Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
Alan Michaels, sometime poet and businessman, was admiring an exquisite hand-blown champagne glass in the firelight. Long, manicured fingers gently twisted it this way and that so the light would catch off the different facets and glint. There was a drop of dark-colored liquid in the bottom of the glass that would now and then catch the fire and turn amber. A shadow fell over him, blocking the light source, rendering living diamond into glass again. Without looking up, Alan muttered, "Yes, Richard?"
Alan Michaels' majordomo and protege flushed nearly as red as his hair and cleared his throat, "Uh.. bo-- Mr. Michaels, there are two matters that may require your attention, Mr. Storm has arrived and is deman--"
"Valentino? Let the fop wait. He could use a lesson in manners. And the other?"
"You said there were two matters requiring my attention, you're not dense, darling."
"Yes sir. Uh... well, Jaysin found out about your little dinner with that --"
"And? Since when is where I go his affair?" Alan said this mildly, but his eyes seemed to flash in the darkness. Richard pulled somewhat nervously at his tie, "Well sir, he seems to be jealous and is throwing a rather violent," at this Richard paused and searched for the proper word, "temper tantrum."
"Very well, I shall discipline Jaysin later. He begins to grow wearisome," Alan sighed running one hand across the surface of a rosewood coffee table. Alan looked up from he glass for the first time and smiled toothily at Richard. "My dear boy, sit down. You're positively pale. You have something on your mind besides spoiled overgrown children and foppish models. Talk to me."
"Well sir, I'd never question your wisdom in anything, as I know you've been around much longer than I and --"
"Cut to the quick," Alan's eyes flashed again.
"Why are you chasing after the boy Mercutio brought to that party, he's still very angry about Jaysin and ---"
At this, a low, throaty chuckle issued from Alan. He smiled up at Richard beguilingly, "You're so clever and such an apt pupil that I sometimes forget how young you are."
"Well sir, you haven't given me the gift yet," an eager craftiness slipped into Richard's smile.
"In time, Richard. Be patient. But first you must be rid of certain mortal affectations, a mortal transformed before his time winds up like Mercutio or Valentino or Jaysin, or like any number of the hotheads that abound in these ungracious days. It is time, Richard, for another lesson," Alan smiled at this, as if enjoying a delightful private joke.
"But Valentino and Jaysin," Richard began.
"Jaysin will still be destroying his room and Valentino will still be scowling in my parlor when I finish. It is time I taught you the basics of the Game."
"The Game?" Richard tried to look impassive, but his eyes betrayed his eagerness.
"Don't look so excited, darling. It's merely what one does when one has eternity. It prevents boredom and madness. You can divide existence into two categories, players and pieces."
"And how does one become a player?"
"That is simple. Anyone who recognizes that the game exists is a player. Anyone who does not is a piece."
"But sir, Mercutio is volatile and violent and.."
"And utterly predictable. Do you know why I stole Jaysin from him? Not because I wanted a new plaything, attractive young men are not a rare commodity in Southern California. Indeed, Jaysin is no real prize, his dull wit and jealous rages are bothersome. I stole Jaysin from Mercutio because Mercutio coveted him. Control what a man covets, and you control the man."
"Is that why you're trying to win over the boy?"
"No?" Richard looked perplexed. Alan smiled at Richard almost patronizingly. Alan waited a few beats, then looking into Richard's eyes said, "Mercutio is worthless to me now. I have already used him in a few appropriate side skirmishes. The boy, he is different. He is beautiful, true, but beyond that, he represents unpredictability. I cannot always judge his next move. I sense potential in him. With the right exposure he could become a very powerful asset, perhaps even a player in the game himself..."
"I sense a 'but' in there"
"Very astute, Richard. But he allows his emotions far too much control over him. This is, at best, a very dangerous thing. Unlike lust and fear, loyalty and love cannot easily be manipulated"
"Then you must win his love"
Alan smiled at Richard again, pleased. "Yes, but there is a perverse part of me that believes even if I fail in my endeavors, I will win"
Richard furrowed his brow, "How?"
"Remember what I said about The Game being an antidote to boredom? A worthy opponent is far more valuable than any lover." Alan glanced away, his profile reflecting the firelight. His features suggested a young man in his early twenties, but his eyes looked unspeakably old for just that moment. Alan sighed almost wistfully, "It's been so long since I've had a decent opponent. A match that borders on hell and heaven."
"But sir? What about all the forces that have been turned against you in the last few years?"
"None of them were more than momentary distractions. Persephone? A physical powerhouse, yes, perhaps even worthy of her hubristic appellation. But she was easily neutralized once I convinced her that she could get far more of her goals accomplished as my ally than she could against me. Mercutio? His idiot gang of thugs were easily rubbed out with a few phone calls. No there has been no hand turned against me so powerful that it has made me tremble"
"What about Valentino? Rumor has it that he grows impatient with you, and your tight rein on his operations. His connections to the Scapelli family could prove formidable.."
"Vinnie Scapelli? Don't make me laugh, his haute couture makeover into 'Valentino S.' notwithstanding, he's just a moronic street thug with no scope and too much ambition. Should he ever become the slightest problem, I shall take steps to neutralize him."
"Neutralize him? How?"
Alan smiled wolfishly, "This reminds me of a proverb, hopelessly trite but applicable in this case, 'Three men can keep a secret, if two of them are dead'. Keep close by my side, little one, and you shall see how I deal with Vinnie."
"But what if the rumors are false?"
"Whether he knows it or not, Valentino is just waiting for an opening to betray me. Once the opportunity arises, he shall take it. And be dealt with."
Richard looked crestfallen, "Sir, what if there are rumors that I plan to betray you? Will you destroy me?"
"Richard, I should hope that you are far too clever to ever betray me. Or at least too clever to betray me before you have learned all the fundamentals of the Game."
"Am I not learning them now?"
"You are learning the basics, and are aware that it exists. But you do not yet have any idea of the rules."
"And what sir," Richard's smile grew crafty again, "What are the rules of the Game?"
"That is for each Player to discover on his own, Richard dear. Were I to tell all I know, I would dangerously empower you before the right time."
"Right time for who? For you or for me?"
"My instincts were right again. Darling, you shall make an excellent player"
Richard smiled at this, but noted that the question was still unanswered. Alan tapped rhythmically on the crystal glass and looked up at Richard, "To give you an idea of how well I have mastered the tenets of the game, I shall give you a wager."
"A wager, sir?"
"A wager, if I am wrong, I shall give you the gift of immortality this very night."
Richard's eyes gleamed at this, "What are the terms?"
"Just this. If I have correctly judged Mercutio's irrational rages, Ash's love for his friend Rena and his affect upon her, Ash will call me this very evening and Mercutio will be dead."
Richard raised an eyebrow, "And you extrapolated all of this how? Alright, I'll bite. What do I lose on the odd chance you're right?"
"Nothing. Never accuse me of not being magnanimous." Alan smiled cunningly.
"Ok. But tell me this, how do you figure Mercutio will be dead?"
"Quite simple. Ash has a deep and profound love for his friend Rena. Mercutio, in all likelihood flew into a jealous rage when Ash returned home, at nearly dawn. I'm sure he ordered Rena to keep him away from me."
"Because of Jaysin?"
"Because of Jaysin. Mercutio, being the hothead idiot that he is, will most likely try to harm Rena. Ash has a slow fuse, but once lit his enmity becomes quite explosive."
"How do you know Mercutio won't overpower Ash?"
"He's powerless in the day, and unlikely to have left Rena's home for his own"
"So Ash killed him, you think? Why would he call you?"
"Rena's bound to Mercutio in the same manner you are to me. She's going to be a mess. Ash has no one else to turn to in Southern California"
At that moment the phone rang. Alan reached for it at preternatural speeds to pre-empt Richard's attempts at answering it, and spoke in a honeyed, mellifluous tone, "Hello, Michaels residence. Alan speaking.... why Ash, what's the matter? Sensitive? Of course... let me send Richard to come pick you up, we can talk here." Alan hung up the phone triumphantly and grinned at an awestruck Richard.
"Don't feel so bad, Richard. I've been playing at this before your great-grandmother was born. Well, you have a sad and confused young man to pick up, and I have a brat to pacify and a guest, although I use the term lightly, to entertain. Shall we?" Alan stood up in one fluid motion and offered his arm to Richard in a mock gallant fashion. As they strode arm-in-arm out of the room, Alan reached out one slender arm and pitched the champagne glass in a graceful arch into the fireplace, where it hit stone with a satisfying shatter.
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