Story Three of Midnight thoughts follows members of the mafia as they bump up against one of the mob’s most feared assassins, Signore Infinito.
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The Man With The Case
Sicily 1895 AD
Giuseppe lounged in a cushioned chair and sipped wine thoughtfully in the late autumn sun. Servants in white smocks and wide brimmed hats toiled in the vineyard below. Someone, one of his grandchildren no doubt, cranked a subtle aria filtered through the speaker of a Victrola s omewhere in the villa behind him. Giuseppe did not care for these Victrola. Music, like the birds that made it, should not be captured, it should be experienced in the moment.
“Arnoldo cannot be bought. We hurt his pride greatly.” Carmine said, lounging in an identical chair to his left. “We have no fear from the courts, but the papers are becoming more difficult to buy off. If we kill him, people will talk. It could be bad for business”
“Perhaps we made a misstep by not bringing him into the family. Still, there is another way to solve our problem.”
“What do you suggest Don Giuseppe? Carmine asked.
From their vantage point on the terrace behind the villa, the old men could see the entirety of the estate: the vineyards, lake, the servant’s quarters and stables.
The music stopped for a moment and Giuseppe paused to take pleasure in the silence. But his respite was all to brief, and a new aria, composed by an audacious French upstart, spun on a Victrola once more. Giuseppe didn’t care for the liberties these new composers were taking with the form. Opera was performed perfectly 100 years ago. It didn’t need expanded upon, but his daughters adored them.
“He’s real?” Carmine asked, surprised. “Your father told us stories of him when we were children. I thought he was a myth.”
“He’s real enough old friend,” Giuseppe sipped his wine. “What do you remember about him?”
Carmine leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment.
“Your Father told us the family only used him at great need, not when we needed to send a message, but when someone needed to disappear completely,” Carmine said. “But we were children when Don Armando told us those stories! It must have been 60 years ago now at least! Surely Signore Infinito is dead by now.”
“He’s still alive, and if I call on him, he will answer.”
In the vineyard below Giuseppe noticed his foreman’s daughter; he believed her name was Christiana; plucking grapes with the rest of the workers. She had blossomed into her womanhood nicely. Sweat caused her loose white blouse to cling to her enticingly.
Perhaps I will call for her this evening, he thought.
“I’ve only called on him twice since the old jackal died,” Giuseppe continued. “Only in times so bad I’m ashamed to say I feared to trust even you.”
“I had no idea, Don Giuseppe.”
“We were younger men, then. Full of ambition. You’ve proven yourself faithful a thousand times since. I would never doubt you again.”
“Then I will make the arrangements?” his consiglieri said. “How do I send for him?”
“You needn’t worry yourself, Carmine,” Giuseppe said. “I will take care of it myself. Tomorrow. That is enough business for now. Tell me, my friend, how is your son in America?”
Carmine’s leathered face brightened.
“Wonderful!” he said. “He has found himself a young lady, they wish to be married in the spring!”
“She is Italian, I hope?”
The old men sat in the early autumn sun, watched the laborers toil below them, and talked as old men do, of their children and old battles, and left tomorrow’s tasks for then.
Upstate New York 1922
Eddie Grable sat behind the wheel of a borrowed Ford, humming Louis Armstrong and doing his best to ignore the sounds of nighttime in the woods.
The woods gave Eddie the creeps. He much preferred the solid pavement and semi-reliable streetlights of Brooklyn to the soggy roads and fickle moonlight of upstate New York. But Don Vito had given Eddie this job personally, and he’d be damned before he angered the man newspapers called, “The Baron of Brooklyn.”
Still, it wasn’t just the crescent moon and backwoods roads that put Eddie on edge. It was everything about this job. His meeting with Don Vito replayed in his head:
“You pick the guy up at 32nd and Lincoln,” Don Vito had said. “You go where he tells you, and you stay in the car, you understand? When he’s done, you drive him back to the city and you never speak of it to anyone. Not your priest, not your mother, not St. Peter at the Pearly Fucking Gates. You got that?”
“Who is this guy, Don Vito?” Eddie had asked.
“That’s not your concern, kid. Just drive. When you get back to the city, I’ll have Charlie put you to work on one of his crews,” The Don looked at him hard. “As long as you know how to keep your trap fucking shut.”
In the distance Eddie heard the howl of a wolf… or maybe a coyote, were there coyotes in Upstate New York? Either way he didn’t like it.
Eddie tried humming louder, then lost the tune.
After three minutes of silence the young man began to feel crushingly, claustrophobically, alone.
In the city one was never truly by themselves. Even in the privacy of his studio apartment, Eddie was never more than a paper-thin wall away from Mrs. Costanzia or one of the Calabasas twins.
With only a pane of glass muffling the sounds of the wilderness, Eddie realized he was not afraid of the muddy back roads or the wolf/coyotes hidden amongst the trees or even the unreliable moonlight. Eddie was afraid to be alone.
He laughed at the realization, but it brought him no relief. Recognizing one’s fears rarely cures them.
He checked his watch. The Man had been gone for 10 minutes.
Eddie had showed up at the corner of 32nd and Lincoln at 10 p.m. just like Don Vito instructed. Waiting was a tall gaunt figure with a black case. His hand found the handle to the rear passenger door the same moment the Ford rolled to a stop.
“Hi, I’m Eddie Grable,” he had said as The Man climbed into the backseat, resting the case, a battered violin case, between his knees.
The Man had said nothing but handed Eddie a scrap of paper.
“We’re leaving the city huh? No problem! We’ve got ourselves a full tank of gas and water in the radiator. I’ll have you there in no time.”
Again, the man had said nothing, so Eddie shrugged and merged into traffic. Eddie had found nothing remarkable about his passenger, beyond being on the tall side. His face was clean shaven, and his suit was grey. And he said nothing as they left the city. Eddie wondered if his passenger were mute until he missed a turn.
“That was the road,” The Man said. His voice like gravel, and unused.
Eddie nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Uh, sorry about that. Not used to these country roads, born and raised in Brooklyn. I’ll get us back on track.”
The only other thing the man had said was, “Wait here,” as the vehicle came to a halt at the bottom of a secluded drive flanked by thick underbrush.
Ten minutes later Eddie couldn’t even see the house from where he waited, growing more agitated by the second.
He found The Man’s silence disconcerting, but sitting alone in the dark, Eddie would have welcomed the company anyway.
A nightingale called out forlornly and he shivered. He had been waiting for 15 minutes and realized since he had no idea why he’d driven The Man to this secluded address he had no idea how much longer he would be alone. The thought made him shudder again.
After 20 minutes Eddie was shaking. At 30 he began to mutter, “He must be coming back. He must be coming back, coming back…”
Eddie was terrified and he hated himself for it. He felt like a child, afraid of the dark. He fished under his seat and found the revolver where he’d stashed it, its warm wooden grip eased the young man’s tension slightly.
His brother, Eric, brought the pistol home from the war four years earlier, and put it in his own mouth a year after that.
At the funeral, the priest told his mother Eric was the fifth soldier he’d buried that month. Eddie’s mother worried about her eldest son’s soul.
“Father McInerny, you’ve taught that those who take their own lives are damned,” She had said clutching at the man’s robes.
“That is true,” he said, his eyes full of sympathy. “But it was the Germans that killed your Eric, his body just hadn’t figured that out yet. His soul is safe.”
After the funeral, the revolver, and the rest of Eric’s possessions, became Eddie’s.
He hadn’t been old enough to serve in the big one, and jobs were hard to find for a non-veteran, so he started working for Don Vito.
After 40 minutes Eddie decided he couldn’t sit in the car for another minute.
“To hell with Vito,” he said to the darkness.
He swung the door open, stood in the muddy road, and with a shaking hand tucked the revolver into the back of his trousers. Then with a deep breath he started up the drive.
The way was steep, flanked by trees. Eddie’s shiny leather shoes stuck in the mud, he nearly fell twice before he made it to the top of the drive, where he was greeted by what, under normal circumstances, he would have considered an idyllic cottage. Its roof slanted sharply and smoke billowed from a stovepipe chimney.
Eddie failed to appreciate the little house’s charms, but he headed towards it, grateful for any symbol of civilization in the wilderness.
It was only when he reached the porch steps that Eddie realized he had no kind of plan. He couldn’t very well saunter in the front door. The fear that prompted him to leave his vehicle now shifted focus from the vast unknown wilderness to Don Vito’s wrath.
“Stay in the car,” he’d said, and Don Vito was not the type of man you disobeyed.
For a moment Eddie considered returning to the ford, but a quick glance at the dark forest drive dissuaded such thoughts. Shameful as it might be, Eddie’s existential fear of being alone in the woods outweighed his practical fear of Don Vito. He could not return to the car.
Instead he retrieved the revolver from the waistband of his trousers and began circling the cottage, peering through each window as he went.
The first revealed a small living room with simple, well-made furniture and a cast-iron stove, its door agape. Embers glowing orange within. Whoever tended the fire must have been interrupted, Eddie realized.
The windows along the left side of the house revealed a tiny, empty kitchen, and an empty bedroom, but no clues as to where The Man had gone.
Rounding the corner to the rear of the cottage, Eddie saw multi-colored light emanating from the window on the far side of the structure. He crept towards the glow as stealthily as he could manage on the muddy ground. He did this reflexively instead of out of a sense of caution, his fear replaced by overwhelming curiosity. The light, swirling and flickering from blue to pink and every color in between, beckoned him forward.
In the few steps it took to reach the window, Eddie’s curiosity developed into fascination and without a thought to stealth he peered through the window.
He saw a small bedroom, sparsely decorated. A wardrobe stood against the wall opposite Eddie, next to the door. A bed, covered in a floral-patterned comforter, took up most of the room, but Eddie barely registered this. The Man stood stock still with his back to the window. Another man, short with a pencil mustache and wire rimmed glasses stood in the doorway, his mouth agape in disbelief. Eddie paid no mind to either man.
His attention was completely absorbed by the violin case, which lay on the floor at the foot of the bed, open towards the man in glasses. Light emanated from the case, bathing the walls in swirling, ever changing patterns. Eddie found the light hypnotic, though from his vantage point the case’s lid blocked the source of the glow.
Later he could not remember how long he stood peering through the window, but after a time Eddie realized the man in the wire rimmed glasses had left his place in the doorway and taken several steps toward the case. His lenses reflected pink and violet and orange but revealed nothing of the case’s mysterious contents. If he’d glanced up from the case for even a moment, he would have seen Eddie’s awe-struck face in the window, but Eddie knew he wouldn’t.
The Man remained stock-still.
After what could have been seconds or hours, the bespectacled man took a final step forward. He gazed down into it with wonder. Eddie saw a brief flash of recognition in the man’s eyes. The light from the case flashed white, and the bespectacled man was gone.
For a few more seconds the light continued to whirl across the walls of the bedroom. It called to Eddie, beckoned him to see the wonders inside. Unconsciously he raised a fist to smash the window.
Then The Man stepped forward and closed the case, plunging the world into darkness.
Released from the case’s spell, Eddie ducked under the window and panicked. With no frame of reference for what he’d witnessed, Eddie’s mind began to reject the sensory input it had just received.
Was I really about to punch a window?
Eddie could hear The Man shuffling around inside probably heading for the door, so he crept back around the side of the house doing his best to forget what he’d seen.
People don’t vanish and violin cases don’t glow, he told himself. And Don Vito told you to stay in the car. You should probably get back there before He does.
Eddie fled back down the drive, miraculously not falling or losing a loafer in the mud. Suddenly loneliness seemed like the silliest fear in the world. He’d spent hours winding through dark back roads to bring The Man to this cursed place, and it would take hours on those same dark roads to return him to the city. Loneliness didn’t seem very scary at all.
Sliding behind the wheel Eddie briefly considered leaving The Man behind, but realized he couldn’t afford to anger Don Vito, or more to the point, his passenger. So Eddie returned his revolver to its hiding place beneath his seat and waited shaking.
He didn’t have to wait long. The Man made his way down the drive in the moonlight with measured, unhurried steps. He re-entered the back seat and once again placed the violin case between his knees.
“Take me back to the city.”
Eddie didn’t speak. He didn’t say a word the entire drive back to Brooklyn.
Las Vegas 1970
“Smothers, you listening?” Jimmy P snapped his fingers in front of Brock’s face.
“Yeah Jimmy, I’m listening.”
“Good, he’s gonna be here any minute, so go down to the loading dock and wait for him. When he gets here, bring him up to Don Carlito’s office.”
“How will I know it’s him?” Brock asked.
“Don’t worry, you’ll know it’s him when you see him,” Jimmy said. “Now get out of here.”
Brock hit the elevator call button and the doors slid open immediately. Inside he turned around and asked, “Is it true what they say about him?”
“People say a lot of things, kid,” Jimmy shrugged as the doors closed.
As the lift descended Brock decided he was tired of working for guys like Jimmy P; guys who’d grown up on mob movies and thought they were some kind of Al Capone. It was time to move up the food chain.
The Elevator doors slid open on the ground floor. Brock’s senses were assaulted by the sounds of slot machines, the smell of too sweet cocktails and the sight of chumps getting taken for a ride one hand at a time and loving it.
He waded through the crowd of vacationers and gambling addicts, past the craps and blackjack tables; through the swinging doors labeled “employees only,” past the kitchen and finally onto the loading dock.
Brock Smothers was a big man. He’d played both sides of the scrimmage line for Wriggly High School back in Pennsylvania, protecting his quarterback and putting the fear of God in every other QB in the state.
In 1954, his junior year, Brock flattened the running back from Richmond High. The kid didn’t wake up for a week. Brock’s mother was horrified. His coach told Brock he’d just been doing his job. Brock reckoned the coach was right.
Brock’s father did not weigh in, though he’d been in the stands that day, with his wife who was not Brock’s mother, watching his older son Kevin, who Brock hated.
In 1965 Brock accepted a scholarship to a large northeastern university and discovered he liked college a great deal. The professors asked little of him and the girls were much more fun than the ones back in Wriggly. And on the field Brock was a terror. By the end of his sophomore year, he’d set the school record for sacs and his quarterback was the safest in the league.
Then, just 3 games into his junior season, Brock got drunk and killed a townie with his bare hands.
The university lawyers claimed self-defense, the prosecutor settled for manslaughter, and Brock went to prison for a 5-year stretch.
Inside, Brock met the kinds of people who could offer a man of his strength work on the outside in exchange for protection on the inside. Brock was good at protecting people.
Four months before his scheduled release, Brock got stabbed in the stomach eight times. In the infirmary the doctor gave him morphine, which Brock enjoyed.
Upon his release Brock went to work for the Italians. Unsurprisingly, he turned out to be pretty good at the protection racket and insuring folks paid their debts on time.
In 1974 he performed his first murder for hire; a bookie with a failing liver and a guilty conscience. He could have exposed all the illegal gambling in the Midwest, but Brock smothered him with a pillow. His boss got a kick out of that. After that Brock was a Made Man. The Family gave him the best of everything and didn’t mind the morphine as long as he got the job done.
It was around that time Brock began to hear stories about the Man with the Case, always in hushed voices, usually after half a bottle of whisky or more.
The old guard, the ones with grey hair and Italian parents called him Signore Infinito. If they were to be believed he’d been disappearing marks for the Mafia since before they’d come to the new world.
They always said it the same way: Disappeared. No bodies, no evidence, no pesky questions. The Family didn’t use the Man with the Case when they wanted to send a message. They used him when they wanted someone erased from the face of the earth.
And he’s coming here, Brock thought.
The growl of an approaching vehicle pulled Brock from his musings. A black town car pulled up to the loading dock and The Man stepped out, gaunt and straight-backed. Brock thought he could take him.
The Man reached back into the vehicle and pulled out the case.
Anticlimactic, Brock thought. It was old, the brown leather faded but well cared for, with no scuffs or tears. It looked completely unremarkable.
“Welcome to the Palms, sir,” Brock said as The Man climbed the loading dock steps. “Don Carlito is waiting upstairs if you’d follow me.”
The man said nothing but gave a barely perceptible nod.
Brock led him though the service area and casino floor back to the elevators. When a family of tourists attempted to join them a hard look from Brock inspired the father to hold them back and wait for the next lift.
“I know your reputation, sir,” Brock said once the doors slid shut. “And I’d just like to say it’s an honor.”
The man didn’t respond, and Brock didn’t speak again.
When the doors slid open Brock led The Man to the door at the end of the hall, where Jimmy P raised a finger.
“Hold on a sec,” he said.
Jimmy opened the door just enough to squeeze his oversized head through the crack.
“Boss, Brock is back with the man you were expecting.”
“Send ‘em in,” Brock heard the Boss’ voice from inside.
Jimmy opened the door wide and said, “Go ahead.”
The Man stepped into the room and after a moment’s hesitation so did Brock. Maybe the boss felt he needed the muscle in the room.
Inside the office, Don Carlito stood from behind his massive oak desk and moved to greet his guest.
“Thank you for coming Signore Infinito,” he said, offering The Man his hand. He shook it firmly, but briefly.
“You called, I came,” The Man answered in a voice like gravel. “As per our contract.”
“Of course. Please take a seat Signore Infinito,” Said Don Carlito. “Brock, get our guest a drink. Whiskey? Vodka?”
“Wine, if you have anything red from Italy. If not, water is fine.”
“Certainly. Brock the red on the far left. 2 glasses please.
Don Carlito circled back around his desk and sat heavily in his giant, leather chair. Brock went to the liquor cabinet as ordered, resentful of being reduced to the role of waiter.
“As I’m sure you’re aware signore, my father passed last month,” Carlito said.
“Yes, you have my condolences,” said The Man, his voice hollow, without regret.
It’s like he’s just imitating what real people say, Brock thought as he uncorked a dusty wine bottle and poured blood red liquid into two long-stemmed glasses.
“Thank you, signore,” Carlito said, taking the glass Brock offered. “My father always spoke of you with the greatest respect.”
The man said nothing to this but accepted his wine from Brock with a nod. Brock considered taking the chair next to the Man, thought better of it and instead stood next to the liquor cabinet, hands folded in front of him.
“Things are changing in the Family,” Carlito continued. “With our holdings here in Las Vegas, for the first time we are making more money through legitimate means than other avenues.
“My father worked his whole life so my brothers and I would never need to get our hands dirty. Although this did not come to pass, his efforts have insured that my own son’s hands will remain clean. This is a comfort to my wife and mother.”
This was news to Brock. He’d never worked a legitimate job in his life. He wondered what exactly his place would be in this new “legitimate” business.
Carlito continued, “You’ve worked for my family for years, since before we left the old country. I wanted you to know that we are grateful for your service.”
Carlito paused, waiting for a response.
The Man sipped his wine and said nothing.
Carlito pressed on, “As I said we are grateful, Signore Infinito, but we will no longer require your services.”
Brock had never seen the Don look anything but self-possessed, but now he noticed sweat beading on his boss’ brow and he gripped the edge of his desk with white knuckles.
The Man’s expression did not change.
“Very well,” he said. “If you no longer require my services, I will need my contract returned to me.”
“Of course, Signore,” Carlito said with the barest hint of relief in his voice.
The don pulled a heavy brass key from his pocket and used it to unlock a desk drawer. His hand came back into view holding a small metal lockbox. He used another key, retrieved from a chain around his neck to unlock it.
Inside, Brock could see a folded animal skin of some kind. Carlito lifted it from the lockbox carefully, out of reverence or fear, Brock could not say, and held it toward The Man. Brock saw small brown smudges on the hide, letters he did not recognize.
The Man stood and took the skin from Don Carlito’s hand and stowed it in the inside of his suit jacket. While Carlito’s motions seemed reverent, almost ceremonial, The Man’s were casual.
“Our business is concluded,” he said, draining his glass before retrieving the case from beneath his chair and leaving the room without another word.
Carlito slumped in his chair and after a moment of reflection drained his own glass.
“Get me another, would you Brock?”
The Man looked out the window of his Chicago apartment and watched young children play in a jet of fresh water liberated from a yellow fire hydrant. Music from the next apartment over sliced through the thin walls of his bedroom, or at least it was what they were calling music these days. He couldn’t make out the words; the base was so loud, though to be fair The Man had not been excited about a new song in centuries.
The Man’s apartment was a sparsely furnished 3-room, government-subsidized place. He could have lived anywhere, but The Man lost interest for opulence long before music. He owned three pieces of furniture: a ladder-back chair, a small square table in the kitchen, and a twin bed in the bedroom. A clock ticked on the wall across from his bed, and a print of three ducks on a placid pond hung above it. The painting had been there when he moved in.
A knock at the door cut through the driving bass next door.
The Man hadn’t had a visitor since taking up residence in the little apartment, but the knock did not surprise him. Very little did.
It took seven steps to get from the window of his bedroom to the door in the kitchen. He opened it to reveal an old man.
Thick glasses magnified his eyes to bug-like proportions, a ring of white hair clung to the side of his head, and he gripped a wooden cane tightly with his right hand.
“My God,” the old man said. “It’s you.”
The Man said nothing, but moved from the doorway to let the old man in.
“ Of course. You weren’t one for talking back then either,” the old man said as he entered the cramped kitchen. “I hope you don’t mind me barging in like this, you do not have a phone, and I do not have the time left to be corresponding the old-fashioned way.”
They stood there for a few moments regarding one another, saying nothing. Finally, The Man broke the silence.
“Please have a seat,” he said. “If you have business, I have wine.”
“Thank you,” the old man said. His knees popped as he lowered himself carefully into the ladder-backed chair. “I would be honored to drink with you.”
As The Man turned to his cupboard to retrieve the wine and glasses, his guest continued speaking.
“I do not expect you to remember me,” he said. “We only met once, and it was 60 some years ago. My name is Edward Grable. Back in ’20 I drove you to upstate New York for a job.”
The man turned and handed Edward a glass of dark red wine from Italy.
“Yes,” he said.
Edward tasted the wine smacking his lips approvingly.
“My daughter’s husband is a recovering alcoholic, whatever that means, so no booze in the house. This is good.”
The Man, a glass in his own hand, leaned against the counter and regarded his guest.
“Why have you come, Edward Grable?”
“I saw,” Edward said. “Back in ’20, even though Vito told me to stay in the car. I saw the case. I saw what happened to that man. For a lot of years, I tried to forget. Booze, women, the works. I never told anyone. But I couldn’t forget.
“I worked for Vito for a lot of years, even became his friend near the end of his life, after most everybody else was dead or locked up. I didn’t ask him about you until he was on the way out. I think he was relieved to tell somebody other than his shitty kid. That was back in ’64, maybe ’65. I thought maybe I’d find you then, but my third wife just had our boy, and then the Family started changing. They didn’t seem to have room for old soldiers like me. I was distracted, but once I found out what you were, I knew I’d have to track you down eventually.
“My kids are all grown, wife number four was out the door the moment the doc said cancer,” Edward grimaced. “That one was probably a bad idea. Her kid was cute though.”
The man listened without interrupting, his expression unchanging.
“I apologize, the older I get the longer I ramble,” Edward said.
“Continue,” The man said.
“Alright. The doctors gave me 9 months… that was 6 months ago. I feel pretty good right now, but the docs say that happens near the end.
“It took me longer to find you than I thought it would. Turns out I don’t have the connections I once did, and from what I understand, you stopped working for the family about the same time I did.”
“So here we are.”
“Again, Edward Grable, why are you here.”
“Vito told me who you are and how you came to work for the family,” Edward sounded nervous. “But he could not answer the question that’s been burning up my insides for 60 years,
The old man paused as if savoring the moment, “What’s in the case?”
“I cannot answer that question,” The Man said.
Edward drained the rest of his glass, “I understand… I still need to know.”
The man straightened from his leaning position on the counter.
“You understand what you are asking?”
“If you have a contract for me, you must say the words plainly.”
The old man stood, leaning on his cane.
“Signore Infinito, I want to see the case.”
The Man turned and stepped into his bedroom. He knelt next to the bed, reached underneath it and pulled out the faded violin case. Despite its age the brass latches and hinges gleamed in the sunlight filtering in through the bedroom window.
The Man stood, case in hand and returned the kitchen. He placed the case on the floor, clasps facing his guest. In the cramped kitchen it barely fit between the refrigerator and the wall.
“Before you… just before, Could I trouble you for one more glass of wine?” A slight tremor had developed in Edward’s voice and hands.
“Very well,” The Man said.
He filled the two glasses to the brim, Edward returned to the ladder-backed chair and they drank in silence for several minutes.
When his glass was empty, Edward stood with popping knees and met The Man’s eye.
“I am ready.”
The Man knelt, unlatched the case, stood and lifted the lid, bathing the room in swirling light.
Edward gazed into the case and saw infinity.
The whole of creation whirled within the confines of the ancient case, and Edward understood it. He perceived all of space and time and concepts man had yet to dream of. And perceiving them, he understood.
All of creation spread out before him in incomparable majesty, and then, it came rushing toward him: Swirling galaxies, nebulas of every color, and infinitely collapsing black holes rushed past him, or perhaps he flew past them. Regardless, they came faster and faster, becoming nothing more than bright lines of reality silhouetted in the outline of the case.
Time held no more meaning, having understood it, Edward found it no longer mattered. All that mattered was the beauty held within the case, the beauty of all.
Eventually the bright lines coalesced into a single spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, then a single star system; Sol, then Earth, North America, Chicago, South side, 16th street, The Man’s apartment building. And then Edward saw his own face looking back at him, outlined by the case.
He saw recognition… comprehension in his own eyes. He knew himself, where he fit in the universe with a clarity never intended for mortal man. A small smile appeared on his lips and he was falling. Falling into infinity.
The man closed the case gently and latched the lid. He returned it to its place under his bed and looked out the window. The fire hydrant had run dry. The puddles left behind were already disappearing in the summer. The booming base next door had stopped. Across the street, neighborhood kids played double-dutch, chanting rhymes as they weaved between the ropes. I rather like that song, The Man thought.
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