I pedaled my bike through the maze of narrow streets, my eyes running over the numbers printed on the sides and doorways of the buildings as I whizzed past. Occasionally, my turning and meandering path would veer me out into traffic, but I ignored the honks and occasional shouts.
Where the hell was this place?
Still pedaling, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the little scrap of paper my boss had handed me. No, I still had the address correct in my memory.
I was on Shining Avenue right now, so finding this place ought to be easy. But I hadn’t figured on Shining running right into Chinatown – and promptly beginning to weave back and forth, worse than a drunken sailor with a full stomach of whiskey.
Hell, half of the little shops along both sides of this street didn’t even have numbers up on their doorways! And although I spoke a few pidgin words of Mandarin and Cantonese, they were mainly choice terms for insulting someone’s mother – not so good for navigating.
What sort of shop did a cake decoration place have, anyway? My boss had sent me out here to get some sort of “specialty wedding topper” for one of our orders. And like an idiot, I’d gone ahead to grab it, hopping on my bike without asking for any further information.
A few houses down, I spotted an ancient little Asian woman, sitting on the steps to one of these shops and smoking a long-stemmed pipe. Figuring that I was down to my last option, I hit the brakes and coasted to a stop.
“Excuse me,” I called out, and her hooded eyes rolled over to me. “Do you know where 1408 Shining-“
Before I’d finished talking, the woman rose up laboriously to her feet. Without even speaking a word, she reached behind her and opened up the door.
“Oh. It’s here?” I asked, surprised and a little suspicious of this sudden reversal of my bad luck.
Still, the old woman didn’t speak – she just nodded towards the open door, as if urging me to just get it over with already.
Pausing only to lock my bike to a nearby sapling, I stepped into the doorway. The shop inside was pitch black, and I couldn’t see my nose in front of my own face. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
There was no answer – except for the door behind me swinging shut with a click.
For just an instant, I was lost in blackness. And then, seconds later, a bright light clicked on, shining into my face and making me lift up my hands to try and shield my eyes.
“Do you have it?” The voice was strong, deep, authoritative, and rolling out of the darkness beyond the spotlight shining into my face.
“Do I have it – what?” I echoed back, confused. “Do you have it?” Had I been supposed to bring something to exchange for this pickup?
The voice didn’t speak – but a rattle sounded, and a battered metal suitcase slid across the floor to land at my feet.
I reached down and picked up the case, not pausing to even glance at the contents. “Uh, thanks?” I called out into the darkness as I reached behind me for the doorknob out of this place. I was definitely not going to go on my boss’s next pickup mission!
“Wait!” the voice called out of the darkness. “And what about what we require?”
Maybe they needed the receipt? I pulled it out of my pocket and tossed it out beyond the circle of light. The voice said something else, but I had already opened the door and stepped back outside.
Out on the street, the elderly little Asian woman was gone, but at least my bike was still there. I tossed the metal briefcase (who delivered cake toppers in a briefcase?) into the basket on the back of my bike, unlocked it, and pedaled off.
From behind me, I suddenly heard the door burst open, and shouting in some language I didn’t understand. I glanced back over my shoulder as I started to pedal away – and saw several shadowy men wearing what looked like top hats and long yellow trench coats running out, pointing after me and yelling something guttural.
“Dammit,” I cursed, pedaling harder. Maybe I had been supposed to bring payment after all – but my boss could figure that out.
A couple of the men went running after me, but I veered down Semetary, made an illegal left turn onto Pennywise Boulevard, and cut through a yellow light to merge over to Gilead Street. I doubted the men would be able to follow that.
But even as I pedaled, I felt doubt and suspicion start to creep up into my mind. Veering over to a parking lot, I glanced back at the metal case behind me as I slowed to a stop.
I had wondered who would hand over a cake topper in a metal briefcase. Now, as I set my bike down and lifted the case out of the basket, I could feel my doubt growing. The case felt wrong, different.
I set the case down on the ground and popped the latches. Hesitantly, I lifted the lid.
“Dammit,” I muttered again as I stared at the contents.
From inside the case, carefully set into a leather interior, two long, heavy, blued steel revolvers glinted up at me…