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Monday, October 31, 2011

Dark Arts: Chapter 1

Happy Halloween!

Dark Arts
Copyright © 2011 Randolph Lalonde

Chapter 1

Chicago, 1974

Maxwell stood in the doorway of St. Peter’s Chapel. He couldn’t help but compare it to St Peter’s Church, the big one, the tourist’s trap that endeavoured to ensnare souls as well as cash. After visiting that house of worship it was impossible for him to avoid comparing every church bearing the same name to its grandeur. St Peter’s Chapel was less than a tenth the size of the more well known St Peter’s Cathedral. He pulled a package of Malboros from his jacket pocket and popped one out into his hand.
“No smoking in this house, son,” a monk warned, standing slowly. He backed away from the table of wavering red candles, crossing himself. He was careful to pull his weather worn hood down and keep his face hidden.
“No bother on me. American fags are shite anyhow,” Maxwell griped. He dropped his unlit cigarette in the holy water font by the door.
“Not bothering to tame that Cockney, either. Your father would be embarrassed,” the monk said.
“Da died trying to be something he wasn’t,” Maxwell pressed the smokes into his leather jacket pocket. “Like you, on the verge of excommunication while clergy and law alike go looking into a few sacrifices in Granada. You’ve been busy, Panos.”
“I was in the vicinity, not the perpetrator,” the monk replied, subdued.
“Heard the girl’s father caught up to you. Is that what you’re hiding under that hood? A few new scars?” He hoped to rattle the middle aged monk, to get some kind of feel for who he’d become since he started wandering across the continent. The word was that he’d gone over the edge. He’d become an old world zealot, chasing down supposed practitioners of the old religions and torturing them.
It wasn’t Maxwell’s job to uncover the root cause of the man’s madness, or stop the monk from chasing down his next victim. He was there to bargain for stolen property.
Panos was unaffected by Maxwell’s question and posed one of his own. “Are you any better? Riding around America collecting religious texts for cash?”
Maxwell looked around the chapel, taking note of the fairly average stained glass windows, worn pews and humble Christ carving at the front. “Lets me enjoy the three things I fancy in North America: Harleys, women, and straight roads,” he said. His patience was rewarded as Panos adjusted the front of his robes. An old leather bag that fit the description of the one the book was stored in hung around his neck under his robes. It was held up with a simple strand of twine.
“Who is paying this time?” Panos asked.
“Angelo,” Maxwell said. “I thought I’d have some digging to do when I found you. Old bugger was sure you were dead until I told him about Granada.”
“Nearly,” the monk answered. He tugged one side of his hood, making certain it hid all but his chin.
“Best hand it over. You may be standing in His house, but I’ll guess He’s on my side for once.” Doubt weighed on Maxwell with regards to the wishes of the Almighty. He believed in his Zippo and tin of lighter fluid much more.
“I can’t give it to you,” Panos said. “Not unless you have something to offer, something worth trading.”
“Like what?” asked Maxwell.
“You’ve seen the Eternity Ankh. Where is it?”
“When I was barely past my da’s knee,” Maxwell scoffed. “He sold it for weight, it was pure gold. You think you need something like that to keep you breathing?” He couldn’t stand most of the people he met while he did his job. Superstition and zealous ideals infected many of the collectors. Freaks like Panos were worse, a hair away from complete madness. “Buying in to the folk tales in that book can put you right off your trolley.”
“This book you’re after is keeping me alive, boy,” Panos said.
“World doesn’t work that way,” Maxwell replied. “Now I know you’re barmy.”
“You think you know that much about the world? At the ripe old age of what, twenty?”
“Twenty four,” Maxwell said. “If you’re really walkin’ around at room temperature, maybe you could prove it. I’m sure hanging boy over there won’t mind if you borrow one of his nails so you can show me your blood doesn’t run.”
“Crass,” Panos said. “I’ve no mind to prove miracles to thugs.”
“I’ve got two grand here; it’s yours if you come back to reality, and give me that book,” Maxwell said. He watched the other man, who only spared him a slight twitch of his hood at the mention of so much cash. “That much green could keep you liquored for weeks. Miracle enough for a drunk, monk or no.”
“I haven’t had a drink since I found the Rayo de Luz. It’s not what Angelo thinks it is. This is the Law of the Covenant. He shouldn’t have it.”
“Angelo isn’t the most trustworthy type, but he’s a good collector. He knows what he’s buying,” Maxwell pulled the wad of hundreds from his back pocket and held it up so it couldn’t be missed.
“He should have come himself,” Panos said.
“He had business up north.” Maxwell couldn’t help it any longer, he had to ask. “What’s under the hood, Panos? Give us a peek, mate.”
“The Covenant is delicate. Someone like Angelo can’t be allowed to know the details as they are translated here, you understand?”
“Two thousand American dollars,” Maxwell enunciated loudly, wiggling the thick green wad in the air as he started to close the distance between them. “Enough for you to drink yourself to death, real death. Not this walking dead bollocks you’re believing.”
“You don’t understand,” Panos said earnestly. “I have been saved. This book comes with a purpose, it needs to be protected until a new Covenant is needed, and I think that day is coming soon.”
Maxwell put the cash into his chest pocket. It would make a hell of a bonus if he could get the book without paying for it. His hand went to his right outer pocket then, and wrapped around the small tin of lighter fluid.
“You’re not getting the book,” Panos said, starting for the side door.
In three long strides, Maxwell closed the distance between them and gripped Panos’ brown robes beneath the back of his hood. He nearly let go in disgust as he caught sight of the man’s face. The tip of Panos’ nose was gone, and the rest had been carved lengthwise down to the bone. Through a mass of lax skin and scabs, he could see that most of the cartilage had been removed. How Panos managed to escape Granada in that kind of condition was a mystery.
Maxwell ignored the stench of infection as he held his lighter fluid tin high. It was pocket sized, but there was enough to sufficiently soak someone.
“Let me go!” Panos shouted. He wheeled around clawing.
Maxwell withdrew just quick enough to get away with a shallow scratch on his cheek, spraying the monk in the eyes with lighter fluid. He continued to spray even as the man retreated, almost emptying the can.
Panos screamed, recoiled, and fell backwards over a pew. His hands were over his face, the open wound seeping blood over his fingers.
“Should have taken the cash,” Maxwell said as he yanked the twine necklace free. After peeking inside the attached pouch, verifying that the small, old book was there, he secured it inside his jacket. “Mad geezer.”
His boots echoed as he marched to the front door. Maxwell hoped Panos would stay down, that the warbles and screams would go unheard at that ungodly hour. The sounds of Panos’ suffering were replaced by something else after a few moments, and Maxwell felt a chill run down his spine.
Panos wasn’t whining or screaming, but breathing laboriously through gnashed teeth and the hole that was once his nose made a faint whistle.
Maxwell increased his pace, refusing to look over his shoulder. He was just passing the font when he heard a faint click. In an instant he hurled himself between two old pews. The small church became an echo chamber for Panos furious .45 as two shots rang out. Maxwell hurriedly started working the small book out of its bag until Panos’ cracking voice shouted. “Throw the book to me, and don’t try to trick me by just giving me the bag!”
With a sigh Maxwell tossed the book and bag in Panos’ direction.
“And the money!” cried the monk.
“Wanker,” Maxwell muttered. His ears were ringing. He produced the wad of cash and held it up so Panos could see it. “Do you really want me to throw it?” he asked.
Panos didn’t answer. Instead he crossed the distance to the book. Maxwell watched the man’s shaky hand pick it up from where he lay his head on the floorboards. The monk quickly shuffled over to Maxwell’s row and pointed the gun at him.
“No worries,” Maxwell reassured, holding the money up as high as he could. “Just take this and we’ll go our ways.”
Panos snatched the cash and started to run.
Maxwell pulled his Zippo from his jeans pocket, lit it, got to his knees and tossed the little torch. He’d doused people in lighter fluid before, it was a fantastic threat, but he’d never followed through by actually setting someone on fire.
The monk began to turn back towards him, taking aim.
The Zippo couldn’t have landed in a better place if Maxwell had an eternity to try. In a split second, Panos’ expression turned from rage to panic as the flaming lighter landed in a fold of his fuel soaked hood.
Maxwell ducked as the .45 went off. Panos went up in a blue and yellow plume. One, two, three shots sounded. Even though his ears rang like tinny bells, he could hear the monk’s shrieks as he fell forward, trying to put the flames out.
Maxwell picked up the book and kicked the man over. One more shot rang out as Panos rolled onto his back. He wondered at his luck an instant later when he realized the shot missed. He bent and snatched the smouldering wad of cash. Panos covered his face with both arms, as if he expected a beating.
“You’ll wish you took the dosh,” Maxwell said. The sound of air whistling in and out of Panos’ wrecked nose accompanied his boot steps as he left.
He was two miles down the street, riding his Harley Davidson in the cool night air when he realized his neck was soaking wet. He reached up and felt a bloody trail leading to his upper jaw. Maxwell winced in pain, nearly losing control of his bike entirely as he touched an open wound where that last bullet grazed him.
“Fucking America, too many bloody guns.” Maxwell grimaced as he downshifted and turned down a side street.


[More to come in 2012]

1 comment:

Tracy from Northern Ireland said...

You are such a tease. What a way to start a novel. Bang and your into the story. So looking forward to when this book is published.