Lebedev pounded frantically at the courthouse door, rattling the hundred-year-old panes in their hand-carved frames. “Help me, somebody!” he cried. “The sheriff’s gone, the sheriff department’s gone, and my station along with it! There’s got to be somebody in there!”

Relief flooded Lebedev’s flushed and sweaty face as he saw a shape approaching. He wiped the white hair out of his eyes, instinctively getting ready to give his “local business need government support” speech. Even in his confusion, even coming from a grassy field where his QuickStop ought to have been, it was always his first and best instinct. Whoever answered, a secretary, the judge, a clerk, it didn’t matter. He’d talked his way out of a hundred environmental sanctions for leaking gas tanks, public health citations for the noxious meats his deli sold, and even a Department of Labor person once about the low pay he offered “tipped workers.”

The shape resolved itself into someone who looked altogether too young to be working in a courthouse, and too casually dressed besides. With a wan grin, they unlocked the door and swung it open, nearly hitting Lebedev in the face.

“Aren’t you a little young to be working here, son?” said Lebedev. “I need to talk to somebody, urgently.”

“Of course! Who would you like to talk to?”

“Well, there’s no one answering the phone at the sheriff’s, and -”

“How about the judge? I can have you talk to the judge.”

Lebedev nodded eagerly. “Yes, the judge! We play golf together, you see, and my wife and his wife are-”

“You’re thinking of the old judge.” The kid smiled. “The office has fallen vacant and been filled in a by-election. ‘Course, at such short notice, there weren’t many voters, but it was still a blowout. What can I do for you, citizen?”

“This is no time for jokes, kid,” Lebedev said. He tried to muscle past into the courthouse, but found himself pushed back by a surprisingly forceful blow from the one in his way.

“Did I say anything about a joke? If this was funny, you’d know, because your sides would be splitting.” With a quick and savage jab, the kid punched Lebedev in the stomach, leaving the old man gasping for air.

“Y-you…you little…” he wheezed, sinking to his knees.

“Now, I know you don’t remember me, maybe because it was in a parallel universe or two, but I used to work for you,” the kid said. He knelt, bringing himself face to face with Lebedev. “Tell me, Mr. Lebedev, are you still as much of a greedy corner-cutter here as you’ve been in every other Higbee I’ve visited?”

“I’m…I’m not…”

“Oh, don’t try that on me. I still remember. ‘Lewy, just ignore the tank leak alarm.’ ‘Lewy, just serve the damn meat, no one cares if it’s expired.’ ‘You get whatever comes in the tip jar, so I have to pay you less.'”

“Man, it felt so good to wipe that inconvenience store off of the map!” Lewy stood up. “Tell you what, why don’t I send you to join it, hm?”

Lewy grabbed Lebedev by the ankles and dragged the old man inside. He kicked weakly, but wasn’t able to put up much resistance.

“Now, ordinarily, just walking away is enough to save you from oblivion along with this place, now that its ley lines are cut loose and flapping in the wind,” said Lewy. “Let’s see if you have the wherewithal to do even that, hmm, you big old hypocrite?”

Whistling a jaunty tune, Lewy closed and locked the courthouse doors behind him, snapping off the handle and bending the post with a quick flash of megastrength.

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