Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 15

Last time on Fight Song, Callie attempted to make plans and got mildly distracted by life and loneliness. This week, she and Jonathan meet up for the first time since their argument to actually talk through ideas and hopefully work things out. As always, comments of any kind are welcome!

Chapter 15: Possibilities

I arrived early to the café again that Saturday afternoon, coming straight from work without even bothering to change out of my red polo uniform. And, like last time, I found no sign of Jonathan. Lannis was working the counter, and she greeted me with a tired smile as I approached. “Meeting your reporter friend again?”

“Yeah.” I dug out my wallet. “One coffee, please. Black, with cinnamon. And . . .” I thought a moment. “And when my friend comes in, put his order on my card.” Hopefully that would get our meeting off to the right start. If it worked, it would be worth drinking an extra mug of instant coffee instead of the good stuff.

“Will do.” Lannis tapped in my order and waited for me to stick my debit card in the chip reader. “I hope whatever you’re doing goes well.”

“So do I.” I pulled my card back out and replaced it in my wallet, along with my receipt. Five minutes later, I was sitting in a corner booth, coffee in hand.

Another ten minutes passed before Jonathan walked in and approached the counter. I watched him give his order to Lannis, saw surprise cross his face, probably when Lannis told him he didn’t have to pay. He waited by the counter as she got his drink— cold brew again— and then walked over with his coffee in hand. He slid into the seat across from me. “Hey. Thanks for the coffee.”

“You’re welcome.” I curled my fingers around my cup. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine. Busy.” Jonathan shrugged, trying and failing to look casual. “You?”

“Same. Fine. Busy.” Darn it, why did this have to be so awkward. I couldn’t look at him, so instead I stirred my coffee with the little stirrer I’d picked up and watched the dark liquid swirl. “Look, I’m sorry about how I acted last time. I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”

“You’re forgiven. I wasn’t exactly behaving like a gentleman.” Jonathan took a sip of his coffee. “So. You want to lure Welsh into a confrontation, then video how he attacks. And somehow you think you can keep him from killing you in the process.”

I nodded. “That’s basically it, yes.”

“But how?” Jonathan gestured towards the window. “You know what happened to Ana and to Welsh’s other victims. You’ve seen it yourself. And you claim that you can neutralize his life-draining thing, but I don’t see how that’s possible, even with your power—”

He stopped short, going even whiter than he normally was. “Er . . . sorry . . .”

I stared at him, trying to process— had he really just said what I thought he’d said? Oh, no, no, no . . . “What did you just say?”

“Well, uh,” Jonathan sighed. “Look, I didn’t say anything about it, because you were obviously trying to keep it secret, but I’ve known for a while that you have some kind of superpower. No offense, but you aren’t exactly subtle, and besides, I’m a reporter. It’s my job to notice things.”

Oh, great. First Uhjin, now this. I thought I was doing well at keeping secrets, but apparently not. What’s next? Rebecca revealing that she knows everything too? Granted, Jonathan knowing already would make my plan easier to explain, but I still tried to stall a few extra minutes. “If you’re so certain I have powers, what do you think they are?”

“Some kind of elemental control, I’m guessing. You can obviously do stuff with air, based on what happened during the holdup here—” Jonathan waved his hand to indicate the café in general— “and if you were the one who stopped the mugger in the subway, then you’ve got some kind of earth or stone manipulation. And it could be just those two, but it would make sense for you to have some kind of control of fire and water too, basically a Master-of-Elements type of thing, like in that TV show.”

That comment stopped my mind spinning long enough for me to give Jonathan a hard look. “You think I’m the real-life equivalent of the Avatar? Really?”

“I said it was a guess,” Jonathan replied, defensively. “I could be wrong. But you can’t deny you have some kind of power that lets you control at least the two.”

He was right; I couldn’t deny that much. Not honestly, anyway. “You’re not going to tell anyone.”

“Of course not. I haven’t told anyone this far, have I?” Jonathan shook his head. “I made a promise, on my honor as a journalist. And when I make promises, I keep them.”

He has a point. And this will be easier if he knows the truth. Not like I wasn’t thinking of telling him anyway at one point. So, I sighed and let myself slump. “Fine. Yes. I have powers. But I’m not the real-world Avatar. It’s not that simple. It’s . . . it’s music. That’s my power. Everything in the world has a song— the wood that makes the tabletop, the glass in the window, the coffee in your cup. Most people can’t hear the songs. I can. And when I play or sing one of those songs, I can manipulate the thing it connects to.”

Jonathan nodded slowly, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. He seemed so attentive, I was surprised— and relieved!— that he didn’t have a notebook and pen in his hands to write down my every word. “So you’re thinking that you can wait until Welsh has you under his power and then use your songs to fight back. But we don’t know how much time you’d have to do that once Welsh starts draining your life . . .”

“Which is why that wasn’t my plan. I hope to neutralize his power, not just fight him off.”

“Then how . . .” Jonathan’s expression darkened. “Callie, can your songs . . . Do people have a song too?”

“Yes— no—” I tangled my words, trying to answer both the question asked out loud and the question implied. “They do, but . . . It’s forbidden. Sort of. I promised myself I wouldn’t use it after I figured out what it could do. It’s not right, taking someone’s will like that. And, anyway, I already tried it on Welsh. I shouldn’t have. But I ran into him, and I . . . I wasn’t desperate. But he was killing someone else, and I wanted . . . I wanted him to face me and feel as helpless as his victims did. And I wanted to make him tell the truth, to hear it from his own mouth. So I used it. I don’t even know if I would’ve heard the truth, or if the song would’ve made him tell me what I wanted to hear . . . I didn’t get that far. Remember how Ana said Welsh had a silvered tongue or whatever? She wasn’t joking. And that power of his was a lot stronger than my song.”

“Oh.” For once, Jonathan didn’t seem to know what to say. “So . . . but . . . I guess you survived? How?”

“Someone else showed up. A super. Don’t ask which one. I had never seen her before, and I haven’t seen her since. She got me away before Welsh could even start.” And thank God for that. Without Audrey’s help, I wouldn’t be here right now. “That’s all beside the point, though. The people’s song won’t help us, and I never should’ve used it anyway. But what might help—” I paused— “This will sound weird, but what might help is the Death Song.”

Jonathan raised an eyebrow. “That sounds . . . ominous. So, you can control . . .”

“No!” I shook my head hastily. “No, definitely not. The Death Song . . . it’s not even a song. It’s sort of the opposite of a song, but not just noise either. It’s like someone turned the melody and the notes and everything inside out and backwards. I don’t know how to explain it other than that. I hear it any time someone nearby is dying. That’s how I knew Welsh was killing Lacey three years ago. But the Death Song sounds different in different situations, and when he kills someone, it’s . . . more ordered, I guess. Less chaotic. Just a little bit, but I think that if I heard it, I could figure out its inverse. And if I can do that, then I might be able to stop him from using his power.”

“You think.” Jonathan rubbed his temples and then took a long drink of coffee. “If you can figure out the inverse, and if it works, and you still have the time constraint. Those are all big ifs. And if you’re wrong, Callie, you’re still dead. You won’t get a second chance.”

“I know. You think I don’t know that?” I slumped. “I can’t think of another way to get evidence, though, not without someone definitely dying. And . . . and if I’m going to do this, if I’m going to be a hero and not just a girl with a couple fancy tricks up her sleeve, that means risk, doesn’t it?”

“Well, yes. You’re right. But it shouldn’t mean unnecessary risk. If you’re going to try this, we need to find a way to test it.” Jonathan seemed to have resigned himself to the fact that I was doing this whether he liked it or not. “You’re sure this wouldn’t work on deaths not caused by Welsh?”

“Positive. If it would, do you think I’d be sitting here right now? I’d have the power to stop death in my voice. I’d be off, I don’t know, sneaking into hospitals to cure dying cancer patients or something.” I let out a short laugh. “Nothing can be that easy, even with powers.”

“So in order to test it, we’d have to find Welsh killing someone. So we’re back to either following him around or else trying to predict where he’d strike next that wouldn’t be you.” Jonathan took another swig of coffee. “And neither of us has the time or resources for that, especially not since he only seems to kill in the city when he’s desperate or provoked.”

“Yeah. And I’ve definitely provoked him, but I don’t think he’d come for me himself unless I made him really mad.” More than I don’t think he would. I know he wouldn’t. He’d just hire thugs to try to kidnap me and take me to him. “You know, the Batman movies made this whole bringing-criminals-to-justice thing look so easy.”

“That’s because Batman makes plenty of ethically questionable choices along the way.” Jonathan shook his head. “Why does the Death Song change, I wonder? Maybe something to do with the transfer of life energy, since it’s directed to someone else? If that’s the case . . . does the victims’ energy continue to drain to Welsh the last three days after he kills them? You’ve spent more time around one of his victims than I have. Is the song the same?”

I thought back to Lacey and Ana, to what I’ve heard. “Yes. It’s a lot fainter, almost not there at all. But it’s the same song, and it keeps going all three days. But, then, I wonder . . .” I’d started to stare off into the distance; now I pulled my attention back to Jonathan. “Could you ask Julián and Ana if we could come see them again?”

“Probably. Why?” Jonathan pulled out his phone, whether to create a reminder note or to email Julián, I wasn’t sure. “Welsh failed with Ana. He’s not still pulling energy from her.”

“He might be. I don’t know if he knows he is, but he might be. I heard the Death Song in her apartment, and it sounded like Welsh’s variation. And it would make sense if he was. When Ana got away, whatever connection he made to take her life energy might’ve been partially broken, but not all the way broken. So he might still be killing her, just really slowly.” Never had I been so excited to realize someone was slowly dying. “And if that’s the case, then I should be able to test the song with her.”

“That . . . actually sounds like a workable theory.” Jonathan made a ‘huh’ face. “I’ll contact them and ask if we can talk.”

“Don’t ask if we can talk. Tell them what I think I can do.” At his surprised look, I added, “Ana can sense people’s gifts, remember? She knows about my powers.” Though, honestly, the list of people who don’t know seems to get shorter every day.

“Right. I forgot about that. I’ll tell her. In the meantime, we can start thinking about how to set up a confrontation with Welsh, and— have you talked to your other witness? Asked about getting copies of the security tapes?” I nodded, and he went on. “Good. It probably won’t do much good, but I’ll review my list of other witnesses and events and see if I can get anything too. You know, as a backup plan.”

“I can help with that. A little.” Jonathan’s probably more likely to get results, though. He seems to have way more connections than I ever will. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Jonathan stood. “I should go— I have another story I’m working on, and it’ll take time to through the list again. Let me know if anything comes up. And . . . thanks for trusting me again.”

“You’re welcome. Thanks for being trustworthy. And for coming back.” I gave him a half grin. “Good luck with your story.”

“Thanks.” He headed off with a wave, carrying his coffee. I stayed at the table for several minutes after he left. So many pieces were still missing from our plan, and yet it seemed to be coming together at last. Bowing my head, I silently prayed: God, let this work. Let us be able to stop Welsh. Let my quest finally end.

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