A cry echoed through the house. A high pitched wail of despair. Dragged from a deep sleep Sam leapt from his bed, haunted by the screams. Still groggy he opened his bleary eyes and untangled himself from the covers that he’d pulled from the bed, freeing his legs from the floral doona.
The crying had stopped. Sam took a deep breath and waited, his eyes and ears transitioning to the dark, early morning silence. Seconds passed without a sound. Had he dreamed it? Had an unseen victim succumbed to inscrutable injuries and right now the prowler was heading his way? He strained again to listen but only silence permeated the house. Maybe the cries had just been a dream. Sam was about to crawl back under the covers when the crying started again. Awake, he recognised the sound and sighed deeply. He closed his eyes and disappeared, the single sheet that had been caught around his foot falling back upon the empty floor.
Sam phased back into place in the kitchen next to the fridge, his hand already reaching for the handle. He yanked the door open, removed a bottle of milk, and placed it into the microwave on the kitchen counter to heat it up. The hum of the microwave almost drowned out the increasingly frantic crying coming from deeper within the house, a normal early morning occurance that had descended upon the household the last few months.
The ding of the microwave roused Sam from his tired daze prompting him to grab the milk. With the warm bottle in hand he disappeared again, reappearing in the baby’s bedroom - the source of the screaming now red in the face as she wriggled under her covers. He reached into the cot and picked up his infant daughter. Her sobs dissapated almost instantly as he placed the bottle of milk between her dry lips and she drank eagerly from the bottle. He crooned her a song, softly, so as not to wake Sarah sleeping in the next room. Like most new parents they were still operating on minimal sleep and he wanted to give his wife a chance to catch up on a few hours. A chair in the corner of the room gave him somewhere to park himself while he held his baby girl and she relaxed against him, still gulping down the warm milk.
When she’d had her fill Sam changed her nappy and phased out with her hoisted over his shoulder, the two of them reappearing in the living room. Sarah looked over the top of her steaming cup of coffee from the kitchen table. “Good morning” Sam called cheerfully, “Couldn’t sleep?”.
“You know I wish you wouldn’t do that with her.” Sarah chided, her lack of sleep rearing its head in the form of annoyance, “Something could go wrong.”
“Nothing’s going to go wrong. I’ve done this every day of my life for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t done any damage to me.”
“I love you too.” Sam countered, using affection to tame the tired beast, “Nothing’ll go wrong”
“It’s just that it could be doing something to her. Maybe not all of you gets moved when you teleport like that, maybe you leave something behind”
“What, like my penis?”
She snorted the coffee through her nose, “No. Small bits of you”
“Like my penis?”
“Atoms!” she exclaimed in exasperation, “Maybe you leave atoms behind. Nothing big that a grown adult would miss, but for a baby? Maybe she’s missing some important bits.”
He walked over to the kitchen and kissed Sarah on the nose,
“It’s okay. She’s a girl. She doesn’t have a penis, so she won’t be leaving that behind.” He changed tack, “How’d you sleep last night?”
She smiled through a mask of weariness,
“Good” she lied, “I had twice as much sleep as last night.”
“So about two hours then.”
She nodded with a smile, but despite the tiredness it was a genuine smile of warmth. She stood and made her way to the kitchen bench. “Now what do you want for breakfast” she asked, removing a loaf of bread from the cupboard.
“I was thinking maybe we could go out and grab a bite this morning.”
A look of intrigue crossed her face,
“Where were you thinking?”
“Maybe a bite at a cafe somewhere?”
Excitement overrode tiredness, “What about that little Parisian style one we went to a while back?”
Sam smiled, “You really liked that one, huh?”
She nodded with a giddy smile.
He checked the clock. Five in the morning local time. Ugh. Sam hadn’t been an early riser prior to having a kid and he still wasn’t a fan.
“Should be open. Get ready and grab your things and we’ll hit the road.”
Sarah ran to the bathroom and leapt in the shower. Sam cooed over his baby daughter while his wife had a quick shower and rushed to get dressed. A few minutes later she returned wearing a long black coat over a svelte red dress, clutching a matching black wallet.
“You got the right purse?”
She nodded. He passed the baby to her and headed to the bathroom. Once washed, shaved, and dressed he returned to the lounge. His wife was waiting with their baby girl fastened into her pram.
“Ready to go?”
Sarah nodded. Sam stepped towards her, reached out his hand and took his wife’s in his own, leaning down with the other to hold his daughter’s hand. Once the three of them were touching, Sam blinked and they phased out, leaving behind an empty house and a cat with a surprised expression on its face.
A bell chimed seven as the sun slowly descended over the Parisian skyline. The orange remnants of the day glowed bright as the blue hue of the evening chased it towards the horizon. The old fashioned street lights flickered on, returning light to the city.
Sam, Sarah, and their daughter appeared in a small alcove on Le Rue Saint-Benoit a short distance from the University Paris Descartes. The students were long gone and the street was relatively quiet, save for the odd passing pedestrian and cyclist. The university owned most of the buildings in the area and so few passed through on their way home from work. In a city as busy as Paris, if someone was looking for a place to appear out of thin air without startling passers-by then this was pretty much ideal.
Sam had never seen the phasing process having always been the one engaged in the activity at the time, but from what his wife had told him it was similar to the transporter scenes in Star Trek. A slight shimmer in the air like a mirage coming into focus and then suddenly he was there. He’d seen a movie once about an annoying kid who had the same ability as himself. Sarah had said it looked kind of like that but without the blurring special effect motion they’d used in the film. It happened so quickly that most people would assume their eyes were playing tricks on them, that Sam had been there all along and that they were only just registering him. This had occurred on several occasions, Sam appearing in front of people who were suddenly taken aback by his presence. Even in a world as strange as the one in which they lived, where gifted individuals used their powers to protect society and those within it, people weren’t prepared to believe what they saw. Instead relying on the simpler misconception that their eyes were playing tricks on them.
The three of them emerged from the alcove out onto the street. Sam was mildly disappointed that the area had already been gentrified, his expectations of the old historical city dashed by modern progress. The old cobblestone streets had been replaced with modern paving, but despite the aesthetic downer it made pushing the pram a damn site easier. Their warm Australian morning had been replaced with a brisk autumnal evening, but after so many years of travelling like this Sam and Sarah were used to these sudden changes in time zones, and they seldom stayed long enough in one place to experience any ill effect to their body clocks.
Sarah linked her arm in his as he pushed the stroller towards the end of the block. Their destination, the Cafe De Flore, his wife’s favourite little eatery among the many cafes they’d visited around the world, sat on the corner at the end of the street. The warm glow of the lights within beckoned them through the old art deco doors and into the small cozy space inside. It was the perfect time of day - the students had gone home, the dinner crowd were not yet out, and the party goers were still preening themselves before unleashing themselves upon the city. Other than an older couple seated within a booth at the rear of the room they had the place to themselves.
“Monsieur & Madam Star!” exclaimed a heavily accented voice from behind the counter, “A pleasure as always to see you.” An older gentleman dressed in an immaculately pressed white shirt, black vest and bow tie stepped out from behind the counter as the three of them entered the room. He swept Sarah up in a deep embrace before enthusiastically pumping Sam’s hand.
“Fab! How is the family?” Sarah asked. The two of them exchanged pleasantries and caught up on one another’s familial situation while Sam navigated the pram to a comfortable space in the corner of the cafe.
“I will get you your regular drinks to start and be right back to take your order,” said Fab in a thick French accent as he leaned forward to look inside the pram at the sleeping girl. Pressing the bridge of his wireframe glasses to keep them on his nose he exclaimed, “This one is getting so big, she will be breaking hearts soon I think.” Sam laughed politely as Fab excused himself and made his way to the small metal coffee machine on the rear wall of the room.
The ambience of the place always made Sam feel like he’d stepped back in time to pre war France. Kind of like that Woody Allen movie but without all the famous figures from history. He could imagine sitting at a table, a glass of wine in hand, discussing philosophy with students from the nearby university, valiantly ignoring the impending threat of war as the Nazi’s expanded their influence throughout Europe. He felt like a glass of wine right now, except that it was five o’clock in the morning back home. The saying that it’s always happy hour somewhere was never more true but the idea of drinking alcohol first thing in the morning and still having to go to work after breakfast prevented him from ordering a glass.
The coffees came shortly thereafter and they sipped upon their perfectly brewed espresso while savouring the history of the room and watching the dying rays of light flit across the facade of the neighbourhood. Sam ordered a sampling of patisseries and they indulged upon the sweet fillings contained within them.
“Why don’t we do this every morning?” Sarah asked.
“Because if we did, you’d grow sick of this place in a week and we’d have to find you a new favourite joint all over again.”
“But what a great week it’d be” she smiled, passing a small piece of pastry to their daughter to suck upon.
They sat in silence for awhile, enjoying their surrounds and food.
“So?” Sarah prompted.
“So what?” he retorted.
“Are we going to talk about today, or are we going to pretend to ignore it this year?”
Sam didn’t reply. Instead he filled his mouth with the last of the pain au chocolat.
“I know it hurts to talk about, but…” she hesitated, “Your dad called last night. He was hoping to see you today. It’s hard on him too. I think he really needs to see you.”
He took in her words and nodded, “I know. I know. I’ll go see him later today when I get a break from work.”
“You want me to come?” she asked.
He shook his head, “No, I’d prefer to do this alone. Besides you don’t want to see two grown men cry. That’d just be depressing.”
“I wouldn’t want to ruin your tough guy image. Maybe I’ll catch up with him later.”
“I’ll suggest he come over for dinner some time soon. Maybe he can watch the little one and we can head out together somewhere.”
“That sounds good. I’ll cook him up something special.” Her train of thought changed direction, “Oh hey, I heard the Beijing Opera have a good show starting next week. Maybe we could catch that?”
“On second thought, I think my dad’s booked up for the next couple of weeks. Maybe we’ll have to rain check the night out?”
Sarah leant forward and gave him a playful punch on the arm.
“You’d better be getting to work soon smart arse.”
Sam checked his watch. They’d been enjoying their surrounds for a little over an hour.
“Ah it can wait.”
“Of course work can wait. You’re the boss, and it’s not like you really need to be there. But the sooner you get it out of the way, the sooner you can come home to us.”
Sam nodded, he enjoyed his work and heading in early meant he could get away sooner in the evening. “What about you guys? Want me to take you home?”
Sarah shook her head, “I was thinking we might go for a stroll along the Seine and I could point out Notre Dame to Elsie. Any chance you could swing past in a couple of hours and give us a lift home?”
“Sure. Give me a buzz on the work phone when you’re ready and I’ll come grab you. If I’m tied up go find another cafe to wait for me and I’ll jump back when I can.”
“My own chauffeur. I am a lucky girl.”
“You’re only just realising that now?” Sam gave her a kiss on the lips and leant forward to look in the pram. Elsie was fast asleep so he gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek being careful not to wake her and headed towards the exit. “See you next time, Fab” he waved on the way out. Fab returned the gesture and returned to making coffees for the crowd of people who were now filtering in to the cafe.
Sam wandered back up Le Rue Saint-Benoit towards where he had arrived. As he approached the alcove he heard a noise from further up the street.
“Stop!” a woman’s voice shouted. Footsteps pounded upon the pavement, getting louder as they headed towards him. Through the gloom of the evening a young man emerged into the glow of the streetlight, a woman’s handbag clenched in his fist. He ran hard, the bag swinging at his side. Behind him, an older woman was in pursuit screaming as loud as her lungs would allow. The thief continued towards Sam, intent on his escape and oblivious to his surrounds. Sam could have put out an arm and brought him to the ground easily enough. An outstretched leg could have sent him sprawling on the ground. It wouldn’t have taken much at all.
But instead the thief ran past him, turned a corner, and continued out of sight. The woman pursued, but she was clearly too slow and gave up as she reached Sam.
Breathing hard she spoke to Sam in French. He wasn’t fluent in the language but knew enough to make out what she was saying, ‘Why didn’t you stop him?’. Sam shrugged and continued on his way, leaving the woman behind. That was the problem with people today. Always expecting a hero to step in and save the day.
Further up the street he stepped back into the alcove. When he was happy that no one else was around he phased out.
The morning sun lit up the skyscrapers of Hong Kong like a line of roman candles. The orange glow illuminated their peaks, slowly sliding down their facades as the sun rose higher in the sky. Old junkers darted between container ships as ferries crawled across the harbour delivering workers for the long day of work ahead of them.
Within a room near the peak of one of the towers Sam reappeared. A not quite penthouse apartment with views over the city. It would have been the envy of many a native Hong Konger except that there was no way they’d ever be able to enter it. The entry to the apartment had been reinforced by a steel wall on the inner side preventing physical access. The room was sealed, no way in and no way out. It had taken Sam many days transporting material into the room and many more days installing the wall. While he’d have liked to have contracted someone to do the work for him there was the issue of how to get them out when they’d finished the job without disclosing his abilities. He’d briefly considered the old Egyptian technique of entombing workers with the pharaoh but didn’t feel like sharing his apartment with a bored, trapped labourer.
As a result he’d toiled at barring the pad up mostly during the day when he hoped his neighbours would be out at work to prevent drawing any attention. He’d purchased the apartment through an intermediary ensuring that the selling agent was aware of the great importance he placed upon his privacy and paving the way for no questions to be asked about his hermit-like solitude once he moved in.
It was a perfect headquarters for Sam. Only he could enter the room thanks to his unique skill and it allowed him the privacy he needed to engage in his chosen form of employment. The only problem was any time anything went wrong with the place he had to fix it himself as there was no way to allow tradesmen entry to the premises.
The apartment was spacious, three rooms, a large bathroom, and kitchen - comfy luxury by most people’s standards without being so ostentatiously large as to draw unwanted attention. Sam had decorated the apartment in a true bachelor style - grey muted walls, a large screen tv on the wall, pinball machine in the corner, and reclining leather chairs facing the large windowed wall overlooking the expansive city. It was his home away from home. He had transported the furniture into the apartment piece by piece, the ability to instantly teleport large items had made decorating a breeze. It was also the manner in which Sam earned his living.
Sam had discovered at an early age that his unique skill was worth something to other people. He could walk into a store, find something he liked, and phase out with it. A five finger discount with the added benefit that he couldn’t be caught. He had been showing off a recent haul to one of his high school friends who offered to buy the goods from him at a stupidly reduced price. Knowing that he could easily go back and boost whatever he wanted for himself Sam had jumped at the offer. Word had spread around school and soon Sam became known as the go to man if you needed anything. Young kids would put in orders for toys, the older kids would ask for booze, cigarettes, and condoms, even the teachers would hit him up for cheap weed, which he was able to score after he stumbled upon a crop one day while out bush walking. Sam was still in middle school and already earning good money.
The allure of that cash planted ideas in Sam’s head as to how he could make money quicker. He had a special skill, as far as he knew he was the only person alive who could do what he did. Sure there were the supers who had their own powers like flying and super strength but even among them he couldn’t think of anyone else who had the ability to teleport. It wasn’t long before Sam was thinking about a big haul that could set him up. After a pitiful amount of planning Sam was ready to break into a bank.
Late one night, once his father was asleep, Sam slid on some dark clothing, covered up his face with an old halloween mask, and phased himself into the vault of the bank in the next town across. He’d thought that this would help shift any potential heat from him. As soon as he landed in the vault the alarms began to sound. Lights flashed, sirens blared. Sam couldn’t think straight amongst all the noise and blinding red glare. He’d jumped straight back to his room, climbed into bed, and tried to fall asleep, his ears still ringing from the alarms. The next morning as he ate breakfast the morning news looped with reports of an unidentified intruder who’d broken into a bank vault. Footage kept rolling outside the bank of police and men in suits who appeared to be trying to avoid the cameras.
Sam had spent the next few weeks walking in a daze through his regular life, terrified that at any moment the police or those men in suits would kick down his door and drag him away. He’d heard stories of unregistered people who exhibited super powers being taken away in the middle of the night by government people to be indoctrinated. Brainwashed to be obedient to the government and to use their powers to support government objectives. Sam wasn’t antiauthoritarian but he wanted to have control over what he did with his life. His powers didn’t define him, they were just a useful distraction.
When no one had come to his door after a couple of months Sam finally began to rest. He still saw the odd strange looking suited person hanging around town but no one ever came to speak to him. Since that day Sam vowed to be discreet in the use of his powers. He made use of them to earn money but made sure that his activities wouldn’t draw undue attention to himself. During his shop lifting sprees he would collect what he wanted, phase home to drop it off, and phase back to the store. If shop keepers found him suspicious and searched him there was nothing for them to find, and no reason to draw police or government attention to him.
When he’d finished school Sam expanded his activities to a more signifiant scale. Some friends of his were also looking to expand their school business in cannabis supply. They had asked if he could move a kilo of weed for them. They’d provided contact details for a source in the next state. Sam had collected the package and brought it back to them, earning himself several thousand risk free dollars. After a few more runs like that the supplier in the next state had asked if he could move some larger quantities of gear for him. Things continued to expand from there, moving more and more product, and taking on requests from other parties who were impressed by Sam’s 100% successful delivery rate and his unexplained ability to entirely avoid law enforcement attention. Eventually Sam had to start knocking back jobs and he had more money than he knew what to do with.
Six months out of school and he had enough cash to buy his first house. He bought a nice car, bought the clothes he liked, and could afford to go out wherever he wanted. His talent let him go anywhere in the world he wanted without needing to save for plane tickets. The world was his oyster.
As for the work Sam found it interesting. His growing client list kept him busy, and it wasn’t particularly hard work. One of his entrepreneurial drug dealing friends had set up a server for him that allowed him to accept requests for his services over the internet anonymously. He would accept a job, phase out to collect the package wherever it was being held, phase to the delivery address, drop it off, and returned home. He could have knocked off those jobs in five minutes flat but in the interest of protecting people from discovering his powers he seldom provided immediate delivery of the goods. A courier who could transport merchandise between states and countries in the blink of an eye would arouse suspicion pretty quickly. Instead he usually dumped the goods somewhere remote where there was no chance someone could stumble across them. There was a small cave system in the Andes that he was particularly fond of using. After a suitable amount of time had passed from the collection, he’d go back and grab the goods, then phase himself and the merchandise to the delivery address. He made sure he was always quicker than any other available service yet not too quick to draw curiosity.
Sam could easily knock off a dozen collections or deliveries in an hour, and with each job paying a minimum five grand, his hidden cave system soon held more cash than many banks. Any consideration he had of heading to university was dashed by the money that was rolling in. What was the point of spending the next three years studying, racking up a large college debt when he could do his own thing and make more money in a year than he could in an entire career slugging away at a corporate job?
While cash was no longer a problem the matter of using it was. He was a nineteen year old sitting on a cache a little over a million dollars and steadily climbing. If he started splashing out on extravagant purchases he’d soon draw the eye of the taxation department and possibly other government agencies. After his scare with the failed bank heist he was always careful to avoid any potential repeat scenario.
It was a conversation with one of his friends that provided a solution. They were discussing an upcoming cannabis movement when his friend referred to him as the logistics maestro. This innocuous turn of phrase stuck in Sam’s mind. Logistics was such a benign term, yet summed up his activities succinctly. He did manage the flow of goods between customers, that was pretty much all he did. Rather than keep flying under the radar with less than legal gigs, why not set up shop and do things legit? Maintaining his more unscrupulous clients to keep his cash flow going, of course.
A week later Sam had registered Star Logistics as a company and started to go through the motions to make himself look legitimate. He dipped into his cave of cash to hire a warehouse and set up an office. He could have bought it outright, but that wouldn’t have looked like something a fledgling company would be able to afford. He even took on a few local clients moving boring items such as pallets of ice-cream cones and reams of paper. By dedicating a few hours a week to his legitimate clients Sam was able to maintain his more lucrative contracts and begin to launder those funds through the books.
Ten years of careful growth and management had led Sam to his current base of operations, this modest apartment in Hong Kong. He’d had to abandon his Argentinian cave after an avalanche caused the system to collapse sealing a week’s collection worth of goods and several hundred million dollars inside the mountain. He’d tried to phase back inside but the whole system was caved in. Someday someone would stumble across that haul and live a very happy life.
Fortunately Sam had enough clean cash in his legitimate accounts to pay back his clients for their lost merchandise. This act of good faith had saved him from several intended assassination attempts and allowed him to continue to work with his less than salubrious customers.
After that Sam had established a series of apartments like the Hong Kong one around the world. Some to keep goods safe while he was pacing out the delivery time, others to keep his reserves of cash. In one of these apartments he filled the rooms with stacks of cash that it would take him years to launder. More than once he’d considered retiring, just living on what he’d already made for the rest of his life, but then what else would he do? He couldn’t imagine spending his days on the golf course, and the work he did held a mysterious charm. He was the anonymous guy who walked the line between good and bad. Although he never told anyone what he did he felt it helped define him. Not good, not bad, just doing what he had to survive and care for his family. He had scaled back though. A few contracts a week gave him something to do, removed some of the risk, and kept some cash coming in.
He had a couple of basic rules. First, no people. He wasn’t interested in people smuggling, both for his moral distaste towards the practice of slavery and the fact that it would reveal his ability to an untrusted third party. Second, no weapons of mass destruction. Sam wasn’t so naive as to believe that the goods he moved couldn’t cause harm to another person. Most of his business was in moving goods of dubious or outright legality. Although he seldom saw what it was he was transporting, and had no real interest in knowing what it was, it was obvious that the majority of his cargo was drugs and weapons.
He’d once been asked to move a nuclear warhead on behalf of a third party representing a terrorist organisation. They’d purchased a supposedly decommissioned nuke from a Russian organised crime syndicate and had so far been unsuccessful in getting it within the borders of a country that was proving to be hostile to their cause. Sam hadn’t been told the cargo he was to move prior to his arrival at the collection site. One look at that massive crate with nuclear warning symbols plastered all over it and he was out of there. After that job he’d changed his contact details, moved his safe houses, and been careful to avoid any such attention in the future.
Other than that pretty much everything was fair game. He’d transported narcotics, guns, cash, anything that was worth more in one geographic location than another. He’d even moved a shipping container worth of timtams one time by an individual keen to get around quarantine restrictions. Even with his exhorbitant fees it had been worth it to someone to sell the chocolate biscuit for a significant markup on the other side of the world.
The fact was, if someone needed to move something without attracting attention from law enforcement or incurring hassles with customs and quarantine, then Sam offered a unique and valuable service.
Sam made himself a coffee and headed to the svelte danish desk in the expansive living area. Adjacent to the large twenty seven inch iMac upon the desk lay a bulky Thuraya satellite phone, handy for those trips out to the middle of nowhere, and a PhantomSecure Blackberry. He picked up the latter and fired it up, waiting for the emails to start dropping in. This was another of his levels of protection. Another form of isolation from his clients. Sam would only accept jobs that came in via his secure communications. His email account to which clients sent requests was rerouted several times through different anonymising agents until the final copy dropped into his inbox. Sam didn’t even pretend to understand how it all worked. All he knew was he paid several thousand dollars a year for it to happen and he hadn’t had any issues for the many years he’d been using it.
Ten new emails popped up, three from regular clients. Sam opened these first and scanned the contents. Two duffel bags requiring movement across a few borders and a shipping container to be transported across an ocean. He knew from his previous work with these individuals that the bags would be drugs and the container would likely be something that hadn’t completed the required government testing processes at its point of origin. Sam fired off a reply to his regulars that he’d have their merchandise collected later in the day. He had a couple of items stashed away that were due to be delivered, and it was presently midnight at the collection point for the bags. They wouldn’t be ready for a few more hours after he gave confirmation of their collection. Those three jobs would net him about twenty thousand dollars. That would do for today. Sam deleted the other emails.
Sam took his cup of coffee over to the lounge and sipped it while he watched the morning news. The usual reports of amazing rescues and astounding feats were conspicuously absent. The only reference to any supers was an update on the recovery efforts in South Africa since a category eight earthquake hit the region earlier in the week. The area had been flooded by supers working tirelessly to save those caught up in the natural disaster. Both everyday citizens and capes had fallen during and after that event and since then few of the latter had returned to their regular patrols. It felt odd watching a news report full of horrific events. Stories that usually would have ended in an extraordinary rescue and happy ending.
Sam finished his coffee and switched the television off. It would be late afternoon in the US and the middle of the night in Europe. The perfect times to complete some of the less legal deliveries waiting for completion. He returned to the desk and removed a small leather bound diary from a drawer. Flipping through the diary he found details of the outstanding jobs that were due for delivery. With the info in his head Sam returned the diary to its draw, walked to the kitchen and washed out his coffee cup. Then he closed his eyes and disappeared.