I sat at the maple table and listened to the conversations at the bar. Despite the increasing attention and distrust of the saloon’s regulars, I found out that roughly 1 percent of Gunung Kinabalu owned 92 percent of the Kingdom’s wealth. The gap between the high-tech quarter and the rest of the land widened last year. Constant taxes, erosion of farmers’ rights, cost-cutting, and systematic inequality created the perfect conditions for the first wave of resistance. Strangely enough, the wealthy part of the population named it ‘LKED-virus.’ It seemed, the sweet geniality of Screw Quarter, where fewer than a hundred female citizens lived, was pure deception.
I drank more, enjoying the bitter conversation between three older ladies: at first about warriors who “always painted the wrong picture of life,” later about farmers who “were obsessed with the style of living in Screw area rather than shutting up and working for their King.”
I tried to take a leading part in their conversation and explain that Hamilton could reduce taxes, increase competition, enforce liberal reforms, and change property rights, but the Sheriff’s arrival stopped my poignant speech. She ordered a ‘Forget Your Identity’ cocktail and shared with me the sad story of Mr. Sinner, a previous doctor, who had been treated as a missing person for the past three weeks. Unfortunately, her hopes of finding him alive were fading away with each hour.
“We don’t give up, though. We are planning to continue our hunt with the help of new Full Screw technology.” She winked. After that remark, I drained a full glass of vodka in seconds, then referred to my lack of knowledge of the matter and left the saloon.
I was standing outside, watching the swarms of insects passing by, when my interest was attracted by a strange movement behind the Church. The shadow of charming Ms. Glorious separated from the walls. I instinctively stepped back, hiding under the tree, suddenly feeling sober.
“Shall we resume our last conversation in my private ‘Be Very Afraid’ penthouse?” Ms. Glorious asked, darting holes in my bare chest.
“Another time. I know it’s very upsetting, considering all those memories we shared outside of the Ark, but…” I mumbled, stretching my elastic shorts up and down – previously delivered by Hamilton’s sister to the saloon – and cursing the unforgiving heat.
“Ah, stop it, you’ll destroy the fabric! These shorts are made from organic thyme-fragrant lace and ordered directly from Paris.”
“I’m being eaten alive by the bugs… Can I borrow your kimono for tonight?” I asked, ashamed of how little I knew about the fashion in her country.
“It isn’t legal in Screw Quarter, Harmless,” added the voice of Arcadio Hardstone. “Kimonos are only for citizens. And you aren’t one yet.”
He stepped out from the darkness – his angry eyes fixed on my awkward movements. Ms. Glorious became speechless, then she admirably nodded to Arcadio and disappeared into the shadows, far beyond my reach.
A heavy silence invaded the air. Without any warning, Arcadio pushed me to the tree and brought his knee as hard as he could into my groin: “Who are you working for?”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” I cried.
“You’ve got no protection here, slop. We’ve already killed one of your 999-agents, known to the authorities as Doctor Sinner. Do you want to be the next?”
“This is ridiculous! You know me, Arcadio. I’m an archaeologist! I grew up in Rsa, and I lived there my whole life!”
“Hm. Then you won’t object to a body search, in case you are hiding a secret weapon inside of your shorts …”
“What for?! You can see through them!”
The conversation didn’t last more than a few minutes, but I felt that the entire scene was just an excuse.
“Wait,” I whispered, changing my tactic. “Not in front of the Church and Saloon. Too many eyes.” I flushed, inviting Arcadio into the dark alley that led to the bright swimming pool area. He obeyed, graciously following me to the lights. To my relief, someone was already there. The lonely swimmer was none other than Martha, naked and entirely unaware we were watching her every move. She looked so sweet, optimistic, and friendly – almost happy.
Martha dived in, automatically bringing our attention to the usually invisible parts of her body.
“Jump in! I’ll take care of you both,” she laughed.
I began to explain how tired I was, how heat burned my hands, and that sharp pain shot through them with each thought. I was standing there, as the holiest of saints, unable to stop shaking, babbling empty words, surrounded by the glowing light from the pool, while the world around me was falling apart.
“Serve me your inestimable Love!” Martha howled.
The ground beneath my body swallowed me up. After quivering a minute, I finally opened my mouth to finish my pointless explanation but noticed that Arcadio already jumped into the pool. I watched how his marvelous shoulders moved towards Martha, promptly surrounding her with his icy-cold, domineering, unyielding embrace. He pulled her legs over his arms, lightly pressing my usually strong ex-wife to the corner of the pool, then turned his head and smiled. That smile unsettled me somehow: Arcadio was yet a mystery to me.
Gradually my full awareness returned. I sighed, took a plate of freshly chopped ananas chips, and poured a glass of champagne from the opened bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal Brut, 2008. Then, quietly, without breathing, I lay down on the deck chair, enjoying the sound of passion pounding out of the pool.
“It’s so funny, but I see us both – you and me – in the other corner of the pool.” Murmured the voice of Sheriff behind me.
Of course, I made an effort to decline her mad fantasy while melting under the passionate gaze of her grey eyes. I didn’t succeed.
Well, you don’t need my help to imagine the rest…
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