WFOL 2024





by Ruby

Agent Owens paced the basement lab in Columbia. He had come on a hunch. The space was still empty, a dismantled cage leaned against the wall, but he walked around the room trying doors. One gave and it led to a small sub-basement. Paydirt. He smirked. Quite literally, as the only disturbances in the packed earth floor pointed to a stack of boxes with a tarp hastily thrown over it. He moved the boxes and found a hole in the wall. Just big enough for a person to squeeze through. He smirked harder. You got the what-is-it in the cage to safety from here, didn’t you, Chandler? He was going to be a famous man.

He pulled a flashlight from his pocket and took a few paces inside. He took a left and started walking. He had been walking for twenty minutes when he came to an alcove. He saw movement in the shadows and reached for his gun when he felt the tell-tale point of a knife in his back. The figure stepped out of the shadows. All six lanky feet of Samuel Alonzo stepped a few feet away from Owens, his own gun in his hand.

“Drop it, or my friend there fillets you like a trout.”

Owens dropped his gun. “You’ll never get away with this. I know Chandler is protecting you and the thing down here. Help me, we could make a fortune, move up in the world. That bitch is trying to get you too-” He stopped as Alonzo cracked him hard across the mouth.

“Her name is Catherine and she is Vincent’s woman. And you already know too much. Step aside, Kady.”

The figure behind Owens moved and he just had time to widen his eyes as the silenced gun in Alonzo’s hand put one right between his eyes and he crumpled to the ground.

Kady looked down at him. She was seventeen going on forty and her expression was as smooth as the faceted crystal around her neck. “You should have let me do it, old man, a knife can make it look like Vinnie did it if they ever found the body.”

“They’re not going to find the body. And Vincent isn’t like us, he wouldn’t kill a man like this.”

Kady looked at him with as much softness as she was capable of. “You’ve really fallen for these people, huh?”

“You got to be careful who you’re pretending to be ‘cause it might stick. They call me Walker now.”

Alonzo had known of the tunnels as one of the open secrets of the criminal underworld, a mutual pact to never tell anyone about them as it was understood how useful they could be as a hideout. After Miller had turned the heat up a bit too much in his impulsiveness, Alonzo had presented himself to Eli as a homeless man who was searching his trash cans for food. He had made sure Catherine had never seen him and he had learned the tunnels like the sinews on the back of his hand. And he had tried not to fall hard for the soft woman who made the candles that kept his new home in pools of golden light. He had tried not to get pulled into reading stories to the children, and bringing food and company to Helpers. He had tried, and failed. And Kady knew it. He wondered why Kady hadn’t put a knife in him yet.

Kady seemed to read the question on his face.

“I guess you’re the thing I’m dumb and soft about. Now help me.”

They carried Owens’ body to an oubliette in the rock.

* * *

Meanwhile, in Thomas’s shop, Robin knelt by Thomas’s body and pleaded with him to open his eyes as two EMTs poured in from the door. They attended him but shook their heads at the end of their efforts.

Robin wiped the tears from her eyes as they carried the body away. Why did you have to throw away your medicine? She began to look through his desk for a number for any possible family when the part-time girl walked in. Robin looked up.

“Oh, Kady! I’m so sorry but Thomas…passed away today. Could you please put the closed sign up and go? I’ll pay you for the day.”

Kady was surprised by the pluck of regret she felt. Alonzo had told her to get a job at Thomas’s store to keep an eye on him as his memory failed, and to take care of Miller if he showed back up. Kady figured Miller had been smart enough to skip town. And now it didn’t matter.

She was placing the closed sign when a well-dressed woman walked up. Robin spoke to her. “Oh, Ms. Chandler, I’m so sorry but…”

Catherine cut her off. “I heard over the police scanner. I’m so sorry for your loss. I thought I should come by and see if there was anything I could do.”

“I don’t think he had any family. I would like to make arrangements for some kind of service.”

The two women busied themselves with looking for numbers for florists and undertakers as Kady slipped away, feeling strangely melancholy. You do have to be careful who you are pretending to be.

* * *

In a college’s cavernous theater, Iain and Michael ran lines.

“You’ve got the gift, Mike.”

“You mean I’m a natural ham.” And the two men laughed.

“I bet your family will be thrilled to see their boy on opening night.”

Michael got cagey in that way of tunnel children when that subject came up among top siders. “Hmm. Yeah. It’ll be a fun night.”

Iain didn’t miss that. He didn’t miss much about Michael. He ran his fingers through his sandy blonde hair. “Your old man ain’t worth a tick, eh? Mine neither.”

Michael watched him carefully, trying not to lose himself in Iain’s blue-gray eyes. Iain seemed to be looking at something far away.

“Might as well tell you, my dad was a yank, a gangster. Samuel “The Fixer” Alonzo the papers called him. Don’t know if he’s still alive, don’t care. My mum took me back to England when I was seven and that was that.”

Michael took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. My biological father wants nothing to do with me. So no, he’s not going to be there on opening night.”

Iain smiled a sad-happy smile and walked over to Michael, cupping his face gently.

“To hell with fathers.” And he kissed him.

Michael breathed in the salty-sweet smell of Iain’s breath. “To hell with fathers,” he replied. And kissed him right back.

* * *

Several days later, a small party gathered around Thomas’s grave.

Robin was surprised Kady had come, but not as surprised as Kady was.

The minister read his verses and Catherine tried not to feel the sense of relief that Thomas had not told too much. They began to mill away from the grave when Catherine spotted Agent Johnson waiting by a car.

He was grim and to the point. “You’re a very lucky woman, Ms. Chandler. My partner has vanished and, with Mr. Anderson’s death, our case against Miller evaporated. I’m being reassigned. I guess this is goodbye, Ms. Chandler.” He got into his car, but before he started it, he delivered his parting shot. “But we will meet again, Ms. Chandler. Everybody’s luck eventually runs out.”

Catherine jumped back on the curb as the car grumbled to life and sped away.

He’s right. But for now, I will treasure being able to go Below again. She smiled. She would bring another box of odds and ends…from Russ & Daughters…to them tonight. She thought of the beautiful fruit markets. And a box of tropical fruit: papaya, starfruits, mangos the size of footballs. She remembered Rebecca particularly loved mangoes, a rare treat in the rock walls of her home. Yes, the biggest mango for Rebecca. And maybe I’ll finally get to meet the mystery man she talked my ear off about the last time I was there…




CABB logo: crystal and rose




CABB logo: crystal and rose