Here's a new quest, prosers. The central idea is Creative and Fictious writing.

What do we do?

It is kind of like "Round Robin" but on a broader scale. One noder creates a character in one city (it doesn't have a name). The noder's character has a short story which has certain elements and different people in it, then the next noder creates their own character, but in the same city and they take certain elements from the last noder (or noders) story/ies. The more nodes, the more elements to draw from. One thing I recommend doing is putting in bold characters or elements that are used in the next story. It will help the reader out.

The first write-up is written by myself and will kind of be like an example. It will be the launching pad for the Quest. Now that mine has been posted, the next noder will take off from my story.

Got it? Good

Ground rules

  1. Stay inside the city. Do not wander outside of the city or drift the story outside of it, rural areas included. Sub-divisions may be welcome.
  2. Take at least one obscure character out of the previous stories and implement into your story. Make the story revolve around this character. This seems limiting now, but actually it will challenge you to be more diverse in your writing.
  3. Animals are welcome. Node about any imaginary city pets.
  4. /Msg other noders if needed to help you understand what elements might be best to take and what may not. Side note: We have created a room called City of Souls where you can easily discuss with others what is going on, exchange and share your ideas and what is going on with your stories.
  5. The format is Walking Man style, in that each node is like a chapter, so that a noder will be able to node more then one story. That is why this node is entitled City of Souls I. So when you got to post up your first story post up on City of Souls II, because this node is locked. If you are mad that you aren't able to write more, we have City of Souls II and then, eventually, City of Souls III
  6. Here's the tricky part. Chronology. The stories must be in synch with each other so the time period will be present time and the season is spring. I see the city as resembling New York or Chicago, so snow is involved. However, the weather can change and the snow can melt, just be consistent. Also, I want everything to go in order and I want more people to draw from the previous noder then the first story written, so I will let you know if you should wait for a little bit and then start writing. Believe me it will be worth it.
  7. You don't have to keep it private, but if you want to do it without the risk, there's this little box that says, "Don't display in New Write-ups", click it.
  8. Please notify me FIRST before you even start writing. I know who is writing what, so we won't get the stories entangled and details mixed-up. I can tell you what character has not been written about and where you can take off from.
  9. Move forward! One problem I am consistently seeing is that we are tending to keep things in the same neighborhood. Let's move this puppy around, people!
  10. If your story or writing isn't satisfactory, I or a god may come to you and tell you to try again. I want to keep the standards somewhat high on this quest.
  • If you have a problem with somebody's write-up, tell them, don't tell me. I am not a Content Editor or a god, so I have no control over other peoples WU's. Also, be encouraging. Don't slam their feelings into oblivion.
  • Finally, If you wait, something better may come along

    I admit, I'm not a good creative writer, but this may help me learn more as well as others who struggle in this area.

    Runtime: As long as we can go.

    Think "The Sims", but on a broader, literary scale.

    People who are in and their stories.

    City of Souls I

    1. Inflatable_Monk- Snowstorm - Main Character: Sam Parizzi
    2. drownzsurf - Shelter from the Storm - Main Character: Michael Callahan
    3. RoyHoo33 - "Thanks Sam" - Main Character: Leyton Webb (Note: Roy has decided to destroy his work. Any characters used from his piece are still valid.)
    4. Posmella - Twinned Storms - Main Character: Damien and Sarah the screaming married couple
    5. crewgrrl - Stormy Surprise - Main Character: Valerie, Michael's ex-girlfriend.
    6. CoolBluesMan - A Student of Some Depth - Main Character: Katie Reeves
    7. allseeingeye - Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight - Main Character: the Gangbangers, Lamont and J-dawg
    8. Gartogg - Clarity - Main Character: John the Publican
    9. Habakkuk - The Call - Main Character: Frank, the parking lot attendant.
    10. Diabolic - "If anyone asks, I'm not here." - Main Character: Alvarez, the Chief of Police
    11. Haschel47 - Unexpected Windfall - Main Character: Earl, Frank's Brother-in-law
    12. disarmed42 - Zeitgeist - Main Character: The Zeitgeist Building
    13. TanisNikana - A Long Lunch - Main Character: Nolan Danielson
    14. Swap - Ptichka uletyela (The bird has flown) - Main Character: Stairwell Drunkard

    City of Souls II

    1. Inflatable_Monk - Under the Weather - Main Character: Don the Weatherman
    2. Dep - Winter, Sex, Spring - Main Character: Valerie and Michael
    3. Habakkuk - Dorothy's Story - Main Character: Dorothy, Don's assistant
    4. Haschel47 - A Time of Discovery - Main Character: Derek Olsen
    5. drownzsurf - Escape - Main Character: Michael and Valerie
    6. katana - Untitled - Main Character: Mrs. Kortchek 00100 - HAS CLAIMED REBECCA the Waitress
    JordanM - HAS CLAIMED MS. MYERS the Landlady
    iambic - HAS CLAIMED BRENDA, Nolan Danielson's Secretary
    waterhouse HAS CLAIMED JOHN the News Anchor

    People who are waiting to post
    Izubachi
    icicle
    Simulacron3
    Chiisuta
    Andromache01
    bane221
    fondue
    Infinite_Burn
    mauler
    Stealth Munchkin
    vandewal
    Andrew Aguecheek
    00100
    bookw56
    Proguar
    zgirll
    Vos
    kowalski
    Lastwords
    momo
    Chad Reasco
    waterhouse
    TanisNikana
    Note: This has gotten bigger then I expected, so don't be surprised if I say wait.

    City of Souls I is now closed for new write-ups, but City of Souls II is now open for new write-ups.


    Snowstorm

    It was midday and a dark cloud hung over the city making it look like evening at lunchtime. Sam's Deli decided to close up early, because of the impending blizzard. Sam Parizzi, a tired looking man, with a thinning hair line and a truly Italian looking face; decided it would be best to go back to his place at Sun Vista apartments rather than face driving home in the snow. Sam fumbled for his keys in his coat pocket as the soft falling of snow coated the outside sidewalk.

    Michael Callahan came burling down the street, bundled up from head to toe. Michael was a young man in his mid-twenties with brown hair and a seemingly permanent five o'clock shadow.

    "You need any help Sam?"
    "Naw, I'm fine. Just locking her up early before I get snowed in there."
    "Shoot! I was looking to get a sandwich after work!" Michael said with a grin.
    "I'll make ya a knuckle sandwich! Hows about that!" Sam said with a smile.
    Michael laughed. "Oh well, you need a ride home?"
    "Well, I don't live too far from here..."
    "Oh come on! My car's just parked on the other side of Main street. Come on, I'll give you a ride back to the apartments."
    "Oh. OK" Sam replied.

    Michael took Sam's arm and they walked over to Michael's car. A few young gangbanger types were outside checking all the cars for goods.
    "Isn't a little cold outside for you kids to be outside. You should be shoveling sidewalks for money or something." Sam said.
    "Isn't it about time for you to die, ol' man?" One of the gangbanger kids said with a heckling voice.
    "Just ignore them Sam." Michael said.

    Michael helped Sam into the car and they drove off. They had a little trouble at first because at this time the snow had accumulated just enough to make the roads slick.

    Sun Vista apartments had the marks of what used to be a respectable and expensive place to live, but now, the gangs had moved in, the foundation was rugged and cracked. There was a fountain in the little courtyard in the middle of the buildings, but vandals had though it would make a good trick to steal it. The beauty had faded from Sun Vista. As Michael and Sam walked down the hall with the wooden floor creaking and aching at every step, screams of babies and a married couple resonated from the paper thin walls. At the end of the dimly lit hall slumped a drunk old man with a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand.

    "Here it is." Sam said as he fumbled for his keys. "You wanna come in? I'll make you a sandwich" Sam said with a grin.
    "Nah, as good as that sounds, I better get back to Valerie. She told me if I'm not home by 7, I'll be sleeping on the couch."
    "Ooh. That hurts! Who's wearing the pants in this relationship eh?", heckled Sam.
    Michael replied with a grin, "I dunno, but I'll let you know as soon as I find 'em. Hey, you have a good night Sam" Michael then waved goodbye and made his way down the hall.
    "Bye Michael. See ya later."

    Sam stepped into the apartment. For a single, male adult his apartment was surprisingly clean. Sam was a man of order and he made sure everything had a place. Dolores, his deceased wife, always told him he was a perfectionist, but he never thought he was. He just liked things to be where he put them the next day.

    The apartment was small, but big enough for Sam. The carpet was an ugly, greyish brown and the walls were white once but had now become a pale yellow. He had one TV and one couch. Both had survived the 70's and 80's, but had a little trouble during the 90's.

    Sam put his coat in the closet and went to the fridge to pull out a TV dinner. After he put the dinner in the microwave he then sat down...and cried. Just like every night, with his face in his hands, the tears came down the weathered and lonely face. He remembered her and how she always knew the right things to say, how she enunciated her words, and how whenever she held his hand, he knew they were still in love. After she died of cancer, Sam didn't think he could go on, but he kept the shop going and he kept living. But now, he felt as though the life had been drained out of him. Everybody saw him fade and breakdown, just like and the apartment he lived in.

    Ms. Myers, the landlady, said he could keep living at Sun Vista for free if he kept up the maintenance. So he stayed and watched everything change. The neighborhood and the city changed, but he stayed the same. His shop reflected it too. Nothing in the Deli was updated. Donny, a regular, used to call the Deli "the last living relic in the city".

    The microwave beeped. Sam slowly stopped weeping, got out of his chair and took his meal out of the microwave...his last meal. He knew it was time. He could feel it in his bones.

    Take a fork and spoon. Use a napkin? Why? It's not like I'll be cleaning up afterwards.

    He sat down on the couch with the TV tray on his lap, then turned on the TV with his remote.

    What should I watch? The news? No. I don't want to hear about anything bad before I die. (click) "The Jerry Springer Show"? No way. If I'm gonna die it's not while watching that tripe. (click) Ah, here we go. "Jeopardy". The one thing I always watch I can't miss. Not even this time.

    So he sat, and ate, and watched.

    After his meal he set his utensils down and closed his eyes.
    One final sleep and he wouldn't be waking up.


    Please take from this elements that you see that can fit into your story. Have fun!

    Shelter from the Storm

    While Pat Sajak was spinning his big Wheel, and Alex Trebek was finished shaking hands, a slightly quivering Michael Callahan was having some free-wheeling problems of his own --each time he took off when the lights turned green. Michael could not wait to get home out of this "Winter Wonderland" mess, which just a few years ago would have been a white ticket out of school. He was stressed-out enough at work, let alone driving in this crap, trying to please so many bosses with his foot-in-the-door job as "Administrative Office Assistant." "Let's face it," he thought, even though the pay here was better than he would have received in Maple Grove, "he was really just an Office Boy!"

    Finally, the Zietgeist Building was looming ahead between the worsening flecks of the blinding onslaught, like some lighthouse beckoning him to comfort and safety. His mind then raced to what one secretary had told him earlier, "Mike, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone, if you ever want an epiphany in your life."

    "Mind your own friggin' business!" he would have liked to have said, but he knew hitting the pavement again for employment would be a torture zone.

    He was helpless to retort to their joking, especially the mocking last words of one of the vice-presidents, "The Five O'Clock Shadow knows!" He felt more like Marilyn Manson on a bender. But, a hot dinner, a good book, and hitting the sack early sounded like a plan, as he pulled into the underground parking garage.

    "Hi Frank! He said to the attendant, as he flashed his permit out of habit, "Good thing you live where you work, ya don't wanna be out in this slick-as-eel-manure night." He parked and walked to the elevator, which still continued to amaze Michael in its Art Nouveau brass and pewter framing. He thought of Bob Dylan's song, "She belongs to Me," and the line "...you are a walking antique." Well, riding, maybe.

    Just about all his paycheck went to paying the rent on this place, but, when he opened the heavy metal door to his apartment, he was reminded how cool it was to have one big room (save the bathroom) with all hardwood floors in this converted industrial building. The stories these plastered walls could tell. The 15th floor afforded a pretty good view, if watching a satellite's eye of the alley was your thing. He locked his door behind him as he stepped into the sparsely, but tastefully decorated loft, throwing his coat, a dripping bundle of London Fog, onto the tile of his roomy bathroom. He knew what water did to wood, his father, "Big" Hank Callahan, was a furniture restorer back in Stockton County. He headed straight for the fridge, and was dismayed to see that something had caused the freezer door not to close completely, and once again, he had to play the role of Nanook, chipping crusty, hard, cold stuff again, just to get to his "Hearty, Healthy Hunk" meal to cook it in the most important invention of the past century: his forty dollar microwave. Potato chips from Sam's would have made his meal a balanced one.

    Life was pretty good, so far. "Chicks," he mused stoically, "would all be there for him after he made the big-time." He knew that old girlfriend, Valerie, leeching on him back in small-town America, would love to know where he was, and what he was doing. Though he had more open sky back home, he felt less suffocated even in the foreboding canyons of the metropolis. Sitting at his fake rosewood table to eat his kilo of mystery meat, he was not lonely, or sad, just frustrated that his vision of success was too much in slow motion. Slo-Mo was fine for freezing the action in football games, though he preferred to read now; and these were books written by those guys who climbed financially to the pinnacle. That Mick Jagger song popped into his head at that very moment, "I'm gonna make it to the top, baby."

    But, something started invading the edges of his mind -- it was Sam --his face had taken on a strange visage, unexplainable, really, when those 'hoods,' as his Dad used to call them, threatened him. He shouldn't have made up that story about a waiting roommate of the female variety; but refusing Sam's hospitality for the excuse of coming back to a true bachelor pad, not even he would dare to use. Something could be wrong for an old guy like Parizzi, stuck in a decaying part of the world. Now he experienced something relatively rare, he began to feel guilty.

    Twinned Storms

    He was the sort of person who lathered, rinsed and lathered again - just because it said to on the bottle. She, on the other hand, often crossed at the traffic lights when the red man said not to cross. It was inevitable that things would eventually explode, but both ignored - or were ignorant of - this fact until they were so far into things that it was too late to change.

    "Yes?" he said. The word hung in the air, impregnating it with impatience.
    She paused, searching for a suitably delicate way to say what needed to be said. "There's been a... misunderstanding."
    He looked up from the newspaper, fixing his intently-grey eyes on her face. He said nothing. Waited.
    She hunted through her mind once more for another non-incriminating phrase, but her words failed her - he was the crossword one, not she. "Listen, Damien, about the rent... Ms. Myers says there's been a problem... says she didn't get paid." Although she didn't say anything more, the accusation was in her doe-brown eyes.
    "You know as well as I do that money's tight right now," Damien said, although if money was tight, it had nothing compared to the tension in his voice. "Can't you just bake her some muffins or whatever. Get some extra time." He looked away from Sarah as he pulled the tab of another beer, pushing five empty tins aside as he did so.
    "No, Damien, I want to know. Where's the money gone? Don't sit there with your beer and tell me there isn't any." This was the first time in ages that the petite brunette had attempted to contradict her husband, and although she held her chin high, her fingers nervously twisted a button on her jeans.

    Damien slammed a fist on the plywood table, trying to a justifiably indignant expression. "Sarah, don't start with me. I've been working all day to try to get us out of this dump, and I don't even get to enjoy a cold one when I get back?" By the time he had finished, the cups on the table had settled back into their saucers.
    But it's not just one, Sarah thought. "Well, what do we do?"
    In the next apartment they heard their neighbour begin his daily sobbing, and it only infuriated Damien further. "Sarah, I don't need this. I-don't-fucking-need-this. I come home looking for peace and quiet, and all I find are more problems!"
    The table shuddered as he got up, almost as if it mirrored Sarah's desire to get away. She drew back slightly, her timidity the last straw for Damien. "Don't wait up," he snapped, striding across the apartment and slamming his way out the door.

    Even as her eyes misted - Damn the man! - Sarah still listened to her husband, simply by habit. His angry tread in the hallway, his curse - "Get out. Bloody drunkard." - his retreating footsteps on the stairs. And even as she collapsed against the thin wall to join the widower next door in his sobs, letting out several month's worth of bottled stress, all she could think about was that it was cold outside, and that he hadn't taken his coat. Maybe they shouldn't have married so young. Maybe they weren't even that compatible. Maybe. They'd had arguments before, of course, but this one was worse than usual - he'd sworn. "Last refuge of the person with a limited lexicon," he'd always said. An impending storm outside. Another in Sun Vista.



    Damien, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his camel-coloured pants to keep the air from biting them. The air was almost electric with a storm to come, almost as if the city held its breath. Damien, kicking a tin can off the pavement and into the gutter as he walked along, mood as dark as the sky above. A city, holding its breath, Damien breathing heavily through his nose, muttering angrily inside his head. Has no right to tell me what to do, he snarled, but was rebutted by his conscience: She is your partner in all things. Stupid conscience, always having to be bloody right, always correcting. So, the money was gone, not all of it. They'd scrape through the month, as long as they cut a few costs here and there. I earn the money around here. Mine to spend. What does she do to help? Conscience: Holds you at night. Holds you whenever you hurt, even when she is not actually there. Complements you through her differences. Door clicks behind Damien. Friday night, and the regular crowd is in the half-lit bar, 925. Nine-to-five, if you will, and the bad name reflects the clientele it attracts, tired workers who only wish to commune with a drink, and the like-souls in the room.
    "Usual, Damien?" It's the barkeep, John. It's always amused Damien, somewhat: John the Publican. Like something from the middle ages, but instead of laughing at John, who's also known as Big John, and never even needs to employ a bouncer, he simply nods.
    "On the tab, John. Cheers," he adds, as a wet glass of beer is placed before him. John has the perfect tap style, when it comes to filling a glass, always achieving the perfect ratio between liquid and head, but somehow the glass always gets covered in the drink. Little matter.
    "'Bout the tab..." John says, leaning forward on the bar to speak conspiratorially with Damien, or at least attempt to do so. No such luck.
    "Yeah, I know." Damien's shrug is far more eloquent than his words, and John gives and understanding smile in return.
    "I know you're good for it," the giant of a barkeep says, never one to aim for conflict, not that he's ever needed to, "So just when you can, yes?" He doesn't even wait for the nod he knows will be coming, but turns to serve the next worker.

    Damien stays in 925 for an hour, not speaking to the other patrons, and quietly nursing his beer in the knowledge that Sarah was right - they can't really afford too many right now. She was a French teacher, although out of work right now, and his perfectionistic leaning had led to a job at the bank on Main Street. It had been a wonderful building in its day, white columns and imposing, but now it was being renovated, like most of the city. "It's the twenty-first century now, can't stay in the past forever," or so the council kept saying. By the time that the clock ticks over to seven pm, Damien's bad mood has evaporated, despite the rising wind and dropping temperature outside.

    Catching Big John's eye and tipping his head in a nod of thanks, Damien slid off the barstool, wishing that he had taken a jersey with him. Stepping back out into the pewter-skied evening, Damien suppressed an anticipatory shiver as dead leaves blew around him in eddies. Storm's a-comin'. Even though he had told her not to wait up, assuming that he would be back late, Damien decided to return to Sarah, to tell her the truth about the money, about how the small debts he had created everywhere kept adding up. 925 being no exception. Shoving his hands deep into his pockets once more, Damien tucked his chin down into his collar, trying to trap what little warmth his body had created, and swept along the pavement in a long-legged stride. Past the bank where he worked, and an old delicatessen nearby... past clothing stores, cafés and restaurants. Home. To Sun Vista. To Sarah.



    She sat at the kitchen table, elbows pressed against the wood, hands pressing into her closed eyes. Sarah didn't want to look around her, at the depressing sight of the home that she and Damien had forged in this part of town. Oh Damien, why? I don't understand. They were so different, maybe this whole thing had been one big mistake...


    Click.


    Sarah didn't look up as the door moved, nor when gentle fingers trailed across her drooped shoulders. It was only when they continued on their path, finishing under her chin and tilting her head up, that she opened her eyes. He's back.
    "Sarah..." For once, Damien's usual eloquence failed him. He wasn't very good at apologising, didn't do it very often. "Listen. I'm sorry..." He glanced away, buying time to think, and took the seat opposite her, catching her hands in his own. A pair of brown eyes and a pair of grey eyes, magnetically pulled towards each other. Sarah didn't try to pull away, and nor did Damien.
    "No, I understand," she replied softly, pressing her smaller fingers against his palm. "It's just- I can't handle this place much longer. And I need something to do during the day. I can't stand living here, the bubblegum blue walls, knowing the private lives of the neighbours through sound." She indicated a hole in the wall near the door, one that almost went the whole way through. "I'm sorry," she finished weakly, knowing she sounded like a child. She wanted to work, to contribute, but she hadn't yet found a position, and they had only just moved here. Damien's job was a starter salary, barely enough to cover the rent and necessities of the week.
    "No, no, don't apologise. I'm the one who's sorry," Damien replied, a wry smile flickering to life on his lips. How very like you, Sarah.
    The woman on the other side of the table gave a watery laugh, then stood to begin cooking.



    11pm. No animals make noise; people in the corridors walk faster than usual. The wind has dropped in intensity, but grown colder, more deadly. Snowstorm.

    Damien's eyes were open and unmoving in the dark room, shining in the light of the bedside clock. Red digits, burning in the cold night. Sarah shifted against his side, snuggling in further, seeming to seek protection from the cold. Neither of them could sleep - too much noise from next door.
    "It's not like him," Damien said softly.
    "No," Sarah agreed, just as quietly. "Do you think something's wrong?"
    The old man next door was a considerate neighbour, always making sure that his television was turned off by nine o'clock, knowing how well sound travelled between the walls. And now... eleven pm, and still the couple could hear canned laughter, clapping, musical advertisements.
    "I'll go check," Damien said, slipping his arm out from around Sarah, and sitting up in bed. Cold air hit his bare chest, and he sucked in his breath, reaching blindly for the nearby chair where he knew he had left a jersey. Padding softly out of the room, Damien made his way through the night-time gauntlet that was the apartment, and out the door. He suppressed a smile at the quiet snores emanating from nearer the stairwell - drunkard had made himself at home, it seemed.

    Stopping at the neighbouring door, Damien ran a hand through his dark hair, neatening it slightly, then knocked. Three times, exactly.
    No reply.

    Knocked again, twice.
    Still no reply.

    Hand hovering momentarily over the doorhandle, Damien made up his mind to open the door, just a crack. "Hello? Are you alright?" The television laughed at him in return, but there was no other sign of life from the apartment. Pushing the door open further, Damien navigated his way into the room, following the light emitted by the screen. A flopped hand, almost on the ground. Eyes drawn towards the hand, knuckles scraping the carpet - asleep? Damien approached cautiously, one foot in front of the other, and cleared his throat so that the old man didn't get a heart attack when he realised that another person was in here, since the back of the chair faced the door. "Sir?"

    It only took one look at the older man's face to realise that there would be no reply.



    "You're cold," Sarah said, running a hand across Damien's goosebumped chest, and wrapping her arms around him to share her warmth.
    "I didn't even know his name," her husband replied, pulling her even closer, saddened at the night's discovery. He let out a sigh, then placed his chin above Sarah's head so that she could tuck into his neck. Neither of them spoke, but lay still, listening to the storm outside.

    Stormy Surprise

    What the hell am I doing here? I'm such an incredible idiot. I don't even know where I'm going. What if he won't see me? How will I ever live this down? God Valerie, you are such a dumbass...

    Valerie looked at her watch. After five, no chance of catching him on his way out of work. Damn. She had tried to keep in touch with Michael, but he was being an jerk, as usual. Valerie couldn't understand the allure of the city. She had always aspired to live out her life in Maple Grove as Mrs. Michael Callahan, having a passel of dark-haired children, and making lunches for the kids and her husband. Instead she was here, freezing her butt off on this snowy street corner, and trying to figure out what to do next.

    She wasn't quite sure that Michael would even be happy to see her. When he left, they had fought about it, one of those good, long, in your face screaming matches. Valerie had said something to the effect of "I'll be glad if I never see your face again," and Michael had warned her never to darken his doorway again. It probably hadn't happened quite like that, but imagination has a tendency to embellish old stories. Time also has a knack for softening old arguments, which was why Valerie was here.

    Valerie knew from the old ladies in the salon where she worked (as stereotypical as this sounds, the old ladies gossip network was the best source of information in Maple Grove) that Michael was working as an Administrative Office Assistant in some place with a weird name. It started with a Z, she remembered that much. Valerie wanted to surprise Michael, to remind him of how much he was missing back home. But now, having thought about this for more than thirty seconds at any given time, she was getting cold feet.

    Valerie stood on the street corner outside the bus station, her duffel bag sitting next to her, rubbing her hands together. She knew that she had to make a decision, whether it was to get back on a Greyhound and head home or to go on with what now seemed to be a fool's errand. She picked up her duffel, hailed a taxi, and asked to be taken to the nearest Motel 6.

    A Student of Some Depth

    Katie came to with an unsettling red apparition before her eyes. Blinking frantically and pulsing back her eye sockets, she noticed that this annoyance was but the mere alarm clock she kept by her bedside drawer. It must have fallen during Leyton's somewhat out of line behavior. Still lying on her side she focused her eyes on the blinking red display. It was flashing 3:03. She'd probably hit the dodgy socket as she fell and reset the clock. Had she really been out for three hours? And what about Leyton? He'd bugged her times before, but this had certainly been a novel turn of events. He hadn't knocked her out. No. She'd stayed put, resigned herself to the moment, and just dozed off.

    She brought her free arm around to adjust her glasses which, remarkably, were undamaged. Straightening up slowly she felt a stinging pain shoot up her leg. There was blood. Blood from the nail torn off her little toe. There was also blood, by now clotted up, which had streamed from her nose and ran, in her horizontal predicament, all the way into her ear. She scratched at the crust of the somber pattern and, as one does, tasted her misplaced essence. Taking in the metallic taste for some odd minutes she began to shudder at the sharp breeze weaving itself intermittently around the corner of the bed. She peered up and saw that the window had also been broken, among other things. Her discovery of bruises she'd sustained were abounding.

    Slowly but surely, she got to her feet and saw the room in shambles, herself none the better. She had no trouble walking, but a rib had most certainly cracked. As the breeze invited itself in once more, she noticed that she wasn't wearing any underwear. She reached down, terrified, and let out a sigh of relief as her prodding fingers revealed no trace of Leyton's charged demeanor. Hearing a noise behind her, she spun back toward the doorway and gasped as she saw a head peering in. It was Alex, the custodian's son. Alex was retarded, and didn't speak any English. Alex was currently looking straight at Katie's crotch. Katie immediately grabbed a towel to cover herself up. "Err, hello", she managed.

    Alex, grinning from ear to ear retorted with "uallow!".



    Ten minutes later, Katie was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee, nodding absently at Alex's Serbian chatter, intermixed with English where possible. She more or less ascertained that Leyton had shot and killed four people on his way out. She counted herself ridiculously lucky when the nice lady from the police department informed her that they had all been point blank shots to the head.

    Katie had transferred from the west coast to continue her flailing academic career. Five months in this new environment had yielded no social environment, no extra-curricular fun, and no close ties to anyone of the opposite sex. This was exactly the way she'd wanted it. Perhaps it was being the hermit she was that had spared her. Who knew.

    She'd been an orphan till the age of twelve when an affluent couple from the big city had snatched her up. On that fine day, Mr. and Mrs. Kluv had barely taken the grand tour when they saw Katie. They then saw, correction, furtively checked for, the small idiosyncratic tattoo, just above her collar bone, of a sickle going through a loop of snakes. To her dismay in later years, she was told that she had been adopted that day by the head of a shady Russian cult whose roots stretched all the way back to the Czar in old Russia. Life had dealt her a card she still hadn't peeped at. She'd keep it that way, although she most definitely reaped the few benefits, albeit with modest acceptance. This flat she occupied was most certainly far slighter than the abode she had been offered downtown. She had declined the offer, citing her disdain for silver spoons as she had done from the day she'd become a member of the Kluv household.

    Minutes later Katie was sitting hunched over in the back of an ambulance, still staring into the distance, letting herself be dragged onward by the night's bustling events. The paramedics on site had insisted that she come along to the hospital to have her wounds checked. The red and blue flashes figuratively banging against the small back door window let it be known that the boys in blue followed close behind through the blizzard. Parts of the city were blacked out due to the inclement weather. The snow didn't look like it was going away any time soon.

    Hot time in the Old Town Tonight


    Lamont and J-dawg huddled close against the old brick of the alley. Living on the street meant you had to hustle to live. Lamont busied his freezing fingers with counting the days haul. J-dawg danced from foot to foot, moving to keep warm. The delicatessen alley smelled of rotten garbage even in the coldest weather.

    "Yo, Gimme ten so I can get some MickeyDs man. I am starving man." J-dawg hadn't had anything to eat since the shoplifted powdered donuts that morning. As the muscle of the crew, he didn't get much of a vote. "How bout you shut your hole motherfucker. How we gonna jack somebody if you keep moaning about food?". Lamont put it as more of a command than a question. J-dawg resigned himself to wait a bit longer. Hopefully a nice big purse would come walking down the dark street, attached to a drunken co-ed or coked out whore. Easy money.

    It's all about the money. J-dawg got to thinking in his glacier-like way. "Man, earlier, when you sold that strung-out whiteboy the blow, why did you say it was a deal? You never make deals." Lamont had stood by his policy of strict pricing and cash on delivery. He was a businessman through and through. "Cause it makes him feel like he got a deal. He'll come back to me next time he wants a fix. Plus, the eightball I gave'im was a speedball. Motherfucker is gonna be keyed up for days. Riding the white horse now." Lamont mimed a giddy up with his hands. J-dawg smiled. Heroin always hooked them good. Lamont was all about the money.

    The clock marched onward. The sounds of the city washed over the urban entrepreneurs, lost in the wash of society. A married couple screamed at each other, sirens blared, horns honked, the cold wind howled. The two friends sat and froze, waiting for a mark, somebody that they could prey on, lift some cash and vent some anger. You had to to survive. After standing for another silent cold hour just inside the shadow of the brick, J-dawg had enough. "Fuck this man. Ain't nobody out tonight. Let's crash.". Lamont silently agreed under his hoodie. "We gotta get out of the cold." Again, it was a command.

    Back down the alley the pair shuffled, stiff legged and blue lipped. "Let's crash this dump" said Lamont, jerking his thumb toward Sam's Deli. J-dawg was always antsy about B and E. He had done 6 months for popping the back door off a liquor store a few years ago. "What about alarms man? I don't wanna get nailed again. Besides, the alley is warm enough." J-dawg sounded like he was trying to convince himself. Lamont held his nose in disgust. "You smell that man? I ain't sleeping in that. And you ever been in this shithole? He ain't got nothing made after the 70s. No alarm on this place. Just kick in the backdoor. Plus, they got food."

    "Alright. Just gimme a J to calm my nerves.". Lamont produced a beautiful blunt as if by magic from his sleeve. It wasn't the Mexican ditchweed they sold to the uptown kids, it was their personal supply. Fine Maui Wowee cut with some BC Skunktail. Sometimes, life wasn't so bad. J-dawg undid his coat and put his Timberland boot up beside the knob on the scarred wooden door. He leaned into it, while holding a healthy toke into his lungs. The stink of the alley was overpowering, making his head light and his ears buzz. Lamont held his nose. "Wahh, this fucker must have tossed a million eggs out or something. Jesus, what a stink. Hurry up wit the door."

    J-dawg sucked hard on the joint as he kicked. The ember flared a brilliant red in front of him. As the door folded in a splintering wood way, Lamont had a split-second to wonder at the blue halo that formed around J-dawg. A wreath of brilliant flames came to life in front of him. J-dawg became a being of pure light, blue and orange and red and white, just as the whole world lifted Lamont off his feet. "Free at last", thought Lamont. The gas explosion transformed the plate-glass window at the front Sam's Deli into a crystalline rain that melted the snow where it fell. The flames ate at the counter like loyal customers.

    Good thing Dolores had had it insured before she died. Very insured. Sam would have woken up a rich man, if he had woken up at all.
    Instead of upvotes (or better, instead of downvotes) I would love to hear feedback about why people like/dislike my story. If that's expecting too much, I'm sorry.

    Clarity

    I was in the shower when he walked in. I could see him through that damn patterned glass they have on the shower doors, the kind that make you see things like you're not wearing your glasses, or you are, but they're someone else's. Fractal, repeating images of Joseph, his clothes looking like some sort of technicolor jeans-and-a-Hawaiian-shirt Dreamcoat.

    "Get the hell out of here! I'm showering!"

    "I just need to borrow some money. Boy are you in a bad mood!"

    That's Joseph. I was always the family genius, but he was the smart one. He's my younger brother, and I can't really stay mad at him. And he's right. Or was, since It was probably just a lack of sleep, one that will be remedied in just minutes as that early coffee takes effect. I don't know what it is, but I really can't figure people out like that. Maybe I'm just too socially inept to pick up on all of those subtle clues he sees, like me yelling at him for doing something perfectly innocuous -"Sure, whatever you need, my wallet's in my pants over the chair in my bedroom."- or maybe I'm just too used to dealing with drunks, whose emotions are a slightly easier, if more mercurial, construct to understand.

    I'm a publican. That means bartender.

    You think that bartenders are just people that have nothing better to do than watch people get drunk, right? I mean, it's interesting and all, but i'm a more complex person than that. An idiot, but a complex one. I spent five years in college on full scholarship, but never got a degree; I got distracted by bartending while a philosophy major; Drunks are better philosophers than dead white men. In any case, I tend to wax regretful while showering. And it's 1:00 already. I need to be at the bar in half an hour to clear up from last night so I can be open by 2 for Sunday. Always a big day.

    I guess I don't think the big decisions through at all, and the little ones I overanalyze until the answer is defaulted. I need to leave. Quickly, throw on a shirt, the ones in the drawers are clean, and so are these pants, right? Ok, head out the door. A blur of faces outlined in the snow as I bike to the bar, each the same, or not, it's unclear. The world passing by like life does, only the big things are noticed. The important things, like that rock that I hit last week, pass by unnoticed until they send us sprawling forward. And you never get to look at the scenery. Pessimistic, but I'm about to start giving meaning to people who feel that the best use of their time is to bypass consciousness, access their pain, happiness, and knowledge without the easy, deceptive intermediary of lying to themselves. I don't have a job for optimism.

    The door is locked, and Barney is waiting outside. 4'10", 120lbs, wearing his favorite shirt: a pointillist eye that is unrecognizible from within 20 feet of him. He looks cold. My favorite customer, always there to drink a beer or five, whether I want to be open or not. I did send him home last night. With Sam, who was only a bit less drunk, but a more than a bit more reliable. Or was that the night before? "Not until 2," as I pull my keys out, eyeing the rusty lock, always jamming, but I already know that I'll let him in early, even if he doesn't yet. I'm in a good mood. Nancy said she'd stop by this afternoon.

    The lock finally jiggles open, and the bar lies spread before me: Empty, but not clean. I grab the bottles off the bar that I was too tired to pick up yesterday night, and I grab the broom. Barney peeks in, silently asking whether I will flout the public policy of the bar once again, and let him in early. Not for the first time, I wonder why I wrote that into the rules in the first place. I motion Barney in, and Joey follows him in. Damn.

    I don't dislike Joey. I tell myself I don't mind him at all. He's actually, when you think about it--

    "When the hell can I get a drink around here" he whines. I hate Joey.

    "I'm still cleaning up from last night." I reply "So can you hand me the mop?" Not mentioning that its unlawful to serve him for another 22 minutes.

    Joey looks sullenly at the beer fountain, uncooperative even for his own benefit. Barney jumps up to grab the mop for me, displaying an agility that I rarely see. It is Sunday, however, and he hasn't had any Alcohol for almost 10 hours, the only stretch over his standard 3 day weekends that that statement is true. He's young, and unless he picks up a girl, he just hangs out getting drunk all weekend. Not that I mind, though it does seem a bit of a waste. Who else would I get to test my crazy theories on if he wasn't around, constantly just drunk enough to be able to understand my arguments, without being sober enough to refute them. Unlike Sam.

    I mop the floor, not quite remembering what it used to look like: It's got this brown covering obscuring the pattern that should be clear. The pattern underlying everything in the room obscured by the use of the room. Ironic, yet fitting. Not that it matters what the pattern is, not that it will help me serve drinks, or talk to Nancy. Nancy. I finish cleaning up, and there's still 5 minutes until opening. I can start my boys off with a drink, but I decide to ask about the game instead.

    "What was the score last night? We won, right?"

    "Oh, crushed them. 6-0. It wasn't worth watching. They didn't even come close to scoring."

    "Yea, 6-0, glad I didn't show up." So I could wallow in my misery here, with no-one here but Barney and Sam to keep me company. "It's opening time..."

    "Beer"

    "Beer"

    "Yea," already filling up the two mugs, I pass 'em out.

    Two and a half hours of watching Joey and Barney start on the road to beer-induced clarity later, Sam walks in. Sam is a occasional customer, a much steadier drunk that either of these two, and a much better drunk conversationalist. I sometimes wonder whether he's really getting drunk. It's already mid-afternoon, and no sign of anyone else. Don't get the wrong Idea - I run a more popular bar than that - there were eight or nine other people in the bar already, but no sign of Nancy. She was coming by four o'clock.

    I poured myself a drink. Bad Idea, but I already said I'm an idiot. Bartenders can't drink on the Job. Ever. It's too easy a habit to fall into. And I was in a bad mood. Not a good time to start drinking. Oh well. Sam gave me a funny look, and motioned to the drink. I thought about dumping it. Not for long. I shrugged, and started drinking. Bad move. I can bartend while drunk. That's actually how it started out. I'm pretty quick with my hands, and I got the bartender at the bar near my old school to show me all those nifty tricks he did. Not that he knew many, but he showed me. Then got me to cover for him while he snuck out for a while. It was fun. More fun that classes, that's for sure. And there went five years of scholarship money... and the direction that my life was heading. I didn't graduate. I wound up as a bartender, sitting in this bar, thinking about how miserable I am. A bartender whose front glass window just had a rock thrown at it by some teenagers sitting outside. Oh Shit!

    I ran out, but I was already tipsy, and didn't chase them more than fifty feet. Damnit, it's not funny. That glass is expensive. It's completely ruined, a big spiderweb running from where the rock hit all the way to the edges. The bar inside looked like a drugged out version of those stupid multiple TV screen displays showing the warts on some guy's face stretched out over a screen and a half. I walk back into the bar, feeling even worse, if possible, than I did 15 minutes earlier when I gave up on Nancy showing up. Sam tells me the police are on the way. I don't really care. I have a third, or is it fourth, beer. Then another.

    The police showed up just when I was getting that beer-goggle effect really going. Everything was maving a bit slow, and these two blue people walk into the bar. "What'll it be?"

    "Sorry, we can't drink on duty."

    Comprehension slowly dawns. Police. Ok, I can deal with this.

    "What seems to be the problem, officers?"

    "Umm..." The first cop starts "We, uhhh..."

    "I'm Deputy Kohn. That's Deputy Walters. There was a reported incident of vandalism by the proprietor of this establishment. May we speak with him."

    "Oh! right." I said that it was dawning slowly, right? "That's me. Some punk kids threw somthing at my window." I point outside, just in time to see this pattern that looks familiar pass by the window. The first cop starts scribbling something on his notepad. I stopped. What is that? My brain's pattern recognition functions working overtime, the door opens and she walks in. Nancy. "Nancy! How are you?" I gush, a bit too excitedly. "I've been having a bit of a dad bay. I'll... I'll" I stopped, a bit confused. The cops stop writing on their little notepads, and look at each other.

    It's a good thing Sam is such a good friend. He stopped the cops before they left, and explained, with what must have been enough credibility, given the insurance check I received, what had happened. Haven't seen him around for a while, though. In any case, I was a bit confused at this point. I stood up, just in time to see Nancy again. I stopped whatever it was I had been doing, and, remarkably cogent for one in my then advanced state of intoxication, I started talking to her. I was told later that It was something along the lines of:

    "I'm really drunk, and maybe I should talk to you when I'm sober, because I'll probably tell you that I really like you, and that's a bad idea right now, since we haven't seen each other in two years, and I'll sound like a loser for not having done anything since then. Besides, You probably didn't even remember me until I looked you up." I collapsed onto the floor, and could barely see her walk by, first through my blurry impaired vision, then through the spiderwebbed glass as well.

    I'm stupid. She probably hates me. For the first time, everything was clear.

    This is the first fiction piece I've shown to others in years (since 10th grade,) so any feedback would be welcomed.

    The Call

    Ring....ring....ring....ring...

    "This is Frank."

    "Frankie! How's it goin', bro?"

    Shit. "Hey, Earl. What do you need?"

    "Whoa, Frankie! Can't a guy just call his favorite brother-in-law to see how he is doin'? I was just sittin' here watchin' the snow fall and I thought I would see what you were up to? You havin' a good day? Keepin' warm?"

    "Look, Earl, I'm at work right now - hold on. Afternoon, Mrs. K. Yeah, it is pretty nasty. Hey, guys! Got out of school early. did you? Well, you guys, have fun in the snow. You take care, Ms. Kitchens."

    "Okay, I'm back. This isn't really a good time, Earl. Can we talk later?"

    "Sure, Frankie, sure. It is just that I was talking to Little Marty and he was askin' when we could expect to see your part of the seed money for the kiosk? He has already had to lay out some money for the inventory and the sign, not to mention the shirts. Frank, you are gonna love the shirts. They are blue with company name on the back in yellow - "The Slipper Hut" - and we got this picture of a banana in its robe with a cup of coffee in a pair of slippers."

    "Earl, what are you talking about?"

    "Well, don't you get it? Banana are slippery and we sell slippers..."

    "No, Earl, I mean what seed money? Who is Little Marty? Is this another one of your schemes?"

    "C'mon, Frankie. You remember. Last October, when you came out to the house for dinner. Margie was fixin' dinner and you were playin' with the kids and I was tellin' you about this great idea I had for a mall kiosk that sold those novelty slippers - you know the ones shaped like bear paws and shit like that. And you said that sounded like a great idea, so I figured that I should go ahead with it, since you said you liked the idea and we could be partners."

    "YOU WHAT!? "

    "Yeah, I went ahead and put down the money on a kiosk at the Havenshire Mall by the Sam Goody's and went ahead and started gettin' things rolling. Geez, Frankie. You're actin' like you don't remember."

    "Of course, I don't remember! I never agreed to this! I vaguely remember you saying something about slippers, but Jesus, Earl, I wasn't paying you that much attention and certainly didn't say I wanted to invest in it!"

    "Now, Frankie, c'mon! I know fifteen grand is a lot of money..."

    "FIFTEEN GRAND!? FIFTEEN THOUSAND FREAKIN' DOLLARS! You expect me to pay fifteen thousand for slippers!? No way, Earl! No way!"

    "But, Frank, you gotta! I already got a loan from Little Marty and he is getting impatient for his money..."

    "Wait, who is Little Marty? You aren't talking about the guy from the old neighborhood, Marty Burris, are you? Jesus, Earl! Marty Burris is a loanshark, you dumbass!"

    "Frankie, first of all, it ain't Marty Burris; it is his son Marty, Jr. And second, he ain't a loan shark, he is a business man who likes to help other struggling business men get on their feet."

    "Earl, what is he charging you for this loan?"

    "Well... it sounds steep, but that kiosk wasn't going to be available long and since I didn't have your part of the money and needed to act fast, I had to make some concessions on the fee, but this is going to be a huge hit, Frank. People in the suburbs love these things. I heard about one guy who is got a string of sunglass places near the beach and he is livin' it up on how much he is makin' from those places..."

    "How much, Earl?"

    "Well, I borrowed fifteen grand and the fee was five thousand for the loan and we have two weeks to pay it back..."

    "First of all, WE are not paying anything back; I never agreed to this. Second of all, what happens if you can't pay it back in two weeks?"

    "Well, if you give me your part, then that won't happen."

    "What happens, Earl?"

    "The amount doubles every week until it is paid."

    "YOU ARE SHITTING ME! TELL ME YOU ARE SHITTING ME! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME! Oh... sorry, Reverend Evans, I didn't see you pull up. Have a good one."

    "Are you out of your mind, Earl!? These guys are dangerous. You have got to give him back the money."

    "I can't, Frank. I have already spent most of it."

    "Well, Earl, you are going to have to figure out something, because these guys are not going to wait for their money. If they don't get it, things are going to get pretty nasty."

    "Well, I would never have borrowed the money if I knew you were going to welsh on your part..."

    "I DID NOT WELSH! I wasn't in on this in the first place, you asshole!"

    "Well, can you at least let me borrow the money, Frank? I'm good for it. Once the Slipper Hut is on its feet, I will be able to pay you back."

    "Earl, that's just it, I don't have that much in savings and what I do have, I am not giving to you."

    "But, Frank, me and Margie were countin' on this. You wouldn't do that to your sister, would you?"

    "...."

    "Frank?"

    "Earl, I'll call you back later. I need to think about this."

    "But, you are going to think about it?"

    "I'll call you tomorrow, Earl."

    "Thanks, Frank. You won't regret this. This is going to be huge."

    "And, Earl..."

    "Yeah, Frank."

    "Don't call me at work again."

    "If anyone asks, I'm not here."

    "Bad day sir?" Kohn asked.
    "You could say that."

    Chief Alvarez closed the door to his office.

    It had been a bad day. There were more reports on his desk than usual, but that wasn't the problem.

    The Chief had some aggressive ideas about cleaning up the city. He had asked for funding for a new "crack down on crime" program he had in the works. He was going to set up sting operations of two types. He was going to bust small-time drug pushers and work his way up the chain, and he was going to bust big-time loan sharks and follow the money trail down. His plan was flawless, actually. He had gotten special permission from district, and they were reluctant to give him the money. They said that they were taking a big risk with him and that they expected to see results. They included that, as a result of failure Chief Alvarez and the program would be audited to ensure success in future endevours. The only thing that had convinced them was the outstanding speed with which he had cought the previous night's spree killer. They expected him to get off on an insanity plea, but if they can push attempted rape they may be able to get him life, or even death. Things had been looking up for Alvarez.

    "Chief! The autopsy came back on that old man you wanted to know about, it was inconclusive, no difinitive cause of death found. There were a thousand things wrong that should have killed him, but nothing we can find that actually did."

    It was all too often that you saw cases like this one. The neighbors said that they didn't even know anything was wrong until police started showing up. They had to use the ambulence for the landlady and call the coroner to pick up the body on site.

    "Trouble is that he has no family and no life insurance. What he did have was a hell of a lot of insurance on that shop of his."
    Alvarez didn't want to hear about the money.
    "I'm busy, Walters, just put it in the report and have Linda check the books for extended family."
    "You got it."

    Alvarez had a lot of work to do. He wasn't sure whether or not he was planning to do it, however. It wouldn't save his job, it might not even keep him out of prison. He thought about some of the little things they would find when the investigation came underway. The marijuana that he's smuggled from the evidence room was hardly even a crime, it usually wasn't even worth the paperwork to prosecute something like that, but it would come up with internal affairs. They would find some porn on his computer, nothing major or illegal, that would make another smudge on his reputation.

    "Chief."
    "Go away!"
    No one tried to talk to Alvarez when he was mad. It was his temper that kept the place going sometimes. Usually.
    "There's a detective here to see you."
    "Tell him I've gone home for the night."
    The detective wouldn't go to his house, this was a routine audit. They wouldn't be setting up any roadblocks over it... yet.
    "Tell me when he's left, okay?"
    "What is going on Chief?"
    "Bill Collectors."
    "Having a rough time at home?"
    "You could say that."

    Alvarez had to get out of there.

    "I'm going out on a patrol tonight, did you drive your squadcar to work today or do you have a ride home Kohn?"
    "I can get a ride, she's all yours"
    "Thanks Kohn."

    Alvarez never said thank you.

    He headed out back, even though he was sure that the detective was already gone. He hopped in car number four and cruised around downtown. He was just cruising, he really didn't plan on stopping anyone for anything short of murder. He was thinking to himself. Driving helped Alvarez calm down. He was thinking about how things had gotten this way.

    He had asked for funding from district, and they'd given him some, but it wasn't nearly enough. Street gangs, thugs, and drug pushers were a real problem. It was affecting everyone and he had to do something about it right away. Alvarez had been a CPA before he decided that the job was not rewarding and he joined the force. He was a moralist, and could always quickly and easily decide what was right and what was wrong. Corporate and vocational ethics were too concrete. His record as an accountant was spotless, else he would never have gotten a job as an officer. When district denied most of his requests, Alvarez knew that he had to get that money somehow. He had been running a station long enough to know how things got done. He forged multiple requests for money. Requests that wouldn't be turned down. He smuggled several thousand dollars; enough for new survaillance equipment and some hazard bonuses for his officers. Enough to constitute a felony. Of course, Alvarez knew what he was doing. If his precinct made leaps in the next few weeks then no one would ever question the requests. The money would be clean, and the memory would fade into oblivion. He had a deadline, though. He was required to make his first arrest by the previous night. The spree killer was a good event, but it wasn't part of the plan; it didn't count. He had been watching a pair of thugs and drug peddlers, and a loan-shark for several weeks now. They had verified that the thugs had a single source for their paraphanelia, and this would certainly open up the underground drug trade if it were uncovered. The shark, Martin Burris II, was suspected of having affiliations with the same drug trade, but more importantly he was establishing the beginnings of a mafia in the city. The first arrest, and the subsequent interrogations were due to occur the night before. He had staked out the particular corner where the pushers had set up for over a month. He had even established an officer as a regular "customer." It couldn't fail.

    They didn't show.

    There was a real problem. Not only was Alvarez going to lose his job and go to prison, but his precinct would never again be granted any money, let alone the amount it would take to clean up the city. Alverez turned another corner, it was the unofficial red-light district. Due to lack of funding and space, officers were basically using the "catch and release" system with the prostitutes. Nothing was being changed. A few girls waved at him in his squad car as he passed. He was disgusted. The road ended in a "T" intersection, and straight ahead was the little two-room restaraunt out of which the loan shark ran his business. Alvarez took off his badge and set it on the dashboard, then he pressed the gas pedal to the floor.

    He actually got up to eighty with what little stretch of road lay before him.

    Unexpected Windfall

    The weather was getting colder. The snowfall chilled Earl's feet to the bone.

    And with the temperature dropping and toes freezing, it stood to reason that everybody would be wanting some nice, warm slippers to wear.

    Such was the logic of Earl McCullin when he dreamed up The Slipper Hut. With the new kiosk in the Havenshire Mall, Earl figured he could make a great deal of money selling novelty slippers to the middle-class people in the Havenshire district. Unfortunately, to purchase this kiosk, Earl had borrowed a huge sum of money from loan shark Marty Burris, and Earl was unsure of how to repay the loan.

    As Earl walked along the river that split the city in two, he thought back on all the people who had doubted The Slipper Hut ever becoming reality. Even his wife Margie was unsure that he had the business sense to pull his grand vision off. But in the past few days, Margie had to grudgingly admit that Earl looked like he knew what he was doing. Earl figured that there was no need to tell her about his dealings with Burris.

    A strong gust of wind broke Earl's concentration, and he looked at the city surrounding him. He never could understand the layout of the city; while one bank of the river was full of parks and nice residential areas, the other side of the river contained the heart of the city's industry. Earl thought that the factories should be away from the river, so people in the parks and fancy houses had a better view than smokestacks and run-down buildings. Of course, in weather like this, nobody but him was in the park anyway. It was simply too cold.

    Still, Earl felt like he needed to walk. Whenever he was troubled, Earl found that a walk along the riverside could ease his mind. And Earl's mind needed plenty of easing right now. If he couldn't get Burris his money, The Slipper Hut would be over before it ever got a chance to begin.

    Earl reflected on the conversation he had had with his brother-in-law a few hours ago. Frankie, although upset, would probably be willing to help him in the end. However, it was unrealistic to expect Frank to be able to loan $15,000. The bank was also out of the question; if Earl had been able to borrow from the bank, Marty Burris would never have entered the picture in the first place.

    Earl walked out of the Dennis Sterling Waterfront Park and passed under a bridge. Although most of the bridges in the city had homeless people living beneath them, today nobody was there. On days like today, it seemed that most of the homeless sought out shelters and soup kitchens to get them out of the wind and snow. The lack of people made Earl nervous; he had never seen the city look this dead.

    Suddenly, Earl stepped in a puddle that somehow hadn't frozen over yet. Earl frowned. His foot would surely be frozen tonight. This thought brought his mind back to The Slipper Hut. Earl pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket. On it, he had sketched the logo for The Slipper Hut. The cartoon banana brought a smile to Earl's face. If everything worked out, the banana would make many more people smile.

    Another gust of wind ripped the sketch from Earl's hand. He chased after it, but the wind seemed to be keeping the paper just out of reach. Earl stepped in another puddle, but this one had frozen solid and Earl slipped and fell down. The wind shifted, and Earl's sketch went into the river. It was lost.

    As Earl started to get up, he found something in the snow where he had fallen. It turned out to be a fancy wallet, and the gold embroidery declared the owner to be a Nolan F. Danielson. The drivers license inside confirmed Danielson as the man who had lost his wallet.

    However, Earl didn't notice the driver’s license. All he saw were the $100 bills inside. He did a quick count, and tallied thirty-five bills. Earl McCullin found himself with $3500 in his hands.

    Earl considered turning the wallet into the police, but the allure of the money made him reconsider. Although Earl was still unable to pay off Marty Burris completely, the contents of the wallet would help a great deal. Earl didn't see anybody around, so he pocketed the wallet. After all, it seemed only fitting that he should slip into money and use that money to sell slippers. Earl was done walking the riverside today. It was time to go home to his wife.

    Besides, his feet were cold.

    Zeitgeist

    The sun hadn’t quite risen, but the morning commute had already begun. The winter in this city didn’t make it easy to find the motivation to go to work sometimes. The snow continued to pile up, and traffic was beastly.

    None of this affected the Zeitgeist Building. It overlooked downtown from five miles south, in the old business district. Rectangular red-brick warehouses and towering gray factories still dominated the neighborhood, but few contributed to commerce in any way nowadays. Cozy restaurants and quaint specialty shops stood between the industrial clutter, and occupied the hard-to-capture “cheap but hip” niche. The Zeitgeist Building presided over all of this, and it was the real reason people still cared about the area.


    “I was thinking,” Aaron said, “this place needs some generators. Think what would have happened if the blackout had gotten this far out. The people in the apartments would’ve been pissed cuz they wouldn’t’ve had heat, the business owners would’ve been pissed because the alarms would’ve been off, and I know the night crew would’ve wanted time-and-a-half or some shit like that. All of that equals lost money.”

    Tom raised an eyebrow and harrumphed. “Listen, we’re fine. There’s a strong power grid out here, and the city wouldn’t let our power be down for long anyways. We’re the Zeitgeist Building. We’re a symbol. And besides, we have a couple generators for emergency lighting and such.”

    Now Aaron raised an eyebrow, curious about the new information. Tom continued. “They’ve just been around for so long that people have forgotten about them. When I first started working here in the 70’s there was a big blackout thanks to the power company not keeping track of their own damn machines…We did fine. It only lasted two days.”

    “Well that’s great, Tom. Our power usage has increased a little from the 70’s, don’t you think?” Aaron’s day started in the crapper, and he was taking it out on Tom. “Hell, we’ve got a tiny webhosting company on the 24th floor. I could light a house or two with the power their servers are sucking down, and you can bet they would freak if they lost any data thanks to a blackout.”

    Tom sighed. He didn’t fully comprehend the needs of computer servers, but he knew Aaron was right. “I’ll mention it at the next board meeting, all right? That’s all I can do.”


    Tom was half-right about the generators. The building had them, but they were for more than emergency lighting. They dated back to the construction of the building. In 1953, the real estate firm of Bloom, MacGregor and Co. was fat on money from the postwar housing boom when some foreign investors approached them about getting some land to build a skyscraper in the middle of the business district. They didn’t want to give too much information about themselves, but they clearly had the money and a plan for the space. The way it was envisioned, with some public backing, they could have a shopping mall, office building, and warehouse all in one location at what was at the time the center of town.

    In 1956, a bond issue was finally passed by the city government to help finance the project. “With this project, we can declare to the rest of the country that our city is one of the most modern urban centers today,” the Mayor, Patrick Murphy, declared in his State of the City speech that year. “With so many commercial activities concentrated into one location in the middle of our already thriving business area, and the easy access provided by our city’s extensive rail system, our economy will become one of the most robust in the nation.”


    Orrin looked out the window while lazily rubbing his chin. The weather had improved somewhat, although snow continued to fall at a respectable rate. It looked like the wind had died down, though. Getting home should be easier than getting here was, he thought, smiling. The smile slowly disappeared as he looked back down at his papers. Some days, he didn’t know why he kept coming to this building. His business was doing miserably, to say the least. He ran a small consulting firm. When he first opened up shop in the Zeitgeist Building, he was thrilled. He remembered coming to the building with his parents when he was 7 or 8. Most of the stores were boring for a little kid: tailor shops, antique stores, a cookware store. Still, there were a few that he couldn’t stay out of: the giant toy store, the hobby shop, and the bookstore with its well-stocked kids section. Most of all, though, he loved going up to the 3rd floor. At the time, it seemed like he could see everything. Above the 3rd floor were apartments and office space; shoppers weren’t allowed. It was high enough. He had always wondered what it would be like to go higher.

    Unfortunately, he could no longer derive the same enjoyment from the view. His space on the 26th floor was nice, but he didn’t stare out the window often. He was on the east side of the building, so there wasn’t much to see. Downtown, with its glass giants and lively bustle, was to the north. This meant that he had to focus on the stark reality of his work: there weren’t enough businesses in the area that needed his help. Most of the serious firms were downtown. It was basically a tourist district here. Time hadn’t changed the fact that the Zeitgeist Building made a strong impression on people’s minds, and they still came to see it. It was the city’s defining structure, much more personal than the glass and steel rectangles of downtown.


    The building made an impression because it was designed to. Twelve designs were submitted and decided upon by not only the investors, but a special committee set up by the city to ensure that the right image was projected. The eventual winner was a neo-gothic tower, 48 stories tall, with a limestone and marble exterior. The building had two tiers: the bottom 18 floors were the width of the block. The floors above that were set back 40 feet from the street. The lines of the building would draw the eye upward until one saw the five-story high clock on the west face, the focal point of the design. Although it was less utilitarian than most new buildings, there was something unmistakably modern about the building.

    Aesthetic considerations were not the only ones made. The businesses inside were planned out as well. The first 3 floors were going to hold a shopping area, decorated in the Art Nouveau style. The next 15 would be industrial storage space, and the narrower portion of the building would be offices.

    Almost from the beginning of construction, the investors made strange requests. It was their idea to excavate the foundations all the way to bedrock. Ostensibly, it was an assertion the building was here to stay. The construction coordinators knew the truth, however. Massive shelters were installed, and generators to power them. Nobody thought much of it. The Soviets had the bomb, after all.

    Stranger were the design requests for some of the masonry. The organic shapes of the Art Nouveau interior allowed for a lot to be hidden. And the gargoyles placed at the four corners of the 18th floor seemed more sinister than grotesque. The investors provided those themselves. They were from an old church from somewhere in Eastern Europe. The smaller details seemed unimportant, when compared to the four stories a week that were being put up.

    The name was decided on by the same steering committee that helped pick the design. The investors had no wish to attach their name to the building, keeping with the secrecy that they had operated under throughout the project. The massive clock was to be figured into the name. Clock Tower was far too generic, and sounded anachronistic. Zeitgeist incorporated the theme of time as well as the feeling that the building represented all the positive aspects of the city.

    It was March 1960 when the building finally opened to the public. All of the space was leased, and the shopping center was a grand market unlike anything else in the city. People came and spent the money they had made at the factories that surrounded the building. Every weekend brought in huge crowds. The investors closely monitored all of the activity, but kept out of the public eye. They ran the building, really. Occasionally something would have to be run through the government since they did have a stake in it, but all the right palms were greased to keep conflict to a minimum. People kept coming, oblivious to who got their money. The investors had a public face in the form of a board of directors for the building, but few people knew the extent of their influence.

    The biggest crowds ended up being the protests. Just like every other major city in the country, the civil rights movement made its presence known by the end of the decade. The Zeitgeist Building was the venue of choice for any protests. Several city offices were housed in the building, and on a weekend there was no limit to the number of people a message could reach. The building was the first stop on any tour given to visiting dignitaries. It became a de facto City Hall. For most of the 60’s, not a week went by where the top news story didn’t have something to do with the building.


    The lights blinded Ivan. It took him a second to realize that they belonged to cameras. He scowled. How a news crew knew he would be coming he could only guess. “Yes?” he spat at the reporter, not bothering to conceal his distaste.

    “Cathy Richards, Channel 4 news. Do you have a comment about the disappearance of your CFO, Nolan Danielson?” The too-perky woman shoved a microphone in his face and stared accusatorily at him.

    Ivan paused. He knit his brow and took a breath. “This news has only recently come to my attention, so I have had little time to think about it.” He stopped and wiped his forehead. “Nolan was a strong asset, and he did a lot to help bring businesses back to this building. I’m headed to a board meeting right now, and we will be discussing how we can continue to carry out his economic vision for this building.”

    “Have the police asked you any questions regarding the disappearance?”

    Ivan had already turned toward the door, and continued walking. “I really must get to my meeting, Ms. Richards.”

    “Mr. Kluv, you can’t just…” was all he heard her yell before the door closed behind him.


    Starting in the late 70’s, the building experienced a small exodus. The manufacturing jobs of the surrounding neighborhood were dwindling. The storage space of the lower floors stood empty. To make up for this, the investors had it converted to living space, and the influx of people revitalized the building for a short time. A new ad campaign was started to try and keep money in the building. “The best part of the Zeitgeist Building is the community!” was plastered across sky-blue signs full of smiling people. The signs looked out of time, too happy to be from the same era as gas lines and the end of Vietnam. People came, though. Who wouldn't want to live in the huge rooms, originally built to hold industrial equipment? And it was the Zeitgeist Building. How many people could say they lived in something that well-known? The prices on a place quickly increased to levels beyond most people's paychecks. The investors instituted a rent freeze and made sure that people could afford the space. No money could be made when there were no tenants.


    After putting in a brief appearance at the board meeting, Ivan left for the real meeting he was in the Zeitgeist building for. It was in a room behind the clock, just below the Roman numeral XII. He saw that his colleague was already standing in the room.

    “Good evening, Grigori. I trust that you’re well?”

    Grigori stared, and Ivan turned away. The eyes always disturbed him. “My condition is of no concern,” Grigori hissed. “How is the child?”

    “She is…she is fine. The junkie lost patience with her. He beat her with a bat, did you know that? But her tenacity rivals yours,” Ivan chuckled. He lowered his voice. “The junkie is in jail now. I have three men and one guard in the same cellblock as him, if you’re interested.”

    “He is unimportant. It is good that the child is well.” Grigori still looked troubled. “And what of our friend Mr. Danielson?”

    Ivan swallowed hard. “He has eluded us thus far. He didn’t know much, anyways.”

    “He knew enough. Find him.”

    Ivan turned around and sat on a wooden chair to the side of the room. He took a deep breath and rubbed his temples. “You know...I’m very tired. This life feels so ancient. You’d know about that, I suppose.”

    Grigori glowered, his jaw set. “What does that have to do with our problem?” he asked.

    “It’s just that this seems so silly sometimes.” Ivan was noticeably exasperated. “The Cold War is over, yet here we are, the Russians, in the building we created to infiltrate the system but keep our presence secret. We have our spies, and we’re always looking out for theirs." Ivan was jabbing at the air with his left hand, which he quickly dropped back to his knee. "And now you want to kill a man because he knows ‘too much’. It sounds like something out of a bad spy novel. Here we sit, in a symbol of the past playing out games from the past and it’s no wonder that I feel left behind.”

    “Are you comparing what we’re doing to the workings of that Stalin whelp? You know my vision is far greater than his,” Grigori yelled.

    “Listen to yourself!” Ivan pleaded. “My father raised me to carry out your plan, but I can’t do this right now. Here is the contact for Katie, if you need her. I’ll be in touch with you soon, but I don’t want to deal with this at the moment. I would suggest that you stay in your shelter for the immediate future.” Ivan walked out of the room.

    Grigori let him go. Maybe the plan was flawed. The government moved out in the 80’s, and took with them most of the political advantages of running this site. Maybe he should relocate as well. He'd been through upheavals of all sorts. Moving to a different city would be nothing compared to the trials he'd already survived. He thought for a bit, then went down to his shelter. Time would bring an answer.


    The last flake of snow fell on the Zeitgeist Building. The building looked better this way. Decades of car exhaust had stained the exterior, but the white snow covered up the black streaks nicely. The clock struck 8. The day’s visitors were already at home, across the river. Stuck in the bedrock, the Building's towering form was a constant reminder of the time it represented. Most people liked it best that way.

    A Long Lunch

    Behind the number 6 on the clock of the Zeitgeist building was where Nolan Danielson worked. He spent his days managing his accountants, overseeing the businesses, and attending various meetings, but he was the kind of guy who liked long lunches. Real long. This was one of those real long days which required a real long lunch. He had brought his wallet with him as he left his office. Perhaps it contained a little much, but Nolan didn't really care. If anything, he could get lunch somewhere upscale, something different than Sam's everyday. As he was entering the waiting room, where his secretary Brenda worked, his left leg felt a vibration.

    He didn't care. He was hungry. If anyone was to call him at this hour, they'd leave it with Brenda, and not on his cell phone. He crossed the waiting room, and turned left down a hall, and got in the elevator on the left. There was no one there, save for a tall man, in his late fifties, early sixties.

    "Going down?" Nolan asked of him.
    "Yes."

    Nolan reached for the 1 button, and the elevator dropped. Here he was, on the first floor, looking out among empty storefronts and dying businesses. A small coffee shop that Nolan frequents as he enters work, a book store he's never been in, and a small art gallery in the back. There were more empty shops than full ones.

    He stepped out, and got into his BMW. He was headed to lunch, but he didn't know where he would eat. He just started driving slowly. Didn't want to crash into anything now. There were a couple of people walking down the road, checking the cars lined by the side of the road. The bank. Dry cleaners. Two of them, actually. The 925. Nolan wouldn't mind getting a drink there, but he was always shunned. It wasn't for people like him. As a matter of fact, Nolan really wanted to try a beer or two there. Might be good. But besides, it wasn't open yet.

    A small red car pulled up behind him as he was waiting for the light to turn green. The car seemed to be almost riding his bumper. Why? Never mind, just drive. And he did. After a few blocks, the car turned away. There up ahead was the bridge, and on the other side, the waterfront.

    His car stopped, right on the bridge. The gas gauge showed empty. The gas should be no problem. He dialed Brenda.

    "Hello, Danielson's office."
    "Hi, Brenda. I need for you to do me a favor."
    "Yeah, sure, but there was a man on the phone. Didn't drop a name, but he sounded drunk."
    "What did he want?"
    "I'm not too sure. He said something about 'they're at Zeitgeist', but I couldn't understand anything other than that."
    "He could mean anyone. But that's besides the point. Could you drive out here with a full gas can?"
    "Nolan, you really should make sure to fill your car more often. That's the second time this year."
    "I apologize. Please hurry, it's cold out here." Nolan remained in his car, listening to the radio with the car battery.

    "And it's going to be a doozy today! The low today will be somewhere in the mid-teens, and the high is in the upper twenties. I recommend that everyone stay inside and off the road, because there's gonna be about eight or nine inches of--" Nolan turned it off. He remembered the weatherman. Even remembered that the studio was in the Zeitgeist building about five or ten years back, before it was moved to downtown. He also remembered that the weatherman liked wine. But for some reason, he couldn't for the life of him remember the man's name.

    But that doesn't matter, either. He took a quick look at the surroundings. There was the waterfront, bare of people and snow covered. In due time, though, it'll have kids of all ages playing in the snow there. But there was no one there yet. Across the street there was a small shop entitled "Suop For You, Suop For Me". That's what you get when you make the signs yourself, Nolan thought. But he deduced that they serve soup, so he walked along the bridge in that general direction.

    As Nolan entered the restaurant, the smell of chicken hit his nose. The restaurant was furnished with six or seven booths on the far side, and several small tables nearest the window, providing a view of the waterfront, the bridge, and Nolan's car. It definitely wasn't upscale. He sat down at one of these tables.

    A short man with black hair walked over to the table.

    "Hello sir, can I take you order?" He spoke in a thick Chinese accent. Nolan glanced at the menu.
    "I'll take a medium roast beef soup. To go, please."
    "Yes sir. Four dollar," He paid the man with the ones that were left in his wallet. Nolan took his soup and left, headed in the direction of the waterfront. It was still deserted. He sat down at a bench near the river, waiting for Brenda to arrive. The sound of a car occasionally passing was behind him. He ate with a great hunger, and the soup was indeed good; some of the best soup he ever had was right here. Perhaps the sign was somewhat of a misnomer. He threw the empty cup away, in a garbage can nearby.

    Nolan heard a car door shutting in the background. He turned around and saw the small red car. Two burly men climbed out of the backseat. Out of the driver's door came an older man, perhaps... it was! The man in the elevator! All three trudged forward through the snow, the men behind the elevator man.

    "You will come with us." He said.
    "Who are you?" Nolan questioned.
    "You can call me... Ivan."
    "What do you want with me?"
    "That is not something for you to know, just yet."
    "I'm not leaving until I know what was going on."
    "Seize him." The men lifted Nolan up, and held him upside down, over their shoulders as they walked back to the car. Nolan's leg vibrated once more, and his phone and wallet fell out of the same pocket. The men saw the phone and they picked it up, but the wallet went un-noticed. As the men flipped the phone open, Nolan faintly heard Brenda's voice:

    "Nolan, I have the gas. You're on the bridge, right? I'll be --" And it was hung up, as Nolan was forced into the vehicle. The car drove off.

    Ptichka uletyela

    Morning comes. He's awake. An acrid sensation of evaporated whiskey in his mouth. What would his old friends back at the Committee, parallel universe, think if they knew of his habits? But, he would apologise, finding decent vodka in this city is impossible. Last night, he had overplayed his hand again, ever so slightly. The whiskey consumed him. He opened an eye and looked around the familiar dimly-lit stairwell that had become a second home. As the waves of morning amnesia receded, the events of last night slowly approached him. The devil be damned! The heiress! Was she safe? Yes, remember, she spent the night in the hospital. She would be sought soon enough, and he had to ensure that it could be him before that slave Kluv did it himself. She was important, and this was something that not even Grigori Yefimovich understood completely.

    Storozhev smiled through impossibly pearly teeth. He preferred to call the old man Grisha. He was almost like an old acquaintance, a national treasure from by-gone times much as Storozhev was himself. New Russians like Kluv could not understand mystics like Grisha with the same understanding that years of pursuit brought to Storozhev. It was an old ritual inherited from his days at the Committee. He would almost be sorry the day when he finally ensnared Grisha. Just like the residents of this City would feel if they ever turned on their televisions to discover the coyote feasting on the roadrunner.

    He stood up, shaking off the last remnants of weariness. Mr Jack Daniels did not make him weary. Playing his role according to the Stanislavsky technique did not make him weary. Living in the stairwell for five months did not make him weary, nor even his soiled beard or dirty rags made him weary. But being forced to simply watch the Katie for so long without action could exhaust any agent. Katie, or Katherine, according to Storozhev's affectation of always using the proper honourifics, had a powerful and tenacious patience. That's why he hadn't intervened directly when that maggot junkie Webb lost it last night. He trusted Katherine's unseen force. If the heiress feared for her life, she knew how to fight for it. Her full strength, when unleashed, would even take her off-guard. If last night she had barely so much as grunted during the attack, it was because she knew or felt that there is strength in passivity too. So Storozhev, her knight in rusty armour, her White Guard, had not been invoked and did not intervene directly. She could manage by herself, he reasoned.

    He could not prevent himself later though, when Webb went on a leadflinging holiday, and he tracked down the rabid dog across the snowstorm. The ethanol in his blood demanded by character sheltered his mind from the frost, and also steadied his grip on the trusty Makarov he always kept near his ribcage. Left coat pocket, opposite to his bottle, always ready. The junkie had already hit four people, and howled like a hyena when Storozhev's aim found his left leg. That's for laying a finger on Miss Reeves, asshole. Letting you soak the snow crimson until the ambulance and Alvarez's crew finds you is for me and the other times you gave Miss Reeves a hard time.

    When Storozhev came back to his stairwell lair, he was not surprised to hear that Katherine was still in her room, making smalltalk with the idiot boy. Miss Reeves, he thought, I respect your decisions, but someone has to take a look at those cuts and bruises. Storozhev was the one who anonymously called the ambulance, mostly for his own reassurance, and partly for Grigori Yefimovich. Grisha, he grinned to himself, you old bear, you owe me one. I know you need the girl like you needed that bleeding boy ages ago. And I need Miss Reeves because it is my solemn duty to guard her, because I swore I would, and because she is my nearest lead to you.

    Thus satisfied, he settled in for the night. And that's when morning found him. Now he had to switch roles, clean-up, find the heiress, and pluck a few strings that would place her in a better, safer home. Moribund Italians, screaming couples, raving junkies, idiot serbs, stairwell drunkards; that's no place for the heiress. And he could not present himself to her in this state either. Time to go to his aparment, his base of operations, and get a makeover.

    He stepped outside, a grey morning amplified by the snow's cool reflection. The City was perfectly soulless. He enjoyed these moments of quite solitude when the snow muffled all human motion. It almost made it seem like home, and it helped him think. Through dimly white streets he walked for a few blocks until he got to his flat. Inside, old Kalashnikovs-47 from his earlier days, neatly-folded charts of the city, filed away and never used; black suits that had been mothballed for years. He only slept in his flat once a week, if even that. The rest of the time he'd be in character, watching, waiting, guarding. He took his job seriously, if perhaps sometimes too seriously. Within twenty minutes, he had showered, shaved, gulped glasses of water, and donned one of his old business suits. The Makarov never felt awkward in its holster inside his jacket, always on his left. Welcome home, baby. He looked at his reflection in still smoky mirror. With the black beard gone and the renewed glint in his blue eyes, he was irrecognisable. Also gone was the familiar ache from many mornings, an insisten pulse in his temples. Excellent. He drove in his black Buick towards the hospital.

    After he managed to convince the receptionist with falsified identifications of his kinship to Katherine, despite his slight accent, he was not fully prepared to hear that she had been moved again. I'm sorry sir, I understand your concern, but her father has already taken her home. Perhaps you should call him? If you are her uncle, surely you have your brother's contact information, Mr. Kluv, he added through narrowed eyes.

    Shit! Kluv had taken her, to his residence probably, or perhaps the pawn moved the queen elsewhere under instructions from the old mystic. He had been too late, and had lost that which matters most. Idiot! Storazhev phoned Alvarez, his only friend and colleague in the city, a man who could sometimes aid him, but Alvarez had his hands full with lowlife hooligans, loan sharks, and dealers. And with sweeping his tracks clean. To every soul a battle, it seems. Kluv was out of Alvarez's league anyway; Storozhev knew it. Sometimes, however, a knight needs to consult with his squire.

    His chat with Alvarez did serve one purpose, to confirm what Storozhev already suspected. Nolan Danielson, Katherine's anonymous benefactor, had disappeared. Someone had found an empty wallet with his driver's license and turned it in to the police. Looks like Kluv had gotten to him too. So that tip-off earlier yesterday hadn't worked. Storozhev cursed himself for taking his role too seriously, again. He could have stopped that. The cogs were starting to turn, and no one knows how to operate the machine.

    Storozhev mounted his steed. The Buick roared towards Kluv's mansion. A housecall on the pawn. The time has come to talk of many things.


    †This bird has flown

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