A Place for Strangers and Beggars
Daniel Dreiberg stood at his front door, listening to the conversation occurring on the other side through the small slit of his postage slot. Beside him, his bowl of mashed potato and vegetables sat on the table, still steaming but untouched. He’d also left his TV on, but lowered the volume to a minimum level.
He could hear a female’s voice, along with a gruff voice obviously belonging to a man. Rorschach’s voice.
The female, she was yelling through the heavy rain, “Are you sure Nite Owl lives here? I dunno… I thought you’d take me to a…well, a nest, a barn or a treehouse or something.”
“No. Nite Owl lives in a house.” Came Rorschach’s dry response. “Not actually an owl.”
“Oh, I see. Then why don’t you just knock? You did the same at my – “
“Might not be at home.” Rorschach’s voice grumbled back.
Daniel looked up and said, “Wait, I’m right here, hold on – “ Crap, he forgot he was not in costume and Rorschach had brought a stranger to his house.
“Did you hear something?” asked the woman.
Daniel cursed. They hadn’t heard him from outside; it was too noisy in the street.
“His light’s on.” said the woman.
“Keeps robbers out.”
“Well, yes, but – “
Daniel immediately stepped back; uh-oh. Rorschach really had brought someone to his house – no doubt, a stranger – Daniel rushed to his basement door and instantaneously unlocked it, then trotted down the stairs and pulled out his costume from the hanger. Back upstairs, he heard a loud crash and footsteps. Rorschach must’ve broken in. There goes another lock, he thought. Stripping himself of his usual attire, he quickly eased himself into his Nite Owl stretchy pants and put both sleeves up, then proceeded to flatten out his cape. He was about to pull his hood over his head when –
Dan stopped, slowly turned round after he had fitted the hood over his head and nose just in time. “Uh…Rorschach. Good evening.” He blinked at the faceless man who was watching him from the landing. A girl stood meekly beside him, peering over his shoulder. Dan quickly stuffed his feet into his boots and stood back up straight with his arms akimbo.
“…Maintenance hatch was steel-bolted. Couldn’t get in. Doorbell didn’t work. Didn’t know if you were in.” Rorschach grunted out as he walked down, with the girl following closely.
“How may I help you?”
“Apologies for short notice. Hope this isn’t a bad time.”
“O-Of course not. Sorry about the hatch, I forgot they installed a new lock.” Nite Owl said, as he slapped his goggles over his eyes and looked from Rorschach to the girl, as he stepped out of his business gear on the floor and picked them back up. He looked at the girl. “This is…?”
Rorschach said, “Whore.”
Nite Owl blinked in surprise.
The girl cringed and threw an uncomfortable glance to her shoes. But then she cleared her throat and stepped in front of Rorschach, making the man move his head to the left and out of her shadow. “Evelyn Carter.” The girl introduced herself politely, holding a hand out. She smiled pleasantly at him, completely unaffected by the comment. “It is an honour to meet you, Mr Nite Owl, sir. I did not know you lived just down the block from me.” She added, still smiling as she marvelled his basement, or, Nite Owl’s Lair, as it was famed. Wow, she was actually inside, and talking to the Owl himself… She didn’t hesitate to let her eyes wander aimlessly.
Nite Owl took her hand, and she shook it energetically, still with the big smile plastered over her face; his arm almost fell off his shoulder once she let go. He watched her with an uneasy feeling in his stomach, secretly hoping she was not a rabid fan (now that she knew where he lived), then turned away from the duo as he stored away his clothes and shoes. “Is…Is there trouble?”
“Need to get to Brooklyn. Fast.”
“Will explain on way.” Rorschach said as he walked towards the large thing in the middle of the room covered by the cloth. “You have time?”
Nite Owl nodded, picking up the keys from the table. “Yeah. Archie will get you there in five minutes. Hop on.”
“Who’s Archie?” Carter piped up, following the two men down the stairs to the floor of the basement.
Rorschach ignored her as Nite Owl walked up to the massive round object in the centre of the basement, and he peeled away the cloth delicately, revealing the Owl ship. “This is Archie.” Nite Owl said; he couldn’t help but smile proudly as the girl’s mouth fell to the ground in admiration.
Carter stared, numb with excitement.
Nite Owl continued his speech, “It’s full name is Archimedes, and I’ve had the ship for quite a long time now. I’ve named the ship after… blah blah blah…”
She was no longer listening. In fact, listening to other people and their history was not her forte at all. Instead, her eyes went wide. Her mouth never did close. She looked at the rounded… vehicle, and slowly reached a hand up, her palm making contact with the smoothness of the exterior. She couldn’t believe her eyes; this was…incredible. It was real. She could touch it, feel it. Excitement and anticipation began bubbling inside her. Beside her, Nite Owl moved the door down, and Rorschach stomped inside first.
“After you, Miss Carter.” Nite Owl called her over.
She looked back up, then nodded, dumbfounded, and waddled over to the open hatch. “You have a bathroom in there, right?”
“Good. I get travel sick really badly.”
He helped her up on board by giving her his hand – she stared at his gloved palm and accepted with a wide smile, stepping inside and gazing around the ship’s interior like a child at Christmas.
Rorschach was now standing at one of the Owl’s ‘eyes’, staring out of the glass. “Don’t touch.” He reprimanded her, and she immediately pulled back her finger from a random, glowing red button that had intrigued her, staring like a deer caught in headlights back at him. He grumbled something unintelligible under his breath and looked away.
“Don’t worry about Rorschach, he’s a bit rough around the edges, but he gets the job done.” Nite Owl reassured her as he began to lift the hatch back up, then he promptly remembered that Rorschach had just called her a whore in front of him. “…Miss Carter, I apologise on behalf of my partner, he can be…”
“Difficult?” She suggested, as he locked the door and made his way to the cockpit. He turned to her, and smiled helplessly as she followed him. “It’s okay, Mr Nite Owl, sir. I know Mr Rorschach is not from around these parts and must find human language so hard to understand. It is difficult and if there is any way in which I can help make him feel more at home on this planet he must find so unfamiliar, then I will not hesitate to offer my assistance.”
Nite Owl watched on in amazement at her…well, he wasn’t even sure if it was ignorance, or just plain stupidity.
“By the way, when did he arrive on Earth?”
A few seconds consisting of silence passed. “W…What?” Nite Owl then croaked out, feeling as though his hood had tightened around his neck. He wondered if Rorschach had heard. Nite Owl scratched at his hood in confusion. This girl was indeed, very strange. He swallowed down, rubbed his palms together. “I-I’m not…sure.”
“Very well then.” She smiled widely at him again, patted him on the shoulder, and made her way up to Rorschach, leaving Nite Owl with another unpleasant feeling in his stomach.
“So…why Brooklyn?” Nite Owl began, as he sat himself down in the seat and revved the Owl Ship up; it hovered from its stacks for a few moments, before slowly making a beeline out of the basement. Beside him, Carter was marvelling at the basement tunnel’s walls, while Rorschach merely grunted.
“My niece has been kidnapped.” Carter said, “Mr Rorschach is helping me look for her. Mr Rorschach got a few leads today. Some guy hiding out in some hotel in Brooklyn named Graham Marsh.”
Stunned for a moment, Nite Owl looked up at the man. “Rorschach…?”
“Made a promise to the parents. Will return girl alive.” He turned to Nite Owl. “Need you to keep an eye on New York while we’re gone.”
Once they arrived, Rorschach leapt out of the hatch and onto the ground below; Nite Owl had dropped them off at the roof of the hotel where Graham Marsh supposedly resided in, and where they would stay for the duration of the night until tomorrow – she also had not had the courage to go to her sister yet, without Blair. Carter peeped out of the hatch, her fist tightening around the safety bar. The Owl ship was whipping up discarded leaflets and dust around, and Carter stared at the far proximity between the ship and the rooftop. She shook her head, backing further into the ship’s body.
“Can’t you go lower, Mr Nite Owl sir?”
“Sorry, Miss Carter. I’m afraid this is the best Archie can manage.” Nite Owl replied, “Will you be alright?”
“Y-Yeah…I-I can do this.” Carter immediately felt awful about herself; Mr Nite Owl sir had already been generous enough to give them a lift to Brooklyn instead of the irritating use of public transport that would usually take longer, and now she was pestering him because she was afraid of heights! “…Come on, Evie, you can do this. Yes, yes. You can do it…”
Down below, Rorschach, with a hand over his fedora, roared up at her, “What are you waiting for?!”
And Carter whimpered.
“W-Will you catch me?” She wailed loudly at him over the deafening humming noise of Archie’s engines. “I don’t want to fall and…break a leg, or something, Mr Rorschach.”
Rorschach paused for a few moments, then snarled under his breath, took his hat off in case it blew away in the wind and stuffed it into his jacket, then he promptly held his arms out, as if egging her to jump. Carter let out another whimper and then closed her eyes, took one giant flying leap out of the hatch into Rorschach’s supposedly awaiting arms.
He pulled his arms back.
And she fell.
Flat on the ground.
“Miss Carter!” Nite Owl yelled out, when Rorschach put his hat back on his head and looked away from the mess on the floor.
She coughed out and rolled onto her back, rasping in pain. At least she was still intact and out of the Owlship. Carter opened her eyes, blinked, and looked up into the morphing kaleidoscope of black and white in her vision.
“Hurm,” He made a funny noise as he cocked his head to the side, “Wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
She shook her head.
Without waiting, he peeled her off the ground, made her stand up. Her head was spinning, and the two turned back to the Owl ship; Nite Owl, who was visible from behind one of the rounded glass windows, saluted them and Carter waved back dazedly, while Rorschach merely stood his ground as the ship began to rise steadily back into the night-time atmosphere, whipping wind around them. Carter had to hold her hair down in place, as the Owl ship quickly hovered out of view, leaving them in silence.
Finally, Carter turned to him, clapped her hands together. “Okay then, let’s go going – ” She turned round to see Rorschach, who was already climbing down the fire exit stairwell. “Wait for me, Mr Rorschach!” She hurried after him.
She arrived at the hotel lobby; it wasn’t a very top-notch hotel. Maybe owned by a small family or something. Rorschach was nowhere to be seen. He said he’d come to her room after she got the key. She didn’t know hotels didn’t welcome vigilantes. There was no sign saying ‘No entry to masks’. Nevertheless, she dragged herself into the building – a rather, derelict building it was – what was it now, one or two stars, or diamonds? She didn’t know. At her left, she saw the reception desk, where an overweight man in a white vest sat, an electronic fan whirring noiselessly over his head. To her right, there was a stair case and a few dusty sofas, along with a table and a pile of old, worn-out magazines. She walked up, ignoring the fact that one of the lights weren’t working properly and was now giving her an eyesore by continuously flickering on and off arbitrarily.
“Ah, yes,” She smiled at the balding man behind the counter who was slumped in a foldable chair, his eyes glued to the flashing screen of the TV that was sitting propped up on the counter. “I would like a room please, just for tonight.”
She waited patiently with a cool smile on her face, drumming her fingers on the surface.
The balding man finally swerved his eyes up at her, smacked his lips, then eventually slid out of his chair and moved to the noticeboard on the wall, where a few keys were pinned up, and took one off. “Room three-oh-two. Third floor. That’s fifty bucks.”
“Fifty bucks…right.” Carter handed him the money, then began to move towards the direction of the staircase, but then she turned back round, and smiled at him again. “Oh, before I forget. There’s a man named Graham Marsh staying here, right? Do you know what room he’s in?”
“Wife.” Her lips curled into a smile, but her eye twitched at the same time. “I am…his…wife.”
The man inspected her from head to toe, unimpressed, but then – “…Whatever you say, ma’am.” He rolled his eyes and sat back in his chair, folded his arms and resumed in watching his game show.
“What room is he in?”
The man raised an eyebrow at her.
Sweating slightly, Carter thought fast and then quickly reached into her pocket, protruding out a few dollars. She nervously handed them to him. “I need to know.” She said sternly, “Was he… with another woman? Or…girl?”
The man ignored her last sentence, raking in the bribe. “He’s in Room four two-two.”
“Four hundred and twenty two, got it.” She looked back, waiting for more information.
“What? What do you want now?!” He barked at her, and she jerked back in fright, “Can’t you see you’re interrupting my TV show?? Scram!”
Carter moved away from the counter quickly, then stormed upstairs and out of sight.
As soon as she was gone, a draught blew in and the man shivered, then turned round and realised his window was still open. He moved out his chair again, shut the window and reached a hand forward to pull back the curtains of his window. At that precise moment, a shadow flitted past, and he yelped, stepped back. Startled, he flung open the window again and stuck his head out, to see the silhouette of a man in the moonlight, climbing up the pipe to the third floor.
No wonder this place was one-star, or diamond. Whatever.
Inside the room, Carter looked up and around. She could hear someone on the floor above her, trampling around like as if they were a plough or something. On her way to the room, she’d passed two little boys screaming and fighting over a toy sword, before their mother came out – a snarling, ghost of a woman with dark circles under eyes, her lanky figure fitted in a tattered nightrobe – and screaming at them to simmer down before yelling ‘what the hell are you looking at?’ at Carter before chasing her down the corridor, brandishing a rolling pin. She’d also passed a man sitting on the floor in a foetal position, repeatedly banging his head against the wall, while staring at her endlessly as she passed.
Dare she say it, she felt slightly safer in the room.
She locked the door behind her, and put down her bag on the bed, sat down. Immediately, she sunk inside and had a hard time struggling to get out. Carter jerked back up, pulled back the sheets. She swore she saw a bedbug on the duvet. Sighing, she went to the desk and lifted up the kettle. It rattled when she shook it, and she put it back down, slightly worried. Next, she checked the sofa – it seemed clean enough, if not, uncomfortable to sleep on, but it was better than the bed. She trotted to the bathroom and didn’t dare look at the toilet. The interior said it all. The tiles were coated in a nice layer of slime and mould. The bathtub had traces of… pinkish-orange patches – body fat residue, washed off during showering – and the sink had hair in the basin.
When she heard a tap on the window, she rushed out, drew back the curtains and opened it, allowed him inside.
“Hmph.” Rorschach barged in, then grunted under his breath as he adjusted his scarf, staring at his reflection in the grimy shaving mirror that was left on the desk beside the bed. Once he was done, he looked around, then picked up her bag from the bed, flicking off a miniscule bedbug that had crawled onto the strap. “…Disgusting.”
“… At least we have a place to stay for the night. He’s in room four hundred and twenty two. Let’s go – “
“No.” He stopped her, before she could say more, and handed her the bag back. “You stay.”
“What?” She began, “…But…But I want to come!”
He stood his ground stiffly. “Too dangerous. Will report back if I find some leads. Don’t worry.” He said, not looking at her as he closed the window and drew back the curtains. “Lock the room and don’t come out.”
And without another word, Rorschach moved past her, opened the door and stepped out.
Carter peered round the room dolefully. “Well…better make the use of this experience…” She wandered over to the lamp and flicked on the switch – and it responded with a brilliant burst out firecracker energy that she leapt back, yelping at the miniature explosion. She tried to calm herself down and nudged the lamp to a safe corner. She didn’t think it was a good idea to take a bath; she could contract various skin diseases from the bathtub. She didn’t want to sleep on the bed.
Sighing, she sat rigidly against the sofa opposite the cabinet, took out a clean wipe from her bag and wrapped her hand in it, then picked up the remote and flicked on the TV.
There was nothing interesting on in Channel 1.
There was nothing interesting on in Channel 2.
There was nothing interesting on in Channel 3.
There was nothing –
Carter flicked angrily at the 4 button. They had no channel 4. She clicked on 5; nothing happened, just the white and grey fuzzy lines. She clicked on 6, then 7, then 8, and 9. There was nothing. Grumbling in defeat, she switched off the TV and sat in silence, hearing the clock tick.
Rorschach returned forty five minutes later from an unsuccessful expedition at Room four two-two and stood behind the door of Room three oh-two. In Room four two-two; he discovered the following; a suitcase with dirty clothes, one hundred and two dollars and twenty-five cents in his back-pocket of a pair of discarded jeans, an aeroplane ticket to Miami, a flask of cold water, a pack of travel sick pills, a porn magazine, and a small packet of white powder in a glasses case. Marsh was indeed a felon. Rorschach put everything back the way it looked, and left the empty room. The man had gone out for a packet of cigarettes. Would be back soon.
At the door of Room three oh-two, he knocked, waited for a response. From the other side, he could hear someone crying. Then sniffling and snorting heavily, and then he heard her meekly squeaking out, “Hello…?”
“Carter.” He grunted out, and he looked back at the doorway – all the neighbours pulled their heads back from their open doorways, returned into their rooms and slammed their doors shut in unison. They were terrified of him. Some guy had even grabbed is suitcase and ran; when that happened, Rorschach punched him in the nose and discovered he’d robbed seventy five dollars and a few scratchcards from a convenience store and was now terrified of vigilantes going after him. Rorschach dropped him off at the local police station.
She opened the door for him and he shuffled inside, realising her eyes were red and swollen, and she was clutching a damp tissue in her hand, and a half-eaten chocolate bar in the other. “…He…He wasn’t in?” She snivelled out, smothering at her eyes. But he had already seen all the tears leaking down her chin.
All he could do was nod.
“…Well, why didn’t you wait for him to come back?”
He looked at her, wondered if it was right to ask if she was alright when she clearly was not. It seemed she understood as well, but she still gawked back at him strangely and swallowed down, still hiccupping. Feeling a strange heat rise in her cheek, then a fake, wretched smile plastered over her face and she grinned toothily. “You don’t have to worry about me, honestly, I’m fine.”
They stood limply in the hotel room; Carter still sobbing.
“So…Wh-What do we do?” She said, hiccupping in between words.
Two minutes later, Rorschach and Carter were rigidly sitting on the sofa approximately a foot away from each other at their own end. One hand gripped the armrest numbly, the other making holes in the damp tissue with her tense fingers. She turned to him, opened her mouth, but then paused. She turned back to her front. Rorschach turned to her, but didn’t say anything. He turned back to his front.
Eventually, Carter twisted back round to him, “D-Do you want to watch TV?”
Silence. They could hear the loud ticking from the grimy clock on the wall. A few seconds later, Carter thought she was going to turn crazy. A few seconds later, Rorschach’s stomach gurgled.
She turned to him once again. “You’re hungry.”
“Chocolate bar?” She lifted up her half-eaten candy to him.
And she looked away, then it down on it herself and finished the rest. “Okay.”
One minute later, his stomach grumbled again.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?” Carter immediately got up from the sofa. “I’ll get you something from the vending machine. I’ll go out to the shops. I’ll go to the local supermarket – ”
She just wanted to get out of here.
And she didn’t wait for a response. She snatched her bag from the ground and hurriedly left the room, slamming the door shut behind her. She waited for a few moments, breathing heavily with her back pressed against the door, and then took off sprinting down the hallway and down the stairs. She arrived at the reception hall, to find the bald man now snoring loudly in his seat, the TV still on. She quietly tiptoed up to the ancient vending machine and slotted in a few cents, then collected a packet of crisps and a can of pepsi, hoping they would suit to Rorschach’s tastes.
Carter waddled back up the stairs, and opened the door to her room again.
“Rorschach, I’m back.”
He wasn’t there.