"Then you got involved in some things you shouldn't have. Got caught once or twice. Spent some time in jail. I never told anyone around here about that, not even Clayton. That was all in Wetford. I figured, if you ever needed a fresh start, I'd try and keep your name all clear around here. Then you started branching out. Started doing business over here down river as well as up there. Got in with the Kruzel gang, from what I heard. No, tell you the truth, son, you really weren't much back then. Nothing to write home about, that's for sure."

"Better off dead", Dave muttered.

"I wouldn't say that", Ray hurried to say. "I wouldn't say that about anybody. As long as there's life there's hope. Never give up. That's what I say. Never lose hope."

"No, I mean it", Dave said, standing up. "It sure sounds like I'm better off now that I was before. I have no problems. Except for him. Except for who I used to be, and who I used to know."

He paused in front of Ray's chair and looking down, reached out a hand to touch his uncle on the shoulder.

"Thank you", he said, and turned away. He went out the front door and stood on the top step considering which way to turn. To the right was the waterfront and probably Cookie out there somewhere. He would like to see her again. He would like to help her. It would feel good to do that. He could stay out of the way, stay in the shadows. It could work. He hesitated for a few moments. He was not used to making choices. He would have to decide. There was Cookie, and that chance, but then there was Princess, and Fripperone. They were out there too, and he did not want to see them again. 

To the right was downtown and the human world. To the left was the winding road uphill to Fulsom Park. It was dark up there, and quiet. Peaceful. He could be alone, and maybe figure out what he should do, long term. It was time to make a decision.

He turned right. He had to take a chance. Maybe there was a place for him in this world, and maybe Cookie could help him. If anybody could, anywhere, it would be her, he thought, and so he made his way in the darkness, clinging to the shadows, stepping silently behind a wall or shrub whenever he might possibly encounter someone. When he reached Cookie's kitchen he found a place outside the building where he could wait and not be seen, and from there he watched, waited and watched the bustling activity below in the large dining hall.

He recognized no one among the crowd that patiently stood in the long line, holding their trays up when their turn finally arrived, and the friendly workers behind the counters doled out plates and bowls which the hungry gathered and hurried off to the long rows of tables to find a spot. Many of them ate rapidly and furtively, as if their haste would shield them from any public knowledge of their desperation and misery. Others took joy in the gathering, and welcomed their friends to share space on their benches. Dave quietly observed and understood there were signs and symbols happening all around, a language without words, a language still beyond his grasp.

He remained concealed and watched far past the time the hungry had their meal and the workers cleaned and closed the dining room up for the night. Only then did he dare creep around to the front door of the building around the other side and slide himself in without being seen. He guessed he would find Cookie in the back rooms, holding up the whole world from below. He guessed right.

She was sitting at a desk in a small room, barely a broom closet, barely lit, head bent over papers, scratching away with a pen. He stood for some time just outside in the hall, certain his presence had gone unnoticed while he thought of what to say, but Cookie spoke first.

“I'm glad you came,” she said without looking up, respecting his shy cat nature. 

“I want to help,” he whispered, and took two steps into the room, still keeping his distance and one eye on escape. 

“Down here is probably best,” she said, and then she looked up at him.

“Paperwork,” she shrugged. “There's never an end to it. No matter what you want to do in the world, there's bound to be a bunch of forms you have to fill out. But never mind that.”

She stood up, slowly, and carefully stepped around the desk. Dave took a step back, but then she stopped, and so did he.

“There's a lot of work to be done in the background,” she said. “Serving the public directly is probably not the best use for you,” she added, “at least not right away.”

Dave simply nodded, and waited for her to continue.

“We have a stock room,” she said. “If you go out into the hallway, turn left and go down to the second door on the right. ll join you there in a minute.”

She watched as Dave did as she suggested. She gave him a quiet head start, and then followed. He backed away again as she approached the door and opened it. She went inside, and he went in behind her. There was someone else in the room. Dave froze.

“Oh, hi Bobby,” she said. “I didn't know you were in here.”

“Just shelving the beans,” replied a handsome young man in his mid-teens. He was tall and lean, with bright blue eyes and short brown hair, dressed rather too nicely for the work he was doing in that dingy place.

“This is Eddie,” she said, turning back to where Dave stood in the entryway. “Eddie's going to be helping out down here. Eddie, Bobby Kruzel is one of our volunteers. You've probably heard of his dad, but Bobby's one of the good ones.”

“Eddie?” Bobby said, ignoring the implications of Cookie's reference to his father. “Why do you call him Eddie? That's Davey Connor.”

“You know him?” Cookie asked, looking first at Bobby, then at Dave, and then at Bobby again.

“Sure I do,” Bobby said. “Guy used to push me around when I was a little kid. Real tough guy. Total wad.”

“Eddie?” Cookie said, looking back at him again. Dave said nothing. He stood as still as the wall he was wishing he could melt right into. He didn't recognize Bobby, but he believed him.

“And you're supposed to be dead,” Bobby said. “That nut job Rags told everyone he killed you. Sure he did. This is just weird.” 

Bobby scratched his head and sat down on a stack of boxes. Cookie was still gazing at Dave, thinking about    everything she'd seen and heard about him. It didn't make sense. She was a realist, after all. Dead people don't go walking around, so clearly he'd only been wounded, but he was still in great danger. She knew very well that the people hunting him now did not have happy intentions in mind. Could she protect him? Unlikely. He would have to go somewhere else. She had lots of connections. 

“Eddie,” she said, “I think I can help you, but not here. It's not safe for you here.”

“I'll say,” Bobby blurted out before Cookie could wave him to silence. 

“I have to go,” Dave said.

“I can find a place for you,” Cookie said.

“There is only one place for me,” Dave said. “I should have turned the other way. I'm sorry.”

“Wait,” Cookie said, but Dave was already gone, vanished down the hall and out the door. He had no doubts any more. Fulsom Park was where he belonged. 

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