As the more-or-less Tenth Anniversary Fool-Off, this year had attracted an unusually high number of entries. The winner taking all this year may have to leave town to keep it. There was, of course, the hard core two dozen or so that entered every year. Of those, half of them were targeting the same person they did last year. And the year before that, and the year before that. That faction of the competition was taking on a decidedly Coyote vs. Road Runner angle as many of these practical jokes tended to backfire a bit on the perpetrator now seriously lacking that element of surprise. Beep, beep.
But now, this year, there was a large pool of new blood, so to speak. Yuck. Forget that. Sounds messy. This year, many new and interesting people were entered in the contest. There. That's not so gruesome. Most of these new entries were going for the quick cheap shot, including the classic bucket of water over the door and thumbtacks under the seat cushion. No worries to the front runners there. A few were being careful about their plans, and those were the ones to worry about. Ray knew who they were, and had a vague idea of what most of them were up to, or at least who they were going after. There was, at least, an unwritten rule that declared that other contestants could not be targets. And so far, no one had crossed that line. This year was anyone's race.
Friday night, five o'clock arrived to the relief of all concerned and all concerned streamed out of the Granville Towers complex in search of their cars and home. Ray was no different, of course. Work's all right, but this working for a living was highly over-rated in Ray's eyes. He tried to be calm and casual as he made his way out to his car. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nope. Don't look at me. Nothing happening here. And it was true, up to a point. Ray found his car, got in and drove off pretty much like he did every other work day, some two hundred times a year. But had you actually tried to follow Ray, things were different. He left the parking lot and started out on the same roads he always drove. But somewhere up on the expressway, good ol' Ray got off at the wrong exit. No where near home.
He had been very careful about watching the cars around him, both on the road and at the toll booths and was sure no one from work saw his less than routine route. On the surface streets, he threw in a couple of extra turns just in case. He watched every car and truck. If anything followed him for more than two turns, he was suspicious. Three turns and he got a bit panicked. After a few minutes of zig-zags and double-backs, he felt comfortable again and headed toward his destination.
The house was remarkably unremarkable. Just another refurbished two-story with a livable attic in an older, and formerly nicer, section of the city. A home that may have originally housed a bank executive in the 1940's, now home to a small family of blue-collar workers with an apartment up above and another over the unattached garage. The house now offered a source of income for its own maintenance. Inside, there was more income to be had.
The basement, accessible through the house or the outside service doors, was converted to an interesting workshop. Large cutting tables, industrial sewing machines and shelves of cloth and thread turned this man-made cavern into a tailor's dream come true. Why shop for clothes when you could come here and have them made? Just your size, and the fabric of your choice. And the price is right, too. The Puttermanns, owners of the house and cloth fanatics extraordinaire, had found their niche in this basement: Your clothes your way. What would you like? From simple ties to overcoats, they could do it all. Although Bill Puttermann still kept his day job- just in case- Alice was the full time operator of The Puttermann Clothiers. And it was Alice that greeted Ray Meadows at the front door and led him downstairs, where his particular job laid waiting on the cutting table. It was very weird.
Ray hadn't exactly ordered a three-piece
ORIGINAL FICTION: "Climbers" (Chapter Two)
Hey, Ray's a complicated man. In the first chapter (which was really near the very end of the story itself), he was quite the outdoorsman for an indoor man. As the story progresses, he goes from an indoor type to a not-so-indoor type. Maybe never totally at ease outside, but at least he knows if he wants answers, he has to go outside to get them.
Ray seems remarkably eager to pop outside, for someone who the story has taken great pains to describe as hating the outdoors. Not even a second thought or the slightest hesitation?