"Mademoiselle." he smiled. "Ça va?" He indicated with a discreet turn of his hand the state of their clothing, and they replied with the same weary expression, dragging out chairs on either side of him. Pouring them each a glass of robust white, Gideon sat down to resume his late repast and turned to Susan eyes of deep, impure green, like the ore of some obscure metal, inviting if not rewarding interest. Three rings of battered gold clasped his tanned fingers; a chain of the same metal hung from the breast pocket of his suit, a rustic shade of heather and doe that struck a careful balance with the atelier finesse of its construction.
Between mouthfuls of tender confit he conducted a leisurely, serialized survey of his erstwhile acquaintance, his private smile growing in inverse proportion to William's frown as he chewed thoughtfully. The latter pushed a cigarette between his lips and sought his lighter amid the black bulk of his coat but Gideon leant forward and plucked it from his mouth, sliding it into his own pocket. Presently he turned and began to appraise Susan in the same unhurried fashion, her features, raiment, and the fading red marks on her face offering the conversation she did not, William slouching back in his chair until the frame complained beneath his weight. Susan perceived his umbrage and looked down at the table to contain her impolitic amusement; their host leant slightly toward her, directing the fork poised at the edge of his plate toward their scowling companion.
"It is good, no, that we have so much in common?" Gideon observed, lifting the napkin to his chin. A faint scar that began in his hair quartered his forehead and followed his nose downward before turning out over his upper lip. He edged a bowl of fat black olives toward her with his elbow.
"I'll let you know." she chuckled, glancing with him across the marble at the subject of their exchange.
"I just got the shit kicked out of me by fifty barking arseholes at the Moth."
Their host shrugged, scooping up a forkful of rice.
"I don't think they ah, try too hard." William's face darkened further and Gideon set down his utensils, smiling at him fondly. "Allez, mignon... fais pas ta pute... I come all this way for your smile. How long has it been?" he sighed.
"You remember?" Gideon shrugged again. "I forget." He nodded at Susan. "I don't think she was born. Have a drink, eh?" Raising his glass, he successfully cajoled William into doing the same.
"Nique la police." the latter murmured as a toast, and they drank together, Susan swallowing the wine gratefully though she found dried blood on the hand she wiped across her mouth.
"I have something for you." said Gideon, reaching under the table for a shopping bag from which he drew a trio of plump, plicated lotus buds on thick green stalks, blush-pink and wrapped in a stripe of brown paper. Though he enjoyed William's suspicion, he was more delighted by the involuntary darkness of the latter's eyes as he accepted them, watching him lift a heavy bud and bite cleanly through the fleshy bloom. “It's true that he has told you of himself?” Gideon inquired of Susan. His manner was a strange blend of confidence and insinuation, his eyes neglecting no element of her response.
“You mean about...”
"Oui. About. I see. An he tells you of us?”
“Ouais.” said William, setting down his flowers. “I gave you all up like a perdishus fucking snakeface.”
The frenchman looked back to Susan, somewhat wistful.
“One hundred years before he would confide such things to me.”
“Well what the fuck, Auberjonois... next time try some fucking smalltalk before you rip the pants off someone.”
"Always so charming. Enfin... how did you meet? I ah, can't imagine."
"I'm... was... the housekeeper." Susan admitted. The intelligence returned the smile to Gideon's face and it urged her to further disclosure. "It's hard to believe at the moment, but he was... I couldn't quite say charming, more... persistent. Are you here on holiday?"
"Sadly, no... commerce."
"Don't let him snow you with his fucking Pepé le Pew bullshit, Christabel... he's not out here kissing babies, he's a dirty fence and he's dumping a bunch of looted shit too hot to drop in the E.U." William informed her, picking his teeth. "Blackmarket antiquities. If you can rip it off, he can turn it around for sixty percent."
"Sachiin's collection of course is sans reproche, particullérement the things he would like me to buy from him... they don't go to sales because, like him, they are shy. So, Guillaume... what do you have for me?"
"Christ, I've sent you the list twice... pull the fucking dicks out of your ears. Ed'll probably take a cheque but I want cash."
"In that case, I will come to the house an look for myself."
Gideon's smile remained complaisant as he turned to her again.
"Do you know, Sussan, that in the homeland of these creatures, a rainbow, it is viewed as a calamity... a certain sign of doom?” She looked to William, who had sat back from the table with his flowers. “I remember once... Sachiin come to the house from the parterre to tell me I must gather my horses an leave this place at once. He had such a look of great dismay I could not think what had happen... I ask, the magistrate, he comes to collect taxes? No, he says... it was worse... a great arc-en-ciel had appeared over the park. When I laughed an told him many, many rainbows have come here with the rain out of the west, he look at me with his great green eye an said... an yet, you abide here still?" He laughed to himself, warmed by the recollection, and Susan chuckled behind her hand, accepting another glass. “I ask myself... Auberjonois, why do you go on with these creatures? They are rude, they have no hospitality at all... they are trés égoïste, intéressé, déroutant... lucky for them they are quaint. You don’t like that story, Sachiin?” Gideon inquired artlessly. "I have others." He tisked at William's attendance to his phone.
"I'm looking for Caleb. It's fucking important."
"Caleb, du hahdri Adrahna?" William glanced up at the tone of the inquiry. "You ah... you don't know?"
Leaning down into his briefcase, Gideon found his own phone and devoted a moment to its library of images before pushing it across the table toward his guest, who glanced at him in a moment of uncertainty before consulting the screen himself. The initial image was a flashed nocturnal snapshot of the towering gate fronting the familiar hahdri. In the next, its sagging cottages loomed like ghost ride props out of the rural darkness, mutely presaging floodlit scenes of infernal, eye-gouging carnage complete with hand-held catalogue numbers and piebald reference scales laid out in each corner, the leavings of a frenzy framed by the homely plank walls of a large barn. Sweat-darkened animals lay both in suffocating drifts and randomised disorder, their heads and flanks spotted with bullet holes, throats gaping, some of them decapitated by the force used to dispatch them upon beds of golden hay and sawdust. The horrific files continued, documenting the yard around the barn, where resident males had paid for the savagery of their last stand about a battered utility with their heads and limbs. In the cab of the vehicle lay the darkly-spattered bodies of a brunette woman and two young children, the latter pressed into the foot well beside her legs, the hand-held glare documenting the calibre of weapon that had been trained upon them.
"Someone come to that hahdri and murder them... finis... everyone who live there. These pictures are en ligne... someone post them." Gideon pushed back slightly in his chair while they digested the news. Susan dropped her hands from her face and beckoned for the phone, and William looked up, hesitating before passing it to her wordlessly, though she could not bear what she found and pushed it away.
"We were just out there." he said.
"Yes, I know..."
Susan stood up suddenly, looked around and dashed toward the rest room door. Gideon caught his arm and kept him at the table.
"I tell this to you now because I care how people speak of you... it is known that you went to this hahdri..." His expression concluded the statement for him, though William was already cognizant of its implications. "It is thought that Prague sent cochon noir to this place to teach some lessons, and that your brother, he have a part in this. Sachiin, I ask you once... oui ou non... does Kala'amātya serve?" Susan's face held a sick shade of pale as she returned between the tables, her progress halted by the shadow framed in the glass of the entrance; Gideon gave no sign of surprise at the arrival though he sighed an expression of regret at its timing. "Your cousin... he want very much to speak with you. I thought it would do no harm." he confessed, raising a hand in a gesture of resignation as William shoved back his chair.
Bede retreated from the door that was dragged from his hand; both Gideon and Susan caught hold of William from behind, preventing him from lunging at the new arrival only by committing their last pound of weight to the effort.
"Stop it!" she shouted. "Let him speak at least!" For a moment William looked as though he might concede, but no sooner had they let him go than he seized Bede's shirt and threw him along the footpath toward the Jaguar, shoving him over the door into the back seat. Bede bore the treatment passively, petitioning him in their own language as he righted himself; William slumped down behind the wheel while Susan broke with Gideon, bidding him a hasty farewell.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
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