We met again outside the theater. Cross held the spiderwebbed glass door open for me with one hand- the other was busy rummaging in the pockets of his suit-coat. He came up with a rupled package of cloves, and shook one out into his palm.
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"I don't suppose you've got a light?" he said.
"No," I said. "Sorry."
"Don't be. I just thought I would ask." Cross stuck the clove in his mouth. He shut his eyes. A moment later, the end flared alight. "I don't like to show off."
He smoked in silence for a minute, apparently savoring the fragrant cigarette. We listened to the sounds of the night.
"You know, Renton," he said at last. "I like you. Have I ever told you that?"
"Perhaps," I said.
"Yes, well, I'm telling you now. I like you. You're a good fellow. I trust you, too. In fact, you're the only one of this band of misfits I really trust."
I said nothing.
"You know why that is, Renton?"
I shook my head.
Cross exhaled a cloud of scented smoke. "I like you because you're simple. You're just so...simple."
"Don't get me wrong, I don't mean it as a criticism." Cross waved a hand at me. "It's a good thing. Most people are complex- too complex for their own good. They say one thing, then do another, and all the while they tell themselves they have a perfectly valid reason for doing it." Cross sniffed. "I hate that shit."
There was a heavy, uncomfortable silence.
"But," he said. "You aren't like that, Renton. You're straightforward, you're truthful. You don't talk much, but when you say a thing, you mean it. That's why I trust you...because I know I can..."
"You're probably wondering what all this is about," said Cross.
"Yes," I said.
He took another drag on his clove, then flicked it out into the street. "I just...I just wanted you to know that I trust you. I'm worried, and I'm a little frightened, and I can't tell the rest of them about that. They'll construe it as a sign of weakness- you know how they are. Especially Morphine. You know, Renton, I simple cannot understand what you see in that creature.
"She's a kindred spirit," I said. "She and I are both pitiful."
Cross blinked. "Er...yes," he said. "Of course. Anyway...I just, I wanted you to know, if this doesn't go the way I was hoping, that I tried. You know I try, don't you?"
I met Cross's eyes. "Yes," I said. "I know that you try."
He nodded, and thrust his hands in his pockets. "It isn't easy, leading people. I'm a natural at it, which is lucky for all of us, but it isn't easy. Sometimes I need to know I'm doing well. Thanks, Renton."
"Who is Blake?" I said suddenly.
The question obviously caught him by surprise. He started.
"I told you all before," he said. "It's complicated."
"You told all of us," I said. "I am asking as myself now: Who is Blake?"
He regarded me curiously. "Why do you want to know?"
"And if I say no again?"
Cross sighed. "You put me in a tough position, Renton. First I tell you I trust you, now I tell you I can't share information with you. Bah...nothing is ever easy, is it?"
"Blake..." The wizard looked up at the stars. "Blake is a thorn in my side- in the sides of a lot of people. It's as though one of our own had turned rogue. It bothers me." He sighed. "What I told you was true though. Blake IS complicated. What I know of him is probably only a small cross-section of the real story. He's...he plays at being an investigator. I suppose he is, in a way. He investigates for a man named Gideon; a shady businessman who owns three office buildings in downtown New Cantor. He...is known for avoiding death...again and again...and for hunting down anything that gets in Gideon's way; man, monster, or otherwise."
"What does he want Jeremiah for?" I said.
Cross raised an eyebrow. "How the hell would I know? Ask Jeremiah." He pulled open the door and slipped back inside.
I listened to the wind howl through the trees for a while. I thought of nothing.
I put a foot into the first rung of the ladder. As I did, I heard something clatter behind me in the darkened theater.
I took the foot away and stepped out of the alcove. Another clatter, this one quieter. I sidled up to the curtain and pulled it back just enough to peak down the pitch black aisle- though what I hoped to accomplish in the gloom, I couldn't imagine. I stared down at the stage, envisioning it in my mind, and superimposing that image over the blackness that met my eyes.
There! Above the steps, I saw: Two glowing yellow eyes. As I squinted at them, they disappeared, and I was left wondering if I had seen them at all. Then-
I started in surprise as Jeremiah stepped out of the darkness. He saw my expression and smiled guiltily.
"Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to scare you. You all right?"
"Yes," I said.
"That's good, then," he said. "You know, I like that stage a lot. It's good for thinking, especially at night."
I nodded. "Thinking about what?"
Jeremiah shrugged. "Lots of things I guess?"
"How did you-?"
"Just a guess," I said. "Why does he hunt you?"
"He hates me," said Jeremiah. "And I hate him."
"There must be more," I said. "Did the people you offended send him?"
Jeremiah looked uncomfortable. "He...it's...I mean, they might have..."
I shook my head. "You're lying," I said. "Blake works for a private businessman."
"So? The businessman could have been concerned about it."
"Maybe. But why did you lie to me at first?"
"Goddammit, Renton, just leave it alone!" Jeremiah turned away. I reached out and grabbed ahold of his shirt to stop him. When I did, he whirled around and snarled at me, emitting a gutteral cry I would have imagined human vocal chords unable to make. For a moment, I saw his eyes flash yellow in the gloom.
Then it was gone, and he looked even more embarassed.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It's this whole Blake thing. I've been worked up all night. Look, I'm really sorry, okay?"
"I've...I've been thinking about it," he said. "Maybe I should find Blake. I might be able to kill him, in a hand-to-hand fight...maybe..."
I had a though. "Wait a minute," I said.
Jeremiah blinked. "What??"
"You...you knew who Blake was even before I told you, didn't you?"
"You have been holding back on us."
"You have been lying to us."
"What did you do to him, Jeremiah?"
"What did you do?"
"Listen to m-"
"What did you do?"
"SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!" Jeremiah's shouts echoed briefly in the lightless theater. He looked like a man who had just swallowed too much hot sauce. His nostrils were flaring in and out like the enraged bulls in the old matador cartoons. His eyes were bright yellow. A thin sheet of sweat covered his brow. With the echoes of his last outburst dying in his ears, he seemed to gain some degree of control over himself.
"It's none of your business," he panted. "It's none of anyone's business. I won't talk about it. I won't. Ask me a thousand times, I don't care. I'll straighten it out soon enough, anyway. Don't worry about it." He paused, and seemed to grope for words. "I'm...I'm...oh hell." He turned away from me, walked back down the aisle, and was gone.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.