Rubymaximum Chronofile Entry 16,060
Our local legend and recluse, Lady Simona Osborne, has turned out to be not only surprisingly friendly but also extremely helpful, bringing a long-view perspective to our current predicament that is extremely useful and even refreshing. However, decades of being essentially housebound have left her with a rather severe case of agoraphobia. Needless to say, we need her out and about if she’s going to help us lay a beating on these erasure-happy invaders. So I’m taking her to the alleyway behind Movies R Us and the Launderdrome to practice being in public. It’ll be a big enough step just getting her in the car, but I think after that the alley should be an excellent dry run for reentering society. The only folks she’ll see back there are underpaid drudges like me taking smoke breaks and the occasional kid cutting through.

“I’m not so sure about this, Ruby.” Simona was as frightened as Ruby had ever seen her; quivering visibly beneath the immaculate and stylish fur-lined coat. “Some folks are meant for meeting and greeting, and some for entertaining quietly at home. I’ve been sure I’m the latter every year since 1980, inclusive.”

“Miss Osborne, there’s no one in the alley but you, me, and the guy who unjams the Launderdrome quarter slots,” Ruby said. “And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a care about you being here.”

In the opposite corner of the alley, the Launderdrome guy raised two fingers to his forehead in a salute, a smoldering cigarette clutched between them, never looking up from his cell phone.

“It doesn’t matter who’s here to see,” Simona said. “I don’t belong out here! This was a big mistake, young lady, I’d like to go home now.”

“Miss Osborne, what if you’re home then? What if they come and erase the place with you inside?” Ruby said. “You were able to send them running with just a few words, and you saw right through their disguise. We need you to help us.”

Simona whirled around. “It’s nothing fancy, Ruby!” she snapped. “It’s called being assertive and standing up for yourself! Looking folks in the eyes and reading them! I had to learn how to do that, or the sixties would’ve eaten me alive and spit out my bones.”

Clearly, more drastic measures were needed. “So, you think I just need to be more assertive, huh?” Ruby said, putting a hand on her hip.

“Exactly. I can show you how to do that over tea at Osborne House. Come on, let’s go back there. I’m having trouble breathing out here.”

“No,” said Ruby. “Sit your fancy butt down, Miss Osborne, because you’re not going anywhere. I’m going to keep you here, getting used to the water in the kiddie side of the pool, if I have to throw you over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes.”

Simona’s eyes flashed dangerously and she stalked up to Ruby, and gloved finger raised toward the heavens. “Don’t you talk to me like that, you little puke!” she said in an outraged tone that was so over-the-top that Ruby had to bite her lip to keep from bursting into laughter. “I’d like to see you try to lay a hand on me when I’m not in a cooperative mood! Father had me take jiu-jitsu, and I will flip you into that dumpster with your own momentum and slam the lid.”

“Oh, will you now?” Ruby held up Simona’s keys, jangling them in one hand. “Well, you’re going to have to dumster me, I guess, if you want these back. Unless you wanna walk back to Osborne House. Its only six blocks, right?”

“Give those here, you little hooligan!” Simona rocketed forward with shocking speed, given her outfit, but Ruby was well used to playing keepaway–it was the only thing that roused Heath out of a vidjagame trance sometimes. She cut left as Simona approached, zigging and zagging in a serpentine motion to stay just a few steps ahead. The Laundrodrome guy gave them the same dual-fingered salute as they swept past him.

After about half a block, true to her threat, Simona was able to trip Ruby, bring her to the ground, and put her in a surprisingly agile joint lock.

“Keys. Now.” Simona held out a manicured hand. “I won’t ask again without constricting your windpipe a little.”

Ruby handed them over, grinning despite the pain. “Hey, Simona,” she said.

“What?”

“You’re out of the alley now.”

Simona looked up, shocked. They were in the middle of downtown Higbee, with several people scrupulously ignoring the scene while one small child looked on, avidly licking an ice cream.

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