I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.17

"Oy! If I see another bairn again, I think I'll go mad!" exclaimed Gerald vexedly.

"And what on earth is a 'bairn'?" asked Cindy in amusement.

During one lazy afternoon, three days after the Reactor incident, the four Turks had found enough time for some coffee and a friendly chat. Cindy had been lounging on a couch, reading some fashion magazine, when she had spotted Vincent leaving the library. The woman immediately called him, and insisted in her usual sweet way he join her for a cup of coffee in the ShinRa café. Vincent, of course, could not refuse her.

While Cindy was chattering away to the silent Vincent about some trifle subject, Davoren had chanced upon the two. Eager for more company, Cindy kindly invited him to join them as well.

Soon, Gerald had stormed into the café, muttering curses in his strange dialect. He collapsed into a chair at the table of his friends, guzzled his coffee down, then made that bizarre exclamation.

"A bairn!" he insisted, eyeing Cindy suspiciously, "Ye know! A child!"

"Oh? You don't like children?"

"Fuh! I liked 'em until now!" the Turk spluttered.

Vincent sipped his coffee quietly, then checked his watch. Davoren, laughing good-humouredly, offered the angry Gerald a cigarette to soothe him. The Turk snatched it in annoyance.

"I'm just after kidnapping a lit'le rugrat," Gerald muttered as he forced the cigarette into his mouth, "Aie, the guttersnipe! He wouldn't stop crying! Gave me this flippin' headache, blast 'im."

Cindy could not stop laughing at his childish anger. Davoren lighted Gerald's cigarette, then lighted one for himself too. Vincent politely refused the cigarette Davoren offered him.

"Damned if I ever have a bairn!" Gerald scowled, "Ugh! The very thought turns me stomach!"

Gerald was a sandy-haired young man around twenty-three years old, from the far, far North. He was of medium height, with sharp, rugged features and bright green eyes. His parents, proud owners of some huge farm in the North, had slaved most of their lives just to get their son into ShinRa Inc. as a desk clerk.

But Gerald had become a Turk by sheer accident: when some important ShinRa official had ridiculed his foreign accent, Gerald broke the man's nose with one punch. The ShinRa President, delighted with Gerald's spirit (he didn't like that official either), had made him a Turk.

Cindy, a raven-haired beauty around twenty-two years old, came from a more genteel background. She had a soft, slim figure, with dark brown eyes. Both her parents were business owners of some importance, and at first had enrolled her as a secretary in ShinRa Inc. Much to their dismay, their willful daughter found the job 'boring and useless'; she applied to be a Turk instead. The President at first had expressed some skepticism on account of her being a young woman, but eventually had accepted her.

Vincent did not know much about Davoren's background, only that ShinRa valued him, and that virtually everyone who worked in that company honoured him greatly. Indeed, even those who hated him felt a certain amount of respect for this Turk: for when Davoren performed his job, he made sure it was a job well done.

When Gerald had finished venting his hatred on children in general, the conversation turned to the Reactor incident of three days ago.

"Ey, lad," Gerald smiled at Vincent, "And how'd ye manage with those terrorists? Yer arm was injured, I hear."

"Oh, it was nothing, really," Vincent mumbled, swirling his coffee cup nervously, "The bullet only grazed my arm. In fact, it barely touched my skin."

"Aye. Well, never ye mind," he comforted, nodding his head knowledgeably, "I'm sure ye'll do better next time, lad. We were all beginners at one stage."

Vincent only knit his brows as a response. It annoyed him when Gerald treated him as a clueless "beginner"...almost as much as that ridiculous nickname "lad".

"Huh! He may be a beginner Turk," Davoren interjected, puffing his cigarette coolly, "But he's a first-class master with that gun of his...*WAY* better than you, Gerald."

Gerald, of course, instantly demanded an explanation. So, Davoren began a lengthy description of Vincent's impressive skills with the gun, emphasizing his accuracy in particular.

The two Turks, especially Cindy, listened very attentively, but Vincent only fidgeted nervously in his seat. Praise, even well-meant, had never pleased him at all. He was more satisfied to fulfill his duty without recounting the means.

"Bet you can't do THAT with a gun, Gerald," teased Cindy, trying to look innocent, "And you can't call it 'beginner's luck' either, eh?"

"Balderdash!" scoffed Gerald as he crushed his cigarette into the ashtray. He eyed Vincent with evident interest, but said nothing.

"Wait, I'm not finished yet," Davoren chuckled, "Lemme tell you how he wasted the last terrorist..."

The image of Lucrecia suddenly sprang to Vincent's mind as Davoren began the little story. His hand involuntarily reached for the cheek where she had slapped so violently. Her slap, in fact, had hurt him more than the gunshot.

"Who was that?" Vincent asked when Davoren had finished talking.

"Hm? Who was what?"

"That..that woman the terrorist had hostage," Vincent explained timidly, "Who was she?"

"Oh..um...she's that new lab assistant..," Davoren thought aloud, his cigarette in his mouth, "..yeah..I think her name's Lucrecia.."

No sooner had Davoren uttered her name, than Gerald spat out the coffee he was sipping. He appeared very excited all of a sudden.

"Are ye joking?!" he cried, grabbing Vincent's sleeve frantically, "Ye saved Lucrecia, did ye?!!"

"Uh..yeah..I guess.."

"Aye! You lucky dog, you!!"

Several people in the café turned their heads towards the direction of the Turks. Cindy glared suspiciously at Gerald, not at all pleased with his obvious enthusiasm. She then began to coolly poke at her piece of cake with a fork. Davoren smoked his cigarette silently, wondering why that woman's name had aroused such excitement in this Turk.

"I bet she was all over ye!" laughed Gerald with a sly nudge, "C'mon! Out with it! What's she say to ye, lad?"

Vincent's cheeks flushed slightly in confusion: he could have said that Lucrecia had slapped him, called him a jackass amongst other things, then stormed away without any thanks. But instead, Vincent only answered, "Nothing, actually...she just walked away."

"Don't be too disappointed, lad," Gerald sighed, "She's always after giving us poor men the brush-off. But damn me if she isn't a fine, pleasing lit'le thing!!"

"Huh! You seem to know a lot about Lucrecia, Gerald," Cindy muttered with apparent scorn. She placed one hand under her chin, and impertintly looked away.

"And who wouldn't?" he snapped back defiantly, "Just about every man here has noticed her! But she always gives 'em the cold-shoulder!"

Vincent tapped the table top, sorry he had mentioned the subject. Davoren continued to puff at his cigarette quietly. This conversation only interested him mildly.

"She only thinks of her work," Gerald complained, turning to Vincent again, "All she ever does is run around that lab upstairs. She won't even give a man a chance to open his mouth 'afore she walks away! Aye, she's too obsessed with her job, she is."

"I believe the word is 'dedicated'," corrected Cindy.

"Mebbe so...but what an absolute angel! A beautiful face! A nice lit'le waist I'm sure any man'd love to hold..a pair of slender legs..an'.."

"Now, Gerald," Davoren scolded firmly, "None of THAT, please."

"I'm telling ye, lad," Gerald resumed after he apologized, "I once tried to chat her up. Dammy, she wouldn't let me finish me sentence! She just brushed past me like I wasn't there at all! I think it was me accent she didn't like."

"Yeah..that must've been it," Cindy mumbled sarcastically. She only "humph"ed when Gerald glared at her.

"Ey! Ey! Lemme tell ye this story, lad!" Gerald resumed, much amused, "See, every man in ShinRa was interested in Lucrecia when she first came. One day, Donal went up to her an'.."

But the minute he blurted out that name, Gerald instantly smacked both hands over his mouth. Cindy gave a violent start at the name, then darted her head towards Davoren in alarm. Vincent looked around at the nervous company, wondering why the name "Donal" frightened the two Turks so much.

Davoren, however, puffed out a cloud of smoke in a very cool manner, as though Gerald had said nothing at all.

"D..Davoren..Sir..," Gerald stammered anxiously, "I..I'm sorry..I shouldn't ha'.."

"Excuse me," Davoren replied curtly, "The President said he wanted to see me now."

After carelessly flicking his cigarette into the ashtray, Davoren walked away from the group. He said nothing more.

An unnatural silence fell on the group when their leader had left.

 The remaining three Turks, especially Cindy and Gerald, fidgeted nervously in their seats. Judging from their apparent embarrassment, Vincent guessed this "Donal" fellow bore great importance to Davoren. Gerald coughed to ease the tension, but that only added to his awkwardness. Cindy's brown eyes flared up at him in anger.

"You and your big mouth!!" she snapped at him all of a sudden, "You just HAD to mention Donal! Couldn't sleep tonight unless you said his name, could you?!"

"Look, I'm sorry!" Gerald apologized fiercely, "I didn't mean to say his name!! It was a flippin' accident!!!! Alright?!!!"

The two dissentient Turks began to argue vehemently, one accusing while the other defending, until Vincent asked bluntly "Who's Donal?"

Both Turks stopped short on hearing the simple question, then suddenly fell quiet again. Vincent watched them hem and haw for a full minute, each waiting for the other to speak first.

"Donal was the Turk before ye, lad," Gerald finally replied, "..He was Davoren's lit'le brother...his only brother.."

Vincent was silent for a moment before he inquired, "Did he have a fight with Davoren? Is that why you're not supposed to mention his name?"

"No. Donal disappeared...about seven months ago..and still 'aven't been found yet."

In half an hour, the two Turks had finished recounting the full story: Donal, a sprightly young man barely twenty-one years old, was sent on a simple escort mission to some remote town called Wutai. One week later, he mysteriously disappeared.

Naturally, ShinRa Inc. combed the entire island for Donal, questioned several witnesses, even sent a full search party to Wutai. Nothing. The Turk had simply vanished off the face of the earth.

"But the mongrels searched for only two weeks!" remarked Gerald contemptuously, "'Full search party', bloody muck! They never even found his body!"

Nevertheless, Donal was declared to be dead, at least officially. ShinRa, indeed gave up the costly search after only two weeks, and easily found a substitute: Vincent.

However, Davoren angrily demanded ShinRa continue the search for his missing brother. When President ShinRa refused, Davoren insulted the man straight to his face, then signed his own resignation paper: If ShinRa would not search for his brother, he personally would.

"He..quit??" Vincent interrupted in amazement.

"No way!" Cindy answered, shaking her head vigorously, "The President refused point blank to accept Davoren's resignation, even after all the insults. Good Turks like him are hard to find, if you know what I mean."

"So..what happened after that?"

"Well, Davoren kept on insisting his brother was alive, and ShinRa kept on telling him he was dead, until the poor man had a serious mental breakdown. They even had to hospitalize him later on."

"Aye," Gerald agreed with a melancholy sigh, "Davoren had practically raised his lit'le brother. And when he lost him so suddenly, ye might say he lost his will to live as well."

The President, realizing how devastating the loss had been on Davoren, immediately granted him an extended vacation for three months; to "get his life back together", as he later expressed. Gerald and Cindy, under the President's orders, advised Davoren to take the needed vacation, and stay in ShinRa. Too heartbroken to argue, Davoren eventually agreed.

"Y'know that day we stormed the Reactor was his first day back on the job," Cindy concluded at last, "He appears to be coping well..but I don't think he ever recovered from the blow."

A heavy silence fell on the three Turks again, making them appear very awkward to the other people in the café; even the waitress who brought them the check could not help giving them an odd look. Cindy gazed vacantly as Gerald twirl his fork between his clumsy fingers. Vincent placed one hand under his chin, and stared at the dismal grey skyline outside the huge glazed windows.

He felt particularly embarrassed for starting this conversation. His mind fumbled for some excuse to leave until the intercom on the wall saved him.

"Mr. Valentine," called a clear voice through the intercom, "Please report to the President's office. Mr. Valentine to the President's office."

Vincent immediately rose to leave, mumbling a hurried farewell to the two Turks. However, Cindy stood up with him as well.

"Wait, I'll walk you there, Vincent," she smiled coquettishly, glancing at the astonished Gerald for a moment, "I have something very important to tell you."

Before Vincent had a chance to protest, the woman slipped her graceful arm around his, and smiled so innocently into his face so as to render him silent. Gerald, fuming with rage for some unknown reason, scoffed audibly as he turned his head away from the two. Cindy pretended she had seen nothing, then sweetly pulled Vincent out of the café.

"Heh heh," she sniggered when they had left, "Gerald's so cute when he gets angry.."

The two walked down the corridor to the President's office, brushing past employees who bustled about to finish their work. It was already six o'clock in the evening. Vincent did not quite understand what "important" thing Cindy wished to tell him, but asked no questions.

She probably just wanted to tease Gerald..the little flirt, he thought to himself.

As the two ascended the steps to the office, Cindy suddenly tugged Vincent's arm to stop him. Her face still retained a childishly sweet expression, but her brown eyes lit up with a cunning gleam.

"Hey, Vincent," she whispered, peering slyly into his quizzical face, "Do you know *who* asked me about you yesterday?"

From her guileful look and playful voice, Vincent guessed he should know. Unfortunately, no one came to his mind. He only shrugged his shoulders defeatedly.

"Why, Lucrecia, silly!" she announced.

"What?!" he cried, completely stunned with the answer.

"Oh, yeah, it's true," Cindy resumed innocently, "See, yesterday, I was hanging around the Main Reception Hall, when she walked up to me. She asked me if a knew a Turk called 'Valentine'. Of course, I pretended I was stupid and asked her to describe you for me, which she did. I could tell she was REALLY interested in you just from the way she described you."

Vincent blinked in surprise at her. Her sinister artfulness simply astounded him.

"'Oh!' I said, 'THAT Valentine!'. So, I told her a bit about you," Cindy laughed, winking at him, "Don't worry, I put in a good word for you."

He only managed to nod his head as acknowledgment for her kindness.

"I'm happy she's interested in you, Vincent," Cindy smiled angelically, "Goodness only knows WHAT I would have done to her if she were interested in Gerald. She would have made me really jealous!"

So, with another carefree laugh, Cindy bade Vincent a sweet adieu, and skipped down the stairs. Vincent's eyes followed her until she had disappeared from his sight, then resumed his journey up the steps.

He had plenty of time to collect his scattered thoughts; plenty of time to push away all those "useless frivolities" and "silly nonsense". So that by the time he reached the President's office, Vincent had completely re-focused his mind on his job.

-End of Chp.17