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Authors: Matt Stephens

The Lostkind (10 page)

BOOK: The Lostkind
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Wotcha seemed to study her for a moment, and finally relaxed into an easy smile. "A bunch of us were worried, but there's a new volunteer at the Kitchen on Blanchett and Fourth; he offered to sneak us all into his apartment building until the sun came back."

"Really?" Connie seemed impressed by that. "Not many that would go that far."

"Vincent's got a strong sense of… kindness to those in need." Wotcha said approvingly. "You don't mind me sayin' Miss Connie, you're like that too."

Connie flushed bright pink. "I don't know about that."

Wotcha nodded slowly. "Hm. Well, you'll have to take my word for it."

"Why?"

"Because I've met him, and you haven't." Wotcha fought to keep her expression even; but she was pleased, having baited the hook.

"Right. Duh." Connie nearly slapped her forehead. "The doctor will be with you soon. Hopefully. We're running a bit behind tonight."

"Like usual then." Wotcha took the opportunity to slip back over to her seat and wait for the doctor.

Tecca leaned over and whispered to her. "What was that about?"

"Vincent's done right by us, and he's working really hard to look after everyone; even when they're total strangers. Enough that he's not looking after himself like he should." Wotcha explained. "I figured maybe we should reward him. And if it distracts him from Yasi, so much the better."

"The Shinobi?" Tecca frowned. "I don't get it."

"You will when you're older."

~oo00oo~

Yasi had stayed for dinner, and Vincent had chatted with her about the things he had learned, or noticed. Things that he had never known before. She listened with an indulgent smile, until it dawned on him suddenly that she must have known the whole story already.

Then he told her about the chess games with Checkov, and she'd laughed delightedly.

"What?" Vincent said with a smile.

"You're not the first one he's grifted out of a hot meal."

"Well yeah obviously, but I didn't know that at the time."

"He took me by surprise too, because I thought I was pretty good at it." Yasi said forgivingly.

Vincent was quietly thrilled. "You play chess?"

"Archivist taught me. It's a hobby."

That led to a conversation about Vincent's own game with the Russian, which led to the inevitable challenge; which resulted in them tossing out the empty takeout containers away and pulling out a chess board.

"Checkov isn't Lostkind. Is he?" Vincent asked quietly while Yasi weighed her next move.

"No. Why?"

"Well, you said you played with him, so..."

Yasi shrugged and moved her rook forward. "The Watchers and the Shinobi have a certain... office relationship going on. They're our eyes in the World Above. Our Intel, for lack of a better word."

"Shinobi?"

Yasi blinked. "Didn't I tell you that part?"

"No."

"Oh. Well, Shinobi is the Japanese word for Ninja. During the war, a few Japanese families that lived in America went into hiding after Pearl Harbor and found their way to us. One of them was a martial arts master, knew all about Samurai. They traded some training for a place to stay. Decades later, and they actually put me in charge."

Vincent just stared at her. "So you're Captain of the New York Ninja."

Yasi's teeth flashed at him again. "Why do you think I'm smilin'? Anyway, I was up here talking to Wotcha years ago, she introduced me to a few people. Checkov was one of them. He took me for fifty dollars."

Vincent was surprised for a number of reasons. "You use money in the Underground?"

"We trade. You've seen our Marketplaces."

"Regular American currency?"

"Nope." Yasi said easily. "Wotcha had to give me a loan."

Vincent found that to be hilarious, and the two of them laughed loud and long.

~oo00oo~

After a wretched night, the city managed to dig itself out from under a layer of ice and slush. New Yorkers take many things in their stride, and life returned to normal.

Vincent woke up on his couch and found someone had spread a blanket over him, the pillow from his bed was under his head. The air still had a bite after the last night's storm, but the constant howl of the wind from the night before was mercifully silent.

Vincent looked around and noticed that he was alone. Yasi had apparently departed sometime the night before. He wondered briefly how long they'd stayed up talking the night before. He remembered seeing the clock at two in the morning, but he didn't remember falling asleep.

And that was when he realized how long he'd been sleeping.

Scrambling to his feet, he quickly ran to his bedroom and grabbed the first set of clothes his fingers touched. Cursing up a blue streak at having to change clothes in the cold, he got ready for work.

~oo00oo~

His guests downstairs had already left, probably as soon as the sun came up. He ran to the subway station and got there just in time.

As he arrived at the office he noticed people glancing at him. He wasn't imagining it. They all saw him coming in late, and were trading significant looks.

Inwardly, he didn't think it would matter that much. The city was in semi-gridlock from the icy roads and storm damage. He was no doubt one of many people getting to work late that morning, so why was everyone reacting to his arrival this way?

The fact that he was late felt glaringly obvious as he came into his cubicle, as was the fact that he hadn't had time for a shower or breakfast. He felt obvious, and everyone was looking.

The feeling of confusion only got worse when he made it to his cubicle. Usually Gill was at the desk behind his, but today there was a new face. The man sitting at Gill's desk was average height and build, with neat but inexpensive clothes, and wide-rimmed reading glasses over his eyes. The man ran a hand through his thinning brown hair and looked sheepish. "I… You must be Vincent McCall."

Vincent nodded. "Yes I am."

The man stuck a hand out. "Owen." He said. "I… didn't think you were coming in today."

"Vincent?" Came another voice.

Vincent turned from Owen as the boss came in.

"I thought you weren't coming in today." Davidson said. His voice was full of sympathy.

"Seems to be a trend." Vincent responded. "I... the storm made getting in difficult." He wasn't lying, but he wasn't telling the truth. He was confused. Something was going on here, and he didn't know what it was.

Davidson came in and made introductions. "Vincent, this is Owen Niklos, he's going to be covering for Gill while he... recovers."

Vincent turned sharply. "Recovers?"

Davidson's face fell. "Oh god, I'm sorry, I'd thought you'd heard. The phones have been up and down since the storm and when you didn't show up at the regular time I honestly thought you'd heard and..."

"Heard what? What happened?"

"Should I...?" Owen started to ask. The implication was obvious; he was offering to let them talk privately.

Davidson nodded, and Owen stepped out of the cubicle, all but melting away, leaving them alone for the moment.

"Vincent, last night, Gill tried to kill himself." Davidson explained gravely. "He slashed his wrists with a knife from the staff break room, and Angelo found him in the bathroom. We were able to get him to a hospital in time; the doctors say he'll recover."

Vincent was floored. "My God... I just spoke to him yesterday."

"I know. None of us knew what happened, but he came back from lunch and..."

"I... I was with him during his lunch break yesterday. I left early to..."

"We know. We tried to find you last night, but the storm was causing problems. He was going to be okay, so we figured it wasn't worth trying to get out to your apartment in that mess..."

"Where is he?"

"New York Presbyterian." Davidson said. "Vincent, even after he recovers physically... there'll be a while, maybe a long while, before he's ready to come back. Owen can cover for him, and a lot of things have been put on hold while the city digs itself free of last night. If you need to be somewhere else..."

Vincent rose. "Thanks boss."

~oo00oo~

The Intensive Care Unit was the most depressing part of a hospital.

"The story of a city is told in the memory of all those that walk through its places. Look around sometime, and you can see the fingerprints of a thousand lives in the walls."
Archivist had said.
"We are the living memory of this city, and we have been for a hundred years."

Vincent almost laughed. Archivist wasn't just talking about the Lostkind, he was talking about everyone. A plaque on the wall drew his attention. King George the third had commissioned the construction of New York Hospital. The second oldest in the United States.

This building predates the Underground.
Vincent thought.
It was old when the Lostkind were new, and this place did not fall through the cracks into oblivion.

Vincent looked again, observing now, instead of just navigating. These were the rooms where prayers had been whispered, even more than churches. These were the rooms where lives began. And ended. It was a teaching hospital, where doctors learned their trade. It was used as a barracks during the Revolutionary War.

How many stories began and ended here?
He asked himself.
And Gill is only one of thousands currently being played out.

"Mr McCall?" The attending Nurse called to him. "You can go in now."

~oo00oo~

Gill's wrists were bound tightly. There were restraints holding his arms lightly to the railings along the sides of the bed. Vincent felt a cold hand squeezing around his stomach. His best friend had tried to kill himself. Nearly succeeded, and was now strapped to a hospital bed, for fear he would try again; looking tiny and pale.

"Gill?" Vincent called softly, hating the way his voice shook. "Gill? It's Vincent."

Gill's eyelashes quivered, blinking open awkwardly. "Hey. Can you scratch my nose?"

Vincent choked out a chuckle around unshed tears and did so.

"Don't stress." Gill croaked. "The restraints are standard operating procedure; or so the nurse said."

"Gill, what happened?"

Gill looked away from his friend, and his eyes focused on a cup of water. Vincent reached out swiftly and brought the straw around to let him drink. Gill swallowed thickly, taking small sips, before telling the story. "I had a bad run. You know how it is… you gotta play it out, just till you find that perfect hand. That one perfect hand can undo a whole bad night." He sighed. "But staying in long enough to find it… that's the hard part. So I had to go to… someone else to get a stake. I've been at one table or another for most of my adult life, I can tell when things are about to come back around. This time it didn't."

Gambler's ruin.
Vincent thought. "If you needed money, why didn't you come to me?"

"Because… I've done it before." Gill admitted quietly.

"Oh no you don't, you can do better than that. Why didn't you tell me?" Vincent demanded kindly.

"I… I wanted to. I tried to." Gill rubbed his face. "But I came to tell you when we were away from the office and you were hunched over a chess board with… It's not your fault, but you had a basement full of health risks, and I figured I had some time." He looked away again. "I was wrong. He wanted his money back much sooner than he said he would. I had a week, and then suddenly I had six hours."

"So you figured you had nothing to lose?"

"More or less."

"Did you talk to the police?" Vincent asked kindly.

Gill nodded. "I gave them his name. But they can't find him."

"They can't? He loans money; I can't imagine he'd be hard to find." Vincent countered.

"That was my mistake. Monroe was closing up shop. I think he had problems of his own and needed the money fast. The police mentioned that he'd been hassling his other… customers."

Vincent bit his lip.
Monroe. The crook has a name.

"If he's skipped town… with enough money to stay hidden a while…" Vincent started to say, more because he was thinking out loud than anything else, when he noticed Gill starting to drift off again from the medication.

Vincent sat beside him for a long time, staring into space. The guilt hit him suddenly. He had done it again. He had noticed his friend getting shifty, he had noticed him starting to panic. He had noticed Gill making wilder bets on longer odds. He was trying to bet his way out of his debt. Vincent had missed it. He'd made the same mistake, only in reverse. He'd focused his attention on the hundreds of people he could barely help and practically ignored his best friend. A year and a half ago, he'd dug himself deep like this, and Vincent had stopped him before he'd gone as far as taking money from Loan Sharks.

BOOK: The Lostkind
7.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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