Just Another Job
An Emberlight Universe Story
by Frederick Lacroix
When Nadya’s dinner gets interrupted by a paranoid man, she knows she’s in for a weird time.
She meets the client in a park at night, and while the man is definitely crazy, his request is believable enough that she accepts the job.
Just how much will Nadya regret taking on this client?
Nadya Riverdale exited the Pointy Ears Burgers, balancing her brown, grease stained bag and the large cardboard cup filled with soda n one hand, and her ringing phone in the other.
The night was warm in Fall City, too warm for a summer night, and what little wind there was got lost through the maze of buildings that clung tightly together like a copse of trees. There was heavy traffic in the streets, the level of noise it brought also felt out of the ordinary as trucks and cars and emergency vehicles sat bumper to bumper for hours, revving and hitting their horns, trying to escape the concrete jungle and out into a more peaceful world. The streetlights illuminated Fall City like it was daylight, obscuring any possible sighting of the stars above, and that lighting was made worse by the billboards, neon shop signs and the thousands upon thousands of car headlights. The delicious aroma of restaurants, fast food joints and bakeries was dampened and diluted by the permanent, acrid carbon monoxide smell that clung to everything with a fury.
Nadya let her bag fall on a table just outside of the large windows of the Pointy Ears Burgers that announced a SUPER SPECIAL SALE in yellow, green and red flashing neon lights. She gently put down the cardboard cup next to it, and answered her phone.
“Nadya Riverdale,” she said.
“Finally,” the man’s voice said on the other end. “I was told you could help me.”
“Maybe. What seems to be the problem?”
“No, no, no. Not on the phone.” He lowered his voice. “I’ll call you again in half an hour with a location where we can meet.”
Nadya sighed. Another crazy. Maybe this one actually had money to pay, for once. “I’ll wait for your call.”
The man hung up without another word.
Nadya sat down and opened her bag. Gone was the hope of a quiet night with some second rate fast food, maybe a beer, and a stupid movie on TV. But the bills don’t pay themselves and if there was a chance he might be an actual client instead of the usual flock of people who get spied on by government trained pigeons, that would be great.
She wolfed down her already lukewarm cheeseburgers and fries and waited for the man to call again.
Nadya didn’t have to wait long for the phone to ring again.
“Nadya Riverdale,” she said.
It was a company phone. Her only phone. She used it for personal calls, but the Revenue Service didn’t know that and, with the amount of money her business gave the accountants and the government each year, she made sure it stayed that way.
“God’s Fall Park. Next to the Goddess statue. I’ll be wearing a red hat. One hour.”
“I’ll be there. Mister?”
The man hung up.
Good Gods, this promised to be another weird case or another giant waste of time. There was no way to tell which before she actually met the man. If he wore his pants and underwear upside down and inside out like the last one, Nadya decided she was quitting the business for good.
Nadya sat at the base of the statue, half-finished soda in hand. The Goddess was fifteen feet tall, carved from a dark gray basalt block and stood upon a seven or eight foot tall square block of the same material. She wore a simple, sleeveless robe, no shoes and her hair was flowing down her back freely. Her hands held a perfectly circular disk over her stomach. The Goddess statue had no face.
God’s Fall Park was quiet. There were a few people walking around, or just sitting on the grass, looking up at the few points of light that pierced through the veil of smog and city lights this part of town had to offer. There were a few tall, black electric lamps here and there, along the paths that zig-zagged the park, but they were few and far between, allowing the truly dedicated to enjoy a little bit of relaxation under the stars. This place smelled less of carbon monoxide and more of fresh grass and damp earth. The ring of trees surrounding the park made for decent protection against the sounds of the city, but the sirens and horns were still present.
Nadya didn’t come here often. It was a place for young couples (she was single), mothers and their child (she didn’t have any), the occasional drunk or junkie (she rarely drank and drugs weren’t her thing), or simply those who wished to reconnect with nature (something she found a bit ridiculous). This was fabricated nature. Sure, it was greenery and a tad more peaceful than the rest of Fall City, or most of it anyway, but it was all an illusion. She’d trekked through forests and thick jungles before, and a manicured lawn with a few trees didn’t compare.
“Where the hell is he?” she said, looking at her watch.
Five minutes until the hour. In ten, she was gone.
Nadya took a sip from her soda.
“Psst.” A voice behind. “Psst.”
Nadya turned around. There was a man, mid-forties, with a thin beard, dark sunglasses and a large, red hat poking his head on the side of the Goddess statue. He looked left, then right, before shuffling along the square base, toward Nadya. He kept his back solidly attached to the large rock, dragging himself forward more than he was walking.
“Nadya Riverdale?” the man asked, in a low tone.
“Herself. And you are?”
He flipped the lapel of his black trench coat over the side of his face and glanced around again. “Call me Tommy,” he said. “You alone?”
Nadya nodded. “I am.”
“Great. Now. I need your help with my wife,” the man said. “I think she’s trying to kill me. Or have me killed maybe. I’m not quite sure.”
Nadya took another sip of her soda. Could be worse, really, at least it wasn’t demonic, spy pigeons. “And what makes you suspect that?”
“For the past week, I’ve escaped death six times. Once everyday, like clockwork. Cars, electrocution, mugging, you name it, it happened to me. And the only person who stands to benefit from it is my wife, Jeanine.”
“Insurance policy?” Nadya asked.
“And trust fund, yes.”
Nadya nodded. Well, at least the man had some money. She could always give it a shot. Worst case scenario, the man was paranoid and really unlucky. Best case scenario, bonus for a job well done.
“I’ll do it,” she said. “But I’m gonna require fifty percent upfront.”