(Written with @Chase)
A Northern wind blew steadily along the River Avon stirring the scents of flowers from a nearby florist and fish and chips flavors from a corner bistro. Chase Devineaux was on Pulteney Bridge in Bath, England, meeting with a contact in a quaint low-ceiling pub overlooking the weir below.
Built in the late 1700s, the bridge was designed by Robert Adam and featured shops along both sides. After sufficient restorations, it was now a Grade I listed building and a certified tourist attraction.
Although the faint sunlight creeping upon the glorious structure was a welcome surprise to the shoppers and cafe dwellers in the surrounding area, Eartha Brute rubbed her forehead in irritation. The dull pounding served as a reminder of the previous night spent drinking beer and garnering cell phone numbers from hooligans who appreciated her brawn and repertoire of can-crushing tricks.
The Boater was a decently local pub where people had the right to stare down any newcomer. Luckily for Devineaux, he was here during its morning hours only to meet a man named Quincy Farrell. Farrell's brother currently managed the place and for the while, the pub was the perfect fixer post.
After a quick exchange of a novelty greeting and necessary tit for tat, Chase Devineaux exited the Boater and winced slightly at the sun outside.
Two men standing in front of a liquor store across the bridge seemed to be looking at him. An unidentifiable man exiting a pub at 10 a.m. seemed conspicuous. He needed to blend in.
Noting a young woman sitting on a bench nearby, Chase struck up conversation. The amount of bags with her and the straight shoulder-length green hair suggested she was from one of those crowds that may have piercings in odd places -- innocent enough.
"You're all right?" He asked casually, taking a seat next to her.
The question at the foreground of Eartha’s mind upon seeing any new face was similar to those of her primal ancestors: prey or predator? Her analysis seldom extended beyond the person’s ability to defeat her in a brawl. Her eyes studied the russet-haired gentleman closely, reaching no clear verdict. She clasped the handles of her bags while remaining seated, uneasy with his inscrutability.
“Yeah. Are you ok?” She replied, wanting to direct the attention away from herself.
He chuckled lightly in reply, taking her action and tone as indication that he wasn't entirely welcomed, but she wasn't backing away.
"Chase Devineaux," he casually introduced himself, "you look like you had quite a night."
She noted his affable tone but felt his name sounded fabricated. She opted to supply her own concoction, inwardly applauding her own cleverness.
“I sure did. My name is Georgina Devonshirewick.” she responded slowly, her South Boston accent thickening.
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Devonshirewick," he indulged her. In peripheral vision, the men at the liquor store were still occasionally eying him. The conversation must continue, "What are you doing in Bath?"
“The pleasure’s all mine, Mr. Devineaux.” she said cheerily.. “I was enjoying the shops and then I’m off to the library for a romance novel conference. I don’t really write novels, just diary entries but I figure a workshop will help me come up with good stuff in case anybody ever reads it. Care to join me?”
"Library," he acknowledged verbally, but his mind calculated its distance from the bridge and how likely it would be for him to exit the location as soon as-- Did she say 'romance novel' conference?
He looked back questioningly at the green-haired Georgina, the name she gave him was already odd, was she now playing him?
"Romance novel conference?"
“Yeah, you know...books.” she chuckled. “Anyways, there’s lectures on any subject you can think of. Historical, contemporary, arranged marriage stuff. All that. Most of my diary entries are pirate or space themed but the lectures will help me branch out. You write any of that stuff? Your name sounds kinda like the authors of the novels.”
"I read, but no, I don't write," he returned her smile, "you just don't strike me as the type..."
To the east, a man in a tweed suit came out of the corner bistro, walked to a bend in the street and called a cab. His actions attracted the attention of the liquor store loiterers and after a brief discussion, they decidedly followed the man in tweed.
Chase took a natural breath as they passed.
"Do you need a ride to the library?" He offered his accidental savior something in return.
She zipped up her leather jacket, considering the offer. His physicality indicated a potential struggle for her in a match, but he had a genial manner she liked. Then she remembered her rental car.
“Thanks, but I'm all set. I need to practice my British driving cuz the cops here are real hardasses about which side of the road you’re on.” she informed him, rolling her eyes. She grabbed her bags and stood up. “It’s been real, Mr. Devineaux.” she said warmly before walking off.
That was pleasant -- strange -- but pleasant. As she disappeared from sight, he looked back at his phone to text another ACME agent that he was cleared for rendezvous. When he stood, a black leather tote caught his attention.
Inside was a Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight with the initials 'EB' etched on a curve. Somewhat unsettled, Chase considered his position and potential sniping shots, but he realized he was mostly safe here. Taking the ACOG scope back to ACME London, he would later discover that 'EB' stood for 'Eartha Brute'. And while he was tempted, he never added 'Romance Novels' to her existing dossier.
Eartha basked in the sun rays as she walked toward her car along Northgate Street. She felt pleased with her name concealment and wished the boss had witnessed her cunning. Her thoughts returned to her cluster of bags, which felt notably lighter. A quick inventory revealed that her new clothing and books were in tow. However, the tote that carried her prized Trijicon was not. She recalled setting it down by the bench and dashed off to retrieve it.
A few minutes later, Eartha breathlessly approached the site of her encounter, finding the tote absent. The scope, a gift, had provided immeasurable help on heists.
“MOTHER-!!!” she roared, kicking the wooden bench.
Her thoughts then turned to the well-dressed and mysterious “Chase Devineaux” and she wondered if running the name at work would turn up any leads. Regardless, she felt the moniker had a catchy ring to it and would surely be of use as a character suggestion for novelists at the conference.
Boston Harbor’s piscatory breeze gave way to wafts of grease and cigarettes tinged with an endnote of stale urine as Dr. Tom Bradlee approached the “Little Poland” section of Andrew Square. He surveyed the densely populated area while parking. The faded beige of unmarked buildings backdropped the loud aesthetic of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. Cliques of adolescent girls, gossiping in Baltic languages, masked the privation in their pretty features with bright makeup and hair resourcefully tinted with flavored drink mix. The small group of Vietnamese youths rebelled against parents with piercings and garish attire. While looking for the orphanage, Tom came upon a lioness den of rotund European widows in gaudy swimsuits. Their plastic lawn seats blocked the sidewalk. His attempt to circumvent them proved unsuccessful.
“Where you go?” inquired one, replacing what she lacked in grammar with volume.
“Saint Brigid’s” he replied. The matriarchs digested this, tensing with disapproval.
“Ok. I take you.” she brusquely informed him, clutching his arm. The entire group escorted him down the street.
“ They have only girls, you know. And, I tell you this, daughters today are not the same quality. She gonna make trouble for you.” one warned.
“She already make trouble for him!” shouted another.
“When I was daughter, you never see nice father search for me on streets like dog for food.” another one chimed in.
This tirade against the hypothetical daughter continued until they reached the historic building. He thanked them and they marched away, immediately recapping the event.
A half hour later, Tom sat in the main office with Lisa Shay, the volunteer director at the orphanage. Having grown up in Boston, her tough accent permeated the space like spilled perfume.
“I never heard of sports psychology before, Dr. Bradlee. Sounds kinda queer. You really think this study’s gonna help with these kids?” she asked dubiously, then regretted her tone. Despite her disbelief, this experiment could mean a freed bed.
“If we saw any negative effects, the project would cease immediately. However, that is unlikely. Similar studies have been conducted before on a smaller scale with street kids. Not only were the children provided with a higher quality of life but valuable developmental information is uncovered each time. That information can be useful for the coaching and support of future Olympians.” he replied calmly, noting her sudden excitement at that last part. “May I look through her file?”
“I gotta be honest, Agnieszka causes a lot of trouble.” she said, handing over the re-used manila folder. “The only reason we’ve kept her is because she has protected the other girls from outside violence, which used to be an issue. Now they need less supervision when outside which means the nuns get more done inside. We can’t afford janitors.”
Tom read through Agnieszka Mikolajczak’s list of offenses. Although advanced for a small child, it was nothing too shocking for him, given his extensive searching. A certain amount of aggression was needed for viable candidates and he used juvenile records for his leads. He was more surprised at the mental image of a little girl fighting off adult assailants.
“She have any hobbies besides sports? It says here she likes reading.” he pointed.
“Oh, yes. That is only partially true, unfortunately. She learned early and within a year was devouring books. The Bible. Mythology. The nuns were wicked pleased until, one night, one was cleaning and they found a whole stash under her bed of torn-out pages from all the romantic parts of the books. You being a fancy mind doctor, you probably got some explanation. But the nuns were very upset. They worry about when she gets older…”she trailed off.
He nodded in understanding. There were explanations for the orphaned girl’s fascination, but he didn’t have time to go into them. Instead, he asked to meet her. Ms. Shay returned in a few minutes with the child. He turned, taking in an unexpected muscular convexity and light green cast to her hair. The girl, with her triangulated build and tsunami eyes, gazed at him with bald curiosity. Visits from outsiders meant a potential ease of scarcity. Sometimes they resulted in attention. And, on rare occasions, they meant a quality of life upgrade with blankets or fruit. He warmly introduced himself, deciding not to keep her on tenterhooks.
“I work at an academy for children. We could use a strong girl like you around. You would stay at our residence and have access to our amenities. There’s a gym and a library. Other strong kids. You’d make lots of friends.” he added. “Would you like that?”
She nodded once. He decided to cement matters.
“‘Agnieszka’ is too difficult for the other kids to pronounce. We could shorten it or give you a nickname. You choose. What would you like to be called?” he waited patiently. She softened her gaze, thinking of the heroine of a romance novel she had stolen earlier this year.
“I want to be called Eartha.” she replied, her voice having a combination of Lisa’s dropped ‘R’s and the Polish nuns’ choked vowels.
“Eartha, it is.” he affirmed, taking her hand.
Separate names with a comma.