Like a Requiem performed in honor of an insignificant and uneventful life, the music pouring from the sound system was void of joy. It seemed to invade the deepest recesses of my consciousness and lull me into a waking sleep of sorts, a melancholy state of mind that was only a short distance away from absolute comatose. I put the edge of the crystal glass to my lips and administered another small dose of merlot. The dark red liquid was bitter on the back of my tongue, its effects almost instantaneously going to work.
The maître d’ passed my table and I managed to catch his attention after only a couple of calls of, “hey you.” He turned, obviously in a hurry and by the red stain on the front of his white dress-shirt; I figured that I knew where he was rushing off to. He raised his finger, signifying that he would return in a minute and continued on his way to the restroom. When he came back, not one, but at least five minutes later, he had a light pink stain on the front of his shirt.
“You want another glass of wine?” He asked. His tone was polite enough, but his expression said that he would rather bring me a bucket of rattlesnakes.
“No,” I said, covering the top of my glass with my hand. “Has Mr. Cooley called to say that he’s running late?”
“No” he said, “he hasn’t…”
“What’s up Bro?” Justin’s voice boomed from the door of the restaurant, cutting the maître d’ off. I waved the maître d’ away after telling him to bring another glass of merlot for my guest. He bowed curtly and shuffled off to the back of the restaurant, probably to piss in Justin’s wine.
I stood and greeted Justin when he walked up. It had been too long since we were in the same room together, let alone the same city. The meeting place was perfect, dimly lit and modestly occupied. Justin had demanded meeting in a public place, I demanded Rudolph’s. It wasn’t exactly a five-star joint, but it was relatively private.
He took his seat just as the maître d’ came back with his glass of wine.
“Will you be ordering food this afternoon?” The maître d’ asked.
“Give me a second, Chief,” Justin said. The maître d’ rolled his eyes and walked away. Justin watched him go with a confused expression.
“What’s up his ass?” He asked. I shrugged.
“I don’t think he likes wine too much.”
He picked up the menu and began to scan it. I studied him as he read. It had been years since I saw him last and it was remarkable how much he hadn’t changed, at least physically. His hair was grey-free, dark brown with no signs of receding; his face, wrinkle-free. He put the menu down with a heavy sigh and pulled his wine-glass closer to him.
“Not hungry,” I asked.
“I didn’t come here to eat.”
“True enough. ” I looked around to make sure that nobody was standing too close and then leaned forward slightly. “You been keeping yourself busy?
He leaned in a bit himself and said, “Look Bro, just cut the shit and tell me what you want. I mean, I haven’t heard a squeak from you in over five years and now what… you wanna chat?”
“It’s dad,” I said, “He’s not doing too good – he wants you to come see him.”
He laughed a loud obnoxious chortle that turned the few heads that were in the place.
“Is that right?” He said. “You tryin to tell me he wants to what, bond with me before he croaks?”
“Just listen to me.”
“No way, man – the last time I saw that old bastard he tried to stab me.”
I slammed my fist down on the table. He startled, but kept his mouth shut.
“Justin, he’s dying. He just wants to apologize and say goodbye.”
“You weren’t there, man.” He said. “You didn’t see the look in his eyes. He called me the spawn of hell man…the spawn of hell!”
I glanced around the restaurant again to make sure that everyone was minding their own meals. Satisfied that we wouldn’t be interrupted, I turned my attention back to my brother.
“It’s the job, Justin – you know that. We kill demons for a living. It’s what we do…who we are.”
His eyes were turning red, like a storm of tears would come pouring out of them at any moment. He grabbed his wine-glass, brought it halfway up to his mouth, and then put it down again.
“You’re right, Marcus,” he said – “that’s your job, his job, but not mine anymore. I find that commercial real estate isn’t quite as dangerous. Why didn’t you stand up for me…you know, after? Why did I have to leave at all?”
“I tried, Bro. I told him you were a stand up guy, not demon material, but he just kept insisting. You were smart though – surrounding yourself by so many friends and work acquaintances, working long hours in the office. It kept you safe.”
“I shouldn’t have had to do all of that. You should’ve had my back, Bro.”
“I know,” I said. “I should’ve been there for you and I’m sorry.” He looked down at the table and pretended to read the menu again. “Justin,” he looked up, “I’m really sorry, man.”
He scoffed under his breath, picked up the glass again, and swirled the wine around.
“So, what you got going on?” he asked, staring down at the spinning wine.
“I’m okay,” I said. “I do a little of this, a little of that – do odd jobs for dad sometimes when he needs the help. Now that he’s getting ready to kick the bucket, I guess I’ll be taking over the family business.”
His mouth dropped open.
“You’re kidding, right? Why the hell would you want to do that? Just leave it alone Bro – come work with me. I have a nice house, lots of friends, and all the money you could want. I know times have been tough for you, especially with the old man in a pinch with the reaper.”
I shook my head.
“Naw,” I said, “I was kind of hoping that I could talk you into coming back.”
He really laughed at that. The four patrons by the door all glance over at once and I told them to mind their business. They turned their attentions back to their meals.
“Just think about it,” I said and waved the maître d’ back to the table. “I’ll take that second glass of wine now.”
He frowned and went to the back again without a word, returning a minute later to charge my glass.
“We could do a lot of good things together,” I said after the maître d’ walked away. “You used to like the job.”
“Yeah,” he snorted, “I used to like the job. That is, until more and more of the those creepy bastards came out of the woodwork and my own dad tried to ice me. No thanks, Bro – I’ll be just fine without all that crap”
“Well,” I said, “at least I tried.” I lifted my glass and held it out and said, “To our separate successful lives.” He raised his, clinked it against mine, and we both drank to each other.
He was fine for a few seconds, and then the shakes began. It looked like he was choking, but I knew that it was just the holy water in the wine.
“What…what’d you do?” he asked. He stared at the glass then at me, then back at the glass. Sweat formed on his brow and he started to unbutton the top of his shirt.
“The time for talking is over, demon,” I said. I took one last sip of my wine, wiped my mouth with the cloth napkin, and threw it over my empty plate. “You like my restaurant? I bought it last year. The service sucks and the sales are way below overhead, but it’s nice and quiet – a great cover for the job.”
He fumbled around like a drunkard and somehow managed to get to his feet. I didn’t bother to get up. There was no way that he could get out of the place, not with my friends blocking the entrance and the exit. When he saw that the entrance was blocked, he quickly turned to look for the back exit, but Myron, the maître d’ was blocking his line of sight.
“Would you like your check now, sir?” Myron said, and then He grabbed Justin by the front of his shirt and slammed his body down onto the table. I quickly grabbed Justin’s hands and held them down as the rest of the crew closed in around us. Once his arms were pinned down by hands that weren’t my own, I pushed my chair back and removed the ancient gold dagger from the small of my back as I stood. Hands ripped Justin’s shirt open, exposing his hairless chest.
“I don’t know if you’re in there, Justin,” I said, pressing the point of the dagger against the center of his chest, “but if you are, just know that I love you…and I’m sorry.”
I raised the dagger until the hilt was even with my face and then brought it down as hard as I could, half of me hoping that I was right about him, the other half scared to death that I was wrong. I wasn’t wrong though, and when the dagger punctured his body, he disappeared in a flash of red light.
After the ritual, my co-workers returned to their places and finished their meals. Myron and I gathered up Justin’s or the thing that pretended to be Justin;s clothes and took them to the back to dispose of later.
“That’s tough,” Myron said when we returned to the dining room – “your own brother.”
“He wasn’t my brother,” I said – “not anymore. You have an extra shirt at home?”
He looked at me, confused.
“Good, go change it. I’ll cover for you until you get back.”
“We’re opening tonight?”
“Yeah,” I said, “my sister Martha has a reservation at seven.”