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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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The Good Detective

by



I

                       

            I am told that when a good man is murdered, especially a private dick, he’s lead by the hand by a little demon creature into a smoky inner chamber, just past the chimera guarded gates of hell. Within earshot of the screams of burning flesh, he’s seated in a large velvet winged-chair and handed a bottomless glass of strong turkey bourbon and a pack of his favorite cigarettes, in my case they were Zenith Lights. The pasty demon creature lit my cigarette with a wooden match and poured my poison of choice into a sizable glass and I leaned back, filling my lungs with gray, cancerous smoke. The creature disappeared out the door from where we entered, and I relaxed, left to contemplate my once tragic life that led up to my now my tragic death.

            When I was alive, see, I was Zebulon Mariah of Mariah & Erskine Detectives and at the risk of sounding vain, I always saw myself as being a damn fine detective. Sharp and diligent with a real solid-gold talent for expecting the unexpected. I got started in the business with peeper cases mostly, a lot of adultery snoop jobs, divorces, etc. I always hated them, but they paid the bills and eventually proved to the rest of the detective community that I, Zebulon Mariah, was no second-rate, fly-by-night, simpleton private dick

In my younger days, I had been quite the hot-head, booked at age 17 for assault, arrested for nearly beating a man to death a year and a half later, and an Honorable Discharge during the War for racketeering, but in the end, I rose above it all. Jail had opened my eyes; it showed me a life outside all the running and the shooting.

In the late ‘40's, upon my release, I grew the balls, and using my knowledge of the penal system, started my own detective agency with my good friend and fellow private dick, Johnny Erskine. The same Johnny Erskine who saved my hide in France in ‘44, the same Johnny Erskine who would later turn his .25 caliber on me and blow three bloody holes through my chest.

“God-damn you, Erskine.” I thought out-loud. “Some partner you turned out to be, you and that ditsy blonde.”         

            The door opened and I felt a rush of warm air enter the chamber followed by a nauseating stench, and the little imp returned followed by a man, tall and broad-shouldered, with dead-blue eyes and lean features. He wore a horse-hair shirt and pants to match, and for being some sort of demon/human love child, the man looked like every other run-of-the-mill playboy I’d ever seen, and he spoke the English language very delicately as it was obvious that it wasn't his native tongue.

Though it were his feet that ruined it all for me, he wore these… shoes, I guess is what they were supposed to be, made of wood and bone, with large spiked nails driven into his very feet to hold the none to graceful boxes together. In a way, the son of a bitch reminded me of my father, a man whom I have always hated with intolerable cruelty.

            He smiled a toothy grin and spoke.

“Mr. Z. H. Mariah, yes?” He asked, though it wasn’t much of a question. The man turned to the imp and spat a few strange words in a language I could neither identify nor understand, which I later presumed to be the language of Hell. The imp scurried off and returned bringing with him a leather-bound tome which he cradled and embraced to his chest like a baby. The man brought his attention back to me, and, ironically enough, smiled rather devilishly.

            “Let me guess,” I said, inhaling, “You’re Old Scratch himself.”

            “No, no, no.” The tall man smiled, “Not quite, but you may call me Manticore, Mr. Mariah. I am what you would simply call a liaison between the living and the dead.” He spoke with such a clear, disdainful attitude, I squirmed in my chair, he didn't want to be here anymore than I did, and just hearing the words rasp through his large gapped smile made me sick. “We are here to talk about some unfinished business of yours.”

            “Business?” I scoffed, “Do you want to buy one of my prize racehorses, Mr. Manticore?”

            He could have been annoyed, but he wasn’t, instead ol’ Manticore handled it like a true hardened master, a real pro, he must have been dealing with my kind of scum for the past thousand years. “No, Mr. Mariah.” He finally said after a brief pause, “no, nothing like that I'm happy to say.” He opened up the thick tome and smiled as he read, it pained me a great deal, but I could tell he was reading my name written in the Book of the Dead. Slowly he closed it, and caught my eyes with his, he smiled, “Naughty, naughty, naughty, Mr. Mariah.” He spoke to me as if I were a dog. I hated him even more for it, I had no choice. “You were a very busy man before your death, were you not?”

            “What can I say, I did alright.”

            “Actually,” he pursed his lips, “you fell somewhat short.”

            “And what does all that mean?”

            “Look around you, this doesn't look like a four-star hotel or does it? The truth is, Mr. Mariah, you're one footfall away from entering Hell itself, for the rest of eternity. Or at least the rest of your eternity.” He paused, his dead eyes digging into my face like a pair of rabid claws, he smiled, “Though I’m happy to report that all is not totally lost.” His smile increased, yet I saw no real happiness. “I have it on high authority that before you were killed, you were working on one final, rather important case that, due to your unfortunate premature demise, was not completed.” I nodded, only half agreeing, I would never have considered it truly important. “Well, then. That's a start, isn't it?”

“Anyway you want to look at it. I shouldn't be here, boss.” I tossed the cigarette butt across the room and scowled.

“Oh, oh, let me assure you, I’m as surprised as you are. However, that doesn’t disguise the fact that in my Book of Death, your name is indeed here,” he said, pointing, “written in black ink telling me that you, simply put, are condemned to Hell. You see, these things are sort of permanent, finite, if you will.” Manticore hesitated, eyeing me again, “Look, Mr. Mariah, you’re a decent man and a good detective. You ending up here at the door step of Hell is really just a terribly fatal coincidence.”

“I don’t believe in coincidence.”

“Yes, well. That doesn't change the fact that you are here.” He sighed, as if he were faking exhaustion, he brightened, “But before you de-clothe and descend the fiery stairs to join your fellow damned, I am prepared to offer you a deal of sorts, if you will.”

“I thought only fools and madmen made deals with the dead?”

“And which one are you?” He said, nonplussed, “We can’t all be perfect, now can we, Mr. Mariah?” I sipped my drink, and he continued. “You see, just like in life, in death there are also options.” He breathed steam from his gapped smile. “It's really quite simple actually.”

I opened my mouth, a question forming on the tip of my tongue, instead he held up a callused hand and explained to me everything about our supposed deal in great detail, like a man reciting his own epitaph. “Hell is, in a word, full, or at least it will be, very shortly. It seems the dross of your world far exceeds their actual worth. Because of that, there are what we might call Technicalities or-or In-betweens, people that deserve Hell but somehow earn back a spot in Heaven anyway due to its vacancy rate.

“These are the souls that if weighed on a balance would still fall into the category of say evil, but by only so little. You, Mariah, are one such soul. You’re in the middle, walking the edge of a knife, teetering between Heaven and Hell, and just a breath in either direction could blow you right over the edge.” I had to admit, his poetry was nauseating, “One more simple wrongdoing and, well, you’d fall into Hell, where I must say you probably belong, but, then again, one more simple ‘good deed’ as you call it, and well, do you get the picture? This is your opportunity to tip the scales as it were, to earn back your soul, live an eternity in paradise.”

When he had finished, I hesitated, eyeing him cautiously, whiskey glass warming in my hand, cigarette in my mouth, and then I spoke, “So that's all I have to do, just return to earth and solve this case?”

“Sounds pretty simple, no?”

“Too simple.” I said, “What's the catch?”

“I assure you, there's no catch.”

“It seems like a pretty small price to pay to buy back my soul.”

“Don't call it a price, Mr. Mariah, call it an exchange.”

I just sat there and looked at him, then down at my drink, the melting ice mixing into the dark alcohol.

            “Ice in hell.” I laughed.

            “I wouldn’t call it a second chance, Mr. Mariah, but simply another opportunity to make things right.” My eyes diverted back to the tall man. What would I do, what could I do? I once trusted Erskine, I may have even once trusted the blonde too, but they both turned out to be double-crossing sons-of-bitches.

I supposed the better question would have been, what wasn't I willing to do?

“Ice in hell.” I repeated, while the pasty imp in the corner snickered to himself.

 

II

 

            Influences of the post war haunted the world like a demonic muse, as I shuffled down the cold, grey streets of downtown. I didn’t remember life to be so cold, and I meant that literally. I had died without my winter coat, and now I somehow regretted it.

            After I had signed my name and jotted my initials into ol’ Manticore’s little book, I was taken by the skinny imp back to my own world in a black ferry over a sea of what I could only describe as lost souls. The ferryman had taken me as far as he would go, and I was let off fifteen blocks from Mary Ellen’s apartment, I would have to walk the rest of the way. Thank God that I had stopped bleeding.

            In life, I was never a really bad man, not truly terrible. Granted I wasn’t Francis Assisi either. I took advantage of people when I could, was violent; I smoked cigarettes ‘til they burned holes into my body, I drank from a bottle like every other north side bum, and on the off chance I’d have a free Saturday afternoon, I’d usually gamble away my week’s earnings on either the crap tables or the horses. I loved those goddamned horses.

            I was divorced and lived with a girl on the Westside. Inez, my ex-wife, used to say that I was an unbearable person, cold actually. I believe the literal term she used in the divorce papers was: ‘mentally hard.’ So after the hearing and all the papers were signed, I shacked up with my mistress, Mary Ellen Bartholomew, the kindest goddamned girl you’d ever meet. She knew I’d never marry her, and she was fine with that. I was sweet on her though, and she was sweet on me, but I’m dead now, all because a couple of two-bits got a little too greedy for their own good.                      

            In that smoked chamber, I had wanted to explain to Manticore why they had done what they had done, why I was the dead man and they were left toasting their success with moderately priced champagne, but he wasn't at all interested.

            All he cared about was his goddamned deal.

            The deal was simple, I could return to my own plane for one week, and one week only, tie up loose ends, haunt my old neighbors, spread Christmas joy, that sort of thing, but there were conditions. One real big condition actually, I had to find a little girl named Evelyn Corcoran.

            See, the circumstances surrounding my untimely demise are as follows.

 

III

 

            Monday night of last week, the first real big snowstorm hit the city, everything was covered in white and the chugging snowplows hit the streets late hoping to get everything cleared up by dawn for the early morning commute. I was alone at the office, closing up a few loose ends of cases I had been working on, the Manzekowski case, the James Urbana case, odds and ends really, but it was tedious enough work that it required me to open a bottle of straight turkey bourbon, the good stuff too, as a treat.

The weather was bad out and I really had no inclination of trudging home. It wouldn’t have been the first time I set up camp at the office either, in fact, I had an old army cot tucked away for just such occasions, even a fresh suit in the closet, and Mary Ellen Bartholomew understood. She was a swell kid like that.

By about the time the clock struck midnight though, I was well passed it, I wanted sleep, I needed sleep, my eyes were weary; my mind felt like mush. I couldn’t concentrate, or maybe it was just the bourbon. I was actually just about to call it a night, when like a bat out of Hell itself, the door burst open, breaking the dead-bolt clear out, and a man, hauntingly terrified, pushed his way in.

            The blood-faced Irishman stumbled in, shivering from the cold. He was old as the earth itself, half blind from the frost and delirious. I brought him in, sat him down, and made him drink a few glasses of strong whiskey before he finally settled down, even after all that he was still crazier than a nut-house loon. I recognized him as Murphy Corcoran, he was a respectable Irish businessman, and I say that completely tongue-in-cheek. The man had his sticky fingers in everybody's pies, from the Italians to the Germans and back again. I was almost scared to have the old man in my office.

            In his delirium, he kept mumbling a few repetitive phrases to himself, or maybe they were for my benefit. “Oh my god, I can’t believe they got her, they actually got her.” He was near tears as I poured him another drink.                       

            He came around and his big blue eyes bore a hole right into my soul. Corcoran, in his thick Irish accent, told me how someone, he wasn’t sure who, had kidnapped Evelyn Corcoran, his only daughter. He knew this because they had told him as much in a typewritten letter, which he had conveniently on his person. I scoured the letter carefully, it claimed that the kidnappers (plural) had taken Evelyn from her bedroom two nights earlier. The letter went on to say that she would be unharmed if the exact ransom amount was paid and if it was delivered on time. The ransom was for $45,000 exactly.

He was warned that the police could not be contacted, not only had such a move been prohibited by the kidnappers, and between you and me, Murphy Corcoran had too many enemies in the police force for that to be a wise choice on his behalf. He told me that he came to me after much convincing from his lawyer and business confidant, Michael Hogan. I knew him well, he was a mutual friend, yet nowhere near as frightful as the old man. Corcoran had come alone, in a panic, and flustered, he fainted on the couch, and I remember thinking he didn’t look half as bad as the tabloids made him out to seem.

            By the time he came around, the storm had stopped and I sent the old man home in a cab. I rang Erskine in the morning at precisely seven and he met me at the office, I hadn’t slept that night, I was worn out, drinking stale coffee, I tried easing up. By the time Erskine arrived, I was the living dead. We talked briefly of the case, old man Corcoran wanted us to assist him in finding his daughter, ask questions, follow leads. I guess we weren’t technically the police, but I didn’t see us being any better a solution.

            But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Three months earlier, Deva Alford had entered the picture. Blonde, long-legged, bad eyes. Johnny had only been seeing the dame for a month and a half now, to be honest with you, I never really trusted her. I knew too many dames, in too many cities to know that they were all manipulative, especially the shy ones. Only Deva wasn’t shy, and she finally weaseled her way into being the third piece of our little ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle, and we, though we didn't need one, hired her as our secretary.

And that’s where all my troubles started.

            We received word by noon, that Corcoran had gotten another letter from the kidnappers, this time it included the address of the ransom drop off. I had convinced him the night before that the best thing would be to pay the ransom, and wait it out. It seemed logical at the time. In any case, he had promised us a hefty paycheck for our assistance. Mr. Corcoran arrived at our office thirty minutes later, in a clean pressed suit, he was no longer the frail old man or the blubbering idiot I had seen just the day before, today he looked the part, yet he still looked so weak, stressed, and he had a noticeable hiccup in his breathing. The old man had come alone, he really must’ve had no one else to turn to.

He had in his possession a case which contained exactly $45,000, I know this because I watched as Erskine double-counted it. Where a man could whip up that much money in such a short time was beyond me. Only something happened that no one had anticipated. I've always prided myself in being able to expect the unexpected, but right there in his freshly pressed suit, Murphy Corcoran had a heart attack and died.

            What would you do, what would you do in our case, can you blame us? I’m sure the thought would have crossed your mind too, after all $45,000 is an awful lot of money, even to an honest man. I will say this much though, we sat on that money for a long time. None of us knew quite what to make of the situation, it all happened so fast, all to, well, unexpectedly.

We got rid of the body, sure, and fast. (Hey, we were detectives, saying how would be giving away some of our greatest secrets.) And for almost one week, that money stayed in our office safe, I had one key to open it, Erskine had the other, and that safe couldn’t be opened without both of us being there. (Oddly enough, nobody looking for the old man ever once paid us a visit, not even his lawyer and trusted confidant, Michael Hogan.)

I stayed at the office for that week, guarding, thinking. Every night Erskine and Deva went home together, hm, no, they went home to conspire together, conspire to get my key, to get my share of the money. At that point we had already agreed to split the money three ways. $15,000 could buy me a hell of a lot of happiness.

            Then the shit hit the fan, and my partner, my ol’ traitorous partner with his dame standing behind him, burst into the office and pulled the trigger and shot me three times. I was sitting down, pouring myself a drink, I saw it coming too, it didn’t surprise me one bit, to be truthful, I’d have preferred being shot in the back, ‘least that way it’s a bit of a shock. I like surprises.

            “Back-stabbing bastards.” I whispered and then I died. You’d be bitter too.

I don’t know who kidnapped the Corcoran girl, personally I don’t think I even cared, perhaps that was, at long last, what led to my ruin.

 

IV

 

            As a dead man, I left Mary Ellen’s apartment at about midnight, left her sleeping. In fact, I didn’t even reveal myself to her. I just took my old coat from the hall closet and my sidearm that I kept in my bedside table, and without acknowledging her, I left. Ghost or no ghost, I hadn’t slept in a week and I looked like Hell, there was no sense in scaring the poor girl, she was probably shaken up already as it was.

            I strolled down the street, the cold permeating my bones. For a dead man, I thought, I sure felt like shit. I stuffed my hands deep into my overcoat pockets seeking warmth, but it was no use. The wind picked up and savagely pierced my skin.

            I managed to hail a cab on the corner, and I took it as far as Johnny Erskine’s old pad. Since long ago, Erskine had been an insomniac, and when I didn’t see the lights on in his apartment I knew he wasn’t home. At Deva’s place probably, I assumed. Those two had been in bed together since the start. I told the cabbie to continue on. He eyed my bloodstained clothing from the front seat, and I explained to him that I was a doctor, and had just delivered a set of twins. He didn’t believe me, and upon arriving at Deva Alford’s apartment, he sped off into the night.

            Fine by me, I thought. I didn’t have the money to pay him anyway.

            Drawing my gun, I broke quietly into her apartment. It would look like a burglary, I thought and then I laughed to myself.

            “Let the police try and explain why the fingerprints of a dead man are all over her place.” I said with a chuckle.                      

            Her apartment was dark and only the street lamps shining in through the windows lit my way. I stalked into her bedroom, and half-expected Erskine to be lying in bed, the ditsy dame in his arms, but he wasn’t there, she was alone, just alone. Deva Alford, like most respectable women, was asleep. The blonde-haired she-devil that she was.

            The night was quiet and she breathed faintly from across the room. I sat down on the bed beside her, not surprisingly my presence didn’t waken her, I leaned over and shut on her bedside lamp, still she did not stir.

            Peaceful woman, I thought. One would never know she was really a cold-hardened killer, or at least an accomplice.

            I snatched a handful of her blonde hair and yanked her up to my eye-level. She screamed, waking, and saw that in my eyes, I had the eyes of death.

            “Zebulon,” she stuttered, bewildered, shocked, “but you’re-”         

            “Dead?” I said, shaking her painfully by the hair, I let her fall back down, and she cowered away from me.

            “How is it possible?” She said, “How is it-”

            “Shut up, Deva, just shut up.”

            “But-”

            I grabbed her hair again and pulled her closer to me, staring her down with murderous eyes. She screamed again.

            “Where’s Erskine?”

            “What?”

            “Erskine, where is he?” I pointed my gun at her face.

            She pleaded with me to let her go, she pleaded with me to let her live, she had genuine fear in her eyes, she had genuine fear in her voice.

            “Tell me or I will kill you.”

            “I-” I pulled the hammer back, she squealed in terror. “At his place, I think, I don’t know.”

            “He’s not there, Deva, he’s not there. So where is he?”

            “Then he’s probably at his office,” she wept. “He’s been spending a lot of time there.”

            His office?” I threatened. “Don’t you mean my office?”

            “Zebby, baby,” she begged, “Please, I don’t know what you want, I don’t know where you came from, I don’t-”

            I shot her in the head. She lay on her back in her bed, her blood soaking into the mattress and sheets. I stood, I had no fear that the sound from my gun would awaken the neighbors, I had no fear that-          

“Mr. Mariah,” It was Manticore’s angry rasp, I turned to find myself gazing into his black near-lifeless eyes. “What exactly are you doing?” He said calmly.

            “Doing?” I snarled, “I’m avenging my death, true, avenging my death isn't exactly part of my job description, but, hey, I thought I’d do a little extracurricular activities before the big ballgame.”

            “This is murder, Mr. Mariah, this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated.”

            I holstered my revolver and glared at him, “When did you become such a pansy? I thought you were a devil, a cold-blooded monster, just like me.”

            “Violence,” he said, “is not part of our arrangement, Mr. Mariah. The delicate scales-”

            “Arrangement?” I scoffed.

            “I warned you about actions such as these. The delicate scales can sway either way, you’re not clear yet, Mr. Mariah.”

            “What can I say, I’m a loose cannon.” His eyes, his dark black eyes. “Now, are you going to let me finish my job? Don’t I gotta find a girl or something?”

He remained absolutely still, emotionless, he was reading me, studying me. I didn’t care, let him read. He wouldn’t find out anything that I couldn’t tell him myself.

            “These actions are unacceptable.”

            “Yeah, yeah, I know.” I said, “But when a man gets killed all reason goes out the window. You mean to tell me that all the other mooks you had come through your gates just did as they were told, they just forgot about their murders?” I paused, so did he. “That’s bull-shit and you know it.” I looked back at the body, and back at Manticore. “'Sides we both know she had it coming, if I wouldn’t have gotten too her, John Erskine himself would have shot her.” I breathed. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I got another appointment downtown. Good deeds await and all that.”

            He took my sidearm on my way out the door.

 

V

 

            I walked the twenty-three blocks from Deva’s place to my old office on 90th.

She was right, you know, it was Erskine’s office after all, I was just another dead man. Dead men don’t have possessions, least of all titles and property. I was just another wandering spirit, another restless soul, but by the end of the night I’d be a liberated one, wouldn’t I?

            My old office was on the third floor of an old rundown building. Cracked walls, leaky pipes, a single washroom for every floor, a real joy to behold. I saw my old office’s light on and knew Erskine to be up there, counting his money probably, reveling in my demise, I seethed. I used my keys and entered the building, and like an old, old man I climbed the two flights to my old floor and headed in the direction of the door. It was open, I stepped inside.

            Erskine had changed the office in my short absence, he had moved desks, chairs, potted  plants. His desk now faced the door.

I commented. “Erskine, you son-of-a-bitch, couldn’t you have at least waited for my blood to dry?”

            Erskine, as handsome as he was, looked haggard and rundown, I didn’t feel so bad anymore. I couldn’t tell if he was afraid or amazed, see, most people don’t come back from the dead.

            “Zeb, what in God’s name are you doing here?”

            “Definitely not what you think, John-o.” I scowled and lit a cigarette. I offered him a light and he declined. “God,” I said, “It feels good to be back. Very refreshing.”

            I strolled further into the office, towards my old desk, now pushed carelessly aside, I opened the bottom drawer and pulled out my best whiskey. 

            He stood and drew his trusty .25, and I just laughed.

            “You’ve already killed me once, Johnny, are you really going to push your luck and try for another?” He pushed his luck and pulled the trigger another three times. I looked down at my shitty body, bullet-riddled and old, and then back up at my twice murderer. I took a swig from the bottle. I strolled closer to him, my eyes never leaving his. “Fuck you, John-o.” He reached for the phone, picked up the receiver, his own terrified eyes fixed on me, watching my every move. “Who are you going to call, Johnny, hm? The police? Sure, and just how do you think you’ll explain this one? My body is still rotting in the closet, Johnny.”        

            “I-” He hesitated, the words choking in his throat.

            “Don’t tell me you’re innocent, don’t tell me you're sorry, Erskine, I saw your eyes.” I took a step closer. “You wanted me dead, you wanted me out of the picture, just you and your little love bird, like two peas in a pod you were. Only she’s asleep now, asleep indefinitely.”

            He glared at me, “Wh-where’s Deva?”

            “Oh, yes, poor Deva, oh yes, you should call her, see if she’s alright.”

            He hurriedly dialed a number, it seemed like an eternity before he finally hung up.

            “You killed her.” He said.

            “Only ‘cuz you killed me first.” I drank another, a wry smile, “What’s going through your mind, Johnny, what are thinking?” I paused, “I couldn’t even imagine what you must have thought when you saw me enter the room. I’d be willing to walk back out and come back in just to see your face again, it was truly priceless.”

            “But Zeb, how-”

            “How, how? I'll tell you how. It's quite fascinating really. They gave me one last chance you see, one last chance to make things right. It seems the powers that be can go either way I'm afraid.” Erskine shifted in his seat, as he listened, scanning my face, my eyes. I went on, “It had to do with the Corcoran girl, see I just had to find her, as simple as that sounds. One last case, one last case, Johnny, and I could be free, I could rest in peace.” I actually broke out in a chuckle, “But do you know what's funny though, and I mean really funny. Between you and me I haven't even thought about the girl at all tonight. Just you, you and sweet, sweet revenge.” I looked down, almost casually, at my feet, then back up at Erskine. Silent rage inside me boiling. Then...

“Zebulon, I-”

            I exploded, I screamed, “Don’t say my name!” I picked up the phone and angrily threw it across the room, “You killed me.” I roared, he shivered. “And I am a vengeful spirit.” I raged, “You don’t just kill somebody and not expect them to be pissed, Johno. That’s not how it works.” I put the whiskey bottle down and extinguished my cigarette in a small turtle ashtray. He was breathing heavily, afraid, cowardly. “Tell me something, John…” I said, suddenly calm.

            “Yes?”

            I stayed silent, watching his distorted face, “Was it really just about the money?”

            For a minute, Erskine’s face and muscles relaxed just enough. He turned to me, like man, and not as a murderer. “Zeb, I-”

            I moved quick, my hands reached out and I grabbed his white collared shirt, and with all of my strength, I hauled him up and over the desk, and threw him down hard to the floor. He lay panting, afraid. I picked up the phone and slammed it down hard on Erskine’s throat and face, again, and again, until his jaw and neck gave way and blood pooled on the floor.

            “Sweet enough for ya?” I said, standing up.

            Then it hit me and everything became clear and I knew it. It was so simple. Even though, from the start, I had never doubted his word, Manticore had always doubted mine. He knew I’d never bother finding the girl, just as much as I knew it. And he didn’t give a damn about filling Heaven or about emptying Hell, I wasn’t a Technicality or someone earning his way into paradise, and there were no delicate scales, I was just a pawn, just a patsy. Just a toy. A murdering, damned toy.

            I’m a good detective, I pick up on these sorts of things, I should have seen it coming. I guess I just screwed up royally this time. And such a time too.

            He was waiting for me downstairs, I turned my collar to the cold and the little pale imp took me by the hand and led me back down into Hell.

 


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