Review: The Science of Supervillainy

The Supervillainy series by C.T. Phipps has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a few years now. Not only has Gary Karkofsky’s antics as an accidentally successful supervillain just been an absolute pleasure to read, but the world environment, the unexpected twists, and the tongue-in-cheek references to pop-culture makes for an exciting and entertaining read.
The newest arrival to that series, The Science of Supervillainy, hits all of those notes in spades.
This book picks up directly where the last book left off. The Other Gary and President Omega are about to pull off their plan, but Gary and crew take care of it pretty quickly, until they don’t. A time jump ahead and all of the old characters, a bunch of new characters, and a little girl with a super brain step up to help Gary save…err… I mean take over…err…well save first, and then take over? Whatever his plans, the world is in danger, and not his kind of danger. So it’s up to him and his rough and tumble crew to step up and stop Other Gary from erasing them all from existence.
The Science of Supervillainy is filled with both comedic and dramatic moments that blend well together. Using both the dramatic and comedic is how Phipps illustrates, surprisingly well, the conflicts of being a supervillain with morals. Wanting to own and rule the world doesn’t necessarily mean that you want the world to be a filled with shitty people, and Gary most certainly wants to rule the world, but why can’t he have his cake and eat it too?
Elements of this book I loved were the same as the previous titles. The cross-pollination from other worlds, time-travel, comedy, weirdly conceived relationships, and of course the pop-culture references help to make this a fun read. It works so well, and I look forward to the next installment.

5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Tower of Zhaal

Post-Apocalyptic fiction is fun, but Post-Apocalyptic Lovecraft fiction is even better.

That kind of fun led me to C.T. Phipps’ “The Tower of Zhaal.”

The Tower of Zhaal is the sequel to Phipps’ first successful foray into Lovecraftian fiction, Cthulhu Armageddon. In that first book, the world has been ravaged by the long ago (but still in our current future) rise of the Great Old Ones. The hero of the first book, John Henry Booth is back, and the taint of the world has eeked it’s way into his own flesh. With Nyarlahotep whispering in his ear, and the threat of the end of the human race on the brink of happening, John has to risk everything with a team that he can’t trust in order to save the few parts of the hellish world that mean something to him.

While traveling to and with some very Mythos specific names, as well as some that are a treat for readers of contemporary Mythos fiction (ie: the Ghoul priest being named Hoade as an obvious reference to fellow contemporary Mythos writer, Sean Hoade). The explanations of Magic, the Science of the Mind, and the different Alien races make it an epic adventure on par with Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but within the Mythos elements that bring us back.

The world has ended, Alien Gods are everywhere, and the question of humanities survival is a complex one. Can Humanity survive? Should Humanity survive? Would the Humanity that survives even be recognizable as Human?

Phipps weaves a great tale, that makes for an exciting read.

5 out of 5 Stars!

Minor Potential Spoiler: There’s a scene in this book that made me laugh out loud, but not because it was funny. The moment I read it, I wanted to shout, “Ah! He’s been Rick and Morty’d!!!”

Review: The Haunting of Barry Allen

Wow, just wow! When I get really involved in a show, I tend to either hunt for more stories in that universe or write my own in the form of fan-fiction. It was one of these hunts that led me to discovering Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen.
The entire book reads like a long episode of the Flash. We get a look at each character as they work on their own plot specifics, and we even get a great chance to see Rathaway as a villain again. Pre-Flashpoint has made a lot of great stories possible, by making everything that takes place before that Canon/Not-Canon, since Flashpoint ends up undoing anything that might have been story specific.
Anyway, Rathaway builds his own Rogue’s Gallery out of Peekaboo, Nimbus, Prism, and Weather Wizard. He uses them to terrorize the city. The major plot here is actually a callback to the giant wormhole that opened up when Eddie Thawne ended season 1 the way he did. Barry’s visited by ghosts and mirages from the future while also trying to battle to protect his city. It’s more than one man, even the fastest man, can handle.
Enter the Arrow! Teams join together to combat the evil that has plagued the city and the end result is a great read that has me incredibly excited about the second book that just came out.
This book was well done and fits well with the Canon of the series. Loved it, and have already started reading book 2.

Introducing Iowa Book Source

Guest Post by Wendy Siefken:

Hey everyone! trying to get your written book seen? Try this one on for size. Showcase your physical book with other indie authors in a display window at our local mall! this weekend we are having a home and garden show. Lot’s of vendors and visitors will see your book! Only $5.00 a month whether you have one book or ten! A landing page directs the curious buyer to where they can get an ebook copy of your book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or wherever you have your ebooks sold through.  So check it out and let others know!  Iowa Book SourceIowa Book Source display window

Like what you see? Every two weeks or so I will change out the decorations to keep it fresh and appealing to the eye.  Contact me at WendyandCharlesSiefken@yahoo.com for more information!

Short Story: Lerdrin’s Rings

Sprinting through the woods was easy enough. If one was so inclined they could find themselves a sort of path that maybe animals or whatnot might frequent and avoiding branches and the like wouldn’t become an issue. The problem arose from when one was being chased. As was the case with Lerdrin.

Lerdrin had, up until this particular day, been more or less ignored. Having lived on the streets in Cardenshire for the last several years, he was the kind of man that you’d hire for a small job that would only last a few hours. Jobs such as pushing carts, emptying caravans, shoveling stables, or helping a family move (never pack, as everyone assumed, correctly, that Lerdrin was quite fast with his hands).

Assumptions what they were, Lerdrin wasn’t just quite fast with his hands, he was a former entertainer, from years long gone. In his youth, he’d entertained children with puppet shows and magic acts, claiming to be a long lost wizard, pulling clothing from secret compartments, coins from ears and noses, and wallets from pockets. When Lerdrin’s age and nasty habits finally started to catch up with him, he decided that keeping quiet and living a life of fast hands on the street was a good way to go.

Catching up with him being the operative phrase as, he could see glancing over his shoulder, it was happening again. Lerdrin had once again had his hand caught and almost cut off, as he had tried to pilfer certain jewelries from his most recent work. The work had been simple enough, help the people unload their wagon, get enough coins for dinner and a small room for the night. Unfortunately, the rings had not been included in the deal.

Behind Lerdrin and near enough he could feel the air from their swinging clubs, were several men, two of which had been with the lady who’s rings he had attempted to liberate. The third was Nader, Knight for the town of Cardenshire, which was only large enough to deem one Knight necessary. Nader and Lerdrin, for the most part, left each other alone with the unspoken understanding that if anyone complained about Lerdrin, Nader would come down on him with a very heavy set of chains.

Glancing again over his shoulder, Lerdrin faced forward just in time to crash into a waist-high rock, flipping over end and feeling an instant reverberation and ache throughout his fifty-three year old bones.

Hitting the ground on the other side, his head spun as he rolled over onto his back and tried to regain his composure. Mostly this consisted of doing his best to stop the world from spinning.

As he looked straight into the midday sky, the branches overhead spun less and less, and the pounding in his head quieted enough that he was starting to hear a very questionable noise, a sort of low hum coming from the direction of the rock he’d tripped over. Propping himself up on his elbows he did his best to try to stand.

At this juncture, Lerdrin was capable to get away with trying much less than his best, as he was swiftly aided in standing by Knight Nader. Using one hand, the unarmored man of about his mid-twenties lifted Lerdrin up by the nape of his neck and threw him against the very same rock that he’d previously flipped over. His back was bent over it, as it was only as high as his waist and Lerdrin found that he could easily see his life ending here. Lerdrin could also hear the humming, much louder now, and definitely coming from somewhere around the rock. This same rock, Lerdrin was noticing, was freezing him through his clothing even though it was mid-June and was very smooth on his back.

These, of course are all secondary things that Lerdrin noted, as the point of Nader’s blade pressed into the old beggar’s ribs had slightly more of his attention.

“Lerdrin, you damned fool!” Nader reached into Lerdrin’s patched coat and yanked out a handful of the baubles that the elder had taken only a half an hour earlier. Nader turned towards one of the men from earlier. “Are they yours?” he asked, reaching out to show the items. The man nodded, never actually looking at the items so much as staring intently at Lerdrin.

Nader handed the rings and such to the man and then turned towards the third companion who was quieter and showed less hate and more indifference. “Hold his hand down, on the stone.” The man hesitantly complied.

Lerdrin struggled but was limited by the sword still jabbed into his ribs. Reaching out, the man took his wrist and pulled it out straight along the stone, palm up. Fearing for the accuracy of the sword, the man pulled a rope seemingly from nowhere and tossed one end of it to the accuser who took it and, together, they pulled it tightly across Lerdrin’s forearm, making it effectively immobile.

Unexpectedly, Nader brought his sword up and back down very swiftly. Lerdrin had assumed that the Knight would have slowly brought the sword up to bring it crashing down with ferocious speed. Instead, the blade left Lerdrin’s rib cage and was brought down before the old man even realized it.

Another surprise awaited everyone at this. The sword stopped over Lerdrin’s wrist and held fastly. In his inability to understand why, Nader pulled at his blade, attempting with all of his might to free it from the invisible grip over Lerdrin’s wrist. Maniacally laughing, for the fates had smiled upon him in this instance, Lerdrin started struggling to free his wrist from the bond of the two men. In the back of his mind, Lerdin noted that the hum in the stone had become louder.

As Nader yanked on his sword, not willing to surrender to the unknown force, it started to glow. Not just the sword, as Lerdrin was slow to notice, but all three men, the rope and the sword. All of them except Lerdrin, failed to notice this. The glow intensified, slowly, achingly, bringing tears of pain to Lerdrin’s closed eyes as he lay there, still immobilized by the rope.

Finally, through his eyelids, Lerdrin noted that the painfully bright light had vanished. Slowly opening his eyes he screamed in horror. All three of his pursuers had vanished. No trace of them having been there was left. Lerdrin slid from the stone onto the ground and started crying uncontrollably. He didn’t know why he cried. On the one hand he was free, alive, and with two hands. On the other, somehow and for some reason, someone or something had deemed him worthy to keep breathing instead of the three very justified men.

The hum was louder now, loud enough to break through Lerdrin’s spiraling train of thought. He turned and stared at the stone, smooth and reflective, as if made of metal and he panicked, scooting backwards away from it in a rushed terror. He stopped his rush, but not his terror, when the god arrived.

From an nondescript place upon the stone, as smooth as another other place, a ray of light rose from it, coalescing on a spot right in front of Lerdrin. The circular beam expanded slowly until what looked like a man stood in front of the old beggar.

The man within the beam of light was dressed in a tight fitting cloth and had no hair upon his head. The clothing, if it could be called that, was all white except for a red stripe down the man’s left side and a patch in the shape of some sort of four pointed star over his left breast.

The god smiled down at Lerdrin and then started to laugh. “It worked. I can’t believe it worked.” He knelt down to Lerdrin. “Can you hear me?”

The words were accented in a very peculiar way, but for the most part, Lerdrin understood, and therefore, not knowing what else to do, nodded.

The god jumped up, no longer kneeling, and punched at the air, laughing in a manner similar to how Lerdrin had started laughing when the sword had first been halted.

Lerdrin found his voice, deep down in his feet almost, and brought it to the surface.

“What manner of god are you?”

Immediately, the god stopped laughing and regarded the little beggar at his feet. “God?” He looked around, taking in his surroundings. “Well, I must be then.” His smile returned. “Reaching this far back, actually interacting. I would have to be.” He turned towards the stone and started poking at it with different fingers from each hand, as if weaving some sort of invisible spell on its surface. Mumbling to himself, Lerdrin heard, “How much can I interact?”

As the god worked his spell on the stone it stopped humming and instead let out a loud snap, cracking in half to reveal a table with several small items on it that Lerdrin couldn’t identify from the distance that he now rested.

“Stand then, my disciple.” He stopped for a minute and looked off into the distance to his right. “No, phase two can wait. We’ve got a perfect opportunity to activate phase three now and I’m going to.” He hesitated. “No, no, no. Its going to be this way or no way, keep working. I don’t want your opinions I want your progress.” Turning back to the now even more confused Lerdrin, he put back on his smile, now looking slightly forced. “What is your name?”

Lerdrin choked for a bit on his words before answering, “Lerdrin.”

The god smiled again, this time a real smile. “That’s almost too perfect.” He waved his hand to the stone, actually passing through it for a second, reinforcing Lerdrin’s confirmation of the divine within this being. “These rings are yours, to be used in my service.”

Forgetting to be scared, Lerdrin stepped forward and looked at the rings, each a simple band, each of a different color, and five in total.

The god smiled as Lerdrin eyed them, obviously already covetous. “You shall be a wizard of the order of…” the god thought for just a second before saying with a smile, “Jim.”

Lerdrin reached into the stone and pulled out the first ring. It was a small bad, green as the leaves on the trees and otherwise lacking in any descriptive features. “That ring will give you the ability to repair wounds.” Lerdrin slipped it onto his left index finger and let out a sharp gasp as something inside the ring sunk itself into his flesh. At his gasp, the god Jim explained.

“The rings get their power from your…soul and can only come off if you die.” Lerdrin looked at his new god, annoyed that he hadn’t been warned of this beforehand. The pain had subsided at this point, and soon was forgotten as Lerdin remembered that their were four other rings.

Picking up a ring as black as night, he put it on his other index finger and gritted his teeth through the bite into his flesh. “That ring will allow you to put to sleep any who challenge you.”

The next ring was a beautiful sky blue. This Lerdrin placed on his left ring finger. “This ring will…throw lightning.”

Hearing that, Lerdrin looked at the god with shock. This was truly of being of power if he could harness the powers of the sky in such a small bauble.

The ring of blood red was the fourth ring, and this he placed on his middle finger of his right hand.  He was starting to get better at ignoring the biting pain each ring inflicted. “The red ring will defend you.”

Finally, the last ring was a bright white and slightly smaller than the rest. Putting this on his right pinky finger, Lerdrin waited for the explanation.

The god Jim was hesitant though, as if the complexities of this ring might need more explanation than the others had. Finally, Jim spoke, slowly. “This ring, the white ring, allows for all you’ve done to become undone. If things get too out of hand, this ring will give you the option to erase it all, back to now and only once.”

Holding up his hands, palms out, Lerdrin eyed his new power with hunger, smiling at the two rings on his left hand and the three on his right. Green and blue on his left; black, red, and white on his right.

“What do you want me to do, god Jim?” Lerdrin asked, begging for a chance to exercise his power.

“Who is the leader of this land?”

Lerdrin didn’t hesitate. “Lord Richard owns these lands, as far as I’ve ever been.”

“Go to Lord Richard and explain to him what you now are. Aid him in everything he asks.”

“Is that all, god Jim?”

The god Jim smiled. “For now.”

Lerdrin, without hesitation, sprinted back the way he had come into the forest, not caring to watch his footfalls anymore than he had when he’d entered, as now he was in a rush to do his god’s bidding.

Minutes after he left, Jim still stood, a hologram of light from the time capsule, as a blast of lightning struck the stone and blinded him for just a moment. At his feet lay Lerdrin, older than when he’d left, the white ring on his hand glowing brightly as it drained the last of his life. The rings, advanced technology, even for Jim’s time, dissolved now that Lerdrin was dead, and were soon reconstructed in the time capsule to await for Jim to pick them up himself.

Typing into the holographic interface the time capsule closed around them and Jim stepped out of the holographic field, vanishing from Lerdrin’s time.

Satan’s Salesman Hiatus

At the last DW Team meeting, I discussed how I need to re-find my focus in writing. I have so many projects going on, both personally and professionally, that they are diluting my time. Instead of completing a project in a respectable time-frame (defined by myself), I’m instead getting moderate advancement in multiple projects. While this gives me advancement in each of my projects, this leads to not putting out anything in the respectable time-frame that I’ve set for myself. If I continue on this path, I’ll have months (or longer) before I publish anything that I had originally intended, and in that time I could easily see myself taking on more and more projects that could slow me down.

That leads me to my choice of focus.

I’m going to be devoting as much of my time toward the completion of individual projects, in an order that I am outlining myself. The first one that I wish to complete, will be the Broken Nights Sequel. We finally settled on a name as well, Broken Nights: Strange Worlds.

That means that my other projects are being moved to the back-burner. The only thing that I’ll also be working on during Broken Nights: Strange Worlds, will be the completion of the Ghostbusters: Des Moines first season. Only one episode left!

What does that mean for you, my faithful readers? Well, first of all, the results of the “Should I write Bridge Over Paradiso” poll were less than lack-luster. That story will be shelved for now. Satan’s Salesman on the other hand, isn’t shelved, just being put on hiatus until I’m done with Broken Nights: Strange Worlds.

Gasp! I know, it sucks, but I am finding it too difficult to remain excited about stories that inch forward. I either need to quit my day job and focus entirely on writing, or I need to pick a project and “git-er-dun.”

This doesn’t mean that you won’t find excellent reads on the blog anymore. While my co-author and I have decided that you won’t be getting any more spoilery bits regarding Broken Nights: Strange Worlds, I will continue to post stories to this blog on a regular basis.

Stay tuned…

Satan’s Salesman (Unedited) Chapter 5

Chapter 5 

The rest of the day was spent trying to wrap his head around exactly what had happened that morning. Everything from Sara Durant’s inconceivable comeback to Sherrie Webster and her very vague job offer made absolutely no sense to him. It was easy to see that this company without a physical location was behind helping Sara get her job back but he still didn’t know how or why.
The most puzzling thing wasn’t the most frustrating. When he was finally back to his apartment he popped open the fridge and grabbed a Rolling Rock. As he did so, he saw something small and flat sitting on the top shelf of his refrigerator.
Picking it up, he almost started yelling. This wasn’t only impossible, but it was also ridiculously illegal and wouldn’t help their case at all when his lawyer got a hold of them.
Sitting on the top shelf of the fridge was the business card for Perdition Investments.
Shane sat down and stared at the card, completely forgetting about his beer. After about ten minutes of staring at the card, he pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and started searching Google for local lawyers. He didn’t get far. About halfway down the search options, Shane stared off into space. It was only about a minute of staring into space when he decided to set the phone down.
While Sherrie had obviously broken into his house, how she got his address wasn’t hard to understand. Whatever application she had opened on her smartphone had given her the personal information of Shane without even knowing his name. It wasn’t hard to realize that it might have included his address. Since he had gone directly home, she must have forwarded the information to someone else as to leave the card for when he arrived.
It wasn’t only clandestine, it was illegal and a violation of his personal space and rights. If it wasn’t stalking, it was borderline. With all of that in mind, Shane couldn’t help but wonder how he could get access to that application. It would be an invaluable tool in getting him deeper information on each of his clients and help him drill deeper into accounts.
That was exactly how Sherrie Webster was using the app. Shane wasn’t an idiot, it was obvious what she had done. When Shane had explained that he wanted to make a deal, Sherrie had opened the application to see what value she could get out of him. When she saw that he had a skillset that she could use, it was time to offer him a job.
It hadn’t worked, but that was only because Shane wasn’t there to talk about a new job, he was asking for a specific job. Her sales expertise wasn’t that great, but Shane had seen that in Sales Managers before.
What was the quote? Those who can’t do, teach. That wasn’t always the case with Sales Managers, but it was obviously something that happened from time to time. That wasn’t to say that Sherrie didn’t have sales experience, but she slipped up and offered Shane the big deal before she was even aware of what he wanted.
He wanted the position that he had been working for. The position that he had earned.
Then again, maybe he was driving toward his goal with blinders on. Just because he had been working toward the Global Account Manager position didn’t necessarily mean that it was the best thing for him. Shane had said no because he wasn’t getting what he wanted, but maybe he wasn’t aware of what he wanted.
Sherrie Webster had offered him a position to do what he was already doing for a lot more money. Wasn’t that the point of hiring the lawyers? Also, if he was inside the organization that was responsible for hitting the reset button on his career, than wouldn’t he be safer from further intrusion if he was part of that organization?
At the very least, maybe he could see the road hazards before he crashed into them.
Shane rubbed his face as the weight of the situation pressed down on him. The best thing that he could do would be to wait until tomorrow morning and see what Steve was going to offer him. It was an easy thing to guess what he would offer. Most likely, Steve would offer him the pay and commission structure that Sara Durant has, but while keeping Shane in his previous role as an Account Manager.
That would be because Steve, CIT, and even Perdition Investments didn’t know him as well as they thought they did. They all thought that if they threw enough money at Shane Lowe that he would fall in line and do what he was told. If they knew anything about Shane, than they wouldn’t have even offered money. They would have offered him a better position. Shane wasn’t doing this job for the money, he was doing it for the sales. He lived for the thrill of the close. He thrived off of convincing people to do things they wouldn’t normally do that ended in the mutual benefit for both of parties.
It was the sale that drove Shane.
The sale and the close. Sales at his current level had become too easy. That was why he strived for more in the form of Sara’s job. She handled accounts that had more players, larger concerns, and bigger threats. Those sales would be harder to close, but would be the perfect place for Shane to get better at what he loved.
Shane put his head down on the table and pushed the beer bottle and phone away. It wasn’t even noon yet, so the beer was a little much, even for him.
The phone was another matter. The more he thought on it, the more he talked himself out of calling the lawyers. Sara was fighting to keep her life together. Shane’s problem was with CIT’s willingness to fold under her demands and therefore pull the rug out from under him. By the time the lawyers had finally gotten Shane something that might be considered a victory it would have cost him more, both financially and emotionally, than he was really willing to spend.
Whatever deal Sara had made with CIT had made Shane collateral damage. CIT would try to clean it up with money, but even that seemed hollow.
If he decided to stay with CIT, it would be constantly shadowed by Sara still being there. He would never be able to step into that office again without people either seeing him as the guy that got screwed over by Sara Durant, or as the guy who stayed with a company that wasn’t willing to reward him for his efforts. He would be a warning painted on the walls of everyone’s cubicles.
No. If he wanted to hurt CIT and help Shane Lowe, Shane was going to need to find another position. Leaving CIT would hurt them financially, destroying their forecast, but they would recover. Everyone would know they messed up, though, and it might serve to further protect future employees.
It was still a big move to make. The only position directly available for him to step into was a vague thing offered by an even more vague company.
Shane sat up and picked up the card. Staring at it again, he thought about how he might spin this offer toward his advantage.
He still had the majority of the work day available to him. Shane might be able to get a glimpse at what Perdition Investments was about.
He sighed. They weren’t the bad guy, and neither was Sara. CIT was for not fighting for him.
Shane dialed the number on the card.
“Mr. Lowe,” Sherrie Webster had no reason to know it was him, but Shane found himself not surprised that she did. “Why might I be getting a phone call from you?”
Shane sighed, “Does that job offer still stand?”
While he couldn’t see her, Shane felt he could feel her grinning from over the phone. “Of course, we can meet in person and I can provide you with a proper offer letter. When would you be available?”
“Slow down,” he said. “First, I would like to schedule a ride along so that I can see what it is that you do at Perdition Investments. I still don’t fully understand what this job offer is.”
Perdition Investment’s Sales Manager was quiet for a while before replying. “That shouldn’t be difficult to put together. When would work for you?”
Shane liked that he had caught her seemingly off guard. “I was actually hoping we could meet sometime today.”
Sherrie paused again, but this time it seemed less surprised and more logistical. Or so Shane assumed. If Perdition Investments was anything like every other sales company that Shane was familiar with, the Sales Manager had to see who was out and about as well as who might have basic calls that would be good for a visiting rep to ride along with.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. One of my sales team is currently in my office,” Shane was surprised to hear that Sherrie had a physical office location. “His name is Al Keen and he can be by to pick you up within the next half an hour. How does that sound?”
Shane smiled, “Great. I’m guessing that you don’t need the address.”
“Not at all,” Sherrie answered without missing a beat.
Shane hung up the phone and realized that he didn’t need the full half hour to get ready. He was still in his suit for work and only needed to grab his binder from his car.
Once he had collected his binder, he saw no point in going back up to his apartment and instead just stayed on the curb outside. He killed the time by trying to search the internet for anything that might help him learn more about Perdition Investments.
Aside from the one entry that showed the reverse address lookup, Shane found nothing about the company except for a five-star rating on the Better Business Bureau website.
Around the half hour mark, a car pulled into his apartment lot. There was nothing remarkable about the car. It was a silver Lincoln. Shane didn’t know cars, but he knew enough to know that this wasn’t a cheap car.
The Lincoln pulled right up to the curb at the front of the apartment building and the driver put it into park. Stepping from the driver’s seat an older gentleman came around and met Shane.
Albert Keen was taller than most of the people Shane knew, standing a few inches above six feet. He wore large glasses and was dressed in a full suit. His hair, thick but silver, implied that this tall guy was nearing retirement age. When he opened his mouth, the first thing Shane realized about Al was that he came across as quiet and shy.
He reminded Shane of an older Clark Kent as played by Christopher Reeves. Uncomfortable in his own skin, very pleasant to meet, and entirely too big for his quiet demeanor.
Al stuck out his hand to Shane, “Shane Lowe? Are you Shane Lowe?” He said it twice, obviously unsure if just questioning Shane’s name would be interpreted correctly.
Shane grasped the man’s hand and shook it hard. Much like Clark Kent, Al’s grip was stronger than his demeanor implied.
“That’s me,” Shane answered.
“Albert Keen, everyone calls me Al,” he pulled back his hand and gestured toward the car. “I guess that I am taking you on a couple of appointments?”
“Yes,” Shane decided to see if he could push Al. “You’ve been assigned to convince me to join Perdition Investments.”
To Shane’s surprise, his words didn’t even phase Al. “Then let’s get started.”
Shane climbed into the car and Al quickly ran around and joined him before pulling out of the lot.
“So,” Shane ventured, “tell me about yourself, Albert.” He consciously chose to use Al’s entire first name. He wanted to show Al that Shane Lowe wasn’t everyone.
“There isn’t much to tell,” Al answered. “I’ve been with Perdition Investments for almost nineteen years. It hasn’t changed much. People have come and gone, but the company has remained the same.”
Shane didn’t miss that Albert had avoided the actual question and jumped directly into talking about Perdition Investments under the guise of his relationship with the company.
If Albert wanted to talk about Perdition Investments, then Shane wouldn’t stop him, but he also wouldn’t forget that Albert didn’t like talking about himself. That could be useful information later.
“What do you sell at Perdition Investments?” Shane hoped that Albert would be a little more accommodating than his manager had been.
“We don’t.” Albert looked at Shane while he drove, his eyes were seeking deeper understanding. “Do you not know what we do?”
Shane rolled his eyes. “Well, Albert, that’s why I asked.” As means of an explanation, he added, “Sherrie gave me the elevator pitch, but you’re probably aware of how vague that is.”
Albert nodded and turned his eyes back to the road. “Well,” he said slowly, “I would love to tell you, but you would think I was joking.”
“Try me,” Shane was beginning to regret not calling a lawyer.
Albert visibly struggled with Shane’s response. Finally, he said, “Do you believe in God?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Everything, unfortunately.”
“Then my answer would have to be that I am agnostic,” Shane answered reluctantly. “I never really think about religion.” It wasn’t some politically correct line he was feeding Albert, as Shane still wasn’t certain that he even wanted the job. He was being honest in that he never really thought about God or Heaven or whatever. People were too hung up on what other people believed, so Shane made it his goal to understand and speak to what other people believed, but his beliefs had nothing to do with beings that controlled the Universe. His beliefs focused on how the world already worked, and what steps would he need to follow to achieve the goals that he put in front of himself.
“So,” Shane said into Albert’s ensuing silence, “Perdition Investments sells to Churches?”
That seemed odd to Shane as he said it. When he said the name Perdition Investments in a conversation about belief, he suddenly found himself making a correlation that others would have seen as obvious. “Wait, isn’t Perdition another name for Hell?”
Albert nodded. “That’s a good start, but you should stop guessing and just let me show you. You still won’t believe me until you see it.”
As he said those words, he slid the Lincoln into park at a small house in a cul de sac.
“So, this isn’t a business to business sales job?”
Albert grabbed his sales binder and put his pen in it. Shaking his head, he replied, “It’s not exactly a sales job, it’s a job that sales skills are necessary. And no, it’s not business to business, but it’s also not consumer specific.” He shrugged and climbed out of the car while Shane followed suit. “We go where the business is.” He nodded toward the small townhouse, “Today the business is in Francine Stein’s home.”
Shane stayed a step behind Albert as he walked the short distance up Francine’s path to her porch. Somehow, Albert managed to translate his quiet demeanor to his knocking. He knocked three times, hesitating between each one as if he were struggling to decide if he should knock again.
When the door finally opened, Shane remained calm while Albert seemed startled by it. He obviously wasn’t, but he still gave a small hop and hurriedly thrust his hand out to the equally jumpy old lady on the other side of the threshold.
Francine Stein was looked to be nearing her eighties. She stood at a little over five feet tall and her hair was in a short cut that followed her hairline, leaving her ears exposed. Her hair, which Shane imagined was normally between silver and white, was dyed an unnaturally dark shade of black.
When it was Shane’s turn to shake her hand, he could feel the bones in her hand and her skin felt paper thin. In contrast to how her skin and bones felt, her grip was as solid as any middle-aged male that Shane had ever shaken hands with.
“Francine Stein?” Albert asked in his shy way.
Francine nodded. “That’s me.”
“We’re with Perdition Investments. We were hoping to talk to you about,” he paused, “Bruce.”
“Perdition Investments?” Francine seemed confused. “What’s that?”
“Well,” Albert explained, “Perdition Investments helps people, such as yourself, uh,” his nervous demeanor was worse in front of prospective clients, “solve problems.”
Francine shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the money for whatever it is that you’re offering.”
Albert nodded, “We understand that, Ms. Stein, and that’s why we’re here. We help people who don’t have the means to help themselves. People who, uh…um…” he paused again, “are in need but have no means.”
Shane could see that Francine didn’t understand what was going on, and neither did Shane for that matter, but Shane wasn’t about to shut the door on them.
“Francine,” he said, “my name is Shane Lowe and we’re only here to help.” He shrugged. People loved shrugs. It humanized a salesperson to the customer. People don’t imagine someone shrugging who is trying to sell them something and the level of trust climbs just a little more. “Sometimes helping is just a matter of hearing your story. Would you mind if telling us what’s going on with Bruce?”
Francine’s mask fell away the moment Shane shrugged. Her face was suddenly filled with exhaustion and her shoulders sagged. She stepped back from the doorway and waved them in.
“Have a seat. Do you want anything to drink?”
They both declined and took a seat on her couch in the nearby living room. The room looked like a nuke had gone off. Newspapers, boxes, and all sorts of junk littered every surface. This wasn’t the house of a hoarder or a messy person.
This was the home of a person who was only barely keeping things together.
As if they had said yes to being brought refreshments, Francine brought in a tray with a pitcher of lemonade and three empty glasses. They had orange and red triangles on them in a fashion that made them look at least thirty years old.
She poured each of them a glass. The pitcher shook as she poured it, but she didn’t spill.

“Bruce was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three years ago,” her voice wasn’t sad, but both men could hear the weariness in her voice. “I don’t know what you know about pancreatic cancer, but he will be dead before the week is over.” Francine sipped her lemonade and continued, “His life insurance will cover everything and give me some sort of income after. So, while I appreciate that you think you have something to offer me, you don’t.”

“I understand how you’re feeling, but I have access to resources that most people aren’t aware of.” Albert paused to open his binder and scribble some notes. Shane could make out what they were if he tilted his head, but he didn’t want to draw attention to whatever notes Albert might be writing. “What if I told you that, uh,” he stopped to find the words, or maybe the courage for the words, “we can cure Bruce and give you more time with him?”

Francine’s tired face turned cold. “Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want it. Get out.” She stood and walked to the door opening it.

“Now.”

Shane was only growing more confused. How had Albert expected this conversation to go?

“Wait,” Albert said as he stood and pulled out his phone. “Just a second,” he opened his phone. He tapped something and then said, “Cure Bruce.”

“I said get out.”

Albert looked nervous but didn’t move. Shane stood and started to move toward the door when a thud came from the back of the house.

Francine’s eyes went wide and she ran past Albert and Shane and into the back of the house. Shane looked up at the taller man and then toward where Francine had ran to.

“What’s going on?” Shane whispered at Albert.

Before Albert could answer, Francine walked back into the living room with an older gentleman behind her. She couldn’t take her eyes off of him as she wept and said, “How? How is this possible?”

Bruce, though pale and very thin, was smiling and seemed full of energy. He was wearing a faded set of blue pajamas. “What’s going on? I feel great.”

Albert took a step toward Francine and touched her shoulder. She jumped and tore her eyes away from her recently resurrected husband.

“Can we have a minute alone?”

She took a moment to understand what Albert was asking her and then nodded. Turning back to her husband, she said, “Bruce, would you mind going back to the bedroom.” Bruce raised his eyebrow at her and looked from Albert to Shane. “I’ll be right in, I’m just going to see these gentlemen out.”

When Bruce left, she spun on Albert.

“What is this? How did you do this?”

“Uh,” Albert started, “this is what we do at Perdition Investments.” He nodded toward where Bruce disappeared. “Unfortunately, Bruce’s new condition is only temporary.”

Shane was the first to react, “What?”

“Perdition Investments can do almost anything, but the unfortunate truth is that we can’t do anything for free.” Albert had crossed his arms and his binder over his chest as he spoke. “For his condition to be permanent, we’ll need you to sign our standard contract.”

Francine’s face returned to the look of distrust, but this time she was obviously weighing the options of having her husband back. The other shoe had dropped, and instead of being prepared to turn it down in an instant, she was torn.

Shane wasn’t so surprised by Bruce’s sudden turn around that he didn’t recognize what was going on. Albert might be timid and not a solid speaker, but he was good at his job.

Al had her right where he wanted her.

“How much?” Francine asked.

Albert unfolded his arms and shifted his feet. “Perdition Investments doesn’t work in conventional monetary units, opting to instead work in contracts for spiritual compensation.”

“Spiritual what?” Francine asked in almost a whisper.

“Souls,” Albert answered, this time without a hesitation. “Perdition Investments will give you anything you want in exchange for your soul.”

Francine laughed. “Is this a joke?”

Shane was dumbfounded but found his mind filled with the same question as he stared up at Albert.

“Uh, no. We recognize that you might not believe in your immortal soul,” Albert was obviously reading the company line, but his timid style made it sound original, “but the value of a contract is based on the value of what we believe in.”

Francine hugged herself. “I believe in my soul, I just…” she seemed flustered and confused, and Shane couldn’t blame her. “I don’t know what to believe.”

Albert nodded, “Belief is a confusing thing. Instead, we should look at the known variables.” He paused for only a second, seemingly finding his stride. “Would you do anything to have your husband back?”

Francine hesitated, obviously knowing where the line of questioning was going. Finally, she answered, “Of course I would.”

“That’s what marriage is, isn’t it?” Albert continued. Shane was mildly surprised, assuming that after Francine has said she would do anything to cure her husband that Al would have moved in with the close, but instead, he took it further. “The promise that you would sacrifice anything for each other. That promise is the thing that binds your souls together. True soulmates would save each other from…well…anywhere, err, I mean thing.”

Suddenly, Shane understood. Shane wasn’t certain what was going on, and he was fairly sure that all of this was fake, but either way, he thought he understood what narrative Albert was using. Albert was painting a story for her. Francine had admitted that she believed in the ‘soul’, so she would obviously be hesitant to give it up and potentially end up somewhere that Bruce would not for the rest of eternity.

His narrative had a hidden promise in it, though. Albert was saying that her husband’s love could save her soul, but he said it without ever saying it.

For all of his nervous demeanor, Albert was proving himself to be a damned good salesman.

Francine stared at Albert for a moment before her gaze shifted to Shane. After trying to get a read off of his face and failing, she returned her look to Albert.

“Can I have a minute to discuss it with Bruce?”

“Well,” Albert took in a breath, “part of the contract is that no one outside of the contract is allowed to know about the contract.”

“Bruce would be part of the contract,” Francine argued, “it’s about him.”

Albert shook his head, “It actually isn’t. We’re asking you to trade us your soul in exchange for something that you want. You get to label that ‘want’, but it has nothing to do with him. It’s your free will and your choice.” Albert continued, as if expecting Francine to continue bargaining with him on the subject. “It states very clearly in the contract that any sharing of the knowledge or details of the contract with anyone who isn’t either with Perdition Investments or is, in fact, yourself would void the contract, negating all effects.”

“That’s incredibly harsh, don’t you think?” Francine was annoyed. She was being told that she could have her husband back and in good health, but whenever anyone asked her how such a miraculous thing had occurred, she wouldn’t be able to answer the truth. “What am I supposed to say to him when he asks how?”

“That’s the easiest part,” Albert answered. “Do you know how I healed your husband?”

Francine could have mentioned Albert talking into his phone, or she could have mentioned the aformentioned contract, but instead, she recognized that Albert was giving her the broom with which to push all of today under the rug.

The older woman shook her head, “I have no idea how you did it.”

Albert smiled. “See? It’s easy. Get used to those words.” He clarified by stating it plainly. “Just say, “I have no idea. It’s a miracle,’ anytime someone asks.” He nodded. “Do that and you can have your husband back and healthy for the rest of his days.”

Albert then did something that Shane hadn’t expected. The deal was essentially closed, they just required a signed contract from Francine. Instead of getting that signed contract, Albert directed her back toward her rejuvinated husband.

“Why don’t you go visit with your husband for a few minutes while I explain to my friend how I’ll draw up the contract.”

Francine said nothing. She turned away and shuffled toward the back of the house.

Shane was finally free from whatever pretense they had been operating under.

“What the hell was that about?” Shane waved a hand toward where Francine had disappeared. He was whispering, but only barely. “Is the husband in on this with you?”

“What? No,” Albert laughed. “Nobody’s ‘in on it’ with me. This is what we do.”

“You trade people for their souls?” Shane wasn’t sure what he believed in, but he certainly wasn’t going to buy whatever Albert was trying to sell him. “You find people who are down on their luck and trade them their souls for whatever they want? Bullshit.”

Albert frowned at Shane’s profanity. “How else do you explain what just happened here?”

“I already told you, the husband is in on it. Obviously, he reached out to you to help him get out of…something. He paid you, and you staged this elaborate mystical intervention to help his wife buy whatever part in it you might have had.”

Albert shook his head. “Souls have intrinsic wish value. Some have more than others, but they all have some value. The idea is to get people to agree to give up their souls for far less than their wish value is worth.”

“Why?” Shane demanded.

“Gross profit,” Albert shot back. “We don’t get paid in the conventional sense. We get a percentage of the wish power deposited into our accounts. That wish energy can be used for anything. If you need money, food, cars, or the ability to fly, then you can use the wish power to get it.”

Shane’s mind was reeling. He still didn’t believe Albert, but he was beginning to think Albert was insane. “Prove it.”

“What?” Albert was confused.

“Prove it,” Shane repeated. “I’m assuming your phone is how you access that wish energy? Make a wish, something ridiculous, that will prove to me that,” he circled his hand above his head, “all of this is real.”

Albert resorted to his nervous demeanor again, but brought out his phone. He mumbled something about saving up, but swiped to unlock the phone anyway. It was a standard Android model that everyone seemed to have these days. He opened an app that’s icon was a light gray. In the center was of the gray square was a white flame. The screen that opened up had four lines of text.

Check Balance.

Make Wish.

Gift Wish.

Report a Problem.

“Just, uh, select ‘Make a Wish,’ and speak your wish.”

Shane took the proffered phone and tapped the ‘Make a Wish’ button. The screen was replaced with the picture of a microphone that pulsed in time with the ambient noises in the room.

“I wish for the sky to turn green and the grass to turn blue.”

“Oh, come on,” Albert grabbed at the phone, but Shane pulled it out of his reach. “That’s two wishes in one. It’s going to cost more.”

The words of Shane’s wish were converted to text on the screen. Two buttons joined them. They read ‘confirm’ and ‘cancel.’

Shane pressed ‘confirm’ and tossed the phone to Albert who caught it frowning. Shane walked to the window as Francine came in.

The sky was blue and the grass was green.

“I’ll do it,” Francine said.

“Great,” Albert was suddenly filled with an energy that didn’t reflect anything that had happened to him or Shane in Francine’s absence. He tapped a few things on his phone’s screen and then turned it so that the screen was facing Francine.

“Some things,” Albert explained, “haven’t changed since the old days. Once you’re done reviewing the contract, all you need to do is put your finger over the headphone jack,” he pointed at the proper place on the edge of the phone. “Just hold your finger there until you feel a pinch.”

She looked at him with a twist of fear in her eyes, but got over it. The reality of the situation, as she believed it, was dire, but she couldn’t deny that her husband was definitely healthier.

Whether the sky was blue or green, Shane couldn’t deny it either.

Francine put her finger over the headphone jack and flinched, but when she pulled her finger away she handed the phone back to Albert with finality.

It was done.

“Now get out of my house.”

Francine didn’t even lead the way. She simply stated her demand and both Shane and Albert stepped out the small home and walked back to the car.

As Shane climbed into the passenger side, he asked, “Well, a sucker’s born everyday.”

Albert answered by pointing up and out the window.

Shane looked up just in time to catch the sky shift in color. It turned green.

Satan’s Salesman (Unedited) Chapter 4


Chapter 4
A long night of celebratory love-making helped to push Sara Durant’s odd behavior to the back of his mind. Unfortunately, it came back to the surface when Maggie left for work in the morning.

As he poured himself a cup of coffee, Shane struggled to think of a time before her getting let go that Sara had acted so awkwardly around him. Even when Shane included the one chili cookoff that he and Sara had gotten in a friendly argument over, it hadn’t gotten to such weird levels of awkward for him.

On the drive in, Shane blasted the Elvis Duran in the Morning Show and managed to bury his concerns about Sara Durant beneath prank phone calls and comedic interviews. By the time that Shane reached his office, Sara was a distant memory.

Before he was out of his car, Steve Horton was coming out of the back lot glass door and marching toward Shane’s car.

“Look,” Steve was saying as Shane got out of his car, “I did everything I could.”

“What are you talking about?” Shane was confused, but he couldn’t help but feel Sara Durant’s name floating back to the surface of his mind.

“The decision came from Chicago. I don’t know how, but she managed to convince someone that she still had something of value to offer us.”

Shane didn’t even ask. It was all too obvious to him what was going on.

When Shane rushed past Steve, his manager, he didn’t even swerve to avoid crashing into him. Instead, Steve jumped out of Shane’s way and was still bumped by Shane’s laptop bag.

Once in the CIT building, he made his way toward his new office without slowing.

Boxes filled with his stuff were stacked neatly outside of the office. The door to the office was shut but unlocked.

Shane threw the door open and continued his stride into the office that had been his only a few hours ago.

“What the fuck is going on Sara?”

He didn’t hide how pissed off and confused he was. He needed her to see that he wasn’t going to take any of this.

“I told you that I had a backup plan.” Sara was very calm and leaning back in her chair as if she had never lost it.

“Don’t give me that bullshit,” Shane wasn’t shouting but his voice was filled with righteous anger. “You lost this job, and I earned it. What the fuck are you doing in my chair?”

Real sympathy, not the stuff a salesman or someone trying to empathize would use, filled Sara’s face.

“I’ve been doing this too long,” she sighed and her eyes looked like they were about to spill tears. “I can’t do anything else. I don’t know how to do anything else. So, I made a deal.”

“With who?” Shane demanded. “Was it Brent Lamar?” He was referencing the Human Resources director. “Did you have something on Steve that you could leverage? Or were you sitting on a huge deal until the day something like this happened?”

Sara shook her head and tears were actually sliding down her cheeks. “It’s nothing like that.” Her body started to shake as her tears evolved into actual sobs. It was confusing to Shane. She was essentially saying that she made a deal to get her job back, taking it away from Shane and with it Shane’s dreams of the Global Account Manager position.

Yet, she was the one crying. Shane couldn’t help but wonder what she had given up to get her job back.

None of the confusion alleviated his anger.

“Then tell me what it’s like. I am going to fix this.”

Sara looked up at him and wiped her eyes. “Unfortunately for both of us, I don’t think this can be ‘fixed’.” She reached into her desk and pulled out a card. She slid it across the desk to him. “They, um,” the words seemed to catch in her throat, “grant wishes.”

“Grant wishes? What the fuck does that mean?”

“You tell them what you want, and they make it happen, but that’s all I can say.”

Shane slapped his hand down on the card and picked it up to read it.

“I bet that’s all you can say,” he mumbled as he read the card.

It only read “Perdition Investments” and had a phone number beneath it. Otherwise, the card was entirely blank.

“Is this a joke?” He held the card out as if he was about to throw it back at her. He had no intention of losing the card, though. He was going to reach out to them to find out where to send the lawyers.

“No, it’s real.” Sara held her hands wide essentially saying, “The results speak for themselves.”

Shane frowned. “How much did it cost you?” Maybe when his lawyers were done destroying Perdition Investments, they could get her whatever she paid for it back.

“It doesn’t work like that,” Sara gave instead of an explanation. “I really can’t talk about it. It’s part of the…” she paused again as another word got lost on its way out, “contract. I can’t say anything other then recommend that people give them a call.” She opened her computer and wiped her eyes, making an effort to avoid eye-contact with Shane. “And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve recommended that you give them a call. Now,” she looked at Shane, but she was trying very hard to keep the look from turning into tears, “I have work to do and you need to get out of my office.”

Shane had to refrain from doing something outrageous. Punching a wall, kicking a trashcan, or breaking a laptop all came to mind, but he held it all back. Instead he turned and slammed her door.

He let his feet carry him to Steve’s office, but Steve wasn’t there. No one was where they should have been. Instead, everyone had been hanging out near the end of the hall, listening in to everything that went on in Shane’s former office.

When he had reached Steve’s office he leaned on his manager’s desk and waited for Steve to catch up.

“That was intense,” Steve ventured in an attempt to break the thick fog of Shane’s anger that seemed to permeate every inch of his office.

“Shut up and listen,” Shane said it calmly and with no malice in his voice, but his words demanded to be heard. “You and this company are very close to losing me. Are you aware of the revenue potential that you will have traded if you lose me because she was hired back on?”

Before Steve could answer, Shane held up his hand to stop him.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ve already done the simple math. If I keep going as I’ve gone this year, I’m on track to bring this company over a million dollars this year.” Shane’s anger finally showed as he jabbed his finger in the direction of Sara Durant’s office. “She hasn’t brought in thirty thousand dollars in the last six months.”

Steve opened his mouth to speak, but Shane cut him off again.

“So, what I want to know is what you are going to do to make me want to stay.”

Steve wasn’t sure if Shane was going to cut him off again, so he waited until it was obvious that Shane actually wanted him to speak.

“Shane, this was as much a surprise to me as it was to you.” Shane was about to call Steve on what he suspected was bullshit, but it was Steve’s turn to raise a hand, “That means that I am not prepared with an offer to keep you, but I obviously want to and you have the best case. Give me twenty-four hours and I will come back with something better than what you just lost.”

“That’s fair enough,” Shane replied, “but so was firing Sara Durant. My faith in CIT has been shaken. I expect you to remember that when you’re speaking to whoever you need to speak to about whether or not I leave you.” He steepled his fingers on Steve’s desk. “I’m also taking that same twenty-four hours as paid leave.” Shane turned and walked to the door before turning and adding, “One more thing, if anyone says that the revenue I bring in isn’t worth it, try to remind them that I’ve backed up all of my current customer base on an external cloud. My clients will be going with me. If I walk out of this office, I’m taking over ten million dollars of potential revenue for the next several years with me.”

Shane didn’t look to see what Steve’s reaction was and instead kept walking until he was back at his car.

***

Trying to explain the situation to Maggie was the most difficult part of Shane’s day. He didn’t think that he fully understood what had happened, so how could he explain it to her. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to find out. When his phone rang, he contemplated not picking it up, but doing so would only encourage her to text him, and he didn’t want to have this conversation over text.

“Hey, how’s work?” Maggie’s voice came over the Bluetooth connection in Shane’s car.

“In flux,” Shane responded. It wasn’t meant to be cryptic by any means so much as it was a commentary on his mental processes. All of this might turn out great for him once Steve had a chance to plead Shane’s case to the upper management. On the other hand, everything in nature preferred the easiest path. Streams flowed around rocks, fish swam with the current, and humans usually chose to keep things exactly how they were if the alternative meant actually doing some work.

“Oh my, what’s going on?”

“I don’t even know, to be completely honest. Sara Durant’s dinner party last night was celebrating her ability to convince someone in a position of power to give her job back to her.”

Maggie wasn’t sure how to respond at first. “What does that mean for you?”

“It means that I was just promoted and then demoted back to my original position with no bump in pay,” he shook his head at the idea even though Maggie could see him. “I stepped out after demanding that they give me a reason to stay. I gave them a day to figure it out.”

“Good for you. Do you think they’ll come back with an offer?”

Shane thought about that for a second. They would have to give him something. If they didn’t he would gladly take his contacts and sell them to the highest bidder. Those contracts and his sales record were going to belong to someone who could use them, he just needed to evaluate his options.

To answer Maggie, he said, “I gave them little choice, but anything could happen at this point.” All of it was mind-blowing. “I mean anything at all could happen. I was positive that nothing could save Sara’s position with CIT, but she figured something out.”

“Why did they hire her back?”

“She said that she made a deal and then she gave me a card for Perdition Investments.”

Maggie mulled over the name for only a moment before saying, “I’ve never heard of them.”

“Me either, but I reverse looked up the phone number and am headed to their offices now, I think.” Shane’s righteousness was flaring up again. How could any company out there pull this kind of bullshit on him? “I’m going to speak to them and if they don’t do something to correct the actions that they’ve made I am more than willing to call a lawyer and get this ironed out the legal way.”

“Fuck their shit up,” Maggie whooped into the phone.

They talked for a little while longer until his GPS let him know that he was almost there. Once the phone call was over, Shane kept his eyes open for the location.

He was in the middle of nowhere. The reverse lookup address had taken him to a large empty field filled with tall grass and about thirty miles out of town. Shane checked the GPS address against the reverse directory lookup twice before deciding that the error wasn’t on his part.

He was about to turn around when he saw a carved wooden sign on a lone fence post along the side of the road. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Shane let the car roll to a stop in front of the post.

On it, the words “Perdition Investments,” were burned into the wood. The wood itself looked as if it had been originally put up back a long time ago.

Shane put the car in park and got out to look at the sign closer. He hoped to see either a forwarding address or other sort of useful information on the sign.

He didn’t expect to see anything on the sign and wasn’t disappointed. The only thing on the entire sign was the name of the company. There wasn’t even an address for the location, so he couldn’t figure out how his GPS even knew this was the right place. With no housing or anything for as far as he could see, there wasn’t anything that Shane could detect that would have been used in determining the address of the large empty field.

Taking a moment, he cast his eyes across the field, wondering if he was missing anything. There weren’t even woods against the field, it just continued off into the distance. Shane could see hills and what looked like they might have been windmills at the edge of the horizon, but nothing of value.

Just like the rest of his day, this location was a bust.

Shane turned back toward his car and started when he realized someone was leaning against the passenger side door with her hands in her pockets.

She was a shorter woman with dark brown hair and large brown eyes. She was dressed in a lady’s business suit that Shane couldn’t tell if it was black or a very dark red. Her hair was longer, but it was impossible to tell how long, as she had it up in a bun. Also notable were the large and numerous gold and silver bracelets on each of her wrists. This lady liked her bling.

Her interesting outfit and sudden appearance weren’t the oddest thing about this random woman leaning against his Sebring in the middle of nowhere just outside of Crescent Hill. The oddest thing about this random woman was that there were no vehicles anywhere aside from Shane’s. She was either hiding in the grass and waiting for him to turn his back, or she had just appeared out of thin air.

“Are you looking for someone?” Her voice was deeper than he would have guessed, but still not outside of the range of the average female pitch.

Shane eyed her and didn’t attempt hide his suspicion from his face. “I’m looking for Perdition Investments,” he hooked his thumb to indicate the wooden sign behind him. “You wouldn’t happen to have any idea where they might have moved to, would you?”

She raised an eyebrow at him in a similar way that Maggie did when she wanted more information. “What led you to trying to locate them?”

Shane retrieved the business card that he had acquired from Sara from his pocket. He held it up to show it to the new woman.

“I was given your card and I prefer meeting people in person, not on the phone.”

“Obviously,” she stated without inflection.

The mysterious woman came away from Shane’s car and stuck out her hand. “My name is Sherrie Webster. I am the Sales Manager at Perdition Investments. What can I help you with?”

Shane looked around, being careful to closely examine the field behind the sign as well as the one across the street from it. “I would prefer to have this conversation in an office.”

“I’m sure you would,” Sherrie said with a pleasant lilt to her voice. “Unfortunately, our headquarters is out of state, and our sales reps work remotely.” She shrugged and smiled. “It’s a new world or work. Everything is remote.”

Shane wanted to ask about the sign or why they even had a listed address if it didn’t lead to anything in particular, but decided that he needed to get to the business at hand.

“What do you do at Perdition Investments?”

“As I mentioned previously, I’m the Sales Manager.”

Shane shook his head, “I mean in a more general sense. What is the product that your sales team sells?” He shrugged. “Give me your elevator pitch.”

Sherrie Webster crossed her hands in front of her and said, “At Perdition Investments we specialize in leveraging your unused resources to provide the means with which you can achieve your dreams or increase your quality of life.”

“That’s a pretty way of saying a lot of nothing, don’t you think?” Shane had never heard a vaguer elevator pitch in his life. Elevator pitches were supposed to define a company’s goals in a short sentence or two, but this one still didn’t explain the product or what resources would be getting leveraged to achieve whatever the desired results are.

She nodded. “What can I help you with?”

“Do you have a client by the name of Sara Durant?”

Sherrie shook her head. “I don’t make it a practice to discuss my clients, and that includes whether or not they are my clients.”

Shane nodded but kept pressing. “I’m going to assume that you know exactly who she is. I have a problem with whatever service you provided for Ms. Durant. Whatever you did to reverse her misfortune has caused me misfortune. I was promoted when she lost her job. When you did whatever it was that you do to get her job back, I was removed from my new position.” Shane was keeping his voice even and his emotions in check. If he let his emotions drive the conversation than he would have lost before he started.

“And what can I do about that?”

“Reverse it.”

“No.”

“Excuse me?” Shane had expected her to give some pushback, but he was prepared. “That’s hardly a company line. From what little I know about Perdition Investments, you give people what they want for a price. What I want is Sara Durant’s position at CIT.” He put his hands into his pockets. “How much?”

Sherrie looked him up and down and whipped out her phone. She swiped once, and then twice, before tapping out a message on the keyboard. She waited, looked at Shane again, and then returned to tapping away on her screen.

“Are you ignoring me?” It was just rude to pull out a phone in the middle of a sales meeting, and Shane had no illusions that this was a sales meeting, even if he intended to see her process and then give all of the information to his lawyer.

“Not at all,” Sherrie answered. “I’m looking up the value of your request and texting upper management to see if the deal is something we can work out.”

Shane nodded and waited. After about thirty seconds her phone beeped and Sherrie Webster frowned.

“Well?” Shane asked.

“I can’t offer you what you’ve asked for,” Shane had expected her to say as much. Going back on her deal with Sara would destroy Perdition Investments’ credibility. “But,” Sherrie continued, “I’ve been told to make a different offer to you.”

That wasn’t something that Shane had expected and he found himself without words. To his mild relief, Sherrie took that to mean, “Please continue.”

“You’re good at what you do?”

Shane was expecting to hear more of the offer, not more questions.

“I suppose so, but you don’t even know my name.” He frowned at her. “I could be lying to you about being good at my job.”

Sherrie nodded. “You could be, but I would know.”

She held up her phone and read off of the screen. “According to my manager, you’re Shane Lowe. Shane Lowe is currently ranked as the number one sales rep at Computer Information Technologies.” She put her phone away and smiled at Shane. “As a matter of fact, in the last year you have been the number one sales rep for at ten of those months. Would it be safe to say that you are great at your job?”

Shane hesitated before nodding. “How did you figure out my name?”

“Now isn’t the time for that question. Ask a different one.”

Shane wasn’t in control of this conversation, and that wasn’t how he had meant for any of this to go. “This isn’t why I am here. I don’t want a new job, I want Sara Durant’s job.”

Sherrie shook her head. “No, you don’t. You want more. More money, more stuff, more love. Everything in your life isn’t good enough for you, but you know it can be as long as you reach just a little farther.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “So, ask me the correct question.”

Shane sighed. “What’s the offer?”

Sherrie uncrossed her arms. “Do what you do, but do it for us, and get paid more money than you ever thought you could want.”

Shane walked past her, slapping the card into her hand as he did and got into his car.

He rolled down the window. “You will be hearing from my lawyers.”

Sherrie looked at the card in her hand before clasping her hands behind her back. “I sincerely doubt it, Mr. Lowe.” She paused. “Why don’t you keep our card, just in case you decide to entertain our offer?”

Before she could offer the card back to him, Shane shifted his car into drive and took off down the road.

Bridge Over Paradiso

Almost a year ago, I started working on a serialized fiction. My busy lifestyle ended up putting it on the backburner, but I’m far fr

om done with it. Right now, I’m attempting to prioritize my projects, so I’m wondering what level of interest this project has. If nobody’s interested, I’ll just shelf it until the major projects are done, but if anyone is actually interested, I’ll put it to the front of the heap. It’s a space-western that follows Noah Wimmer, a kid who discovers that the rock formation on the outskirts of town is actually something much more. It’s something that could change the fate of the universe and it’s only protector is a tired old man.

At the end of this sample (the first episode), I’ll have a poll. If you want to read more, let me know. I’ve also been toying with the idea of turning it into an audio show, where I narrate the whole thing into a free podcast.

********************

Dust kicked up behind Noah Wimmer’s truck. The wide tires carried Noah over the vast purple desert that was the world of Paradiso.
The truck itself was a marvel of engineering. Originally an X10-80 Hauler, built long before Noah’s mother was a gleam in her daddy’s eye, it had since been modified, repaired, torn apart, rebuilt, and worn back down at least a hundred times. Most of those were by Noah own engineering skills. Even though the truck was a tool for work, it was Noah’s freedom.
The old X10 had a large flatbed for hauling supplies, and that’s how Noah was using it. Noah wanted to just forget his cargo and drive on, forever chasing that feeling of escape that the X10 gave him.
He could, too. He could drive forever on this large planet.
Mostly because of the solar-panels on top of the truck.
The planet of Paradiso was in a binary star system and the stars were spaced out enough to only afford Paradiso with a little over an hour of dark per 24 hour day. Solar power wasn’t only abundant, it was in surplus.
The wind tore through Noah’s chin-length blond hair as he crested another dune. At 17, Noah wasn’t happy with any of his prospects. He was taller and thinner than the average and that same height kept him from working in the mines like most of his peers. He had planned on joining the WaterCorp, but they had an age limit that he was four years too young for. That left the Freight Teams.
Paradiso’s one moon was called Crypta. Crypta was a lush forest, filled with everything that Paradiso lacked. That included carnivorous plants and animals that were so fierce it made the planet uninhabitable. Fortunately, it didn’t make it impossible to visit. The resources, such as food, building materials, water, and exotic souvenirs made for a lucrative trade on Paradiso. The Freight Team, taking advantage of the weakened gravity caused by Crypta’s close proximity, launched ships onto the moon and collected the resources before returning to Paradiso the next day.
Whether you were a pilot, a loader, or security, the job was incredibly dangerous. Most of the plants caused negative allergic reactions in humans, and the beasts of the planet were excellent hunters.
Noah shook the thought from his head and returned his focus to driving. He hadn’t mentioned to his mother that he was interested in joining the Freight Teams. He had no doubt what her reaction would be.
She’d kill him long before the moon did.
It had been at least thirty kilometers between the supply drop from Crypta and Noah’s mother’s store. Cresting the next dune, the store came into Noah’s view.
The store was officially nameless, but known to the locals of Paradiso as Wimmer’s Place. Noah’s family had owned and operated it in some capacity or another for the last four generations. Noah could feel the pressure for him to continue the business, but he couldn’t break his mind from wanting a new experience.
Or new experiences with The Freight Team.
Even with the pressure that he was feeling, Noah knew that his family didn’t actually expect him to take over. They knew him for what he was and all hoped, and bet on, his sister, Tessa to take over. To be fair to his family, even Noah knew that they encouraged his ambitions. They wished for him to reach for the stars, only not so literally.
Noah pulled up to the store. It was a large brick and metal structure, built to withstand sandstorms and whatever else anyone could throw at it. The windows were vertical slits, mostly to allow weapons to slide out in the case of a siege, but also for allowing light in, while protecting from the storms.
It had been months since anyone had tried to lay siege to the store, although robberies themselves were more recent. Noah and his family, as well as some of the more loyal locals, had become quite the impressive little army in this lawless land. The last siege had ended with the loss of only one barrel of water and a few lives lost on the side of the attackers.
The store was a resource, and destroying it wasn’t what the attackers ever wanted. They wanted the supplies without paying for them, but they also wanted there to be more supplies in the future. So, even with the loss of some life, they still planned to attack the store without grinding it in the dust.
It had been that way for the entire four generations. It even became habit about sixty years ago to leave one of the barrels poisoned. Only the Wimmers ever knew which one it was.
Parking his X10, Noah hopped from the cab and grabbed a crate from the bed of the truck before walking in. He walked by more vehicles on his way in. Noah recognized all of them.
Kreager Evans’ skimmer was parked directly next to where Noah had parked the X10. Kreager was about Noah’s age and mute. He was hellbent on building a a better dehumidifier for pulling water from the air. On a desert world, water was the most valuable commodity, even with Crypta within reach, and such a device was a worthy cause. Unfortunately, Kreager was entirely self-taught, and hadn’t made any breakthroughs in water collection yet.
Parked tightly next to Kreager’s skimmer was Chartrand family wagon. A group of farmers with a greenhouse about a hundred kilometers to the south of the store. They were one of the bigger traders with the Wimmer store, trading rare vegetables for large quantities of water.
Karen White’s old rover was parked so close to the front entrance to the store that Noah had to squeeze by it just to get in. Karen was a sour older lady who was quite fond of her chew sticks.
Karen was the first person that Noah came across when he made had finally squeezed into the store. He set his crate down on the counter just as his mother came out of the back carrying a stack of boxes tied with twine. Karen eyed him and began to waggle her finger while gnawing on a chew stick.
Noah rolled his eyes at her, but stepped up and grabbed the boxes from his mother.
Annie Wimmer was in her late forties and lean from many years working the store on the dried out desert world. She wore glasses, but Noah was pretty sure that she didn’t need them for anything other than reading. She was sharp and quick witted and a dangerous woman with her rifle.
As Noah took the boxes, Annie turned toward Karen and smiled, “Thank you, Karen.” She turned back to Noah. “Take the top two boxes out to Karen’s wagon. She pointed to the bottom and much larger of the boxes that he had taken. “That one belongs to Eckhart, you can just set that anywhere until he gets here.”
Karen spoke around her chew stick upon hearing Eckhart’s name. “You mean that crazy old man that sets up by the Bridge?”
Noah rolled his eyes, and if Karen hadn’t been looking directly at Annie when she’d asked about Eckhart, Annie would have rolled her eyes as well. Many were surprised that Karen was still alive, so the irony wasn’t lost on either of the Wimmers that she had just referred to Eckhart as an ‘old man.’
The Bridge in question was a relic from some long past war. Back before the migration, Paradiso has been part of some galactic conflict and the Bridge had been used as some sort of landing pad for ferrying soldiers to and from the dust covered planet. Humanity hadn’t faired well during that war, and by all accounts Paradiso was all that remained of the human race. Once the battle had been lost, whatever connection had allowed people to ferry over the Bridge was cut, Paradiso was cut off from the Universe, and the Bridge became a large stone memory.
It was called the Bridge because of it’s general look. It was a set of stone stairs that lifted off of the desert and then arced over and flattened out, much like an actual bridge. Unlike an actual bridge, the Bridge stopped abruptly right in the middle of the would be bridge. That mid-air terminus led many to believe that it was a loading platform for spacecraft. People would load up onto the bridge and then step from it into the open doorway of a spacecraft, prepared for battle.
“Old, yes,” Annie remarked, “but I don’t know about crazy. He’s sane enough to somehow make a profit doing whatever he does out by the Bridge.”
“That’s a good point,” Noah said, wondering not for the first time about old Eckhart’s ability to make money. He always had enough for the supplies he came and picked up, but for all of Noah’s subtle investigation, he still had no idea what Eckhart did to make money. “How does he get his money?”
Annie frowned, “Johnny Marcuro came in here mumbling a theory the other day about that.” Noah set Eckhart’s box on the counter next to Karen and scooped back up Karen’s boxes while his mother explained. “He seems to think that Eckhart takes half of his supplies that he gets from us and resells them on the far side of the planet.”
It makes sense, Noah thought. Wimmer’s Place was the better of all the stores on Paradiso, having been around long enough to build a good relationship with The Freight Teams. It as possible that The Freight Teams gave better product to the Wimmers.
“That sure doesn’t seem fair to you,” Karen mumbled.
Annie shrugged. “As long as he keeps buying from me, I don’t care what he does with his supplies.”
“Well,” Karen continued. “I don’t think that’s what he does, anyway.”
“Oh?” asked Noah, genuinely curious.
Karen waved her hand, as if using it to summon some old memory. Still looking at Annie, she continued. “Old Eckhart used to tell your father that he was on a research grant to study that Bridge. If you can believe anything he says, that is. It was well over thirty-five years ago. Do you really think that he still gets grants? Who hands them out? What could there be left to study in that unchanging rock?”
Noah’s mother shrugged. “Mine isn’t to wonder about my customers, Karen, or I’d be wondering why you’d be buying all of that cabling. Some would wonder if you were building a private comm tower to hear when the shipments would be arriving…”
Karen’s face blanched at that and Noah had to turn his head to hide his smirk. Karen then turned away from Annie and started pushing Noah and her boxes toward the door.
Loading Karen’s small rover was a more a matter of holding her boxes of cabling while she maneuvered her mess around to make room. About five minutes after reaching her vehicle, Karen finally stepped aside and let Noah set the boxes into her rover cab.
The moment that he had stepped back from setting down the boxes, Noah heard the whine of another vehicle. In unison, he and Karen turned to see Eckhart and his solar buggy pull up beside them.
Eckhart wasn’t as old as ancient Karen, but he was definitely in his higher years. His olive skin glistened with sweat as he stepped out onto the purple sand. His hair, once black, was white and cut very close to his scalp. His head and his beard must have been shaved at about the same time, as his white beard was the same length as his hair on top of his head. He was dressed in a loose brown robe made from a light material. Covering the top of his close cropped hair, Eckhart wore a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun from his eyes.
“Boy,” his voice was low and rough, sound as weathered as his sun-aged skin. “Your mother in?”
Noah nodded and tilted his head toward the shop. “She’s inside.”
Eckhart returned Noah’s nod, dipped his hat to Karen, and then headed toward the store.
He stopped as he came shoulder to shoulder with Noah, tilting his head as if attempting to hear something. “Get Karen out of here. Now. I saw riders coming this way.” Eckhart hesitated. “They didn’t look…respectable.” He slid past Karen’s rover and into the store.
“Karen, I think you’re all loaded up. How about we get you on your way?” Noah sealed the back of the rover and watched as Karen climbed in and pulled away, mumbling something about pushy youth.
Once Noah was sure that Karen was good and gone, he turned and watched as three riders on glider bikes crested the same dune that he had also crested earlier in the X10.
Inside, Eckhart was throwing some more goods from the shelves and into the box that was still where Noah had left it. As he did, Annie was rattling off prices, but there was no sign in Eckhart’s eyes that he cared at all what the price was.
The sound of the riders’ glider bikes interrupted Annie’s pricing and halted Eckhart where he stood.
Eckhart looked at Annie, “I’ll check on your boy. You hide the valuables, get your gun, and stay here.”
Annie was about to protest being told what to do in her own store, but Eckhart held up a hand and a slight smile. “I can handle this, your customers will need to be kept calm.”
He nodded toward the Chartrand family looking concerned by the sudden change in the atmosphere. Annie hesitated and then nodded. She didn’t need panicked customers, and Eckhart seemed sure enough of himself.
“They could be customers,” Annie tried.
Eckhart shook his head and said quietly, “We both know that they’re not.” With that he turned and headed back toward the door.
Outside, the three riders climbed from their glider bikes and straightened their jackets. On their sides, plasma pistols hung on loose holsters. Each of them was at least a decade older than Noah and they were smiling to themselves as they took in the wiry boy.
“Can I help you gentleman?” Noah asked.
Instead of answering, the rider in the lead pointed at Noah, eliciting a laugh from his companions.
The rider in the back of the trio said loudly, “Go home, boy. We’re looking for a fight, and you’re not it.”
They moved to walk past Noah and into the store, but Noah’s hand shot out and grabbed the nearest one by the arm.
“This is my home,” Noah said, “and I’m the only fight that you’re going to find.”
The rider that Noah grabbed looked down at Noah’s hand and then at Noah before yanking his arm back.
“I guess we’ll start with you then.”
The rider reached for his plasma pistol and his companions followed suit.
“Are you the boys who mess with Roger Lincoln’s barn?” Eckhart said from the door to the store with his arms crossed.
Distracted, the riders left their hands resting on their pistols but didn’t draw them.
The rider that Noah had grabbed said, “It’s a desert world. Fires happen.” His companions didn’t even attempt to hide their snickering.
Eckhart nodded slowly and slid aside his robe, revealing his own plasma pistol. He walked forward, stepping closer to the group.
The mirth left the riders as they saw the gun and they tightened their grips on their own holstered weapons.
“Roger,” Eckhart continued, “is a good man and a friend of mine.” He unclipped something from just behind the pistol and brought his hand forward slowly, letting the robe fall back over the pistol.
All that Noah could see was a small flat disk that fit into the palm of Eckhart’s hand. With a flick of his wrist, the disk flew past the riders and Noah coming to a rest underneath the glider bikes.
Eckhart reached out and touched Noah’s shoulder. “Get inside and check on your mother.” There was no room for arguing in Eckhart’s tone, and Noah didn’t hesitate to move back toward the store. He didn’t get as far as his mother, though, instead choosing to stand inside the door to watch Eckhart and the riders.
“Get out of our way, old man. We’ll kill you if you don’t,” said the same rider as before.
Eckhart ignored them and pointed in the direction of their bikes. “Do you know what that is?” He didn’t wait for them to answer. “Figured not. There ain’t too many around here who would.” He brought his hand back and shoved both hands into the pockets of his robe. “It’s a Newton 4. Designed a long time ago, it has the ability to magnify gravity within a small radius for a short time.” Eckhart pulled a small red clip out of the pocket of his robe and held it up in front of the riders. “We used them all the time during the war. I set the timer to 45 seconds.”
He took a breath and looked between them before realizing that they still didn’t understand what he was talking about.
Eckhart didn’t flinch or move. Instead, he sighed. “It’s a grenade, boys, and the time is ticking!” He waggled the red clip. “If you don’t get out of here now, I won’t turn it off.”
The lead rider wavered just a bit and glanced back toward his bike. Following their elected leader, the other riders looked back at the bikes.
When nothing happened they turned back to Eckhart with ear to ear grins.
Then a loud whumph! sounded. It was followed by an equally loud crunch of metal.
Spinning back around, the riders and Noah could see that two of the bikes were destroyed. They had been flattened into the sand. The third back had missed the pull of the Newton 4 and survived.
Before they could fully process what they were seeing, Eckhart stepped forward and pulled the plasma pistol from the holster of the nearest rider. Just as quickly as he pulled the pistol, he put a bolt of plasma into the knee of the rider in the middle. Turning slightly, Eckhart aimed the plasma pistol at the final rider before he could draw his own weapon.
“The way I see it, you’re lucky in that y’all still have one bike.” Eckhart waved his free hand at the middle rider who was missing half of his knee. “Now you can take your moaning pal and head back to wherever you call home, or I can do ole Roger a solid and end this now.” He looked at each of them, the plasma pistol never moving.
The rider who’s gun Eckhart took stepped back from Eckhart and helped get the middle rider up and onto his one good leg. While he and his wounded companion hobbled toward the remaining bike, the last rider stared daggers at Eckhart.
“Drop your pistol and go.” Eckhart shook his head. “I won’t ask again.”
A loud clunk signaled a side panel in the wall of the store sliding aside. A rifle barrel slid out and Noah could hear his mother’s voice as she called out. “You have until the count of ten.”
The final rider unholstered his plasma pistol slowly and then dropped it at his feet.
The wounded rider took that moment to pull his own pistol and take aim on Eckhart.
Before Noah could call out, a shot rang out and the wounded rider was quickly sporting a plasma hole in his chest. He collapsed to the ground as Annie shouted, “Ten!”
The two remaining riders climbed up onto the bike and everyone in the store could hear the strain on the engine as they revved it up.
The rider sitting on the back of the bike shouted over the loud engine, “We won’t make it far like this. We’ll die out there.”
Eckhart shouted back, “It’s a desert world. Accidents happen.”
The engine of the glider roared to life and carried the two men off into the desert.
Ignoring the body still smoking on the purple desert sand, Eckhart stomped into the store, pushing past Noah.
“Annie,” Eckhart says, leaving Noah standing shocked in the doorway. “Did the Freighters bring down any of that aloe?”
Noah’s mother tossed the rifle onto the counter top and walked behind it to check her invoices. Out of habit, Noah’s legs started moving. He was well into packing up the last of Eckhart’s supplies into the crates when an idea finally surfaced through his shock.
It wasn’t until Annie and Noah were carrying the supplies to Eckhart’s buggy, when Noah asked his mother, “Where did Eckhart get a grenade?”
“What?” Annie asked her son.
Noah stepped around the body that was still laying in the sand and set the crate down in Eckhart’s vehicle. “Eckhart used that gravity grenade on the gliders.” Noah shrugged, “I’ve never even heard of anything like that. Where did he get?”
Annie returned her son’s shrug. “You shouldn’t worry about things like that. It was probably a left-over from his time in the war.”
Noah had heard that phrase before, usually whenever someone tried to explain the oddness that defined Eckhart. Except that no one ever knew what war that was.
“What war?” Noah asked his mother, and it wasn’t for the first time.
Annie was obviously getting frustrated with her son. She’d just killed a man and avoided another robbery of her store. She was stressed to her very limit, and her son was asking her what seemed like ridiculous questions.
“Obviously, it’s that war that he’s always talking about.” Annie started the march back toward the store, giving the body a wider birth than she had during her first path.
Noah followed her and thought back to the numerous times that Eckhart had mentioned this forgotten war. He couldn’t even count the number. Eckhart was notorious for starting any story that he felt worth telling with “Back in the war,” or “Before the war.”
Except that made absolutely no sense. The Bridge had been closed for hundreds of years, restricting all travel from Paradiso to its nearby moon. Since the closing of the Bridge, their had been no actual wars on Paradiso since the closing of the Bridge.
Survival was hard enough on the harsh desert world without adding wars into the mix.
At least, that’s how Noah knew it to be.
Noah hadn’t realized it, but Eckhart had been within earshot for the entire conversation with his mother.
“There was no war, kid,” Eckhart said, suprising Noah. “Put it out of your mind.”
That made even less sense to Noah. There was already ‘no war,’ and then Eckhart had talked of ‘the war,’ and now he was going back to saying that there was ‘no war?’
“Than why do you talk about ‘the war’ all of the time?” Noah pressed.
Eckhart snorted, stepping past Noah and into the store, “Because I’m an old man with little to do other than wish that I would have had a war to fight in.”
Eckhart’s tone carried finality with it, and only led Noah to believe even more that Eckhart was hiding something.
Once they were all three in the store, Noah was surprised to hear his mother ask the next question, “Then where did you dig up a gravity grenade?”
Noah scooped up the last crate from the counter and handed it off to Eckhart.
Eckhart sighed as he took the box, “I make bombs. It’s a hobby. I get bored living as far out as I do.” He shrugged with the box. “I had a finicky repulsor that I retrofitted with a power oscillator and a crystal-based timer. The effect was better than I could have hoped for.” Eckhart frowned and looked directly at Annie, “Do you always interrogate the folks who save your store?”
Suddenly embarrassed, Noah’s mother began stuttering an apology.
Eckhart smiled and Annie felt even more embarrassed having been caught in his little joke. “I’m only giving you a hard time, Annie.”
With that, Eckhart walked from the store and loaded the last crate into the back of his buggy. Much to Noah and Annie’s surprise, he then scooped up the body of the last bandit and threw it on top of the buggy.
With a final nod to the Wimmers, Eckhart climbed aboard and drove off.
They both watched him go and didn’t say a word until he was out of sight.
Once they couldn’t see Eckhart anymore, Annie said, “Stay away from him, Noah.”
Noah didn’t look away from where he’d last seen Eckhart on the horizon. “Why, mom?”
Annie shook her head and headed back toward the store while her son continued to stare. “Because he’s weird, and probably dangerous. Just do as your told.”

* * *

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