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Street Life

Images of Homelessness in 20th Century America

Southside was not the wealthiest area of Freedom City. Far from it. Poverty and homelessness sprung up like boils in little pockets. It constantly struggled with social problems. Today, a tiny shot back was occurring.

Francis Fernando, a local businessman and amateur photographer, had lent out his warehouse to do a small free exhibition and fundraiser, showing paintings and photographs of homeless people of Freedom City over the last hundred years. A lively little crowd had gathered, from minor businessmen, campaigners, locals, social services, artists, and sponsors. It wasn't going to change the world, but it would help raise awareness, raise a little money, and maybe make people stop and think for a bit - the homeless weren't just faceless masses.

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Lucy stood uncomfortable and a little unconscious in the little black dress that had cost most of this month’s wages.

After a month sleeping rough she made sure she spent time helping those who weren’t as lucky as her. Especially as she was aware that unlike them she didn’t feel hungry or the cold or the need for sleep.

At the shelter she had met Francis taking photo of those helped by the nuns; she had been friendly and helpful to him but thought nothing more about it. So she was completely surprised when he personally gave an invitation to this gathering.

Though last time she had been to a gathering color photography was rare and new and everyone was drinking bathtub gin…

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"Good evening madam" said Rene deSaens, as he bumped into Revenant.

His eyesight was not good. Neither was his balance. And of course, he had has a little to much of the admittedly slightly poor quality wine that was being served.

But it was art, damn it!

Normally of course, he would have mumbled some vexed irritation at the young lady. But he noted that he had spilt a small amount of red wine on her hem line as he bumped into her, and quickly decided to distract her from the blemish.

"Excellent art, is it not, such energy, such vitality! such passion!" he continued in a strong french accent.

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She turned and looked up at the man fixing him a confused look with her coal black eyes. Her eyes damn it; she had meant to buy those contacts but had been those boots…

“Oh I’m sorry sir. “ she rummaged in her purse and slipped on her borrowed sunglasses.

To calm her nerves she down the glass of wine in one gulp, it tasting to her like slightly flavoured water.

“I’m sorry to seems a philistine, but all I see her are people. A lot of whom I know.†Fully recovered she gave a friendly smile “I hope I don’t offend your artistic senses.â€

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“I’m sorry to seems a philistine, but all I see her are people. A lot of whom I know.â€

“I hope I don’t offend your artistic senses.â€

"Not at all madam, always a delight to meet a beautiful woman" he said, holdinh ger gaze and distracting her as best he could from the stain on her dress.

"Our situations are reversed then! I do not know ze people, but I know much about ze art!" he joked, pressing a glass of wine into her hand and guiding her towards some paintings.

"Well, that is not entirely true of course. I know some of ze local artists. But the others, well, not so much, not so much. But I am an artist myself, and I always delight in the wonders of ze artistic endevour. Ze modern rubbish, not so much, of course. But I am just a helpless old man" he chuckled.

"Allow me to introduce myself, Rene deSaens, at your service" he finished, with a tiny bow.

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She gave him a wide smile, blushing a little at his Gallic charms. He was a smooth little charmer; either that or he was trying to hide something…

You're getting paranoid Lucy, can’t an old man just enjoy your company?

“I’m sorry where are my manners. I’m Lucy Harker Monsieur deSaens. I apologize for my earlier bluntness, it’s been…†She stopped as if adding up “A very long time since I’ve been out socially.â€

She looked up at the painting he had steered her towards.

“It’s very nice.†She felt that wasn’t enough “Though I’m not much of an expert on art I’m afraid. Do you paint yourself?â€

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“Though I’m not much of an expert on art I’m afraid. Do you paint yourself?â€

"Oui, oui, madam, I...dabble..." said Rene, modestly.

"But surely a beautiful lady like yourself should be out more often! your timeless beauty should not be hidden away! Why, I could spend a few delightful hours painting you myself... but come, look at this..." he interjected quickly as he spotted Lucy's eyes travel down to her hemline.

"What an interesting painting..." he said, peering at a dusty small piece of art. It was rather shabby, with a poor quality frame, and it was of rather poor standard, even to an untrained eye. But it had something about it nonetheless.

It showed a young woman, in rags, probably at the beginning of the 20th century, standing in the dark of a ramshackle street, presumably freedom city. She had blood around her eyes and mouth, and a hunk of meat in her hands, which looked very suspicious... at best. Very human at worst.

Rene peered down at the caption

"Bloody Nora. Artist: Unknown" he read out.

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Despite the rather ghastly nature of the picture the name of the picture made her smile

“My father use to use that phrase all the time when I was young. My mum always use to chastise him…†her features took a faraway look “But occasionally they give each other that look, as though the word had a darker meaning. The kind of look that kids weren’t meant to understand…â€

Her face darkened. “Then there was that game when I was you. It had a rhyme,

Bloody Nora, you better run,

Bloody Nora, If she picks you!.

I think, add poetry to the things I’m not good at.â€

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“Then there was that game when I was young. It had a rhyme,

Bloody Nora, you better run,

Bloody Nora, If she picks you!.

I think, add poetry to the things I’m not good at.â€

"It's been quiet a while since I was young" replied Rene, distracted by the painting. "And all poetry is bad" he added, a little distractedly. "But that... is rather bad, I confess. And perhaps important..."

He shrugged. "And perhaps not."

Rene turned away, keen to move onto a less morbid painting. As soon as he did so, Nora turned her head just slightly to look directly at Ms. Harker.

A tiny whisper reverberated in her head...

"Bloody Nora, you better run,

Bloody Nora, If she picks you!. "

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“Well it has been a while for… Wait did you say something?â€

There was something about the picture, had it moved? Wait was it following her around?

She was actually surprised how calm she was with all this weirdness floating around her. Maybe this existence was getting to her it all sounded stupid out load, maybe a second opinion wouldn’t hurt. But she couldn’t spook the old man.

“I’m sorry to disturb you again Monsieur, could I bother you for a moment a trivial question for one of your talents. It just I’m curious about the painter of this ‘Bloody Nora’, there skill must have been exquisite its almost as if it follow’s you gaze around the room.â€

Well mine at least.

“I’m not an expert but it speaks to me.â€

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“I’m sorry to disturb you again Monsieur, could I bother you for a moment a trivial question for one of your talents. It just I’m curious about the painter of this ‘Bloody Nora’, there skill must have been exquisite its almost as if it follow’s you gaze around the room.â€

“I’m not an expert but it speaks to me.â€

"Ah, of course, all art speaks! that is ze point of art! it speaks to ones very soul!" replied Rene, spinning around, full of passion. "How delightful! A beautiful lady with such a soul for art!"

He looked again at the painting, squinting slightly.

"Ah...oui, oui, Well, all art speaks to one... that is true..." he said, his passion diminishing slightly. "And I confess that this painting has a certain charm about its subject, but I confess ze skill of ze painter is not one that I would consider masterful. Adequate, perhaps. Not without merit. Not art is. But, I shall be honest, it is no masterpiece..."

He shrugged slightly, looking rather ashamed, and dejected.

"But I applaud your passion for art!" he said, by way of compensation.

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She should walk away…

But the picture stirred memories in her. She remembers her parents warning about strangers, people like Bloody Nora. But she was just a myth wasn’t she?

…defiantly walk away…

A childhood fear, something to be conquered, like the old Polish shop. But it could just be the weight of ages finally catching up with her.

Her face showed her inner conflict, no stoic face for her.

Never walk away from a fight, that what she’d learned.

First know your enemy.

“Thank you for your help Monsieur. I think I wish to learn more about this piece. I think Francis mentioned that a few pieces for sale. “

She turned to walk away and find Francis. And hopefully a clue to this little bugbear.

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"Yes of course, I know Francis..." answered Rene smiling.

"...a bit..." he added, a little more softly, guiding his undead companion towards the organiser of the event.

"Monsieur Fernando, may I present the beautiful Madam Lucy Hawker... and Madam Hawker, the...incomparible...Monsieur Fernando"

He coughed slightly.

"Monsieur Fernando, the lovely Lady here is quite passonate about art is seems, she is inquiring about ze possibility of acquiring a piece..."

"Aha!" said Francis, a thin man who never the less had acquired a perfectly round belly that stuck out. He was a middle aged man with long, shiny and youthful brown hair and deep black eyes that were quite attractive. He had what could only be described as a devilish moustache and goatee that somehow suited his otherwise kindly but rather crinkled face. He was surprisingly tall, but had a slightly stooped posture, a man who pored over books, or in this case, art.

"SO glad of you to come, but ho ho! you are a work of art yourself, are you not!" he said with a wink. There was something quite obviously gay about him, the way he moved, spoke, and more pertinently, flirted with Lucy without giving off any sign that he wished to make a move on her.

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Eighty years ago she wouldn’t know anything but that he was a friendly flirt. Helpfully though her friends Rhoda and Yolanda had introduced her to this world.

It still didn’t mean she blushed at such a blatant compliment

“Charmed to meet you Mr Fernando. I’m afraid Monsieur’s accent may be a little too strong, it’s Har-ker. But that is of no matter.â€

She downed another glass of wine and deftly grabbed another, if only she could actually get drunk on the stuff.

“I was interested in the piece over there. The rather morbid piece called Bloody Nora, it reminds me in a strange way of my youth. I was wondering if you had any more information about its origins and possibly its painter?â€

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"That piece of tat?" snorted Fernando. "Well, it has a sort of morbid charm, I suppose, although I can't say it is well painted. Nobody can seem to place it. Found in some loft, full of cobwebs and dust, the old dear had kept it in there for decades, and when she died, it was sold off at some junk sale. Cheap. I'll be fair, its reasonably well painted, just not a masterpiece, that's all. But nobody can place the artist, or the subject. So, its a kind of mystery and a novelty. It's funny, some of these youngster goth types always seem to take a shine to it at first, but it's like they get the chills after a while. "

He guffawed a little.

"Kids today, eh? hehehe. No sense of colour!" he sighed theatrically.

"But if you want it my dear, I would be happy to sell it to you. For a suitable price. Money, some suitable work for our homeless organisation? forgive me I don't know your occupation or interest in the matter..."

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Lucy smiled a sly little smile “I’ve always found a certain beauty in simple black and white. It adds class.â€

She glanced back at Bloody Nora; she almost felt her eyes looking back balefully at her.

“I already spend some time down at the Soup Kitchen down at Our Lady of Mercy, but I’m sure I could spare a few more hours. I’m a lawyer by training, to answer your question, but I’ve only just returned to the city and I’m still settling in. The painting, it reminds me of tales from my childhood.â€

She adopted a rather embarrassed look. “I sorry to bother you with such trivial questions, with you being such a busy man. But can you remember where the unfortunate woman lived?â€

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"Why yes, it was actually not far from here" replied Fernando "a rather run down little street, Cobbleback lane. It has a certain..ah..rustic...charm, if you catch my drift. By which I mean, thugs have taken it over in recent years. Buildings seems to be held up by sheer determination rather than bricks and mortar, they are so run down. She lived at number sixteen, if my memory serves me correctly!"

He took a rather generous swig of wine, which no doubt was helping his rosy glow.

"Of course, our little modest organisation would be delighted to call upon a lawyers help, if you fancy doing some charitable work" he said with a generous grin. For all his charm and theatrics, homelessness and poverty did genuinely seem to be a passionate cause for Fernando.

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Not exactly the world greatest detective, but hey it was a result.

"I've only just returned after several years out of the profession. I've a few legal issues to sort out before I start practising." like being legally dead "But I would be more than happy to do Pro Bono work for your organisation. I spent a while homeless myself so I know the challenges they face everyday."

"Thank you kindly for your help." she stuck out an arm "If you could spare some time Monsier deSaens would you care to show a poor girl some art?"

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"If you could spare some time Monsier deSaens would you care to show a poor girl some art?"

"Well my dear, I am afraid ze evening draws near and my old bones grow weary. As enchanted as I would be to spend ze late evening with such a beautiful and intelligent lady I am afraid I must depart, I have other matters to attend to tonight..."

Like that crazy teenager who, armed with a scrap of old parchment, is intending to summon some arcane horror at midnight...

"..so I will leave you in the hands of our host, and bid you farewell, hoping to meet you again. If you need me, do give me a call. Here, I have one of these fancy cards, I believe they are in fashion this decade. Blasted things, ugly as sin if you ask me. "

He politely gave Revenant a rather bland calling card with his number on it.

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“Of cause Monsieur I understand completely. I can’t begin to thank you for your help, if there is any way to return the favour, don’t hesitate to ask.†She scrawled a number on a carefully folded napkin “As I said I’m not yet established so I’ll have to give you a friends number.†handing the napkin to Rene.

She leant forward and gave Rene a little peck on the cheek; then into his ear she whispered.

“And you can owe me for the dress.â€

All smiles Lucy again offered her arm “But at least let me walk you to the door.â€

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"Pffah" mumbled Rene.

"I'll buy you a new one. Something more colourful. Really my dear, you should have a little more tone in your wardrobe" he said with faux irritation.

Nevertheless, he accepted her invitation to the door, grumbling all the time about various ailments, aches and pains.

"Well my dear I bid you goodbye for now" he said, stepping in to the taxi. "And I will keep my beady eye on you. Clearly your eyes are sharper than these old ones, but I still have ze nose!" he said, tapping the appropriate organ on his face. "And I smell trouble!" he said with a twinkle in his eye.

"Be careful tonight, Madam. And fare well"

And with that, the taxi sped him off.

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Lucy watched the taxi pull away, momently lost in her own thoughts.

Hmmm, there’s something about that old man, defiantly more than meets the eye. Defiantly someone to keep an eye on and if possible keep on his good side.

First thing tomorrow she’d do a little bookwork on 16 Cobbleback Lane, and then a little field work.

But the rest of the night, well that was all hers.

She was actually beginning to enjoy herself, something else to thanks Rene for…

She returned to the party with a spring in her step.

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Despite Rene departure Lucy managed to enjoy the reminder of the party, her mood having been lifted by the entertaining Frenchman. The rest of the evening and night she spent watching television and catching up on her reading. Such was the downside of never having to sleep.

First thing in the morning she took the bus then the monorail into the centre of Freedom City. Sure she could have walked it but she enjoyed the hustle and bustle of everyday people around her, especially the sudden rush when a hero passed by. Not expecting trouble she had put on a simple t-shirt and a pair of jeans, clothing that would have been considered scandalous for a woman to wear in her day and age. Just in case she had taken along her suit jacket.

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The granite façade that was the Central Library hadn’t changed much since her time. She gave April the Sphinx a little pat on the claw for luck as she climbed the step.

She passed by the computer, though she was beginning to get a hang on them, and instead went for the unchanging silence of the shelves.

The system hadn’t changed since her time and after only a few hour searching she found out all she needed about Mrs Winona the owner. She felt a little sad that almost all of this poor old woman’s entire life had passed whilst she had slept. Then again she’d have to get use to this; she supposed that she was even older than Rene.

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After that she left the comfort of the library to have a quick wander around the Centennial Circle, she considered entering the District Courthouse but now probably wasn’t the time to revisit that part of her life.

Another series of rail and bus and she was in the vicinity of Cobbleback Lane. The area was a little run down and people were a little wary of her, but after spending a few hours asking around, a big smile and a friendly manner still went a long way.

The poor woman seemed to be scared of the night hiding away a painting of Nora, from her limited finding a murdered and cannibal, she had one of her strange hunches that the two were in some way connected. Oh well only more place to try.

As the afternoon turned into evening she stood before the faded glory of poor Mrs Webb former adobe. With barley a hint of apprehension she knocked on the door.

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