FORTY-FIVE: STAND OFF
CLEON LOOKED LIKE HELL.
I’d only seen his face for a second before he ducked behind Maggie, using her as a shield as he peered at me over her left shoulder. But what I saw wasn’t looking too healthy.
“What is this, Cleon?” I said, pointing my guns at what little I could see of him. “It’s over, you know it.”
Cleon popped up over Maggie’s shoulder.
His upper lip was torn, swollen, and trickled blood. His right eye was swollen shut and turning black. And his nose was bent in an unnatural way. Most of his face seemed to be crusted in blood which cracked and broke as he attempted a smile.
I could have popped off a shot, taken him down right there, but Maggie was struggling against him, and I didn’t want her head to move in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
“Asterion demands that this woman’s blood be shed in his name,” the High Priest said. “I will spill her blood. Then I’ll gut you next.”
“You sound pretty sure about this,” I said, both barrels staring him down.
“Norman?” Maggie said, her voice wavering on the edge of panic.
“Don’t worry, Maggie,” I said. “I ain’t gonna let nothing happen to you.”
I knew what had to be done, and I needed her still and relaxed.
“The Bull God demands her blood,” Cleon said. “So He demands, so it shall be.”
“Mike wants no such thing,” I said.
“You will call him Asterion,” Cleon said, his voice going quiet.
“Sure,” I said. “No problem. I’m just saying, I know Asterion pretty well, and this isn’t what he would want.”
“You dare to pretend to know the mind of a god!”
“Mike’s no god, son. He’s mighty powerful, sure. But he bleeds, just like you.”
“You will call him Asterion!” His one eye blinked furiously at me over the top of Maggie’s shoulder.
“How do you think this is gonna end?” I asked.
Cleon looked confused.
“Say you kill the both of us,” I said. “I mean, I ain’t gonna let that happen, but say you do. What’s the plan after that?”
“Thirteen more nights of sacrifice,” Cleon said. “Six more girls, seven boys. Asterion will bathe in their blood and we will draw power from it.”
“And what if I won’t let you,” I said.
“You?” Cleon laughed. “You have no power to stop me.”
“I have these,” I said, giving both pistols a quick shake.
“I am the High Priest of Minos, ape. Your paltry fire arms can’t touch me.”
“Sure,” I said. “You proved that back there, that’s for certain. I have to admit I was a little taken aback when my bullet bounced off that magic barrier. But how do I know you’re up to conjuring more of the same. I mean, you don’t look up to walking across the room, son, much less performing what I have to assume is some powerful magic.”
“My magical abilities are fine,” he said.
But, of course, he was lying. I could see it in that one good eye.
“Now,” he continued. “You are going to let me walk away with her. If you don’t…”
“You’ll what?” I said. “Kill her?”
“Yes!” the High Priest’s voice went up an octave. “I’ll slice her open right here!”
I sighed. “So let me get this straight. If I don’t let you take Maggie with you so that you can sacrifice her to Mike, you’ll kill her here instead?”
“You will call him,” Cleon’s voice shot up about four octaves. “Asterion!”
“Either way she’s dead, Payday,” I said. “You aren’t giving me much incentive to step aside.”
His one eye blinked. “Payday?”
“Payday,” I said. “The nut bar.”
“Let us go or I’ll kill you!” Cleon’s voice had, by now, reached mad scientist’s levels.
“You can’t kill me,” I said. “Mike couldn’t even kill me and he’s supposed to be your god or something.”
The High Priest screamed and stood up straight behind Maggie, his face coming into full view. Maggie, seeing the look in my eye, didn’t move.
“You will call him—”
The crash of both my guns cut him off before he could finish. Well, that and the two bullets that slammed into his forehead.
Maggie screamed and Cleon fell to the floor in a heap.
“Asterion,” I finished for him.
Maggie stood stock still, and for a moment I was afraid that she’d gone into shock. But then she turned and looked down on the body of Cleon, High Priest of the Brotherhood of Minos. She nudged at him with her foot. When he didn’t move I could see the tension drain out of her as she slumped slightly forward and let out a relieved sigh.
“Can I go home now?” She asked.
“You bet,” I said. “Follow me.”
But then, as we reached the glass door, as I put my hand on the handle and began to pull, a deep voice spoke from behind.
We turned, and there behind us, having just exited the corridor that led to the labyrinth, stood Mike.
“Oh, Hell no,” Maggie said.
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