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Authors: R. S. Belcher

Nightwise

BOOK: Nightwise
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In memory of Torri Lyn Saunders.

“The sun loved the moon so much, he died every night to let her breathe.”

 

ONE

The banker was crucified on the wall of his Wall Street office, fountain pens rammed through both wrists, an Armani Jesus.

The pens are Montblancs, very nice. Each one is custom-made, decorated with emeralds, sapphires, and rubies, and then hundreds of tiny diamonds just for good measure. They run for a hair under a million dollars each. They're sturdy too, obviously. I doubt that their current function would be of much use in a marketing campaign, but still, a fun fact to know.

I left the shitty meth-lab-trailer-on-cinder-blocks I called home when I was thirteen. I remember writing the good-bye letter to my snoring, drunken mother on the back of a disconnect notice from Allegheny Power. I wrote my good-byes with a gnawed-on pencil, whittled to an uneven point by a pocketknife. I left the letter on top of a pile of past-due bills, truancy notices, and empty Marlboro cartons. No Montblancs in our clan, no sir.

Another dead end. This pattern was getting old. Every connection, every lead I had made to tracking Slorzack had dried up. To date: three strangulations, one incinerated alive while taking a shower, one exsanguinated, a “car bomb” that left no trace of the explosive device, and now, Wall Street performance art.

I considered a working on the body—wake the old boy up for a bit of Q and A—but if the killers had experience in the Life they might have set traps for any would-be necromancer.

I pulled the high-backed leather chair out from behind the desk, rolled it to where I could have a decent view of the tableau, sat down, and admired the effect, the craftsmen's work, for a moment. Every artist signs his portrait in some way.

I pulled out an American Spirit, only three left in the pack, second pack today. The Zippo snapped open with a hollow, metallic clank. A hint of sulfur stung my nose as the wheel ground against my thumb and the flame kissed the tip of my coffin nail. Pa called cigarettes that. He was a Lucky Strike man. Too bad he hadn't lived long enough for them to kill him.

The crucifixion itself had no occult symbolism that I recognized from the position of the body—hands above the head, almost crossed at the wrists but not quite. It did cause me to flash for a second to an image of an old bondage playmate of mine, the languid way she would raise her arms above her head and await the cuffs. If there was a safe word for God's snuff play, he kept it to himself.

The positioning of the body and hands didn't indicate traditional Judeo-Christian iconography; there was none of the overtly brutal but metaphorically and mystically powerful symbolism of Teutonic or Norse rites. He wasn't hanged upside down, for example, or missing an eye, and I saw nary a crow.

I took a long draw on the cigarette, ran a hand over my shaggy hair. I had pulled it back, tight, into a ponytail to keep it out of my way. I rubbed my eyes.

The murder didn't betray any of the subtle trademarks of Dalí Absurdist Chaos Magic, the telltale covert rendering of metaphysical, four-dimensional, transcendent hypercubism that old Salvador had extrapolated in his
Anti-Matter Manifesto
. A good read, by the way. Even if you didn't care for his art, you had to admit Dalí was a top-notch psychosocial alchemist.

Signs of Satanism? Please. So last millennium. Go listen to Gorgoroth and sacrifice a puppy, why don't you.

No, no hocus-pocus. This was just someone killing a man in a very nasty way. More likely two or more killers, given the strength and flexibility needed to wrestle him up there, pin him, and hold him till the blood loss did its work. I was suddenly taken by the beginning of a very bad joke:
How many faceless conspiratorial hit men does it take to crucify a banker?

This wasn't a ritual or an execution. This was a message. For me.
Stop searching. Back off.

Dark streams flowed from the dead man's wrists, staining the pens' jeweled lengths, ending in swollen, pregnant drops that fell down into his eight-hundred-dollar Orlando Pita haircut, saturating his hairline and trickling across his pale, downturned face. The blood split and fractured into a wet black web, finally meeting again to pool at his perfect chin and tumble down, splashing dark stains on the expensive wool carpet. The lines across his face reminded me of Alice Cooper's makeup after a long, hot show.

I wrestled a small leather couch close enough to stand on it and reach the banker's body. I braced one boot against the wall and pulled the Montblancs free with a lot of grunting and effort. They were sturdy and had been sunk deep through skin, bone, paneling, and plaster.

The body fell, bounced off the couch, and landed with a muted squish into the dark, wet stain on the carpet that had gathered below it like a lengthening shadow.

I wiped the blood off of the pens with a monogrammed silk handkerchief I found in his pocket and slipped them into my coat. He wouldn't need them.

I hopped down, leaned over the body, and tried to imagine the killers, the struggle. It wasn't as hard for me as it might have been for most and, unfortunately, most of my insights were through the eyes of the killers, not the victim. I kept thinking how I would have killed this man, how I would have left him as an example to be found. This was far from my first visit with violence and death.

Sane, healthy, normal people grew up in fucking Disneyland when it comes to evil and the beings capable of inflicting it. Monsters, human and otherwise, roam this world, I assure you. It would be nice to blame dark powers and inhuman fiends for most of the troubles in this life, but sadly, we can't. There is more human evil out there than inhuman. Our world chokes on it, drowns in it, but some of us have learned to swim.

Hitler was the Henry Ford of the infernal. He developed a production line, a process, to make horrible, soulless acts more cost-effective and efficient while removing accountability and guilt for his “workforce.” He knew the importance of branding, sound-bite speeches, props, and jingles. He also knew, like any good marketer, the importance of images, symbolism, and meme, and he stole from only the best. Like Ford, Hitler developed a process other sick, sad little psychopaths could duplicate and improve on across time and space. A process of atrocity that was as clean as the faces and reputations of the American industrialists who did business with him up until the war and even after it had begun. No dirty fingernails for the boys in the home office, no hands-on work for them.

Somewhere in the process, someone has to get dirty hands, though. Someone has to strap on the IED, feed the starving women and children into the ovens, drop the bomb, or pull the trigger; someone slaughters the schoolchildren. In my experience, the best of these “men of action” are weak-willed sheep. The worst … well, the worst enjoy their work. Some get off on it.

Evil is out there, right now, today, maybe watching your kids play too intently at the next table in that restaurant with the overpriced pizza and the giant rat for a mascot. Fun fact: Did you know that restaurant was founded and dedicated as a temple and feast hall to Karni Mata, the bride to the rat god, Mushika. It's true. Those little gold tokens your A-B honor roll students are clamoring for are sacrificial blood coins feeding the god of plagues and vermin, and trust me, you don't even want to know why they got rid of the ball pits.

It's all out there—dirty nails, nails caked with graveyard dirt and the coagulated blood of infants.

I know these monsters, I have fought them, and if am to be honest with you and myself, more often than not I have been the monster.

The man I was hunting had nails that were very dirty indeed, and I had promised Boj I'd find Dusan Slorzack and make sure he paid his account in full. But now, a dead banker and another dead end.

*   *   *

Two weeks ago:

I found my friend, Branko Bojich in a decaying hospice in Brooklyn that smelled of shit and Vicks VapoRub.

“You look like hell,” I said, standing in the doorway of his tiny cell-like room.

“I'm dying from AIDS, asshole,” he said with a weak grin. “What's your excuse?”

I tossed him a small gift-wrapped package. “I got your call. How are you, Boj?”

“Dying, Laytham. Just dying, that's all. No big thing,” he said, putting the gift aside. “How's my favorite West Virginia cracker doing?”

“Fair to middlin', as they say at the tractor pull. Just got back from Egypt last night. It's good to see you, even like this, man.”

“Thanks, thanks for coming. I need to ask you to do something for me. It's going to be messy, though. But I figure you…”

“Yeah, I owe you for messy,” I said. “What?”

“I want you to find the man who killed me, Laytham,” Boj said.

“I'm looking right at him, Boj. You put that spike in your arm, no one else.”

He squinted into the afternoon sunlight that squeezed through filthy blinds. His eyes were still, and dark as opals, but his dusky skin was now washed-out and blotchy. He talked to the sunbeams, not to me.

“I told you I was married before I came to America, right?” he said.

“Yeah.”

“She died in Čelebići, in Bosnia, back in '92,” he said. “She was raped, every day for months, tortured. They nailed…” He swallowed hard and I saw him trying to beat down the vision. He let himself fail. “They nailed an SDA badge to her forehead and then kicked her to death.”

“SDA?” I asked.

“It's the initials of one of the Muslim political parties over there. The stupid bastards didn't even care how little Mita thought of politics. She believed everyone was good at heart … look what that got her.”

He looked back to me with dry eyes, dead eyes. Whatever lived behind those dark wells had preceded Boj out of this world; the rest of him was just waiting to catch up.

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