HUMAN/SUPER #9

FREE AGENT

 

 

 

 

 

Isaac Ling sat in a tiny room in the basement of Preston Towers, watching the second hand circumnavigate the clock on the wall. Keeping his body temperature well below zero, he radiated a cold breeze through the vents that lined the walls, chilling the air in the luxury apartments above him.

The clock struck six and Isaac rose from his seat. He gathered his things and defrosted the room, locking the door behind him as he headed to the elevator. On the first floor, he knocked on the landlord’s door and Joan Burgess, a short white woman with long red hair, answered.

“Just turning in my keys,” Isaac said, handing them over.

“Thanks,” Joan said. “You did a great job this summer. Well, apart from the incident with the exterminator.”

“Yeah, sorry again about that,” Isaac said sheepishly. “Listen, I’ve been checking the weather forecasts, and it looks like this heat’s going to be sticking around for a while. What are the chances that I might be able to stay on here a little longer, at least until it starts cooling down?”

“Come on, Isaac,” Joan said. “We go over this every year. You knew from the start that this would be a strictly seasonal thing. There’s nothing I can do. Summer’s over.”

“I know,” Isaac said, and forced a smile, “but it never hurts to try. See you next year.”

“Take care,” Joan said, shutting the door.

On his way out of the building, he mentally calculated the number of hours he would need to work in the next few weeks in order to make rent. It was going to be pretty tight; he wasn’t sure if he was could manage it on temping alone.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, he stared up at the sun and wished it would burn just a little hotter, if only for a while.

///

Isaac stopped by his tiny apartment for a change of clothes and picked up a cheap bottle of wine at the liquor store on his way to his brother’s house in the suburbs. He got off the train at the nearest metro station and walked the remaining twenty minutes.

The driveway was lined with fancy cars that each cost more than Isaac would make five years, and he didn’t even want to imagine how much the big stone house was worth. He tucked in his shirt and rang the doorbell. Natasha, his sister-in-law, answered the door in a sleek red dress.

“Isaac!” she said, hugging him. “I’m so glad you could make it!”

“Hey now, I wouldn’t dream of missing my brother’s birthday,” Isaac replied with a wink. “Here, I brought this.”

He handed her the wine. She stared at the label for a long moment.

“I won’t be insulted if you pour it down the drain,” Isaac said.

“It’s… fine,” Natasha replied. “Come on in. Ivan’s been schmoozing all night, so I’m sure he’ll appreciate the—Slow down, you two!”

Teddy and Ellen, aged six and four, ran by giggling, nearly colliding with several guests along the way. Isaac smiled and followed Natasha into the living room, where the crowd was thickest.

Most of the guests were middle-aged, upper-class white folks, members of Victory City’s elite. Isaac straightened his tie and weaved his way through the captains of industry and government to the man at the centre of it all: Isaac’s brother, Mayor Ivan Ling.

“…need to do something about this deficit,” a city councillor said to a glassy-eyed Ivan. “Ever since the Mighty Atomic deal fell through, we….”

“Hey, bro!” Isaac said, cutting in. “Happy birthday!”

“Isaac, it’s good to see you!” Ivan replied, gripping Isaac in a brief hug. “Gentlemen, this is my brother Isaac. Isaac, gentlemen.”

Isaac shook a few hands and turned back to Ivan.

“Mind if I steal you for a moment?” Isaac asked.

“Sure,” Ivan replied, and glanced at his guests. “Excuse me.”

The brothers weaved through the crowd and slipped out into an empty hallway.

“Oh man, thanks for that,” Ivan said, clapping his brother on the back. “I was about to fall asleep standing.”

“Glad I could help,” Isaac said, leaning against the wall.

Ivan leaned beside Isaac and said, “So, how’ve you been?”

Isaac shrugged. “Same old, really,” he said. “Just finished my summer job today.”

“Oh yeah?” Ivan said. “What are you up to next?”

“Just some temp work,” Isaac said. “I was actually kind of hoping to talk with you about that.”

Ivan fished his wallet out of his pocket and said, “How much do you need?”

“I’m not asking for money,” Isaac said. “I just want to know if you’ve got any leads on where I might find a steady, fulltime job. Something… you know, more permanent.”

“Well, I can ask around,” Ivan said, “but after what happened last time….”

“Don’t worry,” Isaac said, “I won’t make you look bad again.”

“I’m not worried about my reputation,” Ivan said. “I just want you to find something you can stick with.”

“Believe me, so do I,” Isaac said.

Natasha poked her head into the hallway and said, “Cake time.”

“I’ll be right there,” Ivan said, watching her return to the party. “Listen, I want you to take this.”

Ivan took a hundred dollar bill from his wallet and held it out to Isaac.

“I told you I don’t want money,” Isaac said.

“I know,” Ivan said. “Just take it, okay? It’ll make me feel better.”

Isaac sighed and shoved the bill into his pocket.

“Thanks,” he said.

“No problem,” Ivan replied. “Now let’s get out there.”

Isaac followed his brother into the living room as Natasha carried a cake lit by candles out of the kitchen. She set the cake, which was shaped like Victory City, on a table and the crowd started singing “Happy Birthday.”

After blowing out all thirty-five candles and cutting the cake, Ivan slipped back into politician mode as he mingled with the guests again. Isaac spent the rest of the party playing with the kids until it was time for Natasha to put them to bed, at which point he decided to make his exit.

“You sure you have to go?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Isaac replied. “This… isn’t really my crowd.”

“Fair enough,” she said. “Well, take care. And don’t be a stranger.”

“Bye,” he said.

She kissed him on the cheek and opened the door for him. He glanced back into the living room and waved at his brother before stepping outside into the cool night air.

///

Isaac picked up a couple shifts during the week at a refrigerated warehouse, filling in for a sick worker. The pay was terrible, but it was better than nothing.

On Friday evening, he got a call from Todd Harkin, manager of the ice rink down the street from Isaac’s apartment. Their Zamboni was on the fritz again, so Isaac stopped by to smooth out of the ice for them.

“You’re good to go,” Isaac said, popping into Todd’s office after he finished.

“Thanks, Isaac,” Todd said, rising from his chair. “I really appreciate this. You’re a lifesaver.”

Todd reached into his wallet and pulled out a pair of twenties.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Isaac said.

“Son, when you do a job for me, you get paid,” Todd said. “I’d give you more if I could, but we’re stretched pretty thin as is.”

Isaac pocketed the cash.

“Thanks,” he said. “Do you mind if I hit the ice for a bit?”

“Knock yourself out,” Todd replied.

Isaac nodded and turned to leave. On his way out, he bumped into a young black woman with long, curly hair. He apologized and glanced back as she stepped into the office. She looked incredibly familiar but he couldn’t quite place it.

The rink was empty at this time of night. Isaac grabbed a pair of skates and a hockey stick, and stepped out onto the ice.

He found a puck and dribbled it from one end of the rink to the other and back again, picking up speed with each lap. He closed his eyes and extended his senses into the ice beneath his feet.

He skidded to a halt at one end of the rink and slapped the puck as hard as he could. He opened his eyes and watched the disc of black rubber fly across the ice and smack against the opposing net. He crossed the rink and retrieved the puck.

“Not bad,” a woman’s voice said behind him.

He glanced back as the woman from earlier skated toward him carrying a hockey stick. She almost seemed to float, moving gracefully across the ice.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling.

She tapped her stick on the ice, and he passed the puck to her. She skated to the centre line and passed it back.

“Have I seen you somewhere?” he asked, skating toward her.

“Maybe,” she replied, shrugging coyly.

“You’re not a regular here, are you?” he said.

“Nope,” she said. “Never been to this rink before tonight.”

She stole the puck and skated farther down the rink. She spun in front of the net and passed back.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “You played for Victory City University. The women’s hockey team. You’re Katrina Garber.”

“Guilty,” she said.

“I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you,” he said. “I watched you in the playoffs. That save you pulled in the third period of the finals was incredible.”

He fired the puck at the net and she stopped it with the blade of her stick.

“It was one of my finer moments,” she said, passing the puck back again.

“So what brings you here, of all places?” he asked.

“A job,” she replied. “You’re looking at the rink’s new skating instructor.”

“Isn’t that a bit of a step down for you?” Isaac asked. “I thought you’d be heading straight for the pros.”

“Oh, I will be eventually,” she said, “but I’ve been at this for years. I need some time off to decompress before I take things to the next level.”

“Fair enough,” he said, dribbling the puck around her.

“What about you?” she asked. “Those moves you were showing off earlier were at least college-level. Who’d you play for?”

“Nobody, actually,” he replied, firing again. “I wasn’t allowed.”

“Why not?” she asked, blocking his shot.

“Well, basically… I’m too good,” he replied.

She arched an eyebrow and said, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know,” he said, “but it’s true.”

“Okay then,” she said, passing the puck back to him. “Prove it.”

He chuckled. “You sure?”

“Hell yeah,” she replied, getting into position in front of the net. “Show me what you’ve got.”

“If you insist,” he said, skating to the centre line.

He closed his eyes and connected with the ice again. Rearing back, he fired the puck toward her. He felt her moving to intercept, so he warped the ice ever so slightly, guiding the puck around her stick and into the net.

“No way,” she said. “Do that again.”

She returned the puck and he fired a second time. She tried to compensate for the curve, but he steered the puck in the other direction.

“The hell?” she muttered. “Okay, spill it: how’d you do that?”

He grinned and leaned on his stick.

“I cheated,” he said.

She crossed her arms and said, “Now you’re just making fun of me.”

“No, really,” he said. “Check this out.”

He held up his hand and the moisture in the air crystalized on his skin. Snowflakes formed as he slowly waved his hand back and forth, and the ice at his feet rippled with his movements. He clenched his fist and the ice lay flat again.

“Well,” she said, “you’re lucky we didn’t put any money on this.”

“Oh, I learned that lesson a long time ago,” he replied. “I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

She passed the puck back to him.

“So what do you do when you’re not hustling at hockey?” she asked.

“I’m sort of between jobs at the moment,” he said, firing again, “but I usually call myself a ‘refrigeration specialist’. Mostly I just sit around making things cold.”

“Sounds boring,” she said, dribbling the puck in in wide arcs around him.

“Yeah,” he said, “but it’s easy and the pay is decent, so it balances out.”

“Is that really all it takes to satisfy you?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

“Hmm,” she muttered.

“You’re judging me right now, aren’t you?” he asked.

“A little bit,” she replied. “Sorry.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “When your brother’s the mayor of the largest city in the country, you get used to not measuring up to people’s expectations.”

“The mayor?” she asked, skidding to a halt. “Okay, now you’ve got my attention.”

He crossed his arms and she grinned.

“Kidding!” she said. “I didn’t even vote for the guy.”

“Don’t you dare tell him,” Isaac said, “but neither did I.”

She laughed, and they stared at each other for a long moment.

“Do you want to get out of here?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she replied.

///

Isaac led Katrina to a pub down the street. They drank and danced the hours away, and made out in the metro station while she waited for her train at the end of the night. She gave him her number as she stepped aboard.

Over the weekend, Isaac took a shift at a fish plant on the waterfront and spent a few hours driving a refrigerated truck around town for a courier company. He took several long showers on Monday, trying to get the fish smell out of his hair before going to dinner with Katrina in the evening.

He spent a bit more than he could afford at the restaurant, a steakhouse that reopened recently after a fire destroyed the building several months ago. They talked hockey over the meal, discussing the latest draft, the upcoming NHL season, and classic games from the past.

Afterwards, he walked her to the rink and watched her first skating class with a group of preteen girls. He was impressed by how great she was with the kids; Isaac’s fondness for children was mostly limited to his niece and nephew.

By the third lesson, Katrina had coerced Isaac into joining her on the ice, where he created dynamic obstacle courses for her students. At the end of the fourth night, Katrina was too tired to commute all the way across town, so she crashed at Isaac’s apartment.

They fell asleep on the couch watching downloaded movies on his laptop.

///

Isaac was awakened in the morning by a loud knock. Katrina was in the shower so he quietly shut the bathroom door and crossed the living room. He opened the door and found Ivan standing in the hallway, wearing a suit and carrying Ellen on his shoulders.

“Uncle Isaac!” the girl yelled.

She reached down to him, and Ivan lifted her over his head. She hopped into Isaac’s arms and hugged him around the neck.

“You’re getting big, kid,” Isaac said. “Pretty soon, you’ll be carrying me.”

“Nuh uh,” she replied, shaking her head.

“So you’re just not going to grow?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Well, good luck with that,” he said with a wink, and turned to his brother. “So, what brings you to my neck of the woods?”

“I’ve got something for you,” Ivan replied.

He reached into his jacket and handed Isaac the business card of Dr. Maryam Mahdavi, Medical Examiner.

“What’s this?” Isaac asked.

“A job, potentially,” Ivan replied. “It’s fulltime, you’d be on the government payroll, and all you’d have to do is sit around doing your… ice thing.”

“Wow,” he said, and glanced at Ellen. “That sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?”

She shrugged, and he stole her nose. She tried to grab his fist, but it turned to ice. She crossed her arms and pouted up at him. He smiled and tousled her hair.

“So anyway,” Ivan said, “when you get a chance, give her a call and arrange an interview.”

“Can’t hurt to try, I suppose,” Isaac said. “Thanks.”

“Good luck,” Ivan said.

He leaned forward and took Ellen back. She struggled for a moment, reaching out toward Isaac, but eventually settled into her father’s arms.

“Say goodbye to your uncle, honey,” Ivan said.

“Bye, Uncle Isaac!” she said, waving.

Ivan nodded to his brother and headed for the stairs. Isaac shut the door and turned around. Katrina stepped out of the bathroom with a towel around her body and a second around her hair.

“Was that was your brother?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, tossing the business card on the kitchen counter. “And his daughter.”

“She sounded cute,” Katrina said.

“She is,” he replied, nodding. “He has a boy, too. They’re little fiends sometimes, but still, great kids. Ivan’s a lucky guy.”

“You envy him, don’t you?” Katrina asked, stepping forward.

“Sometimes,” he said, and slipped his arms around her waist, “but not right now.”

///

Isaac called the number on the business card and made an appointment for Tuesday morning. After a weekend filling ice machines at a motel, he made his way to the Victorious Memorial Hospital and rode an elevator to the basement.

He was greeted at the end of a wide stone hallway by a Middle Eastern woman with a touch of grey in her dark, shoulder-length hair. She introduced herself as Dr. Maryam Mahdavi and he extended his hand to her. She took it and stared down, her eyes glowing for a moment.

“You’ve broken three of these fingers,” she said, and her eyes trailed up his arm. “Ulna fractured in two places. Five ribs. Collarbone. Jaw. Skull. Car accident? No, these injuries happened over several years. You play sports. Football?”

“Hockey,” he replied.

“Ah,” she said, releasing his hand. “My son plays video games. Much safer. Follow me.”

She turned and marched briskly down the hall. Double doors marked “AUTOPSY SUITE” led into a large room lined with tables and scales and surgical instruments. Antiseptic fumes burned his nostrils.

“Hope you have a strong stomach,” she said.

She crossed the room to a heavy iron door on the far side, which she pulled open. Cold air wafted out of the cooler, along with the faint scent of putrefaction. Isaac tried his best to breath through his mouth.

“You get used to the smell,” she said. “Eventually.”

She stepped inside. Dozens of little metal doors lined the walls, and a series of fans whirred from the ceiling.

“We keep the temperature a few degrees above freezing,” Maryam said. “Can you match that?”

He lowered his body temperature to the same level as the air around him. Her eyes glowed as she looked him up and down.

“Good,” she said. “I want you to see something.”

She ran her finger along the rows of doors and opened one. Reaching inside, she pulled out a slab and lifted a white sheet from the face of a burn victim. He couldn’t tell if the corpse was male or female. A smell like cooked meat wafted from the drawer.

Isaac covered his nose and looked away.

“Why are you showing me this?” he asked.

“I need to know you can handle it,” she replied. “This is the reality here. This and worse. If it’s too much for you, you won’t last a day.”

He forced himself to look at the body, and said, “That won’t be a problem.”

“Perfect,” she said, and shoved the body back into the drawer. “Thanks for coming down. We’ll be in touch.”

She extended her hand and he reluctantly shook it.

“That’s it?” he asked. “You didn’t even ask for my resume.”

“Didn’t need to,” she said, heading for the door. “I’ve already seen everything that matters. Pending certified criminal record check, of course.”

She opened the door and stepped back into the autopsy suite.

“You should go,” she said. “I’m performing an autopsy in ten minutes. Unless you’d like to watch.”

“That’s… quite all right,” he said.

“Suit yourself,” she said, turning to peruse a tray of scalpels.

He stood behind her awkwardly for several seconds before saying, “I’ll just see myself out then.”

“Okay,” she replied.

He backed out of the room and hurried up the hall. In the elevator, he took out his cellphone and called his brother.

“How’d it go?” Ivan asked.

“Good, I think,” Isaac replied. “Listen… I’m not so sure about this job.”

Ivan sighed. “Here we go again,” he said. “What’s wrong with this one?”

“Dude, it’s in the morgue,” Isaac said. “You know, where they cut open dead bodies? Not exactly a pleasant work environment.”

“It’s not supposed to be pleasant,” Ivan said. “It’s a job. They call it ‘work’ for a reason.”

“I know that,” Isaac said, “I just—”

“Look, I had to pull a lot of strings to get you this opportunity,” Ivan said. “Please don’t write it off without giving it a chance.”

“I’ll…try,” Isaac replied.

“That’s all I ask,” Ivan said. “Anyway, I have to get ready for a Council meeting tonight. Let me know how things turn out with the job.”

“Will do,” Isaac said. “Bye.”

He hung up and stepped out of the hospital. He took a bus across town to work a short shift at a farmer’s market before heading to dinner with Katrina.

///

Isaac awoke late in the night to the blast of an air horn. Katrina climbed out of bed and answered her phone. A muffled voice spoke frantically in the darkness.

“They what?” Katrina asked, sitting on the edge of bed. “They can’t actually do that, can they? Holy shit. Is there anything we can do about it? Okay. Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow. Take care.”

She put the phone down and sat quietly for a long moment.

“Who was that?” Isaac asked finally.

“Todd,” she replied. “He’s at City Hall. The Council just voted to slash the rink’s budget in half. I’m meeting Todd in the morning to discuss our options, but… it’s not looking good. We might have to shut the place down.”

Isaac hopped out of bed and started getting dressed.

“Where are you going?” Katrina asked.

Isaac glanced back over his shoulder and said, “I’m going to have a few words with my brother.”

///

Isaac banged on Ivan’s door and waited with his arms crossed, tapping his foot on the porch. Natasha answered the door in silk pajamas.

“Isaac?” she said groggily. “What’s going on?”

“Is Ivan home yet?” Isaac asked.

“Yeah, he just stepped into the shower,” she replied. “Why?”

“I need to speak with him,” Isaac said. “It’s urgent.”

“Okay, come on in,” she said, leading him into the living room. “I’ll let him know you’re here.”

Isaac took a seat as she headed up the stairs to the bathroom. A few minutes later, Ivan came down wearing a bathrobe over sweatpants. He sat on a leather loveseat and ran a hand through his wet hair.

“If this is about earlier, I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you. I just think—”

Isaac held up a hand. “That’s not what this is about,” he said. “I want you to give the Creighton Avenue ice rink their funding back.”

“That’s… not really up to me,” Ivan said.

“Bullshit,” Isaac said. “You run this town, you can make it happen.”

Please, you know it doesn’t work like that,” Ivan said. “I need to get approval from Council on everything I do, and I can’t just shovel money wherever I please. It goes where it’s needed most.”

“It’s needed on Creighton Avenue,” Isaac said. “They might have to shut the place down if they don’t get money.”

“That money has to come from somewhere, Isaac,” Ivan said, standing from his chair. “In my office, I have a list of community centres and youth clubs and basketball courts that are all over-budget and need trimming. Now, if you’ve got some ideas on how the city can fund each of these sites without negatively impacting any of them, I’m all ears.”

Isaac glanced at the floor.

“No?” Ivan said. “Then perhaps you’d like to pick one for me to shut down instead of yours. Surely there must be another neighborhood somewhere whose children deserve that money less.”

Isaac sighed. “Whatever,” he said. “You don’t have to be a dick about it.”

“I’m just doing my job,” Ivan said. “I have to make tough decisions like this all the time, and people hate me for it. Seriously, you should see my Twitter feed; it’s brutal. I don’t need to hear this shit from my own family too.”

“Fine,” Isaac said. “I’m out of here.”

He stood from the couch and headed for the door. Ivan followed.

“Besides, even if we could spare the money,” he said, “I’d get in trouble using my authority to benefit a family member. The media would have a field day, and I don’t think either of us wants that.”

“Ivan, you’ve already made you point,” Isaac said. “Good night.”

Isaac stepped outside and slammed the door behind him.

///

In the morning, Isaac and Katrina headed to the diner down the street and found Todd sitting in a corner booth poring over a messy stack of papers. They sat opposite him and ordered some breakfast.

“It’s just as I feared,” Todd said. “There’s no way I can cut enough out of our budget to stay open. Even if I fired all the staff and ran the place entirely with volunteers, we’d still come up short.”

“What if we charged more for lessons?” Katrina asked.

“It won’t be enough,” Todd replied, “and it wouldn’t be fair to the kids. If their parents could afford higher fees, they wouldn’t be living in this part of town.”

“Hmm,” Katrina muttered, rubbing her chin. “What about reduced hours?”

“I ran some numbers on that,” he said, “and it’s not pretty. It’d barely be any better than shutting down entirely.”

Isaac chilled a glass of lukewarm orange juice and took a sip. He snapped his fingers.

“Sell the Zamboni!” he said.

“What?” Katrina asked.

“Think about it,” Isaac said. “It’s a bit finicky, but it’s still got to be worth at least ten to twenty grand. Maybe more if we call it a ‘charity auction’. And I’ll take care of the ice for free.”

“I can’t ask you to do that,” Todd said.

“You don’t have to,” Isaac said. “I just volunteered.”

Todd shook his head.

“I appreciate the thought,” he said, “but it’s a short term solution at best. It might buy us some time, but once that money dries up, we’re back to square one.”

“This sucks,” Katrina said. “I don’t even care about losing my job. It’s the kid who’ll really miss out. The nearest rink’s, what, halfway across town?”

“Something like that,” Todd said.

“So what’s our next step?” Isaac asked.

“I’m going to draw up a petition,” Todd replied. “If we can get enough signatures, maybe we can convince City Council to reopen our case.”

Isaac scoffed.

“Good luck with that,” he said. “I talked to my brother last night and he made it sound like a pretty done deal. I don’t think we can count on the government to get us out of this mess. They’re not going to budge.”

“Well, it never hurts to try,” Todd said with a smile. “So, is there any chance I can convince either of you to pound the pavement with me?”

“I’m in,” Katrina said.

Isaac took another drink and then shrugged.

“Sure, why not?”

///

Isaac spent the rest of the week walking around town with a clipboard, asking pedestrians for signatures. Most people ignored him, headphones blaring and faces buried in cellphone screens. A few Mormons signed in exchange for listening to a sermon about Jesus.

Katrina focused her efforts on the campus of Victory City University, gathering a few of her friends to cast a wider net. She had better luck than Isaac did, but not by much.

They didn’t mention any of this to the kids, continuing the lessons as if nothing were wrong. The enthusiasm of Katrina’s students was inspiring but also saddening, knowing what was coming.

On Friday, Isaac worked an early shift at the warehouse. He brought the petition along and propped the clipboard up in the break room, next to the coffee machine. Once again, most people ignored it.

At the end of his shift, Isaac returned to the break room to retrieve the petition, and found it in the hands of Jacob Colby, the warehouse foreman. He was about Isaac’s age, with light brown skin and a dark, bushy beard. His father owned the company.

“What’s up with this?” Jacob asked.

“Oh, it’s just a petition,” Isaac replied. “I didn’t think it would be a problem. I’m really sorry; I should’ve cleared it with you first. I just—”

“They’re shutting down the Creighton Avenue rink?” Jacob said, stepping forward.

“Uh, basically, yeah,” Isaac said. “Have you… been there?”

“Hell, I grew up there,” Jacob said. “My dad took me to that rink for hockey practice every weekend when I was a kid. I even played for their minor team. The Champions, they called themselves. Is the team still playing?”

Isaac shook his head.

“What a waste,” Jacob muttered.

He grabbed a pen and signed the petition.

“If there’s anything else I can do,” he said, handing the clipboard back, “you let me know, okay?”

“There’s not much anyone can do, at this point,” Isaac said. “Unless you’d like to fund the rink yourself.”

Jacob laughed. “I don’t know about that,” he said, and paused. “Hey, is Coach Harkin still in charge of the place?”

“Yeah,” Isaac said. “Why?”

“Give him this,” Jacob said, handing Isaac a business card. “Tell him to give me a call. It’s possible we might be able work out some kind of sponsorship arrangement. We’ve done a few of those in the past. We can’t cover everything, but it might pick up the slack.”

“That would be a huge help,” Isaac said. “I’ll pass this along to Todd tonight.”

“Good luck,” Jacob said, handing the petition back. “I think Ned has some vacation coming up, so I’ll be in touch sooner or later.”

“Thanks,” Isaac said. “Bye.”

He hurried out of the building and hopped onto the first train home.

///

Isaac sat on his couch with a piece of paper and wrote out a list of his work contacts. He opened his phone and dialled the number for Preston Towers.

“Hey, Joan,” he said. “It’s Isaac.”

“Uh, hello,” she replied. “I didn’t expect to be hearing from you again so soon.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not about the job,” he said. “I have a… proposition, I guess. There’s this ice rink in my neighborhood that’s seriously strapped for cash, and I’m looking into the possibility of bringing in some corporate sponsorship to help them stay afloat. Is that something your company does?”

“Not really,” Joan said. “Sorry.”

“All right,” he said. “Thanks anyway.”

“Wait,” she said. “I’ll… talk to my bosses. No guarantees, but I’ll see if they’re open to the idea.”

“That’s all I ask,” he said. “Thank you, Joan. This’ll mean so much to the neighborhood kids.”

“I’ll let you know what I find out,” she said. “Bye.”

She hung up. He drew a question mark next to her name and moved on to the next name on the list.

The fish plant was not interested. The courier company couldn’t afford it. The manager of the motel gave him the number for the office in charge of the franchise’s community outreach. A few others seemed amenable.

When he reached the end of the list, he’d scratched out all but five names. It wasn’t much, but it was the best he could do. He took the list, along with Jacob’s business card, over to the rink and gave them to Todd.

///

Isaac leaned back against the rink wall and watched the Friday night class filter out of the building. The kids were getting quite good already, even after just a handful of lessons. When the last of the children had left, Todd stepped out onto the ice with a broad grin on his face.

“How’d it go?” Isaac asked.

“Isaac, you’re a genius,” Todd replied.

“We’re back in business?” Katrina asked, skating over.

“Not quite,” he said, “but it’s a damn good start. We’ll probably still have to make a few sacrifices, but we’ll definitely be in a better position than we were before. Of course, this will all still have to go through City Council….”

“Don’t worry,” Isaac said. “I’ll threaten to disown my brother if they try to block this.”

Todd chuckled. “Hopefully it won’t come to that,” he said. “This will at least show we’re willing to meet them halfway.”

“I’ll talk to my old coach at VCU tomorrow,” Katrina said. “Maybe the school would be willing to lend us a hand, too.”

“Good thinking,” Todd replied. “And I’ll go make some calls now, see if I can wrangle up a few more leads. Thanks again, Isaac. For everything.”

“It was my pleasure,” Isaac replied.

Todd stepped off the ice and headed for the door. He paused and glanced back.

“Oh, one other thing,” he said. “I think you might be onto something about the Zamboni.”

He smiled and stepped through the door. Isaac glanced at Katrina and she kissed him.

“Do you want to get out of here?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, “but first, what do you say to another round of one-on-one?”

She chuckled. “You’re on.”

They grabbed sticks and a puck and she got into position in front of the net. He skated to the centre line and closed his eyes. As he mapped out the ice in his mind, his concentration was broken by the old Hockey Night in Canada theme blaring from his phone. He opened his eyes and checked the caller ID; it was the morgue.

“Hello?” he said.

“The job starts Monday,” Maryam Mahdavi said. “It’s yours if you want it.”

He thought about what Ivan would want him to do, then glanced at Katrina, waiting for him to take the shot.

“I’ll pass,” Isaac said, and fired the puck into the net.

 

 

 

END