Photographs: Chapter 1

Russell looked down at the photograph in his hand.  The image was old, yellowed, and wrinkled.  He looked up again.  In the photo, the building had been a bar, with sign of active light.  The colors were faded, and it had been uninhabited for probably a decade.  Yet it was the same building.  The angle of the mountain behind it was right, and the trim around the windows was dingy and battered but recognizable.  At some point, over twenty years ago, his father had stood in this very same spot.

Carefully, he tucked the photograph away and took another look around.  The coffee shop on the other corner was clearly of newer construction, but the bookstore across the street looked like it has been there for centuries.  He took a deep breath, and headed over.

He was pulling his phrase book from his pocket when the man behind the counter gave him an annoyed look.  “I speak English.”  His accent was thick, but the words were intelligible.

“Thank you.”  Russell smiled.  He hesitated a moment, then pointed.  “Do you know anything about the bar that used to be just across there?”

The man gave him a considering look.  “It closed five years ago, after the fire.  Why?”

A fire.  Naturally.  The first real lead he had, and it caught fire.  Russell exhaled.  “My father visited this area before I was born.  He liked the bar enough to have some photos of it.”  Russell shrugged.  “Thought I’d stop in for a drink while I was in the area.”

Something briefly flickered across the man’s face, and he gave Russell another look.  “This is a bit off the path for tourists.”

Alright, the guy was willing to chat a bit.  Or maybe he was bored.  The shop was otherwise as empty as the street.  “Yeah.  I had a hard time finding it on the map.  I, uh…”  He swallowed.  “My father, he uh, he died.”  At least that was the assumption.  “When I was ten.  I thought I’d retrace his footsteps, see…”

“Finding a connection.”  The man’s face warmed a little, and he offered his hand.  “Otto.”

“Russell.”  He accepted the handshake.  “Yeah, that’s the intention.  Can you, uh…”  He smiled.  “What made the bar special?”

Otto twitched his shoulder.  “Beer was good.  But uh…”  Otto took a deep breath, then brushed an imaginary speck of dust off his counter.  “Mostly it catered to a particular sort of crowd.”

“What kind of crowd?”  Russell raised an eyebrow.  His mother said his father had been a soldier once.  “Military?”

“Some, but uh…”  Otto shifted his feet a little awkwardly.  “It attracted those of a certain persuasion.”

“Musicians?”

The other man gave him an annoyed look.  “Men with preferences.”

“Prefer…”  The wheels clicked in his mind, and he felt himself start to blush.  “Oh.”  He winced.  “Oh.”

“Mmm.”  Otto nodded.

“I don’t suppose you know anyone that…”  He winced again.

“That sort tended to want to go unnoticed.”  Otto shook his head.  Then he frowned.  “Though the landlord that rented it to the bar is still around.  Not sure what you’re looking for, exactly, but he might be able to let you in to take a look if you ask politely.”  He started looking around the counter, then after a moment produced a business card.

“Thank you.”  Russell accepted it.  “Uh…”  He looked around.  “If you’ve got a book on the history of the area…”

“It’s not in English.”  Otto smiled as he led Russell to a shelf.

“I’ve got google translate.”  Russell accepted the tome and paid.  Then he tucked the book away before heading back to his vehicle.

(more…)

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Emilio’s Puppy

Emilio took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down.  He looked down at the remains of his case, and cursed.  Weeks of work, dozens of drawings, destroyed.  Cooper and his crew had been waiting for him just outside the building.  All four of them.  Andrew, Rylan, Lance, and Warren.  Goddamn it.  He hadn’t even done anything this time.  He brushed tears out of his eyes, and started home.

It was already getting dark.  Emilio shivered.  He didn’t care double back to the bus stop.  Too great a chance one of them was there.  Assholes.  Worst part was he’d been friends with Rylan and Lance once.  That had been years before high school.  Two years of college hadn’t grown them up any.  He sighed.  It was only about an hour walk, even in the cold.  He’d be fine.

Forty-five minutes later, he was cutting through the alley behind his family’s place.  He froze when he heard Rylan’s voice.  “Nah, I’ve got it.  See you in a bit.”

Slowly, he crept forward.  Rylan was near Emilio’s grandmother’s car, jimmying the lock open.  She had a bad habit of leaving things inside, such as her medication.  Rylan was…  Rylan was robbing his grandmother.  Emilio shook his head, then picked up a piece of wood.

(more…)

Ravens

Lawan moved her queen.  Her opponent countered with a knight, and Lawan prevented herself from smiling.  He was trying to set a trap for her.  She moved a bishop, preparing her counter offensive.  He shifted his own queen, and she poked his trap with her rook.  He blinked, then sighed.  She smiled then.  “Mine in two.”

“Another game?”  He raised an eyebrow and gave her an eager grin.

“Set up the board.”  She smiled.  Prisoner transport was normally one of her least favorite duties.  Moving violent and often hostile individuals from one section of the country to another was all too often a brutal task.  This time, though, she was transporting hostages rather than captives.  Still prisoners, but much more polite ones.

Mihail Argyris was the eldest of them at barely seventeen.  He was Prince Dimitar’s second son.  The heir apparent had been wounded in the fighting, and there was some question as to whether the man was even going to survive.  Mihail, however, was pleasant enough company, and he kept the younger ones in line.  It didn’t hurt that he’d taken an interest in the game when he’d seen her board.  After three weeks, he was getting good enough that she had to pay attention to the game.  He’d even managed to win the time she’d gotten distracted and misplayed.  It also didn’t hurt that he was very easy on the eyes.

With any luck, the fighting was over.  The rebellion had been short, and not particularly bloody.  Safiya had expressed the opinion that it was a political maneuver that had gone off the rails rather than a true revolt, and she had to admit there was some support for that position.  In any event, it had nearly been over before the Raven Guard had arrived on the field.  Aradal liked to grumble about being one of Sa-dia’s dominions, but throwing off the yoke might get their clothes mussed.

She moved her pawn, and he sat up straighter as he reached for his own piece.

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