Thursday, September 16, 2010
Derby Girls - Part 5
This is a genuine Toronto black squirrel.
But that has nothing to do with roller derby or Madame Secretary.
When we last left Slaughter she was sinking fast. Now she's at the end of her reserves and the river might prove the most dangerous foe of the night.*
*Almost as dangerous as my French. Please feel free to point out any errors.
The water stung her eyes as she tore at the buckle on her helmet. Her fingers were claws in the gloves, scrabbling at the strap but only jerking it tighter. She kicked as hard as she could, away from the sinking speeder, toward the light she couldn't see. The river pulled at the heavy coat, the boots, the helmet holding murky water against her face.
Suddenly she was bobbing, legs still kicking feebly, hands still clawed in the helmet strap, not realizing she'd broken the surface. She saw light and sucked in a breath. And choked, her eyes full of brown bubbles, her hands pushing desperately at the helmet, slick gloves sliding uselessly over smooth fiberglass.
Her finger caught the lip of the visor and she pulled, nails bending inside the gloves. The plastic gave with a muted pop, water rushing out, air sharp and cold on her face.
She coughed hard, barely able to keep the helmet above the surface. It was dark. Completely dark. There was no burning sliver of spotlight visible to ease the panic in her chest. She looked up frantically and saw the blue lights of the RBK bridge above her, its bulk cutting a dark swath out of the brightness of the spotlight on the water.
She blinked hard, squeezing the river water from her eyes, squinting into the shadows. The riverbank was close. She swam toward it, pushing through the water with stiff legs, coat dragging at her back, helmet filling with water every time her head dipped forward, making her cough.
She swam and coughed and the bank stayed just out of reach. They would drag the river once they found the speeder. And find her in this lead coat, pulled head first to the bottom by the helmet, no id, no prints if the fish got to her. Just a body pulled from the river, one of hundreds, another statistic on Charlie's yearly security report.
Her boot touched something hard. Her feet jerked away and she looked down so fast the bottom of the helmet filled with water. A panicked kick hit rock and bobbed her head free of the water. She brought both feet down, standing.
Heart hammering she dove forward, slipping, splashing, and finally crawling until she was on the rocky bank, stones hard under her knees. She fell on her side and coughed. She drew deep rattling breaths, eyes stinging from the water and the effort. Along the bank she could see the sharp line of light where the bridge ended and the spotlight shone over the rocks. She lay there and watched as the white light took on a red pulse. Little lights were darting over the silver water, red and bright white.
The tinny wail of a siren pulsed through her ears and she understood the light show was for her. She brought her hands to the heavy coat and felt the gloves slide uselessly over the cloth. She brought one to her mouth and bit into the leather, tugging until her hand slid free. Out of the glove her palm burned. She closed her eyes and brought the other glove to her face. The slick leather touched her tongue and she gagged, coughed, and couldn't stop coughing, her eyes streaming, curling helplessly on her side until it passed. She took a shaky breath and pulled the glove off with her other hand. She watched the police boats clustered far out on the water as she slowly worked the zipper on the coat, sighing when it flapped open. Head still turned to the lights she pushed the coat off one shoulder, jerking her arm free and rolling onto her back. She rolled to the other side to get her other arm loose. She fell back wearily, the helmet dragging her head down. She stared at the bottom of the bridge and breathed, flexing her burning hands slowly.
With a distant sense of urgency she raised her hands to the helmet buckle. Her bare fingers felt nothing but a tangle of canvas. She knew the strap had a metal buckle. She had fastened it when she put it on, snapping the halves together. She stilled her fingers and took a deep breath. There was nowhere in Center City she could go with the helmet on, not with the blue gate seal etched on the side.
She forced herself to start at the right side of the strap, prodding the end where it met the helmet. She felt methodically across, the smooth strap broken by twisted loops of canvas under her chin. She felt all around the loops, finding the end of the strap tucked against her throat. It took concentration to work out the shape she was feeling; she had to close her eyes to picture it, a knot of excess strap around the buckle. Holding the knot steady with one hand, she tried to catch her nail under one of the loops, face contorted in frustration as her fingers slipped again and again.
She was pulling hard at the strap without realizing it and stopped, clenching both hands, feeling warm wetness against her fingertips. She felt the backs of her eyes sting and wiped her bleeding palms on her pants before she tried again.
When the knot gave she saw the underside of the bridge through a blur of tears. She unclipped the buckle and pushed the helmet off. She lay on the coat, tears slipping over her cheeks and into her ears.
She wanted to be home.
She wanted to have a shower, and put on dry clothes
She wanted Charlie, home early from the senate session, so she curl up with him and sleep for a week.
She started awake at the sound of the third curfew bell, her eyes opening wide, sitting up in groggy panic. The world was black and red and she saw figures on the bank, tiny gray uniforms with long shadows and flashlights swinging in purposeful arcs.
She wiped her eyes with her thumbs and crawled to her feet. She scrambled up the steep bank, away from the patrols, hands and boots sliding on the wet rocks. At the edge of the bridge's shadow she paused, panting and dizzy. She smoothed her shirt, ran her fingers through her hair, and wiped her face with her sleeve.
She stepped into the white light and smiled automatically. On this side of the bridge the police lights were blotted out by the spotlight.
She stepped over the low fence that separated the bank from the scenic path, stumbling when her boot caught the fence post. She tried to walk casually, just a tourist or another insomniac, but in the heavy boots she could only manage a shuffle.
The rain had stopped and mist hung low over the path, the spotlight turning it into a white haze that made the benches and the bushes into ominously crouched shapes until she was almost on top of them. When a thin figure appeared up the path she was caught between fear and relief. The click of a baton against the low fence made her hands curl in her pockets. She tried to lift her feet, hold her head high, but she knew her shuffling walk looked drunk at best.
She stumbled again when she heard singing behind her. Loud and in accented French. Ahead the cop was taking shape, the shadow of his baton swinging at his side.
She slowed slightly, listening to the words of the old drinking song, her eyes on the dark outline ahead.
The song ended in giggling laughter that echoed through the mist. “Une autre chanson!” one of the singers shouted, demanding another song and making the cop’s head turn sharply.
The group was stumbling beside her, drunk Canadian students in their black school coats leaning on each other, feet barely leaving the ground as they stumbled on. “Prends un verre de bière, mon minou,” one of them suggested.
“Non, non, je déteste cette chanson,” the tallest one protested loudly, stumbling around the patrolman as though he were another park bench.
The cop watched them pass, shaking his head slightly, his face still in shadow, still swinging his baton.
“Chevaliers de la table ronde, goutons voir si le vin est bon,” she sang out in clear French.
The cop turned, his baton resting against his hip. The drunk students stopped, the tall one swinging around to stare at her, the spotlight making his pale hair into a halo.
In the silence she wondered if a blow from the baton would be like a hard shoulder check.
"That's a great song!" the tall one said in thick English, clapping her hard on the shoulder. “S'il est bon, s'il est agreable,” he sang the next line, conducting the rest with one large hand, the other shunting her forward beside him, past the cop.
A hand took her other arm and she was sandwiched between singing students, all of them stumbling together down the path.