By Chelle (Kill me later, please!)
Hi there, it's time for the Disclaimer thingie: This is an original fiction, at least to me, (grin), and therefore the text belongs to me, copyrights and all. ©2002 Chelle The characters and the plot are almost unrecognizably based on popular stereotypes of the genre. I also mention the products of some publicly held corporations, the names of some real places, and the designations of some military units?all without permission or commercial compensation. I hope no one is offended beyond her or his ability to heal or laugh at themselves. Exception thingie: So ok, some of the illustrations are "borrowed" (teehee), and I can't claim those. Ok, trust me, there should also be a Warnings thingie: This story contains some bad language, mention of sexual activities between consenting people, hurt feelings, and some irresponsible behavior, not necessarily in that order. Depending on the reader's attitudes, it might be shocking or it might be funny?one person's fantasy is the next person's nightmare, thank god. I will now pass out some Skittles®. Oh yeah, the web sites require this, so, if you need to write: Chellesok@aol.com*
Editor's Note: Michelle is a little less than clear on this. This story is intended for adult readers. It deals with significant emotional trauma. The heroine is an alienated and delusional drunk?a chain smoker, prone to the use of firearms. At least she loves women. Michelle wrote some gross stuff and some explicit sex stuff. She also has some curious ideas about human anatomy. Alright, you've been warned. (There, I think that should satisfy the publisher. It is a love story, but it gets a little messy.)
So ok, it's me again, (Hi). Well anyway, wasn't that a mouthful, (giggle)?
Excerpt from "Heart of a Diver", © C. Stanton
Alt Uber Incomplete
"Bobbie, you have to do it," Kellie implored, her beseeching green eyes sizzling with intensity as she held captive her lover's terrified blue, "you're the only one who can save her!"
Bobbie could barely meet Kellie's gaze. Her heart was racing as she forced herself to take deep breaths, fighting to hold her impending panic attack at bay. You can do this, she told herself. She'd done it before, many times. She had the skills they needed to save Rhonda's life, if only she could keep from being overwhelmed by the terrifying memories of her failure. Yet, even as she fought her internal battle, precious seconds were fleeing faster than the water flooding through the bomb-blasted sluice gate below their feet.
She'd been so sure of herself once. There had been a time when no rescue diver could match her skills?or her courage. Among the elite Sea Rescue teams, Bobbie Davenport's exploits were legendary, because she'd driven herself with a mania that no human being could sustain. Once she'd hit the water, she'd never lost a victim to the sea. Her fellow divers had joked that she was Poseidon's daughter, but they'd also fought to be assigned as her dive partner. The fact that she preferred to dive solo was considered suicidal, but even back then she simply couldn't perform at her best knowing that she had to watch someone else's back. Deep inside, she'd trusted only herself. A partner was a liability.
"Connie, you're kidding, right? I mean, don't you think this is like, way over the top?"
"Huh? What's wrong with it, Stephie?" Connie asked, wheezing softly as she turned away from the monitor and began her explanation. "Bobbie Davenport was the best rescue diver in the history of Sea Rescue, but she couldn't save her lover, Deb, from the ultimate wave that had capsized their sailboat."
"Well, doesn't anything about it strike you as a bit, ummm, excessive?"
Stephanie had set down the pages of the latest section of her lover's new story and was shaking her head at what she'd read. She took a last puff on her Camel and poked it into the top of her empty beer can. Steph exhaled as she swirled the last mouthful of beer in the can to extinguish the butt. Connie wheezed a little louder.
"Uhhh, no," Connie said, following her comment with a mouthful of Devil Dog. It was 7:00 a.m., and it was their breakfast time.
"You're saying that Bobbie was so traumatized after her lover drowned, that she gave up her career in Sea Rescue and she's been languishing for the last seven years?as a children's swimming instructor at the YWCA?"
"Well, Bobbie also teaches an adult class...that's where she meets Kellie. See, she's been in a sorta self-imposed isolation thingie. She's distraught because of the emotional pain of both failing to save her first lover, and actually failing in her chosen field. It's that post-traumatic stress disordering stuff. Everyone can relate to that," Connie explained, before popping the tail end of the Devil Dog into her mouth. She shivered and wriggled her bare feet with delight at the sugar.
Stephanie had risen and clomped into the kitchen, the uneven gait of her long legs making its characteristic loud/soft footfalls. Opening the refrigerator, she snatched a can of Budweiser and then returned to the small den. Steph resumed her critique as she grasped the arms of her chair and unsteadily lowered her body onto the seat. She immediately shook another Camel from a soft pack and lit it.
"Look, I read the part where you say that Bobbie didn't have a chance in hell of saving Deb," Steph noted, squinting pointedly at Connie. The thick lenses of her eyeglasses magnified her pale blue eyes. "She didn't have any rescue equipment on the boat, they'd lost their radio, and there was no backup transponder beacon. They were so far from land that no one could believe Bobbie had survived in those shark infested waters for 18 days?with only a life preserver and a knife."
"Oh, well, that was just to show that there's a very high level of performance that Bobbie demands of herself?it's her perfectionist drive that made her the best," Connie responded glibly. She looked down and deftly squashed a roach that had crawled beneath her chair and into a pile of snack food crumbs. Stephanie watched entranced as Connie scrubbed the sole of her foot clean on the carpet. She'd have to think twice about nibbling on her lover's toes that night.
"Okaaaay?and after blaming herself for her lover's death, because of her unrealistic demands for super human perfection, Bobbie also cut herself off from any close interpersonal contact?" Steph asked as she popped the top of the Budweiser open, spritzing Connie's keyboard with atomized beer.
"Well, yeah, Stephie. Of course she did. Bobbie blamed herself for Deb's death, but she also believed that she couldn't trust herself to get close to another woman, because there was always the chance that she'd fail again." Connie sighed and slid her hand into the open bag of Doritos lying next to the monitor. Bobbie's behavior was self-evident as far as she was concerned; all the stories she'd read had characters like this. "You see, Stephie, Bobbie believed that she just wasn't any good, that she was kinda cursed, or at least a source of bad luck?so she felt unworthy of being loved."
"She sounds like a real psycho, Con," Steph commented before guzzling from the can.
"Noooo! Stephie, she's a true hero." Connie set the Doritos in her lap, absently wiping the Nacho Cheese coating off of her fingers and onto her jeans. Then she leaned forward to elaborate, hoping to make Stephanie see. "All her life, Bobbie excelled at everything she did. She was the best of the best. The whole story is about how she'll eventually overcome her self-doubts because Kellie believes in her. It's about how she'll finally gain more realistic expectations. She has to come to grips with her control issues by letting Kellie into her life, while Kellie has to struggle to gain Bobbie's trust. She has to break down the walls around Bobbie's heart and make her see herself as being worthy of being loved, even though she's fallible. Bobbie'll come to accept herself, because she finally accepts that she's a person who's worthy of Kellie's love. Bobbie has to realize that she can't be prefect all the time. She can't conquer everything life throws at her all alone."
Connie's impassioned defense had left her wheezing even louder, as the smoke from Steph's Camel swirled around them in the confines of the den. She began searching in her embroidered hippie purse for an inhaler.
"What a mouthful, Con?the thing is, I'm pretty sure I've read the same story line about a thousand times before?it's just that the characters and the setting are different. The dynamics are the same alt/uber formula everyone writes. It's like all those romance novels on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. Ten pages in you can tell how the story ends. Ten days later it's forgotten."
"But they're soulmates, Stephie," Connie whispered desperately, as if that explained it all. Her hand was shaking as she put the inhaler to her lips and took two quick puffs.
Stephanie looked at the effect her words'd had on Connie and she cursed herself. Con was staring down at the pages on the desk between them, but Steph could see her chin quivering. She reached out and lifted Connie's head with her fingertips and watched as a tear trickled down her lover's cheek. She cursed herself again; absolutely hated herself for a moment. She allowed herself only that one moment to wallow in guilt. Stephanie Walker had learned that sometimes it hurt to do what was right for a loved one.
Less than a month before, Stephanie had been drowning in self-pity; depression had become her defining state of mind. The weeks following her work related injury had been the worst of her life. For the first time, she'd been helpless. She'd been bedridden and unable to take care of even the simplest of her needs.
Her near future had held the promise of the torture of physical therapy. Most days, she didn't want to even think about learning to walk again. Steph would have preferred to have died doing what she had become so good at. Had the incident occurred on a battlefield, a medic would have given her morphine, taken one of her dog tags, and walked away. Instead, the EMTs had scraped her onto a stretcher, and a helicopter had delivered her to the trauma unit that had somehow saved her life. No one had been more surprised than the ER surgeons, that she hadn't flatlined in the first ten minutes. She'd cursed them for each day of bedpans, sponge baths, and liquid meals that she'd endured since. At least the catheter hadn't been permanent?.
The morning that Steph had been wheeled into the PT section, she'd expected to at least verbally abuse whatever demon had been assigned to torment her. Instead, she'd been met by an angel. Before her had stood a short blonde woman in a long white jacket. She carried, "a few extra pounds", and she'd been holding a clipboard, looking down and adding a note. Then she'd looked up and her emerald green eyes had captured Steph in their pools of intelligence, compassion, and perceptiveness. It was as though Connie had looked right into her soul.
Connie Stanton had been the toughest taskmaster Steph had ever met. With her gentle touch and kind words, she'd demanded that Stephanie perform a degree better than even the most optimistic of her doctors had expected. Somehow, Steph had met those challenges like the challenges she'd been meeting all her life. In a few days, she went from contemplating suicide to nearly tearing ligaments so as not to disappoint Connie. She'd abused her own damaged body worse than anyone could have forced her to. The incentive to please her therapist was stronger than any threat, or all her fear of pain and failure. She'd wanted to stand and walk again. She'd wanted to be whole again. She'd wanted it so bad she'd have sold her soul. In a way she had, because after so many years alone, she had lost her heart. She'd wanted a chance to love Connie Stanton.
As her discharge date drew nearer, Steph became more and more nervous. Her attraction to her blonde therapist was overwhelming in its intensity. Still wounded from her weeks of infirmary, Steph's natural confidence had faltered in the face of what she finally admitted was true love. Her last day as an inpatient dawned and she still hadn't made her move. In spite of six years in a job that had sent many of her peers begging for reassignment or early retirement, Stephanie had never been more of a basket case.
Somehow though, their fate would not be denied. Connie had asked Stephanie if she'd join her for dinner and a bottle of wine, to celebrate her return to the ranks of the walking. Stephanie had nearly fallen on her face, but her whole body had been held up by the lightness of her heart.
The dinner had been delicious, but it was the company that had made the meal one to remember for a lifetime. The wine had left Stephanie unsteady on her unevenly built-up orthopedic shoes, and her leg brace had felt like it weighed a ton. Connie had steadied her with an arm around her waist, though she had been a bit tipsy herself. In return, Stephanie had saved Connie when her blood sugar had plummeted while they waited over half an hour for their appetizers. Connie hadn't eaten since a small lunch eight hours before, and had been bordering on a diabetic coma. Her vision was already darkening, but Steph had frantically fed her a Twinkie from a pack she kept in her purse. Within minutes, Connie had been back to herself, the reading from her blood sugar test strip said 68, still low, but she'd guessed it had dropped to around 35 before the Twinkie. They seemed to be a match made by Aphrodite herself, except for Stephanie's smoking and Connie's asthma. However, they both realized that no relationship was without a few rocks.
A week later, as they lay together, soaked in sweat and gasping in each others' arms, Connie had taken two puffs from an inhaler and whispered breathlessly, "We're soulmates Stephie, we were meant to be together," as if that explained it all.
For Stephanie, the mystery could last a lifetime. She'd promised Connie that she'd never hurt her, never take her for granted, and never leave her. Her comments about Connie's story, and the pain that they'd caused, had made her feel for a moment as though she'd broken faith. As she banished her guilt, Steph realized that wasn't true.
Stephanie reached up with the hand that had lifted her lover's chin, and she gently stroked away the tear with her thumb. In for a penny, in for a pound, she thought. Then she took a deep breath and spoke from her heart. It was something that didn't come easily to her, never had, but the hurt that she saw in Connie's eyes pulled at her soul and forced her to speak.
"Sweetheart, I didn't mean to hurt you, but I know that what I'm telling you is the truth. I love you, and?and I want you to be the best writer you can be. I know it's your dream; to have people read your words and maybe even change their lives because of the story you've told them. I've heard you tell stories and I know you have a muse all your own. I know it's hard when you want to gain acceptance, but you'll never reach the full potential of your talent if you write what people expect to hear. You have to challenge yourself to challenge them, not just make them feel comfortable and happy. No one knows that better than you, hon."
Connie was sniffling and Stephanie limped around behind her, wrapping her once-strong arms around the younger woman and resting her chin on the top of her head. She squeezed her lover's shoulders to convey her concern and support. The ash from her Camel fell among the Doritos in Connie's lap. The ashtray was too far away, so Steph discreetly dropped the butt and crushed it out on the floor. After a few moments, her touch began to affect the change she'd hoped for. Connie looked up at her with loving eyes; the hurt had been put in its place. Steph could tell that she was already thinking about the revisions she'd make. The taller woman leaned down and captured her lover's soft full lips with a gentle kiss, her curtain of long black hair mantling them against the world. When she pulled back, her glasses were smudged, but she was smiling. She'd come such a long way from the severe and isolated perfectionist that she'd once been.
"That was really sweet, Michelle," Steph commented as she popped the cap from a long neck and handed it to the author, "but it's not quite accurate, ya know."
"Artistic license, Steph. I know it was nothing like that at all, but the opening's a hook, hon," Chelle replied, stubbing out a Camel and reaching for the beer. Her fingers playfully brushed down the length of Stephanie's hand, eliciting a shiver and a soft gasping inhalation. The author grinned.
"I just?um, did ya have to make my injury sound so bad? It sounds like I'm permanently disabled or something. I mean, yeah, I was brainwashed and drugged, and I had a little nerve damage in my leg, but you can't even tell now."
"I know, hon. You've got great legs," the author said with a wink, "don't worry, Steph, your rep as a lady killer is intact. I can vouch for the effect."
"My rep!" Steph sputtered, before realizing she was being kidded. "God, Michelle, you're such a flirt."
"And that's a bad thing?"
Stephanie Walker had grown up in a small cinderblock house in Bakersfield, California. Her tall, dark haired father was a locally cited drunk, the recipient of many citations from the sheriff. He wasn't a violent drunk; that would have taken too much energy, and entropy was his thing. Michael Walker was a happy, easy going drunk. He claimed to love children and dogs without reservation, and always seemed to have a beer in his hand. Stephanie loved him dearly. Steph's mother was obsessive-compulsive; a classical case who couldn't stop washing, and had to organize everyone's lives on a minute to minute basis. Lydia Walker was petite gone puffy, smoked constantly, and placed ashtrays all over the house. She loved everything about cats except their fur, and was given to carrying a lint roller in a pocket of her housecoat. She'd absently roll it across the upholstery while pretending to watch TV, her ice blue eyes darting around the room, trying to outguess the fall of dust motes. The Walkers had never owned a cat or a dog.
Stephanie grew up with a combination of parental traits and a dream all her own. She wanted to be the best at whatever she did, but she dreamed of leaving Bakersfield and finding a new world someday. It was her life, and Steph hated the desert, the tapped out oil fields, and the constant noise. Highway 99 bordered their side yard and the railroad tracks skimmed the back. The other side of their yard hosted a capped wellhead and a drainage canal. She was an only child and no one else lived on their block.
Where Steph grew up, in Bakersfield, Ca., with the train tracks, the highway, the drainage canal, and the capped wellhead. It was a vacant lot, hosting only their cinderblock house, (probably a converted oil field office). Bakersfield High School is at the lower right.
Stephanie stuck around long enough to graduate from Bakersfield High, as captain of the varsity cheerleaders and class president. (She was also valedictorian, of course). Despite her success, Steph was usually ridiculed by her peers. She was a tall and somewhat gangly brainy girl, with a drunk father and a psycho mom. She was poor and lived in a loud house. The Walkers had never owned a working TV or garbage disposal.
Near the end of June, Steph packed a bag, containing a carton of Camels, a six pack of Bud, and a change of clothes, and slipped out of the house. She'd gotten sick of being blamed for the cat hair, but mostly, she hated the desert. Steph walked with purpose in the summer heat, up onto the State Road 99 entrance ramp, where she stuck out her thumb. Her destiny was calling.
Within ten minutes she was headed for I-5 and San Francisco, as the passenger of a failed movie impresario out on a drinking binge. He was an aging Chinaman who squinted at her and laughingly introduced himself as Mr. Magoo. It was the safest ride she could have gotten. Though he wove from lane to lane across the highway, the hand he slid under her waistband was chaste?his passion was for transvestites, and he'd initially been fooled because she was so tall. He didn't intend to fondle her much, he simply needed contact to keep from falling over. Stephanie had thought it endearing, very much like her Dad.
They'd barely passed Route 46 to Lost Hills, before Steph was too drunk to notice the small pills Mr. Magoo would slip under his tongue. The rest of the ride passed in a blur. When they turned onto I-580 to catch I-205 heading west to San Francisco, Mr. Magoo pulled the Cadillac onto the shoulder, crawled over the seat, and fell asleep in the back. Stephanie slid behind the wheel, screamed, "Get up, yaaaaaah", and floored the boat back into traffic.
They'd made Hayward 20 minutes later, where she turned north on I-880, heading for Oakland. In Oakland, Steph became confused when I-880 became I-890 became I-24. She cut off a Lincoln University panel truck, a plumber's van, and a family of tourists, before regaining control as she passed the Market St. exit. Now that she could see the Golden Gate Bridge straight ahead, Stephanie thought she had her bearings. As they crossed the historic span, she scream-sang "Sympathy for the Devil", remembering Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat. She'd always thought he was hot, but somehow she hadn't been overly disappointed to hear the rumors that he was gay. Her driving was marginally better than Lestat's, her voice noticeably worse than his radio.
Once in San Francisco, she'd pulled off at the Harrison St. exit, following it to 7th street. Stephanie instinctively headed for the bay, taking 16th St. to 3rd, where she parked. She dragged herself over the seat, but dozed off while trying to wake up Mr. Magoo. Steph had no idea where he'd been headed. It was six hours later when she awoke, wondering where the hell she was. She was hung over, but still half-drunk. The car was roasting hot. After opening the windows, smoking a Camel, and washing out her mouth with hot Budweiser, she made a more serious attempt to roust Mr. Magoo. Steph discovered that he'd probably been dead since soon after she'd taken the wheel. She'd been sleeping with a self-embalmed corpse.
The rest of the day went by in a confusing blur. She'd lurched out of the Caddy and into the intersection of Mariposa St. and 3rd, where she'd nearly been run over by a police car. It took hours for the authorities to sort out her story. In the end, they believed her disconnected ramble. Mr. Magoo had died of a massive coronary, despite the nitroglycerine pills he'd been eating, and he still had over five thousand dollars in his pockets. Steph had sixty-three dollars to her name. She just wasn't a believable suspect, and after all, the death was due to natural causes. Eventually they got around to asking her where she was going and why she was in San Francisco. Without thinking, Steph had blurted out that she'd come to join the police force. They'd laughed her out of the station. She was still seventeen, and couldn't apply until she was twenty.
Stephanie bummed around San Francisco for six more days, fighting off weasels, sharks, and evangelists. She'd almost run out of Camels and had four dollars left, but she'd finally turned eighteen. There was only one thing to do. She walked into the U.S. Army recruiting office on Davis St., and filled out the forms. She was a six-foot-tall girl who drank and smoked a lot, and she hated the deserts, like Bakersfield, where most of America's wars were being fought. She still had a critical mass of angst left over from home. It was either the Army or a career in porn, and she'd come to the wrong town. Despite appearances, Los Angeles was basically a desert.
After completing nine weeks of basic training, it came time for Stephanie to choose a Military Occupational Specialty?a job. When Steph looked over the catalog of offerings, she almost laughed out loud. On her form she indicated MOS-95B; military police. As a woman, almost all of the Combat Operations categories were closed to her. Being an MP would be the next best thing, and, she realized that someday, when she applied to a civilian force, she'd get a triple dose of preference. Applicant female, a veteran, and a prior law enforcement specialist. It was early September, 1989.
As she had at Bakersfield High, Stephanie excelled in her classes and training. She'd become a platoon level commander and made a short-lived switch to Camel Lights. By June of 1990, SFC Stephanie Walker had been reassigned to the 720th MP Battalion in Ft. Hood, Texas. Among other things, Ft. Hood was the home of Gen. Patton's 2nd Armored Division, (the "Hell on Wheels" Division), and it was basically a desert. She'd astonished her CO one night by carrying him to bed after drinking him under the table. He'd astonished her by greeting her at the door dressed as a woman. It was the first time they'd associated socially, luckily in the privacy of his residence. She didn't ask, and he didn't tell. They'd had a wonderful time flirting harmlessly. Steph realized that she enjoyed the attentions of a "woman".
Two months later, that madman, Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait. I'm sure you've all heard the story. The 2nd Armored and the 720th MP were deployed for Operation Desert Shield; the 2nd to raise hell, the 720th to protect it. Stephanie had a full schedule, charged with security for a company of tanks. To the horror of the captain commanding the armored company, Steph gave each M1A1 Abrams tank a girlie name, and to their glee, her MPs referred to them by those names while communicating on their patrols. Steph would later recall that she'd spent most of her time cleaning sand out of her M16A2 assault rifle and tooling around the base in a Humvee she'd named Chrissie.
Despite the demands of her duties, Stephanie managed to engage in a few meaningless liaisons with some other female GIs. Unfortunately, they were in a desert, and Steph soon discovered that oral sex was like finding sand in the oysters, while manual stimulation held its own dangers of grit abrasion. If that wasn't bad enough, bathing wasn't as frequent as she'd have liked, and often the taste was just too much of a good thing. She ended up pissed off and frustrated, and wound up keeping increasingly to herself. Though she now hated the desert worse than ever, mostly she missed the beer.
Desert Shield gave way to Desert Storm, but mostly it was the flyboys who had the fun. The ground troops, Steph's MPs included, maintained their vigilance, growing increasingly bored. They played pranks, touch football, and dodged Scud missiles. They watched the news. Stephanie took refuge from the head-banging metal and hip-hop music so popular with the infantry, by driving off into the desert in Chrissie every chance she got. She poured her heart out to the dependable vehicle.
In the fifth week of the war, just before Valentine's Day, orders came to move west. Steph's assigned company of the 2nd Armored became part of the VII Corps, sent to flank the Iraqi border in preparation for the ground assault. Steph and her platoon went along to direct the traffic. They drove Chrissie (and her sister Humvee, Tiffanie), herding "their" tanks and a line of trucks filled with war material. They rolled through the desert night, Stephanie demanding that the MPs in Chrissie sing "Sympathy for the Devil" with her. Ridiculous as it was, her platoon had the highest moral in the mostly bored 720th Battalion, a fact noted by Stephie's CO.
"Uhhh, Michelle, please don't call me Stephie," Steph asked the author, "I really prefer Steph or Stephanie?my Mom used to call me Stephie and I hated it, 'kay?"
"Alright," the author agreed easily, "though I think Stephie is really cute." (Wink)
Stephie gulped audibly, "Michelle, um, can we just continue with the story?please?"
I had to grin at her. She was lighting a Camel and already had a lit one in the ashtray.
Figure 1 Stephanie Walker
This is a picture of Stephanie, as a senior, from her High School yearbook. The author, while trying very hard to remain objective, has begun to exhibit some symptoms of infatuation with her subject. Quite honestly, I have to believe that such a reaction is understandable on the part of one so easily entranced by delectable brunettes. Well ok, so anyway, I've failed miserably at not fantasizing about her as she sits with me while I type, guzzling Buds and smoking Camels. I, in turn, have been eating rather more Skittles than usual. I suspect that these behaviors are mutually therapeutic. Despite her being beautiful, Steph seems to embarrass easily. BTW, she doesn't know that I have this picture. This is just between you and me, okay?
Stephanie thought that they were finally hitting their stride, but the war was over two weeks later. Towards the end of April, she was back at Ft. Hood, Texas. She happily reasoned that if she had to endure a desert, well then, she was better off in an American desert. At least there was beer.
Every chance Steph got, she'd drag her CO off base and into the wilderness; she lugging a cooler, he dressed as a tart. It was a safe relationship with no strings attached. Usually they'd fall asleep under the stars, after drunkenly discharging small arms fire at the wildlife. Stephanie was marginally happy, but her tour of duty was coming to an end. In late June, she was honorably discharged after serving two years. Her service record was flawless, but her time in the wastelands had left her emotionally isolated, hollow, and incapable of commitment. Stephanie Walker was twenty, sick to death of deserts, and she was ready to move on.
With her savings, she bought a perfect, two-tone '56 Desoto Firedome, complete with push button automatic transmission, a first class ice chest stocked with longnecks, and two cartons of Camels. She set out for San Francisco the very afternoon of her final parade, only taking time to shuck her dress uniform for a pair of lewd cut offs and a black cire tank top. Though her CO had given her a pair of fuck-me red stiletto pumps as a going away present, Steph opted for snake skin cowboy boots and iridescent Gargoyles. She named the Desoto Brittanie.
"They weren't that lewd," Steph pouted, as she watched the type appear on the screen.
"Were too," the author replied, smiling, "I could see the crease at the bottoms of your cheeks where they meet the backs of your thighs. What were you thinking anyway?"
"Well, I was wearing them for Brit?uhhh, never mind."
"You were dressing slutty for your car?" Chelle asked jealously, thinking, lucky bitch. "Did she appreciate it?"
"Just let's get on with the story, 'kay?" Stephanie huffed, blushing and lighting a Camel.
A drunken Stephanie Walker crosses the west Texas desert in Brittanie the Desoto.
Three days of driving brought Steph back to California. She'd crossed most of west Texas being leered at from a semi, which paced her down I-10 from San Antonio to El Paso. When she realized that he'd probably linger all the way to Tucson, she lit up the Desoto after crossing the Rio Grande. The vintage hemi engine roared and soon the speedometer read 125 mph. Long before Steph reached Deming, the semi was history. After a long third day behind the wheel, Stephanie pulled into San Diego to replenish her ice and beer. Afterwards, she luckily found a parking space with a nice view overlooking the harbor. Steph passed out in the back seat for six hours.
Morning found Stephanie red eyed, hung over, and coughing up tars and nicotine residues. She suspected that her cut offs and tank top needed laundering, but her nose wasn't reporting on the world anymore, which was probably a good thing. With a fresh beer between her thighs, she selected "drive" and headed north on I-215, desperate to avoid Los Angeles. Sometime around 9:43am, two-thirds of Steph's poor addled brain stopped working. Using only her hindbrain, she maneuvered Brittanie the Desoto on autopilot through the morning and afternoon. When she came back to her senses, the sun was already going down, and she'd taken a turnoff for SR-99. Stephanie groaned and lit a Camel. She had just driven in a two-year circle. Steph was less than ten miles from Bakersfield.
I can't believe you did that to me, she spat at her hindbrain. You only said, don't you dare take me into L. A., her hindbrain whined protest. Wherethefuckarewe? Steph's midbrain and forebrain asked.
Oh what the hell, she thought, as she pulled the Desoto in front of her old cinderblock house. A train roared by thirty yards to her right and traffic whined on the highway behind her. The only thing that had changed was a mean looking mutt of a dog that growled and lunged at her, dragging a huge chain that was welded to the capped wellhead. She grabbed a couple of longnecks and walked up to the door.
Stephanie's homecoming was hardly better than the one a certain Warrior Princess had once received in Amphipolis. Her father staggered up, overjoyed to see her. He reached for the longneck Bud she held out to him and missed, firmly grabbing her breast. Her mother tried to beat her with the lint roller, then claimed she didn't know her and threatened to call the police. Steph stayed just long enough to finish a couple beers with her Dad. She discerned that he really didn't recognize her at all, and forgave him for clumsily trying to seduce her. It was gross. The dog didn't stop barking or slinging saliva the whole time. Finally she excused herself, saying that she must have stopped at the wrong house. She was only too happy to drive off in Brittanie?Bakersfield was still a desert.
She'd passed the Route 46 turnoff to Lost Hills before she realized that tears were streaming down her face. She'd been happy to leave, and if anything, her old home was even worse than she remembered it. She didn't understand. In the end, Steph decided that the beer was making her maudlin. Maybe it was time to switch to Coors.
Stephanie continued to cry as she blazed down the highway. When excessive speed didn't make her feel any better, she pulled off 99, onto SR-41 north, and drove into the miserable half-mile long town of Kettleman City. The place had accidentally sprung up amidst a field of oil wells and didn't even appear on most maps. Steph tooled down General Petroleum Ave. for a block and then turned onto Becky Pease St. At the dead end, she parked Brittanie and climbed out, sitting on the ground in the car's shadow and sobbing as she lit a Camel. She was so upset that she didn't even notice the little girl who approached her.
"Why are you crying, lady?" A soft young voice asked.
Stephanie looked up toward the voice and saw a passable Shirley Temple look-alike with violet eyes, staring down at her. The waif was wearing a cropped, powder blue baby doll tee, (with "Pornstar" emblazoned in silver script where her breasts would someday grow), and blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up, revealing scuffed Nikes. She was probably eight or nine years old and she looked as if she had been crying too. Steph's maternal instincts kicked into gear, a surge of protectiveness washing through her. The little girl was struggling to carry the largest cat that Stephanie had ever seen. If the girl weighed 50 pounds, the cat was probably pushing 30, and it dangled from the girl's arms in an undignified and boneless fashion. Amazingly, it wasn't struggling.
"Is that your cat?" Steph asked in amazement, patting the ground next to her to offer a seat. The girl chewed her lip for a moment, then decided to rest. She plopped down awkwardly, never letting go of the animal. The tabby draped itself across her, (from her chest to her calves), and preened. She nodded "yes" to Steph and then burst into tears.
"My Daddy says I can't keep him anymore and he's going to take him to the vet to be put to sleep," she declared piteously, as the cat nuzzled her and started purring loudly. "So I'm running away to the desert, cause I can't let anything bad happen to Barney," she finished.
Stephanie shook her head. "What does your Mom say to that, hon?" Steph asked with concern. She'd never had a cat of her own and her mom was a psycho.
"My Mommy loved Barney, but she died last spring, and my Daddy has been sad ever since," the girl choked out, "he loves me but he's so allergic to cats." She squeezed the cat tightly, causing it to gasp softly, but it still stayed in her arms, turning to gaze into her eyes. "He's such a good cat, and he catches mice and lizards, even a little poodle once, and he never breaks anything or makes a mess, and I've had him since I was a 5."
"Awwww, geeeez, honey," Stephanie sympathized, watching as the cat licked the crying girl's face. "He looks like a really good cat," she said honestly, still amazed that he hadn't fled from the child's grasp. "I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to him either, but you can't run away from home. Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"No," the girl said between sobs, "it's just me and my Daddy and Barney."
"It's just you and your Dad now?" Steph asked, flicking away the butt of her Camel. "He probably needs you, sweetheart. I'm sure he'd let Barney stay if he wasn't allergic?how bad are his allergies anyway?"
"He had to go to the hospital this morning because he fell asleep by the TV and Barney sat in his lap watching Rosie O'Donnell." Barney seemed to nod in agreement. "Daddy woke up and said he couldn't breathe, and he was turning blue, and I had to call 911. I was scared he'd die like Mommy, and I love my Daddy."
Good god, Stephanie thought, people die from respiratory failure with reactions like that. Of course he can't be around that cat. The girl's mom probably knew how to keep them apart. What a pathetic situation. There's no way she's going to be able to keep this cat, and her dad will flip out if she disappears?especially after losing his wife.
"Honey, let me give you a ride home. Your daddy will be worried sick when he realizes you're missing. If you want, I can take Barney with me?I promise to take really good care of him, and I won't let anything bad happen to him. When I was little I always wanted a cat, but my mom wouldn't let me have one because she's a psycho and couldn't deal with the cat hair."
The girl sniffled, (a slug trail of snot creeping from her nostril), but she seemed to be thinking about Steph's offer. She looked at the cat and it turned to rest its paws on her shoulders, bringing itself nose to nose with her. She hugged the cat desperately, until Stephanie imagined she could see its ribs sliding out of position, and she started crying again. It was short lived this time though. Finally she looked at Steph hopefully.
"Do you really promise to take care of him and not let anything bad happen to him, ever?" Barney the Cat was looking at Stephanie too, obviously measuring her sincerity.
" I promise," she said solemnly to both of them.
Stephanie helped the girl into Brittanie the Desoto, while Barney hopped in and draped himself over the seat back, resting his head on the girl's shoulder. She directed Steph to a small tract house with hideous vinyl siding, about six blocks away, where a distraught man was pacing in the front yard and talking into a cell phone. He watched the Desoto suspiciously, but when he saw his daughter in the front seat, he raced to the door practically in tears. There was no doubt in Steph's mind that he loved the little girl dearly. The child leapt into his arms as soon as she got out.
Eventually he talked with Steph, accepted a Bud, and tried to grope her, all the while eyeing Barney with obvious nervousness. Barney finally came to Steph's rescue, winding his way around her ankles and stretching up to his full height, putting his paws on her waist. After looking into her face, he moved to rub against the father's legs, driving the man indoors. Soon, they were blasting down the highway.
Stephanie didn't really know much about cats, but she'd noticed that Barney had only a stub of a tail. He also had oversized tufted ears, bushy jowls, and massive feet. His coat was irregularly spotted, mostly, developing tabby stripes on his face. Steph drove back onto I-5, heading for San Francisco, with a glow from having done a good deed, and a domesticated bobcat curled over the seat back, purring and chewing on her hair. She'd driven for over two hours before she realized that she'd never even learned the little girl's name.
Two views of Barney the Cat, a large adult specimen of Lynx rufus, the American Bobcat. It is unclear exactly how the animal first came to be a pet, but suspicion falls primarily on the original owner's mother, who may have fostered a lost kitten. In reality, wild bobcats do not usually make good pets, whereas the "Pixie Bob", (a bobcat/domestic cat cross), is often an ideal feline pet. (See Cat Breeders-Exotic)
Stephanie's return to San Francisco was much less flamboyant than her first appearance. When she crossed the Golden Gate Bridge this time, she was accompanied on "Sympathy for the Devil", by a CD player and a howling cat. She checked into the Econo Lodge on Lombard and Divisadero Sts., scoring a room the size of a walk in closet with a single bed, for $50 a night. She cranked up the air conditioner, turned on the TV, and refilled her ice chest, then searched the Yellow Pages for a laundromat, a restaurant, and a pet store.
Steph returned from dinner at Izzy's Steak House, with clean clothes, cat dishes, and a pet rabbit. Barney the Cat leapt up to hug her after sniffing the pet store box. Stephanie turned the rabbit loose and went into the bathroom to take a shower. When she came back out, Barney was lying on the bed cleaning his fur. The rabbit's bones and pelt had been haphazardly stuffed back into the box and the water dish was empty. Steph was amazed that there wasn't even the slightest trace of the bloody mess she'd resigned herself to finding on the floor. She happily patted her new cat and then collapsed into bed naked.
Sometime in the dead of night, Steph briefly roused from a weird dream of the Iraqi desert, thinking she'd heard a toilet flush. As she dropped back off to sleep, she realized that she'd neglected to purchase a litterbox. The dream recommenced with her CO, in a red sequined gown, charging into battle in the Abrams tank that they'd named Buffie. Stephanie paced him in Brittanie the Desoto, accompanied by her MP buddies. This time, the beer was flowing and they were singing "Girls Just Want To Have Fun". The Republican Guard was on the run, fleeing across the sand in hideous mid-70s Buicks.
The alarm clock splintered Stephanie's morning with the most appalling discord, leaving her furious at the interruption of a wonderfully carnal dream. She'd been in a cozy bedroll with 6th season Gabrielle and the blonde had been on top. Barney the Cat had wormed his way under the covers and had been sprawled on her chest like a sphinx, lustily kneading her breasts. He looked as pissed off as she was.
"OMG, Michelle, you're making it sound like some kind of bestiality or something," Steph protested, aghast after reading the proceeding paragraph.
"Did you cum?" The author asked, trying for clinical detachment and failing miserably.
With a gasp, Steph's mouth made a perfect "O", before audibly snapping shut.
"I was dreaming about, um?well, I was dreaming," Steph sputtered, her face and neck blooming an increasingly darker red. Finally she got up and fled into the living room.
"Teehee," the author giggled theatrically for her benefit.
Stephanie eventually regained her composure, and made her way to the San Francisco Central Police Station. She had taken the precaution of not going near the Potrero Station, the scene of her inebriated faux pas of two years before. Again, Steph found herself filling out application forms, submitting records and documents, taking the written, physical, and oral exams, and submitting to a medical exam.
The doctor, she recalled, looked like a Tammy Faye Baker clone, probably purchased her makeup by the pound, and touched her patient rather more than the doctors Steph had seen in the past. In fact, Stephanie thought it strange that she wasn't offered a gown. She'd had to remain naked throughout the procedure, which included an inordinately thorough pelvic exam and some amateurish photography. In particular, the excessively repeated requests to cough during the bimanual exam seemed suspicious. The doctor finally pronounced her "very healthy", and in a flustered flurry of words, recommended that Steph smoke fewer Camels and meet her for dinner. Stephanie declined, suspecting the doctor of being a transvestite. She fled back to her room at the Econo Lodge and jumped into the shower. The scrubbing that Steph performed there would have made her obsessive-compulsive mother proud.
The day went from bad to worse. Stephanie had decided to relax in the Golden Gate Nat'l Rec Area. Accompanied by Barney the Cat, Steph wandered the grounds, finally lounging on a bench and reading the Police Academy course guide. She was jerked out of her concentration by a paw scrubbing at her shin.
Barney the Cat was proudly sitting at her feet, offering the limp Chihuahua that dangled from his jaws. About forty yards away, a man in a business suit was screaming, charging towards them, red in the face, and brandishing a briefcase. Steph shook her head and flipped away the butt of her Camel. There was nothing to be gained by staying. She snatched the cadaver and jammed it into her shoulder bag, then took off towards the park gate at a dead run. In moments, Barney was frolicking alongside her.
They burst out of the park and onto Lombard St., having increased their lead substantially. After suicidally weaving through traffic, they finally entering the Econo Lodge through a service entrance in the back. Later, in their room, Steph turned on the TV and found that the story had made the news. Stephanie paced and lectured as Barney ate.
Several weeks later, after the Police Academy background check was completed, Steph took her polygraph test from a sympathetic officer who, she supposed, had read about her parents. They didn't really ask any tough questions, she realized. The psychological exam was interesting. Stephanie's claim that her cat used the toilet and hunted small stray dogs was met with skepticism. Although she was finally deemed sane, a note was made about her tendency to name things. Like the doctor, the psychologist asked Steph for a date.
"She had very little imagination and bad breath," Stephanie confided to Brittanie the Desoto, as they drove back to the apartment she'd rented in Chinatown. "Maybe I should have become a shrink," she mused, lighting a Camel, "I could meet some interesting people and I'd know what makes them tick."
"The only interesting ones are crazy, hon, and no one ever really knows what makes another person tick," Brittanie replied, her gentle voice coming from the stereo speakers, "you're better off drinking, smoking, and becoming a cop."
"Thanks, Brit," Stephanie said, gently stroking the leather on the passenger's seat, "I'm so glad you're not a bitch, like Christine in that Stephen King book."
"She was a '58 Plymouth," Brittanie pointed out with finality, as if that explained it all.
When the rainy season came, and Steph began parking Brittanie in the living room of the 3 bay garage that she rented as an apartment, shoving her couch and TV into the large bathroom. The garage had been abandoned for years before Steph searched out the owner and offered to rent it. The landlord had been ecstatic. After the address had been rezoned, (from commercial to residential), the property had been useless without renovations, and he just didn't have the money. Steph had changed the three extra toilet stalls and sink area into a lounge. She added a tub and relocated a sink. The first bay had become a living room, the third her bedroom. The second bay between them she'd divided into kitchen and dining areas, the former claimed by Barney the Cat as a killing ground. It was November of 1991, and Stephanie was 16 weeks into the 28-week training program at the Police Academy. She expected to finish in mid-February of 1992, but she couldn't be hired until she turned 21. In the meantime, Brittanie had suggested that she take additional courses while she waited for her birthday in mid-June.
Valentine's Day 1992 arrived, and Stephanie Walker graduated from the San Francisco Police Academy at the top of her class. A year before, she'd been herding tanks through the Iraqi desert in a Humvee. Barney and Brittanie had both been very supportive throughout her schooling, and Steph knew she'd have been so much lonelier without them. They celebrated Stephanie's graduation and Valentine's Day with cake, ice cream, and beer. That night, she lay in the backseat of the Desoto with Barney the Cat, crying with happiness until she fell asleep. Their friendship had forged them into a loving family; something Steph had missed all her life.
"Sometimes friendship is thicker than blood," Steph had told them gravely one afternoon, having waxed philosophical while drunk, "and you two have become my family. I really love you both."
June of 1992 arrived at last, Stephanie turned 21 and was sworn in as a San Francisco police officer. She was assigned to patrol a beat not far from her Chinatown home; a tong controlled neighborhood, free of gangs, where most of the complaints had to do with missing pets, (mostly small dogs), burglaries, and parking violations. Barney took it upon himself to help her, wandering the beat at her side and showing off by killing rats. In the hours of darkness, he delved into the underground life of the beat, ferreting out its secrets and uncovering evidence. He became a valuable informant. Steph loved the neighborhood, and the people there happily welcomed her and her cat. To them, she seemed much more sane than her predecessor, and like so many of the Asians, she smoked a lot. Slowly, she began to pick up Cantonese phrases and customs. She started taking classes in herbal medicine and Ying Jow Pai.
In her parallel world, Brittanie the Desoto made many friends too, never discriminating between limousines and delivery trucks. There were times when only the information Brittanie gathered from these otherwise silent witnesses allowed Stephanie to close a case. Her superiors couldn't understand who her informants were, or how she had such success fostering cooperative community interaction. On her beat, previously invisible suspects were collared, getaway cars failed to start, and hidden booty mysteriously turned up. Bit by bit, criminals began to avoid her beat; something strange was going on there, they said, and it couldn't be accounted for by the actions of one drunk female cop. The genetically superstitious Chinese began leaving offerings of rice, wine, and cigarettes on her doorstep. Butchers offered Barney puppies, and Brittanie always found parking spaces on the street. It was unorthodox, but Steph was just doing her job?the best she could. She was happy. She was living her dream.
For three years, Stephanie walked her beat, filled out reports, and appeared in court. Slowly but surely, her actions aroused the attention of the press and the city politicians. Her superiors were more reserved in their praise, baffled by her success, but pressure was building to elevate her from patrolwoman to detective. Citizens' groups pressured the mayor. The mayor pressured the commissioner, and the commissioner pressured Steph's precinct captain. In August of 1995, the captain called Steph in for a meeting.