Meetings Between Friends
"Pleasant weather tonight, is it not?"
The man asking this question was standing in front of a large window, staring out over a frigid city blanketed by a billion stars. The view here was well worth the price of residency by itself.
The man's guest remained silent.
"Timothy, my boy, silence will gain you no favor here. Why don't you open up to me? We could have long conversations, just as we did so many years ago. Do you not miss our talks?"
The guest still registered no response.
"Timothy, are we not noble people, you and I? Have we not conquered so much of the unknown together? You, of all people, must know where this conversation will lead, should you decide to remain so... taciturn. Why not talk to me as we did in days gone by? Think of it, well, think of it as a confessional. You tell me your sins, and perhaps, if you make a true contrition, I could bestow forgiveness upon you? Surely that rivals your current position in life. To remain silent only means you return to the cage, the chains, and, well, as ghastly as it is, the torture."
For the first time, the guest, Timothy, replied.
"Listening to you ramble on is torture. Returning to the dungeon will seem like a blessing after spending time with you and that ever flapping hole you call a mouth."
The man feigned insult for just a moment, and then chuckled.
"Timothy, my boy, if all of your friends are as witty as you, do believe that I will surely enjoy every second that I get to spend with them, once they are found and brought forward."
Timothy snickered, sarcasm and humor laced with pure hatred.
"You haven't found them yet, and guess what, you never will. They are smarter than you and all of your fanatics combined. They mock you, they hide in plain sight. And at night, they take turns pissing on your portrait. Why, they've emptied themselves so many times upon your ugly face that your painting's face is almost as yellow and disgusting as your real face."
That last insult hit home. Although the noble man would not permit the likes of Timothy VanBuren from seeing the emotional impact, it did in fact throw him into a fury. That portrait had been a gift from his followers, presented to him in honor of his service to the community. The fact that these gutter scum were able to steal it was enough to send anyone over the edge, but to hear that they piss upon it as a joke, no man should be forced to bear such disrespect, especially a Grand Magus.
"Timothy, I do believe we have spent enough time together tonight. Trust me when I tell you this - your friends will be found, they will be tortured and they will be killed. They will die very slowly, and you will be allowed to sit front and center and witness it all. In your final breath, I will ask you if it was all worth it, this pathetic little rebellion, and in the end, as you yourself lie dying, you will know what a waste it all was."
Timothy began laughing once again, this time long and hard, staring directly at the well appointed man that was interrogating him.
"You are a fool, old man! If you were so capable, you wouldn't be bringing me up here night after night and trying to beat the information out of me, now would you? You would already have found them, yet you haven't? Grand Magus, more like a grand failure!"
"GET HIM OUT OF HERE!"
Two men in blue uniforms with large stars, simplified police uniforms, entered the chamber.
"Take our good friend Timothy back to his cell. Make sure that he stumbles on the way back as well, stumbles several times, perhaps down the stairs!"
"Sure, throw me down the stairs! Beat me black and blue! Guess what, old man, you'll still never force my tongue. You may think you control this city, but you can't control me! I will happily die before I ever turn on my compatriots!"
Timothy VanBuren was hauled away, his taunts echoing down the hallway, until finally, blessed silence replaced his mockery.
Lance Madison welcomed the silence. He found that only when it was quiet could his mind work in full capacity. Silence was a gift in his life these days. As Grand Magus, he had to address the population of Delphia almost nightly. Had to ensure that they still remembered who ran this show. It was indeed grim days when a rebellion was able to form even within these holy walls.
Lance Madison had been Grand Magus for over a century. When he arrived here by ship from England, he had been given a position as a Priest of Tobit. Over those decades he had paved Tobit's plan with fervor and tenacity. He had tripled Delphia's population alone. For this, he had been rewarded with his current position as leader of the city.
"So how have things gone so wrong...?" he mumbled to himself.
Perhaps he had been too liberal with taking in new residents of the city. Certainly this most recent fiasco with that little bastard Derrick Reynolds had proven that greater caution was needed. And Reynolds was certainly not the first person to find their way into Delphia without being committed to Hyraaq Tobit ahead of time. Others had gotten in, managed to avoid the indoctrination process, and were currently hiding about the city, causing mayhem. Reynolds had simply been lucky enough to escape.
This had almost been a disaster for Madison. Reynolds' escape had proven that the great city of Delphia, shrine to Tobit, had cracks in the planning. Certain higher members of Tobit's Council had initially been displeased. Questions were asked. Madison shuddered at having to deal with the sleazy, little man that called himself Mr. Pinky. Pinky however, was an appointed Avatar, a man trusted enough by Tobit to carry his very will and word. As much as he disgusted Lance Madison, he knew he had to tread carefully around the likes of Mr. Thaddeus Pinkerton. He remembered back to the very discussion that he and Pinkerton shared, shortly after Derrick Reynolds' escape from Delphia.
Madison had returned to his chambers the day that Reynolds had escaped. There was much to do on such a day. The traitor, Timothy VanBuren, had facilitated the escape. While Reynolds was making his way out through Bannister Church, VanBuren had stood in the street and fired gunshots to slow down the faithful that would have certainly captured him, had it not been for VanBuren and his treachery.
But that was okay, because VanBuren had been captured alive. Madison had no doubt that VanBuren wanted to be killed by the mob, go become a martyr to his cause, to the damned rebellion. Madison wouldn't permit that. VanBuren would be held accountable for his crimes against King Tobit, against Delphia and its faithful. And Madison intended to take great pleasure in pulling the information out of VanBuren, tooth by tooth if necessary. He would find out where the rebels were hiding, he would expose them and their bodies would be offered up to sacrifice for Tobit. That way, the rest of the faithful could see just what happens when Tobit's laws are questioned.
With VanBuren safely locked away, and Derrick Reynolds hopefully frozen to death out in the tundra of Antarctica, Madison was in high spirits when returning to his chambers. He was aware that Tobit's High Council would have questions, but he hoped that he would have time to crack the rebels before those questions came down. That way, at least, he could justify the entire Derrick Reynolds disaster as a brilliant ploy. Perhaps he would even be promoted to the High Council himself. Madison always envied the High Council. To have that kind of freedom, that kind of power... it made the position of Grand Magus look like slave labor. And of course, that promotion would put Madison on equal terms with Pinkerton, and then he could finally tell the short, balding, little worm exactly how he felt.
Madison's reaction to returning to his most private of chambers and finding that short, balding, little worm lounging in his favorite chair was almost too much to bear.
"Mister Madison!" uttered Pinkerton, as the Magus entered the room.
"Pinkerton! Wha... what brings you here to Delphia?" Madison had responded, both shocked and a bit unnerved at the same time.
"Oh, now, Mr. Madison, how many times must we go through this little song and dance. It's MISTER Pinkerton. I do declare, sir, are manners so lost out here in the cold and bitters that I must re-educate you on the finer nuances of civilized conversation?"
Pinkerton was smiling, and to the untrained eye, that smile almost appeared friendly and warm. Madison knew better, though. He had dealt with Pinkerton for a long time now, and he knew full well that kindness did not reside in the portly little dandy.
"My apologies, Mr. Pinkerton, it's... it's just been a long day," Madison responded, doing his best to appease his superior.
"So it apparently has, Mr. Madison. I am sure you know why I am here. Let it be known that I appear to you tonight at the urging of Tobit's High Council. The other members feel that your... management style... is no longer a good fit for the overall mission statement of our most adored and beloved King. Some feel that perhaps you are losing focus of the bigger picture here, and that perhaps some restructuring in the leadership in Delphia is necessary."
Madison opened his mouth to reply, but Pinkerton cut him off and continued his litany.
"But I said, 'Hold on a minute folks! Mr. Lance Madison, he is a fine gentleman and a true devoted follower of King Tobit. Why, Mr. Madison is a true champion of the cause, a man whose brilliance is overshadowed only by his tenacity and dedication. A man of candor and fervor, a man whom we want... nay, NEED sitting in charge of our most Holy City, our sacred Delphia'."
Madison smirked a bit. He knew Pinkerton well enough to know that this type of speech was always meant a mockery. He also knew not to interrupt the little man until he was finished. Madison was on thin ice, and a wrong word at this time could very well cause him to fall through. Of course, what waited beneath the ice in the world of Tobit was not freezing water - quite the opposite. To fail at this point meant a trip to the Red Star.
"So, Mr. Madison, I come to you tonight begging, begging you please, tell me some good news. Convince me that I was not a fool to defend you to the others. Convince me, please sir, convince me that I shouldn't simply cast you to the Star right now, right this very second."
Madison saw that Pinkerton was slowly changing. His features becoming darker, his stature becoming larger. Madison had seen this happen to others before, and had always expressed gratitude that he had never had to bear this side of Pinkerton. However, it appeared that it was his turn. Pinkerton's voice was growing louder and deeper, the little smile was gone, the eyes were now locked onto Madison's with such fierce intent that he feared he may go insane. Pinkerton was also slowly moving towards Madison, one tiny step at a time. Madison was terrified to even back away, as he feared that too might be seen as a sign of disrespect.
Pinkerton continued, his voice shaking the walls of Madison's study.
"You have failed us quite more than we are prepared to tolerate, Mr. Madison. You have brought people into Delphia who were not prepared to commit to King Tobit, and because of that, you now have agitators moving about our sacred walls. In your blind and IGNORANT rush to increase the population of this city, you have brought unclean malcontents in, malcontents who could very well bring down all we have worked towards for eons. And all of that Mr. Madison, all of that could almost be forgiven, but then... then you allowed one to escape. ESCAPE!"
While Madison was still standing in his original position, emotionally he felt like a small child curled into a fetal position after a particularly bad beating from an abusive parent. Madison could see that Pinkerton's rage was rising. It had been well documented time and time again that this was a man not to be trifled with. His rage built like a slow summer thunderstorm. Slow and lazy at first, almost conversational. Then, without warning, it would transform into an all-out helter skelter of chaos. Victims were known to be thrown into the fires of the Red Star for far less error than this. Madison knew that he had to do or say something, that if left unchecked, Pinkerton would work himself into full force, and then, all the forces of heaven and hell could do nothing to stand against him.
"Mr. Pinkerton, there is good news," Madison interjected. He braced himself for the reaction.
Pinkerton slowly brought himself into composure.
"Well now, Mr. Madison, do tell. Tell us what news you have to help calm my addled nerves."
"We captured one of the rebels. A man named Timothy VanBuren. He was the one who helped Derrick Reynolds escape. He is the traitorous dog, and we have him in our custody."
Pinkerton appeared to consider this new information. He removed his handkerchief from his jacket and mopped his brow.
"Well now, Mr. Madison, that does change the complexion of the matter, now doesn't it? You should have told me of this from the start. You've no idea how close you almost came to... well, you know as well as anyone, don't you?"
Madison chose his next words very carefully.
"Mr. Pinkerton, please allow me the pleasure of extracting the identity and the location of the rebels from VanBuren. I assure you, and King Tobit, that I will employ a very aggressive and proactive approach to VanBuren. He will soon want nothing more than to tell me all about his friends, who they are, and where they are hiding. And once we have them, their punishment will be that of legend. It will be public, and the faithful will know that to question the will of King Tobit, is to still their very hearts themselves."
"See now, Mr. Madison, I knew that I spared you for a reason. Very well, make sure that Mr. VanBuren is your paramount priority until we have the rebels in custody. The unfaithful, unclean, little lambs need to be made example of, and the best thing to do with little lambs is to take them to slaughter."
Madison allowed himself to smile now, hoping that the action wouldn't appear as insolence.
"And Mr. Pinkerton, perhaps this matter of Derrick Reynolds can work in our favor. If he is out there, alive and moving about the world, that is all the better to spread the knowledge of Tobit. Why, Reynolds may very well prove..."
Pinkerton was suddenly in Madison's face, inches away, with his hand gripped firmly about the Grand Magus's throat.
"Mr. Madison, you are treading quite near my territory. Do not concern yourself with the goings on of Mr. Reynolds, not when you can barely maintain order in the city that you were assigned to oversee. I happen to know that even as we speak, things are moving on the outside that will bring much attention to our King Tobit. Mr. Reynolds may very well find himself a part of those ongoings, and if that should happen, he will be properly dealt with. You, however, need not concern yourself with that. Your concern is restoring this city. Find out from Mr. VanBuren where the rebels are hiding, find them and make examples of them. That is your task."
He released Madison and took a step back.
"I will take my leave now, Mr. Madison, but rest assured that I will be watching. Should you continue this trend of failure, we will talk again, only next time, I will not maintain my charm."
Madison did not respond. His eyes were wide, his mouth agape. Pinkerton's smile returned, once again almost looking warm and kind. He clapped his hands once and in the next moment was gone.
Madison staggered over to his chair, his knees weak, his head spinning. Pinkerton always had that effect on Madison. He was a charming bastard at first, almost to a fault. One would be hard pressed to associate him with murder, kidnapping, blackmail and of course, sending souls off to burn for eternity on Hyraaq Tobit’s Red Star: the Celestial King’s own little version of the more earthbound concept of hell.
Madison snapped back to the present. That meeting with Pinkerton had taken place some time ago, months back when the debacle with Derrick Reynolds had occurred. It was his damned friend, Sergio Castro, who had actually taken the vows to Tobit and enacted the suicide ritual to open Delphia. Had it not been for that little cunt Timothy, Reynolds would have likely frozen out there, never knowing what happened to his friend. But VanBuren had seen the chance, brought Derrick into the city, revealed the truth, and then set him free back into the world. Would this bring more faithful to Delphia? Perhaps. It could also be Madison’s ticket to the Red Star.
When still posing as a priest in London, Lance Madison had given many a sermon about the fires of hell, about God’s infinite pit of despair, reserved for those that would fail to love him based only on the concept that he is supposed to be loved. Madison had always hated those ideals of the false religion, Christianity. The idea that a god is to be adored simply because he is the God, how ridiculous. At least Tobit rewards in the flesh, allowing his devoted to see his gifts in life.
“Does he though?” Madison whispered, almost terrified at himself for even thinking a blasphemy towards the ruler of Delphia. Certainly Tobit had rewarded him back in London, made things right, for both Madison and poor Jennifer.
“Oh Jennifer... how I miss you,” Madison sighed, walking across his chamber to pour himself a drink. Alcohol was mostly forbidden within Delphia, but being the Grand Magus did grant certain perks. One was the drink.
Madison turned his chair towards the gorgeous view beyond his window. The night sky, as black as coal and dotted with millions of shining diamonds, a rewarding view. He thought almost of wishing upon the stars. Wishing for his former life perhaps, his life with Jennifer, before Tobit had come into the picture.
“Do not blame Tobit,” he whispered to himself. “Tobit granted you redemption, and swift punishment for the bastard that took away your lost love. Blame the bastard, but do not blame the King.”
Taking a deep swallow of his liquor, feeling the warmth blossom in his belly, Madison felt that he could almost believe that, and wanted to with all his heart, because he knew, to doubt the master, was to damn oneself.
Climbing into his bed, he finished off his drink. “If this isn’t being damned though, I would dread to know what is.”
He removed a picture of Jennifer from his nightstand. A small cameo that she had given him on some long-ago evening in London, a place that almost seemed fictional to him these days. He held the picture over his face, and felt the warm prickle of tears.
“You were as pure as the snow that falls in this city, my love. Too pure for this forsaken world. I had to make it right, my love, and Tobit was the only way. So please, my dear, if you are looking down at me from heaven, forgive me. I sold my soul to avenge you, please know that. All of my actions, even those today, come from a place of pure love.”
He returned the cameo to his night stand and closed his eyes. He didn’t even realize that he mentioned heaven, a concept that didn’t exist in the teachings of Tobit. Nor did he even acknowledge the irony that while he had never believed in heaven, he believed that Jennifer was there. She deserved no less than eternal paradise and rest.
Madison fell into a deep sleep, and dreamed a dream of regret and sadness, but of great truth and consequence just the same.
London, England, the year 1806.
Lance Madison was born into what was sometimes known in jest as filth nobility. His father's side of the family had come from a long line of military officers, land owners and business leaders; however, Lance was born from an affair. His father had met a woman while traveling abroad, and together they entered into a steamy and tawdry romance. A child was conceived from this affair, bringing Lance Madison into the world. Because of the secret shame that his birth brought to the family, Lance was never afforded the full social and economic privileges that would have been his had he been born in wedlock.
However, this did not change the fact that his father was a wealthy and powerful man, and while Lance would never truly be accepted into high society, he was brought up at a quality boarding school, and, upon completion, was given a promising position within the London social circles. Around the age of 20, he was handed a job as an assistant overseer at Fox’s Den, a very exclusive club for the London elite. He was young and had no experience in this field, but his father was very close to the club’s owner, who promised the senior Madison that his son would be taken care of and brought into the fold of England’s finest.
Madison spent a year toiling in this profession. He grew into it slowly, and even after gaining much experience in hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, he always felt a bit out of place. He was well aware of the circumstances of his birth, and often wore this shame on his sleeve. Although his father had sworn to him that his secret would be kept safe, it didn’t take long for his immediate supervisor, a brash man named Edwin Fritz, to learn of his less than noble heritage.
“So you’re a bastard, eh, Lance?” Edwin asked him one night as they were closing down the club for another evening.
“I prefer to think of myself as uniquely crafted,” Madison replied, trying to use humor to keep the situation from heading in the direction that he already knew was inevitable.
“Ha ha… uniquely crafted… what a fucking laugh you are, boy,” Fritz replied. “And I suppose you think you’ll be taking over my position one day, do you?” Fritz asked with no humor.
“Mr. Fritz, if you believe my highest ambition is to wipe the behinds of lords and ladies, in such the fashion as you, down on your knees and such, then you know less of me than my mother did,” Lance replied.
“Mind yourself, lad, one more little remark like that and I will personally bounce you out of here on your head.”
Madison felt an anger rise in him, but worked hard to suppress it. His father had called in favors to ensure he had a good job, and this position, pathetic as it may be, did pay well. He reminded himself to be grateful. However, the sweaty, chubby smiling idiot that he worked for, a man who always stank of cigar smoke and oiled fish, made his composure that much more difficult to maintain.
“Mr. Fritz, my father could buy and sell a man like you on a whim. He could contact the right people tomorrow and you’d be out on the street begging for bread wrapped in a piss stained blanket. So go right ahead, bounce me out on my head, and we’ll just wait and see how the dice fall when it’s all said and done.”
Lance had locked eyes with Fritz, and Fritz, as powerful and smart as he might like to think himself, found it quite difficult to break the hold. There was something about Madison, something quiet, yet almost tangible, that made Edwin Fritz very uncomfortable. Others had seen it, some had even commented on it. Lance Madison was young, a small lad, handsome face, but his eyes were cold. He looked like a young man that kept secrets, and because of this, others seemed to dislike him. Edwin Fritz had felt it almost upon their first meeting, and he had been wary of the boy ever since.
However, Madison’s sudden outburst and apparent spine put Fritz in a difficult position. If he were to allow this little snot to speak to him in this manner, he would risk looking weak to the rest of his staff. Should he actually follow through and pummel the brat, as every bone in his body was practically ordering him to do at this very moment, he would risk the wrath of Madison’s very powerful and well connected father.
Fritz scratched at his chin for a moment, when suddenly inspiration hit. Just wait. If something were to happen to Madison outside of the club, perhaps by forces unseen, how could his father exact justice? This stroke of thuggish brilliance put a smile on Fritz’s face. He’d play along a bit more, let Madison feel like the victor of this verbal joust. He would regret his mouth soon enough.
“Lad, let’s shake and have a drink, shall we? My tongue is much like its master, loose and foolish, but at the end, harmless.” Edwin Fritz extended his hand, which Lance Madison shook.
They shared a couple pints. In truth, Madison was happy that the tense exchange had an amicable outcome. Fritz was a bully, and perhaps Madison would take his job one day, but as for right now he was content to have ended the altercation before violence arrived. Madison and Fritz drank and toasted. But while Madison drank, Fritz was plotting.
The days went on in much the same fashion. Madison continued to trudge through his work day. He would put on all the charms that his job demanded. The Fox’s Den hosted many interesting characters after all, and each night could be its own opera if one could appreciate all the subtle nuances that went on each night. The club hosted mainly overweight men who smoked too many cigars and drank too much brandy. They were mostly land and business owners. Madison would walk around, checking on the elites, ensuring that the servants were conducting their business with a polished edge.
It was a fairly slow night when Madison first saw her. Women were rare in the Fox’s Den, but not unheard of, so when the beautiful young lady first entered, Madison almost kept his head down at his work. It was her gorgeous black hair, black as the night sky that brought his head back up. She dressed as many noble women did at that time, but her outfit was a bit different. Tighter in some places, shorter in others. Not a whore’s dress by any stretch of the imagination. Just different, as if it was only sewn for her.
Her face was pale, but not sickly. Her eyes were dark, much like her hair, but they were sharp and glowing with a fierce intellect that seemed to cast a net out and reel in anyone who met her gaze. She moved across the room with a determined elegance that seemed more a dance than just common walking. Her hair hung down to the small of her back, curly and only loosely tied. Those curls and locks seemed to rage like the ocean before a storm. Her dress was a blue so dark that it was almost black.
She was also unescorted by a male companion, which was a rarity in those days. London was slowly becoming more dangerous at night, but this woman appeared as though fear was a foreign concept to her, as if it weren’t in her to feel such a putrid emotion. Lance Madison was entranced by her on first sight.
Since he had never seen her before, he felt that it would be well within protocol to go over and personally welcome her into the club. She clearly belonged here, since the establishment was by invitation only, and that invitation had to be presented at the door. So, for the first time in over a year, Madison felt real joy to be in his current position.
The woman was sitting alone. She had entered and made her way to an empty table.
Slowly, he made his way across the room, stopping at a table or two, just to make his approach look casual. Finally, with sweaty palms, he approached the mystery woman.
“Good evening, fair lady, and welcome to the Fox’s Den. I am Lance Madison, the current manager on duty, and you are?”
“Jennifer Standish of London, pleasure to meet you Mister Madison.”
Her voice, to Lance Madison, was like angels on high. Sweet yet confident, like a quiet melody performed by a veteran choir.
“Please, call me Lance, I insist.”
“So informal, why, I could never agree to such conduct,” she replied sharply.
Madison began to blush. “Of course, Miss Standish, how forward of me. Please accept my…”
She cut him off with a slight giggle.
“You did not allow me to finish,” she answered. “I could only agree to call you Lance, should you agree to call me Jennifer.” Her voice was still sharp, but now Madison could detect the subtle dash of playfulness buried within it. He relaxed a bit.
“Well, Jennifer, I do believe such a request could be accomplished. May I join you?”
She nodded, and Lance sat down across from her.
“Tell me, Jennifer, what brings you into the Den. While I am certainly not protesting your company, I have never seen you before, and it is a rare treat for one as dainty as yourself to grace us with her presence.”
“Ah, so I am dainty. Well, I am pleased to see that the machismo that I have heard haunts these establishments lives strong within you,” she replied.
“I am sorry, I meant no…”
Another giggle, this one almost a laugh from Jennifer, “Lance, you are proving to be almost unfair game, I am just teasing you.”
“I see. Well, your beauty is only matched by your wit then, Jennifer.”
For a moment he thought she blushed, and he felt butterflies erupt within him in a way that he hadn’t felt since he was a young, awkward child talking to a pretty girl.
“Well, to answer your question, Lance, I recently inherited my father’s business. He passed away a few months ago and left his shop to me. There were those that thought a woman of my age would certainly fail, but let us both be grateful that those simpletons were wrong. I now own the Standish House of Curious Oddities. My father ran the place for decades, I am sure you have heard of it. He imported rare objects from all over the world and would sell them to those with more coin than common sense. You would be amazed at how much money some will spend on a box or a blade, should it have been owned by some such famous, dead person.”
“Well, Jennifer, I am sorry to hear of your father’s fate, I will pray for your family.”
This was the first and only lie that Lance Madison ever spoke to Jennifer Standish. He did feel sympathy for a young woman losing her father, but there would be no prayer. Madison believed in no god.
“Do not feel sorry for me, Lance. I have mourned my father, as I am sure a small part of me will for the rest of my life, but he was ill and suffering. It pained me so to hear him cry out. It is for the better that he has gone on to his final rest.”
Madison was struck by the sheer maturity of this comment. Jennifer was young, no doubt his age, yet she had a level of wisdom to her thinking that was lacking in many twice her years.
“So, the Den learned of my recent change in social standing and sent me a lovely invitation to come down and see for myself what happens in these stuffy old clubs. I came because half of the patrons in attendance were the very same fools that protested my inheriting the House of Curious Oddities in the first place. I know it’s a bit cheeky, Lance, but I wanted these buffoons to see me walk in the door. I feel like I have accomplished that, and petty as it may be, it does have a certain charm.”
Lance’s spirits dropped as he asked the next question, “So then, Jennifer, does this mean you won’t be visiting the Den again?”
Perhaps she could read the regret on his face, perhaps she was simply continuing to toy with him, but either way, she smiled and giggled yet again.
“Well, Lance, there is one diamond in this stuffy, cigar smelling rough, and that is you. Perhaps I will come again just to visit with you. You aren’t like the rest of these pompous clowns, there is something…”
Lance could tell that she was grasping for the right word, and decided to assist her.
“Common, that is the word you want Jennifer. I am common.”
She smiled at that. “Yes, common, but why should that be a condemnation, Lance? You aren’t common, you are… real. You haven’t spent your entire life being treated like royalty simply because you came from wealthy parents.”
“I know, but Jennifer, being common is frowned upon, and it certainly takes its toll. My entire life I’ve been reminded of it. You see, my father….”
For the third time that night, she cut him off with a giggle.
“Save that story, Lance. We’re going to need to pass some time, and I would like to hear it.”
“Passing time how, exactly?”
“Well, I am a lady, a dainty one according to you, so I will certainly have to demand that a strong man escort me home from this club tonight. A strong… common man would do nicely, don’t you think?”
For the first time in his entire life, Lance Madison was filled with a level of happiness that he didn’t think existed in life. His smile lit up his face in new ways, and his soul felt new again.
“Of course, Jennifer, London is full of brutes and thugs when the sun sets. I would be remiss in my duties here at the esteemed Fox’s Den if I did not provide you a world class escort home.”
They both shared a laugh at that, and spent the remainder of the evening chatting together. When the hour grew late, Lance instructed his banquet captain to assume the duties of counting the coin and locking the doors. He and Jennifer left together.
She lived near enough to the club, much to Lance’s disappointment. He was hoping for a longer walk. On their way though, he told the story of his father’s affair, almost shocked to hear the words coming out of his mouth. He had spent his entire life keeping that a secret from everyone he knew, even his closest friends, the few they may be. However, with Jennifer it just flowed out. She listened with attention, nodding and agreeing with the foolishness of London’s social rules. She told Lance of the difficulties that came with being a female business owner in a largely male dominated economy.
The connection they shared was almost immediate; they could both feel it. He was a young man cast aside by the errors of his father, she was a young woman cast afloat in a world that refused to accept her. The bond was formed instantly.
Once they arrived at her doorstep, he took her hand and gently kissed it.
“Jennifer, it has been a true pleasure to meet you tonight, and I certainly do hope you will grace me with your presence again.”
She gave him a comical expression, “Well, should I suffer another night surrounded by fat, old men in a stuffy room just to grace a common fellow like you?”
Lance returned her expression. Her humor was dry and sharp, hard to read and a bit frightening.
“It would mean much to me if you…”
Another giggle, cutting him off once more, an act that would be rude in any other circle, but with her, it was almost a cultured act.
“I suppose, as a new business owner in this city, it would be a fiscally wise decision to be seen in such circles, so, yes, I guess I could tolerate another night at the Den, but only if the most common of manager is present for duty.”
Lance gave her a mock bow, “Wild horses couldn’t pull me away from that duty, Miss Standish.”
She laughed at the banter and bid him good night.
On his way home, Lance Madison felt lighter than air. Jennifer Standish was the only thing on his mind. This could be dangerous at night in London. Having a foggy mind meant that Madison failed to consider so many things. He failed to wonder why Edwin Fritz didn’t come in to work tonight. It was rare that the man took any nights off, as he considered himself a king of sorts within that club. Madison also failed to notice he was being followed. He was simply too happy, too full of joy and hope and wonder to notice the three men that had been walking behind him since he left Jennifer’s door. Had he noticed them, he most certainly wouldn’t have chosen to take a shortcut through an alley, a dark alley tucked away from the main drag.
Halfway through the alley, the men made their move.
“Hey there, bastard, out mighty late aren’t we?” asked one of the men.
Madison turned and looked them over. They looked like typical lower bar trash. Middle aged, two of them overweight, dressed in the sort of attire common to dock workers.
A man with a large red beard stepped up. “The little bastard didn’t realize that he was trespassing, boys? Guess they didn’t teach him about private property growing up, now did they?”
A second man answered Red Beard’s question. “Now, now Bertram, such as him ain’t never had a mother to teach him to respect things like property, it ain’t his fault.”
The third man, who appeared to have about as many teeth left as he had fingers, only laughed, nodding his large head in drunken agreement.
Lance spoke, “Listen, gentlemen, I apologize if I trespassed. I am simply on my way home and do not wish for any problems.”
Red Beard answered, “Hear that boys, he don’t want any problems. Well then, bastard, hold still and there won’t be any.”
“Hold still for what?” Lance demanded. He was scared, but also furious. Furious that these three morons would ruin his mood, furious that they trespassed into the content place that his soul was residing after his evening with Jennifer.
Red Beard once more assumed the role of spokesman for the group. “Think of this as an educational seminar, ye little bastard. We are going to teach you to mind your superiors.”
That’s when it suddenly made sense to Madison. This was the work of Edwin Fritz. Fritz’s absence from the club, the goon’s constant use of the word bastard, and finally, a not so cryptic threat about respecting superiors. Madison understood it all. Fritz had arranged this as punishment. Madison knew that man was small minded, he had understood that his boss was petty from almost the first day on the job, but he was actually shocked that Fritz would go to this length over a few comments made weeks ago. He never imagined a man placed in charge of one of London’s most posh establishments could be this vengeful over sarcasm. Perhaps Madison wasn’t the common one at that club after all.
Lance was no coward, but he wasn’t a fool either. He attempted to make a run for the mouth of the alley. He drew in breath to call for help when the air was suddenly stolen from his body. Red Beard was as fast as a cheetah and struck Lance square in the back. He turned and tried to raise his hands in defense, only to be met by another harsh blow, this time to his right cheek. He fell to the ground and the three men began to administer a beating.
He was punched, kicked and spat upon. At the end, when the three goons finally stepped back, Lance couldn’t even raise his arms from the ground. His ears rung, his ribs felt broken and he could already feel his face swelling.
Red Beard turned to his two friends, “Alright, boys, looks like this one is done. He’ll remember to keep his smart, little bastard mouth shut next time around. C’mon, Peaty, you’re buying drinks tonight, right?” The other man mumbled in agreement and they walked away, leaving Lance Madison gasping for air and staring up at the night sky.
He lay on the street for almost an hour, just collapsed there, allowing a raw, organic sense of hatred for the thugs to wash through him. But they could almost be forgiven; they were just barroom toughs, tossed a little coin to do what they would do for free anyway. No, it was Edwin Fritz that deserved all of the hatred. He was wealthy and educated. He had a great position in society. Yet he was so greedy, so determined to not be undermined, that a simple wisecrack from a common bastard would cause him to plot revenge. How long had Fritz been planning this anyway, had to be at least two weeks. Madison had no other cross words with him since the night he called him a bastard. The rage built even more, as Madison thought about how they had shared drinks many nights since then. How Fritz had allowed him to believe all was well. How they had laughed and shared stories together, chumming it up, while all the while, Fritz was just waiting for the right time to put his fist down and exact his petty, childish revenge.
Madison lay there and wallowed in the hatred for a while longer before he finally pulled himself to his feet and began to hobble home. His entire body hurt, but his pride stung the most.
He returned home, cleaned his wounds as best he could, and slept. When he awoke the next morning, he examined himself in his mirror, and that anger returned. He face was swollen, one of his eyes blackened, his lower lip was fat and his cheeks were both purple from bruising. Oddly, his anger at his appearance was rooted in vanity. He was now afraid that Jennifer would see him as ugly; perhaps whatever interest she has developed in him the night before would not be dashed by his damaged face.
He sent word to the Den that he would require several nights off. Of course his time off was granted; his boss knew very well why his assistant overseer wouldn’t be at work for a few days. Madison suppressed more anger as he imagined Fritz having a good laugh when the courier arrived and explained to him that Mr. Madison had suddenly fallen ill. Yes, a good laugh indeed.
Madison spent the next two days stewing about his apartment. He didn’t want to be seen outside. The swelling had gone down, and his face appeared much as it once had, with the exception of the black eye. Still though, injured pride was ever as dangerous as an injured body, perhaps more so. Lance would take the time off until he felt he could return.
His angry contemplation was broken by a sudden knock on his door. In disgust Lance stomped towards his window. It was likely his father, asking why he wasn’t tending to the job that was ever so specially crafted for his bastard of a son. Perhaps it would even be Fritz, coming by to gloat. With a scowl Lance threw open his curtain to see who would dare intrude upon his solace. To his amazement, it was Jennifer Standish.
He didn’t want her to see him like this, he was embarrassed. His mood was sour and his blood was still hot. However, he also felt that joy emerge within his soul the moment he saw her standing at his door. That same joy seemed to heal him in ways that medicine and sleep simply could not. For just a moment, when he saw her standing there, holding a basket that no doubt contained a cold lunch, he forgot all about Fritz and his three idiots. He forgot all about these aching ribs, his skinned knees and his bruised face. For just a moment, he felt better than he had ever felt in his entire life.
He opened the door. Jennifer looked him up and down for a moment.
“My, oh my, they told me you were feeling ill, but I had no idea you would appear so ghastly. Whatever happened to you?”
“Jennifer, what a pleasant surprise, what brings you to my door?”
“A rather daft question, Lance. Clearly I came by to see you. I went to the Den for the last two nights and your associates told me that you were ill. I had to really charm the poor, little servant lad at the door to get your address. However, Lance, I am not one to be denied. Now, are you going to invite me in or am I to eat this meal I made for you alone on your stoop?”
Lance blushed and stepped aside, allowing Jennifer entry.
“Now, since you are apparently the kind of man that makes a lady ask twice, I say again, what happened to you, and do not lie to me, Lance.”
So Lance told her about the three brutes in the alley. He didn’t mention Fritz, and since she didn’t ask, he didn’t feel that he was lying, he was simply omitting.
After he finished his story, she proceeded to set up his table with the meal she had brought. She simply took control, moving his things out of the way. While many would find this rude, with her, it had a very endearing quality. They ate together, and by the time she collected the plates back into the basket, Lance felt like a new man. All of his anger was gone, and only the joy of her company remained.
“Well, Lance, I suppose from here on out, I will have to come to the Den and walk you home each night. Clearly you are far too dainty to escort yourself home.”
They shared a laugh over that.
“When you feel better, I would like you to come down and see my shop. I have quite a few interesting collections from the far corners of the world.”
“It would be my pleasure; I think I’ll return to work tomorrow anyway. My face is still a bit sore, but I think if the reward is seeing you, I can cope with the discomfort.”
“Oh, so your face still hurts, does it?” she asked.
“A bit, why do you ask?”
“Because I wholly intended to kiss you today, but if your lips are in such pain, perhaps I should refrain. I am no sadist after all.”
Lance’s world suddenly lit up in ways he never imagined, and he rode those waves of happiness.
“Well, Miss Standish, there are some treasures in this world that are worth a little pain.”
“How much pain?” she asked impishly, slowly moving closer to his face.
“Why, you could tear off my arm, so long as I keep one, to hold your hand.”
With that, they shared a slow, sweet kiss. It was a moment of rare purity for Lance Madison.
The next night he returned to work, feeling renewed. Of course, Edwin Fritz was on hand, and seemed to be beaming with childish glee at Madison’s bruises.
“Lance, welcome back!” Fritz announced. “My dear boy, whatever happened to your face?”
Lance, who had sworn to himself that he would not provoke Fritz anymore, simply couldn’t resist.
“Well, Mr. Fritz, it would appear that several fools were able to find an even bigger fool to coordinate them, sort of like when a baboon barks at the other monkeys and they appear to obey. So, this big baboon unleashed some smaller, though no less smelly, monkeys upon me. Had I known London was being overrun with primates, I would have certainly taken a safer way home.”
For just a moment, Fritz’s face appeared to be consumed by rage. It was short, and a bit terrifying, but Madison nonetheless savored it. He imagined that Fritz simply couldn’t comprehend his will. He had beaten him, threatened him and tried to humiliate him, yet Lance stood strong.
“Well then, Madison, since you are feeling ever so full of piss and vinegar today, I am quite sure you are capable of restocking the shelves in the rear of the club, since you decided to take time off to lick your wounds.”
Lance drew a shot of brandy and threw it back, locking eyes with Fritz. “Mister Fritz, I am the assistant overseer of this establishment, not a stock boy. I am quite sure my father made that clear, but if you wish, I will fetch him and he can have the owner of this club explain our duty titles again, in case you have forgotten.”
Lance didn’t give Fritz time to respond, nor did he continue to engage the man in conversation. For at that very moment, Jennifer Standish entered and beckoned him to her table. Lance left Edwin Fritz standing in a cloud of his own stench and frustration, and went over and joined Jennifer for the evening.
Two days later, Lance and Jennifer were standing in her store. It was his first time in such a place. At first, he thought it would be like any other antique store he had visited with his father. However, the Standish House of Curious Oddities was like a small, exotic circus. There were books lining the shelves, many that appeared so old that he feared they would turn to dust should he breathe on them too hard. There were strange jars of spices and roots. There were religious articles, both Christian and pagan, on the shelves.
She walked him from wall to wall, proudly showing off her collections. Lance didn’t have to pretend to show interest either, as there were items that could entertain the mind for days. Strange puzzle boxes, little statues of odd, pagan looking gods. Some of them Lance recognized. The Roman and Greek figures were rather easy. Others he had never heard of before.
One caught his eye. It was nasty looking. A small humanoid with onyx skin, bright white eyes and teeth that looked like needles.
“What is this one, he’s a ghastly sort?”
Jennifer walked over with a catalog of sorts and referenced the statue by a number.
“According to father’s notes, this one is called Din. A god of secrets it says here. According to his legend, he lures the unsuspecting into hell by tempting them with hidden knowledge,” Jennifer explained.
“Do these little buggers not give you the chills?” Lance asked.
“When I was a small girl they did, but father, well, he had a way of explaining these things. He told me that if we took a crucifix with a man nailed to it, wearing a crown of thorns, and showed it to a remote tribe, they would likely think we are the ones worshipping a terrifying idol. That made sense to me, though he warned me to be careful who I explained that too. Blasphemy can get a girl in trouble, you know.”
Lance chuckled at that. He had yet to tell her that he believed in no god and that blasphemy was a concept that carried no weight in his life. He would find the right time of course, but for now, he was simply entrenched in all of this strange history.
“Lance, come with me, there is one piece I would like to show you.”
She led him into the back of the store, into a small closet where a few items were boxed up and stored away.
“What could possibly be hidden away back here that is more fascinating than what you have out there?” he asked her.
Jennifer gestured towards a small, wooden box. It was covered in dust, clearly not touched in some time.
“Before I show you this, you must promise not to think me crazy,” she insisted.
“No, Lance, say it, please. I want to hear you tell me.”
Lance nodded again, but this time included the verbal promise. “I will not think you are crazy, Jennifer Standish - at least, no crazier than I already think you are,” he concluded with a laugh.
Her eyes narrowed, “Don’t be an ass, just listen.”
Lance sat on a small box and gave the lady his undivided attention.
“Last year, my father received a shipment of goods. More antiques from around the world, mostly Asia, but a few from Greece and some from across the ocean. They were the usual items - you know, things like books, religious icons, paintings and the like. However, one box, at least according to my father’s vendor, came from a place very far to the south. Now, the vendor sold this to my father very cheap, which struck me as odd, since it was found so very far away from civilization. Typically such items sell for a lot, but the man seemed as though he wanted to be rid of it. Father brought it here but never displayed it. He told me that he wanted to keep it, that it was too rare to sell.”
Jennifer slowly opened the box, and regarded its contents almost as though they were poisonous snakes. Slowly she removed the item contained within.
A small statue of a man with a goat’s head.
“There is something written on the bottom of the statue’s base, but it’s in some language that even father could never transcribe. He hired a scholar of old languages to come over and translate it, but even the scholar couldn’t identify the language. My father eventually packed it back away, but refused to sell it.
“Shortly after he brought it here, I began to feel uneasy in the store when I was alone. I felt as though something was watching me, and as insane as it may sound, I felt like the eerie sensation was coming from the statue. I really began to hate the blasted thing. Then father became sick, and all of my attention was focused on helping him recover. I forgot about the statue until shortly after he died. I started to feel that uneasy sensation again, when I was alone in the store. Once again, it felt like it was coming from the statue.”
Lance reached over and took the statue into his hands. He held it up and examined it. A man with a goat’s head, truly a dreadful image and one that perhaps could cause a shiver or two, even in the most stoic of men. Lance also examined the inscription on the bottom. A strange text indeed, nothing that he had ever seen.
“Lance,” Jennifer spoke, “I would greatly appreciate it if you would remove this from my store. Dispose of it, sell it, give it away, I don’t care. But it makes me nervous. And, if I may be honest, I am afraid to throw it away myself. I feel like whatever spirits may be associated with this thing may become vengeful if I damage their idol.”
Lance, who believed in spirits as much as he believed in unicorns and goblins, agreed to dispose of the statue. He agreed that it was indeed ugly, but felt no fear when gazing upon it or holding it. To Lance, it was just shaped metal. Nothing less, nothing more.
So, Lance Madison took the strange idol home, intending to try and sell it himself, and placed it in the back of his bedroom closet. He made sure it would be out of sight in case Jennifer should come to visit him again, as she clearly was uncomfortable about the disgusting thing.
With that, life simply went on. Lance and Jennifer spent all their free time together. Their romance bloomed slowly at first, but over the weeks and months that followed, it developed the speed of a cannon blast, and much like the blast of a cannon, it was unstoppable.
Love is Pure Blindness
Love is blind, a true statement if there ever was one. It also makes us blind. Lance Madison became so enthralled with his ever growing romance with Jennifer that he once again began to miss the subtle cues all around him. He failed to see how Edwin Fritz looked at him each and every night. He failed to notice how the clientele of the Den would shoot annoyed glances at him during his work hours. This was largely because he no longer went to the Den to work, but rather, sit and converse with Jennifer. He would spend entire shifts at her table, and throughout all of it, he never realized that Fritz was scheming once more.
Fritz, who still believed that Lance Madison was a bastard who had no business in such social circles as these, continued to exude hatred for his assistant. The fact that Madison would ignore his superior while technically on the job only further enraged him. The final straw though, came from the fact that Madison, in all of his bastard heritage and false nobility, was able to win the affections of a woman like Jennifer Standish.
Fritz had been married once, very long ago. His wife had left him though for a Spanish sailor that came through town one month. The affair had begun behind Fritz’s back and by the time he realized what was happening, his wife had literally sailed off with another man. Edwin Fritz though was not the type of man to reflect inward in such situations. He never once considered the times that he beat her for some such offense as burning a meal or not making the bed sheets. He never considered the times that he cheated on her, and those times had been many, and not exactly done with discretion. Lilian Fritz had indeed been humiliated by her husband on countless occasions, so when the time came for her to leave him for a better life, she took it, leaving her abusive, alcoholic husband behind.
Fritz didn’t see things that way though. To him, his wife had been a miserable whore whom he credited himself as taking off the street. The fact that she came from a wealthy family and would have never had to risk being on the streets didn’t factor in to Edwin. He didn’t see himself as an abuser; he simply saw himself as a strong head of a household with a bad temper. He blamed his wife for setting that temper off, never himself. So, when Lilian left, Fritz simply saw this as the world taking yet another shit on him. This anger became a tumor within his soul.
Edwin Fritz saw himself as one of London’s last true nobles. He saw his bloodline as pure and his spirit as stoic. He saw his job at the Den as a breath away from being royalty. In short, Edwin Fritz sat on an ivory tower that was produced in his own mind, by his own fragile, yet massive ego. So when a little bastard like Lance Madison came into his club, (Fritz always thought of it as his, although he was only the general overseer and would never own the building), insulted his noble stature and then had the nerve to not be humbled by the beating that Fritz arranged, well, that was just spitting in his eye. Then to have the nerve to find a romance with by far the most beautiful woman to grace the Den in decades, maybe ever, well, that was a mortal sin to Fritz. He was small and petty, but his rage would be satisfied, and he had been very busy plotting away.
At first he thought another beating was in order. This time he would have Madison’s bones broken, perhaps even cripple the little bastard, that would show him. Then luck shone down on Fritz. Madison had made the mistake of expressing his love for a woman in plain sight. He had displayed his greatest weak point right in front of his enemy. Fritz could see just how deeply Madison had fallen for Jennifer, and he knew that to break Madison, to reduce him to the status that he deserved, all he had to do was remove that object of his affection. Madison would be broken then; he would be nothing more than a miserable shell. He would experience the same sense of lonely desperation that Fritz had felt when his wife vanished with that little twat sailor from Spain.
Yes, Madison would pay, and Fritz would be the man to deliver the bill.
The night was cool as Lance and Jennifer lay out on a nearby hill, staring up at the stars. The hour was late. Madison had finished up his night at the Den and, as per tradition, had left with Jennifer. They had planned a night out under the stars, and had brought a small blanket with them. Finding the perfect spot, the lay together and held each other close.
They had just finished making love. Both of them were naked, only a thin sheet covering their bodies.
“I’m yours forever, Lance,” Jennifer had whispered into his ear.
“And I am forever yours, Jennifer,” he had replied.
They dozed for a short time but the weather began to develop a chill, and they decided it was best to pack it in for the night. They dressed and Lance escorted her home.
“Stay with me tonight, won’t you?” Jennifer asked at her door.
“Tomorrow night would be better, dear. I have to go into the Den early tomorrow to help that idiot Fritz count liquor bottles. I swear, the man can’t even count without help. I’ll take tomorrow evening off, how about that? We can have the entire evening together, and I’ll spend the night then.”
Jennifer wrinkled her nose in that childish, yet adorable manner of hers, and agreed. She was tired anyway and was only thinking of her bed. It would be a waste of a good evening to just go straight up and fall asleep.
They embraced and said their goodbyes.
“Jennifer, I love you more than life itself, and I will forever walk beside you.”
“I love you too, Lance. You are the brightest star in the sky,” she replied.
They shared one last kiss, soft, sweet and slow. Lance watched her enter her home and listened for the door to latch. Satisfied that his love was home safe, he walked off in the direction of his own house.
He never saw Jennifer Standish alive again.
Jennifer’s home caught fire sometime in the middle of the night. It had burned quickly. Perhaps if there had been professionals around at the time to investigate the fire more in depth, they would have found that the windows had been nailed shut. They may have also determined that the door had been wedged closed from the outside, making escape impossible.
However, in those days of London, things were often taken at face value. There had been a fire. Most people agreed that the single woman living alone had simply been sloppy in how she set her fireplace. She had not been careful to ensure that rags and paper were a safe distance from the flames. She had died due to simple womanly incompetence. That was, at least, the general opinion of the men who dealt with the fire and the smoldering ruins that it left behind.
Jennifer had been burned beyond recognition. Her corpse was found curled into a fetal position. Grasped in her hand was a simple cameo featuring a photograph of Lance Madison. Her death delighted many of the property owners that frequented the Den. They never saw her fit to run a business in the first place, and now that she was dead, the shop could be auctioned off into the capable hands of one of the city’s more prominent business owners.
Lance Madison, on the other hand, didn’t have the luxury of such an objective view of the situation. For Lance Madison, his life was over. He quit his job. Well, perhaps quit isn’t the right word. He more or less stopped appearing. This delighted Edwin Fritz, who was able to replace Madison with a steward of his own choosing. A lad who knew who was the boss and didn’t let his tongue flap about, who didn’t associate with a society that he had no business associating with.
Madison took to the bottle hard, and spent most of his days and nights drunk. During the day he would sleep, or stumble about his home in tears, thinking of the perfect life that had been pulled out from under him so quickly. At night he would storm about the halls of his home, smashing objects that got in his path, screaming at a God that he didn’t believe in. His neighbors eventually grew used to it. No one came by to check on him. Even his father stepped back. Lance had quit the job that his father arranged, and in the eyes of the senior Madison, that was the final insult from the bastard that threatened his very nobility. He would allow Lance to keep the deed to the home, but there would be no further assistance from his family. Lance Madison was cast out into the darkness, to wander alone, sink or swim.
It had become uncommon for Lance to leave his home, but when food supplies ran low, he had no choice. He also needed more liquor. He woke up sober, and that simply would not do. Lance left out in the morning and returned several hours later.
“Mister Madison, welcome home!” greeted the stranger sitting on his couch.
Madison returned home in his usual mood, which was sour and filled with a bad mix of rage and sadness. Walking into his main chamber, he found a short, portly, bald man sitting upon his couch. This man was dressed in strange clothing, a blue-striped suit, and had clearly made himself at home.
“Who in the bloody hell are you, and what are you doing in my house?” demanded Lance.
“My name is Mister Pinkerton, but my friends call me Mister Pinky. I sure hope you will too. What I am doing in your home is quite simple, I am waiting for you. Now that you are here, I have much to discuss, and it is ever so fortunate that you chose today to be sober, because you will want to be sober for this conversation.”
Lance grabbed a candle holder from his table and advanced towards Pinkerton.
“Now, Mr. Madison, no need for violence. I have come to offer you salvation.”
“I have no use for salvation, but I do think thrashing you will do me well!” Madison snarled, still approaching.
“Your choice, Mister Madison, but just know, should you decide to thrash me and throw me out, I will leave. I will leave with grace and dignity. I will return to my place of domicile and lick my wounds and will never bother you again. But should that happen, you will spend the rest of your days never knowing how that fire really started at your dear Jennifer’s home, and you will certainly never be afforded the chance to exact your revenge upon the man responsible.”
This stopped Madison in his tracks. He had pondered the fire many times, and he always doubted that Jennifer would be that irresponsible. Slowly, he lowered the candlestick.
“Okay, Pinkerton, talk. Tell me what you know about the fire, but be warned now, if you are here to simply toy with me, I will kill you.”
“Of course, Mister Madison, but first, please prepare us some tea, strong tea if possible. We have much to discuss, and you are going to want to be awake and alert for all of it.”
Madison returned with the tea, and found that Pinkerton had gone into his closet at some point and retrieved the small statue that Jennifer had entrusted to him to dispose of. He had it sitting in his lap.
“Why did you remove that from my closet?” Madison asked.
“All shall be revealed, Mister Madison, all shall be revealed.”
Regrets and Damnation
Lance Madison snapped awake. He was no longer the young man in his early 20s. He was no longer the innocent lad that had fallen in love. He was back in Delphia. He was back to being Grand Magus Lance Madison.
His pillow was damp from tears, as it often was when he dreamed of Jennifer. He stood from his bed. Soft sunlight was coming in through his windows. He looked again at the picture of Jennifer and felt tears once again forming in his eyes.
“Pinkerton told me of how Fritz arranged the fire. He showed me how he did it. Fritz murdered my love, but Pinkerton arranged to make that right.”
Lance Madison stared out of his window down into the city of Delphia, which was just starting to come awake with the new morning. People moved about, going to shops, conversing in the streets and of course, holding Tobit in their hearts at all times.
The rest of the story, what the dream didn’t repeat, was short and full of vengeance. Madison remembered it down to the detail. Without proof, he had no means of confronting Fritz. Pinkerton, though, had assured Lance that such ideals as physical proof mattered not in the eyes of Hyraaq Tobit. He assured Madison that if his heart truly desired the revenge, Tobit would arrange it, in spades.
Madison reflected on what a fool he had been. Pinkerton knew he wanted revenge, he knew that he would do anything to avenge Jennifer, and he had played him like a fiddle to the end. The deal was simple; Madison would repay Pinkerton later in exchange for immediate gratification. Madison agreed.
Fritz was delivered to him. Pinkerton was there, and showed Madison just how to apply the pain. In the end, Fritz confessed, begging his former employee to spare him. Once the confession was delivered, Pinkerton left the room, telling Madison to enjoy the rest of his evening with Fritz. He assured him that there would be no interruption, and told Madison that when he was finished, he could simply leave the body there, that all the clean-up would be arranged. Madison was to simply exact his revenge for as long as he liked, and that is exactly what he did.
Edwin Fritz screamed long into the night, begging for help that never would come. By the time the sun rose the next morning, there was very little of Edwin Fritz left to go around. His death had come slowly. Madison left, taking Pinkerton to his word. As it turned out, Pinkerton delivered. There was no evidence ever found of Edwin Fritz’s body, not so much as a tooth or strand of hair. Jennifer had been avenged.
Pinkerton though, ever the deal maker, had kept his word, and returned to Lance Madison several months later. It was time for Madison to fulfill his end of the bargain.
“A simple request, really. Very simple really, Mister Madison. In fact, this is almost more of a favor to you than a request for repayment. You have a way, a way of getting people to listen. Perhaps it’s your boyish charms, who knows? Either way, there is a new position in the church that we have arranged for you. You’ll preach the gospel during the day, but at night, you will preach a very different word.”
Lance continued to stare out of his window into the streets of Delphia.
“My lust for revenge put me here. Pinkerton was right about one thing, though. I was certainly able to gather followers.”
Lance had done his duty in London well. Pinkerton arranged for him to be placed as a priest at All Hallows' Church. How this trick was managed Madison never asked. Documents forged, bribes or threats made, who knew? Madison had a feeling that Pinkerton was the sort of man that kept favors in his pockets from many people. Perhaps even the Pope owed Pinkerton a favor or two.
During this time, Madison slowly learned just what forces he had gotten in bed with. He still didn’t believe in God, but it was very hard not to believe in Hyraaq Tobit. Madison learned the language of Dawning. He also began to see just how deep the cult of Tobit ran. And here he was, just a simple boy from a polluted line of wealth, somehow in a position of importance. One could almost laugh, or cry.
Madison gathered many followers, hundreds perhaps, that were anxious to gain the favors of Tobit. He would conduct church services during the day, and meet with his select members at night. There they would plot and plan, praise Tobit and sell their souls one night at a time. Finally, about two decades after his lost Jennifer, the time came for him to finally take his chosen flock into Delphia.
“And here I am today, both the warden and the inmate, all at the same time.”
The statue that Jennifer gave him still sat on the mantle above his fireplace in his bed chamber in Delphia. The inscription on the base, written in Dawning, read:
“Loss born from Love,
Power born from Weakness,
Sight born from Blindness”.
Madison no longer doubted that this inscription described his life up until his arrival in Delphia. He no longer doubted that this very statue was intended for him, even when it was found floating in the Arctic Circle, before being brought to London and finding its way to Jennifer’s father.
“Perhaps Tobit is as much to blame for my pain as Edwin Fritz,” Madison mumbled to himself.
“Now, now, Grand Magus, such dangerous words to mumble out loud,” mocked a female voice.
Madison knew the owner of that voice right away, and felt his stomach flip.
“Tabitha Shaw, what brings you into my chambers?”
“Oh, you know, Mister Pinky has some important news for you, and he figured it was best that I be here too.”
Tabitha Shaw was a small woman, thin, short brown hair, almost like that of a boy’s cut, but as deadly as a viper and as alluring as a vixen. Her presence here meant that Pinkerton had come to a decision on how he wanted to handle things, and that decision would not be one that favored Lance Madison in the future.
“Does Mister Pinkerton really believe that one kid escaping Delphia is reason to awaken the Sisters?” Madison asked, already knowing the answer.
“Well, I am here, aren’t I, silly? I swear Lance, your body doesn’t age here, but I think your brains must be,” Tabitha replied, mockingly. She knew Lance was powerful within Delphia, but Tabitha, much like Pinkerton, existed on a level above that of Delphia.
Tabitha was the leader of the Sisters of Tobit. They, much like Pinkerton, were able to come and go from Delphia as they pleased. They provided services all over the world, mostly covert. Sometimes people became aware of Delphia that weren’t intended to be invited into the fold. Sometimes those people could be dealt with by the goat masked cult members. However, some people could prove to be more difficult; some of them didn’t scare as easy. When that happened, when someone needed to be silenced, Tabitha Shaw and her Sisters of Tobit were dispatched.
“So, how do you fit into this?” Madison asked.
“Oh, Lance, simple really. My girls are going down to New Orleans. They’ll catch some beads, drink a few Hurricanes and murder a few people. It’ll be a fun trip for them. As for myself, I am to remain here and assist you with our good friend Timothy VanBuren. I think I might have a few tricks to make him talk.”
“So, Pinkerton doesn’t think I can handle someone like Timothy?” Madison demanded, feeling himself flush with anger.
“Lance, let’s face it. As the people say out in the real world now, you kind of suck, dude. I get it, at some point you were a big deal around here, Grand Magus and all. I sort of feel like… how can I say it nicely? I kind of feel like you need to get laid, does that help?”
“You little bitch!” Madison shouted and took a step towards the petite woman before him.
She had a blade to his throat before he made it two steps.
“Lance, listen. Mister Pinky already told me to do what I have to do here, understand. He also feels that you have become somewhat of a failure. Now, he’s willing to do you a solid and all, and let you live. But, I think if I were to slit your throat and make a smoothie out of your blood, he might forgive me, see how that works?”
Tabitha kissed Madison on the mouth and stepped back. “Things are moving fast, Lance. Guess who just got involved in the game?”
“Who?” Madison replied, sounding disgusted and enraged.
“The fucking Leary brothers! Yeah, remember Brandon Leary, that detective that almost busted your old ass way back in Merry Old England? Well, seems like Brandon left a bit of a family legacy with them. Now they are heading to the United States to meet up with that little firecracker Clair Nobles.”
“And that is why the Sisters are involved now?”
“You didn’t let me finish gramps. Just take a wild guess who Clair Nobles is going to New Orleans to meet up with? Derrick fucking Reynolds, your very own little escapee. Now does it make sense? A brilliant scientist who fucking translated Dawning and the two descendants of the man who almost exposed Tobit’s church are on a collision course with the very guy that you let just walk out the fucking gates. So, now do you see why the Sisters are involved?”
Madison remained silent.
“Good choice Lance, keep your mouth closed and listen for a change. You’re still the Grand Magus here, but I am reporting directly to Tobit, which means that I am calling the shots. I know, it’s mean, but hey, we’re a cannibalistic cult that worships a demon. Do you really expect us to be all sunshine and fucking unicorns?”
Madison turned his back from Tabitha Shaw and gazed out of his window once more. With the Sisters of Tobit involved now, Lance Madison almost felt sorry for Derrick Reynolds and the others. More than anything, though, he felt sorry for himself.
Written by K. Banning Kellum
Published March 16th, 2015