Low chicago, p.32
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       Low Chicago, p.32
 

         Part #25 of Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin

  “Bastard tried to arrest a nun. He hurt her!”

  There was a growl of rage from the protestors and they began to close on the agent. “No! He didn’t—” But Etienne grabbed her before she finished the denial.

  There was once more that dizzying sense of being nowhere and everywhere and then they were back in the hotel room—

  With glass glittering on the dresser top and Etienne raging around the room. His hands were shaking as he pulled out the bottle of pain pills and gulped down three of them. Blood was wetting the shirt where his stitches had torn.

  “Take off your shirt,” she ordered.

  Both the breast and the belly were bleeding. She grabbed her bag, wiped away the blood, disinfected the area, and reset several stitches. He groaned and bit his lip as the needle flicked through his skin. “You need to rest.”

  “I need to act.”

  “Let’s first have a plan, okay?”

  Once finished she snapped off her gloves, grabbed her bag, and headed for the door.

  “Where are you going?”

  “To Grant Park. There’s a rally at the bandshell. Dellinger’s going to speak and I want to hear it. Also, in this heat I’ll have customers.”

  “I’ll come with you.”

  “You really should rest. And it’s going to be really hot.”

  “And it isn’t in here? I can’t stay still. I just keep thinking about them.”

  “Your wife and son.”

  “Yes. So stupid to think I could make things better for wild cards. Nothing ever works out. Maybe revolution is the only solution. Burn it all down,” he raged.

  “I’ve been in revolutions. They’re not a good thing. Fires kill and innocents die.”

  “So have I. Caused a few. And innocents die all the time.” His expression was suddenly bleak. “Sometimes it seems like only the innocent die.”

  “Well, you better not come in this form. There are probably APBs out all over for you after what happened.”

  “For you too, my dear.”

  That stopped her for a moment. “Oh, yeah, hadn’t thought about that.”

  “Perhaps a change of dress.”

  He changed back into Noel, donned Dr. Young’s borrowed suit, told her to wait, and left. He returned forty minutes later with jeans, a cute top, and a pair of sandals. She changed, pulled off her coif and veil, and gazed into the bathroom mirror, studying the different woman that now stood before her. She felt like she was taking steps that were inexorably leading her away from her vows, maybe even from the church.

  There were thousands of people in the park. On the stage were the leaders of the movement—Rubin, Dellinger, Hayden, and many more. Turtle hovered over the bandshell, revolving slowly as he tried to keep an eye on everything. There were National Guardsmen on the roof of the Field Museum and ringing the protestors was a line of cops. Their expressions sent a shiver down Mary-Catherine’s spine.

  Noel leaned in and whispered, “They’ve got shot in their gloves. They’re looking to bust heads. Sure you want to stay?”

  “All the more reason. I’ll probably be needed if this goes sideways.”

  Mary-Catherine moved through the crowd, tending to a sprained ankle here, a case of heat exhaustion, a bad trip. The speakers took to the bandshell. Noel’s mobile upper lip curled with disdain as he listened, but he mercifully made no comment.

  The afternoon wore on. At one point a young man ran up onto the bandstand and whispered to the movement leaders assembled there. One of them, the young firebrand Tom Hayden, stepped to the microphone. The amplified voice boomed out across the assembled thousands. People literally swayed as if the words themselves were stones. The peace plank had been voted down. A moan swept through the crowd and morphed into a growl.

  A young man ran to the flagpole, climbed up, and began removing the American flag. Noel was looking back over his shoulder. He grabbed Mary-Catherine’s arm and she flinched as he hit the bruises.

  “Time to go.”

  She followed his gaze to where the line of blue-helmeted cops was advancing, billy clubs thwacking against gloved palms. At the pole the flag was being replaced with a bloody T-shirt. A line of marshals, organized by the protest leaders with the intent of offering protection to the dissidents and led by Rennie Davis, interposed itself between the scowling cops and the kids. With a roar the cops charged, swinging their billy clubs. Young men collapsed beneath the blows. Turtle flew toward the fighting. On the bandshell people were yelling for calm.

  Mary-Catherine saw a knot of young men carrying away Davis. His face was covered with blood and he lolled unconscious in their arms. She ran to help. A blow hard enough to render someone unconscious had a very good chance of cracking that person’s skull. Noel, cursing, limped after her.

  After a quick exam she said to the young men, “Somebody go get Turtle. He can be our ambulance service again.”

  “He’s holding back the cops,” another young man said.

  She looked and saw it was true. An invisible barrier was pushing the police back, away from the protestors. Unfortunately officers were figuring out that the telekinetic wall had edges and they were flowing around it.

  Noel swept them all with an irritated look. “Oh to hell with this,” he said. He clenched his fists and the change began. Within seconds Etienne had returned. “This is going to hurt like a mother,” he grunted as he got Davis into a fireman’s carry. With his free arm he grasped Mary-Catherine around the waist and teleported them all to the hospital.

  A passing nurse dropped a tray. Orderlies shouted in alarm as they appeared. “We need an X-ray,” Mary-Catherine shouted. Before she could say or do more Etienne had grabbed her again. They were in the pharmacy. He grabbed several bottles of Dilaudid, and teleported them back to the park.

  A knot of kids huddled around a radio. “What’s the news from the convention?” she asked.

  “They started nominating. Dellinger’s got a march line, but the pigs won’t let us through. Tom is telling folks to break into small groups and make our way to the Loop. We’re not gonna take this anymore.”

  Sundown. Etienne vanished, but Noel picked up the argument where the golden avatar had left off. She ignored him and joined the crowds filling the area around the Hilton. Camera lenses gazed down on the cops, the paddy wagons, and the protestors, cold emotionless glass eyes. There were chants and shouts. The cops were holding in position, but abruptly everything changed. They charged into the chanting protestors. In their helmets and gas masks they looked like alien invaders. Tear gas canisters were fired into the crowds, billy clubs rose and fell like batons in the hands of conductors of an orchestra of violence. Screams ripped the night. Sirens, shouts from the cops. Weeping, screaming kids rushed past Mary-Catherine and Noel. Overhead Turtle was using his megaphone. Yelling for calm. For everyone to STAND DOWN. No one was listening.

  A boy was dragged across the pavement in front of them. His T-shirt was pulled off his body, and his bare back left streaks of blood on the pavement. He was hit several more times before being thrown into the police van.

  Noel snatched up the T-shirt and tore it in half. He was coughing, tears running down his face. Mary-Catherine wasn’t in any better shape. He ran to a fire hydrant and kicked loose the valve. Water gushed out and ran down the gutters. Noel wet the material in the rushing water and tied it over his face. He offered the other soggy half to Mary-Catherine. She followed suit.

  A girl, huddled under the arm of her boyfriend, ran past. “We’re their sons and daughters!” Sobs punctuated each word. The boy was bleeding from a cut over his eyes. Mary-Catherine tried to catch them, but they were liked panicked fawns and eluded her.

  “The whole world is watching!” Screamed by a thousand voices.

  But will they care? Sister Mary-Catherine thought.

  “Fuck this,” Noel muttered. He moaned and within moments Lilith stood at her side, looking a bit absurd in the suit. She abruptly vanished to reappear standing in the open doors o
f a police van. She kicked the two cops in the face who were attempting to boost a prisoner inside, grabbed the bleeding boy, and vanished with him.

  Mary-Catherine waded in, yelling for anyone hurt to fall back. “I’m a doctor. I can help.” As she tried to locate the wounded and pull them away from the riot she searched for Lilith and spotted her appearing and disappearing, taking down cops, removing protestors.

  A water cannon truck arrived and was unleashed against the protestors. Kids were knocked to the ground by the force of the water. Suddenly the streams of water were turned back on the police, sending them tumbling as Turtle unleashed his power. With a screech the water truck and the police vans were pushed down the street by Turtle’s telekinesis. At this display of power the police began to gather up their wounded, cops battered and bloodied by Lilith’s attacks, and retreat.

  Turtle was finally able to get everyone’s attention. “BACK TO THE PARK. FALL BACK TO THE PARK.”

  Limping, crying, cursing, and bleeding, the crowd retreated. The next few hours passed in a blur as Mary-Catherine tended to cuts, bruises, sprains, and concussions. A young girl had been knocked to the ground by a mounted officer, hit her head, hemorrhaged, and died. The death toll now stood at two.

  Of Lilith or Noel there was no sign.

  At half-past eleven news began to filter through the moaning, defeated mass of people. “Humphrey’s won the nomination.”

  “On the first ballot.”

  “It was all for nothing.”

  Hours passed. Mary-Catherine labored on broken bodies. Sent the worst to the hospital, patched up those whose injuries weren’t as severe. With each cut she bandaged, eyes she wiped clean of tear gas, each dislocated arm, she felt rage rising, choking her. She had seen brutality in the third world, but never expected to see it in her own country.

  Near three A.M. the supplies in her bag were depleted and she had reached a state of utter exhaustion. Mary-Catherine made her way toward the edge of the park, past broken guitars and bongo drums, smashed signs. Make Love Not War. The rips in the sign and shattered wood handle made a mockery of the sentiment.

  She couldn’t face the convent. Inside those walls all would be calm, peaceful, quiet, and useless. They had closed themselves off to the evils of the world instead of confronting and fighting the evil. She made her way back to the hospital.

  Dr. Young reacted when she walked into the emergency room. He grabbed her and pulled her into a curtained alcove.

  “Sister, what the hell are you doing here?”

  “I had done everything I could in the park.” She held up her bag. “And I needed supplies—”

  “You’re wanted for questioning by the FBI and the Secret Service.”

  “What? Why?”

  “The vice president’s been killed. Shot in his bed. One of the agents caught a glimpse of the killer. It was a woman. The woman we treated. Before she … uh … changed. I’ve been with the Secret Service. I told them what I knew, that you apparently left with him. Do you know where she … he … went? Or where she … he … it is now?”

  She stood silent for a moment. Humphrey dead. Could that mean the party would turn to McCarthy? Or would they blame the protestors? “Sometimes you have to just burn it all down,” she murmured softly.

  “What?” She turned away without answering. “You need to go to the authorities,” Young called desperately.

  She knew enough not to use the main doors or even the doors out of the emergency room. She did take a quick glance toward the emergency room pull-up and spotted the agents lurking. They had obviously been looking for a nun. She was never so glad she had ditched the veil.

  She made her way to a basement exit and slipped out. She hoped Noel would be waiting at the hotel. Or would it still be Lilith? Dawn was still several hours away. She had guessed correctly. Lilith was standing in the center of the dingy room, shaking pain pills into her hand.

  “Where did you get the gun?” Mary-Catherine asked without preamble.

  Lilith’s throat worked as she tried to swallow the pills. One got stuck. She started coughing. Mary-Catherine brought her a glass of water from the bathroom. Once the obstruction cleared Lilith said, “I’m so glad you don’t waste time with obvious questions. I took it when I stumbled into that agent.”

  “You’ve made me an accessory.”

  “Yes, I rather regret that.”

  “Don’t. They declared war on their own citizens,” she said. “But you picked the wrong target to kill.”

  “Now you’re a critic?”

  “You should have talked to me before you went off half-cocked—”

  “So to speak.” The Dilaudid was taking effect and Lilith had a manic, almost loopy grin.

  “They’re not going to turn to McCarthy. They’re going to blame his followers and by extension him. They’ll probably turn to somebody like Scoop Jackson.”

  “Who?”

  “Thus proving my point about knowing nothing. He’s a senator from Washington and a big supporter of the war.”

  That seemed to penetrate the drug haze. “So who should I have shot?”

  “I don’t know. Daley? He’s probably the one who ordered the police to attack those kids,” she said bitterly.

  “That can be arranged.”

  “No, let’s not do anything until we see the fallout from this.”

  “So you’re not opposed to me removing a few more impediments?”

  “Since you’ve fired the first shot I don’t see how we go back now.”

  “True. I suggest we decamp. Chicago is no doubt crawling with cops in search of us. It’s still dark on the West Coast.” Lilith held out a slim hand. “Last chance. You could still go to the authorities. Tell them I forced you. Return to your convent and your prayers.”

  “No. I’m done with useless gestures.”

  Despite Lilith’s willowy form, the arms that closed around Mary-Catherine were as strong as Etienne’s. Same person different form, Mary-Catherine reminded herself. Long black hair tangled around her shoulders, and there was that lurch, the sense of implacable hatred, and then they tumbled onto a stone courtyard as Lilith’s leg collapsed beneath her. The dome of an observatory bulked against the night sky.

  “Where are we?” Her teeth were chattering from the bitter cold of between.

  “Los Angeles. Griffith Observatory.” Lilith groaned as she climbed to her feet. “Figured that hadn’t changed much.”

  It was a long walk down the hill from the observatory. The lights of the city had a sick yellow hue through the smog that hung over the Los Angeles basin. Mary-Catherine kept an arm around Lilith, acting as a crutch. They came upon some parked cars, and Lilith hot-wired one.

  They turned down a street where bums huddled in doorways and shuffled down stained sidewalks. Neon signs glared from bars, promised TOTALLY NAKED GIRLS, adult bookstores, and cheap motels. Mary-Catherine glanced up at a street sign: Hollywood Blvd.

  Lilith pulled into the parking lot of a horseshoe-shaped, two-story motel called the Palms. There were three sad examples in the center by an empty, trash-filled swimming pool.

  “You take me to the nicest places,” Mary-Catherine said.

  Lilith’s response was a groan. The nun looked over to see the shift occurring. Once it was over Noel started to get out of the car.

  “Wait. Your stitches have torn. There’s blood on your pants and shirt. I’ll go.” He didn’t argue, just handed over the wallet and slumped back into the car. She went inside and paid for a room. The clerk wore only a wifebeater T-shirt and jeans. A small table fan fluttered his long, greasy hair, and the pages of the girlie magazine he was slowly perusing. He barely looked up as he took the money and shoved over a key.

  “You could have gone in. I doubt he would have noticed if you’d been Jetboy himself,” she said.

  Once in the room he collapsed onto the bed with a groan. The room was a counterpart to the one in Chicago—run-down and dingy—but here neon lights from the strip club acr
oss the street glared and flashed through the threadbare curtains. Outside, the fronds on the bedraggled palm trees rattled in the wind. Noel noticed her staring at them.

  The cynic twist of the lips was back. “The glamour of Hollywood.”

  She pulled off his shoes, unhooked the belt, unzipped the pants, and pulled them off. He hissed in pain and chewed at his lower lip. The stitches in his thigh had pulled loose and blood stained his skin. She went into the bathroom for a washcloth and began to wipe away the blood.

  They shared the sagging bed. Periodically she would wake to find Noel up, staring out the window and smoking.

  “Can’t sleep?” she whispered.

  He shook his head. “I keep thinking of them. They’ll be wondering what happened to me. I should have been home by now.”

  She joined him at the window. “You said they were both wild cards.”

  “Yes. Niobe’s a joker-ace. Jasper is an ace.”

  “A live birth, much less an ace birth, is very unusual. You were very lucky.”

  “No, we had the ultimate superpower. Money. We could afford an expensive fertility technique that could only work because of Niobe’s unique power. All sorts of genetic jiggery-pokery and voilà. Jasper.”

  The very idea that such delicate work was possible made her greedy for that future. “I wish I could see it.”

  “You’re not that old. You probably will.” He correctly interpreted her expression. “Ah, yes. Having thrown in with me I suppose a long life isn’t necessarily in the cards. I’ll do everything in my power to keep you safe.”

  “At least you’re smart enough not to make it a promise,” she said tartly. “Now come back to bed.”

  In the morning she woke to find his butt pressed up against her crotch. There was a sudden warmth in her belly and she reached for him. Only to have him pull away.

  “Not like this.” He changed into his male avatar.

  They made love and she liked it even more this second time. When the golden Etienne left the bed and limped to the bathroom she watched the muscles playing in his back and buttocks and enjoyed the view.

 
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