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Disclaimer: Grim Fandango belongs to LucasArts. I'm not making money with this story and I'm not associated with the company in any way.
MARRY ME, OLIVIA
"Nick, you must be aware that Olivia and I have been dating for a while now, right?"
Nick lifted his eye sockets from his glass, careful not to look surprised, and shot a glance at his employer. It wasn't like Maximino to start on personal topics when the night was still this young.
"Of course. Who hasn't?" he asked. Maximino laughed shortly.
"Yes, you're right," he admitted. He drew a small, red box from his pocket and placed it on the table. His lawyer didn't even have to take a guess at what was inside.
Nick realised he needed another drink and fast.
"You're going to propose to her?" he growled and sounded rude even in his own ear holes. Fortunately Maximino didn't seem to notice. Nick suspected the crime lord thought his lawyer to be lonely. That would have explained why Nick got so grumpy the minute they started talking about Olivia. Oh, if Maximino only knew...
Maximino nodded. "This is a little early, but I love her. I've never loved anyone else like that and I want to give her everything I can," he said. He opened the box that stood on the table and revealed the ring inside.
Even Nick had to admit that it was impressing. It was pure gold and small diamonds had been mounted side by side on it. They sparkled like small stars when light caught them. The ring wasn't really Olivia's style, but it was clearly expensive, so she'd like it.
"She'd be a fool to say no to that," he said. Maximino looked pleased.
"I don't dare to tell even you how much it cost. But it doesn't matter; my love deserves only the best," he said.
Nick placed his empty glass on the table, drew a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. After getting a little smoke inside him he started to feel a bit better.
"So, when are you going to kneel in front of her and pop the big question?" he inquired.
"I've thought about it and came to the conclusion that that would be too ordinary for her. Olivia deserves something bigger and better. You do remember that there will be another race the day after tomorrow?" Maximino said.
Nick nodded in silence. He already knew what his employer was thinking. "Tomorrow is also the maiden voyage of Olivia I," he said, referring to the zeppelin that Maximino had built to honour his love.
"Exactly!" Maximino said. "This is meant to be a secret, but you've been my friend for so long that I can let you in." He took a short pause during which Nick nodded again. "I can see it already. When the winning cat crosses the line Olivia I glides into the scene and my proposal appears on her side. Olivia will never forget it!"
"I can't disagree with you on that," Nick said.
After delivering the happy news Maximino stood up and returned to his office. He looked like the happiest man in the world. It was quite an achievement in the Land of the Dead and especially in Rubacava. Perhaps that was why Nick was wearing a completely different expression.
He stumped his cigarette with much more force than was necessary.
Nick was sure that Olivia wouldn't be happy to hear about Maximino's latest plan. The woman was the crime lord's girlfriend and true love, but all feelings were completely one-sided in that relationship. On top of that Olivia hated commitment. No matter how rich Maximino was, she wouldn't want to marry him.
I'd love to see how she'll slither out of this one, he thought to himself. Olivia wanted to be with Maximino because the man was the wealthiest man around and ready to buy everything his love desired. If she refused his proposal, she'd not only insult him but also shut off the flow of money.
He'd be sorry if that happened. Olivia would have to leave elsewhere to find another rich man and that would be the end of their small affair. Some other man might have wanted to see an end to Maximino and Olivia's story, but Nick wasn't a fool. He knew quite well what Olivia cared about and it wasn't him.
"You're awfully quiet tonight," the woman remarked from his side.
"I have a lot to think about," Nick replied and Olivia chuckled softly.
"Don't joke with me. You're a terrible liar. Something's up." It was neither a question nor a statement, but a simple order. Nick glared at Olivia in the darkness and was angry at himself for not having learnt how to say 'no' to her.
"Maximino is going to propose to you tomorrow," he said and waited for Olivia's reaction.
To his confusion she only shrugged. "I'm surprised he hasn't done so already," she said.
"Aren't you at least a little shocked? How are you going to refuse without hurting him?" the lawyer wanted to know.
"Why should I refuse? Maximino is the best what this world has to offer when it comes down to money and influence," Olivia said.
Nick almost flinched and withdrew his arm around her. "You aren't going to do it, are you?" he asked. Olivia Ofrenda? Married? No, it couldn't be and not only because he couldn't bring himself to imagine her as a bride.
"You never know."
"You're toying with me. You know I hate it," Nick growled.
Olivia snorted in amusement. "I can always tell him I need more time. He'll understand," she said.
"I doubt it. He's head over heels with you and you've been seeing each other in secret for a while now. And even if he did believe you, he'd ask the question again later. You can't run away forever," Nick stated.
Olivia shot an expressionless glare at him. "Then what do you want me to do? Refuse and leave him? You know I wouldn't do that," she said and Nick couldn't deny it. Only a richer and more powerful man than Maximino could make Olivia change her direction.
"He's going to do it in the race and write the proposal on the side of Olivia I," he said.
"How romantic," Olivia sighed.
"I thought you hated romance," Nick pointed out.
"I do, but Maximino doesn't know that."
A silence took over the room. Everything was covered in darkness and Nick could barely see the door and the edges of the few pieces of furniture. It was strange, but every time he lay in that room he eyed the ceiling. It was a habit that had grown onto him ever since he had visited Olivia the first time.
"It's always possible that something happens and foils his plans," Olivia said then.
"Like what?" Nick asked.
"How should I know?"
From her tone Nick knew that she wanted him to leave. The softness was gone and Olivia was her own icy self again. The woman rarely showed her true colours and Nick suspected he was one of the few lucky -- or unlucky -- ones who had ever seen her without a mask. Most of the people in Rubacava had no idea what kind of monster they were really dealing with.
He sat up and moved the blanket away. The air in the room was cold and as a man who liked luxury Nick would have preferred returning to the warmth. Doing that would have only made Olivia snap at him, so he settled with picking up his clothes and putting them on. They were warm too, but he was sure it would have been even more comfortable in the bed with Olivia.
Nick didn't say anything as he left. They usually exchanged a few words before he departed -- sometimes they were even gentle -- but he sensed that Olivia was in a bad mood because of his news. He was too, though he had harder time understanding why.
What did it really matter if Olivia married Maximino? It shouldn't change their relationship in any way. Respecting other people's marriages had never been close to Nick's heart. And he didn't think Olivia would take kindly to having to take the role of a nice, little wife either.
So many things would change, he thought as he walked out of Blue Casket and entered the cool night of Rubacava. Maximino would want Olivia to move in with him and they'd have to find someone else to run the beatnik club. That would make it so much harder for him to sneak to meet the woman.
There was a sharp noise, but Nick didn't let it bother him. Rubacava was never a silent town, especially at night. To a stranger it might sound like everything was always dead, but if one had lived in the town for years -- like Nick had -- one had learnt to listen to the sounds of the local night.
His apartment was dark and cold as he stepped inside. Everything smelled of tobacco -- he never bothered to open the window when he smoked -- and the floor was covered in clothes, old cigarettes, newspapers and work files. It was needless to say that he never found anything.
I'll have to ask the cleaner to stop by again, he thought as he kicked some of the papers under his bed. After finding a relatively clean glass he poured himself a drink and collapsed into the bed. At least he had made it in the morning, so it wasn't in the worst possible shape.
It was well past midnight. Tomorrow Olivia would have to answer to Maximino's proposal. Whatever she said, it would change Nick's afterlife. If she said yes, he'd have to say goodbye to their playful affair. If she said no, he'd have to concentrate on being a compassionate friend for Maximino.
He didn't wish ill for the man, he had to admit that. Maximino had been a fair employer, nice company and perhaps even something resembling a friend for years. Nick just wasn't the kind of man who thought about others before his own sake. But no matter how much he disliked the idea, he'd have to attend the wedding if Maximino and Olivia got married. He'd most likely be the bestman too.
He decided to start sleeping before his thoughts made him too angry.
"Good morning!" Lola waved happily at the short man who had appeared on top of the stairs.
"Morning," Manny replied. He took the stairs down to the bar where Lola and Glottis already were. The demon was currently trying his new song and had asked Lola to give honest feedback.
"So, what have you planned for the day?" Lola asked, not paying attention to Manny's neutral tone. She was already used to the man treating pretty much everyone in that world weary way. It was almost like he would have liked to see the world go around without having to take part in it. Without feeling a thing.
That didn't hurt her anymore.
Manny shrugged and didn't take a seat. Lola could sense a faint scent of tobacco on him. "I thought I and Glottis could take a round in the Petrified Forest," he said.
"Again?" Lola asked softly. She thought it was sad that week after week Manny kept an eye on arriving souls and spent all his free time searching for a woman he hadn't seen in almost a year. Even sadder was that she didn't think he even loved her.
A man who does something because he feels it's his responsibility, she thought. Not that Manny was a bad person, but...
"Did you have other plans?" Manny asked and took a look at the camera Lola had brought with her. It was her greatest pride and she was rarely seen without it. Lola was very aware of the fact that to the majority of the souls in Rubacava she was merely "the photo girl".
"Well, I thought I could have taken a few pictures of you and the cafe for some new postcards. But I can do that later if you're busy," she said.
"Perhaps that would be for the best. This place doesn't look very good this early in the morning. Not that anything in Rubacava does," the man said.
"High Roller's Lounge is always fabulous. I might go there today. I haven't taken any pictures there after they finished the repairs," Lola said. She tried to act like she hadn't seen the look Manny gave her.
"Yes, I heard Maximino put a lot of money on that," he said, emphasizing the man's name. He was silent for a moment, as if considering his next words. "Don't stay too long. And don't accept any drinks. I hear good ol' Max puts something into his drinks to make them addictive. Why else do you think he has more customers than we do?"
Lola laughed, though she knew there was a warning behind the words. Manny was one of the few who knew of her feelings for Maximino. He was also one of those who thought she didn't stand a chance.
"Maximino can be a gentleman, but in the end he's not the kind of man you want," her friend always told her. Yet they both knew that Lola would never listen.
She picked up her camera and took the stairs up. Just like everything in Rubacava, the cafe was silent in the morning. It didn't stop Lola from heading to the High Roller's Lounge because this time she only wanted to take pictures of the interior. The real atmosphere could be captured at night.
It was a morning so Nick hadn't started with alcohol yet. However, he was in such a frustrated mood that he would have gladly changed his soda for something stronger. Doing that would have only aroused Maximino's interest though, and the lawyer didn't feel like explaining anything at the time.
He had quite enough work on his hands anyway.
High Roller's Lounge wasn't open in the morning, but it had never stopped him from working there. It was more comfortable than his office and this early there was hardly anyone to bother him.
"Could you move elsewhere for just a little while? I'd like to take a picture of that huge statue, but you're right in the way," a young, pleasant voice asked and Nick lifted his gaze from his papers.
Lola. He didn't know her very well and was only aware of that she earned her living -- if you could say that -- by taking pictures around Rubacava. That was all he wanted to know.
"I'm trying to work here," he growled.
"Me too," Lola said, not sounding hurt at all. She was holding her camera in both hands with the most horrid hat Nick had ever seen on her head. He felt like laughing out loud. Instead he only snorted and concentrated on reading a file Maximino was due to sign in the afternoon.
"You know, it can't be that hard to stand up for a few minutes," she suggested.
"I won't because I don't have to," Nick said. This time he didn't even bother looking at the woman.
"Your work can't be so important that you couldn't take a break," Lola snapped, now starting to sound irritated. Nick couldn't stand nagging women.
“Says someone whose job only consists of pressing a button,” the lawyer said. He heard how Lola snorted and he hoped she’d give up and leave him alone. He’d have to have this work done during the morning and he was never efficient when he was angry.
From the corner of his eye socket he saw how Lola went to take a picture of something else. Nick hoped she wouldn't come back again. It was almost silent for a while, only faint noise from the kitchen interfered with his concentration.
Then he noticed that he wasn't alone. The lawyer lifted his gaze, ready to tell Lola to leave him alone, but he found himself staring at Maximino. Nick didn't like the way the crime lord was able to sneak up to people like that.
"These will be finished soon," he assured. Maximino nodded.
"I only came to check. You know how important this contract is for me," he said, but Nick knew it wasn't what Maximino wanted to talk about. He followed his employer's glance and saw Lola who was currently taking a picture of a cosy corner table.
"I saw you talking to that girl," Maximino said.
"Unfortunately," Nick remarked. He didn't feel the need to pretend he liked Lola. Maximino wouldn't mind.
"Lola is a nice girl. I've been watching her and she's always so friendly and happy. You should ask her out for a drink sometime," Maximino continued. "I think she'd do you good."
Nick froze when he realised what Maximino was getting at. He suppressed an angry snap that almost escaped his teeth.
"I don't think I'm her type," he said. I can bet she's looking for a knight in shining armour.
Maximino looked thoughtful and kept looking at Lola. Nick noticed that the woman had realised she was being watched and tried desperately to look like she was only concentrating on her work. Yet she wasn't able to stop herself from stealing a glance at their direction every now and then.
"Don't be so quick to judge. You never know what people are like before you really get to know them," Maximino said. Nick agreed in silence, but still didn't think for a moment that either he or Lola would be interested in Maximino's suggestion.
"I'm sure we know enough of each other already," he said and hoped Maximino would let the subject die. Perhaps he'd have to find an official girlfriend to have an end to these uncomfortable conversations.
"Sometimes you make me depressed, Nick. Do I give you too much work?" Nick knew now that Maximino was no longer serious, even though the man's tone hadn't changed at all.
The lawyer snorted. "A raise would make me feel better," he said dryly.
"Now, now. I don't care about you that much."
They talked about things for a while and then Maximino said he'd pay Olivia a visit. Nick was just about to concentrate on his work again, but right then he happened to take a glance at Lola.
The woman had stopped taking pictures and was staring at Maximino's back. Her bony fingers held the camera tightly and she wore a dreamy expression on her face.
Well, well, Nick thought to himself in slight surprise. Looks like she doesn't come here for the pictures! He felt quite smug for the secret he had revealed and chuckled to himself.
So there was another soul who wouldn't be happy to see Maximino and Olivia wed.
Suddenly he got an idea. It was very stupid, but at that moment it didn't bother him. He was too busy and in a moment he waved at Lola to come to him.
"What do you want?" she asked in suspicion.
"I saw the way you were looking at Maximino," Nick said managing to make his voice sound almost friendly. Lola froze at once and a careful expression appeared on her face.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Don't try to play with me. I'm not blind. You care about him," Nick said impatiently. How simple the world would be if women at least once said the truth.
Lola shifted her weight from one leg to other and if she had had skin, she would have been glowing red.
"Well, he's a nice man. It would be rude not to respond to his kindness," she said and fiddled with the camera. Nick thought she only managed to look stupid.
"Let me try that again. You love him," he said and leaned back in his chair. His stare didn't leave Lola for one minute and at first the woman tried to appear as cool as possible. Then she gave up and sighed in frustration.
"So what? That's not forbidden, is it?" she demanded.
"Aren't you bothered by that he loves someone else?" Lola didn't reply, so Nick continued, "As long as Olivia exists, Maximino won't even glance at you that way. His tender words, gazes and touches are for another woman. And she will reply in the same way, giving Maximino something no other man will receive from her. Feeling loved."
What he said stung surprisingly, so Nick shut up. Cursing his own weakness he saw that Lola had taken his words much worse.
"Why are you tormenting me? I know all that," Lola said managing to sound hurt, sad and angry at the same time.
"You must also know that Maximino is going to propose to her tomorrow? I wouldn't be surprised if they got married this week!" Nick said.
Lola drew a quick breath and collapsed on the nearest free chair. "No... You're kidding, right? This is a trick that you're trying to --" she started, but Nick interruped angrily.
"Don't be a fool! I don't give a damn about you, so why would I waste my time with petty jokes? What I say is true."
For a moment Lola pondered the lawyer's words and then a determined expression took over her features.
"Fine," she said. "If that makes Maximino happy. Perhaps it was stupid to think that... Maybe he and Olivia were made for each other."
Nick couldn't be sure, but he thought he could hear tears behind the words. He shrugged. "It doesn't have to be like that," he said.
Lola looked at him in surprise and suspicion. "What do you mean?" she asked.
Nick bent over the table to whisper something into her ear.
"We can't talk about it here. We'll meet here tonight and go somewhere else," he said.
The look on Lola's face was a mixture of confusion, shock and perhaps even hope. She nodded and Nick was happy with how easy she was to manipulate.
"Fine, but I'm not agreeing on anything else," she said.
Nick only nodded. She was so predictable.
Lola didn't know what to think. In a very short amount of time she had had to face too many shocks.
The greatest and hardest was of course the fact that Maximino was getting married. She had known about the man's dating for a while now, but had clung to the hope of that it would eventually end. Perhaps she was only deluding herself, but she thought that Maximino and Olivia weren't two of a kind.
"She is too malicious for him," she had always told herself. She hadn't said it to anyone else. They would have only laughed at her. The poor, naive girl. But not stupid.
On top of no longer having any chances with Maximino, Nick Virago had arranged a meeting with her. The lawyer had never before been very friendly with her and -- at best -- had treated her with icy politeness.
What did he want? And what did it have to do with Maximino and Olivia? Nick's last words gave Lola hope, but she didn't dare to let herself think too much of them. She'd only end up disappointed again.
She would meet Nick later in the evening when High Roller's Lounge was opened. She had an entire day to wait, so Lola decided to go and take pictures of the few places that looked nice in daylight. After all, she had work to do and couldn't let this mess take over her entire afterlife.
And yet she couldn't turn her thoughts away, not even when taking a nice picture of the Sea of Lament. The sun made the dark water glitter and dead seagulls flew around in the middle of their own high shrieks. Old junk floated in the water, but Lola didn't take pictures of it.
One snap later she had a picture of two sea birds that sat on the edge of the pier. One was pecking its wing and the other just stood there, as if guarding the first. The sight that one could have called beautiful didn't make Lola feel any better.
Maximino was going to propose to Olivia. It was the only thing in her mind.
Lola felt horrible. For weeks she had done everything in her power to catch even one glimpse of the man who had captured her heart. Every time he had graced her with a word she had felt like her afterlife was something more than just an empty shell. In her dreams and fantasies those rare words had meant something more for the both of them.
Perhaps I've been stupid, she thought to herself. She had seen that Olivia had Maximino completely wrapped around her finger. Soon the two would be together forever. A lonely drop of happiness in the middle of the endless existence.
One question bothered her. What was Nick Virago up to? If she had understood it right, he had some sort of plan to stop the proposal.
Even as the thought entered her mind, Lola felt stupid. Nick was Maximino's friend. Why would he want to crush his happiness?
And if he does, do I want to?
Bright lamps spread soft light around High Roller's Lounge. It covered everything in faint red and lit every corner so that there wasn't a single shadowy table. Maximino didn't like having suspicious characters at his place.
Nick kept an eye on his surroundings from the only place where he could stand almost unnoticed. Almost no light reached behind one of the cat statues and a weak shadow lingered there.
Lola had already arrived and was sitting at the table that Nick had had in the morning. The lawyer didn't make a move to get closer to her, but watched her in silence. He was waiting.
"What are you doing here alone?" Maximino's voice asked him. Just like Nick had hoped.
"Killing time," he replied. Lola hadn't noticed them.
"Well, you could use a more efficient way to do it. Have you got any sense into that Lorenzo case? What a mess. I'd like to hear the facts tomorrow," Maximino said.
Nick tilted his head barely enough for anyone to notice. "Actually I was thinking of taking this evening off," he said and nodded at Lola's direction.
Maximino looked happily surprised. "So you did ask her out? I'm glad, Nick. Is this the first time you accept my advice regarding women?" he asked.
"No, but neither of us wants to remember the previous cases," Nick replied. He had reached his goal and made Maximino believe that he and Lola had something going on. Now nobody would ask questions even if they were seen together. "Wish me luck," he said in a tone so strange to him.
He walked to Lola and the woman noticed him at once. She looked at him curiously and Nick stared back, hoping that she'd have the sense to keep her mouth shut. She didn't say anything, so apparently she was smarter than he had thought.
"I'm glad you came," he said and took himself a chair. His tone was soft -- he only spoke like that to Olivia and the fact that he was treating this... girl the same way as his lover infuriated him.
"I see," Lola said and didn't do a very good job on hiding her puzzlement.
"Do you want to have a drink?" Nick asked.
"No! Let's get into business!" Lola hissed and looked at him as if he had lost his mind. Nick wasn't sure it hadn't really happened. He snorted.
"I was hoping you'd say that," he said and they both stood up. Slowly, he walked to Lola and wrapped his arm around her waist and started leading her towards the elevator, quite aware that Maximino was looking at them.
Lola had frozen the second Nick had touched her and the lawyer had to give her points for not making a scene. She was confused, but knew that Nick wouldn't be acting like this without a very good reason.
When the doors closed behind them he let go and they dove to different sides of the elevator.
"What was that for?" Lola asked angrily and rubbed her waist, as if wanting to get rid of an invisible stain.
"Maximino was looking at us. That was the only way to get out without arousing suspicions," Nick growled.
"We could have met somewhere else. That little act served no purpose," Lola replied sharply.
"It assured him of that we're interested in each other. If we need an alibi for the night, we can say that we enjoyed a moment in some dark corner. Don't look so sick, I don't particularly enjoy the idea either," Nick said.
"Alibi for what? What are you planning to drag me into?" Lola whispered.
Nick stopped, made sure they were alone and then grabbed Lola's shoulders. She let out a surprised yelp.
"You love Maximino, don't you?" he asked and didn't wait for a reply. "You'd do anything to get him for yourself? Yes? In that case you're now going to listen to me. Make sure that you know that you're already with me, or against me. Do you want to hear more or do I have to shoot you right here?"
"You... you don't really mean that," Lola said.
"Can you trust that?" Nick asked. He was starting to get doubts about getting Lola involved. He could do this alone. The only reason he had wanted her to come along was that he'd need someone to blame in case something went wrong.
Lola pulled herself together and looked the lawyer into his eye sockets. "What do you want?" she asked defiantly.
"I find it in my interests that Maximino never manages to propose to Olivia and I'm sure it would please you as well. If we work together, we might be able to stop it," Nick explained. He already had a plan.
"What? But aren't you his friend? Why would you --" Lola started, but grew silent all of sudden. An enlightened expression appeared on her face and it annoyed Nick much more than he was ready to admit.
"It's not that," he muttered. "Maximino and Olivia can do anything they want as long as they don't get married. It would be bad for business. I'm sure you could understand that if you just put your mind into it."
Lola nodded. "She's not the right woman for him. But what can we do? Maximino will be mad if we mess up his love life," she said.
"I have a plan," Nick said and pushed his hands into his pockets. "Fortunately for us, Maximino has planned something special for tomorrow. It shouldn't be too difficult to spice things up a little."
And so he started explaining what he had in mind.
Lola didn't know what to think. She had got in the middle of a huge mess and she only wanted to get out of it. All her senses screamed at her that what she was about to do was wrong and that she would regret it forever.
And yet a silent, rebellious voice inside her told her to go on. "Think about yourself for a chance," it told her. "You'll never get anything if you're not ready to fight for it."
Well, I guess this isn't that bad. We're not going to kill anyone or something like that, she assured herself.
Nick's plan was very simple. In fact, she was sure that the lawyer could have pulled this off on his own. She was a little confused about the trust he showed her. She had always thought that Nick Virago was the kind of man who worked alone and left no witnesses.
Lola couldn't help thinking that he might have taken her with him just to blame everything on her later. It would be so much like him. After all, he was a lawyer and had turned escaping responsibility into an art.
It was a few hours past midnight. Cat Track had grown silent and the cats were asleep, dreaming of the big race the following day. High Roller's Lounge, on the other hand, was full of life and souls who either celebrated their winnings or tried to forget the money they had lost. Maximino was there too.
Thinking about the man made a wave of guilt go through Lola. Was it right to rob the man of his happiness? He loved Olivia and while Lola knew that she wasn't good for him, she felt bad. Did she have the right to mingle with others' decisions?
Nick thought she had. The lawyer had said that this was the best for everything. He had also made it clear that there was no going back. Lola didn't spend a single moment pondering whether he'd get rid of her if she ruined everything.
She wasn't nervous because of that. She had stopped fearing Nick a long time ago. Perhaps it was because she saw that he was just as pathetic as everyone else in Rubacava.
"I didn't know you had the keys in here," she said as Nick opened the door to a huge warehouse on the edges of the town.
The lawyer turned to her and gestured her to be silent. They had come to the simple conclusion that there had to be guards and that they'd have to get rid of them -- as peacefully and painlessly as possible. Lola had refused all other methods.
They stepped into the dim warehouse in silence. On the other side of the huge room was an oil lamp. Two souls played card in the faint light. The duo didn't notice Nick and Lola's arrival.
Even in the weak light Lola could see the zeppelin that towered in front of them, mighty and strong. She was Olivia I, the sign of Maximino's love for the beautiful poet. Lola felt a pang of jealousy inside her and turned her gaze away.
The two of them hid behind a few boxes and kept an eye on the guards. Lola's fingers trembled a little. This was the first time she was doing something like this. What if someone sees me? What will everyone think...
"I guess it's about time to get the lady ready to fly," the first guard said and threw his cards to the floor.
"You only say that because your hand sucks," the second one growled, but didn't start an argument. The two men stood up, stretched their bones and went to get their tools.
Lola flinched when Nick caught her arm.
"What?" she whispered.
"You'll take the short one," was the reply and Lola felt cold. She glanced at the guards. She couldn't see their faces, but it was always possible that they were someone she knew.
They weren't going to kill anyone because doing that would have made it obvious that something was going on. No, it would be better for their plans if nobody suspected a thing. But they'd have to do it before anyone switched on the lights.
Nick went around the pile of boxes, protected by shadows and followed the first man. Lola heard a faint thud when Nick smashed the man's skull and caught his limp form to stop him from falling.
"Fred?" the other man asked. There was no reply. "What are you doing? We're busy."
Lola was so close that she could have easily taken care of the man. Do it! Now, she told herself, but her hands refused to work. There was no way she could do it. Perhaps in another situation, but now she was the one who'd be doing wrong.
The man turned around. "Who are you?" he asked and clearly didn't see Lola well enough because of the lack of light.
Lola opened her mouth to reply and explain what a horrible mistake this all was, but right then there was a crack and the man fell to the floor. She yelped.
"What was that about?" Nick asked voice low with anger. "If I hadn't come you'd have ruined everything!"
"I can't do this, Nick. I just can't. This is wrong. If Maximino wants to marry Olivia, then it's not right to stop it like this. There must be another way. Something that doesn't make me look like a criminal in his eyes," Lola said. She couldn't believe it that for a moment she had been ready to go along with Nick's plan.
"What? You can't back away now! Help me with these," Nick said and started to drag the unconscious men back to the oil lamp. When they both lay in the light the lawyer pulled out a bottle of strong booze and sprinkled most of it on the men.
Lola didn't make a move to help him. She stood there, back straightened, chin up in the air and arms crossed on her chest. "You can do whatever you want, but I'm not going to get involved," she said.
"You were ready to follow me just a minute ago. There is no sense in backing away now," Nick said.
"I wasn't thinking clearly and didn't realise how serious this was. And what do you think you can do? I haven't done anything wrong. You took out both men," Lola said.
Nick snorted. "And who do you think will care? Or believe?" he asked.
"Maximino," Lola announced. Yes, that was what she'd have to do. She'd go straight to Maximino and tell him that his best friend was about to ruin his afterlife. Maximino and Olivia would get married after that, but at least Lola wouldn't have to feel horrible for her own actions.
"He'll have you sprouted when he hears my point of view," Nick chuckled.
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you get it? You can tell him anything you want, but he will still believe my story of how you seduced me into bringing you here, knocked me unconscious and tried to sabotage the zeppelin. It's Maximino's weakness. He refuses to believe anything bad about those he cares about," Nick explained and doubts grew in Lola's mind.
She felt her self-confidence crumble, but refused to give up. "Why did you drag me here? You don't need me," she said.
"You’re my alibi. If someone interrupts, I can tell them I'm here chasing you. If someone finds out about this, I can say you forced me into it. You can try to tell the truth to them. Just remember that I have money and power. Who would believe you?"
With a flinch Lola realised that Nick was right. Even if she did tell Maximino everything, it would only cause her trouble, and minor annoyance, at best, for Nick. In the entire Rubacava there were probably only three souls who'd believe her. Manny, Glottis and Toto. Her only friends.
"You snake!" she spat venomously. "Don't you care about Maximino? He thinks you're his friend and you betray him!" She felt herself shake with fury. How could Nick do that? For a short moment this evening she had thought that perhaps the lawyer wasn't that bad, but now she was sane again.
Nick was pathetic, corrupt and rotten to the core. An individual devoid of any hope of redemption. And Lola couldn't do a thing about that. She was trapped.
"Are you finished?" Nick asked sounding bored.
"Yes, and I've had enough! Goodbye!" Lola snapped. But before she had the time to take a single step, Nick had caught her arm.
"You're not going anywhere until I'm finished!" the man said. Lola tried to struggle, but stopped when Nick pulled out a gun.
"You won't use it. Someone will hear and then you're in trouble," she said.
"Can you count on that? I'm sure I could represent myself in the murder trial," Nick said. However, he let go. "Don't do anything stupid. I'll let you go if you wait here and say or do no more."
Lola nodded. She was afraid of saying something stupid if she opened her mouth. No words could have done justice to the hatred and despise she was feeling for Nick. And how she hated herself! If she hadn't been so naive and desperate, Nick would have never got her involved. Now she would have to go on knowing that she had been part of such an act as this.
She felt like kicking herself. In truth she would have liked nothing more than seeing Maximino and Olivia drift apart, but she wanted to do it her way. No tricking Maximino, no crimes. Just the plain truth, preferably so that Olivia looked as bad as possible.
Nick disappeared up to the zeppelin for a while. Lola had enough time to go through the man's plan in her mind. He had told her that he'd mess up the wires in the engine so that the proposal would never appear.
And I can't tell anyone about this, she thought with clenched fists. She wasn't afraid of what would happen to her, but the truth wouldn't have made a difference. Nick would be victorious in any case. No wonder he was a lawyer.
It took only a few minutes before Nick came back.
"Finished with your dirty job?" Lola asked sharply. When Nick didn't reply, she continued, "What do you think you'll achieve? Maximino can propose to Olivia anytime. You can't stop him simply by this!"
"Let's just see what happens," Nick replied.
"It still doesn't make sense," Lola insisted. "Maximino and Olivia will get married if they want to. You can't go between them!"
Perhaps she shouldn't have said that. The angry and dark expression that appeared on Nick's face startled her.
"And what do you know?" the lawyer asked.
"You have no chance. Even in the case Maximino never proposes to her. You know it just as well as I do. You're just wasting your time and making a fool of yourself. I'm sure Olivia is laughing at you every time you turn your back at her," Lola spat. She no longer cared that Nick carried a gun. She just wanted to hurt him as bad as possible.
Unfortunately her words didn't have the desired effect. Nick didn't flinch and his expression didn't change. He didn't even bother to comment on the subject.
"I need you alive, for the lack of a better word, but I'm keeping an eye on you. If you even think about telling this to someone, I won't hesitate to get rid of you. Keep that in mind," he said and gave her a long, hard stare. Then he turned and walked away.
Lola stood alone for a moment before leaving as well. What a night.
The voices of hundreds of souls were mixed with each other and in the noise it was impossible to hear what someone was saying only a few metres away. It was hot and there were hands, legs and heads everywhere. Nobody was being careful; everyone pushed each other, stood on their toes and tried to get closer. It was always like this in the big races.
Lola didn't usually care about the cats and their races, but this time she wouldn't have missed the event in any case. She had to see if Nick's plan would work.
From the middle of the crowd she could see neither the lawyer nor his victims. All three were sitting in a private box above the rest of them. Lola had no way of getting there, not even with her camera excuse.
I shouldn't be feeling this guilty, she thought. It felt horrible to act like everything was fine. But in the end she had done nothing. She had just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"-- and both of them were totally pissed," someone next to her said and drew her attention.
"Really? You sure?" a new voice asked.
"Yeah, I hear they were totally out of it and stank of booze worse than old Todd," the first voice replied. The souls listening chuckled.
"Pretty stupid of those guys," another voice remarked. "If I got to work for Maximino, I wouldn't screw up by drinking on duty."
"Yeah, but since when have those two done anything right? I bet they've already been fired."
So the men Nick had knocked out had lost their job because of their adventure. Lola wished she could have done something for the men. She almost considered bribing Nick to help them. The idiocy of the idea stopped her.
Loud noise from the race drew her attention back to the cats. Lola couldn't see them behind the masses of people, but she wasn't looking for them. She kept her eyes on the sky where the zeppelin would appear at any minute.
And soon it did, exactly at the same moment when someone shouted that Sanspoof was leading.
Lola felt like time had stopped. Clear letters on the side of the zeppelin read, "MARRY ME, OLIVIA?" A feeling of relief and disappointment came over her and she sighed. Then she realised that something was very wrong.
The zeppelin was coming down.
Nick felt like he was anticipating the arrival of the zeppelin even more than Maximino. His employer sat right in front of him, Olivia by his side, and was doing a good job at pretending that everything was as usual.
The lawyer had to admit that he was nervous. Despite the cocky way he had acted last night, he didn't dare to trust that his plan had worked. He knew nothing about machines and had trusted his sense and luck when snapping a few wires in the cockpit.
Next to them had been the control system of the glowing advertisements, so he thought that everything was fine.
"There she comes, my love," Maximino said, but Olivia didn't turn to look. She pretended to be amazed by the cats' run. Nick, on the other hand, couldn't have kept his eye sockets away.
He almost swore aloud. Maximino's proposal was mocking him on the zeppelin's side and made him want to hurt someone. He had failed! For the first time in years Nick Virago hadn't been successful!
She'll have to look at it soon. She can't avoid it forever, he thought as he glanced at Olivia who was still keeping her back turned to the zeppelin.
Frightened screams started down below where the common folk were. They caught everyone's attention above and only now Nick realised what was going on.
The graceful Olivia I couldn't stay in the air but was already coming down, straight at the Cat Track. He had barely had the time to register this when a horrible crash was heard, soon followed by an explosion. Blinding light forced him to turn his eye sockets away.
The next thing he knew was that he was lying on the floor, covered in dust and pieces of rubble. He sat up in daze and tried to understand what was going on around him. Nick couldn't feel a thing. His bones could have very well been broken and he wouldn't have noticed.
The big track below him was in chaos. The cats had panicked, thrown their riders off and were now running around. The other side of the track was completely destroyed and the sad remains of the zeppelin marked the area.
He really had cut the wrong wires.
"Maximino? Olivia?" he called out. At least their box hadn't suffered much damage.
Maximino stood up and helped Olivia sit. "Are you alright?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm fine," Olivia replied, though her voice shook just a little. Her beret had fallen off. She took a swift glance at Nick, but soon turned her attention back to Maximino.
Well, the proposal didn't work out this time, Nick thought. Olivia would probably use the trauma of the accident as an excuse for months and avoid the big question.
"What happened here?" Maximino asked in fury. He had got over his shock fast and was already looking around, as if expecting to see the culprit somewhere.
Nick realised that getting caught for this would be much worse than just ruining one proposal. He felt cold when he thought about what Lola knew and what she could do.
"I'll go and see if I can get any sense into this," he said and was gone before Maximino had the time to give him the permission.
The lawyer knew that Lola was somewhere close. She wouldn't have missed this event. Now he only had to find her fast and make sure that she knew she'd have to keep her mouth shut.
If I have any luck she didn't survive the crash, he thought and hoped that Lola had been somewhere close to where the zeppelin had crashed.
Panicked souls ran all around him and a chorus of frightened screams cut the air. He had to push and fight his way through and he was afraid of never finding Lola in the middle of it.
But Lady Luck wasn't about to leave him all alone that day. To his left, leaning on a wall with a face paler than usual, stood Lola. She had wrapped her arms around her thin frame and stared into nothingness. When she saw Nick she woke up with a flinch.
"You!" she exclaimed and started at him. "What have you done?"
"Be quiet!" Nick hissed and pulled her aside. He doubted anyone would notice them in the middle of the chaos.
"Let go! I'm going straight to Maximino and tell that this is all your fault! Oh, if I had done something at night, maybe --" Lola started almost hysterically, but Nick shook her silent.
"Shut up! You won't do anything of that kind! You'll never tell anyone what happened last night!" he said.
"You murderer!" Lola glared at him with pure hatred on her face. "If I had known you were planning something like that I would have never come with you."
Nick growled in frustration. "It was an accident. I didn't plan this."
Lola wrenched herself free from the man's hands and took a step away. "So what? Maximino still needs to know."
"Don't forget that he won't believe you. Nobody saw me, but Maximino knows we went out. If I said that you wanted to get back at me for not being interested in you, which do you think he'd believe?" Nick asked and followed the woman.
"Well, at least I would have tried," was Lola's reply.
"So you don't care about yourself. How noble," Nick snorted. "But what about your friends? I know you're in good terms with that Calavera. Believe me; I can shut down his cafe within an hour. And the others? I can easily find everyone who means something to you. And I can destroy each of them. Today. What do you say?"
He didn't have to hear her response. The shocked and angry expression on her face told everything. Nick didn't show his own feelings, but he was feeling peaceful inside. At least for the time being, everything was fine.
"Your journey ends one day too, Nick," Lola said, spitting out his name. "And when that day dawns, this will come back to haunt you!"
Lola marched away in anger and Nick dared to relax a little.
And yet... He already knew that Lola had to be planning something to get back at him. He would have to get rid of her sooner or later.
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