I got a call from Barbara late one evening, her cheery Santana ringtone ringing clear as I helped Auntie Em with the dishes after supper one night.
I walked hurriedly to the phone, because running is really stupid when you’re blind, btw. I could walk pretty quickly given that I knew the terrain almost as well as if I had built the place. I picked up the phone with soapy hands and hit the big call button.
“Hola, Erica” she replied with less energy that I had come to expect from my aggressive business lady friend. “I need your ears.”
“Sure thing, chica, just let me get my things and I’ll start heading over.” I helped Barbara and a number of other Freakshow people with basic ‘audial investigations’, as I liked to call them. I would come around, ossiliscope the place out and tell them what I heard, like if they had rats in the walls, an elderly if suspicious neighbor suspects communism rather than witchcraft, or, my leading favorite, a highly impoverished hispanic couple hears their son’s heartbeat for the first time. That last one I did with the help of one of the more clued-in nurses from the Birth and Women’s Center who was doing a favor for Barbara. Anyway, I did all these investigations and services for free, not only because the Freakshow, my friends, were doing the asking, but also because I enjoy helping people. People have been helping me since my accident, for no reason other than they want to, and so I like to give something back. “Pay-it-Forward” is cliche as hell, but I like it. Also Spiderman’s credo, the one about responsibility and power, factors in, but that goes without saying. Barbara interrupts my train of positive thought before I can get to my bag.
“No need, hermana, just open a ring channel. By the way, I sent you a signal over the ring, did you get it?” Barbara was a not-unskilled Photomancer, and while she lacked a lot of power, she made up for in clever low heft utilizations. We had devised a signal method over the Paranet Relay rings a few years ago involving IR radiation after I had given her a physics primer on what that was. The IR radiation made my finger kinda hot, but since it was done in pulses and wasn’t the alternating heat/cold that Belle used, I could recognize it. Before she would just send a small flash of light pulsing from the ring, something that would impress a muggle without setting of the “oh gawd its magic kill it kill it” reflex. Unfortunately, as I am completely Blind, she would have to send that pulse until someone told me that, hey, your ring is flashing, then I would open an audio channel to Barbara. Have I mentioned before that this whole Relay thing is a more than a little scattered? Barbara is also the most up-to-date on social media and appropriate tech, also due to her low mojo heft, so that helped too.
“I took it off to wash the dishes, the running water would have weakened the links. Sorry.” I dried my hands, put my ring on, and went upstairs with the phone for some privacy. I hung up the phone, turned it and all the other gadgets in my room off, spent a minute focusing my will and charging the link in my ring to the link in Barbara’s ring, and “Opened a Channel”. What? I like Star Trek, shush.
The sound flowed between Barbara and I like we were standing in the same room together. I could hear the sounds of the semi-busy Purple House on Bell, even a little noise from the street. “What can I do for you, Barb?” I asked warmly yet detached in what I hoped was a professional tone. Barbara likes when I did that.
“Well, you’re books have come in, and I have that mandrake seedling you asked for. Really, Erica, you shouldn’t be messing around with those things, they are the real deal, they can-”
“Barbara,” I interrupted, “did you ask me to open a channel just to tell me things you could have told me over the phone?”
Barbara sighed, a pretty sound that conveys as much as information as a whole book if you know how to read it right. I sorta knew, I still had a ways to go to translate “Hispanic Arcane Student and Business Woman” sighs into “White Girl Musician” sighs with total accuracy, but I got the jist of it. Barbara was annoyed. Not just annoyed, she was seriously pissed about something. Instinctually, I said “Oh I’m sorry!” but she shushed me.
“It’s not you, chica, it’s this pendejo that came by my shop a few minutes ago. He had colors on, but not ones I recognize. I’ve been hearing on the streets for a while that some of the local gangs are starting to… team up, I guess is the right word. They are part of a small street gang, then partner with another street gang, then combine their colors and signs. I think something has spooked them, and that some of them have figured out that they need to work together to keep from being eaten by some larger fish. But then they get absorbed into another larger gang and their colors and signs change again. So now while the overall fighting has gone down in this neighborhood, the stress and tension hasn’t. No one knows who to tip off or who to avoid, its all very confusing. My point is…” Barbara pauses to catch her breath, “I have no idea who this guy was.”
I sighed, trying to convey ‘yes you have a problem and I am determined to fix it’. “What can I do to help?”
Barbara started walking, her feet hitting the floor in her flats like she held a mild disdain that it was between her and her destination. “Well, he is outside right now in his car talking on a telephone. Can you listen in to his conversation for me? Maybe I can get some better info and then figure out a better way to handle this.”
“Of course,” I reply in my hopefully still professional tone, “just give me a minute.”
“Okay, gracias, Erica.”
“De Nada.” I don’t speak spanish, but in Texas, you still pick up a little bit. I channel one of my super-hearing style rituals thru the relay ring in Barbara’s hand, and start to recieve input almost immediately.
I had learned a long time ago that I could not do true Divinations anymore, at least not ones that required the use of pure spiritual energy as an sensory source. Sure, I could still use sympathetic links and draw power from mystical and semi-mystical sources like a Wizard could, but I couldn’t use magic to tell me where someone was like a basic tracking spell could, or project myself around like I’ve heard people can do, or call directly to spirits to ask questions. I had to use what I called a reach-around. Well, I had called it that until Belle, Midori, and Ren had all told me not to call it that anymore but refused to tell me why, so I now call it a bypass.
I used my standard Ultrasonic Imaging Spell to get the layout of the area, then altered the wavelength and power until I could pick out a car outside the Purple House with a person inside. Once I had his location, I put some extra power into the UI spell and “tied it off”, then put an auditory divination sensor (thank God I can still do that, at least) inside the car, using his rear view mirror as a reference point. I heard a bunch of Spanish, so I piped it in to Barbara. She said that it wasn’t Spanish, maybe Honduran. I used my Relay spell again (fourth spell currently running, for those of you who are counting) and sent a auditory ring-ring to Dona, who replied by sending a small ethereal shiver up my arm as a go-ahead. I opened a channel to Dona, and Barbara and I explained what was going on, and Dona said that something similar was happening in her neck of the woods too. I piped in the conversation to Dona, who said that she didn’t understand it either, but to give her a moment to “ask the spirits”. She mumbled for a while, then she began translating in slightly delayed time but in a much more masculine rich baritone overlaying her more thickly accented normal soprano:
“Look, Manuel, I’m telling you man, this chick is loaded! She has all kinds of old books and sh!t all over the place, she’s got old fancy rocks and herbs and sh!t, nobody has stuff like this if they ain’t packin in the dough! And it would be super easy to clean, man, not very big, register is easy to pick up and go, and I’m sure we can persuade that hot mamasita to tell us where she hides her valuable, if you know what I’m sayin haha!…(pause)…Naw, man, she is smokin hot, totally crunch-worthy, ya dig?…(pause)…She’s got a computer too, like a laptop or something, those are easy to fence…(pause)… Naw it wasn’t too busy, but she had a couple people in there, all wussies though, no packers or hitters…(pause)… yeah she had a bunch of rugs and sh!t if we need to roll somebody…dude I betcha she’s got some crazy weed in there too man, whole place smelled, man…”
Barbara, at this point, had gone from Pissed to Seething. She started to swear in Spanish, and Dona said that she wouldn’t translate because it was very inappropriate for young girls to hear that language, much less use it, so I thanked her for her help and closed that Channel. Barbara had stopped talking at this point but I could tell from the sound of her pacing that she was still super upset.
“I don’t know what to do, Erica! I mean, usually I can just pay them off or pay another gang to run interferance, or maybe brow-beat them until they steer clear, but now I can’t do that! The cops won’t do anything because I got no evidence, and even if they do pick him up, whoever he’s talking to will hit my business anyway. I can’t intimidate him because he might have a gun or, he’s a big guy, maybe he just decide he prefers beating women to shooting them. I can’t pay them off because then they will know for sure I have cash, and my contacts on street-side aren’t gonna know who to trust for security detail!” She huffed and fell down in one of her chairs with a thud.
I got a brash and rather obstinant streak sometimes, especially when people I like are in trouble, so I didn’t hide it when I spoke. “I say you go brow-beat this guy, Barb.”
“Um, Erica, what part of ‘he might have a gun’ did you not understand?”
“No no, I got that part, but Barb, we could totally brow-beat him Freakshow style, and I could totally take care of his gun.” I countered, excitement rising in my voice.
“I dunno,” Barbara muttered worriedly, “I really would like to show this pendago whose boss, but it’s too risky…” Eventually after enough calm yet excited reassurances and a highly detailed planning session, I talked Barbara into it. Sometimes I love being me…
Barbara strode quietly and eeriely out the front door towards the gangbanger’s car. She wore her slickiest black dress and with some fairly intense goth-ish makeup tricks, and the light around her seemed to draw in the shadows as she moved. She made no sound as she did so, and as she neared the car, it went dead at the same time as the passanger’s cellphone. The confused gangbanger turned to look at the sultry powerfully exotic woman standing almost right next to his door. All the glass in his car gave a whining sound and suddenly shattered in a pop and crinkle, and a cold wintery wind chilled him where he sat. Barbara grabbed the door, and with one hand ripped it off its hinges and threw it behind her. The Punk, now sufficiently scared out of his mind, opened fire with his gun on Super-Barbara at point blank range. The bullets hit Barbara like pebbles hitting a wall before the gun jammed and backfired in the Punk’s hand. Barbara took no notice, reached inside towards the Punk and bodily pulled him out by his shirt, her eyes glowing like red coals. She stood over him, looking down on him as she shook his not inconsiderable 230 pounds of flesh like a rag doll.
“You!” Barbara shouted, in a voice like Mr. Shadow from the 5th Element movie, super bassed out and gravely and just on the edge of killing everything for no reason. “You…will leave, and never return. No one who calls you friend will ever come here again. This house is sacrosanct, protected, forbidden. Do you understand?”
The Punk swallowed and nodded feebly, a dark patch appearing between his legs. Super-Barbara’s eyes flashed crimson, and she shook him again. “Say It!”
“I…I..I comprende…por favor…madre del dios…” the punk stammered.
Barbara ran one slim finger over the blood of his bleeding hand and put it to her mouth. “I have tasted your blood, bicho, nowhere can you run and be safe from me. You return, or cause another to defile this place, and I will come for you. Now…GO!!” She lets go fo his shirt with one final shake, and he runs down the street clutching his hand. He turns one last time, sees a pair of barely visible but massive bat-wings spring out of Super-Barbara’s back, and sprints down the street as fast as his stolen sneakers can take him.
As he disappears from sight and earshot, Barbara relaxes from her warrior-womans pose, and a chorus of gleeful and triumphant shouts and cheers spring from the ring hidden in her decolletage as she smiles wearily. She pulled out the ring as she walked back inside, over a dozen voices clamoring excitedly to each other.
“That was so wicked!”
“I know, right?!”
“Totally awesome, everybody, great job!”
“Did the bat-wing idea work? Did you use the bat-wings?”
“I heard the door come off its hinges, that was totally my sh!t right there!”
“Was it too cold? I was afraid of making it too cold because that dress doesn’t leave much to the imaginaion…”
“Did it have to be a demonic, though? Maybe we could have…”
“Coolest thing ever!”
“I’m so tired and I wasn’t even there…”
“I wish I could tell my coworkers about this…”
“I’ve seen Barb’s Evil Eye trick, pretty scary, girl…”
“Can we do this again next week? My neighbor’s dog is always…”
“I say victory celebration at Atwaters! Whose with me?”
“Someone tell me what happened right after the glass shattered, my phone rang…”
“That was so great…”
“Did he pee a lot?”
“I know a guy who can get that car towed tonight, by the way.”
“Did you get cut by the glass at all?”