"Here you go Mr. Hunter. Mr. Maddox says these are on the house for you and Mr. Pinder. It is a plenty hot day and you've sweated through your vests."
"Danny you tell Mr. Maddox we appreciate his thoughtfulness but you need to go back inside while we interrogate the prisoners. They've clamped their teeth down tight over their identity and what they were doing harassing the medical convoy. Things are likely to get unpleasant for a lady to witness."
Danny, knowing that Mr. Hunter was one of the few men walking this earth that would even pretend to consider her a lady decided to repay him in kind. She thought for a moment and then said, "I don't know who they are now but I know who they used to be. They used to work for Mr. Tad Jackson's road crew until he threw them off for some reason. That would be about six months ago. Jerry Baker's daughter was complaining about them at the market about a month later saying that her father had given them the heave ho too when he caught them sleeping on guard duty. Haven't heard where they went after that."
Mr. Hunter looked at his associate Mr. Pinder and then back at Danny. Danny thought, "Oh brother, here we go."
Mr. Pinder directed Danny back into the shade of the old truck stop now known, ten years after the solar flare, as Maddox Tavern. Mr. Pinder was a man that looked to be in his thirties but was actually several years younger. The life of a militiaman was not easy, not that anyone's life was as easy as they used to have it; even more difficult was the life of a Militia Detective which is what both Hunter and Pinder were. Danny wasn't sure Pinder's exact age but she knew him well enough that she figured she was in for yet another lecture.
"And just who gave you permission to call me by my given name?" Danny asked jumping to the offensive.
Pinder shook his head and gave a sigh. "Don't start girl. We both know there isn't anyone to ask permission of even if I was inclined to go begging for it. And we both know you've gotten this lecture before … keep your nose out of things."
"My nose, Butch Pinder, was not into things. I don't go out of my way to find things out, they just get said in my presence and I can't exactly unhear them now can I?"
Strangely Pinder seemed to understand exactly what she meant so offered an alternative. "Then how about keeping your mouth shut?"
Danny rolled her eyes. "I've tried it. All I got for my trouble was a day in jail after being accused of withholding information by your predecessor. Who, as we both know, now works for the district defense corp. If not for Mrs. Maddox and Father Brannigan I would have lost the kids. That's really what that creep was after, causing you grief was just icing on the cake. All he would have to do is bring me into things as if I was withholding evidence – which he seems to love to do for some annoying reason – and create doubt in the minds of a jury."
Butch Pinder did indeed know exactly what she was talking about. "Then stop getting involved."
"I didn't get involved on purpose. I get tired of ol' Bushel Britches Bartolo's harassment too you know. But this place, such as it is, is my job and since you are the one to bring it up you also know I don't have any place else I can go to live either."
Like he hated to even mention it he said, "Plenty of men need a wife."
With a cynicism that belied her age Danny replied, "Plenty of men may need a wife but all they seem to want is someone to screw around with and clean up after them and make sure there's food on the table when they want it whether they help put it there or not and cold beer for their belly whether they've bought it or not. And I'm not dragging three kids into the kind of hell that inevitably leads to. We don't have a lot but we've got our pride and I'd rather mop puke up off the tavern floor for the rest of my life than whore myself out. Now if you are done picking at me I've got work to do."
Danny turned to walk away but Butch reached over and grabbed her arm. "Stay out of this Daniella. I have a bad feeling. This feels just like right before that raid last year. There is something deep going on. I'm having a hard time figuring it. Might be the same ones as last time come back around for another try."
Danny sighed. "If you are talking about the Dunst Gang it ain't them. The leader - George Dunst - got yellow fever during a scouting mission to hit some place along the Big Bend area. I don't know the exact location but after George Dunst died his brother Harry tried to take over the gang but was arrested and hung over in Jacksonville."
"And how in the Sam Hill do you know that?!"
"Beau Roberts ordered a case of orange wine for his sister's wedding. Tito and I delivered it and it turns out her fiance' – now husband I guess, God help him – works in the radio tower over in Gainesville. He was jabbering away to some guy with a badge – looked like he was a federal marshall of some type though I couldn't see any stripes so maybe he was just a city cop for all I know – and those are a couple of the things he mentioned."
Butch winced, "Daniella you have got to stop listening in …"
"And how many times do I have to tell you I don't have to actively listen to hear people yakking. If people stopped talking the sky would fall. It's not like I want to remember every word I've ever heard in this world. My particular talent ain't exactly a godsend you know … sometimes feels like it is from the other direction if you want to hear the truth."
"Then when you hear something like that you should come tell someone."
Frustrated Danny snapped, "If I told you everything I hear every day you'd be as crazy as everyone is always accusing me of being. I don't have the luxury of my brain telling me what is garbage and not worth remembering … it remembers everything; what I've heard, what I've seen, for pete's sake I remember what I smell, taste, and what I feel, not a single sense is left out. It just all goes into storage. Most of it is just garbage I'd give a whole lot to get rid of. I don't know what is useful and what isn't until something comes up to make it that way. Now let go of my arm, you're hurting me."
He let go abruptly and said, "I thought it was only what you heard."
"I should be so lucky. It's everything, just not everyone knows it so lock your teeth over it, it isn't exactly something I want common knowledge. The few who know … they either think I'm lying or that I'm unreliably crazy and have to be imagining it. And get that look off your face, I'm not playing Sherlock Holmes either. I don't like that part any better and ain't out to earn it."
"You could … you're annoying enough. You could use your so-called talent to make big money. Or make a fortune blackmailing people. You could get out of the tavern work completely."
"I prefer being an honest barmaid to a crooked investigator. Not to mention if I did take the other road I might as well paint a big target on my back … and on the backs of Tito, Joey, and Nita too. We got enough troubles. I'm not bringing any more down on us."
"Then why tell me?"
Daniella shrugged in irritation like she hated the answer to that question. "Because I happen to know, even if you don't think much of me, that you ain't really a bad sort. You're a man and annoying as Infierno … but better than most I suppose … at least about this stuff. And … if I hear anything worth repeating I'll see if I can't find a way to tell you while it is still useful. But no promises. Sometimes I don't make the connection between the bits of data floating around in my head until after whatever they portend actually happens. I just thought with you thinking things about the Dunst Gang …"
Butch scratched his three day old beard in irritation. "Yeah. I guess the question I need to ask next is why that info hasn't filtered over to the militia administrative offices and been put on file."
Daniella snorted unbecomingly. "I don't have to even guess on that one … probably Bushel Britches."
Interested in her opinion for his own reasons he asked Danny, "You think he'd do that?"
"You can ask that when you're sober? Come on Butch, you know him better than I do. You were roommates at the training academy, or so I've heard. And you dated the guy's aunt."
"Sister … but it barely qualified as dating and whatever it was ended when she moved to Tampa to go to nursing school."
Danny nodded. "And got sick and died when they had that cholera epidemic run through the hospital. Which as I recall is about the time that Bushel Britches switched sides from prosecution to defense. And we both know why."
"'Cause his dad and brother got caught setting them bombs on a buncha boats in the harbor because they blamed the port for bringing in the cholera."
Danny shook her head and slowly backed away from Butch putting both physical and emotional distance between them. "We can throw things back and forth all day long but maybe you should get back to helping Mr. Hunter with today's work and then talk this over with him tonight. I've got enough on my plate. A group of travelers are expected in and they've booked meals and rooms."
"Rooms and meals? What are they made of? Scrip?"
"Better. They're coal barons out of West Virginia heading to Tampa to pick up a load of imports from further south. Heard a rumor they might even be picking up stuff that had to come through the Panama Canal. And you can get that look off your face, they have plenty of security of their own plus they're traveling with some sort of military convoy heading to MacDill."
Butch didn't look any happier but at least felt he'd made enough of an impression and turned to go back to where Mr. Hunter had the "interrogation" well in hand.
Danny jumped when a voice from under the Tavern lean-to said, "Coulda been worse."
"Conyo! Tito how long have listening?! And get out from under there before you get snake bit. I just killed a rattler this morning that was sitting as bold as I've ever seen on the tavern steps. I was late to work skinning the nasty thing so that Mrs. Maddox could fry it up. As big as it was, if the skin cures we'll get a good price over at Danner's."
Ignoring most of what his sister had said Tito crawled out and while he was brushing the sand off of his clothes he said, "I wasn't being nosey, I was just wondering why you talk to Pinder so much if you don't like him none. You made it out like a lot of people know how much you remember … but they don't. They think you can do magic tricks … but they don't know about all of it. And if you don't stop letting him see stuff then maybe he figures out that you ain't so crazy and can do more than add two and two together and come up with three."
Danny sighed. "We owe him some … he helped Eddie … anyway it's not that I don't not like Butch … he'd be real easy to like as a matter of fact if I didn't know he has a thing for blonde haired, blue-eyed, light skinned girls. I just gotta keep it in perspective so … I act like I don't like him. This way he doesn't think he can play me."
Disgruntled Tito said, "Girl logic makes my head hurt."
Danny snickered. "Get used to it Hermano, it always will." She shook her head. "But now that Father Brannigan has retired from parochial service I have to have someone to tell things to. I gotta cultivate someone and … I think Butch could be it. He's here at the tavern enough that me talking to him wouldn't make people wonder why … especially if they see me being cranky with him most of the time. I'll see what he does with what I gave him this time and maybe start giving him more. You're right, he is smart … smarter than he lets on too. He'll figure it out and then …"
"And then maybe you won't be so cranky with everyone else no more. And just so's you know I already racked off the batches of wine that needed it so Maddox won't get cranky either."
"Thank you," Danny told her brother with complete sincerity and a hug while she marveled at how tall he was getting. "Did Joey help?"
"Naw. Maddox had him and Nita putting clean sheets on all the cots."
"Oh Dios … which means there is roughly a ton of stuff for me to get washing. Guess he wants the travelers to see all the laundry on the line to make it look like he spared no expense or trouble."
"Likely. Need some help?"
"No because I know you had plans to help over at the Giffords. Are they really going to pay you in Scrip?"
"Yeah, about half of it anyway. And I'll take that to the store to pay on the layaway. The rest is going to be in jerky and some other stuff."
"Tito, you take some of that scrip and get you …"
"Aw don't start Danny. When I join the militia next year …"
They both fell silent. Tito worrying about leaving his sister alone to take care of everything until he got out of his apprentice phase and could send money home to her and Danny because while she knew that the militia was the path that Tito had wanted for several years, she still worried and would always worry, it was her job as a big sister and it was hard to let go.
"I better get started on those sheets otherwise I'll be at it until after the skeeters come out and the evening shift arrives."
"You sure you don't need help?"
"Just send Joey and Nita out before you go. If I need help they can be it, if I don't I'll find something else for them to do to keep them out of trouble. I'm not liking how Nita is starting to think she should have the same amount of play time Elise gets. I'm going to have to sit her down and explain things to her."
Not relishing a family argument he asked, "You have to?"
Danny looked at Tito. "It isn't what I want to do but it looks like it is what I'm going to have to do since she ain't picking it up on her own. She's starting to remind me too much of how Delia got to be."
"Maybe you should write and ask Delia to take her. It'd pay her back for running off from the family."
"Well … it ain't right what Delia did. She wanted what she wanted and now that she's got it she's forgot the rest of us. It's been three years Danny. Sending nice presents at Christmas and a card on birthdays … that ain't the same as being here day in and day out and helping to keep a roof over our heads."
"Well, at least she does what she does. And they're things I … they're things I couldn't manage. Even with the trade from our garden and greenhouse."
"Danny, Nita's twelve. She don't need no stupid dolls. And the only use she gets out of them silly dresses is wearing them to church. She out grows them before they wear out. You she just sends aprons and pencils … yeah that's a nice big sis for you. At least she sends me and Joey useful things."
"That's because her husband picks them out." Danny sighed. "You better get. Scrip is scrip even if it is spent as fast as it comes in."
Tito patted his sister's work worn hand where it lay on the fence post to the laundry yard. "Bet if Delia sent you a pretty dress Butch Pinder would stop looking for a pale-faced, lemon-headed girl."
Danny snorted. "Like I need that kind of trouble. Now scat. Those darn sheets aren't going to wash themselves."