Some Old Drunk

by Cheryl Petterson and Mylochka

A Vignette

(Standard Year 2231)

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“What is it, baby?”

“Not'ing.” Noel DelMonde turned back to the dinner table, with a quick reassuring smile for his mother. “It won’t him, Mama.”

His father’s black eyes glittered dangerously as he looked up from his plate of gumbo. “Him, who?” he asked sharply.

“Some ol' drunk followed us part way home from th' French Market,” his mother explained, reaching for the salt with a casual attitude that did not quite go skin deep. “It scare th' baby.”

“I not no baby an' I not scared,” Noel protested stoutly.

“Don’t sass your mama,” his father warned automatically before turning back to his wife. “Who was this drunk?”

“I not know.” His mother shrugged as if she’d not given the incident a second thought instead of obsessing about it all afternoon. “He jus' some ol' drunk. Like I say, the baby get spooked. That all.”

The nebulous image of the mysterious stranger he had not seen began to cast a dark shadow over Noel’s father’s thoughts. “An' jus' how far this drunk follow you?”

“Oh, let it go, Dom,” Noel’s mother said, refilling her husband’s coffee cup in a continuation of her determined pretense of nonchalance. “It won’t not'ing.” She turned and gave Noel a sweet smile and stroked his cheek fondly with her thumb. “Mama’s li'l man jus' keepin' an eye out fo' her, non?”

His heart filled to bursting with the warmth of her approval. Noel decided that next time he would gladly battle armies of drunks and strangers for her – no matter how bad they scared him. “Yes, ma’am!”

His father made a snorting noise as if dismissing the matter. Noel could feel the black tendrils of his suspicions steadily growing thicker and winding around the room as he silently finished his dinner. “I goin' out,” he finally announced, laying down his napkin beside his empty plate.

“Where to?” Noel’s mother asked with a sharpness at odds with all her playacting of indifference.

It was now Noel’s father’s turn to put on an act of seeming calm and unconcerned. “Your brother’s.”

“What fo'?”

“I not know,” his father growled with gruff pretended innocence. “Check on if he want to go wit' me when I take th' boat out.”

His mother frowned suspiciously. “He always want to go.”

“Then he gonna say so.” His father gave a disgusted snort. “What the world comin' to if a man can’t walk down th' street, drink a beer, an' shoot the shit with he brother-in-law?”

His mother shrugged diffidently. “Then go if you want to.”

Noel felt a thrill of excitement as his father’s black eyes flicked in his direction. His daddy was playing the funny little trick he had. It was such a clever trick, that it didn’t seem like his papa even knew he was doing it. His daddy couldn’t exactly change people’s minds, but if a person wanted something to begin with, he could pull his little mind trick and shove their brain in the direction it was already leaning.

“Can I go, too?” Noel found himself asking before he even realized his mouth was open.

His father lifted a dubious eyebrow. “You finish your chores?”

Noel frowned. This was a trick question. It didn’t seem fair for his daddy to push him to ask for something that he wasn’t going to let him do because of some technicality his papa had to know he was going to bring up.

“Yeeees,” he answered carefully.

“Not all of 'em,” his mother corrected with a firm shake of her head.

“Jus' my after dinner chores,” he objected. “How can I have done did my after dinner chores when we still eatin' the dinner?”

“You best not be sassin' your mama, boy,” his father advised.

“I sorry, Mama,” Noel apologized as humbly as he could manage on short notice – since upsetting his mother was extremely ill-advised on numerous levels just as a general rule and particularly counterproductive at the current moment. When a hint of a smile appeared at the corner of his mother’s mouth for rapidity of his repentance, he ventured to ask, “Can I still go?”

His mother sighed deeply and shook her head at the folly of both her men. “It up to your daddy.”

He looked at his father expectantly.

His father took a last sip of coffee, then stretched and yawned as if they had all the time in the world. “You done eatin'?

Allons-y, Papa!” Noel grinned as he bolted for the door.

“You not keep him out too late, Dom,” his mother warned.

“You not let no ol' drunks into th' house,” his father retorted in his most serious and simultaneously teasing tone.

“Not ‘till you come back, honey,” his mother replied in kind.

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

“We not goin' to Oncle’s, is we, Daddy?” Noel asked once they got outside. “We gonna hunt down that man, non?”

His father didn’t answer as they made their way down the street at a leisurely pace that was at odds with the storm building in his papa’s mind. When they were out of eyeshot of their house, his papa turned left at a juncture where Noel knew they should have turned right.

“We go find that man, non, Papa?” Noel repeated.

“As soon as you catch wind o' him,” his father ordered grimly. “You sing out, you hear?”

“Yes, sir,” Noel replied feeling very important.

“What this man want wit' you an' your mama? Bedroom stuff?” his father asked, using the euphemism his mother had come up with to cover all the strange naked wrestling matches grown-ups liked to have in bed and out as well as in all sorts of places other than bedroom.

“I not know,” Noel replied, trying to recapture the brief nonsensical flashes of unfamiliar settings and incomprehensible speech he’d caught in the drifter’s thoughts. “I t'ink he want to take us somewhere. Some place like a hospital. Want us to do some work fo' him.”

“What kind o' work?”

“Funny stuff.” Noel shrugged and frowned at the memory of images of serious people he didn’t know in brightly lit rooms doing strange things. The images made no sense but felt dangerous. “I not know… Maybe some bedroom stuff,” he concluded since some of the people in the flashes of memory were sometimes naked. “Funny stuff.”

“First hint you catch o' this bastard,” his father said, the storm in his brain becoming blacker and more violent, “you let me know. I not want you to look in his direction or speak so he can hear you. But you let me know right away.”

“Yes, sir.” It was almost scary to be as important as Noel felt at that moment. “Papa, Mama tell me not to talk to you 'bout this man.”

“Why not?”

“She say you get mad an' go fight him… Maybe kill him,” he said, finishing with a suggestion his mother had not articulated, but seemed clear in his daddy’s mind at that moment.

“Baby boy,” his father said darkly, gripping Noel’s hand tightly as they marched down the darkening streets. “This man might need some killin'.”

“Yes, sir,” Noel agreed.

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

Noel's mind seemed to flow ahead of and out around him, trying to catch some sense of the man his mama had insisted they call 'some ol' drunk.' He wasn't and Noel knew it. He knew his mama knew it. And even though his father hadn't said anything, he knew his papa knew it, too. He tried to sort out the images that had come from the man, but he had no frame of reference beyond the vague ideas of strange, serious and dangerous. He could feel his daddy's anger and wariness, felt, too, his father's mind reaching out as was his own. But he knew his father often didn't seem to know how to bring the information he perceived into his awareness. He relied on Noel for that.

They had walked for several blocks when Noel abruptly stopped. This was the place he had first sensed the man's presence.

His father's tall frame knelt down beside him. "What you hear, son?" he murmured, his lips barely moving.

Noel closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths. Sounds and sensations swirled around him, and it took him several minutes to sort out past from present, near from far, information from noise.

I not know where he gone, he said, more in his own head than out loud - certain nonetheless that his daddy would understand him - but I can track where he come from. That help, Papa?

"It a start," his father growled and stood, again taking Noel's hand. "Maybe we at leas' find out what that bastard be wantin' wit' you an your mama." Dom's black eyes bored into his. "But you still sing if you catch him, non?"

"Yes, sir," Noel replied, as grave as his father had been.

The track was like a scent on the breeze, intermittent and faded, but with the grip of his father's hand, Noel found it easier to concentrate. It was always like that. It worked far, far better with Mama - but then, Daddy didn't often hold his hand. He couldn't quite identify the smell - it was sharp and acrid, one he knew he didn't like, so he didn't spare too much attention on it. Just enough to follow it. Dom started humming softly, like any man out for an evening stroll with his boy, but Noel knew it was to block out the things that came from places other than the one they were searching for. He spared a moment to grin up at his Daddy, and heard within the confines of his head, You best focus, boy.

He nodded and closed his eyes again, letting his father lead him down the street. With a sudden shift, the track veered sharply to the right, and Noel's mind was filled with the imagery that had accompanied the man.

He not here, Papa, he murmured, but they others like him in that buildin' there.

"What you mean, like him?”

They t'inkin' th' same funny stuff... Noel froze as a particular thought came crystal clear into his brain. "They know Mama's name," he rasped in a hoarse whisper, and turned terrified eyes to his father. "An' mine."

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

Louisa Duhon DelMonde finished the dinner dishes and swept the large kitchen, smiling to herself as she pictured her son's slight frame struggling with the broom. It was one of his after dinner chores, and though he was tall for his age - and bound to get taller yet - the broom was still a mite much for him to handle. Still, Dom was strict, insisting that the boy learn to contribute to the family. Louisa knew in her heart of hearts that she did have a tendency to spoil her little boy. He had such trouble living in the world. It made him seem younger than his eight years. He hadn't even learned to talk until he was nearly five. His early years had been something of a nightmare; one minute he was laughing and wriggling with delight, and the next he'd be screaming in anger, or in pain - and she never found any mark on him or any sickness that could be hurting him. Then - flash! he'd be curled contentedly in her arms, his beautiful dark eyes staring at her with such love it nearly broke her heart with joy. Dom had wanted more children. There had been another child, a girl, born a year before Noel, but a brain hemmorage had taken her when she was still an infant. Her moods had been as unpredictable as Noel's, and Louisa suspected that whatever it was that plagued her boy had also been at the root of her baby girl's problems. But that baby hadn't been strong enough to survive it. And after Noel's birth - which had been a difficult one for her, weakening her already vulnerable heart - and the way Noel was... the thought of having another 'devil child', especially when it would be all too likely that Dom would've had to try and raise two kids alone, was too great a risk. But Noel had learned, and was learning, and he was the light of her life, no matter how harsh that light could be, burning hot and fierce or glowing like warm embers, the blazing sun of summer afternoons or the soft, welcome dawn of a new day - or even the mysterious, intangible gleam of moonlight on the bayou.

A sudden chill passed through her and she froze, not daring to glance at the open back door that led out of the kitchen. She'd opened it herself to let in the breeze. She could feel the shadow across it now and was very grateful that Dom always insisted the screen door be locked whenever she had it open.

Without turning she snapped, "Whatever you sellin' we not want none."

"Mrs. DelMonde?" a polite voice answered her. She closed her eyes, sensing the man's true intent behind the soft-spoken manner.

"Who askin'?" she returned, a fair imitation of her husband's usual response to that kind of question.

"I'd like to talk to you about your son."

"He not here. Go away."

"He does reside here, though, does he not?"

Louisa turned, letting her eyes burn with contempt. "You t'inkin' o' jus' waitin' here, y'all got yourself another t'ink comin'."

"If I could ask you some questions...."

"You go on ahead, I not answerin'," she said, tossing her head as she started sweeping again.

"Mrs. DelMonde, I assure you, we mean the boy no harm..."

"Assure all you like, mister, but I know what in your heart." She mustered her most crafty look, like her voodoo aunts and uncles. "I got th' eye," she added.

The man chuckled. "Oh, I'm certain you do," he said. "The question is, Mrs. DelMonde, does your son?"

Dread filled her mind as an icy shiver ran through her body. She wanted to swallow, but knew better than to give her fear away like that. "You throwin' that name 'round pretty easy," she managed. "I suspect you not know much 'bout it, or you not be so indiscreet."

"On the contrary, we're well aware of your husband's - associations."

"Then you best be on your way," Louisa said sharply as she marched toward the back door. "I got not'ing to say to you." She placed her hand on the door, "An' don't be comin' back here, les' my husband an' his - associates -" she echoed the man's deliberate pause - "come lookin' fo' you."

She slammed to door so hard the frame shook. She waited until she heard his footsteps walking away from the house, waited another five minutes for good measure, then sank to her knees, trying to calm her pounding heart.

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

It took every fiber of his being for Dominic DelMonde not to rush home to make certain Louisa was all right. He wasn't a perfect husband by any means, but he loved his wife in his own way. Wanting to know what the "old drunk" was up to burned almost as fiercely. He unconsciously gripped at his son's hand, not realizing how strong his grasp was until the boy whimpered. But instead of letting go, he knelt down once again.

"What they t'inkin'," he asked, too quietly for anyone else to hear, "it come any clearer wit' all them others t'inkin' th' same t'ing?"

Noel twisted slightly in his grip, but didn't try to move his hand. His young face screwed up, and Dom could hear the boy's heartbeat increasing, his breaths coming short and ragged. Finally, he shivered all over, like a dog throwing off water.

"They wanna study me," he whispered at last. "They heard 'bout me, an' wanna take me an' Mama off to... I not know it, Papa, someplace far from here. They wanna do tests an' 'speriments an..." The boy gasped, suddenly staring up at Dom with wide-eyed horror. "They wanna take me from you, Papa!" The dark eyes that were so like Dom's own filled with tears. "You not let 'em take me, please! They t'inkin' you let 'em 'cause I such trouble to you..." A sob escaped his son, soft and desperate. "Please, Papa, please, I be good, I swear, I try real hard t' be good!"

Dom's face hardened. "Who are they, Noel?" he demanded. "Catch they names, boy!"

"They not t'inkin' names!" Noel cried. "Jus'.... Agent.... Admiral...."

"They th' authorities?" Dom snarled with renewed vehemence.

"I not know...."

Dom shook his son. "Listen!" he hissed.

The low keening that always signaled one of Noel's incoherent fits began building in the boy's mind, and with a growl of frustration, Dom picked him up, hurrying away from the nondescript building and down the backways he knew best, heading back toward home.

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

"Louisa, open th' damn door!" Dom bellowed as he tried to contain his wildly strugging son.

It opened quickly, and he shoved the boy into his wife's arms. She knelt, cradling Noel as Dom moved past her, determinedly checking - and locking - all the windows in the house.

"Dom, what happen?" she called over the sound of her baby's wails.

"Who was here?" he demanded, turning abruptly to her. "That 'ol' drunk'?"

"Oui, he come, but I send him packin'," she replied, then bent her head, singing softly into Noel's ear. She heard him opening the gun safe, and the sound of his loading one, then two weapons, a pistol and a rifle. She also heard the whine of phasers charging, despite the fact that such weapons were illegal for civilians. She glanced up and watched as he dragged a chair to the front window, propping the rifle against the sill, the phasers resting on it, the pistol held tightly in his hand.

"You keep the boy inside fo' th' next few days," he ordered. "Away from th' windows. Call your brother an' tell him t' keep all them raggy-ass boys away from here. We not acceptin' no company fo' a while." He stared straight ahead, and added in a low, ominous voice, "An' if any stranger come knockin', we jus' gonna let 'em knock an' see if they try t' do more."

Louisa swallowed. "Dom, you scarin' me," she murmured.

"Well, calm yourself 'fore that devil child start into a real fit," he growled. "I call my people t' help keep an eye on th' place."

Louisa swept her baby boy un into her arms, carrying him to his bedroom, determined to put the events of the day out of her mind.

"Say what you will 'bout Dom DelMonde," she said to no one, "he surely will protect his family."

"Fo' damn sure," her husband answered, "he surely will."

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

A week later, Agent Samuel Berck reluctantly informed Starfleet Intelligence that he hadn't been able to connect with Louisa DelMonde and her son, and while the boy was still extremely promising, no way could be found past the protection afforded by his father's connections. It seemed, he reported, that they had been terribly misinformed about the suggested approach. Dominic DelMonde was as fierce a guardian of his son as was his wife, despite the way he spoke of the boy. The conclusion - that further pursuit would be unprofitable - was sent to his superior officer, Admiral Patrick Glennon, with the recommendation that the task force move on. The Monolems and Ruis Calvario would simply have to wait.

The End

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