Nina did not look exhausted when dawn rose over the district buildings, but she seemed hesitant to leave when our shift ended at seven. I knew she was worried that Drake would try something, and I offered to walk her home, but Nina refused. Instead, she decided to stay at Jorge’s for a bit longer until her nerves calmed. Nina invited me to stay with her, and I agreed.
We talked for an hour, and Drake never showed his face. I did not expect him to do so, but then again, Nina knew him better than I did. Her nerves had not settled down, so I snapped a few puns to get a grin. Her laughter filled the air, but her stress was resilient, and I knew it was time to push her about her past with Drake.
Nina twisted her fingers when I asked about how the two of them met. I sighed when she still seemed hesitant to answer.
“Nina,” I said softly. “I am now involved with Drake’s affairs. If I am to survive this, I need to know as much about him as possible.”
“I know,” she whispered. “He is not the same man I met ten years ago. I do not know who that was last night, but that was not the Drake I fell in love with.”
“Then who was?”
“A god,” she grinned. “He was my hero, my companion, my entire world. We met when I was nineteen. Drake was twenty and dreamed of opening his own bike shop. He wanted to rival Harley Davidson and set us up for life with a merger. Drake wanted to take me everywhere and anywhere the open road has to offer.”
“That was your dream too?” I asked.
“I never had a dream growing up,” Nina confessed. “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I’d be a mother someday, but that was it. When I met Drake, all that changed. My ambitions and desires grew like…like an inferno. I wanted to taste different types of air. Mountain air, sea breeze, the winter winds of the North, and the petrichor of the Southern Spring. I wanted to eat different foods and meet many people with Drake by my side.” Nina smiled. “Drake’s dreams helped spark my own.”
“Until he got involved with the drug cartels.”
“No,” Nina said. “The drug cartels came after my surgery.”
My eyes widened. “Surgery?”
Nina nodded. “We were doing very well for those first five years together. I was working full-time consistently, and Drake was working at a shop along with bike projects at home to increase his skills. He got his certifications, and we almost had our credit scores high enough to start our business. We were still debating on a brand name when I started to show.”
“You were pregnant.”
“I thought we were,” Nina sniffed. “Drake and I could not explain it at first. We were not planning, but we were not careless either. Both of us were using protection, and I was still having my period. When we went to the doctor and had the ultrasound, we learned I had a case of fetus in fetu.”
“Oh,” I sighed. “I remember learning about that. A parasitic twin grows inside the surviving sibling. Your surgery was to remove the mass?”
“Yes.” Nina’s voice broke. I grabbed a few napkins and gave them to her. Nina wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “The medical costs were too much, even with our insurance. We got caught behind, even more than what we were expecting, and we realized that it might take an additional decade to make up what we’d lost. I tried explaining to Drake that we can be patient and our dreams will become a reality one day. He started working himself to death. Overtime every week to the point where he was too tired to sleep. Drake started drinking until he blacked out. I never got to see him that much anymore, and I would fight with him to stop putting so much on himself, but he never listened.”
“Until this Spartan offered him more?”
“Yes,” Nina answered. “Or at least eventually. I never knew if it was him that influenced Drake to join or if Drake sought help on the street. I gave him a choice, though; us or the cartels.”
I handed Nina another napkin but kept quiet. Her past with Drake was tragic, but not in the way I imagined. I may be a god, but even deities can deduce incorrectly from time to time.
“You have my condolences, Nina.”
“Thank you, Horace,” she sniffed. “So, what are you going to do now?”
“I need to learn what the cartels are after,” I said.
“Why don’t you go to the police?”
“Nina, there is nothing they can do. Even if my motel room was ransacked, nothing was stolen because there was nothing to steal. I cannot prove it was Drake without evidence, and there is none. He was scouting here last night. Plus, Drake is not around often enough to even get a restraining order. Law enforcement is powerless right now.”
Nina nodded. “Do you have any leads to what this secret might be?”
“Nothing tangible,” I lied. I stood up from my seat and looked down at her. “Will you be alright?”
“Yes. Go back to your room and see what you can find.”
Bless you, Nina. It is not what I hope to find but who.
After waving goodbye to Nina, I turned to leave, deep in thought. Smelling the outside air for the first time today refreshed the vigor inside my body. I did not sense anything wrong at present, but I had that ticklish feeling that would change when I returned to the motel, and I was proven correct. Outside my motel door stood a man, tall and broad, more so than Drake. This guy seemed like he could take one of his biceps and make another bodybuilder out of it. His eyes were gem-like green, his face clean-shaven, and a suave wave of blonde hair shifted in the breeze.
“Hello,” he greeted me in a baritone voice, “you must be Mr. Harper.”
“If I must be,” I replied. “Would you like to come in, stranger? All I can offer is coffee and perhaps a granola bar.”
“I would love to take you up on that coffee.” My guest smiled.
I opened the door and welcomed him inside. After closing the door, I offered him a seat and went straight to the kitchenette to brew a pot.
“Do you often invite strangers into your home?” my guest asked.
“It is a family custom,” I explained. “Whenever we have a visitor, we treat them as a guest. A meal, lodging for a night, and a chance to freshen up. How would you like your coffee?”
“Milk if you have it. If not, black is fine.”
After making his drink, I gave him the courtesy of introducing himself, but he casually drank the coffee while examining my room.
“Well, you know who I am,” I started. “Who are you?”
“Correction,” my guest explained, “I only know you as Horace Harper and Giovanni Silente.”
I sighed. “You are with Drake.”
“Wrong again. Drake is with me. I figure to give you a chance and speed up the process. We are here alone, so you might as well show me.”
“I do not know what you are talking about, Mr. Spartan.”
My guest smiled as he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out photographs. “This is Giovanni Silente in Chicago sixty-five years ago. This is another photo of a man living in Tarrytown over a hundred years ago. Both gentlemen have one thing in common.” He placed another photo on top of the other two. “They are both you.”
“What are you implying?” I still tried to play dumb. This man had absolutely no clue who he was sitting down with. “I invited you into my stead, and you are making dumb assumptions about my life.”
“I do not know who you truly are or where you are from,” the Spartan hissed. “But you have been alive for at least two hundred years, and I want to know the secret.”
“Have you tried adding some carrots to your diet? I hear that adds a few years to the lifespan.”
“You are a funny man,” my guest chuckled.
“Is this the part where you threaten me at gunpoint?”
“There is no point in killing you if the secret dies with you.”
I nodded. “Smart. I can see why you lead the others.”
“I will have the leverage to persuade you a little more in time.”
My eyes widened as he laughed out loud. “Drake will not stand for that. He still loves her.”
“It was his idea, Mr. Harper. Eventually, she will leave that restaurant, and we can all have some fun.”
“You want the truth? Call it off, and I will be as blunt as I can.”
My guest reached for his phone and typed a text. He showed it to me so I’d be satisfied.
“My real name is Harpocrates, son of Zeus and secret keeper of Olympus.”