Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The rain had stopped some time ago, but the roofs still unloaded their catchings through countless broken eves-troughs and missing downspouts. A man pulled his coat tighter around his sunken chest, and squeezed himself deeper into the shadows of the doorway, making at least a minimal effort to keep from getting any more wet.

He heard the police siren growing in volume for a time before the cruiser screamed by overhead, illuminating the broken windows and rusted fire escapes of the low rises in brilliant blue and red, before leaving him blinking in darkness as the sound faded into the city night.

He’d lost track of how many nights he’d spent like this.

Further up the street, the dim holiday glow of the red light district offered a little cheer for those who could afford such extravagances. He knew that the shop keepers would be lining up the men and women in their parlours, freshly bathed, charged and lubricated for an evenings work. The shops had grown in numbers over the years, spilling out of the original seedy alley into the adjoining streets, and he’d had to pack his few belongings several times to move farther into the abandoned sprawl at the forceful insistence of the flesh trade’s private security.

A low rumble approached, a taxi cruising slowly at street level. As it passed, a face flashed from an open window and the cab stopped, a mumble of words filtered to him before the door opened and a man stepped out onto the street, addressing the driver clearly through the still open window.

“Five minutes, alright?” holding his hand up, fingers extended, “just five and you can take me back downtown.”

The man turned, stepped a few paces towards the doorway and stopped, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his jeans.

“Hello Terry,” the name was familiar, though one he hadn’t heard in a long time, “still sleeping rough I see. You keeping well?”

Terry recognized the face gradually, remembered sitting in a coffee shop somewhere, talking over soup, and coffee. He remembered a weeks worth of chocolate bars and a pair of warm gloves.

“Do you remember our talk Terry? Do you remember the book I was working on?” The questions Terry remembered were all about his service, his coming undone, his winding up here. He did remember talk of a story, a book.

“I’ve been given an advance on the story we talked about, and I’m here to make good on my promise.” He reached into his back pocket, producing a slim square, fist sized and bisquit thin. “I made a resolution that year, to write a story and make it true, that’s what drove me to you. It’s almost midnight, and a New Year, and I resolved to find you again.”  He moved within arms reach, holding the flat device in between them at eye level. Terry was only briefly aware of a flicker of light, and then the device was gone, slipped back into a pocket. The man produced a plastic card, and passed it to him. Terry hesitated before accepting it, a blue fingerprint floating seemingly in space between the boundaries of the plastic, the image fascinating.

“It’s a tourism FreePass, Terry,” the man retreated to the sidewalk again, speaking slowly, “you’re in the system now, through your eyeprint. Anywhere you see this sign on a shop window they’ll give you food, or drink, a bed or a warm shower. Only if you want, but it’s there anytime you like.”

Terry looked from the shadows, and for a moment in the taillights of the taxi could have sworn there was a halo around this strange young novelist.

“Thank you,” he mumbled into the street, “thank you.”

“Happy New Year, Terry.” The man smiled, waved awkwardly and climbed back into the cab.  Terry listened as the low rumble grew to a whine, and watched the cab climb out of sight. Looking at the card in his hand, he let an awareness of his hunger reach him, and set out to sate it. ‘Happy New Year’, for the first time in a while he supposed it could be.

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