Saturday, December 16, 2006

Childhood's End - Chapter 10

From a strategic point of view, Mark should have driven to the Staten Island facility, where there was less chance of them being noticed - and where Mark would have an easier time restraining Rowena, should it come out that he’d pushed her too far. But that was his turf, and he figured bringing Rowena “home” would be better for her. His trail bisected Manhattan, rolling from the bridge down to the Meatpacking District, ducking and weaving through the evening traffic while Rowena just held on.

Mark stashed the bike in another alley and walked towards the apartment house; he had to keep Rowena ahead of him and occasionally use his presence to prevent her from wandering off. To an outside observer, nothing seemed to be amiss, but Mark could read the cues from her gait. Several times, she seemed to tense up and prepare to twitch away to the side, eventually running away from Mark to another kind of darkness. In this respect, Mark fancied himself her professional conscience, reinforcing her impulse to keep herself steady.

Rowena wrapped her arms around her chest to fight the cold of a New York City night, then almost recoiled when she saw the little stains of blood she was leaving. It was good that she went into the building first, because Mark’s glance to the side revealed Trish standing at the next corner, puffing a cigarette and staring straight back at Mark. There was no way to tell if she could see any details from there, but she didn’t look happy.

Mark followed Rowena up the stairs and began to run corpse disposal scenarios in his head.

Once inside the loft, Rowena darted for the bathroom; Mark grabbed a trash bag and dumped his coat into it - under the harsh light here, it was obvious that the coat’s front and sleeves were splattered with hundreds of little blood droplets, and the inside had brushed up against the vest. Mark went for the “cleaning” kit and deployed some dropsheet, then began to systematically strip clothing and gear. The truth was that he’d lost sight of Adam for a bit in the shootout, so when it was time to kill the Yakuza, one of them had been too close for a clean gunshot. Mark was forced to doubletap Bob with his USP, and then he got Adam in the jugular with his combat knife - a quick, if messy solution. He was wearing the results, literally, so when he had finally identified and bagged everything bloody, the only thing left was his pants and underwear.

Rowena was luckier by virtue of only grabbing some blood from Mark’s vest. Washing her hands wasn’t so bad, really; at first, she felt like she had to laugh when she remembered MacBeth and muttered “Out, damned spot!”, but nothing really happened with that. It washed off, just like grease or paint. She even scrubbed her fingernails, but in the end she just called it quits after getting clean water for a minute and moved on to her shirt. There was some blood on it, but it hadn’t moved on to any other parts of her clothes yet. She stripped it off, walked out and dumped the shirt into the trash bag Mark was holding out just for that purpose. After Mark sealed the bag with a roll of duck tape, he grabbed a chair and sat down, while Rowena just threw herself onto the bed and turned onto her back to stare at the ceiling.

“Are you okay?” Mark asked. It was a stupid question, he knew, but he had to start somewhere.
“I’m not screaming...”
“Most people think they’ll scream or faint or just go straight insane when they’re in the thick of it like that. I’ve never seen it happen,” he said in a lecturing tone, as if the whole thing was a carefully prepared speech. “Ever heard about PTSD? Soldiers get it all the time, if you believe the TV. But even they don’t run away screaming. It’s the little things that fuck you up. Paranoia, unexplained fears, that nagging feeling in the back of your head whenever you look at the waste of wars waged with indecision.”
“We've been gifted with the ruthlessness we need to fight, and you will be able to carry on even if it feels like you're dying inside. We are the killers, the warriors, the soldiers. This is your legacy.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“Why, because humans are basically decent? You didn’t grow up in a bomb shelter with rainbow elves blowing sugar up your ass, kid. ‘nox must’ve clued you in soon.”

Mark dragged the chair to Rowena’s bed and sat down again.

“How did you get blooded?”


The first thing she remembered. Brandon’s face, grim and determined. He was carrying her while red lights flashed all around them, the klaxons nearly deafening her. She heard him fire his handgun and clung to him ever closer; his left arm pulled her in tight, as if the blanket he was carrying her in could protect her from all the evil around them.

There was red all over him when they got out of that place.


“I’d rather not talk about it,” Rowena finally said.
"Perhaps he even got his own hands dirty for that, just to show you how it's done."
"Fuck you." Rowena scrambled off the bed and closed in on Mark, who granted her the psychological height advantage by remaining seated. "Goddammit, you're just a psycho like the rest of them."
"Perhaps we just know what's necessary."
"Necessary? Are you trying to fucking bullshit me? You just run around having your twisted little fun while everybody else gets sucked into the crossfire. You're not the tiniest fucking shred better than the Shop..."

There was a sliver of pain in Rowena's knee, but she was on the ground before she could contemplate it fully.

He just kicked out my knee, she realized. She felt his weight on her back, almost crushing her delicate body, then his arm wrapped around her neck in something that could have become a sleeper hold given half a chance.

"There are about 40,000 cops in this city, give or take a couple," Mark said, his voice brutally even. "If I put my mind to fucking you up - how many do you think it would take to save you?"
"To beat me up? Sure, if they can find me. But at that point I've already done whatever I want to do to you. Wake up, kid. You're not safe. Not from me, not from the Shop, not from anyone who really wants to hurt you and the people you care about. You are the only one who can protect yourself, and no amount of denial is going to change that."
"Let me go."
"No. What are you going to do about it?"

Rowena did the first thing that came to her mind; she arched up her leg and tried to kick Mark, but between the stress, not seeing anything and her still-lacking mobility, nothing came of it.

"What would you do," Mark said, ignoring her squirming, "if the people who want you dead won't play fair, ever? If they keep using your compassion against you, if they can get away with everything you let them do? Are you going to scream for someone else to take them down, or are you going to do what you came here for and learn how to fight back on their terms?"

Finally, he eased his grip and got off her, letting her get back up.

"You don't have to like me, kid. It might even help if you hate me and everything that I stand for. But you know that what I want to teach you is important. Yes, we kill people. We kill a lot of them and a good couple of them probably don't deserve it. But if that is what it takes, I'll do it. And trust me, you will, too. Is it worth it? I don't know, but do you think the Shop will just call it quits when we say 'Stop the conspiracy, I want to get off' ?"
"Out," she finally said. "Get the fuck out."
"I'll be back tomorrow," Mark said. "If you're still here then, we'll continue where we left off."

He walked out of the loft with the garbage back, leaving Rowena behind without any evidence of the night's slaughter. She could hear his footsteps, well-paced and even, descending the stairs. Then, the front door squeaked; after a bit, the motorcycle howled to life and began to fade into the distance.

The loft's door was still slightly ajar, as if to say that it wasn't done letting people walk out of this place.

1 comment:

Valentina said...

That's a thing Mark does better then anyone: make the truth plain.
I couldn't have done it so well -I don't even see it that way.
I'm also not particularly human. =P

I get Rowena's shock though.
Life isn't fair -everybody knows that. It's REALLY not fair sometimes to a degree that's rarely made as clear.
The whole hot-house-tulip-soul isn't very useful in The Business, as beautiful as it might be.

I could solilliquize on.
I won't. ;)