Silver Linings

The moon is peering down at us through a paper-thin gap in the clouds, turning the falling snow into fragile flakes of fluttering silver. They reach earth, disappearing into the crowd of their fallen brethren, to the soundtrack of the methodical keystrokes coming from across the room. Q has finally calmed down, or given up - I’m not sure I care which - and his typing is no longer angry and loud.

“Why Red Five?” The mechanical voice pulls my gaze from the window and I turn to look at Q.

“Why Red Five what?” I ask, hoping this is not the first stage of the transition from non-verbal to verbal in the blame game he has been playing since we arrived here. He shakes his head and prods his laptop into life again.

“Why the name Red Five?”

The question catches me off guard; it’s been a long time since anyone has asked me that. I shoot a glance at The Bear to find that his eyes have lifted from his tattered copy of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and are regarding me with open curiosity. He has told us that he is an ex-foot soldier of Grozny’s but he seems to carry himself more like a general. But Puppy, wherever she is off to now, trusts him and that will have to be enough for now.

“It’s not a very interesting story,” I say with a shrug.

“I’d like to hear it anyway,” Emma says from the doorway, just coming in from another trip outside. The snow resting on her head is melting rapidly after its failed attempt to put out her fiery locks and she wipes the water away from her forehead with the back of a pale hand. I frown slightly but say nothing; the last thing we need is for her to catch a cold.

“If you insist,” I say and push off from the window sill. I limp slightly as I make my way to the well-worn wooden chair waiting along the far wall and the lines around Emma’s eyes deepen. I grit my teeth and lose the limp. My leg is still weak and it still feels tight, but sitting around all day would drive me out of my mind.

“Red Five comes from an incident on the kitchen floor of my mother’s home, during the summer of my fifth year on this messed up planet,” I begin as all eyes are on me. I despise being the center of attention - better make this quick. “Mom was in the backyard, probably tending her rose garden, and I had slipped inside to escape the sun. The house wasn’t air conditioned, not like Dad’s place, so I went to the kitchen to get a drink.”

“This is not going to end well,” the laptop declares.

“I had to use a chair to reach the glass cupboard but that had never stopped me before,” I continue without looking up. “Unfortunately my athletic side had yet to arrive and I was still quite clumsy. There was a cushion on the chair and it slid just as I was coming down; I landed on the floor on my hands and knees… still holding the glass.”

The Bear mutters something in Russian and Emma shifts from one foot to the other. I can’t help but smile at the memory.

“I don’t remember feeling any pain… just curiosity at the red stuff spilling from my hand. I started finger painting with my blood on the tile floor, utterly oblivious to any personal danger. When mom came in from outside I had almost fainted from blood loss but I was still going. Had to put the tail on the red horsey.”

“She must have woke the dead with her screams,” Emma says with a smile. “I know I would have.”

“Yeah, she was not too impressed with her son’s artistic abilities. She couldn’t do anything about my love of all things red after that though.” My eyes go to Emma’s hair before darting away. God, I can be as subtle as a jackhammer some days.

“How are you doing with the mayor’s secret CD?” Emma asks into the awkward silence that follows. Q grunts and shakes his head, frustration making him forget to use the laptop to speak. I’m about to offer some weak encouragement when the phone beside The Bear rings.

It’s an old orange rotary phone and its shrill ring puts everyone on edge. Everyone besides The Bear, that is, who casually plucks it from its cradle and holds it to one ear without uttering a greeting. He asks a single question in Russian before pulling a pen from a shirt pocket and scribbling something into the margins of his book.

“A message for you,” he says after hanging up. “Thomas Wilkerson wants to make a deal.”

“How did he find us?” Emma looks wildly around the room, as though she expects the mayor to leap from the shadows at any moment. “I thought we were safe here!”

“He has found nothing,” the bear says deliberately. “He has whispered his message into the ears of the streets and now it has reached you. Along with his message is a number he can be reached at.”

“Is that phone secure?” I ask while chewing on my bottom lip.

“Da, but I can make no guarantees,” he rumbles before vacating his seat. “If I were you, I would keep the conversation very short.”

“Well we won’t be making plans for Sunday dinner, I can promise you that.” I arrive at the phone and stare down at the digits falling down the side of page thirty-five. I pick up the phone and begin to dial, doing my best to not think too much.

“Hello?” The voice of the devil sounds awful human.

“What do you have to offer us?”

“This… this is Red Five?” He sounds… broken. Like us.

“Tell me what you have and what you want in return,” I snap. I’m afraid that with each second we're in contact, however distant, more and more of his filth will seep into my soul. “I’ll call back when we’ve reached our decision.”

“I can get you Grozny.”

The End

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