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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Eleven: Strength

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.


Episode Eleven: Strength

I allowed the old man to lead me away from the killing field. The codger moved with a surprisingly swift stride for someone who looked as feeble as he did.

“Hurry along, Detective,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “It wouldn’t do to be caught here now.”

I tried to match his speed, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t even figure out why I was so upset. I’d barely known her and it wasn’t like we’d ever had time to have a conversation that didn’t hinge on running from the bad guys. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. Sour grapes taste great in moments like this.

We hurried past the building where they’d been keeping us just a few hours ago and proceeded down a rough path. I could see the main road from where we were, but we seemed to be avoiding it. At last we came to a small shack. It was the stereotypical shack – front porch with columns holding up a sagging roof, shingles peeling, and a rocking chair. It may have even been painted a dingy green color, but it was hard to tell in the dark.

The old man opened the door and stood aside for me to enter before him. I shambled across the threashold and promptly allowed myself to collapse on the hard wooden plank floor. The man came in, lit a lantern, and closed the curtains.

“Would you like something to drink, Detective?”

I considered it. In most aspects of life there’s what you want and what you’re prepared to live with. What I wanted was something nice and toxic, something that would kill a few brain cells and put contracts out for the rest. What I was prepared to live with was water, so that’s what I asked for. I had a feeling we weren’t out of the woods yet.

The man brought me my water and I dragged myself into a sitting position. I stared into the glass, but didn’t drink.

“You said I had something important to do,” I finally managed.

“Oh, I just said that to get you away from there,” the old man said, sitting down and sipping from his own glass of water.

“Who are you?” I asked, starting to get angry.

“That is a very complicated question. I am many things. But from your perspective the most important thing I am is the man who created you.”

I’d always heard the phrase “go to meet your maker,” but I’d never imagined it would happen so literally.

“This is crazy,” I said. “If they have you, what could they possibly want me for?”

“Well, first of all they don’t know who I am any more than you do. I got wind that they were attempting to replicate my experiments and managed to infiltrate their ranks by presenting myself as a cat lover. All those years volunteering at the Humane Society really paid off there.”

“And second?” I asked.

“Second, you have something that even I don’t have. It’s what they’ve wanted from you all along, but they couldn’t just take it. They had to win you over. I’ll have to say they’ve done a remarkably poor job of it.”

“And what’s that?”

“Detective, you aren’t living up to your title very well. Aren’t you supposed to be good at piecing the puzzle together? I’ll give you a hint. I cloned you by crossing your father’s genes with those of a stingray.”

“That’s a terrible hint. I already knew that. It’s why my bones are so flexible and why it’s a pain in the ass to walk anywhere,” I snapped.

“And how many other stingray/human hybrids would you say are in the world?”

“I dunno. Just me, I suppose.”

“At the moment you are correct, however at one time there were three,” the old man said.

“As I said, this is crazy. What about my brother? He’s a shark/human hybrid, and they cloned him. What does any of this have to do with me?”

“You saw how uncontrolled that clone was. Your brother was complicit in their scheme at first, but had a change of heart after he saw the results of his clone. That’s why they needed you. They were counting on your hatred of your brother to get you to come over to their side,” the old man said. “Because you had that precious thing that couldn’t come from any other source: experience.”

“Experience?”

“Every species has a set of instructions in its DNA for what to do – building the body, basic movement, essential survival, and so on. But, especially in more advanced species, the individual must be instructed on HOW to do those things. They have the potential, but not the ability. They can survive, but they can’t thrive. That’s why there aren’t three of your kind any more – the others didn’t manage to learn how to be stingray/human hybrids before they got killed. You did. You figured it out. That was your great strength that they needed. And this whole affair has been designed to get you to come over to their side and teach the army of clones they wanted to create how to do it themselves.”

“And what am I supposed to do now?” I couldn’t stand this conversation. I would have almost preferred to be back with the cat. “And what about the cat?” I interjected.

“Another of my creations, although he doesn’t know it,” the old man sighed. “You know how cats are. They always have to be in charge. This one is just a bit more ruthless about it than most.”

“Only a bit,” I said, but it was a halfhearted joke.

“Detective, I know this is difficult for you, but you need to be strong,” the old man said.

He was right. But I was tired of being strong. I just wanted to go home, crawl into a saltwater bath, and intoxicate myself for the foreseeable future. It wouldn’t help, but it was better than listening to this old geezer prattle on.

“Perhaps this will help,” the man said, laying a pistol on the floor next to me.

“What, you want me to off myself?” I asked.

“No. This was Lila’s pistol.”

“Who’s Lila?”

“Our Nazi co-conspirator,” he replied.

“But how did you get it?” I asked. I picked it up and examined it. It hadn’t been fired. “I don’t understand. She shot Abigail with it, didn’t she?”

Just then there was a knock at the door.


 

This was the concluding chapter of Noir in the Naked City. At the end, instead of giving the audience the usual binary choice to make about where to go next, I opened it up for others to continue the story. If you’re reading this and want to contribute the next chapter, just show up to the next Naked City event and bring it! February 2015’s theme is Restraint. Have fun!

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Ten: Charity

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.


Episode Ten: Charity

They say that when you have a really important decision to make that you should flip a coin. Not because you should leave important decisions up to chance, but because when the coin is in the air you suddenly know exactly which way you want it to land. Unfortunately the coin doesn’t always land the way you want it to.

With the clone at my brother’s throat and the Nazi dame with a pistol aimed directly at Abigail’s head, I knew what I wanted to do. I couldn’t reach them both in time, and I desperately knew who I wanted to save. But we don’t always get what we want in this world.

As I started to move forward, the anger started to build in me. It wasn’t fair. A genetic experiment had brought me into this world. My family had been in an adjoining test tube and my friends only called me when they needed something. Resentment followed me around like some sick groupie and society had been only too happy to sweep me under the rug.

This city…this city was a cesspool and going downhill from there. Organized crime, corrupt politicians, greedy corporations, and those were just the big players. The real decay came from within, not from those ruling on high. Ignorance, apathy, pettiness, and sloth were the water that was causing the grassroots to rot out from under itself. It was enough to turn anyone’s stomach. And here I was with a choice to make.

I felt the muscles in my legs start to coil. When your bones are made of cartilage it makes walking around a real pain in the ass, but it also means that your skeleton is basically one big rubber band and I was about to shoot myself forward to save the person I knew I needed to save, not the one I wanted to.

My options sucked. On the one hand I could save Abigail and doom the world to a fate of eugenics and genocide at the hands of these half-baked hate mongers. My insufferable brother would be dead, I could give these goons what they wanted, and walk away in the hopes that she would follow, but even if she didn’t there would be lots more people like me in the future. I could finally stand a chance of fitting in. But these losers would be in charge then, and they didn’t deserve to be in charge.

On the other hand I could save my brother and we could work together to stop this new world order. Civilization could be allowed to sort its problems out for itself without a master plan and would either succumb to the rot or rise above it to achieve a kind of weird nobility. As far as I was concerned civilization had had their chance. They didn’t deserve another one. All the redemption had been squeezed out of the entire works ages ago. And I would lose the first woman I’d felt any connection with in a long time.

I pushed off from the ground and my bones added extra snap to the spring. I raised my right arm back. I’d only get one shot at this, so my aim had to be good and I had to put as much force behind it as I could. As I sprang, the world muffled around me. I vaguely thought I heard my brother screaming something at me, but I couldn’t hear him over the report of a pistol being fired. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red and something drop to the ground, but I didn’t look at it directly. I had my eyes fixed on my brother’s clone, who seemed to be moving in slow motion, and my vision was blurry.

When I reached them, I punched the clone as hard as I could with my right arm. The serrated barb that grows out of my forearm plunged into his chest where I desperately hoped some vital organ was located. After sinking the barb in as deeply as it would go, I pulled my arm back and began punching him as hard as I could. The barb detached itself from my arm and stayed in his chest. I wished I could pull it out and stab him again and again and again, but that’s not the way this works. I didn’t deserve to have that much power. I didn’t deserve a lot of things. After what felt like forever, the light went out in the clone’s eyes and he rolled off.

I sat back, exhausted. As quickly as it had come, my anger drained into fatigue. In place of the usual sounds of the night or any of the remaining participants talking, I heard a buzzing noise. I vaguely registered my brother getting up and running off somewhere. I didn’t care where. There was a commotion and lots of yelling, but I ignored all of it.

After spending an entire lifetime looking out for number one I had finally fulfilled one selfless act of charity. It hurt like hell. I’d saved the world. And now that it was saved it could go fuck itself.

“Detective,” I heard a voice say. I looked up and saw the old man, the one the cat had kept around for companionship.

“What?” I replied.

“We should get you out of here,” the old man said. “Nothing else good is going to happen here tonight.”

“Where would we go?” I asked.

“Does it matter?” The old man held out his hand.

“It does if you’re going to turn me over to the cat.”

“I could do that,” the old man said. “But it wouldn’t really be in my best interests, so I won’t. Of course I have no way of proving that to you now.”

“I need to see about Abigail…” I began.

“Detective,” the old man said gently, “You can’t help her anymore.”

“And my brother…?” I began again.

“He can take care of himself. There’s something more important for you to do now.”

CHOICE: Go with the old man or stay and help his brother.

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Nine: Terror

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.


 

Episode Nine: Terror

We emerged into the night, my brother glancing back over his shoulder. We were somewhere on the far outskirts of the city, much farther than I’d anticipated. There were woods nearby. I looked around for Abigail, but couldn’t see her.

“Turn left,” my brother said. I did so and affected the shambling lurch I use for quick locomotion, but then he said “now right!” and I stumbled and fell trying to make the correction.

“This isn’t going to work,” I said from the ground. “You can have speed or quick turns, but you can’t have both. I need to know where we’re going.”

“I don’t know where we’re going yet. I’m trying to throw them off our trail.”

I groaned. My brother. Hadn’t seen him in years, but he hadn’t changed a bit. “Fine. Where did Abigail go?”

“I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. We need to split up for a bit until the heat’s off.”

“For once in your life can you make a decision?” I said through gritted teeth. “I have no idea what’s going on, I’ve got Nazis and cats after me and I’m not sure which is worse. They’ve captured me two or three times and haven’t done anything and now YOU show up insisting that we have to go right now, except you have no plan as to WHERE we should go.”

“I’m sorry, Meyeni,” he began, but I stopped him by getting up and lurching away from him.

“I told you not to call me that.”

I heard silence behind me for a few moments as I trudged away, heading for the woods. More cover there. I thought he might follow me or say something, but the next thing I heard was his retreating footsteps. Good riddance. He bailed me out of that situation, sure, but he sucks at making decisions and that kind of waffling can get you killed pretty quickly.

It was getting dark, the kind of dark that makes your imagination populate every inch of space with your worst fears. Of course in the mood I was in, I probably was someone else’s worst fear. I hated feeling out of control of what was going on around me. I had to find Abigail. I’d been going through the motions with my life for a long time, but here was someone I felt a connection to. It was important.

I heard sounds all around me. The shadows moved and made visibility tricky, but there was plenty to hear and I felt an unfamiliar sensation building within me: actual fear, and I wondered if going into the woods had been a mistake. In general, nothing really scared me. I had a healthy respect for some people and cats made me nervous, of course, but actual fear was new to me. Seeing my brother’s clone and knowing what they were going to do with it was something else altogether, though. The world was changing.

“Detective,” someone said. It was a lingering voice, drawing out the word. I stopped and tried to triangulate the source of the sound. “Detective…” the voice said again. “It’s a tasty offer.” That damn cat.

I considered retorting back, but decided to keep silent. Then I thought I felt something furry brush against my leg and I kicked helplessly out into empty space.

“Detective, you really don’t know what you’re missing,” the cat said. The voice was coming from all different directions.

“Don’t believe him, detective!” That was Abigail. She was close by, but I couldn’t see her. The dense woods, the shadows, masked her from me.

“You probably want to know why we haven’t just taken what we need from you, detective,” the cat went on. “After all, we’ve had you at our mercy several times now. What could you possibly have that we couldn’t have just taken by now?”

“Detective, you’re the biggest fool I’ve ever met, but use your head on this one for a change!” Abigail called out. I wished I knew where all these damn voices were coming from.

“Listen to her, Meyeni,” my brother joined in.

“Your genetic material is invaluable to our plan,” the cat said, clearly moving, slinking through the shadows.  “But we could have gotten that anytime. What proof is there that I mean you ill will? What are they so afraid of? Could it be that they don’t want you to get what’s coming to you? What is rightfully yours? Or even just a night of peaceful sleep instead of the nightmares you drink to fight off every evening? We can give you those things.”

The sounds of the night were punctuated by rustlings all around me. The shadows squirmed and mocked my vision. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the scene around me, but the sounds of the night surrounded me and swallowed up the rustling movements of my friends and my enemies alike. I wasn’t even sure which one was which anymore.

“All of you stop it!” I finally yelled.

“Meyeni,” my brother began, and then stopped. “Detective,” he continued, “they are telling you the truth about one and only one thing: the choice in this is yours. They cannot just take what they need. But they will lie to you until their dying breath to convince you to join them, and once you have done so then all is lost. It is true you haven’t always gotten what you deserve, and some of that is my fault. And for that all I can say here and now is…I am sorry.”

I buried my anger at my brother…Prionace…and tried to think.

Just then I heard a snarl and saw the clone leap at my brother, tackling him to the ground. Then I felt a sharp pain in my shoulders as that damn cat jumped up and raked at my back. I reached back, grabbed him, and flung him as far away as I could, but his claws took a chunk of my shoulder with him.

Turning to my right I could just make out the clone, teeth bared, about to tear out my brother’s throat. Abigail was near as well, looking uncharactaristically frightened. I tensed to spring on my brother’s attacker when I saw movement. The Nazi dame stepped out from behind a tree with a pistol aimed at Abigail’s head. I knew I’d never reach them both in time.

Choice: Who does he save?

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Eight: Revolution

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.


Episode Eight: Revolution

“You’re an idiot,” Abigail said. It was tough to argue with her. We both sat tied up in chairs in a large room. Heavy wooden beams held the high ceiling up. Some kind of old warehouse, I supposed. In the room with us were the Nazi dame, a couple of her goons, an old man with a cat in his lap, and a third man, also tied up, who looked familiar even though I had no idea who he was.

“Now, now,” the Nazi dame said condescendingly. “No need for that kind of talk. Our good detective is going to help us usher in a new age of civility and prosperity.”

“Which none of the existing people are going to get to enjoy,” Abigail said.

“Details, details. It’s all for the greater good! You have to think on a species-level plane, my dear, and don’t let yourself get bogged down with simple individuality.”

That was the cat talking. Which was unexpected. The dame had identified the cat as her employer and the old man as the cat’s caretaker, but she hadn’t mentioned that it could talk. This was getting weirder by the minute, and coming from me that was an extremely bold statement.

“Species-level plane?” Abigail shot back.

“Gag her,” the cat said, idly bathing its tail. “She bores me.”

“You’re a cat,” the Nazi dame said. “Everything bores you.”

The cat glared at her briefly, then resumed its bath.

“Now,” the Nazi dame continued as the goons put tape over Abigail’s mouth, “to business. As you can see, detective, I am no liar. I give you your brother.”

“That’s not my brother,” I replied, matter of factly. I was still trying to figure out that damn cat. I was also trying to figure out how these idiots could be this stupid. They knew who I was and they still tied me to a chair?

“Of course it is,” the dame said smugly. “There are a few minor variations, but he’s your brother. Genetically.”

“Oh. How long did it take you to grow him?” I asked.

“We’ve perfected a new technique,” she said in answer. “It only took a few weeks to get him to this size. Yours may take a little longer, for obvious reasons.”

So this was the plan. This was how they were going to create their master race. Their plan was to clone me, and my special situation was going to give the new group some distinct advantages. The next step was obvious. Exterminate the inferior species.

I locked eyes with the thing they were trying to pass off as my brother and saw the reason he was tied up. He wasn’t a prisoner. The ropes were there for everyone else’s protection. I saw rage, ferocity, delusion, and a demented sensibility that showed no remorse. But worst of all was the fact that he wasn’t struggling. He was showing patience. And when the time was right, he might turn out to be a master race all by himself.

“What’s up with him?” I asked. “Your special technique have a few side effects?”

“Oh, no,” she gloated. “Our technique is flawless.”

I reflected on that statement. Flawless implied that they achieved their goal. It made me wonder if I had the right idea on who the murderer was who’d ripped that guy’s throat out. It also made me wonder if I’d just glimpsed how the inferior species was going to be exterminated. And lastly, I wondered if these folks had any idea how they were going to remain in charge of this weapon.

“So what next?”

A smile graced the face of my captor. It was simultaneously stereotypically beautiful and horribly frightening at the same time.

“Now, detective, we pick up where we left off before you were so ungraciously removed from our presence.”

That was enough for me. Silently thanking what few lucky stars I had left I twisted my wrists and my extra flexibility allowed me to slip right out of them. I quickly pushed my sleeve up on my right arm exposing a serrated barb that grew out of my forearm and used it to slash at the ropes around my feet. By that point the goons were heading my way. I dropped to the ground and watched them clumsily collide right where I’d been a moment ago.

I reached out and cut the ropes from Abigail’s feet and rolled so I could reach her hands. Her nails were painted a fiery red and her fingers, while looking delicate, also showed a great deal of strength. I stared at them for a moment, fascinated, but quickly came to my senses as I heard the cat howling in anger.

“Get outta here, Abigail,” I said. She didn’t reply, but instead bolted from the room, leaving the door open for me. Polite of her. I looked up and saw that they had untied my brother’s clone and that he was now standing.

Powerful. Muscular. And grinning with a mouthful of sharp, jagged teeth. I gritted my own teeth and used the chair to heave myself upright, my right arm now held out in front of me. The goons were back on their feet and there was a clear path to the door, but I wasn’t sure I could outrun all of them.

“Detective,” the cat said calmly. “You haven’t even heard my offer.”

“He doesn’t need to hear it,” another voice said. I turned and saw my brother, my real brother, standing there with his own set of jagged teeth bared. “Now we’re going to go,” he said, “and you’re not going to follow us.”

“It’s a tasty offer, detective,” the cat said calmly. It was sitting up now, its bath over, and no more leisure time. Cats make me nervous for obvious reasons.

“How many times do they have to lie to you, Meyeni?” my brother asked.

“Don’t call me that,” I spat back. I remembered now why I had quit talking to him.

“Their offer will be to take what they need and then kill you. Abigail needs you. Hear it later when they aren’t surrounding the building. We need to go now.”

Choice: Retreat to safety or stay and hear the cat’s offer?
Audience opts to retreat to safety.

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Seven: Madness

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.


Episode Seven: Madness

The car pulled away from the curb, leaving Abigail and Gus behind us. For someone who hated cars so much, I sure seemed to be spending a lot of time in them lately. Guess it’s my accommodating nature. Not everybody likes to walk everywhere like I do. I looked out the side window and watched the world go by, a blur of people all moving about in their routine. I wondered if they felt as out of control of their lives as I did in mine.

The Nazi dame sat next to me in the back seat. “What’s the matter, detective?” she cooed. I didn’t answer.

It had felt wrong to leave Abigail back there, but I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t even get a chance to tell her why I had gone. Gus had been prepping for a fight, and he just might have been able to take our dear fraulein friend even with the pistol she’d been holding. What they hadn’t noticed was her three goons lurking in the shadows.

The entire situation was beginning to get on my nerves. A vicious murder, crazy Nazis trying to create their own master race, Abigail, my long lost brother. What next? I closed my eyes and tried to figure out how I’d gotten into this. Then I decided I didn’t care. It was time to get out. Literally. As the car slowed for a traffic light, I unbuckled my belt, threw open my door, and vaulted out into the street. I dodged a car coming from the other direction, threw myself forward into a roll, and launched myself forward.

Behind me I could hear the Nazi dame screaming, apoplectic with rage, yelling for them to get after me, but they’d never catch me. I had a head start, was in better shape than them, and have a kind of springy gait that gives me a little extra edge when I’m on the run, something which feels like it happens a lot. I just hoped that Abigail had had the brains to get away from the Empire Night Club, because it was a safe bet they’d go after her to get to me. Assuming her goons hadn’t just scooped her up after we left. She clearly knew too much anyway.

I ducked into a doorway and listened for the telltale pounding footsteps of pursuers and heard nothing, so I allowed myself to breathe for a minute. I looked around the immediate area and saw some bum sitting on the ground, leaning against the brick wall of the building, but nothing else. These guys are everywhere. Down on their luck, out of time, and up against the wall, in this case literally.

It was this kind of thing that made the Nazi dame’s plan almost appealing, if it weren’t completely crazy. It wasn’t like things were rainbows and sparkles out there now in the Naked City. It was grimy and gritty and you could find yourself with a knife between your ribs shortly after breakfast if you looked at the wrong person the wrong way or end up like this poor schmoe if things didn’t quite break right. Breed a master race and maybe things improve. Care enough about your population and maybe you take better care of them. Maybe I should just let them get about their business and look out for myself.

The interesting part about bums like this guy was that they were often the best confidence men in the city. They had persistence, could convince you of all kinds of things when they were sober, and could own the world for a song if they could just get their act together. Their downfall was usually substances or madness. Impossible expectations and an inability to compromise could lead someone to turn down the golden goose while they were holding out for diamonds and end up with nothing.

The bum looked up at me, as if seeing me for the first time, and stared. Stared a little too long.

“I almost had it all,” he said.

“What’s that, old timer?” I asked, looking around nervously. Getting distracted while on the run was a sure way to get dead.

“All of it. Every bit. The fountain of youth. The Philosopher’s Stone. El Dorado. The Holy Grail. You name it, I almost had it.”

“So what happened?”

“Turns out you don’t have those things. They have you.”

With that he lunged towards me and shoved a stick of gum in my hand before I could react. He stared at me with a knowing look in his eye, although what he knew was anybody’s guess, and then opened the door and ducked inside. I went to follow him, but he’d locked it behind himself.

The next thing I heard was the sound of screeching tires. The Nazi dame’s damn black car backed into view at the end of the alley. They’d found me somehow.

I turned to run, but the other end of the alley was also blocked. Damn. I looked around. No ladders. I tried the other doors that were close by. Locked.

“Detective!” I heard the Nazi dame’s voice cut through the sound of the idling motor of the car. I turned to face her. This time she’d probably just go ahead and put me in handcuffs. An intriguing thought, but the circumstances were wrong. But when I got my head around in her direction, I saw that Abigail was with her. Double damn.

“You are much more problematic than I’d anticipated, Detective,” the dame hissed. “Now get in the car.”

“Detective, I know you’re going to get in the car because you’re just the kind of noble fool who tries to rescue the damsel in distress,” Abigail said, rolling her eyes. “But I’m telling you anyway that she’s a liar and that you should run away back down the alley. There’s only one guy there. You can make it. Don’t worry about me. You need to go to your brother. He’s at the park. He’ll explain when you get there.”

I looked and saw that she was right. I probably could make it. But I’d hate myself in the morning.

CHOICE: Run away to find my brother or go with the Nazis to save Abigail.

 

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Six: Sexy Sex Sex

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.


Episode Six: Sexy Sex Sex

Ever feel like you weren’t really in control of your own destiny? I feel like that all the time. Little invisible strings pulling at me, tugging at my mind, and sometimes even turning the world around to make sure I go a certain way.

As we tried to shake the car tailing us, Gus, the driver, grumbled under his breath. “What’s it gonna be, you two?” he growled.

“Fine,” Abigail said with poor grace. “We’ll do it your way. Gus, take us to the Empire Night Club.”

Gus grunted in acknowledgement and hit the accelerator. Abigail looked through the back window at the car tailing us and then turned back to me, the look in her pale green eyes turning my brain to a fine, gritty powder and my heart into an alien about to burst out of my chest. There was passion there, but I couldn’t tell what kind. I suddenly felt underdressed.

“Lost ‘em,” Gus said a few moments later, a smug sense of pride in his voice. “We’ll be at the night club in about another ten minutes.”

I shook my head. I needed to focus, but she was making it really … difficult for me. I hadn’t met a dame like this in a long time. Oh, there’d been plenty to turn my head. The Nazi dame who’d recruited me for her new world order had a body that spoke the language of sin as fluently as any I’d ever seen. Women didn’t always find me attractive at first, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that my extra flexibility helps out with and the animal part of me wanted to show her all of them.

But that was all just physical. Abigail was something else entirely. She wasn’t classically beautiful, but she had a magnetism about her that accentuated all of her best assets. The flaming red hair, cut to a short and severe length, the shape of her legs, lean and strong, in that black skirt that was surely too short for this kind of work, and the way she carried herself, knowing that she could break you, do it slowly, and that you’d enjoy it until the last horrifying moment. And that smile. I had only seen it for an instant when Gus said we’d lost the tail, and even then it was a grim, forbidding curl of her vermilion lips. It was a smile that spoke of revenge more than joy, betrayed more determination than happiness, and hinted at deadly doom for any who dared to cross her. It thrilled me in ways I had figured myself too jaded and cynical to feel, and I found myself trying to think of ways to get her to do it more often.

I shook my head again. But thoughts that had no business on this case kept intruding. I found myself longing to explore every curve and crevice, listening to every gasp and sigh, and feeling the tension and relaxation that would betray her attempts to dismiss me as the stereotypical limp private dick. But I also found myself wanting more than that. I wanted to find that romantic part of her that I knew was buried deep down and nurture it.

At last the car slowed and came to a stop at the Empire Night Club. She got out first and strode towards the door. I tried not to think about what those legs could do besides walk in those ankle-high boots and drive me to distraction. Gus got out next and took a furtive look around.

She turned and saw me still sitting there. “Detective?” she asked, her voice cutting through my reverie. “Are you coming?”

Declining to answer, I got out of the car, shambled to the door, and rapped smartly on the glass. It was eventually answered by a small, mousy guy with spectacles whose lenses distorted his eyes, giving him a perpetual look like a bassett hound that had been cutting an onion. He wore a white shirt, a haggard look, and a tacky brown and blue striped necktie, loosly wound around his neck. A fleeting image of Abigail wearing nothing but that tie slid through my brain and I shook my head again.

After a moment’s pause he asked “What?”

“Ain’tcha gonna invite me inside for a drink?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.  Another pause.

“I’m here about the murder,” I said. Two can play this game, even if some of the pieces are missing and the dice are loaded. Best to keep it simple. Stick to what he can understand.

“Murder?” he laughed.  “Sorry, we’re fresh out of murder.  Come back in a few hours and I can get you a grilled cheese or somethin’”

“You know what I’m talkin’ about, Murray,” I said.

“So what if I do?  Sure, I heard about it.  Sure, I got somethin’ you might find interestin’.  But I ain’t gonna tell you, and that’s out of pure spite.  You had a real good thing goin’ and you blew it, and now you want me to help you?  Well ain’t that just dandy?”

“Look,” I began…

“No, you look.  I don’t remember seein’ my name in the paper about a year ago. It shoulda been there. We all shoulda been there. But we weren’t because you hadda keep your little secret. Well you can take it to your grave now for all I care.  Now get outta my doorway before you scare the customers.”

Murray closed the door roughly in my face and pulled the blind.  A moment later a hand reached through the slats, rotated the sign hanging on the inside from “Open” to “Closed”, gave me the finger, and withdrew.

“Now what, detective?” Abigail asked, the scorn in her voice withering the hopes I’d been nurturing during the car ride over.

“Now you come with us,” a voice said. I turned and saw the Nazi dame. She was dressed to kill and armed to maim with a pistol.

Gus cracked his knuckles. Abigail looked at me. “Your choice, detective. You wanna go with her or go find your brother?”

“Your brother?” the dame said, laughing. “Who do you think told us you’d come here? He’s with us, detective.”

Abigail scowled. “She’s lying, detective. That’s impossible.”

CHOICE: Who to believe? Go with Abigail or with the Nazi dame?

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Five: Oppression

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.


 Episode Five: Oppression

They say the book of life hasn’t been completely written yet. I see that every day, as new decisions get put in front of me and the consequences of those decisions loom out of the darkness. It’s just one damn thing after another. And the latest one was this new dame who had come to tell me that she had a case for me and that it involved my brother.

“You gonna get up and come with me, or are you going to sit on the floor like a jerk?” the dame said. I sat there like a jerk for another minute, then I got up.

“I need a minute to get dressed,” I said. I was still wearing just my coat and was dripping slightly onto my hardwood floors. If I hadn’t lost the deposit on this place by now, this was probably going to be the clincher.

“Hurry,” she said, glancing at her watch.

“Why don’t you tell me a bit more about yourself and why you’re here while I put something on?”

“My name’s Abigail and I don’t want to distract you. From what I hear, you don’t have the greatest attention span. But I will tell you that your brother has gotten mixed up with the Masked Shadow”.

Now there was a name I hadn’t heard in a while.

A few years ago this city had been a real hellhole that had been run by a syndicate that called itself The Masked Shadow. A melodramatic name if there ever was one, but they made the trains run on time, as it were. The trouble was that they did it by ruling the city with an iron fist and suppressing any thoughts or actions that went against the grain. Of course we’d gotten there by being ruled up to that point by a delightful combination of corruption and chaos, a cocktail of ignorance and apathy that made it really  easy for the politicians to masquerade total control as total freedom.

Bread and circuses had been just the beginning. Soon enough they had created a situation with two allegedly opposing sides preaching diametrically opposite viewpoints that were really just two heads on the same dragon. Which side was in power depended entirely on which way they needed the pendulum to swing to keep the masses off balance and distracted from the fact that, when all was said and done, they were going to say and do whatever they damn well pleased. It was some of the most brilliant marketing the world had seen since New Coke.

So when the Masked Shadow stepped up, it was a breath of fresh air to a lot of folks. Instead of tricking you into thinking you wanted something, they just beat you over the head with a spiked club until you really did want it. Literally. And for some folks that was better than the alternative.

Since then things had mellowed out a little. The Masked Shadow got usurped by religion, as often happens, and people sort of went through an enlightened phase where they realized that if they could just tolerate each other a little better then they wouldn’t need protection in the form of elected officials or spiked clubs to come to terms with their neighbors.

That’s what this damn cat and his bizarro Neo Nazis were out to change. Nobody had seen anything like me before. The chances of a positive reaction were, frankly, slim. Nobody is that enlightened. The potential for complete chaos was high, and there was an excellent chance that both the politicians and the Masked Shadow were sharpening their knives. So their plan was to create a situation where everybody would get along because all the differences were erased, not just tolerated. And they’d be sure to slip in a little extra just to make sure they stayed in charge.

“And what’s this got to do with my brother?”

“I’ll tell you in the car, let’s go.”

When we got downstairs the car’s engine was running, and had some big galoot behind the wheel who looked like he must have gotten his license from a Cracker Jack box, because there was no way he was going to pass the written part of the exam. I could tell, though, that he could drive like a demon. Guys like that always could.

“I hate cars,” I said.

“Shut up,” Abigail replied turning to look out the window. I had to admit. The dame was growing on me. The car pulled away from the curb and accelerated quickly. My insides lurched. I really do hate cars. Unless it was the company that caused that lurch.

“How do you know my brother?” I asked, trying to take my mind off of it.

“I don’t,” she said curtly, whipping her head around to glare at me, her red hair flashing in the headlights of a passing car. “But I know of him through a mutual friend. That’s where we’re going now. Just as soon as we lose this damn tail.”

I glanced back through the rear window and saw a lone car about a block behind us. I didn’t question how she knew we were being followed – I could tell she knew what she was doing. Just then the galoot driving the car swerved sharply, sending me careening into her. She shoved me away roughly and said “Hit it, Gus. Cover’s blown anyway, might as well go all in.”

Gus grunted and shifted gears, accelerating again. “Where are we going, exactly?” I asked.

“Fifth and main,” she replied. “We’re meeting someone there.”

“Bad idea,” I said. “I just came from a murder scene there this morning.” My mind cast itself back to the grisly scene, the number of cops that were bound to be in the viscinity, and the unlikely coincidence that this should be our meeting place. It stank of a trap.

“You got a better idea?” she snapped?

“I know a safe house on the west side of town.”

“It’s not run by that creep Murray, is it?”

“As a matter of fact, it is. The Empire Nightclub.”

“Could you two make up your minds?” Gus asked. “I can’t go in two directions at once.”

Choice: Go to fifth and main for the meetup or go to the safehouse at the Empire Night Club?

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Four: Rebirth

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.

We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!


 

Episode Four: Rebirth

In the baseball game of life, sometimes you get thrown a curve. Other times, though, it’s more of a slider. And then you have to make a choice, and that choice can be the difference between a hit and a swing and a miss. Lately I’d felt like the latter was happening a lot more than I’d like. And currently I was staring straight into the face of a fastball with my name written all over it.

The dame looked at me impatiently. She’d given me a proposition, although it wasn’t the kind I had been hoping for. She wanted me to help her create a master race. And she was right – a change was coming, the likes of which the world had never seen, and soon it was going to be time for everyone to decide whose side they were on. I’d always been on my own side, and that made the decision pretty easy for me. The murder case wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Time to get on with doing something a bit more important than just some poor slob with his throat torn out.

“I’m in,” I said finally. She smiled and looked at the old man with the cat on his lap. I still needed an answer about that, but I figured it would wait.

Looking back at me she said, “Detective, you have made my employer very happy.” She was right. I could hear him purring from here.

“What next?” I asked.

“Now you go home, detective,” the dame replied. “And you must stay there at all costs. Your safety is paramount until we can gather the necessary materials to take advantage of your unique situation. We’ll need some rather sophisticated tissue samples from you, for example.”

An hour later I was back at my apartment with instructions to wait until they got back later to pick me up.

Calling my place an apartment was an insult to the word, but the landlord objected when I called it a fleatrap and calling it an extension of the deepest, coldest pits of Hell tended to put off prospective dates. I unlocked the door, opened it, and fell through face first. I shut the door, slid out of my “wheat” coat, crawled across the floor into the bathroom, shedding the rest of my clothes along the way, and hoisted myself into the tub.  A warm bath was what I needed.  Then I could get drunk.

As the warm water caressed my skin, taking away the aches of the previous night, or most of them anyway, I heard footsteps out in the hall.  Probably the neighbors.  Except that they stopped.  I didn’t have neighbors on either side of me or across the hall.  They were all the way down at the end and I was used to the sound of them coming and going at odd hours just fading away, but these stopped.  And then I heard knocking on my door.  Fighting the urge to recite “The Raven” in my head, I sunk deeper into the water and hoped they’d go away.  Instead they knocked louder.  So loud that I could still hear it even after I dunked my ears under the surface, the water deepening the sound so that it resembled the heartbeat of an elephant, low and resonant.

Please, God, make it stop.

Surprisingly that seemed to work, as the pounding went silent.  I cautiously raised my head up, but heard nothing else. No footsteps. That meant they were still there. Patient. Patient usually means dangerous for me. I slowly got out of the bath and slid quietly across the hardwood floor. I kept it to a smooth shine at all times for just such occasions. When I reached the door I stood up and put my hand carefully on the handle. Tensing up, I yanked the door open and was confronted with a sight I hadn’t expected.

Another dame. This one was about as different from the first one as it was possible to be. A little shorter, her hair a little redder, and she’d shied away from the skintight dress look, which, based on what I could see, was a pity.

“Hello, Detective,” she said. It was at that moment that I realized I was still naked from the bath. I slammed the door, vaulted across the room, grabbed my “wheat” coat, and threw it on. When I felt decent enough to talk to a lady, I opened the door again.

“Sorry,” I began.

“Skip it,” she said, interrupting me and striding into the room without being invited. “I have a case for you and we don’t have time for this.”

A real no-nonsense girl. But I had bad news for her. “Sorry,” I said again, “but I just sort of retired.”

“To go to work for the jerks who want to create a master race, yeah, I heard,” she said, plopping herself down in my favorite chair.

“Sure,” I said. No point in denying the truth when it’s thrown in your face.

“Forget them. You’re going to want this case. It’s going to make you a new man. And we have to leave right now.”

“Why’s that?” I asked. “And I can’t go anywhere. My new employers told me to sit tight.”

“Detective,” she said impatiently, “this case…it’s about your brother.”

I fell down on the floor. That happens a lot in any case, but in this case it was because I’d forgotten I even had a brother. It had taken me a long time and a lot of booze to do it, but I’d finally managed it and here was this dame coming in here reminding me. The way she’d made herself at home told me that there was no way she was going to just take no for an answer, and she didn’t seem inclined to discuss it. I could throw her out physically and call the cops or I could go with her and find out what was going on with my brother…which meant that the master race folks were going to come looking for me, probably in an unpleasant manner. And I had to decide right now.

CHOICE: Sit tight and wait on the dame to continue creating a master race? Follow the new dame to investigate his brother?

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Three: Hate

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.

We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!


 

Episode Three: Hate

Sometimes you just never know where you’re going to end up. Sometimes choices can be a real bitch. And sometimes you make the wrong one. Currently I was faced with a choice where both options were suboptimal in the extreme. On the one hand I could head down to the train yard, following a free lead from a known selfish prick who never gave away anything for free. On the other hand I could follow the mug in the doorway who was frantically motioning for me to come over there. The flames from the recent explosion down at the train yard were billowing up into the air like Marilyn Monroe’s dress over the grate, except a lot less attractive. I could already see the guards scurrying around like heavily armed ants over a mound that had recently met the business end of a sturdy boot. And I could see the mug in the doorway being impatient, his long trench coat and hat obscuring most of his features.

I glanced at my watch. It was a heavy pocket watch, engraved with some poor schmoe’s retirement message. I’d picked it up from a pawn shop. I guess retirement hadn’t gone all that well for this guy. The watch face read 11:59pm, one minute until I was supposed to meet this supposed informant that Gek had sent me to meet. Or had he? All he’d said was that I had a train to catch. Maybe he meant for me to go up in flames, roasted like a cheap scallop dredged from the ocean floor so it could become dinner for a species that only considered itself dominant because it acted like it hadn’t heard of insects.

I glared at the shadow in the doorway. Its motions were becoming more insistent, more frantic. Clearly he wanted to be out of there before the guards started their inevitable canvass of the surrounding area. I inwardly rolled my eyes and began the laborious process of getting up off the street and flinging myself into the doorway to see what the mug wanted. Once he saw me moving in his direction, he darted off and ducked through a doorway. I followed, knowing in my gut that I would regret it.

On the other side of the door was an extremely large room that was mostly empty except for a man sitting in a plain wooden chair with something furry on his lap. The mug was shedding her trench coat and hat to reveal a woman in a brilliant red dress so tight it looked like someone had bled on her. She had hair as black as der fuhrur’s soul, eyes as green as the envy in a man’s heart, and legs that went on and on and on…like a PBS pledge drive. A dame. This was about to get a lot more complicated.

The man looked up at me, his rheumy eyes clearly bloodshot even from across the room. The bundle of fur in his lap opened its eyes and stretched a long orange tabby paw, its claws raking the air. And that’s when it got a LOT more complicated.

“Good evening, detective,” the woman said. She had only the slightest trace of a German accent in that soft, lilting voice of hers. I made no reply.

“You’re probably wondering why you’re here,” she continued.

“Yeah,” I said, my eyes not leaving the cat on the old man’s lap. I wasn’t afraid. What I was was curious.

“I will come straight to business,” the woman said. “We want you.”

“Get in line,” I replied.

“You jest, but you have something my employer needs desperately.” She took a cigarette from a small table nearby and lit it, the smoke encircling her head like a halo. I couldn’t help but think that that was an accessory she would never be able to wear effectively.

“That him there?” I asked, indicating the old man.

“Of course,” she said.

“Tell him to get rid of the cat and we can talk about it.”

The woman looked puzzled for a moment, and then burst into laughter. “Detective, the cat is my employer. The man with him is just for warmth and companionship.”

“I hate those things,” I said, deciding not to mince words.

“The fact that you are not surprised tells me that you are exactly the person we need,” she purred.

“What do you need me for?” I asked, knowing I would hate the answer.

“My employer and I are of a similar mindset. We feel that, given certain technological advances recently, that humanity is on the verge of a new age. But it will be an age of bigotry and hatred, repression and segregation. We think we are so enlightened because we have integrated all races, religions, and creeds into a universal tolerance where everyone gets along. But people are inherently distrustful and are always looking for the next group to oppress to make themselves feel superior.”

“What’s this got to do with me?”

“You know perfectly well,” she snapped. “You are only the first member of the next group to be shunned and feared. You already experience it daily.”

“And what do you and your…employer intend to do about it?”

The cat yawned. The dame continued talking “We intend to follow in the footsteps of one who knew all about hatred and oppression, but got the details wrong. There isn’t a master race…but there could be. And we will create it together, the three of us. What do you say, detective? Will you join us in creating the next step in the evolutionary cycle and prevent another hundred years of violence and hatred in the process?”

I thought it over. She had a point. It was tempting. If I joined them I could forget about the poor jerk murdered in his car. Clearing my name wouldn’t matter anymore because in this scenario I’d be in charge. But could they do it? Could I do it? I had to decide – continue with the case and worry about these two stabbing me in the back, or join with them and worry about what would happen if they failed…or if they succeeded.

CHOICE: Continue with the case? Help the dame and her feline employer create a new master race?

 

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Two: Progress

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.

We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!


 

Episode Two: Progress

Choices. Life’s full of ‘em. You make one, it leads to another, which leads to another, an endless string of consequences flowing through everyone’s life like a river downstream from a major city. The question is whether the river is filled with honey…or blood. Currently my choices had me shambling down the street through a rainstorm that would give a respectable monsoon a run for its money without my hat.

I’d been going like this for about an hour. I don’t drive a car, don’t trust ‘em, and I can’t work the pedals in any case because of my special circumstances. My special circumstances also mean that I fall down a lot, but it’s ok. I’m used to it. I turned a corner and made it as far as a local movie theatre before falling down, which I considered the moral equivalent of winning a biathalon and the Boston Marathon on the same day.

The marquee threw its harsh neon message at me like a shotput, burning my eyes out with its brilliant intensity, announcing to the world that something part fifty was having its 30th anniversary.  I briefly wondered if the last original idea that left Hollywood had turned off the iron before it went out, but then I decided I could ponder the artistic integrity of the average moviegoer better from the comfort of my own apartment. I wouldn’t be making it there tonight, I suspected, but the thought gave me the motivation I needed to get going again. I staggered up, shifted my weight, did a forward roll, used the momentum to get my feet under me, and moved on.

I was nervous. Gek had told me that I should be at the train yard at midnight. There were all kinds of things wrong with this. First, the trains didn’t run that late. Second, he told me this at just after 10:00pm and he knew it would be a push for me to make it there in time from his place. And third, while it’s true that he knows a ton about what goes on in this burg, Gek doesn’t give away information for free. This was going to cost me and it was only a matter of time before the bill came due.

I nearly didn’t go at all. But I didn’t have a lot of other options available. At this time of night all my usual informants were going to be asleep, in jail, or otherwise occupied with each other. Not to mention hard to find. At least the train yard didn’t move around.

After another forty five minutes of staggering, stumbling, falling, and getting back up, the yard finally came into view. I stopped to catch my breath. Normally this kind of trip wouldn’t take that much out of me. I’m pretty tough, but the sustained breakneck pace had put an ache in my body that made me think my muscles were staging a revolt. Plus, I couldn’t get warm with the rain pelting down. I gotta move to Venice some day so I can just swim everywhere I need to go. A part of me wished I had my leg braces with me, but I rejected the idea. I needed the flexibility when I was on the job.

The train yard, visible now at the bottom of a hill about two hundred yards away from me, was a glittering vista of shiny metal and polished plastic. There’s a kind of romance about trains and locomotives that’s ingrained into the collective unconcious, and this place had about as much of it as a single man’s apartment the day after Valentine’s Day.

People think about trains and they think of  locomotives hauling lumber, coal, and hobos across the great expanse of the American midwest, connecting the great cities and bringing goods and culture to the masses through steam, grease, and a plaintive whistle that echoes forlornly through mountain passes. There’s an element of danger, where desperate men gather to seek out new lives and fortunes and risk death by misadventure for the thrill of exploration and dreamed-of riches.

That’s just because they haven’t ridden one lately and get all their news from picture books. These trains were maglev bullet trains designed to hurtle along tracks at nearly 200 miles per hour. They shone when the sunlight hit them and glittered in the moonlight. There were no desperate men here, unless they were desperate to get away from the guards that patrolled the area like ants invading the picnic of life. Trains had been big business once and were becoming so again thanks to modern technology and people’s insatiable need to be somewhere besides where they were.

I glanced at my watch. 11:55pm. I gathered myself for one last plunge down the hill, fully expecting to have to roll most of the way there, when suddenly there was a massive explosion at the far end of the yard. A plume of orange fire and thick, dark smoke billowed up into the night sky, casting garish shadows on everything in the general viscinity. I hit the dirt and swore, a long and lurid string of expletives that rivaled the explosion for heat and intensity. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it meant that all the guards were going to head for the explosion – a better distraction would be hard to find. On the other hand it meant that everyone was going to be on high alert. Besides, what fool runs TOWARDS an explosion when he’s already a suspect for murder?

“Psst”

It was barely audible over the sounds of the fire raging and the alarms that had started down at the train yard, but still distinct.

“Psst”

About twenty feet away I could see a shadow detaching itself from a brick wall, motioning for me to come over. I looked at my watch again. 11:58pm. If I hurried I could still get to the train yard before midnight. Could the person I was supposed to meet have set the explosion as a distraction? If so, they weren’t going to linger. I could rush to the yard and try to find them in time or I could see what the mug in the doorway wanted. But I couldn’t do both.

CHOICE: Continue to the train yard? Follow the mug in the doorway?

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