A few excerpts from Beelzebub’s Bargain:
1 – Barry
Barry squeezed Alicia’s hand tightly as the twosome rounded the corner and started out on the last leg of the street that meandered out of their neighborhood. The brisk evening air seemed cooler than the wind breaker jackets they donned on the way out of the apartment. As they mounted the high spot on the ridge, they were afforded a clear view of the surrounding city, and the jam of apartments clustered everywhere they could
The voice wafted over the rooftops of the buildings that covered the low-lying westward section that lay ahead of them. The couple looked at one another, each face primed to posit a question, unsure of what it should be. They walked a hundred yards further, descending to a flat section of the road, and another voice came along to them in the cold wind. The answer to the first call chanted the same words. Up overhead, the sinking sky smothered them with the dark gray drabness of a late Northern fall evening. The words in the wind darkened it further …
Barry pulled Alicia more tightly into his side. He changed the course of their evening walk, maneuvering the bonded four legged creature they had become deftly off of the road and down onto a bike-way trail. The trail descended sharply, losing fifty feet inside of two hundred paces, until it had aligned itself next to a small-trickle creek bed. They continued into the deeply greened and shadowed enclave of an inner city wild area that had prematurely slipped from dusk to darkness. The wind could not reach down into the little swatch of forest. The couple found a small bench, probably placed by some city worker too many years before. Its surface was pithy and rough, and its center cradled like an old grandmother’s mattress. Still, it must have been a fortuitous find for many a weary hiker.
In another chapter:
By the time the eleven o’clock news started, Barry barely noticed the lead story about the murder of Geo Dennison, top executive of one of the country’s leading cell phone companies. Now he was keenly aware of nothing, but cognizant enough to notice his inebriation went beyond the few beers the hairy fist had produced. No, it was not the inebriation of his usual experience. He stood away from his barstool, landing his shin smartly up against the next one. He pushed his hands out to steady himself, but a shoulder propped him up. The shoulder was lower than his, and the hands around his waist much smaller. The wispy melodic voice was close in his ears. Barry’s head ricocheted off of the frame of the side exit door, but he noticed no pain. The lot lights danced on the windshields of the cars in their spaces, and Barry winced at each of them as he passed, trying to focus on the blurry whiteness, wobbling on his feet, moving slowly as two small hands prodded him along.
Now Barry was lying down. He was aware, only dimly, that the side of his face brushed the carpeting of the van floor. Those small hands seemed to be everywhere, vaguely pleasant and soft. The melodic voice came and went, suddenly loud and then soft, ringing in his ears, saying things he could not decipher. There was a flash of light, and then another. Barry reached up to cover his eyes.
In another chapter:
Barry knew something was wrong before he made the last curve on the doctor’s private lane. There was a man shuffling back and forth on the road, mumbling something under his breath. He went from one side to the other, and back again, hunched over. He clasped and unclasped his hands, then shook them up and down. His head jerked up as he noticed the doctor’s pickup truck and the two young people in it. Now he shouted, “He was warned! Dammit he was warned!”
Cindi advised, “Don’t get out of the truck Barry.”
“Hey, no prob. This guy’s off the end – no doubt.”
The man came to the window. He clenched his fists, and shook them menacingly on the other side of the glass. “He was warned!”
Now Barry could see the man’s sleeves were stained. There was a large red spot on the front of his trousers, and a streak across the side of his face. Suddenly the fist was slamming against the window. One … two … three hard slams, but the window plate glass held. Now the man stopped. He stood there, staring at Barry, his cheeks twitching involuntarily, then stopping, then starting again. Without any indication, he suddenly ran off in the direction of the main road. A couple minutes later, he was out of sight.
Cindi and Barry sat in silence. “My G-”
“Barry. Drive slowly. Be ready to turn this thing around!’
Now Barry pressed on the pedal lightly. The truck rolled forward, but not so fast as to move the needle off of the peg on the speedo. The doctor had a long, winding drive, and the last curve was a couple hundred feet, ending in a little turn-circle in front of the residence.
Barry stopped the truck in the circle. With big eyes, Cindi looked around, craning her neck to see around the back of the truck.
“See nothing. How bout you Barry?”
Barry pulled the door latch inward slowly, as if he were afraid to make any noise as he opened the door …
Barry stepped out of the truck, walked up to the head of the walk, and waited for Cindi to catch up with him.
“Cindi, where’s the dog?” The dog had been the relentlessly efficient official announcer of guest arrivals, but now there was no sound. As Barry reached the door, he found it ajar, but closed enough to obscure the interior. Now he felt Cindi brushing his shoulder close up next to him. He turned to look at her, frowning. Cindi raised her eyebrows, then looked down to the threshold of the door.
“Barry.” Barry looked back at her. “Look down at your feet Barry.” As Barry complied, he noticed the smear on the polished wooden piece. “What is it?” “Dunno. It’s still wet.” Now he reached down, dabbing his finger into the thick end of it, and rubbing his fingers together. “Not good.”
Barry pushed the door ahead. The doctor’s entryway and foyer was a straight shot through the dining area to the large multi paned window that normally parceled bright squares of morning sun onto the elderly couple’s breakfast table. Now most of the panes were missing, letting the warm outdoor wind blow through them, and through the narrow space of the hallway. The air morphed into a swirl of rotten gas, creating a thick atmosphere fouled by fluids puddled on the floor for the entire length of the building, right up to Barry’s feet. Another step and Barry’s feet slipped on the wet floor, flipping him backwards into Cindi’s chest, sweeping her off of her feet. Cindi went down flat onto her back, sprawling out onto the foyer floor. She reached out to push herself up, but her hands slipped on the slick surface. Barry regained his standing position, and pulled Cindi upright. The latter stared at her hands, her mouth hanging agape. The strength fled her legs as her eyes closed, and she fell limply against Barry, throwing her arms around him. Now she gripped the sleeve of his right arm, drawing long red streaks along the length of it as she did so.
Barry hustled Cindi over to the base of the stairwell, and helped her up to the first landing, where they came upon the doctor. Walter’s lifeless eyes stared up at the ceiling. He was mostly naked, excepting for a profusion of blood and small bits of flesh. Now the forensic specialist in Barry took over, and he observed the several small wounds on the body. It was not the small wounds that were fatal, of course. It was the pike, one that Barry guessed had been pried from the poor doctor’s fence, and that was now driven hard into the wooden tread of the stair, and through Walter’s body. Cindi fell back down onto the partially carpeted treads, wretching onto them violently.
Barry pulled her to her feet, and then he quickly pushed her up the last three steps and into the hall. Hurriedly, he half pushed, half walked her into the Lavender room, letting her fall onto on the bed there. He dug under the mattress for the Luger, and found it. “Stay here!” he commanded …
In another section:
The dawn had not yet come, but Barry was jostled awake by the pounding of the waves against the hull. Opening his eyes, he saw Cindi standing at the wheel. He could see that she had donned the thin plastic parka that was a cheap-rack find at the hardware. Now it fluttered in the breeze that, Barry thought, was at least ten degrees cooler than when he went to sleep … and a whole lot stronger. “It’s picking up.”
“Yeah. You never did give me any seafaring goddess prayers darling.”
“Waves are still only a few feet, but the air has a nasty feeling that I’m not liking very much Barry.” Barry flipped open the lid on the small hold, and grabbed his cheap-rack rain gear, pushing his arms into it. He moved up to Cindi, and put his arm around her. “Guess I can take the wheel for a while … give you a break.”
Thirty minutes later, the swells were at six or seven feet, and the little boat began to live up to its name, rocking like a little toy in a too-big tub. The gulf water came over from the bow and stern, port and lee sides. It seemed to be coming from every direction at once. The gulf water was warm, but driven by a cold wind.
Cindi pulled Barry’s hood away from his ear, and put her mouth inside of it. “How about Aphrodite? Didn’t she have something to do with water?” Barry laughed over the din of the wind, “Yeah – but that one had a very bad ending. Something about Zeus and a bad day, if I remember correctly.”
Cindi pulled the thin, wet plastic back again, shouting “Hey Zeus.”
“Very funny. But better prayer. Better luck probably.”
Now the bow was taking water on every wave. Barry exclaimed, “The boat’s too damned short – just like Kersh said!” Cindi’s only response was to pull him in tighter. Barry looked back at the large hold area next to the engine compartment. About a foot of water had collected there, and he jumped back to the stern, pulling on the engine cover grip, and dropping his head down into the compartment. He poked his head up, yelling up to Cindi, “Bilge is running – it just can’t keep up!” He wasn’t sure she had heard him over the wind, which seemed like a full blown gale to Barry. Barry had never been in a gale, full blown or not, but as far as he was concerned, at this moment, he qualified as gale experienced. When he returned to the wheel stoop, Cindi saw that he carried a rolled rope. He began to tie a loop around Cindi, and then one around himself. The other ends – he clipped onto a wheelhouse support that looked sturdy and welded into the deck. “At least we’ll go down with the boat.”
Neither of the young lovers saw it coming. Their only warning was a sudden lifting sensation – pushing up on the bottoms of their shoes, like a triple speed elevator … like a carnival ride gone wrong. The elevator slipped out from under them, making them weightless and horizontal, but only for the moment it took for the rope to fully extend. Then the sudden tightening of the ropes caused the carnival ride to have a wrench thrown into its works, jerking the twosome painfully in the opposite direction – back away from where the wave had thrown them. Now the action of the rope was to slam both their bodies hard against the deck. Neither had the sense to know what was happening, but both were vaguely cognizant of the fact that they were hanging by their ropes, upside down. Kersh’s Toy hung in space, its bow pointing straight up at the darkness that would normally have been blue sky – for the sort of moment the monster roller coaster rider experiences as up turns to down. The boat came crashing down again, miraculously upright. It had not capsized, but had taken a little water…