Gossip mongering at the next table, the women bitched about a neighbor’s boyfriend but held the diamond-studded whore in highest regard. Nobody would admit openly she’d been a gangster’s mistress. Especially not Al Capone’s.

“Oh, she made good.”

In this self-proclaimed Home of Hospitality, we’re out-of-towners and always shall be. Only a few will speak more than formalities to us. Guardedly.

We could turn the tables, of course.

Round, wretched head, run, dull eyed and hunchbacked.

I came here to do ethnographic research.

A decaying, dying, tacky city of sixty thousand broken windows. Flaking paint, rotting mortar. How long would it take its deflated citizenry in mothballs to finish the job?

There were two classes: the ruling Elite 400, with their genealogies of pimps and thieves turned to fiction. And the rundown 15,600 others.

“This ‘area news’ might be a boon to circulation, but to the locals, it’s a red flag,” Bad Ed cautioned, talking about a town we cold see from the water tower at the edge of the city. Kastoria’s merchants, however jealous, seem all too happy to take the aliens’ money.

He could be speaking as easily of the Bible. He’s a deacon.

(Yes, Bad Ed is a deacon, the cornerstone church on the corner.)

Bosch joined us at the counter. Didn’t need to say he’d been sketching the foundry and grain elevators. He’d been doing a lot of that. He’d add the insects later.

Railroad routes intersected here like a pile of pick-up sticks. Five depots, points of some deranged star, had precipitated development. A few derailments, too.

The biographies of the locals? Born, married, buried. Little in between. That’s how it was.

The painter could have run for the hills when the executioners came. Instead, he lit out across the plains.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”


“I could tell. Neither am I,” the translator and printer had said by way of introduction.

“You learn to keep your eyes open and your mouth shut,” he told me when I first showed up.

It was his idea I buy the business. “Make you appear to have a reason for being here.” And an unpretentious cover for my research.

Pinky’s Big Bundle Launderama.

He fronted me the money.

I have no idea who Pinky was. My name is Piper Joy.


To open the complete (free) novella, With a passing freight train of 119 cars and twin cabooses, click here.


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