Monday, June 5, 2017

Videri Debet

     Certain atmospheric aromas fill the air before and after a rain. While Commander Randle Dante, Sr. stood on the balcony of his 10th floor suite staring out at the lights in the small town below that fresh ozone smell rushed through his senses. He inhaled deeply. Held it. And then, exhaled completely. He straightened up, pulled his shoulders back, thrust his chin forward, and stretched his hands multiple times. The old grandfather clock, in the suite’s Sitting Room, chimed the bottom of the hour. Since he was now appropriately late, he swept into the room, closed up the balcony, and then crossed into the bedroom where his things waited. With a flourish, he spun the cape into position and tied it off. The mask he carefully slid on before donning his top hat. From the edge of the bed, he snatched a small yet heavy metallic box.

     It took him several minutes more to reach the Grand Ballroom on the second floor. When he reached the doors, two penguin suited goons stopped him. In silence, he lifted the silver box. The men looked at it briefly, then nodded to each other. One stepped out of his way, the other opened one side of the enormous, intricately carved oak doors. Even though he feared this moment, he ground his teeth behind the mask, and stepped into the elaborately decorated Grand Ballroom of the Ambossi A Cinq.
     Eight masked faces glared at him from the center of the Ball Room. A silver box sat on the ground next to all but one of them. That one was held off the hip, in the same manner a toddler might be held by a tired mother. While the others retrieved their boxes that one masked person maintained the vigil, watching as Dante approached. In the center of the room as the last box was hefted up, Dante immediately looked at the ceiling and walked through the group until he was directly under the main chandelier. A stone sculpture jutted out of the center of each wall, he turned to the one where a griffin was sailing mid-screech. A collective groan moved through the group, which Dante ignored as he focused on the floor. When he found the marking, he knelt down, opened his silver box, and began placing all the contents of his pockets into it. One-by-one, the others situated themselves over similar markings, and repeated the box filling actions. Dante flicked his thumb across the mark. After a moment he could hear the pained whirling of some ancient gears. At last, the mark and the tile it was on, dropped down a couple inches and then retracted.  After Dante carefully placed the silver box into the receptacle, the tile returned to its original position. Upon the ninth box settling into place, the part of the wall directly under the griffin began to move forward.
They each rushed to the exposed stairwell as if the wall were on a timer.

     From where he lay tied to only Iphi knew what, Jessup could have watched the party raging below, in the Stadium’s field. That is, if his eyes would open. The ungodly ache in the back of his neck was the first thing that reached through the void where he’d lain in the recesses of consciousness. The second thing that struck him was the novelty of awakening with that tingling sensation that ripples across the body. He had the distinct feeling he’d been in the middle of something important. But, he couldn’t remember what. Or, why. Or, whatever. When his face began to itch, he subconsciously reached for his head. The movement sprung his eyes open like a mouse trap springs closed. He began yelling, “no,” but the gag in his mouth prevented him from actually articulating the single syllable protestation. He relaxed his tensed right hand and the pressure on his penis slackened. With the danger to his genitals passed, the bitter slap of memory hit Jessup with full force. Where are the girls? And Domino? Moving with deliberate slowness, he scanned the entire area within his periphery. The only thing he could see through the wall and window of the Stadium’s box seating was the flickering flames of the burning tree which danced with Hellion specters. He became abruptly aware of his nudity at approximately the same time that he heard muffled noises coming from over his shoulder. The act of turning tightened the pressure on his genitals. His pounding heart thudded in his ears as he bit into the gag, his head cautiously turned left and right as he fought to see and to keep his bindings from tightening.

     Motorcycles were the only thing that gave Captain Randle Dante, Jr. real pleasure. His whole military career had been a sham. He was a pawn in his father’s game. Even so, it didn’t bother him. He’d managed to get into the motor corp. And, then to rise faster than anyone thought possible, until that day in the park when he let that innocent vixen add him to her biker collection. While she was merely seeking to fulfill her fantasies of rebellion against her uncle and self-appointed guardian, President Scrub Thicket, the virile Captain had been seeking to test the beast. The president’s niece, he chuckled as he gunned his bike along the Barren Straights between the Front Depot and the town of Merced. As the signs declared Merced approaching, he slowed down. The highway exit before the town center led around the outside of Merced, circling alongside a set of long defunct railroad tracks that once served as the fastest route to the now abandoned Port Askance.
     The two story brick house sat in the middle of a dilapidated neighborhood on the edge of a run down commercial zone that once fed the town center, but now served as a bumper between Merced proper and the Skirts. Dante skidded the bike to a halt. He deftly rocked it back onto its kickstand, swung a leg over, and then pulled his helmet off. Standing next to the bike, he gave the street a quick inspection. From the left window next to the front door, he saw the curtain move, good, he smirked. He secured his helmet, flipped up the flap to his saddle bag, and removed a small brown package. Weighing it in one hand, shrugged, this has to work. Unconsciously, he ran his free hand through his hair. Dropping the hand, he shook off the apprehension that tried to creep into his stomach. As he strolled up the walk, he had the distinct feeling that someone was watching him. The moment his foot hit the first step, the front door opened.
     “What are you doing here, sir?” the perplexed woman growled.
     She wore a tank top and skirt that stopped about an inch below indecent. The striking difference between her civilian clothes and military uniform were not lost on Dante, who held back a smile as he stated, “Staff Sergeant. You’re out of uniform.”
     “No shit, sir,” she shot back. She stepped onto the porch, glanced back into the house, and then quickly shut the door. “What are you doing at my house?”
     Squeezing the package, he ran through the myriad inappropriate answers that came to mind, and settled for, “some things can’t be handled in the office.”
     “What things?”
     “Listen, can we talk off the street,” he nervously peeked over his shoulder. His unease was growing intolerable.
     “Sure,” she huffed, shaking her head and taking a step toward him. When he didn’t move, she ordered, “around the back.”
     “The back,” he acknowledged as he moved to let her lead the way.
     She wasn’t even slightly surprised that he was going to follow. By the time she reached the gate to the backyard, she’d felt his eyes crawl all over her. Once they were both in the yard, with the gate closed behind them, Dante took a few steps in and checked out the garden. Already tired of his visit, she asked, “well?”
     “Nice yard,” he commented.
     “Yeah. It is,” she agreed. “My brother.”
     “You’re brother is a landscaper?”
     “No,” she answered.
     “Oh,” he exhaled in surprise. “He’s done a great job.”
     “You didn’t come here to talk about my garden. What do you want, sir?”
     “Coffee,” he said.
     Twitching and suddenly visibly nervous, she shushed him. Whispering, she said, “get out of here with that talk. What is wrong with you?”
     “Here,” he shoved the package at her.
     “No. No. No. Iphi. Tell me you didn’t!”
     Perplexed by her response he tried handing her the package again.
     “Not here, sir. Sweet mother of Iphigenia. Did you even bother to read my service jacket?” she continued whispering. “My mother is the Chief of Police.”
     “I read that,” he shrugged.
     “I live with my parents, you asshole,” she snorted. “With all due respect, sir, I’d appreciate it if you left now.”
     “Do you want this?” he offered the package a third time.
     She bit back the part of her that did indeed want what ever he had in that package. It took effort, but she answered, “only at work, sir.”
     “What’s the difference?”
     Closing her eyes, she refrained from exploding, and answered with, “no one at work goes through my stuff.”
     “Oh,” he leaned closer to her, “why do you stay? You’re a soldier, you can live on base.”
     “My home life isn’t actually up for discussion,” she informed him.
     “I’m sorry,” he shook his head and offered up his hands, package and palm. “I just had some extra and thought you might enjoy a cup. I’m not trying to...”
     Her sudden leap into his arms and lips smashed to his face threw him off-balance and sent his brain for a loop. They remained like that for a couple minutes before she released him with a shove and an exaggerated wiping away of his slobber. “Oh that was close,” she sighed.
     Swinging his head around, he saw nothing that might have caused her to jump him. “What was that?”
     “Mom’s home,” she answered.

     The uncomfortable truth that Clara Darin was paralyzed had etched itself in the front of her mind where it flashed like a neon sign at a strip club. She’d gone through all the motions repeatedly forcing herself to move and consistently moving nothing. How long could she lay staring at the ceiling before she lost her mind? Every terrible decision she’d ever made had led her to this moment, in this hospital bed, in this foreign land. She longed to scream, but would have taken the capacity to whisper. Not that screaming would help. The flower printed privacy curtain moved and an older teenager slipped in. She recognized him, but couldn’t recall why.
     “Hi,” he whispered from her bedside. He looked at her with the intelligent curiosity of the young. Placing a hot hand on her arm, he said softly, “I hope you’re feeling better today.” Without taking offense from her failure to respond, he continued, “they say mom’s had a...a...a spy-cho...psychotic break. She’s in treatment, so I’ve got time.” He grinned and held up a thin booklet, “I brought my favorite comic. Do you want to me to read it?”

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