Wednesday, November 21, 2007

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.

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