Author: Notmanos
E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Rating: R
Disclaimer:  The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; the
character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics.  No copyright
infringement intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the
arts, I won't object. ;-)  Oh, and Bob is *my* character - keep your hands off!   

14 Years Earlier - Whitewater, Alberta, Canada


"Kill 'im!" The crowd shouted, sounding like a single bloodthirsty voice. "Kill 'im!"

The guy was built like a Coke machine and just about as as heavy, with stumpy legs that didn't taper from the thighs but went straight down to ankles just as thick, like he was a badly drawn figure sketched by a far sighted child with bad coordination. That might have explained his face, which seemed to wide and egg like for his features, which all seemed crammed in the center. To say he was ugly was to say a hippo was slightly overweight - a gross understatement.

The lights gleamed on his bald head, making it look like a yellowed hide processed to a sheen, and his tiny eyes, like thumbprints in dough, squinted down at him. Logan looked up at him, and wondered if the guy's parent's relentlessly smashed his face in with a snow shovel when he was an infant, or he really grew to look that way naturally. Kinda sad either way.

The redneck kicked him hard in the stomach, and Logan rolled with it to the far side of the sweat and blood stained mat, arms around his gut as the pain rippled through him. It didn't stay long, and there was no burning sensation afterwards, so he knew he'd never been really injured. It took him a while to realize that that burning thing was related to the fact that he healed from everything - in retrospect, it was idiotic that he never realized that before. But then again, he still didn't know what his full name was.

He waited for the behemoth to stomp across the mat towards him, listening to the chants for blood and the occasional, sporadic boos from the crowd. They smelled like body odor and frustration; testosterone and alcohol; sawdust and adrenaline. It was worse than the flop sweat and aimless rage this big slab of brainless beef was exuding. "Get  up, you ugly fucker," the redneck growled.

Logan glared up at him. "You're callin' me ugly?" That was honestly the final straw.

He hadn't wanted to do this. He hadn't wanted to get involved in this shitty redneck "sport" - bare knuckle boxing and "ultimate fighting", where two thick necked yahoos beat the shit out of each other for the amusement of other drunken yahoos, and for nothing more than bragging rights and the pot, which never added up to more than a couple hundred bucks or so.

But Logan needed the money.

He had nothing - no full name, no clothes ( what he had he had stolen from currently empty holiday cabins up in the mountains - and his dog tags, if they counted ), no home, no vehicle ( except the stolen truck, but he had to dump that when the cops got too close ), no job, no purpose, no memory. Well, no memories worth having, anyways.

How long had it been? A year? More? Honestly, some of the time sort of blurred together, especially those first six months (?) after he woke up in the snow. It was like his mind had been torn to pieces, a fragile part of his body that had never even tried to heal. Eventually the limited things he understood - that his name was Logan, in spite of the dog tags that inexplicably read "Wolverine"; that things that would hurt others never hurt him for very long ; and that he had to avoid people, because people were after him, and they were out to hurt him - grew to include more things, and he got tired of living in the cabins and chalets of people he didn't know, people whose spaces and things he borrowed so he could continue hiding out in the Canadian Rockies ( he eventually figured out where he was, but that hadn't been easy either ) from a threat he wouldn't have recognized if it walked right up to him and bit him on the ass. Frankly, it had pissed him off - why was he so scared? He was Logan, he was Wolverine - he didn't know much, but he knew he wasn't scared of anyone.

Except the hooded men in his dreams, but that was something else entirely.

He had learned, once he had gotten into the redneck ass stomping business, one important thing: he couldn't immediately win. Much of the evening's take depended on the audience betting on the fights, and if it looked like there was no challenge at all, there were no bets placed, ergo no money for him. Also, the crowd wasn't there for edification or enlightenment - they wanted to see blood; they wanted to see two guys wail on each other. One knocking the other out instantly seemed to put a damper on festivities.

He didn't want to play to these cretins, these booger picking morons who got off on other people's pain and yet would beat down anyone who suggested there was something homo-erotic in their obviously glee over watching two men go at each other violently - they didn't even have that level of self-awareness, irony, or whatever you wanted to call it. They were terminally bored, drunken fucks who didn't have anything better to do. But what did that make him?

Desperate, of course. Desperately in need of cash to get ... well, the fuck out of here. Away from these last bastions of supposed civilizations, broken down towns built around old logging and mining camps, factories where these guys slaved in virtual snowbound isolation for half the year. There were some women around here, but evenly split between hard bitten, sour types who had come here to get away from the rest of society ( like most of the men ), or the big haired bimbos who were inevitably someone's wife, or a working girl who was definitely not into manual labor - or at least not the type involving heavy machinery.

He had some money saved up from other matches such as these, but not nearly enough - between the trial and error of learning how to make a pseudo - living at this, and living expenses ( beer, food - he seemed to need more food after he was genuinely hurt, making him think that the level of healing he needed to do affected his metabolism somehow. Was that possible? - some clothes he was forced to buy when the stuff he stole got torn or bloody, and now cheap rooms since he had to abandon the truck ... and sometimes paying for damages when his nightmares or his temper got out of control ), he was forced back into the circuit. The problem was he had to keep moving around, as not only did these guys get to know his name and the fact that he seemingly couldn't get beaten, but also he hated to stay in one place for too long. Something in him wouldn't let him; some instinct he had, overwhelming and not easily suppressed, told him he had to keep moving. He obeyed it because he had to - otherwise he got no sleep at all. It was hard enough sleeping as it was.

Logan knew logically if he threw a fight now and again, he could stay longer at these sorts of places. If there was some chance of him being beaten, it would get him more opponents, and the promoters would be happier , but he couldn't take the act that far. It was bad enough letting these stupid assholes beat on him for a while; it just made him angry. And he could only get so furious before his anger completely got away from him - most of the time he just had this free floating rage inside him, and it seemed difficult to contain even when nothing was actively pissing him off. And sometimes, when he really was pissed off, he felt like a bomb two seconds away from exploding.

None of these men ever really understood the danger they were in. Even when he decided to finally beat their asses down, he was holding back; if he didn't, it was possible he would kill them. He knew he could; he knew where to punch them to cleanly and lethally fracture the skull; he knew which vertebras, if broken, would be fatal; he knew where to hit to turn certain organs into pulp - he knew all of this without ever knowing how. He could easily kill people with his hands ... and that didn't even included the blades hidden within them.

If these assholes knew about them, they'd probably shit their pants.

Logan jumped up to his feet, and that encouraged the goon to rush him. He turned and slammed a sharp elbow into the center of his butt ugly face.

His nose shattered with a noise like the snap of a branch, and he reeled backwards as if shot, grabbing his face as blood spurted from his ruined nose. The crowd booed even louder, and someone threw a cup of weak beer that splattered against the chicken wire fence protecting the fighters from the crowd, splashing beer on them and the mat. Logan knew this particular melange of smells - beer, blood, sweat - encapsulated his life as of late far too perfectly, but he decided not to think about that right now.

He stalked towards his opponent, snarling at him as he let his anger bubble to the surface, and growled, "I've seen dog's asses that look better than you, motherfucker. You should pay me for workin' your face over - it can only be an improvement."

"Cocksucker!" He roared, his voice muffled by his hands. "You broke my fuckin' nose!"

"I'm gonna break more than that."

The guy took a wild roundhouse swing at him with a bloodied, meaty fist, and Logan just dodged it easily, planting a firm kick in the redneck's bulging gut. He doubled over, gagging slightly as blood and saliva splattered on the canvas, and Logan rammed his knee up into his face, sending him falling back onto his fat ass. He wasn't unconscious yet, but he was barely hanging on.

The audience was making a noise like a moose in a tunnel now - a sort of bizarre uber-boo that rebounded oddly off the tin walls of the outbuilding turned mock arena, and almost made Logan laugh.

Oh, fuck it, he did laugh, and the redneck looked up at him like he was insane, his piggy eyes all whites, one of his front teeth hanging crooked and sending a trickle of blood down his chin. "What the fuck are you laughing at?" He lisped slightly when he talked, sending a spray of pinkish spittle over his already gore stained jeans. This was the last fight of the night, the "championship", and he had fought his way through nine other losers just like this one. At first they collectively thought he was nuts for stripping down to his jeans and his dog tags before the first fight, but now everyone seemed to get it - not only was it hot under the lights, but blood stained his jeans, and would have stained his shirt and boots if he had bothered to keep them on. Now he seemed smarter than everyone else, but hell, he was.

"You," Logan spat, kicking him in his already ruined face. He splayed out on his back like a beached whale, out cold and down for the night. The crowd booed even louder, and he continued to snicker as he returned to his corner and the guy by the ring shouted into his cheap mike, which was feeding back just enough to make Logan wince.

He wasn't just laughing at that fuck - he was laughing at the crowd, at this whole great unwashed mass watching them and getting off on this blood. The aimless tribe of Humans, who'd move from simply disliking him because he was an outsider who rolled into town and started kicking all the local asses to pure, unadulterated hate if they knew what he really was.

A couple more cups of watered down beer hit the chickenwire, but none got anywhere near him as he toweled off some of the blood on his chest, face and hands, and then slipped on his undershirt. Spring still hadn't made its way this far up North, so he had layers to don - t-shirt, flannel shirt, stolen denim jacket, fleece lined leather jacket he bought at a thrift store for twenty bucks. Didn't take him long, as he had it down to a science by now, just like these fights.

The audience, still grumbling, had mostly filtered out into the main bar, letting in cold blasts of outside air that were refreshing, and helped push out some of the cloying human smells, replacing them with snow and car exhaust. A couple guys came in to drag the redneck out, leaving behind a huge smear of blood on the off white canvas, and he could feel the evil stares they gave him as he turned his back on them. If they could have seen his face, they'd have seen him smiling at their hate - like he gave a fuck. Like they were any challenge for him.

He was sitting on the inverted milk crate used as a step, finishing putting on his socks and boots, when Pat, the bar owner/fight "promoter", came over to him, sighing like a martyr. The four days he had been in Whitewater, he'd learned to abhor the man - he was average height and thick waisted in that middle aged spread sort of way, with a large round face slowly growing jowls. He already had deep enough bags under his slightly rheumy grey eyes that he could have hidden spare change in them. "I've never done this before, Logan," he said, running a hand nervously through his thick black hair. He dyed it; Logan could smell the chemicals when he sweated. What kind of vain man dyed his hair, and yet kept the beer gut going?

Logan glanced up at him as he finished lacing up his boots. He had done this enough that he knew what was coming. "You're kicking me out."

Pat looked stunned - he may have resembled an insurance company executive, but he could act when he had to. "No, not exactly. Look, I don't need to tell you you're good - "

"Good?" He repeated, staring at him. He was the best, and they both knew it; there was no one who could beat him in the ring. And that of course was the problem. That was always the problem.

Pat looked away from his eyes and at the cold concrete floor, unable to hold his gaze. Supposedly, many people found him intimidating - who'd have guessed? "You're the best fighter I've ever seen. But that's why I have to ask you to step down. The bets are goin' down - no one wants to bet against you anymore! And you could keep fightin' if you wanted to, but you wouldn't get paid."

Logan looked at him sharply. "I'm gettin' paid for tonight."

Pat backed up a step, holding up his hands. "Of course! I'm not going to cheat you. It's just that this has to be the last night. You understand." Pat was an oily user who would cheat him if he could, but he was afraid of him, and they both knew it. But Pat was afraid of him because he thought he was a psychotic drifter - he couldn't help but wonder what would happen if he ever put it together that he was a mutant on top of being a psychotic drifter.

"Fine. I was only in it for the money." He stood up, and Pat took another step back. Could he have been more obvious in his fear? "Back in your office?"

"As always," he quickly agreed. He never paid out front, probably so the patrons never realized how much money they wasted on this shit.

Logan followed him back into the main bar, sinking into his coat against the chill, as the night had turned brutally cold. It wasn't snowing, but the air felt too dry and frigid to contain any moisture. The lights surrounding the warehouse sized collection of buildings and quonset huts pooled on the rock hard layer of snow like frozen puddles of sun, and made him avert his eyes until they adjusted to the pockets of glare. It didn't take long.

The main bar was the largest of the buildings, a shell containing the old wooden bar surrounded by the tin husk of an old airplane hangar, presumably to protect it from the elements and the clients themselves. After the outside, it was almost too warm in here, the collective body heat of the patrons also contributing a far too Human smell he really could have lived without. That was the real downside to having better than average senses - and he assumed they were, because no one else ever seemed to notice these things. Or maybe they were just better at hiding their reactions.

A radio droned in one corner, giving weather and road clearing updates, while a t.v. over the bar blared out the ubiquitous hockey game. He got a few dirty looks from guys who lost money on him or friends of jerks he pummeled into a fine paste, but it never went farther than that - not only was he with the bar owner, but hell, he beat the shit out of their friends! What the fuck were they gonna do?

In the claustrophobic back office, pretty much filled in its entirety with a weathered oaken desk and an office chair, Pat paid him out his two hundred and sixty two bucks in cash. Not as good as the first night, but not falling off as fast as Pat seemed to indicate, unless he padded the take as a way of getting him to shove off without protest. Either way he didn't care - he now had enough to buy that truck from that guy and get the fuck out of here.

It was just a beater the guy wanted three fifty for, but Logan had talked him down to three hundred in cash, as the guy was as desperate for money as he was; this area wasn't so much depressed as ground down under foot. But it was sad areas like this where he could essentially blend in, move without being noticed too much - he was just another transient, another guy hard done by life. But none of them had any idea how true that actually was, nor would they ever, as he wasn't about to tell them.

Logan ventured out into the smelly, noisy main bar to have a drink. The late night bartender, Benjy, was on, a sour faced old coot who looked like he had sucked on a lemon one too many times in his life, and his face just stuck that way. But at least he was equally rude to everyone, and Logan liked that about him.

He took his usual stool at the end of the beaten down wooden bar, a seat that gave him the best view of the entire room, and got his usual beer in  the usual mostly clean mug. He pretended to watch the game as he glanced around, lighting up a cigar, and after a few minutes he noticed Fidget come in.

Okay, so the kid's actual name was Gordon, judging from someone calling him "Gordie", but he couldn't help but think of him as Fidget because that's what he did - he seemed like a live wire of anxiety, almost vibrating with it as he tried to find a lift out of here. That was why the pass report was constantly playing on the radio now - the main pass had been blocked since the day before yesterday by an avalanche in the higher elevations. It should have been cleared by now, but it had been snowing nonstop up there, and last night there had been another slide. Not that it mattered so much here - this wasn't a major transit point. But someone hadn't told Fidget that.

Even though Logan had only seen him in here last night, and he had never dared talk to him, it was clear the kid was afraid of something. Maybe he was on the run from the cops - he wouldn't be the only one up here - or just your run of the mill runaway who wanted to blow this boring dump before his brain turned to mush, or he got snowed in until the spring thaw.

The kid couldn't have been more than seventeen. He was shorter than average height but very thin and lanky, like his limbs were slightly longer than they should have been. His eyes were so pale blue they were almost clear, and his hair followed that pale theme, being basically as white as snow. Someone had asked him why he dyed it that color, and Logan couldn't remember what excuse he gave, but the kid was lying - he didn't smell like dye, not like Pat; his hair was naturally white. He wasn't an albino, so maybe it was just some oddity of birth. Or he wasn't exactly Human either.

Fidget did his usual rounds, asking if anyone was heading out ( no one was ), and he gave up earlier than the night before. He must have heard the pass was still blocked and he was completely out of luck, but he continued to be twitchy with nerves; he hadn't completely accepted the inevitable.

He went up to the opposite end of the bar and ordered a soda, either aware that Benjy would never serve him a beer, or because he was straight edge and didn't drink. Fine, more for him.

It was inevitable, he supposed. Fidget bugged everyone yesterday, but not him - and now, of course, he was going to bug him. After getting his soda, he came down to his end of the bar, even though Logan had already started ignoring him and pretending he was interested in the Vancouver Canucks. "Hey, uh, I have to thank you," Fidget began nervously. Even his voice had an anxious edge to it. "I won some money on you tonight, and that was ... I have no luck at all, so that was great."

Logan was giving him his best "fuck off and die" stare, but Fidget didn't seem to notice. Fidget was glancing nervously around the room, like his eyes just couldn't keep still, but it wasn't that - Logan could pick up the sour taint of fear coming off of him, but just as an undertone: controlled panic. Was he afraid of him, something else, or both? "I mean, you're amazing," Fidget went on. "I mean, totally awesome. I know a lot of the guys around here give you shit, but I wish I could fight like you. I mean, you must work out a lot, huh? Are you like one of those martial arts guys? 'Cause I always wanted to do that, you know, but hey, not a lot of call for it around these parts. It'd be cool though, 'specially if I could look like you, you know, all built and stuff - "

He was going to tell him to shut the fuck up and shove the fuck off, because he didn't need this kid having diarrhea of the mouth around him, but his constant references to his physique finally made the penny drop. Logan sighed out a cloud of cigar smoke, and said, "Look, kid, I'm flattered, but I don't go that way."

Fidget finally looked at him, mildly surprised. He could see that his irises were limned with white - most people's were lined with black, weren't they? Maybe that's what seemed odd about his eyes. "Huh? Oh, you mean leaving? that's okay, I - " Then the penny dropped for him, and he understood he wasn't talking about giving him that kind of ride. "Oh. Oh, well, uh ... worth a shot, I guess." He then forced a chuckle, and said, "Thanks for not punchin' me out."

Although he said it like it was a joke, he got a feeling it wasn't actually much of one. In a small place like this, having white hair was bad enough - being gay on top of it? It was probably the equivalent of waving a sign reading "Please beat me like a red headed stepchild". He wondered if he had been punched out - or worse - for coming on to the wrong guy, and then was immediately annoyed because he never wanted to feel an ounce of pity for anyone, especially Fidget. Life was shitty, and some people just got dealt shittier hands than others, and he should know. Any person worth their salt could deal with it - end of story.

As Logan tapped an ash out into the ashtray, he noticed that Fidget's hand, flat on the bar, seemed flatter than it should, his fingertips wider, as if his hand was ... decompressing somehow, like it was made of soft clay instead of flesh and bone. He glanced up at him curiously, and he could smell a sudden spike of fear as Fidget figured out what he had seen, and let his hand plump back up to normal. He smiled tightly, nervously, flop sweat popping out on his pale brow, and Logan knew then he was a mutant - and Fidget didn't know he was a mutant too, hence his fear that the beating would now commence, and he'd inform the rest of the bar they had a goddamn freak in the place. What kind of horribly ironic coincidence was it that he had just clumsily tried to hit on the only other mutant in this dump, without knowing that he was one too?

Before Logan could pretend he hadn't seen what he had seen, Pat said, just loud enough to be heard over the din from the t.v. and the radio, "Gordon, can I speak with you?"

Fidget seemed relieved, and gulped down his pop, banging the glass down on the bar and rattling the ice cubes like dice. "Well, it was nice meetin' you," Fidget said, getting up and walking off towards Pat.

Pat was about thirty feet away, standing beside one of the support pillars for the rafters, a thick, square chunk of oak that hadn't aged nearly as well as Pat's desk, but was still structurally sound enough that the roof hadn't collapsed. In spite of all the noise, and the other guys talking all around him, Logan knew he could hear the conversation if he wanted to; there were times when he could concentrate and focus on a single noise, in spite of all other noises, and it was yet another specialized ability he couldn't explain having.

He didn't want to hear their conversation, though; he really didn't care. And yet still, just like his subconscious had picked  up on a cue he missed, he still heard Pat whisper harshly to Fidget, "I thought I told you last night I didn't want your kind in here."

Logan wondered if "your kind" referred to homosexual or mutant. Probably mutant - that was considered worse in the grand scheme of things, wasn't it? The religious nutcases would have a field day with Fidget if they got wind of the fact that he was both mutant and gay - two big old taboos rolled up in one. Now if he was also a Satanist, he'd hit their hate trifecta.

"I'm trying to get out of this entire shitty town," Fidget shot back, anger giving him more confidence than he normally possessed. "There aren't a lot of other places to go, are there?"

"That ain't my problem - "

"Hey there - what does a girl have to do to get you to buy her a drink?" A woman said, sliding onto the stool right beside him, and interrupting his eavesdropping. He was slightly annoyed for reasons completely beyond him, but as soon as he saw her, it really didn't matter anymore.

She was a stunning brunette, with coffee colored eyes and shoulder length hair to match, clad in a tight blue cable knit sweater and jeans worn down to a second skin, and she was the best looking woman he had ever seen in this hellhole. She pushed back a long strand of her hair behind her ear, reveling a gold hoop earring, and he guessed, from some very fine lines that were just starting to form around her eyes, that she was in her thirties. "I don't know," he replied, forgetting all about Fidget and Pat. "What are you offering?"

She smiled, showing off lips painted so red it looked like she had a bloody mouth. "That's a loaded question, isn't it?"

"Is it?" She had a highball glass, but it was empty save for a few melting ice cubes. He could smell the rum and Coke from here. He gestured to the terminally sour Benjy, and said, "Touch her up."

Benjy scowled at him, thinning gunmetal grey hair gleaming like grease in the yellow light, but he gave her a new rum and Coke and Logan dropped a bill on the bar, figuring a little feminine company was worth it, even if she did turn out to be a working girl.

As soon as he was gone, she swiveled on the stool so her body was leaning towards him, and said, "You were incredible to watch. And taking off your shirt like that ... wow. I'm surprised you don't have groupies."

"There's a first time for everything." After taking a drink of his beer, and assessing her body language and the scents he was getting off of her - the perfume she was wearing was a bit much; why did women have to wear perfumes? - she was attracted to him, no doubt about that. But how much of it was show? "You know, I'll pay for the drinks, but that's all I'm payin' for." He couldn't think of a more subtle way to say "If you're a hooker, no sale" - that would just have to do. He didn't pay for sex; he didn't have to. He didn't want to sound like some vain, macho asshole, but women - for whatever insane reason - seemed to like him, and he knew he liked them.

Her brows drew down in confusion, but when she understood his message, her smile mutated into a smirk, and she chuckled. "Aren't you a cheap date. Are you implying that I'm a whore?"

"No, but ya gotta admit, a  lot of them work this place."

She nodded, and he knew he could have blown any chance for getting laid tonight right here, but hell, it was better than letting her lead him on and then drop the "One hundred dollars first" on him later. "Get approached a lot?"

"In the beginning, yeah. Now they all give me dirty looks."

"Because you won't buy."

He nodded, and took another swig of his beer. If she was angry or offended, it sure wasn't coming through in her inflections. She looked down at her drink and swirled the ice around for a moment, then asked, "Why not?"

He studied her face, which was lovely in spite of the slightly excessive make up, and replied, "What kind of answer could I give here that you'd like?"

Her smile returned, and he knew then she couldn't be a hooker, or at least, if she was, she hadn't been at it long. The true professionals had a hard look behind their eyes, a look that suggested you were nothing but a rutting pig to them, and something, at best, to be pitied. He wondered if any john ever figured out that hookers didn't just hate them, a lot of them felt sorry for them - that you were a sad, pathetic man, and they knew that the second they spotted you. "You're a charmer, aren't you, Wolverine?"

He always felt strange being called by that name, but it was better to use that as his fighting name - more intimidating. "Logan."

"Callie," she replied. "And for the record, I'm not."

He nodded, not bothering to tell her he already figured that out. He stubbed his cigar out in the ashtray, and heard Fidget storm out into the icy night. He heard something small and metallic hit the floor in his wake, and he almost glanced around to see what it was, but Callie's knee brushed his, and it was far from an accident. "Does this mean I'm forgiven for bein' an ass?" He wondered, raising an eyebrow at her.

Her smile was partially amused, partially sensual, and he knew he was in for a good night. "I don't know. I guess that's going to depend on you, isn't it?"

Although it was rare, sometimes it wasn't only the guys who got off on those fights.

They traded pointless banter for a little while longer, and only in retrospect would it occur to Logan that they both had gone out of their way to avoid talking about themselves. She learned virtually nothing about him, and he learned virtually nothing about her - they had both already made up their minds that they wanted to fuck each other, but nothing beyond that. There was no way he was telling her a damn thing about himself, about being a mutant or having no memories beyond being tortured and having an instinct to kill, and he had no idea what she was hiding - a boyfriend, an actual part time hooking job, Callie not being her name, a fight with a significant other that led her to want to revenge fuck a guy, any guy - but honestly he didn't much care. Everyone deserved their secrets.

Finally she suggested they get out of there, and while he was all for that, he had to warn her he was staying at the "lockers" - it was what they called the cheap and very basic "motel" next door to the bar. It was basically a full service truck stop, so the lockers were tiny and very basic rooms, containing little in the way of space or amenities; it was just a shower, a bed, and a television, a place to throw your crap until you got back out onto the road again. She didn't care, and he was glad.

As they were leaving, he saw something silver on the floor, and guessed it to be the thing that Fidget had lost on his way out the door. Mostly out of curiosity he picked it up, and discovered it was a hotel room key on a hard blue plastic keychain - no magcards up here in the sticks. It was a cheap motel in what was laughably called a "downtown" area here, but a damn sight better than the lockers. He thought about dropping it on the floor again, but there was an address printed on the keychain's plastic backing, and he figured if he didn't see Fidget fidgeting around here tomorrow before he left, he could just throw it in the mailbox out front before he hit the road.

The instant he shoved it in his coat pocket, he forgot all about it.