I Wanna Tell You Another Story, Part 1 of 2

In the spirit of sharing you some of the best fiction written by fans of our site, we thought we would share the following tale.  this is part one of a multi-part drama and we think you’ll enjoy it.  Sit back, relax, and hope that love doesn’t make you undead.


The white Mercury Marquis rolled to a halt in front of The Galleries of Compton, neglected brakes grinding with shrill insistence.  Laughlin bumped the curb, cursed, and shifted into park, jabbing the switch to roll down his window automatically.  From the next block he could hear a cover band playing loudly and badly.  People milled about in Clinton Square and in adjacent streets closed for the annual Flavor of Salt City festival.  He saw fat locals carrying plastic cups of beer, slim women with bare midriffs, couples eating fried dough and falafel.  Stands nearby proclaimed their affiliation with local restaurants.  The crowds were dense.

That was bad.

Sweating, Laughlin scanned the street, his hands clenched on the steering wheel.  Where the hell was it?  He didn’t have much time.  He might not have any time; it might already be too late.  He prayed it wasn’t.

He exited the car, slamming the door behind him, his ID badge still hanging around his neck on the Caesars lanyard his wife had bought him in the Poconos.  Sheryl, he thought.  Forgive me for what I’ve done.  Gods forgive me if you can’t.  He tucked into his shirt pocket the transponder badge bearing his photo and the Compton Chemical Research logo.  It was an old habit.  Employees of SCR were encouraged not to advertise that fact.

The gun was heavy in his waistband, under his rumpled shirt.  He started to pull his tie to half mast, stopped himself, and yanked it free completely, dropping it onto the litter-strewn sidewalk.  To hell with it.  If the world didn’t end, he’d buy another.

He stood on the sidewalk, moving towards the entrance to the Galleries.  He wondered where to go.  Stay on the street?  He’d never find anything in the crowd.  Where would his quarry have gone?  He tried to remember what the expansive glass building contained.  He hadn’t been here in years.  There had been a food court, some shops, a newsstand.  There was the public library.  The architecture inside confused him, he remembered, with small hallways that seemed to creep off at random angles.

Would it have gone in here?

Sitting on the sidewalk next to a battered metal ashcan was a homeless man.  Laughlin watched him closely as he pulled open the nearest glass door.  The panhandler looked up at him, his eyes clear, his face blank, shaking a Styrofoam cup with a few coins in it.  Laughlin shook his head and entered the building.

Muzak played from within the open doors of a greeting card store.  Laughlin hurried past, making his way to the escalators in the center of the shopping area.  His mind reeled with thoughts of Bhopal, India — and worse.  Would what he was doing even matter?   Would it make a difference to any of them?

He paused out of reflex as a petite, strikingly attractive young woman — mid twenties, early thirties maybe — stepped gracefully and briskly past, her shoes clicking softly on the mall tile.  He was suddenly aware that he must look awful.  He hadn’t shaved in three days, his clothes were stained and disheveled, and he was sweating like a pig despite the mild June weather.

She spared him a glance and then was gone.  Laughlin continued, rode the escalator to the second floor, and surveyed his surroundings from a railing overlooking the floor below.

Where was it?

 

 

 

His name was Jack.  He’d had a last name once.  He still knew it, of course, but he seldom used it.  What was the point?  A family who had no use for a broken down drunk would hardly want him spreading their name around town.  No, it was better this way.  He spent colder nights at the shelter and the rest of his evenings under the Route 690 Teal Avenue overpass, begging at the exit ramp on those days it didn’t rain.  He did okay.  In his cup rattled enough to get him a hotdog from the vendor just down the street.  In his pocket he had enough for a bottle, maybe two if he stuck to the cheap stuff.  He’d make his way to the liquor store on the way back to Teal tonight.  He liked being downtown when he wasn’t “working,” because he could sit in one of the comfortable chairs in the library and no one was supposed to bother him.  Now he was resting outside and waiting for someone to toss half a cigarette in the ash can.  People wasted plenty of good smokes on the way into the “smoke free” building.  Jack nursed a half-pack-a-day habit from castoffs.

He’d get up soon.  He wished he felt better.  His body was cold and hot all over, gnawing inside his belly and shooting up his arm under the sleeve of his filthy army jacket.  The jacket let him play the homeless vet angle, though he figured fewer and fewer people bought it.  He was the wrong age to have been in Desert Storm and it wasn’t likely he’d just gotten off a plane from Iraq.  In reality, Jack had never been in the military at all.  It didn’t matter.  It wasn’t like his cardboard “will work for food” sign told the gospel truth, either.

Damn, he felt bad.  It must have been something he’d gotten from the dumpster behind the Indian place.  They threw away plenty of good food, but it never agreed with him.  It had never been this bad before.  Did he have food poisoning?  His arm itched beneath the grimy “camouflaged” cotton blend and he thought about his encounter with the nutjob that morning.

It didn’t figure. That guy wanted first pick on that dumpster so bad he was willing to play crazy like that…

 

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