The conclusion of Clayton Cobb’s story. You can see all six parts together here.
Or is it… the beginning?
Clayton jumped the fence of the city park and found refuge there. No one would think to look there and he didn’t catch glimpse of a single cop on the way. A manhunt would go on for hours. Nowhere was safe for him now.
He saw this coming of course. He stuffed a change of clothes, and all the money he could carry in a duffle bag. There were simply too many ways this could go south. Thankfully his escape route led him right past where he stashed it.
Clayton opened the bad and pulled out his clothes, his favorite hat and dust colored pants, shirt and jacket. Simple and drab as they were, no one would pay him any mind. He’d have to burn his boxing gloves and shorts though. That’d hurt.
No matter how much he dug, he didn’t find his wallet. Someone had picked his bag clean before the fight. And now he had nothing again. Instead, he found a sheet of paper with a penny taped to it. “Pay what you owe.”
Clayton crumpled the paper into a ball and choked back bitter tears. Too many people could have done that to him. The list went on and on. This was it. He had come to the end of the line.
“You seem troubled, friend,” A voice said behind him.
Clayton spun around with his dukes raised. A dusty old drifter wearing a brown robe with silver trim eyed him over. “Backup, pal. I ain’t got no beef with you. But you best keep your distance. I ain’t nothin’ but bad luck.”
The man smiled. “Luck. I might be able to help you there. Depending on your faith.”
“I ain’t a god’s man.” Clayton’s arms sagged. “Not a betting man either. I’m just tired.”
“Everyone deserves a fresh start. My name’s Richie. You?”
The scent of mint assaulted Clayton, staggering him like a heavy haymaker. Her backed up bringing a hand to his nose. Fake names raced through his head but nothing came to mind. What did it matter anyway? “Clayton.”
“Well Mr. Clayton,” Richie said, smiling. “My first suggestion is that you learn how to lie. Honest men meet death very quickly these days. Some meet death, several times.”
Clayton snorted in laughter. The idea of knocking some Hobo flat brought him amusement. “You threatening me? I ain’t afraid of you.”
“Quite the opposite. I want to help you. Assuming you can help me.”
“I don’t have anything.” Clayton eyed the balled up wad of paper. “An ocean of debt and a heap of trouble.”
Richie smiled a slithering grin. “Then you have nothing to lose. How about I make you a little deal?”
“Oh I get it,” Clayton said, “You’re the devil, huh? Trade my soul for a deal with the Devil? Is that how it is?”
Richie straightened. “Not the devil. A Goddess.”
Clayton stuffed the balled up paper, his boxing gloves, and shorts into his duffle bag. “I ain’t signing anything.”
The sound of sirens sounded in the distance. Clayton flinched at them.
“Those for you?”
Richie looked clean for a drifter. He maintained a clean shaven face, his hair tidier than Clayton’s. Not that said much. Clay not only came from a boxing match, but an impromptu sprint across the city.
“Probably,” Clayton said. “You don’t mind? I’m on the run for killing a guy.”
“Killing is a sin, yes. But sometimes you must indulge in Sin to accomplish great things. I get the idea that you want to be a great, but luck has treated you poorly. I only ask, is this because you are unworthy of fortune? Or perhaps you have unwittingly evaded it?”
Clayton twisted up his face. “You mind speakin’ natural Richie? You’re makin’ my head spin.”
“I want you to save lives. Not take them. But it won’t be easy.” Richie raised a hand. “Allow me to handle your current predicament first.”
Richie snatched up Clayton’s duffle bag and broke towards the fence. The sounds of sirens blared close and Clayton’s eyes grew wide. Richie reared back and tossed the bag over the fence. As it took the air, it burst into flame.
Richie grabbed the fence and rattled it, a police car drew closer and stopped. The flaming bag flopped onto the road, smoldering.
“Hey. You.” The cop stepped out and approached Richie. “The park is closed. You’re trespassing.”
“I know officer. But the Trees. A madman he tried to hurt them. I am their protector.”
“Sure you are buddy. Out now. We’re looking for—“
“A man. A boxer. A murderer.”
Clayton’s stomach clenched.
“Yeah. How’d you know that?” The cop’s partner drew close.
Richie pointed at the burning bag. “He burned that bag I saw him change. And he left it too close to the trees. They could have been hurt.”
“You saw this guy? Where’d he go?” The second cop said.
“That way. Out the city. Hopped into an iron drake like the ones you ride. It devoured him and carried him that way.”
“Iron drake? C’mon pal. I’m not buying—“
“He means a car. This crazy guy, we’ve had reports of him pestering people all week. Let’s just head that way, call out an APB that the perp may be on wheels now.” The cops ran off.
Richie glanced back, smiling.
“You just– covered for me?”
“Yes,” Richie said, the madness left his eyes.
Clayton sized his hands shaking them. “I owe you. Big time.”
“You can thank me by taking a walk through the park.”
“A walk? That’s it?”
Clayton let go of his hands. The crazy guy might have been off his rocker, but he had nowhere else to go. And Richie only played crazy. His sharp eyes told him he might be the ticket he needed to a fresh start. The city had nothing for him anyway. All he could do is run west and hope no one recognized him.
No one did.
That was the last anyone anyone saw of Clayton Cobb– at least, not in this world.