Forthcoming, Chapter Four: Derek

The Man In The Shadows kept his gaze even.  He wasn’t much of a talker–a trait that had probably saved his life on more than one occasion.

            He looked upward.  It wasn’t the anxious muttering of his name that had gotten his attention, but, rather, the tinkling of broken glass.

            Why was it that people always seemed to drop things in his presence? 

            He didn’t respond as the man before him hurriedly swept the mess from the linoleum floor.

            “You know,” he began, glancing up at The Man with nervous, watery eyes, “your call surprised me.”

            “I was caught rather off guard myself.”

      Derek released what must have been a laugh, though The Man wouldn’t have considered it to be such.  It sounded much more like a cough.  Derek grinned at him from the other side of the room.  The Man could not see his eyes because of the glare that was shining from Derek’s thick glasses.  “Honestly, you’re slipping.  I’m surprised that you would come to me for help.”

            Derek straightened himself, scooping the shards of glass into the dustpan with his broom.  He walked arrogantly toward the trash can, tripping in the process.

            The Man stared as the glass fell to the floor again, and smirked.  “And I’m surprised that you still haven’t mastered the basic technique of walking.”

            Derek looked up, breathing heavily through his nose. “Touché.”

            “I try.”

            Derek smiled, and returned to cleaning the mess, but The Man noticed that he’d stiffened.  The Man wouldn’t apologize however.  Derek had pointed out a weakness, and The Man had delivered a comeback.  There was no reason why he should apologize for simply having a backbone.

            The room was silent.  The small town outside the window was completely darkened at this late hour.

            “That was smart, by the way.”

            The Man glanced upward at Derek’s icy tone.  “What?”

            “Leaving me alone with something so important.  What did you expect me to do if something went wrong?”

            “Honestly?  I’d expect you to run with your tail between your legs.”

            Derek sat, his face hard.  “Like I said: so smart of you.”

            “Oh, please,” The Man leaned his head back so far that his neck curved upward to the ceiling.  “Nothing was going to happen.”

            “Oh, so you’re psychic now?”

            “Of course not.  Cyrus would just be stupid to try something again tonight.”

            “No, he wouldn’t.”  Derek argued, leaning forward.  “You’re hurt–open game right now.”

            “No.  Cyrus needs time to reassess the situation.  He thought he was coming after me for the software I’d stolen.”

            “Stolen?”  Derek leaned even closer.  He was as close to The Man as he could get without crawling over the table.  “You managed to get it?”

            “Between my baby-sitting duties? Yes.”

            Derek sat back, releasing a low whistle.  “And?”

            “I can’t make heads or tails of it.  You know my mind isn’t wired for things like that.”

            Derek nodded expectantly.

            The Man sighed.  “Yes, but your’s is.  Take a look at it.”  The Man reached into one of many deep pockets.  He took out a silver disc that reflected the dim kitchen lighting.  “Take your best shot.”

            Derek snatched it greedily.  “Now, this is more up my alley.  Not looking over a stupid brat while someone goes off to see his girlfriend.”

            “Girlfriend is a very specific word.”  The Man sat straighter, as though he had grown uncomfortable, though his eyes had remained the same: hard and cold as stone.  “And I explained to you that there wasn’t any danger.  Cyrus sent for me merely because of that disc you’re examining.  Things have changed now.  He knows about…”  The Man In The Shadows found himself unable to finish the sentence.

            “Yeah, he knows alright.”  Derek set the disc upon a nearby counter and stood. “You know what that spells for us?”

            “It  presents a challenge.”

            “Challenge?  It presents us with some pretty deep sh–”

            “Yeah, yeah.  Nothing I can’t handle.”

            “Assuming you don’t let your feelings get in the way.”  Derek stood, walking nervously to an island that separated the kitchen from the living room.  Save for the kitchen, the rest of the apartment was dark. 

            “I wasn’t aware that I’d ever let my emotions get in the way of anything.”

            The Man In The Shadows stood, and stared at the same spot that Derek had chosen.

            “There’s a first time for everything,” Derek countered, crossing his arms.

            The Man In The Shadows did not reply, but instead turned back to the table.  “Thank you for lending your apartment.”

            “I don’t mind,” Derek continued, still staring into his living room.  “Much.”

            The Man didn’t laugh because he wasn’t entirely sure it had been meant as a joke.

            They were both silent for such a long while that The Man was beginning to think the conversation was over.  His leg was still paining violently, despite the care that Aislynn had given it.  He would admit to himself that going to see her had not been the smartest move.  Driving to the city and back on this leg had been pure torture, but he hadn’t been able to shake the sense that he’d needed her help.

            Not with his leg.  Derek could have mended that very easily.  No, he’d needed her help with something else, something he couldn’t define.

            Well, whatever it was, she had helped him.

            “Is that all?”

            The Man glanced again at Derek, who wasn’t looking at him, but instead staring into the living room with mild interest.

            “Do you have anything else to say?”

            “Yeah.  I think you’re crazy if you think there’s anything special in that room.” He jerked his thumb forward.

            “That’s what I thought at first.”

            “Well, at least you’ll admit it.”

            “I’m not an idiot.”

            The Man In The Shadow’s tone was even.  He didn’t sound offended, but Derek knew that he’d crossed a line.

            “I didn’t say you were.  I didn’t say anything.  It just–just….”  Derek turned around, his eyes slightly wide, as though hoping that The Man would be able to finish the sentence that he could not.

            “Seems like something from a story?”  The Man suggested, and Derek nodded.

            “Yeah, that’s a good way to describe.  It seems too… is fantastical a word?  I think it is, but even if it’s not, you get the idea.”  He didn’t wait for The Man’s nod.  “Yeah, it seems like something from a story.”

            “Isn’t that ironic?”

#

     “Everett!” 

     I jumped in my seat, my pen flying out of my hand.  The study hall teacher was shaking me violently. 

     “Everett, the bell rang.”

     I shook my head, trying to refocus my thoughts.  I couldn’t get the image of The Man out of my mind.  I had to blink a few times–the classroom had taken on the appearance of the apartment, and it took me a moment to realize that I was looking at the computer, rather than a darkened living room. 

     “Everett, you’re going to be late for your next class.”

     For the briefest of moments, I thought I heard Derek’s voice, rather than Mrs. Braydon’s.  I stood, feeling slightly dizzy, and scooped my books into my arms.

     I felt disoriented as I walked into the hallway, and bumped into three different people.  It wasn’t until I was standing outside the Spanish classroom that I realized Reb had been walking beside me, talking as though I’d been responding.

     And maybe I had been–I felt strangely numb.

     “It’s just a weird word, you know?”

     “What?”  I asked, regaining feeling over my own body and words.

     Reb looked at me strangely.  “Blinked.  It’s a weird word–it sounds awkward.  I think it should be ‘blunk’.”

     “Huh?”

     Reb knitted his eyebrows.  “You okay, Todd?”

     “What?  Yeah, I’m fine.”  I walked into the Spanish classroom and took my seat–at the back of the room, thank goodness.  Reb sat near the front, and I didn’t want to explain my dizziness to him.

     He tossed me a concerned glance before looking to the front of the room.

     I closed my eyes, trying to relax.  In time, the feeling subsided, and I was able to concentrate on the lesson.

     I placed my composition book beneath my Spanish notebook–I didn’t want to the think about The Man In The Shadows right now.

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

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