100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #10
THEME: 10. "Opportunities"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, untitled/unwritten story
RATING: PG-13 (mild adult language, adult themes)
WORD COUNT: 3400+ words
SUMMARY: Russell Whittaker is a character I never really cared about much...until recently, when I started writing some more adult scenes with him and exploring his admittedly bland personality more. All I really knew of him was he's very naive and cheery, very easily used, and very needy. Seriously, this guy has had a really messed-up life and been in God knows how many crappy relationships, just for the sake of being in a relationship, ANY relationship...how could somebody like this remain so perpetually optimistic? I'm still not sure; I sure could take a lesson from him, if I knew how. Anyway, Russell is one of my earlier dissociative characters--he has multiple personalities. He claims to have seventeen, though so far the only ones I've "met" in my writing are Russell himself (not sure if he's the original or not, I'm largely unfamiliar with his dissociating history so far) and a "bad"--or more like, excessively angry--alter named Miles. (I have to wonder if Miles is in fact all the bitterness and hatred Russell should be feeling himself due to how lousily he's always been treated. Sounds simple enough, but I really do think Russell is just that...optimistic. *shrug*) In any case, most recently I've learned that before his very brief relationship with Det. Chance Devetko, Russell in fact tried hooking (he lasted two weeks before being arrested--that's in an in-progress untitled story that takes place just before this scene), after his boyfriend Bryan (who, BTW, was a legal adult while involved with the underaged Russell) left him homeless and on his own. In the newest parts of the storyline, he's started two further relationships, including one very odd one with the rather brutish Sheriff Rhoades, who for the life of him can't understand why he's even drawn to somebody like Russell, but despite the fact that Rhoades is married the relationship, strangely enough, seems to be working out (Rhoades's wife is VERRRRRY understanding). To get back to this scene, this is just after Russell's been released from jail after being caught hooking, as I already said, and for some reason Det. Kristeva has taken an interest in helping him out. Russell can't figure out why. Those who've been reading my other 100 Themes Challenge scenes should already know that Kristeva himself has DID (multiple personalities), and though his host personality isn't aware of this at the time of this scene, the alter presenting in the scene, Number Three, is fully aware and so sees a duty in helping out a kindred spirit.
DISCLAIMER: I am not seeking grammar/style/publication critique for this item; I'm not trying to get published, and am content with my writing style, and just wish to entertain others. Feel free to point out errors that aren't just a matter of style preference (e. g., typos). Comments and questions on characters, plot, etc. are more than welcome. All characters, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © tehuti/tehuti_88. If you wish to share this item with others please send them a link.
"I'll stop by to check in on you tomorrow around six. Meet me at the curb out front then."
Russell Whittaker liked to do as he was told, especially when the one telling him to do something was an authority. He believed in obeying authority, and so far this authority had actually seemed interested in his welfare.
He sat on the rickety bench out front of the homeless shelter he'd spent the past night at. The recommendation of the detective he'd spoken with the previous day, the one who'd handled his report (soliciting, that was a new term for him, he'd never heard it referred to that way before now), who'd suggested, based on Russell's own confession that he wasn't mentally fit to work, that he apply for disability in order to have money off which to live, who hadn't reacted with disgust or fear when Russell had at last described exactly what his condition was, who'd probably saved him from having the living shit beaten out of him by another prisoner in the holding cell, who'd ended up letting Russell go after giving him directions to the nearest homeless shelter and advising him to stay there the night and he would come see him the next afternoon. Russell had no idea why he planned to stop by. But he believed in obeying authority, so here he sat, nervously nibbling on his thumbnail and glancing left to right down the street.
Staying the night here hadn't been so bad. He'd spent a brief time homeless, he knew he could do it again if need be, though the thought of cold weather worried him. He'd started to make a little money selling small favors, and had been thoroughly willing to continue doing that, but now that the detective with the strange name had spoken with him he felt guilty at the thought of heading back to that. Like he'd be letting him down. Even though he wasn't sure what the detective could do for him that he hadn't already done. He could hardly stay at the shelter forever. And even if he did get approved for disability, the detective had informed him that was likely to take months, if not years, and he needed to stay someplace until then. So now he felt he was right back where he'd started after being left on his own again--no job, no money, no home, no prospects, and he had to think of a way out of it. So of course, he was nervous. Not upset. Just worried. Things had always worked out before; he was certain they would again. He just didn't know how.
A beep sounded off to his left. His head popped up and he saw a car pulling up to the curb; it halted directly in front of him and the passenger-side window rolled down. The man driving leaned over the seat to wave at him, gesturing him toward the car. Russell hopped to his feet and hurried to open the door and climb inside, shutting it behind him and buckling himself in immediately. The detective--Russell felt bad that he could never remember his name--pulled away from the curb and resumed driving further into the city.
Russell fiddled with the belt just to give himself something to do. "Ahm...where we going...?" he managed to speak up at last, shyly, not sure if he should be asking questions at all.
"A place I checked out last night after you left," the detective said; Russell tried looking for a nametag or badge but he wasn't wearing it. "Sleep okay? Everything go well?"
"Oh! Sure, everything was great. They're real nice there, they had wonderful food and everything."
The detective peered at him from the corner of his eye, seeming to be seeking a lie, which Russell found perplexing; he turned back to the road, apparently finding no deceit. "Well...glad you liked it, then. We're going to have to contact the mental health clinic and see about getting you seen by a psychiatrist."
"What--?" Russell blurted out in dismay; this time the detective glanced directly at him before turning back to the road. "A shrink--? But--I said I'm not nuts, Detective--De--Det--"
"Just Max. It's not to see if you're nuts. It's to get you an official diagnosis and to get the disability process started. With a diagnosis from a psychiatrist, they'll take your case more seriously and you'll have a solid basis for your complaint. You need to get a paper trail started. Especially since you seem to have done just fine below the radar before now. They're going to ask you all sorts of stuff you might not want to go over, but trust me, the more open you are the better."
"But I'm fine," Russell protested weakly. "I don't want no doctor saying I'm crazy."
"I'm no big fan of doctors myself, but don't think of it as a doc saying you're crazy. Think of it as selling yourself--figuratively speaking--to the person who has the power to make sure you get the benefits you deserve in order to live. You have no problem giving some random guy off the street a BJ but you have a problem with this?"
Russell flushed and sank back into his seat, trying to look small. He noticed the detective--Kristeva, he repeated the name over and over to himself now, determined not to forget it this time--peer at him again. "Look...I'm sorry to be so blunt about it. But you can stay in a homeless shelter for a night, then you can handle this too. It doesn't make you crazy. A guy with a bad back can receive benefits to get by. Think of this as your bad back."
"So...where're we going?" Russell asked again in a small voice. "The mental health place?"
"No, first things first. I seem to recall you said that at your last place you did odd jobs for the landlady--? Fixed small things, did errands, whatnot--?"
"Oh. Yeah, sure. All the time. I would've felt like a total louse otherwise, I mean, technically I wasn't on Bryan's lease." He sighed on remembering Bryan and sank even further into his seat, again fiddling with the seatbelt and suddenly feeling quite despondent. "Why?" he thought to say, only after a moment had passed with no response.
"Just making sure. Hidatsa Street? This is the place."
Russell peered curiously out the window. They were pulling to the curb again, parking beside what looked to be an apartment building; this area of town was considerably nicer than the one Russell was used to, even though the building seemed rather old. "Up and out," Kristeva said, gesturing as he climbed out of the car; Russell unbuckled and followed suit. He followed the detective to the doors as he pushed his way in and made his way to the front desk, just a tiny area behind a reinforced glass screen. He dinged a little bell and peered into the opening, having to duck his head; Russell looked around at the little lobby with its peeling checkered tile floor. An old man sat dozing on a small bench to the side.
"Hiya," Kristeva said; Russell turned back to realize he wasn't the one being spoken to. "Told you I'd be back," he added, waggling his fingers at the little opening.
"Detective Max!" a cracking voice said, and an even older man appeared behind the glass, waving back. "You sure you don't wanna move in yourself? Could use a cop in the building. Just saying."
"Sorry, Pat, no can do right now. If I ever want to downgrade I'll keep you in mind." He waved at Russell, who crept forward, hands slinking into his pockets and head lowering so he had to peer up through his eyelashes. "This here is Russell Whittaker. He's looking for a place. Russ, this is Pat McInroy. He's looking for a tenant."
"Oh!" Russell blushed terribly. "But I can't pay any rent, Detective--Det--" He grimaced as the odd name fled his mind.
"This's the kid you said's got some screws loose--?" came the old man's voice from behind the glass. "The one you said can fix things--?"
Kristeva made a face of his own, apparently at both of them, and waved at Russell even more urgently, seeing as Russell was trying surreptitiously to creep back away from the window. "Yes, this is the kid I said has some issues finding employment and housing. Christ, Pat, you make me sound tactful. Russ, get back here. You said you worked for your rent at your old place, well, until you get your disability, meet your employer."
"Huh?" Russell asked, confused.
"You fix things?" the old man behind the glass asked, craning his neck to try to see him; a glare on the glass obscured half of his face from Russell's view. "Plumbing--? Air? Locks?"
"Wha--? Oh." Russell hurried forward and peeped under the window. "Um--yeah--yes, sir. Some stuff. I mean, I'm no pro or anything, I don't know everything, but I learn real fast. I can fix a leak or a broken lock or an air conditioner, if that's what you mean."
"Got some funky electrical issues. Nothing big. Mice or something."
"I can learn to fix some wires, if that's what you mean. I don't know how but I can learn it, if you want."
"How you learn all this stuff, anyway, kid? If you don't ever work?" Pat was squinting by now; Kristeva had stepped aside but looked from one to the other as they spoke.
"Oh. I check out books in the library sometimes. I like to read. You have any manuals? I can look at those too."
"Kid reads manuals...?" Pat peered at Kristeva, who merely shrugged. "Christ...now I know he has issues upstairs. Well--" turning back to Russell, who was blushing again "--who cares 'bout that, 's long as you can fix stuff. Take care of the stuff that needs taking care of and you can stay, gratis, till you get your loony payments or whatever."
"Gratis...?" Russell looked to Kristeva, perplexed.
The detective had pulled out a toothpick and was now rolling it from one side of his mouth to the other. "That means free," he said.
"I thought you said the kid was smart," Pat complained.
Kristeva rolled his eyes. "Pat...we can't all be paragons of intellectualism like you."
"Para-what? You calling me names again--?"
"Just give the kid a key for Christ's sake."
"No need to get pissy, I was just getting to it." He disappeared from Russell's view; Russell had to tilt his head at an angle to make him out, further back, reaching to pull a key off a hook. He returned and shoved it through the opening in the glass. "Here. Second floor, just off the stairs. Room 216. Ground rules--no overnight guests, no loud music, no extreme messes, no pets bigger'n a Pekingese, you know what a Pekingese is--?"
"Um...I think so..."
"Dog built like a breadbasket. Anyway--no parties, no drugs stronger'n weed--seriously, you don't smoke weed, do you--?"
"Oh, no, sir; I can't stand the smell of it..."
"--you can have any booze you want but make sure you pass out in your own room and don't puke all over the furnishings. You keep things maintained, I'll overlook the rent till these loony payments start." He pinned down the tag on the key with a finger so Russell couldn't withdraw it. "Deal?"
"Oh. Of course. Deal!"
The landlord let go of the key and Russell meekly pulled it toward himself. He peered uncertainly at the detective, who pushed himself away from the wall and gestured.
"I'll see you in. Thanks, Pat. I owe you one."
"Yeah, well, see if you're still saying that when you need someplace to crash..."
Russell followed Kristeva to the stairwell. They made their way up in silence; Kristeva took the key and unlocked the door to let Russell in, and Russell looked curiously around the small but neat apartment. The living area and kitchen/dining area occupied the same room but were separated by an island; when he peered into a tiny hallway, he saw a little bedroom and a small bathroom with a shower. He took in a sharp breath and clapped his hands to his mouth.
"What?" Kristeva appeared behind him, looking around with a frown. "The place has cockroaches or something--?"
"Wha--? Oh! No! It's wonderful!" He clapped his hands together and couldn't stop himself from bouncing on his toes, even though it made the detective give him an odd look. "My--my own place? Seriously?"
"Like we said," Kristeva said in a warning tone. "You help keep up the place, you get to stay, until you start getting payments, and then we'll settle the issue of rent. But Pat's flexible. I doubt he'll want to let you go if you can fix things up as easily as you say."
"Oh! Of course I will! I just--I don't know what to say!" Then, without thinking, he whirled around and threw his arms around Kristeva, hugging him tight. He felt the detective jerk and go as stiff as a board; when he quickly let go, he just managed to catch the grimace of pure panic and disgust on the other man's face, and took a hurried step away, realizing that he'd overstepped his bounds. "Er--sorry! Just--I'm so happy! Thank you both so so much!" He settled now for grasping Kristeva's hand--Kristeva nearly yanked it away from him as if purely by reflex, but refrained, and seemed to relax somewhat as Russell bobbed his arm up and down. He put his other hand to his head and rubbed at it as if it hurt.
"Yeah, well...you're welcome. I guess." When Russell let go of his hand, he waited until Russell had turned to look into the small bathroom; Russell noticed how he made a face and seemed to shake himself off as if bugs were crawling on him, and pretended not to see. He took no offense; he knew enough to tell when somebody just didn't like being touched, period. "I'm going to take down the number on your phone and get in touch with you as soon as I hear from the mental health clinic. You still have my card?" Russell nodded quickly. "Call if you have any problems in the meantime."
"Oh. I don't think I'll have any, really. This place is so wonderful! This is so nice of you!"
"And we'll see about when we can set up an appointment for you to be...analyzed or whatever it is they call it nowadays." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a toothpick--Russell hadn't noticed what had become of the first one--and started chewing on it furiously, like a nervous reflex. He frowned a little. "You're sure you'll be fine on your own till then?"
"Uh-huh, I will. Why, you're worried--?" The question slipped out before he could stop it, and he put a hand to his mouth, mortified. Kristeva didn't seem to notice his embarrassment, however; he let his stare roam around the small apartment before pursing his lips so the toothpick stuck out.
"Not really...just wondering about those...moodswings you described." Russell deflated a little bit, feeling his worry start to come creeping back. "Let's just call them moodswings for now," the detective clarified, "in case anyone else hears us talking, all right? No need to complicate things."
"Oh." Russell relaxed a little, understanding what he meant. "Okay, sure. I can do that, easy. But...what was it you were thinking about...?"
"You don't think you'll have any of these moodswings here, do you? I know you said you don't really control them much, they just happen, but if one does, you know what to do? Any techniques or tactics you have to deal with it?"
"Oh." Russell nibbled on his thumbnail. "Not really...never really thought about it much. Why, what do you think I should do?"
"Here." Kristeva held out his hand; Russell tried to give him the key back, but he waved it away, so he dug in his pocket and pulled out the detective's card and handed it over. Kristeva stooped over the small lamp stand and pulled out a pen, scribbling something on the back. He returned the card and Russell read another number. "My home phone. You think you might be ready to have or might've already had one of these moodswings, you call me. Even if it's 3AM. Think you can do that?"
"I...think I can. I'm...um...not so sure if...well..."
"Not so sure if--?"
"Well..." Russell chewed his lip now and stared at the card, feeling foolish even though he'd already said enough in the interview room not to. "I know he wouldn't really want to call," he murmured at last.
"Yeah...um...Miles." He cringed a bit at having to say the name aloud, and peeked up at the detective to gauge his reaction. "That's...that's his name. Miles."
"Miles," Kristeva echoed. The look on his face remained as neutral as ever. "He's the one who comes out and gives you trouble?"
Russell nodded. "Only--only he's not really bad, Det. Kr--Kri--Max, he just..."
"Isn't really a people person. Got it." Kristeva snapped the pen shut and put it away. "Like I said. You have any sort of incident with him or anyone else, you call and let me know. Try keeping track of this, in fact. They'll want to know about it at the clinic."
"Okay. I will."
"You get in any sort of trouble because of him, you do the same, understood?"
"Have to get going now. You're going to seriously think some things over tonight, I hope? What you plan to do next, if this works out? I won't be finding you on a street corner again, will I?"
"Oh--no--I sure hope not!"
"You start working on getting your stuff together, doing something useful from now on, and things should work out. Understood?"
"But what...what if I don't get approved...?"
"Let me worry about that for now. I think your chances are pretty good based on what you've said so far. Just focus on the positive. Get yourself settled in, and I'll talk with you soon."
"Okay. Thanks, Detective." Russell stood and watched as he turned away and headed for the door. "Um...Max...?" he at last forced his voice to work; Kristeva halted with the door half open, looking back at him inquiringly. "I was...just wondering," Russell murmured, scuffing a foot against the cheap carpeting. "Not really why you're doing all this stuff for me, 'cause you just seem like a nice person, is all," he said, and saw how Kristeva blinked, as if to say, You talking about me? "But...well...why you believe me in the first place. People usually think I'm faking, or lying, or just trying to get something," he clarified. "That's kinda why I just don't tell people anymore...why I say I just have moodswings. You're...well, you're kinda the only person who's really listened to me in forever. I was just kinda wondering why, is all."
Silence. Kristeva continued staring at him for a long moment before lifting one shoulder a little bit, the toothpick bobbing once.
"You seem honest. Someone like you should have more opportunities." He turned away once more. "Try getting some rest in case they want to see you soon. Pat'll probably want you up bright and early."
The door closed. Russell stared at it for a long time, then turned in a slow circle, peering around the room, up and down, ceiling and walls and floor and meager but decent furnishings. He still couldn't quite bring himself to believe his luck, but then again, wasn't this the way his life usually worked? What was the saying, when one door closed, another one opened? He wasn't sure about that, but it was like the detective had said, here was a fresh opportunity, and he knew better than to waste it.
He clapped his hands together, key still in his palm, as if to remind himself to get to work. A smile spread across his face. He tucked the key carefully in his pocket and went to wash up in the little bathroom. He wasn't tired just yet, so decided he would head back down to the front desk to see if there were any manuals available for him to study himself to sleep, kill two birds with one stone.