Archive for November, 2009

Sun and Moon (part 20)

Friday, November 20th, 2009

“You make an excellent espresso,” Francesca lied. Clay knew she was lying, but he graciously accepted the false compliment. She had wanted to make the espresso herself, but he had insisted, trying to continue the tradition begun by Julia – to keep some sense of continuity. He understood that he was no replacement for Julia, but there was no reason to belabour the point.

“Have you made any headway with the nouns?” he asked.

Francesca frowned. “It is difficult. I sense there is something about your language, some subtlety that I miss. In Italian it is so simple. Our language comes down to us from the Latin — we are children of Romance. But English, it has so many roots — words have different meanings. And I sense that there are meanings here which are beyond my ability to see.”

“Let me take a look,” Clay suggested. His eyes scanned down the several dozen words on the list, allowing each one a chance to jump out at him. “Interesting. ‘caper’, ‘count’, ‘date’, ‘gin’, ‘pen’, ‘quarry’…. Indeed, an odd assortment of words. But they do have one thing in common.”

“What is that?” Francesca perked up.

“Each word on this list is has two completely different meanings, with each meaning derived from a different root. They sound the same, are spelled the same, but they are not really the same word. Take ‘quarry’ for example.”

“But my dear,” Francesca objected. “Surely you don’t mean that the two meanings of ‘quarry’ in your language are so different. Whether it is the thing one hunts or the place from which one takes the marble, the two must be in some way connected.”

“Actually, no,” Clay said, shaking his head. “‘Quarry’ in the sense of ‘the thing that is hunted’ comes from quirre in the original Anglo-French, the entrails of a deer given to hunting dogs to reward their success.”

Francesca looked at him in astonishment. “How do you come to know such a thing?”

Clay smiled sheepishly. “Not really sure. The origin of words is something I just seem to know — it’s always been a gift, something my mind does without really thinking.”

“And the other meaning?” Francesca asked, now intrigued.

“Ah, that’s pretty much straight from the Latin — quadrare — ‘to square’. The quarry has always been the place where excavated stones are squared.”

“Most remarkable!” Francesca exclaimed with genuine delight. “Is this the case for all of these words?”

Clay looked over the list one more time. “Yes,” he nodded, “I’m fairly certain of it. In each case we are actually looking at two different words. Same spelling, same pronunciation, but two different words derived from two different languages.”

“Ah,” she nodded. “It is like the frog and the toad.”

“Excuse me?” Clay looked confused.

“I remember learning, as a girl, of a species of frog and a species of toad that look absolutely identical. Except they are genetically quite different. Both species have adapted, over time, through the forces of Darwinian selection, to a similar environment. Now they look the same in every way, and yet have extremely different DNA.”

Clay nodded slowly, lost in thought. “It is a sort of message — not by what it says in words, but by what it says about words. Strange as it seems, this reminds me of nothing so much as SunMoon. Umbry and Julia always insist that they are not related, and yet they seem like sisters. ”

“Closer than sisters,” Francesca agreed. “Could this be a message about them?”

“But what are we talking about here?” Clay looked puzzled. “The letters were placed in the three boxes long before either Julia or Umbray was born How could it be possible that the message is about them?”

“I believe we must explore the possibility,” Francesca said, “that we are looking at a prophesy.”

Sun and Moon (part 19)

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

There was a strange moment of tension in the room as Julia stared at Francesca, a look of pure admiration on her face. Then, seemingly, she snapped out of it, and returned to putting her camera back in its case.

“The guards switch places periodically,” Francesca explained as they walked down the hall. Where Julia would have gone straight, she felt herself being yanked sharply to the right. Francesca showed her the map and she looked at the changes Francesca had made to it. “But… at this rate…!”

“Yes. We cannot get to the exit.”

“When does the next shift start?”

“Another two hours.”

Julia sighed. Far too long. “…So what do we do?”

Francesca smiled. “You have not forgotten my words about action, have you? I trust you can defend yourself properly.”

Slowly, Julia turned to look at her, and then she nodded with a smile. “Sounds like a plan.”

The guard wasn’t looking at them when Julia jumped at him. He fell to the floor full force. Julia held his head down and took the gun from its holster on his belt. Francesca kicked his foot lightly and he didn’t move. “You knocked him out,” she observed plainly.

“Was it too harsh?”

“Not at all.”

They turned the corner on two more guards, but this time they were looking at them, so Julia raised the gun she was holding. “Don’t move, any of you! Against the wall! Now!”

They all started to obey her orders, and for a couple seconds she began to relax.

And then they stopped.

Julia had just a moment to stare at them with confusion and a little bit of fear before Francesca pulled her out of the way as the men started to shoot… The sound was loud and she held her head, but Francesca pulled her down the other hall around the corner. Finally Julia stood up and they ran together, managing to go fast enough that the guards lost sight of them.

***

Umbry and Clay sat in silence on the roof waiting for Julia. It was taking a lot longer than it should have. Umbry was clearly anxious, but Clay just watched her – for more than one reason. He tried not to think about that now, to concentrate on the thing in his hand, twisting and turning small wires.

“What are you doing?” Came a whisper. Umbry’s bright eye was fixated on the object in his hands.

“Getting the signal on this walkie-talkie to communicate with the one the guards are hearing. It should help us.”

“Oh.” She seemed a bit skeptical, but any doubtful look she was giving was stopped dead in its tracks when he got a signal. Clay smiled triumphantly they both moved in closer to the very quiet walkie-talkie. The signal was very faint, so they found themselves cheek-to-cheek as they tried to hone their ears into the sound.

“Don’t listen to her.”

It was a soft voice, clear in its conviction but smooth and young-sounding. A young man, it seemed.

“She’s lying. She’s a weak person who won’t shoot. And she’s afraid of death. So why not give her something to fear?”

There were a couple seconds of silence, and then they heard gunshots come from inside the building. Umbry covered her mouth, and Clay whipped around, trying futilely to see through the walls. He couldn’t hear anything. Finally, he turned to Umbry. “What should we do…? Do you think she’s… do you think they…?”

Umbry didn’t answer. Her face had contorted into some wrinkled mess of horror and fear and nausea, and she was holding her mouth so tightly it looked like she might rip it off.

“Umbry, what should we do?”

“I’m afraid you can’t do anything, Clay.”

He turned to look at her, but she was still frozen in fear. Which meant that the only one who could have said that was…

“You see, Clay,” the voice on the other end of the walkie-talkie said, “Despite your idea that you can calm poor Umbry down, and despite your belief that she is emotionally stable, she won’t listen to you anymore now that she’s heard me. Now that she knows exactly how frightened I can make her other half…”

“Who are you?” Clay asked. “You can obviously hear us. So what do you want?”

“You wouldn’t understand. Perhaps, though, your Umbry would. So then, Umbry, isn’t it time you freed yourself of this high place? It might buy your poor dear Julia a little more time. And it’s not that high a fall, is it? Do the calculations if you need to.”

Clay watched helplessly while Umbry made the calculations. She gave him one last look – defeated, shocked and confused – and then he lunged at her and everything went blurry.

But he wasn’t fast enough. She slipped off the edge of the roof, and fell with her feet down. She landed in a small heap on the ground below him, in front of the guards.

Clay ducked away hesitantly, and watched from the shadows as the men noticed her and surrounded her. He flinched.

“And what will you do, Clay? Try to help her? Or find me? I can’t wait to meet you. Have no doubts, we will meet.”

Clay paused for a second, and then his hand balled up into a fist. “I’ll see you,” he growled.

He didn’t even skip a beat.

“In hell.”

***

Julia and Francesca were still running through the maze of the building when Julia suddenly fell. Francesca ran to her side. “Are you okay, dear?”

But Julia wasn’t okay. There was a look of terror on her face. She paused for a second, holding her head, and then looked up at Francesca. “They have Umbry.”

“What?”

“I’m going to get her back.” She stood up and turned the corner so that they were out of sight. Then she checked to see that her gun was loaded and handed it to Francesca. “You know how to use this, right? And take the camera too. I’ll see you in a couple of days, maybe sooner, depending on whether I’m lucky or not.”

“Julia, I do not follow.” She took the gun and camera, but didn’t take her eyes off of Julia. “You say that they have taken Umbry? What gives you that idea?”

Julia paused. “She’s my partner, after all. I just know these things. Now run. Figure out that puzzle with Clay, and then come find us.”

“Julia, please, think this through–”

“Think?” Julia smiled. “Thinking is what Umbry’s good at. I just make the espressos.” She needed a way to shut Francesca up, and honestly, she’d been wanting to do this for a while. So she kissed her. It felt pretty damn good.

Before Francesca could react, Julia ran out the other way and threw her hands up, yelling out at the guards that she knew that they had her partner and that she wanted to negotiate. Francesca darted into the shadows, not hesitating – she knew she wouldn’t be able to fight Julia’s decision once it had been made. She listened, though, and relaxed when she didn’t hear gunshots.

All the guards were gone from the hallways after that — escape was easy. Still, Francesca worried that Sun and Moon had fallen straight into their enemy’s trap. She and Clay would need to solve the puzzle quickly — there would be time later to think — to think about the kiss.

Sun and Moon (part 18)

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

It looked like any other old abandoned warehouse by the waterfront at three in the morning. The three black-clad figures blended in with the moonless night, almost impossible to see. The alley was still slick from an evening rain, and a dead silence filled the chill air.

Slowly Clay and Umbry made their way up and across the roof, careful not to make any noise. When they had reached the appointed spot Clay touched Umbry lightly on the shoulder, and she paused, waiting.

Meanwhile Julia eased her way around the building, her rail thin body pressed flat against the wall, only inches from the laser beams of the alarm system. She tried to keep her mind on the task at hand, to not think about the possibility of being caught. She willed herself to remain calm as she slowly inched nearer to the corner of the building.

Clay worked silently at the roof air vent, methodically going through his toolkit until he found the proper phillips head screw driver. Once he had the correct tool, unfastening the four retaining bolts was quick work. Slowly and carefully he lifted the cover and placed it silently on the roof beside him.

At his signal Umbry eased her slender body down into the darkness of the narrow shaft. When she was most of the way in, Clay placed his hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him questioningly, and he kissed her on the mouth for good luck. For a moment she was too surprised to respond. Then she pressed her lips tightly against his with a hunger that surprised them both, and kissed him back passionately, a long slow kiss.

Afterward the two of them regarded each other for a long moment. This was something that would need to wait, at least for a little while. She lowered herself the rest of the way down into the shaft. He looked after her for a moment, then roused himself. Silently he stole over to the edge of the building, and signaled down to Julia, who had been waiting at the corner of the building for his signal. When she saw his face peering over the the edge of the roof at the appointed spot, she nodded and began to ease herself around the corner.

The ventilation system of the huge former warehouse formed a maze of interconnecting shafts, but Umbry moved quickly and confidently, knowing the way. Up on the roof, Clay mused how simple it had been to retrieve the blueprints of the original building plan. All that had been required was a trip to the office of municipal records, armed with a veneer of authority and the proper fake ID. He smiled to himself. Why do bad guys always set themselves up in old abandoned warehouses? For some reason he found this thought very amusing. Although he suspected his good mood also had something to do with that kiss.

Julia had edged her way half way around the building, and was only five feet from the delivery entrance when she heard the crunch of boots upon gravel. She held her breath, pressing her back tightly against the wall. In the darkness the man walked by, only a few feet away. She looked on in sickened fascination at the white bandage that covered the place where his ear had been.

He stopped and looked around, the standard procedure of his nightly patrol. At one point he looked right at her, and she held her breath. She was in shadow, and his gaze passed on. Footsteps retreated and he was gone. Slowly she exhaled and inched herself the rest of the way to the doorway.

Umbry took two rights and a left to reach the main shaft, and then a final right, as they had worked out beforehand from the plans. Lindsay had told them the command room was on the second floor, facing away from the harbor, so it was clear where she would need to emerge into the building. At last she could see into the room. In the dim light from the facing alley the security console was just visible in the far corner.

Removing a small nail file from her tool belt, she carefully unscrewed the retaining bolts on the ventilator grill, pulled the grill away from the wall, angled it and pulled it up into the shaft. She slowly worked her body backward along the shaft until she reached the wider main shaft. Leaving the grill there, she turned onto her tummy and eased her body back down the shaft, feet first. Slowly, carefully, she lowered herself out of the shaft and felt for the floor with her toes. She moved with deliberately slowness, since jumping down to the floor – or any other sudden movement – could have triggered a motion alarm.

Once at the console, she smiled at the irony. A security console in a locked building generally isn’t password protected – there wouldn’t be any point. Unless, that is, someone has already broken into the building, which is not something the system’s designers would generally think of. With the access screen wide open, she had free reign to click through the subsystems, and it took only a few moments to orient herself.

In under forty seconds Umbry had disabled all the alarms in the building. She leaned back in the chair and breathed a sigh of relief. This had been the hard part – the rest should be a cakewalk.

When Julia saw the small red LED turn to green on the electronic lock beside the door, she didn’t hesitate. So far the plan was moving along smoothly. She tried pulling down the door lever, and it turned easily in her hand. In moments she was in the building, the door carefully closed again behind her. Walking confidently through the darkness, knowing exactly where she was going, she strolled from the loading dock into the main corridor, counted out twenty three footsteps precisely, and entered the door on her left. Lindsay, for all his faults, had turned out to be an excellent mole. Between his inside knowledge and access to the building plans, they had been able to work out the exact path she needed to take.

She reached out until she could feel the edge of the desk. Slowly she ran her hands over its surface, feeling for the cutout letters. She knew the three music boxes were somewhere on the desk, but she didn’t care about them – they would no longer be needed. She removed the small camera with its built in infrared flash from her tool belt and took enough photos to capture the entire desktop. SunMoon would not be needing the letters themselves, only the message they contained.

When she was done she turned around, prepared to follow the planned instructions up to the second floor and from there out to the roof, far from the patrolling guard outside. But when she turned around she saw a gun pointing directly at her. On the face behind it was an ugly grin, made even uglier by the unsightly bandage covering the left side of his face. “Well well, looks like we got ourselves an intruder,” he sneered. “And the boss said to shoot intruders on sight.” She closed her eyes, waiting for the bang that would signal the end of her life. Instead she heard a dull thud.

Opening her eyes, she saw the gunman crumpled at her feet, his gun still clutched in his hand. Standing over him was Francesca, clad in a simple single piece black outfit, a small billy club in her hand. Julia couldn’t help thinking how wonderful Francesca looked in black. Actually, at this moment Julia thought Francesca just looked wonderful, period.

“You seem surprised my dear,” Francesca smiled. Even in this dim light her smile seemed to light up the entire room. “I suspected that my young friends might require some help.”

Julia smiled back. “I thought you were going to wait for us back at the agency, but I am very happy to see that you changed your mind.”

Francesca shrugged with simple elegance. “It appears that I am, as you say in this country, the woman of action. Although I must confess there was an element of selfishness in my decision. One can spend only so much time in little rooms, drinking espresso and discussing one’s feelings. One’s life is, after all, a story. And after a point the story feels like a soap opera. It desperately needs some action.”

Sun and Moon (part 17)

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The beeping was stable and constant, just as it had been before. It was slower than it had been earlier, and didn’t accelerate when the four of them entered, those detectives he’d threatened to kill. He just stared at the opposite wall.

He was peaceful and tranquil. His side hurt a little – the pain medication was wearing off, and he’d asked the nurse to hold off on the next dosage until after this – but he was okay. He’d made up his mind.

Lindsay really wasn’t the type to make up his mind, he’d realized. He’d left high school with unimpressive grades and gone on to university, trying one major after another, with no real idea what he was looking for. Years had gone by and nothing had changed. One by one, his friends had passed him by, finding that precious thing that everyone talks about, the thing they wanted to do. And then he was alone, with unimpressed parents and friends who pitied him for being that guy who wouldn’t ever do anything with his life. Even those annoying detectives disliked him. He knew that.

But he couldn’t understand his feelings toward them now. At first, when he’d been approached by that man and asked to spy, he thought maybe that was something he could do. No one would ever suspect the guy who wouldn’t do anything with his life. It was the perfect cover.

Then he found himself being reluctant to carry out what he’d been asked to do. Watching them, he realized something that perhaps no one had in the past – they didn’t know what to do with themselves either. They were doing this, being smart and solving cases together, but could they really go their entire life in that pattern? The clues were faint, and he knew he wasn’t a very observant person, but he was pretty sure they felt the same way he did.

Alone. Confused. Overwhelmed.

Maybe he was just clinging to something he thought was familiar, and maybe he was seeing patterns where there weren’t any, but he now realized what he had to do. He decided that his own place in this world was to find their place in the world, or at least to help them find it. Which was why, when Julia, Umbry, Clay and Francesca came through the door, they found Lindsay staring at the wall with a neat folder full of documents and notes in his lap.

“Hello,” he said. “You’ve come for information.”

“Lindsay, we’re willing to use force if necessary, so you’ve been forewarned,” Umbry said, but was stopped by a gentle touch of the wrist by Julia.

“He wants to tell us,” the sun detective said, smiling softly at Lindsay. “I can see it in your eyes.”

He nodded simply. “I’m not going to explain why,” he said hesitantly. “I’m sure you can figure it out for yourselves. You’d better get comfortable, because this is going to take a long time. There’s a lot of stuff I know, and you might not believe me, but I have to explain it to you anyway. And you’re all a little crazy, so you should be fine with all of it. Capisce?”

Umbry leaned back in the chair and Francesca gathered her hands into her lap, while Clay rolled his shoulders and relaxed a little bit.

Capisce,” Julia said, nodding for everyone in the group. Lindsay nodded back to her and took a deep breath.

And then he told them everything.

Five months ago he was approached by a man who claimed to be working for a large crime lord. This person wanted him to spy on two teen detectives. The job would pay well, and along with his work as a spy he would get paid to work for the detectives as a secretary, a job they were currently looking to fill. Lindsay had wondered why someone so big would pick a lowly college student to do such a job, and whether this “crime lord” was even a real crime boss. But the job paid well, so he didn’t ask questions.

He’d worked for the two detectives and had realized that anyone with a history of suspicious activities wouldn’t get hired by them – and they knew how to find such things out, so he figured that was why he’d been hired above anyone else.

He was first sent to meet his mysterious boss a month before his betrayal of Julia and Umbry. He’d thought it weird that the big boss would want to meet one of his lowly spies, but he realized as soon as they met that he wouldn’t be able to go against this guy’s wishes. The man wasn’t particularly old – probably about the same age as the detectives themselves, from his estimate – but he was smart. And even unimpressive Lindsay could tell that there was something different about him, the same way that there was something different about Julia and Umbry. He looked at the world like someone would look at cells or atoms or far away stars. Julia and Umbry seemed to have their own ties, but both of them watched the world with a sort of clinical disinterest, as if neither of them could quite relate to other people. When he’d said before that Umbry and Julia wouldn’t be able to stop his plan, he’d meant exactly what he said.

***

He had the perfect base of operations. He could very well have moved by now, but wherever it was he figured it wouldn’t have windows and would have lots of movements in and out. New people were constantly being hired, because he’d killed or badly wounded so many of his subordinates that he was always in need ofreplacements. If there was anyone they knew with contacts in the underworld, then given this description he would be easily findable. Of course, he was easily findable because he didn’t need to be in hiding – anyone who had the courage to seek him out was quickly killed and disposed of. But since SunMoon weren’t dead yet and he wasn’t dead yet, he figured that it would be ok for them to go find him.

Lindsay was finished with all that now. There was nothing more he could tell them, except that he missed the cat and to feed it every day.

There was a long pause in the room.

“Did you see the music boxes?” Francesca finally asked. “What was he doing with them?”

“He was fiddling with them,” Lindsay answered, “but I’m not sure if he was able to get them all open. It’s difficult to work when there’s three of them at once, and they’re so big..”

“Wait. There were three?” Clay asked, leaning forward.

“…Yeah. Why?”

“We only had two.” Clay touched his chin with his forefingers in thought. “If there’s definitely a third, then did he steal it or did it belong to him?”

“I don’t know, and I’ve done a lot, so you’ll just have to ask him. If you’re lucky, you might even get a vague answer before he shanks you.”

Julia smiled. “For a second, I thought your injury had caused you to mature beyond your sarcasm, Lindsay, but I guess I was wrong.”

“I think sarcasm is very mature. At least I don’t just bottle things up.” Julia looked a little hurt, but she covered it up quickly and smiled at him. “Thanks for these files, Lindsay,” she said, taking the folder. “With this, we’ll find him and give him a talking-to.”

“And you’ll be safe here, so you don’t have to worry,” Umbry added. “Yeah, yeah. I don’t really care anymore. I mean, what have I got left?” He laughed dryly. “A stupid part-time secretarial job? Two detectives who hate me, and parents and friends who’ll forget about me in what, like a month? At least you two can live for each other. I’ve got nothing. Even the cat would forget me.” His voice cracked, and he realized he was tearing up a little bit. He shook his hair into his face, and decided that it must be the meds. Uncle Sam would never cry about these sorts of things, would he?

But there was no reply. The detectives were staring at him, dumbfounded. It seemed as though none of them knew how to reply without lying or sounding contrived. Maybe he was being a bit selfish in asking them to comfort him, or to say anything too bitterly honest. So he did what was apparently the mature thing to do. He smiled.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just kidding, and once I’m off the meds I’ll be in better shape than ever.”

Julia smiled back at him, and Umbry sighed as they all stood up. “Get better soon, Lindsay,” the moon detective said as she left with the others, leaving Julia, who just nodded to him and smiled reassuringly. “That’s it. See? It’s not hard,” was what she seemed to be saying. Then she left to catch up with them, leaving Lindsay alone.

Just like he’d always been, and maybe always would be.

He was okay with that, he told himself, he had already gotten used to it. He would just keep petting the cat and being sarcastic, and maybe look for some good fashioned news about them.

Because dear God, they needed it more than he did.

The nurse came in and administered the next dosage of pain medication, and he felt at once relieved and deprived of his thoughts – whether that was good or bad he couldn’t really tell anymore. And anyway, who cared?

As his consciousness left him, he smiled and hugged his cat doll that they’d given him. “Godspeed, you two,” he whispered, and then he was out like a light in the dimmed monotone of the hospital room.

Sun and Moon (part 16)

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Long bony fingers gradually arranged the letters into words, and the words into columns. Of the three boxes, the third had been the most difficult to open, and then it had taken seemingly forever to sort the cutout letters into their proper words, using the small irregularities in the scissor cuts as a guide. Yesterday one of his men had dared to interrupt just as he was edging the last of the letters into place, and he had come close to shooting the man dead then and there. With commendable self-control he had held his temper in check. Cleaning up the mess afterward would have been an unnecessary distraction, and he needed to focus all of his concentration on the task at hand, without the tedious annoyance of a bloody corpse. In the end he had merely shot off the man’s ear.

He had briefly considered shooting off the other ear as well, but he had decided that such a course of action would have been a trifle excessive, and he was nothing if not prudent by nature. Besides, a complete absence of auric appendia would have significantly reduced the man’s continued usefulness. The point had been made. Since then his men had been even more careful than usual not to violate his inner sanctum unannounced. The peace and quiet had been most welcome.

Assured now that he would remain undisturbed, he stared intently at the odd assortment of raggedly assembled words spread upon the table before him, searching for some overarching meaning. It was clear that they were all nouns. Perhaps, he surmised, this box had contained the nouns, and the other boxes all the remaining words of the message. He shrugged. For the moment such theories were little more than idle speculation.

There was something else here – something that connected these words, a unifying concept just out of his grasp. Arrayed now in alphabetical order, the words seemed to taunt him. Perhaps if he focused only upon some small group, rather than the entire assemblage, the larger pattern would emerge. He focused his mind just upon those words beginning with the letter ‘b’:

      ball
      bark
      bat
      bill
      bluff
      bore
      boom
      bow

Dimly he recalled having seen these very same words before, in some other setting. The thought stirred memories, and with these memories came an indefinable emotion. For a moment he felt faint, as though his very consciousness itself had become unfamiliar. Fighting a sense of panic, the analytic part of his mind attempted to understand this feeling. It was as though the emotions that had washed over him were not his at all, but rather those of another. He shook his head to clear it – how could such a thing be?

He examined the words one at a time. Individually each one was common enough, the very opposite of exotic. Yet he was certain there was a trick here somewhere, some logographic enigma, a tantalizing suggestion of pattern. If only he could see this pattern…

Sun and Moon (part 15)

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

He remembered the sandbox. He couldn’t have been more than six years old on that particular day. He had just carefully lifted up the plastic bucket from around a large perfectly tapered cylinder of sand. It had taken him ages to carefully lift the bucket, not moving it left or right, but straight up, so that the shape of the sand tower would be revealed with no blemishes. He already had a twig set aside, he’d picked it out before, knowing it was exactly the right shape for the flag. He was holding the twig in one hand, just about to begin the delicate process of pushing it into the top of his perfectly constructed little fortress, when out of nowhere an elbow crashing down and wrecking everything.

Clay was about to complain, but then he saw it wasn’t George’s fault – Eric had shoved George. That didn’t make it any better, but once he realized what had happened, he kept his mouth shut. He remembered hoping he wouldn’t cry. It’s not like he had a choice – crying either happened or didn’t happen, but when it did things got bad. There were stronger kids and weaker kids, and he was always somewhere in the middle. Eric was the absolute ruler, and there was no getting around that. George mostly just did what Eric said. Clay wasn’t up there with George, but at least he was better off than Eliot. Nobody wanted to talk to Eliot, or play with him, mostly because you didn’t want Eric to notice. You didn’t want trouble from Eric.

He was still holding the twig in his hand when the three ladies came by. It was a hot summer day and the sun was behind them – he couldn’t really see their faces. But he distinctly heard one of the women say to the other two “Oh look, they’re so cute!”

He’d thought about that moment for years to come. Being six years old didn’t feel cute. It wasn’t until years later that he learned about the word “feral”, but right away he’d thought about that day in the sandbox. They were feral, these little boys with their plastic pails and shovels and their hierarchy of fear. Those women didn’t know anything. Maybe it would have been different if he or George or Eric or Eliot or any of the others had had a mom or a dad, but that’s how it was in the orphanage.

***

“Terransky.” he heard, and looked up.

“What?”

“Terransky. What’s that? A Polish name?”

He shook his head slowly, “you know, it’s funny. I don’t really know. They had a whole process about that at the orphanage.”

“The orphanage?!” she looked at him agape. “You never said you were an orphan. It doesn’t show up in your records, or at least the ones we found.”

“Why, is that a big deal?” he asked, somewhat taken aback by the sudden look of intensity in her eyes.

She stared at him for a few more moments, and then she laughed. “A big deal? Yeah, kind of. No, I’d say calling it a big deal would be an understatement.”

Sun and Moon (part 14)

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

Umbry searched desperately through the boxes in the corner of her office, rifling through unimportant documents and old cases. There was something she was looking for – she couldn’t really pinpoint it right now – but she knew she had to find it. As she sat on the floor, the messy piles of folders surrounding her gradually rose into a fortress of paper, and her legs started to fall asleep under her. Still she looked, meticulously searching every page for the word that she couldn’t recall.

There was a knock on the door and Clay came in, scowling at the wall of folders that surrounded her. From where he stood only her head was visible. Right now she was looking through a document of one of their older cases, from when they were still big shots in the business. “Hello, Clay,” she said plainly, not even glancing up from the document. She flipped through the pages and finally placed it down on top of one of the many piles.

“You’re a fast reader,” he remarked, watching as her eyes quickly scanned through another collection of documents as if she were flipping photos. She nodded, putting the papers back in their folder, set it down next to her, and picked up yet another folder. He took a seat on the computer chair and watched her for a while.

“I’m getting closer, so I won’t be long,” she said quietly, putting another folder down on the top of the collection. “What do you need?”

“Francesca and I will be going to visit Lindsay soon. I was wondering if you wanted to come.”

“And Julia?”

He smiled. “Sleeping like a baby.”

Umbry sighed. “What a strange girl. She always hated sleeping for some reason, but she could never escape it. Anyway…”

“Why did she hate it?”

“How should I know?” She took a large folder full of papers and began scanning through the pictures and words – crime scene photos, descriptions of the murder and witness testimonies. “I don’t know anything close to everything about her. That’s why we can be partners, Clay.”

“Well if you’ve always known each other, I’d expect you to at least know why she hates sleeping…”

“She used to have nightmares about something. I don’t know what, but it seems like she forces herself not to sleep just to escape those.”

Clay looked down at one of the photos. “I know the feeling,” he muttered.

“What did you say?” She looked up at him, setting down the papers to take a break.

“Nothing.”

She sighed.

“Clay,” she began, unsure of exactly the tone she would use, “I don’t think Julia and I are the only ones involved in… whatever this is. I mean, as far as I know Francesca isn’t involved, but you have a box.” She paused. “The earth box.”

Something bubbled up in her head just then, as if there was a shift deep inside her mind. “Julia and I are the sun and the moon, respectively. And you, your last name is Terransky. Terra means Earth. To say nothing of your first name. And Frederick White sent you that box, right? Maybe he gave that box to us because he knew it was like us. Did he… know us? And not just because he was a suspect in a case? I can’t recall exactly… augh!” The fort of folders around her collapsed as she fell on her side. Clay caught her and she gripped onto his chest. “Umbry, are you okay?”

There was a pause, and then she relaxed. “I don’t know. I just… I can’t think right now. I need to take a break.” She rubbed her temples and there was a long silence. Clay didn’t let go of her.

“Umbry, that eye of yours. That one that no one sees.” He looked at her.

“What about it?” She asked, touching the long strands of hair that covered it.

“What does it look like?” They looked at each other, their faces extremely close. “Maybe if you let someone see, you’d be able to remember those secrets… and I am the Earth, aren’t I?”

Umbry’s heart beat like a hummingbird’s wings, and her hands shook. Finally, she pushed herself away before anything could happen. “Clay, I can’t.” She stood up, a little dizzy from the headache. “I have to go.”

“I’m sorry.”

She didn’t reply.

“Umbry, I’m–”

“You can’t do it either, can you?” She looked back at him from the light of the door. “Whatever things Julia and I can’t remember, we’re not the only ones. There’s something you’re holding back, too.”

“…How did you know?”

“I looked up your record, Clay. I know about her.”

Neither of them said anything after that.

Umbry took a breath in and tried to say something, but she found herself at a loss for words, so she simply left the room and closed the door, and Clay could hear her footsteps as she walked up the stairs to their apartment and climbed into her bed. His fists were clenched, and he was biting his lip so much that it bled a little into his mouth. He swallowed the blood and stood up, straightening his jacket, and looked down once more at the piles of folders strewn about the floor. The case she had been looking at – the thickest folder – was the case in which Frederick had been a suspect. One of the photos showed Julia and Umbry themselves, younger back then – perhaps 14 or 15 – but still with hair covering one eye each. They were watching as Frederick was being arrested. They looked panicked and defiant, and perhaps a little sad.

Clay took the picture and placed it in his pocket.

Sun and Moon (part 13)

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Shady figures stared on from the abyss of the chesterfield, unrelenting, unblinking except in the shuddering light blocked by the fan. They were loud and made a tingling noise, like when someone traces their fingers over your side right where all the nerves are.

Those smiles. They were familiar somehow, but the faces were gone, so she couldn’t particularly tell. And there was someone missing from that pivotal picture, as if they were cut out with jaggedy scissor strokes and replaced with cutouts from other pictures so that the others would look natural instead of like a hole was cut into them. Was that what she was? A cutout? And where was that original ‘her’, the one that had been cut out? Did she feel out of place at all, or was she surrounded by cutouts of her own, so that she herself would feel natural instead of jaggedy and misplaced? She wondered if there was anyone like her, any other cutout girl or boy, and she wondered whether their cutouts were jaggedy or carefully cut, and if maybe all the cutouts came together and glued themselves to each other. Would they even notice a change? Would she? And when that glue started to fade away with time, would she drift back to those shady figures on the chesterfield, the ones who still smiled fakely for her beneath the shivering of the fan? She had so many questions, but things were too slippery to hold onto right now, when her cutout world was occupied by bronze boxes and forgotten songs and Earths and Moons. Earths… that’s right, she was on Earth right now, wasn’t she? And there was something that needed doing…

“Julia, are you quite alright? You seem somewhat off-kilter.”

She looked up and smiled at Francesca. “I was just daydreaming, Francesca.”

“Hmm.”

She looked down and found that she’d been doodling a portrait of a family, with a large chunk cut out of it. She stared at it in confusion, not really remembering having drawn it.

“Well, darling, perhaps you should get some real dreaming done. You may do well from it.”

“I like daydreaming better,” Julia said, smiling as she lay down her pencil. “It’s easier to control.” Looking down one last time at her picture, she turned it over so that the blank side was facing up. With some degree of hesitation, she finally added, “I think.”

Delicately, Francesca pulled the hair out of Julia’s free eye, careful not to disturb the other side. “Dearest Julia, you really must rest sometimes. Your Umbry can take care of you, can she not?”

“Umbry’s the one who needs taking care of. If I’m the Sun, then that’s what I’m supposed to do, right?”

“Why do you use that analogy?” Francesca looked at the face-down drawing that sat alone at Julia’s desk, trying to look through the one side to the other.

Julia rested her head on her hand. “It just comes naturally, I guess,” she finally said.

“Is that really the truth?”

She paused, and finally sighed in defeat. “The truth is, I can’t really recall right now why we had that name. It was probably some stupid whim, I guess, but it stuck, so here we are.”

“And yet you seem to take it so seriously.”

“Well, it’s fitting, isn’t it?” Julia leaned back to look at Francesca and simultaneously rest against the older woman’s waist. “Maybe it was someone else who gave it to us, but it’s always just been us, y’know? I was the sun, and she was the moon, and we had those music boxes and… augh…” Suddenly, she was holding her head and biting her lip and squeezing her eyes shut.

“What is it, dear?” Francesca leaned over her, putting a hand to her forehead. Her fingers were refreshingly cool, but not at all cold.

Finally, Julia opened her eyes, seemingly a little relieved. “…It’s nothing. I guess I’ve just been pushing myself.” She stood up, and had to lean on Francesca a bit, but finally got back up on her feet. Walking in a slightly wobbly line, she headed for the stairs. “Bedroom … upstairs … I think I’ll take a nap, Francesca.” She paused, leaning on the door frame. “…And thank you. I feel better for some reason.” The door closed behind her and Francesca kept listening until she heard Julia climb to the top of the stairs and into her bed. Then, she returned to her desk and flipped over the picture.

It was exactly as she had suspected – memories that Julia was supressing, or possibly was being forced to supress by some external force.

And there was something else.

Julia had mentioned another box.

Now all she needed to put this puzzle together were the boxes, which meant that whoever was currently in possession of them would need to be found. Preferably quickly, before this mystery deepened any further.

***

Bony fingers played with the two boxes as though they were a Rubik’s cube. He turned them over softly in his lap and trying to find an opening. He attempted to fit them together in every way possible, and he was sure he could – it would just take time. If Francesca could do it, and if Frederick could do it, then surely he could as well. But he’d been doing this for hours, and his fingers were beginning to hurt. He stretched them and then balled them into fists, and they cracked with a satisfying sound as they recoiled into their position beneath his sleeves. Feeling much better, he turned one box around a little bit, and something finally caught. There was a click, and the two boxes opened – and they were empty. All except for a push-button at the bottom of one of them.

It figured that those two wouldn’t let go of the message they’d been given, especially at the gunpoint of such an idiot. But this secret was something they couldn’t possibly have seen in the short time before the boxes were taken from them, and he took solace in that.

He still possessed a part of their secret. And so he pushed the button, preparing to destroy the box as soon as he’d finished. The noise came softly at first, but then every other soft noise was drowned out, as his ears tuned into the thing he remembered more vividly than anything else.

The thing that they would remember – something that would click with all four of them.

He felt something strange against his cheeks – tears, he presumed, or perhaps blood, from a popped blood vessel? He didn’t know, but the sounds were too beautiful now for him to stop listening. So he closed his eyes.

It was time to meet with the others, he realized, and show them this. Until then, he lamented, he would wait to hear the end of the song. He pressed the button again, and the room was filled by the vacuum of silence.

Vacuums. Nothingness. Was that what he was now? Nothingness? Or a cutout?

Cutouts… where did he get that from? It seemed memorable, but he couldn’t quite place it. He would have to figure it out another time. Softly he placed the two boxes on the table and clicked them closed, and left them for better, more productive thoughts than cutouts and nothingness.

Sun and Moon (part 12)

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

He didn’t know how long he could keep this up. The faster he ran, the louder the footsteps seemed to get. He wondered what would happen if he were to just stop, let it catch up to him. A quick end might be easier than this eternal hellish flight.

The beast had changed. All the times before it had made itself known by its low menacing growl, the sound of something brutish and unnameable. But this time it had laughed. “How can a beast laugh?” he wondered. Maybe it had its own feral version of a sense of humour. He had a crazy thought that if he could just turn around and tell it a joke, get the punchline out of his throat before said throat was ripped from his body, then it might spare him.

He started wracking his brains, trying to think of a short joke. He had heard so many, many jokes in his life. All he needed now was one, and he would not end up as beast-meat.

He realized to his horror that he couldn’t think of a single joke.

The laugh came again, closer this time, and he realized that it was more of a murmur. A distinctly unbestial high pitched murmur. This was new. It almost sounded as though it were calling to him, saying his name. Then at last he felt the dreaded touch upon his ankle, and girded himself to scream at the grip of the fatal claw.

But it was not a claw. Impossibly, it felt like fingers – long fingers. A beast with fingers – calling to him!

“Clayton,” it said, rather distinctly, and the sheer surprise of this shocked him awake.

***

Francesca looked down upon her friend. It had taken quite some time to shake him awake. “You poor dear, you must have been so exhausted.

Clay blinked, for a moment seemingly unaware of his surroundings. She waited until the could see his eyes focus on her face, until he was fully in the here and now. “Hello Francesca.”

She smiled. “Good morning, my dear. I am happy that you have partaken of the restful and restorative powers of sleep.” She didn’t notice his wry half smile in response.

“I have, as they say, the news that is good and the news that is bad,” she continued. “I have pieced together all of the letters. The good news is that there is indeed a message here.”

“Fantastic! What’s the bad news?” Clay asked, picking himself up out of the chair.

“The message is still incomplete.”

“Incomplete!” he said, followed by a word he rarely found himself using in the company of ladies. “Sorry Francesca,” he said.

“My dear, I have heard far worse. The inventiveness of the descriptive phrases employed by some of my comrades in the Movement would have embarrassed even you, my friend. To say nothing of their sheer anatomical implausiility.

“But to continue. The message is incomplete because it contains only a subset of the needed words. Everything is in place, yet remains tantalizingly out of reach. It seems that we have in our possession the verbs, the adjectives, adverbs and participles, but are missing all of the nouns.

“You mean…” he started, already seeing where she was going.

“Yes Clayton. It would appear there is a third box.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. Um … I mean darned. No, damn it, I mean I’ll be damned.”

“I certainly hope not, my dear. But it looks as though we will need to have a rather frank conversation with a certain convalescing patient.”

Clay nodded. “My thoughts exactly.”

Sun and Moon (part 11)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Umbry emerged from the dark room some time later, closing it tightly behind her, her body still shaking only slightly. Francesca had returned to the puzzle. Perched on her seat, sipping an espresso in complete concentration, she looked like someone straight out of an old 1940s French poster (or perhaps Italian… it was a toss-up). Clay looked up when he heard Umbry approach and smiled warmly. “Hey. You okay?”

She scowled and took a quick glance at Julia, who was looking right her – they both turned away, Julia back to her espresso and Umbry to Clay. “What do you mean? I’m fine.” She shrugged, in an attempt at nonchalance. “I’m just… a little tired, is all.”

“Feel like grabbing some fresh air?” Clay put a comforting arm around Umbry, who avoided his gaze and instead looked down at the ground. “Okay,” she finally said, nodding, still avoiding eye contact. He led her out, and Umbry leaned toward him a little, careful to avoid the gaze from Julia that was so obviously burning a hole in the back of her head.

The fresh air did make her feel better, especially when they’d walked a little bit down the street and she knew her partner wasn’t watching anymore. Hesitating for a second, Clay took his arm away and tucked his hand in his coat pocket.

“Hey, um,” Clay began, but he wasn’t sure how he would say it. “Umbry, when did you and Julia meet? Do you remember?”

“We’ve always known each other,” She replied, the words coming automatically. “Why would you ask that kind of question?”

“Actually, I was wondering,” Clay began again, “Do you actually like her at all? You two don’t ever really talk to each other, and–”

Umbry stopped.

Clay cringed at his mistake. “Sorry I even brought it up.”

“No, Clay.”

“What, you mean you–”

“Clay. Behind you.”

It was at this moment that he noticed that Umbry was very pale – it was also the moment when he noticed the red liquid seeping around his shoes. Gasping, he turned around.

He covered his mouth and his face contracted into a sort of shocked horror that even he couldn’t particularly describe. Still, it took only a second to cover it up again, and he was only slightly pale and a little sweaty when he turned back to Umbry. “Go tell the others. Call an ambulance,” he said slowly, emphasizing every word as if trying to keep himself in control. Umbry looked hesitant, glancing back at the sight, but Clay was adamant. “Go,” he urged. “It’s all you can do.”

She nodded and took one last look at him. “Lindsay,” she managed to breathe, trying to think of something encouraging to say.

She couldn’t, and so she took off down the street, trying desperately not to look back at her bloodied colleague.

***

“See, Lindsay, this is why I said I was rooting for our team,” Julia said reassuringly, brushing his hair out of his face. Lindsay tried to grumble something in response, but was halted by the pain, and instead it came out as a disgruntled wince. Umbry watched him.

“You really should tell us who did this to you,” she finally said, staring him down. He looked up at the white ceiling of the hospital, and they all listened to the beeping of the heart monitor. Despite being a little bit annoyed, Lindsay seemed level-headed from his heartbeat, Umbry noticed. But still, it seemed like he was trying to make an important decision. Julia must have been thinking of the same thing, she realized. Behind the patronizing look she was giving Lindsay, it was clear her partner was worried…

“You won’t be able… to do anything,” Lindsay finally said, his voice slow and almost slurred. It seemed like the painkillers were finally kicking in. Julia and Umbry exchanged an anxious glance, and both knew that their time with a sane Lindsay was short.

“What?” Julia asked, trying as hard as she could to sound soft. “What can’t we do anything about?”

“…His plan.” He looked up at them for the first time, through the numbing pain.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he continued, trying his hardest to speak clearly, “I’ve seen what you two can do. Back in your day you might have been the best gumshoes anyone could hire… but you can’t compare to him, not as you are right now. Everyone in the world has to endure obstacles to get what they want, but he just rams through them without a care in the world… whether it’s laws or human lives, he won’t… he won’t stop…”

“And what does he want?” Umbry asked.

“He… he wants… music? I don’t remember…” Lindsay’s voice trailed off as his eyelids started drooping.

Julia ruffled his hair. “We’ll have to wait until he wakes up.”

Umbry nodded. “Lindsay, we might have to do some councilling or run lie detector tests or something so you don’t try to shoot us again, but you can come back to your job if you still want it.” She paused to stand up. “Part-time. And on lower pay. But still.” She smiled a little at his sleeping figure. Julia fixed the flowers on his side-table and protruded from her bag a small stuffed white cat. “You can have this until you see ours again. It misses you. And it told me to tell you: meow.” Scowling, she and Umbry nodded to each other in sync and then made their exit from the room.

Lindsay’s heartbeat remained stable – slow, but still stable. And the cat toy stared up at the rhythmic spiking on the screen.