This is the last of four vignettes featuring Veniamin Kovalenko, the werebear detective I play in a Dresden Files game. Here, Venia tries to address the damage done to an important relationship of his. Through the course of the game, it’s become clear that he has a pretty big problem with authority; he also began the game with an almost pathological need to hide his true nature from his fellow supernatural guys. However, over the course of several sessions, he’s become attached to this makeshift dysfunctional family and his stance on connection has softened quite a lot. It’s such a relief to be able to bear out in front of people!
Next week, I’ll be writing fan-fiction of Beast from the X-Men. I wanted to work on dialogue this month, try to capture distinctive voices that have already been established. There are so many ways to say the same thing, and it fascinates me. Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.
Veniamin shifted his gift basket from from one hand to the other and rolled his left shoulder. His wound had healed well, but not completely; he wondered if he would be one of those old bears who could feel a storm coming by the way his forelimb creaked. He couldn’t go to a doctor to get it checked out for a number of reasons — the modern medical establishment just wasn’t equipped to deal with the effects of silver on the long-term healing of the North American werebear.
The basket was loaded with a number of foods that Veniamin thought would be clever, but now just felt like an unpleasant reminder of an unpleasant evening. Smoked salmon rested next to a pound of blueberries, a small set of honey samplers, some chocolate-covered fruits, a few massive bear claws. There was a vanilla-scented candle shaped as a friendly bear holding a heart; there was a small Zuni fetish made of deer antler and turquoise for the heart-line. There was a pound of coffee from an Alaskan roaster, and a ostentatious bouquet of two dozen red roses.
He was holding all of this in front of the Jayaraman Coffee Roasters shop near Fisherman’s Wharf at 5:30 in the morning, his collar turned up against the chill and the fog. He had heard Marian got a job here from two baristas at his regular place who had no idea he could actually hear them. They had each told him, on separate days, that Marian had no desire to see him and if he kept pressing them on it they would report him to the police for stalking.
The memory of that made him wince. He had managed to oust the Lieutenant responsible for supplying vampires with a steady food supply, but it had cost him his contacts in the department and any possible goodwill he could ever have with local law enforcement from then on. Any run-in with the police would be a bad one, for a good long time.
Veniamin shifted uneasily next to the glass door, leaning against the dark red brick. The job was done. He could forget about it mostly, except for one loose end.
He knew where Marian lived, of course. He wouldn’t be a good private detective if he couldn’t have tracked her down. There was no way he could show up at her house again, though — even he knew that it would scare her out of her mind. He figured showing up at her workplace, with an obvious peace offering, would be a better option.
Veniamin had no idea why he had to see her, but he couldn’t leave it alone. He just had to let her know that he appreciated her help, even if she had no idea what she was doing when she did so. If he could just thank her once, in person, then his business would be concluded and he could move on.
It had taken him a solid month to work up the courage to do this, and even now he wasn’t sure it was a good idea. It only now occurred to him that it might be seen as slightly creepy to be waiting outside a woman’s place of work with an absurd gift basket and a turned-up collar. In fact, the more he thought about it the more he was sure this was a bad idea. He sighed and hunched his shoulders against the damp. At least she wasn’t here yet. He could simply slip away and figure out another way to thank–
“Veniamin?” Mariam appeared out of the fog to his left. Her voice was tight and high — a mixture of surprise and fear. He cursed himself for not realizing how poorly-advised this was earlier.
He turned and took off his hat with his free hand, revealing the disheveled mop of brown hair. He smiled, then thought the better of it, looking away from her but stepping forward. “Hey. I…I know that you don’t want to see me–”
“Stay back!” Mariam practically shouted. She glanced around at the fog, no doubt trying to find an exit point through the soup of the air. Veniamin’s heart sunk. He could practically smell the fear radiating from her.
“No, it’s OK! I’m…OK, here.” Veniamin slowly put the gift basket down, placed his hat on top of it, and held up his hands. “I’m not armed, and I won’t come any closer. Just…hear me out, OK?”
Mariam was silent. When Veniamin glanced at her, he saw she had her cell phone out. An invisible, cold hand squeezed his heart within his chest.
“I know that night was a big shock, and I know that you have every right to never want to see me again. But I just…I just had to let you know that I really appreciate you taking me in and giving me a place to lie low. I’m so sorry that you had to find out…about me…the way you did. And I genuinely hope I haven’t caused any more trouble for you. If I have, just…let me know, OK? I’ll fix it and if at all possible I’ll do it without you having to see me do it.”
The words came tumbling out of him, earnestly and quickly. It was the most he had said to anyone since coming to this smelly, damp city. It surprised him how much he meant it, how much he wished he could repair what relationship they had, how much he wanted to be accepted by her.
Mariam stayed silent for a long time. She was staring at him, but she wasn’t using her phone. That, at least, was something.
“O…K. Is that it?”
Veniamin nodded. “Yeah. I…bought you a gift basket. Something to remember me by.” He smiled weakly.
“But I don’t want to remember you.”
“Then throw it out. I just wanted you to have it. What you do with it is your affair.” Veniamin couldn’t keep the hurt out of his voice. “That’s it. Thank you. Goodbye.”
Veniamin paused, glancing at Mariam just in case she wanted to say something. Even a goodbye would be something, an opening, a chance. But she just stared.
He sighed and bent slow, pulling his hat up and placing it back on his head. “If you ever need help, just give the little bear figurine to one of the baristas at your old coffee shop along with a note. Let me know what you need me to do and I’ll do it. They have my number. They’ll make sure I get it quickly.”
Mariam still said nothing. He waited, but she remained silent. Veniamin nodded once, turned and left.
It was clear to him that he would need to keep himself a secret here to anyone who didn’t already know about…monsters like him. It would probably be a good idea to keep himself secret from half of the folks who did. Not for the first time, he missed his family; simple and loud though they were, they were open and free.
Then he remembered Uncle Rudkoff; the old man was never content to live his life on the outskirts of a small town, and tried to drown his frustrations with as much alcohol as he could. He was gunned down by park rangers when he shifted during a bar fight; he was forgotten by just about everyone thanks to the efforts of a particularly good “cleaner”, and his family were able to keep their small lodge and their way of life.
Veniamin knew two things from that: he had the same wanderlust his Uncle had, and he wanted to make sure the monsters in the shadows were protected from themselves. So he moved to San Francisco as soon as he was able to learn the trade, and each new case was a hard lesson on what not to do.
This lesson was particularly hard, though. Was it just not possible to connect with someone normal without hiding this immense part of yourself? Was it really necessary to be detached from everyone and everything you come in contact with?
Veniamin tried to wall off the ache that thought caused. His face hardened. Probably, and crying about it wasn’t really going to solve anything. He’d need to take a few days to shake this one off, but that was just fine. He had a bottle of whiskey and a library of Humphrey Bogart movies to help him through it.