"Uh. . . .Not that I remember." Manfred replied uncertainly. At thirty-one, he was completely unused to being called "kid" in such a casual manner, or at all.
"You sure? You look a lot like a guy I used to know."
"Probably a coincidence." Manfred said nervously.
"I don't think so. You're actin' a lot like him. He sqirmed around me even when I was a kid. Never really took to the guy, but he was caring enough. My childhood idol married him or something." Valerie mused. "I wonder if they're still around. . .I lost contact with them way back. What's your name?"
"We can get to that later, and my name's Manfred." Manfred said quickly. "For now, I need to ask you a few things."
"Huh. That's quite a name, kid." Valerie smirked. "Well, I'll be generous with you since it's the first time anyone's taken the time to visit me. What can I do you for?" she asked eagerly, as if she were the old lady in the neighborhood whom no one bothered with.
"Well, to start, I need to know if you know someone, a guy called Christopher Mason."
Valerie's face changed. "And where did you get that name?"
"I did some digging." Manfred replied cooly, now in his element.
Valerie leaned across the table and stared at him, her violet eyes seeming to craze as she searched his face. "Huh. Now you sound like. . . .Charlene O'Grady! Yeah, her. Married David MacCell, if I'm not mistaken." Valerie's tone held sudden recognition, but her eyes seemed to totally mock him.
Manfred blinked. Had she just done a double take?
"I'll tell you my story as soon as you tell me yours." he said, trying to sound firmer then he felt. "Tell me about Christopher Mason."
Valerie sat back down, and sighed. "Well, only cause I'm curious, and you're the first person to visit me in this hellhole of a prison. And you gotta promise to come back again."
"I will." Manfred said, meaning it. "Count on it."
"I hope so." Valerie smirked. "Leather jacket, annonymous-looking clothes. You've got a place somewhere in the hood. . .but when I look at you, I don't think you're there because you want to be."
"I'm just looking for answers." Manfred smirked right back at her. "Are we through with chatting?"
Valerie chuckled at that. "Alright, I'll let you have it. Chris Mason was my husband, a long time ago. We had a couple of kids, too. Twins, a boy and a girl. Mattie and Cassie, we called them. Chris changed their names after I wound up in jail, but I've never seen them. Not a damn photograph of them to my name because of this mess."
"Mess?" Manfred echoed. Hadn't Valerie tried to kill them?
"I was part of a gang, the Wreckers. I lit a fire in a building of em because I found a plan for them to kill our kids. When it was too late, I found out that Chris and our kids were in there. He brought them to that meeting. One guy survived, but almost two dozen died in that fire. He's the one who made it look like I was a complete nutjob." Valerie explained. "Even Chris tried to convince them about what I had really wanted. But most people, they get the wrong idea about people like me. I'm not completely off the deep end, you know. I'm just right next to it."
Manfred nodded. "Wreckers tend to make that impression. The higher-ups, they're the ones to be careful of. They can make the seemingly average joe into a completely different person. Them and the Sabres. . ."
"They all know everyone's secrets." Valerie finished. "You from Metro?"
"Originally. So you really killed thirteen people because they wanted to kill your kids?"
Valerie's face hardened, her eyes taking on a crazy glow. "I'm not the smartest person I know, but a Mom's gotta protect her kids. If I ever found them again, I'd still be the same way about it now."
"I see." Manfred decided not to mention Cassandra and Matthieu just yet.
"So, are you a member, or are you a hitter?" Valerie asked.
"Formerly a hitter. Now, I'm on a job that I assigned myself."
"Did you quit?"
"Yeah, I quit because-"
"Cause you're looking for answers, you said." Valerie interrupted quickly. "So, are related to Charlene or David?"
Manfred nodded. "Yeah, they were my parents."
"Were? What, are they dead or something?" Valerie asked, trying to sound like she was joking.
Again, Manfred nodded. "Sixteen years ago. Last month was the anniversary."
"Sixteen years ago. . . ." Valerie whispered, resting her head on her free hand.
"Almighty. . .I never even got a word about it. Dave and Char, gone. Poor Tari, too. ."
"Tari?" Manfred blinked, confused. "Who's Tari?"
Valerie straightened up. "You don't know who I'm taking about? Tari MacCell, Dave's sister Tari. The girl was my best friend."
"I've never heard of Tari. If I have any relations, I don't know them. No siblings, no cousins, no nothing."
"He doesn't know. . ." Valerie shook her head. "Kid, there's a lot that your folks must have kept from you if you don't know Tari. You should at least know Jamie Lee, Alden McCourtney. . .those two ring a bell?"
Valerie looked completely dumbstruck. "They were both close to your parents when I knew them. Does Well-wishers ring a bell at all?"
Manfred sighed. "That's why I'm looking for answers. I need to know what the Well-wishers are, and how I and some others are connected to it."
Valerie shook her head again. "Didn't your parents tell you?"
"No, they completely sheltered me from gangs or groups of any kind. They said that it brought nothing but trouble and didn't want me to get hurt." Manfred explained quietly. "They were killed by a gang. . .I never found out which one. I became a hitter at twenty-three because of their death. That was eight years later."
"So they were taken from you at fifteen?" Valerie murmured. "Damn, that's rough. I'm sorry."
"It was a long time ago." Manfred said tersely. "Where can I find information on the Well-wishers?"
"Well, if you're looking for the Well-wishers, then Chris would be the first one to go to. All you have to do is say you're the seed of hope in trouble's garden. He'll know what you're talking about. How is he, anyway? Is he still alive? We only divorced for our kid's sake. He changed his name and moved to Metro for it."
"Sorry, kid, I forgot that you didn't know. We were both from Metro, but left when we were kids. As far as I know, he changed their names and moved back there. I don't know what his name is now."
Manfred stared at her for a moment.
All this time the answer had been right back where he had started?
"Hey, slow down." he said. "I know Chris as he is now. A different name, but I still know who he is. Do I really only need to go and talk to him?"
"Say you're the seed of hope in trouble's garden." Valerie said again. "He'll understand. That's all you'll need to say."
Manfred nodded. "Seed of hope in trouble's garden. I understand. Thank you, Valerie." he stood up. "I'll remember to come visit you again."
"Bring a deck of cards or something." Valerie grinned. "It gets boring in this hellhole. And tell Chris that Val never gave him his birthday present." she added as the guards came in.
"Visit's over." the guard from before said. "Off you go." he added to Manfred.
"Take care, Valerie." Manfred said as he left.
"Don't get into trouble." Valerie replied.