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, trying to 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!