Friends in High Places

He hit her again, in the face this time. She took it with a grunt, her entire body twisting in the chair under the ropes. For a brief second Garza thought she had passed out. Then she opened her eyes and spat blood at the hunter’s feet. Lester looked down at his shoes, once-white sneakers, then back at Flora. With a yell he backhanded her, Flora’s head swinging violently in the other direction.

“Stop!” Garza yelled.

“Lester,” Carmella said. She was still leaning comfortably against the wall, looking for all the world like she was loitering outside a convenience store.

Lester sniffed. “These sneakers were expensive.”

“Then maybe don’t wear them to something like this,” Flora said, her head still hanging. “Idiot.”

Lester pulled his fist back, but it froze with a single “Ah-ah” from Carmella.

“You’re sounding tired, Flora,” Carmella said. She pulled herself off the wall and took her time to cross the space between. It was a factory, long since abandoned and falling apart around them. If Flora had been screaming – which she hadn’t – there wasn’t anyone for miles to hear them.

Garza pulled against his own restraints as Carmella approached. He was untouched so far, besides some rope burns at his wrists and ankles. He knew that wouldn’t last. But at the last second Carmella turned from him, turned that shark’s grin from him to her. The sound of her high heels clicked dully against the concrete until she was standing directly in front of Flora. She spat again, even more blood this time. But Carmella’s shoes were already red.

“You think this is my only pair?” Carmella asked. She crouched down so she was at Flora’s level. With a clean hand with painted nails she took a fistful of Flora’s hair and pulled her head up, eliciting no more than a harsh push of air from Flora’s nose. “You look at me while I’m talking to you.”

“You’re the only bitch here besides me,” Flora got out. “You think I’m going to confuse you and the Great White Ape here?”

Carmella stopped Lester with a single hand, not even bothering to look back at him. Lester grunted but stopped, crossing his arms at his chest. There was nothing behind the man’s eyes, unless seething rage could somehow count as a thought. Garza had always wondered if he was something besides human. But an inhuman hunter? An actual crazy thought.

“I know you’re mad,” Carmella practically cooed into Flora’s ear. “And you’ve got all that anger directed at us. But we’re not the villains here. The choice is in your hands. Just bring him here, and this is all over.”

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” Flora said sweetly. “Even if I did your plan is pointless. You can’t kill a god.”

“No. But you can trap one,” Carmella said.

Flora and Garza frowned, and for the first time since this began Flora looked to Garza. He shrugged. First he was hearing of it.

“We’ve got the whole building rigged. I’m amazed you didn’t notice. Oh, right. You weren’t conscious. Well, if you had been, you would have seen the sigils out front, and the blood and salt and whatever else we did out there. Honestly, it was all a blur.”

“Magic,” Garza said. “That’s magic. You people don’t do magic.”

Carmella looked at him over her shoulder, still holding Flora’s head, and shrugged. “What upper management doesn’t know doesn’t hurt them. Now-”

She turned back to Flora and pulled her hair again, making Flora wince. “This is your last chance. I know you can bring him here, I know he gave you a way to do it. So do it. Or…what did you call him…the Great White Ape starts working on little bro here.”

Lester cracked his knuckles, and despite himself Garza swallowed hard. Sweat dripped into his eyes, making him blink.

“Lester’s a bit of a sexist,” Carmella stage whispered behind her hand. “He’s been pulling his punches with you. He won’t with little brother.”

“Don’t.”

“I won’t. If you do it.”

“I can’t.”

“You can. You just don’t want to. I can change that. Lester?”

He began moving toward Garza, hands already in fists.

“Please, don’t.”

“Flora, don’t say anything.”

“He’s not supposed to be a part of this.”

“Flora, don’t-”

Lester’s fist found Garza’s stomach, and his other found his face. The air was gone and stars were there and Flora was still yelling but he couldn’t make out the words over the crash of waves. He hadn’t been hit since the fifth grade and Lester hit a lot harder than Timmy Weston. He looked up in time to see Lester’s fist pulled back again and he turned his head away, waiting.

Instead of the fist, Flora started singing.

If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Want to change the world, there’s nothing…to it.”

She spat the last words out like the blood before. Panting, she looked up at Carmella.

“Happy?”

Carmella grinned. “I’m about to be. Lester, leave him. Get to your post, just like we rehearsed. We’ve prepared a room for our guest, and we don’t want to disappoint a god. Even if he is just the trickster god of thieves.”

Flora’s head snapped up so quickly Garza heard something crack in her neck. And then she was laughing. It was hysterical. And dark. Carmella and Lester exchanged looks, at first annoyed. But like eddies of oil leaking into a river, concern began to show on Carmella’s face.

“What is so funny?” she asked, finally.

At first, Flora couldn’t answer, she was still laughing so hard. She had to exert effort to get herself under control. As she spoke, Garza noticed that the concrete underneath his feet had begun to shake, ever so slightly.

“You think that little song was a call for Vance? I worked with him for years. If I want to get a hold of Vance I just call him on the fucking phone.”

For the first time, Carmella didn’t look self-satisfied. She looked…well, she looked scared.

“The holding sigils are for him,” she said. “They won’t hold anyone else.”

Flora leaned back in her chair as the room began to shake properly. “You should have done more research.”

Carmella lunged forward, grabbing Flora by each shoulder and almost pushing her and the chair back onto the floor.

“Who did you call?” she screamed. Even Lester was beginning to crack, giving the lights above them dancing violently on their strings a doubtful look.

“I just called him Al. But you might know him as Odin, or Mars, or Ares. Tell me, Carmella, can your little trap hold the god of war?”

With a roar, the ceiling above them ripped in two.


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