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Broken Rice

Serial installment 4 – chapter 5

By S.A. Barton

Copyright 2017

Smashwords Edition


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Contents:

License notes and title

Chapter 5




FIVE



The sun streamed in through the enormous window looking out over Houston. The blinds were full open and the yellow midmorning rays lay rumpled over a thousand dollar silk shirt that lay akimbo on the floor. Beside the shirt was wadded an equally expensive pair of artfully pre-ripped jeans, black silk boxers, fine socks rolled into smelly donuts, and a tipped-over pair of all-sidewinder cowboy boots that could have bought Caleb's whole family twenty times with what they cost.

The boots were a little more than a year old and still not properly broken in. Caleb didn't get out much.

He didn't get out at all.

The rays of the sun lay over Caleb's naked butt as he snored face down into an expensive down pillow on the daybed in the big room beside the office. The room where he'd taken refuge. The room with a new and faintly mismatched panel on the wall opposite the hidden door, replacing the panel shattered by shotgun pellets when Caleb was running for his life.

It was Caleb's fourteenth birthday, though he'd forgotten.

On the other side of the daybed from the sun, lurking in the shadow, was a case of strong small-batch ale in deep blue bottles imported from Canada's Cascadia province. Seven were empty. A half-empty bottle of bourbon imported from the CSA (GENUINE PRODUCT OF WEST TENNESSEE!) sat beside it, cap lost. The Lone Star Republic's drinking laws were of the “if you can reach the bar” variety, not that it mattered in the privacy of the tower.

Caleb groaned and sat up facing the window, naked to the world. That didn't matter either. He'd long gotten used to the idea that nobody could see in. The streets were too far beneath him for anyone to see. And in the day, with the light shining in, even someone with a telescope looking from a neighboring building would see only the glare rebounding from the lightly mirrored glass. For the night, there were automated vertical blinds that drew themselves at sunset, or whenever the light outside was weak enough to permit prying eyes to peer in.

Caleb knew how skyscraper windows worked. He'd had a telescope brought up once. It had only been useful at night. Then you could see into the glass-walled rooms of downtown Houston, if there were lights on inside, if the blinds were carelessly left open. He'd looked into hundreds of empty rooms with the tube of the telescope poked between the blinds that shielded his own room. Why were the lights on in those rooms? Forgetful corporate drones, glitched smart lighting, or, who knew, maybe disgruntled wage-slave janitors leaving the lights on to take a tiny jab back at the companies that paid them hardly more than sweatshop workers or... or...

Or brickmakers.

By the habit of a long solitary year-plus, Caleb stuffed the thought down. It was a dangerous thought, one that led to... later, later. Soon, he told himself. He barely even registered what was soon. It was easy to hold the train of thought at bay behind the hangover that throbbed in his eyesockets and curled up in his mouth with the flavor of a skunk that had wallowed in a hot landfill.

In the back of the room there was a sliding panel, and behind it a cubicle that held a minimalist marble toilet/sink, black with curled fossil shells, and a stand-up shower just large enough that if he stood in the center he wouldn't bark his elbows on the walls when he soaped up. He tottered back to it and croaked, “shower, activate.” Steaming water poured down on the verge of too hot, the way he liked it. The way he needed it.

He crouched in the shower like an animal hunkered down in the pouring rain, cringing inward around a booze-tortured stomach that spasmed and heaved up bile.

Hottest water, activate,” he told the shower when the dry heaves subsided. “Hardest spray, activate.” The water spat out hard enough to sting. The steam billowed around him, overwhelming the humming overhead fan, reaching down for the floor. Veiling him, but not from himself. I'm a drunk. A useless, clueless drunk. He uncurled, still sitting on the floor, reached up to a cubby in the wall and fetched out a little bar of expensive ginseng soap imported from China's Asia-India-Pacifica Trade Union. Up again for a rough domestic washcloth – he'd nixed smoother foreign-made ones soon after taking up residence. He needed to scrub.


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