Walking the Line
by Stewart Wilson
Windows stare accusingly at the streets of Nova Roma. There's a story behind every one, a life, a struggle. There's a million stories in this naked city. This is one of them.
I haven't seen much daylight in the past four years. Too much goes on when the sun's down, too many people have problems they want me to solve. That's what I do, I solve problems that other people won't admit exist. They don't give a shit if someone's running a racket and fucking the Gaunts. Hell, they wouldn't give a shit if they found out that everyone from the President to the Commissioner is a warlock. I live on that knife-edge, staring into an abyss that most people would rather forget existed, but I can't let myself fall in all the way. Too many people depend on me for that.
It's so late it's early on a night too close to Haloween, and I'm being rained on at a street corner in a part of town that should know better. What's worse, I'm looking at a face that can't look back, thanks to a gaping hole where one of his eyes should be. What's he doing here? There's no witness who knows what happened, just that one minute he wasn't there and the next he was. I wish I could just walk away. This is the Capo's part of town, and he's got his dirty fingers in a lot of pies. The goons who try to shuffle me off the mortal coil every couple of months are just his way of saying that he hasn't forgotten about what I got up to with his daughter.
I wish I could turn around, stop caring, go bury my life at the bottom of a bottle. But there's two reasons I can't. One is that I know how the body got here. The second is that the one-eye'd schmuck leaning against that wall is my brother.
I hit his pockets. The police round here will write it off as a suicide if they write it up at all, so I need all the clues I can get. There's a half a pack of cigarettes in his top pocket, a foreign brand. I light one, and keep looking. Tucked under a flap inside his jacket is a roll of bills. There must be at least ten grand here, more money than either of us should see in a month. Nothing else. He's–was a boxer, no reason for him to carry a piece.
I look around. He's sat in a pile of wind-blown trash, and his hands haven't been tied. There's no marks on the wall behind him — the sons-of-bitches killed him somewhere else. Whoever did this smashed his watch as well. It's showing one second to midnight. That's all the proof I need to know how he appeared. Now all I need to do is work out where. I can't do that tonight.
I finish the cigarette and walk away, feet splashing in the rain.
There's something broken in the world. Some people can feel it, a hairline fracture in the substance of the world. It's through that crack that the Gaunts got in, but it's not just them. Something else is here as well, and they've created the edge. Eleven fifty-nine fifty-nine doesn't last for a second, it lasts for an hour. Most people never notice, the few things that shift around aren't much compared to everything else in the world. Some of us can live in that edge, doing things while the world is paused around us. My brother had just pissed some people off who had that same edge.
Tomorrow night, one second to midnight, I'm going to find whoever put a bullet through my brother's head. They're going to have Hell to pay.