Draft One - 927 words
"I-I don't even know what a trombone looks like! How am I supposed to find something if I don't know what it looks like?" Richard pressed himself into the back wall of the decrepit church, cowed more by the old man's smell than his scrawny, ragged figure. The man was alcohol-logged and reeked of warm expired milk and rancid cornmeal. Richard's eyes watered.

Louie's perpetual frown and wrinkles deepened. He scratched his grimy hair. The kid had a point. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. The boils on his hand were bumpy and smooth, squishy marbles rolling pleasantly across his cheek. "I'll draw ya a picture. You got any paper?"

Richard nodded and fumbled in his coat pocket for his notebook. Most of it was full of scribbles for the family business or distant dreams. "You c-can use one of the pa-" The old man snatched it out of his hand. Richard tried to grab for it, but missed and the man's dark-eyed glare killed his protest before it could happen. That was from his girlfriend, custom embroidered. She would kill him if he lost it.

"Okay..." Louie frowned again, then patted his pockets, making a fake search for a fake pencil. "You got a pen, boy? I lost mine."

"H-here." Richard dangled the pen at arms length. He thought he could see green clouds of rancid plaque and cavities and rotting food waft out of the old man's mouth. Why did this guy want an instrument? Why not food, or medicine, or even money?

Louie's tongue stuck out from his wide lips as he sketched. Even though he had been without his darling for a few years, he could still picture every curve, every dent, every patch of rust and her peeling gold veneer. Helga was old, older even than Louie was and he hated to think she spent her old age in some vigilante's grubby hands or Caduceus knew pawned off somewhere.

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This man was crazy. Or drunk or both or maybe it was the hydroplague eating away at his mind. This old codger was asking Richard to find an otoscope battery. Or the last bottle of wine in the city. And that was assuming it hadn't been transported out! It was insane, looking for one specific instrument. "Look, buddy..."

"My name is Louie. I'm not your buddy, you're gonna..." he paused to burp and wipe his hand over his mouth again. "Gonna find my Helga! Or so help me!" Louie didn't know what he would do if this boy didn't find Helga. Probably nothing. Or maybe he really would ransom him. But then he'd have to keep him somewhere, make sure no one found him, feed him, tie him up. Kidnapping was too much work.

"Um, Mr. Louie, then. Look, I have never seen... Wait. Who is Helga?"

Louie was tired of all these questions. Hadn't explained this? Hadn't he gone out of his way to make it clear to this overgrown, simple-minded man-child that his dear Helga, his trombone, was missing? Hadn't he carefully and painstakingly drawn a picture of her and described her and explained her plight and his dire need to reclaim her? Hadn't he? Louie shoved his face into the boy's and studied him. Brown eyes darted back and forth like frantic mice and he smelled like he bathed in milkweed and cucumbers. "Helga is my trombone."

"Oh, sorry. Okay, so I have never seen Helga before and while your drawing is very lovely and detailed, I don't know where to even start looking for it – her," he felt obligated to amend himself. "Very sorry. So if you would just let me go?" He slid a little to his left along the wall, scraping the back of his shirt of the brick. It snatched at his nearly-tailored suit with tiny claws and he winced.

The truck from IX rumbled and then slowly trundled away. The driver must have assumed Richard long gone already, with his donations already unloaded. Now what was he going to do?

"So? You got connections, right? Better hire some vigilantes and start looking."

Wait, hire vigilantes? Did the coot know that much about his family? Richard shook his head. "How did you know I have connections to them? I guess I could ask, but wouldn't you rather have some money? Or food or –"

"You know the vigilantes?" Louie grabbed the kid up by the collar, fists shaking. "You ever seen a woman vigilante? Very purdy, long hair?"

"No. No, can't say I have. I don't exactly talk...to...them..." He gagged the words out, but trailed off as Louie seemed to stop listening and Richard gasped for air. "Mr Louie!"

The old man's iron grip faltered and he dropped the kid. He didn't want to hurt anyone. If this boy could find Helga... "She took Helga. I don't care about the money or the food, I want my trombone back. Then they'll eat their wise-ass cracks about me bein' town drunk!"

Richard massaged his throat, sagging back against the craggy wall. He thought he understood. If the old man had a trombone, he could make his own money. He could be more self sufficient and better himself and his place in society. He wouldn't have to come to Good Words for donations.

If Louie had his old trombone, he could finally make music again. He would show Columbus that he wasn't just a dumb lazy drunk. He could do something beautiful. It didn't matter how drunk he was – he would make music!