Felicia Kendricks, Girl About Town
From the gloom of the shop, Felicia peeked through the door. She squinted against the late afternoon glared from the whitewashed building across the street.
Aside from the stream of idle shoppers, the coast was clear.
"Don’t be ridiculous," Benderbeau said from behind her. The big man hadn’t even looked up from the piece of environmental armor he was tinkering with. He had been tinkering all day. "If he’s come back, I’ll take care of him."
Still, Felicia paused. She didn’t like confrontations. When they had opened the shop that morning, there had been a squatter set up along the poorly opposite wall. He had been a thick, sweaty man with two tables of shoddy equipment under a dingy makeshift tent. That wasn’t the worst part. He was a brayer. He used his loud voice not so much to advertise anything useful, but to drown out other barkers nearby. That included Felicia. In the cacophony, Felicia hadn’t been able to attract one new seller. The usuals came by, but they were honest men and had little new stock for Cardinal Novelties.
Worse, the brayer seemed to take delight in drowning out Felicia and poaching potential sellers. When the Phoenicia Harbor constabulary appeared and ran the squatter off, he threw Felicia such venomous glance that her heartbeat thundered in her ears. Sure, Benderbeau could take care of the squatter and maybe some of the passersby might help her, but if the brayer intended her harm, and she was sure he did, she wouldn’t be able to do much about it. Under whatever excuse she could find, she had stayed inside for the last hour or two.
"I thought you had your heart set on that soda-pop? If you’re going to get it, I’d rather you do it now. So you can get back to work eventually."
"Fine." She scowled over her shoulder. "If you don’t see me in fifteen minutes, you’ll know what happened to me."
She threw open the door and made a show of bracing herself. "Need anything while I’m out?"
Benderbeau sighed. "No. Just hurry back."
The streets and alleys of Phoenicia Harbor were busy and noisy, even if her shops weren’t. Plenty of farmers with their plodding carts. Merchants with mundane goods. And shoppers, but most of them fell into two categories. Either they weren’t the type that was in need of what Cardinal Novelties had offer, or they were the type which meant that they were low on cash.
As Felicia walked, she kept one hand near her own pocketbook and kept a sharp lookout for the ugly brayer that meant her ill. She sniffed at how paranoid she had become. What had happened to the happy-go-lucky girl-about-town?
"Too many short fuses," she muttered to herself. The high and mighty in Tempe Nouveau might not see the results of the Cardinal Order embargo, but they were crystal clear here. She was overly relieved to make it Corrin’s Repast without incident. As usual, the spicy smells that emanated from the building made Felicia’s stomach rumble.
At the counter, Lonnie gave Felicia his familiar smile. The restaurant was about half-full with early dinner-goers.
"One Lemon Zip for the lady?" he asked even if he knew the answer.
"Anything else?" He raised his eyebrows in what passed for seductive technique for Lonnie.
Felicia couldn’t help but take a look at the hand-scribed menu. It changed every day, and every day the food was tasty. Prickly pear soy was the special, and despite her late lunch, she almost gave in to it.
"I better not," she said. "I’m light in the pockets these days."
Lonnie nodded and retrieved an icy bottle from below the counter. He traded it for a couple coins. "You should get that boss of yours to pay you better."
"He would if he could," said Felicia, though she wasn’t sure if that was true. Her performance had been less than stellar lately. "Poor old Benderbeau’s in a rougher situation than I am."
"You both should go into the restaurant business. People always need to eat!"
"True. But I’m no good in the kitchen and I think Benderbeau’s idea of cooking involves a flame thrower."
Lonnie laughed and waved goodbye.
Felicia couldn’t wait until she got back to the shop to pop open the bottle. She took the littlest sip and thrilled as the bubbles tickled her tongue. With another tug, she swore she could feel the effects of the caffeine that was carefully masked by the drink’s sweet and tart flavors. As usual, the solution made her feel calmer. The shadowed patterns on the street and the cool winter breeze were enjoyable now. Even the brayer seemed like less of a threat. Knowing his mean spirit, he had forgotten her entirely and moved on to glaring at the next person that had crossed his path.
Kyle Benderbeau was outside under the shop’s overhang when Felicia returned.
"Finish repairs on that suit?" she asked.
For a moment, he didn’t seem to hear her. "Not yet. I just needed some air."
She nodded and took her usual place leaning in the doorway. They passed the time quietly, watching the progression of shoppers pass by.
Benderbeau spotted him before Felicia did while he was still quite a ways down the street. The man was plain with black hair and dusky skin. He wore dusty tan and gray. Considering the size of the pack he was carrying, he was strong. Just not as bulky as most of Phoenica’s residents.
"Felicia, make sure that man comes into my shop."
She nodded and after another tug on her Lemon Zip, she placed the bottle against the building.
"Don’t get into specifics, just promise him a good offer."
Felicia waved him off and heard the door close as he went into the shop. She took a few steps forward down the street. Not entirely into the man’s path, but near enough that he would notice her.
"You look like you’re tired of carrying that pack around."
The man paused. "And you’d like to relieve me of its contents?"
"Indeed. Cardinal Novelties can give a fair price for your goods. Guaranteed." She smiled and looked him straight in the eye. Though a little plain, he wasn’t bad looking. She clasped her hands behind her back and waited for his reply. She wouldn’t mention a price unless she needed to.
A movement on the ground caught Felicia’s eye. A cat stood just at the man’s heel. The animal looked young, with wide yellow eyes and short, thick mottled brown and orange fur. It seemed to watch Felicia intently.
The man nodded slowly. "This is the place?"
"Cardinal Novelties would be it!" She pointed to the shop front and noticed that the whitewash of their building was no better then the rest. The cat darted in front of the man, heading straight for the door of Benderbeau’s shop.
"Is that cat yours?" Felicia asked.
"Marcel travels with me," the man responded simply. The feline waited at the door with an impatient stare at the two humans.
"Well, Marcel is awfully cute."
Felicia opened the door and Marcel darted in. Benderbeau was behind the counter, trying not to look like he was waiting for them.
Eventually, Eric and I will write a post-apocalyptic novel. We’ve tried a couple times now, but we’re just not ready. This excerpt is from one of the experiments. It’s possibly my favorite, set in a future version of the Phoenix metro area. I like the concept, but it never had enough science-backing for Eric. I think one of the stronger points was the possible political/economic intrigue. Plus, Felicia is my bouncy, care-free alter-ego.