Cracks in the Window

Chapter Two

Kett sat on the balcony, watching the sun set. He had not moved for hours except to light cigarette after cigarette, or to take a pull of whiskey. A deep melancholy had taken hold of him and seemed disinclined to let go.

He couldn't help but wonder if the strange man he thought of as the professional killer was somehow involved in this. But why would he do such a thing? Then again, why would he be sending emails, making calls and showing up at all? For that matter, who in the world was this guy? He'd try to trace the emails, but he already deleted them, and the computer refused to fess up to having kept any sort of backup copy, so that idea seemed to be out. The telephone company wouldn't give out those records without the Peace Corps being involved, so that idea was out.

Kett figured he would probably recognize the guy if he ever saw him again, but in a city of fifteen million people, that seemed relatively unlikely. He exhaled smoke. On the plus side, he supposed, he didn't feel exhausted today. Just hung over. That was a definite bonus.

As the last rays of the sun disappeared behind another building, they left only the glow on the bricks of the wall above him, slowly moving upward until eventually it, too would be gone and night would fully take hold.

Night was when the city truly woke up. Tonight did seem like the sort of night to go out, hit a club and do his best to forget everything and try to enjoy himself. He knew he wasn't doing himself any good sitting there in the balcony, sulking. Yes, that would be his plan.

He stood up and looked over the balcony. Down on the street below him, he noticed what looked like a television news crew enter the front door. How odd, he thought. He wondered if something had happened in the building over the course of the day, while he'd been moping up here.

He shrugged and went back inside to examine his wardrobe. Tonight he wanted to be slick, and it called for a suit. But not just any suit. Most of the suits in his wardrobe were for wearing to the office, and a few were meant for meeting with company clients. But the suit he wanted tonight was a different kind of suit. Slim, black and exquisite silk, only the best to impress. Add on a silver tie-tack, silver cuff-links and a splash of color on the tie, and he was ready to hit the town and paint it red.

Then there was a knock on the door.

He looked suspiciously at the door. So far this weekend every new entrance into his personal space had been a surprise, none of them good so far. He moved out into the living room, watching the door as though afraid it were going to spontaneously open up and reveal the hideous mastermind behind all of his troubles. Then again, maybe that wouldn't be so bad.

The knock was repeated. He muttered to himself, "Please don't be the television cameras. Please don't be the television cameras. Please don't be the television cameras." Then he took a deep breath, straightened his tie and practiced his best winning smile. Then he opened the door.

The man who stood at the door, knuckles raised as though ready to rap at the door yet one more time was not the professional killer, nor did he wield a camera. He was tastefully dressed in a conservative suit, well made-up and manicured and was instantly recognizable as a national television personality. The two women behind him, however, were carrying a microphone and a large, high-end camera, respectively.

"Hello, is this the Martin residence?"

Kett nodded. "Yes, it is. I'm Kett Martin." Smile for the camera, Kett.

"Mr. Martin, my name is Ted Mansen, and I am a representive of the Magazine Clearing House. You might recognize me from TV?"

Kett smiled. Think winning smile, Kett. "Yes I do, Mr. Mansen. Everybody knows who you are."

Mansen positively beamed at Kett. "Why do you think I'm here, Mr. Martin?"

Kett shrugged, his smile fading just slightly. "I don't know." His tone turned snide. "To tell me I've won your contest?"

"That's absolutely right, Mr. Martin! Yes, Mr. Kett Martin, you've won ten million credits in the Magazine Clearing House Lottery! Tell me, Mr. Martin, how does it feel to be a winner?"

Kett's draw fell open. He was joking. This had a joke. "Mr. Martin?"

"I…I, uh wait. I've never ent-." Mansen cut him off by wrapping an arm around his shoulder. He steered Kett toward the cameraman. "Kett Martin, I want to present to you this check!" A fourth woman who Kett had not previously seen presented a ridiculously large posterboard made up to look like a giant check, written out in his name with the number ten million embossed onto the right blanks.

"And as a representative of the Magazine Clearinghouse Corporation, I want to thank you for entering our Lottery." He looked at the camera and offered it a winning smile. "Maybe you'll be the next lucky winner!" The red light on the camera winked off, and everyone except Kett relaxed.

"Well," commented Mansen. "That could have gone a little smoother. Can't you act excited?"

"But I didn't enter your Lottery."

Mansen shrugged. "Maybe someone entered you, then. It doesn't matter. Anyway, there's some paperwork for you to do. My associate, Ms. Kramer has some paperwork for you to fill out, and then you're all done."

"But--."

Mansen smiled. "No buts, Mr. Martin. I hope you have a wonderful weekend." Without hesitation, Mansen left, along with his camera crew. Only the fourth woman remained.

"Mr. Martin, this should only take a few moments of your time. We need some information, and we can give you the money either in one lump, but it will only be half, or in payments over the course of twenty-five years. We'll also need you to sign a release that says we can use your image and we'll need you to do some interviews for promotional purposes, but I promise you they are very brief and will not take up too much of your time."

Kett felt at a loss. The realization of what had just happened hadn't really caught up with him, and he was quite sure he didn't believe it anyway. He filled out the paperwork as requested, and Ms. Kramer acted perfectly businesslike and efficient.

When they were finished, and she'd checked and double checked every detail on the paperwork, Ms. Kramer departed. She left him with something to think about with her final comment. "Good luck being a millionaire. I just wish it could happen to me."

Kett had just enough wit to joke, "Yea, me too!" Then she was gone and he was left alone with half of ten million credits and an overabundance of bewilderment. The guys would never believe this. He realized he should call them and let them know. Now they could have a real poker game.

He went over to the phone and reached for it, noting absently that it was resting a little lopsidedly since the call he'd taken the night before. It rang just as he touched it, causing him to jump. He managed to get his hand on it by the third ring. As he lifted it to his face, fearful of who might be on the other end, a familiar voice relieved his tension. "Turn on the TV, Kett! Turn it on, you're on TV man!"

Kett laughed, suddenly relaxed. He called out, "Television, on! Channel-. Uh, what channel, Jay? Ahh. Channel 4."

"-want to present to you this check!" The man on the television looked bewildered. He was of average height, but thin. He had a smart, conservative hair-style, a short, simple beard and bags under his eyes as though he hadn't slept in days. Or, more likely, was hungover.

"And as a representative of the Magazine Clearinghouse Corporation, I want to thank you for entering our Lottery." The television focused on the well-known celebrity, Ted Mansen who offered his winning smile. "Maybe you'll be the next lucky winner!"

Jason was shouting to him over the phone. "Did you really win Marty? Is he serious?"

"I-I guess so. At least, I filled out all the paperwork. He was just here an hour ago. Damn. I won!"

"You've got to be the luckiest man alive, Marty!"

"Jay, I got laid off this morning."

"Bonus! You don't need to work anymore, and you don't even have to give them notice! What a hell of a coincidence."

"Yea, it's a helluva thing. Hey, you want to go hit the Zodiac? Drinks are on me, I guess!"

"Heck yea, Marty. I'll meet you there in twenty! I'll call Doug and Ray, they have to come too."

"You're the man, Jay. I'll see you all there." Kett dropped the phone into its cradle. "Marty, my friend. I think you're starting to crack."

"Oh yes," he mumbled as he left his apartment. "Definitely starting to crack."

* * *

Kett leaned back in his chair, looking at his three best friends through half-lidded eyes. They were rimmed with red and a glassy. Kett had a lazy smile on his face, and he felt he was basking in the glow of true friendship.

They were gathered around a table at Elkin's, all of them relaxed and likely to burst into laughter at any moment, sometimes at the smallest of jokes that should not be funny, and sometimes for no reason other than to laugh. The table was littered with mostly empty plates, empty and half-empty glasses, stand-up advertisements for Elkin's high-priced specials and an overflowing ashtray.

Only a bartender and two servers were still staffing the place, having little need for a large staff at three in the morning. Few other tables were even occupied, and through the window facing the street only the occasional brightly lit automobile would drive by. More often than not it was driven by a peace officer on patrol. There was almost no foot traffic.

"You guys," Kett said. "Guysh, I want to thank you for, um, for being my friends 'n all. I mean. It's been a weird fuckin' week-weekend so far. Y'know?"

"Oh knock it off, Marty. You sound like a dork."

Kett laughed. "Yea, I spose I do." He looked up. The television over caught his attention. The words "Belgrad-Live" were at the bottom of the screen, and the viewpoint was hovering over a building in a low-rent section of Cedar City. There were a dozen or so men clustered around the door in heavy armor with plexiglass face shields, all carrying rifles.

Kett shouted out, "Hey barkeep, could you turn that up?" The woman tending the bar reached up and pressed the volume-up button a few times.

"-and the Peace Corps are preparing for an assault even now. They think there are as many as two dozen junkies in the building, all armed and very dangerous. Ron, the crack problem in Belgrad has really worsened in the past few months, and Chief of the Peace Corps said he believes that one of the ringleaders is in this building. At this time we do not have a name to give you, but as soon as we have one we'll-wait, it looks like they're starting to go in now."

The announcer's voice became quiet and the sound of the Peace Corps assault became louder. One of them kicked the door in and they all ran in, disappearing. Then there were flashes and the sound of gunfire.

"Damnit," shouted Jason. "Why don't they pan over to that window, maybe we could see what's going on?" More gunshots were heard, and then silence.

"The Peace Corps are saying the assault was a success, and they have apprehended the ring leader. There was heavy resistance, but they do not yet have a casualty report at this time." While the announcer was speaking, four of the Peace Officers emerged from the building, carrying a struggling man who appeared frail and emaciated. The man was shouting, "I didn't do anything! Please, for the love of mercy, I didn't do anything!" The Peace Officers forced him into the back of a silver and black vehicle, then he was whisked away.

Kett returned his attention to his friends as the announcer summarized what just happened for the audience. "What's with all the crack addicts in the burbs these days?"

Jason shook his head. "I don't know man. Buncha sickos, all of 'em."

Ray shouted, "Yea. We should just kill 'em all, get rid of 'em! They make the whole country look bad."

Doug shrugged. "I think the media hypes the problem up to be worse than it is. For the ratings."

Jason looked at Doug. "Did those guys just go in there and shoot everyone for the ratings?"

Doug frowned and put his hands up in a defense gesture. "Beats me, man. I just don't trust the news guys."

"Why the hell not?"

"Never mind, Jay. I shouldn't have said anything."

Jason was starting to get angry. Being former military, he never seemed to have much patience with anyone who expressed doubt about the government. "Don't never mind me, Doug. What the hell are you talking about?"

Doug sighed and leaned forward, dropping his voice in the hopes that no one else would overhear the conversation. "Look, I was talking to one of my buddies at work. He was telling me that he's heard that most of the crack dealing is actually done by government agents, and the whole situation is a sham."

Jason scowled and his face reddened. "A sham? What the hell you mean by that?"

Doug rolled his eyes. "Keep it down, Jay!" Kett put one hand on Jay's shoulder, and he did calm down, at least a little bit. "Look, I don't know if any of what he says is true or not, but he seems awfully convinced. Said he knows some people who got busted and he knows for sure that they've never touched the stuff. He says he knows some people who do the stuff and it's not what they say it is. It sucks, man. Makes you sick. Nobody'd do that stuff unless they were real desperate. But they're out arresting people with jobs and families. What for?"

"That doesn't make sense. And it doesn't explain why he'd think it's a sham."

"I dunno why. He says it keeps people's attention off other things, but that doesn't make any sense to me."

"It's all bullshit, Doug. He's full of shit and just making it all up."

Doug leaned back in his chair, expression growing thoughtful. "Yea, you're probably right, Jay."

Kett saw the poker face. He'd seen it a million times before, and he knew Jason would never see it, and Ray probably wouldn't either. But Doug wasn't admitting defeat, he'd just folded a hand he didn't think could pay out. Kett filed that one away for future reference.

"Hey guys. I got a serious question for y'all."

Everyone looked at Kett, giving him a moment to elaborate.

Ray piped up, "Well? What is it?"

"If you had ten million credits, no job and no family holding you back, what would you do with it?"

Ray laughed. "Buy a house. A nice big mansion in Astoria. And a couple of really hot cars to pick up chicks with. That'd be pretty sweet."

Doug offered, "Give some to charity. There's the homeless, and the disaster funds, education is awfully bad in the poor neighborhoods. Medical research needs work too."

"Open a business, Marty. I'd buy a shop or something. A nice big bed and breakfast up in the mountains. Plenty of room to play, the mountains to hike in. Yea. That's how I want to retire."

Ray leaned forward, growing excited. "Travel, Marty. See the world. It's a big place, there's lots to see."

Doug smiled. "Maybe you could help some of the savages! Maybe with an education they might not be so…well, savage!"

Jason laughed. "They'll always be savage, Doug. It's in their nature."

Kett nodded. "I've realized, I have all this money now. And I don't have idea one what to do with it, really. Not a single clue. I bet, soon, I'll be hounded by everyone trying to get me to spend it. Buy this, buy that. Buy buy buy. I mean, that's what I'm supposed to do with a lot of money, right? Buy lots of stuff."

Ray added, "Travel. I'm serious. It'll get you away from it. They can't sell to you if they don't know where you are. And, seriously, bud. You're not happy here, you haven't been for a while. You need to get out."

Doug agreed with Ray. "He's right. You need to find yourself."

"What, you're saying I'm lost?"

"More that you've lost track of where you've been going."

Kett made a grumbling noise. "So you all noticed it too?"

Doug just smiled. "Marty, it's been written all over your face for months."

Kett sighed. "Well, then. I suppose." He paused and looked around. "Is that the sun coming up?"

"Looks like. I'd better go get some sleep."

"Me too. I gotta go back to work on Monday."

Kett got up. "Alright, I'll go pay up. I guess I'll see you guys next week?"

"Sure thing, Marty. You know where to find us."

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