A "Hidden City" Story
Ryan P. Macklin
Start at the beginning of the Hidden City series
T-Bird pulled into the parking garage underneath The Man's downtown office building. He stopped at the security gate only because its arm was down and he didn't want to scratch his car.
The security guard, some washed-out soul in his 50s, looked at him with bored disdain. Before the man could open his mouth, T-Bird took off his sunglasses, looked straight at the man, and said in a firm, unquestionable tone, "Let me through."
The guard pushed a button and T-Bird's tires squealed as he sped down the ramp. An electric surge of gratification and power ran through him as the pathetic bastard behind him obeyed his command. This must be what the other side of prison feels like.
T-Bird pulled into a parking space on the bottom floor, near the elevator. He glanced at the dashboard clock just before shutting the engine off -- it read 2:37 a.m. He recalled the woman's voice on the phone earlier, when he called to set up a meeting with The Man: "No, he's not available to meet you on a whim. But, if you come to the office now, I'll have someone talk with you. Meet him in the lobby." She was quite harsh and indignant; while he realized he called her up in the middle of the night and asked her to immediately arrange a meeting with a very powerful man, he just didn't care.
The elevator opened a moment after he pressed the "up" button. T-Bird rode it to the lobby, where he expected someone to be waiting for him. He saw no one at all as he walked out and the elevator closed behind him. He scanned the large, open room. No lights were on anywhere inside; only streetlights and the occasional passing car provided illumination inside the building. A wan of yellow glow filtered through a front wall and entry door made entirely of tinted glass. As cars drove past with their headlights on, the faint shadows rocked back and forth against the broad reception desk, the marble walls, and the brushed-steel elevator doors.
With nobody else here, T-Bird threw himself down on one of the nice leather sofas and kicked his feet up on the nearby coffee table. He pushed over a pile of neatly-stacked magazines, the titles of which he couldn't make out in the faint light. They probably suck anyway.
Every noise he made – the scuffing of his feet as he walked, the squeak of the leather as he moved and shifted, the hiss of the magazines sliding as he kicked them away – was deafening inside the room, echoing off of the walls.
After waiting around for a few minutes with nothing to occupy him but his own thoughts, T-Bird decided to spend the rest of his time waiting asleep. He laid down on the sofa, took his sweatshirt off and draped it over his head to keep the lights from the traffic outside from bothering him.
* * *
T-Bird revved the engine on his pristine, classic Firebird. He was in the middle of rush-hour traffic on Sunrise Boulevard, sitting idle while cross-traffic passed by. He looked around with contempt at the cars on both sides of him. I am better than all of you.
He saw an opening in the cross-traffic just large enough to let him through. He sped away, cars from both directions narrowly missing him, colliding into each other and spinning into other lanes as their drivers reacted to T-Bird's sudden presence. Fucking amateurs.
Cars honked in the ever-increasing distance behind him. T-Bird bared a wicked grin and took another drag from his cigarette. He didn't slow down for any intersections afterward -- he darted through the traffic, leaving massive pile-ups in his wake.
T-Bird turned around to admire his handiwork. He gave emergency vehicles the finger as they passed. As he sped under an overpass, he felt a large thump land on the hood of the car.
He snapped around. The most hauntingly beautiful, deep brown eyes stared back at him. Everything seemed to slow down to a crawl as this vision of wonder -- a woman with a face ghostly pale with ruby red lips, framed divinely by curly, raven-black hair -- crouched right in front of him as sped ahead at 90 miles an hour.
He watched helplessly as she brought her fist back, and then -- in one quick, flawless motion -- punched straight through the windshield as well as his ribcage, striking his heart.
As everything else faded away, the image of her eyes continued to burn itself into his mind.
* * *
T-Bird woke in a cold sweat after only a half-hour of so to a series of honks coming from the street. T-Bird took the sweatshirt off his head and shouted "Shut up, asshole!" as loudly as he could, his voice echoing through the empty lobby. The sound reminded him that he wasn't at home, but some place unfamiliar. He rubbed and blinked his eyes into focus and got up off the couch.
After being momentarily disoriented and re-evaluated his surroundings, T-Bird turned his attention back to the honking on the street, which had only briefly paused. Now more alert, he could tell that it was the blare of car alarms. He walked up to the window and saw two teenaged boys smashing headlights. The larger of the two held some sort of pipe, from the glint of metal T-Bird could see, and the other a baseball bat. They walked down the street, smashing the headlights of various expensive and trendy cars they passed, leaving the few uglier, simpler cars unmolested.
T-Bird's annoyance turned into laughter, watching these two kids have their fun outside.
From the hallway behind him, T-Bird heard someone speak. "You are not angry?" The voice sounded as though it came from an older man, with a touch of French in his accent. T-Bird turned around, but could not see anybody in the pitch black hallway. Footsteps echoed in from where the voice spoke.
T-Bird put his hand on his gun. "Who's there?" he yelled out. He attempted to suppress the fear in his voice, without success. As he spoke, a figure emerged from the shadows of the hallway -- a man in his 40s, at least a full head taller than T-Bird. He was bald, with sunken cheeks, and though he wore sunglasses, T-Bird could tell his eyes were sunk in, too. T-Bird's untrained eye guessed that the fine, black suit the man wore was might be from Armani. The only spot of color stood out like a beacon -- a crimson satin tie that shone in the light as though wet. T-Bird's eyes went down to the man's hands, to see if he was brandishing any weapons, but all he saw was the shine of leather covering his hands, which were calmly at his sides.
"I apologize for my rudeness. I am..." The man hesitated for a moment. "...an associate. You may call me Claude, Terrance." Then he gestured to T-Bird's half-covered gun and turned his own palms out toward him. "You are in no danger here. I am unarmed."
T-Bird relaxed and walked towards Claude, holding his arm out for a handshake. Claude gripped T-Bird's hand firmly, leaving it slightly sore afterwards. Claude showed a wry smile and turned his attention toward the teenagers outside. "You were angry when they woke you up, but you aren't now. Tell me why."
"A few years back, there was that movie, Fight Club. I remember seeing the two guys in the movie beat the fuck out of shitty-ass yuppie cars. I thought it was so cool that I started to do that myself. They reminded me of that -- can't fucking blame 'em."
Claude stood silently, watching the two kids set off the alarm of a new-style Volkswagen Beetle. T-Bird chuckled. Claude continued to say nothing as he kept watch.
Uncomfortable with the silence, T-Bird continued. "Besides, it's the cars pissing me off, not the kids. Not their fault the cars are alarmed."
Claude squinted as he continued gazing. Without turning toward T-Bird, he replied, "That is an interesting opinion..." As he said that, a man in a bathrobe came out from the building closest to the now damaged Beetle. He yelled at the kids, who turned back toward him, looking as though they were going to threaten him. The man pulled out a pistol from his robe's pocket and shot both the teenagers twice in the stomach before calmly walking back inside the building. "...But, it's an opinion I do not share." Claude then turned away from the window and began walking back toward the hallway.
T-Bird stared into the street as a thin stream of blood began to flow down the gutter. It was the same color as Claude's tie. Claude snapped his fingers. "Come, Terrance."
T-Bird snapped out and turned away from the sight outside. "No one calls me that anymore. You can call me 'T-Bird.'"
"Your mother still calls you 'Terrance.'"
T-Bird stood still. "What?"
Claude pushed the 'down' button for the elevator. It immediately chimed and opened. He gestured for T-Bird to go in.
"What did you say?"
"Listen...T-Bird," Claude winced as he forced the word from his mouth. "I will let you know upfront, since we have only now met and will need to continue working together, that I loathe repeating myself. I have nothing but contempt for those who thoughtlessly ask me to do so. So ask the real question on your mind or shut up like a good little boy."
T-Bird's blood ran cold as he listened. What the fuck am I doing here with this guy? Cowed, he quietly walking into the elevator.
Claude followed. "To your car." T-Bird's hand shook as he pushed the button for the bottom floor.
The elevator opened. Aside from T-Bird's car, this flood of the parking lot was empty. Claude stepped out. "This is your car?"
T-Bird walked around the car, putting it between himself and Claude. "Yeah."
Claude looked it over carefully, walking around the car and running his hands on it. T-Bird kept pace, continuing to keep the car between them. "This is the car you assassinated your target with?"
T-Bird nodded meekly, somewhat appalled at the word 'assassinated,' but too scared to say anything. When he noticed Claude wasn't looking up to see his response, he said "Yes."
"No dents. No scratches. No marks of any kind."
"I hit him. He hit the windshield and rolled off the roof."
"I assure you, my young associate, that I am not questioning you. I'm merely pointing out something that you might not have realized yet. Something that anyone not drunk on power would have realized by now." The firmness of Claude's voice made T-Bird recoil. Claude took out a small notebook and pen. "Where did it happen?"
"On..." T-Bird thought back. "...11th and R."
Claude wrote the cross-street down and walked back to the elevator. As it opened, he turned back around. "And you watched him die?"
T-Bird immediately said "Yes," though he wasn't sure. I definitely didn't stick around for the cops to show up. He pondered that thought for a moment. Hmm, I guess they wouldn't have shown up. I probably could have kept them away.
Claude walked in the elevator. "That will be all, for now. I will be in touch with you later."
T-Bird just stood by his car. I came here for answers, not for some psycho asshole to boss me around. As if in response, Claude stared him down, and spoke one simple word as the elevator doors closed. "Leave."
Thoughts fled T-Bird's mind as he got into his car and drove off. He stopped only briefly to tell the guard to let him out. It wasn't until he got back on the street that he realized Claude had just done to him exactly what he had done to the guard earlier. He felt a new respect for this strange new power – a respect that comes with understanding, not with responsibility.
As he drove by the two dead teenagers without bothering to glance at them, he spoke out one word, and waited to see how the city would respond. "Whores." Somehow, he thought he should feel a little empty for asking for something so trivial, but he only felt more complete and confident.
Two sparsely dressed women down the block caught his eye.
* * *
Michael stroked Heather's hair as she slept next to him in his bed. He was thankful that she had answered his call. He reflected on what she said when he asked her to come over: "Sure. Whatever I can do to help." She didn't mention anything about the weird things happening or his surreal visions.
He thought about going to see the homeless guy, but decided to forget everything that's happened recently. After his hallucination of being almost killed and that weird dream, he wanted desperately to get back the life he had. It might be boring but at least it's normal.
Michael turned and looked at the clock. 5:14 a.m. I've got to be up in a couple hours if I'm going to work. He thought briefly about calling in sick, but desperately wanted to return to his normal life. Seeing the snuffed-out cigarette by the clock, he opened the drawer to his nightstand and brushed it in.
He turned back to Heather and chuckled mildly as she started snoring. She still does that. Well, it's not as if I'm getting any sleep anyway. Michael kissed the back of her head and laid back down, content to watch her sleep, avoiding thoughts of anything else.
"Here's my choice," he whispered to himself.
Story by Ryan P. Macklin, Copyright 2006
Photo by Jeremy Tidwell, Copyright 2006