If YOU don’t respect yourself how will anyone else? Bob knew those words by heart, could feel what was left of the embossing on the leather cover of the booklet he kept in his pocket. That booklet had truly saved his life. The bullet hole was still in the cover, right below those words. At least in his mind’s eye, the letters were still printed in gold leaf. “You would think I was getting old, reminiscing like this” Bob said to himself.
“Yeah, gramps, want me ta put yer rocker on the porch maybe” said a voice from the doorway as a tray full of bowls and spoons clattered onto the counter.
It was either Mickie or Markie, Bob never could distinguish the twins by voice alone. “I’m almost done clearing the tables, I can finish here if you want to sit a while”. Mickie then, Markie would cut out her tongue before volunteering for more work even to make a joke.
“Boss lady asked to see you before you crawl back into your burrow. Seriously, why don’t you just stay at the Mission? You’re here helping out all the time and it has to be better than those old dark tunnels, right?”
Ah, hope for the future generation after all, Bob thought to himself as he answered “How long has it been since you and your sister had separate rooms? Miss V was saying the other day that there haven’t been this many full time residents since ol’ Edith ran the place. I’d much rather save what little space there is for those that truly need it. Besides which I’m blind, what do I care about it being dark? Tell Miss V I’ll be sure to seek her once I finish here and take out the trash”.
As Bob tossed the trash into the dumpster he got the feeling that he was being watched. “Hello? It’s okay, we’ll help you whatever you need” Bob called out.
All of a sudden a large furry form brushed against his legs then leaned into him heavily. “Back again, hey Fluffy? I saved you a nice bone tonite. I just have one more thing to do before we can go home” he said as he ruffled the shaggy head.
Amazing how the canine could always sneak up on him without making a sound. After giving the dog his promised treat, Bob went to seek out the boss lady. He heard her voice coming from the common room up front and went to see what she needed. “Ah Bob, perfect timing. I was just talking abou….how did you get in here?” as Bob heard the click of a phone being hung up.
Bob was taken aback for second “Excuse me, Miss V? Did I do something wrong?” as he felt a familiar furry head place itself under his hand and realized she probably wasn’t talking to him at the end there. “Sorry Miss V, I must not have shut the door tight after taking out the trash. I’ll take him out right away” as a hundred pounds of canine sat on his feet.
“No … no, that’s okay. I’m sure you will behave yourself, right?” Terry said seemingly again not to him. “Any way, I wanted to know if you would be interested in helping out with a satellite site we have in the works. An old acquaintance of yours has requested you specifically, she said to remind you of, and I quote, the crazy lady at the stadium who paid you to let her talk to her dog over the phone. She is a bit eccentric I am sure but we could really use the space.”
After listening for a while, it seemed like The Mission was getting what it most needed when it was needed most and Bob promised to meet with her. Bob and his furry bodyguard made their way home to the Undercity uneventfully as always. Bob sometimes thought the others were not exactly exaggerating how rough the “City Above” was but more projecting their own fears instead. He himself hadn’t been hassled since the day before he found Fluffy and those punks were looking for something to do more than cause serious harm. Once they regained consciousness Bob convinced them that there were always people needing a hand up so they would never lack for something to do. Best “weekly activity directors” The Mission ever had… oh, maybe they might want to arrange some help clearing out whatever neglected property this satellite site is. “Good Lord, I am really caught up in my own head tonight, huh?” to which he got an agreeing ‘hwuff’ from Fluffy.
- – - – -
Bob was about to leave for Wallabout Bay when he was stopped by “Father” Windtalker. “A friend sent these by, said it would make it easier for you two to get around” said Jonhathan as Bob heard a jingle of metal and felt a leather-wrapped handle placed in his hand. “Dogs and furry horses aren’t allowed on the subway unless they are service animals. Here’s a Metro card for you also.”
“Come on, boy, let’s get out of here before this crazy lady sends a freakin’ carriage” Bob grumbled to Fluffy. He was fairly sure he heard Jonathan say “No but her mother might and if SHE does, may the gods protect you.”
After getting off the subway at the Wallabout Bay stop Bob heard the distinct sound of a straw broom sweeping on the sidewalk and decided to check direction to see if he remembered correctly. The cheerful fellow confirmed The Brown Forest was across the street and two blocks down saying “Can’t miss it, once your dog sees all those trees I’m sure he’ll drag you the rest of the way to it.”
Bob could practically hear the man’s smile. Seems like a real nice neighborhood, wonder how they’ll feel about the Mission moving in. Lost in thought, Bob only realized they must have arrived when Fluffy sat on his foot and nosed his hand toward a doorknob. He heard a familiar voice at the end of a very large enclosed room by the sounds of it. He felt Fluffy start to lead him toward it when the lady must have seen him. “Hey Bob, long time no see. I don’t remember if we were ever formally introduced. I am Terri Foster. We met outside the stadium a couple of years ago. I’m the nutcase that asked you to hold the phone so my friends could talk to my dog. Speaking of, your friend here looks just like … hmm, I’m sure there’s a story there and I’d love to hear it. With your permission of course.”
Bob sensed that this was yet another incidence of people talking but not necessarily to him. “Never mind that, we’ll talk later I’m sure. Let me show you around the place.”
Bob heard an odd tapping sound as she moved toward him, not like a blind person’s cane, more likely a crutch or walking stick.
“This here is going to be the community slash art center. I have a 3D model here so you can literally get the feel of the place if you’d like. The work is almost done, should be ready for our grand opening this weekend. Your people will be by tomorrow to start setting up the tables. All the supplies are currently in the gallery, or rather what will become the gallery once our artistes get going. The paths are cobbled so nobody gets lost going through the forest. Kidding, sort of, yeah … okay, so did Terry give you any details or just toss you in and forget to ask if you knew how to swim?”
The rest of the day went by just as fast and lacking as much clarity but the end result was this Terri with an ‘i’ was donating a fully furnished building to his Terry with a ‘y’ for use as a combined art center and shelter with the only stipulation being that Terri would cover all costs as long as Terry supplied the workers. Bob and Fluffy were getting their own apartment onsite to oversee things and let Terri know of anything that required her attention. All in all, a good day. If Terri wanted to play up the ‘eccentric artist’ thing, she sure was going about it in a good way as far as Bob was concerned. He just wished that when he heard her talking to Fluffy it didn’t sound like she actually expected Fluffy to talk back. Granted, Bob talked to Fluffy all the time and there was little doubt in his mind Fluffy knew the gist of what he meant but he never once expected Fluffy to talk back.
- – - – -
“Mister Bob, sir, can I pet Fwuffy?” asked a child’s voice behind him.
“Well, a better question Lily, is can you stop petting Fluffy when your mom comes to pick you up?” Bob answered while crouching down to the four-year old’s level. Bob heard the cuckoo clock by the front door announce four o’clock and knew Ms. Smythe would be by to collect Lily any minute now. You could almost set your watch by Saundra’s punctuality. If only some of the other parents were half as dependable, the volunteers actually had a pool going for how late the Davisen’s would be that day. Bob pretended not to know about it as they never openly discussed it when he was around. There was little issue with it as the Community Art Center was open and staffed 24/7 but it was still slightly annoying. Bob could hear Chaplain Charlie in his head with his 2nd favorite saying “if that’s the worst you have to deal with, what exactly are you complaining about” and realized it had been months since he had thought about the chaplain.
“Have to remind me to light a candle for him tonight, boy” Bob said mostly to himself when he caught the faint scent of lilies right before a proper English voice approaching from the front door said “My condolences, recent loss or remembrance?” Ms. Smythe right on time as promised.
“Oh, sorry, I seem to be thinking aloud an awful lot lately. Just thinking of my Company’s Chaplain and it’s a remembrance, he never came back from the war. He’s the reason I did though” as Bob pulled the small booklet out of his breast pocket and tapped the bullet hole.
“How are you today, ma’am?”
Before she could answer there were raised voices coming from the front “I don’t care who you work for, if you aren’t on the list then you DO NOT get to just barge in! I said she isn’t here and you’re welcome to take a seat and wait if you want. End. Of. Discussion!!!”
Ahh, Markie, the soul of diplomacy. Bob hurried up to the front, a large furry pony plastered to his side. “Is there a problem here?” he asked with his ‘calm down’ voice. Markie started to say something when a male voice that sounded far too petulant for an adult interrupted “I demand to see Miss Foster right now! If you people know what’s good for you …”
“Let me stop you right there, son. First of all, you got the wrong place. This here property is leased to the 21st Street Mission. Miss Foster’s place is that big ol’ building inside that nice shiny fence behind us. Secondly, as far as I know, Miss Foster spends most days in Central Park. Since I can still feel the sun warm on my skin if you need to see her all that bad best bet is to look there. And third, these nice folk are all volunteers so obviously we don’t pay them to be yelled at by the likes of you. Now, anything else I can do for you?”
Bob almost wished he could see the look on the man’s face judging by the spluttering sounds he was making when Fluffy forced his way between them and put his paws on Markie’s desk. From experience Bob knew that this meant the man would be looking up at a very large canine face with very sharp teeth. The man almost bounced off the door in his hurry to put some distance between himself and Fluffy.
“Councilman Jacoby will hear about this, you can be sure, then we’ll see what you people say then.”
Bob asked Markie what exactly all that was about as they heard a car door slam and tires squeal out on the street.
“Not really sure, I was on the phone with Mrs. Davisen when he came stomping in a minute after Ms. Smythe and demanded that I quit talking to my boyfriend and fetch Miss Foster immediately. Davisen is going to be about forty-five minutes to an hour late, by the way. Things may have gotten a bit heated when he grabbed the phone out of my hand and hung it up.”
At this point he heard Lily talking to her mother in one long continuous sentence and getting closer. “Just a reminder, Lily has an appointment scheduled for tomorrow so we won’t be back until next week. Say thank you to Mr. Bob and Fluffy, Lily”. As Lily was hugging Fluffy, Saudra whispered to Bob “I heard that little weasel, tell Terri if she needs anything she has my number” and then they both left.
- – - – -
“Bob, I have to go see my lawyer for a bit about this Jacoby/Brunsfeld mess. No clue how long it will be & I’ll have my cellphone off. Ted said he might be stopping by with the new security system. If anything comes up and you absolutely need me just call Howe’s office. Anyone gives you any problems you have my permission to have Fluffy bury them along the north fence … scratch that, have Fluffy chase them into the Bay instead as we aren’t zoned for ‘cemetery’.”
Some days it was really difficult to tell when Miss F was joking. She never talked much about her past but the occasional references here and there made it obvious that prior to a few years ago Terri was connected to the legal system in some way. Bob got the sense that whatever this “Jacoby/Brunsfeld mess” was it had happened a long time ago and had nothing to do with her career change. In addition, she was more upset by the fact that this was happening then she was by whatever the situation originally was. The one time Bob asked she said it was nothing at all, one of the least complicated assignments she ever had. From the tone of her voice Bob decided it was wisest to not mention it again.
- – - – -
Bob had really thought there would have been more hassle getting Fluffy into the court house let alone courtroom. Granted, Fluffy was incredibly smart and very well behaved but how many guide/service dogs were bigger than a Saint Bernard??? But the officers on duty checked his papers, asked his name and which courtroom/case number he was involved in and then directed him on. Terri had been called to the stand. Blah, blah, legalese blah, “I Do”. If the prosecutor had ever met her, he’d knew Terri had never lied a day in her life. The way Ted put it, she was incapable of it. But then again this was just the latest step in Councilman Jacoby’s witch hunt of Terri. His last attempt was re-zoning the commercial/residential status which the entire Wallabout Bay Area squashed. Prior to that he tried to get the Health Department to shut down The Brown Forrest, boy did THAT backfire on him. The only result was The Mission now had 12 inspectors and office workers from the Health Department volunteering in their free time. Bob realized Terri was testifying and he had to pay attention.
(Attorney) When and where exactly did you first meet my client Mr Brunsfeld?
(Terri) As I have already said, I have never ‘met’ Mr Brunsfeld. If he hadn’t been meeting with Ms Reynolds that night in the Animal Shelter, I probably wouldn’t have any knowledge of his existence.
(Attorney) So you say you never met Mr Brunsfeld at a gentleman’s club called Dragonfly’s?
(Terri) Correct. For the absolute last time I. Have. Never. Met. Mr Brunsfeld. There or anywhere else.
(Attorney) Would it surprise you to know Mr Brunsfeld was somewhat of a regular at Dragonfly’s prior to his incarceration?
(Terri) Not really, he is male and the girls there are quite attractive.
(Attorney) What if I told you that on most of those occasions you were also there?
(Terri) I can assure you, anytime I went to Dragonfly’s it was not to meet with Mister anyone.
(Attorney) So you expect us to believe that in all these times you never once met Mr Brunsfeld? Not even by chance?
(Terri) My girlfriend is the owner, I had a key to the employees entrance and I was only in the main room once for a girls night out. You need to find a new question soon or I am going to start to snore.
(Attorney) Objection your Honor …
(Judge) Ms Foster, you know better than that.
(Terri) Sorry your Honor but I have answered it, five times now. I have never met the man. Could I have been in the same building or on the same subway train or hell, even the same stadium as Mr Brunsfeld? It’s possible but I have never ever had any contact with him prior to that night he met with Ms Reynolds.
(Judge) Very well, move along for now counselor.
(Attorney) About this alleged meeting you keep referring to, do you have anything to corroborate it? Was there anyone with you?
(Terri) Is there any corroboration yes, was there anyone with me, no I was alone.
(Mr Howe) Objection, your Honor.
(Judge) The jury will disregard mention of any recorded material for now. That issue is currently under review by Federal Authorities for a separate case. Counselor this is your last warning.
(Attorney) Sorry your Honor. Miss Foster, where exactly were you when this meeting took place?
(Terri) I was hiding in an empty kennel about 15 to 20 feet from them, they were by the doorway into the storage room.
(Attorney) You expect us to believe that neither Mr Brunsfeld nor Ms Reynolds saw or heard you?
(Terri) I guess I was better at stealth than either of them were at perception.
(Attorney) Okay how exactly did you get to this kennel if they were blocking the only door yet “you followed Ms Reynolds” to this meeting?
(Terri) Once I saw Ms Reynolds open and enter the front door, I ran around the building looking for another way in. Around back I found a unused dog run inside the fence that had a “doggie door” into the building.
(Attorney) You honestly want the jury to believe the person in front of them that needed assistance getting up to the witness stand was able to run around a building, climb a chain link fence and then crawl through a dog run?
(Terri) Do not let the cane or my current disabilities fool you. I used to be very quick, very strong and very, very stealthy.
(Attorney) I find that very difficult to imagine such a drastic change in such a short period of time. When exactly did this change of health happen?
(Terri) Truthfully, none of your da… err, darn business but since you asked soo nicely you may recall a rash of vicious attacks in spring of 2013? I had the extreme misfortune to be caught in one June 28th, 2013. Any other inappropriate and highly personal questions?
(Attorney) I am sorry if I upset you but you seem to have an issue with anger, could that be why you targeted Mr Brunsfeld, he made you angry, so you were going to make sure he paid. Isn’t that right?
(Terri) Let’s see, if I recall correctly in order, annoyed not angry, never targeted him since I was after Ms Reynolds, again wasn’t angry, not my call as I just gathered information and the D.A.’s office decides who to go after and what for and finally no, that is incorrect.
(Attorney) This is all just a big joke to you, isn’t it? This is a man’s life and freedom we’re talking about not some kind of play for your amusement. That is why you’ve been called in here today.
(Terri) No, this isn’t a joke. It may very well be a play but it sure as all that’s holy isn’t for my amusement. In the simplest terms possible we are all here because Ms Reynolds was a very bad person who along with a bunch other very bad people decided to do very bad things. Mr Brunsfeld made very bad choices and decided to work with these very bad people. He had the very bad luck to do so while I was watching and he got caught so a jury decided that should be punished and sent him to jail. Now someone with more clout than class decided that I was responsible and THAT is the reason we are all here today.
(Attorney) Are you implying that you are being persecuted Miss Foster? Are you going to tell us that THEY are out to get you now?
(Terri) Well let’s see, since I sat down here you have tried to implicate me in the crime, embarrass me over my sexuality, impugn my integrity and now you’ve just implied that I am crazy. Why? All because I was doing my job. I wasn’t the one who decided to smuggle … ‘things’ through the kids ward nor the one who decided to prosecute nor the one who decided guilt yet you have outright said it is my fault. In the grand scheme of things your client jumped the turnstile without paying and you are arguing that it is the security cameras fault.
(Attorney) That is all I have for this witness at this time your Honor but I reserve the right to recall her later.
(Terri) Ooh, I can hardly wait.
(Judge) Ms Foster ….
(Mr Howe) If I may, your Honor? Thank you. Miss Foster, how were cases assigned at the D.A.’s office?
(Terri) Well, there are a few ADA’s that specialize in certain things like white collar, organized crime, special victims, etc but as of three years ago it was random, who was available when a case came in.
(Mr Howe) So you don’t request certain cases or get to pick and choose?
(Terri) We had an intern once who couldn’t deal with dead bodies for religious reasons but other than that, no.
(Mr Howe) One last thing, we’ve heard previous testimony that while you were working as an investigator you were seldom in the D.A.’s Office and were instead “traipsing around town” I believe the exact phrase was. Can you explain that for us?
(Terri) Sure, when I first started there as an intern, basically a generic assistant to whoever an extra set of hands, I was primarily used as a fact-checker and I enjoyed it. When an opening came up for an investigator I was told I’d be good at it so they gave me a shot on a ‘trial basis’ and that lasted until I retired for medical reasons three years ago. I did check in everyday to see if they needed me until I discovered a talent and started to work as a sketch artist. The City made a $100 donation to Victims Aid Services each time I was called in.
(Mr Howe) So wait a minute, do I understand correctly that officially you were still just an intern? Not a city employee?
(Terri) Yes, I was never a paid employee. I believe my classification was “volunteer auxiliary” as I recall. To answer the next obvious question, I had a small trust that had been set up by my foster parents and I never needed much. My current wealth is all from my art sales and as I still don’t need much all of it goes to supporting The Brown Forrest and the 21st Street Mission. By some strange coincidence I was just audited a few weeks ago and can supply all the financial records if you would like.
(Mr Howe) Thank you, no more questions.
- – - – -
(Mr Howe) So in your opinion, Karl Kolchak isn’t really Karl Kolchak?
(Mr Fisk) Not like dat, I’s seen guys around who’s lookin’ like ‘im and dey might be brudders or sumpin’ but none o’ dose guys is Karl. The REAL Karl dat I knew ain’t been around since we wuz followin’ dat Foster chick dat nite, just like Donny’s cousin’s buddy, he ain’t even been found swimmin’ in da river as they say. Everybody knows, dis Foster chick is bad news. Word is, she even had sumpin’ ta do wit Lazarus Jacobs going dark all of a sudden. She …
(Mr Howe) Objection: speculation, hearsay, rumors and really, Really bad grammar.
(Judge) Mr Fisk, you are only allowed to testify to what you yourself have seen or heard, do you understand?
(Mr Fisk) I understand that one minute I’m tellin’ Karl she’s onto us and the next I’m droolin’ over da steering wheel wit a cop shakin’ me sayin’ I had too much ta drink. I ain’t had nuthin’ b’fore dat but I damn sure tried ta drink Donny’s dry afterwards! Youse all can believe whatever youse wants but deep down like, I knows she’s da reason they disappeared and once all dis is over, I’m gettin’ outta here before it happens ta me too.
(Mr Howe) Nothing more from this (cough) gentleman, your Honor.
(Attorney) Redirect, your Honor. Mr Fisk, without getting into “word on the street” what, if anything, do you personally know of Lazarus Jacobs’ connection to Ms Foster?
(Mr Fisk) I know shortly before his whole network went dark, he was in Donny’s late one nite, hittin’ da sauce hard, cryin’ about some Lisa, Risa or such, offerin’ a bundle for news on what went down. Day or so later, he’s posting top coin for info on about half a dozen people and Foster’s name was on top of da list.
- – - – -
(Mr Howe) This aught to be interesting, my (cough) esteemed colleague is calling a rebuttal witness… a Ms Dragonfly.
(Terri) WHAT!!!!! We have to stop this, now! You know Dragonfly can’t take the stand. If I ever get proof that slug Jacoby is behind all this ….
(Mr Howe) Calm down, you knew that they were going to pull her into this eventually. At least with this trial, she’s insulated against physical confrontation. Should we maybe continue this at a later date…
Bob sensed that the pause in speech was directed at him. “I guess that’s our cue to go for a walk, boy” Bob said as he started to stand up. Fluffy just nosed him in the stomach hard enough to make him sit down again. “Or not. Sorry, Fluffy doesn’t act out much but when he does you have to give him a good reason or just go along with him.”
(Terri) No, that’s fine. It’s nothing really, Dragonfly isn’t from around here. She’s governed by a very different set of laws that …. That’s it, diplomatic immunity. Can’t we arrange something along those lines?k
(Mr Howe) That would be … Oh, I like where this is going!
- – - – -
(Attorney) Please state your name and occupation for the record.
(Dragonfly) I am Dragonfly and I own and operate Dragonfly’s Gentlemen’s club.
(Attorney) What exactly is your relationship to the defendant Miss Foster?
(Dragonfly) She is my friend.
(Attorney) Just friends? Isn’t it true that you’ve had an ongoing relationship with Miss Foster for years? That in fact you are lovers?
(Dragonfly) We have been friends since she was a wee tyke. We were lovers I suppose as you mean it.
(Attorney) Would it be safe to say that you knew all of Miss Foster’s deepest secrets?
(Dragonfly) I see no Sword of Damacles over your head so I guess that would be safe to say.
(Attorney) So you would know of any connection between Mr Brunsfeld and Miss Foster?
(Dragonfly) Would I? That seems an odd assumption.
(Attorney) Need I remind you that you are under oath?
(Dragonfly) Need I remind YOU that I am here only as a courtesy to my friend?
(Judge) Please just answer the question, Ms Dragonfly.
(Dragonfly) Which question?
(Judge) All on them. Just answer each question as simply as possible.
(Dragonfly) If that is what you want, Granted.
Bob heard Terri start to cough & choke.
(Judge) Mr Howe, please control your client.
(Terri) Sorry, your Honor (cough) went down the wrong pipe (wheeze).
(Attorney) Miss Dragonfly, I want you to tell us in your own words exactly what the connection between Mr Brunsfeld and Miss Foster is.
(Dragonfly) Granted. Terri caught Mr Brunsfeld smuggling foundlings out of the children’s ward.
(Attorney) Foundlings, you mean orphans?
(Dragonfly) As you understand things, yes.
(Attorney) So Miss Foster never met with Mr Brunsfeld at your club?
(Attorney) You wouldn’t lie to protect your lover?
(Attorney) If that’s all that happened then why are we here? We should all just apologize for the inconvenience call it a day.
(Dragonfly) Yes, you should.
(Attorney) If only it were that simple but we are here because an innocent man was unjustly accused and sent to jail all because Miss Foster decided he was guilty. Isn’t that right?
(Attorney) Oh, really? You have some magical insight as to why then? Please enlighten us.
(Dragonfly) We are all here because you received orders from Councilman Jacoby to keep Terri busy while he “took care of that damn commune and got even with that bitch”.
(Attorney) Objection, assumes facts not in …
(Dragonfly) Bad dog. Tell the truth.
(Attorney) Yes. that. is. true.
(Mr Howe) Your Honor, I move for an immediate…
(Judge) Save it, my chambers now. Court is in recess.
- – - – -
“So, it turns out Jacoby was in Lazarus’ pocket the whole time. One of the reasons Lazarus never got pinched for any of the gang stuff. Jacoby took a real financial hit when we shut it all down. Instead of being thankful he got away with it, Jacoby swore revenge. One cube, right?” as Bob heard Terri pouring his cup, green tea by the faint aroma.
“Yes please. So you used to go running around fighting the monsters in the dark? Never would have guessed”
“Trust me, my monster hunting days are over. Peaceful retirement for me. Lounging in the park sketching strangers is all the excitement I want … with maybe the very occasional sketch artist job for the police.”