Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dragon on the Streets

Finally, things have calmed down enough that Jack and I could go out this evening. Most of the Protectors are still in Japan, doing what they can to try to help. I’ve heard several US cities have had to declare martial law because of all the crazies coming out of the woodwork, but here in Austin, TakeDown and I have managed to convince the local lowlifes that Protectors or no, Austin is not up for grabs.

It didn’t help my sanity that SXSW happened in the middle of the worst of it, but that’s done now, too. It feels like the whole city is taking a well-earned rest. Even the criminals are taking a day off. Knock on wood. I have to say if anybody starts causing grief today and interrupts my date, I might have to introduce them to the definition of “excessive violence.”  That’s a superhero legal thing. The law says we’re not supposed to use intentionally lethal force or excessive violence. TakeDown has been getting me up to speed on the civilian vigilante laws. Good info to have, considering.

In any case, the weather was heavenly, and Jack and I decided to walk through the park across from the hospital after we swung by to check on our schedules for next week. The air smelled sweet, like grape soda. It’s the mountain laurel blooms. You can catch their scent on the wind from blocks away. Spring always smells like grape soda in Austin. The moon was huge and bright, just past full and still overly large. Jack and I stopped and sat at one of the little picnic tables and talked for a while. Well, mostly we talked, but there may have been some kissing involved. Either Jack is getting better at the kissing or I am. Or, maybe we’re just getting better together.

I’m not sure how long we were there before I thought about the night I landed in this park when I was late for work and saw a homeless guy in a red stocking cap curled up to sleep in the dark shadow of a tree. I looked over at that same tree, and thankfully, the homeless guy wasn’t there.

Only thing worse than being watched by a homeless guy while I’m making out would be if my personal stalker were watching. That thought made me scan the tops of all the trees nearby, and sure enough, there was a familiar dark blob concealed in the branches, with dimly lit red eyes aimed in my direction. Face palm. Seriously?

At least Jack’s night vision wasn’t as good as mine, so he hadn’t spotted Vlad. I suggested that we go have dinner somewhere. We walked down Congress Ave. There’s a lot of good restaurants there, but before we found one, I got this eerie feeling, and looked behind me. The homeless guy with the red cap was running up behind me. He waved, and I could see the black silhouette of Vlad perched on the roof a block behind us.

I couldn’t argue much with Vlad following me. Sure, it was creepy, but he was sort of my scaly black guardian angel. He’d been following me for a couple weeks so he could swoop in and help when things got really bad. But the homeless guy, too? Do I have a sign on my back that says, “Stalk the dragon chick?”

“What’s your deal?” I asked the guy. “Why are you following me?”

He took his red cap off. “I’m so glad I found you, maam, miss, angel lady. Sorry, I never knew an angel before.”

“I’m not an angel.”

He grinned showing missing teeth, and said, “It’s okay, maam. I saw your wings and I saw you heal TakeDown by biting him.”

I thanked my lucky stars that Jack already knew my secrets. If this guy had spewed that in front of White Knight, he’d be drawing his sword about now. “Ixnay on the itingbay.”

“Huh?” The guy gave me a look like a movie zombie.

“Look, you gotta keep what you know about me to yourself. There are some people out there who would kill me if they knew.”

His eyes got real big and he ran his finger across his chest. “Cross my heart, maam. I won’t tell a soul.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

He looked kinda uncomfortable and scratched his head till his sparse gray hair stood up. “I won’t tell anybody else, anyway.”

Oh, no. “Who did you already tell?”

“Just a few of the guys.”

This just got better and better. “Well, tell them not to tell anyone, okay?”

“Yes, maam. I sure will. And I’ll tell them to spread the word to anyone they already told not to tell anybody, too.”

Jack laughed. “Yeah, that’ll work.”

“This is not funny, Jack. If the Georgians find out, they’ll kill me. And if they don’t, Ma will.”

Jack shrugged. “There really isn’t much you can do about it now. You just don’t seem to be very good at keeping a low profile.”

“I’ve spent my whole life hiding very effectively. I moved every ten years just so no one would notice I didn’t get older. Now, I finally found a place where I want to settle, and random strangers on the street know all my secrets.”

“It’s all right, maam,” the old homeless guy said. “We’d never tell anyone who wanted to hurt you.  We know you and your boyfriend saved Franklin last week. That’s why I was looking for you.”


Jack looked like a lightbulb suddenly went off. “The old guy living under the bridge who had hypothermia and no medical insurance.”

The homeless man nodded enthusiastically and twisted his red stocking cap in his hands. “Yeah, yeah, that’s him.” Then his face got very serious. “You have to come with me, maam, right now. Buddy made white lightning, but he didn’t do it right. They all drank it last night, and I’m afraid Buddy and some of the guys are going to die.”

Jack grabbed the old man by his arm. “Where?”

“I’ll show you.”

We ran as fast as the homeless man in his fifties could manage. He lead us to an alley behind a nice hotel in the middle of downtown. There was a concrete loading dock that looked rarely used, shelter from the weather that was gold to the homeless population. Five men slept on the dock, at least they seemed to be asleep. As I passed a big dumpster, I could see the makeshift still.

Jack and I went around checking pulses.

The first man I checked was dead. “That’s Buddy,” the man with the red cap said.

“What’s your name?”

He grinned until I thought his face would crack. “I’m Beau Grimsby, maam.”

“Beau, I’m sorry, but your friend is dead.”

Beau blinked a few times, his grin froze, then faded away. “I told him he wasn’t doing it right, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”

At least the idiot who brewed the poison wouldn’t kill anyone else. I checked another pulse. Another dead man. I looked at Beau and shook my head.

He wiped his eyes and nodded. “I shoulda come to find you sooner, maam, but Buddy told me not to. Said the police would arrest him.”

As I felt carefully for a pulse, I asked Beau, “Why didn’t you drink the moonshine?”

“I don’t drink, maam.”

Jack called, “This one is alive!”

“That’s Jose,” Beau said.

I felt a faint flutter under my fingers. “So is this one.”

“That’s Pete,” Beau said. “Pete’s my best friend.”

 “The other man?” I looked at Jack and he shook his head.

Well, at least I could save two. I bit Beau's friend Pete in the vein in the crook of his arm. He was younger than I would have expected, maybe mid thirties. Tendrils of curly black hair streaked with gray peeked out from under his baseball cap and covered the lower half of his face.

He blinked after a few seconds with startlingly bright blue eyes. “Hi, Pete,” I said.

His blue eyes roved randomly around like he was looking for me. “I can’t see.”

I gave Beau a worried look. “You’re going to be okay, Pete, thanks to Beau.”

“Are you the angel? Beau said the angel would come and help if we let him go get her.”

“I’m no angel, Pete, but I’m glad to help.” I left Beau with Pete and bit Jose to give him a dose of the healing venom.

He breathed easier, but didn’t wake up for a few minutes. When he did, he could see.

Blindness was the most common lasting effect from methanol poisoning, but I thought my venom would take care of that. Pete was still looking around randomly, eyes unfocused.

I don’t know why, but I felt guilty that my venom hadn’t completely healed Pete. Oddly, I felt less guilty about the three dead men. I hadn’t had a chance to help them, but I should have been able to save Pete.
I remembered the man I watched die of a heart attack just last month. I was there. I could have saved him. I didn’t. I still saw his face in my dreams.

My dad would have known what to do for Pete. But I was at a loss.

Beau led the blind homeless man carefully down the steps at the edge of the loading dock, and sat down with him.

“Sometimes the blindness is temporary,” I offered hopefully.

Jack and I called the authorities to let them know about the bodies. Pete, Jose, and Beau got pretty nervous, but we assured them that only Buddy would be in trouble, and he was past caring.

We gave our statements to the police, and the three men were taken to the hospital in ambulances to be checked over. Maybe the doctors would be able to help Pete where I couldn’t.

Jack and I still went out to eat afterward, but my heart wasn’t in it.

“You saved two lives tonight, Dee. You know as well as I do that those two wouldn’t have made it without you.”

I knew he was right. And as much as I wasn’t happy about Beau and the others knowing so much about me, that was the only reason he’d known that I could help. My secret getting out meant that the people who needed my gift could find me. Somehow, when I imagined the day that I stopped hiding and started helping, I just thought I’d be happier.

The perfect topper to the night was coming home to find Vlad sitting on my balcony.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"I saw what you did this evening."

"Jack is my boyfriend, Vlad. You're going to have to deal."

His eyes flickered red, but he shook his head. "I meant saving those men who had poisoned themselves."

"What about it?" I was kicking myself enough for Pete's blindness. I didn't need someone else giving me crap about my inadequacies.

"I just wondered why?" he said.


"Their lives were ended by their own hands, not stolen from them by another.  They contribute nothing, will benefit you in no way, and they did not even express gratitude. Why did you ruin your evening with the mate of your choice to save them?"

I had no idea how to answer him. It took such a different view of the world to frame a question like that. My dad used to be a country doctor. He got paid sometimes with chickens or IOUs or vegetables from people's gardens that he couldn't even eat. But he never hesitated to go when someone showed up at his door. He never reacted any differently to the mayor's daughter in labor than he did to a sharecropper's sick kid. He just went. It never occurred to me to wonder why. But all I ever wanted to be was just like him.

Why did I save them?

"Because I could."

Vlad bowed to me as if I'd said something profound, and flew away.

Strangely, I felt a lot better about myself. I had to wonder, did Vlad do that on purpose?

Dee Dragon

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