Saturday, February 22, 2020

Dardius: Cassidy Long (Part VIII)

When most people hear that an individual is a stripper, of course they have a judgment about it. Even if they visit strip clubs themselves, they usually feel a sense of superiority over the people who work there. There is a common belief that exotic dancers are damaged; that their daddies didn’t give them enough attention, or even that they were sexually abused as children. There’s also this joke about them paying their way through nursing school, as if that would be a bad thing anyway. For some, these judgments are true, though that doesn’t give anyone the right to assume them, or to assess them in any way. For Cassidy Long, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality was that she became a stripper, with the full support of her mother, because strippers make bank. Back before she mysteriously disappeared, in a four hour shift, she could make a hundred and sixty dollars. That was if she only managed to do two dances every hour, which was pretty unheard of at her location, even during the day. Even after splitting some of her profits to the bartender, DJ, and waitresses, she was still earning more than a lot of people in fulltime positions. All told, she made six figures a year. The work was relatively easy, and if she could keep it going for a couple decades—though work would slow down as she aged—she could retire with enough money to live fairly comfortably for the rest of her life.
Cassidy Long was happy with her life, and it came with an interesting bonus she didn’t even consider when she began. She met a lot of people; and not people whose secrets she could weaponize to exploit them, but networking contacts. Her connections got her out of parking tickets, into fancy parties, and more connections beyond the ones she made herself. She met all sorts of people, and since she had a loveable personality, they were always willing to help her out without much convincing, as long as it didn’t threaten their own social standing. There was one particular man she needed to reach out to now. He was a private investigator who also happened to be a decent artist. There was someone she needed to find, but the problem was she went missing six years ago, and where she had been wasn’t something she could explain. Still, she had to risk it, because he was probably their only hope of returning to Dardius in the future.
“My God, you’re alive.”
“I am,” Cassidy confirmed by demonstrating her ability to speak, which was something dead people generally could not do.
“I looked for you,” he said.
“Who hired you?” Cassidy questioned. “My mother was dead, and the club wouldn’t have put that much effort into finding me.”
“I looked for you myself. No one paid me for it. I wanted to know what happened to you.”
“Aw, that’s sweet.”
“So...?” he prompted.
“So, what?” Cassidy was confused.
“So what happened to you? Jesus.”
Pribadium reached into her back pocket, and retrieved a wallet, which she opened and flashed to the PI. “Priya Bragado; FBI. This is my partner, Valerie Crawford. Miss Long has been working with us on some very special cases for the last six years. She’s only returned to her old life because we require your assistance with finding a man whose name she does not know.”
He stared at Pribadium forever, though it did look like he was buying both the fake names she made up for her and Vitalie, and the idea that they were federal agents. He also seemed to want to believe that Cassidy could possibly be involved with them. It was probably more about trusting that Cassidy herself wouldn’t be standing here, lying to him. Though of course she was indeed withholding the truth, she was known to be an honest and forthcoming person. She was pretty famous for it. “It’s gonna be hard to find someone without a name.”
“I have a face,” Cassidy explained.
He still hesitated, but only because he had always irrationally questioned his own skills as a sketch artist. He left the police before Cassidy met him, because he decided he wanted to be an investigator instead, but didn’t like following someone else’s schedule, and adhering to their rules. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Thank you,” Cassidy said graciously. “Priya and Valerie, this is Elmo Barone, but we all just call him The Baron.”
“Please, no jokes about Elmo,” Baron requested. “I’ve heard them all.”
“I don’t get it,” Vitalie explained. She wouldn’t, and nor would Pribadium. Neither one of them grew up having heard anything about Sesame Street.
Baron was pleased with their apparent ignorance. “All right, have a seat. I’ll get my sketchbook.”
After an hour of Cassidy describing what she could remember of the man she last saw years ago, the composite was ready. Baron ran it through the facial recognition database, which he wasn’t meant to have, and the four of them tried to have some lunch. Pribadium stressed to him how important it was that no one knew that Cassidy was still alive, and not truly missing. He got a little bit annoyed at her about this. He understood the value of discretion, and felt no desire to reveal her secret. She wanted to tell him the actual secret, but knew that it was best they leave him out of all this time travel business. They had barely begun their food when Baron’s computer beeped, indicating that his software had found a match.
“That was fast,” Cassidy noted.
“I narrowed the parameters,” Baron began to explain. “The programs you see cops use on TV seem to search through pictures of everyone on the planet. I limited the search to male Lawrence residents of a certain age range, and directed it to search for people arrested for minor offences first, before it would move on to the DMV database.”
“Well, it worked,” Cassidy said. “This is him.”
Vitalie leaned in, and read from the screen, “Gareth ‘Gaz’ Milburn. Fifty-eight years old. Arrested twice for public intoxication, once for assault; bar fight, apparently. And five times panhandling? Isn’t that the gold thing?”
“In this case, it’s just begging for money on the street,” Baron explained.
“That’s illegal?” Pribadium asked. She was from the future, long after begging became obsolete when money itself did. Poverty was a concept she would never truly be able to grasp.
Baron leaned in as well, and looked through the man’s details. “It technically is, but it’s hardly enforced. Officers try to get to know the homeless around the city, which means they know when someone’s lying. Gaz is not really homeless, and never was. He just pretended so people would give him money.”
“Why are we looking for this guy?” Pribadium asked. She had never explained the whole thing to them.
“You don’t already know why?” Now Baron was getting suspicious.
“He has information for us,” Cassidy started to lie again. “Or rather, I believe he knows someone who does.”
“He sounds like a standup guy,” Vitalie sarcasticated.
“His last charge was four years ago,” Vitalie revealed.
“Well, this is his last known address, so we’ll find out if he’s changed in that time.”
“I’m coming with you,” Baron offered.
Vitalie smiled at him condescendingly. “That’s cute. Stay here, and focus on your cheating spouses.” She snatched up a box of rice on her way out. “I’m taking this.”
Baron took Cassidy by the arm as she was trying to follow the other two out. “If you need out of something, I can help.”
“Thank you, Baron. I’m exactly where I need to be.” That was very much untrue, but lying to him was becoming a habit she couldn’t break now. “You’ve already helped so much.”
“You know where I am if you need any help in another six years.”
“I do.” She passed a woman on her way out of his office.
“Fitzsimmons,” Baron said. “Come on in. There’s food left over, if you’re hungry. I know it’s your favorite.”
“My favorite is in Kansas City.”
“It’s a franchise. It’s all the same stuff.”
Gaz appeared to be living in a very nice house in the suburbs. Vitalie insisted she be the one to knock on his door, and be able to stand between the other two should he turn violent. She was apparently wrong, though. A very well-kempt man answered, and greeted them with delight. He looked exactly like Gaz, but there was no way he was in his late fifties; not in 2025. The kind of de-aging technology humanity eventually came up with wouldn’t exist for another decade, at least. “Miss Long, you’re back.”
“Who are you?” Cassidy asked him.
“Please, come on in. I’ll explain everything. Would you like a plate for that rice?”
“I’m good,” Vitalie answered.
“How about some water to wash it down?”
“Thank you. I take my water with no poison,” she added as he was heading for the kitchen.
“Well, that’s weird, but okay,” he joked back.
“Are you going to tell us how you know him, but don’t really know him?” Pribadium whispered.
“Other than Jai, he was the last person I saw before I left work the day I disappeared. I gave him a dance. If I can absorb people’s powers, I think I maybe absorbed his.”
Gaz came back in with Vitalie’s water. “That is close to what happened.”
“So, you knew?” Cassidy asked. “You knew I would end up in the future, on a spaceship, light years away.”
“I didn’t know that, no. That’s not what my power, as you called it, does. It’s not a power at all. I’m salmon.”
“Then what’s your pattern?” Pribadium asked.
He sat down, and picked up the cup of tea he had been steeping when they showed up. I go where I’m needed. Future, past...other planets, theoretically. I don’t control where I go, or exactly what I’m meant to do when I get there, but that’s my life.”
“What are the sorts of things you do.”
“I make people feel things,” he said, creepily and cryptically.
“You dowhatnow?”
He smiled, realizing he didn’t say that right. “People can get in ruts, and they can get really stressed, and they can get underconfident, or overconfident. I level them out. I give them a boost if they’re feeling depressed, or I take ‘em down a notch if they’re alienating everyone around them. You probably found me because you saw my arrest record. That isn’t real. I only got drunk to show someone who was walking a dark path what rock bottom looked like, so he wouldn’t have to go down there himself.”
“That doesn’t sound...plausible,” Pribadium said.
“You wouldn’t think so, but it worked. Channing is a senator now.”
“And the fake panhandling?” Vitalie questioned. “Who did that help?”
“A lot of people, actually. I didn’t speak to most of them, but I didn’t need to. Homeless people give homed people perspective. It makes them think about their finances. Now, they may not want to do that, but it’s important. They need to be aware of how much money they’re earning, and how much they’re spending. Every time they see someone less fortunate, they have a gut reaction that they can neither control, nor ignore. Look, I’m not a Salmon Runner, or The Kingmaker, and I’m sure as hell not The Savior. My job is subtle...nuanced. Sometimes people just need little nudges, and if that comes in the form of the new watercooler guy who talks a little too much about the game last night, I can fill that role for fifteen minutes.”
“So, that’s what you did to me?” Cassidy asked, a little angry. “You call sending me centuries into the future subtle?
He took a sip of his tea. “I didn’t send you anywhere. I bestowed my pattern upon you...accidentally. As far as I know, that wasn’t meant to happen. I didn’t enter that strip club to do that. I had no idea you were an absorber.”
“Why were you there?” Pribadium asked.
“I think we all know the answer to that,” Vitalie snarked.
Gaz chuckled, and set his tea back down. “No, I’m gay. I wasn’t even there for her. I was there for, umm...Jai Quelen.”
“That’s my...” They never really put a label on it. “Friend. What were you doing with him?”
“Sometimes I don’t know. I walked in there, played my part, and left. Whatever he saw, or didn’t see, it changed him in some way. Hopefully for the better.”
“I do remember him acting a little weird at home that night. I didn’t know he showed up at the club that day.”
“He was holding flowers.”
“Ugh. Shit. And then I disappeared.”
Gaz thought about this. “So, maybe I was there for two reasons. Maybe I was sent to help get you get to the future, and also help your friend get through losing you. Like I was saying, I don’t always know what I’ve done. My impact is ripple-based. The people I meet go off and interact with others, and they interact with others...”
“Well, I need you to do it again,” Cassidy demanded.
“Get you to the future?” he asked for clarification.
“How do you look so young?” Vitalie interrupted. She was still suspicious of him.
“Oh, I hired a man named Merton Casey. He can reyoungify people. I don’t think you need it, though.”
“I’m gonna be verifying your story.”
Gaz narrowed his eyes, but moved on. “I can let you absorb my pattern again, fine. I can’t control it, though, so I don’t think you can either.”
“If it takes you where you need to go, then it will take us where we need to go.”
Gaz stretched out his hand. “I assume you never really needed to give me a lapdance to take my pattern.”
Cassidy subtly tapped on the palm of his hand with her finger. “Nope.” She stretched her own arms out, and let her two friends take her by the hand. “No one can know we were here.”
“Wheedler-client privilege, I promise.”
Once the three of them were gone, Erlendr’s daughter came back into the room. “You see, Salvy? We’re doing good things here.”
“I’m still not convinced, Gaz,” Arcadia replied with airquotes.

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