As I expected, I didn't really sleep well at all. I tossed, turned, checked my email, tossed, downloaded some porn, turned, and otherwise tried to distract myself from the mental overload I was feeling. The dangling feeling of being two steps off the precipice and thinking that maybe- just maybe, if you don't look down, you can keep running to the opposite side of the crevasse. At eleven, I blearily pulled myself out of bed, rubbing my eyes. I showered, had some breakfast, and blundered my way downstairs.
When I stumbled outside I landed directly in the arms of a police officer. I had a moment of panic before I realized that I had walked into him, and that he was as surprised by this as I was. He regained composure first and shoved me back roughly. "Watch it buddy." He turned, and returned to the conversation he had been having with a more than a half dozen other cops. Most of the cops were turned out in heavy response gear; assault rifles, flack jackets, helmets, the whole nine yards. The rest were probably higher ranking officers and were dressed in suits and wearing sunglasses.
"Um... excuse me?" I asked. Sixteen eyes turned on me. It wasn't chilly exactly, they were all looking perfectly friendly. In fact, they were smiling, and the entire tableau was mismatched with this emergency response gear. "I'm just wondering, is there any particular reason you all are standing on a street corner all geared up? Is there some crisis I should know about?"
"Nothin' to worry about," one of the grunts said. "Unless of course you're the type that should be worrying about having to deal with cops. Are you?"
I floundered for a moment, considering last nights activities.
"Geez Bill, subtle," one of the other well armed cops said. "Nah, this here is just a basic show of force. Let people know we're not going to take things lightly."
I nodded, puzzled. "So you just stand around on a street corner holding assault weapons... just to scare people basically."
One of the suited officers decided this was a good time to step in. "It's not about scaring people. It's about showing that we're capable and prepared to respond to any threat."
"Threat? What threat? You're not exactly running down a dime bag hustler, are you?"
The suit's face darkened. "You know what kind of threats. Terrorist kinds of threats."
I laughed out loud. In retrospect, I really shouldn't have. "What the hell? What are a couple of guys with machine guns going to do against a jetliner smashing into another building? Or a bomb planted on a subway train? That's such bullshit. You're just trying to keep people scared enough that they think they need your protection."
"Alright wise guy," the suit stepped towards me. "Why don't you give me some ID."
"You heard me. I'm an officer of the law and I want to see some ID. Fork it over."
"Fine." I pulled out my wallet and handed him my driver's liscense. "Happy?"
He gave it a once over, then walked to a cruiser, and let me watch him run my ID. A few moments later he came back, and handed it to me. "Good, now get your ass to wherever you're supposed to be."
"Yeah, whatever." I started walking away. "Fucking prick."
A couple of subway lines and a short walk later I was in Queens. The address Kristin had given me was for a trashy housing project. Litter was thicker than the rest of the city, the graffitti covering pretty much every surface, and all of the surrounding buildings were somewhat slanted and sagging, looking terribly dissapointed with their current state. I walked up to one of the trashier buildings, noting to myself that the apartment I was going to was C4, and rang the bell. Kristin answered it, her pink fluffy sweater looking totally out of place in this neighborhood. Amazingly, unlike most people, she looked good in pink. "Good, you're here. Come on in!" She turned and yelled, "Thom's here!"
A voice from inside yelled, "Well, if he wants pizza and beer he better hurry, we're almost out."
Another voice replied, "You just want him to finish it so he's the one who has to pick up more."
A third joined in, this one husky and feminine. "Let the boy in here. I want to see the treat Kristin has brought us."
I followed Kristin in, and saw three people sitting in the room. Sprawled on the couch was an enormous black man, who had to be three hundred pounds of solid muscle, shoving a slice of pizza down his throat. On the other side was what looked like a sixteen year old kid in an NYU t-shirt. Between the two, sitting perfeclty erect on a stool, was the Lady himself, Le Contesse. "My, my. Welcome to my parlor." While s/he wasn't wearing the eighteenth centry masterpiece from the club, s/he still carried on as if s/he was still wearing it. Even a pair of jeans and a skin tight tee-shirt looked regal.
"Not to be a dick, but perhaps we should do some introductions?" asked the kid in the NYU shirt.
"Then you must be volunteering to start." Le Contesse didn't take hir eyes off of me.
"Sure. I don't really have one name, but most people know me as Jack. Jack the Giant-killer."
I nodded over to the large black man. "You obviously are out of practice."
"I resent that," the large man retorted from the couch. "I'm a gentle giant, sweet as a lamb. Eric, by the way."
"Well, good, we all know everyone's names." Le Contesse broke in. "I am, of course, Le Contesse." S/he stood, and assumed the regal air of one holding court. It was then I noticed that there were scraps of fabric lying all over the floor, six pin-cushions, and spools of thread. "Let us continue with our meeting. Were were working on the starburst section of the quilt. Let us get back to it. Kristin, since Thom is your guest, you can guide him."
Kristin whispered in my ear, "We're donating it to one of the local children's homes. There's hundreds of little quilting clubs donating them, so the kids can have nice blankets."
I whispered back, "You mean you're actually a quilting club."
She got that mischevious gleam in her eyes, "Of course we are. What did you expect?"
So we sat down on the floor, with Eric and Jack the Giant-killer and Le Contesse, and I learned to quilt.