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Lazarus Dot (chapter 6): A Felix Hoenniker medical murder mystery
For the second time in a month, I found myself sitting in a church. As a matter of fact, it was the second time in a decade, too.
There were differences between the churches, of course. Saint Adalbert, in whose pews I currently reposed, was Roman style. Saint Nicholas, where I’d all too recently witnessed the effects of the Lazarus Dot in all its in-glory, was the Greek variety. And, what’s more, I was the only soul in Saint Adelbert. I’d been unmolested by any human presence as I silently gazed, hour after hour, at dust motes floating through the progressively slanting light. Saint Nicholas, on the other hand, on that mournful day, had been packed to the rafters.
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The crucial thing remained the same, though. I’d felt that thing beaming from Saint Nicholas’ soffited dome and now the same thing palpably streamed through Saint Adalbert’s stained glass. I bet I’d feel the exact same thing if I were in a synagogue or mosque. It was that which called me to be better than I was. Now, if I could only find the strength to allow that thing into my heart.
After the sun disappeared, I descended the church steps and crossed 84th Street. There were few pedestrians and little traffic. All the neighborhood kids had been called in for dinner. Parked cars (old but well kept) lined the curb and yellow-ish street lights jutted from tar covered utility poles. I skulked past row houses (clad in unblemished aluminum siding and cheerfully painted window trim) and tried to shake the feeling that, despite my best intentions, I’d soon be injecting a dose of misery into the sedate neighborhood.
I double checked Bartleby’s email. Yup, this was D.D.’s address. Hers was the final attached home in the row and a narrow alley separated it from a squat brick tenement. I hopped over the fence, and crept around, sticking like a mantis to the side of D.D.’s row home. In my experience, after someone drops off the grid, they don’t answer when someone comes ringing at their doorbell.
I flipped over a trash can and struggled to set it down silently. The bottom, though galvanized steel, was permeated with rust. It seemed like it would bear my weight, though. I climbed atop and peered into a darkened room. I tugged at the window, praying it would open without squeaking, and clambered in.
I tiptoed down the darkened hallway. A reedy voice spilled from the warm, brightly lit kitchen, “Fear not, young lady. If the shadow of a holy house caresses an abode, however humble, protection against the minions of the man downstairs, shall be conferred upon all those who dwell within.”
“And it really says all that in there?” D.D.’s voice sounded uncharacteristically thick and slow.
“Upon my honor,” her interlocutor intoned gravely. “Nevertheless, our numinous and hallowed order has not ensconced you thusly merely for the sake of your protection—“
I stepped into the light and my jaw dropped. No wonder D.D.’s voice sounded so strange. Her lip was split wide open. Not only that, one of her eyes was purple and swollen shut.
A fat old man glared at her from across the Formica table. He wore a brown felt fedora with a feather in the band. A pearl-handled revolver was holstered to his chest. “—No, I am charged with far more than the preservation of your corporeal form. Like myself, you’re merely a player in a larger drama.” He raised a fat finger in the air. “The latest incarnation of the scourge must be cleansed—”
“What the fuck did you do to her?” I shouted at the fat man. I turned to the girl. “Don’t worry, D.D. I’m going to—”
D.D.’s uninjured eye locked upon me and grew wide with terror. “Did Mom send you?” She began to tremble.
“Your mother?” I shook my head. “Addie didn’t send me… I’m looking for her.”
“Wait.” D.D’s muscles relaxed. “What?” She cocked her head. “You’re looking for her?”
“Egad!” The old man turned to me. His eyes were tinged with zealotry… or maybe insanity. “One of Preta’s minions!”
“Preta?” I said. “Who the hell’s that?”
He jumped to his feet with the surprising grace of a fat man. “What manner of unholiness is this?” Keloids were scattered across his cheeks, as if his face had been splattered with dollops of pink bubble gum. “It defies all that is written.” He glanced at an ancient tome, which lay open on the kitchen table.
D.D. stared at him, dubiously. “Are you sure he was sent by--”
He unholstered his revolver and leveled it at my chest. “Yet one cannot deny one’s very senses.” He sniffed the air and asked D.D. “Do you not detect the wafting aroma of licorice?”
“Um,” she said, “not really.”
“Beware! He’s like to transmogrify into a jackal at any moment.” The old man pulled the trigger and a deafening blast filled the room.
I looked down at my chest. No holes.
I looked down at the old man. He lay sprawled across the floor. The kickback from the .357 magnum had sent him reeling.
There’s nothing quite so exhilarating as being shot at without effect. I leapt forward and crunched the old man’s right wrist under my heel. I wasn’t going to let him get off another round. “One thing I’ve learned about shooting.” I said, smugly. “You’ve really got to use two hands.” I reached down and snatched the gun.
“Fly, young lady. Fly like the wind.” The old man said. “You may yet survive to fight another day. I shall endeavor to keep the demonic cad at bay.” He reared up. “Remember me fondly.” His fedora, which had somehow remained in place so far, tumbled from his head, revealing scraggly strands of pale hair. “Sing of my exploits to your children.” He sunk his teeth into my thigh.
“Owww!” I yelled. A few inches higher and I’d have been singing soprano. “What the fuck!”
D.D. flung open the refrigerator door and leapt inside.
“Let go.” I yanked my leg but his teeth were clamped on tight. “You crazy old bastard.” I thumped him on the head with the pearl handled butt of the revolver and that did the trick.
The fat man was stunned, but only for a moment. He shook his head like a wet dog and then he grabbed his hat. He spared me one last glance; his eyes were wild and his teeth stained with my blood. He turned tail and wriggled into the refrigerator like a greased pig. He yanked the door shut behind him.
I tugged at the handle. It didn’t budge. I pulled harder, grunting and getting both hands and one foot in on the action. No dice. I rifled through the kitchen for something to pry the refrigerator door open.
Then, that thing stopped me dead in my tracks. Time, which had been rushing by like a swollen river, froze over and stood still. That thing that had caught my eye wouldn’t let go.
I sat heavily on the chair (chrome tube and red pleather) and rested my elbows on the kitchen table. I stroked (so smooth) one of the ancient pages; crowded with line after line of black and red letters. No spaces separated the incomprehensible words from each other and no punctuation marks separated sentence from sentence. Black flourishes surrounded the text, as if to protect the writing from the illustrations, which lurked in the wide margins. Demons, serpents, wolves and vultures, embellished with blue and gold; hungry eyes boring into the arcane phrases; toothy mouths hanging agape; coiling muscles ready to spring.
The stiff parchment crackled in protest as I slowly leafed through the yellow-edged pages. The margins were crowded with occult symbols, only a few of which were familiar: a golden ankh, a ruby red pentagram (a demon’s face in the center and ancient symbols at each of its points), the all-seeing eye.
I flipped the vellum page again and began to shake like a leaf. There it was: The three intertwining rings, arcane symbols and ancient letters. The same as Addie’s tattoo. The same as the emblem engraved on Azazel’s door.
The book itself wasn’t making me tremble. It wasn’t the Azazel’s emblem either. Not directly at least. It was that thing. But it wasn’t the same thing as before, in the church. It was quite the opposite. It was that which emboldened the shadowy part of myself and lured me to darkness’ embrace. Its sirens’ song echoed louder and louder in my heart. How could I resist? My strength was stretched and stretched, like a rubber band about to snap.
I heard a wailing from the apartment upstairs: “Ayúdeme.”
I rushed up the stairs, following the lamentations: “Ayúdeme.”
A grade-school-aged girl with an angel’s face and long dark hair swayed like a reed in the open doorway. Her head leaned backwards and her gaping mouth (framed by baby teeth, wide gaps and grown-up teeth) repeated the plaintive cry: “Ayúdeme.”
A twenty-something man, with a gruesome visage and the physique of a linebacker was sprawled on the couch, just beyond the little girl. I swept her aside and charged into a scene from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Based upon the blood splattered across the wall (and dripping from framed pictures of faraway landscapes) I could tell the fat man’s errant bullet had struck one of the young man’s arteries. Based upon the cherry-red pattern, painted on the snow-white cushions, I could tell the strength of the victim’s heart was flagging: the young man was in the center of a rainbow with ever-decreasing arcs.
I turned to the little girl, “Tráigame la faja.”
She nodded gravely, the fear had left her eyes. She disappeared.
His face was the color of chalk. His eyes were sunken and shut and he was too weak to moan. His ragged breathing sounded like the snores of a drunkard. I stepped closer to him and my boots splashed through an ever-widening ruddy puddle. I rearranged the cushions and positioned his head lower than his heart.
The little girl rushed back into the room holding a woman’s girdle.
I scoffed and removed my own belt. I fashioned a tourniquet and strapped it on his thigh, directly above the bullet hole.
“Ah, cinturón,” she said.
The sound of sirens reached my ears. I turned to leave.
“Quédate aquí,” She begged. She’d wrapped her arms around my legs.
“I can’t stay,” I said. The gun, which had shot her father, was stuffed in my pocket.
“Por favor.” She gazed up at me with sloe eyes. “Quédate.”
“I’ve really got to go.” I shook the little girl loose. Her embrace was surprisingly strong. “He’ll be alright.” The siren’s cry grew ever-louder. I couldn’t bring myself to meet her gaze. “Papí, estará bien.”
I felt her eyes boring into my back as I descended the stairs.
My pants slid over my narrow ass and fell halfway down my thighs. “That was my favorite belt,” I groused. I passed through D.D.’s kitchen on the way out. The book was gone: I breathed a sigh of relief. At the same time, as I scanned the barren Formica table, an empty aching hunger gnawed at my gut.
I gave the refrigerator a last try. It opened so easily I fell backwards. The bulb flickered like a strobe light. Shelves stuffed with garden variety groceries filled the space where D.D. and the fat man had passed moments earlier. “Curiouser and curiouser,” I said.
I escaped through the back door of D.D.’s apartment. I hopped fences and scurried through alleyways, hitching up my pants every few steps.
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Bullet to Brain is the prequel to Lazarus Dot, Azazel’s Public House is the prequel to Bullet and The Mind Unlocked is a non fiction to fine tune your brain and elevate your mind.
The previous chapter to Lazarus can be found here