THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
great apologies to Bogey, Indiana Jones, and others, for borrowing their lines,
here is the next BTL story . . .
2.10 Sloe Gin on a Southern Porch Swing
(post "The Xena Scrolls")
Jan: "You were right."
Mel: "I was, about what?"
Jan: "We were both living in our father's shadows."
Mel: "Well, maybe it's time that we both stepped out into the world and showed them what we can do."
Mel: "Well, not if you don't want -- to."
Jan: "Come on. You can give me a hand."
The Xena Scrolls
It's a hot night in South Carolina. So hot the crickets don't chirp, the June Bugs don't buzz, and the Katydids -- well tonight, Katy don't. I'm sitting on the porch swing of Dr. Pappas' home, trying to soak in the scant breeze -- warm though it may be. Mel inherited the place from the old man. I gotta feel sorry for the kid -- the old man and her mother are both gone, now, leaving her alone in this house the size of Gotham.
It's one thing to be here in the bright light of day, but when the sun goes down, the shadows start to creep up under the eaves, and across the floor, and each creak of the loose boards on the stairs and in the hallway are magnified, hitting your ears like the crack of a ball off the Babe's bat. She's set me up in one of the guest rooms. Not like she doesn't have the space, and she seems glad enough to have me here. Besides, we're research partners now -- two drifters in search of the world.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she came walking into mine, and almost got us killed with her language skills. But now, I have to admit, the kid has grown on me. She's a tall drink of water on a slow, hot day -- a peach of a gal with a set of gams that go on for miles, and a nice pair of tomatoes up front. A real Betty that one is -- easy on the eyes and a voice as smooth as honey on silk.
I can see her now, through the open window, bent over the work we've spread out on the dining room table. Mel believes we'll be re-writing history someday. All those scrolls -- she's been translating them, page by page, and we learn more and more about Xena and the irritating blonde with each passing day. I try not to think of her that way -- Xena told me Gabrielle was important, and I try to be proud of my heritage.
Tough to do, though -- my old man was a thief and a grave robber. Mel's was a well-respected professor in a field where I am nothing but a wannabe -- a hack and a fraud. I'm making this up as I go, sliding home by the seat of my pants -- flying on a wing and a prayer. Dr. Pappas -- he had the plans and the connections -- it's why I wrote to him -- figured he might be my ticket to legitimacy. And legitimate is something I've never been -- never knew my mother -- my old man, he never married her -- all I know with certainty is she had me and left me on his front steps in a basket without so much as a bye-your-leave.
Mel -- she doesn't judge me for my past or my parentage -- not anymore. We've been through too much together. She doesn't remember being Xena, either, but I do, and now I see that power within her, and that beauty. Took a while, but I convinced the kid to give up the stockings, girdles, high-heels, and wave-setting lotion. Told 'er if she's gonna be an archeologist, she needs to dress the part. Fits her like a glove, her new duds -- the tailored trousers and men's shirts tucked into her waistband, a natty fedora tilted over one brow, a shiny watch fob peeking out from her pocket -- the kid does love her sparklies -- can't completely take the girly out of the girl.
Not that I'd want to, especially not tonight -- tonight she's in a sleeveless ribbed top, her foundation garments foregone due to the heat. The lamplight shines on her skin, highlighting a sheen of sweat and outlining some nice points way up high, straining against the cotton stretched across her chest. Her hair is swept up off her neck, just a few loose tendrils escaping down her back. No ruby red lips tonight -- the kid has gone natural on me, lord have mercy. She looks hot, in a good way, and I'm growing impossibly warmer, looking at her.
Time for a cold drink. Luckily, she isn't a holdout prohibitionist. As far as I'm concerned, the whole world is about three drinks behind, and people who don't drink are afraid of revealing themselves. She won't let me smoke in the house, so I stub out my cigar, and make my way inside, pausing in the doorway to observe her. I've fought a few men now to defend her, and I've come to feel protective of the kid -- she's adorable.
We ran into Jack again, somewhere on the outer edge of Mesopotamia -- we'd clued in that Xena once had possession of the Ark -- Ark of the Covenant, that is. Had to explain it to Jack -- that it held the Ten Commandments. What an ignoramus he is. I finally had to spell it out -- the actual Ten Commandments. The original stone tablets that Moses brought down out of Mt. Herub and smashed, if you believe in that sort of thing. Didn't that guy ever go to Sunday school? Gee whiz. What a moron.
Anyway, Jack joined up with us, and we were hot on the trail of the Ark, following some maps in Gabrielle's scrolls, when we got ourselves caught in a trap set by some of Smythe's men. It seems some of them escaped from Ares' tomb. I shoulda used a bigger load of dynamite. Luckily we'd stowed the scrolls in a Swiss bank vault, miles from where we were -- all we had was Mel's well-copied drawing of the map.
Didn't matter -- Smythe's men wanted the map, and more importantly, they wanted the scrolls. But I wasn't going to give up the location -- not unless they set Mel free. See it, all depended on how reasonable they were willing to be. They wanted the scrolls. All I want is the girl.
Here's the ticket -- I'm not in this for the moola, no matter
what the buzz may be from those who knew my old man. The only reason to have
money is to tell any SOB in the world to go to hell. I'm in it for the history
and the glory -- a chance to apply some respect to the name the old man gave
me. But now I'm in it for her -- this brainy, beautiful broad I travel with
everywhere I go. And she wasn't about to give up the scrolls, come hell or high
I tried to take a page from Gabrielle's scrolls -- tried reasoning with Smythe's men, on behalf of Mel, Jack, and myself -- but it didn't take much to see that to them, the problems of three little people didn't add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world. They weren't letting anyone go, and they wanted the location of the scrolls, or they were going to kill us. Then I figured, things are never so bad they can't be made worse -- they were going to kill us, one way or the other -- get the information out of us and pick us off, or give up and leave us for dead in the old underground slammer they'd tossed us in.
But Mel -- she had a plan. In the middle of the night she showed some leg to the sole guard watching us, and convinced him to let her out of the cell to spend some time with him. He proceeded to tie one on, with my Mel eagerly refilling his glass with the home-made wine he kept stashed behind a brick in the wall. Soon as he passed out stinkin' drunk, she tied him up, stole the key from his belt, and let us out.
What a gal! Xena would've been proud of her -- it was textbook
warrior princess, just like she'd used her feminine whiles so many times in
the ancient past. We snuck out and were probably halfway across the desert by
the time the rest of the men knew we were missing.
Smythe's men can't get into this country, so we're safe for now. Besides -- at the end of the day, those scrolls go into a safe in a hidden compartment beneath the basement floor. No one knows we have them -- as added protection, we faked a plane crash -- parachuting to safety over the Amazon Jungle in South America, with a tube of scrolls strapped to my back, and Mel strapped firmly to my front. The official buzz for the rags is that the scrolls went up in flames. That's our story, and we're sticking to it, until the translation is complete.
Finally, I push away from the door frame and slide over to the wet bar next to the table, and pour myself a tall glass of sloe gin on the rocks. That'll hit the spot on a night like this. "Want a drink, Darlin'?" I turn around and move in beside her, bumping her shoulder with my hip.
"Give me just another minute here, Junior." She starts to roll up one of the scrolls.
"Don't call me 'Junior'." I frown. It's a nickname she's picked up -- nasty habit she needs to break. I am not my old man.
"Very well, then, Sugar." Sugar. Now that's more like it. She tucks the scroll into a metal tube and caps it firmly. "I could use a little ol' break here."
"What'll it be, Sweetheart? Mint Julip? Sweet red wine? Whiskey Sour? Sloe Gin like mine?" I turn back to the bar and pull out another glass.
"Welllll," she drawls. And then she sneaks up on me like Xena, her next words right in my ear, sending a pleasant tingle down my spine. "What I'd really like, is a Sloe Comfortable Screw, out on the porch." She rubs up against me like a cat in heat, and I suddenly realize I'm not the only one with an itch to scratch.
"Um . . ." The blood has left my brain, draining to points far south. "What's in that, again?"
"Take your Sloe Gin, Sugar, and add some whiskey, vodka, and orange juice. Now . . ." She trails a long red fingernail across my chest, and I am suddenly grateful I didn't talk her out of nail polish. "I'm going to go make myself comfortable out on that porch swing. You finish pouring up that drink, and bring it on out there to me -- I could use something to wet my whistle." She leans over me, her hair tickling the side of my face. "You know how to whistle, don't you, Janice? You just put your lips together and blow."
And with that, she sashays out the door. Me -- my knees give out and I grab the edge of the bar for support. Lord, have mercy! There's going to be some sparking on the porch tonight. Little Janice is gonna get lucky. I somehow manage to make her drink -- even tack on a pretty piece of mint leaf for garnish. Dames like that sort of thing.
With both drinks in hand, I back out the screen door and turn to face her as it slams behind me. She crooks a finger at me and I join her on the swing, sitting a polite distance apart. I'd never presume anything about a lady until she makes her intentions perfectly clear, all flirtations aside. I hand over her glass and clink the edge of mine against hers. "Here's looking at you, kid." I smile and wink, and drain my drink.
My eyebrows shoot up, as Mel slams down the entire glassful in a few swallows, and sets it aside, licking her lips suggestively. She leans over coyly, and pats the space between us. "Come on over here, Yankee, and keep me company. I can call you 'Yankee,' can't I?"
"Yankee. Junior. Call me whatever you want to. Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." I close the distance and drape an arm around her shoulders.
"You can do better than that, can't you, Stud?" Her hand cups my kneecap, then slides up my leg, those nails trailing against my inner thigh. "You've got a couple of years on me, don't you Janice? Surely you can teach little ol' Mel a thing or two?" She blows in my ear, and I groan in anticipation. Her intentions are more than clear.
"It's not the years, Honey. It's the mileage." I lean in for a kiss, and she presses that long body up against me, pinning me to the back of the porch swing. I don't know who's gonna be teaching who, but I do know one thing, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.
Next in the BTL series - "Masquerade" (post "Here She Comes, Miss Amphipolis")
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