Woe the turkey.
Yesterday, he walked
with little worry
covered in gravy
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Nicholas Barrios finished typing and sighed. Even writing stories he already knew was hard—to create them from thin air, on a schedule, was some sort of stupid. Thirty days ago he had started writing with the idea that it would be no more than a small part of the day. Something to keep his mind occupied and perhaps a small grab at the hidden ambition he had of being a writer.He had been wrong. He had spent the last thirty days constantly going over plots and motivations. Driving became a time to pump up the volume and live out stories, trying to make them go further with each repetition, hoping that at the end of the day he had come up with enough. He had learned to keep them running in the back of his mind.And now that the thirty days were up and all he had left was to write a goodbye, he felt relieved. There were more stories to write, of course, but they could wait for a while.He has a feeling, however, that as soon as that anxiety and excitement and motivation is gone, he will miss it. It wasn’t that hard, he thinks, I can do it again—thus proving he’s a goddamn fool.If you were here from the beginning, thanks for reading. I’m honored.If you weren’t, the words will be there for when you have the inclination.See you soon.
The narrow road was anything but well traveled. The wild grass had readily imposed itself on it, making it disappear every so often. Josephine was not concerned with being lost. She had been able to see her destination for the past two days, making the path more or less merely symbolic. The sand made travel miserable. The wind blew it into every nook and cranny she didn’t cover completely, rubbing against her skin as she walked. The plains were bare; there was no relief from what weather there was. She simply trod on.
On the horizon stood her destination, the Wall of Anamur—black against the sun and wider than the eye could see. It was engineered from the beginning to intimidate. Large metal spikes, polished to a sheen, could be seen for miles, disappearing into the black mass of rock the made the rest of the wall. One ancient road shot windingly toward its only opening, the Anamur Gate. This was the road she was attempting to follow.
It was hard to admit it herself, but she was afraid. Attempting to enter Anamur was almost certainly suicide. All she had to present was a name; one she knew little about and who’s bearer she was uncertain was still among the living. Nonetheless, it was the only answer she had—and she’d rather die by her own actions.
The wind had died down and Josephine decided to stop to clean the sand off herself and take a drink of water. She looked back toward the vast nothingness behind her, wondering where the tracker was. Theirs was an unlikely friendship—he being hired to track her and report back to the man who was trying, undoubtedly, to kill her—but one she’d come to relish. She looked forward to the days when she could stop long enough for him to catch her. They would share dinner quietly before walking together to set camp out of sight. She usually prepared tea, a luxury a tracker could not normally afford. She did not need fire, however, having enchanted a small kettle years ago.
Some nights ago the tracker had reluctantly admitted that it was his birthday. She had immediately wanted to give him the kettle as a gift but he’d refused until she’d given up. At dawn she’d woken up and rummaged through his bag to find the beaten old clay mug he carted. Then she sat down to pray for a few minutes. She needed peace. She wanted to enchant his mug; after all he couldn’t refuse his own belongings. The problem was she had not even attempted an enchantment for three years. She might well make the mug get up and walk.
She crossed her legs and put the mug out in front of herself. She closed her eyes and began the old incantations. The old familiar state of concentration she so relished when she was younger washed over her. She took her time—so much so that when she was done, the sun was much higher in the sky. The tracker looked at her, visibly worried.
“Happy birthday!” she said, “Your very own water boiling mug.”
He’d looked at her with a broad grin and given her a hug.
“I thought you’d gone mental or something, worshiping my mug.”
She hated that he too had to endure the journey through the desert. She’d told him not to follow her all the way to the gate but she wasn’t so certain he would listen—he had constantly tried to dissuade her after she told him her destination. She was afraid he might decide she needed protection. Their friendship had made him forget who she had been and perhaps was. Only a few weeks ago, he himself had called her the Emperor’s “devastating weapon”.
The gate was enormous and imposing. It was covered in metal thorns, perhaps to dissuade climbing; she doubted any army could get close enough for the attempt. It’s only ornament was a large seal at its center, carved with symbols she did not understand. She wondered how close she would get before something happened.
“Stop! Move no further!”
This close. She looked in the direction of the voice. It came from one of the towers at the side of the gate.
“This land is forbidden, stranger. You are not welcome.”
“I am looking for someone, a citizen of Anamur. It is imperative I talk to him as soon as possible.”
“This is none of my concern. None is allowed to enter.”“You do not understand, I have no choice—I must speak to this man.”
“You must leave. It is not a request.”
“What harm could come of informing this man of my presence? I seek Samos of Alanya. Tell him that Josephine Margo wishes an audience.”
She looked into the tower with eyes that could see beyond those in her head. The men whispered; they knew who this man was.
“These are not my orders. All are forbidden, none will enter—you will leave.”
“I won’t, whatever threats you make. I will have my audience.”
She sat down on the soft sand and crossed her tired legs. She began to pray. She felt the guard’s anxiety. They had guarded this gate their entire lives, but except for the occasional official caravan, nobody ever came. It was beyond their understanding why a lone woman would have walked the desert to a gate she must have known she could not cross. She felt their leader hesitate but not long. He gave the order to ready.
“I must ask you once more—leave. The rules are strict; I am required to take action.”
Josephine did not respond. The men arced their bows and waited for the instruction to fire. It came soon enough.
The men were excellent archers and the arrows speedily rained down on their target but somehow did not get there. When asked later, none of the men could explain what had happened despite having seen it with their own eyes. Every arrow that had been fired was laid in a neat pile next to Josephine.
“What madness is this?” the leader roared, “Fire at will!”
The arrows rained down again, all expertly aimed. Up until the last instant they all looked to have found their target, only to then settle into the pile with the others. The men, bewildered, fire again and again. Eventually, their stockpiles were depleted and they looked at the lone figure for the first time with fear.
The pile of arrows was taller than her crossed-legged figure. She opened her eyes.
“I seek an audience with Samos of Alanya. In return, I will give the guards of Anamur this pile of finely crafted arrows.”
“You dare mock us! Such petty magic does not daunt us.”
The guard turned to his men, instructing them before speaking to her again.
“Run, or you ask for death!”
“I’m quite comfortable, Captain—and prepared to be quite insistent.”
She had made the leader angry but she needed him to become angrier still; angry enough to call for help.
Explosions marked the firing of mortars, the payload heavy stone. She was surprised at the elementary nature of their defenses. She closed her eyes and prayed once again.
The stones shattered long before the reach her, the small fragments coalescing behind her. She concentrated on the Captain—such were the markings on his clothes—and took in his figure. The shattered stone began to take shape: first a pair of boots, then loose pants, a vest of armor, and finally a face. Then, for a moment, silence.
“A statue in your honor, Captain—to commemorate your considerable actions.”
The men stared at their Captain, then at a perfect stone likeness. She hoped they would panic and beg for reinforcements—call attention to stranger outside the gate. Instead she saw the Captain confer with his men. He returned to the front of the tower.
“You continue to mock me. Still your magic does not concern me. Let me show you why Anamur has stood for three thousand years!”
Josephine closed her eyes and looked into the tower, searching for the men, for what they had in store for her. She was surprised to find them all facing her at the towers edge. They did not move and indeed looked peaceful. What came next she could not fathom and had it not been for years of waging war she would not have recognized. Every guard began to speak at once, opening their palms toward her.
They had magic. In a land where those with magic were never found more than two or three at a time, here at Anamur gate were a dozen men preparing to destroy her. She recognized their words and knew that she could not stop them. Divine words of one kind were useless against others of another.
She closed her eyes and prayed to the Other—praying she could still convince the darkness she was loyal. The light arced from the men’s hands toward her. She did not see, shutting her eyes as tightly as she could, begging the One Who Was Not He to enter her once more.
“Enough!” she screamed, raising her hands and extinguishing the holy spell.
“It is my intention to get an audience. I will not ask for it again. I came in peace and you have fired upon me. I will afford you the same consideration. I will tear this gate apart if necessary.”
It was enough. The Captain yelled for a messenger and made sure she could see it.
“I have dispatched a message. The Elder will be here soon. However, you must understand that we will not allow you passage even if it means our death.”
Josephine nodded, wondering if now was the time to give concessions—what other weapons might these men have hidden and unexpected? She released her demons, standing up and noticing her exhaustion again.
“Water and food make peace, Captain, if you can afford them.”
Soon enough, a gourd with cool water was thrown, followed by a small sack with unleavened bread and fruit. She did not bother to check if they were poisoned. They would be fools to do so.
She ate in silence and waited. Two hours later she heard something no foreigner had heard for five hundred years. The Anamur Gate was being opened.
She always saw it coming. It was the easy way out. Here was this supposed brilliant assassin going in for the big kill and instead of some ingenious, carefully thought-out plan, all there is, is a car bomb. Cue the big bright lights, loud noises, and people running around like sheep. Typically there is some sort of glass building around that can shatter for effect. She understood, of course. Explosions look great on screen. It would be anti-climactic if the assassin simply shot the guy in the back while he was walking out of the bathroom. And yet, that was the reality of it. It had all been downhill after seeing Leon and Mathilda clean.
The thing about car bombs, she thought, is that they explode. They make a lot of noise and heat and generally cause a lot of unnecessary hullabaloo. Ask a professional what the last thing he wants on the job is and “attention” will be the first thing out of his mouth. Explosions make people nervous and nervous people mean investigations and never-ending inquiries. Never mind that explosions aren’t exactly precise instruments—killing three people is not the same as killing one. If you have to kill somebody, do it like pastors cheat on their wives—discreetly.
She was generally against anything that attracted any kind of attention but she absolutely hated car bombs—and she’d let the people she worked with know it. So she knew how Henry would react when she called him and asked for one.
“Hey, yam candy, this is fluffy cloud. I need a few things. Call me back.”
She left a message at an answering machine somewhere in Asia. Henry was paranoid about security—perhaps rightly so—and he always insisted she use random pseudonyms when she left him a message. He knew who she was immediately by the sound of her voice.
The call came five minutes later.
“Good morning, Henry.”
“Hey, fluffy cloud, how’s the weather?”
She chuckled sarcastically.
“So, you busy?”
“Not for you, pretty lady. What can I do you for?”
“Just need a couple of things. First of all I need a red Mercedes to put on a light show; bright and loud enough to attract attention but not too dangerous. I need it by Thursday, which is, let me see, two days. Doable?”
“You asking me to rig a car bomb? Yo joking, right?”
“So, you can’t do it?”
“No, no, I can do it, no problem—but I’m gonna have to conveniently forget that long speech you gave after we saw Matador.”
“Whatever you have to do.”
“No, seriously, you joking?”
“I’ll explain later, ‘kay. Can you get’er done?”
“Sure. You got a location for the install?”
“Yep, car’s left alone twice a week at the golf course. We’ve got at least a couple of hours.”
“And the other thing?”
“I need word out on my availability; especially on the corporate side.”
“Looking to expand the client list?”
“You gonna let me pay for this one, right?”
“I’ll let you take me to lunch.”
“If your other clients found out you’re doing freebies, they’d be pissed.”
“With the amount I charge them, I don’t think they can imagine me doing something free.”
“Well, I’ve experienced it several times and I still can’t believe it.”
“Don’t get use to it. I’ve just been in a good mood lately.”
“I’ll pray it lasts. I gotta run. Say hello to the mutt.”
“See ya soon.”
“Any other news we need to cover, Tangiers?”
“Let me see,” Tangiers said, shuffling papers, “Porter is selling off the design division.”
“Story?” said the stocky man sitting near the middle of the long conference table.
“Officially, the division is simply unprofitable in the long term. Unofficially, there’s been bad blood ever since we got a seat on the board. We’ve been pushing for cutbacks in the middle ranks. The pushback has been especially hard on top at that division—lots of lifers.”
“Should we worry about it?” said another man, further up the table.
“I don’t see why. The manufacturing divisions are what we are interested in. It might even help cut the fat,” replied the stocky man.
“I’ll keep an eye on it,” said Tangiers, “Bob, anything else?”
Bob, a skinny man sitting at the far end of the table, shook his head.
“Chairman?” said Tangiers, directing his attention to the end of the table. The Chairman wrinkled his worn face. The meeting was over.
Tangiers stood up first. Besides the phones being silenced for meeting, the room was soundproof. The Chairman insisted on no interruptions. He leaned down to un-silence the phone. It rang immediately. He picked it up calmly.
The voice on the other line spoke excitedly. The other men, already walking out of the boardroom, stopped to look at Tangiers.
“Yes, understood. Now, you’re absolutely certain?”
Tangiers motioned to the men to stay put.
“Yes, alert the authorities. Evacuate the building and have Paul get ready to fly us out. You may leave after you do so.”
Tangiers hung up the phone.
“Bob, you’re the one who drives the red Mercedes parked in the plaza?”
“Yes,” said Bob puzzled, “what happened?”
“It just exploded,” said Tangiers dryly.
“It fucking what?” shouted Bob.
“It exploded—without you in it, I might add. Does anybody else park their car out front?”
The men shook their heads. Bob stared at Tangiers, amazed at how coolly he was treating the whole thing.
“You make a lot of money, gentlemen. These things happen.” Tangiers said, looking at Bob specifically, “At the very least, I’m almost certain nobody is trying to kill you, Bob.”
The board members crowded into the executive elevator. Tangiers inserted his keycard and hit the button for the roof. He turned to face the men and saw the Chairman slightly nod at him. The elevator arrived quickly. Tangiers allowed all the men to get out before him—the Chairman wanted to talk privately. They walked out together, letting the men walk a short distance ahead.
“I have a fairly good idea what just happened. Any reason I should think differently?” said the Chairman.
“Not at the moment, sir. We’ll find out soon enough.”
“I take this kind of thing personally, Tangiers.”
“It’s the only way to take it, sir.”
“What I mean, son, is that something is to be done. I will be in my private office downtown, waiting for you to call—and tell me who it needs to done to.”
“Of course, sir,”
The board members climbed into the series of helicopters the lined the roof. Each went to a different location as a safety precaution. One of the helicopters was reserved for the Chairman. He hesitated before climbing in, stopping to give Tangiers another nod.
The Chairman had tried to relax after arriving at his office. He’d prepared himself a drink and changed into comfortable clothing. It hadn’t helped. He was furious. He’d felt the need to do something; he started by making phone calls.
He had a problem and he needed a problem-solver. He’d been lucky—he could count the number of times he’d needed such services of one hand. He’d tried to keep his business methods as clean as possible. Some of his rivals, he knew, had come to rely on such measures—and paid for it dearly.
He made twelve phone calls and made the same inquiry: he needed somebody quickly but he was not willing to compromise. Cost was not an issue. Without much hesitation he’d been given the same name eleven times. That was enough of an endorsement for him.
The name had been given easily but he’d had to barter for a method of contact. It had cost him information. He’d much rather have paid cash. Nonetheless, he had his problem solver.
He dialed the costly phone number and waited.
“Information. What city and state please?” answered a female voice.
“Mountain View, California.”
“L&M Superior Glass.”
“One moment, please.”
The Chairman wondered if it was possible he had been fooled.
“Please hold for your listing.”
The phone line went dead silent for ten seconds before he heard a slight click.
“One, One, Four, Seven, Eight, Parker, Street, Mountain, View, California,Nine,Oh,Five,PM,” said the automated voice. He had not been fooled it seemed.
“Please arrive promptly. A retention fee of—One Hundred, Fifty, Thousand, American—will be required via—cash, payment. If you are seen as a threat, the meeting will be canceled and possible further action taken. Instigating such events is not recommended; therefore, if possible, arrive alone. Thank you. Have a good day.”
The Chairman smiled at the bold, even cunning, contact system. He looked at his watch: it was almost seven. He needed to retrieve the money from his bedroom vault in Palo Alto. He’d better leave promptly. He hoped dearly that Tangiers had done his job.
“I’m almost certain, sir.”
“Tim Searle? How long has he run the division?”
“Twelve years, sir, and he was a lead designer for six before that.”
“So he has a lot to lose.”
“It’s likely that his position would disappear if the division was purchased. Porter has already been pushing to eliminate him. He’s turned many of employees against the board, especially after we arrived.”
“That son of a bitch thinks he can scare us into backing off. So, you followed the money?”
“It’s very clear, sir. He requested time off and immediately sold most of the shares he’d accumulated. He also made some telling inquiries.”
“Do we know where he is now?”
“Yes, sir, Southern California. I have an address. Do I need to make arrangements?”
“No, I’m already on the way to clear up this business.”
“Very well, sir. As always, I’ll be here if you need anything.”
“Thank you, Tangiers. Your loyalty does not go unnoticed.”
The Chairman hung up the phone. He pressed the intercom button to speak to the driver.
“I’m ready to go, Paul. 11478 Parker Street, Mountain View.”
He looked at his watch: thirty minutes to nine.
“I’ll need to be there before the hour.”
“Yes, sir, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
It was her turn to close today. All the customers were gone for the day—they closed early on Mondays and Tuesdays to make up for the late hours on the weekend. She’d been working at the coffee shop for three weeks now and she was honestly enjoying it.
The sign above the door said “Dino’s”—it was horrible name for a coffee shop—and so did her dark green apron. She turned up the volume on the sound system and grabbed the mop. She danced a little, mopping as she went. When she finished, she took a look around. The place was pretty spotless. She clocked out a little early, sure she’d be forgiven.
She turned off the lights and locked the door behind her. She used her apron to pull the gate down, not wanting to get her hand greasy. She placed the padlock on the gate but did not lock it.
She walked over to the tables outside and pulled the rag she had put in the apron’s front pouch. She began cleaning the tables. She could hear far-off conversations, probably from the restaurant on the first floor. Her floor was deserted.
An older man walked off the escalator, his heavy gait making his suitcase bounce off his thigh, making a sort of flapping sound. He had dark stains under his underarms and looked nervous. He stopped in front of the cigar shop a few shops down, looking at the door for a few seconds before checking his watch. She watched him.
He began pacing back and forth, looking at his watch every few seconds. He glanced at her a few times but immediately looked away when she looked back. He walked toward the railing and set his suitcase down. He crossed his arms and leaned on the rail—it moved slightly. He stood up and shook the railing. It had a little give but he must have deemed it stable enough because he crossed his arms and leaned again.
The tables were finally clean. She walked to the gate and locked it. She wrapped the rag around her left hand and began walking to the escalator. She saw the man look at her out of the corner of his eye before setting his gaze back onto the plaza. As she walked past him she stretched out her arm and pushed the man with her wrapped hand, using her right foot for leverage. Something snapped and the railing gave. The man desperately threw his hands up to try to regain his balance but he was too late. He fell. She continued her walk toward the escalator as casually as before, tucking the rag back into her front pouch.
“Good afternoon, is this Phillip Tangiers?”
“Yes, it is. Who is this?”
“Somebody you should call back.”
“The number is…”
“Who is this?”
“Oh, what’s in a name, really?”
“Who are you?”
“Somebody who hasn’t been paid, Phillip.”
Tangiers struggled not to gasp.
“It was an honest mistake. The driver couldn’t find the place. By the time he arrived nobody was there.”
“You should hire a better driver, Phillip.”
“Yes, well, it was not I who hired him.”
“I will schedule another pickup, Mr. Tangiers, but these things are not cheap. Add another fifty grand to that suitcase of yours. Oh, and make sure you deliver it on time, this time.”
“Yes, I will try to deliver it personally.”
“Very well, have a good day.”
“Your name, in case I need your services again.”
“Let’s hope you don’t, Mr. Tangiers.”
“Yes, let’s hope. However, I would still like a name.”
“Rachel Glass. It’s a name I wouldn’t say out loud in too many places, Phillip.”
“Goodbye, Phillip. I hope you’re still sleeping well.”
Rachel hung up the phone. Now there is an arrogant bastard, she thought. Maybe somebody will wipe him out next. Maybe she’d get the job.
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