Chapter Four: A Debt Paid
Andrew chewed his nails nervously as he watched the hooded man approach him slowly. He sat on the edge of a wooden bench, surrounded by various strangers all rushing to one place or another in a scream of metal, footsteps and phone calls. The muffled intercom relayed the upcoming trains, but it was all but unnoticed by his pursuer, whose steady gaze bore at Andrew like no one else could. Andrew pulled his hand away from his mouth cautiously, and reached inside his right-hand pocket until he felt something cold, hard and smooth.
This was the third platform he had stopped at, and the man was still on his tail. Annoyed and weary, he decided now he would make his stand and see what the hooded man had to say. If this was the Polis, they had nothing to catch him for. He had already slipped into the bathroom at Edinburgh Waverly and flushed the small bag of white powder he kept stowed in his sock. His phone history was wiped clear while he clenched it nervously between two hands as the second train rattled on its rails. By the time he’d taken the third train, there could be no evidence against him.
Loud squeals and a huge gust told him the ScotRail behind him had arrived. There were calls to board, and soon the platform had all but emptied. The man walked up to Andrew and dropped down next to him, pulling his hood down, revealing a shock of red hair. Now that he was close, Andrew could see he was finely dressed in brown Italian dress shoes, slim pants, and a scarf and button-down coat with a hood.
“Hello, Mister Connolly.” The man had an American accent.
“What do you want?” He asked the stranger with the striking red hair and blue eyes.
“You owe us something.”
“Call it a family debt,” the American told him, and faster than Andrew could believe, the man had pulled something from his own coat and pressed it over his face. Darkness took him in a few short, struggling breaths.
He awoke once to bright lights, frantic beeping and a panicked cry. Then darkness took him a second time.
Andrew awoke with a thick headache and gazed upwards at a stone ceiling in a dark room. It took him a few moments to fully come-to, but once he had clench his fingers a few times, he stood. He lay upon a stone slab in the corner of a barred cell, and there were four other people in the room. He stood quickly, holding out his hands in defence. Three of the four prisoners were dead-eyed and barely looked at him, but the fourth stirred. “Awake, finally?” the dark-skinned woman asked, her gaze twitching to meet his where she sat on the floor.
“Who are you people? Where the hell am I?” Andrew demanded, leaning against the wall to keep his feet after a spell of dizziness.
“My name is Jaimie, and I’m a prisoner, just like you.” When she stood to take his hand, Andrew noticed a thick trail of blood that had dried, matted, to the side of her head. Her left eye was swollen, and her clothing torn.
“Andrew,” he said as way of greeting. “What is this place?” He took her hand in a firm shake.
“This,” she smiled grimly, “is the second level.”
“Second level to what?” he looked around, confused. It was then that he noticed his strange dress, and the guard outside the door. He reached for a coat pocket that was no longer there, and an item that was lost.
“Andrew, was it? I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you’re dead.”
“Actually, it’s the most real thing you could ever imagine. Come, have a sit. Tell me about your end.”
He found a place next to her on the stone bunk and looked down at his pale hands. His nails had been chewed to the skin. “I was murdered.” The words rang foreign, but true.
She nodded knowingly. “A family debt?”
“How did you know?”
“That same debt got me. Some of us get chosen for it. Here, let me tell you a bit about the Proprietor. It’s best you learn it from me, before the Tagger’s find you’re awake. What was your job there, in the first level?”
“I—I don’t…” How could he have forgotten? He knew his name. He remembered dying. But who was he before we woke in this cell?
Jaimie placed a consoling hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, Andrew. People don’t remember the first level. At least…”
“Oye!” The guard outside the door was looking in, and he shouted to someone out of eyesight. “This new one’s awake! Get the kipsmoke.” The guard slammed the window of the door shut.
“Sorry, kid. Looks like we don’t have time after all,” Jaimie told him, and leaned back against the wall with defiant eyes.
“What do you mean?” But he saw what she meant, then. A thick gas filled the chamber, and he felt himself go under once more.
To be continued…