Studies in Film Noir I.2
Be sure to read Part 1!
Jane scaled the stairs back to her apartment. The lights in the hallway were too bright. Her eyes fought to focus in the confusion. Once she reached 337, the room she shared, she let herself in and found the lights already off. She let out a sigh, and dropped her keys on the floor.
Gabe entered the hallway without a sound. He saw her palely lit by the moonlight.
“Whoa,” he said. “You look horrible.”
Jane walked through the apartment, back towards the bedroom. She opened the door and sat on the edge of the bed. Gabe followed and sat behind her. It was worse than he’d imagined. She was broken in so many places. But she would heal, and fast. They always did.
“There was a fight,” she said over her shoulder, avoiding his eyes. He tried to examine her injuries and found the shirt getting in the way.
“You were always one to meddle,” he mused. He sighed and placed his hands in his lap. “This is useless with that shirt on.”
She smiled–or at least tried. It turned into a wince when her cut lip spread. She nodded slowly, breathing through her nose.
Gabe looked at her shirt. It was torn and stained with blood. He reached around her waist and began to peel it off of her. She helped him as much as she could.
When it was finally off, Jane sat topless on the bed. Gabe regarded her figure in the moonlight flowing through the open window. It struck him again, as the first moment he saw her. She was beautiful. Broken and hopeless, she was still beautiful.
His hands moved to her neck, working at the knots. Her eyes closed in relief. She relaxed and considered falling back in to his arms. His hands moved further down her back, avoiding fresh bruises like landmines.
At long last, his soft hands caressed the peaks of her wings.
Gabe set about resetting the fine webbing of bone in her wings as he plucked the bent and bloodied feathers from them. Jane inhaled sharply as he pulled a large clump out.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”
“It was stupid—human,” she replied. “I stepped in. I know I shouldn’t but I couldn’t help it. They were right there, and I–”
“It’s okay,” he said, kneeling in front of her. He took her hand and enfolded it in his. “It’s okay.”
He gently kissed her forehead. He took in her face, half in shadow. She looked at his, half dark and half paled by the light. He stood and walked to the kitchen. She heard the water run for a moment, then shut off as he returned to their bed with a dripping cloth and rubbing alcohol.
“You wanna get your lip?” he asked, holding out the alcohol.
She took it from him and reluctantly dabbed it on her cut. Again, she hissed at the pain, but it was clean and that was what mattered. She barely noticed him sitting down behind her again until he’d done so.
Jane felt him place the cold, wet cloth on her hot skin. She felt the first few drops of water escape down her back. Then, she felt a sheet of cold run down her back sending an opposing army of shivers up to the back of her neck. She then felt the cloth rest over top of a bruise.
Gabe maneuvered the cloth around her back, avoiding placing it directly on a wound and putting pressure on it. He knew from her breath that she was relieved. Her fingernails clawed at her jeans. “Too cold?” he asked.
She turned over her shoulder, eyes tightly shut. “Just right, Goldilocks.”
“I thought we said ‘enough’ to the blonde jokes three hundred years ago,” he replied. He rinsed off the spots where he’d plucked her feathers thoughtfully. “Before we got exiled…”
“They’ll let us back in,” she said for what felt like too many times.
“Why are you so sure?” he asked, putting the cloth down on his leg.
“They said they would,” she stated, turning to face him.
“When?” he said. “When did they say they would let us back in? Cos it’s been a while down here–”
“Three world wars, more world leaders than I can name,” he said. “It just seems like we’ve been down here a long time. And it’s gunna keep getting longer if we keep stepping in like this!” he said, exasperatedly.
She paused, and looked down at the bed they shared. “You didn’t have to come with me, you know…” she admitted. “I was the only one exiled. You could’ve stayed there.”
“Hey, hey now,” he said, pulling her face up to his. “I had to come down here with you.”
“No you didn’–”
“Yes.” He took her in his arms. “I did.” He kissed her on the forehead again and looked into her deep blue eyes. “After all, someone’s gotta clean your wounds, pluck your feathers, set your bones…”
Jane hit him playfully on the arm as she cracked a smile. “You always were the romantic. With talk of being beautiful together, off on a holiday on the braes of Scotland.”
“Or the beaches of Barbados…” he thought. “Still. Someone had to come to keep you safe. So I volunteered.” Gabe looked at her face. “Here, hand me your lip.”
She leaned forward into the light, drawing her features. Her lip had almost completely healed. He let out a short hmph, and drew her in for a kiss.
It was short, sweet, the kind you give when there are millions to come. His eyes invited her wordlessly to bed. She shed her jeans as he took off his shirt, leaving them both in their underwear. She crawled into the bed and into his embrace, his wings folding around hers, his arms protecting her.
“Thank you,” she said as a tear dropped from her eye.
“The things I do for the woman I love,” he replied simply, already nodding off.
She tilted her head back. “Gabe?”
She hesitated. “I love you, too.” The first time she’d said it in the centuries of their relationship.
Gabe just settled further into bed. “I know you do. Always have.”
Her eyes opened. “What?!”
“Why do you think I never pressured you about it?” he asked, eyes still closed.
Jane considered this for a moment, then found satisfaction in his answer. She looked around at the hell she was in and realized she was truly and completely happy for the first time since she was exiled from Heaven.
at 00.43, Colin Stephenson left Jake Fletcher at the bar of the Cliffhanger.
at 00.46, Faith Ryan was just leaving her boyfriend, “Skinhead Bob” Euringer to another fight.
and at 00.58, Jane separated both parties outside in the alley.
“Come on, babe,” Colin pleaded again. “Let’s just get home and sleep it off.”
“It’s just one more drink, Colin,” Jake argued. “Let me just have one more drink.”
“If you have one more, it’s without me.” Colin crossed his arms under his chest and stood to look disapprovingly down at his husband.
“Fucking. . . wet blanket. . .” Jake muttered, downing the last of his scotch and soda. He smacked the glass on the bar and turned to the bartender. “Another?”
“How you gettin’ home?” Steve the Barkeep asked, washing a glass.
“Gettin’ a ride.”
“From who? Your man just left.”
Jake turned to see Colin making his exit, the door sweeping shut behind him.
“Well.” Jake took his drink from Steve, who’d sauntered over in the mean time. “Looks like I’m fuckin’ walkin’, now don’t it.”
“From who? Your man just left.”
“Did he just say ‘your man just left’?” Rob asked, disgusted. “I can’t fuckin’ believe that. In the Cliffhanger, dammit.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Godfuckit, honey, they’ve been there every week we’ve been here,” she said, taking another one of his fries.
“Stop fuckin’ doin’ that,” Rob said, not looking away from Jake.
Faith hated to admit it, but whenever her man got itching to fight, she got itching for something else. Given Rob’s nature, that something was usually almost as violent. Her fingertips were on fire at the thought of being caught doing something he didn’t like. Maybe she could just walk over to that old faggot and give him a giant, wet, slobbery smack on the lips. Rob’d take her by the wrist, tell her to shut up, tell her to walk—
“Hey!” Rob smacked the table, making his plate jump. “You listenin’ to me?”
Her fingers were on fire all over again.
Jake heard a clatter behind him. He turned to see a bald guy talkin’ rough to the girl with him. Both of them almost coated in leather and patches. At that point, a sober Jake woulda left. Cos of the patches.
Jake, however, was not sober, and was well on his way to shitfaced-ville.
And Barkeep Steve was doing everything he could to make sure he got there.
“Who are they?” Jake asked, slurring his speech. He finished off his glass yet again and tried to look Steve in the face.
“That’s Faith and Skinhead Bob,” Steve answered, eternally cleaning his glass.
Even Drunk Jake got worried at this point. “S. . . ski–Skinhead Bob?”
“Yeah,” Steve said back. “Don’t worry. He hasn’t been a problem yet. They’ve only been comin’ here a little while.”
“Oh,” Jake scoffed, “so it’s only after a big while that the Skinheads you serve start beating up the fags you enable. Fuckin’ beautiful.”
“Hey!” Steve said, annoyed. “I wouldn’t let him in if I had any reason to think he wasn’t cool.”
“I dunno, the svas-tea-kas may be a little fuckin’ hint!”
“You know what I mean.”
“Long as you know where this bar is, Steve. Where we’re sitting, damnit,” Jake emphasized.
“Hey.” Steve took Jake by the face to make sure their eyes found each other’s. “You and I been through a lotta shit together. The war, the reform, the depression—”
“We still got the depression, Steve—”
“—the depression. My point is; a guy tries to take you on in or outside my bar, I will make it my personal responsibility to get him to the law. As for right now, hate ain’t a crime, and I serve whoever has the dough to blow on useless addictions and shitty food. You got a problem with that?” Steve kept a tight grip on both of Jake’s cheeks, eagerly awaiting an answer.
It took Jake a moment to answer. “Nah. Nah, I think I’m good.”
“Good.” Steve set him back down. “Man, the shit you thought you’d never get to pull on your ranking officer.”
And suddenly, all the tension was gone, and they were laughing again.
Faith was interrupted by a burst of laughter at the bar. She was aware that they were the last four people there, but she continued what she was saying anyway.
“All I’m sayin’ is, he doesn’t leave in ten minutes, you come on home, and you channel your aggression in other ways. More. . . productive ways.” With that bit of emphasis, she ran her fingernails over his forearm lightly.
Rob closed his eyes in rapture and exhaustion. He could either go home and have a good time with Faith—or stay here and have an ultimately better time with that old faggot and a good time with Faith back at home after. Well, that was easy enough.
“Kay. You run along home and get ready.”
Faith broke out in an all-over grin that even made several other parts of her anatomy happier.
“If I ain’t home by half past, you can go to sleep. Just expect to be woken up shortly after.” Rob reached across the table and squeezed her hand—a genuine gesture of affection, one in a million less meaningful.
“Y’got it, Skinhead Bob,” she whispered in his ear, leaning over the table and almost exposing all of herself in the process. She turned on her heel, and catwalked out of the bar, one foot directly in front of the other. Her fingers and several other things were tingling already.
Jane was standing in the aisles of a 24-hour convenience store, kitty-corner to the Cliffhanger, debating getting a chocolate bar for Gabe. She’d already got one for herself, a bag of milk, some buns and a box of cereal.
She looked over the different kinds, fully aware of the looks her baggy hoodie got from the new-kid cashier. She could open it up, and there wouldn’t be a problem. Well, not with him thinking she’d stolen a bunch of stuff—only with him (possibly) seeing her wings.
It was weird, the entire human plane thing. They’d kept their wings, kept their youth, kept their beauty—they’d only lost their happiness. Eternal bliss had been replaced with mind-numbing routine.
And then there was the issue of sight.
If they didn’t want to be seen, they didn’t have to be. They could just shimmer out of existence and do whatever they wanted. But, their ability to be seen also relied on the human’s desire to see them. Same went for wings as it did for them in whole.
But, even if they couldn’t be seen, they were still there. Everything they were wearing was invisible, but the stuff they were carrying remained painfully visible. They had to wear baggy clothes to hide their wings, if only to make sure they didn’t knock over shelves of stuff in department stores, or stab people in the eye with them. She always looked pregnant, Gabe always looked fat. They dealt.
Jane snapped out of her thoughts to realize the cashier was still eyeing her. Giving him a flippant little wave, she leaned over and picked out one with nuts. Gabe liked nuts. It was his money anyway, might as well pick up something nice with it.
She walked to the counter and paid with cash. It was only at that point that she realized how sad it was that the cashier would look at a (probably) pregnant girl buying groceries at one in the morning and assume she was stealing from him.
She let her hand brush his when he gave her the change.
She took her bag and left.
by 00.54, Jake was more than a little worried.
He’d done his level best to outstay the guy. He’d ordered several more drinks (all non-alcoholic, thanks to Barkeep Steve), he’d pissed two or three times, he’d even taken a bucket of cold fries; all to no avail. That guy back there would not budge.
The only bad news was that posted last call was at 2.00.
Jake called Steve over to where he was sitting.
“Okay, hear me out,” he slurred. “That guy is still eyeing me. I’ve done all I can to sit here longer than he can.”
“Sure have,” said Steve.
“I mean, he’s ordered, what, four Cokes in the mean time?”
“I mean, shit.” Jake set his glass down and held his aching head in his hands. “I gotta leave some time. I gotta get home. Colin’s probably waiting with the light on.” They both chuckled.
“Sure does love his soaps,” Steve interjected.
“Oh, hell yeah,” Jake laughed. He sobered again instantly. “I still gotta go. I mean, I’m not home soon, he’s probably gunna come back down here to see if I ever want to come back. And I don’t need that shit.
“So, here’s what happens. I leave. I don’t take a cab; it’s walking distance. He comes after me, you come outside and stop whatever happens. He don’t—I get home safe, he gets home safe, we all get home safe. Kay?”
“You got it.”
at 00.56, as Jake was leaving, Rob was watching closely.
Faith would get it. This was in the ten-minute rule. Faith would get it.
The old faggot had finally left. Rob left his glass on the table and paid in cash at the bar. He then, wordlessly, went to the bathroom. He pissed, filling the urinal most of the way. Trying to psyche a guy out had its adverse qualities. Holding your bladder was one of them. Sighing in relief, he almost flushed.
He stopped himself at the last moment. He knew that if he flushed, Steve would expect him to come out. And he wanted Steve to forget he’d ever gone in there.
Rob stood on top of the toilet bowl, the soles of his shoes sticking to–something. He slowly worked the window open. When it was open enough to let him through, he took out the dowel and slid through head first.
Jake heard the noise from the head of the alley. He turned to see what had moved, but nothing presented itself. He dismissed the noise as rats and turned to leave. Just as he did—
“Hey!” Rob yelled from the back of the alley.
Jake turned and saw the same skinheaded guy standing in the pale moonlight at the back of the alley. He stepped forward, revealing his (aryan but) handsome features. Jake stood in awe of the punk’s ability to stand with so much metal and leather attached to himself.
“Hey, fag!” Rob yelled again. He could see the old fart standing at the head of the alley, frozen. Even though the old fuck was in the more powerful position, Rob knew he held all the cards. All that was left was for the fag to make some idiotic move of bravado and he had him.
“Do you know who I am?” Jake replied from the top of the alley. The only response he got was laughter. “I said,” he continued with emphasis, “do you know who I am?” More laughter.
To be honest, Jake was disgusted. The very thought that this punkass—
“I am Sergeant Jake Fletcher of the armed forces that gave you the right to hate, asshat. And if you really wanna take me on, you can consider this an open invitation.”
Rob laughed even more. He couldn’t believe this shitass actually thought that’d work. “Come on, jack. We both know who you really are.”
Rob walked forward at a glacial pace. To be honest, Jake was scared out of his mind. That didn’t stop the words escaping his mouth: “Yeah? Who am I.”
At that moment, for “Skinhead Bob” Euringer, the stars aligned.
“Just another faggot in a city of millions.”
The first punch hit as hard as a sledgehammer.
The second hit harder, faster, and lower.
The third eliminated Jake’s ability to breathe.
Malik Trent watched Jane leave the store. The first thought of his new outlook on life was, Damn. Pregnant honey got back.
The second, of course, being, What the fuck? What did I think that for?
The third, What the fuck am I doing with my life?
He never looked at the world the same way again.
Jane patiently waited for the light to cross. Balancing the cereal, buns and milk against her hip, she’d pocketed Gabe’s chocolate bar and started her own.
She heard a strangled cry from across the street. Looking across the intersection, she saw a rather buff leather-dude beating on—all she could see was a brick wall. She dropped the groceries and ran.
Neither Rob nor Jake saw the girl running across the street—but for very different reasons. For one, Rob couldn’t, not as he was then. For two, Jake was kinda preoccupied having the shit kicked out of him. Therefore, it was a surprise to both parties involved when Rob suddenly flew backwards into the outside wall of the Cliffhanger.
Jake looked at the girl in front of him. A little wisp of a thing, no older than 20, wearing a beaten tank top. He noticed her sweater on the ground beside him.
He then clued in to the fact that she was shaking his shoulders and asking if he was okay. By that point, all he could see was the skinhead coming back for another punch.
Jane felt the pain radiate from the point of contact to the rest of her wing. She let out a small, strangled cry. She wrapped her wings around the guy getting beaten, and waited for the skinhead to let up a moment.
For Rob, this was the weirdest experience in his life. All of his punches were landing—in thin air. He could see someone else’s blood on his fists, but none of the punches looked like they made contact. He started getting tweaked and let up for a moment.
Invisible and tiny fists slammed into his ribcage. He struck out with one fist, blindly hoping to hit something. At the moment of contact, he saw a girl’s head fly backwards from his fist, landing on her lower lip. He stopped dead in his tracks when she disappeared immediately afterwards.
Jane took the punch to the lip with dazzling tolerance. She then dealt an uppercut to the younger man’s jaw, sending him reeling backwards, mostly in shock. When he caught a hold of himself again, she planted her hand on his face.
Jake watched on as this girl with the holes in her top grabbed Skinhead Bob’s face in one hand. The moment her hand made contact, she grew wings. No, not grew. Wings appeared where they hadn’t been before. He nearly pissed himself and ran home, holding his injured everything.
Rob looked out in horror at the shot-glass of angelic rage holding on to him. For the first time, he saw her in full. Wings, clothes, hair, skin. The beautiful skin that he’d broken. The longer she held on, the heavier his heart grew. His breathing slowed, his eyelids shut, his arms got clay-like in responsiveness. For the first time since he was a young boy, he began to cry.
Jane let go of him after a while, leaning him up against the brick wall. He promptly collapsed, and wept. Jane herself stumbled backwards to the other wall, and fell to the ground. She breathed in heavily and waited.
Eventually, Rob left. After he did, Jane stumbled home, leaving her hoodie and groceries where they’d fallen.
So that’s that. Thanks for reading, if you have! If you’ve only read this part, way to spoil the other half for yourself!