Chapter XIX:

Leon Leaves

Leon threw an open suitcase onto his bed and started throwing in clothes: ten pairs t-shirts, underwear, socks. Three pairs jeans and a thick sweatshirt. He was packing for the trip of a lifetime, and it was quite a drive he had before him. He knew where they had taken Heather, and he had no choice but to follow her there.

Twenty-eight hundred miles, accounting to forty hours on the highway, give or take. It would cost a fortune in gas. It had been such a time since he had taken a drive like this, alone at that. He was, and always had been, so used to being alone. He wondered if that might have been one of the reasons the Quixote had come to him. Mustn’t forget about it, the cursed object. He shoved it into his pocket and picked up his suitcase, started out of his apartment into the hallway outside.

Why didn’t he feel more animosity towards it? Had it been the cause of his misery he might have, but he didn’t believe it was. The phenomenon of people turning to Quixotes, the hate it roused in everyone else was the cause of his torment, only the Quixote had set him apart, made him a target of some kind of significance, endowed him with a power he was only just now beginning to understand, the power to make it universal. It was this power he was counting on to help him rescue Heather. She was taken and her very being was under assault. Forty hours, not counting pauses for rest, was a very long time. So much could happen between now and his arrival. As to how he would actually affect the rescue itself the details were foggy indeed, but the Quixote was, quietly, urging him on. Did he trust it? He couldn’t say. But he believed, somehow, that their goals were in tandem. When the time came he would know what to do, because it would tell him.

There were Quixotes in the hallway when he left his apartment, one of them, Leon believed, was Terry the building manager. Why he thought this he could not say, but he was coming to trust his instincts. He was leaving his job and his life, perhaps for good, and taking a forty-hour drive based on those same instincts.

The Quixotes followed him to the elevator and stood near him, crowding in on him, no free will of their own. The elevator finally arrived and Leon went into it and the Quixotes did not follow him. But they stared, quite intently. Just like the regular people, the Quixotes were getting worse. Perhaps they were afraid. Those people that had not turned had become frightening indeed. All across the country, minor instances of violence against the Quixotes were occurring. The thing in his pocket told him so, spoke to him wordlessly, mostly, influencing the very content of his thoughts. Leon had to admit, it frightened him every bit as acutely as the regular people did.

He left his building into the crisp, cold evening. It was coming on to seven o’clock. He was parked in the building’s open air parking lot on the corner. Leon owned a car but never used it, a sign of status as much as anything else. It was a BMW at that. Two-door 2000 series, but still. Leon used to be a man of class and style, but the way things were going now he might well be forced to throw it all away. Was he doing this for Heather? He couldn’t tell for sure. Her kidnapping, the pained, beautiful figure framed in the window of her apartment building; yes, he cared for her, cared what happened to her and did not want her abduction inflicted upon his conscience, because something had told him, even before they went to the sushi restaurant, that she was not to be free from danger, that, should they stay close, she might become involved in the story, especially if she came to actually matter to him. She had been so great the other night. That was why they were taking her. He had fallen in love with her. She did not deserve to be taken.

There were more Quixotes on 14th Street. Regular people, black people, yelling after them. Leon saw a gang of teenagers laughing and chasing one of them down the street, the Quixote fleeing at a gallop on the donkey’s stubby little legs. The melee turned the corner out of sight. Leon felt like he could save them if he wanted to, but he didn’t have the time, there were so many other places to apply his attention. He would find her. He would find her forty hours from now.

The parking lot was across the Street on the corner of 14th and Alice Street. At his car, which he could pick out from blocks away because it was always parked in the same assigned spot, there was a group of Quixotes waiting, and even as he crossed the street he could see that there was something different about these ones.

It’s Consuela, the talisman told him.

“I know,” Leon replied.

The Quixotes, five of them, were grouped in a small semi-circle, which opened outwards at Leon’s approach.

Consuela was at the center of the circle. Just like Consuela none of them were wearing helmets. It must be her family.  Their skulls were enclosed in leathery skin; dark, gimlet little eyes.

“Evening, Consuela,” Leon said, coming to them, sticking his free hand into his pocket.

“Hello Mr. Ramble,” she responded. “Are you going somewhere?”

“How did you know?”

“Because I knew someone was taken from you.”

“And you brought your family with you?”

“That’s right.”

Leon took the Quixote out of his pocket. It was energetic in his hand, sparking, vivacious, full of movement. It would not allow itself to be taken. Leon was sure of that.

“Who says you have the right to leave?” Consuela asked.

“Who says I don’t?”

“We need you here.”

“You don’t need me.”

“Yes we do. At least we need the thing in your hand.”

Leon raised it, pressed it, hot, against his chest. The Quixotes around him looked at it and Leon saw the interest in their eyes, the thirst for it. So that’s what it looked like when they didn’t have their motorcycle helmets on.

“What do you want with it?” he asked.

“We need it. We can’t let you leave.”

“Oh yes you can.”

“We know how to take our helmets off,” said one of the other Quixotes, as if this were some kind of threat.

“You aren’t going to hurt me,” Leon replied and set his briefcase down so he could take out his keys.

“Yes we are,” said Consuela. “Come to us and we will take it from you. Or you can join us and we will show you how to take your helmet off yourself.”

“I don’t need to take my helmet off. I don’t want to look like you do.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because you look like monsters.”

“You have no fucking idea.”

She moved to block his way, but Leon knew what he had to do. When she came towards him, the rest of the Quixotes circling in around him, he pushed her hard with both hands, shoving the Quixote into her, and there was a flash of light and she fell back onto her ass, arms cartwheeling in the air.

“Ayeee!” she cried out briefly.

Leon spun around to face the rest of them, but they already looked loathe to follow her lead. One of those closest to her went to help her up.

“What are you doing?” asked another one.

“I’m getting into my fucking car and going to find my fucking girlfriend.”

He turned around and opened the trunk of his car and put his suitcase into it.

“And you aren’t going to stop me, are you?” he asked, closing his trunk.

“They took your girlfriend?”

“Yes they did.”

“We’re sorry about that.”

“Yes we are,” yelled Consuela. “But look what they did to us! To all of us! You are the only one who has a weapon, Leon, and you can turn it against them if you want!”

“I’m planning on it.”

“And you know how?”

“I think it will tell me.”

“You better hope that it does. You better hope that you can fix this, or it might be the last thing you try to do.”

“It might be that anyway,” Leon replied.

Consuela was standing now, in the arms of the other Quixote. On its chain-mail gloved hand was a golden wedding band, the same as on Consuela’s. It was her husband.

“We did not come from Mexico for this shit.”

“Neither did I,” said Leon, taking his keys out of his pocket with his free hand.

“What the hell is happening?” Consuela howled.

“I have no fucking idea,” Leon answered.

“Get out of here you disloyal piece of shit,” she crowed. “We don’t need you.”

The rest of her family had withdrawn, allowing Leon to walk around to the driver’s side door of his car.

“Good bye Consuela,” he said. “You have a lovely family.”

“I used to.”

“And you will again. I’m sure of it. Stay away from the regular people though. You look quite disturbing.”

“I know I do. We never should have taken our helmets off.”

Leon opened the door and got in, closed the door behind him and dropped the Quixote into the cup-holder between the driver’s and passenger’s seat. It fit perfectly. Of course it did.

He keyed the ignition and turned the car into reverse and watched through his rearview mirror as Consuela and her family parted ways to allow him to leave. Consuela was still in her husband’s arms, cursing helpless hurt and fury after Leon Ramble.

He left the parking lot then headed for Interstate 80. Just then, leaving the Bay Area, traffic wasn’t very bad at all. Could Quixotes drive? Leon had never seen them doing so. He supposed that they must though. They used to be regular people, after all.

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