Monday, November 14, 2005

Walking Death, Chapter 2

     Sam stepped out onto the street through the front door of his apartment building. He bid a half sincere good morning to Mrs. Kranski. Not that he had anything against the old lady who lived in the single first floor apartment. Merely that, to Sam’s reckoning, no morning was good until he found the bottom of his first cup of coffee.

For that he always went to Molly’s Café at the ground floor corner of his building. Molly had perhaps the second best cup of coffee in the city. The first best belonged to an alchemist of Sam’s acquaintance by the name of Akbar al Faruq. Akbar made coffee as if hoping that the drippings would come out gold.

Molly didn’t have such pretensions. She just made the coffee and kept it coming for your nickel. Either way, the difference between them was like the difference between a night at the Plaza and a night at the Plaza with an extra C-note in your pocket.

Molly’s husband Stan worked the grill behind the pass-through window, and Sam knew that his morning eggs and bacon would be passing through it very soon.

A twelve-year-old boy stood on the corner calling out the headlines. Sam thought that it must be one hell of a verge if Detroit was still about to fall off of it. He was picking through a handful of change when a roar overhead startled him into dropping the changed. Looking up, he saw a long formation of eight single engine fighter planes fly over at no more than four stories off the street.

Sam straightened up and looked up and down the street. Other people were doing the same. Most probably remembered the Invasion, and the sound of low flying craft was not one to be recalled fondly.

“Damn fly boys,” muttered Sam as he picked up his change. “No one’s sleeping now.” The kid with the papers merely looked impressed. He was too young to remember the war in all its glory.

Sam folded the paper and stepped into the diner. The air was thick with the scent of coffee and the heat coming out of the kitchen. Despite a brisk breakfast crowd, Sam managed to find a stool at the counter.

“Heya, Sam,” said Molly. Molly came to just under eye level when Sam was seated. She poured him a cup of coffee and handed over a menu. Sam didn’t even blink at the change in routine. Instead, he took the menu into the same hand as he had the folded Imperial Times. Sam always had the same thing each morning. What he didn’t always have was the latest issue of the Liberty Press, the underground resistance newspaper. He made a show of reading the menu while separating the newssheet from the back of the menu. Someone would have to be looking very closely to see that the front page of the Times had changed during the exchange.

“What the hell, Molly, I’ll have the ham steak rather than the bacon today.”

After breakfast, Sam took the paper back to his office.
“So what was all that noise about?” asked Calliope, the secretary he shared with Dr. Moss next door.

“Just a gaggle of flyboys making a nuisance of themselves.”

“Ooh, pilots,” said Calliope with a vaguely hungry look, “they’re always good for a little fun.”

Sam knew that that meant some pilot somewhere was going to get a better time than he could handle.

“Too bad,” Sam thought, “that he’d be waking up and writing it off as a hang over.”

It was three weeks since the Tierney case, and the truce with Boss Ambrosi seemed to be durable enough for Sam to finish what work he could. So long as no one was looking to lean on him, Sam was happy.

Happy, that was, until he opened up the Liberty Press and looked over the coded messages in the back. The codes were arranged in small boxes, and some wag ages before had the brainstorm to label the page “Classified Ads”. The name stuck.

So had Sam’s codename: Quisitor. Sam sighed as he mentally de-coded the message next to his name. Meeting, the next night, back room of a local pub, standard security protocols.

There were a few other names getting call-outs. Sam ran down the list and found the one he was looking for: Lamb. While he couldn’t make out her code, Sam was sure that she would be at the same meeting. The two of them worked most often together, typically as a means of vetting potential recruits into the Resistance.

If the others were also going to be there, then something big was going to happen.

Just what he needed.

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