eternal payment Flash fiction
You know those paintings about dogs sitting around playing poker? This was kind of like that, but with goblins. Oh, and we were playing craps instead of poker. There weren't any cigar advertisements in sight, and bowler hats had gone out of style decades ago. I guess it wasn't really anything like dogs playing poker, but hey, that's what stuck in my head, so I rolled with it.
"Jonathan, focus." The voice ricocheted up from somewhere in my subconscious like an icepick to the back of my skull, Patterson.
"I was just saying it would have been nice to get today off. I had tickets and everything." I mentally replied. Angels have another wavelength we can use to talk, but it takes time to establish a private conversation, especially over some distance. Patterson and I had worked with each other long enough now that even though she was sneaking in the back of the building, I could still easily scold her for her poor timing. "It's the thirteenth. Couldn't we have done this like, I don't know, yesterday maybe?"
"No. The reports said the weapon would be here today, so we're doing it today."
"But it's Live Aid."
An elbow interrupted our argument. "Hey, buddy. You gonna place a bet or what?"
"Sorry. I sort of zoned out," I replied and placed a few bills on the green mat.
The table was laid out just like any other craps table I'd seen. The dice were not loaded, I checked. The main difference was this was a cash-only game, and it was run by goblins. They weren't really strutting their stuff. Goblins, in their natural forms, were a little shorter than the average person with flat, wide heads and greedy eyes. This group had some sort of masking magic that gave them the outward appearance of normal everyday mobsters. Someone rolled the dice and a collective round of groans and cheers echoed around the table.
Their disguises were good enough I couldn't spot which of the patrons were goblins and which were unsuspecting people. That was until I realized the goblins were the ones consistently winning. More bets shuffled their way onto the table. Sometimes the people won, but mostly their money slowly but steadily made its way across the table and into a bag hanging from a hook opposite the patrons.
The big wings upstairs had sent us in to find out if the reports about the clan of goblins developing a new weapon system were true, and if they were, to sabotage their efforts. I'm more of a live and let live kind of Angel, but it wasn't up to me. There are clear lines that, if someone crosses- or is soon to cross- the Angels have to intervene. If this weapon would be a big enough deal to send us in, then it bore looking into. I had just wished we could have done it another day.
"There's a heavy door back here," Patterson said.
"Is that a problem?"
"It wouldn't be if it wasn't alarmed."
"What do you need from me?"
I sensed her struggling against something, and the frustration tinted her voice. "I don't think I can get this sucker open without setting off the alarm. I could use a distraction."
Someone rolled the dice again just as I let out a bark of laughter. Faces turned toward me, some concerned that I could laugh at losing more money, most sat somewhere between detachment and disgust. The latter were the goblins. "Maybe it isn't my day," I said. "Let me just try it again."
"You have more money?" a skinny goblin asked, waving the dice stick at me like a poker.
"Of course I do," I said. I fumbled briefly in my jacket's breast pocket. Pulling out a pair of fifty-pound notes, I laid them on the table.
Sufficiently mollified, the goblins resumed the betting. I looked around for something to use as a distraction for Patterson. There wasn't much in the room. It was a simple square box with wood-paneled walls, thread-bare carpet on the floor under the table, and a bar along the far wall where yet another goblin stood drying out a series of glasses. Behind him was a door to the back room. I knew if I took off in that direction, jumped the bar, and made for the room it would certainly cause a distraction, but Patterson was in there. That left only one thing to do.
"Pattie, I got it."
"What's the plan?"
"You'll know it when you hear it. Just wait for the shouting." At that, I stood up, leaped onto the craps table and knocked the dice and half the cash onto the floor. Then in one smooth motion, I swept my arm down and snatched the bag of cash from its hook, spun on my heel, and sprinted out the front door.
The goblin's den of debauchery was just as disguised as the goblins were themselves. They advertised it as a laundromat on a short little street south of Wembley Stadium. *Maybe I could make it to the concert after all.* The only issue was there was a massive train station and distribution center between me and the music. I took off north with no plan other than run away, lead the goblins on a merry little chase, and give Patterson enough time to sabotage their weapon.
I had brought none of my own weapons in with me when I went to the goblin's den. That would have been a dead giveaway as to my intentions. That didn't mean the goblins hadn't come ready for a fight. When they made it to the front door, they had their guns out and pointed straight in my direction. They fired, and from the rounds pinging off both the concrete and metal around me, I figured there were about seven or eight goblins behind me. I dove to the left at an alcove in front of a closed shop. So much stuff was closed today for people to watch the concert either live or on the TV. My dodge hadn't gotten me out of the line of fire unscathed. One round had caught my left arm and tore through my jacket just above the wrist. A few droplets of blood splashed to the ground before the wound healed. I was more angry at the hole in my suit than anything else.
"Do you know how expensive this is?" I shouted. They let loose with another volley in response.
With the little patience I had, I waited for the reload. Once the guns clicked empty, I stepped out and shook the bag of money at them before taking off around the corner at the end of the block. With the line of sight broken, I jumped the fence to the train yard unaccosted. "Patterson, you making any progress?"
The Angelic equivalent of grumpy static replied. "I'll take that as a no," I sent back.
The goblins made the corner and, surprisingly, made the inhuman leap up and over the fence just as I had. That was especially impressive because even though they looked of average height, they really weren't. These guys must have been doing more than a little weapon research. The gun thundered again, and I hopped across an empty track to take cover behind a train car parked in the yard. The real trick was I couldn't completely lose the goblins because they'd probably just give up the chase and head back to ambush Patterson. I didn't have any gear with me to fight back against them either, and they really outnumbered me. The monsters weren't the best trackers or fighters, but they made up for that with solid pack tactics.
"Let's talk about this," I shouted from the corner of the train car as I peeked around.
"Nothing to talk about. Give us the money back, thief," the lead goblin said.
"Guys, that's a no-can-do from me."
"Then we'll take it from your body, and I'm not a guy," replied the goblin.
"Sorry, I couldn't really tell because of all the- you know- disguises."
"Enough of your banter," she yelled. "Gorthrap, Varhein, circle around him. He is weaponless."
Maybe they weren't all that tactically inclined after all. Hearing her crack orders to encircle me just helped me decide on which direction I wanted to take. I'd go left around the train car and then dodge back once I got out of their little box. It wouldn't be hard at all. I acted on that plan, and I moved as silently as I could to the opposite edge of the train car. Then I hopped the next track and ducked behind the following car where it sat slightly angled from the row before.
"Typical. The oldest trick in the book." It was the slimy voice of the female lead goblin. She was standing right in front of me with a pistol leveled at all my squishy bits.
For my part, I was proud I didn't actually ask how she managed to not only throw her voice over a pair of train cars but also correctly anticipate which direction I would go. That would have made me look like an idiot, not that I needed any help there. I put my hands up, still holding the half-open sack of money. Two other goblins rounded the corner of the train, probably to make sure they funneled me the right way and I didn't double-back. In hindsight, that was probably just as bad an idea since there were five goblins, but only three here.
"Never underestimate the ingenuity of goblins," I said.
"That is correct," she replied.
I chuckled. "Here's another one. Never underestimate the annoyance of Angels."
That made them pause, and the lead goblin's aim wavered. It only lasted a breath, if that, but that's all the time I needed. I flung the sack of money straight at her gun arm. The mixture of bills and coins afforded the sack equal parts weight and fluidity to knock her aim wide. She pulled the trigger, lancing a hole through the bag and sending a few coins skittering away across the gravel.
I didn't stop there. Moving forward into arm's reach, I stepped on her front foot and pushed her backwards. Looking over my shoulder, I saw my movement had stunned the two goblins behind me, but it would probably only last a second longer. I scooped up the bag from the ground. I didn't care one bit if I left some money behind, that wasn't the point. There was quite a bit still in the bag, and they'd follow the money. I kicked up a cloud of dirt and gravel while jumping the track to the next one north. I was done stopping to talk. OK, being honest, I was egging them on. It didn't matter what you called it, though; I was done with poking the goblins in their metaphorical eye. It was time to make good on my escape.
Shots rang out every time I dodged between train cars. They would pull ahead of me and try to flank to one side, but I alternated between bowling over lone goblins or skimming along an extra track bypassing their attempted ambushes. When I made it to the north end of the yard, I handrailed the fence until I evened up with the depot's main building. I made my way to the gate when the goblins, obviously done with my shenanigans, came running over the roof of the depot firing the whole time.
"Oh, that is just so not fair!"
"Get him," head-honcho called. The whole group was together now and, as one unit, all jumped clean off the roof and crashed into the gate *ahead* of me. That doesn't really capture what they did. Let me elaborate. The goblins leaped from the roof of a building twenty feet behind me, went clean over my head, and crashed through a fence in front of me. I have never seen goblins like could come close to doing something like that. They still weren't strong, and were probably near the end of their ammunition, but with acrobatics like that I needed to get somewhere to remove that advantage. Somewhere incredibly public so that if they wanted to jump me, literally, there'd be no way for them to make a clean getaway afterwards.
"Screw you guys, I'm going to Live aid."
Wembley Stadium's front facade loomed large in front of me. The last ten minutes had been a game of cat and mouse that ran onto a shoots and ladders board game. Now, only a parking lot separated me from 85,000 people where the goblins would have a zero chance of tracking me down. I figured Patterson had to almost finished, so it was time to make good on my escape. The Goblins had stayed close enough throughout the chase to hold my feet to the overly cliche'd fire, but luckily, their guns were little better than clubs now. They had taken off chasing me with almost no notice and were only equipped with what they had on them back in the den.
With lots of shouting and protests, I jumped the line and walked up to the woman at the gate taking tickets. The thick walls muted the music coming from inside, but there had been a constant echoing, slowly getting louder since almost the train depot. Now, here at the large gateway, the thumping bass drums and guitars made my chest vibrate with a combination of both anticipated excitement and sound waves. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw the goblins shoving their way through the crowded lines behind me like a shark under waves near a beach.
"Ticket please," requested the woman at the gate. I felt around in my pockets for the ticket I knew would be there, only it wasn't. With all the running and shooting, and other hijinks, I must have dropped it. The color left my face, and the woman grimaced. "Sir, if you do not have a ticket, you must go back to will call and purchase one."
"No, I had one. I swear I did, but I seemed to have lost it."
"That is the six thousandth time I've heard that one today," she replied. I assumed she was exaggerating, but most likely not by much.
The goblins were getting closer. If I ducked out of the line to go over to the ticket counter, not only would I get stuck in that line with the goblins closing in, they might not have any more tickets. I had already been pretty lucky in making it to the bridge over the highway before they got there. It had been a significant chokepoint, but that was the limit of my good luck. Instead, I opened up the sack of money and shoved it in the woman's face. "Look. I've got a whole pile of money to donate, but I'm only doing it in person. Unless you don't want to help the famine?"
The woman was less than impressed, but that wasn't the same reaction from the other fifty people within earshot, all of whom had come to listen to a concert and donate some money towards ending the African famine. They were my real audience with the little charade. The woman's resolve withered under the strain of all the pairs of glaring eyes. I guess money really did open doors. These people had just been frustrated at me cutting in line seconds ago, and then opening a bag of money, they changed their tune. She grimaced at me and then after a second's pause, waved me through. I breathed out, relief clear on my face. The goblins had almost made it to the gate. I didn't know what their plan would be, but I'm sure they would think of something. I had little time to disappear into the crowd.
I headed straight towards past the concessions and into the main stadium proper. Every soul in the place was resonating in lock-step with the band on the stage and more importantly their singer. It was a humbling and impressive sight, and I almost forgot I should have been hiding. I checked my watch and realized it was close to the top of the hour. This band's enthralling effect would be over soon and the next band coming up would signal a perfect chance for me to slip backstage where security would be tighter. I had a plan, one that had been formulating in my head while I had weaved my way through the residential streets between the train depot and the Wembley. And I needed to be backstage to do it.
I made my way close to the side of the stage and followed it around to a break in a curtain between two partitions. There were two bouncers guarding the entrance, and I waited until the crowd finished singing along with the band- something about champions of the world- and then I saw my moment. The goblins had caught up to me and were making an aggressive line straight at me where I crouched behind some black music cases. The guards to the backstage area couldn't see me, but they could see a series of five angry-looking people with violence clear in their stance heading straight for them. The guards did what they were supposed to, and moved to intercept the goblins, leaving me free and ample time to slip past them and back stage.
The bouncers weren't able to hold the goblins up for long, but it was just enough. Once I made it through the security point, there were a bunch of very busy people flitting every which way looking harried, confused, or exhausted. I was looking for one person in particular. I jumped up the steps of a small trailer and knocked on the aluminum door, my face frenetic, and therefore fitting in perfectly with the rest of the crew.
"What do you want?" the voice came from the other side of the door.
"Open up. I got some money for you," I replied.
"I'm busy, mate. Give it to one of the tellers."
I kept knocking until after what felt like an eternity, the door opened, and I stood face-to-face with Bob Geldof. "Bob," I said, grinning magnificently.
"What?" He asked, the frustration was more than creeping into his voice.
I held the sack of cash up and pointed to it. "I figure there's a pretty good donation." Few people think about it, but cash bills do not take up much space, even when loose to float around in a bag. I wasn't completely sure how much money was in the goblin's sack, but it had to be north of fifty grand.
"Jesus," Bob replied, taking the sack.
"Close," I replied.
"Nothing. Have a good day. I gotta get moving," I replied, spotting the goblins in the crowd again.
I took off, heading in the opposite direction and heard Bob Geldof call after me, "Wait, who should I say donated it?"
"Use your imagination," I replied and ducked around the corner straight into Patterson.
"What the- What are you doing here?" I asked her.
"I'm done, let's get out of here."
The goblins rounded the corner, and all five stopped dead in their tracks. Patterson was standing in a heavenly beam of light. I flashed the lead goblin the peace sign, and then just before we vanished from the material plane, I flipped it around backwards.
"You did what?" my supervisor asked. Her tone was one of weariness.
"I donated the money to Bob Geldof."
She got up from the back of her desk and paced around near her window overlooking a perfectly manicured lawn in the courtyard of our offices. Her wings were out, but folded close behind her. After she took a moment to process the whole story, she turned back to face Patterson and I. "Patterson, great job defeating the weapon system. It might not stop them, but it will slow their advance down enough to get more people on this. Congratulations."
"Thank you," Patterson replied, dipping her head in a short bow.
"Then there's you." My boss nodded in my direction and pinched her brow. "You intentionally took a bunch of goblins into the most densely populated place in the country. What if the goblins attacked the patrons? You said yourself they had more magic than the average goblinoid or even young trolls. They could have done a tremendous amount of damage to both people and property. What drove you to do such a thing? Actually, you know what I don't want to know."
"But, boss-" I started.
"Nope. I do not want to hear it, Jonathan. Get out of my sight before I stick you on delivery duty for the next decade."
woah! eternal payment had a
classic rock kick
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