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CLASSIC ROUND ROBIN


More Than a Ghost of a Chance

Chapter 1

by Demian


Vincent skillfully and silently scaled down the fire escape of Chester's building on W. 82nd Street. Though somewhat infrequent now, he very much enjoyed the visits with the longtime helper and friend. A retired NYC firefighter, Chester never failed to delight Vincent's imagination with tales of wild blazes that threatened city blocks and the fearless men who fought them. In his gruff voice, he told Vincent about the daring rescue of a frightened kitten on the roof of a burning tenement and about the fire in a downtown museum where they had worked all night to save precious art work from the untamed tongues of fire. Vincent had come on the pretense of supplying Chester with some food and much needed medicine, but he was happy to have an excuse. Chester was a master storyteller with an endless supply of fodder. Vincent always left thoroughly entertained and feeling a little lighter.

Vincent hit the ground without a sound, glanced around him, and pulled his hood over his head. The street was empty and dark—everyone was either asleep or holed up in their warm apartments.

It was a beautiful night—chilly and clear, the stars, unfettered from the day's rain clouds, flickered like candles against the deep indigo sky. After days of slanted rain and stinging sleet, Vincent was grateful for the reprieve, brief as it might be. The wet asphalt sparkled like crystal; the streetlights stood as tall and straight as soldiers.

The city could be so beautiful …

As a group of laughing teenagers turned the corner and approached him, Vincent ducked into an alley. It had been rather brazen to walk on the main thoroughfare, no matter how late it was. He chided himself gently and resigned himself to the alleyways and other dark hiding places he usually traversed.

Passing by a small window, Vincent chuckled at the sight before him. Though he didn’t make it a habit of peering into people’s homes, he could not resist the scene before him—a baby taking his first steps. The parents sat on either side of the baby, a few steps away, giving words of encouragement and trying not to laugh as he repeatedly fell down. When the boy finally took a few steps in a row, they swooped him up in their arms and lavished him with praise. Flushed with excitement, the parents celebrated with a tender kiss, the man stroking the woman’s hair as she held their infant son.

Vincent sighed wistfully and made himself move on.

As usual, his thoughts drifted to Catherine. They had not seen each other in nearly two weeks and the pain of separation was especially acute tonight. For the past few months, they had increased their time spent together, so much so, that this period of not seeing her was weighing on him more heavily than it had in the past.

In the beginning, he had needed the time apart to recover, to think—to keep readjusting himself to his aloneness. He had sought the refuge of isolation to keep his desires tempered, his dreams in check. He could not allow himself to want anything more—every moment with her was the most precious gift, but one he had to constantly remind himself he could never fully accept.

But it had only taken a few months of regular visits to completely undo it all. He felt insatiable, like every hour he spent with her just begged another. He was never filled up with her, never tired of her company or waiting for the moment he could leave. He had to make himself leave now, had to pry himself from her. Most nights, he could only bring himself to leave when her yawns became more frequent than her words and her eyelids couldn’t fight gravity anymore.

Instead of preparing himself for the time they would ultimately go their separate ways—her to a life with someone else and him back to his life of solitude and shadows—he was finding every excuse he could just to see her for the briefest moments. It was shameful, really, his desire for her company.

The case she was working on and supporting a friend who was going through a divorce was why they hadn’t seen each other of late. And as much as he despised himself for it, and as ridiculous as it was, he envied her work, her colleagues, even envied the friend whose life was falling apart.

He missed her.

A sudden noise brought him from his reverie—disoriented, he tried to focus on the scene before him. There were several men in the alley about twenty feet in front of him, standing between two cars that were parked facing opposite directions. There was a briefcase on top of the trunk of one car. The men were silent and seemed to be divided into two camps. One man closed the briefcase and nodded to another man, who produced a small black bag. These two items were exchanged.

As soon as Vincent realized he was witnessing some sort of drug deal, he immediately moved to retreat. But since he had come to this place in the haze of melancholy indulgence, he did not have a bearing on his surroundings. When he stepped backward, he accidently kicked a glass bottle.

And then … chaos.

All the men turned toward him and began shouting. Before Vincent could even react, he saw guns being pulled from holsters as the men rapidly approached him. He backed up, stumbling over a broken wooden crate, which temporally halted his withdrawal. In that split second, a tall man fired off one shot, and before he knew it, a sharp pain hit his side.

Shocked, Vincent fell to the ground and just as quickly jumped back up. He turned and ran from the alley, quickly climbing over a chain link fence, before dropping to the ground, running. After charging through another alley, hunched over in pain, he finally reached the green expanse of the park and continued running.

Running, running, running ... like he never had before. Avoiding the well-lit paths, he charged full speed into the wooded area below Belvedere Castle, leaping over fallen branches and ducking under drooping limbs. When the woods ended as soon as they had appeared, he found himself thrust into a wide, clear meadow. He immediately veered toward another wooded area and heard another gunshot, one that struck a tree only five feet away.

Vincent gritted his teeth against the pain and rushed into the dense vegetation. When he got to the other side, where the thickness of the forest was abating, he made himself stop. Ducking behind a tree, he searched frantically for his pursuers. He couldn't see them, but he knew they were there. He could still smell the metallic residue of gunshots in the air, could still hear their heavy breathing. He could almost hear their thoughts; they were focused on one thing—finding him.

He removed his hand from the wound and winced at the nausea that followed. He didn't think the wound was that serious, more of a flesh wound or a quick in-and-out. But the blood loss had been considerable. He felt weak and lightheaded as he tried to focus on the task at hand. He needed to get to Father—and quickly.

Vincent chanced one more look and took off again, stumbling before breaking out into a sprint. He heard another gunshot and a yell, but managed to dive behind some bushes. All was quiet again.

He peered around the greenery and almost wept—the culvert! He wasn't that far. He could make it.

And then it hit him—he could not risk having these men follow him Below. He had been so intent on getting home, he hadn't even paused to consider how dangerous it was to lead them to the tunnels. How could he have been so foolish?

Swallowing a roar of frustration, he scanned the park around him. There wasn’t much cover in this area, just gentle, rolling hills dotted with an occasional tree or park bench. The culvert stood out like a beacon. Even if he didn’t go in there, they would assume he had and who knows what lengths they would go to in order to find him.

No, he had to get their attention and lead them in a different direction. He quickly tore a long piece of fabric from his cloak and tied it tightly around his torso. It was a feeble attempt to stop the bleeding, but he had to do something. He was divided about whether or not to take his cloak—it was heavy and cumbersome, but if he ended up running into anybody, he would need the cover.

He saw them then. Three men poured out of the woods, still hot on his trail. They all carried guns and showed no sign of slowing down or abandoning their pursuit. He could see the white smoke of their breathing in the chilly night air. They paused to listen and look while one man replaced the bullets in his gun.

When he saw a man point toward the culvert, Vincent knew his time was up. Groaning loudly and purposely breaking a tree branch, Vincent exploded from his hiding place, darting back the way they had just come.

~


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