Interlude 3: Unbowed
5:08pm, 16/02/2019, 2 Limbo 2 Furious, Penrith
Sometimes I have to wonder if there is a higher power out there laughing at me. You plan a prison raid as a statement, to free some unjustly held prisoners, gather evidence and obtain vital witnesses. Then life throws a curve ball and everything goes pear shape. You find yourself the guardian of a kid, and having to relearn how to be a parent. So now I am juggling the responsibilities of being a parent, being a wanted Supervillain and preserving the family name and legacy.
Everything has lead here, to this moment. Here I am sitting here at the bar with a French 75, talking to Barb while the kid is out of my sight, over in the corner waiting on a meeting. I think worrying about her is giving me a stomach ulcer.
That kid has done a number on me. I had been prepared to babysit the kid until I had things wrapped up, but I had never expected her to be so… so vulnerable.
I’d read her file, I’d even had her foster parents investigated and what I’d found went beyond neglect, beyond abuse. It was a miracle she had come out of it as well as she had, but it was obvious that it and her time in that prison had scarred her. Except she wasn’t the type to let that beat her, I could see it with her student records, her part time work, her willingness to train, the attitude she wielded as a weapon, as much as she did a shield.
Don’t mistake this for complaining. She’s a fighter and… She’s a good kid and she’s growing on me. There! I said it!
Not to mention she certainly kept me entertained, which was good for me. I’ll admit I’d been burying myself in my work for too long. The last decade I had lived for my work. Not the healthiest coping mechanism I know, but it was what it was and even becoming Unbowed had ended up being more of the same.
It had been amusing watching her earlier today. It was a struggle to keep pretending to read my newspaper, while she anxiously paced as if trying to wear grooves in my floor unable to tear her eyes from the clock. Then when 5pm clicked over and Limbo was opening, I feigned surrender and told her, we could head over. The one-eighty from anxious to excited was positively adorable to watch.
Is this what I’ve missed out on? Would she have been like this too? I’d missed a lot of things. Potentially taking her to little league games, meeting and intimidating her first date, parent teacher nights, helping her with homework, seeing her graduate...
I swiftly crushed that train of thought before it could further sour my mood.
I’d neglected my reserved armchair tonight, to talk to Barb over at the bar. We had one of those funny sort of adversarial friendships. As people, I’m not sure we could be more different and behave like oil and water, but we know we can count on the other.
Our first encounter was years ago, long before Limbo. I’d reached out to her for a job, a few of my associates had told me that she was the person to go to if you needed a light shined on some shadows or secrets shaken loose. She shook a few of mine loose too. I should have realised that in her field, only those with a healthy amount of caution survive long enough to retire.
Thankfully my secrets stayed safe with her. I’m not sure why though, but after that I passed jobs and clients her way and we became friends.
“You ever think about returning to your old job?” I asked absentmindedly.
“Pshaw Alex. Exciting as it was, chasing down leads and getting into brawls is a young woman’s job. That’s not to mention my beloved Limbo needs me as much as I need her. And that’s not even the half of it, counting all these folks who need somewhere they can get a drink and unwind without judgement,” she proudly said, without looking up from the glass she was polishing.
A place where you can be yourself without judgement, I knew the value of it. I longed for it. It’s funny the closest I could get to being myself is when I am wearing this mask. For all these Emerged, this place was a lifesend. Sure, there were bars for people like me, social spaces you could go to meet others and drink without judgement, but for me judgement would be waiting outside. My face and name would see to that.
“You’re a service to the community Barb. A regular back alley angel,” I replied, chuckling. She really had pulled off something unique, even heroes would hesitate to breach the neutrality.
Trying to arrest or fight another patron could see you not just banned from here, but also the other purportedly neutral vendors. Where then would they go, when they needed to put an ear to the ground, or when their super suit needed repairing.
There was a whole network of neutral parties providing services to all sides. Limbo providing drinks, entertainment, community and information. Custom Fine Tailors providing costumes and other specialized apparel. Spider, purveyor of new real fake identities, perfect for Emerged who lost had theirs, those who want to disappear from the eyes of the law and heroes who need a cover identity for job or to create their Clark Kent.
The OMR as useful as it was for heroes and law abiding Emerged, left many needs and niches for others to fill. Especially if you were accessible to a larger spectrum of the Emerged community.
“If I was less proud, I might even say you do more for regular Emerged than I do with my lofty goals. And please, call me Al if you’re not going say Unbowed,” I appealed diplomatically.
Across the bar, a squeal of indignant surprise rang out, drawing most people’s attention. Barb didn’t seem fussed so why would I bother looking around. That drunken mutt Barb is soft on, was probably the cause given where the sound had come from.
I say drunken mutt with some fondness, besides she was hardly the proud noble wolf her ears and tail would suggest. It’s funny for a supposed pack animal, she seems to go to great lengths to distance herself from others. I could certainly relate, she probably had her own tragic backstory. Barb at least had inserted herself in as some sort of mentor.
“So Al,” Barb spritzed a little sudsy water on the counter and wiped it up with what looked like the oldest rag on Earth, “having the kid around, that mean you gotta keep it down when you have anyone special over. Y’know. Someone special.”
Great, another roundabout pass at inquiring into my sordid love life.
“It is hard for the kid to impact my love life when it doesn't exist. I don’t really have the heart to put on one night stands for the tabloids with models and actresses. At least. . . Not anymore. I can’t just do that to keep the public happy,” I struggled to keep the pain out of my voice. It was a sore topic for me.
Barb shook her head, “I’m not talking about your little gossip rag flings Al. I’m talking about you. When was the last time you were honest about what who you wanted and had an honest to God, genuine, no bullshit fucking relationship. And I mean it with the fucking too.”
“Even with social media these days, you can’t honestly expect making a grindr profile would work for someone like me. Besides, I’m still not ready for a relationship, not after how much last ended,” I sighed, rubbing the ring finger on my left hand.
“Al. At a certain point you gotta let things go. It’s been seventeen years! Seventeen. You need to stop beating yourself up for all that mess. Could you have done better? Yeah probably. But you didn’t know it was going to be as dirty as it was. And damn you if you’re gonna yourself stand in the way of your happiness. I’m not saying throw yourself into marriage again, we know that doesn’t end well. But damn take a risk. Open up to people. Have some anonymous sex. Drink something that’s not your fancy little french drink. Live a little,” Barb lectured, obviously sick to death of my bullshit as she would call it.
But mess only began to describe my last relationship. We grew up together and I ended up mistaking familiarity and fondness for love. I let both our parents pressure us into marriage. It was only then I realised my mistake. I love and doted on our daughter, but my wife? I did my very best to be the dutiful husband to her… Eventually I had to tell her the truth, the look of disgust on her face. I had never realised how much her parent’s beliefs had rubbed off on her until that point.
The divorce was messy, we both had prenups and that wasn’t the problem. She had her family’s wealth and now runs a successful lobbying firm which is a constant pain in my side. No… She told the court I was a corruptive influence. She got custody, forbade me from seeing Lizzy and she wouldn’t accept any money to help raise her.
In the seventeen years since she has filled my daughter with hate for me. I’ve tried reaching out… But our girl, she sees the world in a naive and twisted sense of black and white, right and wrong.
Barb obviously wasn’t satisfied with my moody silence, “Ain’t it time you moved on? Seventeen years Al! Seventeen years, things have changed. People hardly care about who sleeps with who anymore. At least nobody who matters does. You can’t keep burying a part of who you are, hoping and holding out on Lizzy coming back to you. She is too far gone. But you, you can still do real good and I am not talking about this Unbowed gig you have going on. You have a second chance.”
How am I meant to reply to that?
Looking up from her polishing, Barb turned her head towards the corner table. A quick glance showed Robin’s contact had shown up. The kid was deep in conversation with an orange tailed fox girl.
“That Robin, she seems like a good kid and she has a great voice too. You can really feel the emotion. That one could use a good parent,” she hinted, quite unsubtly.
I could feel a steel capped boot forcefully and repeatedly impacting my shin. I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of me acknowledging it. Just grin and bear it.
“I didn’t know you were looking into adoption Barb! You’re really setting down roots. You’ve opened a bar and gotten yourself a steady job, now you’re looking at raising kids and you’ve probably got a dog, cat and a three bedroom house in your future,” I teased, deflecting.
Her glare was definitely worth it. She might have retired from her old line of work, but she hated any insinuations that she’s growing soft.
“Fine Barb, you’re right. Robin does need a good parent, but what makes you think she would want to stick around with someone like me when this is all over. I’m a workaholic who is also a villain in my spare time and it’s like you said it’s been seventeen years since I had a hand in raising a kid,” I argued before downing the rest of French 75.
“If you say so Al,” an exasperated Barb replied, rolling her eyes.
“Make sure you let her know she is welcome to sing here again, I’ll even pay next time. Still… It would be a waste for someone of her talent to sing in a place like this forever. You should put some of that business sense to real work and teach her how to grow that voice into a living. Who knows, maybe teaching will suit you,” she said, giving me a sly raise of the eyebrow.
She knew that I knew what she was doing. She also knew it was working regardless. Always did. I’m glad she wasn’t an enemy because she would easily have me on the ropes even without powers.
“I’ll think on it…” I said with a noncommittal shrug. Conceding the point would likely end with her lording it over me with a smug grin plastered on her face.
I smiled at the thought of Robin’s little facial expressions, “From the way she kept looking up at the stage earlier, I’m sure she would love to sing here again.” I’ll have to talk to Lachlan when I get the chance, he will want to hear her, before he makes a call one way or the other.
I wonder how her meet up us going? Looking over to where she was, I could see her holding her head in hands, grimacing in pain. She was under attack? The fox girl, Kalia was it her doing?
That’s my dau- charge, you rotten...
Rocketing to my feet, I crossed the bar in a few long strides and placed myself between her and the fox.
“What have you done to my-, to Wraith!” I demanded as I rounded on Kalia.
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Ashlyn (she/her) , Author from Oz, most of my writing is on itch.io.
Aside from my finished stories on Itch.io I have one series I am working on with another author, on another site and I have decided to follow her here, as an act of mercy for the readers.