Clark stood in the shadow of a towering concrete and glass building. It was colder in the shade but he was out of the cutting wind. Blowing warm breath into his closed, icy fists, wisps of steam rose from the spaces between his fingers.
Coat collar turned up, a grey, checked Burberry scarf was wrapped around his neck and tucked into the front of a coordinated black car coat.
Taking off his glasses, he blew on them to fog the lenses. He pulled out the tail of his scarf to rub away the condensation, dabbing at his wind-bruised eyes and watery nose. After this job, he’d return the coat, but he’d keep the slightly soiled scarf.
Here in the city, his expensive clothing didn’t set him apart from the rest of the pedestrian traffic in the business district. He blended in as well as if he were part of the landscape. Not like how he would stand out if he were back in his hometown, a lower-middle-class industrial backwater sitting its final death watch.
Back home he wasn’t a sartorial businessman, he was a simple librarian. A librarian more likely to be a cardigan-wearing, khaki kind of guy. He was also a bounty hunter, seeking out thieves who stole valuable books, irreplaceable books, dangerous books.
Other bounty hunters he knew dressed more like Indiana Jones or Allan Quatermain. Clark felt that was a cliché, and lacked a sense of decorum obligatory to his profession. He wasn’t hunting ancient artifacts in a dusty archaeological dig site, he was hunting purloined masterpieces – books of a certain value and importance.
Clark tracked his quarry, who he called Mr. Warren, to a small cafe on Beaker Avenue. Warren was sipping espresso at one of the cafe’s outdoor tables next door to Griffen Antiques. An inexperienced bounty hunter would assume Warren was there to fence the stolen book, Clark knew better.
Clark knew the store was one of many entrances to The Tunnels – a labyrinth of clandestine shops set up in the abandoned bomb shelter tunnels beneath the city. Anything and everything was for sale or barter in The Tunnels. It was also someplace where if you had no business there, you didn’t want to be there.
It was a simple matter to find anything you were willing to buy and just as easy to lose something or someone.
There was more than one merchant in The Tunnels who would pay handsomely for the novel Warren possessed. That the book was stolen didn’t matter, it would bring top dollar from collectors who didn’t ask for provenance.
It was Clark’s job to apprehend Warren and retrieve the book.
Warren thought he merely had a valuable first edition, Clark knew differently. Clark knew Warren had stolen a powerful weapon and the brokers in The Tunnel knew it too. Clark wasn’t only saving the book, he was probably saving Warren’s life too. `