Ivy opened the door and carefully stepped out of the pig truck's cab. She was wearing a new variation of her clothing from the previous night, with one significant change. Along with the usual cardigan, blouse, and knee pants, she'd exchanged her plain leather shoes for a pair of five-inch platform heels. Borrowed from her university friend, Olivia, she'd never worn anything like them before, and walking in them was very wobbly. It was easier to reach the truck's pedals and see over the steering wheel at the same time with the added reach of the new shoes, but being perched on the edge of the seat without any back support was not comfortable at all. She'd brought only her own pillow to stuff behind her, as her roommate had refused to loan hers after realizing that if Ivy encountered trouble, it could end up doused in blood. But Ivy needed more. Lots more.
Thus the reason she was now standing in front of Mrs. Bapka's and Viktor's shared stoop. Mrs. Bapka's front window still glowed with lamp light, Ivy was relieved to see. Viktor's window glowed as well, but she had mixed feelings about possibly seeing him. What she had learned about him from Elsa at the Arbogast Funeral Home--not to mention her perilous adventure with Rocky beforehand--had given her a restless night spent tossing and turning as her mind sorted everything out. Nightmare included. She now had a new perspective on him and his dedication to the Lackadaisy speakeasy, quickness to violence in its name, and most of all, his past and previously secret wife and daughter.
Guilt was welling up in her. After all, the last things she'd said to Viktor had been to insult his work ethic, call him a monster, and declare she was giving up on him. And he'd responded by throwing the horrid fish sandwich from Mrs. Bapka at her through the window, then slamming it shut hard enough to crack the glass.
That new crack in the pane gleamed brightly. The refracted lamp light seemed rather accusing, where she stood precariously on the sidewalk in the night. Ivy scrunched up her face in irritation and huffed out a breath. She didn't know how she felt about Viktor right now, guilt notwithstanding. The whole situation was a mess, and she hadn't made that mess alone!
With a squeak of brakes, the pie truck stopped behind the pig truck, and Rocky and Freckle hopped out. Or rather, Freckle hopped out. Rocky more fell out and managed to land upright, transforming the almost-tumble into an acrobatic feat with a bow and a swirl of his hat. He grinned hugely, the streetlights glinting off his teeth and bloodshot eyes. "Go forth, young man, and procure pillows of perfunctory purpose, for their plump perfection is a prerequisite for our particular petite person!" He replaced his hat, tugging it down over the stitched gash in his forehead with a slight wince.
"You aren't coming to help carry them?" Ivy asked.
"Your and Freckle's mighty thews can handle it, Miss Pepper. No, I shall stay here and guard the fleet!" He patted the pie truck's passenger door. "We wouldn't want them to be absconded with, now would we?" The manic edge on the laughter that followed made Ivy wonder if Rocky was still off his nuts after the previous night's sojourn.
Arms held out to either side for balance, she walked to the bottom of the five steps that led up to the front door and doubtfully glanced between the stairs with their lack of a handrail and her very unfamiliar shoes. Freckle appeared next to her and held out his elbow with a sweet smile. She beamed in return and hooked her arm through his. They made it up the steps without incident, and Freckle gallantly opened the door for her. She felt him jolt when he saw Viktor's closed apartment door, located to the left of the small vestibule.
Viktor could stuff his disapproval of Freckle, as far as she was concerned. It was her life! But Freckle had clearly been traumatized by his previous encounter with the grumpy gimp. "I'm sure he's asleep," she whispered in Freckle's ear, deliberately making her voice husky even as she lied to reassure him.
He jumped away, yanking his elbow from her grip to slap his hand over his ear and gape at her with eyes the size of dinner plates. The motion pulled Ivy off balance, and she let out a dismayed yelp as she toppled towards him. He grabbed her around the waist and mostly stopped her fall with his own body, but her wooden-soled platforms clunked loudly against the also wooden floor. He held her steady while she tried to get her feet underneath her, scraping the shoes on the floor even more and bunching up the frayed runner carpet.
"Stupid shoes! I should have brought my regular ones, too."
The unmistakable squeak of aged hinges turning sounded behind them. They froze in position.
Viktor loomed in his doorway, leaning on his broom as a makeshift walking stick, and saw his daughter's stand-in cradled intimately against the chest of the new threat.
Freckle actually squeaked. He shoved Ivy upright and ran up the stairs to Mrs. Bapka's apartment, taking them two at a time. Ivy swayed dangerously and snatched for the sturdy newel post.
"Fool!" Viktor snarled as he leaped to rescue the girl, only to hiss in pain and grab his gunshot side instead. His feet tangled in the runner, and he hit the floor with a very solid thud.
Ivy's damaged opinion of Viktor was momentarily forgotten. "Viktor!" She awkwardly knelt next to him on the floor, her shoes making the movement difficult.
He rolled onto his uninjured side and squinted up at her, teeth gritted against the pain. "Vhat you are doing here? Vith him?!"
Ivy shook a finger at him, their fight returning to her in a flash. "Don't start about Freckle, Viktor! I mean it! Why are you even out of bed?!" And in a softer voice that was no more than a smidge resentful, "Are you okay?"
"I vill be fine, once am up." Viktor cautiously pushed himself to a sitting position, as Ivy freed his feet from the carpet and tossed the tassled end out of the way.
"Let me help you up," she offered and carefully stood on the shoes. She held out both her hands.
He looked at her for a moment, clearly thinking his own thoughts about yesterday's events, then stoically accepted the offer. She held his rough right hand in both of her own and leaned back to act as a counter-weight as he forced his stiff knees to obey. Slowly, with grunts and the odd curse, he regained his feet. He examined his right side to see if any of the stitches had torn free, but it seemed the veterinarian's work held fast. Satisfied, he returned his gaze to Ivy.
"Vhy you are here this late?" He blinked when he realized her concerned face peering up at him was several inches higher than normal. "And vhy are you suddenly tall?"
She smiled impishly and gestured down to her tiny feet, hoisted off the ground by the ridiculously thick-soled shoes. "I borrowed them from a friend at school. Now I can see to steer and reach the pedals!"
His brows drew together, making his skin bulge around the eyepatch's strap. "You drive tonight?"
Before Ivy could reply, the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs heralded Freckle's reappearance. His eyes were barely visible over the top of an armful of overstuffed sofa cushions and at least one blanket.
Mrs. Bapka's dotty voice creaked out from above them, sounding a touch wistful as she spoke in Slovakian, "Have a good night with your sweetheart. Oh, Mr. Bapka loved midnight trysts under the stars..." her door clunked softly closed.
Viktor saw red. Vibrant, ruby red. The red of blood and carnage and shredded impudent boys.
Ivy understood just enough of Mrs. Bapka's Slovakian musings to figure out what had been implied--particularly when she realized Viktor's proverbial hackles were standing on end. "No, Viktor!" she yelled and managed to jump in front of him, despite the shoes. "Freckle and I are going with Rocky! The bedding is to help me drive!" She met his glare with her own, boosted by her newly gained height and a hefty dose of righteous anger. "And even if we were going to cuddle in the blankets, it's my concern! Not yours!"
Freckle had stopped halfway down the staircase at Ivy's words, and he found the courage to say, "Uh..."
"No, Freckle!" Ivy cut him off. "This is between me and Viktor!"
Viktor bristled even more. "But I--"
"No! You aren't my father, and you said you aren't even my friend! You! Have! No! Say!" The furious girl emphasized each word with a resounding stomp of her shoe.
His entire body tensed, even as his eye darted about Ivy's face, looking for an opening to refute her words.
Ivy crossed her arms. "Dance partners or boyfriends. You have no say in who I chose or what we do together."
He scowled at Ivy, silent for several moments in the stark face of the truth. The corner of his mouth twitched, showing a flash of clenched teeth, before he grudgingly changed the subject. "You drive. Vhere you go?"
A low grow was his opinion on that.
"I already went once, with Rocky, last night," Ivy snapped at him.
"Is dangerous vork for Lackadaisy, you should not--"
"Stop it, Viktor!" she shouted. "You have no say in my career, either! I have been involved with Lackadaisy since I started running the cash register in the Little Daisy Cafe!" She crossed her arms in resolution, feet steady and shoulder width apart, even in the clunky shoes. "Last night's trip to Defiance would have turned out very differently if I hadn't been there alongside Rocky. For one thing, Rocky would probably be dead!"
Viktor snorted. "Is only matter of time for that one, anyvay."
"Well, last night wasn't his time, thanks to me!" Hands now on her hips, chest puffed up with satisfaction, her petite body stretched tall with pride. "And tonight, we're going back to get the booze." She beamed triumphantly.
"Hmph." Viktor studied her bold and stubborn posture. It was clear he couldn't talk her out of the trip. And short of locking her in his coat closet, he couldn't stop her. And even then, she could probably kick down the door with those monstrous shoes.
Inwardly, he sighed. Fine. If he couldn't stop her from going, then maybe he could protect her, instead. Stand between her and any danger, be they bullets or impudent boys. For her own good.
"You drive pig truck. Vith Rocky? Or...other boy?"
"No, the guys are together in the pie truck. Rocky driving, Freckle shotgun." She beamed up at Freckle and waved him onward from where he remained glued halfway down the staircase.
Slowly, he started down to stand with Ivy between him and Viktor.
Ivy returned her attention to Viktor. "I'll be following them. It will be much more comfortable for me to drive with these pillows as a backrest. She patted Freckle's thick stack of bedding. Freckle managed a minuscule smile in return.
Both youngsters were taken aback. "Huh?" Ivy asked.
"I go in pig truck vith you. You drive, I shoot. Yes." Viktor cautiously pivoted to hobble into his apartment without waiting for a response. "Is my pig truck, anyvay," he stated over his shoulder.
Speechless, Ivy watched him vanish inside his bedroom.
Freckle shifted his fluffy armful. "Did that really happen? Viktor is coming with us?"
"But his injuries from the fight at Lacka..." Ivy trailed off and was silent as her mind processed this new addition to their booze retrieval team. Then a crafty smirk bloomed on her face; a smirk that made Freckle grateful he was riding with Rocky...possible concussion or no.
"Yep! He is! Can't say no to an extra gun or two, right, Freckle?" She aimed her smirk at him, and he was relieved to see it had become a smile of genuine pleasure.
He slowly smiled back, unable to resist her joy.
Rocky burst in the front door, his entire body humming with reckless abandon. "What's the holdup, oh sweet youth of Missouri? The booze awaits!"
"We're ready, Rocky. Just waiting for Viktor," Ivy said.
"Viktor? The scarred superannuated Slovak has the gumption to go?"
At that moment, Viktor stomped out of his door. He was dressed in his usual hat, a jacket over a checkered shirt, heavy canvas trousers, and his sturdy boots. No crutch or broom was in sight. Instead, his rifle was in one hand, a second one slung around his neck on a leather strap. Single eye aflame, he glared at Rocky. "Yes. Gumption to go."
"Swell! Glad to have you! The original Lackadaisy mah-scle!" Rocky crowed, undaunted.
Viktor grunted, then stiffly lead the way outside.
Rocky giggled at Ivy, giving her a wink and a toothy expression that was a semblance of a happy grin. "How can I turn him away, when I myself am the walking injured, complete with stitches?" Rocky danced out after Viktor, and immediately began waxing poetic about their upcoming jaunt.
"Ten of leagues, ten of leagues
Ten of leagues onward!
All in Defiance, Missouri,
Drove the four heroes!
Ten of leagues onward!
"Charge for the booze!" he said!
Into Defiance, Missouri,
Drove the four heroes!"
"My literature professor would be in a hot lather at that," Ivy said with a snicker. She and Freckle shared an amused--if concerned--look for the health of their friend. But needs must, and Lackadaisy needed the liquor tonight. "Time to charge for the booze, indeed."
Ivy led the way out the door and down the stairs. Her steps were a little more confident on the platforms now, though still cautious.
Freckle headed to the pie truck, giving Rocky a cautious once-over as he climbed inside the cabin. Rocky was oblivious, completely engrossed in regaling the night sky with his rum runner adaptation of classic poetry.
Ivy winked at Viktor, who was waiting at the pig truck's passenger door, even as he burned one-eyed death at their erstwhile bard.
Ivy arranged the various pillows and blankets into a thick, squishy backrest booster for the driver's seat. She climbed in, and after an adjustment of the front pillow, she was satisfied. She flashed a thumbs-up at Viktor.
"Ve go naow," Viktor ordered the two young men.
Rocky, face wild, almost leaped into the pie truck's driver's seat. Both engines rumbled to life. Rocky stuck his arm out of his window and waved his hat in circle, chanting, "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and not die!"
Ivy grinned. "I approve of that particular change to the poem!" She was incredibly excited about the success of her backrest and shoes idea, about the upcoming trip to Defiance and the Arbogast Funeral Home to rescue Lackadaisy with excellent illegal liquor...and particularly about having Viktor trapped in the car with her for the long drive.
As they neared the edge of town, Viktor himself began their conversation. "Rocky is vorse than usual. Vat happened last night?"
With a laugh, Ivy said, "Oh, we found the spring house of liquor in the cornfield all right, but the Arbogasts didn't want to make a deal. At first!" She gave him a sly look. "They tried to run us down with their car. But I held them off with their own gun! Then I expertly guilted them about cracking Rocky's head open, and they changed their minds." She finished with one of her patently innocent, wide-eyed and big-lashed expressions.
Viktor could only stare at her, not knowing even where to begin with everything wrong in her explanation. He finally decided to simply stare out the windshield and ask about the one safe item in her tale. "Rocky's head crack open. How can you tell?"
Ivy laughed. "All the blood running down his face made it very apparent. His skull was fine, though. Only a big forehead gash all the way down!" Her smile faded a bit. "They gave me instructions and medicine for him. I passed it on to him, but I'm not sure he noticed."
With the outlying houses of Saint Louis now behind, the night darkened around them in the absence of the city's street lamps and house lights. The woods closed in on either side of the road, blocking out the scant stars and moonlight. Soon even the pavement had vanished. The pie truck bounced along the dirt track in front of them, illuminated by their truck's headlamps.
Tapping her fingers on the steering wheel, Viktor securely trapped inside the vehicle with her, Ivy chose to dive right in. "I met Elsa. She's the one who tended to Rocky. She's nice." She paused for any reaction.
He didn't give her one.
"Bobby and Ableard told me how they got into the booze business with Atlas. Hiding liquor in coffins coming off the train and all."
"They told me about how you and Mordecai took out those cattle rustlers turned rum runners." She tilted her head to one side. "Or rather, Bobby told me. Ableard merely contributed scathing side commentary."
Her amusing description failed to chip Viktor's stoic veneer.
Fine. Time for the big guns. Taking a deep breath, she went for it. "Elsa asked about you."
That earned a twitch in his cheek.
"She had interesting things to say. For one, she was surprised at the thought of you sending me to find the liquor."
"I did not send you. I send Rocky," he growled.
Ivy's mouth stretched wide in a silent, triumphant smile. "And Rocky invited me," she clarified for him. "But Elsa knew you'd never send me in the first place. She said you'd just as well send your own daughter." She paused. "Your actual, in real life daughter."
Viktor turned to stone. The warmth in the truck's cab vanished, sucked into his granite silence. Teeth gritted, hands clenched around both rifles that rested on his thighs, his left eye narrowed.
Ivy waited for a full minute in the soundless cab, wondering what to do now that she had broached the forbidden subject. Quite literally blind-sided him, in fact. When he was cornered in the cab, by his own initiative, only coming along to protect her and help the three youngsters obtain the liquor that would save their beloved Lackadaisy.
Her earlier guilt returned anew, this time coupled with a hefty dose of shame. "I'm sorry, Viktor. You don't have to tell me about your daughter, or your wife. I was shocked when Elsa told me you had a family, but..." She trailed off and risked a peek at him. He'd twisted away from her, gazing out the side window. She risked taking a hand off the steering wheel and leaned over to lay it gently on his arm. "But now that I know, it explains so much. At least about how you treat me. Being so protective without asking for anything in return. Even simple friendship." She returned her hand to the steering wheel. "I understand you a little better now, I think. Thank you for worrying about me."
As the first intersection that led to Defiance hove into view, Viktor thumped a fist against his thigh in a very controlled gesture. "Men can be bad and stupid. Specially to young girls. I...I can not protect my daughter from them. She is in old country, vith her mother."
Ivy down-shifted to make the turn. She glanced at Viktor, who was now staring out the windscreen with a pained expression.
"I had to leave old country vhen I caught eye of...vrong people. I vanted my family to come, but wife refused. She said I too stubborn to change vays. They were safer vith me gone." He broke off, and another long stretch of silence filled the truck's cab. Finally, he said, "She vas right. I am no better here than back there." His voice turned bitter. "My daughter is safer back in old country, away from bad and stupid old man."
Speechless, Ivy wondered at everything Viktor had left unsaid in his explanation, and what he had to be feeling as he relived his separation from his family. Being forced to leave her family and friends, to end up in a foreign place full of strangers, unfamiliar customs, and unable to understand a single spoken word. She gulped at the intimidating idea, and marveled at Viktor's ability to adapt and survive.
As her respect for Viktor bloomed anew, the tension between them slowly eased.
"Vorld can be bad and stupid, too. Not just men. Life, too." He sighed, but it was a sound of acceptance rather than frustration. "But I have no right to try to protect you. You are not my daughter. You have father, is his job. He should do."
She chuckled once, surreptitiously wiping her eyes, and touched his arm again. "Yes, I have a father. But I'd like to have you as a friend. And you know what?" She winked at him.
Startled, he responded, "Vhat?"
"Friends can offer their opinion about dance partners, boyfriends, and careers."
He blinked at her. "I can...advise? As friend?"
"Advise as friend. Yes."
"Okay. I vill."
Ivy smiled, and with a quick glimpse, saw Viktor crack a tiny grin as well. She peered ahead as the woods gave way to fields of corn, and the final intersection appeared. The peeling white wooden signpost illuminated by the dual trucks' headlamps pointed the way to their collective future.
Excited, happy, and ready to face it, Ivy made the final turn towards Defiance