She walked by, the air was consumed by perfume. She was a tall brunette
with legs up to her neck. She dressed like she had money, only you never know when a broad has money or not. Many times I've sat at Nicky's and had a couple of drinks when a squeeze would pop in, only looking for a John. I was standing on the street corner reading the evening paper, when she caught my eye. Nothing but bad news in the city rag. So I folded the paper under my arm and strolled behind her. She was fast, those luscious legs pumping furiously. I kept up. Once in a while those big brown money-eyes would look behind her and see how close I would get.
She had her purse under arm, the damned thing was definitely worth more than what was in my bank account. At the moment, I was in between jobs. But she swung her arms in unison with her long strides. I followed her for about three blocks. Finally, the twist turned to me angrily.
“Why are you following me?” Her nose twitched as the steam rose from her forked tongue.
I tipped my hat, smiled sideways. “Mam, I don't know what your talking about.”
“Don't give me that 'aw, shucks' crap, bub. Your following me and I want to know why. Did Lonnie hire you?”
I didn't know a Lonnie. Something told me to play this hand. I shrugged. “Well.....it ain't much----”
“Look, I 'll give you double to go back to him and tell him you saw me go in the library and I was there for a few hours, reading. Okay?”
“How much?” She was biting that plump lower lip that sported candy apple red lipstick. I wanted to bite those lips for her, have a taste.
I smiled sideways again. “Forty.” I lied. A talent I picked up from my old man, just one of many in a long line of champion liars in my god forsaken family—if that’s what you could call a family.
“Say,” steam rose from that forked tongue again. “This is not a con, is it? Because if it is----I know people who could hurt you real bad---”
“Lady, the con game is not my style.”
She looked me up and down. Then she reached into that designer purse and counted out four twenty's. She shoved the greenbacks into my chest.
“Gee, thanks. Maybe I could buy you drink now. We could go to Tumblin' Dice, afterward if you're feeling daffy, get a room.”
She smiled, stepped forward. I was ready, she parted her lips slightly, then puckered up. A large wad of phlegm sailed over and hit me square in the left eye and the bridge of my nose. She was stewing. I didn't even want to hit her, I just started laughing, wiped the glob away. Behind me, somebody else chimed in with laughter. Yeah, it was a riot, me and her act.
She stormed off, looked back at me, a glimmer in here eye. I made an impression. At my feet I noticed a small black cylinder with a cross engraved on it. It must have fallen out of her purse when she gave me the money. It fit into the palm of my hand, burned slightly.
I looked around and saw it was Little Jimmy, paper boy I've known since he was six, at the time the only black kid in my neighborhood. He was a good guy, especially for info on people he knew, and Jimmy knew a lot of marks out there. I quickly shoved the small cylinder in my coat pocket.
“Pete,” He tried to catch his breath, had a bad case of the giggles. I walked over to where he had his newspaper stand set up. I dwarfed him, and I tell you, I'm only five-six. “You know who that was?”
“Mary Magdalene?” I quipped.
“Close,” He shoved a stick of gum into his small mouth, chewed reverently. “That is Maggie Conolly.”
I did a double take. “You know her?”
“Sure I do,” He sat behind the stand on a stool too big for him. “She and Mr. Conolly employ me from time to time for errands.”
“They get you to get things from the top shelf for them,” I chuckled.
“Makin' fun of my height, ain't cool, Pete.”
“I'm sorry, Jimmy. Don't know what came over me.”
“I do,” He said. “ She belittled you, doin' the same to me makes you feel better. It's the way it is. No, I get things from the store for them. Go to drugstore, take messages for them to others.”
“Sounds like a spiffy job. He really owns half the city?”
“Yeah....I once took a letter to the Mayor explaining that he was to clear Dove street for that new highrise. You see the construction began two months ago.”
“It sure don't look like a highrise.”
“Whatever it is,” Little Jimmy said. “It's a building.”
I said my goodbye to Jimmy and turned on my heels, walked south on Ventura. I was headed to the drugstore, lunch sounded great at the moment. When I opened the door, everyone yelled my name. Gina was the waitress, none too happy to see me. Last week I had to stand her up, too many people were looking for me, wanted some money. She walked over to the lunch counter with loads of attitude resting on those ample breasts. Other than those perky girls, Gina’s red hair and green eyes had an effect on me. She always gave me a rise when I sitting on the curb.
“Look everybody, a freeloader just stumbled through the door,” She through a menu in my face.
“Why hello, Gina, dear . Hows tricks these days?” I pushed the menu on the counter, looked to my right and an old cowhand had his long white beard in his tomato soup. I nodded to him, he looked the other direction.
“You got a lot of nerve showing up here, you cretin!” Gina thrust her breasts into my neck, almost cutting off my air.
“I missed you, baby----” She grabbed me by my white tie and jerked me forward. That's when I really did choke.
“Gina!” I heard Ray's voice from behind the counter. She let go of my tie. “Go clear booth thirteen, now!”
“Hey, thanks, Ray.” I smiled at him, but his sour look kept me from saying anything else. Suddenly I was a bum without friends.
I looked around, saw dirty looks from others at their booths, and more from people at the counter. I slipped off my stool slowly and made way for the door as quietly as possible. Out on the sidewalk my shoes motored down the alley and out back of the playground. I was heading back to two-bit room on the lower side. Hoping like hell nobody else hassled me on the way.
I saw Maggie Conolly hanging around the building I rented my room. She was talking to Sledge, my Landlord. I felt for my smokes, touched that cylinder. As I walked up on them I lit a cig. Sledge turned to me. He looked guilty, so I blew smoke in his face.
“Hows your hammer hanging,Sledge?” I moved in closer with the intent to do harm.
“You better stay where you are, Chambers! I didn't tell her nothin', cept your a bum! Everybody knows that!” He ran with his tail between his legs. Sledge disappeared into his office, peeking through the blinds at us.
Maggie turned to me, still steaming. “I want it back!” She screamed in my face. I saw those brown eyes turn pitch black. Goosebumps rose up on my arms. I backpedaled away from her.
“I don't know what your talking about ,sister. Just back off,” I held up my hands, she stopped dead in her tracks.
“It chose you when you took that black cylinder,” She whispered. “You have the mark of the inverted cross.”
“What chose me?” I said rolling my eyes.
“G'nal, a demon. You give it five souls a year, for as long as your alive, it will keep you from harm's way.”
“You been reading the funny papers, haven’t you?”
She seemed to calm down. “Is there anywhere we can go to talk privately, Mr. Chambers?” She flashed a nervous smile.
I looked at her incredulously. “Yeah...my room, I suppose.”
I turned the key to unlock my front door, when I saw Hemlock, the Police chief with Ragdale searching my room with three blues. I came in, laughed. Mrs. Conolly followed, then tried to leave, I slammed the door in her face and pulled her front and center.
“Boys, boys....you should have called first. You see I have brought a lady friend.” I took my coat off, threw it on Ragdale's face. He pushed it off, threw it to the floor.
“You wanna get rough, Jerk off!” He took his billy club out and moved closer to me. The police chief put his hand on Ragdale's shoulder. He stayed put like the well trained dog he was. I hated Ragdale. Never a concern for the constitution, and all citizens were criminals to him. Every time I've been busted, he was the arresting officer. In county lockup I would sit in my cell nursing a new injury courtesy of that rat bastard.
“We're here on business, Mrs. Conolly. It's none of our---” Hemlock tried to speak as if he'd went to college, but the only school he'd been to was obedience school.
“Your right, chief, it isn't your business why I'm here. My husband would be interested in knowing why your harassing our employee.” She and I exchanged looks. I smiled sideways and shrugged at the chief.
“He is a suspect in murders, mam,” Ragdale said dryly. “Mass murders.”
“What murders?” I snarled.
“At the drugstore, wiseguy! You were the last one seen inside Harley's drugstore at around noon today. When a customer entered right after you, thirteen people were dead!”
“I can't believe it....Ray is dead.....Gina?” I staggered a little. It had to be a cruel joke. I sat in my chair by the TV., slumping down. They were good people. I didn't get it. Who and why? I must have been talking out loud, because Hemlock spoke in a growl.
“Believe it, Chambers. We just can't see how you carried it off.....thirteen people mauled to death...torn to ribbons.....the blood....so much blood.....”
“He had accomplices!” Ragdale barked. He grabbed me and pulled my arms behind my back. He had a pair of handcuffs ready to slap them on when my room was filled smoke so thick the person next to you disappeared in it. When the smoke cleared, G'nal appeared. The demon was just as tall as I was, about six foot, but it was stocky, boils all over it's sickly green skin. His two large hands were really just long extended claws. His legs were bent and deformed as if he'd had polio, he had no feet, just hooves like a Clydesdale. His face was long and pointed, eyes wide and bulging out of it's sockets, the nostril was just a slit and his mouth had several small sharp teeth that rested inside large black gums. The color of it's eyes were a burnt umber. He had no horns, which if you'd said a demon was going to visit me, I would have had a vision of a creature with horns like the devils.
Everyone froze where they were, awaiting the worst. Mrs. Conolly clung to me, crying.
Ragdale lay on his big belly, praying to God. The two beat cops were dead. G'nal had slaughtered them, both had been split in half, their torso's laying on top of each other like in a trash heap. Hemlock stood like a statue, eyes wild, grimacing.
G'nal spoke, I thought the walls were going to cave in, the whole building shook. “Master...” He was inches from my face. I immediately puked. The smell from his breath was a mixture of death and too much perfume. “Shall I continue the carnage....or as I read your thoughts...spare the lowest of the low?”
I got myself together. Wiped vomit from my mouth, spoke slowly. “Do as I thought...the way you read them.”
“As you wish....it is my gift...only I hoped our first meeting would had been...in calmer times.”
“Let's try to keep all of our future meetings calmer, eh, bub?”
“Of course, Master. Per our agreement, you provide the stated amount of souls a year, I will provide the protection.”
I nodded. He asked if that was all for now, and you bet your ass I said it was all, and quickly pointed out that I may never need him again. G'nal laughed. The windows in my room shattered, glass fell to the floor like raindrops.
As the smoke enveloped G'nal, he said: “That, Master, is an impossibility.”
After several moments of silence, the rest took time to get themselves together. Hemlock and Ragdale helped each other toward the door.
“Chambers,” Hemlock said, composing himself, still grimacing. “We will arrange for some one to pick up the deceased. And if you'd like to, file a report of some kind, if not, then fine.”
“I don't think so,” I said.
Hemlock nodded. He took Ragdale by the arm, led him out the room. I heard Ragdale say, “I think it's a good idea to stop in and see Father Craig, don't you, sir?”
“Sure thing, Ragdale. Sure thing.”
I looked over at Mrs. Conolly, she huffing a cigarette. “Looks like things are looking up for you, Chambers.” She said.
“I doubt that,” I helped her to the door, and in the hallway. “Especially in the afterlife.”
In the morning I saw Little Jimmy, hawking the morning paper. He called my name, I went to him.
“Want a paper, Chambers?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.” I threw some money down, but he gave it back.
“It's on the house,” He said.
That was when I noticed that Little Jimmy's eyes were a burnt umber.