|The Road Prologue: Wheel
Author: Guede Mazaka
Thick black webs laid across the country, over hills and under mountains, with hulking cities crouching on every great intersection. They're the glue that holds the world's words together.
Zero down from the sky, land on one strip of tar and gravel. It goes from horizon to horizon, sea to sea, but it damn well doesn't shine. Soaks up the heat instead, and sends it back into the roaring steel that races along its length. Great view on the sides, by the way.
Just be careful where the night's stop is.
Seth snapped shut the map and laid it on the top of the car, cursing when he accidentally touched the hot metal. "Okay. Let me get this straight. You occasionally freelance for Caprizzo because you're bored. Even though on your mother's side you happen to be related to Los Lobos, which is only the Big Dog of the West Coast."
"That is correct." Ahmed shuffled the cigarettes in his tin until he found the correct blend of herbs and tobacco. Faintly tinged with the scent of mead. He closed his eyes, silently saying a prayer for the group of northerners that had helped him migrate to America.
"And you're Arabian, and Muslim, though you don't dress like it. But they're Spanish, and Catholic." Gecko continued to throw a minor fit, scuffing up pale dust onto his black suit. "I'm very sorry, but I just don't see how this is working."
After lighting up, Ahmed pulled out his gun and cautiously opened the trunk, being careful not to stand within grabbing distance. "Marriage is a wonderful institution. I would draw my family tree for you, but I don't seem to have a pen. Or paper."
At first glance, the trunk appeared to be empty. Then, with a sharp clatter of chains, Mort Rainey's gaunt face darted out from its black recesses. "Ah want mah hat back."
Seth twitched at the Southern accent and promptly shook out his own pistol. "Shit, Ahmed. He's fucking Shooter again?"
Rainey merely gave Gecko a slight, ominous smile before slowly turning to Ahmed. He put his chained wrists on the edge of the trunk, and was taking a breath to speak when Ahmed calmly blew a stream of smoke at the other man. The effect was immediate: widened eyes, rasping gasp, and a brutal shudder. Rainey slumped over, and when he painfully raised himself a few seconds later, his entire demeanor had changed. Pure terror. "Oh, Christ. Get rid of him. Get rid of him, please. Please. I'll-I can pay you. I-why are you pointing a gun at me? It's him you need to worry about!"
Hysteria again. This trip was sorely testing the boundaries of Ahmed's patience. "Please calm down."
"Calm down? You're not the one with a homicidal maniac sharing your head, are you? I thought not. Now why don't you-" Rainey started to back up, flash of anger quickly dying to fear as Ahmed approached. "Hey, wait. Listen-don't-"
Of course, Rainey tried to feint one way, then throw himself the other. Ahmed rolled his eyes and seized the other man by the neck, quickly flipping him around so his hands whipped their chains in front of them. He shoved his gun under Rainey's chin, making the writer instantly still with a whimper, and started to haul Rainey toward the door of their motel room.
Yet another thing Ahmed missed upon returning to civilization: camping outside with the stars and the crackling watchfire, with the grunting snores of the northerners to lull him to sleep. Allah help him, he even missed Herger's sleeptalk about all the whores in Denmark.
Halfway to the room, Rainey stopped struggling and instead, seemed to melt into Ahmed. Like an animal, he twisted and burrowed his face into Ahmed's shirt, taking great whiffs. "Oh, wow. He's going. He's going. He's…actually afraid, that drawling pig-loving bastard. How do you do that?"
Coming along beside them with the baggage, Seth raised an eyebrow. "Do you two need some time alone?"
Ahmed shifted his grip on Rainey and flicked his cigarette butt at Seth, who jerked back. "Shut up. And get the door."
"Christ, man. Was just a simple question." But thankfully, Seth did as he was told. Or else Ahmed would've been sorely tempted to see just how much daggerwork he remembered.
Rainey was now clutching at Ahmed's coat lapels and frantically sniffing up the side of Ahmed's neck, his peeling lips scratching irritatingly along the skin there. Ahmed didn't stop when he walked into the room, but instead kept going until he reached the bathroom, where he pried off their prisoner and tossed the man into the bathtub.
He fastened Rainey's chains to the plumbing and turned back towards the bedroom to help unpack, but a tug on his coat stopped him.
Skinny limbs all marked with bruises, crook-cracked glasses awkwardly perched over eyes huge with terror. Morton Rainey made for a pathetic huddle in the midst of all the heavy chains. "Please don't leave. He always comes back when you do."
Compassion was a strange, strange memory, like lifting cupped hands to the mouth and sipping brackish water. Acid and bitter and raw against the shriveled flesh of the throat, but still transmuted to refreshment by sheer power of thirst.
Ahmed looked to heaven, but found no help there.
"Please?" Just a frayed thread of a voice, and fingers already slipping off his coat.
He drew in a breath and knelt down by the tub, snatching up a towel so he could start washing the grime off the other man.