The Pill Bugs of Time; by Angel Martinez—A Pill Bug Walking Tour of Philadelphia
A couple months ago I hosted Angel Martinez for Lime Green Gelatin and Other Monsters, Book 1 in the Offbeat Crimes, series and ask her why Philadelphia (I’m originally from Philly and was pleased to see a series set there.) When asked to host The Pill Bugs of Time, I suggested she give the readers a walking tour of places from the books. To my great surprise, she agreed. What follows is awesomeness that needs to be seen. So strap yourselves in and let Angel and her friend take you on a magic Philly walking tour!
A Pill Bug Walking Tour of Philadelphia
Last fall at about this time, my friend Diane came down from Calgary for a convention. Since the con was close to Philadelphia, she asked that we go to the city to visit some of the spots mentioned in the Offbeat Crimes series. The result was a walking tour with pictorial evidence of all of these places during which we walked way too far and had a blast, though our bodies hated us afterward.
We started out at the Waterworks where much of the action from the first book occurs, but it didn’t take us long to start running into bits and pieces of the second book. The second book actually starts at Mt. Pleasant in Fairmount Park, which is a historic mansion (main house and two outbuildings) from 1761-62. We had sense enough not to start quite that far down since I knew we had a ways to go that day, but it’s a lovely house and grounds if you ever get a chance:
The action quickly moves over to the nearby Playing Angels a statue group beside the Schuylkill River. Here’s where I also reiterate what Vikash says about Philadelphia – that it may have more statues per capita than any other city. Probably not literally true, but the statues in public places are everywhere. Diane didn’t really believe me until later:
Walking down from the Waterworks, we passed the Philadelphia Art Museum, famous for its steps, but it’s so much more than that. Beautiful museum surrounded by sculpture, sitting on Eakins Oval at the end of the Ben Franklin Parkway. One of the sculpture groups important to the story sits right out front, the Washington Monument. Quite different from the one people usually think of when you say that:
The walk up the Ben Franklin heading toward City Hall is a lot longer than it looks. *gasp* *pant* Fine, there were breaks along the way and we did pass through Logan Circle to see the Swan Fountain that Wolf and Krisk like so much. This is us, having already shed our coats:
We did reach City Hall eventually – another site from the story where a chase scene begins. It’s a beautiful Victorian/ Second Empire piece of architecture topped by a statue of William Penn. (Yes, that’s Billy Penn up there, not Ben Franklin as folks often think.) Until the 1980’s it was the tallest building in the city:
There was some futzing about around the Convention Center since I’d gotten turned around. (I do this. Often. Badly. Luckily Diane reads maps much more comfortably than I do.) The Convention Center is cool, but not terribly photogenic (you’ll see it across the street in the Paint Torch photo.) So I’ll take you right to our visit to Lenfest Plaza, another sculpture garden and public space in the city. A lot of stuff happens here in the book, so pictures of the Grumman Greenhouse (a repurposed, decommissioned Air Force plane turned into a working greenhouse) and the Paint Torch were mandatory:
The City of Many Sculptures and an absolutely perfect fall day to see it. The sore feet were worth it.
(All photos courtesy of Diane Allan except the Playing Angels photo from Museum Without Walls and the Mt. Pleasant in winter photo by James McClelland and Lynn Miller.)
Vikash Soren, the perfect police officer except for his odd paranormal ability, never seems to lose his temper. Always serene and competent, he’s taken on the role of mediator in a squad room full of misfits. But on the inside, he’s a mess. Unable to tell his police partner that he loves him, Vikash struggles silently, terrified of losing Kyle as a lover, partner and friend.
But life in the 77th Precinct doesn’t leave much room for internal reflection. A confrontation with a stick-throwing tumbleweed in Fairmount Park leads to bizarre consequences involving pill bugs, statues and…time travel? If Vikash manages to survive the week and stay in one point in time, he might be able to address normal things like relationship problems. He just needs Kyle to have a little more patience. Maybe a few centuries’ worth.
Offbeat Crimes Series Info:
Every region has them, but no police department talks about them—the weird crimes, the encounters with creatures out of nightmares. The 77th Precincts exist in certain cities to handle paranormal crime and containment, usually staffed with experienced officers exhibiting psychic abilities.
In Philadelphia, through an odd mix of budget issues and circumstance, the 77th is manned entirely by officers with bizarre or severely limited psychic talents. The firestarter who can’t get a spark when it’s humid. The vampire who can’t drink whole blood. These are the stories of the misfits, the outcasts from even the strangeness of the paranormal community. Call them freaks, but they’re police officers first, serving and protecting, even if their methods aren’t always normal procedure.
Normal was something one left at the door when assigned to a paranormal police station. Officer Vikash Soren had seen that demonstrated the first time he had set foot inside the 77th. During roll call, the man who would later become his partner had accidentally shot fire from his fingers at the ceiling. Someone else’s fire, as it turned out. In the weeks that followed, he had encountered an animated leather jacket, worked with a vampire, a lizard man and various officers of dubious paranormal talents, and had helped stop the killing spree of an alligator snapping turtle the size of a sedan.
It would follow that nothing should surprise him anymore.
But when he walked into the squad room that morning, late due to a doctor’s appointment, his colleagues had gathered around the periphery of the room to watch Greg Santos in a fistfight with a puddle of water.
Coffee cup in hand, he wandered over to lean against the desk beside his partner.
“Hey, Kash.” Kyle gave him a quick glance, his attention fastened on the unlikely pugilists. “Everything go okay?”
“Yes. Shoulder’s fine.”
“You’re not even going to ask, are you?”
Vikash sipped his whipped cream-drowned mocha latte. “You’ll tell me.”
“You saying I talk too much, Soren?” Kyle nudged him with an elbow. “One of us has to. The suspect was originally an ice tree. Tree-ish. Thing. It was ice and looked like a three-year-old had built a tree out of Legos.”
Carrington Loveless III, the department’s nutritionally challenged vampire, came to lean against the desk on Vikash’s other side. “It was, as I understand it, standing on the Ben Franklin Parkway and hitting people as they walked by. Didn’t seem to be causing injury, but we can’t have an ice beast swatting tourists’ asses. Harassment, at the very least. Bad for the city’s image.”
“Why, yes. Yes, it did.” Carrington’s smile was just half a fang short of evil. “Melted through the net in which Santos had snared it, and the resulting puddle goosed him. Things escalated rather quickly from there.”
Greg didn’t seem to be making any headway, other than getting soaked. “Should get an Odo bucket,” Vikash murmured.
Kyle chuckled into his coffee. “Seriously, Carr? You never watched Deep Space Nine? The character who could only retain a solid shape for so long?”
Carrington sniffed. “Masters level courses in geek. Between the two of you, that’s what I’d need to decipher half your conversations.”
“This from someone who sings opera in the car,” Carrington’s partner, Amanda Zacchini, muttered as she walked past, her steps hindered by the piece of equipment she carried. Shira Lourdes, Greg’s partner, hurried after her with an armful of some sort of corrugated hose.
“I like a lot of music!”
“Moody, dark, emo music, sure,” Amanda countered, though her attention was on what she and Shira had brought in, most likely from Amanda’s truck, since they’d tracked in snow as well.
When Amanda attached the hose, Vikash finally recognized it—a Shop-Vac, of the sort people had in their garages or by their workbenches. He shook his head as he hurried over to get the vac plugged in for Amanda. While the male squad members had been standing around watching the struggle, some of them taking bets, their two female members had been deriving a solution.
Without another word, Amanda switched on the vac, sucked up the water combatant, removed the hose and jammed a rubber ball in the opening, effectively trapping the animated water and leaving Greg panting on the floor.
Lieutenant Dunfee had just emerged from her office, eyebrows raised. “Do I want to know?”
Perched on top of the lieutenant’s doorframe, a bright-blue and neon-pink bundle of feathers flapped its wings and let out a raucous croaking laugh. Edgar, the department’s foul-mouthed raven, finally decided to weigh in. “Water sports!” he called out. “Not safe for work! Fucking amateurs!”
Lieutenant Dunfee shot him a withering glare. “Enough with the editorial, Edgar. What the hell is going on out here?”
“Under control, ma’am,” Amanda deadpanned. “But I’m filing an expense report for a Shop-Vac. Just so you know.”
“Get it on my desk. I’ll sign it. See what the bean counters make of that.” The lieutenant pinned Greg with a hard stare. “Santos? You need medical assistance?”
Greg climbed to his feet hastily, wiping the back of one hand across his split lip. “No, ma’am.”
“Good to hear. Back to work, ladies and gentlemen. Try to keep the violent confrontations to a minimum today.”
A rather disgruntled and damp Greg Santos stalked off to the men’s room to clean up while Shira continued with booking the combative puddle.
“Just another day,” Vikash murmured as he finally took his seat at the desk he shared with Kyle.
“Hmm?” Kyle glanced up from his typing. “Oh. Yeah. Though I’m thankful for any day free of explosions and imminent death. Or are you having a paranormal existential crisis again?”
“An amused one.”
“Well, damn. If it’d been the other kind, I could get us takeout from My Thai, light some candles and put on Princess Bride when we got home.”
“Kyle. Work.” Vikash said it gently, but it was all he could do to keep his gaze from darting about to see if anyone had heard.
“It’s not like I’m yelling,” Kyle hissed. “God’s sake, Kash. The paranoia’s getting a little old.”
“Work is work and home is home.”
“Yeah, yeah, and never the twain shall meet. It’s not like I’m cornering you for a quickie in the conference room. Or locking lips over lunch.”
“The increased alliteration when you’re upset.”
“I’m not upset. Just a little irritated that you keep jumping and twitching if I get too close anywhere outside one of our apartments. We’re both professional at work. I don’t insist we hold hands those rare times we go out to dinner. Ticks me off that you keep acting, I don’t know, embarrassed about us.”
“You promised to stick to professional at work.”
“Easy, Soren.” Carrington patted his shoulder as he strolled past. “Suggesting takeout for dinner is hardly unprofessional.”
“You heard?” Vikash’s heart thudded against his breastbone. The whole department knows. Everyone can see.
“Vampire ears, my dear. What don’t I hear? Seriously, though, relax. No one has time to care about your little illicit tryst.”
Vikash might have taken the advice if Virago hadn’t bellowed across the room, “Hey! What’re you girls whispering about? Going to some rainbow and glitter bar?”
“Only if you come with us!” Kyle made kissy face noises in Virago’s direction. “Don’t forget your purse!”
“Shut it, Vance,” Amanda muttered as she stalked past and smacked Virago on the back of the head. “Your conf…confucking…what’s the word, Carr?”
“Conflation,” Carrington called back without missing a beat.
“Yeah, that word…of gay men with actual chicks is offensive.”
Normally, Vance Virago, self-proclaimed tough guy, cringing as he apologized would have been amusing. Vance couldn’t have heard them from across the room. He was merely bullying Kyle as he always did. But the timing was horrible, and between those homophobic words and Vikash’s twitching, they had managed to erase the contented ease from Kyle’s face. It gutted him that Vance could do that. Worse still, Vikash had no idea what to do about it.
He didn’t have a chance for even a minimalistic explanation or apology though, since an alert popped up onscreen from the lieutenant, ordering them to a disturbance in Fairmount Park.
Vance shoved violently back from his desk. “Aw, man!”
And our resident homophobe is our backup. Irritation crawled up Vikash’s spine. Kyle had never done anything to Vance except refuse to crumple under his bullying. Some days it was bad enough that Vikash wanted to file harassment charges on Kyle’s behalf, though Kyle would resent the interference. Still, it was wrong and— Oh, damn.
Through his rising anger, Vikash felt the uncomfortable heated ball of power at his core heralding his strange talent manifesting. He nearly panicked, the urge to reach across the desk and grab Kyle overwhelming. Together, they had a chance to direct the lightning blast of anger somewhere harmless. Maybe the old paper shredder that jammed after every page. But touching Kyle also meant the power would amplify in some bizarre melding of their broken paranormal talents. Not to mention, touching Kyle in the squad room just gave Vance more ammunition.
Then it was too late for choices. The power surged from him as he sat stone still, fighting to keep any reaction from his expression. A pop and a distinct electronic sizzle sounded on his left and he cringed.
“Fuck me!” Vance shouted, batting at his smoking computer monitor.
Jeff stood to help him smother the tiny flames with a towel. “Damn it, Vance. What did you do now?”
“I didn’t do it! I swear!”
“Lieutenant’s gonna stop letting you have computers if you keep breaking them.”
Vikash turned back to find Kyle staring at him instead of watching the commotion, his lips clamped together in an angry line.
“I don’t need you to protect me, Kash.”
“It wasn’t…it got away from me.”
Kyle snorted. “Obviously.”
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The unlikely black sheep of an ivory tower intellectual family, Angel Martinez has managed to make her way through life reasonably unscathed. Despite a wildly misspent youth, she snagged a degree in English Lit, married once and did it right the first time, (same husband for almost twenty-four years) gave birth to one amazing son, (now in college) and realized at some point that she could get paid for writing.
Published since 2006, Angel’s cynical heart cloaks a desperate romantic. You’ll find drama and humor given equal weight in her writing and don’t expect sad endings. Life is sad enough.
She currently lives in Delaware in a drinking town with a college problem and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes.