For the previous installment of this story, click here.
There is also a link under “Categories” in my sidebar for Cleansed By Fire, to more easily access all the installments of this novel; alternately, you can click on the “cleansed by fire novel” link under the Tags heading for this post (or click here) for a complete listing of installments.
Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 3, Narrow Paths and Wide Gates (continued)
One of comedian Larry Livermore’s most famous jokes, though probably not his funniest, goes: There are only two ways to avoid being ass-hammered by the Vatican. The first is to become a pope. The second is to be a really good attorney.
That joke was running through Daniel Coxe’s mind a lot lately. As much as he liked the ridiculously generous salary deposits the Vatican made into his account every three weeks, and as much as he knew they were counting on that money to buy his loyalty, he never made any assumption that they were loyal to him. As a result, he had very scrupulously engineered an employment contract with the Vatican that established only provisional citizenship in the Catholic Union, allowing him to keep full citizenship in his home nation of Britannia even though he had to renounce citizenship in the other states of Europa. That tidbit was about to become very important to Daniel’s future.
Frankly, the Vatican had never had to worry about Daniel going back to Britannia anytime before retirement because if there was one thing that brought tourists to Vatican-held nations in droves and made it a lovely place to live for someone like Daniel, it was the fact those nations boasted the best casinos and resorts on the planet—and probably half of the best bartenders and chefs as well. Daniel’s next-favorite vice after gambling and gluttony, sexual debauchery, was easily satisfied with weekend visits back to his home nation about six times a year, where he spent the entire time in the competent care of the nation’s best brothels.
Of course, the Vatican hadn’t anticipated that the Godhead would decide to father a virtual child in secret, much less that Daniel would discover such an unlikely event had taken place.
These were the thoughts pressing on Daniel’s mind as he impatiently waited for his cousin Harry in Britannia to answer a linkpad call marked important.
Marking it urgent or emergency just risked drawing attention by prybots, but Harry knew what important meant, so he damned well better answer soon.
On the fifth chime, Harry finally picked up.
“Harry, mate, I have a three-day rec cycle starting tomorrow and I have a mad itch to burn some debits at the Glitterati Casino in Pacifica. I hear they have an Indian acrobatic troupe in there this month and I am made to understand that they actually do some things that skirt so close to the sexual line that a Vatican morality monitor is camped out in every row.”
“Daniel, can this wait? I have a lovely bird coming over tonight and I’m planning my own rec cycle around her.”
Harry, you know damned well that it cannot wait, Daniel fumed silently. They often spent weekends at casinos and rarely made a repeat visit to the same one more often than every year or two; but any mention of a casino in Pacifica was a signal that Daniel needed passage far out of the Vatican’s reach—and fast. If you pick a woman over family right now, I will bugger you with a steak knife, Harry.
“Harry. Mate. Cousin. Blood of my blood,” Daniel said, trying to keep his voice cheerful. “Did I mention I’ll pay your freight? My blood is hot for some table action and we’ve never been to Pacifica to gamble. Be a punter. Meet me at the Glitterati. I’ll have a room waiting for you, complete with a Nordic masseuse on call.”
Daniel was met with several seconds of silence and he felt his bowels clench.
A heavy sigh finally shattered the silence. “All right, Danny-boy. You’d better make sure this is a very fun trip. My bird may fly the coop when I tell her I’m going gambling.”
“Mate, if she wants to come along, you just let me know and I’ll have a room waiting for her as well,” Daniel said as he prepared to kill the connection. “Cheers.”
In the morning light that reached lazily through the mostly drawn blinds of his apartment’s one large window, Ather sup-Juris studied the thin, silvery scar that ran from his wrist to his elbow, a scar he could have had removed easily but kept as a reminder.
He thought back to his lunch with Lyseena, knowing that if anyone else had pulled a stunt like that with the salt mill, he would have found some way to make them squirm for it. But not Lyseena.
Not that he should begrudge anyone testing him, Ather realized. That apprehension of templar officer Jude Heier hadn’t gone well, and the injury to his arm was only the most prominent, and far from the most life-threatening. Plenty of others worried that the experience might have dulled his edge, even three months after the fact.
The worries and judgments of others were of little concern to him. He could always prove them wrong in time. Lyseena was not “other” though, and warranted satisfaction, not reproach.
Ather heaved his bulk out of the chair and picked up the datastrip.
Now let’s see if my sleepless night has earned me yesterday’s lunch and the next one.
(To read part 12 of this story, click here.)