Lin Page 16
building facades in primary colors, and many of them have broken off and collapsed on the street in heaps.

But take an unexpected turn off the main street, down one of the myriad alleys he has prowled in the past, and the truth is known. Animals dead of unknown flu are swept into corners and heaped up where flies can decorate them like frosting on a cake. Small children with missing teeth and knobby limbs pull at his clothes as they ask for change, over and over and over again. Sometimes a policeman will wander into this phantom zone, espy a homeless drunk or drug addict lounging wordlessly on a stool, and knock the stool out from under the poor sod. He might add a few kicks to the fallen man's midsection for good measure, because there is nothing else to do on such a blisteringly hot day.

True, there are sights like these in every city, but through his travels he has developed a keen sense of a city's balance, and can divine the moment prosperity loses its footing and stares over the edge into the abyss. He cannot explain this facility; he only knows it when he feels it, like an animal sensing the coming of an earthquake. And he feels it now as he walks the promenade and a group of small children swarm his way, deeply involved in their after-school games, their teeth bared and their hands curled in fists, malice infecting them.

Trailing them, yelling after them, is a teenage girl. Tall and gaunt, she never breaks into a run, and yet she still manages to keep pace with them. She speaks in a local dialect that he cannot decipher, but he does not wish to, because it sounds strangely enough like birdsong.