Thomas stood there, arms crossed over his chest, looking down at the suddenly nervous men.
“Mister, we didn’t mean no disrespect,” Larry started.
“No offense was intended,” Old Man Quin said diplomatically. “But I’m sure you can understand that you’re… a person of interest, in this community.”
Thomas was quiet a moment, and the air was electric, thick with tension. Finally, he spoke. “Wanting to know the truth is no crime. And those are interesting stories. There’s a bit of truth in all of them. But there’s a whole lot of lies, too.” He turned, and began to walk away.
“But, Thomas…” Terry said.
Thomas turned back, surprised at the sound of his own name. “Yes?”
“If none of those stories are the truth… what is?”
Again, Thomas was quiet, contemplative. “The truth, son, is that I haven’t always been as careful as I should be. And sometimes, that carelessness has cost me a great deal.” He turned, apparently done with the conversation, and walked away.
But when he reached the door, he turned back, and fixed Terry with a hard stare. “But you should see the other guy,” he said, and then he was gone.
Terry stood to his feet. “Leave it be, boy,” Old Man Quin said, but Terry ignored him, and followed the stranger out the door.
“Thomas, wait!” he cried. The big man stopped, and it was a long moment before he turned around.
“Thomas, really, what happened?”
Thomas looked at him for several long seconds, and Terry felt an overwhelming urge to turn away, to hide himself from the piercing blue eyes. But when Thomas saw that the younger man wasn’t going to run, he relented.
“From what I gather, the umbilical cord wrapped around my hand while I was being delivered, cut off the circulation. Took two of my fingers. Almost took a third.” He glanced down at his wrist. “Almost took the whole thing. That would have sucked. Be awful hard to type with one hand.”
“That’s… that’s it? No malfunctioning robots? No secret agents? Nothing?”
Thomas chuckled, but there was little humor in the sound. “No, son. There isn’t always some grad story, some greater reason. Sometimes things just happen, because they happen.”
“So why all the mystery? Why all the secrets?”
The big man was quiet for a moment, contemplating. “I live my life, son. It’s been more interesting than some, more boring than others. I do what I have to do. And they,” he raised his chin in the general direction of the bar, “tell their stories. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re bored. Maybe they really believe them. But it’s not my place to take their stories away.”
“Besides,” he said as he walked into the sunset, “I’m sort of a drama queen.”
“Did you know,” Quin asked, “that Kim Jong-il is a robot?”
“Shut up,” Terry said.
“It’s true. Same model that they tried to set up in those Steel Mills in Iowa. Turns out they’re great at running Communist nations, too. Now, I don’t know for sure that it was Thomas that took him out, but I don’t know of any other Secret American Agents that were in Korea at the time.”
“Secret Agent?” Terry said, incredulous.
“Yes sir,” Quin said. “You see, his… little adventure in the Dominican caught the attention of certain US agencies. They’d been trying to take out Jose El Papi Jose’s Bandoleros for the better part of a decade, and Thomas brought the whole organization to its knees with one home made knife, in one night. When he came back state side, they recruited him, and his first mission was in a certain Communist Dictatorship…”
His skill set was, admittedly, unique. Software, religion, foreign cultures. He had the heart of a warrior, tempered in a forge of loss and pain. And, perhaps most importantly of all, he had no close friends, no family.
No one to miss him if he didn’t come home.
“Son, we’re asking a great deal of you…”
“Think nothing of it, Mister President,” Thomas said humbly. “A simple investigation into the Korean Nuclear Weapons program, and the assassination of an international terrorist? I’ll be home by the end of the week.”
“I hope so,” the President said, extending his hand. “Your country thanks you.” The President saluted, and Thomas returned the gesture, turned smartly, and boarded the waiting helicopter.
That had been five days ago. He wasn’t sure how he had been discovered – perhaps the presence of a six foot tall white man in a nation that forbade foreign visitors had given him away, but it was also possible that he spoke Korean with a slight Mandarin accent – but it didn’t really matter. It had been foolish to accept a drink for that mysterious beauty at the bar, but he had let his guard down…
Done in by roofies. What a sad epitaph.
And so, here he sat, tied up and awaiting interrogation. He had been briefed in Korean torture techniques. In fact, he had a plan…
“Good day, Mister… Thomas.” Thomas looked up. He had been joined by the infamous Korean interrogator, Doctor Painhurter. “And how are you doing today?”
“I’ll be doing better once I make the world safe for democracy,” Thomas said defiantly.
“Perhaps,” mad Korean doctor said. “We shall see. Why don’t we begin by explaining what agency you work for, and what your mission is in our glorious nation?”
The interrogation lasted several hours. The mad Doctor Painhurter tried the best tools in his arsenal, all to no avail. He blasted New Kids on the Block music non-stop. He held Thomas’ eyes open with toothpicks, and set a television playing the latest reality shows in front of him. He doused him with cold water, and turned on a fan. But Thomas refused to crack.
“Fine,” Doctor Painhurter said, “you leave me no choice. You will answer my questions, Mister Thomas. You will.” He picked up a pain of pinking shears from his tray of medial equipment, and grabbed Thomas’ hand. He studied it for a moment, then grabbed the pinky finger. “Let us start small, shall we?”
Thomas gritted his teeth.
“What a terrible story,” Terry said. “How did he escape?”
“That’s the thing,” Quin said. “Thomas knew how the Koreans tortured people. In fact, he counted on it. He knew that Doctor Painhurter would start with the smallest, weakest fingers… leaving him the biggest, strongest, deadliest fingers. And when that second finger was gone… his hand was small enough, and slick from all the blood, to slip right out of his restraints. He grabbed those pinking shears, dropped Doctor Painhurter on the spot, and made his escape. Now, I don’t know for sure that he used those pinking shears to take out the real Kim Jong-il… but like I said, I don’t know of anybody else that was over there just then.”
Terry let out a low whistle. “Man. That’s some story.”
“Yes, they are,” said a calm, chill voice. “Very interesting stories, indeed.”
The men looked up and gasped: Thomas was standing there, listening to their every word.
Tune in tomorrow for the Anticlimactic Conclusion to The Legend of the Half Handed Man!
“That exorcism took a lot out of him,” Bill said, “physically, and spiritually. “And it wasn’t the last one, either. Those demons, they were all over Utica back in the day, grabbing kids left and right. That was when World of Warcraft came out, you see, and like everybody knows, that’s just Dungeons & Dragons on the computer. Digital gateway to Satan.” The assembled men shook their head; everyone there knew someone who had lost a child to the horror of Role Playing Games.
“So he was real busy, being the only exorcist in all of Utica. And the story goes… well, one day, it was just too much. This kid got herself possessed by one of them Pokemon demons, and Thomas did everything he could to help her, but…” His voice trailed off.
“She stole an ice cream truck,” Bill said quietly. He kept his eyes on the table as he spoke. “Ran down a whole family of blind Tibetan orphans, then choked herself on Rocky Road. It was all over the news, you must remember it?” When Terry nodded, Bill continued. “Well, Thomas took this real hard. Figured it was all his fault, and spiraled into a depression. Story goes, he lost his faith, and started wandering again.”
“Where did he go, Illion? Deerfield?” Terry asked in a hushed voice.
“Further,” Bill replied. “Wandered down South. They spotted him in California, before he ended up in Mexico, and then he made his way to the Dominican Republic.”
“What was he doing down there?”
“No one knows. He disappeared into the mountains, lived off the land. There were rumors, a man that would come out at night and strike fear into the hearts of evildoers… but they’re just stories, I think. El Gringo Blanco, they called him. Silly.”
“Anyway, there was this group of missionaries, from his old church. Their pastor came looking for them, but…. It looked like all hope was lost, but the pastor had one more chance. He went looking for Thomas… and he found him.”
Terry looked skeptical. “That sounds a lot like…”
“Yeah,” Bill said. “It doesn’t say ‘based on a true story,’ I think because he wanted to remain anonymous, but that Rambo movie is suspiciously familiar to those of us who’ve known Thomas for a while. Well, known him as well as anyone does, anyway.”
I deserve this, he thought, for my failures. I deserve to suffer.
Suddenly, an unexpected noise made Thomas tense. Instantly, every nerve ending was alive, every sense keen, as he silently searched the night for the intruder. His perceptions informed him that the interloper was coming up the goat path, behind him and to the left. Careful not to disturb the poncho, Thomas rose to his feet and hid himself among the vegetation.
The trespasser came to the top of the hill and stood there, shining his flashlight and looking around him. He spotted the poncho, and moved toward it…
Thomas slipped out of the shadows, a deadly wraith cutting through the night, and grabbed the man from behind, clamping one arm around his throat, and immobilizing his hands with the other.
“Explain yourself quickly,” Thomas said in a dangerous whisper, “if you want to leave this place alive.” And then, for good measure, he repeated the instructions in Spanish, Portuguese, and Pig Latin.
Lightning flashed, and thunder rolled.
“Thomas,” the man croaked, “it’s me! Your old pastor!”
Thomas instantly released the holy man and stepped back. “It’s dangerous for you to be here, pastor. It’s dangerous to be around me. You know that better than anyone. WHy have you come?”
“It’s our missionaries,” the pastor said. He turned to face his old friend, and Thomas gasped. He looked haggard, world worn. Deep bags hung under his eyes, and his hair was a wild tangle. He hadn’t shaved in days.
“They were taken,” he continued, “three days ago. By the Bando… Bando…”
“Bandoleros,” Thomas said, his voice thick with disgust. “The feared Dominican gang, led by Jose El Papi Jose. We have met many times.”
“Yes,” the pastor said. “I’ve talked to the police, but Jose El Papi Jose has bribed them all, and our Consulate says that their hands are tied; they can’t risk the delicate Coffee trade by ordering a military intervention.”
“Heartless beaurocrats,” Thomas spat.
“No one can help us, Thomas. No one… except you.”
Thomas’ eyes went wide, and he turned away. “I am no good to you, pastor. I am no good to anyone. Ever since that girl…”
“Thomas, she wasn’t your friend!” The pastor said imploringly, grabbing Thomas by the hand. “You couldn’t have known she would steal that ice cream truck!”
“I should have known!” Thomas shot back. “I was young, and arrogant, and foolish, and all of those orphans died because of my carelessness!”
“Thomas,” the pastor said consolingly, “we all make mistakes. We all fail. But the righteous man…”
“Gets up seven times,” Thomas finished.
“That’s right. How many times?”
“This is your seventh time, Thomas! Get up! Do what’s right! Do what needs to be done!”
Lightning flashed once more, and Thomas looked at his old friend. “You are right. I will rescue these brave missionaries, and defeat Jose El Papi Jose once and for all. Do you… have any money?”
“To buy guns?” the pastor asked.
“No,” Thomas said. “Guns are too messy, too inelegant. There is a chance of innocent people being hurt. But Dominican money is largely coins… and I must forge myself a knife!”
Using a fire made by rubbing two sticks together, Thomas melted the holy man’s coins down, and then used a nearby rock to pound them into the shape of a blade. An epic blade, a copper blade of justice. Rain poured down, and the firelight glinted off the new weapon, and Thomas nodded to himself. “I’m ready.”
“But how will you find them?” the Pastor asked.
“This place is my home now,” Thomas said. “Nothing can hide from me here. Not the gamey, yet delicious, rabbits which I consume on a daily basis, and not Jose El Papi Jose!”
With that, Thomas ran off into the night.
He tracked them to the Bandoleros’ secret Jungle Compound, a primitive complex of bamboo huts and tin roofed storage sheds. Thomas briefly wondered why they had gone to the expense of importing bamboo, but decided that their profits from the kidnaping and ransom business would easily pay for such extravagance.
He could have snuck in, but Thomas was eager for this war to end, so he screamed out a challenge, waited for the Bandoleros to stream out of their huts, and charged into the camp. Many, many Bandoleros died that night, victims of the copper blade of justice, and even Thomas’ own bare hand.
Finally, Jose El Papi Jose and Thomas stood face to face, the only remaining warriors. “You have defeated my men,” Jose El Papi Jose said, “but I think you will not find me so easy an opponent!”
Their clash was epic, a titanic struggle between two worthy foes. Jose El Papi Jose was a master of Mexican Judo, but Thomas had been trained in the secret arts of French Kickboxing, which isn’t nearly as sissy as you might think. Plus, Thomas had the power of Righteous Anger which, in the end, allowed him to prevail.
“And now your rain of terror ends, Jose El Papi Jose!” Thomas said, and snapped the villain’s neck with his bare hands.
Thomas ran to the pen holding the captured missionaries, pulled the barbed wire off of the cage, and forced the door open. The missionaries streamed out, singing hymns and shouting for joy.
“Thank you, Thomas!” said the beautiful blond missionary, Seraphina. “When you left, I thought I would never see you again! But I knew in my heart that we would be reunited one day!”
She stood on her toes to kiss Thomas’ cheek, but he turned away from her. “I am sorry, Seraphina. I wish that we could be together, but I am still damaged from that terrible ordeal with the demon and the ice cream truck. You know if I leave you now, it doesn’t mean that I love you any less. It’s just the state I’m in, I can’t be good to anyone else like this.”
Seraphina looked away, hurt, but she answered bravely. “One day, you will be whole, and on that day, I will be waiting for you,” she said. “Oh, what happened to your hand?”
“It’s nothing,” Thomas said, looking down at the wounds. “It was just the barbed wire, surrounding your prison cell. It cut my fingers. I will be all right.”
“That’s incredible,” Terry said.
“That’s hogwash,” Old Man Quin said.
“Oh really?” Bill said, bristling.
“Yeah, really. You think the guy who took down Jose El Papi Jose would lose a battle to a little big of tetanus? Let me tell you something. Once, Thomas got bit by a rattle snake, and after five days of suffering, the rattle snake died. Tetnus. Please.”
“Nah, his battle with Jose El Papi Jose was just a warm up act. He didn’t lose his fingers until the sequal…”
Tune in tomorrow for Part Five of the Remarkable Account of Thomas’ Halved Hand, The Korean Interrogator of Doom!
“He’s a software engineer, all right, and that job he did for the Mill messed him up real good, but it ain’t his hand that got hurt… it was his soul.”
Larry leaned back in his chair, happy to have a chance to show how knowledgeable he was. “See, he knew he done a good thing, saving all of those jobs, but then he thought about all the robots he put outta work, and all the robot makers he put outta work, and it tore him in two. On the one hand, no pun intended, he did this great thing, but on the other hand, he felt like he’d had to do something awful in the bargain. He felt like he had to do penance.”
“So he wandered the Earth, traveling from New York Mills all the way to New Hartford, searching for redemption. And then, one day, he stumbled into this church, and the preacher there told him about this power bigger than him, about forgiveness an’ redemption, and about a war bein’ fought, a war for men’s souls. A war between God and the Devil, between Heaven an’ Hell. And Thomas, without a moment’s hesitations, said ‘sign me up.'”
“So he was a… priest?” Terry asked, incredulous that a man of the cloth could be such an imposing figure.
“Not jus’ a priest,” Larry said, slapping his hand on the table. “An exorcist!”
Just the calm before the storm.
He paused outside the door to Apartment Six, on the Sixth floor of Tower Six of the Fallen Angel Rental Complex. He shook his head; how had they not seen this coming?
But he reminded himself that it was only a short time ago that he, too, had been blind to the truth, ignorant to the spiritual war that raged around them all. He couldn’t judge these poor people. He could only do his best to help them.
“You really don’t need to do this,” the Apartment Manager said. “I’m sure they’ll be able to work things out on their own. You don’t need to get involved.”
“I’m afraid my hands are tied, Mr. Siefer, and I am duty bound.”
“Please, call me Lou,” the Manager said. He looked at the ground, then walked away, leaving Thomas to himself. Thomas muttered a brief prayer, then knocked on the door.
The door flew open, revealing a short, squat woman inside. “Mr. Thomas?” she asked.
“Yes, my child,” he said to the older woman.
She looked him up and down, briefly overwhelmed. He was a tall man, with piercing blue eyes that hinted at a deep, hidden pain. He was dressed in black from head to toe, and was wrapped in a long coat which billowed around him dramatically, despite the lack of wind. In his left hand, he clutched a Bible, the cover made of black leather and embroidered with a celtic cross.
“Thank you for coming, sir. My daughter… she is… not well. And I am told that you… may be the only one that can help her.”
“I cannot help her,” Thomas said serenely, “but I work for someone who can.” His eyes traveled around the room, as if searching the air for hidden things. Finally, he turned his gaze back to the woman. “Take me to her.”
The girl was tied down to her bed with sheets, a fact which obviously distressed her, given the way she thrashed about. Her long black hair was lank and unwashed, and her skin had taken on a sickly, gray color. Her eyes were bulging and bloodshot.
“You,” she hissed in an unearthly voice. “I knew they would send you!”
Thomas looked back at the nervous mother. “Leave us,” he said simply.
Thomas addressed the possessed girl. “So we meet again, Mephistopheles! Have you not yet learned that Utica isn’t safe for demons?”
“You boast now, human, but one day, your faith will fail you, your hope will desert you, and your enemies will overcome you!”
“Perhaps, vile demon… but today is not that day!”
Boldly, Thomas strode into the room. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti,” he intoned in practiced Latin, while tracing sigils in the air. The demon writhed.
He opened his Bile then, turning automatically to a familiar passage. “These signs shall follow them that believe,” he said. “In my name shall they drive out demons…”
“No!” The fell beast cried…
The struggle lasted through the night, and into the early morning. Weary from battle, but determined to free the girl before him, Thomas offered up one final prayer, and then issued a command: “in the name of all things holy, demon, begone!”
The creature screeched and screamed, the sound of a million unclean things being torn asunder by even less clean things. The girl’s body jerked and shook, and the demon came out of her, a vaporous apparition that flew around the room, seeking a body to inhabit.
Thomas’ body was the only one available.
The evil thing flew at him, and Thomas raised his hand to defend himself, but the spirit latched on to him, possessing his hand. The appendage turned as black as night, and the demonic force began to creep up his arm.
“Never!” Thomas shouted, and through sheer force of will and belief, he drove the evil influence back down, constraining it to the two smallest fingers. With his free hand, he reached into his long coat, and drew a dagger.
“What is that?” the now free girl asked.
“The Sword of Saint Michael,” Thomas replied. “The blade is made of the purest silver, forged in a sacred fire and quenched in holy water. The handle is carved from the bones of Jaques, the Patron of we who battle the forces of evil.”
“The Sword of… but that’s just a knife.”
“It turns out,” Thomas said, “that Michael is quite tiny.”
Thomas walked over to the dresser, and slammed his hand down flat. He uttered a silent prayer, closed his eyes, and raised his blade…
“Larry,” Bill said. Everyone looked at him; it was rare for the big man to speak, and when he did, people tended to listen. “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard. What kind of shlocky horror movie did you get that idea from? Yeah, he was a preacher, and sure, he did an exorcism here and there, but ain’t no demon possessed two of his fingers. ‘Sides, demons go for the left hand. Everyone knows that.”
Bill finished his whiskey, and threw down another handful of peanuts. He thought for a moment, then continued. “Here’s the rest of the story…”
Tune in tomorrow for Part Four of the Incredible Narrative of Thomas’ Misplaced Appendages, The Mountain Missionary Rescue!
Teddy pulled his chair closer to the table, and leaned in conspiratorially. He looked around, a nervous expression flitting across his face as he checked to make sure no one would overhear their conversation.
“Thomas over there, he’s a software engineer. The control system that runs the Mill? He wrote that.” The assembled men nodded in approval; the new control system had improved the efficiency of the men two fold, and ensured that they could remain competitive with those fancy new Steel Mills the Japanese were building in De Moines. “I guess they fly him around, some kind of trouble shooter. And the first time they flew him out here, he could count to ten…”
The Steel Mill was in danger; the Japanese had built a new Mill in Iowa, and they had used their knowledge of electronics, along with their powers of Kung Fu, to build a hyper-efficient mill that was run by robots. Robots that never needed to eat or sleep. Robots that never asked for a pay raise.
The Robo Mill was a threat to all of the Steel Mills in America, but the Old Utica Mill faced perhaps the greatest threat. Utica had already lost their Air Force base, and the Mob was no longer willing to pump money into the failing economy. The Mill, along with half a dozen pizza shops and a couple of low-rent strip clubs, was the only real industry left in the area. If the mill fell, Utica would fall, too.
Roomtangle Beta’s mission was simple: make sure the Mill stayed open. Like John Henry, they needed to beat the machine.
But this team wouldn’t beat the machine with sweat and muscle, no. They would overcome the insidious robot menace through a combination of smarts and human spirit. They would use a machine to beat the machines. They would design a control system that make a man twice as efficient, allowing him to compete with the soulless abominations shipped over from the Land of the Rising Sun.
They worked long and hard, trying and rejecting a dozen designs before they stumbled upon the path to success. Finally, after months of work, the team had developed a production worthy system, and they were ready to demonstrate it to their customers.
That was when Frank, the Chief Engineer, walked in.
“Gentlemen,” he said, his voice heavy, “I have… terrible news. Our source code… is gone. Our production servers… lie in smoking ruins. Or backups… deleted.”
“What?” John, the new hire, exclaimed. “That’s impossible! How could this have happened?”
Frank was quiet for a moment, and then whispered, “sabotage.”
The eyes of Roomtangle Beta opened wide in surprise. Sabotage! Those crafty robot-makers had done them in!
“Never fear,” said Jay, the Tech Lead. The team walked to the center of the room and bumped fists. “Overtime Powers, Activate!”
Fueled by the promise of free pizza and the ability to make their mortgage payments, the Roomtangle Beta set off in a frenzy of coding, re-implementing the Mill’s control system from the ground up. Days flew by, but the code flew faster, until the day before the customer was due to inspect the system.
“Excellent work, gentlemen,” Frank said. “I never would have thought that you could accomplish so much, given so little. Only, how will we demonstrate our capabilities to the customer?”
The team was silent. A client! In all of the rush, they had forgotten to write a user interface!
“We have… some SoapUI tests… and a couple of… shell scripts…” And then silence hung in the air.
“Well,” Frank said, mollified, “I suppose all we can do is show up tomorrow, and explain ourselves to the Mill. You put in a valiant effort, gentlemen, and I don’t want you to blame yourselves for this. We were faced with an impossible task, and we nearly worked a technological miracle. If only the fate of all of Utica hadn’t rested in our hands…”
Dejected, the Roomtangle Beta began to drift out of the room, hoping to catch a few hours sleep before they had to tell the workers at the Mill that their jobs would soon be lost.
“Thomas, are you coming?” Frank asked.
“In a minute,” Thomas said, his eyes far away.
“All right. See you tomorrow, son.”
But Thomas stayed where he was. Because Thomas, you see, thinks a bit differently than most. Where most people see a blank screen, he sees possibilities, and where most see an empty text file, he sees a canvas. To him, code is like music, and the computer is his instrument.
Thomas shut off the lights, and dragged a case of Mt. Dew over to his workstation. He would need all the caffeine and sugar he would get, if he was going to pull this off, and even then, it might be too little, too late. He could only hope…
He opened a new project in his editor, and gave it a name: Monolith.java. And then his fingers began to dance…
When the team returned the next morning, the found him sitting there, still as a statue, barely breathing. He was surrounded by empty cans of soda, and bags of Skittles and Doritos were scattered around the room.
“Thomas?” Jay asked, concern evident in his tone. Thomas made no reply.
“What is this,” Frank asked, looking over his shoulder at the editor on the screen.
“It looks like… is it… my God, that just might work…”
“What, what,” Frank asked, agitated.
“A client!” Jay exclaimed. His eyes looked at the file in awe; more than just a single class, this client was implemented as one amazingly intricate function, stretching over a hundred thousand lines. They would later learn that its cyclomatic complexity was over nineteen trillion, and the checkstyle errors caused an overflow.
“I… haven’t… had a chance… to test it,” Thomas said, his voice hoarse and thick. “My hand, cramped up… and I can’t… click the ‘run’ button.” Indeed, the mouse pointer hovered over the green arrow that would launch the client, but his finger seemed frozen in place, gripping the mouse like a vice.
“What can we do?” Frank fretted. “The clients arrive in five minutes!”
They struggled mightily to free Thomas’ hand, but to no avail. All of the coding, the hours of typing, had caused his hand to seize up, preventing anyone from actually running the new user interface.
“Jay,” Thomas said, “I need you to reach into my pocket.”
“Um, Thomas, now isn’t really the time…”
“I assure you, old friend, that I will take no pleasure in what is about to happen. In my right front pocket, you will find a small pocket knife.”
Jay did as he was instructed, and found the tiny blade. “Okay, I’ve got it. So…”
Thomas took a deep breath. “Cut me,” he said.
“That’s incredible,” Terry said, looking over at the dark man sipping his diet Coke.
“Saved the Mill, he did,” Teddy said.
“Sure, sure,” Larry said, “that… Roomtangle group? They saved the Mill, but that ain’t how he lost them fingers. Lemme tell you what really happened…”
Tune in tomorrow for Part Three of the Exciting Story of Thomas’ Lost Digits, The Tale of the Demon Hand From Hell!
If there is one question that I get more than any other, it’s “what is wrong with you, you bleeding psycho?” But if there’s a second question I get asked more than any other, it’s “what happened to your hand?” Unfortunately, due to amnesia, Statutes of Limitations, and matters of national security, I have never been able to give anyone a straight answer.
It has taken a great deal of soul searching to get to this point. Many demons, personal and infernal, had to be defeated before I was free to share this tale. The regime of a despotic… despot, had to be toppled before this information could be released to the public, and even then, it took a Freedom of Information Act request before the records were made available.
But now, finally, my story can be told. And so, without further ado, the Galvin Institute for Higher Sarcasm proudly presents the True Stories of How Thomas Lost His Fingers.
They sat around the dusty table, five of them. There was Old Man Quin, the patriarch or sorts, and a grizzled old veteran of the Utica Steel Mills. To his right sat Slack Jawed Larry, who was well intentioned but none too bright, and had found his calling in life working as an overnight stock boy at the local MegaMart. Next was Teddy Blaise, thirty-something years old, another employee at the Mills. Bill was hunched over his drink, two fingers of whisky, and occasionally reached out to grab a fistful of peanuts. He was a burly man who used to work the docks, but that was before the recession. Now, he hired himself out as a handyman, working odd jobs to try and make ends meet. Finally, there was Terry, the youngest man at the table, and the newest addition to the group. Terry dreamed about being the world’s greatest pizza chef, and had moved up from South Carolina to study under the Masters of the Utica Pizza Guild. He hoped that, when he had paid his dues and proven himself worthy, they would teach him the secrets of Grandma’s Pizza.
They were an odd lot, an unlikely collection of men, but fate had brought them together and made them family. They met here, every single work day, at five fifteen PM, to trade stories and offer encouragement.
The summer air was stifling, and the worn out old fan on the ceiling did little to improve it. Arlene, seated by the old upright piano, fanned herself, and Leroy slapped at a fly that had landed on his neck. A man everyone called El Presidente walked out of the bathroom, wiping his hands on his shirt.
It was an ordinary day, the same kind of hot, slow day that they had come to expect here in the small town of Utica, a town where nothing exciting happened, and nothing ever changed.
That was when The Stranger walked in.
The door opened slowly, the hinges creaking in protest. He stood there for a long moment, the falling sun casting him in a burning red halo, his silhouette filling the frame. His head turned, slowly, first to the right, and then to the left, taking everything in. Every eye in the place turned toward him, but quickly looked away. Terry felt a chill run down his spine.
The Stranger walked fully into the room then. The door swung shut behind him, shutting out the sun, and as Terry’s eyes adjusted, he got his first good look at this odd man. He was tall and wide, the build of a man who was used to picking up heavy things and putting them over his head. He was dressed in jeans, a deep indigo, and a black t-shirt that stretched across his chest. His eyes were intelligent and wary, and his expression, while not exactly hostile, didn’t exactly invite you in, either.
“Don’t stare, boy,” Old Man Quin said, kicking Terry under the table. Terry blinked; Quin was studying his hands like they contained the answer to the meaning of life. He’d never seen someone have that effect on the Old Man before.
The Stranger walked up to the bar and claimed an empty stool. “Diet Coke,” he said in a quiet, gravelly voice. The bartender snorted and turned, and blanched when he saw to whom he was talking to. “Right away, sir,” he said before scurrying away.
The Stranger sighed and closed his eyes, and for a moment, he looked so very tired. Then he shook his head and cracked his knuckles, and let his hands fall onto his lap. Terry gasped. A thin scar, shaped like barbed wire, ran around The Stranger’s right wrist, and a similar, smaller scar ran around his pointer finger. But worst of all, the pinky and ring finger had been mangled somehow, leaving nothing but stubs where fingers should be.
“Who is that,” Terry asked, “and what happened to him?”
“That,” Teddy said, “is Thomas. Everyone knows him, but no one really knows who he is. He just sort of appeared one day, and he still pops up from time to time, and trouble seems to follow along whenever he does.”
“And as for what happened, well…”
Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of the Thrilling Tale of Thomas’ Missing Fingers, The Story of the Glorious Hack!