I grew up in and around Baltimore. Most of the time it was just my brothers and me. Dad was perpetually busy at the University and Mom had remarried and moved off to Boston with the rest of the brood. That's us Millers, dysfunctional to the core.
It was my last day on the east coast for a while, perhaps forever. So, of course I headed for the city.
There are three places I love to go when I'm visiting the old Inner Harbor Area, and since this was my farewell excursion, I had to hit all three. The first stop was Fort McHenry, which somehow the city has managed to keep in fairly good repair. I looked at the cannons and wondered what it would have been like to lived there; to see the battle that inspired Sir Francis Scott Key; to be inspired. Inspiration is running low these days.
Next site was Poe's grave. Edgar Allen Poe, and odd man if ever there was one. I've read some of his works, I guess growing up in the area it's almost required reading. I bought a small bottle of brandy and left it there: a toast to his memory and the Raven.
Ravens have always been considered to be messengers and far too smart to do ‘normal’ bird-like things. Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked them. They just don’t fit the mold. Even when you refer to a group of them its something ominous. You may have a pride of lions, a pack of wolves, but when it comes to Ravens, you have a conspiracy.
Sometimes it feel as if the fates have conspired against me... if I believed that. These days I’m believing very little. The three people I care the most about are missing, on the other side of the continent. Tomorrow, I’m heading out from BWI. My gear is already packed, and all that’s left are the goodbyes.
My final stop was an empty pier near the Aquarium. The pier is kind of a sad place to some. It was the final docking place of the USS Constellation.
She was sister ship to the USS Constitution and had a rather impressive career of her own, but she always lived in the shadow of her sister. I saw her once when I was very young, before a fire took her. Now all that's left are the pictures, and a scarred old pier with a decaying visitor's center. Kinda makes me think of my family.
Seven kids, 2 sets of parents and it seems I’m the only one who’s worried enough about the boys to do anything about it: something that should be preserved that's just been left to rot. Memories are all that seem to exist now, a faded photograph and some burn marks from all the fighting.
Well, since I was due to head out in the morning and I don't like being downtown by myself I turned to leave. Besides, I was getting way too maudlin for my liking. As I turned, I saw an all too familiar brooding face: Aaron. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up as he smiled at me.
"Jess... I heard you were leaving, figured I'd find you here," he said.
His expression was too normal, his words held just the right edge of socialness that if you didn't know us, didn't know our history you'd think we were old friends.
"Aaron," I said, fighting to keep an air of civility between us.
“So, you were just going to leave without saying good-bye?” he asked, his tone almost sounded hurt.
Now let me tell you something about Aaron and me. I’ve dated a lot of guys, a lot. For the most part it just never seems to work out: I’m not what they’re looking for or we’re too good of friends for them to chance ruining it. Not that I really mind, because in almost every case, we usually end up as friends and that’s find with me.
Aaron was one of the few that I had to break up with and he did not take it well at all.
“I’m not the one with the restraining order,” I told him. I probably shouldn’t have been so curt, but the last time I saw him, the boys were with me and I’m trying really hard not to think about them.
“Its your brothers isn’t it?” he asked, that hurt tone coming through loud and clear. “Its always your brothers. I’m so tired of them coming between us.’
I froze, a chill running up my spine. “Aaron, the only time they came between us was when you were coming after me with a baseball bat.”
He smiled at that. The little bastard actually smiled.
“And they aren’t here any more...” Aaron told me as he moved slightly closer. That’s when I saw the Louisville Slugger he’d hidden behind him.
Now I work for Citywide Ambulance service as a paramedic and one of the things they issue is a panic button. Its supposed to sound an alarm and bring in back-up. It’s not anything near as fancy as the DocWagon folks provide, but we do try and look after our own.
As I backed away from Aaron, I hit the button and nothing happened. I’d forgotten: I no longer worked for Citywide - Baltimore, and my job with Citywide - Seattle was on the opposite coast and two weeks away.
I could tell by Aaron’s smile, he’d already taken that into consideration.
As I backed away, I could hear the ravens.
Aaron smiled: I was running out of pier. My heart was racing as I tried to remember everything the boys had taught me.
“Get inside his swing and he can’t use his weapon against you,” Matt’s voice was calm as I remembered the fighting lessons he’d given me.
“Go for the weak points, the nerve centers,” I could hear Alan’s voice now. He didn’t have to teach me the areas to strike, I’d learned that in anatomy.
I drew a deep breath, but I couldn’t keep the tremble out of it as he pulled back to strike. As he swung I hit the dirt and tried to come up under his swing, but he’d managed to bring the bat down. I gasped as it connected with shoulder. Without thinking I changed from ducking to tackling. Where Matt’s tactics failed, Nick’s took over.
Nick was yet another failed romance. He’d ended up being almost another member of the family, another brother, who taught me how to take care of myself.
The fighting style he taught me was one he called ‘Gator Rock’. From the outside it looked like nothing by mindless thrashing, but from the inside it was a careful exercise in trying to match up all your hard bony parts to all your opponent’s soft fleshy ones. Or as Alan had said, ‘go for the weak points and nerve centers.’
I knew I must have hit something, cause he went slack and stopped screaming. Gasping for air, I rolled out from under him. I could tell he was having trouble breathing, but so help me, for once in my life, I didn’t care. I went to the call box and waited for the police to arrive. The paramedics glowered at me when they arrived because I’d done nothing to help the ‘victim.’
It was the second time the man had tried to kill me, and so help me, I was not going to give him another opportunity.
The Star wasn’t too happy with my performance either, until they ran the background checks on both of us. One look at the restraining order and their attitude changed. They told me I could file the report in the morning, but I’d be gone by then, so I went downtown and filed the report. It was nice to know that by the time he was released, I’d be long gone.
As I followed the police to the station, I could see the ravens circling overhead: a conspiracy is in the air...