The door clicked shut behind Fane. Zephyr, after regaining his startled senses, looked down at the blade in his hand. Ornate in nature, it was a high-end piece that could only have come from the Prince. He mused for a second before observing the man. Orlov stood unphased after the encounter. Zephyr approached the royal.
“Should I ask what happened?” Zephyr showed the knife to the Prince.
“Has Anson ever killed someone?” Orlov asked, not meeting Zephyr’s eyes, instead contemplating the closed door Fane had left through.
“Yes.” Zephyr folded his arms.
That grabbed Orlov’s attention. He glanced at Zephyr, trying to feel out if the man was joking or not. “And he’s not in jail?” Orlov rubbed his sweating hands on his pants.
“Where do you think we got him?” Zephyr tested the sharp of the blade against his thumb.
“He said he was a hood rat off the streets.”
“Yeah. He was. When we got him, he had been rotting in solitary for the better part of three years.” Zephyr sat down on the bench Fane had used as a step stool.
“What did he do?” Orlov eased next to Zephyr.
“When he got in or when he got out?” Zephyr asked. Sighing, Orlov shrugged. Zephyr looked up at the dim halogen lights, contemplating. He didn’t have to provide the Prince with all of the medical attention details Fane had received. “His sister was found in a dumpster in many tiny pieces. The police didn’t touch the case. Signs of one of the city’s mobs were all over that.
“He took down most of the boss’s underlings over the course of one night. Twenty men and eight women. The boss had some money in the police department, so he was the one pulling the strings to keep Fane’s sister’s case from going anywhere. He got Fane arrested and dropped into a six by eight in Sanguis for three years. Bastard got some of his own men put in as guards in the last couple months of Fane’s internment. They beat him into hamburger. He has some gnarly scars: brands, burns, signs of torture. He showed up on our doorsteps looking more like a rag doll than a human,” Zephyr explained.
“How’d he get out?” Orlov couldn’t see a mob boss letting Anson walk out of a jail cell that easily, especially after getting his guards in.
“You know, he doesn’t even remember any of this? That’s how badly they beat him. We only found out about it when the military was called in to clean up Sanguis. The place had to be shut down after what he did there.” Zephyr flipped his hand dismissively.
“Shut down…?” Orlov looked at the man, horror written across his face.
“There weren’t a lot of inmates left in there after the mob put their men in. Fane was the injured dog in the corner. He ripped them to shreds when they got to him. When the burial of eighty plus men can occupy the space of thirteen coffins. The place had to be condemned,” Zephyr stared up at the water-stained tile ceiling.
“And you guys willingly let him join the military?” Orlov scooted away from Zephyr.
“He ended up in the hospital ward for a whole year, recovering from his wounds. We’re not entirely sure if he got a good knock to the brain that damaged his memory centre or if he’s trying to keep his memories buried from those events. We had a good guy working in intelligence back then that helped us piece together some of Fane’s story. He put together all the evidence from what Fane was capable of doing. Took him six months to piece together the video footage from Sanguis.
“We had to have Fane if we could tame him. We figured, if we extended a helping hand, he’d be willing to join up and help. Sometimes feeding and clothing a person who has never lived anywhere but on the streets can keep them and you safe.” Zephyr slouched backwards to analyze the vent above the lockers behind them.
“He murdered people,” Orlov accused.
“And if your sister’s eyes were sent to you in an envelope tomorrow and the police ignored you, and the judges are getting paid to bury it?” Zephyr pinned Orlov under his gaze. Orlov gulped. “It’s not legal. No. Murder is considered evil. People are supposed to live.
“You don’t seem to understand how the military works, though if you think what Fane did was wrong. Like hell are we correct in what we do. We are put on the ground and told to point our guns at people who have a different opinion than the guys paying us; by politicians in a city so far away that they’ll never be harmed for the work we do. Now, we have to be humane about the way we go about it. Torture isn’t permitted, and there are such things as war crimes. But war is a crime. Think about it sometime, Your Highness.
“The mob was all but destroyed. Our intelligence guy? He put together enough evidence for tax evasion, and without the boss’s guards there to hide him anymore, we were able to put him away. Crime, drug running, and murder rates all went down in the city by twenty per cent. We have gentrification of some neighbourhoods and a rise in the education system right now.” Zephyr straightened.
“Was that worth 108 people?” Orlov protested.
“I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t. Morally, I’m supposed to respond no. I’m supposed to be politically correct and say no one deserves to die. I’m supposed to be that person. Honestly, though, Fane has suffered for it. This is his prison.” Zephyr motioned to the room, emphasising the military complex.
“He said something to that effect.” Orlov rubbed his hands together as the air conditioner kicked on.
“Did you actually get him in the lift at Crystal?” Zephyr asked.
“Yeah, why?” Orlov shifted, the spacing in the bench biting into him.
Zephyr stared at him in genuine awe and surprise. “You know we have over thirty lifts in this compound, and I have never seen him get into a single one when he’s accompanied me. I’ve had to carry around sedation injections in case I have to get him into a small room. Hospitals are a joy.” Zephyr morosely rose to finger the lock on Fane’s locker. “He knows I do it, but he’s gotten to where he ignores me when I do have to dose him. That MRI scan we had to run on him to make sure he was all right? I got to watch him have a full-blown panic attack on the scanner.” He spun the dial on the lock and popped the door open.
So, the kid wasn’t angry at him in the lift, Orlov thought. “He got into the lift with me because…?” the Prince wasn’t quite connecting the dots.
“He respected you and your position enough to not embarrass you.” Zephyr flicked the tag on Fane’s uniform collar.
“And he doesn’t do that for you?” Orlov asked.
“I know why he has serious claustrophobia, so I let him use the stairs. He has a key for the fire-alarm set doors, that way he doesn’t get stuck taking a lift,” Zephyr supplied. “He’s punctual to anything he has to be at, without anyone ever being the wiser that he has to do that.”
“If he really did kill all those people, why does he insist that he hasn’t been field-tested. Is he safe to work with?” Orlov turned back to their prior conversation.
“Remember, his amnesia took out everything before he woke up in a hospital bed in a medical ward. He quite literally doesn’t remember why he has a fear of small spaces. He doesn’t remember what he did to get himself into that situation in the first place. Since getting out of the hospital, he hasn’t been ‘put in the field’, so to speak.
“By all rights, if he had been brought in as proper military, he would have been medically discharged for all his problems. He had several reconstructive surgeries after they finally got him free of all his infections. Physical therapy and personal dedication put him at top performance amongst the men. He’s had some minor psych-therapy in the early days, but that’s not covered for more than ten sessions a year. Therapist and dietitian put him on a plant-based diet to help him cope with some misplaced flashbacks he gets around meat. , though he can complete his physicals with the best of them and does magnificently with his shot tests, he doesn’t have any faith in himself to actually go out and serve the military because he doesn’t remember his experience. If I was in his position, I’m not sure I’d want to remember that either.” Zephyr closed the locker with a bang.
“Shouldn’t he have been put into a civilian ward? If he was so badly hurt, he clearly has physical disabilities that would release any regular soldier from the military and PTSD to boot,” Ishan pressed.
“Get a chance and watch him scale a wall. He’s a spider on a rope and flexible as hell. He worked his physical therapist half to death and gives the martial arts coaches on base a run for their money weekly. Guy’s the reincarnation of an Americano with a triple shot of espresso in a pint-sized package. Like hell we’d turn him civilian when he’s that useful. Outside of the small spaces and stairs, Anson’s fine. He doesn’t cower at shells or fireworks and doesn’t self-medicate. So, what if he has to keep to rabbit food; not like that gets in the way of his work. They make vegan MREs now, you know?” Zephyr turned to study the man taking away his charge. He leaned up against the locker. “He’s a great teacher, patient with the new recruits. Test scores have improved since we released him to start training.
“We are only safe to work with him because of a set of conditions, though. His immense loyalty. His sense of obligation. His fear of small spaces. He won’t willingly do something that will get him stuck in a small area as a punishment.
“Though we have never threatened him with the possibility of getting stuck in solitary confinement, he has confessed to me before that he has a conspiracy theory that if he left the military, he’d be put in solitary. He told me that several months after getting out of the hospital after he read his case file. So, he knows. He knows what he did, but he doesn’t remember it.” Zephyr tapped his skull, “He has a sense of immense guilt. He’s a good guy. He’s loyal. He tries to please people. He’s an orphan whose sister wanted to help him out.
“They were living in some shack town near the dumps. He helped watch out for the kids in the neighbourhood, kind of an older brother to them. She got herself caught up in a pimping operation run by that mob and ended up dead. Somebody got it in their heads to try to blackmail him for money to pay off her ‘debts’ she had accrued while in that service.
“He tried the legal routes, what he could afford, what he couldn’t afford. He took the path that people in his situation use when no other methods work: street justice.
“When everything else failed, and he had debt collectors with his sister’s eyes in an envelope showing up from that mob in a shantytown where it was apparent no one had money….” Zephyr heaved a sigh. “You ask me if I trust him?” He pounded his fist on the metal locker, the bang startling Orlov. “Heh,” he laughed, pinning the Prince under his gaze. “I don’t deserve it, but I know he’d end the world to protect me.” It was no bluff; Zephyr knew Anson. If he was in trouble, Anson would probably take out anyone he deemed a threat.
He moved around Orlov to look the man over before returning back to the locker. Orlov watched him, nervous. “Don’t take him lightly. You want the best man to train your men, or do you want the most loyal man to protect your ass when you’re gonna probably die? He’ll do that and more, as long as you respect him. As it stands,” Zephyr hefted the knife, showing the blade to Orlov once more, “he likes you, just won’t admit it. You got off easy. Early on, the men learned not to harass him like this if they didn’t want to end up in the infirmary for a couple of weeks. Usually, he wouldn’t even bother with a warning. He’s landed a couple officers in the hospital who tried this with him. They were dismissed on harassment charges. If I were you, I’d wait ’til tomorrow to apologise to him. If you insist, he’s probably out at the lake feeding turtles.” Zephyr handed the knife back to Orlov.
“Feeding…?” Orlov watched Zephyr walk out of the locker room, confused and shell-shocked. He sank his head into his hands and let the quiet locker room chill his skin. Finally, the Prince looked down at the knife in his hand. Shoving it back into its sheath gingerly, he glared at the closed door of the locker room. Wrinkling his nose, he rose, slammed the door open, and rushed down the hall after Zephyr.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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