“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 Part I
[About The Spirit's Dream (Version 2)]
The Spirit's Dream (Version 2)
Timmy, Jimmy, and the Beast of Tagmart
The Great Puzzle Part III
The Great Puzzle Part II
The Great Puzzle Part I
Late Shift at the Soul Eater
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