I pounded on the resin wall. “I’m ready to confess.”
Police in Onegee were bound to procedure, and procedure made them lazy. They bring a person in, interview them, and then wait for the full confession. Once the confession comes, paperwork clears away and they render a verdict.
Justice is always served in Onegee Nicodemia. I’ve been in the system before, though not in the criminal sense. Police were good allies to have for a newly excommunicated handyman, and back then I took any ally I could get. I’d watched them roll over more than one hapless thug, and the next part wasn’t pretty. I’d be pulled back into the investigation room, made to wait, and then given documents to sign. I had no intention of sticking around that long.
A new officer came to fetch me from my cage. It had been hours—long enough they could conceivably believe that I was ready. Long enough that I was dangerously late for my appointment with Beck.
I’d have to worry about that later.
The station was a bustle of activity. Officers pushed paper at nearly half the desks in the open space. To one side, a couple officers talked in quiet voices, casting the occasional glance my direction. One of them recognized me. They’d be trouble.
“Stay put,” the officer said, sitting me down on a bench. I did my best to hide the smile. They made the same mistakes I’d seen them make years ago when I visited.
They assumed Trinity would sound the alarm if I moved. That was wrong, of course, but I still felt guilty about it. After all, the young man was only doing his job the way he was taught. They needed to procure an interview room for me, and they needed to make sure it was prepped before I went in.
If only those two officers in the corner would look away.
I spotted my things on a desk not far away. My hat was wrapped in plastic and the rest of my possessions were in a black fiberboard box. The man at that desk—the man who had interviewed me—had his head down, buried deep in paperwork. That was probably paperwork I’d made for him. It was going to get a whole lot worse.
The two officers talking in the corner glanced away, so I walked. Strolling across the station floor was an exercise in patience. Every instinct in my body wanted to run. The shuddering nerves in my chest told me to flee from imprisonment. They’d lock me away forever if they found me out.
One step, then another. Keep it slow. Don’t draw attention.
Being excommunicated gives a person a sense of when he’s being watched. It’s a hypersensitivity to attention that comes from an awareness of exactly how we’re all connected. This was what let me know when I was being followed. Hair prickled at the back of my neck. Somebody had looked my way.
But no alarm sounded.
Smooth as I could manage, given my frazzled nerves, I strolled up to the policeman’s desk, picked up the box and hat, and mumbled, “File these for you.”
Then I veered toward the door.
I almost thought I’d make it.
“Excuse me,” came a woman’s voice from behind.
A chill ran down my spine. “Yeah?”
“You think you could leave the box for us?”
The box? I looked down at the box in my hands. It held my coat and hat. I took the hat out of it’s plastic wrapping and placed it on my head. The coat draped across my shoulders like it belonged there. I set the box on the nearest desk.
Outside, I stopped across the street and watched the station until I was sure they wouldn’t follow. They would see I was gone, check their records, and realize I didn’t exist. Problem solved.
“Fancy meeting you here,” said Beck as she strolled up to meet me. She wore a sharp blue business suit and thick-framed glasses.
“You found me,” I said. “Again.”
Beck lazily pressed her body against mine, her arm hooking my elbow. “You were late.”
“I was busy.”
She tossed me a roll of dimes. “Today’s pay.”
I hefted it. “Feels light.”
“It’s the same as the others.”
“Those felt light, too.”
She gave a huff of frustration and disentangled herself from me. “It’s always business with you.”
“We have a business relationship.”
“It could be more, you know. We could leave behind all this nonsense about finding Violet’s painting. She doesn’t really need it. Rich people have such broken priorities, don’t you think?”
I met her gaze for several seconds, trying to figure what she was getting at. She’d hired me, and now she was telling me she’d leave it all. The warm impression where she’d touched me tingled in a cool breeze. Closing my eyes, I breathed deep of the scented air.
“Never mind,” she said, spite dripping in her voice. She stalked down the steps in front of the precinct office to her scooter, which she’d parked in the middle of a pedestrian walkway.
“It’s not like I don’t want to,” I said to quiet for her to possibly hear. I followed her to the scooter and she let me drive. “Where are we going?”
“You tell me.”
I glanced up at the too-bright sky. Most of the day had passed, and the false sky grew hazy and indistinct in the waning glow of the afternoon. “I could use a drink.”
“You didn’t figure out where Vitez went, either, did you?”
I twisted the accelerator and merged into the creeping traffic of other small vehicles. We spiraled upward for several minutes, and eventually I spotted the entrance to a gated community called The Fixed Stars. Fancy. Just like Smith had said. The actual gate was a gilded joke, with bars not nearly narrow enough to keep out intruders. The walls, on the other hand, looked to be solid fiberstone of a marbled grain I hadn’t seen anywhere else. This was the nice part of town, then. Nearly the highest point in Onegee Nicodemia.
It was also the home of Jacob Donovan, copilot of the ship that killed my parents.
“I need to chat with someone,” I said, pulling up next to the gate.
Beck looked around, and I swear I caught a glimpse of wariness in her eyes. “About Vitez?”
Her expression flashed annoyance. “Make it quick. I’ll keep on the move.”
I took out my music rig, relieved that the police hadn’t messed with the device. I slotted in a Muddy Waters album, reveling in the deep, throaty bass and exquisite guitar work. It reminded me of my sister, and Heavy Nicodemia, and the hard times we’d had as we scraped our way out of the ditch. With my earpieces in, the world faded away for several long seconds, but Beck was right. Time was of the essence, and I needed to move.
The bars were closer together than they looked, but with some effort I squeezed through. The instant I passed into the gated neighborhood, the atmosphere shifted, both literally and figuratively. This was a safe place surrounded by safe spaces. The cool breeze outside the neighborhood disappeared, replaced by a warm glow from smooth streets. Here, pedestrians walked without worry, without the furtive glances over the shoulder or the paranoid flinch away from potential pickpockets.
The whole thing made me uneasy.
“Hey,” a kid in short pants said as I stepped away from the gate. “You’re not supposed to do that.”
I murdered my music in the middle of a song. “Do what?”
“Step through the gate.”
“I don’t see why not. If someone wanted to keep me out, they’d make the bars closer together.” I held up my hands, palms forward. “Therefore I conclude that I was meant to come in that way.”
“But it’s supposed to stop you.”
“I don’t feel stopped.”
He was a young kid, shorter than Retch and a whole lot better fed. He held a skateboard in one hand and eyed me as if I’d just stepped into the station straight out of the void.
“You know a guy named Jacob Donovan?” I asked.
He narrowed his eyes at me, probably trying to figure if I was there to murder the guy. The kid must have figured either I wasn’t or he didn’t care, because he said, “What’s in it for me?”
Typical capitalist mindset. “How’s a dime sound?”
The kid scoffed. “Who spends dimes around here?”
“You spend something other than money?”
“Sure. It’s all Trinity karma. There’s nothing you can buy with dimes.”
So, he was still naive enough to believe the lies. I almost felt bad opening his eyes. “What if you want something Trinity doesn’t sell?”
I nodded to his skateboard. “Like a better board.”
This brightened his outlook. “This is the best board around.”
“It’s a Heavy board.”
“So, this is the kind of board they make when it needs to work wherever you take it. It’ll function even in the lower part of the Heavies, but the suspension’s too stiff for this place.” I scratched the stubble on my chin and wondered how disheveled I looked. They really didn’t teach kids about the danger of strange adults around here, did they? “What do you say if I trade your board for a better one, you show me where I can find Donovan.”
The kid glanced at the sky. The sunset had turned the western horizon a deep violet. “It’s almost curfew.”
“I’m in a hurry.”
He glanced down at his board, and I knew I had him. “Fine.”
Ten minutes later, he had a new board, I had his old one, and my pocket was only a few dimes shorter. Folks always wonder at my uncanny ability to find things. They think the shady parts of their world simply don’t exist because they can’t see them. Turns out, the trick is in asking. Ask the right person in the right way, and the world is a flower opening to reveal a fistful of ants. To get the non-regulation board, all I needed to do was ask the tiredest looking bloke at the sporting goods shop. He was tired because he was up late. He was up late because he was working late on some new gear.
It pays to be able to spot passion. Passion bends rules. Sometimes breaks them. That’s the way of the world.
“He’s usually at the Lucky Seven,” said the kid. “If he’s not there, he’s passed out up around the Spiralview tower.”
“Lucky Seven? That a brothel or something?”
The kid screwed up his face. “Mom says people there drink and sometimes throw away money.”
“What’s he look like.”
“Big red braided beard. He usually wears these big sunglasses if it’s bright out.”
“It’s not.” By then, it wasn’t. The sky had deepened to a burnt orange, soon to fade into the black of night.
That seemed to remind the kid about curfew. He kicked his board down to the ground, rolled a few feet, then stopped and turned to me, big grin on his face. “Damn,” he said.
I raised his old board to him in a kind of salute. “Damn.”
With that, the kid skated away into the night. Maybe he’d make it home before curfew. More likely the prospect of his new board would entice him to whatever ramp he was used to riding. If it was worth risking trouble to get a new board, then it was worth risking trouble to try it out.
The Lucky Seven was a dim little place set into the bottom corner of a towering high rise. It had a mood that reminded me a little of Rory’s down in the Heavies, but with all the edges sharp and the surfaces polished. Outside, it had the air of a place abandoned and empty, left quiet as the curfew descended upon the district.
Inside, it was packed with gamblers. The kid had a few things wrong about the place. This wasn’t someplace where people drank and sometimes threw their money away. Money-throwing sat top billing here. Drinks were an afterthought. I procured a gin and tonic and made my way around the outer perimeter until I spotted Jacob. The kid hadn’t lied about the beard. He had hair like copper wire that made his green eyes glow under bushy eyebrows. What the kid hadn’t mentioned was that Donovan’s sunken cheeks and unkempt shirt made him look like a scarecrow.
The remains of my roll of dimes hung heavy in my pocket. The lights and the noise of gambling wins rang like Pavlov’s bell in the back of my skull. I knew I couldn’t win. That wasn’t the issue. That’s the thing about gambling. It isn’t about winning. Maybe I’d win sometimes, but deep down in the logic of my brain I knew those winnings would end up on the table. I could turn anything into a loss, and those dimes were looking to be my next victim. There would always be more dimes tomorrow, right?
I shook my head to clear it. This required focus. Donovan was right in front of me, looking like he’d swallowed the poison of his lies for too many years. They burned a hole in his gut. All I needed was to give him the opportunity, and his secrets would come spilling right out.
I slapped my roll of dimes on the table and pushed in next to Donovan, not even really caring what game they played. “Give me some chips,” I said. “I’m feeling lucky.”
Support "The Man Who Walked in the Dark"
Bio: Anthony W. Eichenlaub's short fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Little Blue Marble, On Spec Magazine, and the anthology A Punk Rock Future. His novels range from pulse-pounding technothrillers to the adventures of irresponsible scientists on a colony planet. In his spare time he enjoys woodworking, video games, and working in his garden. Support him at: https://www.patreon.com/AWEichenlaub