Chapter 4. The Biker



            Three days later, in the evening, over the sandwiches they were having by way of a working meal on the folding table in Noelle’s apartment, she finally nailed her partner.

            “All right, Eddie, spill it. I got the word from Carol Unruh over lunch today. For what it’s worth, she and Tony Adducci and Christoph Wieland officially decided that no charges would be pressed against any down-timer unless they were actively involved as one of the arm-twisters. Just paying the bribes, we’ll let it go. This time, anyway.”

            Eddie Junker laid his half-eaten sandwich down on the plate. Then, stared at it for a moment, before sighing.

            “It has been difficult. I’ve felt bad about it. Not saying anything to you, I mean.”

            “Yeah, I can see that. How deep was your father involved?”

            Eddie shrugged, uncomfortably. “Not as deep as I’m sure he would have liked to have been. Dear God in Heaven, when will my father learn that he has the business sense of… of…”

            “My mother,” Noelle said crisply. For a moment, they both shared a laugh. Noelle’s mother Pat was to good sense what a junk yard was to orderly. The woman wasn’t stupid. She just didn’t seem to have a clue how to separate abstractions from their application to the real world.

            In her favor, though, Noelle thought but didn’t say out loud, at least Pat wasn’t greedy. Something which couldn’t be said for Claus Junker.

            “The point is, Eddie, nobody’s going to go after your dad. But I’d like to know if there are any leads there.”

            Eddie used the time it took to finish the sandwich to compose his thoughts. Then: “I think so, yes. Do you know a man—an up-timer—by the name of Jay Barlow? And another one by the name of Allen O’Connor?”

            Noelle stared at him for a moment. “Jay Barlow, yeah,” she said abruptly. “He used to be a car dealer before the Ring of Fire, mostly used cars—and he was pretty much a poster boy for what people think of used cars dealers.”

            Eddie frowned. “Which is… what?”

            “Never mind. Crooked sleazeball is close enough. The kind of guy whose stock in trade was passing off lemons.”

            “I thought you said he sold automobiles.”

            “Never mind, like I said. Some other time I’ll enhance your vocabulary of up-time slang. But right now I want to concentrate on the other guy.  Allen O’Connor, you said?”

            “Yes. I think he’s actually the more important of the two, although my father’s direct dealings were with Barlow.”

            Noelle chuckled. “Well, yeah, I can believe that. In the TO of organized crime, like any other enterprise I can think of, you’ll find the Jay Barlows of the world pretty regularly enrolled under the rank of ‘foot soldier.’”

            “What’s a ‘TO’?”

            “Table of Organization. Like I said, later for the vocabulary lesson.”

            She scratched the tip of her chin, forgetting for a moment her long-standing vow to eliminate that mannerism on account of it drew attention to her chin. She thought it was on the pointy side, which was especially unfortunate given the shape of her ears, which were also too damn close to being pointed. Add into the miserable bargain her too-slim figure, which she’d had since she was a kid, even before she started exercising regularly. She began that regimen after the scares she’d experienced in Franconia during the Ram Rebellion convinced her she’d better be in top physical condition.

            All she needed, in her position, was for people to think she was some kind of elf.

            Catching herself, she stopped. Then, tugged at her earlobe. Then, silently chided herself and brought the hand firmly down on the table. “Connor, on the other hand, has the potential to rise to higher levels. Did rise to higher levels, in fact, not long after the Ring of Fire, when he set up a steam engine business.”

            “So did Barlow,” Eddie pointed out. “He’s the partner and co-manager of the Grantville-Saalfeld Foundries and Metalworks—which is quite an important and profitable enterprise. More so than O’Connor’s steam engine corporation, really.”

            Noelle sneered, forgetting momentarily her long-standing vow never to sneer on account of it made her look like an impudent elf. “Yeah, sure—but that’s due to the other partner, Bart Kubiak, who’s the brains of the outfit. I heard—never mind where—that the only reason Bart asked Jay to become his partner—and he doesn’t have anything close to an equal share in the business, by the way, just a token amount—is because Billie Jean Mase sweet-talked him into it and Bart wanted her to relocate to Saalfeld to be his office manager.”

            She shook her head. “There’s another mixed-blessing character for you. By all accounts, Billie Jean is a crackerjack office manager—”

            “I thought those were a kind of cereal candy.”

            “What is it with your sudden obsession with learning every bit of American slang in one sitting? But whatever skills Billie Jean has in an office, she’s a dumb blonde in the rest of her life.”

            Eddie was now eyeing Noelle’s hair dubiously.

            “Fine,” she snapped. “It’s sort-of blonde. It’s just an expression. Some of the world’s champion dumb blondes are brunettes and redheads. Trust me on this one, for just a moment. Who else but a dumb blonde would ever get hooked up with a guy like Jay Barlow? You can’t even credit her with being a gold-digger, since she brings in most of the gold.”

            She raised the fingers of her left hand and began counting them off with the thumb and forefinger of her right hand, forgetting also her solemn vow not to draw attention to her fingers because they were too slender and nimble and, well, sorta elf-like.

            “First, he’s a loser. Second, he’s a sleazebag. Third—”

            “I thought the term was sleazeball,” Eddie complained.

            Noelle contemplated strangling him. Then, simultaneously concluded her hands were far too delicate for the task—Eddie was on the heavily-built side—and remembered her vow not to display them. Hurriedly, she put her hands back in her lap.

            “Third,” she said forcefully, “he’s thirteen years older than she is. Remembering my charitable Christian nature—”

            Eddie was looking more dubious by the minute.

            “—I will forego pointing out that his pot-belly matches his age and then some. Fourth, he’s lazy. Fifth—since after two months Bart Kubiak gave him the boot and told him to enjoy his piddly little share of the partnership back in Grantville where he’d be out of Bart’s hair—he spends most of his waking hours lounging at the 250 Club, trying to pretend he’s a tough biker even if the only part of ‘biker’ he has down pat is the boozing. Sixth—”