“Sorry, sir, but we need you to remove all your weapons.”
A couple walking just ahead of me hurried up as the guards stopped me. I slumped and lolled my tongue out of my mouth as I let out a “Blegh.” The guys at the entrance had been easily duped. They all looked normal enough in their suits with their earbuds. Somehow, these guys could tell I was packing.
One of them stepped right in front of me. “I’m afraid we have to insist.”
I wanted to jam my knee into his mouth and choke him with his own teeth, then shove his leg up his buddy’s ass. However, the invitation to a fundraiser with a politician fascinated me. People whose family I’ve killed generally don’t react in such a way.
Plus, I’d have Moai backing me up. As independent-minded as I am, which here means that my mind takes long walks on the beach while I kill people and some people accuse me of losing it, I trusted that he’d face down anything to help me. He’s a loyal Moai statue. Not like those lazy ones that just stand around all day gawking at tourists.
The smartly-dressed guard held a plastic tub with a piece of paper wrapped around the handle. The paper had a tear-away tab with a number, like a valet receipt. “We’ll have everything checked and ready for when you leave. It’s more of a precaution to keep armed civilians from causing trouble,” the guard said.
I stuck my nose in the air and gave a harrumph! Then, I reached inside my jacket and began pulling things out. “Let’s see…ballistic knife, exploding throwing knife, non-exploding non-throwing knife, blinding powder egg, stiletto wrapped with LSD tabs, stiletto not wrapped with LSD tabs, stiletto heel ground to a point, chattering teeth, real teeth, and a pair of fireball capsules, and a pokéball.” I dropped the last of it on there. The guard tore the tab off the handle and gave it to me.
I stepped forward, but another guard, one with sunglasses on, said, “Stop.” His buddy with the tub got in my way.
“Hammer time?” I asked.
He set the bin down on the small table next to us and instructed me, “Sir, please hold up your arms while I check you over once again. My colleague there believes you to be carrying more concealed weapons.”
I glanced at the colleague. He tipped his glasses low so I could see his glowing blue eyes. I asked, “You got family in Empyreal City by any chance?” He just smiled and covered his eyes again.
This time, I let the guy frisking me call out what he found. “One combat knife. Another combat knife. One Swiss army knife. One marine entrenching tool. One rubber chicken. Another rubber chicken. A third rubber chicken. May I ask what the rubber chickens were for, sir?”
I shrugged. “I was going to take them out to a bar later on. I was curious what would happen and hadn’t heard that one before.”
“I asked for it, didn’t I? One fake mustache. One box of condoms, unopened. Is that all?” He addressed the last question to his partner, who undressed me with his eyes.
I smirked as I looked at the guy eyeballing me. “The thing between my legs may be concealed, but it makes a poor weapon. The only thing it did to your mother was make her walk funny today.”
He just grinned and said to his handsy buddy, “He’s got something stuck between his legs. Remove it.”
I rolled my eyes as the frisker knelt and reached between my legs to what I’d taped between them. He pulled off the fake patch of material that hid it from view and added it to the list. “One potato peeler. Should we let him keep this?” He looked up to his partner again.
The partner stared at me a few seconds, then shook his head. “No. I don’t think so.” So they took my laser potato peeler as well. Those bastards.
Disarmed but for the check receipt for my weapons, I waited for them to clear Moai for entry too. He was dressed in a tux and looked rather dashing for a stone monument. I figured it was the chin. Let’s face it, when the guy wore a tux, his sculpted features rocked many a woman. Even if Carl wasn’t traveling to Empyreal City to see his kids again, I’d have likely brought Moai.
The only thing they took from Moai was a pair of metal truck nuts he’d squirreled away in his inseam.
“Really?” I asked him as we walked toward the door to the ballroom. “Your nuts.” I gave the solid door a heave and held it open for him to walk through. “Why would you need your nuts when this place has a big enough ball for all of us?”
It wasn’t a ball per se. Chandeliers lit the room well enough to show that people preferred to mill about and talk rather than dance. Those that weren’t milling sat at tables with placards on them, eating extremely small portions of extremely shitty food prepared by extremely underpaid cooks to seem extremely expensive. The crowd didn’t resemble that of the conventional trap, either. Too many old people.
Also, it was white. That crowd had more Caucasians in it than the Caucasus. It was a veritable swarm of Stay Puft Marshmallow people.
I pulled out my invitation. “I don’t see a seating chart or a seat number here. Let’s go check those names. I know it looks like half the city’s geriatric population broke out of the nursing home here, but there’s still a chance that one of these Alzheimer’s-ridden black holes of life support will think it’s the Great War all over again and try to gut me with a bayonet. And I may need you to help me clear out the restroom line so I can occupy the Southern front. Now then, act cool and blend in.”
I smiled and maneuvered my way through the crowd. There was little reaction to my eyes or even to Moai. Daddy’s girl was right about the importance of knowing the right people. That, or I walked into a trap. I snaked between bodies and tables until I found one larger table set apart from the others. This one had my name on a sign in front of a pair of seats.
A small crowd had gathered nearby. One of the men seated at the table was standing to address the others. Next to him, a much younger woman stayed seated. She had been watching me as I got closer, I realized. She smiled, looking more genuine than I expected. “Hello. Our special guest has arrived.” Looking up to the older man standing next to her, she brushed a hand over the side of his coat. He glanced down at her. “Honey, why don’t you introduce me to your last-minute guest?”
The man turned toward me then and extended a hand. “Nice to meet you, Psychopomp Gecko. I’m Ethan Basford.” I shook the proffered hand. The woman stood and held out her hand as well. “This is my wife, Virginia.” I gave her a sloppy kiss on the back of her hand, with tongue and everything.
“Enchanté, madam.” I then put my hand on Moai’s stony shoulder. “Since you already know me, this fellow here is Moai. He will, he will, rock you.” Moai and I stomped the floor a couple of times and I clapped, mimicking the song. The amused expressions on the faces of our hosts didn’t falter, nor did they offer hands.
It would have been rude, but Moai hasn’t ever been one for handshakes.
“Please sit,” Mr. Basford said, indicating our chairs. As Moai and I parked our high end hind ends, he turned to the small group he had been addressing before. They had waited quietly on us as we were introduced, judging us behind neutral expressions.
A couple of them frowned ever so slightly as Basford told them, “I have much to discuss and not all of it completely on the up and up. It’s for the best if you’re not around for all this.” He clapped the man who hadn’t frowned on the shoulder.
The man dismissed his apology with a wave of his hand. “You don’t need to explain that to me. I should be milking this crowd for donations anyway. Take care, and don’t forget: vote early, vote often.”
They shared a laugh before the trio walked off. Basford took his seat as well now. “That was my Senator. He’s a good man if his wallet is heavy. I’m curious if you’re the same way.” Though he narrowed his eyes, the jovial grin never left his face.
I grabbed the fork in front of me and twirled it through my fingers, wondering who I’d have to fork in the ass that night. “Well, if the situation is bad enough that I’ve become the good guy, money’s not worth very much.”
Mr. Basford shot his wife a look. She giggled at some private joke and leaned forward, though not in a way that showed off the extra real estate her husband had added to her chest. “Please,” she said to Moai and I, “relax and enjoy the food. We don’t intend to hurt you, and that food shouldn’t go to waste. A plate at this fling costs $1,500.”
Without saying a word, I took hold of the empty glass in front of me. A waiter dutifully stepped forward. I held it up and he filled it with a red wine. I brought the glass close to my nose, smelling it, taking in the fruity flavor of the alcohol derived from fruit. I sipped it, swirled it around my mouth, then turned and did a spit take, getting it all over the hapless waiter. Disgusted, he ran off to get a towel. Turning to my hostess again, I said, “$1,500? What’s the matter, you can’t spring that much for a grill and an assload of hot dogs?”
Really, that money didn’t pay for the food. It paid for a chance to talk to a politician who could afford a new grill and hotdogs for a year because of you. To be fair, though, the fettuccine alfredo with veal medallions in front of me tasted delicious. I tried it after checking it thoroughly for explosive devices with a knife they provided. It was a dull butter knife, best suited for punching through the skin into the carotid artery.
Mr. Basford spoke up, no longer so amused by my antics. “Mr. Gecko, when I first heard about my daughter’s death, the first thing that came to mind was ‘who does this person think they are?’ So I called the Pinkerton detectives. They had enough information on you for a pair of novels. You fascinated me. You even made me laugh a few times. What I saw convinced me you would be more valuable as an asset instead. You killed one member of my family for free. How would you like to be paid to kill more of my relations?”
I shrugged, then jumped over the table and held the knife to Mrs. Basford’s throat. “How much?”
Startled, Mr. Basford reacted slowly. When he spoke after a couple of seconds, he said to me, “Not her. Not my wife or my other children.” Then, speaking more loudly, he addressed the crowd and security guards, “It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong here. It was just part of a joke.” He laughed and even slapped his knee.
I eased back into my seat and my meal. “Considering your family has access to money and magical artifacts, I’d like more info before I agree. Plus, now I’m interested. Do y’all have a pooled trust or some sort of big inheritance from a parent who is about to croak?”
The eyes of Mrs. Basford burned as they bore into me. I didn’t notice their color before, but now it looked as though black irises lined her pupils. “You could say either one, or even both. This isn’t a matter of money for us. It’s about the power our family will inherit. The power to rip your skin apart and peel the muscles from your bones is insignificant compared to what we stand to gain. Dear, Mr. Gecko, please excuse me while I refresh myself.”
Mrs. Basford stood, kissed her husband’s cheek, and departed through the crowd.
Mr. Basford watched her go, looking a million miles away from my table. While he watched her go, I waved over the waiter who had the misfortune to serve me wine earlier.
“Nope. You get to keep your tips?” I ignored my wine this time in favor of drinking from the complimentary water that came with the $1,500 meal.
“You keep them or do you pool them with the others?”
“We pool them, sir.”
I pulled out a wallet and counted out $1,000 in hundred dollar bills. “Then this is for the pool.” I tossed the wallet aside, pulled out another one, and counted out $500. “And this fell off the back of a truck.” I shoved the second wad of cash into his pockets.
He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no sound came out. I helped him along. “You’re welcome,” I said.
“Thank you,” he finally responded, then left, glancing back at me once as he approached the main cluster of tables to see to his duties.
“That was generous of you,” noted Mr. Basford.
I shrugged and tossed the second wallet away. “Awful generous of somebody here. So, you want me to narrow the field down for when y’all inherit some sort of power? Does that just mean they’ll all have magic wands, or is someone going to do something crazy like try to cut me?”
Basford nodded. “It means magic. My line is heir to a great power. It’s part of a deal made long ago with beings that some would see as devils. We, the entire family, only command a fraction of it currently. The circumstances under which it is fully released to us are more banal than you would probably care to hear at this time. Help me out and you’ll be able to live on $1,500 dinners. And it always pays to have powerful friends. What do you say?”
What could I say? A guy had the potential to obtain obscene amounts of some vague power that could strip my shy skeleton of its protective layers of organs, meat, and skin. And he’d pay well. If not me, he’d probably find someone else who could help him with it. Possibly Lone Gunman, if the Pinkerton Detective Agency gathered intel better than they fought. Where would I be if Gunman was sitting in my place and, like me, he got the idea to steal it?
Of course, he could just be a jackass with too much money getting lied to by a wand maker somewhere. Or this might be an overly-elaborate plan to kill me.
Fully intending to find out a lot more about the situation, I raised my wine glass. “I say we toast our new and mutually-beneficial partnership.”