Orihime in Hiding- 14
Chapter 14- Neighbors Dog
Kitchen four’s attempt at an baklava — which took a moment to explain to their fellow classmates that an was the Japanese word for sweet bean paste — earned them an A grade that Wednesday. It took Orihime, Leah, and Meg’s collective home ec class, and a Shakespeare and study hall period to accomplish it, but it was worth the reward of the good grade and the diamond shaped pieces of phyllo dough filled with the bean paste and nuts, topped with drizzled honey.
Renji had to admit, the baklava was on his mind as he waited at the tree for school to let out that Thursday afternoon. Orihime had been talking about it for three days, and if it had earned an A in class, maybe it was worth the wait. She was supposed to bring her share home with her, and he only hoped there was some left.
He looked up at the overcast sky that promised rain. It was a pleasant change, the slightly cooler weather that day, after the muggy days that had gotten only more humid the last few weeks.
Had it really been that long already? he wondered, shifting positions as the crossing-guard glanced to him from her station at the end of the sidewalk where the intersection of the school’s side street and Brooklyn-Pierport Street crossed.
He returned her attention for a moment. She wasn’t the usual traffic Nazi with the power-hungry attitude from the other mornings and afternoons. She was a different one. He’d noticed her that morning as she crossed the groups of students in the light fog that had lingered until ten o’clock.
She was taller, slender, her dark blonde hair severely pulled back in a ponytail, her eyes hidden by mirrored sunglasses, even in the fog of morning.
Which he thought was peculiar, but she’d done her job without yelling nearly as much as the usual pudgy crossing-guard that handled the pedestrian traffic. He saw her look away, the stop/slow sign in her hand dangling at her side.
He sighed, his eyes going back to the school as the doors opened and students spilled out from the front and side doors. Most milled around, shoving and talking, before making their way to the waiting buses parked in the circle at the building’s front. Others headed to the sidewalks to begin the walk home.
After a moment he saw Orihime and Leah emerge from the front doors, both carrying a plastic container each, again in the nearly matching green shirts. Renji stuck his hands deep in his jean pockets as they paused to talk to Meg and Danielle as they caught up to them on the sidewalk.
Come on, he thought, eyes on the plastic container Orihime carried. The more he thought about the sweet bean paste dessert the more he decided it should taste pretty good. He had to admit, her cooking had improved with the home ec class lately, although they’d both resorted to rice for breakfast. Unless there were donuts in the house.
“Hi,” they both greeted as they parted Meg and Danielle and met him at the tree.
“Hi. How was school?” he asked Orihime.
She nodded. “Good.”
“Good.” He looked to Leah. “How’re you?”
She gave him a small smile. “Good. You?”
He nodded. They turned down the sidewalk, and he fell into step behind them, feeling the dampness in the air through his black t-shirt that was emblazoned with a graphic message in Japanese Orihime had told him probably would not be welcome at school, had it been in English. They followed the mass of students down the walk, Orihime and Leah walking close, heads together as they spoke. Most of the kids in the crowd had gotten used to Renji by now, and no one gave Orihime much trouble. In fact, most gave her the right-of-way.
They paused at the traffic light where the new blonde crossing-guard waited for the light to change before escorting them across the two-lane street. Renji waited with the pack, eyeing the guard, wondering if the neon smock she wore doubled as a slicker in case of rain.
He followed Orihime and Leah across the street, and then across the second side street in the direction of their house, away from town, realizing Leah was going with them. He let them lead by a few sidewalk panels, watching them. Orihime was shorter by half a head, her bouncy walk making her reddish-brown hair sway just past her shoulders, her posture straighter as Leah leaned to speak to her.
Leah’s dark hair was longer, and while it was pulled up into its usual ponytail by the blue scrunchie she used, he’d seen it down, and knew it fell well past her shoulders. He watched the angle of her neck as she leaned to Orihime, nodding at something the Japanese girl said, the smile that crossed her face.
Damn human bodies, he thought, slowing a few steps, shaking his head. Why were they so weak? How could humans stand being so, so human all the time?
After all, she was only — How old could she be? he wondered. Certainly not old enough for the thoughts coursing through his mind. He looked to Orihime. Older than her, he knew. Well, that should be old enough for something, even if–
He halted his thoughts as Leah turned to glance at him briefly. When she turned back around Renji shook his head again. This was turning into a long-ass assignment lately.
The girls ahead turned at the end of the driveway when they reached their house, speaking lowly as Renji trailed them as the high hedges that separated Raider’s yard from theirs eclipsed his view of them.
“Look at the flowers on the other side,” he heard Orihime say as they disappeared from his field of vision. “Tell me what kind they are.”
He frowned at their sudden departure as he neared the driveway. He knew she liked the flowers on the south side of the house best, and had made comments before about what kind they might be — he’d always simply said the purple kind when she asked — but they weren’t that remarkable, in his opinion.
He turned the corner into the drive, scowling when he didn’t see them at the truck or house. Pulling away from him like that put him on edge. His eyes went over the back yard, looking for signs of either girl, but all he saw was the two containers of baklava on the back porch by their book bags, muted voices coming from the other side of the house. He was still at the truck in the driveway when he heard the unmistakable click of a pistol come from behind him.
Renji pivoted in time to see the blonde crossing-guard enter the driveway behind him, her head turned over her shoulder, then facing him as the hand beneath the neon smock lifted, a handgun leveling at his head without hesitation.
She fired the first shot, a sound dulled by the silencer fitted to the end of the Walther P38 barrel, and Renji sidestepped it in time. In one swift movement he reached for her hand, hearing the second shot fire, which blew out the truck’s left rear tire. His hand closed vice-like over her wrist, his other hand clamped over her mouth, fingers tight on her face. Her free hand moved to the smock, and he released her mouth to grab the hand that brought up the short curve-bladed knife, but not before it ripped open his forearm.
His hand clenched over her wrist with the knife, his grip tightening as she struggled against him. He shoved her against the truck passenger door, the vehicle blocking them from view by the house. The impact knocked the breath out of her, and Renji’s hand tautened over her wrist until the small bones there cracked.
She gasped, the knife falling from her grip. He dropped her broken wrist and snatched the sunglasses off her face.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
Beneath the mirrored shades she was older than he expected, a hard look to her features that belied her figure. She tried to bring a knee up into his crotch, but he leaned against her on the truck, smothering her attempt. He braced his forearm, now bleeding freely, against her throat, pushing her head against the truck window.
“Who are you with?” he asked lowly, not wanting to attract attention from Raider’s house behind him.
She shook her head. “I just want the girl.”
“Who hired you?”
“I don’t know his name,” she said, face contorted as the bones in her wrist gave in to his grip.
She shook her head again, and his hold on her right hand tightened, the bones creaking. She gritted her teeth at the pain.
“Tell me, or I’m going to break it and start on your ribs,” he promised. He heard another sound and looked down in time to see her mangled left hand fumbling in the pocket of the crossing-guard smock to bring up a smaller handgun. He backed off her and snatched the second pistol away. In that fleeting second she twisted away from him and made a dash for the opening of yard beside the garage.
Renji threw the gun to the hedges and ran after her. She was swift, despite her lack of youth, that he had to admit, and he didn’t near catching up with her until she’d made a hasty hurdle over the rear chain link fence that divided their back yard from the neighbor’s. She passed through this yard, dodging lawn ornaments, and down the narrow sidewalk between the neighbor’s house and wooden privacy fence beside it and into the street.
Renji was still in motion when the semi truck cab hit her. The driver braked too late, skidding to a stop ten feet down the residential street after it had rolled over her body with all sets of tires. He stopped in the sidewalk, slipping the ring on his left hand to his right.
The driver hopped out of the cab, rounding the back of the truck, its diesel engine rumbling in idle.
“Hey, lady,” he said as he dropped to his knees beside her at the back of the truck. He pulled off his cowboy hat as he leaned over her. “Hey! Lady!”
Renji stepped closer as a few of the neighbors from other houses started to emerge in the street.
“You’re not supposed to be driving that thing down this street,” one neighbor said to the driver.
“There’s a detour at the truck entrance. Call an ambulance!”
Two other neighbors reached the fallen woman. “Is she dead?”
“Never seen her before.”
“I think she’s dead.”
“Call the police!” the driver said frantically, throwing the nub of a cigarette from his lips to the curb.
Renji watched as more people gathered. The woman’s smock was torn nearly off her body, her pants and shirt twisted from the collision. Beside her lay an extra magazine of bullets. Her broken wrist was already turning purple, and her left wrist, which he hadn’t finished entirely breaking yet, was encircled by a metal band.
He frowned, feeling the blood run down his right arm, catching on his shinigami robe sleeve. He’d seen the metal before. It’s dull luster, the snug size making removal impossible without a cutting tool, the seamless design.
He turned back to the yard through which he’d chased her. She wasn’t dead, not quite, but he knew she would be soon. Before the medics could reach her.
He crossed the yard and reached the back of the garage to the house he and Orihime shared. Ugh, shared, he thought, pausing at the back of the outbuilding. He could hear Orihime’s giggle from the house, followed by Leah’s voice.
“I suppose they could be hydrangeas,” the brunette girl was saying. “I don’t know much about flowers, Inoue.”
“Hmm. Neither do I. I wonder what’s keeping Renji.”
He sighed, still hidden by the garage as he slipped the ring on his left finger. He removed the rag tied around his head and took out the knot, smoothing the black material. The gash at his right arm was open and bleeding, but with less force now. The blood was thickening, sticky on his skin. He grimaced at the four inch laceration as he wrapped the black cloth around it, pulling the skin together. The cloth covered much of the blood, but not all.
He was still thinking of a story to tell them when he rounded the corner of the garage to see Orihime and Leah sitting on the back porch steps with their school bags and the plastic containers.
Orihime put a hand to her mouth when she saw him. “Oh, no,” she breathed.
Leah’s eyes dropped to his bandaged and bloody hand, surprise claiming her face. “Holy shit. What happened to him?”
Renji worked up a grin as he met them and found the house key in his jean pocket. “Hey, sorry about that. Damn dog.”
Both girls stood, looking to his arm. He unlocked the new back door, hoping Orihime would go along with any story he threw at them.
“The neighbor’s dog?” she said, frowning at his reddened fingers.
“Yeah. They should really keep that thing on a leash.” He looked to each of them. Leah looked suspiciously at his arm. “Did you see it go through the yard?”
They both shook their heads and followed him into the house. Renji looked around the kitchen. Nothing was out of place. He went into the living room as they spoke quietly behind him in the kitchen. He checked the rest of the house, finding nothing. When he looked at the still damaged door to Orihime’s room, he groaned. They’d forgotten to get a new door knob to replace the broken one from Saturday night. He glanced around the room and spied one of Orihime’s sweaters. He placed it over the door knob; it dangled askew over the broken knob.
Close enough, he thought, heading down the hall. He looked at Orihime and Leah standing at the end near the staircase. He stopped, reading the inquiry on Orihime’s face. Not yet, he thought, wondering how long they could keep lying to Leah. Her eyes were on his arm, a perplexed look on her face.
“Did you get bit?” Orihime asked carefully.
“Yeah. Uh, I’m going to wash up.”
“That’s a dog bite?” Leah asked, frowning.
He looked to the black cloth saturated with blood, his red hand below it. “Yes.”
They passed him to go to Orihime’s room, Leah turning to look at his hand as they did. She looked back up to him as he paused at the bathroom doorway.
“Are you sure, Renji?” she asked as Orihime went into the bedroom.
He nodded, watching her green eyes study his face. “I’m sure.”
“You should see a doctor about that. It’s got to be a nasty bite.”
“It’s not that bad.”
She nodded, looking to the tattoos on his forehead. Her eyes traveled over them for a moment, her mouth opening as if she was going to say something. Her eyes went back to his and then she looked to Orihime in the room, debating something within herself.
“Come on, Leah,” Orihime called. “We’ve only got half an hour before you work.”
Leah nodded and joined Orihime.
Renji sighed and went into the bathroom. One look in the mirror at his reflection and he knew no one would believe it was a dog bite.