—Chapter 5—

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Standing in front of the mirror, I pulled yet another coat over my shoulders. It was the third outfit I’d tried, and it felt just as ridiculous as the other two. Still, it was an improvement, and the sun was already setting. With a sigh, I picked up my cane and stepped out of the master bedroom.

“I’m ready to go.”

“You’re ready to go to a funeral mate. Here, unbutton your coat, and put away the scarf. We’re in California now, and the last thing we need is you frying to death. Are you sure you can’t wear something more suitable?”

“I need the coat, it makes the gloves look reasonable. And I need the gloves, with the number I did on my hand yesterday. Can we just get on with it?”

“Right after you Lady Killer,” Danny said, motioning to the lift. As soon as I opened the doors, Apollyon scurried between my legs and stood in the corner. Danny shook his head, saying, “Clever, clever thing.”

“She’s not coming with.”

“Well she’s not getting left behind. Look, you’ve already got the coat on, just put her in a pocket.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“To be fair, it’s not the only ridiculous thing.”

Apollyon flailed in my pocket, and it was tempting to defy my friend’s wishes by leaving her behind. On the ride down I kept running my fingers through my hair. Danny insisted I looked fine, but considering he looked dead, I wasn’t keen on taking his word for it. Apollyon had become still by the time the doors slid open, which brought some comfort.

In the lobby we were met face to face with Clarence. He was just as surprised to see me then as had been the first time.

“Mister O’Moran, I was just on my way to pay you a visit,” he said, his tongue barely keeping up with his frantic thoughts. “Our doorman made a note that he hadn’t observed you entering or departing since you had taken residence here many weeks ago. We were both concerned for your wellbeing. Pardon the intrusion, but I must inquire; are you well, Mister O’Moran?”

“Croi follain agus gob fliuch!” I bellowed, entirely to fuck with the man’s head. “How could you question my health Clarence? Look at my mate Danny; he’s the one you should be worried about!”

Clarence’s entire being squirmed, as though he’d never heard of humor. A false man living in a world without laughter. Truly pathetic. I would pity him, if I believed anyone but himself were to blame.

Wiping the smile from my face, I asked, “Is this the same doorman?”

“Yes Mister O’Moran, this is h—”

“What’s your name lad?”

“Liam Jacques, sir,” the doorman said with a nod and a smile. On his neck was a black tattoo of a crown, not quite covered by his uniform’s collar.

“Liam, your soul reeks of sin. You’ll never make it into Heaven, so let’s both try to make the best of your time on Earth. You stay out of my life, and I promise to stay out of yours. Do we have an agreement?”

“Of course,” the doorman said, his smile never faltering. “Anything else sir?”

From behind me I heard a burst of laughter, and Danny stumbled forward. Patting Liam on the shoulder, Danny said, “Kid, you might not care, but you made my day. Come along Aidan, leave the lad alone. We have far more important things to worry about.”

Liam held the door open, and I stepped out onto the streets of San Samarra, accompanied by my twice-deceased friend and a rat who was somewhere between angelic and demonic. We walked until we found a bar, and considering our skillset, it wasn’t a long walk at all. The bar we found was called The Cask, and it seemed as good a place as any. After ordering our drinks, Danny and I took a booth in the corner.

“How about her?” Danny asked, pointing across the room.

I shook my head. “She’s with her friends. I’ve seen it a thousand times, they won’t leave without her. That girl at the bar, sitting by herself: she’s the type we’re after.”

“Well go on then.”

“What, me? You’ve always been better with the women, I’m not ashamed to admit it.”

Danny glared at me. “Have you forgotten about Sarah already? Aidan, why do you think I’m doing this? When I saw the gates of Hell, it wasn’t the grotesque souls within which bothered me. It wasn’t the abominations lurking, waiting for me with open jaws. No, none of that mattered. It was the realization that I’d have to spend the whole of eternity without her. That’s why I have to get into Heaven this time; that’s why we have to answer these questions. So I’m sorry, but you’re on your own for this one.”

“You could have said, ‘no.’”

“Would you have listened?”

“That’s fair. Wish me luck.”

I approached the girl at the bar, and at first things went well. She was friendly, she was charmed, and above all else she was drunk. I told her about my penthouse, which nearly sealed the deal.

But if things had gone well, I would be able to say what her name was. Before I had the chance to ask however, she happened to spot something. It was a certain rat, sticking her nose out of my coat pocket. The nameless woman gasped, and shied away without another word, never to be seen again.

With a sigh, I returned to Danny. “Told you that bringing her was a bad idea.”

“Relax, we’ve still got the rest of the night.”

“Well can you at least hold on to her?”

Danny reached out to take Apollyon, but before I could hand the rat off, somebody sat down with us. He bore a stench of booze and smoke. It was almost as overwhelming as the stench of Liam’s soul had been. He looked about my age, and wore dark aviator sunglasses.

“Can I help you with something?” I asked, holding my pocket shut.

“Maybe,” he said, and leaned in closer. “I heard your consersation with that girl. Wanna get outta here?”

“I should knock you out just for saying that.”

“Well if you change your mind or wha’ever, I’ll be here ‘til they close,” the man said. With that he left me and my mate alone.

“Come on,” Danny said with a grin. “What’s it matter? If this gentleman wants to come back to the penthouse, we should let him.”

“I can’t Danny. I may have sinned before, but this is crossing a line.”

“Aidan, the work we’re doing is above sin, and far above lines. If we can find the answers, I doubt the lord will be too particular about how we got to them.”

If things had ended there, I wouldn’t be able to say what that man’s name was. It was Nathaniel. Nathaniel Todd.

Masking a scowl, I stood and followed after him. “Hey, Whatsyername! I’ve changed my mind. Let’s go somewhere.”

“I knew you’d come around, but dude, that was way faster than I thought. So where we goin’?”

We left the bar and walked down the street side by side, with Danny laughing his arse off behind us. When we arrived at my building, Liam held the door open for us. I didn’t look at him, but he had no trouble staring me down. All the while he wore that shit eating grin of his. I pressed the topmost button on the lift, and began my ascension with Nathaniel, Danny, and Apollyon. Nathaniel was so shitfaced that he didn’t even ask about Danny. Not once. The doors slid open and Nathaniel began to speak, but before he could get a word out, I whacked my cane across his head.

Danny and I spent the night clearing out another guest room, on account of our guest. By the time we finished, all that remained in the room were a couple of wooden chairs and an unconscious sodomite.

His eyes opened the next morning. He tried to move, but couldn’t. It took Nathaniel a couple moments to notice why. Glancing down, he could see that his ankles were tied to the legs of the chair, and his arms were tied to its back. He only laughed.

“Shit dude, you’re into some kinky business. I wish I could tell you that last night was fun, but to tell you the truth, I was out of it.”

I sat in the chair across from him, staring.

“Hey, if I did something out of line last night, I apologize. I’m in town to see a close friend, I don’t know if I told you. But, I figured she might not even care about seeing me anymore, and one thing led to another, and I got wasted instead. So I might not have been myself, is what I’m sayin’. If you do have anything to drink though, I could stand to stop being myself a little more.”

Still I only stared. He would be even easier than Clarence.

“Dude, seriously though, I need to know you’re only playin’. Now that I’m not quite as drunk, you don’t look quite as friendly. Come on, talk to me, say somethin’.”

I pulled the kitchen knife out from my coat pocket. He bolted back in his seat, but the ropes held fast.

Jesus Christ—”

“Don’t take his name in vain!” I snapped, standing up. “You don’t deserve to say it at all. Now tell me, who are you?”

“I’m nobody,” he whimpered, still trying to back away. “I swear dude, if I did something, it wasn’t on purpose.”

I raised the knife and demanded, “What’s your name?”

“Nathaniel Todd, Jesus fuck—”

The dull edge of the metal connected with his kneecap. His entire body recoiled, but against the ropes, all he managed to do was tip himself over. He thrashing against his restraints on the ground as a slew of curses escaped from his clenched teeth.

With his cheek pressed into the floor, he pleaded, “Let me go dude! Whatever you want, it’s yours!”

 “We’ll find out whether or not that’s true Nathaniel.”

With a chuckle, I turned and opened the door. Apollyon came bounding in, followed as always by Danny. He held a pen and a notepad.

“Nathaniel Todd, did I hear that right?” Danny asked, scratching the name down on the paper. “Nathaniel, we’re going to do some experiments. My mate Aidan will—”

“So what do you want dude? I swear I can get it, and I won’t even tell anyone this happened. You just have to let me go.”

I kicked him in the ribs. The chair creaked as he tried to curl up, but still, the restraints held firm.

“Don’t interrupt him!”

“Relax, Aidan. Look at him, he’s terrified. How’s he supposed to think straight? Now Nathaniel, my name is Danny. I’m only here to observe. This is my mate Aidan, but I take it you already knew that. While I take notes on your body, mind, and soul, he’ll be trying to separate one from the other two. That way, we can find out just what the boundaries are. Is that clear?”

Nathaniel didn’t respond, so I repeated Danny’s question in a harsher tone. Nathaniel only mumbled gibberish. I caught a few names in the mix, and the words “I’m sorry” more than once. But none of them were names I knew, or apologies I cared to hear.

Danny took a knee. He ran a hand down Nathaniel’s cheek. “It’s okay lad. When it’s over, you’ll have done the world a favor. Stand him back up Aidan, and get these sunglasses off of him. I’d like to see his face.”

I did as Danny said, and pulled the chair upright. When I reached for the sunglasses however, Nathaniel turned his head away. That was a mistake. Forming a fist around the knife’s handle, I rammed my knuckles into his temple, then his nose. A tingling resonance ran through my hand each time. He bled, yet when I again reached for the sunglasses, he again turned his head.

“Fascinating,” Danny said, writing as quickly as his fingers would allow. “He’s willing to put his body on the line to defend those sunglasses. Take them away once; we need to see which part of him stands so much to lose.”

Holding Nathaniel’s chin in place with one hand, I grabbed at his glasses with the other. He resisted, but it wasn’t enough, and the tinted glass was removed.

“Well isn’t that curious,” Danny said, still taking notes. “One eye brown, the other blue. I hope all of our work will have this many surprises.”

“Kill me,” Nathaniel blurted.

“What was that?”

“You heard me Fucktard. You’re,” he began, but paused to spit blood. “You’re clearly insane, and you already took my pride, so kill me.”

“Danny, thoughts?”

“Danny,” Nathaniel said, rolling his head towards Apollyon. “Let him d—”

“What,” smack, “did I say,” thwack, “about interrupting‽”

“Careful, careful, keep him alive,” Danny insisted. “But don’t stop either. His mind is slipping away from his body and soul. We’re getting close to something.”

I knew just the thing. I held Nathaniel’s glasses in front of his face. He looked away, but that didn’t stop him from hearing them snap.

“Well I’ll be fucked,” Danny said, lowering the pen and paper. “His mind is alone, we fuckin’ did it Aidan! All that’s left is separating the body and soul, and hell, that’s the easy one. Just don’t make it too fast. We need to know the exact limit.”

He didn’t flinch. A knife going clear through the chest, and he didn’t even flinch. His heart continued to beat, but he remained unmoving as I wrenched the blade out of him and thrust it in again, this time striking the ribs. His mind didn’t notice that his soul had come unraveled. Seven inches of stainless steel through the heart, and he didn’t even flinch.

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© Ray Underscore Thompson, July 2015