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September 2017 

Bedlam City 

Culver's 

 

As Esperanza dug into her Mint Brownie ice cream cone, Anna Cline lined up her pills and took them, one after the other. Maybe biologically she was a good thirty years younger than her age on the calendar - but thirty years off 82 wasn't so young in the grand scheme of things. That was why she'd taken the tomato soup with her ButterBurger, and why she was drinking the unsweetened tea. (She and Espy were splitting an order of cheese curds. She wasn't ready to give up on flavor yet.) When she'd finished with her medicine, Anna smiled at her erstwhile protege. "It ain't much of a congratulatory dinner, but it's what you deserve. I didn't get my GED till I was-" 

 

"fifty-six years old and in stir," Esperanza finished with a smirk around green-stained lips. "You've told me that story a thousand times, Anna." It was good to see the kid smiling, Anna reflected, even if it was at her expense. From what she remembered of raising a teenager, a full lifetime ago, that was usually how it went. It was late outside, and out the front window Anna could see cars moving by on the Interstate, heading down the peninsula. The fast food restaurant had the anonymity that came with the tourist crowd of the Labor Day weekend coupled with highway traffic. A dangerous place for their mutual enemy to start trouble. 

 

"It's a good story, honey," said Anna with a smirk of her own. "You know," she commented quietly. "I've been thinkin'. I've got some money comin' my way, and if I spend it right, I could get us a place here in town." That news was startling enough that Esperanza stared at her from over her cone, the ice cream in her mouth stopping any immediate response. "If that's still what you want." Smart thinking would have had them get the hell out of this crappy little town and find help for their mutual problem - but that would have meant abandoning Esperanza's family, the city where Anna'd been born, and probably ticked off the lady who lived in the hat Esperanza was keeping in her backpack. 

 

While Esperanza was thinking about that, another small group came through the restaurant's doors, Anna's eyes briefly flickering to them.

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"No, it's fine," Alice insisted, proceeding Sofia through the doorway. She was dressed casually, thin jeans and sensible running shoes. She seemed to have an extensive collection of hooded sweatshirts, really, each and every one of them completely unadorned - she made up for this with a set of t-shirts one could only describe as "eclectic", today's choice of some faded and obnoxious cartoon character peeking out from behind her half-zipped hoodie. "Steady work, fine, whatever. But it's not like we were expressly told we couldn't do whatever extra."

 

She held her hands out in front of her body, as if grasping something precious and shiny. "Haven't you ever wanted to just...climb a building, and see what's up there? And then maybe someone finds out it isn't there anymore, but that's not your problem."

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The other young woman was only a smidge taller although far brighter in dress. Sofi's curls were a riot of dyed pastels, clipped back high on the crown of her head and she wore a sundress that showed off her compact, curvy form over a pair of capri leggings. The flat sandals were cool and comfortable, as if Sofi was fighting through fashion alone the slow turn of the seasons to cooler weather. Her voice, when she spoke, held the faint lilt of a Hispanic accent as well as dry amusement, "I have never wanted to just climb a building, no. I'm not saying that you can't take on the occasional odd job, just that if you get into trouble, you're probably better off giving Xavier a heads up so you don't get a lecture in your earpiece halfway through it for him having to put things together alone. The man needs a hobby, am I right?"

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"What about your family?" Esperanza asked quietly, her voice unusually subdued. Tall and darkly complected, the girl couldn't really pass for a biological relative of Anna Cline, whose pale blonde hair was more and more artifice every year. 

 

"Ah, it'll be fine. My boy got me on this online banking stuff, I can get at my money without going home" She'd gotten most of her money from her son, too, a cash payment he'd saved from a half-a-decade of Supercrime! that had been more honest dollars than she'd ever seen. "And as long as I go visit them at Christmas, they won't suspect a thing." She'd never actually bought the house on Carter Bay that she'd lived in for nearly a decade, preferring to just pay the increasingly exorbitant rent. Her fingers scraped the bottom of their cheese curd basket and she pulled herself to her feet. "All right, I'm gonna put in another order. You eat your ice cream, diploma girl." Shooting her protege a quick grin, Anna wound up in line behind the two women who'd just arrived at the restaurant. 

 

Anna herself fit right into the restaurant, looking like the middle-aged marathoner of Irish and Polish stock that she was. She overheard the commentary from the two girls in front of her but opted not to break into it, knowing the last thing they'd want to hear from is some old lady feeling sentimental. Wonder if they're second-story girls, she thought, thinking about good spots in this neighborhood. Bank didn't look too secure down the street, she thought, hands in her pockets and a smile on her face as she thought back a few decades... 

 

And then there were guys rushing in the door with automatic weapons. Automatically Anna looked across the restaurant at Esperanza, who was sliding down behind her seat in a well-honed reflex. Anna wanted to run her way, but she knew a sudden flash of metapowers could trigger gunfire. She heard children crying, and thought of the little boys across the restaurant from where she'd been sitting, the small baby with the couple across from them, of all the smiling family pictures around this place...

 

"All right, cabrons!" called the leader of the trio of gunmen, leveling what was of all things an honest-to-God Uzi at the room. "I want to see purses, and wallets, and phones! And if I see a f*cking camera flash, I'm spraying this place down!" The other two were busy shoveling their way past the quickly dispersing line, the better to get at the cash register. "This is Latin Ace territory now!" 

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Alice was gone. Alice had been right there, just in front of Sofia, eyeing the menu like any average, tiny fast foot customer, and then the guys with guns had shown up, and then she was gone. Not leaving, not moving, not hiding, but suddenly just...absent.

 

On the bright side, she thought, back flattened against the partial wall that separated the dining and cashier area from the path to the kitchens, shouting gang members with guns made for one hell of a distraction. Everyone's eyes being on the same spot meant that there was a lot of overlap in blind spots, and that made disappearing real, real easy. On the less bright side, she couldn't confidently bring Sofia with her, and she'd have found her overall dining experience a lot happier without gun-wielding boy-men at all.

 

But, sure, this was fine. She'd keep an eye on things or sneak away if someone made their way back toward her, maybe if the gang members made their way back one by one she could get the drop on them one by one, and then she totally wouldn't have to watch one of her only sorta-friends get shot and bleed to death and she really needed a new plan.

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Sofia couldn't just vanish, not like Alice could certainly. She didn't think the thief had actually left but she was reasonably certain that if she had, she'd be back with backup. Her gaze skimmed over the frightened patrons and a reluctant breath hissed through her teeth. Man, I really hope that Alice is still here.

 

"Chill out," she said in response, her hands raising up a little to show that she wasn't making any fast moves. She let her lip curl in disgust at the gun men's antics, "Yeah, real big cajones you got there, 'Latin Ace-holes', scaring some kids and knocking over a store that's one step up from the 7-11. Gonna get, what, maybe couple hundred all told. D'you think you'll be able to buy some better masks so you have less concern about cameras then? Spent all your start up cash on guns to make up for the mini-pecker you're packing?"

 

Dutifully she reached into her pocket for her wallet and dropped it on the ground. Eyes on me, loud mouth. Eyes and guns on me and not the kids crying. Fantastic plan, Sofia. Now what?

Edited by alderwitch

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They're gonna kill Esperanza and make it look like a goddamned robbery was Anna Cline's first thought. Her second thought was Oh, they're just a bunch of stupid little gunsels! Robbing ME! She put her hands behind her head but didn't drop her wallet, waiting while the loudmouthed Mexican girl got their attention. Probably Mexican, anyway. I dunno. Of Honduran stock, Esperanza had pointed out the difference between Hondurans and Mexicans to Anna on more than one occasion. The Latin Aces are the Mexican boys that dance when the Honduran boys say 'dance' - so what are they doing pulling a job like this? She thought all this while one of them, the mustachioed leader, got in the face of the brassy girl. 

 

"Shut your fat mouth, puta!" sneered the man as he got up close and personal with Sofia. "You fucking out-of-towners think you can come to our city? Spend your money on burgers and fried cheese? This ain't Madison, honey, nobody's gonna hold your hand, chica!" Up close it was clear he was high, and maybe the others were too - tweaking on something that had their gazes wide and staring, eyes bloodshot and breathing fast, and gave them a distinct and alarming twitch as they waved their weapons around in ways that put them in as much danger as each other. "I think I just found our driver, boys!" he said, going in to grab Sofia around the neck and hold her at a more intimate gunpoint. 

 

Up front, the other two guys were clearing out the registers - and the wallets of the terrified staff. One of them, wielding a shotgun, caught sight of Anna Cline and said "Hey!" Turning, he pointed the gun at Anna and said in Spanish, "<Hey look, it's her! The one the Hammer of Justice wanted a piece of, man!>" For her part, Anna didn't know Spanish herself - but she knew what Hammer of Justice sounded like. It was what Esperanza said when she was in the middle of a nightmare, or taking the showers that she took at least twice a day, or- 

 

"All right, boys," she said, raising her fists. "How do you say it? Arriba! Arribba! Andale!

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Alice was back. Where had she been? Only Alice could say - but while the thugs were looking at Anna Alice reappeared at the employee hallway, almost unnoticeable until she was scant inches from the lead thug's back.

 

There was a quiet sshhhk as she flicked half of her collapsible staff out into an improvised baton, and that was all the warning he got. With almost military precision Alice's fingers were under the trigger, and Alice's weapon came down on the tendons of the man's wrist, and then, like magic, he didn't have a gun anymore.

 

Alice had a gun, though. She eyed it with disdain, inspecting it like it was poisonous. "This is a terrible gun. I mean, all guns are terrible, they kill people. But this is a terrible gun," she said, and then gestured at Sofia with her half-collapsed staff. Hopefully no one would ask her why she had a matte metal stick. "You don't want her to drive anyway, Ace-holes. She's little, she won't reach the pedals."

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The man with the shotgun, the one who'd called Anna out, made a derisive noise. "Lady, you think some old cartoon can hurt me? I'm-" 

 

Anna Cline crossed the three body lengths between them and punched him in the solar plexus, her fist flying in a blur that looked like it should have broken her arm from the sheer force of impact. When the man staggered and gagged, she kicked the gun out of his hands and spun him around so his torso was between her and the restaurant's over-the-counter security camera. Then she hit him again. And again. And again - stamping down on the instep of his foot with bone-crunching force, smashing the heel of her hand against the front of his face, then following it all up by grabbing up the fallen shotgun and driving it butt-first into his groin. It had all taken less time than it took a dropped cheese curd to fall from table height to ground. 

 

"I think _I_ can hurt you," she hissed, moved to particular anger by the mention of the man who'd abused her sidekick and tried to kill her, stepping back as he fell to the ground. 

 

The man holding Sofia squeezed with the arm around her neck, hard enough that she heard joints pop and things start to hurt even worse. "I'll do it!" he was spitting at Alice. "I'll break her neck, I swear to God I will! Jesus!" By now most of the crowd was on its way out the door, Bedlam parents being smart enough to grab their kids and crowd out the fire exit, with only a few locals actually there to cheer on the fighters or take pictures with their phones. It was Bedlam, after all. 

The third thug, on the other side with his partner and Sofia between him and the other two women, waved his gun around, sweat standing out on his sallow features as his eyes widened. "Aaah, it wasn't supposed to be like this! I don't know which one to-" The gun went off - and Alice felt something hit her in the side! Looking down she saw a trickle of blood, but an oddly small one for a gunshot wound. Was that a...pellet gun?

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"Alice!" Sofia shrieked, the word a little strangled from the grip on her neck. Alice getting shot had been not part of the plan - for what little plan there was. She had no idea how bad the injury might have been, not in the chaos, but Alice certainly jerked like she'd been hit. Without thinking about it, Sofia swung the hand holding her phone down and back like she was going for a nut-shot, just as she triggered the pulse that turned the small hand held electronic device into a proverbial taser. She stepped away quickly as the man twitched and collapsed like a pupped with his strings cut, too concerned about her teammate to even take the time to fire another volley of insults. 

 

"You okay?" She demanded as she rounded on the man who'd fired the thug, brandishing her cellphone like she just might brain him with that. Her expression was fierce as she growled, "Okay, pendejo. Now I'm'gonna hurt you. When I'm through with you, gonna be like living in the dark ages.

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Alice tossed her stolen gun aside to put a hand to her wound, bringing it up to look at the trace amount of blood. It didn't even hurt that bad - though experience said it might later - and hell, she'd hurt herself worse training or on jobs. She'd been shot at with better bullets by better marksmen.

 

But that wasn't the point.

 

"You shot me," she said, glancing from her hand to the thug as Sofia dropped her assailant. "You. Shot. Me."

 

Alice's eyes were vengeance and fire, taking a running leap not directly at the gunman but up and off a nearby wall like some tiny, demented parkour artist. When she came down, her now fully-extended staff came with her, directly on top of the man's head. "Don't shoot people!"

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"Lousy no-good punks," Anna hissed at the fallen gangbangers. Up close, her accent marked her as not being from Bedlam despite looking like she could have come in off the streets of the city - she sounded not so much like she was from New Jersey but like she was an actress from a black-and-white crime drama _about_ New Jersey. "Whaddya doin' pullin' this outta your territory, anyway?" Anna hadn't actually taken the time to note where all of Bedlam's street gangs were, or even most of them, but the Latin Aces ran with the Mara and that meant they were near Hardwick Park - Lady Horus's territory. The men were in no shape to talk, though, and suddenly Esperanza was pulling on her arm. Esperanza was supposed to wait for her under cover in situations like this, but Esperanza didn't like to be alone near cops or at night outside, when something might swoop down on her from above. 

 

"Okay, ladies," she said with bravado as she scooped up somebody's discarded to-go order of cheese curds. "I think we ain't gonna get good service here for a while." Don't worry, Espy, I'm almost done, her look said when she turned back to her protege. 

 

"You all right?" 

"Yeah, I'm okay," Esperanza said, in a half-truth from her rapid breathing and sweating brow, looking around warily. "Everybody's running for it, or hiding in the parking lot."

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"You okay?" Sofia wanted to know, giving Anna's quip only a small nod of her head and perhaps a slightly wary look about the little old lady's capabilities. Slipping her phone back in her pocket, she hustled over towards Alice, her gaze dropping to her side. "I got a medical bag in the car. How bad is it? I didn't mean for you to be the one to get shot!"

 

The apology was clear, and she finally turned her attention briefly to Anna, "That was weird, though. Like they didn't know what they were doing at all. I mean, more than your usual gang banger. You got a mean right cross, lady."

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Alice tapped her staff against the floor, some unseen mechanism collapsing it back into a thin rod. That got stucked into the small of her back - a hidden sheath? - as she pulled up the corner of her shirt to eye her side.

 

"M'okay," she judged, poking at herself; she was bleeding, but not much, and carefully wiping away some shirt-and-parkour-induced blood smear revealed a small but shallow mark and a tiny bump, which she immediately began poking at. "Don't think it got in far - pretty sure it hit shallow, got in a little under the skin. Hurts," she admitted, gently pushing the pellet forward until it reappeared at the tiny wound. She didn't seem to react to the pain much, so either she was being terribly honest or she was a little more accustomed to small injuries than she'd let on. "Not too bad, I guess. I might borrow a bandage from your bag, if that's okay? I don't wanna bleed all over my stuff."

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"Not tellin' you anything, señoras," said the man Alice had taken down - or rather, hissed, given that from the beating he'd taken it didn't look like he was going anywhere anytime soon. "Gonna be better off in jail than on the streets." 

 

"That ain't hardly ever true," said Anna, looking down at the fallen thug with suspicion on her face. "Even if the Hammer's after you, honey, he can find you in there." 


"This ain't about your costumed boyfriend, honey!" hissed the thug - Anna didn't so much as blink, but her sidekick obviously did. She didn't flinch from this one, though - in fact, her eyes hardening, she reached into her pocket for something that looked distinctly like a knife before Anna put a warning hand on her arm. "Jigsaw Man's gonna tear this town down!" 

 

"Jesus Mary and Joseph, it's like the Pandora's freakin' Box of super-people all of a sudden!" declared Anna, looking more exhausted than threatened. "Ah, thanks, girl's gotta know how to defend herself in this town." She rubbed her knuckles and added, "You girls did pretty well yourselves. You in the trade?" She left open exactly what the trade was. 

 

"I know what the Jigsaw Man is," said Esperanza, staring down at the thugs with an expression on her face that was hard to read. "Mara say he's their guy - their god that's better than Jesus or Horus. Some kind of Aztec thing, I don't know what the real name was." 

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"Jeezus, don't poke at it with dirty fingers," Sofia said with some legitimate concern as she'd moved from commentary to fussing once more, leaving Anna to threaten or wallop the would-be robbers as she choose. Batting Alice's hands away, Sofia bent her head to first wipe her hands off with an antiseptic wipe from her pockets and then quickly clean and bandage up the minor injury with gauze that she also produced from said pockets. During Anna and Esperanza's exchange, she added quietly; her voice soft, "Thanks for having my back there. I really am sorry you got shot for your troubles." 

 

Tucking the wrappers back in her pocket to discard rather than leave anything at a potential crime scene, she straightened a little, "We know a couple of things. Like you said, its a rough town."

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"What- hey! Don't touch that," Alice insisted, though she didn't actually pull away. She might have known that Sofia was the better medic, but she definitely knew she was honor-bound to protest at least a little. "It's fine. I didn't give you permission. 'sides, my immune system's awesome. And, uh, you're welcome," she added, quieter. Alice didn't get thanked a lot.

 

Alice wasn't sure what to think of that, so she decided not to.

 

"Nothin' named 'Jigsaw Man' is any good," she said, louder, trying to balance twisting around (to finally get a good look at Anna) and pulling her shirt back down (without exposing too much of a suspiciously toned stomach). The woman had a good arm, and that was respect-worthy, but retired cops had good arms too. "Aren't Aztecs the ones who killed people and ate hearts?"

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"Yeah," said Anna. "They told their people it was how the Sun kept rising. But that ain't how it works, not even the magic Sun." She shook her head, seeming to shake off her contemplative mood in an instant. The whining of police sirens told them that they weren't alone for long. At the sound of the approaching cops, Anna's head flicked in the direction of the lights with the unmistakeable look of someone who couldn't seen with the authorities. "Okay, we're hitting the road ASAP - she said, taking Esperanza's hand. "I appreciate all the help you ladies gave us. We should do this again sometime!" she offered, her Jersey accent thickening. "You girls gotta number? Place we can let it all hang out?"  

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"We can work out safe words later," Sofia teased with a grin, " 'Till then I'm gonna use my best judgement about when poking is needed. Besides, the less you bleed on clothing now, the less likely we get a lecture when we get back, you know?"

 

Straightening, she brushed her hands off before rubbing them against her thighs to keep any blood off of her skin. If there we cops, the last thing she wanted was bloody fingers, "Likewise, ma'am. Here I got a number you can call but the place we're crashing isn't really mine to invite folks to." Sofi turned to jot a number down on a napkin, ensuring that it was flat on the counter and not leaving the imprint of any number. Not that she thought the rent-a-cops in this town were likely to manage to trace back through her layers of security but some habits were ingrained. "Alice takes people not knowing where she might sleep - IF she were gonna sleep - kinda serious."

 

 

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Alice had been eyeing Sofia with something like critical appraisal before the talk of people knowing where she slept snapped her attention back to the conversation; she scowled at that, cocking an ear toward the sirens as if tracking their distance. "It's important," she said, though only after muttering something nearly inaudible about 'safe words'. "You can't watch your back when you're sleeping. The best bed is a bed nobody else knows about - too many people knowing where to find you is trouble."

 

Something about the sirens made her cock her head, scowl pulling even further down her face. "We're leaving now," she announced, grabbing the front of Sofia's collar with one hand and pulling her down the staff hall toward the back. "There's a back door for food deliveries, and the alley smells like hobo piss, the cops aren't gonna make it back there for minutes. Don't leave blood on the door, and we'll be gone before they know we were here, maybe grab some stuff on our way through the kitchens. Nice meeting you."

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Ma'am. Anna repressed a sigh - but smiled anyway. Teaming up with people as herself had been a lot of fun, even if there was maybe a cannibal Aztec god after them. She couldn't really follow most of the Mexican stuff she knew went on in Bedlam these days, just as she supposed a woman of her age in the 1930s wouldn't have known anything about the real action in the Polish and Italian neighborhoods."Catch you on the flipside, girls!" She took Esperanza's hand - and the two of them seemed to vanish out of sight in between Sofia and Alice conversing with each other. They had indeed stopped to pick up a few to-go orders that had been left half-cooling behind the counter - and the sounds of sirens were getting closer! 

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