The Caldera's Vice

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CHAPTER 33

Outfox The Foxes

Asher woke alone in a plush bed, dressed in old but comfortable clothes, rolled up in a swirl of quilts and fine linens. Once his floundering gaze adjusted to the filigree bathroom door and the floral burgundy and gold wallpaper, he smiled in recognition of having spent the night in the poet’s house.

He rolled the sheets away in a flourish and flopped off the bed, taking in a deep breath before trotting to the door. Warm morning light flooded the parlor in the floor below as Asher peaked over the banister on the second floor landing. Near the fireplace, wedged into the plush loveseat, Kemp sat reading.

Asher licked his lips and tip toed down the steps, managing to avoid all of the creaks in the old wood of the stairs until he arrived at the bottom. Kemp seemed unperturbed when Asher rounded the corner into the throng of the fireplace, the carpet soft beneath his bare feet. In front of the chemist, a book titled The Romantic Poets was propped up in front of him, and a pair of rimless Pince Nez nestled on the bridge of his nose, reflecting the light of the fire. The topaz eyes made cursory jumps, suggesting the leap to the next line. Asher gingerly stepped over and stopped in front of Kemp’s crossed ankles, feet obscured by a pair of dark green trouser socks.

A small smile split Kemp’s features, but he kept his eyes on the book.

“You’re watching me.”

Asher leaned forward, tapped his finger on the book, “Appreciating is a better word.”

Kemp’s smile grew wider and he looked up, closing the book with one hand and removing his spectacles with the other.

“How did you sleep?” He said.

“Very well after our talk,” Asher smiled.

Kemp chuckled and pat the seat next to him and Asher slid in, letting Kemp’s arm wrap around his shoulder and nestling into the nest of Kemp’s side torso. It was a moment of silent appreciation. Two bodies warming.

“You’re not going to work today, are you?” a sly smile spread across Asher’s face.

Kemp turned, rubbing Asher’s shoulder and flung back his head in a cackle, revealing the canines reaching into the back of his mouth before he flung back, mirth crowding his eyes, “The next man who thinks I’m going to work in lieu of spending the morning with you should be thrown in the asylum.”

Asher chuckled but his smile was swept clean with a sudden thought.

“What?” Kemp rose a brow.

“Deryl was supposed to call me about the burial stuff,” Asher tensed taking Kemp’s hand in a soft grip and gently brushing it off his shoulder before he swept himself off the couch.

“Can I use your teletalky?” He turned to Kemp, a brisk flicker of uncertainty in his eyes.

“Of course,” Kemp nodded, rising, and taking Asher by the shoulder and leading him towards the staircase where there was a teletalky hooked up to the wall beneath the triangular stairwell. Unlike Asher’s black, beaten telephone, it was gold and gleamed with only a few fingerprints near the mouthpiece.

Kemp gestured for it, “There you are.”

“Thanks,”

While Asher turned the rotary to match the numbers to Deryl’s Death Den, he paused on a number, forgetting, when Kemp hugged him from behind, his lips brushing his earlobe as he whispered.

“Would you like to eat?”

Asher grinned, “Yeah.”

Kemp kissed Asher’s cheek, “I’ll have something made for you.”

“Thanks,” Asher bit his lip, and glancing at Kemp who beamed over his shoulder before disappearing into the swinging door nearby.

His smile faded when he turned back to the rotary and redialed the number.

The ’talky screen remained black while the dial tone shrieked on the other end. Finally, the dial tone was cut, and the screen flickered on, revealing a sepia tone Deryl.

“Oh, hey, bud!” Deryl’s sarcasm was a splash of lemon to the eyes, “Been trying to reach ya, but seems you never pick up the goddamn ’talky. Would it kill ya, I mean what’s the matter with you?”

Asher grit his teeth, but sighed to let the anger pass, “Do you have any news for me?”

Deryl nodded, “Sure do,” he bit into an apple, juice sprayed and a little chunk hooked on his snaggle tooth before he flicked it off with his clawed finger.

“Well?”

“Can’t a guy get a little frackin’ breakfast without being yelled at, huh? Sweet mother of Chrysler.”

Asher sighed.

“Your ma’s embalming is done, just gotta slam her in the coffin,” Deryl shrugged.

Asher’s fingers clenched, “She’s not a god damn ragdoll.”

“Sorry, sorry, it’s just they’re all dead, you know. Rigor mortis gives them that raggedy Anne floppy stiffness, you know what I mean?”

Asher resisted the urge to smash his fist into the screen, “What’s the word on the headstone?”

“The word is that she’s gonna get a wooden slate,” Deryl said.

Asher’s eyelids battered, and he couldn’t speak.

Deryl knocked on the screen, “Hey, ya still there, kid?”

“A wooden slate? Are you fucking kidding me?”

Deryl rose his shoulders up to his ears, raising his palms in supplication to the deity of nonchalance.

“Hey, come on, don’t be that way. Someone bought me out for the last of the shale slabs.”

“What do you mean?”

“Captain of the police came in. Said she got a dead officer she wants to bury with honor or whatever it’s called. Bitch threw a fit and slung some cash and it looks like she snagged the last of the goods, kid.”

Asher’s mouth slipped open, a dry breath came out.

“Don’t be cryin’ when you oughta know by now how money works in this town. Your ma is gonna be buried, errrrrrr, hang on,” Deryl turned to a small booklet sitting on a table and flipped through it. Asher’s glazed eyes fell on a banana peel hanging over the edge of a trash can.

“Hey, kid, you listening to me? What’s the matter with you?” Deryl’s voice broke Asher’s stare with another knock on the screen.

Asher shook into attention but he said nothing.

“Looks like it’s gonna be this Saturday. Got a few more bodies from the frackin’ drug lords slaughtering everybody in sight,” Deryl spoke.

“Next Saturday?” Asher mumbled, still staring at the banana peel.

“Yep. I’m takin’ care of the priest-”

“Rabbi.”

“Yeah, Rabbi. Whatever. Gonna take care of him and we’ll set up in the cemetery. I assume you know where that is?”

Asher nodded, refusing to look at Deryl.

“Alright, kid, see you at the grave,” he gave his lazy salute.

“I fucking hate you.”

“I get that a lot. Shalom, kid.”

The screen went blank.

Asher’s fists shook, steadying, dangerously close to the telephone, readying to strike it but thought better of it and lowered his fists. He pushed away from the wall, blowing a sigh, then walked in through the swinging door.

The golden smell of fried food greeted his nostrils, but failed to bring a smile to his face. All four burners sizzled with something different. Sceeves, the graying wither of a black demon, labored over the stove range then turned to the refrigerator, glancing at Asher, but not acknowledging him.

“Can you tell me where Kemp went?”

Sceeves pointed to a door to their left and went back to the stove. Asher walked over, not dismissing himself from the butler’s presence, and walked through another swinging door.

A table draped in white velvet flowed to the back of a long hall, accentuated by windows and dusty morning air.

“Asher?” Kemp’s voice echoed, like a ghost, making Asher jump and look around.

At the other end, Kemp stood. Asher’s lips trembled from trying to smile and he stopped as he walked over to Kemp, his footsteps echoing in the hall. Above, three crystal chandeliers cast their dim glow and threw their glittering diamonds of light into the ceiling.

“What’s wrong?” Kemp leaned forward as Asher approached, reaching out to take his shoulders.

“Deryl,” Asher blew out a sigh and Kemp gathered the young man in his long armed embrace. Asher sighed again into Kemp’s chest, buried inside the comfort therein.

“He’s a cruel creature,” Kemp nodded, stroking Asher’s hair and his horns.

The door at the other end of the hall swung open and Sceeves rolled a silver tray in up to their end of the table and stopped, opening the top lid. Steam billowed out but Asher didn’t move and neither did Kemp. They held each other as Sceeves busied himself with setting the food on the table and leaving, not giving either of them a glance.

“Would you like to eat?” Kemp stroked Asher’s hair a little more.

Asher pulled away just enough to turn his head to the side, resting his cheek and ear on Kemp’s chest. Kemp’s heart ticked in his ear, his breathing the gentle thrum of dulled engines.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know what you want?” Kemp let his other hand caress Asher’s shoulder blades.

“My mom is being buried on Saturday.”

Kemp stopped for a moment. It was quiet. Asher pulled away and looked up at Kemp who said nothing.

“Will you go to the funeral with me?” Asher finally said.

“Of course,” Kemp stroked Asher’s cheek with the back of his finger. “Would you like me to pick you up?”

Asher gulped, “Yeah.”

He hesitated, an unspoken question lingered in his eyes.

“Yes?” Kemp rose a brow.

“I need to go back to the house,” Asher sighed, pulled away, but let his palms slide down Kemp’s arms and take his hands.

Kemp nodded, “Would you like me to come along?”

“Yes.”

They ignored the food and headed for the front door and got into the car. The drive to the Boarder Zone was quiet when they arrived at Asher’s house neither of them opened the doors for a bit, waiting. Asher’s eyes trained on the camera near the door. He sighed but opened the door and walked down the front lawn towards the door. While he fiddled with the keys in his pocket, nearly at the door, he found a letter attached and smiled, glancing back at Kemp.

“Snuck me another one, did you?” He grinned at Kemp, whose brow furrowed.

“What?”

“A letter. You made another one for me,” Asher said, and untacked the slip of paper from the door.

“Asher, I didn’t write you a letter.”

Asher spied the lack of the Manson “M” typical of Kemp’s letters, his hands starting to shake as he opened it.

Fine penmanship greeted his eyes.

To the Glassberg family,

Firstly I would like to extend my condolences in regards to Mrs. Karen Glassberg’s death. Her means of death was unexpectedly brutal and unusual for a Jewish mother to endure. It is my interest and desire to assist you in the grieving process, which includes searching for the perpetrator of this heinous crime. If any family members remain here, please contact me. I can help.

Pleasant Regards,

Detective Renshu Karasu

Asher crunched the letter and stowed it away, glancing at the telecamera with a growl poised in his throat.

“Silas will probably want to know,” he grumbled, fumbling with the keys and yanking the door open. Asher stormed up the stairs, the soft sound of the door closing behind him but he paused at the top of the stairs when the telecamera didn’t move in motion to him.

He rose a brow, moved a little left, then to the right, but the telecamera neither blinked nor whirred to follow his movements.

Asher pulled it from the wall. A cut wire dangled. He gasped and tumbled back, slipping on a step but Kemp caught him.

“Are you alright?”

Kemp dove for Asher’s hands, inspecting them as though for a burn or some such other malady.

“What the hell is going on?” Asher whispered, his lips dry. Kemp looked over to the cut wire.

“Who keeps breaking into my house?” He shouted and swung his fist at the camera, knocking it off the wall and sending it crashing on the floor and shattering, skittering its parts across the landing. Asher followed the trajectory and stared at the broken lens.

“Asher,” Kemp continued to hold Asher’s shivering form.

“I should have been here,” Asher said through his teeth.

“The cameras would have picked up on something and then Silas’ tape feeds will reveal it,” Kemp said, gently rubbing his thumbs into Asher’s deltoids. “Don’t blame yourself.”

“I need to know who my dad was working for,” He whispered to himself, his eyes glazed, before he snapped to attention and turned around “Can you take me to the Hub?”

“Of course,” Kemp nodded, gently rubbing Asher’s forearm and they walked back down the stairs.

Asher shut the door and glanced up at the camera, then looked behind it to see its wire had also been cut. He kept staring, with Kemp behind him, and they both walked to the car, getting in but it was silent as they sat together.

“These people are smart,” Asher said, gulping. Kemp took his shaking hand and held it.

“Then we will have to outfox the foxes,” the smile in Kemp’s response made Asher turn and look into the unspoken confidence in the chemist.

Asher smiled up at him, squeezed Kemp’s hand, and said, a simple and affectionate comment.

“I’m goddamn lucky to have you.”

Kemp’s eyes widened, a pleasant shockwave rattling down to his marrow, swirling in his blood, pumping just below the pulse in his skin. He leaned forward, drunk on euphoria, and kissed Asher on the lips.

He pulled away, his voice a pleased sigh, “You’re so kind to me, my angel.”

Asher chuckled and reached out to touch Kemp on the cheek, when a figure made them turn.

“Shit,” Asher backed away from Kemp. It was only Mrs. Goldstein, walking her daughter, but she stared at the two with a raised brow as she passed by.

Asher cleared his throat, both of them sat facing towards the driver’s seat, holding each other’s hand in the middle seat.

“Kemp?”

“Asher?”

“I hate this.”

Kemp’s breath hitched, “Hate what?”

“Hiding,” Asher growled, and looked at Kemp. “Hiding us.”

“You know what will happen if we’re open, Asher.”

Asher sighed, “Right.”

Kemp squeezed his hand a little tighter before he untethered himself and made for the wheel to start the engine.

“To the Hub, then?”

Asher sighed again, “Yeah.”

Kemp didn’t turn the ignition, “I’m sorry things are this way. But I would never forgive myself if you suffered the consequences of us getting caught.”

“I just want to be able to…” Asher paused.

Kemp didn’t look at him.

“Hold your hand outside. Kiss you without worrying about it.”

“I’m sorry, darling,” Kemp started the engine.

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