced to face the truth sooner than later. No sooner had the words left Stevie’s mouth than the lobby doors burst open, and both Thimblerigger and Stevedore jumped to hide behind the couch in case it was one of the giant white gunners come to get them, too.
It wasn’t. Instead it was a familiar voice: Ms. Morticia’s, saying, “Thim? Stevie? Is that y’all?”
“Are you alone, Miss Morticia?” Stevie called back while Thim nudged them, trying to figure out who it was.
“I’m alone,” Ms. Morticia called. “It’s alright. Y’all can come out now. Ya’re safe.”
“There’s no White Giants out there with you?” Stevie called back. “We heard the gunshots.”
Ms. Morticia kind of laughed and cried at the same time, more a snotty snort than anything else. “No, child,” she said. “There ain’t no White Giants out here. Just me, and— Well… Thim’s with ya, too. Right? Y’all better come see. It’s okay. Ya’re safe.”
Stevie turned to Thim and slapped their arm away, finally answering Thim’s desperate pleas. “It’s Miss Morticia,” they said. “She says she’s got something to show us.”
“There’s no one else with her?” Thim asked.
“She says no.” Stevie shrugged. “I can’t hear anyone else, but to be honest, it’s hard to hear anything over your breathing and my own heartbeat.”
Thim poked their head up above the couch for an instant then darted back into hiding.
“Well?” Stevie asked.
“I don’t really know,” Thim said, shaking their head. “I was too afraid to open my eyes.”
“Alright, alright,” Stevie said, standing up themself. “I’ll do it. Let them take me if they will. Miss Morticia, whaddya got?”
Stevie stumbled around the couch, hands up in the air, and when Thim realized that there were no giants there to murder them, they stood, too, to find Ms. Morticia, her eyes red and puffy like she’d been crying, holding out what looked like nothing more than a handful of scraps and wires for stocking the workshop with. When Thim stepped closer they realized it was more than that, though. So much more.
“Well?” Stevie demanded, hands falling to their sides now that they knew there was no danger.
“I— I’m sorry,” Ms. Morticia said, trying not to make eye contact with Thim. “I…” She held out the mass of wires and Thim took it in her hands, crying silently and forcing Ms. Morticia to do the same in reaction.
“What is it?” Stevie demanded, getting frustrated at the sound of their voices, knowing full well that something had gone wrong but having no way to know exactly what it was until one of them let Stevie in on the secret. “Tell me.”
“Stevie, it’s—” Thim tried to say, but the sobs took over and they couldn’t finish.
“Child, it’s—” Ms. Morticia started, but Thim sniffled loudly, wiped their nose, and said, “It’s Momma BB, Stevie. She’s… She’s dead. Shot in the head.”
“No.” Stevie didn’t believe it, moving closer to the sound of Thim’s voice, looking for some confirmation. “It can’t be.”
“Yes,” Thim said. “I’m sorry. I— I’m holding her head in my hands right now. I— It’s— She… She’s just dead. Okay. Trust me.”
“No.” Stevie pushed Thimblerigger away and ran for the stairs, all the way up to the roof, as far away from such idiotic nonsense as they could think to get. Momma BB was not dead.
“I’m sorry,” Thim said to Ms. Morticia, trying not to cry again. “I’ll talk to Stevie. They’ll understand.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Ms. Morticia said, bowing low. “I— Is there anything I can do for y’all?”
“No,” Thim said, shaking their head. “Not right now. I— I just need to go talk to Stevie, okay. I— I’m sorry. Goodbye.”
Thim ran all the way up to the roof, trying not to think about the weight of what they carried with them as they did, until they were up in the cool, windy air, approaching Stevie who sat at the edge of their tent, listening closely to their surroundings as if still searching for Mr. Kitty.
“Stevie, I—” Thim tried to stay, but Stevie cut them off.
“Don’t even start,” they said. “And be quiet. I’m still searching for Mr. Kitty, even if you’re over it.”
“Stevie, she’s dead,” Thim said, holding the mangled head of Momma BB out to Stevie. “I’m holding her head in my hands right now. You can see for yourself.”
“No. I can’t,” Stevie snapped. “And it doesn’t matter if I could, because she’s not dead anyway.”
“Fine. You can’t see it. But you can reach out and feel it. So, stop feeling sorry for yourself and face the facts.”
“I don’t care what you’re holding,” Stevie said, swatting in Thim’s general direction and knocking Momma BB’s head out of their hands to roll and tumble with a loud clang on the hard surface of the Safehouse roof. “Momma BB’s not dead. We still have work to do. Just like she always—”
But they couldn’t finish their sentence because Mr. Kitty interrupted them, appearing out of thin air and landing on Stevie’s lap with a meow.
# # #
And there you have it, dear readers, another chapter in the Infinite Limits series. If you enjoyed that and can’t wait for the rest of the story, pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Otherwise, we’ll see you again next week. We do nothing alone.