The Slider, Chapter 15: The Paper Wasp Warning

CASINO CAFE

Tania Snake made it to the casino with ten minutes to spare.  She wasn’t the only one.  The entire swing shift was flowing in, excepting only Roberta.  Roberta was always late.  Roberta was mighty close to getting herself fired.  “Who was in the accident?”  She asked the air, figuring somebody would know.  There were still cops out there, directing traffic so the outbound lane could be cleared of debris.

“Sherry Two Feathers.”  The voice was high, piping almost.  Frannie was built like a linebacker and sang soprano in the Catholic church choir.  She also had the latest gossip and loved to share.  “Hit and run.  Big horse trailer creamed Sherry’s Toyota.  Totaled it.”

Trust Frannie to lead with property damage.  “Sherry get hurt bad?”  She didn’t dare ask if her second cousin once removed had been killed.  There was always more than enough death to go around on the Reservation.

“Knocked out, I heard.  Ambulance took her.  But guess what?  She coulda been burned alive if it weren’t for your boyfriend.”

What?  “My–Tom?”

“Yep.  He saw it happen.  He was at the stop sign.  Happened right in front of him.  Hit and runner going ninety mile an hour.  That Tom, he jumped out, got Sherry out before she come to.  Then the car burned, ka-whoosh!  Sherry woulda been sizzle cakes if it wasn’t for Tom.  Bet he wants to tell you all about it, too.  He’s been in the café ever since.”

Tania doubted that.  Not that Tom Slider was in the café or that he’d rescued Two Feathers, but that he wanted to tell her all about it.  From what she’d seen of the man so far–which wasn’t nearly enough, she wanted to see more–the only topic of conversation he avoided like the plague was Any Good Deed By Tom.    She placed her handbag in the locker, spun the dial, and headed out front for a quick word with him.

“You look tired.”  Tania’s heart melted, seeing him like that after what she’d just heard.

“I do?”  His grin lit up his whole face.  “I had no idea.  Maybe you guys need to make stouter coffee.”

“Guess saving lives takes it out of you, huh?”

“One life.  And only maybe.”

“Right, sweetheart.”  She reached across the counter, placed a hand on his arm.  “No maybe about it.  Sherry wouldn’t have made it without you.”

He shrugged uncomfortably.  “If you say so.  At least she’s not Japanese.”

“Japanese?”

“Old school Japanese believe a person who’s life is saved by another owes the rescuer a favor that can never be repaid, yet the effort must be made–with interest, no less–so the poor fool who did the rescuing is bombarded with favors by the rescued one, nonstop, ad infinitum, until one of them dies.”

“Hm.”

“You going to be too tired after your shift to hang out for a while?”

It was her turn to smile.  “You’re in luck.  I’m off tomorrow.  If you’d like to follow me home and take care of a wasp nest near my front door, I might even let you sleep on the couch.”

That made him laugh, blue eyes twinkling, dark mustache dancing.  “The couch is as far as I get, now is it?”

“It’s only a little wasp nest.”  Her dark eyes gave away nothing.  Stoic Indian princess.

“Hope it’s not a little couch.”

“It’s not.”

“All right, then.”  He stood, fishing a couple of dollar bills out of his wallet to cover the tip.  Blueberry pie, she noted, along with the coffee.  “I’ll head out to my place, get a few hours sleep, and be back here in time to follow you home like a little lost puppy.”

Smiling, she watched him go.  Fine figure of a man, that one.

She had no intention of relegating him to the couch.

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TOM SLIDER

I really did need sleep.  A couple of hours, anyway.  It had been an eventful day.  Otis was in the house, windows open, country western music floating out.  Hank Williams, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.   “Coming in,” I hollered, but had no idea if he heard me over Hank or not.  I was reaching for the doorknob when a bee?  Wasp?  went buzzing by my head.  And then another and–what?

A paper wasp nest had materialized in the entryway’s top corner, no more than a foot from the door if I opened it, no more than a foot from my head if I walked inside.  Triple images cascaded through my inner vision.  I tamped them down.  Deal with the threat first.

Walking around to the kitchen window, I called again.  “Hey, Otis!”

The music stopped abruptly.  “Yeah?”

“We got a wasp nest by the front door.”

“They ain’t bothering me, Tom.”

“Not bothering me, either.  But the odds aren’t good for the long haul.”

“Suppose not.  You wanna kill ’em, then?”

“Not want to.  Figure I got it to do, though.  Unless you know how to persuade their queen to relocate.”

“Tried.  They voted me down.  Do what you gotta do.”

Just don’t talk about it any more than you have to, is what he meant.  I went back to the truck, retrieved the can of Raid Wasp & Hornet long distance spray I’d purchased at Safeway for dealing with Tania’s problem, and considered the nest.  Both common sense and the label said to stand a “safe distance away” when attacking the insects’ home but that wasn’t going to be possible in this case.  Due to the way our home’s entryway was built and the positioning of the nest, I had no choice.

Sigh.

Slicker donned and bandanna over my lower face, bandit style, I got in position and–blasted trigger wouldn’t depress. Oh. Remove tab first. I got in position and pressed the button. Nothing. Pressed Harder. Nothing. Pressed harder yet, and suddenly we were in business. Me and the spray, that is.  Not the innocent creatures on the receiving end of my attack.

There would be strays coming back to the nest for a while. I wanted it out of there as soon as possible, couldn’t stand the sight of the peaceful, dead, dying, lost and confused fliers, but removal would have to wait until tomorrow. Gotta let Death do its work. I went in the side door. Otis would do the same, avoid that front door until I gave him the all clear. We didn’t talk about it. There was plenty left in the can to exterminate the nest at Tania’s.

Peaceful paper wasps, born with the blessing/curse of venom stinger tails. Inside, alone in my bedroom where nobody could see, I wanted to cry. Didn’t, but knew, knew full well that Spirit had clobbered me with a triple hitter to get my attention. The accident in front of my face that nearly took a human life. Not one but two, countem two wasp nests it took to get through to me. Few people knew about the way I paid attention to these messages–though many a Native understood such things, so maybe I was living in the right area–but why oh why had I been so dense that all this had to happen to make sure I understood?

S.U.S. Sudden understanding sucks.

It was all about my Emily. For all these years, I’d believed she’d left our life together too early, that we had unfinished business. Then hottie blondie Lanie Delaney showed up, Emily reincarnated without a doubt, and I’d thought, okay, maybe we can finish that unfinished business.  Never mind that if I did, I’d be taking her away from my own son, whatever their relationship might be.

But I’d been wrong. One thousand percent wrong. Rescuing the woman named Sherry from her wrecked car? I’d done all I could there…and, I now realized, I’d done all I could for Emily, too. There was nothing more that had to be done.  The only thing keeping me off balance was me.

When I’d fixated on charismatic young Lanie, it was as reckless as the hit and run driver who’d clobbered Two Feathers,  the same as inviting the wasp nest to my home and also to Tania’s home. Could I snag the girl if I really tried? Sure. Maybe. Like inviting the wasps to live closer. Too close. Posing venomous threats to my legally blind partner and to Native girlfriend, not to mention my own alias. Threats that in the end I would’ve had to remove just like I’d removed the unconscious accident victim, just like I was in the process of removing wasps. Face it: I had to kill the wasps. If I ever allowed Lanie to get close, I would in some sense–not physically, but in some spiritual sense–end up killing her…after hurting the two most important people in my life.

Blink’s powerful body thumped on the mattress as the orange tomcat launched from the floor. His peremptory yeow! prompted me to shift from my side to my back, allowing my left arm to welcome him. He settled down, propped his massive head atop my upper arm, and promptly purred himself to sleep. Another day in the life, he might as well have said. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Before I knew it, I’d followed him to dreamland. When my alarm went off at ten p.m., getting me up in time to be at the Casino Café by midnight, I felt some better.

One more nest to exterminate, delicate intricate paper construction, Nature’s beauty, happy waspy home to destroy. I still didn’t like it, but at least the greater error had been avoided.

While washing my face,  I shuddered at how close it had come, how foolish I had been. I thanked the Powers That Be for the warnings that had finally gotten my attention. I thanked the wasps for sacrificing their lives to save me from myself.  And I thanked Blink the tomcat with all my heart for his love and his feline wisdom, though he was still sound asleep on my bed and probably couldn’t care less.