It was a protest, or what passed for one in Georgetown.
Xana watched from the cover of shade as the reporter, the American, left the crowd loitering in front of Royal House and trotted across the street. Abby something. That was her name. She stood out, with her lean figure and pale skin, but she moved among the Afro-Guyanese men with confidence. They’d never accost a white woman.
Hand-lettered signs rested against palm trees or lay on the ground while their owners smoked and sat and waited for an audience. Everything was quiet, but Xana knew that would change. As soon as someone important appeared, the men would jump to their feet and hoot and holler, as if called to cue by an invisible director. Even the uniformed policeman resting on the concrete barrier, a lighter-skinned Indo-Guyanese, would leap up and join the show. He’d drop his cigarette and jostle with loose arms, pretending to hold the crowd at bay.
And the American would turn it into news, just like she’d done to Xana. “The Goliath of Guyana.”
Xana watched Abby approach through the vacant lot across from Royal House. Someone had staked a “No Dumping” sign to the ground, a stab through the heart of the refuse that had gathered in defiance. Flies milled in a lazy caricature of the demonstration across the street. The South American sun burrowed into everything from above.
Abby stopped at the narrow grove at the back and covered her eyes with one hand. She had bony cheeks, a long nose, and sharp brown eyes that matched her shoulder-length hair. “You’re a hard woman to find.” Her thin lips barely covered a mouth full of big teeth. Once straightened by braces, they had started to slip crooked. She tried to find Xana’s face in the shadows of the trees, but it was too high and the shade too dark.
A breeze rustled the branches.
Xana Jace stood seven feet eight inches tall. To most of the people who knew her, she was a nuisance. To everyone else, a monster. Certainly she looked the part, with a heavy brow, a stout jaw, and a thundering gait.
She wiped her hands on her heavy work pants and looked across the vacant lot. There was no way around the crowd. She stepped from the shade.
Abby moved a second hand to her forehead. She’d forgotten about the afro. “Here for the big show?”
“Please don’t talk to me.” A hot wind whipped Xana’s tangled curls in front of her eyes. Her wild hair was all that remained of the scrawny, wide-eyed girl of her youth. It was several shades lighter than her medium-brown skin, and striking. It had turned a few heads. Before. Xana pulled it back and affixed it into a bushy tail.
Abby looked down. “How’s the foot?”
Xana stepped away, revealing a slight limp. Her right foot was mangled, and she hid it inside her custom-ordered heavy work boots. “It’s fine. Please leave me alone.”
“I’m not your enemy, you know.” The American followed her past the pile of trash. Flies bolted and returned.
“That doesn’t make you my friend.”
“I never said I was your friend.”
Xana spoke without turning. “Yes, you did.”
“I didn’t think people would respond to the article that way.”
Xana stopped. A man in the milling crowd pointed at her. Another turned to look. That’s how it always started, with the silent accusation of a pointed finger.
Look. Look at the monster.
But Xana wasn’t a monster. She was merely host to one. It had first appeared as a tiny bulge from a gland in her head, half the size of a pea. It secreted something, like a whisper to her cells telling them to grow and grow.
The reporter kept her hands to her forehead to block the sun. “It was an honest mistake.”
“This isn’t America.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Xana cocked her head at the foreigner. “Please stop following me.”
“Aren’t you curious why there’s a protest in front of your lawyer’s office?”
“Mr. Renkist will know.”
“You trust him?”
Xana frowned. “He’s my attorney.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“He’s the only who stands up to the McDooms.”
Abby rolled her eyes. “He’s not the only one.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. You report on them. There’s a difference.”
“It’s because Feathers is in there.”
Clement Feathers was the McDoom family attorney and a piranha. Xana noticed the Mercedes parked next to a row of palms down the street. A bodyguard leaned against the car and read the paper.
“They’re protesting the labor remission. Or something. I’m not sure most of them even know.”
Xana scowled. “The what?”
“Look, you don’t want to go through that crowd any more than I do.”
“You’re a white woman. They wouldn’t dare. Not in public anyway.” Xana looked again at the listless young men. They stretched end-to-end across the wide lawn of Royal House, like a dark and angry coil ready to spring. Some whispered at her in the distance. Some paced. Some sat on the off-white steps leading up to the veranda. The paint on the wood was cracked and chipping. It was a long walk up the sidewalk.
“There’s a back door—a walkway from the courthouse. Underground. The British built it in the colonial days. It’s all linoleum and fluorescent lights now. My press credentials can get us through the security.” Abby almost choked on the word. There was no security in Guyana.
“I don’t want your help.”
“I know. But I owe you. I have a son, too, you know.”
“Then why aren’t you with him?”
“It’s a long story.”
Xana looked at the crowd.
“Hey . . .” A man called to her and stepped forward. “Hey, you!”
Xana turned. “This doesn’t mean I forgive you.”
“Of course not.”
The big woman walked back across the lot and through the grove of trees at the far end. She stayed ahead of the reporter. Siegel. That was her name. Abby Siegel. Xana still had a clipping of the article somewhere.
“So can I ask you about this morning?” Abby had to walk double-time to match Xana’s stride, even with the slight limp.
“What about it?”
“Oh come on. This is a sleepy little country. It’s not every day gangsters burn someone’s house down.”
“I stay away from criminals.” Xana crossed a cracked asphalt road and walked onto the wide back lawn of the courthouse, once the governor’s residence.
“But why is Mama looking for you?”
The big woman stopped on the grass. It was spotted in dead leaves and fronds from the tropical plants that rimmed the square. In the distance, the ocean clamored. “What do you care?”
“Figtree’s like an hour away.” Abby looked Xana in the eyes. They were a lighter brown than her skin, just like her hair. “That’s where you’re staying these days, right?”
Xana nodded. It was a temporary arrangement with her cousin until she could get back on her feet.
“That’s a long way to go just to have a chat.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“People like Mama don’t burn houses for nothing.”
“I meant it’s probably a misunderstanding.”
“Riiiiight.” Abby started walking again. Xana hadn’t changed.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The big woman walked after her, but the reporter didn’t stop. Did she know something? Xana grabbed her arm. “Wait a minute.”
“Don’t touch me.” The American spun and pulled free. “I don’t like people touching me.”
“What do you know?”
Abby shrugged. “Why would I know anything?” She put her hands in her pockets.
Xana took a long deep breath and looked toward the water in the distance. The wind was warm. “I don’t understand.” Xana worked the night shift. She’d slept through the morning and missed all the excitement.
“Come on.” The American walked through the back door of the courthouse. The hinges creaked. A small security station rested at the bottom of a half-flight of stairs. Everything echoed. The building smelled of dust and yellow paper. The reporter flashed her credentials to the lone guard and nodded at Xana. “She’s with me.”
“Wait.” The guard stood and raised his baton in front of Xana. “Turn around.” He frisked her and lingered luxuriantly on her large buttocks, a delicacy for most Guyanese men.
Xana didn’t flinch. She just stared at the door.
Abby turned away from the groping.
When the guard had had his fill, the pair walked down a long hall covered in weathered vinyl. Fluorescent lights shone overhead, but their spacing was insufficient and the women moved in and out of darkness.
“Why do you let people do that?” Abby whispered to keep below the echo.
“Push you around like that. You had almost two feet on that guy, and probably a hundred fifty pounds or something.”
“He’s a policeman.”
“So? He’s still not supposed to grab you like that. Push him out of the way. This is Guyana. He’s not going to say anything. And no one would care if he did.”
“Mal McDoom would care.”
The reporter sized up the giant. The tips of the woman’s bushy pony tail brushed the lights overhead. She looked so out of place. And that face . . . “You have no idea what Mama wants.”
“No.” Xana squinted. “Do you?”
Abby smiled, revealing her big teeth. “Don’t trust me?”
Xana made a face.
“Hey, I’m just doing my job.” Abby pointed down the hall. “Royal House is just up those stairs. I don’t suppose you’d be interested in a trade?”
Xana waited for an explanation.
“You know . . . a you-help-me-I-help-you kind of thing.”
“I don’t want your help. And I certainly don’t want to hel—”
“Fine. Right. Whatever. But Mama’s a hard problem to shake. And from what I understand, you only have till tomorrow. So if you change your mind, come downtown. Supper time. I’ll be on a stakeout.”
“Cynthia’s Doubles. You know, by the Chinese restaurant.”
“I know it. Don’t wait.”
Abby flashed a mock smile and took a couple steps back. “I hope ol’ Arthur has good news for you.”
Xana watched the reporter walk back the way they’d come. That was quick. She was a huntress. She was after something. Luckily, Xana wasn’t it. She wanted nothing to do with the woman. She let out a sigh and realized she’d been clenching her fists throughout the conversation. She shook her hands loose. One of her curls snagged on a ceiling tile and she jerked her neck to pull it free, then slouched down the corridor.
selection from Episode Two of my super-powered sci-fi serial, THE MINUS FACTION.