The rain is heavy this morning, like a herd of waterlogged elephants tap-dancing on the streets above. The dull whoosh is comforting in its monotony; nights like tonight I can lose myself in the sound and almost forget how shitty the world has become.
There’s a pile of rags in the corner with a soiled derby sitting on top and a filthy hand in a fingerless glove sticking out the side. The pile shifts once in a while to the sound of wet coughs from deep in a phlegmy chest. Sounds like the late stages of Darkflu. No Vitamin D for years can do terrible things to a guy. Poor bastard. Came down here to die like a dog.
And what am I doing here?
Paying for a new roof, I remind myself.
It had been storming for nearly six weeks when she came through my door.
Her umbrella was bright pink, the same pink as her overcoat and her spike heels. Not everybody had adjusted to the fashion that the weather required, but not everybody was this broad.
“Who’s asking?” I kicked my feet off the desk and leaned toward her, focusing on her instead of the syncopated drip-drip-drip that seemed to echo from every surface of my tiny office.
She threaded her way through the rain pails punctuating the floor with the subtlest swishing of her hips. She had the grace not to look up at the sagging plasterboard of the ceiling, pitted and peaked like the inverted Appalachians over our heads, dribbling a dozen interminable streams of water down around our heads.
“Gail,” she said, finally folding back her rain hood. While the constant rain made just about everybody else look positively drowned after stepping outside for more than a moment, the same couldn’t be said for her. The rain hadn’t drenched her so much as kissed her, leaving tiny luminous beads floating in her lashes and her bangs.”Waters.”
I snickered. The rain never stops, and neither do the terrible puns. “What’s your real name, miss Waters?”
“I’m sure you don’t need my real name.” she reached into her purse and produced a stack of only slightly damp bills, her perfect pink nails clicking on the desk.
Five thousand. “You have my attention.”
“My brother has fallen in with some climate deniers,” Gail said. “I need you to find him.”
I look out the window to make sure I haven’t missed something. Still the same lifeless grey squall it’s been for months. “Dunno how to break it to you, but if your brother thinks this climate-change shit is a fraud after all this, you may be better off without him.”
Without a word, she placed another stack of bills on the desk. The roof sprang a new leak, and grimy water trickled down on the faces of Benjamin. “It looks as if you could use a new roof, Mr. Stratis. Consider this a down payment.”
It’s dead down here, as dead as the skies. The subways closed three weeks ago when the tunnels flooded out. They say they’ll reopen, but who knows? The rain sure isn’t going anywhere.
Still, it’s a perfect spot for a secluded meetup with a prospective member of your nutty cult. (That would be me.) No prying eyes except for some teenage graffiti artists and the poor sap over there dying from a lack of sunlight.
Footsteps. Tiny splashes on the concrete. A faint shadow growing and spreading by the stairwell.
Son of a bitch, it’s him. I had hoped to infiltrate their ranks and find Gail’s brother that way; I hadn’t expected them to send him to meet me. But there he is, crossing the empty platform and glancing nervously over his shoulder.
“Pardon me for asking,” I examined the photograph, angling it into the dim light from the window, “but if he ran off, what makes you think he wants to be found? I mean, say I find him and he doesn’t want to come back. What then?”
“My brother is many things, but a revolutionary?” She laughed mirthlessly. “He’s a frightened child. But through him, the deniers would have access to our family’s money. We can’t have him handing over our grandfather’s life savings to a pack of shysters who think there’s a government conspiracy to manipulate weather patterns for political gain.”
Political ideology isn’t my forte. I prefer to face my opponents head-on. I said nothing, and she continued.
“Rest assured that we have the means to deal with him.” Her lips took on an unpleasant twist, like a wolf scenting fresh meat. “Just find him.”
His hair is a little shorter, his jaw a little leaner, but there’s no mistaking Mr. Weathers (not his name): that gangly, too-tall frame, the casual set of his shoulders. He even has Gail’s eyes. They’re bright blue, like the sky we’ve all but forgotten, and earnest, like a kid stomping in puddles and scooping up frogs in wonder.
He sees me and freezes, then calls out a little nervously: “Cloudy out there, isn’t it?”
It took some digging and more than a few greased palms, but I had learned the coded response: “But the sun will rise tomorrow.”
He eyes me appraisingly, then breaks out in a skeleton grin and walks over. I extend my hand in greeting, and he shakes it: warm, firm, confident.
“Glad to have you with us,” he says, clasping his other hand on my shoulder. “Follow me.”
He leads me across town by way of some back roads and alleys even I didn’t know about, finally stopping at an enormous abandoned greenhouse: some inner-city vegetarian initiative. Shut down when the rains started. Now it’s all broken glass and dead brown leaves strewn everywhere.
“Hell of a place,” I mutter.
“It’s important to root in fertile soil,” he says.
He leads me inside, past rows of dead plant husks, stopping in front of a couple of shriveled cacti set in a knee-high brick planter. He kneels and pushes aside a handful of gravel, revealing a button set in the dirt. He gestures toward it with that same too-trusting smile.
I mask my sigh with what I hope passes for an excited grin and kneel to push the button. The display slides backward with a clunk and a bang that I feel in my bones. A secret stairway yawns open at our feet.
I look back at him, but something’s wrong. His youthful, honest face has gone slack, like he’s trying to read a road sign printed in German. Scarlet blooms on his breast. He crumples like a punctured hot-air balloon and gurgles his last breath on my shoe.
I whirl, and there’s the pile of rags from the subway. Standing. Gun pointed right at me.
All of a sudden, the clouds part, and sunlight streams down through the greenhouse like the fiery hand of God. I feel my skin wake up, and I swear the plants I thought were dead shuffle and skitter toward the light.
The next bullet is for me: I fall, draped across the cactus display, gasping and grunting at the hot spike of pain in my chest.
Measured footsteps approach, wetly clicking in time with my slowing heartbeat. In the sunlight, I can see the shooter’s face, shrouded in rags and smeared with soot and grime. Gail. She raises a radio and monotones: “I have them. And the sun is breaking through here. Bring the device.”
I scoot backwards, the pooled rainwater soaking my lower half. (Or is that my blood?) I raise a hand to defend myself. My clawing fingers block out half of her filthy face. “I just wanted a new roof.”
She shakes her head, almost sadly. “Can’t have you spreading rumors.”
This week’s Flash Fiction comes to you courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s random genre mash-up. My genres: Cli-Fi (Climate Change Fiction) and Noir.