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Manhattan Network

Wyatt Fisher was stoic as he anticipated the beating that was about to preclude the loss of his seventeen dollars and fifty cents, barely enough for a pack of cigarettes and a hot dog. Bloods were not a common site in Tribeca, but they weren’t unheard of either. He knew there was a crew east of the Bowery, which is probably where these three came from.

Leaning against their bikes enjoying an afternoon smoke—how could anyone afford cigarettes, he wondered—their eyes were glued to Wyatt from the moment he crossed Church Street. All three were broad-shouldered with enormous biceps stretching their denim vests.

It wasn’t anything personal. He understood this. But his affinity for a stylish wardrobe mixed with wire-rimmed glasses, short hair and manicured nails made him a ready-made target. The cash in his pocket would soon be in theirs. He took solace in the knowledge that it was all they would gain for their efforts, and while he never relished the thought of black eyes, bloodied nose and cracked ribs, he was used to the pain.

Wyatt grew up with an abusive alcoholic father. He had suffered through countless drunken rages—usually after his mom and sister were already unconscious on the floor. He had developed a kind of out-of-body detachment to the whole process. How his sister survived it all he never quite figured out. His mother didn’t. His dad took the fall and drew twenty years for second degree murder, leaving Wyatt and (name) a luxurious three-bedroom condo in Tribeca.

Wyatt glued his eyes to his phone and walked toward the bikers. Pedestrian traffic around him thinned, clearly avoiding the bikers. Passing the first one, Wyatt almost ran into another who stepped in front of him, blocking his path. The other two took up positions behind him.

“You from around here?” the man in front of him asked. He was big, in every direction, and had a deep voice. If intimidation had its own icon, it would look a lot like this guy.

“Few blocks,” he answered.

“We’re looking for somebody. Wondered if you’d seen him around.”

“I don’t get out that much.”

“You’re out now,” someone behind him said.

“This guy would be easy to recognize,” the man in front of him said. “Indian kid—Native American. Looks about twenty, dresses nice. Fifth Avenue nice, sorta like you. Wears his hair down to his shoulders, straight, black.”

Wyatt thought he might know who they were talking about, but he’d never met him or even seen him around. He shook his head. “Don’t know anybody like that around here.”

The next moment he was on the ground as someone leg whipped him from behind. Wyatt curled up in a ball and waited for the kicks and punches that would follow. Withdrawn into his protective detachment he heard the terrible sounds of bones breaking, curses and yelps of pain. But the groans were not coming from him.

When all was quiet, he looked up. The three Bloods were laid out on the sidewalk in various stages of semi-consciousness. One looked like he was bleeding out from a vein. Another had two legs jutting out at very unnatural positions. Rummaging through the pockets of the gang bangers was a Native American who matched their description perfectly. Couldn’t have been more than nineteen, but handled himself like he owned the city. He pocketed a fair amount of cash from wallets, tore up their IDs and sprinkled them over the bodies.

Wyatt got up slowly and watched. When the kid turned to him, he reached in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “There’s not much, but it’s yours.”

“I don’t want your money. These three, different story. At least one is a killer, and none of them would have any regrets if you never walked away from this. You would do well to forget you saw me.”

“Thank you?” he asked as if wondering what the right thing to say would be. The kid ignored him and went on rummaging through the saddle bags on the bikes. Two large hunting knives, bags of some sort of drug and one handgun were among the bootie.

“Who are you?” Wyatt asked.

The kid turned and studied him in a way that seemed to strip his thoughts bare.

“My name is nobody. Yours is Wyatt Fisher.”

Wyatt wanted to know more about his benefactor but before he could ask another question he heard a pop, like the sound of a sudden rush of air and the kid just disappeared. Gone. Vanished right in front of him. One of the bikes was missing and the other two were torn up on the ground, unrideable.

“What the fuck?”

Hearing a siren, he left quickly. He did not want to explain to the police what happened. They would put him in a mental ward. Ten minutes later he was sitting at a table at his favorite gaming store with two, similarly geeky, compatriots.

“Hey Whiff, you’re late,” Dwight said. He was a big kid. Not like the bikers with muscles on top of muscles but more like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man of Ghostbusters fame. Whiff was the name his little band of gamers gave Wyatt the one time he lost a game. Before that he was simply WF, his initials, which his sophomoric band thought was incredibly funny.

“How come you’re breathing so hard?” asked Yo, a scrawny, American-born Korean.

“‘Cause I’m running late, obviously. Let’s get to it.”

A fourth player was diligently finishing the setup. Schick was the quiet one. Played a fair game but was often competing with Dwight for last place. No one was quite sure how he came up with the name Schick, but he was a regular and officially part of their club.

For the next three hours Wayne did his best to concentrate on his Pathfinder characters, but the fantasy world was not holding his attention. He used the games to hone his strategy skills. Today his thoughts were occupied by the kid who saved him from a beating. Obviously skilled in martial arts, probably more than one variety, he was a formidable fighter. And something of a magician. How he pulled off that David Copperfield act with a Bloods’ hog was a mystery he needed to solve.

When the opportunity to make a significant advance in his game presented itself, he ignored the potential advantage, opting instead to take the loss in favor of a quick end.

“There it is,” cried Yo. “WF whiffed again.”

“Second time on record,” echoed Dwight. “Where’s your head today?”

“I’m just a little rattled. I came across Beach to Canal. Ran into my sister. She was in worse shape than usual, so I got her a burger and fries at McDonalds. Man, she looked out of it.”

It was a credible lie, and since neither of them had ever met his sister, they weren’t likely to call him out.

“So that’s why you were late,” Dwight said.

Wayne jabbed his elbows into his ribs and spread his forearms, palms up as if saying, ‘You got me.’ “She’s my sister, after all.”

None of his friends knew his sister was turning tricks for a prestigious madam working outside of Sapphire 39. Liz was raking in the bucks and hanging with rich power brokers of Lower Manhattan. Yo and Dwight both nodded and looked away, unsure how to react to such a tragic sibbling. Schick just stared at him, picking up the game pieces without even glancing at them. He was unreadable, which made him the most interesting one of all and was probably the only reason Wyatt continued showing up week after week. Mysteries like Schick—and the disappearing martial arts kid—had to be solved.

His neighbors were typical New Yorkers. Some were friendly and enjoyed conversation in the elevator. Today he rode up with a younger couple from the eighth floor, a friendly African American couple who had recently moved in.

“It’s Wyatt, isn’t it?” the man asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“No need for formality. I’m Stephen and this is Ophelia.”

Wyatt shook both their hands. “Pleased to meet you. I’ve seen you around. How do you like the place?”

“The apartment is beautiful, but there’s not much of a view on our side. Still, I love the security,” Ophelia answered.

In that short time the elevator doors opened, and they stepped off.

Other neighbors were closed and standoffish, like the people on the tenth floor. All of them worked in the same Wall Street circle as Wyatt’s dad, and as nearly as he could tell they all had the same vicious mentality. He had memories of more than one heated conversation between his dad and one of the residents. Whether or not any of them drank like Dad, they probably all had similar anger issues. They worked in high-pressure jobs, but they brought lucrative paychecks. Enough so that Will Fisher was a multimillionaire before he married. Barely a year after the nuptials, Elizabeth was born. Four years later Wyatt was born.

If condo life in lower Manhattan was a prison for those residents still carrying a mortgage, the fully paid-for unit Wyatt and Elizabeth inherited was a luxurious hideaway. Liz claimed the master bedroom and bath. In return, Wyatt had a smaller bedroom, a separate bath and full use of the third bedroom which he dubbed his war room. Something of a savant when it came to electronics, he had a desktop with the fastest processors money could buy and massive amounts of storage. A single bookshelf was packed with books on psychology and cybersecurity.

Elizabeth’s room was comfortable and frilly, and generally cluttered. Despite her current profession, it was not designed for entertaining. She was not looking for a relationship and aside from work, was withdrawn from the world. Wyatt was her only friend and the two of them were very close. Liz had been home the night their parents died. She heard Dad fly into one of his drunken assaults on Mom and was trying to get out the door when she heard the shots. Three loud reports from a pistol none of them knew she had.

Wyatt was never sure whether it was the shock of years of abuse or the sight of their bodies on the living room floor. There had to be a combination of shock and relief. How many times had Will beaten their mother unconscious then turned to molest Liz? He always suspected he was the result of a rape. But while he felt nothing but relief, Liz had been right there. She virtually witnessed the murder suicide.

Settling down in his war room, Wyatt logged onto his desktop and two laptops for good measure. He began searching through news articles for any stories or police reports involving a about a disappearing man. He never noticed the sun go down or even the sound of his sister coming home.

Liz knocked on the doorjamb, startling him. “How long you been sitting there?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Couple hours. You done early?”

She gave him one of her looks. “You had anything to eat?”

“I’ve been a little focused.”

She disappeared but a few minutes later she came back in, set a plate down next to him with a turkey sandwich and a mound of barbecue chips and set a can of soda beside it. Then she sat down in a lounge chair and waited for him to start eating.

Feeling her eyes on the back of his head, Wyatt stopped typing, pushed slightly away from the computer and picked up half of the sandwich. “How come you’re home again?” he asked.

“Johns all turned in for the night.”

“Oh.” He looked at the clock on his computer screen. “OH.”

Leaning back into his chair, Wyatt took a bite of his—would this be dinner or breakfast?

“So what’s got you so fired up you’re up past two o’clock?” Liz asked.

Still chewing, Wyatt said, “Mm,” then pointed toward three articles he had saved on various notebooks and monitors.

Liz pulled her chair around and skimmed the articles.

“So some guy is a kind of escape artist. Looks like he’s a little schizo.”

“Why’s that?”

“This story,” Liz pointed to a laptop. “Makes him out to be some sort of hero. This one seems to say he’s a thief and this one says he eluded eight cops and a special agent. Doesn’t say what he did, though. So why do you care?”

“‘Cause I saw him today. Yesterday.”

“How do you know it’s the same guy?”

“Because of how he disappeared. I mean, he was standing there in front of me and just, disappeared.”

“You must have looked away for a second.”

“Oh yeah. A Harley vanished with him.”

“Guess that would shake me up a little. But all night?”

His sister got out of her chair and started to leave.

“Liz,” he said.

She stopped to look at him.

“Check the dates on those articles.”

“This one’s last year, that one’s four years ago. And that one’s … 1968? And it’s in Oregon. Can’t be the same guy.”

“No? Look at the picture the sketch artist drew. That’s from ’68. That’s the same guy I saw.”

“You must have had a good look. He’d be what, 57 years older. Put him in his 70’s. How could you tell it’s the same guy?”

“It’d be 56 years. But here. The article from last year. Another sketch artist drew him.”

Liz’s emerald eyes glistened as they darted back and forth between the two nearly identical drawings. The apparent age of the subject differed by no more than a couple years. “You’re yankin’ my chain.”

Wyatt shook his head slowly. They grew up under the tyranny of a Wall Street bulldog with a penchant for releasing his tensions on his family. With only each other to count on, neither of them joked about serious matters. He knew she believed him. And at the same time, she didn’t.

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