Ancient History, Chapter 7

By Niko

The gunshot rang loud in the warehouse, echoing several times over like rolling applause. The marker fell off the top of the pallet of stacked goods with a satisfying clink-thrump as it landed flat against the concrete ground. Several whoops of congratulations joined in with the startled cursing of men who hadn't expected a gun to go off and were trained by experience to fear the sound. Julian smiled and lowered his weapon.

"Nice shot, kid!" One of the many mostly nameless workers said, ruffling Julian's hair. Julian ducked his head into his shoulders to escape the calloused fingers.

Money started to change hands as more cursing was uttered in murmured, discontent voices. New workers were easy marks when it came to betting against the kid's accuracy. No one really expected a ten year old to knock a tin card down at a hundred feet.

"You son of a bitch! If I hear that god damn gun go off one more time this month I'm going to shove it so far up your ass you fart bullets!"

"Yeah, whatever you say, jackass. You're just sorry because you don't get a cut," the calloused fingered man said, flipping through cred cards. He handed one down to Julian. "Here's ya go. A whole ten credits," he said, his other hand holding on to several hundred.

Julian smiled brightly and held his money pinched between forefinger and thumb. "Thanks!" He handed the still loaded gun back to the man and ran off the dock floor towards the back office to show his father. He sprinted up the stairs and bounced in through the door.

Maxwell looked up at him from his desk and smiled. "Got bored already?"

Julian shook his head and help up the credit. "I won ten creds from the dock men."

Maxwell laughed and leaned back in his chair, leaving room for Julian to come up on the side of him and give him a better look at his prize. "Wow, a whole ten. How many shots did it take you this time?"

"Just one!"

He wrapped an arm around his son and gave him a squeeze. "That's my boy. You're going to be a hell of a shot when you're a big boy if you make sure to keep practicing. You like guns or just like getting money?"

Julian tilted his head to the ceiling and thought about it for a second. "I like them both. I like shooting the gun but it's best when people are around."

Maxwell nodded and smoothed the hairs down on his head. "Want to play a game, then? I'll double that ten in your hand and buy you some ice cream if you can do it."

Julian's eyes lit up. "Any kind I want?"

"Any kind you want."

Julian smiled enthusiastically and nodded his head as his father laid his own gun down on the table.

"What's wrong with Julian?"

Maxwell cringed slightly at the sound of Nirvana's voice. He poured himself the glass of the liquor he had been eyeing, keeping his back on his wife as he drank the first one in preparation and poured a second for the long run.

"What's wrong with your son?" she reiterated with more force than Maxwell had heard her speak in in nearly ten years.

Maxwell ignored her urgency and took his time to re-cork the glass container and find a comfortable armchair. He kicked his feet back on the ottoman and swirled his liquor in his glass. It wasn't until he was comfortable that he looked at her. Sometimes it felt as though she only made herself up still just to remind Maxwell of what he was no longer welcome to partake in. She was aging quite subtly, still firm skinned and possessing a healthy glow despite her dull eyes. She was still good stock. The dullness in her eyes was sharpened in her accusations. He hated those pale eyes.

He took another sip from his glass, punctuating his control of the conversation, the issue, the room, the whole god damned world if he let his pause stretch out far enough. He swallowed and let the burn in his stomach chose the point at which to speak. "Where is he?" he asked. His question; his control.

"Ashe and I took him to his room and drew him a bath to calm down."

"He was calm when I last saw him."

"He's terrified of letting you down. What happened to upset him?"

Maxwell sighed loudly, exasperation flooding the room in the single breath. "We were doing target practice in the warehouse. He's gotten so good at the handgun that I brought him up a sniper rifle just to play with. Problem with range weapons is that anything can get between you and your target in the instant after you pull the trigger though and wouldn't you know it, some asshole did. Clean headshot."

"Oh my god... oh my god." Nirvana began to pace along the rug, her nails clicking against her teeth as she worried them. "What will the police say?"

Maxwell laughed. "The police won't be called you dumb bitch. The guy Julian shot was wanted for murder and four counts of rape. No one's going to miss him. You might even say Julian did the world a favor."

"I asked you not to take him there. I've always asked you leave him out of it for just this sort of thing."

"He's my son and it'll be his business someday. The warehouse is no more dangerous for him than it is for me. We just learned a poignant lesson about gun safety and death today. You act as though I've intentionally endangered him in some way."

"He's just a child!"

"The world doesn't wait until children grow up so why should I?" Maxwell's fist slammed against the arm of his chair. Nirvana stopped pacing and stared wide eyed. "Children can be murdered, beaten or raped same as any adult. The world is not kind no matter how much you close your eyes and look the other way, Nirvana, so don't act like I'm the one endangering him. Your coddling and lies are the real danger and so help me if you make a weak, fearful man out of my son I will make you regret it dearly."

"Fearful? He shot and killed a man under your supervision! I'm glad he has the sense to feel remorse and regret."

Maxwell rolled his eyes, slumping against the back of his chair. "Honestly, Nirvana, you are the most ideological woman I have ever met. I was only a little older than him when I committed my first intentional murder and I'm a paragon of intelligence, capability and strength. I could ask for nothing less for my son. You think you get to be comparable to me and my virtues through books and parables and regurgitated lessons learned by other men that have lost their context in our modern plight. I'm sure if I asked you what the value of life is you'd have a prepared answer someone else gave you years ago with no real conviction behind it except the borrowed semblance of belief and truth that got passed along with it. Not Julian." Maxwell smiled up at her. "He knows what life and death are in a way you never can nor will. Women may bring men into the world but beginnings are easy. It's like sex versus childbirth. You can begin something without even giving it a second thought but to end something is a struggle. Julian's seen a man alive one second and dead the next and felt the responsibility for that action. To end that man's life Julian asserted his own living desire over his desire to live. I wouldn't pity your son, Nirvana. He's eons wiser than you with just that single gunshot. Envy him the realization your cowardly self will never see."

Nirvana stood shaking, her hands clasped in front. "Had I known you intended to raise him to be a monster I'd have--"

"Don't even pretend to have a spine. You wouldn't have done anything but have gone back to your room and closed the door just like you're going to do now."

"Please let us leave. Say I was unfaithful, say he's not your son, say anything you like but please let us go."

Maxwell tilted his head back with a hearty laugh. "That that child is not my son? Are you a complete moron, Nirvana, or just trying to cheer me up with intentionally stupid remarks? Go upstairs, pet. You've scratched at your post and I know you're unhappy. We both know you didn't really expect much else to happen from talking about it."

He turned away from her and returned to his glass. He half expected her to cry or cast out some offhanded remark about love meant to scold him. Instead her footsteps shuffled out the door, closing it behind her. He hated her for spoiling even his most obvious victories.

He was still sitting in his parlor nursing the glass of liquor when the door opened again. He expected it to be Ashe given his long absence but the footsteps were too delicate against the floors to be the authoritative steps of his assistant. He turned his head around the wings of his chair, somewhat surprised to see a petite red-headed woman with a hand-held carton of supplies in her left hand and a duster in her right. Her hair was outrageous against the plain black uniform as it spun down behind her shoulders in tight curls. There was something deceptively innocent about curls that Maxwell had always found attractive. He enjoyed watching them bounce despite the purposefully bounce-less walk the petite woman possessed.

A few steps into the room she paused mid stroke, her duster poised over the lamp, and let out a meek squeak as her eyes fell upon Maxwell. "I'm sorry, sir. I saw Mrs. Maxwell had left and thought the room was empty. I'll come back later."

Maxwell shook his head, rising from his chair with his second skin pulled on. "Please, I'm the one who is in your way, not the other way around. I should be apologizing for startling you. I hope I didn't cause you too much of a start."

The maid blinked at him and smiled shyly. "Oh, no, don't worry about that. I should have knocked. I'll come back once I've done the other rooms."

"You're new," Maxwell tapped his chin as he walked around her. "I'd remember someone with hair that beautiful if I'd met her before. What's your name?"

"M-My name? It's Delilah, sir. I've been working here almost a month," said the blushing maid.

"A month? You're either very good at keeping unseen or I've been rather blind these past weeks."

"My fiancée is always complaining that I sneak up on him on purpose. I suppose I'm surprisingly good at blending in despite appearances."

Fiancée: a not so subtle hint. Maxwell glanced at the tarnished ring on her hand and chuckled politely as his eyes traveled up to the flat front of her dress. No breasts to speak of and no hips either. The uniform added a little fluff to her figure but Maxwell was rather certain without it she would be as stick like as a boy. Her pretty face seemed all she had going for her as far as overt femininity. Even her walk had been plain and angular.

Maxwell slipped his hand across her stomach as he stood behind her, his fingers splayed so his pinky verged on her pelvis while his thumb pointed towards nonexistent breasts. She inhaled sharply and turned her head. Maxwell smiled at her. "Let's play a game, Delilah. I'll try and guess at the kind of life you live and you tell me if I'm right or wrong."

"Mr. Ma--"

"Nuh uh. No hints. Just nod your little head yes or no." Maxwell smirked at the tremors under his hand. "You and your fiancée are both rather poor. Your ring isn't all that impressive and if it really is worth three months at his wages then he's merely making ends meet. Judging by the tarnish, though, he gave it to you a while ago. Before you started working here. So this job obviously pays more than the one you had before. You're hoping to help support the both of you. And either he's lazy or you've got more in mind than just rent and a wedding. You want to start a family and that's going to take every cent you can earn. How far off am I?"

Delilah nodded her head slowly. "Mister--"

"Not yet." He whispered, silencing her with his other hand over her mouth. He let his finger trace her full bottom lip. "I wasn't finished. You see, because you're so worried about money, you feel you have to do everything in your power to make as much as you can. So when your boss told you he'd add an extra thousand per pay period in exchange for your silence and his own sexual gratification, you accepted. As much as you love your fiance, being able to provide for your future family meant more than your faithfulness. Besides, you pitied your boss for having married a cold woman who denied him her company as his wife in their bed. The fact that he was very handsome and being very generous certainly made it easier. Right?"

"Mister Maxwell...I..."

"Just nod your head yes or no."

The tote of cleaning supplies clattered to the floor as Delilah nodded her head and Maxwell's hand pressed apart the buttons on her dress.

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