The city buzzed like a hornet’s bag as the young woman moved up to the tiny little concrete housing center. The outer facade, wind scarred and watermarked, diveted as the skin of acne’d youth. She knocked, stood a moment, her hands relaxing about the large cargo bag, slung about slender shoulders as wind skimmed the corners of high, glistless rooftops. Cars moved in slow, congested lines behind the house, moving like great metal snails. Somewhere off in the thermals a bird of prey cawed. Shortly, a dark face appeared through a crack in the door, suspicious eyes watching from the shadows of the den.
“Anna…” the dark face muttered. It was less a greeting and more a reminder of the young woman’s name.
“Hello, Ms Afua. Brought you and little Adam some treats from the center.”
The dark faced nodded wordlessly. Sound of a latch turning and then the door swung open to reveal a short black woman donned in cheap cast-offs who took the bags with haste, as if she believed they might, at any moment, vanish unto the aether. Afua then stepped aside and ushered the younger woman into the tatterdemalion household. The room into which the community center worker moved was small and smelled of cats and damp and something frying and something else which Anna couldn’t place. Unpleasant and gamey. Right, the kitchen alcove; nothing but one cleft-bar featuring a toaster, a fridge, a sink and a tiny, gas oven. Left, a middle aged man of African extraction sat upon a tattered, moth-eaten couch, watching a tasteless reality show upon a old television. Upon the screen a bloated woman some 200 pounds or more yelled to a skinny white man about how he wasn’t her “baby daddy,” the crowd laughed and a slick, well dressed man in a suit gestured toward the camera, his palms spread wide, “I did not see that one coming!” he smirked beneath a pall of makeup. Again, the crowd laughed. Beside the middle aged man a small child sat, drawing with great concentration upon a memo pad, ignoring the flickering screen before him. The child’s large dewy eyes widened as he spotted the newcomer.
“Hey there buddy, whatcha got there?”
The little boy swelled with pride as he held up the notebook for the woman to see. Upon the red-lined paper were four little doodled figures dancing about a poorly sketched house with a white picket fence and gigantic windows and a high, crooked chimney puffing little clouds of white smoke. The cartoon had been drafted in crayon and, despite its amateur stylings something about the deft mix of colors and the purity of the scene caught the eye. The boy had talent. Anna smiled and pointed to the figures, one by one; first to a small, black character who held a paintbrush and a drawing easel.
“Is that you, Adam?”
“And those two beside you?”
“That’s Afua,” he stated with a smile, pointing to the old crone where she stood silently beside the refrigerator, chopping vegetables, “and that… is Kojo,” he stated slightly nervously, glancing to the middle aged man upon the couch who turned upon hearing his name.
“Let me see, boy. Let me see.”
The boy turned the picture towards him and he studied it intensively.
“You’ll be a great painter someday. Like Yoofi.”
“Yoofi?” Anna intoned curiously.
“In Ghana there was a old man named Yoofi. All the villagers thought he was crazy because he used to go hunting for rocks. He’d spend days and days, looking for these rocks. Said he needed special rocks. He’d paint them like the villagers and place them on their stoops so that the villagers’ spirits might become like the rocks. Steadfast. Immovable.”
Anna turned to Kojo after he had finished speaking. He was starring straight at her. She couldn’t remember him ever paying her more than a passing glance. She smiled. He didn’t. Kojo then returned to his television program as Anna returned to the picture. There was one last figure upon the notepad, a woman with tanned skin and long, brown hair and a puffy blue windbreaker with a orange collar.
“Is that me?”
The boy nodded, smiling broadly, “Do you like it?”
“Very much so. Its really very good. I think Kojo is right, you’ll definitely be a great artist someday.”
The boy’s eyes twinkled dreamily.
“Can we go out for ice cream like we did last time?”
“Boy, you quite bothering the woman,” Afua intoned sternly without turning from the kitchen sink where she had taken some of the vegetables from Anna’s bag and skinned then piled them in neat little rows upon the mangy, foul smelling counter-top.
“Quite boy,” Kojo snapped, absorbed in his program.
Anna looked to the dark woman and crossed her arms about ample breasts, smiling slightly.
“You know I really wouldn’t mind, if that is alright with you.”
“You’re a busy woman.”
“Not that busy. Besides, I could use a break from work and its now trouble. Adam is always such a good kid.”
“Yes…” she noted with sudden solemnity, looking over her shoulder at the child where he sat upon the floor, drawing, pad upon his knees, pudgy little hands moving artfully about the paper in swirling pirouettes.
The cramped local ice cream parlour was abuzz with activity, motion of bodies and heat-sweat and conversations of the times. It was a place half out-of-time, all of wicker and paneled wood and leather with a massive oaken counter situated in the leftmost corner of the room with rows upon rows of small circular tables all about the right-back of the rest of the space. The once entirely wooden interior had given way to the march of renovation, slowly being consumed by plastic, metal and concrete. Some of the lights in the back had been changed from the dull yellow old-fashioned incandescent bulbs to the blue LED bulbs now in vogue, requiring but a scant 9.5 watts to produce the same amount of light as their 60 watt predecessors. None of the other patrons paid the lighting any mind and, at length, Anna turned from gazing at the bulbs in the back of the parlor as the sound of idle chatter filtered into her brain. Talk of immigration and corruption, rising crime and terrorist attacks. Racism and “the good ole times.” Even a ice cream parlor wasn’t safe from partisan politicization; it sadden Anna who frowned as she absorbed the dour atmosphere. She wished that everyone could just for once set aside all their haughty opinions and enjoy themselves. She ordered two cones, one a chocolate-vanilla swirl, Adam’s favorite, and a strawberry with sprinkles for herself. The child licked his cone mirthfully, brown-white liquid thick-pooling about his hands as it melting off from the cusp of the frigid confection. In short order his face was covered over with tracings of his consumption at which point Anna burst into laughter. The boy looked up at her confused and she reached for a napkin and cleaned his face, chuckling. They shared smiles and ate their cones and then turned as the sound of a newscasters voice burst in upon them with startling suddeness.
“Some people have said that a lot of this artwork is ‘fascistic,’ what would you say about that, Mr. Partridge?”
Anna turned towards the wall-attatched television screen to behold a TV news anchor sitting across from one of the most beautifully strange men she’d ever beheld. The news anchor was old and baggy-skinned, garbed in a crisp, expensive, yet ill-fitting, suit and tie. The strange man wore a tightfitting long sleeved blacksweater over which he’d chosen a expertly tailored black dresscoat with a white fur collar. His face was pale and his hair was black; eyes electric-gold below which was set a smooth, sensual mouth that played up into the faintest ghosts of a smile.
“I would say, firstly, that if you repeat something loud enough, long enough, most people will invariably believe it to be unquestionably true. Moreso if those who are repeating it are individuals such as you who are both charismatic and respected and also have the bully-pulpit of corprotocratic multimedia supremacy. Secondly, I would say that this word has become a by-line for absolutely anything that one doesn’t like. As with “racist,” as with “xenophobe,” as with – well – you get the idea. When a word can be made to mean anything it means nothing.”
“Do you believe the work, say of Dominic Sheer, to be ‘fascistic?’”
“No. But even if it was, there is no law against that. Nor would I have a personal compunction to disbar him from my gala. Furthermore, I’d note that most people do not even know what the words they use mean. How often do our literary critics label the dissident writer they find unbecoming to be ‘pretentious’ without ever stopping to inspect the utterance. Are they really so pretentious or is it merely that our critics lack understanding? Don’t mistake me now, for I see your brow furrowing, I know why, you think this condescension, but it is nothing of the sort. For instance, “evolution” this is a word in common usage, wholly penetrated into the fiber-make-up of your collective lexiconography. But how many of us actually understand the process of evolution? Very few, I’d wager; and there is no shame in this, Renaissance men are few and far between, I’m certainly not one, and people are busy, ever busy, too busy. But there IS shame in pretending you know something which you manifestly do not. For instance, how many of our polity, not just know of, but have read the works of Filippo Marinetti, Charles Maurras, George Sorel and Enrico Corradini? Going even further back, can my detractors say they have familiarized themselves with The Jacobins? No, no, no, no and again, no.”
The newscaster gave a uncertain chuckle.
“I must say, I have no idea who any of those people are… but… I get the sense that you believe people are ‘pretending’ to know things about your recent gallery?”
“I would posit that it isn’t a mere belief, but rather a cold, hard fact.”
“Some might interpret that as a accusation.”
“When one is at the receiving end of spurious accusations it is only fair that one wages accusations of his own. I can tell you that I shall not be put on the backfoot, nor shall I have the integrity of my institute rocked, nor its reputation – which is considerable – slandered for political points.”
“Political points? You mean it has to do with your support of the mayoral candidate, Aiken Layne?”
“Yes. He’s controversial. I understand that. I also understand that many people who used to publicly support my galleries pulled their support. But I didn’t need them then. I don’t need them now. That is the problem for them. Due my wealth they can’t economically ruin me. So they have decided to try and ruin my reputation as well as the reputation of all the artists who I employ or showcase instead.”
“And just who is this mysterious They?”
“Layne’s political opponents. I should be very surprised if Angela Vikander didn’t have a hand in the affair. Not directly mind you, she’s far too cunning to involve herself directly, but indirectly… it bears all the hallmarks of her style. Remember, she fell sharply in the polls after Layne trounced her in the last debate, despite all her eco-babble and femen-pandering. Without a scandal, her loss is secured and what could be more of a scandal than the whole public of the city finding out that one of Aiken Layne’s largest financial and public supporters is, himself, supporting ‘neo-fascist revolutionaries.’”
“Well, I couldn’t possibly speak to that.”
“You could, but then Vikander would be slandering you as well as myself,” the strange man replied with something similar to mirth, but not quite.
“Well if you’re not a fascist, what are you?”
Lynder Partridge’s keen yellow eyes flashed suddenly wider as he leaned slightly across the news-table.
“I’m a man who intensely values human creativity.”
Anna had heard of the man, Partridge before, he owned the single largest museum in the entire city. She had considered his gallery as a outlet for his painting but ultimately was unable to muster up the courage to send in her work to such a prestigious institution. Lynder Partridge was one of the richest and most celebrated individuals in the city, a successful industrialist, architect and scholar who had become a philanthropic titan to the most controversial artists on the rise. Intellectual terrorists who penned tales of revolution and capitalistic collapse, of racial taboo and technological godhead. Who was she in comparison and what would her coworkers think? What if she were to be thought to support Layne? What if she were fired? Instead she had sent her work to a smaller, more mainstream gallery, she’d been accepted, hesitantly and suspiciously, but the owners made no promises to keep her work on display. “We’ll see how it goes,” was all the owner had said.
A young woman at a nearby table to Anna’s immediate right, with a jacket bearing the insignia of the local Ferrum college, leaned in towards the man who sat across from her, scowling.
“You know that Dominic Sheer they’d mentioned,” the man nodded vaguely, “Apparently, I’ve heard, he’s like a massive racist, like some kind of white separatist.”
“Oh yeah? He like… in the KKK or something?”
“I don’t know. Probably. I can’t believe someone like Partridge would have someone like that in his gallery. I used to go to his gallery all the time…”
Anna shifted her attention to the table some distance to her left where a old couple sat, another man and a woman. The man was shaking his head, his arms folded across his breast, “I swear these media folks, these guys… everything is some kind of epithet with these people. You step out of line – an inch – and they’ll come after you. Hard. Sonsabitches.”
The middle aged woman sitting beside him nodded solemnly, a little sadly, “I was telling you, last time we went out, I used to teach at the college, teaching History, whenever I stepped outside of academy orthodoxy, boy oh boy, the students nearly fell into a riot. Reason I’m no longer working there. Everyone thinks I’m a ‘nazi.’ Who’s not, nowadays?”
The old man shook his head once again and then pointed to the TV screen, “I like that Lynder fella though, seems alright.” The woman nodded likewise and the two returned to their frozen yogurt and coffee as if nothing at all had happened.
The man with the chrysanthemum jacket stood looking at the ants which swarmed over the corpse of the baby bird; it was still alive, if only just, spasmodic neath the steel-glint of the sunfilters high and jagged and totalizing. The drones had bored a messy hole in the creature’s side and were wholly adsorbed in uncoiling its entrails out upon the concrete of the industrial sector, carrying off the fleshy remnants above their chitinous backs like a length of spongy rope. The bird’s last moments were spent in vain spasm. Soundless, it shuddered, once, twice, thrice and then was still forever.
The man cocked his head to once side as if to afford him a new perspective on the scene and then removed his bandaged hands from sun-faded jeans as he spotted a tall, beautiful blonde coming out of a meat-packing factory across the street. She was dressed in yellow and wore a hat of red with sunglasses of designer make. All about the woman was a well-dressed gaggle of toughs, bodyguards and before them, a female secretary, scribbling upon a digital pad and a old man with a graying mustache. Mustache and yellow-woman conversed before the group and all moved towards a long, black limo which had been parked before the curb. They were not just rich, but well-connected, the man deduced. Rich due their dress, well-connected due to the fact they were brash enough to park in so blatantly illegal a manner. Clearly they were not afraid of confrontation with law enforcement. The man with the chrysanthemum jacket wondered if mustache was a politician. He thought it likely.
Suddenly there came the patter of little feet. A boy tore around the corner of the factory beside which the man stood, a brood of pigeons scattering before him with awkward wing-gait. The child saw the man too late and collided with leg, nearly falling over. The man with the chrysanthemum jacket turned right to behold the little black boy where he mouthed a silent apology and then down to the ice-cream stain upon his jeans.
“I’m so sorry about that!” A young and shapely woman intoned with grave entreaty. She emerged around the left corner of the factory and moved to stand beside the boy with furrowed brows. When she spotted the ice-cream stain she repeated her apology, more frantically, pleadingly.
The man held up a hand for silence as mustache, yellow-woman and the whole cadre piled into the limo and left off down the street, past the meat packing facility and the old factory, peeling out of the industrial district and vanishing off into the fulgent sun-haze of the glistening spires beyond as the ants swarmed the head of the bird and feasted upon its eyes.
Anna dropped Adam back off at Afua’s in the housing district with a hug of farewell. Afua also bade farewell. Kojo lingered about the doorway after the boy and his guardian returned into the den. Anna approached him with a questioning gaze, the wind puppeteering her hair; phantasmal brown snakes bestringed to the moon.
“That artist you mentioned earlier, Yoofi, whatever happened to him?”
Kojo looked off towards the bone-like crescent of the drifting moon with sadness about the jaw.
“He wandered into The Evil Forest. From there, no one returns. They found only his teeth.”
A raucous wind kicked up as Anna drove down the central thoroughfair towards the middle of the city, Kojo’s words echoing geist-like throughout the dark cloisters of her mind-palace. At length she passed by Aiken Layne’s campaign headquarters. Protesters had assembled with placards and signs, all shouting and a couple of police officers and bystanders looking on in a mixture of concern and amusement. One of the larger signs, painted all in red, stated: No fascism, No KKK, Aiken Layne is not the way! The woman shook her head. So much hostility and for what? When she returned home for the night she looked up Layne’s platform policies online. She was shocked to learn he advocated net-neutral immigration, the construction of a border wall and the immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants. She thought of lovely, little Adam and considered life without him and quickly felt a tinge of sympathy for the protesters despite her inborn neutrality. At length she shut the laptop, undressed, showered and slept.
Anna woke early to the chirping of birds and the buzzing of cars. She stretched in the amber glow of the morning’s incandescence, bathed, dressed and spun off to work. The soup kitchen in the slums was more packed than usual, cloistered with metropolitan cast-offs.
The failure of cosmopolitanism. The triumph of the heart. She thought to herself as she spooned a withered old Mexican woman’s bowl full of chicken noodle soup. Anna shot the crone a warm smile. The crone frowned.
“The hell are you smiling about? There’s nothing to smile about. You look like a crazy person.”
Anna didn’t smile at anyone else for the rest of her shift.
Anna fixed the collar of her puffy blue windbreaker, tightened the belt on her jeans and picked the bag of canned beef and chicken noodle soup up off the ground, loaded it in the back of her ungainly 2014 Nissan Versa and drove off to Afua’s house. When Anna pulled into the driveway of the tiny little c-sec housing lot confusion subsumed the whole of her form. Kojo’s car was gone. It was the trios only means of transportation as the buses didn’t go out this far. Yet a light was on. Her pulse quickened. A break-in? A burglary?
She parked and hurried to the handle, tried it, found it giving way. The living room was completely deserted. From room to room, living, kitchen, bath, basement, attic, all empty. Nothing stirred. When Anna returned to the living room she stood a long moment and then cast her gaze out over the chip speckled couch, wrinkled blankets lay about in disarray, the remote, situated upon the rightmost arm of the furniture piece like a giant, flat and dull-shimmering slug. The silent television, odd-angled, as if someone had bumped into it without realization of the act. The carpet bore scuff marks. Something wasn’t right. A thick and heavy feeling of unease slithered about the woman’s gut, vice-like and distending. Why would they just leave? Where would they go? She wondered if it was another ICE Deportation. She pulled her phone out, signal was good. Dialing up “ICE raids” yielded nothing in the area. Out of the corner of her eye, beyond the flickering of the phone screen something lingered. Something white and brown-red.
A small, white chicken feather.
It was flecked with blood.
The dockworker squinted down into the depths. There was something in the water. Something small and brown.
“Jim,” the dockworker barked to a small, short Italian behind him who came scurrying to the edge of the cargo pier like a disgruntled crab.
“What is it Don?”
“There’s something in the water.”
“I don’t see anything. You been drinking on the job again? I told you”
“Right over there. Looks like a barrel.”
“Well, lets drag it out.”
The short stevedore removed a long hook-pole which one of the fishmen had left upon the pier and led the item to shore. When it was within reach Don reached down and plucked out the barrel, gasped and dropped the item down upon the dock, his eyes saucer-wide and his breath coming and going in sharp, erratic gasps.
It was a human torso. Judging from the size, it was the torso of child.
Anna heard the news at work. It came like a dirge. Everything spun as the world stilled. Everything stilled as her heart raced. Her heart raced as the workers slothed. The monitor screen buzzed with sounds and images. A little brown torso, aghast dockworkers, police offers standing beside them, a detective with dark bags under his eyes saying, “In all my 15 years I’ve never seen anything like this. Not once. Horrible. Evil. That’s the word for it. Evil.” The authorities had not yet identified the body but Anna already knew the name which they sought.
“There something wrong, Annie?”
Anna turned towards the bespectacled and mousy little woman stood beside her in the community center kitchen. Anna struggled to remember her name. She was new. Kathy, Kristie, Kirsten. Kirsten, that was her name.
“Have you seen the news?”
Kirsten shook her head, “I try to keep from it much as possible. Always something horrible. Like they say, good stories don’t sell. Why, did something big happen?”
“Nevermind. Its not important.”
“Well, whatever it was it certainly has got you shook. My sister is like that. Total news junkie. Obsessed with politics. Always going on about this party, or that party, or some big scandal out of Washington. I keep telling her, it doesn’t really matter, its not like little folk like us can do anything about it. Best to just not listen to it. Ignorance really is bliss, ya know.”
“Yeah. You’re probably right about that.”
Anna returned to her duties and told her superior she was feeling ill, given the fact that she’d never taken off before the ruddy nosed old man let her off with a stern intonation, “Just this once.” She drove. She didn’t know where she was, nor where she was going. All that she knew was that she had to drive. She had to move. Constantly. Quickly. Else she had to think and nothing in all the world brought her more despair than to muse upon little Adam’s fate. But a day before she and the boy had strolled throughout the city park, feed the fish at the lake and talked with a old man selling books from a trashcan-turned-backpack. But a day before, she and the boy had ate ice cream and laughed at the frigid mustaches that there materialized from confectic consumption. But a day before Adam had been filled with life and mirth and art and smiles. Now he’d vanished from all the world entire, only a blood drained torso remained.
She pulled over, feeling suddenly feverish. Opening the door and ignoring the highway surroundings she fell to her knees and vomited out upon the curb as a murder of crows watched remorselessly from thorny thrones.
In the days following the murder of Adam Delle, Aiken Layne was twice assailed by protesters who claimed his anti-immigration polices had lead to the child’s death. The police had publicly stated that the limbs had been crudely removed but that the killer or killers were very careful to completely drain it of blood and remove several vital organs including the heart and lungs, though the liver and intestines were left intact. The Ferrum police department issued a public statement that they had no leads but were confident that the killer or killers were body harvesters and that the murder was likely financially motivated. Despite this announcement, Layne’s opponents were undeterred.
Layne passed through the immaculate halls of Partridge Museum, in through the high, wide foyer and then through wide semi-circular gala, past the milling crowd of onlookers, and up the similarly semi-circular grand stair to the second floor landing and from there to the in-house cafe. Two bulky men in suits with slicked back hair stood before the doors of the cafe, they patted Layne down and then the shorter of the duo nodded.
“Is this necessary every time I come?”
The man only nodded once more, subtly and gravely this time. Layne shook his head and sighed and fixed his collar and tie and moved beyond the portal into the brightly lit confines of the wide rectangular coffee shop. Not a single person was to be seen save for a lone man, finely, if simply, dressed who sported a overcoat all of black, tipped at the collar with white fur. He smoked languidly at a table in the middle of the room and sipped steaming coffee from china, bone-white and delicate as snow. Before him was a number of magnificent drawings, grotesque and beautiful alike and a silver samovar of coffee and a stack of newspapers and a ashtray of glass. The man did not look up as Layne entered, but rather spoke as if to himself.
“The thought should not cross your mind.”
Layne paused and arched a thick sepia brow.
“That I don’t trust you. I only have them pat you down because they do as much to everyone else. A exception does not disprove the consistency of a general rule but the common man is rarely so much a logician.”
“You often say things, and I know they mean something, but honest to God I’ve no idea what.”
At last, Lynder Partridge met his guest’s eye. Layne had always been wary of the gallery owner’s eyes, gold-green and luminous; they did not just catch the light, but rather, seemed to affix it; to suck it from the marrow of the sky.
“At any rate, you’ve larger concerns than disentangling the meaning of my words,” he took a long drag and held up one of the newspapers, the headline read: Citizen’s Against Fascism (CAF) blame Layne for recent string of ritual migrant murders – do they have a case?
“Fucking hell,” Layne moved to stand before the table and accepted the paper from the gallery owner’s black-gloved hands, studying it intensely, speaking in hurried tones of stress and exasperation as he did so, “CAF, that’s one of Vikander’s pawn groups. They’re nearly completely funded through her Institute for Innovation and Equality. I’m gonna get murdered in the press after this…”
“You need to talk to less journalists and do more interviews.”
“I can’t hack it. I know my base likes me because of my occasional penchant for blustery rhetoric, fire and pomp and all that – and I am angry at the state of this, by God I am – but every time I step on the podium I’m nervous, takes my all just to keep from trembling. Just thinking about the way those yellow vultures will invariably hack up the interview-”
“Do it live. If you become too hot to handle their only recourse will be to pull the plug.”
“One of these days I really need to hire you to do all my PR.”
“Isn’t that what I do anyways?”
“Fair enough. Oh, Lynder, you’ve no idea the toll this has taken on my wife. You should see her, sobbing constantly. She thinks one of these CAF loons, or someone like them but more radical is going to assassinate me!”
“You’ve been twice assaulted. It wouldn’t surprise me if they tried a third time.”
“You’re supposed to be encouraging.”
“I refuse to be anything but honest.”
“If you were completely honest you’d have never gotten to where you are today.”
“And yet the reality of the situation rebukes your claim. Not divulging every nagging thought and divulging known falsities are two very different things.”
“Maybe I had it wrong. I shouldn’t hire you for PR, I should hire you for my legal team.”
Lynder smiled slyly as his compatriot folded the newspaper and laid it upon his lap.
“Why, Aiken, you insult me.”
“They’re two things which utterly disgust me,” Partridge took a sip of coffee before continuing, savoring the hot, aromatic liquid, “Dogs and lawfare.”
“Of course. How could I ever place my trust in a animal whose loyalty can be bought with food? A animal which blindly defends its master?”
“Don’t you blindly defend what you care about?”
“Certainly not. Besides… I have no masters. But it was not to talk of me you came, it was for assistance.”
“Honestly, I don’t know why I came. Yeah, guidance, probably. I don’t know. You just always know the right things to say. I’m just feeling… discon… discom… aw, hell, what’s the word?”
“That’s the one – you mind if I have some of that coffee?”
Lynder plucked up one of the little china cups and poured a generous helping from the steaming samovar and gently slid the cup across the thick, white plastic of the spotless tabletop towards his guest. Aiken took the cup, cradling it in his manicured and lotioned hands as if it were a injured pigeon, it smelled unlike anything he’d ever received from the local city cafes, a potent earthy mixture of berries and chocolate, leather and honey. He wondered idly where Partridge had imported it from, all the better to distract him from pangs of conscience and the terror of circumstance.
Lynder leaned his elbows upon the table, folding his hands before his cup, starring intently at the misery-besotted politician.
“How are the kids?”
“Fine, fine. Too young to understand what is going on. I mean, they’re not dumb, they have a inkling that something isn’t right. That something is bothering me and their mother, the poor woman, but they don’t really get it. I’m glad of that. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.”
Lynder grimaced, “And when prolonged, bliss invariably becomes suicide.”
Aiken frowned, took a sip and watched a spider clean its forelegs upon a web in the far left corner of the room. A moth was fluttering dumbly towards it, ignorant of the peril.
“If that were true, Lynder, then every couple would be dead.”
“You, a man married for 12 years, of all people knows the fleeting nature of bliss. There is little bliss in coupling. In sex or in love. That is why men shouldn’t chase it. No matter what they do, it remains in their hands like some oiled hagfish, slipping out of grasp and slithering into briny depths unfathomed.”
“Then what should men chase?”
Lynder took a slow, thoughtful drag upon his gilded cigarette before answering as the moth entangled itself in the web. The spider, feeling the vibrations, carefully advanced.
“Understanding. That is, in point of fact, why you’re here. For understanding. But you already understand. Now is the time to act. Yet you don’t know what to do about the attacks. You need a personal detachment. A guardian.”
“At least one. Near you at all times. One, indeed, would be preferable, given the jingoistic rumors surrounding your campaign. A legion of guards would only increase those criticisms.”
“I can’t afford personal security. I’m popular, not rich.”
“Fortunately for you, I happen to be both.”
The spider leapt and sunk its fangs into the moth. A fluttering of wings and the shaking of a web. Dust-scatter and soundless scrapping. Then all was silent in the corner save for the mincing of a small chitinous maw and the exhalations of smoke from the prim, well-dressed man with eyes of ambered glow.
[this portion of the story was originally intended to be its own short story, separate from The Iron Garden (though still within the same world), however, halfway through I decided to incorporate it into the rest of the novel (which is still in progress).]