Chapter XVII:

Consuela’s Promise

At 3:20 the next day Leon packed his things up and shut down his computer. Something told him that after speaking with Consuela he would not be coming back to Stigel, Lewis that day. No one would notice his absence. Box-Mart was the only account he still covered, and he was fast approaching its terminus anyways. Still, there was a slight feeling of escape when he closed and locked his door behind him.

Mathilda turned in her chair to look at him, and there was nothing but blanket scorn on her face, eyes pinched, squinty, mouth twisted into what could have been a birdlike smile if it weren’t for the sick disregard writ large across her expression.

They stayed that way a moment, staring at each other, and Leon felt again the intuition that his days still here were few indeed. If even his admin assistant could look at him like that, unafraid, something was terribly wrong.

Mathilda turned back to her computer without bothering to ask him where he was going wearing his coat, briefcase in hand. Maybe it didn’t matter to them at all any more. Maybe they only cared about the Quixote and being close to it. Maybe they would try to take it for themselves. Leon should prepare himself for such, or else, when he left, he should never come back.

He crossed the floor to the elevators and took it to the first floor, exited and walked out of the building into its atrium, a stage in plain air with perhaps twenty tables, each with four black wrought iron chairs. He did not see Consuela.

Leon went to the coffee stand situated on the outer edge of the atrium on Montgomery Street, where there was a small line. He waited, and his hand snuck into his pocket to hold the Quixote. He removed it from his pocket, a habit he was forming more frequently of late, despite the risk and the obvious attention it invariably attracted.

He purchased a small coffee for himself, then, coffee in one hand Quixote in the other, he went to a table on the far wall of the atrium. He put the Quixote on the table, and watched the life-size iterations begin to circle around him, staring and taking tables close to him. One table had two Quixotes and two unturned people, who were shouting their conversation between each other, and, from Leon’s observation, could barely look at their silent, helmeted companions for the hostility they felt towards them.

For some reason Leon found himself again thinking of Heather, the only other person who had touched the Quixote.

He was struck from his revery, however, by Consuela’s clumsy arrival. She came up behind him and crashed into the chair opposite him, almost too portly to fit into the chair, leaving her donkey beside her. Leon was struck once again at how very, very strange she looked.

The unturned people around them were staring angrily at their table, right along with the Quixotes, when Leon greeted her: “So glad you could make it,” he said.

“I don’t have much time,” she responded.

“Why did you come then?”

“I came because I wanted to see it for myself, and I wanted to give you what you asked for.”

“It’s that important to you?”

“You have no idea.”

Leon wondered where he should start:

“What happened to you?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You knew that it came to me. How did you know it came to me?”

“Everyone knows.”

“They do?”

“Uh-huh. Every Quixote in the nation. They know what you look like, Leon. That’s why they turn to look at you.”

“It’s so strange.”

“Yes it is.”

“How did it start?”

“I don’t know. But there are answers to be found somewhere.”

“At the nexus.”

“At the nexus.”

Leon was tossing the thing idly from hand to hand on the table. Consuela watched him hungrily.

“It wasn’t this thing that started it, was it?” Leon asked.

“Nope.”

“But it has an important role to play.”

“Endlessly important.”

Consuela’s donkey nosed about at the side of the table, her motorcycle helmet strapped to its saddle. The conversations around them were growing more animated. It might have been his imagination, but it seemed like the crowd surrounding them had moved in closer, as if to listen more completely.

“What happened to you?” Leon asked again.

“I couldn’t say really. At some point I just realized that people weren’t hearing my voice, that they were looking at me differently, and I became afraid. Afraid and angry.”

“Why angry?”

“Because someone had done this to me. For the longest time I thought it was you, in fact. I don’t think that any more. But you are lucky, Leon, not to be a part of what is happening around you. Things are going to get worse before they get better.”

He stopped tossing the thing back and forth, noted that Consuela’s eyes followed it everywhere it went.

“There’s a war brewing, isn’t there?”

“There sure is. And the people like me are going to be completely defenseless.”

He decided to ask her what he had come here to ask.

“How did you take your helmet off?”

“I don’t know, but it was a breach of protocol. No one else has done that, none that I’ve seen, only me and my family. But at least I can speak with my mouth now.”

“No psychic messages.”

“None from me.”

“But you look terrible.”

“I know I do. I put it back on sometimes just to blend in more easily.”

“I can’t take mine off.”

“Count yourself lucky.”

There was a pause. The conversations around them hummed with unfriendliness, the Quixotes pressing in closer still, with sounds of chair legs scraping the marble floor.

“Has anyone else touched it?” Consuela asked.

“Only one person,” Leon answered.

“Who was it?”

“My girlfriend.”

Consuela shook her head.

“Bad idea,” she said.

Leon swallowed.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because it’s the truth. They will use her to get to you.”

“Who will?”

“You haven’t seen them yet. There are others out there Leon who will seek to control you. It might have been their fault from the very beginning and neither you nor anyone else has any idea.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know. But your girlfriend surely does by now.”

Leon was holding the Quixote tight now in his right fist.

“I have to go to her,” Leon said.

“They’re expecting you to.”

“I have to go to her,” he repeated.

“Stay with me a little longer.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ll offer you a way out.”

“Will you now?”

“I’ll offer to take it for myself.”

Leon paused. The raw power of the thing, the opportunism of it, was coursing through his arm.

“No,” he said. “Not if Heather needs me.”

“Then I’ll fucking take it from you.”

“Give it your best shot,” Leon said.

Consuela’s donkey was pawing the ground as if it were getting ready to charge.

No, he wasn’t afraid, at least not of her. As for what she knew, the things he hadn’t seen yet…

She sat completely still across from him, staring at the thing in his hand. Then her eyes raised to meet his own, round and black and furious out of her leathery skin. She looked so different from how she used to. She used to be somewhat attractive in a round, stately sort of way. Now she had become a monster, and there was something else about her that Leon realized, staring at her: she was greedy. Greedy to no end. She desired it.

“So that you’ll go to the nexus instead of me?” Leon asked, getting ready to stand, precious time wasted with this terrible, selfish being.

“That’s right. I can do it. I even know where it is.”

“So do I.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t know. I think it came to me in a dream.”

“And you’ll go there?”

“If I have to.”

Leon stood up now. Consuela did not follow his movement.

“I’m leaving now.”

“You have no idea the power you have, Leon. The power to save us all and you don’t even know it.”

“I guess I’ll find out.”

“I’m going to take it from you, Leon,” she said. “I promise you that.”

“I don’t think so. Not with these people watching us,” he said, motioning to the crowd, which rippled out a splash of murmurs at his movements.

“I’ll take it from you some other way,” she said.

“I’m leaving, Consuela.”

“Go on then. She needs you, Leon. You didn’t know it when it happened, but you’ve ruined her life.”

“Fuck you,” he said, a knee-jerk response. It hurt too much to think that way. No wonder she hadn’t been returning his calls.

“I’m not going anywhere, Leon. And the floor up there will be waiting for you too. Everyone, everywhere, wants the power that you possess, and you seem to barely be aware of it.”

“I’m leaving,” and he started forward into the crowd, which, when he flashed the Quixote at them, parted ways for him.

“YOU CAN’T LEAVE, TRAPPED MAN!” Consuela was screaming at his back. “WE’RE GOING TO TAKE IT FROM YOU ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, AND THE WORLD WILL BE THANKFUL FOR IT!”

Leon made it out of the atrium to Sutter Street and was just in time for a Muni bus pulling up at the bus stop. He boarded it and it snaked out into the thick, pre-rush hour traffic. Leon found a seat by the window, and he watched outside the world rabidly spinning itself into destruction, Quixotes everywhere, not just himself and Heather, shoved brutally into harm’s way.

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