(8) Beans and Redding

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Present Day

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Ditzy returns from the shed with the same baseball bat she left with. She looks mildly annoyed, like her digging did not turn up whatever medieval pike she was hoping to find in the backyard storage of some uptown east side house in Chesnet, New Devonshire. On the other hand, her pockets jingle when she heads upstairs. I have very little desire to know what she's got in her pockets. If it were a normal person, I would. But this is Ditzy we're talking about.

She's also holding a coil of electrical wire that I hope she didn't cut from a once-live circuit, and a two-foot piece of dowel that looks freshly sawn at both ends. I go back to the stove and pretend I didn't see her come in. Which is difficult, because she's wearing cargo pants today, and I didn't know cargo pants could make someone's ass look that nice going up the stairs.

"Do I want to know what she found?" says Patrick from the opposite counter.

"I don't."

He goes back to chopping garlic. I lean over the counter to check out the window for Calico J. He left an hour ago to check out the garden we spotted in a yard down the road when we were searching for this safe house. Given that the house with the garden is only a five-minute walk away, my bet is on one of three things: either there are more gardens than I could spot from the road, he's decided to take a spontaneous trip to the nearest restaurant for spices, or he's back on his phone with the other survivors. I think I can rule out the third option, at least. His phone battery was at 3% when we wrapped up the last conversation, and he absolutely forgot to take my solar charger with him when he left the house. It's still sitting on the table where he set it down.

"Um... Meg?"

I retreat from the window. Patrick beckons me over, then holds up a half-clove of garlic. "Is it supposed to look like this?"

The inside of the clove is tinted with a reddish colour that sends a tingle up my spine. "No. Ditch that one and any that look like it."

"We might not have enough, then."

"Patrick, I'm ninety-five percent sure that's Redding."

He drops the clove like a decapitated snake head. I flick through the garlic he's already minced. Most is clean, but a patch of bits that must have all been from the same clove bears a milder version of the same red tint. I steal Patrick's knife and carefully separate them from the rest with the tip of the blade. Patrick peels the last few cloves. The entire second bulb we found beneath the grocery store tables two days ago has Redding on the inside.

"Well, that sucks," I say, when we've sent the whole thing the same way as the rest. "I was looking forward to having fresh garlic for once."

"Should we check the rest of the food? We picked up more than just garlic at that grocery store. If it's getting into things, we should find them before it spreads."

"I'll check the bag if you get the cupboards."

We split up. I empty our soft goods from the backpack hanging on the wall and set aside anything that's still unopened. Patrick's "Um..." catches my attention again. He fidgets with a cupboard handle for a moment, eyeing the items I've set aside. "Are we sure those are safe?"

"They're sealed."

"It got into the garlic without staining the outside, though."

I stare at him for a moment while my brain catches up with that. He's right: we didn't find the red tint until we cut the cloves open. Patrick is nervous to the point of obstructiveness sometimes, but there are moments when that caution leads to very valid ideas I don't think any of the rest of us would have thought of. This is one of those times.

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