“Useless oaf.” The headmaster pushed passed him and ran after Bergemo who was already outside and running toward the gate.
“Dammit!” the headmaster said, “call the authorities and have them conduct a search.” He handed the guard some keys, “these are for the records room, Bergemo’s file is on my desk. When you get on the phone with them, only use his physical description, nothing else. Is that understood?”
“Yes sir,” the guard said as he ran toward the room.
“Ignore all unusual information!” the headmaster called after him.
“Now,” the headmaster pinched his nose, “for the other ruffians.”
* * *
Bergemo knew the headmaster would call the authorities and conduct a search. However, these wouldn’t be just any authority. . . they would be the Orphan Collectors. Orphan Collectors search and capture children with special abilities that allow them to manipulate certain elements. What they do with the children upon capture is unknown. From what Bergemo gathered, the children would be analyzed and categorized by types; the more tangible the type, the more valuable the child, the less tangible types they discarded by kept under constant watch. The orphanages these lesser types were sent to are hellholes a lot worse than Vanguard. The only reason Vanguard has a reputation as one of the best orphanages is pure, unadulterated corruption. Now, Bergemo didn’t know nor care how deep the corruption went and if he could do anything to stop it. No, Bergemo only cared about being the number one fighter in the world, and the orphanage was a nuisance getting in the way of his dream.
He maneuvered through crowds, cut corners, ducked through alleyways until he was so deep in the city it would be impossible to find him without conducting a citywide search party. Which, Bergemo knew, wouldn’t happen because if word got out the headmaster lost a child with a special ability (a focus-type nonetheless), he wouldn’t have enough connections in the world to stop the top brass from chopping his head off and putting it on a pike.
Bergemo examined his surroundings and realized he was somewhere in Harlem, where he hadn’t deduced. It was a thunderstorm, and though he could hear the millions of people going about their lives regardless of weather, it still made it tough for him to read the cross streets and see the names of the open establishments. If that was the case, it meant his focus was fading and fading fast. He needed to get out of New York State as fast as possible as the Orphan Collectors are statewide, and Vanguard Orphanage is expanding at a rapid pace. While on the thought, Bergemo realized the irony of the implications of that, which lead to the thought that maybe the orphanage and human trafficking had something in common. . .he shook the thought as it had nothing to do with him. Those other kids had to face their fate, whatever it was.
Bergemo came across a train station heading to East New York and ducked in, his clothes dripping from the thunderstorm outside. The booth operator was preoccupied with a customer and there were no police present, so Bergemo took the opportunity to sneak under the turnstile as the 3 train came into the station. He looked about to see who was getting on board and didn’t see and police, so he deemed it safe and hopped on before the doors closed. The people of New York didn’t much care that a child was by himself, soaked to the bone, on a train at one in the morning for two reasons: one, they were all too focused on their phones, books, and newspapers to care or two, no one besides drunk twenty-somethings and homeless people were on the cart speaking pure gibberish. Luckily, for Bergemo, number two was the case. He looked into the next car and saw it was scarcer in back, so he opened the door and made his way there. When he got to the last car, there was a man in all black sitting in the back seat casually reading the New York Times. Bergemo focused on the man, noticing the five o’clock shadow, the sweat of his brow, the pace of his breathing, the beating of his heart, his laid-back mannerisms as he flipped from pages, the stoic gaze as his eyes read the lines of words. He looked away before the man could notice but kept watch from his peripheral, his focus in full swing.
The sound of the train screeching on the track and buckling from side to side occupied the space between them for a long time until the man flipped the page oh-so casually and said,
“That’s some gaze you got there, kid.” He chuckled, “if looks could kill, you’d be a sniper aiming from a thousand yards, at least.”
Bergemo’s eyes flicked to the man.
“Don’t worry, kid.” He flipped another page, “I ain’t wit the collectors.”
Bergemo’s eyes glare suspiciously at the man.
“You have right to be suspicious,” he sighed, “a strange man in all black starts talking to you and mentions an organization many shouldn’t know about. If I were you, I’d be on high alert too.”
“If you’re not with the Collectors,” Bergemo asked, “then who are you with?”
“Oh, you’ll find out in due time.” The man paused and glanced at Bergemo,” Bergemo Grey.”
Bergemo’s head turned slow and methodical, his mind already calculating how to incapacitate the man should it come to that. His surroundings coming into even more focus. The floor, the ceiling, the cup of coffee rolling around and spilling all over the place, the paper on the seat just a row over from him, the pen underneath the seat just across from him. Bergemo’s senses honed in on that and his confidence increased. He could get to that pen way faster than the man could approach and apprehend him. That was, until the man suddenly appeared in the seat across from him holding the pen in his hand Bergemo was planning to use.
“So,” the man said, “planning to take me out, were you? A good try, but no.”
Bergemo isn’t surprised. There are many intangible types.
“Hm, you’re not surprised.” The man feigns disappointment. “Seems they were right about you,” the man plays with the pen, “you’re not much of a talker, more like a sophisticated beast that’s hard to tame.
The man paused and examined Bergemo for a long time.
“Where are you going, Bergemo?”
“Anywhere but New York,” he responded.
“Why the rush to leave New York?” The man asked, “is it the Orphan Collectors?”
“What I’m chasing isn’t here.”
“Oh, so you’re chasing something,” the man chuckled, “may I ask what?”
“The number one fighter in the world.”
The man is surprised. Not many children get into fighting until their teens. And, even if they did, they would never have such high ambitions. The man smirked as he realized Bergemo was no ordinary child, abilities aside, to want something so coveted and difficult to attain.
“Do you know of what you speak, Bergemo?” The man asked. “That title isn’t for the likes of children.”
“I know what I want,” Bergemo said, “and I’ll take down anyone to get it.”
“Such bold words from one so young,” the man looked Bergemo square in the eyes, “but I can see you mean what you say. Tell you what,” the man slowly reached into his pocket and took out a black card and flicked it to Bergemo who caught it with expert precision, “seek me out when you’re fifteen years old. I’ll teach you what you need to know to become the strongest. Until then, do try not to die or get captured by the likes of Orphan Collectors.”
The train came to a stop, the doors opened, and the man exited without another word. Bergemo examined the black card, put it in his pocket and continued to ride toward East New York.
* * *
The train stopped at Borough Hall and Bergemo poked his head out and scanned the area for police. There were none. He walked out and began toward the stairs until. . .
“There he is!” Bergemo’s head swiveled to the voice and lo and behold, his least favorite people of all time. The three ruffians, aka Benny, Drake, and Leo. Leo being the one who tried to stab him.
“Let’s get the bastard!” Leo said as they charged and Bergemo sprinted up the stairs and into the streets. By the time Leo made his way up, Bergemo was already cutting the corner and headed up Court St.
“Don’t let him get away!” Benny said, “Leo, can ya sniff ‘im out?”
Leo sniffed the air and caught Bergemo’s scent instantly, “Yeah, he went this way.” And they sprinted after him.
Bergemo was a full block ahead of them when the smell of smoke hit him, and his focus became hyper-intense. He stumbled and almost fell into a lady with a stroller. He contorted his body just in time and kept running while holding his head in pain, it was as if his nose were trying to lead him to something. The sounds of heartbeats, indistinct conversations, the distinct heartbeats of the three chasing him, the unique siren of the Orphan Collectors sounding, all hit him like a tsunami and began overloading his senses.