Luke woke up alone in the room he shared with Penny. Like everyday since he’d arrived to the tenement. He never did see Penny go to bed or get out of bed. Perhaps their schedules simply did not overlap. Luke dressed and went to the bathroom, luckily it was unoccupied, and there was no line, so it didn’t take long until he stepped into the common room, clean and ready to make a big breakfast for everyone.
The room felt different. The floor lamps were dimmed, and the light seemed to be flickering a little. Luke’s eyes were drawn to a candle burning on top of a little table that usually held a vase with dried flowers.
Beside the candle, there was a cup with strips of paper and next to them, a long thin white object, like a large barbed needle, lay on top of a plate.
Luke approached the table and was studying these implements, quite confused, when Penny came by. The old man stopped by Luke’s side and stared at the arrangement critically. He lifted the long white spike. Luke half-expected him to try to sell it to him now. Instead Penny just turned it in his hands.
“Is this even hygienic?” he muttered. “Every month I ask myself that.”
Luke’s eyebrows rose. “What do you mean? What are these things?”
“This?” Penny waved the white object around. “It’s a stingray spine. El had to make a mighty convoluted trade to get it after the last one broke on Neha’s tongue. That hag’s tongue is unbeatable, El should have known that. So what do you think?”
Penny shrugged too. “Eh, whatever. Everyone’s gotta die of something sooner or later.” He took the sharp object, stuck his tongue out and pointed the spine at it.
Luke tensed. “What… what are you doing Penny…”
“Yes, good, keep distracting him when he’s going at it!” Alena stopped by them on her way to the kitchen. “Maybe on one occasion he’ll just slice his tongue off and finally we’ll have a normal household with no trades and shady dealings.”
Penny snorted. “You insult me, woman. I can trade and make deals gagged and blindfolded. And slice my tongue off with this? If you want to slice tongues off, I can trade you a trusty knife, I just got it from a one-eyed hunchback who was moving to Vegas-”
Alena waved her hand dismissively. “Pheh, pitch that to Neha, she was complaining about the knives being blunt, even after the three of us sharpened them. But really, you could go for a forked tongue at least. It wouldn’t even look bad on you.”
“Only if you split yours three ways first, sweetheart. That would open up some interesting opportunities.” Penny wiggled his thinning eyebrows.
“You wish. Just do the thing, while we’re still young.”
“You mean before you’re too young again.” He chuckled to himself.
“You watch out Penny, one day you’ll be senile infantile, and I’ll be the one laughing.”
Luke looked back and forth between Penny and Alena, waiting for some sort of explanation, but none was coming.
“Oh please.” The old man pierced his tongue matter-of-factly now, then touched a paper strip to it and put the bloody paper into the fire.
Luke winced a little. He didn’t mind the bloodletting, he’d seen countless chickens drained of blood growing up on a farm, but poking a barbed bone needle through one’s tongue was too much. “I don’t mean to be rude, but why are you doing this?” Luke asked, trying not to show just how uncomfortable it made him.
“You could say it’s thanksgiving,” Alena said.
“But it’s summer…”
“We don’t do that other thanksgiving here,” Penny said, seemingly unaffected by his so recently pierced tongue. “Under this roof we give thanks to El.”
“It doesn’t take much,” Alena cooed. “Just a bit of blood, just to show gratitude for all he’s doing for us. One some days, he needs it more than on the others. Today is such a day.”
Luke shook his head a little, confused. It was July 12, and he could not think of any observance on that day. Giving blood from one’s tongue pierced by a stingray spine was a very odd way to give thanks. His expression must have said that precisely, because Penny laughed.
“What? You think we’re a bunch of weirdos? And Christians regularly eating pieces of Jesus’s flesh and drinking his blood isn’t weird, huh?”
Luke thought on it for a moment. “When you put it that way… Forgive me. It is not my place to judge.”
“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.” Alena said. “It’s entirely voluntary. You can make El a nice meal instead, I’m sure he will welcome that expression of gratitude just as much.”
Luke nodded, relieved. He wasn’t sure he could poke a sharp object through his tongue voluntarily. Cooking was a much more welcome alternative. And now that the matters of bloodletting and thanksgiving were settled, Luke headed to the kitchen, intending to express his thanks in food form. Less painful, more hygienic, and hopefully completely non-controversial.
As surely as American astronauts returned to the Moon, Wyatt was back in Hector’s arms. Again.
They were all alone, in one of the many rooms of the Viteri mansion, sitting in an armchair.
The same armchair.
Hector pulled him closer in his lap. He bowed down, nuzzling Wyatt’s neck. The touch of stubble on his skin didn’t even make Wyatt flinch this time — or well, shudder romantically, as he hoped Hector had read that reaction on all previous occasions. He was slowly learning to embrace these visits and these… horrible situations, as a part of his life.
As to his life, he couldn’t honestly say that Hector had ruined it. Wyatt had already done a great job ruining it before he even met the Man. Now that he looked back at it, it felt as if he had always been some sort of anti-Midas, because everything he touched turned to shit. If someone asked him for his greatest achievement, Wyatt could frankly say that he excelled at screwing up his education, his finances, and his career. Fucking up his sex life and other remaining aspects of existence with Hector’s help was just a fine crescendo to crown the self-imposed disaster. The Man might have been a monster, but he was blameless in this. Their paths would have never even crossed if Wyatt had listened to his loved ones and studied more attentively.
If he had passed all his exams and never dropped out of his geology course, he’d be a decent person by now, with a well-paid completely legal job, and maybe even a girlfriend. He’d be the successful young man his family and friends thought he was and wanted him to be. He would be Wyatt Brooks, the resource geologist. Not Ocher, a petty thief and a mobster’s pet loverboy.
Hector kissed his throat, drawing a shaky breath from Ocher’s lips. The thief dipped his fingers into the short hair on the back of Hector’s neck and ran his fingertips in automatic circles. He’d noticed such small gestures of reciprocation were enough to keep the man satisfied, for now.
It was scary, the way he was adapting. He wasn’t sure what that made him, and how it would affect his future, but after cracking in front of Zack the other day, he decided to man up and make sure there would be a future to be had after this. He would go on like this. Because maybe someday, somehow, there was a way out.
Hector pulled him even closer.
“You know what, darling? There’s some very special entertainment available tonight,” Hector rumbled.
Hector’s hand slid under Ocher’s shirt, stroking his waist. Ocher felt the man’s breath against his ear as Hector whispered. “I’ve got a guest in the basement, waiting to be put out of his misery. Or put into more misery, if we feel like it. Would you like to do the honors?”
Ocher’s own breath hitched. He had almost managed to start feeling disgusted at the hands travelling under his clothes, but as always, when that was about to happen, Hector managed to find a way to effectively scare the living shit out of him for a completely different reason. Now Hector could probably even stroke him somewhat lower, and Ocher would still just be terrified by what he’d heard. “M-me?” He was trying his best not to pull away from Hector. “I don’t know if it’s… a good idea.”
Hector’s hand stopped. “Why not?”
The thief breathed in and out, trying to calm down. He had learned some useful things about the other man by now. Hector was a monster. But he was also a gentleman. And the latter could be taken advantage of, to a certain extent. Ocher just hoped he wouldn’t manage to accidentally cross that yet uncharted boundary. “I really regret to admit it, but I’m afraid that I… well, I-I’ve got a history of fainting at the sight of blood and such stuff…” When lies just rolled off his tongue this way, Ocher could almost believe in guardian angels. If he had one of those, it must have been a guardian angel of bullshit. His eyebrows furrowed in a troubled expression, as he looked at Hector apologetically. “I’m so sorry to fail you this way…”
Hector pulled back, looking at him with a frown. “Not a violent bone in your body, darling?” he asked. He looked mildly disappointed. “I thought you admired what I do.”
Here we go. The danger zone. He had to tread carefully.
“I do, Hector. You’re an inspiration. I admire the way you make the world of crime and business come together so seamlessly, how clockwork you run them. But I’m afraid I’m more… theoretically inclined after all. I-I… could read about this stuff for hours and hours, listen to it as well, but actually seeing it, doing it… I’m not as remarkable as you are, never will be…” He furrowed his eyebrows even further and then hung his head down, acting out great sadness. “It’d haunt me.” His hand stroked Hector’s palm absently.
“But you never know until you actually try it, darling,” Hector started gently. He touched Ocher’s jaw, stroking the side of his face with his thumb. “It’s intoxicating, holding another person’s life in your hands. Knowing there’s just one movement of your index finger between life and death. Such power. Don’t you want to know what it feels like, when a man begs you for his life, like you begged me for yours?” Hector’s voice was soft and had a noticeable note of pleasure to it.
Ocher shivered, fear gripping him at last, when his own encounter with Hector was brought up as an example. The tone of Hector’s voice disturbed him. He felt the conversation was already slipping out of his control. Especially since he suddenly couldn’t get himself to say a word.
“The man waiting to be killed isn’t an innocent bystander either. It’s someone from the underworld, like us. He knew what he was getting into when he crossed me…” Hector fell silent for a moment, but receiving no feedback from Ocher continued. “Appetite comes with eating, darling. You didn’t realize you were bisexual until you met me. Maybe there’s a vicious killer in you just waiting to emerge. What fun it could be, pulling people through hell together…”
The thief lost all of his composure and felt himself tremble. He managed to lie his way through the past two months, but nothing in his life had prepared him for sitting in Hector’s lap and having this conversation. Ocher still considered himself as straight as could be, but this didn’t even matter. How could Hector ever compare these two things? The hue of his voice, that strange look in his eyes as he listed these arguments, made the vision he just described sound like borderline erotic fantasy. Ocher felt sick when he understood what this could mean. Hector got off on killing people. Oh God.
“P-please, I really don’t think there is a killer… in me… anywhere. I don’t think I have the guts to do this.” He wished he had some geological fact ready to protect him now, but his mind was blank, and neither was this the time and place for such remarks.
“Oh, but you are so brave, darling. Coming to me in the night, like you did. That takes guts.” Hector smirked. There was a spark in his eyes, telling Ocher he would not back down. “Give it a chance. I can’t tell how soon another opportunity could present itself. Of course, if you change your mind and want to give it a go later, we could just pick a junkie off the street, but that would be taking unnecessary risks, and I don’t like those.”
Ocher didn’t like those either. He felt he was already pushing his luck, trying to argue with Hector. He was afraid he could easily do himself in any moment now. Zack had told him to run to him should Ocher be in trouble, and that would have been a great moment to fall back on that offer. But Zack wasn’t here now, and it just dawned on Ocher that he didn’t even know where Junior lived. He was fucked. So he just shut his mouth, and slowly nodded in defeat.
* * *
They descended into the basement. On the way Hector described to Ocher how there used to be a bomb shelter connected to the basement. And officially there still was one, but by now it had been expanded and modified to be used as a private prison.
Half of this tale flew past Ocher’s ears as every step took him closer to the prospect of killing a man for Hector’s amusement. He couldn’t help but reminisce his previous journey down these steps. Back then he hadn’t fully realized what fate awaited him down there, but now he knew exactly what Hector wanted from him, and the fear for his own life mixed with a new kind of dread. He wished he could be blindfolded now like he had been back then. He didn’t dare to just close his eyes.
Hector, meanwhile, was delighted. He went on and on about all the little tricks they used to soundproof the basement and boasted quite a bit, when they got to the hidden door in the disused bunker. Ocher nodded automatically.
The moment they left the bunker and descended deeper, shivers ran down his spine. And it wasn’t the narrow corridor that did it to him. At first Ocher thought it was just the atmosphere of the place or the perspective of taking a life. But then they went through another thick door, and he heard they were not alone. There was a faint sound of a man weeping.
The room they entered was brightly lit and pristine. All of the surfaces were washable and kept surgically clean. There were lockers against one wall and shelves against another. There were two more doors in the room. Hector pulled out a key ring.
“Get a protective suit from that shelf and put it on. No need to wrap yourself up too tight, but we don’t want gunpowder on your clothes. I’ll be right back.” He gave Ocher a wink, unlocked one of the doors and disappeared. The distant sobbing seemed to grow louder in the silence that fell.
The thief just stood there for a long time. He didn’t exactly register the command. Hector’s wink went just as unnoticed. Everything seemed to be drowned out by that horrible sound of human misery. Ocher didn’t turn his back and run. He didn’t do anything. Fear anchored him to the floor.
Hector returned with a silenced handgun. He stopped. “Are you sure you want gunshot residue on those clothes?”
Ocher looked at him with marginal understanding. He shook his head.
Hector snorted. He walked over to the shelf he indicated previously and pulled out a protective suit. “Here, put this on.” He passed it to Ocher, who mechanically accepted it, and stared at it. “I’ll go make sure everything is ready downstairs.” With that he walked over to the last unopened door and after unlocking it went further into the bunker. For the brief moment before the door closed behind him the sobs and moans grew eerily close.
Ocher looked at the suit in his hands. In the end, he dropped it to the floor, and stepped into it, pulling it on. It felt surreal. He wasn’t there, he was in a horror movie. He was supposed to be both the audience and the actor in it while he wanted to be neither. The coverall rustled under his shaking fingers, but he managed to pull it on and began to fasten the front.
Few minutes later the door opened again and Hector invited him in with a gesture. “Don’t forget to put on the gloves,” he advised. “They’re in the pockets.”
Behind the door there was a compact flight of stairs that lead deeper still.
Ocher felt like he was in a terrible dream. It was a familiar sensation that Hector conjured again and again with unpleasant ease.
“… normal to be nervous the first time,” Hector said. Ocher realized he must have zoned out for a moment. Hector patted him on the back reassuringly. “Right through here.”
They found themselves in a room that looked more battered than those above, but still quite clean. It wasn’t the room Ocher had been in before. In one corner a man sat on his knees. His hands were cuffed and chained to a metal ring in the floor. The man looked awful, but he sounded even worse. The thief couldn’t understand a word he mumbled, but it sounded like pleas for mercy or maybe lamentations. Tears were rolling down his swollen face, his nose was running. There was no visible indication of injury, but that only left more space for Ocher’s feverish imagination.
“Well, here we go, darling,” Hector lead Ocher to stand opposite the broken man. “Gloves on? Good. Aim for the head.” He took Ocher’s hand and put the gun in it, operating the thief like he was a doll. “Unless of course, you want to try some other body parts first. But you don’t look like it. So maybe the head. Don’t worry, this caliber won’t make a mess,” he said reassuringly.
Ocher stared blankly at the gun in his palm, and at the whimpering wreck of a man chained to the floor before him. Hector had withdrawn to stand behind him, somewhere to the side. The thief looked at him, hopelessly. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to do that.
“Go on, darling,” Hector encouraged softly.
Ocher looked back at the victim and lifted his arm, obediently.
The man on the floor kept muttering and sobbing. He seemed not to be fully aware of their presence, or in control of himself.
There’s just one movement of your index finger between life and death. Hector’s words from before rung in his ears like an echo. That made Ocher aware the safety was still on. Slowly, with a trembling hand, he removed it. Somewhere behind him, he heard the Man rumble in approval. The realization came suddenly. The thief’s pulse went from erratic to wild, heart hammering in his chest.
He was supposed to shoot a man down. He was holding a real, loaded gun in his hands.
He could kill Hector.
He could kill this monster and be free. He could have his life back.
Ocher’s eyes went wide as frantically he considered the possibilities. Hector didn’t expect this. He was relaxed, prepared to just watch the show, so if the thief suddenly turned the barrel of the gun on him, he would be taken by surprise.
But what if Ocher was too slow? What if he aimed badly, and only wounded Hector? Viteri was a mountain of a man, it would take skill or many badly aimed bullets to kill him. And if Ocher didn’t manage the first time, then… Oh god. He would be here next, chained to the floor, a whimpering broken man.
And even if he killed Hector. Would he make it alive out of the house? Even if he didn’t meet any guards at first, or they let him through because he was familiar, they would learn about what happened and they knew where he lived. They would be after him, after his loved ones. Or wouldn’t they, with their boss dead?
But… what about Zack? Maybe he would benefit from it too. His father was a beast after all.
Ocher stood there for a long time, his hand quaking, sweating in the glove. Crazed thoughts ran through his mind, he felt hot and cold in turns, the world was beginning to spin and tears lined his eyes.
Who was he fooling? Killing Hector? He’d never manage to pull it off, never manage get out of this alive. He was just a coward. A failure. He could never do anything right in his life.
He couldn’t kill Hector. He couldn’t.
“I-I can’t…” he heard his own quivering voice.
Hector’s hand rested on his shoulder. “That’s alright, darling. My son couldn’t do this either.” Hector sounded disappointed but accepting. He pried the gun from Ocher’s trembling hands. “Here’s how it’s done.” In one smooth motion Hector aimed the gun at the mumbling man’s head and pulled the trigger.
A loud bang. The man fell quiet.
“See?” Hector turned to the thief with a sly smirk. “Ocher?”
Ocher looked at the body on the floor, then at Hector. His eyes were wide open and filled with sheer dread.
Then he collapsed to the floor, just as quietly as the other guy.
* * *
It was comfy and warm. Wyatt shifted under the blanket. He wondered what time it was. Did he have to get up already? He guessed he’d better take a look at the clock. When he opened his eyes, there was Hector’s face hovering above him. Wyatt stared at him with an absolute lack of understanding.
“Wyatt, are you alright? Do you see me well?” Hector asked. The man’s eyebrows were furrowed, his eyes searched Wyatt’s face for comprehension. For the first time Hector looked distressed.
Wyatt sat up. This wasn’t his apartment or his bed. His head hurt. So did his knee and elbow. For a moment the thief had no idea how he got here.
And then he remembered. The basement, the prisoner, the gun in his hands… Oh God, he had tried to kill Hector, and he had failed. He was too slow, Hector must have knocked him out before he pulled the trigger…
The man was saying something to him now, but Wyatt heard only the ringing in his ears. In a bout of pure panic he tried to back away on the bed but his legs got tangled up in the blanket. “Please… please, I-I didn’t mean to, I-I’d never… please, don’t k-kill me…”
“Wyatt, calm down.” Hector gripped him by the shoulders and forced him to lie down. “Please,” he added. “Please, lie down.” He made sure Wyatt was back to a horizontal position and withdrew, sitting back down in a chair that stood next to the bed. Hector leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and burying his face in his hands. He rubbed his face for a moment and then just watched Ocher from behind his fanned fingers, like a repenting criminal in self-imposed imprisonment.
The thief looked at him with terrified amber eyes. This was strange. Hector didn’t look like he was planning to kill him. Or otherwise hurt him. More memories flowed back. Hector taking the gun from him and shooting. But not at him. Here’s how it’s done. A corpse with an entry wound in the forehead. Hector’s smirk. A smudge of light.
I just fainted. Wyatt realized, but the cold clutches of fear did not let go of him, as another realization began to sink in. He just forgot to act. He pretty much blew his cover before Hector. Or almost did. A slightly less vague phrasing of his panicked plea, and it would have been all over. He looked at the other man in frightened silence.
Hector sighed. “Wyatt, I am very sorry for what I did. I… forget myself sometimes. It’s hard for me to relate to people who never killed… You were trying to tell me you can’t handle it, and I should have listened. I…” he hesitated, then buried his face in his hands again. “I hope you can forgive me.”
Wyatt was slowly beginning to calm down. This was still surreal, as if it had all happened to someone else. Hector Viteri sat there with his face in his hands like he was actually sorry. At that moment, Wyatt didn’t really care for Hector’s feelings though. He just wished he’d fainted sooner. The sight of the corpse with its brains blown out was burnt on the inside of his eyelids.
But it was time to put his act back on. He was risking too much.
“I-it’s ok…” he told Hector. “Just please… listen next time.”
“Of course,” Hector assured him readily. “I will never involve you in any bloodshed again. Not unless you ask me to. I should have known…”
“T-thank you.” Wyatt sat up again, taking a deep, shaky breath. “S-since we’re at it… could I please ask you to feed the dogs only when I’m not around?”
“Yes… Of course. I’m so sorry, Wyatt. I should have known. My son is the same, like you are. Too soft. He won’t have any of that either.” Hector shook his head. “It’s alright with me. I just… forget how sensitive most people are.” The large menacing man looked genuinely troubled.
Wyatt felt the same way. He couldn’t believe he was still alive. He had always thought that as soon as he disappointed Hector once, that’d be it. Game over. Goodbye cruel world. But it clearly wasn’t. And on top of that, Hector seemed remorseful. The thief really didn’t know what to say so he resorted to ‘Okay’ and ‘Thank you.’ He would have to thank Zack later because some things Hector said made it quite clear that if not for Hector’s son having blazed the trail by being ‘too soft’, this incident could have ended badly for Wyatt. Still, he didn’t dare feel too safe. He hoped that his apparent inability to partake in the mobster’s criminal life wouldn’t make Hector grow bored of him quickly.
“Would you like some chamomile? Water? Anything? I had my doctor check you up, except for a bruise or two, you’re physically unhurt.” Hector looked him in the eyes and smiled hesitantly.
As the fear wore off, Wyatt began to feel tired. Really tired. This evening had drained him emotionally. “Water, please. And Hector… I think I would like to go home soon. Is that ok with you?”
“Sure. Just wait here, I’ll make the necessary arrangements,” Hector told him. Then he stood up, pecked Wyatt on the temple and went out of the room.
Traces of guilt lingered in Viteri’s expression even as he led Wyatt to the car that would take him home. Instead of kissing Wyatt goodbye like he usually would, he simply patted the thief gently on the back and murmured some more apologies and a farewell. Ocher got into the car and just sat there silently all the way home, staring blankly out of the window.
The seven met again. This time it was the doctor and the heretic who brought the news. The rest listened to their account attentively.
“Hector had him in the basement again and didn’t kill him,” the heretic said. He looked even more tired than usual. “Clearly, we should stop waiting and take matters into our own hands. I’m fed up with driving him around.”
“And what’s worse, Hector appears to be growing fond of him,” the doctor said solemnly. “I agree that we should act if we don’t want this to become the new reality.”
“I for one, definitely do not want that. Looks like we could use an accident after all,” the hero said. He turned to the brute. “You know what to do. And what not to do. I hope?”
“I’m not an imbecile.” The brute frowned.
“Of course not. You just can’t help yourself sometimes,” the temptress remarked with a bright smile. “But seriously, all you guys are just getting your panties in a wad, not because this is an actual threat to us, but because they are getting it on and you don’t want to watch it.”
“Is that not reason enough?” the hero asked incredulously.
“Well maybe some of us don’t mind it.” She grinned. “It’s actually a good show.”
The men at the table collectively winced.
The temptress waved her hand. “Oh whatever, if you want wolfie to go kill him for the sake of your peace of mind, go on, it’s fine.”
“I am sorry, but do we not have any subtler method, before we resort to brute force?” the heretic asked.
“Aw, how adorable, so you want to off him, but more delicately? Ah, this pacifist still in you after all you’ve been through.” The temptress giggled.
The heretic’s eyes lit up with ire.
“Oh there you are!” She grinned, satisfied. “Good, at least we’re all here. Now, where were we? Right, wolfie claiming he wasn’t an imbecile.”
The brute glared at the temptress and the heretic in turns, but said nothing.
“I will do it,” the servant volunteered.
The heretic nodded, appeased.
The hero and the brute did not protest. The crone nodded. The temptress shrugged.
It was decided.
The alley was almost tranquil at this time of night. The plastic table El sat at drowned in deep darkness, but that did not deter him from drawing more charts in his worn notebook. Shadows could hide nothing from him. Not even the man dressed all in black.
El looked up and arched an eyebrow at the visitor.
“Blaze? To what do I owe the pleasure? I didn’t imagine you would ever trouble yourself to visit me again, now that you’ve got yourself a courier.”
The priest said nothing. The courier was what had brought him here, but there was no need to start off that way, especially when he knew El would insist on emphasizing a certain yearly observance.
Encouraged by the silence, the small man bowed back down to his notes and finished what he had been writing with a serpentine flourish. Then he shut the notebook, and as was his custom he asked, “Do you know what day it is Blaze?”
“How could I forget.” Blaise replied patiently. “You should remember however that I had no hand in executing Landa’s fanaticism. I became a friar before his time, and I sailed right off to Spain.”
“Somewhat true, but even before you jumped ship, you and your partner in crime had been a plague upon our lands.”
“Upon the neighbouring lands, to be precise.”
El laughed but there was no mirth in that laughter. “You cannot mess with the gods in one place without affecting their counterparts next door.”
The priest rested a hand on his heart. “I would never dare to assume that our minor and insignificant machinations had any influence whatsoever over the mighty gods of the Maya.”
“Hmm…” El gave him a wary look. “Anyway, back to the 12th of July, every year on this day I am tempted to ask just how would it feel to you, as a Catholic priest, if someone found and burnt every holy book in the Christian world, leaving behind but three of its fragments kept apart in different parts of the globe? And how would it feel if more forgeries than originals remained? But then I always remember that you don’t really feel much about it. And credit where it is due, your holy book has seen more forgeries than any other.”
“I’ve followed many a holy writing, revered a multitude of symbols and served many gods. I do not get too attached.” Blaise said calmly, but a lilac glow played in his eyes, although there was no light they could be reflecting. “I am a professional, El. I do not make things personal.”
“Good. Because neither do I. And that’s why we can still do business. But a courtesy advice if I may — do not ever visit Mesoamerica again. You know, just in case.”
“Fair enough. And now if we’re done with the pleasantries, I have a business deal for you, El.”
“Yes. I hear that you are having some trouble in that fairytale land of yours. Specifically, with… excessive obedience.”
El perked up. “Oh… I’m listening.”
“I may or may not have a wayward contrarian child I could rent out to you.” Blaise smirked. “For a reasonable fee.”
“Hm… how intriguing. Your courier and mine. Working together. That could make for quite an interesting story.”
“It could be what you need, what you are missing.” The priest stated simply. “What good is a protagonist without a chance to succumb to temptation, to be led astray?”
El tapped his chin and squinted in thought. “Enticing. But first things first — what kind of fee are we talking about?”
“I’d grant a free trial. As to the currency that matters, just one favour after that. The dollars, we will sort out.”
El pondered the offer for a moment. “Well, make it thrice a free trial, and we can shake on it.”
“I am not the US justice system.” Blaise winced. “Just one trial.”
“Hm, perhaps. If you can make him travel without that motorbike.”
“That… might be a challenge to arrange.” The priest confessed.
“It’s alright if it doesn’t always work out.” El smiled. “The lack of discipline is what you’re selling me after all. Well, I am tentatively interested. Sign me up for that free trial.”
And so they shook on it and before the night was done, details had been agreed upon, and El filled more pages with elegant, swirly notes and glyphs.
The deal was struck and Blaise turned to leave. But before he walked away, he looked back with a smirk. “And El…”
“If one of yours comes to my church and burns any number of my Bibles, I will cut off your supplies for as many years.”
El laughed, and this time it was genuine. “Your holy books are safe from my wrath. Now go in peace, Blaze.”