Friday, June 22, 2012

The Boy Named Nod: Latch-Key Part 3

Discerning Tastes

My baby teeth and the keyboard keys rattled across the hardwood floor at the same time. I slammed to the floor right behind them.

"Hit him again my son. Show me who is strongest."

Abe grabbed me by the throat, shaking me, my head slamming against the floor. His lips... his lips were moving....

"Now we'll see who he loves more. Huh? Huh? Now we'll see you little sissy."

He let go. Why'd Abe let go?

My head rolled to the side and he was standing in front of Dad. Dad smiled. He had metal teeth. Click click click click. Thirty-two pistons driving thirty-two forged teeth together. Abe was bowing to Dad. Abe, help me up. Come on. It's not fun anymore.

Mom was still bleeding on the floor. She'd be mad. She'd never get the stains out.

Abe was screaming. Dad's hand... He had something in his hand... A gear. Why was Dad holding a gear?

Abe looked at me, branded.

"Show him. Show him, my son, my Cain."

Abe picked me up. Thank you. Where are you carrying me? Abe. Abe... I don't want to look out the window.

Exploding. Snowing. It was snowing slivers and little boys.

"You are inadequate."

I jerked awake, eyes pinned open, darting around. This E-Train car was still empty, as it had been when I boarded it, non-stop for Akarin. The train's sudden stop at the station had woken me. That and the short drop. I rubbed my eyes and stood on weary legs.

Akarin: the chief residential district for Crysalis. The old-style apartments and suburbs so many of us knew. Slums. Another part of the city abandoned as everyone filled the arcos. Everyone with money. The rest of us stayed and died.

The river was cleaner now. The Judges had seen to that when their campaign first began. The old factories ran more efficiently now with far less pollution and jobs were plentiful. If you would submit to The Upgrade, of course. For the rest of us, there was little more than barter.

Welcome home Mike.

I stepped out of the E-Train and started down the platform steps. The scent of urine, foul and bitter, jerked open my nostrils and burrowed within.

I counted my steps between the chunks of concrete. Five steps between each line, even with dancing around their cracks. The sidewalk was the cleanest thing to see. Louie's. Louie's was just one more block. A little luck and his shop would still be standing.

Old red brick and older black door that creaked like old man on a cold day. I pushed open the door and smiled.

All clothes smell. Some better than others. Few smells beat pipe tobacco, brandy, and the scent of a perfect suit. 100% worsted wool, hand cut to fit. Three buttons with classic tails and thin lapels. You don't buy a suit. You don't build it either. You assemble it, looking for all its pieces, like a jigsaw masterpiece. Wool suit, silk accessories.

And a hat. For the hat is key. It is the lid, the closure.

A fedora for sharks. A ball cap for those who take nothing serious. More grandiose styles with feathers for the old-fashioned but fashionable.

But I wear a bowler, the gentleman's hat.

I ran my fingers along the scar at the top of my head, the stitches long since gone, hair yet to return.

"Louie? Louie, are you home?"

"Michael? Is that you?"

"No, must be somebody else."

Louie stumbled out from behind a dust-covered rack of sportcoats. So he was finally bald. It looked better on him that the tufts of wild white hair that used to sprout from his head like weeds. Still wearing his unraveling red sweatervest and black tie.

"Why, Michael, it is you! I thought you were moving up town."

"Just a trip. Had some work up there to get done."

He always looked like a sharpei when he frowned, wrinkles with wrinkles.

"What kind of work?"

"The work that you don't want me doing. However, I'm not here for a class on ethics. I need a hat Louie."

That upset him more, I think, than me being a hired killer. Some people have odd priorities.

"What on Earth happened to your bowler? I got that direct from England. They don't make those anymore. If you'll remember, there's no England anymore. Michael..."

"Louie. I know. It comes with the territory. There's not much I can do to get around that. I have no idea what I'll do if I do ever move. I think you're the last person in this accursed city that knows what haberdashery is. Now, just find me a good, trusty, black bowler. I can even pay for this one in some other way than security."

Still frowning, Louie wobbled off into his backroom. I panned through the racks of suits, most covered with a fine layer of dust. Louie would die here, probably of a heart attack, trying to keep his stock clean. He never had the heart to move or be bought by one of the Corps.

"Michael, I have just the thing."

He wobbled back out, body moving in waves. A singularly perfect specimin of a bowler was in his hand. Perfect.

"This is the last one I have of the right quality."

"It'll be perfect Louie."

"You'll have to keep this one safe. I don't expect to see you in here again."

It was my turn to frown, peering at him from over my glasses.

"Your brother's been active lately. I think they're going to finish forcing their crusade on this area. Akarin will be theirs. Get on out Michael, get out of the district. Somebody will need you. I just... I don't want to see you next to your mother."

"You won't Louie. I'm stopping by my apartment and then I'll go. Here, let me pay for the hat."

I started to pull out my card but Louie waved it away.

"Nah. You've been my only customer the last two years. You're the only one in this city that can appreciate fine haberdashery. Is that even a word? Bah. Go on, take it. A going-away present."

I nodded and shook his hand.

"Take care Louie."

"You too Michael."

I pushed open his door for the last time and listened to it creak. I closed my eyes as it swung shut.

It was a cold walk to my door. Three flights of stairs. Three doors down on the right. My door was open.

"Hello Abe."

"That's Reverend Abraham to you Michael."

He was sitting in my chair. Typical.

"Adam 2.0 has requested that I finish what I started so long ago."

"Dad always was a prick."

The four flesh and hydraulic monstrosities standing around him took their first step toward me.

Blasphemy: punishable by the removal of tongue and all extremities. All.

Abe waved them down.

"He is mine. What do you think of them Michael? My White Guard. The purest specimans the Disciples had to offer."

"There are at least three less than you started with. The emp charge on the floor's been activated and there are gouges in my carpeting. You've already taken casualties brother."

He opened his mouth to speak, beginning to stand. The window imploded in place of his voice. Two barracuda, each holding assault rifles. The sound of shattered glass gave away the others flooding into the building.

"We come for Michael Tarcynski on seven counts of murder."

"Wait your turn. His is property of the Disciples. Two more teams of my White Guard are waiting on the floors below us. You are no match for the Upgraded, fish."

I cleared my throat. Attention. Better.

"My name, good sirs, is Nod. I belong to no one."

Voices bubbled up around the room but I only heard myself.

"It's coming out of your hides if anyone lays a finger on my bowler. Understood?"

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