Jump to content

Recommended Posts

June 25, 2016

Joe Macayle's Apartment

Dinnertime

 

It was night. If a writer was going to make something dramatic happen, it would have been dark and stormy and rain-washed, but in fact there had just been a light rain this afternoon and now high, ragged clouds were rapidly speeding out to the sea. The evening was proving to be quiet, and pleasant, and Asli was infinitely grateful. A quiet night meant she could enjoy more time with her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s cooking.

 

She put her utensils on her plate and pushed away from the table, sighing in contentment. “That was the best meal I’ve eaten all week,” she said. “If you always cook meals like that, I’m going to start spending the night.” Asli smiled across the table at him, enjoying the moment of quiet domesticity. It was a very different experience than she usually had at the end of the day, and she liked it. She could see herself getting used to it.

Edited by Raveled

Share this post


Link to post

"Really?" Joe asked. Honestly, he was kind of surprised. He was usually used to grabbing something from Trader Joe's, or throwing some pasta and pre-made sauce in a bowl, before heading out on patrol. Getting the chance to actually cook wasn't something that came around often. But when he'd casually suggested the night in to Asli after their last patrol together, he knew he'd have to live up to expectations.

 

Fortunately, he'd prepared for such an occasion. A call to his mother - who'd wanted to know everything about Asli, of course - had led to a quick run to the grocery store and a few frantic hours in the kitchen. But the chicken breasts with blue cheese and pine nuts had turned out pretty good, as had the roasted garlic potatoes - just like she used to make. And it had apparently paid off. 

 

"You know, I might take you up on that offer. If I can make this family recipe without massacring it too bad, I'm guessing the others will be a piece of cake." 

Share this post


Link to post

Asli stood and crossed over to Joe, picking up his hand and holding it between hers. "I want to see it all," she said quietly. "I've already shown you my simit, now I want to see all of yours." She kissed his fingers, smelling the chicken and tasting butter. "But for now," she added in the same quiet voice, "I think we should clean the dishes up before we fall asleep." Together they gathered up the dishes and the serving crockery and carried it into the kitchen; Asli filled one sink with hot water and a little bit of liquid soap, rolled her sleeves up to just below her elbows, and they got to work.

 

It didn't take long for them to get an efficient line of scrubbing, washing, and drying between them. "Erin and Trevor had a beautiful wedding," Asli said as she scrubbed at a pernicious piece of burnt chicken flesh stuck to an earthenware dish. "I didn't know a lot of the people there, though. Who was that table with all the children around it? Those people are certainly starting a family off right." She kept scrubbing, but glanced over at Joe, trying to gauge his reaction to the question.

Share this post


Link to post

"Starting a family off right." It had been a while since Joe had had a relationship that progressed to the point where such hints were dropped so hard. It wasn't the kind of thing that made Joe freeze... but it did make him pause. Not to consider bolting for the door, but to consider. They'd been going steady for a while. Was this the time for that kind of talk? This kind of talk hadn't happened before. "Not quite sure," he said as he focused on scrubbing the oil off of the cooking tray. "I mean, I socialize, but my paths don't really cross with heroes with kids out of costume. I'd like to... they seemed like they managed to make the whole thing work out. But it's just not something that's really had cause to happen."

 

He hoped he had played that cool. But it was something of a thin hope. 

Share this post


Link to post

"Well a family isn't something that just happens," Asli said, dunking the dish in water and rinsing it off. "I mean, kids just happen, sure, but families take... effort. Love and sacrifice and planning and teaching -- all of that is a lot harder than just sex." She pulled the dish out and scraped at a difficult spot with her fingernail, trying to determine if it was more dirt and crusted foodstuff or just a chip in the dish. "I think it's important to start a family early, you know? So you have more energy, you're able to put more effort into things. Otherwise, well." She put the platter off to some side to dry and absently rubbed at a scar on her wrist. "Well, I know it's a bad idea to start a family unless you have help with it."

Share this post


Link to post

Joe took the plate from Asli, buffing out the crust. He'd gotten the more plain but reliable dish ware from an IKEA, and the more fancy but somewhat busted items from a Goodwill. It was an eclectic - if not erratic - mix, but it at least provided a proper layout for the meal. "Yeah, I know how it can be," he said. "I mean, my dad started a family late - really freaking late - but that was a matter of focusing on work in his earlier years, and then just... running into Mom. Things kinda rolled up on themselves from there, like a wave." He focused on the glasses for a bit longer than he needed to before continuing. "But I know what you mean. They made it work. We... we got other things on our plate. Which is why... yeah. I'd wanna start a family earlier. But... I wanna make sure I know what steps to take before I walk down that road. Y'know?"

Share this post


Link to post

Asli reached out with a sigh, taking Joe's hands and squeezing them. Her hands and Joe's hands were both soapy and wet; her were crooked from too many hours typing and scratching, and his were calloused from too many fights protecting other people. "I was hoping you'd be more ready for this," she said. "I'm always going to be busy, Joe. We're always going to be busy. I wouldn't love you if you weren't the kind of guy who did things. But I wasted ten years of my life, I don't want to wake up at sixty and realize that I let my life go by because I was waiting for the perfect moment. I want to --"

 

She was cut off by the front door ringing. Asli let go of Joe's hands and stepped back, laughing lightly. "Real life always intervenes, doesn't it?" The door rang again and she rolled her eyes. "Go check it out. I'll... finish up the dishes."

Share this post


Link to post

"It's not that I'm not ready," Joe said, feeling like he'd just stomped on thin ice. "And I know what you mean. I'm not the kind of guy to sit on his hands and wait."

 

Most of the time...

 

"I'm all about seizing the moment. And I do wanna take those steps. Together. I just... Asli, this is the longest a relationship I've had's really lasted since I started doing... well, the night work. I love you. I trust you. And I trust that we can make this work. I guess I'm just... afraid I'll take the wrong step." He smiled. "But I guess that's why it's the two of us, huh? To make sure the other doesn't step on a landmine."

 

The ringing of the doorbell interrupted him before he could dig himself deeper. He took off, shaking his head. "God, if that's the Jehovah's Witnesses, I swear..." 

Share this post


Link to post

Joe opened his door on a young woman, closer to his age than Asli's, wearing a red raincoat and with red eyes. She was huddled in on herself and seemed almost shocked at how large Joe was, but after a moment of stammering she spoke. "Are you Joe Macayle? I'm Anne Robinson, my husband is Greg, he works at the steel plant with you? I... He told me that if I ever need something and the police can't help, I should talk to you. And, well." Anne stopped and took a deep breath breath before continuing. "Greg's missing. The police won't look for him but I know something's wrong, and I just don't know where else to go."

Share this post


Link to post

Joe paused. He was sympathetic, of course - he had to be in cases like this. But this was one of the first times a case had ever come directly to him. 

 

This wasn't a first time one of these things had come to him through the foundry, of course. There was the time that entire apartment got turned into a pan-dimensional labyrinth thanks to the Gatekeeper warding off some horror from outside reality - he'd found out about that when one of his coworkers had failed to show up and no one had been able to contact him. Then there was the time people were being scooped off the streets to be laborers in the fairies' cosplay version of Victorian England - he'd found out about that because a coworker's brother went missing, and they'd gotten gold in the mail. But usually he just listened. He didn't inquire, or didn't inquire beyond the usual breakroom stuff. 

 

Maybe he'd been digging too deep. But that was a concern for another time. He knew Greg, and he knew about Anne from Greg. He couldn't just stand here while she wept, desperate for answers. 

 

"Anne, I... I'm sorry. Look, you wanna come inside? My girlfriend's over, and she's used to dealing with stuff like this, too. And you could probably use a couch and a drink." 

Share this post


Link to post

Anne followed Joe inside, looking around his apartment. "I... I don't really know what happened," she said, "but I haven't seen or heard from Greg for two days. The police say they can't start looking for him until there's some evidence that he's really missing and..." Asli stepped out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel before slinging it over her shoulder. Anne's eyes went from Asli to Joe and back again, before widening in shame. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I'm interrupting, I can leave!" She turned towards the door but didn't make it two steps before Asli grabbed her shoulder.

 

"Hey, it's alright." Asli turned Anne around and looked the other woman in the eye. "Whatever you have to say is way, way more important than what we were doing." Anna hesitated, biting her lip and glancing around. "Seriously, we're here to listen to you. Joe, could you put a pot of coffee on?" Asli lead Anne over to the table and sat her down, making sure that she could see only Asli. If Anne thought she was intruding, it would help if she could put as many people as possible out of her mind.

 

Anne sat and chewed her lip for a moment before speaking again. "It's Greg," she said. "He hasn't been home for two days. Th' police say that they can't start looking until there's evidence of foul play. But I haven't heard from him in two day. I know Greg, he'd never just go off like this and leave me and Taylor. Something's wrong!"

Share this post


Link to post

Joe gathered the beans, stuffed them in the grinder - a gift from Trevor after a late-night adventure had ended at his place, with a number of long, judgmental stares at the state of his tiny little urn - and put the coffee on. He gathered the sugar, cream, and artificial sweeteners as needed, setting them out in a neat display on the table. Asli had taught him many things, and among them was a reinforced sense of proper place setting. 

 

"It's all right, Anne," he said. "This is Freedom. If something happened to him... this stuff gets resolved."

 

Usually.

 

"The capes seem to know what to do. But, just in case... maybe some fine details can help. I'm no detective --"

 

That's... technically true.

 

"-- but I've got an idea where to start. Did Greg talk about any new friends? Any side gigs? Job opportunities? Social clubs?"

 

Share this post


Link to post

“Greg was trying to get new shifts at the plant,” Anne said, looking at the coffee cup but not picking it up. “He was working all the hours he could get.” That was an interesting fact for Joe to absorb, since he was pretty sure Greg wasn't around the plant anymore than usual. “We need money for Taylor's medical bills, but I can't imagine Greg would take a job that kept him away from home for this long.” Asli picked up her coffee and added her two sugars, two creams, stirring quietly while she watched Joe. If there were any irregularities in the story of a steel worker's wife, he would spot them faster than she would.

Edited by Raveled

Share this post


Link to post

Joe thought on that. Greg had been talking about Taylor having issues with allergies and asthma. He'd been talking about it as if it hadn't been that bad - how Taylor "just needed to get some fresh air and get used to the pollen." Talking about it like it was the kind of thing that might require a rescue inhaler after a tough day on the field, and nothing more. Then again, he knew Greg was the kind of guy who wrote off burns and scrapes as "nothing to weep about," who'd downplay any injury if he meant getting him "dude points." He was the same way, but then again, it took a lot to injure him. 

 

"Did he ever talk about..." This was going to be a weird question to bring up, but years on the streets of Freedom had taught him it was a question that needed to be asked. "...looking into alternative treatments for Taylor? Like homeopathic therapy or such?"

Share this post


Link to post

"Greg would never go for something like that," Anne said quickly. "He thought all that sort of talk about herbal tea and such was flowery nonsense. He never had much truck with, you know. New Age-y sort of thinking. But." Anne reached out and turned the coffee cup around, still not picking it up. "Taylor's attacks have been getting worse the last few years. It used to be he only needed the inhaler once or twice a month, now it's a few times a week. Sometimes twice a day. I found Greg one night looking up doctors on the other side of the country, but we could never afford that sort of thing."

 

Asli caught Joe's eye and rose an eyebrow. Money problems could drive people to do crazy things. She reached out and touched Anne's hand gently. "Anne, I know how medical bills can pile up. Did maybe Greg talk to someone he shouldn't have? Gone to a loan shark, to get money for treatments?"

 

Anne looked at the other woman, her expression wide and shocked. "No, no! Greg would never have done anything like that! I mean, I'm sure he would've gone to the union before going to a criminal!"

 

Asli sat back and didn't say anything, but she caught Joe's eye. Some men would do anything if it meant their family didn't want for something, and some men would rather die than ask for help.

Share this post


Link to post

Joe thought it over. Yes, someone like Greg would most likely go to the union for help. Unless, of course, he was very big into pride and not showing weakness. Asking for help without feeling like he owed something in turn... might not be his speed. 

 

So. His wife didn't know anything. Someone at work might know something - if Greg had "casually" asked about outside sources for financial aid - but given that odds were likely he hadn't even gone to the union, that might be a loose end. Besides, he'd have to wait for the work day to actually ask people without sounding surprisingly invested in this situation. Then again, he was one of the crew. If he did ask around...

 

"Anne, uh... you don't mind if I call some of the guys, right? Just to figure out if he felt like asking for advice from somebody he felt might... keep things quiet." 

Share this post


Link to post

"Oh.... You can call whoever, sure. I called the Union rep, but he said that he hasn't seen Greg since work got out. If you think you can ask him something else, then please do that."

 

Asli turned Anne so that they could talk together, and so that Joe could make his calls without her listening in. "Anne, has Greg been acting oddly? You said he was working long hours, but has he talked about any new friends he made outside of work? Maybe he showed up with injuries that he couldn't explain?"

 

Anne thought for a long minute before answering. "He's been moody lately. Some nights he'll come home after dinner and be so full of energy that he can't sit down, but in a few hours he'll be so depressed that he can't move. Some nights I go to bed alone, and when I wake up he's fallen asleep in front of the TV. His job is hard and working so many hours, he must be really tired when he gets home. That.. that was okay, right?" Asli made soothing noises to Anne as Joe talked on his phone.

Share this post


Link to post

"That's fine," said Joe. "It's not your fault. You didn't know how to approach the matter. Greg has a sense of pride, and it sounds like you didn't want to force the issue. You wanted to give him time to speak up... but he had trouble speaking. It's not on you."

 

Though Joe started to wonder if there was something else on Greg. There was a kid back in his high school who came in some days bouncing off the walls and always answering questions in class; other days, he seemed to fall over at his desk. He had bipolar disorder, and although he eventually reached a balance with medication, there were a few wild months when the condition first presented. Could this be that? Mind you, a coworker presenting with mental illness would be less violent - but probably trickier - than the stuff he usually dealt with.

 

And so, Joe went to the phone, ready to tap the network of workplace whispers to see who knew what. 

Share this post


Link to post

The union rep's phone only rang once before he picked it up. There were a few pleasantries and then they got down to business. "Yeah, Greg talked to me about money," he said. Joe knew from personal experience that the rep was a ferret-faced man with a high voice; even when he was being sincere he sounded like he was wheedling. "I said the union can't just give out money, that's why we fight for you guys and get you such good medical insurance, so you don't need to run to the bank every time a little problem crops up. I told him we weren't a bank, but if he needed a loan we could write him a recommendation."

 

A few more phone calls confirmed Anne's story; Greg had asked around for more shifts at work, but he was already working every hour the mill could give him. He'd asked around about part-time work, but no one at the plant could get him anything than minimum wage service jobs. The strongest lead Joe turned up was that someone had seen Greg up in Hanover, and when that man tried to talk Greg turned scared and ran in the other direction.

Share this post


Link to post

Joe shook his head, hearing the tide of stories. He knew there was a reason for the protocols, why money could not just handed out to members like a credit line. No wonder some people saw representation less as an equal alliance of brothers and sisters and more like a game you for which you had to figure out the cheat codes. But, eventually, he had something vaguely approaching a lead. Normally, that would result in him getting on the gear, hitting the street, and trying to figure out who needed to get their ass kicked. But this was a different situation. For one thing, they had a guest who'd probably like to hear this information.

 

Joe went back to Anne, taking a seat opposite her. As much as he wanted to just not ask her this, he felt like he couldn't just usher her out of the apartment while keeping her in the dark. "One of the guys could've sworn he saw Greg in Hanover, but he didn't get a good." Well, it was something like the truth. "Does he have any friends or family out there?"

Share this post


Link to post

Anne blinked at Joe's question. "Hanover? No, we don't know anyone north of the river. Are you... are you sure someone saw him there? Maybe someone saw a different person and only thought it was Greg."

 

Asli excused herself from the table and stepped off to one side, pulling out her smartphone and turning to the wall to hide the glow. She got onto the browser and tapped in a few keywords, scrolling though news articles and crime blogs and online police blotters. Freedom City was a pretty safe place to live, if sometimes a bit too exciting, but there always seemed to be an undercurrent of organized crime that no amount of brooding young people in masks could stamp out. The stories, though, seemed to point to a new operator in Hanover and the North End, a new force suborning the protection and numbers rackets. She glanced over her shoulder at Anne and felt a stab of pity; a new crime organization would need strong men with loose morals or desperate needs, and if Greg got caught up with this sort of thing then Anne might be her son's only parent for awhile.

Share this post


Link to post

"Maybe it was," said Joe. He saw Asli in the corner, and recognized that hunch. There had been more than a few dates that had seen a change of venue when she needed to check out some story or rumor; after that, it was less a matter of getting drinks or watching a movie, and more a matter of beating the crap out of Nazis or wrestling some sort of giant monster to the ground. Now was the matter of the smooth pitch. "Anne, you're worried. I understand. But you're not alone. We're getting the word out; soon, enough people at work will know to expand the network, but not enough to blab to anyone else. We'll make sure he's found, and we'll make sure he just 'happens' to be found. No search party, no sense that word of the issues have gotten out - he'll be safe, and he'll keep his pride." Now for the hard part...

 

"Taylor's probably back home, waiting. He needs some reassurance, too. We'll make sure the word gets out and keep the ear to the ground. The second we hear anything more about Greg, we'll let you know." 

Share this post


Link to post

Anne nodded, finally taking a long drink of the coffee. "Thank you," she said quietly, glancing at Asli's back before focusing on Joe. "Thank you so much. I didn't... didn't know who to go to. I hope you can find my husband."

 

After Anne left, Asli rubbed at her wrist with her thumb. "There's rumors that some new guys are moving into the rackets in Hanover," she said, speaking slowly. "They don't seem to have any of the usual operators. If there's really a brand-new operation around," she asked, "wouldn't they need some muscles? And they might be throwing around a lot of money."

Share this post


Link to post

"Odds are," Joe said, already moving to the bedroom. "These days, it seems like every would-be costumed crime boss and mad scientist is just throwing money hand over fist at his henchpeople." He neglected to mention he may have had something to do with that, having had a hand - if somewhat forced - in establishing the rules for a fledgling henchperson's union. "There seems to be a trend of new guys trying to make a name by offering competitive wages. Hell, wouldn't be surprised if some of these guys are offering insurance through the state exchange."

 

He came out fully dressed - sans helmet - in the Cannonade costume. "I'll throw the purple stuff in the sink. Think we're gonna be stepping out for the evening." 

Share this post


Link to post

Asli waited until Anne left and then, standing in the middle of the apartment, worked her magic. Colorful ribbons wove around her and geometric shapes briefly traced across the floor and the couch as her power reshaped her outfit. The floor-length dress grew even longer, until it was covering her feet and pooling on the ground, and split into robes and stole. Her blouse changed color and grew thicker and sprouted gloves that covered her hands, and the collar grew into a mantle that rested on her back. She breathed the last word of power as Joe stepped out of his room, turning to face him. She stepped up and linked her arms around his neck, resting her arms on his shoulders. "I guess it's all about getting paid, even for henchmen," she sighed. "I guess I'll just have to bite the bullet, become rich and famous and go triple-platinum." She kissed Joe lightly on the lips, enjoying the last few moments of privacy. "Then I can just go around like Valerie Cain and pay the henchmen to go home."

Share this post


Link to post
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...