7.6 - The Pyre
I’d never been in a warlord’s office prior to my visit with Leroy Brigg. I pictured more rifles and artillery pieces, maybe a set of hefty medieval manacles dangling in front of a wall riddled with bullet holes. But Leroy’s office was decidedly less martial, more managerial. A sizable U-shaped desk held all of the equipment he used to produce his broadcasts - a professional sound rig, headphones, a row of laptops, mixing board, video camera, a small collection of political kitsch, and a coffee machine that probably cost more than the car I appropriated. The walls were set with acoustic panels and were unadorned save the weird Y-emblem of the Briggs painted in four glorious colors on the wall directly behind Leroy’s chair. The whole thing spoke of elegance, simplicity and cleanliness, save a few unsightly gouges in the surface of the desk. It wasn’t hard at all to imagine Leroy having a temper, so it wasn’t hard to guess what caused those.
“Thank you for indulging my idiosyncrasies, Atticus.” Leroy settled into his cushy office chair, hands folded neatly before him. “You are clearly a busy man, so I’ll get right to the point. Unless you’d like a drink first?”
“I could force myself.”
“I thought as much.” Leroy pulled a pair of rocks glasses and a bottle of bourbon out of his desk drawer. “Atticus, you and I are on very different wavelengths, and your low opinion of me is palpable.”
“Because you like to see people die? Not at all. A lot of my friends are into that, just not as much as you.”
Leroy chuckled to himself as he poured out the bourbon. “I’m going to miss that wit. My point is that trust can be very difficult between people with contrasting perspectives, but I do need that trust.”
“Then we’re in trouble, because I don’t really trust anyone.”
“Fair enough.” Leroy rested his hand over the top of a glass filled nearly to the brim with liquor. “I have only one question for you, Atticus. Where is the Storyteller?”
“Sorry, that’s not what Professor Jagunjagun called him. Let’s see...ah yes, ‘the Griot,’ that was the title.” Leroy slid the glass to the center of the desk. “You’re going to tell me how I can find him.”
“There’ve been some crossed wires somewhere, Leroy. The only ‘Griot’ I know of is a byproduct of DMT.”
I reached for the glass and Leroy snapped into action, moving with far more quickness than I’d ever attribute to the brute. He had me by the wrist, yanking me to the opposite edge of the desk before forcing my hand down. The son of a bitch was a lot stronger than I thought, too, far too strong to break away.
“I’m done playing your little games, Atticus.” Leroy’s façade of gentility collapsed. “I’m done with your jokes and your quips and your smart-ass remarks. You are going to answer my questions or this will get very, very bad for you.”
“I just answered your question. There is no Griot, he was part of a weird trip.”
Without breaking his death gaze on me, Leroy grasped under his desk and returned with a well-worn machete. “Oh, Atticus. I went easy on Professor Jagunjagun because, whether you believe it or not, I have some respect for him. I don’t respect you, Atticus. I don’t even like you.”
“I thought we were getting along.”
“The Professor only spoke to a few people about the Griot,” said Leroy, eyeballing the unhealthy blade of his weapon. “He had extensive correspondence with Dr. Otto Richter of Jameson Research and believe me, we’ll be having a chat with him at the first opportunity. But he also spoke with you in private on numerous occasions, and your name came up in his private journals. So I’ll ask again: How do I find the Griot?”
Before I could answer, Leroy swung the machete, driving the edge deep into the wood just a few hairs away from my thumb. I unconsciously tried to twist away but Leroy’s grip was too strong. It was not the first time I’d been someone’s captive but dismemberment was a new one.
“...That has to be really awful for the blade,” I said.
“It dulls the edge terribly. And bone tends to leave ugly pits, so let’s try to end this without too much cutting.” Leroy yanked the blade free. “Now, some of my men report seeing you speaking with a young boy. Is that the one? Was he the Storyteller?”
“I don’t know who that is.”
Leroy positioned the blade over my wrist. “Even my patience is limited, Atticus.”
“Goddamn it, I can’t answer any of your questions? Why the fuck are you so interested in some kid or a mushroom fiend’s delusion?”
“You really don’t know anything, do you?”
“I see. It seems that bringing you here was a mistake.” Leroy set the machete aside and drew the .45 from his holster. “In light of that, there’s little reason to keep you alive.”
“Don’t be rash, Leroy, I know other things. Maybe you’d like to wrap up your hit list before you leave?”
“You can lead us to Arcadius? Interesting. He is a coward. And it looks bad when he eludes our elites.” Leroy holstered his sidearm and turned me loose. “Very well, Atticus. You have your stay.”
“Excellent.” I grabbed the glass of bourbon and downed it in one long gulp, comforted both by the familiar bite and the fact that I still had a hand to hold it. “I realize that I’m in no position to ask, but I do have two small questions that I’d like to ask. Then we can all go and kill Arcadius.”
“You’re right, you aren’t in a position to ask,” said Leroy. “But I can make an exception. Go on, ask your questions.”
“All right, first up:” I pointed at the symbol behind Leroy - I’m still so glad I have that hand, it’s so useful. “What the hell does that thing mean?”
“The symbol?” Leroy laughed. “Nothing at all. It started out as a stylized eagle’s claw and ended up far more abstract. Let the people who see it devise their own interpretation.”
“Fair enough. Second question:” I held up the glass. “Can I have a little more?”
Leroy laughed again, this time a long and bellowing laugh that reverberated beautifully from the acoustic panels. “Of course, Atticus. You can have all you desire!”
You can disbelieve me about what happened next. I can’t really blame you since everyone else thinks I’m full of shit. To which I reply: Give me an alternate explanation. Tell me how I got away and Leroy Brigg died if not like this. And if you’re still a doubter, then you’re free to kiss both sides of my ass.
I placed the empty glass in the center of the desk. As Leroy reached for it, I made the move of my life. He hadn’t seen me reaching down towards my boot, easing the butterfly knife from its safe little nook. In one swift move that I’ll never be able to replicate, I whipped out the knife, flipped it open in one hand, and drove the point straight through the center of Leroy’s hand and into the desk. Stabbing a man in the hand is an ugly thing, even when the stabbee has it coming. There’s this nauseating squish as the steel passes through meat, ending with a dull thud as the point finds the surface. And then there was his expression. I’ve heard that getting a hole in your hand ranks pretty high on the mutilation scale, but I what I saw in Leroy’s eyes was more shock, that dawning realization that part of his body was now pinned to his desk and anything he could do to extract himself would involve more cutting.
But however shocked Leroy was, it wasn’t enough to stop him from trying to kill me. He snapped out his sidearm and fired a pair of wild shots as I fled the room, none of them even coming close. I didn’t look back as I sprinted for the main hall, though I could hear straining and a howl of pain from the room behind me. Left and right I wove through the big open space, my eyes set on the door and the two corpses that marked the last attempts to escape from the warlord. Then Leroy was in the hall, half-blinded with pain and rage but still together enough to fire several more shots that cut the air just inches from me.
Then I was outside, barreling down the walkway with both hands digging through my bag. I needed a lighter - it was the only thing that was going to save me. Harmon’s bag of destruction was just in sight in the shadow of that ungainly statue and I grabbed it up as fast as my hands could move. The Molotov cocktail eased cleanly out of the bag, the odor of gasoline and machine oil still heavy on the filthy rag that stoppered the end. The rag ignited at first sight of the flame, dripping deadly oily nastiness on the ground beneath it. I really didn’t want to hold this thing next to my head but it wouldn’t do much good just burning away in my still-attached fingers.
And Leroy was in the door, cradling his wounded hand against his body while he brandished the .45 in the other. But when he saw me, or more precisely when he saw what I was holding, he lowered the sidearm. “You don’t want to that, Atticus.”
“No, I really don’t. But circumstance is a bitch.”
I let the Molotov cocktail fly. It hit the door frame over Leroy’s head and shattered, throwing up a lovely arc of flaming gasoline. A healthy glob of the stuff splashed against Leroy’s face and his hair burst into flames. Leroy patted impotently against the flames only to let out another shriek as his clothing ignited. He tried to run back into the house, which was a serious error as the foyer was burning nicely by that point and Leroy found only a curtain of fire. All he could do was howl and burn and die on the steps of his testimonial to the glory of war.
There were footsteps in the darkness, the sound of the goons flocking to the site. The only thing that saved me was that they were more concerned with the fast-growing fire than they were with me. So I kept my head down and ran into the night and never stopped.