THE WILTED ROSE

by Paul Lubaczewski
 
WHAT IS in a name? It depends who you ask of course, if you asked the long deceased bard not much at all, but then again, he died a long time before designer jeans. This ‘what you call it doesn’t matter’ thinking was not a philosophy Lawrence Collins III subscribed to. He had a name to live up to since the day he was born, that of wealthy developer, Lawrence Collins Jr… Lawrence Collins Jr. had provided his heir not only a patrimony of money but of every available opportunity he could to ensure his son’s success. This created the implicit understanding that if ‘Little Larry’ had not improved further upon his own station in life, it would have been considered nothing short of disastrous failure.

In Larry Collins’ view of the world, he had exceeded expectations all on his own, in his view he was a self-made man worth billions. His father might have been a multi-millionaire, but that was chump change compared to what Larry was worth now. His self-worth might be considered artificially inflated, it might even be considered unhealthy, but if he was asked, he’d say, ‘I don’t give a good god damn what you think, I didn’t get to be Larry Collins giving a damn what little people think of me! I pay people to tell people what to think of me!’

This drive did not make Larry Collins a hard worker, or a flashy dresser, or a social degenerate hiding behind his money, it just made him a moderately successful billionaire. He had a perfectly acceptable trophy wife, a perfectly acceptable mistress, he drank perfectly acceptable amounts of very expensive things, owned the requisite amount of expensive cars, and owned the requisite amount of mansions. If anything, Larry Collins was kind of boring about being filthy rich. He even made sure his wealth always put him at around 32 on the wealthiest Americans list. He knew the guys at the top were hated by almost everyone, and the guys below fifty barely counted as rich these days. The goal was to hide in plain sight and he managed it admirably.

His son Lawrence Collins IV would one day be taking over the company, and one thing Larry always stressed to LC was that if you don’t have the name you made for yourself, you don’t have anything. He told him that over and over again, because he desperately hoped the boy would one day completely outstrip him, going further than he had ever hoped. That was what Larry hoped for, but in reality, he didn’t consider the boy worth a warm stream of piss on your leg in the middle of winter. For that, he blamed the brat’s doting mother entirely. If LC didn’t manage to lose every penny after he inherited, Larry would consider it a success. If anything, Larry hoped that LC would just stay the hell away from the business part of his inheritance and be content with spending more money than anyone needed and let Larry’s people continue to run things. Maybe the grandkids would have an ounce of drive one day.

Lately he had been letting LC do more and more around the office in case something rubbed off on him. The stated reason was to get the boy used to leadership, being at the helm, being a man in charge. That was certainly what Larry told anyone who would listen at least. The real reason, Larry knew it deep in his heart, was to have somebody around to do all the crap Larry hated. Signing papers, interviews with the press, nice and friendly meetings with the heads of other companies, PR work, and paperwork mainly. Larry especially hated those things where you had to play kissy face with the bastards, smile right into their faces while they grinned into yours, both of you with a machete behind your back waiting for the first sign of weakness. Anyway, the boy had a weak chin he’d gotten from his mother, it made him a more believable liar than Larry. Nobody would believe that lump of weak flesh was about to stick a stiletto between their ribs aiming for the heart, and once Larry got the details of a meeting later, and made the real decisions, that’s exactly what happened.

Today while LC took care of a ‘merger,’ which was what they were telling the press the hostile takeover was, Larry had been golfing. He didn’t even really like the game, but at his age, his options for ‘fun’ were limited. He’d only ever taken up the sport to have a place to get potential clients and partners drunk enough to let important information slip, but now, now it had become his ‘hobby.’ It was also the one place everyone in the company had strict orders not to disturb him, so the club also served as a refuge of sorts.

He was trying to gauge the guy he’d picked up in the clubhouse to golf with today. It was a habit Larry had developed lately, securing the tee time, and then grabbing somebody loafing about as his partner for the day. He had never golfed with this particular young man before; Andrews was his name. As best as Larry could figure the guy was just a low level corporate spy hoping to get lucky. Larry certainly didn’t recognize him, either from spending time with him, or from the all-important list of the hyper wealthy, so he doubted the man was here on his own resources.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about the younger man, everything about him said ‘average person you would expect to find at this club.’ This, in and of itself, made Larry suspicious and cautious with his tongue instinctively when it came to company information. Keeping what he said to strictly what was public record. Andrews was of average height, average build with maybe a slight lean towards a future of dieting hinted at by his jawline, average brown hair, and average brown eyes. He played exactly as well as him being younger than Larry demanded, getting better scores, but not infuriatingly better scores that would mark him as an enthusiast. Everything about Andrews seemed so calculated towards blandness and unmemorability, a general pastiche that if you had to describe him to the police later you would find yourself at a loss, finding yourself left with, ‘You know, just a guy I guess.’

But the man was pleasant enough to talk to, he only cheated at his game at completely acceptable levels, so Larry didn’t think much of him one way or the other. It beat playing through by yourself, there was something kind of pathetic about that, it said no one liked you. That wasn’t the case, it was more a matter that Larry didn’t like anyone enough to invite them along, but it was still the impression he felt that it must give people. If Andrews hadn’t been lounging around in the right spot, Larry might have spent the day drinking in the clubhouse instead.

They were riding their way back to that very clubhouse in a cart when Andrews spoke up, ‘Hey, Larry, I know you collect some classic cars, saw it in some Forbes profile or something. I just bought a little something of my own and I thought I did well getting it, but I’m no expert. I drove it here today, first time taking it out. I was wondering if I could get your opinion on it?’

Larry chuckled to himself, so that was this guy’s game! He was looking to unload some hunk of junk he’d overspent for at an auction. Not a bad strategy really, hook on to someone else’s tee time, spend the day golfing with them, lubricate the wheels with some beers during the day, and see if one of the rich car guys who littered the place could be persuaded to take his drunken overbid off his hands, and maybe even at a slight profit to him. If Larry ever did anything but phone bid for the cars he wanted and had made the mistake of overspending he’d seen many of his friends make at one of those things, he might try the same strategy himself.

But still, a little amusement at somebody else’s expense never hurt anyone. ‘Yeah sure, I got a little bit of time to kill, why not?’ he replied jovially.

‘I parked it a bit out of the way, why don’t we take the cart?’ Andrews suggested. His shy expression and out of the way parking told Larry everything he needed to know. New money probably, he wasn’t sure if he’d screwed up and wanted to learn it after the fact from an old timer where nobody would see. After that, maybe he could talk the old timer into taking it on and treat it as a learning experience.

At least that was what Larry was thinking until he saw the car itself sitting alone in the lot. It was an absolute stunner, a Bristol 406 Zagato, rare, sporty, and in immaculate condition at least at first inspection. Larry had to recover quickly to ask, ‘So, how much did you drop on it?’

‘Ummm, quite a bit, there’d been drinking and all, so when I just decided I wanted it... Well, restraint went a bit out the window, a little over 200K,’ Andrews replied sheepishly as they got out of the cart to inspect the car more closely.

Larry let out a low whistle, before he could stop himself, he said, ‘I’ll give you 240 today.’

A look of relief flashed over Andrews’ face, ‘Hearing that makes me think maybe I shouldn’t.’

Larry looked disappointed, but only briefly, and he covered it quickly by walking around the car squinting. ‘Can I hear it running?’

‘Sure, I drove it here after all. You want to fire it up yourself?’ Andrews asked, dangling the keys in his hand.

By way of reply, Larry snatched the keys out of Andrews’ hand and made his way to the right side driver’s door. Larry opened the door and sat down, staring appreciatively to take all of it in. Andrews was next to him by the open door, ‘I really couldn’t resist, it looked so one of a kind.’

Larry beamed up at him, ‘Maybe not one of a kind, but in America, it’s close enough.’ With that he fired over the BMW motor inside, ‘It’s not the fastest one, the 407s are faster, but the Zagatos are rare no matter the model.’

‘Let’s pop the hood, let me show you the engine,’ Andrews enthused.

Larry hopped out, gleeful to see if the engine matched the appearance of the impeccable interior. All of his suspicions had vanished along with his cynicism. Right in front of him, here and now, there was only this beautiful, and more importantly, incredibly rare automobile. You forgot where you were, you forgot what you were about when you were in front of a true work of art. Even if they one day stopped serving alcohol at the damned auctions, this was why Larry didn’t go. His desire to own, to possess, got the better of him every time and he always overspent if he really wanted something. If he had been there when this had come across the block, he’d have bid this kid right into the poor house.

Andrews swung the hood up and forward, and for a moment Larry’s breath caught in his throat as he gazed lovingly at the three carburettors. ‘That is magnificent,’ he breathed as he leaned forward into the bay to look closer.

He saw Andrews’ shadow over his shoulder, a moment later he felt a cloth clamp down over his mouth. His panic forced him to inhale to yell for help. Fighting to break free of the man’s grasp caused him to breathe deeper still. But only for a moment, only for that little while of panic until the darkness came to claim him.
 

DRIP... DRIP... DRIP… it’s how we erode mountains away and build new ones, one drip at a time. Some things leave us, and new things replace them. How much? It’s all a matter of water and time. So why don’t we listen to this soothing voice for a while and see what it has to say? It says, drip, drip, drip. I wonder what we lost?
 

EYES OPENING, LIGHT hurting for a second. Confusion, eyes snap wide.

Ambrose Korch tried to assess his situation.

The first question that needed answering was why in the hell was he lying on the sidewalk propped up against a wall? Something told him that once he had that one figured out, most of the rest of it would fall directly into place. The problem with that simple and elegant solution was that it did not seem any closer to being achieved after he blinked out at the street for a few minutes than when he had first opened his eyes.

Ambrose’s next shock came a moment later when he gazed carefully down his length and saw what he was dressed in. He was dressed for winter, poorly, very poorly if he was any judge, and considering who he was he considered himself a fine judge of everything. He had vague memories of the last place he had been at involving warmth and heat and light. But not here, here he could feel the early winter chill biting into him. He could feel the cold aching in his aged joints, telling him he had been lying here on this sidewalk for a considerable amount of time. A man’s body doesn’t ache like that in just a second, this had had time to soak in.

It took an intense effort for him to gain his feet, his joints protested mightily at being called to action after having chilled for some time on the bitter cold sidewalk. He could see now that he was in some kind of an alleyway, in what looked and sounded to be a major city. Which one, was certainly not readily apparent from where he was, all alleys look like alleys and rarely appear on postcards unless something awful happened there. There were traces of snow piled in places, but it had been just warm enough that much of it was melted, leaving only the cinder and soot-choked hardened lumps to lay testament to the former fluff of a previous moment of still beauty.

Deciding on a direction was simple enough, he headed towards the noise of traffic and life. Once he was out of this alley, he’d be able to ascertain which city he’d been left in, and more importantly, come up with a plan of action. Ambrose Korch was not a man who woke up in alleys, nor was he a man who stumbled around in shabby thrift store clothing. Ambrose Korch was a somebody, he could buy this damned alley and all the buildings that made it in a heartbeat. There were going to be repercussions about this, there was no doubt in his mind about that factoid. He just needed to know where he was for starters, and then he could work from there to fix the rest of it.

Blinking into the bright light of the street he stumbled out on, he stood there for a moment to let them adjust. When he could see a bit better Ambrose let his eyes roam up and down the block before he saw what he needed for information. In the distance was City Hall, and it was certainly recognizable, this was Philadelphia, sure as that was William Penn standing on top of the building. That was also not the best of news Ambrose could have received. As far as he could remember he’d never bought in Philly, he considered it a bad investment without enough return on it. If this was New York or even San Francisco, he could march right up to a building that housed one of his firms and have this whole thing sorted out in a jiffy, but here he owned nothing housing employees who existed to do his bidding.

But it was Philadelphia, which forced him to consider who did have real estate here. Who did he know that might actually be in their own building today who would help him figure this mess out? Heck, loaning him a car, if not a plane to get back to his own people and sort this out, that would work just as well as anything. Ambrose didn’t need the gold star treatment; he could arrange that once he was on his home turf. He did know some software geek that he had done business with, Bill something or other, had a condo in one of the big skyscrapers they had in this place. Good enough for Ambrose to have a plan. Stop by for a visit and beg some simple hospitality.

It took him well over an hour to get to the two enormous buildings, him hating every step of the way, the stench, the closeness of being stuck here with the masses. No, with how he was dressed, below the masses, considered one of the unfortunates people hated to even look at. But at last, he stood on the street corner looking up at the building which housed good old Bill’s luxury condo. They were an impressive pair of skyscrapers, towering up like they owned the sky, but Ambrose couldn’t have cared less about the aesthetics at this moment. He built buildings like this; he didn’t give a good god damn what they looked like when they were finished. It was up to other people to tell him how good they looked with a touch of envy in their voice when they said it. He had one concern and one concern only, remembering Bill’s last name so he could get let up and start saying, ‘I owe ya one buddy’ and making arrangements to pay off the favour he needed today.

That vital last name came to him as he was walking through the door and into the big entrance area for the tourists. Bill Workman, that was the guy’s name. Ambrose ignored the shops that took up the front part of the place and went right to the lobby for the apartments upstairs to get someone to get Workman down here, ASAP. He could see right away the place exuded money, white marble floors, expensive furniture, all the trimmings. Everything a high rise should have, right down to the very, very well dressed woman at the reception desk.

‘May I help you sir?’ the pretty Asian girl at the desk asked in a clipped voice. Ambrose could see the disdain in her eyes as she stared at him warily from behind her desk. He couldn’t say he blamed her much, considering how he was dressed. If their roles had been reversed, he certainly wouldn’t have even been that professional. But Ambrose knew one thing if at any time you didn’t have the bucks, you made it on bluff. Ambrose could bluff with the best of him.

‘Ah, yes, my dear, dreadfully sorry for my appearance,’ Ambrose smiled beatifically at the woman. ‘But explaining that would go some way to explain why I need to speak to my friend Bill Workman at once please.’

‘Who should I say is here to see him, sir?’ she asked, still eyeing him with suspicion.

Keep talking, Bill would figure this out, ‘Tell him Ambrose, Ambrose Korch is here to see him. He’ll know who it is.’

The woman pointed to a row of well apportioned padded chairs near a window nearby, ‘I’ll ring him, sir. This might take a moment so if you wouldn’t mind waiting over there, please?’

Ambrose smiled back at her, ‘Yes, yes, of course, thank you very much!’

He went over to the chair and gratefully sank into the plush seating. It had been a long day with more hiking around than he was really used to. Even on a golf course, he’d have ridden most of the distance. The comfort of a seat, especially a well-made one, was more than a little welcome. He watched the woman check her computer screen, probably seeing if anyone was in Workman’s apartment right now before she called up, at least that was Ambrose’s guess.

Figuring it would take a while, Ambrose let his eyes drift to the window. All those lives out there, each encapsulated world whisking by. Each one thought they were the most important person in the world, never really realizing how little they meant in the grand scheme of things. Not realizing that the only reason that people like him didn’t do horrible things to them wasn’t that they couldn’t, it was just they didn’t care enough to bother. How could they survive if they knew that? Why not just curl up and die?

‘Mister Korch?’

Ambrose’s head snapped up out of his reverie to see two large men standing over him. They both wore well-tailored suits and sunglasses, one of them with a gleam off of his shaved head, the other’s hair was trimmed short. That put them down to bodyguards most likely. But of course, Bill was worth a fortune, he’d have people.

‘Yes?’ he looked up, smiling, he hoped warmly.

‘We understand you wish to see Mister Workman? If you would just come with us,’ said the one who had spoken originally, the one with the shaved head.

‘Why, of course,’ Ambrose said with relief, finally this would all be over.

As Ambrose stood, the man leaned in and his fist rocketed forward, catching the older man in the solar plexus. Ambrose’s gasp echoed around the large room a little and a few heads turned, but people are trained not to question what men like that did to an obviously homeless man. The men had positioned themselves to block the view of the rest of the lobby, so they couldn’t be sure what was happening anyway, even if they had bothered to turn their heads. Strong hands seized Ambrose, as he gasped for air, the world spun as he felt himself hustled towards a previously unnoticed door nearby.

The three of them flew through the door, and into a corridor lit with neon, the door slamming shut behind them. The whole area gleamed white to almost hospital standards. ‘But... please...’ Ambrose gasped out.

This earned him a brain rattling blow to the head, causing him to slump down between the two powerful men who dragged him by his arms. The lights swirled now; disorientation became his world for a moment. His only vaguely coherent thought, surprise that the force of the blow hadn’t knocked him unconscious.

A moment later Ambrose distantly heard another door banged open and they were in an alleyway. The bald man snarled at him as they dragged him down a flight of steps, ‘Look, you crazy bum! I don’t know what in the hell has gotten into you people lately, thinking you can bother decent people! But maybe this time you’ll learn, maybe you’ll tell your bum buddies to get the hell out and stay the hell out!’

With those words, Ambrose felt what little air he had left leave him in a rush as another powerful fist drove into his stomach. He couldn’t be sure but he suspected a little vomit came out as well, he suspected that he could feel something warm on his front but was too out of it to be sure. His eyes turned up, only able to see the sky above for a moment until he felt something hard and unyielding slam into his shoulder blades.

Magically, he seemed to float up for a moment, the ringing in his ears blocking out all sound. Heaven! Dear god they’ve killed me and I’m going to heaven! But just as suddenly as it started, he felt himself tilt back, and begin to fall crashing in a heap somewhere.

A grinning face appeared briefly in the open square of light above him, a finger pointing with bemusement at his predicament.

The world went black as the dumpster lid slammed shut on him.

 
WHEN HE CAME to, Ambrose panicked immediately at the darkness that greeted him, no idea at all where he was. He jerked around violently, trying to make sense of his surroundings. It was only when Ambrose accidentally banged his head into the dumpster lid that the light it let in allowed him to reorient to the world. He gingerly put one hand up to make contact with the lid before he slammed the thing open. Thankfully it was one of those cheap plastic ones and took no effort to lift. He didn’t think he’d ever been that happy to see a streetlight before in his life.

It was a struggle just to get back out of the dumpster. Most of the bags inside must have contained paper and loose items, they shifted under his feet as he scrambled to find purchase. It almost caused him to panic again, what if he couldn’t get out of this stupid thing? It was night now, who would even care about the feeble pleadings of an old man, especially one in his situation? He had to make himself cut that train of thought off immediately before he started yelling, there were some people in the city just hoping to find a feeble old man, only not for the purpose of helping. Ambrose stood quietly, trying to centre himself like his doctor had told him to do when he got like this. After a few minutes, and with his heart rate and breathing back under control, he was able to get one foot planted enough to swing the other one over the lip of the dumpster. Slowly and as cautiously as he could, he lowered himself down the side of the receptacle until he let go and landed in a heap next to it. For a brief moment, he felt the exhilaration of achievement, but only for a moment.

Well, now what?

He was painfully hungry, and thirsty for that matter, he’d drunk nothing and eaten nothing since this had started. It was his understanding that there were places in a large city like this that could help him with that at least. Places that fed the destitute, that might even let him make a phone call, say to his home offices. From there he could see about buying that damned building next to him and feeding those security guards into a chipper spreader, and that was just for starters.

It was something to look forward to. But first, he needed to find sustenance. He couldn’t survive like this; he wasn’t a young man and cities were no place to be old. Finding food would involve a lot of walking to get to where he needed to be. This was definitely not the sort of neighbourhood for a homeless shelter. This was the sort of neighbourhood where people called the police about people who looked like what he looked like now. And the police would actually come when they were called, and he doubted it would be to help him. Or, maybe they wouldn’t even bother with the police, the people who owned these buildings hired ruffians to assault people who looked like he did today. Ambrose would just have to get hoofing it, there was no other hope for him, certainly not here.
 

HOURS LATER EXHAUSTION was driving him past the brink. As hungry and thirsty as he was, he was far more exhausted by his ordeal. He was an old man who had hiked half the city it felt and taken a beating on top of it. One block following the next, gust of wind after gust of wind cutting right through his threadbare clothes, trying to peel away the skin from his bones. At the end of the day, stripped of everything, he was exposed for what he was. A tired, frail old man. Upon finding a small neighbourhood park exhaustion won the battle. He crept in and made his way to where one of the trees that looked as bare as he felt was planted. In front of it was a bench, hard and uncomfortable wood, but it looked beautiful to him with nobody occupying it. He wasn’t far from his goal, he knew, but the shelters probably weren’t even open at this hour. Ambrose was a long distance away from soaring skyscrapers now, he was where some of the buildings had boards over the windows. Who in their right mind would keep hours at this time of night in a place like this? Who was even outside to point him in the right direction?

There was nothing he could do tonight he thought as he lay his head down on the hard surface. He couldn’t help but look at it as the best solution. We don’t even think of the hours that pass when we have our head down, he reasoned. They just whisk on by without any need for our involvement. He could use for life to whisk by a bit, his involvement hadn’t improved his any recently. That was Ambrose’s last thought as he tried to get comfortable around his bruised ribs on the bench.
 

‘HEY, BUDDY! BUDDY!’ Prod.

Ambrose’s eyes snapped open and he lurched upward into a seated position, his breath gasping out in fight or flight gasps of panic at being woken. Standing in front of him was a shaggy looking, older African American man. His hands held up in front of him in a placating manner.

‘Whoa there, hoss!’ the man said in a wheezing emphysema voice. ‘Sorry to startle you and all, but you looked in a rough way!’ The man motioned towards the street, ‘Ain’t seen y’all ’round here before, figure you might be hungry, and maybe be a bit cold sleeping out here all night. Know me a spot where we can get some grub and some coffee. You want to come along with me, let me fix you up.’ The last was not a question, just a flat statement of a simple fact.

Ambrose took a second to leach the confusion from his brain and the panic from his body. He blinked repeatedly at the man and his surroundings, trying to remember where he was, and how he got here, and how the man’s words related to all that. The answers came back all too soon in the form of aches caused by the violence that had been visited upon him yesterday, and the miles he had walked to get where he was.

Ambrose smiled weakly and replied, ‘Some food would be lovely right about now.’

The man’s name was Champ, although Ambrose doubted it was his birth name, and Champ was, as apparently Ambrose was too at this exact moment, homeless. He explained in short order once Ambrose got his wits about him a bit more that there was a soup kitchen nearby and it had decent food as far as could be expected, and that beggars like Champ and himself could not exactly be choosers. Ambrose was both thrilled and amazed. He was thrilled that he was going exactly where he hoped finally, somewhere with food, shelter, and possibly a phone he could borrow to end this ordeal. He also couldn’t help but be quietly amazed as well at what had been done to him and how quickly it had happened. Ambrose didn’t think he’d ever seen a place like that before, let alone actually gone into one. How his lifestyle had plummeted in such a short period of time, you couldn’t help but wonder at it.

The door Champ led them through opened into a long, low room. It was dark and dingy, with the black grime that can’t be cleaned that you get in an old industrial city adding to the dim quality of light provided by the few dirty windows. It reminded Ambrose of a cafeteria from his youth, with tables filling every available space, and bodies hunched over them. The owners of those bodies were all looking the worse for wear. But the magical thing about the place, the thing that more than made up for appearances, was it smelled like food. It smelled of coffee and oatmeal specifically. Oatmeal was no glorious meal, but as Champ had so eloquently told him on the way, they were beggars and couldn’t afford to be choosy with the dietary part of their lifestyle.

There was a line leading up to the steaming trays of food and the massive industrial coffee pots, and at this point, Ambrose was more than happy to join Champ in that line. It was the first time Ambrose had any sense of belonging anywhere in over a day now. It wasn’t really where he belonged, but at least he was somewhere where his presence was accepted without argument. Not getting abused, not getting beaten, and not hiking interminably to get to somewhere that may or may not exist. He was fine where he was, he was allowed, nay, Ambrose was even encouraged to be right here.

More people filed in and joined the line behind them as it moved forward, carrying Ambrose and Champ to their appointed date with lumpy oatmeal. Ambrose’s stomach growled with anticipation at the thought of something warm and filling, something solid to go along with some coffee to perk him up and chase the chill from his old bones. This was a far cry from getting back home, but it was a step up from where he had been only yesterday. As he rocked back on his heels in contentment, he lost his balance, only a little, but enough to make him stumble a little and bump into the man behind him.

Before he could even apologize to the cadaverous man, the man he’d nudged bellowed at him, ‘Old fool! Do you know who I am?’

This had caused all eyes to snap in their direction, but Ambrose was suddenly beyond caring. Something vital snapped in Ambrose’s self-control, he had been beaten, thrown away, and had slept in a park over the last day. He was sure as hell not going to take any more of it, especially not from this scrawny bum! Whirling around he jabbed his finger into the man’s bony chest and yelled, ‘Do you know who I am? I’m Ambrose fucking Korch! And Ambrose Korch does not have to take your shit!’

The other man’s deep set eyes flared with fury, and almost in an instant, the man’s hands were clutching at Ambrose’s throat! The force of the lunge slammed them first against Champ and then brought them both slowly down towards the ground as the tightly packed line tried to move away from them. As he felt his head bang off the cheap tiles, he heard the man clutching at his throat scream, ‘DON’T YOU DARE SAY THAT! I’M AMBROSE KORCH, YOU CRAZY OLD BASTARD!’

As the light faded from his eyes, he heard a female voice call out, ‘Frankie, get out here and break this up! We got two Ambrose Korchs in the henhouse again!’
 

THE DUST HAD settled, two of the volunteers were outside smoking a cigarette.

The older of the two, a man, said, ‘So, you ever see anything like that before?’

The girl smiled weakly and replied, ‘No, never before in my life. Weirdest crap I’ve ever seen.’

The man smiled wanly at her, ‘It happens once in a while. Don’t know why, but it happens. You got to learn to pay attention to ’em. Figure out your Ambrose Korchs. If you know you got one in for a meal, you gotta keep an eye looking for another. Because man and sakes alive, they will always fight.’

She shuddered, remembering the blood, ‘Where do they come from?’

The man shook his head, scratching at the greying stubble on his cheek before he took a drag on his cigarette, ‘It only even started a few years ago. You try to tell the authorities about it, they think you as crazy as those old bastards are.’

‘Why Ambrose Korch?’

The man laughed, wrinkles crinkling his dark skin, ‘That little girl, is the billion dollar question, ain’t it? I mean what is so all fired important about that name?’


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