He was in the study, which was now free of dairy products and decapitated corpses. It was exactly as it had been when he first entered it—the bookshelves, the desk, the globe, the reading chair—only this time Gary’s stepfather was absent. Victor sat behind the desk, staring at it in silence. After five minutes there was a knock at the door. Victor sat upright. “Who’s there?” he said, lacing his voice with aggression. The doorknob turned and clicked; the door opened slowly. Victor stood up and scanned the desk in front of him: the papers were too light to cause damage, the typewriter too heavy to wield. He clenched his right fist at his side and watched the door.
An old man’s head poked inside. “It’s just me,” he said.
“Gary,” said Victor.
Gary entered. He had traded his retro, pale blue suit for a more tasteful black business suit, and was dragging the wolf knight’s scimitar behind him. “I forgot to give you your sword back,” he said.
Victor watched him shuffle across the room. “Thanks, Gary. You changed your clothes, I see.”
Gary heaved the sword up onto the desk. “Yeah.” He ran his fingers along the lapel of his jacket. “It’s the same suit as yours… You don’t mind, do you?”
Victor smiled. “Of course not.” He picked up the sword and turned its blade. “I’ve gotta say, I was mighty impressed how you handled this sword. Old Arthur didn’t see it coming.”
Gary nodded unconvincingly. He adjusted his cuffs.
“Are you okay?” asked Victor.
Gary looked around the study. “This was Arthur’s office,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed in here. One time I snuck in to look at the globe, and when Arthur found out, he got so mad…” Tears welled in his eyes. “The only time Arthur called me in here, it was to have one of his ‘serious talks.’”
“I think I just had one of those talks,” said Victor.
Gary nodded. “That was the same one. Arthur was… very strict.”
“Arthur was an a***hole, Gary.”
Gary sniffed and smiled. “Yeah.” He dragged his wrist beneath his nose, leaving a glistening streak of mucus on his sleeve.
“Now that you, you know, sliced him up—does that mean he’s gone?”
Gary shrugged. “His part of the curse is broken. He’s gone.” A tear dived from his cheek and he wiped his eye.
“That’s good, right?”
Gary stared at the floor for a moment. He looked up at Victor, and said with a trembling voice, “Why did Arthur say those things? Why did he say I was an embarrassment?” Victor shook his head in sympathy. Tears raced down Gary’s cheeks. “Why did he say I was an embarrassment?”
Victor moved around the desk and put his arm around Gary’s shoulder; Gary leaned his head against Victor and wept. Victor sighed. “Life is sh** sometimes, Gary… I don’t know why.”
The two remained there for some minutes, before Gary dried his eyes and stood up straight. Victor gave him a pat on the shoulder. Gary released a long, emotional breath, and, noticing his bottom jacket button was undone, buttoned it up. He wandered across the room, toward the globe, while Victor sat again at the desk. Victor watched as Gary spun the globe, randomly put his finger down to stop it, and then leaned in to see which country his finger had landed on. He did this half a dozen times and then moved across to inspect the painting on the wall. “Listen, Gary,” said Victor. “Since you’re here, would you mind helping me with something?”
“Okay,” said Gary.
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