Wonder City returns! Thank you all so much for your patience.The Fall of the House at Marigold Lane
Ira tapped each step of the bus with his cane as he descended -- three steps, then the step down to the pavement. The bus door accordioned shut behind him and he heard the engine roar as the bus accelerated away from the stop.
He stood there a moment, trying to squint through the bright clouds in his eyes, hoping to spot a figure or anything beyond the post of the sign that probably denoted the bus stop.
Then there were hurried footsteps crunching on gravel. "Sorry, Ira," Watson Holmes said, coming up to him a little breathlessly. "Got distracted by folks in the yard."
a nice warm day," he said, smiling in her direction.
"Can I help?" she said, and took his hand when he reached out, tucking it in her elbow. She was wearing a thick flannel shirt. They began a slow stroll.
"It's quiet out here," he said, paying most attention to where his feet were going. "I remember this neighborhood. They really built it up in the '50s, but there were a few old farmhouses and such out here before that."
"Yeah, we're going to Marigold Lane," Watson said, "which is a dead end street at the end of this one. There's a mansion there, late Victorian, three stories and a carriage house and all. The outside looks like a madman with a jig saw was allowed to gingerbread it, and it's a Painted Lady in yellow, red, and blue. Pretty spectacular. Our landlord built it when he first moved to Wonder City."
Ira puzzled over this a moment. "And he first moved to Wonder City... before it was Wonder City?"
"Yep," Watson said. "He's one of those types."
"Ah," Ira said sagely, mentally cataloguing all the different types her landlord could be.
"Okay, now we've got five steps down from the street to the front walk," Watson said, slowing down so Ira could feel his way with his cane.
He felt terribly awkward doing it all, and awfully self-conscious of his awkwardness. He cringed when he stumbled over the join of the pavement, but Watson kept him safely upright. Not that he'd actually take any damage to anything but his dignity and clothes if he did fall.
"The front walk isn't precisely straight, and it's in bad repair," Watson said, her voice warm and friendly. "We'll just go as slow or fast as you can."
"So, about why I came..." Ira started.
"Hang on," Watson said in an undertone. Louder, she said, "Hi, Megan."
"Oh, hello, Irene." Ira blinked at the voice -- definitely the voice of Megan Amazon but... something was different. Like she was... trying to imitate Marilyn Monroe? And... Irene? "Oh, hello
, Mr. Feldstein! It's so nice to see you!"
He smiled bravely and shook her hand. Her handshake was... strangely limp. And she was wearing perfume. Perfume? She hadn't seemed like the sort to wear perfume. But he was hardly a judge of young women these days. He'd never been much of a judge of women. Any women. Why did everyone think he'd been such a womanizer anyway? He'd been a good, upright man.
"Hey, Simon," Watson said, interrupting Ira's brown study.
Ira turned with a smile. Simon Canis, at last! He stuck out his hand. "Son, it's good to run into you," he said.
A furry head bumped his hand from below, and a cold nose brushed his wrist. A long tail thumped against his calf.
"Simon?" Ira said hesitantly, letting his hand drop onto the thick fur. He remembered, suddenly, that Simon was a shapeshifter.
"Yeah," Watson said sadly.
"He's a good
boy today, isn't he?" Megan said inanely. "Simon and I are headed for walkies! We'll see you later, I hope, Mr. Feldstein!"
Ira scritched Simon's head and said, in a low voice, "Oh, son
Simon whined and licked Ira's hand before having to follow the heavy steps crunching away on the walk.
Ira let Watson lead him onward, across the apparently never-ending front yard. She said, "So on our left is the carriage house, which is where Jack Hammer lives these days. Not that I've seen him recently."
"Jack Hammer, the Iron Sergeant?" Ira said, perking up a little and looking uselessly in the indicated direction. "I didn't know he was still in Wonder City. He left for a while, back in the 60s, I think."
"Yeah, he used to work construction for Ultimate Construction," Watson said, "before the big reorganization."
"What reorganization?" Ira said.
"Oh, some sort of hostile takeover -- okay, three steps up here," Watson said. "It would take a long time to explain."
"But Dr. Thomas --" Ira began, taking the steps slowly, forgetting for a moment the Gold Stars and their space mission.
"Is missing," Watson said. "Hang on, let me get the door."
Inside, the front hall smelled of furniture polish and old leather, and was even quieter than the neighborhood had been. The floor was hardwood, given the sound of the cane's taps. Ira folded up his cane and tucked it into the pocket of his old sportcoat.
"My place is up on the third floor," Watson said. "Can you make that climb?"
"Slow and sure," Ira said with a smile. She'd asked him that on the phone, too. He was a blind old man, after all. It would serve him right if he had another damn heart attack climbing those stairs. He should've just stayed home. This was ridiculous. He should just mind his own damn business. He added reassuringly, "I've got my nitro with me, just in case."
Watson walked slowly up the stairs to the second floor with him. "So, our landlord lives in the basement, when he's in house at all these days -- haven't seen him for a few months, says he's off on family business. Megan has some of the rooms on the first floor, and up here on the second floor, there are two apartments. The one on the right used to be Simon's."
to him?" Ira said as he paused to catch his breath.
"I'll tell you in a bit," Watson said. "Let's get upstairs."
"Didn't that young woman... G, was it?... live here too?" Ira said, making his way to the next set of stairs.
"She did," Watson said, her tone reluctant and flat. "She, ah, decided to stay in Europe for a few more years. So someone else is living in her apartment now."
"Oh, well, I'm sorry to hear it," Ira said, trying to soothe whatever feathers he'd ruffled. He felt terrible for bringing it up. The stairs took his breath for several minutes after that.
Watson guided him to a chair in a room that smelled somewhat of cats and, after a moment of what seemed to be shooing of one of said cats, said, "Okay, you can sit down now."
Ira was surprised by the comfort of the chair. When he ran his hands over the arms, it reminded him of his old friend Molly Pitcher's favorite chair, leather smoothed silky with age and wear. He wondered where Watson had got the chair, or if she'd inherited it.
"Would you like something to drink?" Watson said, sounding vaguely flustered for the first time in Ira's short acquaintance with her.
There was a tickle in his throat. "A glass of water would do me fi--YIPE!" He jumped as something small and furry leapt into his lap.
"MWAH!" said the cat in his lap.
"Really?" Ira said, extending a hesitant finger in the general direction of the animal that was trampling his skinny legs. "I'd never have known."
"That's Madame Blavatsky," Watson said, pressing a glass into his hand. "I think she likes you."
The cat, whose paws felt very tiny indeed, stomped around for a few more moments, and then curled herself into a tiny furry ball in Ira's lap. Ira very carefully stroked her fur. The cat vibrated with an inaudible purr.
"So," Watson said, and Ira could hear her sitting on something opposite him. "About why you came."
"Oh! Yes," Ira said. "I... expect you've noticed that things are a bit odd."
Watson snorted a laugh. "You might say that."
"Well, there's some of us who've been..." He tried to think of a good way to briefly explain the gatherings in Madame Destiny's living room. He was such a stupid man, a terrible man, he was surprised that Suzanne put up with him the way she did, that Watson was being so patient with him. It must just be the fact that he was an old blind man and it was the nice thing to do to listen to him. "... thinking about all of it, you know?"
"I'm right there with you," Watson said.
"Well, we were wondering if you knew how to get hold of Renata Scott," Ira said, deciding to just come to the point.
"I do," Watson said, sighing. "But it won't do you any good, I'm afraid."
"What do you mean?" Ira said, leaning forward. Madame Blavatsky indicated her displeasure with this shift by extending one paw full of claws gently into his leg. He leaned back again.
Watson paused, and Ira could hear her scratching her head. "I mean that Renata isn't at home right now. She hasn't been for a couple months at least. I tried calling her when it occurred to me that people were being mind-altered, and her robots told me that she was gone."
Ira slumped and tried to hide his disappointment by petting the cat. He was always behind the eight-ball on these things, that's why he was a crappy third-line superhero back when, and why he was a stupid old man now. How could he have thought that Watson could help them? She might not even be telling him the truth now -- she might be hiding Renata's information because she'd been controlled herself, or maybe because she couldn't trust a stupid old man with the information, or any of a hundred reasons he could think of. He put his face in one hand, trying not to let miserable tears roll down his cheeks.
There was a long silence, and he fancied he could feel Watson looking at him. Finally, she said, "You're feeling it, aren't you? The ridiculous miserable feeling? We're in the middle of some sort of... focus of whatever is going on. It hit Simon the hardest, as you... felt. He can barely take human form any more. And I don't know
what happened to Megan." Her voice broke over Megan's name.
Ira rubbed his face hard. She was right. He was being ridiculous. He felt terrible. Even his joints ached more than usual. "What the hell is going on?" he murmured. "You've got to get out of here."
"Simon tried moving out," Watson said, so sad and defeated-sounding that Ira wanted to cry again. "He said the feeling caught up with him, and started in on everyone around him. I suppose it could
be following Simon -- he was pretty high-profile there, with doing that queer variety show and that guest appearance on Glee and everything."
"Suzanne missed him when he went off to film that," Ira said. "Oh, god, you haven't heard what's happened to Suzanne."
"Simon told me she forgot him," Watson said, her voice gone flat. "Just... forgot him one day. That was when he stopped even trying to be human."
"What's going to happen to all of us?" Ira said in a small voice, laying his hand on the warm purring cat.
"I don't know, Ira," Watson said. "I really don't know."
They sat in dejected silence for a while, until Ira finally remembered to take a sip of water. He said, "Will you come to one of our little get-togethers? We could use your brain."
Watson started to say something, then stopped, paused, and said, "I don't think I'd better. I'm afraid I might bring... unwanted attention down on you all. But if there are things you think I can do and you can ask in a coded sort of way, feel free to give me a call."
"What if you... forget?" Ira said, fighting down the uncontrollable wave of disappointment that her refusal brought him.
"Another good reason for me to not get involved, no matter how much I want to," Watson said. "If I suddenly turned into a Stepford Wife wannabe like Megan, I'd be a terrific liability."
"Ah," Ira said, running his fingers gently over the tiny cat's pointy spine.
The cat said, "Prrt?"
"I'm sorry," Watson said. "I just... I don't even feel comfortable visiting my sister right now."
"No, your reasoning makes perfect sense," Ira said. He flopped a little helplessly around the cat, wondering what to do about her. "I should leave you to your work."
Watson silently rose and scooped the cat from his lap. The cat said, "MWAH," indignantly, and Ira could hear little claws going tick-a-tack on the hardwood floor.
The next few moments were awkward, as Ira tried to get out of the chair himself and failed, despite his invulnerable and still super-strong muscles. The depth of the chair and the angles just foiled him, and finally, he mutely extended one hand, fighting down the wave of unreasonable humiliation it brought him. Watson helped him up.
As they passed down the stairs to the second floor, Ira heard footsteps trudging slowly up from the first floor. "Hey, Watson," that person said. Ira thought the voice was vaguely familiar. Then she added, "Oh! Ira!"
"Lizzie?" Ira said, pleased and astonished. "Tin Lizzie? I haven't seen you in a dog's age."
"Ira?" Lizzie said. "Oh, god, I can't... you can't..." She didn't take his hand, didn't step to meet him. He got a whiff of cigarettes and beer.
"Lizzie, Ira can't see you," Watson said patiently. "It doesn't matter you're in your PJs, okay?"
"I... oh. I'm... I'm working the late shift these days, I'm sorry, Ira," Lizzie said hurriedly, and took his hand. At least her
handshake wasn't limp and characterless.
"No worries," Ira said, trying to put the young woman -- the woman who had looked nothing at all like his long-gone wife, but who had reminded him of her in some strange way for a time -- at ease. "I was just leaving, but maybe I'll run into you sometime."
"Yeah," Lizzie said, relief filling her voice. "Yeah, that would be great. You look good, Ira."
"Thanks," he said, letting Watson guide him past her and the awkwardness between them after all this time. "The old bones keep on moving. Take care."
"You too," she said, a little wistfully, but he heard her open and shut her door.
Outside the front door, Ira said, "So she's the one living in G's apartment."
"Yeah," Watson said.
"How is she doing?"
"About as well as you might expect," Watson said. "I've tried to get her to move -- she's nowhere near as high-profile as Simon was -- but she's just... sticking it out, I guess."
They continued on to the bus stop in silence. As Ira heard the bus pulling up the road, he turned to Watson and pressed her hand. "You call if you need anything. Or someone to talk to. I don't have much to do but listen these days," he added, trying to lighten the moment.
"Oh, Ira," Watson said, pressing his hand back, "thank you."