Sûrah XLII
COUNSEL
"Are not they who dispute, in doubt concerning the Hour, far astray?"

42
POWWOW

GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "I'd go stir-crazy all cooped up like that, no company. Not one window."
GUY IN BLACK:  "She gets visitors; I dropped by, took her some coffee."
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "When?"
GUY IN BLACK:  "This morning."
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "Stay to talk?"
GUY IN BLACK:  "What's there to talk about? I said hi; she waved; I split."
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "Just like I said, no company."
TAN GIRL:  "How many days now?"
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "Too many; I've lost track. Duke's gettin' antsy about his studio."
GUY IN BLACK:  "Who can blame him? I would, too; some snooty alien hole up day and night..."
TAN GIRL:  "Keep your voice down."
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "She's not snooty."
GUY IN BLACK:  "She's not all that starved for company, either. Is she?"
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "What's that mean?"
GUY IN BLACK:  "It means some girlfriend maybe comes and spends the night."
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "What?"
TAN GIRL:  "Hey, guys."
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "Me?"
GUY IN BLACK:  "You two seem tight enough."
TAN GIRL:  "Hey, guys."
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "We've talked, is all. Zahra understands me."
GUY IN BLACK:  "Girl talk?"
GRAY-HAIRED GIRL:  "Yeah, that's right. You feel left out; makes you green with envy?"
TAN GIRL:  "Stop it. (Someone's listening.)"
GUY IN BLACK:  "Who?"
TAN GIRL:  "(Don't look, you hothead; chill.)"

This hissed rebuke suspends the combatant's altercation.

Franchone, nursing a cappuccino, feigns that he has not heard; in fact has been trying to nudge The Scarecrow's Daughter beyond its introduction... to no avail, the nearby threesome too distracting with their disagreeable bickering. He had eavesdropped incidentally, then with mounting curiosity which had peaked upon the mention of Zahra's name.

Begins with Z. A "snooty alien"? That sure fits. Are these her roommates? 'Former' roommates; "Zahra's" "cooped up" someplace else. With "Duke." Who's Duke? And why would he be "antsy" about his "studio". Studio apartment? Business studio? Studio recording space? "Not one window." Studio recording space, then. Not shacked up; she's been "hole up". On the lam? Evading Almond, no doubt. Figures. Hell, she could have stayed at my place. "Starved for company" versus "girlfriend maybe comes and spends the night"? So Z is gay, or bi and getting it on with this gray-haired babe? Unlikely. Guy beside her seems to think so. Looks like a Goth in all that black. Ms. Gray-hair 's punctured—has so many studs she must set off alarms. Some pair. The tan girl's refereeing; she seems normal—not as radical—but the trio could be comic-book-figure anarchists. That, or punks. Odd crew for Z to have as allies.

Franchone braves a covert glance... at Amy's profile, clearly visible as she likewise peeks at him—whose surreptitious interest is making her uncomfortable.

AMY

Let's move back. Sign reads NO SMOKING.

GREER

We're outdoors, for Christ's sake!

JUDY

Let's.

The threesome shifts to another table—out of earshot, less conspicuous—a cloud of blue exhaust left hovering in their wake.