Piker Press Banner
June 24, 2024

The Lost and Never Found Department

By Tom Koperwas

"Showtime," whispered Dennis O'Kief under his breath as the limousine rolled into the outskirts of Vigilance. High above, in the second-floor window of a shabby house, a hand parted a tattered curtain, revealing a human figure staring intently at the big, black machine as it passed by. Up ahead, the lights of the dilapidated homes began to flash on, illuminating the vehicle's route. In the windows, the young and the old, the disenfranchised and the cheated, sat or stood, watching, waiting for a glimpse of the infamous flim-flam man.

"Every night it's the same thing," grumbled the extravagantly dressed millionaire, peering out the vehicle's tinted window. "Can't they ever forget? So what if they hate me," he mumbled, fondling his gold bracelets and jeweled rings. "I got everything I wanted. That's all that matters."

O'Kief's thoughts drifted back twenty years, to the day he'd first driven into the quiet little town at the bottom of the gorge, ten miles west of the bustling Tri-City Area. The river gorge, a visual anomaly in the flat plain, had sheltered Vigilance from the rapid, uncontrolled growth of the metropolises. At its center lay a large octagonal park, streets radiating from it in eight directions. The leafy park, surrounded by several bookstores, coffee shops, and an old Carnegie Library, was the beloved gathering place of the town's literati and culturists. They held lengthy poetry readings, philosophical discussions of universals, lively debates beneath the limbs of its broad oaks. Local artists proudly displayed their unique paintings, etchings, and sculptures.

O'Kief had a different vision of the park, one that could make him a fortune. Here was the ideal location for a mega-casino. Its multi-coloured lights emanating from the gorge would attract hordes of pleasure seekers from the wealthy Tri-City Area. Their vehicles would jam the eight streets leading to the transformed park. O'Kief's Dream Palace would provide the big city folks with every form of entertainment they wanted—and more. One thing was certain: there was no room in O'Kief's Dream for literary tomes and lofty dialogues. He would have to find a way around the good people of Vigilance.

The entrepreneur's plan unfolded at a meeting of the town council. He raved about the cultural ideals he'd witnessed in their park. Then he flattered and cajoled the council members with a proposal that he build a cultural center amidst the park's trees to highlight the town's loftiest ideals, a center bigger and brighter than any he'd constructed in a lifetime. The councilors were entranced by O'Kief's glib tongue and his fat, glossy portfolio, listing numerous cultural centers he'd constructed, all of them fake, all with contacts and phone numbers manned by his obliging confederates. The charismatic businessman's appeal to the council's excessive vanity and civic pride won him the prize he sought: the park and carte blanche power to construct the center as he saw fit.

The local press reported that the finished center was so big it literally bulged over the park's perimeters onto the surrounding streets. Furthermore, the construction had required the removal of the tall, stately oaks that had graced the park for over a hundred years. The Center celebrated Opening Day with a full house. Unfortunately, most of those in attendance were locals, few if any visitors coming from out of town. The watered-down advertising campaign instituted in the Tri-City Area had generated little interest in the event, exactly as O'Kief had planned. The greater world continued to show little interest in The Center in the months to follow. Even the locals began to lose interest in The Center's vast, sterile environment. Soon, only silence filled the enormous structure.

O'Kief began to protest that the exorbitant costs incurred in operating this "white elephant" were killing him. He'd put a fortune into The Center, and demanded that it generate an income. Fortunately, the businessman had a means of mitigating his losses. He installed some one-armed bandits near the entrance, a roulette wheel, and a stage for exotic dancers. Naturally, the cultural items pertaining to Vigilance stayed... in a small back room. Attendance rose dramatically, and soon a series of bright, multi-coloured lights lit up the sky above the gorge. The local press noted a dramatic increase in vehicular traffic.

Several of the town's citizens complained to the town council about the massive influx of gaming devices into The Center. The sad-eyed council members told them that Mr. O'Kief did continue to highlight the cultural life of Vigilance, albeit in a highly reduced manner. More importantly, he had carte blanche power to do as he saw fit with the property. And that was that.

One day, a gaudy new sign appeared atop the building, reading O'Kief's Dream Palace. The hordes of eager customers from the Tri-City Area took little notice of the tiny room dedicated to Vigilance's proud cultural history. They were there for only one thing: fun and games. Never mind the culture.

The years passed, and the chips rolled in for Dennis O'Kief. Conversely, the losses piled up for Vigilance. The mega-casino drove property values down, like so many casinos before it had done. Whole families left town. Houses were boarded up. Revenue and taxes withered away. Vigilance fell into a steep decline.

After some thought, the town council found an answer to their woes. They would create an organization dedicated to the recovery of the town's losses, a kind of Lost and Found Department...

* * *

O'Kief snapped out of his reverie as the limousine exited the private vehicle tunnel beneath Vigilance and stopped before the gold-plated elevator door. O'Kief left the vehicle and rode up to his sumptuous office at the top of the mega-casino. He took a moment to study the various screens displaying the rows of one-armed bandits and table games. The free spins and victory lap slots were keeping the chumps happy, as were the mildly drugged drinks and smiling prostitutes. O'Kief turned his attention to the screens displaying the action in the high-limit rooms. Everything looked in order. The special tailor-made inhalants circulated by the efficient ventilation system, combined with the various light, sound, and mirror effects, were influencing the high rollers to stay longer and spend more. Satisfied that all was well in the Dream Palace, O'Kief decided to head out of town to his luxury yacht and his bevy of willing film stars.

A new patch of road construction on the outskirts of Vigilance forced his limousine to turn off the regular route onto a dark, quiet side street. Suddenly, the vehicle was rammed from the rear and pinned against a stationary vehicle in front. The doors were yanked open by armed men. They pistol-whipped the chauffeur and O'Kief, dumping them summarily onto the garbage- strewn street. The last thing O'Kief heard before he passed out was the sound of laughter coming from the limousine as the carjackers sped off with it.

O'Kief pulled himself to his feet the moment he regained consciousness. His head throbbed and his vision was blurry. He didn't know where he was, but he knew he was in dire need of medical help. His chauffeur was nowhere to be seen, so he began to walk. It was late, and the street was dark and shadowy. Everything was closed except a small, nondescript office. O'Kief looked up at the sign over the window: The Lost and Never Found Department.

"That's an odd name for a town department," he thought. "Someone must have painted in the word Never by hand," he concluded. But he couldn't be sure because of his blurred vision. "And why is it open in the middle of the night?" he wondered aloud.

Putting all questions aside, he entered. The overhead lights glared, forcing him to squint. He could barely make out the outlines of several people standing stock-still behind a counter, dressed in what appeared to be long, dirt-caked black cloaks. The office was so quiet he could hear flies buzzing against the window.

"My vehicle was carjacked, and I'm injured," O'Kief said, leaning weakly against the counter. He shuddered when he saw a small pool of blood forming on the counter. "Look, I'm bleeding!" he cried. "Please help me!"

"You have something lost to report?" asked a hollow, reedy voice from behind the counter.

"No. No!" screamed O'Kief. "What's wrong with you? Can't you see I'm hurt?" O'Kief lowered his head onto the counter. "Wait," he whispered. "I do have something to report. I'm lost..."

"Then you've come to the right place," replied the cloaked figure. "We're experts at dealing with the lost."

* * *

The first faint rays of dawn were illuminating the sky as the anonymous, plain pine box was lowered into the grave in Vigilance's extensive potter's field. All the golden bracelets and jeweled rings and other personal effects of any value had been removed from the body for distribution to the poor, as they were for all those unfortunate gamblers who happened to show up at the Lost and Never Found Department.

That night, the casino in the octagonal park failed to open. An obscure bylaw dating back to 1909 stipulated that all property given away by the town should be returned forthwith to the town upon the death of the recipient, if the town council so desired it. And that was what the town council and the good people of Vigilance desired.

Article © Tom Koperwas. All rights reserved.
Published on 2024-06-10
Image(s) are public domain.
0 Reader Comments
Your Comments

The Piker Press moderates all comments.
Click here for the commenting policy.