I’ll be vanishing into the land of dust weasels for a while. We’ve got a week of depositions lined up in a fiddly, cranky case I’m litigating. After it’s over, I might rant a LOT. In the meantime, I leave you with this little piece of Chicago, set in a world I’m working on with a friend. It’s mostly like our own…
(sorry for any formatting issues, I have to paste and run!)
“ewww, you’re right, it smells like pee.” Kyna wrinkles her nose and ducks under Jack’s arm where he’s gripping the upright pole, slipping into a seat that looks relatively clean.
“Yeah, tell me why we’re doing this again?” Yvette drops into the seat next to Kyna and hooks two fingers into Simon’s belt, tugging him closer. As the Red Line car fills, the pres of bodies drives him even farther toward her, until he’s actually straddling one of her jeans-clad knees.
“Because,” Jack scowls, stepping closer to Kyna and putting his shoulder between her and a tourist who has clearly been pregaming even though it’s still 10:00, “everybody should ride the Red Line to a Cubs game once. Exactly once.”
Kyna bounces a little in her plastic seat, twisting to look out the window at her back even though the train is still in the subway tunnels beneath the Loop and all there is to see is her own reflection.
“Chicago and State” the blurred voice of the conductor comes through the speakers, nearly drowned out in the excited chatter of fans and tourists in their blue and red. Jack leans in, showing Kyna the route map over the doors, how to track their stops, where the train will leave the tunnels after North and Clybourn and return to the elevated tracks it shares briefly with the Brown Line before continuing straight north to connect at Howard with trains to Evanston and Skokie.
More and more fans pack onto the already crowded train until Jack can see Simon is starting to get edgy down in the dark, when finally the train gathers itself and heaves and shudders its way out of the tunnel and onto the el tracks, churning dutifully past brick spires of churches and the shuttered back sides of apartment buildings. Kyna twists frantically sideways trying to take it all in, and Jack hunches his leather clad back to block out a space for her.
Yvette takes advantage of Kyna’s distraction to sneak a flask out of Simon’s back pocket and suck down a healthy gulp. Jack nudges her.
“Gonna get searched at the gate, so you know,” he reminds her.
Simon grins. “Roger that, youngster. Got a plan.”
“Six bucks a drink is highway robbery,” Yvette sniffs.
“Look, there’s Wrigley Field,” Jack touches Kyna’s shoulder, pointing. She wrinkles her nose.
“it looks tiny.”
“It is, for a pro ball field nowadays,” he tells her, “but there’s plenty of room. See over there on this buildings, the bleachers on top? The landlords for those places put them up. There was a big stink and they were gonna build higher walls around the field, but then a lot of people paid a lot of money to each other and now they’re like extra fancy box seats for rich people and the folks who live in those buildings. They even do barbecue and stuff on game days, see the smoke?”
“is that where we’re going?” Her eyes are huge and he really enjoys this, seeing the city the way she does like it’s for the first time, instead of the way it’s always been for him. He knows lots of landmarks in this area, alleys between here and boystown a few blocks east, a park where one time he rolled a bum for his boots, he was that desperate, and the spot he lost them to a bigger boy, months later but ironically close in distance. Faces, darkness, the spots where tourists don’t go.
“Nah,” he tells her nonchalantly. “We’re gonna sit in the regular stadium, and eat weird hot dogs and gross old cotton candy and do tourist crap and maybe buy a shirt or something for way too much money. Cause everybody should, once.”
“Once,” Yvette grouses, and he pretends that the jerking brakes of the train as they approach the Addison stop are throwing him off balance. His boot comes down on hers, and he knows she can barely feel it through the steel toecaps but it’s satisfying anyway.
The overburdened train finally shudders to a stop and the four of them allow themselves ot be swept off, moving with the crush of bodies onto the wooden platform, down the stairs (“these smell like pee too.” “And puke. Hold your breath.”) and out the clattering turnstiles. Kyna tries to hold his hand, but Jack shifts her in front of him, letting Simon and Yvette break trail through the crowd and creating a sheltered space, safe but exciting. Someone jostles against him in the crush, and he gets his hand between his wallet and the pickpocket’s fingers automatically, glaring at a sudden emptiness in the crowd to his right.
Simon was right, the search at the gate is no big deal, although Kyna’s indignant expression suggests that she doesn’t see the need.
“Sometimes there’s fights if the game goes bad,” he explains, steering her past gaudy stalls hawking branded merchandises and toward their gate. “but I’m pretty sure Simon and Yvette are better weapons than anything we could have brought in. If ‘vette’s not too drunk already.”
“Oy.” She scowls. “Hey, Kyna. Look, a sparkly pink Cubs tank top!”
“Walked into that one,” Simon nudges him.
“do i like the cubs?”
“Yeah,” Jack tells her. “It’s a Chicago thing. Cubs or Sox, and if you like the Sox I think we’re gonna have to break up. Tell you what, why don’t I get you a jacket so you can stop stealing mine?”
She punches him in the shoulder, harder than he expects, and scowls up at the racks of shirts, hoodies, pajamas, and pennants on display. “can i have whatever i want? what if it’s expensive?”
“Don’t look at the prices. It’s a date, little girl. You’re supposed to let me pay for stuff.” He crosses his arms over his chest and grins. It’s neat being the one with the money. Using it to make someone happy. He can feel the crinkle of the envelope in his jacket pocket, the one Angus slipped him after their meeting yesterday, a wad of cash he didn’t really need but took anyway, understanding the intent behind it, no strings attached, ‘you show her a good time,’ and he knows it makes Angus feel good to do things like that, even if Jack doesn’t need the money. So sure, he’s got the cash to buy whatever she wants, and then some.
In the end, she picks out a tank top, pajama pants, and yes, a hoodie with the old logo. “i like the bear face,” she tells him. “it looks like Simon’s dad.” Yvette cracks up and pats Simon right on the… hip flask.
“I hate you all,” he informs them. “Let’s find our seats and get this over with.”
Their seats are near the top back of the stadium, just out into left field past the third base. Yvette complains that nobody’s going to catch a ball over here, but that was part of what Jack wanted when he bought the tickets- up high enough that they’re out of the serious fans and crush of the crowd, which makes them all a little edgy. He brought binoculars, and they take turns explaining the action to Kyna- especially Simon, who it turns out has been dragged to what seems like more Cubs games than Jack’s been alive for (“My dad,” he explains sheepishly, and Yvette gets the tipsy giggles again).
By the fifth inning the Cubs are down 5-0 and it’s starting to look ugly on the field. Simon starts telling the old legends about the goat and the field to distract everyone from the dismal picture, and Yvette goes down to the concession stands “for lemonade” even though it’s still so chilly up in the wind that blows through the stands that Kyna’s in her new hoodie on top of the sweater she was already wearing.
“That’s gonna freeze you from the inside out,” Jack points out when Yvette gets back.
“Not even slightly,” she grins back. “Want some? I won’t tell your mommies and daddies, kids.”
Kyna’s getting wide-eyed, and Jack scowls, then takes the spiked cup from Yvette and takes a healthy swig. Oof. Vodka, he thinks, and cocks his head at her.
“Limoncello. Um, like Grand Marnier for lemons,” she explains, and he feels awkward again, out of place. It’s something fancy, of course. He should have known. One more reminder that he’s not really like them.
“can i have some?” Kyna takes a swipe at the cup, snapping him loose from introspection.
“Your folks let you drink?” Jack hunches over the cup and Simon rolls his eyes.
“sometimes at home when they have wine with dinner. and on holidays and stuff.” Her chin’s got that stubborn set that he’s learning means he’s got to either give in or come up with a damn fine alternative. Which he can’t think of at the moment, so he hands the cup over.
“So, careful. It’s stronger than wine.” He watches as she tips the cup up defiantly and then hands it back to Yvette, coughing a little.
“it’s still cold,” she scowls at Yvette. “you said it was warm.”
Jack turns down the next round, although with the Cubs giving up two runs in the sixth and another two in the seventh he starts to wonder if he shouldn’t have given in. Kyna gets the giggles somewhere in there, and then gets chilly again, and Jack glares at Yvette and Simon, who have given up any pretense of paying attention to the game and are swapping fight stories and passing Simon’s flask back and forth.
“jack. i’m still cold.” Kyna’s looking at him pointedly, and he’s sure he’s missing a cue somewhere, but he can’t for the life of him think what it is. He starts to shrug out of his jacket to give her another layer, but she stops him. “you’ll freeze too.”
And then she plunks herself down in his lap and crawls halfway into his jacket with him, leaning her cheek on his shoulder and tucking her feet up on her abandoned seat. Her hair is everywhere, like warm silk over his neck and shoulder, and she burrows into his chest with a contented little noise. He really has no choice but to put his arms around her so she doesn’t slide off his lap, and they watch the rest of the eighth inning like that.
“Hey, Kyna,” he nudges her at the top of the ninth, “They’re not gonna come back from this. You wanna stick it out, or go get something to eat, someplace warmer?” She mumbles something into his neck about being warm already, giving him little shivers where her breath stirs the tiny hairs.
“Hey, tell her your legs are asleep. Girls love to hear how fat they are,” Simon says one seat over, from under an Yvette-shaped blanket which wakes up exactly enough to throw an elbow into his ribs. Jack hears something crack and winces.
“Seriously, though, unless you guys really wanna see Maholm get the shutout, let’s dodge the crowd, ok?” He eases Kyna off his lap and Simon untangles himself from Yvette, or maybe it’s the other way around, and they edge their way down the row of dejected fans with their half-empty beers. They’re not alone in the idea, but most of Chicago is used to the Cubs losing by now and will stick it out to the bitter end, hoping against hope that at least the Pirates won’t get the shutout. They’re doomed to disappointment, of course, but it keeps the crowd pressure down as Simon leads the little party toward the exit and out into the sunlight, startlingly bright and warm after the cold shadowy bleachers.
“C’mon, we can get a cab up on Addison.” Jack starts to lead them along the stadium wall toward the street.
“It’s shorter to go the other way,” Yvette balks.
“This way is a nicer walk,” he insists, tugging Kyna’s hand in the direction he wants to go, which, yes, is longer, but which also doesn’t lead past certain shadowed alleys and doorways in his memory, through the scent of old food and older beer.
“It’s not,” she growls, “this way has more sun and I can get you in a cab and then we,” staring pointedly at Simon, “can go play.”
“i want to play too.”
“Ky, the only thing I want to play right now is find the pizza, ok?” He’s getting a little desperate, trying the bribe, but she’s got her Irish feet dug in now.
“let’s go.” She lets go of his hand and starts to follow ‘vette and Simon around the corner. He’s staring helplessly after them, unable to make his feet move, when he sees it.
Sees might not be the right word. It’s almost a smell, a breath of air, and it’s bad. So very bad. He thought at first that it was just old memories crowding in, but it’s not. The three boys leaning on the wall near the mouth of the alley across the street are simply not right. He doesn’t know what it is, and then he finally pegs what’s bothering him. When they move, their shadows don’t. Or, the shadows persist in place a moment longer than they should.
“Hey. Greengirl.” He uses his business voice, work names. It stops Yvette in her tracks. “Playtime.”
“Where?” Simon asks, turning back, as the boys start to move, to close distance. Before Jack can get the words out, Simon – sorry, Greenman – has them pegged, and is moving. There’s no-one on the street and the sun feels a little colder.
He’s fast, Simon is. He’s across the street and into the shadows with the boys before Jack can get to Kyna and pull her back into the sunlight. Yvette is hardly slower, covering ground in a quick blur of sneakers on broken glass. They’re on the three boys quickly, moving back into the alley, but Jack can smell the wrongness back there too, and he has to warn them.
“C’mon.” He drags Kyna with him to a better vantage point, closer to where Simon’s grappling with the thing that is no longer a boy. Simon has the height and speed advantage, but the thing is growing mouths everywhere Jack can see, and Kyna makes a little “eep” noise and ducks behind him. “Hold my hand. Don’t let go for anything, ok?” he tells her, and can feel her nod against his back.
The alley is darker than it should be, Jack thinks, and he can more than feel the other things lurking in the shadow, low to the ground and hungry. He needs more light, he thinks, or less shadow, and strains against the darkness, seeking.
“Oh, hey,” Yvette says, from where she’s pulling the extra arms off her opponent. “Wouldja look at that.”
“Now, where did you come from, you little bastards?” Simon chimes in, dropping what now looks like a bundle of dripping rags and turning to confront the five spidery shapes skittering toward them in the suddenly less-dim alley. Yvette hands him an arm. “Thanks, sweetheart.” He wades in swinging.
It’s a fast fight, and Simon and Yvette don’t look particularly winded when they’re done, but Jack can already feel the cold edge of approaching dark, like twilight at the edge of his vision.
“We need to get backup or get gone,” he tells Yvette, and she pouts but accepts the necessity. Jack’s already starting to get a rep for making the right call at the right time, and this is work, not play, now. Cleanup crews are on their way, courtesy of a quick phone call, but he also knows Kyna’s parents are going to worry, especially if this turns into something as major as it’s starting to feel like it might.
Simon shepherds them all the mere half-block back to sun and sanity, steering Jack by one bony shoulder so he doesn’t have to pay attention to anything but that othersense he’s starting to depend on more and more.
“Twenty minutes, maybe? Until the first ones get here. But there’s lots.” He’s torn- his job is here, but…
“Get your girl home,” Simon frowns. “Come back after, if you can, catch up with the rest of the team. I can’t believe we didn’t spot this.”
“Got it.” He’s relieved not to be the one making the decisions, and he shuffles Kyna into the cab Yvette’s got flagged down as quickly as he can, but not before putting a hand on the door and really opening his senses. The worst thing they could do right now is get in a bad cab, without the rest of their team to back them up. But it’s clean, so he gets her settled, doublechecks his wallet for fare and tip, and slides in next to her as the cab takes off, wandering with apparently aimless speed toward home.
“Sorry. Your folks are gonna kill me,” he says as she snuggles into him.
“no they’re not. i had a good time. did you see yvette pull the…glmph!” He claps a hand over her mouth.
“We’re not going to talk about them… sneaking booze into the game. Got it?” He turns her head until she’s looking at the cabbie, and holds it there until he feels her nod. “‘K. Cause I really don’t want any of us to get in trouble, do you?” Another nod, then a shake. He lets go.
“sorry.” Her voice is even smaller than usual.
“Oh, hey, no, you’re fine. Just don’t, y’know…” He puts an arm awkwardly around her, and she hugs him back, tightly. “… break my ribs like ‘vette’s always trying to do to Simon.” She laughs into his chest, and he stops worrying for a moment that he’s upset or offended her somehow.
“you still owe me dinner,” she tells him later, watching him doublecheck his gear on the way to the cars.
“Yeah, but…” he bites it off.
“so you have to come back. because dinner.” She takes his face in both hands and kisses him quickly and fiercely. “promise.”
He reaches up to cup her wrists, leaning back slightly until his face is free and her hands are clasped between his. Dipping his head to kiss her fingertips, he looks at her solemnly.
“This time and every time. I’ll come back to you. Promise.”
Then the tram is at the garage, and his team’s waiting in the SUV, and he slips into the driver’s seat and does his best to look at the road instead of the rear view mirror as they pull out onto the darkening Chicago streets.