The Gargoyle Queen – Chaz

Calvin stood in the open doorway rubbing at the back of his neck where the small hairs stood up and made him itch like he had shaved it.  The apartment was wrecked and Rain stood in the middle of it, her arms stretched over her head running a duster across the ceiling while her foot dragged the running, canister vacuum along behind her, it’s cleaning attachments strewn about like they had been vomited up.  She had braided her long, nearly black hair and it lashed the air behind her like a thick tail.  A large, black trash bag, half-filled, lay under the dining room table, its top edges rolled down to hold it open.  He could see last month’s cell phone bill, considerately mailed to him despite his repeated requests for paperless billing, laying on the top of the heap.  

His eyes tracked her movements like an unseen feline tracked a dog.  Should he just back out and close the door?  Come back later?  He still had a few bucks in his wallet.  He could just wander over to the gas station and get one of those overly sweet concoctions they called a cappuccino and wait this out.  His conscious prickled uncomfortably and he looked toward the small hallway, trying to spot his cat.  It wouldn’t be fair to leave Hobbes by himself with Rain right now.  The small, gray tabby was nowhere to be seen which probably meant he was huddled inside the box spring of the bed, thinking hatefully of the vacuum.  Thoughts of the torn fabric under the bed brought to mind the promise he had made to Rain about removing it.  Hobbes had made quite a furry, nest in there.  A smile tugged at his lips as he remembered the look on Rain’s face when he had explained the hole as being the cat’s only real place where he could get naked and be himself.

The vacuum turned off, aided by a swift kick from Rain’s work-booted foot.  Calvin locked his eyes on her face and closed the door carefully behind him.  He had lost his chance.  Keeping his voice carefully neutral he greeted his beloved.

“What’s going on Rain?”

“Your mother called.”  Rainbow rolled her shoulders backward then forward, her long, usually friendly face tightening with pain.  The dust sweeper hung down from her hand, its asbestos-like covering nearly black with dirt and cobwebs and cat hair.

“Huh?”  Calvin felt in his jacket pocket for his cellphone.  It was there.  “How?”  He squinted slightly, suspicion dragging his eyebrows a little downward.  “What do you mean?”

After a final stretch with both arms in front of her Rain poked the duster at the computer in the corner of the living room.  It looked innocent on its chipboard desk.  Calvin stared at the screensaver, a green and black simulation of The Matrix.  He loved it.

“She emailed?”

Rain gave him a withering look and extended the duster to prod the mouse, sending the screensaver away.  A vaguely familiar window was open on the monitor, it’s short list of contacts running downward on the left.  Calvin stared blankly for a second as he processed what he was seeing.

“She Skyped you.”  Stabbing the duster down onto the carpet Rain leaned on it like it was a cane and gouged him with her eyes, her braid rolling ominously over her shoulder.  Calvin blinked.  Did her braid just twitch on its own?  “She fucking Skyped you!”

“I didn’t know she would do that.”  His voice was soft and apologetic while his heartbeat picked up.  “She never seemed to like the program.”  If The Queen had Skyped Rain then she had seen the apartment.  That explained why Rain was cleaning but, why was she so mad?

“She invited us to dinner.  Sean is coming home.”  Rain’s eyes flashed lightning bolts.

“Sean’s coming home?  When?”  Carelessly Calvin forgot about everything in front of him as excitement over his brother’s homecoming blossomed in his stomach.  “How long?”  A huge smile spread over his face.

Rainbow seemed to relax a little, her anger diffusing just a bit.  She smiled back at him.

“He’ll be here Wednesday and he’s staying for a week.”

“Wednesday is the start of my weekend!”  Calvin smiled even bigger.  He would have two full days to spend with his brother and hear all about the Army’s boot camp.  His mind filled with visions of what Sean might look like now that he was well fed and exercised.  His little brother had always been a bit stringy.  Muscle would probably look good on him.  Calvin tried to picture Sean with a military haircut and fatigues and couldn’t do it.

“Yes.”  Rain nodded.  “And dinner will be at six o’clock sharp.”

Dinner.  Calvin’s smile saggged a bit.  Dinner with The Queen and her golden son.  

“Ugh.”  He stepped fully into the living room and sat down on the orange recliner.  “God, we have to go to her house.”

“Now you’re getting it.”  Rain chuckled.

“Is that why you’re so mad?”  Calvin looked up at her and nodded toward the mess that was Rainbow’s cleaning project.

“Oh that?”  Rain lifted the duster and began twisting the handle between her hands like she was actually wringing out a wet cloth.  She looked a little guilty but still managed to send off a sheet of anger like a solar flare.  “That’s just because of what she said.”

“Huh?  What did she say?”  Calvin tensed.  His mother had a gift for saying exactly the right things to get under someone’s skin.  It was like she had no social-buffer or, deliberately ignored it.

“Just the thing about me having two mothers.”  The duster handle creaked faintly, the plastic straining in her hands.

“What?  Did she say it again?”  Calvin remembered the first time his mother had met Rainbow.  It hadn’t gone well.  Rain was Native American and had grown up on the Rez.  Her parents were Mr and Mrs Starshine.

“No.  I just got to thinking about it after we hung up and got mad all over again.”  She looked around her as if just then noticing the destruction.  Every piece of furniture was a bit off from the indents in the carpet and the drawers of both the computer desk and the endstand were ajar and lacking the normal view of their heaped contents.  Calvin suspected his small collection of Harry Potter trading cards had found a new home in the trash bag.  It probably didn’t matter, he never really did anything with them anyway.  

“I guess I got a little over-zealous.”  Rain laughed and propped the duster against the table before sitting down in the golden overstuffed chair that was normally covered in Hobbes’ hair.

Calvin grinned and thought she looked more beautiful than ever when she was angry.  Her life-force shimmered off her like a heat mirage when her emotions were jacked up.  Was that his t-shirt she was wearing under her button-down?  He thought it might be his favorite blue one.  A warm, happy feeling spread out in his stomach.

“She said that months ago.  I thought you were over it now?”

“Yeah, well… I don’t actually get over things.”  Rain looked at the television, it’s black screen off and not looking back.  “It’s how I am.  Five years from now I’ll be watching something on tv and somebody will say something or do something and it will remind me of what your mother said and – BAM! – I’ll be pissed off all over again and yanking the stove out to clean behind it.”  She grinned back at him, all teeth and honesty.

Calvin felt his heart leap into his throat.

“You plan on still being with me in five years?”  In spite of The Queen?  Was she saying she loved him unconditionally.  He wanted to wriggle like a puppy but forced himself to hold still like an adult, setting for letting his feet arc upwards onto the toes a couple times.

“I don’t have any other plans at the moment.”  Rain pulled her face into an overly serious expression.  “Where have you been anyway?”

“Talking with Chaz.”  Calvin snorted.

“Chaz?  Who’s Chaz?”

“You know, my good buddy, Chaz.  The guy I have been friends with since he was a little girl?  The guy who normally tells me everything?”  Calvin felt a little of his happy feeling going away as he snipped out the words.

“Chaz?”  Rain stared uncomprehendingly, reminding Calvin of himself only a few moments ago.

“Yeah, Chaz.  That’s what he wants to be called now.”

“What?  Why?”  Rain eyed the duster across the room and leaned forward in the chair, shifting her weight toward her knees.  “He hasn’t even spoken to you in a month.  Did he say where he’d been?”

“Well, when you get a new life I guess you get a new name too – and he explained his absence.”  This was going to be the biggest bomb of the day, even bigger than the news about Sean coming home.  Rainbow waited expectantly, looking ready to launch back into a cleaning frenzy.  Calvin felt his neck hairs stand up again as he made his lips form the words.

“Charles is a werewolf.”

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Casino of Light – 3

“Shane, shouldn’t you be on the floor right now? Why are you on break?”

Shane stiffened as Charles twitched beside him, almost violently, at the sound of the woman’s voice. They shared matching opinions of Carla, the micro-managing Pit Boss with blazing red spiked hair.

“I was in an hour and twenty,” Shane stated.

“Don’t lie. I know what time you went onto the floor.” She didn’t actually look at him, choosing instead to stay visually engrossed in stirring her tea in its recyclable paper cup. Shane bristled.

“I’m not lying.” He squared himself with her and glowered, aware that most of the people in the lowly lit breakroom were listening attentively even though their eyes were focused on the television or their books and phones.  She couldn’t possibly know what time he had walked onto the floor as she was stationed on the far side of the casino, nowhere near him.

“Both of you like to grab extra breaks when you should be on the floor.”  Carla raised the cup to her lips and sipped, her lips pulling toward the center like the mouth of a guppy.  

“You need to stop accusing us of stuff,” Shane growled. Beside him, Charles stared angrily at the floor.  Charles wouldn’t speak to Carla at all which left him open to all sorts of accusations from her.  It made Shane crazy that his friend took so much abuse from the woman.

“Is that a threat?” Now she looked at him. It was very disconcerting because even though her eyes were focused Shane was positive she was actually staring at a spot on his head.

“It’s a statement. Do you see the difference?”

Someone snorted softly from the couch, confirming Shane’s belief that the other people were listening.

Carla set her cup down and looked toward the television where a commercial was trying to encourage people to pester their doctors for a new drug that would cure everything.

‘You need to lose the attitude, mister.”

This would have been the perfect time to walk away.  Shane knew he should just grab Charles by the arm and head out the door, leaving Carla to her thoughts but, today had been a rough day and his nerves were snapping off sparks over everything.  Her baiting him like this seemed to be an open invitation to argue.  Taking a single step toward her table he planted both his hands flat on the faded, faux wood top and stared at her spiky hair that always looked like she had just rolled out of bed.

“Since I actually know what time I went onto the floor and can verify it without guessing, I would be happy to take this little problem to the Shift office with you if you like?”  At this distance he could see that her skin looked paler than usual, her cheeks barely tinged with healthy color.  For the zillionth time he wondered if she was a vampire?  Charles was terrified of the idea of blood-sucking immortals.  They had logged many hours of conversations on the subject of which mythological beasts their supervisors resembled the most and Carla always landed in the category of vampire.

“I can certainly arrange that!”  Carla’s head swiveled toward him and her eyes fastened onto his.  They stared each other down.  Every head in the breakroom rose and turned to watch the outcome.

Shane felt his stomach clench in sudden panic.  What had he expected to happen when he had decided to loom over her?  Did he think Carla would just back down and concede that she might actually be wrong?  The seconds ticked by while his eyes stayed locked on her, trapped by the challenge he should have walked away from.  Win or lose he was sure he would be paying for this in the end.  On impulse – or desperation – he spoke.

“Then make the call, Carla.”  His vision threatened to blur as he fought the urge to blink.  Please, make the damn call, he begged silently.

As if hearing his unspoken plea Carla’s mouth twisted into a nasty, gleeful, snarl and she shoved her chair back from the table, ripping her eyes away from his in a way that didn’t feel at all like a victory.  Moving like a panther she shot to her feet and walked to the breakroom phone.

Savoring the relief of not looking at her Shane stayed hunched over the table just a second too long for him to actually claim a win.  How the hell had she managed to break contact first and still leave him feeling like he had been wrong?  He could feel the onlookers return to their previous postures, leaving him alone with his loss.

Straightening up, Shane spared a glance behind him, looking for Charles.  His friend was leaning against the sink, staring at the drug commercial on the television, trying hard to not add to the problem.  Had that really only taken seconds?  Maybe the commercial had played twice in a row?  That happened sometimes.

Carla’s voice, soft and respectful now as she spoke into the phone reminded Shane that things were not settled.  The first shots had been fired and now the wounded needed to be interrogated.

 

A Deal With The Devil

Kelsey slipped into the chair beside me, the noise of the break room diminishing slightly as her body buffered the sounds.  I looked up from my phone, the book I was currently reading.  I smiled.

“What did you say to that man?”  No hello, just right to the punch.  Kelsey was a practical woman with two small children.  I doubted she had time for preamble.

“I can’t tell you.”  Her face seemed carved from soft stone as she digested my words.  The incident on the main floor was only an hour old so both of us were still carrying the residual emotions of it in our stomachs.

 

“NO!  The dealer shouldn’t have spun the fucking ball!  She should have waited for me to finish making my bets!”  The man was about forty years old, slim and well on his way to a hang-over in the morning.  Behind his very round glasses his small eyes were bouncing light like an old, seventies disco ball.  The dealer in question was Kelsey, her body frozen to the table, her eyes rounded out with alarm.  

“Sir, there is no reason to swear.  Please calm down.”

“Fuck this!  Fuck her!  Fuck all of you!”  Leaning against the end of roulette table he dropped the rest of his orange chips onto the layout where they splattered outward, all eighteen of them rolling through the numbered area and landing, like thoughtlessly discarded candy wrappers, along the edges.  He reached under the table top and wrapped his fingers around the metal hook that fastened the thick, red velvet rope to the heavy ring screwed in there and rattled the connection, clearly intending to open it.

Standing a mere two feet away from him I narrowed my eyes and let my anger flash into them.  I may be just a Floor Supervisor but the dealer he was trying to scare was my responsibility.  He ducked his head down, trying to see how the rope was connected, then looked back up at me, his mouth set in a tight line.  His eyes met mine and he faltered, letting go of the hook like it was hot.  I stepped forward and stood directly between him and Kelsey, so close to her that my back was pressed against her side.  I may have imagined it but, I felt like my body heat washed backwards over her.  Behind me I heard the Pit Boss, drawn in by the yelling, speak into his radio, calling for security to the roulette table.  Funny, he didn’t seem inclined to stand beside me.  I spared a snarky thought for him.  Coward.

Inside the alcohol fumed brain the man must have decided that he shouldn’t have let me scare him like that and tore his eyes away from me.  He rattled at the hook again.  I wasn’t stupid, I knew, at this point, he was just doing it for show.  Had the hook actually come free of its connection he would not have entered the pit.  However, everyone was watching now.  He couldn’t appear as if he had just let some middle-aged woman frighten him with look.  I stepped forward to within a mere inch or two of his face and spoke quietly, just to him, willing him to listen to me.  With his hand still holding the hook he froze and met my eyes.

“You have overplayed your hand sir.  Security and probably the police are now on their way.  If you walk away now you can make it to the door before they get here.”  I flicked my eyes to the right, implying the exit that was actually behind me.  “This is not going to end successfully for you.  Walk away.”  His round glasses were filthy.  Standing this close I could see every speck and smudge on them.  His eyes were shot deeply with red, the skin beneath them sagging and loose.  I revised my estimate of his age.  He was closer to mid fifties than a mere forty.  I held my voice low, keeping my words for his ears only.  “I will not watch you go.  I won’t know where you went.”  My gaze intensified as I pushed my thoughts and meaning at him.  “Decide quickly because they will be here quickly.”

It took him only two more seconds to reach his decision.  Without even a nod of acknowledgement he released the hook, slid his eyes away from mine and disappeared beyond my right shoulder.

Turning immediately toward the roulette table and its enthralled players I smacked both my palms onto the layout, drawing their attention to me.  

“Would you like to play a game?”  I let my voice copy the timbre and tempo of a popular horror movie character and smiled like a goon.  A few players chuckled at my impromptu celebrity impression.  I threw in a second for added effect.  “Let’s get ready to RUUMMMBLE!”  I raised both arms high over my head as if I was declaring a field goal and stepped back, taking my body heat away from Kelsey and whispered into her ear.

“Game on.”

 “He just walked away?  After all that yelling and trying to get into the Pit he just stopped and walked away?”  Kelsey fixed her eyes on my face, searching me for an answer.  I saw that her brown eyes were flecked with gold and the pupils were still a bit dilated.  She wanted to know, in a really big way, what I had said.  The need for this information was pouring off her like an overflowing tub.  I guessed that she also wanted to know what I was going to write on my version of the Incident Report that was required since Security had been called, so she would know what to write on her own.  I couldn’t answer that either because I really didn’t know.  I knew I would have to stretch the truth somehow but my mind hadn’t figured that part out yet.

“Kelsey, I really can’t tell you.  I gave my word.”  This seemed to only intensify the question in her eyes.  I sighed gently and set my phone down.  My book would have to wait.  “Let’s just say, I made a deal with the Devil.  When you do that, your word is your bond and should never be broken.”  I bored my eyes into Kelsey’s, willing her to understand what I was saying.  I felt a bit like I might actually be delivering a life lesson.  Kelsey was a mother but she was still rather young.  The age gap between us was easily twenty years or more.  She was looking at me now like I wasn’t really there, her eyes kind of vague, as if they were suddenly rolling around on the inside of her head instead of actually looking outward, at me.  Then she nodded and her eyes were again focused right on mine.

“Okay,” she said.  “But I just want to say, I’ve never seen that before.  Whatever you said to him, it worked and I appreciate it.”  I nodded back, my heart rising into my throat at her sincerity.  I struggled to not let it get to my eyes for fear I would tear up.  That would probably ruin the illusion of me being brave and strong and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

“You’re welcome.”