Monday, September 01, 2003

Today’s Word: Bedraggled

Horner leaned on the wall next to the phone. Freddie's, the city's most popular open-air bar and grill, was busy this afternoon. Waitresses and busboys scampered about, clearing away dirty silverware and wheeling in tray-carts full of steaks, hotdogs, and onion rings. It was hard to hear the man speaking on the phone over all that racket, especially with the People's Voice and Eye shunted directly into Horner's auditory nerves, but the lives of millions depended on this conversation, he had to hear.
"Yeah, it was just like you said, nothing but six pence and a time machine," said the man on the phone. He was a large man, unshaven, and wearing a bedraggled brown sport coat that ended at his beltline.
Horner leaned on his cane and inched closer, willing the voices broadcast into his skull to shut-up if only for an instant.
"Nah, I didn't touch nothing," said the man. "Looked like mine were the first footprints ever made in the place. I'll show ya to it, but it'll cost. Two million marks. Nuh-uh. Either you pay in marks -- two million, no less -- or in Droos. I'd say at least twenty pounds, I haven't checked the street value lately. Fine. Two thirty tomorrow."
The man, whom Horner knew to be a low-life private investigator, sometimes bounty hunter, sometimes cat burglar, was named Vincent Mance. Mance hung up the phone and turned to leave. Horner shuffled along behind, mixing with the crowd as they turned onto a busy street, just in case Mance got suspicious, though Horner doubted he'd ever suspect a gimpy sixty-seven year old in shabby corduroy as a tail.
Mance made a right off the main sidewalks into a narrow alley that connected Tenbourough with Maxlie street. Ancient, flaking posters of the Empyrean Minister lined the damp bricks, and sagging clotheslines hung between the buildings like loose rigging on giant sail craft. Mance was the only man in the alley. Horner stood at the entrance, watching his quarry walk steadily away. He couldn't lose him like this. He couldn't let humanity suffer the purge yet again.
Horner stepped into the shadows, his heel-strike echoing off moist brick and dusty glass. The sound of it was like a nuclear blast in his ears, and for a foul, stinking moment he thought Mance might turn around and see him. But the other man never missed a stride. He reached the opposite end of the alleyway by the time Horner was only halfway through, leaving the elderly man to trot after him as best he could with his arthritic knees.

To Be Continued

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