Slowly and deliberately he approached Crutch, stopping only a few inches in front of him and towering over the frail man. The rain that ran from the umbrella was pouring directly into Crutch's face. Crutch was too focused to be intimidated.

"You've got it?" He asked impatiently.

"Daaaaaaaa." Popov had a deep and resonant voice that caused unpleasant vibrations in Crutch's sinuses.

There was a momentary pause as Crutch waited for him to produce what he wanted. When he still had not after an agonizing three seconds Crutch grabbed him by the sleeve of his coat.

"Where is it?! Damn you Popov, I paid the finder's fee already. Let me see it!"

Popov's head rotated slowly down so that he could gaze from beneath his heavy brows at the small hand tugging on his trench coat.

"Money first." Popov just stared at Crutch's white fingers without a trace of emotion.

Raindrops rattled on the pink plastic umbrella. Crutch sneered and let go of Popov's sleeve to reach into his windbreaker and snatch out the crumpled envelope full of 20 dollar bills.

"Here!" He screeched, waving the envelope at Popov's chest. "You going to make me count it too?"

"No." Popov replied matter-of-factly. "Here is what you want."

Every one of Popov's motions was so slow and deliberate that it would have seemed his brain struggled to do anything if it weren't for his completely impassive face. The trip Popov's gloved hand made to a side-pocket on his trench coat was so agonizingly measured that Crutch thought he might have a rage-fueled embolism. In Crutch's mind the dim-witted Ukrainian was stalling to irritate him. An unlabeled VHS videocassette in a plastic freezer bag emerged monolithically from the pocket and Popov incrementally extended it to Crutch.

The tape seemed to disappear from Popov's hand to be somehow replaced in the same instant by the envelope containing the money. Crutch stooped his body to shield the bag from the rain, opened it, and lowered his flaring nostrils to inhale the scent. He was a firm believer that particularly deviant pornography had a unique smell, and while it sounds implausible, if anyone gained the ability to smell such a thing it would have been Crutch.

"Seems genuine, but if it's not I am going to come looking for you."

Popov just stared at him for a moment, then turned and lumbered back towards his abused car.

"I can find you Popov! It had better be the real fucking deal!" Crutch shrieked and stomped his foot in a shallow puddle.

Popov lowered his corpulent form carefully into the driver's seat of the vehicle. Crutch took the opportunity to excuse himself, running as fast as he could in the opposite direction. He was elated at the possibility of his long search reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Crutch splashed with blindered glee through puddles and across the path of an oncoming car that honked and screeched to a sliding stop. The transaction with Popov was already a fading memory.

Had Crutch hung back and watched Popov from the shadows he might have seen the giant Ukrainian remove the leather glove of his right hand. If he had possessed much more acute vision he might have spotted the scabbed fingers and bare nail beds of Popov's hand writhe and expel thin purple tendrils. Had Crutch watched from a point of impossible concealment he might have detected an eerie red glow seeming to originate from behind Popov's eyes. Crutch did none of these things and was not even paying enough attention to hear Popov's car start or notice the rusted blue vehicle splash past on the street nearby.

***************

It was not a good day to be the senior weatherman for Fort Wayne Action News 7. The two junior meteorologists and the apathetic intern were all out of the office, either on vacation, on assignment, or feigning illness. The AccuScan Weather Center - which was a Dell Dimension and an account to the National Meteorological Service's satellite feeds - had crashed and no matter how many times Dale McElroy tried to reboot it the damn thing just beeped at him with a black screen. He had put a call in to Dell and Pete the IT guy and neither had provided any help. The Dell phone system had redirected him to a call center in India where no one spoke English beyond "thank you sir", "how can I help that?", and "okay, thank you, one moments". Pete claimed to be "away from his desk" and had not returned Dale's calls in the past three hours.

When Dale had attempted to bring the malfunctioning AccuScan to station manager Samantha Coolidge's attention she had spent their entire conversation talking to someone loudly on the phone while holding up a hand at Dale. By the time she finished her call he had already left her office. On the way back to his desk Dale had passed the green screen used during the broadcast and noticed that once again someone had written "Dale is a FAT FUCK" on the screen in black marker. With a resigned sigh he limped to the supply closet muttering quietly about the pain his corns were giving him and picked up the roll of bright green duct tape used to patch the screen. Insulting graffiti on the screen was a nearly monthly occurrence and Dale always took it with a laugh when someone pointed it out to him. Secretly he fantasized about who was responsible and how he could brutally murder them.

As he taped over the graffiti Dale imagined Samantha Coolidge, in her short skirt and high heels, crouching at the green screen to scrawl a comical diagram of Dale's tiny penis only to have her head stove in by a chair leg. He pictured Chet DeMark, the blond haired male bimbo of a news anchor chuckling dumbly and writing a nasty limerick about the origin of Dale's halitosis only to turn and be stabbed through the eye with Dale's weather pointer. Dale even envisioned Terry, the constantly laughing stoner who operated the cameras, subtitling a peace symbol with "Dale is a FAG" and then being shot in the back of head with a revolver.

Dale finished the tape job and surveyed his work. The green of the duct tape did not exactly match the green of the screen, but it was close enough to be color-keyed. Dale missed the blue screen they had used back when he was a junior weatherman at Fort Wayne Action News 7. It had been much more resistant to graffiti, but it had also been much more prone to "invisible weatherman syndrome", often causing faded black and blue clothing to disappear into the projected weather map.

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