New Again Chapter 1

The sunshine was warm but the air was still chilly with the  damp of the night’s rain. It wasn’t like Cole had anywhere to go; he’d gone to  great lengths to see to it that his life was as random and pointless as  possible. He’d been tossing crumbs to pigeons for the last hour, thinking,  trying not to think, pondering fate or free will and if he should stay in the  city or move on.

The wind gusted up, blowing a touch of the coming fall into  his hair and around the browning leaves in the trees. It was a sure sign that  the winter was going to be colder than Cole generally liked and if he stayed  put even a few more weeks he’d have to buy something warmer than his thinning  jean jacket. It was a good sign to move on.

“Well,” he said to the pigeons that were cooing out of  reach, “What do you guys think? Should I stay?”

They ignored him; his crumbs had run out.

“Thought as much.” He sighed and pushed himself to his feet.

The wind gusted again and a piece of damp newspaper floated  up, caught the breeze and smacked wetly into Cole’s face. It was just damp  enough to stick to him, clammy and vaguely slimy. He batted at it but when he  went to pull it away, the wet paper shredded, leaving only one piece intact  when he finally managed to pull it from his face and neck.

He glanced at the damp length of paper in his hand and  raised an eyebrow. “Huh.”

 

 

Aric hovered outside the small shop, watching for the current visitor to finish up and be quietly escorted out. He dropped his finished cigarette and crushed it under the expensive Italian leather shoes he was wearing. The man that passed him looked stuffy, ordinary, and he didn’t even glance up as Aric passed. He shook his head at the man’s blindness and opened the shop’s door.

Bells hung over the door rang. “Be right there,” a gruff  voice called from the back.

“No rush, Mike. It’s just me,” he called out and scanned the  front of the shop. It had become a collection of antiques really. Old ink  wells, paintings, books, well polished furniture all sat about. None of it was  untended, dust gathered nowhere and the quality of the items was superb.

Aric paused in front of a centuries old mirror. It was  getting flyspecked now as the silver that made it shine wore away but it was  still a lovely item. The frame had been handcrafted, carved and polished almost  as brightly as the reflective surface. The sight of the glass made him smile  warmly but the sight of his wind tussled hair made him frown.

“You’re such a vain creature, Aric,” a voice called from  behind him.

That brightened his smile, showing the line of strong white  teeth. He took his time and soothed the last of the highlighted locks into  place. “You’re just learning this?” He turned and was again shocked by the  man’s age. “You look like a monk, as always.”

Mike glanced down to the tan shirt he was wearing tucked  into the black dress pants. “Well, maybe that’s because I am. What brings you  by?”

He flipped the newspaper out, the ad folded to be on top and  held it at arms length toward Mike. In a large, bold advertisement in the help  wanted section was an entry that read:

Archival and Personal Assistant Wanted: Knowledge and  background in theology, mythology, folk stories, ancient history, philosophy,  story telling or related area necessary. Formal education not required, must be  willing to work in an independent manner, be flexible and open minded, skill at  dealing with difficult individuals required. Work environment is varied and  often challenging, travel may be required. Excellent compensation, benefits and  housing option available. Temp position with option for long term, full time  employment for the right person. Apply in person only, today only.

“I’ve seen it, I placed it.”

“I guessed as much. I wanted to make sure you were still  breathing after Hue  read the paper this morning. Or did you slip a Mickey into his coffee?” He  dropped the paper onto one of the vanity tables as he walked past.

“He isn’t here.”

“Ah, explains the apply today only part. Where is he?”

Mike rubbed at an aching hand, the cold weather was killing  his arthritis. “Your father is flying in, you know how he hates traveling  alone.”

“And you let Hue  go without you?”

“He’s a big boy, Aric,” he snapped back and moved to return  to the warmer back room where he could sit near the heater and bake some of the  pain from his bones.

“But father is a pain in the ass, he always gives Hue fits! You should have  gone with him.” He followed the old man and slowly started to notice the limp.

“And have Hue  worry about me as well? Look at me. I don’t travel well anymore. I’m an old  man.” He sighed and lowered himself down into his chair; the kitchen table in  front of him had a small stack of interview papers filled with his notations.

Aric really did look at him and agreed, Mike wasn’t getting  old, he was old. “You’re right, I’m sorry. Hue’s going to throw a fit when he hears of  this.”

“Let him. I’m a burden now, it’s time for me to retire. I’ve  a nice room arranged through the order down south.” He motioned to the coffee  in the pot but Aric just waved it off.

“You really mean to retire? So close to the convention?” He  did sit down, he needed to.

Mike just nodded. “I mean to, and have. All I need is a  replacement.”

“But the convention.”

“Will be better served without me holding Hue back. Can you honestly disagree?” He  raised bushy, white eyebrows and smiled gently. No one had been willing to  point out his growing age but he saw it.

Aric glanced away. “No, I can’t. But this advertisement,  Mike, it’s never been done before. Hue  needs someone from the clergy to help him. He’s going to be livid when he finds  out.”

Mike glanced to his cooling coffee, unable to meet the dark  eyes watching him. “Do you love him?”

“What kind of question is that?” Aric snapped back too  quickly.

“The kind I’ve wanted to ask for far too many years. Indulge  an old man, do you love him?”

There was an awkward moment but Aric sighed and broke it.  Too comfortable with the aging man to lie or hide to save his own ego. “Yes, I  do, as if he were a son, or as if he were my father, depending on what mood  he’s in. I do love him.”

Mike nodded knowingly. “As do I, as do I. We’re losing him,  Aric, more so every year. Surely you’ve seen it?”

He hadn’t. “He seems fine.”

That made the older man snort. “Fine? I haven’t heard him  laugh in seven months, I mean really laugh, not that cynical, bitter chuckle he  uses. He’s been broken, he needs a good year-long vacation but there’s no time.  He’s fading away before our eyes. The last thing he needs is another stuffy  monk hovering around. He needs someone alive and vital to be his friend. Policy  and Hue be  damned, I know what I’m doing.”

“He has lost weight lately and he hasn’t been to the club in  ages,” he started slowly. “You’re still taking a huge risk.”

“But it’s one that needs to be taken. If it is meant to be,  it will be. Don’t worry, the prospects are dim, this lot is no better than what  would be sent normally.” He sighed and waved to the stack of applicants.

Bells rang from the front room.

“And here comes another.” He sighed and pushed himself  painfully to his feet. “You should go, unless there was something else?” Mike  paused.

“No, just, thought you might need protecting.” He smiled and  stood, aware that he wasn’t going to be allowed to stay to watch an interview  simply for amusement’s sake.

“Check tomorrow,” he muttered and caught sight of the man  standing near the door.

Aric noticed him too and paused in the doorway. Not six feet  tall but tall enough to stand out in the small shop, dark blue eyes hid behind  a messy fall of light brown tumbled hair. The tips of the messy hair had been  dyed bright fire engine red and it accented the casual, unconcerned expression  that had been forced on the man’s face. He was too old to be a goth kid, and  looked well on his way to his thirties but he was dressed in black jeans, black  t-shirt. The jean jacket tossed on over all the black was covered in marker  drawings, signatures, patches and pins.

The man nodded to the pair that just stood there. One looked  to be in his mid-thirties, tall, with blonde highlights streaked in his brown  hair. The cut it fell in had to have cost more than Cole had paid for rent last  month. The man was dressed like euro-trash, the expensive button down shirt was  left unbuttoned around his collar, the belt was as finely made as the shoes and  the pants had to have been custom cut to fit so well. Even the coat that hung  long and loose over the fit frame was pricy, stylish and almost too much of a  display of casual wealth.

The other man was the exact opposite. Plain, ordinary  looking, his white hair was cut short and simply. The face may have been  handsome at one point but now it hung in aged wrinkles and lines. There was a  thinness to the man’s skin that spoke of age greater than the lines proclaimed.  His dress was as simple, understated, unfussy and downright plain.

Both stared. Cole shrugged and held out the now dry scrap of  paper. “Hey, I know it’s getting late, but, you still interviewing?” He’d  folded the paper over and tucked it away, but the idea of it had kept  resurfacing during the day and it drove him to at least see what the job was.

The older man blinked and nodded. “Of course.” He came over  and offered a hand. “Mike, Mike Hadlin.”

“Cole Manner, and yes, my parents hated me to stick me with  a name like cool manner,” he headed off the joke. His eyes slipped to the other  man, the one still standing staring. “Have we met before? You look familiar.”

Aric’s eyes slid to catch Mike’s with a knowing glance.  “Perhaps we have met before. Aric Aliss.” He offered his hand and was surprised  at the warm strength in the stranger’s grip. “Well, I’ve a job to do, believe  it or not. Mike, call me tomorrow if you need me, or come by the club. I promise  not to corrupt you too horridly. Cole, it was a pleasure to meet you again.” He  was grinning wider as he hurried out of the door, bells chiming as he escaped. Hue was going to be  pissed but maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all.

Cole let the stylish man slip by him, suddenly aware of the  grime that had splashed up on his shoes that morning while he’d been out  walking around and the rather cheap, dingy way he was dressed. It left him  standing in the unusual shop, with the man that seemed as old as the items  around him. He glanced around again and tossed his head to the one side.

“Nice collection.”

Mike’s eyebrows raised. “You know antiques?”

Cole shrugged. “Not professionally. That’s an especially  nice ghost dance shirt.” He pointed with his chin to the white leather beaded  shirt carefully framed on the wall. “Shame someone was wearing it when the  bullet hole was made.”

“Don’t lose sleep over it, they lived. The shirt wasn’t  plundered if that’s your meaning.” He watched carefully as both curiosity and  skepticism slide across the agile face before it settled back to unconcern.  “Well, let’s get this started shall we?” He smiled and put on his best, well  behaved grandfather look and guided the young man back into the small work  room.

Cole followed and sat across from what had to be the older  man’s chair; it was worn to the shape of the slender body and pulled close to  the small stove. In fact, the room was hot enough that he stripped off the jean  jacket and hung it on the back of his chair before sitting down.

“Sorry for the heat, these old bones don’t like the damp any  longer.” He groaned as he sat back down and took his pen back up. “Do you have  a resume?” Most of the folks today had, and the plain, boring lists were giving  him headaches.

Cole shook his head. “No, I don’t, I wasn’t planning on  coming by. Look, I know I’m not suited, we don’t need to do this. I just wanted  to know what this was all about.”

Mike nodded and pulled a notepad onto the table. “Why would  you come all the way here just for that?”

“Because the paper smacked me in the head this morning and I  had nothing better to do.”

“You’re not currently working?”

“I was parking cars at a hotel downtown for a while.”

“But you’re not any longer?”

“I’m not a bum.” Cole answered sharply. “Look, I went to  college, I’m half way to my master’s in education. I was a ninth grade English  teacher a couple of years ago.”

“And yet, here you are, parking cars.”

“I just…” He wasn’t sure how to explain, every time he tried  people didn’t get it. “I just woke up one day. Six AM like always, and sat  there. I knew if I got up and went to work and forced jaded, rotten, little  monsters to read and ruin the beauty of Whitman or Shakespeare one more time I  would do it again, and again, and again. I just knew that if I gave in for one  more day, every day for the rest of my life would be just the same. So I  didn’t.”

Mike’s pen moved across the paper. “You wanted to be a  writer?”

“I’m not so good or so vain to think that. I just knew there  was way more out there than I’d ever dreamed of and I wanted to see some of it  before I was too old to. Spent a year backpacking in Europe, four months in  Africa, cut across the Middle East for a time, spent nine months bumming around  India and Asia, jumped to Argentina and went north until I was back home. Been  floating about here since, working when I need to, moving when I feel like it.”  He watched the pen scratch across the notepad and fought the urge to tear it  up.

“What kind of work?”

“Any kind. I fixed cars in Columbia,  juggled, badly juggled, in Morocco,  told stories in Scotland,  parked cars here. I’m a hard worker and I learn fast. Figured if nothing more I  fit your flexible requirement.” He grinned at that, wondering if the stuffy old  man even understood the double meaning such a request could carry.

“Well, that’s excellent, if a bit unconventional. You aren’t  adverse to travel.”

“No.” The grin melted into a smirk.

“Mr. Manner, I must ask some, unconventional, questions.”

“I was asked if I had lice once, the only requirement for  hire was being willing to work and vermin free. I think I can deal.”

That made Mike chuckle. “Well, not so unconventional as  that. Are you religious? Do you believe in God?”

“Which one?” He replied with his normal sarcasm about such  matters.

That turned Mike’s chuckle into a laugh. “Indeed!”

“Seriously? Do I believe in one set of dogma? Naw. Do I  believe there is something beyond what we can measure and see? Sure, why not.  I’d like to believe that there’s some all knowing creature that looks out for  us but I don’t think it works that way. So, I guess, I’m agnostic, skeptically  so.” He watched the man’s face for signs of reaction and found little.

“Do you have any allergies?”

“Now, that was random. No, not that I know of.”

“Can you cook?”

“Is this a job interview or a marriage proposal?”

“Is that a yes or a no?”

He shrugged. “I can toss shit together.” The casual swearing  slipped out but the older man didn’t even acknowledge it. “So, who’s the  asshole?”

“Pardon me?” That got Mike’s attention.

“Well, anytime an ad mentions ‘must be good with difficult  people’ as a requirement, it normally means the boss is an asshole. Since you  aren’t one, I assume that means someone else that works here is the dork. Who  is it?”

Mike sat and studied the man across from him. “You’re  blunt.”

“I don’t need this job. I’m too comfortable with myself to  pretend to be something you might approve of. Should I go?”

He shook his head. “On the contrary, it’s refreshing. To  answer your question, I’m not the boss as you put it. You’re interviewing to  replace me.”

“So the boss is an ass.”

“Sometimes, he can be rather difficult, sometimes. However,  we deal with a vast array of people and personalities. Some are more rational  than others, some require very creative means of management. Do you feel  someone so blunt would be able to manage that situation?”

“Just what is it that you’re hiring for?” He glanced around  but the simply decorated room could have been a store room or kitchen from the  1950’s, even the table looked dated. Nothing gave clues to the nature of just  what occurred around it.

“I am the personal assistant to Mr. Hugo Dana.”

“Oh, it’s all so very clear now.”

Mike narrowed his eyes and wasn’t sure if the man across  from him was the best or worse choice, but he was certainly the most exciting  prospect that had arrived all day. That alone earned him some leeway. “Mr. Dana  is a mediator of sorts. His job is to sooth the egos of his clients and see that  things run smoothly. Your job would be to make his job and life easier.”

“So you are looking for a wife. Sorry, not interested in  marrying some old fellow.”

For the second time, Mike laughed. “Well, now that’s an  interesting mental image! Mr. Dana isn’t an old fellow like I am, but he is  rather mature.”

“Now, that’s cryptic.”

He leaned across the table. “And you’re fascinated. This is  a very special job, Mr. Manner, unlike any you’ll ever have. I’ve spent the  last seventy years doing this and have never been bored once.”

The old man didn’t look more then seventy. “Just how old are  you? And how have you been able to work for this Dana for seventy years? Did  you work for his father or something?”

Mike leaned back and shook his head no. “All in time. Temp  position is ninety days, salary is four thousand a month, plus room and board  if you wish it. Insurance is provided and paid in full, if you’re still here  after ninety days. Sadly vacation time is when Mr. Dana can find the time for  himself, which is rare.”

“Training?”

“On the job, no one can teach you how to do this.”

Cole raised an eyebrow and felt a gnawing sense of curiosity  at the pit of his stomach. “Start date?”

“Yesterday.”

He sat back and folded his arms across his chest. His study  of the older man gave nothing away. “Am I being offered the job?”

“I think so.”

“Will I be sold into white sex slavery if I agree?”

Mike barked out a laugh again. “Well, I should hope not.  Would you like to be?”

“My love life’s been a touch barren lately.” He shrugged.  “It might be amusing.”

“If we’re very unlucky, Mr. Dana may well arrange such a  happenstance. So, what do you say?”

“Ninety days, huh?”

“It’s more money than you’ll make parking cars.”

“No suit and ties, no dress code?”

“It’s a very liberal work environment.”

“Ninety days, I’m game. When do I meet this Mr. Dana and get  his final say?”

“Oh, he’s away today, he’ll be back first thing tomorrow  morning and he doesn’t have final say. We sort of replace each other, I don’t  think he’s ever fired anyone yet.” He stood up and offered his hand. “Welcome  aboard.”

Cole hopped to his feet and accepted. “Thanks, so, is there  any paperwork? What forms do you need to see?”

“Oh, nothing like that, we’re pretty informal.” He smiled.  “Not even a confidentiality contract, you just be back here tomorrow at seven  and we’ll get you settled into the apartment upstairs. Will you need help  moving? I’m sure I can scare up some strong people.”

He shook his head. “No, I travel light. Thanks.”

“Thank me tomorrow, lad. You haven’t met Mr. Dana yet.” He  ushered the young, hopefully as un-easily shocked as he appeared, man out the  front door. “Tomorrow at seven!” When he pulled the door shut, he locked it and  pulled the blinds. Things were definitely looking up, and as he made his weary  way up to the apartment above the store, he found himself whistling.

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