“A Spoiled Game” excerpt I

‘Travelogue’ excerpt from A Spoiled Game: A Jack Swift Case by Carl Knauf

The metro train sped through its usual tunnel, the passengers aboard just as routine as its schedule. A few random irregulars and drifters dotted the crowd of black and dark blue suits, but plenty of distance was given between familiar groupings and unrecognizable visitors.

Jack Swift sat and leant against the dirty plastic. People gave him his space, unimpressed with his tight tattered jeans, faded baseball tee, and disheveled hair and beard. He glared past the smudges on the glass in search of the emotions he displaced, counting each dim light that rhythmically guided the train to its next stop. He caught the eye of a young woman on her phone eager to reach the office and share what gossip was streaming in her ear. He smirked and nodded. She shifted her eyes up and down before turning, disgusted.

As the cars emerged in front of a crowded platform, like a bullet from the black, the rails screeched to a halt, drowning out the muffled announcement on the old speaker. Black and navy was replaced with more of the same as the passengers exiting rushed past museum and event posters, sleeping vagrants, and annoying buskers.

Swift smiled. “Beggars, the bunch of them. One for survival, the other for negotiations, both masking their shame.” He watched the woman as she hurried out of sight with her phone still glued to her ear, calves flexing beneath the hem of her skirt, eyes disregarding anyone she considered beneath her. “Good riddance, my dear. May your arguments be taken seriously.”

He earned a few suspicious glares but motioned his hand to assure his intentions were proper. “Just wishing my friend well. This place is a different animal than what I’m used to.”

There was no response except for a few breathy scoffs. A woman with pale skin under colorful permanent sleeves entered the car just before the doors closed. Dark red highlights rested just atop thick black frames with very thin lenses. The strap of her messenger bag filled the valley that divided the Avengers on her white tee. She plopped her faded black jeans next to Swift in the outcast waiting area.

“Nice shirt,” Swift said.

Uninterested, the woman offered a polite simper before diving into her graphic novel.

He said, “‘The Korvac Saga.’ That’s a good one. The power of being human.”

Unexpectedly impressed, she asked, “You know the Avengers?”

“The crappy clothes and hair didn’t give it away?”

She giggled and tucked her stray sleek strands behind her ear.

Swift reached into his leather courier and removed a gem mint comic protected by a sturdy plastic. “You remind me of someone. Natalia Romanova… or Natasha Romanoff as most know her.”

“Black Widow. I’m flattered.”

“As you should be. Check this out.” Swift presented Tales of Suspense #52.

Amazed, the woman flexed her knowledge. “Her first appearance. May I touch it?”

He handed her the comic. “By all means.”

She handled it as if it was an infant, inspecting each corner and admiring the art. “This is priceless.”

“Unfortunately, everything has a price, especially when fallen on hard times. I’m on my way to sell it.”

Childishly distraught, she pleaded, pressing the plastic against her chest, “No, you can’t!”

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