Letter 07: Domestication

DomesticationElliot Chan – Domestication

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am.”

“You brought a living breathing weapon into our sanctuary. Buchanan, have you lost your mind?”

“Well, technically, she isn’t a Sword. She flunked the initiation.”

“And she’s already been scanned. Her biometrics came up negative for any sort of tracer. If there was a bug on her, she’d already be dead.”

“Precisely. Which is exactly why I brought her here.”

“To do what, exactly?”

“Make her one of us.”

“She will never be one of us, Buchanan. She’s a killer.”

“As was I. Or did you think I was merely a combat medic during my three tours of Iraq.”

“You know what we mean, Buchanan. Stop prevaricating.”

“Gentlemen! All I know is that this is our first dissident in nearly a hundred years. We should take this opportunity and use her to our advantage.”

“Brother, you know I’m usually on your side of these debates, but the old adage of playing with fire does come to mind.”

The Senior Council of Hollow Rock had been in session since noon. There were eight of them, high-ranking members debating the direction of the Paramours. Us newbies had some input, but not while council was in session. So instead, we were allowed to line the walls, just beyond the pillars that ringed around the seniors. We observed. We listened. We learned.

“Gentlemen!” Jake stressed as he leaned over his knees. “Your concern is duly noted but hardly warranted. Gladys doesn’t know where we are. I made sure of it.”

“My chief concern is that she’s playing you, Jake.” Said Benaiah. “With all due respect, we know of your affinity for girls who look like your own. For all we know, she could have been cast out or set up to fail in her initiation only to have the Paramours track her down, bring her here, and then have her tear us apart from the inside out.”

“That’s far fetched, Benaiah. I do hope you didn’t break anything with that leap,” Lincoln jeered.

“Not withstanding, you know this is all too plausible. You underestimate the Society and it’ll come back to bite you.” Benaiah warned.

“There’s also the fact that you brought her here without our consent. You go too far, colonel,” Lord Dathan scolded.

“It was a judgment call.” Jake nodded. “The girl was wounded and another wave of Blue Steel mercs were closing in. We couldn’t leave her there.”

“I supported his decision.” Lincoln added.

“She seems to have recovered quickly. If I’m not mistaken, it was just a flesh wound,” noted Alekzander in his Middle Eastern accent.

“Gentlemen!” Jake said in a lighthearted chuckle. “What are we if not a countermeasure for an ongoing war that’s lasted for nearly two centuries? How can we call ourselves soldiers, how can we call ourselves men if we’re too afraid to step out on the battlefield? Everything we do involves risks. Everything!”

“And if you’re so eager to die, then take your leave.” Benaiah said. “It’s not your place to make decisions that would jeopardize us all.”

“I think that’s his point, gentlemen.” Lincoln said. “We all know Col. Jacob Buchanan is a man of convictions. The fact that he put his life on the line for the service of his country is proof positive that he’s willing to sacrifice everything for the bigger picture, the greater good. If things go sideways, he and I will take responsibility and do what’s necessary.”

“Sirs, none of us want this to go so far,” Lord Dathan said. “The Paramours will never leave its own out to dry. We only ask for transparency and an acknowledgment of the clear and present danger.”

“Noted.” Jake said, almost in a grumble.

Despite Lord Dathan’s assurances, everyone sat sullen and dismayed.

“A domesticated tiger is still a tiger, colonel. That’s all we’re saying.” Alekzander noted.

“She’ll purr one minute. The next she’s mauling you in your sleep.” Benaiah added.

“So what if she does? If that’s what happens, then that’s the way it should be.” Jake concluded before abruptly rising from his seat and storming off. Lincoln was right behind him.

They were walking my way when I could see it in Jake’s face that he didn’t mean his closing remarks. They were the words of a man who was willing to fight and die for this secret plan he’s yet to divulge. It seemed uncharacteristic from what I knew about the old-timer. To be honest, he almost sounded like myself. It was strange. It was childish.

For the rest of the afternoon, I confess, I was gripped by this anxiety of uncertainty. I wandered the English country estate of Hollow Rock with light rain falling in sporadic mists. It was already cold, but made cooler from the moisture. Still, I endured it just to venture out to my favorite spot by the cascading stream.

All that talk about Gladys Vandelay… Jake had so much hope, so much faith in her. Jake’s not an idiot. Just a hopeless romantic. Who was she? What did she know? What if she knew nothing and all this drama was just a waste of time and stress. They did mention that she flunked her initiation. From my understanding, only full-fledged Swords knew the deepest innermost secrets of the Society’s infrastructure. So what could we possibly get out of this one girl? I had to look into it myself.

After combing the enormous estate for most of the afternoon, I found her in the first place I should have checked. I heard she was crazy about guns but damn. By the time I got there, about ten minutes past seven, she had already gone through fifty magazines. Three sniper rifles had jammed and the gears of an antique machine gun had dislodged from its cogs.

She had the whole underground shooting range to herself because her relentless pace annoyed everyone else. A guy leaving told me that she didn’t talk to anyone and good luck. She just stayed in her lane and popped off rounds. When someone asked her a question, she pretended not to hear them. But still, I approached, pulling up a chair so as to signify that I wasn’t going anywhere.

She threw a glance out of the corner of her eye before unloading on a fresh target sheet 30 yards away. I heard she was twenty-two but she looked like she was still in middle school. Baby blue eyes. Long blonde hair with curls at the ends. From her skirt and stockings, I could tell she was athletically gifted by the bulge of her calves, the way she barely shook from the recoil. Her accuracy was also something else. She hit the X on eight out of the ten shots fired from a fully automatic.

“I’m glad to see your injury hadn’t affected your accuracy.” I said in the pause it took for her to reload.

She didn’t respond.

“You were wounded, weren’t you? I’m only assuming Col. Buchanan isn’t completely off his rocker in bringing you here.”

“Scared?” She asked.

“Terrified.” I grinned.

“You should be. I’m only barely resisting the urge to turn my muzzle your way. Now leave me alone.”

“Are you here to destroy us? Or do you really want to take down the Society?”

She slapped in a new magazine with an attitude that sent chills down my spine.

“If none of you believe me, then why the fuck…You should just get rid of me. It’s so simple it’s stupid.”

“You’re right!” I said, standing up. “It is stupid. However, Jake isn’t dumb and neither is the council. But unlike them, I know all about false hope. I know what it does to a man. They’ll sacrifice their entire lives for that which isn’t true, plunging headfirst in their graves blissfully at peace with the hope and faith that everything will work out. I learned that lesson long ago. Hope, faith, belief, these are like batteries for martyrs. I’m not a martyr.”

“You think I give a damn what you are? Couldn’t care less.” She growled.

“I heard they killed your old man right in front of you.”

She aimed her gun at me but I didn’t back down.

“They killed my father in front of me too. Both of my fathers, actually. The biological and the one who adopted me. Honestly, you bitches make me sick. Initiated or not, you’re one of them. I can see it in your eyes. You all have it.”

“Have what?”

“Selfishness. Everyone of you thinks you’re the center of the universe.”

“Please! Grow up! Every one’s selfish! You have to look out for yourself ‘cause no one else will. If all the Paramours are like you then y’all don’t stand a chance. The Swords will carve through you like cake.”

I nodded in disbelief as I walked away, kinda pissed.

“You’re selfish too, you little punk! You’re just too stupid to see it. That ‘correct the course’ philosophy is nonsense! It’s pointless. It won’t change anything. If you don’t kill them! If you don’t kill every last one of them they’ll only multiply and they won’t stop until they get their revenge! And on and on it will go! It’s insanity you fucking blockhead!”

I could still hear her shouting as I boarded the elevator. It’s not that I didn’t believe or understand where she was coming from. But I suppose that’s the difference between the Paramours and the Swords of St. Catherine. The women perpetuate the hate. The men are prepared to end it by laying down their lives. It begged the question, in the depths of my heart, am I really a Paramour?

The next day was colder than the last. I wished it would go ahead and snow already. With my cover blown and the Society hunting me from sea to shining sea, I was confined to Hollow Rock and limited in aiding Paramours in their missions. Of course, in my downtime I still wrote scripts and movie ideas. I was still a film student after all. That passion never faded.

“Jesus!” I shrieked.

I was crouching by a pond with music in my earbuds when I spotted Gladys’s reflection. She was bundled in this pearl white coat with the wooly hood on. That added with the gray overcast, she really did look like a ghost. It was creepy as fuck.

I took out one of my earbuds to see if she had anything to say. My curiosity had dried up from our last convo, so if she didn’t have anything else to add I was ‘bout ready to put my earbuds back in and ignore her the way she did so many others.

“I’m not selfish.” She said, almost in a pout. “You just…You have no idea what I’ve been through. That’s the look in my eyes, that all Swords have. We’ve all been oppressed. We’ve all been antagonized and preyed upon.”

“By whom, Gladys?” I asked with heartfelt sincerity. “And before you answer, consider this. It seems that you’re coming here to plead your case that not all Swords are the same. I know this is a difficult task, but I would urge you to practice what you preach. Whoever oppressed you, whoever attacked you and inflicted you with this eternal pain, the scars you carry with such disdain and obvious spite. Consider that they, even they, are individuals.”

“You’re not making any sense! Then why do you want to end the Society! If you’re just going to treat them as individuals, why do you hate them as a group?” Gladys shouted.

I smirked, rising to a stand. “Is it really so hard to understand? On the battlefield, when you see soldiers rushing at you, doesn’t it make sense to assume that the group of individuals are all coming to get you? But you know what I’m trying to say. Men aren’t the enemy. Just like all women aren’t our enemy. Just the militant ones out to destroy us and reduce us to impotent puppies on a leash. On the same token, I assume it’s the corrupt, abusive men who you deem to be the enemy right? The ones who still think women are all inferior slaves in every comprehensive way. But that doesn’t denote not all and I refuse to believe it applies most. At least not in Western Civilization.”

“Yeah, thanks to women. If it wasn’t for us putting our foot down, forcing civilization to progress we’d still be in the Dark Ages.”

“I don’t deny that. None of us do. We may go up against a society dominated by women but every Paramour here will tell you that their love for women is still paramount. The Swords of St. Catherine are evil. That doesn’t mean all women are. Nor does it mean that all agendas backed by women are evil.”

“Then why do you think the Swords are evil?”

“Because they kill, Gladys.”

“Spare me. Like men don’t kill.”

“True, and those men deserve to be punished. In fact, a lot of them are being punished. The prisons are filled with them.”

“So naïve.” She grumbled.

“Maybe. But you know I’m not wrong. And pointing the fingers at other wicked creatures doesn’t change the fact that your little girl scouts are the worse of the bunch. They kill and ruin everyone who gets in their way. They’d rather replace love with hate. If that’s not the zenith of evil, I don’t know what is.”

“You’re wrong. They’re replacing the love for men with love of…”

“Themselves?” I asked. “I don’t think it’s for the love of God or any other deity, Jake would have mentioned it. And if it’s for the love of women, why would they force you or any other woman to commit so many rotten and unspeakable acts. Like sleep with a man to get close to him. Or kill your own father. If you ask me, that’s no different from the so-called Patriarchy, of kings who send the vanguard out to the slaughter just to lure the enemy into a trap. I dunno. I could be wrong.”

Her blue eyes glossed over as the breeze pulled at her bangs. “What do you want from me? I keep asking you guys over and over again. What do you want? For all the stereotypes about women beating around the bush, it’s like, you guys seem to do a lot of pussyfooting if you ask me.”

I chuckled. “Well, I can tell you what I want. I want to see the Society and all the Swords fall flat on their faces. Whatever they got planned, whatever my mother’s up to, till the day I die, I want to fuck up all her operations.”

“Your mother’s with the society?”

“Yep.”

“And you don’t want to kill her? You just want to fuck with her?”

“Yep.”

“You don’t want to kill her because she’s your mother?”

“I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve thought about it. But she’s a tough cookie. Bite her the wrong way and it’ll break your teeth.”

“What if I killed your mother for you?”

“Geez, kid…What is it with you and death?”

“BECAUSE, YOU DOLT! That’s the only way it ends! That’s what I don’t get. It’s so stupid! Fucking with her plans? What are you, twelve? Don’t you feel guilty for the countless lives they’ll ruin, that they’ll destroy everything because you and your butt-buddies were too busy twiddling with your fucking thumbs, snickering behind closed doors at the plots you foiled like it’s a fucking Saturday morning cartoon? GROW UP!”

Gladys…sure was something else. I could still hear her fuming as she trudged off towards the mansion. Still…she made some good points.

The next day, again, it got colder but no snow. And my dumbass carried a cold bottle of soda that made my fingers numb as I ventured out to the cascading stream. Again, Gladys appeared in her pearl white coat, still wearing the same scowl from whence she left. I took out my earbuds and waited for her begin.

“Truth be told, I’m not onboard with this stupid ‘undermining them and steadying the course’ nonsense.”

“You don’t say…” I scoffed.

“You have to admit, it sounds idiotic. For the love of God, you gotta admit it.”

I nodded. “It’s not like I don’t get where you’re coming from, Gladys. But we’re all given a choice. Being a Paramour isn’t a badge or some title they bestow on us. It’s who we are when we’re faced with that choice to live or let die. We truly do live up to our name because it all boils down to love. My mother killed my father. But I still love her. I wish I didn’t. I bet half the Paramours in Hollow Rock wished they didn’t love their women. But they do.”

She sighed. “There’s only one person on earth I loved and they killed him. So what do I do now? What does anyone without a single drop of love do with what little wretched life they have left?”

I smirked. “Consider this. Just because you lost a loved one, doesn’t mean you won’t love again.”

“Sounds like hope to me. I thought you said that crap was for martyrs.”

“Would you believe me if I said you changed my mind?”

“Over the course of a day?”

“Yes, Gladys. We can do that. It’s called intelligence. We adjust our views based on what’s observed, based on the new knowledge we attain.”

“Wishy-washy,” she grumbled.

“Whatever.”

“You know, you never told me your name.”

“You never…forget it. The name’s Elliot Chan. My friends call me El, or Ellie. Whichever you prefer.”

“Ellie’s pretty.”

“Do I look pretty too?” I said, fluttering my lashes.

“You’re weird.”

“Look who’s talking.”

“El!” came a new voice.

I looked towards the house and saw Jessi running my way. “I thought you’d want to know. He woke up!”

“Really, Jess? I’m suppose to know who…”

“Marcus! He’s awake!” She said before running off to tell someone else.

It caught me off guard. Completely surprised. I couldn’t believe how happy that made me.

“Marcus?” Gladys asked.

“Yeah. If it weren’t for him I probably wouldn’t be here right now. Come on. He’s been in an induced-coma off and on for God knows how long. What the Swords put him through, let’s just say you’ll never hear me complain about stubbing my toe. Come on.”

“Okay, but who is he?” she said as we trudged over the frosty grass.

“A journalist from New York. He was investigating the possibility of an underground society of militant feminists. Basically, he was on to the Swords. Had the Paramours known about him before he started publishing his essays, I’m sure they would have saved him. But Marcus was too fast. Too smart for his own good. I read some of his work. The historical references he pointed out, as well as the current events about men taking a brutal beating for their so-called toxic masculinity, it’s provocative. Bound to ruffle some feathers.

“Anyways, when I sought him out, they told me he died. I thought he was dead. He had gone to Louisville to cover a Women’s rally and was shot, beaten to an inch of his life, and hit by a car. By the time the Paramours arrived, his mangled body was still in the gutter. I went to Kentucky to get to the bottom of what happened and that’s when Jake found me.”

“My Jake? Col. Buchanan?” she asked.

“Psh, your Jake…Oh look! It’s snowing.”

When we got to the infirmary we found a small crowd had gathered, like groupies to a celebrity. As much as I didn’t want to join them, I confess, I did see Marcus as my own personal folk hero. If it hadn’t been for his expose, if it hadn’t been for his courage to investigate and post his thoughts, I might not have ever found my mother. I owed him a debt of gratitude more than words could describe.

All this was going through my mind as I cautiously shouldered my way through the huddle just to reach his recovery room. The door was closed but everyone could look through the long observation window to see him alive and well. He looked thin and frail. His contusions had subsided and he was now sitting up with lively facial expressions.

Jake, Lincoln, Ravi, and Lord Dathan were all in the room with him. I could tell conversations were light by the spurts of laughter but no one could hear what they were saying. I didn’t need to hear. Simply knowing he had survived and was finally out of a coma once and for all was good enough. I was confident I’d get to meet him later.

“So that’s him? Your lord and savior.”

I looked over my shoulder, then down at the shorter Gladys. I also noticed almost everyone else had backed up so as to not touch her. It was kinda funny actually.

“That’s him. Marcus Angel. The man I owe my life.”

“Marcus Angel…” she repeated.

“Yep.”

I expected her to comeback with more questions or some snarky affront, but there was silence. So I turned to her and was taken aback to see her staring at him with this far off look. Others started to murmur with increased agitation. And Gladys caught me watching her.

“Do you know him?” I asked.

“Nope. I do now. Let’s go.”

Before I could say anything, this little girl had grabbed me by my arm and was pulling me with a shocking burst of strength. I almost tripped over my own shoes as she more or less dragged me down the hall.

“Hey. Alright, dude! Damn.”

Gladys let go and stared off with her hands on her hips. She began to pout with seeming frustration.

“What’s with you?” I asked.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

I squinted. It was faint but I could have sworn I heard her say that.

“Elliot!”

“What?”

“If you say what you mean and mean what you say, then come with me. Let’s get out of here, someplace safe and remote where I can train you, out from under their supervision.”

“What? Why?”

“Because, oddly enough, I don’t feel like they trust me here. Strange, I know. And I believe what you said about wanting to stop the Swords without killing them. But to do that, you need to defend yourself against a Sword. What better way to learn that than to have a Sword coming at you no holds barred.”

I smirked. At first, I didn’t take her seriously.

“Are you in or out? Right now!”

Couldn’t understand where this sudden enthusiasm was coming from. I’d only known her for about a couple of days, but already she thought she could trust me? Did I trust her? Was it even safe? Wasn’t sure.

I would confess, however, that there was something very exciting about Gladys, her fearless conviction. She and I were the youngest at Hollow Rock. Running off and getting into trouble should have been somewhat expected. In the end, I think I just trusted my instincts. If I was wrong and Gladys ended up murdering me in my sleep, I’d have no one to blame but myself. I could live with that.

I nodded, “Alright then. I know a place not far from Surrey. But I think you should know–”

“Perfect! Pack your things. I’ll meet you at the front gate in twenty.”

“Gladys, wait!”

“And Ellie! Don’t tell anyone.”

This kid…nothing made sense. But I wasn’t so stupid so as to just abscond without leaving some indication as to where I went. So I sent Jake an e-mail, which I knew he barely checked, but eventually would. It was to let him know I was with her and still in the country. So to Surrey, we went.

On the outskirts of the historic Borough of Runnymede, there was a gang boss who fancied himself the king of the streets…even though he was a smalltime hood compared to some of the other known kingpins I’ve encountered in London. His name was Bruce Lorry, a hefty man who spoke fast in a cockney accent that was hardly coherent. Bruce was gay, lived like a gypsy, and was very sensible yet emotionally fragile in spite of his intimidating physique.

A couple of years ago, Bruce’s ragtag crew of scrawny teenagers were caught breaking into commercial truck full of smartphones. I just so happened to be near the station when I heard Bruce pleading for the young boys. I saw how much he genuinely cared for the lads who were already living the hard knock lives, so I impersonated a lawyer representing the victim of the stolen goods. After convincing the police to let the boys go, Bruce owed me a favor. And despite his occupation, as I said, he really was a nice guy under all that fat and muscle.

Bruce allowed Gladys and I to stay in the 2nd floor flat above his boxing gym. He didn’t ask a lot of questions and for some reason took an instant liking to Gladys. Every afternoon, he’d check on us and gift Gladys with sugar cookies from the nearest bakery. I’d sit there and listen to their endless drabble about the latest fashion trends or how they thought pop music was all starting to sound the same.

We trained in the gym and if anyone gave us crap for being outsiders, Bruce would drop them with an uppercut to the gut. For two months, Gladys put me through the ringer with her version of some kind of hell-on-earth boot camp. I went from 180 to 160 and it really started to show. I was getting lean and ripped.

Gladys was a proficient pugilist, like…ridiculously good. Almost every day, after sprinting through the hillside with a modified jacket that was filled with rocks, we’d box drill after drill. And then after I was good and exhausted with nothing left in the tank, we’d spar. Everyone would stop what they were doing just to watch this Little Bo Peep beat the shit out of me. I could barely land a punch and when I did, she’d get even angrier. And once, no lie, I literally ran to my corner and rang the bell my damn self.

Then, at the end of the day with my body hot and swollen, she’d make me carry a duffle bag with enough ammunition to land us in prison for the rest of our natural lives. We’d travel to the water meadows not far from where the Magna Carta was signed. It was here that we practiced our shooting.

I already knew how to handle a sidearm, but Gladys…it’s like she got off on it. The smell of gun oil was catnip to her. And I noticed she habit of exhaling ever so softly every time we locked in our magazines.

One never knew when she was impressed, but I always knew when she was disappointed. If I missed enough times, she’d snatched the gun away and just stare at me as if I had stepped on a kitten.

This girl. It didn’t matter is she was working with a 9mm, a scoped rifle, or an AK-47, she never missed. And it was in those moments where I simply sat back and watched her in action that…well, let’s just say I acknowledged she wasn’t a middle school student. She was petite and so youthful in appearance, but the way she handled her weapon with this serious intensity and blue eyes that hardly blinked…Gladys was indeed a woman. In so many ways, my superior. I acknowledged it. It was here that the feelings began to manifest. It was here that my heart began to flutter.

Just picture it, the auburn sun setting over the slopes of golden wheat that swayed in the wind. Then Gladys, with her yellow blonde hair loosely pulled back in a messy ponytail. Wearing this oversize dirty green army jacket, reminiscent of Vietnam. Crouching on one knee, with the stock of her AK-47 firmly planted against her left shoulder. Those blue eyes, those unblinking baby blue eyes and her soft, unblemished heavenly visage. The lack of emotion when she pulled the trigger and the discharges in short bursts. That image would forever be painted in the walls of my mind.

When she exhaled through the nose and lowered her weapon, there was an incredible sense of pride that washed over her. It wasn’t shock or how impressed she was with her own abilities. I didn’t get that. What I got was, she knew this was one of the few things on earth in which she was the best. That and Chopin. Whoever the hell that is.

At night, Gladys would ask me all kinds of questions about my previous missions and more importantly, my mother. I revealed my mother’s name was Jaida Fong and that she was a powerful network executive. I told her about the years of angst, the visions and reoccurring nightmares of my father’s murder. I told her about the night I finally confronted Jaida, and Gladys laughed.

She said I was lucky to get out by the skin of my teeth. She bragged that the Swords hardly ever failed once they sank their teeth into a prey. But I suppose, the most reassuring thing Gladys told me was that she believed in her heart of hearts, Jaida must have loved me. She said Jaida must have known I’d be in the writer’s room that night.

I never liked thinking about hypotheticals, so I tried to flip the conversations over to her. And as was the story of my life when it came to women, Gladys barely told me anything about her own past. Even when she gave me the headlines, she only said enough so that he secrets still remained secrets. Like, she revealed about how it was her sister Clarice who killed her father. However, I wouldn’t find out until later that this was Gladys’s initiation and that she failed by refusing to kill the father herself.

Also, I’d have to learn on my own that she fought in the Middle East. I thought that was epic! I’ve performed escort and backup missions around Turkey and the borders of Afghanistan, but I’ve never actually participated in the vanguards of war. It was ridiculous. After so many conversations, her deflections and obvious reluctance were starting to wear thin.

By the end of the second month, I finally had the courage to ask Gladys if she trusted me. It was a warm, beautiful spring day. The sun was setting with an orange, pink-clouded sky. We were on our way back from shooting practice when we had stopped along the Thames. I asked her if she trusted me and it took a while for her to reply.

“Ellie, there are things in a woman’s heart that simply cannot be spoken.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”

“That’s because it’s true. I’m glad that you feel comfortable in telling me things about your past. I’m honored and I do consider you a good friend. But I’m sorry. I just can’t reciprocate. The scars tattered around my heart, maybe one day, when they’ve healed to the point where I can acknowledge them without erupting in a boiling fit of rage, maybe then I’ll tell you.”

“Say no more. I understand.”

“Do you? Because you sound annoyed.”

“Because I am annoyed.” I chuckled. “But I mean, all that shit that happened to you was last year wasn’t it? I’ve had more than enough time to heal. And not everyone heals the same way so take your time. Trust me, I can’t stand it when people tell me I should be over something. I’m like, really? Thank you, I hadn’t thought of that. Also, fuck you. My name is Elliot, not whoever the hell you think you are. I’ll heal at my own pace. So you can take your expectations and shove it. How’s that?!”

She smiled an emotional smile. I sensed relief. I wondered if she was afraid I’d resent her. But how could I? I know what pain feels like. And it wasn’t as if I was trying to get into her pants. It was different. I truly respected Gladys. She knew who she was. A lot of people would tell me who they think they were, but by their contradicting actions I’d see that they were sorely mistaken. But Gladys knew exactly who she was and her assessment was just as accurate as her aim. No delusion. No doubt. It was amazing.

When we got back to the boxing gym, we were in for a surprise. All the boxers were huddled around the TV. The volume was turned up and we could sense the air of tragedy. Gladys and I hopped into the ring for vantage view over everyone’s heads. Bruce spotted us out of the corner of his eye and shook his head.

“Bit a shite yous boys be in now, roite.”

I think that’s what he said. I just nodded like I understood and paid attention. It was breaking news. Scrolling on the lower third read the words: “FIRST LADY FOUND DEAD IN THE WHITE HOUSE, PRESIDENT TAKEN FOR QUESTIONING.”

The media was in a frenzy. Massive crowds were on the verge of rioting in front of the White House. In uproar they were calling for the president’s impeachment. The First Lady was indeed dead and the President had been subpoenaed in connection to her death.

The most damning news was the leaked autopsy report. Every outlet clamored over it. The medical examiner had yet to release an official report, but an anonymous source claimed ligature marks were found around the First Lady’s neck. Murder and scandal was on the tips of everyone’s tongues. Speculation of panic and anarchy overpowered the fake concern and commiseration. Cameras zoomed in on those with the most emotion, the angriest, the loudest.

“Gladys, I think it’s about time we returned to Hollow Rock.”

She didn’t answer. She just glowered at the screen. I bet she knew the Swords of St. Catherine were behind this. All of it reeked of foul play.

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