Smoke And Mirrors

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are…

Momma, where do the stars go in the daytime?

Stars sleep during the day, little one, so that they may stay up all night to keep watch over you while you sleep.

Do they keep the bad dreams away Momma?

Of course, my little one. Now close your eyes so the stars can do their duty.

I wake, the dream vanishing as suddenly as it had arrived, but I keep my eyes closed and my breathing slow and regular. I’m sitting in a plush chair, my hands tied behind my back, and I’m not alone. A floorboard directly behind me creaks ominously, as though struggling to support a great weight. A great, No-Necked weight. I guess the stars took the night off tonight.

The chair is confusing - it feels well made, supporting me in all the right places. I’m not in a police station, that much is clear. So where then? The options are not good - either Grozny’s men have me in a secure location or Wilkerson’s dirty cops are holding me somewhere less than official.

Why am I still alive… and in relative comfort as well? A quick scan of my body finds a dull ache where my forehead must have connected with the van floor and little else of note. Besides fear.

Okay, think this through. They can’t possibly know who I am, I’ve been too careful. If they only suspect something they won’t be getting any confirmation from me. They can try all they want but this canary ain’t gonna sing. Bruises and broken bones heal with time. But then again, body parts don’t grow back.

I can’t stop myself from squirming at that thought. At least I’m not naked.

“Open your eyes… Red Five.”

By a Herculean effort of will I manage to keep my eyes shut, though my right eyelid twitches violently for a few moments. Traitorous bastard.

“It’s past time for these silly games,” the voice continues. The speaker sounds weary, exhausted almost. There’s no trace of an accent in his words, so that rules out Grozny and leaves Wilkerson. I’m not sure if that makes me feel any better or not. “Open your eyes Mr. Paulo.”

I reluctantly do as I’m told. I’m sitting in front of a large wooden desk in what appears to be a study but it’s so dark that I can’t be sure. The only source of light is a floor lamp with a dark brown shade in the corner to my right that illuminates the bookshelf directly beside it and not much else. There is a man leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the desk; I can make out a dark business suit, a white shirt, dark tie and the outline of a head shielded by shadow.

“You’re a difficult man to find,” he says without moving from his position against the wall. “I’ll admit we’ve been looking for you for an embarrassing amount of time - I’m honestly not quite sure how you’ve done it. Perhaps you can give my men some tips at a later time.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My voice only wavers slightly and I can feel sweat dripping from my armpits. I’m really no good at this.

“Unfortunately Red - if I may call you that - you were found… but not by us,” he continues as though he didn’t notice me speak. “I apologize for the manner of your collection but there really wasn’t much time before people with… less kind intentions would have done the same.”

My jaw muscles flex, teeth grind against teeth, but I say nothing. My collection… like I was a bag of trash left on the side of the street waiting for the garbage truck to come along to take care of me.

“And your hands will be untied as soon as I’m certain you fully understand what is happening here,” he tells me. My eyes narrow - what game is he playing at?

“You going to tell me your little story any time soon,” I ask slowly, “or do I have to listen to even more of your bull-”

A thick hand bounces off the back of my head and I nearly bite my tongue off. I twist in my chair to glare at No-Neck and find him standing with his hands folded neatly on his belly and a bored expression painted on his face.

“There’s no need for that Tommy,” Shadow Man tells No-Neck. “Mr. Paulo is understandably confused, angry, and more than a little scared. Let me see if I can put him at ease and then perhaps he will be a more affable guest.”

“I’m all ears,” I say as I turn back to face him.

“We’re not certain how it happened but Mayor Wilkerson has discovered your identity. We caught word that he was moving to have you detained, either through official or, more probably, unofficial channels. We had very little time to prevent your… abduction, for lack of a better word, but we had to do so as you’re too central to what we’re trying to accomplish. Whether I like it or not.”

“It’s always nice to be wanted.”

“So I had you brought in and one of my men took your place,” he says, again as though I have no part in this discussion. It’s an annoying habit and one I’d like to do something about once my hands are… wait a second. Took my place? “My man is now in police custody, being… interrogated in your stead. You owe him a great debt - one I will insist upon being paid back, Mr. Paulo.”

“Enough of the fun and games,” I snap. “Who the hell are you and what do you want from me?”

“Who I am is unimportant,” he replies with a dismissive wave of his hand. “All you need to know is that we’re on the same side. As for what we expect you to do -”

He’s interrupted by a door opening behind me with such force that it slams against the wall beside it. I see him stiffen slightly but he makes no other move. I turn to have a look at the intruder and my jaw drops.

“What is going on here Joel?” demands the angry, red-headed, enigmatic Emma B.

The End

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