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Monday, June 30, 2014

DARCY, Excerpt #12

Vincent watched her as he opened the envelope by feel. Inside was a photo -- an old-style Polaroid, by the thick, square stiffness. He wasn't sure what he waited for as he watched her, trying to anticipate her purpose. Then he looked at the photo and felt just like he did when he saw Josh and Geneva smiling in the photo on top of the stack of data in the Spike Center folder. Like the floor had dissolved underneath him and the lights had gone out for a moment. Like he fell downward and backwards through time, and the sands of memory that engulfed him threatened to suffocate him.
All five of them, twenty-five years younger, filthy from a successful mission, gathered around a table in some backwater dive. Snow, Javelin, Shadow, Daedelus, and Midas. Vincent marveled at the callous hardness in their faces, could hear the boisterous voices as they raised their glasses in a toast, splashing bad beer over each other and the cluster of glasses that filled the table from three previous rounds of drinks. All of them young, strong, full of life and fury, and for a brief moment united in celebrating their success. Handsome in a glaring, dangerous way. So young, unscarred.
He remembered the thin, hungry girl who took their picture with an old Polaroid before they knew she was there. He remembered how Snow had cursed her and Shadow laughed, using charm to try to get her to hand the picture over without having to pay for it. That was what the poor child did to earn a living -- take photos of people having a drunken good time and get them to pay too much for it. Despite her terror, the girl had understood that they wouldn't pay for the photo and they wouldn't let her leave with it, and she had run. Daedelus/Josh went after her, chasing her out of the bar, and came back with the photo less than ten minutes later.
Vincent's hand shook, remembering how Snow had vanished from the table a short time later. When they left the bar maybe an hour later, he stepped out of the shadows with the camera in his hands and a cold smile on his face. Vincent hadn't thought until just that moment what Snow had probably done to the girl to get the camera. He liked torturing children. When the powers-that-be sent him on solo jobs, they knew he would get the job done if the targets had children he could torment and "play with" after he had murdered the parents.
Funny, how Darcy had been able to match him up with the man in the photo, despite the years, the bad lighting, the filth, and the fact that his lack of soul showed so clearly. Vincent slid the old photo back in the envelope and handed it back to her.
       "What did your dad tell you about us, about the men in that picture?" He found some amusement in the realization that he didn't want Joan to see the photo.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

DARCY, Excerpt #11

In response, Darcy held out her left hand. She was right-handed. Vincent held out his left hand, and had to consciously keep his arm extended when the girl grasped his wrist and turned his arm to reveal the underside, the skin slightly lighter -- enough to reveal his tattoo in red and black ink on his bicep, just above the cup of his elbow.
Vincent had thought about removing the tattoo for years. The insignia -- a stylized Omega wreathed in flames -- had been designed by someone among the powers-that-be who had tried to program him to be a heartless, cold-blooded killing machine. He had considered it like a brand, proclaiming the ownership someone had tried to take on him, body, mind and soul. The tattoo was marred by a thin line of scar tissue right down the middle, from where he had dug out the subcutaneous transponder that let his trainers/owners track him down no matter where he went in the world.
"Dad has the same tattoo, the same scar," Darcy said. Her hand grasping his wrist started to tremble. Vincent snatched at it when she let go and tried to pull away.
"What'd he tell you?" he asked, keeping his voice soft.
Behind Darcy, Joan waited, watching him, arms spread slightly, as if she thought the girl would try to run and she had to stop her.
"He doesn't know you're here. What do you know about him?" She licked her lips and had to visibly fight to meet his gaze. "Were you telling the truth, that you're a Christian?"
"Only thing keeping me sane, sometimes. What has your dad told you about me -- about us?"
          "Not much." She reached into her sweatpants pocket, pulled out a square envelope, and handed it to him.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

DARCY, Excerpt #10

"Good morning!" the young woman sang out. Her wide-boned face glowed from scrubbing and no make-up. Her long hair was pulled back in a single braid, hanging over her shoulder almost to her waist. She slung a blue motorcycle helmet into the corner by the stairs and tossed a heavy key ring into it.
"How's it going, sunshine?" Vincent said, crossing the room to the wall rack where three katanas hung on display.
"Morning comes earlier every day. How come the earlier the sun comes up, the longer I want to sleep?" She grinned at him, nearly upside down as she bent over to unlace her boots.
"Lazy." His single word, heavy with scorn, earned a giggle.
In the doorway, Joan cocked an eyebrow at him and turned to take a closer look at Darcy. Vincent noted her reaction, pleased that she was immediately intrigued by this girl. He hoped they became friends quickly.
Darcy might need Joan's friendship and support in the days to come.
"Say that when I have a sword in my hand." Darcy stood and levered her boot off her left foot with the toe of her right boot.
"Big words for a little girl." Vincent tossed a katana across the intervening space.
Darcy swooped up underneath it and caught it with a resounding smack against her palm. Grinning, she toed off her socks and advanced onto the practice mats. She shifted her grip to two-handed and held the sword parallel with the floor, chest-level, waiting.
"That's Joan, by the way," Vincent said, gesturing toward the office door with his chin. "And her fuzzy shadow, Ulysses."
"Hi," Darcy said, never taking her eyes off her teacher.
"Hi yourself," Joan murmured.
"I just hired her to help out here when I move over to the Center. Maybe later we'll see just how good you are compared to her. She might just wipe the floor with your sorry little butt," he continued, grinning.
"Don't try to distract me, Vincent," Darcy said with a chuckle. "It worked last time, but it won't work again."
"She's such a good student. Check out her technique, Joan, and see what she's doing wrong."
           Joan murmured agreement as she slid down to the floor and settled down cross-legged to watch. Vincent swung, twisting his body sideways to alter the angle of descent. Darcy met the blow with an upward swing and danced out of the way. Ulysses lay down next to Joan, his head on her thigh, and she absently rubbed his back as she watched the sparring.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

DARCY, Excerpt #9

The days slid by faster than she thought possible, when she was so worried about Roger. Darcy thought she would hate continuing her lessons with Vincent, both because he didn't know how she worked, what Roger had told her about swordplay and self-defense, and because she knew she would be constantly comparing him to Roger. It was easier going to the dojo than she anticipated. Part of it was because Vincent made sure to update her on what he knew of the search for Roger. Anything Saundra told him, he passed on to her.
She liked Vincent. He presented an appearance of being big and dangerous and lethal, but she saw him with some of the children who came with their mothers for exercise classes. He would do simple magic tricks for them, or walk them through seemingly complicated martial arts maneuvers, sometimes flipping them up in the air so for a few seconds it seemed as if they flew. By the end of the first week at the dojo, some of the bolder children would sneak up on him with squirt guns or to shout "boo!' and run away, squealing with delight when he pretended rage and then chased after them. He always caught them, turning the chase into a wrestling match, but the children always ended up on top, bouncing on his chest or his back. The mothers loved him. Darcy sometimes thought several of them would quite gladly fall in love with him if he ever showed any interest.
Twice when she arrived a little early for lessons, she found him sitting on the steps out front, reading his Bible. Once Saundra asked her to come to the dojo to fill in for Vincent. When Darcy got there, the other women in the class told her that an ex-boyfriend who refused to be ex had followed one of the women to the dojo. He had a gun. Vincent disarmed him, tied him up, called the police, and then took the woman and her children to a women's shelter where they could go to vanish.
         It was the most natural thing in the world to vent to Vincent when she showed up for a lesson, still fuming about a problem that had struck the Center the evening before. Darcy hadn't meant to tell him about it -- she had learned early that discretion was necessary in the kind of work her parents did -- but Vincent noticed right away that her thoughts were elsewhere and asked her what was wrong. Before she knew it, she was sitting on a stack of mats with her borrowed katana resting on her knees, spilling the details of yet another casualty of the slander hitting the Spike Center.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

DARCY, Excerpt #8

She pulled the door open and let out a squeak of surprise when she came face-to-face with Doug, who was pushing the door open. For three seconds they stared at each other, wide-eyed.
"Uh -- sorry." Doug raked the fingers of one hand through his hair. "Grandma got on me about -- about before."
"Doug--"
"I was wrong. Grandma says everybody is a victim of some scheme to make this place fold." Two spots of red lit his cheeks and he couldn't look her in the eyes anymore. "She said I'm being hard on Roger because maybe I'm jealous."
"Jealous of what?" Her voice cracked. She grabbed his hand, dragged him into the office, and closed the door. The last thing she wanted or needed was someone to overhear this conversation if it was going where she thought it was going.
"You know." He stole a glance at her and looked away, pretending great interest in the tack board on the far wall.
Darcy almost said, "Uh, no, tell me," but her throat closed up and her face felt hot.
Thanks, God! Maybe Doug really is interested. Enough to be stupid. Please, don't let him be that stupid, though, okay?
"I guess Martha overheard us fighting," she said instead.
"Didn't hear, but she saw enough, and then she put me through the third degree." He let out a shaking breath and met her eyes again for a moment. "She said we just have to trust God to bring justice and trip up the enemy with his own plans, and if I was going to twist things around and see Roger as a rival, then I was insulting you and I was--" He choked.
"What?"
         "You know how Grandma is. Testosterone poisoning causing brain damage. Along with a lot of hormones." He shrugged, but even though the red flush in his cheeks spread out, he grinned and met her eyes now and didn't look away.

Friday, June 20, 2014

DARCY, Excerpt #7

"You need something to put a smile back on your face. Not that I approve of how your father spoils you rotten."
Darcy snorted, her mouth trembling upwards.
"But just to show you how much your happiness means to me, what say I find you a new master of swordplay to continue your lessons -- just until Roger clears away his troubles? Eh? How does that sound?"
"Well, it sounds like a waste of time, because I know everything will be back to normal tomorrow."
"Indulge a silly old man."
"You're not silly and you're not old."
"Ah, me, such flattery. You do have a way with words, my dear." He slid his arm around her shoulders and they walked around the corner in perfect step. "If I were a younger man, I'd lay my heart at your feet."
"Sounds kind of messy, to me."
He let out a bark of laughter and hugged her closer. "Promise me something while I'm out of town?"
When Darcy was a child, she would have instantly said, "Anything!" After all, he was her Uncle Karl, who gave her treats and made it possible to have adventures her parents couldn't afford, and now paid for her sword and self-defense lessons, and filled her head with stories about all the foreign countries and cities he had visited. Now, however, after the danger and heartache she had seen in the cities she had lived in with her parents, and the rescue missions they had renovated together, Darcy had learned caution. Even with her beloved adopted uncle -- who, now that she thought about it, had been the first to caution her never to make open-ended promises.
"If it doesn't get in the way of my classes and my work here."
"That's my darling girl. Always provide yourself a back door to escape through." Van Mournen stopped them, released her, and turned her to face him. "Check on the treasure room for me?"
"Like you have to ask?"
          "Never assume anything, darling." He winked and patted her cheek. "Swords, even the most elegant and ancient, need regular handling. Until Roger comes back and your lessons resume, take out one each day and do some shadow-fighting, will you? Keep your hand in, learn balance, and let the swords know they're still loved, eh?"

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

DARCY, Excerpt #6

Joan thought about Vincent's remark about faerie tales. She wondered if he was thinking about Anne, and her tendency to deal with painful subjects by dressing them in faerie tale language. Maybe he was thinking more of George, how childlike he had become. When he wasn't speaking the language of cars or making intricate origami figures, he wavered between a passion for faerie tales and in-depth Bible studies that would leave a seminary professor breathless. Knowing a little more of George's past -- she would never have guessed that Vincent and George knew each other before coming to Quarry Hall -- Joan could understand a little bit the wide disparity in how the damaged, childlike man's mind and soul worked.
"Did you ever think," George said, suddenly appearing at Joan's open door, "that King Midas destroyed everything with his golden touch?"
"Uh -- in the faerie tale, he nearly starved to death because all his food turned to gold," she said, thinking quickly.
"He had to be baptized, and he nearly drowned, to wash away the curse of the golden touch." He nodded solemnly, and something flickered in his eyes, old pain and terror and what Joan feared was rage. It died before she could be sure. "I don't really think it happened yet, do you?"
"Didn't happen?"
"I think Midas still needs to have it all washed away. Make sure you don't get turned to gold when you hold him down in the water, okay?" He grasped her shoulder, squeezing hard enough to make her hiss.
Joan thought of the killer he had once been, code name Snow, a man who had been coming to kill Vincent before someone nearly killed him.
"Okay." She met his eyes and hated the momentary fear she felt for the old man she had always considered pitiable. Somewhere between an adorable, clumsy puppy and a slightly crazy old uncle.
         "Make Vincent be good," he whispered, bending down to hug her hard and fast, before scampering away, back to the service pit he had emerged from nearly an hour before.