The Giza’s back entrance had a few slots and access to a bank of elevators that led to their guest rooms. The casino’s shtick was ‘Ancient Egyptian,' go figure for a place built to resemble the tallest pyramid in the old lands. The top floor was partitioned into four luxury suites, accessible only via the black elevator, which sat behind the public bank of lifts. I wasn’t exactly sure how to get to that elevator, so I bellied up to the small customer care window near the back door. A perky young woman sat there, hastily putting down her phone to give me a smile.
“Hello, sir! How may I help you?” Her name tag read Taylor.
“Good morning Taylor, I am here to see Andro.”
Her smile faltered, “Just a moment, sir.” She tapped a few keys on the computer behind the desk, and I felt the presence of security stepping up behind me, armed security.
Her smile returned a moment later, and the goons backed off, I pretended not to notice they were ever there. “Mister Greer, or do you prefer ‘Compass’?”
“Billy is fine, kid. How did you know who I was?”
“Mister Greer, there have been some security…concerns lately. Our casino face recognition software is very good. You have been in the news recently too; I apologize for not recognizing you when you came in. Is Mister Andro expecting you?”
“Hell if I know. I mean, no, I don’t have an appointment, if that’s what you mean.”
Her lips formed a slight frown, her phone buzzed, and she immediately answered it, she didn’t say a word, but before hanging up, she nodded. “He will see you. If you would be so good as to follow Lucas?” She gestured behind me, and an oily looking man sauntered out from behind a set of large double doors.
I nodded and said, “Lucas.”
“Compass.” I didn’t know him, nor him me, and I felt mildly irritated at his use of my street name. “Please follow me, sir.”
He led me to a short hallway, passed two heavily armed guards just inside the doors that were taking no pains to hide their nature. The ‘L’ shaped hallway ended with a bulletproof window, rather like the cashier at my hotel. The young man behind the glass waved me to put my bottle up on the counter, which I did and then we moved on to the infamous black elevator.
Above the four luxury suites at the top of the pyramid is where Andro lives, he owns the whole place and stays out of the public eye. I’d never come to see him in his new digs, but I knew the man from years ago. Andro also owned a shipping company out in Auroria and once, a long time ago, he and I had run the mean streets together looking for a couple of bad guys. We found them. He also wasn’t, strictly speaking, human. His shine had mutated him, making him look like a beast with an eagle’s head and front claws and the rear of a massive lion. The eagle parts of him didn’t end on the front end, he also sported a set of large wings, and most of the front of his body was covered in eagle feathers. He had an extraordinarily long tail that was prehensile and split into three soft, pink tips on the end. In exchange for this deviation from humanity, he had hit the shine jackpot. He could fly, he was strong, durable, allegedly immune to all mental attacks and powers and, best of all for other shiners; he could improve the shine of others. A two-bit shiner who visited Andro and agreed to his terms could come away a powerhouse. It didn’t always work that way, as he’d once told me you can only polish a turd so much. However most people were satisfied customers...after a few years.
In addition to being the ‘be all and end all’ of shiner training, he was also a ruthless, psychotic pervert. He never charged shiners money for his ‘training’, but there was always a price that was paid in full to his satisfaction. The funny thing was, after all the years he’d been around not one of the people he’d helped improve was willing to talk about what they had done to get it. I had some thoughts as to why this was, but I kept them to myself. Andro had also built an empire on sin, he came in consistently in the top 10 wealthiest men in the world, and rumor had it his wealth off the books far exceeded that which was officially reported. Who knew my name could open doors to probably the wealthiest man in the world?
Oh and Egypt? He was their nominal leader, they treated him as a God, his word was law and all that jazz. He hung out a lot in the good ole U S of A these days; I guess being worshiped isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Lucas rode up with me after entering a gold key and a punching in a long code on a keyboard on the elevator computer. The lift itself was huge, you could drive a car into it if you had to and I imagine it was how Andro got down to the belly of humanity when he didn’t fly from the roof. I had been expecting more security. The elevator ride was swift, and when the door opened, Lucas tapped his ear and then said, “Andro will see you know, just follow the lights on the floor.”
“You’re not coming with me?”
He smiled faintly, “No. Have a good meeting Mister Greer.”
The doors closed and the floor glowed a light blue color. I followed it up a winding ramp until I approached the tip of the glass pyramid, the wind from the desert was dry and fairly strong. There was a handrail on the outside of the ramp, and I moved to place my hand on it before I went any higher.
Once I was secured to the rail I continued up until I saw him, he was basking in the glow of six or seven computer screens. On at least two of the monitors were scenes of pornography. He manipulated the various input devices with his tail.
“Compass. Come at last to visit me in my lair.” His voice wasn’t deep and bassy, like a dark lord from a B-movie, it was high pitched and shriek-like. Think eagle mouth; it was a wonder he could speak at all. That didn’t mean my spine didn’t tingle a bit when he spoke.
“Hello, Andro. It has been a long time.”
“Eleven years, 203 days and some change. Why, I wonder, would you come to see me now?”
“You probably have a good idea.”
“I have many ideas. You told me you would never train with me. A shame, we could have such, fun.”
“I feel like I do pretty good as I am and I’ve heard what you charge is beyond what I’m willing to pay.”
“I know what you can do.”
That gave me pause. Like I’ve said the number of people who know the specifics of my abilities number less than a dozen, and when you take out the dead people, it was less than I could count on one hand. I mentally added one to that number. Andro may be many things, but he wasn’t known as a liar. Some quick mental evaluation of those who knew me and a name came almost unbidden to my lips, “Woody.”
He laughed, “When will you come and join me? I could use a man like you.”
“With emphasis on the ‘use,' or am I wrong?”
“We are all users or being used. I could protect you.”
“From the storm, that’s coming, my friend. We’re a long way from the docks. The petty criminal lords we dealt with in your youth have faded away. They’ve been replaced by quasi-religious cartels whose fanatics are willing to die for their masters. The world is a crueler place now.”
“Excuse me for pointing this out, but you took over those petty criminal lords, mopped them up, organized them and then moved on. Why’d you get out of Auroria?”
“You think I ever left? Come, you aren’t visiting me to discuss the power struggles in your hometown. Why are you here, Compass?”
Why, indeed? Now that I thought about it, I wasn’t sure why I had come. “I may need some help.”
His laughter was short, but condemning, “For old times’ sake?”
“You can’t blame a guy for asking.”
“I absolutely can. Nothing is free, and if you want something from me, you’ll pay to get it, do you understand?”
“And what do you want?”
“I want to train you.”
I shook my head, “Well, we’ll have to think of something else.”
“That’s all I will take.”
“I really don’t think that would be a good idea for either of us.”
“Why? What have you heard?”
“What is this for, Andro?” I gestured around me, “You don’t need it, you don’t want it. You don’t look a year older from when I saw you twelve years ago. Chances are you will be around for a long time, like Lazarus or Athena. Aren’t you bored yet?”
“Should I give all my goods away and build mud huts in Africa?”
“Whatever makes you happy.”
“This makes me happy.”
“Controlling people makes you happy.”
“That’s what I said. You’re dodging.”
“You know, the truth of the matter is, I’m not sure why I’m here. I guess I thought you might have some insight into what the Ramos cartel is doing killing off shiners and how they are somehow breeding more shiners that seem to be under their control.”
Andro turned away from the pornography and stared at me from his electronic nest. His eyes blinked once, very slowly and when they opened again they were slits, through which he stared at me, “What have you heard?”
“They’re coming after us. You’ve got to be pretty high on their list because I know you control the distribution networks for most of the country, one way or the other.”
“My network is not so limited, not that anyone could prove it. They have every reason to continue working with me. This news about breeding shiners interests me. Where did you hear it?”
“I find things, and I’ve put a few things together over the last few days. I’ve had time to think.”
“Yes, that whole murdering of Saint Charlene, thing, I heard.”
“So you’re out then. You’ll just hope that when they come, they won’t ever come for you?”
“Watch your phrasing, Compass. They are interested in money and accruing power. That puts them in direct opposition to my goals.”
“I believe you. You might want to triple check your organization to see how many of them are spies for the Ramos’s. I’m sure what you’ll find will amaze you.”
“Compass, I’ll give you a hundred thousand dollars to tell me who the highest-ranking spy in my organization is.” It was a contract he was offering, all I had to do was seal the deal, and this was an easy offer, a name would come to my lips, and I’d be that much ahead.
“I’m already on a job. If you really know how my shine works, then you know I can’t focus on a contract for you right now.” I held up one hand, “But, human nature being what it is, it’s Lucas.”
He was quiet again for a moment. “You could have taken me for hundred thousand there, you know that?”
“Yeah, but you see, I’m honest.”
“That a dangerous trait for a man in your position.”
“No allies, few friends, only a wanna be actress who should have been a success years ago for companionship. She would have been a success years ago if she had wanted to be.”
What was he getting on about? “How about if we agree to leave our…intimate lives out of this?”
“To your peril, but I can accept that ground rule. Why Lucas? He is not even close to the highest ranking member of my organization.”
“He has access to you like no one else. He’s young, and he’s sleazy, oily even. That sort of confidence means he’s a shiner too and I’ll lay odds you’ve not trained him.”
Andro’s head shook side to side, “Every employee is screened for shine. Every shiner has to undergo training by me, or they will not be retained in my organization.”
“Yeah, and blood tests, like piss tests, are never fraudulent.”
“I am very thorough.”
“Your people are thorough, you mean unless you are saying you draw and check the blood yourself. Besides, can’t you smell the shine on people? You sure knew about me the minute you laid eyes on me.”
“I watched you get up after being hit in the head with a baseball bat by one of the Teung thugs; a normal person would have been dead or at least seriously injured. It wasn’t hard to figure out what you were.”
“Oh, yeah, right. I remember that. Thank you for helping me that night. Say, if you don’t mind my asking, why did you help me out that night?”
“You value honesty, so I’ll give you some; I didn’t. The Teungs were muscling in on my holdings, and I was out for blood. Helping you was…inadvertent.”
“Sheesh and here I’d been feeling guilty all these years for not saying thank you.”
“It never hurts to be civil.”
“Until it does. I guess we’re done here.” I said.
“It was good seeing you, Billy. Do stop in again. I’ll leave you on the list downstairs.”
“Let me know about Lucas.”
I turned to go, the helpful blue lights were now receding down the ramp. I stopped for a moment and called back, “Where is Woody?”
“In the usual place.” He answered.
“Is he in any danger?”
“Not if I can help it.”
I had to hurry to catch up with the lights or risk blundering around in the dark of Andro’s house. Lucas met me at the elevator. “How was your meeting, Mister Greer?”
Oh, it was mister now, was it? “It went well, Lucas. It looks like Ando, and I are going to have at least a short-term working relationship.”
He nodded and pressed the earbud on the side of his head closer for a moment. “I’ll have a car bring you back to your hotel, or anywhere you want to go.”
“Thank you, Lucas that would be just grand.” Unless I missed my bet, he wasn’t going to be alive much longer. I wondered if I should tell him? The smirk I caught on his face in the reflection of the glossy elevator paneling as he stood behind me sealed his fate, I kept my mouth shut.
I collected my bottle and took their ride back to the hotel, on the way I texted Anaj that I didn’t need him again this morning and wished him a good day. A short ride later and I was back at my hotel. Ruby barely murmured as I crawled into bed with her, but she spooned herself next to me for warmth under the covers. The desert was hot, but the room’s air conditioner made covers a welcome necessity. I fell asleep almost instantly.