You know, I woke up in ICU again. I don’t even remember moving. James sat quietly in a chair, resting, letting his mind wander. I gave way to an urge to stretch. I tried to be quiet about it, two others needed rest, too. Still, James’ mind snapped to, checking up on me, making sure I didn’t need him.
Mentally, I said it was just a stretch.
Mentally, he told me they replaced the crude stitches in my face with finer ones.
I let my mind wander for a bit. The emergency room was still full and then some. I guess that Jubilant won’t be going away anytime soon.
James smiled a little at that. Then told me to get some rest.
Nothing doing. See, I tried to do that, but I had an urgent call from nature.
I felt vaguely like I did when I woke up in that hole. I had to fight with my body to make it move. Vaguely, because as I move parts they came alive again. I might have walked like a drunken sailor but I got to the toilet in time.
See, Uncle Ronnie came to take me home. I expected the process to take a couple hours, or so. Nope.
James got me ready to go while one of Gwyn’s assistants took care of administrative details. Turns out Gwyn had things in the office to take care of. On Sunday? I’m grateful and all, but how about a day off for someone who’s about to die?
The bus stop became an exercise in privacy rights. Ten people sat or stood there waiting for one of two buses, this being Sunday schedule. The human mind can sure thrash on matters that don’t really seem important. Of course, they haven’t just walked away from a major, life threatening event, have they? Would that really make such a difference?
Focus, with your eyes to target your skills.
The man on the other side of Uncle Ronnie is thinking pornographic thoughts. The woman next to him is trying to pray her Sunday hours, but her husband came home the night before drunk and guns blazing. Must be where the bruise on her arm came from. What can I really do about that? Hay, lady, learn to defend yourself! You are worth more than that.
Shit, she’s starting to cry. Did I do that? If I did, was it a good thing or did I make matters worse?
I turned my eyes to the road. What can I do about all this? What kind of damage could I do before I get this under control?
Uncle Ronnie seemed to have noticed my mood. Did he say cheer up or what’s wrong? No. Not that I could have answered him. What could I say, I just made a woman more depressed by sharing thoughts with her?
What he did do was offer me some gum. Blackjack, his favorite. Focus on that sweet licorice taste, maybe keep my mind to myself with that.
You know, the plan seemed simple enough. Aunt Joan would bring Buckie and Connie to meet us at the Xalapa Cafe for a special homecoming lunch. I felt a little worried about that, money being that tight, and all. I found a few money makers on line, but it would take me a bit to get that going.
And her cooking is at least as good as the Xalapa’s.
You know, they will clean up after us, too. So there is that. James’ lesson kept coming back to me, what do we value more, ten-dollars or a smile? I guess I’ll just have to earn that ten-dollars with more than a smile.
You know, we got off at Madison and Taft and hit a crowd. Sure, traffic is thick, but we could walk past them if the people would just get out of our way, ‘n so? Not going to happen without a fight.
Seems they had a show to watch, and it is the most fun they’ve had since the brawl at the docks two weeks ago between the dock workers’ union and the police union. Yeah, ironic to the point of scorching fabric, ‘n so?
You know, navigation wasn’t that easy for us. We just had to head up a block, lean to the left, and we’d be in the restaurant. Except the flow of people kept pushing us right until we hit a light spot where a police cruiser had just pulled up.
I suppose I can understand the entertainment value of watching a naked man yelling for them to take them bugs off him, ‘n so? If they could look into his mind they’d be running for the hills. Them bugs looked to be the size of horses, big ones, ‘n so?
And that voice sang along with them. That told me something, he’s on that Jubilant, and he’s about to die. I wanted to do something, see what I could do to save him.
You know, Uncle Ronnie caught me before I could do that.
Shit, what was that? Who’s shooting in this crowd!?
You know, the man went down, as did one of the two officers.
The man couldn’t say anything, his head half blown off, but his mind was screaming for mercy, ‘n so?
Until it didn’t anymore. And I watched as that light freed itself from his body.
You know, The girl carrying that big first-aid duffle doesn’t look so good. She has a voice in her head, too. It’s different. Desperate, sure, like it wants to tell her something but can’t get through because the line is messy. And she thinks its just a headache, a bad one and why couldn’t it wait just ten more minutes, ‘n so?
That lean looking fellow who cooks at the Xalapa is a doctor, too? Shit, I didn’t know that. Well, he’s got that officer with the hot gun to stand down so he could fix his partner up for the ambulance.
You know, I notice the man’s mind has changed. It took a few, but his brain finally stopped working, and another mind seemed to take over. It was like that cheerleader, only I’m over here watching and not just running for my life.
The man rolls around onto his knees, grabs the injured cop by the head, spins him around real fast. That cop didn’t wait to die, just up and did it, ‘n so?
The other cop is shooting at the man. I notice two things, some of them bullets ain’t hitting the man, and the man ain’t noticing the ones that do, even when they nearly take his head off.
Suddenly, in a moment of clarity that girl’s mind just up and yells, “Stop.” I think every mind in that intersection heard that, and not just ‘cause it came out her mouth, ‘n so?
The naked man just dropped. What was left of that light tried to get away, just fly away. But, whatever that other voice is, the one that took him over, well, it seemed to slurp that up like spaghetti.
It took another five minutes or so. I hadn’t realized I’d been pressing into my uncle so hard. I don’t even remember being afraid. Or crying.
You know, that cinches it. My monster might be gone, but there really is another one in town, and he don’t care how old they are.
You know, Connie and Buck were in their places with grim, whiny faces. I couldn’t tell if they’d just watched the show outside, or just didn’t want to be here on a warm, sunny day. Food? Who needs that when the beach is just blocks away, n’so?
We entered the door at the corner and Uncle Ronnie directed me to the washrooms at the back, past the counter. You know, the cafe is tightly designed, booths against the wall and an island of six more between that and a cluster of free tables and chairs. The counter looked like it had been built for a Rockwell painting, vintage signs suggesting Pepsi for a nickel and hamburgers for a dime. You know, what stopped me in my tracks were a set of photographs.
Captain Angel, New Angel’s premier hero until one of his collars landed in the morgue. The mask kept anyone from learning what kind of face he had, even covered his chin and nose. The yellow and red paint looked like it didn’t like the material the armor had been made of.
The Green Beetle stood, his mouth looking like he couldn’t growl for the giggles, ‘n so? You know, his armor looked like an earlier version of Capt Angel’s, rigid where the Captain’s looked fluid. He might have had to stand on his toes to match the Captain’s height, but he looked built enough to kick his ass.
Quazar stood in the next photo. I could swear that costume had been painted on, ‘n so? He held his hands out, electricity arching out, with pin-balls floating in that field.
Just above that I could see a picture with eight people in it. Most of them looked normal enough, ‘n so? Except that one hippy kind of floating in the back, looking at me. Weird. Funny, though, the one boy just in front of the Turkish wrestler has the same growling smirk as the Green Beetle. Naw, couldn’t—or could it?
The next photo looked confusing, ‘n so? You know, the one guy lifting the Harley in one hand is the only one who’s gender I could tell. He did leave his shirt off, ‘n so? The tall one in back looked pregnant, so that could help. The signature at the bottom told me they were the Serpents, a team of heroes that disappeared with the Lavender Riots a few years ago, ‘n so?
You know, the last I noticed a picture with three stately women of color, though one looked like she felt far too exposed. She was the only woman in the picture that did not have a black ribbon glued to it, ‘n so?
You know, by the time I’d studied the tin plate selling Havana Cigars Uncle Ronnie was finished with the washroom and hinting that I hurry along.
You know, while I made my way to the table I noticed two things. Aunt Joan had Buckie and Connie sitting against the partition separating their table from the next one over. I also watched James enter.
Sure, he could find me just by thinking about it, and I felt glad to see him, ‘n so? You know, I just can’t shake the feeling I’ve been followed. You know, he felt my attention and looked surprised to see me, here. A quick glance told him I was here with family. He smiled, then went back to flirting with the—Marcy, how’d I get her name so quick?
When I got to our table I had one suggestion, “You know, how about we sit at this other table, more room for everyone, ‘n so?”
“Not enough chairs.” Aunt Joan seemed anxious over something.
I turned a chair around and added it to the table next to theirs.
Then I saw it in her mind, her own precious ones dead and split open.
Not sure how to help, I sat at the booth. You know, Uncle Ronnie pushed me in and took the edge.
James drew my attention, smiled, and left out the back door.
Middle of the afternoon and the ambulance just pulling up promises to slow business for a while. The café was only half full, ah, two more coming in the back door.
They call this Cajun, ‘n so? Ya know, I’d always understood that meant spicy in a French-American way. Can’t tell, really, just can’t. Not from this stuff. The Cajun Meatloaf tasted good, don’t get me wrong. And the spicy is there, sure, if the meat and rice would get out of the way. What can I do? Ask?
You know, there sat my two cousins to whom I’d basically become a big brother. Though, honestly, Buckie was twice my size around and an inch or two taller, he had two or three things to learn about life and his place in it. You know, he had dreams. Between school and that tv show he seemed to like so much he just couldn’t seem to get up long enough to figure what they were and how to pursue them. I tried, what with my telepathy and all. That was a month ago, when I had to really focus to hear them, when he slept. Now, I’m worried I could do too much, you know. Could I just shepherd him along or should I just lead him as best I can? Is it even my place?
Little Connie, only just in kindergarten, and finally getting around to making friends she doesn’t have to worry about. I don’t know if she’s just not very trusting, or just slow at working people out like that. I can figure it out later. Today, I still need to get my bearings with my own changes.
You know, I wonder how many of those desert fathers isolated themselves because of the minds around them?
You know, to take my mind off the tension in my right ear and the eyes focused on me I look at Connie. She is noodling around her Cajun fish-n-chips, her mind thrashing between school, her friends, and me. Why me? Does she know? Or just know something is up. And how do I noodle for that information without pushing her into it?
Ah, what would my Granny do?
“Hay, Connie, how’s school? Getting in the way of your education, ‘n so?”
She just looked up at me, studied me, and went back to pushing chips through her sauce.
Before I could finish Buckie barked, “Closed. Least ours is.”
“Ye huh. Parks are open, but you couldn’t tell. No one’s going.”
“Lord’s day, ‘n so?” I said. “Maybe they slept in, you think?”
Connie still looked to be on the verge of a crisis while she drew her last Cajun fry through her Cajun catsup.
Buckie didn’t miss that. You know, he sure didn’t want to deal with it. And me, caught between a truck and a stop-n-go light, ‘n so? Do I listen and learn what would help? Or ask her?
You know, don’t think I need worry with either, ‘n so? Maybe I’ve just moved in a year ago, and this gift weren’t so special then. But I pay attention, ‘n so.
So, I shoot one hand up, wiggle my fingers, pretend to tug at my cuffs—don’t have any, shirtsleeves, ‘n so? I do the same on the other side. I make like I’m mumbling something special. Then look at my empty hand.
Then, I do it again, only harder. You know, I’ve got both of their attentions. Yeah, nothing doing.
I act all frustrated, close my eyes, chant “Rotten bananas and nuts” a few times. Then, sniff at my pits and pretend to spit in one, dig a hand in, and squeeze a couple of pit-farts out, took a deep breath, and scrunch my face in consternation.
Now, the pencil really did come from that special place ‘n so? Had I let you, you’d see it kind of shimmers into place with a small glow and pop. But I won’t. I just pop it into place behind my wrist and push it up for all to see as I hand it to her.
You know, wide eyed and broad of smile she accepted it, and my place-mat. Yes, much of the crisis averted, and a masterpiece is soon born, ‘n so?
Buckie finally asked, “How do you do that?”
“Can you keep a secret, Buckie?”
“It’s Buck, and yeah.”
“Good, ‘cause so can I.”
He skipped a beat before growing in disappointment. “So, you’re awful chipper.”
“And why not?”
“You almost died,” Connie said over her stick horse. No, centaur, with an elephant’s nose.
“Almost?” I sang out. “‘N so with almost? You know, if this is what ‘almost died’ feels like, I think I can take it over biscuits any day, ‘n so?”
Okay, that sort of felt good. Sort of, because between that nosy body at the counter and the refreshed memory from the corner outside, it felt good, with mud all over it.
Still, what a word to live by. And look at what I’ve got now, every mind in the cafe talking like we’re just the other side of a window.
You know, the feeling that I’ve been watched the whole while I’m here has finally hit my nerves badly. I’ll do like I’d been taught and let my eyes lead my focus. It seems Marcy doesn’t like the man at the counter. Why, he looks pricey. Nice suit, clean face, tailor made hands. The mess in his mind seems familiar, like I’ve felt it before.
You know, his mind is a mess. I guess his boss chewed him a good one, this morning. The message, that he’s a disgrace and needs to get with the program keeps thrashing.
You know, Aside from the wish to shoot a couple of neighbors and disappointment at missing the show at the corner, he’s thinking about Marcy and me.
Marcy tuned to get coffee and the man smacked her on the bottom. You know, I’m wondering why she doesn’t smack him or ask him to leave and I remember where I knew that mind before.
Before I could get into trouble, the girl from the shooting walked up to Kennedy. “Lieutenant, do you have official business here?”
I could feel him restrain the resolve to not look at me fighting the desire to shoot that…Adria? Curious name. Shit, did it again.
“I see. Then I will thank you to excuse yourself and hope my report doesn’t embarrass your desk sergeant too much.”
“Looks like this place is do for a health….”
“…Not your monkey,” the older man said pulling up behind him. “Try it and video of you smacking Marcy like that hits YouTube faster that you can get to your car.”
I can feel the conflict in Kennedy’s head. He’s inching for his sidearm.
And I remembered the image of the powerful man popping that woman’s skull of her shoulders, and I let him have it.
His eye are so wide with fear. Did I do that? This could get dangerous.
You know, women and children should come with a warning; hurry up and wait, ‘n so? I can take advantage of that, sure enough. On one hand I have my tablet out looking for bus schedules. Okay, another might pick us up in twenty.
On the other hand I have a wish to give voice to. Ya know, I might be telepathic, but Uncle Ronnie isn’t. So, if I don’t say anything he won’t know something. So, what am I afraid of? Everything I’ve been through and talking has me stumped. what’s that about?
I take a breath, put the tablet away, and froze. “Kennedy?”
“Mr Wren, I want you to come with me. We have a report to write.”
Uncle Ronnie turned at the voice and scowled. “Lt Kennedy, How can I help you?”
“Get lost or I deport you back to Mexico, Wetback.”
“I was born here, like I said last week in the hospital. And Ms Little said for you to stay away from my boy.”
Ya know, sometimes a picture does a body no good. Big, black, strong, and leaving fear in his wake. That’s how I found him in that crowd. I’ve seen the Skull’s image in James’ mind a dozen times, ‘n so? No, his memory, frequent as it was, does this man no justice. I can tell I’m looking at him, ‘n so? The neat hair, the shape of those eyes, that face and nose. Looks about a foot taller, though.
And that voice when he called to Kennedy. Ya know, I think he could out-bark a congress of howler monkeys. Add the smell of fresh piss from the lieutenant and I’m not the only one to recognize that man.
Kennedy turned to get away.
The man growled at him.
Kennedy began to sweat as he complied.
They had a quick conference. Kennedy did a quick walk out of there. All I picked up on was one word, “Get!”
The man turned to continue what he came here to do. Our eyes met. I smiled, nodded a thanks, and tried to hear his name.
Nothing. Like trying to see a shadow in a dark room. Not even the usual buzdrow I get from a crowd.
I felt both, I don’t know, comforted, and like I might just fall.
I took a breath and felt the customary song I usually hear from Aunt Joan. She’s coming out.
“You know, Uncle Ronnie, I want you to teach me to box, to fight.”
“Um, that was quick.”
“Yeah. Your Aunt Joan talked about it. You being taken like that changed her mind.”
“Might not have helped with him. But Kennedy?”
We laughed, collected the family, headed for the bus. You know, it’s going to get interesting, ‘n so?