Chapter Six: Nootau
Running Blind, Bitter Cold
Some unruly suspicions weighed heavily on Nootau. He didn't like them at all. They left him feeling unsettled, more than anything had in a long time with the exception of Ahanu's death. Unlike Waban, Nootau's nature just couldn't let go. The old medicine man was wrong about that too. Ahanu didn't want the walkers to be sacrificed. He made the box for that reason.
Nootau glanced down at his pack in front of him. Between a sleeping bag and some clothes he had stuffed the box between them. He'd sucker punched Waban to leave with it, but he knew the information it held was too important to burn.
I will not let Ahanu down. Not again.
He'd gotten a one-way ticket to Chicago from Marquette. The drive ahead was going to be a long one, hours and hours of mindless highway.
Thankfully he could just sleep. If he could get his mind to stop maybe he'd be able to slip off into oblivion, except sleep was out of reach. He'd heard things during his travels with his many different jobs that there might be places in the city where someone like him would get help.
I certainly hope so.
Or Nootau was about to go nowhere fast. He didn't know anyone in Chicago, and didn't have a whole lot of money left from his paycheck.
The bus went over a bump, and Nootau adjusted in his seat, thankful the Unicorn Express wasn't full. If someone had been sitting next to them he'd practically be head down in their lap. Nootau tested the armrest. Ecstatic it went up. If he got onto his side and off his ass maybe he'd be able to fall asleep.
It took some careful and creative adjusting but Nootau found that if he tucked his pack right, used the winter jacket, and stayed on his side he could fit. Hopefully they wouldn't pick too many other passengers up on the stops down. The pain echoed through him but exhaustion kept Nootau from caring. He let out a long breath and closed his eyes, the world and its noises falling away as sleep took him under.
* * * * *
When the door opened, a cold wind blasted through the Unicorn Express bus. Nootau shivered, wondering if the winter jacket would be enough to handle the high winds. He certainly hoped so. It wasn't like he could go out and buy another.
He followed the procession of people off and took in all the skyscrapers filling the dull gray sky above him. Nootau had been a lot of places, but never had experienced anything like Chicago. Every time he came back it filled him with wonder.
Black sleek buildings mixed in an eclectic dance with historic limestone ones. The hard metal sleek and aloof while the stone-carved monstrosities loomed over the city—more than a few gargoyles taking advantage of their roosts. New mixed with the old, all of it side by side, and more than a little intimidating the first time a tourist blew through.
Nootau turned onto Canal Street and took it to Adams. He headed toward the lake, stiff and limping the whole way. If he didn't find a place to stop soon he'd be in serious danger of hospitalization. Nootau couldn't afford that—literally or figuratively. Too many doctors poking at him and they'd determine his unregistered status. Then the dragon's droppings would hit, and like when those turds fell, nothing good would get pulled out with serious damage done in their wake.
His goal was a small bar, Skin and Bones, where mostly Native Americans went to pass their time, along with appearances from skin walker groupies livening up the local pub. Some big names liked to stop by and get people's tongues wagging. A certain hotel heiress stopped by recently causing a scene and getting herself permanently banned.
Hopefully being early afternoon it wasn't too busy. Nootau could ask around, find someplace to crash.
By the time he made it through the doors, he was limping badly and in need of a stiff drink. He took off his jacket and strapped it to his pack. The bitter cold bit into him but he was overheating and didn't care. Besides the farther he got away from the door, the warmer the room felt.
To his disappointment the bar already had a crowd going, and getting to the counter required finesse he currently wasn't up to. More than a few people threw him dirty looks as he bumped into them and passed by.
"Sorry," Nootau said as he knocked into a young woman.
"Watch it!" she yelped, turning around. She flicked her hair back over a shoulder and crossed her arms.
"I said I was sorry."
Her gaze roamed his body in appreciation, a smile curving her pouty lips. The woman's blue eyes filled with presumed disappointment when she checked his left wrist and found no tattoo marking him as a skin walker.
Thank Gods for small favors. The last thing he wanted was a chaser right now.
Nootau offered a smile. "Sorry. Just trying to get to the counter."
The woman nodded and took a step back. Nootau shuffled by and squeezed into a free spot at the counter. He sighed and lifted a hand.