Tuesday 6, 9:37 pm, West Bluntron highway
Mike Greenwood was driving home after a ten hour shift at the factory, when he casually glanced out of the window of his car to see a seemingly endless row of billboards on the
He sat down at the table for two (the smallest they had) close to the door at L'oeil, French for the eye, around closing time. It was a small, rather isolated, place with no windows, and coliseum seating overlooking the kitchen. Fancy, but not shockingly frou-frou. In particular its walls were very bare, white; except a few cameras in the corners. People did not come for the scenery, they came for the food. The quality that Mike enjoyed the most was the quietness. The building was completely sound proof, giving it a sense of removed ambiance. He just could not stand loud restaurants. It was a bit expensive, though. There were twenty five some odd other customers in the building. Among them Mike stood out. In his grease stained factory worker clothes, (he even had his name tag on) he just stood out. The fact that he was still wearing the sound eliminating headphones (he was a regular and they just brought him what he usually ordered) did not help. It looked as if he could not afford to eat here. Of course those who thought that were right, he could never have gone here on his current salary, but he had some leftover funds to waste.
He was about half done with his quiche, when a hooded man in a dark cloak walked in the door. His face was clouded in shadow by his large hooded cloak. It was almost exactly like looking in a mirror for Mike, a mirror that turned back time 5 years. After about a second of intense staring he decided that he was being paranoid and picked up his glass of the finest cabernet. The man turned around to shut the door. Mike saw, on the back of his cloak the small insignia of a peacock’s featherhead, that tiny little eye. Mike knew it all too well.
He stared at the symbol incomprehensively. “How? Not here! Not in Bluntron! How could they have spread this far in these five years?" Mike thought to himself, mind racing. He heard a small click, and the three gunshots. The man had shot the 3 surveillance cameras in the restaurant. He had produced two revolvers from his cloak. There was uproar of fear from the customers.
“Settle down" the man voiced to the bunch, as he removed his hood. This revealed a mask, typical Peacock regalia. It was featureless and round with two eye holes. In green on the black mask there was a single, big heartbeat line as that of an EKG. “I’ve taken the liberty of padlocking the door shut…" “Just like a Peacock," Mike thought to himself. “Using 20th century technology to pull a heist." “…and no one gets out," the man continued “until everyone hands all their valuables to me." Guns still in hand he pulled out a bag.
“No way in hell!" said a bystander. He produced a handgun, and five others did the same (not too uncommon in Bluntron, a very harsh city).
“So stupid," thought Mike “guns won’t help against a Peacock."
The man raised his mask just enough to reveal his mouth. He chuckled, breathed deep, and then let out an extremely loud wail. It was 10 times as loud as a gunshot. The acoustics in the building caused the noise to bounce back and forth, resonating throughout the restaurant. Mike spat his wine. Even through the headphones it was the second loudest noise Mike had ever heard. At least half of those standing fell to the ground, and those with guns lost their aim to block their ears, and that was all the man needed.
“Why noise? Why did his trait have to be that horrible noise?" Mike thought to himself as he uneasily felt a massive tingling sensation on his upper back. His own was returning.
Six gunshots later the man had killed all the distracted gunslingers. “Why did he have to kill so loudly? There are so much better quietly efficient ways to- No! I will not think like that again!" Mike weakly willed himself.
The man held out his bag again and said “any takers?" That was the last thing he said before he died.
Mike stood up and began to thrash about as if trying to throw something off his back. “Please, no!" He yelled. In his face he had a look of raw dementia and horror. It was too late. Thirty two cord-like tentacles shot out of his back. Four flesh-tone muscle wires went straight down the robber’s throat; completely mutilating his vocal cords, burst out of his neck, then snapped his spine. Simultaneously the other twenty eight tentacles wrapped themselves around the heads of everyone else in the room but Mike. Within half a second all were dead, necks snapped.
Mike stared in terror at the horrible efficiency of himself. There had been no screams. No additions to those of the past. His tentacles knew that was how he wanted it. He looked around at all the bodies, real people he had killed, then up at the florescent light fixtures, and heard a faint hum over the room full of death. As he stared at the lights, he realized that this was as close to sweet, sought-after silence as he was ever going to get.
In the back of his mind he heard it coming, coming back to haunt him, hundreds of screams, the screams of those he had killed. The headphones were no use. He took them off and slammed them into the ground “Useless!" The screams swept over him, like a wave of dread. Those horrible, horrible noises, came back to him, and crushed him with the weight of knowing how many he had killed. “How could I have coped with this much death, coped and continued to kill, so long ago? Why couldn’t I've stopped, stopped before she was dead?" He accusingly asked himself.
The last scream struck his mind. It was the dying scream of his wife, impaled through the stomach with a tentacle. And the scream stayed, scarring his mind just as it did five years ago, spawning his hatred of loud noises. He screamed, but never louder than she did, as much as he tried; “It was an accident! You weren’t supposed to be there! This isn’t how it was supposed to be!" begging for her forgiveness, never to get an answer, but her scream. He laid there mourning for a while.
Mike got up, the tentacles had retracted by now and he was no longer sad, now he was angry; angry not only at himself, but also his mentor, a Peacock. He was not always this way, there was once a time when he had killed no one, and was innocent. A time before that man had twisted him into what had killed his wife. He hadn’t known what to do with his powers before his mentor. Things just happened. Then he came and reshaped Mike; made him a tool of his own gain. The death of his wife woke him to what he had done. Now, five years later, Mike planned to reshape his mentor in a completely different way.
Noticing that his shirt had thirty two quarter-sized rips, he walked over to his assailant. He took off his shirt, replaced it with the man’s, and stole the cloak and mask. He removed his nametag and put it in his pocket. The man's shirt was a little big on him but it’d do. He stared at the man, who was still clutching his guns in death; Mike had killed him so fast that his muscles were still tense. In closer examination, they looked like very nice pistols, but they wouldn’t help him where he was going. In one of the pockets inside the cloak there was a small pager-like device which read “Program complete". Mike tossed it aside and checked the other pocket. There was the key and a small note that looked hastily written. It said “pier 89.5, Thursday 8 @ 2 am ‘spoils’". Tomorrow night. He would atone for his wife’s death; atone the way he was taught how. He walked out the door with one thing in mind; if he was liable to kill those around him, he would kill the Peacocks, all of them.
II. Vengeance renewed
Tuesday 6, midnight, L’oeil, north Bluntron
Gerald Zane rubbed the bud of his diet cigarette into the in-car ashtray as he got out. “Less addictive my ass."
He had gotten about two hours of sleep that night, before he got a call from the Bluntron head of police. He looked very menacing when he didn’t get sleep, the scar on his left cheek stood out more over his bags. It was times like this where he wished he had just retired when the FBI forced him out. But walking into that crime scene made him remember why he hadn’t.
“What the hell happened here?" The room was strewn with dead bodies; the once white walls and floors of the restaurant were contrastingly stained red with blood. Lying in the doorway there was a shirtless man clutching two pistols and a bag in his hands. Next to him was a shirt. “Strange…" he thought as he stroked his massive scar, which he did a lot when thinking about a crime scene. The man on the ground’s head was almost completely decapitated, his neck holding together with a few muscles and flaps of skin. It didn’t look clean though, like an axe would have done it. It looked like the tendons and ligaments were torn apart, and the spine was snapped in two. “Very strange…" Gerald stepped over the unfortunate body and into the slaughtered restaurant.
“How many dead?" He asked his partner, Jason Philips, who had arrived on the scene about ten minutes earlier. At age thirty, Jason was fifteen years younger than Gerald. This was in no way impeding to their job. Though young, he had been around the block a few times and wasn’t a rookie. What Gerald liked about Jason best was that his only desire in life was to clean up Bluntron of its many mobs.
“Thirty three" Jason responded “twenty six with snapped necks, six dead from bullet wounds to the head, all six holding pistols, and this guy." Jason looked down at the nearly decapitated man.
“No survivors? They even got the chefs?"
“If I had to take guess this guy would be the initial assailant, started to kill people, then messed with the wrong guy, who then killed everyone and left."
“Do we have any proof that the neck-snapper did not come with the pistolier?"
“We’re missing a body." Jason pointed over to a table in the restaurant which had a half-eaten quiche and an open bottle of cabernet. What was important though, was that there wasn’t a body near it.
“Do we have surveillance?"
“No, the surveillance cameras cut out for thirty seconds outside and inside the building. We believe that during those thirty seconds Mr. headless shot the ones inside."
“Damn, so this must be connected to those recent robberies." Bluntron had been hit with a massive crime wave in which every crime had been unseen in this very fashion.
“Yes, and this must be what they used." he held up a small device that looked like a pager. “I found it next to him." he pointed to the shirtless man.
“What is it?"
“Well it’s a one-program wireless computer that was programmed to, with the push of a button, hack in and blackout any surveillance cameras nearby for exactly 30 seconds. This is not what you see every day. You’d need a really good programmer to pull this off."
“I want our crew to get me the surveillance of the thirty seconds before the blackout."
“Right away" Jason motioned over another cop and told him what to do. Meanwhile Gerald saw that one of the men, who had been shot in the head, had a very strange watch. It looked as if it was far too tight, or even a part of his wrist.
“Any of the bodies disturbed?"
“It doesn’t look like it, except for shirtless here…"
“None? All their valuables still in place?" Gerald walked over to the watch. It wasn’t moving.
“Yes." The crimes also seemed to have everyone killed at the crime scene. No witnesses, but this was the first time that the bodies hadn’t been looted.
“Jason what kind of watch is this?" he walked over to Gerald.
“Why that’s a life watch."
“It’s a very expensive watch that runs off your heartbeat, very fashionable ..." he paused, thinking. “…we can use it to find the time of death!"
“You lost me."
“They run off your heartbeat with a little needle that gains power through your blood flow. If they stop getting power from your heart, they stop, so they’re designed to be worn at all times. Each one has to be custom made to fit your wrist, so they are very expensive. When this man died his watch stopped."
“The new Rolex."
“You make me feel so old."
They found a total of seven men with life watches, five with necks snapped, and two with gun shots. The five men with their necks snapped had died within a quarter of a second of each other. Those with gun shots had been killed fifteen seconds earlier. All deaths had taken place very shortly after the surveillance failure. Gerald and Jason looked at each other with the realization that twenty six people had to have had their necks snapped at almost exactly the same time.
"This is insane! They would have needed twenty-six people to come in, have him shoot six bystanders, while everyone else grabs a neck, rip their own guy’s head nearly off, then take quiche guy hostage!" Jason ranted.
Gerald walked over to the shirt lying on the ground, he had a hunch. He flipped the shirt over to reveal thirty-two quarter-sized rips, no blood. These weren't bullet holes. “What if one man snapped all the necks?"
Gerald looked at Jason with a cold, solemn stare that Jason had never seen before. Gerald sighed and looked at the ground in preparation, as if he was about to say something very hard to say. He looked back at Jason and said “Have I ever told you how I got my scar?"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Gerald Zane had just finished filing the report on his most recent drug bust when he realized he forgot the date. “8/18/2082" he jotted down. Looking at the date he saw that he had been part of the bureau for almost fifteen years now. He slipped the file into a folder as he walked off down the hall. He stopped at the water cooler when he heard a siren go off. The Pentagon had been breached.
In all the years he had worked there, there had only been one breach before this. It was in a different department, so he wasn't authorized to see its full effects, but rumors of massive casualties stalked the halls for months after. They weren't too unbelievable, it takes a lot of power to breach the pentagon, and even if the agents were well trained, they were only human.
Twenty seconds later three men came running down the hall. One man was riding on top of another who was running at Olympic sprint speed. The third was stranger yet; he was walking on tentacles that shot out of his back, and moving almost as fast as the sprinter. The man’s body hung like a coat on a rack, or a lifeless puppet being controlled by the tentacles. All three men were wearing dark cloaks and featureless black masks with green images on them. The sprinter’s mask bore what looked like the tendrils of a black sun, the rider, a brain, and the tentacled one, appropriately, an octopus.
The sprinter and the rider dashed past Gerald. He stared as they sprinted down the hall. There was a scream and he turned his head back. He saw that the tentacled one was using excess limbs to stab and kill anyone he saw; the scream was from his partner, Floyd Slade. The blood began to pool around Floyd's body. His boss, the girl in the office next to his, the man who worked across the hall, even the janitor, were all soon impaled just like Floyd. Gerald watched as those he worked with died around him, in awe of the uncanny death machine. A tentacle darted straight toward Gerald’s head. He dropped the now unimportant file to try to catch the oncoming death whip. He caught it but its end lashed around and sliced his left cheek open; he hadn’t realized their tips were that sharp. The man retreated his first failed tentacle behind his cloak.
Gerald could see the man’s eyes through the mask’s eye slits. Whether they stood there staring at each other for a second or for a minute Gerald was not sure. Together, awestruck by each other, they hovered over the bodies of Gerald’s coworkers, as the pools of blood grew. Gerald had never seen anything like his eyes before; they were abnormal, blue and red. If this man wasn’t the scariest thing Gerald had ever seen, they would have been beautiful. The man had a look in his eyes of confusion, anger, and behind that the raw intent to murder. In his years as an agent for the FBI, never had he seen a face so devoted to causing death, that wasn’t insane, that is. Apparently people didn’t block his tentacles that often, for this seemed to have really pissed him off. Gerald felt his gun at his side, his hand not too far away, but he couldn’t bring himself to shoot the monstrosity. Was it fear? Was it awe? Why was he compelled not to shoot? Cowardice? Intimidation? Or was it just a moment of weakness?
Finally the man broke the silence by looking down the hallway and saying “If I didn’t have somewhere to be I would kill you thrice over for wasting my time." He rushed away through the hall still dangling, suspended by his harness of uncanny flesh. And Gerald’s gun lay in its holster, untouched.
Gerald turned back and saw all the dead. He realized that his left cheek was covered in blood. He touched his hand to his cheek then stared at the blood. Why had they died, and he lived, the coward that he was? Even in the FBI he had never come this close to death. Half a second later and it would have gone straight through his head, and he would be lying on the floor with them, dead as he deserved. But he was alive, very alive, and with this life of his he swore to avenge their death, for he already had the chance, and he needed to redeem himself.
And he stood there thinking, the blood of the dead now staining the coveted marble walls and floors of this building. His own blood began to flow down his face like a river of the cowardice he now exiled. Still the sirens flailed, amplifying his failure. And he stared at his finger bearing his own blood, cowardice.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“The man ran down the hall to the library. The head librarian was the only one who worked in that department, the bureau's own 'keeper of secrets'. This woman knew every secret the FBI has. Her life was worth more than the president's. The cloaked ones kidnapped her. As a witness, I was filled in on a few things; the cloaked people were believed to be the lasting effects of a massive illegal genetic experiment, and Dr. Vladimir Zimmer's doing. Thirty five years ago today, the FBI found Zimmer's warehouse and 25 of his employees, but none of his 'children'. He had escaped. The children we have no what he did with, or even how many of them there were. There was nothing for us to follow, we had no leads, and the case was closed. He turned up 10 years later after having committed suicide. 10 years ago, they, the experimented, although we don't know how, began to gather each other, and formed a mob. 'The Peacocks' they called themselves; I have no idea why. They were extremely organized, efficient, and deadly. The FBI had taken notice and tried to stop them, which brings me back to the librarian. She came back a week later in a near vegetative state, knowing only how to breathe, walk, and say 'they know everything', once every five minutes exactly. The creepiest insanity I've ever seen. No amount of therapy helped her, and the Peacocks sent us several exact copies of data reports of very high level secrets, data reports that had never been removed from the library, since the librarian herself read them. 'Off memory' they said. They didn't want the FBI interfering with their business, and, much to my discomfort, that's exactly what they got. They closed the case saying that the peacocks knew too much for the Bureau to continue fighting them. That's why they forced me out, I wanted to fight them, but no one else did. I became obsessed with them, and my work suffered, so they booted me.
Jason stared jaw-dropped. "Wait. Two things. One, there was a breach at the pentagon nine years ago, and the media wasn't told?"
"Yes, the pentagon faces a breach about every 10 years, but we keep it under wraps so there isn't a panic."
"O K... then two, you’re saying that a murderous octopus-man killed these people?"
"Two things. One, they were more like ropes of flesh not like an octopuses'. And yes, yes I am."
Jason stared back at him as if he was crazy. Gerald said "Look at me. Would I make this up?" The vengeance in his eyes said it all.
"What I've told you here today I once swore to keep from the public but I also once swore to protect the people of Bluntron. I've just put the second before the first, which is why I've told you this. I need your help to kill this guy. Do not tell anyone what I've told you. Period."
A member of the tech crew walked over. "We've got the surveillance footage."
The tapes showed the missing man. He was wearing the shirt nearby the nearly headless man, and his nametag read 'Mike Greenwood'. Then came Gerald's proof. 'Mike' looked up at the camera to reveal his eyes. Red and blue. They were different then Gerald had remembered, more sad, but unmistakably the masked man's eyes. "Find out where 'Mike Greenwood lives."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Gustav walked out of the suit shop, fully content with his means of affording it. He had no house, no car, no social security number; he was invisible to the government. So many years he had lived as a street urchin, it felt good to finally be, or at least seem to be, one of the rich. This was his fruit, this suit, the fruit of his labor. A Mr. Ronald Dickens, or at least that was what it said on his card, had died for Gustav's fruit; his blood was the water that would soon grow a plant bearing innumerous fruits, be they deliciously ripe or incredibly sour.
What compelled him to kill Ronald Dickens, he himself didn't know. Ronald was just some guy, who the hell knows why he was hanging around the back allies of Rundov. Gustav slit his throat, threw him in a dumpster, took his wallet, his cards, and left. It felt good, taking something for his gain.
Under Gustav's arm was a file that he had carried with him ever since the death of his father. All the years, he had kept it in pristine condition, almost identical to the day he was given it. It was only slightly worn from him reading the pages countless times. He had memorized the pages the first time he read it, but he read it again and again since then, as if not trusting his own mind.
So, a week later, here he was, spiffy, in a suit of Ronald's money. He finally had a goal, and was heading towards it. A Mr. Samuel O'Brien worked at a nearby firm in human resources, and Gustav, or Ronald Dickens, was going to talk to him over lunch about 'business'.
"So... what is it you want to talk to me about, Dickens was it?" Samuel said, bored.
"Yes, Dickens. Do you like power Mr. O'Brien?"
"Yes, but who doesn't these days? That's why it's in such high demand. And the shocking lack of suppliers doesn't help that. What get-richer-quick scheme are you pitching me?"
"One you've never heard before, I'm sure."
"Please I've heard them all; salesmen come to me like flies to a lantern"
"And do you know why it's you?"
"Do you know why you are the target of salesmen?"
"My money, I assume. You work your way up from nothing in an orphanage and this is what you get... Salesmen. It sickens me."
"Yes, you climbed your way right up the ladder of society. A real success story."
"As I said before, what do you want?"
"As I said before," Ronald didn't like him, Samuel could tell. "Do you know why it's you? Why you've been so successful coming out of an orphanage, why people are drawn to you 'like flies to a lantern'?"
"What are you alluding to, Mr. Dickens?" No one had ever disliked Samuel, or at least didn't show it. No one.
"Nothing you can help, yet. People like you, enjoy your company, want to be around you and hell, even want to promote you. It's in your genes."
"What?" He had never known his parents, so he imagined them to be great people, people that must have lost him.
"What if I was to tell you that you were genetically better than the people all around you?" Samuel had always felt that way, but told himself it wasn't true. "That you had a power over them, something that no one else in the world has; you just need me to show you how to use it. You think people like you now, with my help, they will need you, desire you, do anything it takes to gain your favor." This was certainly the most exciting thing that had ever happened to Samuel O'Brien.
"I know bullshit when I see it. This is bullshit." Yet something told him to deny it.
"No, it's your duty. We are, because of our father, better than those around us. We are peacocks living in a world of poultry. Proud, intelligent, beautiful, why it'd be like slapping god in the face not to rule them, so... lesser."
"Our father? How would you know who my father is?"
"Well I don't know your biologic father, nor my own, but I knew the man that made us who we are, who raised me as a son, and would've raised you, had he the chance." Samuel was torn. He had always wanted to be something great. But he still told himself that this could not be true. It was a sham. "Come on, you and I both know it, you feel it in your bones, your better than a simple HR person, so how's about it?" he was right. Samuel had always felt better than this life, unchallenged. He didn't work that hard yet he still advanced beyond those around him. "We, together, liberate other peacocks from their chicken coups. And we as a race run free unbound from the lesser poultry that is man, and do what we please as beyond human." Samuel stared deep into the red eyes of Gustav, and felt for the first time in his life that he wasn't alone with a world of people that silently liked him or wanted his money. Gustav was just as strong in will as he. Samuel felt as if Gustav, or Ronald, was the first real person he had ever met.
III.THE GAME IS AFOOT
Mike walked into the bank for the first time, and yet he had been there before. He looked at all the faces who had stopped to look at the fool in the octopus mask. He felt like a fool but not for why they thought he was. This moment of cold isolation allowed his veins to now pulse with a familiar emotion, removing for a moment his self loathing. This emotion was rage.
As he walked to the center of the building, he heard the door open and close just once. He knew exactly who it was but did not turn around. His anger prevented him from doing so, he believed.
The lights went out, and with the signal struck he unleashed his unique brand of fury. Time seemed to slow as one by one the despisers were struck down by his tentacles. They each died, impaled and screaming. Mike felt again the twisted euphoria that now demented him. The suspense caused by these screams was unbearable, yet he continued. Clockwise they died, mike going down the line as the deaths slowly moved behind him, as though his arms were the second hands counting the minute. The minute tentacle primed itself as the people died, the louder, combined screams empowering it. This clock of death was both witnessed and powered by both the euphoric and shocked Mikes. The minute was up and the last tentacle shot, stabbing the person directly behind mike.
For the first and yet the thousandth time Mike heard the fatal scream of his wife. The death rattle never seemed to cease, as the rest of the world plunged into darkness, and he fell into this void. The unbearable weight of what he had just done amplified the noise, and the speed of his fall. He turned to see the new ground at which he was falling, to see the grand eye of the peacock, the insignia that had so forsaken him, growing ever larger as he closed in. He hit the ground, and the eye engulfed him, only to find he was within his wife's body and the scream was his own. For a moment he stared at the tentacle in his breast, then up at the face of a man he hated, himself. He was shrouded by an octopus mask; he saw only his own eyes. As they stared into him, as he stared at himself, the impaler laughed. He laughed a laugh that slowly overthrew the sound of his wife's last breath. The Impaled Mike died.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Mike awoke suddenly, gasping for air, as though out of hellish waters that almost drowned him. After a moment he thought "The dream is back, after all these years, its back". He realized that the tentacle that had killed his wife, second row, sixth down, had shot into the hotel mattress.
He had left his apartment with everything still valuable to him, his wife’s necklace, the money he still had, and his mask and cloak. He even abandoned his car. The receptionist on the first floor of the complex had told him his rent was overdue as he was walking out of the building. He promptly slapped 4 times his monthly rent on the counter “I’m going out for a while….”
“Well,…Where are you going?” asked the astonished receptionist.
“Phoenix, Arizona… ” he thought at first, he needed somewhere for the cops to be lead to falsely, but then he got a better idea. “No, I’m heading to Rundov.”
He now wondered, sitting in his hotel room staring at the clock, if that was the right idea. What if he actually was going to Rundov… where it all began. The clock struck noon. He had an old ‘friend’ to visit. He had no idea if he would be there, but he had a hunch.
Mike took a taxi off to the defensive perimeter of a suburban neighborhood called Manza, the dwellings of the ultra-rich of Bluntron. They were completely isolated from the poor masses. The company heads could rule from inside their fortresses, and the children never left the walls. As if an entire community refused to conform to the mass farming with artificial light, the super skyscrapers of 1000 or more stories, the interconnected web of highways. Mike had broke in once before with his ‘friend’ to ‘evict’ a man who had messed with the Peacocks. Then the other Peacock decided to buy the house.
He was a chess enthusiast, the Peacock, and his trait was brilliance, sheer brilliance. But he cared not for what he was made for, making money. To him it was merely a tool for life, the calculations were easy, and that’s all investments were. They had called him “Numbers” in the Peacocks. He amassed a lot of money for the peacocks, and assisted Mike in their collapse by removing nearly all the funds. It was strange, though, to mike, when he had asked for his assistance, he hesitated as if concentrating really hard. It was the first time Mike had seen him stumped, while not playing chess. Then he decided that Mike’s cause was worthy enough for him to do everything he could.
Manza was protected by 20 foot high walls encompassing the community, with the exception of 4 cardinal gates. These were heavily guarded as was each watchtower every 50 yards. However they did not have their own sewage system. That was how mike had entered last time. “Wings” was off duty, and so they went through the tunnels. At 1 o’clock he got out about 5 blocks away from the wall. Now, he was to find Numbers at The Chestnut Tree Café.
It was about a 10 block walk to the once thought quaint shopping center. Mike remembered that this place had one thing he had only heard of in books before his last visit, trees. Not the uniform, common bio-engineered for anti-CO2 trees, the dome trees (they were shaped like domes); no, they were the trees of old, not uniform at all, a collection of the strange, bound by history, diverse and yet similar. An isolated anthology collected by the last that cared. Gardening had become an outdated sport practiced by only those that could afford the cloned seeds. Nonetheless, to mike they were breathtaking. In every shape, size, color, like a mad zoo of wood. These trees were not average.
It was strange to him, being in this neighborhood. He was an outsider, and yet he went undetected. None knew or questioned his purpose there. Just people going about their life with him walking into and soon out of their lives. As if a reaper of death passing someone on, just accepted by society. He even looked the part, his cloak flapping in the wind. A dampening black spot on the rainbow of wood, leaves, and the various painted colors of the houses. Mike was out of place, in a place that accepted him.
He approached the café and looked at the sign saying “since 1984: over 100 years of service.” And wondered if that could be possible. It must be part of a larger chain that changed the name of one of their shops, so to put one here.
Numbers was playing chess at a table for two, alone. He didn’t seem to notice Mike; he just kept staring at the chess board, in a different world. Mike saw a black move that put the white king in check, so he moved the piece. “Check.”
“Stupid move, Mike. After that the black side has no way of winning.”
“What?” Numbers moved the pieces rapidly, 13 or 14 times.
“Checkmate. Assuming the white side will play will the best possible moves, the black side has no way of winning. The end becomes foreseeable through your random act. From the moment you moved that piece, the game was over.”
“You win again.”
“Mike, there are 20 possible first moves in chess. From these 20 moves spring untold millions of games, each unique. Until you can see all of them, all the possibilities adding all the odds, can you call a winning side or a losing side. I am neither, just an observer, trying to watch the best, and hardest possible game.”
“But it all ends the same, with a toppled king.”
“You overlook what has true value, the casualties. A good king doesn’t lose a single man.”
Mike paused. “The Peacocks seem to be getting back together. I was hoping you would know who might be leading it.”
“I suspected that would happen. I wasn’t contacted, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“It’s not. You should have some kind of idea about who the hell would possibly bring back the Peacocks.”
“As you might recall the two heads are probably not it, being that one is deceased, and the other is, well, in the ice box. It might be one of the people high up on the ladder, because they’d need to have the very same information that got the Peacocks together in the first place, Gustav’s file, and the only people who know about that are the few of us at the top.”
“That’s all you’ve got?”
“Well Siphon has ample, um…. people skills.”
“He went insane with Plumages’ death, there is no way he could head a mob.”
“Remember: you’re an Ex-mobster with 32 tentacles and a grudge against sound. Don’t count out the impossible.” They stared at each other for a second as Mike eyes seemed to dislike that comment. Numbers took a sad pause and diverted his green-and-red eyes back to the Chess board. He though there for a moment, contemplating his final moves, as he searched for a possible future with a stalemate instead of loss. It was a shame that he was still looking forward with so few moves left. He should have thought about how he played the game; reminisced on his best moves, the skilled player he was. He swallowed and then asked “Mike, have you come here to kill me?”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Gennaro Vitale entered the dark hallway and turned to his bodyguard. “Are you sure about this?”
He nodded. Gennaro looked at a sign saying “Dr. Rupert baker: therapist.”