tagSci-Fi & FantasyOne in Ten Ch. 04

One in Ten Ch. 04


*I have been asked a very good question: if men are so rare and valuable, why aren't they treated better? One reader provided the best answer. In the American West in the last half of the 19th century, in many areas men outnumbered women 10:1. Women enjoyed protection because of their rarity, but they had no control over that protection. The gained no excessive economic or political power. They were still vulnerable to the powers that be but, in general, their rights were respected. They could not vote, sit on juries, or run for most public offices. In some ways, men in this imaginary world have it better. In other ways, they have it worse. This is a tale of dark fiction after all.*

*Would you rather take shelter under a prison roof or stand outdoors in the uncertain storm?*

I didn't know what was stranger; waking up with a woman in bed with me, or not freaking out over having a woman sleeping in bed with me. To add to my confusion, whoever installed the AC unit in this complex had to have been the lowest bidder and cut some corners putting the units in. My bedroom was okay for a single occupant but with more, it was sweltering.

It was hot enough that my blanket, never used, had been kicked off the bed before last night's bizarre experiment began. The sheets followed fifteen minutes later as both Angel and I were stifled by the covers. Removing pants was less an act of sexuality than a surrender to the desire to cool down. The shirts were an afterthought.

If anything, Angel Kristi's choice of lingerie was a clear indicator that sex was the farthest thing on her mind when she came over. They were very utilitarian. Her bra was a bit worn and thick, designed for sweating under an armored vest, while her panties were boy-shorts; both medium grey. I turned my head to look at her, to take in her sleeping face and golden hair.

What I got was a pair of piercing grey eyes studying me intently.

"How are we doing?" Angel whispered.

"I woke up remembering it was you," I told her. "I was good with that. How are you doing?"

"I'm not sure," Angel admitted. "We left on pretty lousy terms Wednesday night."

"Now I find me in bed with you," she looked intense. "I find myself balancing how much of a potential bastard you are with the fact that you are trying hard to be a decent man."

"I used you because I needed a reminder that there is good in the world worth hanging on to," I said.

"I know," she finally cracked a smile. "You had better know that if you tried to use me for sex, I would have kicked your ass."

"Before or after?" I inquired.

"After," she rolled her eyes. "You confuse the heck out of me, but I'm not stupid." Right then there was a knock on the bedroom door.

"Israel, it is Kuiko," my Asian neighbor called out. "I think you are going to be late for work."

Capri O'Hara, my lawyer, had departed shortly after Angel arrived, but I had let Kuiko remain asleep on my sofa. It appeared she was awake. I sat up in the bed, cross-legged.

"I'm ah - I have the day off," I informed her. "Also," I struggled, "come on in." Kuiko couldn't have known Angel was in here with me and I wanted to get this awkwardness out of the way.

The door opened cautiously then Kuiko took a tentative step in. I was searching for the words that would make sense for the three of us while Angel rolled onto her other side, facing the door.

"Oh..." Kuiko's gaze flickered from me to Angel then back again. Then she positively glowed with happiness. "Does this mean you are better?"

"Not yet," Angel chuckled. "We slept, that was all."

"But you slept together nearly naked," Kuiko remained upbeat. "That has to be progress, right?"

"Yes, it is progress," I confirmed.

"Are you wearing underwear?" Angel studied Kuiko. The younger girl blushed.

"Yes," Kuiko muttered.

"Is it a thong?" Angel questioned.

"Yes," Kuiko sighed. Angel looked over her shoulder at me.

"Why are you putting up with her?" Angel asked me.

"She pretty much saved me from the GED the first time around," I reminded her. "She's also wearing underwear which is an improvement over Wednesday night."

"Kuiko, what were you wearing Wednesday night?" Angel glared at the young Asian.

"Black butt shorts," Kuiko muttered.

"Don't forget the crop top with no bra," I tried to make that sound jovial. "It was a - um - improvement over the wet hand towel she came to the door in."

"A wet hand towel?" Angel grumbled at Kuiko.

"Hey," Kuiko pouted. "I was in the shower when Aniqua told me there was a man at the door. You should be happy I didn't punch my way through the wall stark naked."

"Going to woman's dwelling, seeing her naked, asking her for help, letting multiple women in your dwelling, kissing a woman and now sharing a bed with one...you've come a long way since Sunday," Angel regarded me. "Is it a long way up or a long way down?"

"He's getting better," Kuiko insisted rather hopefully.

"I'm going to Isobel Diaz's party Saturday night," I answered. Angel knew what that meant. I'd given up on that fight. She didn't know why but I was afraid she was going to try and find out.

"Oh, are you still going to be able to make the Complex party?" Kuiko asked.

"Isobel Diaz's party is one of those events where rich women use eager young men like prostitutes," Angel interrupted and she was pissed.

"Wha - huh - Israel, why would you do that?" Kuiko sputtered.

"I screwed up," I sighed. "They came at me with more than I could fend off."

"I'm calling Capri to find out what's going on," Kuiko declared.

"She can't tell you anything," Angel stated. "She's his lawyer."

That was pretty much the end of that conversation. The rest of the morning was stilted as Kuiko was confused and Angel was trying to dissect my soul. We trekked to the grocery where I got a pleasant surprise. Francesca had advanced me part of my pay so I didn't have put anything more on credit.

On the way back, the three of us were graced with the presence of the two patrolwomen who had busted into my house on Wednesday.

"Bracelet," the one I had identified as the 'talker' the first time out demanded.

"I'm Detective Angel Kristi," my favorite cop identified herself. "What is this about?"

The two patrolwomen looked uncertain about talking in front of us 'civilians'.

"We lost three more last night," Cop One finally admitted. "We've been asked to keep tabs on the one's left."

"Who?" Angel snapped.

"Ummm...I'm not sure," Cop Two started to say.

"He's the one I'm watching and he knows the score. The other chick is a blind, deaf, mute," Angle grumbled. If Kuiko had a disability, I wasn't aware of it.

"Cabot, Estevez and Simpson," Cop One informed Angel who looked stunned.

"What the fuck?" Angel growled. "Estevez and Simpson were in a high-rise and we had 'eyes' on Cabot." That was rather rhetorical since it was highly unlikely that two patrolwomen in our district would be tied into what was really going on.

"What is his status?" Cop One inquired. They damn well knew my name but I didn't rate civility.

"He who? Am I to pick a random male in the district, or do you have someone particular in mind?" Angel glared at them. The two other officers looked uncomfortable.

"The guy standing next to you," Cop Two pointed.

"Do you know his name? Are there so many males in this neighborhood that you don't know them all?" Angel was getting furious. "There are - what - eleven of them?"

"Israel Jensen," Cop One confessed. "How is Israel Jensen doing? Have you noticed any odd activity around him?"

"Odd - yes," Angel glared. "We were in bed all of last night. No one stole him while we slept."

"Wait, you didn't scan him?" Cop Two blinked. If we had sex, Angel was supposed to scan my bracelet so the whole female world would know.

"We were in bed. We did not have sex. Is that so hard to believe?" Angel countered. The cops looked at me then to Angel and finally glanced to Kuiko before ending back at Angel.

"Oh, we didn't know," Cop Two muttered.

"No, I'm not a lesbian," Angel snapped. "I like him. He's my friend; that's all."

"Really?" both cops gulped. Angel shook her head in disbelief.

"No, he's not gay either," Angel groused. "Fine, we are going to take a vacation down to the Gulf of Baja when this case is over and spend a whole week on the beach having wild passionate sex because Israel is famous for giving ladies multiple orgasms."

That work of total fiction the cops believed because a man would gladly trade sex for safety, but would never go to bed with a woman solely to get a good night's rest. I had woken up on a strange, dreamlike place. Stepping outside my condo had brought the world creeping back in around the edges. The cops put their stamp on my harsh reality.

I had responded to my life all week by lashing out. By the suspicious looks the two patrolwomen were giving me, I could tell they were waiting for more of the same. What separated today from so many other days was late last night and this morning. I couldn't admit that I might have honest affection for Angel, but I now actually had hope that I might.

They couldn't steal that away. I could still screw it up, lose it, or give that hope away, but they couldn't take that from me.

"Officers," I spoke up. "I apologize for blowing up at you on Wednesday. You didn't deserve that."

"You need to correct your attitude around law enforcement," Cop One cautioned me.

"I disagree with that," I smiled warmly. "The police should always be held accountable. I simply blew up at you without giving both of you a chance to show me what kind of people you are. If you treat a law-abiding citizen like crap, you can expect the same."

"If you are really concerned about men disappearing, you might want to consider that if you continue to act like assholes, men will be afraid to talk to you. That makes the whole law enforcement effort far less effective," I pointed out.

"You haven't learned a damn thing," Cop One glared. I held up a hand to stop Angel from picking up my defense.

"If by some mystery you think your current attitudes are getting the job done, so be it. How many more thousands are going to vanish before you figure out that you haven't learned a damn thing either?" I reiterated. The cops looked to Angel to defend the Metropolitan Police's policies.

"Don't look at me," Angel shrugged. "It's obvious we are losing the struggle to keep the men of this city safe. He knows it. I know it. You know it. The difference is, Israel is relatively powerless to change the situation. He doesn't have the weaponry or training. We are supposed to protect him yet he's afraid to let us in his home."

"I know what you are thinking," Angel leveled an angry gaze at the two patrolwomen. "We don't need his permission; we can override his lock and security whenever we want so who needs to give a crap how he feels? Tonight when you go home and find those two Internal Affairs detectives in your living room waiting for you, do an emotional gut-check."

"IA can't..." the second cop trailed off.

"Yet we can jack Israel's lock whenever we feel like it," Angel emphasized. "In theory, we need probable cause, but when was the last time any officer was reprimanded for going into a male dwelling?"

"But you are one of us," Cop One pointed out. "You can do it too."

"Yes, and I did it to Israel," Angel sighed. "Now that I actually know him, I feel pretty sick to my stomach for doing it to him as well. There is no place he feels safe. There is no place he feels he has any privacy."

"You want to know why he's pissy? He lives in a fucking fish bowl, 24/7," she stressed. "You may not give a crap about his feelings, but your district has lost more young men than any other. Likewise, you have the lowest number of male complaints - which is why the fuck I am here - because the Police Commissioner doesn't believe you patrolwomen can do your job."

"That's not fair," Cop One protested.

"What have I missed? You've lost half of your remaining male population and there is not a single sign that ANY male in this district is willing to talk with any of you," Angel spat. "That's a complete disconnect."

"Your solution is to sleep with the guy?" Cop Two countered.

"No," I joined in. "Her solution was to tell me the truth so when she offered to help, I accepted it." That was not a total lie but Detective Kristi and my relationship had been far rockier than I was letting on. "We are not having intercourse."

"I was in his bedroom this morning," Kuiko informed them. "They were clothed, in bed together, but there was no smell of sex. Trust me; I fantasize about the smell of sex. I would know." The cops were definitely trying to expand their minds to encompass the dichotomy of what stood before them. "I'm not having intercourse with Israel either - yet," she added hopefully.

"Well, that's nice," Cop One started to disengage. "Have a nice day."

"Wow," Kuiko wondered after those two had moved on. "I've never talked to the local police before in my life. Is this what it is like for you, Israel?"

"I get stopped by LOLE's all the time," I answered. "It is part of life if you are a guy."

"Angel," Kuiko looked over at our companion.

"All the damn time," she confessed. "I'm not proud to admit I've hit on a guy during a routine stop as well. We even had sex later." Kuiko looked at me to see how upset I was.

"Happens all the time," I comforted Kuiko. "I'd rather have Angel tell me the truth than leave me wondering if she ever had."

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was disjointed. I was operating at the emotional level of a sixteen year old boy. Sure, I had a relationship when I was eighteen, but that was layered in deception and anguish. Angel Kristi was stymied by a well-developed sense of aggression and self-assurance plus the baggage that a man was more a prize than an individual.

When I started slipping back into my shell, her instinct was to shake me like a small child and demand that I snap out of it. That was the wrong thing to do. I would either retreat farther inside, or come back screaming at her. Venting your anger is good. Unleashing my pent up rage on a woman I was in emotional turmoil over was unhealthy both physically and mentally.

Kuiko would hide like cat when we exploded. Once we had both settled down, we'd spot her peeking around a corner or from behind the chair or sofa. At first Angel wanted Kuiko to leave. She was starting to feel territorial - a negative indicator in my book. I pointed out we (Angel and I) would probably vent our frustration by engaging in angry sex and we both agreed that would be a total disaster.

That revelation stunned the three of us. Girls were supposed to have sex with guys. Turning it down was virtually unheard of and difficult to explain to outsiders. Yet here Kuiko, Angel and I were all agreeing that sex would destroy our budding relationship. Angel decided that Kuiko should stay, I didn't get irritated over her taking that decision away from me and Kuiko proved to be a total spaz.

I didn't think that Kuiko's problems were so much her sexual expertise, her moderate breast size or slender body. She was emotionally all over the place and she invested too much passion into every little gesture. It could be overwhelming and since a guy didn't have to be patient with a girl with little to offer economically, it was easier for my gender to dump her and move on.

Shortly after Angel left, I was sitting on the sofa, logged onto the City Hall server - I wasn't working but PR people were supposedly always on the job - when I looked over and caught Kuiko peeking over her tablet at me. She immediately ducked down to hide her face.

"Kuiko?" I said.

"Yes?" she mumbled somewhat fearfully.

"I like you," I told her. There was nothing more to it than that. She put her tablet in her lap and stared at me for a long time.

"Really?" she whispered. I nodded. "Can I sit next to you - at your feet, I mean?" she corrected.

That was more proximity than I felt comfortable with but my life expectancy was dwindling beyond my control so I figured 'what the hell'.

"Sure," I conceded. She came to me with deliberate slowness then slid down next to my legs with her back to the base of the sofa.

"Thank you," she looked up after a few minutes.

"What for? You are my friend," I consoled her.

"Really? Thanks. I didn't have many friends in high school and never a boyfriend. There were only seven boys in my graduating class. I had sex - once - and that was a disaster," she sighed.

"Have sex much since then?" I hesitantly asked.

"Yes - almost twice, but the second time another girl swooped in and took him away," she complained.

"That's not fair," I agreed. "You have a nice body and a positive personality."

"She had a car," Kuiko explained. "A very nice car." Long gone were the days in North America where every family had their own conveyance. The Plague had moved us into large, compact metropolitan areas. After all, how could women date us men if we were spread out all over God's creation? Instead of cars, we had a very nice public transit system.

The fact that it limited and tracked the majority of the population's mobility never entered the authorities' minds...

"I like having you as a boyfriend," Kuiko mused happily. That snapped me back to the here and now.

"Even though we are not having sex?" I clarified.

"Oh yeah," Kuiko smiled at me. "I like being around you. It feels nice. See, we have the opposite problem. Girls won't leave you alone, but guys walk right by me as if I'm not there. Sometimes it makes a girl feel nice to simply get a guy to smile at her."

Wow, that was a complex discussion I didn't want to get into. If a guy smiles at a girl, she thinks he's interested. She immediately closes in to engage him in conversation. The thing is, the guy has his own life to attend to. It isn't like he's riding the metro, or walking the streets, looking for a hook-up. If he is, he'll talk to a girl he likes first, or go to a club.

"If you need a smile, or a hug, let me know," I promised.

"I'll do that," Kuiko grinned...and then she went back to doing her own thing. No pressure on me to perform...I really didn't know how to take that development.

"Kuiko, what do you do for a living?" I inquired.

"I'm a welder," she looked over her shoulder at me once more.

"You don't look like a welder," I said.

"What's a welder supposed to look like?" she smirked.

"I don't know," I furrowed my brow. "Big, burly and tough looking? Is Aniqua a welder too?"

"Nah, Aniqua's the Office Manager at the shop I work at," Kuiko informed me. "Basically, she manages herself, and the books and any other problems that come up that our cheap-ass boss won't take care of. I get Union minimum and I'm still a Journeyman, so that ain't much. I'll get my license in two more years though."

"When that happens, the Boss has promised to fire me because she's not going to pay me more and the Union won't let her pay me less," Kuiko grumbled.

"Isn't there someone you can complain to?" That was rich coming from me.

"No way," Kuiko shook her head. "She's all Mobbed-Up. I don't want to get my legs broken."

"Is crime bad in the city?" I wondered. Me, I was still more afraid of police violence than any random robbery. That fear also kept me from doing anything illegal.

"Yep," Kuiko chirped. "There are the average street gangs on motorcycles." Neighborhood gangs were another artifact of the past.

The city had surveillance everywhere. If you were a criminal and stood on a street corner or doorway, you were begging the cops to come get you. In this day and age, street gangs remained mobile.

"They are not so much a danger to me as to you," she added. She had that right. "Beyond that, there are a few minor operators doing designer drugs, weapons and illegal tech, but they also stay on the move."

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