They came straight from the hospital after the doctor informed them of Peter’s survival and Winthrop explained that
Peter had fallen into a coma. No one knew if he’d wake, but the members seemed certain he’d never practice the Methods again.
Calypso had gotten into the car with him, and they returned to his apartment. Aiden led her into Charles de Clare’s
old office; it was a spacious, rectangular room with a ceiling some forty feet high. A suspended second floor hung above the door like an indoor balcony. It served as a reading area, the bookcases
holding the entire de Clare family’s Order library and planks of varnished wood, jammed into the wall, made up the staircase that led to it, a staircase only Aiden could use. The planks would give
way beneath anyone else, or so Calypso told him. Reminds me of Winthrop’s office.
Muskets and pistols from the American Revolution hung from the wall to the left, Charles de Clare’s own portrait
hanging above a row of cabinets that held most of his documents.
‘’Will Eddie want revenge?’’ Aiden asked Calypso as she sat across the desk from him with her legs crossed, drumming
her fingers on her knee.
‘’I doubt it,’’ Calypso murmured.
‘’Why?’’ Aiden leaned back in his chair. The open window behind him created a draft that caressed the back of his
‘’He’s lost all of his friends today, Aiden. He’s in no position to get revenge on anyone.’’
‘’Aren’t Devon and the rest his allies?’’
‘’Sure, but they’ll never admit it. Not now.’’ She rubbed the back of her head. ‘’Peter and Devon had been fighting
for leadership anyway. Now Devon’s won and as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Eddie and Peter acted alone. That way they can bide their time, instead of having to go out and fight for
Aiden examined the unflinching expression on her face. ‘’And do we know why this attack even happened?’’
‘’Some discord within the Order, presumably.’’
‘’You should know that better than I, Aiden. I’ve been an absentee member for years.’’
Aiden’s eyes narrowed and he tapped his foot on the floor. ‘’No one’s told me. Why is that?’’
‘’The knowledge of the Order Methods and that diamond necklace you won’t take off make you too powerful to be used as
a tool, but still too weak to be anyone’s ally. They probably see no point in it.’’
Aiden stood up from his chair and paced behind his skeleton glass desk. He couldn’t keep still another second.
‘’Barbara Cunningham told me my arrival to New York was a powerful portent. ‘A sign of the Gods challenging our credo’, she said.’’
Her eyes followed him. ‘’Perhaps they thought you’d be exceptionally talented when it came to the Methods of the
Order. Perhaps they thought Charles de Clare had left everything to you for a reason.’’
‘’And now I’ve proven he was just another ego-maniac who couldn’t bear the thought of anyone but his blood holding the
fortune, even if it’s someone like me.’’
‘’You’re a cold-hearted bitch,’’
‘’I’ve been told, yes,’’ she nodded as she shifted in her seat, her expression the picture of serenity.
Aiden gave her an ugly look. ‘’And you?’’ he asked. ‘’How come you have no wish for vengeance? The Order killed your
father, didn’t they?’’
‘’Most likely.’’ She crossed her arms.
‘’So you’ve just given in? He’s murdered, and you just sit here, running errands for the people who did it?’’
‘’Are you incompetent or just too scared to do anything about it?’’
She pursed her lips. ‘’Your attempts at manipulation are pathetic.’’
‘’No more than your attempt to avoid answering the question.’’ He shot back and sat down in his chair with an
irritating grin. ‘’I suppose you felt vindicated today when Peter got crushed. Seeing others fail makes your excuses for not even trying sound at the more believable, right?’’
‘’Who said I’m not trying?’’ she tilted her head.
‘’Peter and Eddie wanted to undermine the Order, yet you didn’t help? Did you know they stole Barbara
Cunningham’s Book of Battles?’’
A slight widening of the eyes, her back went stiff. Aiden counted it a victory. ‘’I didn’t help, because they are but
little children with no understanding of how people work.’’ She regained her composure.
‘’And how do they work?’’ he asked with a wry smile.
‘’You’re not funny, Aiden.’’
‘’But you can still tell me.’’
She huffed in growing exasperation. ‘’Let’s say I kill your mother. What would you do?’’
‘’Kill you.’’ He said with a frown.
‘’You say that because you don’t have to go through with the killing.’’ She gave him a pointed look. ‘’I don’t seek
revenge against the Order by any means necessary because I don’t like the person I’d have to become in the process. Right now I can either become a murderer or accept that Winthrop holds power over
me. I don’t mind accepting the latter, at least until I’ve exhausted all other options.’’
Aiden hummed and fell back in his chair. He spun around to face the view of Manhattan. ‘’What will happen now?’’
‘’Nothing,’’ he heard from behind. ‘’whatever the conflict was about, Winthrop’s won.’’
‘’There’ll be no pushback from the other members?’’ he asked.
‘’Most of the Order members are perfectly willing to enjoy their power without ever risking it. Regardless of his
intentions, Peter lost.’’ Again the echoes of her father’s defeat polluted her words. ‘’Winthrop’s power stands unchallenged. The rest of the Order will follow where he leads.’’
‘’And what’s my place in all this?’’
‘’You have no place. You’re a passive observer. They won’t try to bring you on-side because they have nothing to fear
if you go rogue.’’
‘’Or maybe they fear I’d go rogue if they brought me on-side.’’
‘’I doubt it.’’
‘’Yeah?’’ he spun back to face her. ‘’Why? If their plans are so altruistic, surely they’d have taken the first
opportunity to tell me about them. Instead, they keep quiet, and Winthrop gives me a speech about my new-found power and invites me to consider how I’ll use it.’’
‘’But Eddie didn’t tell you anything either, did he?’’ Her eyes glinted like dagger points.
‘’It’s just a matter of asking.’’
‘’Which is why you told him to join us here,’’ She gave a venomous smile. ‘’So where is he?’’
‘’What are you trying to get at?’’
‘’They wanted you for a pawn,’’ she stuck him with the knife. ‘’You think they never considered Peter might end up
attacked during the protest? They knew it might happen, which is why they staged it during your exhibition. They thought you’d jump in to save Peter and end up killed in his place.’’
Aiden eyed her across the desk, thinking, I’ve known you six months, and this is the first time I’m sure you’re
lying. ‘’Well, it’s all worked for the best in the end. I’m not dead, and I won’t be pulled into some game before I even got a chance to buy a Ferrari.’’
‘’Wise choice,’’ she gave him a firm nod.
‘’You should probably get going,’’ he murmured and stood up to make sure she knew it wasn’t a suggestion. ‘’I need to
get some rest.’’
‘’Sure,’’ She said. He walked her to the elevator and gave her a hug when the door slid open. ‘’Call me if you need
anything, okay?’’ She looked up at him.
‘’You know it,’’ he lied. He walked up the stairs to his bedroom when she left, past the portraits of countless
members of the de Clare clan, all of whom looked at him with eyes full of understanding. Don’t think, he told himself. Get some sleep first.
He took a quick, steaming hot shower. His eyes still flared up in pain every once in a while despite the manipulated
water, so it was with a happy sigh that he collapsed onto his bed and closed them. He wrapped himself up in the blanket and buried his head in the pillow. Sleep claimed him within minutes.
When he woke up, it was night out and the lights in the surrounding buildings helped him find his way as he stumbled
through his bedroom. He put on his pajamas, a thick velvet robe, and walked to the top of the staircase, groggy from a nap that lasted too long. ‘’Janine?’’ he called.
He heard a door open a few seconds later and she hurried out. ‘’Yes, sir?’’ she looked up at him.
‘’Could you bring me a cup of chamomile tea and a sandwich to the balcony?’’
‘’Of course, sir.’’
The second floor of his apartment was split in two by the staircase. A hallway stretched to the left and to the right
of it, the stairs working as a marker that separated the family wing from the guest rooms. The balcony worked the same way, nestled between the rooms as if someone had built a Lego tower and forgot
to add the last small piece in the middle of the top floor.
The glass door opposite the staircase led to it, with two more entrances on each side so the guests and the host might
come together for a nightcap under the open sky. Aiden opened the door and took a deep breath of the cool evening air. The Jacuzzi in the corner by the rail tempted him for a moment, but he opted
to lie down on one of the deckchairs beside it instead.
So, Aiden de Clare, what kind of a man would you like to be? Calypso had put the question before him, but her
intentions remained vague. If he’d been wrong to trust Eddie, he’d be a fool to trust Calypso. She could do more damage than Eddie could ever dream, so he preferred to tell a harmless lie rather
than risk revealing a dangerous truth. Aiden had no interest in buying a Ferrari, considering I already own three.
He did not know if a man can decide what kind of a person he wishes to be. Discovering what kind of a person
you’ve always been sounded far more plausible. And I’ve already done that.
They’d been on a roll before ideas of arson sparked in Jason’s mind. By rigging the poker game the previous owner
attended every week, they gained complete ownership of the bar. Little by little, the man had to give up his share to pay off his debts.
Aiden still saw the old man in his dreams. Short, fat, his grey mustache yellowed from cigarette smoke, and so very
kind. But weak. They ran him out of town like starving, feral children, giving no thought to their actions as long as they got their hands on the next meal. Aiden wired him a hundred
thousand dollars the second he gained control of his inheritance.
The bar they’d appropriately renamed Carpe Diem became a hit with the rich kids and their financially
handicapped imitators, a sort of pit-stop between the restaurant and the nightclub. They drew them in with cheap drinks and fancy accommodations and made a killing with diluted coke.
Aiden liked to think of himself as some hard-working innkeeper when he polished the glasses, swept the floors, and
scrubbed puke-stained bathroom sinks every morning. He was a wise owner when he invested the money into renovations; frugal, when he tended the bar himself instead of hiring a waiter; creative when
he filmed his promotional videos.
It had been a happy time, that much he could still admit, no matter how much hindsight distorted the memory. Jason
drew the people in with his effortless charm. Aiden did the legwork and made sure they got paid with his ruthless ambition. They worked perfectly together, each taking care of his piece of turf.
Then came a night, in early spring, when Jason had come with the idea of burning down their one remaining competitor.
The insurance would take care of it, he said, and in time they would rebuild it. But before that, the two of them would have an entire summer for themselves.
Aiden, drunk on success, agreed. Every idea they’d ever tried worked out, so a week later they took a couple of
gallons of gasoline and used it to water the entrance of their lone competitor.
He took a sip of tea and shook his head. What a pair of idiots. When the owner of the bar came running out
the back door, scared out of his mind, they thought it to be the worst of their blunder. They didn’t know his connection to the local mob boss until a friend showed up the next morning and revealed
the latest development with great excitement, as though he got to live through a real-life re-enactment of Goodfellas.
The gangster’s name was Thomas Cockshaw. An old, self-made man with dead eyes and an ugly scar on his cheek – a
memento of his climb through the ranks. Aiden had met him before and the thought of his impending visit made sure he didn’t sleep that night. Or the one after that. It had been a long week, but it
ended with a surprise. Instead of coming to visit them, the mob boss visited the jail, along with half of his organization.
His cousin proved himself a scoundrel, a thief, and a rat. He’d been stealing from Cockshaw for many years, and when
his bar burned down around him, he thought it an attempt on his life. Scared out of his mind, he took the only option that afforded him a chance of survival: he ran to the cops and sang like a
Aiden and Jason celebrated that night alone in the bar, popping bottles of champagne as they declared themselves God’s
chosen ones. ‘’Fate watches over us like a mother over her favorite children,’’ they had laughed.
Two weeks later, as they closed down after a slow Tuesday night, a group of men came to the bar, led by none other
than Ian Cockshaw, Thomas’s son. Aiden didn’t piss himself in fear only because he didn’t have the time to do it. Ian and his boys beat them up, raided their bar for all the money they stashed in
it, and wrecked it for good measure. ‘’You have a week to bring us the rest of your money,’’ Ian loomed over them as they laid on the floor, crying and moaning. ‘’Or you’re
dead.’’ Funny enough, he never mentioned his father or the burned-down bar.
Jason went into a panic and became convinced they would survive only if they did as they were told. Aiden suspected
they were dead regardless but gave up on trying to convince Jason after a day or two.
He forced my hand. Aiden stuck with that belief, though he regretted what it led him to. The two of them sold
what was left of their coke and emptied all their caches of money; it amounted to a hundred thousand pounds.
Aiden went and bought two identical sports bags. He filled one with cash in front of Jason, and the other with
newspapers in private. ‘’No point in risking both our lives,’’ Jason told him. ‘’I’m the one who said we should burn down the bar, I’m the one who should pay the price for it.’’
Aiden had been quietly relieved. In his selfishness, in his fear, in his desperation, he hardly considered the risk
when he sent Jason off with a bag full of newspapers.
Snake, he thought and took another bite of the sandwich. He remembered skulking in the night at the edge of
the parking lot, outside a mall. The humid air that promised rain made it hard to breathe and his heart pounded in his chest so hard he heard nothing else. He kept his eyes on Jason, watched him
shuffle in place as he waited for Johnny to arrive.
It took thirty seconds for the Devil to play out his charade. Ian drove up in a shining new BMW, high off coke, beat
up Jason as a form of greeting, and ripped open the bag. When he found nothing but newspapers inside, all the guns came out.
The cops who’d been lying in wait jumped into action. Five gunshots rang through the air. When Aiden summoned the
courage to peek from behind the hood of the car, he found a police officer with a bullet in his thigh, Ian bleeding out on the concrete while Jason screamed, trying to crawl away.
Ian survived and was promptly shipped off to jail. Everyone agreed his stupidity got him caught, not the actions of a
snitch. Jason was seen as a random victim, Aiden’s name was never mentioned. The cops took one look at Jason’s bag, believed Jason to be their informant, and made sure to let it be known they had
laid the trap because they’d been wire-tapping Ian’s phone for weeks.
Just as I planned. He’d been a fool. When it came to his ambitions, life seemed like a game of chess, though
a far more thrilling version where one wrong move will get your head knocked off your shoulders. He never considered that in life sacrificing pawns creates corpses.
He retreated into the safety of the University and the comfort of its books. He offered all the money they’d made to
Jason’s family, but they wouldn’t take it, and Aiden refused to throw it away. Like a mercenary, so good at killing that he found himself a noble, Aiden regretted his actions but did not want to
taste the desperation that birthed them ever again.
At the University he stayed, for two years, where he came to grips with his decisions and developed some ideals to go
along with his lack of scruples. He made the only choice that afforded them a chance of survival. He refused to apologize for it, even as he begged for forgiveness during the long nights, promising
never to dip a toe in those waters again.
And then strange lawyers began calling, I learned how the world truly works, and found himself in a place
that demanded the return of his old self. That couldn’t be allowed to happen, but he wouldn’t stumble about in the dark and make himself the helpless victim either. Peter’s fate proved the need for
caution and the utter ruthlessness on Winthrop’s part shook him. No shot across the bowel, no hint of warning. One, surgical move to crush a cockroach. There had to be something more to
He needed to find out what Winthrop had planned, and why Peter and Eddie opposed him. If it turned out they had a
difference in opinion on what the tax rate should be, he’d let out a grateful sigh of relief and forget all about their games. But if there was more to the story, he’d be a fool to let it unfold
without finding out the truth behind it. Not when remaining ignorant might cost him his life.
He stood up, leaned against the railing, and cast his eyes to the darkness of Central Park. ‘’Here’s what I know,’’ he
murmured to himself. ‘’Calypso’s my liaison with the Order, which ostensibly means she could also be used as a spy. God knows what Winthrop has on her.’’
But she also blamed the Order for the fate of her father, which made it far more likely that she played a double-game
and would choose a side when she felt like it. She talks about choices, but she hasn’t made any, and that is a choice in and of itself. She wanted to play it safe. ‘’She can’t be trusted.
Not yet at least.’’
‘’Winthrop’s got his agenda, and seems to have little interest in involving me in it.’’ That much made sense. It went
against everything he wanted to believe about himself, but he had to admit he wouldn’t be very useful in a fight against any of the Order members. ‘’And then there’s Eddie, who might’ve wanted to
use me, but never got the chance.’’
Did Eddie harbor dreams of revenge, or did he give in? ‘’If I give him the chance, will he point me in the right
direction, or will he follow Winthrop’s orders to prove his loyalty?’’
Hard to know, and Aiden had never been much good at poker. ‘’I should go to someone who wasn’t directly involved.’’ He
nodded to himself at that. It’s the only way. If he understood Calypso’s words correctly, most of the Order members stood on the sidelines and watched as the most powerful and the most
principled of its members battled for the privilege of shaping the future. ‘’They know what’s going on, but they don’t seem to have a horse in the race.’’
‘’Who to choose?’’ Aside from the Three Priests, he hardly knew anyone else. ‘’It must be one of the younger
generation,’’ and in a flash, the answer came to him. ‘’Zara.’’ She put the least effort in getting to know him, which in hindsight meant she had the least interest in screwing him over. But how to
go about getting close to her? If Aiden had a sliver of good looks, any charisma to speak of, or at least a small degree of both, he’d charm her panties off and take part in the age-old tradition
of the post-coital confessional. ‘’Clearly, that’s not an option,’’ he grunted. ‘’But I’ve got my mind.’’
Crossing her path shouldn’t be an issue. Aiden got invited to charity events and galas every week. Zara had to suffer
from the same pests. ‘’It’s merely a matter of finding out which invitation she accepted.’’ And once he surprised her in the middle of the dance floor, what then? How to turn a polite bout of small
talk into a full-blown session of revelations?
Well, now, a defeated smile blossomed on his face. I suppose I’d better get to work.
© Copyright 2021 spear-shake. All rights reserved.