This is Chapter 1 of the story Titania’s Purse.
The morning bell jarred me out of a dream about clean sheets and hot meals. I rolled out of the bunk and slid bare feet into the plastic slippers that they gave us to wear as shoes. Clancy walked through the dorm, swinging her wooden spoon. It had a leather thong looped through a hole in the handle and she swung it from her fingertip as she looked for stragglers.
I’d been treated to her spoon across my knees on my first two mornings here. I’d learned to get my feet on the floor before she made her rounds. She gave me a crooked smile and gripped the handle of the spoon for a second as she looked down at my slippers. Bare feet on the floor would get you knock on the top of the head. She moved on. I turned to smooth the faded and yellowed sheets across the thin mattress. I’d lost my blanket on the third day for spilling my breakfast oatmeal and hadn’t earned it back yet. March is cold in Chicago. I really missed that blanket. A howl erupted from somewhere at the other end of the room as Clancy found a target.
Clancy checked the bunks and administered a few more sharp raps with the spoon. She smiled at me as she looked at my taut sheet. She ran a fat hand through my hair. I wanted to vomit but instead I gave her a toothy Dumb-Dwarf smile.
“Did I do good, Auntie?” I asked.
“You did fine, Tito. Just fine.” She kissed the top of my head. Her breath smelled of stale beer. The spoon dangled from her wrist as her hand stroked the inside of my groin. I almost kicked her, but managed to keep the stupid grin plastered on my face.
“Can I have my blanket back, Auntie?” I pleaded. “I been good all week, honest.”
“Don’t make Auntie mad, Tito. You’ll get it back tomorrow if you’re a good boy for me tonight.”
Don’t hold your breath, you old hag, I thought. I had enough evidence get her busted on a dozen abuse charges. All I had to do was signal Franklin and have him get me out of this shit hole.
Clancy rang the bell again and we fell in line behind Tommy. He was Clancy’s snitch and relished his place. I couldn’t hate him. He’d been here for five years and had been ‘Auntie’s Special Boy’ for most of them. I think he was relieved when she started to show an interest in me. It didn’t keep him from his exacting his own petty revenge. I was used to it. It’d take more than a few mashed toes and shoves in the back to get me to break cover.
We shuffled into the dining room and stood behind our chairs. Cassie, the girl with Down’s syndrome, was limping and had tearstains on her cheek. She’d been slow getting out of bed again. Hang on, Cassie. Just for today, I thought, as if she could hear. She didn’t look up.
“All right. You can sit now. No dawdling. And don’t spill.” Clancy looked sternly at me.
We sat, or in the case of Tommy and me, climbed up into the bare wooden chairs. My chin came just above the edge of the table, so not spilling was a bit of a challenge. I drank the watery orange juice but didn’t chance the cold cereal. Franklin could buy me a burger for lunch. After this, he’d owe me big.
Tommy was a Spud like me. We’re all just about the same age–around twenty-one more or less. But he was afflicted with the developmental delays (social worker speak for retardation) that afflicted most of us. Maybe one in five hundred had normal intelligence. I was one of the lucky ones. Even then I’d struggled with reading and learning troubles all through childhood.
I shuddered as Clancy walked behind me. She had a thing for Denver Dwarves and I was her next target. I’d heard about perverts like her, but usually they were men who preyed on the girls. They’re very specific about their taste. Real Spuds, not just little people.
It’s called Viral Hyperteloric Dwarfism Syndrome, VHDS to the medical community. Denver Dwarf or Fish-Eye Dwarf or just plain Spud to the masses. We’re a select group, about hundred thousand of us. Our mothers were pregnant when the Plague hit Denver and we were exposed to the vaccine in the womb. It caused a specific and usually devastating series of birth defects.
On a personal level, it trapped me in a stunted body with wide set eyes and a narrow chinless jaw. Not exactly the sort of thing to attract hot girls, or even earn me tolerance in Normie society. Out of sight and out of mind was the unofficial government policy. Most of us were warehoused in institutions or Custodial Care homes, like this one. I’d busted out of a C.C. home just after my eighteenth birthday and hadn’t been back since. Except, of course, on paying jobs.
We finished breakfast and everyone carefully carried their bowls to the big sink in the kitchen. Clancy rang her bell again. The little parade left the kitchen and marched to the day room. In another setting, it might have been a pleasant room with a high airy ceiling and big bay windows overlooking Fargo Avenue. But the ceiling was cracked and water stained and the worn carpet was caked with dirt and smelled faintly of stale urine.
Three tables with chipped faux wood tops and some more rickety wooden chairs occupied the center of the room. Two battered, threadbare armchairs slumped against the far wall. An old flat-screen netlink blared from a ceiling mount, permanently tuned to a children’s educational channel. That along with a few puzzles and building blocks fulfilled Clancy’s requirement to provide a comprehensive remedial adult education program.
Clancy surveyed her domain with a satisfied smile before leaving us to our own devices, locking the door behind her. She’d fetch us back to the dining room for lunch at one, then dinner at six. Such was the totality of our existence. Five days of this had driven me to the brink of madness. Time to call Franklin.
Cassie sat on the floor in the bend of the big bay window with her knees drawn up to her chin and her arms crossed in front of them. She rocked slowly back and forth humming a little song to herself. I didn’t know the tune but it seemed to comfort her. I wasn’t sure if she had recognized me when Franklin checked me in. We’d been in C. C. together in Denver before I busted out and I had a few bad moments when I realized where I’d seen her before. She hadn’t given any indication that she remembered me.
She’d been quiet back in Denver as well, but she’d seemed happier then, smiling often and interacting with the other kids as she was able. Now she spent all her time huddled in one corner or another, rocking and humming. Clancy would pay for that as well.
I stood at the window and peered through the dirty pane. Franklin’s green Ford electric was parked a half-block down Fargo. A wisp of steam from the hood showed that he had the heater on. He’d be watching the house from there. I couldn’t see the C.O.P.S., but figured he had Patrol Units hidden in the alley. I shuddered. I didn’t like C.O.P.S.
The signal that I was ready for rescue was lowering and raising the shade twice. Subtle, simple and effective, unless your partner has fallen asleep and you’re too short to reach the shade in the first place.
Someone had flipped the drawstring up over the curtain rod. I stood on the windowsill and stretched but couldn’t reach it. I got down and looked around the room for something I could use to knock the string loose. Cassie stopped humming and looked at me. She gave me a wan smile.
“Hi, Tito,” she said.
“Hi, Cassie,” I answered, keeping my tone light and my voice soft. “Do you remember me?”
She nodded. “I didn’t tell Auntie. You’re smart, but Auntie thinks you’re dumb like me. I didn’t tell her. Did your Dad and Mom go away, too?”
I knew Cassie’s parents were both dead, killed by the Denver Plague when she was just two. I thought of my Mom, killed by a rogue C.O.P when I was fifteen and about Dad and Javier, my younger brother, on the run from Consolidated Genetics and their C.O.P. flunkies. I hoped they were safe in Tonga.
“Yeah, they did.” I didn’t trust myself to say more through the wave of sadness that threatened to overwhelm me. Time for some payback.
“I want to go home, Tito.” Cassie’s voice was soft, almost a whisper. She hid her face in her arms again.
I touched the top of her head. Soon, Cassie, I thought.
A quick circuit of the day room revealed nothing that I could use to reach the string. Clancy and her goons had made sure there was nothing we could use to harm each other or ourselves. Tommy-Boy eyed me suspiciously as I wandered around. He slid off his seat on one of the armchairs when I tried the storage closet door. It was locked of course, and I wandered away from it before he got the idea to call for Clancy and rat me out.
In the end, I was reduced to waving my arms at the car, hoping Franklin would notice. He didn’t, but Clancy did. Tommy must have called her when I resumed my perch on the windowsill. One second I was flapping my arms like a crow in a tornado, the next I was sitting on the floor with Clancy swinging that spoon at my head.
I brought my hand up and blocked the blow as I rolled away and got to my feet. She screamed something at me and swung again. I lost it. I ducked under her arm and grabbed the spoon out of her hand, snapping the thong.
“Get away from me, you fat pervert!” I swung the spoon and smacked her on the elbow. She screamed again and grabbed at me. I ducked away and kicked her in the shin. She kicked back and sent me flying into one of the tables. Fury contorted her face. She advanced toward me, arms out, her eyes red. My side ached where she’d kicked me. This was going to end badly if I didn’t do something.
I scrambled backwards under a table and glanced around the room. No help. My fellow inmates cowered against the walls. All except Tommy who stood on the armchair smiling gleefully.
Clancy grabbed the table and shoved it aside. She got a grip on my ankle and pulled me toward her, raising a balled fist. I brought up my arms to shield my face.
I heard a shout of “No!” from my left. Clancy jerked my leg, but then let go. I opened my eyes to see Cassie shoving Clancy against the wall. Cassie was a big girl, big as Clancy. She’d never shown any sign of rebellion before. In fact she’d been one of Clancy’s favorite targets. I didn’t know what had sparked her to action, but was glad for the help.
Clancy turned her wrath on Cassie, slapping her about the face and head. I looked around for a weapon, but only came up with the spoon. Not much against Clancy’s bulk and fury, but I wasn’t going to let Cassie down. I charged but never made it to Cassie’s side.
The door splintered and gave way as a C.O.P. Patrol Unit crashed through it. Franklin stood behind it and there were more units in the hallway.
“Halt,” said the Patrol Unit in that commanding synthesized voice that they all use. “This unit is seeking the male Horacio Guzman. All individuals will suspend activity and assist with a lawful search.”
I raised my hand. “I’m Horacio Guzman. I wish to make a formal complaint against a citizen here present. I charge Mildred Clancy with abuse of the disabled citizens left in her charge, with fraudulent billing of the Department of Social Welfare and with being an ugly, spiteful pervert.”
The Computer Operated Patrol unit cocked its mechanical head, a rough parody of a man’s with round optical sensors for eyes and a speaker where the mouth should be. It stood over two meters high on twin titanium alloy legs and could move faster than any human alive. It regarded me for a half second as the biochips in its CPU processed my words.
“Citizens wishing to file formal charges with the Department of Public Safety should clearly state the nature of the offense and present reasonable evidence before an arrest can be made.” It didn’t like my editorializing about Clancy’s character.
Franklin stepped forward and rattled off a string of statute numbers. The unit turned to Clancy who had backed into a corner. Cassie sat on the floor crying. I went over to her and hugged her. Sitting down, her head was almost level with mine.
“Hush, Cassie,” I said softly. “It’s all right. You did the right thing. No one is going to hurt you anymore.”
Franklin supervised Clancy’s arrest. More Patrol Units were in the room, rounding up the rest of Clancy’s victims. The units spoke in soft feminine tones to reassure everyone that the situation was now in the hands of the lawful authorities. I wouldn’t let any of them near Cassie. The room was full of that C.O.P. smell that always set my teeth on edge – lube oil with faint overtones of burning hair.
Franklin finally came over to me. “You have to let her go, Tito,” he said. “The matrons are here to pick her up. She’ll be all right.”
I pulled back away from Cassie and she dried her eyes. “All better?” I asked.
She nodded and said, “Bye-bye, Tito.” She smiled as a small round woman in a DSW jacket took her hand and helped her to her feet.
Franklin had the good sense to keep quiet as they led her away. I turned to face him.
“You owe me a bonus for this one, Franklin.”
“That wasn’t in the contract. You knew the situation here when you took the job.”
“I agreed to get the goods on Clancy. I’ve got them.” I pulled off the tiny button camera that I’d used to record all of Clancy’s antics. It looked like one of my shirt buttons, but held up to 200 hours of continuous video recording in its tiny brain. “You didn’t tell me she had a thing for Spuds.”
He looked genuinely surprised. Maybe he didn’t know. I didn’t care. I needed to take out my frustration on someone and he was handy.
“Did she. . . ” He left the sentence unfinished.
“No. Tommy over there was her Special Boy. But I was next in line for the job. Maybe she planned to make it a threesome.” Franklin squirmed uncomfortably. A bit hypocritical of him, if you ask me, considering his own sexual preferences.
Franklin wasn’t into Spuds. But he did like things a bit kinky and he liked his girls young. I’d retrieved a damning video from a pimp last year as a favor to him, which was why he was going to pay me a bonus now. The girl in the video had said she was eighteen. She looked twenty-one. But a judge wouldn’t care that she was a well-paid and willing participant. He’d only see that she was barely sixteen and Franklin would be looking at five to seven in Joliet.
“What do you want?” He lowered his voice and bent closer to me. At almost two meters tall and only sixty-five kilos, he might have been a stork stooping to speak to a toad. I wasn’t pretty enough to be a frog.
He looked around for the C.O.P. units, but they had all filed out with the social workers. “That’s illegal, Tito.”
“So is sex with teenage girls.” ‘Tis one thing to be tempted, another to fall, I though, hearing Charlie’s voice in my head.
He alternately paled and flushed with anger. “Where am I supposed to get biochips?’
“You work for DPS. Be creative. Two chips by noon tomorrow. On top of the credits I earned for this job.” I smiled. “And now I think I’ll let you buy me lunch. Otherwise I might have a serious lapse in memory after such a trying ordeal.”
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