(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard, and Juan Carlos was written by Nan Sampson Bach. Juan is the antagonist in Nan’s fantasy series ‘The Gatekeepers Saga’.)
Juan-Carlos Miguel Orellano de Campos moved quietly around the large living area of his penthouse in the coveted San Remo building on Central Park West, preparing for his guest. The Interviewer. He re-arranged the sensuous turquoise satin throw pillows on the mid-century divan then adjusted the opacity of the window shades to manipulate the brightness of the morning sun. Not glaring enough to blind, but bright enough to cause his visitor to face him when they spoke.
From his windows was a stunning view of the Park. Sunlight glittered on The Lake, patches of spring green grass contrasted with the darker leaves of the trees, and a myriad of utterly insignificant human beings scurried along the park’s paths, believing they had something meaningful to do or somewhere important to go. Juan Carlos smiled. Looking down like this always made him feel like God, reminding him of his true place and purpose in the universe.
Turning, he gave the room a final look, and nodded, satisfied it would impress. It always did.
In the far corner stood his Gate. That, he intended to show off. It appeared to be nothing more than an enormous and ostentatious piece of Japanese art – something he might have transported at great cost from an ancient Shinto shrine – which sat on a raised platform of the finest Italian marble. White marble. Easier, when cleaning, to spot where he might have missed a drop of blood.
The music system played a hand-picked selection of Spanish-inspired guitar pieces by Chris Spheeris—light at first then easing into more seductive melodies. The art books on the glass coffee table and the volumes of literature and poetry in the book case had been chosen with care—what, he wondered would she gravitate towards, this Interviewer? That would be instructive.
He’d taken care with himself as well, everything chosen for effect; a pair of well-fitted charcoal trousers, a gray cashmere V-neck, slightly worn Italian loafers. His watch was unostentatious with a simple leather band, and other than his signet ring and two small gold hoops in his left ear, he wore no other jewelry. His cologne was subtle, his nails manicured, his light-brown, curly hair worn long and a little untamed. The clothes bespoke education and gentility, but the hair and earring hinted at just enough wildness to whet the appetite of a woman who lived too much in her head.
He reflected on the purpose of this interview. The Author had an ulterior motive – she was a clever creature despite the inherent intellectual inadequacy of her sex — but so far it eluded him. Still, he hadn’t gotten this far without knowing how to play the game and win.
And win he would, without doubt. He’d come close recently when he’d invited the Author for drinks. After oysters and a bottle of Amontillado, he’d had her on the verge of letting him kill his cousin Alejandro in a tragic fashion, on the grounds that his death would elicit pathos and would make way for her pet lawman Gryffen Penrys to plight his troth to his cousin’s woman. In the end, however, she had over-served herself and before she could agree, had passed out cold on his couch. Idiot.
Juan Carlos shook off the frustration. There would be other opportunities. In fact, this interview might just be one. And once he persuaded the Author to put Alejandro’s fate in his hands, the filthy betrayer would suffer as no man had ever suffered.
He took a steadying breath as his cell phone vibrated. A text from the doorman—the Interviewer was on her way up. Composing himself, he sat on the divan. Draping an arm across the low back, he smiled and waited for his maid to usher the woman in.
Dressed in a little black dress with matching heels, and her hair swept up in an elegant bun, Kelly walked with decisive steps alongside the maid and took in everything of her surroundings as she walked. It was nice, but she had been in actual, majestic palace, so everything here seemed a bit small, so she ignored all of it and focused on the door as the maid opened it.
There stood her host, and she felt confidence—arrogance—oozing off him sugared with charm. Oh, this should be interesting.
Kelly came to stand before him, tilted her head slightly to knowledge him but then looked him straight in the eye and smiled. “Thank you for respecting my insistence that we not meet at a restaurant. I am Kelly Blanchard.” She offered her hand to him, referring to a brief exchange they had through his author over the location of their meeting.
He took her hand, bowed over it and gifted her with his most charming smile. “Encantado, Ms. Blanchard. Welcome to my home. It is an honor to meet you.” He gestured towards the living room. “Please, sit. May I have Constanza bring you tea? Coffee? Perhaps a small glass of Amontillado?”
Kelly dismissed these offers with a slight flick of her wrist as she moved to the living room. “No, I’m quite fine. Thank you.” Glimpsing around, noting the view, the height of the penthouse, and the direction the view was facing, she then turned back to him and raised her brows. “So tell me, did you inherit this wealth or did you build it on your own….or both?”
He grinned. “I see you are a woman of directness. I appreciate that. As for the wealth, I acquired. I have been here, in this land, and in this time, for a little over three years.” He gave her an appraising look. “It might surprise you to learn I was born in 1514. In Salamanca, Spain.”
Kelly just gave him an unimpressed look. “Oh, then you don’t know King Baldwin IV from 1161, or personally met Vlad the Impaler from 1431—both of whom I’ve met…just to name a few.” She tilted her head as she regarded the man. “And so what is the secret of your youthful appearance? Magic? Blood? Revenge? Immortality? Power? Or something altogether different?” As she waited for him to respond, she meandered around the room with a confident, sure pace, taking in what artifacts he had—noting which ones made better weapons than others—but she was listening for him.
He paused. While he found forthright women to be stimulating, even arousing, this one had an edge that made him want to grit his teeth. Still, he smiled while taking a seat on the couch. “The Church would say that it is the work of demons. Both magic and blood are involved. As are the Gates.” He gestured towards his personal Gate, the one he’d so carefully installed and powered, with poor Sasha’s help. It now held over fifty souls, including Sasha’s. “Would you like a demonstration?”
“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” Kelly raised her brows with a smile but then shook her head. “No demonstration necessary…not yet. Maybe later, but for now, I have other questions.” She knew he wanted to show off his Gate, but she didn’t want the conversation to go his way. Instead, she swirled around to face him. “So tell me, what are you seeking to accomplish with your long, long life? Obviously you’ve done well for yourself,” she motioned to their surroundings, “But of course, you want more. More of what—exactly?” With that, she crossed her arms.
He gave a little shrug. “What do all men want, Ms. Blanchard? Wealth. Power, yes, certainly.” He lifted his eyebrows. “Perhaps love.” He spread open his hands. “Money has never been an object. And love…well, she is a fickle creature, isn’t she?” His smile was sad. “But power, power is the key to everything else. And when I have the power that I seek, I will be able to right a wrong. It is a matter of honor. Personal honor, family honor. Do you understand family honor, Ms. Blanchard?”
A wide smile blossomed over Kelly’s face as she finally looked at him. “I do quite understand honor, but here is a question for you. What is the difference between honor and respect?” She came to stand behind a chair that was in front of him, and she placed her hands on the back of the chair as she regarded him pondering his answer to her question.
He felt his face flush, ground his back teeth together. “Respect. Oh yes. I understand respect. It is Alejo who doesn’t understand respect!” He took a breath and steadied himself. How she had managed to cause him to lose control, he didn’t quite understand.
“I’m not asking if you understand it.” She shook her head as she tsked her tongue. “I am asking what the difference is between ‘honor’ and ‘respect’.” She raised her brows. “Do you know it?”
He clenched his fists, then waved away her question. “You are talking nonsense.” Then he calmed himself, offered a tight smile. “But since you seem bent on making a point, why do you not explain it to me?”
Kelly nodded but raised a hand. “Before I explain it to you, tell me this: would you rather be honored or respected?” She tilted her head to a side, trying her very best not to smile because she knew she was pushing his buttons, but, as always, she wanted him to think.
The question caught him off guard. He thought for a moment. “I would want both of course. But you will make me choose, clearly, so I say respected. A man can be honored with having respect.” He thought of Sasha. He had honored him with gifts and favors. And he had wanted to respect him—but in the end the man had proven unworthy. The same with Alejandro. He met the Interviewer’s eyes. She would be attractive if she were not so combative. “A man can be honored without having respect.”
Smiling slightly, Kelly just held his gaze for a moment longer, but then shook her head. “According to that answer, you wish to have all people equal to you. You can only respect those who are equal to you—if they earn your respect. However, if you are above them, those below you will honor you.” She then resumed a steady pace around the room as she went on to explain, “For instance, I mentioned King Baldwin IV. His enemy was Saladin. They respected each other, but Saladin didn’t honor Baldwin.” Kelly shook her head as she turned back to him. “However, Baldwin’s men, his kingdom, and his people honored him. That is the difference between honor and respect. Of course, there are many shades of gray, but that is the basic difference…especially when you are in a leadership role.” She motioned to him as if indicating to his position. “Now though, since I’ve obviously flustered you,” Kelly smirked at this, “I’ll give you an easier question. Are you the only one with immortality?”
He had to work to keep his jaw from clenching visibly. Standing, he moved to the mini-bar and poured himself a glass of port bottled at what had once been his family’s vineyards—now owned by some Portuguese nobody. He knocked it back, poured another before turning around to face the woman again. Reminding himself, as he smiled at her, that she was just that. Only a woman. “Immortal? No, I am not immortal. I can be killed, just as easily as you. Well…perhaps not quite as easily.” He gave her a wolfish grin.
“But to answer your question, yes, there are others like me—initiated into the secret by the very first of our little club. Others who have been taught the secrets of the Gates, and the souls that lie within them. And of course, there are some who insist that using the Gates in this way is anathema. I imagine you can figure out which side of this argument my cousin Alejo and his woman, that bitch of a Gatekeeper, fall on.”
Kelly just tilted her head as she considered him, but then she shook her head and moved around the room, her fingertips skimmed across the edge of a shelf holding several fine pieces of art—none of which she found interesting or attractive, but it gave her something to do.
“You’re not the first non-immortal I’ve encountered, you know.” She cast him a glance over her shoulder.”But I don’t expect you to know the Anicocinas or the Remnant or those of Elloi and so many others. In other words, you’re not that special, but of , it doesn’t matter.” She turned back to him. “So what’s your ultimate goal? World domination? Revenge? Or what?”
Not that special? His fingers itched to wrap around her throat and squeeze until her eyes bulged and show her exactly how special he was. She had no idea what he could do. He squeezed his aperitif glass so tightly it shattered. With an oath, he grabbed a towel from the bar and wrapped it around his hand. Only when he’d managed to get himself back under control did he turn to face the woman again.
“I neither want nor need to control the world. That is the game of the First. And between you and me, he has been insane from the day the first world gate shattered under his watch. All I want is satisfaction from Alejandro, for the way he has wronged me. And I’ll take it, drop by bloody drop from his filthy, honorless, quivering body.”
He let that anticipation flood through him, felt his calm return. “After that, I will be happy to live simply and enjoy life.” He let his smile slip, and gazed directly into the Interviewer’s eyes. “In any way I please.”
Kelly just stared at him, brow arched unimpressed as she stood with arms crossed watching him. “Yeah…no, some reason I just don’t see you being satisfied with ‘happily ever after’. I mean, if you’ve gone this long without obtaining your goal, you’re going to be pretty clueless at what to do if you ever do accomplish it. Have you ever thought about that?” She tilted her head, brows furrowed.
She was infuriating. And clueless. Was it worth it, this Interview? Would the Author really acquiesce and give him Alejandro as a thank you for hosting this wench in his home? Or was this just some game she was playing for her own entertainment?
He took a step away from the bar and closer to the woman. “You have an interesting point. In truth, I have been a bit…preoccupied with my goal.” He gestured at the windows. “But look out there! This century you live in is a fascinating one.” He stepped closer, arm extended in an attempt to shepherd her towards the view. “Look! Surely I could find a million things to do in the long life that lies ahead of me!”
Suddenly, mental images of Juan working as a chef at his own restaurant popped into Kelly’s mind, or maybe being a pilot of a plane, or just weeding his own garden in some cottage in the country, or even him working as a professor at a university. That last one made her laugh out loud, and when he shot her a glare, she just smirked at him. “Oh, your life would most certainly be….interesting, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you go insane because of the rest of us ‘humanity’. We have a way of…pushing people’s buttons…as I’m sure you’ve already observed.” She grinned at him but then stepped away from the window. “So, you keep mentioning Alejandro and how he wronged you.” She glimpsed back at him from looking at a small statue on a shelf. “What did he do?”
Insufferable! Why would she not do what he wanted? He sighed, ran fingers through his hair. “Alejo? The bastard? Where do I start?” He calculated how he could get her closer to the Gate, while he spoke. “He was a grave disappointment to his father—my father’s brother. There was some suspicion that he was not a true Orellano, so there was shame right form the beginning. Then, as the 3rd son of a nobleman, he was doomed for a life in the priesthood. But he was my younger cousin. I had grown up with him—I knew he would make no priest. So I arranged for the church elders to find him in a compromising position. He was promptly dismissed —and nearly ex-communicated. Did he thank me? No. Then, there was his marriage. I found him a perfectly acceptable wife, suggested the girl to his mother, who made the necessary arrangements. Was I thanked for that? Hell no. And believe me, he was no catch after the Church scandal, not to mention he’s a homely, dour fellow to start with. No, no thanks. Just unrelenting moaning about how neither of them were happy and what a cold bitch she was – which was a lie because when I bedded her, she was like a roaring furnace. So I arranged for him to come with me to Peru with Pizarro. And what did he do then? He worked behind my back to ambush the gold shipments to the coast—MY gold shipments—so he could give the gold back to the damned Indians! He set my own men against me! He even refused the Indian woman that I gave him – a woman I had wanted for myself and that I sacrificed my own desires so that my little cousin could be happy. The bastard lived with her for two years without so much as bedding her once! Ingratitude! And a perpetual shame on my family’s honor.” He was red in the face as the words slowed. God, he had had no one to tell this story to in such a long time.
Kelly continued meandering around the room. She sensed danger in the Gate, so she avoided it as she listened to his tale. Once he finished, she heaved a sigh then shook her head. “You know, after the second or third time he didn’t thank you for doing something, you probably should have just stopped helping. Also, stop taking things so personally. It’s really adds to the stress. I mean, you could have so much…if you could let go of past offenses and become better than that person…” She then cast him a sidelong glance as she folded her arms. “But you can’t do that, can you? You must restore honor to your family’s name, mustn’t you?” Then she tilted her head. “And how many of your family still lives?”
His hands were shaking. She had spoken the last insult he was going to listen to. He rushed her, reaching for her scrawny neck. And stumbled forward, nearly falling against the book cases that lined the wall as he passed right through her. “What is this sorcery?!”
Kelly tsked her tongue and wagged her head. She had been expecting him to have some kind of outburst like that, so she turned to him and smiled. “Hello, I’m the Muse. You can’t touch me or harm me. Although it would be entertaining if you tried.” She smiled.
He sucked in a ragged breath. “Have you any additional questions, Ms. Blanchard? If not, I believe I have other pressing business to attend to.”
“Excuse me, but you didn’t answer my last question.” Kelly raised a brow and took a step toward him—still smiling. She couldn’t help it. He looked funny when he was so enraged. “Do any other of your family still live?”
“No. The family line died out. And that is Alejandro’s fault as well. His only offspring…well, that’s not my story to tell. You’ll have to read the Author’s”, and he injected as much scathing vitriol into that word as he could, “books.”
“And yes you seek to restore honor to your family’s name…your family who no longer exists except for you.” She pointed at him. “In other words, you seek to restore your own honor.” Then Kelly shrugged. “Ah, now that makes sense.” Nodding, Kelly finally stepped back from him with a smile. “Well, I believe that will be all my questions. I do thank you once again for your time and for all these answers. It was entertaining…for me, at least.” She smirked once more. “I’ll show myself out.” With that, she headed for the door.
Note: Nan’s story is titled ‘The Gathering Storm’, the first book in her fantasy series, ‘The Gatekeeper Saga’, which she hopes to have released July 2016. For more information, check out her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter!