The dark-eyed man stepped over track beds in the west bottoms of Kansas City and made his way towards the Livestock Exchange building. He saw indications still of the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express lines that were once the center of the stockyards, and felt the chill of doomed parties that had passed through when the Oregon Trail was the main route through Kansas City. There were other trapped souls from the various floods that had eventually killed the vital business that straddled state lines between Kansas and Missouri. The power of the place could have been overwhelming if he hadn’t been focused on his goal.
There was a steady, though spread out, stream of beings bypassing the old livestock buildings and heading for the slaughterhouse. Strangiato set his jaw, squinted and changed direction.
The guard at the door didn’t want to let him in. “Not on list,” it said to him then turned its attention to another behind him.
“You do not recognize me?” The creature, a Salac demon, scowled. “My card, then,” Strangiato said. The Salac studied it, then looked back up at Strangiato and shook its head.
“You no power here,” it said with a sneer. “You nothing to any here. Enter at risk.” It handed the card back and hooked a thumb over its shoulder then acknowledged the entity behind Strangiato again, dismissing him.
Entering the dark building, the decaying smell of ancient livestock, animal and human, was overwhelming.
Strangiato turned to face the speaker. “Hail,” he said in return. “I am come to find Carina Arecibo, a human.”
“Would this entity be Special Reserve or General Stock?” The demon came into the light. Its skin was a red-orange, and though it appeared humanoid and male, Strangiato made no assumptions. It was dressed in a black suit and wore a purple tie. The demon had an air of authority to it, but that was natural to demons, but this was more.
“Special Reserve, I should think,” Strangiato said. “Would you be the Director of the DSE?”
The demon smiled at being recognized. “Gremory. This way, if you please, and we will see what can be seen.” They left the main entrance and Strangiato walked beside the demon Gremory down a faintly lit hall, passing smaller demons, clerks and functionaries, who shrank from their Director as they walked.
After several minutes of walking through hall after hall, Strangiato said, “Have a care that you do not waste my time, Director. I am on business for the Chondria.”
“Seeker, I would not waste your time,” Gremory said. He appeared apologetic. “I am being an amiable host and taking you to where your question on the entity can be best answered. So many souls pass through the Pit that I cannot keep track of them all.”
“The Pit? Ah, I see,” Strangiato said. “Your clever nickname for the Exchange.”
Gremory smiled with condescension and stopped at a heavy oaken door. They were deep in the heart of the Exchange now. “We are here,” it said. “You must open the door of your own free will.”
Strangiato pushed the door. It swung open on well-oiled hinges that sussed with the weight of the door turning them, and he stepped into the room. He turned to look back at Gremory, who was staring in surprise. “Your tricks won’t work, Director Gremory, you should have known that.”
“You have no soul?”
“I do not.” Strangiato said. “You cannot trap me. Must I invoke my Office for you to be of any real assistance? Your Lord and mine have deeply intertwined agreements that must be honored.”
Gremory pushed past the dark-eyed man and clapped its hands. The room was immediately lighted and the oaken door closed with an echoing thud then disappeared. The demon was walking fast away from Strangiato across a white tile floor, its heels clicking madly. “Follow me, Seeker. Your information is this way, now.”
The soulless Seeker and the demon Director of the Divine Spark Exchange crossed the infinite white room until they came to a wall that barely was distinguishable from the floor. The Director snapped its fingers and the door opened. “Through here,” Gremory said. When Strangiato didn’t move, the demon sighed and said, “Follow me.”
Inside was a simple office. Gremory sat behind the desk and tapped on the laptop. There was nothing else on the desk. “What was the entity’s name again?”
“Carina Arecibo,” Strangiato said and spelled the name. He did not sit, but noted that the window behind the demon had a view that couldn’t have been Kansas City. “Your view,” he said, “is that Abbadon?”
The demon frowned as his screen changed. “Hm,” Gremory said then turned to look out the window. “New Hades.”
Strangiato nodded acknowledgement. “Did you find her?”
“Yes,” the demon said. “She’s not in General Stock, nor in Special Reserve.”
“But she’s here?”
Gremory nodded slowly. “As a trader, with,” he tapped quickly on the laptop, “Leonard Burroughs. I saw him earlier today, but he was alone.”
“I met him as well,” Strangiato said. “Has he stated intention for trades?”
“We don’t do it quite that way any more,” Gremory said, closing the laptop. “Spark is traded now on a weekly basis as the supply has boomed. Diligence is expected of the buyer, not the seller. With that boom has come an enormous burden in tracking and so when I assumed my Office the policy was examined and changed. No one has to claim intent.”
Strangiato shook his head. “You are trading the Divine Spark as energy and not caring to whom it is sold, nor how it is intended to be used.”
“There are just too many souls to track, Seeker,” Gremory said as though in apology, its hands spread wide, palms up. “Yes we have Staff,” it indicated the window, “but the quality of worker has dramatically declined in the last three decades. It’s simply impossible to track every trade, every trader.”
“Mrs. Arecibo,” Strangiato said. “May I see her?”
The room was windowless and bare of decoration. There was a settee, a recliner, several dining room chairs, and a sofa all covered in the brightest reds. The floor was carpeted with deep blue shag and there was an air of transience to the whole place. Director Gremory took a seat on one of the dining room chairs and crossed its legs. “She’ll be here in a moment, Seeker. Please make yourself comfortable.”
Strangiato didn’t move. “Suit yourself,” the demon said. It turned its attention to its nails and left the dark-eyed man to his thoughts.
A door far behind Strangiato opened and admitted Carina Arecibo followed by Leonard Burroughs. Strangiato turned to Gremory. “You know that he’s a cheat, don’t you? That he trades in the Lost?”
Gremory smiled a powerful, knowing smile. “I am a demon sir, I appreciate a good cheat. It gains extra attention when we finally get our hands on him.”
“Hello,” Mrs. Arecibo said as she approached the little living room. “Director.” The demon nodded.
Strangiato bowed at the waist and held out a calling card. “I am engaged by your husband to see if you would return to him and the responsibilities of being a Shepherd’s assistant.”
Carina Arecibo examined the calling card and turned it over to see the back. She ran her lithe fingers over the raised ink and smiled when she looked at Strangiato. She appeared to be happy. “No,” she said.
“I see,” Strangiato said. “Fyodor will be very disappointed. He loves you more than you might know.” The gentle rumbling of his voice emphasized his sincerity.
“I know how much my husband loves me, Seeker, make no mistake about that,” Carina Arecibo said. “He misunderstands how little I love him back. He’s a good man, but he wasn’t my type then, and won’t ever be.” She walked around the arranged furniture and ran her hands across the top of the sofa as she passed, acting very coy and conspiratorial. “You could tell him that you never found me.”
“I am not in the habit of lying.”
A thin smile, and a short nod. “I understand.”
“Why wouldn’t you return? He offers stability and love.”
Gremory stood up and pulled its suit coat straight down. “You are under no obligation to continue this conversation, Mrs. Arecibo. He has presented himself and you have refused to go along with him.”
“It’s okay, Director, I’ll tell him,” she said. Burroughs was silent and looked around as if waiting for something.
“Fyodor died twenty years before I did, and I had a very good life after he died.” Carina stood in front of Strangiato and looked up at him, still smiling. “I enjoyed many things I hadn’t been able to before. Things he would never have permitted, things I’d only dreamed of.
“I made plans for my immediate afterlife.” She stood on tiptoe to get her face as close to his as she could. “I wanted to live again.”
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
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