He glances down at the tracks, peering over them for a moment, the collection of depressions heavy in this copse, depicting a recent scurry due to some excitement. He stays there, crouched, thick legs bent at the knee, then he inhales. He catches the scent of their spore nearby. The air is crisp, cool, eager to carry smell and sound. He raises his rifle, a custom modified FN FAL, but he does not bring it up to aim, still peering out into the distance over the land. Trees block his view in many directions, growing thicker further out.

His eyes move quickly, narrowing. It is apparent, sudden, and he easily identifies it as the sound of many feet running toward him. He hears the panting not long after, but he does not yet smell the beasts. They are approaching downwind of his own position.

He turns, booted feet shifting in place, then raises the weapon, his knee dropping to the ground as he tucks the butt of the rifle into his right shoulder, left elbow resting on his other leg. His movements display a smooth, practiced ease. He peers through the small scope, waiting, breath flowing calmly.

The pack of wolves comes into view about fifty meters away, healthy beasts running tightly together, the alpha in the lead. They lope easily up the gentle incline toward his position. These are the ones he has been tracking, and they have found him.

He continues looking through the scope, the green shade to its lenses helping to bring greater focus. Both eyes remain open, increasing his field of view, indicating his lack of focus on a specific target. The barrel of the firearm moves, sweeping, seeking prey. The wolf pack continues its approach, quickly covering the ground.

Just before they reach him, he lowers the weapon, and they move in, their posture not one of aggression, and they move up close, seeking attention.

“Nothing out there, hmm?” he speaks, his voice a mid-range bass.

He pats the alpha on his left side as the animal presses into him a moment. They display excitement. He finally looks down, a light smile taking his lips.

“Alright then. Work’s done. Go … hunt,” he emphasizes the command, and the pack emits a few eager sounds and heads out.

He stands, moving his bulk to this upright posture with an ease that suggests a good deal of muscle. He lets his eyes follow the direction of the beasts as they disappear into the trees. He glances about again, exhaling slowly, scanning the area before he finally turns to head back to the house.

The Victorian mansion holds place like a sentinel in the clearing. The expanse of property on which it stands covers many acres, most of which gives way to trees, the forest becoming denser as one moves further from the estate. Hints of gothic and baroque show themselves in the detailing and columns. The front entrance beckons, but he does not approach that way, coming in from the west side and heading for the rear entrance. The ground slopes downward, giving a suggestion of the hidden, though the secrets within the home are much better occluded than this door. He passes through easily enough, the sophisticated security systems having already identified him.

He removes the dark watchman’s cap, then adds his gloves to the small pile he creates on the countertop space in the workroom. Casting and reloading mechanisms tell of the gunsmithing that occurs here, but they are ignored as he unslings his rifle, setting it in a cabinet amidst others.

He walks through, heading into other areas of the manor, the rooms taking on a more artistic, polished flair. He passes near a small team of people going about their own business. They barely take notice of him, the senior woman giving direction to the others as they work at cataloging various items. He moves up the large, curving staircase, each step broad, the impressive structure composed of dark, rich wood.

He finally finds him, Skothiam, the Head of the House, busy at work amidst old books that lie open, baring their contents in stark contrast to the small bank of slim monitors and other electronic equipment. As though to add to the potentially confusing ambience, candles and incense leak their leavings into the air.

“Everything alright out there, Jericho?” the man speaks, not looking up from peering over a thick tome, studying the page with a magnifying lens.

“Yes.”

“What about the wolves?”

“I told them to go hunt.”

A moment passes, and it might seem that this last has gone unheard, but these two have known each other for decades, and they need not always communicate in obvious words. The other finally looks up from the book’s page, setting the glass aside.

“Good, good,” he says, nodding, then exhales. “Seems neither of us found anything, though that’s not a positive result for me.”

The taller one merely observes, for just as the outside, the hunt, are his elements, this sanctum is somewhat alien to him in its role to the other.

“Doesn’t matter, really,” Skothiam speaks after a short pause, then he picks up what appears to be a small, thin, plastic window of sorts, its right side showing advanced gadgetry of electronic equipment and indicator lights.

He presses on some of the icons in the graphical interface then sets the device over the page of the book.  A rendering of that same page quickly resolves, a duplicate suspended above itself, given life from the translucent window.

“Maybe the analysis program will find something that I- ahh, Sharon,” Skot pauses, smiling warmly as the woman enters the room.

She wears a uniform that bespeaks of her role as a maid or attendant, her garments pressed and professional, mingling modern utilitarian with an antiquated aesthetic. She holds up a tray on which are balanced two tall glasses bearing blue-grayish, thick contents.

“Gentlemen?” she offers.

“Thanks, Sharon,” Jericho says, taking a glass, and then she moves to the other who does the same, offering his thanks with a dip of his head.

“Anything else?” she asks, stepping back.

“Nothing else, Sharon. Thank you,” Skothiam says, continuing to offer the same warm expression, lips curved within the thinly trimmed goatee, blue eyes crinkled a bit at their sides. “You seem capable of sensing our needs prior to our even asking, anyway.”

She smiles, taking the compliment, then gives a tiny bow before exiting. Both men then sip of their blended drinks, swallowing, then looking at each other, nodding. A short chuckle is shared between them.

“It’s good,” Jericho comments.

“It is.”

“So, what are you working on?” the guardsman peers at the advanced contraption at work over the open book, then glides his eyes to the monitors, the depictions on their screens also obvious signs of work going on within the powerful computer.

“More of the same.”

Jericho gives a nod, vague hints of dissatisfaction taking his expression as he does. He glances about, giving cursory observance to the various analyses taking place.

“It’s a never-ending battle,” he offers.

“I suppose they calls those ‘wars’, hmm?” comes the retort, tempered with a light smile and perk of eyebrows.

He is greeted with a serious stare. His friend is not bereft of humor, his boisterous laugh well known, but he may just as easily, if not more so, resolve into this quiet intensity. The sudden, rising tension is interrupted by a beep from the electronic device analyzing the open book, and Skothiam blinks, turning thankfully to it, but his expression changes dramatically once he sees what is there.

A figure resolves, rising from the device or the book just as easily as it appears to be emerging from nothing. It suggests one of the three dimensional images which may be rendered by the advanced tool, but some of it is hazy, indistinct, and it continues to increase in size. It has a definite anthropomorphic shape, looking like a person rising from some depths.

The two observers do not move. They merely watch, held in awesome silence. Jericho is not as familiar with this device, but even he knows this is very much out of the ordinary for its function. He is aware that the gadget is connected to the house’s elaborate and powerful network, just as with most every other electronic appliance on the grounds, but he can also tell from the other man’s reaction that this is very unexpected.

“What in the Nine Hells?” Skothiam breathes, looking upon the form as it takes on a finer definition, his expression morphing from bewilderment to a more focused study. “Father?” he finally dares to ask.

The apparition smiles, moving its head in affirmation. The man’s father was not known for being overly exuberant in his expression of emotions, but this is most definitely the very image of the well-respected man, dead now these past four years.

“Dad?” he tries again, hope painting his voice like daring whispers, “Is that really you? What … what’s going on? How did you get here?” he asks, looking down again at the experimental device still in place over the book as it dutifully, if not blindly, continues its work.

The apparition nods again, still giving that characteristic light, pleasant grin. It rises further, taking on more distinction, even as it shows no more coloring than might a sepia-toned photograph.

“Can you not speak?” he asks of it, for the illness that claimed his father took his ability to speak before taking him.

The ghostly image shakes its head, and he nods in understanding fashion.

“Why are you here?” he finally asks.

The color-starved specter gives a piercing look, though it is still pleasant, like the smile, closing toward him. He dares not move. Then the apparition turns and heads away, passing through the unopened door in slow, hovering locomotion, the two corporeal beings in quick pursuit.

“Is that really your father?” Jericho asks, speaking in an urgent whisper as the two head down the large staircase.

“I don’t know,” is the honest response, “But it feels like him. I don’t know how else to explain it, but … regardless, I am left wondering how this is happening at all, much less who or why.”

Jericho takes this in with no outward response, merely following, ever-watchful. They tail the moving apparition into the impressive library. They see as the entity stops, then turns to them. Is it waiting? Has it come to its intended place? No answer seems forthcoming as it moves no further, just looking at what may be its son, a kind, calm expression to its appearance.

The man looks at the books, noting them well. He moves his eyes back, but gets nothing more from the apparition. He again looks over the books nearby, scanning over them with rapid, greedy movements of his eyes.

“I don’t understand,” he finally admits, looking back at the ghost, “Is this … I know of these books, but … what is it you are trying to tell me?”

And then he experiences a dawning, as though a chemical recomposition caused by the slow spread of heat from a focal point, and that point is the apparition, staring at him, into him. His eyes widen, his form stiffening, and then a hand is placed on his left arm, close to his shoulder.

“Are you alright, Skot?” comes the voice of his friend and companion.

Skothiam pulls in a breath through his nose, turning to look at the larger man.

“I just … felt something.  As if he spoke to me.”

Jericho tilts his head, brow furrowing, “What?”

“It’s one of the Three Books!” he exclaims. “He says he found it and hid it here in the library.” And then Skothiam moves quickly, going to nearby shelves, searching, running fingers rapidly over spines, pushing books aside, seeking for some hidden treasure.

“What!” the other tries again.

“One of the Three,” Skothiam speaks from the other side of the shelf, “I don’t know how I know. I don’t know how he is even here, but I feel certain. He found it before he became ill, then he hid it in here in the library. We must find it!”

The other man shakes his head, a mute commentary contained in the economic gesture. He then proceeds to try to help, going about in search amongst the crammed, tall, numerous shelves.

“How will I even know if I find it?” he calls out.

“You’ll know,” comes the reply from some ways away in the expansive room.

“That’s not my specialty, Skot. You know that. Hell, if anything, I may be resistant to any-”

“Resistant does not mean deaf. Let’s just keep looking. Even if you just see something that seems out of the ordinary …”

He gives forth a huff accompanied by a roll of the eyes but continues the search.

The sudden, sharp intrusion of the alarm interrupts their activity. Both stand up straight, startled by the noise. They consult small, electronic devices – Skot pulling forth a slim cell phone, the larger man looking at an item buckled about his wrist. They move to each other.

“Fire,” they say in near unison.

“We have to get out of here,” Jericho declares.

“Dammit!” Skothiam curses, a pleading look given to his friend, “But the book.”

“Don’t make me carry you.”

“This can’t be a coincidence.”

“Don’t … make me … carry you,” and this time it is delivered with more insistent tinges of threat.

Skot’s eyes snap back up to the tall guardsman.  “The fire’s on the first floor, front east side. It may even be contained before it gets here.”

“Good, then it won’t damage the books, and you can continue the search after we know everything is safe, now … don’t make me ca-,” and the words are cut off by the sound of a loud explosion.

He sits outside, a safe distance from the burning house. It will take some time for the fire department to arrive, even though they have been alerted and are on their way. He can even hear the sirens, but the estate is located on the outskirts of town, tucked away within the large expanse of privately-held land.

He does not know when he finally allowed himself to sit, just plopped here on the grass, watching as his home burns. His eyes are glassy, the moist sheen reflecting the chaotic dance of the flames, but he does not cry. His thoughts move from the many valuables inside to the good fortune that so few people were here at all. Sometimes, the mansion is filled, but his mother has been spending time with his sister, and his son is off with friends.

He glances over as Mary nears him, the elder woman acting as Chief of Staff. He sees the comforting, careful expression. He offers a meager smile.

“They’ll be here soon. It won’t be a total loss,” she tries.

He nods, then glances back at the house. Her assessment is correct, but the fire is already licking and lapping hungrily through the library. Despite the immense value of the possessions in the house, they are insured or backed-up, but the main thing that is irreplaceable haunts him.

One of the Three Books

With the life he has led, he rarely gives credence to coincidence, and he does not now. The trigger for the fire and explosion relates to the appearance of the apparition and realization of that immensely important book having been hid away in the library for no telling how long. The book that is now ash.

He hears a question off a ways, and it taps at his awareness like an annoying nibble. He blinks back into focus, turning to where most of the others are gathered. Not everyone is here. He moves closer to them, eyes searching about, then he turns, peering in the distance at various angles, then back at the house.

“Jericho? he calls out, his practiced voice evincing a sudden, controlled boom of volume and power, but despite this, there is no reply, so after a time, he tries again, calling the name of his old friend, “Jericho!”

“There!” someone else calls out, and he jerks his head over to see them point.

He follows the angle of that indication, and he sees the unmistakable, hulking figure of Jericho lumbering toward them, moving quite quickly, the form enshrouded by flame and smoke. It appears the guardsman is coming from behind the house, perhaps being forced to evacuate from the rear once he had made sure everyone inside was safe, an invaluable friend.

Skothiam smiles more openly, relieved, “Good to see you-.”

“Here’s your book,” comes the flat interruption, and an object having been carefully cradled by the large man is extended toward him.

His eyes gape, disbelief held there even as he reaches to take the proffered item. He holds the rare and valuable tome now in his own hands, looking it over. He gently brushes his right hand over its cover, then turns it, looking at the spine, before exhaling in evident relief.

It is true. It is the book – one of the Three.

*****

She doesn’t often reshelf books, but she doesn’t mind helping. There is an entire staff here, and though she is not Head Librarian, she is high enough up the chain that she does not need to engage in such mundane activities. Still, she sometimes craves the common, and there is something calming, perhaps even oddly meditative in putting the books back in their place.

It is quiet at least, and even though this is a library, not all areas of it prove so peaceful.

The continued, exponential growth of the information age has given rise to a much greater presence of computers and electronics and digital options here, perhaps more seeming than hard copies of traditional books. Archaic, some may say, even outdated or obsolete. Still, she appreciates the physical look and feel of a book, and though the demands on putting them back on the shelves may be much lesser than what some of the more senior employees here recall, there is still this occasional need.

Four books left on the dolly, and she takes her time.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche. She casually wonders why someone had this one checked out and what they may have thought of it, even as she moves upon her lithe legs in the direction of where the book shall repose until called again. She is passingly familiar with the work, and she recalls a portion speaking of joy wanting eternity. What a lovely, romantic thought. Still, practicality, if not cynicism, may tend otherwise.

She has worked here for a few years, having moved up in the ranks quite quickly, demonstrating an acumen that landed her the coveted spot she now holds. It demands its own degree of responsibility that some would never wish to embrace, but she thrives on it. And really, once all the ducks are in a row, being a curator to rarities is not that terribly demanding.

She finds the place for the book, moving her glasses down to double check the numbers, though she knows she is in the correct locale, then slipping the tome into its place by its brethren. Three books left, and she wanders away toward where the others call home, the heels of her sensible, yet attractive shoes clicking on the tiled floor.

Some might even find the footwear a bit much for her position, but she possesses an athleticism and poise that does not allow her to be hindered by these four inch heels. If one were inclined to pay attention, one may note the flex of her developed calves as she walks, her smart skirt stopping just at her knees.

She does catch the eye of the occasional student, more than occasional really, and also the sometime member of faculty. These go unnoticed by her, and her appearance and attitude may give others to think of her as aloof, arrogant, cold. She is none of these, but she does not feel compelled to correct misconceptions, even if she were aware of them.

She finally finishes the chore, setting the cart back in its proper place. There are few people at this late hour, the library’s accessibility running through most of the day in order to give the students the convenience of visitation. She glances at her watch, the slim black leather band giving over to the steel face.

“Marcel, I’m going to head out,” she says to the student who is one of the sparse staff at this final shift of the night.

“Okay, Lilja.” He casually raises a hand, bending it up from the wrist, as most of his focus is on a small tablet, studying its contents.

She is the senior person here on the actual paid roster, but it is quite normal to leave the student volunteers to finish up the last shift. She trusts Marcel, anyway, and he is not the only one here. He is a fifth year senior student, working toward three degrees, and he has proven very responsible. Lilja shrugs into her light, red coat, heading out.

She sees the janitors getting out of their white van, preparing to go in and begin cleaning in advance of the closing hour. They trade a friendly wave and greeting, and she begins the short walk home, one that generally takes her less than a half hour. This one will take much longer.

Lilja would not recognize him even if he were not hiding in the narrow alleyway here on the campus grounds. He is a student of the prestigious university, but even with their exclusivity, they do not psychologically evaluate when deciding to admit students. He has been spending a lot of time of late in the library, watching her, germinating fantasies in his mind, developing an emotional attachment that he feels should be reciprocated. He has even watched her go home a few times, not following her, just observing, and he has noticed she does not usually drive a car, and when on foot, this is her normal route. He has waited long enough, simmering in his need and desire for her. She will walk by here soon. He hears the telltale click of her steady approach. He waits just inside the shadows, the darkness helping to hide his bulk. Tonight is the night.

As she moves by the mouth of the passageway, he lunges, ambushing her in an instant, his thick arms spread out, his coat giving him the semblance of a bird of prey. It may be quite alarming how fast a human being may move, and before Lilja has time to register it, he has her in a strong bear hug, pulling her petite frame back into the alleyway, away from prying eyes.

His left arm is about her chest, working to pin her arms, the right hand is up and over her mouth, hoping to thwart screams. He does not even register the lack of protests or screams. His large legs move rapidly, muscle residing there beneath the layers of fat, pulling her further into that throat of darkness betwixt the two buildings.

And in a blinking instance, Lilja stomps down with her right foot, the heel of her shoe digging in, and he cries out with the sudden pain. She does not stop there, moving with a fluid ease, dropping down into a quick squat to loosen the hold, lowering her central gravity and raising her arms out, getting free of him. She shoots back with her right arm, using her hips to add to the force, elbowing, and he feels a sharp pain. What he does not know is that Lilja has delivered a liver strike to him, and he reels momentarily from the sudden, shocking report. That is all the time needed, and moving with the quick speed of regular practice, she uses his own energy against him, gripping his right hand and wrist with both of her hands, twisting and pulling, using her entire body as leverage to bring him down in a bungling crash, both legs going over him in a much different manner than he may have fantasized. Her left leg presses over his neck, and as he reaches desperately with his left arm, Lilja catches it, locking her ankles, holding him, his right arm hyperextended within the cross armlock.

He yelps out in pain, frustration, and as he struggles, his violent need trying to regain the surface, she exerts pressure. He cries out again.

“Let me … go … Aaaahh!” His efforts are again greeted with a pull that lets him feel the full pain of the possibility of a dislocation or break in several areas.

She waits a moment, then uses her left hand to reach for her phone, which she keeps on her, not in her purse, and quickly gets a hold of the campus security service, calmly explaining the situation. It does not take them long to get there, but Lilja has to apply the extra force once more to compel her attacker. By the time they do arrive, the student has completely given up, tears leaking from his eyes as he hitches and sobs.

After a time, the situation has turned to one of which the assailant likely did not fantasize.

“Wow, Miss Perhonen, you ought to join security, though you’d make us all look bad,” the young security guard says, grinning somewhat awkwardly, eyes moving from where the perpetrator is being led, handcuffed, into the back of a squad car, to return to the short, petite redhead.

Lilja smiles good-naturedly, not responding to the comment. They offered her a blanket and a coffee, both of which she declined, merely offering what limited information seems needed for Officer Shermont to fill out his report as they wait for the police to arrive. She knows him, though she has not interacted with him very often, and she answers his few remaining questions. He takes the information, interfacing somewhat inelegantly with the electronic tablet.

After she is done giving similar information to the local authorities, she has to decline Shermont’s offer for a ride home several times, reiterating that she’ll be fine, as if the very scenario that brought them out here were not proof enough. The young man finally gives in, reminding her to call if she needs help. And again, she smiles, thinking she just sufficiently demonstrated she is prepared to do just that.

She spends the time walking home to ponder, thinking of what this will entail. She wonders if the student has a well-connected or well-off family, and if this situation may turn out to work negatively toward her. She passes these concerns quite quickly, letting other thoughts that she considers more important to take her mind.

She is not very tired when she gets home, so she decides to burn off some steam with some exercises. It doesn’t take long for her to settle, and eventually, sleep is found, something that often eludes her.

*****

The three men sit about the table, the remnants of a meal holding place in front of only one of them, though all three have glasses from which they occasionally sip. They show few shades in their individual palettes, wearing mostly black, other tones earthier, reduced. The man finishing the meal also shows intricate tattoos atop his hands, even his fingers, though his dark suit does not show much more of him than that. His eyes are narrow, a deep brown, and he focuses them beneath his thinning, graying hair upon the other two, a forkful of food being reduced to a goop by the steady motion of his jaw.

“Is there some secret program within the police for more covert, special operations type of work against organized crime?”

The other two share a look, one of them in the middle of a drink, which he finishes, setting down the stout glass.

“If it was secret, how would we know?” he throws out.

The other slits his already narrow eyes, staring, then after a moment, he takes up fork and knife, slicing the meat, slipping it in his mouth for more of his determined chewing.

“Then why do I pay you two? Hmm?” eyebrows raised, still masticating the flesh in his mouth, “You are supposed to be my eyes and ears inside, yes?”

“Hey, we’ve helped you plenty,” the one speaks again, the more senior of the two by a small amount, also the larger of the two by much more, judging from his somewhat overweight appearance.

His head shows some lack where his body does not, thinning, dark hair about a bald spot which he doesn’t hide, but he shows intent at hanging onto what hair he has left in contrast to the suited man, whose remaining locks are shorn quite short. The drinker never takes his hand away from the glass, holding it now at rest atop the table as he returns the steely gaze of the eater.

“Why are you asking, Gnegon?” speaks the third, a slightly younger, much more fit man of darker coloring.

His clothing might mark him more as one of the ‘street’, but he cares much more about his appearance than his partner. The man at the meal looks at him, nodding slowly, finally swallowing his food.

“Now that is a good question.” He dips his head with more emphasis, then turns, indicating with his fork to the other, “You ought to be less defensive and more insightful, like Quain,” he indicates back again with a tilt of his head to the right, then proceeds to cutting another piece of meat.

The other furrows his brow but seems to think better of a further response, merely bringing his glass up for more drink, draining the contents. Gnegon leans back in his chair, chewing. His eyes note the empty glass, and he snaps his fingers. A person emerges from the surroundings, the area occupied by many men of various appearances, none directly involved in this discussion, though several are paying attention. There are also women here, but their appearance suggests other intents. The empty glass is refilled from a bottle of bourbon.

“I am being harassed,” he begins after wiping his mouth with a cloth napkin.

“Hey, look,” the larger one begins quickly, his glass held up.

“I don’t mean you, Alec” he says, impatience coloring the tone, jaw flexing. “Someone is bothering my operation,” he continues, sitting back, resolving to his usual posture. “It took some work to figure it out. I thought it was isolated events. These things happen in the engagement of risky business, no? A shipment lost here, some men attacked there. Sometimes we even let the police get an arrest to appease your masters,” he adds, giving purposeful looks to both men. “But then we picked up on the hacking, and we noticed larger … intrusions were taking place.”

“What are you talking about?” Alec asks, leaning over the table on his elbows.

“Someone’s poking at you,” Quain assesses, “Testing your defenses, your reactions, and they must be doing a good job. You said you just realized they were related, and you asked if we knew of any covert operation in the force. Well, I don’t, for what that’s worth. Maybe it’s not local. What’ve you got? What ties it together?”

Gnegon looks at the other detective, eyebrows raised, moving his head as though asking a question. Alec rolls his eyes, deciding to have more of his drink. The host smirks, looking back over.

“We started to suspect we might be under more focus than we realized, so we put some counter-measures in place. We’ve managed to get a few surveillance images, and it seems there is some similar signature to the electronic infiltrations. Not enough to trace anything, I am told, but enough to know it is the same person,” he explains, then nods in a particular direction, and a man steps forward, handing over a small, thick paper stock folder.

He hands it to Quain who opens it immediately, looking at the prints inside, giving a cursory examine before sliding them to his partner. The small pictures show blurry, distorted shots of an obvious human figure, garbed in dark clothing, quite often blending in with the background, sometimes in motion.

“What the hell?” he asks, “You’ve got a ninja problem?” he chuckles, an action that is not joined by anyone else.

“Looks like spec ops to me,” Quain says.

“So, what do you want us to do about it?”

Gnegon just looks at the portly man for a moment, studying him, then he finally speaks, “Maybe you could find out if there is any sort of classified effort like this coming from the local police. If not, then maybe you could find out if it is being done by other police in your city, hmm? And maybe, just maybe, you could wipe your own ass from time to time.”

Alec shoots up to his feet, the chair sliding back loudly on the floor.

“You better be careful how you talk to me,” he threatens, anger evident over his form, clenched fingers, slightly bared teeth.

“Fuck you, Detective,” Gnegon replies.

“Now, hold on, fellas,” Quain says, raising his hands, placatingly.

Gnegon continues to smirk, leaning back in his chair, looking between the two men.

“Your partner is much smarter than you are, Alec,” he says, “You are armed. If you are so angry, draw your weapon. See what happens, hmm? Why do you think I let you remain armed in my presence?”

Alec seethes, bulky torso moving with his increasing breath, his dully colored shirt showing more within his open blazer. He points a thick finger at their host.

“You …,” he draws out through gritted teeth.

“I … what?” Gnegon again perks the meager eyebrows over his narrow eyes, “We do not have to like each other, and we will both endure some amount of disrespect, but I will get something for my money, or you are a waste.”

Alec just stands there, his large body moving in the continued respiration of his anger.

“We got you, Gnegon,” says the younger one, “We’re on it. Mind if I take these pics?”

“Of course not,” Gnegon says, motioning with his right hand, graciously, “That is why I had them made,” he adds, then throws in a somewhat patronizing smile, chin raised as he does so.

“Thanks,” Quain says, snatching up the photographs and their folder, then he grabs his partner’s arm, encouraging him to leave, “Let’s go.”

Alec spares more of a needling look for their patron in corruption, then turns, following the other’s exit.

©2016 Scott Carruba

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