Fields is still about 20 metres away from the hotel when the shutters open.  Behind them she can see faces staring out across the street at her, all bright eyes and unfriendly leers.  The door is pushed open and half a dozen men file out of it.  There’s little to connect them, other than dust and attitude; t-shirts compete with combat fatigues, leather jackets, hunting vests and bandanas.  She can’t even see the face of one, only his bright orange mohawk, his features hidden behind goggles and a respirator.  They fan out to block her path, smirking to each other.

One of them, round faced and wearing a nose ring, steps forward as she approaches.  “Hey there sugar, looking for work?”  He smiles unpleasantly, looking vaguely porcine.  The hog jerks a thumb over his shoulder, adding “We’ve got plenty of work for you in there, if you want it.”  The others laugh, low and coarse.

Fields stops, her eyes meeting each one of the men standing before her.  She doesn’t give the speaker any reply and turns on her heel, walking in the opposite direction down the street, followed by jeers and laughter from the hotel.  The ever-present dust dances with the wind, performing turns and pirouettes in the street.  Even as it dances, the wind dallies away from its partner, setting the faded sign of a cafe up ahead gently swinging.

She walks past an undertakers, the proprietor of which is setting up his display of pine wares in the street.  A tall, skeletal man, he looks only a step away from one of his own boxes.  As Fields passes, he turns from the coffin he’s standing up and tips his hat politely in greeting.

A small sign on the door of the cafe indicates that like the undertakers, it’s open for business.  Of the two options available to her, Fields picks the cafe.  The door gives to her hand, and she steps inside.  The interior is tidy, the floorboards swept of dust.  Whoever wields the broom must have gotten overzealous though, sweeping the customers out at the same time.  All the tables are empty; the only two people in the place are Fields and the owner.

The man looking at Fields cautiously from behind the counter is dressed just as neatly as the cafe, wearing a white shirt, apron and waistcoat.  Fields takes a seat at a table, and looks around, taking the place in.  The owner bustles around the counter and comes over.

“Coffee?  Water?”

“Sure, coffee, thanks.”  She picks up a faded menu, asking, “Anything to eat?”

“There’s no business these days.  I am afraid all I can give you is a croque-monsieur.”

Fields is hungry enough to eat just about anything that’s placed in front of her at this point.  She nods and drops the menu, “I’ll take it.”

The owner disappears back around the counter and busies himself over a brass octopus that sits on one end of it.  As he twiddles knobs, the man looks over at Fields.  “The only one doing any business is the undertaker; he can’t meet demand.  If I were you, I’d get out of here as soon as you’ve eaten.”

On cue, a banging starts up through the wall shared by the undertaker.  The little man turns and bangs on the wall behind him, yelling “Quiet!” to punctuate the thumps of his fist.  There’s a pause, then the banging resumes, but at a reduced level.  Having adjusted the volume, the dapper man continues.

“Two gangs are too much for this town.  One you could expect out here, but two?  Baxter used to be Crobus’ right-hand man, once.  Crobus wanted to hand over his operation to his son, but Baxter wasn’t having any of it.  Now they both gather men and it’s going to come to a head soon.”

A noise outside draws Fields’ attention away.  Through the window she sees a van, sides reinforced with pieces of scrap metal, cruising down the street.  The cafe owner follows her gaze outside.  “That’ll be Baxter’s brother, bringing more men for him.”  He emerges from behind the counter, bringing a cup over to Fields’ table.  “See?  Getting worse every day.  You should get out of here before you get sucked in to it.”

Fields looks out the window at the retreating van.  “I don’t know, seems like my kind of town, maybe I’ll stick around for a while.”


~ by Electro-mechanical Man on May 9, 2011.

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