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JanusFile

Page history last edited by Stephen Rice 10 years, 11 months ago

1.

 

It all began with a jerk. Everyone would agree with that, though they would probably mean different things by it. For Chris it meant that he was walking along, lost in his thoughts, when he was suddenly yanked backwards almost out of his shoes. He was also yanked out of the path of a truck, which continued past without so much as a honk.

 

Chris found himself released as soon as he was back on his feet, and he spun around to see who had grabbed him. There was no one there but a nondescript young man who was watching him with some interest.

 

“You…” Chris began. “Did you do that?”

 

“Do what?” the man asked pleasantly.

 

“Pull me out of the way of that truck!”

 

“Oh, that. Probably. It’s the sort of thing that I do, I think,” he replied in a conversational tone. “May I ask who you are?”

 

Chris wasn’t sure how to respond. He was precocious, but there’s a limit to how much ten years of life can prepare you for. “Chris. Chris Meacham,” he said, almost stammering. “Who are you?”

 

“That’s a very good question. Given the time of day, phase of the moon, and so forth, I’m probably Mike Q. Fagin.”

 

“Uhh… You’re ‘probably’ Mike Q. Fagin?”

 

“If you don’t like it, I could come up with something else. Of course, then I’d have to go to all the trouble of setting up a new identity without being noticed or traced. Do you have any idea how annoying that is?”

 

“Not personally, but I have some uncles who might,” Chris said, still in a daze.

 

“Good lad! Now, the important question is, are you going to ask me over to your house?”

 

“What?”

 

“Well, that’s the way this works. I was told to come here and help you out, which I guess meant that business with the truck, and then you were supposed to introduce me to your family, and I would work out an arrangement with them whereby they would provide me with room and board in return for services rendered. Rescues are free, though.”

 

“You were told to come here? Who told you?”

 

“God. Contrary to popular belief, he does talk to people all the time; they just don’t listen.”

 

“Why would he tell you to stay with us?”

 

“Because…” Mike began. Then he caught his breath and hyperventilated slightly. “Because he knows I’ve been out too long, and that’s not good. I need to come in—to stop wandering for a while. I need a home, and your house is it.”

 

“You’re a lunatic, aren’t you?” Chris asked, hoping that Mike wasn’t the violent kind.

 

“That’s a matter of opinion,” Mike replied, suddenly back to his bantering tone. “Have you ever noticed how many psychiatrists exhibit obsessive-compulsive behaviors?”

 

“Not really,” Chris said. He had no idea what to do. This strange man had apparently saved his life, but he was also more than apparently missing from a rubber room somewhere. It would not do to let him know where Chris lived, and yet… “Would you like to meet my cousin Bob?”

 

“I don’t know. Is he a better conversationalist than you are?”

 

“Oh, yes. He talks to a lot of people. In fact, he was supposed to be talking to some people around here, and I came to watch.”

 

“You came to watch him talk? What do you do, read lips?”

 

“Well, his discussions sometimes get a little animated.”

 

“Wow! You mean he does cartoons? Okay, count me in.”

 

Chris led the man across the street and toward some old buildings. “You see, there’s an old lady here who’s been having trouble with kids getting violent and threatening her and her home. Bob thinks they’re involved with drugs or something, but the cops won’t do anything.”

 

“Well, that’s not very nice,” Mike said. “I hope he gives them a very stern warning.”

 

“He will. He’s pretty good with those. Here we are.”

 

Sure enough, there were sounds of objects and perhaps people being thrown around inside the building in front of them. Chris walked up the steps and peeked in. He did not like what he saw.

 

“We’d better call the cops! There were only supposed to be two or three of them, but it looks more like ten, and Bob’s in serious trouble!”

 

“What!” Mike said. “I hate it when the bad guys ad-lib seven or eight extra thugs. I’d better go help him talk to them.”

 

“But—” Chris objected futilely. The young man had already darted up the stairs and into the building. Chris pulled out his phone, but before he could push “9” he heard Mike’s voice inside.

 

“Now, then, have you all been playing nice? Okay, no fair using guns—I don’t think the place is zoned for them. Here, could you goons wait just a minute while I talk to this guy?” A brief pause followed this, then Mike’s voice said more softly, “Are you okay? Oh, I’m kind of a friend of your cousin Chris. Actually, we’re more like acquaintances right now, but I think the relationship shows promise. Look, would you like us to team up? You could tag me in, and I could talk to these guys while you come up with a devastating rebuttal to their beating you to a pulp. I’d suggest that you avoid the ‘Sticks and stones’ bit, though.”

 

There was a general murmur at this point, and he said more loudly, “Hey! Just give us another moment here, okay? You gonna tag me in, buddy? All right, that’s good enough. Okay, monkeys, who wants to play?”

 

This question was answered by a gunshot.

 

“I thought I told you, no fair using guns.”

 

A loud commotion followed—then a terrible silence. Chris was still standing at the threshold, his phone poised but unused. He timidly glanced inside. Mike was helping Bob walk toward the front door. The thugs looked like a housekeeper’s nightmare, strewn about without any aesthetic appeal.

 

“What happened?” Chris asked.

 

“Oh, I just bored them into a stupor with my attempt at conversation, and your cousin got his second wind.”

 

“Are you trying to tell me Bob did all that?”

 

“Did I say he did all that? I just said he got his second wind.”

 

“He doesn’t look like it.”

 

“Well, he got a little winded from his second wind. Have you called anyone yet to pick up all this stuff?”

 

“No.”

 

“Well, you should. I’m sure there are local ordinances about leaving thugs lying around. They lower the property value.”

 

Just then Bob roused himself. He looked like he was in his mid-twenties, but he moved like a rheumatic old man. “What happened?”

 

“The goons all got tired and went to sleep,” Mike replied. “Good work, friend—you’re a credit to your balance sheet.”

 

“What?”

 

“He says that you beat those guys up, Bob,” Chris explained, sure that the strange young man would not volunteer anything more lucid or relevant.

 

“Beat them up? All I remember is that he wanted me to touch him, and then I blacked out. The next thing I knew, he was walking me to the door.”

 

“So, you’re the type who passes out when he pastes people?” Mike asked. “I’ve heard of that. What humility! What a trouper! And speaking of troopers, how about that garbage detail? I’m not much of a detail man myself—”

 

“Why are you so eager to get the cops here?” Bob demanded. “And who are you, anyway?”

 

“Just a more or less law-abiding citizen, doing my duty. Why are you so eager not to get the cops here?”

 

“I’m not,” Bob replied grimly as he pulled out his own phone and used it. “And I hope you do better with the cops than you have with me. They hate smart answers.”

 

“Perhaps you can help me think of some stupid ones they’ll like more,” Mike suggested innocently.

 

“That’s no way to talk to a potential host, you know,” Chris interjected.

 

“A host?” Bob asked. “What are you, a parasite?”

 

“Only on my father’s side,” Mike replied brightly. “Or so I’ve been told. I despise sponging, myself. The idea is that I’m homeless but extremely useful, and you, I believe, have a home and a need for my services.”

 

“Well, I don’t generally go walking into traps, but I suppose I could ask the others.”

 

“Great! So if any of the others does generally go walking into traps, I’m in, right?”

 

Bob stared at him, half annoyed, half amused. “You know, if I could be sure that you weren’t an axe murderer or something, I’d invite you along just to bother my uncles.”

 

“I absolutely promise you that I’ve never murdered an axe in my life. It’s always been self-defense, honest!”

 

“Splendid. You know, if the cops don’t haul you away to a laughing academy, I think I’d about consider that good enough. Of course, if they don’t put you away, I’ll sue the department.”

 

“Oh, they won’t put me away. I guarantee it.”

 

“I admire your confidence.”

 

“Thank you. I’ll have to remember to admire yours sometime.”

 

Sirens sounded from some distance up the street, and Bob grinned as he looked toward the approaching cars and their flashing lights. “Ah, blessed relief and a return to sanity both at once. Well, I hope you’re prepared for your close-up, my friend. I’m sure the police will want to know all about…” He turned around as he spoke, only to stop suddenly in mid-sentence. Chris, who had also been distracted by the police cars, turned back, wanting to see the look on the stranger's face.

 

It happened that he had the blankest of blank looks—one that extended beyond his face to his whole body. Mr. Fagin had vanished.

 

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