“What?” asked DaVic, trying desperately to catch up with the swift transition of events.
“We need to go! Now!” said the woman, her eyes darting everywhere as if expecting danger to be hiding in every corner of the room, and spring out at any moment.
“No time! Here take this, and meet me at BoBo’s tomorrow evening!” said the woman pressing something into his hand and darting out the door.
DaVic stared at the object in his hand. It was tiny, circular, and shiny. It took him a moment to recognize the item through the haze of confusion blanketing all other thoughts in his mind. It was a memDisc for a POD. Why would she give him a memDisc? Did it contain something that might be a clue?
But his muddled and stumbling thought process was interrupted by a noise — somebody was clattering up the rickety old stairs that led to his office.
He wondered what to do.
Should he stay? Or, should he try to escape in case this was some sort of danger as the woman had seemed to indicate?
Then a new thought intruded — what if these were some of RaBlu’s goons? What if they were coming for him because of whatever secret that the woman had been about to spill?
An unknown danger was nebulous, but RaBlu and his goons were something concrete that he could deal with. The surge of fear that ran through him as he thought of what RaBlu’s “enforcers” might do to him — or worse yet, if it was the Cheese and what they might do to him — galvanized DaVic into action.
One didn’t become a PI in Sir Lanka without thinking about one’s own safety first. After all, an irate husband (or wife, amended his inner voice) cornering you in your office was one of the biggest fears in a PI’s life …
He’d planned for this eventuality a long time ago. He quickly opened the special window that he’d prepared, tapped the hidden button to release the latches, swivelled the window bars and frame out of the way on their well-oiled hinges, carefully lifted a leg over the sill … and found himself scrabbling for balance. The board that had been carefully placed under his window to bridge his building with the one next door was no longer there!
He instinctively clutched the memDisc in his hand as he felt himself falling down into the darkness — the first thought that flashed through his mind was, “Drat those damn kids! I’m sure they took away the board to play fort!”
The thought that quickly followed that one was, “Boy am I glad that I anticipated this happening and put a dumpster just below my window.”
His inner voice decided to intrude at this point with, “Are you sure it’s not garbage collection day? Perhaps they’ve moved the dumpster?”
Before DaVic’s alarmed reaction could give way to outright panic, he mercifully hit the garbage dumpster square on. Unfortunately for him, it felt as if a neighbourhood restaurant had chosen that day to get rid of all their rotting vegetables — it was a soft and squishy, albeit somewhat smelly, landing.
But as old pilots often said — though DaVic had never met any old pilots who actually said this — any landing you could walk away from was a good landing. So DaVic picked himself up, brushed as much of the rotting vegetables as possible off himself, and limped away from the dumpster as silently as he could.
He kept an ear out for any signs of pursuit, or any signs of somebody looking for him, but there were none. All he could hear was the usual sounds that filled this rather squalid part of the city. Not that the rest of the city was a poster-child for cleanliness, mind you. But this part had the particularly lived in and grimy looks that certain areas seemed to develop over the years. But the rent at least was cheap, DaVic reminded himself.
He looked down at the memDisc still clutched in his hand. What was he to do with it? If it was important, should he hide it?
The best hiding place is the one where nobody would look, right? He took out his POD and slipped the memDisc into the storage port. There, nobody would expect it to be where a memDisc would normally be!
As he hurried away from the vicinity of his office, DaVic’s racing thoughts slowed down to the more sedate pace of rush-hour traffic. Had he imagined it all? Did he get scared by an innocent visitor to the building just because the woman had rushed off suddenly? But then again, why would she have rushed off like that anyway? It wasn’t as if there was any reason for that now, was there?
His confused thoughts were interrupted by a sibilant hiss from a dark alleyway, “Psst!”
DaVic stopped and considered his options. Was this a trap? Should he run? Or, and all of his inner voices started gibbering at once at this one, should he walk into the dark alleyway to see what was going on?
“Oy, you deaf?” asked a whispered voice.
DaVic turned quickly in the direction of the voice and it was at that moment, that he saw out of the corner of his eye, some movement behind him. His paranoia went into high gear. He was sure that somebody was shadowing him now. What was one to do if being shadowed? Hide in the shadows perhaps?
He darted into the darkness of the alleyway from where the whisper had come.
“Hey … Hey man, I wasn’t askin’ you to jump in here …” spluttered the whispered voice. DaVic did not have any attention to spare for him. All his faculties were concentrating on the road where he’d been a moment ago. Was that a flicker of movement over there? Did that bit of shadow move just now?
He felt somebody moving behind him and whirled to face what might be a new threat.
“Hey man, I’m not tryinna hurt you or nothin’ … Just give me a bit of warnin’ next time, will ya?” said the voice.
DaVic peered into the gloom and saw a scrawny man, almost a skeleton, wrapped in bits of rags and scraps of clothing, who seemed to be cautiously approaching him with what looked like a heavy sack dragging behind him.
“Shh … quiet!” whispered DaVic, urgently.
“What?” whispered back the other.
“I said keep quiet, I think somebody’s following me!”
“Why dincha say so. I hate people followin’ me. Darn busybodies!”
“Now can you please keep quiet?” hissed DaVic, irritably. “I don’t want them to know where I am.”
“Me an’ the boys’ll keep an eye on them,” replied the other, still in a whisper.
The other man pointed to the sack, which seemed to be wriggling as if alive. DaVic looked closer and corrected himself — not alive, but as if it contained multiple live creatures.
“What’s in there?”
“Don’t you worry. You go on ahead an’ if anybody’s followin’ ya, they’re goin’ to be in fer a surprise. Darn finks!”
“Are you sure?”
“Course I’m sure! I know these streets, an’ I tell ya, if somebody is tryina’ cause trouble here, I know how to send ‘em on their ways!”
DaVic tried to muster some words of thanks, some way to convey how grateful he felt for this unexpected bit of kindness in a day that had been chaotic and tumultuous. But he couldn’t think of anything that seemed adequate.
Plus, the scrawny man was busy peering out the alleyway and whispering to his wriggling sack.
DaVic simply touched the man on the shoulder by way of thanks, looked one final time out the alleyway to see if he could see any pursuit and then ran further into the alley. He didn’t know where he was, but he was bound to come out somewhere, right?
He’d only moved only a little bit further into the gloominess of the alleyway when he heard a shrill scream behind him. That scream was followed by the voice of his scrawny samaritan yelling, “Git ‘im boys! Git! Git!”
The scream and the yells were interspersed with shrill chittering. DaVic didn’t want to imagining the source of the chittering. Sure, it could have been rats that his new friend had collected — after all, the city had rats the size of small rabbits. They said that the rats were a byproduct of the nuclear wars of the bygone ages, but nobody really knew. All that people could attest to was that when meat was scarce, the rats sure came in handy.
But the chittering didn’t really sound like rats. And DaVic’s mind shied away from what they might be. It was better not to know, right?
“That’s not the point, dum dum,” his inner voice interrupted. “You really were being followed. Didn’t notice that, did you?”
DaVic gulped. That’s right. If somebody was being attacked by his friend’s friends, then there definitely must have been somebody tailing him!
“Yeah, looks as if you weren’t being paranoid after all, eh?” was all his inner voice would say.
DaVic’s mind raced. Was there only one tail? Or were there more? And if there were more, what would they do now that they knew that their comrade had been attacked?
Should he go back to help his scrawny friend? Maybe he was in danger?
“Nah, he’ll be fine. Plus, you probably will put him in more danger by going back!” his inner voice argued.
DaVic wasn’t so sure. But at the same time, he wasn’t really keen on rushing into danger either. Didn’t they say running away was the better part of valour?
Besides, he had no idea who was chasing him. Or what was going on at all! The only clue he had was a memDisc and instructions to meet the mysterious woman at BoBo’s.
But that wasn’t till tomorrow. He had to survive till then. What was he to do?
He had been making his way carefully up the almost pitch blackness of the alleyway while all these thoughts percolated through his mind. But now, he noticed that the gloom of the alleyway was getting a little less murky. Looking further up ahead, he could see a dim light … possibly an intersection of alleys with a light?
He hurried towards the light, eager to get out of the suffocating dark. He was so intent on reaching his goal that he didn’t notice the movement in the murk, the creeping shadow that slunk up behind him till it was too late.
DaVic tried to struggle as he felt something — was that an arm? Or a tentacle? — wrap around his throat and what felt like a cloth sack was dropped over his head. But he couldn’t move even a muscle, and he could feel consciousness leave him as darkness took him in its arms.