Prompt: A reporter’s friend suffers a major injury. It seems like foul play was involved, but the victim can’t remember anything that happened that day. The reporter investigates.
It was the third attack that week, but Detective Carter didn’t yet know they were trying to complete the set. They wanted all seven of this week and all seven of next and all seven…
Their mistake was in picking a victim known to him personally. Maxwell Carter was only twenty-eight, but he felt like he had a lifetime wrapped up in his memories with Shelly Oxlate. He’d known her since she was knee high and he was cigarette high. He watched her grow up.
He didn’t do it by days, like the villain he was after now, but by months. Shelly was a showoff, but the kind you could tolerate because her laughter was infectious and her face was good enough for magazines. She was the common cold of mirth. Somehow somebody didn’t find her charming enough; they had to go and attack her on the street with a knife.
Cops said it was a knife. Maxwell knew better. He went and saw Shelly in the hospital. There was no way he would ever lift her bandage to see without her permission, but she gave it. With his dry fingers, smelling of pickle salt and mustard, he lifted the white cloth and looked at her wound. Carter came straight form lunch at the deli, soon as he heard, soon as the owner shouted it to him from back in the freezer.
Had he heard what happened to Shelly, and oh she was so nice to everybody, who could do a thing like that? No, he hadn’t head, and he wouldn’t hear it from Wally the butcher, because by the time he came out with his frozen rack of ribs Max was gone. The money was on the counter. Max didn’t believe in keeping a tab. He didn’t like debts or favors hanging over his head. Everything should go down with the sun and rise with the moon.
“Did he say anything Shelly?” Max asked her in a stern whisper. “Anything at all?”
“I don’t remember,” she said. Her voice was soft, but it was always that way. She didn’t seem afraid or angry. “I don’t remember the entire day. I went to bed Tuesday night and woke up here.” Her hand fluttered around the room like a sleepy moth, landing in her short brown hair. She stroked it. Her hazel eyes looked empty, like she was in a desert but thinking it was a beach and a wave was going to crash over the far dune any moment. “The coppers told me I was stabbed. He didn’t take anything. I got all my bread money still. I’m sure that’s what grandma’s most worried about.” Her stare wandered off to the ceiling.
“Oh he took something,” Maxwell assured her. “He took your Wednesday.”
“Who needs it,” she answered. “That’s like the appendix of the week. Why would anybody want that?” She laughed, and Maxwell smiled to join her, but that was just to speed her recovery. He knew exactly the kind of person that would want that. He’d caught one of them before, and he’d seen the exact sort of injury around Shelly’s collarbone. He didn’t know what they were called, but he knew what they were for. They didn’t just take Wednesdays.
The last time it happened it was a lot less suspicious, because the victim worked at the cannery. Those people lost days all the time. The factory ate them, chewed them up, and spat them out. Nobody was supposed to notice when one of them dropped a Thursday identical to a Tuesday from their mind. Somebody noticed, and that somebody was Maxwell’s mentor.
He had the time to tell Detective Carter the whole story, but not much time after that. There was a device called a clockpick, invented by the Russians, stolen by spies of the Mediterranean, and assembled in the states for a few crazy rich men. Good old Gregory, the best detective Maxwell ever knew, put himself on the trail of one. Max had to assume he found all those missing days, siphoned out of people’s blood by a pick, but that he couldn’t bring the guy in.
Maxwell didn’t start at the cannery. He went to the corner where Shelly was found and examined the alley there. There were no clues, time didn’t leave a residue, but predators always patrolled the same hunting grounds. Max was young; he could still bend his days to fit his needs. He spared one for Shelly, waiting in that alley, in the shadows, for anybody suspicious.
Even after thirteen hours on his feet, having had only a lunch of a fantasized pastrami sandwich, he was still vigilant. His sight was crystal clear. There was a man who glanced at him, wearing a coat a little too long for the weather. He picked up the pace. Maxwell set one, launching himself out of the alley and following. There was something about this guy. He’d seen him before.
Mr. Longcoat took him much closer to the cannery. There was a bus schedule posted, but Maxwell made note that several of the days were crossed out. Old Gregory must have thrown himself into something deep. It seemed everyone on the street was missing days.
Maxwell had seen one photograph of a clockpick. The blades were thin and cylindrical, but quite long. You’d need deep pockets like the ones on that coat. The detective ground his teeth. All of his patience had evaporated. The soles of his feet were sore from standing. The guy he followed owed him a courtesy, as long as he was just a fellow pedestrian.
“Hey pal,” Maxwell called out. Mr. Longcoat refused to look over his shoulder, but his pursuer saw the flinch, like a turtle pulling his neck back into the shell. “Buddy, I’m talking to you. Do you have the time?” Oh he had the time. That much was clear. Maxwell wanted to figure out just how much he had on him. Maybe it was felony weight.
Mr. Longcoat took off running. Maxwell followed suit. He tried to lose him behind the cannery, toppling crates full of fresh fish. Max leapt over them. This guy was spry, but apparently he thought he needed more to get away. He pulled the clockpick out of his pocket and flicked it in Maxwell’s direction. It’s impossible to describe what an ejected day looks like, but the detective knew to dodge it. It struck a crate of fish, rotting them all down to brown wrinkled skin in an instant. That stuff was potent.
Mr. Longcoat thought he lost him, but Maxwell knew where the cannery’s backdoor was. He knew it was always open during those hours, held that way by a wedge of wood. Lots of them took smoke breaks and hated opening and closing it all the time. He had a hunch they weren’t just canning fish in there, so he slipped inside and waited.
There was a machine. The detective was no engineer, but he knew this thing didn’t stuff sardines into cans. It had a cylindrical glass tube on top, full of that indescribable stuff that decomposed the fish: stolen days.
Maxwell lurked. If the thief wanted to store his time anywhere, it had to be in that humming machine. He only had to wait ten minutes for Mr. Longcoat to sneak inside. He pounced, grabbing the lockpick out of the young man’s hands.
“You like stealing a young lady’s time?” Max asked. “Too many of them refuse you? I bet you take this stuff from an eyedropper, refine it and give yourself extra days you’ve taken from others.” Mr. Longcoat refused to speak. What was he afraid of? Max would give him something if he wouldn’t say. He jabbed the tip of the clockpick into the man’s neck and watched raw stolen days flow into him.
Mr. Longcoat gritted his teeth and tried to look away, but Max saw him age. The hair went gray. The experience plowed back into the corner of his eyes. The clock pick, empty, clattered to the floor.
“I don’t believe it,” Maxwell whispered. “Gregory?”
“Listen to me Max. You’re still charging people for your time. You’re just handing it over. I found a sweet deal here. We cut out the middleman, and we just have ourselves a lot of time on our hands. I can get you one of those.”
“I’ve already got something on my hands,” Max growled. He clocked Gregory right in the jaw, dropping him. That selfish old man could lose a day the old-fashioned way.