Craig

So, I haven’t been slacking off in my writing. This story came to me the other day and I’ve been writing it, which has taken a lot longer than I had initially thought. Anyway, hope you enjoy it. By the way, the semi-humor is supposed to be there.

ALSO: about 80% of this is actually true, and actually happened to me.

 

I stepped out of the building in which the testing had taken place. I looked around at the primarily empty parking lot. My ride hadn’t yet arrived.
I took a step forward, landing in a puddle. Although it wasn’t yet anywhere near to spring, a temporary thaw had melted quite a bit of the snow and ice, creating puddles of slush.
I shook off my dress shoe, muttering to myself about this warm flash.
For several minutes, I stood in front of the door of the building, waiting for my ride. After a little bit, I took a look at my wristwatch.
I, apparently, had been let out of the test earlier than I had thought. My ride wasn’t supposed to be here for another twenty minutes, allowing that they were actually on time.
The city I was in, called Nesburg, wasn’t one of my favorite places. I had been there a few times before and hadn’t been impressed with the quality of people that lived there.
I walked around for a few minutes before noticing a large stone church down the street a bit. I wasn’t sure that it would be open, seeing that it was Thursday, but thought I would check it out anyway. I had always loved large stone churches.
I walked past the sign, which told me that it was an Anglican church. The doors were painted a bright red, and had large metal rings for opening. I tugged on one, but it was locked. I tried to look inside the windows, but they didn’t seem to have been cleaned in some while.
I began to wonder if the church was even used anymore.
As I walked back towards my previous location, I noticed a place where the walls of the church caused a concave corner, which was sheltered by some dense evergreen trees.
Hanging down from the overlying roof was an icicle, one of the largest I had ever seen.
The path to the corner was blocked by two feet of snow. I climbed up it carefully. Hoping that my dress slacks wouldn’t get wet, I shuffled towards the corner.
Except for the very tip, which was dripping rapidly from the warmer temperature, I wasn’t able to reach the icicle. Bracing myself against the tree, I tried to climb a bit up the wall to knock off more of the icicle, but still only succeeded in breaking off about a foot of the end.
For a while I stood there, watching the droplets drip off the roof and splatter against the stone of the wall. More often than not, they landed on my face.
I left the corner and headed back to the parking lot. While the people that were going to pick me up rarely came on time, they occasionally came early, and I didn’t want them to show up while I was gone.
They still weren’t there, so I decided to explore around the building that the test center was in. The test center only took up the bottom level, and I didn’t see anything about what was in the two levels above it. The door that I had come out of, which led to the parking lot, was in the back of the building. There was a door to the left of the exit that I hadn’t gone through. Looking through the small window in the door, I saw that there were stairs in the room that it led into.
I opened that door and walked through. The area I was then in was warmer than the previous one. I looked behind the door after I closed it. There was a small space heater there, with a fan blowing the warmth into the general vicinity.
I headed up the stairs, which led to a small platform, from which led another flight of stairs. That one, also, led to a platform with another flight of stairs. The ceiling was unusually low above that final platform. I ducked my head as I walked under it.
The passage at the top of the stairs was surrounded by bricks. When I got to it, I wondered if it was perhaps part of the original building, and what I was in was a later addition. I stepped through, confronted by my reflection. A chipped and worn mirror had been propped up against the wall in front of me.
Slightly unnerved, I continued on, into a dark room. Another mirror was leaning against the wall in there. I stepped into the room, but froze when a light suddenly flicked on, combined with a small popping sound. My heart beat in my ears as I waited for something to happen.
When nothing did, I took another step, followed, carefully, by another.
Still nothing happened.
I walked to the doorway, which was on the right, out of the mirror room. It led into a hallway, which had a few other doors which fed into one large room. On my right, I saw a ladder hung on the wall.
I was about to walk into the hallway when I heard a voice from somewhere on the same level, which I presumed was the third, seeing how many flights of stairs it had taken to get there.
I stole closer to the voice, close enough to make out some of the conversation without being so close to not be able to get away if I was detected.
“…I still think we should hit the drug store down on Polin street. You know that would be a prime place, Miranda.” said a gruff voice.
“I keep telling you,” said a woman’s voice. “That’s on Leopoli turf. We can’t get near there unless we want all the tension that’s been building for years to break loose. And on our heads.”
I took a step back, feeling that I, even more than I had thought, didn’t want to be found here. I crept into the mirror room. The light had turned off again. As soon as I stepped in, though, the light turned on again, with another pop. I realized that the sound had been caused by some sort of automatic light that turned on when it sensed movement.
Still trying to keep quiet my movements, I rushed through the mirror room and down all three flights of stairs. Once I was outside again, I took a breath of relief. I walked around outside a few minutes, thinking it over.
Eventually, I just brushed it off. I had probably just misinterpreted what they were talking about.
The idea of mobsters and mafia brought back memories for me, though, and I basked in the remembrance of reading and watching things about “the good old ’30’s”. My ride still wasn’t there, which didn’t surprise me.
I looked to my right, seeing movement down a small street. A police car had passed by it.
In a fit of imagination, I dove behind a snowbank.
“They must be scanning the streets for me,” I thought out loud.
On my left, I heard a car approaching. A moment later, I heard a car coming from the right as well. Knowing that they were closing in on me, I ran across the parking lot and leapt over a snowbank to my right, which was near ten feet tall, after buttoning my sleeves, tossing my tie over my shoulder, and wrapping my scarf around once more, to prevent it from getting in my way. In the midst of clambering over it, snow fell down my shoes, melted around the bottom edge of my slacks, and soaked the sleeves on my dress shirt.
Once safe on the other side, I tried to figure out why they were after me. I realized that they must have found the stash of guns in the warehouse in Kenton county. I thought quick, deciding what to do next.
On my left, I heard a car approaching. A moment later, I heard a car coming from the right as well. Knowing that they were closing in on me, I ran across the parking lot and leapt over a snowbank to my right, which was near ten feet tall, after buttoning my sleeves, tossing my tie over my shoulder, and wrapping my scarf around once more, to prevent it from getting in my way. In the midst of clambering over it, snow fell down my shoes, melted around the bottom edge of my slacks, and soaked the sleeves on my dress shirt.
Now I was safe, for the moment, anyway, on the other side of the snowbank.
Acting cooly, I took off my sunglasses and scarf, and re-adjusted my hat. It wouldn’t be enough to fool them if they looked closely at me, but it may be enough to convince them otherwise if they merely glanced at me.
After doing so, I headed back towards the test building. The recent thaw had made the snowbanks dense, and easily packable, so I made a small pile of hard, tightly packed snowballs, each with a rock from the gravel on the road at the center. I had decided that having some weapon would be better than none.
Even though it was warm enough to warrant me being out there without much more than my undershirt and dress shirt, without a coat or sweater, my hands still ached from the cold of the preparation of the snowballs.
Remembering the small space heater just inside the door to the stairs I headed inside. Once there, I held up my hands to the heater. It dried off much of the water, as well as bringing feeling back into my fingers.
When I had come in, through the outside door, I had noticed an elevator slightly past the door on the right which led to the stairs, and on the left side of the hallway. Once my hands had regained their senses, I went to the elevator.
I pushed the small button on the right of the entrance. A few moments later, the doors slid apart, revealing an empty elevator. I went inside and pushed the button for the third floor, wondering where it would bring me on that level.
The elevator was slower than many others I had been in, and I waited for close to a minute before it stalled, shuddered, and opened the doors.
I walked through, onto the third level. I hadn’t seen this section before, or so I thought, and looked around curiously.
A window directly to my right gave access to a view of the parking lot where I had been several times already. I realized the capability of that window for being a prime place to station a sniper, and visualized the range of possibilities. I noticed that upper windows on the Anglican church that I had gone to were about on level with the one I was now looking out of, as well as a large house which lay past the road that I had taken out of the parking lot to the church, which sat on a small hill. I also saw that, around eight or nine feet below the window, there was a small, slightly slanted metal roof, covered in snow. Close to ten feet below it, there was the ground, with several feet of snow piled up.
I turned away from the window and headed down the hallway in the opposite direction. A little ways down the hall, there were a few steps to continue down the hall. As I ascended them, I noticed a large cutout in the ceiling. Once I was under it, I peered at it, and before long realized that it was a small trapdoor which presumably led to an attic.
I then continued down the hallway. Before I had gone down it long, I realized that I had already at least looked down that way, I just hadn’t remembered doing so. On my left was the ladder that hung on the wall, and on my right the doors which led to the large room that still lay unexplored.
I remembered the people that I had heard talking, and froze, listening. I didn’t hear anything, not even the small sounds of movement, so I assumed that they had left since I had been there last. I decided that it would be a good time to explore the large room, with them gone. I entered it, through one of the many doors which led into it.
The room was larger than I had imagined, spanning the entire length of the building. A good distance to my right, towards the way I had come, there loomed a gigantic heater of some sort.
I looked up at the ceiling, which stood a good ten feet above my head. It was made up of rectangular panels of a strange cross between insulation glass, foam, and sheetrock, the kind which many offices use.
The ground below me was comprised of a tarmat. It appeared as though there had once been tiles or something on top of it, but had since had those removed.
Seeing nothing else on that part of the room than a long, empty table that lay under a few windows on the opposite side of the room, I walked to the other side of the room, which I assumed stood somewhere above the testing center.
On this side, again, there wasn’t much to see. Looking to my left, I saw that one of the doors that opened from the outside was at an angle that allowed me to see something on one side of it.
I walked towards it and read the words “Club Room”, written in a gold paint, and well worn from many years of use.
I walked back into the room and noticed that one of the windows had been knocked out or otherwise broken in the past, and was now boarded up, and braced by a diagonal piece of wood.
There was a table, similar to the one in the other part of the room, under the window, and another one, to its right, which held a small object that I hadn’t seen before. I walked towards it and peered at it cautiously.
It appeared to be a reel of some sort of twine. I decided to leave it where it was without touching it.
At that moment, I heard a sound of someone coming up the stairs that I had come up earlier.
I left the room and headed down the hall, down the steps, and towards the elevator, being careful to minimize on the noise I made along the way.
Once at the elevator, I hit the button with an arrow pointing down, and, after a moment of nervous waiting, lest I be discovered, I entered the elevator and pushed the button for the ground floor.
The elevator let out a groan that I feared may alert the occupants of the building of my whereabouts, then slowly made its way down to the ground floor.
It stopped, and the doors opened. I quickly stepped out of the elevator and out the door to the parking lot. Now it seemed that not only the police may have been after me. I remembered the alleyway that I had seen earlier, and crossed the snowbank which was an obstacle in getting to it.
Shaking the snow out of my dress shoes, I made my way into the alley. I put on my sunglasses and scarf again and snappily walked through, looking down at my feet.
I almost didn’t notice the man until I walked into him. I feel to the ground, my sunglasses shifting down onto my nose. I stood up, adjusted my tie, and fixed my glasses. I realized with a shock that this was not just a machination of my mind; these men were solid and utterly physical.
“Is there something wrong, gentlemen?” I asked, dearly hoping that there wasn’t.
“In fact,” the smaller one of them said, “there is. Your comings and goings haven’t been, as you probably hoped, undiscovered. We have been watching you, and we know that you probably know more than you should. So the boss told us to bring you in, and see what you know.”
As the larger one took a step forward, he continued. “There, of course, are two ways that we could do this. You could just come with us. That would be nice. But if you don’t want to do that, then we will have to help you. And that wouldn’t be so nice.”
At this point, I had begun to be confused about what was reality and what was conjured up by my imagination, especially because I knew the whole “two ways we can do this” dialogue. It was so cliche that I almost couldn’t stand not pointing that out. Before I quite knew what I was doing, though, I spoke.
“Sure. I’ll come, and quietly too. I’ll even tell you why I was ‘spying’, if it can count as that, on your little hideout.”
I saw the two men bristle at my speech, then continued. “Do you want me to tell you now? Or would you like to have your ‘masters’ present when I tell you?” I looked at their dumbfounded faces, then spoke again. “Well, there’s no harm in telling it twice. I’ll tell you, then I can tell those above you if they want to hear. I’m one of the higher-ups in a mob run in Chicago. We decided to spread out a bit, and the boss let me be the leader for our ‘branch’ in this little two-bit town – what do you call it? Nesburg? I thought it would be a neat idea to check out what other little groups were here. Obviously, I can see that yours isn’t going to even be worth an effort dealing with.”
As I spoke, a terror grew in my mind at the words I was speaking. No, I told myself. These people are real, and are dangerous. But my mouth had already spoken, and the words couldn’t be taken back. I decided that, for once, my imagination might actually help me, in creating a backstory for myself. I just hoped that it would hold out long enough.
“Well,” I said, “shouldn’t we be going?”
The two men shook themselves slightly, as if out of a stupor, then spoke.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah. This way,” the smaller one said, and started to push in front of me.
“I know the way,” I said, and moved forward, past him.
I walked out of the alleyway, and lunged over the snowbank in a way that I hoped made it appear that I knew what I was doing. Whether or not it actually did, the men were convinced, and obviously a little taken back.
They leapt over the snowbank as well, a bit more clumsily though, and I led the way in through the back door of the building.
“Elevator or stairs?” I asked. Without waiting for a response, I headed through the door to my right and towards the stairs. Still seeming unsure of me, the men followed.
I stepped up the stairs slowly, but three steps at a time. My hip flexors gave me pain in doing so, but I forced myself to remain calm and level. The effect that I hoped came across was that I was well trained athletically. Once at the top of the stairs, I walked through the mirror room, with the automatic lights, and into the hallway beyond.
From there, I was unsure of precisely which way to go. I knew that before when I had heard the voices, they had come from the left, so I turned down that way in the hall. I saw the door that read ‘Club Room’, and noticed, on my left, across the hall from the Club Room door, another doorway that I hadn’t seen earlier. Assuming that to be the entrance to their meeting place, I headed down it.
It seemed that I had been correct in my assumption, and they followed me without another word.
From there, I took a flight of stairs down to a plateau, from which another flight of stairs went down into a large area.
I swaggered in, acting as though I had been in and out of there many times.
“He knew the way in,” I heard one of them mutter to the other from behind me.
I looked around the room, in which milled about several men holding various weapons, an expression of smug satisfaction on my face. To my right, and partly behind me, was a rack with several weapons. I noticed a few submachine guns, a grenade launcher, and a dozen or so handguns of varying size, among boxes and crates of ammunition.
“See, this is what I mean,” I commented to the two men behind me. “Small-time stuff. We would floss our teeth with this kind of operation back in Chicago.”
“You have a lot of talk,” the bigger man said to me, in a deep voice thick with an accent. “Best you keep quiet until we get you to our…leader.”
From there, the two men led the way. Wanting to keep up the impression that I had snuck in and out before, I offered to lead the way, but they said that things would go better if they went in first. Relieved, I fell behind.
At the end of the room, there were two small hallways leading to the right and left, the right of which we went down. At the end of that hallway, there was a door which we went through. Seated at a massive desk was a young woman, with short-cut black hair.
“We got him. He says that he’s from Chicago, and that our mob is ‘small-time’ compared to what he does in Chicago.”
The woman waved her hand, shooing them from the room. “I’d like to talk to him, and alone. Leave.”
They didn’t waste any time in taking their leave from the room. I realized with relief that the woman was the same one that I had heard talking with the gruff-voiced man earlier.
“Hello, Miranda,” I said cooly.
“You know my name. Count me impressed. Now tell me what you know, and who you are.”
“I know that there’s quite a bit of tension built up between various mobs and mafia around here. I know that you don’t want to set it off. But I have the feeling that you are going to use that tension to your advantage somehow. I also know that you’re having particular difficulty with one mafia family in particular. Now what was their name… Ah, yes. Leopoloni?”
“Leopoli.”
“No matter,” I said. “No matter who they are, they’re still small game to me.”
“That may be,” said the woman. “There’s a problem here, though. You obviously know more than you should. And true, you may be from Chicago. You may not. But in either case, I don’t see backup. I don’t see anyone ready to help you. What should stop me from killing you right now?”
“Exactly. You don’t see anyone backing me up. That’s how we like to keep it. A lot cleaner, that way. A lot cleaner, I might add, than how I’ve seen you run your operations so far. People don’t end up missing, they end up face down and bloody on a street. Your guards frequent bars, where I doubt they keep secret things they know. In addition to the fact that your guards run about in plain sight. I might be able to help you with these things.”
Most of those, I had made up, guessing on what was most likely. I hoped that I was right.
“I could also help you with your ‘Leopoli’ problem, if you want. The main mob in Chicago, the mob I work for, has been wanting to spread out a bit. They sent me here to scope out this area, and see if it was worth anything. As soon as I saw your organization, I knew it was in shambles. I thought we would have to scrap you before we came in. No, not even that. All we would have to do would be ignore you and watch you run yourselves down into the ground. But I’m friendly. I’m thinking that I could make your group a little better, and maybe you could join in with us. Maybe. I’ll put in a good word for you. Would you like that?”
The woman looked at me skeptically. “We have had problems with some loosely-tongued men at bars before. And I do seem to remember an instance where one of them feel off a building into the street, then was run over by a car before anyone was able to help him. Real unfortunate, that. But the fact still stands that I don’t see anyone backing you up.”
“As I said, there’s a reason for that. I guess I should have told you. I wasn’t the first person to come here, in reality. We’ve had someone here for quite a while. Someone here, within your own organization.”
A sign of worry creased the woman’s face.
“Oh don’t worry. He hasn’t sold out any secrets or anything as petty as that. Our men are entirely trustworthy. In fact, I guess that very fact could give you assurance in the help we may give you.”
“I will need proof that ‘he’ is, truthfully, here, of course.”
“I’ve already given it to you. I knew your name. I knew much of your ‘confidential’ information. Isn’t that enough?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps. But we will watch you, and watch you carefully. First, though, I should pass this by Elder.”
“Elder?” I was surprised. I had expected this woman to be the top of the food chain here. I decided to bluff my way through. “Ah, the one who’s really in control. I’ve heard about him. I didn’t hear, though, that you called him Elder.”
A smiled played at the woman’s lips slightly as she heard the name. “Yes.”
“Will I get to meet him?”
“Perhaps, in time. For now, though, perhaps you should get acquainted with the crew. Maybe introduce them to your.. friend here.”
I had already presumed that she would suggest something of the sort, and had decided on a plan of action. “I don’t think that would be best. They’ve already met him, and if they learn that he wasn’t who he said he was, their reaction, most likely, wouldn’t be optimal.”
The woman nodded assent, and stood up. I did as well. She motioned to the door, and I stepped through. I held the door open for her after going through.
I followed her down the hall, then took the left that led to the large main area.
I noticed, in a corner in front of me and to the right, a television screen, split into four sections, each with the feed from a security camera. One of them had a view of the street, another, a view of the very room I was in, another, the small room with the flight of stairs down to the level I was on, and the last another room that I hadn’t seen before.
Before the woman left, I caught her attention.
“Will you provide me with any weapons?” I asked.
She laughed scornfully. “We don’t yet know you well enough for that. And besides, I expect you can defend yourself well enough without any.”
With that, she took her leave.
Awkwardly, I tried to talk to a few of the mobsters milling about. Until then, I hadn’t noticed how much that room reeked of cigar smoke. I had never liked the smell of smoke, and I had to force myself to not cover my nose.
A while later I glanced at the television screen, having seen motion from there out of the corner of my eye. In shock, I saw that my friends had arrived. After all that had happened, I realized that I had forgotten that I was waiting for them. I started for the door, but two men, the same two men that I had bumped into in the alleyway, came up on either side of me.
“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” I repeated.
“We’ve been told to.. escort you if you want to go outside.”
I nodded. I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem.
As we started up the stairs, though, the woman came up from behind us.
“Not so fast,” she said. “Elder wants to see him. And I just remembered, I didn’t get your name.”
“Craig,” I said, saying the first name that I thought of. “Elder must be interested if he wants to meet with me.”
Again, a smile perked up her lips as I said ‘Elder’.
“Yes, you could say that. He also says that he wants to get a sense of what kind of man you are, and he says that he can only do that in person.”
“Lead the way, then,” I said, shrugging off the two men.
Instead of going down the right hallway, as we had done before, we went down the left. A reinforced metal door was there, which Miranda unlocked. Inside there was a tight flight of stairs, which went up, turned, went up again, and repeated several times. The staircase was in a tall but narrow room, and at the top, Miranda unlocked a small trapdoor in the ceiling, which we then went through.
‘Perhaps we are in the attic that I saw earlier,’ I thought. It was darker in there, but my eyes quickly adjusted. Across from us a ways was a large desk, behind which was a massive chair, with its back towards us.
I glanced around, and saw a small panel on the floor a ways away. ‘That must be the panel that I saw in the ceiling earlier,’ I thought. I decided that it would be a handy bit of information in case I had to leave quickly.
As we approached the desk, the chair slowly rotated towards us.
Sitting in the chair was a small boy, who looked around the age of eight. He was dressed sharply in an all black tuxedo, and wore a black fedora that covered his eyes. When he looked up at us, I saw that they were young and eager, yet hard, in a way, and old.
“So this is the man who you told me about, Miranda. Interesting. Very interesting. What is your name, ‘man’?”
“I’m Craig,” I said, unsure still of what he was. “I’m guessing you’re.. Elder?”
He laughed, a light, bright laugh. “Ironic, isn’t it? But yes. That’s who I am. But I’m sure you won’t think of me as ‘a small boy’ by the time we’re done here, isn’t that right, Miranda?” With that, he made a small motion.
I turned to her, and saw a surprised expression break on her face. But, with a hard look on her face, she shoved me forward while kicking out one of my knees, so I landed on my knees before the desk. When I looked up, Elder had a gun pressed against my forehead.
“You see,” he said, “I can get the sense of a man very quickly. And I know that you’re lying, ‘Craig’.”
“But he knew about our problems with the Leopoli’s,” Miranda spoke up. “And he knew my name.”
“He could have found those out in other ways,” the boy said. “I know he’s lying. And now that he’s seen so much, we can’t have him leave, can we.”
Miranda stepped forward, slightly between the gun and I. “I’m sure he’s telling the truth. Maybe he just told you a fake name. That could be it.”
I made a show of shifting my scarf, but in reality moved it so that it shielded my face partly.
“That could be it,” Elder said. “But I doubt it.”
Nonetheless, his gun dropped slightly, and I took my chance. I dashed toward the panel in the floor, now only around ten yards away. Elder fired once, twice at me, but I was already there and had pulled up the panel. I jumped through and landed on the third floor in the hallway near the elevator. Remembering the metal roof and snow, I braced myself, shielding my head and chest, and leapt through the window. I was in free fall for a moment before I hit the metal roof. I pulled my arms down from my face, bits of glass falling off of me. I noticed blood drip from somewhere, but didn’t have time to inspect further. I jumped off of the roof onto the pile of snow, bracing myself for the fall. While I was in the air, I looked at the car. They were all talking and laughing amongst each other, and didn’t see me. I landed in the snow, which fell into my shoe and crept up my leg. I pulled myself out and ran towards the car. I saw that the blood was coming from a slit in my arm. While I ran, I took out a clump of clean snow and pressed it to my wound. After doing so, I pulled my shirt down over it.
I saw Miranda and Elder looking out the window. Elder aimed, fired, but it whizzed by. I knocked on the door of the car and my friends looked up and opened the door.
“Hey, sorry we’re so late, man,” the driver said while I got in. “So how did the test go?”
“Oh, fine,” I said, as he drove us away. “Pretty boring.”

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