In everything, it’s as much who you know as what you know. Contacts, networking, social media, it’s all built around the same concept: getting you out there, spreading your web, your message and your personal creed to as many people as you can. Nowadays, it’s as easy as clicking a button; but I remember the hard work and time that people used to put into building their stable of informants, working off of a very old concept. You scratch my back, I scratch yours, as the saying goes. I pride myself on my keen understanding of man’s oldest currency: the economy of favors, one good turn after another and another and another.
Providence might not be my hometown, but it’s grown on me. It’s a city on the edge, driven right to the brink by greed, nepotism and corruption. It’s exactly the kind of environment that caters to a man like me. No, Providence isn’t my home, but as I take the turn down a familiar, claustrophobic, cobbled road towards Tcho-Tcho’s bar, I realize how comfortable it and I have become together. If I had to, I could find this little hole-in-the-wall blindfolded. In the past few years Tcho-Tcho’s had become quite the popular spot with the disenfranchised college crowd. Cheap drinks, dark corners, no cover and a damn fine house band brought them in in droves. The food’s not bad either, for a grease pit, just do yourself a favor if you ever visit, stay away from the bak bon dzhow. Sure, it’s the house specialty and it brings gourmands in from around the country. Man Vs. Food has even been in contact with Tcho, the bar’s owner and namesake, about filming an episode. Still, my advice? Stick with a burger and fries.
“Mister Moss! It’s good to see you again, sir!” The doorman called out to me as I waited for a car to pass down the one-way road before crossing the street.
“Chilly, how’ve you been?” we shook hands.
“Another day in paradise, Mister Moss.”
“Aren’t they all? How’s the family?” I asked.
The tall, broad, dark-skinned man offered a bright smile. “Growing, sir.”
“Congratulations, Chilly. We should get together sometime, Sarah and you both, if you can find a babysitter, that is.” I clapped him on the shoulder as he opened the door for me.
“Sure, I’d like that Mister Moss. Enjoy the evening, sir.”
I wished this visit was about enjoyment, I really did. It was a different world inside. The music that had been muted was pounding at my very center. The band was up on stage, Kraken and the Mob, a very talented, very devoted group of ladies that I’m proud to say I had a hand in setting up here. I made my way through the throng of writhing flesh and over to the bar. The kid behind the counter was new, but attentive.
“What can I get you?” he asked.
“Rum, straight, on the rocks. Tcho in?”
“Maybe,” the bartender added defensively as he scooped ice into a glass. “Who’s asking?”
I raised my brows and felt the corners of my lips curl upwards. Before I could answer, Mandy, the waitress and sometimes bar-top dancer leaned in next to me and shouted to the kid.
“Zack! This guy doesn’t pay! Okay? He’s the one we told you about!” she cupped her hands in front of her mouth and I got a chance to take in his reaction. He over-poured the rum, so that rivulets of the golden liquid ran down the sides of the glass, his eyes darting between Mandy and me. For my part, I tilted the bottle upright with an extended finger. “Sorry, Moss! He didn’t know!”
“It’s alright.” I waved my hand dismissively. “Thank you, dear. Now, where is Tcho?”
“In his office!” Mandy shouted over an up-tempo shift of guitar. I savored the familiar opening riff to my favorite Kraken song, Cement Shoe Cthulhu. There was power in that song, seductive, sweet and awful. A few scattered rounds of applause were offered to the band as they began to sing; like sirens, they were doing exactly as they should; temptation was their vocation. I stared at Karen, the lead singer and primary reason for my visit. She was a tall, willowy girl, with wild hair the color of a neon rainbow. I had often wondered how many bottles it took to get it to look like that. Tonight she was dressed especially provocatively, a mesh shirt wrapping tightly about her taught frame. Electrical tape provided what little modesty there was to be found, hiding her nipples under a shining X the color of an oil slick. Torn hose and a ragged jean skirt held together by safety pins completed the ‘rock star’ look. Her eyes, one blue and one green, met mine and brightened with recognition. Her fingerless gloved hands wrapped around the microphone and I watched her redouble her efforts as she sang to me. She was a lovely girl, Karen, always so eager to please. She had no idea the kind of trouble she had gotten herself into. She had no idea what a mess she had laid at my doorstep. And yet, I could not be irritated with her, for none were as devoted to our cause as she was. It was she that had brought a vital influx of new blood into the fold. Music as a recruitment tool. I admit, I was skeptical at first, but these are interesting times. Children flock to popular musicians, clamoring over themselves to adopt their stances on social, political and yes, even religious issues. The minstrel has become miles more influential than the bishop.
I finished my drink as Mandy picked up an order on a circular metal tray and wove her way deftly through the crowd. I set the empty glass down onto the counter top with a rattle of ice.
“Zach?” I asked of the man working the counter.
“Yes?” he replied so softly that I had to read his lips to realize that he’d said anything at all.
“We’ll talk. Soon.”
I made my way from the bar and towards the back office. My eyes scanned the crowd as the song continued, Karen’s English fading into something far older and far more terrible. I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of pride well up in my breast as she pronounced each syllable perfectly.
And then I saw him.
He was as transfixed as the others in the bar, an older man sitting by himself at a table in the corner. This man had been sent for her: dark hair, thinning in the front, a thick gold chain hanging on a hirsute chest with a crucifix resting amidst the curly tangles and eyes that never left Karen. They held only disdain and the nervous excitement of a man reveling in the moments before sin. My sources were right. The Frezzetti family had taken issue with my protege over the disappearance of one Paul “Pauly” Frezzetti, only son of family patriarch Caesar Frezzetti. Caesar was the kingpin of a crime syndicate left over from the heyday of prohibition, that operated out of Federal Hill, a slice of Sicily right in the middle of Providence. They specialized in the usual: prostitution, drugs, gambling and the trafficking of arms. They also wielded considerable clout in their own small microcosm; Frezzetti influence had made forging inroads into the Federal Hill neighborhood difficult. One of my potential converts was once found tied to a tree, after having committed suicide by shooting himself in the back five times. No doubt Caesar Frezzetti was sending a message, both to me and anyone else that might have considered changing loyalties.
Caesar wasn’t a man I was prepared to face, just yet. But I no longer had a choice, it was either confront him or lose Karen.
I pushed my way through the ‘staff only’ designated heavy metal door and into Tcho’s immaculately tended office area. Tcho was a bit of a neat freak, he had a mind for minutiae and an even sharper one for business. He was also more than a little paranoid. A fact I was reminded of as the three armed gorillas reached for weapons beneath matching black suit jackets. Tcho’s personal secret service, they’d even look the part if the American President required steroid use.
“Ah! Dagon Moss? So soon after your last visit?” Tcho called to me from his perch behind the massive black-marble desk that was the centerpiece of his office. He was dark skinned, muscular with a pot belly that stretched along a charcoal-colored suit that was tailored to his short stature. His aphotic eyes stared at me from an angled setting that asserted his Tibetan heritage. Tcho’s crooked teeth flashed bright and sharp as his stubby fingers played over his long, wispy mustache. “We’ll have to stop meeting like this, people will say that we are in love!”
“Tcho,” I offered in greeting. “I see you hired a new security team. Again.” I looked over at each of the men taking a bead on me with semi-automatic pistols. They held them like toys in their meaty fists.
“The old ones had heard too much talk. They knew better than to draw a gun on you, Dagon. See? An ignorant man is a dangerous man. He is like a dog that is too stupid to know it should not bite a dragon.” Tcho wheezed out a sickly giggle.
“Get the guns out of my face, Tcho.”
“Oh. Fine, Dagon, fine. If only to spare your nice new suit. Put those things away!” Tcho commanded before leaning back in his plush office chair. His dogs did what he said. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure? It’s too soon for you to take your cut of the profits, partner.”
“I’m not here for money,” I said, walking over to the desk. “Karen. Was she involved in an incident over the weekend?”
“Kraken?” he corrected me as he ran his fingers along his mustache thoughtfully. “Mm. Oh, yes. There was a small issue, but nothing I couldn’t handle, Dagon.”
“She killed Pauly Frezzetti, Tcho!” I snarled and slammed my hand onto the hard stone of the desk. Tcho sat up a bit straighter in his seat, his eyes widening.
“It was an accident! And besides, no one knows about that.” He matched my tone.
“I know about it.”
“You know about everything, Moss! If only I was rich enough to gossip all day like a fishwife!”
“Enough! Never presume to know how I spend my time!” I hissed and felt my skin crawling like it wanted to tear free. I closed my eyes and tried to reign in the call. “There…is a man, sitting in the restaurant, the Frezzetti family sent him.”
“Alright…alright, Dagon, please. We can handle this. After all, he is only one man.” Tcho offered a sinister smile and looked over to his dogs. “Go with Dagon, escort the man into the kitchen. I’ll get my knives.” His eyes gleamed.
“And then what, Tcho? How long do you think you’ll have a business if you declare war on the Frezzetti’s?” I shook my head. “No, I’m going to take care of this my way. You want to help? Give me Pauly’s body, so I can take it back to Caesar for a proper burial.”
“There’s…a small problem with your plan, Dagon. I no longer have the body, exactly.”
“Tcho, you didn’t.”
“Getting rid of bodies is like, murderer 101…I thought you would have wanted me to help Kraken…and I never could resist Italian.” Tcho ran his tongue over his lips as a shiver rolled through his body.
“You stupid bastard, you ate Pauly Frezzetti!?” I loomed over the desk and Tcho’s goons got nervous. I saw them moving in on the periphery of my vision.
“Others helped–some without their knowledge–but really all I knew about mister-spray-tan was that he was delicious. I had no idea Pauly was so…connected.” Tcho held up a hand to stop his men. “Let me get you a drink, Dagon, come on, it’s no good to get so stressed out. What are you drinking tonight?”
“Heavily.” I muttered.
“Okay, okay. Get this man a drink…go on.” One of the three stooges moved quickly over to the cabinet that held Tcho’s private reserves. “What can Tcho do for you tonight, partner? I am here to help.”
“Get Kar–Kraken in here. I’m cutting her show short.”
“Sure, Dagon. You’re the boss.” Tcho nodded. “Fetch the girl.” He ordered the goon closest to the door. As he left, the last few lilting chords of Cement Shoe Cthulhu drifted hauntingly through Tcho’s office like a wandering specter, lost again when the door fell shut. A potent, but sweet smelling drink was set in front of me. The cup looked ancient, made of stone with strange, time-worn carvings etched on the outside. I lifted it to my lips and hoped that the contents would smother the embers of a migraine that would have made a long night much longer.
The door opened after a few moments of alcohol assisted silence and I heard her voice, that defiant tone that had drawn me to her in the first place.
“Tcho! You can’t just pull me off stage like that! I wasn’t finished. Dagon’s back and wait until he hears about…” Her voice trailed off. Karen’s eyes had found their way over to where I was sitting. We’d been apart for some time. It was the nature of my work; I couldn’t afford the luxury of remaining in one place. My mission was far more important than any desires that Karen or I may have shared.
“Karen.” I said, my voice barely rising above a whisper.
“Dagon…I saw you out there,” she smiled brightly. Karen moved towards me quickly, as if to hug me, but her steps withered as her eyes found mine. “What’s wrong?”
“Dagon is taking issue with that little misunderstanding we had over the weekend.” Tcho interrupted.
“Wait, this is about that? You said that I didn’t have to worry about that.” Karen shot a multicolored glare at my business partner.
“A moment, Tcho.” I muttered.
“Of course, Dagon.” Tcho leaned forward on his marble desk expectantly.
“I meant, a moment alone. With Karen.”
“Oh. Right, anything you need.” Tcho nodded and pushed himself away from his desk. The chair added a few inches and he looked even shorter as he walked towards the door, summoning his men with him with a wave of his hand. “Let’s go, gentleman. Give these two some space.”
When they had gone, Karen wrapped her long, thin arms around me and pulled herself against my body. After a moment, my arms moved to slide around her waist. She always felt like she belonged against me, like two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly, everything made more sense when we were together than when we were apart.
“Most people call me Kraken now.” she whispered.
“I’m not most people.” I shifted back, breaking our embrace. “Tell me what happened.”
She rolled her eyes and moved past me, over to Tcho’s desk. She avoided my gaze as she leaned against the dark marble.
“I didn’t mean to kill him,” she sounded annoyed. “I didn’t, that just happened.”
“He was just some pushy jerk, you know? At first, he said he was a fan of the music, but then he started to come onto me and he wouldn’t take a hint. I tried to be subtle and then I was blunt. I had him escorted out by security after he tried to put his hands on me during the show.” Karen sighed. “I thought that was it. But he was waiting for me outside in the alley outback after we closed,” she looked over her shoulder through the rainbow of her bangs. “I didn’t mean to kill him.”
“What happened next?” I prodded.
“I don’t know what he had planned, but I knew I didn’t want any part of it. So I figured I’d teach him a lesson. I just wanted to let this guy know that I was done fucking around. He went to grab me and I gave him a jolt from a taser.”
“Taser?” I repeated.
“Yeah, one of those electric stun guns.”
“I know what a taser is. Where did you get it?”
“Of course. And then what?”
“I don’t know. These things are just supposed to knock someone out, right? But he started shaking and he threw up. Next thing I know, he’s shitting himself and dying, maybe in the opposite order. I dragged him back inside and Tcho was still here counting the night’s take and-”
I cut her off. “I know the rest. Do you know who you killed?”
“Paul, something. Pauly-something?” she offered.
“No, not something. Frezzetti. As in, son of mob boss Caesar Frezzetti.”
“Dagon, I didn’t know. Honest. Is this going to be a problem?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t already.” I muttered.
“What? How could they know?”
“Pauly was an only son. Caesar survives by being paranoid and not letting any details slip away. Of course he knew where his son was at all times. A few inquiries into the events of the night would lead right to you, the singer that his son was infatuated with and had an altercation with the night he vanished.”
“Mother!” she spat out a curse. “Fine. How long do we have?”
“Not very. There’s a man waiting out there for you.”
“What does he want?”
I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Why don’t we go ask him?”
There was a flash of surprise at my words, but she didn’t say anything. Karen trusted me. She trusted in my ability to make things right. Have you ever had someone’s complete trust? There is a burden that comes with it, one that erodes confidence even as it bolsters it. Trust is often a matter of faith, instead of reality. It was Karen’s trust that ushered a twinge of doubt into my mind as I led her out of the safety of Tcho’s office and into the club. Could I fix this?
The gangster had found his way closer to the office door. His lips curled into a dark sneer as he saw Karen. It was only a moment before he noticed that I was following behind her, he looked away quickly, but it was a clumsy motion. I was relieved that we didn’t have to cross the floor. The rest of Karen’s band was basking in the adoration of their fans. Beautiful girls, all, and such talented recruiters. I could see the off-white card stock invitations that they were handing out to the more promising attendees. Caesar’s man was staring brazenly at us now as we approached, his hand dipping into his shiny leather jacket, the pocket bulged a bit more prominently as he pointed the concealed gun in our direction.
“Easy.” I said as we stopped walking. “My name is Dagon Moss, I want to speak to your boss.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about, buddy.”
“Stupid might not be a role that’s hard for you to play, but I suggest you drop the act if you ever want to find out what happened to Pauly.”
That made him think.
“He just wants her,” his gold chain bounced towards Karen with a jerk of his head.
“She’s not going anywhere with you, not alone.”
The man took a long slow breath that barreled out his chest. He released it through gritted, tobacco-yellowed teeth, before offering me a look of resignation. “Look, I gotta make a few calls. Don’t go nowhere.” He warned.
“Go ahead. We’ll be here.” I said.
“Because if you skip out on us,” his voice dropped to an ominous growl, “you can’t even imagine what we’d-”
“He said make your fucking calls, we’re not going anywhere, dipshit.” Karen hissed at him from her position at my side, raising her voice just enough to draw a few wandering eyes. I raised my hand, fingers splayed in a gesture I’d hoped would help everyone calm down.
“We’ll be here.” I repeated. The man’s eyes had darkened with the concealed rage of a man who knew violence, as an answer, and a survival mechanism. He left without another word, storming through the crowd and pushing his way out of the club. When I was sure he was gone I turned to Karen. “Did you really have to antagonize him like that?”
“He threatened you. Why are we even going along with this?” she asked. And there we had it, the limit of trust at the edge of fear. Being in her position would have made anyone nervous. Murder normally brought with it all manner of societal sanctions. Murdering the don’s son, brought other problems.
“Because, I still believe that this can be solved civilly. The bigger the mess, the harder these things become. Whether Pauly deserved it or not is immaterial. You took from a family and now I, as your patron, must undertake that debt. I can’t begin to pay it off if we keep killing Frezzetti’s men. It would never stop and that particular family has the means to make life difficult for us.” I looked past Karen and saw Mandy, emerging from the kitchen with a fresh platter of dishes.
“Debts? You think we owe these people?” she whispered. “He wasn’t a good man and besides, what happened to him was an accident. I might have even done this city a favor.”
“Good…Evil? When did that start to matter? Life isn’t about morality. It’s about what you owe and to whom. That the incident wasn’t intended means very little. It happened. A life stolen, a debt accrued.” I moved close to her, placing a soft kiss to her forehead. I could feel her tremble, a holdover from her time before. “I’m not disappointed with you–how could I be?”
She leaned her head against my chest. “What happens next, Dagon?”
“What must. Our escort places his calls, he’ll want backup,” I turned my eyes over to Mandy, now with an empty serving tray tucked under her arm, “and I’ll place mine.”
Karen gave me a questioning look through reflections of blue and green.
“I might need backup, too.”
Karen and I were given the V.I.P. treatment. We were ushered into an awaiting silver Cadillac coupe by half a dozen armed escorts. Three cars formed an impromptu convoy that guided us down streets that were laid before the first internal combustion engine was even conceived. The rat faced man in the passenger seat held a gun on us. It was the second time tonight that someone had pointed one at me. I wish I could say that was a record. Huey Lewis and the News were singing about the ‘power of love’ in hushed chords that were barely audible over the revving engines. I stared the gunman in the eyes as I sat in silence; Karen’s fingers wrapped loosely around my own. Bars of light from above the streets streaked through the compartment in a staccato rhythm.
Rat face must have been bothered by the quiet, because he was the first to break it. “So, you, your name is Karen, right?” He bobbed the gun over at her by way of pointing. His finger remained along the outside of the guard.
“Point that over here.” I rumbled.
“We’ll get to you.” he said. “Karen. That’s an easy one. It’s a Greek name, it means pure.”
“So?” Karen shrugged one shoulder.
“So, I love onamastics,” he smiled a scrunched, rat faced little smile, “that’s the study of proper names for the layman. You think that names have a certain power over people? That names can influence their destinies?”
“I think certain names are very powerful.” I answered in an attempt to draw his attention from Karen. His black, squinty eyes shifted to me for a microsecond, before turning back to her..
“What I’m asking, Rainbow Bright, is are you really Karen? Are you pure?”
Karen’s lip curled up into a disgusted snarl. I felt her muscles tensing and I clenched my fingers around her hand. When I felt her relax, I became certain I had just saved Rat-Face’s life.
“See, me? I got a boring name too. Ray. Means king.” Rat-Face Ray tapped the side of the barrel against his forehead as he laughed. “But this guy, over here.” Now the gun was back where it belonged, pointed at my chest. “Now he’s interesting. Very. Interesting. Name. Dagon. Shit, I was stumped. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I googled it on my iPhone on the way over. I love those goddamn things, the power of the future in the palm of your hand, am I right?”
“I don’t carry a cell phone.” I replied quietly.
“Fucking, neanderthal, this guy. Why not?”
“Because, unless you’re standing in someone’s presence. You don’t really know who you’re talking to, or who…or what might be listening.”
“Oh,” he strung the syllable across several little chuckles, “okay mister creepy. Mister Moss. Dagon. Moss. So, do you know what the name Dagon means?” he asked me.
“You seem excited to tell me. I don’t want to ruin that.”
Ray jumped right in. “It’s Aramaic, the language of Christ. It means…to be cut open!” He followed that declaration with a series of wild braying laughs. “I mean, how crazy is that? Who would want to name their kid that? I mean, were you a C-section? Come on I’m dying to know.”
“No. I was born in a very uneventful way. One of a million mundane miracles that year.”
Ray seemed to chew on that for awhile. “So, while Karen may or may not be pure, there’s no reason to suspect that you, Dagon, are cut open. At least, not yet. A little hitch in my name-makes-the-person theory. Which, of course brings me to my next point-”
“Jesus, you talk more than a fuckin’ parrot, Ray you know that? Can I please just listen to the radio?” the driver added. He was the same man from the club, he gazed back at us through the rear-view.
“This is important, Eddie, besides we’re almost there.” Ray mollified. That prompted me to look out the window. We were heading towards the waterfront. “Sorry,” he addressed us again and gestured towards the driver with his empty hand, “Eddie–wealth protector. Anyway, my second point is, you, Karen…you have chosen another name for yourself. Kraken? Right? I listened to a couple of your songs driving around with Pau–well, just driving around, and I gotta say you’re very talented. Now, Kraken, that’s a giant fucking octopus in the German. Or, maybe it’s Scandinavian from Krake, which means, an unhealthy animal or something twisted. I admit, I googled that one too.”
“I’m sorry, what was the question?” Karen uttered through pursed lips.
“Does the name you choose, override the name you were given? Do you get to take the reins of your destiny by just calling yourself something different? Is that really all it takes? Are you pure? Are you unhealthy and twisted? Or are you an octopus?” Ray snickered.
“Maybe I’m a purely twisted octopus.” She responded, a growl rumbling in the back of her throat. Ray rested the gun on the top of his seat, while maintaining a grip on the pommel. His smile widened until I could see the brown rot along the base of his teeth, near puffy red gums.
“So what do I call you? The name you were given, or the name you took?”
“There’s only one reason you got to call me Karen,” she spat.
“This?” Ray ventured a guess, lifting his gun and drumming his fingers along the slide.
“No,” her voice dropped to a whisper as a dark smile played across her slender lips. “Him.” She gave my hand a squeeze as the gunman laughed. Karen tensed again, but this time it was the car that interrupted. It came to a stop by the docks. The sole building on this stretch declared in bold blue letters that it was the Parnet Marine Services Corp. No doubt one of Caesar’s entrepreneurial ventures.
“We’re here, everybody out.” Eddie, the driver, barked.
“Nice and slow.” Ray added like a Sam Spade cliché.
We were led into a small office on the second floor of the complex. Karen and I were seated in front of a desk as our escorts took positions around the room to dissuade any possible escape. I sat calmly, in an effort to reassure both Karen and our heavily-armed babysitters. Eddie dashed my hopes of a true face-to-face with his boss when he set a laptop onto the desk in front of us.
“What, you don’t like computers neither?” Ray asked. My disappointment must have been written clearly over my face.
“Not particularly.” I said as the other goon plugged in the electric cord and powered the computer up.
“Welcome to the future, Mr. Moss.” Ray half-sat, half-leaned against the side of the desk as Eddie went through the required steps that would bring up an image of Caesar Frezzetti. He was an older man who looked to be in his mid-sixties, once handsome, but ravaged with age. His hair had been dyed a pitch black color. I could see beyond his composed demeanor to the worried father beneath. Sharp light brown eyes stared out across a vast ocean of electrical impulses.
“Can you see me?” Caesar asked, his movements jerky and unnatural as captured through the machines’ camera.
“Yes sir, Mr. Frezzetti. You’re coming through loud and clear.” Eddie replied.
“Is this them?”
“Yes sir.” Eddie repeated.
“Mr. Frezzetti-” I began.
“You shut up!” Caesar barked an interruption. “I have one question for you and just one question. Where is my son? Where is my boy?”
“Dead.” I answered. The men around me were unsettled, either by my reply or perhaps the manner in which I delivered it. But I have always believed that the truth should be spoken plainly, or it isn’t really the truth is it? Caesar’s face contorted with a surge of grief. Sharp eyes turned pink in an instant, the transition lost to the digital void. He covered his mouth with his hand and looked away for several long moments. “There’s no way to change what happened. Death is loss, a tragedy no matter the context. My hope is that we can avoid-”
“Was it her?” Caesar interrupted in a voice choked by his emotions. I hated being interrupted, but given the circumstances, I was willing to ignore my pet peeve for now.
“I am taking responsibility.” I answered. Karen shifted uncomfortably in the seat next to me.
“Eddie!” Caesar barked. That was apparently the cue for Eddie to teach me a lesson. The pistol butt struck hard against the side of my head, any hope of avoiding a splitting migraine knocked right out of me. I placed a hand on Karen’s thigh. Maybe I was a hopeless optimist but I still thought I could avoid further bloodshed and there was still a debt that I owed Caesar. When you’re in a man’s debt, you have no choice but to allow him some leeway when it came to social graces. I bled obligingly.
“Are you the bitch that killed my boy?” Caesar’s grief had turned to rage. He was more focused now, sharper. The trademark of a man accustomed to anger.
“Fuck you.” Karen answered. For a singer, she certainly had a way with words.
“Eddie!” Caesar growled, but as the goon moved for Karen I stood, interposing myself between the two and drawing the sight lines of every gun in the house. Three times in one night. Still not a record.
“Touch her and I’ll take your hand off at the wrist. I promise you.” I said. Eddie’s eyes looked into mine, he hesitated for a moment, but he had the advantage of numbers and arms.
“You do that and I tell my men to fill you with so much God-damn lead people’ll think you were made in China,” the computer screamed.
“I have been nothing but civil. Don’t force me to do something we’re all going to regret. Your son was taken from you, the blame for which you can place at my feet. Before we talk about what I can do to compensate you for your loss, I ask that you let the girl go and give me your word that whatever happens between us, her involvement ends here.” I remained standing. I knew I was a razor’s edge away from taking the bullet train to Hollywood, but I figured if I didn’t speak now, I’d never get the chance.
“Compensate? Compensate? He was my son! You think you can just stroll into my city, kill my family and start making demands?! Who do you think you are?” The mobster snarled through gritted teeth.
“I think the more important question, Caesar, is who do you think I am?”
“You think your tough shit with your man-of-mystery routine, but I know who you are Dagon Moss. You think tonight is the first time I’ve heard that name? You’ve been trying to infiltrate my organization for years. Yeah. I know exactly the kind of trash you are. You’re not a self-made man, everything you had you got handed to you. Inherited a small fortune in gold that you turned into a very large sum when gold prices peaked during the recession. You’re a self-styled entrepreneur that wants to what…be a gangster? I know you got seed money in businesses all over the country. See, that’s the problem with you. You’ve spread yourself thin–your reach exceeds your grasp. Whereas this is Providence. My city. A city that I have slaved over, that I have bled over, that I have taken one God-damn inch at a time. You never had to struggle, you never had to learn your place. So you mistakenly think you can stand there and look me in the eyes like an equal.”
“You’re the one hiding behind a screen, Caesar.” I smiled darkly.
Eddie didn’t wait for his attack command on that one. Underneath that paunch was dense muscle, which I was made aware of as he slammed his fist into my breadbasket. My legs buckled out from under me and I ended up on my knees, bracing onto my chair to avoid falling completely to the ground.
Karen stared down at me, she wanted to act. She would have acted if I weren’t holding her back. But she was young, impulsive and loyal. Usually I was grateful for all of those traits, they were a large part of what attracted me in the first place. But this wasn’t exactly her arena. Though even she probably had some idea that this particular high-stakes negotiation was going against me. Another sledgehammer blow rained down, this time against my jaw. I rebounded painfully off of the chair and indulged in a few moments of coughing and spitting blood onto the floor.
The muzzle of Eddie’s pistol pressed firmly against my temple, I could hear and feel the click of the hammer being drawn back.
“The only reason I haven’t had my boys give you the fastest brain surgery in history, is because I think a bullet is too good for you. You don’t deserve to die like a man. You want to negotiate? Here’s my final offer Mr. Moss. Where’s Pauly’s body? You tell me and I can promise you both will die before you get it in your heads to beg for it.”
I knew the body was going to be a sticking point. Christians, always so concerned with safeguarding the dignity of rotting meat. Oh well, I didn’t much care for Frezzetti’s generous ‘offer,’ anyway.
“The body’s gone. Pauly was one death, if it’s revenge you want you’ll get one life. Take me and let her walk.” I motioned towards Karen as I regained my footing.
“Bullshit!” My protégé interjected. “I’m not letting you take the fall for this! Listen, old man, I killed your son-”
“Karen, don’t.” I tried to stop her, but she just kept on talking.
“He died like a pussy, okay? Is that what you wanted to hear? Choking on his own vomit on a pile of trash in a filthy alley…and I saw it happen. This guy, he doesn’t own me, he wasn’t there. But you want to string me up, or torture me, or kill me, you just go right ahead, because anything would be better than listening to that prick trying to get into my pants one more time.”
Caesar stared at her for a long time.
“Plant them,” he closed the laptop on his end and cut the feed.
Ray raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips. “Not smart, guys. Not smart at all. Pauly was a good kid.”
“Get moving.” Eddie growled and gestured to the door with a bob of his pistol. I held my hands up. Even now, I still owed Caesar a life. But he had gotten greedy. Two lives for one. That wasn’t compensation, it was an insult. And then, there was the look on Karen’s face. She could convey so much with a single shift of her heterochromatic orbs. There were times when words could do her a disservice, so pure were the tempest of emotions beyond her eyes. She was confused, hurt. My actions had caused her to feel that way and I hated myself for it. Karen didn’t need a protector. She may have wanted me to act like one, but a knight in shining armor, I’m not. Rather, I like to think of myself as a teacher. Maybe, there was a lesson I could offer her in all of this. I admit, a mob-assisted death march down to the wharf was an unconventional classroom.
Good thing I’ve always liked a challenge.
My two favorite made men, Eddie and Ray, were in charge of escorting us out onto the open waters. We were sitting on a small motor boat with Captain Eddie at the wheel and First Mate Ray in charge of looking over the passengers. The boat sped across dark, slick water that reflected the lights of the city off of its surface and twisted them amidst rippling waves. Karen was sitting by my side across from Ray. Her vibrant hair seemed muted in the darkness. She hadn’t spared me a second look since we began this trip. The majority of the cramped boat’s deck was taken up by two large five gallon buckets, filled to the brim with dried cement, a long stretch of chain sprouting from the centers of each. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what those were for.
“What are you waiting for?” Karen muttered the first words she’d spoken since the meeting with Caesar.
“Don’t be in such a hurry, octopus, we’ll be there soon.” Ray answered.
“Not you, dipshit. I get it. No one will hear the gunshots or screams out here. This is better.”
“Better than what? A massacre? Karen, I asked you to trust me.”
“You know you can end this at any time. This is only happening because you’re letting it happen!” Her eyes dragged up towards me. The shadows softened the difference in color between them.
I looked away.
“Don’t be too hard on him, he’s had a bad night and it’s gonna get a lot worse before it’s over.” Ray muttered. “Shame. You had some real talent. Good music. But, in a lot of ways, you did this to yourself.”
“I know!” Karen snapped.
“I don’t think you do. It’s destiny.” Ray sighed. “It was all in the name.”
“Please, don’t start that shit again.”
“You’re the one that named your band Kraken and the Mob. And here we are–Kraken,” he pointed a finger at Karen, “and the mob,” the same finger curled to tap against his chest. “And what, pray tell, is your band’s, most popular song?”
She glared at the gunman.
“It’s Cement Shoe Cthulhu,” Ray motioned towards the buckets of cement. “I mean, they aren’t classic cement shoes, those are just impractical. It’s a high speed world, no one has the time to wait around for cement to dry around peoples ankles anymore, am I right? I mean they’re heavy as hell, but basically portable, easy to prepare ahead of time and if anyone asks: they’re there for the weight, babe.”
Ray scanned Karen’s face for any signs of recognition.
“No? Nothing?” he clicked his tongue against his crooked teeth, “I…damn. I woulda thought a singer like you would have appreciated the classics.”
Eddie cut the engine.
We had arrived at the Frezzetti family’s infamous garden.
Our driver turned back to face us and took a moment to light a cigarette. The lambent glow of lit tobacco illuminated him in sinister crimson.
“C’mon, Ray. I don’t want to be out here all night,” he growled around his smoke.
“You don’t have to do this. My debt is with Caesar, not you. Back in the office it was his choice, not yours. But out here, it’s different. I owe you nothing. What I expect is for you to do nothing. Allow us to leave and you will owe nothing.” I interrupted.
“I don’t work for nothing, and I don’t work for you.” Eddie rumbled.
“Getting nothing is better than owing something.”
“Jesus Christ, who even talks like that?” Ray laughed at me. “I mean what is your deal?”
“You know the deal. Make your choice.”
The two men shared incredulous looks. Eddie shook his head, taking a long drag from his cigarette before fishing two padlocks from within the folds of his coat.
“Let’s get this shit over with,” he told his associate.
Ray sighed in resignation. Previously, his arm was resting casually on his leg, but now it was taking a more active role in aiming that hand cannon at me. Eddie’s lips tightened their grip around his smoke as he bent down to wrap his mitts around a length of chain. It rattled threateningly as he tried to loop it around Karen’s leg. She flinched, pressing closer to me on our seat.
“Don’t you touch me,” she spat, her leg raised and poised to turn Eddie’s nose from an outie into an innie.
“Lady this is gonna happen. Now you can go into the drink with a hole in you, or you can calm the fuck down and spend your last breaths on prayin’ or something,” Eddie menaced.
“That’s good advice.” I offered. Never underestimate the power of prayer.
“You want me to let him kill me?” Karen was tearing up, looking to me for hope. A shame that I never promised to give her any.
“Why should I?” she snarled.
“Because you promised once that you’d always trust me.”
Karen hesitantly lowered her foot back into Eddie’s reach. He wrapped the metal around her leg roughly. She shivered at its cool kiss, tears sliding down the sides of her cheek and gathering into drops at the edge of her jawline. I brushed them away with a soft swipe of my thumb. She stared at me, tensing only when she heard the click of the lock fastening the heavy length to her calf in binding loops.
“Now stand up,” Eddie commanded. Karen did as he said, breaking her stare to close her eyes and bow her head.
“Pray,” I whispered, “like you were taught to pray.”
She swallowed nervously. “We offer our fealty to our Father and our Mother. To their children, the ones who dwell amidst the deep. We offer our secrecy. We offer our progeny. We offer blood. Ia, Ia Dagon, ma’rkul en’kamath targu’l ek gaft, ek myr’ja, ek prog’shek. Dagon ka’zuth, Hydra fyrzha, Cthulhu fhtagn la’mosh.”
I felt her words slipping through me, each syllable resonating within. Such pure, unabashed faith. I reveled in it but I also understood that such a display could be unsettling to the uninitiated.
Ray laughed, but it was a small, troubled thing.
“I-isn’t that from that song of yours?”
“Cement Shoe Cthulhu,” Karen said softly with a nod.
“Yeah, I thought I recognized it. Gives me the heebie-fuckin-jeebies in person. You’re as creepy as Mister Moss over here.” Ray said. The playfulness had fled from his voice.
“Will it hurt, Dagon?” Karen asked.
“Yes. When you hit the water, take the ocean into your lungs. Breathe deeply. It’ll help the transition.” I said.
“Jesus, man. You think I’m gonna let a girl die like that? What do we look like to you? Monsters? Christ!” Ray scowled in disgust before he buried a bullet into Karen’s skull. The retort of the gun echoed outwards on the open water, even as her lifeless body toppled overboard with a splash. The length of chain rattled and raced along the floor of the boat like a steel serpent as Karen slid deeper into the murky waters of Narragansett Bay. Eddie grunted as he hefted the heavy, cement-laden bucket up and over the side. It made a more solid splooshing noise than Karen had, with a larger burst of water splashing up from where it impacted. “I mean, we were told to make it messy. The boss did not take to her at all. But I mean, she was just a kid. I don’t think she even knew any better. Biggest mistake of her life was listening to a guy like you. You got her mind all twisted. Now I understand why she called herself Kraken.”
“Don’t pretend to know anything about her.” I snarled. Ray responded by dragging the hammer of his pistol back until it clicked.
“Your turn.” Eddie snuffed his smoke out on the side rail of the boat before tossing the spent butt out into the water. He wrapped the chain around my leg and snapped the lock into place. When he was satisfied that I wouldn’t be going anywhere, he moved back to the steering well. “Okay, Ray. Make him hurt.”
The name-obsessed gangster dropped his aim by several inches with a dip of his wrist and he fired another shot. My world became agony as the bullet slammed into my leg, tearing through the meat of my calf. I stared up at Providence’s muted starscape and gritted my teeth to choke back the cry of pain that clawed desperately at me. But I wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction of my screams.
Steely fingers grabbed a thick clump of my hair and tore my attention back down from the heavens. Eddie wound back and slammed his fist directly into my face. The cartilage in my nose crunched revoltingly as warm, new suffering spread across me in waves. He had broken my nose with the one blow, but he didn’t stop there. Eddie rained his punches down. I lost track of how many times he’d struck me, but when he was through he was panting, trying to catch his breath. His own knuckles were raw and his fingers were coated in his blood and mine. Even though my left eye had been battered shut, I could still tell the difference. His was a vibrant crimson color, mine, less so.
“Alright, hold him,” Ray said as he flicked open a wicked looking blade. “There’s something I gotta do.”
Eddie slapped his palm over my throat and squeezed as he all but pushed me out of the boat. His arm bent me back at a harsh angle; my shoulders were forced painfully against the hardwood rail.
“What the hell is that smell?” the bruiser gagged.
“Guy probably crapped himself. Look at him, he’s got no fight left,” Ray answered.
“I-I…want you to remember. You chose this.” I said weakly as I choked the words through Eddie’s stranglehold. He just laughed.
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll remember,” Ray chimed in. “I don’t get you, man. You put your neck out for this girl, and all you accomplish is getting yourself whacked right along with her. You don’t fight. You don’t beg. What did you think was going to happen? You say you’re sorry and then Mr. Frezzetti lets bygones be bygones?”
“If it makes you feel better, don’t think of this as your death. Think of it as a science experiment. See, me and Ray are gonna find out if Moss grows on a sinking stone,” Eddie laughed darkly.
“Hey, Eddie. That was actually pretty good,” Ray snickered.
“Yeah, I swear I been waiting this whole time to say that,” he said proudly.
Ray drew closer, looming over me with that gleaming blade. “He’s not wrong, Dagon. But first, I’m gonna make sure you don’t die without fulfilling your destiny. That would be just awful.” His eyes narrowed as he jabbed the steel into my gut. It tore through my suit and the once-white shirt beneath it like they weren’t even there. I like to think that I had become accustomed to pain over a long life of persecution. But there’s something special about a stab wound. The way the knife twists just so, igniting every nerve it touches with liquid hell. I’m ashamed to say that I screamed as he sawed up through my stomach. It turned into a strangled choking when the blade caught on my ribcage. I coughed up the warm liquid gathering in my throat, and tasted salty copper as it flooded my mouth. Ray grunted with effort as he placed his foot up on the side rail and pulled the knife free with so much force that he came within a hair of throwing himself off the other side. My suit was wrenched open, the ruined button-up beneath was stained with the brackish rust brown of my blood. Eddie’s face twisted in revulsion.
“Oh, Christ! It’s him…” he covered his face with his forearm as he recoiled from me. Freed from his grip I pushed myself up. My legs were unsteady, my gut shredded and dripping warmth to the deck. I staggered forward towards Ray, but the chain was making a difficult situation even worse. Ray pushed me away with a frantic kick. I doubled over as his boot found purchase against my sliced-raw abdomen. As I hit the deck I could feel my insides twisting. My blood was forming a pool beneath me, but more than that, a handful of small, silver scaled creatures thrashed below me. I looked up just in time to see true fear overcome the men. That’s right, those things-like fish, but not enough like fish-had come out of me. The pain was distant now; the call was upon me. There is a weakness in flesh. If the Christian God truly made man in his own image, how frail must God be?
Eddie and Ray were the ones screaming now.
Again, I fought to stand. It was a slow, sporadic thing, raising up, still bound by skin and viscera, that I had pushed to its limits. Their terror, the scent of their fear. It was intoxicating. How could I help but laugh? I could tell the difference in my voice, no longer disguised, but reverberating with a guttural nuance that made my Father’s language that much easier to speak.
Ray finally managed to lift his gun. He drew first, but Eddie was right on his heels. Their rounds tore through me, but I was numb to the pain. My body jerked back with each impact, my feet leaving the boat as I was pushed over the rail and down into the water. Moments later, I was joined by the heavy bucket of cement and the long chain that tethered me to it. It sunk past me, the chain pulling tight around my calf and dragging me down towards the Frezzetti family gardens. I stared up at the shadow that was my would-be-executioner’s boat. My words flowed with the last blisters of my breath as they frothed towards the surface. Eddie and Ray wouldn’t be leaving. In that moment I knew that they would try to start up the boat’s engine and try to escape the truth that they had just witnessed. But my words, my will, would not allow it. And then, that sweet intake of saltwater that burned away the last vestiges of my putrid humanity. I welcomed the death throes that consumed me. My body went still, but my eyes, unmoving, unblinking and unfeeling, still saw. I watched as the corpses of Casesar’s enemies swayed with the shifting currents, arms raised as if to greet me.
There were at least a dozen bodies tied down to the seabed. Each of them had suffered the ravages of the ocean–they were rotted, bloated, partially devoured shells of former life, men and women both. Rusted chains held them in place and among them, my protégé, Karen had already begun to move. Her chrysalis was underway. For all her faith, she had avoided taking that last step; she had never allowed herself to be forged anew in the image of our God. She never swam to the darkest depths, she never tasted the sweet secret ecstasies of the sea-swallowed City Below. She never danced with our God’s chosen, those that dwell within the deep places. A tragedy–one that needed rectifying. Karen should be able to see and feel what she believes so fervently in. Otherwise, what’s the damn point?
My suit, my demeanor, my fortune–while all necessary to complete the obligations that I had inherited–were only a facade. It was a rare pleasure to be allowed to cut loose, to truly be myself. I could feel the rushing water running through the slit-like gills that ran perpendicular to my ribcage along my sides. While my wounds were a minor annoyance, my blood floated upwards from me in smoke like wisps from a dozen tears in my flesh. My Father’s power radiated from Karen in heady waves. She convulsed with the pain that change always brings and her face twisted between torment and elation. The dead took note of the metamorphosis, as is sometimes the case. Strange aeons and all that. Their rotten, necrotic forms began to move in jerky, unnatural spasms. The corpse closest to me groped blindly at my coat, tearing into it with fingers ending in sharp bone shards. I ripped away from the living dead thing, as far as my metal leash would let me wander, which seemed just far enough as it began to feel around blindly once more.
For a moment, I wondered what alien will had possessed this once-dead girl, but my thoughts were interrupted by the unmistakable feeling of familiar movements just beyond the boundaries of my vision. I closed my eyes, trying to concentrate on the approaching tremors beyond the sporadic thrashing of the reanimated within Frezzetti’s garden.
My backup had arrived.
Tcho was going to be pissed that I had left him short-staffed, but the deal was that my church’s business took precedence. Mandy and Chilly were some of my earliest converts when I claimed Providence as a staging ground. They were both lost souls in need of something to live for, a purpose, a change. When society could only give them a slow, pauper’s death, I offered them a chance at an eternity of grace beneath the waves. They were loyal, discreet and, as it appeared, punctual. I had known about Frezzetti’s garden, if my negotiations went poorly, it only stood to reason that Karen and I would wind up here. Relief swept over me as Mandy swam into sight. Her sinuous form coiled like a serpentine shadow. Gone was the waitress and sometimes bar-top dancer. She was beautiful, twisting towards me, a dark scaled silhouette. She swept past the thrashing dead thing beside me and with a smooth swipe of wickedly sharp, clawed hands tore its jaw free in a cloudy burst of putrescence. Mandy darted low, her slender, deadly arms reaching for the chain wrapped around my leg and pulling it taught. But it was Chilly who set me free, the rows and rows of serrated teeth in his distended maw snapping down onto the length of chain between Mandy’s grip and tearing through the links with a savage shake of his head. The chain came loose, and though I was still dragging a few feet of metal behind me, I was feeling much more spry. The truth, no matter how horrible, is always more comely than a lie. Mandy and Chilly were basking in the truth of their shared reality and it–very literally–pained me that I could not join them. It physically hurt to resist the Call. But I had work to do, and I needed to stay on task just a little while longer.
Karen continued to struggle against her bonds, even as the thicket of death fought to bring themselves closer. Chilly moved as if to try and help her, but I placed a hand on his rough, sandpaper skinned shoulder and held him back. He couldn’t feel that she was on the cusp of becoming. But I could.
Her form was flowing, like the waters around her, becoming protean. No doubt she was experiencing the blissful agony of shedding her skin. Karen’s leg bent at an unnatural angle, her knee buckling in on itself as she slipped her leg free from the chain. She excoriated herself with her own nails, her skin sloughing off at her touch in long sheets that floated in the water around her. Her legs buckled and split, forming dark green tendrils that undulated freely along the water. Karen’s arms followed suit, her hands melding into long, thick lengths of coiling tentacles. She lashed at the encroaching undead and knocked them aside effortlessly before launching herself upwards with a forceful push of her tendrils off of the seabed. She was heading straight towards the men that had put a bullet in her head and tossed her into the ocean like garbage. A very understandable reaction. Logic can give way to instinct upon becoming, even more so upon your first change. All I could do was try and keep up. I followed her ascent, orbited by my two acolytes. Admittedly, I wasn’t in that much of a rush.
Screaming, gunshots, more screaming. Karen had made it to the boat before I did. As I drew closer, I could make out several of Karen’s limbs latching onto the underside of the boat, the rest of her was out of the water, no doubt draped over the vessel. I resurfaced on the side opposite Karen. Ray was pressed up along the side rail closest to me, his back facing the water as he continued to pull the trigger on his dry pistol. The hammer clicked impotently over and over as Eddie’s struggling body was raised high into the air, wrapped up in Karen’s deadly coils. The heavyset Mafioso’s mouth was open like he was screaming, but his voice had been crushed from him. His face had turned a reddish purple and he was covered in half-dollar sized, circular bite wounds from the vicious fanged suckers that lined Karen’s new limbs. Hm, a purely twisted octopus. Maybe Ray was onto something with his ‘theory.’
I reached up and pulled myself back into the boat with a brief effort, all but collapsing onto the deck. I felt heavy, my lungs were burning and still full of seawater. Ray’s terrified eyes were locked onto the sight of Karen, pretty, young Karen, constricting Eddie to death. His bones were snapping audibly as she curled him into a neat little ball. She wore a wild, primal and vindictive look on her face that seemed to have Ray’s full and undivided attention. It gave me time to void the seawater from my lungs. By the time Ray had turned his gaze to me, I was ready to rumble. I tackled the rat-faced goon to the ground with a surge of effort.
“Please…please…no, I’m sorry!” he whimpered. But by my count I had been beaten, eviscerated, shot and drowned. It was time to balance the ledger. I slammed my fist into his face once and drove his head back into the hardwood beneath him.
“Shut up!” I sneered and gripped the length of chain still hanging off of my leg.
“You can go! You can both go! Please, I’ll leave you alone! I swear to God!” he cried around his split lip.
“Now, you know those were the terms I first proposed,” I took the chain into both of my hands and pressed it down onto his throat, “I’m afraid, much like Eddie, that deal has expired.” I applied some pressure as he sobbed beneath me. He kicked and struggled, but I had the leverage now. “Tell me, Ray. Do you feel like a King?” I eased up just a bit to get his answer.
Ray coughed, wheezed and pleaded, “Please…please. Don’t kill me…oh Jesus, please don’t kill me I can help you! I know where Caesar’s holding up tonight I-”
“Liar!” I sneered, “He’s got hideouts all over the damn city, no one knows where he’s going to be, otherwise I would have gone straight to him.”
“No! No, you got it wrong! I drove Pauly, I drove Pauly! Caesar he has a pattern, you see? I used to take his son home to him. For months I did this!”
I raised one eyebrow as he began to pique my interest. Something wet was tearing over in Karen’s direction. I didn’t look, but Ray did. His color was alternating between ghost white and sickly green. One of Karen’s thick, dark tendrils was inching across the deck towards Ray, I pretended not to notice for now. But I made sure that Ray did.
“Now, that is the beginning of a worthy trade,” I said as I removed the length of chain from his neck entirely, “but still, not good enough.”
“Please, I didn’t know-”
“Irrelevant,” I snarled.
“This can’t be happen-”
“It is. Stop pissing yourself long enough to focus on my words. What are you willing to trade for your life?”
“Anything!” whimpered Ray.
I laughed darkly. “Are you sure? Anything is a very broad trade.”
“Yes! Jesus! Anything you want!” He screamed as Karen brushed his arm with a swipe of her glistening, salt-water-drenched tendril. I tore him away from Karen’s grip, looking back to offer her my first real glance. She clung to the side of the boat and swayed like a serpent being charmed by a swami. Her arms had split into a mass of writhing, undulating tendrils each wrapped around an unidentifiable chunk of gore that had once been Eddie. Each arm coiled and feasted upon the meat with dozens of razor-sharp suckers. The mottled green of her limbs contrasted with the pale lavender underside of her new appendages and the milky flesh of her shoulders. There was no clear distinction between the stark change in her coloration, the murky jade of her limbs instead turning gradually white until the nape of her neck seemed unchanged. The most noticeable metamorphosis occurred from her waist down. Her trunk thickened to accommodate the veritable forest of writhing limbs below her, resembling nothing less than a centauric combination of woman and cephalopod. She reached for him again with an annoyed hiss, her green and brown eyes both staring at me from the muted, damp rainbow of her matted hair.
“No.” I responded to that hiss firmly, grabbing her extended tentacle in my arm. She wound her rubbery coils around my forearm and squeezed tightly. My teeth clenched as I felt her crushing grip working itself around me. “Karen. Stop.”
There was no response as she lurched me towards her with a rough tug. I maintained my grip on the squirming Mafioso enforcer, the hardened killer that was mewling like a pathetic, wounded kitten. Her eyes dragged languidly over we two smaller, weaker looking things and her lips curled into a smile somewhere between amused and what a shark offers its meal before striking.
“I understand the lure of the Call. It can be powerful…but mindless savagery isn’t our purpose. We must maintain discipline. Do you hear me? Karen?” I whispered, resisting only with my words. A pause, but I was gaining no ground with her. “Kraken. I need you to stop.” At the mention of her name, the name she chose for herself, a shudder ran through her, strong, like someone exposed suddenly to a bitter chill. She slowly loosened her grasp from my arm and let me slide freely back down onto the boat. I was kneeling in a puddle of liquefied Eddie when I caught a look in her eyes that let me know she understood me.
“I’m sorry…Dagon, I-” she began, her lower lip trembling.
“Never. You never need to apologize to me,” I replied. “How do you feel?”
“H-hollow, y-you promised that I would change one day, that we…we would be together beneath the waves…but I d-don’t know if I feel anything,” she said softly as her body dipped a few more feet into the waters beneath her.
“You’ve been remade in the image of our Father and our Mother. But, such a change is as much sacrifice as it is a gift. You and I will have our eternity, but there’s so much that must be done first. Mandy and Chilly are waiting. Can you feel them?”
“Yes,” she bit her lower lip, nervously. “I-I can feel them, I can feel you…really feel you…like the beat of a loud drum…at my very core.”
“That’s it. That’s how you will know those that have taken the final step on the path to enlightenment. Go with them, Mandy and Chilly. They’ll take you to the City. They will show you the secret places and teach you the blessed mysteries of our esoteric order.” I smiled like I imagine a proud parent would when their child takes their first uncertain steps.
“But the band-” she protested.
“You can’t go on stage like that. One day, there’ll be no need to occult ourselves from the world, but the time isn’t right. Soon. But not yet. They’ll teach you the words to wrap yourself in the flesh, to walk above them, but among them. It’s a necessary deception. But one that takes time to establish. Tcho will have to make other arrangements while you recuperate.”
Karen turned, to look back towards the dark waters bordering Providence. Not so far in the distance I saw the silhouettes of my two devoted acolytes, peering just above the surface, watching my protégé with anxious, elated and welcoming eyes.
“Before you go?” I asked.
“Have you learned anything here tonight?”
She stared over her shoulder at me, her blood spattered body writhing with idle effort as she nodded. “They can’t stop us,” she said, before diving beneath the waves in a smooth, beautiful arch. The boat rocked from side to side as she left us.
She always was my most promising student. Top marks, Karen. I nodded once to Chilly and Mandy, before they too slipped beneath the obscuring oil-slick black waters. I remembered Ray, in part only because of the acrid smell of urine-soaked-slacks and the sound of his panicked panting.
“Anything? Well, Ray. I accept your terms,” I shifted amidst the blood to offer him my hand. “I think you’ve learned something, too. Something about the true nature of power. You’ve seen so much…there’s really only two paths to travel now. Death–a choice that you seem to be averse to–or, conversion. My God will forgive your pathetic human faults, so long as you serve him faithfully. Take off your cross and throw it overboard. Forsake your false, imaginary idol and embrace the truth that only Dagon can offer you.”
Ray reached into his shirt and grabbed the silver cross around his neck and ripped it away from him with a single pull. In the same motion he flung the glistening metal out over the rail. It was like he couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.
“Good. Now, serve well, and you’ll be gifted just like Karen has. Eternal life. Power. Riches. But, fail, or even worse, prove that this was all just some lie to spare your worthless life? Well. Then I swear that you’ll have wished it was you pulped all over this boat. Do we have an understanding?”
He nodded quickly.
“Alright. I’m trusting you.” I took his hand in mine and sealed our bargain with a shake, “I have one more thing to take care of tonight. Where exactly is your old boss holding up, Ray?”
“Wake up, Caesar.” I said, while lighting one of Eddie’s cigarettes. There had been a few that had escaped being entirely drenched in gore and what little that had spattered onto this one added a certain metallic flavoring that only heightened the smooth pull of smoke. Caesar stirred in his bed, shifting beneath the covers oblivious in that half-dream state, before his waking reality came crashing down and he sat up wide-eyed and tense. His chest was bare and it barreled out as he screamed for help. I let him go on for a few annoying moments before I interrupted, “No one’s coming.”
“Are dead. But they tried to kill me first, so we’ll call that a wash,” I said with an uneven shrug. The injuries I’d suffered had taken their toll on me. My movements were getting jerkier, harder to control. I was going to have to give into my own Call, soon, and restore myself in the City with Karen and the others.
“So what? You want me to beg for my life? Screw you, Moss, you cocksucker. You think you can do anything to me that your bitch hasn’t already done? Go on, kill me, just don’t make a song and dance out of it,” his dark eyes narrowed in stubborn, but brave, contention. “But you won’t get a thing. My men won’t follow an outsider like you, Moss. No matter how much cash you flash around. It ain’t about money, it’s about family.”
“And finally, we find some common ground. It is entirely about family,” I said quietly, slipping the dead-man’s lighter away before reaching into the side pocket of my ruined coat and scooping my hands down around the quivering, wet, sticky mass that was riding within. I’d say that she resembled a large, spherical jellyfish, but I’d hate to insult her. In truth, the being that I drew from the confines of my coat was integral to the designs of the one I serve. “Even after all you’ve done, the fact remains that I still owe you a life. I wasn’t lying when I said what happened to Pauly was a tragedy.”
Caesar shifted in his bed, the sight of the squirming blob in my hand had gotten his attention. Funny, because he had also gotten hers. She shifted and slid along my fingers, trying to press through them as she extended her curious, quavering flagellum from somewhere within her being.
“Y-you don’t get to say his name,” Caesar’s voice faltered.
“Listen, I’m not going to kill you. Like you said, that would accomplish nothing except bring more death into this speck of a world. What I am doing is offering to replace what’s been taken from you.” I said, raising my arm to bring my companion a bit closer to Caesar’s bed. Her extended lashes dragged along the edges of his sheets eagerly, leaving streaks of thick, clear mucus wherever she touched.
“What the fuck is that thing?”
“The future of the Frezzetti family. I’m going to give you a son, one that will never have to die,” I said. It was a struggle to keep her in my grip, she was oozing in anticipation.
“You’re crazy,” Caesar spat and threw his legs over the side of the bed. But, cutting off his escape was as easy as letting go. The flow of her movements were beautiful, her limbs stretching forward to embrace Caesar, slathering him with that same glistening trail she’d left on the sheets. He started to panic, pulling himself up away from the bed, but by then, she’d already gotten a good hold of him.
“Calm down, you’re only working her up,” I advised.
“Get it off!” he snarled, struggling futilely as she pulled herself fully onto his back. I flicked the ash from my cigarette onto the carpet. Of course, by the time I looked back, I noticed several of her whip-like tendrils poised over her like scorpion tails ready to strike. The swollen bulbs on the end of each had extruded a dripping, poisonous barb. Her kind did not take rejection well. Caesar winced and twitched spasmodically as he was stung over and over. He grabbed weakly for the maple wood bureau at his bedside before collapsing down, out of sight while dragging most of the bedding down on top of him. I sighed, walking around the bed with faltering steps. He was lying on his side, his teeth gritted and his breath shallow. The covers had fallen onto him in a thick clump and I took a moment to lean down and pull them away. Underneath, she was still clamoring over Caesar’s prone form. But he wasn’t struggling anymore, well, I suppose he was trying to struggle.
“You should really start listening to me more,” I smiled.
“C-c-can’t,” Caesar struggled to say through his locked jaw.
“Move? Right. Neurotoxin. It’ll wear off, when she’s finished. She’s a very special lady, designed for just one purpose. She’s going to carry your child for you. But first there’s…well, I don’t need to talk to a grown man about the birds and the bees do I?”
He stared at me in revulsion.
“I understand. You’re an older gentleman, this is so sudden. You’re worried about performance issues?” I stood, using the bedpost closest to me to help steady my movements. “Don’t be. She’s very good at what she does. And that poison that’s coursing through your veins? There are certain side effects. Better than Cialis, and you don’t need a prescription. Well. I’ll give you two kids your privacy.” I said and limped towards the door. I paused in the door frame long enough to speak over his muffled protests. “I’ll be back a few months down the line with your child. I have my hooks in your organization now, and if I find that you’ve mistreated or harmed your son in any way, I will make you pay. After all, he’ll be my family too.”
It was a struggle to make my way down out of the Frezzetti’s hideout, but the satisfaction of having finally paid my due to Caesar was more than enough to keep a smile on my face.
In the end, I did get some precious time with Karen. She’s acclimating very well to her new condition. Tcho was put out for a few days and he’s threatening to take the funds he’d lost hiring temp workers out of my annual cut of the profits. We’ll see just how well that goes for him. Kraken and the Mob are branching out, they have a wild concert planned to welcome Karen back.
The pregnancy is going well and the fetus is maturing quickly, kept safe within the Deep Ones’ womb. I’ll have to return the baby to Caesar soon, and I’m looking forward to another meeting with the man. Ray says that he’s slipped into a bit of a depression as of late. But Ray’s handling things while Mr. Frezzetti recuperates and by all accounts he’s doing a great job.
In Providence and abroad my converts continue to grow and more and more of you are becoming enlightened to the truth that is Dagon and undergoing the chrysalis. We are taking this great, free land for ourselves. It is no less than the debt America owes us for the sins perpetrated on our kind nearly a century ago by an authoritarian and oppressive regime. For those who resist change I have this warning. There will come a time very soon when we will no longer be living among you, but rather you will be living among us.
Make your choice.
Derek E. Ferreira has always found himself drawn to Lovecraft’s mythos. A Rhode Island resident and an employee of the Miriam Hospital in Providence, he has often wondered what resides across the veil of human perception. He speaks Portuguese and has worked as an actor, a counselor and a baker. His work has been featured right here at the Lovecraft eZine (Issue #8 and Issue #18) and in the print collectionCrossed Genres Quarterly #3.
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Story illustration by Greg Chapman.