Ethan found his stay in the hospital profitable. Late at night, he used the stairwell to go outside to smoke and then went to the upper halls where he prowled around searching unoccupied offices for loose change and things to pawn. People often left valuables in and on their desks. He found his way down to the maintenance office and helped himself to a hammer and screwdriver. Ethan took a handful of paperclips and fashioned himself a set of lock picking tools. He borrowed a wheelchair and stationed himself where he could glance into the employee locker rooms as people entered and exited. When the locker room was empty, Ethan went in and picked the locks on the lockers, rifling through purses and wallets, careful to take small amounts so that the thefts went largely undetected.
Ethan left the hospital against medical advice. He skipped out on the bill and set out on foot, in search of a car to steal. It felt good to be back out in the world with the sunshine on his face and a gentle breeze stirring his hair. Ethan inhaled the fresh air to clear the antiseptic smell of the hospital from his nostrils. He still wasn’t completely back to normal but he couldn’t bear to lay in that hospital bed any longer dwelling on his predicament as hour by hour Janet’s and Andrea’s trail grew colder. Ethan knew which antiquities dealer they were headed to on the night he got separated from them. He would start there. First things first though, he had to score himself some wheels. There was an art to stealing cars. You didn’t want to jump into a car willy-nilly. It paid to take your time and get the lay of the land, scope out who might be watching and make sure the owner of the car wouldn’t come bustling back out before you could get away undetected.
Ethan left the upscale neighborhood surrounding the hospital. Newer cars were harder to steal because they used laser cut keys and he was a novice car thief. All he knew he learned from tagging along with a rough crowd in high school. Ethan strolled along at a comfortable pace until he entered a working class area. He came across a grocery store, went inside, bought a pack of cigarettes then stood outside smoking and unobtrusively surveying the parking lot. He spotted a few candidates and casually strolled through the aisles until he came upon an older model unlocked black Ford Aerostar. He walked past the car and bent down to tie his shoes, taking the opportunity to scan the parking lot and make sure he wasn’t being observed. Satisfied that no one was paying attention, Ethan quickly climbed into the vehicle, used his screwdriver to pry off the ignition keyhole cover and then hammered the screwdriver into the ignition until he could start the car. He drove it off of the lot at a sedate pace. Speeding would only draw unwanted attention. He got onto the highway and headed for the downtown area.
Ethan entered the antiquities shop and waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Shelves climbed up the walls crammed full of hardback books with faded lettering on the spines. He walked alongside the glass counters staring at the assortment of oddities displayed: skulls, ornate knives and daggers, tarot cards, shrunken heads, jeweled amulets and bracelets shaped like serpents and dragons, shards of faded pottery, hunks of jagged crystals, elaborate gold and silver goblets. Ethan did not notice Dorian enter from the back rooms.
“Can I help you?”
“I certainly hope so, I’m actually looking for a couple of friends of mine who were in here a few days ago. Two women looking to unload a talisman. They had an appointment.”
Dorian’s face remained neutral but he went completely still for a beat before answering, subconsciously rubbing his bandaged left arm.
“I’m sorry, we get a lot of customers looking to sell pieces of jewelry. I don’t remember meeting with your friends.”
“You’re not a very good liar so stop trying. Go and check your appointment book. I need you to tell me what went down with my friends.”
“I’m telling you, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Look pal, I’ve got places to be. I don’t have time to play ring around the rosie with you. Now, we can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way. To tell you the truth, given the bloody mood I’ve been in, I’m kind of hoping you pick the hard way.”
The bell over the door tinkled and Ethan glanced at the man who walked in. He turned back to Dorian and found him gaping at him. Before he could say another word, Dorian held up a hand and scuttled over to the customer, herding him back towards the door. Dorian locked the door behind the man and turned the open sign around to the closed side.
“Sorry, I just now saw your tattoo.”
“Your devil’s mark.”
Ethan felt himself flinch. Right away, he was defensive and advanced angrily towards Dorian, who raised his hands to show he meant no offense.
“I’ve got one too. Looks like we’re in the same leaky boat. Your little friends caused me to get saddled with this.”
Dorian peeled back the soiled bandage on his left arm to reveal a deep, festering wound. Ethan’s nose wrinkled in disgust at the putrid odor wafting up from the infection. Reflexively, he took a step back.
“What the hell is that?”
“My master took a pound of flesh for my failure to get that amulet.”
“What did you do? Why didn’t you just pay for it?”
“Don’t you think I would have done that? Look, I’ll admit that when I found out two women were bringing the talisman, I planned on just taking it from them and keeping the money for myself, but I’m not stupid. I would have paid for it if I couldn’t force them to give it to me. Before they even got here, these doorkeepers interfered. When the women showed up, they whisked them and the talisman away. I would have fought them for the talisman but one of them was a cop and he had a gun. I think his name was Palin.”
“Doorkeepers you say? I remember Andrea saying something about her and Steve something lifting something valuable off of a doorkeeper. Did you hear them say where they were going?”
“Nah, I didn’t hear much of anything after the devil’s mark started burning my arm. I’ve never felt pain like that before. It felt like my whole arm was on fire. My master doesn’t take too kindly to my failures.”
“I know what you mean. If I’d have known that someone could actually buy my soul, I never would have gone through with that transaction.”
“You sold your soul for money?”
“Fifty thousand dollars. Didn’t you sell yours?”
“I guess you could say I did in a way. I was dying and he told me he would make me healthy again. Of course, he didn’t tell me I’d be his slave for all eternity.”
“I know right? I’ll admit I didn’t listen too closely when Charles was discussing conditions and clauses. He was long-winded, so it went in one ear and out the other. But I think I would have paid attention to slave and master talk. The first time he called on me to do something for him, it caught me off guard. I was sound asleep when he summoned me, on my cell phone of all things. I didn’t recognize the number so I disconnected the call and it rang again right off. Me being the clever sod I am, I took the back off the phone and removed the battery. When the phone continued to ring, it finally dawned on me who was calling. I’ll admit I’ve done bad things in my life without even giving it a second thought but something about being forced to do them really sets my teeth on edge. I never let anybody push me around before and I ain’t about to spend the rest of my bloody life doing it.”
Dorian went back behind the counter and sank down wearily onto a high stool, “I know what you mean. I would rather be dead then be enslaved and forced to do…unspeakable things. I won’t tell you what I had to do to the owner of this place. I… I never murdered anyone before. When I failed to get that talisman, I discovered that my master has a sadistic streak. This wound won’t heal. I’ve tried every medicated cream on the market. I’m on enough pain medications to kill a rhino and the pain still keeps me awake at night.”
“I’d give anything get out of my contract.”
“You and me both. But the only way out is to kill your master. My master is much too powerful for that. He’d never let me get close enough. I swear he can read my mind. Just talking about this is making me nervous.”
“How do you know that killing Charles would break the contract?”
Dorian held up his finger and went in the back room momentarily. He returned with a dusty looking volume. The cover and several top pages of the book had been torn away. Ethan looked at the binding but the title was worn away. The pages felt brittle. He could tell it was a very old book.
“What is this?”
“Don’t know. I found it in the back and started flipping through the pages out of curiosity. You’ll find what you need on page 56.”
“I don’t have much cash on me. How much do you want for it?”
“I’ll make it a gift if you promise to come back and free me if you ever figure out how to do it.”
“It’s a deal.”