November 16 – Skill Set

NaNoWriMo: Posted November 16@11:16pm

No one sent Kalle out to the lagoon to search for evidence or dead bodies.

That was Bankim’s job. He wasn’t even sure how he acquired such work since he wasn’t the smartest of the group or the most detail orientated. He…just got things done.

Bankim stopped staring.

“Well there’s not,” he told Kalle, his tone sounding cocky and annoyed and unapologetic. “Be my guest if you want to go back and check the water.”

He knew Kalle never would. Kalle contrasted Bankim entirely. Proper. Well-dressed.

Save for tonight.

Kalle served wore-for-wear after hearing about Jaith’s disappearance, even worse now – twenty-four hours later – that word from Jaith never came, giving the crew good reason to believe that Jaith was dead. As was Naji.

Now, Toivo might have looked…if Toivo wasn’t rocking himself in an attempt to avoid accepting his emotions. It wasn’t a good sign that all three of his favorite weapons rested under his chair, but at least they were close by.

Toivo ranked one step lower than Bankim on the brilliance scale for the group. That one step was a large jump. Toivo was all hulking muscle, and while he may have always jumped into action before his brain warned him not to, the man had emotions – probably more than anyone in the group.

Jaith’s loss shattered him. He’d be the last to recoup.

Everyone had their skill set and, to be honest, Jaith’s intelligence level was an assumed position. More importantly, Jaith had the charisma and leadership ability to con anyone he came across…even the group. Kalle’s IQ level was never in question, but he failed when it came to breaking a sweat. Bankim figured Kalle’s hatred of Toivo stemmed from that weakness. Where Kalle failed, Toivo thrived.

Bankim’s eyes lower to the tabletop where Naji’s necklace laid in a heap. Its clasp remained open so she took the piece of jewelry off. Or maybe Jaith took it off. Either way, nothing aggressive. The gold, as soft as the metal was, wasn’t bent. The gemstone wasn’t scratched. What had those two been doing?

Bankim pushed away from the tabletop, his arms dropped by his sides. He didn’t want to pace. He wasn’t a pacer. He didn’t want to sit. He just needed help, and he wasn’t sure what to do next or where to go. Without all its players, what did a team do other than forfeit?

Bankim’s left hand lifted for his right sleeve and undid the button. He took his time rolling the deep maroon sleeves. He needed the diversion. Without Jaith, someone needed to lead the group. It shouldn’t be him, but who else was there? That thought alone was more distressing than the thought of Jaith’s death.

The room’s door creaked then slammed open.

Bankim turned to the noise, his hand falling to his weapon. He noticed Kalle’s over-dramatic startling, and Toivo’s lack of any reaction.

Nom stood in the doorway, her voice exaggerated in its annoyance, entered the bedroom. She had dressed up for the night. Her apron probably retired downstairs, and her dull work-wear exchanged for a vibrant turquoise top and lime green skirts. She even had refreshed her makeup, a lot of make-up, bright make-up.

“Please tell me that this crew is not crumbling apart just because Jaith is missing.”

More notably, she tossed around her hands as she spoke tonight. The wine bottle in her right hand was already open, but the glasses in her left hand seemed unused.

“Jaith is dead,” Bankim corrected.

Nom pointed at him, narrowing her eyes and nearly dropping her glassware, and spoke in a clipped tone, “Have you found a body?”

Bankim opened his mouth.

“No,” she snapped before he could answer. “You haven’t.”

She finished walking into the room and kicked the door shut behind her with her heel. After stomping to the table in a huff, she gingerly set each wineglass on the table as if the whole thing was about to shatter.

“Jaith wouldn’t have this,” she scolded as she poured drinks, “and the three of you know it.”

Kalle leaned forward over the table, meeting Nom’s eyes with a never-before-seen intensity. Bankim watched from behind the herbalist. “Stop acting like this is a mere episode of hiccups. We’re a walking plague!” he shouted, banging a fingertip against the table and throwing out his hands. “We’re done, half of us gone, down three members. Without Jaith and Trigger and Naji, we do not have the numbers to continue running this underground railroad [will need different term] of yours.”

“We’ll work with what we have or we’ll find new members,” she said nonchalantly as if the other crew members quit.

Toivo rocked faster in his chair.

Kalle shook his head. “We don’t have the contacts anymore.”

“We’ll make new ones.”

“Nom!” Kalle shouted, exasperated.

“Stop,” Bankim snapped, grinding out the words between clenched teeth. His voice sounded serious and strong, a tone not to be argued with.

A tone that wasn’t his.

“Look…whether we recover the underground work or not, this is not a proper time to discuss it. The only thing I have to go on right now is an undamaged necklace. Even if Jaith and Naji are dead, we need time to collect ourselves and grieve. We cannot just go back to work like nothing changed. Everything’s changed!”

Bankim didn’t realize his hands had balled up into white fists.

Kalle did. He still leaned over the table toward Nom, but his face looked satisfied in Bankim’s points, as if Ban said everything he wanted to but couldn’t.

Toivo looked up when Bankim mentioned their friends’ deaths. He had dark shadows around what where normally alert but beady eyes. Tonight they were just bloodshot.

Bankim went on.

“We don’t have a single individual that needs out of Lynthia right now. So drink…or don’t drink. I don’t care. Just…don’t be discussing work.”

“And what if something does come up,” Nom whispered, her head bowed, her blonde curls covering her face. She needed to grieve too, whether she admitted it or not. She lost Jaith and her life’s work.

Bankim response was as cold as Jaith and Naji’s death.

“Then we’ll deal with it.”

With nothing left to say – and the urge to get the naraka out of that room – Bankim turned for the door. He wanted to be alone. As he turned the door’s handle, Nom poured wine for the three at the table, but he paused before crossing over into the hall. He didn’t expect anyone to be ushered out of Lynthia any time soon, and he meant it when he said that they’d deal with it if such a problem occurred. The three toasted and gulped expensive wine like it was some sort of cheap beer. They’d drink the night away. It’d be for the best.

Bankim shut the door behind himself and leaned on the door’s frame.

He stared again, for how long he wasn’t sure.

The crew wasn’t ashes. Each had a life, things they wanted to do with that life. Who was Bankim to make those choices for them? Choices and reevaluations needed to be made – as a group, without Nom’s influence.

“You don’t have to be so alone.”

Bankim’s stare broke in the most beautiful manner ever as Sita’s sun-kissed hand touched his arm and lingered there. On the skin, where he barely rolled the sleeve up, not the shirt.

“Whether or not someone has company isn’t always a luxury,” Bankim huffed, pulling his arm away, and retreated down the hall for his room. He hoped Sita didn’t watch him go. He didn’t need her pity.

Then again, he thought as he slammed his door shut, he kind of wished she did.

Nom’s staircase always squeaked on the eighth step down. Bankim stared at it debating whether or not to step in the middle and make the noise. His entire crew and Nom were passed out in the same room with the small square table. Morning would be a brilliant mess.

Only one person was up at this hour. Her room door hung open, the light off.

Bankim stepped on the creak. She’d know that he purposely avoided it if he chose otherwise. He didn’t care if she knew he was coming.

Sita worked behind Nom’s display case straightening the Dingo Leaf packets, smiling to herself as she waited for Bankim to finish his walk down the stairs. She wasn’t sure why he waited to step on the eighth step. They both knew it squeaked, anyone living in the house did, but she listened to his weight creaking the floorboards since the moment he got up from his bed.

When the Dingo Leaf was straightened to her satisfaction, she decided to readjust the Baduka Berries even though they didn’t need it.

Finally, the stair floor board squeaked.

She shifted her hands back to the Dingo Leaf and pretended to straighten them again until Bankim stood across from her.

“What are you doing down here?” she asked, standing up and wiping her hands on her apron even though they weren’t dirty. The lanterns in the backroom were still lit and provided the room’s only lightening which made the various wooden figurine shadows rather creepy.

“Taking your advice.

Sita felt her cheeks tingle so brushed her fingertips over them and curled a few strands of loose hair behind her ear.

“Apparently,” Bankim said, his voice dropping into a sarcastic tease. “I spend a lot of time alone.”

“It’s not really that you spend time alone. It just feels like you keep to yourself so much that you forget that you’re human.”

Bankim’s face flinched, his brows lifting in amusement, but then he didn’t say anything. Just watched her.

Sita keep his eye until the lack of conversation finally shifted and became awkward. She lifted her own brows, mimicking the man standing across the display case from her then looked over to the staircase, suddenly wishing for someone to walk down it.

Bankim ignored her discomfort and sat down on the stool.

“So, what’s your story,” he asked her, his suspenders loosening from his chest. His question fell heavy on Sita’s heart. After years of working with Nom and abused woman, Sita never considered that he found attraction to those women.

“Oh,” Sita started then paused after hearing how obviously hurt her voice sounded. He wasn’t the first man like that, she reminded herself. Lynthia was full of odd thinking men. She forced a smile. “I’m just a girl,” she said with a shrug. “Sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“For not having a story.”

“You don’t have to live a traumatic life to have a story.”

Her head tilted, finding herself enveloped in a new confusion. He was the first man to say that.



Tonight’s Walking Dead creeped into my writing – did you find it?

Copyright ©2010-2014 by Kristine A. Strauss, Amara SuraShakta. All rights reserved.

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