The Caldera's Vice

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CHAPTER 45

An Unfortunate Compromise

Morning sunlight spilled over Asher’s closed eyes, causing him to wake up with a blink. To his left, Kemp draped over his chest, asleep. He smiled at the snoozing poet, his eyes drifting to the naked torso peeking out from the quilt.

Kemp’s eyes slowly opened, smiling when he saw Asher. They watched each other for a moment before Kemp wiggled closer, sliding his palm over Asher’s stomach to hold him, his eyes slowly blinked shut again. His voice was husky.

“How ah you, my sweet?”

Asher bit his lip, “Swell. You?”

“Heavenly.”

Asher stroked Kemp’s bald head with his thumb, frowning. The sunshine warmed the dry flesh.

“Kemp?”

“Yes, darling?”

Kemp’s voice lingering in dreamland brought Asher’s smile.

“What day is it?”

“Our day,” Kemp slurred, shifting to kiss Asher’s chest. Asher rubbed Kemp’s head down to his neck.

“I’m serious.”

Kemp sighed.

“Hm. Saturday, I believe.”

Asher froze.

“Your mother’s funeral,” Kemp said after a long silence.

Asher nodded and Kemp pulled away so they could look at each other.

“The cops might be there,” Asher said.

Kemp shook his head, but it was slow and he was still half asleep, “No, they will have no reason. And if so, bribery is a viable option.”

Asher cleared his throat and sighed, “I don’t even have appropriate clothes. I’m going to have to go back to my place. Assuming the cops aren’t there.”

Kemp lifted his arm to rub his eye.

“I will buy you some if need be-”

“They’re ceremonial clothes.”

Kemp stopped rubbing his eye, “Alright. We can stop by your house and then to mine, as I’ll need one as well.”

They hesitated in each others’ affectionate cocoon before they rose out of the bed together. Kemp pulled away first, slipping his fingers around the quilt to find his clothes and rising. Asher watched him dress, his eyes inevitably lingering on the hiss backside and the brow furrowing at the contents.

Despite the clean slate of his back, Kemp boasted a triangular scar on his left ass cheek, making Asher wince. He watched him slip his underwear back on, obscuring the blemish once more, unaware of Asher’s gaze. They both dressed in calm silence before they walked out the door and slipped into the car.

Kemp started the engines, “I was wondering…”

His voice trailed off into his clearing throat as he turned down the road. Sunlight glimmered on the bone white of the ribbed wheel below Kemp’s fluttery grip.

“What?”

He licked his lip, laughing a little nervous titter.

“Did you like…?” He cleared his throat again, his cheeks pink, he turned onto the dirt road back to Downtown.

“Having sex with you?”

Kemp was breathless, “Yes.”

Asher grinned, scooted closer and intertwined their fingers.

“A lot.”

Kemp bit his lip, drove a little further in silence, then spoke in a tone drowning in wistful helplessness.

“It was heaven, Asher.”

Their fingers gripped tighter. Asher nodded, agreeing.

“It was different than when I was with girls,” he added with a chuckle, “More snug.”

Kemp whispered, “Intimate.”

Asher’s chest heaved, out of breath, nodding but in his eyes that same giddy terror clutched his insides. Kemp’s attention remained on the precarious dirt road.

“Being so vulnerable, so close, well…” Kemp trailed off.

Asher couldn’t breathe through the aching rock in his throat. Sunshine fluttered like butterfly wings around them as they drove closer to town. Kemp continued.

“Closeness, physical or emotional, was an impossibility for me. I was a monstrous blight only useful for chemical tweaking.”

Electric engines hummed. Rocks flicked the underside of the Royce and clattered in the round wheel wells. Otherwise silence. Asher looked down at their hands. Angry blood intertwined with deathly pallidness. Fire and water synchronized into steam. Flickering images of his bloodied mother appeared in kinetographic jabs in his mind’s eye and stabbed his throat. Kemp’s voice startled him but he didn’t look.

“My ugliness is beauty to you. My sins are art in your eyes.”

Asher grit his teeth, a moist layer formed on his lower lids. One blink and the rivers would spill.

The pause was longer this time. The car rolled to a stop. Asher’s ribcage whined from the pressure of his heart aching to bond with Kemp’s. His mother’s bloodied face reappeared, snarling at him even in death, let lose the shears to sever it. Kemp’s grip squeezed, the urgency forced Asher to turn, his topaz gaze was fierce and affectionate as he unhooked his fingers and gripped Asher by the shoulders.

“A spiritual home never claimed my pilgrim soul after my mother left. Not before you.”

Asher’s body stiffened and Kemp’s silence left room for an equally loving response and when none was uttered his forehead wrinkled.

“Oh, darling, have I said too much?”

Asher shook his head and looked down.

“You don’t feel that way about me-”

“I don’t want to feel anything, Kemp.”

Kemp’s eyes wore the look of a struck dog but he nodded and cleared his throat, and dropped his gaze to the leather between them.

“Yes, well, I understand.”

It was quiet.

“Do you still want to take me to the funeral?”

Kemp frowned, looked up, “Of course, Asher.”

There wasn’t a smile in his voice as he turned to restart the engines. Asher turned to the window with a sick stomach.

They continued to drive in silence, all the way up to the Boarder Zone where Kemp slowed the car down in front of Asher’s house. Police tape strips covered the door.

“Go around the back,” Asher said, patting Kemp’s hand before he pulled away and settled in the other seat.

Kemp nodded and wheeled around the block. Asher lead them through the alleyway between the townhouses until he found his back door. They came in through the dining room, a covey of a table with a checkerboard cloth flung over it, and cupboards on every wall. Asher slipped in front of Kemp and wheeled around the corner, looking down the hall where a form on the parlor floor caught his attention.

His pace quickened and he only stopped just in front where a few bodies outlined in chalk lay. The bodies were no longer there, however, it was apparent it had been a crime scene. Asher looked up. The wall next to the front door sprayed with blood and bullet holes. Kemp came up behind him and rubbed his shoulders.

Asher gently slid Kemp’s hands off his shoulder and stormed up the stairs when a figure wedged at the landing banister caught his attention to the degree that he slipped.

“What the hell is that?”

Kemp caught him from stumbling completely.

At the top of the stairs was a copper machine gun with several barrels forming the shape of a honeycomb. Asher looked down back behind him at the wall in the parlor, the spray of bullet holes and blood covering up the family couch wedged just in front of the window, ripping holes into the curtains. Shards of a broken vase littered the floor nearby. He snarled, grabbed Kemp’s hand and stomped to his room.

“Every time I come back, it’s something new.”

He headed for the closet. An announcer spoke instead of the usual jazz on the radio.

“-that Hellhole police Captain Virginia Price has been shot by possible local gang members in a house on Maple Street in the Boarder Zone. Ladies and gentlemen keep your hats on and your doors locked for not even our police captain is safe! And now back to-.”

Asher paused a black suit in his shaking hands, panicked breaths coming in and out of his mouth as he made a slow pivot to face Kemp.

“I’m in big fucking trouble.”

“Let’s go over to my house, then.”

They exited through the back of the house, Asher’s ears rang, deaf to the outside world.

“Asher,” Kemp trailed behind him, taking two long strides to catch up.

“What?” Asher growled.

“We cahn’t stay in this town.”

Asher paused near the Royce’s passenger door, warm breath blew out of his nose in ghostly tufts, but he ignored the statement and swung in the car.

“Shooting an officer of the law is-”

“I know what it means,” Asher shouted.

The ensuing silence was a deafening roar of tinnitus. They shared a tense exchange before Kemp started the engines and drove away and it wasn’t until they were halfway down the block when Asher opened his mouth to speak again.

“Sorry.”

“Your apology is accepted.”

They continued the drive down to Mammon in silence, Asher keeping his gaze out the window with the suit in his grip. The Royce pulled into the driveway and parked.

“What the fack?” Kemp snapped.

Asher looked around, his eye falling on a light and dark blue Daimler in front of the Royce.

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know,” Kemp grumbled. They both got out of the car, but the Daimler door opened as they trekked to the front of the house. From out of the Daimler stepped a familiar figure, a tall black Tengu in a black topcoat and bogart.

“Can I help you?” The subtle apathy of the chemist returned to Kemp’s voice.

Asher trembled as the Tengu walked over, his gait friendly and kind, but when his eyes fell on Asher they flickered with recognition.

“Oh. Hello, Asher,” the Tengu said.

“You’ve met?” Kemp’s tone remained neutral.

“Yes,” The Tengu detective rose a brow at Asher, then to Kemp, attempting to shake his hand “I am detective Renshu Karasu.”

“What business do you have here?” Kemp accepted the hand shake.

Detective Karasu glanced at Asher, a birdlike twitch, but quickly resorted to his calm, friendly demeanor, “I have a few questions for you, Dr. Manson. It seems I’ve come across a few eerie things in regards to your name. May I come in?”

Asher’s heart pounded inside of his head.

“Yes, of course,” Kemp nodded, his eyelids droopy and marked with carelessness as he turned and lead them to the front door. Asher caught Renshu staring at him.

“We meet again, Mr. Glassberg,” the detective smiled. Asher avoided the Tengu’s gaze.

“Yeah.”

“What relationship do you have with Dr. Manson?”

“None of your business.”

They stopped at the door, and as Kemp fiddled with the locks, Asher smelled the detective’s menthol soaked breath as he leaned in and whispered.

“It certainly is if it relates to my case.”

The lock turning in the door made Asher jump.

“Can I interest you in a drink, detective?” Kemp said as the door groaned open.

“Water is fine, thank you,” Renshu said

They all entered the parlor. Sceeves stood at the back of the room, dusting.

“Sceeves, give this man a water please,” Kemp said, making for the stairs, “Allow us a moment, detective. There is something I must fetch, but oblige yourself to be seated.”

Asher followed him up the stairs to the master bedroom.

“What the fuck is he doing here?” Asher snarled when Kemp closed the door.

“I have no idea, Asher, but my guess is that it’s not a reason we’d like,”

He walked swiftly to the closet, flung open the doors and walked in.

“We speak in vague terms to him.”

Kemp removed a pair of velvety black pants with a matching button up, waistcoat and jacket. He tossed all three on the bed and moved for the dresser across the room.

“Under no circumstances speak in detail,” he rifled through the items in the drawer, pulling out a black tie, the other items obscured in his grip. He turned, rolled up the items into a ball, and ushered Asher to the door.

They returned, finding Renshu had busied himself with perusing the selection in the bookshelf across the fireplace.

He turned, smiling, “You’re quite the Renaissance man, Dr. Manson.”

“So I’ve been told.”

Renshu chuckled and walked towards them

“I’m a fan of puzzles myself.”

Asher spied the glass of water on a tray on the coffee table between the love seat and the couch which the chemist gestured for them to sit.

“Being a detective, I’d imagine your intellectual pallet enjoys the flavor of deduction,”

Kemp gently pushed Asher to the couch so Renshu was forced to sit on the loveseat. Asher walked to the other side and sat, unable to touch Kemp. Renshu chuckled, plopped into the loveseat center, and plucked his Kwix tin from his vest pocket

“May I?”

Kemp waved a dismissive hand and reached for a bell, ringing it gently. Sceeves appeared. Renshu lit his cigarette, and Asher caught his chocolate gaze.

“Tea. Two cups, complete with fixings,” Kemp said, curt. Sceeves grunted and walked away to the swinging door of the kitchen behind them.

“Now, Dr. Manson, I must be frank with you,” the detective blew out a smoke plume.

Asher clenched his fist, readying for the onslaught of accusations.

“Honesty is never to be faulted,” Kemp said, leaning back and crossing his ankle over the opposite knee and steepling his long fingers.

“Such a valuable philosophy, Dr. Manson.”

The detective smiled. The chemist didn’t return it.

“This morning, I came across an interesting file in your office drawers.”

Asher tensed, “You searched through his stuff?”

“As a detective I have a warrant for search and seizure and also your butler allowed me entrance.”

“You can’t do that!” Asher shouted.

“On what grounds?” Kemp remained calm.

“Reasonable ones.”

Asher gulped.

“If I may brief you on a case I am working on for context?” the detective’s query was disguised by false cordiality in a way that made him punch-worthy. Kemp nodded, and gestured for the detective to continue.

“Put simply, I’m working on a case involving a deadly drug known colloquially as Diesel.”

There was a pause as Renshu twiddled the cigarette between his fingers like a cat bobs its tail, waiting for a mouse to rush out of its hole.

“Several vats of it was found in Asher Glassberg’s secondary cellar and on one of those vats I found your fingerprints, Dr. Manson.”

Asher lost his breath and heartbeat, Renshu’s flickering gaze made him pause and they looked at each other, his indignant fumes radiated but Kemp was unfazed

“You went into my house after I denied you and that cop? What gives?”

“Asher, understand that the decision to search your residence was not my own but that of Captain Virginia Price,” Renshu dumped his ashes, not looking at Asher, “Though, upon seeing a Civil War era machine gun rigged to your banister, there leaves me little room to believe that you are wholly innocent.”

“Bastard,” Asher snarled.

Sceeves returned carrying a platter of steaming tea cups, a tin bowl of sugar cubes and a matching dipper of cream. He left. Renshu nodded, puffing out some smoke as Kemp reached forward for the first tea cup.

“And what does such a thing imply about me?” Kemp poured cream into his teacup.

“That you are somehow involved in the Diesel strain making. You are in fact a chemist and this piece of evidence does not work well in your favor.”

Kemp’s smile was thin and bitter, quickly concealed by the cup moving up to his lips.

“No, it doesn’t.”

“And it’s nothing short of odd that your fingerprints were found in Asher Glassberg’s house of all places.”

“Hm,” Kemp sipped the tea.

“If I may pry,” he leaned forward, “what is the nature of your relationship?”

“You may not pry,” Kemp said and settled the bottom of the cup on his palm while holding it with the other.

Renshu’s blood curdling chuckle, exposing his black razor teeth, made Asher’s skin crawl.

“Withholding information only arouses suspicion in me.”

“He didn’t put the Diesel in my basement,” Asher said.

Renshu shifted his concerns to Asher, “What of the fingerprints?”

“He was inspecting it-” Asher blurted, cutting himself off when he realized his mistake. Kemp didn’t move.

“That implies you both were aware of the Diesel vats in the secondary cellar, contradicting your previous testimony, Mr. Glassberg.”

Asher fumed, a silent maelstrom in his chest. Renshu leaned back and crossed his legs.

“Inspecting it, hm? Whatever for?”

“Asher was curious as to what it was,” Kemp said, calmly. “He called for me and I gave it my evaluation.”

“Which was?”

“Inconclusive.”

It was the silence before a storm. Asher’s stomach twisted, a slow and agonizing coil, as he watched Renshu reach into his jacket and pull out a manilla file.

“Hm,” Renshu said, his tone musing, and rifled through it with flicking fingers.

He pulled out a page and Asher fought back the urge to flinch at recognizing Kemp’s handwriting scrawled all over it as Renshu gently passed the papers across the coffee table. Kemp set down the tea in exchange for the papers. Asher’s eyes dropped over the page, seeing a doodle with his name scrawled over it, before Kemp took them.

“Are these yours?”

“Seems you’ve invaded my privacy,” Kemp’s lividness peaked from his thin apathetic skein. He set the papers on the table again, his hand lingered over the doodle.

“As I have said before, I do have a warrant,” Renshu flashed his badge.

“What of the files?” Kemp waved a dismissive hand over the papers, Asher’s eyes glued to the doodle that resembled him more and more the longer he gazed at it.

“There is one of specific interest,” Renshu leaned forward and took one of the file papers “It gives a detailed report of a chemical concoction project on a strain stated here as Saint Debbie. Appears to be a refinement process if my memory of stoichiometric vernacular is correct.”

Asher’s lungs constricted and shared a flickering look with Renshu. Kemp didn’t respond, stealing himself, only allowing a small sigh to escape his nose.

“I don’t know if you’re aware, Dr. Manson, but Saint Debbie is a popular recreational drug, an illegal one, in this city.”

Silence.

“You’ve made notations suggesting you’ve made improvements on its purity.”

Asher licked his lips, his vision blurring.

“And it also appears you’ve purified this strain, for er,” he trailed off and looked at the file again, “Mr. Silas MaCallister.”

Renshu blew out a puff of smoke. He leaned forward, dumped the cigarette ash into the crystal tray sitting near the tea cups, finishing it off and leaning back.

“Now, this is enough evidence to take you to court and set you both on trial,” Renshu said.

Ashah’s done nothing.”

“He will be seen as an accomplice. The Diesel bins were found in his residence are condemning enough if not for the gun and telecameras.”

Asher clenched his fists.

“Seeing as you’re a very affluent man,” Renshu said, gesturing around him with a sweep of his black hands before they drifted to his pocket for another cigarette “You may be able to afford bail or bribe the jury and get yourselves out in a timely fashion.”

“That’s certainly doable,” Kemp said.

“But,” Renshu rose a finger, pausing to light his cigarette, “It will affect your record. A young man, a whole life ahead of him, and a sophisticated man of a particularly affluent business would be frowned upon. There is much at stake.”

“So what?” Asher shrugged.

“His family reputation will be permanently damaged at the very least. That is with the assumption that you won’t be tried for attempted murder of Hellhole’s prized police captain and punished for it. I trust you know the repercussions, Mr. Glassberg.”

“But I didn’t try to kill her!”

“The court may think differently, and your relationship to this man may not skew things in your favor if it’s as homosexual as I suspect.”

Asher couldn’t breathe.

“You’ve leverage,” Kemp growled at Renshu who in turn smiled.

“Smart man,” Renshu pointed the cigarette at Kemp. “What the hell are you talking about?” Asher flicked a severe look at Kemp who didn’t return it.

“Captain Price and I have been searching for the owner of the Diesel strain for the time I’ve spent here and it appears you have a direct link. My guess is this Silas MaCallister fellow is your kingpin or some other form of higher up.”

Asher swallowed.

“Now, I have the power to dismiss your charges. I alone am aware that your fingerprints were on the vats and whatever information was on these papers,” Renshu continued.

“And?” Asher grit his teeth.

“I can let you both go free if you tell me who you are working for and where to find him. Very simple, really,” he flicked a worm of ash off the butt of his cigarette.

Asher glanced at Kemp who lifted the tea cup with shaking hands.

“Yeah? And what’re you gonna do if we don’t, huh?”

“I will have to press charges; and given the rabidly hot-headed nature of my colleague Captain Price, who has been gravely wounded, I can’t guarantee your trial will be merciful.”

Asher leaned forward and drummed his fingertips on the table.

“And if we slung her a little money?”

“Captain Price does not accept bribes.”

It was silent, contemplative.

“We’re working for Silas MaCallister,” Asher blurted out.

Kemp flinched, “Ashah, what are you doing?”

“Saving our asses.”

Renshu rose a brow, “You admit to the evidence?”

Asher nodded, vigorous, “He’s got a whole operation going on in a light bulb office downtown. Now let us go.”

“I’ve gone to the location on the address, there’s nothing there.”

“We’ve given you enough. You’re smart, huh? Why don’t you fucking figure it out?”

“If we tell you the location of the drug kingpin, will you and the law enforcement never bother us again?” Kemp said.

Renshu nodded, “You have my word.”

Kemp leaned over to Renshu with his hand outstretched in the tell-tale businessman shake.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Asher hissed.

“I’m not letting you live in a cage,” Kemp snapped.

They both looked at each other, Kemp leaning over the table still.

“He’ll kill us,” Asher whispered, his throat constricting.

“Assuming he catches us,” Kemp said, dry and turned to Renshu, “You have yourself a deal.”

“Pleasure,” Renshu said.

Asher watched as Kemp took out a pad of paper and pen from his front pocket and began to write down a few things.

“You will need directions. There is an entire warehouse below the building with just about everything you’ll need,” Kemp completed jotting down the notes and tore the paper from the pad before giving it to Renshu.

“Perfect,” Renshu grinned.

“Now, please, leave us,” Kemp said, “Sceeves, assist this man to the door.”

Renshu tipped his hat, “Many thanks to both of you.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Asher spat but Renshu only smiled as he walked towards the door but he stopped halfway. Asher’s dismay and rage trapped him on the couch.

“My condolences, Asher. It’s a terrible thing to lose your parents.”

With that the detective left, shutting the door behind him.

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