The Eighth Revision of my Pazuzu Trilogy is real and actually near completion. Revisions of Manifestation and Emergence are complete. These are the first two books in the trilogy. I’m waiting to finish Abeyance before I update the copies of the three books I have available online at places such as Amazon, Pubit and Lulu. Progress with the Abeyance revision is nearly 20% complete. I plan to finish that book in a week if the real world doesn’t yet again step on my throat.
In the meantime, I hope this updated chapter from Manifestation whets appetites. This is chapter 9 Pride. Manifestation introduces readers to the Shur desert and orientates them to elements in my Mortui Philosophies. Essentially, the first book in the Pazuzu Trilogy is an introduction – and stuff happens that advances the tale. The real story is in Emergence. Readers won’t get lost if they begin with the second book, but Manifestation makes the whole reading experience more comfortable. The book helps orientate readers to my writing. Granted, I hope the trilogy now feels faster and has become much easier to read.
I said before, the Seventh Revision of the trilogy set the story in stone – and it has. The Seventh Revision was good, but the Eighth is better. The Eighth Revision is about polish – and trapping those cursed typos (I’m trying folks. Like roaches, they seem to breed all by themselves and I find them when I turn-on bright lights.)
Below is chapter 9 Pride from Manifestation. I thought I’d omit this chapter but left it in the manuscript. Though the story has moved into the Chosen’s Promised Land and their walled city Capital, this chapter takes place in Gomorrah before the Cortras brothers rescue Benedict Ishkott from the desert. The focus is Jimmy Bathierre. The teenager is the nephew of Judah Bathierre, a crime lord in Gomorrah. Readers meet Jimmy posthumous because the boy is already dead. This chapter is where the Cortras brothers kill him accidentally.
Recently, outside the Wall …
Jimmy Batheirre lived a very short life. At seventeen, he got everything he wanted when he wanted it. Youthful whim drove most of his desires, which were typically forgotten once appeased. The red, newly-antique convertible, “Arroyo,” was not one of those passing impulsive urges. Jimmy had dreamed of the automobile since he was thirteen. The vehicle belonged to his uncle Judah.
Glossy white leather slicked the interior, and a liberal amount of chrome was applied inside and out. The family consensus agreed the car appeared tacky, but Jimmy and his uncle knew Arroyo was a fine example of mechanical sculpture. They sensed the power. Arroyo was a real work of art. Jimmy thought it a shame the car sat beneath a cloth cover in his mother’s garage. This jewel was meant for parades around town – a symbol of wealth and class. The Church and Chosen caste did not intimidate the Batheirres. Money bought respect. That was why the Chosen called the Promised Land Capital. Despite Uncle Judah inheriting the family’s fortune from his UnChosen father. Arroyo symbolized the blessing demanded of the Mortal God.
Standards were dismally low in Gomorrah, and the car surpassed any token the peasants presented. Shiny leather shoes, gold watches and even a swimming pool in the back yard were mere trinkets compared against this marvelous machine. Everything on the automobile was original with not so much as a scratch in the paint, except the few tiny blemishes Jimmy caused and hoped no one noticed.
Sometimes, when Jimmy’s mother left him home alone, the boy snuck into the garage and removed the thick cotton cover. He often spent a good part of an hour gazing at the beautiful monster. Part of his ritual included slipping off his sneakers and stuffing his rings into a pocket; the very jewelry that had made those first, barely perceptible marks. Jimmy would sit behind the steering wheel. He bet his uncle felt the same thrill the first time he sat in the driver’s seat.
In his imagination, the wooden garage doors melted away and he was instantly transported onto an empty road in the desert. The car cruised fast, with the white vinyl top folded down and Jimmy’s foot heavy on the accelerator; not so much as a shudder while the automobile rocketed through sunlight and solitude. Jimmy never dared lower the top while Arroyo sat in the garage. He never touched the dials and buttons on the console either. The scratches were the only evidence Jimmy dared leave, and if he could do something other than hide them, he would.
At fifteen, Jimmy found the keys. His uncle wanted to see the car one afternoon, as he occasionally would. That day, he had come then went away again. Jimmy’s mother left the keys on the kitchen table instead immediately secreting them back into her purse for safekeeping. When she went with Uncle Judah for lunch, Jimmy couldn’t resist waking the convertible. He nearly panicked when exhaust filled the small space. Terrified, he restored the cover and keys. He threw open the garage door and waved an old blanket through the air for twenty minutes and helped dissipate the fumes. Luckily, the little adventure went undiscovered.
Eventually, the car would become a gift to the boy, if Jimmy finished school and actually attended the university in Capital, to which his large family bought admission. Going to the university was still a year away, but Jimmy’s uncle decided the boy would major in business and graduate. That was never a question.
In truth, Jimmy believed he didn’t need his family paving his entrance into school or landing a job. The diluted Chosen blood in his veins made him an intelligent and ambitious kid, smart enough to know life handed him a free ride. Jimmy would not turn his back on fortune or luck. Despite the technicality that he was an UnChosen, wealth put Jimmy and his family above most Chosen and now Jimmy dreamed about crafting his own destiny.
The vices of common people made the Batheirre family rich. The plentiful buyers and sellers in the family business smoothed the sketchy morality of drug use. Even though the production, distribution and selling of methamphetamine was illegal, as were a few other choice drugs for which the family was less known, demand persisted. Ape became especially popular. Rumors that heathens had engineered the drug for addiction only stimulated craving. Who were the Batheirres to tell people how they lived their lives? They certainly were not responsible if customers got hooked.
If people wanted to shorten and spend less fortunate existences Aped, the Batheirre family happily provided the goods. Why not? Jimmy saw what Gomorrah offered the less privileged. If he were not a Batheirre, he too would probably be an addict. Jimmy had merits, but temptation to escape the drudgery would have been insurmountable, especially when relief was so readily available. Besides, if his family didn’t provide the wants of the population, somebody else would. That someone could be less interested in the longevity of customers and the safety of the city. The Batheirre family provided a service and held civic responsibility in high esteem. Caretaking was a good, rewarding business.
The Batheirres were not bad people; Jimmy always believed that. He hadn’t heard otherwise, until he recently spoke with his cousin. Jimmy and Nate were related, but many times removed and rarely saw each other. Nate belonged squarely in the UnChosen caste. Still, the boys were family. The Batheirre held their solidarity a core value. Union kept the operation of their business tight. Nate was older and wiser by a few years, although his wisdom did need more time to cure. The skinny, UnChosen-looking kid foolishly outlined the history of the Batheirre family for plump young Jimmy.
“Your granddad got the business from your great-granddad and that’s how we’re related,” Nate told Jimmy.
Jimmy had always known and scolded his cousin. “I know, and Uncle Judah is my father’s brother. You only need to list everybody once, we’re all on the same tree.”
“I’m saying, your dad should be where your uncle is today.”
“Instead he’s dead?”
Nate crossed his arms. “I’m not talking about him. You remember that schism with our family after your granddad died, right?”
“I heard about it. I wasn’t even one-year old yet.”
“Yeah, cancer killed your granddad, and Judah took over the business, but your dad should have it, he was older.”
“My dad died in a car accident. Some Aped loser smashed into him at an intersection. Besides, he shamed the family because he didn’t marry my mom before I was born. You know that, too.”
“But he didn’t,” Nate insisted. “Your grandfather was thrilled for a grandchild.”
“I thought he hated my mom.”
“Only Judah says that. She’s one-quarter Chosen, Jim. The Batheirre family welcomed a new gold leaf, or two in this case, because you were born.”
“That’s good to know, Nate,” Jimmy dismissed.
“That didn’t sit too good with Judah. He got greedy.”
“I won’t tell Uncle Judah.”
Nate frowned. “Jimmy, you know Judah and your dad competed when they were growing up, right? Their father preached guarding against apathy. The business goes to hungry sons.”
“Well, Judah was hungry, all right.”
“What are you saying.”
“Jimmy, addicts pay for fixes with suicide all the time. People say Judah found a way and cheated.”
Nate wouldn’t shut up even when Jimmy ran away. “Jim, Judah always said he landed in second place, solely because his happenstance order of birth. He didn’t think it was fair.”
Jimmy tried to comprehended the idea through difficult feelings of loyalty and revenge. Uncle Judah had always been kind and generous with Jimmy. He even occasionally spoke well of Jimmy’s dead father. Most of what Jimmy knew about his paternal father and his grandfather came from Uncle Judah.
Yet a subtle tension existed between his mother and uncle. She never spoke about her misgivings, but Jimmy got an impression she wanted distance between her son and the Batheirres. They visited relatives only when Uncle Judah showed up and dragged them to holiday affairs or other special occasions.
Uncle Judah was the only extended family who visited, and typically arrived unannounced. Jimmy never witnessed Uncle Judah say or do anything to coerce his mother, but she always looked reluctant and pressured. Maybe his mother avoided the memory of her dead husband, but life would have been very different without the support of Uncle Judah and the rest of the family. The tailor shop she owned would have failed miserably a long time ago. Jimmy would not have the money for the university after passing entrance exams, and he wouldn’t have received the plentiful gifts and cash throughout childhood.
In addition to Jimmy’s attendance at school and earning a degree, he was also the only true heir of the family business, his uncle said so much. Uncle Judah had never married and fathered no children of his own. Once Jimmy graduated from college, a good five or six years from now, he undoubtedly would come back to Gomorrah. His uncle would then teach him how business worked in the real world.
With that knowledge, and whatever Jimmy picked up in school, everyone expected the boy would do wonderful things with the family name, and maybe bring some legitimacy from outside the ragged borders of Gomorrah. His mother never disagreed, but she did insist Jimmy express his desire for a future that belonged to him and was his alone. Jimmy did.
However, Nate’s revelation had a bellyache of truth. Nate had no reason for spinning lies and other circumstances already cast Uncle Judah in suspicion. Judah fostered an uncomfortable relationship with heathens around the time of his brother’s death. The family disapproved of the interaction and had harassed Judah ever since. The relationship between Judah and his brother, the interim head of the family, had grown complicated before the death of Jimmy’s father. Nate said “Disagreements wouldn’t exist if Judah made all the decisions for the Batheirres.”
The deals with heathens started at lines of demarcation. Both sides benefited while their activities remained separate. Trouble in one camp never touched the other. The arrangement became tit for tat – not a genuine partnership, but favors were exchanged. That kind of activity could not stay hidden from a family the size of the Batheirres.
“Judah himself implicated himself,” Nate reminded Jimmy. “That’s when your father demanded all connections with heathens come to an end. He issued an ultimatum tantamount to excommunication. All the while, Judah was committed to the path he had taken. He built deeper ties with barbaric nomads.”
Nate speculated “Judah might have gone too far and owed too much. He couldn’t back out, or he shared dark desire with heathens.”
In either case, Jimmy convinced himself Uncle Judah saw his brother become an obstacle that must be removed. The family insisted upon an immediate cremation because the body of the fledgling Batheirre heir had been so horribly mangled in the fatal accident. Appearance was important for the Batheirres. No one owned loose pants in this family.
Jimmy didn’t want to hear more when Nate implied Uncle Judah killed his father. He ran straight home.
“Keep you mouth shut,” Nate called after him. “Don’t tell anybody.”
Jimmy didn’t know what to do, though he dwelt with thoughts about having been stripped mercilessly of a father. The loss was the only thought in his head all the way home. A whole other life had been denied him. Jimmy didn’t know how he would deal with that, either. He grew up without a real father, although Uncle Judah attempted the role every once in a while. His uncle insisted he was involved and usually imposed on Jimmy’s mother.
“I called you Jimmy first,” Uncle Judah said to him one day. “I gave you your given name.”
Whether the claim was true or not, the comment began a terrible argument between Jimmy’s mother and Uncle Judah. The fight left his mother crying and bruised. Jimmy pushed his recollection of that day beneath more pleasant memories. When bad memories bubbled up to his consciousness, he distracted himself. The convertible in the garage always provided the best distraction.
His mother’s beating was a long time ago, but Nate’s story dusted and polished the unpleasant memory. The small trauma glared under a new light Jimmy could not ignore. He grasped a desperate idea for making himself feel better, to help him forget and restore his oblivious happiness of just a few hours ago. Jimmy would drive Arroyo.
The timing could not have been more convenient. His mother had stepped out, probably not far, and her purse sat in its usual place on the vanity in her bedroom. After lunch with Uncle Judah, she must have gone and made a rare call on a neighbor, but that was far enough. Jimmy snatched the key for Arroyo. Once he slipped it off the keyring, he backed out of mother’s room, subconsciously retracing his steps. In the garage, he deftly removed the convertible’s cover and tossed it into the broad back seat. Jimmy unfastened the white vinyl top’s latches, climbed inside and started the car. And the boy lowered the top the first time ever, today. A wonderful exhilaration made his heart beat faster. His anger toward Uncle Judah faded into bitterness.
The transformation of Arroyo was like watching a flower bloom or a bride lift her veil. Jimmy sat dumb and amazed while metal struts folded back the top. The convertible awakened when she stretched her mechanical arms after a long hibernation. She evolved into what the vehicle was meant to be, open to the sky – but not quite yet. In his haste, Jimmy forgot he should first open the garage. After couple rumbling minutes, he hopped out of the car and dashed to the door, coughing out fumes while he went.
The garage door raised with loud twangs of un-worked springs and fear gripped the boy. He almost expected he’d see his mother and Uncle Judah standing in the driveway or on the corner at the end of the block. Jimmy scouted the area in three long-legged paces. The street looked empty in the middle of this hot day. People were either at work or busy finding shade. Jimmy listened to the growling engine of the convertible. She wanted to go. He felt thirst from the machine, and that was all the convincing he needed. Jimmy jumped back into Arroyo and rolled the vehicle from its cramped cell.
The sun glistened in the red paint like a bead of molten glass. The reflection flowed across the hood while the car tentatively crept forward. Jimmy wanted nothing more than to drive away, fast and far, but he restrained himself, got out and lowered the garage door again. When done, he returned to the idling vehicle, shifted into “Drive” once more and gently dropped his foot on the accelerator. The tires screeched with his slightest touch of the gas pedal, and so Jimmy raced the car down the street a moment later. Everything Nate said now flew away and became the furthest thoughts from Jimmy’s mind.
The feel for the car came naturally to the boy. Jimmy believed himself a good driver, despite lack of experience. People raced out of his path anyway, because everyone recognized the boy. Being the only nephew of the most powerful man in Gomorrah automatically granted Jimmy fame, status and deference.
No doubt, news of Jimmy’s adventure would soon reach his mother and uncle – the drawback of fame, but Jimmy didn’t care. On long empty streets, he built speed and whistled the wind past his ears. Between the wind and the thundering engine, Jimmy couldn’t hear himself laugh and yell. His shaggy black hair danced the whirl of a dervish as greasy strands whipped across his vision. The twirling locks smeared away tears the wind blew from his eyes.
The speed, sun and feel of the wheel in his hands stoked Jimmy’s daring. He turned the knob on the radio, which never had anything worth listening-to. Sermons from the Church and military news were not catered for teenaged boys. Both channels droned and bored Jimmy. Playing with the radio was really just a matter of exploration. He wanted to hear sound from the dashboard speaker. Jimmy wanted to blast the radio over the noise of the wind and the car. The biggest risk was taking the convertible. What more did little things like twisting knobs matter compared to that offense?
The day arrived when Jimmy did what he had wanted to do for years. Taking Arroyo was the only thing he was forbidden, the only thing not given him the moment he asked. Having Arroyo now, after wanting the convertible so long, tasted sweeter than any fulfilled desire he ever had. The fact he simply took it made his chest swell. The feeling made him more bold.
His foot pressed more heavily on the accelerator when he forgot to watch where he went. Jimmy also caught himself minding the radio rather than tending the road. The little orange bar floating behind white numbers moved rightward while Jimmy continued twisting the knob, and the radio was not cackling. The other knob did nothing at all. At the last moment, Jimmy tugged the steering wheel toward his left and avoided sideswiping a parked car. When he passed, Jimmy told himself he had not even come close to the other vehicle. The perspective and sudden upward glance had tricked him. He snickered at his momentary loss of confidence.
Jimmy returned to discovering how he might operate the radio. He grasped the first dial between his thumb and forefinger. He felt the knob give a little and he pulled harder, hoping the silence would change into shower of voices or static, depending if he fell upon a station during his random dial-twisting. Neither happened. Instead the knob popped off its metal stem and slipped between his fingers. Jimmy watched it flip through the air in front of him. It bounced off the steering column then rolled on the carpeted floor between the gas pedal and brake.
Sudden fear gripped the boy. The sight of the displaced chunk of cast metal rushed back, in fury, his anxiety about breaking something on his uncle’s car. Still, Jimmy could easily fit the knob back into place. He instinctively and immediately reached down and retrieved the dial. When he did, the boy sealed his doom. No more thought or desire, only oblivion. The convertible folded like an empty soda can, and did the bed of the stalled pick-up truck Jimmy rear-ended. His blood fell in thick drops across the white interior and shattered glass like big pearls of rain at the beginning of a summer storm. The truck rolled forward, while the crumpled car skid an impossibly short distance – given the vehicle’s momentum before hitting an obstacle. The truck pulled away as if nothing happened.
The concussive collision drew witnesses after the fact. Everyone knew Jimmy Batheirre lay in the crushed convertible. A few people even recognized the truck belonged to the migrant Cortras brothers, even though the vehicle was relatively new to Gomorrah. Before nightfall, a dozen people looked for the squashed truck because the Batheirres offered a reward for the vehicle’s owners. Jimmy still lived, technically. Gurgling came from his throat, but the boy never recovered.
Someone who worked for Judah, as did half of Gomorrah, directly or indirectly, whether they knew or not, wrapped Jimmy’s limp body in a blanket and rushed him to Judah Batheirre’s home. Within fifteen minutes after being placed on a leather sofa in the den of Gomorrah’s crime lord, Jimmy drowned in a lungful of blood. Five minutes after expiration, the summoned doctor pronounced the boy dead.
“I’m sorry, Judah,” the summoned doctor told the stunned and silent family. Judah exploded and he beat the unsuspecting man.
Loud cracks accentuated Judah’s flourish of curses until both men lay on the floor. The doctor suffered fractures all over his face during the rain of knock-out blows. His nose and jaw pressed unevenly toward the right side of his face.
Judah sobbed and raised the fractured fingers on his right hand before his face. He ordered everyone “Find the unlucky bastards who killed my son” and he emphasized the word “son.”
He commanded “Bring the murderers here, make them see what they’ve done.”
That was before the cowards fled. Still, they would make amends with tears and their lives. However, the guilty party was not found. The Cortras brothers had escaped Gomorrah. No matter, Judah knew who was responsible.
The following morning, Jimmy’s mother, Annette, was awoken by early phone call. She had spent the night worrying where the boy had gone, especially because last night was the first time Jimmy had not been home in the evening. She failed to notice the missing convertible, because she had not even bothered looking. Months often passed without her entering the garage. As far as Annette was concerned, that part of her home didn’t belong to her. Judah had taken over the territory for his brassy car.
“Annette,” a random relative said when she picked up the phone. The voice sounded urgent and edgy. He or she said “Jimmy’s dead.”
The news struck Annette dumb and unthinking. She didn’t know who spoke on the phone. Her focus had immediately narrowed on her child and she lost recognition of all else. Regardless, the woman caller delivered details. “He’s at Judah’s. He was taken there yesterday after an accident.”
“What?” Annette managed after breathless seconds.
“He was driving Judah’s car and had an accident.”
“Who?” Annette asked mindlessly. She didn’t recognize her automatic questions.
“The other driver ran away with somebody else. Don’t worry, Annette. Judah will find them. They’ll see what they’ve done and Judah will make them answer.”
When Annette finally understood the convertible had become the instrument of her son’s death, her bitterness toward Judah, all she had long harbored in her bosom, burst and inflamed her. She left the caller hanging and rushed to Judah’s home so she might see her dead son and take proper care of him. The body of her child would not be treated like muck in which his vile uncle might rub the noses of offending dogs.
“Bring him home, Judah,” Annette screamed at her brother-in-law when they met at his front door. The crime-lord’s fingers were bandaged and she spied her advantage.
“Annette, our boy will stay here. I’ll take care of this,” Judah promised, but the selfish assertions weren’t good enough for the grieving mother.
“Let me see my baby. I want to bring him home.”
“Not yet, Annette.”
Today was an infrequent occasion when her will dominated the arrogance of Judah. Annette snatched his bandaged hand before an argument ensued and bent his broken fingers. She had not forgotten her lesson how effective violence came toward winning.
Judah and Annette held visitation a couple days after Jimmy’s death. By then, Judah had successfully demanded the viewing take place at his home. He argued a valid point about space, and shock made Annette too tired for dispute; there were way too many details to wrangle over. Judah took care of everything, just as he always had before. Likewise, Annette refused to be grateful.
In their deal, she demanded Jimmy be taken back home and he’ll spend one more night with his mother before his funeral. As inconvenient and unorthodox as the request sounded, especially because the body of the boy was senselessly shuttled between houses, Judah granted the wish. With a grudge, he allowed the mother her quirks in her grief. His broken and aching fingers played no part in his decision.
Gathering the Batheirre family together was a simple matter. Though there were many members to contact, all lived in Gomorrah and word quickly spread. The ceremony passed quietly, for the most part. Judah and Jimmy’s mother sat furthest from each other, at opposite ends of a burgundy casket.
The coffin was originally going to be red, like the demolished convertible, but the time and poor taste were too great of obstacles for Judah to overcome. The lid remained closed during visitation, since the boy’s face had been pulped in his fatal accident. No amount of creativity on the part of the mortician restored Jimmy’s cheeks to the same shape they held in life. An open casket would have been cruel toward his mother, even though Judah demanded everyone see what lowly migrants had done to a member of his family.
Witnesses to the work of cowards volunteered and Judah got his way. Whenever Annette stepped out of the room, Judah opened the coffin and showed Jimmy’s battered death mask to whomever passed nearest. Jimmy was no longer a human being, and certainly did not look like one anymore.
“They’re gonna look like this when I’m done,” Judah often said and laughed. He was the only one who laughed the whole day.
That evening, the immediate members of the family followed the coffin and gathered inside Annette’s home. All the lights in the house failed banishing the shadows. The black dresses worn by women reflected the sorrowful mood. The dull, ordinary suits of men increased the somber tone.
Judah invited himself. He felt justified, more than obligated. Though Judah avoided using his drugs on professional principle, Ape helped ease the pain of his hand. A bottle of foul wine called Yowling Cat – Judah thought, eased his heartache further.
Despite his tenuous relationship with Jimmy’s mother, he saw so much of the boy’s features in her face, and he missed seeing that beauty now. The boy shared the same almond-shaped brown eyes and high cheeks as Annette. Both mother and child possessed sharp chins and noses and clear, pink skin. Both have the weight of Chosen in their blood. Judah remembered the beauty of Jimmy’s mother, Annette, when she was younger. She captivated Judah so many years ago, the day he discovered his deceased older brother had met this lovely girl.
Annette eventually could not decide between the loves of two brothers. Ultimately she chose the elder and rational brother, the one who didn’t scare her. Judah once felt he regained from Jimmy the passion he lost with Annette. Now, he could only conjure the mauled image of the boy in death.
Judah finally saw Annette again, and after such tragedy. He recognized what he loved in Jimmy and realized he loved Annette all along. The booze or the pills and not the Ape Judah consumed throughout the day played no part in his insight. He and Annette had made Jimmy into the boy he was.
Annette might see the affection in Judah now. He was the only friend she had. Judah decided their game, in which they avoided each other for the past day and a half, came to an end tonight. The time for renewal arrived; an affirmation of life and a new beginning. Annette lingered near the coffin and Judah crossed the room. That corner cleared when the two met. He and stood squarely before Annette and the family prepared for confrontation.
“Annette,” he said. His voice carried the inflection of reverence it had not offered in years. Judah surprised himself. The sound of his words took him back to youth and rekindled the excitement felt the first time he made love with his brother’s girlfriend. Judah regressed into those weeks of tumbling romance when he fought another man for Annette’s heart – tragically, in vain.
“There is so much I want to go back and change.”
Annette glared at Judah with venom in her eyes. She felt the muscles in her neck and shoulders tighten as if she coiled, but Judah refused the warning. He foolishly swam in rediscovered memories of moot love and lust.
“This is not what I wanted for us. We have wasted so much time.”
“That is why you tore it all away,” spat Annette. “You lack imagination, Judah. Or is it some kind of sick joke, that you killed Paul and his son in the same way?”
Judah reeled. He didn’t expect accusations against him tonight. He thought Annette’s suspicion about the death of his brother, her husband, had been buried ages ago. The subject had not come up since the argument over Jimmy’s real father, the day Judah staked his claimed. The renewed charge was unfair and, given the circumstances, flatly inappropriate. Judah still stood speechless, but a matchstick was struck in his chest. He tasted the sulfurous smoke curling from his open mouth.
“What is it, Judah? Did Jimmy remind you too much of Paul? Did you think he came back for revenge? He’s got it coming, you idiot.”
That was enough. Annette grew louder even while her voice shook. The topic was off limits and this woman dragged a bag of bones in front of the family at the very worst time.
“Jimmy is my boy,” Judah yelled. The family still in the room attempted inconspicuous retreat. Judah caught the motion in the corner of his eye and waited. When the last back turned, he grabbed Annette’s arm. A purple imprint of his fingers would swell the following morning.
“Let me go. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she screamed. “Jimmy is Paul’s son. Sleeping with you was the stupidest thing I ever did. You are so stupid.”
“Marrying the wrong man was the stupidest thing you ever did. You thought you fucked money, but he’s dead. He’s been dead for a long time. I don’t understand why you’re not fucking me now.”
Annette slapped Judah. He raised his bandaged hand, but despite instinct, thought better than striking the woman. Injury had taught him restraint. Instead Judah yanked Annette off balance and pulled her stumbling toward the coffin. The reminiscent affection for the woman burned away like the past and Jimmy. Judah again went for the latch on the coffin’s lid.
“Like I said, Jimmy is my boy. Do I have to point out the resemblance?” Judah fired. “Let me show you why Jimmy is mine, not Paul’s.”
“Judah, please,” Annette pleaded. She righted herself and firmly planted her feet. Judah still pulled her along and she skidded on the raised heels of her shoes. “Please, I don’t want to see my baby. I don’t want to see my baby like this.”
Judah fumbled with the latch and the broken and bandaged fingers on his free hand made the task difficult. Annette tugged her captured arm. Every movement in her struggle constricted Judah’s grip automatically. Her fingertips tingled and turned purple while his knuckles turned white.
Annette sobbed in protest. “No.”
“What will happen to you now?” Judah asked and worked the latch. “You would have nothing without me. You will be nothing without me. I’ll make sure of that. I’ll take it all away.”
A dilemma arose; Judah couldn’t possibly unlock the casket with his bandaged hand. If he let go of Annette, she would undoubtedly bolt. He was not a man who gave up easily.
Even in rage, he timed his next motion. Once he let go, he planned he would lunge forward and deliver a backhand at Annette’s face – an eye for an eye was his motto. He personalized the saying and made his retribution hurt much more. Judah had reached the final seconds of his silent countdown when a mourning guest disturbed him.
It was Truman, Judah’s uncle on his mother’s side. Neither Judah nor Annette had heard the man clear his throat when he attempted their attention. He was nobody of consequence, but closer to the center of power than Judah preferred. Too many “hanger-ons” and charity cases dropped from that branch of the family. Judah often felt lucky the fire in his father’s blood overcame the meekness and beggary that cursed his mother’s side.
Judah’s mother was fortunate and preserved her natural beauty well into middle age. Her looks certainly had earned her a grand share of undeserved favors for her rodent-like siblings. She must have been a changeling, kidnapped at birth by a pack of half-rat creatures. What other than a mythical explanation sufficed?
“Judah?” Truman asked. He resembled a plump rat, just like his brothers and sisters, all thanks given Judah. Truman would be the only person so obtuse and not realize his master desired privacy. Mired still, he couldn’t understand a clue given from everyone else.
Judah said nothing and waited for Truman to go away. When the man obviously was not going, Judah let Annette go. She ran past Truman, stunned and wobbling.
“Bitch,” Judah muttered again. He called after the fleeing woman. “Think about what you do next, Annette. Think about how good you had things.”
When Judah watched her go, he couldn’t believe he had allowed her escape. Annette had slipped away again. The flight made Judah more angry. His fire still burned when Judah shouted at his uncle. “What is it?”
“It’s Josiah,” Truman answered. “He’s on the phone.” The ringing phone was something else Judah and Annette had missed.
“He wants to express his sympathies.”
“To me?” Judah was incredulous. “What does your Aped brother really want?” For a moment, Judah was not taking the call, but then remembered his prey had escaped him. He stood alone in the room with his unpalatable in-law and dead nephew. Judah needed something else and was at an immediate loss for anything. He stomped across the floor, grateful Truman stepped toward one side and cleared the doorway. Judah never liked touching the man.
He mused about finding an island and creating some kind of leper colony for his mother’s side of the family; Truman and Josiah would instantly become residents, and Annette would follow out of principle. The far-fetched solution seemed the only practical one. Killing family was much too complicated and perilous. Judah had learned that lesson when he was young and more rash.
Josiah Kanen once showed potential. The Batheirres were introduced to him when Annette and Judah’s brother, Paul, were married. Josiah, a Chosen priest, performed the ceremony. Judah’s father said a connection inside the Church was unfortunate, but Judah disagreed. Not only was Josiah a priest, but also assigned to a position inside Capital. The connection could prove useful. If Judah was more ingenious, he could have played both sides, the Church and heathens could have been unwitting tools. But the manipulation was out of Judah’s scope. He didn’t have the vision or temperament. Judah behaved more like a rolled-shirtsleeve overlord and was always getting his hands dirty.
Despite the Batheirres’ money paving Josiah’s improbable rise through the ranks of the Church, the investment amounted to pearls for swine. The priest experimented with the family’s product and liked it. His addiction became a liability. The Batheirres wasted too many resources keeping secrets. Bribes and payoffs that once bought position and promises, became maintaining status quo. Losses had to be cut and Judah decided no more money or drugs would go to Josiah.
Judah went to the kitchen where the phone hung on the wall. Most of the family had already left Annette’s house. The few who remained went back into the room with Jimmy’s casket. Judah continued insisting privacy and his glare made his attitude evident. Meanwhile, Annette stayed from his sight.
“Joe,” Judah said into the phone. “What do you want?”
The caller paused then replied with a keen inhale. “Hello, Judah.” Another pause punctuated the insincere greeting. “I want to say I’m sorry about James.”
“In the name of the Mortal God, you didn’t even know he was dead until you called,” Judah accused.
“No, Judah, I did.”
“You know I cut you off. Your fake sympathy isn’t changing that.”
Josiah pleaded. “Judah, please, that’s not fair. That’s not why I called, and I truly am sorry.”
Judah made a concession. “All right, why did you call?”
“I need a favor”
“I knew it. What is the matter with you? You’re a captain now, right? I’m supposed to ask you for favors, and I get none.”
“It’s that priest. He’s here.”
Judah remembered. Another pay-off, but that time, Judah refused Josiah’s request. The day came when Josiah handled his own problems. That is exactly what Judah thought Josiah did about this other non-commissioned priest, another addict. The Church had so many addicts, their epidemic of Apers must be obvious. Yet once an initiate became ordained, there was no thing as a pink slip. The Church shuffled addicts from one low profile assignment into another. This other priest got his Ape from the gutters of Gomorrah. The man was a regular, so he knew everything everyone knew – all the players, dealers and other buyers. His knowledge is what the upstart priest had on Josiah.
Josiah got stupid, and was spotted blindly wandering the streets of Gomorrah and looking for a deal. That a captain in the Church sunk so low looked bad. As it was with word on the street, everyone knew why Captain Josiah Kanen crawled the alleys in Gomorrah. Josiah had fallen out of favor with the Batheirres. This other priest took advantage of the pathetic discovery. The extortion was not the first time someone blackmailed Josiah. The fact the compromising position would happen again seemed inevitable, even if Josiah kicked his drug habit.
Without resources from the Batheirres, Josiah pulled frayed strings and got lucky. An opening arose at a parish in the Cap. Josiah genuinely impressed Judah when the he brought an outsider into Capital. The accomplishment made him wonder if his stepped in-law had held out against his obligations toward the Batheirre family all these years.
“Yeah,” Judah said. “I thought that’s what you wanted. You handled it. It’s done, right?”
“He can’t stay here.”
Judah knew it, a catch in Josiah’s temporary solution. Now the priest wanted his mess cleaned-up for him all over again. Judah would not bail out this sorry excuse for a man. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know. He’s got to go.”
“You better not ask me for anything. You know that.”
“But what am I supposed to do?” Josiah implored. The desperation made Judah ill. In the least, his pitiful in-law distracted him from Jimmy and the dead boy’s mother.
“Handle it yourself. That’s what you do.”
“This isn’t just my problem,” Josiah blamed. “What if the Church finds out the Batheirre family has their fingers in the affairs of the Church? This priest could tell them that. He can walk straight into the Church complex here at Capital.”
This was an old threat. Judah refused to fall for the empty menace again. Nothing will happen to the Batheirre family. Gomorrah was of no consequence to the Church. What would happen is that a particular finger in Capital, the gangrenous Josiah, would be sliced off – the best for every one, actually. Judah finished this detour in his tumultuous evening. He had bigger concerns, and they needed perspective.
Judah called Josiah’s bluff. The priest always was a terrible gambler. “Let me remind you, Joe, what has happened here. Jimmy is dead. His fucking brain came out his nose. I don’t have time for your shit. I’m looking for the cunts that killed him. You handle your problem, yourself.”
Nothing more could be said, but Josiah still needed help. “You’re right Judah. I don’t know what to do. I wish this guy was dead.”
That was the simple solution. The hard part was figuring out how Judah might kill him and get-away with the deed. Judah said nothing, but he didn’t hang up the phone.
“I wish you would just tell me what to do,” begged Josiah. “You know what to say and you won’t say it.”
There were professionals in this field. In the Batheirre family business, Judah had become familiar with a few. The resources were often a necessity.
“So you want him dead?” Judah asked. Josiah grew hopeful, Judah knew because the man breathed heavier. “You got money?”
“I can get it. Can I send it to you after you’re through?”
Judah had provided an avenue and Josiah already steered the wrong direction. “I didn’t say I was gonna do anything. There is someone in the Cap you can talk to. You better have the money up front.”
“Shut up,” Judah snubbed Josiah. “Or you might as well fuck it up yourself. All you get from me is a phone number. When you call, don’t ask him his name. He won’t tell you, and asking looks amateurish.”
“Thank you, Judah.”
The conversation ended with a number and more thanks from Josiah. Judah went home without talking with anyone else. He took vicarious solace in the fact someone will die, but the death served only an appetizer. Judah wanted the Cortras brothers. He would make calls the next morning and offer a bounty. No place will be safe, not even the Cap.
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