Warnings: Violence, blood/bruises, sexual references
Nina didn’t like to dance around an issue. Normally when she had a problem with someone, it was either worth confronting them or not worth it at all. But when the issue was suspected murder , caution seemed like the wisest course of action.
She’d always had a feeling that ‘Bella Goth’ was a calculated persona. The mask had slipped a few times but never enough to give her a good picture of what was going on underneath. Still it was hard to see her as a killer.
“What is it you keep looking at over there?”
“Oh! Um, the painting!” Nina was a little out of her element; her sister had taken all the lying genes. “It’s nice.”
“I had that commissioned for Mortimer as a first anniversary present,” Bella sighed. “I was so young.”
“Mr. Tricou painted it, right?”
“Yes, may he rest in peace.”
“Though honestly, I wouldn’t say it’s his best work. I don’t think it looks much like me. For goodness sake, he put straps on my dress! Straps!” Bella’s trapezius muscles tensed up at the very thought. “His ghost seems to feel the same way. He’s always messing with that thing.”
“Oh?” Nina tried to sound casual. “His ghost does that?”
Bella yawned. “He hasn’t moved on yet for some reason. I have no idea why, necromancy has never been my forte.”
“Yeah, you’re good with, um... potions aren’t you?”
“I like to think so. I also inherited my mother’s green thumb, a gift she unfortunately squandered. But it goes hand in hand with potion making. I have trouble trusting ingredients I didn’t harvest myself.”
Nina cringed. “Oh, really?”
“In fact I just made a batch of magically spiced sugar for the holidays. Could you use some?”
“Oh no thanks, um, Servo’s handling all the baking now.”
“How is that man? I haven’t seen him ages. Does he even go out in public anymore?”
“Yeah, just not in the sunlight. He’s friends with your brother and the Tricous. He even scored an invite to some big fancy party.”
“Jennicor’s Ball? That’s lovely, but it’s not what I would call public.”
“Well, he’s not really comfortable around people who stare and poke at him. Which is most people.” Now Nina’s trapezius was tensing up.
“He’s not comfortable or you’re not comfortable?”
“I don’t particularly care for crowds either, but I’m not ashamed of him if that’s what your implying.” Nina restrained herself from punctuating this on Bella’s spinal column.
“I’m sure you’re not. I just worry about those servos. So easily exploited; I knew they would be from the moment of their invention.”
“You have a phonecall, ma’am. It’s the science museum; they say your husband blew something up.”
“…while cavorting with a young blonde!” the maid added.
“I’ll take this call in the other room,” Bella said, sliding off the table. “Thank you, Brigit.”
So this was the woman she’d heard so much about. That should have been obvious from the look of restrained terror on her face when she noticed Nina in the room.
“Hi, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.”
Not unexpectedly, the maid didn’t shake her hand. “I know you who you are. You’re the alien girl’s sister.”
“Yeah, that’s me. I’m an alien, too. And you’re the woman who sabotaged my sister’s engagement.” The pieces had been easy to put together after hearing Donald’s side of the story.
“All I did was tell the truth to someone who’d been deceived. And then look what she did to him!”
Admittedly, things did look pretty shady from that angle, but Nina wasn’t going to waste an explanation on her. “Mr. Big is lucky he got off the planet before I got a hold of him.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” she said, voice shaking. “If your people were going to abduct me, they would have already. But they won’t. They wouldn’t want me.” There was a wistfulness in her last phrase that almost could have induced a pang of sympathy.
Almost. “I don’t abduct people; I’m a little more direct. And what you did to my sister is not the only problem I have with you. You took advantage of, tied up, and robbed my best friend and you bullied my boyfriend for something he has no control over.”
Brigit scoffed. “Boyfriend? I hope you’re not talking about the robot.”
“Yes, I’m talking about Servo.”
“Seems more like a sex slave to me.”
“I have a feeling this all one big misunderstanding, but nonetheless I’m going to let him sweat it out a bit before I head over there. Thank you for letting me know, Elden.”
“You keep that ice pack on there; don’t make me do all the work.”
“I’m fired aren’t I?”
“I told you before when you fisticuffed that unsavory charlatan: I don’t condone violence. Especially not in my presence.”
“I’m sorry, Bella.” Common sense said to leave it at that, but Nina figured there wasn’t much else to lose. Except possibly her life. “I just don’t understand why she works for you. She probably thinks you’re a freak.”
Bella smiled, though her eyes were sad. “Oh I’m sure she does, but I take that word as a compliment.”
“But she hates everything you stand for.”
“I’ve known Brigit for a long time. She was raised to fear all things supernatural -- raised to fear everything really -- but I managed to instill a little trust in her when I delivered her child. In a graveyard.” Bella sat down, mortar and pestle in hand. The contents looked like purple artichoke dip. “I hired her because I know she’s had a rough life, and I have my suspicions that her life now is... even rougher. I’m trying to help her as much as she’ll let me, but she’s a hard one to get close to.”
“I admire your compassion, but I have no sympathy for her. She’s a monster.”
“I have a lot of pity for monsters.” Bella reached into her concoction and scooped up a big glob of purple stuff with her bare hand, which she then preceded to smear on Nina’s face. It smelled like artificial grape flavoring. “But I can understand why someone wouldn’t. So, I’ll consider this the second of...what is it my father would say? Three strikes?”
“Thank you, Bella.”
Nina really didn’t want to believe she was a murderer.
“I can’t believe he hasn’t found us yet.”
“White bread and processed cheese are lacking in the essential nutrients for critical thinking,” he whispered back. “Are you sure you didn’t program that camera to explode?”
“You really think I could program anything to explode? Intentionally?”
“You’ve surprised me before.”
Dina was avoiding eye contact in these close quarters but she could feel his eyes (and steady breath) right on her. “Well, I didn’t do it.”
There was an awkward silence. Awkward on her part anyway; Mortimer seemed only mildly concerned about the threat of being arrested, and completely unfazed at Dina being in his personal space. Or that he was in hers.
“You smell minty.”
It was an observation she’d heard many times before but never in such an inappropriate context. “It’s my perfume!” Most of the time it was hardly noticeable, but the scent got stronger in times of fear, anger, or arousal. Or all three.
“No, I can smell that too. Were you trying to mask the mintiness?”
“It’s just got mint undertones!” Dina was too taken aback to lie smoothly. Surely anyone who’d studied up on aliens would know the implications anyway. “And I use mint scented bodywash, too! It was on sale!”
“It makes sense now why the vampires wouldn’t bite you. It’s a pleasant scent and flavor but I’d imagine actual blood consumption would be like drinking mouth wash.” Never had creepier words been uttered in such a cheerful and outgoing fashion. “And that does explain Michael’s infatuation.”
“What?” she asked, in spite of herself.
“He does love his shamrock shakes.”
The audacity fried her brain to the point of not even caring anymore. All she could do was latch on to the least alarming part of his words. “Has Mike mentioned me? Lately?”
He smirked knowingly and consented to the change of topic. “Once or twice.”
“Does he hate me now?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Does he think I hate him?”
He raised an eyebrow. “I think he’s a little confused as to what your feelings are.”
“I’m a little confused, too.”
“Well whatever they turn out to be, please don’t lead him on or play games. He’s a good man.” For whatever reason this made him chuckle. “Infallibly good, and he doesn't deserve that.”
“Yeah.” Her heart was no longer pounding in her head, but her senses were foggy. Taking a deep breath only made it worse. “He was the first man I ever really trusted enough to let into my heart.”
“Among other things I’m sure.”
Elden Hick may have had a few weaknesses, but his mind was as sharp as cheddar. Not that it took much brainwork to figure out who of the two patrons that day had been causing trouble in his museum. He also knew the local police force was only good for fining mildly disruptive partiers. So instead of calling them, he’d locked down the place and called someone with authority.
“Where is he?”
“I herded them into the photobox up yonder. Figured that’d keep them outta trouble ‘til you and the boss man got here.”
“Hello, darling!” Mortimer always lit up at the sight of the love of his life. Always.
“Hello, my love. I should have known you’d try something like this.” Bella kept her cool so well the room temperature dropped a few degrees. “I called Parker and he’s agreed not to press charges as long as you replace the camera and put Kane back where you found him.”
“What do you mean?” Now he was looking a little worried.
Kane was gone without a trace.
“Has there ever been any evidence of a haunting in this exhibit?”
Elden shrugged. “A few rumors, ma’am, but that’s all nonsense. Mama says robots don’t have souls.”
Bella threw Nina a sympathetic look before replying. “I disagree with your mama, Elden, but now is not the time to debate that. Kane did take an interest in the occult when he was active, and something was awakened here today. A presence. This isn’t my kind of mysticism so I can’t be sure what it is... but I can feel it.” She put a hand to her temple. “I knew it was a bad idea to put him on display like this.”
“I just thought it’s what he would have wanted.” Parker Langerak was standing in the archway. Gone were his cargo shorts and sideways baseball cap, as well as the carefree crooked smile.
Hiding behind him was a little girl dressed in white. From what Dina could catch of her face she bore a striking resemblance to Parker and his sister, but the color of her eyes and the mole on her cheek brought to mind a different person.
Mortimer rushed to greet him. “We didn’t steal him, Parker. He came alive and framed us.”
“You stole my keys,” Elden said. “And my sandwich!”
“I was trying to get his activation code.”
“Science! Obviously. But we put him right back, I swear!”
“Why didn’t you just ask me if you wanted to poke around in here?”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Morty said, then after a look from Bella added, “And I assumed you wouldn’t want me to desecrate him.”
“You’d be right.”
“But I didn’t steal him. We haven’t left the museum!”
“I believe you, Morty.” Parker turned away from the empty case. “It’s just...man, I can’t believe I’ve lost both of them now. Sure he was a total jerk, but he was activated by Kay and that kinda makes him family. I feel like I’ve affronted my sister’s memory or something.”
Bella put an arm around him and motioned for Mortimer to come around on his other side. “Parker, he’s awake and functional. That’s the best thing you could have hoped for. He couldn’t have gotten very far on ectoplasm alone; we’ll find him.”
“I doubt it. I’m sure he’s abandoned me too.” He went a little dead in the eyes. “And once this hits the media there’s gonna be another anti-robot panic. Great.”
“It won’t. Nobody in this room will say a word.” Bella glanced around. “Will we?”
“Of course not, Bella.”
“I’ll find him, Parker,” Mortimer said. “I promise. I’ll invent a robot-tracker if I have to.”
Nina snuck around them as they continued to discuss the best course of action, over to where her sister was sulking on the other side of the room.
“What is this really about, Deeds?” she whispered. “Does this have something to do with Servo?”
“You think all robots are related? Last I checked your man still had his head.”
“There are two robots in that picture and he just said both of them were lost.”
“It’s not him.”
“His old eye, the little piece he has left, is that exact same shade of green!”
“It’s not him, we checked the codes.”
They were interrupted before Dina could bungle a sciency explanation. “Hey, I know you two! Senior year, right?”
He lowered his voice. “You really think I’d forget the redhead who rocked my world?”
It was then Dina noticed the grassy green eye watching them from behind the inactivated servo case. “Er - is that your daughter?”
“Yes! That’s my baby girl.” For a second his beaming grin was back. “Can you come and say ‘hi’, Kaylynn?”
There was no response.
Parker shrugged. “She’s shy. Doesn’t get it from my side of the family, I tell ya.”
Dina peeked around the case. “Hiiiii!”
The girls were dismissed to go home, as they were apparently of no use to Bella and Mortimer’s plan of action. As they were leaving, Dina heard Mortimer call out her name. Her first name.
“Dina! I still owe you money.”
“Already stole it,” she said.
“Just kidding!” she added. The look on his face was cherishable. “But I could have.”
“I’m sorry things got out of hand today, but thank you for your help. I could not have done it without you.”
“Eh, it was kinda fun,” she said, taking the money. “Thanks.”
“I’m sorry, Bella.”
“There was just no room in there. It was a one tile space with a chair in the middle, and I figured he would be chivalrous and let me have it but then we both sat down at the time and it was awkward and we were both kind of exhausted and stressed so propriety wasn’t really a priority, but nothing happened, I swear!”
Bella rolled her eyes. “I know.”
Acknowledging the issue would be acknowledging she was a threat, and Bella was not going to give her that modicum of power. Because the truth was that she wasn’t a threat, and now Dina could only feel stupid for ever thinking that might be possible.
“What excuse could Bella have for keeping around most evil plant in existence?” The killer-Bella theory was unravelling pretty fast, but Nina knew she could rely on her sister to pick apart the qualms she had left.
“Uh...science?” Dina said. “Why would Bella kill Mr. Tricou?”
“Maybe they had an affair. He painted her --”
Dina cut her off. “No. Absolutely not. There is no infidelity in Bella and Mortimer’s marriage. They are soulmates, they belong together, and if they can’t make it, there’s no hope for the rest of us!”
“Maybe he wasn’t fulfilling her needs--”
“You said yourself that she’s a pacifist. You really think she’d murder someone?”
“Maybe that’s why she magically poisoned him instead of feeding him to her cowplant?”
Dina shook her head. “I don’t believe it. Bella’s a killer, Servo’s a killer. What next? Olive’s a killer?”
“Who thinks Servo’s a killer?”
“Nobody! Not anymore.”
Nina thoughts went back to Parker’s dead sister and her missing robots. “Does this have something to do with the felony you just committed? Why didn’t you mention this to me or more importantly, him?”
“I’m sorry!” She sounded sincere. “Mortimer had a theory, but he was completely wrong. If I’d said anything, both of you would have lost sleep over nothing.”
“He’s not a child, Deeds. It’s not your job to shield him from the big, scary world. He’s been in it, and he has a right to know these things.”
“Yeah, well if it was me, I wouldn’t want to know.”
It was truly fantastic to come home to a hot meal after a long, cold day.
Servo had been even more insecure about kissing since the fangs had come in, but so far there hadn’t been any accidents. He was too packed with sensors for that to happen, though that alertness served to only enhance his anxiety.
“Did you get in a fight today?” was the first thing he said to her after she walked through door.
“How can you tell?”
“I don’t know. You’re a little disheveled.” He stroked her messy hair and the side of her face where the bruise had been, even though he’d have no way of knowing that. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s no big deal.”
He looked her in the eye. “It was about me, wasn’t it?”
“How can you tell that?”
“I can always tell when something is my fault and I feel guilty for some reason!”
“It’s not your fault I’ve got anger issues. If anything you’ve been helping me use up that energy on better things. I know it was wrong, but this maid was just so nasty it pushed me over the edge!”
He tilted his head. “You got into a fight with Brigit?”
“She called you my sex slave.”
“I’m gonna eat in my room,” said Dina, slinking off.
He relaxed. “The woman who calls me ‘it’ said that? Strange. I’d have expected something more dehumanizing from her, like ‘toy’ or ‘vibrator’.” Had his arms been smaller, he might have crossed them. “I’m guessing you threw the first punch?”
“It was a slap. Backhanded. My ring hit her the wrong way, sliced her face like a cheese-grater, and things took off from there. She was tougher than she looked!”
“How does she even know about us?”
“I don’t know. I guess she must have been eavesdropping when Bella was talking about you.” That didn’t quite mesh with the phone call, but it was the only thing that made sense.
“What did Bella have to say about me?”
“Basically the same thing in politer terms.” Nina winced. “She thinks I should be shouting about my vampire robot boyfriend from the rooftops.”
“We’ve been on the roof. The shouting didn’t come until later though.”
Nina laughed. “I guess she didn’t hear it.”
“You don’t need to defend my agency, Nina. You’re the one who inspired me to find a life outside the laundry cupboard.” He gently pulled her into a hug. “And believe me, if I saw the two of us walking down the street, my first thought would not be ‘that poor fellow must be so put upon’.”
He sighed. “In fact, I’d probably assume that you were under vampire hypnosis.”
“We should try that.”
“Are you serious?” He was hesitant, but not repulsed.
“Yeah. Why not? What’s the point of having that power if you’re not gonna use it?”
“You want me to hypnotize you? Into doing what?”
“I don’t know. I just want to see what it feels like.” She pushed him down into a chair, or rather applied pressure to his shoulders until he sat down, as he was pretty unmovable without compliance on his part. “Just an experiment.”
“Would this make you feel better about the whole slave thing?”
“Exactly,” she said, sitting on his lap. It wasn’t the most comfortable lap in the world, but for a short period of time it really wasn’t unpleasant.
"You really trust me that much."
“All right then.”
He didn’t command her to do anything, just let the purple smoke cloud her head for a few seconds before switching it off.
“Nina, are you okay?”
“Yes, master,” she attempted to say in a monotone voice, but couldn’t finish without dissolving into giggles.
To be continued on another day...
But for now, please comment!
Author’s Notes: Cut text is from “It Had to Be You” by Motion City Soundtrack.