Michael has shared his secret with me, his burden as it seems is of a feral nature. I never cottoned much to the idea of werewolves and vampires even before I’d figured out that they might in fact be real. The Maudlin press and funny papers have portrayed Michael and his lot as damned souls and tortured heroes, but I see the world with an enlightened perception you only gain from extinguishing the fires of well over 100 souls. Michael and his kind are nothing more than overgrown coyotes and vampires just man sized mosquitoes in black suits. Nonetheless I can appreciate him sharing his affliction even though I can’t see the down side of being a werewolf. So what if you kill people, I have a certain proclivity for that task anyway. If I were a wolf I wouldn’t even have to carry a knife.
I’m riding back into town after tying Michael to that Elm tree in the north woods and I can’t help but wonder what he must of think about my dark passenger. Obviously at one moment or another he caught a glimpse of old patch and started making assumptions.
Assumption #1 is probably that I’m a good person and patch is an affliction that I have been cursed with. That’s laughable; I was connected with patch long before Gettysburg and Jack Carter, I consider his companionship my birthright. I didn’t see patch back in those early days, but I knew he was there and could feel him protecting and guiding me to our eventual collaboration and the sharing of this body. Assumption #2 is probably that I want freedom from my dark passenger or at the very least a temporary respite from my living prison, when in actuality I feel too often that I am the jailer and Patch is limited by the confines of my earthly shell and the spaces in which this frame can safely travel. The last and possibly most flawed Assumption would be that by having me tie his hairy Yankee hide to a tree outside of town that he wouldn’t hurt anyone. A hungry lycanthrope can be a very useful tool for obscuring the real cause of death in one of my kills, which brings my thoughts back to Isaac the young man I let win $50 from me while I loaded him up with Laudanum and paid for his hotel stay so I’d know what room he’s in.
A sense of nervous anticipation shoots up from the base of my spine through my neck to the very tops of my ears. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve killed anyone, but it’s only been a couple days.
“Nicolette….” I whisper her name and it hangs in front of me like the steam of breath I uttered it with in the cool night air. I miss her and I can tell by the way Patch is jostling at the reins he’s anticipating our encounter with Isaac.
“Easy old friend. The night is ours, he had enough of our concoction to knock out two men.” Patch is still insistent that I hasten our pace and he’s never been wrong before so I put the spurs to my horse and speed across the night as if I were about to miss a party.
Half an hour later I slow back down to a playful trot as I enter the main strip of this little mining town. There’s a light on in the stables so I guide my horse there instead of the hitching post in front of the hotel/bar. The bar keepers son Jasper is feeding and brushing a fancy black horse while his father checks the hoofs for defects. I only know Jaspers name because I paid him two dollars to let me borrow a horse for a couple hours so Michael and I could go out far enough so the towns folk wouldn’t hear the wolf and come investigating. Before I stop in front of the stable I try and evaluate the situation at hand. It would seem like nothing out of the ordinary if it weren’t 11:00 at night. Obviously someone is making a hasty exit with the night as cover. None of this is my business really so I just want to board this borrowed horse and get to business in the hotel while not getting this boy in trouble with his father.
“Jasper, how much to stable and feed my horse for the night?”
Jasper looks at my horse and shoots a glance back to his father who is busily prying rocks out of the fancy black horses hooves. His father shrugs, probably because of the late hour and just wanting to get home so Jasper just wings it.
“You want him fed, brushed and shoed Mister?”
I smile back at the boy as I dismount the horse.
“It’s the least I can do.”
He replies sharply with a business mans tone.
“Fair enough son.”
I reach into my jackets inner left breast pocket for one dollar and happen to notice the monogram on the fancy horses saddle bags is I.M. and it has custom designed holding pockets with Hoyle playing card decks hanging out of them. I am incensed!
I hand him the dollar.
“The man who owns this horse is he blonde haired around twenty six years old and wearing a signet ring with a large green stone on his left hand?”
The boy thinks long and hard with an the inner turmoil of his resolution is all over his face when he answers..
“…Uhh I don’t know…?”
“ There’s an extra dollar in it for you…….”
I pull out another coin and hold it inches from his face. The boy to his credit is still hesitant and I’m starting to think this won’t be enough money to sway his loyalties, but Jaspers father has a lower buying price than he does.
“Tell ‘em boy and take that damn money fore he puts it back in his pocket.”
Jasper grabs the silver dollar and squeezes it tight in his hand.
“Yes sir, he came down not to long ago and said he was leavin, showed me some fancy card tricks and paid me two dollars to forget what direction he was headin in and what time he left if anybody asked.”
“Good job son.”
I can appreciate the boys’ loyalty, even if it is to the all mighty dollar. At this point in his life his word still means something to him, he believes in honor and respect. His father it would seem has been beaten by life, and his many failures and compromises are going to weigh this boy down and limit his potential by setting a ceiling of low expectations due to his own experiences. I watch Jasper hand the dollar to his dad and that sorry son of a bitch on his knees surrounded by shit between a horses legs removing rocks from it’s shoes smiles at me. This S.O.B. smiles like we taught his boy a lesson.
Honestly I’m offended at the notion, I should pistol whip him within and inch of his life! Even better yet I could kill him, Jasper would be better off without this halfhearted broken souled bottom feeder as a role model. I know from personal experience the death of your parents can make you fade into nothingness or rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of your former life.
I do believe in fate so if his name begins with an I Isaac is off the hook and this jackass is my quarry in his stead.
“I recognize you from the bar….”
He nods and maintains that shit eating grin on face.”
“….you’re the bartender right?”
He stuffs that silver dollar in his front pant pocket.
“Yep, the names Samiel.”
He stands, wipes off his hands with a rag from his back pocket and extends his right hand for a shake.
“The names J.D.”
I oblige his need for acknowledgement and shake his hand, but unfortunately Samiels name is not on my kill list so I have to move on.
“You fellas have a good night, it’s well past a decent hour.”
I tip my hat to the father and pat the boy on the head. As I walk out of the stables patch whispers in my ear.
“You should’ve killed the father.”
Now I love patch, I really do. Since my family died while I was off fighting for Virginia in the war I haven’t been closer to anyone else.
“Are we going to kill Isaac or waste the night cleaning up from mercy killings?”
I hardly if ever reprimand my dark passenger, but I need him to understand I haven’t gone soft I’m merely a slave to time.
I make my way through the unlit alley behind the main strip that the hotel is set on. It’s all but silent in this back alley save for the jangle of my spurs in the dirt. The air is foul with the sour stench of old bath basin water thrown out of windows and into this alley. It literally smells like the scent off of a thousand asses.
When I pass the currency exchange I happen upon an old mule loaded up to bear with mining tools hitched up to a post behind it and the spoiled water in the alley is cut with the mineral laden scent of ghost rock. Just to the left of the mule jutting out of the shadows created by the exchange wall is a pair of weathered mining boots with holes in the soles. The miner must have scored and he’s waiting for the exchange to open. I hear a loud clack echo through the alley a sound I know to well. He’s awake and he just loaded his shotgun. I raise my hand slowly with my empty palms facing the shadow the boots are sticking out of.
“Just passing through friend. There won’t be any robberies tonight less’en you planning on robbing me.”
He doesn’t say or do anything in reaction so after a couple seconds I point towards the direction I’m heading and back towards it. I keep moving down the alley slowly with my hands up in the air cause I know that shotgun is still drawn on me.
Four buildings away and I’m probably out of his range, between the distance and obscuring shadows as long as he isn’t following I should be safe. I let my hands down and my path continues mirroring the main strip, shortly after I pass the barber shop the main street right angles and I’m heading to the north and three buildings down is Isaacs hotel. As I make my approach it feels like I’m almost on cue as a satchel is thrown from a second story window shortly followed by a pair of boots and a fancy blue hat.
I drop back into the shadows across from the hotel and slowly draw my boot knife shielding the blade so it won’t cast a glint of moonlight and notify him as to my position. I then watch as Isaac exits his hotel room bare feet first and shimmies down the wooden shake of the hotel exterior like a man who’s just seen death. Luckily for me Isaacs in too much a hurry and five feet from the bottom his foot slips on a loose piece of shake and he slides down the wall almost instantly scraping his face, feet and palms the whole way down.
For only being a five-foot drop Isaac hits hard on his heels and rolls onto his back. It almost assuredly knocks the wind out of him so now’s my time to strike. I feel ridiculous doing it, but it seems barrel rolls are the quickest way to cover a great distance in a short amount of time. My first move is a diving barrel roll out of the shadow and into my preys’ direction towards his head. The key is to get the greatest distance I can while being mindful of the fact that I am brandishing a knife with an twelve inch blade. I could cut myself to ribbons if I pull my left hand in when I tuck for the roll. The tuck goes well, but I am slightly disoriented as I roll to my feet, but I need one last dive to make it to my target. The truth is that the actions take two maybe three seconds, but the thoughts during make it feels like an eternity. (Look out for the knife! Is he getting up? Should I stab him in the chest or slit his throat?) I have literally a split second to make a multitude of situation altering decision. I am slightly off balance for my second launch, but the time I would take to gather for my second dive could be Isaacs reprieve.
I launch at Isaac and resolve that cutting his throat is wise given the proximity of the miner down the alley and the sleeping inhabitants of the hotel. I land on his squirming body, but I over shoot by about two feet and the natural cut for where I land on his body is his lower belly and/or the genitals. This is horrible news for Isaac, because neither one of these areas are kill shots and his life will continue at least temporarily. The pain from both is incapacitating and remarkably high so he shouldn’t be able to run away.
My chest lands hard on his head almost taking my own breath away when my sternum hit his forehead. The force of my jump and the swinging motion of both arms coming down with the knife should allow me to penetrate his navel and drive it down to his spine and steep the tip of this blade at least two inches into the ground beneath him before it stops. When my blade gets within an inch of his body the air around him crackles. There is a shimmer of amber light and three cards appear in his left hand. Patch points to the cards and warns me.
It’s to late though, when the instinct hits me to roll of the recoil of my attack on Isaac hits me like a cannon ball to the chest launching me back into and through the cedar wall of the smoke house some fifteen feet across the alley. Everything goes black.
When I come to my nose is assaulted with the scent of salted meats and dried blood. There seems to be some type of gag in my mouth, my hands and legs are bound behind my back and a fire is roaring behind me. Isaac didn’t kill me. He laid me on the floor facing the corner bound and gagged in the smoke house. My clothes are still on, but I don’t have my derringer or extra cards up my sleeve. My shifting about has caught Isaacs attention.
“Good, you’re awake. I was afraid the force of your blow…you’d killed yourself or put yourself into a coma.”
I listen as Isaacs fancy boots clomp on the wood floor towards me and he uses both hands to face me towards him and the fire which I now see is an over loaded smoker with the top off. He must of grabbed something other than cedar chips cause they aren’t capable of creating a three foot flame.
“You goin to kill me or let me go. Either way get off the pot, I have a very busy day tomorrow.”
He’s not responding, just crosses over to the fire and throws some more cedar in it. I have to ask.
“How are you building that huge fire with slow burning chips.”
Isaac scoffs and wipes the grease from the meat soaked wood off on a monogram handkerchief he pulls from up his sleeve. The initials are I.M. just like the saddlebags on his horse.
“You can’t put the pieces together? I don’t mean to insult you, but they make them stupid and crazy in Virginia.
The situation looks pretty bleak right now, this guy should be sleeping off a quarter bottle of laudanum and I should be carving out his heart. I scan the room for anything that could help. Three empty hooks, four with seventy pounds of smoking meat on them and a table with a large bucket of salting spice. That’s it other than Isaacs’s satchel and the silver flasket that fell out of it. Patch urges me to concentrate of the flask and he uses it to show me everything that he saw while I was unconscious.
“Isaac you’re a huckster like me?”
My analysis seems to please him and Isaac claps in hoity northern fashion.
“You’re not as dumb as you look. Yes I am a huckster, but much more powerful than you are!”
Now for those of you unfamiliar with the word huckster, we are modern warlocks of a sort and most of our kind focus’s mystic energies through playing cards and feign as though their powers are tricks and chicanery. The penalty for openly using magic in the white mans world is typically hanging. For this reason we keep a constant eye out for people known as witch hunters, but more to the point Isaac openly insulted me. Five years ago that would have had me seeking retribution, but now looking at what he’s done, the protection hex, the magical fire and he’s probably already looked in my mind to see that I was going to kill him. That’s why he was rushing to get out of that hotel room cause he knew I was closing in.
“You cast a protection hex to repel my first attack.”
I’m leading him with the phrase, because his ability to cast when I attacked from the shadows meant he wasn’t near as disoriented as I had assumed.
“Yes Mr. Salinger I did.”
He’s far too pleased with himself. He fancies himself the intellectual and thinks he’s playing with me.
“Well then Isaac….” My words dripping with a bit of Virginian sarcasm.
“……..I believe that you must need me for something, or else you would have shredded me with a Soul Blast and looted my corpse.”
“True enough, but I still don’t know if I could ever trust you. J.D. I actually took the time to read that twisted little mind of yours.”
My captor shutters in remembrance of his time in my head.
“Didn’t like what you saw?”
He leans down on one knee and brings his face within inches of mine. He pauses for effect and removes the smug smirk that has become his signature expression.
“No. You psychopathic son of a bitch, I didn’t and the shit I saw in there is going to stick with me for a very long time. If I killed you I’d be doing the world a favor. I have never met a sicker, twisted………. beautiful mind!”
His contempt turns to praise and exaltation almost instantly. Isaac laughs and slaps my shoulder. I’m seriously confused.
“Am I still the crazy one or are we taking turns?”
Isaac stops laughing, but the smirk is back on his face and the playful sparkle in his eye.
“You’re still crazy, but I need your help and I knew it from the moment I spotted you across that bar.”
Of course, he read my mind and learned my secrets, his name probably isn’t even Isaac. Sometimes when you’re on the hunt you lose sight of the fact that you might be someone else’s prey.
“So I’m hog tied by my hands and feet, laying on the floor. You have my knives and guns as well as a full working knowledge of how my mind works. What can I do for you?”
He visibly switches gears reaching for his ornate silver flask on the floor, flipping up the cap with his thumb and taking a large pull.
“You’re a Whateley.”
His stare is stern and focused; he’s eyeballing me for visual cues of acknowledgement. I give him nothing, not even a blink when he says it. This not the first time someone has questioned me about my family history and I find it best to give nothing in the form of acknowledgement.
“No. My name is Salinger as was my fathers and my grandfather and his father before him. If there are Whateleys in my background it’s at least five generations back, but I don’t see why my family history is any of your concern. “
I play it as subdued and as matter of as I can, but he’s not buying it.
“C’mon, I know it’s true. Even before I read your mind, your mother is Cecilia Witt from Louisiana.” He offers me a pull. I respectfully decline his offer and he continues. “I even went to Baton Rouge and got her birth certificate.”
Well he just talked himself into a circle.
“So if you know her name is really Witt, then what are we talking about?”
I am tired of this act and if this mans name is really Isaac I am still going to have his heart in my hand before the night is through.
“The point is that it was really smart of your parents to give her a different name on the birth certificate.”
Isaac reaches into the satchel behind him with his free hand and pulls out my mothers birth certificate and places it mere inches from my face. I would have rebuffed his claims once more, but he has me dead to rights. Under parents it’s signed Jacob and Madeline Whateley. My grandfather was a clever piano player, but kind of dull for a witch.
“Alright then, I’m a Whately.”
I roll onto my back and close my eyes.
“Teach me blood magic.”
My captor stands menacingly over my bound form.
“No, I can’t.”
At least I understand why he’s been following me.
“Can’t or won’t?” I don’t dignify the question. “You need a friend J.D. and I am very powerful in my own right.” Besides I know spells that’ll help you hide your Whateley features from hunters. I’m just saying, I wouldn’t have had to check out your background to know your heritage; the dark stringy hair, gaunt features, pale skin and that weirdly offsetting look in you eyes.”
He’s right, but I’d be hard pressed to teach any not related to me blood magic.
“Stop talking Isaac, it’s never going to happen.”
Isaac takes advantage of the fact that he’s towering over my helpless body and gives me two violently swift kicks to the stomach. The second kick was so strong that I throw up all over the floor in front of me.
“If you don’t teach me I will kill you!”
I’m woozy and spitting out chunks of bile and bits of steak I ate earlier on tonight.
The problem with intimidation is the intimidator always assumes that you are clinging on to life and live in fear of the unknown, I don’t fear death cause patch already has claim to my soul. I would gladly die before I give the keys to my family’s legacy to a northerner. Northerners killed my father when Thomas Carver seized our lands after I came back from the war so rather than let his death be for nothing his is the first heart I ever used to power my magic.
Isaac is noticeable shaken, he knows I don’t have a problem dying today and a man who can’t be intimidated has to be discarded or treated as an equal.
“Look, I don’t want to hurt you cowboy. I have a one time offer and I want you to think about it before you say no.” My interest is peaked. “What do you say we play a game of cards…… and the winner gets what they want.”
He absolutely could not be offering what I think he’s offering.
“What are you saying?”
He starts to kneel down again, but stops short realizing that my vomit has spread across the floor and has over taken his boots.
“What I’m saying is you teach me magic if I win and I let you kill me if you win.”
He’s a huckster, meaning he can play cards and has a propensity for cheating. Even so I would love to plunge my knife deep into him and saying yes at the very least would get me off the floor and out of this large pool of puke I am currently laying in.
“Is your name really Isaac?”
He seems stunned by the question.
I pull a deck of Hoyle brand playing cards out from my boot.
“Then yes. You deal!”
He leans down and takes the cards out of my hands. I motion for him to loosen my restraints and he cackles.
“You can’t blame me for trying.”
Isaac starts to deal five cards out to each of us placing the cards off to his left side and directly in my hands.”
“We’re playing straight up five-card with no draw and no cheating.”
I noticed that he didn’t say no magic, but I don’t need it he dealt me three queens an eight of spades and the three of diamonds. Isaac however looks at his cards and closes his eyes for the briefest of seconds. It’s barely more than a blink and would go unnoticed to almost any but another Huckster. In that half second he met a Manitou on another plain and played him in a game of cards for a favor, in this case it was most likely better cards in his hand. I just wait and watch. Isaac smiles and reveals three kings an ace of clubs and a two spades. He cheated and he beat the demon. Damn it! I have to teach this Yankee blood magic. Patch loosens the knots in the rope around my hands and warns me.
“Look into his eyes.”
So I do, but I can’t see past that shit eatin grin on his face.
“No look closer.”
Patch unknots the ropes around my legs and helps me out of the puke and on my feet. Strangely the whole time he’s doing this Isaac is standing there almost frozen in time brandishing those three kings grinning from ear to ear. So I get nose to nose with Isaac and look him square in the eyes. Flames, I can see flames dancing in his eyes.
“Isaac……… is that you in there?”
The smile is still frozen on his face, but he shakes his head no and the three kings turn into an eight of diamonds a six of clubs and a jack of hearts.
“Son of a bitch, you’re the demon!”
The demon nods. Isaac must have wagered control of his body for a favor from the demon and when he lost the demon got his body at least temporarily.
This demon doesn’t appear to be able to talk so I ask patch if he can hear the demons thoughts.
“Yes, his name is Blael and he is occupying this body for the rest of the night. If you don’t get in his way you can have your turn with it just before dawn.”
I haven’t trafficked with many demons, but Patch seems to be fine with him so I have no problem letting hi have some fun. If it looks really interesting I may join him in his pursuits.
“Well Mister Blael I must admit I have a bit of trouble saying your name so for the tenure of our relationship I will call you Bobby.”
The Demon shrugs and makes his way out the opening I left when I came crashing into the smoke house. I scoop up my weapons, cards and that fancy satchel of his and follow his lead.
Bobby makes a bee line straight to an Indian encampment two miles south of town a group of six are sleeping under the stars and we manage to slit four of their throats before the last two woke up. As the last two flee and we give chase I manage to dive at mine and barely cut his Achilles tendon bringing him down quite easily as he pulled him self along with his arms and one good leg I circle him like a shark enjoying my quarries distress. Until I offer him an end to his torment by lodging my blade in his spine and turning it in a large C motion.
My new demon friend however is not quite so efficient. He shows back up with the arm of the one he was chasing, but Patch tells me the Indian got away.
I suppose we could track him down, but the sun will be up in a couple hours. Patch asks me if I’d like to kill that stable boys dad and I would deep down in side that sounds right to me.
“I’d love to Patch, I would. It’s just I have to scalp these injuns and kill Isaac. I really don’t think we have enough night left to get everything we want done.”
Patch and Bobby agree, but Bobby wants to burn down a farm on the way to Michael just north of town. That seems fair, it’s not like he gets out to do stuff like this all the time. We end up stopping at this cute little log cabin as we make our way around to the north east of town and Bobby bombards it with some type of demonic fire that Patch tells me water has no effect on and I tip three of cows in the pasture while we waited.
By the time we get close to Michaels tree. I’d really grown to like Bobby and even though I don’t know him well I consider him a friend. I don’t want to kill him and honestly I don’t think I can. He’s not saying anything, but I know my sensibilities are upsetting to Patch. Everything is simple to him, but I see the shades of grey.
“Patch I don’t think I can kill a friend.”
Bobby comforts me by laying his hand on my shoulder.
“He wants you to do it.”
Nobody wants to die even I understand the distinction between indifference and desire.
“Nobody wants to die Patch.”
We round the hill and can see Werewolf Michael hunch over next to the tree bearing his fangs.
“You can’t kill a demon with a normal knife and he can’t stay in Isaacs body forever anyway. Eventually Isaac will take over and we hate that man.”
While listening to Patch and his compelling argument I fail to notice Bobby sprinting at the Werewolf with flaming hands and death in his eyes. Michael much the same took note of the demon in a man’s body and is straining the chains that are keeping him restrained to this large tree.
“Bobby, that’s my business partner Michael.”
For a non-speaking demon he sure does understand English. Bobby slows down to a walk and stops just short of the savagely angered Michael whose chains are no cutting several inches into the cracking tree.
“He only has a couple seconds before Isaac forces him back out of his body. You have to kill him now.”
Almost on cue Bobby spins around with his arms out and his body in a tee opening his organs to an easy strike for me. Patch pulls the buck knife from my boot and places the handle into my hand.
“I’m goin to miss you Bobby.”
He nods and his eyes roll back into his head. He’s being ejected from the body. I hate Isaac so without any further hesitation I push my blade into his navel and drag it up to the bottom of his rib cage and over to the left of his body another eight inches. Intestines and vital organs spill out into the dirt like a dam had burst and splatter in the dirt like wet clothes dropping on a stone floor. My victim stands there frozen in this moment his last on this earth. Patch assures me that Isaac was conscious the whole time that Bobby had the reins and I find comfort in the fact that he saw it coming and couldn’t do anything.
“Michael that last move there is called Sabuku. It’s Japanese, I read about it in the funny pages in that chop sockey cartoon.”
The body is still standing, but he is obviously dead. Blood and intestines are all over my boots, pants and shirt. I want that heart even if it is in multiple pieces, but I brought him to Michael so he could make it look like a wild animal attack.
“I will push him your way and you can gnaw on him a bit, just leave me the heart okay?”
I push Isaacs very dead body over in Michael’s direction and my once ravenous wolf sniffs the cadaver, walks around to the backside of the tree and sits facing the other direction to the west.
“He doesn’t want to bite him without a demon inside.”
Patch has an ability to overstate the obvious.
“Is there any chance you could jump in his body and let him give it a couple bites?”
He shakes his head no.
“A demon in a dead tore up body, it’s not going to happen. It would be one thing for a body to get torn up while you’re wearing it’s another thing to jump into a broken dead body.
Well it looks like I have to bury the body.
“Oh Michael! Come here boy.”
The werewolf recognizes his name and peers from the side east side of the tree back at Patch and I.
“Can you understand me.” I nod and he turns his head like and over grown Pekinese. “Look we don’t have shovels and it’s an hour to dawn. Since you won’t chew on the body help us dig a hole.”
I walk a couple feet over from the organs and splatter pool and use my buc knife as a digging tool. Patch uses the flask and after watching for several minutes Michael wanders over and helps with his paws. An hour later Michael wakes up as the sun rises on top of a freshly dug grave bare naked and covered in blood from dragging Isaac to the hole.
“Jesus J.D. I feel like hell.” He looks around at the sun, me and down at himself.
“Why are we covered in blood?”
I walk over to the clothes he had hidden next to the tree when I locked him up and toss him the pants.
“You caught a rabbit.”
Not unreasonable. He got out and got a snack.
“Yeah that explains me, but what about you?”
I hate Pinkertons.
“It was a very big rabbit!”