A Little Insomnia - Chapter 2

Midnight 1-II: Living in the Past

Midnight 1-II: Living in the Past

      “I’m not here to kill you,” he is calm as he speaks.

      She takes a step back into the dresser, still holding the shotgun. “Then why are you here?”

      “I am here on a case. I only have a few questions to ask. I will not harm you.”

      “Why should I trust you?”

      “My hands are in the air and you’re holding the gun.”

      “Is that so?” Paz motions her fingers, “Turn around. Slowly.”

      He follows her instructions, hands still in the air. With a sharp, jagged rose stem now in her hand, she pats his body down for any concealed weapons. She starts from his shoulders and arms, working her way down to his back and legs.

      “Were the others as lucky as me to be alive during their inspection?” He asks.

      “No. Now turn around. And do not pull a fast one. Forget who you are dealing with and you might lose a finger or something.”

      “Who would forget who you are? No one could forget.”

      He does as she asks again. She continues the pat down from the front of his legs and works her way up. This was unpleasant for the both of them.

      “I was lucky enough to have made it to the mirror without being threatened,” she is patting down his abdomen and arms. She saves his chest for last, while looking him in the eyes. “You are pretty stupid to not carry a weapon. Especially during an age like this.”

      He replies, “Age like this? We aren’t that old. And things have been pretty calm in parts like these since the Wall came tumbling down.”

      She grabs his hat from his head and checks it thoroughly.

      He adds, “Besides, I do not need a weapon to see an old friend.”

      “An old friend?”

      “Yes, we went to high school together. Remember the one-of-a-kind mug, like this?”

      “How could I forget? You were only the condescending jerk in the back of biology class. I fail to see how that make us friends.”

      “I had your back!” He grabbed his hat back quickly, he could not let his bare head be without the hat for longer than she had it. “Have you really forgotten the good times in West Coast High? You probably have. It has been a while. Do you still remember the old crew you hung out with? Do you still remember l—”

      “Hush!” She held one hand to him and another to hide her vulnerable face. “Just stop there. Do not say any of their names to me! Never say his name.”

      “I’m not allowed to say their names?”

      She calmed herself down with a few deep breaths. “Just follow me.”

      They walk under the arch left of the mirror into the dining room. No specific theme in this room. Under a German clock, there is a small table holding miniature statues of animals and people in white cloths embellished in paints of red and green. Not looking so out of place, the paintings of food complement the wallpaper of many shades of red. The color red is said to make people hungry, as he is or any other person who dines on that onyx table hungry for second helpings. Then there is the painting of a bison rancher with a skirted woman holding each other in front of the backdrop of a dusty red landscape. It was reminiscent of the old days, south of the country, unintentionally stirring an unusual appetite for buffalo meat.

      “I need to verify the validity of your identity.” She asked, conveniently filling the silence between one end of the table to the next. “What are our full names?”

      “I am Martin Jones. Detective Martin Jones. And you are Serena, Paz de la Marina.”

      “But you can call me Paz. What and where was that high school you mentioned?”

      “West Coast High School. It was on Golden State Avenue, on the West side of Seattle. Not directly on the West Coast, but we sure did have good times. At least, for being the condescending jerk in the back of biology class, looking at you now it sure seems like you had the best of times there.”

      They are now in a living room. There is an entertainment center with a flat screen television unplugged and unused since the last time a good television program aired. Across from that there is one more than enough couches and chairs to seat her band for a performance using the antique piano centered. There is a drum set in the corner, out of the way as to make way for guests maneuvering between the many displays, such as ceremonial masks and spears belonging to the Zulu tribe. Despite the accommodation, it still did not make a guest feel less clustered. The historically prominent photographs of people and original artwork— or talented forgeries — hung close together reminding onlookers that they are never alone.

      “Name at least one teacher we shared,” she asked her third question.

      “Damn, that would be tough, de la Marina,” he flexed his hands, “if only the name Maria Hernandez did not make figuring out that answer a cinch.”

      “You are right, that was too easy. Yet, you have not answered it.”

      “Now wait a minute!”

      “New question.” She stops at a locked door. “Retell at least one conversation we had.”

      He rubs his chin. “A challenge.”

      “Well? We do not have all night.”

      “One time,” he snaps his finger, “A friend and I were arguing about which two pistols looked cooler. You showed us up by telling us how the Colt is better because its ammunition price rage is less expensive and the gun has less recoil than the Desert Eagle. You then stuck your nose in the air, like you always do, and continued walking down the stairs. Surprise you did not stumble over your ego.”

      “Jealous a girl is more gun savvy than you?” She smiles, “Typical Jones.”

      The white rose in her hand transforms into a key again. He was aware of the magic tricks earlier. Seeing it transforming before his eyes without her trying to conceal the act intrigued his interest.

      “Where does someone find a Swiss Army Knife like that?” He asked.

      “At a yard sale,” she responds sarcastically while unlocking the door. “Colt 1911. You were off by one word. I may not have photo-reflexive memory like— some people do. But I would have said it any other way if I was really trying to show you off.”

      “So. Are we going in now?”

      “Sure. Only because of my generous hospitality.”

      The lighting in the red-carpeted bedroom is noticeably dimmer. The same lighting in every other room could shine like a spotlight every night on the singer. If only it was any less claustrophobic inducing than the last two rooms. Bookshelves leave space for a window aligned against one side of the wall. On the other, drapes hang over a round queen-size bed by another window hovering over a dresser. The closet extending from one end of the wall to a few feet away from the door was opposite of the largest window across the room hanging over a bench.

      “Excuse me.” The songstress sways toward a Japanese privacy screen. “I have to change into something more— relaxing.”

      She offered the waiting detective a seat by her desk in the center of the room. He eventually sat, but first hovered over the desk to observe what she could be working on.

      The globe of Earth with red, violet, and green pins were irrelevant to his case. There are three music sheets with lyrics attached to a paper clip and a separate, untitled ballad, also irrelevant. A grocery list and a basket are also unimportant to him.

      The detective got nothing.

      “Why would an innocent girl like you want to own an entire floor of a corrupted place such as this?” He glances at the portraits on the walls, one of them bearing an obvious resemblance to her. “I’m sure there are better, less objectionable, places to live.”

      “Were you expecting a mansion all to my lonesome self?” Her silhouette strips out of a dress. “You think anything my Mamá left behind would have helped with that? It did not. When the American Dream fell apart, her money became as worthless as the paper it’s printed on. Now I use my voice to get what I can afford.”

      “You used your voice alright. Lull people to sleep while the crooks you’re working with rob them of their hard-earned money. Or maybe you hypnotize them to give you whatever is in their wallet. Isn’t that what the legends say?”

      She takes off her gloves without care. “That is the truth. Thousands come to hear the legendary Siren sing! But the boys selling the tee-shirts and pins usually targeted the major cities and ports. Heaven knows the poor we gave back to could only afford a good song. We stole from the corrupt and, in exchange, gave hope to the helpless.” She laughed. “And hypnotized? Please! They were in love with me at their own discretion.”

      “I remember those stories. Stories exchanged by lucky sailors and stupid pilots at busy ports after civilization’s downfall. Myths and truths exchanged with the world. But I’m talking about the stories after the Grigori shut down those ports. You travelled with another crew that kept more than their fair share of loot and robbed ordinary folks.”

      “How could you hear those stories, if the ports were closed down?” Paz is still holding the stockings she taken off seconds ago.

      “Ten years ago. From Los Angeles, word spread that you boarded an airship belonging to the War Lords, the enemies you once fought against. It then returned less than a year later to New York City, flying past a port to be closed within a week. Other reports say you were with them until you found your new band in Seattle.”

      “All that from within the country?” She says, grasping onto the stockings.

      “Sure. But the Grigori propaganda was beneficial for the stories’ circulation. They were clever. Marking you both a traitor to your kind and a menace to their people. No one remembers the good you have done since you gave up on being their Guardian. And all for what? A free round trip around the globe’s pocket?”

      “No! I did not take any money from that trip! I had my own reasons for leaving the Guardians!” She throws one stocking to the nightstand, knocking down the picture frame. “I had my own reason to join the War Lords!” She throws the other onto the picture frame on top of the dresser, knocking it down as well.

      Martin had to quickly interrupt with an apology, something he rarely does. For an honest reason too. She nearly taken a step out of the privacy screen. Realizing what was missing, she took a step back to bury her face in her hands from embarrassment and grief.

      “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

      “I am not upset.” She starts to relax. “Why do you care what I did in my past?”

      “You are of interest. There are still people who look up to you here in Washington. Those people still need you.” He watches her silhouette put on a robe. “I believe the entire Resistance is founded upon you. They are dedicated to liberating themselves for the same long time as the Guardians been protecting people.”

      “Do you believe I do not know that!?” Paz brings herself out into clear sight. “What is the point? Those cities and countries we liberated fell back into enemy hands. We were first cornered back into the West Coast, lost that, and then roamed Earth while living on the run. We spent half a century trying to free the world. What is the point?”

      Martin Jones answers, “Try putting yourself in their shoes. The Seattleites. They spent a century in hell. They are tired of it and want to rise up and challenge the oppression. They want the chance you had.”

      “How do you live with yourself?” She wonders, “Living with yourself for that long?”

      “Honestly? I live it in good company. At least, the best company ten bucks an hour times two can afford. It doesn’t hurt to take it one day at a time.”

      “Is that supposed to be a joke?”

      “I wish it were. I can only afford my career these days. Friends are costly. Employees? Not so much.”

      Paz pulls the velvet drapes and sits comfortably on her silky bed. She stares at the picture frame. The detective stares as well but she does not notice him. She sees nothing until knocking off the stocking. Now she sees a memory.

      “You have tremendous power,” Jones reminds her. “Stories say you are bulletproof. You could end all this pain and suffering by taking down the Grigori. Why do you instead wait it out here rotting with everyone else?”

      “Contrary to popular belief, we are not bulletproof. We have tried to do what we can for the people, and the world, but— Hey! Get out of there!”

       Martin closed her closet door. “What’s wrong?”

      “What is wrong?! You should get permission to snoop through someone’s room! Especially when the owner is present!”

      “May I look through your room?”

      “Go ahead. I have nothing to hide. And if it is anything of monetary value you are after, I have some money in the living room. Take as much as you like.”

      Martin opens the closet door again. He stares silently, unable to look into its dark depths. Paz does not want to figure out what he is thinking. She wants to gaze away from it all.

      “Only things in this room are of sentimental value,” she hesitantly reached for the picture frame, now in her hand. “Articles from the past. Memories of days that are long gone from now.”

      Detective Martin Jones had his sights on the bookshelves. There are a lot of worn classics waiting to be browsed again. There are some titles in Spanish and other international languages. Comic-books are lined up together in order. An entire cabinet is dedicated to books on music, notably jazz occupying a complete shelf. There were technical texts as well, some organized between two sturdy book holders. This collection featured a geography book, a mechanic’s manual, a grimoire, a military almanac, a medical procedure guide, and a writer’s anthology, there is an empty space barely collecting dust.

      “Your voice,” he asks, “is it really true you can control people with it?”

      “You tell me,” she almost did not answer. “Did it work on you?”

      He ignored the question disguised as an answer. It was a crapshoot for her to respond with a no, anyway. Jones has his sights set on a new target: the picture frame knocked down by the first stocking atop the bookshelf.

      “Did your voice kill those people in the bar?” he provokes.

      “What?!” Paz briefly looks away from the photograph in her hand. “They are asleep! The poor men and ladies stay the night for a little relaxation. My voice soothes their souls so they can forget their burdens. Even if it is just for a minute.”

      The picture in Martin’s hand is a badly photographed panorama of many persons of interest. Although some were masked, they were not at a masquerade ball. Their location could not be discernible, unlike the subjects which were clear as individual portraits. The most important thing he notes: they are happy.

      “The Guardian Vigilantes?” Martin sounds reminiscent. “Before they became just The Guardians. Looks like all your old crew is here. The cold-blooded mercenary. The two pilots. Faris Nejem. The Lynx. That robot and its two maintenance workers. That kid called Bounce. Wanda. Rocketblades. The artificial intelligence hologram thing. The crazy ninja. And a whole bunch of masks. But two are missing. Someone tore them off this picture.”

      “Oh yeah?” She has not heard a word since before she last spoke.

      “Someone tore off the one with the enchanting voice that saved the world. The Siren.” He spins the model on her desk, “And the one with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Someone tore him off too.” Hearing no response, he approaches her. “Perhaps it is closer than I think.”

      A shadow looming over her reaches out. She withdraws the picture frame, securing it between her crossed arms and her heart. Looking at the frame in his hands, Paz pieces the puzzle for him.

      “Is it true?” the detective asks just to be sure.

      “Sure,” she said. Unsure of what he wanted to hear, she asks, “Your deduction?”

      “Yes.”

      “That is none of your concern.” She closes the conversation as well by sitting on her picture frame. “You are pushing your luck.”

      “Am I?”

      “I feel it is time we wrapped things up.” Her glare sharpens. “I hope you enjoyed your tour of Casa de la Marina, but we are currently not offering bed and breakfast. So, go on your way. Or. Tell me. Why did you come here?”

      “I told you why.” He grinned. “I wanted to catch up with an old friend.”

      “Acquaintances, maybe? I would not consider us friends.”

      “Fair enough. I am working a missing persons case. I would appreciate your cooperation, since my trustworthy sources are running dry.”

      Paz reminds him there is no luck of him finding a trustworthy source at the Triangle Saloon. She would know. She has worked here for the past ten years. That is where she was on the nights the two men went missing. There are witnesses that will definitely object to any one of those men attending her late-night performances.

      Although he wants to believe her story, unfortunately her ambiguous alibi puts her in further suspicion.

      “Do you know where the two men left after you lulled the crowd to sleep?”

      “Oh, yes!” She nodded with enthusiasm. “I do know!”

      “Well?”

      “I am not telling you that? But if I did the job right, they should already be compacted with yesterday’s garbage.”

      “What is that supposed to mean?”

      “Do I have to spell it out for you? I K-I-L-L-E-D them. I am sorry. Maybe you do not know how to spell. Then here it is! Headlines! I killed them.”

      Detective Martin Jones does not believe her. He has reason to believe she does not kill and is hiding them. She disagrees, there are many people she killed on her adventures. Usually, the innocent ones. Unlike those times, the ones he is looking for are guilty.

      “You see, detective, they tried to kill me first!”

      “I do not believe that either.”

      “Believe what you want to believe. You heard the propaganda before and I should not have to remind you what I can do. You saw firsthand how instant your death could have come by my quick reflexes. And a shotgun. That was not thunder you heard these past nights. That was their death by the end of the barrel.”

      “It has not thundered yet,” he argues, “And I heard no blast coming from this place. You’re just an actress living out the roles she never got to play. Ever since you took one drama class at West Coast High. Tell me where they are.”

      “Do you believe in heaven, Mister Jones?”

      “Not any more than you do, de la Marina.”

      He tries another strategy. She is the only suspect who confessed to their disappearance. What she did not know is they are hard working men from the Resistance. All she recalls is the bloodthirsty consequences of their actions. If that is what the Resistance is about, she is glad to have not received an invitation.

      “How does a living Guardian down the street not receive an invitation to the Resistance?”

      “I do not know, detective. I am getting old. You know what they say. Changing of the Guardians. Out with the old, in with the new.”

      “You don’t look a day over twenty-four. Know what I think? I think you declined the invitation. They could have really used you in the fight. You can change everyone’s lives for the better, but you choose—”

      “To have a normal life?!” She rises from the bed, leaving the photograph down and faced up. “I have risked my life over and over to give you and the world a second chance to fight for your freedom.”

      Memories flash before her eyes.

      “We risked a lot trying to keep a home here.” He says. “Without any god-given super powers like those mages, monsters, and you guys. We lost loved ones too.”

      “So what?!” Her eyes widen as she involuntarily extends her hands to reach for nothing. “You think I have not lost loved ones? People I loved more than Earth and everything on it?!”

      “It’s a thankless job, I bet.” He looks past her towards the bed. “That’s no different than what everyone else feels here. What makes your pain greater than theirs?”

      “Normal people, like you, do not have the entire world to worry about. Just yourself.” A thorny branch starting from her index finger wraps like a vine around her arm. “When you get tired of yourself, you sell your eternal life to the people. And for what? So that they can harvest your soul and dispose of your body like rotten husks?”

      “Hey. I never done that. Neither anyone from the Resistance.”

      “What is the difference?!” she says. “Sooner or later, it all ends the same. Always.”

      Serena Paz points that index finger tipped with a white bud to his face. “What is one person?!” She closes that hand and reveals a white rose. “Or a resistance?!” The thorny branch is wrapped around both extended arms. The tiny buds planted out of nowhere blossom into luscious white roses. “Or the entire world?!"

      The dreaded memories have not stopped flashing. Unable to stop them, she clenches her face.

      “You read the news!” Red trickles off her round cheeks. “Humanity is learning to live with the world Grigori created. The assimilation of our own identities and history to adapt to their uniform. Our deaths are the results of their demand for perfection. Our pains are their pleasures. Our tortured lives are their research.”

      “That’s all propaganda, de la Marina!” He wants to physically stop her, but knows that is the wrong move. He continues on with his words, “It always has been! Don’t believe what they are saying, not for a minute!”

      “No. It is true. I have seen it firsthand. If you cannot see it in Seattle, then you are just as blind an assimilated as the rest. Who are you, Martin Jones?!”

      He ponders that silently.

      Serena Paz collapses to her knees in a puddle. Seeing what she has done, she quickly removes her fingers from her face. The thorny branch retracts back into a white rose in her hand.

      “The blood of fear dries to a stop.” She inhales hard, her dry eyes wide open. “But the tears of sorrow are always flowing.”

      They could see the raindrops streaming onto the windows if they cared to look. Serena Paz buries her face in her hands. Martin Jones extends his hand to her shoulder. She warns him that she is on the floor and it is raining. He should leave before it gets worse.

      “Why did you let me into your past?” He asks. “You could have stopped me provoking.”

      She looks into his eyes with the answer. “Like everyone else, you too are blind from realizing a guardian has vulnerabilities. Until humanity as a whole learns to reclaim itself, they cannot expect one human like me to do it for them.”

      She personally escorts him out of her room then out of the other rooms. With her head held high, unable to look at him, she follows him down the staircase. At the penthouse entrance, he gives her his business card.                                         

      “Goodnight Detective Jones.” She shuts the door on him.

      Vixen, the woman in lingerie, beckons to Martin. Paz is in her bedroom with her hand in her hair. He does not question how long she was standing there, leaving Vixen behind with her contempt. Paz’s robe is loose, her shoulders are bare, and her head moves toward the open closet. Martin is in the rain away from the Triangle Saloon.  Paz’s robe leaves her vulnerable to face the heroic doppelganger on her own.

      Both hear the pitter-patter of rain. One sees a guardian forsaken the world. One unable to forget the Guardian of the world is always watching her.