00: Irish Wake

I don’t know where this story came from. The idea has been on the cusp of my mind for quite some time now but I had no idea how it would get out.  I think something snapped once I started my project of rescuing my old High School poems.  I’ve forgotten proper dialogue formatting so forgive that along with any glaring errors. Chances are I’ll catch them just as quickly as you did.

Now will I finish this story? Beats me. For now, here’s something completely different.

From the Balcony...

00: “Irish Wake”

Tonight, the air was filled with the faint scent of memories.

I don’t know why my sister insisted on having Braun’s wake like this.  I suppose he would have wanted it this way though. Braun told me once that when his time came, he wanted it to be like an Irish Wake; no sadness, just drinks, some snacks, and good times as we recalled our memories of him. Of course, she was in the room when he said this and naturally, she was a woman of her word. (She’d been like that since we were kids.) So, what better way to accomplish this than to have Braun’s wake in a penthouse suite in one of the most illustrious hotels in town?

The Grand had the feel of one of those old 50’s hotels, right down to the retro uniforms of the bellhops. I feel bad for the poor kids, you can tell some of them dread having to wear such heavy overcoats on a weekly basis. At twenty stories, it’s tall as it is expensive, with the suite we’re holding the wake in worth more than I could ever hope to make in two years. How I managed to pay for this…..I’d rather not get into it. We, rather, I have a mysterious benefactor. My sister thinks I’m just joking around when I say that, thinking I’m too modest to reveal how big Braun’s trust fund is. After all, that’s the only reasonable way I could have covered everything, given my meager lifestyle. I say let them think that way, they’ll never know the truth. They’ll never know about the real Braun Romanov, the one I actually fell in love with. The man who stole countless works of art just to prove a point about lax security. Who made a rather corrupt trade firm implode from industrial espionage. The Braun Romanov who was in league with “him”. My mystery benefactor and his friend. The one who, as far as I’m considered, is the reason he’s dead in the first place.

The way the suite is situated, from the moment you walk in, you have what could be considered the living room. Various pieces of fake-looking, generic art cover the walls. Most of them trying to be Norman Rockwell and Coca-Cola ads. They get points for trying. We had the couch moved off to the side so that we could bring in various poster boards featuring photo collages of Braun and me. There’s a flat-screen TV on the wall with the centerpiece is a large glass table which contains even more photos and snacks. On the second floor, there’s a balcony and the room where the guests decided to put their coats. I’m almost glad we didn’t have to worry about moving the coffin up here, then again, we didn’t have much of a body to put into a coffin.

Suddenly, I’m not at the wake. I’m back in time, just a week ago. I’m looking at a mangled body covered up by a white cloth in the city morgue. It looks like a little kid bunched up under a blanket, doing a bad job hiding from Mommy. They try to tell me this my husband. They pull back the cloth and show me. My blood runs cold. The body looks like somebody had thrown him into the deepest reaches of hell and yanked him out before they could finish the job. Braun, what have those bastards done to you? I’m stepping closer to the body to look at his face and all I can really see are those eyes. Those cold, vacant eyes staring into me as if his being here is my fault. Suddenly, a hand jets out to grab my shoulder. Braun’s hand. The body is starting to creak as it rises up to meet my gaze. He whispers into my ear.

“Valerie….”

I jump, dropping my glass on the ground. Shatters. I’m back in the present. The cold hand is that of my sister who, aside from having the worst timing ever, is trying to call me back into the party. “You’ve been looming here by the window for too long!” she says, “This is supposed to be a party, right?” I give her an excuse, something to give the illusion that I want to mingle right now. Maybe later I will but right now, I’d rather not. You know how it is, everybody gets into their little cliques as they reminisce. One crowd goes on about That Crazy Night of the Bachelor Party while the others go on about how lucky I was to have met a sweet guy like him. Either way, she buys the excuse and goes off to the snack table to mingle with my cousins some more.

I slip away, going up the seemingly tiny spiral staircase to the coat room. That balcony is sounding really nice right about now. Both of the beds in the room are now suddenly turning into Twin Peaks with the coat piles. I’m imagining how much of a nightmare it’ll be for people when they have to go for the night when I start to move the slide doors to access the balcony. The moment I do, a quick jet of cool air hits my skin. I shiver a bit but with all the body heat in the living room, it’s a welcome change. Then again, I’m wearing a slightly whisper-thin silk dress, suppose I had it coming. I lean on the railing and look out into the nightlife that seems to go on forever. Off to the horizon where the light pollution just stops at the edge and you feel like you can see the edge of the world. Braun would go on about stuff like that all the time. He was my big lovable romantic.

“Mind if I join you?”

The admiring stops the moment I hear that voice. I quickly turn and see him. My benefactor. My benefactor in a full mask, save for the hair poking out through the top. My benefactor who wears a minimalist skull on his face and looks as if he’s dressed for an expensive evening. He’s staring off into the skyline as he talks.

“Too good to go in through the front door?” I say, trying to be bitter.

He looks up slightly and replies, “I figured I would slip in for a moment to pay my respects.”

“How about you don’t and say that you did?”

He leans up from the railing and looks right at me. He’s always given me the creeps and right now is no exception. “Where is his body?”

“You mean what’s left of him? I had him cremated already. Nobody deserved to see him mangled like that.”

“His remains then?” he asks me, not responding to my tone of voice.

“Downstairs with the guests. Care to make your presence known? I thought master criminals such as yourself were big on the whole Stealth thing?”

He looks down and sighs, giving something of a chuckle. “You blame me for this-”

“Of COURSE I do!” I nearly scream in reply, “He swore it would be his last job! A job that YOU convinced him to do, I might add!”

“Valerie…”

“Don’t you dare try to justify it.”

“Fine then, I won’t.”

Awkward silence. You could feel the tension in the air. I was so mad, I was shaking.

“So then, I guess the reason you took my money for both the wake and the funeral is because you feel I owe you, yes?”

I said nothing.

“I figured as much.” he replies, filling in the gap in the conversation caused by my silence. You never did like me, did you? Even when I tried to tell Braun to stop teaming up with me for your sake-”

“Bullshit”

He looks up at me again, looking dead into my eyes. “I’ve never lied to you or your husband. If you have to allow yourself to acknowledge something, let it be that.”

Silence again. I refused to like him charm his way out of this one.

“So is this “appeal” the only reason you came here tonight?”

“No. I came for two reasons.”

He leans up off the rail again and starts to pace. “Firstly”, he says, “to pay my respect to my colleague.”

“And the second?”, I ask.

He stops in his tracks, his back facing me. “To promise revenge.”

The air gets colder, as if his desire of vengeance went out into the world and made it tremble. Even I knew when he tells you that somebody is going to die, it never a threat–it’s a nightmare waiting to happen.

“I know who did this and I know what they were after.” He says. “They killed him because of what he was after on his last job.”

“…Which was?”

“For now, all you need to know is that I’m going to kill them for what they did to you and get back what is rightfully yours.”

I find myself unable to say anything back. I’ve no idea what he’s going on about but a torch has been lit; there’s a part of me now that wants to let him get away with it. No, I shouldn’t, I should stop him. He’s a criminal, he’s a master thief! He’s the-

“The next time you see me, I’ll have what he was after…and you’ll know that the ones who robbed us of our friend will have gotten their comeuppance.”

“Why?” is the only reply I can even manage.

He stands up on the railing and replies back in a voice that sounds like he’s smirking behind his mask; “Because I made a promise to a friend a long time ago…and the Skull Spectre is a man of his word.”

He jumps.

I rush over to see where he’s gone off to but as expected, he’s gone. I’m alone again in the room of the coat mountains.

Braun would probably try to convince me that he’s trying to do right by me one last time, that he’s always looked out for us. I want to believe him. Maybe it’s that desire to see justice for what happened to him. The desire to see the people who did that to my man. Then again, I never minded being the lover of a globe-hopping master thief, maybe I won’t mind the Skull Spectre giving them hell. At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself tonight.

TO BE CONTINUED?

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