“All right, I’m comin’.” She stumped down the cracked sidewalk. “I ain’t got a bank account.”
“Can you get one? Do you need to have ID?”
“I got ID. Not a driver’s license, but everybody’s got to have ID. You can’t hardly do anything without ID.” She scowled at him. “What are you plottin’?”
“To sell more gold. Can Bernie write you a check for the gold? Then you could open a bank account with it, right? It would look really legitimate, with a check.”
“Twelve thousand dollars is a lot’o money.” Ruby steered him across the street and turned away from the line of stores and restaurants, now with their fancy signs turned off.
“Goodwill” turned out to be a used clothes-and-everything else store.
The clerks looked appalled as the old people spread out looking for clothes that would fit.
Exzy spotted a shelf full of books . . . but they were all love stories. Yuck.
He checked on the old people—the two tarts were getting them fixed up with some fancier clothes, so he left them to it and started looking at furniture.
Chairs. A little table. Beds . . . well, they had a bunch of mattresses standing up in a rack. Black Coat, er, George, came by with Queenie and they giggled and said they need a nice big one.
Eww! I am never going to be like that.
Then the others came and they’d paired off too, so they bought three . . . and Exzy stretched his bubble handles out and scooped up all three.
The clerk stumbled back a couple of steps.
“How about these chairs?” Exzy pointed out the comfortable looking ones, and the women all laughed and chose other ones “that coordinated.” He shoved them into the bubble too.
The clerk totaled it all up and Ruby handed over the cash. They walked further down the street to “the Y” where they could shower and change into their new clothes.
Exzy spotted the grocery store beyond and got money for groceries from Ruby. Not that there was a lot he could get—the house didn’t have any electricity, either. But granola bars, apples, and oh yum! Oranges! A big box of fried chicken, paper plates and plastic forks and napkins and a couple of gallons of water, back track for plastic glasses, sodas . . . He paid for it all and wheeled the cart out of the store and over where it wasn’t visible from inside and shoved everything into his bubble.
Good thing they don’t get full, but I’m going to have to be careful unloading it!
His gang was hovering around eyeing the store, and looking relieved when they spotted him. He was relieved too. They look like regular people, instead of derelicts and tarts. Well . . . they look better.
He pointed at a table and benches under a tree by the Y. “Let’s sit down, you guys haven’t eaten much today. Then . . . what order should we do this in, Ruby? Open a bank account with some of the cash from yesterday? Then Bernie's, to sell gold?” He pulled out the groceries.
“It’s barely noon, Gen . . . Exzy.” Ruby ripped into a box of granola bars and they all went for them. And sodas. Then the fruit. Then they tackled the hot chicken . . . and finally slowed down, content.
And looking around at each other.
Queenie frowned. “I feel really good. I . . . haven’t thought about a fix all day.”
Nods from the others. “I don’t need a drink. Alcohol, I mean.” Jimmy Todd frowned at Exzy. “Did whatever you put in the wine do that? Not to mention how we were behaving.”
Ruby elbowed him and giggled. “And I looked in the mirror, in the Y. I looked pretty good for an old Bag Lady.”
“Yeah. It cures almost everything. And it makes grownups want to do disgusting things.”
And suddenly they were all frowning down on him.
“Grownups?” Paul frowned down at him. “How old are you?”
“Umm . . . what’s the date?”
“Oh, well. Actually I won’t be born for another fourteen centuries or so. But I guess I’m actually . . .” darn it, what’s old enough to be believable? “Thirteen.”
Folded arms and stern looks.
“I’m wizard. We grow a bit slow . . .” Exzy sagged under their combined disbelief. “I’m eight. ”
Now they just looked appalled.
“So you’re not a Genie?” Ruby sounded disappointed.
“Well, not like in Aladdin. We get called Genies some places because we had genetic engineering. That’s why we’re magic.”
“And that stuff you put in the wine. Is it going to make us magic?” Jimmy was looking thoughtful. And not wearing glasses.
“No! It just fixes everything that’s wrong.”
Ruby finally asked, “So why are you pretendin’ to be a Genie?”
“Because it’s fun. I’m having an adventure. It’s not quite what I was expecting, but since I can’t get home, I might as well have fun, right?”
“Right. So you’re time traveling and lost your time machine?” Baldy, who was Wood, or Paul. Exzy couldn’t remember which name came first.
“No. Some older kids played a trick on me. Dad will find me, as soon as the kids fess up. Or Aunt Q. She’s good at dimensional stuff. Almost as good as Dad.”
Ruby snorted. “Not real sure I believe you, but what are you doing about that house?”
“I’m getting you a place to live. And money.” He squirmed a little. “I don’t think I can make you rich. But if you don’t start drinking again, maybe you could get a job, before the money from selling gold runs out?”
George grinned. “And that wine, did it just fix what was wrong with us, or will we live a long time?”
“You’ll live a long time. Except, you know, getting run over by a car, or shot, or poisoned, or . . .”
“Enough!” Ruby glared down at him. “And since you seem to be takin’ over my life, what do we do now?”
“How about selling some more gold and then you can open a bank account.” Exzy looked around at the others. “All of you?”
He pried the stones out of the stars and comets and detached the gold and shared it around. Well, Ruby got most of it, since she was (maybe) buying the house. She also grabbed the stones.
Bernie was boggled.
The bank lady was horrified but polite, and opened three accounts.
I guess their wardrobes need a little more work.
Jimmy and the tarts already had accounts at different banks. Exzy walked down the street with them. Jimmy’s account was overdrawn and with penalties and such, but it was less work than opening a new one.
Exzy wandered outside and sat on a bench.
The tarts returned from their bank with a man trailing along and threatening them.
Exzy scowled. The bubble had so much stuff in it . . . but it was all he had. He stood up on the bench. The man gave him a dismissive glance and went back to cussing at Queenie and Cherry. Exzy opened the bubble cautiously, but nothing spewed out. The man passed him and Exzy dropped the bubble over him, jumping down to get the man’s feet inside.
Cherry and Queenie looked at him, mouths open.
Cherry sucked in an alarmed breath. “Don’t suffocate the stupid pimp!”
Exzy grinned. “I won’t. But I’ll have to let him out to get everything else out. We’ll have to find a good place for him.”
He trotted down the street to where Jimmy was staring down at something from the bank. He looked over at them. “I was a doctor, see? A surgeon. Then my vision . . . and soon the glasses couldn’t compensate enough. I tried to switch to something I could do, nearly blind . . . my wife divorced me, and I started drinking. But now, I can see just fine, and my alcoholism is cured. I can do anything, now. I can go back. Well, maybe. But Exzy, that wine . . . what you put in that wine has so many possibilities.”
He looked at the tarts. “We need to open an office and sell that stuff.”
“Like all those other quack cures?” Queenie eyed him. “Except ours works.”
Exzy grinned. “Yeah. That’s a good idea. All you need to do is add a bit to more wine. And never run out.”
“And mail order, advertise on the grid.” George walked up, grinning. “You’ll need staff.”
Paul was rubbing his head. “I swear I’ve got peach fuzz. Maybe I’ll try rubbing some on. Bet a cure for baldness will make more money than a cure for cancer.”
Ruby was looking down at her bank folder. “I’ve got a lot of money. But buyin’ a house is goin’ to take most of it.”
“If that man comes back with a contract, make sure there’s nothing about you having to pay the back taxes.” Exzy skipped across the road. “As soon as it’s yours you can turn on the water and electricity. Then you guys can start any businesses you want.”
He eyed Ruby, and dropped back to talk to her as they wandered toward home. “You look sad.”
“Oh . . . it’s just, I’ve wasted so much of my life. Only worked for a couple of years, then I got married, quit when I had a baby, and another, and another . . . By the time the youngest was grown up, I was . . . I’d let myself go, I was depressed, started drinkin’, started drinkin’ too much. Dirk divorced me and married a blonde bimbo. An’ . . . I just gave up. I’m fat old lady. A homeless wino. Have been for years. Ten or twelve, I guess.”
“Well, you won’t be homeless for much longer. And if you stay away from alcohol you won’t get addicted again. And you’ll still have plenty of money to buy new clothes and see about getting a job. If you don’t wind up working for Dr. Jimmy.”
“Yeah, until his eyes went bad, but now . . .” Exzy slowed as they approached the bad house. There was a man, his glow was weird, pulsing and red and . . . he had a knife.
And he met Exzy’s gaze. His eyes widened and he screamed. Raised the knife and sprinted toward them.