Chapter 2:

Red ash and warm welcomes

Max Caliber

As we stepped onto the platform, George immediately caught our eye. His short round physique looked rather comical in the oversized suit. But nonetheless, he was waving at us from nearby the exit.

“Georgie, how’s it been?” I exclaimed as I shook hands. His palms were wet to the touch, and his handkerchief seemed to be drenched.

“Are you doing okay there?” asked Mikey as he inspected the clearly distraught man. As if consumed by his own anxiousness, he began to nervous laugh and franticly wiping the sweat from his forehead.

“Nothing’s the matter. Nothing at all,” he lied to us as he took Mikey’s hand and shook it far too violently. “In fact, I’m doing simply great. I Feel like a million Franks,” he continued the charade as he patted down each of his pockets.

“Calm down the George. You’re going to have a heart attack,” I exclaimed, trying my best to put him at ease. But as if every single word made it worse. He began laughing again.

“Ah, you joker you. See, you haven’t changed one bit. Not one bit,” he rambled on and tapped me on the chest for good measure. “But anyway, let’s hurry to the car. You guys probably want to get back home and relax,” he suggested and almost ran for the exit. Mikey and I looked at each other with a raised eyebrow and followed suit.

When we stepped out of the train station, George’s car was parked on the sidewalk right in front of the gate. But what really took us by surprise was the homeless man seemingly trying to pry open the luggage compartment.

“Oi, what do you think you’re doing,” shouted George and dashed towards the man. What happened next was our first unsettling taste of how things had changed. George’s charge at the would-be robber went completely unnoticed by the homeless man. So, when he crashed into him. It took him by complete surprise.

George tackled him onto the hard tarmac floor and gripped his hair tight. He proceeded to bash the back of his skull against the road top. Showing no signs of letting up, Mikey and I stepped in.

“Holy hell George. You’ll kill the lunatic if you keep this up,” I tried to reason as I pulled the raving mad George back. Even with us pulling him back, he still got in a swift kick before we finally got him out of striking distance.

“What do you think you’re doing. Could have just chased him off,” scolded Mikey as he shoved the still enraged George back.

“That ash head better keep his grubby little paws off my car. If he so much as tries it again, I’ll kill him,” he shouted as I had to step in and hold him back.

“George enough! You’ve made your point,” I shouted and took him by the scruff of his neck. I watched as his fierce eyes were finally taken off the homeless man and locked onto mine. Clearly, I was giving a look that could kill because the same panicked look returned to him in no time.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. It’s just these guys really are a menace, and they get under my skin,” he pleaded as I watched him squirm in my grip. We remained like this, with all the eyes of the bystanders on us.

“You’ve got ash on you. I can smell it,” whimpered the semi-lucid man on the floor. These words sent George into a frenzy once more.

“I’ll kill you. I don’t have any ash on me. I don’t deal in that shit like your kind does. I’ll kill you,” he shouted and tried to break loose from my grip.

“Mikey, help me get him in the car,” I shouted as I struggled to hold him back.


“So, that’s what those ash addicts are like what I keep hearing about,” brought up Mikey to break the awkward silence that hung over the car. We were well on our way to my home, but since we forced him into the car, no one has said anything until now.

“Yeah. Scum of the city. They started cropping up everywhere since those immigrants brought that Red Ash with them. Disgusting pigs. We take them into our country because theirs get blown to smithereens. And how do they thank us? By brewing their own drug hear and causing all types of problems. I’m telling you guys. It isn’t the same city as before. There’s black gunk on everyone’s soles,” he ranted and simultaneously warned us.

“Come on, George. Just because some of these foreigners are rotten, don’t mean they’re all rotten,” suggested Mikey as he puffed his cigarette out of the window of the car.

“Exactly. I’m pretty sure many of them that came here just wanted a fresh start away from the war. Most are likely hard-working members of society,” I added on to what Mikey said. Hoping it would calm him down a bit or even make him think about what he was saying.

“Well, if that’s true, then I haven’t seen one,” he scoffed at us and mouthed a couple of swear words. For some bizarre reason, he kept looking in the rear-view mirror. At first, I thought he was looking at us, but it’s so brief it’s hard to tell. He was always a cautious driver.

“Anyways. What was that guy talking about? He could smell the ash on you?” asked Mikey. I wanted to rub my temples when hearing him ask that. I thought the same but could clearly see this wasn’t the time to be asking these types of questions. Tactless as always, Mikey.

“Those bums always accuse us better of folk for smelling like ash. Hoping to get the attention of a nearby officer or something. Then while you’re getting searched and interrogated, he swipes something from you to seal. Damn ash head,” he cursed shook his head. Sensing the situation could get worse at any moment. I decided to take a diplomatic approach.

“So, tell me, George. How are things since you’ve been back? Any luck with work?” I asked, feeling confident since he was wearing a suit. Ill-fitting but a suit, nonetheless.

“Oh, you’ve seen the ride?” he enquired with a boastful look in his eyes. “This baby here is my pride and joy. Just got her, in fact. It’s all thanks to this new little business venture I’ve started,” he explained and rubbed the dashboard of the car.

“Oh, how so?” I asked. Glad that the atmosphere took on such a dramatic shift.

“Yeah. Me, Yohan, and Albert recently started working for this security firm. Well, actually, Yohan got us into it. We mostly do patrols and the occasional stakeouts for potential criminal dens. They pay us handsomely as well. You know, with the rise in the crime rate and all,” he explained and seemed to be filled with pride, almost boisterous. I concluded that is why he went off on the man. It’s his job to deal with people like that, so I guess he’s had enough of them at his job. Now they bother him in his daily life as well.

“Must be patrolling some dangerous areas to be paid well enough to afford a car like this and that suit you’re wearing,” assumed Mikey and shot the stub out onto the street.

“Damn right. You guys should give a shout, and I’m sure Yohan can hook you two up with a nice deal like this as well. I’m telling you, that guy is magic. Reminds me a bit of you, Reinhard,” he said and looked in the mirror for a response to the compliment.

“He always was reliable. But it would be nice if he wrote to us occasionally,” I responded before sliding to the center of the backseat. I leaned onto his shoulder, and a wolfish grin appeared on my face.

“What’s the matter,” he asked. Stricken with his sudden nervousness. Strange, I thought. He never was one to crack under pressure. Guess peace times really do change people. I wonder if I’ll become this easy to worry about in a few months.

“So, is the party all set up and ready,” I asked. Blindsiding him completely. He immediately began to squirm in the seat. Underneath my gaze, he must have been shaking in his boots.

“How’d you know. Did someone tell you? We’ve been working on this party for weeks,” he panicked and pleaded to know who my informants were. But little did he know he played exactly into my hands.

“Oh, you know. I took a rough guess, so thanks for confirming my suspiciouns Georgie,” Snickered and gave him a good pat on the shoulder before returning to my seat.

“Ah dammit, Reinhard. Why are you always picking on me? Judy is going to kill me if you don’t act surprised,” he said as he sagged into a slump. I couldn’t help but smile at the earnest reaction. This man was far too honest and easy to read.

“Don’t worry. I’m a fantastic actor. They’ll never guess that I knew beforehand,” I reassured him and adjusted myself on the backseat. Throwing both my legs onto the seat and hanging my hair out the window. As I felt the incredible rush of cold wind in my hair. I could sense my body beginning to finally relax.

“Yeah. The captain’s a great actor. I mean, he pretended to be your friend for this long,” mocked Mikey.

“Hey, come on. Hey,” was all that George could reply within his offended state. Mikey and I let out a belly-bouncing laugh. It wasn’t long before the three of us began to joke and tell stories like back when we were deployed. The trip felt about half the length it usually did.

When we finally pulled up to my house. The entire porch was decorated. Balloons, banners, and even some streamers hung all over the house as everyone was on the porch. Everyone raised their drinks and cheered as we came to a stop.

“Now, would you look at this? Here I thought all of you had forgotten about little old me,” I announced as I attempted my best to look surprised. It was met with a resounding cheer from the porch brigade. The with the slam of the door, they made their way to me. It was warm welcomes and embraces all around. Surprisingly enough, even Mikey got caught with a few hugs.

We all chatted there in the driveway for who knows how long before Yohan finally suggested we retire to the living room to continue the celebration. I got several arms flung over me as Albert and Mikey walked me towards the door.

“Judy and I will get the food ready in the kitchen. You guys just unwind a bit. We’ll be with you shortly,” said Yohan as he and Judy excused themselves from the living room.

“No problem, I think we can keep them entertained until then. I mean, if they weren’t sick of us during the war, then it is far too late to back away now,” shouted Albert as he took a prime spot on my couch.

“How can I grow tired of this, huh? Beers and good people. Nothing I love more,” I declared and opened one of the cans that were sitting on the coffee table. Judy was all that was going through my head when I got out of the car. I wanted to tell everyone to leave so it could just be her and me. She was glowing and looked more beautiful than ever. Her jet-black hair was done up all nice. She even wore her fancy make-up just for today. I’ll have to make sure to show my appreciation once we’re alone.

“Come on, tell us already. How were the extra six months of paperwork and cleaning up other people’s messes? While we sat back here enjoying life,” said Albert in his usual loud voice. It was hard not to stare at him. The damage was horrifying. Half his face was paralyzed and damage. But at least the good half still smiled.

“Well, let me tell you this,” I began before something happened. Someone critical had decided to announce their arrival in my life. And I was none the wiser back then.

“Captain Reinhard. This is Yusuke Kurosawa of the York central police department. I would like to have a word with you.”

Real Aire