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(Needless to say they are not obtained from staff rooms or venues in which her presence is expected, or even desired.)
She takes a while – a little longer than usual maybe – looking for a suitable mark. She hopes she isn’t losing her touch. What terrible, traitorous little thoughts. Once she’s picked him, she trails him through the streets, hands in her pockets, chin tucked into the rolled neck of her sweater. She looks particularly innocent today, in chunky knitwear and patent brogues, a colourful bobble hat pulled down low over her eyes.
It’s a classic, and she executes it with a practiced ease that suggests she’s done it many times before. It’s as easy for her as breathing, dropping her wallet where the mark behind her – picked for practically reeking of decency, amongst other things – will pick it up and give chase. To a particular place that she has taken great care in picking for the moment. Busy, but not to the point where the scene she’s about to act out will cause too much of a disturbance. One where she could slip away easily if something were to go awry.
But be serious – this is Martie Zelle. It’s an art form. Sit back, cross your arms, watch the master create.
‘Excuse me, miss?’ it’s music to her ears, the foreign accent, the soft tone of his voice, the slight tremor. He’s nervous. Martie swings around to face him, the high points of her cheeks flushed pink from the cold, a little red spot on the tip of her nose. Little blonde curls have escaped her hat to brush sweetly against the slow curve of her jaw. Her jaw tightens, but it’s almost imperceptible. She smiles, but she looks frightened. Like this isn’t the first time a stranger has stopped her in the street.
‘You dropped your wallet,’ and he holds it out to her, smiling, careful, like he’s trying to calm something fractious. Martie is gratitude incarnate, thank you thank you thank you, and he’s cocking his head to the side, eyes wide as saucers.
Until: ‘there was fifty dollars in here,’ she says, looking up at him, eyebrows furrowed, lips wobbling. ‘Did you take it out? I can’t believe you’d take it, then give me back my empty wallet!’ The man holds his hands up in surrender, and Martie goes in for the kill. ‘That was all I had for the next three weeks,’ she sobs, ‘how am I supposed to eat, now? I’ll be evicted! Oh god, oh god, oh god…’
People are starting to stare at the scene she’s making, at the pretty blonde girl with tears collecting in the corners of her eyes, the obvious trembling of her hands, the shrill pitch to her voice.
‘I’ll have to call the police,’ she says eventually, after a few pathetic little sniffles.
If his eyes were saucers before, they’re dinner plates now.
‘No need, no need,’ he says, and digs through his pockets. ‘I’m sorry.’ Martie’s face breaks into a smile as he scurries away, shoulders hunched. Like taking candy from a baby.
She walks a little way into the park, sits down at a spare bench – it’s pretty empty, it’s cold, a little drizzly, no one wants to sit out in the park on a day like today if they can help it – and lights a cigarette.
As soon as she hears it, Mim, she’s on high alert, but her only response is a long, pointed drag on her cigarette. She remembers quite well how he’d hated when she’d managed to barter cigarettes off the orderlies, when she’d talked him into sneaking off into the hedge maze so she could smoke them without anyone important finding out. She’d won them in poker matches, usually. The kind of poker games she hadn’t even had to control the deck to win – sweet, simpletons, the kind of people who worked on mental health wards – so terribly easy to swindle.
Which is what he’s saying now – Howell Jenkins, that poor soul she’d left with the smallest passing thought all those months ago, never mind all the hours they’d spent lost in their own delusions – still swindling people out of their hides, and she responds in the only way she knows how.
Martie leans back into the bench, crosses one leg over the top of the other in a wide, typically male stance that might’ve looked out of place on such a sweet girl, if it wasn’t for the expression dripping like poison all over her face.
She has such a lovely, delicate jaw, but it is snapped shut like a wild animal’s, a muscle feathering down the long line of it. She’s not quite sure why, but she’s desperate to get under his skin – to put a stop to that gently lilting Welsh accent that she’d come to, once upon a time, find somehow soothing, now tickling, mocking at her ears – so she waits until he comes a little closer, then exhales her cigarette smoke through her tightly pursed lips, right into his face. Most of it disperses in the soggy New York air before it can ever meet its mark, but the intention is there nonetheless. He knows she knows he hates cigarettes. It’s the opposite of an I come in peace gesture.
Perhaps it’s a little unkindled spark of guilt, making her act so bullish, but she won’t indulge it. Her lips split open into the kind of smile that makes normal people’s stomachs turn, but Howell will know better than to react the way she’d like him to. Still, no harm in trying.
‘It’s a lifestyle, not a habit, Howell,’ she croons, her head tilted to the side – either a curious little puppy or a predator intent on devouring its prey, take your pick - ‘s’not something I can break out of.’
If she’d been surprised by his appearance here at any point, she hadn’t let it show. There’s only a vague sense of unease about the whole encounter, as she wafts her free hand around, pokes her fingers clumsily through the smoke rings she’s blowing, ‘unlike that hellhole we met in upstate. I’m glad to see you’re not still rotting away inside those big concrete walls. How’d you get out?’
There is a slight stress on the ends of her syllables that is the only thing that suggests she’s not, as she would want most people to believe, native to New York City. It is usually not so obvious – but she doesn’t need to make many allowances for the man in front of her. He knows her name was Marit, knows she was from the Netherlands, knows all the terrible, horrible things she’d divulged in group therapy sessions about her dissolute childhood in the slums.
As well as the things she’d suspected – that she was from somewhere else entirely, where there was magic and dragons and boys stuck in birds bodies, where she was a cat, and a fox, and a crocodile.
Perhaps she is even pleased to see him, this boy who’d believed in magic just as much as she had. Far be it from her to make him think it, though.
@ HOWELL P. JENKINS / plssss, he is perfect!! ♥
If he’d been even halfway to the man in front of her now when they’d been wearing grey sweatshirts and hospital issued slippers together she might have found herself seeking other methods of entertainment – might not have spent so long teaching him how to play poker. He’d never had the knack for it. Didn’t have that killer instinct, the savage streak, the ever-insistent urge to go in for the kill. As he stands in front of her, dithering, cheeks puckering, she imagines kissing him in the hedge maze instead, frost on her fingers.
It’s silly, but something in her thrills at the way he talks to her, like he wishes his words were made of acid, so he could drip them all over her, corrode her away into the concrete underfoot. So he could pretend he’d never met her. That they’d never bonded over scalded oatmeal and lukewarm apple juice. Martie sits up a little straighter. There’s a giddy, excited noise in the back of her throat begging for release, so she lets it go, and only just stops short of clapping her hands together.
‘I knew there was a conman in you all along, waiting to get out!’ she’s a little softer than she had been before – but with her nothing is ever really what it seems. ‘We both know neither of us is capable of functioning in normal society. I suppose conning Doctor Triplett into classing you sane and fit for society was just as good an escape as mine. Took a little longer, though.’ She’s always talking too much, Martie. ‘How long have you been out?’
Howell is all elegance, and grace, a foil to her brash, boyish arrogance, as he crams himself into the small space beside her. She’s practically giddy all over again. Never would have imagined he’d ever sit down next to her when the option to up and run was right there in front of him, waving its arms in his face. Still, she supposes they are friends. After a fashion.
She smiles and smiles, and leans a little closer, lifts up her free hand and flicks him on the chin, before conceding the space and scooting away down the bench. She bends down and stubs her cigarette out on the wet floor, then turns to face him, puts her feet up on the bench and tucks her knees under her chin. Sitting like this she looks like a little girl, especially with her bobbled hat and patent shoes. It’s an off-putting image for someone who knows her as well as he does.
‘No little bird boys,’ she says blandly, her face suddenly pale, blank. She’s staring at him almost like she’s looking right through him. At something no one else will ever be able to see. ‘No wizards.’ Martie shakes her head. Snaps back into reality. It’s a tiny, almost imperceptible motion, but she has no doubt he’ll have catalogued it away somewhere. ‘Just me, charming money out of people who don’t deserve it.’
She’s almost a Robin Hood kind of girl – if only she was the slightest bit scrupulous about who she stole from.
‘What about you?’ she recovers, smoothly, ‘you figured out any of your spells, yet?’
@ HOWELL P. JENKINS / kjsdhf she's a troll