Thursday, September 15, 2011

John 1:1

The fires had finally been extinguished, burning for nearly 12 hours, reducing the church to nothing more than its concrete foundation and plumbing. The fire was not like anything Fire Chief, Tom Mann, had ever seen in his twenty plus years with firehouse 17. The closest thing he could compare the smoldering pile of ash to was Ground Zero, but even that had some evidence of a structure left behind in the rubble. But this, this fire had left nothing behind. The mop-up was still being conducted and, so far, nothing conclusive had come back for the cause of the fire. In fact, it appeared there was never even a fire to begin with, which further perplexed the Fire Chief who would have gone with another theory had he not seen the immensely tall flames licking the skyline himself just a few minutes before. Everything about the fire was suspect. How it started. How it came to an end, after pouring thousands of gallons of water on the flames, bleeding the hydrants dry and calling in back up engines from four different firehouses around the surrounding metro. And the flames, he recalled, were hotter than anything he had ever come it contact with, forcing he and his men to battle the blaze from nearly double the distance in order to be effective. Fireman Russo, a ten year veteran, had severe burns along the front of his body without ever coming within seven hundred feet of the flames. It was though the heat targeted him alone, for none of the other firemen in his unit were harmed at closer distances.
     "Chief Mann?" Said a voice behind him. 
     "Hmm, yes?" 
     "Detective White," he said extending his hand in greeting, "This is my partner, Detective Carter."
     "Yes, detectives. How may I help you?"
     "We understand you found someone inside." Said Detective White. 
     "Yes, that is correct. not saying much. When we came upon the compartment she was inside-"
     "The compartment?"
     "Yes. After we...after the flames died down, we located a small metallic door in the floor, where the sacristy  is located. When we opened it, the girl climbed out from the cubby-hole and refused any medical treatment. Not that she needed any, she was in good health and spirits. Docile, but you could just tell that she was not effected by the events as much as someone who had just lived through a fire might be."
     "Do we know a cause?"
     "Are you kidding? Look at it. Along with this sweltering heat of summer, some hot spots must have reached two bills. The soles of some of my boys boots melted it was so hot at one point. There is nothing left but pipes and concrete. I'll tell ya' detective, in all my years I have never seen a fire like that and I doubt I will ever see one like it again."
Detective White nodded to the Fire Chief. 
     "Keep us informed if something changes." He said walking away. 
 As the two detectives walked towards the woman, Chief Mann knew he would not speak with the men again, because the only thing that would change about this fire is his own sleeping habits, for the mystery of how the fire happened and its subsequent end would keep him awake for weeks to come. 

The first thing Detective White noticed about the woman was that she was not a casual church goer, dressed in a black nuns habit and still wearing her white coif, veiled to shadow parts of her face. The second thing he noticed was how beautiful she was, even mostly covered, with ivory skin and petite hands that lay clasped in the seat of her lap. She had movie star lips, thick and plush that captured his imagination in ways that would make most respectful men shift uneasily in their pants. He instantly felt guilt rush over him. Not a man of God himself,  but schooled enough in Catholic practice to know he was nearly half mast over one of God's many wives. He turned to Detective Carter, asking him to take a few statements from other firemen, still puzzled by the Chief's bedazzlement over an event he should be well versed in battling. When the woman stood to greet him she could not have been any taller than five foot three, and a buck ten sopping wet; but, she carried herself quite a lot taller than she appeared. She was chatting up a fireman who was also smitten by her, laughing and flirting with her, forgetting that he was here to do a job. When he came to them, the fireman shook himself back to reality and ran back to his Chief. 
     "My name is-"
     "I know who you are, detective." She said looking up to him with a gentle smile. 
     "If I were to tell you how I knew you, you might assume me to be some lunatic and call in the paddy-wagon, carting me off to some nearby asylum for the rest of my days. So, I suppose, I should let you proceed with your unnecessary introduction." 
     "Well, that is quite a way to start out a conversation, sister, but, since you know me, perhaps I can cut with the pleasantries and ask who you are and how you ended up inside a secret compartment inside the church sacristy?"
     "I'm afraid that will be a little more difficult with its explanation. May I bum a cigarette from you?"
This request did not seem to register to the Detective. 
     "I may be a nun, detective, but I am also human and have my vices. And in case you're wondering how I know you smoke, you have yellow-stained fingertips, which suggest a heavy smoker that is common among people in your profession. And don't feel embarrassed about the evidence for my own detection skills are required for the unique profession I am in."
A woman after his own heart, he thought as he reached into his pocket and procured a cigarette from the packet, lighting it and then handed it to her. 
     "You mean being a nun?"
She laughed. It was a quick chuckle, but still something she had not done in some time. 
     "Heavens no."
     "Then what do you mean?"
     "I'm sorry detective, but there are very important and powerful individuals who cherish their secrets, which I happen to be one. And, although I do wish to assist in any way I can, there are limitations which go far beyond the ruling arm of your badge."
     "Respectfully sister, there is no greater law than that which I represent."
     "I beg to differ. Respectfully."
Detective Carter returned. His face shared the same puzzlement of Chief Mann's earlier, and when he explained to Detective White that the other priest and nuns who ran out from the church, before it caught fire, failed to see or say anything to him when questioned, the entire scene began to smell to high hell of lies and deception. For now, the only thing he had was arson at best. It did not make much sense to start a fire and then remain at the scene down below, although this approach was daring enough to be believable; however, the nun was hiding something and did not make any attempt to try and hide this from him. 
     "See what more we can get from the hotheads and meet me down at the station afterward."
     "What about her?"
Detective White turned to the nun. After a moment he said, "I would venture to say you are willing to come down to the station and make a statement, but it would likely be a short and sweet one. So, how about coffee and some lunch on me, instead?"
She took a long drag from her cigarette, sizing up the tall medium built man before her. There were many gaps between his questioning her and her answering his questions, suggesting a personal motive to have her all to himself. Perhaps he wanted to win over her trust, to later mount some kind of impersonal attack against her character or learn more about her role in the church by deceptive means of flirtation.  
     "Very well. I accept."
He took Detective Carter aside so that his words were not easily heard.
     "I want you to get as much history on this church as you can. See if any of the priest are willing to assist you with this and maybe provide you with some kind of order, or hierarchy of this particular parish."
     "You got it." 
     "Oh, and find out who the ruling bishop is and see if you can get in touch with him."
     "Shall we then, sister?" He said extending his hand to her, "I'll buy, but I am leaving any tips up to you."

Detective White sat in a quiet booth situated in a corner away from the rest of the Ardent Grille's patrons, a local breakfast bar and personal favorite that provided enough privacy to speak freely with the woman, sitting across from him, who he had yet to finger as neither a witness, a victim or potential suspect. They had not shared a single word with one another during the drive, perhaps being too defensive to engage one another in such close quarters. There was definitely tension among them, Detective White noted. He stirred creamer into his coffee, laying out his cigarettes.
     "Help yourself."
     "Now that you have me away from your partner, detective, would you like to ask me the questions that have stewed in your mind since you first laid eyes upon my legs?"
He was sure the redness in his cheeks had given away his embarrassment.
     "I'll just cut to the chase then. I think you and I can agree that whatever happened inside that church, it was far from the norm. Not your typical case of arson or random act of God."
She chuckled at this last part.
     "And you hope I can provide you with some since of reality to support whatever crazy theories going around at the crime scene. Tell you that I saw firsthand what that man did, before setting fire to my home, killing the only mother I ever loved in the fire."
     "The Fire Chief did not say anything about that."
     "No, I suppose he would not have had enough forensics to suggest anyone perished."
     "Those who were inside at the time all made it out safely...only you managed to remain trapped, which is, I suspect, the reason you sought refuge from the smoke and flames down inside that basement closet you were found in. One could speculate that you may have even been stored there, if one thought about it long enough."
The woman stared down to the table, sliding her hand slowly across it towards the cigarette packet, fishing a slightly bent stogie from inside and placed it between her lips. Her eyes grazed over his left hand, which hovered over his Zippo lighter like a tarantula raised up on its hind legs in warning, seeing the tattoo on the palm of his hand. It was a simple design, a point that started just below his middle-finger and angled to the bottom of his thumb, across the flat of his hand and back to his finger. It was a simple black triangle that stuck out, like a throbbing cartoonish thumb, in certain circles that doubled as both a brand and universal ID to those within The Black. Her heart began to speed up, adrenaline flooded every nerve in her body, her instincts fought for control of the wheel pushing her right hand from the table into her lap, closer to the blade still at her side.
     "Or one might assume, being a nun and all, that I knew of the storage space. After all, it does contain all of the church's charitable goods, such as can goods and clothing for our fortnight food drive, Deacon Joseph oversees. Perhaps he can better provide you with a cause for it than I." She explained as she surreptitiously scouted out the nearest exit.
     "Of course you did. It must have been terribly frightening, trapped inside a burning building as it collapsed around you. Very lucky."
     "Luck is a false deity among the rich detective."
     "You know, for a nun, you are very radical with some of the things you have said."
     "And for a detective, you have an interesting choice of body markings." She said eyeing his hand.
Ah, he thought to himself, the tattoo. The day he had decided to join the cult, receiving his mark, was still as fresh in mind as the breakfast rolls on his plate.
     "You mean this?" He said showing her the mark once more. "Just some stupid thing I did ten years ago, when I was still rebelling against the world, partying beyond my means and fucking women left and right, married or single, fat or small without regard to any one's feelings, including my own, along a destructive downward spiral that may have lead me straight to prison. A friend of mine was all into the satanic cult, never to the point he knew anything about it at all, aside from the devil horns (at this he flashed his hands in the iconic symbol of 80's hairbands and death metal rockers around the world, bending his ring and middle fingers down touching his thumb while his index finger and pinkie pointed straight up like horns) and owning a goat named Lucifer. He eventually became involved with this group of misfits whose shtick was dabbling in the black arts and Demonology, which, in order to become part of this sect, one needed to have the Mark."

Detective White looked away from her. She could see his humility was authentic, to the point he might have changed the subject right then had she not asked him to continue. It was highly unusual for someone with the Mark to be so open about their experience, begging the question was he truly a member of The Black or just a wannabe with stories and a bad tattoo?

     "Anyway, my own foolish curiosity took me all the way to an acquaintance's house on the lower east end of town, drunk off my ass, high as hell and minutes away from my first tat. I wanted to get it on my arm or someplace I could easily cover with an article of clothing, like a shirt or something; but, they insisted it be on the bottom of my hand."
     "All religions, even those less appealing to the masses, have their own unique practices. I am sure eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood might be a bit unsettling to someone who practices Buddhism." She replied kindly.

She wasn't sure why, but the more he opened up to her the more she wanted to tell him about herself. Knowing full well she could never divulge all of her secrets, she humbled herself enough to tell him a bit about her own life. She spoke of her family, how they perished in a fire when she was young, leaving out the bits about her father and the atrocity of him murdering her sister on that dire evening long ago. Her story arc took a turn from here, joining the covenant at the age of 12 where she spent the remaining part of her life in study and servitude of God. Every defensive mechanism inside her sounded its intuitive alarms. Whether or not he was telling the truth about his experience with The Black, at the end of the day, he was still connected to the sect and that made him dangerous. The fact he might not have known this for himself did not matter. It was nice, she thought, being able to speak to a man without having to recite the Rosary afterward. But, there was still the mission. She stood, her bones cracking as she stretched.
     "So, have I said enough to warrant my leaving without you arresting me in the process?"
     "As I said earlier, even if I had questions to ask, you would be likely not to answer them. I do appreciate the chat however, it was most informative."
She started to leave when Detective White called to her.
     "One last thing sister. Was I ever at risk of you pulling that blade beneath your habit on me?"
There was a long pause between his question and her answer.
     "No, but I fear there may come a time when I will. Good day detective."
Detective White pulled out his wallet, throwing enough money onto the table to cover the bill and then looked up to find that she was nowhere to be found. His phone vibrated inside his pocket.
     "Detective White, speaking."
     "It's Carter. I was able to get the name of that bishop, after a little encouraging. Name's Antonio Verelli. Apparently he was some kind of pariah within the church who pissed off a lot of brass, so much so that his rank of bishop is currently under review with folks at the Vatican."
     "Anything else?"
     "Yeah, that hot nun of yours, turns out no one knows a thing about her. No names, no identification at all. One of the older birds said she recalled something about being orphaned."
     "Understood. I'll be back in the station soon."
The second he hung up with Carter, he quickly dialed a second number. The voice on the other end was very old, having to take a breath in-between each of his words spoken.
     "My master. The church has been completely destroyed. I have on good authority information that suggest the bishop, Antonio Verelli is dead. And...there is something else."
     "Go. On. My. Son."
     "I have reason to believe there is an outsider now involved, although I am uncertain of her motives."
     "Her. Motives?"
     "A nun. She was found after the fact, safely inside a hidden compartment in the church's sacristy. I lost contact with her, but I have plenty of evidence to run through the system." He said collecting a few butts from the ashtray.
     "Very. Well. Do. Not. Pursue. Her. Your. Focus. Now. Is. Finding. The. Priest. His. Location. Has. Been. Sent. To. You."
There was a click and the call ended. Detective White sat for a moment, his thoughts weighing on the woman and his incredible desire to know more about her. They were both very different and on very uncommon ground. Part of him wished they had met long before, when his life was still his own and he could be himself with her, pursue his attraction and arrest whatever emotions that came with this. He looked at the Mark on his palm and knew this could never be.
In the car, Detective White sat eying his computer screen. The information on the priest was before him, along with a thirty year history of the man, his life, his family, and all thing in-between. Like the nun, he did not look like any priest he recalled as a boy. He was young and there was something about his eyes that spat danger, like a cobra, into the faces of his enemies. He phoned the station a final time, the voice of his partner greeted him.
     "Carter, see what you can find on a Wade Keller. I am emailing you the 411 on him now. Thanks bud."
As he placed his cellphone back into his pocket, he felt the hot burning grip of a hand around his throat and a voice that growled its words into his ear instantly turned his skin white with fear.
     "Hello again, Bryan. The Black calls upon you."
The car erupted into flames that rose up into a ball of fire, before changing into a plume of thick black smoke drifting slowly into oblivion. Below, the car and its driver were gone without a trace of it ever being part of this world. Nearby, a woman watched the plume of smoke fade into the gray sky, where a single snowflake floated down, kissing the side of her cheek. She scooped the crystal onto the end of her finger, melting into a tiny droplet of water, studying it. She then lowered the veil of her coif and sought shelter in the shadows of the alleyway.


  1. Wow. You use words like the microscopic tip of a surgical laser and then turn around and make them into a ridiculously large sledgehammer that only Conan or Wile E. Coyote could wield. I was riveted to my screen and left shivering and wanting more. Thank you.

  2. Rev- if you were an agent or publisher that gave the final go on a new author, I would be signing my name on the covers of books. Thank you for the kind words.

  3. Detective White! I thought he melted into a pile of goo. Not that I'm not glad to see my namesake back.

    (I'm afraid I wouldn't feel guilty about being turned on by a nun. Of course, I don't have any Satanic tattoos on my hand either. Quite an enigma, your detective.)

  4. To every end, there is a beginning sir.

  5. If i were an agent or publisher I would have you chained to a desk 24/7 and poking you with little sticks and feeding you coffee and Fanta until you finished the story. My slaves would be feeding me grapes while I rested my head on a stack of fat checks.

    My veri word- "ectiessy" Describing the mess of goo left by a particularly noxious ghost or phantom.

  6. to be truthful, it's good as a reading material, but concerning its length, not thrilling enough. And lacks of comedy, gore and sleaze also stick out as eyesores. (just saying)

  7. (rolls his eyes up) What the snap is that supposed to mean?

    My veri word- "hitann" A cute little redheaded female assassin.

  8. Too true. I just wasn't sure if he liked it or not. I'm thinking not, but as I read it again I'm still not sure.

  9. I like what I have read so far. I'll have to come back and read more.