Javi opens his eyes when he hears the carriage stop in the back of the house. He creeps to the window and looks out. Raúl gets off the carriage and heads right to the house, walking so energetically that his limp is almost imperceptible. Pedro unharnesses the horses and leads them to the stable, while Esteban runs after Raúl. Javi notices that Flori is leaning over the wall of the stable, talking to Pedro and laughing about something.
It takes barely half an hour before the key sounds in the lock. Raúl walks in, but unlike other times, he barely looks at Javi. He walks over to the wardrobe in the corner and unlocks it. Then he returns back to Javi and shows him a leather flogger.
Javi shivers. Raúl has never used it on him, but he’s talked about it many times. Javi tries to remember what he did wrong to deserve it, but with Raúl, he can as well be innocent. Raúl doesn’t need justification for his actions.
“Kiss it,” Raúl orders.
Javi doesn’t know what it is that makes him lift his eyes to meet Raúl’s, even though his reason is screaming at him not to. It’s probably the very last remnant of his pride that makes him speak in a voice that doesn’t shake. “I’d only kiss a cross.”
Raúl’s face turns red. He stands still for a moment, stunned. Then he raises the hand with the flogger and brings it down blindly. That’s it, runs through Javi’s mind as he curls up, protecting at least his face with his hands. He only wonders how long it will take before Raúl kills him like this. He prays for it to be quick.
The door opens suddenly, so fast that it hits the wall.
“Sir,” Flori’s voice says, loud and steady.
“What?” Raúl barks.
“Your husband’s lawyer is here, asking to see you.”
His voice doesn’t waver even when Javi curls up on the floor, whimpering quietly.
“Is he inside the house?” Raúl asks, a tiny bit of worry worming its way in his voice.
“Not yet, sir, Pedro is keeping him outside. But he can’t do that forever.”
“Of course,” Raúl mumbles, drops the cat on the floor and wipes his forehead. Then he looks at Flori. “Stay here with him. Make sure he keeps quiet. He’s not nearly as tamed as we had thought him to be.”
Raúl finds Simeone in the salon where Santi is serving him tea. Simeone shakes his hand and then they sit facing each other. Raúl waits for the other man to start talking.
“I talked to your lawyer,” Simeone says.
“Yes? Then why are you here?” Raúl drawls, reaching for his cup.
“I wanted to make sure that this was the way you wanted,” Simeone says calmly. “Haven’t you changed your opinion?”
Raúl raises his brows. “My opinion? No. I won’t let you threaten me. I have nothing to hide, and if my husband thinks otherwise, he’ll have to prove it to me.”
“So you want war, Mr. González,” Simeone says. “You’ll have it.”
“I can’t wait,” Raúl smiles.
Flori drags Javi to the bed and takes a closer look at him. There is a red line on Javi’s cheek, dangerously close to the eye, but his forearms took most of the lashes. He’s shaking deliriously. Flori walks over to the basin with water that is standing in the corner of the room and takes the washing cloth. When he places it on Javi’s forehead and lowers him down, Javi whimpers and grips Flori’s hand.
“Hush,” Flori whispers. “If someone hears us, Mr. González will punish us both.”
“Why are you doing this?” Javi whispers. “You’re not a bad person. You don’t have the eyes of a bad person.”
“I have no choice,” Flori says. “I lost all my money, and I even owe Mr. González’ bank. I’d go to prison. He offered me a deal.”
Javi says nothing, he just snuggles up to Flori, closing his eyes.
“The peony,” he whispers. “Bring me another one?”
“They’ve finished flowering,” Flori replies bluntly.
“Another flower then? Anything.”
Flori doesn’t answer, he just untangles his body from Javi’s and walks to the window. “He’s leaving,” he says, watching Simeone’s carriage disappear behind the curve. “I better go.”
Then he walks out of the room, locking the door behind him.
Raúl walks in his office and lights the lamp on his table. The bank is already closed and the building is quiet. Only Álvaro is still writing something at his table.
Raúl walks to the door and locks it. Álvaro looks at him and Raúl would swear that for a second, something akin to fear flashed in his eyes. Their earlier encounter is most likely not forgotten yet. Raúl walks up to him. “I’ll need you to rewrite something,” he says.
He puts a stack of accounting books in front of Álvaro, and then another stack of papers.
Álvaro flips through them and then looks at Raúl with horror. “But these are...”
“Don’t ask what these are. Rewrite them.”
“But that is a fraud!”
“Only if you call it that,” Raul smiles. “Dear, if you want to succeed in this job, you can’t always play by the rules. And if you want to keep the job, you mustn’t question your boss’ orders. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Álvaro mumbles and dips the pen in ink.
“Good boy,” Raúl smiles and pats him on the back. He leaves a thick envelope on the table. “That is for working overtime,” he says. “And everything that goes with it.”
Fernando walks in Simeone‘s office and sits down. From the look on his lawyer‘s face, he can already tell what situation they are in.
“He didn’t agree to it,” he states bluntly.
“No. His lawyer told me he wouldn’t sign it. I went to González’ house then, but he insisted. He wants to take it to court.”
“Then are we going to do what we’ve agreed to?” Fernando asks.
“Yes,” Simeone nods. “Mr. González will be in for an unpleasant surprise tomorrow.”