When dessert was over, I didn’t really want to leave the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce. I felt safe here, but I couldn’t tell my client that I was too uncomfortable around her to continue my job, not unless… unless I wanted to end our business relationship permanently. I supposed that I could end things here. I never really considered burning a bridge before, but the possibility was blatant. The idea was exciting and somewhat of a relief for me, yet I wasn’t certain I should as I looked at her smiling face. She was sincerely happy as far as I could tell, and Aaliyah had told me that I could trust my gut when she told me of my magic. Ruining a girl’s happiness, however fleeting it would be, seemed wrong to me. What I had learned over the course of our meal made me question what sort of villain Maxine was. She seemed to mean well, though I couldn’t approve of her approach. I wondered if she purposely harmed anyone or just wasn’t careful about avoiding injuries. Were there any casualties? I needed to talk with Jarod. With his stack of research, he’d surely know more specifics about what Maxine does. Of course, how would we know if the news lied on those occasions as well as this one?
“James, how do you fare with heights?” inquired Maxine once we were in the limo. For a moment, I had a horrible vision of clutching me in her cybernetic suit while flying through the air. She had mentioned “kidnapping” after all. Telling myself that wasn’t going to happen, I said, “Heights have never bothered me.” I wasn’t precisely defenseless, and she would need to get into the suit before she could attempt such a thing. “This may seem like an odd request given my condition, but I would like to be touristy and go to the top of the tallest building. Would you take me?” she asked. Mila started driving before I even replied, but I assured Maxine “Of course, but, if you don’t mind my asking, why do you want to go up there?” Her grip tightened on my arm as she leaned her head against it. “I’m curious what I’ll be able to hear and smell from up there, what the wind will feel like whipping against us.” she replied, almost wistfully. “Oh. Is that all?” I asked. She hesitated a moment before saying, barely above a whisper, “I may have heard of such a thing in an old movie and wanted to experience it.” Villain or not, Maxine was a cute girl, unless she was putting on a facade, but I didn’t get that impression from her. Jarod would be proud of my paranoia, I was sure, but I preferred being more relaxed.
To my great shock, Maxine wanted to take the stairs, even when I told her there were over two thousand steps. Reminding myself again that this strange girl was a client, I acquiesced and began the arduous journey. As we climbed, she held tightly to my arm, teasing about how stairs were far more fun for her. She could imagine the stairs leading anywhere she wanted while I was stuck seeing reality. She went on to say, “Ignoring the sound and smell, I could see us climbing on secret stairs to the top of a mountain or boarding a spacecraft parked on a roof. You could be taking me to your secret condo for a late night rendezvous.” The last was said in a playful, teasing voice that probably had me blushing with how hot I felt. Looking at her, I wondered if I had been seeing things in the restaurant. Her glasses seemed perfectly normal, not filled with any sort of electronics. “Or maybe we’re lost together, desperately trying to find a way out from the maze below. The city’s layout really is maze-like from what I’ve heard.” she continued. I was as impressed by her imagination as I was glad to be in shape after the first few hundred stairs. At least, I hoped we had traversed at least a few hundred.
Maxine seemed perfectly fine, never faltering as we climbed, and I wondered what sort of workouts she did. Being wealthy, she probably had a personal trainer of some sort. Whatever the case, I was distinctly reminded of the talk of kidnapping when I saw the large man on the stairwell ahead of us. He was a very sturdy looking man whose nose had obviously been broken at least once, but he dressed in an expensive-looking leather jacket as black as his clothes and a flat cap, which I rarely saw anywhere. I considered different ways to defend us as he reached into a bag at his side while staring me down. I was pretty confident that I could disarm him with a spell, though I didn’t really want someone out there knowing I could use magic. I did a double take when the man pulled out two bottles of water. “There you go, miss. Need anything else before I head off?” he asked. While I took the proffered bottles, Maxine told him “No. Thank you, Aengus.” The man nodded to her and stepped inside, apparently not wanting to take the stairs himself. “Aengus is such a sweetheart once you get to know him. We had a disagreement a while back, but I managed to bring him around. Now he works for me doing odd jobs.” she claimed as we continued our climb.
I spent the rest of the climb listening to Maxine’s stories while wondering what her intentions were. She obviously planned for this, but to what end? She couldn’t really just love taking stairs this much, could she? Glancing at my phone to check for missed messages, I found that we had taken over forty minutes to get to the top by the time we arrived, and the cold wind made me shiver. Maxine apparently felt the same way, hugging me for warmth. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t anyone else here. I lived in the city ― well, a suburb ― for my entire life without being on the roof. Still clinging to me, Maxine said, “Take me by the edge, James.” I did as she wished, wondering at how the walls seemed so low. I could easily see the streets below and kept a hand on Maxine’s shoulder just in case. “I’m not honestly certain we’re supposed to be here.” I mentioned, voicing my doubts. “Don’t worry. I know the company’s president, which is why the door was unlocked.” she claimed. Though I didn’t doubt what she said, I really wasn’t comfortable with the situation. “Did you know some birds are born blind, James?” she asked out of the blue. I tried not to stare too hard at the sky being too keenly aware of the fall just a step ahead. “No. I can’t say that I ever considered it.” I admitted.
“My niñera raised me, really, since my parents wanted nothing to do with me, feeling I was defective.” explained Maxine, scorn evident in her voice at the end. She continued, saying, “She was a hispanic nanny that my parents only hired because she was willing to work for the least out of those who interviewed. She was a fan of old movies and told me about Slepaya ptitsa, a Russian film about a boy who wanted to help a blind bird. My niñera taught me not to let others restrain me with their assumptions about what I could do, to seek the skies if that’s what I wanted. I know better than to try flying a plane, but I wanted to come here and breathe the same air as the birds with a boy who helped me reach this height today. Help me to see, James. What’s out there?” She turned around at the end, and I saw her smile through the hair whipping around her face in the wind. I knew she could fly with the suit she built, though I didn’t understand how she navigated. What was her purpose here? Playing along with the fantastic stories she told me on the way up, I told her “A great kingdom stretches out before us with endless buildings extending into the horizon. Were you to address those below, they would never even know you were speaking, so great is the distance between us. The great carriages rushing about appear as multi-colored toys scurrying around by their own volition.”
“So even you can admit that, when staring at the big picture, the individuals disappear?” asked Maxine, smiling up at me as if she could see my face. “I can’t say I’m experienced at planning anything grand, but I hope I’d manage to help all I could if I were to plan something big.” I told her, still confused. “That man whom we spoke of earlier could very well be attempting to fight a great evil we couldn’t even notice from down there, and in turn he can’t be expected to notice each one of us with his eyes glued on the greater good.” she argued. Was this all an elaborate continuation of our earlier conversation? I felt the conversation to be a bit disjointed and more idealistic than realistic. Nonetheless, she continued trying to persuade me of the merits “Marvelous Max” had as we took the elevator down. We spent the rest of the day visiting numerous other tourist spots, each leading into another argument for her alter ego’s righteous actions. I was tired of the debate long before the date was over, but did my best to remain a decent companion for the duration of my employment, which Maxine wished to extend. “With a guest at home, I can hardly keep myself out and still consider myself a decent host. Please forgive me for any disappointment, but I will see you again tomorrow at your auction.” I assured her before parting ways. I wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow.