Chapter 19: EXHIBITIONISTS AT HEART
As Rick Tyler turned his Wind Dancer onto the rain-dampened high-rent section of East Jefferson, he wondered if he should have simply asked Mina to stay with his folks instead of tricking her into it. No, the money smuggling story he gave her was the only thing that would have kept her from worrying too much about her sister until he could learn what had actually happened to her. And the Shag Man threat was real enough to justify a temporary relocation.
Rick was more persuaded than not that he had done the right thing.
Thats what he was thinking when he spotted Mina's red-sheathed form at the taxi stand in front of Duncans. The closer he got to her the more her evening dress seemed to change from red to blue and the more he wondered whether he was doing the right thing after all. By the time he stopped in front of her, he was certain that her dress was purple but her devastating beauty put him totally at odds with himself over the purity of his motives.
She was leaning forward to get a good look at him as he leaned across the passenger compartment to open the door. She didnt recognize him at first.
He could see her picturing him the way he was that morning, then giving the slight lift of her chin that said she knew who he was. "Its the uniform," he said. The door scissored up and Mina got in.
"You do look different without your uniform," she replied as the door lowered itself shut beside her. Rick nodded and pulled away from the curb.
"What do you know about Vivian?" asked Mina.
"Only what I told you on the phone," lied Rick, "When they found the old guy on Livernois, they traced him back to your sister, but it looked as though he had warned her in time for her to skip to Canada."
"How do you know she went to Canada?"
"I dont, but her car is gone and there is no sign of her. What she was involved in here isnt considered criminal in Canada. In fact, the Canadians see the whole NEZ policy of the United States as a crime and she would have been given political asylum for working against it. So, Canada would have been her best bet."
"I guess youre right," sighed Mina, not wanting to press the question of Shag Mans possible involvement. Besides, Mina would have been surprised if Vivian hadnt been smuggling money to a DZand if Shag Man had been involved in her disappearance, wouldnt Officer Tyler have said so?
"Im sure shell contact you when things have settled down. Right now, we have to see to it that Shag Man cant get to you. I should have thought about that before."
"Dont blame yourself," said Mina, softly. "Every time Ive needed help since this thing started, youve been there. Now youre taking me to stay with your parents for who knows how long. I have nothing to blame you for and every reason to thank you. I never did that. I want to do it now. Thank you officer Tyler. Thank you very, very much."
Rick flushed. "Ah...You know...Ah..."
"What is it?" asked Mina, nervously.
"Ah....Dont you think it would be better if we started calling each other by our first names?"
"Of course," said Mina.
Rick waited for her to use his name. She didnt.
They drove in silence with Mina looking across the river to the Canadian shore of Windsor Ontario for as long as it was in sight. Then, she looked straight ahead, wishing that Rick would drive faster and praying that her East Point neighbors would not be watching when they pulled up in front of her house.
As grateful as Mina was for everything Rick was doing for her, she was extremely uncomfortable about being seen with a white guy in public. His small, cheap car didnt have Black Glass and the looks they were attracting from people in passing cars and at stop lights from pedestrians and motorists, were humiliating.
"We can take my car to your parent's house," she said. "It has more room."
"Your car has more passenger space," said Rick, "But we can pack more stuff into this one."
"Why dont we take both cars? We can load both of them up and I can follow you."
Rick shook his head, "I dont want to take any chances of losing you before we get to my dads house. He said he would come back with me to pick up your car."
"Oh," said Mina, unable to think of another plausible excuse for splitting up.
"Later on," said Rick, "we can get anything else you might have forgotten. For now, I dont want you spending more time at your place than you absolutely have to whether I'm with you or not. It isnt safe."
"Okay," said Mina "...Turn left at the next light."
When they stopped in front of Minas house, Rick volunteered to wait outside for her, but Mina, looking anxiously around her as she climbed the wet concrete stairs, insisted that he come inside. He backed the car up the drive and did what she asked.
The first thing Rick noticed about Minas entertainment room was how different it was from her sisters, how much larger and better furnished. Everything about it said money, from the deep pile carpet to the high, lighted ceiling and everything in between. He had always wondered whether women as beautiful as she was were as vain as their looks entitled them to be. The mirrors in Mina Foski's house answered that question for one such woman at least.
So, thought Rick, happily, shes human after all.
"Have a seat," called Mina from somewhere out of sight in the back.
Rick sat down in the recliner couch in front of the telewindow that covered the west wall. The scene inside was a tropical waterfall at dusk as seen through a clear, flat pane as though it was just outside.
"You dont have to watch that," Mina said, crossing from one room to another across a hallway decorated on both sides with telewindows framing various academic and professional awards, "Turn to anything you want."
"Thanks," said Rick.
He pulled out his all-purpose light pen and brought up the all-channel program board with a spot of amber light. In the margin was a "BALLOT" icon, a box with an X drawn through it to indicate ballot proposals, opinion polls and elections of all kinds. It also allowed anonymous access to the X Channel. If Rick could have used the generic voter eligibility code on his bank card to activate it without getting caught, he might have, to see what channel she had watched last. She may have turned to anything, as most people did to cover their tracks. Still, he might have gotten luckyif Rick could have rationalized that invasion of her privacy.
He picked "Channel 7" from the main button bar and "ENTERTAINMENT" from the subheading. Two picks later he was looking at a listing of adventure shows from which he picked a viewer-variable, ELF-enhanced, 3-D version of Predator 2.
One thing he didnt like about the original was the killing of his favorite character. This was going to be his third attempt to find a point in the story that would change what happened to the "Lone Ranger" without turning a good movie into a loser. There were only so many good variations and only so many times a man could watch the action leading to any of them without getting board. Rick still had one or two times to go.
He brought up the viewer option screen, following the standard, unauthorized alteration disclaimers, which offered a choice of 9 scenarios with titles that might have meant anything. He picked one called, "Specialty," keyed the sound into his ear cannel receiver through his wristband computer and ran the instant fast-forward clock on the screen an hour ahead.
The critical scene had not yet occurred and everything looked the same as it had in the original, which was, at first, disappointing. But the level of suspense also proved to be the same because Rick didnt know what to expect next. If he had heard what Peters said in the space station VRS about the inimitable role of uncertainty in making things interesting, he would have understood....
A few minutes later, Mina waddled into the E room wearing a yellow, summer dress and carrying a suitcase in each hand. "Im ready," she said.
Rick gnashed his teeth. The movie was getting to the part he wanted to see and he couldnt think of a good way to ask her to wait. "OK," he said, rising from the couch to face her and trying to catch the action in the mirrors without calling attention to what he was doing. "Are you sure you have everything?"
Mina moved to the door, "Pretty much," she said. "I can pick up the rest when we come back."
"Yeah," said Rick, sneaking a last peek at the reflection of chaos aboard a subway train in the 3-D window. "Let me help you with those." He restored the waterfall to the window with a spot of amber light from his pen to the center of the pane, and sighed.
"Whats the matter?" asked Mina.
"Nothing," said Rick.
He carried the heavy luggage out to his car and stuffed it in the storage compartment as Mina nervously locked the house and scanned the deserted upper-middle-class street. Rick lifted the passenger door of his car and waited for her, still thinking about the "Lone Ranger" and flaying himself mentally for being so childish at such a serious time.
Mina scurried down the stairs and hopped in the car, following his slow progress with her eyes while her mind shouted at him to hurry. If it were true that none of the neighbors had seen them so far, it wouldnt be true for long. What is it about white people, thought Mina, that makes them think black people want to be seen with them in public?
Finally, he got in and they drove away.
After traveling together in silence for almost ten minutes, Rick decided to ask the woman beside him some direct questions.
"When I was little I remember hearing that your father invented the T-window and your family owned the first telewindow station in the country. Is that true?"
Mina shrugged. "No, not exactly."
"Well, No one person invented the telewindow. The technology has been around in bits and pieces for ages but the people who put it together couldnt afford to produce a product commercially. Dean Piper bought up all the patents, including my dads and invited the independent developers to invest the money in stations like WQST. My father was the first one west of the Mississippi to accept the offer. He couldnt make money at it, though, because he didnt have the programming and he didnt have the connections or the business savvy or whatever it was he needed to get the programming."
"Is that how you and Vivian got into the field?"
"You could say that. Our parents encourage Vivian to learn business management and T-window computer programming. She did. That kept the station going after the folks passed away. Vivian encouraged me and when flashback programming took off, that settled it."
"Ah," said Rick, "So it looks like you and your sister were destined to do big things."
"What do you mean?"
"You know, "Crime Scene 200," the way you make good one-hour stories week after week out of old unsolved crimes that couldnt have been that interesting to watch from start to finish when they happened. That's something. And your sisters work with Hector Clay"
Minas scowl, which he caught out of the corner of his eye, stopped him in mid-sentence. "What was that for?" he asked.
"That face you made. You did that the first time I mentioned Hector Clay. Is there something about him I should know?"
"...It doesnt have anything to do with the X Channel, does it?"
Mina turned in her seat. "As a matter of fact..."
Minas first reaction was anger. Then she caught the real meaning of what he thought was funny and put up a hand of caution. "Wait, a minute," she said. "I dont watch that channel."
"Of course not," said Rick, with a smirk. "You heard about it on a talk show."
"Well, I did," insisted Mina.
"Sure," said Rick, still smiling.
"You can believe whatever you want," said Mina. "The truth is still the truth, and the truth is, I dont watch that channel."
Rick had no doubt that she was telling a lie, but one glance told him how much it meant for her to hang on to it.
"I believe you," he said, "but how can you be critical of what he was supposed to have done on the X Channel if you didnt see it?"
"Dont give me that," said Mina. "I didnt see the clouds that dropped all this rain on the ground, either, but I know it rained."
"Thats not the same thing."
"Yes it is. When you have overwhelming evidence that something happened, its not necessary for you to have witnessed it to know that it did. National Public Radio had an hour-long debate about it a week ago and people are still calling in from all over the country to talk about it."
"I heard the debate youre talking about," said Rick. "They had guys with academic credentials up the ass arguing the implications and ramifications of everything they heard somebody say they saw. None of them watch the X Channel, either."
"Did you see the show in question on the X Channel?" asked Mina accusingly.
"Yes," said Rick, to Minas surprise. "Some of it. Enough to feel ashamed of myself for watching and to know that he didnt do anything wrong."
"The only women he had sex with were white. Dont you think thats a little peculiar."
Rick gave her a strange look that kept his eyes from the road for a dangerously long time. Finally, he turned his head back to where he was going and said, "Thats what somebody wanted us to see. It could have been doctored. Whether it was or not, its none of our business."
"It may be none of your business," said Mina, trying to fight off the recollection of her recent conversation with Margaret about the X Channel and a new kind of rape, "but even if it didnt involve my sister, it would involve me. What he did"
"Was to have his privacy invaded," said Rick. "Its not illegal, what they did to him, but it sure as hell aint right. Apart from thatassuming that the women were realhe might have found them desirable for reasons other than color."
Then Rick made the mistake of using that possibility to float a test balloon on his chances with Mina. "Take yourself, for example. You are an exceptionally beautiful woman. Thats a fact. A man of any color would have to be damn peculiar not to find you desirable."
That was enough to raise Minas ire to a temperature sufficient to clear her short-term memory of everything she and Margaret had talked about. "I dont believe in mixed relationships," she said, flatly. To take the racist edge off of her remark, she added, "In an ideal world it would be fine. But in the real world, a strong sexual message is conveyed by the mere presence of an interracial couple being seen together in public."
"Oh, come on," said Rick.
"Its true. When people see a man and woman of the same race walking together, sitting togetheror riding together in a car, they think nothing of it. But if one is white and the other is black, their imaginations run wild."
"That may not be the dumbest thing I ever heard," said Rick, "but off hand, I cant think of anything dumber. Mixed couples draw more attention than others because theyre rare. What people think, has to do with those people, not the couple."
Mina shook her head. "Dont you see, people who seek out those kinds of relationships have to be exhibitionists at heart and theyre probably more prone to sexual perversion in general than most people." Mina didnt believe what she said about "perversion" but it was one of those words that packed too much punch to resist. She nearly laughed out loud with the secret knowledge that she had used it only to discourage any more of Ricks advances as she watched him stumble for words.
Then he stopped. And smiled. And started to laugh....
When Rick walked Mina to the front door of his parents handsome, split-level house with each of them carrying one of her suitcases, his eyes were still laughing. At least thats the way Mina perceived it. She had given up on trying to figure out what he found so amusing, choosing, instead, to smile along with him in silent defiance of whatever it was.
Rick lifted the polished brass door-knocker and brought it down sharply several times. Twenty seconds later, the door was yanked open to the vapid sound of T-window game show music. Standing in the shallow foyer to greet them was a pretty girl in her early teens with jade green eyes, long, wavy black hair the texture of Minas and slightly darker skin. "Why do you always have to bang that thing so hard?" she scolded.
The girl stepped back to let Rick in first, followed closely by a stunned and disoriented Mina Foski. Mina cut Rick a sharp, wide-eyed look and clapped her hand over her mouth where she knew she had planted both of her feet. He grinned and nodded, as if to say, yes, you did make an ass of yourself. What he said, in fact, was, "Mina, this is my sister, Nancy, the egghead."
Nancy curtsied to Mina, and offered her hand. "Pleased to meet you," she said with a quick handshake. Then she gestured casually to Rick, "My brother, Eric, the dickhead."
Rick frowned, Nancy grinned, and Mina stood by awkwardly trying to strike a neutral pose.
"Mom!" shouted Nancy over her shoulder, "Dad! Shes here."
"Is her room ready?" asked Rick.
Nancy turned to leave, "As ready as its gonna be. Come on."
Rick and Mina followed her down the hall to the winding stairway. They were about to ascend the wooden steps when a petite, caramel-colored woman with dimpled cheeks entered the hall from an adjoining room. A tall, overweight, white man with thinning brown hair and the eagle, globe and anchor of the United States Marines tattooed on his left forearm followed close behind. Their faces were lit up like rock star groupies in the presence of their musical idol.
Mina tried to do three things at one time: to acknowledge them with a friendly smile, to avoid Ricks laughing eyes and to will herself to vanish. She succeed, somewhat, with the smile.Back to top
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Contact the author: Jasper Garrison