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Authors: A.L. Jambor

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BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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“What’s your name?”  Darius asked.

“Quintus; I’m a merchant.  I’ve done well importing goods from the East.  I want my daughter to marry a nobleman, and while I’m sure she would find you very attractive, a marriage between you would not produce a viable heir.”

“There’s a dowry, I assume.”  Darius said.

“Oh yes, a large dowry, but it doesn’t change the fact that you cannot marry my daughter.  You’re the eldest son.  If your father disinherited you, then all would be for naught.”

“But there’s a curse on your daughter, Quintus.”  Darius’ eyes focused on Quintus.  He was trying to find a way to marry Quintus’ daughter and still keep his title.  Quintus turned his head away from Darius’ gaze.    “You’ll never find a man old or young who hasn’t heard of Cicero Gaius and Cassia.”

The two men returned to Quintus’ table and sat down.  They sat looking at the table for several minutes, trying find some way to make a marriage happen that would benefit all involved.

“Leonides has threatened to kill me if I don’t pay.  My father refuses to cover my debts.” Darius was slapping the table with his hands.  “How much money are we talking about, Quintus?”

“More than enough to cover your debts, I assure you.  Perhaps your father could be persuaded…”

“He’s very rich, Quintus, he doesn’t need any money.”

“Well, I can think of no way to make this work, son.  I wish you luck with Leonides.”  Quintus got up from the table and headed for the door, with Darius close at his heels.

“Meet me here in one week,” Darius said.  “Maybe I can persuade my father.  He might be pleased to have someone else cover my debts for a change.”  He smiled weakly and Quintus nodded.  They were headed in opposite directions, so they bade each other good night, promising to meet at the tavern in one week’s time.

Quintus had little faith that Darius would persuade his father to accept Cassia as a daughter-in-law, and his heart was heavy.  The curse had done its work and left Quintus with little choice.  If Darius was unable to persuade his father, then Quintus would finally resign himself to allowing Cassia to marry a commoner.

 

Schuylerville, New York

Darius got into the red BMW he kept at the mansion for days when he wanted his privacy.  The gas tank was full and Manuel had maintained it well.  The meeting was at three, but he’d promised to meet Jim at a café for a late lunch.

The driveway to the mansion was long and came out at the top of a hill.  Darius always turned right because he couldn’t see who might be coming up the hill.    Then he’d make a U-turn at the next-door neighbor’s driveway.

The mansion was in a small town north of Kingston named Schuylerville.  This November had been relatively warm compared to past winters, so with the exception of some dead leaves, the roads were clear.  He gunned the BMW and sped down the twisting mountain road heading downtown.

Jim was waiting in the parking lot when Darius pulled in.  He hadn’t seen Darius’ new face, but he knew the BMW.  As Darius stepped out of the car, Jim smiled.  He was an older man, around seventy, with long gray hair.  He had been a hard drinker in his early days, and even now it showed on his face.  The skin around his eyes was deeply grooved as was the skin around his mouth.

Jim was a member of both AA and GA.  He had stopped drinking two years before he stopped gambling, in 1958.  He’d been in the program four years when he met Darius the first time and became his sponsor.  Darius walked over to Jim and put out his hand.

“Damn, you look good, Darius,” Jim said.  “How old are you this time?”

“I’m 35, but I feel older.  Let’s sit down before we talk.”

The two men walked into the café and saw Rita serving a couple in a booth.  She saw Jim and smiled, indicating a booth toward the back.  He nodded and they headed that way.  When they were seated, Rita brought their menus.

“Hi, Jim,” she said and smiled.  He smiled back.  “You fellas need some time?”

“I know what I want, Rita,” Jim said.

“Me, too,” Darius said.  She took their order and left.  “When are you gonna marry her?”

“Not interested in marriage.  Tried it once and it didn’t take.  I’m fine the way I am,” Jim replied.  “So, what happened?”

Darius always dreaded telling Jim why he’d died and had to be reborn.  It was always his fault, and he felt like such a coward.

“She called and I didn’t go,” he said.

“Why the hell not?  Darius, have you ever told anybody else why you keep doing this?”

Darius shook his head.

“Not even Cassia?”

“No, no one.”

“Well, you might as well tell me what happened this time.”

“I was a professor, again, and she was a student.  She gets depressed, you know, really down.  That seems to be her trigger.  She called me and told me it was time, that she’d taken some pills.  I was with someone and didn’t go.  End of story.”

“That’s always the end of the story,” Jim said.  He was getting angry.  “You can’t keep doing this, Darius.  It’s not fair to the others, especially that little girl.”

“I know, I know, but there’s something different this time.”

Darius didn’t speak.

“Well, what’s different?” Jim asked.

“I can’t remember what made me so afraid.”

Jim looked at Darius.  He knew what had made him so afraid, and as a friend he should probably tell him.  But, if he didn’t, maybe Darius wouldn’t be afraid to save his daughter the next time she called.

“I told you once, didn’t I, Jim?”

“It was a long time ago.  I only remember parts of it.  Why don’t we let sleeping dogs lie?”

Rita brought their food and winked at Jim.  He smiled sheepishly and dug into his food.

Darius ate slowly.  Since he had woken up in the ER over a week ago, he hadn’t been feeling very well.  Sex with Cassia had only made him feel worse.  He had chest pains on an off several times a day.

“I woke up in a hospital.  The doctor told me I had a cardiac episode.  He told me to give up cigarettes.”

“Jeez, you’re only 35.  I’d take his advice if I were you.”

“I have a kid, Jim.  For some reason, the paperwork I got doesn’t have a name, but I think I know who it is.”

Jim thought about it for a while, and then he nodded.

“Yup, I bet you’re right.  She didn’t come to the mansion?”

“No, which makes sense if she’s somebody’s kid.  I haven’t told Cass or Amatus about it yet.  I think Janus knows, but he’s not talking either.  He and Morta have something up their sleeves.”

“How bad is your memory?” Jim asked.

“I remember being on the island and…”

“Yeah, well, we don’t have to go into that.  But nothing after that?”

“I do remember some of my lives, but not much.  They must have messed with our memories this time.”

“Can they do that?”

“What else could it be?  And, I honestly don’t remember why I was so afraid.”

“So, you tried to book a flight to Vegas last night, huh?”

 “I got pissed off.  I knew something was up with Morta and Cassia, and they wouldn’t let me stay while they talked.  Gambling always makes me feel better.”

“And if you’d been able to book a flight, would you have called me?”

“No, and that’s the truth.”

“Well, the truth is the best.  But do you see how vulnerable you are?  We can’t let our guard down, Darius.  We have to remember who we are, as hard as that is sometimes.”

“Who am I, Jim?  My name is Ian McAllister this time.  Last time I was Charles Davis.  So tell me, who am I?”

“You’re a guy who always gets a second chance not to screw up.  That’s more than most guys could say.  Take advantage of having a clean slate.”

Darius finished his lunch and reached for his cigarettes.

“I’m going outside,” he said, and threw a ten dollar bill on the table.  Jim watched in dismay as he walked outside and lit up.

Jim picked up the ten and left Rita a five.  He paid the check and joined Darius.

“Do you want to drive there together?” Jim said.  Darius nodded and sucked in some smoke before crushing the butt on the ground, then they got into the BMW and headed for the meeting.

 

A Fashionable District of Rome

Darius walked into the palatial townhouse owned by his father, Pius.  He could see his brother, Anthony, lounging on a couch with the daughter of Senator Cassius.  She was not particularly beautiful, not even attractive really, but she had the right pedigree.

Anthony was a good-looking boy of seventeen.  He was already taller than Darius, who, at twenty-three, stood only 5’6”.  Anthony had begun his military training, and he and Darius often sparred with their swords.  Anthony won every time.  Anthony was large in every way.  He was almost six feet tall, unusual for a Roman.  With his broad chest and his wide arms, he would serve the military well.  By the time he was 21, he would be massive.

Darius was slender and muscular.  He wasn’t as strong as Anthony, and would often find himself pinned to the floor during their wrestling matches.

Darius walked over to the other couch and sat down.  Anthony smiled at him as he fed the girl some grapes.

“Darius, this lovely creature is Justina.  She dined with us this evening with her father and mother.  Father was disappointed you weren’t there.  He had planned to introduce you to the lovely Justina.”

“This is Darius!”  Justina exclaimed.

“Yes, my pet, this is Darius,” Anthony replied.

Justina got off the couch and ran over to Darius.  She sat on the couch and drew close to him.  Anthony watched his brother’s discomfort with amusement.

“You are quite handsome, Darius.  Why did you stay away so long?”  Justina asked.

“I was at a tavern.”  Darius said.   “I’d lost all my money, and the moneylender’s henchman was threatening to kill me.”

“How exciting!”  Justina exclaimed as she took Darius’ arm.  “How did you get away from him?”

“A merchant rescued me.  Now, brother, where’s father?”

“He’s in the dining hall with Cassius.  I don’t think you should show your face just yet.”

As Anthony lay on his side eating grapes, Darius left the couch and walked through the atrium towards his room without realizing Justina had followed him.

When he reached his bed, Darius turned and saw her standing behind him.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him.  He gently released her arms from his neck and walked her to the door.

“There’ll be plenty of time for that later.  Why don’t you go sit with Anthony?”

“Because, I find you so much more interesting,” she said.  She smiled, and Darius could see a large gap between her front teeth.

“Nevertheless, it’s improper for us to be alone.  Go back to Anthony.  I have some business to attend to.  Run along.”

Reluctantly, Justina left the room.  Darius waited until she was out of sight and went to the window.  He could see the dining hall across the courtyard where he saw his father smiling and talking to Cassius.  Pius didn’t appear to be angry.  Darius felt someone standing beside him and thought Justina had returned.  He was just about to chastise her when he saw his mother, Valeria.

“Your father missed you tonight, Darius,” she said.

“I know.  I’d forgotten the dinner with Cassius was tonight.”

“Where were you, Darius?”  She knew where he’d been, but she wanted him to tell her.

“You know very well where I was, Mother.”  He smiled.  The moon was bright, and she could see his face. She smiled back at him.

“You know he’s concerned about you.  You’re the eldest son, Darius, and there are expectations.  He kept you out of the military to protect you and his lineage.”  

She loved her eldest son.  He was so like her.  Anthony was a big bear of a boy, rough and crude, but Darius was refined and mannerly.  She was very concerned about his gambling, and she sincerely hoped he would break the habit soon.  Pius had put his foot down, and he would no longer pay Darius’ gambling debts.  She hoped Darius would see it as an awakening.  His reputation was tarnished among the patrician community, and if he continued his dissolute behaviors, his chances of finding a suitable wife would dwindle even further.

Darius sat on the windowsill and drew his knees up, putting his arms around his legs.

“Mother, if I don’t pay the moneylender, he’ll kill me.”  He watched for her reaction.

“Surely he wouldn’t touch a patrician, Darius.  That’s utter nonsense.”  Valeria crossed her arms over her chest.

“No, Mother, he would kill me just as easily as look at me.  He doesn’t care about my lineage.  He only cares about his money.”  She was watching her son’s face, and knew he was telling the truth.

“I can’t defy your father, Darius.  I…could give you the money, but he would find out eventually.  That would cause a rift between us that I cannot afford.”

“So what do I do, Mother?  Should I run away, or stay and risk losing my life over father’s prideful arrogance?”

“Don’t you dare blame your father for this, Darius.  You went to that dreadful place and you borrowed money from that…person.  You have a fine toga that would fetch a good price.  I suggest you begin selling what you can. Clean up this debt or your father will ask you to leave.”  Valeria turned and left the room.

“I love you too, Mother,” Darius said as she walked away.  He looked up at the stars.  How had he gotten to this place?  He’d always been a good boy, but the day he walked into the tavern all that had changed.

A year ago Darius had accompanied a group of friends to the tavern.  They were on their way to Germania, and Darius had offered to pay for their drinks.  As they sat drinking and joking about military life, Darius noticed men in the back throwing dice.  He’d never gambled before in his life, but something about the sound of the dice hitting the floor attracted him.  He left his friends and joined the men in the back.

Darius took some coins out of his purse.  He threw the dice and won the pot.  The adrenaline rush he got from anticipating his next throw was intoxicating.  He barely remembered his friends leaving the tavern at dawn and only left when the owner kicked him out.

When Darius left his house the next day, he went right back to the tavern.  Soon, he was on his knees throwing the dice.  In two days he had lost a month’s allowance, and he swore he would never come back.

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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