Chapter 2, page 2

I had been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since, from the video stream, I had been able to tell that they were wearing suits. But even though each of them was dressed in a very high-quality tuxedo, they were obviously uncomfortable in the garb. They also lacked the added little extras they would have needed if they had wanted to blend in. As I got closer I realized just why they looked uncomfortable in their rented tuxedoes, every one of them would be capable—and probably willing—to rip my arms out of their sockets if I gave them a reason. Swallowing the lump, I decided I would just have to make sure that they never got a reason. Squaring my shoulders, I closed the distance between us and proffered my briefcase to the gentleman. . . . Should I call thugs like these gentlemen? Silently, the gentle-thug on my right relieved me of the outstretched case before quickly disappearing with it.

No sooner was my money gone than the gentle-thug on my left spoke with a voice that had an eerie blend of gentleness and firmness. “Sir, if you would spread your arms and legs… please?”
Shifting my gaze from the doorway to the man who spoke, I noticed the little hitch before he added the “please,” which made the man’s tone all the more unsettling. It was as if that little piece of courtesy was entirely foreign to him. As I looked, I started to examine him and instantly saw the headset resting on his left ear. I suppressed a grin as I realized that the little piece of plastic could have been the reason for the little hitch. The actual reason for the hitch didn’t

matter all that much, since I wasn’t going to have to play against him. In the end, all that mattered were the players, not the thugs watching over us.

Now normally I would try—I mean I would really try—not to push other people’s buttons. I know just how bad things can get when you annoy an already short-tempered individual, and I could tell this guy was always a trifle testy. With that being said, on occasion I have been known to disregard my own sage advice and say something to really make someone upset. And that is what I fully intended to do right now to the gentle-thug on the left. “More than happy to oblige, my good man.” While the words may have been innocuous the tone I used was sure to get under the man’s skin.

I got the reaction that I had expected. As I was taking my own sweet time in complying with the request, a pair of hands from behind roughly assisted me into position. Like I said, I knew it was a bad idea. As the goon behind searched me I couldn’t help but think that it was a relatively simple not to mention gentle search, aside from the initial treatment of course. I guess the tone was one they were used to considering the crowd they were dealing with.

“You know, you could have just asked me if I was carrying weapons or anything like that.” I offered to the man who appeared to be this little group’s boss.

With the slightest scoff he stepped a little closer to me before saying, “Our boss is not the most trusting type and so by extension neither are we. And to be perfectly blunt we don’t know you, so how can we trust you? And if we can’t trust you, why would we ask you if you were carrying anything we wouldn’t allow?”

“So if you knew me, you would trust me?”

“If we really knew you we wouldn’t have to trust you.”

“Why’s that?” I asked with genuine curiosity. What is this man’s philosophy on trust?

“Because if we knew you, you would no longer be in the land of the living.” The lead guard replied with that same blend of gentleness and firmness that he had greeted me with. And that made his tone of voice even creepier than it was already. “Cheerfully-creepy” should never be used to describe someone’s tone of voice as far as I was concerned.

I felt the thug’s hands stop as he felt something in my pockets and I mentally sighed. Now I knew he wasn’t going to find guns, a wireless antenna, or anything like that. But there were a few things I had been hoping they would overlook. Unfortunately, it seemed that the guard searching me was more observant that I had hoped. He pulled out one of the hand warmers that were stuffed into my coat pocket and asked, “What’s this?”

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