Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chapter 2,3: Warnings

Havana is a Subtle Clue of the fan fiction variety. 

It's also a tribute to Puerto Rico. And why not? The whole of my social life currently consists of playing it with my fellow UBC Wargamer old farts on Friday nights.  It's fun, and since for some reason we play out in public on the very nice tables in the South Plaza lounge outside the Student Union Building cafeteria, I get field experience with The Young Folks Today, in the form of undergraduates on their way to and from the Pit pub.  
(They're pretty cool, I think. We don't even get old-fashioned suggestions that we need to get a life because we're all nerds now. Cool. Cool cool cool.) 

Chapter 2, 3: Warnings

“You talk funny, sis,” Chris gritted, watching the odd-looking girl on the ground with the inexplicable goatee as she raised her pistol.
“Get with the times, bro. What is your plan?”
Finally, the girl’s gun was level with the Wong kids. Chris grabbed his sister in his arms and jumped, putting the trunk of the old sycamore tree between them and the gun. “This,” he said, cutting off the word as he landed in the St. Elizabeth’s churchyard, so close to old Elizabeth Dawson cenotaph that he was practically on the grave.
Charlotte squirmed her way out of his arms and dashed for the church porch. “Come on, Chris!” There were guns. He didn’t need to be encouraged twice. The door was open. They dashed inside.
Chris took a breath while Charlotte stopped to cross herself at the font. Then she looked at him angrily. “What the  ….heck were you doing, Chris? That woman had a gun on  us?”
“Not the first time that’s happened to me,” Chris muttered.
“What? What? Why didn’t you tell me.”
“You remember when Garth Jasper got shot in the foot?”
“The guy that did it held up the whole party for a minute, first.”
“It’s not enough to have a gun. You’ve got to show it, let everyone see that you’re in charge. That girl was trying to scare us. I just had to wait for her to take the muzzle out of line.”
“I hope that I’m not interrupting anything.” A priest walked out of the sacristy. Bizarrely, he had another of those big umbrellas that Rafaella carried, held in a reverse grip in his left hand,, making it look even more like a sword.
“No, Father. It’s just that there were these people chasing us-“ Charlotte began.
“Oh, I know,” the priest said. “Here, come to the window.”
Brother and sister went to a clear glass window set into the wall midway down the church on the eastern side, facing the alley that separated the Golden Dragon, gas station, and church from the abandoned Gennesee Elementary School. Outside, May, Jamie, and Rebecca stood over the three thugs, who were tied up, kneeling on the ground. Mr. and Mrs. Wong stood on the restaurant porch like a king and queen judging the guilty.
“You’ve got to give them credit for courage, “the priest said. “Trying to snatch you right out from under the nose of the Furious Fist and the Celestial Mare. But did they know the odds?”
“You know Uncle Henry’s secret identity?” Charlotte asked. Chris gritted his teeth again. There was no point in just giving information away like that.
“Of course. We’re old comrades in arm, from back before I got my parishes. I’m Father Asplin, by the way. You must be Christopher and Charlotte Wong. I gather that you’re old parishioners.”
“I was confirmed here last year. I mean, 37 years ago. I mean-“ Charlotte trailed off.
“I’m a Buddhist,” Chris said. Then cursed himself. Just because Father Murphy was such a jerk that Chris always wanted to piss him off didn’t mean that he should pull the same crap with another priest that he’d just met. Especially one who was apparently a retired superhero.
“And baptised here, too, I’m told, Charlotte. Welcome home. Chris, there’s no reason that a Buddhist can’t be a Catholic. It’s a bit trickier for a Catholic to be a Buddhist, but we can get that sorted out when you’re ready.”
That wasn’t the kind of answer he got from Father Murphy. Chris thought about apologising for a moment, but, before he was ready, his sister gasped and pointed at the door.
Chris looked. Charlotte’s crow had escaped somehow, and was standing in mid-air, as though on an invisible shoulder. “She looks just like me,” Charlotte said, scared.
“Who?” Chris asked.
Instead, Father Asplin asked, “What is she saying to  you, Charlotte?”
“She’s saying, ‘Don’t go!’ She’s my aunt, right? The one lynched on the way to her wedding by the Klan?”
“It was some idiots in white robes that strung Yili Wong up, yes,” Father Asplin answered, his voice angry. “That’s as much as needs to be said about it today.”
Chris wasn’t ready to let it go at that. “I thought that ghosts couldn’t come into a church.”
Father Asplin smiled. “If you couldn’t see your ancestors in a church, there wouldn’t be much point in them. There are ghosts and there are ghosts. This ghost has a message for you.”
“Not just Charlotte,” someone announced from off to the side in the pews. Somehow, Amy Wong was standing there. Chris hadn’t even noticed her.
“Where did you come from?” He demanded.
“I was following you in case you got into trouble, duh. Good thing I did, too,” his cousin replied, jerking her head in the direction of the window to the alley.
“I don’t need your help, cousin,” Chris said, sourly.
“Fine. Next time, get yourself out of it,” Amy shot back. “But I can see Aunt Yili Shaibai, too. Something’s coming for all the Wongs.”
The door at the end of the church opened, and the wild-haired boy walked in, finishing Amy’s sentence with her before continuing, like he was reading her mind or something. “I think I’ve seen this story before. More importantly, I’m also seeing that this is Chris and Charlotte’s watch, Ninja-girl. Can we go back to lunch, now? ‘Cuz I’m starved. Father Asplin?”
“Go, go,” the old priest replied. “I’ll see you all back in Philadelphia. In church or not.”
As they walked out into the winter sunlight, Charlotted asked her cousins, “Wait. Father Asplin is going to be in Philadelphia?”
“Oh, sure,” Amy answered. “He’s parish priest at St. Elizabeth’s in Philadelphia and here.”
“Because apparently he’s a paladin with a teleportation feat.”
Chris had no idea what that meant. “A who with a what?”
John replied, talking fast, like a nerd who knew way too much about something, and was letting it out like a pricked balloon. “You know, basic paladin feats are, like, detect evil and smite evil and stuff. Higher level paladins get clerical spells, but nothing high level, like teleportation. I don’t think Asplin’s teleport is very versatile. It’s like, one person, fixed locations, like that. But he can teleport here and to St. Elizabeth’s, anyway. Actually, isn’t there an improved Sanctuary spell that does that? Brings you back to your altar?”
“Not helping, John,” Amy said.
Much as Chris liked kidding nerds, he was moved to be honest. “No, I got the gist of it. Father Asplin’s, like, a holy warrior, and he has some kind of limited ability to teleport to his churches.”
Which might have been a warning for what came next.
As the teens came around the corner of the church, one of the thugs kneeling in front of the girls looked up and saw them. Chris stared into his eyes as they widened in recognition, and, then, almost in the blink of an eye, all four of them disappeared from sight, vanishing from left to right like a windshield wiper swept them away.
“Goddamn it!” May yelled. “What the hell was that? A jump cut? I wanted prisoners this time!”
“I’m sorry.” Rebecca answered. “I was watching in the dimensions, and, nothing! It doesn’t make any sense!”
Mr. Wong jumped over the rail of the porch, surprisingly lightly for a man so big, landing in the middle of where the prisoners had been. “Emily? John? Amy? Did you get anything?”
Chris looked at John and Amy, but they just shook their heads. Whatever Emily had to say, she was still inside the restaurant, and Chris didn’t hear it, but it was obviously bad news. “Okay,” Mr. Wong continued. “Let’s not let this ruin lunch. Back inside, please.”
The older girls relaxed. “So. I’m thinking about a soul patch,” Jamie said. May giggled, and so did Rebecca, putting her folded hands up to her cheek as though she were swooning at the thought. Chris didn’t get it.
“The restaurant was staked out. Someone who knows a lot about us is watching us.” John sounded worried.
“Sure,” Chris answered. “The guy who tried to pick us up at the bus station.”
“Probably,” John answered. “Who?”
“Keith Tuney?” Amy said. “He followed Jenny and her friends right up onto the range in August, and told everyone on Earth he was doing it.”
“Yeah, but he’s under house arrest,” John replied. “He sure didn’t seem to be up to much when I went to see him.”
Amy shook her head in disagreement. “Except hanging out with that werewolf gang.”
“Still… Hmm. Let’s say he’s a suspect. Everyone he told is a better one.” John answered. Chris crossed Tuney off his enemy list anyway.  John was smart, and you didn’t waste your time on low odds. Someone really needed to talk to Bulldozer, though.
They went inside. The table was still set, although the waitress was huddled in the corner, with Mrs. Wong sitting next to her, talking quietly. Chris went back to his place. It really would be a shame if they wasted lunch.
It was almost dark by the time the Star Racer landed in the alley behind the Yurt, which was apparently the nickname of the Wong’s house. Chris stood at the edge of the crowd watching as May and Mrs. Wong supervised Jason while he carried the tree into the house. Apparently, fetching shrubbery was a man’s job, too. Eventually, Chris gave up and went up to his room with a plate of leftovers.
Charlotte came in while he was trying to get the TV on the desk working. “It’s a computer, Chris,” she said as she came in.
“What? Like, with math and stuff? Wow. What do you do with it?”
“Play games?” Charlotte said, flicking on the screen to show a logo: Havana. “You’d better learn this stuff. The new drama teacher at Tatammy designed that game.”
Flicking her feathered hair to show that she was changing the subject, Charlotte continued. “Mrs. Wong says that Eve is a cavegirl. We’ll be her interpreters, or something.”
Chris felt strangely pleased that his sister didn’t call the Dragon Lady a witch tonight. “A cavegirl? With a fur bikini?” Rachel Welch was so hot.
“I don’t know about the bikini.” Charlotte’s raven took that cue to jump up on her shoulder, lean towards Chris, and caw.
“Like, she’s from the past?”
“130,000BC, she said. Isn’t that what cavegirl usually means?”
“She could be from a lost land,” Chris pointed out.
“Like… what?”
“Some remote place where there are still dinosaurs and stuff. Like Ka-Zar.”
“He’s in the comics. He lives in a jungle in Antarctica called the Savage Land. He has a pet sabretooth tiger.”
“Isn’t Antarctica all icy? That’s a pretty cold jungle. And don’t sabretooths eat people?”
“Like this?” Chris brought his outstretched hands together like sabretooth teeth biting and darted towards his sister as she shrieked and ducked under her curtain.
“You’re in so much trouble, Chris,” she shouted from behind the curtain as Chris turned the power button on the computer off. He really would have to learn how to use the things.
Surprisingly, in spite of feeling as tired as he had the first night, Chris was up before 10 on Sunday. Which was good, because it was a busy day. Mrs. Wong took Charlotte to her hairdresser; May went with her friends to pick up Eve. Apparently, even more superkids were picking up yet another new Tatammy student named Retro, and it was a major op, involving the Liberty League and an all points bulletin on Bulldozer. It sounded a lot more exciting than helping Mr. Wong, John, Jason, and Rafaella cut two by fours and panels of plywood to size, carry them upstairs to his bedroom, and assemble them into a partition across the middle of the bedroom. Mr. Wong was an awful soft touch with his money, and paid them each twenty bucks, although Chris had to wonder how much that was actually worth, what with inflation and all. He was surprised that Rafaella wanted to help, and even more surprised by the reaction when he said that she was like one of the girls. There was something he was missing, here.
The partition went surprisingly quickly. In fact, it was done by 1:30, apparently before they were expecting the new girl, because no one seemed worried. Chris was just happy to be left with the “dustbuster.” He would probably get tired of playing with it pretty quickly, but for now he was happy to vacuum up the sawdust left in the bedroom.
Just as Chris finished, a commotion broke out downstairs. He hurried down the stairs, filled with curiosity about the new girl, and hoping that she would look like Raquel Welch.
But when he turned the corner from the bottom of the stairs into the kitchen, he learned that she didn’t. She looked better. Tall and cool, with curly red hair and pale skin, with green eyes and long legs. She was wearing black jeans and a grey leather jacket with snaps, not really her colours and obviously borrowed from May, but she filled out the clothes as well as May ever did. In the midst of introductions from Mr. Wong, he heard his name mentioned, and her eyes briefly crossed hers, and she smiled at him for a second before returning her attention to the older man.
She liked him! He was sure of it. Chris tried to get closer, but the kitchen was filled with a blizzard of his cousins and their friends, all rattling off questions at Eve. That had been him on Friday night, and Chris decided not to add to the confusion. There were better things for him to do.
For one thing, his legs were killing him with their need to move. Chris needed to run. In his bedroom, Chris put on his cheap cotton  uniform with the iron on White Leopard Kung Fu decal on the back. He headed downstairs, stopping to check in with Mr. Wong on the way about running trails.
Mr. Wong’s advice turned out to be pretty good. Two blocks from the house, the street dead-ended at a cul-de-sac with no houses at the very end. A trail led down into a gulley, and Chris was soon pounding the trail. It wasn’t as nice as a real forest run, but Chris always enjoyed the challenge of uneven ground, making best time over roots and cracks, and he was flying, thinking about the cool, red-headed cavegirl, when he suddenly ran out of trail and back up onto a road just where it turned out of a cemetery, and it occurred to Chris, the trail was supposed to be about three miles long. Even if he turned around right now, this would be a six mile run, and he’d been pushing himself. This might turn out to be a long afternoon.  
A car’s horn honked. Chris looked over at the back end of the first normal-looking car he’d seen so far in the future. Or maybe that meant that it was old. Anyway, it was a Chrysler Reliant sedan, the roof cut away to make a convertible. A tall, skinny Black kid was sitting in the driver’s seat, waving at him.’
Chris felt a spurt of fear. Had he run into one of those bad neighbourhoods that American cities had, that were filled with Black thugs? Man up, Chris thought to himself. You know kung fu. Real kung fu. Chris stepped over to the car, remotely aware that his feet were sore.
“Hey. You Chris Wong?”
“Yeah,” Chris said, still out of breath.
“I’m Tyrell Washington. Mr. W. called. Said you might appreciate a ride home. I hear we’re going to be classmates next semester. You already met my cousin, Rebecca.”
“You’re…Rebecca’s cousin?” Chris stopped himself before he could say anything stupid.
“Ha! I know what you were going to say. You can’t be Rebecca’s cousin. You don’t even look Jewish!”
Oh. Oh. Now Chris had this figured out. “Yeah. That’s exactly what I was thinking. Of course, you’ve got a better tan, too.”
“You noticed. You must be smart.”
Chris knew this one. “No, I just do my homework. Chop chop.”
“So if you’re half cracker, does that count as half racist?”
Chris smiled, although that actually hurt a little. A lot. Point was, if you were going to get a ride from a Black kid, you had to deal with that stuff straight up. “Halfie Wong, that’s me.”
Tyrell hesitated for a second. “You’re from, like, 1975, right?”
“Crazy, hunh?”
“Ain’t nothing crazy about that dude. You do know that Rebecca is my cousin because she’s the clone of my brother’s sister’s girlfriend who came to town first in my aunt’s time machine, right?”
“’Anything.’” Chris said.
“Substituting ‘nothing’ for ‘anything’ is grammatically incorrect,” Chris explained.
“I talk street because I am a homeboy,” Tyrell pointed out.
“Seriously, man, I grew up in a trailer court. What is your Dad? A teacher? Doctor?”
“Lawyer,” Tyrell muttered. “Aw. I wanted to be the street guy in our relationship.”
“That’s not going to happen unless it turns out your Dad lawyers from a double-wide.”
Tyrell thought about that for a second. “Okay, you but if the half-Cracker boy gets to be from the hood, the Black kid gets the girl.”
“My cousin, May, is single, I think.”
“She’s older than me. Also, I’d rather chew off my own arm than have the Dragon Lady for a mother-in-law.”
“What? You don’t like Mrs. Wong?”
“I like her just fine. I just want to live my own life, not be trapped in her schemes. You know, like you are.”
“Oh, sit on it, Tyrell.” Chris couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“You really are from1975, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. And I would like a ride back to my rich uncle’s place, thankyouverymuch.”
“Oh we still say that. One ride to the crib coming up: Chillin with your aunt and uncle in Bel Air.’” Tyrell said it in a weird chant. It was obviously a quote, but that didn’t help Chris any.
“Do you go to Tatammy? Tyrell? Clearly I have much to learn of your strange new world of  computerators and saying ‘dude,’ and ‘totally’ and ‘awesome’ every second word.”
“Of course I go to Tatammy,” Tyrrell said as he pulled the Reliant out into the street. “Good rule of thumb is that if you’re in a Philadelphia high school and you can fly to the Moon, you’re probably at Tatammy. Grade 10. You?”
“Grade 10, too. Will there be field trips?”
“Eventually. Probably not to the Moon, though. Pretty tough  neighbourhood.”
“Wow. You been?”
“When I say I can fly there, it’s kinda, you know, theoretical at this point. I’m not entirely sure I could find my way back. We do have a spaceship we could take, if we asked nicely, though.”
“Take for what? Like, moon pizzas?”
“See, they so don’t have those on the Moon.”
“You’re right. I don’t want to go there, then.”
By this time Tyrell was cruising down the street towards the turnoff to the alley that led to the Yurt. “Are you going to come in, Tyrell?” Chris asked.
“Can’t. Sorry, dude. Our year hangs out at the McNeely’s, not the Wong’s. It’s a security thing. But I’ll show you around the mansion tomorrow after school, if that’s cool.”
“Think Wayne Manor, only real.”
“You can definitely show me around the mansion tomorrow after school.” Chris couldn’t believe that anyone would invite a bunch of teenagers to hang out at a mansion. Wouldn’t the place just get ripped off? On the other hand, rich people had kids, too. Richer people than his uncle, that was.
Chris got out of the car. Tyrell stuck his hand out. Did kids shake hands in the future? Whatever. Chris took Tyrell’s hand. Tyrell pulled it back. “No, no. That’s like, a Sideways-Five.”
“A what?”
“Chris, if you’re going to be the cool ghetto kid, you have got to learn some jive moves.” Tyrell waved his hand through a complicated motion. Chris matched it. Tyrell did another one involving claps and thumps. Chris watched, and repeated, adding an over-the-top clap at the end. It was pretty easy after kung fu. Tyrell matched it more slowly, only screwing up a little.
Tyrell was impressed. “Damn it, dude. If I don’t get the girl, I am totally complaining to casting. “
“Whatever. Thanks for the ride, greetings from 1975, up your nose with a rubber hose.”
Tyrell cocked his head. “Isn’t that last one an old-timey dis?”
“You got me. Seriously, thanks for the ride.”
Tyrell cut the engine in at that point, and Chris turned and went through the gate into the garden of the Yurt. So there was at least one cool kid in his class who wasn’t White. That helped. And it would be ironic if Tyrell did end up getting a girlfriend, Chris thought. It would be totally ironic.
When he walked into the kitchen, Charlotte was sitting at the kitchen table. Only she wasn’t. Charlotte was completely changed. Her feathered hair was redone in loose curls, framing her face and dropping behind to just above her shoulders, and dyed in highlights of chestnut brown that perfectly matched her skin. She looked at her brother, her face beaming. “What do you think, Chris?”
“It’s …awesome, Charlotte,” Chris answered. Charlotte’s crow poked up over her shoulder, loose, wavy rings of black and chestnut draped over its back as it poked its beak towards Chris and let out the loudest, most triumphant caw that he’d hear from it yet. Mrs. Wong, sitting opposite Charlotte, looked up from her tablet long enough to glare the little bird into silence.
“I even got some outfits for school,” Charlotte continued.
“Where did you get the money from?” Chris asked, sharply.
Mrs. Wong looked up again. “Your grandfather left a trust fund for you two.”
“I know,” Chris said. “A hundred bucks a month wasn’t enough to keep our trailer in 1975. I bet it’s not enough for that haircut today.”
“I see that we’re going to have to talk math homework, Chris. You’d be surprised how much your trust fund has gone up since 1975.”
Chris looked at her suspiciously. “And you’re in charge of that?”
Mrs. Wong laughed. “Of course not. Family and money mix like sheep and cattle. Ben Washington took over the administration of the trust fun when your grandfather’s lawyer retired.”
“As in Tyrell Washington’s Dad?”
Mrs. Wong only smiled. Then the oven dinged, and she got up to baste a gigantic ham.
Tyrell was right, Chris thought, as he walked up the stairs to his room, chewing on a piece of ham crackle. Mrs. Wong was a schemer. He stepped through the second floor hall, involuntarily at the door to Eve’s room. It was closed. He shook his head and stepped onto the stairs up to the third floor.
Fortunately, Chris had learned to keep part of his attention on his surroundings, so he heard the rasp of fur on the carpet behind him. His heart jumped as he did, clearing the oversized animal paw as it lanced out of the hall at his feet.

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