A couple weeks ago I wrote a story called “When John Lee Met Smiley“. It was in response to a flash fiction challenge that asked us to update a fairy or folk tale and put it in a more modern setting. I chose a Korean folk tale called “The Fortune Teller and the Demons”. These challenges have 1000 limits and I make a point of sticking to them so I was only able to tell the first part of the story. Well, I’ve been thinking about it and I decided I wanted to finish it. Actually I decided I wanted to do more than that. I’m now planning to have regular additions to this story.
This will be the first serial attempted here on Looking For a Rabbit Hole. Today I give you part two. The story is still following the original folk tale. Part 3 will finally finish the updating and after that I’ll be striking out into new territory. Oh, before I give you the story a small production note: this is longer than 1000 words. It’s more like 1600, which makes it the longest bit of fiction on the site by far. This isn’t a part of anyone’s challenge so I get to make all the rules. Each part of the continuing story will be as long as I feel it should be.
The Ballad of John Lee, Part 2:
It turned out Smiley wanted to give John a fair bit of time after all. The first week passed with no reprisals, and John started to think he’d made a mistake turning down Louis’ offer. He spent the week rejecting all kinds of other business too. Seemed anonymity didn’t survive long after you mysteriously saved a girl’s life. Some folks at the party had probably taken pictures as he left, others had just taken note. It didn’t take long for the curious to find his little fortuneteller’s shop.
The problem of course was that John didn’t exactly have time to waste spinning out some semi-spooky tales for superstitious rich folk. Smiley was out there and coming for revenge, of that John was sure. Even after the first week ended and John found himself unmolested by the demon he still wasn’t ready to let his guard down and start opening the door. Instead, he doubled down on his wards and kept supplies for several quick protection rituals on his person at all times.
When the second week came to a close with still no sign of Smiley, John started to relax a little. He even began making plans to hang out the shingle on Monday and maybe return a couple of those rich folks’ phone calls to say, “Hey, the doctor is in.” Or perhaps something less silly sounding. That’s what he was thinking anyway when the heavy handed thuds slumming as knocks sounded at his front door.
Three heavy, slow knocks and each of them caused John’s heart to skip a beat. Plan A was pretty simple. John sat at his table in silence and hoped the visitors would leave.
Plan A was a failure.
Knock. Knock. Knock. Whoever’d come calling, they had a consistent way about them. “We’ve been watching Lee. We know you’re in there so let’s make this easy,” a somewhat familiar voice said.
John stood and walked the short distance to his front door, in his own apartment he had no fear of bumping into anything. “Fyodor? From Melanie’s party?” he asked.
“Yeah. Now will you open this door or do I have to kick it down? I’d hate for your place to be sitting here with the door broke open while you’re talking to the boss.”
John considered letting Fyodor go through with the macho gorilla act. Considered making him earn whatever money ‘the boss’ was paying him. In the end he decided he wasn’t willing to risk the thug’s anger. Being blind was difficult enough without having a limb or two torn off.
“’Bout fucking time,” the large shadow outline beside Fyodor said as John opened the door.
“Why hello Aleksi, so good of you to come,” John said. In his limited experience with Fyodor’s pack mate John didn’t think he’d ever heard Aleksi speak without tossing in an F-bomb.
“We’re here to fetch you, Lee. You need help getting yourself set to go out?” Fyodor asked.
“I can manage,” John said. Reaching to his left he felt out the closest where he kept his coat and the hook where he hung his cane. Properly attired he waved. “Lead on.”
The goons helped John find his way to their car and got him in the back. Aleksi took a seat beside him; Fyodor drove.
“So we’re off to see Louis?” John asked.
“Nope. We’re going to see the boss,” Fyodor said.
“I thought Louis was your boss,” John said. Beside him Aleksi snorted.
“Louis works for the boss. We work for the boss and sometimes he has us help out Louis. I don’t think you really want to know more than that. Best not get too inquisitive. If the boss wants to talk then you should just answer his questions and give him whatever he wants. Keep it just like that. He asks questions, you answer. Don’t go messing with that flow. That can lead to trouble,” Fyodor said.
John figured it was best to put Fyodor’s advice into immediate effect so he tried to get comfortable in what felt like a very nice leather backseat and kept quiet for the rest of the drive. When Fyodor finally cut the engine thirty minutes later he said, “I’m taking you to the boss. Aleksi will stay with the car.
“Just like old times,” John said.
Fyodor led John into what he guessed was a large, expensive house. At the front door John heard his escort punching numbers on a keypad. Twelve beeps – a fairly long security code. A moment after Fyodor finished, a buzz and a ‘clack’ sound told John the security bolts had released. Inside, Fyodor led John to a room with one shadow in it.
“This must be Mr. Lee,” the shadow said. “You’ve impressed many of my associates Mr. Lee. You’ve been all anyone can talk about since the party.”
John remembered Fyodor’s warning, but he wasn’t sure if there was a question here or not. He decided to chance it. “I was glad I could help,” he said.
“Yes, I’m sure you were. Very convenient, you being there right when Melanie collapsed,” the boss said.
John swallowed. He still wasn’t sure if there was a question here, but it definitely sounded like an accusation. “It was lucky, I guess,” he said.
“Ah, yes, luck. Interesting you should choose that to describe it. You know Mr. Lee, the people in my organization tend to be a very superstitious group. A certain fatalism and worry can creep into folks in our…line of work. I think many of them would like to consult with you now. If you wanted it, you could have access to almost anyone who works for me. They’d probably all want to…talk…with you for one reason or another,” the boss said.
It was times like these that John most wished he could see normally. The sound of the boss’ voice told him he was in trouble. If he could pick up some visual clues he might have a better idea of just how much.
“I have a theory, Mr. Lee. It’s not fully fleshed out yet, but I think you can help me with the finer details,” the boss said.
“I’d be happy to help,” John said.
“I thought you might be. In fact, I think being helpful to me and my associates is exactly what you most wanted to accomplish. I think you, probably with some accomplice, arranged for Melanie’s collapse. I think you arranged it so you could become a hero and look like a miracle worker in front of my organization,” the boss said.
“I’m not sure why I would do that,” John said.
“To gain their trust. To get them to come to you and share their secrets,” the boss said.
“I’m not interested in anyone’s secrets. I don’t even know how I could have faked what happened if I’d wanted to,” John said.
“A very believable answer. And the one you’d give whether it was true or not. I’ve been checking up on you, Mr. Lee. A blind fortune teller who claims he can see the spirit world where people are but glowing shadows of themselves. Is that about right?” the boss asked.
“Pretty much, yeah,” John said.
“Well I’m calling bullshit. I think you’re a fake. Somehow you arranged the Melanie situation to help worm your way inside my organization, and I won’t stand for that. So we’re going to have a little test. A simple test. You’re going to come with me to a room where you can look inside and tell me how many people are there. Get it right and Fyodor takes you home.”
John swallowed. He was pretty sure he knew what happened if he got it wrong.
Fydor took him by the elbow and the boss led them through the house. After a few twists and turns and a very short few steps down they stopped. John had no idea where he was, of course, but somehow it felt big. Maybe a living room? Inside he could see the glowing outline of two people. They were close together, overlapped. One small and one big.
“Well Mr. Lee. We’re here. Who can you see in the room?” the boss asked.
“Not counting you, Fyodor or me, right?” John asked.
“Right. Other than us how many people are in here?”
“Just two. A woman and a child. Her young child probably. Maybe a baby even. I wouldn’t have the pleasure of being in the presence of your wife, would I?” John said.
He could hear a small sound of surprise from Fyodor, and a louder gasp from the woman across the room, but the boss patted his shoulder in a consoling sort of manner. “A very good guess Mr. Lee, but I expected you to be good. Unfortunately you are only half right. My wife is in this room, but she was alone before we got here and we have no children,” the boss said. “Take him to the woods Fyodor, and get rid of him.”
“No!” John said. He knew what he saw and, in any case, wasn’t planning to be marched off to his death without a struggle. He lashed out with his fist, hoping to catch Fyodor by surprise, but the goon deflected the blow easily and dealt John a couple swift shots that turned his legs to jelly.
“Get rid of him,” the boss said again.
John, wobbly from Fyodor’s punches, was manhandled and dragged back the way they’d come. In his last glimpse of the woman and child’s soul-shadow he saw the child’s outline shrink and grow dim and become part of the woman’s. And slightly behind her John saw Smiley’s face grinning manically.
Pregnant. The boss’ wife was pregnant and Smiley had played with the auras to trick him.
“She’s pregnant,” he tried to say, but it came out mushy and indistinct from a swelling face and spinning mind.
Part 3 of this story is now available here.
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