Lilith: part IV

It took some coaxing, some tears and a bribe of ice cream, but I was able to get Lilith inside and back into bed. That was one problem solved. It only left the dead rabbits, incoherent ramblings about a consort and the entire scene that appeared uncomfortably similar to a dark rite that were unaddressed.

The next morning, after Lilith had eaten the ice cream I had promised for breakfast, I knew I had to deal with the aspects of the encounter that I would rather just forget. I started with cleaning up the carnage; choosing to put off the truly gruesome part for as long as possible. To be honest- I didn’t know who to consult about her. A priest or a shrink would be the obvious choices, but I personally haven’t had good experiences with members of either of those professions. While I will admit it is wrong to paint people with a broad brush- I didn’t trust priests or shrinks.

So, out if absolute desperation I called the only person I felt I could trust… though I knew by now that I shouldn’t.

My mother.

When I explained what happened, I don’t think that her response could have surprised me more…

“What did you expect, Vanessa?”


The Continental: The Reunion, part II

“Ah- see? The lady you paid for is joining us at present, mon ami,” The Muffin Man said with the same silken tone that must have once tempted Eve.

“Whadabou’ Grant?” FitzClarence slurred. The speech showed that he was still inebriated, but the question eluded that the fog in his head may have been lifting.

“We are going to play a little game with Monsieur Grant.” With those words spoken, as if they were themselves a command, I found myself hoisted upwards by my bound wrists and ankles.

I once read a book about various corporal punishments when I was at The Academy. One of the instructors thought it was imperative for officers to know how best to inflict pain on soldiers. An old and outdated notion in the modern times, but old ideas have a near-immortal life of their own and generations of adherents to fight for them.

The book mentioned something called reverse hanging, and went on to describe in detail what rigors it put the body through. Explaining that such a punishment was not lethal until it was. How the recipient would be in excruciating pain for hours, perhaps even days, until their lungs collapsed under the weight of their own muscles. It was compared to crucifixion in its severity and recommended over it for obvious cultural reasons.

The vivid description of the pain evaded my memory’s command of recollection as the reality of the pain overwhelmed my senses. I was suspended in midair as The Muffin Man turned me to face out of the cell. A woman was suspended by her wrists from the ceiling, her ankles were tied together and fixed to a weight of stone. Her feet being flat on the floor, it was clear that any torture that would befall her would not be from gravity. She was nude aside from the manacles, rope and a gag fashioned of swaddled linen. The face was not quite recognizable as it showed age and abuse beyond her years, but I did recognize the dark nipples and darker bush on the light brown curves of her body. Too much had befallen The Queen of Tarts for my actions.

Oscar guided FitzClarence behind her and handed him a stiff strip of oiled leather as another one of the minions laid a small, wilted tree branch with 5 leaves on it on the floor between myself and the other victim. The Artifact.

“I will ask a question, and if I don’t like Monsieur Grant’s answer, then you may hit her. Understand, mon ami?”

The Festival: part III

I’m sure that I looked like a complete idiot as I stared, and then blinked with a nonplussed mien.

“Do ya’ wanna’ know the real reason this is called The Black Bear Festival?” The giant in overalls with the chaw dribble stained beard said again in the voice that belonged to a jailbait cheerleader.

“‘Cause the first Magistrate of this backwater won his position by rasslin’ a bear and then he kilt it with ‘is bare hands!” I said, going into full snark mode and letting the cadence and vernacular of my speech slip into that of my raising.

“Ya’ heard the story, ‘ave ya’?”

I tried my best to keep the surprise hidden from my face and voice as I replied, “well, shit yeah! Who ain’t heard it?”

“Some people don’t believe it,” the man said in the voice that I was trying to ignore. I shouldn’t judge the man for his voice, maybe he has an under-developed vocal chords or something. Clearly he wasn’t a young lady, but less clear was whether or not he had tried to flirt with me.

“Bah! Course they don’t! Don’t mean it ain’t true!” I said as true as any fervent believer. I thought that I pulled it out of my own ass and that the bearded, girl voiced man was only playing along with what we both knew was absolute bullshit.

“Wha’ if I toljya we still pick our Magistrates thataway?”

“I’d say that be some shit I’d wanna’ see!”

The bearded man smiled one of those creepy-warm smiles. The type that wasn’t openly malignant, but unlike one of the genuine variety hinted at hidden motives. The type smile that was more mask than emotion. The type smile that with only a cursory appraisal you would trust despite the screaming of your deeper senses. “I hoped you would be a’sayin that!”

The Continental: The Reunion

“Wha-da fuck isdis? I’se paid fora girl!” Hobbes slurred as Oscar led him to the door of my cell. He leaned on the bars and looked at me through the large dark circles of mezcal and coca hazed eyes. Speaking as someone who had partaken in more than he should have of either substance, I can tell you it was a wonder he recognized me as a man at all.

“Of course you did, mon ami!” The muffin man said. “She will be joining us shortly, consider Mr. Grant a gift from me.”

The iron door protested as it swung open on hinges. Hobbes stumbled into the cell, followed by Oscar. The four of us together in the cell showed just how small the area was.

“Grant? Who’sat?” Hobbes, FitzClarence, slurred. Apparently he could stick to our aliases better when he was inebriated, or maybe he really couldn’t remember with all the intoxicants in his blood stream.

“The man who tried to sell you out, Col. FitzClarence. I have him here for your enjoyment.” I couldn’t see his face, but I could feel the acid dripping from The Muffin Man’s tongue as he spoke. I’m sure it was only my imagination, but the flecks of spittle seemed to sear the bare skin on my back as they landed. If I am honest with myself, I deserved this. Every decision I have made in my life, before and after I acquired the artifact, had led me to this moment. Being tied up, in a dungeon, held by an ex-lover and being handed over to someone I had tried to betray. Still, it seemed as though something was missing.

The same unseen heavy door that had produced FitzClarence and Oscar opened again. The her that FitzClarence had paid for had a voice that was known to me, and I was surprised by how bad my heart hurt to hear her.

“Take your hands off me you brut! You may see me as only a whore, but don’t forget who I am!”

The Continental: Le Vice Anglais, deuxième partie

“Darling? Oh, Mon Amour, do you really want to start with that after how we parted ways?” His words dripped with sardonic amusement. Apparently he was still upset about how we left things.

And by ‘how we left things’ I must confess it means that he found me in bed with his sister. Truth is that I was not interested in either of them. That base need is not what drives me. I used him, both of them, actually. I needed their network to smuggle the device out here to the frontier to keep it safe. But when things ended the way they did the device was sacrificed on the altar of my own mortality. I only hoped they did not know what they had.

“I have been looking for you, Darling, I brought you a gift.” I said in a sweetly submissive way that made my soul cringe.

“Yes, my associate, Oscar, told me all about your meeting in the alley. If it is any consolation, you would have found your way into your current…” he paused and continued, “situation without Oscar’s help. He always did have a penchant for mellow drama. “You no doubt were ignorant of the fact that I now own the Crystal Pistol.”

Shit! I knew that organ playing Stephen-Stinking-Foster sounded familiar. “So you are a purveyor of flesh now in addition to an importer of refined coca. Congratulations.” I made my words sound believable and choked down the revulsion. Some level of my mind was sickeningly astonished at how well I had become at lying and a debate began between the splintered parts of what was left of my conscience if the sacrifices I have made, and will make, will be worth it in the end.

“Smuggling is smuggling,” he said with a shrug. “It is only right that a human life is worth more than powder.”

“Slavery has been outlawed for forty years.” I said with a passion I should have kept hidden.

“Did I speak of slavery? My business is helping people. Some people I help by funding their journey to The New World, and others I help by finding inexpensive labor.”

“So the workers in these brothels and mines can leave whenever they wish?” Careful Grant, some part of my mind chided me and was quickly silenced by the majority of my splinters.

“Well, the workers need to pay their freight somehow, but let’s use your language, Mon Amour. The laws passed in Europe outlawing slavery are somewhat ambiguous about the legal status in the colonies. Consider also that this territory is claimed by The Hapsburgs, The Hanovers, The Bourbons-In-Exile and even your malcontented terrorist friends – law here is an illusion. Anarchy is the ruling House and I am their steward.”

Somewhere in the near distance I heard a heavy wood door swing open on iron hinges that were in bad need of oil. Heavy, booted footfalls stumbled drunkenly down a flight of stairs, followed by a lighter and more sure-footed pair.

“Sosaye canna maker scream bloody murder?!” A familiar voice slurred drunkenly.

“What ever your wicked heart desires, Mr. Hobbes. As far as that you do not kill her,” Oscar answered.

“An’ ifenaye do?”

“There is an extra fee that I dare say you could not afford, Mr. Hobbes. Believe me when I tell you that you do not want to become acquainted with our methods of collection.”

“Ah- your companion approaches. This will prove most entertaining for me, Mon Amour!” His words were soft but his sadistic pleasure was palatable.

Silas, part III

The phone rang again.

“What the Hell is it now, Pike?” I asked after hitting the speaker button.

“Uh, Silas-“ the voice was uncharacteristically unsure of itself and continued with a trepidation I could sense over the phone. “This is Bob at the bank. How are you?”

“I’m fine, Mr. Darien,” I said forcing myself back to calm, then setting down my pen and raising the receiver to continue the call. Robert Darien was the president of the only bank in Ramhurst, married to the richest woman in the county and trustee of the Barrington estate. He was perhaps a man even more powerful than I, at least in normal measures.

“Glad to hear it. I’m looking at this morning’s headline. There has been another murder. Are you going to charge Artemis Barrington with it?” I could hear the excitement in the phony electronic mimic of his voice.

“The deaths aren’t murders, they are bear attacks.” I replied.

“Horse shit! Black bears are not aggressive. And the bite radius is all wrong in the photos.”

“Where did you see photos of the bodies?”

“You aren’t the only cop I know, Silas.”

“It was a bear.”

“I don’t believe you. Now answer the question, is Artemis going to be charged for murder in both deaths.”

“It was a bear attack. Are you telling me Artemis can slip her skin and become a bear?”

“Do not mock me, Chief Whittle.” Darien said, but I wasn’t mocking him. That was exactly the type of lead I needed.

“The evidence doesn’t support charging her, it was a bear attack.”

“That didn’t stop you from charging her in the murder or Officer Diaz.”

“The charge was made before all the facts were in and subsequently dropped. Officer Diaz’s death was not a murder, it was-“

“A bear attack, right. I get it. Anyway, Silas, I was hoping you could help me find Artemis. We need to discuss her grandfather’s estate and no one has seen her since you two…” Darien stopped himself and changed tact’s, “since you released her. Do you know where she is?”

“I have no idea where your niece is, Bob. She left with her lawyer, so I’d suggest contacting her,” I consulted my notes and continued, “she is with a firm out of Atlanta and her name is Safi-“

“Al’Ahmari,” Darien interrupted. “Yes, I know her. But I’d rather Ms. Al’Ahmari didn’t know I wanted to meet with Artemis.” That confirmed my suspicion, he wants to strong arm her into selling her share of the company. He probably will invoke some morality clause and point out her recent detainment. No wonder he wanted me to charge her. It bothered me he would do that to her, but I pushed that feeling away. Artemis was not my problem anymore.

“Sorry, Bob, it looks like you have no other choice. So, do you need the lawyer’s number?”

“No- I’m sure I have it in a file somewhere,” Darien said in a frustrated tone, “thanks for nothing.” The call was ended the same way that Pike ended his. For a split second I was amused by the thought that youngsters will never know the satisfaction of slamming a phone receiver down when they are angry with the caller.

“Thank you, Bob,” I said to the empty office. Artemis was the loose end in Eddie’s death. Could I connect her to the poacher? How did I not consciously realize what she was before now?

The Continental: Le Vice Anglais

Camptown Ladies

Sing this song

Do-dah Do-dah!

Camptown Races

Five Miles Long

Oh Do-dah day!

Anything by Foster is an unpleasant sound.

Even more so when you wake to it.

Even more so when you wake to it with a splitting headache.

My vision was blurry, but my ears were working all too well. As I heard the drunken voices belting out the song accompanied by pipe organ I could tell that the singers were close by, but at least one layer of timber muffled them to my extreme delight. As predicted, all of the revelers put their money on the bob-tailed nag, and I found myself wondering, as always, what kind of odds were being offered on the bay.

I was lying prostrate on a stone floor with my arms bound at wrist and elbow behind my back causing an uncomfortable strain on my shoulders. My ankles were similarly bound together and my legs bent at the knee so that my ankles and wrist met each other in what felt to my fingers to be a lovers’ knot. I assumed that I would have been relieved of my revolver and rapier, naturally. But the cold stone on my skin told me I had also been relieved of vest, shirt and trousers. This was a surprise to say the least about it.

The air was humid- warm and moist. The type of environment that absorbs smells and mellows them as they meld into their surroundings. The first scent that I recognized was leather followed by iron and oil. After that was the effeminate musk that suggested estrus and escapades accompanied by its masculine counterpart. I had heard of rooms like this, and an unindulged part of me had always wanted to visit one. Though I admit that I had conflicting feelings about regaining consciousness inside one.

As my vision grew steadily more clear I realized that I was behind a row of iron bars with a door of the same style set into them; much like a prison cell. I turned my head around to survey what I could of my surroundings to find that I was in a recess of stone that had been chiseled out of the Earth, and no doubt in some part of the sprawling city under the city that had long since surrendered its share of silver.

I was beginning to weigh my options when I heard his voice. “Awake at last, Mon Amour.” His tone was husky and almost sensuous as everything in that lilied tongue sounds. The way he spoke was as he always had with hints of hatred and unspoken threats. It was the man I had been seeking, and the familiarity of the words should have given me some comfort. But given my current situation the affect that they had was to produce a gleam of nervous sweat on the entirety of my nearly nude body.

“I’m so glad I found you, Darling.”