by JoAnn Baca
Reclaiming What Is Mine
The dream comes again, and the big man tosses fretfully on his pallet, the confusing images flashing through his subconscious mind as he lies helpless to avoid them. Even in his sleep, Erlik despises feeling helpless….
The bus is entering the intersection. He is sitting with his son, telling him about the park. A red ball is on the boy’s lap. By his side is a crumpled paper bag that contains two hastily made baloney sandwiches. The sun is shining and they are smiling and the afternoon is suddenly smashed into a million pieces. The bus tumbles and careens into a building, shards of glass everywhere. When the world stops spinning, he’s hanging upside down, as crumpled as the now-lost paper bag, and his head hurts so badly he can hardly focus. Something in his side feels ruptured. Where’s his son?! He opens his mouth to scream the boy’s name – but he can’t remember it. His head is throbbing like a sonofabitch, and the sun in his eyes is blinding him. Where is his boy? Why does his…head…hurt…sooooo… The last thing he sees before he sinks into oblivion is a red ball, bouncing over the bodies strewn around him…
Oppressive heat. Heavy, moist air. He awakens into it as always, sweating copiously despite wearing little. His cot occupies a far corner of the boiler chamber where he labors during his waking hours. There are no homey touches in this spot, not even a comfortable chair beside the cot. A raw wood shelf holds his few personal items, a hook his extra set of clothes. Utilitarian and bare, the meagerly furnished corner represents home to the large, hirsute man. This doesn’t cause him concern. He only comes to this part of the chamber to sleep, and his unconscious state requires no creature comforts.
He adjusts his position on the cot awkwardly, hampered by lingering pain and the bandages that cover his wounds. He is impervious to many things, but crossbow bolts are not among them.
On any other day, his every waking hour is consumed by his duties, mostly stoking the fires under massive cisterns that supply what warmth there is in these vast subterranean caverns. Of course, not everyone who lives in this domain enjoys the heat his toil generates. No. That would be a task too immense even for him. Only the chambers inhabited by The Master benefit from his labor.
Erlik should be prodding coals into flame, but this morning others struggle to maintain the fire. They are not competent. The Master will feel little heat today. But he cannot rise to replace those feebly attempting his job. The Master’s orders were clear: Rest.
He always obeys.
He closes his eyes to his grim surroundings. How long has he been lying here? He isn’t concerned that he has forgotten. Years ago he realized that much he once knew had deserted him, along with the knowledge of who he once was. But those things do not matter. The now contents him. And while he knows little for certain these days, those things he does remember, he knows well. The Master relies on him – for his great strength, for his unquestioning loyalty, for his dogged persistence.
Pride fills him. His work in this cavern is of value to The Master. He wishes he were allowed to rise and take over fueling the fire. The flames are too low. He could coax them into more ardent life.
The fuel is always there. He never questions how it is collected. And it is always sufficient for his needs. If it ever were not, a word to The Master would ensure sufficiency was maintained in the future. There might then, on the stack of fuel, be the mortal remains of the one who had failed to supply him well enough. But it mattered nothing to him what the fuel was, as long as it was available. Soon the waters would once more be bubbling vigorously, ingeniously created fans carrying the increasing warmth into conduits long ago drilled out of solid rock to warm The Master’s lair, the steam finally emitting into passageways within the domain.
Erlik dimly recalls that The Master had designed the fans, which need no electricity, but he is untroubled by how they came to be or how they function. He is not responsible for them. Only the fire matters.
A timid voice calls out, “Erlik? I have your breakfast.” Into the large chamber limps an old man, his shaking hands barely supporting a massive wooden bowl of oatmeal.
Grinning, Erlik grabs for the bowl with one large paw-like hand. If his other arm were not immobilized by bandages, he would shove the fellow away with it, as if the frightened man would ever attempt to prevent him from taking the food. He has felt Erlik’s displeasure more than once and now is properly subservient.
Having no spoon is no impediment; Erlik merely upends the bowl and lets the oatmeal surge into his mouth and down his throat, swallowing convulsively as it does.
Without waiting for the bowl to be handed back to him, the other man scurries away.
He has already been forgotten.
Finished, Erlik tosses the mostly empty bowl out of the chamber entryway.
On any other day, Erlik would leave the boiler chamber to visit The Master. Usually he receives no instructions other than “Carry on.” Those are his favorite words. They mean he need do nothing all day but tend the fire. That makes him happy. He likes fire.
But not today. The Master wants him rested. Wants him ready. Wants him as healed as possible for what’s to come.
He holds his head in his free hand, feeling strange. His mind is swimming more than usual. So much has happened in the last few days. His dizziness is one result, a reaction to blood loss from his wounds, perhaps. He lies back, closing his eyes to the suddenly spinning chamber…
Days ago…how many are already lost to him. Erlik struggles to remember…
The Master did not say “Carry on.” That day, Erlik was greeted with different words. “Go Above. Go to The Woman. You know the shortcut. Leave the coin. Bring her to me.”
Frowning, Erlik attempted to repeat the complex instructions. With barely controlled patience, The Master repeated himself two more times, until Erlik nodded that he understood it all. He turned to leave but was called back. “Alive. Unharmed.”
Two more things to remember. He repeated the words until The Master nodded.
The old man who usually brought his breakfast had thrust a bag into Erlik’s hands: bread, cheese, a water flask. He followed that with a long black cloak. The Master knew that Erlik could not be counted on to remember these things. Erlik took the items without comment and stalked out of The Master’s cavern, intent on his mission.
He repeated The Master’s words at intervals, ensuring his memory played no tricks of forgetting. He realized that even he was expendable should he fail The Master.
He knew where The Woman lived. The Master himself had taken him to her basement threshold. Over many months they had made that same journey, and eventually Erlik had no difficulty recalling the route. The trip might have taken anyone else three days, but The Master knew secret ways, ways that reduced days of travel to mere hours. That was another source of pride: The Master’s trust in him.
Every trip that took him up to the street level of the city triggered strange, jumbled, scattered memories. Erlik was faintly troubled by them, and by the confusion of not being able to piece them together coherently. He had once roamed the city, had known it intimately – the places easy to sneak into, the people easy to take from, the hidey holes easy to find. And before that time, too, there was a different life…fragments of which he could remember only with the greatest of efforts. In the dim, dark recesses of his broken mind he sometimes stumbled across disjointed images of a bus, a ball, a boy….
The boy…. His memory again snags disjointedly on the boy. What is it about him? Erlik shakes his head, hoping to dislodge further elusive details. A scrap of memory comes to him: The Master found him! Traced and tracked him down, after all these years. Tricks Erlik could not learn. And The Master will tell him, soon, where the boy is. Do this right…that’s The Reward.
As that splinter of memory pricks him, he remembers the last time he went to The Woman’s home. He had recalled what The Reward would be then, too, and had been determined to do what The Master wished in order to earn it, finally.
His eyelids slowly close as he drowses…remembering…
Despite the promise of The Reward, The Master’s last words had angered Erlik, and he had struggled to accept them. “Alive” was not the problem. She would not be difficult to subdue. But The Woman was beautiful and soft. She smelled good; he knew this because he had been in her apartment before, and The Master had let him sniff the scent on her clothes, on her bed, so that he would not become confused and take the wrong woman. It was “Unharmed” that angered him. He knew what The Master meant. There was no man or woman that must be Unharmed in The Master’s world except The Face Lady, and Erlik didn’t care about her because she was old and wrinkled. But to tell him that The Woman must be Unharmed was a surprise, an unhappy one.
He had chewed on the word as he trudged through passageways and scrambled over rockfalls, as he navigated a shortcut on The River and sneaked past the sentries in the world The Master wished to one day again command. It angered him more than anything had angered him, and it made him feel rebellious. He was so far away from The Master’s domain, and had even farther to go for The Woman. How far did The Master’s power extend?
He shoved his anger aside as he concentrated on entering the world Above – dangerous, filled with obstacles – and making his way from The Woman’s threshold to her balcony. The elevator cables allowed him a good handhold as the elevator climbed to the rooftop, and from there he made quick work of descending to The Woman’s balcony.
He had made the journey in good time, judging by how high the sun was in the sky. Proud of himself, he sat in a corner with his back to the wall and opened the bag he had been given, gorging on the food and slurping the water down. He had thought of nothing but the journey, but now, even after eating the meager meal, he found himself famished. And he was still thirsty.
When would The Woman enter her apartment? He could not read clocks – one of the many things he had forgotten. But he recalled The Master saying it would be getting dark before she returned home. At that moment, the light was still strong.
Erlik stirs in his half-conscious state. The Master had been wrong. It makes Erlik curl his lips into a smile as he lies on his cot, thinking back on that moment. The Master could make mistakes. It gives Erlik pleasure to recall that.
In daylight she returned. That was unexpected. He hid from view and watched as she entered her bedroom, as she quickly slipped off her clothes and hung them in her sweetly scented closet. His eyes devoured her as she stood for a moment in her underwear… pink and perfect and nearly naked…
In his feverish condition, Erlik licks his dry lips as he remembers her silken flesh.
Too soon, she put on clothes – less fancy ones – and then she disappeared out her front door. Erlik was dismayed for a moment that he had forgotten his instructions and lost his chance to take her. When he finally realized that she must return at least to sleep, he sighed in relief.
Since she was gone, he jiggled the flimsy lock on the balcony door. It was not meant to keep anyone out or he could not have disarmed it so easily. He left the long cloak on the balcony. He wouldn’t need it until The Woman was captured.
It was very exciting to sneak into The Woman’s place by himself. The Master would never know, so he decided to indulge himself, to touch her things without permission, to take what he wanted, to do what he liked.
He prowled through the living space and sniffed, letting his nose lead him to the kitchen. There wasn’t much food but he ate all he could find: a whole head of lettuce, two sleeves of crackers, a half-pound of cheese. He drank a small container of milk. Still thirsty, he turned on the tap, holding his head beneath the flow and gulping in mouthfuls of water.
Returning to her bedroom, he examined the covers of the bed and discovered a filmy nightgown tucked between the pillows. He grabbed it up. Her scent came strongly to his nostrils and he inhaled deeply, taking it in. She smelled delicious to him, her fragrance filled with a floral aroma not found in The Master’s lair.
He wandered into the bathroom, and marveled at the facilities. Dim memories of a similar room coiled out of the back of his brain. As a child, maybe, he used such things. As an adult, too? It hurt to think too much, so he discarded the thought. But, intrigued by the tub and toilet, he turned the water on to watch it flow, and then flushed the toilet repeatedly. He hadn’t been that amused in…he couldn’t recall.
The hot water was making the bathroom too steamy, too much like his own chamber, so he turned off the tap. He liked the cooler air in the apartment; it was dry and comfortable. And he wanted to try the bed.
He dropped onto it and lay down full length. Startled at how soft it was, he was mesmerized, rubbing his face against the quilted fabric of the bedspread. The Woman’s scent wafting over him made him forget The Master’s last instruction for a moment. Uncomfortable that the memory was fading, he repeated it to himself so he wouldn’t lose it: Unharmed. Unharmed. The Reward comes only if she is Unharmed.
The rest of the apartment was there to explore, and he carried her nightgown with him as he left the bedroom. But he was disappointed – he discovered no other food, nothing of interest, just furniture and papers and confusing machines. Shrugging, he returned to the bedroom. He wondered what it would be like to sleep on that bed, so different from his simple cot. That thought led to action, and he curled up atop the covers.
He might have actually fallen asleep there but a noise startled him – a door opening. Laboriously, Erlik recalled his instructions. With great stealth he slipped off the bed, kicking the nightgown under it, and exited to the balcony through the French doors.
His heart was hammering in his chest. That had been close! He had let his guard down and almost been caught. But all was well, for he was back on his mission, standing on The Woman’s balcony as he was taught to do.
The night had come, as The Master had predicted. It was almost time to act. He picked up the black cloak and waited.
He watched as she poured a glass of water, then pressed a button and listened to a voice coming from a machine. Faraway memories surfaced of telephones, but this one was loud, talking to her. As she was listening, he moved as The Master explained he should, creating a tall shadow that would seem familiar to her.
He heard her voice for the first time as she exclaimed, “Vincent!” It made him grin to know that he had fooled her – The Woman was just another dummy like him.
“The Woman will come to you,” The Master had told him, and it was true. She rushed to him on the balcony as The Master had foretold. It delighted him to see the look of confused horror on her face as she realized he was not who she expected to see.
Before she could react, he drew a large cloak over her and knocked her senseless – just a small tap on the side of the head, exactly as The Master had showed him. She fell bonelessly into his waiting arms.
The scent of her sweat rushed into his nostrils as he lifted her lithe body. Her clothing was clammy, damp from exercise. She had so many pretty, nice-smelling things in her closet, in the drawers in her bedroom, and perfume and soap besides. Why would she choose to be sticky with sweat? But it made them closer somehow, gave them common ground….brought her down to his level.
He let the damaged gold coin drop from his thick fingers before he draped her over his shoulder. The Master had assured him it was a message that would draw The Enemy down to him. Erlik had no reason to doubt it.
His route from The Woman’s balcony to the park was the most dangerous part of his return. Discovery then would mean The Master’s displeasure. And Erlik wanted The Reward.
He used all the stealth at his command to elude detection, moving into Central Park and accessing a hidden entrance to the tunnels, following a spiral staircase downward to and then through the Chamber of the Winds… down, ever downward, following stairways and secret passages known to none but The Master and himself. He walked for hours, the weight of The Woman on his shoulder a wonder he enjoyed, letting his imagination…and occasionally his hands…wander as he pictured violating the order for her to be Unharmed.
At one point he dropped her gently to the earth so he could relieve himself against the rocks. It felt good to release that stream, the relief when he had emptied his bladder a simple pleasure.
The concept of pleasure infiltrated his mind as he began to tuck his member back into his pants. He stopped what he was doing, and lifted the edge of the cloak covering The Woman. She was lying with arms and legs akimbo where he had set her down. The outline of her body was tantalizing through the tight pink shirt she was wearing, and the curve of her flanks was clear under her running clothes.
He knelt and let one hand slide along her leg from ankle to hip. She was still unconscious and so unresponsive, but it mattered little to him. She would only scream and pull away if she had a choice, as those women The Master sometimes gave him did. This was better.
The lure of her scent nearly overwhelmed him then.
With one hand he rubbed her breasts, while with the other he clutched his penis; he was rock hard with need. But he knew he could not do more to her, or The Master would be angry. And an angry Master was one who would withhold The Reward. So he just let himself imagine doing all the things he wanted to as he stroked himself to completion.
Long after he had put his flaccid penis back into his pants, he let his hands roam over her inert body while he snuffled her hungrily, inhaling the smell of her sweat, and the remnants of soap and perfume that hid beneath it. He kept telling himself he was not Harming. She wasn’t conscious. He wasn’t sticking anything into her. So…fair game.
He hardened again as he was touching her, but as he began to curl his hands around her hips, he finally remembered that The Master was waiting. He had taken far too long already with this rest period, and now he had to hurry the remainder of the way or risk questions he did not want to answer.
Frustrated, he draped her once more with the cloak and lifted her to his shoulder. He continued on his way, one hand on her bottom, burrowing his face against her and breathing in her scent while he rubbed himself to another almost-satisfying completion.
Hours later, The Woman finally awakened. He slipped the cloak off her and put her on her feet. Disoriented and stumbling, she was unable to resist as he tugged her the last few yards to their destination. They emerged from a narrow tunnel into the entrance to a large, multi-level cavern – The Master’s lair.
Erlik never liked this place – too many candles illuminated the vast expanse. He preferred the semi-darkness filled with a smoky red haze that permeated the rest of The Master’s domain. The vaporous shadows were comforting to him in ways the light no longer was.
The Master was there, waiting. Tall, imposing in his black clothing, his golden mask glittering in the candlelight, he seemed out of place amidst the ragged populace of his kingdom.
This was the most dangerous moment for him. Erlik pulled The Woman further into the cavern, careful not to hold her too possessively, or stare at her, or do anything else to incur The Master’s rage. But The Master only gave him an indulgent look. Erlik understood that The Master knew what he had done but was satisfied he had not gone too far.
Erlik relaxed. He still deserved The Reward.
This was The Master’s time with The Woman. Erlik was overdue for a meal, for water, and for rest. He bowed to The Master and left the chamber. But before he had taken more than a few steps, he was already recalling those intimate touches he had stolen when he was alone with The Woman, and how she had tasted when he had licked her neck…
When his penis hardened in response, he looked to quench that appetite before any others. There were women enough down here that The Master cared nothing about. He smiled. One of them was about to be Harmed.
Erlik returned in an hour to find The Woman alone at a table. He wondered that she hadn’t tried to escape…although how could she find her way back through the maze of tunnels he had used to bring her here? She was just a pawn in The Master’s game, meant to draw The Enemy. Erlik smiled to himself, knowing he was going to be playing in that game soon.
As he gathered wood before a recess in the cavern, The Master emerged from his private quarters and offered The Woman a bowl of water. Erlik had not thought to provide The Woman with food or drink during their trek, and The Master’s stern glare let him know that had been a mistake. Guiltily, he realized that the food and drink he had been provided when he left in the morning had been for her, not himself.
He paid no attention to the conversation between The Master and The Woman, knowing the former would lie for his own reasons and the latter would be defiant, thinking her life was still her own. He tensed, however, when The Master’s black-gloved hand came to rest upon her neck. For a moment, his hackles rose, thinking The Master had him bring The Woman down for his own pleasure while denying Erlik any. But once the name “Vincent” was mentioned, Erlik relaxed. Yes. The Enemy: Vincent. The one she was here to lure.
The Woman stupidly told The Master that she was not afraid. Oh, what a foolish thing to say to a man such as he. The Master had so many ways to draw fear…and pain…and agony from others. His temptation would be great to prove her wrong.
When The Master ordered him to ensure that The Enemy arrived alone, it pleased Erlik. If others traveled with The Enemy, he need not constrain himself with them. For now he knew that The Enemy was the only other to be Unharmed.
Finding The Enemy was child’s play.
Erlik took great pleasure in rising from the mists of a hidden cavern, heavy staff in hand, knowing how surprised they would be. He smiled as brutishly as possible, hoping to inspire terror, and savored the sudden fear that turned their sweat sour. How he enjoyed wreaking havoc on all who ventured so close to The Master’s lair.
When The Enemy approached, Erlik happily engaged with him. Even though The Enemy had to be kept alive, Unharmed became a flexible concept, for when the bloodlust came upon Erlik, he could not always control his actions. Besides, The Enemy was nearly his match; the others were hardly worth his effort. Still, he exulted in his first quick kill, and nearly had struck another man down when, out of the blue, the first crossbow bolt pierced his shoulder from behind.
He turned, amazed, to find it was a previously unseen woman who had shot him. She reloaded, and before he could shake off the shock of injury, another bolt pierced a shoulder. One wound was nothing to him, but it was harder to discount two.
He had lost his advantage. Retreat was the only option. He escaped into the mists from which he had so lately arisen, grimly satisfied that he had caused more harm to them than they to him.
His report to The Master made the man smile. Erlik was pleased himself, for he knew The Reward was now within even closer reach. Anticipation helped to ease the pain of his wounds. He had incurred worse and survived.
The Master bound his injuries himself – a rare honor – gave him a foul-tasting medicine, and instructed him to return to his cot for rest. The fever had come upon him then…and the scattered dreams… and the memories…
Sighing, Erlik opens his eyes, fully aware again, his dizziness finally gone. He shifts to a less uncomfortable position, and finds food waiting on a stool beside his cot. The aroma fills his nostrils and his stomach growls; how long has it been since his breakfast? Greedily, he devours the whole roasted chicken – quite a bounty. The Master wants him full and happy.
He wants him ready for what is to come.
Lulled by a full stomach, Erlik slumbers again, but this time it’s a deep, dreamless sleep. And hours later, when he awakens, he finds that his bandages have been changed, allowing him a full range of motion. Perhaps now that he feels so much better, he should get back to his beautiful fires; they are in desperate need of him.
A message alters his course: Come to The Master now.
Erlik rises and tests his shoulder. It is much improved. One reason The Master employs him is that he heals quickly, and so he has again. He feels his chest. It is sore, but in twisting his body this way and that, he can find little loss of mobility. He smiles and nods.
If The Master is calling him, today must be the day. The Reward is nearly his.
In the great cavern, The Woman is shackled to the bedrock. He suffers a pang that he will not be able to enjoy her fully, but The Master has insisted that she must die. He will have to take what pleasure he can from watching the fire engulf her. And how sweet her burning flesh will smell!
Great bundles of kindling are ready for him. Erlik carefully places them around The Woman’s feet. He finds it strange that he cannot smell the stink of fear coming from her. How could she meet her fiery death so calmly? For she will die soon, he has no doubt. It is The Master’s desire, thus it will be so.
She still tries to reason with The Master, which may please her in the moment, but she has to know it will not end well for her. Erlik pays no attention to the wordplay, knowing it is only the mouse trying to tame the cat. The mouse has no chance once the cat decides the game is over.
When The Master motions toward him, Erlik takes his prescribed place in front of The Woman, a flaming torch ready in his hand.
The Enemy enters, standing on a ledge above the arena.
It has all led to this.
The Master has been clever. He has placed The Woman so that The Enemy cannot spot her, in an alcove which can only be seen once the arena itself is entered. Yet strangely, she does not call to the one who came here to try to save her. Why, he wonders. Yet, this is all happening as The Master foretold, so Erlik is confident, relaxed…ready. Let The Master toy with The Enemy for a while, Erlik will wait patiently, imagining what is soon to come: the smell of burning flesh and the feel of The Enemy’s bones crushing between his hands. He can almost taste the blood.
It will be soon now. Very soon.
At last! The Enemy bounds to the floor of the arena, Erlik’s cue to light the faggots that will destroy the perfect pink flesh of The Woman. The fire catches, and it excites him. He can feel himself grow hard as he imagines the coming conflagration.
Most importantly, the fire signals that the battle has finally commenced. The Reward will soon be his!
No longer constrained, Erlik launches himself into battle, the thin veneer of his humanity gone in an instant. He lets his basest animal instincts loose, gripping The Enemy cruelly and tossing him across the arena like a doll. Erlik glories in the combat. And when The Enemy engages with his own violent response, Erlik relishes the moment, savoring the opportunity to fight an opponent worthy of his own skills.
The battle is fierce, just as The Master went to great lengths to arrange. Strategy is impossible, only brute force will win the day. With the fire licking ever more greedily at the kindling surrounding The Woman, The Enemy’s desperation becomes fierce. He has little time to overcome his opponent, and his desperation intensifies his attack. He draws blood, slashing Erlik across the shoulders. It stuns Erlik just enough to give The Enemy a slight advantage…which he is lightning quick to take.
The aroma of burning wood has not yet given way to the scent of roasting flesh, but Erlik anticipates it, knowing it will drive his opponent wild and return the advantage to himself. But he is impatient, rushing at The Enemy, grasping him in a bear hug to try to immobilize those dangerous claws and crush the life from the larger man.
It’s not enough. From some hidden reservoir, The Enemy summons even more strength. He breaks Erlik’s hold on him. Erlik feels the razor edges of those sharp claws slash across his throat. The shock momentarily keeps him standing, even as his lifeblood begins to pour from between his fingers… even as The Reward recedes into oblivion.
He loses the battle to keep his throat from opening wide. His strength leaves him and he falls to the ground, his life force seeping into the sand. What had concerned him utterly just moments ago – safeguarding The Master, thwarting The Woman’s rescue – no longer matters to him. In the last moments of his life, Erlik’s gaze turns inward.
Then the strangest thing happens. The cloudiness of his recall suddenly recedes. Memories long lost come flooding into his mind. About a bus ride to the park… the last time he was with his son. He can still see the red ball…and his boy’s tousled blond hair shining in the sunlight.
That morning the doctor had used the word autistic. But Martin Erlichman had not cared what it signified. In fact, he had refused to accept such a limiting diagnosis. For his beloved son was clever in so many ways, always creating amazing things from bits of broken machinery in his father’s workshop. The boy was like a little mouse, constantly underfoot, forever snatching tools and smiling in delight at his father’s reactions. So what if he was non-verbal at six years old? He was so, so smart.
But when Martin woke up in the hospital, he was no longer the man he had been. He only uttered “erlik” once or twice, his mind no longer functioning as it should. Doctors confused him with questions, and murmured about him when they thought he couldn’t hear – something about an institution. That word put such fear into him that he fled the hospital, only to hide within the alleys and basements of the city. Though his memories were blasted and his mind fractured, his body was as sturdy and resilient as ever. What kept him alive was brute strength, animal cunning, and little else. But one thing stuck: he longed to be reunited with his son. He just had no idea how to locate him.
That was the way The Master found him – wandering the city, snatching food, living rough, unable to communicate, more like his son than ever. The Master took him in, gave him purpose. And somehow, he figured out who Erlik was and what he had been searching for.
After the accident, Martin had been unconscious for days, and at no point after he had awakened had he been asked about a child. Certainly his son couldn’t have told anyone who he was or where he lived. With no identification and no one to come forward to claim him, the boy was truly lost to Martin. Years had passed, yet The Master was always confident, or so he told Erlik. And if finding the boy was a goal always just out of reach, the promise of it had kept Erlik in The Master’s thrall year after year after year.
Then, out of the blue, The Master had found him!
That was to be The Reward.
And now…he will never meet the man his boy has become.
On that regret, Martin Erlichman’s eyes close one final time.
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