Jun 5 2016
CARVED Part 05: The Calligrapher
Carlo’s car halted in front of the bookstore. Rodolfo Estoque got out and stared at the words painted on the window in front of him: Scrolls and Pens Specialty Store.
He had finally arrived. He felt his bandaged left forearm; it throbbed gently from the wounds he received earlier that day. Today’s been just one weird thing after another, he thought. But I might find the answers here.
Carlo’s harsh shout shook Rod out of his train of thought. He turned to face his friend, who was leaning out of the open passenger seat window. Carlo glared at him and growled, “I’m letting you off easy. One word, just one, and you’re another body on the streets. Business beats everything else.”
Rod only nodded in return. Carlo seemed pleased with the answer, as he closed the window and drove off without another word. Rod let out a heavy sigh when the car disappeared behind the buildings. That was one less thing to worry about.
Checking his watch, it was just five past ten in the morning. The store had just opened and only less than a handful of people were inside. He pushed the door and a bell announced his entry.
A chorus of store employee voices shouted their welcome to Rod, who nodded in reply. He shuffled into a far corner of the store behind the shelves. Away from prying eyes, he pulled out his phone and reread the words carved earlier onto his arm.
“One bottle Pureness black ink
Two Silvermane pen nibs
Twenty sheets bond paper
Buy at Scrolls and Pens Specialty Store later at 10 a.m.”
Rod peered over the shelves. Beyond the bookshelves was the stationery area, and in another corner was a tiny coffeeshop. A young woman about his age sat on one of the stools, sipping on a cup of coffee as she read a book. At her feet was a basket filled with art materials. Upon closer inspection, the only other customers were burly men wearing shades and tight black shirts that showed off their impressive muscles.
Only the woman seemed interested and immersed in what she was doing. The men patrolled the bookshelves or peered out the windows. They seemed to be on guard against something. Stealing another glance at the woman, he wondered who she was if she could have all these men surrounding her like bodyguards.
Grabbing a basket, Rod strode over to the stationery section and picked out the items in the picture. He was about to reach out for the bottle of ink on the top shelf when he heard footsteps to his left.
He saw the woman standing on tiptoes as she reached for the ink. She grunted and gritted her teeth as she stretched her hand forward, to no avail. She slumped back and sighed. A couple of the men and even the attendants made to approach her but she waved them away.
Amused, Rod snatched a bottle of ink and held it out. “I believe you’re looking for this?” he asked.
The woman eyed the bottle in his hand and took it. “Thank you,” she replied. “That’s very kind of you.”
Rod shuddered under the piercing gaze of the woman’s blue eyes as she scanned him from head to toe. He averted his gaze from her and scanned the basket by her feet. Aside from some books she already had some bond paper.
“Looks like you’re missing some Silvermane pen nibs,” he commented.
The woman’s eyed widened. “How did you know?” she asked.
Rod smiled. “Judging from the paper and the ink, you might be trying your hand at calligraphy. It’s all the rage these days.”
His words had the desired effect, for the woman’s eyes now sparkled. “Yes,” she replied. “It feels really nice to try something new. I’m not that good at it, though.” Peering over to Rod’s side, she saw the contents of his basket. “It looks like you’re into it, too.”
Rod followed her gaze and saw she was focused on his basket. He let out a laugh, hoping it didn’t sound artificial. “I just started today, actually. Got inspired when I saw a message meant for me earlier.” Holding out his hand, he said, “Name’s Rodolfo Estoque. You can call me Rod.”
The woman shook his hand. “Kris,” she replied. “Call me Kris.”
Rod smiled. “And what do others call you?”
Kris smiled back. “Well, that’s a secret for another time.”
After straightening himself, Rod pulled out his phone and selected the picture of his arm from the gallery. He showed the picture to Kris, saying, “Does this look familiar to you?”
Kris gasped and clapped a hand to her mouth. “That’s my handwriting! How did that happen?”
Rod pocketed his phone. “I was planning to ask you the same question,” he said. “Isn’t it strange that out of nowhere, words suddenly form on my arm, as if carved by a knife by magic?” Showing her his bandaged arm, he continued, “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
Kris backed away. Not noticing the basket behind her, she tripped and landed on her back. She cried out in pain, and soon the black-shirted men surrounded her. Rod tried to approach her but she shouted, “Go away! Leave me alone.”
Rod tried to push his way through, but one of the black-shirted men grasped him on the shoulder.
“Whatever you’re planning,” he whispered, “I suggest you stop it and leave while we’re still nice.”
The hand felt like a vice tightening on Rod’s shoulder. How could someone be that strong? he asked himself. The pain lanced throughout his arm until the tips of his fingers. His brain was firing on all cylinders, telling him to do something about the pain. He resisted for as long as he could, but in the end he frantically tapped the man’s hand. “All right,” he exclaimed. “Let me go. I’ll leave.”
Just like that, the pain disappeared. Rod shook his hand to get the blood flowing, and he could feel it flow through his fingers. He spared one last look at Kris as she sat on the floor surrounded by her companions, on the verge of tears. He mouthed an apology before he sprinted out of the bookstore.
Instinct told Rod to get as far away as possible, but he ground to a halt. This might be a good chance to get some more info, he thought. Crouching low, he hid behind some trash cans and waited. Soon enough, two black cars drove up to the bookstore. Kris and three of her companions got into the second car while the rest of them got into the first. Rod whipped out his cellphone and took pictures of the cars and their license plates before they drove off. Only then did he run as fast as his legs could take him.
After ten minutes he arrived at the light rail station. Once inside, he checked the pictures and saw that the plates could still be legible if he squinted hard enough. It’ll have to do, he told himself before he sent them, along with a text message, to an old friend. If his suspicions were right, she would be the perfect one to help out with this case.
TO BE CONTINUED
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