A Tale of Two Gates: Book One (Excerpt)

Hey everybody.  Got this new novel I’m working on.  I think it’s coming along smoothly, and I decided to share a decidedly-romantic scene with you all.  I suppose this is a bit of a spoiler for it, but since I do hope to make a series out of it, and the relationship between the characters in this is complicated, I don’t think it will tell you that much.  Hope you all enjoy.

It was a cool evening.  A breeze was coming in from the north.  The city was quiet as fishermen came in and the other ships were coming in for dock.  The hava airship was still anchored outside the city.  It made for an imposing sight against the amber skyline.  Smells of food from the various stalls and bars was carrying on the breeze, along with the occasional waft from the pleasure houses in the green light district.
Sitting on the roof of the building she lived in, Aima had a bottle of Everline in her hand.  Next her was her hume companion.  Both were enjoying the cold air after a hot day and all the chaos on Deo’s ship.  The ginger xylo had bandages on her arms, though it wasn’t necessary.  Using blood magic, she had stopped the bleeding and the healer at the corner clinic had given her a quick patch-up.  This was more for sun exposure.  Her pink button-up shirt was open, with her white undershirt and all the stains associated with it exposed.  Some would see it as macabre, wearing a shirt covered in old bloodstains.  For her, this was part of the day.
The bottle was being passed back and forth.  The hume was still wearing the Navy uniform pants but had the white undershirt on underneath.  It was mostly tucked into the pants, with part hanging out.  This shirt was also getting stained, though after today, the reason why was clear.  Her long brown hair was hanging down, poofed out about the roof tiles that the two were leaning against.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Jean said, breaking the hanging silence.
“It was them or me,” Aima replied.
“Still, that was nuts.  All that blood.  You could have been killed.  Blood loss is no joke.”
Nodding, she took a drink from the bottle.  “Trust me, I know.  This isn’t even the furthest I’ve gone on this.”
Looking over, the hume was concerned.  “Don’t tell me that.  I worry about you.”
She chuckled.  “Chari, Jean.  That means a lot.”  Her hand came to rest on the hume’s.
Jean turned her hand around, locking fingers.  The quiet intimacy of the act struck both of them.  Each found their heart beating quicker.  Then their hands separated, going back to staring at the vast ocean of stars and the shimmers of nether streams in the sky.
Very soon, the bottle was empty.  Aima set it beside her, then went back to staring at the stars.  There was a long pause, with just the cacophony of the life of the city around them.  Families having meals, restaurants and open bars having dinner, various groups out and about, it was a gentle symphony.
“You looked pretty badass out there,” Jean said.
“I did?”
The hume looked over with incredulity.  “Oh don’t act like you don’t know it.  Nobody who can do that stuff doesn’t know how cool they look doing it.”
“Den ita tinata.”
“Meaning?”
“It was ordinary.”
“Fuck that!  That was crazy!  Watching your blood becoming blades, cutting those dudes open and then having their blood make the blades bigger!  That was fucking awesome!”  There was such sincerity in her voice.
Aima smiled, resting her head closer to her companion’s.  “I guess, when you have trained the way I have, done this sort of thing for so long, and seen mages and sorceresses who can do some crazy things, you start to forget that you can also do cilin things.”
The hume’s expression soured.  “Wish I could do cool stuff like that.”
Seeing the dour look on her face, Aima gave her a smile.  “You have analyzed data which tells Omirals how to move fleets to make war!  That’s amazing!  I could never do that.  Being in a room filled with powerful people like that, I wouldn’t be able to talk without stammering.”
A slight smile came to her face.  “Isn’t as cool as being able to control blood.”
The xylo shook her head.  “It is.  Having your words help guide the actions of legions in potential wars with millions of lives on the line.  You might not see it, but that’s incredible.”
“I guess.  Definitely don’t look as good as you doing it.  You are in such good shape.”  Looking down, she frowned at the fat around her waist.
“You are pannefori, Jean.  Don’t you ever believe otherwise.”
“Pannefori?”
She looked right at her.  “Beautiful.”
The hume’s face suddenly went beet red, looking away.  “You don’t mean that.”
Aima’s face got very serious.  “Koitaxe ma, Jean.”
“What?”
A slight pause.  “Look at me.”
It was hard to turn and meet her companion’s gaze.  Finally, she did.  The xylo’s face was very close.
“You are beautiful, Jean.”
The closeness between the two lasted for just a moment, until Aima’s hand was around her head, bringing their lips together.  The kiss was passionate, as if a ton of restrained energy had finally exploded outward.  She pulled herself into the young hume’s arms, holding her close.  Her companion’s mind was swirling.  For so long, she had been wondering about it.  The little glances, the closeness, the butterflies anytime Aima smiled at her.  Now it was happening, and she was both terrified and joyful at the same time.
Her elven companion got in closer, climbing on top of her.  It was clear she was wanting to elevate the level of intimacy.  For her, this was something she had been aching to do for a long time.  Among her people, intimacy between genders wasn’t nearly the social issue it was to the humes.  Love should be free and expressed in all the ways it can be, with those who are able and do consent.  The connection that she had immediately felt since the young woman opened her eyes in her bed was being fully realized.  She wanted more.
Right as things were getting heavier, Jean pulled back.  “Wait!  Please, wait.”
Not wanting to push things and make the situation awkward, Aima did as bidden, releasing hold and climbing off.
“I’m sorry.”
The hume’s hand touched hers.  “No.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  Just, not here.  It’s too open, too public.  Can we go back inside?”
Aima smiled from ear to ear.  “Tu echai!”

A cool breeze was still blowing in through the window of Aima’s bedroom.  Gentle music was playing from the teliz.  A woman was singing in Alder.  A gentle tune, which the ginger xylo had told her was of love.  Reminded her of jazz singers, back in the day.
The two women were laying in bed, gently kissing and holding one-another.  Passion had erupted in this place, and there was a lingering scent to match, though the candles were gradually replacing it, and the breeze was airing the room out.  Now it was calmer, with the two enjoying the closeness and tender afterglow.  Aima’s hands were running over the soft flesh of her hume companion’s breasts.  The amount of attention they were being paid had gotten Jean’s attention.
“You are really into my boobs.”
Aima nodded, grinning.  “You have no idea.  Women of the alder don’t have memlars like this.  Ever.  Even when we are nursing children, they don’t get this big.  I love them…”
Jean’s expression soured.  “They’re only big like that because I’m fat.”
The xylo sighed.  “Why are you so hard on yourself?  You have such a small amount of fat.  If what you’ve told me about your people is true, then you are in such vastly better condition than most.  Why do you berate yourself so hard?”
She turned around.  “Because of this.  Ever since puberty, I have this giant butt and super wide hips.  I hate how I look.  The only pants that fit me assume that I’m unbelievably fat.  Last time I went shopping for…sexy underwear I was crying because there was nothing at the lingerie store that fit me.  I feel so fat because of this.”
Aima shuffled down the bed.  The hume let out a squeak as a big kiss was planted right on one of the cheeks of her butt.
“I think it’s pannefori, and you won’t find any such problems here.  If you cannot find clothing, it can be tailored for you.  Trust me, the tailors love a challenge, and you would present a fantastic one.  Whatever clothing you want.”  She shuffled her way back up the bed.  “Your world sounds so judgmental and awful.  Everyone always hating how they look, constantly fearing what others think about it.  It sounds exhausting.”
Turning back around, Jean smiled and kissed her elven lover.  “It is.  Doesn’t help that in the Navy, they make me feel worse.  I didn’t make the weight last time and the tape measure was too much.  So they run me ragged to lose more weight, but then I’m gaining muscle.  And it feels like my fluffy is never going down.”
Aima looked confused.  “Your what?”
Getting ashamed again.  “It’s a term where I come from for…fatness.”
The xylo gave her a cold look.  “Stop being so mean to yourself!  You are not fat!”
She pointed down at her stomach.  “There’s fat there!”
The ginger elven woman chuckled and slithered down her body and started kissing her tummy.
“There is sexy female there.  How can you not love every ounce of this body?!  You are perrafora omori kelm!”
Closing her eyes, she suddenly felt very intimate.  “What does that mean?”
“Beautiful beyond words,” Aima replied, kissing back up her body.
Then the young hume burst into tears.  A sudden painful, loving feeling came over her and she couldn’t help but cry.
It was enough to get the ginger xylo’s attention.  “What’s wrong?!”
“I’m sorry.  You didn’t do anything.  I just…I always feel so gross, like this body is something I am stuck in and that it’s hideous and no one could ever think I’m attractive.  Doesn’t help that I can’t flirt or be sexy.  It always just looks awkward.  Even now I feel so unsure what to do.  I’m a hot fucking mess and I feel so bad because my brain doesn’t want to believe what you’re saying, even now.  There’s this niggling thought that you’re just being nice and don’t want to hurt my feelings.  I feel like such a jerk.”
Aima had a big smile and moved back up to look at her lover face-to-face.
“Look at me, Jean.”
The hume was indeed a hot mess, puffy and red with tear-streaks on her face, but she did as bidden.
“I don’t want you for some idea of you.  I want you for you.  So you are exceptionally awkward.  That’s alright.  You’re you, and that’s all I want.  It’s okay if you have trouble believing what I’m saying.  I’ll keep saying it until it gets through that thick hume skull.  And I bet we could find a way to make you feel attractive.  Give me a tailor, some makinia, and some pins for your hair, and I bet I can make you feel like you are the most attractive hume who’s ever lived.”  Looking down, a smirk came to her face.  “Starting now. Veni merun!”

Sitting naked on the edge of the tub, with a towel hanging over her leg, Jean couldn’t have looked more awkward.
“You sure you know what you’re doing?”
Aima gave her a caring look.  “Do you trust me?”
“Of course.  It’s just…”
“I won’t hurt you.  I promise.”
After a few deep breaths, she nodded.  “Okay, let’s get started.”

“There we are!  Not a nick on the kolos!” Aima said.  “You can open your eyes now.”
With much apprehension, the hume looked down, then was in awe.  Her pubic region was shaved perfectly clean.  The towel was covered in shaving cream mixed with hair.  Through the whole ordeal, she had had her eyes closed.  Having never done this herself, the whole prospect seemed very frightening.  As clumsy as she was, she never would have taken such a risk with her womanhood.  Running her hands over things was so different now.
“Wow.  It’s so smooth.”
“Yes indeed,” the ginger xylo replied, regarding it approvingly.  “Let’s see how you look in the mirror.”
The two women stood together, Aima’s arm around her lover’s waist.
“Not gonna lie, I feel kinda hot right now.”
“I assume hot means attractive?”
“Oh yeah.”
“Very good!  You most certainly are.  Now all we need is a cute open shirt that shows off those glorious memlars, a long skirt to accentuate the vasel, some dark makinia that goes with how pale you are, and some shimmers for your hair.  Then you will be turning heads everywhere!”
Now it was Jean who pulled her companion into her arms and was kissing her with passion.  A fire had been lit, and now there was no going back.  The night was almost over, but for these two, it had only just begun.

Until next time, a quote,

“Real love is wild and passionate and dangerous.  It burns and consumes.” – Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Peace out,

Maverick

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

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

A Mental Enigma (Prologue + Act I, Scene I)

Prologue

Anyone who knows coastal towns in Washington knows that winter means rain.  The stereotype is that rain is pretty much 360 days out of the year, and some years are like that, but not all or even many.  Rain is an ever-present companion, but in summer it does tend to get warm and sunny.  But winter means rain, and lots of it.  Snow happens too, but when it does, everything stops.  Life in general ceases to exist, unless you’re unfortunate enough to be stuck working fast food or at a grocery store.  Then you’re SOL.
So when rain had been hitting Oceanview for almost two weeks without cease, nobody really thought a lot of it.  That’s just life.  Just be careful driving and don’t hydroplane.  It’s easy enough, if you’re careful.  Huge puddles everywhere, and people with umbrellas or rain jackets.  Fisherman heading out to sea with the miserable looks as they realize they’re gonna be getting drenched the whole day.  Maybe if they went far enough out, they wouldn’t.  A working man could dream.
When Father McCormick looked up form his weekly writings, he didn’t think much of the downpour either.  The trees had lost their leaves, and everything was rejuvenating in the endless rains.  Maybe it was how God cleansed everything.  He remembered a Bishop joking with him that that was why so many sinners were in southern California – because they never got the rain and it couldn’t wash the filth and decadence away.  He just shrugged off that kind of thinking.  There was no way that the God he worshiped was small like that.  The man he called his Lord and Savior was a much less petty man.
Such was what he preached in the chapel on Sunday.  His sermon was one of the things he was working.  In his eyes, the Divinity of God was not something that was just reserved for those who came to church, confessed their sins, and partook in Communion.  It was given to those who asked for it, freely.  Because that was the God he believed in, and always would.
Naturally, this way of thinking was not welcomed within much of his contemporaries world.  Indeed, in his own school, the Sisters and some of the teachers frowned upon his open and accepting nature.  It wasn’t what the Pope preached.  John Paul II was a very conservative man, and his views were much the same.  However, while his views were against traditional orthodox, he still was a priest and had done nothing to disrespect the collar.  They placed him in charge of the school and he kept to himself, imparting the Gospel as he saw it to those who would listen.
The sound of rain outside was soothing to him.  Letting him wash his mind of the dark thoughts about how he got dirty looks from his contemporaries, or even the Sister in charge of the dormitory here at the school.  While they didn’t see eye-to-eye, Sister Margaret did her job exceptionally well.  And he wasn’t about to let differences in faith politics get in the way of him having good help.  It just meant he had to argue with her every so often.  Such was life.  The rain washed it all away.
That’s when he heard a noise.  It was coming from outside.  It sounded like a bang!  Soft enough so that he didn’t think anyone not paying attention would hear.  Especially not in this torrent.  Was someone shooting?  Training from many days gone by kicked in, and he knew he had to see.  The safety of his students was paramount.
He threw on his rain jacket.  Looking at the locked drawer on his desk, he thought for a couple seconds.  No, he wasn’t going to do that.  It was probably just some local children being stupid, and he would give them a stern lecture and call the police for shooting a firearm on private property.  While he did believe in second chances, a gun on a school was no laughing matter.  One could only imagine what could happen if a gun got into the wrong hands on a school.  Thankfully, nothing like that had happened yet.  At least as far as he knew.  By the Grace of God, amen.
Opening his office door, there was a Sister outside.  One of the young ones, Sarah.
“Father, did you hear that?!” she called out.
“I did, Sister!  Stay inside!  I’ll go see what’s going on.  If I’m not back in thirty minutes, call the police!”
“Yes Father!”  A good girl.  So eager to be helpful.  Another person that Sister Margaret didn’t always agree with.  She was so outgoing and eager to accept people.  It meant that sometimes she let things slide during nights when she was on duty at the dormitories, but her heart genuinely was in the right place.
Now, to see what was going on.  Father McCormick got a nervous feeling inside.

The sound had come from the woods, not far from the edge of the cliff.  The fence went around it to protect the girls, but sometimes things would happen.  Father McCormick’s pace quickened.  His flashlight barely cut through the darkness and rain.  It was like a wall.  He finally reached the fence and could hear the pounding of the waves against the rocks far below.  It was impossible to see anything.  If he shouted, he gave away his position, which might be risky, given that there may be someone with a gun outside.  Coming to the barred fence, he looked out.
His eyes then caught sight of a light coming down from below!  It was laying on the rocky shore.  A shadow could be seen, what looked to be a body, not moving!  In a flash he was climbing the bars and went over the top, carefully.  One wrong move would give one a second or two to think before slamming into the rocks and being either horribly injured or dead.
“Hello!” he called out.  “Is anyone down there!”
The light didn’t move.  Looking closer, he saw that there was someone laying on the ground.
Father McCormick knew there was a way down to the shore from here.  It was a boardwalk stairwell that was used by the science teacher to bring the girls down to the beach for classes.  Moving as fast as he could over to it, he walked down as carefully as he could.  The boards was slick.  Nearly fell a couple times.  Then he got down to the shore and took off down the beach. This was also slick with algae on the rocks.  The tide had gone out not long ago and it was still covered in green.  This was dangerous, but inside he knew that he had to hurry.
Getting closer to the light, he saw a more clear outline of the body that he was chasing.  It was a person.  A small person.  Perhaps a child?  Oh God.  Had some poor child been shot down here and left to die?  A thousand horrible things went through his mind as he got closer to the light, and it ached him inside.  Memories of Grenada in his mind.  Shaking his head, he brought himself back to the moment.
Finally reaching the light it was indeed a child.  Couldn’t be more than 12 years old.  As he got closer, he saw skin that was as pale as moonlight.  As if they had never seen sunlight a day in their lives.  They wore what appeared to be a hooded sweatshirt with a design on the back.  Like a bear, holding a trident?  That was strange.  Their pants looked to be sweatpants as well, both things were soaked to the bone.
Sliding in right next to the tiny body, he pulled the hood back.  It was a girl!  Skin devoid of all color, and hair that was as orange as fire.
When the hood came down, the eyes of the little girl opened.  She looked up at the man, feebly attempting to reach up.
“Help me!” she choked.  Her arm fell, and it looked like she had passed out.  Oh no!  Was she dead?!
“Stay with me, child!  I’m going to get you help!”
Father McCormick picked her up and began to run.  This little life was not going to fade while he drew breath!  Clearly it was God’s will that she be here, and he would find her.  So he wasn’t going to let her story end here.
As he picked her up there was a noise.  Looking down, he saw a gun!  It was a Walther CCP.  An easy gun for someone with weak hands to use.  His eyes went wide.  What had happened here?!  His haste was even more present, as he knew that he had to get her help, and quickly.  If she had a gun, did that mean she had been shot?  Was she shooting at someone?!  What had happened?!  So many questions, but first he had to get her to somewhere warm, and call an ambulance.  With speed he had never had before, he carried this tiny body toward the stairs, to get her inside.

Storming into his office, he cleared everything off his desk in one sweep.  Very gently, he laid the tiny body down.
“Oh goodness!” Sarah cried.  She had been waiting there, as there was a phone in his office.
“Get a pillow, Sister!  And some blankets!”
The young woman stood there in shock.
“Now, Sister!  We have to warm her up!  I’ll call for an ambulance, but we have to get her warmed up first!”
Nodding fearfully, she started off.  She’d never seen Father McCormick look like that before.  Strong, powerful, as a man in command.  Made her think of old war movies.
She ran into the linen closet and pulled out a pillow and a thick blanket. Running back as fast as her legs would carry her, some of the girls had gathered to find out what the commotion was about.
“Back to your rooms, ladies!  Don’t make me tell you again!” she said in a tone much the same as Father McCormick had.  He had given her strength.
Coming inside, she saw the Father had lit his woodstove and was working fast to get it going.
“Good, Sister!  Now, I’m going to head to the dormitory office and make the call.  If you would, please get her out of those clothes as much as you can and under the blankets.  Those clothes are soaking wet and freezing cold.  We have to warm her up.  Can you do it?”
It was awkward, but seeing how pale the girl laying there was, Sister Sarah nodded.
“Yes, Father.  I can.”
“Alright.  I’ll leave you to it and make the call.”
“Okay.”
The man exited his office and closed the door.  Sarah looked down at the young person laying there.  Was she even breathing?  Was she dead?  Such a frail looking tiny body.  Who was she?  No time to ponder.  Questions the police would ask.  For now, she had been given a task, and she was going to see it through.  Much like the Father, she had a sense of needing to protect this little life.
Tying her hair back, she pulled off the girl’s arms up and then pulled the sweatshirt off.  Underneath she only wore a tanktop.  Puberty hadn’t set in yet for her.  Sister Sarah decided to leave it at that.  There was a necklace!  Pulling up on it, it was a simple metal necklace like you see in the military.  Also like that, there were dog-tags!  Who was this girl?!  Looking at the tags, there was this feeling inside Sister Sarah.  Something that told her that it would be better for everyone if these things weren’t on her when the authorities arrived.  They could be given back to the girl when she was better.
She took off the necklace and put it in her pocket.  Would talk to Father McCormick about it when they had gotten her to the hospital.  With the bottom layer, she only took off the pants.  Plain white underwear.  Now she put the pillow under her head and wrapped her up in the blanket.
Taking out her beads, she ran her fingers over them.  Please God, Mother Mary, look after this little girl.  Please don’t let her perish.  She sat there, now hearing in the quiet that had descended ragged tiny breaths coming from her.  The Sister kept repeating the prayer, over and over again.  Never had she prayed like this before.  Running her hand through the girl’s soaking wet hair.  It was so short, you’d think she was a boy at first glance.  Just long enough to be ambiguous.
A knock on the door.  “Sister, can I come in?”
“Yes Father!  She’s covered up and getting warm.”
He opened the door and came over.  “How is she?”
“Her breathing is so ragged and small, I can barely tell she is.  You told the ambulance to hurry, right?”
“Yes!  I told them to run all the lights it takes, because I made an oath to God that she isn’t going to die tonight.”
The Sister smiled up at him.  “Thank you, Father.  I was just praying.”
He smiled back at her.  “I think I will too.”
He took out his Bible, along with a vial of oil.  He put a dab on his thumb, making the cross on her forehead.
“Holy Father, please, don’t let this little girl’s light fade away tonight!  Saint Nicholas, please watch over her.  Give her the strength to see the light tomorrow.  And if she must pass on, Saint Peter, please hold her hand and guide her into the Father’s embrace.”
Sister Sarah took his other hand.  They stood there for a few moments.
Finally, the moment passed.
“I’m going to be praying for her all night, Father.  She’s so pale.  Her little breaths.  It sounds awful.”
“I will too, Sister.  And into tomorrow.”
“Father, there’s something you should know.  She had a necklace on her.  I thought that the authorities might ask questions about it that we don’t want to get into, so I took it off.  I have it right here, and will get it back to her.  But Father, it’s…”
He was confused.  “What, Sister?  What is it?”
“See for yourself.”  She handed the dog-tags to him.
“Oh Lord.  What is this?”  There was a number on it.  Like a service number.  This he recognized.  And a name – Quinn.  Looking down at her, one thought went through the man’s mind – who was this girl?  Whatever the answer, he was going to look after her.  The Holy Father had seen fit to bring her to him tonight, and if she should live, he would make sure she was safe.  Hopefully there was a family looking for her, and she could be with them soon.

Act I, Scene I

The light of dawn floated in through her window.  Quinn rubbed her eyes and groaned.  Monday.  Of course it was Monday.  If the weekend could go on longer, she’d take it  But that’s how it is.  All good things in life have to end.  Now it was back to the classroom, with the same asshole kids and the same boring lectures.  Best just to keep her head down and get through it.  That’s how she always did.
Getting up from the bed at her dorm, she shuffled to the door.  Nobody was up this early, which was nice for her.  Meant she could do the basics in peace.  Her shower bag was with her, and towel draped over her shoulder.  Walking into the shower room, she stripped off her tanktop and flannel PJ pants.  Hot water sluiced over her and was pretty good about waking her up.  These little moments, before everything went to shit.  Last night had been nothing but girls getting back from summer vacation.  Noisy girls who had to tell all their friends about how awesome summer was.  It was the most annoying thing ever.  Even Sister Margaret couldn’t get them to quiet down.
One of those nights when she would put her headphones on with her CD player and just let the music carry her off to sleep.  Listening to Nirvana.  Rumor was their next album was coming out soon.  She couldn’t wait.  It made Father roll his eyes, but she didn’t care.  Good music was its own reward, and this stuff was the best.  Between that, Nine Inch Nails, and Pantera, the music scene had never been better.  At least as far as she knew.  Just one of those things, given how many memories she didn’t have, from before she was 12.
Getting out of the shower, she caught a glimpse of herself on the mirror, putting her tanktop back on.  There was another reason she liked to take showers early.  It meant that fewer people had a chance to see her “birthmark.”  That’s what Father called it.  It was a mark on her that nobody knew how it got there.  It was shaped like a trident, and was burned onto her skin.  Like what you do to cattle.  It was a bit down on her shoulder blade.  The tanktop hid it well enough.  Rule of thumb was to call it a birthmark and not go into it with people.  Less to explain.  Quickly, she headed out of the shower and into her dorm room.
Word was that it was gonna be sunny this week.  That worked for her.  Start the school year off on the right foot.  Her new uniform had come in last week.  She she didn’t leave the dorm for the summer, they just delivered it to her at her room.  A black jacket, plaid skirt, and white shirt underneath.  She already knew that the shirt was NEVER going to be something she wore.  It was the constant battle with Sister Margaret.  All those buttons and whatnot drove her up the wall, so she just wore a black t-shirt underneath.  If she could get away with it, she’d wear some of her band merch shirts, but that would get her thrown out of class.  She rode the line as it was with the plain t-shirt.
The skirt was also a thing she took umbrage with.  It was long enough, sure.  Not gonna see any girls in short skirts in a Catholic school.  But she still felt exposed.  To make up for this, she typically work black leggings.  Getting all dressed up, she looked at her hair in the mirror.  It was getting longer.  Typically she didn’t want to bother with hair, but given the setting she lived at, her options were limited.  In a perfect world, she’d cut it short and spike it up.  But having tried that once, it was immediately shot down by Sister Margaret and the prudish way she lived.  So she had to keep to her punk rock style in a way that it could be made presentable during the week.  Ugh.  Life is no fun here.  Something she’d been thinking for years.
Finally getting everything just so, she nodded approval of her look and grabbed her bag.  Time to head to class.  That’s when she noticed that her nails were still black.  Whatever.  Nail polish wasn’t something you’d get demerits for.  Just dirty looks since it was black.  Screw them.  This was almost-certainly gonna be a long day.

Walking down the hallways, now she could see her contemporaries out and about, rushing to get their uniforms and get dressed properly.  People looking at her and giving her the same glowering expression they always did.  Whatever.  Rich bitches who acted like their shit didn’t stink.  That’s why they looked down at her.  This was a private boarding school, but she wasn’t from money.  Nobody knew the full extent of the truth, but enough knew that she wasn’t from a rich family.  Officially the story was that she got in because of connections to Father McCormick.  In a way, that was the truth.  Or at least half of it.
Coming out of the dormitories, she felt the air was getting ever-so-slightly chilly in the mornings.  Enough so you could see your breath.  It gave her this nice shiver that made her feel alive.  As she made her way across the grounds, she decided to head to the cafeteria and get some breakfast.  She could eat the grill-man Jim’s breakfast burritos all day.  An old Spokane man, he was a kind fellow who constantly had a nice word for even the bitchiest of girls around this place.  Word was that he had a history with the law, but Father gave him a chance.  Not everyone liked it, but seems he had turned himself around and was one of the kindest people you would ever meet.
Entering into the cafeteria, there were already a few girls inside.  Walking over to the grill first thing, Jim looked up with his old features.
“Oh hi there, Quinn!  First day of class today!  Gotta eat a big breakfast!”
“That’s what I was thinking!”
“I’d ask what you want today, but I already know.  You go grab yourself a seat.  I’ll hollar when it’s done.”
“You’re the best, Jim.”
Such a nice guy, you’d never know that he had done anything wrong ever in his life.  But Father had always found people who he knew were more than they appeared and offered them a place here.  Given that she spent pretty much all the life she knew here, the staff was the closest thing she had to family.
Grabbing a table, she looked out the window.  Mist rising.  The sun was out now and the warming process was beginning.  This little twilight hour of cool morning air becoming warmer as it rose higher into the sky.  It was peaceful.  Lost in thought, Jim called for her to grab her food.  She thanked him again, and he gave her that little grateful smile of his, before turning back to his work for other students.  More were coming into the cafeteria.
As she sat down, she grabbed some ketchup and loaded up the plate.
Clapping her hands together.  “Thanks for the food, G-man.”
A laugh came from beside her.  “G-man, is it?  Not sure what the Father would think about being called that.”
Looking up, she saw Father McCormick standing there, in a more casual sweater-vest and cargo pants.
“Father!” she said.  A title, and to her, something more.  Something that nobody could know, outside an express few, for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to her sometimes.  She remembered waking up, and seeing his face next to her.  He had beads in his hands and his eyes were closed.  Said he had been praying all night.  There was Sister Sarah there too.
“Morning, kiddo.”  He sat across from her.
“You’re up early.”
“Same to you.”
She had picked up his schedule.  Something she adapted to, living at his residence for the first few months.  Back when they were trying to find her family, before the paperwork went through.
“So, you ready for class today.”
A shrug.  “Word!  I got this.”
He chuckled.  “I’m sure you do.”  Looked at her uniform.  “I see it’s another t-shirt.  I swear, are you TRYING to pick fights with Sister Margaret?”
Her face got less pleasant.  “It ain’t my fault that she wants everyone in those white shirts that suffocate you.  I got everything else just the way she wants it.  I’m not doing anything wrong.”
Now a more stern look.  “At least try and wear the shirt sometimes.  I’m always the one who has to hear about it when the two of you are fighting.”
She let out a defeated sigh.  “I’ll try!”
“That’s a good girl.  Well, enjoy your breakfast.  I have to meet with the groundskeeper.”
Looking disappointed.  “Okay.  Wish you could stay.”
He put his hand on hers.  “I know.  But I don’t want it to look like I’m playing favorites.  Blame the fact of how we got here.  Know that I’m rooting for you.  One of these nights we’ll have to play chess.  See if I can get you this time.”
A chuckle.  “Never gonna happen, Father.”
“Probably not.  Have a good day, sweetie.”
“You too, Father.”
The worst part about having to keep the details about her secret, the man who had taken her in had to be met with secretly.  Quinn genuinely knew that he cared for her.  Anytime she needed some spending money, he always had her back, unless she had really stepped over the line.  But she did sometimes want to spend more time with him.  A priest is always busy, after all.
Finishing up her breakfast, she took her tray to the drop-off and thanked Jim again.  Such a sweet old man.  Time to get to class.

The first day was about as dull as she expected.  Teachers going over rules, what they were going to be teaching, doing introductory material.  A little homework, but not much.  Sixth period got out and she was headed on the way out.  At the door, she saw something that was unexpected – a girl who looked to be about her age trying to get out.  Problem was, she was in a wheelchair.  And clearly it wasn’t easy for her.
The girl was a young Latina woman.  On her face was an expression of frustration.  The fact that nobody was trying to help her was just bizarre.  Did no one here have a heart?
Walking over, Quinn called out,  “I’ll get the door for you!”
A look back.  “I got this, thanks.”  Her tone was so indignant.  Like she had just been told something in a really condescending way.  The reason no one was helping her was coming into focus.
“Clearly you don’t, or else you’d be outside.”  Quinn wasn’t the type to take people’s shit.  Just because she’s crippled doesn’t mean she has to be unpleasant.  Especially when she just wanted to help.
Opening the door, the girl wheeled herself out.  “I could have gotten that.”
“Sure, whatever.  You’re welcome.”  Bitch.
“I’ve seen you around,” the girl said.  “You’re the girl who has no friends.”
She rolled her eyes.  “Is that what they call me.”
“Yeah.  They say you’re from a poor family too.”
“All true.  Best to keep away from me.”  Why these girls had to be so awful was a complete mystery to her.
“So what’s your name?”
Now that was shocking.  Was this girl really asking her name after trash-talking her?
“I’m Quinn.  You?”
“I’m Lisa.  Lisa Hernandez.”
Holding out her hand.  “Nice to meet you.”
Just then, a smile.  “You too.  Oh, and thanks for getting the door.”
Smiled back.  “No sweat.”  Finally, a human being that she could connect with.  This was nice.  A friend who wasn’t a staff member.  Or at least the potential of one.

Turns out, Lisa didn’t live at the dormitories.  She lived at a special medical facility in Oceanview.  One of her legs was completely paralyzed.  The reason wasn’t entirely clear to her doctors.  She could walk around with crutches, but she didn’t want to have to live like that, so she opted for a wheelchair instead.  Said it worked to keep her arms strong.  Clearly being in a chair hadn’t been easy for her.  Like most things when you’re crippled, people treat you different.  It made her feel bad about herself when people did.
When asked about her life, Quinn told her that she came from a family in New York, who were tight with Father McCormick, so were able to get her into the school.  Being good at lying was always something she had.  Made playing poker a breeze for her, though that was connected to a part of her she didn’t like to talk about.
She was picked up by a van from the facility.  As they pulled away, she waved goodbye.  That was a nice feeling.  A new friend.  A real one.  It was already a better day than most.  Now to go back to her room and start her homework.

As she opened the door to her dorm room, she stopped cold.  On the other side of the room, in the second bed, there was someone there!  It was a girl who had creamy skin, dirty blonde hair, and a long neck.  Who the hell…?
“Oh hey!  I’m Kaye!  I’m gonna be your roomie!”
This had to be some kind of awful joke.  Things had nearly gotten off to a good start, and now it was all fucked.

Until next time, a quote,

“There’s an old Earth saying – 1,000 travel books aren’t worth one real trip.” – Isamu Dyson, Macross Plus

Peace out,

Maverick

Summer Again (Prologue)

Some person or other said that you don’t know who you are until you’re pushed to your breaking point.  I think it was someone like Winston Churchill.  Don’t really know.  But I can say that that summer, all of us were pushed to our limits, and went into a world that none of us wanted to.  All to get justice for a friend.  Someone I cared about so much.  Maybe, if he ever comes back from what happened to him, I can care about him again.  I want to.  Want those good, innocent days back again.  You never know what you’ve got until it’s not there anymore.  This is gonna be a long story, but I wanna tell it.  So bear with me.  Please.
It ain’t for the faint of heart.  If you can’t handle ugly, twisted, scary things, you should walk away now.  But it’s the truth.  One that the police and our parents can’t wash away with everything else.  What do I start?  I guess it would be when school got out, that fateful summer…

Staring at the clock on the wall is always the worst.  The absolute worst.  Had my science teacher tell me that time doesn’t really slow down when you watch the clock.  Same as when you watch a pot boil.  What does he know?!  Clearly he was never a kid who wanted to get out of school on that last day.  I shouldn’t say that.  That’s mean.  Mr. Bergie is a cool guy.  Probably the coolest teacher here.  I remember when he brought in the beaver to dissect for the class.  That was crazy!  But cool.  All the digesting wood in its gut.
Yeah, this is why mom says I’m a tomboy.  Every other girl was totally grossed out.  I thought it was awesome!  We got to dissect a frog too, and that pretty cool.  I was gonna miss him.  But that didn’t stop me from watching that clock and desperately wishing it would hit 3:00 so we could get the hell out of there!
Looked over at Johnny.  He was my best friend.  Well, one of them.  We had this little crew.  Me, Johnny, our big man Eli who was kind of the ringleader, and Griffin.  It’s weird, because Griffin is Eli’s cousin, but he’s black.  You’d never know the two were related, on his dad’s side.  They’ve been best bros for ages.  Grew up together, and would do anything for each other.  Sometimes I thought Griffin was a bit of a perv, but he was always cool with me.  There was this one girl he was all over who lived down the way from Eli.  I think Eli has a crush on her, but he isn’t talking about it.  Part of me thinks that she likes him too.  I don’t know, call it a gut feeling.
Finally, and I hella mean FINALLY, the clock hit 3 and the bell went off.  Mrs. Guyer told us all to have a good summer and whatever, but none of us were listening.  I grabbed my backpack and was running for the door.  Johnny was right on my heels.
“Dude, we have to call Eli tonight!  I wanna be at the first showing!”
I nodded.  “Hell yeah!”
“Language, Sara!” I heard a voice call.  Mr. McCourt was giving me a mean look.  I shrugged at him.  It’s summer.  Don’t care about his rules.
“So, you got your ticket money?” Johnny asked.
“You know it.  Daddy always gives me some pocket money when I give him the puppy-dog face.”
He rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, well, I had to work for mine, beeotch.  Mom don’t give me shit.”
“But you got it covered, right?”
“Yeah, I do.  We’re good to go.”
“Better be.  I’m not gonna miss out on Jurassic Park because your ass is broke.”
We got outside and saw Eli and Griffin standing there talking.  The two of us ran over.
“Man, could today have gone any fucking slower?” Eli asked.
“I know, right?!” I replied.
“Dude, I couldn’t believe Ms. Pettijohn wanted to give a lecture on the last day that we had a quiz about!” Griffin said, almost with a snarl.  “That’s just evil.”
Johnny snorted.  “Ms. Pettijohn is evil.  What else is new?”
Eli had a grumpy look on his face.  “Okay, new rule – no more school talk for the duration of summer.  Ya’ll are driving me frickin’ crazy.”
I nodded.  “Word!  Let’s pretend school doesn’t exist.”
Johnny gave us a look.  “Hard to do when it’s right behind us.”
Everyone groaned.  Literal as fuck!  This guy, dude.

We biked home.  Everyone was stoked about the movie.  The trailers were everywhere, so everyone was talking about.  I’d seen Eli with the book it’s based on.  Dude always loved books.  Been in his house, he had a ton of them.  Never could get into that stuff.  Give me a good movie or a video game any day over that.  Or learning about cars with uncle Tom.  He could tell me all about his cool cars and how they run all day.  Fucking rad, dude.
All of us were so excited.  This was our big plan for the summer.  See the movie, and talk about it.  We were hoping to get one of our parents to drop us off.  But that was something else to plan.  I just knew we’d have a million things to talk about.  A great beginning to what was hopefully gonna be an awesome summer.
We chilled at our old fort.  Set up under this really huge and really old pine tree.  It had these branches that went way far out and hung down in the front, but were big enough underneath to hide our place.  We had a chest here with our stuff, and a lock that only we knew the combination too.  There was also this rope wrapped around the tree that we could swing around from.  It wasn’t the most crazy fort, but this place was where we had been meeting up ever since we were tiny.
This summer was gonna be awesome.  I was absolutely sure of it.  Nothing could fuck up how amazing it was gonna be.

It started to get dark, so we made our way home.  Perks of being in the 7th grade now – we had a lot more freedom.  Dad’s rule was – it gets dark, you get home.  Simple enough, and summer had nights getting longer, so we had plenty of time.
I came up on my house when I looked over and saw a girl who lived next door.  Her name was Kate.  If we were superheroes, she’d be my arch-nemesis.  We are polar opposites.  I’m jeans, t-shirts, and a baseball cap with the 49ers on it.  She’s sun-dresses, makeup, and a cute hat.  Girl always wore hats.  At least we had that in common.  Except my hat was always the same.  Kate liked clothes.
“Hey Sara!” she called out.
Parking my bike, I smiled at her.  “Hey.”  Every time I saw her, I felt warm inside.  Over the past couple years, it had been getting stronger.  Wasn’t sure why.
“School’s out!  That’s pretty cool.”
“Hell yeah!”
She winced at the swearing.  Girl came from a super religious family.
“I got some big plans!”
“Still going to see that movie?” she asked.
“Nothin’s gonna stop us from seeing it!  Make no bones about it, we are going to that film!”
Kate smiled a bit.  “Just you and your friends?”
“Well yeah.  I mean, I don’t know who else would wanna go.”
She shifted her feet a bit.  Why so awkward?
“Maybe I’d wanna go.”
I chuckled a bit.  “Dude, your parents would NEVER let you see Jurassic Park.  It’s got the word ‘evolution’ in it.  They’d never even talk about letting you see it.”
There was a mischief look on her face.  “Well, maybe I don’t tell them we’re going to see it.  Maybe I just tell them I’m hanging out with you and your friends.  Not really a lie, right?”
Was a little impressed at that, not gonna lie.  “Girl’s sneaking around to see a movie.  Wow.  Wonder what Jesus would think?”
She rolled her eyes.  “I’m pretty Jesus has bigger problems than me seeing a movie with a friend.”
“That ain’t how your parents think.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not them.”  She was smiling right at me.  Made me want to melt.  What was up?  “So, think I can come with you?”
Gave her a little look.  “Well, I gotta ask the others.  We’re getting Eli’s sister to drive us.  Don’t know if there’s room.”
A little giggle.  “I could always sit in your lap.”
Heart pounded!  What the hell?!  “I mean, yeah, maybe.  I’ll let you know.”
“Cool.  I better go in.  Dinner will be done soon.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We kept staring at each other.
“Good night,” she said, finally.
“Night.”
What a weird thing that just happened.  Wasn’t sure what it was.  It felt like…nah.  Couldn’t be.

Dinner was always hella awkward.  Mom’s on this crusade to try and get me to be all girly and shit.  I hate it!  Which meant more shopping trips to the mall to try and dresses and make her happy.  I knew that if I didn’t, she’d try and stop me from hanging out with my friends.  Sometimes you gotta just suck it up and deal.  I never let her buy any of it for me, and I especially will NEVER wear any of it.
Daddy’s cooler.  I think he likes that I’m a tomboy because he always wanted a son.  Instead, he got three girls.  My oldest sister, Jenny, is in college.  She’s going for pre-med to become a surgeon.  Everyone is hella proud of her.  Then there’s Melissa.  She’s a junior in high school, and she wants to join the Army after getting out.  Become a military doctor.  That makes both my parents super proud and super nervous at the same time.  I remember the news that Dad would read and watch every night back when Desert Storm was going on.  It was scary stuff to see.  But she told them she wants to be a doctor in the military because they would pay for college.  That’s smart.
Then there’s me.  The tomboy who just lives life and doesn’t think that far ahead.  Being in the military could be cool, but definitely not Army.  I’m thinking Navy, so I shoot a big gun!  I remember going to the Naval shipyard where they build ships and submarines.  Uncle Tom works there, but he’s not military.  He’s part of the crew who builds stuff.  Took me on base once and showed me some of the stuff there.  It was rad!  Big guns and he talked about how many people it took to use them.  That sounded so fucking cool.  If I was gonna serve, that’s how I’d do it.  Shooting things with big guns.  Hope Uncle Tom would take me shooting one of these days.  He said he would.  See if he would take all of us.  Bet Eli would get hella nervous being around guns.
After dinner I went upstairs.  Didn’t even try and get any phone time.  Figured if Mom wasn’t trying to get online to play Jeopardy, then Mel was talking to her boyfriend.  Those two were so gross together.  Every second of every day he’s clinging on to her like a fucking bat.  Made a joke that I knows who wears the pants in that relationship, and it ain’t him.  Don’t think she liked that very much.
It was really late at night, past my bedtime, when the call came in.  Mom yelling about who would be calling now, and Dad picking up the phone.  Suddenly, he sounded very worried.  Could hear mom getting up, walking down to the phone.  Now my curiosity was piqued.
“Well, maybe he’s at one the other boy’s houses.” I could heard Dad say.
A pause.
“Oh god.  Okay.  We’ll start a search first thing in the morning.  Break of dawn, you have my word.”
Another pause.
“Looking for him at night would be counterproductive.  He’s a smart kid.  He’ll stay where he is so he can be easier to find.  I know it’s scary.  But we’ll find him!”
Now I was at the top of the stairs.  Dad looked up and his eyes met mine.  In that instant, I knew that something bad had happened.  Who were they looking for?!
“You called the police.  They’ll get a search party ready.  First light, we’re gonna go out there and we’ll find him.  I know, Evelyn.  I’m worried too.  But when one of us goes missing, this community will come together to find them.  Try and get some sleep.  You’re gonna need your strength in the morning.”
He hung up the phone, still looking at me.
“Sara, honey.  Johnny’s gone missing.  He never came home.  His mom called Eli’s parents and Griffin’s dad.  Nobody’s seen him.”
This ugly feeling came into my gut.  An ugly, horrible feeling.  He wouldn’t not go home!  Something happened!
“We’re gonna form a search party and look for him in the morning.”
“I’m coming with you!” I damn-near shouted.
“Honey, that’s not such a great idea,” Mom started.
“If you tell me no, I’m just gonna go looking for him on my own!”
The two of them looked at each other, then dad nodded.
“Okay, sweetie.  Be up, first thing tomorrow.”
That wasn’t a hard thing to ask for.  I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

Next day, to dad’s credit, a ton of people gathered.  There was Officer Lewllyn, and his wife.  A young patrol cop and his partner.  Eli and his family, Griffin and his, even Kate and her family.  Friends of Johnny’s family.  There was even family who came from out of town.  Said they drove all night.  Lots of neighbors.  Some of which I knew.  Chief Joe (that’s his last name.  I know, confusing.  He has two first names) came out and broke out a map.  He had drawn up a series of areas that he had likely gone missing.  Everyone got together and started breaking down areas to search.
I got together with Eli and Griffin.  All we could do is walk with everyone.  Couldn’t think of any words.  None of us could.  Kate came over and walked with us too.  I liked that.  The morning dragged on and one.  People calling Johnny’s name, looking for some evidence of him.  Some false-alarms.  A homeless guy who appeared out of the forest, looking disheveled.  Seen the dude around the diner Mom works at.  Nice enough, but you always are a little careful.
The search went on for hours, but there was nothing.  We just kept going around and around, but nothing was found.  Not a single trace.  It was like he vanished from existence.  His route home was always the same.  Always.  We should have found something.  It was nearly nighttime when the search was called off.  Chief said it would “reconvene in the morning.”  Whatever the fuck that meant.

Hours turned into days.  Days when I had no appetite, no desire to do anything except sit in our fort and cry.  You have all those stupid PSAs about being careful and stranger danger and shit.  Guess it was more than something just talking.  Then, after two and a half agonizing weeks, he finally turned up.  Though, I don’t think he was supposed to.
Dad got the call from Officer Lewllyn.  He said that a couple fishermen found a body on the river’s edge, north of town.  He’s alive, but they didn’t think he was supposed to be.  There were rope marks like he was tied to something and thrown in the river.  It came loose, whatever it was.  He floated downstream, washing up on the bank.  Dad didn’t tell me how bad it was, but he was hurt.  Said it was really bad.  The fact that he’s still alive is amazing.  We went to the hospital.
I nearly ran inside.  Was told what room he was in, and charged upstairs.  When I got there, Eli was already there.  He walked over and put his arms around me.  I liked that.  I needed to be hugged right now.  Normally not the type, but I really, really needed it.  Johnny’s mom was there.  She was a mess.  Makeup that was smeared, trying to look like she was holding it together.
The adults all talked, but that wasn’t why I was here.  I walked over to where the bed was.  A curtain was drawn around it.  Walking inside, I stopped cold.  There, lying on the bed, was Johnny.  He didn’t look human.  Tubes in his mouth, one in his nose.  His skin was red and purple.  There was a giant bandage around his hand.  Bandages all over his body.  What the fuck happened?!
Eli put his arms around me again.  The dude had a gift at knowing when I needed to be held.  It was so awful.
“We’re gonna get to the bottom of this,” he whispered in my ear.  “I swear, we’re gonna find out who did this.  And then fucking kill them!”

When I got home, there was nothing that I could feel.  Food had no taste.  Nothing mattered.  I just went into my room and crashed into my bed.  Sleep finally greeted me.  I don’t think I was awake long enough to perceive hitting the pillow.  Just gone.

My eyes opened and I was in a white room.  On a bed that was really, really uncomfortable.  Sitting up, I saw that I was wearing a weird off-green shirt and pants.  Super light.  What the fuck was this?  There was a a window on the door.  It showed sunlight coming in.  My room had a desk as well, with a light.  It was off.  Getting up, my feet greeted the freezing cold floor.  That sucked.  There were slippers.  Like something you’d see in a hospital.  Weird.
Knocking on the door, I tried to look out.  It was taller than I was.
“Hello?  Is anyone there?”
There was a brief pause, and then the door opened.  Standing there was a very large black woman, with curly hair and a kindly look on her face.
“Hey there, honey.  You’re finally up!”
“Where am I?”
She frowned.  “You don’t know?  This is the Millwood Asylum.  We look after people who have mental problems.”
Oh no.  Oh fucking no!  I was in a mental asylum?!  Wait, who even calls them that anymore?
“I’m not crazy!  What am I doing here?!”
The woman gave me a gentle smile.  Very motherly.  “Oh honey, it’s okay.  You’ve nothing to be afraid of here.  We’re gonna help you get better.  That’s why you were brought here.”  She motioned toward the door.  “Come on.  Let’s get you to meeting the population.  I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about.”
Part of me knew that this place was connected to what was happening outside.  Don’t ask me how I knew.  I just did.  What the fuck was I going to do now?

Until next time, a quote,

“The instruments are gruesome, but a hole in the head gives the troubles more space!” – Nurse, Alice: Madness Returns

Peace out,

Maverick