The Blossoming Rose|
Dorothy Wayneright sat at the piano and lifted up the lid, her reflection disappearing as the ebony and ivory keys appeared under her wrists. She placed her hands back in her lap and looked at the keyboard for a moment, undecided on what music to wake Roger Smith with.
Beethoven, Mozart, perhaps even Bach or a Paganini? Or perhaps a bit of Shostakovitch, guaranteed to get him screaming and scare the pigeons.
A song entered her mind, one she was certain that she had never heard or played before. A relic of old memories implanted in her system, perhaps? But it seemed ideal.
She raised her hands over the keyboard and in a mad rush of passion brought them down, and for the first time, Dorothy sang in accompaniment to her song ...
"It's all or nothing
And nothing's all I ever get
Everytime I turn it on
I burn it up and burn it out
It's always something
There's always something going wrong
That's the only guarantee
That's what this is all about
It's a never ending attack
Everything's a lie and that's a fact
Life is a lemon and I want my money back!"
Norman poked his head into the common room to see what all the racket was and listened carefully for a moment. He smiled to himself. It was definitely something written before The Event, and Dorothy was very likely the first person in over forty years to play that song.
He went back to the kitchen, finding himself humming along as she continued to play and sing.
"And all the morons
And all the stooges with their coins
They're the ones who make the rules
It's not a game - it's just a rout
There's desperation in the air
It leaves a stain on all your clothes
And no detergent gets it out - "
Roger stirred, feeling the thunder of the piano pound his brains into paste.
"And we're always slipping through the cracks
Then the movie's over - fade to black
Life is a lemon and I want my money back!
I want my money back
I want my money back - "
Roger sat straight up in bed, realizing the other noise over the piano was Dorothy's voice singing some godawful trash.
"What about love?
It's always breaking in half - "
Roger angrily felt for his robe.
"What about sex?
It's never built to really last - "
He pulled it on, fumbling with the ties.
"What about family?
All the batteries are shot - "
He finally tangled the ties into a knot.
"What about your friends?
All the parts are out of stock - "
He shoved his feet into slippers.
"What about hope?
It's corroded and decayed - "
He absently grabbed a pillow, intending to beat her upside the head with it.
"What about faith?
It's tattered and it's frayed - "
He stumbled across the bedroom.
"What about your Gods?
They forgot the warranty - "
He kicked the door open, only to slam his shoulder into the doorframe.
"What about your town?
It's a dead end street to me - "
He swayed uneasily down the hall and made a few practice swings with the pillow against the wall.
"What about your school?
It's a pack of useless lies - "
He entered the common room, seeing her hands bang down on the keys.
"What about your work?
It's a crock and then you die - "
He made his way over to her.
"What about your childhood?
It's dead and buried in the past - "
He raised the pillow behind her head.
"What about your future?
You can shove it up your - Good morning, Roger."
Roger paused in mid-swing, seeing she had stopped playing and had turned around to look at him.
He dropped the pillow to his side, silent a moment, then began ranting, "I PUT UP WITH THIS LONG ENOUGH! I PUT UP WITH THE BLUES ON AMPHETIMINES, I PUT UP WITH THE SPEED-KEYED CLASSICS, I PUT UP WITH THE STUPID MUSICAL NUMBERS, AND I EVEN PUT UP WITH THAT MUSICAL GARBAGE SHOSTAKOVITCH - BUT THIS TAKES THE CAKE, SWEETHEART! WHATEVER THAT CRAP WAS IS NOT ALLOWED IN THIS HOUSE EVER AGAIN!"
She looked plaintively up at him. "Roger, you are foaming at the mouth."
"You're damn right I'm foaming, Missy! That was the worst din I ever heard!"
"The neighbors do not mind, Roger."
"The nearest neighbors are five hundred yards away! They can't hear it!"
"But they can hear you snoring - like an asthmatic moose in labor."
He looked at her. "I do not snore like an animal nobody remembers!"
She glanced down at his hand. "Why are you holding a pillow, Roger?"
He looked down and realized he was indeed holding a pillow. He looked back up at her again, then went through with the thought and slammed it against her face.
The feathers broke out on contact, fluttering around then finally settling on her black dress.
Dorothy remained expressionless. "Do you feel better now, Roger?"
"Yes, for some reason I do."
Norman came in, saw the Master in his robe and holding a flat pillow while Dorothy was covered in white feathers, and drew his own conclusions. Without missing a beat, he announced, "Breakfast is ready, Master Roger."
He turned heel and left them alone again.
Dorothy went back to the piano and began softly playing a Mozart. "You better have breakfast, Roger, before it gets cold."
"Dorothy, I - "
"I forgive you for being a senseless brute who beats helpless little girls, but only because you are so physically puny that I did not feel it."
Ouch, double zinger.
He went back to the hall to his room. "Clean yourself up. You look like you're molting."
* * *
Roger raced through Paradigm City in the Griffon, going back to the library that morning to finish his investigations.
There was a light rain showering down over the domes and outside buildings, bathing the city in grays and browns, while the domes glowed a soft orange from their artificial environments.
He passed a few signs from before The Event, their words burned off in places, proclaiming something called Man--an. Whatever this place was before was still small and cramped like the rest of the residential areas of the city.
He came upon a traffic jam, so he sat and began tapping his foot against the floor to the rhythm of the racket Dorothy was playing that morning. Noisy and dark, but through his tormented sleep, he did realize he understood the lyrics ... and it felt all too disturbingly close for comfort.
He looked up to the intersection to see how the lights were working when he saw a red car with back fins drive through.
Roger immediately grabbed the stick and hit the accelerator, pushing the Griffon toward the side and plow down the sidewalk after the red car.
Pedestrians slammed themselves against buildings or landed on top of cars to avoid being hit by the big black automobile as it leapt off the sidewalk and into the cross street.
Roger shifted again and pressed the accelerator to the floor as the red car skidded around a corner to escape.
"You're not getting away that easy, red," he murmured as he took the corner at a sharp turn. He leaned forward and noted the plate from the speeding car. "Red rose with the number Q - 2B, this may be our hit-and-run boy with the way he's running."
The red car swung into the entrance of a parking garage, breaking the barricade. The Griffon followed at a good clip, causing sparks to fly as it hit the curb in pursuit. The red car slammed into parked cars as it blindly raced to the second parking level above.
"Playing bumper cars now?" Roger asked no one in particular.
The Griffon's communication center sparked to life and Roger picked up the comm. "I'm kind of busy at the moment, Norman, what is it?"
'Master Roger, I regret to inform you that Professor Clark Neuwirth has died.'
Roger slammed on the breaks, the red car breaking from the pursuit and barreling down to the exit ways.
'Master Roger?' Norman's voice inquired.
"I'll be right home, Norman."
* * *
Clark was dead. Had died during surgery to install his cybernetic parts when one of the nurses punctured his heart. Funny thing, the nurse went missing after they left the surgery room. According to a police report, her dead body was found two hours before the surgery.
Whoever was after him finally finished the job.
I still had a contract, and I owed it to Cassandra to fulfill it.
The turn out for Professor Clark Neuwirth's funeral was incredible, as not only the faculty of the college appeared, but so did students past and present, as well as several elders of the city and a few politicians.
All in a space of a few hours after his death.
The late afternoon rain had turned into a downpour as his remains were interred in the cemetery. The crowd surrounding the grave had a covering of umbrellas, all of them either black or white.
Among the group was Roger Smith and Dorothy Wayneright, their dark forms blending into the mass of mourners, their umbrellas being amid the black ones.
When the priest ended the consecration of the burial ground, the casket was lowered into the plot.
Cassandra, her red hair covered with a large black hat and her face covered with an almost opaque veil, tossed a single white rose on top of the casket.
The mourners turned away, going back to their cars to either go back to work or gather in small groups for Clark Neuwirth's Wake.
Cassandra, Roger, and Dorothy remained at the gravesite as the priest offered his own prayer.
The priest looked up, then went over to Cassandra, exchanging words with her. After a moment, he left her to continue staring at the grave and her father's casket as the gravediggers went to shoveling mud on top of it.
Roger approached Cassandra, leaving Dorothy alone in the rain.
Cassandra's choked voice came from under the veil, "I just started crying, I'm sorry. The shock wore off just a minute ago."
Roger drew an arm around her and Cassandra clutched him, now fully sobbing. He said nothing; there was nothing to say in these circumstances.
After a while, she pulled slightly away, her hand going into her purse and pulling out a tissue which disappeared under the veil.
"Do you need a ride home, Cassandra?" he asked.
"No thanks, Roger," she hiccuped. The veil moved to look up at him. "What are you doing tonight?"
"Going to finish investigating for your father."
The veil looked down. "He's gone. You aren't bound to it."
"Professional courtesy. Besides, I have a feeling whoever murdered him doesn't want the truth about the books known."
"Then I'll pay your negotiator's fee for him. Dad ... Dad would have wanted it."
Roger's fingers fidgeted around the umbrella handle. "Yes, he would have."
"Well," Cassandra managed a choked chuckle. "I was going to ask you to spend the evening with me, but you have your work."
"Cassandra ... "
She lifted the veil up, exposing red-shot green eyes and tear tracks smeared over her face. "Besides, you wouldn't want to spend the night after seeing this."
Roger blinked, realizing her invitation was more intimate. Out the corner of his eye, he saw Dorothy standing near another gravestone, perfectly still like one of the statues of the cemetery, as the rain dripped off the edges of her umbrella.
"Perhaps later, when you're feeling better."
Cassandra shook her head. "You won't be able to, and I respect that." She glanced toward Dorothy. "You both better get going."
Roger nodded and released her, going back to Dorothy as Cassandra made her way through the maze of tombstones.
Dorothy watched the gravediggers. "Professor Neuwirth was a good man as far as humans go."
Roger nodded, looking back. "The best."
They silently made their way toward the car-park, sloshing through the puddles of muddy rainwater along the cemetery paths.
"There is something on the hood of the car."
Roger peered through the downpour and noticed something sitting next to the Griffon's hood ornament. As they got closer, the object became clearer -
A single red rose, laying perpendicular to the ornament's direction.
Roger picked it up, looking at the rain-battered petals. He looked across the hood toward Dorothy. "A subtle warning, you think?"
She raised her arm and pointed. "Is that not the red car you described, Roger?"
Roger spun around, seeing the red car turn down the street.
"In the car!" he ordered.
Both slipped in and were shutting the doors just as he started the Griffon and pulled away from the curb.
The G-force caused Dorothy to fall back into the seat as Roger tensed his body and applied the accelerator to the floor, his teeth clenched.
The Griffon caught up with the red car as both raced side-by-side down the empty street. Roger glared out his window, attempting to stare through the tinted windows.
The red car suddenly veered off into another street; Roger jerked the steering wheel in the same direction, causing the bumpers of the Griffon to spark as they sailed over the sidewalk curb and into the street.
The red car shot ahead in a burst of speed, leaving a trail of exhaust in Roger's path. He pressed down on his own accelerator again, catching up with the racer.
"Roger," Dorothy stated.
"The bridge ahead is going up."
"I can see that, Dorothy."
The red car swerved around the line of vehicles waiting for the bridge, plowing through the barricade and driving up the rapidly raising roadway of the bridge.
Roger followed, hitting a few of the Griffon's switches.
The red car sailed over first, the back tires just barely catching the edge of the bridge grillwork, then skidded down the otherside.
The Griffon also jumped across the wider expanse, aided by boosters, and landed on the downside, peeling off in pursuit.
Roger looked around, then hit the breaks. "Where the hell did he go??"
"Do not curse, Roger, it shows bad breeding."
He touched the accelerator again, slightly too busy to tell her to shut up, as he went to looking down streets on either side.
"Did you see where he went?"
Dorothy remained silent.
Roger grunted, gripping the steering wheel tightly. After a moment, he finally said, "I'm taking you home."
"Where will you be, Roger?" she asked.
* * *
The most influential man in my life died today.
I almost caught his killer, but he got away because of the public works.
The license plate of 'Q-2B' did not exist in the department of transportation's files. Not surprising.
I needed a drink.
Dorothy made her way into the dimly lit bar, pausing to shake her umbrella in the entryway.
The bartender android was sweeping up, a human man was seated at the baby grand piano and gently playing a blues piece. The piano stopped and the man stood.
"We're closed, Miss," he said.
"I am here to pick up Roger Smith from this establishment."
The man jerked his thumb back to one of the tables where a man in a dark suit was slumped over the table, a tumbler filled with half-melted ice in his gloved hand.
"He's a real mess, Miss," the man continued. "According to R. Godfrey there, the poor guy drank two bottles of scotch. He passed out about a half-hour before closing. His ID said to contact you."
The musician looked over the petite girl. "Are you sure you're able to take him home?"
She looked at him like he was a lump of uninteresting mud, then picked up the large passed-out gentleman without effort and swung him over her shoulders.
"Sorry, Miss," the man apologized.
Dorothy nodded her head a quarter of an inch, then left the bar with Roger.
Roger had given her driving lessons recently, since the Griffon was not an average car, just in case he was incapacitated. (And firmly established she was not to touch the Griffon unless he was unable to drive, period, very likely with one foot in the grave and the other on a patch of ice.)
Dorothy had decided Roger Smith was beyond incapacitated - he was tanked out of his gourd.
When she had gotten him in the Griffon, she called up Norman and informed him of the situation.
'Should I get out the video camera and the makeup-kit, Miss Dorothy?' he asked with complete seriousness.
"Do you believe it would help?"
'Perhaps. The little rodent needs a bit of humility.'
Dorothy almost smiled. "Is that why you admitted me into his home that first day?"
Norman gave a wicked smile. '"Ask me no questions ... "'
Dorothy switched the comm off and gazed over at Roger, strands of hair hanging in his face and his black-white necktie wrapped around his forehead.
She knew he drank, it was custom. However, drinking one's self into unconsciousness was usually frowned upon, and it was just bad manners to do so.
Dorothy reached into his jacket pocket and pulled his keys out. She put the key into the ignition and started the Griffon, driving home in a calm and timely manner.
* * *
Something about drinking when you're depressed - it makes the hangovers that much worse when you realize you aren't dead.
Roger groaned, wondering if Norman had put his brain in the blender and set it on 'puree' then dumped it back into his head. He could hardly ever accuse his butler of such actions, but at the moment the pain was winning out over reason.
The door screamed open on hinges needing an oiling (at least from Roger's perspective), then shut again, giving him blessed relief from the harsh light (the harsh light being, in fact, the hall night light).
A pressure sitting beside him made him wonder if he was going to roll off the bed.
A cold cloth was placed over his forehead and he groaned again.
"Is it too cold, Roger?" Dorothy's voice asked in the darkness.
"No, is a'right," he croaked. He wondered who slipped the month-old piece of fruit in his mouth, then realized it was his tongue.
He tried to trace over the evening's events - after dropping Dorothy off at the house, he went to one of the bars and had a drink ... then another drink ... then another ... Somewhere along the way he must have passed out.
Now he was in his bed, with Dorothy pressing a cold washcloth to his face.
"You brought me home," he stated quietly.
"I had to," she replied. "You were unconscious, Roger, and were not able to drive home."
He was silent another moment. "I'm sorry."
"For what, Roger?"
"For you having to pick up my carcass."
She was quiet, her hands removing the cloth to soak in the pan and wring out, then placing it back on his forehead. Her hand went to brushing back strands of his black hair.
"You need to rest, Roger."
"Dorothy ..." he murmured as he gripped her hand. "Please. Just sit with me. At least until I pass out again."
"All right, Roger."
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