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Darkness engulfed the village so completely that it hid nearly all traces of the crumbling shacks and treacherously ill-paved roads. Anyone brave or foolish enough to go out after the sun went down had to look out for potholes and jagged rocks just as much as militia. The only light in the clearing came from the wiry man's cigarette. It rested passively between his calloused fingers. The flame at the end cast an orange glow on his face which brought him out of the shadows. He seemed to prefer to be in them. His face held no expression yet disdain emanated from his being. The shaking man at his feet likely had something to do with that. The exact opposite of the man above him, the man prostrate on the ground was finely dressed in a suit, handsome, and with good reason, scared. Gavril Ionesco was a politician, low level on the rungs of the Romanian government. He worked hard but despite the lack of outcry from the people, he knew better than to think that any of them were satisfied. He carefully looked up at the smoking man. "If it's money you're after," he stated, nervous but reasonable, "I have it. Just don't kill me. I have a wife. I have two boys." It wasn't a ludicrous assumption to make. Gavril clearly did well in a country where the majority didn't. His captor, with his tattered jacket and greasy hair, could easily have been a man desperate for cash. The man exhaled his smoke through his nose in reply. It might have been a sign of amusement at the politician's offer, but his dead, dark eyes held no mirth. Gavril was reminded of a bull getting ready to gorge the matador. The illusion of the man being a predator continued as he crouched down to be at eye level with Gavril.

"I'm not after your money," he replied, voice as free of tells as his face. The man rested his elbows against his knees, not expecting a fight. "There's easier ways of getting that in this country." He cocked his head to the side, a movement sharp enough to make Gavril flinch. "All I'd have to do is say yes." He paused, as though he were genuinely considering his words. "Right?" As he went on, it became clear that he wasn't really looking for an answer. He came to his own conclusion. "Say yes to the government, to Dalca, and I could have all the money I'd ever need." His voice never rose in anger. The one reaction the man had, or maybe allowed to show, revealed only judgment.

"I-It isn't like that," Gavril defended himself. His voice quavered and he worried that it damned him. Even though they were only just on the outskirts of the town and it was quiet enough for their voices to carry, no one came running. If the smoking man was the judge, then the townspeople served as a harsh jury. Fear made for a powerful inhibitor to keep people inside, but the simmering anger would keep anyone in a run down village like this from helping a rich man. "I can't do anything against Dalca. You can't, no one can. What else am I supposed to do? Say no?" Everyone knew what happened if you said no to anyone in this country with real power.

The man couldn't hide the curl of his lip. His jaw tensed, like he had to stop himself from a quick retort. He then looked Gavril over, taking stock of his captive. "You're too useless for a fight," he concluded with one sweep of his eyes. "But what you can do, Gavril, is help. Help your countrymen like you're meant to." He leaned forward slowly, eyes narrow. "What you can do is tell me how Dalca's bloodhounds found the Resistance base."

Gavril paled. "That's what you're after?" he croaked out disbelievingly. "You have the wrong man! I have no idea about anything like that!" His earnestness fell on deaf ears. He could tell by the continuing passiveness of the man holding him prisoner. "No, you have to believe me. I'm not privy to anything like that. I'm concerned with things like taxes, wages. I'm there to sign papers," he spat out, a bit of resentment creeping into his fear. "I don't even read them half the time. I really have no idea. Please, my wife, she's gonna be worried..." His face fell as he thought about his family.

Silence reigned over the moment, broken only by the soft sounds of wildlife in the nearby wood. The man took a drag of his cigarette. He gazed at Gavril and Gavril had to wonder for how long this madman would stare at him with his unblinking, eerie eyes until he found what he was looking for. He exhaled the smoke, it lazily leaving his mouth and floating into the dark. Gavril didn't dare close his eyes as some of it drifted to his face. The man tapped the ashes away and then he spoke. "Not good enough."

Then, in a way that could only be described as nonchalant, the man put out his cigarette on Gavril's neck.

His horrified, pained scream would be sure to rouse the people in the town, yet still no rushed to the scene. The man briefly looked over his shoulder, still quite casual, following Gavril's eyes. As Gavril whimpered and carefully held onto his neck, the man said, "Oh, they won't come for you. They likely heard you, yes, but you're just going to be a story among the children at school tomorrow. Perhaps eaten by a pack of foxes. Or maybe the boogeyman for the little ones."

"You're demented," Gavril accused even as his voice trembled. The man raised a shoulder briefly before letting it fall back down, not even bothering to offer a complete shrug at the accusation. The politician then knew that it wasn't the first time the man heard it, nor would it be the last. "Oh God," he mumbled, sick to his stomach. He then raised his voice, wanting to be heard. "Just let me go. I don't know what you're talking about. Let me go, it isn't me. If anyone would know about that sort of thing, it's Ardelean. Viorel Ardelean." Gavril happened to hear enough conversations in the office to get an idea of his colleague's schemes. Ardelean sought high office. He would do anything to please the higher ups. "H-h-he works with me, but he's out in public more, rubbing shoulders. He's better at it than I am. Good with people, yeah. Upstarts. They talk to him. Maybe he heard something, I don't know. He's been called to the superior's office a lot lately, maybe... Oh I don't know, I don't know, just let me out of his pit of a town, damn it!"

The man's interest was held by everything in the nearby radius except for Gavril until he dropped the name. Again, he remained crouched and still, not giving any kind of sign. John tried to inch away, fearing another burn. He stopped when the man muttered to himself, "So it has been Ardelean. Lying bastard."

"Wh-What? You knew? You knew I wasn't--"

"Don't be so shocked. I'd never mistake you for the kind of man who would know such things." His kidnapper rose to his feet. "That takes a kind of ambition a self-admitted paper pusher like you could never muster. But you, you people are good at hearing things. I wasn't sure about Ardelean before, but now..."

Gavril placed his hands behind him, bracing himself against the rough stone as he inched backwards. "Then why this? Why would you do this to me?"

The man again used nothing but his eyes to root Gavril in his spot. He knew his power, which infuriated a man like Gavril, but he wasn't mad enough to try and defy him. "Because, Gavril, somewhere along the line of closing your eyes to this country's pain and using the exploits that keep its people crushed to your advantage, you managed to convince yourself that you're a good man." Though he still addressed Gavril, he remained standing, no longer willing to put them on even footing. "And good men don't rat out their comrades. Your ill-informed sense of decency would've dragged this out much longer. Panic is a better motivator when you're on a schedule." He scoffed. "Although frankly, had I known that you would've caved so easily, I would've just hit you. This was a waste of a cigarette." He let it drop to the ground.

Gavril felt a bubbling of shame and humiliation deep in the pit of his belly, but the fear the man knew he instilled still overrode anything else. The politician did not try to defend himself, he only said, "Fine. Now you have what you want. So let me go."

With the cigarette extinguished, the two were lost in darkness. Gavril couldn't make out the man's expression anymore, his eyes cast downward in thought and his long hair obscuring his face. He let the moment stretch on. Gavril couldn't tell if the man was purposefully trying to get a rise out of him or not. Minutes inched past. Then finally, so quiet that if it weren't for the utter silence he wouldn't be heard, the man asked, "Did you look at the papers you signed which forced dozens of families out of their homes in The City? The papers that might as well have been their death sentences. Did you look at those before you signed them, Gavril?"

His narrowed brow moved by the slightest of millimeters and his mouth just pressed into a line, but these signs of the anger the man had been hiding away were enough. Gavril was never meant to leave here. The politician trembled and backed away again. His voice shook as badly as the arms supporting him now. "No no no no no, please, please. I didn't-- I-- Please, my wife. My boys. My sons."

"They're going to be better off." The man's lack of hesitation in believing his words rang more harsh than a judge's gavel ever could. "The government will give them a nice sum of money. A gesture of good will from Dalca in hopes to keep them from questioning why they're not looking into your death too closely." When he finally said his endgame was murder, Gavril could no longer help himself. He started to cry. His lips pressed together tight enough to make them go white could not cover for the tears running down his cheeks. The man, for his part, either didn't notice or didn't care. He continued on evenly, "Because we both know this isn't going to matter to them. Like you said. You're not important in the scheme of things. Anyone can say yes and sign papers." As awfully relaxed as he was, suddenly the man's voice dropped. "And your family could do with a better example of a man." He walked forward, for the first time his uncaring behavior being replaced with purpose. "Now it's time to say goodnight, Gavril." Gavril held up his arms to defend himself, but he could only hope the man would make it quick.

------------

He scraped Gavril's blood off of his boots and onto the rocks. He could only do so much, but he was at least able to get enough off that he wouldn't leave a trail. He wasn't too concerned; he hadn't been lying when he told the politician that the government wouldn't be searching for his killer too hard. He did just enough to make it look like Ionesco had tripped and fell. He wouldn't be the first person to die so unceremoniously in this town. Ionesco's body was almost satisfactory until he remembered the burn. Gavril's face was mangled enough to draw most of the attention, but still, something should be done. He picked up his cigarette. After a moment's consideration, he bent down and placed the butt in Ionesco's hand. He looked at his handiwork, but didn't quite like it. So he then took Gavril's arm and broke it. At the awkward angle, he could place the hand right where the burn was. He nodded to himself. This would suffice. A quiet ting broke the silence, the distinct sound of metal against stone. He looked down at the source of the noise. Something fell out of his pocket. He frowned when he saw his police badge laying on the rubble.

Cristian picked it up carefully and stuck it back in his coat. That would have been a bad thing to lose here. He would be the first on this scene when it was called in, but still, it could've been picked up before then. He stood straight and stretched his back, cracking his neck on each side. That was enough work for one night. He would have to start planning his next steps. "Ardelean," he murmured to himself. He would be a harder man to reach than Gavril. Still, someone needed to serve as the outward symbol to resist, to give people hope and strength, and the Resistance couldn't if they were leaking their information to a rat. Cristian could only hope it wasn't intentional, although that wouldn't say much about the group's abilities. This was why he preferred to work on his own, or at least it topped the extensive list of reasons. No one could be relied on anymore.

He spared one last glance for Gavril Ionesco. All he mourned was his cigarette. They were hard to come by. Cristian saw a lot of evil in this world. He dove into the shit in hopes of making things a little cleaner. Even though he spent the majority of his time with utter bastards, sometimes he still couldn't grasp their convictions. Gavril was a coward and a manipulator, yet he was so thoroughly convinced of his decency that he never thought Cristian had grounds to punish him. Not even in the very end. In the dark of the night, alone with only a corpse, he could admit to himself that such delusion not only repulsed him, it scared him. Humanity could be impossibly stupid and cruel and he had to wonder if it was worth trying to protect. Cristian straightened his jacket. He silently disappeared into the wood, taking the long way back to the city and his home. Some nights he could answer that question, and some he couldn't. No matter what, he knew he would always find himself back out in the mess, purging the dreck to keep others untarnished.

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Cristian Miklos

June 2014

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