Chapter Thirty

A bell jingled as the door swung shut behind me.
 
“I'll be with you in just a second," a weary sounding voice said from the other side of the store.
 
I turned to look, and saw a short, pudgy man standing behind a desk.  I also noticed the five young men standing around him.
 
“Hey, don't ignore us," the one closest to him said, leaning heavily on the counter in a way that reminded me of Dex.  “Where's our money?"
 
My eyes opened wider at this.  These people were here to collect money too?  Who were they?  I took a step closer, wondering if I had reason to be afraid of them.  They were all wearing ratty clothes, and their hair was done up in punk-ish styles.  If the Swag Pag was a bunch of gangster stereotypes, then these guys were metalhead stereotypes.
 
“I don't have any money," the man said, shaking his head.
 
“Oh, well that's too bad," the first punk said, running a finger idly across the sales desk.  He pushed himself up and made his way to a computer sitting on a nearby display table.  “Was Trashed- Now Like New!" a colorful sign declared.  The punk turned to look at him again, “If you don't have any money, then how are you going to pay for this?"
 
All he did was poke the computer, like he was trying to knock it off the table, but sparks immediately began to fly out of it.  The screen went dark, and the tower hissed and let out a thick plume of smoke.
 
“If you don't have any money," the punk said, not giving the ruined computer a second glance, “you're going to have a very hard time buying new parts for these clunkers."
 
I took a close look at him now.  He was tall and lanky, and his cherry red hair was highlighted with black at the tips.  The way his face was shaped, with his pointed nose and eyebrows that were naturally raised, he looked like somebody who loved to cause trouble.  In fact, I realized when I looked at the others, they were all like that.
 
“Yeah," one of the others cackled, making his way to another computer.  He had a mohawk that defied gravity, dyed a puke-ish shade of green.  “Seriously, is it even legal to sell computers like this?"
 
He ran his hand over the keyboard, and the monitor exploded with a loud pop.  The punk went back to the rest of his gang, giggling manically.
 
It was at this point that I decided that being afraid of these people was the smart thing to do.
 
“All right, all right!" the man exclaimed, watching in horror as his wares went up in smoke.  “I'll give you the money!"
 
“Good choice, Chuckie," the one with the red hair said, coming to lean on the counter again.  I pegged this one as the leader.
 
“L- Let me go get it from the safe," the tubby man said, inching away from the leering punk.
 
“Hey, Zeke," one of the others said once the store owner had disappeared into the back of the store, “check it out.  This one's a wolf."
 
I turned, and jumped a little when I saw he was looking at me.  A wolf?  Did he mean werewolf?  How did he know?
 
“Well, well," the redhead said, casually making his way over to look at me.  “You must belong to good ol' Dalton, huh?"
 
“Dalton?" I repeated, trying to keep my voice steady.  I'd heard that name before, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
 
Zeke ran his eyes over me, but I got the feeling he was sizing me up for a fight instead of admiring my body.  I couldn't help but notice a few things about him, too.  He was tall and thin, just like his goons, but not in a way I'd ever seen before.  His legs were so long that he had to bend at the knees a little to stay at eye level with me, and his arms were so long he could have scratched his knees even if he were standing up straight.  His skin was almost pasty white, but was offset by the blindingly red freckles that covered his face.  They reminded me, I thought idly, of salamander spots.  They were subtle things that most people wouldn't notice.  Even I couldn't tell if I was speaking to a strangely shaped human or a… I had no idea what he could have been, to be honest.
 
“Well, you can just go tell Da King," Zeke spoke up again, emphasizing the last two words dramatically, “that you got here a little too late.  The G-Nomes own this store now."
 
With this last statement, he thumped his chest proudly, and his cronies behind him stood a little straighter.
 
“The what?" I asked, fighting off the urge to take a step back.
 
Before Zeke could answer, the store owner came back into the room, holding a wad of dollars in his hand.  “Here's the money," he snapped, throwing it down on the counter.  “Now get out!"
 
Zeke, apparently losing interest in me, turned to take the money.  He flipped through the bills, and nodded in satisfaction.
 
“Don't worry, buddy, we'll keep you safe from the Wolves."  He pocketed the money and held his hand out to shake.
 
“Just get out of my store," the man huffed, trying to retain what little dignity he had left.
 
“Oh, come on, Chuck," Zeke insisted, leaning forward with a sly grin.  “We're friends now, right?  Friends do things for each other.  We're going to all the trouble of keeping those Wolves out of your hair, and all we ask in return is a little cash.  And," he added forcefully, “a friendly handshake."
 
Reluctantly, Chuck raised his hand and shook Zeke's, scowling the whole time.
 
“Our work here is done, boys," Zeke said, and snapped his fingers.  Immediately, the other punks headed for the door.
 
“Watch yourself, wolfie girl," the one with the Mohawk muttered, and then shoved me out of the way with his shoulder.  “D.K. don't own this part of town no more."
 
“Good doing business with you, Chuckie," Zeke said, giving the store owner one last leer before reaching out and flicking the computer behind the desk.  I didn't need to look to know it was ruined, just like the others.  With that, Zeke turned on his heel and marched merrily out of the store, giving me a sarcastic thumbs up on the way.
 
 
 
NEXT TIME: The G-Nomes, huh?  Interesting...  Wonder how D.K.’s gonna react to this?
 

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