Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Not So Much in Words"

This poem is spillover from the May 5, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron, [personal profile] fuzzyred, and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "Art of Being Kind" square in my 5-1-20 card for the Sumerian Me Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] technoshaman, and je_reviens. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Not So Much in Words"

[Friday, November 13, 2015]

Shiv straightened his tie and
stepped out of the stairwell.
His mouth instantly dried out.

"Don't worry, Shiv, you still have
a few minutes," Simon soothed.
"We're just waiting for the rest
of the bouncers to gather so
you can say a few words to
everyone before showtime."

"Fuck," Shiv said feelingly.
"What'm I supposed to say?
I'm no good with words!"

"You don't need to be for this,"
Simon said. "Just remind people
of the event, give assignments,
and then get to work. Leadership
is practiced not so much in words
as in attitude and in actions."

Shiv croaked a laugh. "Well,
I got no end of attitude."

"That's true," Simon said,
patting him on the back.
"We have faith in you."

"This is ridiculous," Shiv said.
"I'm younger than all the others."

"Tolli and I will provide the voice
of experience if you need it,"
Simon assured him. "Door is
here, too, and so is Boss White."

"I still don't think that I should
be put in charge of security,"
Shiv said, tugging his collar.

"Well, Boss White thinks you're
ready," Simon said. "Tolli and I
agree with him, so you're outvoted."

"Fuuuuck," Shiv groaned.

Then Tolli came over to them,
herding the other bouncers along.

Door was a solid wall of familiarity,
and at least Shiv wouldn't have
to think up a job for him, since
he always watched the entrance.

Janeel was a flex worker, serving
as a bouncer or a busboy or
whatever they needed tonight.
He looked up to Shiv, which
meant he wouldn't argue.

Vegas Williams was
a mixed-race man so buff
that his muscles had muscles,
working purely as a bouncer.
He'd been hired over the summer.

Ronalda Nash was fair with
long brown hair braided back,
athletic despite her glasses.
Boss White had hired her in
August as a party monitor.

Behind them stood a handful
of other flex workers who could
help cover the floor if needed.

Shiv took a deep breath
and tried to imagine how
Boss White would handle this.

"All right, tonight we're hosting
a bachelor party, so it could get
hectic," Shiv said. "Everyone
watch your back, and watch
each other, as well as keeping
an eye on our customers."

"Simon and I are here as
additional support," Tolli said.

"We all know that you're
here for Shiv," said Vegas.
"You didn't have to fake
being bouncers."

"We're not faking it,"
Tolli said. He opened
a flip wallet to show a card
that read, Cainnel Security.

"In case you didn't know,
they're both veterans, so
do not fuck with them,"
Shiv said firmly.

"Yes, boss, sorry,
boss," Vegas said.

Ronalda hadn't taken
her eyes off Simon since
she got there, and that
made Shiv twitchy.

"You're staring,"
Simon said evenly.

"I was just thinking it's
a pity we're both on duty,"
Ronalda said. "I'd love
to ask you to dance. You
look like a dancer."

Shiv wondered how
the fuck he was supposed
to defuse this disaster.

"I am," Simon replied.
"Thank you for your interest,
ma'am, but I am married
and also homosexual."

"I meant professionally,"
Ronalda said. "I specialize
in adaptive physical education."

"Oh, well in that case, here,"
Simon said, handing her a card.
"My husband and I live in Raleigh,
but we visit here regularly. Call
and we'll set up a dance session."

Shiv heaved a sigh of relief.

"Really?" Ronalda said, bouncing
on her toes. She loved that stuff.

"Yeah, he means it," Shiv said.
"They actually taught me and Luci
adaptive dance for the wedding."

Tolli gave a little cough
to get them back on track.

"Okay, so Door is out front
as usual," Shiv said. "If you
have trouble ejecting anyone,
just concentrate on getting
them to the exit and let
Door handle the rest."

Shiv hesitated, unsure
what step came next.

Second, Tolli mouthed.

"Janeel is my second, he's
used to working with me,"
Shiv said. "If you're not
sure what to do and you
can't reach me, ask him."

"On it, boss," Janeel said,
right on cue. He grinned.

That was never going
to stop feeling weird.

"Now, who's comfortable
activating the locator on
your panic button?" Shiv said.

Vegas grimaced. "I can live with it."

"That's not what I asked," Shiv said.
"I have different jobs to hand out,
and this is one way to sort them."

"I'd rather not turn it on if I
don't have to," Vegas admitted.

"Then you park at the central bar,"
Shiv said. "That's a likely place
for trouble to start, if it does.
Visible muscles may help
keep a lid on things."

"I don't mind turning
mine on," Ronalda said.
"You need to be able
to find me, right?"

"Yeah, I want you
to loop the floor,"
Shiv said. "Watch
the dotties especially."

"Front dottie, go past
the main bar to the lounge,
across the booths, behind
the central bar through
the restaurant and from
there to the back dottie --"
Ronalda said thoughtfully.

"Don't try to cut across in
front of the stage," Shiv said.
"Just double back in front
the central bar, and so on."

"Can do, boss," aid Ronalda.

It didn't take long for Shiv
to hand out the other positions.

He put Tolli and Simon along
the wall with the booths and
the lounge, where more privacy
could inspire more mischief.

"Can we have more than just
a panic button, or do these things
have extra features we could use?"
Ronalda said, looking at hers.

"Yeah, there's the panic function
and the backup function," Shiv said.
He showed everyone the difference.
"Panic is for personal problems, and
backup means you need help with
a professional issue instead."

"I'd like to ask other security
to keep an eye on me in
particular," Ronalda said.

"Why, you can't cut it?"
Vegas said, smirking.

That would get old fast.

"No, because I'm most likely
to have a problem that involves
two people," Ronalda said. "If I'm
helping one person, I can't also deal
with the other half of the matter."

Shiv realized that she meant
breaking up a squabble between
couples, and yeah, that would
definitely need two bouncers.

"Okay, floaters watch out for
Ronalda," he said. "Everyone else,
pay attention when she loops past."

"If you need help with emotional first aid,
flag one of us," Tolli said. "We have
advanced training for that too."

Shiv was silently amused by
how much that startled some folks.

Then the music shifted, indicating
the arrival of the partygoers.

"Okay, people, showtime,"
Shiv said. "Take your places."

They spread out through the club.

Shiv himself had chosen to walk
around the crowd like Ronalda.
He couldn't be everywhere at
once, but he could damn well try.

As a waiter, he hadn't paid
a lot of attention to the bouncers,
other than calling them to deal with
customers who got too fractious.

As muscle, Boss White had
only put him out as a bouncer
when Shiv's particular gifts
might make a difference.
in case of a serious fight.

This was a very different view.

Shiv ghosted through the crowd,
finding the little slips of space
between the warm bodies.

For a while, it stayed pretty tame,
because this was a batch party --
everyone together -- rather than
dividing the pre-wedding festivities
based on gender presentation.

That meant a lot of people had
brought dates, which toned down
the shenanigans a little bit.

Until people drank enough
to forget their manners, of course.

The first sign of trouble came
when Janeel hit his backup button.

Shiv hustled across the dance floor,
already watching for the problem.

Janeel wasn't small, but the guy
standing up to him was fucking huge,
built like a fireplug and full of beer.

Shiv got a bad feeling about this.

The asshat reminded him of
Stalwart Stan and having
to deal with poor Antimatter
and that was just no good.

Janeel wasn't backing down,
but Shiv could see how tense
he was, also not a good sign.

"Hey, let's keep this smooth,"
Shiv said. "Janeel, go let Door
know he's got a customer coming."

Janeel obeyed at once, leaving
Shiv to handle the obstacle.

"Who the fuck're you, pipsqueak?"
the guy said, looking down at Shiv.
"I could step on you like a bug."

Tempting as it was, demonstrating
his name would not de-escalate this.

"I'm the Head of Security," said Shiv.
It was true for tonight, at least.
"It's time for you to leave."

He remembered to drop
the 'sir.' That was important.
Once someone hassled the staff,
they were no longer a 'sir.'

The guy wouldn't quit, though,
and tried to crowd into Shiv.

Stealthily Shiv slipped
his superpower into
the man's belt and
zipper, loosening them
enough to trip him if
that became necessary.

"I'm not going anywhere,"
the man said, flexing his muscles.

"Oh, I think you are," Simon said
as he rolled up. "Find your way out
before you spoil your friend's party."

"I don't feel like it. What're you
gonna do about it, crip?" he said,
leaning down onto Simon's chair.

That was astoundingly stupid.

Sure enough, Simon picked up
the drunk's thumb and twisted,
and suddenly the younger man
was on his knees howling.

Tolli appeared out of nowhere
and dropped a heavy hand on
the drunk's shoulder. "Hey there,"
he said. "Looks like you need some air."

Simon let go, and Tolli marched the man
to the front where Door showed him out.

"Well, that was exciting," Shiv drawled.

"You handled it well," Simon said. "You
kept your head, you got Janeel out of
reach, and you held on until more backup
could arrive. Did I see his fly open?"

"Uh, yeah," Shiv said. "No laces on
his dress shoes, so I loosened his pants
in case I needed to trip him in a fight."

"Very well done," Simon said.

Janeel came back then,
hunched into himself like
he was trying to hide.

"You did well too, Janeel,"
said Simon, and Janeel's head
jerked up at the sound of it.

"But I chickened out,"
Janeel said glumly.

"No, you called for
backup," Simon said.

"He's right," Shiv said.
"That's what we're supposed
to do if a customer won't go and
we're not sure we can pitch him."

"But Simon is..." Janeel said, trailing off.

"... a combat veteran with years of
experience," Simon finished for him.
"Don't compare yourself to me until
you've had a lot more training."

Janeel gave them a hopeful look.
"Training?" he said wistfully.

Shiv nodded. "You haven't
gotten as much as the guys
who are just muscle," he said.
"I'll ask Boss White about
changing your schedule if
you want to learn more."

"Tolli and I would be happy
to run a session or few,"
Simon said. "We picked up
security work as a sideline
because some of the people
we know have special needs."

Shiv chuckled. "Let me guess,
you teach Crip Tae Do," he said.

"Not officially, but we do offer
adaptive self-defense," Simon said.
"That includes compensating for
things like small body size too."

Shiv saw Janeel chewing over that
and stepped in before he could
convince himself to bail out.

"There's no such thing as
too small to be a bodyguard,"
Shiv said firmly. "Ever see
a nature show of a bee
chasing away a bear?"

"Yeah, I have," Janeel said.

"It's not about the size of your body,
it's about how you use it," Simon said.
"We can teach you techniques that
take advantage of your strengths."

He looked at Shiv for support,
and Shiv picked up the thread.

"You're loyal and you follow well,"
Shiv said thoughtfully. "Let's try you
on team defense, you'll be good at it."

Janeel grinned. "Yes, boss," he said.
Then he turned to Simon. "Thanks."

"Okay, enough heart-to-heart," Shiv said.
"We need to get back to work now."

The other two peeled off, and
Shiv resumed his circuit.

He could still feel Janeel
watching him, though, trying
to figure out how tiny Shiv
managed to move like
a bouncer anyhow.

Sometimes, it wasn't
about looking like
a badass, it was
being able to get
close before anyone
knew you were one.

For the most part,
the batch party stayed
pretty cool, full of people
dancing and laughing and
hanging all over each other.

Shiv made a point of looping
past the central bar where
the designated drivers were
guzzling guava smoothies
and muscadine grape juice.

"You folks having fun too?"
he said with a professional smile.

They gave him grins and thumbs up
but kept their attention on their drinks.

Yup, Blues Moon still had the best
nonalcoholic spread in town.

Then Shiv noticed that
the black guy on the end
wasn't moving, hand wrapped
around a tall glass full of
something vividly green.

Ah, hell. That looked like
Green Rapids. Potent stuff,
it was made with vodka.

Shiv shook him gently
by the shoulder. "Sir?"
he said. "Are you okay?"

Sir's head slipped off of
his folded arms, leaving
him to drool on the table
and mumble protests.

Shiv pinged Tolli, who
promptly swung by.

"Got a drunk here,
mostly passed out on
the bar," Shiv explained.
"Do we need to call him
a cab or an ambulance?"

"Any time a drunk person
is nonresponsive, he needs
an ambulance," Tolli said.
"Please call it in while
I check him over."

So Shiv called for
emergency pickup.

Then Shakes leaned
over the bar and said,
"Do you need to know
what he's been drinking?
I can't remember all of it,
but he's sure been riding
the Rapids pretty hard."

"Yes, please," Tolli said.
"I'm sure the paramedics
will appreciate that. It'd
help if we knew his name
to write on the list, too."

"Sure thing," Shiv said,
and lifted sir's wallet.
"Says Jahquil Crain."

Shakes wrote it down.

"Put that back where
you found it, please,"
Tolli murmured, and
Shiv replaced the wallet.

"Any of you folks know
Jahquil here?" Shiv said.

The designated drivers
all shook their heads.

"I'll go ask around,"
Shiv said, and pushed off,
trusting Tolli to take care of
Jahquil until the paramedics
came to wipe him off the bar.

He couldn't get near the bride and
groom, though, and nobody else was
more than a passing acquaintance.

A few minutes later, the ambulance
arrived and its crew picked up Jahquil.

After that, Shiv saw more people
asking for nonalcoholic drinks.
Shakes gave him a thumbs up.

Not everyone laid off -- he also
saw Tolli half-carrying a drunk chick
to the bathroom -- but enough that
Shiv hoped they wouldn't need
another ambulance tonight.

The designated drivers
turned in one of their favors
to take over the stage for
a bit of karaoke, and damn
that blonde could scat.

Shiv drifted through the lounge,
which unsurprisingly had turned
into the introvert party tonight.

They looked a little bored, so
he asked, "Do you folks want me
to bring out some board games?
We have music and African themes."

The introverts eagerly agreed,
and Shiv raided the games cabinet
for them. It was mostly meant for kids,
but they kept a few things for adults too.

He came back with New Orleans Big Band,
Vinyl, Mancala, and Wildlife Preserve.

Happy partiers swarmed around him,
swiftly sorting themselves into groups.

Then he got a ping from Door.

Shiv squeezed his way to
the entrance, where he found
Door waiting with a young woman.

"This is Lalisa," said Door. "She says
she's a designated driver but can't
wear a wristband or a hand stamp."

"Usually I wear a T-shirt, but this
is a batch party and I just got
this dress," Lalisa said,
shifting from foot to foot.

Shiv took a closer look.

The dusty pink party dress
had not a speck of lace or
beadwork -- he wasn't sure
how she'd even gotten it on,
because there wasn't a zipper
up the back -- and she wore
no jewelry, not even a watch.

"No problem," Shiv said. "Are you
comfortable posing for a picture?"

"Sure," said Lalisa. "That's
half the point of dressing up."

Shiv used the camera from
the doorman's station to take
a picture. "Okay, I'm sending
this to the barkeepers," he said.
"Do you want me to walk you
over to the central bar? That's
where the DD party is tonight."

"Yes, please," said Lalisa,
falling into step behind him.

When they got there, Shakes
was just pouring fresh tomato salsa
out of the blender. She followed that
with big bowls of tortilla chips, and
the designated drivers descended on
the spread like a swarm of locusts.

Shiv introduced Lalisa to Shakes,
and the DD bar crowd promptly
sucked the girl into its midst.

He went back to his patrol.

Tolli and Simon both made
a point of dropping by to see
how Shiv was doing, which
was ... actually kinda nice.

Vegas had to tag out briefly
when someone spilled
a pitcher of beer on him.

Then Shiv spotted a squabble
starting and headed over there
before Ronalda could signal.

The problem centered around
a tall guy with wiry muscles and
a short brunette who was crying.

A cold lump settled in Shiv's stomach.

"All right, what happened here?"
he asked, turning to Ronalda.

It was the brunette who answered,
though. "He picked me up, just
threw me right over his shoulder
like -- like a sack of potatoes!"

Shiv looked at the girl, who was
scrunched into a sad little lump.

Her party dress was gray lace
over black fabric, strapless
and cut above the knee.

That didn't exactly leave
a lot of decent places
for a guy to touch her.

"It's a party. I gotta
right to pick up girls!"
the tall man protested.

"You really don't," Shiv said.
"Ronalda, what would help?"

"I need someone to get rid of
Adreano so I can take care
of Alyssa," said Ronalda.

"Can do," Shiv said. He took
a grip on Adreano's belt for cover,
but used his superpower to control
the metal fly, belt buckle, and
watch case to move him along.

Adreano might be taller, but
right now that wasn't an advantage.

He was more than half drunk,
which made it easy for Shiv
to hustle him to the exit.

Door took over from there.

Shiv doubled back to see how
Ronalda and Alyssa were doing.

They were sitting at a table, with
Ronalda rubbing the girl's back.

Shiv wished he knew what to do.
He didn't really understand
the art of being kind. Ronalda
was so much better that that stuff.

Meanwhile, Alyssa was still crying
as she garbled out the story.

"I've only had, like, one drink but
my date got drunk and abandoned me,
then that other guy started hitting on me,"
she said. "I know I'm just a secretary,
but that doesn't mean men can just --"

The rest of the words disappeared
in tears and a handful of kleenex.

"Who's your date?" Shiv asked.
"I can try to find him for you."

"I came with Jahquil," said Alyssa.
"He's a taller and browner than me,
and his hair goes --" She mimed an Afro.

The name sounded familiar. Ah, nuts.

"He passed out on the bar," Shiv said.
"We called an ambulance to make sure
he'll be okay when he sobers up."

"Now how'm I gonna get home?"
Alyssa wailed, flailing her hands.

"We'll call you a cab," Shiv said.
"That's what a skippy jar is for."

"Jahquil was supposed to stay
with me so this wouldn't happen,"
Alyssa said, grabbing more kleenex.

Abruptly Shiv wondered if something
like this had happened to Alyssa
before. No wonder she freaked.

He dropped to one knee. "Hey,
it's okay to be upset," he said.
"Jahquil shouldn't have abandoned
you, and Adreano definitely shouldn't
have grabbed you without permission."

"I'm sorry," Alyssa said. "I can't
seem to stop crying. It's a party.
I should be having a good time."

"After that nonsense, I don't think
anyone would have a good time,"
Ronalda said. "It's normal to take
a while to calm down afterwards."

Shiv was starting to worry. He
slipped a hand behind himself
so he could ping Boss White.

What's wrong? Boss White sent.

The familiar mental touch helped
Shiv relax. Guy grabbed a girl,
he replied. We bounced the guy
out already, but the girl is still upset,
and I don't think this is first time that
someone's gotten fresh with her

Bring her downstairs, said Boss White.
The quiet may help, and if not, I'll see
what I can do for her, if she wants.

Okay, I'll do that, Shiv agreed.

"I just want to lock myself in
the bathroom and cry for
a few hours," Alyssa said.

"Well, we need the dotties
for this crowd, but we have
staff bathrooms downstairs,"
Shiv said. "Would you like me
to find a friend to go with you?"

Alyssa shook her head, brown hair
flying. "I don't know anyone more
than just saying hi to," she said.
"They're mostly his friends."

Yep, Jahquil was really a dick.

"In that case, Ronalda can
go with you," Shiv offered.
"It's starting to slow down
a bit, we can spare her."

"Okay," said Alyssa. "Thanks.
Why're you being so nice to me?"

Shiv opened his mouth to say,
It's my job, and instead said,
"Because you're not alone."

"You -- oh," said Alyssa,
her eyes going wide.

"Go with Ronalda and see
if a little peace and quiet helps,"
said Shiv. "If not, my boss is
great with emotional first aid."

"That's ... yeah, I probably
need it," Alyssa said. She
got up, but clung to Ronalda
as they headed for the stairs.

That left Shiv to patch the hole
in his staff pattern for the party.

He was really starting to panic
when Tolli came up. "What's wrong?"

"I sent Ronalda downstairs with
an upset customer, and I thought I
could cover the floor with the bouncers
I have left, but I can't make it work,"
Shiv said, thumping the wall.

"Okay, what are you missing
that you can't cover?" Tolli said.

"Ronalda's our party monitor,"
Shiv said. "I don't really have
anyone else to handle that, and
it's hard losing a floater too."

"Simon and I can both help
with EFA," Tolli offered. "As for
the floater aspect, tell Vegas
to stop standing in one place.
If he paces back and forth in
front of the bar, he'll see more."

"That'll work," Shiv said. "Thanks."

He went to talk with Vegas, a sweep
of his hand illustrating the patrol,
and Vegas stepped into motion.

"Boss?" said Janeel. "I've been
watching how you move. I think if
we match each other, we can sweep
both sides of the room at the same time,
and it'll be easier to keep a lid on things."

Shiv looked around, and sure enough,
the dance floor had thinned so he
could probably cut across below
the stage. "Good idea," he said.
"You take over the booth loop."

It was surprisingly nice to have
someone he could depend on
not just to follow orders, but
to offer good suggestions.

Maybe Simon had been right
about leadership being done
not so much in words as actions.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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