Jonathan Andrew Sheen (leviathan0999) wrote,
Jonathan Andrew Sheen



Our Right Trusty and Right Well-Beloved Cousins


            Scotty’s hands hurt. So did his shoulder. He had pounded against the door of the cell, thrown himself against it as Kelly (Mom’s name was Grace) screamed. He had shouted Kelly’s name, shouted jokes, knowing that if he could hear Kelly, then Kelly could hear him, and hoping his voice would give his brother (not Russell, no, not Russell) a lifeline to hold onto.

            It had shocked him how quickly Kelly had begun to scream.

            It wasn’t that he hadn’t heard it before. Kelly Robinson was not a man who believed in the macho posturing of suppression. “It doesn’t give ‘em anything,” he’d told Scotty, long ago. “What does it tell them? That they hurt you? They know that. And if they thought they hadn’t, they’d just try harder. It’s no fun for them to listen to, and every now and again, you can scare some dummy into laying off because he thinks he’s going to damage the merchandise. So go on and scream your damn head off.”

            But Scotty couldn’t. He couldn’t tell Kelly why, wouldn’t even really tell himself why. But when Scotty screamed, it was torn from him, uncontrollably. That satisfaction, he would withhold as long as he could.

            Willing though Kelly was to scream when the need arose, it usually took longer than the minute or so that passed between his exit from the room, and the high, ragged shriek that drove Scotty against the door, bellowing his partner’s name.

            Again and again the scream tore through him as he pounded on the door, calling out, “Hang in there, Caruso!” and “No go, man, Fay Wray got the part!” and “I swear, that’s how Elvis got his big break!”

            Finally, there was a pause and then a crash! and then shouts that weren’t Kelly’s, angry voices, not quite loud enough to distinguish their words. “Attaboy, Kel!” he shouted. “I knew you could tick ‘em right off!”

            It wasn’t silence after that, but nothing he could identify, until, five minutes later, footsteps approached the door. “Mr. Scott,” came Alaaeddin’s voice. “We have gained all we can from Mr. Robinson. It will be no inconvenience at all to shoot him in the base of the skull. Do please step back from the door.”

            Scotty did so immediately and without question, stood back against the far wall, stones rough against his back.

            The door opened, and Kelly was catapulted through it, tumbling to curl up around himself at Scotty’s feet. Scotty was crouching to him when the voice, self-impressed and self-amused, brought his face up with a snap to see Alaaeddin’s cold smile through the door. "I trust,” he said, “that you heard Mr. Robinson's grievances?"

            There was no actual thought or planning, no idea about what would happen next. Alexander Scott simply launched himself in a snarling leap any jungle cat would have recognized across the room. Before either of them knew it, he had Alaaeddin’s lapels in his fists, and swung him to slam back against the doorframe.

            “What did you do to him, you son of a–”

            He got no further. Kefenste’s backhand caught the side of his jaw, and he was thrown back to sprawl atop his partner. “Bad boy,” muttered Kefenste, his voice, the grinding of stone against stone, penetrating the starbursts exploding in Scotty’s vision. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you to watch your language?”

            The door closed with a solid thud and they lay for a moment like that, in an untidy pile, like discarded rubbish.

            “Duke....” Kelly finally moaned.


            “Not that you’re not...warm and all...but I was kinda planning...on breathing today.”

            “Com– Complain, complain, man...” Scotty rolled off his partner to lie beside him, his head still ringing. He lay there for another moment, breathing deeply, trying to clear his head. “You okay, Kel?”

            “Well,” allowed Kelly, “I may be singing soprano.”

            “Really?” Scotty’s voice was disgusted. “Really? Man, these guys just have no class. I mean, Jack, that went out with tying old ladies to railroad tracks!”

            “No, no,” gasped Kelly. “You give brother Alaaeddin too little credit. All the modern conveniences, Fred C, everything’s electric.”

            Scotty’s hands clenched into fists. He closed his eyes, thinking. “Battery. House current didn’t blink.”

            Kelly managed a weak laugh. “Not anymore, Dobbsie. I managed to knock it down and break off the covers. All the fluid’s all over the floor in there. Watch your step.”

            Scotty finally rolled his head to examine Kelly’s face. His right eye was puffed almost closed, and darkening quickly. “I see when the battery went, they went for battery.”

            Another cracked chuckle. “Yeah, they didn’t seem to appreciate my efforts at redecorating, Fred.”

            “Well, you know, new ideas for interior design never catch on right away, you see, it takes time for the people to catch up with the visionary few.”

            “Yeah...” the word came out in a sigh.

            “Russ– Kel?”



            “Yeah, Duke.”

            “You okay? I mean, you know, car battery, that’s twelve volts, right? Not likely to be permanent damage.”

            “I think I may play the violin again,” breathed Kelly.

            “Listen, the worst is probably surface burns. Aloe, some antibiotic ointment–”

            “Dobbsie.” Kelly’s voice was firm.

            “Uh... yeah?”

            “Listen, Fred C, I know you’re my trainer and all, but, I’m telling you right here and now. I’ll take any advice you wanna give me, but this injury, I’m treating my own damn self, okay?”

            Scotty felt a chuckle bubble up in his own throat. “All right, Hoby, you go for yourself, then.” He sat up. “I’ll hand you the ointment and walk out the door.”

            Kelly rolled onto his back. “You’re a gentleman…and a scholar…sir, and I…thank you.”

            “So, I guess somebody made some trouble, huh?”

            Kelly grinned savagely. “What I gather…" he breathed for a second, "after they caught us, they decided… they couldn’t make Bashik their whipping-boy. Decided to just ruin him and have done with it. Sent a man out… with the last of the pictures, and two Americans jumped him and stole them, and the truck they rode out on.”

            Scotty laughed. “Well, all right, Jack. It’s like the whole US of A has come out to support my main man Bashik!”

            The King’s eyes burned into Jed Bartlet’s and his mouth opened, and he said, BANG!

            Jed blinked, and his brain caught up with the sound of an inner door slamming open that had interrupted the King’s answer. The King spun toward the lovely, dark young woman who stormed into the office like March in New Hampshire.

            "What are you doing here, Nejmet?” he snapped. “This is not your–"

            "Biko, do you honestly intend to finish that sentence?" she shot back. “I saw Maher Sharif leading a strike team out of the palace. You think I don’t know what he’s–” Her flashing eyes took in the two young Americans. “Oh. Hello.” She turned toward them, extending a hand. “I am Nejmet, the Queen.”

            Jed stepped forward and took her offered hand first. “Jed Bartlet, your Majesty.”

            Leo followed quickly with his own hand, murmuring, “An honor, a real honor. I’m Leo McGarry.”

            Her smile was distracted. “Thank you, Mr. Bartlet, Mr. McGarry–” Her eyes focused. “Any relation to Fergus McGarry?”

            The King’s head also snapped up at that, focusing on Leo.

            Leo eyes widened. “My father.”

            “A very kind man,” she told him with a smile. “He visited the Palace while he was representing your nation in Iran.”

            The King nodded, his head tipping toward the chessboard. “It is an honor to meet his son. We played chess many times. He was a wily player. If you have inherited his skills...”

            “I’ve inherited quite a lot from him, your Majesty,” said Leo, bowing his head. “But Jed, here, beats the pants off me every time.”

            The King’s eyes were serious, as he turned to regard Jed Bartlet. “And are you,” he asked, “the strategist Mr. McGarry has you?”

            “I don’t know.” Jed was as serious. “I try to be.”

            “What are you talking about?” Queen Nejmet’s voice was firm. “Is Maher’s team following some plan of Mr. Bartlet’s?”

            “No, your Majesty,” replied Jed. “Although it is on account of us.” He looked over to her husband, deferring to him.

            “These gentlemen are old friends of Kelly’s and Scotty’s. They came here to report to me that they have been captured by Al Qabda. I have sent Maher to the location where they were captured.” He paused. “The Fist have decided that I cannot be controlled. They ordered the release of these.” He waved the envelope. “There are printers at work in Qumar which will be shipping out more by noon.” He pushed his hand back through his hair. “These gentlemen seem to think that the answer is to give a free preview to the Blind Imam and his son, and start academics rioting in their ivory towers.”

            She plucked the envelope from his hands, broke open the seal.

            “Your Majesty!?” Jed’s and Leo’s voices were both shocked.

            “Nothing I haven’t seen, gentlemen,” she told them, with a humorless smile. “Although much I have not done.” She withdrew the photographs, and glancing through them with distaste and resolve in equal measures. “Although it is sweet for you to be concerned for my ‘innocence.’”

            “I will not have these out of this room,” said the King. “Your plan.... Your plan has some merit, but the risk! If these are taken, if they are seen....” He shook his head. His voice, when he spoke, was full of pain. “She is my wife, you see. I cannot–”

            “Biko!” Her voice was sharp and urgent. “What is this plan?”

            Leo stepped in, even as the King opened his mouth to speak, and the King nodded toward him. “As your husband says, your Majesty, the Blind Imam,  El-Hassan bin Yazeed. He has a far-reaching network of Muslim clergy throughout Qumar. We thought to bring word of this plot to him, with evidence, in the form of that package. It is surely an offense against God and the Prophet to smear a young woman with filth like this in order to ruin her husband. Only the more so if she is Queen, and he, King.”

            “And I will not risk the exposure,” said the King. “I cannot.”

            “It would be moot,” the Queen shot back, stepping to her husband’s side, “come noon tomorrow. But it may be moot already.” She held up the typed sheet of paper Jed had not tried to read. “This was in the package.”

            The King’s gaze sharpened upon it as she read aloud, translating into English for the benefit of the two Americans. “Our luck has been very good. We have managed to photograph the Queen and Khan in excellent light, with a number of appropriate expressions. It was particularly good fortune that they played a most strenuous game of tennis. The Queen’s grimace upon twisting her ankle should prove especially useful. Their expressions of strain and effort will be most appropriate for physical pleasure. The skin tones and builds of the body models must match precisely. Based on the photographs provided, there should be several images of coitus, and three of oral pleasure. Success seems quite certain. Do not copy this message. Return it with the package of photographs. It is signed, Alaaeddin.

            They stood a moment in silence, absorbing the words and their impact. Jed and Leo exchanged a glance, both feeling a slight lessening in tension, and then the King turned suddenly to his wife, and declared, quite forcefully, “I do not want you playing tennis with Kelly!”

            The smile that spread suddenly across her face was like the sunrise, and she punched him playfully on the shoulder. “You are a great fool, Bashik!”

            The King did not smile, but his expression lightened a bit. “In so many, many ways.” he turned toward the Americans, taking the paper from his wife. “Here.” He held the sheet out to them. “You may not take the photographs. They are too dangerous. They are too...”

            Bartlet nodded.

            “But you may take this. This is evidence of the conspiracy. It should prove enough.”

            Jed Bartlet accepted the typed sheet, and Leo asked with a reaching hand, and was given the empty envelope. He offered its open end to Jed, who slid the page back into it.

            “Your Majesty,” Leo began, but was interrupted by the strident jangle of a telephone on the King’s desk.

            “Yes.” The King’s voice into the phone was businesslike. “I see. Hold the premises, I shall be there shortly.” He replaced the phone into its cradle. “That was Mr. Maher. I must leave. They have taken the house where Kelly and Scotty were captured, and it is empty. It appears that Al Qabda has decamped in haste. I must examine the premises before they search for clues.” He looked back and forth between the two young Americans. “I have known you for less than an hour, and my kingdom is now in your hands. To wish you luck would seem self-serving, but I do it anyway. Be careful. Go with God.”

            “Thank you, your Majesty,” said Jed Bartlet.

            It was no great surprise, Scotty thought, that Kelly’s shoulders and back were rigid with tension. Alexander Scott’s fingers, long and firm and still studiedly gentle, worked through the knotted, cramped muscles, loosening and relaxing them, every touch aimed at helping regularize his partner’s pulse and breathing, to soothe and gentle him, encourage his circulation.

            Shock could be fatal, Scotty knew, but the danger passed quickly, and keeping the patient, the victim (not Russell, no, not Russell) warm was a huge part of it. Step one was to cover him, keep body heat in. This branch of the Khadra Hilton didn't have a blanket, so he'd stripped off his heavy cotton shirt to put on Kelly, dragging his arms through the long sleeves; layered over his partner's light T-shirt, it would insulate, help ward off the immediate danger of shock in the chilly cell. He couldn't risk exposing Kelly's torso, so he'd slipped his hands under the layers of clothing to rub his back. The direct contact and friction of skin-on-skin, the normalcy of the act of massage, so familiar to both of them, was step two. Keep his blood flowing, warm and strong, ease his mind as well as his cramping muscles. The muscle tremors were subsiding already, as his hands worked knowledgeably over pressure points and Chakras, letting his fingertips work like an acupuncturist's needles to put pressure to bear on specific spots that would spread healing to larger areas.

            It had been hard to figure out a good place for Kelly to be, to keep his body away from the heat-leaching stone of the floor. Scotty finally ended up sitting Indian-style on the floor, Kelly sitting facing him, his buttocks cradled on Scotty’s legs and ankles crossed at the small of Scotty’s back. Kelly’s head lay on his shoulder as his hands worked those quivering, cramping muscles. Scotty thought it best not to mention basing the position on an illustration in the Kama Sutra. Kelly would love that!

            As Scotty’s fingers worked outwards along Kel’s shoulders again, he felt the head shift against his collarbone, and the trembling hands moving softly up to the back of his head. Kelly probed with surprising gentleness at the growing knot where his head had hit the stone floor.

            “Gonna have quite the goose-egg, there, Pard,” Kelly murmured into his clavicle.

            “Well, you know, Kel, maybe it will turn out to be golden.”

            “I have not noticed, Duke, that that has been our general run of luck in this.”

            The door opened, and the hulking form of Kefenste filled it. He chuckled, low in his throat, a sound like two boulders grinding together. “So sweet,” he ground out. “Get up, little Alexander. It is your time.”

            “No, Hoby,” said Scotty. “I can’t say that it has.”

            Jed and Leo glanced at one another as they stood outside the hotel-room door, as long seconds ticked away after Jed’s firm knock.

            The voice that finally answered through the door was low and smooth, but spoke English, with a silky accent. “What do you want?”

            “We need to speak with you and your father, Imam Amr,” Jed said clearly.

            “You know me?” asked the voice.

            “Not personally, Imam, but I know that you are Amr Hassan, and your father, El-Hassan bin Yazeed.” Jed drew a breath. “I know you share the strongest moral voice in Qumar. I bring you what I’m sure will be unwelcome news of your Sultan.”

            The voice rolled in a gentle laugh. “Unwelcome news of the Sultan is often welcome here.” The door swung open a few inches, and the sharp, dark features regarded them. “I have seen you in this place. Who are you?”

            “My name is Jed Bartlet, Imam. This is Leo McGarry. We do not represent any government, we are here as individuals. But we have learned of actions your Sultan is taking in your name, the name of all your people, which we feel sure you would not welcome. May we come in, and explain?”

            There was a moment of consideration, and then the dark face bobbed in an assenting nod, and moved back with the opening door. A thin voice called from within the room, and Amr Hassan spoke over his shoulder: “In English, Father, please. Our guests are American. They tell me they are here to deliver unwelcome news of the Sultan.”

            The two Americans followed Hassan’s inviting hand, and stepped into the living-room of the suite. The pale, papery figure of El-Hassan bin Yazeed was sitting on the sofa, his eyes staring sightlessly into nowhere. His thin voice laughed softly. “Seldom is news of our beloved Sultan anything else.”

            “Sit, gentlemen,” said the blind man’s son, gesturing to other chairs around the coffee table, on which stood two open boxes containing fresh, white, cotton shirts. He addressed his father again as they seated themselves. “Father, I present two American civilians, who claim they have dire news. Jed Bartlet, and Leo McGarry.”

            “McGarry?” The Imam’s face turned in their general direction, milky eyes giving no indication. “Are you related to Ambassador McGarry?”

            “My father, sir,” said Leo.

            “I trust he is well?”

            “Yes, sir. Retired to Chicago, now, and very happy indeed.”

            “Ah.” The Imam’s voice carried an undertone of amusement. “And thus, not sending his son as some sort of sub-rosa emissary.”

            “No, sir,” said Leo. “I’m nobody’s emissary, I’m just Jed’s friend.”

            “I see.” Bin Yazeed’s head angled slightly away from Leo, and he addressed empty air. “You, Mr. Bartlet, bring news of the Sultan?”

            “I do, sir,” said Jed. “We both do. Leo also witnessed what I am here to report.”

            “Very well, then,” said the Imam, his face turning toward Jed’s voice. “Tell me your tale.”

            Jed drew in a deep breath. “There are things I can’t tell you, of course. Suffice it to say that we were trying to help some fellow Americans in trouble, and found ourselves inside a house being used by Qabdat Sultan Allah El-Mokhtar. We overheard a telephone conversation between an Al Qabda officer and the Sultan himself. The conversation revealed that the Sultan was attempting to blackmail Abd Al-Salaam. He had created, had falsified – I’m sorry, sir, there is no other way to say it – pornographic photographs of Queen Nejmet, and was threatening to release them. The King had defied him, and he ordered immediate release of the pictures. We managed to steal the ones that were here in Khadra, but the Sultan has printing plants working to create more, which will be released by noon tomorrow.”

            As Jed spoke, Amr Hassan leaned forward, eyes intent, and stroked thumb and forefinger down his mustache. His father, however, simply sat, expression neutral. “So... Two Americans with no standing bring me a tale of an eavesdropped telephone call and an evil scheme? And what am I to do with these tidings?”

            “Imam,” said Leo, “we represent no government. This is not some political trickery.”

            “And if it were, you would say so?” The Blind Imam’s voice was warmly amused. “And, of course, you have no proof.”

            “We do, Imam bin Yazeed,” said Jed Bartlet. He held the large envelope toward him, then caught himself and extended it to Amr Hassan instead.

            Hassan opened the envelope, and drew out the typed sheet of Arabic. “A document,” he explained, “typed in Arabic.” He read it aloud to his father, the Arabic words flowing from him like the chuckling music of a country river.

            His father listened with quiet indulgence. “If true,” he said, “it is an outrage in the face of Allah and the Prophet... But how can we know? Anyone may sit down before a typewriter and write such as a fiction.”

            Amr Hassan spoke again in Arabic, his words quicker, his voice more urgent.

            “You are being rude, my son, to our American friends.” The Blind Imam sat back. “My son feels that your news is providential. He feels that I can use it to mobilize religious folk in my country against the Sultan. He feels that we can use such outrage as a springboard to real political power.”

            “Think of it, Father!” Hassan’s voice was intent. “The Bahji are already listened to by many. Looked to for our expertise in the words of the Prophet and the ways of God. Our people are hungry for moral leadership! If we can bring them this news, show them the Sultan’s ungodly contempt for a woman’s purity, they will demand the guiding Hand of Allah. Who better to lead them to Grace than we who have studied the way?”

            Bin-Yazeed considered in silence for a long, long moment. “To be in a position to bring the wisdom of the Prophet into the Palace and marketplace!”

            “Father, we could help guide our nation in the name of God.”

            “And if it is untrue? We will be fools. We will look like posturers grasping for power on the foundation of lies! The Bahji will be in ruins! How can we risk it? How can we risk it without proof?”

            Hassan sat for a moment, mouth pressed tight, eyes focused on Jed. Then he sat forward, and gently lifted a plain white sheet of smooth cardboard from the shirt-box on the coffee table before them. He rattled the stiff sheet. “There is a picture. It is clear that it has been created falsely. It shows the young Queen. She is naked. Her breasts are fine and pert, and there is a man with her, a handsome man who is not the King. His hands are on her body.” He handed the cardboard to his father, whose fingers moved across its slick surface, and picked up the sheet from the other box. “It is another photograph, I can tell it is fake. She is pleasuring him with her mouth.”

            Jed sat back, eyes wide. He turned toward Leo, and saw equal shock staring back at him. They turned back to Hassan, and he gazed coldly at them, his chin tilted up in challenge. Go ahead and tell him, his eyes said, and your cause is doomed.

            The four men sat in their separate silences, two in shock, one in challenge, and one... The Blind Imam’s beard quivered for a moment, sightless eyes wide, and Jed watched, honestly not knowing whether or not he would blurt out the truth of what had just happened before him.

            YES!” cried the Blind Imam. “I have him! That irreligious cur is mine!

            His son nodded his grim satisfaction. “I knew, father, that these men would be welcome.”

Bin Yazeed faced Jed and Leo. “I am quite sure you cannot allow me to keep these. No matter, no matter, the Sultan will provide plenty. You will excuse us, please. There is much work to do.” He turned toward his son, and issued a torrent of Arabic, Jed and Leo forgotten.

            The two Americans exchanged a glance again, and a last look at the challenging dark eyes of Amr Hassan, as they gathered up the envelope and letter, and they stepped to the door and let themselves out into the hallway.

            They walked in silence toward the elevator, and then Jed drew a long, deep breath.

            “We can fix it,” Leo said. “Tomorrow, when this is all over, we can go to him, tell him the truth.”

            Jed nodded tightly. “After the lie has served our purpose.”

            “Do we let Qumar destroy the King, then?”

            “No,” said Jed Bartlet. “No, we don’t.”

            Why does he get to me like this?

            Alexander Scott tried to keep his motions smooth and controlled as the Mountain pushed him along ahead of him, but each hard jab of the heel of the massive hand between his shoulder blades was intended to throw him off-stride, or actually send him to the floor. But that wasn’t enough, any more than his sheer size and power, to explain the sick feeling that had been roiling in the pit of Scotty’s stomach since first seeing him this morning. So why, then?

            But he knew that the answer was right there, right in his head, and that he was shying away from looking at it, seeing instead his Mom’s face, in lines of equal parts determination and fear, Russell’s tears shining on his cheeks.

            He was slammed, face first, into a closed door. “Clumsy boy,” said Kefenste. “You never learned how to open a door?”

            The large hand knocked the plates from Scotty’s small ones. “Can’t you do anything right? Look what you did! Dropped the dirty dishes! You best clean that up, boy!”

            “Well, you know, not everybody can be a graceful gazelle like you, Mountain,” Scotty mumbled, shaking his ringing head.

            The rough voice barked with laughter. “Graceful gazelle! That’s good!” The huge hand twisted the knob, threw the door wide as the other shoved again between Scotty’s shoulder blades, sending him sprawling to the floor. “Joke while you can, boy! Laugh before you cry.”

            “Shut up, boy, before I give you something to cry about!”

            “Cry?” Scotty pulled himself up to a kneeling  position from where he’d landed on the floor. “Man, I get paid too well to cry.” He stayed on hands and knees, shaking his head again. “What’s Alaaeddin paying you, anyway? Should be enough to keep you from crying, I’ll tell you that much, Jack.”

            “The pay is not so great,” said Kefenste, and there was a separate sound underlying his words that Scotty recognized, and he began to lift his head. “But I do like the perks.”

            That sound resolved before Scotty could focus on the sight of the man, leather sliding along cloth, and his eyes began to track the motion as his vision closed in on the swinging end of Kefenste’s belt slithering from the last belt-loop, and then flashing to slap into his palm with a loud Crack!

            “Oh, now, come on!” Scotty reached for, but could not quite achieve, a tone of casual incredulity. “With a belt? Are you kidding me? Man, nobody uses a belt these days!”

            The leather moved through the air with the unconscious, sinuous grace of a swimming snake, but at the speed of a lightning-bolt, and pain flared across Scotty’s cheek before the sound of the Snap! reached him.

            I do,” said Kefenste. “It is all I need.”

            Scotty started to stand, knees shaking, and the leather sliced sideways through the air, across his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose, the blow landing with enough force to send him over backwards. He lay panting on the floor, looking up at the gigantic shape looming over him.

            “Who do you think you are, boy!?” His father’s voice is a deep rumble from high above him. The tiles of the bathroom floor are cool under his bare back. The empty Scotch bottles gleam where they lay beside him.

            “There are two more Americans. Agents. Working with you. You and Robinson covered their escape with your lives. What was their mission? Where are they now?”

            “You hit! When you drink that, you hit us. You hit Mom!

            “It’s just us, man,” Scotty gasped. “How many times do we hafta tell you, we’re it!”

            “Mine!” The voice is thick with rage. The big man smells of liquor. No matter what he’s got at home, he always stops first at a bar. “My wife. My brats. My Scotch!” On some level, realization dawns for Scotty: It’s going to be worse this time. It’s going to be worse because his father understands. He understands what Scotty did when he poured the Scotch down the toilet, and he understands why, and he understands that Scotty was right to do it. He understands that he’s wrong, and he understands how wrong he is, and knows that Scotty knows how wrong he is, and that, that knowledge, that judgment, is going to buy Scotty the worst beating yet.

            “I don’t care, really,” Kefenste said. “The mission is in endgame, and nothing your partners do can change it. What I don’t like is that you talk to me as if I’m so stupid that I will think down is up and white is black. Answer me, don’t answer me, it doesn’t really matter.” The belt snapped down again, a blinding, white-hot star of pain bursting over Scott’s right eye. “You’ll never have respect, so I shall settle for teaching you fear.”

            Scotty rolled shakily away from the giant, eyes clenched shut, breath shuddering from his body, and the leather belt cracked across his back, ripping his thin undershirt open, a line of fire as his chest scraped over the concrete floor, the shirt catching on the little nubs in the rough cement.

            “I am your goddam father, you little snot! I put the roof over your head and the clothes on your back and the food on your goddam table! You’ll show me respect!” The buckle of the belt strikes Scotty’s side so hard that his flesh will bear its shape for weeks. “Bad enough your uppity mother don’t know her place, you think I’m going to let you–” The voice is interrupted by a grunt as his father swings the belt again, the buckle sending a spray of blood up from the boy’s forehead.

            The next blow sliced against Scott’s neck, a line of blood and fire from ear to collarbone.

            The rage comes then, inside young Alexander Scott, white-hot and tight-focused like a welder’s torch, and the words form in his head, That’s enough! and he rolls onto his side, and his leg straightens in a pistoning blow into his father’s stomach.

            But he’s only a boy of seven, and Virgil Scott is a grown man, a Navy veteran, and the blow serves only to make him angrier. His own huge foot slams into the boy’s stomach, and he helplessly curls around it, hearing his own thin voice scream.

            Scotty rolled again, got his feet under him, and launched himself up, head-first, toward Kefenste’s solar plexus. The grating chuckle sounded again as the huge knee came up swiftly into his face, and his momentum curved upward and he seemed to hang, semi-conscious, in mid-air for a moment, before folding to the floor at the Mountain’s feet. He looked up and saw, in a terrible frozen moment, the savage grin before the heavy foot drove into his gut, his breath expelled from him in a solid mass as he was thrown backward against the wall.

            The foot smashes this time into his back, over his kidney, and he arcs backward in time for the belt-buckle to come up under his chin, sending another thin spray of blood onto the floor. Part of him wants to just sink into misery, but the knowledge stays with him, keeps him aware and focused. He knows his father’s job. It’s to care for him, to protect him and raise him up into a man, raise him up to one day be a father himself. And as the blows and lashes begin to run together, he knows this much. Whatever kind of man he will grow up to be, it will be in spite, not because, of his father.

            And while he cries out sometimes with pain, young Alexander Scott does not weep.

            He slid to the floor, vision whited out, ears ringing, and blinked up at the figure towering above him, the figure that was both Letsego Kefentse and Virgil Scott. The belt came curling down at him again, with the same blinding speed from past and present, lines of fire searing across his skin again and again, crossing over one another in a blazing pattern, like a drunkard's game of tic-tac-toe, childhood, adulthood, the drunken father, the paid thug, amalgamated by his semiconscious brain into a single malevolence, a single hateful power, a storm-cloud that lashed down on him with thunderclaps of speeding, slicing leather.

            Boy and man were one as he lay on the concrete, writhing and twisting, trying to avoid the lashing, vicious belt, all his efforts poured into the muscles that held his jaw clamped shut, his only thought a repeated childish mantra: I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry.

            Finally, there was a savage growl, wordless rage, and the massive hands picked him up, shook his body like a rag-doll, his head snapping this way and that, before throwing him back against the cellar wall. Father? Mountain? He couldn’t know. The enormous fist took him under the chin, and the back of his head met the concrete wall, and then, after an explosion of red through his vision, all was black and silent.



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