Thursday, October 20, 2011

16447--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (Ch. 5)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.
Similarities to Persons Living or Dead is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series. Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it. For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.

Chapter 5

There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that that breakfast was the most purely beautiful thing that had happened to me all morning. The rest of the day was going to be hard-pressed to top it.

“You’re tipping her a whole sovereign?” Harmony whispered in surprise. “That’s almost as much as our whole breakfast.”

“That meal was the best I’ve had in days,” I told her, leaving the coins next to her pile of napkin bits that I was pretty sure were the remains of at least a half-dozen defenseless napkins. “It’s worth every bit. Plus, I scored a major clue. Didn’t you enjoy your rabbit food?”

“It was very good, thank you,” she said, smiling at me and then Carol as we left.

“Have a great day, Carol,” I said.

“Bye, sweetie. Come back soon.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you smile like this before,” Harmony said as we went to the sidewalk and maneuvered ourselves to dodge across the street.

“You’ve known me for all of about two hours,” I reminded her. “I’ll tell you now, don’t get used to it.”

“You’ve got a nice smile, Brick.”

“Blah-blah-blah…Come on,” I said, walking off the curb and into traffic. My charity client had me convinced she was about as stable as jello in an earthquake, which had me pondering how fast I could get rid of her.

Harmony followed and survived the crossing with no problem. Outside the pawn shop, I stopped and turned to face her. “When we go in,” I said, “just follow my lead. Don’t give your name. If anyone asks, you’re just a friend. That’s more than anyone needs to know.”

“Following your lead,” she said with a nod. “Got it.”

“Good,” I said, reaching into one of the pockets of my private eye trench coat (standard issue). I pulled a marker and name tag out of my pocket. Harmony tried to look at what I was doing as I wrote on the slick paper.

“Up to something sneaky, are we?” she asked.

“Just trying to make this go as smoothly as possible,” I said. I held the self-adhesive paper so that she could read it.

“’Hello, my name is…Jack Morgan’?” she read aloud. “Well, pleased to meet you, but do you even look anything like him or are we pretending that we just came from a convention?”

“No and no,” I said. “While magic stuff isn’t anything that I usually mess with, this fell into my hands recently. Watch.” I peeled the back off the tag’s sticky side and slapped it onto my coat over the left side of my chest. Harmony suddenly looked confused and unnerved. I reminded myself that she was probably not the best person to have sprung that disguise on, but it was done and I was just going to make the best of it from there.

“Brick? Brick?” she asked, almost panicky as she put her back to the storefront and started scanning one face after another in the passing crowd to try to find me.

“Harmony,” I said. “Calm down. It’s me.”

“What? Jack? Jack Morgan?” she asked. “I-I don’t know you. I thought you were dead. Dead! Why aren’t you dead?

“Alright, pay attention,” I told her. “Whatever you think you see or hear, I’m Brick Stone. The magic name tag just makes it seem like I’m someone else. Just follow along and we’ll get this all cleared up super-quick.”

“Well…OK,” she said nervously.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s unlikely that you’ll live to regret it.”

With that I stepped to the door of the pawn shop and pushed it open. A little bell jingled as I walked in with Harmony behind me. We had stepped into the midst of someone’s attic. There were ten thousand memories, bits of lives, on display and all of them for sale. Always seemed a little desperate to me. Finding some cute little toy or a tool you needed was one thing, but going looking for jigsaw pieces from the puzzles of other people’s lives to squeeze into your own just never sounded quite right to me. People would do whatever they were going to do, though, and that wasn’t for me to judge. I was just a guy who got paid to find stuff and solve mysteries from an external perspective.

“Ah! Hello! Welcome, first customers of the--Oh, it’s you,” the friendly seeming bearded man said.

He was a stout fellow, his ruddy complexion and dark hair standing out in sharp contrast to his very white dress shirt. His boisterous “customer service” greeting had changed to a tone of familiarity. With that, I noticed, came a hint of contempt. We walked toward him anyway, but I took his cue: as his smile had vanished, I didn’t offer one.

“You are late, my friend Morgan,” he said as he pulled a card file box from beneath the counter.

“It’s been a busy couple of weeks,” I told him.

“Still, you are…two payments behind,” he said, looking at a card in the box, “and you don’t return my calls. I am thinking that soon I will have to be trying to sell your pretty box.”

“Sorry to get you all worried,” I told him. “On the upside, I’m here to take the pesky item off your hands. Thanks for keeping it safe.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, obviously not caring much about anything else I had to say. “It’ll be…a hundred thirty.”

Sovereigns?” Harmony asked.

“Interest,” pawn shop guy explained. “Will that be cash or…cash?”

It was still cheaper than dropping a diamond on the guy. I pulled a bunch of gold coins from my pocket and counted several out onto the glass display case. “There’s a hundred and forty. Here‘s the ticket.”

“I’ll get your change and your box,” he said, limping off through a swinging door to go search his storeroom. “Gimme just a minute.”

“This is going very smoothly, Brick,” Harmony whispered.

“Yeah, that was the point of preparing,” I told her.

“But now’s when he tries to double-cross us, right?” she proposed. “What do we do?”

“Wha--? You’ve been watching too many bad movies,” I told her. “This is a business. We did the customer part. Now, he’s doing the business guy part. The dangerous part’ll come when we get the box back out in the open.”


“Worse still,” I continued, “we’ve gotta go get your sought after item from hiding, as well. Then, we get to work on keeping them both safe long enough to figure out why all these other people want them.”

“It seems pretty sad,” Harmony said, “but I’m getting the feeling that you were right before and that the deaths of Lew and all those other people have been motivated by greed and ambition.”

“And to think that most people just write me off as a cynic,” I said with a snort.

“I don’ care what nobody else say about you, Morgan,” beard guy announced as he limped back through the doorway carrying a brown leather-clad box, “your money’s always good with Sergei.”

“Thanks,” I replied as he set the box on the glass. I reached out to touch the aged, soft padded leather and caught myself wondering for a moment what life-altering treasure was contained by the unassuming box.

“You and pretty lady find something else you like in store?” he asked hopefully.

“Always the salesman,” I said. “Just the change, man,” I said, holding out a hand.

He dropped a couple of coins in my hand. I glanced to make sure they were both five-sovereign silver pieces before I slipped them into my pocket.

“Well, I could stand to take a look at--”

“We really need to roll, doll,” I told her.

“Sorry,” she said. “I forgot we were in a hurry.”

“Yeah, it feels like it’s gonna rain any minute and we don’t want to get caught. You take care of yourself,” I said as I lifted the box off the display case. I was surprised to find it almost weightless. Even empty, I figured that for its size it should’ve been a few pounds, but it was barely one. It was the sort of oddity that usually meant magic was involved, a fact which really came as no surprise at that point. Things had been going too well. “Watch my back, doll,” I said to Harmony in a low tone as we turned and headed for the door. “I think the ride’s about to get extra bumpy.”

“Right behind you, Jack,” she said.

We made it outside, the name tag’s spell expiring about twelve seconds later, and headed through the ever-thickening crowds back to my waiting car.

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