Duty to Country or Family


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Scene Title Duty to Country or Family
Synopsis Marjorie receives visitors interested in her brother's whereabouts and when it seems like she might have to make a decision between one or the other, someone ultimately chooses for her.
Date December 8, 2010

Le Rivage: Marjorie's Apartment

Evening has fallen. Owain is in his room, door closed, playing video games. Marjorie, in the meantime, is slicing carrots for the roast. The radio is on, playing a nice swing tune. Her dress is blue, her hair is up, and her heels are tall and might blong on a pinup girl. She's humming, swaying slightly as she cooks, enjoying the fele of food and a knife between her hands, the rythem of the music in her bones. Because music from those days, that's where you feel it. In your bones.

She feels the knock in her bones, too.

The music on the radio would make it inaudible if the fist on the other side of the door wasn't so heavy, but there's a chance that Owain won't hear it from his bedroom, which is fortunate — because Marjorie is not expecting company. Outside, rain hits the kitchen window and fills her ears with the sound like dozens of tiny fingers tapping against the glass, but messy tracks of water distort her view of the street below, making it impossible for her to crane her neck, look down at the curb and search it for any familiar vehicles unless she breaks it open a crack and leans out.

She does not have the opportunity to answer before there's another knock. Two pounds, the second more forceful than the first.

Cops. It has to be cops. They're here, they've come. No, Marjorie says, sighing to herself. No, it's not cops. It's okay. But all the same, she hisses down the hall, where Owain will hear her. "Sweetie, turn that off and go hide now, until I figure out who is at the door." Owain hears, and the game goes off. She turns back, trying just that - to peer out the window. But the little kitchen window doesn't open properly, it slides, and the screen still makes it impossible to see. So she doesn't even try. Instead, she turns to the door, just as The Great Sachmo starts to croon from the Bose speakers.

I see trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom, for me and you

"Who is it!" Marjorie calls, moving to peer through the peep hole.

Through the peephole, Marjorie has a fisheye view of a tall lean man whose most distinguishing feature is either his full mouth or the intensity of his blue eyes, both of which detract from the fact that his hair has begun to prematurely thin out and recede, leaving him with a high window's peak and more forehead than a vainer man might prefer.

"This is Colonel Heller," he says, and in spite of his face's severity and the coldness of his eyes, there's something soft and amicable in his tone that seems to request permission to enter the dwelling rather than demand it, but Marjorie knows better: she doesn't have any real choice. "I'd like to speak with you for a few minutes, Miss Mihangle. If I may."

Marjorie is a paranoid. She has a kick-block on the door, a deadbolt and two chains. Not because she's afraid of criminals, but because she's afraid of cops. "I'd like to see some credentials please, Colonel Heller. Can you tell me what this is about please? Just hold them up to the peephole, if you'd be so kind," She stands on her tip-toes, straining to see if the man does, in fact, have credentials.

"I have a few questions about your brother Griffin," Heller says, and he isn't holding anything up for Marjorie to see. Instead, he takes a half-step to the side, revealing the two soldiers in his company, also in uniform, drenched with rainwater that gleams silver on the barrels of their rifles.

Those are credential enough. "Please open the door or I'll be forced to open it for you."

Marjorie looks back over her shoulder, then forward at the door. Owain is hiding, she's sure, and if she cooperates, perhaps they won't tear the place apart. Sure, she's made a place for Owain to hide, but that's about it. And it's not enough. Slowly, she opens the door, but leaves the chain on. Her petite face pokes through the sliver between the door and the wall. Not all the way through, really, just looks through. "I'm afraid my brother passed away in the riots, Colonel." Of course, the rest of her is behind the door. Typing out a text message.

Heller's face appears in the gap between door and frame, and the corner of his mouth that's visible hooks up into a small smile. He tips his head as though angling it sideways might allow him to see past Marjorie and determine what it is she's doing with the hand he cannot see, but unfortunately for the colonel line of sight does not work this way. "If that was true, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You'll be pleased to know that I have it on very good authority that he is alive and well.

"Do you mind terribly if we step inside? My men and I are positively soaked through."

Marjorie steps back, slipping the phone into her pocket after she closes the door. Text sent. She pulls it open again once the chain is down and steps back, hands trembling slightly even as she tries to hide it. "My apologies. I wasn't expecting anyone so late. I was just prepping a pot-roast for tomorrow. Would you like some tea? I have peppermint." She explains, though that dimpled smile that usualy welcomes visitors is missing this time around.

"I wouldn't want to trouble you more than we already are," Heller says, "but some tea sounds like it would really hit the spot." He steps inside, pausing on the welcome mat to scrub off his feet on the bristles, though no amount of stamping prevents the rainwater from sloughing off his uniform, and when he moves deeper into the home, he tracks more of it in his wake. The soldiers accompanying him don't even make an attempt to minimize the amount of moisture that gets on Marjorie's floor, and while Heller makes a beeline for the kitchen table, they begin to scrutinize their surroundings, paying close attention to any pictures Marjorie might have on the walls.

Fingers trail over the back of the living room sofa. One of them pauses, his gaze catching on Owain's backpack left out on the floor.

Marjorie bustles her way into the kitchen. "Well I'll make some up then. So Griffin, you've said he's alive…is he alright?" She asks, moving to set the kettle on after she's filled it with water. She knows her best way is to talk herself out of this, so she doesn't even bother going for a knife. Griffin killed his wife and is a dangerous terrorist, no wonder they're here. But her? No, she's pure as snow.

As she comes out of the kitchen, she smiles a little, seeing the COlonel looking over the photographs. "That's me and my son, Owain. He's ten. A very bright kid, you'd be amazed, really. Puts me to shame when it comes to schoolwork. I'm sorry you don't get to meet him as well - he's spending the night with a friend. Just as well, really. He doesn't know anything about…Griffin."

"That's probably for the best." There's the scraping of chair legs on the kitchen floor as Heller pulls one out at the head of the table. "I've done a little research into your situation, Miss Mihangle, and you have my sympathies. It must be difficult raising the boy in the same city as his father, knowing that he could be ripped from your arms at any moment if Griffin decided that he wanted him back."

He sits down in the chair, long limbs in an awkward fold — his large frame doesn't quite fit in the seat, but he does his best to adapt, long legs crossed at the knee while he waits for his tea. "It's not that I don't believe you when you say that he think he died in the riots," he adds, "but I just can't imagine a father not looking in on his son after something like that. He hasn't been by to visit with the boy since you moved here, has he?"

Now she's flushed. Flushed and nervous. "That's not what I said," Marjorie answers. "Yes, Griffin has been here to visit with Owain. Before the 8th." She hears the teapot, and she turns, wandering into the kitchen to pour three teacups with saucers, bringing the whole thing out on a nice tray, teapot, sugars and all. "Griffin dissapeared, he said he'd been in a facility. I simply assumed that he was returned to the world after his time was done for his crime as quietly as he had been taken from it. But I haven't seen him since the 8th, and Owain hasn't either. Do you take sugar in your tea, colonel?"

"Two teaspoons," says Heller, and he holds up two gloved fingers in case there's any confusion. "Milk, if you have it. Just a splash."

In the living room, the soldier whose eyes gravitated toward Owain's backpack is hefting it with a jangle of its buckles and pinching the zipper. A jerk of his hand splits the bag open, and he reaches inside, pulling out a textbook, which he then holds up for his companion to see before dropping it onto the coffee table with a heavy thunk that resonates through the apartment like a bang of thunder.

"If you don't me asking," Heller continues, "what is Griffin to little Owain? His birth certificate says he's his father, born January the twenty-sixth to a Missus Cindy Mihangle, God rest her soul, but if the boy doesn't know who his real father is, then what's the story the two of you have been feeding him?"

As Marjorie is adding the milk, she jumps a little at the loud noise. Her green eyes rise to stare at the soldiers going through her son's things. "Mr. Griffin is a family friend. I thought it best Owain should know when he turns 18, when he's old enough to process everything. Now will you put that down!" HEr voice can be very stern when she wants it to. The teapot is set aside and she marches over to pick up the textbook. "Would you be so kind as to hand me my son's bag? You have no right, no warrant."

At this, Heller lifts his brow, but he does not rise from his seat at the table. He makes a gesture with his hand, and the soldier holding the bag tosses it onto the sofa with a sour look pointed in Marjorie's direction. As warm as it is in the apartment thanks to the radiators, the colonel was not exaggerating when he told Marjorie that he and his men were sopping wet. Curls of blond hair are plastered to the soldier's forehead, which is crinkled into an unhappy, disconcerted expression. His brown eyes appear tired, sunken into his skull. They probably haven't been getting much sleep.

"We're in a state of emergency here," Heller reminds her gently. "Your local authorities have shown that they're incapable of functioning effectively, which means that I don't need a warrant."

"While I try to be as sympathetic to your situation as I possibly can, Colonel, you haven't exactly been forthcoming yourself. I've invited you into my home, made you tea, and yet you havent' shown me any credentials or told me who you're here representing. Or, more importantly, why you're here. I've already told you that the 8th took my brother. Owain and I are just trying to live as quietly as we can now." She lifts the bag, shoving the book back into it. Owain will need that later.

"I'm here on military business," Heller says, "but I'm not going to lie to you. The whereabouts of your brother is a matter that's actually quite close to my own heart. I've been tasked with hunting down what's left of Messiah and another terrorist organization you probably haven't heard of called the Ferrymen. Unfortunately, men like your brother are making it difficult for me to perform my duty to my country, so I've decided to employ some rather— unorthodox methods in order to achieve the results my superiors are asking for."

This time, he gestures with a lift of his chin, and the other soldier comes up from behind Marjorie, grabbing a fistful of her hair in his hand and using it to steer her into the coffee table, which he then bends her over, slamming her face down onto it with enough force to break her nose. It's louder than the textbook, and Heller waits, expectant, but Griffin does not come charging out of one of the bedrooms, and so he settles back in his seat.

"You have a duty to your country, too. Did you know that? Marjorie?"

The hand in her hair causes her to yelp, the slamming of the face causes her to cry out. Owain no doubt heard it. But he's good. He stays put. He stays safe. Marjorie has been teaching him all her life what to do when this day came. She just never expected it to come right now.

She can't employ a shield now, not with a man grabbing her. It woudl be pointless, fruitless. Maybe they'll just rough her up and leave her be. But that's a big maybe.

She turns her head a little so she can speak, blood pouring from her nose. "Griffin is dead. Leave us alone…" she manages to sputter out between blood and tears and some spit too. Of course, she knows better now. She knows he's alive. But she'll never say so.

"Griffin was being transported to a holding facility in Ogdensburg when our convoy was ambushed by partisans. They killed fourteen of my men and left an additional twenty-three injured. Not only was your brother liberated, but several other individuals of note as well." Heller reaches out and picks up the cup of tea, pausing to open his nostrils and inhale the sweet scent of peppermint flavoured with sugar and milk, taking the time to savour it before he raises the cup to his lips and drinks from it.

The soldier tightens his grip on Marjorie's hair, keeping her pinned to the table by pressing his weight into her back. "I'm confident that he's still in the area," the colonel says. "Smart enough, though, to know when he needs to be laying low. What I need, sweetheart, is to bring him back out into the open."

And there it is. Suddenly Marjorie realizes that it's either going to be a very long or a very short night. She squeezes her eyes. Tears fall out. Tears of basketball games and piano recitals, of sports and dates and mishaps and grades not yet seen.

"Then you're out of luck," she grunts, crying out again as her hair is pulled. "Griffin hasn't come to us. He always knew that if you came for him, we'd be at risk. So he left….as far as we knew he was dead." She tilts her eyes, green as they are, up to the Colonel. "Funny enough, how even in his so-called death, he's still outsmarting your people. And killing them. They all deserved it, every one - so do you!"

Clink goes the teacup. Now Heller does rise from the table, but his movements are careful and measured, almost languid in the way that he stops to adjust the cuffs of his uniform before he steps away, boots squeaking across the kitchen floor. When his leading foot hits the carpet in the living room, he's in the process of freeing his sidearm from its holster. "I'm going to find your brother," he tells Marjorie, "and when I do, I'm going to put a noose around his neck and kick out the stool from under his feet.

"Pray that this is enough." His pistol comes up, and he levels it with Marjorie's head less than a foot away without even a glance at the soldier holding her to ensure that he isn't about to spook. He knows what he has to do. "If it isn't, Owain gets the next honour."

She turns her head, staring right up at him. Marjorie is trembling, trembling, trembling all over. Her head, her knees, her toes. Everything is trembling. She's afraid to die. Most people are, when there's a gun to the head. Blood runs down her face and pools on the table. Tears, too. She's a veritable mess. The radio is still crooning, Bing Crosby singing this time.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

And there is Marjorie, bleeding, trembling, and staring up at the Colonel. There's only one thing left to do in a situation like this, right? Be defiant to the last drop.

Where the treetops glisten and children listen

To hear sleighbells in the snow

"Want to bet on that?"

"I'm not a betting man."

Heller's finger twitches around the trigger, and although the gunshot that rings out can be heard by Marjorie's neighbours as well as the families that live both above and below her, what he says is true. He knows for a fact that no one will come out into the hall to investigate, and if they do the additional soldiers that Heller left outside by the stairwell will persuade them that it's in their best interest to turn around again and shut the door.

The colonel sniffs, scrubs the back of his gun-wielding at across his nose, made slightly runny by the tea, and then glances down at Marjorie's body collapsed across the table, one side of her skull caved in. There's blood on the sofa, blood on the carpet, blood on the wall some six or seven feet away. Specks of it.

"Clean her up," he orders his men in a lower voice, thick with exhaustion that he hadn't allowed to creep in before. He holsters his pistol. Swings a look back over his shoulder at the tea abandoned on the table, the cup still steaming. "I want to be out of here in the next fifteen."

In the moment before she's gone, the split second, Marjorie has a life that she gave up. A life that she missed. A life in Illinois, working in her the cupcake shop. Owain is outside, playing on the street, and she can watch him through the main window. She is covered in flour and sweet sugar and an apron. Her father sits by the window, sipping an espresso. Yes! This is where she belongs, this is where she should be. This is what happiness is.

But that's not where she is. She never knows it, because that's the last thing she knows. What she doesn't know is that she's not there, in that cupcake shop with her family and her peace and quiet. No, she's collapsed across her own kitchen table, bleeding from her missing half of her skull. It pours from her like chocolate syrup, creaing a waterfall to the hardwood below that Willy Wonka would have been proud of - had it actually been chocolate. The phone remains in her back pocket, where she was able to send a text to two seperate people. It reads:

Colonel Heller @ door. Asking 4 Griff. Owain safe. Scared.

In truth, Owain's heard it all, curled up with his knees pulled to his chin in the false back of his closet that Marjorie made for him should this occasion ever come. The boy rocks, crying silent tears. He'll just sit here. Someone will find him eventually. Griffin - no, Dad knows where he is. Dad will come, and he'll fix Mom, he'll bring her to a hospital and everything will be okay. All he has to do is wait while his mother dies in the next room.

And Marjorie? Beyond Illinois, beyond the cupcake shop and her happy life? It's still a mystery that plagues all humans as to where she's gone.

But she is gone.

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