Two In One Day? It’s Like Christmas, But With Casinos

March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

I bought insurance today. I really feel like an old man all of a sudden.

Days off are great when they are used appropriately, and I have to say that so far, this one has. I’ve got a bunch of reading for you, I got that insurance (shudder), and I am going out in a bit. I know you’re all jealous, but I haven’t stuck my nose outside yet. It’s a beautiful day outside, and I’ve been working in the basement so far. I can’t wait until the summer and I can write outside.

XIII.

“Blackjack!”

The other players groaned as Amira laid down her cards. The smiling Jack and Ace of Spades cleaned out the table and a variety of demons and mortal souls left in disgust. The dealer, a smug-looking praying mantis the size of a bull, pushed forward a glittering pile of memories, Amira’s winnings. They were piled together in a heap and looked like a stack of sparkling spiderwebs. Amira’s samodiva, on loan from Baba Yaga, flew out and collected the memories into a leather bag while Amira flipped one to the dealer. It wasn’t much of a tip, just the feeling of a cigarette after a long day at work, but it graciously thanked her all the same.

Amira pretended to pout and look bored while she sat alone at the table. The frenzied whirring and clanging of the crowded casino matched the turmoil of her heart despite her cool exterior. Spider’s luck, inscribed on a ring she wore, he just run out and she didn’t fancy her chances at the table now. But she had a plan to follow and a contact to meet, yet still her nerves spun like the roulette wheel and she almost jumped every time a jackpot was pulled on a slot machine. Truth be told, the Damned Lucky wasn’t the most low-key place to hold a meeting, but Baba Yaga had assured her that there was no better place to hide in plain sight.

“The law is the only thing that’s stopped at the door to the Damned Lucky. Lucifer might not like it, but he allows a whole whack of illegal business to go on behind those fancy doors.” She spat in the fire to show her approval of the casino. “No-one’s eager to ask questions and it’s frowned upon to enquire too close. It’s bad for business, I’m told. I’ll send a message to Leviathan, and he’ll grant you an audience. He’d better,” she growled, “that flaccid eel owes me a favour or four.”

But, as Amira found, meeting with one of the Princes of Hell (or, as they preferred to be called in this democratic age: one of the member’s of Hell’s caucus) wasn’t as easy as it sounded, even in his own domain. Baba Yaga had sent a message ahead, but Amira was left to her own devices in the casino. The casino was enormous and twisted, with architecture that actually hurt Amira to focus too clearly on it. Gamblers played standing upside down on the ceiling, shot craps standing perpendicular on the walls, and played roulette on a Escher-esque infinite staircase. Amira wasn’t sure how the betting worked, but they cheered every time the ball defied gravity and causality. It was enough to make her sick, if she still had a stomach and was capable of being sick.

The samodiva hovered at her elbow, serving as both pack-mule and a symbol that Baba Yaga had taken an interest in her. The old witch had assured her that it was a good thing to have powerful friends, and Amira couldn’t disagree. Although she wasn’t the only mortal soul (Amira had trouble thinking of them as people) present, she was the only one without an escort. The other souls walked with demonic bodyguards or patrons, or moved in packs like schools of fish. They seemed cautious to the point of frightened, and they carried themselves with an air of near-panic.

The whole casino was, in a word, fishy. Not only did oceanic decor cover the walls as fish leapt from paintings, ponds, or the raging river that cut through the floor of the casino, something smelt off. Things seemed too much like the people in attendance were trying too hard to appear at ease. It scared Amira.

Hell, lots of things scared Amira at this point. Mr. Saturday was still out there, Lucifer probably didn’t want her doing what she as about to do, and what of the other guests at Mr. Saturday’s meeting? Hadn’t they shown an unhealthy interest in her already? Not to mention the fact that she hardly trusted Baba Yaga or Spider anyways!

She blew out a sigh and rested her chin in her hand. It was tough being her. Her samodiva waved away the waiter, an ambulatory whale in a tuxedo who hoomed in annoyance. Amira tugged at her gloves and consoled herself that at least she looked the part of a Hellish spy.

A black strapless gown clung to her, accenting her figure and hiding her (relatively few, let it be said) faults. It shimmed darkly, as though it was made of spiderweb and smoke, which, in this case, it probably was. It caught the light but did not sparkle, and drew glances from every male-looking spirit in the room. Long black gloves and a single brooch on her breast, an emerald spider the colour of her eyes, completed the ensemble. Amira had to admit that she looked simply fabulous and wouldn’t have looked out of place on the red carpet at the Oscars. It appealed to her, in a girlish way. As much as she prided herself on being a simple woman with simple tastes, she never once skipped the chance to dress up to the nines. And she certainly never had a dress this fancy. The silk was so thin it felt like she was wearing air, but at the same time, when she gathered it between her fingers it felt strong enough to block a bullet. It probably could, when Amira thought about it. She didn’t think too hard, because the only spider she knew in Hell was, well, Spider, and she didn’t want to think about where his silk came from, but Baba Yaga had reassured her she would be in no danger.

Of course, Spider had pointed out that she had been in danger from the moment she entered Hell. It was not a reassuring thought.

“Usually, my dear, the patron doesn’t refuse complimentary drinks. Especially in Hell, where things like hospitality still matter.”

The voice was low and sultry, but caught on the long vowels. He obviously wasn’t a native speaker of English, but Amira had given up on figuring out how language worked in Hell. Somehow, communication continued despite obvious problems such as the lack of lungs or common language. Amira took it for granted, just like the cetacean waiter and the fact she was in Hell.

“Usually, the gambler wants to keep their head while they play. And I assure you, sir, your casino has been most hospitable, if we will consider my current profits proof of your hospitality.”

She smiled at the man and extended her hand.

“Amira Mehenni.”

“Marcus Junius Brutus, but you may call me Marcus.” He took her hand and kissed it while a small smile danced on his lips. The Brutus. The killer of Julius Caesar and the slayer of tyrants. He was younger than she imagined, but worry lines still graced his face, evidence of a difficult life. He was handsome, though, in a severe, Roman way. His suit was understated and his hair short, but he carried himself like a man who knew how the world worked. He was, Amira reasoned, a senator of the Roman Republic, where guts and confidence were never in short supply, and where they had, at least for a time, dictated how the western world worked.

“Well, Marcus, what have I done to earn the pleasure of your visit? Surely I haven’t broken the bank already? I’ve no intention of leaving yet.” Amira’s tone was light, almost mocking. They were playing a game and they knew it, and to Amira, games were all about the fun you could have playing them.

Amira: Your move, big boy. You’re here for a reason, so let’s hear it.

“No, no, far from it. Although some wonder at the particular streak of luck you’ve been having, that’s hardly why I’ve been sent to you. In truth, however, anyone who gambles with a samodiva at their side would do well to…restrain their luck, and consider being less obtrusive.”

Brutus: I know who you’re working with, and consider this a friendly warning that not everyone thinks of her as you do.

I’ll consider what you’ve said, but she’s just a dear, isn’t she? It would hardly do to send her away, and my friend would be so upset if I was left alone.”

Amira: I know that you know, and I don’t care. I’m banking that my friend is tougher than your boss.

“So be it. She’s a cute little thing, I’m sure we’ll be able to make an exception. I’m sure it changes nothing in the long run.”

Brutus: I know that you know I know. Your boss doesn’t actually mean anything to me, and this shows how little I care about offending her.

“Why thank you, but I’d hate to make you make an exception for me.

Amira: I…think I know what’s going on. I’m going to roll with my gut feeling and hope for the best.

“Please, my dear. Exceptions are what we do.

Brutus: I…uh, what? Did that even make sense?

“Like I said, call me Amira. And I insist.”

Amira: OhGodohGodohGod I don’t know what I’m doing. Why is he still talking? Did I make a mistake? What’s happening?

“Very well, then I too insist. That you accompany me, that is. My employer is available to speak with you now.”

Amira and Brutus: I’m fairly certain I got the upper hand.

Smiling like tigers, they took each other’s hand and strolled through the casino. Most of the patrons ignored them in favour of their games but dark-suited beings, obviously security, gave Marcus significant nods as they walked by. Although Amira would have been content to walk in pacific silence, Baba Yaga’s instructions had been explicit: Brutus, rather, Marcus, had not yet been completely won, and this was a fool’s errand without him. Amira needed to break the ice and start winning him over.

“Please, Marcus. I have a question for you.”

“Ask away. Your wish is my command.”

“Why ‘Marcus’? Whatever happened to Brutus?”

Marcus was silent for a moment and allowed the clanging of the Plinko (yes, Plinko. They had every game here) table to subside while he thought. “Marcus is my praenomen, my given name. It is how I was referred to by my friends.” He let that hang for a minute.

“But that is hardly your most popular name, isn’t it?” Amira pressed him and also pressed her chest against his arm. “At least, most of the people from my period knew you by your last name.”

“That is their error.” His voice went gruff but he did not pull away from her grasp. “My ancestor also killed a tyrant, some would say a more important tyrant, and in so doing started the Republic. To my time, I was nothing but a Senator, until…” He looked briefly pained, but said nothing else.

“Until you betrayed your friend.”

Marcus flashed her a dangerous look. “He was a tyrant, an outlaw, and any Roman was right to do him harm. Or to kill him. He was no friend of mine.”

“Of course, of course.” She rubbed his arm to soothe him. “But he was a friend, and it earned you quite a bit of popularity. In my time, you’re the one we mean when we say “Brutus”.”

“I find that difficult to believe. Not that I think you are lying, Amira, but only that the one who slew the last King of Rome should be more famous than I.”

Amira shrugged and wrapped both her arms around his (powerful) bicep. “What does the King of Rome matter, compared to Gaius Julius Caesar?”

Marcus shook his head but did not dislodge her from his arm. “If only he could hear you say that aloud. To think that we would still be spoken of two thousand years after our deaths. Memory really is immortality, is it not?”

Amira laughed daintily. “As two people without a heartbeat between us, I can say that it is only immortality of a sort.”

Marcus looked her in the eye and Amira noted, now that she was so close to him, that he was certainly handsome enough. His chin was flat and proud and definitely aquiline. He had bushy eyebrows that framed bright, expressive eyes. This was a man used to communicating with power and direction: with gravity. He even carried himself with a strength Amira wasn’t used to. Patrick could carry himself like that, but only on his good days. Sometimes he had a tendency to wander around with his head in the sky.

Like that day, when the sky had been overcast in the way that Dublin almost always is. The opal-blue sky was dappled with woolly clouds and the sun would pop in and out of hiding as the day went on, casting patchwork shadows on the city below. Patrick had always wanted to see Ireland, his ancestral homeland, even if he himself was only barely Irish. He knew what “sláinte” meant and that to the North, the South was a pack of bastards and to the South, who ruled the North was no more important than who was playing at Croke Park that weekend. But besides that, he was a stranger in his home land.

Amira, with her brown skin, was a stranger and an alien to the Irish people. They were certainly polite, but she noticed a few more stares than she did back home. She shrugged it off like so much else, not particularly caring how brown she was, and the Irish people appreciated her indifference. If she had to be brown, they reasoned, at least she wasn’t “which way is East I need to pray in my wobbly-language” brown. After a particular incident which involved Amira screaming in Arabic and French at a drunken and very confused yob who had used a bad word to describe Africans, they hadn’t had any other trouble with the locals.

Patrick, however, was having a hell of a time with his map. Amira sighed as she watched him standing at the foot of the O’Connell monument with his map completely unfolded and flapping in the wind. Amira might have had a different skin colour than 99% of Ireland, but she still stuck out less than Patrick and his map. She mentally gagged as she imagined him wearing a fanny pack and realized it worked.

He frowned. “Now…where the hell is Temple Bar…”

“Does it really matter, Pat? It’s a nice enough day, why don’t we just wander around and enjoy ourselves?”

Patrick’s frown deepened. “But if we don’t hurry then we might miss the next bus to Glendalough, and I don’t want to change our schedule.” His eyes flashed over to her. She was lounging on the foot of the monument, enjoying what sun she could get. Her scarf flapped about her neck, and she wore a blouse that revealed more than enough of her womanly virtue. The shadows played across her face and accented her dark features. To Patrick, and, in fairness, most other men, she was the type of woman that a man wouldn’t get tired of looking at.

However, Patrick had helped this particular woman through a particularly bad case of food poisoning the last time they had visited Algiers. It was hard to continually idolize someone after you had helped them through digestive trouble at both ends. It was even harder when that someone was getting on your nerves by saying things like,

“What’s the big deal about changing the schedule? We can just go there tomorrow, if we feel up to it.”

He gritted his teeth and looked back to the map. “We can’t, because tomorrow is Sunday, and the damn country closes up shop on Sunday. If we want to see Glendalough, and if we want to do it before going to Cork, then we need to do it today. And there’s no problem with changing the schedule. The problem I have with it is changing it so many times.”

Amira either didn’t hear the tone of his voice or chose to ignore it. Patrick didn’t know and Amira would never tell. “Well, whatever. If we don’t, we don’t. I’m hungry.”

Patrick’s knuckles whitened and the map crinkled ever so slightly. “I’m glad you don’t give a damn about our schedule, but I would like to see something that I came 4,000 miles in a fucking tin can airplane to see.”

“Huh. What’s got you so mad?” Amira suddenly found the river Liffey very interesting.

“Are you serious? Are you actually going to do that?”

“Why are you getting mad at me? I’m just saying I don’t care what we do. I don’t, and you’re the one making it into a big deal.” Amira began to get righteously angry. Why was Patrick getting mad at her? She hadn’t done anything wrong, she was just telling him how she felt. What was the big deal, anyways? It wasn’t like a forest and a bunch of ruins were that interesting, anyways. Who cared if they saw a crumbling monastery? Really, what was there to see?

And really, why was Patrick being so controlling? He had planned out the whole trip before they had even arrived at Pearson airport and had asked her what, twice (in truth, five times) what she wanted to see? Amira had never cared about making sure everything was planned, and didn’t he know that by now? They’d travelled dozens of places before, surely he’d seen what she was like when they did? Why was he making a big deal out of it now?

The fact that Amira was still grumpy from jet lag, a little cramped, hungry, and hadn’t been able to take care of business (lady business) that morning didn’t figure strongly at all. It did, in all honesty, but Amira’s brain wasn’t interested in honesty right now. It was interested in why Patrick was mad at her and how it was all his fault.

They did indeed love each other, but love, like God is supposed to, sometimes works in mysterious ways. Mysterious, which can also translate into yelling at each other in front of an amused crowd of tourists and locals at one of the more important historic sites in Ireland.

Sure you don’t care what we do. You just complain every time we do something youdon’t want to. This trip was supposed to be about us, and you’ve spent half the time bitching about everything.”

And that was the straw that broke Amira’s back. She stood up on old O’Connell’s monument, put her hands on her hips, and stared him straight in the eye. Patrick might have been on the tall, broad side, but Amira had all the weight of her Berber ancestors in her compact frame. They hadn’t been known as the fiercest barbarians this side of Mongolia for nothing.

“Bitching? Is that it, Patrick? Am I just bitching? Was I bitching when I pointed out there was no hot water in what’s supposed to be a four-star? Was I bitching when I pointed out that my eggs weren’t cooked right and you rolled your eyes at me? Was I bitching when I, not you, I, noticed that the cab driver was trying to rip us off? Is that all you think I do, just bitch bitch bitch?”

Patrick foolishly decided the best thing to do when faced with a metaphorical bull, was put on brightly-coloured clothing, wave a red flag, and charge head-on into the horns. Meaning, he got it half-right, which, in this particular situation, made it all wrong.

“Fine, I’m sorry, but you’re being pretty damn annoying. This is the one thing I want to do today and you’re making it impossible.”

The sentence, even though it was delivered without fire or violence, fell as surely as a guillotine between them. Patrick immediately opened his mouth to try and say something, probably something about how stupid and wrong he was, but Amira didn’t give him the chance.

“Don’t.” The thump of the head as it rolled down the steps. “If I’m making this impossible for you, then I’ll just leave.” She slung her bag over her shoulder and stormed off.

“Amira.” Patrick, not moving, shouted at her. She ignored him and strode off down Bachelor’s Walk, tears in her eyes and fire in her mouth. “Amira!” He shouted again. She didn’t stop, but wrapped her arms around her.

And found that they were currently wrapped around Marcus’ strong arm, and rather than be on a tree-lined avenue in Dublin, she was climbing a set of red-carpeted stairs in Leviathan’s casino.

“That was a strong memory.” Marcus murmured just loud enough for her to hear. The security demons took no notice from where they stood on the steps.

“You…you saw that?”

Marcus nodded. “But no-one else. Even though we treat them as such, memories are far more than currency in Hades. For a moment, the power of your memory made it come to life, at least for you. I was only along for the ride. You were there in…what did you call Hibernia, Irlund?”

“Ireland. And it was a wonderful country, in the end.”

“You mean after you were finished fighting?”

Amira blushed as they reached the top of the steps and began walking down an opulent hallway. Golden chandeliers hung from the ceiling and oil paintings stared down at them from gilded frames. They were all of a peculiar toad-faced man who either wore a dark suit over his rolls of fat or lounged in a pool of water. He wore the same hungry smile in each picture, as though he was constantly searching for the next morsel to throw down his gullet.

“Yes, after we finished. That one wasn’t that bad, really. We each just needed to let off some steam, and we worked it out in the end.” The memory of when she and Patrick had made it up with each other that night threatened to rise but she squashed it down. She wasn’t willing to let Marcus see that.

“Did you often disagree so?” Marcus nodded to a guard, a bipedal lion in a pinstripe suit, who opened the door to a receiving room with a growl.

“Not…usually.” But foreboding grew in Amira’s stomach the moment she said it. “But again, we resolved it. I said what I needed to, and so did he. We were the stronger for it.”

Marcus grunted, unconvinced, and so was Amira. They had been married for five years, but when she thought about it, it did seem like they were fighting more and more as time went on. Sure, they made up every time and seemed like they were making progress, but were they?

She’d never know now, and it was just as comforting as it was unsettling. Maybe they wouldn’t have lasted forever, but as far as they were concerned, didn’t they do just that? Her promise had been to love and cherish him till death do they part. They were both pretty dead, and Amira supposed that terminated their contract. Thank you kindly, pleasure doing business with you, there’s the door.

But she did wish she could see him again.

She pushed that thought out of her head. He wasn’t here

Two guards flanked a final set of doors. The doors were tall things of oak and cherry, and had an an enormous, gaping mouth carved into them. Amira could see what looked like tiny carved humans disappearing into the throat of the beast. It looked like it intended to devour the world, and Amira caught herself shuddering.

They waked into an office that took Amira’s breath away. The walls, where they weren’t made out of solid gold, were made up of giant aquarium tanks in which all sorts of fish merrily swam. Tropical fish nuzzled bright coral while in another trout raced among dark waters and in another sharks tore at hapless dolphins while a whale lazily drifted by the in distance. The scale of it shocked Amira as she realized there was an ocean behind the glass, not just a tank. But the more she focused on it, the more of what remained as her human brain struggled to comprehend the impossibilities of distance in a place without distance and shut down after registering the guards in the room and the demon at the desk in the centre.

What was far easier for her to understand was the demon in front of her. It was obviously a demon, despite having the face of a human. What tipped off Amira was the enormous, eel-like body that lay heaped in sinuous coil on top of sinuous coil and disappeared into a hole cut into the floor. Atop the rippling coils was an enormously fat body that bulged over a leather chair like it was made of soft butter. Piggy eyes stared out of a face almost lost behind rolls of fat atop a nose that was little more than two slits in the face. Although Leviathan wore a suit jacket, it was drenched with blood, grease, sauces, and water, and could barely close across the front in any case. His two arms were busy with plates of food that were being brought in in a continuous stream of gluttony. Servers would arrive, deposit a platter heaping with oysters or lobster or beef or some other delicacy, and depart after gathering one of the empty dishes. They came so fast that barely a minute passed after one left before another arrived, and that still only barely kept up with Leviathan’s eating.

Amira wrinkled her nose for a second before smiling. The creature smelt horrid, like rotting fish, sweat, and flowers, but she forced herself to appear pleasant. Marcus just grunted.

“Greetings, Leviathan. I’m glad you were able to grant me this audience. I trust I find you well?”

Leviathan tossed a whole lobster into his mouth. His jaws snapped open like a snake’s and Amira recoiled from both the awful smell and the horrid sight of his face opening beyond 180 degrees. He crunched through the shell as he spoke.

“You find me busy and annoyed. Someone’s been knocking losers left and right from my blackjack table, and losers stop spending money. If they don’t spend money, I don’t make money, and if I don’t make money, I get annoyed. So hurry up and tell me what Baba Yaga wants.”

“It’s actually not what Baba Yaga wants. It’s what I want.”

Leviathan paused and fixed her with a stare. His eyes were flat and colourless, like a snake’s, and they were almost hypnotic in their gaze, but Amira forced herself to return his stare with a smile.

“You? You’re just a mortal. You’re a bug. I could buy, sell, and eat a billion of you for lunch and it still wouldn’t satisfy me.” He flicked his fingers at her and turned away. “Baba Yaga said she’d have something important to tell me. You? You are not it. Remove her.”

The guards took a step forward, but Amira held out her hand. Her samodiva gave her the bag that contained her winnings and Amira emptied it on the desk. Although her heart was pounding furiously, this was still going according to plan.

“Will this buy me five minutes of your time?” She desperately hoped the glittering pile was enough. Spider’s luck had been perfect and he assured it would be enough, but no-one worked in specifics down here. It was infuriating, but what else could she do? She trusted in…well, nothing, except that Spider wasn’t a complete fool.

Leviathan paused while reaching for a hunk of deer and rooted through the pile. He snorted and shoved a whole leg into his mouth. “It buys you three. Talk fast.”

“I need to borrow Marcus for a while. I need a guide and a bodyguard, and he’s supposed to be the best.”

Levithan coughed a bone out of his nose. “He is, so should I say yes and lose my best man? Absolutely not.” He chuckled. “I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, little girl, but I should eat you just for wasting my time, and then eat Baba Yaga for sending you to me. What did you do to annoy her so, that she’d send you to waltz straight into my mouth? Well, whatever, it doesn’t matter to me. I’ve changed the deal. Instead of three, you get one and one’s up right now. Take her away. I think I’d like her boiled.”

Amira shuddered but kept as calm as she could as the guards laid hands on her and dragged her out of her chair. She looked to Marcus, but he just shrugged.

Sorry, it seemed to say, but I’m not risking my neck for no reason. Been nice knowing you.

Rough hands dragged her towards the door to the kitchens. Amira could feel the heat coming from the ovens inside, and hear the screams of the soon-to-be-meals from the butcher’s block. Panic surged inside her and she forced out her trump card with a bit of a scream.

“Five minutes!”

“I said one, mortal. And it’s over.”

“Five minutes of freedom in Baron Samedi’s realm!”

Levithan’s hand shot up and the guards stopped so fast they almost wrenched Amira’s arm from her sockets. Leviathan pulled his face from the pig he had been devouring and fixed her with a look so hungry Amira felt the flesh begin to flense off her bones.

“Who promises me that?”

“No promise. It’s terms of payment for you to release him to my service. Baba Yaga has been offended by Baron Samedi, and will give you five minutes to do what you will in the Baron’s realm.”

“She will abide by this?”

“Ask the samodiva. It was her sister that was killed.”

Leviathan’s neck suddenly shot up from his body like a jack-in-the-box. It coiled around the room and looked the little fairy dead in the eye. They chattered in a language that sounded like bells breaking before he retracted his neck.

“That is…tempting, mortal. I hope Baba Yaga knows what she is doing, upsetting the balance like that, but I accept. Let her go.” Amira stumbled as the iron hands let go of her and tried to look dignified again as she returned to her seat. Leviathan started drooling in great, long streams from the sides of his mouth and chuckled. “Oh…all the souls that that will mean…I might actually be sated for a time. Five minutes! Five!” He threw himself into a live buffalo with gusto, relishing the screams of the animal as he tore it apart. His chuckling was as nauseating as the sounds of the dying animal.

Amira forced herself to look straight at Marcus as she walked across the room. He smiled grimly and spread out his arms in an “aw shucks” way.

“I hate to be the bearer of ill tidings, but Leviathan does not speak for me. He contracts me out, and if he chooses to liberate me early, so be it. That, however, doesn’t mean I am bound to you, Amira.”

She nodded. “I know. I have been instructed to offer you payment. I’m not a slaver, Marcus.”

“I would hope not, for I am no slave.”

Amira plucked a silver coin from her bodice, where she had put it for safety, and offered it to Marcus. He took it and laughed with what sounded like real mirth.

“What is this, a denarius? Am I to work for you for you like a day labourer?”

“Look carefully.”

Marcus inspected the coin while a bodyguard whispered something in Leviathan’s ear. Well, Amira couldn’t actually see an ear behind the fat, she assumed it was there. Leviathan nodded, and an old rotary phone was brought in for him.

“Some joke, this. Did you scratch out Caesar’s head on this side to save my feelings, or is this at my expense?” There was a dark tone in Marcus’ voice, and Amira hastened to put out the fire.

“Turn it over. That was so that you knew the stakes at hand.”

Marcus flipped the coin over, revealing a woman emptying a jar into a river and four other rivers behind her.

“Which one?” It came out as a grunt, as if he didn’t trust his words.

“Lethe.” Amira had no idea what it meant, but Spider had drilled the name into her. “It’s the most important bit, y’hear?” He had said that at least a thousand times before Amira had left for the casino.

Leviathan hung up the phone with a ding. Amira looked at him and he smiled back. The smile had more hunger than humour in it, just like a snake.

“Bad news, I’m afraid. Baba Yaga’s offer was tempting, but I’ve just been made one better. I’m afraid I have to take you back to Lucifer. What am I saying? Afraid? I’ve just struck gold with you, girl!” He waved his hand. “Take her down below and send her to his manor. Thank you, mortal. Today’s been most profitable, and now I can be happy again.”

The guards advanced as one on a dumbfounded Amira.

“Lucifer? But…what law have I broken? What right does he have to take me away? I have no intention of giving myself up to him!”

Leviathan laughed so hard his fat rippled in one long, undulating wave that squirmed beneath his dress-shirt. “Right? He has the right of the strong. In the wonderful words of Pompeii Magnus, “Don’t quote laws to men who have swords!” But in this case, it’s to the Prince of Hell. Did you really trust him? The Lord of Lies? Goodness, girl, I don’t even know how you survived this long.”

Amira threw herself at Marcus.

“Please! Accept my offer! Help me!”

Marcus stood flipping the coin over in his hand. “Can you get us out of here if I do?”

“Yes!” Hands grabbed Amira from behind and a snarling Tiger demon thrust his face into hers. She screamed and clawed at them, but they were seemingly made of muscle and didn’t budge an inch.

Marcus shrugged. “Well, it’s worth a shot then. Heads, you’re on your own. Lady, and I’m your man.”

He flipped the coin.

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