God damned judges, messing with a feller's business. I spent thirty days in the hole more times than I care to remember, and it ain't ever done me no good. They just reach down from their high-and-mighty bench and lecture a feller about law and responsibility and good citizenship.

Law never bought me a cup of coffee, and good citizenship ain't never filled my belly. I had plenty of responsibility, though, for all the good it ever did me.

Used to be when I first rode the rails, the dicks would whack you with a baton, then move you on. End of shift, they might even give you a ride to the soup kitchen.

Nowadays, gang bangers with jellybean hair and spray cans hide inside them cars, stick a shiv in you soon as look at you. Railroad dicks, they're bad asses now, busting heads.

I still rode, though. Didn't got nowhere else to go, not no more. Sometimes, thirty days in the hole might'a been a relief. But those days are past me now, and I don't guess I'm ever gonna get 'em back.

Not since I come to Triune Town. Dark as Satan's ass, this place is, and evil too, for what they've done to me.

What they've made me do.

I hopped a freight heading west out of the Philly yards. Harder these days, but you can still do it if you're light-footed. Fred Astaire, that's me, dancing on steel. Slide inside an old box with mud clods on the floor, slip into the shadows at the back, and listen to the wheels click.

Somewhere in the Alleghenies, we hit a tunnel that went on a long damn time. A lot longer than any tunnel I ever did recall. I finally crawled up by the door and peeked out.

Nothing but darkness, like to go on forever.

There ain't no tunnels like this in Pennsylvania.

After a time, I heard the wheels clatter over a switch point. Brakes squealing, the train slowed down, though I never did hear the whistle blow, which is damned strange coming into a yard. There was light outside, not much, but enough to see the gleam of rails spreading out, shadows of other cars over them.

I dropped and rolled, got me out of the train. I don't like being where I don't know where I am, and if I'm going to be down a God damned hole, it better be my choice.

My freight finally squealed on by me, until I was looking at that blinking red lamp on the last coupler. I began crossing the yard, toward where the light was better. Every time I came to a string of cars, I'd check careful. Don't want to lose a foot when those couplers start to bang together.

After a while I got to where I could see some platforms, like Pennsylvania Station when I was a boy. They're lit up, but there's more freight sitting where the Pullmans would have been in the old days, and lots of fellers unloading.

Could be piecework for me, if I hide my bindle and play my cards good.

I kept in the shadows, finding my way around to a far end of the platform, pull my ass up on it. Damn, but that gets harder every year. Looking for a place to catch my breath and drop my gear, I slipped through the first door I come to that's got light under the crack.

Damn if it ain't the biggest men's room I ever seen in my life, like it was built for when this place did serve passengers. Ceiling must of been sixty, seventy feet up, all covered in gilt work and little flying angels like some of them New York City banks. There was marble columns against the walls, a whole set of big old fountains out in the middle of the room that I finally figured was sinks with benches between them. Pissers against both walls between the columns with gas lamps above them, and big archways left and right.

I ain't seen a gas lamp since I was a kid. Had no idea they was around no more, not anywhere.

I walked through the place -- no one's gonna bust me for going to the can, I hope -- and see that one archway leads to commode stalls, and the other leads to showers and lockers. This was nicer than any Y I'd ever been inside of.

Behind me, the door banged open. I jumped in my size tens, then scooted over to a bench. Best have my back to something if trouble's coming.

It was six little guys, not shoulder-high to me, wearing these big leather coats and high boots and funny wool suits like my Daddy wore. They were alike as peas in a pod, big heads on little bodies and bright eyes that flashed in the gaslight. One of them spotted me, and nudged the others, and they came toward me in a little spinning crowd, like how the leaves move on the autumn wind.

"A traveler," said one of them as they got close. I could see little dark specks on their leather coats and suit jackets.

"From the Cities of the Map," another said. He had a bloody scalpel in his hands, which explained the spots.

I was in deep turpentine.

"Welcome to Triune Town," said the first one. He had rubber gloves, also bloody. The others whispered to each other.

"Hey, fellers," I said. I gave them my best harmless old rummy grin. No fight here, nothing worth rolling me for, no sweat.

Sometimes it even worked.

A few of them went over to the pissers and set about the business, but Mr. Scalpel and Mr. Gloves just stood there, staring at me.

"What brings you to our fair city?" Mr. Scalpel asked.


"A humorist," said Mr. Gloves.

I was starting to wish all I had to do was take lip from a judge. This was gonna be a whole lot worse.

"A nice man," said Mr. Scalpel. "We've been looking for a Nice Man." He made it sound like a title.

"Oh, I'm nice, fellers, real damned nice," I said, though I couldn't hold my smile no more.

"Excellent," said Mr. Gloves. "Hungry? Thirsty?"

"No, fellers, I'm fine."

"Of course you are," Mr. Scalpel answered. "Nonetheless, we shall bring you something, won't we?"


"And," said Mr. Gloves as his friends crowded up behind him, all a-grinning, "you'll do a little something for us."

I know a stomping when I see it, and this was my chance not to get one. "You bet, fellers, whatever you say."

"Just be the Nice Man," Mr. Gloves said. "Someone comes and asks you for help, you do your best."

They blew out of there like the dust on a cop's heels. I sat, listening to the water drip, and wondered if I dared run back through the rail yard and catch a freight going somewhere.


Anywhere but Triune Town, wherever the hell this was.

About an hour later, this skinny guy comes slipping in the door of my restroom. He weren't making no more noise than smoke, so if I hadn't happened to see him come in, I wouldn't of known he was there.

He was a black feller, taller than me and thin so I could count his ribs, wearing leather straps across his chest and this little leather skirt. He didn't look like no fairy, though.

"Be you the Nice Man, sir?" he asked. He had a funny accent I couldn't place, all rich and dark like him.

"I suppose I am." That's what Mr. Scalpel and Mr. Gloves wanted to call me, that's who I would be.

"Be needing of a reckoning, I do."


About the Author

"Mr. Scalpel and Mr. Gloves and the Cancer at the Heart of the World" originally ran at Fusing Horizons #3 -- July, 2004.

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2007 novels are Trial of Flowers from Night Shade Books and Mainspring from Tor Books, with sequels to both books in 2008. Jay is the winner of the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his blog at jaylake.livejournal.com.

About the Artist

Chris Waltrip lives in a hillside bunker at an undisclosed location in Texas. He has been a science fiction fan since his mother read him Heinlein's 'The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress' while he was still in the womb. When he's not busy preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, he works as an artist and graphic designer. His website is www.chriswaltrip.com.