Friday, August 28, 2009

The similarities are eerie...

This little guy is Beauregard, an imp who appears in an as-of-yet unpublished short story I wrote. "Yeah, the wings are small, but they get me off the ground!"

Y'know, now that you mention it, he DOES sort of look like Quintin Tarantino....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Smoke and Mirrors"

"Smoke and Mirrors"
(written August 2009)
Aaron M. Smith

It was cold this evening. I wished the waiter I’d bribed had worn a wool coat, or been allowed to. But no, it was always the same getup- black silk waistcoat, bow tie, linen shirt, black pants, and those ungodly black shoes with the heel. How I hated those damn shoes.

As I walked into the kitchen from the allyway, the heat from the stoves and the gaslights overwhelmed me, and I had to cough to clear my throat. Sloppy. Keep your head down, Yardley. You’ll live longer.

The kitchen was crowded, as it always was; busboys running here and there, demanding plates and trays and wine, always more wine. Those members of Parliament really could hold their wine, I’d give them that. The whole place stunk, of sweat and heat and gas and the myriad odors emanating from the pots and broilers and kettles.

I heard the crowd in the banquet hall outside cheering and clapping. The musicians must have just finished up. That meant it would soon be my cue.

I held my head up, nose in the air, shoulders squared. Nobody asked where you were going as long as you walked with confidence. I strode through the banquet hall door; the darkness in the room was blinding at first, and I had to allow my eyes to adjust to the dimness. The only lights in the behemoth hall were the tiny gaslights on each table, a field of pinpoint flames that left the ceiling of the massive hall bathed in complete darkness.

Entering the stage was a man wearing the most gaudy tophat and tails I’d ever seen. He bellowed on and on about the mystical places he’d been to, the monks and sages and oracles from whom he had acquired his mystical arcane powers. I grinned inwardly; Bolly was always the most amazing liar, even when we were kids. His magic act was about to begin; the rest of his cast and crew would already be in place.

A quick scan of the room showed me exactly what I was looking for; at the center table, the one with the most people, sat a short, balding man with a pushbroom mustache. At his left and right (and at every table adjacent) sat six huge men in identical black suits. Of course, it only made sense. Owen Montgomery wouldn’t go anywhere without his bodyguards.

Not that they’d do him much good tonight.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” Bolly boomed from the stage. “The Great Mondello welcomes you to a night that you will never forget. For tonight, your imagination will be assaulted, your senses will be put to the test, and you will wonder if even your own eyes are to be believed!”

The room suddenly plunged into utter darkness.

I darted through the gloom like a shark after a wounded man.

The last week I’d spent memorizing the placement of the tables and chairs in the room had all been worth it. It had taken a lot of money and a lot of manipulation to get the Parliament to move their meeting to this banquet hall- the only hall in central London that had stationary benches instead of movable chairs. Couldn’t have people sliding out their chairs in the darkness, after all. Had to have an environment I could memorize and be able to move through completely blind. It was the only way I could assure I’d remain unseen.

I heard the cough; Montgomery’s cough was unmistakable. I’d attended every damn public address he’d made for the last month, paid so careful attention to what he said and how he said it that the words lost meaning and became chains of sounds. I was right behind his chair.
This restaurant always placed their wine glasses on the right. But Montgomery was left-handed, and judging by the way he’d been putting back the wine that evening, his glass would be in his hand right now.

My hand slipped into my pocket, took the folded piece of paper there. I probed with my fingers, carefully; there was the edge of the glass. He flinched with it, slightly, when my fingers touched it. Instantly, I deftly opened the paper and allowed the powder inside to slip into the glass. Nobody else would have been able to hear it land on the liquid surface of the wine; I’d done this so many times that it was like a familiar tune I could sing from memory.

Like a ghost, I slithered out of the banquet hall the way I had come. Back into the kitchen, where the gaslights still burned; Bolly’s men had, of course, only cut off the gas to the dining room. All part of the show, folks, he would say, all part of the show. No one stopped me as I slipped out of the staff entrance and into the ally. I tossed the waiter’s clothing into the garbage; in moments I was back in my street clothes, concealed behind the dumpster. I crammed my cap onto my head and walked the three blocks to the boarding house where I was staying the night, and where I’d meet Bolly later.

In the tiny, shabby room, I treated myself to gin. Not everyday you make six hundred thousand pounds for ten minutes worth of work. Even the Prime Minister himself couldn’t argue that; of course, in ten minutes time, he wouldn’t be able to argue anything at all. We wouldn’t meet the informant until next week, to allow the trail to grow cold. I’d have to wait until then to cash in.
For a moment, I entertained the idea that the informant would never show, that I’d just been duped into doing his dirty work for free. I put the thought away; he’d known my reputation well enough to seek me out. Surely he knew what would happen to those who excercise poor business practices.