Read Time 7 mins | Serial Fiction | Part 4 | Read from the beginning.
We drove in a blacked-out Mercedes. Michael was anxious, a natural reaction for someone unsure about what they were about to do. The atmosphere outside was miserable. A dense fog, damp, cold, and obscuring visibility.
“I will give you specific instructions. It is important, that you follow them to the letter.” I spoke to him gently.
He nodded, and when he realized I was waiting for a proper response, he sat upright and nodded again.
“There is no need to be anxious. The man they call the Shah will sit next to me. You will sit in the back seat.”
“I’m not anxious. It’s this damn suit you’ve got me wearing.” He adjusted his tie.
“You must always look the part, Michael. It’s our calling card. Looking the part gets you through the front door in most situations.”
He nodded again. His anxiety will eventually manifest itself as rage. A rage which I wanted him to harness for another two hours. I had no doubt that he could wait that long. What I wasn’t sure about was when the surge of anger would subside. Either way, I had plans to contain it.
Once the prison was within sight, I stopped so he could get into the back seat.
“There’s a drone back here.” He said as he sat down
“I assume you’re familiar with how to operate it?”
“I need you to record every moment until we get where we are going. Have nothing to say to Reza when he gets into the vehicle.”
“A few, mere ceremonial formalities. After which, the Shah becomes your responsibility.”
“You make it sound too easy. What if he doesn’t comply?” His lips were parched, and his eyes were looking intently at me. He needed reassurance.
“There is a firearm under the briefcase next to you. But only if your life is in danger. Rest assured; Reza will comply.”
I allowed him to get busy with his new toy. The footage was important for other reasons. Michael needed to follow simple instructions. Tasks which highlighted his competence, will increase his confidence. It will have the added benefit of improving our relationship. If he were to be a successful apprentice, this was important.
Reza was made to wait exactly five minutes in the frigid air. It would take him close to ninety seconds to calm down, that’s what science says, but that would be all the time I needed. He threw his unfinished cigarette at the car when I finally drove up next to him. He was unshaven but wearing a nice suit. He’d added several new tattoos behind his ear, and one to the front of his neck. There was a reason Reza was always inside. It wasn’t solely because he was a career criminal. Prisons are full of potential risks for organized crime syndicates, not to mention the huge business opportunities the present. Reza was a necessary enforcer, a cog in our system of corporate management. Checks and balances ensure the integrity of any enterprise, and ours was no different.
I dropped the passenger window so he could see who was driving. There was a hint of recognition. Apologetic even, then an acceptance. Braggadocio.
“I haven’t seen you for a while. Probably two or three years?” he said as he entered.
“A small favor to your father.” I lied. But it was believable to him. His father had removed himself from the limelight and retired to a huge farm not far from here.
“The business with your wife. Quite unfortunate. I had nothing to do with it. These decisions are above my pay grade.”
I handed him a small flask. “It is the nature of our business, Reza. No need for apologies. The men responsible will pay eventually.”
As I drove off, he looked at the back seat, took a swig of the flask and grinned.
“Very thoughtful of you to bring me a present. He’s cute.” He offered Michael a drink, but the boy never looked up from his controls. It was probably taking all he had within him to contain his fear or anger.
“Reza. We are to meet with your father before going to see your brother.” I informed him.
“They could have sent any low-level fool to get me.” He grabbed my arm.
Michael reached below his seat for the gun, but I shook my head.
“I will forgive this slight indiscretion. Perhaps being on the inside have made you forget your place.”
He removed his hands quickly. Then took another swig of the flask. Only one sip would have been sufficient.
When he awoke in my workshop, Reza was naked, except for a black hood, and dangling from the ceiling by his ankles. I told Michael what I was about to do, and asked him to leave, but he had insisted on being present for what was coming. I had mounted several cameras at different angles and asked Michael to stand beside Reza. The boy, for this exercise, was dressed in the style of a medieval executioner. Instructions were simple. Stand still, with his arms folded, and remain silent. I removed Reza’s hood.
“You are aware, Innkeeper, that this will not end well for you.” Reza played his only card.
Perhaps if he’d taken the time to assess the nature of his predicament more fully, he would have realized that I was not hiding my identity behind a mask. His position was quite precarious.
“Would you please be quiet? I am about to send a particularly important message.” I informed him.
The monitor indicated that the cameras were all recording, so I began.
“Gentlemen and dearest friends. This is a regrettable moment. For the men, who remained silent while my wife and child were taken from me, I understand that this is the nature of our creed. Across the centuries, no member of our fraternity has so betrayed our creed as this man and his family have done. For their brazen act against us, I claim the right to retribution, and I declare war on his house. An eye for an eye. For this is our creed.”
I stopped the video at this point.
“Are we done?” Michael asked, nervously.
“Soon.” I responded.
In the traditions of the fraternity, there are conditions which must be met before I could declare war on anyone. The first step was proving that an egregious act had been committed against me. The second step was the choosing of an apprentice. He had to be given three opportunities to walk away from his calling, just like St. Peter who had denied his master three times. In the same vein, Michael must betray the world he knew and considered to be normal to become one of us.
“Michael, at this point I must give you the option to walk away. There is no turning back once you step into this role. You are but still a boy. A world of opportunity awaits you.”
“No. I have to watch this pig die.” He cut me off mid sentence.
I sent the recording of my statement to the members of the fraternity globally. The third and ultimate step was for me to renounce my position as Innkeeper. That would be a private ceremony much later.
“Reza, I leave you in the hands of my very capable friend. Michael, choose your weapon. You have three minutes. Do what you must do. Throw all your clothing along with his, in the fire outside and return home. I will contact you this evening. I will suggest that you begin with his legs.” I could hear his breathing intensify when I gave him the instructions. Michael chose a sledgehammer.
I started recording again. This message was for Reza’s family.
“For your violation of my trust, and your children’s violation of my wife and daughter. War is declared.”
I stepped out of view from the camera, as a hooded Michael stepped into the frame. I could feel his anger, his frustration. The boy hated this world. He didn’t belong here. And he hated Reza even more. Science says it takes ninety seconds before rage begins to subside. I can’t say if the theory has ever been validated, as I have never needed anger as a stimulus to perform my duty… for I am the Innkeeper.
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