Published: Nov. 27, 2016
Authors: L.A Richards, S.W Best
Words: 67,110
Language: English
ISBN: 9781370421985
Versions: Kindle, NOOK, iBooks
Publisher: Bowker - Silver Dog Publications

 


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CHAPTER 8
In Clear Sight

I pause before settling into the chair before me, the previous murder of an unknown still heavy in the air. But this man appears neither happy nor concerned over his previous actions. He seems pleased to see me, which is unsettling after he’d just killed someone. I detect the mannerisms of either a genius or a madman as his fingers rap a steady rhythm upon the desk.
His eye contact is friendly which puts me on alert. The entire Fort makes me uneasy.
So this is Grimm . . .
A strange name for a man who appears the opposite. But, as I’ve learned the hard way, people’s smiles hide dark things, indeed.
Grimm starts the pleasantries with a friendly question. “So, what is your name, stranger?” I feel the glares of Skylar and Chase as they stand on either side of me, their manner sinister.
I remain quiet as I stare into the eyes of my captor. In my travels, I’ve learnt that sometimes saying nothing at all saves your life. The loud mouths and heroes are the first to die. I’m smarter than that. I intend to live.
Grimm reaches out and taps his finger on a crystal glass that sits on the desk. “Around here, I’m known as Grimm.”
At least he’s telling the truth, though I suspect his name is an extension of his ego. An ego I hope I can manipulate to my own end. The sooner I return to my family, the better. Their survival is my top priority. I’ve wasted enough time here as it is, and I’m not too hot on the making friends business.
I keep my response to myself. My aim is to convince the madman that I am not like his hired goons here. I have witnessed the murder of a man, and while I don’t know the mind of my captor, I am willing to bet this man, this Grimm, is impressed by solid thinking.
Grimm doesn’t break his brown-eyed stare, and his smile is a permanent feature as he gently picks up the glass and stands.
He is tall. Taller than I had first thought. I keep my cool, though part of me wants to scream and run, but I know my chances are slim, considering my company.
He breaks eye contact with a slight nod of understanding. My eyes follow him as he turns and walks to an antique globe. He spins the globe with a push of his finger, and the contents of the globe clatter as it spins around slowly.
I notice Skyler lick his lips on reflex.
Grimm is stalling. But why?
I take these seconds to study him. Grimm is not like the other gang members; he is wearing a dark denim shirt and looks better groomed. He wears the same tattoo on the side of his face, which links him to these animals, but he seems better educated than your average tribe member. I watch closely, unsure of what to make of him. The globe stops, and he lifts up one side to reveal several bottles of liquor. “You must have a name. Everyone has a name,” Grimm says as he tends to the contents.
Ahhh, now I understand. He wants to be friends. His first act of friendship should be letting me go. His family is great, and my family is few. Few and starving.
I look to my side and catch the grimacing stare of Chase. Looking away, I turn back to the table as Grimm pulls out an old bottle that’s unfamiliar to me.
“Ah,” he says as if addressing an old friend, “a true vintage. You will like this stranger. It goes down a treat and can clean out a car’s engine with a few drops.” He beams. “Champion.”
I eye up the bottle as Grimm roles it in his hand like a long lost love. He returns to the table with two glasses and pulls the cork with ease, pouring the liquor generously before re-corking with care. He places the drink as a peace offering just out of reach.
I am curious to how he became their leader, and my hunch is that it involves murder. I glance at the glass of liquor as Grimm slides it across the table towards me. I leave it be. I ain’t stupid.
Grimm maintains his smile. “Not a drinker?” he asks, adding a kind word of warning. “You know, most people would tear off your arm to get a hold of the good stuff.”
Hopefully, you won’t get the time to . . .
His chair creaks as he leans into the scuffed leather. “So, stranger . . . what am I to call you?”
I decide that my silence has lasted long enough. “Summers,” I reply, keeping the rest of my information to myself.
“Soooo you can speak, after all?” Grimm says with a chuckle.
My first name is more than this psychopath deserves.
Grimm widens his smile and sits further back into his chair. With pleasure, he downs his drink in one gulp and begins pouring himself a second glass, this time a double. “Do we have a first name to go with it?”
I am silent. Silence saves your life.
Playfully, he continues, “Aww, come on, we’re all friends here.” He gives me a loaded smile. “After all, you would be dead if it weren’t for me.” He continues to stare over his glass. “Name?”
“Just Summers.”
“Okay.” He nods, mulling over my identity and no doubt trying to place my name to a crime. To my caution, he offers a slice of his previous life. “Before the Reckoning, I used to be a teacher. It paid well, kept the wife off my back, and my two kids in a decent education.” Grimm pauses, and I notice a lost look in his eyes. His gaze drops down to the desk.
With naivety, I ask without thinking, “What happened to them?” I’m playing the conversation game. Maybe we can be civilized after all.
On this, Skylar and Chase freeze. Both straighten up and glare directly at me, almost as if my unknown thoughtlessness has endangered them all.
I’ve obviously said something forbidden. My first mistake.
Grimm seems to forgive my question and gives me the benefit of the doubt. I am not sure if it is because of my greenness, but it is, nevertheless, a lenience aimed at my current position.
Grimm stares at his glass before downing the liquor in another gulp and pouring himself a third helping of booze.
"The world happened to them."
His words hung heavy in the air, and I say nothing as I feel the weight of his stare. I don't want to press my luck, so I stare back, and my eyes get drawn into Grimm's abyss.
My drinking buddy appreciates my silence, and I think that maybe my one compassion has saved me from my previous mistake. I hope so. One step closer to going home.
Grimm's tone changes, putting me on edge as he asks, "So, Summers, why were you being chased by that man?"
I keep my mouth shut, but his stare is harder now. Judging.
“Was he trying to rape you?” Grimm raises his eyebrows in question. “A disgruntled lover? Help me out here, I need to know what I am dealing with and whether I should be worried or not.”
Worried? Why should he be worried?
I glance around to their critical faces. The atmosphere is cold, and I know I am in trouble. I need to get the hell out of here. Playing happy families has gotten us nowhere and wasted precious time. I am no longer here for their sick amusement.
Grimm’s smile has vanished and his eyes were now focused with a new stare that threatens to pierce my soul. “We have rules here, Mr Summers. Simple, yet effective rules.” he places his hand on his chest. “I myself must follow them and the tribe must obey to ensure peace. But sadly, not all tribes are so civilized. They act as if they are free from the responsibility we all have to take to ensure a balance. They act like cannibals,” he pauses, his teaching sinking in, “even the leaders ignore the rules when it suits.” Grimm leans forward and faces me with his hands supporting him on the desk.
I get his message loud and clear.
“Not here, though.” I say with a nod of agreement, trying not to show my fear. Fear gets you killed. Grimm is certainly hard to figure out. One word wrong and it could be me dangling upside down by my leg outside the window. I must play him like he is playing me; one word at a time.
Unexpectedly Grimm stands with purpose, as if ready to attack me. I remain seated, fighting off panic as the abrupt movement reverberates through me.
I watch him closely as he walks over to the bookcase, his fingers gliding over the spines of the volumes until he reaches Moby Dick. He pulls it out and opens it to a random page.
The two men shuffle their feet, and I sense a nervousness about them. This is bad, and I wonder briefly if the dwarf received the same treatment before his untimely death.
I decide to answer the man’s previous question, unsure now of his state of mind.
“He was chasing me because I tried to take a backpack.”
Grimm places a finger over a word, his eyes looking up from the page to meet mine. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” I reply, hoping to avoid playing further games.
Grimm continues with a second question. “Was this man sleeping when you tried to steal his belongings?”
“I didn’t steal it,” I confirm with the truth. “He and a few other men were raping a girl. They had already killed her companion, and it was his backpack I took, but my getaway was less than successful.”
Grimm hears my words, and for a moment, I’m unsure if my story has been accepted.
“Really? A girl was being raped, and yet, you did nothing? I find that hard to believe.”
“There was too many of them—”
“Mr Summers,” he cut me off with a smile that put me on edge, “you are not just any man. I can tell that. You are a survivor.”
To my relief, he nods in satisfaction. “Like I said, some tribes are without rules. Animals!” Grimm swallows another glass in toast of his opinion.
“So your tribe is above all others?” I ask, taking a huge chance. My hope is that not many people would have had the confidence to mock him in this way. My goal is respect and then acceptance.
Grimm stares at me for a long time; long enough for his thugs to glance at one another nervously, unsure of their leader's next move.
At last, I have success!
Grimm smirks as he pours another glass. “Drink up, Summers. Around here, wasting a decent drink is a sin!”
I look at the glass. This is the stupidest thing I have ever done. Accepting a drink from a stranger. From a polite murderer. But as precious seconds tick away, I throw caution to the wind and copy Grimm, throwing the whole lot down my neck in one shot. I fight the urge to cough my guts up the instant the liquid touches my throat. He wasn’t joking about stripping car engines. It is like battery acid, but I hold it together and even muster up a smile for show.
Grimm grins, impressed at my iron stomach. He nods his approval to Skylar and Chase.
I wait until my vocal cords are able to produce sound again, then take my life in my hands.
"You didn't answer my question, Grimm."
Apparently, my trial through fire has given me a renewed sense of abandon.
To my surprise, Grimm pulls out a long blade from the back of his trousers.
My knife!
He puts the tip of the blade to his finger and turns it around with his other hand. “Recognize it?”
If this is meant to intimidate me, it is working.
I nod.
Grimm notices the look on my face, then laughs, calmly placing the blade just out of reach. He rests his hand over my stolen property. “Like I said, Summers, here we abide by the rules.”
He points out two large wooden boards that hung on the wall. One of them has this tribe's symbol at the top and a list of numbered rules underneath it. They were:

1. Life for a Life,
2. Protect thy brother,
3. Respect the Rule,
4. Protect and defend,
5. Never betray a brother,
6. Never rape,
7. Never steal from others,
8. Die for your Tribe,
9. Respect your leader,
10. Spread the word of our rule.

On the other board is a different symbol and the written words, ‘Respect the Cleaver Laws.’ Grimm explains, “The plaque to the left is the laws for this tribe. We take those very seriously. The plaque to the right is the Cleaver law. All tribal leaders resolve their disputes with each other through Cleaver at Stadia.”
I listen to Grimm as he explains to me about the Cleaver laws. I listen, as I have no other choice but to listen, yet all the while, I am working on my plan for escape. And I will in time. I am sure of it.
After our friendly history lesson, my capturer becomes dark. Serious. Another side to his personality that the dwarf might have been subjected to. “I have a problem, Mr Summers. My problem is that I cannot prove whether what you say is the truth. Many people have foolishly lied to me. And many people have died.” He emphasizes the fact with a pointed finger, then he sits back into his chair, relaxing somewhat. “However . . . I like you, Summers. There’s something in you which I feel is lacking around here. Drive, determination, hunger. I see it in your eyes.” He frowns before his smile briefly returns, and then he continues. “Be under no illusion that you have won my trust. Trust needs to be earned, Mr. Summers. What we have here is opportunity!” His voice rises in laughter, then his humour dies along with his sense of playfulness. He stares at me again, thinking.
“Are you going to kill me?” My hands clench into fists as a bead of sweat runs down my forehead, regardless of the cool temperature. My two bodyguards notice my unease and move in closer. No matter. I would use them as a shield to cover my planned escape if Grimm is armed with anything other than a knife.
Grimm seems oblivious to the chaos I plan to rain down upon them if his decision is the wrong one.
“No. No, I will not kill you,” he continues, “I will instead keep you close at hand. The relations between my tribe and the Tyne Walkers are strained enough without further bloodshed. My men said your challenger was Yakov? He is bad news . . . bad news, indeed.”
I feel my heart slow at his words, and the adrenaline is making my hands shake. I try to keep them under control before I am discovered. Regardless of my new position as his favourite pet, I am still a rat in a cage. If Grimm calls the shots around here, I am happy to pretend to follow.
For now.
Chase steps forward. “I’ll take Summers to the lockup—”
“NO!” Grimm thunders, interrupting Chase as he slams his glass on the desk. Both men shudder at the loud disruption. I too, find it hard not to flinch at the sudden explosion of volume.
Grimm breathes heavily, calming himself. “Skylar, I want you to keep a close eye on our guest.”
“Guest?” Chase exclaims more confused than ever.
“That is what I said!” Grimm confirms as he stands eye-to-eye with Chase. “Do you have a problem with my decision, Chase?”
Chase swallows hard, “No!”
“Good,” replies Grimm, his face hard. “Skylar, take him with you. He is under your protection, and you are now responsible for him.”
I look at both of them and read their expressions. Protection is a good thing. I’m sure of it.
“I-I don't understand?” Skylar looks to Grimm, hoping for an explanation.
Grimm cuts in with further annoyance. “You don’t need to understand. Just follow my order and keep him with you at all times!”
“But—but what about the routines?” Skylar asks as he tried to adjust to the change.
Grimm pours himself another drink. “He goes with you!” Grimm looks to me before swallowing the contents whole. “Summers, I have yet to understand you. Enemy of my enemy, friend, or foe. Time shall tell.” The glass is slammed to the desk and Grimm drops back into his chair. “Now, all of you get out of here,” he dismisses us, intoxicated.
Chase gives me a look of both confusion and anger before opening the door and leaving the room. Skylar helps lift me up and supports me as I hobble out of the room. We pause at the doorframe as Grimm’s voice calls, “Summers, you step out of line or try to escape, and Skylar will cut your throat. Understand?” I glance over my shoulder and nod in agreement without making eye contact.
“Good,” Grimm slurs, a new compassion for my injuries, “and, Skylar . . . take Mr Summers to the medic and get his injuries seen to.  And get him some bloody clothes. It’s not a naturist camp!”

***

The walk to the medical area is longer than I had remembered. Once there, we see a familiar face: Benedyct. He is sitting on a cabinet, but he isn’t too welcoming.
“Ah, shit. What’s he still alive for?” Benedyct sighs in frustration as he slaps his hands on his knees and jumps to his feet.
“Grimm wants him protected,” Skylar tells him, still uncertain of the facts himself.
Benedyct’s eyes bulge. “What? Ahh, man, this is bullshit!” he brandishes a blade from his belt. “I say we take him out of the district and end him now! Save us all the trouble.”
I notice the knife; it’s Army issue, which means big and deadly.
Skylar speaks up, “No B, that is not what Grimm wants!”
Benedyct steps in front of Skylar, close enough to treat us to the smell of alcohol on his breath as he whispers aggressively, “Fuck Grimm. He’s nothing but a washed-up drunk!”
Skylar snarls and changes his stance, moving me further away from Benedyct to shield me. “You want him, B, you gonna have to come through me. You got that?”
The two hold eye contact, battling with a war of stares, neither moving for several seconds. If Skylar does fall, I know I am not in any position to defend myself against Benedyct’s prejudice.
Finally, Benedyct smirks and drops his blade, much to my relief. He spins it in his hand before placing it back in the holder at his side.
I feel Skylar’s body relax as Benedyct barges past, but he is not beaten yet. In an underhand move, he knocks into Skylar’s arm, making him loose his balance. I fall to the floor as a shooting pain goes through my ankle and leg. I watch through hissing pain as Benedyct storms off, striking out at a vase that shatters to the floor in pieces.
So much for tribe rule number two, Protect thy brother.

***

I wake up in a bed in the medical area. A young nurse is trying to force me to eat some mush from a spoon, but I refuse, turning away. She reassures me that it will help me feel better, and after a pause, I accept. I don’t think Grimm would have gone through all this trouble to protect me, and then give me food poisoning.
The dressing over my cheek itches, as does the support stocking over my ankle. But they are there for a reason so I leave them alone.
I pull back the covers and painfully sit up with the help of my nurse.
"What's your name?" I ask her, and she shakes her head with a tight smile.
"My name is..."
“Summers,” Skylar yells as he walks into the room. The nurse vanishes out of sight, frightened off by Skylar, who is dressed up like a marine. He is wearing a backpack on his back and Army surplus boots on his feet. A big, gleaming blade hangs in a harness on the side of his leg. “Get dressed, we are leaving,” he says, pointing to a pile of clothes on the chair next to my bed.
“Where are we going?”
“On routine, now get dressed!” Skylar barks.
I don’t argue, feeling my chances of escape going down the drain.