Read Time: 7 mins | Serial Fiction | Part 2 | Read Part 1 Now
I had selected after careful observation; a young man who tended to loiter. Usually, such young men were unremarkable, and neither were they gifted with the right material for our line of work, but this one had a demonstrable skill. He was quiet, practically invisible, and had an air about him that disqualified him as a threat at first glance. But to the trained eye, one could see the steely resolve of someone who was instinctively a survivor. Not only a survivor, but he had the predatory sixth sense of knowing when to strike his prey.
I had heard about him from a rather talkative police officer, who was ignorant to the fact that several gentlemen from the underworld had been recruited to put an end to his miserable existence. This was uncalled for, and in our line of work, something as insignificant as a speeding ticket did not merit retaliation. But this was the consequence of the tyranny I had mentioned. Out of chaos comes order, and I was determined to restore some semblance of structure to the underworld.
I had encouraged my rather voluble policeman to get comfortable in the trunk of my car, as I took him for a drive to the local lookout. After we had established the terms for our little conference at the rather aptly named Suicide Ridge, Officer Sutherland furnished me with information about my young protégé in waiting. It only confirmed what I had deduced. Young Michael Keynes had a violent streak and had taken a machete to the rather delicate part of another man’s anatomy, for interrupting a game of stickball. At the time he had committed this brazen act of violence, he was only eleven years of age. Quite a noteworthy achievement for one so young. What I was more concerned with was the identity and whereabouts of his father, or rather his guardian, one Denzel Keynes.
I approached young Michael after taking care of a little matter with the now defunct crypto fund manager. As the Innkeeper, I take the performance of my duties very seriously. The burden of tradition, and the expectancy of excellence had been impressed upon me by my mentor. The Crypto King had arrived in a bad state. His executioners had gone to work on him, and it had been a messy hit, done by hired guns who lacked the necessary training. Tyranny at work. There is no use lamenting like a grumpy old man. Where was I? Ah yes, Michael.
I approached Michael, while he was playing truant, roaming the local Target Superstore. Understanding the nature of the beast, as one who would react if he felt threatened, there were two options to this approach. I could pretend to be harmless, which could either embolden him or disarm him, but he’d still believe he had the power to escape. Or I could establish immediately that I was not someone to be trifled with. For the sake of expediency, I chose the latter.
Having followed him as he walked around the store feeding himself by opening and sampling several food items, I made my approach. A powerful jab to the solar plexus is sufficient to shut down oxygen to the brain, long enough to slow one’s reaction times. It’s even more effective if it’s an unexpected blow.
“Walk with me Michael.” I grabbed him by the scruff of his jacket as he bent over to catch his breath.
Leading him to the fitting rooms, still dazed and confused, I allowed him to get a careful look at my face. The eyes are truly the windows to the soul. His eyes confirmed that for the moment, the strange, middle-aged man, with the knife stuck underneath his chin, had his undivided attention.
“This is a one-time offer, son. You can come with me or bleed out here.”
He nodded; it was a wise decision.
Unsurprisingly he did not attempt to escape on the drive over. Michael was a fighter. My presence was a threat to his very existence. My unprovoked attack on him at the store would have to be met with an appropriate and prompt response to reestablish his primacy. It was the impatience of youth, but he understood the way of the world. In our world, however, retribution has it’s time and place. It would be a lesson he’d have to learn quickly.
“Who are you?” he asked after several minutes of quietly assessing me.
“For the moment, that is irrelevant. I will allow you two more questions.”
He decided to sit and contemplate for a while. I liked this kid already. Young Michael had relaxed. It was the disarming nature which I had mentioned earlier. In his own mind, he had deduced that his chances of survival would be enhanced by playing the long game.
“Mr. Keynes, I have a proposition for you. One that would harness that raw talent you possess and make it worth your time.”
“Mister. I don’t roll like that, but I know a kid, a senior on the football team. I could hook you up.” His eyes stayed fixed on my hands. He was instinctively good.
“Reach into the glove compartment. There is a file within, I need you to read. Once you’re finished, you will have one minute to decide how this goes.”
“What happens if I don’t make a decision?”
“Even no decision, is still an unmistakable choice.”
He reached for the file, and immediately paused.
“Denzel Keynes? This is about my father?” He asked.
“The man who pretends to be your father. Your real parents are resting at my Inn, along with your siblings.”
“Sir. I think you have the wrong person.” For the first time since I had been observing Michael, I saw indecision. I ignored him, and he took the cue to read the contents of the folder in his hands.
For your convenience I would summarize what young Michael would be reading. In March 2007, Denzel Keynes had been given the simple task of robbing a chain of small grocery stores in Spokane. It was meant to send a message to the community, that a certain faction was now in charge. What no one knew at the time was that Denzel had a particular inclination toward very sadist behaviors. He had followed the proprietor home, and proceeded to bound, and torture the family. He started his evening’s entertainment with the wife. At the peak of his bloodlust, which was when he had come to our attention, Denzel had already killed dozens. But our world never judges the character of a man by his inclinations. The event with the proprietor did not even register on our moral radar. Denzel, when he was bored and satisfied that the proprietor would give him anything in the universe to end the nightmare, made him an offer. It was a fair one. He was to surrender young Michael here, so that the lives of his other children would be spared. The poor man readily agreed. Michael has been raised by a serial killer since he was seven months old.
“Mister, this is some messed up shit. I don’t know if to believe you.” He said when he had finally finished.
“Doubt is only an element of belief. In my line of work, the only thing that matters are the facts. Now, young sir, you may ask your questions.”
He swallowed hard, tapped his leg with the folder and took a deep breath.
“What do you want with me?”
“I already answered that.”
“I know. But tell me again.”
“I want to make you the best version of yourself. Take you into a world where your talents will be best served and appreciated.”
“You want to be my mentor or something?”
“I do hope you would agree to it. That was two questions. You have one more, Michael. Make it count.”
He placed the folder back into the glove compartment and tightened the seatbelt. I had given him much to consider.
“Who am I?” he asked after a few minutes.
“You are undoubtedly Mister Keynes.”
“May I ask one more question?” The beast hadn’t been tamed but his quarry was no longer in this car. Precisely what I had anticipated.
“Who are you?” His gaze was intense, so I met it with an equally cold stare.
“I am, The Innkeeper.”
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