I was in city lockup again and I have to admit I was hoping for a fight. There were no takers. As a matter of fact, that night, there was only one other poor sod in the cell. He was extremely happy about being there. The tall, lanky fella looked like a Chess champion and wore the thickest rimmed glasses I had ever seen. He went by Artie, and if no one told him before, I sure as hell told him, that his gray- pale skin was sagging.
Artie touched his face with his hands and moved the skin back in place. “It does that sometimes,” He said cheerfully. “I guess it happened when that officer slammed by head into his car.”
I kept looking at him. Was this guy for real? What was he so fucking chipper about? “Your in jail.” I told him. “Your skin is falling off. Now tell me, why are you the happiest asshole I have ever met?”
“I don't know,” He grinned. “It's in my nature I guess. I'm Artie, by the way,” He shook my hand again.
“I know. You introduced yourself twice already.”
“Who are you?” He gave me a pained confused look.
“Pete Chambers,” I gave out a long sigh.
“You have bruises all over your face,” Artie stated.
“Well, I sort of had a run in with the other guy's fist. If its any consolation, my face beat the shit out of his fist.”
Artie laughed, wagged a finger. “Your a cut-up. I can see that.”
“What are you in for?” I asked, pretending to be a hardened criminal or a master mind in a bank heist. You gotta do something to pass the time in stir.
“I don't know why I'm here,” Artie laughed, sounding a lot like a cartoon jackass. “Oh, wait! Yeah I do know. I went into someone's house without they're permission.”
“You just broke in, huh? Were you going to steal something?”
“Oh no,” He gave me that pained expression again. “I'm not a magpie. I don't steal.”
I laughed, shook my head. “No kiddin'? You don't steal? Why'd you go in a house uninvited then?”
“Because it was easy,” He was grinning again. He was starting to get on my nerves. If I had a lit cigarette, I would have put it out in his eye.
“It is good manners, Artie, you understand, not to unlock---”
“The door just opened for me,” He corrected me. “Its a gift I have.”
“Yeah.” I couldn't take it anymore. My head was starting to hurt. “I'm going to go over to the next cot and get some rest.”
“Right-o,” He smiled hugely and gave me thumbs up. I noticed a tattoo of circle with a dot inside on his left wrist. I had seen that tattoo somewhere before, but I couldn't remember where.
Later, I was dreaming of Maggie, with her tall, creamy white body lying next to me. Her long chestnut hair was dripping wet from perspiration had clung to me as she rest her head on my naked chest. I had the feeling we had just made love and we were both at ease. I felt no pressure from life. Maggie was silent, serene.
Very silent. Her body went from poker hot to iceberg cold. Our bodies were not just wet from sweat, but sticky from blood.....the warm red sensation from that horrible gash on Maggie's jugular.
I awoke screaming as if someone had just yanked my heart from my ribcage. If that wasn't the truest feeling I had ever felt in my whole stinking life, then I sure as hell hoped God struck me down.
Maggie was dead. Her throat had been slit by a fever-dream image of her husband. Maggie had cast a spell, her way of keeping us together forever. She sold her soul to an unnamed demon, and by doing some grunt work, I was given her soul. Every time I open that gold locket, Maggie appears before me.
Yet, for months, I have not opened that locket. I have been punishing myself in various ways. Reckless behavior. Trying so hard to end up in jail. Bar fights, scamming old ladies, out right holdups of gas stations. And yesterday, I pick pocket a guy in the train station. His wallet only had pictures of his kids and sixty bucks. I purposely allowed him to notice I had lifted it from his back pocket.
I was hauled in, booked again.
When I awoke, the cell was empty save for me. Artie was gone. I guessed they either let him go, or he posted bale. He was an odd one.
The cell door opened. A guard escorted Police Chief Ragdale inside the cell. Ragdale had just been appointed the position after the mysterious murder of Hemlock, the former Police Chief.
He stood in front of me, rubbed his bald head with a hand. “What's wrong with you?” Ragdale said. “Shouldn't you be out trying to shoot werewolves with silver bullets or somethin'?”
I shrugged. “I'm all out of silver bullets.” I told him.
Ragdale tried to smile. What a frightening sight that was. A mixture of painful gas and a nervous twitch. “Look, chambers. I don't care about that mumbo-jumbo shit you did for Hemlock. If I need you...and I know I will one day...I'll let you know. Getting' yourself arrested for attention-----”
“You think that huh, Dr. dimwit?”
“Still zingin' 'em, I see. Get this asshole outta here!” Ragdale ordered the guard to grab me. “If I see you back in lock up again, Chambers, the charges stick! No matter how serious.”
And can you believe it? I was thrown out of county jail.
I was standing out in front of the county jailhouse when I noticed Artie entering a strip joint. Or trying to enter, I should say. Two bouncers pushed him back out the door. They pointed fingers at him and cursed at him. Artie, happy as hell, tried to explain himself. But those gorillas were not having it. The larger one with the square head took hold of Artie by his shirt lapel. He had Artie up in the air, way up, his feet dangling at the gorilla's oblong chest.
What could I do? I couldn't let them kick a hole in this guy's head. Not that I am any kind of fighter. Just maybe, I could prevent a horrible murder.
“Hey!” I screamed, running over to Artie and his new playmates. “Excuse me! Is that you, Mr. Conrad?”
The other gorilla stepped forward, ready to beat me senseless. I stopped short of him, threw my hands up. He growled and showed me his two over sized fists. Good grief! I thought. They were like two center blocks.
“Do you know this asshole?” One of the gorillas asked.
“And you don't?” I gave out a laugh and shook my head.
“All I know is this jerk touched one of my girls and burned her during a lap dance. The skin fell off of her arm, I could see the bone.” He snorted.
“So who the fuck is he?” The gorilla that was holding Artie in the air asked.
“Oh. He's a reporter for channel six. Eye in the sky. He's doing a report on strip clubs....how the patrons are abused by the staff. I'm his producer.” I looked around and saw a man in a baseball cap with a digital video camera. “He's our cameraman.” I pointed across the street.
The gorilla put Artie down gently.
“Hey...uh...Mr. Conrad...we are sorry,” One of the gorilla's said.
Artie smiled at him. “No. I'm not Mr. Conrad.”
“What?” The gorilla spit in Artie's face.
The other bouncer reached for me, I backed away, giggling. “Artie show him how you touched that dancer. Was she sexy, Artie?”
“Oh yes,” Artie said. “I just wanted to touch her cheek but her arm got in the way---”
When Artie touched the bouncer's face, his skin sizzled under Artie's hand. The skin fell fell from the man's cheek like a soapy sponge in a sink. The man fell to his knees, screaming, calling out God, Jesus, and Mother Mary.
“Run Artie!” I yelled, took off down the street corner. I looked back, saw Artie wasn't behind me.
The idiot got caught, I thought. I stopped running outside a grocery store parking lot. I was doubled over, trying to catch my breath, when I heard a voice behind me.
“You're fast,” It was Artie. Leaning against a newspaper box.
“I guess you snapped your fingers and you arrived here?” I said in between huffing and puffing.
Artie smiled and nodded. His smile disappeared. “How did you know?”
“Artie...why didn't you tell me you were a demon?”
“I didn't think it was important.” He said cheerfully.
“Come on,” I sneered at him, started to walk away. “And stop fucking smiling!”
We had only gotten four feet when we saw this tall man dressed in black smiling at us. His misshapen head was completely bald, no hair on his face at all. Not even eyebrows. He had a long , malevolent smile on his face. The lips were thin, drawn up around those horrible black teeth to show purple gums. His body was thin, and the black dress shirt looked like a it was sewn on, just as the black jeans with the cuffs tucked into his black rattlesnake boots.
We stopped at the grocery store entrance. I took my eyes off the man in black just long enough to see the fear in Artie's eyes. Artie's lips were trembling, but his fists were clenched tight by his sides.
“You know him?” I asked.
Artie fumbled his words in a low whisper. “Deguello,” He said, swallowing hard. “Deguello.”
“We should run? Right? Right?!” I turned back to the man in black. He was no longer a man at all, but a large black rottweiler with flaming red eyes. A long growl came from it's slack jawed mouth, where it's large fangs protruded.
We ran inside the grocery store. I threw a couple of shopping carts ta the hell hound. It only used them as leverage to gain more ground, in one leap, up and over. Several shoppers saw this large black dog growling and barking. They ran the other way. A woman grabbed her little girl and ran out the other exit on the other side of the store. Artie and I were headed that direction. The dog stopped us dead in our tracks. That damned thing was fast. We ran toward the checkouts. Again, the dog was at every turn, even hopping up on the bagging facility. The teenage cashier had the guts to pull out the microphone hanging from her register and pound the dog on the right side of it's head. It fell from the register and rolled, whimpering.
Just for a stunned moment, lying on the tiled floor of the grocery store, the dog had changed back into the man in black. When it recovered it's senses, the over-sized rottweiler had returned.
Artie was way ahead of me. He was fast too, only he was cheating, and maybe not on purpose. His body kept appearing and reappearing in thirty second intervals. We were down a few aisles when the dog had cut us off at the back aisle near the meat department. Artie seemed to not care, he kept running. I saw where he was going. An emergency exit door to the left. I was prepared to bite, kick, use my fists, if possible. I didn't think for a minute I would live through the fight.
Just as we were at the end of the health aisle, the rottweiler was set to attack, a large butcher knife came straight down, piercing the top of the dog's skull, the tip of the blade showing through the it's open mouth. Long stream of yellow gook sprayed everywhere, covering packets of chicken parts, and a display of stuffing mix. I looked up and saw this big, heavy set man in a white coat and cap standing over the flailing rottweiler. The dog was screaming, yelping, flopping around until it had changed back to the man in black.
He stood, facing the butcher. The butcher made like a track and field runner in his twenties and was in his meat cooler in ten seconds flat.
The man in black, Deguello, had pulled that butcher knife slowly, painfully, out of the top of his head. His tiny red eyes were searching for us. Artie and I were long gone, having pushed open that emergency exit, the alarms sounding off.
Artie was down the street, not even looking back. I called out for him a dozen times before he stopped. I had to catch my breath, so I walked to him. He was standing out in front of the bank, leaning against the brick wall.
I caught up to him, sat on a curb. “Spill it, Artie.” I demanded.
“I don't know what you---”
“You escaped the pits of hell, didn't you?”
“No....no I didn't,” Artie shook his head. “I don't know how I ended up here. That house I was in? Well, two days ago I was standing in a room looking at a child in it's crib. Of course, I looked slightly different. I hadn't yet taken this shape completely.
“I took some clothing from the closet, found these,” Artie smiled again, pointing at the tick rimmed glasses that sat on end of his nose. “After I had my run in with those men at the bar, which one of them lured me in, I was ready to go back where I came from. I needed to go back. Before anyone noticed. So I went back to the house, the doors opened for me. There was the child with it's mother. She screamed and called the police. That's when I met you next.”
“Yeah,” I said,thinking. “Lucky me. What's a Deguello, Artie?”
“A hunter. Tracker of those that escape hell without permission. He takes the heads of the escapees for proof the task is completed. Honestly, I don't know how arrived here.”
“Come on, maybe I know someone who could help.”
I was back on my street, listening to little Jimmy calling out to people hitting the pavement to buy the local paper. He had strong lungs for a twelve year old black kid. Then again, Jimmy is not who he appears to be.
Jimmy saw me, plucked a lit cigar butt from between his lips and tossed it on the sidewalk. He smiled sideways, watched me walk up to him with Artie at my side.
“What's the goon smiling at,” Jimmy said, pointed at Artie.
Artie kept smiling, stuck his hand out for Jimmy to take it. I smacked it away, told him to find a spot to cool his heels.
“I need to talk to G'nal,” I said.
“You always have to talk to G'nal. Can't you solve any problems without him?”
“It doesn't work that way. You know that. Bring him to me.”
“You're wish is my command,” Jimmy said and a cloud of black smoke enveloped me.
I heard a thunderous voice and saw this horned creature towering above me.
“I suppose you would like me to vanquish that demon standing on the street corner,” G'nal said.
“Not him, he's harmless.” I told G'nal. “I want to know how to rid myself a Deguello.”
“You can't. Only another called upon by it's master can.”
“Why would I waste my time on such a low-level bottom feeder?”
“I don't follow?”
“He hunts demon's that escape hell. I am a keeper of souls. A Deguello has only one purpose...to destroy.”
“You wouldn't, so to speak, vanquish a deguello if it attacked me? All of those souls I recently turned in to you---”
“There are other ways to protect you. Those souls belonged to another...and as you would say, that bill is payed up for a number of years.”
“Looks like I'm stuck. Artie didn't escape, he was brought to this world without his permission,” I said.
“Let the Deguello take him. That is the answer to your problem.” G'nal vanished in that black cloud of smoke and little Jimmy appeared.
“You going to pay for that paper, you cheap bastard?” He had his left hand out, urging me to flip him some coin.
I noticed I had the local paper under my arms. “You sly little jerk,” I grinned like a jack ass. I threw a couple of quarters at him. They scattered on the sidewalk under his tennis shoes.
“I got bills to pay, Chambers. Unlike you, I can't scam my way through life.”
“Jimmy, Jimmy. Don't be a hater. Come on!” I barked at Artie. He happily ran to catch up to me as my strides became to quick for him.
It was obvious we had to go to the house where Artie found himself materialize.
I rang the doorbell and a blond woman in her early thirties was placing a shoe on her foot opened, the door. “I'm glad you're here, Mindy is driving me----” The woman straightened herself, stared blankly at Artie and I.
I smiled at her and said, “Hello...” I started to give her a line, maybe say we were geek patrol here to fix your laptop. But she gave me a stern look. I was at a loss for words.
“What's he doing here?!” The woman screamed.
“Parson. And he,” She pointed at Artie. “Is suppose to be in jail! The creep would have stolen my little girl---”
“Wait...Mrs.. Parson....I don't think Artie would do such a thing---”
“Who the hell are you? His lawyer?”
“Uh...no. I'm Artie's brother, Pete. Can we come inside and talk?”
“No. I'm not letting two strange men---”
“Please, Mrs. Parson. Artie....my brother...he's not all...Artie is...special,” I told her, giving a pained look, hoping to break that icy shell.
Mrs. Parson gave Artie a long look over. Artie was doing his job by just smiling for no reason. He looked clueless, and it was no act.
She relented, offered us to step foot across her threshold. “I'm sorry,” She whispered to me. “I didn't know anything was different about him.”
“It's okay,” I whispered back. “It's not noticeable at first.”
“Please,” She flashed a smile at us. “Have a seat.”
Artie sat beside me on the couch, Mrs. Parson sat in a green lounge chair across from us. The house looked the typical middle class, all the furniture was new. I asked what she did for a living and Mrs. Parson said she was a lawyer. That could come in handy someday, with my luck. I told her I was fraud investigator. I thought that would be somewhat humorous, but only to me. I saw a picture in a frame of Mrs. parson and a dark haired man in a turtle neck. I took a shot and asked what her husband did for a living.
“I'm separated,” She said, made a face. I guess I hit a raw nerve. Her demeanor changed. “He is a lawyer as well. Look, I'm late for an appointment, could we get on with this? I'm just waiting for my babysitter. What do you want?”
“I wanted to discuss....the uh....charges.....”
I was scanning the room when she caught me off guard. A little girl entered the living room carrying a large, tattered book, the yellowing pages falling to the floor. The little girl was just six or seven. She brought the book to Mrs. Parson, climbed in her lap.
“Mommy, will you read this book to me?” The little girl said.
“Marnie, where did you get this?” Mrs. Parson held up the book, looked at the plain soft cover.
“Mindy had it.”
I recognized the book. It was a Spellcaster.
“Did you read from that book?” I asked Marnie. She nodded to me. “You can read good?”
“Marnie has been able to read since she was four. What's this have to do---”
“Can you show me those pages, Marnie? Where you last read?”
She took the Spellcaster from her mother's hands and brought it to me. I noticed Artie wasn't sitting beside me anymore. He was at the window, looking out at the front yard. Marnie flipped the crumbling pages haphazzardly until she came to an image of a naked man with claw-like fingers and red eyes. Horns protruded from both sides of his forehead. The cation on top of the printed words read HOW TO CALL FORTH A DEMON.
That was it. I looked over my shoulders at Artie. “I think I know how you got here, Artie.” I said.
Artie was still staring out the window, only his eyes grew bigger. His hands were twitching. I saw fear cross his face. Artie backed up slowly from the window.
“He's here,” Artie said.
“What's he going on about?” Mrs. Parson snapped.
“Who, Artie?” I stood, helped Marnie on the couch.
“Deguello.....” Artie whispered.
The doorbell rang. Mrs. parson was already standing, with her hands on her hips, went to the door.
“Don't answer the door!” I screamed. I remembered if you don't invite a demon inside, it can't enter your home. Of course a demon is not going to ring a doorbell.
“It's my babysitter,” Mrs. Parson stamped her feet and screamed in frustration. She opened the door to a young woman in a flowery dress and beads backpack over her shoulder. “Mindy!I'm glad you are here. I might have to call the police---”
“I'm sorry I'm late, Mrs. Parson. Traffic from the campus was dreadful.”
There was a low growl from behind Mindy. She set one foot inside the house and a large black dog leaped into the air, grabbed Mindy by the nape of her neck, pulled her to the floor of the living room.
Mindy screamed, tried to roll away from the dog, who pounced on her. The dog' powerful jaws bit down hard on Mindy's face and tore a huge chunk of flesh from her cheek to her mouth. Mrs. Parson screamed, kicked off a shoe. She picked up the high heel, buried sharp curved heel into the back of the dog's neck, causing it to rear back, screaming a blood-curdling yelp. As it fell on it's back, rolled toward Artie, it was no longer the red-eyed hound. It had become Deguello once more.
Deguello stood slowly, pulled the tip of the high heel from the back of his neck. A large fleshy gap was open, the skin raised up and collided into each other. His wound was healed. A curved twelve inch blade blade with pointed teeth on one side, encircled handle, appeared in his right hand.
Deguello smiled. It looked like a razor had went across both sides of his face to create that bloody, horrible smile. He stepped toward Artie.
I rushed him. It was no good. He caught me by the throat with his left hand, squeezed slightly, lifted me in the air, high above everyone. I struggled for breath, kicked my legs. In mere moments, I felt light-headed. My vision became blurry. I saw Mindy whispering, her torn mouth bleeding badly.
Deguello carried me with him as he raised the blade up and came down in angle towards Artie's chest. Artie screamed, threw his hands up instinctively. I heard a rumble grow to growl from Deguello's clenched spiraling teeth.
Everything went black.
A few minutes later I came to. I was on the floor, beside a puddle of burning flesh. I looked at everyone, stunned. “What happened?” I asked.
Artie was hiding behind the couch, peaking from a corner. A mound of salt surrounded the hunk of blackened skin, which was still sizzling.
Mrs. Parson was kneeling,holding Marnie close to her and sobbing loudly. A canister of salt lay at their feet. “Marnie....of all things...threw salt on ….that....that...thing.....I'm so confused.....I don't understand anything anymore. I don't even know how Marnie knew what to do---”
“I,” Mindy said slowly, her face showing agonizing pain. “I told her to.....” I ran to Mindy, having already called an ambulance from Mrs. Parson's cell phone, and wrapped a kitchen towel gently around her face to stop the bleeding. “I ….cast a ….spell....on Marnie.... It's not dead,” Mindy barely managed. “It's only banished.....it will be....back.....”
“Shhh,” I told her, stroking Mindy's hair. “Try not to talk. Everything will be all right.”
I was at home, in the bungalow Maggie had left me in her will. I was in my bedroom, Artie was in the guest room, hopefully resting. I laid in the bed Maggie and I once shared together, holding that locket in my hands.
“It's been awhile,” I heard Maggie say. Then I felt her body against mine, her arms caressing me. She softly kissed me on the lips. “I've missed you.”
“I'm sorry,” I said. “I've been grieving for you.”
“No need to,” Maggie said. “I'm here. I'll be with you forever.”
I closed my eyes, and believed that, because I hadn't believed it before. I will never doubt her again. Never.