Thursday, September 24, 2009


My first attempt at a novel. I wrote it during Nanowrimo. It is awful. It is called Amulet. I had no idea what I was doing. I'm trying to write another, nano-independent. I still dont' know what I'm doing. It's maybe the most frustrating thing in the world.

The following is an unedited first draft and even if you wanted to read it from start to finish, there is no start and there is no finish and there are chunks missing in the middle. It's awful. The idea was to write a genre novel, so I'd know how to do it. Write a corny adventure story, so I could figure out just the process. Figure out how to write something from start to finish that sustains and makes sense. It doesnt do that. It's bad. I hate every single word of it.


The Robbery

The Old Man had received a telegraph from The Guide. It was to let the old man that the necklace was here, in Chicago. "Necklace in Chicago. Bribe or kidnap pay. Man named Luther in Sao Paulo. Dangerous."

It would take weeks to figure out who Luther was. It would send the old man under ground. He didn't know the city as well as he should. He spent most of his time in the south west, some parts of California, following some of the native American bloodlines up and down the country, those that would wind up migrating south into the jungles, or north out of the Jungles. He was more comfortable there in the sun and the heat. It was interesting to be alive out in the desert or down in the jungle. The things that lived there deserved to be alive. Chicago was a fortress against the elements. Just buttresses against the wind and the cold, a collection of defenses against the earth. Everyone covered in synthetic fabrics and asinine hats huddled in this place for warmth. It would not last, life would move away from here.
His breeding here was accidental and unfortunate. He did not like the woman he found, and hated how he indulged the vices he loved. Wine women and song are sometimes difficult to find out in the desert, or out in the jungle. The women who lived there were hard and aware, they were less interested in danger. In Chicago he was danger, it was interesting and intoxicating. It sometimes pulled city women to him. It had resulted in a child that he did not care for and a wife he'd seen twice in the last five years. He did not like being in Chicago, everyone looked just like her and it would be uncomfortable to bump into her. He was happy the city had grown, that it is sprawling and it would be unlikely that he would see her.
If it wasn't for her, he would know this city. He would know the darker parts of town, the more unfortunate citizenry, he would find Luther more quickly if his passing through town on the way to a launch in New York had not been interrupted by a pretty, stupid and willing lady. She would eventually ruin him. He knew it then.

A few weeks after the telegraph he'd successfully ensconced himself into some of the underground bars. The places where drunks and the underhanded went to share an evening. The Underhanded, the mob and the criminal society of Chicago, those that were shanghaied by the myth of power the mafia provided, and those that illicitly learned the password from other drunks, shared a room. No one spoke to each other, those that came in together spoke to each other. The drunks held to one corner and eyed suspiciously everyone, assuming the room would be raided and they would be hauled off, swept into a racketeering charge or some accompanying crime, an accomplice, a get away driver, a goon. Something that would explain they're being there, for knowing these types of people. Most of them knew a place where someone would scrawl the password in chalk. It was under the forty ninth street bridge, just a block away. Someone was helping someone, but then someone helped everyone. Nobody was thrown out because nobody belonged. It was risky to ask anyone to leave if you didn't know who they were. For months now Louie Scharpling had allowed a rumor to persist that he was the second cousin of Al Rinaldi, an emissary for one of the bigger families. It kept him safe and kept him in booze. He'd never been addressed as such, but he'd heard about it on the way to the bathroom. His ignorance would protect him. Mr. Rinaldi would understand, these things happened.

The Old Man met Louie in another bar. A place called The Fishbowl. An after hours joint whose password was the location. It was impossible to find if you didn't know it was there. It was an unmarked door in a dark alley near the train yard. The Old Man was taken there by a man named Floyd Worthy. Floyd was muscle for one of the families, the old man couldn't remember which. He'd turned out to be a dead end for information. He was at the very bottom of the totem pole. He didn't know anything because he didn't need to know anything, he didn't need to know anything because he was just a blunt instrument. Just something that hurt people for money. He was just a threat, he didn't need the details. When The Old Man met him, and tried to talk honestly about his life, about his travels, about his adventures, Floyd walked away in mid sentence and went to speak to a lady that had walked by out front. Not very interested in the details. He wore fingerless gloves and a leather coat and called everyone Joe. He was just short of a monster.

The Old Man bought him drinks and so Floyd liked the old man. It was a very simple economy, booze for access. It wasn't traded lightly, the old man was scrutinized by all of Floyd's people. The old man was quickly regarded as a drunk loony, someone to feel sorry for and dismiss. A liar with tall tales about Indians and Africans and the jungle, a cook with deep pockets. A good man to know, free booze was hard to come by, it would be good if he came along to Lonnie's, and The Horseshoe, and where's The Old Man I need a drink? He went over to Avenue K? He got bounced around. He was running out of money and the free drinks were keeping him in information. He was close to Luther. The Old Man only needed a few more days, only a few more drinks and he'd be near enough to find out where the necklace landed.

Luther, The Old Man gathered, was just north of untouchable. It was unclear whether it would be easier to get to a boss, or to Luther, Luther operated above the bosses, a gun for hire. Not like Floyd. Floyd was muscle, Someone who broke fingers and collected debts. Luther, it was said, did not speak, got his orders in the mail so there was no confusion, no discussion, no grey areas. He would find what needed finding, kill what needed killing and return what needed returning, bury what needed burying. His payment would slide under his door in the middle of the night, it would be counted in the early morning and forgotten by all parties by mid-afternoon. It was best for everyone.

The old man wasn't sure who was easier to get through to, The Bosses or Luther. The bosses might say more. Luther was an adventure. A tougher nut to crack. Could be interesting. With the bosses he was sure to find out the location of the necklace, but with Luther, he'd find out why and for how much. He figured that if things went south, Luther would be involved either way. Either he'd bother the bosses and they'd send Luther along, or he'd cut to the chase and just go on ahead and ruin Luther's afternoon one of these days. Seemed like the quickest route.

There wasn't much time. He was almost out of money. The necklace would be enough for now, but he'd have to spend a month or so in a kitchen someplace, or on a construction site somewhere. The quicker that he could get back to the Jungles the better. The necklace would hopefully point him in the right direction, he'd spent a few years trying to find the next piece, the next clue. The Necklace was going to help him along. Louie would have to know something by now. He'd paid him for the information in advance. Louie had already lost it at the pool hall, he was sure, the old man would hurt him if needed. Floyd would be interested to know that Louie wasn't related to the Rinaldi's. The old man cultivated leverage as he collected information. Louie wasn't a Rinaldi, Floyd had accidentally killed Jacamo Rinaldi in a bar fight, The Old Man helped bury him in the woods behind St. Alma's. Jacamo was 27 and a gambler. Floyd hit him with a bottle in an alley way, it was a small disagreement and the bottle landed just so. That night's rain had washed his death down the gutter, the morning's snow concealed his grave. They didn't know how sober he'd been how capable he was, how much attention he was paying, how close they were to the amulet. They needed him before they knew it. Luther would be found by the end of the week. He would stop by the bank, the safety deposit box, grab the Phalion Jewel of Protection, the Phoenix eye, surprise and beat information out of a murderer named Luther. A rare city adventure. He didn't like it.

Louie slept in the Hotel Constance on 15th. It was old building, unkempt, falling apart. It was breaking away at the edges, the wind and rain of Chicago was rounding the edges, cracking the rooftop and had made it an effective rat's nest. Most of the patrons did not pay. There was an abandoned drugstore connected to the hotel. The Pharmacist forgot to pay his protection payment to one of the Rinadli's, they came in the night and set fire to the store. It was irreparable and scheduled for demolition in the spring. In the meantime, vagrants dug their way through looking for any medications that survived the blaze and then stumbled onto an access vent that connected the Drugstore's basement to the Hotel's basement. Free apartments for all. Louie didn't know of the secret passage way, and instead paid the dollar a night to be put up above the train tracks, the weather dripping from the roof was luckily dripping right into the bathroom sink. Louie fell asleep with a half-empty bottle of whiskey on the nightstand.
When he woke up in the morning, the Old Man was sitting in a chair next to him. It was startling and put him at a disadvantage. What was he doing here, how did he get in, what did he want? Important questions, things that deserved answers. The old man smoked and said nothing. There was time. The door was open, he'd brought the correct charm. A delicate medallion from the middle east. He'd picked it up in a prize fight. Beat a moor damn near half to death. Those that attended had a hell of a show, those that bet on the old man walked away quite a bit richer, the moor was a giant, had killed a man the previous afternoon he was made to fight the old man after the old man was caught stealing from one of the smaller palaces. They were made to fight for the pleasure of the local governor. The old man was wiry and small and fast and cunning, the moor was enormous and strong and over confident. The old man had arranged a distraction, in the back rows there was an explosion, the old man kicked the moor's locked left knee and broke it, it was over shortly thereafter. The Old Man spent some more time to put on a show, broke the moor's nose for good measure. The Distraction walked away a rich man. The Old Man was allowed to keep that which he stole, a small medallion that was said to bewitch any lock, any door, any obstruction. It would vex the way unimpeded. The Governor was not aware of this bewitching, thought it was just a small and ugly thing. The Moor would recover in prison.
"What have you found?"
"Jesus you scared me."
"What have you found?"
"Luther. I need to know where he is."
"I've been asking around. Barely nobody even knows who he is."
"I need to know where he is, Lou. I'm running out of time. I need to know by the end of the week."
"Nobody knows, I says. I asked everybody from the docks and the bar and -- "
"End of the week or I tell Floyd about you and this Rinaldi scam."
"But I --"
"You're a Rinaldi as much as I'm a Lindberg. One week."
Blackmailing Louie was easy enough, he wasn't entirely stupid and entirely a coward. He was ripe for blackmail. Floyd, was big, dumb and dangerous. Floyd didn't entirely care that he'd accidentally killed Jacamo Rinaldi, and certainly wouldn't mind killing The Old Man to keep it all quiet. He should go to see Fitz.
Tim Fitzgerald, crooked cop. Fitz was clean shaven, his uniform was spotless, pressed and starched. An immaculate man. He was above suspicion from most everyone on Chicago PD. Well, in a way. Everyone was assumed to be crooked. Chicago cops were crooked. He was presumed to be crooked, but was able to be far more crooked due to his appearance, his education, his social circles. He was a man on the rise in the Chicago PD. His family made him crooked, he and his wife enjoyed their marriage and it bore them seven children. Seven children on a cop salary was a difficult task, and the occasional hand out from the local criminals would help and eventually everyone who had given him cash would wind up in jail anyway. On several occasions he was mentioned by criminals on the stand, in connection with a previous crime. On two of those occasions the Judge laughed.
He picked his spots wisely and generally traded in information. The Old Man had dealt with him in the past. It was safe and discrete. Arrangements were made and The Old Man met Fitz at Pop's Diner on Sequoia. As agreed, The Old Man arrived early and had coffee waiting. Fitz was not happy to see him. He didn't like meeting in public. The Old Man knew he wouldn't like to be seen out and about, he felt it would give him an advantage in the negotiations. Fitz would be anxious to leave, he'd settle for less. The Old Man knew it would normally be an expensive job, he didn't have a lot of information to go on. But he felt certain there were files on the Rinaldi's and their dealings. Luther would show up in there someplace. He was too big a cog in too big a machine for him to go completely unnoticed, no matter how unorthodox or tenuous his connection was to the syndicate. Someone was delivering his instructions, someone knew where he lived. He could be found.
Fitz sat.
"I'm looking for a man named Luther. Hired goon. Hard to find. He does the worst kind of work for the biggest man."
"Never heard of him"
"I know. But you could do some digging. 300 dollars."
"No. Three. Waitress! We'd like to --"
"Fine. Three. But up front."
"No. Waitress! Pardon, Ma'mm, we'd like to order." When he turned back to Fitz, he was gone. Already out the door and crossing the street. The Old Man would have three eggs, sausage and bacon. There were a few benefits to being here in the city. He'd made progress. He would find someone to take him to the museum for the day. Maybe the waitress.


Luther came to in a basement. He was tied to a chair. There was a barrel fire in the corner behind him. There was a flash of memory. He was asleep and then there was an old man with his hands over his left shoulder, there was a flow of motion and then he was here, with a headache. His hands were bound behind the chair. He could not move. He would have revenge. There would be murders.

"Your wife is unharmed."
He did not respond. There were a few moments of silence.
"I want you to know that your home is fine. Your wife knows that you should return. She is unharmed. Worried, but unharmed."
More silence. Do not give this man anything.
"She is unable to contact the authorities. She is in my control. But she is unharmed."
There are now shouts of obscenities. Threats and ultimatums. It is imperative that the old man release his wife. The chair will not break. The ropes are secure. There will be murders. The Old Man is made aware of this repeatedly. In response, the old man drops something heavy and metallic on the floor. Luther cannot see, the old man is behind him.
"I need one piece of information, it is unimportant, you will be released, your wife will be released. All will be well. I need one small bit of information before this can happen. It is inconsequential. It means nothing to you. I am sure of it. If it did, you would not be here."
Luther makes The Old Man aware of his employers. Their reach, their methods, their most recent dealings with the law. He would be found, The Old Man, he would be killed, those that he knew would be killed, the man he bought this rope from would be killed.
The Old Man threw a bucket of water on him. It was cold. They were in an unheated basement in Chicago. The back of his left side was mildly warm from the barrel fire. It was unpleasant and he screamed about The Old Man's children, the methods by which he would kill them, the slow and painful ways he would kill The Old Man, the joyous way that he would take The Old Man's wife for his own. The bucket struck him in the back of the head, his eyes went starry and his head slumped forward.
"Mind your manners." The Old Man said, "The Necklace. Where did it go? Who has it now?"
Luther reminded him of things he'd said before. Mostly about murder. There was a clang, The Old Man would now only speak through the bucket. It wasn't a hard shot, just enough to let him know that there would be no more talking. Luther was in an unfortunate situation. The Old Man held all the cards and one bucket. It would be enough to move things forward without much trouble.
"What neck--" Clang. "I don't know what --" Clang. "There will be mur--" Clang. "For fuck s--" Clang.

It went like this for hours. Luther would not speak for an hour or more. The old man would wait. Luther would open his mouth to speak, the old man would bonk him with the bucket. It was a test of wills. Luther was losing. Finally Luther asks why The Old Man wants to know about the necklace. "It doesn't matter. I don't know where you found it. I don't know why you had it. But I want it and that's enough. Your wife, sir." A minor misstep. The mention of Luther's wife makes Luther angry, makes Luther tell The Old Man that he's rather die in a basement than help him.

Luther's chair is brought closer when he begins to shiver violently. "I wont hurt you. It's important. Just tell me where it is." There would be money involved if The Old Man hadn't spent it all to find Luther. The Old Man was essentially broke. He would likely take Luther's cash when he left. He wasn't proud of it, but it needed to be done. "The Necklace, sir. This is exhausting."

Luther would tell him lies. The Old Man would wait, hit Luther with the bucket from time to time. It wasn't working. He'd planned poorly out of anxiety. He was out of money, he'd found the only lead he could find. The Guide had disappeared, unreachable by telegram, letter or otherwise. It was likely he was on an opium binge. He was a good guide, but a horrible man, a slave to his demons. It would eventually kill him. The Old Man had been awake for 36 hours, as had Luther.

From behind Luther, in the shadows, feeding the barrel fire The Old Man spoke. "It's a clue."
Luther had been half asleep. He'd nodded off with his head on his chest. He was dreaming of killing The Old Man.
"A clue. That's what this is about. The Necklace is a clue in a series of clues. Just a puzzle." The Old Man dumped more wood into the fire. He'd been pulling apart the cabinets in the adjoining room for fuel. The walls were nearly bare. He was pretty sure the paint from some of the panels were poisoning the air, maybe making them delirious, hallucinate. Hopefully it would help. "There were people, horrible people, really, hundreds of years ago that made that necklace. They made it as part of a series. Artistic people. Tiny, though. Smaller than we are now. I've found their bones. Killed animals with them. Killed an animal in the jungle with the thigh bone of someone that may have made the necklace that you're hiding from me. Can you imagine that?" The fire popped, the wood was wet and moldy. Luther had no idea how close he was to his home. They were just in the basement of an abandoned home a few blocks away. The elements had gotten in and spoiled things. The fire popped.

"Killed a boar. For that necklace. Boar caught a tusk just a bit under my ribs, I almost bled to death in the jungle looking for that necklace. I don't care who your people are. I need the necklace. That's all. Your wife."
Luther reminds him of the murdering that would take place.
"I know. And I'll deserve it. Where is it." It was a flat conversation. Luther asked The Old Man about the boar. About the jungle. Why would a person waste his life this way? "It's about ten thousand miles away." He placed his foot on the barrel and tipped it over. The fire spilled out from the barrel and spread under the chair. It was time to move forward. He spoke into Luthers ear, just above his screaming: "I have come for you from the jungles. You will tell me where it is." Luther's legs were burning. The Old Man's nails broke the flesh on the back Luther's neck. Luther spoke.


Louie provided Luther's location. It was accidental. One of the higher Rinadi's came through the bar at just the right time. Louie was drunk. It was 11 in the morning. One of the Mr. Rinaldi's, was in a fight with his girlfriend. At the end of the argument she would need medical attention. Mr. Rinaldi forced her through a table. In the process he would break his hand, and would also need medical attention. Louie hated blood. He'd seen his mother die when he was a child, bricks fell on her. They were walking past a construction site, it seemed that they were always walking pas a construction site, it was a period of prosperity in Chicago. Something overturned up above and she was destroyed. The blood went everywhere. He didn't speak for years. Upon witnessing Rinaldi's girlfriend on the ground, the blood pouring from her nose, Louie hyperventilated. Panicked. It became suddenly important that he be outside. Rindaldi stopped him, handed him an envelope. "Take this to the post office while I take care of this." Luther's name was on the envelope.

The Old Man was grateful. He would visit Luther that night.

Fitz was entirely unhelpful in this matter. He could not find Luther, he had not been mentioned in any testimony, none of the confessions, coerced or otherwise. The men that Fitz had in lock down shuddered at his name and would not offer any information. At least two though that he was a ghost, three thought he was a collection of people that the name Luther was pure fiction, it was just a name to pin things on should things go bad. It was a way for the real killers to hide behind a name. It wasn't real. He was a cartoon, he was a ghost, he was a vapor, he did not exist as you wanted him to exist. It was important all the same to not seek him out, he would kill you as soon as look at you, if he existed anyway. And he probably didn't.

This was Fitz' thought on it as well. He told the old man as much. He said "Look, according to everything I've been able to find, this Luther killed three men in three counties on a single day. The trains don't move that fast. It's impossible. You're looking at a scape goat that isn't even there. It's nobody. This Luther is just a ruse, he's a hoax to throw people like you off the scent. If it were real, I'd have heard about it, and I haven't. Go home, Old Man, get back to the jungles ore wherever the hell. Chicago is too big for you.

The Old Man was in contact with three different sources ethereal, three different mystics. They were all certain that Luther was real, that he was a monster, that he lived in the area. Two of them agreed that he was well over six foot tall, one of them thought he was black. All three were sure he lived with a woman and that his future was about to change for the worst. The old man paid each of them in kind. He hated to result to the occult to find answers, but sometimes it was needed. There would be a balance for this. The occult was mostly about balance, about accepting the balance of your deeds. Look into the future and there would be a price to pay in the present. It was the way of the world, people just didn't know. He looked carefully, quietly, he didn't ask for much and he was prepared for the tide to return. He was ahead of the game, he was in the same city of the necklace, he had a good lead, he was cocky. When the tide turned, he only hoped that he could remove himself from it's path and push Louie in front of him. There wasn't time for bad luck. He needed to return to the Jungles before it was too late.


Luther was informative when he was on fire. The Necklace was acquired in South America last year in exchange for information. The information was not important. The Old Man assumed it had something to do with the drugs. He wasn't interested and during this part of Luther's story it The Old Man almost set Luther on fire again. It was over after a while. The Rinaldi's had sent him down to South America, a place that was, to Luther, indistinguishable from Hell. Someone had taken a Rinald's cousin hostage. They'd sworn to kill her and throw her in a nearby river unless demands were met, ransoms were paid. Luther bought a flowered shirt and a nice and easy hat and took the long way down to South America. He was there in a few weeks time. When he arrived, he was informed that she was already dead, that the river had taken her and the fish had swallowed her. He sent a telegram back to Chicago and recieved his orders. By weeks end, those responsible had been murdered, the fish again were fed and he had ransacked the house and sold what he pillaged to the locals. He took whatever looked expensive or antique and brought them home to the Rinadl's as a means of compensation for their lost cousin. These things were then either stored or sold off at their jewelry store. The necklace was in this batch of baubles. It was not overly ornate or bejeweled and wasn't thought of well by the family, it was kept because it seemed old and only then until they could have an expert appraise it. It would be quickly trafficked if possible. It was currently being kept in the jewelry store under glass. The display was made to look more impressive than the necklace itself, someone rich and stupid would take it. They were sure.

Then there was the robbery.

The Old Man did not anticipate that the piece would be in a jewelry store. In a museum maybe, but most likely it would be in someones private collection. It was an important artifact. It should be treated with more seriousness, more respect. He figured he could take care of the acquisition at that point alone. He was thankful that the piece was still in Chicago. It would be difficult to get anywhere else, he didn't have the resources to organize much more than a trolley to the other side of Chicago. It was fortunate and he rubbed his lucky medallion in thanks. He would need more luck as it went. He would have to involve Louie and Floyd one last time. They could not know about Luther's Burns. Luther's poor handcuffed wife in the meat packing factory downtown. She would live, but she would not be found for a week. There was enough food and water in the room to last her for a month or more. When the plant came back online next week, after negotiations, she would be found. If negotiations failed, he would alert the authorities himself, but for now, he needed Luther occupied. There would be murders, otherwise. The Old Man did not like Luther. He was afraid.

But it wasn’t all bad. He was able to move around Chicago in relative ease, and did not upset too many people. He operated freely within the Rinaldi’s circles, but did not ever draw their eye. They would be angry about how Luther was treated, but he had not been seen, there was no way to trace Luther’s burns back to The Old Man. The only person who had been asking was Louie. Louie was a drunk and would be forgotten. Louie talks to everyone, he asks about everything, he is dismissed out of hand. The Old Man was comfortable in the situation. If it all went bad, he would retreat to the Jungles and begin again. The Rinaldi’s held no influence outside the borders of Chicago. It was only the very dumb who were killed by the mafia. The Old Man could vanish easily. It would be an easy thing to rob a jewelry store.

He’d informed Louie that this would be the last they would see each other, that the blackmail would cease, they would never see each other again but there would be one more thing. Louie was upset.

“Jewelry store? What do I know about robbing a jewelry store?”
“You’re god-damned right nothing. No, sir. No, thank you. This is crazy. You’re crazy I’m going to rob a store. No. No no.” He paced back and forth in The Old Man’s apartment. The Old Man wasn’t sure his blackmail would be enough. Louie was panicking.
“Listen to me. You’re doing this. It’ll be easy, you’ll have help. Floyd is already on board.”
“Floyd? Oh Jesus Marie. Floyd’s an animal. I’ve seen him stab a guy. He’s –“
“He’s going to do most of the work. You just have to carry a bag. I have it all worked out. It’ll be ten minutes of work, you can keep the jewels, I only want one piece.”
“There’s a necklace I want. It’s in that store. You can keep everything else”
“It’s a store, you can go buy it for Christ's sake. Buy the damn thing, it’s a store for christ’s sake.”
“I don’t have the money and I don’t have the time. You will have help. You’ll both be rich, Louie. You’ll be rich. You can leave town and start over. You can open a bar someplace, get the hell out of Chicago.”
“I like Chicago.”
“Because you’re dumb, Louie. Only because you’re dumb. You can’t even breathe in this town.”
“I like Chicago.”
“Alright. You like Chicago. Be rich in Chicago. Move to the nicer side of town.”
“I can’t rob no store.”
“Floyd is robbing the store. You’re carrying a bag.”
“I can’t carry no bag then neither.”
“Yes you can. You’ll be rich. I’ve got it set up. No cops for miles.”
“How do you know?”
“I can’t tell you. Just know that you’ll be safe. You have to carry a bag for three blocks into a basement, that’s all. Floyd does the robbing. You help him carry the bags. No cops for miles. You just have to walk with a bag. That’s it.”
“That’s it?”
“That’s it.”
“And then you disappear?”
“I can’t wait.”
“Rich, huh?”
“How about that.”

The conversation with Floyd was shorter. Floyd likes to rob places, he’s strong enough to get in, he’s brave enough to do it. He doesn’t know Fitz has the cops on the North Side of town that night. He doesn’t know how safe it is. This is important. He would probably kill Louie for his share, otherwise.

“Where are you while I’m breaking my neck with that asshole Louie?”
“After you get out of the store, you’ll head three blocks north to 8888 Address. I will be there with a car. I set up the car, the hideout and some other things you don’t need to worry about.”
“Where are you getting a car?”
“Stealing it from someplace. I get the car, you get the jewels, I get what I want, you and Louie can have the car when it’s done. We never see each other again. Nobody will know about Jocamo.”
“You be careful with that, they wouldn’t be too happy with you either “ There was some silence after this, Floyd was a dangerous man and wasn’t accustomed to threats. Besides, he was right. The Old Man would be held as accountable for helping Floyd as Floyd was for killing Jocamo. The Old Man was hoping this notion would escape Floyd. Clearly, it had not.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“When are we doing this?”

And that was all it took to bring Floyd on board. He could put the rest together himself. He could guess how much money was involved.

Floyd had been restless, he hadn’t been on a job in a while. He was given a shot to organize a heist six months ago. An easy thing, an old grocer who didn't trust the banks. An old coot with half his life’s work in cash in a back room in a safe. A big safe, a strong safe, but still just a safe in a grocery store. It would be an overnight job, a torch and two guys. Low head count, low risk, high return. He’d taken the information from a worker at the store. Got him drunk and friendly, got him drunker, let him pass out in an alley and left him there. He’d gone back to the store to make sure the worker didn’t remember him. It didn’t seem that he did.

The Worker neglected to mention that the Owner slept in an apartment behind the office and that he had a shotgun and that the sound of a torch would wake him up and that the old man would spin into the room and shoot “Iron” Alan Brohm in the chest and Chep Kinsman in the upper thigh before having to stop and reload and that Floyd would have to tackle him and beat him to death with a paperweight before the sound of the shotgun blasts alerted the neighbors who alerted the police who arrived to a raging inferno that used to be a quiet corner grocery was currently obscuring three dead bodies and would spread on down the block destroying three homes and killing two more.

Floyd was found at the train station the next morning, tickets to New York in hand. Mr. Rinaldi requested his company. Floyd went along and figured he would be murdered in the car. He was not. Mr. Rinaldi did not like Brohm or Kinsman. The owner of the store was behind on his payments. It was not a major loss. As a result, he was not punished too harshly, but he had failed nevertheless, he was to be strictly muscle from now on. He was clearly not smart enough to participate in any meaningful way. “Just muscle from now on. You work with your hands and that’s it.” Immediately after this was said, Floyd was struck in the back of the knees with a baseball bat. He fell to the floor and his right hand was hit repeatedly until he passed out.

He woke up in the hospital. His hand would be bandaged for five months before Floyd couldn’t take the itching anymore and cut it off with a steak knife. The five months recovering were difficult, he worked with his hands, he starved without them. He spent most of this time learning how little a person could eat and survive, how easy it was to steal from grocers and how delicious canned food could be. Things were better now, after the cast had come off, he’d returned to work with some vigor, took on more jobs than he could handle sometimes, but he was finally coming back to life. He ate steak for the first time after breaking a priests legs for a gambling debt. He ate it at home, alone, and he allowed himself to cry with the relief of it.

They met at The Old Man’s apartment. The Old Man had dutifully moved most of his belongings into the steamer trunk in the bedroom. It was important that he leave here tomorrow. His association with these people was dangerous, the city was choking him, he was certain this apartment was haunted. He talked to the landlord about it. He said that two different people had hung themselves there, from the shower head. He couldn’t imagine how short they must have been.

There was a map on the table. The overhead light was burning. Floyd insisted on smoking. Louie was pale and The Old Man thought it would be best if he kept him away from the shower. Above the map a few of the Old Man’s trinkets were lined up, very symmetrical, when Louie went to touch one, The Old Man grabbed his hand and jerked it away. “Those are important. Do not touch them.” Louie and Floyd exchanged a glance. The Old Man knew they thought he was crazy, it was not a new sensation for him.

“You will both arrive at the store tomorrow at 9pm. At 9:01, the store’s electricity will turn off –“
“What? How?”
“Unimportant. Let me finish. The Electricity will be off for one hour. You have forty minutes. Should the electricity return earlier than expected, you will leave immediately. No matter what happens, you will find this necklace and you will put it into this bag. No other jewels or cash go into this bag. This bag is strictly for the necklace. You will use these bags for anything else you’d like to take. Again, I don’t care what else you take. I am not interested. The door is electronic. It will be open. You will take this pendant. If the door is locked, this will open it.”

Louie and Floyd exchange glances again.

“It opens doors.” They do not say anything, privately, they each do not expect any of this to happen. It’s the only way Louie was able to get out of bed this morning, clearly The Old Man was crazy, clearly they would arrive at the jewelry store and the electricity would be on and they would just go home. The Old Man was crazy, just a crazy person and it would be over soon. Likely this would be the last night they would ever see each other, and Louie would go back to masquerading as a Rinaldi in bars where he got free drinks. He would quietly drink himself to death in a few years time and that was just fine with him. He just didn't want any bumps in the road.

Floyd was anxious. He didn't like this old kook. He really didn’t like Louie. But he was bored and he needed the money. He would like to be rich. He would like to buy a gun and a car and a nice suit and be a big shot. There would be enough money to be made from this so that he could move to New York and become that person. He would stop calling himself Floyd. He might call himself Michael or John or something biblical and big and he would not allow a nickname. He would find a reliable crew of guys to knock over whatever he asked them to and he would sit back and get fat and rich by a pool in a fancy hotel. But he didn't trust The Old Man and he didn’t think his plans would work. He would rob the store either way. This old man could go to hell with his necklace, but he’d like to have a car.

“It opens doors. You might need it for backup. But the electricity will be off. The doors will be open. You will proceed unimpeded to the second location, I will be there with a car, you can have the car and go to this address. It is a man I’ve found that will exchange your jewels for cash, if you so choose. Be aware that exchanging jewels for cash is a difficult thing to do and you will not be compensated at the market price but be assured it is the best price you will find. Be reasonable when dealing with him, this is a dangerous man and to be honest, he does not like me very much. You will address him as The Jeweler, his real name is unimportant.

I am not going to the store with you, but I will be nearby. My part in this is defined by the map in front of you, the plan I’ve described and the advantages I am providing. I only want the necklace. The rest of the store is yours to do with as you please. If all of this has been understood, I will see you tomorrow night for the last time.”

Floyd and Louie met at the corner of Vine and Partell, named after the famous stage actor Vincent Partell. Floyd was instantly disappointed in Louie. After the meeting at the Old Man’s apartment it was decided that they would wear suits to the robbery. Louie had gone out this morning to Richman Bros. Tailors and had a fine suit made. He’d spent the rest of his savings on it. A fine suit, replete with a matching overcoat, fine shoes and even a pocket watch. Louie did not look quite as good. To be fair to Louie, this was Floyd’s idea. He said it was “The Classy way to do things”.

“That’s some suit, Floyd.”
“Yeah? You look like shit, Louie.” Louie’s chin hit his chest and apologized, he’d bought this suit a few years ago for his brother’s funeral. He’d spent the next three days in it, fell down a few times and spent at least one night in an alley. He couldn’t remember much. He wasn’t sure he’d ever had it cleaned and was surprised to find that he’d still owned it. He was going to pretend that he thought Floyd was joking if it turned out he couldn’t find the suit. “I thought you were joking about that” he’d say. Floyd would be angry, and probably hit him, but he didn’t have any money to buy a suit. “I don’t have any money for a suit, Floyd.”

“Why didn’t you say so, I would’ve gotten two”. This was, of course, not true. “You know your family takes care of me even if they don’t give a shit about you.” Again, doubly not true. The Rinaldi’s did not care about Floyd and they were not Louie’s family. “This is bad luck, Louie. I’m telling you. This is bad luck. You’re bad luck, Louie.” This wasn’t entirely false, depending on one’s belief in luck. Louie was regarded as a “Cooler” someone who would ruin the fates just by being near games of skill, Typhoid Louie some called him. He was fine with this. Those that didn’t speak to him because he was “A Rinaldi” didn’t speak to him because he was cursed. The fewer people talked to him, he was able to drink on the Rinaldi’s tab most nights as a result. The Old Man, even though he turned out to be a conniving and threatening monster, had been the first person to start a conversation with him in ages, and he was a little sad that he was leaving town. Even a cursed drunk needed friends, and anyone willing to be his friend would probably reveal themselves to be some sort of monster in the long run. He’d miss The Old Man.

“This is crazy, trusting this weirdo. Don’t even know his name.” Floyd said as they walked down the street towards the jewelry store. Louie didn't know his name either, he realized. He’d introduced himself, but Louie had only heard half of it. “–but you can call me Old Man, everyone does.” Louie never thought about it, just called The Old Man, Old Man when he needed. Figured he’d heard it some other time and forgotten over drinks. But now he didn't think so. Conniving monster.

“You got that rock?” Louie did have the rock, the one that would “Open doors” and shook it in front of Floyd. The Rock was just that, just a rock, part of the Old Man’s mumbo jumbo. Maybe something to keep their minds off of other things. He didn't like it. He was terrified about this. This would end badly and he would wind up in prison. He was sure of it. He didn't tell Floyd, he didn't want to jinx anything. But this wasn't something that would go well for him, but he had no choice. He hadn't worked in weeks, he was out of money and the Rinaldi’s would kill him if the Old Man ratted him out. There was no upside. Hopefully the bars would keep him safe. He didn't think it would, but, again, had no other options.

“You ready?”
“No, not really.”
“Ok good.” The store was on the next block. The sign’s lights were on. Then, with the next step, the lights were off. They had 40 minutes from this moment to rob a jewelry store. They picked up the pace, not quite running, but not quite walking. The streets were empty, it was a cold night, times were tough, people were home with their families but it was eerie none the less, they expected there would be some foot traffic, but that it wouldn’t matter, they were just walking in the front door, easy as you please. But, as they reached the door, the lights turned on. They are close enough to hear the bolt snap closed. Then, the lights go off again, the bolt snaps again, and back on.

Before Louie could speak, before he could suggest that they just wait to see if they flip off again, before he could suggest that they keep walking, tell the Old Man what happened and plan for another day, before he could even suggest to use the rock, Floyd had pulled a hammer from his bag and started to smash the glass on the jewelry store door. Louie turned to run but Floyd struck Louie on the back with the hammer with a bit of force, not enough to damage Louie, but enough to hurt him. “You get the fuck in here.”
“He said to leave if the lights came on.”
“He said the lights wouldn’t be on, the fuck does he know.”
“He said we had to leave”
“I’m saying you stay. Get in there.”

It was sloppy and loud and anyone within three blocks would know what was happening. Floyd was smashing glass cases with a hammer and Louie was cutting his hands sweeping the contents into the bags. He found the Necklace on a shelf in the corner, inelegantly displayed. The Old Man said it would be in a place of prominence, but did not visit the store, he didn’t want anyone there to ever see him. He’d taken enough risks spending time in the bars, he would need to remain in the shadows as a drunk. No drunk would be in this store unless he was robbing it, a la Louie.

Louie was doing a bad job and The Old Man’s necklace wound up in one of the bags with all the other bloody jewels and diamonds. The lights went back off. Louie screamed at him for not waiting. The lights would not come back on.

“Floyd lets go. Lets go, we’ve got two bags full, lets go.”
“The lights are off, we can get in the back room.”
“Floyd, there’s no time. Lets go.”
“He said there was no cops.”
“He said the lights would be off, it’s time to go, Floyd we have enough.”
Floyd wasn’t sure about how much they’d grabbed. He was on hammer duty. “Look. Look in the bags” The lights were off and Floyd couldn’t tell the diamonds from the broken glass. He would not get another opportunity like this. New York was calling, he would never get out from under Mr. Rinaldi and the burned grocery job. There was no time.

“Dump it.”
“Dump it, we’re hitting the back room. They keep the good stuff in the back room.”
“NO! No, we have plenty here I cleared out the whole store Floyd, it’s time to go.” Floyd held up the hammer. “If you leave, I’ll find you and kill you. We’re doing the back room right now, lets go right now.”

Louie did what he was told, and dumped the contents of the bag on the floor.

It was about this time when Detective Max Fisher left his house to run towards Grace Jewelers, to stop a robbery in progress. Before he left, he picked up a small, overly ornate bag and placed it in his pocket.

Louie and Floyd were able to access the back of the store now that the store’s electricity had been disabled. Floyd was tearing through the back rooms while Louie stood in the doorway and begged for them to leave. “Move it, Lou! HERE!”

Louie rounded a corner and found a large room, maybe twenty tables, each with a black felt table and a jewelers loop, there were boxes akin to a shoebox on each table. Each shoe box was filled with a stack of black trays, each tray held about thirty diamonds. “This is it. This is it, Lou. Lets go. Jesus Lou, let’s move”

Louie knew it was too big. This was too big for them. This was too big for this store. “What is this, Floyd?” “Never mind, Lou, lets go, bring the bags.” Floyd flitted from table to table like a humming bird, dumping each tray into the bag. “Look alive, Lou.”

“Floyd, what is this?”

Floyd knew straight away. The Old Man had fucked them. This was a Rinaldi operation. The Jewelry store was just a front, this was too big an operation for a mom and pop jewelry store. Floyd had heard whispers about Rinaldi expanding, he didn't know it had gone this far. This was smuggling. They were importing diamonds from someplace, probably stealing them, knocking over trucks by the border. Not sure how it worked, didn’t matter, they were here now. There was enough here to disappear. Either way he’d have to disappear. He figured he would kill Louie and the Old Man once he found out who The Jeweler was, he needed to cash these in. He could be out of town within the week.

Louie wasn't sure what all this meant, but it didn’t seem right and it didn’t seem good. He knew the Grace’s owned this place. They were a sweet old couple, had been in the neighborhood since he was a kid. This isn't them. “What is this?”

“We’re done. Time to go. Let’s go.”

Louie and Floyd slung the bags over their shoulders, and ran from the building. They were unimpeded down Xth street, but Floyd called back over his shoulder “Hurry up” to Louie every few steps. Louie was lagging, but was carrying more weight and mumbled through gasping breaths how it wasn’t fair. And as he was about to stop and tell Floyd that it wasn’t fair, that there was no reason to run, and just as Floyd had his head turned to yell at him once more, a giant of a man erupted from behind a dumpster, swung and connected a metal pipe to Floyd’s big head. Floyd twisted grotesquely in the air and landed in a heap he was bleeding profusely and in that instant, Louie figured he was dead, was relieved that he was dead and then turned and ran away.

He heard the pipe jangle on the pavement behind him before he was spun around and punched directly in the nose and woke up hours later in prison.

The Fix.

Fitz had introduced The Old Man to Max Fisher. Max was a private detective, he followed ladies around to see if they were cheating on their husbands. A large man, a former boxer who’s career was cut short for lack of technical skill and a slightly glass jaw. A textbook brawler. His size and his strength were his only real attributes and when faced by an opponent of smaller stature, but with quicker hands and more technical prowess, it was just a matter of time before he would hit the canvass. A big swooping right hand and a respectable record for the first few fights, but eventually a break even fighter that was destined to toil in underground rings where he would all but destroy his hands and punch them into arthritis at a young age.

He wasn’t a very good detective. He liked the title, he liked the idea of justified and honorable violence. He was good at being violent, he was a large brute of a man, a dangerous foe in a bar room brawl and his boxing career was a point of pride and generator of fantasies and dreams where he stands in front of a cheering crowd, his gloved right hand above his head and a faceless enemy on the canvass. They chanted his name. Every night they chanted his name.

In the locker room after his fight with “Irish” Danny O’Doyle he was given ten dollars by the manager and was visited by the ring side doctor. The doctor shook and smelled of alcohol, an old drunk, forcibly removed from his profession. The Doctor cut off his gloves for him, looked at his swollen left eye and suggested that he try to make money someplace else. “Your hands have bones floating around in them.” He said. And it was true. They didn’t work for much more than punching these days. Ruined.

He spent the night in the locker room. His back was stiff and his hands hurt. He could only see from his right eye. He stunk. The locker room stunk. He was old. He walked home from the gym in his shorts and his robe, walked to his apartment, collapsed in bed and slept. He retired.

Max’s free time from then on was spent drinking and listening to the radio. It was during this period that he discovered The Mist. Every Thursday night at eight a handsome, physically fit millionaire with a solid gold voice and a hatred of crime took to the airwaves. Vance Rinaldo: The Mist.

Vance Rinaldo, was just a young boy when tragedy struck. His beloved, albeit eccentric, Uncle Albert died in an explosion at the family’s estate. Rinaldo, a young boy, was at that very moment on his way to the basement lab, having just been sent by his uncle to bring him some Javalean, The World’s Only Nutritious Coffee! The Mist was brought to you by this very product. Through some fluke of fate, or the hand of god, or just a simple fluke in the laws of probability, the chemicals in the in his Uncle’s lab combined with the Nutrients in Javalean, Young Vance Rinaldo was transformed once and forever into The Mist! Scourge of Crime, the People’s Revenge, the White Ghost of Justice, The Mist!

Imbued with the ability to be simultaneously immaterial and immeasurably strong, The Mist blew through the underworld of the troubled “Lincoln City” fighting the dastardly Dr. Poison!

It connected. It was what he would do. He would fight crime. That night he dreamed of The Mist’s new partner The Boxer. And like every other night, he stood, one arm raised, in front of the cheering public, his right hand above his head a faceless enemy on the sidewalk, a glistening badge on his chest.

Every Thursday night from that night forward, he was parked in front of his radio. He would often catch the news report and even sit through the Meredith Radio Hour. He didn’t like the music very much, and hated the pompous host and the guests were foreigners, he could never understand what they were saying. There must be American musicians to interview. He would do his exercises during The Meredith Hour. The policeman’s test was quickly approaching, he wanted to be in the best possible shape for his review.

Max would fail his policeman’s test. His physical condition was likely the best of anyone applying, but he had a bad reputation around town. Boxing in Chicago was a notoriously corrupt industry and Max’s penchant for violence, honorable or otherwise, was well known. He’d been tossed out of half the bars on the West Side. It wasn’t to be. But Max didn’t have very many options, he’d been working as a laborer off and on for a few months. The pay was lousy and if he worked on a Thursday morning, he would spend his Thursday evening, in front of the radio soaking his hands in warm water. It wasn’t the life he wanted.

But boxing had made him resilient, he always got up, walked out of the ring with his head in the air. And so while he looked for work, he would drop into the Police Precinct and speak to a desk cop named Tim Fitzgerald about how he was doing and how he’d changed since he retired from Boxing. He didn't see the same guys anymore, he stopped drinking and he ate right and exercised every morning before going out to look for work. He’d had his hands looked at by a real doctor, not a ring doctor, and he’d said they’d heal in a while but to keep them wrapped, so he did, every morning, just like the doctor said so he did, just like the doctor said. He could follow orders too, see.

Fitz was nice to him, and felt sorry, but it wasn’t ever going to happen. Max persisted and wouldn’t take the hint. After a while, Fitz was able to pull some strings and set him up with an interview with a local private detective, Sam Shear. Sam had Max run errands, and stake out errant wives. It wasn’t the best job, Sam was a bit of a scumbag but Max was happy. He wasn’t there yet, but he was on his way, someday he’d be Sam, a lead detective, investigating crimes. Taking down criminals, being the scourge of the underworld, he wouldn’t be The Boxer, but he could be The Detective.

Time would pass and Max remained a hired hand to snoop on married women and take photographs. Trail them to their lovers apartments, or, more often than not, to the department stores and to the grocery or to the schools where they worked. He’d discovered two things, most women seem to be smart enough to not cheat on men paranoid enough to hire private detectives, and two, he was not very good at being inconspicuous. At least once a week he would be spotted, and because the detail involved actively following women around the city, he would often be stopped by the police and questioned. After a while the city cops got to know him and would pull him aside just to make fun of him. Tease him in department stores in front of everyone. It was bad for Sam’s business. He was getting tired of having to clean up after Max. Sam had only taken Max on at the aggressive prodding of Fitz, who’d raked Sam over the coals about the whole thing.

It was a go nowhere job. It began to weigh on Max, he wasn’t good at the job and he knew it, he wasn’t making any headway towards anything real, he didn't have enough money to start his own agency, there was nothing he could do but wait.

Fitz knew Max was on thin ice. The boys would come back once a week with some story about how they harassed that ogre of a private dick. Really made him sweat it out. Fitz and Max had become friends of sorts over the months. They didn’t spend much time together because Max would bombard Fitz with cop questions the instant they spoke, but Fitz was a little older and wished some of his own men had that sort of devotion to their work. Times were tough in Chicago but the one thing they weren’t short on was crime. There was enough work for everyone in the city to be drawing a paycheck, so what if the palooka had a bit of a drinking problem when he was a boxer. Hell, most of the guys he knew had a drinking problem and were taking bribes. So long as the guy wasn’t a murderer or a real crook, he should be given a chance. He was a nice guy, a little overzealous, maybe a little dumb, but a good man.

When the opportunity presented itself in the form of The Old Man, he thought that Max would be interested.

“Look, it’s not illegal. You’re not doing anything illegal.”
“I know about it. I’d be a part of it.”
“You’d be a part of stopping it.”
“I don’t know. I don’t feel good about it, Fitz. I don’t know this old man.”
“He’s reliable. He’s helped me in the past.”
“With what?”
“Doesn’t matter. I know him enough to know he’s serious about this.”
“What if I get caught?”
“Only three people know we’re having this conversation, me, you and The Old Man. All the normal details that are on that part of town, are being moved over to the East Side for some bullshit I cooked up. They’ll come back just in time to see you beat up two burglars. You want the boys to stop harassing you? What do you think will happen when they pull up and you’re sitting on top of two goons and a stack of diamonds. It’s a diamond heist. It’s not two dummies robbing a liquor store. It’s a real thing, Max. You’d be a hero.”
“It’s a little scary, Fitz.”
“It’s two goons. You can take two goons, I’ve seen you fight.”
“What? When?”
“At the forum, Vinnie Poledo, third round Knock out.” This is a lie, Fitz has never seen Max fight, but was anxious for this to be over and thought it would be the quickest route to take. Fitz had talked to Max enough about why he was so anxious to be a cop and when he wasn’t talking about being a cop he was peppering Fitz with trivia and the weeks adventures of The Mist. Fitz thought it might help to bring up the old days. Fitz had met one of Max’s old managers in a bar a few months ago, they spoke about it.
“He dropped his left for just a second and I gave him everything I had and he went down like a sack of potatoes.” This was not a lie. Vinnie Poledo almost died ringside. He still spoke with a slight slur. It was unfortunate. “I’m not going to get caught?”
“I’ll get to be a hero?”
“Well, not really a hero, The Mist ain’t in on the crime.”
“You’re not in on it, you’re following a lead. Like any good detective.”
“Why ain’t you doing it.”
“I gotta be on the other side of town for the thing I cooked up. Don’t worry about it. You just go to the intersection by the jewelry store, you wait for them to round the corner and you take them down and I’ll be by in short order. You’ll need an alibi. Why are you at that intersection at that time of night in that part of town?”
“Going for a run. To take the test.”
“You’re taking the test again?”
“Yeah. Can’t take following ladies around the market all day anymore. Somebody always rats me out. Not too good at it, Fitz.”
“Ahh you’re fine, Sam tells me you’re doing good.” This was another lie. “Look, you do this thing and we can probably take a lot of your past off the books, know what I mean?”
“I can’t promise, but it sure as hell couldn’t hurt.”
“What if they got guns?”
“No guns, old man assured me.”
“That’s not calming me down here, Fitz.”
“No guns. If you see a gun, forget the whole thing. Go back home and forget we ever talked, no hard feelings.”
“No hard feelings?”
“And I’ll help you with the cop test.”

Just like that, Max was brought into The Old Man’s world.

The night of the robbery was a Thursday. He tried to get Fitz to rearrange it so that it would be on a Wednesday or a Friday, anything but a Thursday, but it was no use, the day was set and it would be the first time since the show’s inception that Max Fisher would miss The Mist. He left the radio on just the same and soaked his hands figuring he’d need them later. And, to his surprise, in the middle of the music program, they began to announce the burglary. The studio was just across the street, Max had, once, used some of his Private Detective skills to follow Alan Montclaire, the voice of The Mist, from his car to just inside the WRDC Radio Building. He wasn’t proud of it, but he wanted to get a sense of the man behind the man, how heroic he actually was. Max was unimpressed, Alan was a slight man, dressed impeccably and Max figured he was probably a fruit.

The broadcast changed everything. He wouldn’t have to lie, he would actually be in this position either way. He’d probably go down to try to break it up either way. He’d tell the cops that he was listening to the show, just like always and he lived close enough that he could go help. He left his house, grabbed a pipe he’d found and tucked it up into his sleeve, at the right moment he would let it fall into his hand and he would pop whoever needed to be popped. Like one of The Mist’s hidden tools in his super suit. Max expected that he might be too nervous to go through with this, but he wasn’t, he was very excited. He listened closely to the description of the events on the radio before he left, they were turning left just where Fitz said they would, he would cut them off at the corner. It would be over in five minutes.

When the cops arrived, Max was rounding the corner with Floyd on his shoulder and a black bag of diamonds in his hand. The cops knew Max, he dropped the Floyd and the diamonds on the ground and was quickly surrounded by cops, asking him questions, collecting Floyd and the diamonds for evidence. It all happened pretty quickly and he explained to everyone that he’d heard about the robbery on the radio, and that he came over just as quick as he could. He listened to the radio show every week and it was just a happy coincidence. He hit the big one with a pipe because he had a hammer, he took care of the little one by himself, his hand was bleeding to prove it. He was clapped on the back and a few guys even apologized right then and there for giving him such a hard time, “You’re alright, Max.” and shook his hand.

Fitz showed up on time and collected the evidence and put it in the trunk of his car. When he had a moment he pulled max aside, after his men went in to document the damage inside. “Where is it?”
“They didn’t have it, it wasn’t on either of them and it wasn’t in the bags.”
“They have to have it.”
“I swear, Fitz, they didn’t”
“Fucking lummox, what do you mean they didn't have it.”
“See for yourself Fitz, honest they didn't.”

Louie is panicky and stupid. When Floyd hollered at him to dump the bags on the floor and come to the back room to collect the more abundant loot contained there, he did as he was told, and dumped the bags on the floor. In doing so, he left the Old Man’s Necklace on the floor and forgot. It wasn’t his fault, really, he wasn’t a robber, he was a drunk and thought of little else during the robbery than how much he wanted it to be over and how much he wanted a drink. He was terrified, and rightfully so. The Old Man was ultimately counting on Fitz, a cop who was long accustomed to operating under the radar, who had a long history of pilfering evidence. It was an easier crime with better odds. He would gladly steal from two criminals, it was a way for him to distance himself from stealing from the Grace’s a hapless old couple who, as far as The Old Man knew, just owned a jewelry store.

Fitz was shouting at as low a volume as possible, it was noticeable. Floyd and Louie were each in the back of a squad car. Fitz removed them, searched them, and placed them back in the car. Louie was terrified and prone to any loud suggestion, he was easy to search. Floyd still had massive head trauma and was unconscious. Not much difference between the two. But Max wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t there, Louie had one of those weird bags that the old man had given him but it was empty. It wasn’t in the bags of diamonds either, it must still be in the store. Morons.

Fitz spoke to Max one more time.
“Did you check inside?”
“There wasn’t time, I drug the big one and the little one over here in front of the store so they’d be here when the cops got here.”
“You damn near knocked the big guy’s head off, you think he was going to run away? He’s probably going to die in the back of my car, you moron.”
The Grace’s arrived. They didn’t live far from the store. Fitz tried to make his way into the store before they walked in so he could find the necklace, grab it, and be on his way. There wasn’t any time. The Grace’s immediately ordered everyone out of the store, asked that everyone empty their pockets on the way out, three soon to be suspended cops had a few stones on them. The Graces asked that the robbers be taken to the hospital, that they would not be pressing charges as all the damages had been recovered and nothing had been lost. “Please leave the store, quickly. Please and thank you. Where are the stolen diamonds?” “Mr. Fitzpatrick has taken them downtown to be processed.” “That won’t be necessary. Please have them returned here.”

Fitz slunk off when they arrived. He’d gotten in his car and returned to the precinct where he deposited one full bag of diamonds in evidence. The other mysteriously disappeared. “What second bag? There must have been another man, he must have gotten away.”

Another moment of note: Six weeks later, a small boy is walking downtown with his father. His father is in a hurry and is late for a job interview and is forcibly dragging his son along “hurry up, c’mon now. Hurry.” His son would lag behind and eventually his fathers pulling would overcome his short legs and he would fall on his face, scratching his head on the sidewalk. He would cry quite a bit, and put his hand back into a crack in the sidewalk and be stuck by something and would begin to cry all over again, all the while his father is screaming at him to be quiet, that he was embarrassing him. “What’s the matter now?” The boy would show his father his right palm, where he’d been punctured by a rock. It was a diamond, and there, just lying in a crack in the sidewalk were five or six pebble sized diamonds that would be sold and feed his family for months.

In the commotion of The Grace’s arrival, their quick shooing of the police, and Fitz quick departure, Max was about to walk home when Jimmy Baker began shouting from the radio building. He wanted Max to come up and talk to Mr. Meredith. And so he did. And in the elevator on the way to the studio he went over his story, that he was a fan of Mr. Meredith's, that he was trying to educate himself about Classical music. It was a classier response, Mr. Meredith would probably respect it more than a grown man obsessively listening to The Mist to such a degree that he would voluntarily sit through the boring program preceding it.

When he got on the program, he felt very comfortable, they were applauding his efforts, calling him a hero, he told them he liked the program, that he wished his father would have taught him violin instead of boxing, which he thought was just barely a sport, a real man uses his strength to protect, like a police officer, like a private detective, like a man. The calls came pouring in, the people were full of praise, he was a hero, he was a champion, he was Detective Max Fischer.


The old man had watched all the commotion from the roof of the building next door. He was terribly disappointed in the entire operation. Floyd and Louie turned out to be even dumber than he thought, Fitz employed some big goon to take care of the finest detail and Fitz himself looked flustered and confused. He wasn’t sure about The Grace’s, they seemed to be terribly at ease with the situation they found themselves in. Something was wrong and there was no way to talk to anyone until morning. He needed the necklace. It was a piece of the puzzle. A stepping stone to the amulet, if the legends were to be believed. And, of course, they were. Nothing that lasted this long, or nothing that has been pursued to be destroyed as heresy, has, in The Old Man’s experience ever been anything but true. Life tried to swallow up the fantastic and incredible and destroy it, or at the very least, mark it as ‘crazy’ and dismiss it,, he’d seen it all his life. It was his his drive to see these things preserved and maybe one day, it wouldn’t be so crazy to believe in these wonderful things, these things that could be believed by the sane, human mind, if only they could be seen before they were destroyed by those that were afraid of the fantastic. It would seem The Grace’s might be these types of people. A shame. Two lives wasted collecting stones and artifacts and they don’t know what they have in their store.

The Old Man watched for just a minute or two longer, went to the door that led down into the building, took a stone from his pocket, pressed it against the lock, and opened the door.

The Grace’s did not expect to have the diamonds that were taken returned to them. It was a small price to pay. After the store was cleaned up and the damage assessed, they figured the damages to be in the low five digits. Certainly a large sum of money, but the police could not be involved. The operation was generating more money than that in a month’s time. It would be quickly recuperated. The important thing now was to deflect any curiosity about why they’d dismissed the police so handily.

The cited the sticky hands of Chicago police and the three suspended police officers as reason enough, and then they quickly deflected the attention to their good nature by giving a handsome, diamond encrusted time piece to Mr. Max Fisher and an antique necklace to Mr. Meredith. The gifts were accepted in a formal setting hosted jointly by the radio station and Grace Jewelers, it attracted the press and quickly erased any thoughts of any shady goings on regarding Grace Jewelers. Max had two steaks and shook every one's hand he could. When he was presented with the watch, he put it on his right wrist, and held it above his head while while everyone applauded and shouted his name.

The Old Man was impatient and would need to clear out of town for a while in case Louie decided to tell some of his friends or the police who had put him up to it and why. He didn’t think Louie would, Louie was a coward and afraid of the Rinaldi’s and of The Old man, it seemed. But it was better to be safe then sorry. Besides, in The Old Man’s misplaced confidence in Mr. Fitzpatrick, he’d already made travel arrangements to find the next piece, one way or another he had to leave town in the morning on steamer ship for the Southern Tip of South America. It would be a long journey, there and back would be about a years time. He would need every minute of it to recover from this setback. The ocean air would do him good. The tunnels of Africa’s diamond mines were waiting, and if all was in order, his research materials would be in his cabin. There was work to be done, he would scold Fitz by over the air telegraph from the pacific ocean.

It wasn’t lost yet. He would regroup and find it. It was inevitable, he believed in his destiny.

It would be a long journey, he earned his keep on the decks with the men. He was capable. The men befriended him quickly for his efforts. He quickly became something of a mascot, he was easily as old as the captain, but was out there in the elements with the men working just as hard as the rest. His passage on the steamer was granted by the Captain, an old friend and drinking companion, but he insisted on earning his keep and the respect of the men on board; men he respected. He enjoyed the work, he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it for much longer. He’d traveled in a similar way as a young man, and did not go to the same lengths. He kept to himself in his free cabin, and eventually his freeloading did not go unnoticed by the men, who promptly threw all of his clothes overboard and then locked him in his room for three days. He wore a bed sheet as he walked down the plank into an Italian port, the crew laughed and the Italians did not seem to notice. Since that time he would try to put in a few hours of work a day, either on the deck or below, cooking or sharing his whiskey with some of the men over cards.

The rest of his time was spent in his cabin working or writing letters. It was on of the most peaceful times for him, he was in the middle of the ocean, there was no one chasing him, there were no expectations, no one to explain himself to or lie to. It was peaceful, even when the storms came. If he died in the middle of the ocean, alone, in a small room, it would be a peaceful departure. A life like his was not likely to end peacefully, it would be a welcome surprise. A friend and mentor was boiled alive by savages when he tried to take one of their sculptures. Sinking quietly under the stars was better by leagues.

After a few days he mustered the energy to telegraph Fitz over the wireless. He would spend a few hours drafting replies but would ultimately settle on:


and one more to The Guide.


The Captain was courteous, accommodating and constantly pestered the old man to stop working the decks, after all, that's what he paid the men for. The Old Man would oblige him for a few days but then he would come up for some air and see the men fishing, casting the nets out behind the ship, dragging for dinner, and he couldn't resist. He'd jump in with his two hands helping to drag up the night's meal, the rain stinging his bleeding hands. It was exciting to be alive.

"Get him in here!"
The men listened, the Captain was the boss, they escorted The Old Man back inside, each of them laughing, and deposited him in the Captains quarters. He had a the heat well up, he had warm blankets brought around and ordered the Old Man to change into dry clothes. They sat together and listened to some records the Captain had brought along. They drank whiskey and smoked cigars and talked about old times. The Bering Strait Shark Attack, the time the Captain got drunk and ran aground in Boston harbor, Dear Ol' Dewy Sinclair. They raised their glasses and talked about the time where Dewy had been knocked overboard and was lost to the depths. A small bit of mutiny, a ship-wide brawl and poor ol Dewy went right over the side. They laughed. They had both gone to see the Widow Sinclair to break the news, she answered the door and said "Is he dead?" "Yes mamm." "Oh thank god." And she closed the door. "Hag." "Witch."

The Old Man was thankful for these breaks. He would spend the next three weeks reading, writing, fishing and being gently rocked to sleep by the vast pacific ocean. He would wake up each morning for a cup of coffee and watch the sun rise over the horizon. He assumed that the fresh sea air rejuvenated him two to three years on each journey. He decided that in his next life, he would be a sea captain.

The Guide muttered under his breath and the women ushered him out of the room. The Old Man, in his 'madness' was able to speak as loudly as he was able, and because of their location, no one knew English, so he was able to shout instructions to the guide. "SCOUT AROUND BY THE ALTAR IF YOU CAN, GET CLOSE TO THE CHIEF, FIND OUT THE SAFEST ROUTE TO THE MOUNTAINS.

The Old Man spent the next few hours being cured of the Colhari venom and trying to catch the eye of a particular young bathing woman.

The Guide, it seemed, was able to roam freely throughout the camp. Most of the men were away toiling in the jungles, fighting the brush. The women eyed him suspiciously, and kept their distance, but he was unimpeded through the camp. He explored
The Plan was simple. The Old Man would languish under the women until that evening. He would pass out shortly after nightfall. The body would only finally rest when the venom had been purged. He would sully and demean himself and then the ladies would let him rest. And they did.
He was thankful that they spent a bit more time bathing him after he had 'purged' the venom. It was an embarrassing bit of the plan, but it was necessary. There was an hour of playing dead before the last maid left the hut. She'd been positioned by the door and was made to watch the old man to see if he would erupt in nightmares. If he did, it would happen in the fist few hours of sleep, it would tell them that the venom had seized his brain and there would be nothing they could do. He would be fed to The Pit. He meditated and lowered his breathing and his pulse and simulated sleep while she looked on. An hour or so had gone by, she became satisfied that the poison had truly been purged and he heard her leave her stool by the door and walk towards him.
She was young, she'd not seen a white person. She traced her fingertips on his chest to see how it felt, would it feel different? The old man focused on his breathing and maintained control. She lingered a while longer, muttering to herself and looking over her shoulder. He recognized a few of the words as local gods, she was praying over him or cursing him, he wasn't sure. They were powerful words, held for extreme occasions. He focused to retain control of his breathing and went deeper into his meditation. When he came to, she had left.
The old man waited a while longer in case she decided to come back and check on him. He meditated. He allowed the control on his breathing and his pulse to slacken, he wanted to experience this fully. The trek through the jungle had been spent with The Guide at his side. There were brief moments of solitude when it became necessary for them to sleep in shifts, but these were thankfully few and far between and when they occurred it was best to use the time for sleep and trust that The Guide was maintaining the fire and the band of protection they'd constructed around the tent. He'd purchased the necessary components for the band from a local shaman. The Guide thought it was nonsense, the jungle feared the fire, it was the only thing keeping the monsters at bay. The old man's fondness for witchcraft was tiresome and he'd yet to see it help or harm anything, at night The Guide would pray to his god and ask forgiveness for the old man's trespasses. The Old Man would die horribly, he was sure of it. The Guide would kiss his crucifix and drift to sleep while the old man spent his shift at the furthest reaches of the fire's light adjusting a skull or a vial of white powder, a dried something or other. The old man remarked on how much of it would usually draw evil towards them if they weren't grouped in such a way. "This head next to this dried ear? You'd have to be mad, but, ah, with the dagger, it separates them. Makes it safe. This was a bargain, my friend." The guide had learned to sleep through the old man's incessant chatter. Maybe it wasn't just the fire that kept the monsters away.
The meditation was his first real moment to commune with the jungle. He kept perfectly still, and shut out the sound of the fire and the gurgling from the pit, he focused on the jungle. He tried to will it through the windows and into his body. It was silent and waiting, never sleeping. It was stalking and circling them and tomorrow a hundred fools would try to beat it back with knives before it claimed them. It was coming for them. They could not fight forever, it would eventually envelop and consume them. There would be no trace of these people in just a short while. It did not matter if he stole from them, he was an agent of the jungles. They would not be around to miss it. Just one agent of many. There were others coming to his aid, he called out to them now. They were squandering their treasure and feeding children to the fire. It was impure and against the order of things. He could steal from them. He would make proper use of their magic. It would guide him to the Amulet. The old man pulled a gem from his pocket and clenched it. He concentrated on the breeze coming through the window, wrapping around him and tousling his hair. He struggled to retain his focus. He moved through incantations in his mind, the Psalm of The Wild, The Lioness Song, his ears pulsed like drums and he felt his temperature rise. It was time.
He kicked dirt over the fire to extinguish it. There needed to be enough darkness to cradle him out the window and secure his secret escape. He didn't need too much time, but it was important that nobody see him leave the hut. If someone should happen by and check on him, there would be other problems for him to steady himself on but he needed a bit of time at the start.
His heart was thudding in his chest. There were several possibilities for the current adventure but he could not see an ending that did not end with his either finding the object he sought or being captured by the Pit People and being thrown into the dormant volcano they worshiped. One was clearly favorable.
The Old Man found The Guide in the predetermined meeting place. Of course. Such was the nature of predetermined meeting places. What was not expected, was to find The Guide woozy and caked in blood. He was sitting with his back to a tree and a slug was working it's way down from the bark onto his shoulder, he'd been stationary for a while. There was a frantic reaction from the old man, he rushed over and looked over the guide, there was a gash, about six inches across his left shoulder blade. It was deep and the guide had packed it with some sort of mash of grasses. He trusted it was the right thing to do, the old man didn't know much about medicine. He pressed his hands to it and began to say an incantation when The Guide slapped his face and shoved him away.
"What happened?"
"I was tested. We were suspicious. I passed. Then he found me out here."
"Him." The Old Man followed the The Guide's gaze.
The Guide left the old man in his false anguish, under the care of four exotic women while he went to find his supplies. He'd squirrelled away some whiskey for just such an occasion. He was beginning to hate The Old Man. The Old Man was never particularly kind to him, clearly did not see The Guide as equals, and was fairly certain the Old Man did not know his name. He had been kind to his family, but it was at a terrible price. His daughter did not recognize his face when he was home last. She was young and would learn and the offense was forgivable, she was a child, and a woman. It would be a few years before she could be relied upon to pay him the proper respect. Until then, he would deny her his company anyway but he would like to be near his son who was growing up without him while he was out on these ridiculous journeys. He'd spent eighteen months of the last two years in various locales looking for some magic god-damned stone. The Guide was becoming more convinced that he was helping an agent of the devil. This would likely be his last journey. The family was healthy, but he was just waiting to die. He always led the way, the Old Man sent him into the more dangerous situations first. The Old Man actually believed that The Guide did not notice, or did not mind, or was just tremendously brave. He would find an excuse for each situation. "The man loves danger!" "Your people are immune to snake venom, I've read about it." Everything was just far too heavy, far too dangerous and the Old Man would get suddenly and conveniently older when something difficult would arise.
For example. As The Guide was thinking about his life, about his beautiful son, his disappointing daughter and how that bastard old man was being worshiped for poison while he walked barefoot on the hot ground back to his supplies to have a nip of bitter whiskey to salvage the day when he was approached by some of the elders. They wanted to speak to him. The language was difficult to decipher and The Guide, while versed in several dialects of the South American Jungles, was having a difficult time connecting. He was inefficiently tracing their genealogy through the bits of language that they assumed were given to them by Anaquat, the bird-flame of life that had breathed pit-flame into the clay and made them manifest. Anaquat gave them the words for water and ancient and one of their lesser gods who was a major god north of here, in a land where they had the same word for water and ancient was accented just a bit differently by the tribe even further north and so on. There were connections and he saw into their history the things they thought were given to them by a subterranean fire god. He decided to keep this information to himself as not to meet their god face to face.
He was prodded into a large hut deep beyond the camp, deep into the jungles, most importantly: far from the pit. They tied him to a table while he tried to communicate that the old man had been stung and they were just traveling to meet a ship, he was a common adventurer. They didn't understand much and he didn't understand much of their admonishments for bringing the cloud god so near to The Master. They'd gone through their belongings before feeding the donkey to the children. They'd found his crucifix. They were very unhappy. He said that he'd found it, in the river, that it was in the old river. He didn't understand the significance, he swore and spit on it. The eldest brought his cane down on his knee and ended the conversation with a scream. There was silence and the old man brought forth a burgundy satchel and rattled it above The Guide's head. It was filled with crucifixes and finger bones from missionaries who'd dared gesture towards the pit and bless it, up down left right with their right hand. They had their offending appendages and necklaces removed before the offering, as not to upset The Master. They were placed into this bag with a handful of ash.
The Elder shook the bag over The Guide while The Elder quietly chanted. The contents of the bag were quickly overturned onto The Guide's chest. They thudded on his chest and The Guide, for a moment, thought they were going to burn him. The contents scattered across his chest and the soot lept into the air, and the Elder quickly dropped down to The Guide's chest, his nose so close that The Guide could feel his breath. It was terrifying and The Guide's heart was thudding in his chest so violently that it was making the finger bones bounce on his belly. The Elder breathed deep the dust and studied the arrangements of the bones and the crosses to divine The Guide's secrets. It was careful work and it required his full concentration, The Elder dismissed the other men and set to work drawing lines in the soot, connecting the bones on his chest and watching the bounce of the bones in his heartbeat. It was all very confusing. Intermittently he would grab The Guide's head and pry open his eyeballs and gaze into them to see if he could see demons drowning there. The misisonaries all had deep and searching eyes, dangerous things - better to boil them. The Elder just saw himself there, reflected back, such was the angle of the torch lamps. When he was satisfied, he brushed the bones from The Guide, blew the soot from him and untied his hands. It had been decided that the man was true, his hands could stay, but the crucifix would be collected and added to the bag, he would not need to burn.
When they reached the edge of town The Guide could hear the water treatment carrying on and hurried for his whiskey.
The Guide and his Guards walked back to his home. There, he released them for the evening, confident in his appraisal and hurried to sleep. One of the Guards did the same. One, however, was one of the Elder's critics. He'd seen The Elder make too many mistakes and was too casual with The Master. He did not believe in The Master's faith in The Elder, and had been seeking a way to prove himself worthy of The Master's good graces. He would follow The Intruder and learn his true intentions, then, when he discovered what evil he had plotted, he would sacrifice this evil to the master and he would cast The Elder into Exile for allowing such evil to live among them. He would bring his machete. He would prove himself to the tribe. He would cast evil out. A guard into a protector. The women would come for him.
The Guard knew of the threat of The Ashmen, that they roamed the night and collected good men like him. But it was worth the risk, he did not wish to spend the rest of his life wandering the nights a ghost man, but he did not want to spend the rest of his life at the feet of The Elder, a man who did not truly love The Master the way that he did. It was dangerous, but The Master compelled him forward. The Guard waded into the jungle and followed it around to where the guests had left their belongings. The Guide was there drinking against a tree, occasionally shaking his head and muttering something to himself. It would be easy to kill him now. He was unarmed and unsuspecting. The Guard decided to wait. After a while, The Guide closed the bottle, and collected as many of his things as he could carry and walked towards the Guard, into the woods. The following occurred then:
The Guard allowed The Guide cross the precipice into the jungles and while he approached he hid himself behind a tree.
The Guide allowed The Guard to believe that this was an effective method of concealment.
The Guard allowed The Guide to walk about twenty feet ahead of him so that he would not be detected.
The Guide allowed the Guard to believe that this was an effective method of tracking and heard every snapped twig, every rustled leaf by his clumsy tramping through the underbrush.
The Guard calculated, incorrectly, that the Guide was making his way towards the center of camp, towards the stables. He hastily decided, without any evidence or provocation, that The Guide was going to steal livestock. Like an Ashman. Perhaps he was an Ashman. He would tell them It was an ashman, he will be the first to have killed an Ashman. The women would come for him. He began to close the gap between himself and The Guide.
The Guide allowed The Guard to believe that he was doing so in a stealthy and clever manner. He wasn't sure what would happen when the gap was successfully closed, however. He was unarmed and a loud bout of violence would raise the alarm. He took the risk and began going deeper into the jungles. He sped up and hid himself as much as possible from whoever was following him. It was imperative that he be significantly distanced from the camp. He made a hard right and walked in angles that would obscure the hunter's line of sight. He kept his eyes to the trees and listened to everything, the worst sorts of things hunted at night. God-damned Old Man.
The Guard lost sight of him.
The Guide felt comfortably far away. Even if The Hunter screamed or made him scream, they would not be heard. It would only raise the ire of the jungle, it would be best to avoid that also. He picked something from the ground, scaled a tree and waited.
The Guard found his footfalls, tramped down grass was an easy path to follow in the deep jungle. It went deeper. It was frightening. He kept an eye for Ashmen, reestablished his machete in his hand and proceeded forward.
The Guide leaped from the tree.
The Guard heard it and twisted.
The Guide brought a large white rock downward with both hands.
The Guard did not have time to scream and put his hands up defensively.
The Guide shattered the Guards skull with a red mist.
The Guard's machete was at an unfortunate angle and entered the Guide's shoulder.
The Guide stifled a scream and thought his teeth would shatter with the effort.
The Guard died on the ground.
The Guide realized he was close enough to the meeting point that he would bring The Guard with him, he didn't know what he should do.
"What the hell is that?"
"He was following me. The Elder's Guard. From the testing."
"They'll know we did it."
"We should hurry."
The Elders had their special alter above them in the mountain. The mountain, of course, a volcano. The Pit just a freak access vent to the belly of the volcano, a pocket that had not been smoothed over during the last eruption. The volcano smoldered but was dormant. The Altar above was a holy place for The Pit People. It was used for the highest and holiest of meetings, it was there they discussed broad matters of which children would be sacrificed to The Master, it was there, where they felt far enough away, and surrounded by enough protective measures that they could comfortably read the book of the missionaries and collect the crosses of the men that carried them. It was only accessed by the highest elders for the most serious occasions and therein they stored their most prized possessions. One of those being an ancient stone tablet, thought to be carved by The Master himself. It was unreadable, but shaped like the mountain and therefore beautiful. Our heroes had travelled to the other side of the world to see it so the Old Man could get a paper rub from it, collect the information and retreat back to the sea.
They found an outcropping in the side of the mountain and started a fire. The Guide maintained the fire while the old man collected the fuel. They were burning the branches of the Palanous tree. It's ashes were white.
When they had enough, they extinguished the fire bathed in the river while the ashes cooled. When the embers died they covered themselves, head to toe, in white ash. Ashmen. Any resistance would likely run in the other direction leaving them to steal unimpeded. The old man brought his pack, they left anything nonessential in the cave and figured they could forage along the way for anything they needed. It would make for a longer, more uncomfortable journey, but it was better than being thrown in the pit.
You could reach the path to the High Altar by following the face of the mountain away from the mouth of The Pit. It was imperative that The Master did not know about the path or the High Altar. The Master would destroy them or send the Ash Men after whatever treasure was there. He would demand to consume it. They had been very careful to conceal this from the citizenry. They had enough. They had the fight. The demand of their lives was enough of a focus, it was consuming. Hack the jungle. Feed the children. Live to survive. The trinkets, however beautiful, however ancient, were of no concern and it was decided it would be best for them to no know of the power contained in the caverns.

It should be explained that the Old Man was after the Tablet of Carum. It was the story of The Amulet. It was the legend. It was the guidebook. It would lead him to it.

It should also be explained that The Elders could not read it. It was found in the caverns and looked appropriately mystical for their purposes and so it was made into a table that would display The Bible. It was the first copy they'd taken from a wandering missionary. He read it to them until he made mention of his god's brother who lived below the earth in flames. His blood stained the book. It had been secretly pulled from his body before he was fed to The Master. The missionary was murdered by a commoner with the blade the commoner used to fight the jungle. It was whispered that there was a thunderclap at the very moment of his murder. It was a lie, but it was interesting and so it spread in whispered ripples through the camp and eventually it came to The Elders. The Elders, nothing if not opportunistic, felt that if his God could see him from the clouds, and The Master, they believed, could not see into the jungles which is why The Master hated it, why he burned it, why they fought it so he did not have to send the fire - then perhaps he was more powerful then their god. Perhaps he had something to offer.

This was why the route to the High Altar traced through the jungles. Why a particular part of the Jungle had been deemed Sacred by the Elders (**) Why it was Guarded. The Elders spent their days at the High Altar, attempting to unlock the secrets of the book.

Here's how The Old Man knows --

The Old Man, in a previous travel not far from The Pit, shook the callused, leather hand of an exiled member. He'd been removed, in secret, by The Elder Guard. After murdering The Missionary, The Exile gained a bit of celebrity status among the commoners. Where the Elders all agreed that the Thunder Clap was generated by an angry god. The commoners began to believe that The Exile created it, this, like the thunderclap itself, was a lie, but again, interesting. The Elders decided that it would be best if The Exile disappeared, and planned to feed him to The Master. In private, it was discussed frankly. "It will be decided that we should offer our bravest to him. That he demanded it." It was decided by the Elders and overheard by a guard, who warned The Exile. He removed himself from the situation, left his wife and children, took his machete and set out into the Jungle. He crossed through and settled in a small, more modern and frightening, town. He spent his days working on a farm for an evil couple who, years after the meeting with the Old Man, would kill them both with his machete and set fire to the house. He would decide to stay in the house. But, before all that, he would spend his afternoons drinking to forget the morning. He would spend it at a local saloon where people avoided speaking to him and where he was more expected than welcome. The owner knew his name and The Exile was fairly certain he was the only man in town who did.

The Exiles story was something of interest to the other patrons of the bar. Where did he come from, who was he, I heard he was a fugitive, I heard he's the president's cousin and almost cost him the election, what about his scars, did you see his hands, I heard he burned his hands in the fire that took his family, he scalded them trying to rescue his son. The one overarching assumption was that he was deaf. He'd been in town for a year now and nobody had heard him speak. His day at the farm was spent being pointed at and then ushered toward things, there wasn't much need to speak -- a carryover from his time in the jungles, there was not much use for speaking during the slash. It was this bit of his new-found life, the belief that he was deaf, that made him privy to such conversations. When he could stand it no more, he erupted from his seat in the corner and made it clear to them who he was. He explained his story to the drunks in a the most expedient way possible: "I am of The Pit." It came in bursts. I. Am Of. The Pit. The people of the pit were legendary, a direct correlation could be made in this way: The Pit People were to Regular Society as The Ash Men were to The Pit People. From that point forward he was left to his corner and he was deferred to with respect and fear. No one spoke to him, he was rarely charged for his drinks and he was only allowed to stay because of the fear that the people of the pit were magical and connected to great evil. Superstition was his only friend there, it kept him warm and he did not do anything to dissuade them of their notions.

The old man heard that the tablet had been left here. The tablet was originally dug up by Merton Earle of Scotland, the famed archaeologist. The Old Man, while something of a benefactor of their work, despised archaeologists. Pompous and useless. Archaeologists had degrees and were granted permission by governments to play in the dirt but do little more than that. They disturbed sacred earth and sullied brave men's graves to rob them of their spoils. Earle had been the man who discovered the famed Chilean Pyramid. A pyramid so exact in it's construction and so precise in it's making, that it was identical to the great pyramids of Egypt. This of course raised questions. How did the construction match so precisely? There would be no way for a man to travel that distance at that time. It was too great a coincidence, how could it be reasoned and rectified. In these cases people turn away from science, and if it had been discovered in modern time, it would have been used as proof of extra terrestrial life and their meddling in our affairs. As it was found a hundred years ago, it was used as justification for magic. Not among the scientific class of course, but, in this instance, of the ruling class. The Chilean ruler at the time cursed it for witchcraft and ordered it destroyed. It was detonated, in a fashion, and whatever magic had built it, if that magic still lived inside it, it was brought to the ground, burned and buried. Earle was detained and almost killed. He escaped and made his way north. The Old Man used this as justification for Earle's ineptitude and stupidity. "Going north to escape Chile is like going south to escape Chile. There's far too much north in Chile to escape. Moron."

Earle disrupted graves and shook sacred ground and was the closest to discovering The Amulet. He'd last been seen in The Exile's town and The Old Man had traced his steps here. He knew that Earle had found the Tablet, because of some communication he'd made with his wife, a professor at Langston University. A nice woman and The Old Man felt sorry for her loss, and tried not to be too disruptive to her day. She seemed as though she still believed that her husband was alive somewhere. That he'd just gotten lost in the jungle and that one day he'd appear, hardly the worse for wear, and they could get back to the business of making a family. She was delusional and ironically taught Psychology at the university. She was frayed at the ends and killed herself on the day she was fired. "She wasn't fired, she was excused to seek medical treatment. More of a sabbatical" says Lucien Amraron, President. In any event, she provided The Old Man with the information he needed. He'd told her that he was going to South America to find him. He did not make it clear that he was seeking him out to find his bones and hopefully steal his discoveries from his corpse. He felt this would be in bad taste.

He left the widow Earle in high spirits. He seemed to be a man of the world, he seemed to know what he was talking about, he walked with a very serious authority and she wasn't sure how he'd made it into the building. It was Saturday and the doors were locked. No matter. Her man would return to her soon.

Her man would not return to her soon. He was bitten by a snake in his sleep and died the following day. The venom of the Whisper Snake was survivable if bitten on an extremity, but the snake had made its way to camp enjoy the warmth of their fire, Earle's guide, also considered to be a moron by The Old Man, fell asleep on his watch and the fire slowly died. Earle's bed was warm, his breath was intoxicating. The aptly named whisper snake was known for this behavior, many people died from the Whisper Snake's love of being bathed in the warm, sleeping exhales of the not-very-dangerous man. When the snake brushed past Earle's sleeping face, he startled awake and the snake bit his neck. Earle grabbed the snake and whipped it into the ground repeatedly and cast into the fire- again, a foolish move, the old man knew - as did any adventurer worth his salt, that rubbing the heart of the Whisper Snake on the bite was the only thing that could counteract the toxins. Moron.

Earle died writhing in pain while his guide frantically did useless things. Boiled water, tried to suck the venom from his neck, bandaging the wound. The venom attacked his brain and he was gone. The Tablet, that they'd previously acquired from a dig in San something or other, was tied to a donkey that was left behind to wander the jungles alone when the Guide left the campsite and Earle's body to return to town, only to be devoured by a puma on his way there. Of course, Earle would be lost to the ages, his body would not be found. However, the fucking donkey would be.

The donkey - Jeff, if it matters, - carried right along. Jeff spent a few hours at the camp nuzzling through packs and eating left behind food. But eventually, Jeff acknowledge that Earle was dead, that the smell of death was in the air and other, unnamed animals would be along to eat him. And if Jeff lingered, he would be part of the feast. He mosied along with the tablet strapped to his back, and some water jugs strapped to his sides. He made his merry way and found his way to The People of The Pit. He was collected, the water and the tablet removed, he was given to the farmers and he was made to work. He would live out the rest of his days in the sunshine, plowing the fields and being doted on by a farmer's youngest daughter. He would eventually be slaughtered, as all farm animals are, and fed to the children. His life was enjoyable. He was missed.

The Tablet was confusing and strange and as such was brought to the elders, who examined it and told the people that it had been destroyed. This was a lie. It was of course carried up into the caverns of the mountain.

The Old Man found The Exile and was told this story at the tavern where The Exile spent all of his free time. The Exile had been around long enough to pick up enough Spanish to convey his story to The Old Man via The Guide. The Guard had told him everything. The Guards were privy to a lot of the inner workings of the Elder camp, and as such, were usually forbidden to interact with the commoners. It was a matter of duty and secrecy. However, as The Exile was thought by the commoners be in command of the lightning, and the elders thought that the sky god saw all, it created a special brew of belief in some of the Guards, that he was an agent of the sky god and that sky god was of course watching his every move and thus, this particular guard thought it best to be on his good side, to cover his bases and alert The Exile of his impending doom and shared his knowledge of the history of The High Altar to convey the seriousness of the situation. The Exile conveyed the story to The Old Man. The Old Man had spent a month in town slowly worming his way to The Exile's good graces to the point where he was able to shake the Exile's hand and marvel at the wounds a life of cutting brush makes.

One handshake with a drunk leather-man, and he was on his way to being covered in a layer of white ash and running through the jungles to the foot of the pathway that led to the High Altar. They each had a machete. They were breathing heavy and were on the way. The old man was dizzy with excitement. There would be guards, he expected this, he hoped the Ashmen garb would frighten them away.

They regrouped at the edge of the jungle just before the clearing that led to the path. There were, as expected, two guards at the foot of the path waiting to dissuade any intruders. They were, of course, not expecting Ash Men. The Guide and The Old Man exploded out of the Jungle and raced towards the Guards with machete's raised. The Guards correct reaction was to disarm themselves and run in another direction. Unfortunately this was not the actual reaction. The actual reaction was looking at each other confusedly and then stare at the approaching Ashmen and raise their machete's to an actionable position and advance towards the Ashmen.

The Old Man and the Guide looked at each other confusedly, then realized they were about to have a sword fight that they would likely lose. The correct reaction would be to turn and run in the other direction. Fortunately, that was not the actual reaction. The actual reaction was The Old Man reached behind him and pulled a revolver and shot the two men dead. Only two bullets were used. It generated a massive sound and The Guide nearly fell over from the shock of it. It would rouse the citizenry. The Guide shouted at The Old Man, about the noise about the gun, about the useless disguises. Quick, unattached exclamations. The Old Man silenced him by pressing the still hot barrel into The Guide's sternum. It silenced him. "There's no time. This" gesturing to the ash "didn't work. There's no time. Now or never." The Guide agreed, the Old Man wrote it off as a brief lapse of reason from the appearance of the gun. This was not the case.

The Guide hated guns and The Old Man had kept it from him. The Guide's father was shot dead in an alley. He reacted poorly when around them. It was unsettling. The Guide, however, was not a dumb person and realized that his best chance of getting out of this situation alive would be to go with the man and the gun. The other route was into the jungles alone which, even if he escaped whatever would be following them up the mountain, would be certain death. Being alone in the Jungle is unsurvivable, even for the heartiest of men. When told of Jeff the Donkey's journey, he'd scoffed and written it off for a fairy tale. Nothing that fat and stupid and delicious could possibly survive in this environment for more than a few hours. He assumed at the end of this path would be men with knives and old men with bibles, there would be no tablet. This was a fools journey and this, he assumed, was the end of his life. He would die on a mountain path, hacked to bits, his remains, covered in ash, would be cast into a smoking hole in the ground. His wife would figure it out in a few weeks when he did not return. He would miss his children.

They made their way up the pass and the noise had alerted the other guards but the People of The Pit were not technologically advanced and while they'd seen guns and known about their operation, had not really seen them in practice and it didn't make it seem any less magical. The gun felled two more guards and the third had run in the other direction, screaming. He alerted the other guards and they ran off in the other direction as they approached. "Should've just come here with guns and taken it in the first place." Guns were not the issue. The Gun was not what was generating the response. The sound was generating the response. The guard who'd escaped ran and told the remaining guards on duty that there was someone dressed like an Ashman with something that was generating thunderbolts. The Sky God had come for them. He'd found his book and was coming for it. If the Exile had been there, they would have murdered him.

While The Old Man and The Guide were advancing on towards the High Altar, the people below were exploding. The word was reaching them very quickly, it was interesting, and this time, not a lie at least insofar as there was a crazy ashman trying to kill everyone, the idea that The Exile created lighting was still - as far as quantifiable reality is concerned - a lie. No matter. Men were waking their wives and children and they collected themselves and scattered into the jungle. If this was from the Sky God, there would be no use hiding, but if it was from below, the jungle would protect them. Of course it did not protect all of them, as entering the jungle at night was dangerous and there would be repercussions for doing so. This was a calculated risk and there were those who did not return home. Above, The Old Man defended himself from a final Guard who died protecting his charge. The noise and the muzzle flash did little to calm the evacuating citizenry. The women screamed.

In the mountain, now, the men came to their destination. The cavern had less ornament than The Old Man expected. It was very simply a makeshift table, the bloody bible, and a few other items on the walls that he did not recognize. There was a pile of bones in one corner and he could hear, somewhere in the blackness, a small whimpering. "We should get them." "Do what you need to do, I just need a rub and we can go."

The Guide followed the sound into the unlit darkness and around the corner and called out "Who is there?" in English and then again in Spanish. He was answered in English "Who's there?" There was a muffled, unintelligible answer. It was too dark to proceed without the fear of becoming lost. He was losing sight of what little light was coming in from the entrance to the cavern. There was muffled, unintelligible urgency from somewhere in the blackness. "I cannot see you. Where are you?" Further urgency. The Old Man shouted from behind "It's done. Let's go" "There's someone here." "We have to go, they're regrouping" This was intended as a lie, as a spur to move The Guide forward, but it was accidentally true as some of the men were gearing up to make a charge despite all the evidence that they should do nothing of the sort. "There's someone here." "NOW!" There was shuffling, the rattling of chains and muffling. Briefly, the Old Man was concerned that it was a mummy or a monster of some kind. The reality was that it was one-handed missionary bound in chains. The Elders had, through a very simple ruse, concealed this man when they were supposed to be feeding him to The Master. He was instead carried away up to the caverns where he was made to read to them from the book, the book that was still caked in blood and now on the floor with everything else that had been staged on the altar that was, essentially, the Rosetta Stone of The Amulet.

He made about ten rubs in the time that 'the damned fool was playing in the dark'. It was time to go though, they would eventually be killed if they stayed any longer. He rushed into the blackness of the caverns and found The Guide with his hand pressed against the wall walking slowly forward, waving his machete in front of him like a blind mans cane. "We have to go." "There's someone here, we can't leave them behind." "We don't know why they're here, they probably deserve it. In a few minutes we'll be out of time and I've only got a few spare bullets. We need to go right now." The muffled and chained whoever squirmed some more and grunted his disapproval, a powerful retort in the situation. The Old Man responded "I'm sorry my friend, if we come for you we're all dead." to the Guide "He's chained, how are we going to solve that problem before they arrive and throw us off the side of the mountain". The Guide saw the situation and relented "I'm sorry my friend. I will pray for you." The missionary had been convinced during his stay in the cavern that praying for escape had reached it's ultimate and failed conclusion and now he listened as their footsteps got farther and farther away. He pulled against the chains in vain and shook with anger and wept.

The Old Man and The Guide exited the cave and took a moment to watch the people below swarming and filing into the jungles. It was an unexpected turn. The plan was to exit and enter as quietly as possible and hope the ash would do any fighting that would need to be done. The gun had changed things. It gave them access to the cave, but everyone fleeing the town and flooding into the jungles guaranteed that they would be stumbling across the townspeople as they went. They raced to the bottom of the path, through the clearing and ducked into the edge of the jungle and waited and regrouped. With the town nearly empty, and the ocean their destination, they decided they could quickly and easily find a spare canoe fill it with some rations and make their way down river and passed all the danger. The river was a separate danger, the Old Man didn't trust being in such a small boat for such a length of time but it seemed like the best option. There would be no telling who they could run into in the jungles now. It would be best to take to the river and try to reach someplace civilized, get some clothes and maybe a bigger boat. They could reach the ocean in a few days.

They ransacked a few empty homes and while a small band of stubbornly brave men had collected and regrouped at jungles-edge, they carried their spoils to a family sized canoe while the very same band of men moved forward lurching through homes and when they were not found, their bravery overflowed and angered each other and they fought among themselves while The Old Man and the Guide carried the canoe over their head and deposited into the river and placed their spoils inside of it while someone set fire to a house and suddenly no one was sure why but they were screaming and dancing and jumping up and down the rage had overturned and beat in on themselves and they lost themselves in the waving flames and you can't believe how silent a canoe slices through water, and how calm and beautiful the ripples push past and its' just a lazy sway of movement and just as quick as you know what else, the fire is all behind you and there's just peace and quiet and even the mosquitoes blend into beauty and it's calm and cool and enough to make a grown man cry quiet as he could and hold his satchel to his chest while the idea of shooting three men washed over him quiet as a river.

They reached a nearby town by morning, they actually slept in the canoe and drifted past a nearer town, the town where The Exile lived. This was good luck. The Exile had decided that his employers were demons in a drunken rage and murdered them. If they'd come to town asking for him, they would have been treated poorly, maybe jailed, maybe killed. The people he killed were good farmers, good people, church goers, they did not deserve such an end. The family was in good standing and had many friends in the government there. They would have been interested in The Old Man's satchel and the rubs he'd made, and the pendents he had, and the interest he had in a murderous satanist from The Pit. But, luckily, they slept right past this and found another town the following morning who believed The Old Man's story about being caught in some rapids and having the clothes damn near torn from his body and that's how come he was dressed so, madam. If we could just spend the night this evening, we'll be on our way at first light. And she was sweet and she thought the Old Man was charming, and the Guide handsome, and what harm could it be, really. And so they had a place to stay and she made them Jalapeno cheese bread and looked at The GUide's wound and asked how he got it and before she finished her sentence she said "oh yes, the rapids" and wondered what the true story was and figured it would be impolite to ask and fun to wonder about so she left her mysterious friends to their mysterious doings and looked forward to telling her friends about the two handsome men in her home and how one of them was a white man and they thought she was an excellent cook and the old man even helped with the cleaning to help pay for his way and isn't that something. And it was, and the women of the town were scandalized by The Widow being so brazen with her hospitality, someone could have gotten hurt after all, who were these men, they demanded to know but, true to his word The Old Man had gathered his things and left at first light and had replaced himself into the canoe with the Guide and spent the morning lazily floating towards the river and obsessing over the tablet and trying to crack it's code.

In the afternoon he thought of how trivial his hatred of The Archaeologist had been and how it was a foolish thing to waste his energy on. He'd tried his best, the old sot, but he just didn't measure up and, really he felt sorry for him. He was just trying to get someplace with his life and he'd just been outclassed by the jungles and killed by one of the monsters therein. It was easy to be killed in the jungles. The poor bastard just didn't know his limits, and he found them and it was a shame. When he found the amulet he would dedicate his work to the poor bastard, the man needent die in vain, not while the old man carried on for all the failures that he left dead and underfoot. Impossible prick.

He spent the rest of the day floating and nibbling on some of the bread that The Widow had given them for the journey, the guide was on the oar and kept them away from the banks. It was a calm river, flat as glass and quick as silver. They'd likely be at the coast before The Captain. They would have a few days to spend some money on celebrating and booze and women. It would be a good trip and he relished it while he thumbed through his findings and frequently turned the ear of the guide and spoke in very simple terms about how great this accomplishment was and how they'd both wind up in the history books, you just watch. You be sure to teach your children to read, my friend, they'll be proud of their father when they happen upon his name in the history books. I daresay they'll be happy to see me there as well, their benevolent benefactor. It would rain praise when he found that god damned amulet. Lost to time and only one man was able to find it. Worse than a needle in a haystack, a god-damned coin on the planet. A coin, can you imagine how small a thing could be in comparison? Just one coin in all the world and I am going to find it. I'm going to find it and I'll be a legend. We'll be legend. Just like I promised you. They'll put our bones in the god-damned museum of national history and our portraits in the palaces we leave behind. You just wait.

The guide silently nodded and wondered if it would be all bad to be eaten by a crocodile so close to escaping this horrible land. The Old Man talked for hours on end and The Guide watched in amazement as the old man became drunker and drunker on his own accomplishments. It was quite a thing. He was talking so much his brain was running out of air. The Guide had to remind him frequently to stay seated and to not gesture so forcefully or he would overturn the boat and they'd be lost out here in the fat part of the river with no one to save them and he wasn't sure, but wouldn't the river wash the rub right off that paper? It would settle him for just a few minutes and he would lie back down in the makeshift shade they'd made from the palm fronds and after a while he'd tired himself out to such an extreme that he fell asleep in mid sentence "--they'll all love us then, my friend." And then he drifted off to sleep and The Guide was finally able to enjoy the scenery and the fresh air and the safety of being such a small thing on such a big planet and how necessary it was at that moment to feel so small and why couldn't the old man feel small for just a minute, just small enough to escape all the danger they'd generated and how beautiful and refreshing it was to be nobody in the middle of nowhere.

The Old Man and The Guide would only bother to stop once more on their journey to the coastline. It was a brief stop so that they could fight off a bout of the old man's sudden sea sickness. He stood on Terra firma for just a moment, cleared his head and made guttural and altogether awful noises and proclaimed himself cured and rubbed a small metallic item from one of his pouches on his face and chest and said some things in another language as he stepped back into the boat. He wouldn't allow the guide back into the boat until he repeated the ritual. Then they set off and the old man was happy and healthy and they got to the coast just before a storm turned the placid, beautiful river into a frothy and furious nightmare. Lucky. The Guide had been to the small port town with his previous employers quite a few times, it was like many other port towns. It was small, there was a necessary and uneasy tolerance for many different types of people that only vanished after the doors had firmly closed and you were sure you were with people of like minded, and therefore correct, ideals. It was a quietly angry town, coastal towns, The Old Man had found, bred a very tough and stubborn sort of person, hard drinking and mean and salty. He generally fit right in. It was dark and he was glad for it, it made the saloon easier to spot.

They had a few days to kill before their ship arrived to take them away, back north, he supposed. He knew a few places he could stay in god awful Chicago. He knew a few places he could stay in Peru, he knew a few places he could stay in Ecuador, it it all depended on where the bananas were going.

The ship he was taking, chartered by his captain friend, would be filling up with bananas, the new delicacy that had been taking over America. Mushy nonsense. He hated the implications of the thing, it would ravage this country just as soon as they figured out how to get it north quickly enough. It was something he hated about people, he figured we were too much like ants. Industrious but dumb, it was mildly impressive how we went about things but he hated how determined we were to make money. He knew too many men like himself, those that pitched themselves in a certain direction and didn’t let anything stand in their way. People would figure out how to make a faster ship, a colder ship, a bigger ship – the mechanical sides of things. Where mother nature prevented them from growing bananas wherever they god-damned pleased, they would fight her with metal and brawn and engineering know how and they’d conquer her chosen lands, the beautiful and lush parts of this world and they would flood it with men and money and weapons and dig and claw at her until she had turned over her precious fruits and dumb, but determined men would carry them over oceans so little white children could have something sweet to eat at a ballgame. He hated people. He decided early on that you could either live with people or live with nature and those that lived with nature would never understand those that lived with people and those that lived with people would never understand those who lived with nature. Both sides would say the other was evil or crazy or some other damned dismissive thing and eventually those that lived with people would decide they’d had enough and they’d come and claw and dig at those people just like they did nature and kill them or lock them up so they couldn’t spread their craziness to the rest of the people who loved people. It was cyclical and awful, but no matter.

They should have quit after they perfected booze. It would have been a more interesting life. Just booze and enough clothing to keep us warm and that was just plenty, thank you very much.


The Guide and The Old man found a nice motel above the saloon and they spent their evenings going over the plan to get home, the old man obsessively went through his rubs and worked out the next few stages of the hunt while the Guide drank all day long and wrote long sweeping love letters to his wife and his children. He’d had enough danger for a while and was anxious to return home, to see his wife and sleep in his bed and get away from the blathering old man and his damned pride for all his cowardly accomplishments, he said as much in his letter -

(Translated from the Spanish, obviously)

“You should see him, my dear. He overflows with pridefulness after shooting these savages. As though he invented the gun and that using one was such a difficult task. He is overly contented by it now, he sleeps with it under his pillow - how perverse. I wonder how his dreams are built, if they are poisoned or lead coated or made of metal death. They must be. He is just a child with it now, a grand protector after years of standing behind me in every sitguation. I wonder how long he’s had it hidden from me, how many bruises and cuts I could have avoided if he’d just pulled it out and waved it around. Ah, what am I saying. The dumb bastard shouldn’t even have it, it shouldn’t even be loaded. I should steal it from him. Take it away and thorw it in a fire someplace. Bury the bullets first. I worry about someone finding it or trying to take it from him. A gun is a difficult thing to come across in these parts, you know? It’s not like the north where anyone with enough money has one slung on him someplace. Babboons.

I’m sorry to say so much, I hope this doesn’t worry you too terribly. I miss you very much, my dear. I hope that’s not upsetting news either. I trust you’ll keep this letter to yourself and leave such thoughts private between us. Do not tell Elana, that gossip. I know how you two get together and cackle. But I will be home soon. By my estimation, this will reach you three days before I am home if all goes according to plan. The Old Man is crazy, but he keeps a surprisingly accurate schedule. Except when I am altering it in such a weay to save his hide. You know he went on and on last night about the canoe trip, how it was his brilliant idea. What a bastard. He wanted to wave that magic gun of his around some more, he wanted to charge right into the jungles, so suddenly brave he was. I had to wrestle him into the canoe and he was so affriad of being so close to the surface, he likes his boats big and noisy and with steel hides. He is right to think that his precious pistol would do little to protect him from some of the finer monsters in the rivers of the south. You know this as well as I do, remember Pantero the swimming lion? Blackness itself. He was a brave thing that ate your uncle in his fishing boat. What if we came across old Pantero then we would see who was brave! Shooting those poor confused men dead just as – -

I’m sorry my love, I became detached once more. It is difficult to spend this time with him, there is no one here to talk to and even when we meet kind strangers, like the widow I wrote you about, there is no sense in trying to talk, he is so full of stories and wit and – he is charming, I grant him that, but he is overpowering and he suggests to them that I am his subordinate. It is trying, my dear. I’m sorry. I hope you and the children are well. I miss you terribly. I know this life of ours has become strange, but you and the children are safe and fat and happy. So much frustration is permitted. I will be home soon.

On the river, after the danger had past the Old Man seemed lost in the stars and all my thoughts were of you.

I will be home soon. “

The Guide wrote his letters when the Old Man was off trolling for whores or any drunk that would listen. The Guide was happy to buy a nice bottle of whiskey and sit at his desk by candle light and write letters home. There were several attempts to weed out his frustration and limit mentioning the old man as much as he was able but in every little thought, every little notion there was a germ of anger waiting to fester its way onto the paper. Even some of the more, shall we say, personal notes to his wife – which for the sake of the couple’s privacy will not be reproduced here – The Old Man’s grey and tired head would appear and the Guide errupted into a string of lines about the brownness of his teeth and how badly his breath smelled. He was unkempt and barely civilized. Sure, the Guide liked a drink as much as the next man but The Old Man was drunk at every opportunity, he was simply a lout. Why, if it hadn’t been for the guide The Old Mand would be dead ten times over, and why does he put himself through such frustration, he should be working on his farm sommeplace, oh, dear if we could just set ourselves aside some money and we could open a farm or a otel a big red hotel like we saw in the pictures. You could run the Kitchen and we’d be free of The Old Man and his horrible teeth forever. The look of satisfaction on his face when he shot those men, so proud, such a hero — I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve gotten away from you again.

The Old Man stumbled back into their room as the light was coming up over the mountains. This would be their last evening. He’d not heard from The Captain, there were no telegraphs for him at the mail station, he could only assume that the ship was on time. Or sunk. No telegraphs would come if they were sunk, but The Captain was a skilled man and he didn't think the ship would go down. If they did not hear from them in a week or so, he would stow away on something heading north and The Guide was resourseful enough to get home. He was not concerned, but he made plans anyway.

There was no need to worry, there was no need to make his plans, though he did. He figured out that there was a steamer heading for New York City the following evening, if The Captains ship was at the bottom of the sea, it would not create the smallest wrinkle in his plans, he smiled for this and set his mind to making as many copies of the tablet as he could. He made about thirty in the week he’d been here. He’d gone so far as to memorize the contents and if his 29 copies would be somehow tragically disturbed or ruined or stolen or in some way comprimised, he took one copy and found his way into a bit of land and burried it under an Urdu Tree. It would be safe there for a generation, it would be impossible to find and even if they did, he’d translated it into his secret code. He’d made a secret alphabet eyars ago for just such occasions. He planted it there and hoped he’d never see the goddamned thing again, for if he did, something had gone terribly wrong and somehow he’d survived it. He always assumed he’d survive. He was lucky and he knew it.

The Captain’s ship arrived as scheduled the next day. There was a warm embrace between the captain and the old man, they were old friends. The Old Man apologized for not having any treasure for him, there had been the incident where they had to flee for their lives and he’d come up with an escape plan at just the last moment, you should have been there, old boy, it was one for the ages. The Guide was carrying the bags and looked at distrustfully by The Captain. It was goinig to be, and very much was, a long, exhausting trip.

They Dropped the Guide in a quiet port in central America. He was close enough and he would make his way home. “We can get you closer” The Old Man had said, both The Captain and The Guide scoffed at the idea as each were anxious to be rid of the other. The Guide had contemplated swimming to shore as they got near enough, just to be off the damnable contraption and away from the suspicious eyes of the captain and the exhausting mouth of the old man. They were kind enough to row him to shore. He erruputed onto the beach and walked into town without looking behind him. He would find his own way home from here.

The old man reboarded the boat and this ended this leg of the advenure.

Mitch only spoke to one of his neighbors. A man named Bob. Not Robert. Bob. Bob was what was written on his birth certificate and please do not call me robert. Or rob. Or bobby. Or Robbie. Bob. “Like a man with no arms and no legs tossed in the ocean.” “Christ.” Bob used to work with Mitch. They worked side by side for a few years and then Bob couldn’t stand working in an office any longer and so he left.

By a matter of simple and no-so-wonderful chance, Bob had, after establishing himself in his new career of choice, had moved into Mitch’s building. It was blind coincidence and one that he would not have been happy about ordinarilly. He didn’t like Mitch and Mitch had not liked Bob. For example:

Mitch was generally in the office before everyone, Bob saw this as a sign of pretty simple ass kissery but it wasn't, it was a sign that Mitch was unhappy and lonely and did not have many outlets for his energyh. He spent his timme and his money on work related things. He always dressed very sharp, not a sign of ass kissery but a sign of being the job, Mitch was his job, it was all he had and so he took it too seriously and participated too blindly in every possible way, down to the socks he wore, expensive things from some place fancy – it was french and Mitch had trouble pronouncing the name so he didn’t, he just said “someplace french. I get my close from some french place.” He often said things twice because he didn't ever think anyone was paying attention to him. It was not a wholely unfounded concern. People often didn't pay attention to him because he spent an inordinante and uncomfortable ammount of time talking about his socks and expecting you, unblinkingly, to say something back about his socks or your socks or the virtues of shopping at someplacce french while at the same time not expecting you, and therefore perpetually being totally off guard, to ask him about the exact name of the store because “Somepleace french” could mean anyplace at all – all of france, for example. He wasn’t a very interesting person, least not in the way that people are enjoyably interessting. He was mostly interseting in the way that people spent a lot of time talking about him after he left. They would generally use phrasess like “Can you belive that guy?” Or mocking him in a frennch accent “‘ave you zeen my zocks?” “Oh wi! I ‘ave, wi” “Bon Bon!!” Etcetera.

Bob knew a lot of men like this in his previous life and so, he was a miserable person. He hated his job and he hated Mitch and he hated everyone that reminded him of Mitch, which was entirely too high a number. Bob thought the most interseting thing about Mitch was that he didn't have more friends. He knew so many people that were the exact flavor of person that Mitch was. Lonely and miserable without being outwardly either lonely or miserable. He couldn’t imagine the ammount of effort it must take to appear completely happy, competent and normal. Appearing normal, he figured would be the hardest for Mitch. What a weird person.

Mitch knew exactly how much effort it took, it took quite a bit. But if you asked him what part of his life required the most amount effort, he would undoubtedly say that appearing Happy was the hardest, but he did a good job of it. This was a lie, he did not do a good job of it. His eyes were flat and featureless and perpetually over-damp. It was a very fragile mask he’d constructed. He’d never tell anyone how many Sunday’s he spent being hungover and crying. He hated his life and he was just so certain if he could make everyone think that he was happy, truely happy that they’d warm to him. He knew this about people. People seemed to be drawn to the people that were the most happy. But nobody was happy, were they? He didn't think so, so, people were just drawn to the people that were most succesfully faking it. He was well practiced but it just needed a bit more work. Maybe an italian tie. Would that clash? How could a man so concerned with his appearance be concerned about anything else. He took so much pride in his appearance, how could he be so hollow inside? A man who took pride in himself in such an outward area must have as much pride in everything else. He was well composed. He’d read a book about body language and so was always presenting himself propperly, shoulders back chin up, wide smile, eye contact, three pumps of a firm handshake up down up down up down, a hand on the shoulder only when it was your third shake or onward. Familiarity breeds contempt, positively generaate warmth before touching a shoulder, winking or cracking wise. Jokes were a currency among the powerful, use them sparingly with those benheather you, they will be happy enough with a smile and a handshake, never touch the shoulder of anyone who works for you, it’s demeaning.

He’d studied it backwards and forwards, he’d collected a number of yellow failures in his breast pocket when he broke these rules.

Books like these were important to him, he read them voraciously and it quickly turned him into something of a rigid, social robot. He was never comfortable in conversation and was always thinking of the books, what did they say to do, all of this was counterbalanced by his thirty year old knowledge that everyone, my boy, everyone is an evil fool. All of his jangly rigid rules were in place to pull people towards him even though the backbone of all of this was that people were terrible. It created a noticible fight in him, and everyone noticed when he touched their arm, or gestured towards their arm before realizing their status and pulling back, he was a old timey coin operated tin robot, he radiated discomfort and anxiety. He did not like these people but he wanted so badly for them to like him. He was torn up the middle.

Bob prided himself on his accumen with people, with men, with women but the job was killing him. Every day he could feel the flourecent lights mutating or killing his vitamins, it was wearying. And every day he went in and he just couldnt believe how much he hated everyone. Here’s his walk into the building:

The lobby is decorated with whatever holiday is a month or so away. It’s gaudy and garish and too bright and irritating. Valentines, St. Patties Day, Halloween Thanksgiving Christmas. They even made a summer theme in late April/ early may. It was disgusting. Everything blinked and flashed and sometimes it talked and the poor security guards never lasted more than one season. Especially if someone was hired during halloween. Halloween decorations were the noisiest, and they were made to sound a little bit evil and a little bit fun and the clash of the two would kill a grown man over time. A witches cackle for nine hours a day if anyone made the slightest movement. He saw a security guard named Vinnie beg and plead with the building supervisor to juste please take them down. Please. Just turn off the goddamned cackling “The other night I turned a page in a magazine and the damn thing laughed for a half an hour, please there’s no children here, we’re all adults, please it’s driving me insane” Bob hadn’t stuck around for the response but that night when he was leaving, Bob was in the lobby swaying back and forth in front of the sensor with the supervisor “I think it’s charming,” and he shook his hand and put his other hand on the supervisor’s shoulder. The Next day bob cut up the wires powering the thing and Vinnie got blamed for it and fired. Bob admitted to it, but everyone thought he was just trying to cover for Vinnie, who left the building smiling ear to ear and would not accept an apology from Bob.

The elevator was slow, sluggish and did not feel safe. It was also in on the holiday fun and would play appropriate songs for the seasons. In an average October, you could hear Monster Mash forty to fifty times, not including Mitch’s humming of it.

I should explain something. Bob genuinely enjoys this sort of kitche, he thought it made the office more interesting and anything that made his beloved workplace more fun, even in it’s attempt, pleased him. And what pleased those in charge of making such decisions, pleased Mitch, and thus, Mitch would wear holiday appropriate ties and would love to tell you about it in the break room or the water cooler or the zerox machine or in the elevator. He would hold up his tie and say Boo or Feliz Navidad or Happy Turkey Day. Bob regarded him as an iritant engine, he just couldn’t be human. Bob thought that even Mitch’s walk seemed forced and thought out. Indeed it had been, chapter Eight of Power Presenting your Personality by Dr. Alvin Peters had this to say: “Make sure they see you coming from down the hall, up the stairs or down the street. A man’s walk is how he presents himself to those not lucky enough to be near him. Own your gait, make it work for you, not against you. Power stride. Walk like you mean it. See the following chart for appropriate styles of walks and see which one works best for you.” The chart then listed walking styles, The Hustle, The Go Getter, The Confident Lean, Johnny Walk Strongly, The Mish Mash and The Fandango.. Mitch had chosen The Confident lean, the others were either far too fast and would wind him or far too fancy and gay. The Confident Lean conveyed that a man had places to be, but they would wait for him to get there. Lean back about five degrees, hands in pockets, shuffle foward, sway the head side to side. The head sway was meant to act as a snake charmers flute, it was designed to draw the ey and mesmerize the opposite sex with your striking confidence.

For the first few weeks of it’s employ the walk drew concerned questions about Mitch’s legs and back, and had he hurt them or fallen down in the shower or somethiing? Even his beautiful secretary asked if he wanted an ice pack. He told her he slept on it weird and shut the door. He figured people would forget it and let him alone about it. He was right about the latter half of his assumption. People stopped asking him about it when they realized how little they liked to ask him about whatever weirdness he was currently affecting, it would be a long conversation in which they would have to hear about some brilliant idea he had while they nodded and thought about other things or slowly brim with regret over opening their mouth in the first place.

When Bob got through the slow nightmare of the elevator in which he would sometimes think “Let it go, old girl, just give up the goose and drop me. Just drop me right down the shaft, it’ll be better than whatever I’m going to do today.” He was only half serious, and his fears were unfounded; Otis makes a fine elevator.

He would exit the elevator and say good morning to Alice, the lady who made Mitch’s secretary even more enfuriating than she already was. Before Bob had began working there, Mitch had grandfathered himself into a secretary. He had no idea what she did for him, he wasn’t particularly sure what he did all day but he could tell they’d fucked at least once. Mitch was so smarmy and irritating around her. She was pretty stupid, a helium balloon faccimillie of a person and he figured she could be talked into most anything or even wooed by such cardboard charm as mitch posessed. He assumed, correctly, that alcohol was the key ingredient of the tryst.

Alice was nice though and Bob wished he didn't hate her so much. She made him cookies on his birthday. But then she made cookies on everyones birthday. Baking was alices distraction, she called it a hobby but sitting by an oven, bob thought, wasn’t a hobby, it was a place to be instead of talking to your family. Bob had met Alices husband at the christmas party, he was a vacant moron. This wasn’t a lie, necessarilly, but it wasn’t true at least. Alice and her husband were lovely people, Bob was viewing them, and everyone, through the murky lense of his disapointment.

Lets talk about Bob before we continue his tour of the office. Bob graduated the head of his class at Temple University. A very smart man. A very smart young man. A very smart child. A very precocious toddler. He’d leanred to read at an alarmingly early age. His teachers doted on him and his parents shopped him around at schools, they wanted the best for him and they were not going to settle for much less than a free education for the boy. How much potential could God pack in such a small boy!

His childhood was directly the opposite of Mitch. He had a stable home life, his parents loved each other almost as much as they loved him and his brothers. They’d all grown up well nourished and supported. His extended family was a tight community of well wishers and they all seemed to be equally dedicated to not becoming one of those families that see each other once a year. Even those that moved away from the greater chicago area had developed a sort of letter writing cooalition, they became an impromptu writing group with each other. Their grandmothers collected their letters in scrabbooks and kept them out on the table for when family came over. “Isnt that sweet” they’d all say and then click their tounges at the galling garish rudness of it all when the grandmother in question left the room and secretly hid just behind the doorway to hear them mocking her and she’d smile in her smugness.

Bob would dash hapilly through school with the best grades of his class, a few school records in long distance running and a few Mathlete badges for Mathletics. High school and colege were spent imagining how he’d run for office, become a dignitary and change the world for the better. He was that kind of person and every knew it. But when he graduated he ran into certain hurdles that he was not expecting, for example, where to put the hurdles, how many hurdles to place and how to jump over them. He’d spent his life having very defininte, outsider appointed hurdles placed in his wake. Other people were in charge of createing the problems that he would solve by reading books and writing papers and circling answers. It was the way of the world and it was shocking to him when he was left out in the cold left to make his own problems to solve. He wasn't sure what to do with himself and eventually he found himself at an advertising agency where Mitch was an accountant and he was in charge of a few small accounts and unsure of how to move up. It was an area where Mitch and Bob crossed paths, they didn't really know how to conquer the ladder that they were expected to climb in a buisness atmosphere. The ladder was oddly shaped and largely undefined. How does one get on the good side of the boss, how are you supposed to treat your subbordinates, how does one even get subbordinates. Advancing was a trickier position. He’d seen men fired for not wanting to attend the company christmas party, well,not fired directly of course, but it life for that gentleman was made uncomfortable, he was a paraiah where he’d just been welcome and enjoyed. It was viewed as a snub and so they spent their days snubbing him right back until he felt that it would be best to start over someplace else. Why not, it would be different at the next place. This was incorrect, it would be exactly the same. It’s all exactly the same.

Bob found himself in a cubicle outside the door of Mitch, it had been vacated at the earliest opportunity by it’s prior occupent, Kevin, who appologized profusely to Bob when he arrived. Bob didn’t know why he was appologizing for at least four hours into his first day when the cloud of calogne that served as the Aura of the Mitch - Man as he so often called himself. He hated mitch so immediately and so passionately that it frightened him. “Was this what he had to become now? Was this the hurdle? Figuring out how to dress like a used car salesman, how to pretend you weren’t going bald and how to pretend to love Halloween more than life itself? Was this the goal? He didn't know if he could jump that high.

Mitch and Bob had a slowly deteriorating relationship from the very start. Mitch of course hated Bob because he was another person, worse yet, a younger person and a younger person that happened to be a handsome man who seemed capable and intelligent from the get go. He was a threat, as many others were, to his overall plan for remaining quietly ensconced in the company until such a time when he would be blessed enough to die. He hoped retirement would come first, but he wasn't sure wether or not he would accept it. It was a difficult balance, death and retirement. Work was his life and death was death, retirement was work-death and therefore death - death. When this occurred to him he wrote it down on a yellow peice of paper and put it in his breast pocket and took it home and added it to the shoe box, but only to take it out again later and stare at it like it was a peice of himself that needed to be reattached. Life was just so awful he couldnt believe it sometimes. His back hurt from The Confident Lean. And if there was anyone else in his apartment, he would tell them that The Confident Lean was what was making him cry. Which it was, in a sense.

Eventually, Bob figured out the ladder, and deftly began to climb it. The Inverse Property of Bob: The higher he climbed, the more miserable he becacme. There is nothing more depressing than working towards something you don’t wish to acchieve. He spent his days in a overly bright plastic office building full of empty eyed smiles, good intentions and people aggressively and actively convincing themselves that what they were doing was important. He’d heard Mitch suggest on more than one occasion “Advertising powers this country. Without advertising, you don’t have television, magazines, the internet, none of it. And what happens if that goes away? Huh? Chaos. That’s what.” Bob just thought people would read more.

It was during Alice’s birthday. He’d always felt bad about that, and vowed to send her flowers on her birthday for the rest of her life as a result. Alice’s Birthday is in December, which is after Thanksgiving which is after Halloween. Bob had been there for a little over two years. It was all piling on him and he couldn’t sleep, his skin was grey and the bags under his eyes were deep and dark and depressing. He was sprouting grey hairs, he was always stressed out and that morning another client decided to go to another firm. It was terrible, this lfie that he’d figured out for himself was just the complete opposite of anything he ever wanted. He hated everyone here, he would kill someone if they asked him what he was doing that weekend or what he did the previous weekend or stumbling for something to say on Wednesday when it was too far from either end. He hated everyone and he might hate Alice most of all because of her smiling cheerfulness doesn’t make any fucking sense how could you be so happy in this fucking nightmare of banality it’s all bleeding together day after day after day and we’re all supposed to be happy because the lobby talks to us so loudly we can hardly think and I don’t care if it’s christmas and I sure as shit don’t care that it’s your birthday, this place is a fucking nightmare and you’re all blindly walking through your lives and none of this means anything not a fucking thing you smiling, pandering cunt and shut up mitch you fucking waste, I’ll say what ever I want you absolute waste of a person - you’re all just here dying in the florescents, don’t you see that? Don you see what this is? It’s nothing, it’s the emporers clothes none of this means anything.

He was escorted out of the building by security.

Mitch spent the rest of the day wandering from cube to cube, office to office trying to cheer everyone up but they’d already decided that Bob was crazy, and hadn’t he always been crazy, of course he had, remember the time he got drunk at the Christmas Party? Of course he was crazy, poor thing, and so young! Mitch wasn’t helping things, they all silently rolled their eyes when he left the room. Bob was crazy, but he was right about one thing: Mitch was pretty bad and that cologne was just too much, but we shouldnt tease I heard he got into a car accident and that’s why he limps like that. Oh. Oh my. Poor thing. I hear they let him stay on so he can pay his medical bills. What does he do anyway? Why does he need that secretary. I hear she’s the owners niece. You don’t think her and – Mitch? No. No way.

The Secretary needed consoling. She’d liked Bob, he was such a nice man. Mitch was able to talk her down, calm her nerves. She came in and sat on the couch and he rubbed her hands in his and he thought about christmas while she pouted. Christ how he thought about christmas. Even her hands were beautiful. She was just so beautiful. Why didn't she love him too?

Bob was escorted out and he went home and he called his girlfriend and told her that he’d been let go. Cut backs. They’re going to call me if things change, but the company isn’t doing too well and they needed to trim some fat, and of course the new guy gets let go first. It was all politics. He wasn’t willing to play the game, you see, so they let him go first. It was all politics. He of course, left the profanity laden erruption left well outside of the conversation and decided that he would never work in an office again. He hadn’t felt this good in months. He took his girlfriend to a fine dinner that they could not afford and he talked about what he wanted to do next. “I think I want to work with kids.” There is hardly a more conflicting phrase to the american woman in this particular situation. On the pro side of the fence, a man who loved kids could hardly be a bad man and it meant, more than likely, that he would want kids of his own one day and so did she, she wanted to have lots of kids and had already decided in private that she would be having his kids, and just couldn’t wait until such a time when they would be married and be working on that exact process. On the other hand – working with kids was not exactly going to put money in the bank, it would be, in any area of kid related work, a low paying, high stress job that would be fulfilling to him, but difficult for them. She would like her future kids to have a yard to play in, maybe a pool and some help around the house. Life was simpler for rich people, advertising was a good way to make money if one was good at it, and he was, he was smart and creative and handsome and she began to worry about this particular exclimation over their fine french quisine.

“What do you mean you want to work with kids?”
“I think it would be fun, I think it would be honest and I think it would be good.”
“Ok. That’s great. That’s great, I mean it. I do. I think that’s great honey, but how?”
“How what?”
“How are you going to work with kids?”

It wasn’t a question he’d asked himself. He didn't really think it was important and frankly, he didn't like the line of questioning. What did she mean how was he going to work with kids, people worked with kids is was something they did.

“I don’t know, I think that working with kids is a positive thing, I’d be contributing to the world”

She didn’t like how he looked, he seemed manic and he was developing a sheen. No sheen is a good sheen. Any sort of shinyness on the human face should be immediately interpreted as problematic at best, frightening at worst. She picked up on this immediately, he was normally without sheen, and lately, kind of grey. She’d noticed this too, that he was unhappy, so his frantic movements and panicky high toned voice was carying over their fine dinner and catching off the deep green of the wine bottle and making what should be a lovely experience seem excessively strange and moderately scary. It made her shift in her seat and pull her feet back under the chair and cross them quick as can be, her hands began to touch each other and in doing so, became fascinating and they drew her eye and her blonde bangs came to face him. “Yes, hon, but are you going to teach or work at a camp or what? I don’t understand. I think it’s great what you’re doing, but I just don’t understand, ok” and with that she unhinged her hands and put one on his and looked at him in the eye with her deeep dewey blues and became serious and beautifully concerned in the way that a woman does.

What the hell is she concerned about. “I don’t know, all of that sounds good.” He replayed what she said and didn’t squeeze her hand back until he’d spent enough time looking over the top of her head into the open kitchen that was so daring in those days and watched a man working over a peice of bread and toss it into the air as though he worked in a shitty italian restaurant instead of a fine french restaurant and he marveled at the dexterity of it, surely that must be so thin, just so paper thin an oh so delicate to be so hypnotic and powerful and there he was without a care in the world just playfully petting gravity with his daring-do. “I think I’ll juggle.”

“I said I think I’ll juggle. I think I’m going to be a juggler. For kids. Kids like that, right? Juggling?”
“Yeah, throwing stuff up and catching it again.”
“I know what juggling is – “
“Yeah, that’s what it is. That’s what I’m doing."

And so Bob became Amazing Bob, the Juggler of Dangerous Items.

Mitch, meanwhile, remained in the office and Bob was forgotten shortly thereafter. Mitch felt all the things that Bob had said though. He knew all those things before Bob said them, that this didn't mean anything, that it was much like the Emporers New Clothes – Mitch hadn’t thought of that direct analogy, but he knew it was all posturing because that’s all he did, he was all posture. For a few days after Bob’s outburst, Mitch called in sick. He kept himself at home and he drank and he watched television in his underpants and was thruroughly despondent over the events that Bob had created and it took Mitch about a week before he became as convinced as everyone else that Bob was, in fact, a crazy person and how could he have hurt Alice like that? On her special day. They had a cake from Ouzo’s and everything. Everyone was singing and Mitch had a paper hats even. Not everybody got paper hats, but Alice deserved them, she was just so nice, wasn’t she. Yes. Bob was crazy. Of course this meant something, advertising made the goddamned world go round. You think there’d be TV without advertising? Think again. He made sure the numbers lined up in the right places and added up to the correct sums so that they could make the advertising for mattress companies and sodapop and feature films so that the rest of America could come home and put their tired feet up and pet their dog and watch their tv and forget their troubles. What he did mattered. He was the spine of the american economy goddamn it.

The rudder had been righted. He wasn’t crazy, work was work and it was important and if it wasn't then what the hell was. He thought about taking one more day off so he could get himself in order, but then he remembered it was Jan’s birthday and damnit they were going to have a do - over, they were going to wipe Bob’s crazyness out of the building once and for all and he would get a cake so big and he would sing so loud and everyone would just love him for it. He’d get alice a special treat too, so she could have a proper birthday celebration by the water cooler in an office a twelve story building on a grey and vacant looking block that only moved at 8 and 4 and the busses went by with nobody in them all day and he would maybe bring a flask to work tomorrow. He’d been meaning to do that.

The Secretary was glad to see him back, she made an ice pack for him. He didn't know why but he applauded the effort. She made it a point to compliment his every move. He was a sweet man, a little confused maybe, and maybe he didn't know this, but they were in this together, whatever this was. She knew how everyone saw him, how everyone talked about him. She knew that they thought he was strange, that his walk was affected that his cologne was too heavy and his ties too annoying. She figured he knew it too, but never brought it up just in case she was wrong. It was very possible that she was wrong. He was the only intereswting person in the office now that Bob was gone. The only person she could dote on and feel important to. She, like Mitch, lived for her work. It kept her happy. It made her feel purposed and right and even. Even was the big thing. Home could be distressing. She wanted her husband to care about things more, but he never did. The flame had gone out, theyd been together for a lot of years and it was understandable, some of the other wives she knew were experiencing the same thing. They traded secrets about things to do, ways to spice it up. But her husband seemed impervious to all this, Mitch didn't though. He always noticed her haircuts her new dresses, the things she did to draw the eye. She'd done it for her husband, but he was busy. He had fantasy football and his friends and maybe the girl that answered the phones at his shop. It was almost over, she figured. Things were getting too stale even for him. She would redouble her focus on Mitch now that he'd come back from whatever was keeping him at home. She thought she knew so her opening salvo was:

"You'd think after a few days the Bob smell would be gone" Of course there was no bob smell, most of the smell in the office was provided by Mitch and a secret mixture of colognes that only he knew. Actually, that's not true. He'd read a book about pheremones and it said that the most important thing was to establish your own scent. Enhance it with colones, don't mask it. That was an ametur, mistake. Create your own mixtures, inctures. tonics, potions. Humans were the only animal that thought they were above smell, that they could do without, it was a foolish mistake, the book had said, and it was time, his time, our time, your time to turn things around. So he bought three different colognes from a fancy store, Macy's, and had spent a Sunday working threm through various concoctions and in the middle of it, dizzy from the fumes he didn't know what he was doing. "What the hell am I doing, he thought, what the hell is this for.

He didn't know, but he knew he smelled good. Damn good. About as good as a man could. Brute. Old Spice and some lady thing that he'd forgotten the name of. An Eau De Toilette. He mixed it up in a metal bowl that would never recover and he had to throw away, but only after he'd mixed some ground meet in there and had to go to the hospital. But. The mix was made and he even put it into a crystal glass with one of those pump bulbs. He was what it was to be man. He was sure The Secretary liked it, he was positive, how could she not. Page five of the Nose we Know said "Women, especially strong, beautiful, confident women, think they know what they want, they think they can avoid common and scientific realities such as pheremones -- pheremones are the key to the heart, no matter what.

This is absurd. What on gods earth am I reading this for. I wonder what Bob's doing. I don't know why they had to drag him out so fast, it was like he'd cracked their code, and they had to tear him out before he infected the rest of us. Christ it was like they came in from noplace. They were just there and then they were dragging him out. He wasn't right about all of it, but he was right about some of it. He should get out of this place. It would be good to get out and get some air afterall.

He was in an argument with one of the big bosses when he was so agitated he forgot himself and in just that minute "The numbers are right, the numbers are always right because the numbers have to be right. All the rest of this is pure guesswork, this is the only thing we actually know, the Bear Account isn't working because their sales are way down, that's how we know what's real and what's not real and why any of this is worth anything, this line of numbers. That's what all this boils down to. This. THis line is The Bottom Line. That's why we're here, right? Isn's that why we're here." He kept a straight face, he kept moving forward but suddenly and horribly, he smelled himself. And it was making his eyes water. It is importnat to know that there are bricks in Mitch that don't make any sense. There aree things about himself that he'd walled away a long time ago, he'd written them down on little yellow squares, tucked them in his shirt pocket and went home after work, or here at work in the office and would thinka bout them and just hate himself as much as anyone could. He hated himself, that's what he was good at. And he didn't realize till just then, that he wasn't good at accounting, he wasn't good at his job, or dressing pu, or pretending to be acceptable, he stunk. He smelled bad and it everything was falling apart because he was the only person on this earth that knew anything about him and for the last two years, he was probably the only person in the office who had been fooled. He just smelled terrible. He smelled like poison. He had to go. "I have to go."

He said goodbye to the Secretary and thought about going home and what that meant and taking a shower and what that meant and then he thought about jumping out the window and how nice the breeze would be and he was so very high up in the air he'd probably not feel a thing. Christ almighty. And then, on the way home thinking about his sudden realization in one of the bosses office, and thinking about Bob and how Bob was probably right, nothing really meant anything, the Secretary probably didn't even like him. hell, he didn't like him, he was probably the worst person he'd ever met, in fact. This life that he had built from nothing was nothing. His real life had been confined to his Sundays. The sundays where it was all he could do to get out of the bathtub and go to sleep and christ how he couldn't wait to get up in the morning so he could go to work for eleven hours or so and think of other things. Patch himself into the gridwork of spreadsheets and ditchi all the parts of him, paste all those yellow papers into the squares and fixate, start pulling them out of the screen and stacking them up around him like building blocks and tracing the lines until he didn't matter anymore. The worst of it was over, and he would be cacooned within the work, within the yellow bricks and mortar away with outhimself or thinking for hours just as many hours as he could possibly stand and before he knew it The Secretary had something to say and she came in and said something about her husband and how she was thinking of leaving and how his bricks started melting yellow paste down and into the carpet and his flask was suddenly gone away emptey and wouldnt it be nice to go someplace with the secretary and talk about it, but christ just then he smelled he just realized how bad he stunk and how did she expect me to talk to my boss after telling me that she was leaving her husband and could we go talk about it after work? Of course not, there are bricks to make, there are lines to be filled in with numberse and there are rear view mirrors to stack in the back seat of my family sedan while my folks bark at each other and you can't imagine how light the world gets when you're so far away that the words stop meaning just anything at all and the boss wants to see me and we can't talk about this right now, maybe some other time and then all of a sudden you're someplace and you're open and wounded and all the bricks arent there and how could the still not understand that he was the only reason that any of this made sense, any of it was worth while and just before he smelled himself he heard The Secretary brush by in her dress and she sounded like she was crying and how did I do that, I didn't mean to do that and "I have to go".

And on the way home he was miserable because what on earth did any of it mean anymore. Left her husband? And then, something happened and he fell and there was a gold coin of opportunity just below the sewergrate and maybe the old man wasn't so crazy afterall. How on earth could he worry about The Secretary or how meaningless his job was or how falling was so beautiful and painless when just below, just out of his reach was The Amulet. Surely she'd understand if he put that conversation on hold. He had found something that fit into his previous life, it was out of order, but not by much, less out of order than The Secretary, he could hold onto this and it would work. He could make this work. This made sense. There would have to be a series of struggles to get to it, but he could get to it even if it meant never speaking to anyone ever again about anything else. Couldn't that be it? And suddenly he was falling and it was beautiful and it was painless and it didn't stop until he found it, just there in the sewer, just where he figured it would have to be. He found it because it needed to be there and he could probably get it out of there, and if it wasn't it, he was sure he could find it someplace else. He'd just have to go look. He would have to go away. He was sure everyone would understand.


Green pastures two.

He could hardly sit up. They'd probably broken his poor old ribs when they threw him in here, his mouth was a mess, bleeding on the floor. He wondered if it was The Captain who'd done this, or that Luther character he'd figured out all those years ago. He figured they'd probably be working together. It sounds like them. In cahoots, bullying him into submission. He'd show them. He figured he could probably escape. It didn't work yet, but it would. There was still work to be done. He forgot for a little while, all that business with the boy and his cunt daughter. Dumb broad probably thought she'd won. Her and that asshole husband. She probably doesn't know he's banging that next door neighbor lady. It's impossible how dumb everyone is. It's all right there in front of their noses and they decide what they want to see and what they don't want to see. Unless she knew, but he doubted it. There was know what she knew, she was too stubborn, just like her old man. That boy of hers would grow up stubbor too, and useless. What a shitty brood he'd produced. The boy shows some promise, sneaking out of school like that. But, he'll lose in the longrun. Shell grind it out of him. The husband will probably run away with that other lady. So obvious it's boring.

But he still had to talk to her, he needed to get to his wife's things. It was his last chance. He'd found Fitz after the third hunt.

Fitz was an incompetent, but he was loyal and even though the Old Man had promised to kill him at his next earliest opportunity, he didn't. He let him live. He didn't like killing people and regretted, to his last days, shooting those men who were guarding the tablet. It wasn't his style, better to talk someone out of something or bribe them. Everyone had a price and it didn't need to be a bullet. It was rude and style-less. It would difficult to get out, it would take time to get home and he was old and breaking into her home would not be difficult, even at his age. And he did not think that her husband was brave enough to shoot anyone, if in fact he had a gun, which he felt certain he did not.

He'd given his wife a gift, a small jewelry box, before he left her, and before shed telegramed to let him know she was pregnant with that idiot. He was sure that she would never figure out the secret, the bottom of the box that had a lockable compartment. He'd lost the key ages ago, but he could just smash it open, run it over with the car or hack it up.

He'd found Fitz at a lower chicago bar. They'd eventually caught up to him and realized that some of his dealings were not of the law abiding sort. He'd had hsi badge removed and melted down or whatever they do with disgraced badges. It wasn't important. From what The Old Man could gather, he was a low level information man for a low level series of goons. Fitz was smart enough to be making more than they were paying, so The Old Man assumed Fitz had some other irons in the fire. Probably designs on the head of the family. He did actually, and he would get there with little trouble, he was in the process of framing the second in command, whos position he would usurp once he was eliminated, and then it was just a matter of poisoning the old man and taking over completely. And then he could set about taking revenge on the Chicago Police Department. He would sculpt the interiror of the PD as it was meant to be, it would again be filled with people working for him, but this time, hopefully more carefully orchestrated so that they were less aware of it than they had been in the past. And, of course, he would personally murder the chief of police. The Old Man figured he was getting a little too big for his position and it would be best if he could get this done before Fitz got too big to be affraid of him. The Old Man was lucky. He came at exactly the right moment. Fitz was not big enough to kiill anyone. It was too big of a mess for to low a man, he did not have the right to kill unless he was instructed. The Old Man had no such ties and was not concerned with the workings of the mafia.

Fitz looked different, older, more stressed. He'd gone grey in spots and developed some wrinkles around his eyes. Life had been stressful while they were apart. The Old Man commented on this and Fitz told him to go fuck himself. They sat for a while without talking, Fitz was kind enough to buy the drinks. He figured, correctly, that the old man didn't have any money.

The Old Man, had a draw out of courtesy before getting to business.

"Thanks for the drink"
"I should apologize for the telegram."
"I was angry."
"Yeah. So was I."
"Yes. Well. I still need the item. I don't need any help. I'll find my own. I just need to know where it is. You should tell me."
"I don't owe you that."
"On the contrary. You're a fucking idiod." He brought the gun. It was still unartful and brutish and all the rest of that, but who cares.
Fitz chuckled. "You're not shooting anyone."
"On the contrary" The Old Man pulled the hammer back. "You're not worth it one way or the other. Nobody cares if you get shot in the belly. Nobody will come looking. You know that."
"Tell me where it is, Fitz. I don't have a lot of time and I don't like talking to you."
"The radio man got it. A prize. Might be at his house, but I hear he's a drunk and might have sold it or gave it to some broad."
"That's all you know?"
Taking a drink "That's all I know."
The Old man put the gun back in his jacket and stood up.
"Old man."
"This is the end of this, then?"
"I'd advise you to stay out of Chicago."
"My pleasure, Fitz. Good luck to you."

And so ended the long and storied friendship of an Old Man and Timothy Fitzpatrick, the eventual scourge of the Chicago Police Department and the grand master of modern organized crime.

The Old Man caught the F Bus downtown. He knew a place that rented tuxedos. In the meantime, in his current appearance, he could easilly pass as a homeless man. It was a usefull contrast on this particular day. He went downtown, rented the tuxedo and put it into his room at the Escariot. He did not clean himself up, and went downstairs, out the door and around the corner to The Radio Building. He lingered around here for a few hours until he saw the man he was looking for. The Radio man. Mr. Meredth can you spare some change and all that. No, too obvious. He couldn't. He lingered behind him for a few blocks and eavesdropped on his conversation with his oafy companion. A fat man, who looked ostentatious and annoying. THey talked about their weekend and what time should he and his wife arrive at the party on friday.

Party on friday. Tuxedo rented, well, effectively stolen. He had no money and he needed a tuxedo so it was the only way to get things done. He wondered about how long it would take before the manager of the hotel called the police aabout the vagrant who had not paid his bill because this check had bounced. He maybe had five days at maxximum.The bank would be a week processing it and he might be able to deflect and apologize and pay with another check and have another few days but he doubted it, thye were not in nebraska, they were in Chicago and Chicago was full of outlaws these days, paper hangars and drug runners. People were smarter here than they were in most cities, NY being the glaring omission.

Mr Meredeth was fat and stupid and obvious and The Old Man hated every moment of him. He was a rotund waste of a person, a vile and contemptouds opportuist who didn't realize what he had in his possession. It was not a coin, it was the compas, it was the key to the tablet. It was everything. He thought it was a peice of ephemera, a peice of the puzzle, certainly, but he didn't realize how important it actually was. It was the key. It would open the lock and it would drive him home. It would take him to the promised land and it would all grant him eternal life. Everyone, everyone would finally understand his journey, it had been long and it had been difficult and all that stood in the way was this fat radio babboon and god almighty he jutst might shoot him.

But he let Meredeth and his fat friend walk away unhindered and he lefft things to take the preperscribed course and had a cabbie follow his car home one evening after work and found out that Mr. Meredith lived in the biggest goddamned house he'd ever seen on american soil. Of course there had been temples and such in the jungles, but those did not count. Those were special. This was garrish and bigger than it needed to be and he wondered what that fat man did in there all by himself. Was it all just about surrounding yourself with your riches? Why did noojne see the charm of being out of the way and quiet. Spend your money on international sailing and brinbing your way into important places. Life was meant to be fun, money wasd meant to be spent. He could not wait to steal from this fat moron.

He planned. Perhaps he could enter on the window. He would need to get a bow and an arrow and some cable, then shimmy up the cable and kick the door down. He hadn't climbed a rope in a number of years, he wasn't sure if he still could but it was worth a try. Or he could just walk into the party with the bow and arrow, nobody there would know what to do. It would be, lfrom what he could gatehr, old rich people and artists and other types. Homosexuals probably. Communists definitely. They were all expendable. More expendable than the men he'd killed, he rationalized. He could set fire to the whole place, wait for everyone to run out screaming and then enter through the front door, grab the peice and walk out unimpeded. It seemed like something he ould do. The house wasd a blight on it's hilltop. Maybe the ash would spawn trees and the tress would swapn life and maybe better people.

If he could find it, it would be the end. It would be the end of all things. He could live forever and he could go home. and maybe enjor his life for the rest of whtatever it had left for him. Maybe meet a nice old lady and then that could be the end. He could drive himself crazy with some woman and then, maybe they'd be kind enough to feed him bacck to the jungle, just fly over and drop his body right out of the plane and let his body return to the true earth. Let something eat him. Maybe that panther that took His Guide. Life would be ever continuing. He would be part of the panther until such time when something ate the panther and then so on. He would not put himself in some metal shell and be lowered into the ground. Even in death these people were trying to protect themselves from death. What a wasteful, stupid people they all turned out to be. This society was so close to goodness.

Someday it would come to this, but not today. Today he would steal from the Fat Radio Man and he would return to his room and figure exctly which way he should point himself and he would take his prize from this world. It would be his at last. He could feel it.


Green Pastures

Calling that woman was the worst thing I've ever done, he thought. Locked me down and hypnotized me, not sure who put her up to it. Too late to tell now, they've won. He was too old. He was restrained on most days, locked in a room all alone. On the days he was unrestrained he was heavily medicated. On the days when he wasn't restrained or heavily medicated, he would try to escape. Break someone's nose with a lunch tray, hold a broken glass to a nurse's neck and back out of the room, only to be maced or hit in the back of the head by one of the orderlies. Since he'd been here, the lunch trays had gone from metal to plastic, the cups from glass to plastic, the restraints from passive to active. He'd been fed for the last two weeks through a slat in the door, a plastic tray would slide under the door with food on it, the tray and each of the plates and the glass was counted before it went through the door and again after. He was an 85 year old threat to himself and others, not to be trusted with hospital equipment or furniture. Good Lord, how'd he get to be so old.

He would need a confederate if he was going to get out of here. He'd always needed a confederate. Even as a young man, he would con perfectly normal folks into working for him, into doing things for him, into getting what he needed from people. The only time he had money of his home was to buy "that damnable house. What a mistake." The only home he'd ever had, he'd purchased a few years prior to try to reestablish a bond with his daughter. Other than that, it never seemed necessary to have money of his own or sell any of his antiques. It wasn't something he did. He could con his way into cash, steal or beg to eat, scrape by to get to the next place. Besides, he thought, life was a con. None of it mattered. Work was just something normal people convinced themselves was worthwhile and it was, he thought, just as crooked as stealing. The Orderlies at the hospital were paid to hustle old people into prison cells, intimidate them when they got out of line. Bullies. They were paid bullies. Was conning his way onto a steam ship, or conning his old buddy The Guide into the Jungles one last time any worse than what these monsters did?
Two weeks earlier, before he'd bashed the nose of a young man with a lunch tray, he'd seen that very same young man pick an old lady up, drape her over his shoulder and forcibly cary her to her room. She had earned a better life than this. She'd led a dignified life, and had the misfortune, as he had, of having horrible children. Just the worst people he could imagine. And so, she'd spent eighty some odd years on the planet carying herself properly, earning the respect she deserved, only to be thrown over the shoulder of a brute. A bully. The woman was well old enough to decide when she should go to bed. It was a horrible place to live and he didn't think he would stay here for much longer, one way or another.

He'd figured out a few routes out of the building, but getting past the Green Pastures was the difficult part. What, from the outside, was a beautifully manicured lawn and a sprawling estate, was, from the inside, essentially a moat. It was nearly impossible, at his age, to traverse the area before someone had spotted him. There were "caretakers", but really, just guards, keeping them in. They'd continually beefed up security over the years, culled the trees surrounding the properties and put a "caretaker" in the belltower. An older gentleman, about five years ago, made it off the property and made it into town where he decided to hassle a cute young lady bartender. The police were called and he spent the night sleeping off his drinks in the drunk tank. The hospital said he was senile, a crazy old man that obviously needed more attention. The following morning he was locked into his room and left to his own devices for three days as punishment. They came for him when the smell reached his next door neighbors.

Since then, they hired a landscaping company to clear out all the trees on the sprawling estate. And any runners were caught drowning in the green green grass, trying to cane or walker their way to freedom. They were all trouble cases, old folks that didn't want to be old folks, or more simply old folks that didn't want to be treated like children, that demanded the respect they deserved. Not too many of them resorted to swinging a lunch tray, but they all revolted in their own ways. The Old man was sure he wasn't the only one who fell asleep at night dreaming of strangling his children. If he escaped, the first thing he was doing was returning to his home and burning it down. He hated to think of his maps curling at the edges but it would be well worth it to keep it out of his daughter's hands. It was another of his dreams, to see her crying as his home burned, leaving her with nothing to show for locking him in this prison.

He'd reached out to her about ten years ago. She was already in her thirties. She had a family of her own, had a small boy named Mitchell and was married to a horrible man named Kevin. Kevin was an accountant and made a nice living. He was as dull as an accountant could be and spent the last ten years of his life in a building with no windows counting numbers. He had food alergies and encouraged his son to stay inside, but if he did go outside, to cover himself in chemicals that would prevent him from getting sunburned. The child was fat and pale and, as far as the old man was concerned, probably dying. "You don't look so good, boy" was the first thing The Old Man said to his grandson. He called him Boy because the name Mitch had no real meaning. He wasn't named after anyone in the family, Mitch was not a name of a conqueror or a god, it was meaningless, just a noise. Mitch was much like his own name, which he'd stopped using in his early twenties and would not reveal to anyone.
His Daughter was not happy he appeared on her doorstep. She did not recognize him, it had been several years since they'd seen each other last. He hadn't seen her since her mother died, he was in Africa at the time. He didn't remember what she died from. It didn't matter. He'd aged significantly since then, the last ten years had been hard. He'd gotten weak. He swore he never would, he made his last hike through the jungles and was currently accepting his defeat, he would not find the amulet. It was lost to the ages, when he died, he would likely be the last person alive who knew it's existance, and believed in it's powers. It was gone. He figured it was time to settle down. He sold some of his trinkets and bought a house in a nearby neighborhood and decided he would try to reconnect with his daughter. He bought roses, shaved and bathed and walked over. The walk would do him good, get his blood pumping, reinvigorate his face for a few hours before he had to return to bed to sleep. The exhaustion, he thought, was unrelenting and surprising. He'd not properly prepared for old age, it was something that was suffered by other people. Old people. Normal people. He was a tyrant of this earth, he would not succumb to it's failings.

When his daughter, Summer, finally recognized the Old Man standing on her doorstep, she simply stepped back into the house and closed the door. He left the flowers on her doorstep and went home. He would do the same thing the next afternoon, and the next and on for a two weeks before she was waiting outside for him.
"Why are you doing this?"
"I don't know what else to do."
She turned her back and went inside.
He needed a confederate. The Old Man waited for The Boy on his route home from school. "You don't look so good, boy." "What?" "You look like you're sick; are you sick?" "Nosir." "Hm. Do you know who I am?" "Yessir. My mother said not to speak to you." "That sounds like her. Why do you think she said that." "She said you're a bad man. And that I should run home right away if I saw you." "Well, you saw me." And a light flipped on in Mitchells head, and he ran down the street towards home. The old man laughed and went home.
The next day, the old man watched from the bushes as Mitchel's dad walked him home from school. "This is where you saw him?" "Yessir." "Ok, your mom and I think you should start taking the bus." The boy protested. He was not bullied, a bully would suggest a singular adversary. From his perspective, he was arguably the most popular boy in school. Everyone knew his name and they hated him. They stared at him when he walked down the hall, they knocked his books from his hands, they tripped him in the hallway, shoved him into lockers, and then there was the gauntlet of terror that was gym class. Everyone was staring at him, glowering at him, and judging his every step.
For example, this is Mitchell walking from his Math class to the Lunchroom:
Pick up the books from the table, clutch them to your chest, look at your shoes and ignore that they are untied. The last time they were untied you were knocked over and kicked by Bobby Slayton. Calm your breathing. Everything is probably fine. Try to step on only the green tiles. Focus on the green tiles. It's thirty five green tiles and then a left and then it's falling the books are all falling I wonder if I'm bleeding my math book is on a white tile and I can't hear what he's shouting. Bobby Slayton? Davy McGrath. I wonder if he knows my name or that I haven't eaten yet and he's kicking my stomach and I wonder if I'll be able to stand up. He's laughing and going away. It feels better if I hunch, I can just walk with a hunch from now on and green tiles, walk on the green tiles until you get to your math book and left foot on one side and the right on the other, stay on the green tiles, what if the tiles would come up from the floor and lift and I could float around on the tiles and just above me is the sky light and I could just lift out and go home, just go home and sit in my room and read. I could moon the bus as I went by.
Don't look at the trophy case, they stand by the trophy case, huddle around their prizes, wouldn't it be cool to get one of those, though, I could get one of those, I would if they'd let me play. I could, I think. Don't listen to them, don't listen, hunch over and hold your books. Green tiles. Green tiles. Oh christ let it be over soon because everything is sideways and I'm floating and please god let me be flying. Green tiles green tiles green tiles white white celing.
In the nurses office again. "What did you do, now?" Why does she always say this and I think it's time to go home. "I'm going home." "You can't leave without a note." "Get out of my way" Am I shouting? "I'm going home!" "Don't you yell at me young man, you've had quite a tumble, but you're just fine. All you boys will do anything to get out of class, you march yourself down to the lunch room this instant. This! Instant!" "Yes mamm".
They don't have white tiles by the nurses office. I wonder if that means the building is older here. I wonder what's under there. Alone. I can tie my shoes at least. I should run away.
And he would make his way down to the lunch room and sit by himself in the corner with his back to the crowd. He would routinely get hit by things. The teachers would try to stop it, and take time to comfort him but he dismissed it pretty quickly. Two years ago, when it first started happening, he asked his math teacher why they did it. "Kids are just mean, there's not always a reason." That was enough comfort for him. There was no cause, so there was nothing that could be done but get hit by things and hope your ribs weren't broken. He was fine with the logic of it, it didn't mean that he wasn't any good, it was that everybody was awful, himself included. People are horrible. The Math Teacher didn't think that people were awful, and that wasn't the lesson that was meant to be passed along, but he wasn't any good with people, he didn't like talking to the kids outside of class. It made him uncomfortable and Mitchel's reliance on him was disturbing and so said the simplest thing that would get Mitchel to move on along home now. Mitchel was distant and a little creepy. He didn't like to be around him for more than a few minutes at a time. Excellent student, though. He'd tell everyone who'd listen. Smart little guy, just a bit weird.
Mitch dutifully made his way through the classes, excelled at math, nearly failed everything else. He came home routinely with black eyes, cuts and bruises. His mother begged his father to move, to take Mitchel out of that horrible school, maybe private school or a tutor. The family wasn't making that kind of money. They were barely scraping by with Mitch in public school, moving was impractical, private school was out of the question. They would argue on into the night about things, about what to do about his situation. They did most of their arguing in the Kitchen, the room below his bedroom. The arguments would filter up through the vents and through the floorboards and he would drift off to sleep knowing that he was ruining the family. It made for horrifying dreams. His mother and father tearing at him, clawing at each other, his mother setting fire to the house, his father escaping on bat wings or his mother melting into the sink, there were variations, he was generally directly between them, it was always in third person and impecably symetrical, like the front of the fireplace in the dining room, so beautifully balanced. He was often naked and more often than not he would be torn in two from head to privates, no blood, just a paper doll. His math teacher would sometimes come to him then and remind hom how awful people are, but that, confined within that set was Mitchel, that Mitchel was awful. Just awful. Put some clothes on, Mitch. In any incarnation of the dream, the house would catch fire and burn around him.
When he woke up, sometimes screaming, sometimes crying, they would sometimes still be shouting, sometimes not. He was making life difficult for everyone. He was awful. If Mitch going to school meant that Mitch got beat up and Mitch's parents arguing because of Mitch getting beat up, and his realm of influence not extending far enough into their relationship to cause any real change, it seemed that the most logical thing would be to stop going to school. No school no bruises no arguments no fire, everyone's happy again.
The next morning before school he'd woken up early, he was dressed and ready before she came to wake him. She tapped on the door gently as she always did, "Mitch, hon, time to get up. Mitch?" "I'm up, mom." "You're up early!" Cheerful and a little proud, he was brave to go to school every day knowing what he'd face. He didn't know where he got so much courage, certainly not from his father. A brave man would do whatever it took to keep his family safe. "Yeah, couldn't sleep." "Nightmares?" "No, mom." Saying "No, mom" was a very clear tell, Mitch wasn't any good at answering uncomfortable questions. When he added the "Mom" to the response, he was lying. In this instance, she didn't mind that he was lying. She didn't need to talk about it with him any more. He'd only deny it and she'd push too hard to get him to admit it, and it would all result in a shouting match that would undoubtedly result in another nightmare. "Well that's good, at least. Sorry you didn't sleep well. Do you have enough energy for school?" His father had been walking by the room at that moment and muttered "Good christ." Under his breath. They did not hear it. He'd been tortured at school too, but he'd gotten through it. It builds character. He wasn't much of a fighter either, and he'd tried to explain this to Mitch, but he might still be too young to understand. While all those goons were digging ditches, he'd be in college or off making real money. "Living well is the best revenge, Mitch." It hadn't stuck. Mitch thought, but did not say, "Not getting kicked is probably pretty good too." Mitch didn't like his father very much, he was too much like the gym teacher.
When she was done prodding him about the previous night's sleep he collected his books from his desk and loaded them into his bag. Breakfast was silent, as it had been for the last few months. His mother asked about his ribs, if they were still sore from being kicked. When she asked she didn't look at him, she stared at his father over her coffee mug. His father asked his mother if her coffee was irish this morning. And then they started in on each other. He picked up his dish and put it in the sink and walked into the living room in a cloud. He'd think about other things when they got like this, the carpet, mostly. He'd be consciously deliberate in his movements, think about what it was that made his arm move when he wanted his arm to move. He would make a fist, and then think the words "Open. Open. Open." And it only would open when he would wordlessly let it, he wasn't sure how it worked. A clenched fist and concentration and they would vaporize behind him. If the fights happened when he was stuck with them someplace, he would focus on one thing intently. The car's rear view mirror was a good friend of his. He would stare at it until all the world around it was just blurry gray and silent, and when he got it to it's most grey, and most silent, he could play with the mirror in his head. He could move it around and flip it and see it from all sides. He'd create a blueprint in his head, and get a feel for the dimensions of it, he could split it and multiply and build a wall of rear view mirrors between the back seat and the front seat and cut himself off and focus on being alone. When this didn't work he would try to will them into crashing. It would either kill them or bring them together and either option was better than listening to them shout so much.
The bus was on time. He got in and waved to his mother when he got in. He immediately regretted it, one, he never waved to his mother when he got on the bus, and would maybe seem suspicious, and two, it would not go unnoticed. "Gonna miss your mommy, mitch?" and then everyone said "AWWWW!" The bus driver did not do a good job of covering up his smile.
He sat in the front seat, as close to the bus driver as possible. He always sat there, he tried to absorb some of the bus driver's athoritative aura. Plus, if something bounced off of him and hit the bus driver, they would get in trouble. And though he would pay for that later, it would be, after all, his fault for letting whatever object bounce off of him in such a way - it was always worth it when they got in trouble. It was a rare thing, but it was maybe the only time he felt real joy. Everyone noticed. It made the kids hate him and made the teachers think that he was a smug little asshole, maybe even a little happy he got so abused, it would do him good, build character. They would occasionally tell him so, like his father, they would try to turn bleeding into a virtue, something to be proud of. In this sense, it was good to be smaller than everyone and getting the wind knocked out of you in the hallway was just Mitch's body rejecting weakness, it was being expelled into the atmosphere, he would refill himself with strenth of character in sharp, panicky breaths with his face pressed to the cool linoleum. It didn't seem like a fair trade to Mitch.
The busride wasn't too bad this morning. He got slapped in the back of the head once, everyone cheered. That was about it. It wasn't a bad day so far. It was an omen. Maybe everything would go just this well for the rest of the day. It would have to. He wasn't going to school, he just had to get on the bus so his mother wouldn't worry. The busses all arrived at roughly the same time, so it was easy for a kid his size to get lost in the shuffle of things. And so he did. He walked uncharacteristically close to the middle of the pack, where he would usually skirt the sides or wait till the very end of the pack and run in that way. Walking in the middle of the pack to hide from the teachers seemed to have the added bonus of allowing him to hide from the students too, he was less noticable because he was acting like a normal kid. He chalked it up to being cunning and quick and brave, walking tall and in the pack was a disguise. Mostly it was just that he was short and he was surrounded on all sides by kids pushing and shoving indiscriminantly trying to funnel down through the two open doors that opened into the main hall.
Mitch rode the wave of shoving kids into the main hall and quickly ducked into a bathroom. It was empty. It seemed like this would be the most crutial part of any day. If there were people in this bathroom, he would have to see the day through in school, if there weren't, he could shimmy out the window and go wander the neighborhood for the rest of the day. There weren't too many places he could go, he was just a boy and he just knew there was a truancy officer around every corner. The only place he thought he could go was the library, they didn't seem to notice or care if anyone was in there at all. So he made his way.
It was a terrifying walk. Truancy officers were rumored to take a kid downtown and strip search him to see if he had drugs. They'd call your parents and you weren't allowed to pick up your clothes until they brought your mother and father in. Awful.
But Mitch was enjoying it, he was exhilerated, he was on an adventure. Even if he got caught, it was worth it. His ribs even felt better.
The library was on his way home, it was a big beatiful marble building, a fortress in the city. He walked in unnoticed and found a spot in the stacks where he felt confident he wouldn't be seen. A corner in the history section, at a desk behind a bookshelf. It was a nice day, but the building was cool, as always. Mitch had come here in the middle of summer to spend an afternoon with his mother who was entertaining the notion of taking typing classes and wanted to read more about the profession before she committed to anything. In Mitch's mind, the library was a castle. It didn't make sense that it was so close to his house. It was needlessly enormous, it was only one floor and the ceiling was miles away. It was something out of history. The space was awesome, and he never needed to be told to be quiet, it was something you sensed when you walked in the door.
Mitch remembered on the day his mother brought him there that if he ever ran away, this would be the place to go. How could anything go wrong in this place. It was so ordered and precise and quiet. The only time people spoke was to tell other people not to speak. It was full of hiding places. The stone walls kept the building at a constantly cool temperature. There were water fountains. He could live here for his whole life and not read all the books. It was amazing and he was angry that it took his mother so long to bring him here. She was caught off guard by the notion that he hadn't been there before and asked him as though it was his fault "You haven't been here before? Oh of course you have." "No, I haven't." "Of course you have. I know it." "I would remember being here, mom." She pulled down on his ear for being insolent, he said "OWW" and then they were shushed from a few different people from somewhere in the library and so she had to lean in and whisper "Don't you dare talk to your mother that way." He almost said something back, but then he didn't, out of respect for the shushers.
Hidden in the History section, Mitch opened his books and did some math homework. Then he worked his way through the next sections problems. Then he got bored. Then he took all the chairs from the table and lined them up in a row for a makeshift bed. He put his head on his book bag, and read some comics he brought along. Eventually, of course, he fell asleep with a Superman and Lex Luther fighting on his face.
A Librarian saw his feet dangling out from behind a bookcase and made her way over. She was able to go through his bag, and find enough information to call the school and let them know that Mitch was sleeping in the History section and "could you please contact the boy's parents." His parents were contacted.
Mitch was far away. He and Superman were in a castle together. They were exploring the hallways, Superman was fighting skeletons that stepped out of the walls, white marble became white bone but Superman was Superman. He wasn't sure what they were after. But they were safe. It was cool and it was quiet and Mitch was safe. Mitchs dream began falling apart as he and Superman were approaching the throne room. The walls were shaking and Superman was overtaken by skeletons, and Mitch hon, Mitch honey wake up. "Mitch wake up, hon."
He pulled the comic from his face and his mother was leaning over him. "C'mon, time to go home." Mitch figured she wasn't yelling because it was the library and that when they crossed the threshold into the real world, they would begin sweating from the heat and then she would scream at him for an hour and then she would scream at his father for an hour and then he would put his head under his pillow and try to move it with his mind, or try to teach himself the last chapter of the math book. He'd almost figured it out. He tried to show The Math Teacher but he didn't seem interested, said he should use that time to focus on his other subjects. He couldn't figure out why The Math Teacher didn't like him. He tried so hard and he just seemed to be bothered. People are awful.
They made it to the car before his mother spoke. He was terrified.

"We're not going to tell your father about this. He doesn't need to know." He was astonished. She was thinking it would be best for him, that he wouldn't have to hear what his father thought about hiding in the library like a coward. Mitch thought so too, he thought if dad knew, he would call him a coward and talk about how much better off he'd be taking the regular beatings. She asked if he was ok, he wasn't, he was just going to do it again tomorrow. The library was off limits, but he'd find someplace else to go. "How long have you been doing this?" "Just this once." "Because of the bullies at school." "Yes, mom." He was lying, at least partially. She didn't need to know the grander reaches of his plan, that it would be a way to get his parents to stop fighting. Even if he told them, it wouldn't do much. His father was set in his ways, wouldn't believe how much it hurt his son to be the driving force between their relationship, between what used to be a perfectly happy little existence.

They drove in silence for a while, neither towards home or towards school, as near as he could tell they were just driving. "I want you to know I'm doing everything I can to get your father to put you into a nice private school." "I know." "It's just that he won't budge, he's so cheap, Mitchel. If he would just give in just a little bit we could put you someplace safe but he's always saying -- " "I know, mom." "You know he was offered a better job in St. Louis? He could have taken us over to St. Louis, just a few hours away, and we'd be making more money and we could put you in a nice private school but he didn't take it because "the company has been too good to us" She was making turns at random now, she was just zig zagging her way through the city. It was helpful. She couldn't say these things in the house, even if he weren't there. "He's just such a bastard sometimes, you know? You know how he is, Mitch." They pulled up to a red light, and while she was shouting about what a bastard his father was, he picked up his bag, opened the door and ran out. "Mitch? Mitch what are you doing?"

He ran as fast as he could, she turned against the traffic, Mitch ran through it, the Avenue erupted in horns, people were shouting at both of them. She weas cutting across two lanes of traffic with the passenger side door open, chasing after a small boy running as fast as he could. She pulled up next to him in a hurry, but he stopped, ran behind the car, across the street and through an alleyway. She sped to the end of the block to cut him off, but he was gone, he'd hidden and then doubled back the way he'd came, then ducked behind a dumpster and sat there until he was sure she'd gone.

His mother sat at the library for a while, waiting to see if he'd come back around this way. She sat in the driver seat and cried.

Mitch made his way home about eight o'clock that night, he thought he might get lucky and they'd be fighting or out looking for him. But they were both sitting silently in the living room, waiting for him. His father got out of his chair, crossed the room and slapped him across the face. His mother erupted. They started fighting and Mitch went upstairs, tried to unclench his fist to drown out the shouting. It seemed that they couldn't argue without him in the house. Before he went to sleep, he washed his face in cold water, his left cheek was red and swollen and he could tell it wouldn't go down by morning. He'd be going to school tomorrow with a big red welt on his face. Maybe they wouldn't recognize him.


His mother woke him up in the morning, he got dressed and ready wordlessly. He decided not to talk to either of them until he was 18 and out of the house. He figured it wouldn't matter as they would likely kill each other by the end of the week. This whole part of his life seemed to have happened so quickly. It was so strange to him that there wasn't any start to it, there didn't seem to be anything that kicked it off. Pete Wentz, another victim in his history class, shit his pants one day. Pete was sick, he had a terrible fever, he was pale and gaunt and decided to come to school anyway. It didn't seem rational to the students any excuse to stay home was a good one, but Pete's home life was unbearable. His father was out of work and a mean drunk. On the way to his first class, Pete's fever spiked in the hallway and he collapsed. He lost control of his bowels. He was rushed to the hospital, they submerged him in icy cold water and prayed. He barely survived. When he came back to school Vinnie Ludel called him "Wentz your pants" and shoved him into a locker. He was tortured from that moment on. There hadn't been this moment for Mitch, he didn't understand it. It just started one day and has not stopped since. He didn't know what he did to deserve any of it.

Mitch's Mother didn't like the silent treatment but she was beginning to understand. His father seemed to be thankful for the break. She made a bigger breakfast than usual, his father munched happily but Mitch's face still hurt and he didn't think he'd be able to chew much of anything. "Do you want bacon or sausage, hon?" Mitch didn't respond, glowered at his father and pointed to his face. His father shook life into his newspaper and went back to reading. He read the sports page and thought about how nice it would be to have a sun who would play football, who could take a hit and not whine about it. Mitch's father was disdainful of the boy for being exactly the same kind of boy he was when he was growing up. It was a life of weakness and misery and failure. He knew he was a coward too, he just didn't want his boy to be one too. Every father whishes for this son to have more than he had at the end of his life. The smack was painful and hard and he wanted it to make his boy stronger, braver and more successful than he was. Failure was not genetic, it was groomed into you or groomed out of you. He very badly wanted it to be the end of a long line of failures in his family.

Mitch got on the bus, sat where he always sat and was hit in the back of the head by a spitball almost immediately. It was preferable to being at home. Even when they werent fighting now, you could feel the air around you get thick and heavy and you know they were just setting up the peices for a fight, everything got hot and his chest got tense and then someone would ask to pass the butter or some other mundanity and they would errupt. "If you made more money I would pass the butter, if we were in St. Louis I would pass the butter, and then he'd go and try the best he ould to black out.

The bus ride was spent pulling bits of paper out of his hair and wondering where he would go today? The library was out of the question now, but this weekend he would go to the libarary and ask where another library was, and hopefully he could go there and fall asleep on a chair and dream about superman. He would be safe. It also crossed his mind that he could go and declare himself an orphan, rip up his clothes and roll around in some dirt and go to the nearest shelter and say he was a runaway and maybe he'd be put with a foster parent far away, and he could start over. His name would be Michael, not Mitchel, he wondered if they'd spelled it wrong on the birth certificate and just decided to keep it. He hated his name.

When the bus came to a stop, he went through the motions he'd gone through the day before, sneak in through the middle, hide in plain sight, duck into the bathroom and jump out the window. It worked almost as well as it had yesterday.

Mitch almost Wentz'ed his pants, and then felt sorry for even thinking of the term. He looked up and it was his grandfather, standing there in the alcove. "I thought I'd wait here until I saw you leave, didn't realize you were jumping out the windows." Mitch didn't breathe and waited for the other shoe to drop. What did he want, why was he here? His mother said that he was a crazy old man, to stay away from him or he'd be hurt or killed. He's a dangerous man Mitch, I want you to stay away from him. Promise me you'll stay away from him. Mitch did, but that was before he'd stopped talking to her and deciding life would be better as a runaway or worse. "How do you get in there with out anyone seeing you?"

"Nobody uses the bathroom this early in the morning, sir. There's not much time to get to the bathroom before the bell goes off."
"That's a good plan."
Mitch was still catching his breath and, really, didn't know what to say to this person. He was a stranger, bedragled old man who was hiding in an alley to find him. "How'd you know i"d be here." "I said I didn't. Lucky guess. I get lucky sometimes." This was a lie. The old man was terribly lucky, embarrassingly so. He was a horrible gamblling partner. If you believe in such things, it could be attributed to his dozens of lucky charms that he had in his pockets, around his neck or sewn into the lining of his clothes. If you didn't, he was just a statistical abberation. Something that should be studied. In either case, he is not a good man to gamble with. He is a lucky, lucky man.

"Oh." Mitch caught his breath. "Are you going to tell my mother?"
"No, I'm not going to tell your mother. Even if I were, she wouldn't listen to me. You know I've been trying to talk to her for weeks now?"
"Bet she says crazy things about me, huh?"
"I bet. She's a bit of a kook herself, you know."
"Yessir." More forcefully.
"I don't altogether blame her, though. She's got reason to hate me. But we can talk about this later, lets go."
"Well, I saw your hideout got spoiled yesterday."
"The library. I was at the library yesterday doing some research, saw you get nicked."
"Oh. We didn't see you."
"I know. Lucky thing."
"You need a hideout and I need a friend. C'mon, we'll go to my place."

Mitch was nervous. He didn't know this man, he only just found out he was his grandfather, but it was something. He didn't have many options. And even if the Old Man was crazy, violent person, he figured he'd get beaten either way. Lose lose. Why not.


And so the old man had his confederate. And The Boy had a hideout.

It was a very uncomfortable walk home, the old man talked occasionally, but The Boy kept to himself and decided not to speak unless absolutely necessary. The Old Man's house wasn't far, it was just a few blocks from The Boy's home. "I got this because it was just around the corner. I thought it would be nice to be nearby." The front door was unlocked. The livingroom was sparsely furnished. The walls were covered in maps, charts, lists. There didn't seem to be any order to it. Mitch hadn't had much geography yet, but he was familiar with the globe from the discarded parts of his fathers newspaper and the maps in the back of his civics book. Mitch didn't pay much attention in Civics class and would instead turn to the back of the book where the maps were and look at all the different places he could be instead. He'd mentally project across the country and down the coastline into Mexico and into the south pole, the vast emptiness was appealing. Mitch wandered around the living room trying to figure out the order of everything, but couldn't and figured the Old Man had some sort of system in place but he knew where the south pole was and it wasn't West of Mexico. It was all at odd angles, just pages of an atlas pinned or pasted to the walls at irregular intervals, two high, three high, five high, up to the ceiling, on the floor, on the back of the door, it was a mess, some of them were hand drawn, all of them had alterations with a thick felt tip pen. It was confuzing and a bit disorienting and while Mitch was watching the nile river twist down and off the edge of one map and onto what looked like a map of Wisconsin, his nose got a little too close to the wall and "Don't touch anything." The Old Man didn't intend to sound so stern, but it made Mitch jump and back away from the wall. "I'm sorry. It's important." The Old Man made his way over and smoothed the paper with his hands. "That one's perminant." It was pasted to the wall poorly, it was lumpy with airbubbles. "See? Perminant."
Mitch decided to sit in the farthest corner of the room, it put the door firmly between The Old Man and himself. The old man sat in a beat up recliner, and the only other chair in the room, in the center of the room. The chair was on a swivel and the Old Man would sit in the chair with his nightly high ball and lazilly turn in the chair to ponder and admire his maps.
"Isn't it amazing, though?"
"All this. Thinking we could put the world on paper."
"Everybody's a fool, boy. Everybody." Mitch did the math: everyone was evil, and everyone was a fool, everyone was an evil fool. His childhood was hemoraging.
The Old Man went to the school the following day and informed a not-so-bright secretary that Mitchel's family had to leave town on a family emergency and that the boy would be staying with him for the durtaion. Under the circumstacnces, delicate and private as they were, Mitchel would be staying with The Old Man, The Boy's maternal Grandfather. "Here's a letter from Mitchel's mother, my daughter, that explains the same." The note was quickly onced-over and put aside, the Old Man was charming and he looked quite a bit like Mitchel. "Kindly send any important homework to this address, I'll see to it that the boy keeps up." She agreed and The Old Man departed with a "Thank you, young lady". "What a sweet old man," she thought. The secretary had a classmate of Mitchel's escort The Old Man to Mitchel's locker, which was bent and unlocked "They force it open sometimes" "Of course they do, son. Pack of jackals." Leaning forward towards the boy The Old Man's face grew darker and the shaddows grew deeper in the lines of his face, turning them from wrinkles to tiger stripes. "Are you one of the jackals, son?" "Nooosir. No no." He was back on his heels and both of their hearts were pumping. "Go away from me, boy." He turned on his heels and hurried back down the hallway towards the safety of his classroom.
The old man pawed through torn and mostly-ruined books, piled them in his bag and walked back to the office and once again spoke to the not-so-bright secretary.
"I wish to speak to the principal."
"I'm sure the note will be fi --"
"This is not about the note. I wish to speak to the principal."
"Well what is it about, I can have him contact you when --" The old man looked around the room and found what he needed, Mr. Collins was in room 105. "Thank you, young lady."
"I need to speak to you about my boy."
"I'm sorry sir, I'm just in the middle of something if you could come back -- " The Old Man overturned the bag of Mitchel's books on the floor. "Mitchel. You know him. You know what they do. He needs new books."
"Every student gets one set of books and is responsible for their well--"
"And you are responsible for the childrens well being, are you not?"
"Sir, the state of Illonois -- "
"You are responsible for the childrens well being. I will be back tomorrow for new books. His locker is as broken. Do your job. I will be back tomorrow." The old man pulled his long brown coat around him, tied it as he walked out. "Jackals."
"Did you get my books?"
"They were ruined. I'm going back tomorrow for new ones."
"Torn up, they pried the door open. Tore up the books." He spun open his globe and pulled a clear, crystal bottle of whisky from it's belly.
"Dad'll kill me."
"You're dad's an asshole. I spoke with the principal. He's getting you new ones."
It was only the second day of his secret life at his grandfathers but it was already clear he'd made the right choice. No school, new books, parents completely hidden from view, no bullies. The Old Man was impatient, it would take time before The Boy would even entertain the idea of mentioning The Old Man to his mother. There should be enough time, children were stupid and easilly tricked.
The Old Man drank in his chair and the boy busied himself about the house, the Old Man not paying much attention. The Boy found a map of the south pole in the diningroom above the record player. "Have you ever been to The South Pole?" "I've been near there." "Really?" "Yes, down at the end of Chile. Very last bit of it." "Where's that?" "Over there" pointing to a spot near the stairs that was impossibly set near Alaska and France. "Just above antarctica, takes weeks and weeks to get there.
I came to the attention of a man named Mr. Lucas. Mr. Lucas was a collector of special items and heard that I was a finder of special items. I specialized in ancient things, artifiacts in the ruins, that sort of thing. He was trying to find an item known as The Eye. It was a mystical thing, supposedly it would change colors when someone was lying. Yes, a bit like a mood ring. Mr. Lucas found me in Cuba, being young and foolish. I'd acquired something I'd been looking for, doesn't matter what now, but I was looking for an object that he'd also been looking for. He'd sent men to find it. They found it first, but I needed it more, so I acquired it from them. It doesnt matter how. They all survived. Mr. Lucas did not approve of my methods and undoubtedly wanted this item returned to him, but more than that, he wanted The Eye.
I was young and without principles and took the job. He'd chartered a boat to take me down the coast to the southern tip. If you can avoid it, Boy, only travel by your own terms. There is nothing more satisfying to a man than to travel on the ocean, but make your own crew, son. Trust the men aboard and trust the Captain with your life. Never board an untrustworthy vessel and be wary of sea traveling folk; they mind their own laws, son and they wont hesitate to slit your goddamned throat. Find a good crew and stick by it. If that ship goes down and you don't go down with it, your days on the sea are through. It's the way it must be."
The Boy had no idea what he was talking about.
"We set out from the Western Coast of Cuba. It took four days to prepare and another four to gather enough money to bribe the police. Cubans were corrupt, even then. I'd only been in Cuba for a few weeks and didn't have enough time to learn the language. The captain took this as a personal slight; and screamed at me throughout the journey. The men hated me and I tried to keep to myself on my bunk and read, or write in my journal. It was a lonely journey and when the weather went sour, things got worse.
The men, they'd seen me with my crystals and my medalians. See? Each of them for luck, I'm never without them. Not since I was a young boy. When I was younger I thought that meditation focused their energy together, and into me. Hogwash, but I didn't know. It was quickly decided that I was creating this weather, that I was bad luck. The next thing I know, seven men are carying me through the rain to the bow of the ship singing some incomprehensable song. And I was almost over the side, boy. I was looking down at the waves thrashing the side of the boat, and it was so dark, boy. So dark you can't imagine. And just below the waves were all manner of monster, there is nothing so horrible on land as there is in the sea, things that will swallow you whole or tear you to peices. There will come a day when they will not allow us to travel the oceans, my boy. You take my word. I've seen boats as big as a city block taken down by a pod of whales, a giant squid and heard stories of much worse from men who had the scars of battle up and down them. Each and every gash a tome of testiment. Monsterous things below the surface. Everyone thinks of Sharks in the water, the sharks are kittens, son. Just kittens. My head was just over the rail and I swear to you I saw a tentacle breech the surface and the eyes of something hungry just below just waiting for my body to pass the froth and the waves and the last thing I'd see was my reflection white as a ghost and hopefully twice as dead before I met whatever was there wating. But then, boom. Boom! A shot rang out in the storm, I thought it was the thunder, boy, but no! It was the first mate, on the upper deck with a rifle. Lit from the lightning and dripping from the rain he was aiming down at us. He said something and then the men holding me screamed at him until lightning flashed and The First Mate fired again. He said a few more words and the men slowly let me back down. Do you know what he said, boy?"
"No sir."
"Neither do I! But I am sure glad he said it" The old man laughed and took and took a pull from his glass. "Never did find out what he said."
The Boy had no idea what he was talking about.
"My things were thrown overboard, I spent my time in The First Mate's cabin. He spent the rest of the trip with his gun at his side. He made attempts to explain what had happened, but we didn't get far. From what I gathered, they were bored, superstitious and hungry. Fishing in that weather was difficult. Difficult fishing makes for hungry men, they saw my talismens and thought I was responsible. It was an easy leap to make, you see. So they thought if they gave me the heave ho, the weather would break and they could start eating again. I don't even blame them really. I'd have done the same thing but I was smart enough to pack a few tins of peaches. Do you like peaches, boy? I have some tinned peaches."
"No thank you."
"They're in the cubbard if you want. The key is in the drawer, just be careful, you'll get one of these" He held up his palm which had a jagged scar across the middle of it. "That's not from a can opener but you get my meaning."

"So then we make it to our destination, some port in the middle of the night, god knows what the name of it was now, don't remember. But! We'd made it safely. The men unloaded the cargo, they left me to go where ever it was I was going and within two days time I get a tap on the shoulder and who's standing there? The First Mate. Turns out they wouldn't let him back on the boat. So he tracked me through the jungle and found me in some god forsaken hut in the middle of noplace. Resourseful people are hard to come by Mitch, loyal ones even harder, so he and I shook hands and he was my guide ever since. Knew most of the jungles backwards and fowards. Used to be some kind of gun smuggler, knew a dozen langauges and local customs and probably had a litter of kids distributed amongst the whores up and down the continent. Wiley son of a bitch, that one, god rest him. Ah well. You sure you wont have some peaches?"
It was only his second day there, but Mitch had stopped feeling so affraid of The Old Man. He was certainly crazy, anyone could see that, but he didn't feel dangerous. Mitch didn't believe any of his stories. People were liars, afterall. And he couldn't imagine anyone as crazy as the Old Man making it to any of the places pasted on the walls. Just didn't seem likely. It was more likely that he'd seen them on his globe when he was fetching a drink, fell asleep and imagined these things. This house smelled like he did, like he'd been here a hundred years and someone had just recently unlocked the door and let him out. His sink had rust marks where his shaving things were and he had a scragly beard. The Old Man seemed too weak to climb the stairs most days, and yet there were maps on the ceilings, he would have had to climb a ladder or push the dining room table around the house. Maybe The Guide...
"Do you still see the guide?"
"No boy, he's dead. When someone says 'god rest him' it means they're dead."
The Boy spent the school hours of the next two weeks at his grandfather's house. The Boy had figured out a better way around both his parents and the trouble of the school bus, he simply started waking up earlier, and would leave a note on the kitchen table stating, simply, "I walked to school." One night, during his parents fighting, he'd focused his whole heart on those notes, disapeared into the yellow tablet he was writing them on. He'd written six notes on each sheet of paper, carefully measured, carefully cut. Each with the same message, and for flair, he'd signed his name in cursive. It felt like an adult touch. It was something he'd seen his father do when signing his name on bills or on letters to his teachers. The first letter in each name got a big giant letter, the rest of it was mostly squiggles. He'd worked on it the night before on a seperate stack of paper. Those had been thrown away this morning, he kept his stash of notes in a shoebox under his bed where he kept his pens and pencils. His mother didn't know he had pens, she would worry for the carpet. It was something else that made him feel adult and rebelious, signing each of his notes in ink, with a final flourish, a quick flip of his wrist and a trailing line and he was not only adult, he was Zorro, he was an adventurer, like his grandfather. Smoke and mirrors, tricks and lies, deciet and deception. That, my boy, is the currency of this world. His grandfather had told him so.
And, perhaps most importantly, as he spent time at his Grandfathers, his wounds were healing. His face, where his father had slapped him, had healed. He could now walk upright, his side healed from the beating in the hallway. Even the gash on the back of his head from cracking on the linoleum had stitched itself back together. He was walking tall and breathing deep and his parents even seemed to be fighting less. He was sleeping with his fists unclenched and didn't stir when his mother came in at night and cried and pet his head.
The afternoons were perhaps the trickiest part of his life, now. He was still not speaking to his parents, but he was pretty sure that only his mother noticed. He would quickly retreat to his room after school and do the school work that he'd missed during the day. He was learning more now than he ever was at school. He'd cracked his set of math problems that he'd been struggling with after he'd read the next chapter. "The stuff from chapter 5 didn't make sense until I read chapter 6" he'd told his grandfather one afternoon over peaches. "Simpletons!" The Old Man shouted.
Dinner was difficult and the only time he broke his silence towards his parents. Invariably his father would ask how his day was, and he'd answer "Fine." "Any trouble with the bullies?" "Not today, sir." "See? I told you it would blow over, just kids being kids. You know your mother wanted us to move to St. Louis. See? There would be kids in St. Louis waiting to be bastards, too. Kids are bastards, just have to wait them out, sport." Mitch hadn't meant for his plan to make his father feel good about himself and it was the only negative aspect of the plan so far. His mother was happy nobody was beating him up, but she was skeptical of it all. Mitch was careful with his words, and said very little, but even so, his mother was suspicious of it all. She didn't understand his newfound love of homework. Mitchel was supremely confident in his projected reality. He was going to school, was still unhappy about it, but decided to do homework instead of show his mother the bruises, or complain about the unfair methods of some of his teachers. His mother knew something was off. After a week of Mitch hurrying to his room to do his homework, she'd decided to blame it on his father. His father was cruel to him and said things that were ruining his childhood. Things that no boy should have to hear with until he happens upon them on his own. Of course life was unfair and people were cruel, and lord knows mitch was dealing with that as best he could without his father shouting at him to be a man. He was just a boy, it was too soon to be a man. It was time for his father to be a man and take him away from this. Mitchel was angry at his father for it, she could tell. But Mitchel was lying. She knew that he was lying.
"How are your teachers treating you?"
"oh lord."
"You be quiet. Mitchel honey, how are they treating you."
"Yes, mom."
"Well that's good then. About time they left you alone."
"Yes, mom." Mitchel was staring at his plate and suddenly realized that he was not hungry anymore and he had to go to the bathroom. "I'm not hungry. I have to go to the bathroom."
"Clean your plate."
"You be quiet. That's fine honey, I'll get the plate, go on upstairs."
"Thanks, mom." Mitchel was very aware of how his body was oriented, how he was carrying himself and where he put his feet down how do I usually stand up, like this, this is where I usually have my hands, I should put my hands in my pockets, I have that stone in there from Grandpa, I should cover it up and I think my face is getting red and are they looking at me, they're looking at me and I should put my tuck my chair in, and I never tuick my chair in but it's too late I have to now that my hands are -- I should say something "Ok, I'm going to go upstairs then." I said that too loud, that was loud, they know, they know I'm lying and his father shuffled the paper and read about the cubs and are they ever going to win a goddamned pennant? Probably not, the bums. Three errors in the fourth. Three. They should trade that goddamned meatball catcher whatsisface and goddamn it she can't cook, I can't afford to get to a ballgame give all my money to that one for food and you'd think she'd make a decent meal once in a while, just awful so much goddamned salt is she trying to kill me for the love of christ, my mothers meatloaf recipie and the thing is just gathering dust, just a waste, just a waste and why are his hands in his pockets like that, what is going on I hope he's not on the drugs like his father, his father is probably on the drugs, the weasel bastard, just lets us rot in this filthy city while his son is being attacked and abused, and I cant even drive that car without thinking of how frightened he was just trying to get away, trying to get away from me, what have I done this family turned out to be so strange and so sad it just got to be so sad all of a sudden it just caught us all off guard and if I could just get him to pay attention like he used to hed see it but he's so serious when did he get so serious all of a sudden things arent so bad that we need to be so unhappy just listen to me and why on earth are you so angry the boy hates me oh my boy hates us and he doesnt even see.
"What are you crying about now?"
The Boy and the Old Man got to have three weeks of canned peaches and well told stories before The Boy's mother figured out what was going on. They'd gone through quite enough silent suppers and she went to pick him up from school one afternoon to talk to him about things without his father, she even left the car a block away so that if he ran, she could catch him but then he never came out. She waited. And then she got scared. And then she errupted. She found the secretary, the one who answers the phones when she called to find out what would be done about the bullies and her poor sons ribs or his wrist or his ankle or any of it over the last year. The dumb secretary, the one with no answers and who refused to let her speak to anyone else until she'd calmed down, who'd heard her husband shouting at her in the background to calm down, it was just a scratch, a bruise, just get some ice, a hot towel, a band aid. The one she thought of strangling before she said "Where is my boy?"
The Principle explained the situation to her, and after she shouted threats at him for a moment she called the police and informed them of the situation and they sent two big goons in white frocks and together they all went to The Old Man's house in a sort of milk truck and drug him out and his fingernails carved rivers across continents on his way out the door. The Boy screamed and his mother held The Boy back while she spit on The Old Man and he shouted "Remember the Amulet, Boy. Remember!" before they threw wrapped him in a blanket and shoved him into the back of a van, driving away to disapear forever.
Mitch never forgot about The Old Man but the memory changed over the years. The Old Man warped slowly from being the greatest man he'd ever met to my grandfather, to someone my family doesn't talk about to the crazy old man who kidnapped me, I'm lucky to be alive. Memories are maleable, especially early memories. Mitch had 30 years of distance from The Old Man and The Old Man fit into his life better as a crazy old pervert than as a wise old adventurer who unjustly died in a cage. Mitch had painted his grandfather into a corner where he could not be ashamed of who he'd become. A single man approaching forty who drank too much and had a meaningless job just like his fathers. He lived in a shitty apartment and had no friends. He was in love with his secretary. She was a married woman. He worked too much and drank even more. He allowed the company to walk all over him, he worked nights and weekends, he always answered the phone, he was getting nowhere and he knew it, but he didn't have anything else better to do. Plus, the secretary.
His evenings were spent alone. His mornings were spent alone. His work day was a beacon. He participated in every company activity and painted the humiliation of it into another corner. He went to every birthday drink, every kareoke night, every company party painted as the company commending you for a job well done, but was actually just an elaborate 'team building exercize' he let himself fall for it. It was better than nothing. Plus, the secretary. She was genuniely enthusiastic about these things. He didn't know why.
Mitch was completely caught up on most of the prime time television shows and spent his weekends as a volunteer firefighter. Mostly he just washed the trucks and manned the radio. He was too out of shape for much else. He'd been doing it for a few years and he thought it was good to help people. Washing the trucks was his favorite kind of hypnotic effort, just wash the truck, just wash the truck. It kept him from other things. It was the stuff hobbies were made of.
His apartment was almost empty. It was still and dark and quiet every night when he got home. For a while he'd set up one of his lamps on a timer so the light would be on when he got home but he found it morbidly depressing and a little bit frightening, so he sold it on EBay. He got twelve dollars for it. The space was immaculate, it got the white glove inspection every weekend after playing fireman. Saturday night he would visit The Limey and drink some of his paycheck and eventually he would get too drunk to notice that he was talking too much to someone who didn't like him very much. When he arrived, people sighed and he stopped noticing a year or so ago. Behind his back he was referred to as Sneak Attack, the first few hours, the first few drinks, he wouldn't say anything to anyone and was perfectly normal, and then, suddenly you'd be in a conversation with someone and Sneak Attack. Sneak Attack would worm his way into the conversation, usually topping someone's story about something. "You think your childhood was rough...." "You think that's a good story...." And there you'd find yourself at the mercy of Sneak Attack. But since he'd garnered such a name, and such a reputation as an annoying drunk, it became easier to be rude to him and so, more often than not, the person would forcefully disengage from the conversation i.e. "I don't give a fuck about your grandparents, Sneak Attack. Fuck off." Fuck off would also have worked as a nickname. He was removed from the bar on seven or eight different occasions, but was always allowed back because he was a great tipper. He had little else to spend his money on and would so wind up bribing bartenders for the company once a week. Luckilly, Saturday night was his time to forget. He would get back to his apartment, settle into his chair in the middle of his living room, flip on the television and drink cheap beer from the can until he fell asleep. Sunday would rarely remember Saturday. He would start the day in a his bathtub with an icepack on his head and a beer in hand. A combination of hangover remedies he'd heard about from someplace.
Sunday was the only glitch in his life. It was just a sacrifice for Saturday night. He was typically too hungover to do much of anything on Sunday and thus could not cram it full of hobbies and activities and distractions. It was spent half in the tub and half out of it, all the while checking the clock to see how much of it was left. On Sunday he would always think about how it wasn't much of a life and get depressed and try to get to sleep early so that the morning would come that much faster. He'd arranged his life in a series of systems, tried to fill his head with as much television as possible, as many distractions as he could muster, it was better than thinking.

He'd largely dismissed the sewer. He panicked. He did that enough. Mitch realized his shortcomings, he collected them, cherished them, it was a point of focus on Sunday. Ice on his head he would focus on how uncomfortable he was, how simultaneously hot and cold and how his tub wasn't big enough for him, how he hadn't had a conversation that he remembered that wasn't with someone employed to be near him. He would think of something he didn't like about himself and put each one in a tile on the wall, he was old, fat, nervous, panicky, short sighted -- both literally and figuratively -- he hated his job, he hated his family, he hated the people he worked with, he didn't like company events, he didn't like that he wasted his time at them anyway, he hated the way he looked, the things that he thought and who he was. There were thousands, and when he thought of a new one he would excitedly write it down. It was a little bit of amazement in his day, he thought that he'd picked over every last bone of his psyche but every now and again he'd realize he'd never owned a nice watch or he'd get left out of a conversation becase he hadn't seen a particular movie and he would go and write it on a sticky note, carefully crease it, and bring it home in his breast pocket.

Panicking was one of his favorites. There were worse things, but he knew he was frequently panicking and he felt like he was good at it. He knew he had more dramatic shortcomings, his habit of collecting shortcomings was probably chief among them, but panicking was something that he'd done on a near weekly basis since he moved into his grandfather's house with his mother. He still remembered the first one. What if he was a superhero and his power was that he ruined lives. Just by spending a bit of time in someones house, mariages shattered, daughters hated their fathers, fathers hated their sons and fathers of all kinds would disapear, never to be seen again, either via men with nets and milk truck or via mysterious new car. Either way, he was a carion, walking disease. And it dawned on him in the middle of the night and he shuddered awake and spent an hour in the bathroom washing his face with cold water until he stopped shaking. The next day at school sat in a different seat at lunch and just waited for someone to notice and when they did they knocked him over and put a knee right in his sternum and didn't let him breathe until he saw spots and felt warm.

He knew that demensia ran in his family. His grandfather was crazy, his mother would eventually get mildly crazy, more batty than crazy, his father -- he wasn't sure if his father was crazy but he was clearly addled. At the very least, he was addled before they left, before they moved into his Grandfather's abandoned house. He spent time talking to himself and gesturing towards them and shaking his head. He'd reached the end of his rope after the kidnapping incident. After he'd been rescued, his mother had ran to his father to explain what had happened, she even hugged him and for a brief second, Mitch thought his plan had worked and stopped crying just long enough to enjoy it. For an instant, his family was as it used to be and The Old Man dropped out of his mind, but just as soon, his father had his mother by her shoulders and he slapped her across the face. "Get a hold of yourself." And she did. She stopped crying and they both stood for a moment looking at each other, his father had clearly not thought through his strategy, after he got her under control she was silent and they didn't have much to say. It created a very visible void that neither of them were capable of filling, and there, on the lawn, their marriage died.

It would be a few months before Mitch and his Mother would move out. There would be some just-for-show theatrics. He sloppilly got caught in an affair that he wasn't particularly hiding. She pretended to care enough to loudly leave the house on a saturday afternoon while the neighbors were hanging the laundry. She tried to make it shameful for him, to leave in a bold dramatic fashion, suitcase in hand, every hair in place, her makeup just so. She would leave and the neighbors would know what a bastard he'd been. She would curse. Her high heels would echo as she passed the old maids, the gossips and make her way to her new home. "I'll send for my son."

"Send for him? From Jackson street? Who are you, the queen?" The old maids giggled and Mitch was dragged by his right arm and shoved through the screen door. "You know the way." He didn't fight it. Mitch made his way over to his Grandfathers house, and his mother was already pulling down the maps, grinning and muttering while she did it. He didn't say anything, neither did she. He went to his room and thought about how terrible it was that he couldn't muster the bravery to ask her not to take down all the maps. At least leave the ones that were perminant. But she didn't. And they lived there. And the place always smelled like The Old Man. And she either hid everything, or threw it away before he got to go through the old man's papers. He would live there for years. Through the remainder of gradeschoool, at the same school, where he would try different methods to make himself invisible, none would work he would graduate with a black eye. It continued in high school until about halfway through his sophomore year, when everyone seemed to get bored of it. It was mostly a blur, his grades were poor, he didn't speak to anyone, he spent most of his days thumbing through the backs of his history books looking at the places he'd rather be. It was years of lonliness.
He got a job right out of highschool in the mailroom of the company he currently worked at. He was going on twenty years, firmly entrenched in middle management, he would go no futher, he would retire or die here. He realized it years ago, he wrote it on a yellow paper and folded it into his breast pocket. He thought about jumping out the window but then he heard someone start to sing happy birthday and he ran to surround himself with strangers.
He moved out of his grandfather's house, his mother's house, as soon as he was able. They rarely spoke, and when they did, most of it was his mother complaining about his father or her father and as the years went by, she'd convinced him that his Grandfather had Kidnapped him, that he was brainwashed into spending that time there, that he'd been used and probably touched innapropriately. These things were beat into him while he sat in the room where it presumably happened. It was horrifying and when she insisted on speaking about it he wouldn't sleep for days. She found him once in the back yard, wrapped in blankets, wet with dew, shivering and asleep. He'd spend the next four days home from school fighting off pnemonia. She never figured out why. Their relationship never really recovered from this, and he blamed himself and his dumb experiment to fix his family. It would be better if he just kept out of the way.
The Old Man sat in the Captain's Cabin still damp from the rain, his feet in hot salt water, a blanket over his shoulders. "Crazy old man" the Captain said as he closed and locked the door behind him. "I don't know why you do it to yourself." "Yes you do." "This isn't that ship, my friend. These men know that even you can't change the winds." "I'd hoped they were skeptical." The Captain laughed "Maybe some of them, Old Boy. Not the brightest bunch."
"What is it this time, friend? Crystal castle? Ancient Crown? Gold Dubloons?"
"No, nothing like that."
"What then?"
"It's always the same thing, John. You Know that."
"Yes, I know you're after some Amulet, but I don't know what that means."
"That's for the best."
"Christ, man, we're not going to put you over the side."
"You know I saw a monster there, that night."
"You've told me. What you haven't told me is what is this thing you're always after. Years of it now. We've been hauling you back and forth for years. You always cary on a few crates of junk and I don't hear from you for a year or so and then you show up on the dock looking for passage to south america or africa or the arctic for christsake."
"Don't be so inconvinenced, John, I pay you."
"I don't need your money, boy. I want to know what your after."
"I think I'll have the money back then, John."
"Fuck off. You and your secrets. What's wrong with telling a friend what you're after. Maybe I could help."
"You are helping. What I'm after is my business."
"What about that mexican fellow, does he know what he's dragging you towards."
"I don't think so. We barely understand each other. He knows it's important. I pay him well."
"With the money from your trinkets."
"Yes. Collateral collectables. Something to keept the fire going. You know I found one of King Tut's sceptors on one of those trips."
"You've mentioned it."
"Put me in the black for years."
"Not good enough, though."
"No. No, not yet.
They sat in the dim cabin and smoked in silence.
"You know one of these days I'll just have one of the boys follow you."
"I wish him the best of luck."
"They're hearty men, you think they couldn't?"
"No, they couldn't. Takes more than heart to make it through the jungles, John. They wouldn't last. The sea is different, they can lean on each other, on the ship, on the superstitions and the hierarchy. In the jungles there are beasts that will come from the trees and eat you, mites in the air that sting and poison you, serpents underfoot that will choke on you. It's a different life out there John, I don't suggest it. We don't belong there."
"We don't belong on the see, neither, Old Boy."
"True enough, but we're armored. I'm smoking a cigar and drinking whiskey, John. Smoke a cigar in the Jungles sometime, see how enjoyable it is."
"If you wont tell me what you're after, tell me why you're after it."
"Be cause I'm meant to. Keep your boys alive, keep them safe here on the ship."
"Alright, but you stay below deck afterhours. You come in here and we'll have a conversation like gentlemen. You let the boys earn their keep, you've done enough."
The Old Man retired to his quarters and wrote up a new entry in his journal. It was, typically, simple and quick:
"The captian is becoming intrusive. Find alternate route home. Be alert for wayward sailor on the third hunt. If found, return him safely, but shaken. Find confederate to explore the captains interest in the hunt. Dissuade him if necessary.
Telegraph home and inquire about Helene."
He regretted having a daughter. He hoped her mother would not mention him too much. It would make Helene hate him. Enough people hated him. The Captain was an old firend, generous with his fine cigars and whiskey, but it was possible The Old Man would poison him if his interest in his hunt grew too sharply, too quickly. There could be no interference. It would end.
He'd learned a harsh lesson in Cairo some years earlier. He'd thrown a man from a balcony. A false confederate. A sneak. A spy. Steven Grayson had earned The Old Man's good graces and stolen one of his peices and sold it to an old money family for a fortune. It took him months to re-steal from the family, to dodge their detectives and escape the country. It took him several more months to track down Mr. Grayson in an opera box in London. He posed as an usher and darted Mr. Grayson and his date in their box. He'd learned to make poison during the Ashman Adventure. With Mr. Grayson and his date suitably paralyzed he liberated Mr. Grayson from his keys which included the key to safety deposit box number 928 in London Central Bank. Number 928 held Mr. Graysons 'finders fee' from the Cairo family so willing to buy stolen goods, but so unforgiving of thieves. There was enough time to whisper into Mr. Grayson's ear "You stole from me, and now you will be thrown from a balcony." He pushed the man forward in his chair until his knees were pressed against the wall of the balcony, grabbed the chair by the legs and flipped him over the side. Everyone screamed and the Opera screeched to a halt. He had his back to the crowd who was looking up in the darkness trying to see what happened. Before the house lights were restored, the old man turned and spoke to Mr. Grayson's date. "The man you were with was a thief, he stole something precious from me. The necklace he gave you is fake. If you'll forgive my intrusion and forget my face, you may have the contents of his safety deposit box. Number 928 in London Central, enough to buy a jewelry store. Your name is Miss Allison Manion. I know where you live. Forgive my intrusion. Forget my face." He left the key in her lap, and disapereared into the london fog. Mr. Grayson would recover.
He did not have room in his life for trust. He trusted only The Guide, and even then, only to a point. He knew The Guides weak spots. His family. If anything ever happened to The Guide's family, The Guide would gladly garrote him in his sleep to bring them from harm. It was an admirable quality, and, out of respect, The Old Man doted on the Guide's family from afar. He sent The Guide's wife and children trinkets and gold, cash and jewels when he could spare them. They were fast becoming a wealthy family. They were fat and happy and it was the only way a family could understand their father being gone for such long periods of time with a strange old white man. He only met them once, and he saw how they were prospering and it made him think of how much money and treasure he would have if he'd been squireling it away instead of using it for bribes or for passage across the ocean, through the deserts and so on. He thought about the palaces he could be living in. But it was usually a passing thought, he generally thought of mansions as mausoleums for the barely living. But now and again, mosquito bitten and restless sweating in the jungle, he thought he might be missing something. He'd rather be floating his back yard pool with a gentlemanly beverage in his hand. He occasionally wished his life was different, but only when it couldn't get any worse.
He was a little drunk. Whiskey's influence in the old days was a path from relaxation to rage, and these days it carved a shorter path from thoughtful to wistful. It was one of the things he hated about getting old. He spent more time in the past then he did when he was actually there. He never thought he'd look back fondly on the time he'd nearly killed a man in the London Opera, or envy The Guide's poor family for even a heartbeat. It must be good whiskey. He must remember to mark the coordinates on his map.
The trip stretched on. The old man was losing his sea legs about halfway though and had a sudden, inexplicable bout of seasickness about midway through the journey. He'd never been sea sick before. It was not a pleasant experience, there was no escape. He thought it was possible that he'd been poisoned and spent the rest of the journey sleeping with his knife under his pillow. He knew where everyone was at all times, if need be, he felt confident that he could take over the ship. He hoped it wouldn't have to come to that. It wouldn't. But he was forever prepared. He had enough supplies to make poison darts, he had his knife, he knew where they kept the guns. There were only 23 men. They slept in shifts, there was a three hour span where 15 men were sleeping. He could make sure they continued sleeping. The remainder could be dealt with individually and in short order, they were spread too thin. The Captain was not prepared for the eventuallity of a mutiny. It was foolish. Men left at sea for enough time would do anything to occupy themselves. All it took was one storm to knock them off course and they would hang him from the bow. He was a dear old friend, but he was ill equipped for reality. There was nothing he could do and went about sharpening his darts and drinking.
When he finished preparing his darts, he decided not to telegraph his daughter, it would be too sudden and his wife would never show it to her. It would be best to write a letter and send it back to the states with The Captain. She was six by now. Six or seven. It was difficult to remember. She didn't tell him that he had a daughter until after the little girl was born, so the exact date was fuzzy. Most of his time with the woman had been fuzzy. It wasn't very important. He didn't care for either of them particularly, but he knew it would be hard on the girl to grow up without a father, the stigma that might come as a result. But that stigma, he thought, was deserved. Whatever people would say about her mother would be true. She did find some strange gentleman and have relations with him out of wedlock. Looking down on such a thing was absurd, pattently american, but those things existed, she was an american, she should have known better. It wasn't his fault. But it wasn't his daughters fault either. There was a part of him that sympathized. He'd grown up with two parents, but wished he'd had neither. Growing up with something that you didn't want, he imagined, would be a similar feeling to growing up without something that you wanted. It would certainly leave it's mark. He would try to make time for the tot when he was back in the states, though the reasons for being there were growing smaller and smaller with each passing year. He would likely only see her once or twice more before he died. Unless of course he died right here on this boat by whomever was trying to poison him. The thought occurred to him and he got up to double check the secret compartments on his luggage. Everything was in its place. He must remember to tape one of his hairs to the doorway, he needed to be sure no one was coming and going when he was out of the room. Also he needed to inquire about more whiskey. Also, regardless of whether or not he was poisoned, he would have words with The Cook, how does he find a way to ruin dinner every night so completely. These thoughts sprung up from everywhere and suddenly he'd lost his sentimental letter in the back of his mind and he would soon to drift off to sleep.
When he woke up, hungover but sober, he would realize that it was not important. It was better not to shake that particular hornets nest. He would leave them alone back in the states and hopefully they would leave him alone to do his work. Besides, they would be arriving in just a few days. It wasn't enough time to craft a propper letter and she was only 7 years old, she woudldn't understand any of it, and for a third, The Captains inquiries have proven that he is not to be trusted and would most certainly open the letter the moment they left shore. A foolish idea in the round. He needed to keep an eye on his drinking. It was making him a sentimental old moron.
"We land in twenty four hours, Old Man."
"Thank you." The deck was slick and beginning to ice over. It was freezing. He was suddenly afraid of the boat. It didn't seem like it was built for this kind of weather, it creaked when you walked, it seemed as though it was thrown together as an afterthought, a spur of the moment thing made from scraps. It leaked. He knew it leaked. One of the men on board was named Leaky, it was his job to find the leaks and plug them up, everyone knew the boat leaked, it didn't seem to bother anyone aboard, so it didn't bother the old man. But in this weather, covered in ice, the boat felt fragile, it glistened, even in the fog and it looked as though it were made of glass. He was worried for the boat. Old girl didn't deserve to be treated this way. He was alone on the deck and he peeked over the side rail as he did every morning.
"No monsters, old man. Just sea water." The Captain called from the upper deck.
"No, never just." And never looked up at the Captain. There was just as certainly monsters below as there were above, just a matter of finding them or them finding you. The Captain never believed The Old Man's mutiny story. It was too far outside of his experience. Sailors loved their captains, they loved their vessels and their cargo. Monsters did not exist, there was nothing waiting to eat you or drag you to the depths. Sailing was about growing a beard, singing songs and transporting bananas or leather or tobacco or an old man who believed in monsters. Most problems could be solved with lemon juice and elbow grease, the boat wasn't turning to glass, and even if it were, Leaky would fix it. The Old Man held his moment of lonliness and thought of the letter he didn't write and regretted it. He hoped his daughter would find people who believed the things she believed even if the things she believed were wrong. The boat was made of glass. There were monsters waiting to be fed. There was a metal pendant that would grant eternal life and it was in the Jungles of South America.
The Third Hunt.
The Guide would meet him here, at the start of the Third Hunt. It would be their Third full excursion into the jungle. It would be a few weeks before The Guide arrived, it gave the Old Man time to spend a week or so recovering from the journey. It was his first time in this part of Chile, and it would take him some time to get aclimated. The first week was spent learning the town, enjoying the hospitality and spending some extra money he'd brought. The most important part of this process was to make sure he wasn't seeing too many of the same faces twice.
It was refreshing to be alone. He'd spent the last few months surrounded by morons and thieves. He was beginning to feel his years in his bones and a week or so of relaxing on the beach would work wonders. Hammock on the beach, a coconut and his journal.