Pearls that were

The Virgin of Guadalupe stares down at us from the wall with painted-on eyes. Her gaze is demure and pious, half-hidden by lowered eyelids, but I suspect a certain shrewdness there. Her near-goddess status can't all be just good luck. If you go back far enough all goddesses have blood beneath their fingernails. We're at a tiny greyhound station in the valley. It's a crossroads of sorts, a major intersection is nearby and the buses load and unload passengers travelling in different directions. I wasn't expecting religious iconography. I think to myself that we'd have been better off choosing someplace else for this meeting. I don't say anything because Mari will only laugh and say I'm superstitious. Mari paces in that self-possessed way she has and lights up a camel. She blows smoke out in perfect rings. I look at my watch: five minutes left until midnight. Mari plays with her lighter; flames flicker in and out, in and out, casting weird shadows on cherub beneath the Virgin's feet. I hate it when she gets like this. Bad things happen when Mari's impatient. She's likely to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing and that's something we can't afford tonight. Mari scowls at me and says, "Why the fuck do we have to meet here at midnight? Couldn't this have been done over dinner?"

I shake my head, "there are rules to these things. There's an order that still must be followed."

"I don't remember following all this bullshit when I hooked up with you."

I smile ruefully, "You were very lucky and you had just enough talent. But you can't always count on luck to save you, and sometimes talent isn't enough."

A long black sedan pulls into the parking lot. I don't recognize the make or model, but it looks pricey and sleek. I can hear churchbells peal the hour as the sedan's rear passenger door opens. A man steps out. He's a handsome black man. He's tall. His skin is very dark and smooth and I can't tell what his age is. Maybe he's as young as thirty, maybe as old as sixty. His hair is cropped close to his skull; the tight curls glisten in the light from the streetlamps. he's very neatly dressed in a charcoal-color suit that was tailored to fit him. He bows to Mari without any trace of irony or foppishness. He nods his head towards me. Mari walks brazenly towards him and thrusts her tits out. She always does this when talking to strange men. He smiles enigmatically and says, "You must be Marisol. I am --"

"I know who you are. We're not here to play kissyface and nice."

The man keeps that same expression. It is impossible to tell whether he feels amusement or contempt. He says softly, "No. We are not. But since our business is mutually beneficial, I thought it preferable if we at least managed pleasantries."

Mari spits on the ground, then looks up to see if the man is at all taken aback by her unladylike gesture. He is not. She growls, "I wouldn't have put up with all this midnight hocus pocus shit, but Ari insisted. If we can avoid it, I'd like to just get our business over with without any invocation to the dark goddess who dwells beyond the moon or any six-armed queen of whores who wears a necklace out of human skulls."

"There is no real ritual to this beyond the time and place. However it is customary --"

"Screw custom, I don't have forever."

The man looks at Mari quizzically and says, "Is not the purpose of our transaction so that you will, indeed, have forever?"

Mari snorts and says, "Doesn't mean I want to waste it with some old school mumbo jumbo."

"Very well. The meat of our bargain," he produces a small, nacre-encrusted bronze figurine from his lapel pocket, "as long as this amulet remains in your possession you will not age, nor will the signs of gluttony manifest upon your frame, nor shall your cheek be flushed by liquor, teeth be dulled by smoke. You shall live in beauty and without physical corruption for as long as you retain this."

Mari grasps for the amulet with greedy hands but the man pulls it just out of reach, "Tsk, Marisol. You will receive the amulet after you sign the contract, not before."

With a flourish he produces a piece of vellum illuminated with bizarre and cryptic sigils, hieroglyphs and runes. Mari pulls a ballpoint pen out out of her purse but the man only shakes his head, "Marisol! This sort of thing can only be valid in blood."

She frowns, rummages in her purse, pulls out a safety pin and jabs her finger. She swears softly and writes her name on the dotted (and glowing) line. The man smiles indulgently, "Very good. One formality is left, though. You must say it for the transfer to be complete."

"Pass me the amulet first."

He lobs the amulet underhanded to Mari who clutches it against her breast and squeals with delight. She looks at me coldly and says, "Go with Desmond, Ari. I renounce all claim as your mistress."

She walks away from us without looking back once, cradling her newfound immortality like an infant. Desmond slides into the backseat of his long, black sedan and gestures for me to sit next to him. When the door closes he turns to me and says softly, "She has no idea what she traded for that trinket, does she?"

I shake my head, "She suffers from a lack of imagination, sadly."

"But you are a treasure worth more than that silly toy. All that she craved and more could have been fulfilled with just a little more work."

"She only ever saw me as a means to an end," I say drily.

"And you never told her?"


"I see, 'for thou wast a spirit too delicate to act her earthy, abhorr'd commands'?" He takes my silence as an answer and flashes that enigmatic smile, "Welcome to my service. Imagination is not a quality I lack."

part of the wordmongers' masque