"A Fresh Opportunity to Make a Mark"
[Monday, June 1, 2015]
Shiv tried to push down his nerves, but
just looking at Ricasso's office building
made his palms start to sweat.
It was beautiful, done in shades
of red and yellow bricks with
a gray roof in high peaks.
Gray gave him a tour of
the inside. To the left was
the big gym, and to the right
were Ricasso's office and
then the general office.
The assembly room was
behind the front offices,
followed by the kitchen.
The middle of the building
held the shower rooms
for men and women, plus
a dottie in the back row.
Most of the back offices
were flop rooms, except for
the patch room in the middle.
"Relax, Shiv, you'll do fine,"
Gray assured him. "You only
have a few people to meet today,
because most of the gang members
are running errands around town."
"I'm freaking out a little," Shiv admitted.
"I always fuck things up, even if I try not to."
"That doesn't match what I've seen,"
Gray said. "Chin up, now. The first day
at a new job provides a fresh opportunity
to make a mark and establishes you as
a talent and beacon that others can follow."
Shiv just snorted. Sometimes Gray had
a ridiculously inflated idea of what Shiv
could do, but it was ... kinda nice, anyway.
At the moment, the others had gathered
in the assembly room with its long table,
the divider drawn back to connect
that space with the kitchen.
"Shiv, this is our boss, Ricasso,"
Gray said as they walked in.
Ricasso was long and lean,
with dark hair and a fancy beard.
He wore a black shirt underneath
a black suit, but no tie. Instead,
the collar was open, showing
the gleam of a sword pendant.
When they shook hands, Shiv
could feel Ricasso's superpower
slide along his, like two blades
singing past each other.
Instantly he locked his knees
like Gray had taught him,
so they wouldn't buckle,
but it was a near thing.
"Something to explore
another time, if you like,"
Ricasso murmured, letting go.
Shiv liked, all right, but
now was not the time.
"Thriver, our patch man
and cook," Gray went on.
Thriver had green eyes and
fair skin with freckles. He wore
a navy hoodie that read, No, I'm
not a superhero. I'm something
even more powerful: I am a cook.
Shiv snickered. "Pleased to meet you."
"Welcome to Motor City," Thriver said,
shaking hands. His power reminded
Shiv of soup, warm and creamy and rich.
"By the way, I like your taste in T-shirts."
Shiv was wearing a black one that read,
Life is a combination of magic and pasta.
"My cousin Heron is a Pastafarian, and
he gave me this one," Shiv said.
"Zhonn is one of our enforcers,
and he cooks too," Gray said.
This man was wider than the others,
muscle under padding, his skin the shade
of pale brown that people called "creamed out,"
but he had the wide nose and thick lips that
usually went with something darker.
His nappy black hair was all done in
tiny braids that hung past his shoulders,
some with gold floss woven in, and he
had musical tattoos down to his elbows.
When their hands touched, Zhonn
slid up to clasp forearms, and Shiv
followed easily. "Hey, bro," Shiv said.
"I can show you around the gym later,"
Zhonn offered. "We could spar a bit."
"Yeah, I'd like that," Shiv said. It would
be great to have a gym right there. At home
he had to hop a bus to Buster Hump's Gym.
"All right, let's go over a few ground rules,"
Ricasso said. "Shiv, I expect you to mind me,
and anyone else in their area of expertise,
like Thriver in the kitchen. If you're not sure
what to do, ask Gray, he's your guide here."
"I'll do my best," Shiv said. He wasn't
great at taking orders, but Ricasso
inspired a level of respect that
Shiv rarely felt for anyone.
"Here's the schedule
for the next three days,"
Ricasso said, and it was
a lot more complicated
than Shiv had imagined.
"I'm gonna fuck it up,"
he muttered, frowning.
"Yeah, most people do
at first," Zhonn said. "I have,
but the boss lets you fix it."
Shiv looked at Ricasso
for an explanation.
"The Spadonari use
corporal punishment for
discipline," Ricasso said.
"If that's a problem for you,
we'll work out something else."
"Yes, boss," Shiv said, not
wanting to argue about it.
He could take a beating, if
it came to that; he had before.
"For now, Zhonn will be making
a loop around the block. Thriver
is on lunch prep," Ricasso said.
"Shiv, Gray says you can cook,
so the two of you help Thriver."
"Sounds good," Gray said,
following Thriver to the kitchen.
"Can I, uh, get a more detailed tour
of the kitchen?" Shiv said. "I don't
even know what I can touch."
"Good point," Gray said. "First,
this is the snack fridge -- you can
take anything from here, at any time,
just write it on the whiteboard."
"That's what I use to make
the shopping list," Thriver said.
Shiv was pretty sure there were
things he'd fuck up even if he tried
to copy them right off the label.
"Uh, can I just ..." He took out
his smartphone and then showed
Thriver his illustrated shopping list.
"Wow, Gray said you were an artist,
but I didn't know you were that good!"
Thriver exclaimed, tilting the screen
for a better look. "I can tell what
all the little vegetables are."
"Good, then you can read
the whiteboard when he draws
them like that," Gray said. "Here,
this is the snack pantry, and
the same rule applies."
"Yeah, we split things up so
people don't raid what I need
to make the meals," Thriver said.
"Snack fridge and snack pantry,
okay, I got it," Shiv said.
"Look and see if there's
anything you want for now,
before we get busy," Gray said.
The snack pantry was big enough
to walk right in, full of baskets and
glass jars of colorful food, some
from a store and some homemade.
"Vegetable leather?" Shiv said,
curious. "Is that like fruit leather?"
"Yes," Thriver said. "Some of them
have a mix of fruit and vegetable,
others have one or the other."
Shiv saw strawberry, peach,
carrot, beet, winter squash,
berry spinach, apple pumpkin,
and zucchini celery kiwi.
He decided to try out
the strawberry, the carrot,
and the berry spinach.
He put the first two
flavors in his pocket and
the third right in his mouth.
"Huh," he said. "That's good,
not just health-food-good, real good."
"Thank you," Thriver said. "I enjoy
trying out new recipes, especially
when I find something on sale."
"Oh yeah, that's one of my jobs
at Blues Moon," Shiv said. "I shop
the farmer's markets for bargains,
and we put those on special."
"Let me show you a bit more
about the kitchen," Thriver said.
"This is our gyro machine, it's what
we keep going all the time in case
someone needs real food fast."
"Okay, I seen those in restaurants,"
Shiv said. "We don't have one, though."
"The rule is, if you take the last of
the meat, you put on a new roll,"
Gray said. "If you're not sure how,
don't guess, come and ask me
or Thriver to show you how."
"I got nothin'," Shiv said.
"It's not much harder than
refilling the coffee pot, and I've
seen you do that," Gray said.
"Anyway, I plan to lay out
a sandwich bar for lunch,"
Thriver said. "We'll be making
three things for that: guacamole,
roasted red pepper spread, and
honey walnut cream cheese."
"Sounds good," Shiv said.
"So where do we start?"
"I left the walnuts out
from this morning's baking,"
Thriver said, pointing.
"Oh hey, cookies!"
Shiv said, grabbing one.
"Don't eat off the counter,
those are meant for lunch,"
Thriver said, and smacked
his hand with a wooden spoon.
Instantly Shiv jumped away,
his cookie behind his back
and his knife in his free hand.
"Fuck you!" he snapped.
"You don't get to hit me!"
Thriver dropped the spoon
and skittered away from Shiv.
"Put -- put down the knife."
"Whoa whoa whoa,"
Gray said, stepping
"Is there a problem?"
"It's okay, boss, I
got this," Gray said.
"You tell Thriver he can't
hit me," Shiv insisted.
"Thriver, Shiv doesn't
like being hit and he
doesn't handle it well,"
"Yeah, I noticed,"
Thriver said, eyes wide.
"But Gray, he's in the kitchen."
"The fuck does that have to do
with anything?" Shiv said.
Gray turned back to him.
"We're supervillains, Shiv,
sometimes people snitch things.
Thriver uses a wooden spoon
to discourage that, so we can
actually have food left for meals.
It stings but it doesn't injure."
"Yeah, tell that to my bone spur,"
Shiv said bitterly. One of his fosters
had busted him hard enough to crack
a bone, which never had healed right.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," Thriver said.
His freckles stood out like seeds
floating in a bowl of milk.
"It's my fault," Gray said. "I
tried to cover the differences
between the gang cultures,
but I seem to have missed
a few critical points."
"But you didn't do
anything," Shiv said.
"I brought you here, so that
makes me responsible for
keeping you safe and helping
you find your place in the gang,"
Gray explained. "You and Thriver
had a misunderstanding, which
means I didn't do my job right."
"Guess that makes sense,"
Shiv said, bemused.
"Can you please put
the knife away now,"
Thriver said faintly.
"Oh. Yeah." Shiv
flicked his hand and
twirled the blade back
into its hidden sheath.
Thriver flinched away.
Shiv realized that
Thriver was showing
some of the signs from
that list of trauma symptoms
Dr. G helped him memorize.
That was not good, and it
was Shiv's fault, no matter
what Gray had said.
"Anything I can do?"
Shiv said, trying to look
a little less like a badass.
"Maybe some space,"
"Let's get some air,"
Gray said smoothly.
He led Shiv out through
the little door, so they
didn't have to go through
the assembly room, which
was good because Shiv
reaaallly didn't want to walk
past the Boss right now.
The neighborhood was quiet,
with trees shading the sidewalk.
"This wasn't quite what I meant
when I mentioned a fresh opportunity
to make a mark," Gray mused.
"Yeah well, I damn near
made a mark on Thriver!"
Shiv snapped. "I ain't
even been here a day
and already fucked up."
"You didn't cut him, and
that's the important part,"
Gray said. "Hurt feelings
don't need stitches, at least."
Shiv didn't mention the times
that Boss White had to tack up
the inside of Shiv's head.
"Sorry I didn't even make it
through a whole day without
making trouble," he said. "I
was trying to be good, really."
"Party foul," Gray said. "I'm sorry
that I got you and Thriver hurt."
"Yeah, what's up with that?"
Shiv said. "Or is it private?"
"How Thriver came to
the gang is no secret,
but if I tell you, then you
need to be gentle about it,
not hassle him," Gray warned.
"I won't rag him on purpose,"
Shiv said. "You know I
got a mouth on me."
"I know," Gray said. "It's
one of the things that I like
about you, Shiv -- you don't
let anyone push you around,
you stand up to them even
if they're bigger than you."
Shiv snorted. "Everyone's
bigger than me," he said.
"Well, except Pips. He's
like --" Shiv measured
several inches shorter.
"I bet this Pips is
an interesting person,"
Gray said with a smile.
"He could probably wipe
the mat with me," Shiv said.
"Some foreign style, he moves
like smoke and shadows."
"You do all right yourself,"
Gray said. "That's a good thing."
"Not when it gets people hurt,"
Shiv said. "Friendly fire isn't."
Tolli and Simon had been
real clear on that point.
"Well, about that -- Thriver
spent some time on the streets
before he met Ricasso," said Gray.
"He used to sell his superpower, and
sometimes people roughed him up.
He's better now, but occasionally
it still makes him skittish."
"And I pulled a knife on him,"
Shiv said, shaking his head.
"Fuck. No wonder he works
in the lair, not on the streets."
"He also doesn't like hurting
people, or seeing people hurt,"
Gray said. "That's just personality."
"I should probably apologize."
Shiv kicked a pebble along
the sidewalk, clattering.
"Are you sorry?" Gray said.
"Don't say it if you don't mean it,
that just confuses things worse."
"Yeah, but I don't know what to do,
and I can't call Dr. G, I don't want him
to know I fucked up like five minutes
into my first day here," Shiv said.
"How about you keep the words
short and sweet, and do something
to show that you're sorry?" Gray said.
"I'm better with showing than telling,"
Shiv said, thinking it over. "Hey, he's
a cook, he must have knives, right?"
"A whole kitchen full," Gray said.
"I could sharpen one," said Shiv.
"I meant to warn him off, not ...
actually hurt him, and I think he
was hurt, even if he wasn't bleeding."
"That sounds fair," Gray said. "He'll
be okay, Shiv, this isn't the first time
somebody spooked somebody else."
"So he knows not to come after me
with a spoon, right?" Shiv said.
"Well, about that -- it's not quite
so simple," Gray said. "Could you
have kept from pulling a knife?"
"Probably not," Shiv said.
"It's a habit -- oh. Fuck.
You mean hitting people
with spoons is his habit."
"Mine too, actually," said Gray.
"By the time we started cooking
together, though, I knew enough
about you to be very careful."
"Damn. I liked the idea of
cooking here," Shiv said.
He snatched a loose piece
of newspaper from a planter
and shredded it as they walked.
"You can still cook," Gray said. "I'll
just try to stay between you and Thriver
until you get used to each other."
"That might work," Shiv said. "I'd
like to try again ... if I still can."
"Do over," Gray agreed.
"Okay, let's head back now."
Shiv followed him reluctantly,
stopping to pick up litter until
Gray caught him by the elbow
and gently towed him along.
When they reached the lair,
Zhonn was inside the gym
lifting weights, and Ricasso
had moved to his own office.
They found Thriver in the kitchen
making a sunset-colored fruit salad.
"That looks gorgeous," Shiv said.
"What in the world is that glaze?"
"Blood orange marmalade and
frozen lemonade," Thriver said.
"Gray mentioned that you liked
some of the exotic citrus fruits."
"Yeah, I do," Shiv said, staring
at the bowl of cantaloupe balls,
strawberries, pineapple chunks,
and mandarin slices glistening
with a red-orange glaze. "Thanks."
"I just wanted to show I was sorry
for smacking you," Thriver said.
"Yeah, about that," Shiv said.
"I apologize for pulling a knife.
That was excessive force."
"Fancy way to put it," Thriver said.
"Tolli and Simon are veterans,"
Shiv said with a shrug. "Anyhow,
you got a favorite knife? I can
make it stay sharp, forever. If
it's serrated, though, no longer
than my finger. That's harder."
"Just a knife? Or any blade?"
Thriver said, leaning forward.
"Anything that's supposed
to be sharp," Shiv said.
"A peeler," Thriver said,
yanking a drawer open.
"They never stay sharp
long enough, and they're
too hard to resharpen."
"Give it here," Shiv said,
waggling his fingers, and
Thriver passed him the tool.
The peeler was good steel,
but it was nowhere near new,
and definitely losing its edge.
Shiv stroked his fingertip
along the blade, then
handed it to Thriver.
"Test that," he said.
"See if it's how you like."
Thriver grabbed a carrot and
swiped the peeler down it,
then whooped in glee.
"That is awesome!" he said.
"Glad you like it, 'cause I'm
kind of a fuckup," Shiv said.
"At least we got a whole kitchen
full of stuff to work with here."
"I think we can avoid repeating
today's mishaps," Gray said,
and explained his idea of
standing between them
while they cooked.
"That works for me,"
Thriver said. "If we
all try to be careful,
we should do okay."
Amazing that a guy
could come through
what Gray had said,
and still be an optimist.
"By the way, I brought
this for you," Thriver said,
holding out a package.
"The salad's for everyone,
but this is just for you."
Curious, Shiv took it and
saw that it was a candy bar.
"Blueberry Walnut Dark Chocolate,"
he read. "That sounds delicious."
"That's good," Thriver said, then
hesitantly offered his hand.
"So ... are we smooth?"
"Yeah, we're smooth,"
Shiv said, taking hold.
Thriver's warm-soup energy
now had a harsh, burnt edge
like someone had put habañero
instead of roasted red pepper.
Shiv felt pretty sure that wasn't
a good thing, so he stroked
his thumb over Thriver's hand
and did the energy trick that
Heron had taught him for when
Molly got upset, that turned out
to work for Boss White too.
"Oh," Thriver said softly.
"That's ... better, somehow.
What did you do? How did
you do that? I thought that
you worked with metal."
"My superpower is for
sharp things, so yeah, like
metal or glass," Shiv said.
"This isn't a superpower, it's
just something I learned to do
with energy. Even naries can
learn some good tricks with it,
but it takes time and practice."
"Thanks," Thriver said.
"So, I could still use a hand
with lunch. You guys willing?"
"Can do," Shiv said, smiling.
After what happened, he wanted
a fresh opportunity to make a mark.
* * *
This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.