Here's the shtick: I write a story, a scene at a time. Then I write a pair of second scenes, taking the story in two different directions--a story fork. The reward total after three days determines which fork survives.
Fork 3Z won the second round, so that's the story that continues, below.
The Story So Far (picks up from Scene 3; go here for Scenes 1 and 2):
“Abbett,” Vernon said, his hands drifting upward like they were filled with helium, “Thought you were dead.”
“You sound disappointed. Ah ah, keep the hands where I can see them.” Abbett rummaged in Vernon’s pocket, but his piece wasn’t there. He had one, surely. “You want to toss your gun for me? Slowly now. I’m old. I might misunderstand a quick movement.”
Vernon pulled one hand down and drew a .38 out of his shoulder holster. Abbet tensed, finger pressing the trigger, but Vernon tossed the gun to the side.
“You got other people here?” Abbett said.
“Just me,” Vernon said, voice flat. Abbett couldn’t tell if he was lying.
“Sit down,” Abbet said.
Vernon’s head swiveled to look back. “You serious?” He wiped his pants. “I just got these pressed.”
“Your launderer won’t mind doing it again. Sit, and face me.”
Vernon went down on one knee, grimacing. He wiped a hand through his fair blonde hair, and sucked in a breath, glancing up to see if Abbet meant it. Abbet waved him down the rest of the way with the barrel of his gun.
Vernon shook his head, but put his cheeks on the floor. Abbet relaxed a fraction, and stepped back a couple paces. He caught another smell, underneath the dust. Something he couldn’t place, but it didn’t belong in a diner, whatever it was.
“What’s it been, Casparus? Ten years?” Vernon said, dusting his pants. It just spread the dirt. He scowled.
“Nearer fifteen. What are you doing here?”
“I bought this place. Gonna renovate it, do some modifications. I always wanted to run a diner.”
“You always wanted to eat in one, not run one. What’s really going on?”
“Cas, my friend, (here Abbet made a face) I’m opening a diner. Just like I said.”
“You have some interesting guests.”
Vernon’s eyes closed for a moment. A look of weariness blew across his face, and away. “Architects. Helping me with decor and suchlike. I got no head for that stuff.”
Abbet cast a glance around the room. A broken chair leaned drunkenly against the far wall. Two tables stood stacked on top of each other like psychotic toadstools. And everywhere the dust, the rot of the DoBro wharf district, gone to seed with most of its residents.
“You’re not making a lot of progress.”
Vernon spread his hands, a sheepish smile on his face. “I work slow. Not as young as I used to be. You look pretty good, for a fella your age.”
Abbet refused to be distracted. “How ‘bout you give me a look around. A tour of the premises.”
“I wouldn’t want to crease your pants funny. Besides, she doesn’t look her best right now. Come back in a month or so.”
Abbet’s nose twitched. Dust floated through the air. He could feel it in his lungs. They spasmed, struggling to work for him.
“I think I need to insist.”
“You always were a stubborn bastard,” Vernon said, climbing to his knees, then staggering to his feet. He stared at his pants, streaked with dust. “Aw, look at this. Cas, you got a lot to answer for.”
“Your turn to give me answers,” Abbet said, and stepped to the side. “Follow this path…follow…”
And he sneezed.
Not a petite ah-choo, but a full-throated, shnozz-clearing eruption that practically shook him off the floor and made his scars throb. Before he could recover, Vernon, all shamming gone now, ripped the gun out of his hand.
“Careless. You didn’t used to be careless,” Vernon said.
Abbet sneezed again and wiped his nose with a sleeve. “Not careless,” he said, snuffling, “human. I’m human.”
Vernon laughed out loud. “You? Human? You gone into standup now? No one in this city is less human than you. You almost make me believe in the resurrection.” He shoved Abbet back into a padded booth. The bench cut his legs from under him and he sat with a whump.
“But even if I couldn’t kill you…I could though, couldn’t I?” he said, raising the gun, Abbet’s own gun, and sighting along it. “Just pull the trigger, and bam, down you go. Easy.”
Abbet knew that could be. It had happened enough already, so many times he almost lost count. But he wasn’t dead yet. How, he didn’t know. But he wasn’t. And he wasn’t ready to go down this time, either.
So he said, “I know about Harold Crane.”
Vernon sighed. “Crane gets around. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“This isn’t the kind of social venue he’s normally seen in. What are you guys doing here?”
“Like you don’t already know.”
By now, if there had been anyone else in the diner he would have come out there, so Vernon had been telling the truth after all. So maybe it was time to use the rumors to his advantage.
Abbet pushed himself up with the table and the back of the bench. “Well, this chat has been lovely. But I have things to do.”
Vernon’s grin cracked a little. He held the gun out a bit more stiffly. “No, no, now. I can’t let you out of here.”
Abbet fixed him with a stare that came from the cold of Hell. “Stop me, then,” he said.
Vernon’s arm held the gun out straight as a Benedictine nun, pointed right at Abbett’s chest, but Abbett bet he wouldn’t pull the trigger, and took a step forward.
Vernon backed away, keeping distance. “Get back there on the bench Abbett, or so help me, I’ll-"
“You’ll what?” Abbett said, his voice pitched soft and reasonable. “Shoot me? Then what? Drag my body over to the Olivet and throw me in? How long before Crane gets wind of that? You want to join me in the river?” While he asked his flow of questions, he kept moving, sliding carefully toward the door, making no sudden moves.
“I can’t let you go, Cas. You know that.” Vernon’s face hardened like concrete. Some more resolve stiffened his posture.
“You can’t stop me from going, Vernon,” Abbett said, but he wondered when he said it if Vernon believed that. Because if he didn’t…
The door stood directly behind his back, now, and Abbett was tempted to turn to it and go up the stairs and out into the sunshine, ignoring Vernon and the snub-nosed .38 altogether. But he took a deep breath, preparing, and again he smelled something, sharp and metallic, something that he knew he’d smelled before, but couldn’t place.
“I guess you win this round,” Vernon said, and the gun dropped a notch.
Too easy. Vernon wasn’t this soft.
Abbott kept circling, now angling for the hallway with the sign that said “estroo”. His feet shuffled grittily over the unswept floor.
Alarm showed all over Vernon’s face, and the gun came back up. “Now, now, Cas, what are you doing?”
“Sorry, Vernon. When you gotta go, you gotta go. The men’s is down this way, right?”
Vernon pulled the trigger and the bullet gouged a chunk from the wall to Abbett’s right. “I think you can hold it,” he said, cocking the hammer for another shot.
Abbett tossed a glance down the hallway, but it was too dark for him to really see anything. As his eyes swung back to Vernon, though, he caught sight of a box behind the bar, metal, with a lock on the front of it that meant business.
And something else, too.
The right side of his mouth turned up in a grin he hoped was disarming.
“I guess I don’t have to go as bad as I thought,” he said, and dove behind the bar.
Vernon gave a shout and fired again, but the bullet went high and Abbett was behind cover. He grabbed the short-barreled shotgun conveniently positioned behind the bar, and racked a round.
“Wait! Cas! We was partners!” Vernon said, the noise of the shotgun being cocked reverberating around the diner. Abbett considered popping up and letting Vernon have it. The spread on the shotgun would hit almost anything in the room.
“We were, yes,” Abbett said. “Too bad your loyalties lay elsewhere.” He pulled the trigger and blew the lock off the box.
Voting commences now. You can vote for this story and for Fork 4a, if you like them both, but only one will survive. Move that slider to weight the story you can't live without. Deadline is Sunday the 17th, midnight GMT, when the larger payout lives on and the smaller withers and dies.
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