“Okay, kid, what's ya name?”
“Nash, sir. Casey Nash.”
The man looked disdainfully at the spotty youth, sitting on the plastic chair before him, his eyes moving up and down his figure. His blank look and down-turned mouth did nothing to instil any confidence in the lad.
“Well then, Casey Nash, what makes ya think ya have what it takes to succeed in the cut-throat world of adult film entertainment?” His broad Texan drawl – delivering a mixture of boredom and menace – was the perfect accent in which to deliver the terse series of questions that he had lined up for this young'un.
The boy hesitated and fiddled with his shirt uncomfortably. To the Major he didn't look like natural porn star material. Early on in what he still liked to refer to as his career he'd learned to spot the sort of people who'd make suitable actors and actresses in his miniature “works of art”, and it wasn't just about what they had tucked away in their underwear. No siree bob. The true stars – even the merely possibles – had that extra something that a pretty face and a cute backside didn't guarantee, that indefinable something that raised them above the level of the ordinary punters, the sort of people who actually bought and watched his films, and this kid just didn't have it. After all, everybody he knew who'd ever watched an adult film assumed that he (usually he) would be an ideal candidate for a career naked in front of the camera, but the great majority of them were no-hopers, like this one sitting in front of him now. Many were called but few were chosen, and if he'd cast every hopeful who'd sat in that chair, he'd have ended up making the adult version of 101 Dalmatians. The trick – what had made Major Ben Gutteridge rich over the years – was spotting the real talent when it did present itself.
“Well, kid, speak up. Cat got ya tongue?” The Major really didn't want to have to go through this. He was late for his lunch and his stomach was starting to rumble.
“Erm, I've seen just about every porn movie you've ever made, sir, for a start...”
The man cut him off with a sharp wave of the hand. “Let me stop ya right there, young man,” he said sharply. “We do not use the P-word round here. That clear? Okay, continue.”
“I've seen all your, erm... films.” Casey was at a loss to know what to call them if not 'porn movies'. Had the Major made any other sort of films before porn? A remake of Citizen Kane, possibly, and if so, was he about to be quizzed on any of them?
“So has just about half the male population across this great nation of ours, kid. From sea to shining sea. It'll take more than that to impress me. So go on, impress me.”
“Well, I've looked at the people you've got doing the sex scenes...” Casey cast a glance upwards. Was the S-word also taboo round here? That would making filming rather difficult, surely? However, the Major's expression remained blank and uninterested so he continued. “And I know that I could do a better job than some of them, for sure. I mean, I can go on for hours, for a start.”
The man snorted. “I take it this is when ya're on ya own.”
“Yes, that is what I mean, unfortunately.”
“Ya don't have a girlfriend then?”
“And you such a good lookin' boy too.” The sarcasm was painfully evident in the Major's voice, but he did make some sort of scribbled note on the piece of paper on the table in front of him. Casey couldn't see what he'd written so had no idea whether being single and unattached was a point in his favour or against him. The man looked intently at that piece of paper before barking another question in his direction.
“Ya go to church, boy?”
“Are ya a good Christian god-fearing young man?”
“Well... no, not really. I assumed that you couldn't really be religious in the p... in this business.”
“Hmm.” The Major's reaction didn't give anything away, but again he scribbled on the paper. “Okay, then. Politics. What's ya political affiliation?”
“I don't understand.”
“Well, let me put it this way. How old are ya?”
“Ya don't look it. Ya look like someone who's just into long pants. Twenty-two, eh? That means ya were old enough to vote in the last election. So, who d'ya vote for?”
“That's a bit personal.” Were all these intrusive questions really necessary? Casey was beginning to wonder if getting a starring role in one of Major Gutteridge's movies was worth all this probing. He didn't mind stripping bare for the cameras, but his body, not his mind.
“So, ya didn't vote then. Shame. I like my actors to be committed to the social good, if ya get ma drift.” At least this was feedback of a sort, even if it wasn't what Casey wanted to hear.
“Finally, the state of yer health. Any heart disease in ya family, boy?”
“No sir” This question made sense at least. Nobody wanted to collapse with a heart attack mid-scene.
“History of strokes, mental illness, alcoholism, diabetes?” He dragged out the last of these conditions, though whether it was for effect or just his accent Casey couldn't tell.
“No sir, nothing like that.”
A rather nasty grin came over the Major's face as he looked his young victim squarely in the eye. “Now the physical exam. Ya must have known we'd want to see ya in the buff. You just strip down to ya birthday suit while I go and get the doctor.”
Casey didn't like the way the Major had said 'doctor' but he unbuttoned his belt. As the man left the room, Casey could have sworn he heard the man chuckle under his stale, beery breath. A few seconds later, he returned followed by a middle-aged lady with thick lipstick and a large mountain of blonde peroxide hair, who appeared to be wearing nothing but a dressing gown. Was this the 'doctor'?
No greeting. “All the way, please. Pants and undies.” He'd been so surprised at her appearance that he'd stopped with his pants round his ankles. There were a few awkward moments while he took the rest off. Pants, underwear, socks, shirt. The lot.
This did not make a good impression on the lady doctor. “Now look. If you get this embarrassed stripping off in front of us two, how would you cope with a six-man crew and film cameras everywhere?” She cocked an eyebrow at him.
Eventually there he was, as naked as the day he was born. A slight feeling of relief ran through Casey's mind – he'd done it. He'd finally managed to take all his clothes off in front of complete strangers.
The doctor stood back and ran her eyes up and down over his body, finally letting them rest on his most important qualification. This must be what attractive women go through when they walk along the street, he thought to himself.
“Hmm. I've seen worse. I mean, don't get me wrong. I've seen better, much better, but I have seen worse. Now, brace yourself!”
Suddenly she leaned forward, grabbed him quite hard where it counted and started fondling. As she did so, she smiled and whispered in his ear “Okay, Honey. Think happy thoughts, now.”
Happy thoughts. Right. Casey cast his eyes downwards. From his standpoint and the way she was leaning, he had a good view down inside her dressing gown at her more than ample bust. It was still quite firm and hadn't started to head south, but in ten years' time that probably wouldn't be the case. Her fondling made her bust move in a rather hypnotic way and inevitably nature took its course.
“That's better.” The doctor stood back and examined her patient in all his glory. “What do you think, Ben?”
“Not bad. As you say, we've both seen worse.”
“Okay then.” She bent down and picked up his pants which she threw playfully towards him. “You can start getting dressed now.”
“Thanks.” Casey felt very self-conscious just standing there with those two pairs of eyes roaming all over him, and in the absence of her fondling, 'little Casey' was starting to go to sleep again.
He gingerly started putting his clothes on, beginning with his underpants. Anything to cover up his embarrassment. The two pairs of eyes continued to track his every move. When he was finally fully clad again, the Major turned to his companion. “Can I have a brief moment with ya, Doris?”
The two stepped outside the room. As soon as the door was closed and they were sure that there was no way Casey could hear them, the Major rounded on his companion.
“Don't give me that look. I know exactly what ya're thinking.”
“Hey, Ben, you're being mean. He's a cute boy. We could use him.”
“Are ya kidding? He can't be more than about sixteen years old! Seventeen tops! Ya know what the Feds are like about using underage actors. They'd eat us alive!”
“How old did he say he was?”
Her eyebrows rose. “Yeah,” he continued. “I didn't believe him either.”
“You could always ask to see his birth certificate. Might be twenty-two. You never know.”
“That's not the point. He looks sixteen. Trust me, he'd bring a whole heap o' trouble down on our heads, trouble I could do without.”
“Yeah, you're right. What a shame. Believe me, Ben, if I were ten years younger and still in the business, I wouldn't have minded starring with him one little bit.” Her fingers seemed to flex slightly as the memory of what they had held recently passed through her mind. Her other hand reached into the pocket of that dressing gown to retrieve a cigarette packet and a lighter and within a few seconds there was a lit cigarette between her ruby-red lips. Whoever this woman was, she was no doctor.
“Okay then,” she said, her words causing the cigarette to wiggle in her mouth and the rising trail of smoke to curl sensually and suggestively up into the air, “better go back in there and give him the bad news.”
They went back in, and Casey, in an automatic mark of respect drilled into him over the years by his parents, made as if to get up out of his chair.
“Nah, don't bother. The answer's no, sunshine.”
Casey looked at them both blankly. He had set his hopes and expectations so high that the possibility of failure had never occurred to him. “I don't understand.”
“It takes a lot to be an adult film star, and ya just ain't got it, I'm afraid.”
“But I could do it, I know I could.” It was starting to sink into Casey's brain that his dream was being systematically shattered in front of his very eyes.
“Oh, really? Come with me.” The Major got up and left the room, expecting Casey to follow, which he duly did. They walked down a short corridor and stopped in front of a thick oak door. Without any further ado, such as knocking, the Major turned the knob and strode in. Casey followed him and his jaw simply fell at what he saw. From the moment the door had opened the sounds emerging from within should have tipped him off as to the scene that was about to assault his eyes, but they hadn't and the result was he just stared and stared, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
In front of him was a large double bed surrounded by cameras, and the cameras themselves were outnumbered by at least two to one by the number of people manning them. As well as the cameramen, there was a sound guy, recognisable by his headphones and the fact that he was holding a directional microphone, someone who might be a director sitting on a chair with his arms folded and quite a few people simply standing around whose functions were uncertain.
And everybody's attention was concentrated on what was going on on the bed, where a man and woman, were naked and engaged noisily in a strong appreciation of each other's company. Although they were not the most conventionally attractive of people, it was difficult to tear one's eyes away from them.
One person in the room, however, did not have his attention focussed on the two participants. The Major, having seen more adult films being made than he cared to remember, was instead looking sideways at Casey's reaction. After what seemed like hours, but could only have been seconds, he tapped the boy on the shoulder and whispered “Seen enough?” before guiding him back out through the doorway.
With the door firmly closed behind them, the man could let his voice return to its normal Texan twang. “There. Are ya seriously telling me that ya could do that? Get busy on a bed with some lady with twenty people standing around-abouts filming and taping ya?”
“No, I thought not. Time for ya to go, I think.” He indicated with a gesture the corridor ahead of them and, by implication, the exit at the end of it. His next remark was addressed to the doctor, who was waiting for them, leaning against one wall with one eyebrow arched. “Doris, see this gentleman out of here, would ya?”
Doris, cigarette still in mouth, put her hand round Casey's shoulder and guided him towards the front door. Having seen dozens of people in exactly his position – examined and found wanting – she could well imagine the dejection he was feeling right now and she sympathised.
“Look, what's your name, kid?” Her cigarette waggled up and down in perfect timing with her words, like some demented conductor trying to direct an orchestra.
“Well, Casey. Don't feel too bad about it. You got further than most of the people who try to become porn stars.”
“I thought we weren't supposed to use the word porn round here.”
She chuckled. “No, that's just when the Major's around.” She cast a brief glance over her shoulder to make sure that he'd gone, and, fortunately for her, he had. “He doesn't like us to use that word as it helps him pretend he's making high art.”
“Is he really a major?”
“Oh, yes. Distinguished Service Medal in the Korean War. And in his defence, I should say he didn't have to see you today. It was only because a mutual friend mentioned that you fancied a career in movies.”
“Oh, who was the friend?”
“Never you mind.”
One thing had been on Casey's mind since he'd glimpsed the courting couple on the bed. “Er, was that John Holmes that I saw in there?”
“Sure was. We've got him on loan from Swedish Erotica.” Doris allowed a certain smug look to come over her face. Even in these early days of 1975, John Holmes was one of the biggest stars in the adult film business – in every sense of the word – and his name was already world famous.
“I couldn't get his autograph, could I?”
She looked at him in astonishment. “Er, no, kid. I think the man's just a little bit busy right now. Besides, I'm not sure Johnnie gives autographs. Sorry about that. But think of it this way. Next time you're watching one of our films with your girlfriend on the couch, you can lean over and tell her 'I've been within six feet of that guy while he was working'.”
Great, Casey thought. Well, it wasn't quite what he'd come for, but at least it was something.
“Gentlemen, before we go in, I must beg your indulgence for a few moments.” Greg Polson had a way of wrapping up the most direct commands in some very soft language, and no-one knew it better than Greg himself. The iron fist in the velvet glove, he called it. The meaning of his speech was clear: I'm the lawyer, and if you want this to go any further, you do as I say.
“Firstly, I'll need you to hand over your cellphones, if you please. Just a temporary measure. You'll get them back when you leave.” He retrieved a transparent plastic bag with a zip-lock top, flicked it open and held it out for the phones. “Don't forget to turn them off first.” He flashed them both a disarming smile.
The phones having been deposited, Greg held up two identical pieces of paper. “Non-disclosure forms, Gentlemen. On the other side of that door, you'll appreciate why we require complete secrecy in this matter. I'll require both your signatures on both sheets, please.” Another smile, accompanied by sharp clicking sounds as he extracted a couple of ball-point pens and held them out.
The two men took the sheets of paper and started reading them. Both seemed to be identical.
“One copy for us, and one for you. Don't worry, it's all very standard stuff. Just to ensure that this matter doesn't go any further than it needs to. Stops you talking about it to all and sundry. Law enforcement excepted, of course.”
One of the men held his hand up to his mouth. “What do you think, Kyle?”
“Seems okay to me. I can't see why we wouldn't be willing to sign this.” Kyle turned the piece of paper over, as if to check that the writing didn't extend over to the other side, perhaps containing all sorts of restrictive clauses. It didn't.”
“Trust me, Gentlemen. If you agree to this, it will certainly be worth your while. I can promise you that.”
Somewhat reluctantly, both men took a ball-point each and signed the piece of paper they were holding before exchanging and repeating the procedure. When they had been summoned to the Mayor's private residence, with no explanation, it had been a bolt from the blue. Not that he was a complete stranger, of course. Everyone knew Mayor Nash, by sight at least. Indeed, nobody who even passed through Lorelei could possibly hope to avoid the man. His image, larger than life and wearing an up-beat grin was plastered all over town, together with his trademark white Stetson and thumbs-up gesture. Indeed, they had met Mr. Nash once before, at some sort of soirée that he'd held for up-and-coming businesses that he'd wanted to encourage to relocate to his city. When he'd found out the exact nature of what they did, he'd been more than friendly. There wasn't anything he hadn't been prepared to do for them. No, it wasn't the man himself that gave the two pause for thought, but when such a rich and powerful man invited them to his own personal mansion, at the drop of a hat and with no explanation, there was bound to be an element of Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly.
“Thank you. I'm most obliged.” Greg held out his hand for the two sheets of paper which he placed into his briefcase, clicking the locks shut decisively. “Don't worry, you'll get your copy when our business today is concluded.” He looked at each of them in turn. “I think we can go in now, don't you?”
Greg walked across the marble floor towards the large oak-panelled door at the other end, with the other two in tow, his footfalls resounding like gun shots on the white thinly veined marble floor, which was unencumbered by carpeting. Indeed, the same veined marbling extended across the floor and all the way up the walls to the ornate carved frieze that ran around the top, giving the whole place the feel of some mausoleum, pristine white and antiseptic. Having reached the door, he knocked sharply, the echo of that knock reverberating off the hard walls and giving the paintings of Nash's ancestors (of dubiously authenticity) loud booming voices. The Mayor wouldn't have tolerated anyone entering his inner sanctum without the correct procedure, and no-one would have dared anyway. The knock was answered with a loud, firm “Come in.”
Certainly Mayor Nash knew how to live in considerable style, as befitted the most prominent resident of Lorelei. Still, I don't think anyone in that city would have begrudged the man one single cent of the huge fortune that he'd amassed. Having worked hard from relative poverty, scrimped and saved, and invested wisely, his story had been the American dream writ large, and for every dollar he'd made personally he'd raised at least a hundred more for the city itself. No, the marble floors, the ostentatious gold leaf, the stone columns lining the entrance hall – not to mention the private helicopter, swimming pool and Rolls Royce imported all the way from Great Britain – were all things that he'd earned and richly deserved.
So it was hardly surprising that Kyle Williams and Marshall Croker had the feeling, increasing with each echoing step towards that door, that they were about to be ushered into the presence of some sort of demi-god. You can imagine their surprise, therefore, when Greg turned the doorknob and they all entered the room.
While the entrance corridor outside had made a deep impression on the two newcomers, the room beyond did not. Indeed, I don't think either of them could have described the interior more than five minutes after they'd left it. This was nothing to do with the décor or anything about the room itself. No, the reason was the room's inhabitant, who had turned his wheelchair to face them as they walked in through the door. The first, last and only time they'd ever met the man previously, he'd been a tall, upstanding fellow, with a powerful frame, a cheery wave, bronzed skin under a shock of silver hair, a handshake strong enough to crush bones – and, of course, that white Stetson. Mind you, that had been quite a few years ago.
Well, the bronzed skin was still there, but that was all that was left of the Casey Nash whose image was plastered in everybody's sight-line throughout Lorelei. The figure that faced them was slumped in an electrical wheelchair, its limbs thin and shrunken, with one bony hand hovering over the controls on the armrest. The face was gaunt and heavily lined, with sunken eyes, most of the hair was gone and what remained was bone-white and straggly. Far from being tall, this person couldn't have been more than about five feet five. Certainly gave the impression of being short, anyway. And the trademark Stetson was nowhere to be seen. In its place was a nasal feeding tube taped to the corpse-like face and retreating over the shoulder to some contraption on the back of the chair, like a lashed-up version of an aqualung. If they hadn't been told that this was Casey Nash himself, they would certainly never have recognised him.
“Huh,” the figure exclaimed, reading Kyle and Marshall's expressions perfectly. “Not quite what you were expecting, am I!” At least the voice retained its power to dominate and intimidate, though how that feeble chest managed to produce enough air to do so was anybody's guess. The claw reached down to a joystick-like lever and the chair turned and whirred away from them. However much the wreck in front of them contrasted with his public image, his commanding personality was not diminished by his physical state, and the three other people automatically followed him. He led, they followed, as it had always been throughout Nash's career. The man had that much charisma.
“To save you asking, it's testicular cancer.” The voice was surprisingly stentorian for such a small figure and they had no difficulty hearing him in spite of the fact he was facing the other way. “Terminal and inoperable. I left it too late and it spread throughout my entire body. Now look at me! The quacks have given me two months to live, no more.”
“I don't get it,” Kyle ventured. “I voted for you at the last election. You were up and about, shaking hands and looking very healthy. It was all over the television.”
“Old footage. I own most of the media in this city, remember? What few public appearances I did make were only possible thanks to vast quantities of painkillers.” The wheelchair stopped, and swivelled round to face the trio. “Still, you're not here to discuss the state of my health! I need you to do me a favour, and I'm prepared to pay you handsomely for it. Millions!”
The pair stopped in their tracks, and Greg cast a knowing glance sideways at them. Being the Mayor's sole lawyer, he'd been in on this from the start and knew the effect it was likely to have.
“Yes, I thought that would grab your attention. Now, it may surprise you to learn that ever since I was a young lad, I've always had one burning ambition, something that I've never been able to fulfil. It has been the one and only failure in my life, and one I've bitterly regretted for decades now.”
This was intriguing. Mayor Nash had a reputation for always getting what he wanted out of life, and he wasn't fussy about the methods he employed, either.
With a supreme effort, the man fixed them with a gaze. It was a testimony to his undoubted ability as an orator that he seemed to be looking them both in the eye at once in spite of the fact that they were a good five feet apart.
“Ever since I was about fifteen, I've always wanted to be a porn star.”
Their jaws dropped and they stood there silently, mouths wide open.
“That's right. Hard to imagine, looking at me now, but my ambition was to be up there on the screen porking my way through a series of lovely ladies. I even went for an audition once, many years ago now, but nothing came of it. Indeed, I'd totally given up on my goal...” His eyes narrowed, giving him a predatory look. “...until CGI-SFX moved into town. Until I met you guys, that is.”
The pair gulped slightly and looked at each other. CGI-SFX was their company.
“Yes. I'm not long for this world but I've found a way I can realise my dream even from beyond the grave, and that's where you come in. You might not know this, but I attended a presentation that you gave once in San Francisco where you took some footage of the US President being sworn in and superimposed somebody else's face on top of it.”
Marshall nodded. “It was before you joined the company, Kyle. We did this thing where we showed Barack Obama being sworn in and put Bill Clinton's face on top. Showed them the before and after.” He remembered the event well. The whole thing had been one large joke, someone's drunken idea of a publicity stunt to demonstrate the state of the art to potential investors. The Clinton footage had been shown first, with no pre-warning, and not one member of the audience had queried why a white president had the hands of a black man.
Kyle looked back at him. He had a horrible feeling that he knew where this conversation was headed, a look not wasted on the razor-sharp gaze of the Mayor.
“Exactly. Your company is going to make me a porn star. From here on I want you to put aside any other projects you have – you're in the adult entertainment business now!”
“You want us to put your face onto some porn film? You're yanking our chain, surely. What you saw at that convention was nothing more than a joke, and even so it took us well over a month just to get those few seconds.”
“I am not, as you say, yanking your chain, Gentlemen. I'm deadly serious. You'll agree that the technology has moved on in the decade since your demonstration, yes?”
“So what was expensive and time-consuming ten years ago is now cheap and easily achieved. Is that not so? Besides, you owe me – big time!”
Marshall looked nonplussed. “In what way do we owe you?”
“When I looked into CGI-SFX ten years ago, you were operating out of a single room in some god-awful place in Alabama. Now you have an entire suite of offices in Nash Industrial Park all to yourselves, state-of-the-art computer facilities, and...” He paused. “... extremely favourable business rates. Ask yourselves why that might be.”
Marshall didn't need to. He remembered that the company had been approached by a third party shortly after the San Francisco convention with a view to relocating to Lorelei on remarkably advantageous terms, a move which had saved the company from bankruptcy. At the time, the whole thing seemed like a miracle. There was no way he could have known that the Mayor himself had been behind the deal, or that he would demand a quid pro quo in return one day.
“Yeah, now you see it.” Nash's expression fell to one somewhere between contempt and pity. “When Casey Nash offers the hand of friendship, watch the other hand. That's the one with the hammer! The only reason I allowed your company into this city is so you could make a porn movie for me, and if you turn me down now I can make life very difficult for you.”
“But you're dying.”
“So what? I can reach out from beyond the grave and strangle your god-damn company if I wanted to. I own the lease on that office suite. I'm the majority shareholder in the firm that provides and maintains your computer systems. Damn it, I even own the company that cleans your toilets! You do not cross me. Got it?” He was getting quite animated and red in the face now and made an attempt to stand up. However, his attempt failed and he fell back into the chair coughing and gasping for breath. Greg reached over, as if trying to help his master somehow, but Casey waved him away brusquely.
“Get your hands off me,” he exclaimed, clearly irritated, once he'd got back control of his face and lungs.
“No nurse today?” For once, Greg seemed genuinely concerned.
“Back there, with strict instructions not to come in until we're done – whatever the circumstances – on pain of instant dismissal.” Casey jabbed his thumb over his shoulder towards some room beyond the doors at the other end of the room. “No point her eavesdropping on our business, is there. I want this kept as secret as possible.” The man clearly had a powerful control over that nurse as his hacking cough must have penetrated the door to that room and yet she hadn't appeared.
Slowly Casey arranged himself in his chair until he was comfortable again. “This is how it's going to work, Gentlemen. Polson here will give you access to all the footage of my many political campaigns and television appearances over the decades, plus any still pictures of me he can lay his hands on. Heck, if there's so much as a Christmas card with my face on it, he'll put it your way. When my death is announced in the papers, you will then have three weeks – no more – to shoot your very own porn film, from scratch, put my face over that of whoever the lucky actor is and present the finished product as a commercially available film. Furthermore, you will carry out the entire project under a cloak of complete secrecy. One word of any of this leaks out, and you can kiss goodbye to payment.”
Kyle shook his head. “It's impossible. Can't be done in three weeks, even with today's technology.”
“You get a hundred million dollars in the will if you pull it off. Still think it's impossible?”
“We'll manage it. Somehow.” God knows how, though, he thought.
“Yeah, I thought so. Remember, when I breathe my last, that fires the gun on your race. Your film must be produced entirely by you – I don't want any possible problems with copyright spoiling my acting debut – the whole thing must be complete by the end of the third week after my death, and you do not utter a single word about this to anyone until it's complete and in the public domain. After that you can tell whoever you like, of course. One commercially available porn film produced under those conditions will earn you one hundred million dollars. Fail, and I have made provision for your stay in Lorelei to come to a premature and ignoble end. Clear, Gentlemen?”
They nodded. Well, Marshall nodded at least. Kyle was looking a little puzzled.
“I don't get it. You're one of the most powerful men in the country, who's had this burning ambition to be a porn star, but you've never done anything about it.”
Casey fixed the man with a withering stare.
“Do you have things you want to do in life?”
“Well, yes. Of course.”
“You heard. When?”
Kyle had no answer to this, as Casey had known.
“Exactly. This year, next year, sometime, never.” The old man's eyes softened a little and misted over, as if in deep regret of a life wasted. “Time, gentlemen. The old thief that steals away our lives second by second.” His claw-like hand rose and pointed a bony finger squarely at Kyle. “It is later than you think, gentlemen. You'll realise that as your own death beds approach.”
The hand fell back on the armrest, worn out by the effort of pointing. However, the man did seem have regained his iron-clad composure.
“Are there any other questions?”
Marshall and Kyle both shook their heads, this time in unison, for all the world like naughty schoolchildren being dismissed from the principal's study.
“Then I think we're done here. Pleasure doing business with you – I hope. Polson, see these gentlemen out and tidy up the minor details with them. Get Cook to give them a meal or something like that. Then, when they've left, send in Nurse Burghdoff. I'm late for my medication.”