6. Skunk at the picnic

Around midnight, a skunk wandered into the front yard.  Gulnaz screamed like she was getting paid to, dropped her box with a crash and scooted back indoors.  George came out behind her, and put his boxes down.

“Little one, you don’t belong here,” he said to the skunk. To Jesse’s astonishment, as he came up the walkway he saw George approach the skunk and point in the direction he wished the skunk to go. It bolted, tail bobbing, claws scrabbling briefly on the walkway, and vanished.

Jesse went back into the apartment, filing the event away for future analysis.

“Skunk’s gone, Gulnaz,” Jesse said.

“How’d you do that? I thought if you got close they sprayed you! Oh God.”

“I didn’t, George did. Let’s keep moving, okay?”

She was almost whimpering.“I’m so tired. I know he’s in jail but I’m afraid for all of us if his brothers show up.”

“There are brothers?” She hadn’t mentioned brothers to George, Jesse guessed.

“Yeah. It’s complicated,” she said, trying to be funny, but the bitterness poured through her words.

“One crisis at a time.  Take a break, have a cup of tea, we’ll keep going,” Jesse said sympathetically.

“You guys have been awesome.”

“Gulnaz?” came a little voice.

Gulnaz sat bolt upright on the remaining kitchen chair and said, in tones of horror, “Aaliyah!”

Jesse saw a strikingly pretty girl in an Ed Hardy hoodie and skinny jeans standing in the doorway. She was perhaps fourteen. His heart thumped a couple of times as their eyes met.

Gulnaz got up, grabbed the girl by the shoulders and shook her hard. “Go home!  This is no place to be.”

Aaliyah, shooting a glance at Jesse, said, “I want to help!”

They broke into either Urdu or Farsi, at a guess. Gulnaz spoke forcefully; Aaliyah was monosyllabic.

“Let her stay,” Jesse heard himself say. “George and I will put you both in the truck and drive away if there’s trouble,” at which point George came back in, waggled his lush dark brows at Gulnaz and said, “Like he said.” To Aaliyah, he merely said, “Grab a box.”

Gulnaz, with a tectonic eyeroll, threw up her hands and said, “All right.”

Things were proceeding well when George said, “There’s a car coming.” He casually returned to the truck and pulled the tailgate down.

A Lexus RX pulled up, parked so as to block the truck, and two very angry and somewhat impaired men, one with a turban and one without, got out and started threatening George. Then they saw Jesse and checked somewhat, but continued the abuse.

“How do you want to handle this, George?” Jesse said, when there was a pause in the yelling.  A neighbour’s front door banged open, and there was a witness, a sleepy-looking Filipino guy in cargo shorts.

“Errybody shut up or I call the cops,” he shouted across the street, and the door banged shut again.

While George was standing right next to the Lexus, the emergency brake let go, and the sport-ute slowly reversed the swooping maneuver which had positioned it behind the truck, and rolled back down the hill, narrowly missing three parked cars and coming to rest against the curb, facing into the street.

Cursing, the men tore off after their vehicle.

George said, “I lifted their keys while they were looking across the street.  Let me deal with this. Keep moving, we’ve only got the big furniture to go.”

“He’s the boss,” Jesse said. Gulnaz and Aaliyah looked terrified. “Gotta push on through or this night’ll never end, c’mon.”

Aaliyah said, “I don’t want to go out again until they’re gone,” and Gulnaz put an arm around her.  “Me neither,” she said.  “What a nightmare.”

There was a very loud yell, and then silence. After a moment, they all straightened when they heard tires squealing.

They heard the truck door roll open again and Jesse saw Gulnaz sag in relief.

“C’mon,” he said again.

“What did you do?” Aaliyah said to George in wonderment.

“Told them what their blood alcohol levels were,” George said.

And how the hell would you know that, Jesse thought. “Sikhs aren’t s’posed to drink,” Jesse said,

“What a puritan! I was raised not to talk to strangers, and look at me now,” George said sarcastically. “Let’s get a move on; we’ll be done by three at this rate.”

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Born when atmospheric carbon was 316 PPM. Settled on MST country since 1997. Parent, grandparent.

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