Doors Closing

Lumb blinked in, looked around, blinked out. Arnauld would be seconds behind him, less if it was young Arnauld, with young Arnauld’s reflexes and adrenaline production. Two blinks ago he’d seen a forest, daytime, probably morning from the dewy sheen on the leaves. Then a concrete corridor, lit by bare incandescent bulbs spaced too far apart. This last time, a beach at dusk, the sun low on the horizon, a low tide teasing the sand. Then…

A busy subway platform, just behind a pillar, just as the train arrived. Bingo. Lumb slipped into the throng and then the train, traded his hat for one lifted from an exiting passenger’s coat pocket, reversed his jacket from exterior-blue to liner-red.

Arnauld would know within seconds that he hadn’t blinked again, but by then Lumb would be one face in ten thousand, somewhere on the train or on the platform or hurrying up the steps onto the city street. He’d have to—

“Lumb.”

Arnauld sat behind him, holding a newspaper. Under the paper, there’d be a gun, and Arnauld’s Blinky, and a Bracelet slaved to the Blinky. “I’ve disabled yours, so don’t bother.” He handed the Bracelet forward.

“…I almost got away.”

“Sure.”

Ruins

“We do it here.”

He stared at her, waiting for something to occur to him, something to say, a way to convince her to change her mind; nothing came. Eventually, he answered, “We can go on a little ways, maybe to—”

“No.” She already had her backpack off her shoulders and resting on the crumbled brick. “We do it here. You want all the forty-five ammo, right?”

He watched her dig out two boxes of bullets; he hadn’t taken his pack off yet. “Kit…”

“I should have all the nine millimeter,” she continued, placing the ammunition boxes on a brick and ignoring his lack of answer, “and the smaller knife. All the food we can divide equally.”

He shrugged off his backpack and sat down, waited.

“Howard, we’re doing this. I’m sorry.” Kit shook her head, sighed. “No, I’m not sorry. We’re doing this here, now, while there’s still enough light left for us to get some distance between us before the sun goes down. And you’re not going to track me, you’re not going to play out some sort of fantasy where you follow me to keep me safe and leap out just in time to save the day. I don’t need that. I don’t want that. We’re done.”

He stared at the floor.

“We’re done. Do you understand? We’re—”

“Yeah.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah.” He wished away the panicky feeling roiling his stomach, the flush of heat around his ears, but they didn’t go. He breathed as normally as he could, an act of will. He fished a half-empty box of nine millimeter out of a side pocket. He managed, “You’re getting the short end on the ammo.”

“I don’t care. I’ll find more.” They exchanged boxes without their eyes meeting. “And the food? Matches?”

“You’ve already got half the matches. There were only the two books. And the food…” He peered into his backpack. “… I dunno. Take what you want.” He zipped it up, pushed it towards her with a shaky hand and then a foot.

“I won’t cheat you.” She said, as she started rummaging through his pack, as if he needed convincing.

“I trust you.”

She shook her head, made a sound of disgust that was a knife to the back of neck. “You shouldn’t trust anyone. There are terrible people out there—”

“That’s why you should stay with... why we should stay together. Just as partners, that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that.”

“It’s done, Howard. I want you to walk away. I want you to walk away and not look back, because that’s what I’m going to do.” Kit finished stuffing cans into her bag, zipped it up, tossed it over her shoulder. “I really mean it. I don’t want to have to shoot you, Howard. I don’t want to; but I will.” She stepped through the breach in the wall and was gone.

She’ll do it, too. He waited, a long time, and then set out in the other direction.

Coming This Summer To A Theater Near You

“Holomarketing.”

The Producer blinked. “You have one minute.”

Bernie grinned. “Right. We install projectors in high-traffic areas, foot and vehicle both. You walk through a scene from the movie, you drive through. Or maybe something simpler, like the poster image. Wouldn’t be that hard for the boys to—”

“Liability issues?”

“How do you mean?”

The Producer scoffed. “You haven’t run it by the lawyers yet? Come on, Bernie. Some Flyover Queen in a Honda gets distracted, runs over two orphan kids and a nun? And their dog? We end up getting shellacked.”

Bernie nodded, let a beat pass. “But if the lawyers can shield us from that sort of liability? Wrap it all in a shell corporation or some sh—”

“Bernie, if nobody can sue us, I love it. If they can, and they do, and we have to settle, or if we lose? It’s coming out of your retirement.”

Manchester United

It was a filthy city, squalid and cramped, too thoroughly caked with soot to ever be washed clean by only the rain; but if the downpour ever did last long enough to do the job, the buildings would likely fall apart as the grime was all that held them together. This was the town into which I was birthed.

She was, on the other hand, to the manor most definitely born. The closest she likely came to hardship was waiting a bit too long for a servant to appear after the bell was rung.

And yet here we are, together.

Free Shrimp Cocktail

Rickover looked down at his cards, trying to concentrate through the discomfort of the heat, trying to remember the last couple hands, trying to count cards. “Hit me.”

The demon snapped another card off the top of the deck and deposited it in front of Rickover, hissing, “Jack, bust. That’s another thousand years you owe me.”

Rickover didn’t swear at his bad luck; that would just have cost him more time. “Deal again.”

“My pleasure.” The demon dealt each of them a card face-up, and then likewise one face-down. “The dealer shows an ace; want to buy insurance?”

“How much?”

“Up to five hundred years.”

“No.”

The demon looked at his hole card, and then turned over a Queen. “Blackjack.”

“Oh, of course.”

“Are you suggesting that I’m cheating, Mister Rickover?” The demon leaned in, steam coming from its nostrils. “I’m not the one at this table who cheats, am I?”

“…No.”

With a grin, the demon dealt again. After looking at the card, its toothsome grin expanded. “Rickover shows a pair of tens. Want to split?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this.” The demon turned to grab an enormous blade from the wall. “Now, hold very still.”

In Five Easy Lessons

He’s one of my guys. They come in because a wife or a girlfriend drags them kicking and screaming, but then it’s like, hey, this is fun, I’m really enjoying myself, and they stick around, even after the wife or girlfriend is out of the picture, or lost interest, or whatever. I mean, sometimes they keep coming because they have a thing for me, or for Becky or Wil, but since we’re super-careful about boundaries it’s never a problem.

Carlo is a problem; he’s not being a problem, like, he’s a perfect gentleman and everything.  He signed up because the V.A. doctor recommended it as part of his rehab, and he’s got that whole military I-will-finish-what-I-started thing, so he’s stuck around, maybe three months so far?

But I’m done, I’ve got it bad. All I want to do is finish a twirl and fall into his lap and kiss him.

A View To A Kill

“What do you see?”

Her voice was strained. “I see a girl. I see… she’s dancing, she’s wearing a formal dress like she’s at the prom.”

“Wrong time of year for—”

“I can’t tell when this is happening yet.” Her head tilted, her eyes crinkled as if she was listening for a distant sound. “It’s too warped to be the past. I think… I think she’s still alive. It feels like this is future.”

“Where?” If she was still alive, they could still do something. “See if you—”

“Oh God… he’s there; she just saw him. John, it’s happening now.”

Build Your Own Slam

“How much?” He had his wallet in his hand, as gauche and bourgeois and endearingly pathetic as they always were.

She shrugged. “Depends on what you want.”

“I want to believe it.”

She stared at him, hand on hip. She blew a bubble, let it pop, sucked the gum back in and resumed chewing. “More specific.” She said it like a mechanic trying to get someone to describe a ping sound coming from somewhere behind them in the car, but only on the highway, and only when it’s cold.

“Not… I don’t need you to pretend that I turn you on. I know I don’t. I just need to believe you like me. You know? That you’re here because you like me.”

“We call that ‘the girlfriend experience’. You want the whole thing, it takes a while…” She looked at the cheap hotel clock-radio and then off into space for a moment. “Say, eight hundred dollars.”

“I’ll have to go to a machine—”

“It’s fine. I’ll have to run home to change clothes, anyway.”

“Why?” He’d already stood up, started putting on his coat. “Just wondering.”

“Your girlfriend doesn’t dress like a hooker. And we’re going to stop for pancakes.”

All Of The Above

Have you ever heard thousands of people screaming under water? Some of them constantly, some in fits and starts, some only in rare burst-pipe spasms of terror and despair?

I’m pretty sure this is Hell. Some version of it anyway, from some religion or sect of one I’ve never studied. I couldn’t tell you what exactly it was I did to put me here. I stole a few things, nothing big… I mean, we all do, right? I cheated on Helen three times, one-night stands. I didn’t even try to avoid that cat I ran over on the way home from the Strokes concert. I looked up a fifteen-year-old girl’s skirt at a picnic once and fantasized about it for years afterward. Take your pick?

It could be something I didn’t even know was a sin; maybe to get out of here I have to figure out what it was.