Chapter 1, Pgs. 4-6
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Page 4: The Jet
“Well, they finally found you, Kyle.”
These are the only audible words that come from the Scribbler once the starboard engine starts tearing itself apart from the inside. He mutters nonsensically, gathering up his notebooks, twitching and chewing his bottom lip, glancing up only once into the cockpit and quickly back down to make sure his journals are safe.
For the pilot’s part, despite his frustration and discomfort flying, he certainly knows what he is doing and while it is clearly just staving off the inevitable, he is able to compensate for the engine loss enough to keep the aircraft from tipping over completely. He pulls off his headpjones, plucking the cord from the jack and music fills the cabin:
“I am ready… Lay your hands on me.”
The woman in layers of flowing skirt is snapped out of her window-watching, half alarmed and half annoyed. She cranes forward and calls out to the pilot, clearly straining to be zen, “Are we going to be able to land?”
A packed parachute lands on the seat next to her as the tall, wiry man in loose workout clothing passes her, heading for the cockpit.
His accent is thick. Eastern European. “Ve’ll be on ze ground zoon enough, I tink,” he says already fully strapped into his ‘chute.
She either misses or ignores the joke, such as it is, and dreamily turns back to the window. “I’m not sure there IS any ground down there.”
The man keeps moving forward, seemingly unaffected by the rocking and bobbing of the crippled jetliner. Without a word, he tosses a second parachute in the direction of the murmuring note-taker, not caring whether he uses it or not. As he slips by, the Grim Samaritan makes the mistake of glancing down at the scrawled gibberish. It’s math. A lot of math. Crazy math… Crazy-man math.
He steps into the cockpit, the front window having become virtually pointless as cracks spiderweb through it, smeared blood pushing up and in as the cabin pressure changes and tries to compete with the airspeed.
The pilot struggles expertly with the controls, but it is obvious that the craft is losing altitude fast.
Sunshine Flowerpot calls from her seat over the port wing:
“Hm. No. It looks like I was wrong. There is an awful lot of ground down there. That’s a relief… And, ooh, look: A bus!”
Page Five: The Bus
The sharp woman in the Cavalli suit is up and moving before the red splash goes entirely pink. She nudges the photographer, who is already raising her camera, and whispers, “Start shooting.” Although intimidated, the lovely Indian gives her a look that says, “Ya think?!” She smoothly clips a rain-guard over the lens and drops the window, getting up on one knee and bracing with her other leg against the seat in front of her. The wind sweeping in is cold and soaking, but the woman fires a digital whir of “Bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz,” into the night like she was picking off charging soldiers.
Although slowing briefly, the driver pushes on through the rain, less unfazed than he is focused. They apparently hadn’t gotten to where they needed to, and while upsetting, the gore on the windshield wasn’t enough to justify a delay.
He takes one hand off the wheel and leans down to pull a black, metal tool-box with a mounted flashlight in front of the handle. Laying it on his lap, he takes a magic-marker from his pocket and puts a check into one of the boxes that cover the dashboard and then goes back to the “10 & 2″ position.
Behind him, the somber theologian in black has put his fedora back on and is ceremonially washing his hands with a baby-wipe and softly rocking in prayer. As she passes him, the Beast in Manolos catches his unhappy glimpse at the driver.
Or, rather, BEHIND the driver.
There is a rifle secured behind him. Even as she identifies it as a 5.56 SCAR-light, she is inserting one of her own keys into the lock that holds it fast in the shallow nook.
If the driver notices, he doesn’t show that he cares.
The Orthodox Jew completes his prayers and, looking up, does his best to not meet the woman’s gaze. “Pardon me, driver,” he says, “Is this normal?”
“Nope,” comes the reply.
Having made sure the weapon is ready to go active, the woman heads back to her seat and calls over her shoulder, “Stop the bus.”
“Nope,” the driver says again and sensing that a simple denial to the now-armed, damned serious person asserting control over him and his bus, he adds, “Trust me. You do NOT want me to do that, even if I could.”
“Are we almost there, driver?” the man in black asks.
Locked and loaded, the woman tries to keep her temper. She makes sure her smartphone headset is in, on and working, and checks a little flickering map on the screen, which only sets her on a keener edge.
Looking for something else to go wrong, the woman locks eyes with the last passenger, the unnerving wild-child. Wondering why she hasn’t been screeching through all of this like she expected, her answer seems to be that the woman just might have gone into shock.
Eyes half-open, she appears to be dangerously calm. The kind of calm that the air gets just before your house is sucked into the sky. This sits very, very badly with the Beast in Manolos.
“You, Cocktail Queen! If you start screaming, I WILL hurt you.”
And the Cocktail Queen’s response apparently surprises herself as much as it does anyone else.
“Now, why is it that you think I might start screaming, Corporal L’Enfant?”
Page Six: The Hotel
After dislodging Cavendish’s head from the hole in the ceiling and catching it in a mop-bucket, Aubrey slips through a door behind the front desk. She returns momentarily, without bucket OR head and hums “Beyond the Sea” as she cleans the remnants of the attack.
There aren’t many. The tunnel running up through the Hotel and out into the night is already closing on its own, so there isn’t even much rain coming down. In a few minutes, it will be all as good as new, which realistically lleaves only a bit of blood… Which Aubrey has become quite clever at removing from many, many surfaces.
Once tidied, she steps again behind the counter and plugs in a small electric burner with a kettle on top.
“Tea?” she asks to the space where Svetlana had been, but the other woman is gone, either to her room or perhaps the Diner across the street. Aubrey has seen her through the windows working the lunch-counter on occasion, but whenever Svetlana is not there, the place is locked down like it is waiting for demolition.
Aubrey has a feeling the Diner is haunted.
As the water heats, she types out a brief damage-report for the maintenance crew, even if it IS just a formality and then looks into the mail slots. There are large, identical manila envelopes stuffed into four different room boxes.
She pulls out the one marked “Benjamin Strishna” and holds it up to the light. Wrinkling her nose, she runs it through the steam pouring from the kettle until the paper gets more translucent.
Appearing slowly from behind the ochre is a simple drawing. It is a square with a slanted top and an “X” drawn through it. Below the drawing it says, in heavy letters that look like a typewriter font blown up drastically on a copy-machine:
Across the street from the Hotel, a shadow takes cover from the never-ending rain, beneath the entry-arch of the Cathedral. It is not nearly as deadly as the thing that snatched Cavendish away, but it could certainly hold its own.
The huddling shadow watches Aubrey clean the lobby and set her kettle and pry into a new resident’s mail.
Amazingly, as it was an awfully long time ago, the shadow remembers getting an envelope just like that one on its first day too.