tagMind ControlSo Night Follows Day Pt. 03

So Night Follows Day Pt. 03


"I showed up late one night with a neon light for a visa.

But knowing I'm so eager to fight can't make letting me in any easier.

I know I been wearing crazy clothes, and I look pretty crappy sometimes.

But my body feels so good, and I still sing a razor line.

Every time."

-The Who, "You Better, You Bet"

Contessa Helena de San Finzione stood in the Equals household's living room, rapt in nostalgia. She admired old photos of the three of them at various stages of her life up until about seven years ago, and remembered when the pictures had been taken. She was genuinely flattered at the number of photos containing her with them, or her with Propappou, or just her by herself.

She looked at old knick-knacks, decorations, and pieces of furniture that she hadn't seen for almost a decade, brought down from their parents' homes in Alaska, where she and the Equals had grown up. She took a deep sigh, and grinned. She was experiencing memories of happy times with them, but this time, without the dread of knowing what would be waiting for her at home when the feeling ended.

"Helena!" Julie called out to her, breaking her out of the reverie of the past that comprised their living room. "Of course we're happy to see you, Hon; and I'll be happy to sit down and look at some old photos with you later on, but it's been like five minutes since you walked in. So, would you mind answering our fucking questions now?"

"Yeah, ok. Sorry. Just, you know, I abandoned everything I had left in Anchorage, and it's cool to see that you guys saved some things." Helen took a seat on one of the couches. Troy sat in a recliner, and the other three ladies took the couch opposite her.

Helen thought for a moment.

"Ok, let's pretend I was too distracted on Memory Lane, and you were all talking at the same time too much to really pay attention and start again; try going one at a time." She thought a second before pointing to Julie. "What was yours, Julie?"

"I guess my first one was what's with all the Ultimados tossing Frisbees in the yard and coming to use the bathroom?"

"Oh, pretexts for checking out the house and back yard, sweeping for bugs, that sort of thing. Which, by the way, they didn't find any; so now you know your house is safe, too. They didn't want to ruin my surprise, so they couldn't just ask 'Mind if we make sure your house is secure before La Contessa surprises you?' You didn't recognize me when I waved?" Helen took off the wig she was still wearing that matched Julie's usual hair length and colors, revealing her own short, black hair with curled bangs beneath, and plopped the wig onto the coffee table. "Man, you are an effective disguise, Julie."

Claire and Susan looked at the wig, then at Helen. Something that they'd done during the Equals' honeymoon trip had involved Claire and Brenda, another friend, coming to San Finzione with Troy and Julie on their honeymoon; she and Brenda trading off disguising themselves as Julie, and walking around on Troy's arm to distract their police shadow while Julie set up their revenge prank for Helen's at their wedding. Helen saw the two women looking between her and the wig and got a feeling for what they were thinking.

"What?" She asked them. "You didn't know that I owned a Julie wig long before any of you?" They looked up at her again, about to open their mouths to speak, when Helen leaned forward and told them "The answer to all your weird questions about it is 'Yes.'"

Susan came forward with the next question.

"Ok, so that's even more obviously not you at the summit. A reporter asked a question, and the answer 'you' gave... well, it wasn't really a 'you' answer. Like, it was ok, but below your level."

While Susan spoke, Helen took a thin, silver, rectangular box out of her purse and began looking around for something.

"Hmm..." Helen thought, as if she wanted to answer, but was looking around for something as she fidgeted with the box.

"We don't have any ash trays, Helen." Susan said, sensing what she was looking for. "Nobody smokes in Equalshousia." She pointed to the sliding glass door through the kitchen, leading to the back patio. Helen followed her finger and nodded, standing up and walking through the kitchen toward the patio, making it clear that since she couldn't smoke inside, that was where questions would continue.

Helen spotted an empty soda can on the top of the garbage in the kitchen wastebasket and grabbed it on the way past, guessing there would be no ash tray waiting outside either. She took a seat at the patio table, produced a cigarette from the case, and lit it with a lighter built into the case. The other four grabbed chairs and arranged them into a line a few feet away from her, out of direct smoke-blowing range.

"Sorry about that, Susan. But no, I'm not at the summit. Rita Delvecchio is at the summit. She's me on 'È Solo Divertente Se Conosci L'italiano'." She thought for a drag. "It's only funny if you know Italian; it's San Finzione's version of SNL. I heard you're learning the language, you should check YouTube for her, even if you might not get all the jokes yet, because..." Helen chuckled. "Her 'Me' is just dead on! The girl who plays Maria doesn't look a thing like her, but Maria says we could be twins when Rita's in the wig and makeup. And I'll watch and go 'Damn, I totally do that, don't I,' or 'I can hear myself saying that, too!' So, I invited her up to the castle for dinner, we hit it off, and now I hire her to fill in for me when I don't particularly want to be at some events, but have to."

"I have SO many follow-up questions on this!" Susan responded.

Helena took a deep drag.

"Let me take care of the top five for you." She counted them off on her fingers. "Yes, I have a double. Yes, I have had sex with my double. No, her impression of me is not THAT good! Yes, OF COURSE, I filmed it. Maybe, if you're REALLY nice to me, we can watch it later."

"And that took care of most of them. How often do you have her do this?"

"Well, Rita's gotten pretty good at forging my signature, but we might technically still be at war with Iraq."

Claire stood and went next.

"I'm just here because Susan left her purse at work and it was on my way, and I need to get going, so I don't really have a question, Contessa. I'd just like to say that it's nice to finally meet you."

Helen rose from her chair and walked over to shake Claire's hand.

"Well, thank you. It's nice to meet you too, Claire. Sorry you have to go, hope we all get more time to talk while I'm here. And Helena's fine. Or hell, guess I better get used to being Helen again in America. So, yeah, go with Helen."

They said goodbye, and Helen sat back down as Claire showed herself out, then she addressed the others.

"Speaking of weird stuff about being back in America, did you know that I apparently CAN'T go into any corner store, grab a carton of my brand, say 'Invia la fattura al Castillo,' and walk out with them? At least, in Oregon, anyway. When did this shit start? But seriously, I know Troy's question is going to totally kill the mood, so Julie, did you have one?"

"Well, of course I'm thrilled to see you, Helena." Julie replied. "I'm just curious as to why Rita's downtown instead of you."

"Day One of these things is always just handshakes, photo ops, and 'how's the ol' regime holding up?' Really, I could send my Madame Tussaud's statue, if we could find a way to make it drink champagne, nibble caviar, and pretend to be happy to see everyone. Actually..." Helen took out her phone and spoke French into it. "Message to Jeanne: Have an idea, mention Madame Tussaud to me when I get home; I'll remember what it's about."

"There's a good, and hopefully not too much of a mood-killing question." Troy said when she finished. "Because, naturally, I am very happy to see you, Helen. I thought you'd be busy and the best we'd be able to do is dinner out some night this week. But what happens when someone walks up to Rita Delvecchio and starts asking her questions in Tagalog, or Navajo, or Portuguese, or German? Any of the many, many languages in which Contessa Helena de San Finzione is known to be fluent, and I would imagine that Rita Delvecchio is not."

Helen smiled, supposing it was a fair question. Her, their, and Susan's ability to control minds brought with it a natural confidence; the self-assuredness of knowing that they had the power in all of their interactions with others. A by-product of that confidence had been the ability to excel in their chosen interests. Troy had always had a natural genius for investment and finance, and was pursuing a doctorate in Economics. Julie had always possessed an artist's eye, and was becoming well-established in the Seattle area as a professional artist and graphic designer. Susan had only recently learned their secret, and because of the abusive relationship that had been the only one she'd ever known before meeting Troy and Julie, was still new to concepts like hope and encouragement; so was still working on discovering hers.

Helen's had been a talent for languages. The many different means by which cultures all over the world conveyed thoughts and ideas had fascinated her as much as mind control had Troy and Julie, causing them to discover the secret that they'd taught to her and Susan. Learning new languages came naturally to her, and late-night talk show hosts occasionally paraphrased a famous quip about Dorothy Parker, to whom she'd been no relation, modified for Helen: "She speaks every language in the world, and she can't say 'no' in any of them."

"Mic in her signet ring feeds to live translators who tell her what to say back into an earbud. If Rita gets in over her head or anything, she's got a signal. The Ultimados come up, one whispers something in La Contessa's ear, she acts like he just told her about some urgent matter, and they extract her from the conversation. You act like I haven't thought this through, Troilus."

"Well, that brings us to the Ultimados." Troy replied. "Contessa Helena de San Finzione does not need thirty-six Ultimados to protect her in Seattle. Even if riots broke out and the city became a war zone, she could re-take it with less than ten. You've had us under 24-hour surveillance with just two of them. After the attempt on your life last month, say fifteen or twenty might be a reasonable precaution. Some of whom, you'd need to keep downtown with Rita, of course.

"Now, the 'Green Family Reunion' is going on next door; and, by the way, nobody who isn't on TV or in the movies goes and gets a damn professional-made banner for a party. A party where all of the family members are adults in their 20s and 30s in peak fighting condition with no children or elderly present, many of whom are wearing baggy summer outfits that could easily conceal a pistol. Not Velasquez, of course; she couldn't hide anything in that bikini, but some of them. Some are 'casually' going off in pairs to take strolls around the neighborhood, others go out in groups for 'another supply run,' when you've got enough stuff to hold your own rock festival already. So, I'm thinking that our street, and maybe a five-block radius around it, is presently the safest place in the world. My question, then, and I have a feeling you're going to want to answer this one privately: 'Why does Helen's visit mean that our house needs to be the safest place in the world?'"

"Is that too many?" Helen answered, coyly. "I guess I did only need twelve of them to destroy the balance of power in Central Africa, didn't I?" She saw that Troy was still waiting for an answer and straightened up. "We haven't even been to Seattle yet. We landed in Portland with no fanfare yesterday, spent the day buying some used cars, trucks, a Winnebago or two, and drove up I-5 early this morning. So extra protection was needed for the road trip. The rest..." Helen took a final drag of her cigarette before dropping it through the hole in the can. "Yes, we'll probably want to talk in private about that. Is there a place we can go?"

"Well, Helen," Susan said with a genuine smile. "If it means we've got a little time to actually see you; then I, for one, welcome our new Ultimado Overlords."

Helen gave a genuine smile back, as well. "Genuine" was a word that she'd come to associate with Susan more and more since they'd put their bad first meeting behind them and were working on being friends. It was a trait that Helen associated with Julie, as well.

At that moment, a Frisbee landed in the middle of them. The tall, bald man with sunglasses, whom Troy and Susan had seen cross the road when they pulled up, came into their back yard in search of it. Helen waved him over.

"Oh hey, gotta introduce you guys." She called over to him. "Oi, Mander!"

Troy and Susan had been too startled to notice when he ran across the street before, but as he approached, they could now see the large caliber, black-finished pistol in a holster on his belt. Susan leaned closer to Helen and spoke before Mander came into earshot.

"I have another question, Helen." She said. "Why is the henchman from every 80s action movie in our yard?"

"You think so?" Helen replied. "I always think Vinnie Jones."

Mander bounded over to them.

"Right 'ere, Your Countessness. An' I'm guessin' these three are Mr. & Mrs. Equals and Ms. Bailey. Lovely to meet ya." He leaned over to Helen and whispered, "Who was the game bird that left?"

"That was Claire..." Helen hesitated a second. "You know, I didn't get her last name. She had to go, I don't know how often she comes by, but I'm sure I can get her number for you."

"This ain't that kind of vacation fer me, I'm afraid." Mander replied.

Helen turned back to the group.

"Mander's going to be helping me out with some stuff while I'm in town. But yes, Troy. We should talk somewhere else."

Troy stood up and made a "right this way" motion back into the house. The two of them left.

Mander took Helen's seat, and he, Julie, and Susan looked across from each other for a number of seconds.

"Lovely 'ome ya've got 'ere." Mander said at last, looking through the open kitchen door. "What kind of tilin' izzat?"

* * *

Troy closed the bedroom door behind him. Helen stood, looking at the display case of little gifts that he and Julie had given each other over the years, and remembering the stories behind most of them.

"What'd you ever do with mine?" Helen said, looking at the pair of pink, lace panties in the case that Julie had removed on her and Troy's first night together and given to him as her first gift to her newest and final boyfriend. She then gave out an "Oh!" as she noticed the engraved gold invitation she'd given them to the castle ball, from the first time they'd gone to San Finzione.

Helen walked back across the room and hugged Troy.

"Thank you." She said. "Something of mine, up there. I get what that means."

Troy hugged back.

"Like your paintings, we thought it just belonged."

Troy kissed Helen on the forehead. Helen tried to pull him toward the bed. Troy let her for a couple of steps before he stopped and pulled away. She sighed and sat on the bed.

"They'd probably hear us, anyway." She said with a smirk. "It's safe to talk here?"

"I'm pretty sure I saw Velasquez come out of here, so I imagine it's been swept for bugs, and we soundproofed the bedrooms."

"Mander might be interested in hearing how you did that. He's gotten into home improvement in a big way since I last saw him."

"Ok, let's start with Mander." Troy said, taking a seat on the chaise lounge across from her. "You have thirty-six elite troops, ready to kill or die on your command; even without Doing What We Do to make them, having what looks like a pretty good barbecue across the street."

"You're all invited, of course." Helen interrupted. "Sorry, I just should have said earlier."

"Thanks. Maisson's burgers are smelling pretty good, we just might come over. Back to the question, though: Why is the larger of the two thugs that Professor Moriarty sends to abduct The Girl traveling with you?"

Helen suddenly laughed at that. Troy looked confused until she spoke.

"Sorry, it's just... that's... you don't know..." Helen spoke quickly to change the subject before Troy asked for more on that. "The Ultimados have been on edge since the attack, Troilus. Nobody who knows about The Thing blames Ramirez; although there have been some fairly unflattering political cartoons about him lately. That's why he's not here. He's advising Contessa-In-Reggenza Maria while this blows over. The way they see it, La Squadra de Ultimados failed before they succeeded. So, they're out to redeem themselves, even though there's nothing to redeem. They're TOO ready to kill or die on my command right now, Troilus. It's the kind of irrational, macho, 'there's us and there's them' military pride that we grew up around in Anchorage, and it leads to people who DON'T have a 'stabbing me' agenda getting hurt."

"Susan says you get a lot of that in the service industry, too. Like, even more than Marines, because they've also got to put up with the Marines sometimes being asshole customers, just like the rest of us. You could always command them get over it."

Helen gave him a blank look before responding in a Valley Girl voice.

"Yeah, like, I know, right? But there's, like, this guy I know? And he's always going on about this guy named 'Prince Upulls?' And he's, like, MAJORLY cute, so I thought I'd check it out? And one of the ones I'm trying is, like, NOT disrespecting the people who've, like, sworn to put bullets into other people for me? Or, like, get bullets put into themselves for me? So, I don't want to like, handwave their feelings away, ya know? I'd rather save that for something more important than wounded pride?"

Troy smiled at that. It made Helen smile too.

"I can see that you're trying, Helen." Troy said, taking hold of her hand. "I can also see that you've been trying to use humor to deflect things since probably before you cooked up the reunion idea. Definitely since you knocked on the door. Petalouda, there's something you're trying to put off telling me as long as you can. I suspect that whatever it is, I'm not going to like it any more a few days from now than I will right at this moment. Do you need me to help you go deeper and be honest?"

"No, Troilus." She said, pulling away. She looked down, then back up at him. "You know that the man who stabbed me wasn't some lone psycho. He'd been a hitman, back when we were kids. He went straight, Troy. Like how Wade used to promise the parole board he would, but never had any intention of doing."

Helen stopped for a moment, as if she'd stunned herself by what she'd just said. She continued speaking as her hand slipped into her black Prada Arcade bag.

"In fact, hearing it out loud like that, that's not a bad comparison: This guy was, like, the Anti-Wade. He MADE The Big Score and got out clean. Went straight, married his girl, got a farm out in the country, had kids, raised them to be better than him; did all the things that Wade promised Marion he'd do 'someday.'

"Then he contracted a terminal illness; a brain tumor. The money dried up, he'd lost his hearing, and things were only going to get worse from there. The coroner's report..." She dug out what she'd been seeking in the purse, and dropped a thick file folder onto the bed. "Said he'd have been bedridden within a few months, dead within a year. A man found him, preyed upon his fears of leaving his family impoverished, and paid Frank Morgan enough money to throw his remaining life away in an effort to end mine."

Troy reached over to the bed and opened the folder. The coroner's report was on top of a number of other documents stapled together inside; many showing holes where the staples had been removed and replaced multiple times.

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