Sorry for the delay, I had some internet problems, luckily they’re fixed now.
Hope everyone’s enjoying their weekend so far!
“What? Why? I thought he was dangerous?”
“Well, he is, but he’s going to make it his business to meet you one way or another, this way you’ll be safe and in a controlled environment. I’ll have people watching so you’ll have nothing to worry about. Look, it really is best for everyone to get this out of the way. Besides that he isn’t stupid enough to do anything to you.”
“Well, where is the meeting?”
“In a small café, it’s pretty nice, they do good sandwiches. You’ll have about an hour or so, then I’ll come in to get you.”
A car pulled up at the sidewalk, “just in time.”
They slid into the backseat, “Hey Hank, we’re going to the Deli next.”
Hank nodded and pulled out into the road.
“So, what do I need to know about the Baron?”
“Well, he’ll tell you all about himself I’m sure, though it’ll be a little skewed. He was a business man, had dabbling in crime, not too much, then the wall came down and he basically tried to start his own empire. We stopped him, obviously, but he kept some power and influence. He’s smart, as I said, and has managed to keep himself out of trouble. We can’t arrest him without evidence, so we’re just waiting for him to screw up, which he will eventually. He has underlings that do most of his dirty work so it’s hard to connect them to him.”
As they drove through the city Doug saw more people out walking despite the impending rain. He allowed himself to people watch, the moving car was helping him not to stare. The car pulled up outside a small café about ten minutes later, they hadn’t stopped for traffic lights, in fact, Doug didn’t think he had seen any that were working. Obviously there just wasn’t enough traffic. He noted that Hank had slowed at each intersection, making sure there was no oncoming traffic.
The café itself wasn’t as busy as Doug was expecting, at the back was a counter and around the rest of the room were tables and chairs. From a glance it seemed like it would sit maybe twenty to thirty people if all the tables were full. Now it only held ten or so. Max hadn’t gotten out of the car, leaving Doug to enter the place himself with one final “Relax, you’ll be fine.” Doug didn’t quite share Max’s optimism, though he knew the chances of the Baron actually doing anything to him physically were slim. Doug scanned the café, not entirely sure who, or what, he was looking for. Most of the people seemed humansque. A man stood from his table and waved over at Doug, Doug approached and held out his hand.
“Hi, Doug? I’m Todd.”
His handshake was dry and firm, “I’m guessing that you’re the Baron?”
Todd laughed then nodded. They sat down at the table and almost as soon as they were seated a waiter came over with menus.
While they looked over the food, Doug studied the Baron. He wasn’t what he was expecting at all. Doug had expected a tall, imposing man, one who was large, broad and wearing a suit, possibly a deep maroon. What was in front of him was a man of medium height and build, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He was attractive enough, and not as sweaty, or as greasy, as Doug had pictured. The waiter returned and they ordered. The only thing that marked the Baron as anything other than human were his eyes, the colour of which was a mix of silver and gold. Once he noticed that, he reevaluated the silver streaks in the Barons hair, they were probably not from age. Though Doug had expected an older man, the Baron appeared to be quite young.
“I’m not what you expected am I?”
“No, you’re really not.”
“Most people seem to think that. I didn’t choose that name by the way, it was given to me by others and just kind of stuck. It was kind of a joke when it started.”
“And when was that?”
“Around the time of the elections I think. The council had just started up and they were discussing different titles for people, to denote power. I jokingly said to some friends that I called dibs on Baron and it just sorta stuck. Pretty dull really.”
“So, what do you do here?”
“Well, I was a businessman before this all began. Kind of scummy I guess. I mean I followed the law and everything, but some of the deals I made were less than moral. But, it was just something that came with the package and I didn’t feel too badly about it all. Since the walls came down, I’m kind of like a community figure. I help people, those who have been cast off, those who people avoid because they appear dangerous. I help them find friends, jobs. I’m sure Max had already regaled you with tales of how evil I am, how they’re just waiting for me to slip up, but I don’t operate outside the law. I don’t intimidate, I don’t steal and I don’t deal in drugs. I help people. That’s all.”
“And why would Max, or anyone else I’ve talked to for that matter, say differently?”
“Well, it all comes down to power, doesn’t it? They have it and they’re afraid that I’ll take it. People like me, not the kind of people you’ve been dealing with sure, but many others. They’re grateful, I’m the among the first to start treating them like people again. That makes them feel needed, wanted. They support me. I’m sure Max didn’t tell you that I ran for the council. I’ll bet he also tried to feed you that, “Oh, I didn’t want to be elected but then it just sorta happened” bullshit he’s so fond of. He tries to make people think that’s what happened, but everyone knows he campaigned as hard as anyone else.”
A waiter appeared with their food, he set it on the table and disappeared again.
The baron picked up a chip and popped it into his mouth, “I mean really, if I was so dangerous, or such a criminal, why would they let you meet me? Sure, we’re in public, but if I was a criminal, that wouldn’t stop me from threatening you. If I was a criminal, there would be no benefit to you meeting me.”
“Then why would Max arrange this meeting?”
“Well, he can control it, can’t he? He can say how long and where, he can cram this place full of his people to listen to what I say. He’ll claim he didn’t want this, that I forced his hand, but really, I did just ask if it would be possible. I expected a no.”
“And would you have respected that answer?”
“Absolutely. It wouldn’t do me any favours to appear suddenly, raving like a mad man. I want you to know that not everything in this place is all peaches and cream. Like every city we have our problems, ones that Max and the council choose to ignore. Have you met them yet? The council?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Count yourself lucky then. I hope for your sake they put on a show of a happy family. They’re all backstabbing and conniving. It gets tiring trying to deal with them.”
“So, these people you help, where are they? I was led to believe things like housing were free?”
The Baron laughed again, “how’s that supposed to work? Everyone pays in some way. If it’s not money then in labour or favours. People need money, jobs, or something to barter with.”
“And that’s where you come in?”
“As I said, I was a businessman, I was good at what I did, I was wealthy. I started again but I built myself up. However I pay my people well, if they need it I advance them money, I take care of them. We’re more like a family than a work force. Sometimes I have to step in to protect them. The police here try to do their jobs, but it’s a big city and there isn’t many policemen yet. Then of course there’s the problems with bribery and the like. I only step in when necessary to protect the people I care about, I don’t hurt people and again, I don’t do anything illegal.”
“Then how do you protect people?”
The Baron grinned, “I have my ways.”
Doug was surprised to find himself like the man, he had expected to be uncomfortable, to feel awkward, but the Baron seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Then again, it was probably how he managed to amass power. The Baron had given him things to consider, but he wasn’t going to disregard everything either, just because the Baron was pleasant to talk to.
“So, how have you adjusted so far?”
“Well, I’m feeling ok, mostly, the nausea has gone away and I can look at most people without feeling any fear or desire to run, so that’s a big improvement.”
“What about the feelings like your being watched? They still hanging around?”
“A little, but it’s easy to dismiss. Like when you see something from the corner of your eye, you look and it isn’t there so it’s not that big of a deal, though I figured it’d be gone by now.”
The Baron shrugged, “Well, everyone’s different, some people it only lasts a few hours, others a few days. Just think of it like a weird form a jet lag.”
The door opened to the café letting in a blast of cold air, the Baron looked over Doug’s shoulder and smiled, “Ah, it would appear that our session is over. Max is here to whisk you away.”
Max came over to the table, he too was smiling, but it seemed forced, unlike the Barons easy grin. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we are on a schedule.”
The Baron reached into his pocket and brought out a slip of paper, “If you have any other questions or want to meet me in person again, please feel free to call me.”
Doug took the slip of paper and carefully folded it over and placed it in his pocket. “Thank you.” He stood and shook hands again with the Baron.
“It was nice meeting you, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay. If the doors ever do open, look me up and we’ll get a drink.”
Outside it had gotten much colder and the wind tugged at Doug’s clothing as they got into the car.
“So, how was it?”
“He wasn’t at all like I expected.”
“Yeah, I’m not surprised. Did he threaten you or anything?”
“No, actually he was quite polite, we just had a chat about the area and what he did.”
“Ah, tell you he was of the people right? Of course there was no mention of beatings, bribes and intimidation.”
Doug smiled, “no, there was no mention of any of that.”
“Where to next?”
Outside it started to rain, slight flecks at first, then a moment later the torrential downpour started. The rain bounced off the car, making it hard to hear.
“Sorry, where did you say?”