Slavery, 53

Actions Don’t Speak Louder than Words, but They Are Less Deceptive

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“Given the change in…circumstances,” Clement said to Theodore, “I am happy to sell the market to you.”

Theodore smiled. Daniel carefully didn’t. “I am most gratified to hear that,” Theodore said, tone smooth like oil. “In that case, all that remains is to discuss the details of the sale. Tell me, what do you feel is an adequate price?”

For the next two hours Daniel stood there and listened to them discuss prices, timelines, locations and employees. It wasn’t very interesting but he tried to follow it all, found it wasn’t as complicated as he’d assumed it would be. Finally, Theodore stood up. “Well, I think this has been very productive.”

“As do I,” Clement said, standing as well. He and Theodore shook hands. “I look forward to our next meeting.”

“Yes. I’ll draw up some documents and have them sent to you tomorrow. Do make that list of facilities for me.”

Clement nodded, and walked Theodore to the door, Daniel trailing behind them. “I shall. We will have to talk about the inevitability that when you change our operation, something will arise to replace it. There’s demand.”

“I’ll worry about that,” Theodore said with a smile. “But yes, I look forward to talking with you. Perhaps you have an idea of who might be interested in replacing your service.” The tone of his voice was dangerous. Daniel suspected Clement didn’t hear it.

“I’ve some ideas. I’ll draw up a list for our next meeting, shall I?” Now that Theodore was going to own his market, Clement was much friendlier.

“Do that.” At the door now, Theodore smiled. “A pleasure doing business with you.”

“And you as well, sir.”

Theodore nodded and left, Daniel following him. “Doubtless you’ve many questions,” Theodore said to Daniel.

“I don’t understand why you’re having more meetings,” Daniel started with. He did have many questions, but this was the easiest to ask. “You both already know what’s going to happen, so why…”

“Acquiring a business venture this large is a complex task,” Theodore explained. “It’s not simply a matter of installing myself in Clement’s office. Money changes hands between several people, and Clement must give notice to people that ownership will be changing, especially given the nature of the market. There will be changes in staff and facilities, but I have to decide what those are to be. And of course, I want to know who is likely to open a competing market to replace the dubious service that Clement will no longer be offering.”

Daniel nodded. That last part made sense, at least. “You don’t already have an idea?”

“I know who in the city has money and I’ve occasionally heard rumours about who likes children, yes.” Theodore smiled. “Just rumours, however. We don’t all get together and compare notes, you know.”

“Probably wise,” Daniel muttered.

“Yes, it would lend itself too easily to blackmail.”

“I was thinking it would make it easy to kill you all at once,” Daniel said, sighing. “He was much nicer to you this time.”

Unperturbed by Daniel’s comment, Theodore nodded. “Yes, that often happens when someone realizes that they’re about to be an employee instead of an equal.”

“An employee?” Daniel asked. “You’re going to let him keep running this place?”

“Why not? He knows it better than I do, and his staff will know him better than me. I’ll be making a great deal of changes. Best not to make unnecessary ones at the same time.”

That didn’t sit well with Daniel. He felt his stomach curling on itself. “He’s the reason all those changes are necessary.”

“Yes. He’s also the one with the knowledge and resources to make them most efficiently.”

“Getting rid of him would send a message that you don’t tolerate using children as…whatever he’s been using them for. Sex toys.”

“Changing the market’s operating strategy is also going to send that message.”

“Not strongly enough. That message will get buried under the idea that you’re only changing the market to make more money.”

“I am only changing the market to make more money, Daniel,” Theodore said.

“That’s not true. You told me you found this place distasteful. That’s why you wanted to buy it.”

“Yes, that’s why I wanted to buy it, but the reason why it did is because you gave me a way to make it profitable without the elements that I disliked,” Theodore said, smiling down at Daniel. “Don’t misunderstand, Daniel. I’m making a financial statement, not a moral one.”

Daniel looked at him, considering that as they walked. They stepped out into the courtyard, heading for their carriage. The driver was in sight. “Last time we were here someone tried to kill you.”

“Indeed,” Theodore said. “I must say I’m pleased at the improved atmosphere this time around. And of course I reiterate my thanks for saving me.”

Daniel nodded, waiting for Theodore to go inside and following him in. They started moving. “You called me Ian.”

Theodore flinched visibly, looking at Daniel slowly. “Excuse me?”

“That day. You hit your head and were confused. You called me Ian.”

“I…I see.” Theodore cleared his throat, looking away. “I don’t recall that.”

Daniel made a noise, looking out the carriage’s small window. “That was the name of your slave, wasn’t it? The first one.”

The cart moved north through the city for several minutes, a silence coming to the carriage that was unusual. It wasn’t like Theodore’s other silences. It was slow, deep, and sad. “Yes,” he finally said. “You resemble him somewhat. That is likely why I said his name. If I were delirious, I may have mistaken you.”

Daniel hadn’t realized that part, but he put it away for now. “You still have his collar,” he said quietly. “I saw it the night I left; you had it in your hand. That silver chain, that’s what it is, right?”

“You,” Theodore said. “Are far too observant, and far too clever.”

“You freed him, didn’t you?” Daniel asked. “And he left.”

“He did. You all do.” Theodore smiled. “No matter what I do, you all leave once I’m not forcing you to live with me.”

“Benedict didn’t.”

Theodore sighed. “Benedict felt bad for me. I was pathetic after Ian left.”

“He loves you,” Daniel said, just above a whisper.

But Theodore shook his head. “No.”

The strength of that denial was palpable. It wasn’t a correction of Daniel’s statement, it was a rejection of something Theodore didn’t want to be true. So Daniel changed the subject. “Do you love Ian?”

Theodore’s eyes seemed to flash. “I haven’t seen Ian in twenty years, Daniel.”

“That doesn’t matter. It’s also not the answer to the question I asked.”

“You,” said Theodore, “are being particularly demanding today.”

Daniel shrugged. “You’re answering my questions, aren’t you? I think you like it when I’m demanding sometimes. Not many people are with you.”

“No, they aren’t,” Theodore agreed in a sigh. He was silent again for a moment. They were nearing the house already. “You know me well enough to know that I don’t love adults, Daniel. Only children.”

Daniel was struck by that for several reasons, none of which he could answer aloud without thinking about them for a long time first. “You love us?” he asked, careful. “Your slaves, all of us?”

Theodore looked at Daniel for a moment. The carriage pull past the gates of the house. “Of course I do, Daniel.”

The carriage stopped, and the driver came around to open the door. Theodore got out, but Daniel didn’t, still trying to work his way through all of this. It was going to take a while. Theodore had surprised him in more ways than one. “Daniel?” Theodore asked.

“I’m coming, Master,” he said absently, getting up, looking at his feet as he went. “It can be both.”

“What can?”

“It can be a financial statement and a moral one at the same time. And you’re too smart not to know that.”

Theodore smiled at him. “As are you. Not everything needs to be said aloud for it to be true.”

“Some things are important enough that they should be said aloud.”

“I prefer to speak with actions,” Theodore said. “Come, let’s celebrate our victory today, Daniel.”

Daniel followed him inside, suddenly very confused.

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