Sunday Snippet – Superhero, Mark and Zora, Post-Abby

Another scene I unearthed from Superhero. I didn’t realize that I had invoked Zora from the past until she emerged in RSA, though the Zora Scott from RSA is supposed to be based on the character I used in Turnabout, a collaboration with another fanfic writer on an Orlando Bloom message board. (Go ahead and laugh. I deserve it.) This Zora is supposed to resemble Felice from Midnight Moon, but without some of her… idiosyncrasies. (I won’t spoil the surprise for you.)
Maybe I love the name Zora. And who better to try out favored monikers than on characters?
__________________________

There are times when I find
You wanna keep yourself from me
When I don’t have the strength
I’m just a mirror of what I see

When Mark awoke again, the room was dim.

The drapes on the window were drawn, so it could have been night or day. He could not be sure. Time had slipped by him, slipped by them, without notice and now they could not get it back. How ironic that it had been happening for a long time, and it took a tragedy for him to notice.

Reality seeped into his thoughts. He felt the pain of his broken body as he remembered flashes of the events that led up to that moment, and all of a sudden, he wished he could forget it all. If he couldn’t go back, he opted to just forget it all. It seemed a small mercy for having to deal with the remainder of his life without the woman he loved.

“Abby,” he whispered, awash with sorrow. The trembling began then, and the tears clouded his already blurry vision.

A soft sniffle startled him out of his moment of melancholy.

Her brown eyes shining like orbs watched him closely, as if he were a fascinating display of a form of human life she had never seen before. They peered at him from over her knees that were covered in soft gray fleece pajama pants, and he could not see the bottom half of her face. But it slowly came back to him as she gazed at him unwaveringly, along with the memory of her cries…

She watched as he tried to shift himself into a better position and winced. He griited his teeth together as he bore the pain. Moisture swam in his eyes, and then…

There was a light touch on his trembling leg, not enough pressure to harm but enough to notice. Through the thin blanket he could feel the warmth. Blinking rapidly and trying to control his short breaths, he wondered what touched his leg.

It was the little girl’s hand.

“Don’t cry,” she whispered. “It’ll all be alright.”

He blinked hard, once, then stared at her incredulously. The nurse who was there when he had awoken for the first time since the accident had told him that the little girl had not spoken to anyone, and here she was (having snuck into his hosptial room no less) reassuring him as if he had woken from a nightmare.

In a way, he had– a living nightmare that could not be changed with all the wishing in the world. And that made him want to burst into tears all over again.

He swallowed the lump he had in his throat and focused on the little girl. He forced his mind to operate on more practical terms for the situation at hand. After all, didn’t she have parents? A brother? A sister? Someone who worried about her while she sat here with her knees to her chest looking curious and scared all at the same time?

“I was scared,” she went on, simply, answering his unspoken question.

Mark’s lips twitched in a movement that could have been taken as a smile or a grimace. The fact that she had no one to comfort her at this time of upheaval in her fragile existence grieved him greatly. However, he could not help be warmed slightly that she felt his presence would chase away apprehension. She barely knew him and here she was…

“So you thought that I could keep you company,” Mark commented, voice strained.

She merely blinked at him, saying nothing. He supposed that was a yes.

He chucked sardonically, an effort that made his chest hurt. “I’m not sure I can help you with that, kid. I’ve got enough shadows of my own.”

Her eyebrows came together in a frown. “Is that why you were crying?”

He had the overwhelming urge to take up a shield, as if he were more vulnerable than he wanted to be. “That is none of your business.”

The way her face shifted implied that she was pouting. “You can’t send me back. I won’t go.”

“Wait.” Mark leaned over, ignoring the pain, and grabbed the little girl’s arm lightly. “I’m sorry. I…” They locked eyes, one watery gaze to another. “I didn’t mean to yell at you. I…”

“Somebody died and you didn’t want them to,” she said in such a way that made his blood freeze. “That’s what the nurse lady said.”

“Tell me your name,” Mark murmured. “They never told me your name.”

“My mama named me Zora,” she told him. “What did your mama name you?”

“My mother named me Mark after her own father.” He placed his bigger, lighter hand on hers, taking note of the flicker in her eyes when he did it. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Zora.”

In a movement that shocked him a little, she placed her free hand on his.

“Likewise.”

He was to learn soon that being shocked by Zora was to be a mundane, habitual event.

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Sunday Snippet – Superhero (Mark and Abby)

Four years ago, around the time Alias entered my life (bringing Michael Vartan and Jennifer Garner in as well :D), I started making plans to write this story called Superhero. The tale centered around Mark Perry, a detective who loses his wife at the beginning to a tragic car accident, and Zora, the little girl he meets while in the hospital. At the end of his stay, he decides to take Zora in until her parents are found or someone adopts her. He eventually adopts her himself. Several years after Abby dies, Mark takes on an investigation that leads back to his and Zora’s pasts.

Maybe someday I will pick it back up–or integrate it into my other works.

Michael Vartan for Mark Perry! Tee hee.

________

He knew that he loved her from the moment he’d laid eyes on her.

He had been in uniform then, fresh out of the academy, working his way up through the ranks. This stint in the throes of the Traffic division was temporary and thankfully so; he was bored stiff with the prospect of signing speeding tickets for the rest of his life. He knew, much like most of his fellow graduates from the academy, that Homicide or  Vice were more coveted than Traffic. He planned to make his reputation in Homicide, and usually what Mark Jameson Perry set out to do, he accomplished.

But that day, he was thankful that he had the chance to cross her path.

It was a hazy, hot day, the sort of day that bred madness and mischief. Already he had stopped several reckless joyriders who thought that the weather was ample reason to speed through posted speed limits, and most of them were barely legal.

It was around two p.m. when a red Porsche Boxster came breezing past him going ninety in a seventy-mile-an-hour zone. He rolled his eyes, trying to squash his exasperation. After glancing behind him to make sure that no one was on the road behind him, he zoomed back out onto the highway with his lights flashing and his siren blasting.

Other drivers obediently moved out of his way as the Boxster wove itself through the light traffic so it wasn’t long before he’d caught up with the bullet on wheels. From his vantage point, he could ascertain that the driver was male, and he was accompanied by a dark-haired female. A dark-haired female it seemed, from here, who was quite exasperated with his love for speed. She glanced behind them and saw Mark following. She shoved him and made him swerve. Luckily there was no one around them except for the police cruiser so it caused no damage.

When the Boxster was safely on the side of the road, Mark pulled up a couple of yards behind it and cut his own engine. He got out of the car with his ticket-writing pad securely in his pocket.

The driver of the cherry-red Porsche was a young man who didn’t look any older than seventeen. His long hair was a dark blond, and his jeans were designer. There was a bit of an insolent twinkle in his blue eyes that put Mark’s hackles up.

He opened his mouth to speak, but then his eyes shifted upward. And found her.

She had curly dark-brown hair pulled back from her pale, heart-shaped face. Her full mouth was painted a rosy shade of crimson underneath an aristocratic, up-turned nose. Her slate-green eyes were apologetic as she stared at him anxiously. Unlike her male counterpart, which seemed to be a close relative after a further look, she was contrite and afraid of his presence.

“Is there a problem, Officer?”

The disrespectful voice broke through his reverie. His eyes drifted back to the pair of blue eyes staring impertinently at him. “Yes, there is a problem. Can I see your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, please?”

Saying nothing, the guy leaned over and opened the glove compartment. He pulled out the required documents as the woman grabbed his wallet and pulled out his driver’s license. He rolled his eyes and took it and then handed it to Mark. The name on the ID was Eric William Rowan. The address that was listed indicated that he was of the platinum card set, and Mark’s estimation of him was right: he was sixteen years old. The Eric in the photograph was smirking just like the live one was now. It seemed that insolence was a chronic character trait.

“Eric Rowan?” Mark inquired.

“The one and only,” Eric quipped. “I think you can tell from that picture that it’s me.”

The woman sighed heavily in exasperation. “Eric…”

“Relax, Abby,” the guy named Eric said in a low, conspiratorial tone. “I’ve got this.” He turned to Mark with an arrogant sort of contrition. “Listen, uh…”—he paused to make a big show of reading Mark’s name tag—“Officer Perry. I’m real sorry about all this. It’s all a misunderstanding, I’m sure. I hope we can clear this up quickly.”

Mark merely blinked at the young man with flat green eyes for a moment before finishing the ticket. “You were going ninety miles an hour in a seventy-mile-an-hour zone. I hardly see how this could be misconstrued. You have eyes. You have perfect reasoning, though you act like you don’t because you’re too young to think about your mortality. The signs are posted for your security and others.” He tore some sheets from the pad, gave one to Eric along with his driver’s license and proof of insurance on the Porsche. “Have a nice day, Mr. Rowan.” He flicked a glance at Abby, hoping that he would look at her for as long as courtesy would allow before walking away. But his eyes would not move from hers for what seemed like the longest instant…

“Thank you, Officer Perry,” Abby said in a gentle tone, breaking the hold that she had on him.

He gave a slight nod as Eric rolled his eyes. “Good day, Miss. Rowan.” He turned and walked away, having no clue what had just happened and how it would change the rest of his life.

* * *

They met again three years later, but this time, it was in a more formal setting. He had learned a great deal about Abigail Rowan since that first meeting, and every morsel of information was as succulent as a finely cooked meal. His job gave him access to databases of information, but he mostly relied on information he got from articles written about Abigail and her family.

Abigail was the oldest child in her family. She had two fraternal twin brothers, Eric and Ethan, who were as different as black and white; Ethan was the intense, serious one whom everyone assumed would follow in Father Rowan’s footsteps, and Eric, even though he was the older of the pair, was the reckless one, always disappointing his father and causing trouble. Their parents, Robert and Katharine, had been married for nearly a quarter of a century; while her husband conquered in the political arena, Katharine Rowan spearheaded various campaigns for the rights and welfare of women and children, shown pictured on stone steps looking rather radical for a woman of her stature. It was rumored in gossip columns that Robert disapproved of his wife’s work, deeming it extremist and unnecessary. But Katharine, who had grown up on the opposite end of the spectrum from where she now resided, figured it was her right as a human being to help those less fortunate—those words exactly became a sound byte within mere minutes speaking them.

It was a cold night in February when they crossed paths once again. He’d donned a tuxedo for a charity event he was sent to provide security for as a favor for a good friend. Aside from working in the bullpen at work and going out with drinks with the guys after work every now and again, Mark’s life was filled with a jumble of time-passing activities. He was complacent, but not completely happy. There was a big difference. He could feel it every time he found himself on a date with another stand-in for the woman he felt was his soul mate. Still he went on and put it aside to act out his life, which was not all that bad.

Mark stood at the door, watching the guests as they walked in. Oscar Willis, one of Mark’s good friends and a fellow cop, occupied his post beside him, appraising the banquet’s guests with a bit of speculation in his dark brown eyes.

“Quite the party, isn’t it man?” Oscar asked in a conversational tone. “I heard they had Martha Stewart cater.”

“I remember you,” Abigail remarked, tilting her head a fraction. “You gave my brother a ticket three years ago.” Her chin lifted and a strange light came into her hazel-green eyes. “So have you sought me out to give me one?”

Mark looked startled. “Of course not, Miss Rowan! I…”

It was then that Abigail began laughing, the glorious sound flowing over him like sweet music. He realized that she had been merely joking and that she really didn’t think he’d come there to give her a speeding ticket. Feeling sheepish, Mark chuckled nervously along with her.

“I was merely jesting, Officer Perry,” Abigail assured him. “I’m sure you have your reasons for being here, just as everyone else does.”

Noticing something in her tone, Mark countered, “Do you have a reason to be here?”

It was Abigail’s turn to be startled, which intrigued Mark but she recovered quickly. “Whatever do you mean, Officer Perry? I have plenty of reason to be here. I am a part of the Rowan family and I must be here to back my father. We are a unit and it is important that we appear as such.”

The way she said it, the very deliberateness of it, was practiced. She had prepared the statement in front of a mirror, with her father’s approval. She was Daddy’s Little Girl, outfitted with expensive threads and clever phrases. The articles and the papers never hinted at this, never gave a clue that Abigail was the kind of woman that Robert Rowan wanted to be by his side—slightly different than the woman he’d married. Or perhaps her had been so smitten that he’d overlooked it. But now that he knew, it gave the glided image of the woman with whom he was secretly in love a bit of dullness. It was a scratch, an imperfection.

“That’s justified,” Mark commented, “and very admirable of you all, but what if you didn’t want to be here?”

Something in her eyes flickered as it had before, but she was one for a quick recovery. “It is not a question of desire, Officer Perry.” Her tone was slightly imperious now. “Giving in to desires is reckless. I have an obligation to my father to be here, and I am fulfilling it. It doesn’t matter what it is that I want otherwise.”

“So there isn’t something you’d rather be doing tonight? Hanging out with friends? Curling up on the couch with a book?”

“Those things, while nice, are a waste of time for me,” Abigail insisted. “I have no time to spend doing idle things. Every action I take has to take be a step forward. I am grieved to understand that you do not feel the same, Officer Perry.”

Mark, ignoring the scene around them and the implications, stepped closer to her. She drew up as if to make herself seem taller, and it didn’t serve to intimidate him. It, however, made them diametrically opposed.

“What has that man done to you?” Mark demanded in a low tone, watching her cheeks flame. “Have you no mind of your own?”

“I do have a mind of my own, Mister Perry!” Abigail cried angrily, her Mister as acrid as sulfur. “I choose to support my father in what he does, and I’m sorry if you think that is wrong.”

“It’s not wrong. That’s not what I’m saying. Giving support to a family member is not wrong by any means. But your heart has to be in it. You have to want to do it as much as you want to do something you like, not treat it as if it were a dental exam.”

“How dare you assume…? My heart is in it!”

Mark appraised her with the tough, observant eyes of a cop for a long-enough moment to make her fidget. She had looked more alive in the last few moments than she had all night long, her pale cheeks tinged with rosiness and her green eyes filled with fire, and she had the nerve to lie and say that her heart was in this façade?

“I don’t think so, Miss Rowan,” Mark disagreed, sidestepping her and walking away. With her lips pursed, she just glared at him and said nothing, but it seemed that her glare was tinged with a bit of humiliation. “Good night,” he added, as an afterthought over his shoulder.

* * *

Dear Mark,

I have given what you and I discussed the other evening a lot of thought. It is not every day that I cross someone that makes me question what I am and with what I have surrounded myself, and I have to admit that my anger came from my misapprehension. If there is one thing that I hate, it is to be told I’m wrong about something. I get that from my mother, I suppose. Anyhow, I offer you an apology because I feel that you have no cause to be ridiculed for your knack for questioning (something I think will serve you well in your occupation) and my anger was misdirected. You just happened to be there when it erupted, an unwitting trigger, perhaps, which was rather unfortunate.

I hope I have not alienated you and lost your companionship. That is what you wanted, isn’t it?

Sincerely,
Abigail J. Rowan

Mark looked at the note in wonder as the others looked at him with interest. The last line echoed in his head, sounding more sassy and shrewd than it had come off at first glance. That is what you wanted, isn’t it?

Had he been that transparent? Oh he could just kick himself.

RSA – “Payback”

Apologies for the delay, folks! Yesterday happened to be the longest day in creation–or at least it seemed that way. Full steam from 5:00 a.m. to nearly 11:00 p.m. It’s any wonder I am up right now composing this thirteen hours later and with two hours of sleep…oh well!

Anyhow, this is another installment from the Recon Specialist Agency. I wrote this one a little before my birthday this year; Zora and I share similar sentiments about birthdays. Sadly I was stuck in bed on the day of my birth–stupid sinus infection. I think at some point you’ll see Zora doing the same thing to John…that’s going to be a blast to write 🙂

I am planning a meeting with my “panel” so you might get some John/Zora backstory–I can’t wait to see what results from that…

_____

 

Prelude

 

She stood in a defensive stance, hands crossed over her chest. Her voice was filled with ice as sharp as her stilettos when she spoke. “You rang?”

He flicked a glance at her as he tweaked the circuitry in his new invention. “End that with Master.”

She fumed. “Leave me alone, J. I am not in the mood.”

The dark-haired man sitting behind the desk in jeans and a blazer over a T-shirt that proclaimed, Warning, If Zombies Chase Us, I Am Tripping You raised an eyebrow as he put his current project aside. “You’ve been acting like more of a bitch than usual. I just wanted to know what was wrong.”

She beaned him with a glare. “Yeah, I’m on my period, Neanderthal.”

That got the desired wince out of him. He hated blood. She smiled. Fractionally. After a moment, he frowned at her. “No you’re not. There wasn’t any blood on my sheets this morning.”

That earned another glare. “I wasn’t even in your bed this morning, John. It must have been one of your backup hoes that you’re mixing me up with. And I oughta kick your ass for that.”

He guffawed. “The hell? I don’t let those dirty hoes in my bed. Those sheets are freakin’ Egyptian.” She cocked an eyebrow. “You’re supposed to laugh right there. It was a joke.”

“Yeah ‘cause the thought of you having hoes with your dorky ass is hilarious,” she quipped with an ungraceful snort. After her mirth passed, she griped, “Could we get this over with? You know how it looks when you call me in here like this.”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I could bend you over the desk. Tends to be hard with the glass walls.”

“Like that would stop you.” He smirked. Yeah it wouldn’t. “Pervert.”

“I am trying to be serious here. Show some concern over you.” The more he stared at her, the less angry she became. In fact, she was starting to…fidget. “Is something going on that I should know about?”

“No. Not at all.” 

Insert bland stare here. “Don’t lie to me. I can make your life hell for lying to me. You’ve been treating everyone like shit for like a month, and Stella says you nearly killed Drake in the sparring ring with the new prototype I made for you. I know you want to be some badass vagina, but you will show some restraint with my inventions under my roof. Your coworkers are not sparring droids.”

Blink, blink. She put a hand to her chest. “Are you…scolding me, J?”

He leveled the sternest look he could manage upon her. “I am. And stop calling me J. The name is Andy.”

Pause. She guffawed so loud that the glass walls quivered. His face fell in complete shock. He watched as she stumbled to the door and let herself out, laughing so hard everyone turned to look at her, then at their esteemed boss, who looked like he had been poleaxed.

As the troops returned to their work, he could all but taste the acrid tang of mutiny in the air.

She was going to pay for that one.

 

 

I
That evening

 

“That bitch has no respect,” John groused into his glass of Guinness. “No respect at all.”

The Friday evening din at their regular bar nearly overshadowed their meager conversation and John had to raise his voice to be heard. Edward Dean, better known as Eddie, took a swig of his own beer. Beside him, Stella Stevens enjoyed a nice glass of wine and raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at their friend who seemed irritatingly angst-ridden and Rodney Dangerfield-esque for the evening.

“Yeah, I heard she was laughing her ass off when she left,” Stella said. “What did you say to her?” John told her. “And she laughed at that?” She shook her head in disbelief. “That bitch has balls.”

“Well, it doesn’t help Andy lets her get away with murder,” Eddie remarked. That earned a glare from John. “She’s a good recon agent with awesome instincts, but she has an insolent streak—one that Andy indulges.”

“I do not!” John protested. Eddie just gave him a bland stare. “I reprimand her on a regular basis. She has the wrong idea that she’s special or something, and there is nothing special about her.”

Eddie opened his mouth to say something, but Stella sent him a hard look. They weren’t supposed to know that tiny piece of information that John didn’t want them to know—and they weren’t going to reveal their knowing anytime soon. Eddie pursed his lips together and spoke on a slightly different course—one that wouldn’t get him in trouble with his best friend.

“Someone told me that she was having some kind of dinner party at her house tonight,” Eddie revealed.

“A dinner party?” John frowned. “Why is she having a dinner party?” And why wasn’t I invited?

“Word on the street is that it’s a special occasion.” Stella tapped her wineglass with a nail. “Apparently, it’s her birthday.” John’s face went slack with shock. How could he not have known this? “Maybe you should put in an appearance and score some cake and show her who’s boss.”

“Maybe that isn’t a good idea,” Eddie said primly.

Stella scoffed. “Like hell. I think it’s a brilliant one. That’s what she gets for not respecting his authority. After this, she won’t have any choice but to respect him.”

“Yeah, but there are better ways to set someone straight. Especially since he’s had like five beers since we got here. He’s gonna do something stupid and get in trouble.”

Stella looked at John with hawk eyes. “Andy, can you walk in a straight line?”

John shrugged. “I mean, probably.” He drained his glass.

Eddie shook his head. “I don’t believe it. He’s lying.” He watched as John took out his wallet. “You’re not going to Zora’s house to embarrass her. Leave it alone, Andy. Dock her pay or something. Or fire her.”

“No,” John disagreed, throwing a bill on the table. “Stella’s right. She messes with my reputation, I mess with hers.” He replaced his wallet and stalked off, a plan formulating in his head.

“Make sure to get it on video!” Stella called after him. Eddie gave her a reproachful look and she merely tossed her luxurious hair over her shoulder in a gesture of defiance.

 

 

Meanwhile…

 

So yes, if you were wondering, something was up with Zora Scott.

If you were to ask, she would shrug and say nothing or mind your own damn business. If you were John Anderson Leath asking, she would lie and say she was on her period. (That usually worked, but it was becoming a bit trite.) But if anyone at the Recon Specialist Agency had been paying attention, they would have noticed Zora’s attitude worsening in a crescendo. And today was the accent note.

It was the middle of July. For most, this particular block of the year meant nothing more than time spent poolside with a bimini. For Zora Neale Scott, it was a dreaded time—her birthday.

Unlike her contemporaries, the coming of her birthday brought dismay, not excitement. A day where she was the spotlight, the center of attention. A day where she was the butt of getting-old jokes, the recipient of too-sweet cake and sloppy kisses from relatives.

She would’ve taken a month-long sojourn to Spain if it wouldn’t have sent up red flags to the wrong people.

She stood in her kitchen, flushed in the face and wishing for a sleeping pill, and checked on the asparagus that her mother was cooking on the stovetop. She was antsy, wanting to do something to keep her mind off of her impending doom. She knew there was frosted angel food somewhere. She just wasn’t able to find it.

Zanelle Scott, her big sister, sauntered into the kitchen then. The air about her was decidedly smug. Zora couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t her birthday again—not for another six months.

“Having fun, sister boo?” Zanelle teased.

Zora grumbled. “I think an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills would be better than this.” Before Zanelle could comment, her doorbell rang. She sighed. “It’s my house, I’ll get it.”

“Who knows? It could be a birthday surprise.”

Zora smirked. “Only if it’s Henry Cavill in a Speedo would it be a worthy birthday surprise.”

It was a shame, she thought later, that it was not Henry Cavill standing on her doorstep. In fact, she would have taken any alternative over what was actually there.

Zora could do nothing but gape.

“Guess who’s here for dinner?” John Anderson Leath declared, holding up two bottles like award statues.

The gape turned into a glare. And she slammed the door in his face.

A second passed. The doorbell rang again. Zora growled.

Mama Scott frowned as she came around the corner, hearing the sound of the bell. “Zora, aren’t you going to answer the door?”

Zora grumbled something under her breath that was best left unheard. Grudgingly she opened the door again. John was still standing there grinning like a serial killer. Without preamble, a curly-haired streak came zipping out of the living room and ran into John. Thrown off balance—and drunk to boot, he stumbled and fell off of the porch.

A moment later, a woman with light brown hair appeared, slate-green eyes wide as she took in the scene. “Leila?!”

The pretty child grinned impishly at her mama. “Look, Mama! He hurt himself. I should help him.”

Zora grinned, too, but malice was in her eyes. “Yes sweet pea, you can help him all you want.”

Embarrassed, Leila’s mother ushered her to the bathroom to wash her hands for dinner. John appeared then, brandishing unbroken bottles. “No need,” he assured them. “I am quite all right.” He gave Zora a pointed look. “I decided to stop by and check out your dinner party since you mentioned it.”

Zora, smile fixed in place, said through her teeth, “I don’t recall mentioning it to you.”

“Word travels.” He grinned at Mama Scott. “You must be Zora’s mother. Wonderful to finally meet you.”

Mama Scott, who was well versed in the art of politeness, responded, “Yes…and you are, again?”

“John Anderson Leath,” John introduced himself. “But you can call me Andy. Zora works for me.”

A male voice radiated from the kitchen. “That’s the sonofabitch who nearly got her arrested and killed.”

Zora sighed, not wanting to be reminded of Nathaniel Cole’s debauchery (especially in front of her mother who was given a watered-down version that didn’t supply names—including John Anderson Leath). “Could we not talk about that?”

Winston Monroe, dishtowel in hand, stuck his head out of the kitchen. “If that asshole is here, we will be talking about it if I got something to say about it.”

“Winston,” Mama Scott admonished. Winston disappeared back into the kitchen, muttering irritably under his breath. Curious—and a mite suspicious—she turned to John. “Dinner is almost ready. We were just about to sit down if you would like to join us.”

Zanelle appeared and took the wine bottles. “I mean, he brought liquor so I’m down.”

John grinned that creepy serial killer smile again. “Yes, I would be happy to.” He wrapped an arm around Zora’s shoulders. “Give me the spot next to this one.”

Zora tried to smile, but it looked like she was going to attack instead.

 

 At the dinner table…

 Mama Scott was shrewd enough to seat Zora inbetween Winston and her little sister Zandra, who sullenly picked through her dinner. She wasn’t sure about this person who had shown up on her daughter’s doorstep, so she placed him at the other end of the table where she could look him in the eye. Zanelle sat across from her little sister Zandra while ZJ, their baby brother had the spot to John’s right. Faye and Leila sat next to Mama Scott.

“This is a lovely dinner,” John remarked. “I don’t think I’ve ever had asparagus this good.”

“If I’d’ve know you were coming I woulda put cyanide in it,” Winston muttered. Zora nudged him not-too-subtly. Zandra snickered.

“I don’t like asparagus,” ZJ remarked. “You can have mine if you want.”

“No he cannot,” Mama Scott said sternly. ZJ deflated. “So what is it that you do?” Zora’s mother asked John, a dubious note to her voice. “Zora has never…mentioned you.”

Zora squirmed under her mother’s heavy gaze.

John considered this a humming moment. In the silence, utensils clanked on plates. He gave a long explanation about what he did for his father’s company, making it comprehensible to his audience. Zanelle sipped wine and looked intrigued.

He paused for effect while he cut a bite of steak as the others processed this. “Oh yeah. And I’m also screwing your daughter.” The grin he wore after this explanation punctuated it perfectly.

Crickets. Zora’s eyes nearly exploded.

Sensing her will to maim, Zandra slid the knife away from her sister. Shaking his head, Winston slid it back.

Frowning, ZJ turned to John. “But Zora is not a nail! How would you screw her?”

“Yeah how?” added little Leila.

Zanelle choked on her rice. Zora snapped out of her stupor and stood. She reached out and grabbed John by his collar as her mother told her to calm down. Faye was admonishing her own child as she told Zora, “Stop being so mean to him!”

“Outside, now!” Zora snapped as she dragged him out by the collar. There was a lot of cursing and banging. Faye sighed and covered her daughter’s ears.

“If you kill his ass, I got shovels!” Winston called after her. Mama Scott gave him a reproachful look. He merely shrugged and ate his asparagus.

 

 

Outside…

 

“You motherfucking asshole!” Zora ranted. “I ought to take your testicles with my bare hands!”

John faced her calmly with his hands over his chest. “Problem, babe?”

Zora’s response sounded like the jagged lovechild of a scream and a growl. John just stared serenely.

“How dare you come into my house and make me out to be some sort of fornicating whore? And in front of my mother? My little brother and my goddaughter?”

Silence.

“Payback’s a bitch ain’t it?” John asked.

Zora’s eyes nearly exploded again.

“Payback?” Zora spat. “You came here on my birthday to embarrass me for payback?!” Fed up, she struck out with a fist and clipped him on the temple. He caught her fist before it could do anymore damage.

“Yes, I did,” John answered testily. “And to teach you a lesson. You need to show me some respect, Zora. You may be…I mean, we may be…”

“Screwing each other?” Zora offered blandly.

“Yeah, whatever,” John resumed hastily. “But that doesn’t mean that you can walk all over me when we’re at work. I’m the boss, you know. And how my workers regard me assures whether or not they trust me to lead them. When you undermine my authority, it makes me look like a bullshit leader.”

Zora groaned, her anger draining. “Dammit…”

He released her hand. “You see that I’m right, don’t you?”

“You’re not wrong,” Zora contended. “But you’re not right either.” She placed her hands on her hips. “You can’t walk all over me either, John. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you can put footprints on my back. Respect is mutual.”

“I guess you’re not wrong either,” John admitted grudgingly. “Maybe we both need to work at it.”

“Damn straight.” She glanced at her front door. “But in the meantime, you need to go apologize to my mama before she gets the edge weapons.”

 

 

That Monday…

The agents and scientists of the RSA gathered in the conference room Monday morning. There was a distinct buzz in the air. All eyes were on Andy Leath and Zora Scott. Everyone wondered what they would say or do next.

The answer came when, in the middle of a tech briefing, John lifted his head and said, “Ms. Scott?”

Everyone looked to Zora.

Zora looked at him calmly. “Yes, Andy?”

“Could you get me a coffee please?”

The group barely managed to stifle a gasp. Oh shit! What was going to happen next? Was she going to issue a fuck you, get it yourself or pour the hot liquid on his lap or atop his head?

With rapt attention, the employees watched as Zora rose and smoothly retrieved his coffee. She held it for a moment, standing over him. Ah, this is it! they all thought.

They were disappointed when Zora merely handed it to him.

After he took a sip, she asked, “Is it satisfactory, sir?”

“Indeed,” he replied, and she regained her seat.

There was a change in the air then. John Anderson Leath had regained his greatness, and yes it felt so good.

John grinned into his cup. “Result,” he murmured.

 

RSA – “Distraction”

No matter how introverted I become, the people I meet always inspire me. The experience of seeing a scene in my head on paper (or screen) makes the awkwardness of creativity seem meaningless. This entry, like most of my literary forays, was inspired by a stray thought during an errant conversation that flourished into a full-blown idea.

This–and its counterparts in random order–will be one of the few of my brainchildren that includes a character that closely resembles me: Zora Neale Scott, named after notable author Zora Neale Hurston (well of course she loves herself while laughing!).  She appeared in a couple of other works, but I dusted her off and refashioned her to be a Recon Specialist Agent. My “counterpart” (if you will) and male protagonist was modeled after someone that I know. (He probably knows who he is, that cocky you-know-what.)

If our dynamic was a story, this would be how I would tell it. Would I call these characterizations true? Not exactly, but one’s vantage point is different than another’s. I like to think of it as a caricature. Take from it what you will.

Needless to say, reading this always brings a smile to my face.

Prelude

She zipped up her favorite dark jeans and turned to gaze at him with a frown.

“J, what the hell?” The nearly naked man amid the sea of rumpled bed merely gazed back, not saying a word. His expression of dismay spoke as loud as a disgruntled black woman at a horror movie. “It’s Mother’s Day. Stop bitching and deal.” She bent to pick up her utility belt. “And you done lost your mind if you think I’m getting you out of this one.”

“But you don’t seem to understand,” the man insisted. “We’ve been through this. Sitting through church service when you don’t believe in God is as annoying as trying to get through an episode of Jersey Shore. I feel like I lose I.Q. points trying to reason with these people.”

She leveled a stern look upon him, managing to look hostile in jeans and a bra. “Look, it’s your mama, J. Don’t be foolish. You don’t have to be the incredible John Anderson Leath all the fucking time. It’s annoying.”

He smirked. He couldn’t help it. “And this from the person who was moaning my name a few minutes ago.”

Her response came flying at him at top speed.

Luckily he ducked. The nearly lethal stiletto landed in his freshly painted wall.

“Goddammit, woman!” he griped. “I just got this fucking place remodeled and now you’re putting holes in the walls?”

She remained silent. Her expression said, with as much attitude as it could muster, Mm-hmm. That’s what you get for being an arrogant ass. He could almost hear her neck working.

He sighed and stood. He retrieved his gray tailored slacks from the polished floor and decided on a new approach. “I would be indebted to you if you helped me. All I am asking is for a simple liberation maneuver. Nothing too elaborate.”

“I am not rescuing you from a church, J,” she said, pulling on her black tank top. “That’s wrong on so many levels.” She shuddered. “I’m not religious but that just gives me the chilly bumps.”

“You’re mistaken. I’m pretty sure my tongue did that.”

If looks could slay, she’d be up on her kill count by one and thus, bye, bye problem.

“Come on.” His voice was cajoling.

She strapped on her dual hip holster. “No.”

“Come on.” Adamant.

Then came the electromagnetic wrist cuffs. “Nope.”

“Come on!” Exasperated.

“You about to get backhanded, J. Settle.”

“Hey, I’ll give you a bonus. Free and clear, off the books.” He came up behind her and stood close enough to smell himself on her. He enjoyed her hastily in-drawn breath in reaction. “Would make it worth your while.”

Breaking herself from his pull, she strode around him to the bed and yanked the stiletto out of the wall. It joined the others in its sheath on her outer thigh holster. He was too agitated to notice the plaster dust. “Pretty awkward, considering the circumstances.” She raised an eyebrow. “It’s enough I’m still on your payroll amid this shit. Drake is still trying to get me outed for fraternizing with you. He thinks I’m your favorite since you let me come back.” She guffawed. “My ass.”

“My favorite part of you.” She smacked him across the back of the head as she passed. “Ow, stop abusing me, dammit. I could kick you out again for your insolence, woman.”

She waved it off. An idle threat. “Yeah, yeah.”

Frustrated, he grabbed her and held her in a vise-like grip. “Look, if I buzz you, you will help me get out of this. No questions asked. I am not requesting now. I am telling you.”

She jerked out of his grip and tossed her head insolently. “You ain’t nobody to me. Like hell I will.”

He considered this. “That’s exactly how you would do it,” he retorted. She rolled her eyes and left.

I

Two days later

So that was the dilemma. The great John Anderson Leath, the CEO of the multi-million-dollar company JAL Inc., the creator of the RSA and all-around badass boss, was reduced to occupying a pew next to his mother at church on, ironically, Mother’s Day and listening to members of the congregation prattle about that morning’s sermon. His awesomeness shrank in the presence of these followers of a god that they could not see. How delightful.

Most of his exasperation resided with the futility of the act. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his mother or loathed being around her. She bore him, gave him life, and he appreciated the gift of existence greatly. It went beyond the magnitude of his being, the idea that the world would be bereft without him; it was a simple gratitude for being alive. The idea humbled him, something he didn’t mind so much. However, in the present context…

Here in this space, the general populace knew him as Andy Leath, the mysterious, unmarried, and slightly wayward son of JAL Inc. Chairman of the Board John and homemaker Teresa Leath. No one knew his net worth almost equaled his father’s due to his various business dealings and technological prowess. No one knew that he managed a cache of dangerous spies who flaunted his inventions. And no one knew that he believed the concept behind this whole custom was bullshit.

How he wished for a vodka and Red Bull.

“You have been awfully agitated today,” Teresa Leath remarked, placing a hand on his forearm. “Is everything all right, dear?”

He smiled at his mother, cursing himself for letting his inner restlessness show. “I’m fine, Mom. It’s…work-related. Nothing for you to worry about. It’s Mother’s Day. We’re supposed to be worried about you.”

Teresa sighed, shaking her head. “I told John that letting you step into his shoes too soon at JAL would ruin your life. You’re not even thirty yet and have a whole company on your shoulders. If you need to step down—”

John tried not to laugh. Running JAL was child’s play. It was the RSA end of things that kept him up at night. “Mom, stop worrying.”

“All right, all right.” She held up a hand. “I just don’t want my baby lonely and overworked, that’s all.”

He couldn’t help but think of his $300 bar tab from two nights ago. Lonely and overworked? Not in the slightest. Eddie and Stella could attest to that end. Luckily her focus had shifted.

“Oh Emma!” John froze in his seat. He knew that tone. That oh hey why don’t I introduce you to my son so I can get some grandbabies! tone. He stifled a wince. His mother was relentless. “This is my son Anderson. He lives in the city so he doesn’t get to see us much.”

The young woman his mother addressed was a petite blonde with gray eyes. She wore a flowered dress that made her look twice her age. She beamed at him, and he already knew what she was thinking. And again with this, Mom? Ah, she meant well. Might as well play along. He wouldn’t be here for much longer.

“Hi, I’m Andy,” John greeted her. His mother had taught him manners. “Nice to meet you, Emma.”

“Thank you,” Emma said. “You know it is so encouraging to meet someone like you who has Jesus in their life.” John opened his mouth to speak, but Emma droned on. “All the guys I have met have nothing on their minds but sex and alcohol. And I am sanctified. I am a lady of the Lord and I believe in the preservation of my immortal soul.”

“Oh really now?” John prompted, feeling like he had fallen into a viper pit.

Emma nodded and smiled, and Teresa beamed expectantly at her son. Look at this lovely girl I’ve found for you. If you mess this up, you will be unforgiven for the rest of your natural life. John’s lips tightened over his teeth. Damn.

“Well…that is quite interesting,” John managed, hesitation only noticed by him. Putting his hands behind his back, John hastily pushed a button on his wrist unit. It was time for backup.

MEANWHILE…

Several miles away, in the cozy living room of Recon Specialist Agent Zora Neale Scott, the 2011 release of Mortal Kombat played on-screen. Sitting on the plush carpet, the owner of the house battled as Sonya Blade against her big brother’s pick, Jade. A fierce battle ensued that included name-calling, intermittent shoving between finger play, and a great deal of cursing. A cavernous bowl of Flamin’ Hot Funyuns between them and two glasses of orange soda nearby (and safely out of the way) completed the scene.

Winston Monroe, Zora’s self-proclaimed brother and best friend, exclaimed in triumph as Jade delivered a debilitating kick upon Sonya. Zora shoved him and moved her thumbs in quick succession to execute a response. She stuck her tongue out at him when Jade faltered.

“You little bitch,” Win said. “I’m gonna whup your ass.”

“You better be glad Mama isn’t here,” Zora said, biting her lip in concentration. “Or you would be the one getting the whuppin’.”

Win waved it off. “Mama wouldn’t care. Thanks to me, she’s getting rubbed down in baby oil by a guy who looks like Dwayne Johnson. She loves me more than you.”

A counter rested on her lips, but the sensation of being zapped by her RSA-issue wrist unit skewed her focus. “Fuck!” Zora swore. She rubbed where she had been shocked. “What the hell does he want now?”

Frowning, Win put the controller aside. Jade was frozen in mid-kick, dangerously close to Sonya’s head. “Who is it?”

Fuming she worked off the offending wrist unit. “I’ll give you a hint. He’s tall, dark, and aggravating as hell.”

Pause. 

“Leath,” Win growled, eyes narrowed. He stared at his younger sister with reproach. “Zor, I thought you were done being his bitch.” Zora looked away and said nothing. “Why would you go back to him after what he did? You nearly got yourself killed.”

“The fucker didn’t know what he was doing,” Zora burst out, instantly regretting the moment the statement crossed her lips. That was the lamest argument ever.

“Oh, so you’re working for a dumbass,” Win shot back. “How comforting to know.”

“He’s not a dumbass, Win—he just had to make a hard decision. I know it hurt, but kicking me out of the RSA happened to be the best thing at the time. How would he have known that Nathaniel Cole would betray him and rig his place to explode on the same day I stormed over to kick his ass over it?”

“Because he’s a brilliant but egocentric jackass with a set of cajones the size of marbles, that’s how,” Win countered. “Nathaniel Cole makes asylum patients look like child’s play. His rigging Leath’s house to kill him would be as obvious as Heather Locklear’s roots on old school Melrose Place.”

Zora waved an impatient hand. “Don’t have time for arguing over this.” She screeched as she was buzzed again. “Dammit, Leath!” She set her mouth in a line as she rose to her feet. “Well, if it’s a distraction he wants, he better get ready for the Mount Vesuvius of distractions.”

Win grabbed a Flamin’ Hot Funyun from the bowl in his midst. “How pathetic it is that he needs you to rescue him from some boring meeting…”

Zora shook her head as she went to the far side of the room. “Not a meeting. It’s a church service.”

Win sputtered. Funyun bits flew everywhere, even on the gigantic flat screen. Here we go. “The hell is wrong witchu, girl? You could get struck down for that shit.” Zora only sighed. “What kinda man needs rescuing from a church?” She didn’t bother to answer; after he gulped down orange soda, Win barreled on. “You goin’ to Hell. You a-goin’ to Hell. And I ain’t gonna be saving your blaspheming ass either.”

Zora purposefully went for her closet, Hell in mind. “Well, hopefully they serve Peach Nehi and parfaits.”

BACK AT CHURCH…

The congregation moved outside to where the abundant Mother’s Day banquet was laid out for their perusal. They took their spots at a long table covered in a delicate white tablecloth. Teresa sat to his left, and Emma Collins had attached herself to his right. John silently perished on the inside as Emma recounted the emotional tale of how God delivered her from the clutches of the evil scourge of drinking and partying. His mother had momentarily abandoned him for some of her friends. He felt perilously close to panic. Where the hell was Zora?

“Don’t you think?” Emma was saying, eyes wide and guileless.

Dammit. “Oh sure,” John hazarded. “God is great. Real splendid.”

Emma brightened. Ding, ding—right answer, John! He couldn’t take much more of this. How long did it take to coordinate a simple distraction? He had taken down clever foes with little more than his cell phone and a tazer. Zora Scott possessed a great deal of ingenuity as well. So why wasn’t she here?

“Oh look!” Emma cried. “They’re bringing out the pig!”

From what his mother had told him the day before, there had been significant upheaval over this pig, which had been made especially by Reverend Petrie’s wife Donna and a couple more of the elders’ wives assisting. It was the centerpiece of the banquet, and Donna Petrie beamed with pride and the congregation clapped its approval. John joined in. It was fascinatingly huge, glazed in honey with an apple in its maw. It took three strong men to get it onto the table in front of the Reverend. Reverend Petrie announced their bounty, consecrating it with a prayer to which everyone lowered their heads in reverence.

Reverend Petrie poised to cut the pig. Everyone watched in rapt interest.

Suddenly, without any warning, a fireball came whizzing toward the table. It all happened so fast that no one reacted until the special Mother’s Day offering exploded into a million fiery pork pieces.

Reverend Petrie was knocked onto his ass. Most people fell out of their seats with surprise, not injury. John just blinked at the spot where the empty platter sat. What the fuck just happened?

“Oh milord!” Emma screeched as pig meat landed on her face. “It’s Armageddon!”

Someone screamed, and chaos ensued. Reverend Petrie, scrambling to his feet, tried to calm his flock in firm, gentle tones, but the sight of the exploding pig had sent them into the throes of irrational terror. John could feel a tension headache forming in the front of his skull. He braved the teeming crowd and located his mother. That was more paramount than feeding into this madness.

He found his mother scanning the crowd worriedly. She had been looking for him. She raised a hand to her heart in relief when she spied him coming near.

“Oh Andy!” she cried. “There you are. I was starting to get worried.” He took her hands, knowing she would need the contact to soothe her worry. “Bizarre thing that just happened, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, it was. Are you okay? Were you hurt?”

“Oh no, dear,” Teresa assured him. “Mostly startled. I suppose it wasn’t meant to be for us to have that pig. The Lord made that quite clear. But Donna Petrie must be livid. Lucky thing Anna wasn’t here. She would’ve had a coronary over that wasted pig.”

John was sure God had nothing to do with it. But he knew who did.

He spotted a familiar figure several yards away, perched on a tree branch. His eyes narrowed. Zora.

“Mom,” John began, already forming the harangue for his underling, “I’ll be back in a second.”

Teresa agreed, perplexed, and John lost himself in the crowd again. He dodged the chaos, making sure that he mother did not see him, and stopped in front of a group of trees. From the tallest, a short-haired woman clad in black stared at him from her perch, a rocket launcher in her lap.

“You smell like bacon,” Zora greeted him. She smirked. “Your little girlfriend likes pork, doesn’t she?”

John fumed. She must have seen him talking to Emma Collins. But he didn’t want to dwell on that. Instead, he demanded, “What the hell was that?”

Zora preened. “Pretty effective, don’t you think?”

John glared up at her, amber eyes blazing and hands on hips. “What was it about simple liberation maneuver did you not understand, Zora? My mother was scared shitless.”

Zora was slightly taken-aback. “I’m sorry I scared Mama Leath, but damn, I only did what you asked,” Zora pointed out, her voice taking that defensive, high-pitched tone. “It wasn’t like you drew me a freaking diagram or somethin’. Next time you want me to save your ass, be more specific. Maybe show me a YouTube tutorial.”

“You blew up a dead animal with a fucking rocket launcher in the midst of devout Christians,” John groused. “You shoulda just threw in some locusts and talking serpents to complete the lunacy.”

She peered at him with insouciance as sirens blared in the background. It seemed a small fire had broken out from the flaming apple. She hopped down and landed on her feet smoothly. “In John Leath terms, I figured a rocket launcher at the Mother’s Day banquet would be spectacularly fitting,” Zora countered, and shouldered the weapon like it was a Nerf Blaster. “So excuse me if I pegged you wrong. And you’re welcome. Ungrateful ass.” She whistled the theme to Sanford and Son as she sauntered away, hips twisting.

After a lengthy, humming moment, he could only fight a smile and flick pork bits from his silk dress shirt. Indeed, he mused.