Author's note: I'm really late posting this one. My excuse is I was at a friend's apartment losing at 2v2 Halo and scraping by at 2v2 Super Smash Bros (as in the N64 version, which is the only real version).
Big Bad Wolf Boy has no spine. He just sits in his room day after day and stares at the ceiling, and sometimes out the window right past me, eyes sliding off like my sky blue feathers are covered in oil. I wish I knew what he is seeing. Tasp gives us clarity, or more accurately gives us the impression of clarity. It’s a little like other drugs: it affects the way your brain processes information. The photons hitting the retina are not necessarily the photons that your brain registers.
When we first met I watched him, and he took the tasp and then sat there. Like he sits there now. His habits have not changed. This one time he came back in a new coat, this huge leather deal that made him look like he regularly got into fights with socs behind the local drugstore. It looked good on him, but he only wore it that one time. It’s remained in his closet, beneath the empty backpack.
“I have a secret,” I say to the closed window. Big Bad Wolf Boy doesn’t respond, or even acknowledge my presence. I slip away, up the fire escape.
I have six minutes to get to 7th and Gate. Arm over arm, up and onto the roof.
City streets are narrow pedestrian thoroughfares that flash beneath me as I leap from building to building. Sometimes I use the fire escapes or scaffolds, but those make too much noise, and the scaffolds aren’t particularly suited to jumping. Where I can, I grab brick and stone. One of the office buildings has a loose piece that nearly killed me the first time I leapt onto it. Would have crashed to the ground below, killed some people there, maybe. They should fix it before it falls off naturally or another runner takes it badly and boom, crash, there goes the neighborhood and one of my best shortcuts. I would leave them an anonymous note, but then they’d wonder and probably watch the roof. Top running is illegal. They’d be within their legal rights to shoot me. Me, I don’t carry a gun. Obvious reasons. If I get caught for anything, possession of a firearm can only make it worse.
My clients are one block over somewhere, I bet that’s them there: the touristy ones, with the backpack and the shirt that says Paraíso in big blocky letters. Nobody who lives here would be caught dead in a shirt blaring our city’s name all over. It’s just tacky.
I descend in an alley. I have found that people are generally uncomfortable with a dino descending on them from on high. It makes them all nervous and unhelpful. Sometimes that’s what I’m after. Sometimes not.
I stalk out of the alley and zero in on the visiting couple. They stand almost directly below the sign with “PARADISE TOURS” marching across its marquee, eyes on the tops of the buildings like they’ve never seen anything so tall before. The crowd is so great that I am able to get within a meter of the woman without her noticing. I say, “Enjoying the view?”
She jumps, then jumps again when she sees me. The man puts his arm protectively around her and says, “Can we help you?” with the kind of creasing of the eyebrows that indicates a rhetorical question.
I bow, letting my feathers ruffle. “I am Tamlin. I’m your guide to Paradise.”
It takes a moment to sink in. “Oh,” says the woman. “Oh. Really? Okay.” She looks to her husband, who clears his throat and says, “Well then.”
“If this is okay with you?” I say, sliding the “s” beneath the rest of the sentence. I lock eyes with the husband. He looks down, then at his wife. I grin. “Excellent. If you follow me, we’ll start down the historic Gate avenue. I trust you have already walked it at least partway? Of course, it is a famous part of our city, perhaps the most famous part, after the Tower. In fact, it was just down this road here—mind the construction there—no, this is actually an access hatch. We’re in the process of constructing a second level below the sewers, so it will be about thirty meters down. Yes, that’s right, it’s an incredible utilization of vertical space. If you look here, it was right there where—”
I guess he got along well enough. I mean, he was a nice guy. It was a little weird living with him, though. You’d hear strange things sometimes, moaning or crying to himself at night, I wasn’t sure which he was doing or why. Jamie got along really well at the shop. We never worked the same shifts; Rian said that would have defeated the purpose of hiring two employees. It was a small business, and he needed at least one person there at all times. The most our “professional” paths ever crossed was if he or I showed up five minutes early and the other was still there.
The tension I thought would arise between Jamie and Tamlin was still missing. On the rare occasion I found them in the same room they were amiable enough. So I suppose it didn’t quite surprise me when we all went drinking together. It was a bar called Ronin K., but don’t let the name fool you. It’s actually more pretentious than it sounds. And that’s why I liked it. Your usual post-class students were generally absent. In their place was a more art-conscious, socially-aware group of people who pretended a disdain for the majority of people that I quite frankly found endearing.
One lesson learned that day: Jamie was not a lightweight. I mean, okay, he didn’t exactly drink a lot. But he did go through four Patrón margaritas without showing any signs whatsoever. By that point I was starting to focus on my own behavior, making sure I didn’t do or say stupid things.