Secrets of the Hanged Man (Icarus Fell #3) (An Icarus Fell Novel)

Secrets

of the

Hanged Man

 

An Icarus Fell Novel

 

By

Bruce Blake

 

 

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Published by Bruce Blake & Best Bitts Productions

Copyright 2013 Bruce Blake & Best Bitts Productions

 

 

Secrets of the Hanged Man (An Icarus Fell Novel)

 

 

Icarus Fell thought the afterlife couldn't get any worse...until Hell came looking for him.

 

When you are the orphaned child of a disgraced nun, and you're saddled with a ridiculous name like Icarus Fell, you don't expect things can go drastically downhill.

 

Until death comes along and an archangel recruits you for a job you screw up so badly you nearly lose your son to a demonic priest and a fallen angel.

 

And then, burdened by the lives lost because of your foul ups, you travel to Hell, a detour that costs you more dearly then you could ever have imagined.

 

No, things couldn't get much worse in the afterlife...unless Satan sends his lap dog to bring back the one thing he thinks belongs to him.

 

You.

 

Why couldn't death be easy?

 

 

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,

I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew -

And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untresspassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

 

- High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee

 

Chapter One
 

18 Years Ago

 

The streetlight overhead flickered and went out. I raised my head from scrutinizing the patch of pavement between my knees and saw a shadow stumble around the corner into the alley. The dark outline of a man paused, one arm leaning against the brick wall, the sound of his heavy breathing wafting toward me on air heavy with the odor of garbage and urine. I rolled my eyes.

Just keep going.

Every day, it became more difficult to find a little privacy. Can’t get it living at a church, can’t find it living on the street. What’s left for a man to do?

He lurched forward and blundered into the alley, his foot slipping on the same rotted tomato that nearly got me when I arrived here earlier in the day, newly purchased bag of weed in my pocket. He went to his knees with an exaggerated oomph; I shook my head, laughing, until he struggled to his feet and continued his lopsided trek toward me.

“Fuck.”

I pulled my knees tight to my chest and shrank back against the wall. He stopped and looked around in the patchy illumination emanating through the screen door-protected rear entrance of
Il Trattoria.
The restaurant’s aromas of herbs, spices, and frying onions were strong enough to disguise the less pleasant odors found in a back alley, and they drew me here often. That, and their reputation for tossing away still-edible food. Some nights, so many dudes lined up hoping to get their share, the back entrance needed a wait list more than the restaurant. Must be why he was here.

But the little the diffuse kitchen light showed me of the man told me he wasn’t a regular. He was a mess, but a tidy mess, which meant not just someone here to partake of my sumptuous repast, but a newbie, too, and a newbie means stories.

Fuck me.

The man tottered past the door without a second look and entered my territory. I held my breath. I didn’t imagine for a second he’d hear me breathing, but it’s what you do when you don’t want people to find you, a tactic every kid learns playing hide-and-seek.

He stopped a few feet away, wobbling side to side like a man standing on the deck of a ship at sea rather than a stable patch of cement behind the fifth best Italian joint in town. I didn’t fancy the look of him: he resembled a man unable to hold his booze.

Desperate to prove me right, he jerked to the side, bent at the waist and threw up on a pile of garbage bags.

“Jesus, dude. Careful. I think you got some on my shoes.”

Startled, the man fell back, his ass squishing on a damp piece of cardboard. He surveyed my dark corner, staring right at me without seeing me, probably shocked at a trash heap that spoke English. I toyed with the idea of fucking with him, but my annoyance at his presence squashed the desire. It made more sense to get rid of him because the dinner rush would be done soon, and I didn’t want to share the bounty.

I leaned forward and his gaze found me, not exactly like looking in a mirror for him because his rumpled and creased business suit and recently-cut-but-out-of-place short hair didn’t match my look. In eight months, I’d been near a barber once to ask for change, never for a trim. And opportunities to wash oneself or one’s clothes came along infrequently when living on the street—ditto the chance to shave—so I’d done neither in weeks. My patchy teenage beard probably made me look more like a crazy man.


S...sorry, ah, dude.” The man wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then his hands on his pants. “I didn’t see you.”

He didn’t sound as intimidated as I’d hoped. “No sweat, man. Just don’t puke on me again.”

“Sure.”

He clawed at trash bags, clambering in the manner of a turtle flipped on its back until he got his feet under him, then brushed at the grime on his overcoat, smudging it across the lapel with his grubby hands. Smearing complete, he stood watching me, arms dangling loose at his sides.

I faded into the shadows, looked at the end of my joint to make sure it was still lit, then took a deep drag, the burner’s orange glow illuminating my lips and the tip of my nose. With one eye closed to keep the smoke out, I held my breath for a few seconds, then puffed it free of my lungs in a swirling cloud. The man breathed deep, inhaling the sweet odor of marijuana, and looked at me expectantly.


You want a hit, dude?” Maybe if I shared my weed, I wouldn’t have to share the food when it arrived.


S...sure.”

He took a step, hand extended to accept my offer.

“Grab a seat.”

I shuffled over in a rustle of cardboard and plastic, creating space for him to sit and thinking that, if I got him high enough fast enough, he wouldn’t notice when room service showed up. The guy looked a lightweight, so it shouldn’t take much.

He slouched forward to take a seat and lost his balance; on the way down, his forehead smacked against the brick wall and he tumbled into my lap. I jerked my hand away, barely keeping him from knocking the joint out of my fingers.


Come on, man. First you lose your cookies on me, now you sit on me? Get it together.”


S-s-sorry.” The stuttered word bore the distinct slur of inebriation, or maybe the ding he’d taken to the noodle caused it. He shinnied himself off me, coming too-close-for-comfort to pawing my balls as he did, then scooted his butt around until he found a comfortable spot amongst the garbage. “My name is Jack.”

He held out his hand for me to shake, but instead of the usual societal formalities, I offered him the joint. Jack took it between his thumb and index finger and inhaled with the exaggerated sucking sound made by people who don’t normally smoke. He held his breath and passed the reefer back.
I grinned when his lungs revolted and a held-in cough bulged his cheeks, making him resemble a poor impersonation of Dizzy Gillespie.


Good shit, hey?”


Yeah,” Jack agreed struggling to inhale a breath of fresh air. “Good shit.”

I took another pull of the joint. “I haven’t seen you around before. You’re not dressed like most of the guys who hang out here.”

He looked down at his suit and I followed his gaze to the streak of puke down the front of his jacket, the spots of grime on the lapel. His purple tie hung askew and the creased tails of his mauve shirt hung over his belt.


Had a fight with my girlfriend,” he said and belched the mixed aroma of puke and ganja. I waved my hand to clear the air; he swallowed and grimaced. “She’s pregnant.”


And this is how you celebrate?”

Jack shook his head and winced with pain. “Nothing to celebrate. Kid can’t be mine.”

“Shitty, dude. Another drag?”

He blinked, then rubbed his hand across his eyes like someone scrubbing the sleepiness away. I waited for a second, but he didn’t seem to have heard me, so I elbowed him in the ribs to get his attention.

“You all right, man?”


Yeah, I’m good.”

He took the joint, blinking. I thought the smoke caused it but, when he turned, I saw blood flowing into his eyes from the gash he’d given himself in the forehead. A trail of dark fluid ran from his hairline, past his eye, along his cheek and down to his jaw.

“Dude, you got some blood there.”

Jack’s eyes rolled up, looking for the wound like a dog chasing its tail, then he giggled at himself for trying to see his own forehead. He transferred the joint to his left hand, touched his head and lowered his fingers in front of his eyes.

“Banged my head,” he said and took a toke. “Hurts.”


I bet.”

He took another drag and handed me the joint. I took it from his trembling hand and he held it between us for a second, looking at his digits as though he wanted to make them stop. When they wouldn’t, he jammed both his hands into his lap, hiding them. A bad feeling nibbled at my mind.

Jack stared across the alley at the wall scrawled with colorful, balloon-letter graffiti, but he lacked the focus to read the run-together words. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, then hacked a line of spittle out of his mouth to dangle from his bottom lip. When he opened his eyes again and looked at me, I wiped my chin on my forearm, hoping it would prompt him to do the same. It didn’t.


I hit her,” he murmured, giving me the impression he needed to say it, but hoped I wouldn’t hear. “I hurt her.”

I glanced toward the rattle of plates coming through the screened-over kitchen door of
Il Trattoria
, the clanking rustle of porcelain and their promise of food keeping me from squirming away from Jack. In my months on the street, I’d suffered through and grown tired of my fill of sob stories. Having a plethora of my own meant I didn’t need anyone else’s.

I took another drag, disguising it as a pause to contemplate my response rather than attempting to find a way to get out of the conversation.

“Hmph. Sounds like she deserved it.” With smoke held in my lungs, the words came out compressed.


Yeah. No. I don’t know.” A drop of blood hung from the tip of Jack’s nose. He wiped it away with his finger then licked his lips with the slow, purposeful movement of a man possessing a tongue made of lava rock. “I shouldn’t have done it.”

The way he moved and the exaggerated drawl creeping into his voice set alarm bells clanging in my head. I grabbed his shoulder and gave him a light shake.

“You sure you’re okay?”


Yeah. Tired isss all.”

Another droplet of blood found its way to the tip of his nose, this one without his notice. It dangled for a second before plummeting down and spattering on the back of his hand. A third drop took its place and my bad feeling got worse; finding somewhere else to eat might be a good idea. I stood with a rustle of cardboard and plastic, and Jack raised his eyes with what he made seem a great effort.

“You want it? Last one.” I held the joint out, offering him the final toke as the burner singed my fingers. He stared at it for a few seconds, confused; I opened my mouth to repeat the offer but he shook his head, cutting me off. The most recent drop of blood flew from his nose into the dark.


You leaving?” The slur in his voice ran the two words together into one.


Yeah, I’m out of pot,” I lied—an easy feat for me. Living with someone like Father Dominic had forced me into lying around the same time I started speaking. Lie or be punished; lie and be punished.
Shitty life.
“I gotta score some more.”

Jack nodded like his head weighed a ton. His chin drooped, bounced against his chest; he shook his head again, opened his eyes wide. I took the last toke, tossed the butt on the pavement and ground it out with my toe.

Jack stretched his hand out toward me. “I’m Jack,” he said. “Jack Medlin.”


Yeah, you said already.” I didn’t shake his hand because he’d wiped blood off his face with it. And puke. “I’m Icarus. My friends call me Ric.”


Ric. Well, thanks for the Mary Jane, Ric.”

I laughed a fake laugh as I walked away. “Dude, nobody calls it Mary Jane,” I said over my shoulder, “except old people and nuns.”

The alley passed beneath my measured stride as I did my best not to hurry away from the groggy man. I tip-toed around the split tomato responsible for spilling my new friend on his ass and paused to look back when I reached the mouth of the alley. If I squinted, I could see the outline of him propped against the wall where I left him.

For a second, I considered knocking on the rear door of
Il Trattoria
and asking them to call an ambulance for him. It’s what Sister Mary-Therese would have wanted me to do. Problem was, as soon as they saw my unwashed hair and grubby clothes, and detected the scent of weed clinging to me, they’d send me on my way without listening.

I stepped out of the alley and the streetlight flickered back to life over my head as I passed under it, determined to locate the nearest pay phone and call 911. But first, I needed to find someone willing to give me a quarter.

***

Jack watched the teen pause at the end of the alley and thought for a second he might return. He didn’t. Instead, he rounded the corner and disappeared. The streetlight came on the instant he did, the glow of it a smeared blur through Jack’s sagging eyelids.

I’m so tired.

His head throbbed and pulsed, but he didn’t know if smoking pot for the first time in over a decade caused it, or hitting his head. He sensed a sticky substance on his forehead, down the side of his face and nose, and wondered what it was and how it got there; he considered raising his hand to touch it, but his hand refused, so he abandoned the idea.

How could she do it to me?

The instant the thought became clear, he realized he had forgotten who she was and what she did. His mind inside his throbbing head grasped for it, reaching out like a blind man in an unfamiliar room, but came away empty. He licked his lips, tasted blood, wondered why, slipped into sleep.

The clamor of smashing plates came through the screen door, startling him awake, but he soon forgot it. His eyelids fluttered and he fought against sleep without knowing why he should. He blinked blood out of his eyes and dragged his wasteland tongue across sandpaper lips while the pounding in his temples begged him to nod off. When he finally gave in, the sandman took him away to dream of vampires with rat faces.

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