Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

Arthur Corvus slipped his keycard into the lock of his hotel room. It hadn’t been too bad a night at all. He'd had a few drinks, had some fun with a girl he'd picked up and was looking forward to the weekend. He'd been dreading the layover on the colony, but the branch office had gone out of their way to make him feel welcome. Things were good.

He hit the lights again, puzzled. The keycard was supposed to activate the lights in the sitting room upon entry, but nothing happened. He was about to step out when someone grabbed him, slapping his hands over Corvus' nose and mouth. He swallowed, trying to gasp for air. Finally, the hand let go of his nose and a voice--calm but cold like steel in winter whispered into his ear.

"Don't fight me," the voice whispered. "I promise you--you won't win." It was a man's, and did he seem . . .amused? Corvus felt something not unlike someone thumping his ear, then felt it become warm. Suddenly the lights flickered on he saw what had happened.

Corvus touched his ear, knowing what he'd find before he stared at his hand again. Blood, he thought, reaching up to his ear. He touched it again with a mounting sense of horror. My blood . . . he cut my ear, and I barely felt it.

Before the shock could set in, he felt his knees give out underneath him. Cartilage painfully slipped out of its proper place and his legs went out from under him. Before he could fall, whoever had broke in grabbed him by his hair and dragged him to the couch, tossing him onto it like a sack of potatoes. Corvus winced as his legs protested the way they were being folded. He looked up at the man who had done this to him.

He was younger, almost his age and solidly built. His skin was a golden brown and his hair was long and chestnut, tied in a long braid that swished behind him like a devil's tail. In his hands he held the nastiest knife Corvus had ever seen and was wiping Corvus' blood off it with the same nonchalance Corvus might have wiped a stain off his tie. He took a seat opposite Corvus in a chair and stared at him, half-smiling.

What the hell does this guy want? Corvus wondered. I haven’t done anything. Not to him anyway, and someone like this I'd remember.

"Corvus," he said. "I've looked forward to meeting you."

"Who the hell are you?" Corvus asked, holding the side of his head, the blood becoming sticky under his palm.

"You've had a rough day," Kienan said. He gestured to the tumbler of amber liquid on the table between them. "Let's have a drink."

"It's poisoned, isn't?" Corvus said.

"Maybe," Kienan said. "But you’re a businessman. Isn’t risk supposed to offer reward? Are you afraid to take one now?"

Corvus leaned over, reached for the drink and stopped, leaning back on the couch. "Who are you?" Corvus asked again. "Who do you work for? What do you want?"

Kienan smiled, putting his knife away, and relaxing. "I don’t have a boss," he said. "As for who I work for and what I want? Well, that's a bit more . . . metaphysical an answer. You really do look like you need that drink, you know."

"You're crazy," Corvus said. "Look, if it's money you’re after, I'm a rich man. I can--"

Kienan waved him off. "I don’t need your money," Kienan said. "And it's not going to do you any good, either. It's already paid your way to hell."

"I knew it, Corvus said.”You're here to kill me,"

"Is that what you think?" Kienan said, staring into his eyes.

"I . . ."

"If I were here to kill you, I could have cut your throat when you came in," Kienan said. "I could have sprayed your jugular vein all over these nice white walls. I could have snapped your neck while I was behind you, or ground my heel into your spine. Even now I could shoot you, before you could do anything. You won’t get the drop on me with a crushed knee."

"You don’t dare kill me, I've got--"

"Bodyguards? Friends?" Kienan finished. "Yes, well, you had them. They had a few accidents tonight. Korbusek got his head blown off in a dressing room in the mall. Mackie was found gutted in the street. The two you had guarding the elevator as you came down the hall tripped and fell down the service stairs and mysterious managed to shoot themselves in the chest with their own guns. Clumsy. Simons wandered through the streets doused in lit napalm. I'm told he died more from screaming all the air from his lungs than the fire. They only identified him because that expensive watch you bought him was melted into the flesh of his left arm."

"Jesus Christ," Corvus said. "Why did you kill them?"

"Because they were your friends," Kienan said. "Oh, by the way--this?" Kienan said, tossing a small pistol to the far side of the room and the clip in the other direction. "And this?" he said, tossing a small knife in the opposite direction. "You were fooling yourself if either of those were going to stop me from getting what I wanted. You're too old to play with toys."

"Which is?"

Kienan smiled. "You sure you don't want that drink?"

"I'm not gonna die like a punk, because you poisoned me," Corvus said defiantly.

"I'm not here to poison you," Kienan said. "I'm going to watch you die. Then I'm going to tell you why while you lie on the floor and beg for your life."

Corvus sneered, trying to mask his terror. "How are you gonna do that?" He asked, waving his blood-covered palm in Kienan's direction. "This is bad . . . but not fatal."

"Corvus," Kienan said, sighing. "I've already done it."

Corvus suddenly began to feel very sick and very cold.

"When I smothered you when you came in . . . I did it to make you swallow. You swallowed a small pill, about the size of one of your company's more popular pharmaceuticals. You know it's only one ketone away from a very nasty poison? I'm no chemist, but imagine my surprise. I think it's kind of poetic really."

"What--" Corvus said, trying to swallow. His throat felt way too tight and there was a rushing noise in his head. He suddenly was having trouble breathing or seeing. His lungs and his stomach felt like they wanted to swell and burst from his ribcage.

Kienan scooped up the tumbler on the table. "You see, the cops are going to find you very soon and very dead. Because once I've watched you die, I'm going to throw your body out of the window and it'll look to everyone that you overdosed and tried to fly. Just another statistic. Just another nobody."

Corvus fell forward, shattering the table underneath him. "Why . . ." He begged.

"Because tonight you paid for the company of a certain woman," Kienan said. "And once you’d had her, you beat her a few times, with your belt. Then you slapped her face and poured a whole bottle of champagne all over her while you stuffed the money you owed her in her mouth. You like that sort of thing. It makes you feel a big man, doesn’t it? She's going to live. You won’t."

"Buh," Corvus said, trying to speak. He vomited up red foam instead, crawling along the floor after Kienan. The red mucous oozed from his mouth and his nose, his labored breathing causing it to bubble at the end of his nostril.

Kienan squatted down next to him, drink still in hand. "I know, I know. She was offering whatever you wanted to do to her for money, why should it matter?" he taunted. "But it does. That woman is under my protection, and whatever you paid her, whatever you think you could pay me to save your life, isn’t enough."

Corvus tried to reach for Kienan's shoes, but Kienan stood up and took a step back. He put his foot over Corvus' hand and knelt down on it, grinding his hand into the carpet. Corvus whined, tears and sweat mingling. His eyes felt hot and if he could have clawed out his own eyes to stop the pain, he would have.

"You’re going die, Corvus. You're going to suffer the most humiliating death I can dream up for you. Just like you humiliated her. And even after it's over for you, it won't be. No, I've already sent evidence of what you've been doing out here back home. Assuming I leave anything of you to bury, there won’t be anyone who would care enough to pull the dirt over your body. No one to give a damn."

Corvus threw up more red foam. His skin was going from red to purple to near-black. Kienan looked at him and smiled. Corvus, his eyes sunken and looking weaker than ever. Kienan smiled at him. He raised the tumbler in a toast and smiled.

"By the way, Corvus," he said. "This drink had the counter-agent to the poison all along. I gave you enough chances to save yourself, but you know what? I was kind of hoping you’d disappoint me."

Kienan, still smiling, poured the drink onto the floor in between Corvus' grasping hands. Corvus lurched forward trying to lick the antidote off the floor, but it was too late. Corvus let out an almost piglike squeal before his voice broke, then flopped face down into his own blood-red vomit, dead.

Kienan smiled and grabbed Corvus' body by the scruff of the neck. He dragged the dead weight to the window. He lifted Corvus and slammed him against the window.

It didn’t break. Corvus bounced against it, his bloody mucous leaving a strange stamp against the glass.

"Silly me," Kienan said, drawing his gun and putting it against the glass of the window. "Forgot to open it." He pulled the trigger and the smooth window split in a cruel spider web.

"I hope I see you on the other side, Corvus," Kienan said, hefting the corpse. "I'd really enjoy killing you all over again in hell."

Kienan slung Corvus through his window with as much case as someone might heft a bag of garbage. The window shattered, raining small shards of glass over Corvus as he sailed through the window and to the street below. Kienan watched coldly as his body fell. People screamed and ran out of the way as Corvus hit the street below.