Valentine's Meal

[Today's stories come from Valentine's Day 2 years ago. But before I get there: I wanted to punch it up a bit with a few ARTISTIC paintings. I had tremendous fun looking for those. I found some I loved, but I simply couldn't put here. However, I didn't want you to miss out, so go vote for your favorite Rejected Painting over on Monkey Barn.

Anyway, there are three stories here today: a quick little appetizer to get you going, the main course, and for those of you who like whipped cream and a cherry on top, a special dessert. (It was actually the very first story of this kind I ever posted, and wound up being the inspiration for Hyperion After Dark. Enjoy. - H]

The Hyperion Chronicles
“Say my website name…Say it!”

#379 Valentine’s Meal

Flowers candy, jewelry; all that stuff works well. But what a woman wants most of all is your time. Today I have a banquet of stories you can read your lady that she will appreciate. Or, just read them yourself to get into the right mood.

The lights of the club are low, save the spotlight on your face. You sit in your white sequined dress, skin-tight and looking fabulous, as you belt out throaty renditions of your favorite songs. The club is smoky, and so is your voice, as it purrs; slides over each note as if caressing a lover.
You look out into the audience, sitting at their tables, drinking their drinks, watching you watch them. Will any of them be lucky to talk to you after the show? Which one will you choose?
The soft snare of the drum, the low thrum of the bass, the tinkling of the keys as he slides up and down the ivory. All of these elements are here to accentuate your voice, your style, all of you. The crowd is enraptured, which is just what you want.
As you swivel back and forth, looking each member of the audience in the eye your tight white sequined dress strains, moving with you, moving against you. Of this too, the audience approves.
You notice one man in the back. He’s reading something, paying no attention to you whatsoever. Big deal, you think. It’s just one guy. This entire crowd is hanging on your every word, living for your next note to fall from your lips.
But that one man….he intrigues you. Everyone eating out of the palm of your hand, but you are fascinated by the one man who seems unaffected by your sultry presence. You can’t take your mind or eyes off of him the rest of the show.
After, you walk through the crowd in your tight white sequined dress, taking in your adulation, the hopeful faces. Can I buy you a drink? Can I drive you home? You smile, touch an arm here, raise and eyebrow there, but keep moving through the crowd. You’re making your way to the back, where he still hasn’t looked up once. You, who controlled this room all night, are suddenly nervous, and your hand strays to smooth your tight white sequined dress.
Taking a deep breath you make the last few steps to his table, waiting for him to notice you. You’re there for a few seconds, an eternity, and then he slowly puts down his book and raises his head. His charcoal eyes flame to life as they bore into you, seem to see beneath that tight white sequined dress, to see you unmasked, unclothed. He looks at you for the longest time, and then with a half smile he says, “What took you so long?”

Main Course

They stumbled in from the cold. The fear of the day was fading, leaving only the flush of excitement. By tomorrow the Grade 9 class at the K. Redman Academy would hear mighty tales of life-and-death, and maybe some bravery too.
Salvador was in last. Casa flickered in recognition, and its voice greeted him. “Good evening, Salvador. Are we in for the night?”
“Yes, Casa.” Salvador answered. “Please alert me if there are any bedroom lights on or talking in“—Salvador glanced at his watch—“20 minutes.” He turned to his charges and hardened his voice. “There are to be no waves sent to friends about any misadventures. Casa will tell me that too, won’t you?”
The lights flickered twice.
“If these rules are broken, I will have no choices but to march you all over to the ball and explain to your parents—“
He let the threat hang in the air. In truth, it was a bluff. Salvador would be in as much if not more trouble than the kids, but they didn’t know that. He bored his eyes into them for a few more seconds and then waved the kids away. “Go.”
There was a flurry of activity as five teenagers tied to simultaneously take off coats, gloves and boots as arms emerged from the hall closet to accept them. In a few frantic seconds the commotion subsided and Salvador was left on the landing alone with Paula.
Paula was blessed with midnight curly hair, which fell over her shoulders and back in luxurious waves. Below expressive eyebrows were luminous eyes, almond shaped and liquid cocoa. Below lay a delicate nose and full red lips. She had fine sun kissed skin. As for the rest of her body, well, Salvador wouldn’t even allow himself to look, and he tried his best not to even think of the curved highway that must lie beneath Paula’s usual baggy clothing.
The two of them stood in silence, staring at each other, the experience of the evening still fresh in their minds. Salvador found he had a hard time breathing all of a sudden, and was it just him or was the hallway getting narrower?
Casa seemed to sense the situation and dimmed the lights without warning. Both Salvador and Paula jumped and found themselves standing inches away. Paula traced the lines of Salvador’s face in her mind, wishing her fingers could make the exercise more tactile. She loved his dark brooding eyes and strong jaw and the way his face would remain calm even when he was upset.
Salvador seemed to have forgotten how to speak, so with a sudden boldness that surprised even her, Paula said, “You look like you’re about to kiss me.”
Salvador jumped back as if scalded, falling over a boot that had failed to make its way home. Salvador laid there, sprawled out, breathing heavily. The only other sound was a low chuckle from the ceiling: Casa found this situation very amusing.
* * *
“You’re not the first to have this job.” Mrs. Swanson told Salvador matter-of-factly. “In fact, you’re the sixth. The others were all unable to perform their duties.”
Salvador looked at Mrs. Swanson dubiously. “Are you sure we’re talking about the same job?” he asked. I was told it entailed watching a few kids on nights when you and your husband had official functions.”
“Make no mistake, Mr. Madison.” Mrs. Swanson cut him off. “These kids are a handful. They’re teenagers, and more so.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “In truth, it’s my daughter, Paula. I’m convinced that the others would be more well behaved, but Paula is, hmm…spirited. Frankly, I have yet to find someone who was able to control her.”
“Not to worry.” Salvador said with confidence. “When I was an undergrad, I interned at Chr├ętien Federal Prison. I know how to keep people in line.”
“You’re going to treat the children as prisoners?” Mrs. Swanson said with a raised eyebrow.
“That wasn’t what I—“
“No, no: you may be right. For sure nothing else has worked.”
The children were: Paula, her best friend Erin, the boys Jiffy and Kipp, and Kipp’s sister Deana. From the beginning Salvador was mesmerized by Paula. Erin and Deana were cute girls to be sure—and flirtatious to beat the band---but Paula had the self-possession and bearing not of a girl, but of a woman. She fought him constantly, and though she aggravated him to no end, there was also an attraction there, even if he didn’t want to admit it. However, the girls were 13 and 14, and at 22, Salvador couldn’t even permit such thoughts, let alone act on them.
Salvador did indeed treat his charges as prisoners. Don’t feel sorry for them: it was most definitely necessary. That Paula defied him at almost every turn. The very first night she took off with the gang in tow, and it took Salvador 45 minutes to find them.
He was ready, though. When Salvador walked into the Dennito’s Diner, he carried with him leg irons, not seen since the old days of the Chain Gang. Virtual cuffs had been the standard for some 30 years now, and none of the kids had even heard of chains.
How humiliating it was for them as Salvador marched the group home. Paula was in the lead, and Salvador made her stop each Citizen as they passed by and say, “I ran away like a little kid. I cannot be trusted, so I am in these leg irons.” Paula complained bitterly, but Salvador told her it was that or he take off his belt.
They all hated him. None of the kids would talk to Salvador for days, except Paula, if only to hurl insults. Salvador found himself enjoying the presence of her company, even if she was yelling a blue streak, but he was careful to keep his behavior to her polite and aloof.
Over the next two weeks Paula led six more “prison breaks.” Salvador trumped her at every turn. The last time he took the gang—in leg irons—to the school, where the boys’ Wizard team was playing. Paula had learned to be nonchalant about the Citizens; but teenage boys were another matter.
After that there were no more attempts at mutiny. The kids did their schoolwork and studied for exams quietly, then entertained themselves with a movie or a game of water-bottle ball.
Salvador was glad the kids had settled down, so he could study for Replicant Neurology. With the lull in activity Salvador eased his guard. Just a bit.
And that’s what Paula was counting on. The next day, she struck. The moment Salvador walked in the door, he knew something was wrong.
“Casa.” Salvador barked, a note of fear in his voice. “Where are they?”
Casa said nothing. More shrilly Salvador repeated the question, to continued silence. Frantic, Salvador ran to the control room. There he saw that Casa’s command module had been infected with a spider. Salvador hit the “Override Reset” button, and sat there, seething. He weighed how long it would take to fix Casa, and what information Casa might know about the kids’ whereabouts, Grabbing his coat and a flame rod, Salvador left at a dead run.
It was colder, not as many Citizens out and about, but Salvador stopped every single one and asked about Erin, Deana, Jiffy, Kipp and Paula, too.
Oh, let her be all right, Salvador breathed.
He got nothing. It was as if no one on ‘Couver Island had seen them at all. Real desperation was starting to set in. Each of these kids had parents who were officials in the government. A high-profile kidnapping like this could turn into a political nightmare. Salvador would be so shamed that he would not be allowed to commit Ling-Kuk to ease the burden. More than that, Salvador had come to care for these stupid kids.
All of them.
Trusting his instincts, Salvador stopped asking Citizens and started in on the baser members of ‘Couver: always trust the Criminal Element to know what’s going over honest folk. Within minutes a “milkshake” dealer told Salvador he’d seen a group of five teens around the R. McNeil Federal Bank.
Salvador thanked the man gratefully with a 10 Cuervo note, but the man grabbed his arm. “It’s not good news, amigo. When I saw them were talking to one of Baksagian's Boys.”
If Salvador thought politically motivated kidnapping was his worst nightmare, he was mistaken. Salvador couldn’t get there fast enough.
Entering the lobby at a sprint Salvador looked around wildly. He saw them, and relief flooded his body. So happy was Salvador, that it took him a minute to remember the higher-mammal function of discrete counting.
1, 2, 3, 4. Where was Paula?
None of the kids looked smug any more. Salvador marched up to Deana, and with barely controlled fury Salvador barked, “Spill. All. Now.”
In a rush Deana spilled. “We were talking to these two guys who were really cute and one of them said their friend might like Paula and they were going to take her to him and we tried to say no but one of them pulled a glow-glass on us and said he’d use it and then Paula said for all of us to be quiet and she told the guys she’s go with them if they didn’t hurt us and they agreed but they said we couldn’t call you or they would hurt her and they took off about 20 minutes ago and that’s it.”
Salvador and Deana were both breathing hard by the time she finished. “Where did they go?” he demanded.
“Darko’s Quay.”
Salvador was halfway to the door when he thought of the situation. Turning around, he ordered the herd. “Sit.” They sat down on a bench against the wall, pictures of the Russian-Canadian war framed overhead.
“Do. Not. Move.” Salvador menaced. “And if I return to find you in a different spot under those pictures, I will consider you to have moved.”
A tourist couple walked by, taking pictures. Salvador walked over and took the camera, taking and then printing the kids’ image. Shaking the picture at them with a snarl, Salvador again headed out into the night.
* * *
Salvador and Paula stood in the landing, just looking at each other. The events of the evening washed over him. How in the world had he ever managed to bluff Baksagian into thinking that lowly Salvador was a Registered Matador? Their close call was both exhilarating and terrifying.
Now they were both here. And Paula had just accused him of trying to kiss her. Or at least wanting to (which was true enough). He was her savior, her protector, her hero. Would it really be so bad?
What was he thinking? It was worth more than his skin to even contemplate such thoughts. “Paula,” he told her haltingly, “You’re a lovely girl, believe me. If things were different—Paula, I was 22 last month! You’re 14!”
“No, I’m not.” Paula said, surprised. “I’ll be 18 at midnight. That’s why we broke out tonight. Deana said we had to go party, and even though I’ve been trying to be good, it was my birthday.”
“You’re not 14?” Salvador said, a stupid expression on his face.
“No. My dad just lumped me in with the rest of them because there’s no one at the Embassy with kids my age.
Salvador thought this over. “Casa,” he said, “what time is it?”
“11:58 pm,” Casa said.
“Casa. Kill the lights.”

[If that's not enough for you, here is the dessert, written over on Hyperion After Dark. Make sure no one's reading over your shoulder, and have a glass of water nearby, for this is how we do it: Just Like That]

February 14, 2006

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