This was a crappy car. Even as beat up rusty old Fairmonts go, this car was bad.
It was Christmas Eve, and I was stuck with watching for some asshole skip while my partner was ho-ho-ho-ing and slurping eggnog with his wife and kids. My marital status wasn't nearly as Cleaverish, in fact, it was nonexistent, but I think I prefer it that way.
It still left me shivering in the alleged car, waiting for Jerry Short to stagger outside long enough for me to gently guide him to the back seat for a free ride to the pokey. Easy enough, right?
I reclined as far as I could in the torn, stained bench seat, huddling into my field jacket as I patted my pockets, finally digging up one last stick of Juicy Fruit. The heater worked fine, but the car didn't like to idle and that would be a bit conspicuous on top of everything else.
They have beer in there, the little devil on my shoulder snickered, beer and lonely women.
Argh, he was right, and I was out here. Pathetic. I could spare a moment or three, as he never left until the bar closed at two, and it was midnight now. Knowing for a fact the he was in there would be a plus. I never noticed him leaving, but anything to rest my mind, right?
The air was thick with smoke and chatter, colorful brutes beating each other senseless on the big screen TV over a ball, and a crowd of sweaty guys yelling over each other and gesturing at the game. Jerry brooded in a corner and I took a stool facing him from across the room, I could only just make him out through the haze, but I'd know if he moved.
I ordered a beer and let the warm air loosen my bones, relaxing and periodically checking my watch against the Budweiser clock over the bar. It was going to be a long night, not many ladies present. This was the Lonely Hearts Christmas party, though it wasn't billed as such, just a bunch of guys with nothing better to do, nowhere better to go.
There was one gal, though she didn't seem interested in company, among the half-dozen pool tables in the place, she was the only one playing. White sweater stretched provocatively as she leaned into her strokes and almost invariably made her shot.
I considered challenging her, but my game sucked, and I didn't feel like putting up with the embarrassment tonight. Instead I watched as she slid more quarters into the machine and racked a new set of balls. Her dark hair was pulled into a tidy tail and her sleeves were bunched up over her elbows. White denim glowed under a blacklight that had been hidden somewhere among the ceiling fixtures and the look of pure concentration on her face intrigued me. I tossed a glance at Jerry occasionally, finding him content to sit quietly watching the game and the ruckus before him.
Pretty face, I thought to myself, appreciating the rest of her as well, wondering which of these guys she'd come here with, if in fact she had been accompanied here at all.
She looks bored now, must be waiting for someone. I coughed and decided to finish my beer and scram. I ran my eyes over her one more time after bolting my drink and slipped out the front door.
This was a truly, incredibly crappy car. I'd talk Frank into getting another one, but we couldn't afford to use a halfway decent ride to pick up skips, or the car would become crappy in time anyway. Better to just find a car that wasn't worth trashing and stick with it.
I was rubbing my hands together for warmth when she walked out. I checked, it was twelve past one and Jerry probably wasn't due for a while. I settled back to watch the door when suddenly she noticed me and started walking in my direction.
Shit. What was I gonna tell her? What excuse was there to sit in an unheated car all night in this cold?
"Hey!" she was tapping on my window.
I rolled it down a crack and regretted it, it was colder outside. I owed myself a buck on that bet. I motioned to the passenger door and unlocked it.
To my surprise, she got in. "Hey, you like pool?"
"Eh?" I gawked, "Uh, no, sometimes I just like to watch."
"Is your car broken? Would you like a ride?" She seemed concerned, but not at all worried that I may be a psychopath, or a bible salesman. "Naw, I have someone coming in a bit." I was terrible at the whole improvisation thing. "He'll freak if I'm not here when he pulls up."
"Allright, but if you change your mind," she smiled coyly and stepped out into the cold.
"He must have left when I was talking to the girl." I shrugged.
Frank grinned, "Jimbo, buddy, they want him, like, last week. He doesn't even act like he knows it. He doesn't have any family and that bar is open tonight. Do you think he'll be there?"
"Nothing to do but watch." Christ! Another night in the 'box'.
"Keep in touch. If he's there, I'll join you for the collar. If not, then we'll just have to figure something out before they give it to someone else."
I nodded and trudged toward his front door.
"Jim, I know."
I grunted and left.
This car truly sucked.
"Jerry isn't here."
I tried not to look shocked, and did a fairly good job of it, "I know." I'd been here since they opened and hadn't seen him go in. The woman from last night piled into my car.
"I noticed you were watching him last night. I know where he hangs out."
"He hangs out here."
"Not when he's sleeping."
"I know where he lives, too." I didn't mention that it was with a 'friend' inside a well guarded private community.
"He's staying with me, has been for a couple of days."
I didn't know what to say. Even less what to do. What sort of interest did she have in him? Wouldn't she be interested in protecting him at all, or was she uncomfortably quick to sell him out?
The questions must have stuck in my face somewhere because she read it easily.
"He scares me. My older brother brought him over and told me to keep an eye on him, and to keep him away from you, specifically." she shivered, "but he's been getting ideas."
I didn't bother asking what kind of ideas, "So, what do you think?"
"How much is he worth, anyway?"
I lied, "Oh, a few hundred to me, personally. I'm just trying to get him away from crowds. Things can get confusing, you know."
"What's he worth, say, to me?"
Thinking for a moment, "Hundred bucks."
She reached for the door, "You wouldn't freeze your ass off out here for chicken feed, or maybe you would. Merry Christmas."
"All right," I named another figure and we haggled for a bit until we settled on $500. This would take a bite out of my profit, but maybe I could squeeze it out of the expense account. "When can we go get him?"
"Right now he's sleeping off a really nasty drunk."
"A fifth of Scotch for breakfast, and I've no idea what he did for lunch, but he's out for a while. All we have to do, probably, is pile him into your backseat and take him wherever."
She had this all thought out. I put the alleged car into gear and started to drive, following her directions.
Jerry Short, former car salesman and founder of the Church of Infinite Perspective, whatever that was supposed to mean, had taken up the job of "Antichrist" without really having looked up facts. His so-called religion didn't really jive with any biblical document in existence, though it could be said the Bible didn't jive with itself, either. Short had tossed the New Testament and wrote a newer one, calling for a great end for both good and wicked, depending on personal taste. He would represent the Dark Ones, scheduling a great party for Judgment Day, when the good little boys and girls disappeared and everyone else would remain to make their way in the Darker Days.
This in itself wasn't much different than many crackpot religions around nowadays, except that he had this irritating habit of sacrificing people against their will. I didn't even know to whom he was sacrificing them, though I had a good guess in a red suit and horns.
They must have holidays, too: Anti-Christmas. Hey, I made a funny!
"I heard you got his High Priestess." She spoke conversationally, as if calling my attention to the weather, which was miserably bright and sunny, reflected by the spotless mantle of thick snow deposited this morning.
"Yeah, but she committed suicide three days ago. He'll be on suicide watch from the second I get my hands on him. We won't make anything if he kicks off."
She nodded and told me to take a right, "It's the only house on the street, after the warehouse."
I pulled up to the curb and directed her to stay in the car, "If it starts to shudder and want to quit, just goose the accelerator until it smoothes, and it should be good for a few minutes."
I pressed my hand to the hard spot at my side, under my jacket, comforted by the weight as I carefully navigated the icy walkway to the neat, weatherworn little house, the only one on the block.
She, damn, I didn't know her name, goosed the gas and I knew I'd have to hurry or the car would die and I wasn't sure I could trust the battery to start it again. Murphy's law, it always started when I wasn't in a terrible hurry, and somehow it knew to fail when I was.
The front door was locked, but I had a key she'd given me so I let myself in.
This door led into the kitchen, which opened into the dining room and a hallway I assumed would take me to the bedrooms. I checked the master bedroom, and found an empty bed neatly made. The other room had been used recently, by a complete slob who wasn't here at the moment. Shit? I backed to the wall and stealthily made my way through the house, checking what few rooms were left, and found my quarry sitting calmly on the sofa in the living room.
"Sit down, Brother."
"Jerry Short, I'd like for you to come with me."
He looked up, bemused, round face crinkling into a smile, "Certainly, Brother. Let me prepare."
"You don't need anything."
"Oh, but I do." His smile grew and then he faded to black, much too suddenly for my taste.
Terrible pain, in the back of my skull. I strain and open my eyes a crack.
"He's awake, Master!"
So much for stealth, I groan and try to hold my aching head in my hands, but they're quite securely strapped to my side. The woman beside me, I'd left in my car, now in a robe, smoothing my hair.
"Lahatia, High Priestess! Now is the time! He must be fully awake." Short, in a red robe and
what would be an incredibly hilarious hat, if I'd been in a position to find humor in anything right now , drips cold water into my face until I splutter, "I'm awake, asshole!"
"Ah, good. You didn't damage him, Lahatia. Unfortunately you won't have the honor of meeting our Divine Master tonight after all."
His voice has taken on a terrifying aspect, nothing like the nasal tweedy voice I'd heard in recorded conversations, even in the living room before I was cold-cocked.
"You have been chosen for a great honor, Brother." He bathes my face in cool water and chants something unintelligible.
Aww, Fuck!, I curse to myself as the blade comes down.