Chapter Twenty-Two: Bait
“Though I have many names, I’m called, Bore, for the moment,” he said, letting his hands fall to the armrests at either side of him. “And you are, Jeremiah Favor, correct?”
I nodded, slowly.
“Splendid! Yes, splendid indeed.”
I was guarded, putting it lightly. I let my eyes wonder over his expensive suit, of the three-piece variety and tailored to fit him to perfection, even while he sat. His nails were polished with clear, as finely manicured as the rest of him. Everything was in place, nothing left wanting.
“I have been waiting for you, young man, ever since you entered the Breach.” He raised an eyebrow. “Brave thing I might add. Most wouldn’t have been so eager to enter a place such as this…”
“I was following someone,” I said, sticking with a minimalist attitude.
“I know.” He clicked the roof of his mouth three or four times in rapid succession. “A nasty business that, but – as I’ve found through the years – sometimes necessary. Albeit unfortunate, but still a needed thing.”
I only grunted.
His stare intensified. “Things have been difficult for you of late, Jeremiah. So many hurtful incidents, personal injuries, scars that won’t readily heal, how do you feel you will fare going forward?”
“I’ll live,” I said flippantly, trying to cover the fact he was making feel uncomfortable. I didn’t like him knowing as much as he seemed to know about me. It was creepy.
He stood abruptly, snorting derisively through his perfect nose, pushing his chair back with the backside of his legs. “Too many times have I heard such drivel from the likes of common folk. It pains me to hear something similar from one as unique… as special as you. Why say the very same? I should think there’s more about you. You are so much more than common, don’t you think?”
I didn’t know how to answer a question of that nature. I’d never been one to toot my own horn, especially when it came to character or placing myself above the next person. My mother hadn’t raised us to think that way. In my eyes it was wrong. What he’d asked me was against what I was raised to believe.
“Hesitation. Disagreement. Uncertainty.” He paused theatrically in between each word, twisting slightly at the waist as he walked toward a filing cabinet I hadn’t seen before. It was as white as everything else in the room. He stooped to open the lowest drawer, inserting a key he produced from an inside pocket.
It was a skeleton key, unlike any sort of key I’d seen used to open a filing cabinet. It fit, unerringly. And, when he pulled upon it, the drawer itself opened.
“It seems, I have something for you,” he uttered through his bright pink lips.
My grimace grew. How could he possibly have anything for me? I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. What could I possibly want from him?
He reached into the filing cabinet, appeared to rummage for a time before his speculative expression altered, a satisfied smile coming to the fore. “Ah, there it is.”
There’s what? I questioned in silence, trying not to crane my neck. I didn’t want to give him any inclination of what I might be thinking. He knew too much as it was.
He straightened, stepping to the side of the desk. He produced what looked like a custom-made acrylic. It was the sort used to display an item, something special, something worthy of featuring. He put it on the white surface. It was almost triangular with backward facing stands. Otherwise, it wasn’t noteworthy.
I cocked a skeptical glance at him.
He seemed smug, as if extremely proud of himself.
Over a lame plastic stand?
I motioned toward it. “I’m not really sure what it is. Or, why you feel the need to give it to me.”
He chuckled like a learned uncle before the likes of his naïve nephew, polite, but condescending all the same. “This is not what I mean to give you, Jeremiah Favor.” Another rumble from his chest and without further ado, he reached inside of his blazer, grinning, pulling forth a knife.
Automatically, I stepped back. Too many things had gone wrong in this place – The Breach, as he called it. I wasn’t taking any chances.
“Oh, there’s nothing to fret over, Jeremiah. None whatsoever,” he felt compelled to say upon my reaction. “I mean you no harm, truly.”
I didn’t give a damn what he’d said. The fear, the anxiety of being in this place for as long as I’d been couldn’t be forgotten in the span of a few words. I had seen things that were so fantastically bizarre. I could never have imagined anything like the denizens of the Breach. Multi-colored spiders, flesh-eating ancestors, glass-shard giants, leviathans living beneath discarded clothing, vampires with carnivorous maggots for teeth… Rosalyn… It was too much to forget in such a short duration. I couldn’t discount any of it, let alone take this Brad Pitt look-alike at his word. You freakin’ kidding me? How did I know he didn’t have five or ten or twenty of those knives in his jacket pocket? How could I not know if the pocket itself were a bottomless pit from which one could pull cutlery by the thousands? I couldn’t afford to be lackadaisical, let down my guard. I wasn’t going to die down here or wherever the fuck I was – no way! I wasn’t going -.
I noticed something odd about the knife then, as he placed it gingerly upon the acrylic specially made to display it. It wasn’t your typical knife per se. It wasn’t made for cutting through steak or buttering bread. It wasn’t one of combat with serrated topside that could be used to saw through wood. It was nothing like that. It was ceremonial or stylized, like something representative of something else, something real. It was no more than seven inches long, hilted, like a pygmy’s longsword, and it seemed to be made of gold.
“What the hell,” I murmured, taking a wary step closer, my eyes searching over the mini-armament before me. Where have I seen you before?
It had a wickedly curved blade, bending back upon itself almost forty-five degrees in a swooping arch before the line of it plunged down to form a shallow point further along the topside of the blade.
I had seen this before. I was certain of it! But, where?
“Isn’t it a wonderful specimen?” he asked, shattering my thoughts.
I peered through my eyebrows at him, a little annoyed at the interruption. “Ah-huh,” was all I could manage.
“There aren’t many like it, Jeremiah Favor.” He seemed to catch himself. “Well, there a few like it, though their meaning and purpose are quite different, but by no means are there many of them. And, unfortunately, as time has progressed, some have been lost as well…” I trailed off introspectively, something plaguing his mind.
I let him talk. My attention was elsewhere. I couldn’t take my eyes from the incredible blade. It shone dully in the purity of the light. I could see it wasn’t polished, and hadn’t been for quite some time. It had shallow scratches and potmarks, and gave the impression it was in fact made of gold. If that were true, it could be worth a lot of money.
An errant thought hit me. “Why do you want to give this to me?”
He seemed taken aback. “Why, my boy, it isn’t mine to give. It’s yours in every meaning of the word. It always has been.” He gained a modicum of control over himself. “I’ve been taking care of it for you, waiting for you to come to me, so I might give it back.”
“B-but I never owned a knife like this before,” I replied. My breath was suddenly hot over my tongue.
“Sure you have.” His smile was back.
“No. No, I haven’t.”
“Yes, you have.”
“No, I -.” I stopped swallowing the words about to follow. Fleeting wisps of remembered thought became more solid in my head. The memory was realized.
Affliction’s Key? Was he talking about Affliction’s Key? But, it wasn’t mine. It was my mother’s. She was the one who found it. She was the one who had dreamed of it. She was the one who had been led to find… The thought froze in my head as though an artic blizzard had suddenly formed within, flash-freezing all of me that was internal. I looked at him again, the shock of comprehension plainly written upon my face.
He smiled through one corner of his mouth, seeing I’d connected the many strings necessary to weave a completed cloth of recollection.
I tried but failed to find my voice.
He bent over the desk and scooted the knife closer. “It is yours, Jeremiah.”
“Affliction’s Key isn’t mine,” I said, the word gushing from me like a water-balloon popping on grass, random, messy.
He laughed then. From deep in his core, a roaring, spirit-revealing chortling that quickly turned into near-wild guffaws.
I stood erect, taking a few steps back, my fists inadvertently balling. If this fucker was going to get aggressive, then I was going to be ready. I glanced about seeing if there was a way out, searching for another door. The very means of escape I had found time and time again in this retched place. There was nothing. There was no way out. The four white walls about us were solid.
Without warning, the laughing stopped.
My eyes found him.
He was deadly serious, as if his near-insane levity of a moment ago had been a dream. “What makes you think this is Affliction’s Key?” he asked, his orbs like twin shards of ice.
I stared at him, and then the tiny sword, and then back at him before my eyes moved again to the knife. “Because it is,” I supplied. “It’s my mother’s treasure. She found it in in our house, in the storage room off the library, under the stairs going into the attic.” Suddenly, specifics were a necessity.
He remained unmoving, his stare level, cool.
I gazed back, uncertain. The quiet became profound. I could hear my heart beating as though it did so in my head and not my chest. It was thunderous.
Something boiled to awareness, a condition, an instance. My confidence returned, my resolve hearty. I recalled, since the night Lenny had nearly killed Elijah, we hadn’t been able to locate my mom’s funny little sword. It had disappeared. My expression became accusatory. “You took it!” I almost yelled, pointing at him. There, you puckered asshole, take that!
“Took what?” he asked nonplussed, shifting his weight to one side, though his eyes were still intense.
“Affliction! What the hell do you think I’m talking about? You took it from the window sill above the kitchen sink!” I was angry now, feeling all of this was a bunch of bullshit, some idiotic ploy to get a rise out of me.
“Affliction?” It was a question, but he said it loudly, as if he were appalled.
I nodded fiercely, my eyes burning. Why did everyone have to fuck with my mother!?! I wasn’t going to stand for this shit any longer. I was sick and tired of it. I was fed up. I wasn’t going to sit aside and watch her get hurt any longer. I was going to stand up. I was going to fucking FIGHT for her!
“My dear boy, Affliction, came all by herself. The choice was hers…, though she has chosen to call herself by a different name, a more modern moniker. But, I adore it all the same.”
I shook my head like I’d been slapped silly, right across the face. What the hell was he talking about?
“The sword is yours, Jeremiah Favor. It is yours to take. It is not the one to which you are referring.” He motioned toward it. “Look at it, closely.”
Unsure why, I did what he said when I should’ve felt nothing more than trepidation. I leaned toward the knife. I let my eyes scrutinize every last detail, trying to find anything that would tell me this wasn’t my mother’s treasure. I searched and searched, but it me it looked the same.
He must’ve sensed this, because he said: “Look closer.”
I came nearer, my neck bending, almost painfully, my face no more than a few inches away. No, it was the same… except… it did appear more Arabian than Moorish, unlike the one my mom had plucked from underneath the stairs… The crest along the top edge was higher… the points sharper… the etching was wrong. Why hadn’t I seen this before? Yes, the tilt was rounded. My mother’s had more of oval one with a cross-guard to match. This one round, but it was pinched at either end, giving added protection to the one wielding it (if it had been real).
“It is different,” I admitted.
“It is yours. Take it. Name it. Give it a home.” It was like a chant.
I came to my full height, my hand reaching outward.
“It is what you came here seeking all along…”
My hand continued forth.
“Isn’t that right, Jeremiah?”
My fingers were inches away.
“You came here to claim what is rightfully yours.”
I stopped. My lip curled with confusion. My brow folded upon itself.
No, I hadn’t…, right?
“Yes… you did.”
“No, I didn’t. I came to find my father,” I said, pulling my hand back. I peered at him befuddled, through a mist that was lifting. “I wanted to know what happened to my father.”
He looked at me with what could nothing more than pure hatred. “Why?”
“Because, I needed to know.”
“Forget him. He’s nothing to you. He hates you, everything about you. Forget him, Jeremiah. He’s nothing to you. Forget him!”
“I have to know.”
“I have to know.” I was more adamant.
“No! I have to know what happened to him!”
“Fuck you! You have no right to tell me what the fuck I should do! You are not my mother! You are not my father! You are the one that it nothing to me! I don’t have to listen to you!
“I want to know where my father is!” I cried then, though I am certain my tears weren’t truly for the likes of Lenny. There had been something else I was searching for, something I would never find. Something I have never stopped looking for.
Her voice was like morphine to a crash victim – soothing, warm and brought a smile.
“He is where he needs to be,” she said to me, coming forth from between two large trash bins, the white room vanished, the desk gone, the knife disappeared. The man behind them all was nowhere to be seen.
I recoiled like she’d struck out at me with her fists, shielding my face with my hands. “Stay back!” I yelled thinking she was yet another female form sent to torment me, to vow to drain my testicles. There had been scores already, why not another?
To my surprise, she stayed where she was, four yards or so from me, hands clasped before her, dangling prettily below her waist. She was the only truly beautiful thing I had laid eyes upon since I’d left the confines of the basement.
I gazed into her aqua-marine eyes. Though she looked no more than a few years older than me, I could tell it was an illusion. She was at least four to five times my age. Her expression, the cast of her visage, her bearing – combined, it told volumes. A person of my years would never have been capable of mastering it in such a short amount of time. It is a thing requiring at least half a century to mature.
When my stare continue longer than what propriety required, a shy smile seeped forth from her, like liquid water sweating from an ice cube, a spreading of warmth over something icy.
I knew her, then.
The only sound came from the man in the suit. He raged with frustration.
But the sound was far, far away.
Apparently, I was lost to him.
Mrs. Gates had finally found me.