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July 18th, 2017
He sat in that small cubicle of a table, removing the contents of his burger. The lettuce, tomatoes, onions and finally pickles, all of which he put into neat piles around the plate. Dion entered the table with his own plate, staring at Apollo. His face convulsed as he looked at the man picking at his food like a confused surgeon. His face blushed red from the glares of other customers, (regular) big customers who spilled out of their small seats. The smell of grease lingered around them and around the orange and yellow painted walls of the restaurant whose mascot, a hot dog holding an onion ring, looked terribly happy and almost insane.
“What are you, a bird? Eat normally.”
“I’m not a picky eater,” Apollo said. “I can eat most of anything, but I don’t like it when my foods mix. That’s all. Everything ought to be in its own lane.”
Dion nodded his head. Apollo looked at the statue of the hot dog standing outside, shining, peeling paint.
“Hey, listen.” Dion paused to look down. “I’m sorry for what I did. I didn’t mean to punch you, back there in the alley. I shouldn’t have.”
“Your apology is hollow, it’s a routine, a social instruction that you commit to sate a narcissistic guilt in your head,” Apollo said. “Calm yourself, you didn’t do anything I didn’t expect. You fulfilled your duty as the idiot quite well. What great execution, or lack thereof an execution. I had a feeling you’d go in with that hot finger of yours and that big head.”
“That’s what you’re mad about?” Dion slapped his hands down on the tipsy table. “Not the punch? You’re mad I went in and saved two people?”
“It’s not like your punch was any strong,” Apollo said. Dion winced.
“Don’t sound so arrogant. It was strong enough to knock you down.”
“Overpowering an injured man is something only the insecure value as a source of pride.” Apollo ate a fry. “I didn’t expect that from you.”
Dion swallowed his burger, clogging a grumbling insult in his throat. He swallowed, composed.
“Alright. Forget the punch. What was wrong about saving those two folks? They were halfway into the grave before we came around, we saved them.”
“Saved one. The other is in a coma I hear.” Apollo said.
“Well, I freaking saved one then at least,” Dion said. Everyone turned. He lowered his head back down.
“Don’t say freaking.” Apollo rolled his eyes. “It’s a cop-out for those too afraid to admit to an animosity within them. Politeness for its own sake, disingenuous. It’s childish. Let the priests or politicians hide behind their soft speak.”
“I freaking helped those two.” He grunted with fries sticking out of his mouth like fangs. Apollo was just starting on eating his lettuce salad.
“Tell me, Dion. What would have happened if we failed?” Apollo asked.
“I don’t have a good imagination. Explain it to me.”
“If we failed I can tell you with certainty that the creature,” He leaned in with a quiet voice. “That demon.” Back out. “Would have eaten half of this city by the end of the night. We would have bodies lining the border walls of this town. That is the cost of failure.”
“Alright, but it didn’t happen so why does it matter?”
“The hypothetical is everything.” Apollo brought his hammered fist down to the table. Dion looked at him and the eyes that seemed to look into a far-reaching memory. “Theory is everything. The fear in your heart of the things you stand to lose is everything. If you don’t know what you’re fighting for, you’re never going to fight as hard as the man who does. At that point, you’re just a mindless drone, a biological robot fulfilling a desire for violence inherent to your lizard brain.” The people looked, their mouths covered with ketchup like beasts coming up from the carcass.
“I don’t play that s***, f*****. This isn’t a game. Wanna know why?” Apollo’s face scrunched up, his voice seething out of his mouth. “I know what happens when s*** goes wrong. When the mistake becomes so f****** real and big that you can’t even look up to face it. When the situation overcomes the man. I’m telling you from experience, don’t ever go out looking for trouble or doing that buffoonery you just did. It’s nothing good, I guess unless you indulge in that kind of thing. And you don’t, right Dion? You wouldn’t happen to love it, would you?”
Dion flinched. His back was straight against the worn foam and leather seat. He could feel a cut seam brush against his arms, and his hands gripped hard on the seat, tearing away cotton as if threads of fog.
The curious eyes of the patrons peered around the corner of their round benches and leaned towards the two noisy hunters. A suntanned woman came by with baggy white pants and a bright Colonel Weiner hat that made her seem like a half-peeled orange. She smiled and stood carefully away from the table.
“Is there an issue?” Her voice was peppy and hummed at the end of her words.
“No, thank you.” Dion smiled. She smiled back.
“No,” Apollo said.
Her face fell as she looked at Apollo and she retreated back.
“You really are new to this line of work, aren’t you?” Apollo shook his head. “Well let me tell you, this kind of trade doesn’t forgive mistakes.”
“Who cares man. I held my own, I fought. And it isn’t the first time either. I’ve been practicing my shooting, my close quarter’s combat, my spatial reasoning and critical thinking. I’ve studied and read about these monsters for a decade and a half, and now I’m on the field. So as far as I’m concerned, I have as much experience as you. ”
“There’s a difference between studying something in words and living it with sweat and blood.”
“Oh, really, you must be very knowledgeable. What have you learned, then?” Dion said. “The guide to being an ass?”
“I’ve shadowed under a very, very, good mentor. I know these f****** creatures as well — Better than any man.” He looked away, towards the window. “They change their shapes, change their origins, change their personality but they’re all the same deep down inside. Those f****** demons. Past the guts and gore, it’s all just a mindless violence. Like a machine, just propagating itself. I can’t even call it evil, they’re too senseless for that. It’s more like instinct. They’re animals.”
“You’re not as bright as you think you are, I could have told you that,” Dion said.
“A one-time affair doesn’t make you an expert. I have years of tracking, analyzing and planning experience under my belt. I can tell you how they eat and where and how.”
“We all know how they eat,” Dion said. “Can you tell me why, genius? If you could, we’d have already solved this case.”
Apollo paused, put a finger on his chin and contemplated.
“I don’t know,” Apollo said. “That thing, that avian-type had a long mouth. Didn’t digest corpses properly either, it looked like it was transporting them or something.”
“What, like a mother bird? Are you stupid?” Dion laughed. “You just finished telling me they were mindless.”
“Yeah, I also told you they were robots. At least these lower level types. And what’s the thing about a robot that makes it so useful? It’s programming.”
“Do you have any evidence for any of this?”
“Well,” Apollo shrugged his shoulders. “We have a cult, black mass, and demons. Hard not to believe they’re all linked.”
“But do you know.”
“No, it’s what my years of experience tells me though.”
“Years of experience? We’re both twenty-four.”
“Physically, sure. Mentally, we’re about a century apart.”
Dion stood. He kicked the stem of the table, it rung.
“Forget that, forget you.” He wiped his mouth. His eyes narrowed to Apollo who was looking around curiously, almost amused before he realized the myriad round, white eyes. Then his throat became dry and his voice hushed as he put a finger above his pursed lips.
“Calm down,” Apollo said.
“Don’t tell me to calm down you hypocrite. I won’t be lectured by you. I don’t need a lesser man who pretends that hiding in the face of evil is a sound strategy.” Dion held his fist high. “Yeah, I rushed in and yeah, I’d do it again. A hundred times over, I would help a stranger out.” The words spat out of his mouth. The orange woman behind the counter shook her head as the manager nudged her to, seemingly, interrupt them. As if she could stop those tall brutes.
Knowing this, feeling it, they all grew more nervous, more hostile, more aware. Apollo felt his nose clear and his vision sharpen.
“We should go.” Apollo grabbed Dion’s shoulder. “You emotional child.”
He led him out the building, past the statue and the flaking bright colored walls.
“If we’re going to work together, we need some ground rules,” Dion said, standing in front of the Weiner shop amongst a plaza where the homeless collected and dug from the full bins and garbage cans. Dion handed one of them his bag of half-eaten food.
“Yeah, I agree,” Apollo said. “So next I tell you to do something, you f****** do it.”
“Listen to you? You don’t have strong enough principals and morals to guide me.”
“How’s this for a principal, f*****. Your morality is flexible, fickle, and worthless. The best strategy is the one that gets us the best result for the most amount of people, so when I tell you to wait and be careful and to not rush in, you f****** listen.”
“I can’t abide by that.”
“Then the next time we fight, when you go in brash and raw, when you lose and you’re dead on the floor curled up, latching onto that pride of yours and the whole city is in flames because you couldn’t get a grip on your f****** pettiness, then tell thy neighborer and stranger, I tried, I tried my best. Go on. Do it. If you want to win and succeed, you listen to me. Not your instincts, but me. You understand, Dion?”
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply and eventually nodded, yes. Shaking his head, yes, with a wide vein bulging out of his forehead.
“So what’s the plan then, genius? What do we do next, without any leads or any information in regards to this cult? Or this murderer, or whatever.”
They walked around the corner of the plaza and hit an empty sidewalk. The walls loomed over, the sun was hidden along a bank of gray clouds.
“No leads? Who told you that?” His voice sounded glee, only for a moment. “There’s so much f****** evil in this town you’d have to be blind to miss the black shoots of putrid smoke coming out the ground.
Apollo put himself in front of Dion.
“Tell me, Dion, in these last few days, what do you think I’ve been doing?”
“Masturbating over your dead philosophers.”
“No, I’ve been befriending evil, of course.” He heckled. “You see, it’s all linked. Nothing happens in a vacuum, this is the sphere of influence of humanity. Or perhaps, evil. A drug dealer may know a murderer, a murderer may know a syndicate, a syndicate may know a politician. And so on and so on, each man his own ladder step upon the high climb to the truth. And it may be so far up there, so far removed that you can’t see it. But it’s always there, the answer to our mystery. Who is this murderer? What is this cult? What do they want?”
“That’s a lot of words for such a dumb claim. Where’s the truth then? Where’s the answer? ” Dion gestured with open palms. Apollo sighed.
“Here’s what we’re doing, you double-digit IQ monkey. We’re going out to consult evil. An interview of sorts. I have a meeting already. And you’re going to play the role, alright?”
“I hate this stupid plan already. What would Jesus think?”
“Jesus would have summoned God’s wrath upon these wrongdoers, that’s what He would have done and that’s we’re doing.”
“Very carefully at first, seductively at second, and violently at last. When the times right.” Apollo said. Dion nodded, his eyes flaring up almost in anticipation. It put off Apollo, for a bit.
“Alright, here’s the scene. We’re going to a little club out there in the heart of the city, and we’re going there under the pretense of being cocaine dealers. You’re my bodyguard and I’m the Louise Villa, some LA hotshot turned Cartel spokesman for narcotics this side of the country.”
“Well, you do look like a scumbag,” Dion said.
“Our interviewer likens himself to be a big shot. Sells psychedelics, or, ‘mood enhancers’ as he calls them. Well, we’re going in, waving our big money cocks and we’re going to convince him that if he doesn’t buy from us he shouldn’t even be bothering with the game. Then when he bites, as greedy f**** like him tend to do, we’re going to demand to see if he even has a customer base for this s***. And from there, we’ll get a list. I’m sure the gluttonous f*** will more than happy to ego-stroke himself. And if he doesn’t, we’ll beat it out of him. Easy. I just don’t want to start a commotion so it’s easier if we lie to him.” Apollo shifted his eyes to each corner of the alley and each shadow. “I’ve already seen an uptick in cops. They can be quite annoying and hard to navigate around.”
“You’re really sure this is going to go as planned, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, people are predictable. All of them, all the time.”
“Dreadful. Disgusting.” Dion rubbed his temples. “Tell me at least. How’d you organize the meeting?”
Apollo smiled. Wide grinned. Dion looked at his contorted face and the darkness he wore beneath his eyes. They looked completely black, like pits.
“Luck, mostly. There weren’t many ingredients to the whole thing. A dark alley, a poor sap trying to make a buck.” He paused to reflect. “Our shitty Volkswagen and some jumper cables. Those helped.”
And Dion turned away and walked faster down the street. Apollo could tell, looking at the woozy stride of Dion, how he truly was.
Synopsis: The online game <