Monday, November 26, 2007

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 7

I lay still for ten minutes, listening. When the crickets and frogs starting singing again, I got to my knees. Where had a big bejeezuz panther come from in the middle of L.A.? Barring an escape from a zoo, or a mutant black puma, there was only one place. Anton LaVey, as one of his many affectations, kept a panther as a pet. Apparently the beast had not followed me. It was, in effect, my savior from the oddly behaving coyotes. I began to revise my opinion and felt rather grateful to the beast. Though not so grateful that I planned on leaving my perch before daybreak. I was there for the count; it was the only sensible thing to do; I was no hero.

I started to take a look around, standing up, stretching on my little balcony of safety. The facility’s lights illuminated the surrounding asphalt walkway and the bordering handrails. I was looking at a shrub against the rails when I had a sinking sensation. It was not a shrub. It was something draped over the railing and, as my eyes plumbed the darkness, I got the distinct idea that it was a body.

Those screams before the panther appeared, just as I was about to shoot the lead coyote. My assignation?

I huddled in the dark until around five, when the sun started to disperse the darkness. Then, I climbed down and walked over to the body. A female. I did not touch anything, but bent to look at the face. Late twenties, touch of Hispanic, long dark hair that now dangled to the ground. Face now an unholy blue black mask from being draped over the rail like an old coat. No idea who she was.

She had not died nicely. Hunching down, I could see she had suffered a massive chest wound. Probably a full frontal attack with an axe. I thought of going through her pockets or purse to look for clues. But I was a reporter, not a detective.

I ran to the parking lot. Lex was fast asleep on the passenger seat. I ruffled him awake, as glad to see him at that moment as any person ever in my life. Then I drove to the nearest pay phone and called the cops.

* * * *

Next, I called my editor at home, told him I was on a page-one story for the afternoon edition. I had persuaded the cops that they did not need to pick me up and drove back to the crime site. In the minute before the sirens pulled into the parking lot, I snapped a photo I knew would never run.

Pat Kennedy shook his head. “I’m getting sick of your face, Holcomb. How’d you come on the body?”

I decided it would be best to give an expurgated version of my story, avoiding odd wildlife. “I was called in the middle of the night to meet a female with some information on my friend Al Stirling’s death. I show up and this is what I find.”

“Is this the person you were supposed to meet?”

“I dunno, she wouldn’t give a name, but I would suspect it’s her.”

“What time did you find her?”

“Just a few minutes before I called you.”

Over his shoulder, Kennedy yelled for progress and a detective came over. “Name’s Bianca Hughes, all her ID is in her purse, money too, forty bucks. Rings still on her fingers.”

“How did she die?” Kennedy asked the detective.

“That’s the ugly part, Sergeant. She seems to have been held by someone, while she was stabbed below her sternum. There’s a big jagged hole in her torso, but no evidence of a gun shot.”

Another siren came up the hill. We watched Dom Simone step out and head directly over to the body.

Stirling’s sister told me that he had been going out with a girl named Bianca Hughes,” I offered. We stood staring over Griffith Park as the sun came up, our backs to the body.

Simone came over after a while. Kennedy just raised his eyebrows. “Cut was made below the sternum, about ten inches wide. Then it appears someone reached in, grabbed her heart and pulled it out.”

“Was she alive?”

“Can’t tell yet, but if she was it’s highly unlikely she was conscious past the initial slice. There’s a body wall that has to be breached before anyone could get a hand in.”

Kennedy looked over my face. “What the hell are you involved in here, Paperboy?”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gothic Fiction: Class Reunion

Here is a gothic short story I wrote about that most lame of traditions, the high school reunion. CBC was going to buy it to make into an episode of an omnibus TV series, but the series never got off the ground. What else is new....

CLASS REUNION by Les Wiseman

You got the invitation and you wondered. Grad class twenty-year reunion. Why? You hated those knotheads then, why would you want to go back to that small town and get together with them now? When you've become your own person via two decades of hard labor. You never fit in, were never part of the in cliques. And since you left it all behind you'd made real friends, people who respect and admire you. Who don't know that in high school you were scorned. These days, people think you're cool. And during a decade of journalism you had occasionally gloried at the thought of those high-school turds reading your byline with envy while they pumped gas or labored in mindless repetitive jobs while their sows whelped. And you thought of the great sex you'd had, with beautiful women who loved your body and never knew the kids wouldn't let you walk home with them. You had taken drugs and drank with some of the brightest minds of your generation. You were a known entity in the cultural mosaic.

You were proud that you had put out two books of horror, that were birthed in high school when you read weird magazines and comics while the jocks played on their petty little teams and made out with their vacuous little squirrel-headed cheerleaders. And while you never had a leather jacket or any of the fashionable clothes because your parents couldn't afford them, your agent had just negotiated a six-figure deal for your third book. And while kids would put "Kick Me" signs on your back in the hallways, you now got letters from fans who would like to meet you. And when you stepped away from the podium at a reading, you knew there were always going to be a couple of women who wanted you because of what you had created. Your power.

So, you figured you had your ego in check enough that you could go to the reunion, not to gloat, but just to show how you had turned out. Better than most.

You had what you wanted. A book contract, a mortgage, and you had found, after some rakish searching, the dearest woman in the world. You had given up thinking there would ever be a right one for you, but then she had walked into your life. True, she was substantially older than you, but all relationships are weird. And though she had a few lines, it was obvious that she was a beautiful woman. Plus, she had a mind. She read books. You could talk about things that mattered with her. And she had no ego screwiness; she did what she wanted and the rest of the world could go sit on a tack. Your books never shocked her. She read all that sort of stuff. And at conventions, the other writers who had come to accept you were always delighted to see her because she knew their work and could talk about it intelligently. She was a gem. And she left you alone to write, but was always right there doing the little things that kept her happy, her cross-stitching, her knitting, her recipes. You had a wonderful life together. And while the other guys in your class might've had wives that were sleeker, none had one remotely as full of worth and goodness.

So you went. Back to that small town. To that high school gym. You couldn't resist an Armani suit. And while the little woman was noticeably a few axe-handles through the beam, she looked fabulous in her diamonds.

You knew you weren't going to be the richest guy there. You'd heard that Donny Paulsen had started a lightbulb business with a couple of other jerks and had turned it into a multi-million dollar distribution company. But, hell, he was still just a glorified lightbulb salesman. You wondered about that Deanna Allen, the haughty genetic-wonder cheerleader who you lusted over mightily and once called you a loser. That had destroyed you for weeks, maybe longer. You'd heard that she was divorced from that alcoholic football player now and was waiting tables in a series of restaurants. Might be nice to go there for dinner, make sure to get her section, leave a fifty dollar tip, blow her away.

When you entered the old gym, there they all were: fatter, balder, saggier, but strutting around like puffer pigeons, each one wanting to meet only those whose lives hadn't turned out so well. And you'd gotten your wife a drink and she whispered that you had gone to school with an awful lot of severely ugly people and that made you want to hug her right there. You knew there was no place she would less like to be than here, but she was humoring something inside you that needed to be aired. You saw a few you'd known. Saw them look you over. And it came to you with a panic flash of flop sweat that your wife was going to find out that you had been a loser in high school, that you did not have any friends to be reunited with.

So you skirted the walls of the hall. Absorbed yourself in looking at the photos put up there, clipped from the annual and new stuff sent in by people who had some sense of spirit about this thing, pictures of their homes, their kids, their boats. Among some of the older pictures you saw an annual clipping of you, sitting in a chair alone. Out of context. You felt the sweat rise again; you knew that you were sitting alone at a dance. Some joker with a Brownie had snapped your picture to display to everyone what an outcast you were. But now the picture didn't communicate that to anyone else, you assured yourself. So you pointed it out to your wife. She said she could tell that you had potential despite that ridiculous haircut.

And you heard that voice and felt that tap on your shoulder and turned around to see Donny Paulsen. Tanned, in a suit as expensive as yours, but much more conservative. He breathed scotch on you, his eyes filigreed with red capillaries. He looked you up and down, then smiled all teeth and warmth. Then, he reached out, and before you could do anything, he ruffled your hair and chuckled. He indicated the picture with his scotch glass. You knew he could spill the beans, that he knew where and why the shot had been taken. He just laughed and shook his head. You heard a quaver in your voice as you introduced him to your wife and he gave her a cursory "I could have you" glance. You mentioned that you heard he was in lightbulbs. And you saw a flare of anger in his eyes when he heard the derision in your voice. He said he'd tried to read one of your books, couldn't remember the title, but he didn't have time to get through it. You felt yourself flare and you couldn't look over at your wife for fear that she could see that this guy was ranking you. He looked around the room, saw someone he wanted to see and, before he turned away, he lifted his hand again toward your hair, but prepared you shot out your hand to intercept it, but not before he had dropped the hand. It had been a feint. He'd got you again. He chuckled and shook his head as he walked away.

You told your wife what a prick he was. She allowed as to how that was quite obvious. Asked if you wanted to split. You said no and went and got a couple more drinks, yours a double.

Cliques were starting to gel. Goobers who were flyspecks on the social calendar were clapping each other on the back and eyeing each other's wives. Your wife and you were starting to look conspicuously isolated.

Some geezer made a speech. A band stumbled through some tragic retro rock. Despite the fact that you went to school in the '70s, high school always seemed denoted by '50s clinkers. You talked with a few other incongruities, didn't remember them, but were polite and glad for the company. And when your wife went to powder her nose, Donny Paulsen and a couple of his lightbulb cronies seemed to appear beside you. Asked you outside to see something; implied that there would be primo lines. You figured a little toot wouldn't hurt. You hated the thought of your wife coming out of the can and not finding you there, but you'd be quick, besides you wanted to smack Paulsen on the cheek and ruffle his hair. You thought after a line you'd tell them about the time you did a rail with Hunter Thompson.

Then outside the door, in the parking lot, they came too close. Grabbed you, bent you back over the hood of a car. You laughed for a second until you felt them working your pants down. Then you started to kick, but they overpowered you. You flailed frantically and their ugly violent faces laughed down at you. Donny kept shaking his head. Telling you that what you were in high school is what you would always be. Then your belly and thighs were white in the fluorescent glare of the parking lot lights. Your manhood exposed, shriveled with fear and adrenaline and you felt something thick and wet being smeared on it. You looked down at the black mess they were marking you with. Black balling. Then they let you go and you slid onto the gravel, the bumper bruising your hip. You watched their backs recede into the building as you scrambled for the tatters of your pants. No dignity. And you wondered how you would get to your wife. You imagined her waiting inside alone, worried. You imagined going in to get her and the room turning to laugh and point led by Donny Paulsen who had told everyone of your treatment. Of your wife's humiliation adding exponentially to your own.

They'd had to teach you a lesson, that you could never change, that you could never rise above the station that you were ranked into by your superiors in high school. And, if you got uppity, they would be there to knock you right back down into your proper place. No matter how snotty you got when you were out of reach, you couldn't escape it, there was a law of the jungle to be maintained.

But suddenly she was there. Her good, warm face creased with worry and concern and when she touched you whatever composure you had left broke and hot tears of shame and humiliation flowed down your cheeks and she helped you to the car. She drove. Back to your hotel. When you tried to explain, she shooshed you. She helped you in the bath and she gave you a sedative and she put you to bed. Somewhere in the night you saw light from the outside the curtains penetrate the room and you weren't sure but you thought you saw her naked, coming in through the window. Her eyes blazing, her mouth smeared with red. When you woke, it all came back to you and you felt your stomach sink and roil. But then you heard her singing above the sound of the shower in the bathroom and you lifted your head.

The morning paper was on your chest. You caught the headline, "School Reunion Marred By Parking Lot Slaughter." You caught a fragment of the subhead, "Millionaire industrialist and two of his employees. . . ." And she came out of the bathroom rubbing her hair with a towel and you looked at that little dumpling of a body and you thought that she was a good dear thing. And, even though she was no spring chicken, you loved her all the more. Sure, she was a bit older than you. A couple of centuries, give or take. But she was a good woman nonetheless. And you were lucky to have found her.

-- 30 --

Friday, November 23, 2007

What They Said About Les Wiseman in the High School Yearbook

“They said he had gone forever mad. . . They said he could commune with wolves, howling back and forth with them over the miles of open prairie. That he could see in the dark like a bat, could smell any lie. He could know the thoughts of the dead when he stood over their graves. He could hear a human heartbeat at a distance of fifty yards. He never slept. It would not have surprised any who trafficked in such lore to learn he could set fires with a hard stare, could look hard at an overhead hawk and see the country all around as the raptor saw it. . . Some whispered he’d made a bargain with the Devil, though others said that made no sense at all, that the Devil didn’t make bargains to gain what was already coming to him. . . .”

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

* Tranquilize OFFICIAL VIDEO - THE KILLERS feat. Lou Reed *

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 6

Opening the first envelope, I pulled out a ream of five-by-seven photographs. They were of Ariana. She was dressed in garter belts, leather corsets, holding bullwhips and a cat-o’-nine-tails. In some, her legs were spread, in some she had insertions. In some, she was servicing a man wearing a full-head black leather mask. In some, she was being spanked and, in others, she was handcuffed in a dungeon setting, her face contorted in ersatz pain as the hooded guy lay the cat-o-nine-tails against her upthrust buttocks. Then there was another unsealed envelope. Inside it were three shots of her with Al Stirling. She was the dominant one here. Stirling’s organ showed his appreciation of this sort of treatment. I stuffed the whole mess down the side of the box with Al’s typewriter and files.

Then I rummaged through the drawer of the bedside table and hit gold. Stirling’s bank books were there. In one account there were several recent $500 deposits and in the withdrawal column, a number of $200 withdrawals leading up to a couple of days before his death. I stuffed these in my pants pockets.

When I walked back out into the living room, my footsteps woke Angie. She complained of a slight headache, so I built her another drink and got one for myself. “Did Al ever mention having a ladyfriend?” I asked.

“Not for a long time,” she said. “His social life was always shot to hell by his job. He was always getting called out after dinner and in the middle of the night. Some drunk throws a punch at closing time and he’d have to cover it. Same as you, probably. His last girlfriend was nice, but she couldn’t take all the last-minute cancellations. Her name was Bianca, Bianca Hughes, I believe. She’s a clerk at city hall, planning and permits department.”

“Do you think she would know anything about why Al was killed?”

“I doubt it. They haven’t been stepping out for almost a year.”

“Do you know if Al was getting any money on the side, maybe from freelancing for magazines?”

“No, he didn’t have any time for that, his job ate up all his time. Though I think he wanted to write a book one day.

“What on?”

“Satan worship in Hollywood, I think. He’d often say that I wouldn’t believe who was involved in it.”

“Did he ever say who?”

“He mentioned Marilyn Monroe and Sammy Davis Jr.”

“He ever tell you about attending any rituals, black masses, that sort of stuff?”

“No, he never mentioned that, but I presume that would go with the territory for an investigative reporter.”

I liked her matter-of-fact manner. And that she didn’t ask dumb questions. She knew what I was doing and she was helping. “You’re a cool cookie, aren’t you?”

“I’d like to find out who killed my brother, too.”

I took my box to the car and locked it in the trunk. When I came back inside, she had started on another bottle and while we drank and small-talked we got all Al’s stuff boxed up in the next three hours.

* * *

I was dead asleep when the phone rang. I lunged for it and when a black shadow arched across the room, I realized I had also launched Lex from where he was sharing my bed.

“You’re interested in the death of Al Stirling, I understand.”

“Who’s this?”

“I have some information that might be helpful to you. If you want it, meet me behind the Griffith Park Observatory at four a.m.”

Before I could say anything, she hung up.

It was three and I grabbed a quick shower and a tap coffee. From under my mattress I pulled out my only firearm, a two-shot .22 Colt derringer with an inlaid mahoghany handle. I had picked it up one time when a card club was being raided and slipped it into my pocket when the cops couldn’t see me. I had never reported it and bought some ammo. Now, I dropped it into my right jacket pocket.

Lex had seemed mightily interested in my actions and thinking it was time to get up, he had stretched and eaten something out of his bowl. Now he was standing by the door. I pointed to the cat box, but he didn’t catch my drift.

I picked him up and put him on the couch where I thought he could amuse himself by tattering my heirloom upholstery, but when I opened the door, he zipped by me and trotted down the stairs and along the sidewalk.

When I got to the car, he was sitting in the passenger seat, having insinuated himself through the window. “Okay, Lex, we’ll drive to the end of the block and if you move around or come near the pedals, I’m taking you home.” He just blinked at me.

Turned out he was a perfect car cat, sitting in his seat, watching everything through the windows and making no overtures to move. The lights of Hollywood seemed to hold endless fascination for him and when I came to stop signs, he just dug in his claws and hunkered down. Luckily, I didn’t have leather upholstery.

When I got to Griffith Park, I told him to hide under the seat if there was trouble and I wound up the windows to prevent him running away.

I kept my hands in my pockets, my dinky derringer in my right palm. I didn’t know what this was all about, so I decided not to take any chances. I circled around through one of the many trails that filagreed the surrounding hillside and figured if I kept my wits about me I’d end up able to see my appointment before she saw me.

It was dark as Lex’s ass in there. But the moon gave enough light that I could make out where I was putting my feet and by keeping my hands in front of me, I could keep from running into branches. I’d also brought along a penlight.

I guess the smell alerted me. That wet dog smell. Then I saw their eyes flare in the dark. I hoped they were just park security hounds and a guard would be calling them off momentarily. But, I could not bet the farm on that hope.

I thumbed the hammer back on my derringer, lifting it slowly out of my pocket. I swung the light on them and my feeble beam lit up silver fur, snarling muzzles. Coyotes. Three of them. Whip thin and mean looking fuckers. Most coyotes will hightail it at first scent of man in their domain, but these were altogether on the offense.

The lead dog seemed to take in the derringer in my hand and he stopped his slow advance. The seeming intelligence in that move sent a shiver through me. What kind of coyotes were these? Too damn close kind, came the answer. Sweat was gluing my boxers to my butt. Two bullets, three coyotes. Undoubtedly, two would scram at the sound of the gun taking down the lead dog. But, these animals were not behaving in any natural way. The one on the right was waggling its head as if in love with the sensation. Crazed, likely rabid.

I lifted the derringer straight out in front of me, directly at the lead dog. It snarled again, but stayed its ground, lifting its muzzle to the air and howling.

As if on cue, I heard a patter like a heavy rain pelting the foliage a hundred feet away. It drew nearer and I realized from the shuffling undergrowth that it was not rain. It was something advancing like a carpet over the forest floor. A horrible pattering, surging, shoving aside the foliage more violently as it approached. The coyotes looked over their shoulders, but remained where they stood.

My beam picked up a brown wave coming toward me. Vermin of some sort in a formation over the ground. Writhing slick little shits on a collision course with my legs. I couldn’t run. The coyotes would be on me at the first sign of a flinch. I figured the sound of a gunshot would be the only thing that might rout the onslaught. I better use the bullet well, take out the lead coyote, who seemed entirely calm as he leered at me, his teeth bared, uncaring of the groundstorm swelling behind him. I felt faint, thought my head was going to burst like a boil. My finger tightened on the trigger.

Then I heard the screams. Female. From up above, by the observatory. The coyotes surged forward. Behind me, I heard a roar and a crashing of brush. Then, the air seemed to tear with a banshee scream of anger and outrage. A huge black shape bulleted over my shoulder.

The creature dropped to the forest floor in a hunched ball directly in front of the lead coyote and let loose another shrieking roar that bespoke pure killing rage. My hands flew to my ears. The coyotes were shocked still for a microsecond. Then they leaped over each other to get away. Like black lightning the creature’s arm arced around, its ebony claws glistening, then sinking into the retreating right flank of what had been the lead dog, throwing the coyote further into the retreating pack. Tumbling like dominoes the panicked animals whimpered and yelped, scrambling to their feet, frantic to get away from this apparition that snarled and spat and lunged.

Panther, I realized, just as the thing turned toward me. I had a second to see the wet fangs, the black fur rolling up the cat’s forehead and the absolutely dead, merciless eyes.

The underbrush tried to trip me as I pounded frantically up the hill toward the observatory. I didn’t dare look behind me, hoping the panther would go after the coyotes and was just warning me away. As I breathlessly crested the hill, I figured there had to be some safety here, some window I could dive through, some ladder I could climb. But, when I got to the observatory, there was nothing and I turned. Maybe the cat had been leery of the lights. It was not behind me. I could not bet the farm on it not being just beyond the light, however, and I warily skirted the dome until I came to a doorway with an overhang. A running jump got me a purchase on the overhang and arm muscles jacked with adrenaline got my upper body onto the tar and gravel roofing. Face down on the gravel, I tried to catch my breath and felt my heart pounding into the pebbles. This was as safe as I could get for the time being.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 5

What was I looking for anyhow? Some accounting system of kidnapped and eviscerated babies? I think the drug must have enhanced my hearing, because I heard someone at a door behind me and I managed to shut the drawer and step away from the desk toward Ariana before Scream entered the room. “Ah Vic,” he said, then glanced at the recumbent Ariana. “Damn her eyes,” he said and strode over to her to slap her across the face with a full open-handed roundhouse.

“I’m so-r-r-ry,” she mumbled.

“Ah, Mr. Paris, I’m so sorry our hostess has been overtaken, she hasn’t been sleeping well and you know, a couple of glasses of wine... I hope you have not been inconvenienced.”

I muttered something incomprehensible, knowing that the mushroom tea would excuse any conspicuous twitches I might display. “Where’s Jane?”

“Miss Mansfield, I’m afraid, has had too much to drink as well and has passed out. Since neither of you are in any shape to drive, we offer our hospitality for the few hours you will require to regain your equilibrium.

“Ah, Ariana, seems to be coming to, now that she’s had forty winks she should be a better hostess.”

She smiled beatifically and stood up. “I just have to visit the powder room and I’ll be right back.” Scream shook his head in exasperation, which I found odd for one who espoused complete flawless debauchery, indulgence and sin.

“What line are you in... Vic?” he asked.

I trotted out the waiter story and saw in his eyes that he would run a check on me.

“Before she passed out, Jayne was babbling something about baby death. Do you know anything about that?”

I explained that, since Jayne had three children, she’d been upset by tales from one of the newsmen she consorted with. When Scream asked who, I happily provided the name of my nemesis, Eric Boyer of The Bugle.

* * * *

I was on foot and well aimed toward my own toilet when I awoke. My guts felt like an iguana was practising the breast stroke and that he was catching a wave upstream.

When I got back to my bed, I thought of human heart, mushroom tea, vast amounts of red wine, thanked my stars that it was Sunday and I had time to sleep it off before work next day. Lex leapt atop the coverlet and scared the hell out of me, but lay down by my side, kneading the covers and issuing that awful purr. Just having him there made me feel somewhat better.

I tried to reconstruct the evening. I remembered coming to in the car with Jayne looking concerned as she drove. When my eyes opened, she’d chuckled, “That’s the last time we get invited there!” There was something about me crawling up my front steps and taking a long time getting my key into the lock. Then there was a horrible antsy, uncertain blackness a feeling of having let my mind go too far to be reeled in again.

Thought was not what was needed right now. I had to move and not dwell on last night.

I displaced Lex and built a Bromo-Seltzer. Slipped into a pair of chinos and stepped out onto my tiny balcony. The girls next door were out on their balcony sunning themselves. They were B-girls and terrific lookers. I leaned over to wave hello and saw that one was tanning nude. She smiled and waved back. It may have been inviting, but given my woeful condition the only part of my body that might come up was my stomach. I shambled inside and made Lex some breakfast. In my weakened state, I started talking to Lex. Displaying some semblance of intelligence, he would look at me in between loud slurps of his food. It was at that moment that I realized Lex was the best thing to ever happen to me and that I could grow to love him dearly. He sensed this and came over to rub his head around my trouser cuffs. I think I’m a fairly tough guy, you have to be in my business, but I almost cried. This was more than just a booze hangover.

I called Jayne. We commiserated over our hangovers but she was taking the hair-of-the-dog route with her trademark pink champagne. I stretched the phone cord to get the single Budweiser from my fridge.

“What’d we learn, Scoop?”

“Dunno, Jayne, that they’ve got something to hide. That Scream, whoever he might be in real life --I’ll have to check the property tax records-- would not be above getting organs from a baby. He’s a bad S.O.B.”

“No doubt. By the by, did you eat any of that heart?”


“I think it was deer heart.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Mickey hunted and we’ve been up in British Columbia and eaten deer heart and it tastes gamey. So did that jerky we ate.”

“Humans don’t taste gamey?”

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t presume so. Gamey depends on eating wild vegitation.”

“Hmmm. Why did we eat it, by the way?”

“Pretty sozzled, I guess.”

“So what happened to you on the royal tour while I was fumbling through Scream’s papers?”

“I got raped.”


“It happens. Don’t get your nose out of joint.”


“Scream. His goons held me. I thought about making a fuss, but I realized it was just business as usual.”

“Jayne, I can’t believe this.”

“It’s true.”

“Why aren’t you more upset?”

“I told you, shit like this happens in the industry. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. I just hope the old prick didn’t have a dose or something. Anyhow, I have my ways of revenge.”

My head was reeling to fall off my shoulders. “Revenge, how?”

“Men leave the essence of themselves with me. I take it to Tony and he uses to cast a curse. It’s the most powerful personal talisman, a link to a person’s soul. Tony says it’s more powerful than blood. I already saw him, this morning.”

“What did you ask for?”

“Nothing less than Scream’s head.”


“Tony put a spell on him to have him decapitated.”

“Yoiks, you don’t mess around.”

“I’m sick of being fucked, literally, around.”

“I hope it works.”

“It will, always has.”


“That’s another story, Paperboy. Now I’ve got to make sandwiches for my kids. What are you going to do today?”

“I’ve got a funeral to attend,” I said and hung up.

The beer had made me feel slightly better, so I put a shirt on and made it to the street where I bought a six-pack and some ham for a sandwich. I also got a couple of fresh oysters for Lex.

When I got back, there was squealing from the balcony. Lex had discovered the girls next door and was properly impressing them. Somehow he had negotiated the foot-long stretch of one-inch railing to their balcony. The naked girl had him on her lap and that strange purr was putting her in stitches, which caused some awesome vibration. I leaned over and apologized for the cat.

Nudie said, “He’s great. We love him.” The other girls agreed. She picked him up and lifted him over to me. “My god, she said. “He really is a stud.”


“Check out the ball-to-ball carpeting.” I picked the placid Lex from her arms and turned his nethers toward me. I was impressed.

Back inside, I cracked a Bud, gave Lex a diced oyster, which I suddenly doubted he needed, and opened Al Stirling’s files.

He had jumped on the missing baby story three months ago with the disappearance of an eight-day-old premature baby, Paula Martin. That had been followed a week later with seven-day-old Jessica Sarkar. The parents had been interviewed and were aghast. Particularly the Martins, who were given to hyperbolic quotes.

* * * *

The Free Press editor, Terrance Weigel, was standing by the church steps, smoking. We exchanged pleasantries for a minute. “Know the doll?” I asked, pointing out a tall woman in her early thirties who looked stunning even in mourning black. A veil covered red hair to her shoulders.

“Yeah, that’s Stirling’ sister. Flew in from Baltimore for the service. She came by the office today to pick up his final check and his effects. Don’t worry, I kept all his working files for you. She’s going to clean out his apartment.”

“Did he have a ladyfriend?”

“I think so, but I wouldn’t recognize her. I only ever really socialized with the staff at the Christmas party each year. Al made it a point to come stag to that so that he could soak up as much company booze as possible without having to be responsible.”

“He never mentioned a name?”

“I’m sixty years old and have a paper to get out. Guys don’t talk tootsies with me.”

“Going in?” I asked.

“Haven’t been inside a church for so long, I’m worried that I might ignite.”

Funeral, there was no funeral, to paraphrase my acquaintance Mr. Ring Lardner. The service was short and sparsely attended. No one who looked like a girlfriend showed up. The minister obviously did not know Al. When we were filing out, I buttonholed the sister. Her name was Angie. She had heard of me from Al in years gone by, so she wasn’t disconcerted. I asked if I could help her clean Al’s apartment. She said she needed a drink and Al had a liquor cabinet that she certainly was not going to pack up to take on a plane.

Matters were shaping up. I followed her car to Santa Monica and when we got in to Al’s apartment, she pointed out the liquor shelf and went into a bedroom to change.

She came out in a short-sleeved white silk blouse and navy-blue slacks. “This is going to be no fun,” she said. She had already brought in a bunch of boxes from the green grocer. I handed her a tall gin and tonic. “Luckily, we’ve got three days until the rent runs out. Once we get through this, then the whiskeys and the liqueurs, we’ll be sick for days.”

I grimaced.

“Just preparing for the worst,” she said. “More realistically, you can take home tonight’s leftovers or the winos who patrol the alley will be partying tonight.

She did not want all this stuff, so I tore a couple of flaps off a box and made two signs: “Free Stuff” and “Make Us An Offer.” Angie took a couple of Al’s Hawaiian shirts. I started a personal box for books and his home typewriter. Then stuff went to the front lawn, and much, in both categories, of it had gone by the time the next armload arrived. I got most of the horse work and though we were quaffing generously, I sweated much of mine off. Angie, however, wedged into a corner of the sofa in the second hour. When I heard a snore that somewhat approximated Lex’s purr, I started checking the undersides of drawers, looking for slits in mattresses and feeling jacket seams and trouser cuffs. I pulled the vents, popped the ceiling panels, and pried floorboards.

When I thought it was all done but the next drink, I shoved some remaining suits off the closet hanger bar and saw a particularly sturdy nail sticking up about three-eights of an inch. I reached around it and felt a taut wire. When I pulled, it came with much resistance, but it came. With manila envelopes attached like fish on a trawl line. Six big ones. Well now, Al, I thought. Checking that sis was still non compis mentis, I reeled in the catch.

* * *

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 4

* * * *

We elbowed through an opulent hallway that bespoke nothing of Satanic debauchery. However, at one door, a valet ushered us down a long flight of stairs. Noise of conversation over shrill pan pipes blasted at us as a dark wooden door swung open.

Jayne’s shoulders-back, chest-out entrance staunched the gab volume, immediately. The room was lit by torches stanchioned in thick pillars that divided the room into three lengths. At the far end was a chest-high altar flanked by sweeping black wings that rose twelve feet toward the vaulted ceiling. Tables were set out with darkish glazed meats, exotic fruits, plus a roasted boar. There was a crowded bar to one side. A server with a shaved skull and a goatee brought a tray of red wine in silver chalices. Jayne grabbed two, drained the first and set it back on the tray.

There were about sixty people there. Two thirds were dressed conservatively. The other third seemed denizens of Hell come to life. A couple of male bon vivants were nude, to no one’s particular interest. A group of women were topless with varying degrees of endowment, although they all wore similar masks with spiky partridge plumes. A couple of indeterminate gender wore complete monk’s habits, their cassocks pulled over their faces. Other women wore lingerie: garter belts, corsets, white, red and black. One regal beauty wore a peignoir; another wore a body stocking. One woman held a leash attached to a dog collar around a man’s neck. Jayne still stood out from the crowd by virtue of her cantilevered superstructure.

The crowd parted and a figure wearing a black, red and gold, Oriental-style mask drifted toward us, its feet hidden in the folds of a black silk robe. A hand with rings on every finger slithered out of a bell sleeve and from the mask came a resonant voice. “Ah, my special guest, welcome to our humble lair. My name is Szandor. I am glad you decided to join us this evening.”

Jayne raised her chin and stared down her nose at Scream from her vantage point atop the stilettos. She did not smile. “Thank you for inviting us. This is my companion. Since anonymity is encouraged, you can call him Vic.”

“And what shall I call you?” he asked, barely glancing at me. “To protect your anonymity.”

“Everybody in this room knows who I am,” she said. “Call me Jayne Mansfield.”

Conversation with an expressionless visage was daunting, as undoubtedly was the design, and the pregnant pauses tended to wear on one. But, even one who was trying to give an impression of superiority, noticeably rocked on his heels when Jayne held out her chalice and asked, “Who do you have to fuck around here to get another drink?” It was one of her favorite lines, guaranteed to shock. I would have loved to have seen under that mask at that moment.

Scream snapped his fingers and a valet appeared. “Miss Mansfield, for those who wish to truly explore other perceptions of reality, may I suggest some of our mushroom tea and he held out a shot glass of what looked like whisky.

As he was preparing to elucidate, Jayne grabbed it and tossed it back. She made a face. “It tastes like mold,” she said and grabbed another wine from the tray.

“And now your companion,” he said, acknowledging me fully for the first time. I waved it off, but Scream said, “No, you must,” and it was obvious, no deviation would be permitted. So, I knocked back a shot myself. I’d heard something about Indians using mushrooms in their ceremonies and how they experienced visions, but I figured I’d drank a quart of Jamaican overproof rum once and could handle any wallop from some dinky cup of tea.

As I grabbed for a cup of wine to mask the taste, a bell rang deeply and the gathered moved toward the altar. Scream bowed and drifted through the crowd. Another priest in a blank white, ceramic, full-face mask ran a metal rod through an assortment of hanging chimes, while other masked figures flanked the altar and began beating on tablas, clanking finger cymbals and chanting. The onlookers began swaying from side to side and joining in the chants. I snuggled up behind Jayne and gave her rear a caress, for which I received a sharp elbow in the ribs.

The music went on for an interminable ten minutes until, with a clash of cymbals, there was dead silence and Scream began to speak from behind the altar. “’Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the law,’ said the Great Beast, Alastair Crowley. But the Brotherhood of the Evil Angels believes this is not enough. ‘Do what though wilt, shall be only half of the law,’ saith Szandor Scream. The other half of the commandment is that to reap the full power from thy actions, ye must revel in the commiting of deeds that the weak cannot even conceive. For mankind is the sheep flock and the Brotherhood is the wolf pack and those who embrace only half of the philosophy are mere carrion-eating jackals. For we of the Brotherhood, there are no half measures, we embrace the Evil One with all our being. We thrive on desecration and we know that throughout our public lives the great strides we take and rewards we reap are consequences of the great power of evil that we honor and revere...”

I had noticed a tingling in my fingertips and toes and I thought I could see faint trails of light following Screams’s slightest move. When he raised his hands at the climax of his sermon, great flares followed his hands and swung up to the ebony wings to his sides. I turned to see if anyone else had noticed this effect and observed that all were watching Scream, enraptured. Mouths were open and, in some cases, drool trickled over lips and down chins.

“Now, tonight, to pledge our fealty to Lord Satan, we have a special communion.” A silver salver was brought to the altar and when Scream whipped off its cover, he shouted. “Behold the heart of mine enemy.” He ranted on about how in his business one had tried to usurp his power and had incurred Scream’s wrath. Still the enemy had a cunning that though not equal to the master’s was useful and we could all access this power by ingesting part of his most sacred organ, the font of all emotion. “And who will join me in this feast, this taking of another’s power and using it to increase our own?”

The initiates shouted and flailed their arms. Disturbingly, I thought it might not be such a bad idea myself. I looked over at Jayne. She stood stalk still, her eyes wide and glazed, a glistening of sweat atop the Boys.

One of Scream’s priests sliced into the heart with a ceremonial dagger and I could see it unleash the heart’s radiance. I could feel that power and know the taste of strength from the blood. I was hypnotized by the flashing and flaring blade as it cut the heart into thin strips.

When the drumming began again and the crowd started to sway, I fell in with the rhythm thinking this was quite pleasant and wondering what that heart would taste like.

A valet moved through the crowd and the congregation took their slices, some stuffing two into their mouths. When it came to my turn I reached out and, with some shock, noticed my arm was translucent, radiant blue, ropy with muscle and gnarled of finger. The nails seemed to have sharpened into small claws. Then, I put the slice in my mouth and felt it burst with energy on my palate.

When I opened my eyes after relishing the juices running down my throat, a woman was standing before me. She had dark long hair with bangs over heavily made-up slitted eyes. Her nose was tiny, almost just a ridge with nostrils and her mouth was lush, red and smiling. “That is good,” she said. Her voice seemed to filter through some invisible wall. “I am Ariana, Szandor’s high priestess. He has asked me to show you through some of the more esoteric areas of our temple.”

I grinned, feeling blood on my teeth. “I’ll just get Jayne.”

“Don’t worry about Jayne. She is in special consultation with Szandor. You’re all mine,” she said, linking her arm through mine and pulling me through the crowd. I frantically looked for Jayne, but she indeed seemed to be gone from the main hall.

Ariana pressed a panel on a wall and we slid through a concealed doorway into the dark. She pulled me around a maze of baffles, then another door opened to a lighted room. “Voila! The VIP suite,” she shouted to the twelve-foot ceiling. For the first time, I could really see her. She was about five-and-a-half-feet tall, with a knockout figure in a body stocking with a diaphanous cape swirling to her calves. The way she carried herself she obviously thought she was quite a dish, though I thought she looked a bit bizarre and unhealthy. “I know you will be bursting with questions. Ask me and I will tell you what you wish to know.” When I stood there trying to assimilate the room, the chick, my altered perceptions, she laughed and threw her arms up in the air and leapt, pirouetting around the room, her cape flowing out into a long arching swallowtail, her arms forming black swept-back wings.

“That mushroom tea is really messing with my eyes,” I said.

“Don’t be naive,” she said. “It’s no effect of some dram of tea. You’ve stepped into a new realm. The illusions are falling away from your perceptions now.” With that, she came toward me and kissed me full on the lips, pushing my lips aside and insinuating her tongue between my teeth. It was not altogether unpleasant. Then she grasped my hands and ran them over her breasts.

“Just wait,” she said, and ran over to a huge desk to pull out a small vial. “Let me get ready,” she said, tapping out a white powder onto the tabletop. Raising her inverted crucifix pendant to her nose, she sniffed up the white powder. Then she turned toward me, her eyes afire and stepped... stepped, increasingly slowly... toward me... until she veered over to a couch, where she dropped like a rock. She had enough energy to mumble, “Take me... do what thou wilt...” before she fell far into the white sleep.

I knelt beside her and slapped her face a couple of times, but she was definitely on the nod. I may have not known much about mushroom tea, but in my line of work you see enough hypes to know a horse nod.

VIP room, my ass, I thought. If this is where they keep the Sammy Smack, then there must be something else worth seeing in here. I knew she would be out for at least twenty minutes and I started going through the desk. Normally, this would be a fairly straightforward procedure, but with my fingers flaring vapor trails and objects like embossed pencils and tortoiseshell fountain pens becoming oddly fixating, the desk drawer was like sifting through Ali Baba’s treasure chest.

* * * *