The stretch limo cruised down a frosty winter street. In the plush back seat shadows from denuded maple trees raced like skeletal hands over Arthur's reddened cheeks. As they pulled into a drive-in donut joint, he glanced out the smoke-tinted window. High clouds like gray ice, flowing in a river of cold morning light; it looked like the towers of mega-Toronto were drifting north on an iceberg. It was a scene as big and empty as the skeleton of a dinosaur. It made him think of civilization here as a lonely island - even the biggest scraper was nothing more than a cube that would freeze over and collapse under the weight of north winds and time.

The empty feeling didn't bother him; he wished it was more than illusion, but it was illusion because soon the streets would be bustling, and the vermin would be everywhere. They would come from all directions; it was like every shadow and every puddle in every seedy back alley gave birth to human rubbish at 8:00 a.m. sharp every day. Greedy people, unemployed people that wanted more, but they didn't want to show up for their city work assignments or do anything other than protest, beg and complain. Though they cried for handouts and a return to the welfare state, they always had drug or red light district money to blow at the video lottery terminals and gaming booths. Most of all they didn't want to pay the new food bank taxes or for anything at all. He could hear their multi-racial shouting in the back of his mind like the howling of an ill wind.

Street activists, some of the brighter ones called themselves that - he remembered reading an article by old Jack Thompson decades ago, back when they created the megacity through the amalgamation of six smaller cities. He wrote it in a serious tone, “You eliminate community government and local politicians, and what you'll get in the end is core decay, frightened citizens and an army of homeless people and criminals.”

Things were like that now because all crime was on the rise. There were fewer communities and community leaders, and almost no community activities. Community ingenuity had declined to nothing. The new story was urban decay. And there were fees for everything and housing prices and rents no one could pay. Welfare and all social services had been drastically reduced due to budget woes and a financial crisis. It all led to urban desperation, kids with gang leaders as role models and city government that was run like an occupying army, spending most of its energy and borrowed money on police to coerce the mob and keep it under control.

“Ah, too late to worry about that now,” Arthur thought as he watched his chauffeur return with a mug and muffin. He took a bite and swallowed a sip of steaming coffee, and as they pulled away, he spotted a gang of derelicts coming up out of a rubbish-papered alleyway. His stomach growled and his ulcer bit at him so hard he jumped in his cushioned seat. Damn, he was supposed to be the strong, and the wino bums were supposed to get the ulcers. He was the mayor of super-Toronto, king of the beasts. Only it felt like the beast was in his stomach, gnawing at him. The strong, “bah,” he spat out a piece of muffin and his face reddened as he smoothed his hair over his bald spot. The strong were people who could survive in that private sector slum out there -- that developers' paradise of homelessness, hunger, and unemployment. Survive and keep their health and their sanity.

There weren't many true survivors. Most people were damaged goods. It was really about privilege. He had it; these days there were the privileged and the underprivileged. The underprivileged had strength of a sort, but again it was more like that ulcer of his. Democracy used to be a do-good spirit of policy rising from the voters. But now there was little democracy and many power plays. The people used protest and riots as a club - the do-good spirit had been replaced by the ulcer. The roaring beast in their bellies that made them move, holler, and not think too much. And in some ways that was good because if you did too much thinking about democracy in the megacity, you'd probably succumb to the urge and just throw up.

A pallid sun peeked out of the clouds, creating an icy gold gleam on the windows of the ebony government tower they were approaching. The place looked as hard as a giant diamond, and it got him back to thinking about greed. The Fathers of Confederation had formed Canada because they wanted to build a great democracy. Their motives had been fairly pure, but the megacity reeked of greed, and it was appropriate because it was created to save money and make money. Less democracy, less bills; fewer local politicians and less regulation meant big developers, big government and business could forge ahead unopposed. Forge ahead and make big bucks by privatizing services and pushing through mega-projects. The One Big Toronto wasn't a democratic thing; no one wanted it or voted for it - it was created with the stroke of a provincial government pen . . . they put through a bill granting fascist powers to themselves and went ahead with the megacity. So if its people were greedy and spent all their time crying for money to throw at video gambling machines, they were really into the spirit of the city. Making a fast buck at the expense of decency and democracy was really the founding idea of it.

“Money, damn it all,” Arthur muttered as the limo turned down Lastman Boulevard. He hated money and because he hated it, he’d been elected. His opponents had gone down in corruption and scandals; every last one of them. What he wanted was power, and power was what he could never gain because he was the elected mayor. Real power was now in the hands of the City Clerk, a provincially appointed official that acted as the real mayor while Arthur was little more than a stooge. Sometimes just the thought of it made him cry; he'd reach out, tears in his eyes, grasping at the air, at the power he could never grip. In the night in his dreams he cursed the provincial government and former premier Hatchet Hardin - cursed them for that black day in Hardin’s second term when he’d declared a budget emergency and transferred the powers of Megacity Council to the appointed City Clerk.

Ahead, the gold uniforms of his paramilitary police showed amid a sea of protester denim, but Arthur didn't get to see much because the city police edged their rubber-bumpered vehicles off the curb and plowed ahead of the crawling limo. More city police, community foot patrols dressed in green khaki came up past the limo and the officers used yellow-painted metal sawhorses to widen the wake of the machines and keep a path cleared for the mayor's limo.

Arthur could see some of the people now, and he grinned. It was a crowd of protesting tenants today - a milk-toast crowd in comparison to some of the mobs he faced. Probably the most ridiculous thing about it was that they thought he could somehow aid them in their plight, or fight for rights . . . and aid them he couldn't because the City Clerk would never put a signature on any plan for tenant rights.

Sighing, he clicked his pocket organizer, and it rang immediately. It was Merv, the City Clerk. Shouting penetrated his supposedly soundproof window. “Speak up, Merv. I can't hear.” Merv was saying something about a press scrum. Fists beat at the window. He saw a face distort to hideous rubber as it pressed against the glass, then he heard the crunch of a Billy club and screaming as the tasered protester went stumbling back from the car. The guy had expensive glasses and a fringe of long hair. Probably a communist professor, Arthur thought as he watched him fall screaming on a heap of razor wire. Powering down the window, he threw the remains of his coffee and muffin at the guy. Then he sealed it and grinned - now that's power, he thought. And with all the impotence he experienced day to day, getting the odd shot in at a protester was tops. Merv's voice hollered from the phone in his lap and his grin vanished. “No scrum today, Merv,” he said, and then he hung up.

Arthur's heels clicked down a polished marble hallway. He glanced wistfully at the vaulted ceiling. This was a place big enough to be a train station, and in spite of the public galleries, it was nearly always empty. To get to it you had to cut through five levels of security. At the end of the hall, broad oak doors led into another room, which had once been a library. Arthur used his card and entered a paneled area. This was the office of the City Clerk.

Merv Harndin was waiting, sitting with folded hands at his massive desk. With light streaming in from a huge arched window behind him, he looked positively tiny. A couple of Merv's brown-suited trustees were also at the desk. They had pinched faces, and Arthur understood that to mean Merv was pissed off.

Leaving his desk, Merv walked around and up to Arthur. His plump build and inward-pointing toes killed the effect of his serious expression. The fact that he walked as silently as an undertaker was scary. “So you're hanging up on me, again,” he said.

Arthur wasn't afraid to look Merv in the eye, but Merv's pigeon toes and pointy shoes always drew his eyes downward. He always had the feeling Merv was about to kick him in the shin. Merv's nasty expression was killed by his cute curly hair, but it gained psychological effect from the fact that he was empowered by the premier, and technically was Arthur's boss. “I got the message, something about a scrum. I told you before, I can't hear while I'm pressing the flesh out front.”

“I didn't say anything about a scrum. I was talking about my vacation. I'll be gone for a month. Florida Keys. Sit down and I'll brief you.”

Merv's advisors stood as they sat down. “So you were pressing the flesh out front. What's the issue of the day?”

“Tenant Rights. Most tenants in the core are homeless or squatters, as you probably know. Say, Merv. I've been thinking. How about putting together an eviction rights package. Something I could use in the next election.”

“Merv turned to the thinner of his two assistants. He was a very nervous man with bony hands that trembled. “What is our position on tenant rights? Are we allowed to dispense any?”

“Hum, I would say the problem is the provincial government’s Tenant Review Bill. What we have there is the skeleton of the original Landlord and Tenant Act, which is 425 pages outlining tenant rights, plus 8,750 pages of new conservative amendments to it in the omnibus bill, and these amendments limit those rights. It would take about a week to read it through. The main thing tenant protesters want is the reinstatement of courts to handle eviction cases. If we could convince the premier to allocate spending, which is doubtful, there is still the problem of amending the amendments. It could be mentioned in as many as 500 different places that tenants have no right to fight an eviction. So if we don't correct them all the first case will fail in court.”

“Well, I guess that's something long-term you can work on for the next election,” Merv said. “Now, about my vacation. My assistants aren't fully qualified so you’ll be signing all documents on your own authority - acting as mayor and clerk. The premier's office will help you with information on what you might want to sign and what you might not want to sign. If in doubt, leave it until I get back. Put a freeze on all spending by councillors. Your public appearances will be limited, and since I won't be editing any speeches for you while I’m away, make sure you beat around the bush. Whatever you do, don't make any firm commitments. This office will be closed, so you are to work at your usual hideaway office. If all goes well I‘ll be out of here by noon.”

Two huge steel doors decorated the other end of the vaulted hallway, and these opened on a helicopter pad. Usually Arthur used a smaller side door. Checking the wind gauge, Arthur saw it was safe to open them and used his card. The copter and pilot were waiting on the pad, as they were every morning. The reason for it being that Arthur didn't actually work at city hall like the protesters thought. A year ago, citing security reasons, the City Clerk had rented Arthur's suite of offices out to lobbyists for a multinational pharmaceutical firm and moved him to a hideaway office on the waterfront Planet Fair Demolition Lands. These lands were actually a strange sort of ultra modern wasteland - a megacity project built down on the southeast waterfront when it seemed certain that that the city’s bid for the Planet Fair would be approved.

The area featured several blocks of eroded streets filled with illegally dumped industrial waste, debris and rubbish. When the hi-rises of the mega project had been constructed, an old underground sewer system and an unstable rock formation beneath the sewers had been overlooked. It meant they had completed a project that was really a giant Humpty Dumpty ready to collapse - and it did collapse. The lesson learned was that when mega-projects were put together in secret and it was too easy for developers to get permits, they didn't check for other structures they were building on. Now there wasn't a permanent resident in the whole place; if you could find a stray cat or raccoon you were lucky. Access was by plane only.

Arthur had objected to the move at first, and then he'd thought it over. He hated the City Clerk and his brown-shirted financial crisis team, so it wouldn't hurt to get away from them, plus he was going through a divorce battle with Margaret and the demolition lands were a place where her lawyers couldn't get to him. It seemed like a temporary solution so he'd bought into it.

As the helicopter hit the air, he thought about buying out of the deal. His guess being that Merv had put him there to humiliate him, or maybe he was hoping a building would fall on him. There was also the possibility that the premier was behind it - a move to keep him under control, having only to fly into the city for controlled scrums. There really was no danger of him saying anything controversial when he was hidden in a wasteland most of the time. The premier seemed to have political instinct. He knew that any mayor would eventually make a bid for power. Possible power plays were blocked as long as Merv and the trustees were in firm control.

Toronto panned out below like a glossy postcard as the copter headed straight for the lake. In the immediate city, little green space showed, just jammed traffic arteries, scrapers and concrete. He was glad when the blue waters of the lake appeared, cool, and relaxing – enough so that the domino tumble of condo towers next to the Toronto Island super airport didn't bother him any more. He closed his eyes, let his thoughts spin with a few deep breaths, and when he opened them they were descending on a wide wall of rubble, barbed wire and denuded thorn bushes. Broken streets and small bridges showed at odd earthquake angles. He could see rusting auto wrecks, shattered buildings and the gleam of broken glass. There was nothing quite like the demolition lands. Smack in the middle of them an open square and dry fountain appeared. A concrete slab like a bunker with gun-slit windows rose on the west side, and that was Arthur’s office. Cleaned daily by the only city works crew that had survived the privatization laws, it was his personal paradise, home away from home, and place of business.

Cold wind from the rotors chilled him and sent leaves skittering on the frosty cement. Arthur shivered, looked around, and then walked to the main doors. Stopping by a marble column, he turned and looked back at the rising helicopter. In moments, it’d vanished, and he felt another cold wind; this one moaning, creaking through the shifting wreckage like a frosty ghost and sending light hail rattling against boarded windows. It would have given other men the creeps, but to Arthur it was the sound of home.

His footsteps echoed like gun claps as he walked the foyer. Though flat when it was built, it now inclined slightly and Arthur had to remember to walk slowly. Stopping at his office door, he recalled that most of his work was done. It would be a good day to start with the tenant rights idea. Slag Peterson was the big candidate talking about running against him in the next election, so it would be nice to come up with a few surprises during the campaign. Slag never campaigned on anything but tax cuts and a developers’ wish list. Arthur grinned as he considered how a few issues like rights for tenants would throw Slag into a state of hopeless confusion.

His magnetic key turned in the lock. Maybe the premier would fund a system like the old one - one rotating circuit judge, who rode around the city on public transit hearing eviction cases at no cost in the public areas of shopping malls. The door creaked open - he could have the 8,750 page compendium of amendments flown in and start work on it in the afternoon. Wiping his shoes on the mat, he nodded in private approval, turned, and then he saw something crazy and gasped.

A large map of the city was posted on a board behind his desk, only now it had a huge hunting knife stuck in it. Arthur's hair stiffened as he walked over. As he got closer, he saw that it held a bloody note on butcher paper. Pulling the blade out, he snatched the note. Blood got on his fingers so he hurriedly pulled out a handkerchief and wiped them, then his ulcer roared and his vision blurred. Managing to fall into his chair, he winced and waited for his head to clear. He read the note carefully.


The note fell limp in his palm, and for some moments, he stared in disbelief. Then it hit him, who it had to be and he felt his tongue become a dead lump in his mouth. Fear rammed it into his throat, and his ulcer went cold as ice. Falling forward from the chair, he went to his knees on the floor and choked. He shook the note - “Damn it, no! no! It can't possibly be . . . I'm losing my mind.” Blood rose to his head so fast he felt his face flush and he nearly passed out, then a voice . . . a voice from a past he’d all but forgotten, rang out . . . it echoed in the cold streets and sewers of his memory . . . 'I'll get you, Arthur! I'll get yoooooooooooooooooou!'

Stumbling to his feet, he seized the desk and shook his head. “Call Merv . . . wait,” he muttered. “Maybe Merv's behind it. He found out somehow, and wants to drive me mad and put me away. But why would Merv blackmail himself for ten million? But if it's not Merv, then it's Ace, and it can't be Ace. . . that's impossible . . . he's been dead for twenty years.”

Deciding he needed help, he went back to the foyer and down to a reinforced door. His bodyguard, Edward was billeted there, though Arthur rarely saw him. He'd have to take him along for protection. Edward was far too dumb to be involved in such a clever plot, Arthur was sure of that, so he opened up and hurried down the hall, expecting to find Edward in his quarters watching the sports satellite channels like always. As usual, the door was open, and he could hear cheering. Edward had his back to him, and appeared to be absorbed in a Jays game, which had to be a replay since Arthur knew the Jays weren't playing today. “Edward,” he said quickly, “get dressed, I need you.”

There was no answer and Edward didn't move. Asleep at the set again, he thought. He hurried over and seized Edward's shoulder, and to his surprise found it hard and cold. Edward fell back and his face came into view - ice-blue eyes bulging, blood tears, his tongue protruding fatly from his gaping mouth, and there was a steel dart stuck in the centre of his forehead.

Arthur gagged, staggered back. He was about to run when he spotted one of Edward's automatic weapons on the floor. Grabbing it, he took off, heading for the front doors.

Cold wind blasted his face as he ran across the square, and it occurred to him that running wasn't the best idea. It was likely safer in his bunker than it would be in the wrecked streets and buildings. But that didn't matter, because Edward's body and the possibility that the killer was still in there was a power he couldn't overcome. Ducking into an outdoor wireless phone niche, he picked up the receiver and was about to punch in a number when he remembered that none of the phones here worked. He slammed it down and took out his pocket organizer. Phoning the police wouldn't be a good idea; he couldn't do that or they'd want to know about the note. If they captured the blackmailer alive he’d talk, and his career as mayor would be over. Merv couldn't possibly be behind something this insidious, he was sure of it now, so he punched in his number.

“Calling already, Arthur. Guess I'm not going to have much of a vacation, am I?”

Arthur steadied his hand and told him about the death and the note.

“You didn't call the police, did you?”


“He calls you old buddy, so just how long has he been blackmailing you?”

“He hasn't, and I don't know him, I swear.”

“You son of a bitch, Arthur. You gave him information about me!”

“I didn't. I couldn't. I don't know anything about a billion-dollar fraud. There isn't one, is there, Merv?”

“Of course not, but this guy must have some dirt on us he's planning to release. I need a name, give me his name.”

“Ace, but it won't do you any good, because Ace couldn't have written that note - he's been dead for twenty years.”

“You're nuts, Arthur. I want that name. Never mind, I'm flying in with my security man to track this maniac. Keep on the run and prepare to meet him at the tube at two, and you better hope I don't find out that you're in on this.”

“Bring the City Notes.”

“I guess you couldn't do without that money, could you?”

“Shut up, Merv - you asshole. There's a killer after me, and I don't care about you or money. But if we have to lure him out, we need the dough.”

Arthur pocketed his phone, shuffled away from the booth, nearby buildings leaned crookedly, and he could feel cold eyes watching him from every broken window. Waiting around for Merv wasn't an option; the killer could pick him off. Maybe a dart would whistle down any moment. The thought of it made him shiver. The tube, he said meet him in the tube. What was that? Putting it to mind he remembered that the tube was the first part of the project to collapse - part of the expressway project, and it had dropped into the old overlooked sewer complex the project had been built over top of. “Let's see, from here the tube would be to the north.”

Loosening his belt, he stashed the weapon, then he hugged the wall, moving north through the square. Everything was iced over, making for slippery going, and the obstacles were many - piles of broken concrete, broken flagpoles, rusted reinforcement bars, fallen ledges, hunks of tar and roofing stone. He came to a spot where the street had split and he could see the corpses of earthworms in the frosted side.

The wind sang high, every rusty nail and loose board above creaked as he climbed over the remains of a dump truck in a sunken intersection. He was hurried along by the blow on a street that wound north. A huge sheet of tin, half-torn from a works building, banged incessantly against a metal pole that held a street sign that had rusted to the point of being unreadable. Jumping some timbers, he found another block of open but warped road and hurried on. Near the next intersection, the wind gusted and blew the door of a plastic Johnny open, causing him to wobble near a deep crevice. Flurries spun and skated on the rubble, cloud shadows drifted and the CN Tower rose like an unfriendly giant in the distant gloom.

Thoughts of the killer sent his blood running cold, but in spite of the fear, his mind weighed the truth of the situation. A blackmailer wouldn't have killed Edward. It couldn't be a professional after him or he'd be dead already. This murderer was likely a maniac - a concept that caused him to bite his tongue, groan, and wonder why in the hell he was going alone to this meeting. But what else was there? He supposed it was that he didn't trust Merv . . . that and the fact that he had to face it sooner or later. If Merv was into fraud like the note said, then what sort of deal was it? And murder . . . it sure wasn't Merv that planted a dart in Edward's forehead.

Arthur knew Merv could be getting kickbacks, but hell, in reorganized megacity politics a lot of people were getting them. City deals were always rushed through by politicians and committee members bought by developers with plans for mega-projects. The megacity was a developers' mega-dream. Some people said it wasn't only developer corruption, but bureaucratic corruption. They thought that the old conservative Al Peachly had tightened city amalgamation by using blackmail to eliminate a crew of councilors who were in the way of plans to download more costs. Old Peachly sure couldn't say anything about that now. He'd died right here, in the demolition lands, breaking sod on the day the tube and the sewers collapsed and Humpty Dumpty came down for the big fall. Most of his key staff and the former city clerk had been with him that day. It meant that if there had been any corruption they would never testify concerning it. If they did, they'd be the first witnesses that ever dug themselves up from under the rubble of a forty-storey building to testify against themselves.

Merv had been in charge of the records even back then, and he'd testified that the old sewer system that destabilized the development had never been on record. The developers couldn't have known about it. Only thing was - Arthur knew the sewers were on record at one time and that Merv had lied. He knew but he wasn't able to say a word, not even to Merv, because revealing the information would bring to light a period in his past that he wanted buried.

“Buried,” he thought, and a spotlight flashed high in the gloomy clouds swirling past the CN Tower, illumining the truth in his mind. Skeletons came clear of the cobwebs, and he saw it all. Merv had somehow pieced together his past. Merv had to make sure he never talked … because if it were discovered that Merv had lied about the sewers, the case would be reopened and he'd go away for a long time.

The sound of beating rotors carried on the wind. Glancing up he saw Merv's blue copter descending into the crooked maze of buildings. A huge chunk of concrete came crashing down like a bomb, destroying the side of a phone booth on his right. Hurrying to shelter in a runoff tunnel, he looked back, seeing a high ledge split and more concrete spider and fall. If any of it hit him, he'd be dead; killed by the wind and not Merv.

The realization hit him; once crushed he’d never live again in this city. And that meant one thing; no one had come back to life. There wasn't a supernatural killer or monster. Merv had written that note after digging up some clippings on his past. His hired butcher had killed Edward and planted the note. But why the charade? Why the phony meeting in the tube? And why would Merv come over personally when he was supposed to be heading for the Florida Keys, presumably for an alibi? Could be they wouldn't kill him right away, but hold him until Merv was safe. Have him answer some questions, make some phone calls, then terminate him when everything fit their plan.

“They'll never get me, the bastards!” His numb hand touched the automatic weapon under his coat. He hurried ahead out of the tunnel. A quick flash caught his eye; light illumined part of a dark coat as someone moved in the gloom beyond a cracked storefront window. Someone had appeared and faded fast - the mark of someone deadly. Someone who could only be Merv's hired killer.

Keeping on the far side of the street, he crept along in the shadow of a pocked brick wall, his eye still on the suspect window - then something black slithered at his feet, his ulcer clawed at him, a cat screeched, and he ran like crazy, the wind moaning through broken walls and girders like a zombie in hot pursuit.

This portion of the road inclined upward, so he huffed to the top and halted, finding that the asphalt ahead had collapsed. Eroded earth gullied down to a stack of empty drums and a dead end. “Shit!” he said, staring at the jack hammered wall. He noticed the flurries melting in front of him, and felt a rush of warm air. A familiar smell, the odors of the sewer, and it brought back memories. It meant the gully was a split where the project had shifted down into the old sewer complex. Glancing back, he saw no one, but he heard something snap, and that was enough to start him downhill. He got three long steps before the frosty earth collapsed, sending him headlong to the bottom where he tumbled into the drums. The gun in his belt hammered his kidneys so hard he nearly passed out. For a moment, he groaned with wet flurries hitting his face. A strong exhalation of acrid sewer air roused him. Looking right he saw the end of a broken megacity pipe, rusty mesh and a torn sewer grate. It meant the old tunnels were right below and it would be possible to use them as a getaway.

Dropping down, he waited for his vision to focus; he could see about twenty yards back, after that it was gloom. Taking out his keychain penlight, he clicked it on and saw that the tunnel was clear. If he were very lucky, he'd find a passage to another exit and escape the killer.

Clods of earth rattled down behind him; he hoped it wasn't someone coming down the rise. Fear killed the pain in his back and he began to walk, careful steps because the floor was skinned with dirty ice. Slime on the walls had frosted over, and there wasn't any polluted water or sewage now as the connection to the rest of the city had been severed after the collapse.

The tunnel widened; there was plenty of room for upright walking. Light fanned down in spots from jagged splits above, and he could hear the faint howl of the wind. He came to a branch where the walls were bricked. And it was an area he remembered from his old days as a sewer worker - days that'd ended twenty years ago. His sense of direction returned, and he took the larger branch, knowing it headed north to the tube. He had it in mind that there might be a break there, a spot where he could hide and watch for Merv. Pulling the gun from his belt, he checked it over and thought about shooting Merv. Maybe he'd just blast him from a hole in the wall and that would be the end of it.

An open workman's storage area appeared off to his left, and at the back of it, he saw a heavy gray door. The place seemed familiar. Walking over, he tried the handle, and though stiff, it moved, allowing him to pull it slowly open. Raising his penlight, he looked around and at first saw nothing but a rust-stained concrete floor. Then he stepped in and something caught his eye. He steadied the beam. It focused on cobwebs and a skeleton. His hand jumped, and the light illumined more skeletons. Staggering back, he felt his scalp tighten like a glove. Turning, he hurried out the door and paused for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Footsteps, a shuffling and scraping came from the tunnel, and he didn't step out and look, but quickly stepped back in the room and quietly closed the door.

Now it was certain that someone was following him. He made his way across in the gloom, passing the skeletons slowly and brushing against a stack of crumbling paper. He heard another scrape and turned. He saw a very faint light and crept over to an air grate. He could see through the slats to the tunnel. Footsteps echoed and he crouched as a shadow approached. It was a man, dragging one foot as he walked - a cripple. The dark form walked right up beside the grate, passed it, then halted, turned, and headed back. For a brief moment, faint light fell on the face, and it was a moment that stopped Arthur's heart. It skipped about five beats, and for at least a minute, he couldn't breathe. His lungs simply froze. When they started to pump again, blood and a force of electrifying fear rose and he felt his hair turn to nails. The face, it had been horrible, deformed with splotches of scar tissue and rust . . . and it had been Ace's face. Ace, the man who'd sworn he'd get him.

Ace was supposed to have died twenty years ago, and in the old days, he’d been Arthur’s foreman in the sewer. It seemed impossible and mad that he’d still be here. But he was here and without a doubt, he’d collected the skeletons and written the note.

He wondered what the skeletons were; people Ace had killed or unfortunate victims whose bodies had been washed into the sewers? He walked back over and scanned the bones with his penlight, finding one of the skulls to have a metal tag with an inscription. Peachly, it said.

“Damn,” Arthur whispered as he realized that Ace must've dug up the remains of Al Peachly and the other staffers buried in the big collapse. Shining the light on the stack of papers, he studied the top one - some kind of document, he could still read the signature – Jackson Chardy. Chardy had been involved in the early projects. Grabbing another paper, he found it to be signed by Merv. He skimmed it and understood what the documents were . . . evidence, documentation that proved the whole Planet Fair deal had been based on conspiracy and fraud. Of course, Arthur already knew that without seeing any evidence, because the idea originally came from Al Peachly and a few developers.

The remains of the big Planet Fair project stood directly overhead; the project that had ended up as the demolition lands. A development scam that put twenty billion dollars into the pockets of developers, construction companies, unions, lobbyists and political hacks.  

Rank as fresh garbage and as stale as thousand-year-old rot, the reek of the sewers rose in his nostrils. Something viler than an ulcer moved in his stomach, and determination grew. The flavor of the whole thing stuck in his mouth like the aftertaste of some crook's horsemeat hot-dogs. Politics was something ugly, a monster, and these people had let the beast run amok. The megacity was their monster, their legacy.

With this evidence in his vault, he could do anything he wanted to do as mayor. He could spend a billion on tenants if he liked. There was no more time for tea with skeletons and old pals turned to phantoms. Merv would be out there, playing for all of the marbles. He had to erase Merv. Lifting his gun, he stared at the gold Remington label and resolved to deal with the situation. Merv was a little prick, that was all he'd ever been, and if he murdered people, it was because he didn't know how to wield power. For Ace's part, it was too bad he'd become a freak -- too bad, but life was life and if Ace got in the way he'd just have to find the strength to shoot him.

The door handle felt like ice; he eased it open slowly and stepped out. Hopping down to the tunnel, he looked back, seeing nothing but retinal flashes in the dark. Flicking on the penlight, he swept it across the tunnel. It came to rest on a face - Ace's aged and distorted mask of a face. He stood in the shadows beside a broken manhole ladder, eyes dead, almost like he was a statue . . . then a spark lit his pupils, his mummified upper lip curled grossly and he began to move.

Aiming the Remington, Arthur prepared to fire. His hand shook. He knew he owed Ace and he really didn't have anything against him. Fear and pity flowed like poison in the pit of his stomach. Lowering the gun, he turned and ran. Sand and gravel on the patches of ice aided his footing and the sound of his heart pounded with his heels. Brown brick walls changed to gray stone and concrete. Swinging left at a fork, he entered rounded runoff tunneling. Water trickled over hard mud at the bottom, his feet made a slapping sound. Death pursued him in the darkness to his rear, he was racing to meet it in the tunnels ahead, it was there with the gun in his hand, and it towered overhead in the heights of the Demolition Lands … the wind howling through the disintegrating scrapers was its breath, the smashed girders, glass and concrete its teeth. The creators of this nightmare couldn’t have been human, they were the skeletons he'd seen, grinning and mocking as their spirit of decay killed city democracy and brought everything low.

The people had lotteries, drugs, poverty, prostitution, and serfdom. It was democracy as fair and friendly as a kick in the teeth. And they had him as mayor - an impotent weakling who'd done nothing but listen to the dictates of the premier's brown shirts and the City Clerk. Arthur had always wanted power, always admired men of power, dreamed of power. If he died now he'd die a failure and a coward, a shivering loser who'd never realized even part of his lifetime dream.

A rush of cold air and a crescent of bright light alerted him, woke him from the evil daydream. If he’d calculated correctly, he'd be at the tube - the half-kilometer bypass ramp to the new super expressway. Since this end of the tube was the only part that hadn't crumbled, Merv had to show here.

The light brightened, the tunnel narrowed. Heaps of sand and gravel had poured in, making it nearly impassible in spots. He saw busted timbers blocking the exit, which really wasn't an exit, but just a place where the roadbed of the tube had collapsed. The light was five feet up, which meant he had to climb out without being able to look around first. If Merv had arrived early, he could be picked off. But most likely he hadn’t as the helicopter couldn't have landed directly. Biting his lip, he tried to decide. Merv would have a gunman with him, so he'd be up against two men. Looking back, he saw nothing, but he knew Ace was following. He didn't want to go back; he preferred to take his chances with Merv.

Stuffing the Remington in his belt, he walked up a heap of lumpy earth and worked his way around the first timber. Catching a second one, he pulled himself up onto a ledge of broken concrete. Looking up he saw flurries rushing on the wind and a niche in the sand layer below the asphalt he could use to get over the top. He took a deep breath. “This is it,” he muttered, then he pushed up, got his foot in the crack, sprang up over the top and kept running - getting about two feet before he hit a huge pothole sheeted over with ice and went slipping and sliding. He fell hard, whamming his shoulder and banging his head. When he got up, black snow whirled across his thoughts, and Merv was there, sitting on an old tire discarded from some giant earth-moving tractor … sitting there with a grin and an expensive Colt laser-sight handgun in his black-gloved hand.

“I’m so glad you could join me,” Merv said as his face pinched into a nasty frown - a look that was silly considering his wet drooping curls and the white cap of flurries topping them. “Sit down,” he said, pointing to a stack of warped timber. “I guess we can chat while my man gets your buddy.”

Arthur glanced back and smiled. “You mean he's down there, looking for us?”

“He is, and he's armed, so it won't be funny for your accomplice when he finds him.”

“Don't count on him bringing anybody back. I think he'll lose his nerve after he gets a look at this accomplice.”

Merv wagged his gun. “I said sit down.”

Arthur shuffled over to the boards slowly, trying to hide the bulge of the weapon at the back of his coat. It looked like he was in for a tiny bit of luck. All those gun control speeches he'd made must've convinced Merv, and he couldn't grasp that he might be packing one. Being a wimp had its advantages.

“Guess you found out about me?” Merv said, watching him sit.

“Guess you found out about me, too?”

“Not as much as I want to know,” Merv said. Reaching in his pocket with his free hand, he pulled out a folded newspaper clipping. “I got worried and wanted to be sure there were no references anywhere that would show I had knowledge of these old sewers. The reason is this, Arthur. They didn't collapse by accident. On the big day, when old Al Peachly, his staff, and the former City Clerk put in their spades, I hit the button. I blew up a tiny section of the rock formation and sewer and brought the whole caboodle down on their heads. I made sure they’d never get caught and talk.”

Arthur shivered. “Holy shit, you've been a maniac all along!”

“Yes, and maniacs have to cover for themselves. The only thing I found when I looked up the sewers was this newspaper copy with a picture of you and the police tracking some guy who fled into the tunnels twenty years ago.”

Arthur chuckled as he wiped away a tear. “I told you my background was in labor. At that time I was a sewer worker, and nearly went to jail for it.”

“Give me the whole story.”

“I arrived in Toronto from eastern Ontario and I couldn't find a job. I ended up collecting welfare. I got a check, but instead of using it to rent a room, I got drunk. The police arrested me on Yonge Street, drove me to a waterfront bridge, and knocked me about. They told me to get out of Toronto and then they left. I sat there dazed, and then I saw some workers emerging from a manhole by the bridge. Only there was something odd about it because they got upset when they noticed me there. The foreman was a guy named Ace. He came over and talked to me. A minute later, he pulled out a bottle of Canadian Club, and in the end, he offered me a job in the sewer. I got union membership without attending a meeting and it turned out to be one hell of a good job. In some ways it was the best job a man could get.”

“Yeah, those were the good old days,” Merv said. “Salt of the earth. I've always admired men who want to work. Sometimes I wish I could get my hands dirty again.”

“Work? We didn’t do any work. We left every morning and went down into the old sewer complex. It was closed even back then, and Ace had hidden the records on the complex. We didn't have to worry about meeting up with other workers, so what we did was play cards, get drunk, and come out on Fridays to get our pay.”

“Lazy bastards,” Merv said. “Thank God they weeded you people out in the megacity transition.”

“Bastards -- maybe. It went on for years. We played cards and Ace was my hero. Many times he wouldn't play. He’d get drunk and sit there, saying to no one in particular - 'Work, I worked seventeen years of my life. Seventeen years and I swear I'll never work another god damn day.' - Then he'd bang his glass down and grin. His theory was that Canadians are people who like to have it easy. Anyone who wanted to work wasn't a real Canadian. He admired crooked politicians and other people who could get paid without working a stitch. Back then, they were always talking about getting welfare people back to work, and old Ace called that treason. He said it ran against the grain of the people. He said no true Canadian would want to work and make other people rich. The only thing a Canadian wants is freedom and a case of beer.”

Merv shook his curly head, his eyes popping like it was the wickedest thing he'd ever heard. “I know about those kinds of people,” he said. “But maybe Ace was right in a way. The old reform government got turfed for killing welfare and just about every other socialist benefit, but it was too late for the bums and commies. We'd taken everything away and time passed until my uncle, Hatchet Hardin became premier and solidified the deal. In some ways, I admire Ace's honesty. The rest of the union crew and the liberal left always lied. This Ace guy came straight out and straight up. He was a crook and a bum and proud of it.”

“It's nice that you admire him. You can tell him that when he comes out.”

“Comes out. What do you mean?”

“I mean it's him that your man down there is after. Ace is like a zombie now, but he's bright enough that he wrote that note. He's been down there for twenty years. We never found him. It was assumed he fled the country, and that was the way I liked it. He swore he'd get me that day we chased him into the tunnels. I still hear his voice hollering in my nightmares. In the end, I testified against the union and got a new identity. That's how I became Arthur and megacity mayor without the scandal coming out.”

“Very clever of you . . . a mayor who's been a bum all along. You should be down there with your pal.”

“Don't worry, he's not alone. He's got the others - the skeletons of the people you killed. He keeps them in one of the old storage rooms where we used to play cards. Maybe he talks to them, plays poker and tells them how he doesn't want to work.”

“Unfortunately for Ace, no one is going to miss him when he dies. Which fits perfectly into my plans.”

“You put me over here to erase me even before you found out about the sewers - why? I never had any power as mayor. You always had it all.”

“The why is because the premier plans to change things. They're talking about cutting my position and going with an elected mayor who has my powers. The left has been squeezed out now and many Tories fancy the idea of running for mayor, but none of them wants to be a powerless mayor. They aren't worried about you because they think you'll be an easy candidate to beat. But I know that you’re too smart for them. You’ll win and be beyond my control.”

“I'll win. I'll make the changes I've been wanting to - I'll make them crawl.”

“Unfortunately you won’t be alive to run. After your scandalous death and the news of the billion-dollar fraud you engineered, the public will want to vote for the sitting mayor and hero who exposed it all. And that person will be me.”

Ricocheting gunshots and a heavy thump rang up from the tunnel. Merv cupped his free hand to his ear. “Looks like your pal has bit the dust. Too bad you won’t be around for the campaign. I have wicked stuff I can release on all of my opponents, so it’ll be fun.”

More shots zinged in the tunnel, dust smoked up, followed by a scream, a ghastly scream. One that went on and on, echoing up from the hole and vanishing in the winds of the tube.

“God, what's happening down there?” Merv said as another howl echoed up.

“Your man has failed, Merv. Ace got him. I don't know what's happening to him, but it sure can't be pretty. Call him the new boy on the skeleton crew.”

“No, I can't let that happen,” Merv said. Getting up from the tire, he hurried over to the hole and looked down. But It was silent, just a low moan of the winter wind sweeping through the tube.

Seeing his chance, Arthur pulled out his gun, but he didn't fire. He waited a long moment, ready to squeeze the trigger. When Merv turned, the sight of the weapon didn't panic him; he simply raised his gun and faced-off with Arthur. “You don't have the guts to shoot that thing, Arthur. I know you and how you feel about guns with anything but rubber bullets in them.”

Blood rose from Arthur's pounding heart, flushing his brow. He knew Merv was right; he couldn’t pull the trigger. “I'm going to back up behind these boards and walk away, Merv.”

“No you don't,” Merv said. “Take a step and you're finished.”

Arthur glanced at his right foot, like he had to check to see if it would obey him, then they both heard a tearing sound rise from the pit. “Looks like your zombie pal is going to come up and swallow bullets,” Merv said.

Bullets, rubber bullets, the idea lit in Arthur's mind like a fuse. It was Edward's gun and he hadn't allowed Edward to use real bullets. He was carrying an automatic Remington loaded with rubber ammo. It meant he could pull the trigger, and as Merv glanced back at a grimy hand reaching up from the hole, he did fire. A heavy spray - it sent Merv stumbling back, firing wild shots in the air. Lowering his aim to Merv's knees, Arthur clipped his legs out from under him. Then Merv let out a yell of disbelief and anguish as he fell and slipped into the hole.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The screams had been muffled, and when no one came out of the hole, Arthur knew that Ace didn't want him. After twenty years in the sewer, he had peace. Perhaps if Merv was still alive Ace would have company for a while. Someone to play a few last hands with . . . someone with many confessions to make.

Arthur walked up out of the tube and faced the skewed skyline of the demolition lands. He turned; the megacity was sketched against low gray clouds. Tower spotlights flashed through the curtain of snow, and then a white wave of hail swept in, jingling across the empty drums and cans like Christmas bells. An easy smile crossed his face, his lips curled with satisfaction. Mega-Toronto was a monster of a town, and the founders of it were a wicked bunch of skeletons. Old Ace was a zombie now, and it looked like Merv had joined the phantom crew in the sewers. They were all down there in the heart of decay; emperors had their monuments, politicians their statues, and like the Egyptians, the megacity geniuses had a tomb. Like Ace, they'd never work again - their time had come and gone. They were history-book heroes, and no one cared about a little mega-corruption in the past. The world had its new people, and Arthur was one of them. He was now a mayor with power; and he knew how to use it. Yes, the megacity had its ghouls and that was true, but now the biggest ogre in town was him - he was the monster of the megacity, because he had the power, unlimited power, and the only key to the city.

--The End –