Monday, April 17, 2017

Spem Alere

     The scent of pine cleaner burned her nose hair and made her eyes water. Clara “Chondee” Darin blinked at the eggshell white, pock-tiled ceiling, then rolled her eyes around. A hideous pink and yellow flower print privacy curtain looped out of the wall to surround her. Though its proximity encroached on her space, she wasn’t ready to face the shadows that passed by. The left side of her head felt as if some asshole had taken a jackhammer to it. Between the throbbing bursts of deep nerve pain, her throat ached. She vaguely recalled someone choking her. That’s what you get, Chondee told herself. Should have kept walking. Should have… She groaned under the weight of her lips. No. No. No. Repeating in her mind as she sent command after command to her uncommunicative lips. Dear Mercury, please not paralyzed. Not paralyzed. To her great dismay and infinite joy, her ocular muscles functioned normally.

     The unconscious men, Domino and Jessup, were sprawled out where they’d dropped. The girls had already removed all valuables from the Hellions’ pockets. Caramel and Praline stood over their latest victims, both girls were shaking their heads.
     “Why is it so easy?” Praline asked.
     “You know why,” Caramel laughed.
     “We know how to pick them,” Praline said.
     “Yes we do,” Caramel agreed. “Now, should we find two more?”
     “No time,” Praline tapped her wrist with a forefinger, “they’d wake up in the middle. We don’t need that.” She walked from the men to the window and stared down at the raging Stadium. “They wont notice if we jet now.”
     “Think they’ll tell?” Caramel tapped the window, “they’re in a gang. What we just did… that makes them weak.”
     Praline glanced over her shoulder at the half-naked heaps behind her, “aren’t they though?” She chuckled softly. “What do you want to do?” Praline asked, barely keeping the humor from the question.
     “What? I don’t know. They were nice enough. Don’t want to see them killed,” Caramel answered.
     “At this party?” Praline asked. “I’m sure they expect it.”
     “We have to do something...else...” Caramel lit up.
     “We have to give them a story,” Caramel giggled.
     “What kind of a story?”
     “A kinky one,” Caramel responded instantly. “So kinky that they’ll either be absolutely proud and brag about the experience, or, so horrifying they’ll be ashamed to admit it and will remain quiet.”
     “I take it you have something in mind.”
     “Indeed I do,” holding up two fingers, Caramel said, “two somethings.”
     “Do tell,” Praline turned to face Caramel.
     “Either we leave them like the tunnel rats or the princes.”
     “The princes,” Praline repeated as she nodded her head. She was no longer looking at Caramel. Instead, she saw far beyond her friend to the last time they’d traveled through the lower regions of Montisi. “You don’t really think they were princes, do you?”
     “They’ll always be princes to me,” Caramel’s eyes twinkled.

     Commander Randle Dante Sr. climbed into the back of the Iago Citadel. After shutting the commander’s door, Lieutenant Musgrove slid behind the wheel. Upon Dante’s word, Musgrove backed the land yacht up, and then pulled out. Normally, they’d head to Officer’s Country, where Musgrove would provide the commander with front door service. Tonight, they had a different destination and they had to be discreet. “Got your change of clothes,” Musgrove said.
     “I see them. And, they don’t reek.”
     “I hope not.”
     “That last outfit,” Dante responded.
     “Your decision,” Musgrove reminded.
     “Drive the car,” Dante ordered.
     “Yes, Sir!”
     When they were about 30 minutes from their destination, Musgrove said, “the room is prepared. The guests have instructions. Security’s in place.”
     “Perfect. Make sure they put their little toys inside the silver boxes.”
     “Yes, Sir,” Musgrove said.
     “The masks?”
     “With the boxes, like you said.”
     “Good. Good.” He stared out the window—through his reflection—at the nothing between occasional flickering highway lamps. “Do you think they’ll all come?” He sighed. “We don’t need them all.” He chuckled. “Iphi knows, we only need a couple. But. More is always better.”
     “With respect, Sir. I’ve never known anyone so rich as to ignore an ‘all expenses paid’ invitation to Ambossi A Cinq.”
     “That is the bait,” Commander Dante mumbled.
     “One day you’ll have to explain to me how you swing the bill for 9 people to stay at,” Musgrove tilted his head forward, drew his shoulders back, and pinched his nose while saying, “Ambossi A Cinq, when you’re on a Commander’s salary.”
     “Lieutenant’s salary for the next six months,” Commander Dante corrected.
     “Wait? What?” Lieutenant Musgrove repeatedly glanced over his shoulder. “You never said anything, Sir.”
     Dante leaned forward in his seat, saying, “that’s because it’s none of you business. Eyes on the road.”
     “Then, why say something now, Sir?”
     “I want you to fully recognize the lightening when it strikes.”
     “It didn’t cost me a single credit.”
     “You’re shitting me!” Musgrove coughed, “sorry, Sir. How’d you do it?”
     “I am the lightening,” Dante laughed.
     “I am the lightening,” Dante repeated as his amusement grew.

     Two pink and yellow flower print silhouettes stood at the edge of her peripheral vision. They spoke as if the thin cotton fabric was woven to keep sound out. “...yes. I know,” the shorter shadowed woman said. “But, hear me out. With the effort she exerted, it’s likely she caused too much damage.”
     “So long as she doesn’t need a machine,” the taller woman said, “I’ll treat her.”
     “We don’t even know who she is.”
     “The decision was made when she risked her life.”
     “Okay, Doctor,” the first woman gave in.
     While the shadowy flowers talked to themselves, Chondee thought to herself, risked my life? I didn’t. I gave that up for a lying sack of shit. Her eyes involuntarily shut. Although she didn’t realize it at the time, her jaw also clinched. As a couple tears rolled down her cheeks, she tried desperately to move her head, and then suffered the tears that dripped into her ears. The things I’d tell you, if I could, she wished upon the shadowy flowers and the fact that one was giving her a chance. A chance for what? To live. I can’t live like this. Not like this… I’ll lose it! She choked.
     “Did you hear that?” the doctor asked.
     The first woman pulled back the curtain and held it out of the way.
     “She’s crying...” the doctor stated.

     Major Dickinson’s office smelled of cheap cigars and cheaper spirits. Holding a half-filled tumbler in one hand, and a half-smoked cigar in the other, Major Dickinson hovered over Captain Randle Dante Jr. who was trying desperately to not burst out laughing.
     “You thought you’d come in here and what? Take some time off while Senior Command figured out what to do about your Daddy problems? Thought you’d throw accusations around, con the enlisted, and what? Take it easy? Ha.” Dickinson shoved a cigared hand to his mouth and puffed a couple times. For his efforts, small clouds floated off and grey-white flakes rained down.
     Enough light came through the window that the trailing tendrils and haze enshrouded the major. For one flashing instance, Dante saw the man on his deathbed, surrounded by machines, and weakened by the poisons he’d consumed. And, that only if he was lucky.
     The major continued droning, “you have no idea what door you opened.”
     “Please. Why not explain it to me like I’m a child, sir?” Dante asked.
     “Oh, no you don’t. No you don’t,” Dickinson wagged the cigar. His eyes lit up, “I know you. Oh. I know your type. You think you’ve got me in a vice. Think you know something I don’t. Well, Mr. Dante, that is the question.” After taking a drink, he continued, “you showed your cards too soon.” After letting that set in, he added, “you’ve got some pictures. I’ve got some pictures.”
     Dante held his hands in his lap and tapped his thumbs together, leaning forward he said, “next time, let’s put them in albums. We can have croissants while we flip through.”
     “Watch it,” Dickinson warned as he opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled out an envelope. “Would you believe, these were just hanging out atop my uncle’s desk. Do you...” Dickinson smiled, “do you recall my uncle, Lieutenant Colonel J.S. Dickinson?”
     “Yes,” Dante groaned.
     “I thought you would. As Special Assistant to the Prosecutor, Uncle Jon… well, you know. He brought these,” Dickinson dropped an envelope into Dante’s lap which bounced off his thumbs and landed on the floor next to the chair.
     Keeping his attention on the major, Dante reached down, felt around for the envelope, and then straightened up. At first he saw nothing of concern. And then, he saw the photographs play out in his memory. The chirping birds, whistling leaves, a light breeze. The girl. The kite. The gust of wind that knocked her into him. Her perfect car. Perfect house. Perfect life. O sweet mother of Iphigenia! The President’s niece.
     “She has a preference for bikers. You’re not the first. You might be the highest ranking.”
     “What’s your plan for those?”
     “Captain, when you’ve fully grasped the gravity of the situation, you’ll finally comprehend the extreme kindness I have shown,” the major said through his smirk. He pulled a second envelope out of the drawer. “Those are nice. But, these...” The major bared his teeth and bulged his eyes. Like Iuppiter Fulgurator with his lightening rod, Dickinson’s cigar rained fire and brimstone across the papers Dante had left earlier. “These are the kinds of pictures that cause magazines to be banned. What do you call that?” He pulled out one of the pictures and dropped it into Dante’s lap.
     “A bad angle,” Dante muttered as he picked up the offensive image of him and several of the officer’s wives in what can only be described as an orgy. “Okay. We both have scandalous pictures,” Dante Jr. said.
     “Looks like,” Dickinson concurred.
     To say the silence was palpable would under-represent the thick haze billowing off Major Dickinson’s cigar. The two soldiers stared at each other through the fog. Captain Dante held no illusions that Dickinson thought his was the better hand of Poker. Fortunately, Dante also knew they were playing Chess. Making himself small, Dante squirmed under the major’s gaze, shifting in the chair and glancing over his shoulder at the door. “Seems we’re at an impasse,” Dante said halfheartedly.
     “I don’t think so.” Major Dickinson took a deep swig from his tumbler, polishing off the liquid. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he glared at Dante. “Seems to me, we’ve got an opportunity.”
     Continuing to squirm, Dante asked, “opportunity, Sir?”
     “Oh, yes, Captain Dante,” the major smiled, “I think your time at Front Depot just got better. A man of your talents...” he laughed and tapped the desk, “...with women.” He laughed again. “You can keep those for your photo album. I’ve got more. Dismissed!”

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