Iron shackles kept Slade’s hands bound tightly behind his back. Another pair secured his feet together. He was flat on his back, staring at the ceiling.
Gunther laid next to him, in a similar predicament.
Two werewolves entered the livery and set up a table and two chairs. One of them threw a rope over an old wooden support beam up in the rafters, then tied the other end around Gunther’s hand shackles.
The wolf yanked on the free end of the rope until the old man’s feet were dangling just above the ground. The beast then tied the end of the rope he was holding to a vertical beam in the middle of the room.
“Don’t I get to talk to a judge or somethin’?” Gunther asked.
A big hairy paw slap across his face was the werewolf’s response.
“Guess not,” Gunther said as blood trickled out of his mouth.
The second werewolf picked up Slade and sat him down in one of the chairs.
Blythe, who’d been supervising the entire operation from the corner, strolled over to Slade and drew his revolver.
The vampire pressed the cold steel up against Slade’s forehead. Slade closed his eyes and leaned into it. He wasn’t scared at all. Rather, the idea that all his torment could be over in an instant filled him with a sense of relief.
“Pow,” the vampire said as he pulled back his weapon. Slade opened his eyes.
“How simple it would be to solve the threat you pose to me,” Blythe said as he holstered his piece and took the seat on the opposite side of the table. “But luckily for you, you have friends in some very high places that you aren’t even aware of.”
Slade sat in silence.
“Do you know how vampires hypnotize people?” Blythe asked.
“The eyes,” Blythe said. “They truly are, as people say, the window to the soul. I can look into the eyes of most people and quickly learn everything there is to know about them. Their deepest, darkest secrets, their hopes, their dreams. Then, without ever saying it directly, I’m able to implant into their minds the false promise that if they do what I ask of them, their dreams will come true. Moments later, they recall nothing and they’re convinced their actions were of their own volition.”
“Am I supposed to be impressed?” Slade asked.
“No,” Blythe said. “It’s more of a psychological parlor trick than anything else. I convinced Judge Sampson to let your least favorite family go by promising him that he’d be governor one day. Politicians are so easy. Just promise them more opportunities to be treated like the prized pig at the county fair.”
Blythe drummed his fingers on the table. “Jack Buchanan was a cinch as well. Money and whores and, well, I’m not sure I can find fault in that. Who among us doesn’t appreciate money and a good whore?”
Slade wiggled his hands. It was no use. The shackles were too strong.
“Ironically, your whore was a tougher nut to crack,” Blythe said. “I thought a promise of money would bring her around as well but no, all she needed was a promise that one day she’d end up with you. If my heart still worked, it would have been warmed.”
Slade’s heart did work. And it sank.
The vampire wagged his pointed finger at the captive. “But you, my friend, are a horse of a different color. I looked deep into your soul and saw it all. The cowardly little boy hiding under his bed while his mother was dragged into the street and shot like a dog…”
“…the Daddy who confirmed your sense of self-loathing by refusing to love you…”
The lawman attempted to rise to his feet but a werewolf’s paw pressed him back down into his seat.
“…the disappointment you felt when you realized that even though a Marshal’s star gave you a license to hunt down and kill everyone who ever reminded you of your mother’s killer, no amount of blood was ever going to bring you peace…”
The vampire clicked his tongue in a “tsk, tsk, tsk” sound. “Many people claim to feel hopeless but few actually are. Even the most downtrodden, destitute hobo privately harbors hope that he’s just one stroke of luck away from finding himself in a mansion feasting on caviar, a gaggle of servants catering to his every whim…”
Gunther piped up. “If you’re going to prattle on and on forever, you think one of your dog monsters could cut me down? Hanging like this is hell on an old man’s back.”
The old man’s insolence was met with another werewolf slap to the face. Gunther’s beard became soaked with his own blood.
“A simple ‘no’ would have sufficed,” Gunther said.
The vampire smiled then turned his attention back to Slade. “You are a truly hopeless individual. There’s not a speck of optimism in you. You believe the world is garbage, that everyone’s lives are meaningless, that building yourself into an admirable position is pointless because as soon as you get comfortable life will inevitably send the equivalent of a Sawbuck Sam to tear everything apart again.”
Slade didn’t want to give Blythe the satisfaction of an answer, but he didn’t have to. Blythe could tell by the look on Slade’s face that he was speaking the truth.
“Rainer,” Blythe said as he leaned across the table. “A soul will never be anything more than a cause of constant torment for a man who is irreparably hopeless.”
“Just kill me and get it over with,” Slade said.
“Kill you?” Blythe asked. “I want to save you.”
The vampire reached into his pocket and produced a piece of paper. He unfolded it and laid it out on the table. A werewolf set down a quill and an inkwell.
“More specifically,” Blythe said. “I want to save you from your soul.”
“I wish someone would save me from this never-ending soliloquy,” Gunther said. His words were met with another werewolf slap, but he didn’t care anymore.
“You are hopeless and yet your soul demands that you feel,” Blythe said. “Love for Bonnie Lassiter, the woman you feel you can drop your false facade of bravado around and be loved for who you are. Love for Sarah Farquhar, who looks up to you as the brave man you wish you were even though it is not the man you are inside. Hatred for yourself for loving both of them and for loving Bonnie more despite the societal convention that you’re only supposed to love the woman you’ve formally promised yourself to.”
Blythe pushed the paper across the table, then signaled the werewolf standing guard over Slade to remove the shackles from the prisoner’s hands.
With his hands free now, Slade choked back the urge to fight. He was outnumbered and his pistols had been taken from him.
“Take your time and peruse the contract,” Blythe said. “It’s all fairly standard boiler plate. You agree to sell your immortal soul to the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Legion Corporation.”
Slade read the document to himself. It was written in elegant cursive. Had the subject matter not been so wicked, it would have been suitable for framing.
“In exchange for this valuable commodity, the Chairman will appoint you as an agent of the Legion Corporation. You’ll be rewarded handsomely and without that wretched soul of yours weighing you down, you’ll be able to cheat, kill and fuck you way through the rest of your life without nary a concern of how it affects anyone or what anyone thinks of you.”
Slade kept reading. “You want me to sell my soul to the dev…”
Blythe reached across the table and pressed his pointer finger up against Slade’s lips. “Shhh. We don’t speak of any of the Chairman’s many names. He prefers to remain shrouded in mystery.”
Slade reared his head back, unpleased that a male finger had been on his lips. The vampire moved back in his chair.
“Naturally, the Chairman will expect you to do a lot of killing on the Legion Corporation’s behalf,” Blythe explained. “Oh and your employment with Legion must remain strictly confidential. You see, we’ll need you to continue holding yourself out to the public as a decent, honorable man. Luckily for the Chairman, decent men will be in short supply once the country is overrun with zombies and all laws are thrown out the window. But without your soul, you’ll have no qualms about gaining the people’s trust only to lead them to their doom.”
Blythe cleared his throat and carried on. “You really have no idea how lucky you are that the Board of Directors has taken such an interest in you. You’ll be a very important man in our new world order.”
Slade looked at the line where he was supposed to sign. He looked up at the vampire.
“And what if I don’t sign?” Slade asked.
“Oh you’ll sign,” Blythe said. “I’m nothing if not very resourceful. I have my ways of convincing the hopeless that life would be better sans soul. You’re on the precipice right now and all I need do is keep pushing until you’re over the edge. You can sign now and spare your loved ones a great deal of agony, or we can continue our negotiations. I’m not sure Miss Lassiter or Miss Farquhar will last very long though.”
Slade seethed with a burning rage, urging him to leap across the table and rip Blythe’s head off. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option while a werewolf was nearby.
The vampire playfully bonked the side of his head with his hand. “Oh, I forgot. I have them both.”
“What?” Slade asked.
“The woman you promised to marry and the woman you’d rather marry,” Blythe said. “Both are in my custody, ready to be abused and tortured to no end for as long as you need further lessons on how burdensome it can be when your soul constantly demands that you care about other people.”
Slade looked at the paper again. “I sign this and you’ll let them go?”
“If you sign this, you won’t care if I let them go,” Blythe said. “I’m sorry but you really have no leverage here.”
Slade picked up the quill. He dipped it in ink. He touched the tip on the signature line.
The old man interrupted him. “Son,” Gunther said.
Another werewolf slap.
Blythe raised his hand to signal the werewolf guarding Gunther. “It’s alright. This is a legal hearing so never let it be said I did not allow all interested parties to speak their piece.”
The werewolf nodded and backed off.
Gunther started again. “Son, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life it’s that when things look bleak, it seems easy to do something that under normal circumstances would make us ashamed. Give in to this fanged fuck today and you’ll be giving into him for the rest of your days. And I suppose the version of yourself that you become won’t give a lick off a bull’s nuts, but I know the you that’s sitting there right now does care. Somehow, some way, even when it seems impossible, life has a way of unfucking itself. You don’t need to sign that because I swear, I don’t why when or how, but things will get better. They always do.”
Slade stared at the vampire. “I need you to promise you’ll let everyone go.”
“Everyone?” Blythe said. “That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”
“Bonnie. Sarah. Gunther. The Injuns. Everyone.”
Blythe sighed. “I had intended to turn your native friends into blood bags. Savage blood is so hearty and delicious. They don’t poison their bodies with as much impropriety as civilized men do. But I suppose there are other savages I could harvest.”
The vampire stood and walked around the table. “Very well. Sign and all of your people go free.”
Blythe pressed his left hand down firmly on Slade’s shoulder, then tapped his right finger on the signature line.
“Right here,” Blythe said. “And then it will be done.”
“Don’t do it, boy,” Gunther said. “He’ll kill us all anyway.”
“You can hit him now,” Blythe said without looking up. The werewolf obliged, giving Gunther another slap to the face.
Slade dipped the quill into the inkwell, swirled it around, then pulled it out, carefully wiping the excess ink off on the sides of the well.
He hesitated for a moment, then scrawled away across the signature line.
A curious Blythe leaned in to read three words written in poor penmanship on the contract he’d so dutifully prepared.
“FUCK YOUR MOTHER.”
And unfortunately for Blythe, his exposed neck became an irresistible target for Slade, who quickly plunged the sharp end of the quill pen into it.