“Does it get easier from here?” she asked.
He was holding the tiny box open for minutes now, a shining ring inside.
“We’ll find out.”
“Does it get easier from here?” she asked.
He was holding the tiny box open for minutes now, a shining ring inside.
“We’ll find out.”
Blazer Flame’s office was close to Recording Room G. Carla managed to calm everyone in the room after the gigantic Fred left. Joseph Taker kept to himself the entire time he was ushered from the recording room to the office. In just the span of an hour he already caused such a ruckus!
Terrible, he told himself. Just terrible.
The office was decorated from top to bottom with Blazer Flame merchandise. From his place on the sofa, Taker spotted shelves full of music industry awards and photos of the rapper with various entertainment figures. They framed a towering portrait of Blazer Flame that stretched from floor to ceiling. His gaze loomed over the visitors like a sentinel watching a treasure hoard.
I take it back, Taker thought with a smile. Seeing that is even worse.
Carla returned from the nearby pantry carrying two cups of coffee on saucers. She handed one to Taker and the other to Blazer Flame, who sat splay-legged on a chair opposite him. She sat beside Blazer Flame, folding her hands on her lap.
“Have some cream and sugar,” she said to Taker, nudging with her chin to the table between them.
Taker bowed slightly and removed his hat. “Thank you, my dear,” he said. “But won’t you have some yourself?”
Carla made to answer but Blazer Flame cut her off. “She don’t drink any o’ that,” he barked. “And I don’t need no cream an’ sugar. A real man takes it black an’ bitter!”
Taker shrugged. “By your leave, then,” he said. He filled his cup with generous helpings of cream and sugar. As he took a sip, he noticed Blazer Flame gulping down his own drink. Once he finished, the rapper’s lips twitched and some of the black liquid dribbled to his chin. Taker took another sip. It was all he could do stop himself from smiling.
Once he finished, Taker set down his cup. “Now, Mr. Gambino,” he said, looking at , “what is it you want my help with?”
Blazer Flame banged the table with his fist. Cups and saucers jumped an inch before they clattered back onto the table.
“First off,” Blazer Flame growled, “Don’t call me that! That ain’t my name no more. I ain’t my dad, get it?”
Taker nodded in reply. He gripped his cane tightly. His fingers felt twitchy all of a sudden.
Blazer Flame seemed satisfied and reclined on his chair. “And second, Doc,” he said, emphasizing the last word, “I heard ya can get rid o’ my bad dreams.”
Taker chuckled. “What makes you think I can do that?”
Carla straightened her glasses. Her gaze was steely, and Taker looked away.
“I have my ways of finding a lot about the people who talk to Mr. Flame,” she said matter-of-factly.
Taker nodded. “And what sort of bad dreams are we talking about?” Taker asked Blazer Flame.
Blazer Flame hunched over and steepled his fingers. “My dad,” he muttered. “That guy’s in my head again. Been years since he last came by. Been dead fo’ years now and he still wanna ruin my life.”
“And why would you want to get rid of those dreams?” Taker asked. “A significant part of your music relates to your experiences with him. In a way, you can say that he had a hand in your success as a musician.”
The rapper snarled. “He didn’t do nothin’ but ruin my life, growin’ up. I hate him, and I want him outta my head already.” Leaning back on his chair, he added, “I saw whatcha did with that big guy back there. That really some kinda magic?”
Taker raised his hands. “Magic is not what I call it,” he said. “This is more of a gift, a curse, not something I really wanted.”
Carla frowned. “And yet you made quite a living out of it,” she said.
Taker smiled sadly at her. “If you have seen the things I have seen, from the people who asked me to see them, you might think twice before saying that again.”
Blazer Flame banged his fist on the table. The cream and sugar jars jumped an inch before clattering back onto the table. “Enough talkin’,” he barked. “Can’tcha just point yer finger, tell me to forget and go?”
Taker frowned. “You may flatten a city with all the artillery at your disposal, but you still need soldiers to clear out the buildings and tunnels.” Setting down his empty cup. Taker added, “I could do what you asked, but it is too dangerous. Unless you want to risk forgetting everything and acting like a baby again.”
Carla’s eyes widened. “Has that happened before?” she asked.
“Quite a few times. Especially when I was younger or less emotionally stable,” Taker replied with a chuckle. Returning to Blazer Flame, he added, “What you ask me to do requires time and precision. And to maximize the effects, I would have to ask you to sleep.”
“And why can’t we do it right now?” Blazer Flame asked.
Taker tapped his temples. “Limits. When you are awake, you can guard against me. The mind does not like being probed. But asleep, your defenses are weakened. At that point, I can do anything.”
Blazer Flame grunted. “All we’re doin’ is talkin’. Show me ya ain’t some fake. Get rid of that memory of Fred punchin’ me out if ya ain’t lyin’.”
Taker sighed. “Oh ye of little faith. Very well. It is a recent memory so you don’t have to sleep. But I must ask if it is okay to delve into your mind.”
“Why d’you sill have to ask?”
“Asking allows me easier access to your thoughts. I am trying to take the path of least resistance.”
Blazer Flame grunted. “Fine. Ya can go.” Pointing to Carla he added, “Better watch what he’s doin’, Carla. Ain’t no tellin’ what’ll happen.”
Taker smiled at Carla. “Rest assured, he will come to no harm. In fact, I intend to bring her along with me. She will be able to see firsthand what I will do, if that helps.”
Carla stiffened. She bit her lip but managed to nod her assent.
Taker clapped his hands. “It is done, then,” he declared. His hands glowed a sickly green and he approached Blazer Flame.
The rapper drew back but Taker smiled. “Worry not. This will not hurt if you stay still.”
The glowing hands touched Blazer Flame’s forehead. The rapper quaked in his chair. Taker felt himself falling into Blazer Flame’s head. Before he lost consciousness, he snatched Carla by the wrist and they both went tumbling into the darkness.
2016 Dec 23, Friday
DOCTOR TAKER AND THE ECHO OF THE PAST
Part 01: The Man in the Rainbow Robe
A child screams while its mother cowers nearby. A man lumbers before them. One hand gropes along the wall. The other grips a gun. Empty casings litter the floor. Sweat lines the man’s forehead. His breathing is short and ragged. His eyes shift from one corner of the room to another, as if he was searching for invisible prey.
The woman darts to the child and embraces it. The child cries its eyes out. The woman kisses it on its forehead, whispering that things would be fine.
The huge shadow of the man looms over the both of them. He raises his gun hand, aiming right at the child’s wide forehead. The scene clips to black. Screams and gunshots. The sound of crying lasts for a minute before a replay button appears.
Joseph Taker took off his jade-tinted glasses and wiped them on his thick gray coat. He raised them to the light of the solitary bulb in his office. Clear. He put them back on and closed the movie on computer screen.
Taker sighed as he reached out for a rainbow-colored mug near his keyboard. The coffee had grown cold. He drank it all in one gulp. He winced. Black and bitter. The coffee always finished the job of waking him up.
After replacing the mug on the table, he placed his hands on his temples. Clicking the metal clasps loosened the helmet that he wore while watching the video. It was heavy, with meters of cable emerging from the back like tentacles from a metallic octopus. The cables snaked across the floor behind his chair and towards a row of gigantic computer towers. The steady blinking of orange and green lights were the only splash of color among the black behemoths. It was like watching a slumbering giant as it breathed.
Taker ran a hand on one of the towers. “Get some rest,” he whispered. Removing the helmet, he laid it on his desk. He grabbed his old, scratched up wooden cane and rose from his chair. A familiar jolt in the knees. He grunted and tapped them with the sides of his cane. The pain faded. It will do, he told himself.
Before he opened the door leading out of his apartment, he paused in front of the coat hanger. He took off his gray coat and hung it from a nail. Next to it was a thinner rainbow-colored robe on a curved plastic coat hanger. He removed it from the hanger with great care and slipped it on. The weight on his shoulders disappeared. He stood straight and felt ten years younger. Adding his battered, black newsboy cap completed his look since it covered his shaved head. The helmet would not fit otherwise.
Closing the apartment door behind him, Taker hobbled to the elevator. It took him to the lobby. Once outside, he hailed a cab. Twenty minutes later he arrived at the Eternity Records Tower, its spire pointing to the blue sky. Taker paid the fare and got off. Some passersby stared at him. A child pointed, calling him Santa Claus. Taker doffed his cap and flashed a grin. His thick and matted beard must have helped the resemblance. Upon seeing his reflection on the glass revolving door, he noticed his beard was graying. He shook his head and went in.
Upon reaching the front desk, Taker took off his hat, leaned in, and whispered, “I am Joseph Taker. I have a meeting with Mr. Rico Gambino at 10:00 am today.”
The woman at the desk stared at him. “Do you mean Mr. Blazer Flame?” she asked.
Taker nodded. “The same one.”
“Mr. Flame is finishing up a song. You may wait for him in Recording Room G. It’s on the twenty-fifth floor.” With a forced smile she added, “Have a good day, Dr. Taker.”
Taker winced. “Thank you, young lady,” he replied.
A guard pointed Taker to the elevator bay. The clear glass capsule zoomed up the floors. Taker observed the crowd below shrink to dots. It was all he could do to avoid the stares of the executives in their suits and ties.
The twenty-fifth floor. Taker wove his way out of the capsule and made it right before the doors slammed shut. He fixed his coat and hat. Facing him were a row of offices, but no Recording Room G.
He thought of approaching a security guard, but the closest one available was a surly fellow leaning on a pillar. He tapped his baton on his forearm, while his eyes scanned the area. Taker decided against making contact, but he noted the man’s name: Aguilar. With his hunched back and dark gaze he more closely resembled a hungry vulture than an eagle.
Spotting a janitor mopping the floor near an office, Taker approached him. He had his back to Taker, a bucket of dirty water near his feet. He leaned in and asked, “Where is Recording Room G?”
The janitor yelped and leapt out of the way. He knocked over the bucket, spilling the contents over the floor. Some of the water stained Taker’s shoes and robe.
“What the hell was that?” the janitor cried. He held out his mop like a spear, ready to strike against anyone who approached. His breathing was labored, and Taker noted the dark circles beneath the man’s bloodshot eyes.
“Worry not, friend,” Taker said with a reassuring wave. “I am only asking for directions.”
The janitor finally noticed Taker. His shoulders slackened and he lowered the mop. The furrows on his brow also disappeared and he no longer clenched his teeth.
“You scared me there,” the janitor remarked. “Jeez.” Looking at the mess on the floor, he swore up a storm. “Oh, the boss is gonna kill me!” he exclaimed, gripping his temples. The mop handle clattered onto the floor.
A crowd formed a ring around the two. The vulture-like security guard, Aguilar, emerged from the throng, stomping towards the hapless janitor. He smacked his victim on the lower back with his baton. The victim howled with pain. The guard’s lips twisted into a sadistic grin and he struck another blow on the janitor.
“You’re gonna lose your job this time, Sanchez!” Aguilar bellowed.
“I didn’t mean it,” Sanchez the janitor cried, shielding his head with his thin brown arms as the blows went higher. “It was an accident, honest!”
Aguilar raised his baton, a murderous glint in his eye. Taker noticed it and swung his cane. There was a resounding crack and the baton flew out of Aguilar’s hand.
Clutching his wrist, Aguilar snarled as he rounded on Taker. “Who the hell are you?” he growled between gritted teeth.
Taker straightened himself and said, “I am merely a visitor here.” Pointing to Aguilar, he added, “And your conduct is unbecoming of your position. I suggest that you submit yourself to disciplinary action. But before you do, I suggest you help poor Sanchez with cleaning this mess.”
Aguilar stiffened. His fingers twitched and he looked like he was choked by an invisible hand. After a second, he grabbed the fallen mop and started working on the puddle.
Sanchez the janitor groaned. “Oh no,” he exclaimed, tearing his hair at the temples. “If the boss sees the guard cleaning instead of me, I’m finished!”
Taker pointed at him and said, “You worry too much, my friend. Worry not. Help Mr. Aguilar if you must, but first tell me where Recording Room G is. And once you are both done, go ask if you could take the day off.” Glancing at Aguilar, he added, “In fact, why don’t you request one day’s worth of leave from Mr. Aguilar? I am sure that he won’t mind given his disgraceful behavior today.”
“No,” Aguilar replied, his voice wooden and stiff, “that’s fine with me.”
Sanchez also shuddered. “Thank you, sir,” he said, his voice also as stiff as Aguilar’s. “Recording Room G’s in the corner of the hall. Inside one of the offices. You can’t miss it.”
Taker pinched the brim of his hat as a gesture of gratitude. Now turning to the crowd, he waved a hand at them, saying, “All of you will forget that this happened. Anyone who recorded videos or took pictures will delete them immediately. Then you will return to your work.”
The crowd trembled. A number of them took our their cellphones while the others left immediately. A sea of glowing screens formed as the spectators started deleting evidence. Eventually they also left, and Taker hobbled his way to his destination.
TO BE CONTINUED
“Where are you going?” she asked. She found him tiptoeing towards the door. It was eight in the evening. His favorite stew was boiling. It had been ages since she cooked it for him. The doctor told him to go easy on the food. It would have interfered with his medicine. The bubbling pot was the only sound aside from the evening news on television.
He straightened himself and smoothed the creases on his shirt. “Downstairs to the neighbors.”
She rested an arm on the wall. “Why?” she asked.
He puffed out his cheat in response. “I gotta check if our kitchen pipes are leaking. I don’t want any water ruining their living room ceiling.”
Now she folded her arms. “Did they say anything about a leak?”
He shook his head.
She leaned in closer. “Did you even hear anything weird from the kitchen?”
Another shake of the head.
With a sigh, she asked, “So why bother fixing what hasn’t happened?”
He pointed to her, saying, “You raised hell when we came one day and our house was flooded from a leak in the ceiling. Our neighbors upstairs wouldn’t talk to us for days after! I’m trying to prevent that from happening to us.”
She scoffed. “Those guys upstairs were lazy bums. Why do you have to bother the nice ones downstairs? And dinner’s almost ready!”
He stomped. The plywood floor groaned under his foot. He glared at her, his back hunched like a prowling predator. The intensity of it sent a shiver down her spine. She hadn’t seen him like that in years. On impulse she clapped a hand to her cheek. When she realized what she did, she shook her head. Her lip hadn’t twitched like that in so long, either.
When he saw her reaction, he exhaled deeply and straightened himself. “Sort. But I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m trying to prevent another fiasco like last time. I’m doing this for you, for us. Anything to keep things peaceful.”
She shuddered. “Peaceful,” she mumbled. “Fine, go then. Go ahead and spend an hour explaining why you decided to drop by when there’s no problem.”
“Do we have to wait when there’s a problem before we do anything?”
“You’re the problem!” she spat. “I married a problem when he couldn’t stop fixing things that didn’t need fixing.”
He stood, his face expressionless. A stone. But she saw his fingers tremble. His face flushed crimson and a vein bulged on his temple, near where thin, shining scars touched his eyebrow. Her lip twitched in response.
Heaving another sigh, he fished for something in his pocket and pulled out a tiny orange medicine bottle. He popped open the plastic cap with his thumb and downed a couple of the remaining pills in one smooth, practiced motion. Once done, he returned the bottle to his pocket.
It took a moment, but his fingers stopped twitching and his face returned to its normal color. Putting a hand on the doorknob, he pulled open the door.
“I’m sorry for you having to put up with me,” he said. “Don’t wait up for me.”
She slumped on the floor as his footsteps faded away in the distance. The pot on the stove fizzled as the broth overflowed. She couldn’t stop the tears from running down her cheeks either.
#kjwrite #kjart #bitesizedstories #bitesizeddrawings #bitesizedsketches #quickdraws #receiptart #story #writing #art #shortstory #familylife #marriage #food #husbandandwife #couple #problems #leak #plumbing #argument #stew #violence #medicine #healing
THE FARTHINGTON PART 01: The Emblem of the Raven
The Farthington Family is known to have produced the best butlers and maids in all of Vonagherra. Each generation follows the tradition set by its founder, Alexandra, who served the legendary hero Andre Juvenal. As such, having a member in one’s employ is seen as an indicator of one’s prestige in society.
Members of the Family, whether natural or adopted, are brought up to serve only those who are wealthy and worthy. If a master was poor, would leave the Family unable to continue their enterprise. If the master was unworthy would give the impression that the Family were merely mercenaries, which was an impression Alexandra Farthington wanted to avoid. Only those masters who were righteous were allowed to be worthy in their eyes.
The master would have a year to prove themselves capable of supporting the Farthington as well as being morally upright. Failure would lead to the Family requesting a very steep refund in coin or in kind.
While having a member of the Family around is a blessing, they say, it is also a curse. Detractors call them Ravens for their demands, but never to their faces. The Family seems to have taken the nickname in stride, embroidering the raven on their clothes as an easy way to identify them on the street.
A year ago I met one of these Farthingtons, and this is our story.
I was about to start college at Vonagherra National University, my dream school. I remembered seeing the students’ uniforms in an ad years ago. I also wanted to wear the uniform and study in a place like that.
Seeing my acceptance letter brought tears to my eyes. I asked them how my parents paid for it, but they never answered. They only told me to study and do well. I couldn’t believe they could send me to VNU when my father was a motorcycle pedicab driver and my mother a cook at a marketplace eatery.
But I was still happy. I promised them I would work hard and get a good job. My father told me he had a friend who lived near VNU. She owned a boarding house that she was willing to let me stay in. He also said that someone would pick me up at the terminal.
On the day I had to leave I stuffed my bag with all the money I hid under my mattress. From what I heard, everything was more expensive in Vonagherre City, where VNU was located. I also needed a job; I couldn’t depend on my parents forever. Chances are they had some big debts to pay for letting me study. I wanted to help out in my own way.
The huge provincial bus rumbled along the mud and gravel for hours. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know if it was because the bus was shaking or if I was excited. When the bus finally passed through asphalt, it was already night.
When we pulled into the bus terminal, everyone was in a hurry to go. I took my time. Perhaps a part of me still thought I was dreaming. When my feet hit the ground, the jolt told me that everything was real.
I took it all in. The lights from the billboards and skyscrapers flashed a rainbow of colors. People brushed by me as they rushed from one place to another. I had never seen a crowd so tightly packed into one area. They were all busy chatting into their cellphones or to each other. In the distance the bus conductors were barking out their departure time and their destination. I found myself in the middle of an orchestra of noise, yet I was not bothered. All of these things only proved that I was not dreaming, that I had made it.
There was nobody in the crowd that looked familiar to me. No raised cardboard signs with my name on them like in the movies. I sat on a bench waiting for someone to call my name. Nothing. The only other people sitting on the row of benches were an old couple, a group of street children in ragged clothes, and a man in a crisp black suit and a white capelet draped over his shoulders. His hard features seemed focused on something in the distance. I wondered what he was thinking about.
Following his gaze, I saw two people approached my bench. Their faces were gruff and weathered. Their clothes were no better; worn, stained, and wrinkled. A hint of a smile formed on the face of one of them. The other stared, his gaze moving up and down my body.
I shuddered. A voice in my head whispered that they were bad news. The question was how to deal with them. I gathered up my things. My handbag was barely out of reach. I leaned over to grab it but the staring man got to it first.
From where I sat, the both of them were gigantic and bulky. One wrong move and they would be on me in an instant. My gaze shifted to my surroundings. There were still a few people around. Those two wouldn’t do anything crazy with all these people around.
“You lost, miss?” the smiling man asked.
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” I replied. Spotting my handbag still in the other man’s hands, I added, “May I have that back, please?”
The other man remained silent. He hugged the bag closer to him. His massive, hairy arms resembled a gorilla’s. no way I could swipe my bag from him.
“Ricardo’s making sure your bag doesn’t get taken,” the smiling man said. “You never know what people might do to a beautiful young woman out at night.” Extending a hand to me, he said, “I am Juan. Let me take you where you want tonight.”
I gripped the handle on my suitcase. “Thank you but I don’t need help. I need my bag back, please.”
Juan chuckled. Withdrawing his hand he said, “Oh don’t be so rash. This city can be dangerous if you don’t have anyone with you.”
My temples throbbed and my fingers squeezed the handle of my suitcase. They didn’t get the message at all. My handbag had my wallet and IDs. Running away was not an option, much as I wanted to.
Juan leaned forward, whispering, “Come on, miss. Just stay with us for a while and we’ll give it back to you.”
He thrust his hand out and clamped it onto my wrist. Without thinking, I slapped him with my free hand. The shock of the impact went all the way up to my shoulder. Juan’s cheek was solid and firm, but it reddened after I hit him. He reeled back, covering his cheek. He winced when he touched it.
“Ricardo!” he barked out. “Get her suitcase and let’s go!”
Without a second thought, Ricardo lunged towards me. I dove out of the way, dragging my suitcase with me. Ricardo slammed onto the bench, knocking it off its bolted legs and onto the ground. He landed with a heavy thud.
Watching him hit the ground like that, I was thankful I got away. A second later and I could have been broken in half. Juan lunged for my suitcase; I leapt out of the way and he grabbed thin air. Summoning all my strength, I heaved my suitcase and swung it in an arc. It collided with Juan’s shoulder and knocked him down.
Ricardo dropped my handbag when he rushed at me. I grabbed it and slung it over my shoulder. Juan didn’t stay down for long; Ricardo also struggled to get on his feet. Even if I ran, they might catch up with me thanks to my heavy luggage. My best hope was for someone to call the security guards.
I turned to the crowd at the terminal and shouted, “Help! Someone tried to steal my things!”
Nobody budged an inch. I checked the people on the benches. The old couple on the benches shuddered in fear. The children gaped in awe, waiting for what would happen next like it was a movie. The man in the pinstriped suit crossed his legs and folded his arms before turning his head away.
Juan and Ricardo closed in. The man in the pinstriped suit was the only one who looked strong enough to help. I pointed to him and shouted, “Hey, please help me! Call the security guards! Something!”
The man in the suit faced me. He cocked his head to the side and asked, “Are you talking to me?”
“Of course I am!” I barked back. “Do something, please!”
The man shook his head. “Sorry, lady,” he said. “I don’t do things for free.”
I froze. That was enough of an opening for Juan and Ricardo to tackle me to the ground. The back of my head slammed onto the gravel. Lights flashed and bells rung behind my eyes. Everything was a blur. I felt someone pin down my arms and legs. I heard a metallic click and something press against my forehead. It must have been a gun. Nothing but hazy chatter above me.
Burning with frustration, I shouted at the top of my lungs, “I’ll pay you! Just help me!”
My arms and legs could move now. The gun left my forehead. Propping myself on my elbows, I shook my head vigorously. The world cleared before my eyes. Juan’s arm was twisted behind him in a hammerlock. He writhed in pain. The one who held him was the man in the suit, who looked deadpan despite being in the heat of combat.
Ricardo swung a burly arm at the man but missed. His forearm collided with Juan’s nape, sending him crashing to the ground. In one deft motion the man grabbed Ricardo’s arm and twisted it around. Ricardo howled in pain and blindly swung at the man with his free arm.
“Too slow,” the man said as he dodged the blow. I could hear the whoosh of Ricardo’s fist as it passed by. The man kicked Ricardo behind the knee, toppling the giant. With a quick blow to the back of the head, the man knocked Ricardo out.
Everything became quiet. The man stood tall over his opponents, and he glanced at me, still struggling to get up. He removed his capelet and rolled it into a bundle. kneeling down, he tucked it under my head. I tried to rise but he put a hand on my shoulder.
“Lie down,” he said. “You took a big hit just now. Let’s wait for an ambulance before you move.”
I nodded. Up close, I noticed his harsh features softened with his tone. His black eyes looked genuinely concerned at me. I diverted my gaze and spotted the raven embroidered on his blazer. It must have been hidden by his capelet. The red sequined eye of the raven glared at me as though it was judging me. I shuddered, but the man put a hand on my arm and I relaxed.
And that was how I met Alexander Farthington, the man who wore the emblem of the raven.
TO BE CONTINUED
2016 07 21
The Skytower Titania
The buildings and people shrank as we took to the sky. Everything around me rumbled like a titan awakening from its slumber. How fitting then that I was one of the people to take part in the VST Titania’s maiden voyage.
Like its name, Titania was a behemoth of steel, a product of decades of planning and years of building. It was the first of its kind, a new mode of transport to shuffle people from one corner of the globe to another. No longer would people have to drag along the seas in cruise ships or clutter the skies with planes. Built in Vonagherre City, the first of the new Skytower line could pick up and drop off any passengers and cargo at a moment’s notice.
But I digress. I’m a professional, after all. And professionals need to focus on the job at hand. Still, having to guard someone like Arch-Councillor Marduk comes with its own challenges.
Marduk was a giant both in height and weight. He towered over the pretty little thing that he brought with him to his Presidential Cabin. She was shivering as he leered at her. Who wouldn’t, dressed in that tiny red dress of hers? It did a good job of proving to me that she was a woman. Even I found the goosebumps forming on her legs fascinating. But I had to stay calm.
Women were especially dangerous for guys like me. Just a stray look, just one flash of forbidden flesh, and even the most hardened men would fall apart. A woman’s tears were the most dangerous weapon in the world, my teachers once told me.
Marduk’s hands were all over the poor thing. She whimpered and pleaded for him to stop. “Now now,” he cooed into her ear. “Don’t be afraid. I’ll take care of you.” His meaty hands stroked her waist and he said, “But first, let me know you a bit more. Privately.”
The girl’s gaze focused on me. She was silently pleading for help. I shrugged. She’s not part of the occasion. Any other guy would want to help, but not me. She’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve got a more important job to do than protect people.
Upon seeing my lack of a reaction, the girl’s shoulders drooped and she nodded weakly. Marduk was overjoyed and scooted her over to the adjoining master’s bedroom. It won’t be long before the screams would come. Remember your training, kid. Learn to ignore it.
Having my earpiece on helped me accomplish that task. With it on, I could hear everything that occurred on the ship. Marduk’s favor helped out when I asked to bug the entire place. It took me a couple of days, but it was faster than expected since I didn’t do my work alone. In a job like this, it’s crazy to think that I could manage it all by myself. My friends were all over the ship, making sure everything was ready.
But I digress. I’m a professional after all.
I could hear pounding on the door. Marduk was starting early this time. I switched to a different channel on my earpiece. The captain of the ship was giving out orders on the bridge; people were having fun in the indoor pool; and workers were bustling in the engine room. Titania was brimming with life, and it was smooth sailing so far.
What a shame then if something happened.
An hour passed by. In the meantime I was busy cleaning my revolver, making sure that it would fire at a moment’s notice. I only had two rounds with me. I was told never to carry more than two on a mission, and I never needed to use both before. Once I checked it for the umpteenth time, I got up and checked the window to distract myself from the noise inside the bedroom. We were already over the Pacific Ocean. No land in sight. All smooth sailing from here.
A monstrous, metallic rumble quickly changed my opinion. A vase and some cutlery slipped off the dining table and came crashing down. The table and chairs screeched across the floor before they crashed onto the wall next to me. I steadied myself as the Skytower continued listing to the right.
Outside, I saw the engines on the massive wings burst into flames. One, and then another, until all of them vanished beneath black smoke. Switching channels on my earpiece, I could hear nothing but pandemonium. Crewmen were groaning in pain while the captain laughed. The sound of gunfire echoed throughout the bridge. In another channel civilians cried and prayed as they were attacked by a hail of bullets. And there was nothing but explosions throughout the engine room.
Titania steadied herself as she slowly descended. By my reckoning it would take thirty minutes for it to hit the water. That’s more than enough time to do what needed to be done.
Marduk burst out of his room. His clothes were in disarray and his face was flushed. “What’s going on, Miles? Is it a terrorist attack?”
I didn’t listen to him. I merely straightened myself and pulled out a silver pin. It was in the shape of a clump of deadly nightshade berries. I pinned it onto my collar before turning to him.
“The one who did this isn’t alone,” I said. I eased out my revolver from its holster. I cocked the hammer and continued, “He may have been waiting for this opportunity to strike.”
Marduk grabbed my shoulders and shook me. “Then you’ll protect me, right?” he pleaded. His face was drenched with sweat and his gigantic belly and chest were heaving. He looked like a child caught in a thunderstorm at night. “I paid you good money to protect me, Desmond!”
“You’re right,” I replied. I pointed the barrel of the gun under his chin and said, “But Nightshade thought that you were a threat.”
Marduk’s eyes bulged when he heard the name. He finally saw the pin on my collar. His face flushed red and cursed. The massive hands made to strangle me.
It only took a second for his brains to splatter on the ceiling. His eyes rolled back and blood dripped from his mouth and nose. Like a drunk he stumbled around before he finally tripped and fell with a resounding thud that shook the room. One target down. Now to silence any witnesses.
First I had to deal with the girl. Entering the room, I saw her cowering beneath a blanket. Almost every inch of bare skin that I saw was black and bruised. A line of blood trickled from her lips and her eyes were red and puffy. Marduk sure took his time with her.
“T-Thank you,” she mouthed. She didn’t move, but her gaze moved to something near me. Her dress was on the floor. I picked it up but it had been ripped apart.
“You won’t be getting out of here wearing this,” I said.
“B-But is it true?” she asked.
“Are there really terrorists on the ship? Is that why all these explosions are happening?”
I winced. “I wouldn’t call us terrorists, Ma’am,” I replied. Pointing the gun at her, I said, “We’re professionals.”
The girl clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh no, please don’t do this!” she cried. “Don’t kill me! I don’t want to die.”
“Sorry, Ma’am,” I said. “But you’re a loose end. And loose ends need to be tied up.”
Tears streamed down her face. “Please. I won’t tell anyone. I don’t want to die. I never wanted to be here. Please!”
I tried to steady my aim. Focus, kid! Don’t be swayed by her. You had a job to do. You had to kill Marduk and everyone else would take care of the engines and the crew. It would be too suspicious if he was the only one that died on Titania’s maiden flight. Why not hide the needle among all the other needles? And when the coast guard finally find him among the wreckage, it would be too late to guess that he was the target all along. Everyone was just an unfortunate victim.
So why aren’t you pulling the trigger, kid? You were trained for this. You know what to do. You have to kill her. She’s just a girl, a prop to make the whole illusion convincing! I gritted my teeth trying as my gun hand shook. If I didn’t shoot her, someone else will. Someone else always had to make sure that the assassin was thorough in disposing the target and all witnesses. Any moment now they could walk into the door and find that I didn’t finish the job.
I heard another gun click behind my ear. Oh great, they did come after all.
“How disappointing, Desmond,” a husky man’s voice said behind me. “I thought you’d have wrapped things up by now. Turns out even you aren’t immune to a woman’s charms.”
“Lucio,” I said. “Let me do my job. You just stand there and watch.”
“Then stop talking and pull the trigger on her already!”
I gulped and leveled the gun at the girl. She no longer cried or tried to hide. She sat up straight and closed her eyes. She looked just like a soldier awaiting the order from the firing squad. What a way to go.
“Shoot already!” Lucio shouted.
Like any professional, I did shoot in the end. One shot, one kill. Of course, Lucio didn’t expect for me to get on the ground, point the gun at his head, and fire. He didn’t even have time to move his gun arm by the time the bullet caught him in the eye.
When I checked on the woman, she had clapped her hand over her mouth once again. Without wasting another second I yanked open the wardrobe door and pulled out a white terrycloth bathrobe. I tossed it over to her and she caught it.
“Put it on,” I said. “You’ll still have around twenty minutes to get to the escape pods. Take the corridor to the end and head up the stairs to the deck. Don’t stop for anything.”
The woman blushed as she held the bathrobe to her body. “But, what about you?”
“Just leave the door open, will you? Now go, before I change my mind.”
It didn’t take long for the woman to leave the room. But before she left she kissed me on the cheek. I could still feel her warmth long after she left. I was alone with two bloody corpses now. I could hear the frantic footsteps of the passengers as they rushed to the escape pods. Not much time left before we hit the water.
I sat on a chair and took off my pin. After a second I tossed it in Marduk’s direction. I’m not worthy of it. I hesitated in the end. I failed at my job, and yet I didn’t feel so bad about it. I felt my cheek. Somehow, that kiss felt better than all of the money that I received from my previous jobs. A woman’s tears really are dangerous after all. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Titania lurched further forward and let out a deep, metallic groan. Not long now before the end. I think I’ll enjoy the view for a bit longer. It’s not so bad for a failure like me.