This could be considered a missing scene or two from my other story "Perennial," but should work fine as a stand-alone as well.
And of course, I'm always open to requests/other prompts if you have any ideas that strike your fancy; not that these are my characters, mind you. They all belong to Tracy Butler and 4th Dimension Entertainment.
Which is probably for the better.
For one alarming week during the summer she is fourteen, Ivy fancies herself to be in love with Viktor Vasko.
It might just be another leap of that winged, easily-startled heart known to take roost in young people. One should particularly note that this fit of vapors comes between her prolonged Rudolph Valentino phase and her somewhat shorter but more impassioned John Barrymore one. Perhaps it also has something to do with the girl herself, with this new body she has been awkwardly shimmying into like one of her mother's evening dresses; boys have started looking at her, by now. They look and glance and stare and turn away quickly whenever she looks back, and this sudden power to make silly boys do such silly things makes Ivy absolutely silly with delight.
So maybe that is what starts it all.
Because on Monday, July 8th, 1923, Ivy finds herself reading a new edition of Movie Weekly in the garage. She is sitting on the driver's side of Atlas' touring car, legs dangling out the opened door. Warm seats feel good against inexplicably sore back muscles. Viktor is half-obscured from view by the car's raised hood, there to provide background noise as he fixes the engine's cracked water jacket.
There is a sudden clatter to break the rhythm, a growl that sounds like "Ach. Čert to ber."
Iron shavings have spilled everywhere, part of the sealant used for making rust joint patches. Viktor is in the middle of kneeling down to swipe them up.
Curious, Ivy gives him a sidelong glance around the magazine's pages.
And for just that one second there, he turns his head slightly towards her: turns it in such a way as to make it easy for Ivy to know he is looking at her, and that he knows she is looking at him, but not too easy. This is a familiar movement, a familiar turn of his head done to account for that missing eye.
But (mostly because of the funny way her toes curl up inside their shoes) she sort of wants him to do it again.
On Tuesday Ivy thinks of how that eye-patch really does give him a rather dashing air, so long as you are not one of those people who either look at it for too long or else try too hard at looking anywhere else. Which is almost everybody.
And that night, with that same vague interest in the world surrounding him, Ivy stays up late waiting for him to come back from wherever it is he goes to do whatever it is Atlas pays him to do.
She had begun her vigil perched on the steps leading down from the garage into the speakeasy, but by now has sort of slumped over onto one side. Sleep is draping itself around her shoulders like an over-sized coat. Her night robe provides adequate protection against the drafts, while a tubular flashlight on her lap holds back shadows curving their way around the limestone tunnel's great throat. A pendant watch tucked inside her shirt marks the seconds with a tiny, easing tick-tick-tick.
The fat purr of a car engine, muffled by the trap door overhead, startles her awake.
Two car doors swing open.
"...Again, I have to ask," Mr. Heller's whinging voice says, "Was all of that terribly necessary?"
Viktor's curt reply is so gruff she can scarcely hear it.
"Oh, really now? Splendid news, that. I'm sure Mr. May will love to hear your explanation, then, of how what was supposed to be a brief excursion ended up necessitating a drive all the way out to Lohrum Quarry. There are other places in this city one can dispose of a body."
She does not like Mordecai Heller overtly much. Perhaps it is in the way he tilts his head to look at you through those pince-nez glasses, or how he makes a point of using big, pompous words when small ones would have done just fine. If Hell is a bureaucracy, which Ivy has no doubt that it is, Mordecai will likely be appointed to a position as Chief Undersecretary of Something-Nasty-or-Another.
(And everyone always seems to be under the impression that he is smarter than Viktor, which is patently untrue. There is a very great difference between being able to speak and being able to actually say something. The personal implications of this conundrum are rather lost on Ivy herself.)
Mr. Heller goes on speaking.
"...And we might have extracted more information from him concerning his associates, as well. Our informant explicitly stated that the man had several connections within the Egan's Rats gang, connections I might have been able to exploit had you permitted our conversation to continue. Your killing of him was most peremptory, and with no other motive behind it than catharsis. What a waste of bullets."
"He was afraid," Viktor says. Ivy hears a car door be slammed shut. "No more use talking to him, then."
"Of course he was afraid. He had been seized from his office, clubbed across the head, and stuffed into the back of a vehicle in a most asymmetrical position. What bearing does fear have on anything?"
Heavy boots stomp their way over the trap door Ivy is sitting beneath, kicking against its padlock as they pass.
"Pah. Men who are afraid will say anything. They do not know truth from what is false."
"Do not take that line with me, Viktor. I won't tolerate condescension." Now Mordecai raises his voice. "And you did not care a whit about the quality of information we were getting from him. What set you off was when he started on that rambling, incoherent apology for trying to mastermind the whole thing, and happened to get her name wrong."
Ivy has no idea what they are talking about. Viktor does not say anything that might provide an explanation.
But from the stillness that seems to be pressing down on her through the floor, from the falter in their conversation, Ivy can tell he is very, very, very angry and does not really need to say anything at all for his point to be made. And he knows it, too.
"...Fine, then," Mr. Heller manages at last. "Good evening to you, Viktor."
Then Viktor's foot gives an oddly deliberate, measured stomp against the trap door.
Once. Twice. Three times.
Ivy draws the night robe tightly in around her and hurries off. The flashlight's sharp beam guides her down the dark passage, through the empty speakeasy, up to Atlas' apartment again, and it is only when she is back in bed that she realizes her heart is pounding as if it were too big for her body.
On Wednesday, she feels a pang of sympathy for those brainless fools who are afraid of Viktor Vasko.
He is quite a large man, after all. Size lends him the odd quality of seeming more present than most people: of taking up all that space with something like authority, of commanding an undefinable and near-accidental dignity. Ivy recalls the time she had watched him quaff a shot of stinging malt whiskey, crack it down on the bar, and giggles to herself at how puny the glass had looked inside his huge hand.
Really, though. Those hands.
They are an exercise in hyperbole, if nothing else. One of his palms could probably make two of her own. Ivy does not even think she could get her arms all the way around his chest, which is as wide and deep as a brick oven... And obviously he is strong, because anyone who has survived the trenches and losing an eye and a career in bootlegging has no business being anything else.
Still, she finds herself in want of a demonstration.
"...Say, Viktor. Get this for me, would you?" She has come to find him in the garage again, is holding a sealed jar of pickles in one hand. "I wanted some for my sandwich, but the café pantry is all out of opened ones."
This obvious lie causes Viktor to raise an eyebrow, but he grunts in acceptance and twists the cap off with one deft twitch of his wrist.
He sets the jar aside and starts to walk away. She hurries after him.
"Hey, wait! Wait! Hold on, I want to see something. "
Viktor stops, turns back toward her. Waits.
Ivy holds one arm straight out in front of her with the hand fisted, a demonstrative air about her. "Go like this."
Scowling but still compliant, Viktor roots his stance and copies the action. Ivy reaches up to lace her fingers around his forearm.
She tightens her grip.
"Okay, now lift."
Wordlessly, he does.
And for a swooping, dizzying, heart-throttling ten seconds, Ivy actually feels her feet leave the ground. Viktor is holding her suspended in the empty air while she clings to him, and does not dare let go, and she feels laughter desperately wanting to flutter up through her: except Ivy is does not dare exhale, either, lest this feeling be lost.
Then her feet touch back down.
"Wow." Ivy flicks imaginary dust from her skirt. Her next thought is stupid and silly but she says it anyway. "That must be what a vine feels like."
"A vine. You know, when it first gets hold of a stone wall or something." Her index finger draws an upward spiral. "To climb."
Viktor's scowl does not change, as if he is angry at her for saying such a stupid and silly thing even while knowing it was a stupid and silly thing.
Which he probably is.
"...You have somewhere else you should be going, I think."
"Ah, right. Sandwiches. Thanks!"
So, yes, Viktor Vasko is just as strong as he looks...Not that it really needed proving, least of all to Ivy.
This fact has already been noticed and made known to her.
Come Thursday she has also noticed the ropes of tendon in his wrists, the frown lines around his mouth and between his brows, the lumpish muscles which have to them the tried quality of old leather work gloves. He is always agitated, always watchful, but is almost as skilled at making this tension seem like languor as he is at the looking-seeing-not-looking game. When he speaks it is in a growl, simply because his voice is a growl and cannot be otherwise coming from inside such a chest. It pounds out syllables in a way that makes Ivy wish he would actually say her name, sometime, just so she could learn what shape it would take beneath the hammer of his accent.
(Though maybe this is unappealing, just a little, because it makes Ivy realize how he has never said her name before and probably never will.)
Friday marks the day Ivy becomes convinced such hugeness and anger and silence must surely be fronts to hide a man of marvelously Byronic character: a man who would not be at all out of place in a Gothic novel, or a Norse myth about sacrifice, and isn't that a delightful thought? Heathcliffe and Rochester come to mind for comparison, but Viktor is not much like them.
Viktor is not much like anybody.
And it is not as though Ivy plans on actually doing anything about this violent attack of affection, either, as she would if he were like anybody else. She does not even make a try at getting his attention, because Atlas May's goddaughter certainly has Viktor Vasko's attention already. She also has his irritation, his annoyance, his chagrin, his ire, his ilk, and no small part of his bewilderment.
(Viktor, for his part, sees Ivy making odd faces at him all throughout this week-long debacle. He figures the girl has either been stealing sips from the liquor cabinet, or else hit her head against something and knocked herself stupid.)
But either way, the epic romance is brought to an end on Saturday morning: which makes the whole thing five days long, altogether, and thus really more of a business week affair than anything.
Ivy is sitting behind the Lackadaisy's bar, on the floor with both legs out in front of her. She is reading from a book of Alfred Noyes poems. In her mind the nameless highwayman's face keeps changing to someone else's beneath his French-cocked hat, and the heroine's dark hair is much shorter than described. She is just coming to the best part, thinking how foolish it was of poor Bess to turn that gun upon herself rather than for blasting away at the soldiers holding her captive.
(One should note that two of Ivy's imaginary soldiers bear some resemblance to the gunmen who had been sent to kidnap her, last month. But this had not happened, of course, because Viktor Vasko had resolved things by putting a bullet between one man's eyes and blasting a fist-sized hole in the other's chest... So perhaps Ivy's sudden reverence cannot be wholly attributed to adolescent fickleness, either.)
She is even just beginning to rework the story in her own mind, has gotten as far as the two of them riding off down the road with half the King's guard in hot pursuit, when Viktor steps in behind the bar carrying a new case full of rattling bottles.
Ivy watches his heavy gait as he approaches, clomp-clomp-clomp, until it becomes clear he is going to step on her.
Viktor scowls down at her.
As it often does, his rough irritation raises a bright penny-whistle note of impertinence in her. Ivy keeps her legs laid across his path. "First, what's the password?"
"You have to tell me the password. Or answer a riddle, maybe, whichever you feel you'd be best at... But if you guess close enough, I'll move just because I like you. Sound good?"
"I am not paid for solving riddles," he growls. "Or for jumping over logs which get into my way. This is not a lumber yard."
Ivy's hand freezes in the act of turning a page ("I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way") and she gapes at him.
Had he said almost anything else, almost anything at all, her infatuation might have carried on right up until she finally goes to see Beau Brummel with some of her friends back in Kansas City.
But as it is, Viktor's comment strikes a mark dead-on: Ivy has lately been frustrated with the fact that her hips and legs insist on curving outward, when fashion dictates they should remain inward and go on following the same clean, straight lines as they always have.
And here he has just made the mistake of equating them with lumber.
Ivy peers down her nose at him, a difficult feat given that she is sitting down and he is so very tall. But she manages.
"That's not very polite, Viktor. You shouldn't say something like that to a lady."
He makes a noise that is almost laughter. "It is good there are none here, then."
"Which word are you not understanding?"
Then he has stepped deftly over her, clump-clump, and gone on walking. Stupefied with anger, Ivy clutches the poetry anthology in one tight fist.
None here? None here?
The nerve of him.
She gets to her feet. Raises her right arm back. Draws a bead.
In a year's time, Ivy Joan Pepper will be able to shoot a clay pigeon thrown high from the twenty-five meter mark. In two years she will be hitting targets at three hundred yards, in four years on her way to cutting playing cards in half. So a huge man standing still ten feet away is really nothing: which means that when Ivy sends the book flying right at Viktor Vasko's head, there is no way she can miss.
She does not.
Instead it smacks him squarely on the ear with a loud thump, a flapping of pages like some obscenely ugly bird, a thunderous curse flying through the air just after it.
"Ach! Čert to ber!"
...Well, it definitely sounds like a curse.
Ivy brushes real dust off of her skirt, collects her book, and marches off.
Indignation chugs along behind her like smoke from a railway locomotive, out the door and up two flights of stairs and even as far as the flat's guest bedroom. Byronic character indeed! With that sort of fashion sense and utter lack of poise? Not likely: to say nothing of the fact that a badger stuck in a barbed wire fence would have a more amiable personality than he did.
Goodness, but what had she been thinking?
Ivy flings herself down on the bed in what she deems a suitably dramatic fashion, glad this strange and alarming week has reached its definitive end along with any amorous feelings she might ever harbor for the man.
Really, though! Viktor, of all people!
The very idea is absurd.
(One should, in passing, note that this oddly crushing affection for Viktor Vasko will resurface every now and then; once when Ivy is sixteen, at Atlas' New Years Eve party as she throws a feather boa around his neck for a photograph; once when she is seventeen, watching Dr. Quackenbush dig a .38 caliber bullet from his kneecap that has put there by Mordecai Heller; and once again when she is eighteen, as she grabs onto the barrel of a gun being aimed at him and tells herself she must not let go.)
But for now, in the company of her winged and easily-startled heart and terribly young heart, Ivy goes on reading. This time the highwayman's face looks less her godfather's one-eyed employee and more like that handsome man who played Jacques Leroi in The Lotus Eater. As well it should.
And she thinks of what an unfortunate thing it is, how cranky people get when they are old.
Well, I'm glad that piece of silliness is out of my system: it's not completely out of Ivy's, though. But that's another story.
Thanks for reading, as always! Any feedback, critique, suggestion or idea you might have is much appreciated.