Demond shifted in his chair and shuffled through his note cards once more. He sought to cram the key words and phrases into the most readily accessible nooks of his brain. The extra preparation soothed but did not allay his fears.
“Mr. Galindo, Mr. Dark will see you now.” The raven-haired female swept her hand toward the towering door covered in reliefs of human faces sporting various degrees of anguish. The doorknob lay in the mouth of the lone face that mocked with a malevolent grin.
Demond rose and brushed off his trousers. He slipped the cards in his pocket to keep both hands free in case the sentries roused. After tiptoeing to the door and cracking his knuckles, he shot his right hand out. The face’s eyes blinked a few times before its jaws snapped shut, but it was too late. Demond had already turned the knob and withdrawn his hand.
The door’s latch scraped as he pushed with his toe against one of the tamer faces near the bottom. The second from the left, to be precise, was a sympathetic friend from another time. It whispered, “Fare thee well, my friend,” as Demond pushed the door open just enough to slip inside.
“Demond! How’s my favorite coach these days?”
Demond gazed at the resplendent figure who sat behind a large desk of ebony and obsidian. He wore a dark, single-breasted suit with a charcoal-colored shirt. His necktie was deep burgundy and saffron, its colors echoed in the handkerchief peeking out from his breast pocket. Mr. Dark’s nearly jet black hair but for twin patches of grey at his temples, grazed the top of his collar in a slicked back glaze. As usual, not a hair dared to break rank, not a square inch of his attire dared retain a wrinkle.
Mr. Dark stood and pointed a well-manicured finger at the chair in front of his desk. Demond limped forward and, with a slight wince, dropped into the chair.
“Thank you, Sir. I’m doing well, doing fine.”
“And how’s your family?”
“They are very well too, thank you. How’s your lovely wife?”
“Visiting her mother. It’s that time of year, you know.” Mr. Dark cast a baleful glance at a photo on the corner of his desk.
Demond cursed himself for being so stupid as to mention Mrs. Dark. He scrambled to find the words to move them toward a less contentious topic.
“Hot enough for you?” Dark asked, much to Demond’s relief.
Demond chuckled. “Quite, Sir. But at least it’s a dry heat.”
Mr. Dark shifted forward in his chair and steepled his fingers, elbows propped up on his desk. From the far corner behind him, Demond heard the snores of Dark’s hound, Cece. Best to let that sleeping dog lie. Dark fixed Demond with a stern eye and said, “When are my fighters going to start winning their matches?”
“That’s exactly why I’ve come to see you today, Sir. As you know, Judas and Lilith are fine specimens with immense fighting talent—”
“Yes, yes, I know all that. Get to the point.”
Demond cleared his throat and reached in his pocket for his notecards, but at the last minute decided against it. He took a deep breath. “Sir, they would fare better if they didn’t cheat.”
Dark shoved back into his chair and drew his ankle up to rest on his opposite knee. Turned slightly sideways, he drummed his fingers along the front edge of his desk, deepening the indentations that had been years in the making.
“Why so?” Dark’s eyes narrowed and a frisson of terror ran the length Demond’s spine.
“Boxing has very strict rules, Sir, about where and how fighters may punch and use their bodies. For example, use of the feet is forbidden. Fighters are also prohibited from spitting, head-butting or biting.”
“My boxers are doing these things and that’s why they’re losing?”
Demond nodded. “On a good day, they’re giving up massive quantities of points, but usually they’re being disqualified. Either way, they’re losing because they’re breaking the rules.”
“I don’t like rules.”
“I know you don’t, Sir.” Demond paused to allow his employer the opportunity to pontificate.
“Unless they work to my advantage, of course.”
Cece roused from her bed and turned in a circle, giving drowsy chase to her tail before settling back into her nest. Demond released his breath as she curled into a ball again.
Dark’s fingers drummed faster. Demond had served up the problem and knew he had mere seconds to offer a solution before the Messenger Syndrome kicked in.
“It would be helpful, Sir, if you’d inflict your own special brand of punishment. Losing the matches hasn’t been sufficient disincentive to change their behaviors.”
The drumming fingers moved to stroke a chin set with grim tension. “What types of…incentives would you have me dispense, Mr. Galindo? Set them on fire? Take their families from them? Draw and quarter them? Send them to the sulphur mines for some R and R?” Dark’s eyes gleamed as he spoke, a faraway look hinted of far worse punishments left unspoken.
“They bathe in fire, already paid to have their families cast into the bottomless pit. Drawing and quartering only makes them grow back bigger, stronger and more ornery. They sprinkle brimstone on their pancakes…Sir. But if I might be so bold as to make a suggestion of my own?”
“Please do.” Dark moved back into his contemplative steeple position, his feet once again under his desk. Cece grunted and trotted to Dark’s side, drool dripping from her massive jaws.
Demond gulped then began to outline his strategy.
Hope you enjoyed part 1 of this 2 part short story. If the plot sounds a wee bit familiar, this story was based on the hint fiction I posted as part of the December blog chain.