“You cannot simply dig into the…the…”
“…the ‘Underworld’ as you put it, without appropriate permissions in place. Building. Planning. There’s a process! The damage it could cause to surrounding…there’s already been…”
Derek looks a bit frazzled, although I can’t tell whether it’s as a result of our meeting or his personal circumstances. I have the power to look into the minds of mortals (I did create them), but it’s a power I use sparingly. I don’t like to pry into other people’s personal space; there’s enough of that going on already, and in any event, there’s no need to pry into Derek’s mind, his story is written all over him.
He’s in his mid-fifties, stuck in a job he wanted to leave years ago, but never had the guts. His flushed cheeks tell me he likes a drink; something strong, maybe whiskey. His body is soft and globular from lack of exercise and his hair is murky grey and greasy. It’s a long time since he’s bothered to care about his appearance. On his left hand, I can see the indent of where his wedding ring used to sit. As we speak he rubs it gently with his thumb, reminding himself of better times.
“Are you happy?” I ask, interrupting Derek’s detailed summary of the complexities of the planning system. The question startles him.
“I, um, I’m not, no. You’ve created a headache for me which won’t go away.” He shifts awkwardly in his seat whilst pulling at his creased shirt. There are stains on it which need urgent attention, but Derek doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who knows how to operate a washing machine.
“What would make you happy?” I ask. I’m intrigued although I don’t really know why. I sense he’s important for some reason; call it instinct. He looks at me with a blank face and I realize that he doesn’t even know himself. “Who do I need to speak to?” I ask, changing the topic. I don’t want to make the poor man suicidal.
“What do you mean?”
“To make your headache go away, who do I need to speak to – there must be someone who can sign it off.”
“There’s a process,” Derek tells me again as I sigh into my black coffee. “Look,” he adds, sensing my frustration, “there’s a serious risk here you could be forced to restore the land to how it used to be.”
I laughed at the thought of mortals turning up at the God Complex and attempting to fill in the entrance to the Underworld. It comes across as rude and I apologize. “I get it,” I tell him, “but there must be someone who can speed up this process. Who can I speak to who can make the process more…streamlined?”
Derek scratches his nose and looks at the ground, before writing something down on a napkin. “Nothing happens without his sign-off,” he tells me in a whisper. “You want this to go away, you need to speak to him.”
I thank Derek and put the napkin in my pocket. Derek drains his tap water and quickly takes his leave. I notice that his fly is undone as he stumbles out of his chair, but I let it go; that’s the least of his issues right now.
“Take care,” I say to him as a sense of foreboding washes over me. He either doesn’t hear me or chooses to ignore me.
“Come on then boy,” I say to Argos who’s been sitting silently at my feet during the meeting. He looks up at me, his tongue rolling carelessly out of his mouth. He’s barely left my side since I started looking after him. I don’t even need a lead, he’s that wedded to my side.
My phone buzzes aggressively in my pocket. I picked one up a week ago out of curiosity as to what you mortals are so obsessed with, and I’m starting to see the attraction. Only a handful of people have my number and this is the first time I’ve actually felt it go off. I type in the code and it unlocks to tell me that I have a message. It’s from a number I don’t recognize, although that’s not surprising given I haven’t saved any numbers yet. The message is an address, and it’s signed off, “A”.
I put my phone into my pocket, and then take it out and look at it again. I initially assumed that it was a wrong number, but is it? Is someone trying to tell me something? Curiosity is ebbing away at me. My phone buzzes again and there’s another message: “Better be quick, Pro.”
Well, that answers that.
“Let’s go Argos,” I say, and he follows me willingly. An app on my phone tells me that the address is about two miles away in a rough neighborhood. I decide to walk it to give myself a chance to think. The incident in the coffee house is playing on my mind, and I can’t help but think that this is linked somehow. I have a bad feeling, and I know I should be trusting my instinct, but curiosity is a fire that needs extinguishing.
I walk across a train line and the landscape immediately changes from one of affluence to one of poverty. A group of youths eye me suspiciously, I’m wearing a suit and am far too conspicuous. One of them speaks on his phone whilst watching me, but they don’t approach. Argos growls, he can sense the mood as well.
I check the app on my phone and discover that I’m on the right street. The houses are dilapidated, but there are Audis and BMWs on the drives, all of them with personalized number plates.
“Shhh, Argos,” I tell him as he lets out another low growl, and I stroke his head to calm him. There is a veil of tension in the air, and I’m not surprised he’s nervous.
The house stands out in front of me. It’s fairly unremarkable. It has a very small front garden and a broken up drive. The curtains are closed despite the fact it’s midday and basked in bright sunlight. A teddy sits in one of the upstairs windows and I can see a slide in the back garden. I can feel a lead weight in the pit of my stomach. Why am I here?
I knock on the door and realize that it’s open. There is no response, so I shout “hello” through the letterbox. The youths that were watching me earlier have followed me to the house, and they are standing at the end of the street, hovering around a lamppost, letting me know that they are there. There is no response so I let myself in. Argos hesitates and then follows me.
I’m hit by a vile smell, which is at odds with what I’m looking at. The inside of the house has been tastefully decorated and family pictures adorn the walls. The hallway leads straight to a staircase, and on my right there is an open-plan kitchen come dining room. It looks like a pleasant family home that has been cared for.
I climb the stairs, with my arm covering my nose as the smell intensifies. The pictures on the wall tell me that a family of four lives – or lived – here: mum, dad, and two sisters. One of them looks around 12 and the other one is perhaps three or four years younger. The pictures look like they have been taken on various family holidays and they all look happy, like the perfect family.
Argos pushes past me and enters the room which is an immediate right at the top of the stairs. He barks frantically and I follow him. The curtains are thick and drawn, making the room dark as I enter. There is a lump in the bed, which remains motionless as Argos barks next to it. I turn on the light to reveal bloodstains covering the duvet and the floor. I tell Argos to be quiet, and then notice that he’s not barking at the bed, but at a body on the floor next to it.
It’s the man from the photographs, barely recognizable as the top half of his head has been blown off and now crudely decorates the wall. A gun sits loosely in his hand, amidst explicit photographs of his partner with another man, providing the first piece of evidence as to what’s happened.
I carefully pull the duvet back on the bed to reveal his partner. She has been shot too, but through the chest. She’s been there for a while and her body has started to decompose. She was pretty, once.
On the wall “WHORE” has been written in blood and there’s an unusual symbol next to it, which looks like an “A”, or perhaps I’m seeing things.
I leave the scene and check the other two rooms upstairs. The first one is empty, but in the second one, I find the two girls. They are both in the same bed and they look like they could be sleeping peacefully if I didn’t know differently. A crumpled pillow has been carelessly thrown on the floor and looks out of place. I don’t need to see anymore.
Why am I here?
I pull out my phone to call the police to find another message waiting for me. It’s another address, and my heart sinks. Someone is playing a game, and I’m unwillingly being pulled in. I can hear the distant sound of sirens and know that they are approaching.
I need to leave.
“Come on Argos,” I say, quickly leaving the room. “We can’t be here when the police arrive, it wouldn’t look good.”
We exit the house as the sirens draw close. The youths have disappeared, clearly trying to avoid any confrontation with law enforcement as well.
The second address is further out of town, but still walkable. When we arrive the house is on a pleasant cul-de-sac and looks quite picturesque, with a bay window and conservatory. Once again, I’m left wondering why I’m here. I know for sure I’ve not been sent here to enjoy some cookies and milk. Argos looks up at me, and it feels like he’s reading my mind.
I knock on the door. As expected, there’s no answer, and this time the door is locked. I try around the back, but that way is locked as well. I check to make sure that I have the right address, and then I get another message: “Have you tried the garage? A”
The garage is adjoined to the house. The door is rusty, and the paint is peeling. I look around to see if I’m being watched, but I can’t spot anyone. Clearly someone, somewhere, has eyes on me, but I’ll worry about that later. I pull on the door and hear it creak as it opens. Argos looks in first and barks. I know whatever waits for me isn’t good. I brace myself and look in to see a pair of legs dangling mid-air. I look up to see Derek’s empty eyes staring back at me. He’s hung himself using his belt, and in a last act of humiliation, his trousers have dropped around his ankles.
The sound of sirens suddenly fills the air as I feel my phone buzz again: “Better get moving Pro!”
“We need to go Argos,” I shout as he sniffs the body. I feel bad for leaving Derek like this; I should at least pull up his pants, but I know that I can’t as I would be tampering with the scene. Argos starts nudging Derek’s hand with his nose, and I notice that he’s still holding a piece of paper. I retrieve it to find that it has been marked with an “A”.
Whoever “A” is, they are literally playing with fire. First the beak of Koraki, now a load of dead mortals. I will find out who it is, and I will make them suffer. The sirens get louder, so I quickly close the garage and make my way back to the God Complex, rage seething through every orifice.
Whoever you are “A”, I will find you. If you play with fire, you get burned.