All the King’s Queens – Chapter 2: Everything is in Order

The chirping of birds outside is not making it easier to sleep in. Even with newly installed windows that normally do a good job at blocking out exterior noise, the incessant chirping cannot be ignored. And it will not stop.

Dylan Tanaka has no choice but to wake up. Curses!

But all is not lost. Today, after all, is the Big Day. No, not his wedding day. Not the day he graduates from college (even though graduating as the class valedictorian at the Hamburg Institute of Futurist Technology was quite a spectacular accomplishment). But the day of the Big Dinner Party. With three distinguished guests.

The time is 6:48 a.m. Dylan planned to sleep in at least till 8:30, but the army of chickadees just outside his window yapping away is derailing those plans. Oh well. No big deal. If that’s the worst thing that happens to him today, Dylan will consider himself lucky.

Dylan crawls out of bed and quickly dresses in a comfy old pair of jeans, white polo shirt, and grey cashmere socks. As he walks downstairs to the dining room, he can already hear Henry, his personal chef of twelve years and close confidante, complaining about the Seattle Mariners’ frustrating bullpen issues.

What else is new?

“Damn, if a baseball game were seven innings long, we’d be going to the World Series!” Henry exclaims. He’s evidently talking to himself because no one appears to be in the kitchen right now except for him. Apparently, he’s listening to sports talk radio or some baseball podcast. Dylan cannot tell which one it is.

“Good morning Henry!”

“Hi Boss Man! Don’t worry about my ramblings. I know we suck this year, but this shit still frustrates me, you know what I mean?” Henry is chopping scallions and looks to be preparing a frittata. That makes sense because this is Saturday morning, which is when Henry alternates between making Dylan either a veggie omelet or a frittata. Occasionally, he’ll switch it up and make eggs benedict, but that’s usually reserved for special occasions. Which apparently today isn’t, for some strange reason.

“Yeah, I hear you loud and clear.” Dylan leans over the kitchen counter and watches Henry cook. “No eggs benedict this morning?”

Henry stops what he’s doing and gives Dylan a sarcastic side-eye. He’s worked for Dylan long enough to know that giving him sass won’t endanger his job security. Even if it did, he’s confident he’d have plenty of other job offers lined up.

“Sorry, no. But I ain’t making no omelet or frittata neither! I know today’s a very special day,” Henry smirks. “You’re having a chorizo scramble with sweet mango salsa and whatever the hell vegetables I have in the fridge.” Henry gestures to the opposite side of the long sixteen-foot kitchen island. Dylan sees a package of unopened chorizo sausage from the local Mexican grocery store thawing. This brings a welcomed smile to Dylan’s face.

“Thanks Henry.” Dylan opens the refrigerator and takes out a can of Starbucks Frappuccino. “Are we all prepared for tonight’s festivities?” He opens the can and drinks from it, while Henry stops what he’s doing to look his boss in the eye.

“Oh, hell yeah! Can’t wait to see the ladies again. Damn, it’s been a while since you’ve had anyone over. And three at a time? Whooooooooooooooooeeeeeeeee!” Henry resumes cooking, imagining in his head what sorts of naughty fun his boss will partake in tonight. One’s imagination will often be more scandalous than reality, though Henry suspects his boss has plenty of erotic shenanigans on his personal to-do list.

“Make sure you say hi to them. I know you appreciate these ladies just as much as I do!” Dylan pats Henry on the shoulder and walks out of the kitchen toward the dining room. Henry heartily laughs to himself. It may have happened by accident, but when Dylan hired Henry to be his personal chef twelve years ago, he had no idea he was bringing on a fellow fan of female bodybuilders into his home. Dylan has done everything he can to keep his fetish for strong muscular women a secret, knowing how embarrassing it would be to him if the public found out (let alone the awkward texts he’d receive from his own mother!). After he hires a new domestic employee, Dylan usually asks everyone to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep his personal secrets private. With Henry, however, such an agreement was still done, but somewhat unnecessary. Henry is more open about his love for strong beautiful women than Dylan, however he understands why his boss would want that part of his life kept hush-hush. Plus, silence has its benefits.

Every so often, Dylan will let his trusted cook join in on the fun!

Well, not at the same time, of course.

As Henry continues to work in the kitchen, Dylan sits down at the head of a 12-foot-long oval glass top dining table. Lawrence, his butler of fourteen years, has dutifully left the latest issue of The Atlantic sitting at his place. The cover story, unfortunately, is enough to make Dylan want to vomit.

“Throw Every Billionaire in Jail?” Henry reads aloud the front cover headline. “It’s a travesty that in Modern America men like Dylan Tanaka is a free man while thousands of Iraqi and Syrian children are dead.” Dylan stops reading and almost tosses the magazine across the room in disgust. Before he can do anything impulsive, Lawrence emerges from the dining room entrance.

“Sorry, sir. When I first saw the cover story, I figured this would be an issue you wouldn’t want to read,” Lawrence picks up the magazine, inspects it once more, and hands it back to Dylan. “But orders are orders, if that makes any sense. You always want reading material to go along with breakfast. I didn’t just want to assume you wouldn’t want to read this.”

Dylan finishes his Frappuccino and gives the empty can to Lawrence. He sighs. “No, you’re fine. You did what you’ve always been instructed to do. It’s not your fault.” Dylan rubs his tired eyes with Lawrence watching his boss with a mixture of concern and empathy. “It’s been four years since everything that happened. But it seems much longer than that. I need to get over myself, but I still need more time. Fuck. Looks like I’m going to need at least twenty years to get back on my feet.”

Now, it’s Lawrence’s turn to pat someone on the shoulder.

“Perhaps tonight’s dinner party will lift your spirits. Because I highly doubt the FBI will be knocking down the door anytime soon, regardless of what this author may fantasize about in his or her mind.” Lawrence takes the empty Frappuccino can so he can toss it in the recycling bin. “Other than that, everything is in order. All the preparations according to your requests have been made.”

Dylan gives his loyal butler a smile of approval. He smiles back. Exiting to the kitchen, Dylan hears Lawrence and Henry having a pleasant conversation faintly into the distance. He cannot make out what they’re chatting about. He places the magazine face down on the table defiantly.

“Let’s hope the only visitors I get tonight are those who actually like me,” Dylan whispers under his breath. He sighs again.

At the age of 23, Dylan was a recent graduate of the most prestigious technical university in the world. He became an intern at Boeing in the fall of 2004, right when the U.S. was more than a year into the Iraq War and a few years into the larger War on Terror. Big technical firms were being given multibillion-dollar contracts from the Department of Defense to build weapons, vehicles, and technology to help defeat al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and whatever new threat would rear its ugly head. After four months at Boeing, Dylan developed in his parent’s basement an AI program that could analyze international bank transactions, phone calls, emails, texts, trade agreements, and satellite images to predict when future terrorist attacks would happen. His algorithm analyzed trillions of pieces of data simultaneously and calculated a “threat coefficient” to whoever cared to know. His test modeling used data collected from the ten years leading up to the 9/11 terror attacks, in which his program predicted with 97% accuracy the likelihood that Osama bin Laden would successfully plan and execute a mass terror attack on U.S. soil sometime between Jan. 1, 1998 and Dec. 31, 2002. This gave him confidence that his algorithm works. It’s not 100% reliable but it doesn’t need to be. All it has to do is provide intelligence officials credible warnings that certain threats are imminent. Dylan had all the confidence in the world that his AI program can do just that. After quitting his gig at Boeing and working at the Pentagon as a contract worker, young Dylan spent the next few years successfully helping the U.S. government sniff out potential plots that may have saved the lives of thousands, if not millions. He felt really proud of himself. So much so that in 2007 he tendered his resignation at the DOD and began his own startup firm.

This is when Dylan went from being a boy genius wunderkind to an international celebrity CEO.

His company, Perseus Analytics (named after the Greek mythological demigod who slayed monsters like Medusa), skyrocketed to become one of the largest and most influential corporations in world history. PA mostly used AI technology to help agricultural, shipping, construction, and engineering companies make data-driven informed business decisions. However, they also carried on as a military contractor, continuing the work Dylan did for the DOD – but at a much larger scale.

PA’s immediate success as a cutting-edge leader in the “Business Intelligence Software” industry made Dylan Tanaka an overnight celebrity. He was on the cover of several magazines, profiled by TV stations across the world, and spoke at several prestigious technology conferences. He went from a modest 4,983 Twitter followers to 2.4 million in less than a month. Forbes Magazine even suggested that he should run for president when he’s eligible in 2016, writing that “Mr. Tanaka represents what the future of our world is rapidly becoming: data-driven, pro-active, emotionally intelligent, innovative, and best of all, altruistic to a fault. If he were to run for President of the United States in 2016 – when he would be 35 years old – we would be hard-pressed to come up with a plausible reason why he wouldn’t receive this magazine’s glowing endorsement. This sentiment would gladly apply in 2020, 2024, 2028, and so on.”

The first several years of Perseus Analytics’ existence were a whirlwind for everyone involved. Dylan’s sudden celebrity, while amusing in the moment but ultimately meaningless in the long run, caught the attention of people other than tech journalists, social media influencers, and podcasters. His work also captured the imaginations of powerful men and women inside the U.S. government. The hefty contract PA signed with the DOD in 2009 is a testament to that. At first, the work was fairly modest. Dylan continued the work he did prior for them but at a larger scale. However, that quickly changed as the geopolitical landscape also changed.

In 2011, as drone technology was reaching its maturity, Dylan’s AI programs helped the military decide which targets to bomb. He entrusted Stephen Callahan, a longtime colleague he first met at Boeing, to head up this division. This project signified a dramatic strategic shift in PA’s work with the government. At first, they provided military and intelligence officers with information to help them make wise decisions. Now, they’re assisting in dropping bombs, launching missiles, and planning precision airstrikes. PA went from providing useful intel to delivering weapons of mass death.

For several years, their work went largely unnoticed by the public. Every PA senior executive and several high-ranking employees signed confidentiality agreements. Their top-secret work remained exactly that: a secret.

That all changed in 2015.

An explosive New York Times article – quoting several anonymous sources inside Perseus Analytics, the Pentagon, CIA, and U.S. military – claimed a bug in the AI program led to several drone strikes killing untold thousands of innocent civilians. In the wake of ISIS’s shocking November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, the U.S. and its European allies stepped up drone strikes in the Middle East and North Africa. Most of those drones were equipped with Dylan’s AI protocols. Unfortunately, as Dylan and Stephen publicly admitted, the AI wasn’t perfect.

So yes, thousands of innocent people lost their lives because their technology wasn’t flawless. Additionally, this work flew under the radar of the usual systems of checks and balances. Many members of Congress, even those on defense and intelligence committees, were kept in the dark about PA’s relationship with the government. So not only was their work borderline immoral, it also could have been illegal.

Demands for a public inquiry grew. It quickly happened. Testifying before a hostile Congress, Dylan and Stephen (along with several other high-ranking PA executives) had to defend themselves amidst accusations of being “war profiteers” and engineers of genocide. Dylan felt like Howard Hughes being accused of the same thing shortly after World War II.

After a truncated federal investigation and trial, Stephen was sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary for “gross negligence” that led to the deaths of countless Iraqis and Syrians. After cutting a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice where Dylan agreed to step down as CEO of Perseus Analytics and “retire” from public life, he was able to avoid any prison time if he agreed to pay a hefty fine. He did. As one of the youngest billionaires in the world, the fine was substantial but not life-altering. It was just money, not his freedom. Stephen Callahan, on the other hand, took the fall. A few others served much lighter prison sentences, but that didn’t stop Dylan from becoming a public pariah. Many said he got away with murder. Even members of his own family told the media that Dylan deserves jail time! That led to an estrangement that continues to this day.

And in the blink of an eye, Dylan Tanaka went from a beloved celebrity to genocidal monster.

Whew.

Most of his friends and family abandoned him. His own university unceremoniously stripped him of his degree. After cleaning house, Perseus Analytics rebranded as The McDermott Corporation (named after the brand-new CEO, Amanda McDermott, a woman Dylan briefly dated before the New York Times’s bombshell report ruined his life). All mentions of Dylan were scrubbed from the company’s website and social media channels. He was erased. Cancelled. Exiled. Ostracized. Turned into a “persona non grata.”

For the past four years, Dylan has lived quietly in his mansion in Seattle, rarely going out in public or doing anything worthwhile. He has no friends or acquaintances who are willing to be seen with him. Nobody who values their professional and personal reputations wants anything to do with Dylan Tanaka. He still sees (some of) his family during the holidays, but rarely outside of that. He is alone.

But not totally alone.

Still flushed with plenty of cash, Dylan decided to live his life the best he can despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. Just because he’s considered a war criminal in the eyes of an outraged public doesn’t mean he can’t do what he loves. And what does Dylan love?

Muscular women.

Dylan has befriended – although he knows better than to actually consider them real friends – several female bodybuilders and athletes throughout the years. Either inviting them over to his home or visiting them in their hotel rooms, Dylan figures if he can’t live a normal life, why not enjoy the stripped-down existence he currently has to suffer through? So as often as he can (averaging two or three times a month), Dylan sets up meetings with female bodybuilders so he can enjoy some companionship outside of Henry, Lawrence, or Joey (a weird but reliable landscaper who comes over periodically). He pays them for their time, of course, which is why he’s reluctant to call any of them “friends.” During their time together Dylan touches, kisses, and massages their muscles to his heart’s delight. In return, his female companions usually give him either a hand job or blow job to ensure he leaves the encounter perfectly contented.

He knows their relationship is strictly professional, but at least it’s something. Dylan has met at least 50 female bodybuilders in his life, many of them multiple times. But out of all of them, Melanie Wright, Peggy Cole, and Monique St. Martin are his three favorite. Dylan secretly is one of Monique’s sponsors, as he’s followed her Olympic career from the very beginning. He’s met Melanie dozens of times. She’s even told him that she considers him a real friend. But he still pays her nevertheless, mostly out of kindness.

His relationship with Peggy and Monique is more business-like, but still close. Monique allows Dylan to touch her body but has limitations when it comes to sex. Melanie and Peggy, however, have no limitations. He’s made love to both women many times throughout the years.

Dylan’s interest in muscular women began when he was 12 years old. He was always interested in sports like baseball, football, and basketball. One aimless Sunday afternoon his dad took him to a used bookstore. After perusing through dusty books and finding nothing interesting, he stumbled upon a bin full of old sports magazines. They were on sale. Five magazines for $4. Not a bad deal! Dylan looked through almost all of them, selecting an issue of Sports Illustrated and a few ones previewing the upcoming baseball season. Then, he found it.

An old issue of Muscle & Fitness from 1985.

On the cover was Cory Everson, who at the time was in the middle of a Ms. Olympia winning streak that ended up lasting six years. It was his first time ever seeing a photograph of a muscular woman. Not just that, but a beautiful muscular woman with a bright, friendly smile. Dylan could not stop staring at it. He probably looked at that cover for a solid five minutes without moving. He had to have it. His dad didn’t notice what his son decided to buy (he figured they were all baseball related), so Dylan felt like he got away with something naughty without being caught.

That night – and several nights afterward – he masturbated in the privacy of his bedroom to a two-page spread of Ms. Everson flexing her big, sleek muscles. It was an eye-opening experience. He just started noticing girls but fantasized about more “traditional” women like Pamela Anderson, Cindy Crawford, and Carmen Electra. He had no idea there were women in this world with big muscles. Women who lifted really heavy weights like Arnold Schwarzenegger. They weren’t as big as Arnold, but they were pretty damn impressive!

It was a revelation. An epiphany. A mind-blowing discovery. He knew he liked looking at pictures of beautiful women…but women with muscles? How crazy is that?

Young Dylan knew this was strange. He knew he could never tell another soul about this. So, he kept this his little secret. Nobody ever found out about his massive crush on big buff ladies. Whenever he could he returned to that used bookstore and eventually started to buy bodybuilding/fitness magazines with his own money. He flipped through all of them to make sure they didn’t just feature buff guys. The ones that showcased ladies were his for the taking. And he took them home and hid them under his bed. He made sure his mom never found them. Every night until he left for college he jerked off to photos of some of the world’s most famous FBBs: Cory Everson, Rachel McLish, Carla Dunlap, Lenda Murray, Bev Francis, Peggy Schoolcraft, and famous fitness competitors like Monica Brant and Deidre Pagnanelli. He knew all their names, faces, birthdays, hometowns, competitive history, and measurements.

He was obsessed with muscular women. He thought about them day and night. But throughout his many years fixating over female bodybuilders, he never ever told a single soul about it. Not even his pet dog knew about his scandalous fetish. It was a closely guarded secret. Even today it’s still a secret, though to a slightly lesser degree. Dylan’s domestic employees know about it. The female bodybuilders he’s met over the years know about it (obviously). But that’s it. Nobody else.

He’s sworn every FBB he’s ever met to secrecy. They are to never tell anyone that Dylan Tanaka is one of their loyal clients. Ever. Being “outed” like that would be an utter embarrassment. So far, so good. Female bodybuilders who provide muscle worship sessions are great at respecting and maintaining privacy. He has no worries of his secret being exposed to the public. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d ever be humiliated on the world stage.

“Breakfast is served!” Henry enters the dining room, places the frittata and a cup of coffee in front of Dylan, and notices the magazine lying face down. “Anything else, Boss Man?” This pleasant interruption disrupts Dylan’s unpleasant trip down memory lane. He shakes his head.

“Nah, I think that’s it. Looks absolutely delicious!” Dylan takes a bite out of his breakfast, savoring every morsel of flavor. “You’ve outdone yourself, my friend. Incredible.”

“Thanks my man!” Before returning to the kitchen, Henry turns to his boss and asks in a lowered voice: “Tomorrow morning, before she leaves, can I spend some time with Peggy? After watching her latest video, wow! I got to have some of that!”

Peggy’s primary source of income isn’t bodybuilding, but instead being a webcam performer. As a fairly well-known “celebrity” in the world of adult entertainment, Peggy boasts a regular following of 1,260,000+ people from around the world. You don’t need to speak the same language in order to understand that watching a beautiful muscular woman strip naked in her bedroom and masturbate is a sexy thing to behold. Not unexpectedly, her large subscriber base doesn’t just supplement her income. It is her income. And also unexpectedly, Henry is one of those subscribers who pays a modest monthly sum to watch her “do her thing.”

Dylan too. This goes without saying.

“I can’t guarantee anything, but what I’ll say is this,” Dylan begins. Henry is nearly drooling with anticipation. “I’ll ask her if she has time before she has to leave for her flight. Of course, I can’t guarantee anything. But it never hurts to ask. How does that sound?”

Henry’s eyes get really big, a sure sign that he’s responding positively to this proposition. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That sounds good with me! I’ll make sure to say hi to her when she arrives for dinner. Maybe that’ll sway her. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

Henry returns to the kitchen, laughing to himself. Dylan didn’t ask what’s for dinner, but he’s assuming it’s going to be absolutely delicious. For special gatherings – and yes, Dylan occasionally hosts dinner parties with non-female bodybuilders – Henry has an impeccable record of choosing a menu that makes all the guests happy. From braised lamb shanks to grilled salmon to carbonara to prime rib to sushi to Korean tofu soup, Henry can cook anything. Anything. Any culture, any region, for any occasion. In addition to their shared love for muscular women, his culinary skills are the primary reason why Henry has been employed by Dylan for so long. That is, after all, why one keeps a chef around.

A few moments pass in silence. Eventually, Dylan begins to eat his frittata. After dreading it, Dylan picks up the magazine and opens it to a random page somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, a story asking for Dylan to be incarcerated in a French Revolution-style “eat the bourgeoisie” class war doesn’t appear. Some random story about the Chinese government hacking into the CIA’s database. As if that’s any more comforting.

Eating and sipping his coffee in silence, Dylan decides he should simply enjoy his breakfast so he could prepare for what should be the best weekend of his life. He learned at an early age that if you let negative emotions fester too long inside your mind, it will have a direct impact on your entire life moving forward. This weekend is intended to be one of the greatest of his life, so he better get his head right if that’s going to be the case. The outside world may hate his guts, but inside his own little kingdom he’s in control of what happens. And he knows the three guests whom he cordially invited to his home love him for who he is, not for what he’s done. It’s a comforting feeling to be around people who truly care for you.

A half an hour later, Dylan returns his dirty dishes to the kitchen. Henry has left for the morning – probably off to run errands – and Lawrence is nowhere to be seen. Dylan looks out the kitchen window overlooking Lake Washington. It’s a gorgeous day, with the weather forecast promising an even greater weekend. He hears the faint sound of a chainsaw roaring away in the backyard. That must be Joey, Dylan’s stoner landscaper who comes around usually once or twice a month. Usually on a Saturday. Today being Saturday, that makes perfect sense.

After putting on a pair of shoes, Dylan takes a stroll outside to see what Joey’s working on today. He immediately smells the strong odor of marijuana emanating from the backyard toolshed. Dylan isn’t a smoker himself and has no problems with people smoking reefer – even while on the job. But that still doesn’t change the fact that the reek of pot bothers him. But not enough to tell Joey to stop doing it while on his property. Dylan tends to be a “live and let live” kind of guy. He’ll give him a pass.

The ruckus caused by the chainsaw is probably powerful enough to wake up the whole neighborhood. Either that or the smell of weed. Dylan’s 6,125 square foot property boasts a massive backyard designed in the style of a traditional Japanese garden. In the middle is a large lotus pond that snakes around almost ¾ of the whole property. The lip of the pond feeds into a small waterfall that flows downward toward the beach. That water then gets recirculated back into the top of the pond, located adjacent to a massive cherry blossom that still takes his breath away even to this day. The rest of the yard consists of lines of willow trees (which Joey is most likely trimming with the chainsaw), lanterns, a gorgeous walking bridge connecting one end of the lotus pond to the far west side, rocks big enough to sit on, bamboo, Japanese maple, rhododendron, and various other plants and flowers. Many years ago, Dylan hired an architect and his wife – a world famous gardener – to design everything.

They did a bang-up job.

A small chashitsu (a traditional Japanese teahouse) sits in the northeast corner, which serves as a toolshed for Joey (and whenever a professional arborist pays a visit). Sure enough, a few feet away Joey is hard at work trimming some of the overgrown willow trees. He has Beats by Dre headphones on, listening to some kind of music as he works. It’s a good thing he has noise-cancelling headphones on because that chainsaw is so annoyingly loud. If he didn’t, he might go deaf after twenty minutes of having it on.

Dylan waits until Joey stops for a drink of water to interrupt him. “Hey there! How are things going?”

“Oh, hey Mr. Tanaka! Things are going good, nothing to complain about. I got a new chainsaw! Take a look at it.” Joey carelessly waves the sharp blade of the 20-inch gas-powered Helinski Class-A toward his boss’s face. Even as Dylan suddenly leans back, Joey doesn’t seem to notice. “It’s super sharp and cuts through these branches like melted butter. It’s really meant for wood, you know? But it’s all good.”

Admiring the clean, sharp blade and jagged teeth, Dylan gives Joey a courtesy smile and nod. He inspects the willow trees from the top on down. “As long as it gets the job done. I just wanted to say hi and tell you I love your work…but could you do me a favor?”

Joey puts down the chainsaw, removes his headphones (so the music he was listening to wasn’t that loud?), and turns to his boss. “Sure thang, what is it?”

“Could you, uh,” Dylan hesitantly begins, “Could you maybe smoke before you show up to work, as opposed to during? No offense, but it’s sort of messing with my head. I can be oversensitive to smells like that.”

“Oh, that’s weird! Because I ain’t smoke nothing yet today, my man. It must’ve been the neighbors, for real,” Joey says. He must be telling the truth, because when he gets high his Mexican accent comes back. When he’s “sober” – or as sober as he can possibly be – he tends to ditch the accent. “Seriously though, I can smell the pot too. But it ain’t coming from me, I can tell you that homie!”

“Ah. Okay. No worries. It must be the neighbors,” Dylan reassures his nervous employee.

Joey gives Dylan a fist bump and burps loudly. Dylan chuckles. They shake hands. As he proceeds to return to his job, Dylan sniffs the air one more time and notices, strangely enough, that the smell of pot has gone away. Joey is wrong about the neighbors smoking. He highly doubts anyone who lives in this neighborhood would do anything that even resembles rebellious behavior, even though marijuana has been legalized in this state for a few years now.

No worries. Maybe it was his imagination playing tricks on him.

As he looks up, one of the pesky birds who woke him up earlier today is staring right back at him.

“Are you the one who was lighting up this early in the morning?”

The bird does not verbally respond. It then proceeds to fly away to a different tree in someone else’s yard.

“I thought so,” Dylan mutters under his breath.