Thursday, September 23, 2010
Derby Girls - Part 6
Right. Back to Madame Secretary before I lose anyone else.
She escaped the river for a nice residential block full of dark shadows, barking dogs, and the neighborhood watch. She might have been better off in the water.
She stood shivering on the sidewalk, throat raw, ears buzzing, taking deep breaths to erase the cloying smell of sweat and yeasty beer.
The slam of the cab door cut off another chorus of Chevaliers de la table ronde. The students were waving at her through the fogged windows, faces pressed into the glass, distorted mouths still singing.
She waved back at them until the cab pulled away and disappeared around the corner.
She dropped her hand and turned in the other direction, taking the first left. The streets were brighter than day and almost empty, the color washed from the storefronts and the trees and the neat little fences that surrounded them. A few insomniacs shuffled along the wide sidewalks with their heads down, shades drawn over their faces, unable to sleep in the un-tinted rooms the state allotted foreign workers. She relaxed slightly; the stumbling grayed-out figures were almost comforting. They meant she was close.
Without a shade for her eyes she kept her head up, hands in her pockets, taking long confident strides on surprisingly steady legs and fighting not to squinting in the full glare of the spotlight. The street ahead was dimmer, a silver twilight that spanned three blocks before it became blinding brightness again.
She approached the darkness with a hint of a smile. A tall iron fence separated the deepest shadows from the bright storefronts, ivy blocking any sign of the houses beyond. She slowed her pace, listening to the dragging steps of the insomniacs, eyes darting over the sidewalks and finding nothing. She reached into the ivy and settled her fingers on the panel. She tapped out the code without looking away from the street.
The gate opened with a faint groan, the weight of the metal grinding down on the hinges. She stepped in and closed it behind her; the locks clicking into place one after the other. She stood by the gate for a moment, frowning into the mist that still hung in patches between the trees.
She nodded and started off between the trees, into deeper darkness, descending from one terrace to the next without hesitating or looking down. She skirted the edges of flowerbeds and was crossing a wide patch of grass when a square of light floated out of the darkness. She turned away from it, angling toward the hedge that bordered the grass, standing straight and swinging her hands loosely at her sides, palms throbbing as the blood rushed into them.
She turned at the hedge, walking along it, casually brushing the leaves with her fingertips, feeling entry panel after entry panel pass. She counted six and came to a slow stop. She fit her fingers to the keys and casually stretched her neck, getting a sideways view of the lit window, a this distance just blank square of light floating in the mist.
Under her hand the gate slid open. On the other side a gazebo rose spidery and white over the grass. She was three houses over from where she needed to be. She sighed to herself and closed the gate behind her, bending into a slight crouch. She kept to the edges of the yard, stooping at random intervals and looking around her with exaggerated care as she passed the dark rooms, kitchen, dining room, game room and then garage. At the side gate she straightened and opened the latch. Her heart hammered in her chest as she was faced with the quiet street and the black windows of the houses. She took a steadying breath and pushed away from the gate, forcing her heavy legs into a deliberate stroll, her hands swinging, eyes searching for a late night stroller, someone on a last dash out with the dog.
A dog barked and she faltered for a step before shaking her head and walking on toward the black expanse of trees and jogging paths at the end of the block. She felt her shoulders drop in relief when she reached the shadow of the trees. She skirted the path, counting houses. The seventh rose on the right and she turned toward the stucco facade, pushing through thick bushes hiding a low wall. She frowned and braced each hand on the top of the wall, the tile cool and sharp under her fingers as she hoisted herself up and over. She rose to a crouch, making a show of stopping and peering around again as she edged into the dark yard. The pool deck forced her to walk across the neat lawn, the light from the pool throwing a long shadow behind her. The living room light came on casting a square of brightness on the grass. She stooped again, tilting her head to look under the pool deck. "Looking for the Keller's cat again. Have you seen it?" she muttered under her breath.
The light clicked off and she wanted to sink to the grass in relief. She took a deep breath, continuing her cautious progress up the side yard to the garage. The little door was unlocked and opened silently. She skirted the gleaming blue speeder, passed the washer and dryer and frowned at hulking shadow of the refrigerator in the corner, knowing without looking that it was full of black market beer. She hadn’t had anything to drink in hours and she paused, sudden thirst plastered her tongue to the roof of her mouth.
A thin beam of light shot from the gap under the kitchen door. She stared at the workbenches and boxes thrown into abrupt relief. The door knob rattled. Her eyes narrowed and she shot into the space under the workbench as the swollen door squeaked against the frame.
The light from the kitchen was bright, haloing Jack in gold before his hand slapped at the overhead light and she was blind.
She blinked her steaming eyes, crouching lower in reflex, pressed back into boxes and hard edges that bit into her sore legs. Jack came into focus only four feet away, leaning on the open refrigerator door, the bald spot on the back of his head gleaming, humming under his breath.
She was only half under the bench, exposed and perfectly still. She didn't move, not even to dry her eyes and she could feel the liquid sliding down into her sinuses, every faint rattle of congestion the loudest sound she could imagine. Her nose was running, the thin fluid tickling her skin, skidding slowly down over her lip.
Jack’s head bent and his shoulders followed as he rattled through bottles on the bottom shelf. He straightened with two hooked between his fingers, the light shining amber through them.
Her hands were pressed into the floor, with no plan but to brace her if she had to run. She felt a drop from her nose hit her wrist and flinched, barely breathing.
Jack fell silent and tilted his head abruptly to the left.
She shifted onto the balls of her feet, swallowing down the cough bubbling in her throat. Jack watched live feeds of illegal contact sports and drank black market beer and turned in his own son for taking an undocumented job.
He ducked back down and stood straight with a third bottle, humming again. He closed the refrigerator door with his bare foot and used the bottle to tap the light switch.
When he kicked the door shut behind him she sank onto her hands and knees, palms pounding in time with her heart, her forehead resting on the cold metal leg of the bench. She sniffed and grimaced, wiping her face with her sleeve. She rose slowly to her knees, vision still spotted red from the bright light. The dark smears on the concrete looked like shadows until she moved to stand. They could have been anything, it was a garage, but she reached out and touched them with her index finger, both spots slick and wet. She didn't look at her palms. She sniffed hard and pulled the hem of her shirt from her pants. It was still damp and most of the blood came away in one swipe. She bunched her sleeve around her fist and scrubbed hard at the rest.
With a low cough she stood, swaying as she looked at the half open garage door and forced herself to listen for any sound from the house. It was quiet, though she imagined she could still hear Jack humming. In five steps she covered the distance to the door and ducked under it.
She crossed the street faster than she should have, flinching when she heard another dog bark. She pulled her sleeves over her bleeding hands and vaulted the short fence into the Barrymore's side yard, landing heavily on her knees.
She pushed up to her feet and forced herself to walk calmly across the paths that divided the garden. She reached the the black iron fence frowning, closing her eyes tight before she lifted her hands to the top rail. She boosted herself onto her trembling arms on the second try. She swung her right leg over and had to pause, panting and exposed, a distinct black figure sitting on the top of the fence. She took a deep breath and got her other leg over, her arms shaking hard as she lowered herself, not letting go until the toes of her boots touched grass. She didn't rest against the fence or the hedge, skirting between the two until she felt a thin spot in the leaves.
The branches hadn't been trimmed in weeks and they caught at her torn shirt, cutting stinging welts over her arms and sides. She stumbled out on the far side and walked unsteadily to the back door, so thirsty her throat felt raw. She typed the entry code and slid inside the dark kitchen. Her boots squeaked faintly against the tile floor making her hunch her shoulders. She took a glass from the drying rack and turned the tap on, filling the glass and drinking it too fast, the water running over her cheeks and down her neck. She was on her third glass before she began to feel human again.
"Stop right there," a deep voice barked.
The glass fell from her fingers, clattering in the sink like a gunshot. Her head whipped around so fast her neck cracked. A thick shadow had appeared between the sink and the back door.
Her legs coiled beneath her and she threw herself across the room.
She hit him high in the chest and he staggered back, his thick arms reaching, crushing her against his chest.
"Charlie," she said against his neck.
"I thought I’d try to catch the finals," he said, lifting her off her feet and turning them in a slow circle.
She ignored the pain in her hands, linking them behind his back and squeezing hard. “You’re late.”