The main house is the place where all Desperados come together. There they meet to plan and organize their ventures, to celebrate and party, or just to drop in to be among themselves, their comrades and like-minded. It is a safe haven and, according to Oliver, laid out generously and suitably comfortable. All kinds of meetings can be organized, big and small. The required spaces are arranged through a central board and, using mobile walls that run in tracks for easy move, all is programmed and monitored electronically. For everyday occupancy rooms are down sized, including the main hall they are just walking through.
The cultural habits are evident: Heavy rap and rock music blasting, posters of naked women, motorbikes, cars and, sport heroes on the walls, as well as speakers and huge TV-screens, currently playing music videos. Everything appears to cater for insatiable minds rather than pleasure.
Old wooden or metal furniture consisting mainly of tables and chairs of any size and style, shabby sofas strewn in between and mattresses along the walls, empty beer crates scattered around serving various purposes, everything shows signs of heavy use. The crates are very popular. And why not. They function as stools, side tables, shelving for magazines and books, or as containers for bits and pieces. Supply of them is no problem because you only need to drink their content and voila, you got yourself a new piece of furniture. All kinds of bottles, full and empty, are also everywhere, as well as big ashtrays and drug paraphernalia. A well-stocked bar offers beer from the tap and shelves carry popular brands of strong spirits, it is more a self-serve station than a bar because, everybody can take what they want and that without pay or limitation.
Walls and the floor are of stone. It does not only provide a rustic feel, it also implies strength and endurance. The air is warm and thick with smoke. Big wall ventilators extract it regularly in exchange for fresh and cool air from outside. This is particularly necessary because there are only a few windows and they are closed with dark wood shutters. The ceiling is high, exposing the big beams of the roof, giving the assembly room an airy feel like that of a converted barn, rather than a dingy cellar. Fluorescent lighting provides bright but not a homely light, being probably the most effective and practical.
It is busy, a constant coming and going. Billiard and table tennis at one end cater for some leisure activity. So do the poker machines. They are well frequented, one can hear their ringing, but they are not free of charge, for it would not put fun into winning. Surely, the card players and video-gamers have also somewhere their place, probably tucked away, somewhere more separate and quiet. Apparently, house guests can stay in dormitories, available for one or more nights, but visitors don’t always make it that far, falling asleep on the mattresses wherever they are, being either exhausted or too drugged up to walk the distance.
Small and large groups of men sit or stand around, laughing and bawling, and there are even some dancing in a dedicated area, most likely because they are pumped with pills and driven to move, bursting for energy and searching for ecstasy or being consumed by it. Less likely, that they are just keen dancers. It is a true “man cave”, and far more busy than usual due to the stream of incoming members, who want to join the big party after an apparently successful venture. Femina notices a few females too. However, they certainly are a minority, though some men might even be females. Unfortunately, passing through the crowd does not provide enough opportunity to check them out. So what she can see is a big gathering of men of the most varied kind, not only as far as their appearances go, but also their character. Everything is there, the most extreme and exotic, the unobtrusive and puny, from the punk to the muscled, from slayer to mobster, to fraudsters and accountants, you name it, you will find it. One thing she knows for sure, with none of them would she joke around lightly.
They end up in an atrium with roofed sides and the main part under the open sky. In its center it has a fire pit with a good fire going and around in safe distance are benches, chairs and some low tables, one of it occupied by a group of five, the only ones gathered outside. It is a good place for sitting together, warmed by the fire, under the stars and, without the noisy drunken crowd and blasting speakers. Music still goes on here too but at least less loud so one can have a conversation if desired. Oliver goes straight to the occupied table, the men looking at them as they approach. The table carries only a few beer bottles and stone mugs but, a wooden bowl and a bellied bong in the middle.
“Wilson, this is Ger, my brother! And that’s Dan, his friend and, this is Dan’s girlfriend!” Oliver addresses the man at the head of the table, a black bear to be correct, because everything on him is big and black. Black long hair, long black beard, lightless black eyes like caves in the only visible part of his face, wearing a black sweater. It makes it quite difficult to see how big he really is, melting him into the dark background of the night.
“Ah! So, that is your beloved brother!” says he. “Come! Join us!” Two of the men get up and fetch another table and chairs for them, though Oliver takes his seat right next to Wilson. The men are reserved, their faces indifferent. Femina has the impression that behind the facade lurks heightened alertness and a readiness to jump into action, faster than one would expect, considering their complacent attitude. Their polite behavior baffles her. Weren’t they not long ago confronted with guns? And how is that, Oliver omitting her name in the introduction?
Wilson fills the bong and takes his hit so deep and mighty as if he had lungs big as barrels, and the smoke exhaled could come from a puffing steam train engine, only lacking the whistles of it. He passes the bong to Oliver, and before there is much talking, there are first up a few rounds of smoking. Femina is glad that everyone can help themselves to fill their cones, doubting that she would be able to take a full amount. The staff in the bowl looks the best of the best, thick and heavy and so mature that it would be easy to make hashish of it without big effort and much time. Even while lightening up, she has serious concern that it may literally knock her down, - but the opposite is happening, - the cool smoke gives her wings. She sails up into the air, into the starry meadows above, from where she descends softly and slowly, back into the company of men whom she no longer, not even the slightest, considers as being dangerous at all. In fact, she finds any such thoughts so ridiculous that it makes her laugh about herself and, amused for a while.
She leans back, music in her ears, everything is so mellow and comfortable, except that she is dying for a drink. But no, she does not want beer, thank you, no whine either, no alcohol, sorry. She wants tea. No? Coke, energizer drinks? Energy drink, yes, thanks. Oliver obliges and brings her several, not just one. Well, that will be a long night! After the rounds of bong and caffeine in between, she is ready to do without sleep, not just this one night. But have these guys nothing else to talk about than bikes, cars and sport, or past drunken escapades?
More and more people come into the atrium, among them even some women. She wonders if there were any she’d like to make contact with. They are not really beautiful, just pretty, in a tired kind of way. It’s their dead eyes that make them look bland. They have no color, even the colors they wear make no difference. On a couple she finds a choker type necklace, more like a dog collar than jewelry. That must be the ‘necklace’ Oliver was talking about and which he wants to put on her too. As she meets the eyes of the women, she encounters dislike and defensiveness, particularly from the women wearing the choker. She does not blame them. She understands too good what it means to be put on a chain, like the poor farm-yard dogs, a sad fate it is indeed. Though she does not quite understand why the women who have not yet resigned to their destiny, have nothing better to do with their energy than to fend her off, as if she was their opponent. She turns away, prefers to keep to herself, instead of being dragged down by others’ resentment. Too quick is the descent from flying high into a world of sadness, where one must cry, because there is only love lost and darkness.
Screaming and shouting puts an end to her thoughts. Some guys seem to have started an argument. The bystanders appear to enjoy it, clapping and taking sides and cheering them on. Femina is certain they argue about nothing, but it is serious for them. The first punches are flying. Now she knows the fight will go on until one or the other lies on the ground. She looks for an escape. She does not want to be part of any fighting, but the door to the hall, the only way she knows, is blocked by the mob and, though there are other doors, she does not know where they would lead her and they may not be a better choice. Before she can inquire about them, she hears Wilson’s angry voice. Two of the guys at their table jump up as if they were ready to intervene.
“Piss off! Take your fight elsewhere! Best out of the house! Don’t you see that I have guests? So get lost! To hell with you!” He yells at them loud and aggressive, making sure everybody hears him and understands him and knows that he means it too.
And indeed, the quarreling party withdraws, leaving under some protest and swearing, but leave they do. Obviously they give in because there are rules to live by and, as long as the stronger one is the strongest of all. Their moaning means no more than the snarls of a toothless dog.
Femina notices a thin female curled up on a bench nearby, face behind a curtain of long hair and thinly dressed, far too thin for a cool night like this. She looks like a wounded little animal, seeking warmth at the fire, unable to find a more protective cave. While Femina wonders how long she may have lain there, or if there was really anything seriously wrong, a huge man storms into the atrium heading right up to her. His naked upper body is covered in tattoos. His hair rolled up to a bun on top of his head shows off a grim red face as round as the barrel of his big fat belly, which hangs over his jeans because no belt could ever tame it. And he is barefoot as well. Maybe he lost shirt, boots and all, gambling. He shakes the body a couple of times but getting no response, he lifts her up, throws her like a sack of potatoes over his shoulder and leaves through one of the doors, she herself had considered as an escape route not long ago.
A new round of bong is going. She no longer is afraid that it might be too strong for her. To the contrary, she enjoys the quality and wonders, in what blessed soil this plant had been growing and, under which sun. For sure, this is no cultivated, no humanly manipulated plant, its effect is far too pure, too sunny, too unspoiled. It reminds her of the mountains she had been walking, where only nature not humans had its say. A very special place comes to her mind; never had she climbed that high before. Eagles circled around her, she could see their eyes, and their cries whirled through the air so close to her that she can still hear them now. Even now does she hear the wind in the feathers of their wings, can watch them maneuver, how they glide or climb, just a tiny little bit more, or how they dive down into the valleys, as deep as the sky. Their bodies with the wide spread-out pinions are a stark contrast to the white face of the ice and snow covered giant of a mountain on the other side, the mountain range opposite her. His forehead smooth and crease-less white, with a white cloud ribbon resting on his nose and a white crown as massive as a clenched fist towering high up into a glassy clear blue sky. He made all other mountains look meager, only the kings of the sky reminded her how high up the bold head of her own peak was. Never ever can she forget the magic, never ever the eagles and the time she spent in their midst. Naturally, in these heights there are more stones than grasses but on the way up all kinds of vegetation grows, big and small plants and flowering trees in deeply glowing colors, stronger and hardier the closer they come to the sun until after all, the air becomes so thin that nearly all life loses its breath.
These Desperados surprise her over and over again. How did Wilson get hold of that kind of stuff? Besides, how come that he and his men at the table do not indulge in other drugs like everybody else seems to do. There is plenty of choice and sure everything is of good quality, she does not doubt that at all. But here on this table there are only two, beer and marijuana. She feels conflicted, split into two-mindedness, just as if she herself had two sides, with one belonging to the shadows of human’s creation, the other to the light of Mother Nature but, at home in both.
Her own nature calls and she needs to listen. She gets up with the intention to go their own rooms, curious how that will be handled, after all, she should not be left out of sight. Nearly simultaneously, Dan and Oliver inquire what she needed or was up to. In fact, out of the angle of her eye she saw Wilson immediately making Oliver aware of her getting up.
“I just need to go back to our rooms. Don’t worry, I know the way!” says she and smiles. “I don’t want to interrupt your conversation! I’m fine.”
“No, no! That’s no problem!” Oliver reassures and carries on to explain: “I have to come with you, because the door opens only with a code and we have not yet made the adjustments. Until then I have to come with you. Makes no sense for you Dan to go either, except you want to.” But Dan does not want anyway.
She smiles again: “Well, then you have to come, but funny, I have not seen any such device when we entered.”
“No, you wouldn’t, except you turned around after entering the hall. The door is only locked from the main house to the quarters to allow access only for the people having permission, no-one else. Otherwise it would too easily become part of the main house as you can imagine.”
True, makes perfect sense, she must admit. “Ah, good idea, yes,” she says. Still smiling she follows Oliver who straight away takes the lead. There will be many more opportunities to test the grounds and, question his world and her situation.
Unnecessarily but not unexpected, he accompanies her right into the rooms, sitting down at the table, obviously with the intent to wait for her though, now he has no ‘official reason’ as to why. She is guarded as if she was a prisoner. But she stays cool. This is after all not the first time that she feels imprisoned. Worse, far worse is the house she is caught in, holding her hostage with more riddles than clues as to who could be made responsible for the situation, unlike here, where the enemy has a tangible shape and is calculable.
Out of the bathroom she joins Oliver at the table and starts talking before he has a chance:
“I think I need a little break before I join you guys again. That’s really good stuff you have, but my senses need some rest and they can do that best in a quiet environment, like here, away from party noises.”
He looks at her thoughtfully. “Too much for you?” He asks after all.
She shrugs her shoulders. “Depends…, but no, not really! It is just the best I have smoked for a long time and it has a certain effect on me.” She slabs his arm softly and reassuringly. “Don’t worry! I feel good. And I will not spend the evening here all by myself, only for a little while. The quietness now is all I want.”
He stares at the table as if he wanted to prevent her from looking into his eyes and read his thoughts. ‘He has no idea what I am all about, ’she thinks. ‘It does not even matter for what reason I want to be alone, he wouldn’t understand one or the other.’
Finally, he says: “Okay!” Obviously, he has considered all kinds of possibilities of how to handle this new situation, coming up with the most suitable solution as he sees it: “Here! Take my mobile and dial 1 when you are ready. I will get you myself, or send somebody to get you. Mind you, this is for your own protection, because our men are in party mode and they get often carried away. It might be very distressing for you, because they can be rough. In fact, it could get really nasty.”
Indeed! He worries! Maybe not so much about her but about the problems she might cause. Though he does not know how well she understands him and her situation, he is right. It would be rather stupid to provoke a hungry pack of wolves by walking past their noses as if they didn’t exist.
“Don’t worry!” says she appeasing, “But, I don’t need your mobile. Just get me within an hour, the most. I have no intention to stay put, have far too much caffeine in my system!”
Even if he had only a little bit of brain, he should understand the message that she is open to compromise but not willing to make herself dependent from him and his fears, nor her own. She most certainly would escape the wolves but, how quickly he, or whoever could pacify a salivating pack is another story.
“Okay!” says he and, looking somewhat relieved, he leaves. It seems, he understood her subtle warnings but it is unlikely that he understands the game she has started, the game called manipulation.
Left alone, Femina wants to make herself comfortable before settling in for her own mind games and, she goes searching for something to eat, feeling somewhat peckish. Not much luck though, nothing in the fridge, nothing in the cupboards. Against better knowing, she goes through her own bag where there is nothing, of course. May be in Dan’s bag? No! Ger’s? There she gets lucky, finding a packet of dry biscuits. Actually, to her they look like a crunchy delight. She tries to unwrap them but can’t get a grip on the tight cover quickly enough. It stops her in her tracks. Thoughtfully she looks at them, then takes them back to Ger’s bag and, throws them back in, angrily. What the hell is wrong with her? Where is her control?
She fetches one of the dusty glasses from the shelf, goes to the tap washing it clean and filling herself up with water. Her thoughts still steer her to the cookies, only leaving her alone as she gets more and more engaged with thoughts of escape. She wants to leave this robber knight’s nest. She would leave straight away, even alone, without her friends, - who might not even be her friends after all. Funny, how quickly things can change! Or maybe, they don’t change at all, are only another facet of one and the same thing, a shadow play, which an ignorant mind cannot grasp nor interpret correctly?
What a relief that she can rely on herself, being the fixed point in space, from where she can maneuver readily, the body her space ship. It is equipped with all these antennas, radars and sensors, all these fine telescopic elements that emerge from their sheaths to explore and analyze her surroundings. Sometimes she is amazed how it is possible that no-one seems to see this amazing network of feelers and tentacles, because there are just so many. Maybe that is due to the fact that one sees what one wants to see, or, maybe there are just no suitable eyes for it. Never mind, she is grateful whichever way to have a spaceship so well built and so well equipped, despite it not being perfect or complete and certainly not imperishable, as she knows all too well, but it is good enough, serving her well. No! It is better than just good enough! It can even repair itself! Indeed, being a living organism, it does so every day, continuously and without big fuss, never getting a thank you for it, never even any conscious acknowledgment. Only when its warnings of possible damage are not heard and the repairs can no longer be done in time, only then takes the mind notice.
Femina reaches into her breast pocket. There it is as usual, her smooth dark waiting-room-ball. It seems not to fit into her hand as snugly and it could even be less weighty than it was the last time when she was holding it. However, it may be just wishful thinking and, if there was indeed a minor change or variation, it may not even have significance, not in this subtle amount of difference anyway. So, why bother? Not at this very moment at least! She was thinking about how best she could maneuver herself through toxic waste, that’s all!
So now, what about flight from the knight’s castle? The solidly watched and secured entrance is for sure no option; neither the underground fortress, though there might be other doorways, less frequented and less watched, but it would be a labyrinth for her, not knowing the lay-out. The above building and terrain she does not know either though she is certain that everything will blend into its surrounding well, considering the preference for natural building materials, - it is the best camouflage. Also, the views will be great as is common with this type of castles, besides, they climbed uphill far longer than going downhill. Escape would be difficult at best of times. She sighs, giving up to speculate further. Without more knowledge or some kind of help nothing can be done. Besides, who says that they won’t be leaving freely anyway? She sighs again. She knows herself too well. She is not looking for an escape route because she just wants to pass her time. Even if she cannot put her finger on it as to the why, she trusts her gut feelings because they never have deceived her. And then, a flashing thought puts a positive spin on her gloomy conclusions. Every knight’s castle has one if not more secret passages. Some, as she knows, have even tunnels all the way from the top of their mountain down into the valley or township below. The fortress of the Desperados will surely not be an exception. Particularly not theirs! She has been impressed by their capabilities all the way. To have no secret escape route would be as careless an oversight as forgetting the shot gun when going on a hunt. Of course there might be arrogance, believing they won’t ever need to flee their, oh so secure lair, but that is good enough for the common member to trust in, the top end will always know better than that. Wilson is certainly slier than the rest. He is deep water as far as she is concerned. His black eyes are bottomless voids. He is not the type who trusts anyone or anything. Anyway, a secret passage would be truly the most successful option for an escape, disappearing without the threat of a quick discovery is exactly what it needs. She is very certain that the rocket guard is not the only means of surveillance. There are surely other spy troops and specific technology that function like a fine network covering the whole territory, constantly monitoring movements and matters of concern, sending the information to a centrally located facility somewhere here in this castle, where then the decisions are made as to what action is warranted for successful intervention and victory. Didn’t the men at the road block wait as well before they took specific actions? She already suspected then that there was some kind of information sharing going on.
She wonders as well where they have their rocket equipment and who flies it. The Desperados are certainly not just a gang controlling little bits and pieces of an urban jungle, they are a highly sophisticated organization, hierarchically structured of course. Roles and ranks are fundamental for control and order. The question is, what role does Wilson play? He may well be the boss of the castle but is he actually the brain of the organization? He may only be the top executioner whose path you better don’t cross, but he may be just the straw-man veiling and hiding someone far more dangerous and powerful. Or he is the brainy and ruthless head of it all who of course must have the support of a corrupt political system, paying off officials, handsomely, or scaring them to the bone, if not both.
Femina gets some more water, sits down on the mattress opposite the entrance to the room. All of a sudden she realizes that all her interest in the Desperados is dissipating. Though not her interest in their advanced technology and equipment. But she doubts that she would ever get near any of it, being just a woman, an object really, worth nothing, not even worthy of being introduced by name. She is only treated differently to their own women because nothing much is known about her. To draw unwanted attention is not in the Desperados’ interest. She has however no doubt that she is done, as soon as they find out that her disappearance would hardly cause a ripple. Oliver, Ger? Her lips purse in contempt. They hardly are any protection for her. They are not safe themselves despite what they believe. And Dan? Oh my! His life is even less safe. Of course, his intelligence will prevent him from putting himself at risk, but to survive here, intelligence is not all what is needed.
The door flies open, Dan storms in. He glances at her curiously, then grabs his leather jacket and plants himself in front of the mattress where she sits.
“We are off, riding downtown for some drinks and fun. Wilson’s idea! Good idea! It’s also a sign that they trust us.” He seems to be very pleased.
She frowns, is not convinced that his assumption is correct. He seems to wait for something, may be for her comment?
“Ah, okay?” She does not know what else to say, except that she would quite like to join, or that she might want something to eat, sooner than later. But him not asking what she wants, she assumes that the boys want to be by themselves. So be it! She is in the stage of sobering up, a stage where reality takes over, clearing out any dubious expectations. And going hungry tonight does not mean starvation!
He does not move. Her eyes glide over him. ‘He is not really tall, only a head taller than me.’ She ponders. ‘Maybe he comes across taller than he is because he is lean and has narrow hips and, though he has well-appointed muscles he is not bulked up. Standing idle but also waiting in anticipation he cuts a good figure. - He sure is attractive! What a pity! We could spend a nice evening at home, being all by ourselves!’ Her thoughts end with the conclusion that she probably is better off to remain in their quarters by herself, than seek company in hell’s kitchen, when Dan’s gone. Though she wonders, because there is a but! Was she not meant to be never left out of sight?
“What is it? Don’t you want to get ready?” He asks all of a sudden, eyes red with blue flames.
“Why? Didn’t you just say you and the others were going for drinks somewhere else?” She is puzzled but also annoyed. Can’t he express himself, clear and unmistakably?
He does not see it that way: “Of course! But you come too, or don’t you want to come?” He seems to be more perplexed than anything else.
Obviously there are some communication problems. To avoid further misunderstandings she elaborates: “By all means, I like to come, but neither did you ask me if I want to or not, nor that you wanted or expected me to come. What you said was that you and the others were heading off downtown!”
He looks at her impatiently and astonished. She realizes, he does not get it, does not even comprehend what this is all about. Probably his brain has suffered under the influence!
He sits down to her, takes her chin into his hand, pulling her close to look deep into her eyes. His voice is serious and firm: “You are my lady! Of course, you come with me! Where I go, you go!”
He lets go of her chin, taking a deep breath he continues: “But I won’t force you. This is just to let you know what I can and do expect from you being my lady!” There is some disgruntled undertone.
“Does the same apply to you? I mean, when I go or do something that you join me, no questions asked and as a matter of course?” Now it is her turn to wonder because she recalls different incidents.
“Naturally!” His answer comes slick and quick, far too quick for her liking. It is as if he wants to gloss over something or just has been sliding on thin ice.
Her brain computer works a treat, her synapses load and unload as fast. This is not the sober Dan! This one is full with alcohol and dope. He is incapable to differentiate between feelings and intentions. But the nonsense he divulges is hard to take. Sure, he is the son of his society, but to make her part of it……, unforgivable! How can he even consider! Seriously! It is just not good enough to state ‘my lady’ and expect the rest to follow automatically. Communication is not necessary? Since when! Not even evolution can do without! Why else would language have developed? Even if lovers don’t always need words to understand each other, without communication there would be no bonding and no connection. Assumptions are just not good enough! Has he not learnt anything from her at all? Well, probably not! In fact, there was never any necessity.
She shakes herself to shake off all dismay. “Dan,” she says, “I think differently to you. You say “I” but, you mean “you and me”. What I hear is the “I”, what you mean, I cannot hear.”
“Much too complicated! I would have to ask you all the time, what you want! Not necessary at all! Don’t you see? It only leads to discussions… as it does now!” He is irritated and annoyed. ”What now? Are you coming or not?” Last chance, end of discussion!
Her decision is made up quickly. He can believe that he gets what he wants. She does not care. If anyone wants to avoid fruitless discussions, it is she. Every word spoken here would not be worth the effort. But that does not hinder her to take what s h e wants. With a smile she slings her arms around his neck. He sits in his own trap. As ‘his lady’, she is now his ‘responsibility’. More to the point, she will be his problem, because she has no intention to play by rules she does neither agree with nor accept.
She sees his long lashes in front of her, his brown locks above. Was she ever afraid of falling in love with him? No, never! She is not afraid of her love, but she would be of his. Fortunately love was never part of their relationship. There are loving feelings, but not love. She kisses him. He is her lover after all and that is enough. In that sense nothing really did change, because he was her lover from the beginning. She feels his anger dissipate. He kisses her back. They open their eyes simultaneously.
“Come, let’s go!” says he. “But take your leather jacket for the ride.” He kisses her once more.
“Okay!” She laughs and together they jump into action, she grabbing quickly some items which she thinks useful for the night.