This is a piece of fiction I have always wanted to write. I have written bits
of it as plots in other stories and bits of interactive fiction. I want the whole
story from beginning to end (???) in one place. That is why
I am setting up this blog. This blog now has an archives. It is
here, but please use the navigation table. Blogs
aren't all that well suited for fiction. Live and learn.
Then get ready to for a wild ride. The place is Columbus, Georgia on the border
of Alabama and along the banks of the Chattahoochee. The time is approximately
a hundred years in the future, but it is possible to lose your way through history,
and history after all is just stories told in a way to help the teller of the tale make
whole the circle of what is happeing to them. So it is with this tale. Scroll
down and read on....
Eileen H. Kramer
To return to
Unfettered Soul's main page pleease click on the link. To return
to the main page at Tacheiru.us please click
on the link.
Chapter 24 -- "Groveling does not become you."
Monday morning Frederick goes to work. He orders doughnuts before I can stop him and leaves me to put them in a plastic container. There are enough for at least two more days. I clean the kitchen. Pour a second cup of tea and realize I have a whole morning to myself for the first time in weeks.
The Monday after a taking is usually slow. I will be seeing a few concerned parents this afternoon and perhaps consoling some whose child will be gone for a week at various kinds of nationals and trials and what have you, but mostly my time is my own and I'm not sure that this is a good thing.
I bathe, dress, and leave the car in the driveway. I have time to walk today. I enjoy the view over the railroad yards on the way into downtown Columbus. The jail and police station are at the end of fifth street, the first left on the far side of the bridge.
My barn boss credential again earns me a visit with Francoise who does not look happy to see me. "We get outdoor recreation in the morning," she says. I offer to send her back but she says they will only put her in the dorm where the female prisioners are kept. The bruise beneath her eye has turned purple and ripe. It now stains the upper part of her cheek. Francoise holds her ribs as she walks. She holds them as she sits down too and balances carefully as though avoiding a sore spot. I feel my stomach tighten and my face flush.
"You can look at me," Francoise announces. "I dont' bite." No she doesn't but I may. "We've got to get you out of here," I say. "The lawyer's due to arrive some time today," Francoise sing-songs. I try to remember that lawyers and CEO's work weekdays only with days framed nine to five or something like that. Francoise' wait has not been unreasonable. Still....
"You're getting out of here," I tell her.
"On my own terms," she replies.
"In the next twenty-four hours," I reply back.
"How do you plan to do that?"
There are tears on my face as I walk through the bright sunlight back towards 13th Ave. and then toward the river. Processing Arm is in the century old T-SYS Castle. I walk past the fountain and gardens and into a lobby where a security guard guards the elect who work in this fine place.
He asks me to show ID and whom I am here to see. "Do you have an appointment?" he asks. I tell him I do. He must believe me because he lets me pass. I take the elevator to the tenth floor and find my way to the double doors that herald Benjamin Crowe's suite.
His secretary is more effective at stopping me than any security guard. I stare at her hair which looks as if it has fused to become a shiney chestnut brown helmet. Her face is white with powder. I think she is in her forties somewhere. She wears a wool tweed suit that must keep her warm in the air conditioning that is giving me goosebumps.
"This is an emergency," I say rather than lie. Then I realize I am not going to get past her unless I make a break for it. The door to Mr. Crowe's office is behind her desk. I have sneakers on. She has heels. If I move fast enough she won't be able to stop me....
I open the door and pray that Mr. Crowe is not at a meeting. He is staring into a computer screen and sheethed in a charcoal colored suit and old fashioned white shirt and tie. He turns to look at me. His white ticked hair manicured like a fine thick lawn, his large grey eyes, which coordinate so well with that hair (Was he stuck or genetically modified?) all make such a perfect package. His face wears no expression, not even surprise.
"You know that even a barn boss can not get in everywhere whenever she wants," he begins.
"They have beaten Francoise twice. What do I have to do to get her out of jail before they kill her?"
"Francoise refuses to cooperate with the police. She simply says nothing to them and they try to make her talk the only way they know how."
"She's a proud woman. She'll die before she talks."
"Why? When she's innocent after all." Mr. Crowe opens a cupboard in his desk and extracts a folder and hands it to me. It's the report by the private eye. It contains statements from Mara who says that Francoise baked only three "cakes." It says that Francoise left two cheese breads at Mara's and delivered one to Sonnie's with a transferring member who was bringing the "cake" as a peace offering. Sonnie does not remember the cake but several of her initiates saw it on the side board. The report says that according to Mara Francoise was unloading groceries at 11am, the time when the cheese bread was delivered. She bought the groceries at inner mall supermarket number two where a security camera picked her up so the alibi is sound.
Moreover, both Ezra Larkin and Gayla Maris report others eating the cheese bread and not getting sick and then getting sick themselves after drinking cream soda. Of course there's still the bottle of strichnine in Mara's kitchen to be explained as well as the travelling cheese bread. Someone would have to know Sonnie and Mara fairly well and still want to kill Ezra and Gayla. Of course the killer also has to know Ezra's habits too as Ezra himself pointed out.
"Francoise has her own good reasons for not cooperating," I protest. I hand back the report. "I need to get her out of jail. I know you have your own reasons for wanting Francoise to go free but I can't expect you to do me this kind of favor for nothing." God, do I sound awful. "I'd like to know what I can do to help."
"Go back home," answers Mr. Crowe. "Groveling does not become a barn boss."
There ends the meeting. I stagger out into the sunlight and head back towards the railroad bridge. Beyond the bridge I turn left. When I arrive at the Medical Center, I learn that both Ezra and Gayla have been transferred to Atlanta for nerve regeneration work. They should be back in Columbus by the end of the week.
I feel even emptier than before. I return to the barn boss house to find the first appointment of the day crouched in the dried out garden by the wooden back door with the office hours sign on it. It is Michael, the youth from Harmony House who wanted to speak to me at the taking, but who didn't. The mustache on Michael's face quivers. His eyes are large and brown, nice natural eyes. I unlock the house and beckon him inside.
"Were you waiting long?" I ask him. He shakes his head. I put on tea for both of us. He asks me to close the screen door and turn on the light. He says he has to be back soon and can't stay for tea and a doughnut or piece of fruit. He turns his back to me and removes his shirt. It is a charcoal colored thermal under shirt that must be unbearably hot in this weather. He holds the shirt in his hands. His arms are slightly flexed.
In the light I can see his back is like a distant country with a rugged terrain of welts and scars and one or two open wounds. The scars and welts crisscross each other like mountain ranges and valleys. Some are pink. Some are red. Some are white. There are one or two bruises which make dark brown lakes. "Put your shirt on," I tell the boy.
I reach into the dish drainer and set a second place at the table with a plate as well as a cup. "I have to go," says Michael.
"No," I answer. "You're to stay here. I'm ordering you. I need your help, Michael. I need to know if any one else was beaten and where the beatings happened and what kind of instruments were used."
"I'm fourteen," Michael answers. "I've already been initated."
"You have to help me or I'll just go back. You won't find anything without me."
"Michael," I tell him. "It does not become you to grovel. "You will need another placement and I will help you get that."
"I'd like my mark back," he answers. I smile and beckon Michael into the study. He gives me the particulars. A class A outdoor house in the mountains of Montana wanted Michael or Colin which his initate name. Colin Laurin. "It was my way of throwing it Laure's face," he tells me as I get the particulars calculate the time zone difference and set up a comm connection.
Patrick, the mentor in Montana's voice fills the study with a pleasant twang. Michael is shaking so much he can hardly talk to the mentor so I do the talking. I explain about the abuse and the investigation that will begin tonight.
"A grand old welt hunt," says Patrick talking barn boss lingo that on any one but a barn boss sounds obscene.
"I've already seen the welts. We'll be looking for the weapon and the rest of the evidence."
"Are you going to go to law enforcement?" Patrick asks.
I say I just want to shut down Laure's house and get the kids somewhere safer. Taking Laure to trial will mean kids have to testify besides, throwing Laure in jail won't do much good. I don't want to give the police interrogators and prison guards any more business than they already have.
Patrick says I sound reasonable. He'll take Colin (Michael) as a full memberand any children Michael can convince to go with him on a trial basis. This is the best deal I could hope for since Laure's older children will carry her taint on her after the house is out of commission and Patrick's while it is far away is a good placement.
The comm connection goes dead and I tell Michael to wait downstairs. I ask him again if he is hungry or thirsty. He is neither so I say we'll eat when we get back. "Where are we going?" he asks me.
"To the courthouse. We'll need a judge's warrant to get into Laure's house." Michael flinches. I go upstairs and pick out a pale yellow shirt that used to be Peter's. I wonder what Peter would do. Given Michael's evidence he would be following my path though less cheerfully and less fueled with righteous anger.
"You'll be cooler in this," I say giving Michael the shirt. He leaves it on open like a jacket. We go out to my car. The judge is in chambers. He is plump and must be in his sixties. "I can't just issue you a warrant on your say so," he tells me.
"You're right," I say. I ask Michael to drop his shirt and show his back to the judge. The judge asks if Michael if he is a member of Laure's house. He says he is and that Laure and Jimmy and Cara all beat him at different times. "Shit," the judge answers and he writes up the warrant. "You're going to have you one pretty little welt hunt" he tells me.
"Children's lives are going to change for the better," I tell him.
"You're so sure...."
I nod. This time at least I am.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Sunday, October 26, 2003.
Chapter 23 -- Broken Pieces
It is still raining Sunday morning after the taking. The sky crying for the sticking that has ripped the fabric of reality that is now mending again, the mother's tears. "Don't take my baby!" I hear the voice and it comes from nowhere. I stand and stare at the muddy park, stripped of pennons, only a few collapsed real life rides, being hauled away, the lovely black eyed susans just a few petals, scattered in the mud. I pull Peter's wet shirt closer to me. I wonder what Frederick would say about beauty that dissolves in one day and rises in three. I stare at the mud hoping there is an answer there somewhere, but I've lost sight of the question.
I am thinking so intently, I don't even hear Frederick splash up behind me. "Come on Koie....We've got to get you inside....hot tea." He tries. He tries so hard. It's not hard enough for me because we never began at the same place. I notice his childhood treasures and the slotcar catalog are out on the kitchen table, but he has also ordered doughnuts. He needs me to pull myself together. He has work tomorrow. I have work this evening. I have two visits today. "Where are you going?" asks Frederick. "To draw myself a bath," I answer.
It's just important to be clean. Frederick asks me if I am sure that I am up to driving. We are taking my car and the rain pounds down in sheets. It is too early to visit at the county jail but Ezra and Gayla are at the medical center and when I flash my barn boss credential the nurses point out their rooms. They are out of intensive care though Ezra is still all stuck with tubes....
What is that music? I stand spellbound. It is those Peruvian tunes I heard all Saturday. Memories of the sticking and the fantasy land of jewel tone pennons and black eyed susans returns in a hot angry flash. I move toward the music. A woman with thick glasses sitting on her nose and brown freckles on weirdly pale skin sits propped up in bed. There is an IV in one arm and the white hospital sheets make her legs look lifeless.
"That music..." is all I can say to her.
"Pretty isn't it," she answers. I nod. "That's why Ezra let me use it. Good taking huh..." I nod. "I'm Gayla Maris."
"I'm Kohanna Pascal." I fumble for my business cards and realize I've forgotten them.
"You're the barn boss," Gayla smiles. She shifts around in bed. "Woulld you believe I'm getting bored. Maybe that means they'll let us out of here soon."
"I have a friend I'd like you to meet," I answer. "Maybe you won't be so bored then." Gayla arches her eyebrows.
I go out and look for Frederick who is studying the vending machines intently. I say there is someone who'd like to see him. I all but shove him through Gayla's door. "Frederick Smythe, this is Roanna Evans though now she's called Gayla Maris. You used to race slot cars together when you were kids." Gayla laughs. "Is that all you know?" she asks. "Pretty much..." I answer. "We need to talk," she smiles. "After I visit your supervisor," I say.
Ezra is four rooms down and awake. His hands are folded on the sheets which also make him look lifelless. He greets me with his eyes. He tells me he is alright considering he "ingested strichnine" late yesterday afternoon. "If it hadn't been for her robe and her teleportation stick, Gayla and I would both be dead now." There is no answer to a comment like that other than silence and in the silence I see Michael again with his gun, fumbling for it.
"So where did my daughter go for nationals?" asks Ezra changing the subject because there is simply nothing left to say.
"Humanities and Writing Conference, Bowdowin College in Maine." I tell him.
Ezra smiles at the thought of an adventure that is safe, healthy, and beneficial. "I'm glad no one told her yet," he sighs. "I want her to enjoy this week. There's no need for her to know until she gets back.
"By the way, the police have already been here. Gayla and I gave them our depositions. Neither of us believes the bread was poisoned."
"The cheese bread that Francoise Guitierez baked. She made three of them and then delivered one of them to our back door. She knocked and said she had a delivery. I was up front watching the monitors and so was Gayla. Robert, our intern, answered the door. The bread had a note in it saying it was out of gratitude for making the park so pretty and it was signed Francoise Guitierez. That was why the police arrested Francoise."
I stare at the floor feeling dizzy and sick. "Everyone had some of the bread. It was delicious, but there was lots of other food on our back table and I make it a habit not to eat until after a taking. When the taking was over at 4:30pm Gayla and I came back and had one of the last pieces of bread and some cream soda. My daughter brought the two big bottles of soda for me on Friday when we were setting up. I noticed sometihng in the soda tasted funny and then I saw Gayla collapse. Then I got sick. By the way, both Gayla and I and one or two others had the soda on Friday and did not get sick.
Now the police say they found a bottle of strichnine in Mara's kitchen so they pinned the poisoning on Francoise, but I told them there is no way she could have done it. Kohana, someone who knew me very well or at least knew my habits had to poison that cream soda. Francoise did not know me well enough for that."
I do not know what to say. I wonder if I should tell Ezra about my visit from Mr. Crowe last night. Finally, I tell him that Mr. Crowe also thinks Francoise is innocent. "He got a lawyer for her and a private detective. Hopefully, this will all get straightened out," I say. Ezra nods. He tells me one more time NOT to notify his daughter and we part.
"Roann was crazy," Frederick tells me as we take seats in my car. It is still raining as I drive down town. I ask Frederick why Roann is crazy. "She's like you...Her parents tried to put her in a good house and she fought them. Then she started reading all these crazy books and a teacher kind of noticed her and sent her to a tech specialty house at fourteen...all the way in New York City. She just laughs over all this like it's normal."
"It's following your dreams," I tell Frederick. "Fuck, what crazy dreams...I mean people dream of big things like having a lot of money and a big house and...."
"What do you dream of...."
"You wouldn't understand."
"Go ahead, try me."
"A big house out in Harris County and enough money for private tutors for my kids so I don't ever have to place them or have them taken. I work as a consultant, get paid in cash. It's not going to happen. That's what dreams are. They don't happen."
I don't agree. We pull up beside the county jail. Only I can visit Francoise. My credential as barn boss entitles me to this Sunday morning visit. They bring her into the visiting room. She is wearing pale blue paper pajamas and she has a black eye. She looks angry. I tell her about Mr. Crowe and the lawyer and the private detective.
She listens and then looks at me. She says nothing for a long time. "You know," she finally breaks the silence. "You can only push people so far before they break."
"Do you mean yourself?" I ask.
Francoise points to her black eye. "That's not broken. It will take more torture than that, to break me, but torture is physical. If you get at the heart and the soul, you can break someone and then you have to pick up the pieces."
"Who got at your heart and soul?" I ask.
"You know who and it wasn't a pair of engineers drunk on their own creation. I'm not even sure violence would do any good for those ones. I always believe you can't kill memory, but when you do what then...what are we left with....They put you in charge of that world. That's what a barn boss does." Francoise' long thin fingers stroke her long thin disfigured face. "Memory becomes history when someone writes it down," Francoise pleads. "Do you understand?"
"I thought you believed all history was stories made up that served the teller of the tale?" I counter.
"Yes, but if we tell our stories, they will serve us, not those who want us to be docile workers, happy consumers, you know the rest. I told you. There's an archive of what we put together but I'm afraid to tell you where it is. The walls have ears. Promise me that when you stop being a barn boss you'll help me publish some of what is there...multiple copies so it can't be destroyed...Kohana. I'm going to start the work when I get out of this pit. No more wasting my time as a steward for Mara. I'm sorry. I knew you were trying to help with that job but she doesn't want me back any way."
I leave the jail thinking Mr. Crowe is right. Francoise' head is somewhere else. If you are educated, you might understand. If not, you will think she is crazy. Frederick would think she is crazy. I don't. I also don't think she tried to kill Ezra and Gayla.
Clouds hang thick in the sky as we drive back to the barn boss house. We are going to have lunch and then we have an afternoon off. Frederick says that Gayla asked him to stop by Ezra's house and pick up her sketch pad and her design tools for a project she wants to work on in bed. "I outgrew Roann a long time ago,&quuot; says Frederick.
"No," I tell him. "You only think you did."
"I start work tomorrow."
"So....that doesn't mean they own you."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Saturday, October 18, 2003.
"Look Kohana," Frederick points through the windshield. "The sun is coming out."
Chapter 22 -- "You Are One of Us"
What do I do? What would you do? As a barn boss, I think like a barn boss. I get out the chits. I sign them over. This is an emergency and it will break the slender emergency funds. I call out to Frederick and hand him the chit. I tell him to take it over to Mara's house. The chit will entitle them to six days of Community Kitchen catered meals. Without their steward those at Mara's Peoples' House are lost.
Then there are parents to see, one hundred and twenty-two of them singly or in pairs. Mostly it is the mothers. Most are composed. A few, and often those whose children had absolutely ordinary takings are in tears. I go through two boxes of tissues. I am glad when most of the cards are given out. I am also numb. Yes, I may call taking care of business obscene but what can I do.
Do you want to know what I think about Francoise and the poisoning? Well when the poisoning feels real enough in my mind to think about it, I don't think it was Francoise who did it. I think of the crying mothers and one crying father. Any of them would be better candidates. How far is it to get beyond tears to anger. I think of another man, long ago, with a gun, sneaking under an electric fence. He did not even get to fire his weapons. I saw that. His name was Michael.
Francoise is not Michael, not even close.... She has no children. Sure she is angry but taking a random shot at some person she does not even know in the control house and destroying her reputation as a cook and steward, the last reputation she has, forever is just not on the map for her. Francoise' targets are in Ohio or Washington if she has targets. If she knows who and where to find them and if she feels revenge could restore what was taken.
I try not to ponder any of this and I do pretty well in spite of what I just wrote down. I do well until Roxanne announces he is here. His name is Benjamin Crowe and he is CEO for the Processing Arm. According to Francoise and a local history project I did before I even met Francoise, Processing Arm was called TSYS. They have the castle by the river near the River Academy. Though it is a very old building it is one of the nicest places to work in all of Columbus. Mr. Crowe is also one of the few CEO's to live in the Weyracoba district right here in Columbus rather than out in Pine Mountain, Harris County etc...
Benjamin Crowe is a tall man, well over six feet in height. I wonder if his height was geneticallly engineered. Stories from Francoise shoot through my head before I can derail them. Mr. Crowe's hair is white at the tips and black at the roots. That is not how most people go grey. Maybe there is some genetic tinkering going on after all. I smile at him. He greets me and closes the study door. Our talk is to be confidential.
"First," Mr. Crowe begins. "I would like to congratulate you on what a fine job you have done with this taking." It sure doesn't feel that way, I think. "I'd like you to know I have hired a lawyer and private detective to help defend Francoise Guitierez. Quite simply, I don't believe her capable of the crime for which she is charged."
My throat is dry and tight. Largesse from a CEO does not happen every day. "Why are yo doing this?" I ask. I know I will owe this man something, at the very least a debt of honor.
"The reason should be obvious, Kohana."
Nothing feels obvious tonight. "Why should you be interested in my friend, Francoise?"
"I'm not," answers Mr. Crowe. "I'm interested in you and in me and in all the others. If the police are holding the wrong person, and I believe they are, that means the right one is still at large. This time Ezra Larken and one of his assistants were victims. Next time who knows whom he or she could attack.You could even be next and I really would dislike losing such a blazingly competent and dedicated barn boss."
I know what I have to ask next. "I owe you. What can I give you in return?"
"Stick this house. There's no reason for you to be living like this. You are one of us. It's time to act like it."
I wonder if Mr. Crowe knows that my budget for luxuries like stuck furnishings is empty. I'll probably be repaying Mara's chits with next month's earnings.
With his words assuring me that my lot is cast with high level technical crew members and CEO's and other executive and mentoring types, Mr. Crowe takes his leave leaving the study door open like a wound. I can see three or four mothers lined up in the ktichen. I emerge and tell them it's first come first serve and start to make myself numb again for the next two hours.
By nine pm, all the dispositions have been handed to the parents. Tomorrow will be easier. I can hear rain pattering on the walk outside the screen door. It is too late to visit either the hospital or the jail. Roxanne who has waited patiently with Frederick all this time offers to take me out to eat. I refuse and get out a cold supper for the three of us. I put water for tea on the stove. We say nothing.
I head back into the study with my supper. I will partially stick the study as an act of good faith, so long after it has gotten dark, I stand in the street with the stick pointed at the house. Lights switch on and people come down to their porches. I announce I just fixed up the study. "At least you didn't have to clean it up," remarks Roxanne.
I drop my head. I'm not numb any more. One of my best friends is in jail. A CEO has taken her side. Someone unknown either here or in Atlanta drove my mentor and predecessor, Peter, to suicide. I witnessed a killing when I was six. It just doesn't stop hurting. All the hurts except the one about Francoise are old and yes there is one more hurt, Ezra and Gayla who is a former childhood friend of Frederick, are fighting for their lives in the hospital.
I hear the rain. It is washing away the beautiful display in the park. I do not even bother with a raincoat but wander outside the screen door. Senses must create memory to bring the world back into focus. This is why massive stickings disorient and frighten. Snow does not frighten me but I need to see the gorgeous attractions in the park vanish from wence they came.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Lights are on in the control house. They shine through the one way glass making the whole front of the inconvenience store transleucent. As I walk away from the fence and toward the control house, in the old Inconvenience Store, I see that someone has pulled the now empty candy and soda racks inside. Several police in bullet proof vests and helmets and with large caliber weapons stand guard at a makeshift fence of yellow plastic ribbon. Don't worry. I won't crawl under the fence. The cops stare at me with stoney eyes hidden behind mirrored night vision goggles. One of them tells me to move on and mind my own business. I walk back into the rain and toward the house.
Chapter 21 -- Little Red Slot Car with a White Skull
The day begins not with a ring master's blast of horns or a calliope but with something South American, flutes and pan pipes, the pull to the stomach. The brain saying something is out of sync and memories and sesnse must be reconciled. Something out of sync floating in the air making an old hurt ache in every muscle. "Frederick!" I call out, but he is gone, up already, drawn by the noise and this time subtle changes.
Today is Saturday. Today is the taking. I close my eyes and think of my Leadership Training Seminars. The instructor, a compact man with a beard laid it on the line. One function of a taking is to disorient parents into letting their children go. A social bargain was not enough. Fear was needed. Fear brought submission. We belong to the company so we must fear and obey.
My head hurts. I am unwell in my guts and my muscles. I splash my face with water in the bathroom. I wash. I find Peter's one red t-shirt given to him as a joke and hardly ever worn. It has a slogan about ketchup on it. I put on my grey draw string pants and sneakers. I don't bother with tea. I remember not to forget my credential.
It is time to go for a walk. The park is already filling up. Parents dragging sleepy children. I check the children's necks. There are many entrances to the park, making it harder to do my work. I curse Ezra and his crew. Fortunately, lines form at the rides, at the face painting, and by the stage Christian children and children from stick houses gather to perform. These are the lucky ones, those already chosen. Those who do not have to descend into the maelstrom of their fear.
I find four or five kids without their credentials and several grateful parents go home with the children to get them. One or two parents ask what is the point. They know their kid will be taken. One knows where. The other is beyond caring. I tell her I can have locations on her child by six pm. That gets her going but barely.
Some time late in the morning I find Frederick. He is eating cotton candy. I ask him how he can eat that stuff. "It's free," he reminds me. I ask how he can eat food knowing who feeds him. He shrugs. At times Frederick makes himself both opaque and obtuse. This is one of those times. He agrees to help me look for credentials and bare necks when he finishes his treat. I am grateful for the help.
By the time the sun is high in the sky, Frederick and I have scoured the whole park and find that nearly all the kids have credentials. I have had to get one or two extras for the kids who have genuinely forgotten but so far I've gotten through to the parents. This feels good.
Frederick and I sit on the naked grass that is soft as a carpet and free of fire ants and other biting things. The Christian kids are doing skits. This kind of thing doesn't usually interest Frederick or me for that matter, but we are both tired from running hither and yon. We sit way up in the back. The sky overhead is picture perfect pale bright blue with little sausages of clouds all linked together. I watch the clouds and don't really pay attention to the action on stage.
Frederick hasa white star outlined in black painted on his face. The face painter did that. He waited in a long line to get it. There are a lot of adults with painted faces.
"I remember my takings," Frederick begins. He rises to his feet. He wants to go somewhere and talk. I can feel that much. I take his hand and we make our way past the swing ride and the kiddie train and the moon bounce and the face painter. We find our way to the rock which no one has moved or stuck or unstuck. I remember sitting on this rock and waiting for Michael, Linda's father, Lisa's wife to do something stupid and pay. It was nice to see adults acting stupid. Now I know adults are just as lost as the children. Maybe the children are less lost.
"I remember my first taking," Frederick sighs. "My mother would not let go of my hand. I was the oldest. She broughtme into the park. It was red and blue then. Not as many flowers. She bought me popcorn and a candied apple that I threw away.
"She wanted me to go on the rides and then would stand on the fence, afraid I would disappear. Finally the time came. We just knew or maybe she knew and she didn't want to make a fuss. I got on the merry go round. You were four seats up from me. You wanted the ostrich and ended up with the leopard. Do you remmember?"
I nod. "We went around three times. I kept count and there was a flash of light and then they had us all sitting in a circle on the grass and asked us where we wanted to go. I said Disneyworld because that was what we all said. It was kind of what you were supposed to say. I was on a big bus with lots of other kids.
"I figured I'd see DisneyWorld and then go home. That would be cool. I was with my friends, Daniel and Pete. They just left us alone so we could talk so we talked about all kinds of things, about Catchme Cards. You remember those and bubble gum bottles and string candy and well....all the stuff we were going to collect. And Pete said he'd heard about how we could get First People's tickets from the robes. That all had us kind of scaird. Daniel told about how his older brother had eaten himself sick at this big restaurant they have at DisneyWorld. I just listened. I didn't have any older brothers or sisters to tell me what it was like.
"Then we didn't end up at Disney World. We ended up in this big building like a wearhouse. It was grey on the outside with white trim and it was four stories tall plus it had a basement. Some kids went swimming. In another room, you could help bake cookies. There was another bus leaving for DisneyWorld and Universal and FunTown. There was a sign with schedules for the buses and they told us about them, but there was all this other stuff in the rooms and...I found the raceway in the basement and I liked it and I was sick of buses.
"I lost track of Pete and Daniel. Daniel went out to wait for the bus to Fun Town but I didn't want to just stand waiting for a bus. I said I was going in to look around. Pete, I think ended up playing with the batting cages out behind the warehouse. He came home with a baseball. That was all the gift he got. I had that green slot car you remember.
"The funny thing was I didn't want to go to Disney World any more after I was taken the first time though I always said what you were supposed to say. I always went to the basement. There was a very patient old man who showed us how to set up the slot cars and we'd root for each other and half way through the night we'd have pizza. They'd show us movies about real racing cars after that and we'd all sleep on mats on the floor. The next morning we'd have pancakes and sometimes we'd have our own games. Then we'd come inside and race more slot cars. At five o'clock or so they took us home.
"For two years that's how all the takings were. I got to be one of the older boys. A lot of kids drifted away from the track. I don't know why. Maybe it was their parents. We even had girls. I remember that the adults taught one of the girls how to put track together and....Well she was good at it. She also fixed cars that were broken. She offered to teach me. Girls are supposed to have cooties when you're little.....She must have been ten or eleven years old. She wore glasses...real ugly thing."
Frederick sighs. "We painted slot cars together. That was all I ever learned. Though I did track tests and those kinds of things, and I helped teach the new kids how to race. My parents made me join White Star and I had to give my slot cars away." Frederick stares out at the park. The music has started again, lovely South American music.
"Maybe Jimmy has one of the cars, I painted with Roanne," says Frederick absently. Frederick is on his feet as if Jimmy will materialize right in front of him. Then he is heading back toward the face painter. Jimmy is Frederick's older younger brother. Frederick is the oldest of three boys. Jimmy is in College Prep in North Carolina though he may have come home for the taking. I'm not sure. I wonder if memory and sticking have gotten to Frederick. Maybe the best thing to do would be to get my dear Frederick out of the sun.
Jimmy is no where near the face painter booth but outside the
fortune teller is a bunch of kids with white stars outlined in black on their cheeks and another bunch with yellow keys. Key house is even more prestigious than White Star. A third group of kids have a yin-yang symbol. Harmony House belongs to Laure. Laure is nowhere around but a tall gangly boy drinks from a paper cup and supervises his mostly female brood.
"Fred!" calls out Jimmy. ":Jimmy!" Frederick tries to embrace his brother and then holds back. The two instead shake hands. Jimmy asks how Level A Human Resources is and Frederick confesses he doesn't start work until Monday. The small talk is somehow sad. I get introduced part way through all of this. Jimmy has hard angry eyes the same greyish brown as his older brother's, yet somehow Jimmy's eyes remind me of marbles or ball bearings.
"I was wondering," asks Frederick: "Do you have any of my old slot cars left from when we were kids. Koie keeps a collection of all her gifts and I'd like to have mine."
"You want your slot cars back?"
"I don't think any of them will work any more. We used to play with them in the sand. Remember?" Jimmy stares at the ground. Frederick tells him he doesn't have a track. Jimmy says he has to wait until the kids have made it to the fortune tellers but we are welcome to wait with him. "Maybe Michael will relieve me," sighs Jimmy who finishes his drink after a long meditative suck on the straw.
"When pigs fly," comments a plump pre-inititiate female in a long sleeved black thermal undershirt and black jeans. I wonder if this is some new fashion, but it seems a Harmony House thing. It must be awfully hot and uncomfortable. The teen asks me about the ketchup t-shirt. I explain it belonged to a dear friend named Peter who used to be barn boss.
"He's the one who offed himself," says another preinitiate, this one with short red hair that she keeps tossing. A girl with squinting eyes edges up to me and looks at the t-shirt. She has curly hair. Two boys start playing hacky sack. Jimmy shrugs his shoulders. "I used to wish I was in Laure's house when I was younger," comments Frederick. "Her kids always seemed to have an easier time."
"The grass is always greener," comments Jimmy who looks up in time to see a youth a whole head taller with an uneven crew cut of chestnut colored hair and the beginnings of a mustache come ambling over. "Did you forget to shave?" Jimmy asks the youth. The boy shrugs. "Laure won't like that." "It's carnival," the youth answers.
"It's taking day," I correct him and for a moment our eyes meet. "I was looking for you," the youth's voice is barely audible. "It's a work day for me," I answer. The boy stares at the ground. The boy is Michael, Jimmy's relief which leaves him free to go in search of slot cars.
Working or not, Frederick, Jimmy, and I are off to Laure's house which is two blocks from the park. Jimmy lets himself back in. He heads through the kitchen and takes the back stares two at a time with Frederick hard on his heels. It seems Jimmy has a leanto room in the attic. A piece of my brain asks if this part of the house has passed fire inspection. I shelve the question as Jimmy threads his way past several guest beds.
"Don't tell mom, but I can't stand prep. I quit and came back here to help Laure. It's the only job I could get and still keep it quiet. I know I'll have to try again some time..." Jimmy confesses all this as he pulls his bed away from the wall and pries ot a loose board. I wonder why Jimmy can't keep his slot cars in the dresser or on top of it as befits keepsakes.
"Fred, how did you get through?" asks Jimmy.
"I knew I wanted a level A program," Frederick answers.
"And how did you...." Jimmy stops his question. He knows I never went to college prep. I was at Dartmoth at his age. I did not know what I wanted to study but the choice was mine.
There are several boxes behind the loose boards. There are cookie tins and shoe boxes. Everything is stacked neatly. Jimmy extracts a dusty shoe box and removes the industrial rubber band that keeps the top locked on tight. "I haven't forgotten," he says softly as he hands the box with its lid still on it to Frederick.
Frederick removes the lid and lays out the treasures on Jimmy's bed which has a white sheet over the grey blanket. "Use the lid. Laure checks to see if the sheets are dirty," he comments.
There are eight slot cars in the box. The green one still shines in some places with its irredescent paint though it is chipped and it looks like someone wrote on it with yellow crayon. There is a dark blue model with a missing trunk, a yellow car with missing wheels, and a red car painted with a tiny white skull on its hood. The red is not scarlet but a deep red sometimes seen on nails, a woman's choice, in this case a very young woman's choice.
"This was the last one," says Frederick holding the car in the palm of his hand. It is minus two wheels and will never race but the paint job is excellent. "It's beautiful," I say. "You did a fantastic job, Frederick." Frederick closes his fist around the car and I fear he will crush it. It doesn't crush that easily. He puts it back in the box.
"Take these home," Jimmy says. "I only have to hide them here anyway." Frederick puts the cars back in their box and reseals it with a rubber band. He tucks the box under his arm and we exit the attic. Jimmy carefully lets us out the back way. We skirt the Inconvenience store and head towards our side of the park.
The barn boss house is quiet. Sun motes play in the square of light made by the screen door. "Come on," I urge Frederick into the study and close the door. "Shouldn't we be getting back to the park?" he asks.
"It's either now or Monday," I tell him. I switch on the computer. "Who was the girl who helped you paint that red car?" I ask.
"Roanne...." sputters Frederick.
"Do you remember her last name?"
"Her home town...anything else....."
"She said she was from Sandy Creek...They did their takings at three in the afternoon. She had an uncle who repaired watches....It was a long time ago, Koie."
"I think we can find her. Let's assume she's one to three years older. Born in Georgia....we have first name and last name." I get five leads. I show images on the screen along with childhood images. The first two who still use both their original first and last names as adults, don't look anything like the Roanne Frederick remembers. The third who is a Roanne Stevens is deceased. The fourth is in Alaska in the military and her childhood picture is unavailable. Our fifth Roanne is named Gayla Maris and Frederick makes a little noise when I show him the childhood photo on the screen.
"She's an engineer and designer...stick work," I smile. "Works for Mentoring Technical Services right here in Columbus Georgia."
"Holy shit," says Frederick. "When things quiet down, we'll use my credential to get in at the inconvenience store and the two of you can strike up an acquaintance. They'll be busy but they should be free by late tonight. What do you think?"
"I don't know....."
"Why not? What are you afraid of?"
"Do you wonder what her parents said to her?"
"Because I have parents. I mean....she must have done something."
We say nothing. We are both due back in the park. It is nearly three pm. The merry go round is the site of the taking and I watch as the robes from Atlanta begin helping parents round up the kids though a subliminal stick signal also helps. Many know the routine nd go willingly. Sometimes parents guide them. Those that hang back go with a bit of urging.
At 3:42pm the taking occurs. I see the bright light, in this case golden light, flash over the merry go round and then watch the horses -- It's jst horses this time -- spin empty.
Frederick and I walk briskly back to the barn boss house. The open box of slot cars sits on the kitchen table carelessly neglected. I go into the study and find Frederick's slot car catalog. I hand it out to him and shut the study door. I need to go confidential.
Peter always flashed the images of the chart that shows children's disposition at a taking on the wall. I just use my screen so that Frederick can pass through and I can cover the ocmputer with a cloth. From the park, Peruvian tunes still vibrate or maybe I am just feeling them in my muscles and stomach.
I turn on the printer and get out the paper cutter. I am using fairly stiff paper but not card stock. I lean back and watch as the first dispositions appear. I print out the tame takings first. That is how I learn that Ezra Larkin's daughter, Germaine, is at a Humanities Gathering at Bowdowin College in Maine. I think her father will be tickled. Other takings are more ordinary. Bonner FitzGerald is in Pensacola or en route. Several well placed girls head to leadership houes in Atlanta and one is going to a similar house in Raleigh, North Carolina. When I get eight takings. I print and cut the sheet into eight cards and throw the cards in a box. There are a hundred and twenty two kids so that means about fifteen sheets of takings.
By six pm I have all the dispositions on cards and by now the parents are no doubt waiting in the kitchen if they are nervy or parked outside if they are not. It is time to get things ready. I open the door and see Roxanne sitting at the kitchen table trying to ignore the slotcar book and box of ancient treasures. Frederick sits next to her. I wonder for a moment if something has happened to Jimmy. I remembe the hidden box, the white sheets over the beds and the shifty eyed Michael who wanted to tell me something.
I also remember that it is time to get out a box of cookies, put on tea, set up the fruit bowl and lay out the china. Parents will eat and drink as they wait to hear where their children have landed. I start going through the motions, but Roxanne rises and catches my arm. "Ezra Larken and Gayla Maris are in the hospital. Francoise Guitierez gave them poisoned bread and they ate it. You need to know."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Sunday, October 12, 2003.
Chapter 21 -- A Walk in the Park
"Koie, what are you doing?" asks an uncurious Frederick as I dip tilapia filets in egg and then flavored matzoh meal. It is just after sunrise. A hot cup of tea cools on the counter. Frederick did not pay much attention at the fish counter yesterday and now he sees the naked white flesh of the fish and recoils.
"Breading fish," I reply. I wonder if Frederick has ever seen any body cook before. Maybe he hasn't.
"Isn't that for supper?" he asks.
"Office hours are going to go long today," I answer. "The taking's tomorrow." I keep breading the fish. Frederick puts up coffee and fetches the slot car catalog I bought for him yesterday. I guess this was a hit after all. "How soon are we buying the store?" he asks. I wonder when I turned into we.
"In six months," I chirp back. I do not notice when Frederick drops his dirty coffee cup in the sink, puts down his book, and heads out the screen door. I hear the door slam softly and look up from the last of the fish. I suspect he went home to his mother's. I clean up from the fish. Drink some cold tea and eat a nectarine.
While I am eating Frederick returns. He is eating a candy bar and with his free hand rummaging in the pantry. He emerges with an empty peanut butter bucket that I use mainly for starting seeds or watering plants. "What do you want with that?" I ask him.
"Men-Tech took over the store and they put all the candy and soda out on the sidewalk. Do you want any?" he asks. I wipe my hands on a towel and nectarine still in hand, follow Frederick out the screen door and down the street. Something much like a sticking has attracted neighborhood children and surprisingly adults who swarm over the evicted racks and pyramids of cans and bottles as if Santa Claus has come to town. The place is half picked over and Frederick is picky. It takes me a while to realize that Men-Tech has gone back to old times.
I stare through the store's windows which are now opaque mirrored glass. Of course they would be stuck this way. My own curious reflection stares back at me. So too does the park which is no longer wrapped in plastic fencing. "Come on, Frederick," I call out. "Let's go for a walk."
I have never seen the park this beautiful. There are beds of black eyed susan everywhere and pennoned and tented pavillions in the red of lipstick, real lipstick, not true red, and perriwinkle blue, and emerald green, but not too much green. There are marble benches. There are ice sculptures that refuse to melt in the heat. There are fountains. There are two stages that sit silently. Crystal tears hang from the trees glistening in the sunlight, yet it is the flowers I like best.
"Isn't it beautiful?" a young female voice echoes my thoughts.
"If you like this kind of stuff," a grumpy Frederick answers a sparkling Germaine Larkin. I think of an old saying: "beauty is as beauty does."
The three of us fall into step. &qout;Dad said people would like that his crew's in the store," Germaine begins the conversation.
"I hope Atlanta is reimbursing the owners for the goods."
"People say you want the store."
"I want them when their lease is up. I have no desire to drive them into bankruptcy by stealing their merchandise," picked over lot that it is. The Inconvenience Store has become a sad and sorry place and the neighborhood would definitely be better off without it.
"So what are you doing up and about...Don't you go to school?" Frederick asks.
"Not on Saturdays," laughs Germaine. "I'm running an errand."
"What sort of errand?" I ask.
"Going to Publix to fetch two bottles of soda. That's why I have a napsack. Dad and Gayla want cream soda and the store didn't have any. Inconvenience store is right. I like the convenience store down on Veterans Parkway."
"And when do you get to go to the store on Veterans Parkway?" asks Frederick who really doesn't know.
"When I'm at school. They let us out so we can use our cards to get our stipends. A lot of places take cash money and it gives you more privacy anyway."
"I never had cash when I was young," answers Frederick. "My house always took care of everything."
"Which house did you belong to?"
"What did you do when youu had your financial management unit in school?" asks Germaine.
"We didn't have that," Frederick explains.
"But what did you do with your stipend?&quuot;
"Stipend," I explain. "Money you get each month on your card. You need it for various things and you put the card in the machine to get it out in little bits of cash money."
"That's a River Academy thing. You know, Germaine, the whole world is not River Academy."
"You're right," I answer. "There's also T-Ac." I laugh. Germaine kind of gets the joke. Frederick's poor face starts to redden.
Just about then, we reach Seventeenth Street, and Germaine has to make a left to go go Publix and fetch her soda for her father and one of his assistants. "I have financial managemant class at school," Frederick mimics the child under his breath as she disappears from sight. I try not to listen.
"Are you jealous you didn't go to River Academy?" I ask.
"Hell no! I'm glad."
"Hello there!" another familiar female voice calls out. Francoise Guitierez, formerly graduate student in history, and now head steward at Mara's People's House waves as she and a girl a year a few years older than Germaine Larkin come down seventeenth street heading towards our side of the park. "Boy look how they've got this place fixed up!" Francoise exclaims. She is pulling a child's wagon in which there are two round fine looking loaves of some kind wrapped neatly in plastic.
"Looks like I don't have to make a delivery" Francoise chirps. She hands me one of the loaves.
"What is this?" asks Frederick.
"Cheese bread." Next to the last loaf of cheese bread sits what looks like suitcases and a laundry bag. "What's all that?" I ask.
"I'm moving," explains Francoise' companion, a partial albino black girl with close cropped natural hair that is a pleasing golden brown. The girl's skin though is ashen. "I want to be a nurse,&quuot; she explains. "Sonnie says she'll take me so Francoise is taking me over there."
"The other loaf is for Sonnie," Francoise explains. We bid Francoise adieu and I try to explore the rest of the park with Frederick but he is tired. "You don't get it do you?" he asks as we head back to the house.
"Get what?" I ask.
"Forget it." Frederick unwraps one of his legally purloined candy bars and starts munching it. He also puts on more coffee. I finish washing dishes and straighten up the study as best I can. I hang out the office hours sign. There will be a whole parade of nervous parents in here today, and indeed there is. Most only need to be told what they already know. Most of the real problems are either solved or beyond solving. I imagine that Ezra Larkin and his crew are going through the same boring ritual.
I am glad when we can close shop around 5pm and I can start cutting up eggplant and zucchini. Frederick eyes the eggplant suspiciously. "Never had ratatouille?" I ask. Frederick shakes his head and makes a sad laugh. "You and Germaine and Francoise never come down to earth with the rest of us!"
"What happens on earth?" I ask.
"Fuck! It's just...This is not easy. You make it look like fun. You are all busy cooking your feasts and exchanging stuff and oh 'look at the pretty flowers.' Don't you know what's going to happen tomorrow?"
"That's what office hours was all about," I remind Frederick.
"Yes, but suppose it was you and suppose it was your kids."
"It was me."
"No you went to River Academy."
"I got taken."
"Yes, but at your school."
"I still got taken."
"Does all that pretty stuff out there really make you afraid?"
"Not the stuff...."
"There's not going to be a shooting this time," I say.
"You don't understand! You really suck as a barn boss Koie!"
"Wait," I say. "After age eight you weren't taken at all," I remind Frederick.
"Yes, but I never stopped being scaird. Most people are scaird. Most people don't find this fun."
"What would you want instead?"
"To just be left be and grow up with my parents."
Frederick must mean this. Maybe if I'd been like him I would have wanted it too. I just think I got a better deal being taken. Maybe having an encouragement made the difference. Maybe believing there was something good on the end of a taking...."If I had grown up with my parents, I would never have gone to River Academy, never met Sebastien or Cordelia or Iris or Gracie, never gone to T-Acc or away from home to Dartmouth. I would have had a much more ordinary life. I like the life I've had."
"That's why you suck as a barn boss," answers Frederick. "Most of us don't have lives like that.We don't want them. We just want to be left be."
"But you're a Level A Human Resources Trainee," I remind Frederick.
"Fuck that! That's just what I do to work. It's not what I am."
"What are you?" I ask.
"Just me," answers Frederick. "I'm not important. I just want to be left alone and happy. I want to do what everybody else does. I mean....but that's where things get hard. Once people could just work, meet, have kids and then that was it. There was no company. There were no takings."
"So what does the story you told me teach?" I ask; for all stories teach something. Francoise is right abot that.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Monday, October 06, 2003.
"It doesn't fucking teach anything! I mean...it says we're screwed!"