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A Pound of Flesh

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Hell. The place that I loved, and loathed. Hot and humid, all eternity ‘round, it reminded me of my childhood’s southern summers. I was never was one for that stagnant heat. Otherwise, Hell was exactly what I wanted. A corrupt, shady place without the traditional rules and regulations of the living world. You could do anything if you had the money or the connections. Now, this was a place where I could kick back and enjoy a near-infinite “life”-time. Still, that didn’t help me to figure out what I was doing down here.

I had a good few memories and recollections at that point. Not all, but a good few. I had been kicking around for a long time, doing handiwork and small jobs to just barely pay for my rent. Food wasn’t too big of a problem, the streets provided me with plenty. If anything, I was resourceful, and that was the one thing that kept me sustained and happy. That and reggae. Surprisingly enough, Hell had some good reggae. But hey, I'm getting ahead a' myself.

I'm Misty or Mist. People shorten it. I've been in Hell for a long bit, and I believe that I've been doing well enough. I mostly move things for money, not to brag or anything, but I'm one of the burliest demons I've seen 'round here. That also might be the reason I haven't been hired by many people for jobs besides physical labor. Plus, I've got a resting-bitch-face something awful. Overall, I think that I intimidate people. Might be my left eye combined with everything else, it's constantly fixed in a glare, looks like half my face is permanently contemplating ripping into your stomach. Yeah. I'm pretty brutish looking 'sides my hair. I haven't cut it in who knows long, but I don't tend to wear it down that often, 've usually got it in one of those top knots. And y'know, I'd like to think that my personality contradicts my looks. I'd like to, anyway.

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A usual off-day in my shabby apartment, getting close to my usual food-run time. I grab my backpack of supplies and my pair of tarnished brassies. I've carried 'em since I was a kid, and they had never failed me. Man, I used to be so scrappy. Good times. Cut the reminiscing out Mist, you've got stuff to do. I walk out onto the chittering streets of Hell. First, to the nearest general store. I need to pick up some seasonings.

The Crook’s Cave. A pretty good name for the run-down little shop, all things considered. "The only place where you can get a deal from a crook!" Heh, yeah. Crook's an honest guy, one of the few in Hell. He had good banter too. I grab a basket and head into the heart of the store.

A quick visit to the spice section, mostly for good pork seasonings, though many others were enticing. Then to the wines for a cheapo red for some added flavor, not much to see, and finally to the fruit section. The guys working here always had a good stock of everything you could ever need, but I go through tangerines like a maniac. I grabbed a couple of net-fulls. I load my crate full of smaller things along the way, and by the time I get back to the registers, big man Crook himself was manning the register, with his usual cocky smile.

“Well heya there, chum! Back with the usual, eh? You go through those reds like it’s, well, wine, heh,” that funny lug guffawed. He'd been good to me ever since I waltzed my way down into this pit, despite my short teeth. A real good guy, one of the better ones. Plus he kept his prices low, and everybody can appreciate that.

“What can I say? It pairs with most of the stuff I eat," I explain, offering a shrug.

“Didn’t know that this shit could go with anything.” He grabs the bottle, eyes it up and down. Everyone's a critic now, huh.

“You’d be surprised. It went down well with your mom last night.” My humor was unmatched. The perfect “your mom” joke. Topical too. I am good.

“Damn! All right, that’ll be $10.13," he beamed. He's a right good sport when it comes to this. Great guy. He'll usually offer a good punch-back, but apparently not tonight. Next time I'll have him bounce some stuff off me.

I paid up and left the store, stowing the items in my pack and starting my walk back into the dark alleys. Now it was time to finally stop window shopping. Walking past a couple of blocks, I've got my eye out for a guy. A healthy, good-looking demon with a good pair of thighs on him. Mmm. I've been scoping him out for a week or two now, making notes of his nightly walks around the area, he seemed to be tracing an exact erratic route each time. I'm gonna take this guy home, and give him the old “wine em’ and dine ‘em” routine.

I light up a cigarette to blend in with the passerby, and lean against the building behind me, zeroing in on the crossing where my target usually walked by. He came through there every other time, and he would be here tonight. This guy was a bit strange, even for a denizen of Hell. Not threatening, just... inoffensive? He didn't exactly blend in but didn't exactly stick out. A commoner in nearly every way. That's how I perceive him anyways. But the one thing that popped was his schedule. He always walked his path around 9:35 PM. I was confident. Seconds, minutes pass. He’ll be here. He will be here. Another minute. Ugh, I hate smoking. Ya'know I never really got how people got really hooked on the stuff. Wait.

A flash of an orange beanie and a black baggy hoodie. Terrible style, dull green eyes, stubby nose. It’s him, and he is en route. The hunt is on.

I snuff the cigarette on the side of the building and follow suit, intentionally staying behind building corners while following, keeping close but just out of sight. Red flashes in the corner of my eyes, I check my surroundings. Just in case, but nothing. A good hunt always gets me giddy. I get over it, and walk the route, waiting for his daily smoke break in one of the easily bottlenecked alleys. 30 minutes in, and based on the distance we’ve walked, we should be close to his spot.

He hunches into his usual place, I walk on by nonchalantly and duck to the corner outside of the divot in the concrete surroundings. My fingers writhe through the holes of my old knuckle dusters. I can hear his breath. Full, relaxed. A dull glow emanates from the crack in the scenery. He’s on his phone. Primetime. My hands float to my sides, almost buoyant in the humid air.

I sprint into the alley and clothesline the guy into the bricks behind him, and he slumps down. Damn, an absolutely scrumptious hit with my knuckles. It was less of a clothesline and more of a direct hit, as shown by a deep, ugly dent is right at the bridge of his nose, a good bit blood is dripping out. A quick death, that’s good. Perfect even! I set my pack next to his seemingly lifeless body, and I begin to rummage through it, after a struggle more difficult than knocking this dude, pull out a large black bag. A nicer bodybag, to be specific. I stretch his body straight out, and pull the bag over him, sliding him right in. No wonder people always called me a brute when I was alive. Hah.

Picking up the body like a garden bag full of rose vines, I sling it over my shoulder with care, making sure to have his head to the back. I crouch down and swipe up his phone. It was an alright model, worth pawning for sure. I’d take care of it. Rising back to the standing position, another flash of crimson, like earlier. I jump forward, turning to face the entrance of the alley. Christ riding on a bike. Not a single wisp of movement in the air.

There looms a tall demon, dolled up like he's on his merry way to a wedding. A red suit with lighter pinstripes, back accents, a spiffy bowtie, and even a crimson undershirt. Plus a red monocle? This guy was either trying way too hard to match or he just really liked red. Tall ears and horns too. Sharp yellowed teeth fixated in a grim smile and glowing red eyes. Excellent posture.

“You know, that WAS mine,” a slightly static tinged voice sounds out. Malicious, sure, but it was slightly off.

“I’ve been on this schmuck like the red on your suit for a couple of weeks now. Hunter’s honor, you wouldn’t just take another guy’s prize would you?” I feel like this guy'd appreciate some guts.

“Well, I suppose not, but I do feel that I am owed something for this little… encounter.”

“Whatever, all I want is the body. Watcha want?” The thing’s smile adjusted, very slightly. I matched it, putting on a calm grin.

“Oh-ho! Nothing at all my boy. I’m just interested in why you want this man so badly.” A slight head turn. Eyes to the right, pupils dilate. Bad signs, especially when I'm cornered

“Well, you’ll have to try a bit harder to get that outta me, heh. I’m not too open with strangers," I narrow my eyes.

“Now, be calm, young man. I just feel that we share a common thread, that’s all! Alas, it’s not often that a stranger will return a smile.” That static in the air is softening.

“Hah. So, you wanna talk over a nice dinner or something like that?” Humor goes a long way in either direction in these situations, hopefully, I rolled the dice on the right guy.

“Ah! Brilliant idea, my boy! Shall we go?”

“Wait a second, you’re taking this seriously.” I was expecting a "good" no or a "bad" no. Not a yes. I've rolled a 7 on a 6 sided die.

“Indeed I am, now stay still, this’ll only take a moment.” Suddenly, the white noise grows harsh, and shadows crawl on the ground. Christ, it's like I'm on my fairgrounds tilt-a-whirl. Feels like the only firm thing around's the man’s corpse slung over my shoulder. I freeze and look ahead at the demon. I don't even know the guy's name.

“The name’s Alastor, my good bud! Now, here we go!”

A great black with chills running up and down my body. Feels like I'm in a closed freezer. After a near-eternity, the chills fade, along with the darkness to a posh, burgundy room. Yeah, this definitely is this “Alastor” guy’s room. A great bed resting in the corner, a victorian-style couch on the other side of the room, next to a dresser with a grand mirror resting atop of it. Reds on reds on reds. Suiting.

“Good day!” I sit upright at the sudden voice. This guy! "Alastor" blends in too well with his furniture.

“You were out for a couple of minutes, so I went ahead and got the supplies for our dinner ready! Now you just need to get up, off the ground so we can get started,” he explains cheerily.

“Yeah, yeah. Wait a sec, I’m still recovering. Christ, what was that?” I stretch my arm out for the body, only to find an empty floor.

“And wh-” Quickly, and rudely, I was interrupted.

“Don’t you worry. Our little friend is in the kitchen ready for prep! And what that was was my style of transportation! Much better than any taxi, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Eh.”

“Well remind me to not ask for your opinion next time,” he gripes while walking over to me. Holding out a slim, gloved hand, eventually, he leans over my still floored body. Of course, I grab it and pull myself up. He's got a vice grip on it and isn't letting it loose.

“So, I never caught YOUR name. It would be rude to go on with only my name out in the open, wouldn’t it?" His eyes are locked onto mine. Tiny little radio dials.

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry, I’m Misty. Wasn't exactly the first thing to swim to the top'a my to-do list.”

“Mister Misty! What a ring that has,” he quips, and slowly released his vice-grip on my hand. He enjoys humor, good stuff to know.

"Now, follow me. I have quite the kitchen set up for the three, soon to be two of us!" A quick spin on his heel and he's leading me to a door in the corner of the expansive room, leading me through.

"Cripes," it comes out as a mumble. It's a pure white room, full of utilities and cooking utensils. A veritable paradise of prep tables. On top of one of those tables sits the body bag that had been transported with me.

"I hope you're an adept cook because I don't think that you'll be able to chow down on raw meat, and we need a meal."

There was a malicious tone once again. Alastor's truly interested in what I was going to do with the body, and worse even he's probably already figured it out what exactly I was going to do with it.

"So?" He prods, leading me to the body bag.

"Might as well get along with it, ay? Heh," I joke as I strip the body bag from its body, and then the clothes from it as well. The hoodie and pants are bound to be worth next to nothing, as they were incredibly worn. Same with the shoes.

So we've' a body on our hands, ready for butchering.

"Mind if I grab some safety first?" No way am I getting my outfit bloody. It's not much to talk about, jeans, a white shirt, and a tracksuit jacket, but hey. I like my outfit.

"No no! Good thinking, you never can be too safe with this sort of thing. I have aprons and gloves in the corner closet, and I have many soaps in there too. Help yourself."

Don't mind if I do, but wow. It was full of all the tools a self-respecting butcher could ever want or need. Knives, hooks, a couple of bone saws, tenderizers, et cetera. Everything for preparing the meat practically, yet nothing for taste. No seasonings, additives, nothing. I yank one of the bone saws, a couple more precise knives, a tenderizer, and a cleaver. Al's watching me like a hawk.

I stride through the alabaster room, back to the cadaver's table and set the utensils down at the corpse's feet.

"Mind if I go get some stuff from my bag?" No way am I going to cook this thing without any seasonings or flavor. Yeesh. I may be somewhat brutish in stature but I'm not a barbarian.

"Yes yes, of course! I set it on the couch outside. Try not to get lost, o ho ho!" As cheery and slightly unsettling as everything else he's said.

Back in his room, the pack is exactly where he'd said. On the red-striped sofa. It looks a little worse for wear, but it is the same bag. I fish around in it, scrambling through my belongings. A pack of menthols, an old deck of my mom's playing cards, my wallet and finally, the wine and spices. Generic red with paprika, garlic, sage, and et cetera. Stuff that'd usually go with pork, goes well with human meat. I grab them up, along with my cards and wallet, and waltz back into the kitchen.

Laying the spices in a row neatly next to the stove, I grab a skillet and set the wine down next to it.

"Oh, so you WERE serious beforehand. How interesting!" He clasps his hands together, how very charming. Ech.

"This isn't exactly a crime of passion. Gotta plan, gotta prepare."

"Don't I know it." That reveals a little bit about him. Time to put that to the test.

"So, why are we having some street urchin for dinner? Can't we go get something a little, um. Easier?"

"No. We will not waste perfectly good meat, AND, you took this one away from me. I will see to it that he will be properly taken care of." Huh. Even more subtle hints at his character. I'll have to drill him a bit later.

"So? Are you going to start?"

"Yes, yes I'll go ahead and start, bossman."

And start I will. First, the head. Simple enough, lop it off, don't eat the brain. I don't want this thing as a decoration, so I toss it into the nearest bin. I don't know if Kuru's a thing down here in hell and I don't care. I'll always be sanitary when it comes to this stuff. Next, the arms. Lop them off too, sever at the elbow and wrist. Easy. Thank Lucifer himself there are drains in here. Blood is plentiful. Next up is the gut. Also very simple. Don't eat the organs, you never know what the person's lifestyle was.

Now's the damn hard part, the thighs down. The thighs are easily the best part of the body. A relatively large amount of meat, and a good mix of lean and fat, especially on a well-taken-care-of John Doe. Precise chops with the cleaver and clever use of the bone saw are the way to go, especially if you want a very high-quality cut. Sever at the knee, sever at the ankle, the same song and dance.

"Ooh! Aren't we a little expert!"

"Good to know that I have your support."

Oh yeah, I havta' to examine the parts for easy to spot disease or deformities. After a bit of looking over, it seems fine. And so I toss the torso, the ribs aren't good enough to cut out. Trash the hands and feet too. There we go, we have the baseline for our meal. Of course, we will be cooking a part of the thighs.

"Do you have a meat freezer?" I raise my hand, drawing Al's attention to it.

"Why of course, my dear boy! Right next to the closet you went into earlier."

"Shouldn't I be the one calling you deer?" There it is. That acerbic wit of mine.

"Oho ho ho ho! Good one!"

Alright, it's time to skin these things. Easy enough, just make an incision at one point and peel. Comes off like weak, slimy velcro. Repeat for each piece. I gather the limbs, carry them over to the freezer and hang them up on the scattered hooks to drip, save the skinned left thigh.

I'll be making the best first. Carefully, I go ahead and grab and center the left thigh in front of me, and cut down the middle on one side, vertically. Now, I cut the meat off the bone with one of the sharper knives, leaving a length of good meat. Slice that in half again, but this time horizontally, and once more vertically, leaving a group of nicely sized slabs. I place the 2 of the 4 to the side to store later.

"Now then, time to beat the meat," I joke as I pick up the wooden mallet.

"A-Ahem. Is that truly the best way to put things?"

"I could say "tenderize the taint" if you want," Now beating the meat.

"No, no. Nevermind. Just keep working."

This guy doesn't like sex jokes. Good to know. He did seem pretty uncomfortable when I was cutting close to the corpse's "area". Or maybe he got sympathy pains, who knows. I get those sometimes. Anyways, it was time for the fun part. The seasoning and cooking part.

After the tenderization, I rub in some garlic and paprika and use a conservative amount of sage on both sides. I set the stove and splash a bit of the red wine into the skillet for flavor.

"How do you want it cooked?"

"Oh, just rare will do."

"Y'know, personally, I like my meat with a somewhat low chance of disease. Medium rare," I turn back, smirking at him. Same smile, with the sharp yellow teeth.

"Everybody has their tastes, it seems ours are similar!"

Turning around, once again, I grab an extra skillet for Alastor's meat and splash in some wine, identically to the one next to it. I carefully lay both slabs into their skillets and let them sizzle. I take Alastor's out quickly enough for it to just have a light searing and leave mine in for about double that time, resulting in two perfect cuts. The smell they produced was beautiful, like pork, but a twinge more bitter. I plate them quickly and carefully.

"Dinner's done. I'm pretty proud of these two." I tell him. "How do they look?"

"Bloody as Queen Mary herself! I do say, this does look good. We will have to do this again quite soon, I believe."

"Looking forward to it, now what'll we be having to drink? We have that wine I used, or if you have something else in mind tell me."

"I know just the person who can help! Here, follow me." He scoops up his plate along with mine and walks out of the kitchen, to his dolled-up room.

"Wait a sec, I need to get out of this uniform," stripping the bloody garment, I fold it and set it on the floor. It would be a travesty if I wore this out, even I have standards.

"Now if you're done, we'll be going downstairs to meet a fine fellow of a feline named Husk! Careful though, he can be grumpy at this hour, so watch his claws."

"I'll stay out of range," I respond, following Alastor to a doorway.

"Mind opening the door? I have my hands quite full, you see."

"Ya'know you didn't have to get both."

"Oh, I'm just being polite."

I open the door to a corridor filled with other doors. Is this a hotel or something?

"Why yes, in fact, this is THE Happy Hotel, run by our very own little princess, Charlie Magne!"

Wait. What the fuck. By Hell's fiery furnaces, that Charlie? I'm not too much for politics, but everyone knows the royal family. What am I doing with the ritz?

"Fret not, dear Charlie is not one to be afraid of! Be at ease, you are a guest in this house. Now, let's be on our way."

So we walk down the hallway, I'm still in shock. Trouble, trouble, trouble, that's all politicians and rich folk ever are. I always was at the bottom of the social and economic caste, in a figurative sense, so I'm on my toes. Continuing with my musings, we come to the end of the hall, confronted by a set of doorways. A stairway and an elevator.

"So, elevator or stairs?"

"For swiftness's sake, the elevator."

"Sounds good to me." We step into the metal box. Another thing in this place that I'm not really a big fan of. But, if it was there in the first place, it's probably the safest, easiest bet. Plus balancing plates on stairs isn't too fun.

"So, the base floor I'd assume?"

"You'd assume correctly."

I press the button and stared out into the long corridor, as the elevator's shutter closed in. A sudden shift and a slight whirring, and they were sliding down.

"What a strange scenario this is."

"Strange indeed, but isn't it quite a bit of fun?" Al asked, turning to smile down at me.

"Certainly isn't my typical Wednesday night," I retort, once again mirroring his cheery(?) smile.

A quick shift in momentum and the shutters open up to an intricately decorated foyer, full of art, and well, art. There's pretty sparse littering of classy furniture, surprisingly enough. A reception desk and a couple of wide doorways are visible, each with warm light flowing out.

"That's the one we'll be going to. Husk runs a dandy bar in there, I'm sure you'll find it quite relaxing."

"In a place like this, they'd best have some half-decent stock." A decent drink sounds absolutely incredible.

"Oh trust me, they do. I've sampled some of their heavier beverages, so I could give a good recommendation if you'd like. Once we get there, of course."

We start to walk through the ghost town of the main hall, towards the rightmost doorway, the calming sound of Bossa Nova emanating from it. Stepping through the threshold, the vibe of the joint is made apparent. Lazy, relaxed. Al had been preaching the truth on this. Only a few people inhabited the place. A cat, who I assume is Husk, mans the counter, and what seemed to be a spider and a pastel-goth are hanging in a corner booth. A rough-looking dog's hanging out at the bar too. We step up to the bar, Al setting our plates down.

Husk slowly pads over to us, eyeing me up and down.

"Heh. Heh-hah. What is this Alastor, bring your own fresh meat day?" Husk laughs dryly.

"You have no idea. So Jobim, eh?" Music, the classic conversation starter. Lucky me I know a bit of jazz.

"Hey, someone with some taste. I like you better than the punk bitch over there already." The "punk bitch" had somehow heard that over her earbuds and flipped Husk off.

"She ain't even old enough to order a drink, and she's here. What do you reckon she's listenin' to?"

"Guy, imagine this. Green Day, that or Blink whatever."

"No, I won't do that. Even she's above that. 'Prolly some other basic punk garbage or something."

"Think she's the type to wear a band's merch without listening to 'em?"

"Oh yeah, def-" Al cuts him off.

"All right boys, all right. No need to make the fool out of an innocent girl for the sake of conversation! Now Husk, fetch us a couple of Islays if you will."

"Fine, killjoy. Wait a second, will ya?"

"Oh! And I'll have mine with ice!" I yell after the cat(?) thing.

Luckily, the meats are still fresh, even after the elevator trip. Hopefully, Al knows what he's ordering. I think Islay's a brand of whiskey? Should be fine whatever is served up though.

"You and Husk sure hit it off! Good to see that you two have something in common! Now, who is this Jobim gentleman?"

"One of the figureheads of Bossa Nova, which is basically elevator music. Really good elevator music."

"I can definitely see, well, hear the similarities. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I can see the appeal!"

"Don't you mean, hear the appeal?" Smug. Very smug, good job Misty. I've earned a glare from Al.

Husk appeared back in front of us, holding a bottle of whatever whiskey Al had ordered. He spreads two glasses between the two of us, mine with ice, and masterfully fills both to the brim.

"Thanks, Husk was it? I'm Misty, a pleasure to meetcha," I offer my hand over the counter for a shake. Husk takes it. Claw range.

"Funny name. Come talk if you ever want to have a good game or two."

"Maybe we can get Al in on this?" I jab my thumb at Alastor.

"Eh, yeah. Maybe," he sighed, passing him a look. It must be something between the two, a bit of friction between their personalities isn't hard to imagine.

"Good to hear, I'll have to take you up on the offer real soon," I accept, warmly.

"We have the drinks, we have the food, let's dig in shall we? Husk, would you mind giving us a tad of privacy?"

"You come to my bar and ask for privacy. All right, you fuckin' weirdo," Husk walks off grumpily. Seems Al was right on that.

Al turns to look at me. Guess this is prime time for getting my questions answered, it turns out that random dude wasn't the only person I'd be wining and dining tonight.

"So. Al. Why exactly are you so excited about this. I haven't met many other people who would be, hmm. Fine with it," I ask, carving a piece out of the chunk of meat, and biting into it. Delectable, perfectly seasoned and cooked.

"Well, my good man, that is the rub! I haven't met many like you either, and I do mean this in many ways. You are one of the very few who've shown politeness to me, you are one of the few who've returned my smile."

"You sure it isn't the cannibalism thing too?"

"Oh, of course, that is a contributing factor."

"So, why did you drag me into this place, and what is it for, exactly?"

"Well, this is the Happy Hotel! Hell's one-stop-shop for rehabilitation! And I so graciously "dragged" you here, because I want to cut you a deal." Rehab, for demons. Christ on multiple bikes, this is a situation. And a deal, with the shady man in red.

"A deal. You really are taking a chance on me, the guy you literally found in an alley. What kinda deal could you cut out of some Bingo? No offense, but I don't have much to offer," Somewhat of a rough answer, but it had to be said. I take a sip of the drink in front of me. It's fine.

"I fear you're getting a bit abrasive, my boy. I brought you here and so graciously let you use my kitchen for a reason. You see this meal you have before us?" Alastor lifted a piece of his meat to his lips and bit into it. He glared down at me, his smile seeming a bit more dangerous.

"This is delectable. Truly, it takes talent to prepare such an unordinary type of meat such as this, properly anyways. That is a talent that I do not possess, and I cannot easily learn. Plus, as a tenant of this Hotel, I cannot acquire the ingredients with a clean conscience. The reason we met today is that I was getting fed up, figuratively. With you, however, I have a veritable multitool of a man. You tracked your prey, took care of the hunt quickly and precisely, and without damaging the meat. You then butchered and cooked him, with the air of an experienced professional. I want you to work for me," he explained, a twinge of bitterness reverberating through his static voice.

"Well then, what's in it for me?"

"Well, many things. A fine room in our hotel, and perhaps a full-time job?"

"What makes you think that I don't have a job already?"

"Oh, I don't think, I know. You've been barely scraping by enough to pay the rent for your little hovel. I've been watching you like you've been watching what was our food. So don't play smart with me." Huh. Yeah. I actually wouldn't put it above this guy, and I'm not one to speak on the moral issues of what has just been said.

"But why have you been following me? And for how long?"

"Let's just say that I got a little premonition. Nothing much else."

"I'll need to know about this premonition later. But, alright. I'll take your offer. So, what exactly does my job entail?"

"Well, you'll be keeping my pantry well-stocked! Hunting, cooking, and everything in between. I'll also be counting on you to keep the flavors fresh. Spices and the sort will be required. Quite simple, isn't it?"

"Yeah, yeah. Easy enough. And you'll be getting me a place and job here?"

"We'll need to take it up with management first, but I'm sure we'll be able to create quite the convincing case!"

"All right, it seems we have a deal. A nice place and a good job for me, a personal chef and bloodhound for you," I repeat his explanations back to him, reaching my hand out. He gleams, just a tad more than usual and grips my hand, giving it a firm shake.

"To a good deal and a great meal," he proposes, staring into my eyes.