Wednesday, October 6, 2010

John S. Renfield: Day Three, Cont'd: Knights and Houses

From the Journal of John S. Renfield, Esq.
Entry Three, further continuation.

    While I had been in the back room, the conversation in the front had turned to payment. DuBois was trying to ascertain the risks so as to set a fair price, but Windsor was being very evasive on the whole thing. I was still too out of it to be of much use -- though I do vaguely remember going to inspect the broken jewel case. I remember that it held a few singular characteristics: the glass was two-inch bulletproof and cleanly shattered, the edges squared like safety glass rather than angled and sharp, as if cut with a laser; there were no marks, though, upon the cushioning or the case, just the glass. It was also cold to the touch.

    DuBois' phone rang, startling me. When he said it was his partner, Windsor opted to give us time to sort things out, and disappeared into the back room. I glanced after him to see him take Volume 3 from his shelf.

    "No, I haven't avenged the puppy yet," I heard DuBois say. "We have another job. Jewel theft. Two things, they're called the--"

    "Arcanite Trium," I interrupted.

    He glanced at me, then up at the sign. I shook my head and repeated myself. After a moment, he shrugged. "Arcanite Trium. Yes, only two. We're haggling price now. What can you find me on these things?" He paused as the other person spoke, then said, "By three, actually. Got a partner on this one. I'll bring him by later." Pause, then turn to me. "Hey, what do you think the risks are here?"

    I gave him the most concise answer I could manage: "End of the world."

    DuBois gave me a skeptical look, but repeated it to his partner. He listened for a good two minutes, and then turned back to me. "There's another group after these things," he said, voice hushed. "The Knights Templar. Ever heard of them?" I shrugged. I had, but nothing that I could consider substantial. "Damn. They sound dangerous, though. Okay, thanks, Carmen, see you in a bit."

    Windsor returned from the back room almost as soon as the phone had shut. "Everything settled, then?"

    "Yeah. I've reviewed the risks, and we're willing to work at $300 an hour."

    As numbers started to be passed between the two, I spaced out for a moment. My hands were folded in front of my face with the Star held tightly between them -- I'd been worrying it since I'd left the back room. As I held it, I became aware that the numbers had stopped, and both men were looking at me again. I'd spoken, I realized, though I couldn't quite remember what.

    "200," Windsor said, going to his desk. "Yes. $1200 a day, and a $200,000 bonus for the return of the jewels." He withdrew and began to unroll a parchment. "All three of them."

    My hands both closed over the Star. "We agree to return the stolen property. That's all."

    "Are you sure, sweetie? $100,000 for just the two of them. I can fix that one, you know."

    My heart leapt. "I..." No. I wasn't certain, perhaps, on the particulars of the Genesis, but I knew enough to know that it was very, very bad in a very immediate sense, and Edgar Windsor had given us no reason to trust him. "No."

    He had taken out a quill and begun to write, and did not look up to say, "It would be very unfortunate indeed if it were to run out."

    "I'll sleep on it. The deal is for the other two."

    Windsor sighed. "Very well," he said, scratching several long lines on the parchment and then continuing to write. His hand was quick and precise, belying his age, and it was hardly a moment later that he struck three lines at the bottom to sign. Then he did something that would have surprised me not two day ago -- he bit his own thumb, dipped the quill in the well of blood, and signed the first line.

    He took a new quill and handed it and the contract to DuBois, but I made a point of taking it from him. I may know little about the occult -- though more by the passing second -- but blood contracts had never been a good sign in anything I had come across. Deals with the devil came most immediately to mind.

    I do not remember the specific wording of the contract, nor did I think at the time to ask for a copy, and for that I blame the haze the books still had me in. I do remember that it was remarkably straightforward and clean of double-talk, with a blank section boxed off for the possible deal for the Blood Star. It said that we should return the gems or retribution may be sought, but was nonspecific as to the manner. I handed it back to DuBois to sign.

    Still, I was uncomfortable with the whole idea, and I do not believe it was wrongly so. When the contract came to me I claimed to have a medical condition. I should have known by that point that lying to Windsor was utterly pointless. Unimpressed, he produced a needle that seemed specially designed for this sort of thing, with a neat little hole in the side for dipping of quills. I had no choice but to either walk out or give in. I slipped the Star into my breast pocket and signed the contract.

    The parchment itself I remember a little about. It appeared very old but in very good shape. Vellum, I think, laced with some sort of silvery mineral and marked at the four corners with signs of the european elements.

    Windsor rolled up the parchment and tied it with a -- was it a red string, I think? -- and stood to see us off. As we left, he looked directly at me once more with a strange sort of smile and said, "You're welcome." I declined to answer.

    I followed DuBois back to his home/office -- he combines the two, though it seems rather unsafe to me. As we drew up to the house, my attention was drawn to a rather conspicuous black sedan with tinted windows, of the sort that the Men in Black all drive in movies that have no concept of covert operations. I might have paid it no further mind, had I not noticed a distinctly person-shaped form in the back seat. I asked DuBois if any of his neighbors drove a black sedan, but he couldn't recall.

    "I'll follow in a minute, then," I told him, and wandered casually down the street.

    Through covert glances at the windshield, I was able to make out a broad-shouldered, square-jawed man with a military haircut. He wore a black suit, and while he did not wear sunglasses typical of Men in Black, he did have a very conspicuous british claymore resting crossways over his back. It was very clear that he was watching me -- now it occurs to me to wonder how long he'd been there, and how he'd got the information. Had they been watching the jewelry store? Had they ID'd DuBois on his way in? Bugged the original call and traced his home that way? Have they identified me? If only I had been thinking more clearly at the time...

    In any case, I returned to the house, and while in the front hall placed a call to the police to report a suspicious vehicle.

    No sooner did I hang up the phone than I was met by DuBois' partner.

    "Hi there, I'm Carmen," a small woman appeared quite out of nowhere and greeted me. "I'm the techie. So you're the new guy, huh? What do I call you?" She is a strange counterpart to her charismatic but dubiously competent companion. Computer research appears to be her gift, and quite a gift it is, but in the learning of it she let her social graces slip to the wayside.

    "John S. Renfield, Esq, at your service ma'am," I said automatically, tipping my hat.

    "Fancy. So, Lance, what'd you settle at?"

    "$1200 a day with expenses, and a $100,000 bonus at the end."

    "We signed the contract in blood," I added, glancing out a small gap in the curtains. "Strange parchment. Vellum, silver-threaded, with signs of the elements in the corners."

    Carmen announced that she would google the subject, set to her computer and immediately forgot the rest of the world. In the meantime, I watched as a squad car pulled up behind the black sedan, two officers stepping out. The man in the car climbed out as well, and now I could see that he had the height to fit his wide shoulders -- built like a linebacker, with no need for shoulder pads. He spoke to the police and after a moment produced a piece of parchment approximately the size of a postcard. The officers took one look and then left, with nothing more than a shrug of their shoulders.

    "Ah, here we go." Carmen's high voice broke in on my thoughts, pulling my attention back to her. "Looks like something about an Angel of Judgement, got used a lot before courts came into wide use. Nothing specific. Glad I didn't sign it."

    There came a knock at the front door. Carmen hopped up from her seat and ran to answer it. "Oh, hi! You must be one of those Templar guys!" I felt the stone grow cool in my pocket. I had to cross my arms to resist the urge to pat it reassuringly. The man -- the Knight -- was ushered into view, his stern composure apparently compromised as Carmen continued bluntly, "You must be here about those end-of-the-world stones, huh? Hey, how close are you guys to finding them, anyhow? Maybe we can compare notes!"

    The Knight blinked a few times, looking at the two of us and then back to Carmen. He laughed nervously, a strange sound from a man of his stature. "I don't know where you get your information from, little lady." Turning to DuBois and I, he cleared his throat and continued in a more official manner, "Our organization does know that you've been hired by Mr. Windsor" -- it was here, actually, that we first learned the man's last name -- "to find the Arcanite Trium. We're prepared to pay double what he's offered you."

    "What would you do with them?" DuBois asked.

    "They would be relegated to a museum... a very secure facility."

    "The box they were taken from had bulletproof glass that had been shattered," I pointed out.

    His dark eyes focused on me. I had to resist the urge to flinch. "Very secure," he repeated.

    "How do you know we'll find them at all?" I pressed. "You've been looking for them yourselves for a long time, haven't you? Why should we have more luck?"

    "Just covering all our bases. The price only applies as a... 'finder's fee'."

    "Right. Well, if you could leave some contact information, some way to get ahold of you if we do find a lead...?"

    The Knight produced a card and handed it to me -- blank off-white, but for a phone number written squarely in the center -- 555-3078, if my memory does not fail me. I relegated it to Carmen.

    "Very good. Well, if you'll excuse us, we have a lead to follow up on, and we'll keep in touch."

    Once he had gone -- truly gone, with the vehicle disappeared from my field of vision -- I dove my hand into my pocket, eager to try something that had occurred to me. "Do you have a room with no windows?"

    "We have a dark room, that door there."

    I slipped into the dark room and rifled my other pockets with one hand, drawing out both the stone and my cheap swiss army knife. Rolling up my pant leg, I sliced a small cut into my ankle -- hands and arms are easier but have too many veins and nerves to be worth risking.

    It had occurred to me, with all the talk of blood contracts and the Blood Stars, that perhaps it might have some effect on the stone. Indeed it did, but not enough. The blood absorbed as soon as it was rubbed on, the color inside swirling as though it had been dropped in, and the crack tightened minutely, but it did not heal. Satisfied with my experiment, I applied a bandage and returned to my new partners.

    "D'ja hurt yourself?" Carmen asked immediately. She has some skill with observation, I must say, but it really is unfortunate that she has no sense of subtlety.

    I lied and told her I'd gotten it earlier.

    "Carmen's looked up our Edgar Windsor. Seems there's pictures of him from the 1800s, and drawings from earlier. He was quite the explorer in his day, apparently."

    "Has to be an Outsider," said Carmen.

    "A what?" I asked, before another bit of knowledge from the books clicked into place and answered my question for her. Outsiders are the beings contemporarily known as 'ghosts' or 'spirits'. I had the feeling that she was using the term more generally, though, to cover most beings other than human.

    We could find little more about Windsor's travels despite his frequent appearance in newspaper clippings. It was getting us nowhere. I changed the subject to our one 'lead': the abandoned house in which both I and DuBois had found ourselves for one reason or another in the past two days.

    We took DuBois' car, and when we arrived were greeted by the sight of a demolitions crew setting up around the place. I sought out the foreman, and mindful that lies had not served me well today, told him a close approximation of the truth and thus convinced him to give us fifteen minutes in the house, with a goodly bribe that DuBois was kind enough to supply. The foreman informed us that the furniture had all been piled up out back, except the things in the attic, as the man they sent up there had come back down 'really spooked'. It seemed an ideal place to focus our investigation.

    The attic was expansive, filled with boxes upon boxes -- what appeared to be wooden milk crates -- all full of photo albums. A sort of trail lead through them to the very back, where sat a desk with a lit lamp atop it and a file drawer beside it. I went straight to the desk, Carmen following after me while DuBois turned to the crates. He reported that the photos were all straight-on shots of people and animals, all with the same blank, dazed expressions. I immediately knew what they were -- and that the last one would be of a small purebred American Shorthair.

    The lamp on the desk was lit, but there was no bulb, nor any visible source at all, nor was it even plugged in -- there was just light. A curious phenomenon indeed. Carmen took a picture, and with the flash the light went out. Bringing the Star near it brought it straight back. There was, however, nothing of it to study unless it was taken apart -- and I regret that I did not remember to claim it.

    In the desk drawer I found a notebook, glanced at it and put it in my bag to peruse later, for Carmen had discovered a diary in the file drawer that commanded my focus. I drew up over her shoulder as she opened it toward the middle.

    Several different lines of text ran across each line of the paper, converging together into a nearly-illegible form. They were singed into the paper, some heavier than others, the words leaping from the page to twine with my own thoughts. They made only the barest of sense, but in them was a simple message. It would make more sense in darkness, somehow, however counterintuitive the concept seemed. I was beyond the point of questioning these odd impulses at that point, nor even the strange whispers that began in the back of my head.

    Yes, that's right. I've begun hearing voices. They are directly connected to the stone -- in that they stop when I am not in contact with it, though it also causes the stone to lose color more quickly -- and though there had to be hundreds of them at various levels they all seemed to be on the same general wavelength. I have no doubt it is the voices of the Star itself, though I wonder why I only began to hear it when I looked at the diary...

    There were also papers in the file drawer, in a selection of weights and values from nearly translucent copy paper to heavy parchment, writing burnt into the surface just like in the diary. It seemed to record the last thoughts of each being that the Star had consumed. She took a good sampling of all kinds to bring back with us. DuBois also picked out a couple of the photo albums, and thus laden we headed out.

    Once outside, the foreman informed us that we had spent thirty minutes inside, and a further inducement was required. While paying, DuBois did perhaps the first competent thing I had seen of him, in remarking that it was quite late for a demolitions crew to be out working. The foreman was not keen to respond, but a bit of coercion got him to admit that it was a rush job, paid for by the city. Carmen quickly located a hotspot and made some searches on the company, but could turn up no records.

    We returned to their home, where I requested the use of the dark room and the diary. In the darkness the words seemed to glow right off the page, and I could distinguish each line of writing quite clearly. I began to read, and the voices swelled and read along with me.

    The diary began with a single voice, fairly simplistic when on its own and concerned mainly with meals and boredom, due to being 'trapped'. It picked up a little before meals were mentioned, as it convinced each arrival to join with the Fire one way or another, and after each 'meal' a new line of writing would begin. The new lines would be confused, panicked, even angry, but each of them faded in time, assimilating cleanly into the main thread -- all but one. One rogue voice, beginning fairly early in the diary, remained distinct though faint. It simply repeated, "help me, let me go."

    At the end I found my own conversation with the being -- it described me as being 'more belligerent' than usual, hah -- and its satisfaction when its 'brother' had joined it. Then came the explosion, and an unfamiliar voice butted in, "I'm Sorry," even as the main thread became jumbled and confused. The very last thing was the rogue voice, stronger now, saying, "Thank you, brother. You've set us free."

    When I emerged from the dark room, I was once more met by Carmen giving me a strange look. I do not blame her, having already made a terrible first impression and now having gone into a dark room to read. It made little sense to my rational side, either. She asked about the stone, which I had again began to unconsciously worry, and if it was one of the Trium -- she is blunt but unusually perceptive, but I think I have pointed that out already. I avoided the question, instead telling her that I have class in the morning and leaving my cell phone number. DuBois was nowhere to be seen, so I asked that she say my goodbyes to him, and took my leave.

    And here I sit now, having endured all this and unsure that I have emerged with all of my pieces. Even better, it seems that this is only the beginning. Ah well: as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

    Time to put that theory to the test.

    Reminder to self: Fill out or add to Index entries for Carmen, DuBois, Lance's Detective Agency, Windsor, and the Knights Templar.


  1. This is amazing, as always. I love your reactions at Carmen.


All comments that are not obviously spam will be authorized, but this way I can read all of them.