A Mental Enigma (Act II, Scene I)

The ride back to the house was so much more enjoyable than the ride there.  At least for Quinn.  With her winning tucked firmly into her jacket, and her companion’s arm around her waist, she felt powerful.  Her concerns from earlier had been confirmed.  The sky had already lightened significantly by the time they got out of The Parlor.
They reached the Safehouse, and parked the bike.  Quinn put the money in the lockbox.
“Holy cow.  How much are you at now?”
“$195,000.”
“Wow.  What do you need all that money for?”
Another crossroads of honesty.  But she had come this far by being open.  Why not go further?  So many people to lie to.  It genuinely felt good to have one less.
“Two reasons.  Firstly, to be able to get out of Oceanview once I graduate.  Second, to pay Father back for letting me stay here, free of charge.”
Kaye looked so touched, upon hearing that.  “That’s so sweet!  I bet your parents would be proud.”
“No such animal,” Quinn replied without thinking about it.  Then she turned white.  What had she done?!  That was a huge thing to divulge and she did so without thinking!
Her roommate looked shocked.  “What do you mean, ‘no such animal’?”
“I…it’s nothing.  Just ignore it.”  She turned to start heading out.
She grabbed her arm.  “Talk to me, Quinn!  Why can’t you trust me?!”
Visibly shaking, her mind was moving so fast that the thoughts just tumbled over themselves and got lost in translation.  Nothing coherent came through.
“Because I’m afraid to talk about it.”
“Why?!”
“Because if I talk about it, it’s real.  And then I have to talk about other stuff.  Once that gets started, I don’t know where it stops.  I’m scared, Kaye.”  No lie anywhere in that.  The concept of coming totally clean was absolutely terrifying.
Putting her arms around her waist, Kaye hugged her.  “You don’t have to tell me everything.  Just the stuff you’re comfortable with.  I promise, I won’t ask for more than that.”
Looking up at her.  “You mean it?”
“Yes.  Just tell me what you are okay with telling me.”
Quinn looked outside.  The sun would be rising soon.  At this point, it would be better to just wait out the dawn and then returning when the gate opened.  She’d done it before.
“Okay.”  Leaning against the wall, she slid down to the floor.
Kaye came over and sat down next to her, putting her hand on her arm.
“So far as I know, there are no parents.  I mean, I don’t think I was born in a test tube or something, but they looked far and wide for my parents after Father found me.  Never found any.  Now he’s my legal guardian.”
“You mean Father McCormick?”
“Yeah.  The closest thing I have to a parent.”
“How did you meet?”
The fear bit at her.  “I’ll tell you, some other time.  Not right now.”
Kaye nodded.  “Okay.  Whenever you’re ready.”
“Thanks.  It’s hard to talk about this stuff.”
She leaned her head next to Quinn’s.  “I bet.  Can’t imagine what it’s like.  Being an orphan.”
“It’s so hard sometimes.  Never have anywhere to go on holiday break.  No one sending me letters asking how I am.  Then they all look down on me because they think I’m poor.  But you know what, I’d rather they look down on me than pity me.  The idea of being seen as some charity case by those girls pisses me right the fuck off.  All those fucking…”  She stopped as she saw Kaye wince at the language.  “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.  Just not used to having someone around who swears.  That’s all.  Growing up, my parents would have washed my mouth out with soap if I had talked like that.”
“They actually went the distance with that?  Not some vague threat?”
“Oh no!  My dad is Navy.  We grew up with VERY strict discipline.  You act out, you get punished.  No exceptions.”
“Sounds awful.”
“It’s not so bad,” Kaye replied, shrugging.  “I know he cares about me siblings and I.”
“How many siblings you got?”
“Two.  A brother and a sister.”
Finally it occurred to Quinn how you she was having a granola conversation with someone, getting to know them.  Who was she?  Despite herself, she couldn’t help but notice how warm her companion was.  After a night of poker, up against one of the most skilled opponents she had had in a long time, she was exhausted.  Very quickly, she felt consciousness leaving her.

“Pay attention, Quinn!” the woman shouted.  Towering above her, with her brown hair tied back in a perfect military bun, she struck and imposing figure.  The little girl in front of her cowered.
“This is important information!  Now, who can tell me how the Treaty of Versailles contributed to the beginning of the Second World War?”  She turned to face Quinn.  “Perhaps you can be so kind to answer, Quinndolyn, as you were so eager to pay attention!”
Getting some of her air of defiance, she stood up.  “It destroyed the German economy through the War Guilt Clause.  They lost all of their colonies, along with a manufacturing territory and Saarland to France.  Poland was given sea access that split Germany in two.  The Treaty also took away Germany’s ability to arm their soldiers.  This caused a far-right party to grow, along with armed militias that undermined the weak government.”
“What other event assisted the rise of the Nazi regime?”
“The Burning of the Reichstag.  It became a rallying cry against the Allies.”
Clearly she was annoyed at the fact that her student had actually had the right answer.
“I guess you do actually listen, instead of staring at the wall.”
There were no windows in this place.  It was deemed that distraction would be detrimental to the students.  No artwork of any kind was hung in the hallways.  Nothing that could take away from the classroom.  The art prodigies had their own section.  They had windows.  To take in the beauty that they would then capture in their artwork.  None of which she ever saw.
No, Quinn was part of the group who studied strategy, mathematics, history, and things of that nature.  For what reason?  She didn’t understand anything about this place.  Just that they were on an island and there was no escape.  Not for lack of trying.
Sitting back down, the teacher continued with her lesson.  There was a small noise as something hit her desk.  Looking down, she saw something folded up like a paper football.  Unfolding it, there was a message – nice answer!  It came from a boy with black hair.  He always looked like he was too cool for this place, even in their white shirt and pants that was the uniform.  What was his name?  She tried to remember, but nothing came to her.  There was something else that came to her.  He wasn’t just a friend.  He was also a comrade.  There was a plan.  What was it?  Why couldn’t she remember?  Just then, a whack on her head.
“Pay attention, Quinn!”  The world started slipping away.

Her eyes opened with a start.  Sunlight was pouring in through the tattered curtains.  The two girls was leaning against each other.  Kaye was so warm.  Another dream.  It scared her.  What was that place?  Who was the boy?  There had been a couple now.  They were so vivid, like a memory she didn’t want back, forcing its way into her subconscious.  Who was she?  Then it occurred to her about the time.  It was definitely time they got back to the Academy.
“Kaye, wake up.”
Making this little noise, her eyes opened.  “What time is it?”
Looking at her watch.  “It’s noon.”
“Oh crap!  Is that bad?!  How will we get back in now?!”
Quinn chuckled.  “It’s okay.  I’ve done it before.  Truth is, you being here makes this easier.”
Kaye cocked her head to the side.  “Why?”
“Because now I have a cover story – you’re trying to get me in shape.  It’s believable.”
Her friend smiled.  “You had this figured out before you went to sleep, didn’t you?”
“Yeah.  I always have a plan.”
“Always?”
Giving her a wicked look.  “Always.  Would be a bad gambler if I didn’t.”
She gave her a shove.  “You’re bad.”
“I’ll take bad.”
The two giggled, getting up.
“So, we just walk in through the front gate?”
Quinn nodded.  “Yup.  Walk right in, with me looking sufficiently miserable.  Given that we’re gonna have to walk uphill on the road, I doubt it will be acting.”  She motioned for them to get moving.
“Hey Quinn,” her friend called out behind her.
“’Sup?”
“Thanks again, for last night.  That was awesome.  It was great to watch you work.”
Another warm feeling inside.  “You’re welcome.  Let’s go.”

Detectives Williams and Xiong got to the Academy.  They parked Williams’ car at guest parking.  He figured that perhaps it was best to take an approach that wasn’t completely direct, but close enough.  Father McCormick had found the girl, and was her legal guardian.  Perhaps he could shed some light on who she is.  They knew that if they went at him with the angle of her being connected to the woman who was murdered, he would lock down.
“So, what’s the play?” Meng asked.
“We’re following up on some things, still trying to find parents for the girl.  Keep it light.”
“Got it.”
This campus was pretty fantastic.  Fall was in full, with the colors on the trees changing.  Reds, yellows, oranges, as far as the eye could see.  Buildings made of stone and red brick.  The fence had the look of an old Victorian manor.  This was quite the setup.  A church at the center of it all, with stained glass windows and a beautiful wooden door.
Heading into the administrative building, the two walked right up to a rather charming young woman who was sitting at the desk.
“Hello there!” she said, rather perky.  “Welcome to the Oceanview Academy of St. Galentine.  How can we help you?”
“Hello.  My name is Detective Michael Williams, this is my partner, Detective Meng Xiong.  We were wondering if we could speak with Father McCormick.”
The girl got a worried look.  “Oh dear.  Did something happen?”
“Oh no.  Nothing like that.  We’re looking into an old case involving a student, and we wanted to see if he could give us any additional information.”
She got much more relaxed, nodding.  “Okay.  I don’t see that he has anything scheduled, so let me see if he’s in his office.”
“Thank you.”
The two took a seat.

The young lady walked back to Father McCormick’s office.
“Father?” she asked, knocking.
“Yes?”
“I have a couple Detectives here.  They were wanting to talk with you about an old case?”
Immediately he felt nervous.  So little happened in this town, and even less of it involved his students.  Had the day finally come where they came back to ask about Quinn?
“Alright.  Show them in.”
“Yes, Father.”
In a locked drawer of his desk, he still had the dog-tags and gun that he found on her.  Nobody knew about it.  Not even Quinn.  He didn’t want her to have to know about this.  Every time he asked if she remembered anything, she said no.  It was an awkward conversation point, so he didn’t press it.  After two years, that girl was as close to family as he would likely ever have.  Given how she acted around him, he liked to think the feeling was mutual.  They’d never had a really in-depth conversation about it, but that’s what he liked to think.
Another knock.
“Come in!”
In walked his secretary, along with the Detectives.  One was an older man, with a look of having walked the hard path in life.  The second was a younger man, Asian, who looked similarly having been through a battleground.
He walked over.  “Hi there.  My name is Father McCormick.  And you are?”
The first man held out his hand.  “I’m Detective Williams.”
Second man held out his hand as well.  “I’m Detective Xiong.”
Motioned for them to take a seat by his desk.  “Please, have a seat.  Can my secretary bring you anything?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Nothing for me either, thank you.”
Taking a seat, he felt his pulse quicken.  “So, how can I help you today?”
Williams sat back, looking at ease.  Best to exude that this is casual.
“We’re doing a little following up on an old case of ours.  Nothing serious.  It’s to do with one of your students – Quinn Pierce.  Seeing how she’s doing.  We’ve looked everywhere we could think to find her parents, but nothing’s turned up.  We know your policy in terms of students interacting with law enforcement, and we definitely don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers.  So we figured we’d talk to you, as you’re her guardian.”
Father McCormick nodded.  “Of course.  Anything I can do to help.”
“We appreciate that.”
Xiong pulled out a writing pad and pencil.
“So, when we spoke with Ms. Pierce back when she first was found on the shore, she claimed amnesia.  Any changes with that?”
He shook his head.  “No, none.  I ask her fairly regularly, but she claims nothing has come back.”
Williams nodded.  “I understand.  How is she doing?  Any problems?”
The Father let out a sigh.  “Well, it’s tough, being in high school.  Some of the girls are not especially nice.  Her scores are at the top of her class.  Every subject.  Save PE, of course.  She’s a little too frail for her own good.”
Interesting.  Frail, smart.  “Lots of friends?”
He shook his head.  “No.  For a while, it looked like she wouldn’t have any, but she’s gotten quite close with her new roommate and a classmate of hers.  Makes me happy.  Worried a bit.  It’s not good for a girl to be in school and be alone.”
Feeling confident that they had breached the topic with enough questions out of “concern,” Williams decided to poke a little harder.
“I totally understand.  There is something I had been wanting to ask about, Father – when you found Quinn outside the school, was she found with anything?”
“Like what?”
“Anything we could use to identify her.  A wallet, pictures, objects of any kind?  We’ve been coming up empty, mostly because we have nothing that could give us a clue where to look.  It’s like going line fishing in the open ocean at this point.  We’re looking for some way to narrow the field of view.”
Now Father McCormick was in an awkward spot.  He did his best not to show it, but if the police really were trying to help, would it be for the best?  The mark on her shoulder, the dog tags.  Was that something they needed to know?  What about the gun?  But then, if Quinn had done something horrible, would she be prosecuted?  And if whatever organization was associated with that brand came looking for her and tried to take her away, could he stop them?  No one who does that to a child is someone you can trust.  What could he tell them?
“Nothing that I can think of, officer.  Just her in the clothes we found her in.”
Williams looked hard at the man, then changed gears.  “Alright then.”  He reached into his jacket and pulled out a card.  “If you have any further information, please feel free to call.”
He nodded.  “Of course, Detective.”
“Thank you for your time.”
They shook hands, and the two Detectives left.  Father McCormick sat back down at the chair of his desk, looking at the card.  His mind was awash.  So many ugly questions in the back of his mind.  What was the right thing to do?  If he told them about the gun, she could get arrested.  He genuinely believed she didn’t remember who she was or where she came from.  Whatever horrible thing had gotten her to his school, it wasn’t something she wanted to remember.  Why should she go into a prison cell because of something she has no memory of?  A gray cloud was gathering over the Academy, and Father McCormick couldn’t shake the feeling that this was just the beginning.

Williams was walking with determination.
“So, what do you think?” Xiong asked.
“I think that man was lying through his teeth,” he replied.
“But we have no proof.  So we can’t get a warrant to search the place.”
“Exactly.”
“So what’s the next step?”
Getting to his car, he unlocked it and stepped inside.  “The next step has two parts.  First, we need to get that girl into our office and talk with her.  There’s more to this story, and she’s the key.  But we can’t do that without something to get her there.”
His partner frowned.  “Think we could scare her into talking to us?”
“Maybe, but the problem with that is that if it doesn’t work, she’s gonna go to the Father and we will hit a brick wall.  It may be worth our time to see if we can get her there willingly.  Exactly how we do that is something I have to think about.”
Meng nodded.  “What’s the second part?”
“The second part is finding out what the symbol pertains to.  The trident doesn’t look like your average trident symbol you see.  It has that ugly modern design.  Sharp angles and pointed.  Plus, the pointy end starts closer to the middle.  That’s unique.  If we can find out who that symbol is associated with, we may be able to get in touch with them.  From there, we can learn a great deal.”  Thinking back on the initial investigation, their attempts to figure out what the symbol was in reference to didn’t lead much of anywhere.  But it was a half-hearted effort.  Williams was sure that unless they found a weapon or someone tied to the killing, it wouldn’t matter.  Now he knew someone tied to it, so this symbol took on a whole new meaning.  A girl with no memory, who washed up on the shore, while the woman was found in a boat.  These things were connected.  The trick was to find out how.
It all lay in the fact that the person with that same mark was a kid.  That couldn’t be a coincidence.  So looking into schools or organizations that dealt with children would be a good start.  Meng could find out how to get the girl into a room to talk.  He would focus on this mysterious organization.

Getting back onto campus didn’t wind her as much as she expected.  Tired, but not super tired.  Maybe a little sleep goes a long way.  Perhaps that was her problem overall.  The two headed back toward their dorm.  Catch up on some more sleep, take a shower tonight when everyone else had gone to bed.  Victory was sweet.  Made sweeter because of the company she had.  Impressing her mentor had been fulfilling, but having a friend cheering her on was even moreso.
They were about to enter their Hall when Sister Sarah caught sight of them.
“Quinn!  Kaye!  What has you two all dressed up like that?”
Quinn gave her roommate a faux dark look.  “This evil harpy dragged me out to exercise.  Something about me dying if I don’t get in better shape.”
The two chuckled.
“Well, she is right.  Good on you, Kaye.”
“Thanks, Sister.”
“They’re still serving lunch in the cafeteria, if you’re hungry.”
“Thanks, but I’m hitting the sack,” Quinn replied.
Kaye wrapped an arm around her.  “We’ll get this one in shape yet.”
Sarah shook her head.  “Silly girls.  You have a good day now.”
They continued their journey to their room.  Once inside, Quinn immediately started stripping down.  Once she got her sweatshirt and tanktop off, she stopped, hearing the intake of breath.
Turning, she frowned.  “What?”
Her roommate looked so sad.  “That mark.  It never stops freaking me out.  It looks so painful.  Does it ever hurt?”
She shook her head.  “No.  It looks worse than it is.”
“How did you get it?  If you don’t mind me asking.”
The tense nervous feeling was back.  “I’ll tell you, someday.  Someday soon, I promise.”
Putting her hand on her shoulder, Kaye smiled at her.  “Okay.”
That contact, it felt so good.  A sense of elation came into Quinn.  Part of her never wanted it to end.  If only it never had to.  Being touched by this girl.  What was this feeling?  Then it ended, and she was back in her right mind again.  Sleep was necessary.  If only that part never had to end.  But then, there were the dreams.  They scared her.  They were happening more frequently.  What was going on?

The golden glow of the late afternoon was drifting into the window when there was a knock on the door.  Quinn sat up, rubbing her eyes.  Her roommate was out like a light.  Dragging herself to the door, she saw Father McCormick standing there.
“Father!” she whispered.
“Hey, kiddo.  Can we talk?”
Seeing the look on his face, she nodded.  “Sure.”
Quick as she could, she put her shoes and something wearable in a public space on.  The two headed to Father McCormick’s office.  Couldn’t help but notice Sister Margaret staring daggers at her as they passed.
Getting to his office, he closed the door behind them.
“Something happened today, Quinn, and I thought you should know.”  There was a long pause.  “I had a visit from the police today.  It was about you.”
Suddenly drained of energy, she fell into a chair and slumped.  “Did they say what they wanted?”
“The Detective said that they wanted more information to help find your parents.  But it didn’t feel like that to me.  It felt like he was fishing.”
Her mind was racing.  “Fishing for what?!”
“I don’t know.  They asked if you had anything on you when I found you.  It seemed like that was really important to them.”
Quinn looked right at him.  “Did you?”
The head of the school avoided her gaze for a minute.  What was the right thing to do?  He had gone to her.  So was it for the best to tell her?  It had to be.  Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the key to his locked drawer.  Opening it, he took out the dog tags and the gun, putting them on his desk.
Walking over, Quinn was shaking.  Her hand reached out and took the tags.
Quinn Pierce
ID No. 56714
Program: Kingmaker
What was this?  She had an ID number?  What were these programs?  Part of her couldn’t shake a familiar feeling, seeing this.  It was required that they wear it all times.  Failure to do so would result in reprimand.  Usually getting hit on the knuckles.  Some things were coming back to her.
Then there was the gun.
“This was on me when you found me?” she asked.
Father McCormick looked awkward.  “No.  You were holding it.”
Her heart stopped.  Why did she have a gun?  For what purpose?
“Father, you said that you found me because you heard a gunshot.  Was it me?  Did I shoot somebody?”  Despite herself, tears were welling up.  She didn’t want to believe that she could have done something like that.  But then there was that dark side of her.  The one that wanted to hurt people who had wronged her.  What could she have been capable of?
He walked over and put his arms around her.  “I don’t know, sweetie.  But I don’t believe you could do anything to hurt anyone.  Not unless you had no other choice.”
The words washed over her.  She wanted to believe it.  But that darkness, it was there.  It wanted her to hurt those who hurt her.  To make those who humiliated, embarrassed, or upset her pay for their actions.  How far would an urge like that take her?
“I wish I could remember,” she said.  “I’ve been having dreams.  I see a school, but not like this.  It’s a scary place.  They hurt us there.  If we acted out in any way, they hurt us.  It’s a bad place.  I don’t want to remember.”  Looking up at Father McCormick.  “I don’t know what to do.”
He hugged her tighter.  “You do whatever you think is right, kiddo.  God brought you to me, and I swore I would look after you.  So I will.  Whatever you decide to do, I have your back.”
“Thanks, Father.”  The name was more than a title to her.  In her mind, he was the closest she would ever have to a real parent.  Until she could find the people who hurt her, and get an answer out of them.
They separated, and she looked back down at the gun.
“I have to know.  If for no other reason, than to look after myself.  The police are sniffing around.  How long until someone else does?”
The Father nodded.  “I understand.  What do you need from me?”
Nothing, she thought.  In no way did she want him any more involved than he already was.
“Look after the dog tags and the gun.  Tell no one.”
“You got it.  They did ask how you’re doing, to break the ice.  Things okay with the roommate?”
The warm feeling came back.  “Yeah.  Great, actually.  She’s really nice.  I like her.”
He smiled.  “I’m glad.  I worried about you, for a while.
Quinn gave him a wry look.  “I get the feeling you were the reason she became my roommate.”
“Guilty as charged,” he replied with a smirk.
“Asshole.”
The two chuckled.
“Language, young lady.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Art thou afeard?
Be not afeard
The isle is full of noises,
sounds and sweet airs,
That give delight and hurt not.” – Caliban, The Tempest

Peace out,

Maverick

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A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene VII)

Days went by, each harder than the last.  All Quinn could think about was the game.  She was on edge.  Her blood screamed and her skin itched.  Everyone around her was just noise.  A cacophony of ignorant people who didn’t understand what this meant to her.  Save on – her roommate.
Indeed, Kaye had definitely been noticing more and more the nonchalant and unconcerned look that her friend normally had was gone.  It was replaced by excitement, anticipation.  Still recovering from her injury, the bruise slowly getting lighter.  There was something so odd about the look Quinn had.  Shorter than her by a decent amount, so thin and pale, lanky and nonthreatening to people.  Yet that look in her eye was unmistakable.  A predator, getting ready for the hunt.
Lisa was much more aloof to things.  Ever in her studies, she liked that the two roommates were being nicer to each other again, as their fighting had been upsetting her.  The kind of person who didn’t want people to be mad at each other, and everyone to treat each other right.  As one would expect from a Hispanic family, she was a very spiritual person.  She took the faith of the school very seriously, and was always very driven to do everything she could to be a good Catholic.
The big elephant in the room was the fact that Quinn was not spiritual person.  At all.  Given that she went to a Catholic school, she took to being careful about the subject matter with whoever she ended up talking to.  Like so many other things in her life, it was a topic that was off-limits.  Sometimes, it felt like she couldn’t be honest with people about anything.  Lied about her gambling habits.  Lied about her spiritual beliefs.  Everywhere she looked, it was more and more lies.  It was exhausting.

A couple nights before the game, she was sitting on the floor of her dorm room, playing cards against herself.  Texas Hold ‘Em.  That was the game that was happening, and she needed to get into the right mindset.  Kaye was watching, saying very little.  As her roommate had warned her, once she was in the game, that was it.  There was nothing else.
A thought came to her.  “Hey Quinn?”
Without looking up.  “Hm?”
“Do you believe in God?”
Coughing, she looked up.  “Where the hell did that come from?”
“Nowhere.  Just curious.  I mean, you’re here at this school, but you don’t wear a cross or do any of the activities in the Church.  I was wondering.”
Leaning back against her bed, she let out a breath.  She’d come this far letting her new companion know about her.  One person in all her world that she could be honest with.  Why not be honest about this?
“No, I don’t.  The whole thing feels really stupid to me.  I mean, the idea of a wizard in the sky who magicked everything into existence.  Who buys that shit?  We’re not five anymore.  I don’t believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.  I don’t believe in the Sky Wizard, either.”
Kaye nodded, taking it in.
“What about you?  You believe all this?”
Her eyes went wide.  “Holy shit.”
“What?”
“I think this is the first time you’ve asked me anything.”
Quinn’s brow furrowed.  “What do you mean?  Like today?”
“Ever.”
She thought for a moment.  Was she right?  Did that signify something had changed?
“Yeah.  I guess.  So, do you believe in God?”
Now the ball was in Kaye’s court.  She looked out the window, at the rainy evening sky.
“I don’t know.  Like, sometimes I think I do.  It’s nice to believe in all that.  Whole idea that everything happens for a reason and we’re not all just floating around doing whatever.  But then I think about what you said.  It seems like something you believe as a kid, then don’t believe as you grow up.  I’m not sure what I believe.”
Her roommate smiled at her.  “Well, you’re pretty smart.  You’ll figure out what you believe eventually.”
Smiling back.  “Thanks, Quinn.”

Finally, the night arrived.  Once it was lights-out, she got out of bed and dressed silently.  Kaye did the same.  Opening the door a little, she listened for the Sister patrolling the halls to pass by.
“Stick to the carpet and move when I move!  Stop when I stop.  You’re crazy fit, so I know you won’t have trouble keeping up.”
“Maybe you’ll have to keep up with me,” she whispered back.
Quinn gave her an ugly look.  “Not all of us are sports nuts.  Come on.”
That got a wink.  They were off.  Moving quickly down the hall.  They got the stairs.  Quinn propped herself on the railing and slid down.  The landing wasn’t nearly as graceful as she was hoping, so as to impress her companion, but it showed her the way.  As if to make her jealous, Kaye stuck the landing no problem, giving her a smug look of satisfaction.
She just rolled her eyes.
“Show-off!”
“You know it!”
They headed toward the hallway that was her escape route.  Making good time, eventually something had to go wrong.  A noise!  Kaye looked back to see one of the Sisters coming their way!  Grabbing Quinn’s arm, she pulled her into the nearest open door.
“What are you…?!”
“Shhh!”
Inside were two girls, sleeping.  One was snoring, the other was just gone.  They stood against the door, hearing the approaching footsteps.  Both of them right next to each other, the only sound was their hearts pounding.  The steps were right there!  Just then, mercy.  They turned away, starting back the other direction.
Silently, both of them started cracking up.  As if all the tension in the world was just deflated.  Quinn leaned against her, glad to have someone taller than her right now.  Felt good.  A rock on which to stand, as one would say.  A very Catholic sentiment.
“We’ve gotta go!” she whispered.
“Okay.”
Poking her head out the door, they verified that the Sister had gone, silently closed the door, and then took off toward the window.  Now was the best time.  Using at trick she had learned to pull the latch without opening it, she slid out.  Kaye followed behind.  Once through, she closed the window, hearing the click.  Now they were outside, in her element.  The night air was cooler now.  Fall had taken hold.  Moving with a purpose, they got to the tree she used to escape.
“Alright, wait for me to go first before you make your way up.  See that big branch up there?  The one going right above the fence?  That’s your guy.  The branch can hold either of us, but not at the same time.  I’ll show you how, and then you come to me.  Cool?”
“Yeah.  Lead the way.”
Possessed with the desire to get to her destination quickly, she scaled the tree like a monkey and then made her way to the end of the branch.  She jumped across.  No matter how many time she did it, that little moment in the air always gave her chills.  Maybe it’s because of the metal fence beneath with the top like spikes.
Kaye came up quickly behind, while Quinn descended the other tree.  As she looked up, once she got to the bottom, it didn’t surprise her that Kaye had already made the jump.  Athletic girl.  She didn’t want to admit it, but she was jealous.
“That was fun!” her roommate whispered, grabbing on to her, breathing just a little heavy.  Guess that feeling got to her too.
“Yeah.  Come on!  I’ll take you to my safehouse, and our ride.”
“Ride?”
Quinn got a dark look.  “You’re gonna love this!”

She couldn’t quite believe her eyes when she saw the dilapidated house that Quinn took her to.  A wooden porch, with the finish worn off.  Ceiling tiles that were covered in mold.  More and more, it looked liked this place was going to become part of the woods.  The windows were cracked.  Inside was like something out of a horror movie.  Old chairs, furniture, faded curtains that were in tatters in the window.  It was ominous, to say the least.
“What’s the deal with this place?” she asked.
“A grisly murder happened here, a bunch of years back.  There was no one to claim the property of the couple that died in here, and the bank couldn’t get any buyers because of the reputation of the place.  Eventually they just gave up.  Now it’s the ultimate fixer-upper opportunity, assuming anyone actually knows that this place still exists.”
That last bit caught her attention.  “How did you find out about it?”
“Read the article in the paper on microfiche a year back.  It was scary.  Decided I’d do a little exploring and see if the place was still around.  It was.  Road was so faded, it was clear nobody came here anymore.  Figured it would be a good safehouse.”
Quinn pulled up the cut floorboards, pulling them out.  Inside was her lockbox.  The key hung around her neck, always.  With this amount of money, she didn’t trust ANYONE with this key but herself.  Inside, there were stacks of cash.
“Holy guacamole!  How much money is in there?!”
Without having to look.  “$110,000.”
Kaye gasped, “you can’t be serious!  How did you earn that much money?!”
She looked her right in the eye.  “Because I am that good a gambler.  As you’re gonna see tonight.  But we have to move.  The game has to be starting soon, and I want to be there before the first buy-in.”
“How will we get into town that fast?  Walking would take a while.”
“That’s the other thing I wanted to show you,” Quinn replied with a wink.
Coming into the garage, she pointed to her dirt bike.  Make sure she had enough fuel in it, she grabbed her helmet.  Now she had to factor in that she only had one.  Well, best to look after her guest.
“Here, put this on.”
“Where did you get a dirt bike?!”
“Have I mentioned I’m a good gambler?”  It was hard not to keep the smirk out of her voice.
“For real.”  She put on the helmet.  “Alright, let’s go!  Wait, you have a helmet too, right?”
She shook her head.  “Nope.  Guess we’re gonna have to be careful, now aren’t we?”
Kaye’s expression got concerned.  “Don’t take risks with your life, Quinn!  I’m serious!”
“Relax.  I know what I’m doing.  Trust me.”
Those words struck her, and she nodded.  “Okay.  Be careful.”
“Always.”

The garage door opened, and the two led the bike out.  Quinn got on first, with Kaye behind.  She wrapped her arms around her roommate’s stomach.  That got another jolt of butterflies.
Hitting the ignition, the two bolted.  Kaye was visibly shaken, but quickly got into the rhythm, as it was clear Quinn knew what she was doing.  Down the wooded road they went.  The ominous darkness seemed to be closing in.  Then it opened up and they could see the ocean in front of them.  Moonlight was shining down.
“Wow…” Kaye gasped.
“I know, right?  The drive there is pretty great.  At least when it isn’t raining.”
Heading into the city, they kept to her usual route to avoid beat cop patrol routes.  Finally, they arrived.  In more of a rush than ever, Quinn raced to chain up her bike and then at the door.  Nearly out of breath from all the exertion, she pounded on the door.
The front part opened, and a man looked out at her.
“Have you heard about the crabbing?”
She rolled her eyes.  “I heard it was pretty damn dry.  Now can you PLEASE let me in?!  I need to make it to the Bank before the first buy-in!”
He looked over at Kaye.  “Who’s this?”
“A friend!  Came to watch me play.  Now are you going to open the fucking door or not?!”
The man groaned, then opened it.
Quinn nearly ran inside.
Kaye walked in, looking sheepish at the giant of a man.  “Sorry.  She’s in a hurry.”
“She’s a strange girl.  Best keep up with her.  She’s gonna leave you behind.”
Seeing how far ahead she was, Kaye nodded and ran over.
Nearly charging past people, Quinn got to the Bank.
“Has the game started?!  Is there still time for the first buy-in?!”
Looking visibly shocked, the man at the Bank nodded.  “You’re right on time, Red.  The game is just about to get underway.”
“Fantastic!  I know the buy-in amount already.  $17,000 so the house can take their cut?”
“That will suffice,” he replied, taking her stacks of cash.
Kaye was still in awe of that much money.  “That’s so much money!”
She looked over at her roommate.  “Wait ’til you see how much I leave with!”
The Bank gave her a plaque for $15,000.  “Good luck tonight, Red.”
She smirked at him, finally catching her breath.  “No luck needed.”  Turning to Kaye.  “Time to get to work.”
Seeing her friend’s excitement, she couldn’t help but feel it too.  This was what she came for.

The room where the game was held looked especially auspicious tonight.  The people gathered for this game weren’t like the last.  No sunglasses players tonight.  Men and women who all looked to have their A-game.
She immediately caught sight of her mentor.
“Dutch!” she called out.
“You made it!  Was beginning to worry.”  He caught sight of Kaye.  “Hello there.  And who might you be?”
Realizing it was best to not say anything about where they knew each other from, Kaye replied, “just a friend of hers.”
“Yup.  She asked if she could see me play.  I said sure.”
Holding out his hand.  “Well, any friend of Red’s is a friend of mine.  I’m Duke.  Her unofficial advisor.”
“Nice to meet you.”
She handed the plaque to the dealer.
He nodded to her.  “Ah, good to see you, Red.  I had a feeling a game of this size wouldn’t be something you’d miss.”
“Absolutely!”
“Alright, here are you chips.  Good luck tonight.”
Taking a deep breath, Quinn prepared herself for what was coming.  Time to check in with her mentor.
He stood at the periphery, chatting Kaye up.  She’d be safe with him.
“So, who do we have tonight?” she asked.
He motioned for them to take some space.  “Like I said earlier, we have some sharks tonight.  See that lady over there?” Pointing to a rather gorgeous blonde woman.  “That’s Donna Simmons.  She was a professional player until she was kicked out for running the table at Atlantic City.  Everyone suspected her of cheating, but nobody could prove it.”  Motioning over to a black man with a well-maintained beard.  “He’s Stephen Sylvester.  Odd fellow, but Lady Luck loves him something fierce.  He wins hands out of nowhere.  Someone to watch out for.”  His gaze went to a Japanese man in a business suit.  “Hiroyoshi Ayato.  This dude’s been all over the place.  But he comes here once a year to clean house.  The fact that he’s at a game with this many sharks is just his bad luck.”  Then there was an older woman.  “Lastly, we have Eleanor Brixby.  That old broad makes everyone think she’s all cookies and puzzles because of her demeanor.  Don’t buy it for one moment!  That woman is cold as steel and isn’t fucking around.  You got your work cut out for ya, kid.”
Quinn’s smile was a mile wide.  “I couldn’t have asked for more.”
“Ladies, gentlemen, let us please begin tonight’s game,” the Dealer announced.
Leaning in to Kaye.  “Stay with Duke.  He’ll keep you safe.”
“I will.  Kick ass tonight!”
“No good luck?”
“You said you don’t need it,” she replied.
More and more, Quinn was liking this girl.

Everyone took their seats at the table.  The blonde and the black man with the trimmed beard gave her looks or incredulity.  However, the one who spoke first was Eleanor.
“Well ain’t this something!” Her accent was midwestern.  “It’s so nice to see kids these days who apply themselves.”
True to what Duke said, she could see in the old lady’s eyes that while her tone and demeanor was positive, behind that was a vicious hunter, eyeing up potential prey.
“Thanks.” she replied.
“Well good luck tonight, little lady.  I’ll keep my eye on you.”
That goes without saying, Quinn thought.
The Dealer stepped forward.  “Greetings everyone.  Tonight’s game is going to be Texas Hold ‘Em.  Joker’s wild.  There buy-in amount is $15,000, with a chance to buy your way back in at $10,000.  Good luck.”
First couple hands were about learning who she was up against.  It meant she would likely lose some money, but that’s fine.  Once she got the measure of her competition, it would come back, with friends.  First thing that was clear was Stephen was going to go down first.  He was alright, but took risks.  They were calculated risks, but not ones that he could come back from against the people he was up against.  His first big run was on a three of a kind, but Hideyoshi called his bluff and sunk him for almost $1,000.  Quinn knew to fold fast on that hand.  It wasn’t a smart play, and HIdeyoshi was good.  Donna was going to be the next to fall.  Also skilled, but it was clear she wasn’t taking this as serious as the other four.
Hideyoshi was a brick wall.  This dude was nigh-impossible to read.  His Japanese professional expression, hardened by years of talking to important people without showing any emotion, was an almost perfect poker face.  It was only after a couple hands that she noticed the slightest tell of all time.  It was a little twitch in a blood vessel on his temple.  Nobody else would be looking for it.
Which brought her to Eleanor.  This was her challenge.  If the rest of these people were blue sharks, she was tiger.  The entire crowd, aside from Hideyoshi, wasn’t taking her seriously.  It was to their own detriment.  Just like Quinn, she played cautiously at first.  Getting the lay of the land.  She also could tell who her biggest threats were.  The woman hardly took her eyes off Quinn through the course of the game.  Both were trying to find a tell on the other.  For the moment, it didn’t look like either could.
A play game along where Quinn decided to push this woman, to see what she was worth.  The Flop had a Joker, a Three of Clubs, and a Three of Diamonds.  Three of a kind was already on the board.  Now the question was – who could make the most of it?  Quinn made her move.  Opening strong, $500.  Donna called.  Stephen called.  Hideyoshi folded. Then it came to Eleanor.  She raised her $500.  Quinn called.
The turn put down an Ace of Hearts.  Quinn checked.  Eleanor looked right at her.  That syrup-y sweet and totally genuine (to the unobservant) look on her face never leaving.
“Oh dear.  That’s a tricky one.  I’ll put down for $250.”
The game was on.  The older woman and the teenage girl were looking right at each other.  Who would blink first?
“Call.”
That’s when she saw it!  The woman’s flipped a chip in her hand.  It wasn’t something big.  Players do that stuff all the time.  But the timing of it was suspicious.  Flipped it again, then stopped.  Finally, the river.  A Four of Diamonds.
Quinn’s expression didn’t change to even the slightest degree.  Looking at the cards, then down at her own, she mathematically had this one.  The chances of her opponent outdoing her were slim.  Time to see if that tell was something, or nothing.
“Everyone, show-down.”
Donna had Three of a Kind, Threes.  Stephen and Hideyoshi had folded.  Now it was the two.  Eleanor had a Full House, Three over f=Four.  Quinn put down her cards. Full house, Three over Aces.  Finally, she had drawn first blood.
At the periphery of the game, Kaye watched in awe with Duke.  It was true, Quinn was a master of this game.  Seemed the mentor was impressed too.
“Girl’s good.  But this is gonna get ugly when it’s just the two of them,” he whispered to her.
“You sure it’s gonna be those two at the end?”
“Not a doubt in my mind.  There might as well be nobody else there now.”

Two hours later, and the first of their number folded.  As expected, it was Stephen.  He got lucky a couple times, but Eleanor was able to bait him.  It was interesting.  Her strategy seemed to be to work to bait Stephen on the points when Quinn would have done so, snaking his winnings in the process.  Very clever.
Donna went down about half an hour later.  This time, Quinn was fighting back to get the bulk of her money.  Hideyoshi also seemed to be making a move, which she used against Eleanor by knowing his tell to be able to see when he had something good, and keeping the older woman focused on her.  Then, after baiting her in, she’d fold.  It meant losing some money, but he’d get some of hers.  She knew the strategy couldn’t work long-term, but in the short term she was keeping the winnings firmly divided up between the three of them.
Now that the two weakest of the bunch were taken out, it was time to eliminate Hideyoshi.  His strategy had been to play it slow and steady.  The idea being to whittle his opponents down.  For a game of five, that made sense.  Now that it was three, things got stickier.  Eleanor was looking to bring back the strategy she used on Stephen, but he wasn’t biting.  Quinn had her own thoughts.  As he was to her left, and the betting went clockwise from the Dealer, that meant that he was before her.  So every time he would call or put down an amount, she’d raise him just a little bit.  Enough to pique his interest.  Just $50 or $100.  Nothing more.  He kept looking over at her, trying to figure out her game.  Especially since sometimes she would lose, but kept doing it.
Eleanor was also trying to figure her out.  While her strategy wasn’t working, she had no idea what her chief competition was doing.  Finally, she got a hand that was absolutely delicious.  The turn put down an Ace, and Quinn bet big.  Raise of $1,000.  She could tell that Hideyoshi had something good.  He couldn’t resist.  Raised $1,500.  Show-down.  She got a Full House, Aces over Jacks.  He had three of a kind, Queens.  Now he had his targeting on her.  That’s what she wanted.  Eleanor could bait him all she liked, but it was her who was going to get the kill.

Another hour, and Hideyoshi played his last hand.  It was a pretty epic moment.  Eleanor decided she wanted to be the one to finish him.  Take that pleasure away from Quinn.  Thing was, she actually was okay with this.  In fact, she preferred that her nemesis in this game take the victory.  This was about studying her opponents, not to mention getting a breather.  The stress levels had been out of control.
Hideyoshi was sweating, as his chips were bleeding out.  Finally, he went all-in.  As expected, Eleanor destroyed him.  So now the game was down to its last two.  The Dealer called a break for half an hour.
Quinn got up, joining her companions.  “I need a drink.”
“I ordered you a root beer, soon as he called a break.”
“You’re the best, Dutch.”
Kaye leaned in.  “That is so tense!  How are you holding up?”
“This woman’s good.  Really, really good.”
“Met your match?” Dutch asked.
“Hell no!  I can take her.  I just have to play this really, really smart.”
Her roommate leaned in really close, whispering in her ear.  “Kick her ass.”
“Yes ma’am!”

Final stretch of the game.  Now just the two of them.  It was a clash of titans.  Each time one was going at the other, and just as it looked like they would have the upper hand, they would pull a fake.  Quinn expected this to be just one more hour.  Instead, almost an hour and a half rolled by with no clear upper hands.
It was time to take a risk.  A stupid, insane risk.  Hand dealt, the flop, and it was nothing.  A Two of Clubs, Jack of Diamonds, and Queen of Spades.  Quinn decided to take a risk.  She put down $1,000.  Eleanor gave her the keenest, most vicious stare her kindly old facade could do without giving herself away.  Everyone in the room was holding their breath.  She called.  The Turn, and it was a Four of Clubs.  Again, Quinn bet big.  $1,500.  Eleanor was clearly desperate to see if there was something that could tell her if she was bluffing or not.  Her facial expression betrayed nothing.  At all.  Mathematical odds were on this.  The River, and it was a King of Hearts.  This hand was absolutely nothing.  So now the question became – in a do-nothing hand, who had the better cards?  This time, Quinn checked.  Time to see if she took the bait.  Eleanor was staring kind old grandma daggers at her, for any kind of sign of what she was up against.
The old woman bet $2,500.  It worked!  Quinn called.  Show-down.  Eleanor had Two Pair, Jacks and Fours.  Quinn put her cards down – Three of a Kind, Kings.  The room was all letting out a breath.  More drawing blood.  Her opponent was reeling.  Had Quinn discovered something about her?  Was she losing her edge?  Doubt was seeping into her mind, and that was what her young opponent needed.  It’s a formidable weapon, doubt.  Just a little could sink any skilled player.
From there, things happened rapidly.  The doubt Quinn so skillfully sewed into her enemy was eating at her.  She’d look to make big plays, but then stop after staring the youthful enemy down.  Her utter lack of any tells was eating away.  Sometimes, with nothing at all, Quinn would step up and push the attack, only for her to either call or fold.  It was brilliant.
The final hand came.  It was clear that Eleanor was getting tired of this game.  Truth be told, so was Quinn.  It had gone on for over five hours, and dawn was coming.  The older woman made her move.  Putting down $1,000 as her opening bet.  Looking at her cards, the teen girl raised $1,000.  The Flop had a Three of Spades, Five of Diamonds, and Jack of Hearts.  Now the Turn, with a Two of Diamonds.  Quinn opened with a bet of $1,500.  Eleanor raised $2,000.  The entire room was silent.  You could hear a pin drop.  Quinn raised $5,000.  The River, a Three of Hearts.  Eleanor’s bet.  She put all-in.  As she had significantly more money than the older woman did, and she just wanted to be a bitch to her, Quinn put only as much as Eleanor had put in, still keeping some of her chips.
The charming old woman facade dropped long enough for this lady to look like she wanted to murder Quinn with a spoon.
“Alright, show-down.”
Eleanor put her cards on the table.  Three of a kind – Threes.  Quinn smiled at her, flipping over her cards.  Straight, Two to a Joker, which was wild for Six.
Everyone clapped.  This had been on HELL of a game.  Leaning back in her chair, Quinn let out a sigh.  What a night.  Just then, the old woman stood up, and smiled at her.
“Well done, young lady.  I haven’t had a challenge like this since I was about your age.”
For the first time, she could tell that this woman was being genuine.
“Thanks.  You were one hell of an opponent.”
They shook hands, and the lady made to leave.
Walking over to where her compatriots stood, Dutch clapped an arm around her shoulder.
“That was amazing, kiddo!  I haven’t seen a room full of people so quiet like that in ages!  You know, I hear people talk a lot about you when you aren’t here.  There will be smaller games going on, and you have everyone being thankful you didn’t shop up.  Pretty soon, you’re gonna scare away the competition.”  He chuckled.
While there was a joke there, part of Quinn did ponder on that.  If that did happen, what would she do?  Never mind.  Problems for another day.  Now she had winnings to collect.
Kaye also put an arm around her.  “You were awesome!  I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“Yeah.  But it’s time for us to get home.  The sun has to be coming up soon, if it isn’t already.”  Looking to Dutch.  “Keep up on when the next big game is, yeah?”
“You got it!  Let me know how to drop you line and I’ll keep you up to date on all the games and what looks good.”
“Cool.”  She put an arm around Kaye as well.  “Let’s go home.”
“Heck yeah!”  Kaye’s reluctance to swear was kind of adorable.

As they walked out, and Quinn gave her the total winnings, over $85,000 as Donna had bought her way back in.  Getting the cash deposits, they made their way toward the door.  At the back of the room, sitting at a Blackjack table, there was a young man.  He looked to be about 18, with jet-black hair that was quite short.  He work a black and blue jacket, with jeans.  Underneath was a tanktop.  He scratched an itch on his shoulder.  It was where a burn mark was, in the shape of a trident.
“Quinn.  I finally found you.”

End of Act I

Until next time, a quote,

“But honestly, the twenty-one minutes I spend here, all down-time.  Nothing more.  Time spent waiting to go back to the search.” – Heartman, Death Stranding

Peace out,

Maverick

A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene VI)

It was way too early for this kind of work.  Driving up to the scene, Det. Williams would not exist if it wasn’t for the coffee cup beside him.  The sun wasn’t up, and he barely got a wink of sleep with his grandkids at his house.  They were with their mom who wanted to see him and decided to stay over.  He loved his grandchildren with all his heart, but after this many years, he was enjoying the fact that they go home to their mother.
The call came in and since this town was large enough to actually have a legit police force here instead of a Sheriff, that meant that when there were crimes that required actual investigation, him and his partner were among the first to get called.  Oceanview sat in this unfortunate middle ground between town and city.  It rode that line so precisely that oftentimes nobody knew what to describe it as.
Part of that was due to the school up at the top of the hill.  A very prestigious place, which liked the idea of having some amount of privacy in a smaller city, which also gave them a partial guarantee of security.  Every now and again the beat cops would get a call about some girl sneaking out to see a boyfriend or what-have-you.  The place was secretive, and cops typically couldn’t get on campus unless they had a good reason or a warrant.  Not that they need it.
Today’s mishap was the first in quite some time, actually.  Seems a dead body had been found washed up on shore.  Hadn’t investigated a body from the sea since a couple years ago, when there was a dead woman found on a boat.  That case had been a doozy. Cause of death was a bullet wound to the head.  Thing was – there was no sign of a gun, of a bullet casing, or of who had shot her.  Signs of a struggle were present, but nothing indicating who it was or where they went.  After damn-near tearing the ship apart, they couldn’t find a sign of anyone else, and with no other evidence to go off of, they had to drop the investigation.  The file was still in his desk, in case he was ever inspired with some angle they hadn’t looked.
One thing that jumped out at him was that around that time, there was a girl who had washed up on shore, but she was a little kid and had no signs of being in a struggle.  Just nearly frozen to death from the water and the rain.  The school took the kid in.  Nice of them.  The headmaster was given legal guardianship of her until the parents could be found.  Just a strange coincidence.  Life is full of them.

Arriving on the scene, everyone there looked as tired as he was.  Walking over, coffee in hand, the cop on the scene nodded.
“Morning, Detective.”
“Hey Jack.  What do we got?”
Keeping pace with him.  “Floater.  Haven’t had one of these in a while.  Found this morning by a fishing crew who was getting their boat ready.  We hooked a line and pulled it into shore.  Your partner and the medical examiner are already here.”
Shaking his hand.  “Thanks.”
His partner was a very fit and very young Hmong man named Meng Xiong.
Seeing him walking over, his partner perked up.  “Morning, Mike.”
“Hey Meng.  What do we got here?”
“A bloated corpse.”
Looking down at the purple and bloated skin, his face got that look of finding it grotesque enough to notice, but not affect him.
“So I see.”
The medical examiner was a young woman.  A black gal who nobody quite knew her story.  Word was that she had been kind of different, and was banished to this place to get her out of the way.  Just a rumor, but it made sense.  She was a quirky gal.
“Morning, Britney.”
“Hi.”  Didn’t even look up.
Looking over at Meng, who just shrugged.
“So…what do we got?”
Looking up, she slid her huge glasses back up her nose.
“Dead body.”
He rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, I was hoping you could be a touch more specific.”
“Unsure.  Signs of blunt trauma on the skull.  Not consistent with bludgeoning.  Just one swift strike.  Signs that water was sucked into the lungs. Likely drowning.  Taking blood-work to do a tox screening.  Initial assessment is that this person was intoxicated, hit their head and fell into the ocean.  Inhalation of water did the rest.”
Made sense.  It’s something you see in port towns like this.  Wasn’t the first, wouldn’t be the last.  It wasn’t good to feel bummed that it wasn’t a suspicious death, but he kind of was.  Given the size of this town, being one of the few detectives here meant that he wore a bunch of hats.  So he’d have to go back to the ongoing investigation of stolen vehicles.  Oh boy.  So much fun.
“Have a copy of the report faxed over to our office.”
“Aye-yes.”  Her usual response.  And where the conversation would end.
Standing up, Williams started to walk away.  An early morning, just to process a floater.  This was not a glamorous job, but it paid the bills.  When he left Seattle to come here, it was a very different experience.  Like any major city, there is plenty of crime in the Northwest Capital.  His beat was murder there, and it was a job that never ended.  Once the divorce was finalized, he wanted to be far away from civilization.  Come to a nice small town where he’d have stupid crap to investigate.  That was the thought at the time.  One of those things where you end up eating your words.  Still, he was a veteran Detective and lots of other officers looked to him.
His partner, on the other hand, was a whole other deal.  He came from New York City, and the way he told it, that place was a battleground.  Some people like to describe LA as a warzone, but as he says, NYC beats it in every way.  More people, tightly packed, and so much murder that a day without a single call is a mythical thing that you can only dream about.  Leaving that place was for the best.  Now he could be paid a decent wage here, without all the morally gray baggage of having to work in a place where crime is just part of how life is.
Oceanview never really had any major problems.  You bust the occasional meth lab, or a ring of kids who is using exploding tennis balls to blow up stray cats.  It was stuff that had to be investigated, but nobody ever really believed that anything terrible was going to happen.  An effect of a renowned school looking over their town?  It was understood from on high that this place had to be safe for the girls at the school.  If parents saw this town as unsafe, they wouldn’t bring them here.  So not a lot of warning for infractions.  Harsh punishments, and quickly.
The biggest investigation going right now was of a rumored underground gambling ring.  This place was secretive in the fifth degree.  If there are people who know of its existence, they are sworn to such silence that they had never been able to bring in a live body who could testify to that effect.  This was the kind of mystery that Williams liked.  Something without a lot of moral baggage.  However, if there is a gambling ring, it’s gotta mean that somebody is collecting on their debts.  Town had a couple of loan sharks, but they hadn’t been able to secure a warrant to comb through their records.  If ever a break was going to happen in this case, it would be through somebody making a mistake.  That’s how it always goes.
Overall, this was just another ordinary day in a town where nothing exceptional ever happens.  He could live with that pretty well.  If somebody else couldn’t, that was their problem, not his.
“Hey Mike, wait up!” his partner called behind him.
Taking a drink of his coffee, he turned to him.  “Did they really have to call us this early for a floater?”
Meng shrugged.  “You know how the Chief is.  This city’s got a reputation.  If we have dead people floating in the harbor while tourists are getting ready to go out boating, it raises a fuss.”
“It’ll be in the papers.”
“Sure, but reading about some dead guy who was found and seeing it are two different things.”
The man made sense.
“Alright, fair enough.  See you at the office?”
“You know it.”

For days after getting pegged in the face with a soccer ball, the reactions she got from people seeing her horribly bruised face and bandaged nose ranged from feigning sympathy, to giggles behind her back.  Quinn was so utterly done with everything.  Felt like skipping again and going to her safehouse, taking it easy and forgetting about school for a while.  Her detention sentence was served.  Did she want to go back so soon?
In addition to not feeling even remotely sociable, there were other things on her mind.  She needed victory.  Utter, decisive victory.  It was long past time that she took a trip to The Parlor.  Her classmates wouldn’t know, but what the fuck did she care?  They were beneath her.  At the same time, there was a dark plan forming to get back at Eve Harper.
The plan needed to be perfect.  Flawless in its conception.  Something so ugly and brutal that it would make her assailant’s reputation finished.  Beyond redemption.  Things needed to happen.  For starters, she needed to get into her dorm room.  But how?  During the day, the chances of not getting seen were slim.  She lived in a different dorm hall.  If Quinn showed her face there, it was impossible not to be questioned as to what she’s doing there.  With the reputation of having only two friends, neither of which lived in there, what excuse could she come up with?  A class assignment?  Possible, but weak.  Too weak to avoid what would be the definite questioning.
What were her options?  A nighttime raid?  She’s slim, and can dress in black.  It would be risky, but if she was going to make Eve pay, then she had to do it.  Still, this was something that could be done in due course.  For now, the larger objective was to secure an indefensible victory and regain her vigor.
It didn’t help that her roommate had taken on this strange role in her life.  She was continually trying to help her see the good in her peers.  This positive attitude that she was surrounded with at all times, sunshine and rainbows, was driving her slightly bats.  On the one hand, seeing the best in people is a good thing and those kinds of people help make the world a better place for humanity.  On the other, let her have her negative attitude!  So frustrating.
It kind of came to a head a few nights after getting pegged in the face with the soccer ball.
Walking into her dorm, a voice greeted her.  “Hey!”
Turning, she saw Kaye sitting on the floor, her books and papers around her.  Homework, she assumed.
Not in the mood to talk, she just sashayed over to her bed and plopped down.  “Hi.”
Her roommate looked distressed.  “How are you?”
“Face hurts.  Sick of life.  Wanna leave.”  Part of her hoped that the short answers would dissuade further conversation.
“I’m sorry.  You know, Ashley in my English Lit class was asking about you.  Wondered if you were okay.”
That got a sarcastic expression.  “Yeah, I’m sure she cares.  Just like everyone else.”
Kaye crossed her arms.  “You know, not everyone is your enemy here, Quinn.  Maybe, if you actually gave some of the girls here a chance, you’d know that.”
“Thanks, Sister Sarah,” she shot back, rolling her eyes.
“Your attitude makes people not like you.”
Sitting up with a flash, she was about to open her mouth and say something, but then realize it was not worth the trouble, so she laid back down, turning her back to her companion.  At least until she ditched her like everyone else.

The big question was – how would she get info about when a big game was coming?  She wanted to play in something where the stakes were enormous.  Something with a buy-in that was in the tens of thousands.  Real stakes.
Answer was simple – head into the city and hit up a pay-phone.  Her mentor would know.  This guy firmly had his pulse on The Parlor and what happened there.  One Friday, Lisa asked if she and Kaye wanted to go out to eat.  A chance for good eating was worth it, and this was the perfect opportunity.  Grabbing a couple quarters, she joined the two.
Conversation was pretty light.  Let her two companions do most of it.  Chimed in when something half-way interested her.  The two seemed to notice her malaise.
“You okay?” Lisa asked.
She nodded.  “Yeah.  Just got some stuff on my mind.”
“I bet.  Saw what happened to you at the game.  You feeling alright?”  The concern there was genuine.
“I’ll be back to my usual stormy self, eventually,” Quinn replied.
“Miss Stormcloud, eh?” Lisa asked, jabbing at her.
“Keep poking me and you’ll find out.”
“Cranky.”
Kaye gave her a look.  “No, that’s just how she is.”
Without thinking about it, she stuck her tongue out at her, then stopped.  Since when had she been comfortable around people?  Over the past few weeks, there was conversation and it pretty chill, but this was the first time she actually noticed how cozy the three’s relationship was.  If only the rest of life was so simple.
That got her to thinking about the mission at hand.  “Be right back.  Gotta powder my nose.”
Both of them resumed their conversation.  It was time to get to work.

Williams and Meng were walking down the street.  The early evening was peaceful.  Rain was done for today, it seemed.  This little lull in precipitation created a mellow to the city.
“Man, this is so different from where I was in New York,” Xiong said.
“I bet.  Been there a couple times.  So fucking loud.”
“You’re telling me.  Everyone should live there at least once, but not forever.  Place has got a lot of attitude.”
Williams chuckled.  Old memories of his days in Seattle.  That place had its own attitude.  Hipsters, stoners, and people just looking for a calm life.  With tech booming, it was starting to grow.  Rich kids were becoming more common.  Life still made sense.
For whatever reason, the Detective’s mind drifted back to that case with the dead woman on the boat.  Signs of struggle.  Bullet holes in the hull.  Pools of blood on the floor, indicating that other people had died there.  It was a grisly scene.  Far and away one of the worst, but for a town like this, for a murder that ugly, it was strange.
The two were walking past a restaurant when he saw a young woman in a black coat on a pay-phone.  Looked to be in high school.  One of the girls from the Academy?  Maybe.  Didn’t really matter.  She looked to be deep in conversation, a face that was intense.  Odd, but not really his concern.  Just then, the back of her coat dropped a little in the direction she was leaning against the phone.  Underneath was a tanktop, and that’s when it caught his eye – a burn mark!  This was old, clearly.  It looked painful.  Something about the shape caught his eye – a trident.  What was the deal with that?
Meng saw it too, giving him a look.  He just shrugged.  Best not to ask.  If she was a girl from the Academy, they knew to keep their distance.  Whatever the story was behind that, it couldn’t be pretty.  Something about the shape of it stuck out in his mind, though.  Shaking his head, he just figured it wasn’t that important if he couldn’t remember it off-hand.

She got the information she was looking for.  A game was going down a week from tonight.  The buy-in was $15,000.  Perfect!  A game where she would actually have her skills put to the test.
“You think they’re gonna be minnows there, or will I actually be facing sharks?” she asked.
“Oh there will be sharks.  Trust and believe, kiddo.  This game is looking to be one of the biggest in a while.”
The smile on her face grew from ear to ear.  It hurt, but she didn’t care.  Pain was nothing in the face of victory.  A true test!  Going up against people who aren’t there for fun.  Thanking her mentor, she hung up.  Time to go back inside and talk with her friends.

After the two had eaten, Williams headed back to his office.  He started packing up, eager to get home for the weekend.  Lots of stuff to do.  That case from years ago was still eating at him, though.  He wished he knew why.  Finally, he couldn’t resist looking into this more.
His office was pretty standard.  It was cool that he actually got one of his own.  Being the senior detective in the building had its perks.  Trash only had the remains of lunch from that day.  On his desk sat a computer.  Nothing did Williams despise more than that computer.  Typing was annoying, and they had to file everything on there.  It was so annoying.  Meng seemed to be more comfortable with them, but for his take, there would never be a point where he would like these electronic boxes.  They’d never catch on, right?
Sitting down, he opened a locked drawer of his desk.  Inside was a series of files.  These were from the cold cases he had come across during his time here.  There weren’t many.  A series of bike thefts where the person responsible left a calling card.  It was an absurd case, but they never did figure out who was doing the thefts.  Then there were the arson cases.  Turns out, that tied to some cases in Aberdeen and Hoquiam.  They had detectives coming in from Olympia that they worked with.  It was some pretty crazy stuff.  Fires set off all over.  They never did catch the person responsible, and part of him still wanted to solve that.  They were getting close.  A security camera caught a Native guy at a gas station filling up a gas can not long before one of the attacks.  Alas, the case went cold and they were told to drop it.  Frustrating, but what can you do?
Then there was the file he was looking for.  Dubbed the “Grays Harbor Killing,” he started to flip through it.  The boat was a Sea Ray.  Decent size, too.  The kind you take your friends out for.  Pics from inside showed stuff everywhere.  A clear sign of a struggle.  Blood splatters on the deck and the interior.  A bloody hand-print.  Pics of the bullet they removed from the body.  It had come from a Walther CCP.  The gun itself wasn’t found, but something caught his attention about that.  The body they found was a woman.  What if it had been her gun?  Those things were made for weaker hands.  Had someone taken her gun and killed her with it?  Why would they do that?  The questions about what happened on that boat had no easy answers.  At least none he would ever get.  Not until they found the weapon, and the person who wielded it.
Which brought him to the body of the victim.  A woman, in her mid to late 30’s.  They had never been able to get a positive identification of the body.  Not that it was so damaged, it’s just that they had no record of a missing person that they could match it up to, and despite looking wherever they could, it was a shot in the dark.  If only they had an easier way to get information about people.  One of those little things you can dream about.
The bullet-hole went through her eye, no exit wound.  One question that had come up was the fact that there was blood all over.  That led him to believe that there were other victims.  But not a single body had turned up.  They combed as far as they could think, but either the current had got them, or sea life.  Getting rid of a body at sea is an easier thing to do than you’d think.  Lots of animals to do the busy work of disposing of it for you, along with currents to tow bodies away.
Something caught his eye just then – a picture of the body at the morgue, before the autopsy.  They hadn’t cut away her clothing just yet.  There was a jacket she was wearing.  It had this insignia on it that they hadn’t been able to identify.  It looked like…a trident!  In that moment, his heart stopped.  The mark on that girl!  It was almost identical to the mark of this organization!  Who was that girl?!
He tried to think about how she looked.  Red hair, cut short.  Something about her was very punk rock.  That red hair.  Like the color of fire.  In that moment, it hit him.  It’s the girl who washed up on shore!  He had just chalked it up to coincidence because she was a kid.  A bullet from a gun that was made for someone with weak hands.  Like a woman.
Two years later, and he finally had a break in this case.  But there was a problem – the girl goes to the Academy.  What could he do?!  He had to get her into his office, but the question of how to do that lingered over him.  A plan was brewing in his mind, to find a way to get to this girl.  Along with the people close to her.  Someone knew something, and he was going to get answers.  The medical report said she claimed amnesia.  Was that true?  So many new questions formulated in his mind, and the hunt was on.

Getting back to the Academy, Quinn’s mind was firmly fixed on the upcoming game.  She’d be there.  That meant no acting out.  No rocking the boat of any kind.  She couldn’t risk anything coming between her and this game.  A chance to show everyone what she was capable of.  Redemption from her humiliation.  To prove to herself that her mind was still sharp.
“What’s going on, Quinn?” her roommate asked.
Feigning her usual malaise, she looked over.  “Hm?  What do you mean?”
“All evening after you got back to the table, I’ve seen it.  You’ve been trying to hide it, but you have this look in your eye.  It’s…different.  Makes me think of a shark, going in for a kill.  You’re excited.  What’s going on?”
This roommate of hers was surprisingly perceptive.  That could become annoying.
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with.”  Perhaps just nipping this in the bud was for the best.
“I’m not your enemy, Quinn!” Kaye said, looking right at her.  “You can trust me!  Just talk to me!”
Something about that look on her roommate’s face gave her pause.  The look in her eyes.  It felt real.  To the point that nothing else felt real.  She stared into them and felt this weird sensation.  Butterflies?  Why?  What could possibly make her feel so uncertain with this person?  This was all so strange to her.
“I…I know that.”
“So then trust me!”  Her roommate took her hands in hers.  “You can tell me anything.  I won’t tell anyone else.  I swear!”
Mind racing a thousand miles a minute.  It was a risk.  How could she be sure?  It wasn’t logical.  There was no way that she could guarantee that she wouldn’t give out the information once she had confirmed it.  But still, why not take that risk?  Trust someone else.  That’s what friends do, right?
“I called someone I know tonight.  There’s a poker game coming up at The Parlor.  I need to go to it.  I need to win.  To prove I’m still the smartest person I know.  That I’m better than people who try and hurt me.  I need this, Kaye.”  She couldn’t look into her eyes while talking about it.
What happened next shocked her.  Her companion pulled her into a hug.
“I understand.”
Tears started running down Quinn’s face.  Someone who understood.  Who didn’t judge her.  Who didn’t tell her she’s a bad person for wanting this.  It felt so surreal.
“Thank you.”
Pulling back, Kaye looked her right in the eye.  “Can I come with you?”
Her eyes went wide.  “What?”
“Can I come with you?  See you do your thing?”
The uncertainty was back.  “Why would you want to see that?
“I wanna know who you are.  We’ve been roommates for weeks, and I feel like I hardly know you.”
Going through dozens of potential problems with this, Quinn couldn’t shake this sense of fulfillment that came from being told someone wanted to know her.  But she had to be sure.
“I’m going into a place where the people there aren’t playing around, Kaye.  I gotta know you can handle this.  The people in that room are playing to win, and so will I.  Once things start, I will be in my zone.  You understand?”
A moment of serious thought.  “Yeah, I understand.  I’m with you.”
There was no lie in her roommate’s eyes.
“Alright.  It’s a week from tonight.  Be ready, wear something you can move fast in, quietly, and black.  Got it?”
“Got it.”
Quinn smiled a bit.  “Rad.”
Kaye smiled back.  “Best get your game face on.”
“No risk of that!”
Something had happened tonight, and she understood that there was no turning back from it.  It was time to get her game face on.  A battle she could take on.  An enemy she would destroy.  Tutelage from a mentor she could trust, and a friend to cheer her on.  This game got a LOT more interesting.

Until next time, a quote,

“Do you know what date is on this coin?  1958.  It’s been traveling 22 years to get here.  And now it’s here, and it’s heads or tails. And now you have to call it.” – Anton Chigurh, No Country For Old Men

Peace out,

Maverick

A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene V)

Every day was always a little different for Sister Sarah.  That was by her own design.  In her mind, if ever there was a point that things were always the same, then she’d get into a rut.  The goal was to expand her mind and see things in a new way each morning.  That wasn’t always easy, but she did the best she could.  Even if it was something very small, like walking on a different side of the path than the one she usually did, it was something that made that day special.
This attitude was the same that she carried to her work at the Academy.  Like most of the Sisters in this place, she came into her job looking after the students with a mindset of wanting to set a good example and help these girls on their journey into womanhood.  It was a long journey, and one that was fraught with distractions/perils.  Growing up in the suburbs of Albuquerque, she’d seen so many girls give in to drugs, sex, and rock & roll.  Coming from the 70’s, when drug culture was out of control, she had her own stories that she wasn’t proud of.  Ones that nobody would ever know, save for those who were there.
She joined the Catholic Church when she was 25.  It took her hitting absolute rock bottom to come to God and want to seek forgiveness for her sins.  After months of prayer, she became a Sister, taking the habit.  It was the only way she could live with what she had done.  You’d think, coming from such a background, she would be as judgmental as her supervisor – Sister Margaret.  But she looked on the girls of this Academy with an eye of sympathy and understanding.  Everyone is different, and you have to embrace those differences, rather than shirk them.  People have to come to the Lord and go through life in their own way.
When she first met Quinn, she was a scared girl who was nervous around everyone.  Such a frail little body.  And a burn mark on her shoulder, like a cattle brand, seared into her skin.  From the days in the hospital, with police badgering her with questions, none of which she had the answers to.  Father McCormick was there through most of it, and when he wasn’t able to be, Sister Sarah volunteered to take his post.
The girl claimed to have absolutely no memory of any kind of her life before they found her.  The doctor thought it was a result of nearly drowning/freezing to death.  Her body was so close to death when they got her to the hospital that it was a genuine miracle from Mother Mary that she came back from the abyss.  Some people, namely Sister Margaret, were skeptical of this.
“How could she not remember being branded?!” they would ask.
Part of Sarah wanted to think that the girl didn’t want to remember.  Who would?  The story behind that mark couldn’t be good.  A cult?  Seemed likely.  Some poor little girl who escaped from a place where God-knows what was done to her.  It didn’t matter.  Now she was here, and it was their duty as caretakers of these girls to make sure she fit in.
Which was what made it ever-the-more frustrating how Quinn and Sister Margaret consistently butted heads.  For the life of her, Sarah couldn’t figure out where her deal is.  Was it because she was so close to Father McCormick?  Was it really something as simple as jealousy?  That’s a sin, after all.  A petty one, too.  No matter what she did, the Sister was attacking her.  Her uniform wasn’t pressed – demerits.  She wasn’t wearing the white shirt under her uniform jacket – demerits.  She listened to music too loud – demerits.  Her music wasn’t appropriate – demerits.  Her attitude was improper – demerits.  There were days when the Sister would lay into her and as she passed, it was all over her face that if she could, Quinn would punch her square in the face.
Father McCormick tried to keep the peace.  The constant back and forth, with Sister Margaret running to him to lay down punishment on her was tedious, and he clearly was almost through with it.  It didn’t help that Quinn was almost-openly instigating her now.  Knowing how much it made the Sister mad, she seemed to take some twisted pleasure.  This side of her did worry Sarah a little.  It was shameful, and surely something the Good Lord would not smile upon.  But what could anyone do?  It seemed this wouldn’t end until either Sister Margaret was fired, or Quinn was expelled.  There seemed to be nothing else that would resolve the conflict.  Two people meant to hate each other.

One might imagine how much pleasure Sister Margaret took in laying into Quinn when she got back from skipping to look after her friend.  The lecture went on damn-near all night.  Hours upon hours of being told how this was unbecoming of a student of the Academy, how it was sinful to be truant, how looking after a friend was not good enough of an excuse, it became a sermon after a while.  She was sentenced to two weeks in detention.
What surprised Sarah as she saw Quinn leaving the room wasn’t the fact that she looked unphased.  It was that she looked pleased.  This kind of winsome look.
Catching up to her, Sarah gave her a smile.  “What are you grinning about?”
Looking over at her, the expression went back to its usual cold, neutral one.  “Nothing.”
“I saw you, Quinndolyn.  You were smiling.”
“Clearly you were seeing things.  Might want to look into that.”
It was obvious she wasn’t going to get a straight answer.  But maybe there was another way around this.
“So, out looking after a classmate, eh?”
She just shrugged.  “It was no big thing.  We met the other day and she was pretty okay.  Asked me if I could help her since she wasn’t feeling good.  Beat being in class.”
A frown came to the Sister’s face.  “Don’t let Sister Margaret hear you say that.  She’d be livid.”
Quinn rolled her eyes.  “When isn’t she?”
“Not often.  At least not where you are concerned,” Sarah sighed.
“It’s cool.  Two weeks of detention is nothing new.  I got this.”
It was then that Sarah noticed something.  “You’re wearing the white shirt!  Lord be praised!  I didn’t think the day would ever come where I’d actually see you in proper school uniform.”
Rolled her eyes again.  “It’s no big deal.”
Just a smile back.  “If you’re wearing it tomorrow, I don’t know.”
Eyes like steel, Quinn looked at her.  “Don’t get your hopes up.”

Walking into her dorm room, Quinn immediately wanted to remove the white shirt.  Now one person had made a big deal about it.  It annoyed her.  It’s a fucking shirt, she thought.  Throwing it to the floor, she pulled out her tanktop.  Then lost the skirt and put on a pair of sweats.  Kaye looked up from her textbook.
“So?  What’s the verdict?”
“Two weeks in detention.”
Her roommate frowned.  “Oh geez.  That sucks.”
Just a shrug.  “It’s cool.  Just means I get to spend more ‘quality’ time with Sister Margaret.  I’m sure she’ll get Eve and her little cronies to join in the fun.”
Of all the students at the Oceanview Academy of St. Galentine, Eve Harper and her posse was the only ones who actually bothered Quinn.  For whatever reason: a girl who is as rich as her, and imbued with flunkies who make sure her academics are always in the top five percent of her class, saw fit to make Quinn her personal target of ridicule.  Since she kept her hair perpetually short, the most common was to call her a dyke.  Or at least allude to her being a lesbian.  You wouldn’t think that would mean much.  It is the 90’s, after all.  Times were changing.  But in a Catholic School, being accused of gayness was basically social suicide.  It was never something she placed any credence in.  Truth be told, she hadn’t felt much of anything regarding romantic or sexual attraction to anyone.  Between her studies, gambling habits, and lack of a social life, it never came up.  Maybe now that she had some actual friends, she could review this for further study.  Is that how love works?  Like something clinical?  Questions that just made her uncomfortable.
Kaye sat up, frowning deeper.  “I don’t know why people are so mean to you.  You should hear some of the stuff they say about you out there.  ‘She’s a bitch.’  ‘She think she’s so smart.’  ‘She’s…’”  It was clear she was really uncomfortable with the next bit.
“She’s a dyke.  Trust me, I know what they say.  I may look like I’m in my own little world, but the truth is that there isn’t much of anything I miss.”  Quinn’s expression got dark.
Her roomie got up, sitting on the floor beside the bed, next to her.  “It’s so mean.  These girls are wealthy.  They could have whatever they want.  I don’t get why they have to put you down.”
Pulling a coin out of her pocket, she flipped it between her fingers.  “It’s not that complicated.  I’m a threat to them.  I never pay attention in class, don’t raise my hand, don’t participate in the school stuff in any way, yet I’m at the top of all academics I’m involved with.  I have teachers begging me to join this club or that so they could have a winning player on their team, and I blow them off without a second thought.  While they are busy kissing the ass of everyone they can and watching me push past them.  And I’m a poor girl who was given a spot here while their rich families had to pay for it or they had to work for it.  The reason why they hate me is no mystery.”
Looking over at her, Kaye smiled.  “I don’t think you’re as tough as you front, you know.”
Dropping the coin, she looked up in shock.  “What?”
“I saw you with Lisa.  Saw how happy you looked.  Some part of you wants people to like you.”
Was she right?  The words reached her, but processing them was a different story.  There was some truth to it.  Her time out with Lisa had been the most fun she had had in ages.  Not like winning at gambling.  A different kind of fun.  That was intellectual.  This was…personal?  Yeah, personal.  It made a warm feeling spread through her.
The warm feeling didn’t stop the cold look on her face.  “Very specific people.  People I deem worthy.  Couldn’t give less of a fuck if Eve and her groupies like me.”
“Okay.  I get that.”  A little smirk.  “Am I worthy?”
Quinn got a sly look.  “Maybe.  Still figuring you out.”
Her roomie got a grumpy expression.  “What does that mean?”
“Well, if you wanna be friends with me, there’s gotta be something wrong with you.”
The two of them laughed.

Days went by, such as they do.  Life at the Academy was settling into a rhythm.  Having won big, Quinn’s appetite for victory was sated.  Though she knew that it wouldn’t be long before she would have to go back for more.  The itch grew with each day.  However, this new life with her companions definitely dulled it.  When she wasn’t sitting in detention with Sister Margaret or whatever teacher/Sister she got to look after her, she would be spending time with them.  Both of her two new friends were very different people.
Kaye was a physical sort of person.  She was a fast runner, and her athletics were definitely part of her life.  Already she had signed up for the Academy’s soccer team.  The school game was coming up, which Quinn dreaded.  Nowhere was her lack of physical ability more on display than at these games.  It seemed her new roommate also had something of the shutterbug, with a really nice camera.  She joined the photography club almost the first day she was there.  There were laughs as she would be taking pictures and Quinn chided her.
“So artsy,” she would say.  Having someone that she could banter and give shit to definitely felt good.  Their back-and-forth made sharing a room that much easier.
Lisa, on the other hand, was so different.  An eye for technology, and able to talk people’s ears off about it, she definitely had a career ahead of her.  The fact that she was stuck in a chair meant that she would spend a lot of time reading.  She could quote the latest tech magazine, along with the latest health journal.  It was genuinely inspiring that a girl at the tender age of 14 was already so well-read and an academic, without all the pretentiousness.
The two would be in the library, doing homework or just talking about their academic pursuits.  Quinn had even started playing chess with her.  Unsurprisingly, she mopped the floor with both her companions, but Lisa was improving.  With enough practice, there was hope that she would be a challenge.  Or at least keep her on her toes.  One could dream, right?

As fate would have it, the first school soccer game of the year came faster than anyone expected.  The weather was gorgeous, and in Washington you have to act fast if things are looking good.  You never know when it could change.  Rain is a fickle mistress on the West Coast.
The whole school was pumped.  One of the things that the three of Quinn’s crew would do is be out on the lawn, with Kaye practicing and the other two watching.
“Aren’t you going to have to play?” Lisa asked, looking at Quinn.
“Yeah…” Her expression couldn’t have been more dim.
“Shouldn’t you be practicing?”
Giving her a cold expression.  “I participate only to the extent that I have to.  The team captains always know to just keep me out of the way.  That’s how it always goes, and I’m fine with that.”
Seeing that this line of inquiry was just going to get ugly, Lisa turned to Kaye.  “Well, I’ll be rooting for you!  You look like you go this.”
“Word!” she shouted back, dribbling the ball.
Looking over at her, Quinn just groaned.  This was going to suck.  Beyond any doubt, it was completely going to suck.

That afternoon, everyone was in the PE clothes.  They were blue and white.  Just wonderful for being outside and playing on the grass – clothes that every grass stain would show through.  The girls were split up into four teams.  Enough so that this could go on the whole rest of the afternoon.  Fate dealt another hand where Kaye was on the same team as her.  This excited her immensely, but for Quinn, this was all just another day at the races.
Intellectually, she had tried to see a way around this.  After all, it is a game, right?  If you are intelligent enough, you could conceivably destroy your opponents like any other.  Were it that she was made team captain, or given some kind of ability to give tactical advice, she very well could actually excel in this sport.  Watching the girls play, she could easily tell who had what advantage and who had what disadvantage.  This game was mostly about having your players go up against those they would excel again.  Like chess, one could reasonably make a battle plan and execute it to the point that they could defeat the opposition easily, and quickly.
The fact that her reputation was grim around the school and that she was treated like the bitch stepchild by her compatriots made it so that she would never enjoy such a position.  A shame, too, because the concept did make her smile in thinking about what strategies she would use.  Plenty of these girls had skill.  Proper coordination and crucial planning, with some amount of luck factored in, would make for exciting plays to watch.
First up was two of the teams that were not theirs.  They were next, against the other team sitting this one out.  While she couldn’t be a tactician, she took in everything.  One of the girls was slow on her left.  An old injury?  Another had slower reaction time.  They could dribble around her without difficulty.  Kaye seemed to show some skill in that regard.  The goalie was skilled.  A problem.  Would need someone who could throw them off-guard.  Maybe this sports thing wasn’t so awful after all.  Then she remembered – she had to play at some point.
Looking across the field, she saw the bane of her existence – Eve Harper.  She was sitting with her crew, staring right at her.  So she was on the team they were facing next.  Uh-oh.  This really, really couldn’t be good.  A beautiful girl with shiny black hair, tied up in a ponytail behind her head.  Makeup done just so.  No wonder boys always fawned all over her, if the stories were to be believed.  It was a bitter, tragic irony that she was not only done like a princess, but just happened to be good at athletics.  Whatever was coming next, it was going to be bad.
The first game ended, now they were up.
Kaye looked over at Quinn.  “Just stick with me.  We can do this!”
So genuinely sweet.  Not an ounce of sarcasm.  Doing the math in her mind, Quinn knew that what she said was 100% bullshit, but it felt nice all the same.
“I’ll hold you to that,” was all she got out.

Both sides squared off.  Since her lack of athletic skill was known, team captain didn’t put her in at first.  Fine by her.  The battle was on!  Their team was the blue jerseys.  Their enemy was the whites.  At first, they seemed evenly matched.  Kaye was every bit the player she aspired to be.  It seemed she was also bit on taking the offensive.  It really did look like two armies doing battle over a white and black ball.
Paying careful attention, Quinn saw something – a brunette girl who was fast but could be easily dribbled around as she had a habit of getting her feet mixed up.  It was something she tried to hide, but the tells were there.  This was like poker!  How could she impart this to the team captain in a way that they would listen?
“Hey Jen?  You see the way that girl is always slow about turning?  It’s like she’s trying to be careful about moving.  That’s weird, right?”
Looking over, the wheels in the captain’s head were turning.  Then she nodded.  “Hey yeah!  Time out!”
Everyone ran over.
“See how Brittney takes a couple seconds to turn around when people get past her?  Let’s use that!” the captain said.  “We can totally dribble past her and then it’s just past the defender on the right!  It’s a clear shot!”
Everyone was nodding, looking at the captain like she had just had the most brilliant idea.  Kaye, on the other hand, was looking right at Quinn, who gave a little wink.  Maybe her mind wasn’t totally wasted on this game.
They broke, and the game was back on.  Very fast, it was clear that their strategy had changed, and the enemy wasn’t blind.  Kaye was exploiting this opening for all it was worth.  Within a few minutes, they had put two more points on the board.  It wasn’t huge, but so long as the enemy couldn’t find an opening of their own, it was still scoring.  The game was 4 to 1.
Seeing that their player’s opening was exploited, the enemy called Brittney in.  Guess that opening was out.  There had to be another.  With the game back to a very cold and strategic thing, Quinn looked across the field.  Something was there, she just wasn’t looking hard enough.  A black girl was passed the ball from Kaye, on her way to the goal.  Nice!  As she kicked it, the goalie blocked the shot.  However, just as they caught the ball, she noticed something.  The girl had this momentary loss of balance.  It was a small thing.  Too small?  Maybe.
The other team called a Time Out.  As they came in, Quinn motioned for Kaye to come over.
“See the goalie?  They are slower when the ball’s coming in from the right.  I’m thinking it’s something to do with her vision.  Like she can’t see as well from her left eye as her right.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think this can be exploited!”
Looking over at the enemy goal, Kaye nodded.  “I got this!”
“Kick ass!”
“Yes ma’am!”
Back into the game, and it was on.  The enemy had the ball.  Black girl had skill.  She stole it from them, making her way down.  Past one of the defenders.  Just then, Kaye whistled at her.  The girl understood, passing the ball.  The roomie made like she was going to go for the left, then stopped and hit the ball toward the right.  Score!  5 to 1 now!  A dark smile came to Quinn’s face.  Her tactical mind wasn’t wasted now.
From across the field, Eve saw the look on Quinn’s face.  That bitch!  So, she was the one giving them all good information.  She’d have to be on the field at some point.  When she was, she’d get her.

Halftime, and now the teams had to change up.  This meant that Quinn had to go out there.  All the joyful exuberance of the last few minutes was gone.  There was no way she could get an accurate read on the situation from out on the field.  Her only rational course of action was to just do the best she could and accept that she was completely outmatched.  The team captain had wisely placed her as a defender.  That was smart.  It was a do-nothing job, most of the time.
Battle was joined, and at first it seemed like any other game.  Sometimes it would go one way, sometimes another.  Her and the other defender kept their position, as rules dictated how far they could go.  However, Quinn couldn’t shake this feeling that something bad was in the air.  What was it?  Eve was one of the attackers.  That didn’t bode well.  Some of the looks she caught made her get the feeling of being hunted.  But how?  What could that unpleasant female possibly do to her in the middle of a soccer game?  It wasn’t like she could be blatantly physical.  That would get her in trouble.  This girl wasn’t stupid enough to do something that blunt in front of the whole school.  It became a battle of wits to try and figure out what her nemesis was going to do.
Turns out, the answer to this problem wasn’t nearly as complicated as she thought.  Eve had the ball and was making a run at the goal.  At first, she made like she was heading right at it, all but ignoring Quinn.  Would be the smart thing to do.  She was so frail and pathetic, why even bother pretending to be trying to get past her?  The bitch came at her as she was supposed to do, but Eve looked to her right and saw one of her teammates motioning for her to pass the ball.  This was it!  Dribbling back, she made like she was going to pass.  Just then, she notched her foot under the ball, kicked it up, and with maximum force hit it as hard as she possibly could.
The ball tagged Quinn right in the face.  She went down like a sack of potatoes.  Blood was pouring out of her nose.  The girl didn’t move when she hit the ground.  Everyone was on their feet.  Kaye was running over, sliding down next to her fallen roommate.  She screamed her name, picking her head up.  Clearly disoriented, and in a lot of pain, Quinn looked up.
Sister Sarah was already on the field, heading right at Eve.  “Explain yourself, young lady!”
“I didn’t mean for that to happen, Sister!  I swear, I was trying to pass to Alicia!  My foot slipped as I was dribbling!  Oh Lord, is she okay?”
It was clear that Sarah didn’t buy a word out of her mouth, but there was no proof it was intentional.  So many awful people here.  Kaye picked up her fallen friend, helping her to her feet.  Taking an arm and wrapping it around her shoulder, they started walking off the field.
“Get her to the nurse’s office!” Sarah commanded.  Turning to face Eve.  “I’m going to take this to Father McCormick.  We’ll see if he believes your story.”
She played innocent so well, looking so wronged.
As Quinn was hobbling off the stage, blood and tears streaming down her face, she took a look back at the girl who kicked the ball in her face.  For a split-second, she could see a look of sweet victory on her face.  In that moment, she knew what she had to do.  It was time to make this woman pay.  She was the most intelligent person she had ever met.  If anyone could figure out a way to truly destroy this woman, it was her.  It created this warm, fuzzy feeling inside.  Something about the idea of crushing someone who was her enemy felt strangely, familiar.  But why?

It seemed that the injuries were mostly superficial.  Thankfully, she was spared a broken nose, but it had bled something fierce.  The blood loss caused some anemia, and she was released to go back to her room and rest.  As it was the end of the week, she didn’t have to worry about class the next day.
Kaye took her back and lay her down.  Taking her shoes off, Quinn just curled into a ball and turned her back to her roommate.  She didn’t want to be seen like this.  Broken and pathetic.  In that moment, she understood what sunglasses had been feeling back at the gambling parlor.  Her pride was wrapped up in all this.
“You did really well out there today, Quinn,” Kaye said.  “I just thought you should know that.”
“Kaye…leave me alone for a while, alright?  Please.”
Now it was her turn to be on the verge of tears.  “I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong…”

As her eyes closed, she saw something.  A room filled with children.  They were her age.  So young.  Who were they?  Inside there was a woman in a white coat.  Her hair was golden, with brown eyes and soft creamy skin.  Who was she?  Something told her that this was a bad person, and she needed to go away.  Looking down, there were logic puzzles in front of her.  Ones that no child this age would be expected to do.  What was this?  All the kids looked scared.   Where was she?
“Quinn?” the woman said, coming over.  “Why did you stop working on your test.  Is something wrong?”
Wishing she could disappear.  “No, Ms. Katya.  Nothing’s wrong.”
Looking sternly at her.  “Then finish your test.”
“Yes ma’am…”

Sitting up with a start, the fear inside gripped her more than the pain in her face.  A thousand emotions went through her mind, but one thing in-particular.  She knew that she had remembered something.  For the first time in two years, she had remembered something.

Until next time, a quote,

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” – Klingon Proverb

Peace out,

Maverick

A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene IV)

The trip back was far easier.  With the bars having let out, cops were busy stalking for drunk drivers.  With the route Quinn had, she knew how to avoid them without difficulty.  All nights should be this simple.  It was pretty great.  Riding high on Cloud Nine, the trip to the abandoned home had her putting in $23,000.  A good haul for one night.  Opening the lockbox where she kept all the winnings underneath the floorboards, a smile came to her face.  Inside was sitting now $110,000.  It was a fund designed to help secure her future.  All she needed was one major score and she could pay back Father McCormick for her time at Oceanview Academy of St Galentine.
It had been a point of guilt for her – the fact that Father had been basically paying her way to be at one of the top Catholic boarding schools in the country.  Or at the very least that her being there was eating out of their funds because they weren’t being compensated for her.  The guilt had been eating at her since she heard Sister Sarah talking about the cost of tuition there.  It wasn’t fair that she was effectively able to cheat the system to get one of the best educations a girl can get.  It was one guilt point of a dozen that she had inside.
She genuinely was trying not to pick fights with Sister Margaret.  It was so fucking difficult.  The two were constantly butting heads, about absolutely everything.  Of course, when they would fight, the Sister would take it to Father.  Then they would fight.  A non-stop cycle of the two of them going back and forth and him having to play the peace-maker.  But no matter what she did, it didn’t stop.  Maybe she’d wear the white shirt.  It was worth it if it made his life easier, right?
Once she turned 18 and graduated, she’d have the money come to the school by way of an anonymous donation.  She had already learned the process a year ago, when she began her poker habit.  Then there was no guilt for her, and Father would think that the Good Lord had provided his school with a kindly donation.
Going to a Catholic school, one of the big requisites is that you believe in God.  And…she didn’t.  Not at all.  It all just seemed so silly to her.  A celestial patriarchal entity created this planet in six days, but then created everything else as a huge afterthought?  Who told his prophet to kill the men of their enemies and take the virgin girls as sex trophies?  She read the book from cover to cover in order to acclimate herself to the new environment and what they studied, and the whole thing just rubbed her as a primitive book written by primitive people with way more allegory than actual stories.
Bringing that up to Father, however, was totally off the table.  He believed this stuff so fervently.  It was incredibly important to him.  Who was she to question it?  It would just be something he believed in and she would just play along with until she got out.  Then she’d tell him the truth.  He seemed like a man who was caring and wouldn’t throw it all away because of something like that.  At least, that’s what she hoped.  It was hard to say.

Climbing up the hill to the tree, she was out of breath before even getting to it.  Leaning against it, she panted.  While her mind is a sharpened instrument that can do battle with the best of them, her body was so weak.  She was average height for a girl, but was skinny and almost underweight.  The various PE courses they had her do were always the worst.  Her running times were abysmal, on par with the most out of shape girls in the school.  You’d think that she would have some camaraderie among them, but her reputation of being from a poor family colored so many people’s perception of her.  A poor girl at an elite school trumped some level of empathy for being physically weak among those who shared in her plight.  Irony.
Perhaps she could cozy up to Lisa?  Given her situation, there may be a way to use this newfound friendship as a way to get out from under her own problems.  Felt bad, using a new friend like that.  But she wasn’t just going to be using her.  Their conversation yesterday had informed her that this girl was quite smart herself.  She even had a PDA!  It seemed this young lady wanted to put her mind to work with technology.  Admirable.  Getting past a physical handicap and also putting an exceptional mind to work.  This girl was worthy of respect.
Climbing up the tree and making her way back in, more thoughts came to her.  What about the roommate?  She seemed nice enough.  Had even heard her music and jammed with her.  That was something friends do, right?  Or at least they could be friends.  A warm thought.
Back inside school grounds, it was a race to beat the rising light levels.  More Sisters would be around the grounds soon.  She could NOT get caught now!  After an evening this good, failure to get back to her dorm quick enough was unacceptable.  At the very least, if she could get close enough, she could say she was using the bathroom if caught.  No!  No compromising the vision of a perfect escape.  She must get back inside flawlessly.
She peeked from the darkness inside the area around the window she used to escape.  Still clear.  Going back into ninja mode, she slipped through and closed it behind her.  Now it was moving as fast as her poor physical stamina would allow.  Sliding down the stairs was easy.  Getting back up was less so.  Her ears perked for the sound of footsteps.  With luck, the Sister on duty was catching some shut-eye herself.
Each tiny squeak made her heart pound.  It was always the most stressful part, no matter how many times she did it.  Getting to the top, there was one more hallway turn, and she was on the home stretch.  Again moving as fast as she could without making noise and without her stamina causing her breathing to be audible.  So much stress.  As she was about to turn the corner to the last stretch, noise!  Footsteps!  Looking behind her, she saw it.  Bathroom!
With a flash, she ducked inside.  The footsteps got closer, then passed by.  Waiting until she couldn’t hear anything, she came out and hurried to her dorm.  Closing the door behind, she slid down it and sat on the floor.  Success!  Victory against the forces of academic oppression!  Crush the system!  Well, maybe not that, but still, victory.
Might as well get a couple hours of sleep before class.  She was already going to be a zombie.  So worth it.  Stripping off her hoodie, she pulled down her pants and grabbed her PJ pants.
“Where did you go?” a voice called out.
Spinning in terror, she saw the outline of her roommate lying in bed.  Couldn’t get a clear look at her face.  Oh shit!  This was about as terrible as it could be.  All that work, only to be busted by her roommate?
“I had to pee.”
“You were gone all night.  I remember waking up, and you were gone.  Woke up a little later, and you were gone then too.  You’re taking off your shoes.  So you left.”
Basic reasoning, but on point.
Sitting on her bed, she let out a sigh.  “I…I can’t tell you, Kaye.”
Her roommate sat up, her face clearer in the growing light.  It was a mask of concern.
“Why?  Is everything okay?”
This nagging feeling tore at her.  Don’t lie to her!  She’s legitimately concerned about you.  Is there no one we can be honest with?
“Because, what I go out and do every now and again…it’s illegal.”
Kaye’s hand went to her mouth.  “Oh goodness.  Is it drugs?”
She shook her head.  “No, nothing like that.”
Awkward expression.  “…Prostitution?”
A chuckle.  “Don’t think I have a body good enough for that.”
If she could see the color on Kaye’s face, she was reasonably sure it was beet red.  Something just told her it was.
“So what?  What is it?  I won’t tell anyone, Quinn.  I promise!”
Now the feeling was ripping her to pieces.  Just fucking tell her!  Don’t make her worry like this!
“I gamble.  I go to a private place and play poker for money.  I’m ridiculously good at it.  To the point that I have yet to go to a game and not run the table.  Tonight was a challenge.  First time in ages.  Might have found an opponent who could be worthy, with some experience.  It was incredible.”
Her roommate cocked her head to the side.  “Why do you do it?”
Leaning back against the wall on the other side of her bed.  “I don’t know.  There’s this itch that I get.  Something deep inside.  It wants me to prove that I’m better than people.  I’ve destroyed every girl here at chess, mahjongg, whatever game you can think of that uses your mind.  But those games didn’t scratch the itch.  I needed something where I was genuinely risking something.  Where I would be putting something on the line and have the fear of failure.  Then I heard about the place and went there to play.”
Quinn’s eyes lit up.  “It was amazing!  The anticipation.  Since we were playing Texas Hold ‘Em, there was the math I’d do about who had what hand.  What the odds were there that someone had a better hand than me.  It was great!  This was not a game with professionals.  I destroyed them.  From there, the itch got scratched.  It was months before I needed to do so again.  Went back, this time to a real game with real players.  It was even better!  This time I was able to carefully play each individual and be tactical about my approach.  Won a big pot.
“Now I am building on it.  Growing my reputation.  I can walk in there now and nobody questions it.  Not the bouncers, not the Bank, not the Dealer.  Every night I do it, I prove that I’m better than my opponents.  My mind is sharper than theirs.  It’s such a rush!”
Hearing herself say that out loud, it sounded way more like an addiction.
Apparently she wasn’t alone in that thought.  “My mom sounds the same way when she talks about booze.”
That hurt.  What was she addicted to?  It wasn’t gambling, because that was just a symptom, not a cause.  Adrenaline?  Made some sense.  An adrenaline junkie.  There are worse things, right?  This didn’t make her feel better.  It would have been easier to lie.  Whoever said that the truth sets you free was full of shit.
Turning her back to her, Quinn lay on her bed and closed her eyes.  She was in control of this.  No one else.  Guess friendship only did go so far.

Her alarm went off and she didn’t feel any less tired.  Worth it, for sure, but today was going to be a long day.  Sitting up, she turned to see her roommate getting dressed.  No sense talking with her.  Part of her wanted to see if Father could get rid of this problem, but she had just thought last night about how she didn’t want to make life more difficult for him.
Looking over at the white shirt, she let out a sigh.  Speaking of not making things difficult for him.  Taking off her shirt, she went to grab the white shirt.
“Oh my god!” she heard from behind her.
Looking back, she saw Kaye looking absolutely mortified.
“What?”
“That mark on your shoulder.  It’s a brand!”
Putting on the white shirt, she started buttoning it up.  “It’s just a birthmark.”
Kaye gave her an ugly look.  “That’s a lie, Quinn!”
Turning to face her.  “Yeah, it is.  Because it’s none of your fucking business!  So tell you what, you keep your fucking judgmental comments to yourself and I’ll keep out of your hair!”
In a second she realized that she had just fucked up.  This girl knew not only what she’s doing, but why.  Making an enemy of her would do nothing but make her life immeasurably more difficult.  If she snitched on her to Sister Margaret, not only would she make life for Father difficult, she would almost-certainly be expelled.  Then given over to the cops and go to juvenile justice.  This is why she didn’t make friends here!  Emotional connections lead to making decisions based on emotions.  Guess the white shirt didn’t matter now, did it?
“Fuck this!”
In a flash Quinn grabbed her shoes and was out the door.  No way she was gonna get caught here.  No way was this going to be where her story ended.  Get to the safe-house with her money, and from there figure out what her next move was going to be.  As she left, she thought she heard a voice behind her.  What did it say?  Didn’t matter.

The gate was open now, so she was able to walk right out of the school.  Good thing too.  Walking quickly, but trying not to draw attention.  She got to the gate and was about to head out, when a voice called out to her.
“Quinn!”  This was a different voice.
Part of her wanted to just keep going and ignore it, but another part told her to look.
Lisa was in a car, backing up to her.  “Hey!  Where are you going?  Class is gonna start soon.”
She awkwardly stood there, trying to think of a clever way to get out of this without giving a direct answer.  Maybe she could be half-honest?
“I…don’t wanna go to class today.  I’m not feeling it.”
Giving her a worried look.  “Everything okay?”
“No.  Something happened and I just want to get away from here for a while.”
A thoughtful look came to Lisa’s face.  Then she smiled at her.  “Well, if you’re looking to play hooky, want some company?”
That made her incredulous.  “You’re joining forces with a miscreant now?”
She nodded.  “Sure!  Perk of having medical problems.  I can get away with all sorts of stuff.  Hop in!  We’ll go to the pier and wander around like a couple of tourists!”
Not being able to help herself, Quinn smiled.  “Alright.  Sounds good.  Let’s do it.”
Getting in on the other side, the driver waved to her.  He looked to be a kindly gentleman.  Dressed in a rather nice suit himself.
“Where to, ladies?”
“Drop us off at the pier!  Quinn will be my caretaker today.”
“Very well.  Shall I notify the school of your absence?”
She thought for a moment.  “Yes.  And make sure to tell them that Quinn is helping me with feeling not well and keeping up on my classwork.”
Quinn gave her companion a smile.  “Awfully nice of you.”
“I’m sure you’ll still get an earful, but at least it won’t be as bad, right?”
Not particularly caring, as she assumed trying to go back would result in her getting expelled, she just shrugged.  One more good day before being on the run.

The car came to a stop at a parking lot by the pier.  A place where tourists gathered.  As it was still August, there were still tourist trap stores open.  It was all so tacky.  Brought back memories for Quinn of spending time here with Father McCormick.  What would he say when he found out?  It pained her to think about how disappointed he would be with her.  How it would break his heart to sign an order expelling her, and losing his guardianship as she went into juvenile detention.  Assuming she got out before she turned 18, she’d be in some group home.  The horror stories about those places are numerous.
“You okay?” Lisa asked.
Looking over at her, she feigned a smile and nodded.  “Yeah.  I’m alright.  How are you?”
“The morning was no rougher than usual.”
She frowned.  “I suppose that’s a good thing.
“Yeah.  Well, as you are my caretaker today, let’s go look at the ocean!  Take me to the far side of the pier.  Let’s take in the scenery.”
A caretaker, eh?  Sounded fine.  “Yes ma’am.”
Since it was still early, cool air blew in their faces.
“You cold?” Quinn asked.
“A little, but I’ll be alright.”  A little chuckle.  “You’re a lot different than I expected.  Way everyone talks about you, I kinda figured you’d be the queen bitch of the universe.  But you’re super nice.”
While hearing how her peers thought about her hurt, she did appreciate the compliment.
“Something about not believing everything you hear and judging books by covers.”
Looking up at her, Lisa smiled.  “Word!”

The two finally arrived at the end of the pier, looking out at the sea.  Since this was the west coast, the sun rose behind them.  Made everything in front of them glow.
“Beautiful,” Quinn remarked.
“Yeah.”
Standing there until the glow subsided.
“Let’s get something to eat.  Cinnabon is close.”
That sounded absolutely perfect.
“You’re gonna get fat in that chair,” She chided.
“Please, I have to push myself around in this damn thing all day.  Burns crazy calories.”
“I bet.”
“Surprised you don’t get fat.  I’ve seen you put it away, but you’re so lanky.  I’m guessing you don’t do a lot of running.”
Her expression dimmed.  “You’re not wrong.  I’ve never understood people who do all that running.  Seems like a horrific waste of energy.  My assertion is that my metabolism is like a freakin’ squirrel.  So that’s why I don’t gain weight.  Yay me.”
Lisa chuckled again.  “Trying to imagine you fat.  It’s funny.”
Bopping her on the head.  “Bad girl!”
“Whatever!  Come on, pick up the pace.  Could have wheeled myself there by now.”
“Careful, or I’ll let you test that theory.”
That got an obstinate look.  “Mean.”
“Gotta live down to my reputation.”
When they got to the door, it opened as a client was leaving and the absolutely intoxicating smell drifted out to meet them.
“My tummy is growing just thinking about that!”
“Mine too,” Quinn agreed.

After ordering, they sat outside by a bench.  So much sugary goodness, and it was worth the calories.  It was such a shame that this was going to likely be the last time she got to enjoy such a thing, at least for the foreseeable future.  It was pretty simple – get her car and get out of here.  She knew how to drive, just hadn’t had much experience.  As in hardly at all.  Something new to learn, right?  A challenge to undertake?  Seeing life as a series of challenges had gotten her through a lot so far.  Could it get her through juvenile detention?  A grim thought.
“Hey Quinn?”
Pulled out of her morose line of thinking, she looked up.  “Hm?”
“What were you doing last night?”
Once-again, her insides went cold.  “What do you mean?”
“I saw you out on a dirt-bike super early.  Like, crazy early.  What were you doing?”  The way she asked, it wasn’t judgmental.  It was curious.
But she had learned her lesson from before.  “Just out for a little joyride.”
Lisa frowned.  “Where did you get the dirt-bike?”
A little honesty couldn’t hurt here.  “I knew some people and they owed me.  So I got it for cheap.”
She perked up.  “Well that’s cool!  So jealous.  Think you could ever give me a ride sometime?”
Could she?  They were both small enough that she could get on.  Problem was the bum leg.  Lisa’s leg would be a liability.  Especially if it was injured.  She wouldn’t know.
“I don’t know if you could, with your leg.”  There was genuine sympathy in her voice.
“Yeah…I suppose.”
“I’m sorry.  I would if it were some other way.”  In reality, this was an excellent out for her.
“Thanks.  I believe you would.”
Smiling at her, Quinn took a napkin and wiped her cheek.  “You’re a messy eater.”
Her companion just stuck out her tongue.
“And mature.”
“Damn right!”
They sat there and ate.  Lisa talked about how she was wanting to learn tech stuff, maybe get into that.  Because of her disability, snagging a good husband wasn’t the first option.  So she figured that she would snag a good career instead.  Made her parents proud.  Making the most of a bad situation.
From her bag she pulled out a PDA.
Quinn marveled.  “That’s so cool!  Being a rich kid really does have the perks.”
That got a wink.  “You know it!  Since I always have amazing grades, daddy spoils me with whatever I need.  Helps that I’m stuck in a medical facility each night.”  Her face darkened.  “I know they feel guilty.  It’s not their fault.  I was born with this.  But still.”
Probably felt bad that their daughter was constantly looking at kids run and play, while she couldn’t.  For a second, Quinn thought about if there was a way that she could work out to secure her leg to the bike.  Actually take her on that joy-ride.  But then she remembered – about to be going up shit creek soon.  It was a nice thought, though.

Hours passed by as the two went down the boardwalk, going from tacky tourist shop to another equally tacky shop.  Trying on shades, looking at cutesy fishing lures, laughing at the terrible Oceanview tourist merch.  It was great.  For a little while, the precariousness of her situation faded away.  Just a fun day, with someone who understood what it was to be an outcast.
The afternoon was starting to show up when a familiar face came into the shop that the two were at.
Quinn looked up.  “Kaye?”
Lisa gave her a look.  “Who’s that?”
“My new roommate.”
Walking over, her roommate looked awkward.  “I heard you skipped class today.”
Also looking awkward.  “Yeah.  Just looking after a friend.”
Kaye did the best smile she could.  “Hi.  I’m Kaye Evers.”
“Lisa.  So, what’s it like to live with Quinn?  She as much of a problem at home as she is at school.”
That got a mean look from Quinn.  “If you weren’t in that chair I’d smack you.”
A wink back.  “Gotta love me.”
Kaye looked over.  “She’s got crazy music,” she said.
The girl pouted a bit.  “Well I’m sure anyone could have told me that.”
Chuckling, Quinn shook her head.  “I do what I can.”  She was gonna miss the CDs since they would be confiscated.  Would Sister Margaret burn them?  Do it in holy fire to purge the evil Devil music.
Looking over at her, Kaye looked somewhat apologetic.  “Can I talk to you for a bit?”
Part of her wanted to hope.  It was a fool’s hope, but still.
“Sure.”  Turning to Lisa.  “Don’t you go anywhere.”
Another wink.  “No promises.”
“Brat.”
The two walked outside.
“Look,” Kaye began, “I’m sorry about what I said last night.  That was mean.  I can see from your mark that a lot of stuff has happened to you.  It wasn’t my place to say that.”
A real apology.  Not one of those fake ones you see little kids give.
“I’m sorry too, for yelling at you this morning.”
“Friends?”
Strategically, Quinn had to do this.  If she was offering an apology, that meant she hadn’t told the Sister about her.  It meant that she wasn’t in the doghouse or worse.  But it felt good too.
Nodding.  “Friends.”
Kaye went in and hugged her.  That took her by surprise.  Definitely never had the hugging treatment.  Still a new day?  At least she knew she had an earful coming from Sister Margaret.  Time to see what would happen next.

Until next time, a quote,

“Hey, this ain’t like me, but I managed to change ‘cause you were here helping me.  I got you all wrapped up in this shit, but you stayed with me ‘til the bitter end.  You didn’t abandon me.” – Ryuchi Sakamoto, Persona 5

Peace out,

Maverick

A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene III)

Walking into The Parlor was like walking into another world.  The best kept secret in Oceanview.  An underground gambling hub where you could bet on sporting events, play various games of chance, and periodically, there were poker games.  That’s what drew Quinn there tonight.  Word reached her of a game that was happening.  Also why she needed the stack of cash.
Because this wasn’t her first time in here, the staff didn’t seem to pay her much mind.  For those playing, watching, or drinking, the sight of a 15 year old girl in a place like this was more than a little alarming.  There was whispering abound, but she ignored it.  The vast majority of people in this room were no one to her, nor would they ever be.
The Parlor was a very posh sort of place.  Everything was comfortable red velvet colors.  Very soothing.  Not a window to be found, but that was for a good reason.  Everything that happened here was entirely illegal.  Those who came here were dressed with some measure of regard.  As if they knew that you wanted to look as passable as possible in this place.  There was no specific dress code, but people felt that if you were here, you should look the part.  Another reason they were staring at Quinn.
Towards the far wall, there was the place where you cashed in chips, and where you looked to get in on any big games happening.  Standing there was a man in a very smooth red vest, white shirt, and black pants.  Indeed, everyone who worked here wore a similar attire, with even women wearing black pants.  Uniformity was the word.
“Greetings, Red,” the man said jovially.  “What can we do for you tonight?”
“I understand there’s a game happening.  There still time to join?”
He nodded curtly.  “Yes indeed.  It’s set to get underway shortly, so your timing is impeccable.”
Good.  I haven’t missed it.  “What’s the buy-in?”
“The buy-in is $3,000, with no further buy-in if your chips are depleted.”
So this was a small-time game.  Still, it would scratch her itch, for tonight.  “Will the Dealer let me buy in for $5,000?”  She put the stack of cash that was banded on the table.
The man nodded.  “Yes.  I take it the House is to take their cut from this?”
“Only if I win.”
With the same professional expression, the man nodded again.  “Understood.”
Reaching under the counter, he gave her a plaque with the amount she had given the Bank.  This would get her chips when she got inside.

The door to the Poker room was guarded by a very large and very burly black fellow.  Rumor had it he was in the Marines, once upon a time.  Whatever his history, it was understood that those who fucked with him did so at their own peril.
“You got the invite, kid?”
She held up the plaque.
“Alright.  Good luck in there, Red.”
“Thanks.”
Stepping inside, this room was much more posh than the one she had just left.  There was the table at the center, and mirrors in panels between red wooden panels.  There was the logo of The Parlor at the far end.  Inside were six people at the table, and some people there to watch the game.  Probably friends/significant others of the players.
When she handed her plaque to The Dealer, multiple players gave her a confused look.  Already she had the upper hand.  This was good.  Time to survey the competition.  Six other players.  First there was a man who definitely looked like he didn’t belong here.  In a tacky suit jacket, with a wrinkled nice shirt.  This was a game that he bought his way into probably out of desperation.  Maybe he had some skill, but not enough to be a threat.
Next there was a woman who looked very, very bored.  Not someone here to complete legit.  This was something to pass the time.  Fair enough.  Someone to keep an eye on, but not enough to worry about.  Beside her was a very different person.  A young man, early 20’s.  Hair that was messy and dyed blonde at the ends.  On his face were expensive sunglasses.  His outfit reeked of surfer dude, but not the cheap kind.  This was all posh and name brand.  So he was a surfer in look only.  Under the sunglasses, she could feel his eyes on her.  Made her skin crawl.  This dude was trouble.
Then there was another fellow, looking to be a businessman who was here to try and win himself some extra cash.  Another person in it for the fun of it.  Not someone she was going to take seriously.  Lastly, there was a much older man.  This person was a different breed.  Everything about him screamed that he wasn’t fucking around.  This was a professional gambler, and he was here to play to win.  Maybe a worthy opponent?  A girl could dream.
Getting settled in, Quinn went through a small meditation.  Looking at her opponents, analyzing them.  Getting her mind into a place where she could do battle with them.  It was time.
“Who let the baby in here?” Sunglasses asked.
She didn’t answer.  Not gonna let this guy psyche her out now.  The Dealer provided her with the chips.  The value ran from $20 to $250.  This could be an interesting night.  People started to take their seats.  Seems that Sunglasses was not the only one wondering what she was doing there.  Nobody here who knew her, outside of The Dealer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.  Tonight’s game is going to be Five Card Draw, Jokers wild.”
Finally!  A game where she had to actually match wits with people.  Where there was no math involved, because it could be anything with anyone.  This game was shaping up to actually be fun.
“There will be no further buy-ins past this point.  Good luck.”
Not even remotely a battle of titans, but she’d take this any day.

The game started much as she expected.  Scruffy guy was bleeding chips pretty fast, and his poker face was a joke.  Bored woman didn’t show any investment and didn’t care that she was bleeding chips.  Clearly it wasn’t her money she was spending here.  Business man was doing alright, but not enough for her to take him seriously.
Meanwhile, the old timer was every bit the gambler she believed.  This dude had the perfect poker face.  And just like everyone else, he had ruled her out as any kind of threat at first, but quickly changed his tune as the game progressed.  She deliberately lost a couple hands, just to find weaknesses, and he could see the formula she was working with.  But the one she was having to watch the most was Sunglasses.  This guy was pretty good.  Had the true challenge to her skill come along in the form of this loser?  Ironic, but you take the battles where you can find them.  His poker face was perfect.  Helped that he had sunglasses, but they weren’t mirrored, so she couldn’t see his cards.
The game had stretched into three hours, and things were running hot.  Scruffy guy was gone.  His reaction to losing was one of anguish.  Business man decided to try and get lucky with a run on the rest.  Played it coy at first, but once the old timers put in, he raised the stakes.  They got raised more and more by Sunglasses, who was looking to see if Quinn would take the bait.  Her hand wasn’t great, and she could see that business man was looking to capitalize on luck, so she folded.  Turns out, Sunglasses had the good hand, and took business man down.  It was a skilled play.  It was a straight, King high.  Not too shabby.

Now it was just the three.  Quinn could see the old timer was getting antsy.  His position wasn’t getting better and his chips were getting smaller.  If he didn’t win a good hand soon, he was going to be out.  This made his poker face crack more and more.  Neat thing – as the game had gone on, a couple of those who had been playing stuck around, eager to see who would win.  She heard a few saying they thought she had it.  That made her feel better.
Sunglasses was looking to make the kill.  His coy attitude betrayed him.  So cavalier, like he was just chilling and letting a hand play out.  Drew two cards.  The old timer decided his play had come.  A good hand?  Maybe.  Quinn put down $250.  He raised by $1000.  Sunglasses called.  Now it was up to her.  What would she do?  Looking at Sunglasses lip, there was this slight quiver.  Just for a split-second.  Long enough for her to know that he had a good hand.  A really good hand.  She folded.  Smart move.  They threw down, and he had a full house, Aces over fives.  Old timer had a straight.  Ten high.  That was it.  He was done.
Only two of them now.  This game had officially gotten interesting.  Hand after hand, with Quinn being smart.  She’d win on the small hands, fold on the bigger ones.  He was trying to push her to bet big with coy moves and small raises.  Just like he’d done to the old timer.  She wasn’t taking the bait.  It was clear this was his go-to strategy, and since it wasn’t working, he was gonna have to change up.
Finally, they got to a hand and something changed.  He put down $250 at the start.  No cards drawn.  She tensed up.  What did he have?  Something that good, right from the outset?  Couldn’t be.  No way.  She called it, drawing one.  Now she saw him tense up.  One card?  What did she have?  it was a game where neither one betrayed what they had, and now both of them were in a position where they had to make the play.  It was big.  He decided to push his strategy, raising by $500.  He had something good, but instead of bowing out, she decided to step up.  $1,200.  Everyone in the room stopped.  They could feel this hand was different.
The Dealer looked to Sunglasses.  “Sir?  Call or raise?”
They stared right at each other.  Someone had to see what the other was hiding.  That little twitch again, but it wasn’t like last time.  He was confident, but that confidence was tempered.  He knew his opponent was good.
He put down $1,200.  Time to throw down.  Now he smiled a bit.  It was a flush.  Not too shabby.  She smiled back at him, laying her cards down flat and then using one to flip the others.  Four of a kind, Jacks.  She had officially staked her claim.  Now play-time was over.

From that point, Sunglasses realized he was up against someone who may just be better than him, and clearly he wasn’t having it.  Play after play, she could read his tells and was using his own play style against him.  Making bets just big enough to egg him on into playing more.  Then she would go bigger, and sometimes he would call, but sometimes he would fold.  One hand in-particular had him sitting to think for a couple seconds, with $5,000 on the table, only to fold.  He was bleeding.
It came to one last hand.  He was at $8,000.  She was at $15,000.  The entire room was watching this with baited breath.  Sunglasses drew two.  Suddenly, he stopped cold.  His hand was good.  She could feel it.  Looking down at her own cards, she also felt herself smile.  She put in $7,000.  He looked at her, desperate to get a sign, anything that could tell if she was bluffing.  Was her had this good?  Looking down, it was clear he liked his hand, but that uncertainty was eating at him.  His pride was involved with this now.  He wasn’t going to lose to a little girl.
“You know what, fuck it.”  All-in.  “Hey, how about let’s make things interesting?”  From his pocket came what looked to be a really nice set of keys to a nice car.  The logo on it!  It was a fucking Porsche!
“I saw that piece of shit bike you came in on.  Care to bet the against my car?”
Oh, this dude needed to be taken down a peg.
Looking at The Dealer.  “If the Dealer will allow it, I’m game.”
Thinking for a moment, he nodded.  “Parties may make independent bets.  So long as the gentleman understands that all bets are final.  If he loses, that’s it.”
Again, his pride was wrapped up in it.  So he just smiled.  “Oh yeah.  I’m in.  What do you say, kid?”
Taking the keys to her bike, she thought for a moment.  If she lost, it was going to be a LONG walk home.  And her ability to do this again was gone without transportation.  But with the car, his bet was larger than her.  She was going to have to go all-in on this anyway, even if she didn’t want to take his bet.  Looking back at her cards, she smiled.
“Call.”  Her keys clicked as they hit the stack.
The entire room was on baited breath.  This was it.
“I’m gonna enjoy fucking up your bike, girl.” Sunglasses said, turning over his cards.  It was four of a kind, Aces.  Everyone gasped.
She looked right at him.  “No, I think I’m gonna enjoy driving your car.”
Her hand flipped over.  Straight flush, the Joker made it King of Hearts high.
There was clapping around the room.  Sunglasses sunk down in his chair, his face a mask of disbelief.  Wiping the sweat off her forehead, Quinn stood up and scooped up the chips, along with the keys to her bike and the car.  Time to get home.  Though, the car was a bit of a problem.

Walking out of the room, a voice called after her.  “Not too bad, kiddo.”
Turning around, she saw the old timer standing there.
“You were doing pretty well yourself.  Had a couple good hands.”
“I haven’t gone up against two skilled youngsters like yourselves since I was coming up.  But my skills are getting rusty.  Thanks for the compliment all the same.”
Walking over to the bar, the woman there gave her a look.
“What do you want?  Water?”
“Root beer, if you have it.”  She knew they did.  It was something she ordered her first day there, and had been
The bottle was opened and put in front of her.  Quinn put down a five dollar bill.  Old timer asked for a whiskey, straight.
“So, what’s your deal, kid?  I wouldn’t expect to see a girl my granddaughter’s age in here playing cards.”
Leaning against the bar, she took a deep swig.  It felt so good.  She had sweat more than she thought.
“I have an itch that I can’t scratch.  To pit myself against skilled opponents.  To see if I can find anyone who is better than me.  I don’t know where it comes from.  At school I beat everyone in chess.  Beat all the adults I know in chess.  Every game of skill that I’ve come across, I keep winning.  But there were no stakes!  Nothing to lose!  I wanted to feel the tension wondering if I was going to lose everything.  Tonight was fantastic.  That douche in the sunglasses was a skilled opponent.”
The man looked down at her, with a face of both pity and confusion.  “He was.  A little more time and he could be someone pretty great.  But he wasn’t you.  I saw that look in your eye.  At first it was excitement, but after a while it was like a predator.  You were hunting him.  Like in your mind you knew you were going to win before this started.”
Was he right?  The thought hurt.  She didn’t want to see herself that way.
“I don’t know.  But the feeling, right now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
He nodded.  “Yeah, I know how you feel.  Been there myself.  So, what are you gonna do with that car?  Are you even old enough to have your permit?”
Her face flushed red.  “Yeah.  But…didn’t get it too long ago.  Can’t legally drive a car, or my bike.”
“So what are you gonna do with the car?”
“I don’t really know.  There are options, but I don’t know if any of them are good.  It’s a puzzle my brain wasn’t quite ready for.  I just expected this to be a money issue.  Always gotta love a good puzzle, right?”
Taking one last drink, the old timer smiled at her.  “Tell you what – why don’t you let me look after it for a while?  I can park it at my place.”
She cocked an eyebrow.  “Why would you do that for me?  You barely know me?  And how do I know you won’t steal it?”
He chuckled.  “Eh, going fast in sports cars is cool and all, but I don’t have a taste for that thrill.  Too old for it.  As for why I would help you, I got a feeling about you.  Like you’re special.  There are gonna be more games coming.  You’re gonna be back, right?”
Part of her wanted to say no, but she could feel it inside her, the answer was yes.
“Oh yeah.  I’ll be back.”
“Well then, let’s see if an old man’s experience can measure up with a young woman’s skill and see if we can’t make something special happen here.  You in?”  He held out his hand.
Tentative excitement.  A mentor?  Did she need that?  But he was good.  She had seen him.  If it  weren’t for how her and Sunglasses were playing, she might have been in more danger from him.
She shook his hand.  “I’m in.”
“Alright then.  I’ll hold on to that car for you.  Time comes, and you’re old enough, I’ll be happy to give it back to you.  By then I figure you’ll be worth more than I am.”
So that’s his deal.  A wealthy gambler, spending his twilight years in a place like this.  Tragic, but it gave her perspective.  He wanted to help her, and vicariously experience this through her.  That was just fine.  It could be the start of something fantastic.

As she left, she could hear Sunglasses yelling with his entourage about losing to a girl and going to get drunk.  Best to clear out of here fast.  He could be dangerous with alcohol.  A risk of seeing him again?  Probably.  Kicking her bike ignition, she started off toward home.  The sun was going to rise soon.
From a window, Lisa looked out at the noise.  Her eyes went wide.
“Quinn?!”

Until next time, a quote,

“I’ll know I’m in trouble if I start to weep blood.” – James Bond, Casino Royale

Peace out,

Maverick

A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene II)

Quinn was not in a good mood.  A roommate?  This was going to complicate things immeasurably.  There was a certain lifestyle that she was accustomed to, and now it was going to have be done so much more carefully than before.  Though when she thought about it like that, the mental challenge it posed was not without appeal.  Hadn’t she been looking for a challenge?  Being able to escape the roommate, the dorms, and the school unseen did present a stimulating obstacle.  For the moment, she’d have to see what the roomie’s sleeping habits were like, and then go from there.
This girl liked to talk.  Absolutely incessantly.  Talked about how much she liked the school and how it is was so pretty here.  About her family.  Seems they are military and expect great things from her.  Both her mom and dad had served.  That was impressive, but not especially interesting.  At least not to Quinn.  The necklace she kept hidden inside a hollowed-out book that was in the bottom drawer of her desk soured the very concept.  She already had tags.
“So, what about you?  What brings you here?”
Time to rehash the same old lies.  It gave her a bitter taste in her mouth, but what other options were there?  In her heart, she knew it was for the best.  What else could she say?  A lot of late nights talking with Father about it.
Kaye saw the look on her face.  “What’s wrong?”
Shaking her head, she smiled at her.  “Nothing.  Not really much to tell.  Just a poor girl who got here because my folks new the guy in charge.  They were hella proud to hear that their little girl was going to one of the most elite schools in the country.”
The way the girl smiled at her, it gave Quinn a warm feeling.  It wasn’t like so many other girls.  Like her smile was really there, not just plastered on.
“That’s awesome!  Hopefully I’ll get to meet them.”
A twinge of sadness.  She wanted to meet them too.  After months of searching, the police gave up on finding them.  From there, Father McCormick put in the papers to have her sent to his school and be her legal guardian.  Part of her wondered if they were even still alive.  Given what they found her with, and the brand on her shoulder, she figured not.
“Yeah, me too,” Quinn replied.
From there, conversation got easier.  Kaye noticed the CDs sitting on her desk and was immediately enamored.  All her life, listening to stuff like this was so risque.  Her mother was unbelievably prudish and had never allowed that kind of music in the house.
“What?!”
“It’s true,” Kaye groaned.  “I couldn’t watch any cool movies growing up, or listen to music like that.”
This gave Quinn an idea.  “Well, you’re in my room now.  So let’s start here!”
A sheepish look came to Kaye’s face.  “Wouldn’t we get in trouble for listening to punk music?”
With a wink, “You afraid of getting in a little trouble?”
Her roommate looked down for a minute, then right into her eyes, shaking her head.  “No.  I wanna hear it!”
“Hell yeah!”
Noticing the timid reaction when she swore made Quinn giggle.  This girl was kinda cute, if only in her white-picket fence way.  That would change.  Getting up, she put in Nevermind.  As “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on, she got on her feet and started to jam.
“Come on, Kaye!  Get that white ass up and dance!”
The girl looked so awkward, but she did as bidden.  At first it was uncomfortable, but as it played there was a noticeable change in how she moved.  Clearly she didn’t know how to jam out, but she was actually moving to the music.  Pretty soon she was doing the air-guitar with the best of them.
Just then, a banging on her door.  “Quinndolyn!  Turn off that music right now!”
Kaye stopped and looked mortified.  “Oh no!”
Quinn hit the Stop button and sighed.  “Look, don’t sweat it.  I’ll take the rap for this.  Sister Margaret and I go way back.”  Opening the door, she gave her the sweetest expression she could muster.  “What’s wrong, Sister Margaret?”
“You know perfectly well that we don’t like that music here!  I’ve talked with you a dozen times!”
“I was trying to be engaging with my new dormmate, Sister.  I wanted to expose her to my culture.”
That got the most snide look in history.  “Oh?  And what culture is that, exactly?”
“The punk culture, Sister.”
To best describe the look she got next would be one that could freeze someone solid where they stand.  Vicious and ice-cold.
“I’ve talked with you about this before, Quinn.  One more infraction and I will be taking those CDs away from you!”
She really thought about stepping up to her, but not only was this woman loads bigger than her, and she had already gotten her knuckles rapped before, but she didn’t want to start off the school year with this battle already.  Father had asked her to try and get along.
“Understood, ma’am.”
Clearly she enjoyed the feeling of power.  “Very good.  It’s lights-out here soon, so best get ready for bed, Quinn.”
“Yes, Sister.”
As the door closed, Quinn let both middle fingers blaze.  “Bitch.”
Kaye stood there awkwardly.  “I’m sorry.”
Shaking her head.  “I told you not to sweat it.  Sister Margaret and I go way back.  She’s hated me ever since I got here.”
“That awful…”
In truth, it was.  The rational part of her brain told her that the reason wasn’t that complicated.  For starters, she clearly had Father McCormick’s ear.  While he didn’t cover for her, it was clear that she was important to her.  The closest she would likely ever have to a real father.  There was a rumor going around that Sister Margaret had always had a thing for Father McCormick, but would never say a word because of the fact that not only was he her superior, but Catholic rules be rules. Anything between them could only go so far.  She didn’t figure that the Church would look past him breaking his oath of celibacy, even with as much as the Church looks past now.
Next up was because Quinn was seen as the local attitude problem.  Sister Margaret liked the girls upstanding, prim and proper.  So a girl who could listen to punk rock, but still be at the top of her class must have chapped her 48-year-old ass pretty hard.  She knew it drew the ire of every single other girl in this place.  The idea had occurred on more than one occasion to leave this place.  But where would she go?  With a mind as smart as hers, she could probably find her way.  None of the options looked good.  Maybe as soon as…

Father McCormick rubbed his temple.
“We’ve had this conversation before, Sister,” he remarked.
“Yes Father, but last time it was when she was new here.  It’s been three years, and she still has the same attitude problem.  Now she has a roommate, and instead of the roommate being a good influence on her, it seems the opposite is happening.  This could be the start of a worrying trend, sir!  This school preps some of the smartest and most talented young women in the country to find good husbands and build futures.  One rotten apple could sour an entire class.”
This conversation was tedious.  “What would you like me to do, Sister?  Kick her out?  May I remind you that her scores are exemplary!  She’s at the top of her class, academically.  There is NO good reason that you can find to have me send her away from this school.”
The Sister got closer.  “I want you to stop covering for her, Father!  Every time we have this conversation, you consistently defend her and obstruct me.  It’s time we crack down on her behavior!  Make her an example to the rest that insolence is not tolerated here and we are not afraid to make an example of trouble-makers.”
Now he was annoyed.  “She listened to rock music, Sister Margaret!  That’s not quite the revolution you’re alluding to.  And I don’t appreciate the implication that I cover for her.  When she has broken actual rules of this school, I was ALWAYS behind you to discipline her!  Listening to music you personally disapprove of is not an infraction.  Tell you what, when she starts breaking actual rules, then you can come talk to me about further disciplinary actions.  Until then, good evening, Sister.”
Seeing his fierce look, she backed down.  “Good evening, Father.”
As the door closed, he let out a sigh.  Then a smile came to his face.  So his gambit worked.  Instead of trying to force her to make friends here, he introduced a new element into her life, and if she’s listening to music with her, that means they have connected on some level.  While Sister Margaret sees doom and gloom, he sees the chance for her to finally come out of her shell.  There was also the girl in the wheelchair he saw her walking with.  Perhaps it was a new day here at the school, for his young charge.  On his desk sat a picture.  It was of the two of them driving down the coast.  Back when she was out of the hospital.  So timid and nervous.  No memories of the life that came before.  He wanted to show her that she could feel safe, so they went down the coast.  It was the first time he saw her smile.
Three years already?  How time flew by.  Each step to try and get her to come out of the iron-thick shell she made for herself was an effort.  But every year he saw more progress.  As the head of a school, that was one thing.  As a surrogate father, it was something else.

Night had fallen, and her roommate was fast asleep.  Quinn did a couple of basic tests to see how hard it was she slept, and it seemed the sleeping pattern was reasonably strong.  This was good, as the itch was back and she needed to go out into the night.  To scratch it in the way of which she was accustomed to.
Getting up from bed, she quietly dressed in a hoodie and jeans.  Put on her sneakers and opened the door just a little.  Coast was clear so far.  Moving silently through the halls, she listened for any noise.  The sound of shoes!  The Sister who was on watch for the night making her rounds.  Listening for any noises or sounds of infractions.  Perhaps genius ninjas sneaking out again?  Not something you could listen for.  The sound made it easy for her to track where the movement was.  She could keep one step ahead.
The game got easier as she got to the stairwell.  Even with her sneaking skills, these stairs squeaked something fierce.  Thankfully, she learned a trick to get around this.  Sliding down the railing never stopped being fun.  Sure, there was always the risk that someone would see her when she got to the bottom, but now she knew where the person on patrol was.  This meant she had to act quickly.
Moving much faster, she got to the window at the far end of a hall that didn’t have any outside lights shining on it.  Sliding it open just enough to get her through, she closed it behind.  The chill of the night air felt so good.  No matter how many time she did this, her heart was pounding.  Into the darkness she started toward her way out.  A way she discovered when she was 13, but had been too afraid to use.  Time got her toughened up for this.
As she moved, something above her caught her eye.  An open window!  Someone was standing there!  Oh shit!  The grass was soft and muffled sound, but she couldn’t be too careful.  Moving much slower, she sneaked around it.  Who was that up there?  Her answer came from the most unlikely of sources – a lighter ignition.  It was Sister Margaret!  She smoked?!  Now that was a shock.  Clearly that was buried underneath five levels of secrecy.  In a way, it made her seem more human to Quinn.  Not enough to like her, but enough to make her think that she wasn’t a totally awful human being.
Once she was sure she’d passed her range of vision, the goal came back into focus.  She ran down the lawn, finally arriving at her way out.  It was a tree that grew right along the edge of the fence.  Its arms hung over the other side.  Nobody ever did anything about it because no one figured anyone would be crazy enough to actually use this method of escape. It was risky.  If the limb she used should snap, it would surely give her some ugly injuries.  Not to mention potentially impaling herself on the top of the fence, if she was over it.  Ick.  As she got older and bigger, she knew that this route would be less secure.  The thinking part of her brain knew other options would have to be found that were more reliable.  Until then, this would do.
Climbing up was easy.  Despite being weak, physically, at the very least she had this much strength.  Onto the branch that extended out, it always made her feel the most ninja.  On the outside of the fence, there was another equally-strong branch that this one met up with.  She crossed seamlessly, though there was that little moment as the tree shook slightly and her heart fluttered.  Such a good feeling.
After she climbed down, she started quickly toward where her transportation was waiting.  This was something she was proud of herself for setting up.  Using an old abandoned property that nobody would buy because the last owner and their family had been horribly murdered.  Paranoia of lesser-minded people worked for her just fine.  Grabbing a stack of cash from under the floorboards, she went into the garage.  Inside was her dirt bike.  Something she won from a kid who thought they were such hot shit.  Guess they weren’t so hot now.  She could only wonder what the conversation with the kid’s parents were like.  Opening the door, she kicked on the ignition and started off.

The night air passing over her, with her on a bike with her lid helmet.  It looked dorky, but you use what you have to.  Her brain was the best asset she had.  No way she was gonna risk it.  Driving down the long and winding road that led up to the school.  The woods seemed ominous, but there was still something beautiful about them.  An owl was drifting along above her.  That was cool!  Big one, too.
Getting to the town, now she had to be careful again.  It wasn’t the Sisters she had to worry about here.  It was the cops.  The wrong person sighted her, and it was all over.  She’d be in the most major trouble she ever had been.  Still, she knew the routes they had.  Something she had cultivated over months of feverish study.  In her mind she could see it like a map.  The bars weren’t going to be letting out for a number of hours, so the beat cop who ran this part of the town would be chilling by a coffee shop.  Their patrols were pretty infrequent until the bars let out.  Then it was time to catch some drunk drivers.  This town was quiet, and that worked to her advantage.
The back-alley route was smart, and it made sense, given where she was looking to go.  The Parlor.  A place that few knew about, and had no sign.  Getting this info took all her wits, and it was worth it.  Every night she came here, she made a killing.  Made her wonder if she would ever be kicked out.  But the house got its cut.
Finally, she saw the black door, with all the graffiti around it.  Parking the bike and chaining it up to a pole, she walked toward it.  Knocking, a section of the front slid open.
“What’s the word?” A grim voice asked.
“I hear the crabbing is good right now.”
The door unlocked.  Time to see what tonight had in store for her.

Until next time, a quote,

“Anyway, that’s how I lost my medical license.” – The Medic, Team Fortress 2

Peace out,

Maverick