…about clouds

Mandy looked away from the increasingly shrouded horizon and back up the beach to where Dan was constructing the shelter. She didn’t want to tell him about the caves she’d found while he was asleep, drunk on the last of the rum that had washed up from the broken boat that lay speared by the far edge of the reff.

Everything she’d said and done in the past two days had been designed to uss Dan out, to figure out if he was going to take this opportunity to assert himself in their barely birthed relationship or if he was going to accept her as an equal partner.

The wind picked up throwing microscopic granules of salt against Mandy’s face. She checked the horizon again. The height of the cloud bank had doubled and advanced, blotting out the tall peak from the island to their west.

…about a color

Unlike other weddings, it wasn’t the style of the bridesmaids’ dresses that caused a stir.  The simple sheath dresses came with matching bolero jackets, for modesty and warmth, and showed enough cleavage and leg to tease but not enough to make Page 6, and, if sized properly, would look good on any woman no matter what her shape.

No, it was the bride’s color scheme that had her future mother-in-law speechless in that way that the bride knew meant she was trying not to laugh.

White.  What was so wrong with white?  Nothing by itself.  Since the bride insisted she would be wearing the polar opposite she had thrown everyone’s assumptions out the window.  For themselves, the bridesmaids were taking it in stride.

“At least it’s not sea foam.  God, do you remember Jaime’s wedding?” one said at a brunch they held in secret.

Another snorted.  “Barely.  There were schnapps.  Remember the one that was fuschia and gold?  I looked jaundiced in all the photos.”

“But where am I going to wear a white dress?” moaned the youngest, who was just as happy to have missed the fuschia stage.

“Your own wedding, maybe,” replied the fourth who knew there wouldn’t be a wedding in her future without serious legislative work.

“Is that what she meant to do, give us a wedding dress?  They are from the best designer,” said the one with the schnapps induced blackouts.

The fourth smiled in a way that made the others nervous.  “Maybe we should just ask her.”

…about selling

Randy knew even as he shook the man’s hand that taking the job was probably a mistake. He took too much after his father, and his grandfather before him, to be any good at the job. His stomach clenched as he agreed to the rate. As unusual as it was to find that kind of job with a salary any more the one Randy was being offered was high indeed. The start date, Monday a week, worked just fine. Randy didn’t tell the man that the could have started right then. He didn’t tell him about the bills marked “Third Notice” in red that sat in the wicker bowl on the counter next to the payment plan packet from the hospital.

As he walked out of the insurance office, Randy tried to use his talents to sell himself the job, that it would be good to meet people, that they product, supplemental health coverage, was something people in a town with a mill and a chemical plant needed. If he couldn’t sell the idea to himself, he figured, he’d be out of a job sooner than the six months he expected to last.

…about an enemy

Janie wasn’t sure what had started the feud with Megan Riley. They had been friends in grade school, living just down the block and across from each other since they were both four on the birthday they shared. But something changed.

Janie would often sit at her locker during lunch, whatever book she was reading balanced on her knees, and wonder what the jibe would be that day.

“Black jeans with the hole in the knee, it must be Friday,” sarcasm practically rained from above. Janie’s eyes traced up the stiletto-clad foot, passed the perfectly hairless, perfectly tanned leg to the edge of the too tight to breathe mini skirt to rest on the perfect face of her worst enemy.

“Actually, you can tell by the shoes,” Jamie replied, wiggling the Chucks with the hot rod flames on them. “Fridays are all about the fire.”

Megan rolled her eyes and clip-clopped off, her entourage streaming in her wake. The fire was Janie’s one weapon, that and her brain.

…about a map

Pam glanced over at the crumpled sheet in the passenger seat for the fifth time in as many minutes. Eyes back on the two-lane blacktop with no turn offs she had to laugh at the futility. She was either on the right road or she wasn’t.

Early summer corn waved from straight, even rows clearly laid out by a machine as the breeze picked up snatching away the wisps the country station up the coast and turning the radio into static. The smells of farming – water and the chemical tang of commercial fertilizer – reminded her of summers at her uncle’s place, summers her parents had sent her away first so they could take full advantage of the swinging ’70s and later so they could fight over who got to keep the trappings of their happy, middle-class life Pam included.

She returned the wave of a cowboy farmer in a beat up truck less worried that her battered Toyota would cause trouble here in a place where people flew the American flag with no irony. Pam reduced speed as she came to an intersection that wasn’t on her five year-old map.

…about something narrow

The house on Lake Street always made passersby stop and stare, even the ones not clutching the walking tour book, the ones who weren’t somehow subliminally dreading devoting part of their precious vacation time to this desolate seeming part of town.

The smaller than average front door and the window boxes looked as if they had come off a child’s playhouse which, indeed, they had, these and the wooden windows all sparked the same thoughts.

“It must be a joke,” the man of the couple was often heard to whisper, “no one could possibly live there.” The woman, usually with her finger trapped between the guidebook’s slick, heavy pages, would bring the volume up and find the entry. The recitation usually included the construction date, far enough in the past to excuse the peeling paint up near the eaves, and the bubbling in the glass near the sashes.

“It says it’s private residence now,” she would reply, eyes scanning the heavy black type.

“For who? A family of dwarves?” he would snort, most often taking her arm and moving her toward the coffee shop at the end of the block, the one whose smells were carried on the prevailing breeze.

Sometimes while they stood there pondering the half-width building the door would open with a creak that the owner subtly encouraged through haphazard maintenance. He would tip his bowler hat, the man who emerged from the impenetrable darkness of the front room, adjust the collar of his overcoat, and shut the door moving down the sidewalk with his briefcase in hand.

The couple would gape at the man’s receding back, itself as tall as the house was wide, the implausibility of what their eyes had just seen being insisted upon by their brains.

“Do you think they squished him in there when they built these apartment buildings?”

Sometimes the man in the bowler hat would overhear as he strolled away. The question always made him smile.

…about a cloud of smoke

Betty couldn’t see the speaker through the thick, gray haze. His voice sounded familiar in that gravelly, half-remembered night way that shed used to think of her time in the bottle. And it wasn’t the words he used but the tone, the lilting familiarity and ease with which he placed his order. It was a simple choice: chicken, beef, or vegetarian pasta. The choice was always simple at these hotel things, even simpler for Betty now that she was off the booze and had started gaining weight.

The side offers from the conventioneers had stopped coming after she’d hit 140lbs which was a good weight for her height but too reminiscent of the wives they’d left back home for most of the traveling men. The smoke rolled as the man exhaled, his menu and hands appearing almost divorced from his actual body.

In A Song (part 12 of 12)

Three months later: Wednesday, 4:46pm: Dark Horse

Sunlight slanted in the high windows above the bar dividing the space and turning the circulating dust motes into a kind of glitter. The place had an expectant feel: glasses lined up and waiting, floors mopped, chairs down off the table tops. Helena reveled in the pre-opening quiet; the crowd would get there soon enough.

Business had been good. New customers attracted from most of the myriad levels of New Gotham’s social scene came not just for the strong drinks, friendly service, and attractive staff but also to take in the music. Helena paired the local and out-of-town bands in inspired and often musically disparate shows which sometimes made for some strange crowds. She hadn’t made another appearance on her own stage though. Helena refused to sing there or, despite hinting, prodding, and outright begging from Davey Cruz, with the jazz band she played in on Wednesday nights at the Blue Note. Losing herself in the music as her hands coaxed magic from the piano was just one way Helena had filled up the deafening silence created by Barbara’s request for time.

The first few weeks had been brutal for Helena. Brutal and filled with doubt and self-recrimination, and second guessing over the doubt. Some part of her knew that she’d betrayed Barbara’s trust while another equally stubborn part kept insisting that she hadn’t really done anything wrong. Some days it was a little like the metaphorical devil on one shoulder and angel on the other. Some days Helena wasn’t sure which opinion was which.

The nights those first few weeks that Helena hadn’t been behind the bar moving on rote she’d spent trailing Dinah on sweeps. She’d given the teenager just enough distance to avoid overhearing her communications with Oracle but had stayed close enough to provide backup if necessary. Once she was sure Dinah would be fine, Helena’s sweeps of the city became solitary. Not as effective as they would have been with assistance, she was sure, but they worked the nervous energy out of her system and reduced street crime even in a New Gotham patrolled by a suddenly vigilant police force.

But as two weeks stretched into four, four into six, and six into ten, the silence solidified around Helena and her need for motion, the need to do something, anything, itched along every nerve and fiber of her being. She filled the void Barbara left with every sensual pleasure she could find: music she played with the jazz band and booked at the Dark Horse; food she learned to cook herself so she could taste it and know she was still alive, still real; sweeps where she left the fights with her muscles pumped from the adrenaline and the criminals in a tidy a pile for the next patrol car; sex, the rush of endorphins, scent, and warm skin on skin, with any woman that caught her eye.

One frenzied weekend she steamed the wall paper off the walls in her apartment, shoving all the furniture from room to room so she could repaint everything. A week later when she and Gabby showed up for dinner Dinah stared long and hard at the shredded piece of wallpaper Helena had framed and hung back in its place on the living room wall; she’d stared but she hadn’t asked. For that Helena had been grateful. She was grateful, too, for the fact that Dinah refused to take sides, refused to even acknowledge the change. She gave Helena the comfort of stasis by not mentioning Barbara or sweeps or anything that involved the life the three women shared. Helena was certain the teenager did the same for Barbara.

The weeks passed and Helena’s unsundered life, the one without the space she so desperately tried to fill with pieces she sensed didn’t quite fit, started to seem more like something she’d dreamt than lived. Without the redhead’s voice in her ear sharpening the edges and reminding her of what was, that dream-like quality persisted. It persisted until Helena realized one morning on the way home in the early dawn quiet, the scent of some anonymous woman still clinging to her skin, that not only wasn’t she getting anything done she wasn’t enjoying herself.

The itch, the need to move wasn’t really the desire for forward motion at all; it was fear, fear of punishment lurking unacknowledged and shadowing her subconscious. All her grasping, all the diversions, really only killed time. Helena realized in that instant that there would be no punishment from Barbara for her night with Jess Kalen, for the betrayal not just of Barbara’s trust as her lover but of her knowledge of the redhead’s weaknesses of self-perception. No, the silence was her penance whether Barbara intended it to be or not.

She’d stopped on the street corner, morning sun hitting her face like a spotlight, as the force of the realization ripped through her. If the clouds had opened and angels had sung Helena wouldn’t have been surprised. It was then that Helena began to learn the difference between quiet and silence and how to embrace one and acknowledge the other without letting it rule her life.

What she did from then on she did because it felt right not because she couldn’t bear to face her life, to face the silence outside and the noise inside her own head. Her piano playing, kicking ass on the streets at night, the occasional third-wheel outing with Dinah and Gabby, flirting with Caitlyn her lead bartender, even randomly accepting the staff’s invitations for drinks after closing; everything she did added up to a life that felt almost complete. Almost.

The silence in Helena’s life reduced down to a small hard ball at her very core, something she knew she could carry nearly indefinitely. Some days she could ignore it, and on some days, like today, when the sun threw spotlight shafts through the windows and the newspaper was filled with fallout from the arrests and exposure of corruption in the city government, she felt that silence keenly like a physical presence in her body.

Helena shook her head as she finished the latest article about the grand jury testimony. Jess Kalen completed two days on the stand the previous afternoon only to be whisked away by the FBI to “an undisclosed location.” There was no mention of her brother. Helena snorted. She could think of at least one person who could find them both if she really wanted to. She set aside the news section and dug through the paper for the comics.

“Hey boss, you’re in early,” Caitlyn said, ducking through the service cutout at the end of the bar.

“I’m leaving early,” Helena replied, taking in Caitlyn’s subtle curves with a glance. Helena silently gave herself two points for being smart enough even in her darkest hour not to sleep with anyone on the staff, especially not the smart, perceptive woman she’d put in charge of her bar.

[Continue Reading…]

In A Song (part 11 of 12)

Thursday/Friday: 1:27am: Helena’s apartment

Helena felt her eyes shift to feral as Jessica marked her left shoulder. Her heart beat faster as the same lips that had been fastened to her skin brushed her ear.

“One word and I’ll stop,” Jess whispered sliding her hand lower across Helena’s taut, exposed belly. “That’s all it would take.”

Helena arched back into the circle of Jess’ arm pressing against warm, soft skin; against full breasts and firm abs. “More.”

Jess slid her hand even lower, fingers seeking and finding. Helena’s groan of pleasure drowned out the noise of the wallpaper shredding under her hands.


Thursday/Friday: 1:56am: Clocktower

The Delphi beeped drawing Barbara’s attention out of her memories and back to the clocktower. The query on missing kids between nine and sixteen listed more than double the previous month’s disappearances with most of them being 13 or under. The question poked its way to the front of Barbara’s mind. Who are the they she’s meeting with? Helena had only mentioned Jessica Kalen by name but the way she’d reported the vision of the kids Barbara got the distinct impression she hadn’t gotten it from Jess.

He’s running kids. Helena’s voice filled with white hot rage echoed inside Barbara’s head even as her stomach turned. She could understand Jess condoning, even promoting, a gambling operation; gambling was a basically victimless crime. A good theoretical argument could even make prostitution the same kind of crime. Barbara shook her head. The Jess Kalen she’d known would sooner have poked her own eye out with a dull spoon than be a part of King’s new business plan.

“Wow…that’s a big list.” Dinah set down a mug of tea for Barbara and blew across the surface of her own mug.

Barbara pulled up the detailed reports as a second query eliminated kids who had been found in other jurisdictions. That narrowed the list down to small double digits. It wasn’t much comfort. “Don’t forget that you’re probably still listed as missing somewhere. Fourteen kids in a month. Can King’s operation be that big?”

“I hope not. I still think you should have let me follow her.” She shuddered slightly remembering how hard it had been to make that final decision to leave home. Dinah shook her head and tried not to think too hard about what would compel the average, non-meta kid to run away from home. After a year or more on the streets doing sweeps she had a pretty good idea and it still pissed her off.

“Her contacts were very specific, and you know Helena when she gets her mind set.” Barbara smiled and shook her head. The argument over the op, over Helena going into the meet blind, had taken less than five minutes. Barbara knew from experience when it was better to wait Helena out than it was to apply logic. This had been one of those times.

Dinah nodded. “I can still get over there.”

Barbara drummed the arm of her chair tactics and unanswered questions swirling in her head. “No. I trust Helena. Let’s see how it plays out.” She turned back to the Delphi, opened a new window, and began a new search for information on Marcus King.


Friday: 2:56pm: New Gotham High School

“I wanted you to hear it from me and not through the grapevine,” Jess said, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her slacks.

“Why?”

Jess grinned. “Because Mrs. Miller is a horrible gossip.” She grinned wider at Barbara’s laugh. “I’ve got some family business I need to take care of and it’s incompatible with a full time job as a high school guidance counselor. I haven’t been here long enough for a leave of absence so resigning was my only choice.”

Barbara raised an eyebrow even as she noted the disappointment she felt. She knew Jess was a connection to her life before the shooting but the strength of the feeling surprised her. Barbara pushed the emotions aside for later consideration. “The last time you left town to take care of some family business you were gone ten years.” The questions formed a neat queue in Barbara’s brain but she dared not ask them; she trusted Helena’s certainty that her identity as Oracle remained a secret.

“In a few days when things have settled down I’d like to tell you about that, and about some other things.” Jess tilted her head and let the question settle unspoken.

“I’d like that.”


Friday: 4:32pm: Clocktower training room

“Tell me I didn’t just see what I think I just saw,” Dinah demanded.

Helena picked up her water bottle and sat down hard on the bench. She swigged from the bottle, more to buy herself time than to quench any thirst. When she looked up Dinah hadn’t moved; her gaze bore into Helena’s face.

“Judging by the look on your face, I’m going with you saw exactly what you think you did,” Helena muttered. She leaned forward, elbows on her knees, as her gut roiled. “Fuck.”

“You’ve probably done enough of that for a while.” Dinah flopped on the bench next to Helena. “Oh don’t give me that look,” she said in response to Helena’s glare. “I’m not the one who went all…” she waved her hands and shuddered at the second hand sensations she’d picked up, “with Ms. Kalen.”[Continue Reading…]

In A Song (part 10 of 12)

Thursday/Friday: 12:02am: Clocktower

Panic. It was panic Barbara felt coursing through her veins. Not the ordinary fear or the adrenaline rush that came when Helena took a chance she herself wouldn’t have taken, but pure, pharmaceutical-grade panic.

A quick glance at the monitor to her left showed Helena’s telemetry readings weren’t far off baseline, and a glance at the monitor above showed not only that the GPS in the comms set was still operational but also that her physical position hadn’t changed enough to trigger an adjustment in her mapped location.

Barbara tapped a few keys, shifting her main display over to a map showing both public and private surveillance cameras. Finding none that would give her a usable picture of the jewelry store, she drummed her fingers on the table, fear and frustration needing some sort of outlet.

She glanced at the clock. Five minutes since the comms channel had gone dead leaving her with nothing but static. Barbara pulled up the latest version of the meta tracking database, tapped out a quick query to run against it and recent releases from Arkham and from the state prisons as she tried to think who would have drawn a surprised response from the normally unflappable Helena.


Thursday/Friday, 12:05am: Rooftop in the shopping district

“A proposition?”

Jess nodded fighting back a smile at the suspicious tone. It rang in her ears as just the one she would have taken had their positions been reversed.

“We work together to take King down,” Jess replied crossing her arms and mirroring Helena’s stance. The smile she got in reply was luminous and impressed upon her yet again why Barbara found the younger woman attractive. “He’s a bad man, Helena. It goes far, far beyond the gambling.” Jess swallowed the acid that crawled up her throat. Finding out about King’s new business ventures had burned a hole through what little trust and respect lay between them.

Helena tilted her head and considered the two people standing in front of her. ” How do I know this isn’t all bullshit? The crime wave…that’s been you, right?”

“Yes, but then, the New Gotham police aren’t exactly known for their ability to multitask.” Jess’ sideways grin reminded Helena way too much of a certain redhead for comfort. “It’s a standard part of the op, diversion so King can run his business while the authorities he hasn’t been able to grease are busy elsewhere.” Jess slid a glance at Nicky. “Would you show her?”

Helena tensed as Nicky stepped toward her.

His smile was kind as he held out one midnight-blue hand. “It shouldn’t hurt…much.”[Continue Reading…]