“No, he won’t leave me alone….at least, I think it’s a he. I haven’t checked or anything,” John Crawford said, taking a long drag of his coffee. He was being chatted up by Nadine, the waitress at Charlene’s, a coffee shop at the edge of the city. John spent a few days researching his cryptic message until he found this place, with a rusted sign out front reading “Charlene’s, the Pride of Nothing” which is funny in it’s own right. He’d been here 3 meals a day for two days, and had made quick friends with Nadine.
“So, you helped out Wanda the other week get away from that creep she was dating, right?” Nadine had sprung on him. He hadn’t heard from Wanda since that night.
“How did…” he started to ask, but she took her own cue to keep going.
“Everyone knows who you are now; the whole town is talking about what you did. Of course, no one (at this point, she stopped and looked around, then started speaking in a lower register) no one crosses any of Dr. Lucien’s, employees, I guess you would call them. Be sure he took notice.”
“Really? Has anyone heard from Wanda?” John asked out of curiousity he couldn’t stand any longer.
“No, not since she left town. As soon as everything happened, she skipped town. Told someone that the whole thing gave her the courage to pick up and leave. You did that.”
John tried to hide a smile; if that young girl’s life can improve and he was a catalyst for it, that was something to be proud of. But, he still didn’t have all the answers as to whether or not it was the best thing for the girl. Nadine looked around then jumped into the booth with John.
“So, I need your help. I know you can take care of yourself. Someone’s been following me; a guy, short hair, big wire rim glasses, always in a old suit. He freaks me out and I need someone to make him back off. I’ll pay,” she said, so intensely John seemed a little precautious himself. This girl needed some help. Just then, the diner door opened, a bell ringing as it di so and a man like Nadine just described came waltzing in but was having some issues with his shoes it seemed.
“Get off me, you disgusting beast,” he was saying, kicking at the ground. John leaned over in his seat and saw Pigeon, his new friend, nipping at the guy’s feet.
“That’s him,” Nadine whispered and she took off towards the back. John watched the man’s eyes as he tried to get back out the door then saw them turn cold; he kicked hard at the ground and they all heard a squawk, then the man straightened his suit and shut the door. His eyes almost seemed to turn green. He gave John a cursory glance and took a booth near the door. He could see Nadine from the back not coming out. John left a $5 tip on the table and walked over towards her.
“I’ll help you; but no money; how about a home cooked meal some night?” She smiled and held out her hand They shook heartily.
It was 5 till 10. Nadine’s shift was ending and John had seen the man following her walk by the front door 6 times during the day. John was good at blending into his surroundings; sometimes he would hide in the shadows and it was almost like he became one himself. This man was no run of the mill business guy as he seemed to be dressed; like he was playing a character. He was quick; John lost sight of him multiple times during the day and it took his eyes exerted effort to locate him again.
“Bye, Shirley, be good tonight,” Nadine yelled as she backed out of the door and headed down the sidewalk towards the far end of town. She stayed in a little apartment with her aunt down there, helping to take care of her. John trained his eyes to look for all movement as he stuck to the sides of the walls moving down the street. They walked together, but apart for nearly 5 minutes and all seemed fine and then, as suddenly as the strike of a cobra, Nadine screamed and she was gone. John picked up the pace and found her purse on the ground. He looked down a dark alley with only a dumpster halfway down overflown with stinky trash. Then, he saw a sudden movement; before he could react, he was being pulled through the alley flat on his back. His head felt a burn as he scraped along the rocky gravel. John reached his hand out to the dumpster and held on for dear life. He felt his body come to a sudden stop but his leg was still being jerked on. John kicked at the pressure around his ankle and felt it connect..hard. He heard a low grunt. He stood up and looked around; nothing. Then from behind him, a sharp bite into his shoulder; it stung and he averted his eyes to see a large head buried into his shoulder; He reached behind him and hooked the man by the neck and slung him over his shoulder into the dumpster.
“Help!” Nadine. John ran down the alley and found her laying behind some broken crates; her hair messed and cut on the cheek.
“You okay?” John asked. She nodded. He picked her up by the arm as they moved back down the alley. What they saw both perplexed them and disgusted them: the skin of the man following her, lying on the ground like a costume. It started crumpling up together and turned into a white shell. John picked up Nadine’s purse and they took off towards her aunt’s house.
30 minutes later, at Dr. Lucien’s mansion….
Inside his drawing room, a large fire burned in the fire place as the Mayor of Nothing, Dr. Lucien sat with a dark brandy in his hand. A disheveled man came in and handed him a vial; Dr. Lucien clapped his hands and a tall man in a butler’s suit took it from him and left the room.
“So, you were successful,” Lucien sputtered.
“Yeah, but there was some trouble.”
“I expected that. See Smythe on the way out. He’ll pay you Mr. M…..sorry, Mr. Snakeskin.”
- Lucien ends by seeing what he tracked down from snakeskin, should I call you mr. or mr. snakeskin?