[Original Novel] The Beautiful Ones, Part 4

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Previous parts: 1 2 3

The rest suddenly looked afraid. He’d been an implicit member of the group, but that now seemed in question. Mark postured menacingly, but Andrew remained calm, seemingly oblivious to the danger he was in.

Mark sneered. Sarah pointed out that neither had any of them voted for Mark.

He scanned their faces, seeing only irritation and fear. He then set about piling his belongings into one of the trucks, and drove it off for some other part of the store.

Fran called out after him, but Hugh urged her to give up.

Only he didn’t. Not the next day, nor the day after. Another week went by before the smoke plume became impossible to ignore. It stood to reason he would start a fire, as the microwave was much closer to the group than it was to him. But the smell of smoke was soon everywhere, and periodically sprinklers would go off in unexpected parts of the store.

Sarah was first to call ‘not it’, followed by Melissa and Jeffrey. Hugh boasted, heaving himself to his feet. Andrew wouldn’t allow it. Nor was he initially receptive when Fran volunteered. But, some reasoned pleading changed his mind.

Even so, Andrew followed at a distance. On the way, a mild stench wafted into his nose with no apparent source. It came as a shock when, as he cautiously approached Mark’s encampment, he heard not one but many voices. The stench was much stronger here. Andrew perched at the very edge of a shelving tower, peering around it just long enough to steal a glance at the new group.

Four women, three men. All circled around Mark, eagerly listening to him speak. One of the women, wearing a sequinned purple hijab, briefly spoke up.

Mark cut her off, waving dismissively.

A man with black hair wearing blue mechanic’s jumpsuit objected.

The others rubbed their chins contemplatively.

Fran approached, worry written on her face. Mark stiffened up, then scanned for anybody else. Mark gestured for the circle to part so he could approach her. . She complied, and he proceeded to frisk her.

Once satisfied of that, he searched the nearest shelving towers. Andrew slid back, wedging himself between pallets of cereal boxes in a bid to escape notice. It worked.

Fran stared, then began chuckling.

Fran stopped short of pointing out they’d been just fine while he was gone, instead pulling the cross pendant from within her blouse so he could see it.

Mark rolled his eyes.

Behind him, Khayrah nodded approvingly. Fran let out an exasperated sigh.

His eyes narrowed.

With that, he sent her away. Once she was out of sight, Andrew joined her and the two compared notes. Andrew insisted he’d never had any problem with Mark until the day he left and was as baffled by all of this as Fran.

It troubled both of them, but there was no escaping it given what they’d just heard.

Andrew’s ears perked up. Once back to the shelters, the rest were informed. Melissa grumbled.

When Jeffrey pointed out she was also white and straight, she looked at him like he’d run over her dog. Jeffrey asked if perhaps she really meant hippo and received a kick in the shins for his trouble.

Hugh suggested taking the axes from various “in case of fire” glass cases around the store.

But it seemed like a necessary precaution, so Andrew sent Sarah and Jeffrey to collect axes, using sledgehammers to break the glass. While they did that, Andrew pleaded with Melissa to help him build discreet lookouts into the top level of the shelving towers.

Andrew scratched his head and asked for clarification. Melissa seemed appalled that he didn’t already understand the concept. Andrew concede that but asked how he was meant to comply if he didn’t know how to do it. So, grudgingly, she explained it to him.

Melissa informed him once more that even asking such a question was problematic behavior, that he should simply ‘listen and believe’.

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