|A Pound Of Flesh|
|What: Tea, cookies, amputation.|
In the small hours of the night, a service call. The directions are to the back entrance of a property in Upper Manhattan. A narrow alley leads to a modest parking area and a double gate guarded by four men--short for Americans, and slender--each with an unleashed dog at his side. Beyond the gate, the moon on tall old trees casts strange shadows over a stretch of lawn. A house lurks in the shadows some fifty yards ahead.
As he's been called here, One is admitted through security without delay. He still pauses at the checkpoint, tallying things like guards and cameras, with particular attention payed to the double gate.
He makes his way to the house on foot, a heavy black satchel in one hand and a grocery bag dangling from the other. He's dressed simply; grey slacks, a white shirt, black tie, and a heavy overcoat. When he reaches the steps, he sets his plastic bag down long enough to knock on the door, then picks it up and waits. His body is still, but his eyes are constantly in motion, taking in details and filing them away for later reference.
One is brought through the kitchen and out to a back hall where he is left waiting. There are no servants in sight, only the dark-clad guards that fade into the shadows, dogs at their heels. The house is quiet and unlit, the air fragrant with flowers. Somewhere indoors, a night bird whistles softly. Boards creak and footsteps descend the servants' stair.
"Doctor." The man who arrives holds an flashlight that he flicks on to cast a pool of yellow at their feet. "Thank you for coming." The speaker is an older man with silver and black hair to the velvet collar of his dressing gown, pale skin, and sleepy dark eyes. He is not tall, fit but showing the effects of aging around the midsection. "This way." He gestures for one to precede him up the winding stairs.
One doesn't get paid to ask questions. In fact, he gets paid extra /not/ to ask questions. He glances at the older man, eyes him from head to toe, then gives a small, brisk nod and heads up the stairs. There's a muffled clank as the contents of one of his bags shifts. A telltale sign that he's carrying more than just groceries.
On the third floor, the yellow pool of light indicates a slightly opened door to a lit room at the end of a narrow hall. As they approach, a small woman with braided golden hair and a lined face opens the door and gestures for One to enter. A young woman--certainly not quite human--lies on a spartan bed. The type of injury is obvious immediately, before One even takes her in. The smell of burnt flesh is heavy on the air.
"Careless," the older woman says tonelessly, looking down at the injured one. "It'll have to come off." She's right. The flesh is falling away from the injured woman's forearm, the hand is a blackened, bony claw.
"Master, please," the young woman whispers as One's host stops in the doorway, reaching for him with her good hand. "Please, help me."
"Some lessons are more painful than others," the man says. His expression is not unkind but it holds no sympathy.
One glances from face to face. His eyes linger on the older man's. It's a hard, unflinching gaze, but there's little emotion to it. For a moment, his expression and the host's are eerily similar. "I may be able to save some of the arm, but the hand will have to come off."
Without further ado, he moves to the bedside and dedicates his attention to his patient. A scalpel set, rubber tubing, some ointments, and a great deal of bandages all emerge from his bags, along with various other tools. He studies the injury all the while, assessing it, devising a plan of operation.
Sleeves are rolled back, gloves are donned, and instruments are sterilized. Small pots of alcohol and distilled water have been set out, also from inside One's bag of tricks. When he's ready, he glances over his shoulder at the room's other two occupants. "This is going to get worse before it gets better," he says, gesturing with the large syringe he's currently holding. "If you want to wait outside, I won't be offended."
"Not at all." One's host shakes his head and takes a seat in a small chair by the window. "Hulda. Tea."
He dismisses the older woman with a flick of his fingers, then leans back in the chair and crosses one leg over the other. He is wearing what are likely very expensive silk pajamas under the heavy velvet robe and leather slippers, all in shades of deep green and black. In his lap, his soft, white hands are entwined and still. His expression is one of arch curiosity. "Do carry on."
"Suit yourself," One replies. He latches onto the young woman's injured arm with a steely grip, but high above the wound. Holding her still, he jabs his needle into a vein and depresses the plunger. The rubber tubing is tied off above the injury as a tourniquet, a scalpel is selected, and the blade is dipped in alcohol one last time.
He leans close to his patient, close enough that his face is only a few inches from hers. "Remember," he whispers. "There may be some momentary discomfort."
Then he gets to work. It takes a remarkably short time, considering he's using a scalpel to do the work of a bonesaw. He cuts just below the elbow, removing the now-useless portions of his patient's arm as neatly and efficiently as possible.
"Enjoying the show?" he asks. Though he doesn't look away from the young woman, it's clear he isn't talking to her.
One's host is watching but his mind is elsewhere. Quite literally. That's the advantage of being who and what he is. Loki is off taking stock of a small drama in Washington that's been interesting him for some time. Loren Olsen is watching One work.
"Hmm, yes. In a manner of speaking," he remembers to say. Hulda enters with tea and leaves the tray on the little table by the window. "You're efficient. Of course, I was told as much but one never knows... the definition of the word has changed with the years." His tone is mournful, the accent not quite Germanic. Further north, from colder places. "This is a dreadfully sloppy era. No appreciation for craftsmanship." He pours himself a cup of tea--by hand, very tedious--and takes one of Hulda's almond cookies to accompany it.
"I couldn't agree with you more," One responds, sounding pleasantly surprised to be pleasantly surprised. His voice is accented as well, and is similarly difficult to place. Definitely not from these parts, though.
When he's finished cutting, he drops the offending lumps of flesh into his now-empty grocery bag, as well as a great deal of gauze that's been used to soak up blood. The woman's stump is bandaged and wrapped with tape, then he sets her up with an IV. Plasma, fluids, and nutrients.
When all is said and done, One removes his gloves and tosses them in the bag with the rest of the trash. Somehow, he's managed to avoid getting a single drop of blood on him. He glances at his patient one last time, then turns and moves closer to the host. "She'll survive. If you'd like, I can come back to change her bags and dressings when the need arises. May I?" An eyebrow is arched inquiringly and he gestures to the tea.
"Of course." Loren gestures to the tray. "Help yourself." He is quietly pleased by the tidiness. For all that he enjoys inflicting chaos on other people, he prefers to keep it far from his own life.
"You may return, yes." Loren dips his cookie in his tea, then eats it, looking thoughtful. "Ring at the gate. You'll be informed when your services are no longer necessary. How would you prefer to be paid for the services?"
That's one of many things that amuses Loki about life in Midgard. Paying for things. Since he could simply take them, it feels quaint and a little whimsical--indulging native customs. More like giving a gift than paying.
"I prefer cash," One admits. "It's a necessary evil these days. I can accept precious metals or other valuables, but there's a premium. I also have an interest in scientific oddities, advanced medical technology and military equipment."
As he speaks, he pours himself a cup of tea with a deft touch and a pinky out. He also takes a cookie, likewise dunking it in his teacup before eating it. "Mm. Delicious."
"Cash it is, as you like. My business, of course, is metals and gems. Little things. Trinkets, really." Loren waves a hand dismissively, though the emerald ring on his little finger is hardly a trinket. "I amuse myself with them and people seem to wish to give me money for it." Another delightful aspect of Midgardian customs... Loki, or Loren, never lacks for cash.
"Hulda." He raises his voice slightly. "Please bring our guest his due." Finally, he seems to take an interest in the young woman in the bed, looking her over with a slight twist of distaste on his lips. "The young are so careless. Pity. Being careless should be reserved for those of us who have little time left."
"Little time left. Psh. If there is a God, mortality is his ruse. A practical joke gone awry." It's a surprisingly strong comment on the topic for a man in his prime. One sips from his tea and then sets his cup aside. "But as they say, youth is wasted on the young. By the time she could be considered old, I'm sure she'll be able to get fitted for prosthetic at the drugstore. Probably one that's better than any limb you or I ever owned."
"A limb that will outlive her, no doubt." Loren chuckles softly. He refills his tea and, moments later, Hulda returns with a thick white envelope.
"Doctor," she says quietly, then curtseys as she offers One the envelope. She's surprisingly graceful for an old woman. "I think you will find it all in order."
"I trust that it is." One accepts the enevelope and tucks it into his pocket without even looking inside, much less counting the contents. Not something he'd normally do. "Thank you for the tea. The cookies are lovely."
He smiles at his host, but it's not quite a friendly expression. More of an acknowledging of similar character. "It's been a pleasure, but I think it's time I collect my things and go. I'll come by tomorrow to check on our patient. If fortune favors us, we can share a proper drink. Until then, thank you and good night."
"Hulda will show you out." Loren waves them off with a matching smile for One, a grimace of understanding. The niceties are observed and enjoyed not because one is nice, but because one is not but can afford to pretend otherwise at the moment. "Thank you for your time."
Loren's expresson changes to mild annoyance as he regards the young woman again. He would have discarded her but he has a regular guest--a resident, even--who becomes attached to small things and would notice if the master of the house traded one nameless servant for another. To be fair, she might have a name, but neither Loren nor Loki care to know it, just as he has no need to share his own. Why, when who he is--in the ways that matter--is so clear?