Saturday, September 17, 2016

Magni Periculi

     The headquarters of Mercury’s Elite Guards, a nondescript government building created to blend into the neighborhood of government buildings, was a fortified monstrosity with two underground passages leading to opposite sides of the Templus de Ambros. The idea being that should an emergency occur, the Kaiser and his Mercs would have direct access to an adequate evacuation route regardless of where in the Templus they were at the time of need. In practice, the passages were used to move essential personnel to and from the temple compound without drawing the attention of tourists waiting in line for the official tour. From the end of the well lit block, where Balin and Kent stood, only two things indicated that the building was anything other than part of the bureaucracy. First, a giant brightly lit sign announced: Mercury’s Elite Guard Head Quarters. And, second, a series of lights shined on limply hanging, soaked flags, banners, and pennants, which didn’t have the gumption to snap in the budding thunderstorm. Though Balin tried encouraging Kent to continue on, the young man defiantly stood his ground, enduring the drizzle while gaping at the colorful spectacle that completely wasted the architect’s efforts at designing a group of nondescript public buildings.
     “I seen a place just like this on the Strip,” Kent said nostalgically. “This one ain’t got a flashing sign pointing to parking in the rear or giant windows filled with fools and slots.”
     “The Strip? Slots?” Balin asked.
     “Oh. Uh. Ever gambled?”
     “Sure. We bet during Training Week,” Balin answered, pointing up to the flags, “see the one on the left? Third pole over and about a fourth of the way down?” Kent nodded. “That’s the Fighting Falcons. My squad. Took 1st during the Gryphon’s Cup last month. Beat out the Regulars by a full minute.” Staring at Balin, Kent raised both eyebrows and shoulders in that ‘what are you talking about’ manner. Balin laughed, “I guess that doesn’t impress you.”
     “I mean, not really…” Kent said, shrugging.
     “Well,” Balin consoled himself, “it’s a big deal around here. But, we’re biased.” He grabbed Kent’s wrist, while excitedly saying, “come on. When we get inside, follow my lead. There’s a lot of protocols.”
     “Always are,” Kent grumbled, though he allowed himself to be led toward the front entrance of Merc HQ.

     Tapping her foot as she repeatedly checked out the front window of Patrick Field’s house, Officer Brimley sighed heavily. The only thing worse than waiting on the clock is doing it in the same vicinity as that pompous, arrogant ass of a Merc, Santos, Brimley sighed again. Behind her, in Patrick Field’s living room, two emotionally exhausted teenagers snored. He is a teenager, she reminded herself. Certainly, he is a griffin, she glanced at the sinking couch where Archel lay curled up like her mastiff, minus the massive wings, who was most likely snoring on her couch. Damn couch potato. She chuckled softly, passing her gaze over Cassie. The girl had fully reclined Patrick’s favorite chair yet somehow managed to sprawl in it so that all her appendages draped off the seat, including her head which hung off one of the arms. From the kitchen, she could hear the clip-clop of Santos’ military boots on linoleum. He’d slowly paced for the last hour; every one of his steps echoed in her brain and sent her irritation level through the roof. Utilizing her last meager ounces of self-control, she refrained from screaming at him to pick a place and stand in it.
     When the clock struck 11:00 PM, Santos appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. Without lowering his voice, he asked, “am I the only one that wants some coffee?” Undisturbed, Cassie and Archel continued snoring. Brimley shot the Merc an evil look, exhaled deeply through her nose, and then nodded. Santos asked, “how do you take it?”
     She quietly answered, “light milk. Heavy sugar.”
     “Why are you whispering,” he asked. “I can’t hear you.”
     Crossing the living room, she pointed at the sleepers, “are you blind?”
     “Ah. They need to wake up anyway. Besides, I bet they’d both like a cup before we head out.”
     Brimley groaned. Leaning in, she hissed, “you don’t know anything about kids, do you?”
     Santos let out a hearty roar, “more than you, I’d wager.” He pounded her on the shoulder, “got two with my ex. And, they both like coffee when they’re groggy.”
     Stepping back, she checked him out as if for the first time, her eyes wandering from his legs upward. When their eyes met, she blushed as she said, “you shouldn’t give them coffee. It’s not good for them.”
     “Oh, whatever,” he smiled at her, “probably not good for anyone. But, we like it anyways, don’t we?” He popped her on the arm again, asking, “how’d you want it?”

     Back inside the dugout, Steele wiped his bloody hands on his pants, while saying, “damn shame.” The giant Hellion rolled his shoulders, cracked his neck, and added, “I liked Marbles.” When Steele began correcting Marbles, the previously injured, now dead Hellion had pulled a knife—his last mistake. The effect was instantaneous: Steele ripped the knife out of the smaller man’s hand and then picked the fool up. After shaking him senseless, Steele dragged the knife across Marbles’ throat. Silently, Dante and Musgrove stared through the dugout fence at the half circle of Hellions surrounding the heap that had once been Little Bloody Nosering AKA Marbles.
     Completely ignoring the field, Jessup asked, “when do we get started?”
     “I’ll send Musgrove to pick you up tomorrow,” Dante replied.
     Wincing slightly, Musgrove asked, “where?”
     “The Mazard,” Jessup answered. “What time?”
     Thinking about it, Dante shrugged and said, “1800.”
     “Okay, sir,” Jessup agreed.
     “We need a down payment,” Steele said.
     “When?” Dante asked.
     “1800,” Steele said with a smile. “Nothing too big. I’m not suggesting you drop off one of the vehicles tomorrow. But, something that proves you mean business.”
     “Fine,” Dante growled, thinking about what he might have access to overnight.
     Steele put forth a bloodstained paw which Dante took without second thought. Pulling the reeking commander toward him, Steele asked, “this a trap?”
     Dante laughed in the big man’s face.
     “Just checking,” Steele responded.

     Thirty steps down, the Inquisitor caught his breath again as another stair creaked. The ungodly sound echoed throughout the stairwell and his body hair came to attention. He’d fought back a sneeze for the last ten stairs, but every step down encouraged the urge all the more strongly. If the damp musk got any worse, he’d explode. Between the unexpected secret passage and the slowly building violent sneeze, the Inquisitor hesitated. His LED light seemed tiny in the consuming darkness of the thin stairwell. For a reconnaissance mission, this night was suspiciously hands on. He shrugged off the warning in the back of his mind to continue down, after all, he needed information. Three turns and another forty steps later, the Inquisitor finally reached the last stair.   
     About time, he thought.
     The stairwell ended in an equally thin, undecorated wood-panel hallway. Several feet in, the Inquisitor found himself staring at the right wall where he’d seen a peek. After using the LED to investigate, he clicked the light off, and fumbled his hand up the wall until he felt the peek. Once it was opened, he stuck his face into it, blinking quickly against the unexpected brightness of the room. Inside, he saw a prepubescent youth wearing a thin smock over the Rainboy’s wait staff uniform. The youth stood in the middle of the room bent over an elaborate canopy bed, struggling to feed some unrecognizably frail creature buried under an avalanche of flower print comforters. What is this place? the Inquisitor wondered, shutting the peek. He flicked his LED back on and took a few steps forward, examining both walls as he walked. When he found a second peek, he repeated the ritual of turning off the light before feeling for and opening the peek. Here he saw a robed group meditating around a well-built circular fireplace in the middle of the room. Against the far wall, hung an unreasonably large portrait of Fraunx Adonis wearing his full legal regalia and staring down haughtily. Right below the portrait sat an altar with an assortment of containers, candles, and burning incense. Closing the peek, he shook his head, Iphi be damned. He’s a cult leader. I’ve seen enough. There’s no pay here. Next time I see that… Somewhere ahead of him a door opened and a blast of warm air flew down the corridor. Oh, fuck me backwards with a chainsaw. He immediately clicked off his LED, spun toward the stairs and attempted to reach them before whoever had entered the hallway could reach him. With one hand on the left wall, he fled.
     By the grace of Iphigenia, he made it up the stairs and into the chamber without being caught or giving away the fact that he was there. That he had an incredible memory and kept count of the squeaky stairs, may have helped his cause. Regardless, when he was once again in the darkness of the main dining room his gait eased. He tightly held the LED in his fist and used a barely perceptible beam escaping from between his fingers to guide his way out of Rainboy’s. I don’t know what that skeezy crack whore politician is up to, but I’ll kill him for this. FUCK this day. Lost men and slaves. If what I’ve just seen is any indication, we’ll never get paid. Adonis, you’ve screwed with the wrong people, now. So lost in his thoughts of revenge, the Inquisitor never saw the tuxedo cat follow him out of Rainboy’s and down the many winding roads leading back to the safe house.
     “Goldie, what are you doing?” Captain Prescott roared.
     “I’ve got a right,” she answered, “it’s my basement.”
     “Go back upstairs,” he ordered.
     She shook her head and said, “no. I’ve got to restock the bar.”
     “Not right now,” he said, one hand pointing up the stairs. “You can restock later. It’ll be my ass if you’re down here when the general returns.”
     “I don’t care,” she said stubbornly from the bottom of the stairs.
     “Well, I do,” he responded as he marched toward her.
     “If you won’t let me in, then at least get me what I need from the shelves,” she pleaded, while batting her eyelashes.
     “I’m in the middle of something,” he said. “You know that. Now, go on. Get back upstairs. As soon as this is done, I’ll help you restock.”
     Stepping down another step, she asked, “do you promise?”
     “I wouldn’t have said it, if I didn’t mean it,” he said.
     “How sweet,” Adonis groaned, “will you two fuck now or later?”
     “Shut your worthless trap,” Captain Prescott growled as he whipped around to glare at Adonis. With his back turned, he had no chance to duck out of the way of the brandy bottle that Goldie wielded.
     After Captain Prescott landed, Goldie bent down, kissed his cheek and whispered, “I just can’t wait.”
     “What are you doing?” Adonis hissed.
     “You’ll see,” Goldie answered as she approached the wriggling prisoner. “I’ve never supported the torture of another human being, until now,” she confided. “Of course, until a couple days ago, I could never imagine anything that would warrant it.” She looked at Captain Prescott’s prone body, “I hope I didn’t hurt him.”
     “He’s unconscious,” Adonis said, “of course he’s hurt. And, good on you for it. He’s an evil twit.”
     She slapped his mouth, “you don’t get to talk about him.”
     “He’s torturing me,” Adonis blurted.
     She slapped him again, “why?”
     “Why what?”
     “Why’d you sell out your people? Why’d you bomb my town? Why’d you kill my family and friends? WHY?”
     “I’m innocent.”
     She slapped his burnt ear, “LIAR!” Upon seeing the knives in the chair, she grabbed one, angled it toward Adonis’ and screamed, “WHY?”
     He panicked. She was not a professional. If he could just keep her distracted long enough, perhaps Prescott would wake up and stop her. “I—I didn’t have a choice. The plan was in the works long before I was born. I’m just a tool. I swear. Please, lady. Don’t. Don’t kill me. I’ll tell you everything. Just—just don’t kill me,” he cried.
     Holding the knife toward him, she shook violently, “you lie and I’ll cut off your balls!” 

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