Chapter One - A meeting of the man and the mongoose

Timothy Alexander Fontaine stood outside the diner and let his stomach
growl.

It had been a long day and promised only to get longer. He stepped inside
the small eatery, a long room with booths to one side and a long counter to
the other. He listlessly ordered the special and ate almost mechanically, not
really tasting the food but sating his hunger. He calculated how much money
he would have after he paid for the meal, and paused, realizing for the first
time in his adult life what broke felt like. It felt like the world had suddenly
pulled away from his feet and suddenly he was falling.

They had moved faster than he'd anticipated, cutting off his company credit
cards. He probably had a few hundred or maybe even a few thousand in a
bank account, but he had no access. He hadn't needed to use his personal
account in years, the automatic debits and credits paying for the usual
services of life behind the scenes while he worked on mastering the
universe. Like a number of his colleagues he'd used the company cards, the
company money when he needed cash, the company cars and planes when
he needed to travel and never given a second thought to what would
happen if they cut him off. And just like that, they had.  

Fontaine paid the dirty haired waitress and stepped back out into the biting
cold. It suddenly occurred to him that he was still driving a company car,
most likely with a GPS tracker and that it soon would be picked up.

He'd driven for a few hours before he realized he had no place to go and
didn't know why he fleeing into the night. He'd discovered the cards he
relied upon for so many years disabled when he tried to get gas. He didn't
have much  cash, everyplace took plastic, so the meager amount he found
in wallet for lavish tips and the like wasn't nearly enough to get him
anywhere.

Looking out into the darkening  night, the small sleepy town in front of him,
he tried his best to formulate a plan. As he stood there a black sedan went
flowing down the two lane blacktop suddenly slowed as it passed the diner.
Suddenly fearful, the well dressed man turned and walked away, trying not
to start running and drawing even more attention to himself. A little ways up
the street he looked back and didn’t see the car anymore but kept going,
crossing the two way road in and out of the sleepy burg and walking slowly
towards whatever was next.

Keeping his head down mostly, his eyes on the Italian leather shoes he
once had bragged came from virgin cows tended by nuns, making them the
softest leather in the world, he tried to sort his jumbled thoughts. A little
water splashed up onto the leg of his worsted wool suit and he paused for
second, then shrugged and continued, his head rising and falling only at the
curbs. In a matter of minutes he found himself in the middle of the town, it’s
small shops closed. Some shuttered forever, a few others with the
ubiquitous closed signs tucked into a corner of the window of the door.  He
realized the town might not be big enough to have a men’s shelter. This had
been a long day of realizations he thought, of finding out in a rush the world
didn’t work quite the way he thought it did.

He turned a corner on a street whose name he didn’t see and stopped.
There up the road a piece, he saw a building with a light on, the first one he’
d seen in town. He approached with the idea of perhaps asking the owner if
there was a nearby hotel or place he could rent a room. A small brick
building with small windows, the associated beverage manufacturer signs of
long defunct brands at various places indicating it had been there for quite
some time, it was set back off the street just enough for cars to park in front.
A small, hopefully friendly neighborhood  bar. The light peeked out of the
windows and then splashed onto the curb  though the door which swung
open as he approached.  The figure wandered out and turned without
looking at Fontaine, heading off presumably home. The lost man realized he
had stiffened when the man walked out and tried to relax. He took a deep
breath, and pushed inside.

It was a hole in the wall. A small narrow room leading back to nothing, it
possessed  a long bar top that had seen better days, booths held together
with duct table and tradition, and the stench of sweat, spilled beer, lies and
un-flushed toilet. Six months ago this would have been an adventure, a
night out for shits and giggles. Now, faced with uncertainty,  Fontaine wasn’t
sure what this foray  was.

Reflexively he fell into his normal mode of leaning on the bar to try and
catch the bartender’s attention, since he had no other tools. He took in the
sparse crowd, six or eight men huddled at the far end of the room, with the
bar keep leaning up on the bar to gaze into the circle. The men looked what
Fontaine would consider blue collar - in dark khaki and shirts with name tags
over the breast, with arms and brows that broadcast hard labor. The man
behind the bar finally noticed him, and without asking what his new customer
wanted took a beer can out of the cooler, opened it and took the five steps
over to him. Without fanfare or explanation, he placed the beer gently on
the bar, and quickly resumed his spot back by the crowd. Fontaine was
puzzled.

The beer was a basic brand he never would have purchased himself, but he
took a sip anyway, crinkling his nose at the taste, and tried to figure out
what was going on. As he watched the group roared in laughter, then before
the first peal of laughter had dissipated, another erupted. The crowd parted
and there in the middle of this group of sweaty and grimy workers was a
man in a suit Fontaine knew even he couldn’t afford.

Unlike the others, the man was slender, almost willowy, like a dancer. His
skin was a tan that looked so natural the watcher thought it had to be fake,
and he moved with a certain smoothness and grace that made every
movement look like a performance. As the odd man out watched from the far
end of the room, the little tan fellow starting imitating someone and the men
gathered about fell out in laughter again. The dainty man  stepped into a
booth, then onto a tabletop and continued his imitation, moving like a
dancer in a crazy old twenties slapstick movie. Effortlessly he moved from
tabletop to seat back to window ledge, all the while looking totally at ease
and without fear of falling.

Fontaine watched with an odd fascination, then wonderment as the small
man performed a move that done live made one wonder if one were
watching a movie and were unaware. In a swift motion, the small man moved
from the tabletop to the bar, halfway through seeming to step up on air,
before settling onto the bar with a smooth motion. Fontaine blinked when he
saw it, and raised his empty hand to press the button on a non-existent
rewind button. He took a swig of his beer, frowned at the taste again, and
tried to figure out what he had just seen.

When he looked up again, the men were dispersing, patting the small man
on the back and giving him looks of admiration. The diminutive figure
produced a large wallet and spread several bills on the counter, to which
bartender frowned. The man in the suit frowned back. They traded stern
looks for a minute, then the bar keep reluctantly picked up the money and
the smaller man smiled. His business settled with the bar the well dressed
man straightened his lapels, then turned and stared at Tyler.

Tyler took a swig of his beer again, frowned again at the taste then glanced
around to make sure he was the one the man was looking at, and someone
hadn’t snuck up behind him. When he looked back the man was gone, but
suddenly reappeared at his shoulder.

“Lost?” His voice was smooth, like a huckster or commodities trader.

“Passing through.”

The man looked him up and down, stepping back for a second to appraise
him. “Fired. Quickly. From a very nice job. I can tell by the shoes and the
fabric of your pants, but you soiled them around the ankles very throughly
which means you don’t care about them. I would say you could afford more,
but you’re here, in a dive in the middle of nowhere, drinking a below bargain
brand beer, a little upset about the taste from the look on your face.”

Tyler took another swig, made the face again, and tried to figure out the
other man’s game.

“Well, you’re in luck. I’m hiring. My name is Mr. Fight. Today is your first
day.”