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Karlsford

In this city, the clouds hanging above were always thick and black, and the rains poured down more than just water. They poured sorrow and despair, mischief and depression, and playful misdemeanors that, to the children who grew up under in these rains, were just a fact of life. Blood often stained the sidewalks and not many walked alone and unguarded. Those of importance or riches often never walked them at all.

Here, to let a child play outside was to abandon that child. Many of the crimes on the streets were caused by the other children who hadn't been let back inside. Love was unheard of, a hopeless blur that couldn't pay the rent and went out with the garbage to rot. The homeless and the stray dogs went through those bags, one often killing the other before anything useful was found.

Most of the old ways of living were outlawed here. They were outlawed in many cities now. One had to know deception to survive — if your parents didn't teach it to you, you learned it on the streets. Families tore themselves apart for what little money they had. Here, where the smoky rain poured for most of their lives, the mood was always set for something bleak.

Mr. Karlsford was a tall man with broad shoulders and black hair. He kept himself dry under a black trench coat and a matching hat that kept out the rain. A lot of people looked like him these days; as someone just trying to stay out of the acid in the rain and not attract attention.

He turned out of the rain into the stone alleyway that led to an underground club, below a perfectly ir-respectable business above. The society of the underworld was calm and quiet, ruled by near-silent rulers that most everyone would never live to see. Everyone feared those in power and no one dared fight them. If you were allowed in, it was because you were favorable to the boss. Mr. Karlsford was definitely favorable, as he was a rich man. Rich without reason for his riches. His family had been very poor, but no one cares how someone got money; it's how they spend it that matters. Most of his wealth had been obtained in the same way that everyone else's had been; thievery, gambling, or something else illegal but commonly used. Asking where money came from was like asking where someone's hair came from.

The rain fell thick and heavy, smoky against the corroded cobblestone streets. Mr. Karlsford flipped up his collar when the rain stung his ear. This rain was acidic, but only slightly. Many a homeless man was found dead with acid scars because they had no protection from it, but the acidity varied. Tonight, it was a low content. Thirteen percent of the lethal dose, Karlsford thought, and he was right. Still, it could scar, and he didn't want that. Anything more than two percent could scar.

He knocked on the wooden door. Two men, bigger and broader than he, opened. Mr. Karlsford held his arms out to be frisked. Yes, he wore a gun — multiple guns, at times — but the two men passed over it out of consideration. It had a very small caliber bullet and The Boss wore protection. They didn't know that Mr. Karlsford's gun was special, but he rarely had to use it so it went unnoticed.

Proven not to be a threat, Mr. Karlsford was allowed inside. He kept his coat on — he didn't plan to stay long. The boss of this building had only one dealing, and he and Mr. Karlsford were common business partners in it. Slavery.

Slaves were graded between their usefulness, strength, degree of understanding, and what they were good for. Men were for physical labor, women to run stores or be hidden bed treats. This boss had some of everything, from the toothless old tutor woman to the dumb seven year old boy. Karlsford looked them all over, stuck in barred cages, as he passed to The Boss's table.

Thirty pieces of blue paper were put on the desk. The fat old business man looked through them. He knew the signs of forgery, and these weren't them. Karlsford had never been known to forge papers, but you could never know when he might start.

"You got your hands on the good stuff and you wanna give it up for these treats?" The Boss sneered.

Karlsford noticed two young girls, chained at the wrists to The Boss's chair, sitting on the floor beside him. He passed them over. "How many will that get me?" he asked me gruffly.

The fat man looked through the blue notes again. "Well, let's see… Darla, she's a treasure. Cost me eight alone."

He took out nine from the pile for the toothless old woman. Far more expensive than necessary. Karlsford knew The Boss was lying through his teeth, but let the money slip away all the same.

"And the boy, he'll be a big one when he grows. I could get twelve for him when he's big, but I'll give him away for six."

The boy was likely to have a disease — worms, bowel infections — and would die before the year was out. Again, costly.

"And these girls?" Karlsford asked. His shady eyes, hidden under the brim of the hat, looked over the two half-starved, half-clothed girls.

"…You only have sixteen left," The Boss thought. A good girl could be worth more than twenty by herself. These girls weren't that good. "You can have one. Letta." He motioned to the one on his left. She seemed the most comfortable to stay, the most estranged to leave. She whimpered — her tongue cut out to stop her from speaking — but a guard put a tie around her mouth.

"The three for thirty," Karlsford agreed.

The fat man put the notes in his coat and the keys to the slaves were handed over. "I assume you've… made arrangements for them to be picked up discreetly?"

"I've done this enough, you should trust me by now."

"Of course I do. What makes you think I don't?" He lit a cigar and offered him a puff.

"No, thanks. I gave it up weeks ago."

"Good luck with that," he grunted sarcastically.

"I'll take the girl with me now, the others will be picked up in a few hours."

"They'll be in the back cage, like always."

The old woman and young boy were pulled from their cages, screaming and fighting, and tossed into the back room. Karlsford ran his tongue over his teeth, wishing he'd taken the cigar when it was offered.

Letta was unchained, given a coat, and was kissed goodbye by The Boss. Not as a symbol of affection, but a motion all the same.

Karlsford put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her back out the way he came, as if he were merely leaving the bar with a pretty girl. She left just as calmly, watching everything as they walked, but she shook under the coat.

They walked around the block, down a few streets, and out to a field on the edge of a forest. The girl figured she would have to work a little, but Karlsford had other plans.

He pulled the gun from his pocket, held it to her head, and pulled the trigger while her head was turned. He dropped her body into the tall grass where it wouldn't be discovered for a long time — and no one would care once it was.

The rain washed away what little blood he had on him and he turned his back on the corpse. He tucked his hat lower on his face and went back into town.

Just walking for walking's sake wasn't permitted. Not that it was illegal, it just made you a target. Karlsford went walking, heading back to his car on the edge of town, but the guards at the slave hold saw him walking and didn't like that he didn't have the boss's girl anymore. They figured he must have sold her — and they would find out to whom. They stepped out into the rain in their black trench coats and followed him along the streets.

Karlsford noticed, but didn't increase his speed. Walking faster would mean he was guilty of something. Besides, the notes he had were all in The Boss's hands, only his gun and clothes were left and neither were of obvious value.

Instead, he turned into a restaurant — one that had once been of high class. Now it was rat-infected, but used gold and silver dining ware, so it was considered a luxury.

Karlsford didn't go in the front, but the back. Normally it was kept locked, but he had a pick and opened it. The door led to the kitchen. The dining hall, though full of wealthy aristocrats who could afford to have someone else cook for them, was closing for the night. The cooks didn't notice him and he slipped through.

There was one, however, that did notice him. A foreign boy, here studying at an institute. He wanted to make a new life for the people here, working between semesters at this restaurant. This boy of overseas breeding and academic study was the only one who noticed the man in a black trench coat didn't belong.

The boy stopped him before the man could get to the locker rooms in the back. This boy was the only one foolish enough to carry personal possessions to work, as it were, so he was the only one who would have something of value in the locker room that could be stolen. "This area is restricted to the staff. You're not allowed back here."

Karlsford, pleasantly surprised for once, smiled. "I'm looking for someone and I've been told he works here. Maybe you could help me out. Could you match a name to a face? A face to a name?"

"You're not allowed back here, either way," he responded.

Karlsford pulled out a tattered photograph that had obviously seen better days. A camera was a rare commodity, unless you were a spy of the government. Spies meant shady work, though, and anyone with a camera usually died before they could use it.

This boy didn't know any better, as cameras were common where he came from, and he took a peek at the picture. It was of a man, a few years older than himself, with dirty blonde hair and deep black eyes.

"Oh, that's Mr. Morgan."

"Good, you do know him. Your boss, I presume? Could you tell me where he is right now?"

"His shift is almost over and he'll be leaving soon. All this area is off-limits to civilians. I believe it's time you left."

"In that case, give this to him." He handed an envelope to the boy and a few notes — pristine pieces of artwork, every one, on thick white paper. "That's a treat to make sure you do it. He has to have it tonight, understand?"

Notes were the upper-class way of paying for things, blue papers for in the underground. Boys like him only made wages in blue notes or coins, usually down to one-one hundredth the worth of a note. This was a small fortune he was handing over and the boy's eyes went wide.

Mr. Karlsford tipped his hat again, the boy speechless, and turned out into the rain. A boy like that would make sure the envelope was delivered. He might snoop a little into what was going on, but the message was harmless information to civilians, all coded.

He went out to his car on the edge of town, started up the heater, and was happy to shed his raincoat. Where he was going, the rain was calmer. Carmine was the quiet home of Maria Contelmpt, the only heir of a great fortune. She'd made a small town on that land, and it was one of the few places that the government couldn't touch. He was quite eager to return to the green gardens, clean rain and air, and at the very least, Maria Contelmpt.

(Author's note: Hello, readers! I hope you like what's happening, I hope you continue to read, and I REALLY hope you review the work! If you spot any problems, just let me know!)