Last week I decided to regale you with the beginning of Edmund Sorenson’s tale. You thought we were done, huh? Nope. This story is just beginning. So, in the fashion of Flash Gordon, let’s see what our hero is up to this week….
A Matter of Life and Death II
Christian Warren Freed
Edmund Sorenson made it as far as the lobby before a pair of large men dressed in expensive black suits barred his path. Big men. Rough men. The sort a person like Haysbert Rolstein would have in his employ to ensure things always went his way. Edmund grinned sheepishly, suddenly feeling foolish for the allowing himself to become ensnared in such a predicament. He rolled his shoulders to loosen up. These goons were big but he was more than capable of holding his own.
“I’m afraid that won’t be necessary, Mr. Sorenson.”
Edmund paused, turning on the newcomer. A slender, very old man with shifting eyes despite his fictitiously planted demeanor. “No it won’t. Tell them to move so I can be on my business.”
The old man offered a sad smile. “That…can’t happen either. Mr. Rolstein still has business to conduct with you.”
“Our business is done,” Edmund warned.
Shaking his head, the old man replied, “I’m sure you may believe that, but I have implicit instructions. Please accompany me back upstairs. It really would be a shame to get…messy out here in front of everyone.”
His teeth ground together. Edmund wasn’t used to getting pushed around by lackeys, or anyone else for that matter. Thoughts of barreling his way through the two goons and out into freedom entertained him. He’d take a beating, but nothing he couldn’t recover from. All he had to do was take that first step forward. Just one step and potential freedom beyond.
In the end he knew there wasn’t much choice. Rolstein was rich beyond measure. Should Emerson escape now he’d be hounded until Rolstein got his way. Fighting now didn’t make sense. He exhaled his tension with a deep breath, Edmund nodded.
“Fine. Lead the way,” he said.
Two goons stalking them all the way out to the waiting car, Edmund and the man he’d already decided was just a mouth headed back to Rolstein’s private offices. The ride was mercifully short and without conversation. They found the philanthropist already sitting smugly in a high backed leather chair. A partially drank glass of bourbon sat on the round, marble table beside the chair.
“When I tell you that I am not finished with you, it means precisely that. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Sorenson?” Rolstein snarled. His voice thin, raspy.
It took every ounce of strength he possessed for Edmund to hold his tongue. “What do you want with me?”
“The arctic lotus is an incredible find. One I’m not willing to share with the rest of the world. A man in my position acquires certain enemies along the path of success. Should they get their hands on the lotus before I can complete my task the consequences…well, I’ve said more than enough.”
“You haven’t said anything. Why am I still here, Rolstein?” Edmund asked. He folded his arms, offering his most stern glare which he knew proved less intimidating that he’d hoped.
Rolstein leaned forward, bony hands gripping the lion heads on the chair’s armrests. “I want you to lead a specially selected team back into Manitoba and bring me the rest of the lotus plants.”
Edmund’s eyes flew wide. No sane man would dare return to that haunted, potentially cursed land without good reason. Rolstein was inviting death through his demands. Did he know what foul creatures lurked in the deep Canadian forests? Edmund wasn’t sure. The old man kept secrets close to the chest, too close for Edmund to feel comfortable.
Waves of heat flushed his face and neck. The very thought of returning to Manitoba, to the grounds owned by those monsters, sent his heart racing. Edmund had always reckoned the world was a dangerous place filled with unseen threats humanity wasn’t prepared to accept. There were reasons virtually every civilization had myths of strange creatures lurking in the night.
“You don’t know what you ask,” Edmund said. “There are creatures…creatures in those forests that no man should ever encounter.”
Rolstein’s eyes narrowed dangerously thin. “Nonsense. Monsters and bogeymen are figments of weak minded imagination. I’ll hear no more of this. Your team is awaiting you, Mr. Sorenson.”
Edmund rolled his tongue against his lower teeth. A sudden bad taste roiled his stomach. A team. He hunted alone. Working with others complicated matters. As he tried to reconcile with his suddenly disturbed emotions and Rolstein’s ultimatum, Edmund Sorenson couldn’t help but feel he was being sent to a very dark place with the expectations to fail.
“Fine,” he said after a moment. “Where are they?”