YWO > YLSP Ch 3
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|07-23-2012, 01:49 AM||View Post #1 (Link) YLSP Ch 3|
Join Date: Jul 2012
Times Thanked: 15
We had walked straight into the middle of the island, into the whirling, confused ghetto that made it up. It truly was a kind of turf war between the quarters of the island, with apartment complexes, storefronts, factories and tiny office buildings banged together in a rough maelstrom of sprawling facilities and rundown, squat, grey buildings. Even the people seemed darker here; they seemed to be far more world weary than their ages would have suggested. An understanding of human behavior and the harshness of a world that didn’t tolerate much disrespect haunted the eyes of every islander who loitered about these streets. Here, I felt at home.
“Are we almost there?” I asked, eyeing a tiny bakery that had had its window smashed. The owner had done a quick fix up with some duct tape and trash bags, like the deli I used to order my bacon egg and cheese from every day before school. I smiled.
Valentina nodded, striding purposefully along the cracked and dirty concrete as if she were somehow above it all. But then, who wouldn’t believe they were? Even the inhabitants of this parallel world that nearly every city had thought they had what it takes to bring them out of poverty and out of the slums. I know I did, back in my days of naiveté.
“The medical supply center we’re going to see is called UMed; you may be able to see it just a few blocks from here,” she said, pointing ahead of us. “See the blue banner? Anyway, it’s important around here, since there tends to be higher crime rates here than in the rest of the island. We could rake in serious cash with an expansion so long as we get it for a good price, ya know?”
I nodded my agreement, but I was mostly taking in the sights, in wonder that the neat, pretty island even had a place like this. Even island cities populated by children had a ghetto, it seemed. I watched children and teens toss a beat up football through the rusted bottom rung of a fire escape, moving further and further back as they “scored” in order to prove who could make it from the farthest. This, too, made me smile; it made me reminisce on the days where we used to play basketball with the bottom rung of a fire escape just like that, in the spirit of fun and rivalry, just like them.
Of course, not all memories of poverty were too pleasant. Watching some kids play in a busted fire hydrant’s spray, I remembered when I had accidentally pegged a higher ranking Grey with a water balloon at the tender age of eight. And then I could remember little else following.
Valentina caught my wince, and unlike Caitlin, she opened her mouth to ask. “Not used to this environment?”
I barely repressed an impolite snort. “Just the opposite actually. I’m comfortable here.”
“Didn’t look like it.”
I didn’t answer, having no real retort for her hawkish perceptiveness, and similarly avian method of picking at you until she got what she needed. I decided instead to burrow underground, the prized worm escaping his predator the only way he knew how.
“I noticed you and the head honcho have the same last name. Any relation?”
She noted my evasive maneuver, no doubt, but the dark cloud that passed over her otherwise pretty face seemed to sidetrack her. “Mr. Forrero is my brother,” she said, turning up her nose at her own words.
“You didn’t look too comfortable there.”
She furrowed her brow at me, trying to determine if I was joking or not. I smiled, ending her debate there. I bowed my head apologetically, still smirking.
After a block-long pause in conversation, she was the first to speak. “I used to run this branch of PlayGear, along with a group of respected business thinkers that included Mr. Forrero.”
Used to? “Why do you call him Mr. Forrero? I bet you learned his first name at some point.” I tried to bite back that sarcastic quip but failed. “And what do you mean ‘used to’?”
Her face darkened more, the storm clouds no longer drifting and scowling, threatening precipitation, but roiling and thundering, threatening to follow through. “His name is Mr. Forrero, and I mean ‘used to’ as in ‘not anymore’,” she said, biting the ends off of all the words in her sharp, witty retort.
I nodded, not wanting to invoke her wrath with a similarly sharp response. I knew a touchy subject when I saw one; this usually happened when one defended so many of their own tender topics. In my defense, I had only really gone on the offense to repulse her from picking at my own dark truths.
I heard the familiar click-click-click of rickety bicycle wheels behind us. The clicks came rapidly, one after the other so quickly that they seemed to overlap one another and getting progressively louder.
“Hey, get the f-“
At the first hostile note the boy behind us made, I snapped into attack mode. El Jefe peeked out from his hiding place in my soul.
Whirling on the ball of one foot, I braced the other against the rubber of the front tire while gripping the handlebars in my hands and twisting them aside. The rider nearly tumbled over his bars at the sudden stop, but my twist sent him sprawling to the concrete, his rusted bicycle clanging on top of him.
He scrambled up, and the only thing I noted was his attire. He dressed in sweats and boots, as if he were expecting a fight today. He had found one.
Throwing his bike his aside, he swung wildly, angrily at my face in a wide, sloppy hook. I batted it high so that it passed above my head and reached out with my opposite hand to grab hold of his jaw by the hinges.
I knew the fight was won, if it had been a fight at all. He couldn’t even realign himself for another swing before I was squeezing the spots where his lower jaw met the upper with one hand. His mouth was forced open, and he sputtered and squeaked out of the stinking cavity.
I pulled my victim close and spoke into his face, “Next time, you die.”
My threat wasn’t an angry one. I had said it calmly, coldly, perfectly measured thanks to years of practice to provoke the desired reaction. He blanched and his lower lip trembled.
I shoved him away with the hand that had been clamped onto his face, and he staggered backward, stumbling over his bike and hitting the ground hard once more. I only watched him, stabbed him with my icy glare, while he hefted his bike and carried it away, not daring to stop sprinting to mount it until he was a block distant.
I turned back to Valentina, whom I expected to wear a mask of shock or fear, if not both. She wore neither, preferring to show her favored mask of composure, only this time with a slightly raised brow.
“Sorry,” I muttered, but I wasn’t sure an apology was necessary.
“It’s fine. It’s impressive, even, but let’s get the hell out of here. The humiliated can be spiteful.”
I doubted the ill-tempered coward would pose much of a threat to me, but I heeded her warning if only to get away from the spot where El Jefe had made his first unbidden appearance on the island.
.UMed had a little desk in the lobby with a young receptionist as well. It was very different from PlayGear thought, with its tiny desk in the tiny lobby of the tiny building. The grandeur of PlayGear’s lobby was missing, chandeliers replaced with hanging flakes of ceiling paint, massive marble pillars replaced by splintered wooden beams, and granite tiles replaced with dirty rugs over a creaky wooden floor. I wondered why such a sketchy building housed medical supplies, but shrugged it away. I didn’t honestly expect much from this part of town.
The receptionist spoke into the phone at her desk in rapid, sharp sentences. She didn’t seem so much industrious as simply unpleasant. The person on the other line seemed to be displeasing her somehow but I continued to get the impression that the receptionist simply didn’t like people.
Valentina and I waited politely for her to get off the phone, but when she did, she only looked up at us, irritated. “What?” The looks of annoyance twisted her features into an ugly grimace on an otherwise pretty face.
Valentina, all professionalism and stoicism, said, “We’re here to see Ms. Acevedo on behalf of PlayGear.”
She pursed her lips as if Valentina had said something hostile and pushed a button on her phone mount. “Ms. Acevedo, the PlayGear crew his here.”
We waited a moment, the receptionist holding the receiver to her ear, before Ms. Acevedo gave her a response. “Ms. Acevedo will see you now. Third floor.”
Valentina nodded and together we headed for the only elevator in the dimly lit lobby. There was only one button that should have had an arrow pointing up. However, the button had come loose so it pointed left instead, and the light that was supposed to come on only when you pushed it flickered on and off constantly. I pushed it and waited, listening for the familiar grinds and grunts of an old elevator struggling to make its way to you from behind the heavy steel doors.
“It don’t work. Take the steps,” the receptionist said, after watching us amusedly for a few moments.
I scowled at her, but Valentina only nodded and made her way up the steps. I followed quickly, not really wanting to be left alone with the ill-tempered desk chick. Ascending the stairs, we stepped over and around various stains and unidentified substances before we reached the third landing where the steps stopped. There was only one door on this landing, labeled “Angelina Acevedo”.
Valentina knocked and was almost immediately greeted with a “Come in.”
We stepped through the door.
“Hello,” Valentina said.
“Hello,” Ms. Acevedo responded automatically, not looking up from some papers on her desk.
“Hi,” I said, somewhat out of place.
She looked up and stared into my face, affording me a good look at hers. She had a plain face, her hair a pure shade of brown like her eyes. She had a pointy nose and chin and she was petite, smaller than Caitlin, yet looking as old as her with the precocious aura she gave off. She had seen a bit more of the world than a 12 or 13 year old ought to have. But that was how the inhabitants of the slums grew up anyway.
“Hi,” she said spritely. “I’m Angelina. And you are?”
She smiled and extended a hand, which I shook politely. I watched her eyes dance over my face before locking gazes with me. She flushed very slightly, and then moved to shake Valentina’s hand, almost as an afterthought.
“I’m Valentina Forrero.” Angelina nodded, but wasn’t really looking at her. “We spoke over the phone?”
“Yes, yes.” Now she turned toward Valentina, though even then her eyes lingered on me for a bit. I started to realize what was running through her head. “You were suggesting making UMed a PlayGear extension?”
“Rather, I wish for UMed to become a branch of Industry F, which PlayGear belongs to.”
I listened intently, trying to gather as much information as I could from their conversation.
“Which would put UMed under corporation control. Which means I get a smaller cut of the profits,” Angelina reasoned.
“Well, we already have someone in line to run UMed in your absence. I was thinking to buy UMed from you and leave you with a good sum of money and live worry free for the rest of your time on the island.”
Angelina shook her head. “I make good money here. If you want to buy me out of it, you’re talking big bucks.”
I frowned. “Rather than buy her out of it, why not have her run it, make the money, and a percentage of it can go to Industry F? With the proper financial backing, UMed could expand, maybe out of the ghetto and make several times what it makes now. Even subtracting a certain percentage, you’d make several times what you make now.”
Valentina eyed me carefully, her brows arched in surprise and interest.
“That sounds more reasonable. But how steep a percentage are we talking?”
“Fifty,” Valentina said immediately.
Angelina scoffed. “That’s ridiculous. You can’t cut my profits in half if I don’t even know that an expansion will be successful.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. Valentina didn’t seem to be willing to debate the rates.
“How about,” I began slowly, “we start with a smaller percentage. Let’s say five? And as UMed is expanded and the income increases, we can increase the rates until you reach a certain goal, the end result being a fifty percent cut for Industry F.”
Angelina seemed ready to argue, but when she looked at me, I gave my most charming smile. She smiled uncertainly back, but the longer I held it, the wider her own grew. “Fine, let’s talk the specifics, then.”
Valentina seemed a little less stoic when we left UMed only an hour later. We stood just outside and she smiled at me. “I’ve showed you most of what I can around here. If this is something you would like to do, come see me. I can get you a job with PlayGear negotiating easily enough. Do you know how to get to Caitlin’s from here?”
I nodded. I only need to head southeast since her home was in the southeastern corner of the island.
Valentina smiled and cupped my cheek. I blinked In surprise and she laughed lightly, striding away with purpose. I watched her for a bit, wondering if I could be bothered with such a continuously busy job. I turned the opposite way and ventured further into the YLSP slums.
|08-01-2012, 08:55 PM||View Post #2 (Link)|
Join Date: May 2012
Times Thanked: 4
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