JunoMagic's Birthday Stories Playlist 2006
Playlist Navigation Bar
Not Fade Away: 4. What's Your Name, Who's Your Daddy?
By mid-summer, Posey had settled into the job well. To her relief, her bosses seemed happy with her work so far. Gary had been especially pleased by a detail she had designed for the rounded door of a hillside cottage that appeared in level one. Level two had involved a rough hilly wilderness through which the game protagonist, a strange little creature, traveled with his party. There was nothing more difficult to draw than lots of trees, rocks and rivers. The trolls might have been a challenge, but those were handled, as were all the characters, by the more experienced artists. Posey was merely drawing background.
She wore jeans and tee shirts mostly now. After going home nights covered in graphite and colored chalk, it seemed only sensible. Since she took the El, walking the few blocks between her apartment and the station, and the few blocks to the Rivers Building, her feet appreciated the fact that she had switched from heels to comfortable running shoes.
Another bright spot was her budding friendship with Linda Singer, which was something quite unexpected. After the first day, which had no doubt stemmed from kindness, Linda had taken to sharing her lunch table. Sometimes they were joined by others -- Sally from the art department, Meryl, who worked in HR, and Glenn once or twice. Sally and Meryl were married to men who worked in managerial positions on other floors and would have lunch with their husbands whenever possible, so often Linda and Posey found themselves alone.
It was hard not to notice that the other female workers seemed immune to the occupational hazard of secretary spread -- there was not a big butt in the building -- and the women seemed as uncannily good-looking as the men. When Posey had shyly mentioned her observation to Linda, Linda had merely cited the excellent health benefits, which included plastic surgery coverage and the highly encouraged employee fitness plan. Posey had begun working out in the fitness center, but on Linda's suggestion, she had taken to coming in early so the two of them could run along the lakefront before work. Always naturally thin, Posey had noticed her muscles taking on a new grace and definition as a result.
As they ran and ate together, Posey inevitably talked about her life, her childhood in rural Wisconsin, the death of her parents in a winter car crash during her first year of college, leaving her lonely and vulnerable to her glib and charming boyfriend, her marriage, and its sad end. Linda never really said much, but as she got the story out, Posey found the hurt and the bitterness gradually leaving her.
The only fly in the ointment was an incident that happened in late June as Posey was returning home from work one evening. She had been approached on the street by two men in dark suits, one of whom introduced himself as Agent Duncan and named his partner as Agent Fitzhugh.
"Ms. Walker, we've been investigating Aaron Rivers for some time now, and we feel that you might be in a position to help us."
Posey hadn't liked the look of them, nor had she liked the way they barred her access to her front door as she tried to get past them. "Can you give me a reason why I should talk to you? My job is a good one, and so far I've seen nothing to make me dislike the company or think there's anything wrong there."
"Of course there's nothing to dislike. The job pays ridiculously well. That's how Rivers buys his employees' loyalty. But tell me, Ms. Walker, hasn't it occurred to you how easily you got the job with little or no qualifications? Frankly, we think Rivers is using Dale Toys and some of his other companies to launder money. Maybe from drugs, maybe from munitions sold to the sort of people who shouldn't have them. Maybe something even worse. Look at the sort of people he hires -- foreigners, those cultists who manage his companies, and the occasional gullible outsider like yourself."
"He's a good old-fashioned commie, if you ask me," muttered Fitzhugh. "You should see the list of charities he supports - Greenpeace, ACLU, the Sierra Club."
Posey almost burst out laughing. She wondered what these two would think if they knew her father had voted Progressive-Socialist in every election before his death.
"We don't find it amusing, Ms. Walker," said Duncan, "and neither should you if you love your country. You don't want another 9/11 here in Chicago, do you? I'll tell you something else; young women who work for Rivers have been known to disappear."
"You want me to spy, is that it?"
Duncan handed her his card. "All we want you to do is to keep your eyes open and let us know about anything you see that might be out of the ordinary. Is that so hard?"
"I'll be sure to do that," she said evenly, and took the card. She watched from her vestibule as the two walked away. She was tempted to drop the card right there but dismissed the urge as being melodramatic. Instead, she took it upstairs and put it on her refrigerator, noting that no agency name was given along with Duncan's phone number. So who was he? FBI? CIA? IRS? Black Ops? S.P.E.C.T.R.E.? She had the feeling it would be a cold day in hell before she used the number.
However, her curiosity had been piqued, and the first thing she did was to flip on her computer and Google Rivers Enterprises and Aaron Rivers. She found nothing sinister. Not all of the Rivers companies were traded publicly, but those that were often had their stocks featured in the social responsibility mutual funds. She was especially impressed by the earnings for Ithilien Landscaping, which listed annual profits of eight figures and had been recognized by several national awards for garden design.
Aaron Rivers was listed prominently in several philanthropical organizations and he was a member of the board of directors of the Chicago Art Institute, the Symphony Orchestra and the Opera, in addition to being a major contributor. Despite his prominence, there were no photographs of Rivers or any of his family members to be found in the news archives. She did not find this surprising, given Rivers' reputation for shunning the spotlight. If Aaron Rivers was the Devil Himself, there was no sign of it.
One morning in July, she was working on the latest gamescape, which this time involved a high range of mountains. Most of the action took place in a cavern, so the background consisted of nearly all rough stone. There was an underground lake with a rocky island, but nothing very challenging. She was chewing on her pencil and working on yet another boulder when Leif made an appearance in the art department and brought the work to a halt by clapping his hands and calling for attention.
"I'm looking for volunteers for some outdoor work. A fuel tanker jackknifed and overturned on Highway 41 a few miles north of Highland Park. The HAZMAT folks have been and gone and done their usual half-assed job at cleaning up the spill, and Ithilien is going to be doing the final cleanup. It was in the nature area, and there are some wetlands and some wildlife to deal with. We can use all the hands we can get."
"If we blow off our day's work and go play saviors of the environment, will we be getting a bonus for this?" one of the artists asked, half in earnest.
"Just your regular pay, brownie points, and my undying gratitude, Henry, " Leif said lightly. "This is going to be nasty work, so coveralls will be available in the fitness center. Anyone who's interested, get a pair and then assemble in the basement. We'll have a bus going up there."
Posey was interested, of course. Earning points with an employer was good, but having grown up in the country, she relished the chance to get outdoors for a change. She headed down the third floor, and found Linda in the women's locker room, already changing into green coveralls with the logo of Ithilien Landscaping Service on the front pocket. Together, they headed to the basement garage and the waiting buses. Posey noticed, as the volunteers got on the bus, that a lot of the long hair had disappeared beneath bandanas, hats, and even a few stocking caps, despite the July heat.
An hour's drive north of the city, they found trucks and vans bearing the Ithilien logo already waiting for them on the roadside. When Posey caught her first glimpse of the young men who worked for the landscaping business, she understood one of the reasons for its resounding success. What rich northern suburban matron wouldn't want those young Adonises showing up to mow the lawn and trim the hedges?
The hydrocarbon stench of fuel oil lay over the area, along with the exhaust from the passing traffic.
"There's a small creek here," one of the landscape workers was telling Leif, "and it carried a lot of the spill into the marsh. We're all going to have to get our feet wet."
Leif shrugged. "At least we'll be away from the traffic. We've dealt with worse."
"Come with me, Posey," Linda said, moving off down the road embankment. "Sometimes we find a bird or an animal that's been soaked in the fuel. We'll set up a washing station away from the highway noise. It's less frightening for them that way."
"I know. My father was a vet -- a veterinarian, I mean, and I used to work in his office summers and weekends. I know how to do a hold." They came to a level grassy spot, and two of the men brought sawhorses and planks to make a table.
Linda busied herself setting up dishpans. "There's nothing to wash yet. You might as well go find Leif and see if he has anything for you to do."
Posey wandered among the trees, looking to spot the blue bandanna Leif had used to tie the hair out of his eyes. Here and there, the handsome young men of the landscape service were at work, spraying the foliage with something she couldn't identify and picking up scattered debris. As they worked, they hummed softly to themselves, a strange unearthly sweet tune barely above the level of hearing.
She found Leif alone in water up to his knees. She stopped still, feeling she had intruded on private moment, for his head was bowed and his shoulders slumped. In his hands, he held the limp body of a duck. Its feathers were caked with the oil soaked water, and around its neck was a plastic harness from a six-pack of beer cans.
"A! Aragorn, sen i ardh i muddannem an edraith?" he murmured softly.
She cleared her throat, and he turned to look at her. "Ah, Ms. Walker . . . Posey. I didn't hear you."
"Sorry to creep up on you like that. I've always been able to move quietly. My father too. He used to joke that one of our pioneer great-grandmas must have pulled a cute trick on her husband and sneaked a little Native American into our gene pool."
He laughed. "I wouldn't like to impugn the chastity of one of your ancestresses, but I think your father came closer than you know."
"What was that language you were speaking?"
"Your hearing is good too. It was Welsh. Lovely language . . . Welsh." He waded to the water's edge and laid the duck's body down. "I was just saying we were too late for this one."
She watched while he cut the plastic from the dead bird's neck. "It's overwhelming. What can one person do?"
"You can start by grabbing a trash bag and picking up the filth like this," he said, holding out the plastic harness to her. "It may not be much, but it's better than nothing."
She spent the next few hours policing the area, finding a veritable bounty of plastic holders, aluminum pull tabs, windblown fast food wrappers, an inner tube from a blown truck tire, and three used condoms. She cheered herself up about having to handle the condoms, reminding herself that they meant three fewer potential littering jerks twenty years down the line. By the end of the morning, she too was soaked to the knees in black fetid bog muck.
The afternoon was spent washing off the few birds that had been found and caught. Posey held them still while Linda sudsed them down with detergent and rinsed the oil from their feathers. It was surprisingly easy, for the touch of Linda's hand seemed to calm the frightened creatures, and she sang softly while she worked, a soft song which put both Posey and the birds into a peaceful trance. The time passed so easily that she barely noticed the shadows growing longer as the afternoon waned into evening.
"This is the last one," Gary said, as he brought them a struggling Canada Goose. The bird was putting up quite a fight, flapping its wings and leaving trails of bog muck and oil across Gary's face and hair. It was a comical sight, but Posey didn't allow herself to laugh at her harried supervisor until she heard Linda giggle beside her.
"Give it to me, Gary, you never had the touch," she said, taking the goose, which promptly quieted as she and Posey began to clean it up.
"About done here?" Leif said, appearing out of the trees. "We've got the foliage washed down, and the buses will be loading in half an hour. Whoa, buddy, you are ripe!" he exclaimed, catching a look and a whiff of Gary.
"You're no flower yourself," Gary said, looking at Leif's trousers, which were black up to mid thigh. "I don't think I've smelled anything quite this bad since the time we all did that favor for that ranger friend of yours."
"Yes, those were the days," said Leif just a little too quickly. He collared Gary and led him off toward the highway.
The sun was setting as the bus headed back downtown. It was strange, Posey thought, but some of the roadside shrubbery that had been wilting when they arrived that morning looked just fine when they left. It must have been a trick of the light, she decided, as she lay back in her seat and listened to the soft humming of the other workers.
She and Linda hit the showers as soon as the bus got back to the Rivers Building. "A few of us are going out for a drink later, "Linda said, as the two of them toweled off. "Would you like to join us?"
All that waited at home was an empty apartment, so Posey didn't have to think twice before accepting the invitation. The Harp turned out to be a little Irish pub four blocks away on a quiet side street. The bar had a green neon shamrock in the front window and a no smoking sign on the front door. "That's unusual for Chicago," Posey remarked as she and Linda entered and sat down at the bar.
"O'Dell knows his clientele, don't you, Sean?" said Linda as the bartender owner came to take their order.
"That I do. I used to have a two pack a day habit just from the second-hand smoke I inhaled in here before you lot showed up. Never had to spend a penny on cigarettes. But I don't miss it. What will it be, ladies?"
"My usual," Linda said.
"Brandy with a beer chaser, coming up," O'Dell said. "And you, Miss?"
"White wine spritzer," said Posey, still looking at Linda in surprise. She hadn't figured her friend for the hard drinking type.
A number of the Rivers employees were already in the bar, sitting in the booths. The door opened and Gary and Leif entered looking clean and damp from the showers. Leif held up his hands for silence. "We did good today, folks. Tonight, all drinks are on the Leif!" There was some scattered applause and laughter, as Leif and Gary went into a rear corner and opened the dartboard.
Posey watched the game of darts for awhile. "He's good!" she finally said. "He never seems to miss."
"Get about five or six of those dark ales he likes into him, and he'll start to miss a few of his shots," Linda laughed. "Trust me on it."
Posey did a double take. She had seen something in Linda's eye as she looked at the young man, and she had heard it in her voice too. "You like him," she said.
"Of course I like him," Linda said, taking a sip of her brandy. "What's not to like? I've known him forever, it seems. He was a sweet boy and now he's a sweet man."
"I mean, Linda, you have a thing for him."
Linda shrugged, and she took a while to answer. "What if I do?"
"Why don't you go for it?"
"It's . . . complicated. There's an age difference."
"What age difference?" Posey said. "You don't look a day over thirty, and he's what -- twenty-five?"
"It's a little more than that," Linda said evasively. At Posey's look of disbelief, she said, "I'm much older than I look. We have very good plastic surgery coverage in the medical plan."
"This is the twenty-first century, for Pete's sake!"
"All right; forget the age. Forget that he's my employer and so is his father. I just don't seem to be . . . his type."
Posey nodded sagely as she watched Leif laughing with Gary in the corner. "You mean he's gay. I kind of thought so."
Linda sighed and sipped her drink again, this time the beer. "Of course he's gay, most of the time. The war changed him, though. There was a shadow on him when he came back that he's never been able to shake." Then she looked at Posey and laughed. "But, no -- you mean homosexual. I don't think so. He's been married twice."
Posey rolled her eyes discreetly. For all her seeming sophistication, Linda could sometimes be naïve. Two failed marriages before a person was halfway through his twenties had to indicate something was not quite right.
"The timing was just never right, "Linda continued. "He was just a boy. Then he came back from the war a man, but he was gone so soon, to Italy and then . . . west."
"California?" Posey said, puzzled.
Before Linda had a chance to answer, the jukebox began to play an old song.
"It's the time of the season, when the love runs high."
Glenn Butler, now just wearing an open collared shirt and holding a glass of red wine, sat down next to them. "Hello, ladies," he said.
"In this time, give it to me easy, and let me try with pleasured hands . . ."
"Glenn, has anyone told you that you are a sadistic bastard?" Linda said evenly.
"Not recently. But it's always nice to know I'm appreciated," he laughed.
"To take you and the sun to promised lands . . .To show you every one."
"Your taste in music stinks."
"The one who feeds the jukebox gets to pick the songs," he said. "Besides, I had a sense that the boilermakers were loosening some tongues more than is wise."
"You're a fine one to talk about drinking too much," Linda said pointedly.
"I plead guilty," Glenn laughed. "At the moment, I'm quite sober, but I intend to remedy that. Cheers!"
Posey listened to the two of them bicker, somewhat distracted. What was that song? It was familiar.
"It's the time of the season for loving."
The Zombies! Yes, that was it! Her parents had liked it. She hadn't heard it since the old phonograph had died. She was congratulating herself on her good memory when she happened to glance over at the corner. Leif was staring in their direction.
"What's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich like me?"
He was looking at Linda, and with such a hungry look.
"Has he taken any time . . . To show you what you need to live?"
I guess he might not be gay after all, she decided.
"Tell it to me slowly . . . Tell you what? I really want to know . . ."
Something was going on here. These people were strange. But she decided it was none of her business if they wanted to ignore the obvious. She finished her spritzer and signaled O'Dell for another.
"Moldy Oldies!" Linda said.
"Classic Rock!" Glenn countered.
"Are you taking requests?" Leif asked from the corner.
Glenn swung his stool around. "Normally, I wouldn't. But since I'm drinking on your penny . . . What would you like to hear?"
Leif smiled. "You know, Glenn . . . My favorite."
Glenn made a mocking bow and went to the Wurlitzer. There was a moment of silence and then Posey heard a bittersweet arpeggio from an electric guitar. She laughed despite herself. Who would have figured Leif for a Metallica fan?
"So close, no matter how far. Couldn't be much more from the heart . . ."
A new voice came from a darkened booth. "What have I told you about listening to that stuff?" Posey recognized Randy, still in his custodian's uniform. A glass of red wine sat before him on the booth's table.
Leif laughed. "I know -- too depressing."
"Damn straight! It'll bring you down. Make you fade."
"Count your blessings. It could have been worse . . . Randy. I could have asked for 'The Unforgiven.' "
"You COULD try listening to something cheerful," said Randy.
"Cheerful? Like Mozart, maybe? Wolfie's my man!" Leif shut his eyes and began to sing in a clear tenor voice: 'O lachrymosa, dies illa . . ." Even more amazing, his notes were in a perfect counterpoint harmony with the melody from the jukebox. How did he do that, Posey wondered; mix Mozart's Requiem with Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield?
"Point taken," Randy said.
"Every day for us, something new . . .Open mind for a different view . . ."
Leif cast a wink in Posey's direction. "Randy's a Stones man, all the way."
"Hell yes! Sir Mick is my hero. The dude never let anyone tell him it was time to get off the stage."
"Would you like some Stones next . . . Randy?" Glenn said. "Start Me Up, or maybe . . ."
"Another time. I have to go. I have a hot date."
"Someone I know, I hope," Leif said.
"Definitely," Randy replied, uncurling his body from the booth. For a moment, while he stood in the doorway, his hair was turned into a ruddy halo by the streetlight outside. And then he was gone.
"No, nothing else matters . . ."
The rest of the evening passed in a haze of wine and good fellowship. Even drinking spritzers, Posey found herself developing a pleasant buzz. She laughed with Glenn, who was really a very witty conversationalist. She played a game of pool with Linda, who beat her, although Posey made a good showing and might have won if she hadn't scratched the cue ball. And she was talked into shooting a round of darts with Leif, who predictably beat her too, although she sensed he was holding back to spare her feelings by not making the rout too ignominious. By last call, most of the others had left, and Posey found herself in a small group, which consisted of Linda, and three men, Leif, Gary and Glenn.
The group spilled out onto the street. The humid air of the July night hit them like a moist curtain, along with the smell of the city. They were all a little drunk and giddy as they walked the four blocks back to the Rivers building. There was almost no traffic at this time of night, and they had the street to themselves.
He was on them before anyone could sense the smell of cigarette smoke over the reek of the hot asphalt and the hydrocarbon tang of the streets. He stepped out of an alley, gun in hand.
She had forgotten that long hair and pale skin could be ugly. This man's was both. His hair was oily and unwashed. His skin was pasty with the lack of sun caused by a nighttime existence, and he was pimply. His eyes were the worst; cold and dead like those of a shark. She might have forgiven desperation -- poverty or even the hunger for drugs -- but this one was merely a predator, and the city had too many of his kind.
He demanded their wallets and everything else of value they might have. She froze in fear. Linda, and the two men, Gary and Glenn fell silent also. Leif held out his hands in a gesture of placation.
"Easy, buddy, you'll get what you want. Just don't hurt us."
Posey could see the mugger's lips curl in contempt. He was used to getting what he wanted.
"I'm going for my wallet now," Leif said nervously, lowering his hand to his pocket.
Then, faster than her eyes could register, his foot kicked up and the gun was flying down the alleyway. Leif had the mugger pinned up against a wall with his arm twisted behind his back and a knife to his throat. It was the same knife he had used to cut the plastic from the strangled duck earlier in the day, and it was a big one.
"The tables are turned, aren't they?" Leif said coldly. "You thought you had some easy pickings tonight, but look how things have changed!" He tightened his grip on the knife, and a trickle of blood ran down the man's neck.
"I feel merciful tonight, but don't count on such luck ever again. You go free, but I suggest you find a different way of making your money. If our paths cross again, you die. And the next time you feel like preying on a 'little faggot' or a helpless woman, just remember that there are more of US out here than you know."
Leif gave the man a shove that propelled him at least ten feet. He tripped, fell, picked himself up and ran off into the night. "Whew!" Leif stretched and shook out his shoulders. "That'll clear out the old cobwebs!"
He had barely broken a sweat. None of the others seemed perturbed. Posey gaped. She was experiencing the interesting effect of too much alcohol and too much adrenalin in the same bloodstream. "Aren't you going to call the police?"
Leif shook his head. "Bad idea. They'd probably run me in too for carrying this." He held up the knife before returning it to his clothing. "I can't risk being arrested. Besides, that scare I threw into him is going to put a damper on him more than any jail time would. Gary, will you take care of the gun?"
Gary had retrieved the revolver from down the alleyway. "Sure thing. By tomorrow, this will be lying at the bottom of the Chicago river with all its little friends."
"I'll see that Posey gets home safely," Glenn volunteered.
"That isn't necessary," she said. It was just a short walk to the El and then another short walk to her apartment.
"Oh, yes, it's necessary," Leif said. "Dad really hates it when I keep the employees out too late and get them killed or worse. Linda, is your car back at the garage? Mine too -- I'll walk you to it."
They all split up outside the Rivers building, and poor Glenn had to listen to the babbling of a very wide awake drunk on the train ride home and the two blocks to her flat. It consisted of, "Did you ever see anything like that?"; "Leif kicked ass!"; and "Ranger friend? Does that mean Leif was Special Forces?" repeated over and over. To which Glenn patiently replied each time that, yes, he had seen something like that before and yes, Leif had indeed kicked ass. He left the last question unanswered, which led Posey to conclude that whatever Leif had done in the service, it had been top secret. Glenn even seemed to take her blatant admiration of Leif's martial arts prowess with good grace, as if adoring females gushing over Leif was nothing new either. Before she knew it, they were at her door. He helped her get her key into the lock, made sure she made it through the vestibule, and then walked off into the night with a parting smile.
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
Author's Notes: "A! Aragorn, sen i ardh i muddannem an edraith?" "Oh, Aragorn, is this the world we fought to save?"
Lyrics to 'Time of the Season,' which is played as background in this chapter, belong to Rod Argent of The Zombies. Lyrics to 'Nothing Else Matters' belong to Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield of Metallica. The words to the 'Lachrymosa' from the Requiem Mass belong to the Holy Roman Catholic Church and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart respectively. I believe the last is within the public domain, but I like to give credit where credit is due.
Playlist Navigation Bar