by Alaric DeArment
Amadeo Darsa stuck his foot in the door as I tried to slam it shut in the hope of giving myself a few seconds to run to the kitchen and grab a knife, assuming a primitive kitchen utensil would be a match for whatever powers he brought from his world. It was almost a shame to scuff the shiny brown leather of his wingtips.
“Relax, Mr. de Proculo,” he assured me, pushing the door open and looking me in the eye. “If I want to kill you, I do not do it in the daytime.”
He took off his sunglasses, revealing a pair of friendly, almond-shaped hazel eyes.
“Might I come in?” He tilted his head a bit as he could see me hesitating to respond.
“You already know I have not to ask,” he followed up with an impish smile. “I already cancel the exterminator for you.”
No doubt he saw the defeat on my face as I opened the door. I motioned toward the couch as I closed it, still feeling an obligation to show hospitality toward a man sent to kill me before committing ritual suicide for whatever cruel god he worshipped.
Amadeo looked to be around 35, medium height with the tan of someone who lived on the Adriatic Sea. He dripped water on the floor as he walked, but even in its soaked state his form-fitted Italian clothing retained its chicness. His Italian accent was difficult to detect, the European fashion tastes and occasional grammatical slip-ups being the only significant clue of his origins.
He looked disapprovingly at the couch’s green velour upholstery as he sank into it, as if his obvious wealth made him unaccustomed to the notion of vintage store furniture being tasteful. I kept my gaze locked on him and my face blank as I sat in an adjacent plush red chair.
My eyes followed his hands as he placed the soggy coin holder on the coffee table in front of him. He glanced at me nervously and asked “Not going to offer me anything?”
I remembered my manners and stood to pour drinks. He asked for something hard, and I brought him two shots of Jameson on the rocks, along with the same amount for myself.
I stared at him and didn’t say anything. He looked away sheepishly.
Finally, he sat back, exhaled and smacked his lips.
“All right. I tell you that I’m not here to kill you, and I mean that,” he insisted, his hands in front of him in a pleading gesture. “I-I was sent here to, but I…choose not to.”
He showed me his hands and pockets to prove he had no place to hide a weapon.
I sat back in my chair, wanting to appear at ease, but without letting my guard down.
“What do you mean you chose not to?” I finally let myself say, rolling my eyes back and forth in mock confusion.
His story was familiar from what Dr. Washington and Dr. Conley had told me: He was sent to our world with a hit list as a punishment for an infraction back home, with a choice of either that or execution and being stripped of his honor. In his case, he was a journalist, like me, and had acquired a habit of reporting more than he was supposed to about the goings-on within the ruling family of the Republic of Stagno to which he belonged.
He served as section editor and lead writer for the gossip pages of La Gazzetta della Repubblica, Stagno’s paper of record, focusing especially on high society. But with story after story making prominent aristocrats laughingstock, they finally had enough.
“They cannot just kill me or put me in the prison for my reporting, and it wasn’t enough for a libel suit,” he rasped, momentarily hoarse from the sip he took of his whiskey. “They’re not governed by laws, but they like to keep, uh, how to say, apparenze, appearances.”
He looked away, his lips pursed in embarrassment, his head shaking in disapproval. “But they were able to lay a trap for me, and I was greedy and stupid enough to step into it.”
He took another sip of whiskey, noticeably bigger than the raindrop-sized ones he had been taking, cursing under his breath in Italian.
“I used to go on TV all the time to talk about what happens in the Darsa family,” he recalled, his face angry and his empty hand gesticulating with indignation. “The Libro d’Oro – you know, the annual directory of all the members of Stagnese high society? I wrote the foreword every year for a decade. That’s how important I was. But now?” He made a dismissive “pfft” and looked down at his drink, shaking his head.
At this point, I figured his insistence that he did not want to kill me was sincere. But there was something I still couldn’t figure out.
I took a sip of my drink and put it on the coffee table. “So why did you come to me?”
He put his glass down as well, the eagerness of a kid about to ask his parents to take him to the zoo.
“How would you like to help me?”
My very presence, he explained, would expose the Darsas’ centuries-long campaign of demonization and murder against the de Proculos for what it was: a way for Stagno’s government and church to deflect attention from their corruption and failures. It’s far easier to scare people with invisible demons than with ordinary human beings whom everyone can plainly see.
He raised his eyebrows, expecting a quick answer. “We could bring this whole racket down, and you’d never have to worry about being afraid of people like me again. I bet you became a reporter because you wanted to take down corruption – now is your chance.”
He assured me he had friends in the gendarmerie and military who would protect me from harm. But more importantly, he said he had a way for me to come back and also return to the same time that I had left.