Issue #55 – Beer Money

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 2

The trio had planned to reach their summer digs around noon, but it was almost six in the evening when they finally arrived at the townhouse two blocks from the beach where they would be spending their summer.

Kevin unlocked the door, letting Reggie and Duncan enter first with their bags. The living room was spartan; a sofa, coffee table, and television with only a scattering of shelves for company. The open arch leading into the kitchen revealed that it too was equipped with the bare minimum. They’d taken pains in finding the cheapest rental possible that wasn’t a dump so as to have as much money possible to live up their summer.

“Dude, this tanks.” Reggie dropped his load just inside the door and threw himself onto the couch. “Why us?”

“The cop said they’ll do what they can.” Kevin said with a defeated air. “And the bank said they’ll let us know as soon as someone tries to use the card.”

Duncan lugged his own cargo further into the room and debated dumping it on Reggie. “The cop would’ve been more helpful if you hadn’t kept telling him it was our beer money. Way to make sure he doesn’t give a shit.”

“Hey.” Reggie glared up from under the arm he’d thrown dramatically over his eyes. “This isn’t my fault. If you didn’t have the bladder of a little girl, you could’ve waited until we got here to use the bathroom. Then the guy wouldn’t’ve even had a chance to rip us off.”

Duncan dropped his things angrily. “Me? Don’t look at me. Blame Kev for leaving the card with all our money in the cup holder.”

“Wouldn’t have been an issue if you didn’t have to roll with the top down all the time. We could have locked the door.” Kevin remained by the door, brow creased in thought. His accusation was halfhearted as he turned the situation over in his mind.

“Totally.” said Reggie.

This returned Duncan’s attention to him again. “Don’t think I’m forgetting you. If you hadn’t wanted to try the ring for the five hundredth time, Kev wouldn’t have been distracted.”

Reggie sat up suddenly, nearly falling off the sofa. “So now it’s my fault?”

“Yeah. I think so.”

“Guys.” Kevin said out of the blue. The other two took no notice.

“How is it my fault? It wasn’t even my idea to put all the money on one card. I don’t even get how that was supposed to help anything, dude. I even said it!”

“If you didn’t want in, you could’ve held some back.”

“Guys.” Kevin tried again to no effect.

“Dude, you guys are my friends. I thought you knew better than me, so I went along.”

“And then you totally screwed us.”

“This isn’t my fault!”

“I think it might–”

Kevin slammed the front door as hard as he could, causing both of them to jump at the sound. They glared at him, which only made him scowl back. “Are you done? It’s nobody’s fault, okay. None of us. Yeah, we all screwed up, but it’s that guy’s fault that stole from us, not ours. Got it?”

The other two nervously looked away from him.

“Good.” He sighed. “Now look, hopefully, the cops or the bank will fix things. It might take a couple of days, but…”

“They’re no gonna do anything dude” Reggie interrupted. “Summer’s over. Totally down the drain.” He yowled and sank back onto the sofa.

“No it’s not.” Kevin insisted firmly. “Like I said, they could fix things. But even if they don’t this doesn’t have to screw over our summer.”

Duncan gave him a doubtful look. “Reg has a point, bro. We’ve got maybe enough money to eat while we’re here, if we still to college chow like ramen and dehydrated stuff that’s on the cheap. Doesn’t sound like a ton of fun to me.”

“Then we get more money.” Kevin said simply. “It’s a tourist town, they’re always hiring.”

“Bro, we put in all that work before so we wouldn’t have to do any this summer.” said Duncan.

“Yeah, dude, if we’ve gotta work, I might as well go back to Richmond and my dad’s garage.” Reggie added.

Kevin finally left his post by the door, scrubbing his hand through his hair as he did. “Okay, look. I’ll get a job then. I’ll just have to get a good job to pay for all of us.”

“Hell no, dude.” Reggie cut him off. “All for one and one for all, or something. It’d suck something fierce for us to be partying off your sweat. Let’s think of something else. Can we sell something?”

“What do we have?”Kevin rolled his eyes at the idea. “Duncan’s car, some sheets, and changes of clothes?”

“Hey, we’re not selling my car.”

“I know, I was making a point. We don’t have anything to sell.”

Reggie gave him a nervous look. “We’ve got the ring.”

“Are you dense or something, man?” Kevin was used to Reggie’s lack of attention span and occasional bouts of bad decision making, but this took the cake. “It’s a goddamn ring that gives you super powers. For the money this thing’s worth, we could buy the town! You can’t just pawn it for the price of the silver.”

His outburst cowed Reggie who did a good job impersonating a struck dog.

“Whoa. Brainstorm.” muttered Duncan.

“Huh” Kevin blinked at him.

“No, seriously, I’ve got an idea. You have a twenty on you? We need a small bill so if we screw up we’re not out too much.” He held out his hand and when Kevin fished the money out of his wallet, he immediately handed it to Reggie. Ignoring Kevin and Reggie’s confusion, he continued with his plan. “Okay, no use the ring.”

Kevin did and they were once again filled with the feeling of warmth and power.

“Sweet. Now Reg: split.”

“I don’t think it’s splitting.” Reg looked thoughtful. “It’s more like making copies you know? Feels kinda weird when they disappear, like being in two places at once. And that’s even weirder, ’cause you should feel like that when you really are in two places at once, not after and–”

“Shut up and do it, bro!” Duncan grit his teeth.

“Oh. Right.” Reggie concentrated and to flares appeared, procedurally drawing and filling out two copies of him, both with the same clothes, same shoes, and more importantly, the same twenty dollar bill. “Dude! Check it out! Sixty bucks! I did like three hours of work in like five seconds.”

“Hit it again.” Duncan was grinning like a maniac.

Kevin and Duncan backed up as the Reggies got up from the couch to make room for more. Each Reggie made two more copies of themselves, bringing the total one hundred and eighty dollars. The copies each passed their money to the original who fanned the bills out with a wide grin.

“Awesome! I’ve got the power to be rich!” He dismissed the copies in a minor fireworks show of blue flashes. No sooner did they disappear than all but the original twenty also flashed away into the ether. “No! What happened?”

“I guess nothing you copy lasts longer than the copy that came with it.” said Kevin, stroking his chin.

Duncan looked distraught that his brilliant plan had failed. Then another idea hit him. “Wait, but it last as long as they’re around right? It doesn’t have to keep touching them. So what if we copy out a bunch of twenties and use them to buy stuff. Then later, you can let your dudes disappear, after we’ve already bought what we need.”

“Sounds like a plan, Pinky.” Reggie went to high five him but the nickname put an end to that.

“I don’t think so guys.” Kevin said. “Who pays with a fistful of paper anymore? And what if they check the serial number? It’s going to be the same number on every bill.” He shrugged. “On top of the fact that just because they think you paid doesn’t stop it from being stealing.”

Reggie’s eyes lit up. “Wait. Why aren’t we just stealing the stuff we need again?”

“Because we’ll get caught and go to jail maybe?” Kevin’s patience was wearing thin.

“If we were normal guys maybe.” Reggie reasoned. “But we’ve got the ring. With the ring, we’ve got powers. I bet as strong as we are, we can just pick up and run with kegs and stuff. And if they catch me, I can just let them catch a copy and make him disappear later.”

Duncan nodded slowly. “Yeah, and who’s going to take me down when I’ve got that backlash thing going?”

“See?” Reggie was getting excited now and bouncing on his heals. “We can do this!”

“’This’ is incredibly wrong.” Kevin folded his arms defiantly. “You realize my dad’s a cop, right?”

“We could do it without it being wrong…as wrong.” Reggie reasoned. “Alright, check this: every nights, there’s got to be a dozen parties up and down the beach, especially with the tricentennial. All of them are going to be stocked with so much beer, wine and other booze that no one’s going to drink it all.”

“You’re still not making it not wrong.”

“I’m getting to that. The way I see it, it’s just borrowing if you pay it back.”

Kevin raised an eyebrow. “How are we paying it back if we’ve got no money?”

“That’s the part where I’m a genius.” Reggie poked his thumb into his own chest. “See once we’re done being beer bandits, we hire a couple of local bands, pay’em in free booze, and throw a huge party on the beach, open to everyone.” He gestured wildly. “So BAM! We get the party we wanted, everyone we ripped off can come drink the stuff we stole from them, and we have the most awesome story to tell ever.”

“It’s still illegal.” Kevin pointed out. “But everyone wins in the end. Alright, as long as no one gets hurt, I’m in.”

Reggie cackled, hopping up and down in childlike glee. “Dude, we’re gonna be bad guys!”

***

Juniper’s welcome party had long since moved from the beach to the upper deck around the pool as the day and the ocean cooled. Cyn had commandeered the grill so as to secure a steady supply of hotdogs while the others lounged around or swam.

The guest of honor herself emerged from the house with a pitcher of cherryade and a box of disposable spoons. More even than her norm, she radiated childish innocence in her old fashioned one piece swimsuit with frills around her arms and legs. Cyn had teased her for her choice of green and white, her Zero color scheme.

“So Cyn said that the summer house is anything goes with powers?” She asked while what seemed to be twenty pounds of wet hair swung across her back. It would have been a more reasonable question if she hadn’t spent the day being served burgers cooked by the twins, or wasn’t currently watching Cyn swallow three grilled hotdogs whole.

When the answer was in the affirmative, she smiled brightly. Presenting a spoon from the pack, she dipped it in the pitcher and concentrated. In seconds, the utensil was encased in a block of sugary, red ice. “Does anyone else want one?”

“Where have you been all summer.” JC grinned and held up his hand for an ice pop.

“In Arizona with my parents.” Juniper completely missed the nature of his comment. “I was…” She paused, looking to the others for permission. “Um… how much does he already know?”

“About you? Just that you’re Zero.” JC answered for them.

“It didn’t feel right telling him the rest without you here.” Lisa added, swimming up to the pool’s edge, but declining the ice pop Juniper offered.

“Oh.” Juniper looked thoughtful as she went around the pool offering the pops. “So how much do you think I should tell him?”

“Absolutely nothing now that you’ve got him all curious.” Kay grinned evilly from the water.

“That’s just mean.” said JC. “But really, Jun, I get it if you don’t want to tell me anything.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s not that.” Cyn said, “But it is kind of complicated. Not ‘evil clone’ complicated, but still, it might take her a few years to get it straight.”

Juniper blushed. “Not that long. And I do want you to know, JC. It’s only fair now that you know the big, big secret.” She looked to the others for support and returned their encouraging smiles. After giving Warrick and Tink their pops, she set the pitcher down on the railing and took a seat on a lounge chair.

“Okay, so here it goes.” As she spoke, she sped up, trying to get it all out before she lost her nerve. “I’m not really Juniper. My real name is Willow and my parents are Majestrix and Zero Point. I ran away from home to go to the Academy, pretending to be Juniper, but they really work for Project Tome and they did experiments on me and probably stole my DNA or something. And when I got free, I was scared my parents would be mad, so I kept being Juniper but you can still call me Juniper, because it says Juniper on my diploma and my college application and I don’t know how to undo it without legally changing Juniper’s name.”

Her breath finally gave out and she leaned back in the chair, trying not to gasp.

“Her parents taught her how to establish a new identity in case the bad guys caught up to them and she was in danger.” Kay explained for JC’s benefit. Even Juniper herself had needed Laurel to explain to her. “But the stuff they taught her was serious hardcore. ‘Juniper Taylor’ is a legal person as much as any of us is and she’s the one that got a driver’s license, diploma and all of Jun’s college stuff, not ‘Willow’.”

“I’m not sure why it’s a problem.” Tink chimed in. “Ms. Brant could fix this in her sleep and everything could be in her real name.”

“I just don’t want to do even more sneaky things to fix the big sneaky thing I did. Changing those things would be a crime.” Juniper stared up at the sky, refusing to admit that she just wasn’t ready to let go of ‘Juniper Taylor’ just yet. “But anyway, that’s my story. Let’s talk about the concert. Is Sonja really coming?”

Kay beamed. “Yup. I just traded emails with her yesterday.”

“That’s nice.” Juniper said in a dreamy voice.

“You’ll like her.” Kay assured. “She’s not that different from Ms. Brant, besides the super-brain thing. I’ve got some of her sample tracks on my palm-top if you want to hear.”

“She wants me to do some lyrics for her.” Lisa said. She pulled herself out of the pool and lay down on a towel by the railing. “Her own stuff is… I don’t know how to put it…”

“God awful?” Warrick offered.

“I was looking for a nicer way to say it.” Lisa made a face at him. “But yeah, that covers it.”

“She rhymed ‘me’ with ‘me’.” he pointed out. “There’s no other way to put it. And there’s never really any point to the songs. It’s just like open-mic poetry.”

“Her problem is she’s got like a zero-drama life.” said Kay. “No messy break-ups, supportive parents; hell, she’s a protomorph and it ended up making her hot. The worst thing that’s ever happened to her was that her powers screwed her out of amateur softball and into a huge modeling career.”

“My best stuff came from when I was mad at JC, or jealous of how my parents did something just a little bit nicer for Zach and not me.” Lisa sent a smirk in JC’s direction.

He laughed at that. “Just happy to help the creative process. And to finally know why your new stuff mentions monsters and stuff so much.”

It works out though.” Kay flipped over to lazily backstroke. “Snackrifice is a name that suggests fantasy lyrics anyway.”

Juniper had fallen silent as the discussion continued. The others didn’t seem to make the connection that the arrival of Sonja would mean her own ouster. Maybe it was better that way. She was happy for them. She was even happy for Sonja, seeing how desperately she needed a lyricist.

Whatever sadness she felt was mitigated by that and the joy of being with her friends.

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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