9. Another Chapter in Rake’s Progress

Brutus seems unmoved by the adventure. As they reach his front gate, Brutus eyes Inglorion and says, “You’re still full of frisk, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. The walk home will do me good. I doubt I’ll eat or sleep tonight.”

“Come in for awhile. I’ll tend to that cut.” Inglorion opens his mouth to argue, and Brutus says, “I’m not letting you walk a mile in full daylight with a six-inch cut. Don’t play hard to get.”

In short order, Inglorion finds himself perched on a stool by the kitchen sink, while Brutus deftly cleans and stitches the wound, then bandages it with strips from an old pillowcase.

Inglorion admires his handiwork, says, “You really are good at everything, aren’t you?”

“Only the shit that doesn’t matter,” says Brutus. He starts to probe the bruise on Inglorion’s temple. Inglorion flinches, starts to stand up. “Sit still. You’re bleeding,” says Brutus curtly. He dabs away blood and dirt. “No need for a stitch,” he says. “You’re good.”

“You relieve my mind.” Inglorion grins, hops up, puts on his bloodstained shirt. “I’ve taken much worse, you know.”

“Oh, I know. You’re tough as balls.” Brutus starts to make coffee. Inglorion watches him. He feels a sudden lassitude; the adrenaline is wearing off. Brutus places two cups on the coffee table; Inglorion joins him on the couch. “You want one of your Virginia Slims?”

“Sure,” says Inglorion. He lights up, sits back to look up at the ceiling. Brutus is an undemanding companion — Inglorion feels free to pursue his own thoughts. After a moment he says, “I envy you terribly, you know.”

His host looks startled. “Good Lord. Why?”

“Height, weight and reach.”

“Oh, that,” says Brutus. “It is handy.”

A pained expression crosses Inglorion’s face. “I would give a kidney to be able to knock someone out in one blow like you did just now. Do you know how hard I had to work to — no. You don’t.”

“Well, no,” says Brutus calmly. “I know there’s no merit in it. It’s pure luck — something I never had to work for.”

Inglorion shoots him a look of pure loathing, then shakes it off, laughs at himself. “Did you ever get stomped? Really beaten up? The shit kicked out of you?”

Brutus considers. “You mean where I was down and at an opponent’s mercy? No. Not until I died, anyway. I take it you have.”

“Oh, yeah. It stopped when I was 13 and Collatinus taught me to fight.” He shakes his head, stares some more at the ceiling. The rafters are made of a dark local wood. Sap bled out of them long ago, giving them a wet sheen. “Did I tell you that I used to box and pit fight on the side when I was in military college?”

“Jesus,” says Brutus. “Why?”

“Prize money. But also to prove that I could. I had a whole routine worked out, like hustling pool. It’s mostly just stevedores with a couple of drinks in them. I was undefeated.” He shudders, thinking back. “I always came up to the mark — always.” He remembers finishing matches with his head spinning, half-blinded with his own blood. “Looking back, it was fucking crazy. You always had to worry about being jumped in the alley outside, someone pulling a knife.” He looks over at Brutus. “Your technique is good. You learned to box.”

“One did, at that time. I liked the science of it, the discipline. So many things bored me — fistfights are boring. But actually boxing…” He shrugs. “I kept it up some in the army, but there’s a need to keep one’s distance.” He smiles reminiscently. “In my second or third commission — I would have been a colonel at the time, a rising man, certainly — I took a bet. I was out late, drinking with a bunch of officers in some dive bar. We were well-dressed, obviously toffs. We thought we were mingling with the common man, but were more probably intolerable little shits.

“I don’t quite remember how it happened, but an enlisted man was determined to pick a fight with me. At the time I thought it was the usual thing of trying to take on the biggest guy in the bar.”

“People do that?”

“Oh, yeah. All the time. So he was calling me a pussy and a fudge-packer, standing there stiff-legged like a terrier, barking. I was drunk and bored and I knew better. It was my duty to step away, get the bouncer, find his commanding officer, whatever. But I thought, fuck it. So I did the thing: ‘I’ll trouble you to repeat that, sir. I’m a dick-sucking fairy? We’ll see about that.’ It wasn’t a brawl. I insisted on a bet. We formed a ring outside, stripped to the waist, went 12 rounds. Since I was drunk as shit, I rather enjoyed it.” He turns so that his profile is to Inglorion, taps his nose. “See that? It was never properly set. They would have had to break it again, re-set it.”

And, indeed, upon examination the bridge of his nose is thickened, slightly crooked.

Inglorion asks, “How’d he come out of it?”

“Oh, I murdered him,” Brutus says cheerfully. “He had no science. I took a couple of rounds to sober up, then left him drinking out of a straw.”

There’s a long silence as both men consider this. Brutus says, “I shouldn’t have gotten away with that. They should have yanked my chain — busted me down a rank, made an example of me. But, no. I got a little finger-wagging lecture from a chap who obviously thought that I was defending the honor of the officer class against the eternal suspicion that we were dick-sucking fairies. So, it became another chapter in Rake’s Progress.”

“Why’d you do it?”

“Because I was bored and restless and I wanted to fuck shit up. I needed shit to hurt, to be real, to demand my attention. Soon thereafter, it did.” He smiles seraphically, puts out his cigarette. “I didn’t know what I wanted, but I always felt that longing.”

Androktasiai,” says Inglorion.

He laughs. “Yeah. I’d forgotten that the Drow have a word for it. Androktasiai. Ready to die.”

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.

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