Mystery Men Part 6by John Coleman
MARCH 18, 7:02 AM
The man called Alexander Hilles sat in his office looking out over the city that would one day be his. His gaze came to rest on the only building taller than Hilles Tower…the Century Spire. He had worked long and hard to build his little economic empire, and it vexed him to see evidence of any aspirations more lofty than his own. He looked forward to the day that he would bring the Spire down and take the city for himself. Much had happened of late that threatened that goal. This simply would not do.
Swiveling his plush desk chair, he faced the room, and turned his angry eyes at the man standing before his desk. “I am not happy, Mr. Left,” he said, his voice quiet but strong.
The man spread his arms in a gesture of acquiescence. “I gathered as much,” he said. He was a middle sized man, of an indeterminate age, with very plain features. Indeed, there was nothing at all remarkable about his appearance…unless you caught a glimpse of the palm of his left hand. “I cannot say that I blame you…things have taken a turn.”
“Several turns,” Hilles replied, struggling to keep his temper in check. “There has been no sign of the girl?”
“None yet,” Mr. Left replied. “Although, I thought it was her uncle’s private work that we sought…with that destroyed in the fire, are we still seeking the girl?”
Hilles pondered this. It was true that their goal had been to discover Professor Klein’s laboratory, and that they had simply used his niece to help them do so. The lab was destroyed, however, when the men he had sent had encountered resistance from an unknown source. Still, the girl could prove useful. “Yes,” he said. “See what your divinations can turn up on her. Whatever secrets Klein’s lab held are lost to us, but she may be able to help us with the Professor himself.”
Mr. Left nodded once. “I will see what I can learn.”
Hilles turned to the next item of concern. “And the arraignment is today, correct?”
“Yes, court begins in two hours. I will have them out on bail and then see to them. This is what you wish, yes?”
“Yes,” Hilles responded, noting the wicked gleam that lit up in Left’s eyes. The only time the man seemed interested was when their talk turned to murder.
Earlier that week, four of his men had been discovered transporting certain items from one of his warehouses. Instead of talking their way out of the situation, one of the fools had opened fire on a pair of policemen. The police had then apprehended the four of them, with the help of one of these so-called Mystery Men. Attempts had been made to quell that situation, but they had gone awry, as well. His instructions had called for secrecy and subtlety. Now, witnesses had seen two men of The Blood fighting on the streets of Century. Luckily, the American government seemed to want things as quiet as his allies did. The four of them would have to die before any connection could be made to him.
He hated all the secrecy, the plotting, the planning. He longed for the days when he could have just sailed up to the city with a thousand ships and burnt it to the ground. He was a man of action…a warrior who met his enemy head on and looked into his eyes as the light went out of them forever.
“And what about the private investigator?” Left asked.
Over the past couple of days, Mr. Left had divined that there was a man looking into all these events, trying to establish a connection. It seemed that the reporter and the cop who had survived had gotten some help to look into things for them. Hilles had enough people in the right positions bought off to prevent anything from getting too far in the hands of the police…but a private investigator was another matter. Who knew what the man would find and what he would do with it? “Can you deal with him, as well?”
“I suppose so,” Mr. Left said. “I have some interesting ideas about what to do with him.”
Hilles sneered. “I prefer not to know all the details, Left.”
Mr. Left’s eyes widened. “Oh, but you should,” the man said. “It concerns another thing that I have learned. Something of great importance.”
“And what is that?” Hilles would have long ago gotten rid of Left himself if he did not know how useful the man could be. Still, sometimes he seemed to forget who was in charge.
“I believe a Pantheon is forming.”
Hilles was on his feet and around his desk in a heartbeat. He grabbed Left by the throat, hoisting him up into the air, leaving the tips of the man’s shoes dangling over a foot from the floor. His patience was finally past its limit. His wrath boiled within him, and his wrath was epic. His eyes flared with a red energy, casting a blood colored hue about the room.
“A Pantheon?” he screamed. “And you wait until now to tell me? I should kill you for this, Left…you have failed me worse than any of the Halfbloods!”
Mr. Left, despite being choked, remained calm as he explained himself. “I only… detected the converging signs recently,” he rasped. “And I only became aware of what they meant last night.”
Hilles tightened his grip, tempted to be rid of Left once and for all. Finally, however, he released his hold, dropping Left to his knees. He turned and made his way back to the desk and took a seat again. A Pantheon? Could it be? “You are sure, Left?”
Mr. Left was rubbing at his neck as he slowly rose to his feet. “No,” he answered, his voice hoarse. “It is nothing I have encountered before, but my tomes seem to indicate that is what it is. Someone is gathering a Pantheon against us.”
Hilles thought about this new problem. There had not been a Pantheon since the days of old. His allies were attempting to create one, but whether they were succeeding was debatable; a Pantheon was more than simply a group of individuals who were of the Blood. This worried him more than any of their other recent setbacks. He sat silently for several moments. “Find out more, Left,” he said, at last. “Make sure that you are correct. And if you are…we will deal with them, directly if we must.”
“As you wish,” Mr. Left responded and then silently exited the office, leaving Alexander Hilles to ponder their situation.
* * * * *
MARCH 18, 6:52 PM
It was the quiet moments like these that he had learned to enjoy. After nineteen years as a P.I. whose cases always seemed to turn into circuses, Patrick Malone had learned not to take the slow times for granted. He didn’t get nearly enough of them.
He was sitting in his rusty Ford, parked along a residential street. A light rain was falling, but he could see the house clearly. He had followed them all the way from the courthouse, but was surprised when they ended up in such a normal little neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. The man who had bailed the other four out of jail led them into the house. That had been over an hour ago
. He had agreed to take this case because of his friend, Officer Tony Hogan. The cop’s young partner had recently been killed in action, and when Hogan asked for his help, Malone could hardly refuse. In the two years he’d lived in Century, Hogan was one of the few men he could call a friend. He had never seen the normally stoic Hogan so emotional as he was the day after his partner died. Malone promised to do what he could to help find out why Officer Eddie Duke had been killed at the Courage Café massacre.
He had sat at the arraignment of the four men who had been accused of robbing a warehouse and of resisting arrest and assault on a police officer. Hogan and Duke had collared them after a brief gunfight on Maryland Avenue. Hogan had explained to Malone, however, that they hadn’t done so without help. One of the so-called Mystery Men had appeared and, amidst a cloud of smoke, taken the four men down, probably saving the cops’ lives in the process. This event was what led Duke to meet with reporter Karl Rainey at the Courage Café. Rainey was the only survivor of the brutal assault that took place at the Café during their meeting. Rainey was now working with Hogan, trying to find out who had been responsible for the attack and why.
Hogan had given him copies of the police reports on both incidents. Neither made any mention of the Mystery Men who were involved, but were nonetheless filled with clues. There had been no sign of forced entry at the warehouse the four men had broken into and they had all cooperated after being arrested…The attack at the Courage had no known motive, although Rainey had told him that it seemed to be an attempt to keep Duke’s story from getting into the paper.
He had looked into the four perps and found some interesting things. None had any known prior records, but one had a connection to the owner of the warehouse, industrialist Alexander C. Hilles. It seems that the perp had taken a job working for one of Hilles’s companies a few years ago. He had only been on the books for a month before being let go. There was no record of him having a job since.
Something about this fact bothered him…gave him that feeling in his gut. He had a hunch that if he looked into the records, he would find that Hilles, or one of his companies, held title on this house. It was nothing specific that gave him this suspicion…just two decades working as a P.I. on some of the strangest cases he could have imagined.
This case began to remind him of the ones he had used to work back in New England, so he tried to force himself to relax. Enjoy the quiet moments, he told himself. He could leave anytime he wanted, just drive his Ford right away from here and go look into other things. Something made him think he should stay… something in his gut. He never ignored something he felt in his gut. It had kept him alive so many times back in New England.
He had come to Century City almost two years ago, despite what the old woman had said, to get away from the madness that his life had become. Early in his career, each case he got involved in became more and more mysterious. He had started out like most private dicks… hired by crying wives to tail unfaithful husbands. He’d give his right hand to have those boring days back. Having to break the news that, yes, your husband is indeed cheating, had an appeal he never thought it could.
Once your cases started getting you involved with strange cults, deranged grave robbers, and other madmen, you would wish for any mundane task, no matter how unpleasant.
Each case he had taken led him into areas he had never imagined. New England had started to seem like a nightmare landscape, foreign and unfamiliar despite the fact that he had lived in the region his entire life. He had seen things that shook his Catholic upbringing to its very core…things that couldn’t be if what he had been told all his life was true. The occult had become involved in almost every case he took. And worse…each case led to others as word of his work spread. Referrals meant business to a private eye… his meant more bizarre trips into cemeteries at midnight, or into hidden tunnels beneath Miskatonic University. He became known as an “occult investigator”, despite the fact that it was the last thing he wanted to be. There was little he could do about it, however; times were rough and he had an aging mother to take care of. His sanity began to bend more and more with each case; he knew it was only a matter of time before it broke.
When his mother died, however, in the autumn of ’39, his only remaining tie to the region he had come to fear was severed. He remembered being at the funeral and, despite his love for her, feeling relief at her passing. He was ashamed for feeling it, but it meant he could get out of Massachusetts, get out of New England altogether. Go somewhere new…a place where there was no history, if such a place even existed. A place he could be some one new.
He had read in the papers about the “New Goldrush” that Century City represented. America was finally starting to get out of the grip of the Depression, and Century seemed one of the places that many people had done so. An entirely new city, built from scratch by people like him, people who just wanted a place to start over. So, after seeing to his mother’s affairs, he bought a train ticket to Maryland. He had managed to sock away a meager amount of cash that could get him started. If he couldn’t get work as a P.I., he could always find another job in the booming city. He packed his bags and left.
It was raining, but he decided to walk the few blocks to the train station… perhaps the rain could help wash away his tortured memories of this place. He felt a growing apprehension as he walked, but couldn’t place a finger on its source. The rain worsened and eventually became so bad that he ducked into a storefront to avoid the downpour.
Bells jingled eerily as he opened and shut the door. He dropped his bags to the floor and shook the rain from his coat. After a moment, he looked around. He was startled by where he found himself.
An ornately designed wooden sign hung upon the wall. Mother Bones, the sign read in flowing scarlet script, Fortunes Told. He had passed by this intersection what must have been hundreds of times, but he never recalled seeing this place before. It gave him a very strange feeling, and he decided he would rather be out in the rain. He bent to pick up his bags when a voice came from behind a beaded curtain that led into another room.
“It is trying to keep you here,” the voice called from behind the curtain.
He froze. Peering through the beads he caught glimpses of an old woman seated at a small round table. Every urge in his body told him to leave now, but he felt compelled to stay. “What was that?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper.
“This place,” the old woman responded. “It doesn’t want you to leave. It is trying to keep you here.”
Malone stepped over to the beads and pushed them aside. The woman was indeed old, wisps of hair as white as snow clung to her wrinkled head. Her face was a collection of lines, like the bark of an old tree. She had only one eye, the left socket was a shadow obscured by a paralyzed eyelid. Her good eye, however, gazed at him with an intensity and intelligence that seemed misplaced in one so old. She raised one hand and beckoned him to sit at the room’s only other piece of furniture, a small wooden stool beside the table.
“Why do you say that?” he asked from the doorway.
“Sit,” the old woman said, “and Mother Bones will tell you.”
He removed his drenched coat and dropped it on the floor beside the stool. Then he took a seat.
The old woman watched him intently for several moments. His heart drummed in his chest. They sat there that way for some time, how long he couldn’t say, until finally she spoke. “You are marked.”
He cocked his head curiously, his brow furrowing doubtfully. “What do you mean?”
She smiled a toothless smile at him, but there was no joy in it. It seemed more…sympathetic than anything else. “Marked,” she said again, “by the old powers…the ancient powers. You have had…strange encounters, yes? Encounters with places or things that are not easily explainable…?”
He nodded. “Many,” he whispered. “More and more all the time.”
She nodded herself in return. “Yes, that is often how it goes. Once it has begun, it steadily grows until, finally, it consumes.” Again that sad smile. “You cannot run away from this fate…you must face it. It is unavoidable.”
“I can’t believe that,” he said. “Nothing is unavoidable.”
The woman called Mother Bones laughed at that, a quiet giggle that smoothed the many lines of her face for a moment. “Really?” she said once her laughter had subsided. “I will tell the Reaper that when he comes for me.” Her face grew serious again. “But, truly, there is no avoiding what awaits you. Your fate is bound with the ancient dark powers. Running away will not keep you safe. Do you think such things are bound by geography? Or distance? Eventually, it will all catch up to you.”
He grew defensive. “Who says I am running?”
Again, she giggled. One gnarled hand gestured toward his bags, just within sight through the beaded curtain. “I don’t need any great powers of divination to see that, my boy.”
He was silent for a moment. Everything she said seemed to make sense…it was as if some part of him had known it all along. Many questions remained, but he asked the one that nagged him the most. “Why me?”
She shrugged, a gesture that seemed to take all her strength. “Why does anything happen to anyone?”
He stood from the table, not wanting to hear any more. He bent to retrieve his coat, but paused when she spoke again. “You will not be safe in any city… not Babylon…not even Atlantis itself.”
He snatched his coat from the floor, bewildered by her words. “Why tell me any of this if there is nothing I can do about it?” He didn’t wait for her response, he turned and stepped through the beaded curtain and grabbed his bags.
Her answer reached him just as he opened the door to leave, and it mingled with the eerie sound of the bells.
“I have no choice, either,” she said.
He awoke to the sound of a far off scream. He must have dozed off for quite some time...it was full dark now, and the rain had picked up. He had barely heard the scream, muffled by the rain and the distance, but he knew it had come from the house. Something was happening… his gut told him so.
His eyes went to the keys dangling from the ignition. You could start the car and drive right away, he told himself.
Another scream, this one much louder and clearer, tore his eyes away from the keys. He looked back to the house. A flash of lightning revealed it for an instant.
He could drive away, sure…or he could try and find out more. His gut knew that if he went into that house, he would learn enough to close this case then and there. And the old woman’s words came back to him. You cannot run away from this fate…you must face it.
Looking at the dark windows of the house, he knew that all his years had come to this. Whatever his fate was, it waited in that house. He could drive away, running from it once again…or he could take Mother Bones’s advice and face it.
Reaching into his coat beneath his arm, he drew his pistol from his shoulder holster and got out of the car.
The rain made it easy to approach the house undetected. He ran up to the side of the house and leaned back against the wall beside a dimly lit window. Slowly, he peaked his head around to get a look inside. It appeared to be a dining room, although not decorated like any dining room he had ever seen. A roughly carved wooden table sat in the middle of the room, a small black candle flickering at its center. Two chairs faced each other from opposite sides of the table, but both, like the room itself, were unoccupied. He could see two doorways leading out of the dining room, but the light was not enough to reveal where they led. The room’s eerie appearance made him only more certain that his so-called fate had caught up with him, but he pushed these thoughts away and began to make his way around the back of the house.
The backyard was as bare as the front. It’s like the trees know to stay away, he thought. A few more windows marked the rear wall of the house, but each was dark. The only source of light was a sliver shining up through the cracks between the cellar doors. He heard a few faint noises coming from the doors, but the rain muffled them beyond recognition from this distance. He crept slowly closer, his fingers working on the butt of his gun.
As he reached the cellar doors, the noise became a bit clearer. “Please…don’t…” he heard some one saying.
Malone reached out and took the handle of one of the cellar doors, lifting it open as quietly as possible. Three short steps led down to another door. What seemed to be candlelight was flickering its way through the cracks in the wooden door. He could see the shadow of someone moving around beyond the door.
The pleading resumed as Malone started down the stairs. “I swear…we didn’t tell them nothing’,” the voice said. “You don’t have to do this…”
“But I want to,” another voice responded. This new voice had such malice in it that it stopped Malone in his tracks. “Besides, you are just repeating what the others said…and I am about to have a visitor.”
There was the brief sound of a struggle. “No! Please….NO!” the man’s cries cut off in a choking gurgle. The sound of some one falling to the floor came through the door.
Malone now wished he had not come down here…he should have just driven away while he had the chance. Maybe he could still get away if he ran back up the stairs now.
“You can come in now, detective.”
There was no escape now, he knew. Whoever this man was, he was obviously aware that Malone was at the door. This was it…the confrontation that Mother Bones had told him about nearly two years ago. He was sure of it.
He would not face it meekly, however…if he was to confront his fate then he would do it boldly. He tightened his grip on his pistol and raised his foot to the door. He kicked the door in, gun raised ready for whatever he would find within.
The basement was small and lit by many small black candles like the one he had seen through the window upstairs. Several bookcases lined the brick walls, filled with many strange looking books. Arcane symbols had been scrawled on the floor and walls in a random pattern. Three of the criminals lay unmoving on the floor. The fourth was thrashing about nearby, his hands struggling vainly to stop the flow of blood from his slit throat.
The man who was waiting for Malone stood amidst all this with a smile on his nondescript face. He was dressed all in black and held a bloody knife in his right hand. It was the man who had bailed out the four criminals and brought them here. Malone leveled his gun at the man.
“Don’t you fucking move,” Malone said through gritted teeth.
The man’s smile got a bit wider. “Welcome to my home, detective.”
Malone spared a moment to look at the dying man on the floor. There was nothing he would be able to do for him. Despite the fact that the man was a criminal who had attacked his friend, he felt bad for him…it was a horrible way to die. Anger welled up inside him, and he looked back up to the stranger before him. The man had still not moved; he just stood there watching Malone with that smile on his face. “Who the hell are you?”
“Oh, that’s right,” the stranger said, “we haven’t been introduced yet, have we? My name is Mr. Left.”
“Whatever,” Malone said. “You are coming with me. We are going to go have a nice talk with the police.”
Mr. Left chuckled. “Oh, I don’t think that would be a good idea, detective. They would certainly not like the things I’ve done.”
“I bet.” Malone cocked the hammer of his pistol back. “Drop the fucking knife, maniac. Now.”
The sound of the knife hitting the floor echoed around the basement. “As you say, detective.” Mr. Left’s eyes turned to the dying man, whose struggles had almost stopped. “I don’t need it any more.”
Malone had a pair of handcuffs back in the car…he would have to get this guy out there before he could properly secure him. “Raise your hands above your head.” Malone took a step toward him.
He stopped when he caught a glimpse of the palm of the man’s left hand. There was a symbol there, an upside down star within a circle, and it pulsed with an eerie purple light. The strange light seemed to engulf the room, easily overpowering the flickering candles.
“Ah, he expires,” Mr. Left said and turned toward his victim. “Watch this detective.” He raised his marked hand over the body of the dying criminal. The glyph on his palm flared and crackled with energy.
Malone stood transfixed, unable to act because of the fantastic events he was watching. More of the dark purple light flowed up from the body of the dying man and into Mr. Left’s palm. “This is his soul, detective,” Mr. Left said, almost reverently. The flow of light stopped, and Mr. Left closed the fingers of his hand around the collected energy. His face bore an expression of satisfaction.
Once the ritual ended, Malone came back to his senses. He no longer worried about getting to the bottom of this mystery, he just wanted this man to die. Whatever he had just witnessed, it was vile and evil…he had enough experience with the supernatural to know that, even if he hadn’t seen anything like it before. He raised his gun and fired several shots.
The shots struck Mr. Left in the chest and knocked him back a few feet, but he did not fall. He smiled at Malone again, but this smile had a much more sinister twist to it. “You shouldn’t have done that, detective. You don’t want to make me angry…not when we are about to become such good friends.”
Mr. Left lunged forward, his dark left palm out before him. Malone fired again, but it had no more effect than the earlier shots. Mr. Left’s palm came to rest on Malone’s chest and a torrent of pain ripped through him.
Malone fell to the floor and Mr. Left moved with him, keeping his hand in contact with Malone’s chest. He was chanting in a strange language. The pain was unbelievable. He wanted it to stop, no matter what the cost.
Mr. Left stopped chanting, and the pain Malone felt doubled. “So, you like to hunt things down, eh, detective?” Left said. “I have something you can hunt down.”
Whatever else happened, Malone was unaware of it. The dark purple energy enveloped him, obscuring his sight. He felt his body…shifting, moving in ways it was never meant to. He heard and felt bones cracking within him. He screamed.
His last coherent thought was that if this was the fate that had always awaited him, he should have avoided it for as long as possible. Damn that old woman for telling him he should ever have to face this. Then, blackness swallowed him.
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