I little while ago, I wrote a new opening scene for the story, Legacies. Eventually I think I should re-write the whole story (keeping the characters, ideas, and some scenes intact), but for now, I hope you enjoy this new opening scene. If you want to read the rest of the story, just look for Legacies Parts 1 - 3 on this blog.
"My uncle's really dead?"
"Two: this CD which contains a message for you from your uncle." He slid the CD across the desk and made another mark with his pen.
"Three..." He reached down and hoisted a large metal briefcase onto his desk. "...this briefcase. The combination is the date that your parents first met."
Scott reached forward and pulled the briefcase into his lap. It was heavy.
There was a knock on the door, and a young woman stepped into the room.
"Mr. Jordan, those nuns from St. John's are back. They say they need to see you right away."
The lawyer sighed. "Okay, I'll be right there. Scott do you mind if I just step out for a minute?"
"Of course not. Go ahead."
"It's probably another lawsuit. I told them if they'd just go easy on the corporal punishment, but its like telling a fish not to swim." He grabbed a sheet of paper and slid it across the desk. "Scott, while I'm gone if you could just take a look at this document? It lists the three items we just discussed. Make sure it looks correct and sign at the bottom, okay?"
The door closed behind him, and Scott found himself alone.
"Well, I didn't expect any of this." He glanced down at the CD case, then looked around the room until he spotted an expensive looking stereo on the book case to the right of the desk. He walked over and popped in the CD. As it began to spin, Scott picked up the briefcase and set it on the desk.
He glanced at the combination lock. His parents had met at a St. Patrick's day parade. He rolled the combination lock until it read 0317, as the CD began to play.
"Scott, if you're hearing this then I'm already dead." The voice was deep and scratchy and definitely his uncles. "I want you to listen to this very carefully. Things are not as they seem."
Scott pushed the button on the briefcase and the lid popped up.
"You are in grave danger."
Inside the briefcase was a small stack of cash, a notebook, and a collection of shinning metal weapons.
"I'm serious," said his uncle's voice. "Grave. Danger."
Scott's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He reached down with a shacking hand and picked up a long knife in a sheath.
"You need to go the house that I left you. My lawyer should have given you the keys. Go there, lock yourself inside and start reading that notebook. It has everything you need to know. For now, don't trust anyone."
Holding the hilt in one hand and the sheath in the other, Scott slowly pulled them apart until he was staring in shock at a ten inch sharpened blade.
"I mean it," continued his uncle. "Don't trust anyone. Your life and the lives of others depend on it. If anyone you don't know approaches you, chances are they've come to kill you."
"Is this knife even legal?" Scott said out loud, unable to process all that was happening.
The door to the office opened suddenly and the lawyer entered surrounded by three nuns all talking loudly and waving wooden rulers in the air. They froze when they saw Scott holding the knife in front of the open briefcase.
Across the room, the CD continued to play.
"I don't care if Mother Theresa herself comes up to you asking for a donation. You take that knife, and you stick it right in her heart, and then you chop off her head for good measure."
Scott dropped the knife in the briefcase and leapt for the stereo.
"Now, if you need to get rid of a body, all you need to do is..."
He slammed the eject button, grabbed the still spinning CD, and turned back to face the others. The nuns were staring at him with looks of horror on their faces.
"My uncle...he was such kidder...ha, ha..." He scooped up the briefcase. "I've gotta go."
posted by D @ 11:42 AM
I got out of the habit of writing when our baby was about to be born earlier this year. Now we have a wonderful baby girl who is nearing six months of age. I have been trying for some time to start writing again, but this has been much harder than I would have imagined it. Part of this is just that neither my wife nor I has as much free time as we used to. But even when I had time, I found myself unable to get words on the page. I am sad to say that this has frequently left me cranky and irritable. However, today I wrote something again. It's not a whole story - just a short scene. It might be the beginning of something new or it might remain just a scene to tickle the imagination with questions about what comes next. Either way, it was the first time in a while that I really felt my imagination working like it used to.
So I wish to share this little espresso shot of fiction with anyone who wishes to read it. It's not much yet, but it felt good...
Rocketman and the Narrow Escape
A Scene By Daniel Emery
The stranger sat in front of the tea shop in the crowded open air market. His head was bowed low over his tea cup, and a grey hood was pulled down over his eyes. The owner had been put off at first by the guarded appearance of this foreigner but was reassured when he heard the perfect accent-less hindi with which the man spoke. Any foreigner who spoke as well as this man did was obviously not a street thug. Indeed the shopkeeper found the man's stillness as he drank his tea so full of peace that he actually slowed the rapid fire pace of his bartering down enough that his customers could negotiate a reasonable price. As for the customers, they saw a quiet, possibly sick man stoking the fire of his health over a hot cup of tea.
It was not until the woman approached that the shopkeeper had any idea that something was amiss. She was pale with black hair cut in the flapper style and dressed in what looked like a man's pinstriped business suit, except there was nothing male about the way this suit outlined her strong athletic build.
Her eyes locked onto the still form of the stranger. The shopkeeper was just turning to greet her, the first word of the first line of his rapid fire sales pitch for tourists forming on his lips, when the woman thrust a hand inside her jacket. The man at the table leapt to his feet, exploding up from seat with such force that the table overturned and his tea cup flew into the air. Before the shopkeeper knew it the man had taken two great lunging steps away. The woman's arm whipped out from her jacket with the strangest weapon the shopkeeper had ever seen. Its shape reminded him of the rockets he had seen on the covers of science fiction stories. There was even a short metallic antenna at its nose. But unlike those rockets which always seemed lighter than air, this weapon looked solid and heavy. It let out a high pitched whine as she aimed it towards the stranger.
The man was moving fast, so fast that the other customers barely had time to open their eyes wide in surprise before he was past them. When he reached the last table he leapt over it with the ease of a track and field champion clearing a hurdle. As he leapt, the whine from the woman's weapon increased in intensity, and a burning hole appeared in the side of the teapot beneath the leaping man's feet. Steam from vaporized tea burst out of the holes, momentarily obscuring their vision of the running man. An instant later, it cleared, and the woman drew a new bead on the stranger. A smile formed on the woman's lips. The man was racing toward a stone wall - a dead end. The high pitched whine of her weapon increased once more.
The man didn't slow. If anything he seemed to have only increased his speed as he headed towards a collision with the ancient foot thick wall. The shopkeeper thought he saw the air waver in a thin line between the woman's weapon and the man. Dust exploded from the wall, and then the impossible happened. Placing one foot upon the wall the man jumped upward. There was the sound of an explosion, and then the man shot straight up into the sky! The man's hood fell back from his face, but he was moving so fast that all the shopkeeper could see was a shock of sandy blond hair. And then he was gone.
The shopkeeper blinked, as beside him, the table where the stranger had set came to rest and the tea cup clattered to the ground. Shouting erupted amongst his customers. What had just happened? What had they witnessed? The shopkeeper turned to look at the woman, but she was already moving away. He shouted and ran after her, jostling his way through a crowd frightened by the sound of the explosion. She rounded a corner. The shopkeeper spun around it...and the woman was gone!
posted by D @ 1:10 PM
You can listen to the my new story Shifters at the links below:
Shifters Part 1
Shifters Part 2
Shifters Interlude 1
Shifters Part 3
Shifters Part 4
Shifters Part 5
Shifters is a science fiction thriller that could be described as a mix of Highlander and Earth the Final Conflict Season One.
If you like it, you can subscribe to my podcast at http://seeker.libsyn.com or by searching for "Brief Glimpses of Somewhere Else" in the podcast section of the iTunes music store.
posted by D @ 10:26 PM
Killjoy’s, an art house coffee shop. Throughout the play, only the characters at the main table can be heard by the audience. Anywhere else in the café, characters mime their conversations.
PAYDEN, a grungy twenty something.
ALEX, male, twenty something.
JULIA, Payden’s girlfriend.
DENISE, Alex’s girlfriend.
COURTNEY, Denise’s cousin
JOEY, male, twenty something, metrosexual.
MIKE, SARAH, MACEY, JEFF, other patrons at the coffee house.
LIZ, female, twenty something, funky with an attitude.
(Inside Killjoy’s Coffee House. JEFF and MACEY are sitting at a table, drinking large cappuccinos. There are books, two bags, and a stack of DVDs on the table. SARAH enters with some books under her arm.)
SARAH: Hey guys.
MACEY: Hey. What’s up?
SARAH: Not much. I’m waiting for some friends. We’re going to hear a band play, though. You guys are welcome to come.
JEFF: We’ve rented a whole stack of movies. I think it’s going to be an all night marathon. Thanks, though.
SARAH: No problem. What movies did you get?
JEFF: Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and Return of the Living Dead.
SARAH: Wow. I bet I can guess who picked those.
MACEY: Yeah, he’s a little bit of a zombie fanatic. I think it’s cool though. Besides, last weekend, I made him go with me to see ice skating, so this is only fair.
SARAH: You’re braver than I am. Monster flicks always give me nightmares.
JEFF: I know how you feel. I’m the same way with ice skating. All those people in tights sliding around… (shivers)
SARAH: Well, you guys have fun. I’ll see you. (heads to a smaller open table)
MACEY: Bye. (to JEFF) Do you want to head out?
JEFF: Yeah, let’s go. (They start gathering their stuff to leave. PAYDEN enters and crosses to their table.)
PAYDEN: Hey guys.
MACEY: Hey Payden. How’s it going?
PAYDEN: Fine – you leaving?
PAYDEN: Good. I’m claiming your table. (He sets his bag and a coffee cup down and exits without another word.)
MACEY: Is he upset or something?
JEFF: Nah. Payden’s always like that. He’s not trying to be rude. He just doesn’t believe in being polite. Think of Han Solo in Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back – except without the space ship, the wookie sidekick, and the rugged good looks.
MACEY: Rugged good looks?
JEFF: I’m just trying to help you relate.
(MACEY and JEFF exit)
(Outside of Killjoy’s Coffee House. PAYDEN is waiting for JULIA.)
PAYDEN: Come on. Where is she?
PAYDEN: (relieved) Hey!
JULIA: (distant) Hey.
PAYDEN: I’m glad that you finally got here. I need to talk to you about something.
JULIA: Yeah. I need to talk to you about something, too.
PAYDEN: Let’s go grab a table inside.
JULIA: (not moving) I can’t stay. Listen, Payden –
PAYDEN: Suck! You’re not staying? Okay, well let me –
JULIA: Payden, I’ve got to –
PAYDEN: Remember that speeding ticket I got on the way to your parent’s house? You said that you’d pay for it because it was your fault, and it’s due on Monday –
JULIA: (Raising her voice to cut him off) Payden! (he stops speaking) I came here to break up with you.
JULIA: This isn’t working out.
PAYDEN: What do you mean?
JULIA: Come on. We’re supposed to be a couple, but we can barely stand to be around each other.
PAYDEN: I didn’t realize it required so much effort for you to be in my presence.
JULIA: Yeah, you did. We’ve had three arguments just in the past week.
PAYDEN: Those weren’t arguments. They were disagreements.
JULIA: Whatever. I’m not gonna get into an argument about whether or not we’ve been arguing. It’s clear that we’re not happy together.
PAYDEN: I disagree with that! It’s not clear that we’re not happy.
JULIA: Aaghh! I’m not getting drawn into this. I hate messy, angry breakups. Let’s just go our separate ways. Don’t try to call me. I’m going out of town for the weekend with my parents, and I’m turning my cell phone off. Goodbye Payden. (exits.)
PAYDEN: Hey! What about my speeding ticket? Shit.
(Inside Killjoy’s. PAYDEN is seated at a table. Various other patrons are hanging out at the other tables. ALEX enters, looking upset.)
PAYDEN: Hey, man, I’m glad to see you. I need a favor. Does Denise’s mom still work at the court house?
PAYDEN: Perfect. I’ve got this speeding ticket, but I don’t have the money to pay for it. Do you think she could get it dismissed?
ALEX: We broke up.
ALEX: Denise just broke up with me a few minutes ago.
PAYDEN: Fuck. That’s just great. Oh, sorry Alex.
ALEX: It’s okay.
PAYDEN: I was gonna ask you why you looked so down just as soon as we’d solved my ticket problem.
ALEX: I thought Julia was going to pay it for you.
PAYDEN: She broke up with me as soon as I mentioned it.
ALEX: You’re kidding. She broke up with you over a speeding ticket?
PAYDEN: Yep. She tried to say it was because we argued too much, but I told her she was wrong, and then we kind of got into an argument over it. This thing with Denise seals it, though.
ALEX: How do you figure?
PAYDEN: Denise, the only person I know with a contact in the court house, breaks up with you, my best friend, on the same night that Julia dumps me? It was obviously a coordinated attack.
ALEX: Can’t you take traffic school or something?
PAYDEN: I already have.
ALEX: I’d help, but I’m broke.
PAYDEN: (determined) I’ll think of something. So what did Denise say, anyway?
ALEX: She said that things didn’t seem to be working out.
PAYDEN: They always start with that line. It’s even mandatory in some states now.
PAYDEN: I am serious. They passed a ballot measure in Vermont that requires women to begin a breakup with a variation of that sentence – otherwise the breakup isn’t recognized by the state.
ALEX: Do you want me to keep telling this story?
PAYDEN: I’m listening. Go on.
ALEX: She also said that she didn’t feel close to me.
PAYDEN: The two of you have been together for six months. How can she not feel close to you?
ALEX: I don’t know.
PAYDEN: You didn’t ask her?
ALEX: I didn’t want to bother her anymore.
(MIKE enters but does not immediately see them.)
PAYDEN: Bother her? After she had just broken up with you? Alex, you are too nice. The girl has broken up with you. Do you know what that means?
ALEX: It means I’m miserable.
PAYDEN: It means, you now owe her nothing. You can do or say whatever you want without having to worry about how it might affect her. Isn’t that liberating?
ALEX: What are you talking about?
PAYDEN: I’ll show you. Hey Mike!
(MIKE crosses to them.)
MIKE: Hey, what’s up, Payden. Alex.
ALEX: Hey, Mike.
MIKE: You guys hanging out without the girls tonight? Where are Julia and Denise?
PAYDEN: That’s why I called you over here. I wanted to tell you something before you heard it from somewhere else…Julia is dead.
PAYDEN: She’s not with us anymore, Mike. She passed away.
MIKE: Whoa. Dude, seriously?
PAYDEN: Yeah, man.
MIKE: Aw, I’m really sorry.
PAYDEN: Thanks Mike.
MIKE: (hesitant) Like, how did it happen?
PAYDEN: Car accident. I can’t give out all of the details yet. The police are still investigating.
MIKE: That sucks, man. (to Alex) Is Denise okay?
ALEX: (still in shock from Payden’s blatent lie) Uh, yeah. She’s fine. I mean, we uh, we broke up, though.
MIKE: Oh. Sorry dude. Hey, at least she’s still alive, though. Right?
ALEX: Yeah. There’s…there’s that.
PAYDEN: Listen Mike, we’re gonna have a memorial service here tomorrow night. I’d really appreciate it if you would come.
MIKE: Of course, man. I’ll be here.
PAYDEN: Thanks man. That means a lot. We’ll see you then.
ALEX: I can’t believe you just did that.
PAYDEN: That’s what I’m talking about – the freedom to quit being so nice.
ALEX: I like being nice. Besides, I still care about Denise, and even if I didn’t I would never tell someone she was dead unless she really was.
PAYDEN: I’m not getting through to you at all. This isn’t going to be easy. You’re all screwed up. (JOEY enters.) We need the help of a master. Joey!
(JOEY approaches them.)
JOEY: Payden. (Gives Payden a hug.) Hi Alex.
PAYDEN: Joey, the boy here is in desperate need of relationship advice. I tried to help, but my skills were no match for his affliction. We need the help of a member of your tribe.
ALEX: (confused) Is your family tribal?
JOEY: He means gay people. You know, that is such a stereotype that just because I’m gay I’m supposed to be an expert on relationships. I only put up with it because by coincidence I happen to be gifted in such matters. So what happened?
ALEX: Denise broke up with me.
JOEY: Oh, I’m sorry. Are you okay?
ALEX: Not really.
JOEY: What did she say?
PAYDEN: (butting in) She said that she didn’t feel close to him.
SARAH: Hey guys. Where are Julia and Denise?
PAYDEN: I have some bad news…Julia passed away.
SARAH: Oh my God! I’m so sorry.
(Payden nods, holding back fake tears)
SARAH: I can’t believe it.
ALEX: Me either.
SARAH: What happened? Was she in an accident or something?
PAYDEN: Yeah. I tried to tell her that she’d had too much to drink, but…she wouldn’t listen to me. I should have tried harder to stop her.
SARAH: Oh, Payden. Listen, you can’t blame yourself. Julia was really stubborn, you know? And sometimes she just wouldn’t listen to anyone else. But it’s not your fault.
PAYDEN: You’re right – I know, it’s just… What do I say to the parents of all of those kids?
SARAH: (shocked) Oh no. Oh my God. Did she hit someone with her car?
PAYDEN: The small bus…
SARAH: The special needs kids?
PAYDEN: They never saw it coming. Julia used to joke about running them over with her car. She’d say, “Retarded kids, ten points each!” I used to laugh, but it doesn’t seem funny anymore.
SARAH: God this is so terrible. It doesn’t seem real.
ALEX: You don’t know the half of it.
PAYDEN: There’s gonna be a memorial service here at Killjoy’s tomorrow night. Do you think you can make it?
SARAH: Of course. And if there’s anything I can do – if you need a shoulder to cry on…
PAYDEN: I’ll call you.
SARAH: Bye Payden. Bye guys.
JOEY: Payden, you’re floating…
JOEY: …in a sea of bullshit. Let me guess. Julia broke up with you as well?
PAYDEN: She left me high and dry with nothing but an unpaid speeding ticket. (gets up) I’m getting some more coffee.
(PAYDEN exits or walks to the coffee bar if it is on stage)
ALEX: I remember in high school, he used to be such a nice guy. I come back from college and he’s completely different. I wonder what really happened to him.
JOEY: You don’t know? I thought you two were best friends?
ALEX: Most of the time we talk about movies and comic books. All he ever told me was that he had a bad breakup with some girl named Patricia.
JOEY: It happened his freshman year in college. He was dating this girl named Patricia Jones – a real bitch. A couple of months into it, she decides she wants to break up with him. But instead of telling him, she brings another guy back to her place and lets Payden walk in on the two of them.
ALEX: What happened?
JOEY: Nothing. Payden walked in, turned on the light, and saw them naked on the couch. She looks up, sweat all over her face and says “Did you want something, Payden?”
ALEX: Jesus. What did he do?
JOEY: Nothing. The boy apologizes for walking in on them and then just turns around and walks out.
JOEY: I know. So the next day, he sees her and her friends on campus, and he smiles and waves like everything is fine. This was too much for Patricia and her friends. They took it as a direct challenge to their status as supreme evil bitches. So they got a little bet going to see how much shit he would take from them and still be nice. One by one, they started asking him out, using him for a night, and then humiliating him.
ALEX: How did you find this out?
JOEY: That’s where I met Payden – in college. I had crush on him when I first met him, so I asked around about him. Girls will usually tell someone like me a lot more than they would tell a straight guy like you.
(Payden comes back with fresh coffee)
PAYDEN: (to Alex) I thought of a story that you, my friend, need to hear. It was the end of my freshman year of college. (Alex and Joey exchange a quick look) This girl – Vanessa – took me back to her apartment for sex. Afterwards, I stepped outside for a cigarette, and she locked the door behind me. I wound up sitting on her doorstep for the rest of the night.
ALEX: Why didn’t you just leave?
PAYDEN: I was in my boxers and a t-shirt. My pants and shoes were still inside. But the point is, I was sitting on her doorstep, looking up at the sky, and I had what they call, “A Moment of Clarity.” My entire life, I had been going out of my way to be nice to people. It finally occurred to me to ask myself why. Why be nice? You see, up until then, I had presumed that people would be happier if they were nice to each other. But were the people around me any happier? My parents were in the middle of their divorce, yelling at each other like wrestlers from the WWF. All the girls I had been dating seemed to have some sort of deep seated cancer of the soul. Was I any happier? I was locked outside in my underwear. So I decided that night that I was through being nice. From that point on the world would get nothing but my complete, unedited, blatantly inappropriate self. And I’ve been an asshole ever since.
ALEX: Did you get your clothes back?
PAYDEN: She waited until I’d fallen asleep and then dropped them on me from an upstairs window.
ALEX: What happened to her?
PAYDEN: I spent a week finding road kill and hiding it right behind her back tires. She went mad with guilt thinking she’d killed half the pets in the neighborhood. Now she spends all of her free time volunteering at an animal shelter. And you know what? I think she’s happier for it.
MEAGAN: (angry but underneath that worried) Payden, what’s this crap you’ve been telling people about Julia?
PAYDEN: Look Meagan, I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but I feel like Julia wouldn’t want us to be fighting right now.
MEAGAN: Julia is not dead! I talked to her this morning on the phone when she was on her way out of town, and she told me she had broken up with you.
PAYDEN: Oh my God. What time did you talk to her?
MEAGAN: Around 10:30. Why?
PAYDEN: That’s right before… Oh no.
MEAGAN: What?... What?
PAYDEN: The witnesses said she was fiddling with a cell phone when she first lost control of the vehicle. She must have just gotten off the phone with you when… God, I’m sorry, Meagan. Look, it’s not your fault, okay? Remember that, no matter what the accident report says.
MEAGAN: Oh God! (exits in tears)
JOEY: You will burn in hell for that one, honey.
ALEX: I can’t believe you just did that.
PAYDEN: Nah! That girl is far too gullible. She’d never last in the wild. Better that she wizens up now before some conman takes her for all she’s worth. It’s like I was trying to tell you before. Being nice to people doesn’t help them. Hell, you were super nice to Denise and look where it got you.
ALEX: Yeah. I guess so. I wish she was here.
JOEY: Where is she?
ALEX: At her mom’s place. Her aunt and uncle and her cousin were coming for a visit.
COURTNEY: So what’s going on Denise? You seem depressed.
DENISE: I broke up with Alex this morning.
COURTNEY: Oh, I’m sorry. Are you alright?
DENISE: Yeah. I’m just still a little upset.
COURTNEY: What happened? Was he cheating on you?
DENISE: No. At least, I don’t think he was.
COURTNEY: Was he always forgetting about you and going out to strip clubs with his friends and then coming home drunk with the name Candy tattooed on his arm?
DENISE: No. He never did anything like that.
COURTNEY: Good. That didn’t happen to me either. So why’d you break up with him?
DENISE: It’s hard to explain. He was just…too nice. I guess.
COURTNEY: (sarcastic) Oh, yeah, I could see how that could get you down.
DENISE: It sounds stupid. I mean, I like Alex – it’s just… Have you ever gone out with a guy that refused to do the things you wanted to do? Like if you went to see a band play, it had to be the band he liked? He wouldn’t even consider going to listen to your music?
COURTNEY: Yeah, I hate that.
DENISE: Well, Alex was like the opposite of that. He would always insist that we went to see whatever I liked. At first it was fun, but it got, I don’t know – frustrating, I guess. Does that make sense?
COURTNEY: Sort of… But you also said you like him. Not “liked” in the past tense, but “like” in the present tense. Are you sure you don’t want to give him another chance?
DENISE: Well, maybe, but if I did, what would be different?
JOEY: Are you still thinking about Denise?
ALEX: Yeah. What do you think? Do I need to be meaner?
JOEY: Listen, Alex. The truth is if you really want to make things work with Denise or anyone else you don’t have to be super nice or an asshole. You just need to be you.
ALEX: But I was being myself with Denise.
JOEY: Really? What’s your favorite movie?
ALEX: Heat – the Michael Mann film with Deniro, Pacino, and Val Kilmer.
JOEY: Have you and Denise watched it together?
ALEX: No. She doesn’t like crime dramas.
JOEY: Did you ask her to watch it with you?
ALEX: Well, no. I don’t want her to have to watch something she doesn’t like.
JOEY: But you like it, and she likes you. That means there’s a pretty good chance that if you show it to her and point out why you love it so much, she might actually enjoy it.
ALEX: But why make her do that if I’m willing to watch her movies instead?
JOEY: Alex, people don’t just get into relationships to do the same old thing they’ve always done or even to be the same person they’ve always been. How do I explain this in a way that you’ll understand? We have to redefine serious relationships from the ground up. Okay, how about this. Ever had a Thai Chicken Pizza?
JOEY: How did they come up with that recipe?
ALEX: They mixed Thai food with pizza.
JOEY: Right. They took an Asian style of cooking and an Italian style of cooking and mixed them together to create something else – something new – something good. That’s what you should be doing in a relationship. Sort of…Except you wind up with a little bit of her and she winds up with a little bit of you. But if they two of you aren’t different afterwards, then you missed the whole point. You have to take her to see every movie, play her every album, and show her every book that’s important to you – especially the ones you don’t think she’ll like. Otherwise, you’re not her boyfriend – you’re her groupie.
ALEX: Jesus, Joey. You really are good.
JOEY: (pleased) I know. I’m like the gay Yoda.
(PAYDEN returns to table.)
PAYDEN: It’s all set for tomorrow night.
ALEX: What is?
PAYDEN: The memorial service.
JOEY: Payden, how long are you going to keep this going?
PAYDEN: To the bitter end.
(Lights up on the café. It is now Sunday. PAYDEN and ALEX stand in the center of the café. The chairs have been moved to the side. Both of them are wearing suit jackets over their clothes. There is a large bowl marked donations on a table to the side. One by one the café patrons enter and place envelopes or money in the bowl.)
PAYDEN: We’re here today to remember our dear friend Julia. I want to begin by thanking all of you for coming on such short notice. I’m sorry that we couldn’t have a more formal memorial, but the family felt that the circumstances around Julia’s passing were too shameful for a church service. But we’re not here to judge. And anyway, I think that Julia would have liked this. You, her friends, were the ones she loved. And I would ask each of you to remember that love in the weeks ahead no matter what evidence of a so-called “hit list” may come to light.
(Removes some notes from his suit pocket) I would like to read to you some of the notes I have put together about Julia’s life. Julia celebrated her birthday on September 10, although the exact date of her birth is unknown. She was found outside of a ruined castle in Romania by Mr. and Mrs. Davenport on their summer vacation in 1980. The Davenports, being a generous couple and not willing to judge the child based on looks alone, took her home with them to America and raised her as their own.
(JULIA enters quietly from the side, unnoticed)
Julia’s childhood was a troubled one, and her first brush with incarceration came when –
JULIA: Payden! What’s going on?
MACEY: (Screams) Aagh! The living dead!
(Everyone begins to move in slow motion. PAYDEN grabs the donation bowl and shoves it at ALEX.)
PAYDEN: Run for it!
(lights up on PAYDEN and ALEX sitting alone at a table. PAYDEN is holding an ice pack to one side of his face.)
ALEX: Well, that was an interesting weekend.
ALEX: What did Julia say when she caught up to you outside?
PAYDEN: I don’t know.
ALEX: What do you mean?
PAYDEN: Well, everything went kind of dark for a second when she hit me. When I opened my eyes again, I was laying on the ground with her standing over me, and all I could hear was this ringing noise. So I just lay there for awhile watching her face contort into a rage and listening to the ringing – like distant church bells. (looks off into the distance) It was the best break up I’ve ever had.
ALEX: Well, here’s the money from the bowl. (hands a fat envelope to PAYDEN) You realize of course that people may want it back.
PAYDEN: Maybe I’ll go non-profit. That way, it’s a tax deduction for them. You still haven’t heard from Denise, huh?
ALEX: No. I hope she’ll talk to me. I still really care about her.
PAYDEN: (sees her coming on from offstage) You know, I think you may just be about to get your second chance.
DENISE: Hi, Alex.
ALEX: Hi. (a pause) It’s good to see you.
DENISE: I’ve been thinking that maybe we should give this another shot.
ALEX: That would be great.
DENISE: There are some things that need to be different, though.
ALEX: I know. Why don’t we talk about it tonight? We could rent a movie and go to my place. There’s this one that I really love by Michael Mann. It’s not your usual type of movie, but it’s –
DENISE: (cutting him off) That sounds great.
(They link arms.)
ALEX: See you later, Payden.
(Payden waves in response. The couple exits. Liz, a girl in a funky outfit with a spiked collar (or motorcycle boots or something that makes her look a little bit edgy) enters and watches him.)
(They exchange flirtatious looks.)
LIZ: Did you really stage a fake funeral for your ex-girlfriend?
PAYDEN: She owed me money. (lifts up his bag of ice) I got a receipt.
LIZ: I had this boyfriend once, who tried to break up with me in a crowded restaurant so that I wouldn’t make a scene.
PAYDEN: What did you do?
LIZ: I stood on top of the table and shouted out all of the things that I didn’t like about him. It was very satisfying. My name’s Liz.
LIZ: Do you want to get out of here and go get some Chinese food?
PAYDEN: I hate Chinese food. How about Indian food?
LIZ: I hate Indian food. How about Thai food?
PAYDEN: Deal. (PAYDEN stands up and the two of them start walking off stage.) So what kind of things did you shout about this guy?
LIZ: Well, for starters, I questioned his manhood.
PAYDEN: Good. That’s always a sore spot with us. It’s a solid opening move. Then what?
LIZ: Well after that, I...
posted by D @ 10:20 PM
“Quick, take off your shirt!”
Becky pointed to the mirror. “Look at us. You’re covered with sweat, your hair is a mess, and I look almost as bad. We’ve just been attacked by a ninja in a dark bathroom, and we look it.”
“You guys get attacked?” said Scott. He exhaled loudly, and his shoulders slumped.
Byron was still trying to catch his breath. “The cops are here – what are we gonna tell them?”
“I’ve got a plan…”
They heard the door to the main room opening. Scott ducked out into the hallway. “Officer Rodriguez, uh, hi…”
Becky grabbed Byron’s shirt and tugged, jerking it up over his head and arms. Without hesitating, she yanked her own shirt off, and tossed them both to the floor. Byron’s eyes widened and his eyebrows shot up.
An intricate, colorful tattoo wrapped from the center of her chest, around one shoulder, and across all of her back. The center piece of the ink work was a pulp art style, silver rocket standing on end and stretching from her lower back to just below her neck. Leaning with her back against it was a beautiful naked woman holding an oriental fan in one hand and a ray gun in the other. In the sky around the rocket, a green dragon wove in and out of clouds and in front of half-hidden, multi-ringed planets. The head of the dragon stared out at the world from just below her throat.
The shadows at the doorway began to shift and they could hear Officer Rodriguez just a few steps away. Becky pushed Byron against the wall with her body. Byron had an instant to register the determined grimace on her approaching face before she was kissing him, standing on tiptoes and pulling his arms around her waist. For a good five seconds, she writhed against him, making little moaning noises.
“What is going on here?”
Becky spun around as if surprised, covering her chest with her right arm. Officer Rodriguez stood just inside the doorway with one hand resting on the butt of his gun and looking like he wanted to frown at everything but wasn’t sure where to start. Next to him, his jaw halfway to the floor and his hands held open just in front of him was Scott.
“Oh shit – I’m so sorry,” said Becky. “I wasn’t cheating on you, Scott. It was just this awesome mockup of the ninja from the other night turned out so amazing, and you know how creature effects turn me on!”
Rodriguez turned to look at Scott.
“Uh…yeah, that’s one of the things that attracted me to you in the first place,” he said.
This time it was Rodriguez’s jaw that dropped.
“And, uh, and you know you don’t need my permission to do what you want with the body…your body.”
Officer Rodriguez looked at the ceiling and exhaled loudly.
There was the sound of someone else approaching, and then Officer Wayneford stepped into the room.
“The techs want to know – whoa! That fake ninja looks amazing!” He stepped past Rodriguez and Scott and went straight over to the stall, completely ignoring the shirtless couple. “Jeez, you guys did a great job. It’s the spitting image of the one we pulled out of here the other night.” He reached out a hand towards it.
“Don’t touch it,” said Byron. “They, uh, still need to spray it with some sort of clear sealant. If you touch it now, the oil from your fingers can make the chemical turn brown.”
“Oh,” said Wayneford, pulling his hand back. “Wow, you can even see a little blood trickling out of the wound.”
Becky opened her mouth to reply but nothing came to her.
“Yeah,” said Scott, jumping in. “That part was my idea. We’re using one of those pumps that come in those little waterfall-fountains you can get for your office.”
“Good idea,” said Wayneford. He leaned in even closer to the body. “You forgot something, though.”
“What’s that?” asked Byron.
“The ninja from last night had a throwing star in his right hand.”
Scott snapped his fingers and pointed at Wayneford. “He’s right. I forgot about that.”
“Officer Wayneford, you said the technicians wanted to know something?” said Rodriguez.
“They’re ready to move the body,” he said.
“Alright, let’s get over there.”
The two cops headed out of the bathroom and down the hall. As soon as Becky heard the door to the main room close behind them, she grabbed her shirt off the floor and pulled it on.
With quiet, slow movements, Byron pulled the cigarette pack from his back pocket, slid one out and set it between his lips unlit. Then from his front pocket, he drew out his black sunglasses, put them on, and leaned back against the wall.
“Well…” said Scott, exhaling as he said it.
“Yeah,” said Becky, emphasizing the word with a quick raising and lowering of her eyebrows. She wiped off her lips with the back of one hand. “You okay, Byron?”
He inhaled around the cigarette as if it was lit. “I’m cool.”
“You guys should join them out back,” said Scott. “They’ll want to get your statements since the two of you found her. I’ll stay inside and watch the bar.”
“What about your statement?” asked Byron. He lifted his sunglasses long enough to locate his shirt on the floor, grabbed it, and pulled it on.
“They can get it from me once one of you is free to switch with me.”
“What should we do with him?” asked Becky. “God that sounds like a line from a movie, doesn’t it?” She wiped sweat from her forehead.
“Can you lock the door?” asked Scott.
“There’s no lock on that door handle,” said Byron.
Scott turned to check. “Oh, right…” He looked around the room for a moment, his eyes finally settling on the stall. “I’ll go ask the crime scene guys if I can have some of that yellow police line tape for our, uh, recreation of the scene. We can hang that across the doorway.”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll make a sign that says ‘Out of Order,’” said Becky.
Scott and Becky started for the door.
“Becky,” said Byron.
“Yeah?” she said, turning back. She shoved her hands into her front pockets and shifted her weight from foot to foot.
“Nice tattoo,” he said.
Her shoulders relaxed and a little bit of tension left her. “You like it?”
“I used to dream about space, but my mom’s the one who meets an alien and falls in love. Crazy, huh?”
“Maybe.” He leaned his head back. “But it’s some beautiful work, regardless.”
“Thanks.” She turned and headed out the door.
“I heard you guys found a dead body in the bathroom.”
There were two of them at the bar – one guy and one girl with jet black hair, matching spiked collars, and dark eyeliner.
“Uh, yeah. That was last night,” said Scott, glancing up from where he was half-heartedly wiping at the bartop.
“Did he sneak in here to kill you, or something?”
“Nope.” He leaned over the bar and propped his chin up with his right hand. “None of the ninjas ever want to kill me.”
“Nothing. Can I get you something?”
“Nah. I only drink absinthe,” said the guy.
Sure you do, thought Scott. “How about you Miss?”
The girl placed her index finger sideways between her teeth, bit down with exaggerated slowness, and shook her head from side to side.
“Can we see the place where you found it?” the guy asked.
“Uh, not right now. It’s out of order.”
“Come on, man. We won’t touch anything.”
“Sorry. If you come back tomorrow night, it might be open…” Scott glanced back down the bar, checking to see if anyone looked like they needed a refill. His eyes met those of the woman that had disappeared the night before. She seemed to be watching their conversation with unapologetic curiosity. When Scott turned back, the two Goth kids had wandered off.
He walked over to the woman, his eyes dropping for a second to take in her figure. “Can I get you something, Miss?” he asked, feeling a slight bit of guilt that she had probably seen him checking her out.
She placed her index finger sideways in her mouth, bit down on it, and shook her head in exactly the manner that the Goth girl had a moment earlier. Scott paused for a second, unsure of how to react. Was she trying to be funny? Was she messing with him for checking her out?
She saw the confusion on his face, took the finger out of her mouth, and said, “I mean no thank you.”
“Okay,” said Scott. He waited for a couple more seconds. She looked at him but said nothing. Finally, he forced a smile, turned, and walked over to pick up some empty glasses from further down.
Ten minutes later, Becky, Byron, and Officer Rodriguez came in from the back. Scott tossed the towel he had been wiping the bar with to Byron and stepped over to a spot near the door so that Officer Rodriguez could take down his statement. Scott faced Rodriguez who stood between him and the bar, so Scott had a good view of the woman who turned to openly stare at them.
“I’m sorry – what was the question?”
“When you looked into the dumpster, did you recognize the body?”
“No,” said Scott. He glanced at Rodriguez who was looking down at his clipboard and then back at the woman. She was still watching them.
“Is the name Natalya Smirkof familiar to you?” asked Rodriguez. As soon as he said the name, the woman twisted around on her barstool and faced away from them. Scott turned back to Rodriguez and found the policeman staring at him with wide open eyes and a serious expression.
“Never heard it before,” said Scott.
Officer Rodriguez gave him the serious business look for another two seconds and then went back to writing on his clipboard.
“Alright, thanks for your time,” he said.
Scott walked back around the bar and gave the other two a reassuring smile. “Did they figure anything else out at the dumpster?”
“They found a couple of passports in her bag,” said Becky in a quiet voice.
“Whose were they?”
“Don’t know. They didn’t let us close enough to see,” she said.
Officer Rodriguez finished writing and headed past them towards the back exit, oblivious to the patrons who watched him from booths and tables with a mix of curiosity of suspicion. As soon as he was out of sight, the woman at the bar stood up and headed for the door.
Scott leaned close to Becky and Byron. “There’s something going on with that lady. She was watching Rodriguez when he took my statement, and I think she recognized the name.”
“We should follow her,” said Becky.
“I don’t know,” said Byron. “It seems a little too obvious, doesn’t it? What if she’s just trying to lure us away so that more ninjas can attack us?”
Scott’s eyes unfocused for a second as he thought about the possibility. The corners of his mouth lifted a tiny bit.
The cool air cut right though the thin shirt Becky was wearing as she leaned around the corner of the brick building at the end of the block. Scott waited anxiously behind her, eager to look for himself but not wanting to invade her personal space. They had left Byron to watch the bar, and the two of them had followed the woman for a couple of blocks through Old Town.
“Anything?” asked Scott.
“She’s halfway down the block – still walking. How can she not be freezing in that dress?” Becky rubber at her arms.
She stepped back and let Scott have a look. A car drove past, and the two of them tensed, but it didn’t even slow down.
“You’re right,” he said. “A sleeveless, short dress like that… She should be cold. She’s two thirds of the way to the corner now.”
Becky rubbed at her arms one more time and then crossed them over her chest. “Well, I hope she gets to wherever she’s going soon.”
Scott gave her a sympathetic grin, and then turned back to watch the street. “Okay, she’s to the corner.”
They double-timed it around the corner and down the block. A cab crossed the street ahead of them heading in the direction the woman had gone. They exchanged a worried glance and broke into a jog for the last few yards. Scott got there first, and he leaned around the corner to scout the situation.
“Is it just me,” said Becky, “or is this lady leading us in a circle?” She looked around at the dark streets. “…or a big square…”
Scott straightened up, a determined look on his face. “I’m not waiting for her to reach the end of this block.”
“If she’s trying to lure us into a trap, then nothing is going to happen until we show ourselves.” He moved quickly around the corner, keeping his hands out and ready at his sides while his eyes scanned the rooftops and storefronts for a hint of a trap.
Becky hung back for a second, unsure of what to do. Then she hurried forward, sprinting a few steps to catch up with Scott.
“All I can say is, this woman better be up to something,” said Becky.
Suddenly, they heard the sound of a car accelerating from behind them. Scott spun around. A white minivan crossed through the intersection behind them, moving in their direction.
“No headlights,” said Becky. She looked around for something to use as a weapon. There was a metal trash can a few feet ahead by the bus stop. She ran over to it. Behind her the engine noise got louder.
“Come on, you ninja Bastards!” yelled Scott.
Becky crouched down, got one hand under the trash can, and pushed off hard with her legs.
“Unghh!” she groaned as she lifted the weight up and pivoted towards the street.
The car raced past Scott who was standing in a classic martial arts pose, past Becky who was ready to shot-put the trash can, and down another half a block. Then it slammed on the breaks and slid to a stop a few feet ahead of the woman who was still calmly walking forward. A man got out of the car, raced around to the passenger’s side, and pulled open the sliding door. Then he ran to the woman and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He shuffled back to the car, dropped her in a seat, closed the door, and ran back around to his side. The car screeched its tires, accelerating away from the curb and leaving them staring after it.
“Well that’s not what I was expecting,” said Scott.
“Uh,” said Becky, “I think I need help putting this down.”
“So Scott yells, ‘Come on, you ninja bastards!’” said Becky.
“Ha, ha, ha,” laughed Byron. The three of them sat on stools at the now closed bar.
“The van races past us – probably didn’t even notice us, and I’m stuck holding this frigging heavy metal trash can with no one to throw it at!”
“That story is gonna get funnier each time,” said Byron. “Aw, quit frowning, Amigo,” he said to Scott. “I got so confused in that bathroom earlier, I actually tried to bite the ninja on the neck.”
The corners of Scott’s mouth turned up.
“So this guy just grabbed the broad and ran, huh?” said Byron.
“The lady didn’t even seem upset,” said Scott. “She wasn’t struggling or yelling for help.”
“Hmm…” Byron took out his dark glasses, put them on, and leaned his head back like he was looking through the ceiling up at the night sky. “So where does this leave us?”
“Well, we’ve lost the girl, and we still don’t know how or even if she’s involved with the ninjas,” said Scott.
“Speaking of which, there’s still a body in the stall of the men’s bathroom,” said Becky.
Byron nodded. “Try not to think about it, and maybe it’ll go away.”
“We can guess that Natalya Smirkof was probably killed by a ninja – possibly the same one that attacked the two of you,” said Scott. “But what was she doing here?”
“She did have those passports on her,” said Becky. “Maybe she was here to meet a client. I don’t remember seeing her in the bar, though.”
“She never made it in,” said Byron.
“Maybe her client set her up,” said Scott. He leaned forward and rested his chin in his hands.
“If it was the client, then he or she would have taken the passports,” said Becky.
Byron pointed his index finger in her direction and nodded once in agreement. “So far we’ve got three bodies and only two explanations.”
Scott raised his eyebrows. “Who killed the first ninja?”
Becky turned to look at them. “You know what I don’t get? What’s the point of all this?”
“I’ve been asking myself that same question,” said Byron. “I mean, if a creator dreamed us up out of the matter of the cosmos, did someone do the same for it? And if there’s no creator, why does anything exist at all? Of course, it’s always possible that I am the universe, and you are all just figments of my imagination conjured into being to help me understand myself. But that still leaves me wondering why I exist.”
“Asshole,” said Becky with a grin. “I meant, what’s the point of these killings?”
Byron reached up and pulled his sunglasses down a half an inch. Then he turned to look at Scott. “What was it your uncle used to say about these types of situations?”
Scott’s eyes brightened. “He said that invariably there was money involved.”
Byron nodded. “We just have to find it.”
“Preferably, before the end of the month when I have to pay bills,” said Scott.
“And before we wind up like Natalya,” said Byron. They brooded over that for a minute.
“We should head back to the house,” said Scott.
THUNK, THUNK, THUNK…
There was a knock on the door. Byron pulled off his sunglasses, and the three of them exchanged glances.
“We’re closed,” yelled Becky.
“Please, I need your help,” said a man’s voice. “There’s not much time. They’re after me.”
Scott stood up and started fro the entrance. Byron looked at Becky with raised eyebrows. She nodded, grabbed an empty beer bottle by the neck, and joined him as he followed after Scott.
Scott glanced back at them and then opened the door. Standing outside was a tall man in a white dress shirt and khaki slacks with a lithe build and a substantial amount of grey in the hair at his temples. A half step behind him was the woman, still wearing the same dress.
Scott backed up and motioned for the two of them to enter. They came inside a few steps, the woman following right behind the man and even matching his facial expression – a determined tightening around the eyes with neither a smile nor a frown. Byron and Becky moved to flank them, relaxing only after Scott had closed and locked the door without incident. Becky reversed her hold on the beer bottle and stuck her other hand in her pocket, her eyes settling on the woman’s chest.
“Who are you?” asked Scott.
“I am the one responsible for the body that the two of you found in the bathroom yesterday.” He took in a breath like he was about to say more but paused, uncertain, before breathing out heavily.
“Why don’t we sit down and you can tell us about it,” said Byron. They pulled an extra chair up to one of the tables, and the five of them sat.
“My name is Dr. Spellstein. I was supposed to meet a someone here last night. I didn’t see her when I walked in, and I was nervous, so I sent Rosie to the bar,” he indicated the woman beside him, “while I waited in the restroom. I must have been followed, because a man dressed all in black with a sword – a ninja – came in through the bathroom window and attacked me. I killed him in self defense.”
Becky’s eyebrows went up. “He surprised you all alone in the bathroom, and he’s the one that’s dead?”
“I was more prepared for him than he realized,” said Spellstein. He held his right arm out for them to see. There was a slice in the sleeve just a few inches down from the wrist. Underneath the sleeve, they could see a series of thin metal rods running the length of his forearm. “I did my research. They used to call this ‘iron sleeves’.” He pulled back the edges of the sliced cloth so that they could see where something had made a deep scratch in the metal.
“If my contact didn’t show, I was supposed to return the next night, so tonight I sent in Rosie to watch for her while I kept moving in my van. Rosie never recognized my contact’s face, and when she saw the police, she left to report back to me.”
Scott folded his hands on the table in front of him. “The name of the woman you were going to meet with was Natalya Smirkof.”
“Yes,” said Spellstein. “Do you know how I can find her?”
Scott shifted in his seat, a sad look on his face. “She was murdered. We found her body behind the bar earlier tonight. That’s why the police were here.”
Spellstein’s shoulders slumped, and he rubbed one lined hand across his face. “Damn.”
“You were meeting with her to obtain passports,” said Scott.
He nodded. “She was going to get me out of here and off the grid.” His eyes settled on Rosie, and she looked back at him with a mirror of his frustration.
“What is she?” said Becky, suddenly. They turned to find her staring at Rosie.
The hint of a smile appeared on Spellstein’s face. “Yes, not who, but what…” He took in another big breath. “She’s a robot.” He stared into Becky’s eyes, daring her to laugh. She nodded as Byron had nodded at her the previous night.
“She’s a breakthrough, not only in mechanical design, but in software as well. She uses multiple neural networks that incorporate the behavior of those around her along with a large amount of predetermined imperatives to decide how she should move and act. She’s actually a series of networked computers all housed within this artificial body.”
He leaned towards Becky, with both arms folded on the tabletop in front of him. “Most of the time she can pass as human in public, which is a pretty big deal. What tipped you off?”
“Well, the programming isn’t perfect at understanding social situations. Also, her breasts look real, but her nipples didn’t respond to the cold outside, and in that dress, we should be able to see them.”
“You said that Natalya was going to get you off of the grid,” said Byron. “You’re not planning on taking Rosie with you.” He looked over at Scott. “She’s the money,” he said and then leaned back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head.
Spellstein thought about this for a second before nodding. “I made a deal with Ms. Smirkof. She would get Rosie, and I would get a new identity and passage to somewhere tropical without much infrastructure.”
“So that’s why you came back tonight,” said Becky. “The deal you had with Natalya must have been hard to set up. It was worth too much to walk away without being sure. But how do you know they aren’t watching this place?”
“I made a credit card purchase – two tickets to the ballet. They’ll be tracking it, and they’ll think I’m going there to meet another contact. By the time they figure it out, I plan on being gone.”
Scott frowned. “But what if they left someone behind to watch this place just in case?”
Someone else was at the door. Byron stood up. He looked at Becky, pointed at the two strangers, and gestured towards the kitchen. Without waiting, he stepped closer to the door.
“We’re closed,” he yelled.
“I only need a moment of your time,” came the reply. “My name is Mr. Parks, and I’m here on a legal matter.”
“Well that’s a relief,” replied Byron.
There was a pause, and then, “What is?”
“I’m glad to hear that you haven’t come on an illegal matter.”
There was a chuckle from outside. “May I come in?”
“Don’t ask me, pal. I just work here. But hang on a second and I’ll get my boss.” He walked over near the bar. “Becky? There’s a man named Parks here to see you about something he claims is legal.”
“Let him in,” yelled Becky from the kitchen. She came walking out with some invoices and a pencil in her hands. Scott came out behind her with a broom and started sweeping.
Byron opened the door, and a middle-aged man in a stylish suit stepped inside. He was shorter than Byron by a couple of inches, and he smiled as he looked up at Byron through glasses with expensive gold-plated frames.
Becky set the papers down on a table as she walked towards them. “Can I help you?”
“I believe so. My name is Mr. Parks. I’m with Shultz, Westin, and Lake.” He stuck out his hand.
Becky gave it a firm shake. “Becky Walker. I’m with this bar.”
“Ha-ha. Ms. Walker, I’m working on a legal case right now involving someone I think may have been a customer recently.”
“You’re going to sue the bar?” Becky put a hand to her temple like she was getting a headache. “Look, I told that guy not to bring his chinchilla in here. ‘No pets!’ I told him. The fact that he got hurt is a direct result of his choice to break the rules. I am not responsible! I don’t care how expensive the surgery was!”
“Ms. Walker,” said Parks, holding his empty hands up like a shield. “I am not here because of a lawsuit.”
“Not at all. Tell me,” he added before she could say anything else, “do you consider yourself a forgetful person?”
He nodded. “So your memory is pretty good, would you say?”
“Adequate,” replied Becky.
“Then if someone was in here recently – within the last few days – you would remember them, right?” He waited with his careful, non-threatening smile.
“Well the only way to find out is to give it a shot,” said Becky. “Who are you looking for?”
Mr. Parks reached into his suit and removed a photograph. He held it up in front of him close enough to Beck that she could see it was a picture of Spellstein. She looked at it for a count of four, and then glanced back at Mr. Parks. Above his patient smile, his eyes did not blink.
“I don’t recognize him. Byron, Scott – you guys remember serving this man a drink?”
The two of them walked over for a look.
“Nope. Haven’t seen him,” said Byron.
Scott shook his head.
“How odd,” said Parks, furrowing his brow.
“What’s that?” asked Becky.
“His van is parked outside on the street,” said Mr. Parks. He held up a hand. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Thank you so much for your time.” He placed the photo back in his pocket.
“You can have a look around if you’d like,” said Becky.
“No thank you,” he said, turning away. “If he was somewhere in your bar, I’m sure you would remember.” He started for the exit.
“Should we call the police if we see him?” asked Byron.
The man paused a step away from the door and looked back over his shoulder. “Only if you catch him committing a crime,” he said with a grin. “But if you should happen to see him,” he removed a gold card case from his pants pocket and opened it. “My number is on the card.” He tossed one onto the nearest table. The door thumped as it closed behind him.
Byron crossed to the door and bolted it. He turned back to face them, the smile gone from his face. “We’d better have a chat with our two new friends.”
“Did you see how fast he got out of here?” said Scott, his eyes bright and focused.
“He’d gotten what he was after,” said Becky. “He wasn’t even going to leave his card.”
“No point,” said Byron. “He’d already decided to kill us.”
“Come on,” said Becky. She turned and hurried into the kitchen with the two of them right behind her.
At one end of the room was a wall of shelves full of supplies for the bar. On the wall perpendicular to that one, a dozen square card board boxes were stacked in three columns that rose almost to the ceiling. Becky walked right up to the boxes, got a grip on the corner, and pulled. The boxes swung out from the wall together. Most of the cardboard had been cut away and the façade glued together, leaving a hollow space in which Spellstein and Rosie had been hidden.
“Nice,” said Byron.
“And inexpensive,” added Scott.
“Yeah, and I didn’t even get the satisfaction of seeing it work.” She shook her head. “What an asshole.”
“Thank you for helping me,” said Spellstein.
“Mr. Parks wasn’t convinced,” said Byron.
“Then we don’t have much time,” said Spellstein, stepping out from behind the boxes with Rosie in tow.
“Okay, Spellstein,” said Becky. “I’ve got one dead ninja on the toilet pretending to be a reproduction of the other dead ninja that’s in the morgue – right next to the dead Russian, ex-KGB woman. Now you’re telling us some ninjas that are still kicking are after you, your robot, and, by association, us. And that they’re boss is something worse than a ninja – a lawyer. Any chance you could give us – I don’t know – an explanation…before they get here?”
All eyes turned to Spellstein. He nodded, lines forming on his forehead and around his eyes. “At last we get to the part that I should have begun with.”
Byron took a step back and leaned against the wall. Scott did likewise nearer one of the two large sinks, while Becky stood with her feet planted and her arms crossed in front of her.
“I was involved in a research project with a neuroscientist. He had been studying what happens to musicians who had lost their hearing. You see, the part of the brain that processes music does not stop working just because you can’t hear anything. It keeps looking for input that matches patterns of music that you have already heard. Many people who have become deaf late in life suddenly begin to hear music that they used to listen to. The brain makes a pattern match to some other stimulus – usually a vibration, and it’s as if the person had plugged in headphones directly to their brain. They hear music!”
The frown lines had faded from his face, and he was almost smiling. Byron pointed at Spellstein with his index finger. “This is interesting, Dr., but we’re short on time.”
He nodded. “It’s a common problem for us, wanting to explain all of the technical details.” He cleared his throat. “The end result of our combined efforts was a device the size of a quarter that when worn against the scalp would allow you to remember and re-experience a perfect copy of any music that you had heard before.”
He held up hand. “Let me be clear. This was not a tiny hard drive. It did not store music for you. It simply enhanced and stimulated the parts of the brain that processed music. With it you can remember perfectly any music that you have heard once, and you can listen to it again whenever you want inside your head because one part of your brain tells another part that you are hearing it right now!”
“Sweet,” said Becky.
Byron rubbed at his forehead. “This seems a long way from ninjas, Doc.”
“Vested interests,” said Scott before Spellstein could reply.
“What?” said Byron.
“Historically, the people that organize to fight against technological advances have been vested interests. They’re the ones with money or power to lose,” said Scott.
“So who would lose big from this and be crazy enough to hire ninjas to try and stop it?” asked Becky.
Scott raised his eyebrows at her.
“You’re kidding me,” she said.
Byron shrugged. “I wouldn’t put it past them.”
Spellstein looked from one to the other. “Now you see. It’s not Mr. Parks. It’s who his firm represents...the Recording Industry Association of North America.”
Becky whistled. “The RIANA… But it’s not like people would stop buying albums or going to concerts. I mean lots of people would pay to hear a really clean, high audio quality copy of a song. And concerts are a still a social event. A lot of people go because they like the atmosphere and the personal nature of the experience.”
“But they could only charge you one time for a song,” said Scott. “Their current growth is built on charging you multiple times – once for the CD, once each for each brand of digital music player you want to listen to it on, once for the computer you have now, and once more for the computer you’re going to buy in a year or two… Yeah, they could still make money, but their business would shrink.”
Spellstein nodded. “In their minds, the opposite of growth is death. There is no room for anyone who thinks about shrinking.”
Byron turned his head to the side and pressed an ear to the wall. He closed his eyes, not moving except to raise an index finger. Everyone froze. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes and stepped away from the wall. “Time’s up.”
Becky stared at the ceiling. “Should we run or stay and fight?”
“There’s too many to fight,” said Byron. “Unless…” He turned to Spellstein. “Is Rosie a breakthrough ninja-slaying robot?”
Spellstein shook his head.
“There’s too many to fight,” repeated Byron, turning back.
“I can lead them away,” said Spellstein, a serious look on his face.
Byron, Scott, and Becky made eye contact.
“We appreciate the offer,” said Scott, “but I think we’ll pass.”
Spellstein looked touched.
“Besides, we’ve killed one of their own,” said Becky.
“And we’re witnesses,” added Byron.
“So how do we get out of here?” asked Spellstein.
“From the roof, they can cover the exits with a crossbow or maybe even those throwing stars,” said Byron. “Hell, for all I know, they could have sniper rifles. We’ll have to get past that before we can make a run for it.”
Scott took a step forward. “Ninjas are careful and patient. They’ll only attack if they’re confident that they have defined situation. They’d rather wait for a better opportunity than jump into the unknown. All we have to do is confuse them enough that we can get away from the building without being picked off by whoever is on the roof. Then we run.” Scott looked around the kitchen. “I’ve got an idea.”
The door at the back of the bar burst open with a bang.
“Waaaaaaa…” A voice inside began to sing. It was joined by a second voice, and then three more voices tumbled into the sound all at once.
“Waaaaaaa…” They held the note, dropping out to take a breath and then jumping back in.
PANG, PANG, PANG, PANG
The sound of a big metal pot being used like a drum joined the singing, and then the five of them emerged, holding an old tablecloth like a flat roof above them and marching in quick time with the beat.
PANG, PANG, PANG, PANG
They were a strange, noisy square moving down the alley – their exact nature concealed from anyone who might be looking from above. When they were halfway to the end of the alley, one of the voices dropped out to sing a different note.
PANG, PANG, PANG, PANG
“Ai! Ai! Ai! Ayaaa!”
As if on cue, they broke into a trot. The street was quiet at this time of night except for them, but suddenly, they heard a car engine revving-up in the distance and the sound of squealing tires.
They ran for it, heading straight across the street towards the mouth of another alley. Headlights illuminated them as a big SUV came sliding around the corner. Wind caught the tablecloth and yanked it out of the hands of Byron and Spellstein in front. The others let go, and it billowed up into the air, then dropped to the pavement behind them. The SUV fishtailed, straightened out, and headed right for them.
Becky threw down the pot and spoon she had been banging together and ran for it. She was just behind Rosie who was still following Spellstein.
The SUV bounced as it hit the sidewalk with its front right wheel. Becky felt Scott shove her forward, and they both fell into the alley at the heels of the others as the vehicle careened past. Byron paused and started back toward them.
“Go!” shouted Becky, as she and Scott helped each other up. The others took off with Byron in the lead. Behind them, they could hear tires squealing again as the big vehicle turned around to line up with the alley.
Becky glanced back. “It’s too wide in here. It’s gonna mow us down before we reach the next street!”
The alley became brighter as the SUV completed its turn.
Suddenly Rosie stopped running. “Protection imperative…” she said, turning to face the SUV. Then she took off, running straight for it. Spellstein skidded to a halt and looked back, but Byron grabbed his arm and pulled him forward. Rosie raced past Becky and Scott just as the vehicle gunned its engines. She cleared the alley when the SUV was only seconds away from entering it. At the last moment, she threw herself under the driver’s side wheel. There was a loud thump, the right side of the vehicle bounced up, and it crashed into a corner of a brick building.
Becky stopped moving, staring in shock at the crash.
“Go!” shouted Scott, echoing her cry from earlier. They raced after Byron and Spellstein. The four of them made it out of the alley and across the next street before Scott yelled for them to stop. In the distance, they could hear a man’s voice shouting.
“Byron, about halfway down this alley it crosses another one that runs perpendicular.”
“Which way do we take?”
“None of them. You can climb over a wall into a parking garage. Follow the exit signs out, and then head for the house.” He tossed him a ring of keys. “I’ll meet you there.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Becky.
“Stall them – give you guys a chance to get clear…”
There was movement in the alley they had just left.
“Hurry! I’ll meet you there. Just go!”
Byron raised his index finger to his forehead and saluted Scott, then spun around and led the rest of them off at a run.
Scott turned and walked out into the middle of the street. He faced the alley, waiting.
There was a quiet little crack, and then something slammed into the left side of his chest, knocking him off his feet. He lay on the ground for a second, stunned. His right hand touched his chest. There was a rip in his shirt and beneath that the hard, smooth surface of the molded high-density plastic body armor that covered most of his torso. His left hand moved around until it found the black crossbow bolt that had hit him. He moved his head a little and felt the weight of the key to the trapdoor in the house. It was hanging off to the side, and he pulled it back around to the front.
It occurred to him that he might die tonight, and there would be no one to guard The Sacred.
“No one’s looking for it anyway,” he said to himself. “Besides, there’s the Walk of Death…”
There was movement on three sides of him. Lifting his head further, he could just see the black clad forms of three ninjas closing in on him slowly, swords up. He stood quickly. His right hand reached into a pocket and removed what looked like a sword hilt and guard with no blade. He pressed a button, and a metal baton telescoped out. The ninjas stopped when they were each about six feet from him.
Scott looked slowly to the left and the right. He knew they were about to attack him. A huge, beaming smile crept across his face.
The ninja directly in front of him dropped one hand from his sword hilt to reach into a fold of his costume. Scott readied himself, hoping he could knock a throwing star aside with his baton. Instead of a weapon, the ninja withdrew a black penlight and twisted it on. He pointed the tiny beam at Scott’s chest. There was a whispered conversation in Japanese. Then the ninjas each took two steps backward and lowered their swords.
“We can not kill you,” he said.
“Oh, come on!” said Scott.
“That key around your neck – you guard The Sacred.”
Scott felt tears forming behind his eyes. He tried to force them back down. “You’re not going to attack me?”
“It is forbidden.” He switched off the penlight and slid his sword back into its sheath.
“Hey! What are you waiting for?” shouted a voice. Mr. Parks walked out of the alley into the dim light of the street. “You’re under contract to terminate him and the others.”
“We can not kill him,” said the ninja. “He guards The Sacred. It is a law older than yours.”
Parks stopped a few feet away from the one with the penlight. He looked at each of them in turn for a moment. “Alright, I’ll do it.” He reached into his suit and pulled out a pistol with a silencer, taking aim at Scott’s chest.
Scott tensed. His body armor was much too thin to stop a bullet at this range. But then suddenly, the ninja was moving. He sprang towards Parks and grabbed the hand with the gun. He twisted Park’s wrist and the lawyer howled in pain, and then he twisted his whole arm in the opposite direction until Parks was pushing the gun under his own chin. The gun fired, sounding much louder than Scott thought it should with the silencer, and then Parks toppled to the ground.
Scott blinked, his mouth hanging open. The ninja turned back to him.
“The police will find a suicide note on his body. It will say that he was overcome with guilt for the murder of a Japanese tourist and a Russian American woman at your friend’s bar. We will remove the body of our brother from the bathroom and deal with it honorably. Keep The Sacred safe.”
Scott continued to stare.
“You should go now,” said the ninja.
Scott nodded, backed away a few steps, and then turned and ran into the alley.
“So that’s it?” asked Byron.
“That’s it,” said Scott.
The three of them were seated at the bar in the late afternoon on the day after the death of Mr. Parks. There was no one else in the bar yet, and they each had a full pint glass in front of them.
“Why are you so surprised?” asked Becky. “He told us what happened once already last night.”
“Yeah, but I’ve slept since then. I figured that maybe I had dreamed that ending.”
“I can’t believe they didn’t attack me.” Scott slumped forward with his chin in his palm and stared sideways into his beer.
“Be honest, Scott,” said Becky. “Could you really have taken three ninjas at once?”
“That’s not the point!”
“Well I can’t believe we lost a chance to acquire a state of the art robot,” said Byron. “Do you know how much that thing must have been worth?”
“Yeah,” said Becky. “And she was a real looker too.”
“At least Spellstein is on his way out of town,” said Scott. “Maybe he’ll make it out of the country before that law firm sends someone else after him.”
Byron raised his pint glass. “To Spellstein.”
Scott raised his glass. “To Spellstein and to the cosmic rejects.”
Becky raised hers. “To Spellstein, to the cosmic rejects, and to lesbian alien lovers!”
They looked at her, and she shrugged. “I’m just trying to keep the hope alive.”
“Maybe you could put some red food coloring in the beer…”
posted by D @ 6:38 PM
“Hey Eva, take my picture with the ninja!”
Byron turned to look through the bathroom door and could just see Officer Wayneford posing for a shot next to the body. There was a flash from a camera bulb. It should have hurt his eyes, but of course it didn’t.
The body was wrapped from head to toe in classic ninja garb so that the only parts of him that were visible were the skin around his eyes, which had been painted black, and the fingers of his hands. One of these was clutching the hilt of the ninja sword that had skewered him through the center of his torso. The other hand hung limp at his side just above a throwing star that lay on the floor.
“Don’t step in any of the blood!” Officer Rodriguez called out to the two in the stall.
“It’s okay. He fell on the commode, so most of it dripped into there,” Wayneford shouted back.
“My one lucky break,” said the bartender.
Byron glanced over at her. Her arms were folded across her chest, and her mouth had lost its earlier smile.
“Okay, so all three of you,” said Officer Rodriguez glancing up from his clipboard at Byron, Scott and the bartender, “saw a man run screaming from the bathroom.”
“Everyone in the bar saw him,” said the bartender. “It wasn’t just us.”
“Then you two got up from the bar and walked into the men’s room. You opened the door to the handicap stall and that’s when you saw the body. You came back out and told her what you had seen,” he pointed at the bartender, “and then you called 911. Is all of that correct?”
“Yep,” said Byron, tilting his head from side to side to pop his neck.
“Yes sir,” said Scott.
“That’s right,” said the bartender.
Byron shifted his weight from one foot to the other, more than ready to be done with this. There was something about the rigid formality of this kind of thing that grated on him. It all seemed forced and insincere…formulaic.
“Say ‘Chopped Sushi!’” There was another flash from the bathroom.
Well, mostly, he thought. He reached up with his right hand and took the cigarette from behind his ear.
“Alright, I just need to get some personal information about each of you.”
Byron froze. The cop glanced up at him.
“Can I see your ID?”
“Uh…” Byron patted his empty back pockets. “Well…I…”
“He left his wallet in the gym bag back at the house. Here’s mine. I’m Scott Anderson, and this is my cousin Byron Stocker.”
The cop looked at Scott and then back at him.
Byron shrugged. “It got me out of paying for the drinks.”
The cop took the ID from Scott and started copying the information down.
“And what’s your address, Mr. Stocker?”
“It’s…” He glanced at Scott.
“…the same as mine, officer,” said Scott. “He just moved in yesterday.”
“Alright…” Rodriguez turned to the bartender. She handed him an ID.
“This is an out of state license. Don’t you have a local address?”
“Yeah. Of course, uh, I just haven’t gotten a new license yet because I haven’t been driving.” She licked her lips and shoved her hands into her pockets.
“Okay, so what is it?” Officer Rodriguez asked, poised over his clipboard with his pen ready.
Byron could see red spreading in her cheeks. Jesus, she doesn’t have one either, he thought.
“It’s the same as ours, Officer,” he said quickly.
“What?” asked Rodriguez, looking up.
“We all live together – at least for the moment.”
“Why didn’t you say that earlier?”
“Because Becky and I didn’t think that Byron knew,” said Scott. “The two of them used to be an item. We were going to break it to you gently after we’d had a few more beers, Byron, but I guess you found out already. Did my mom tell you?”
“It’s hard to keep a secret in this family,” said Byron.
Rodriguez looked at the two of them and then over at Becky, whose face had turned bright red. She reached over and looped an arm through Scott’s.
“You don’t mind Byron? Really?” she asked.
“Of course not. Scott’s a great guy.” He grinned.
Rodriguez blinked and then blew out a big breath of air. “Alright. We’ve got your statements. Please remain in the building until we’ve had a chance to get statements from the rest of the patrons.” He turned and walked through the door to the main room.
Becky dropped Scott’s arm and put a hand over her eyes. Scott rubbed the back of his neck and shoulders with both hands. Byron held the cigarette in front of his face, stared at it, and drew in a deep breath.
“Well, I guess-”
“Ahem…” Scott shifted his eyes toward the open bathroom door where Officer Wayneford and a couple of police technicians were still working on the crime scene.
Becky took her hand away from her eyes and looked up at them. “Look, you guys grab a seat in the bar. I’ll be over in a second with a couple of beers.”
“Sounds good,” said Scott.
Ten minutes later she walked up to their booth with a round of drinks. She glanced over at Rodriguez and then slid in next to Scott.
“Listen, guys, I really appreciate you covering for me like that,” she said.
Byron laughed. “It’s not like you were the only one.”
The corners of her mouth curled up a tiny bit. “I guess you want to know what my deal is.”
“Only if you feel like telling us,” said Byron.
She sighed and took a drink from her beer. “The bar belongs to my Mom. She’s run it for the last thirteen years basically by herself.”
“Did something happen to her?” asked Scott.
She looked into her drink for a long moment. “This is going to sound really strange…and I accept the possibility that I might just be going crazy, but…my mother may have run off – with an alien.”
“As in ‘outer space?’” Byron asked.
“As in ‘escaped from a government lab.’” She looked up at them, waiting.
“Keep going. We’re with you so far,” said Byron.
She frowned at them for half a second before continuing.
“Apparently it crashed here not long ago. The government held it for a while, running tests, interrogating it. At some point there was a big problem with the computer network, and they brought in some IT people to fix it. Somehow, one of them found out about what they were doing, hacked into the system, and helped it escape.
“It was on the run, trying to pass as human and not doing a great job of it when it ducked into the bar one night. My mom has always had a soft spot for strays. She took it in for a little while, hiding it in the back storage closet. She helped it learn some more English, and, well, I guess they sort of fell for each other. When the government got too close and it had to run, she decided to run with it.
“I got a letter in the mail explaining what had happened and asking me to look after the bar for her. I left everything and came out here.
“It’s been hard, trying to keep the bar going with no help and trying to not let anyone know that my mother’s gone. I had to put her stuff in storage and tell her landlady she was moving in with me, but I don’t really even have a place to stay except here. I’m not sure what I’ll tell the cops if they find out she’s missing.”
Byron lifted his beer up and peered at it. “I thought this place was a microbrewery.”
“It was originally. Now we buy from a consortium of microbrewers here in the city.” She chugged the last of her beer, set the glass down, and then leaned back with her arms folded across her chest. “So I’m crazy, right? Because I don’t think that my mom is, so that must mean that I am.”
“Well, if you’re crazy, then we’re all crazy.” Byron stuck his hand out. “Byron LeBlanc, former vampire.”
She shook his hand hesitantly.
“That’s Scott. He’s the last in a long line of protectors that guard an ancient and powerful secret.”
“Hi,” said Scott.
“Welcome to the club, Becky-whose-mother-ran-off-with-an-alien.”
“Are we a club now?” said Scott, smiling and swishing the last of his beer around in his glass.
“We are three of a kind. Cosmic rejects who, despite lives touched by the extraordinary, nevertheless manage to still be miserable.”
“Or we’re all crazy,” said Becky.
The door to the hallway opened and two police technicians emerged rolling a gurney with a body bag on top of it. A moment later, Officer Wayneford followed, a bloody ninja sword inside of a large plastic bag held carefully in front of him.
“I don’t think it’s us,” said Scott, watching them go by.
Byron stared at the sword blade. “So what do you guys think happened?”
Becky raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. What was a ninja doing in the bathroom of my mother’s bar?”
Scott shrugged. “They’re professional killers these days. My uncle fought some once – actually a couple of times. They had always been hired by a third party, though.”
“So someone hired this ninja to kill someone else that was at the bar tonight?”
“Maybe,” said Scott.
“And whoever he was supposed to kill must have killed him instead,” said Byron.
“With his own sword,” said Becky. “That sucks.”
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience,” said Officer Rodriguez. “We have all of the information that we need for tonight. You’re free to go. Have a nice night.”
Everyone started heading for the door at once. Suddenly Becky lifted herself up off the booth and stared at the moving crowd. “Hey! Where’s that hot Latin chick?”
They followed her gaze.
“She’s not here,” said Byron. “I don’t think I’ve seen her since right before we went into the bathroom.”
“She had to have left before the cops showed up, or she’d still be here,” said Scott.
“Hmm…” Byron wriggled his eyebrows. “First clue or red herring?” He picked up his black sunglasses and put them on.
“Can you see in here with those things on?” asked Becky.
“Yes,” said Byron.
Becky shot a glance at Scott then made an obscene gesture in Byron’s direction. “What am I doing right now?”
“No idea – can’t see you…”
“…can’t see anything in this room, for that matter.”
“What can you see then?” she asked.
“The past… My memories of it…” He lapsed into silence for a minute. Then he tilted his head to the side and said, “I can also see that it isn’t safe for you to stay here tonight.”
“He’s right Miss,” said Officer Rodriguez, walking up. “I’d maybe think about closing early tonight, and the three of you can head home together. Most people find they get a little stressed after there’s been a murder at their workplace. Anyhow, we’re all done here.” He nodded to them, turned, and headed for the door.
Becky propped her chin on her hands and blew out a long breath. “I hadn’t even thought about the rest of the night yet.”
“You guys can stay at my place,” said Scott. “There’s a guest room and a pullout sofa in the living room.” He yawned.
“Alright, but first we gotta close up here. You guys mind grabbing the stray glasses? I’ll close out the register. We’ll clean the rest up tomorrow.”
“So that’s it, huh?”
“Yep. That’s it.”
“It doesn’t really look like a walk-of-death.”
“That’s part of the point.”
The three of them stood a few feet away from the bottom of the ladder in the basement of Scott’s house. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the passageway in front of them were covered with hundreds of colored tiles and cut glass squares in what appeared to be a completely random pattern.
“So what happens if you step on the wrong spot?” asked Becky.
“Death, I think. My uncle didn’t leave behind much detail on the subject – at least not in the papers I’ve found so far. But there is some sort of sprinkler system for washing away the mess.”
Byron rubbed at his tired eyes. They’d been up until the early morning talking and snacking on some trail mix that Scott had bought in bulk. Now they were up again, and it was only just noon – way too early to be moving around. “I need a cigarette,” he said to himself. “So you go through here everyday?”
“Yep – several times. I have a sacred duty to make sure that it’s safe.” He shrugged. “It always is. Why don’t you two go back up and head for the bar?”
“Yeah, okay,” said Becky. “I need to get things cleaned up from last night.”
“I’ll help,” said Byron.
“I can only pay you in beer.”
“Suits me.” He turned towards Scott. “Will we see you there later?”
“Yeah. After I’m through here, I’m gonna go to the park. There’s a lady who plays chess there in the afternoons. Back in my uncle’s early days she was with the KGB. I’ve met with her once before to set up a fake passport. I’m hoping she’ll be able to set something up for ‘Byron Stocker.’”
Byron stared into the distance for a second. “A fake identity… You know, that’s got a lot more appeal to it than a real one. No strings – if I don’t like it, I’ll toss it and get another one.” The corners of his mouth turned up.
“It might be better to just shove it in a drawer instead of tossing it. They’re a little expensive. I don’t even know how we’re going to pay for this one.”
They turned towards Becky with wide eyes and hopeful smiles.
“Don’t look at me. The bar is barely afloat. I have no idea how my mother did it.” She looked from one face to the other. “Nice try, though.”
“Well, there’s always the donation can,” said Byron. He turned and started up the ladder.
The afternoon crowd was almost non-existent which gave them a chance to do a little cleaning at a pace that was slow enough for Byron to handle. By the time it got dark, things had picked up a little, so Becky started showing Byron how to handle things behind the bar. Some of the patrons from the previous night had returned with friends, and Byron noticed little knots of people heading for the bathrooms at the same time. As he walked past their tables he caught words like “police” and “murdered” and “ninja.”
Just before nine o’clock, Byron was bringing a couple of empty glasses back from a table where the patrons had just left, when Becky came over to him.
“Has Scott shown up?”
“Haven’t seen him.”
She frowned. “You think he’s alright?”
Byron grinned. “Sure. Nothing ever happens to Scott. That’s his problem, right? Besides, it’s not like he had an appointment with KGB lady. Maybe he had to wait for her show up.”
She nodded, and then cocked her head to one side, looking at him from an angle.
“How are you doing?”
“Not bad.” He looked at the glasses in his hands. “It’s been a long time since I’ve waited on anyone else. That’s something I liked about being a vamp. All I had to worry about was myself. No one was dependent on me for their happiness – you know what I mean? After that, the idea of taking someone’s order felt a little weird, but actually…it’s not that big of a deal. You do all of this by yourself every night?”
“So far. I keep hoping to be able to hire some part time help, but I haven’t had time to put out an ad or anything. I’m not sure who was helping my mother, but I think they left a week or two before she did. The key is to pace yourself. No matter how busy it gets, I can’t afford to hustle too much.”
She looked around the bar. “Why don’t you take a break? I can handle it by myself.”
He nodded and went to set the glasses down. At the opposite end of the bar from the bathrooms was an open doorway that led to a small kitchen, and from there, another door opened onto a tiny back parking lot.
Byron walked along the back edge of the building until he was far enough away from the light above the door to feel like he was standing fully in the dark. He breathed in deeply, feeling the coolness of the air and listening to the sound of his breath against a background of muted traffic noise.
The cigarettes were in the back pocket of his jeans. He dug for them with one hand and came up with the half-empty pack and his lighter. Gently he pulled one out, brought it to his lips and lit it.
There was a sound from somewhere nearby. He froze, listening. All was quiet. He took another drag on the cigarette. The shadows at the edge of the light to his left flickered for an instant. He looked in that direction but saw nothing. Slowly, he took the cigarette from his mouth.
This moment – the night – it felt…familiar, somehow.
The door from the bar opened with a bang, and Becky shuffled out with a couple of trash bags.
“Hey Lestat! Want to put down your cancer stick and give me a hand?”
The tension in the air melted away.
“That’s LeBlanc.” He took one more drag, then stubbed it out on the wall and walked over.
They each carried a bag over to the dumpster, and Byron lifted the top up.
“What?” She peered into the dumpster. “Oh, shit.”
The door opened again. They spun towards it, and saw Scott walking out. The lid slammed back down on the dumpster and they all jumped.
“Uh, hey guys. Sorry I’m back so late, but I couldn’t find… What?”
Byron motioned with his head towards the dumpster. Scott walked up and slowly leaned over for a look.
“Oh, shit… Byron, open the lid further – let a little more light in.”
Byron pushed the lid up until it was almost vertical. Scott leaned in and after a moment turned back towards them, his face pale.
“I think that’s…I think that was the lady I was looking for today.”
Becky let out a low whistle and ran a hand back through her hair. “Her torso’s been sliced open.”
“What happened at the park?” Byron asked.
“Nothing. I waited all afternoon, but she didn’t show. I played a few games of chess with the other regulars, and they all said that she’d been there two days ago but not yesterday or today.”
“We’d better call the police.” Becky shifted her weight and shoved her hands into her pockets. “…again…”
“Should one of us wait here until the police show up?” asked Scott.
They looked at each other and then at the dumpster.
Byron and Scott filled drink orders for the couple of customers who were waiting while Becky called the cops. Scott had actually worked as a bartender for a short time a couple of years back, so the two of them managed to get everyone taken care of without too many problems.
Bits of Becky’s conversation drifted to them as they worked. “…yes, another one…no, this one is a woman…not a woman ninja – just an ordinary woman…yeah, okay…fifteen minutes…okay…thanks a lot…”
She walked over to them. “Did you guys hear that?”
“Mostly,” said Byron.
The door to the bar opened, and all three of them turned to look, half-expecting it to be the police already. Instead, they watched as the attractive woman from the previous night sauntered inside. She paused and surveyed the room. Frowning, she headed for the bar.
“She’s wearing the same dress,” said Becky. “I’m not complaining – I just felt I should mention that.”
“You’re right,” said Byron. “She looks exactly the same.”
She took a seat at the bar and Becky walked over to take her order.
“Hello again,” said Becky, smiling.
The woman’s expression did not change. “Vodka martini – shaken, not stirred.”
Becky laughed. “Ha! Nice one!”
The woman frowned again. “Excuse me. Vodka martini – shaken, not stirred.”
Becky’s mouth continued to smile, but her eyes widened. “Okay, coming up…”
While she was making the drink, she related their conversation to Byron and Scott in low tones.
“What did she order last night?” Scott asked.
“A gin and tonic, maybe? I don’t remember for sure.”
“Because last night I was staring at her chest while I took her order. The actual drink I made is a little fuzzy compared to that.”
Becky snuck a glance out of the corner of her eye. “She’s watching the door like she’s waiting for someone to show up.”
“Uh, excuse me…” A young guy with tattoo-covered arms was trying to get their attention. “The lights are out in the guy’s bathroom.”
“Thanks. We’ll get to it in a sec,” said Becky. “Want to lend me a hand, Byron? I think you’re tall enough to reach.”
“Sure.” He turned towards Scott. “Hold my calls, will ya?”
Becky grabbed a box of bulbs from the shelf in the kitchen and led the way into the short hallway.
“You know,” said Byron, “last night I walked in here with Scott and found a dead ninja. Tonight, I’m walking in here with you, and…” He sighed.
“I’m just not sure you’ll be able to top that. I’m worried it’s going to be a let down.”
“Hah! I’ve got enough attention from the cops already. Don’t forget that my mother, a.k.a. the legal owner of this bar, is currently at large with an alien.” She pushed open the door, and they walked in.
The dim light from the hallway was more than enough for Byron to see the light fixture overhead. Standing on tiptoe, he reached up and began unscrewing the old light bulb while Becky propped the door open with a roll of toilet paper from a shelf by the sink.
“I’ve almost got this one out. Do you have the fresh bulbs?”
“Hold on a sec, I set them down on the shelf when I grabbed that roll of TP.” She walked over towards the sink.
Carefully, he twisted the bulb the last quarter turn, and it dropped into his palm. “Here we go.”
Something knocked the TP into the hallway, and the door swung closed, cutting off the light. There was a whisper of movement to his right, and then from somewhere between him and the stalls, he heard the quiet sound of a metal blade being pulled from a sheath.
He froze, trying not to make a sound. He had his lighter in his pocket, but it might only make him a better target for whoever was in here with them. Instead, he stared into the blackness and willed his eyes to adjust to the light faster.
Suddenly, from over near Becky, there was a loud clatter like a desk drawer being turned upside down and emptied.
“Okay, who wants some?” said Becky.
Byron had spent a decade traveling only at night, and his eyesight, though no longer supernatural, was far better in the dark than either of his two new friends. Between one instant and the next, his eyes began to pick shapes and edges out of the black. He saw Becky, a shorter silhouette standing near the sink and swinging the short supply shelf back and forth in front of her. In between them, he could barely distinguish a shape – a person moving carefully toward Becky. The shape took another step towards her, and then raised a sword above its head.
Without thinking, he leaped across the distance onto their attacker’s back, grabbing for the sword hilt with one hand and wrapping the other around the person’s neck.
“Aahh!” he shouted, struggling to hold the sword where it was. Their attacker dropped one hand from the hilt and brought an elbow into Byron’s stomach. The blow knocked the wind from Byron, and he lost his grip on the sword. At the same time, Becky swung her improvised weapon right into its face. The shelf made contact with a loud crunch, and their attacker’s head snapped to one side. The sword dropped to the floor, but their attacker recovered, and snapped a lightning quick punch into Becky’s solar plexus. She reeled back a step, dropping the board, which hit the floor with a wooden smack.
Byron leapt forward once more, this time wrapping both of his arms around their attacker’s biceps. Instinct took over, and he bit deep into the side of its neck, grinding teeth that felt too flat, too dull, into cloth and flesh. Their attacker hissed in pain and surprise. Wriggling like a wild animal, it dropped downward, twisted a shoulder into Byron’s chest and pushed hard. Byron fell backward, trying to catch his balance, and slamming his back against the far wall of the bathroom.
Their attacker followed him across the space, and kicked him squarely in the stomach, knocking him against the wall a second time.
“Hey!” shouted Becky.
Their attacker spun around, and Becky shoved the sword into its midsection, putting all of her weight into it. Their attacker fell backward, through the yellow crime scene tape, and into the bathroom stall.
The door to the hallway swung open. Dim light poured into the room, illuminating Becky, Scott, and the dead ninja on the toilet.
“Hey guys – the police are finally here,” said Scott. Holding the door open with one hand, he started to step forward but froze in mid-stride. “Uh…oh shit…”
posted by D @ 10:49 PM
I love stories - especially speculative fiction, and I named this blog Brief Glimpses of Somewhere Else because I think of each story as a window into another world.
If this is your first time here, I recommend "Legacies" and "The Great Puzzle", both of which were nominated for a 2006 Parsec Award. You can also find "Timmy, Jimmy, and the Beast of Tagmart" as well as "Late Shift at the Souleater" in the podcast anthology Voices: New Media Fiction available at podiobooks.com.
Legacies New Opening Scene
My Girl Friend's Dead - A One Act Comedy
Legacies Part III
Legacies Part II
Legacies Part I
[About The Spirit's Dream (Version 2)]
The Spirit's Dream (Version 2)
Timmy, Jimmy, and the Beast of Tagmart
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