Chapter Four: Twenty or Thirty
The next stop on Freckles' to-do list involves The Bazaar: a colorful, open floor plan of nearly fifty shops, each with their own tricks of the trade. There, she plans to trade in her knife for some food and some new socks, if she can afford it. The ones she wears have holes in the toes, and while regulation shirts and pants are commonplace, accessories like socks, boots, or gloves come at a price—and a hefty one, at that. But something like a knife could fetch her a pretty penny if she knows where to go.
As the elevator catches and the lift stops abruptly, she smiles, welcoming the bright, bustling noise of vendors and intoxicating smells of leather, soap, and cooked vegetables. Since the elevator shafts sit in the middle of The Spa's infrastructure, each floor is its own square-shaped maze, lined wall to wall with places for its inhabitants to explore. On level thirteen, The Bazaar is set up in tents, booths, and pathways. It reminds Freckles of the Autumn craft fairs her mother would drag her to when she was little; those with crafting talents displayed their works there. If someone is lucky to have a booth in the Bazaar, they share the profits with those whom they work with. Since not one person can operate a booth, considering a Rage can never be anticipated, there is always two at a time, and a third person on hand to check in every hour or so just in case the booth might be left unattended. It's a messy process, but it's become second nature.
A nearby scanner on the wall will tell her what rewards she's received for today's kill, should she choose to take a look. Freckles hardly checks. She's never approved of the disturbing system known as the "Kill Rank." Rewards for Raging? It's disgusting. Besides, she doubts the woman was worth much as far as the Kill Rank is concerned. Only those with something to lose are worth the aggravation.
Freckles weaves through the first set of bartering tents directly across from the elevators, tucking her hands behind her back as she maneuvers through booth after booth. A man with one arm offers custom belts and holsters for blades. A woman with an eyepatch gives free samples of her homemade toothpaste. Each shop is important to the people here - they, like Freckles, care to make their living the honest way. She feels at home surrounded by others who share her views. The Kill Rank deserves its own special place in Hell, next to whoever created Wormwood in the first place—assuming someone did create it. She wonders, if it was natural, could God be held accountable? If he was even around at all anymore? Had he ever been?
Recently, Freckles has decided to adhere one of Meryl's old rules: never get close to anyone unless they are imperative to staying alive. It's made life easier. The living come and go in The Spa, just like the fashion trends before the world went to shit. There are very few people she cares to remember the names of, but one is on her mind this afternoon, and she gingerly sweeps through the Bazaar in search of her.
Much to Freckle's relief, she finds the scrappy, pepper-haired woman propped up on a stool next to an assortment of weapons under a canopy. The lines of her face are set in a scowl, and her bushy eyebrows draw together as she watches passerbys. Evie "Gran" Redford is the eldest living female in The Spa, and she's damn proud of it. Gran adorns a sleeveless leather vest, which hugs her snug around her plump middle. Like Meryl to his bat, she has never parted from it. Tribal tattooing snakes down her arms and legs in intricate designs. She's a force to be reckoned with down in Namaste, too. It's how she manages her shop: pilfering weapons out of Namaste and trading them amongst the masses. Of course, she also isn't opposed to making fair trades.
As her eyes connect with Freckles, she gives a yellow, toothy grin. "Ahhh… You look freshened up. Detox treat you well?"
Freckles gives her a faint smile but doesn't answer. She simply withdraws her knife from the loop around her jeans and sets it on the makeshift display table, which is really just a pile of boxes covered in some blue curtains. Watching Gran's face light up in eagerness, she asks, "How much?"
"For this?" The elder woman clicks her tongue and whistles. "Depends on how sharp it is." She lifts the knife by the hilt and shines it in the light. "Ah…a bit bent here, at the tip... " With force, she jams it down into the box table, cutting directly through with one, quick blow. "Light. Efficient." She nods approvingly. "One of the teeth is missing at the end, here…" Gran gestures along the bevel, where one of the prongs of the serrated edge is, indeed, broken off. "Still, it's a nice knife. You sure you want to part with it?"
A familiar, gaelic timbre causes Freckles to jump. "Scian deas. That's a fine lookin' blade ya got there. I'd be interested in takin' it off your hands."
"Well, hello there, Father," Gran says, wiping her grease-covered hand on her jeans before extending it out past Freckles’s shoulder. Freckles sidesteps as long, pale fingers wrap around Gran's palm, giving her hand a firm shake. Attached to those fingers stands a handsomely built specimen of the male population equipped with baby blue eyes and a head of auburn hair. There's a scar that runs up the left side of his cheek and just over the bridge of his nose. Other than that, he's about as charming as they come. Father Reese Murphy is a man Freckles can hardly forget.
"Irish will do, Evie, if it's all ta same. Never much cared for ta rest." His eyes soften as they fall on Freckles, and she darts her gaze down to the ground.
She doesn't want to look him in the eyes. It's too soon. There's too much guilt lodged inside her heart to begin to try to make conversation. Not after—
"Didn't see ya in Atonement today," Irish says, attempting pleasantry in his tone. "O'course, I didn't see Meryl there, either." He chuckles. "So what should I expect, yeah?"
A flush of heat washes over her face, but she's also cold right down to her bones. She avoided Atonement for this very reason; she's managed to stay clear of his path for three weeks now. Guilt smacks her in the gut like a sucker punch, and she turns her eyes on Gran to alleviate the tension. "How much for the knife?"
"I'd say it's worth… oh… twenty credits?" Gran offers.
"It's worth at least thirty," says Irish, tilting his head downward, striving to gain Freckles’s attention again.
"Trying to run me out of business, Padre?" teases the old woman.
Irish grins. "I'd find that knife in my back if that were ta case. O'course, I t'ink I could give ya a run for your money." He does a couple of mock jabs in the air with his strong arms, stops mid motion, and ponders his hands. "I suppose that ain't nothin' for a Preacher to be going on 'bout."
"You're a walking conundrum," says Gran, shaking her head. "Well, Freckles? Twenty credits sound fair to you? Or will you be taking the Father up on his end?"
"Heyo! I never said I'd be payin' ta thirty credits."
Gran blows a mock kiss and chuckles, turning her attention back around to the raven-haired girl before her. "Twenty-five is as high as I can go. Sound good to you, Frecks?"
Freckles mutters out, "Twenty's fine. Honest." She just wants to get away from Irish and his innocent smile. She offers her hand out to the touchpad station next to Gran's booth, an exact copy of the one at the elevators. Gran activates the pad and, with a few entries into the keypad, she motions for Freckles to place her hand on the screen next. The process is quick, and the transaction is set. Freckles is one knife lighter and twenty credits richer. "Thanks."
"Always a pleasure doing business with you," says Gran, grinning ear to ear as she gathers up the knife and stows it in the back of her tent, no doubt to spit-shine it before resale.
Freckles’s stomach growls loud enough for Irish and Gran to hear.
"Hungry?" he asks, concerned. "Here." Irish fishes into his pocket and pulls out a carrot stick. "I imagine Namaste did a number on you today. Why don't you come with me to Atonement and we can-"
"-No." She shakes her head, staring down at the carrot with resentment. How can he stand there and show her any sort of kindness after what she's done? How is he able to remain so…calm? So forgiving? He's not a real preacher, anyway, she thinks. It's not like his life's work is dedicated to selflessness. So why does he try so hard to forgive her when she can't begin to forgive herself? "Keep it," she mutters, turning her back on him. "...Thank you, but no." And then she brushes past him quickly, avoiding any sort of eye-contact. It isn't until she rounds the corner of the aisle that she releases a breath she wasn't aware she was holding.