I thought I’d never be able to shake her, Wheelz thinks to himself as he parks his custom-painted, black cherry Chevy Camaro in the designated lot six blocks from his destination. Lauren kept asking questions and he thought she’d never just let him go. But he wisely started another violent argument then said he had to leave to blow off some steam. She won’t expect him home anytime soon, and that’s a good thing. This is a walk he has to take alone.
The dark hood of his sweatshirt both shields his face from the frigid night wind and conceals his identity from anyone who might otherwise recognize him. Besides the homeless who frequent the Corridor at this time of night, there are few people around. But he knows that if random people recognize him in Hyderabad, odds are some homeless person might recognize him in his hometown.
The warm steel of his nine-millimeter pistol presses against his waist, comforting him as he confidently walks past clusters of men warming their hands over metal drum trashcans filled with burning newspapers, grocery bags, and magazines. He knows a man’s posture can be his first defense against would-be attackers, so he squares his shoulders, inviting someone to make their next move their last. The faint trickle of a man pissing in the distance whispers above the autumn breeze, its sharp stench filling the air. Wheelz is too focused to notice the smell.
When he reaches the arched entrance of the yellow stone castle that Otto described, Wheelz stops and checks his watch. With little time to spare, his dark eyes carefully scan the deserted street, then he moves deftly around the building to the old weathered corner stone that reads: Memorial to the Soldiers and Sailors of 1861 to 1865. This is the place all right.
His eyes search the ground and spot a faint green light blinking on the brown grass. Then he glances over his shoulder one last time to make sure he isn’t being followed and rolls up his sleeve, revealing a heavily muscled arm covered in dark tattoos. He’s had them for so long, he forgets what his original skin looked like. When he thinks about it, it’s kinda symbolic. In this game, it’s easy to lose your true self. He holds his forearm under the faint light and hears a slight beep.
On the ground before him, a door opens, revealing a dark stairway that resembles an old school tornado shelter leading underground. He carefully inches down the stairs as the doors close above him, shutting out all the light and sounds of the street, blanketing him in pitch-dark and leaving him vulnerable to attack. His ears strain to hear the shuffle of feet, the ruffle of clothing, or anything to betray a would-be attacker’s location. Nothing. Only the faint sound of humming well off in the distance breaks the otherwise dead silence.
He snaps his cell phone out of his pocket using its light to find a curved wall and draws his gun in case somebody wants to act stupid. As he steps forward, his black work boots bump into a burlap sack at his feet. He looks down and sees a small note attached, then squats and adjusts his light to read the note. As directed, he removes a velvety garment from the sack and replaces it with his phone and the gun that had been his security blanket.
“OK, here goes,” he says to himself as removes his sweatshirt, dons the heavy red robe and heads in the direction of the humming sound.
(Go to Chpter 1)