Monday, September 24, 2007

Radu-Chapter XX (A Novel by Patrick Kelley)

Previous Segments:

Prologue and Chapters I-X

Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX

Radu-Chapter XX (A Novel by Patrick Kelley)
76 pages approximate

Radu-Chapter XX

Lynette Khoska knew she was dying, but she no longer cared. Her grandfather begged her to leave the apartment she had shared with Marshall Crenshaw, reasoning that she would only dwell on him if she remained. She refused to listen at first, but finally she relented. She had seen enough to know it probably would make no difference, and recent events now bore that out. Nevertheless, at least her grandfather might be some comfort in her final minutes of life. He was always there for her, whenever she needed him. At least they could say one final goodbye. That would at least be something. It would be more than she got from Marshall Crenshaw.

She had intended to marry Marshall with or without her grandfather’s blessing. Then, her fiancé committed suicide, leaving her only a note expressing his love and regret. She should have seen the signs, but misread them. Now, as she lay dying, she started to see everything that happened over the last four months. She started to see everything clearly-all too clearly.

She remembered the first time Marshall came to her apartment. She had only met him once before, and was wary of even answering the door. She remembered him only as the man who was a reputed drug dealer, and who even admitted involvement with one of the most vicious street gangs in Baltimore. Now, he brought her the news of the death of April Sandusky. Someone murdered her along the docks of Baltimore. Garbage collectors discovered her body in an alley, not far from where Lynette saw her for the last time. Lynette was disturbed to hear of her fate, but as he told her the news, Marshall seemingly struggled to control his emotions. Then, he said something Lynette found incomprehensible. He blamed himself for her murder, the means of which from his description was horrific.

“I’m the one that convinced her to meet the guy that killed her, and I know he’s the one that did it,” he admitted. “I just don’t know what to do about it. He is fucking insane. He is in the Johns Hopkins University Hospital Psychiatric Ward now. I fixed April up with a psychotic murderer.”

She finally did something that would change their lives forever. She invited him in her apartment. He entered, and then he warned her about the person he now claimed killed her friend April. Lynette, he claimed, knew the person as well, albeit vaguely.

“His name is Marlowe Krovell,” he said.

Lynette gasped in shock at recognition of the name of the person she had communicated on-line with on various occasions. It was by way of a Christian dating site-the one through which she became acquainted with April. It never occurred to her that April as well knew Marlowe through the site. She never mentioned him, and Lynette never thought to ask.

Lynette tried to reassure him that he was mistaken. She had seen pictures of Marlowe after moving to Baltimore, from an article in the Sun regarding his parents’ deaths. The person accused of killing April not only looked nothing like him, he only vaguely looked human at all.

Marshall was unconvinced. In fact, he insisted it was Marlowe. He just did not know how he was going to prove it, or otherwise what he could do about it.

He left that night, and Lynette was almost sorry to see him go. She did not see him for the next four days, but the next day he came by to see how she was doing, and to ask if she was going to April’s funeral. She told him she would go, whereupon he surprised her by saying she really should not. There would be many people there she would be better off not even being around.

“I should know,” he said. “I’ve had enough dealings with them over the last few years.”

Lynette found out when and where the funeral was held, and despite Marshall’s concerns, she could not resist going to it. There were more people than at any funeral she had ever attended. Even the press was there, as the Reverend Christopher George preached the funeral. A number of her friends and family each gave a eulogy, and it seemed as though it would go on through the night.

There seemed to be only one person who was not there-Marshall Crenshaw. When he returned to her apartment almost a week later, she lit into him. She had plenty of time to overcome her shock, and started better to remember the true nature of April’s relationship with Marshall. She was not so fond of him, to say the least.

To her surprise, he made no protestations of misunderstanding.

“Yeah, she actually hated me”, he said. “Do you know why?”

He went on to explain that he had refused to give permission for the Seventeenth Pulse, which April was by then initiated into, to murder the Reverend Christopher George, who had drugged her and raped her. In fact, he himself supplied the drug George used, and encouraged him, for no other reason than to blackmail the old minister into ceasing his activities against the Pulse.

“The Pulse is far more than just an ordinary run of the mill street gang”, he concluded as Lynette listened in shocked silence, too appalled to say much of anything. “They are an arm of Caldwell’s organization. I have been the unofficial liaison between them and Caldwell. Spooky Gold is the head of the gang, but they do nothing without my say-so.”

“Why are you telling me this?” she demanded.

“Because I want to put a stop to it,” he replied. “It’s over. Caldwell is on his own. He can run his own gang. I’m out of it. I was honest with you though. Not about me being there, or the Pulse. As I guess you figured out, they are not exactly welcome around the neighborhood these days. That’s beside the point. They still have their eyes and ears, and they have a long reach.

“Yeah, I’m still going to work for Caldwell as far as his legitimate activities are concerned,” he concluded. “It would raise too many red flags if I skip out all together. I’m through with the Pulse, though.”

“You know, this is all crazy,” she observed. “If you are really serious about getting away from them, and they really did what you said, why don’t you turn them all in, including George and Caldwell? They need to be punished for the things they done.”

“Hey, I do have family, people that I really care about,” Marshall replied. “Do you think they’re just going to leave them out of it if they feel I’ve turned on them? I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I feel like I’m taking a bad enough risk just getting away from them to what little extent I can afford to for now. My only hope is to reason with Caldwell. If that don’t work-well, I don’t know what the hell I’ll do.”

The dreams came later in the week, and were so horrific she started to find herself fighting sleep. Yet, the more she forced herself to stay awake, the worse they were when she finally succumbed to exhaustion. There was always the same shadowy robed figure. She could never see his face, but his eyes glowed with a dull red that looked more like burning coals. There would be April, her mutilated throat pronounced, yet no more remarkable than her eyes, at once pleading, scornful, despairing, and vengeful as she lurched towards her with outstretched, grasping arms.

Most mysterious of all, however, was the blonde haired, green-eyed man in ancient clothing, changing before her eyes, turning into the same hideously monstrous looking creature, afflicted with boils and running sores, that she remembered from the police artists sketch of the man allegedly seen running from the site where April’s body was found. He cried out for help in her dream, and collapsed to the ground. She knew she should not approach him but was helpless to resist. She drew closer to him, and then touched him, whereupon he turned. The boils and sores were now gone. Yet, he was no longer the blonde haired man, but Marlowe Krovell, thinner to the point of emaciation, beardless and dark haired-the green eyes the only similarity to the man she first saw. He laughed at her, a disturbingly menacing, almost insane laugh. He seemed unable to stop laughing.

She would awake laughing, but it was not a laugh of humor or delight. She felt as though she herself was going insane. She had these dreams four times over a period of two and a half weeks. Each successive nightmare was more intense, and of seemingly longer duration, than the one which preceded it.

The last one was the worse of all. At the end of it, Marlowe had her on the ground. This started with the second dream, but she awoke before he got too far along in what seemed to be his attempt to rape her. In the third dream, it seemed as though he actually ravished her, yet never penetrated her. She found herself wanting him, though simultaneously terrified of him. At the end of the fourth and final dream, it seemed that she just lay there, finally finished, thanking God it was finally over, a mixture of conflicting emotions fighting for dominance-desire, revulsion, and shame. Then, she felt something pulling at her abdomen. She opened her eyes in shock, and saw that it was a vulture.

Then, as the vulture tugged savagely at her insides, gorging on her flesh and blood, there was April, covered in slime, glaring at her with what seemed to be bitter hatred.

She awoke from that last dream horrified beyond any previous experience, and after no more than an hour, she called Marshall Crenshaw and asked him to come to her apartment. He did so, though it was very early in the morning, and they sat and talked for hours. He stayed until almost eight o’clock of the next night. He then started to leave, but Lynette asked him to stay, offering to send out for pizza. She almost begged him to stay with her that night, and felt almost foolish asking him to sleep on the sofa.

He agreed, however, and that night Lynette slept better than she had since the dreams began. In fact, she slept until almost up in the afternoon. When she did finally wake up well enough to get out of bed, she felt alive and refreshed. When she went into her living room, she was almost heartsick to see Marshall had left a note, explaining he had to leave and just did not want to wake her up. He promised he would return later in the evening.

She spent the entire day looking for him, even afraid to take a shower for fear she would not hear him arrive. He finally returned at eight-thirty that night, and asked her if she would be all right. She said she would, but asked him in. To her disappointment, he declined the invitation at first, but she almost begged him to stay, if not the night, at least for an hour or two.

As the evening progressed, she made him an offer. If he was serious about cutting all ties to Harvey Caldwell and the Seventeenth Pulse, he could stay with her. She was certain no one in this upscale neighborhood had any connection to them, and even if there might be a very few who did, they would be unlikely to connect him with the group. At most, it would amount to a few teens and early twenties college types who might buy drugs from them on an irregular basis, no one that would make a connection between them and Marshall, who if they saw him at all would just know him as a person recently moved to the neighborhood.

“Yeah, but don’t you think it’s going to look funny to a few people,” he reminded her. “Like for example, your family? I have to be straight up with you, by the way-I like you. I mean, I like you a lot.”

“I know-I like you too,” she assured him.

“Yeah, but I don’t mean like,” he said. “I man, I really like you, like in a real big way. I’m not talking in a friendship or a brotherly way.”

“I know all of that, Marshall,” she repeated. “Do you think I’m so naive I can’t tell you’re attracted to me?”

“Look-Lynette,” he said as his tone lowered to almost a whisper. “You don’t really need me to”-

“To look out for me?” she asked. “Oh, I know that. I could stay with my grandfather. I could go to him anytime, and stay as long as I want. I really love my grandfather. If I knew he was coming, though, I would not put off taking a shower to keep from missing him at the door. Speaking of which, I do really want to take a shower now. Do you mind?”

She took a shower, and when she joined him back in the living room, she hoped he would have taken the time to think it over.

“All right, I’ll stay,” he said. “We’ll try it for a few days and see how it works out. I have to tell you, though, this virgin stuff-I don’t know. I never done it with a virgin, and I just don’t feel right jumping into this with you. This is something we really need to discuss. I mean, I ain’t going to lie, you know I want you. Hell, I wanted you the first time I met you at the cafe with April.”

“You know, I did make the vow, years ago, to wait until I’m married,” she replied. “The first man I have sex with is the man I will be married to, preferably beforehand. I mean, we don’t know for sure if this is going to work out. It’s not a religious thing, really. Well, it wasn’t at first. But it’s a matter of”-

“Lynette, it’s fine, you owe me no explanations,” he said. “Like I said, we’ll see how it works out. I ain’t going to make no demands on you. It ain’t like I ain’t going to benefit from this arrangement. Like you said, I stay here, I look out for you, and at the same time, I can maybe cut loose from Caldwell and The Pulse. The fact that I’m with somebody I actually like being around for once, and respect-well, that’s gravy enough for me.”

The gravy turned sour somewhat more quickly than either Lynette or Marshall imagined, when he received a visitor in her absence, a man with seemingly boundless hubris by the unseemly nickname of “Toby Da Pimp”, which Marshall later explained was a stage name used by the aspiring rap artist, whose real name was Dwayne Letcher. He was still there when Lynette returned from a visit to her grandfather. He was however on his way out, and assured Marshall he would keep his current whereabouts between the two of them. Lynette did not trust him, and feared her inability to disguise that fact. What time he was there, he looked Lynette up and down as though she were a thoroughbred racing horse. She almost expected him to ask to look at her teeth. She found him to be quite loathsome, and said so.

“You’re a good judge of character,” he said plainly, without elaboration.

“So what did he want?” she asked. “What was he doing here? How in the hell did he find you here anyway?”

“Marlowe told him where I was,” Marshall said as he stared off into the distance, obviously alarmed at the implication. “He said he wants to see me, and that it has something to do with April. It doesn’t make any sense. He knows where I am, yet he has to send Toby with a message to come to him, because he can’t call out from Johns Hopkins. Shit, he doesn’t even know Toby, never met him from what I know. Something here just ain’t right. He’s letting me know that he knows how to get to me. I know what it’s about too, I think.”

“What?” she said. “Marshall, you promised me you were going to stay out of these people’s lives.”

“I know,” he said. “There’s something I never told you, though. I went to see Marlowe a few nights after he was committed. He wanted me to steal something for him, though it was actually his to begin with. It was a DVD, one that contained family pictures and some home movies. Some of them were really old, from when Marlowe was a kid.

“I was supposed to get the damn thing and keep it for him until he needed it, and figured out what he wanted me to do with it. He said it was in one of the funeral home limos, in the glove box, in between some title papers and other things. Like a fool, I did what he asked, all because I wanted to find out what he knew about April. I figured my only chance to do that was to stay on his good side.”

“Oh, for God’s sake Marshall,” Lynette said. “So what was on the DVD?”

“I don’t know, and never got a chance to find out,” he replied. “This couple that I know, some real creeps, wanted to buy some smack. I sold it to them, as usual, and for some reason they wanted to hang around for a while. The guy is a slow kind of guy, one of these borderline retarded types, and he was getting in my face about how he was going to be trying out for nose tackle of the Baltimore Blackbirds.”

“Yeah, you mean the Ravens, right?” Lynette asked, assuming Marshall was engaged in some kind of common though unbeknownst to her street slang for the Baltimore NFL team. He informed her, however, that he was not talking about the former Super Bowl champions, but a lesser breed of bird-an arena pro-football team.

“I lost track of Larceny for awhile while he was going on about it,” he said. “Which, that is not saying much for me, as she is the exact opposite of Rhino-a real cold, calculating bitch with a shaved head. She has this devil’s goatee and moustache tattoo thing going on. Maybe it makes sense though, because I really can’t stand to look at her. I think that’s when it happened. She noticed the DVD, saw Krovell’s name, and swiped it. They and their friends have this group hate for the guy based on some broad they knew whom Marlowe dated that later died.

“In fact, damn-I’m the one that fixed her up with him, too.”

“Marshall, for God’s sake, you can’t blame yourself for everything this guy does, or has done in the past,” Lynette insisted. “You know now what he is, and you can’t let him keep using you. If you do, then you might well be responsible for what he does. If all he wants is his tape, just tell him who took it. He can’t blame you for it, and besides, you said yourself he’s crazy, locked up in a psych ward. What could he possibly do about it?”

“He can cause me a lot of problems,” Marshall explained. “If he talks about my deals with him in the past, the heroin especially, he could ruin me. He knows the people I deal with. Not only Larceny and her friends, but other people as well. Maybe not anything he could prove, but still enough to cause a big stink, to say nothing of causing a bigger rift with the Pulse.”

“So just tell him the truth about this Larceny and Rhino,” she said.

“That’s just the thing, I already did”, Marshall explained. “It just made matters worse. I went to this guy that is supposed to be their leader. They have this vampire cult thing, and he portrays himself as some kind of High Priest or something. I demanded he make them turn the DVD over to me. He said he would. In fact he gave me his solemn word he would-not that I’m sure that amounts to much. Still, according to him, he had to wait until they returned from West Virginia, as he wouldn’t see them until then, and had no way of contacting them. According to him, they would be gone for maybe as long as a week.

“I just forgot about it. I mean, it was nothing to worry about, right? Yeah, right! When Marlowe found out about it, he went through the fucking roof.

“Well, for about five minutes, that is. Then, he started laughing. Then, he started talking again-to somebody named Mircea. Only thing was, Marlowe and me were the only ones around. From what I gather, this imaginary friend of his told him everything would work out for the best. On top of that, he reminded him, apparently, that he was not Marlowe anymore. He was just struggling with Marlowe’s brain and memories. I never heard such shit in my life.

“After that, one of his handlers came to take him to his room, and it was like he even forgot I was there. Now, he’s sending Toby to hunt me down for him”, he said. “I don’t like this shit at all, Lynette. I don’t mind telling you, I’m scared, but not so much for me as for you. Well, and for my family. I know too much, and if Caldwell ever gets any idea I’m screwing around with him, he won’t waste any time sending the Pulse out to knock me out of the box-just to be on the safe side. Now it turns out that Toby at least knows where I am.

“I ain’t got no choice-I got to go see what he wants.”

Trying to hide her concern, Lynette went to visit her grandfather the next day, and was concerned to see her father’s car in the driveway of the old Orthodox Church where she knew the old priest usually was at this time of the day. She had no choice but to go in. Her father’s presence here could only be due to her being in Baltimore, as otherwise he had nothing to do with his father. She took a deep breath, got out of her car, walked to the door, took another deep breath, and walked inside.

They were both standing up near the sacristy, and turned at the sound of her entrance. She noted with some concern that neither of them seemed particularly pleased to see her. She dipped her finger into a vessel of holy water, crossed herself as she genuflected to The Crucified Lord, and then stood and approached them.

“Well, I see you are suitably indoctrinated,” Phillip Khoska observed.

“Dad, what are you doing here?” Lynette asked, trying to seem cordial and even pleasantly surprised.

“Well, I guess at least you’re in a better mood than when you left Princeton”, he observed.

“I was as much upset at Teddy as I was at you”, Lynette replied. “I’m sorry I acted like such a spoiled little child. I just had some things I needed to work out. Grandfather has been a really big help to me.”

As she said this and looked toward the old man, however, she could not help but notice that he seemed particularly disturbed, more in fact than she had ever seen him.

“Grandfather, is something wrong?” she asked. “Has something happened to one of the family?”

“No, someone I know has been almost killed,” Aleksandre replied. “Shot by an intruder in her apartment. Apparently, she answered a knock at the door and her assailant shot her right in the doorway. If a work associate had not returned from some brief errand and found her when he did, she would be dead by now. She was also under the influence of heroin at the time of the attack.

“If she dies, I am going to feel responsible. She sought my help on some matter a few months back, and I never returned her calls. Still, I will go to the hospital and pray for her. I can at least do that much.”

“Yes, daddy, you can at least do that much”, Phillip now said in a tone of bitter sarcasm. “Hey, don’t worry, though. You’ll make it up to her. Grace Rodescu has the survival skills of a rat. I’m sure she’ll pull though, and then she’ll figure out a way to suck you back in, just like always.”

“You have no right to speak to me that way,” Aleksandre shouted, his face now a burning crimson.

“Oh, don’t I?” Phillip replied.

“I am a man of God,” Khoska insisted. “It is my solemn duty to save the sinner. You are an arrogant Pharisee. The fact that you cloak yourself in an aura of non-belief-as though you wish to pretend that you are oh, so above it all-changes nothing whatsoever. The woman needs my help, and by God, help her I shall.”

“She is a worthless whore,” Phillip snarled right in his face. “Then again, you know what they say-like attracts like.”

For a minute, it seemed as though the both of them forgot Lynette stood there before them. There were a number of things she wanted to say, but could bring herself to say none of them. The one thing she never considered saying just slipped out of her mouth.

“I have a new live-in boyfriend,” she said. “His name is Marshall Crenshaw, and he’s a black man.”

They both stopped their argument and just stared at her, as though unsure they heard her correctly. Aleksandre was the first to speak.

“Oh my God!” he gasped.

“I know you’re lying,” Phillip said. “I know you had damn well better be lying.”

“Nope,” Lynette replied. “We’ve even talked about getting married. Of course, it’s just talk right now, nothing official. We have not actually gotten to the point of setting a date yet. If we do end up getting married, I’m guessing it will probably be in a civil ceremony. Judging by the look on your face, grandfather, I’m going to assume you’re not interested in performing the wedding.”

“You, marrying a colored man?” he asked incredulously. “You’re damn right I won’t perform such a wedding. What are you thinking? Are you a woman or have you turned into an animal?”

“Shut up, father!” Phillip declared. “You hardly have a right to criticize anyone for whatever they do, and this is no exception. This is my daughter. Let me handle this, if you would be so kind.”

“Perhaps that is the problem,” Aleksandre observed. “The way you have handled things up until now certainly leaves a lot to be desired, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, so what would you suggest-that I should run it through Securitate, perhaps?” Phillip shouted.

“Get the hell out of my church right now, you son of a bitch,” Aleksandre snarled. Phillip Khoska just stared at the man who sired him, as though he looked at something not quite human.

“So, the truth comes out,” he said. “You never respected my mother while she lived. Why should I expect any different now?”

“You don’t deserve to even think of yourself as her son,” Aleksandre replied. “Leave, now, or I swear to God, you will regret the day you were ever born.”

“Gladly, old man,” Phillip replied with a chilling calm. “I will very gladly do so.”

He left, and Lynette stood, unsure of what to say or do. She had never seen either her grandfather or her father so angry with anyone. The old man now looked upon the statue of the Archangel Michael, and almost whispered, “Why?”

“Are you all right, grandfather?” she asked.

“You are making a big mistake, associating with a colored man and compromising your principles,” he replied as though the recent conversation had not taken place. She now heard her father’s car starting, and then pulling out.

“I haven’t compromised anything,” she assured him. “I made it clear to him we will wait until we are married.”

Aleksandre winced when she said this.

“Yes, but after you marry the creature, then what?” he demanded. “The chances are good you will give birth to at least one mulatto baby before you finally come to your senses, if you ever do. Then, of course, it will be too late.”

“He is not a ‘creature’, grandfather, he is a man, a good, kind man,” she informed him. “You have no right to judge him.-none, whatsoever.”

“Very well then, I am sure he is a credit to his race,” he replied as he rolled his eyes. “Please, leave me now. I really am in no mood to talk. Just think of what I said. Do so rationally, please.”

Lynette could not believe what she was hearing, but was too upset to continue the conversation. She said goodbye, and left. She told Marshall everything that transpired, deciding she would keep nothing from him, as she was sure he kept nothing from her.

“So, do you want to call it off?” he asked glumly. “I don’t blame you if you do.”

“No, I don’t want to call it off,” she replied. “They’ll get over it, or they won’t. I almost do not care anymore. So, did you see Marlowe today?”

“Yeah, the fool wants me to help him escape from Johns Hopkins,” he replied. “His uncle had him involuntarily committed, and from the looks of it the only things he’s figured out is he ain’t going to be getting out for a while, and he ain’t liking it none. He said he’d let me know later how he plans for me to do all this. As for April, he claims she ain’t really dead. About the usual crap you could expect to hear from an insane person. He can prove it, of course. I told him I’ll believe it when I see it.”

They went about their usual routine for the next few days, but one day Lynette came home from her new job at a veterinary clinic, only to see she had company-her father, who sat on the sofa chatting it up with Marshall as though they were old friends. They were laughing and sharing a beer. He remained for no more than twenty minutes after Lynette returned, and then told them he unfortunately had pressing business matters that demanded his attention. He said goodbye and left.

“I hope you didn’t fall for any of that,” Lynette told him.

“What, you think I believe everything?” Marshall responded. “No, I won’t say I believe him, but he seemed nice enough-just a guy trying to feel out his prospective new son-in-law.”

“Well, your prospective new father-in-law is probably going to send you a check, which he will allow you to cash on the condition that you call off our relationship, and agree in writing to do so. The contract will probably come in the mail with the check.”

Marshall looked at her incredulously.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope,” she replied. “He did this once before, when I just turned eighteen, and started seeing a Jewish kid. He offered him twenty thousand, so I figure to his way of thinking you would be worth at least a cool hundred grand. Who knows, you might hit the jackpot and make a nice seven figure sum.”

The check did not arrive the next day, or the day after. Three days later, though, a check did arrive along with the promised contract. The amount was for two hundred fifty thousand dollars. Marshall was livid.

“Who the hell does this motherfucker think he is?”

“A man who is used to buying people and anything else he wants,” Lynette told him. “I would cash the check if I was you. I wouldn’t advise you to do that, though. Who knows, you might be able to hold out for at least twice as much.”

“Well, he can go to hell,” he said. “And no, I’m not cashing the check. That will be kind of hard to do.”

He then ripped it up.

“I’m keeping this though,” he stated as he held up the contract. “I think I’m going to have this framed. After we are married, I might hang it on the wall, like a diploma or something.”

For the next couple of weeks, they went on about their lives. They went out. They cooked special dinners at home. They went out to movies. They rented DVDs. They joked and they laughed. They argued and they cursed. It was never anything serious, and by the next day, it seemed almost as though it never happened. Marshall continued working for Caldwell’s organization, while simultaneously avoiding the Seventeenth Pulse. He explained to Caldwell that they were more than capable of taking care of matters from their end without any interference or management from him. Caldwell for his part was skeptical, but Marshall had a good excuse. Ever since the death of April Sandusky, any perceived involvement with the gang was tantamount to an invitation to a police investigation at the very least, with the added potential of state and federal investigators joining in a multi-level task force at any given moment. Marshall reminded the corrupt activist minister that the IRS and the Justice Department in particular took quite a dim view of organized crime syndicates. They were also very adept at peeling away the protective layers that provided the illusion of protection from public scrutiny of their associates.

Lynette was happy to see that everything seemed to be falling into place, and was hopeful that her grandfather would eventually come around to see reason. He still called her from time to time.

The next night, they were sitting and watching television, when the news was released of the tragic deaths of eighteen high-school basketball players, who were killed seemingly by marijuana laced with some as then unknown lethal substance. It looked to be a clear-cut case of premeditation, and the police had two suspects in custody. Two of the other players survived the poisoning, but were permanently incapacitated. Most of the high school victims were black.

“Oh my God,” Marshall said. “People are going to blame the Pulse for this, but there ain’t no way. They wouldn’t do this-no way, no how.”

“How can you be so sure?” Lynette asked.

“For the same reason a used car dealer wouldn’t remove the brakes from a vehicle and then sell it to you,” was his reply. “Besides which, I know that school, I went to it myself. It’s in a mixed neighborhood. On top of that, I’ll tell you something else. Two of Spooky’s relatives are on that team, his cousin and his uncle. Yeah, he has an uncle that’s younger than he is. It’s a black thing. This ain’t no black thing though.”

The next day, he was even more shocked to hear that the two suspects arrested in connection with the pot-now revealed to have been laced with lethal amounts of embalming fluid-were Joseph Karinsky and Debbie “Spanky” Leighton. He was now more than distraught, at the knowledge that Karinsky had doubtless acquired the marijuana from him. Also taken in for questioning, and held pending charges, was Milo Richmond and Sierra Lawson. The police also issued an all-points bulletin and arrest warrant for Sherry “Larceny” Adams and George “Rhino” Dodd, both of whose whereabouts were currently unknown.

“That’s the woman you know, right?” Lynette asked as Larceny’s photo stared out maliciously from the eleven o’clock local news.

“Yep-that’s her.” he replied.

When the picture of the two appeared also on the national news the following day, Marshall became even more depressed. He watched morosely as the news showed Joseph taken into custody, glaring with an evil smile towards the cameras as he bared his teeth in a mock vampire pose.

“He’s as crazy as Marlowe,” Lynette observed.

“Nobody is as crazy as Marlowe, except maybe for Larceny,” he replied. “Even she ain’t in Marlowe’s league, believe me. No, Joseph is just a punk-a smart, street-savvy player, but still just a punk. There’s something about this that ain’t right. Something else is going on here. They wouldn’t arrest all of them over this. Bring them in for questioning, yeah-but not hold them without bond. That little Leighton bitch, yeah I can see that, and Joseph, maybe even Milo, because Leighton does live with him and she is just sixteen, and he is on probation. Arresting all those others, though, for this reason, just do not add up. There’s a lot more going on here, and I ain’t liking what I’m feeling.”

“All right, you said you sold them pot, among other things,” Lynette said, starting to absorb Marshall’s concerns like a sponge. “Marshall, if you know anything else”-

“I almost bet’cha they’re going to try to lay this off on the Seventeenth Pulse,” he replied. “The cops will go for it too. I know them too damn well. It will be the perfect chance for them to bust them up. Harvey Caldwell won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.

“I don’t know, maybe it would be all for the best. I can be rid of them for good anyway. Still, it just ain’t right.”

They spoke no more about the matter for the next few days. Then, one night, Lynette awoke to the sound of Marshall’s terrified screams from the living room sofa. She rushed out of her bedroom. Marshall had stopped screaming, and was sitting up, breathing deeply, obviously still terrified. At that time, she heard a knock on the door. She asked Marshall if he was all right. He never answered her, only to nod his head, as she looked out the peephole. He pulled on his clothes, and she gathered her robe around her as she asked who was there.

“Officer James Berry,” came the reply, as the man on the other end held up a police detective ID. She opened the door.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

“No, I just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar,” he answered. “You know I really hate it when people ask me that. Of course, there is a problem. I take it you are Lynette Khoska? Well, you’re not it, so that only leaves one problem, huh? I assume the gentleman on your sofa is Marshall Crenshaw?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” Marshall answered. “Who the hell are you and what do you want?”

“We could do this better downtown.” Berry said.

“I like it here much better.”

“Okay, then, I’ll skip right past the formalities and get right to the gist of the matter. What do you know about Joseph Karinsky, Debbie Leighton, Milo Richmond, Sierra Lawson, George Dodd, and Sherry Adams? Have they brought any marijuana from you lately? For that matter, have they also purchased any embalming fluid over the last several weeks? If they did both, did they by any stretch of the imagination buy it all as, say, a single unit?”

Marshall just stared at him with his mouth open for a few seconds. He could not believe the question.

“You’re really funny,” Marshall finally said incredulously. Lynette listened as best she could as she returned to the bedroom and dressed herself. Whoever the cop was here this night, he obviously had some knowledge of Marshall’s past activities. How, though, did he know he was here? Something about him seemed familiar. It was as though she had some vague recollection of this man, from somewhere in her past. In fact, she was sure of it, even if for now she could not remember exactly where she had seen him before or in what context. There was something about the sound of his voice, the way he droned on dryly about Marshall’s association with the Seventeenth Pulse.

“Where is your partner?” she asked upon joining them once more. “I know cops usually work in pairs, sometimes more. It’s unusual for a policeman to be conducting an investigation on his own, without backup or without any kind of support. Are they outside or something?”

As she said this, she looked out the window, but saw no signs of anyone.

“I’m off-duty, actually,” he said, obviously perturbed at her observation. “Some things are best kept off the record, you know.”

“Uh-huh,” Marshall now said. “So all this about going downtown was a way to get me out of here. I’d kind of like to know what for. Is that gun you carrying there standard police issue-‘OFFICER’ Berry?”

“Yeah, it is,” he said as he looked from one to the other of them. “I just hoped we could clear up some things without involving her, or without having to go through official channels. The way things are looking, you see, there’s a good chance other people will be around to ask you the same things I want to ask you, people that might well insist you accompany them downtown.”

“Fine, ask away,” Marshall said. “I ain’t going anywhere with you, though.”

“Fair enough,” Berry replied. “So, how is it then you’ve come here and seem to be avoiding the Seventeenth Pulse, yet you still work for Caldwell? It would look to the casual observer like you are wanting to cut ties with them but just don’t know how to do it. Now here this happens, a bunch of kids dead from smoking marijuana that seems to have come from the Pulse, and it would appear to be by way of people you infrequently supply. It looks pretty messy, Mr. Crenshaw.”

“Oh my God,” Marshal said as it sunk into him the magnitude of what Berry was saying. Lynette, having heard everything as well, sank onto the sofa. Berry laid his gun on the coffee table, along with his badge.

“We don’t have to go anywhere,” he said. “Let’s just go outside for a few minutes.”

Marshall walked outside with him, and the two remained there for more than thirty minutes, as Lynette sat there and rocked back and forth nervously. They were still gone as the phone rang. It was her father.

“How dare you try to buy off Marshall?” she asked him. “Who do you think you are?”

“Just your typical concerned parent, I guess,” he said. “You can’t blame me for trying. Of course, from what I know now, I can see where I might have misjudged your boyfriend, as much as it sticks in my throat to dignify him with such a description. I think maybe I should have offered him quite a bit more, seeing as to his quite impressive status within the African-American community.”

“Yeah, he’s a community leader,” Lynette told him. “He has a position of high standing and responsibility with Harvey Caldwell’s organization. I could have told you that, but on the other hand, I am sure you wouldn’t be impressed.”

“Oh, I’m impressed all right,” he replied as Lynette walked to the window to see if she could see any sign of Marshall and Berry. She saw no one, nor did she hear anything at the door.

“Your boyfriend is a hired thug, Lynette,” he said. “He specializes in paying bribes-did you know that? He bribes city officials to look the other way while Caldwell’s organization goes about its real business, whatever that is. In the meantime, he maintains a liaison between not only Caldwell and those compromised city leaders, but with a savage street gang known as the Seventeenth Pulse. They’ve been responsible for more than twenty murders over the last four years. They sell drugs to high school kids, Lynette. Have you heard about what happened, those dead kids? Your friend’s associates are responsible for that. It hasn’t come out yet, but it will.”

“So how do you know all this?” Lynette asked.

Her father never answered her, so she asked again. Then, the unthinkable occurred to her. Her father had all kinds of connections in Baltimore. He was born and raised there.

“I’ve got to go, Lynette,” he finally said. “Please, think about what I’ve told you. For your own sake, break it off with this man, before you get in so deep even I can’t pull you out of it. Remember, one thing my money can’t buy is a new reputation. It also can’t raise the dead, by the way.”

Before she could respond, he said he loved her and hung up. More worried than ever, she went to the door and looked outside, but still saw no sign of Berry and Marshall. She walked down to the bottom of the stairs, and still saw nothing. She did see an unfamiliar vehicle, which she assumed might belong to the detective, but there was no way of knowing. She sat on the steps and waited, until they finally reappeared from behind the corner.

“My father sent you here, didn’t he?” she asked.

“Your father?” he said. “Hey, what do I look like to you, an errand boy? I don’t care who your father is, if he ever tired to buy my services, he would find they’re probably way too expensive for what I would be willing to do for him. Oh, and there’s also a pretty good chance he’d find his ass in jail. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my gun and ID, so if one of you would be so kind as to go on up with me now?”

Lynette walked on up the steps, with Berry close behind, and when she got inside her apartment, she looked back to see no sign of Marshall. Berry walked in and retrieved his gun and badge, and then he as well noticed Marshall remained outside.

“I don’t guess you can tell me which of the Pulse has been here, if any”, he said.

“The only person I know of that’s been here is somebody named Toby,” she said. “That’s been almost a month ago, not long after Marshall moved in. He was here one time and hasn’t been back since.”

“Uh-huh,” he said. “Just so you know-your boyfriend has been selling drugs behind your back. You heard about the marijuana that poisoned those kids, right? Well, Marshall sold it to the perpetrators no more than a couple of weeks ago, at the most. You know what they say-the more things change?”

She just looked away from him, unsure of what to say or think.

"Good night to you now, Miss Khoska," he said. "I'll just show myself out, thank you."

He left, and then Marshall returned, and looked at her suspiciously.

“All right, so what did he say?” he asked. “I stayed behind just to see if he would pull some line on you while I wasn’t here.”

“Gee, how considerate,” she said. “I think you know what he said. According to him, you sold that pot that poisoned those kids. I hope you can tell me he’s wrong.”

“That son-of-a-bitch!” he hissed. “No, it’s true that I sold them a pound of pot. I had no choice, I made that deal with them sometime back and they had already paid for it. In fact, they paid for a years supply in advance. That’s my conditions for direct dealing through me. I take half, Caldwell gets the rest, and it’s all laundered through his organization in a special anonymous donations fund and other ways. The Pulse pays the same way-same rates.

“The last time I sold to Joseph and his crew I told them they’d have to go through Toby from here on out. There, are you satisfied now?”

“So, that’s it?” she asked. “You don’t owe them anything else?”

“Well, actually, I owe them two more pounds, so they got two more shipments promised, assuming they get out of the mess they’re in to where they can collect. The point is, I’ve made arrangements to the effect they go through Toby. Only I think Toby is going to be somewhat pre-occupied himself with our good Detective Berry. Just the thing I need. Things are looking up now. If the cops bust up the Pulse, it will fall back on Toby. I am out of it. At least that’s what I’m hoping.”

“But what if Caldwell drags you back in?”

“Caldwell has too many skeletons in his own closet. He is in no condition to make demands on me. What bothers me is just how this damn guy knew I was here. All he told me is he has his sources and they are pretty damn reliable.”

She thought about her father and the call he just made, but decided not to tell him about it, at least not yet. She hated being deceptive with him, but it hurt her to think her father could instigate himself in such a way, and frankly did not want Marshall to know. Somewhere deep down, she still hoped she could reconcile with her grandfather and parents, and they would accept Marshall, if not actually like him. Though she was too upset to sleep, she decided to go back to bad.

“You had a hell of a nightmare a while ago didn’t you?” she asked as she began to make her way back to the bedroom as he returned to his place on the sofa. “You were screaming.”

“Yeah, it was crazy,” he replied. “I dreamed April was here, all bloody and her throat ripped open, groaning and lurching towards me. I don’t think I’ve had anywhere near as bad a nightmare as that in my life. When I woke up I felt like I was having a heart attack.”

Lynette felt a chill permeating her spine from the bottom clear to the base of her neck, and she stiffened as her whole body felt cold and flushed. It was an almost perfect description of her nightmare vision of April just two months before.

“Lynette?” Marshall said. “You did hear the word nightmare in all that, right?”

She reminded him of the similar dream she had right before he moved in.

“Yeah, I was just thinking of that,” he said. “I guess that explains it. It probably bothered me more than I thought it did.”

Over the next few days, things began to settle back into some semblance of normality. They never spoke of the Seventeenth Pulse, Marlowe, Caldwell, or the bizarre vampire cult now in jail for the deaths of eighteen high school students. They had almost forgotten it, when the news flashed over the screen of the recent arrests of Larceny Adams and Rhino Dodd, who in fact had turned themselves in. Deep down, Lynette still feared Larceny or Rhino would reveal Marshall as the dealer from whom they acquired the marijuana, and possibly accuse him of being the perpetrator.

A few days afterwards, however, Marshall received two visitors-Dwayne “Toby Da Pimp” Letcher and an older black gentleman whom Marshall introduced as the Reverend Christopher George. Toby seemed as deceptively laid back as ever, but George was clearly disturbed. He was obviously uncomfortable at Lynette’s presence as Toby mentioned something to the effect of “that nut job Krovell” once more wanting to see Marshall.

He then tossed a notebook over to Marshall, telling him to open it and look on the first page. Marshall did so, and just stared in obvious disbelief.

“Is this what I think it is?” he demanded.

“Oh, it’s not so much what it is as what it’s for,” Toby said. “Look on the back page.”

Again, Marshall looked at the back of the notebook, and whistled.

“Whose is this?” he demanded. “How the hell did he get this shit?”

“It belongs to his doctor, some damn towel-head,” Toby replied. “Those other numbers are seventeen separate accounts, in the Cayman Islands, just waiting for us to do our thing. How in the hell he did it, don’t ask me. All I know is, he wants to see you. He wants you to bring him some things-three things, actually.”

“And those three things would be?”

“A cell-phone, a change of clothing, and a-get ready for it now-a crowbar.”

“Marshall, I don’t know what this is about, but I don’t like it,” Lynette said. “You’d better not do it. If he needs that stuff, these guys can do it. They sure don’t have any problem getting in to see him.”

“Well, two things about that,” Toby said, seeming to struggle to have to explain himself to what he obvious looked at as just another white “ho”.

“One, Spooky refuses to go along with it without Marshall’s say-so,” he said. “Two, Marlowe is insistent that Marshall brings him these things. Oh, and there’s another thing, a number three, that I promise you neither one of you is going to like. Marlowe insists that you two quit keeping house. I guess you want to know why. Well, Marlowe says this is his woman. She’s meant for him, and she belongs to him. Does that make any sense to you? I had the idea they never really met.”

“That is absolutely absurd!” Lynette shouted. “I know him on-line, that’s all. We aren’t even friends-who in the hell does he think he is? He is fucking crazy.”

“Well, duh, he’s been committed, woman, of course he’s crazy,” Toby said.

“Tell him no deal,” Marshall said. “The cell-phone, I ain’t got no problem with that. Well, I got a problem with it, but I can swing it. The crowbar-that’s a different subject. What in the hell does he think he’s going to do with that? As for Lynette, he’s absolutely barking up the wrong tree there. No, that’s not happening.”

“Well, could you at least go see the guy and talk to him about it?” Toby said. “I’ve got this fucking Berry guy on my ass so I have really got to watch it from here on out.”

As he said this, Lynette and Marshall shot each other a look that did not escape the notice of Toby, who seemed to have expected a reaction.

“So, I was right,” he said. “The two of you turned me. This motherfucker has been putting the strong arm on me the last few days now, wanting to help me with my career, as he puts it. And all I have to do is give him something he can use.”

“Nobody turned you,” Marshall said. “He was up here one night. All was said about you was you were here once-that’s it.”

Suddenly George, who remained silent and looked morose throughout the entirety of the visit, cleared his throat and asked Marshall if he could talk to him in private.

“It’s about April,” he said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said. “Let’s go outside. Do you care, Lynette?”

“No, if it has to do with what I think it does, I would prefer you did,” she replied. Her knowledge of what the old man had done, with Marshall’s help, disgusted her with the both of them. She was certain Marshall was determined to change his life for the better, so that in addition to her deep feelings for him modified her anger at him. George, however, was a different story. He cared only about protecting his reputation and his position in the black community, in addition to avoiding the legal predicament he most certainly deserved.

All three of them went outside, and Lynette listened at the door. She could hear the old man droning on and on, crying, whimpering, and at one point, she heard April’s name mentioned. She could only pick out bits and pieces otherwise, though she heard something said about not being able to sleep, and the toilet.

She returned to the sofa, and then went into the kitchen. They were outside a little more than ten minutes before Marshall returned. George and Toby had left. His color had faded to the point that he was almost white. He was obviously terrified of something, but when Lynette asked him what it was, he could barely talk.

“I hope this isn’t going to be a regular thing,” Lynette said. “Toby is bad enough, but that so-called Reverend gives me the creeps, knowing what he did to April. What really hurts me is knowing your part in it.”

He just looked at her, as if he was looking through her.

“He has been having the same dreams I have,” he said finally. “It’s the damn exact same dream, right down to the part where she comes up out of the sewer, right up through the toilet. I had it again last night, and it was worse than ever.”

He then picked up the phone as Lynette just sat there stunned. She only had the dream once, and there was nothing in it about toilets. Nevertheless, the fact that more than two people had the same basic dream about the same person, and in the same context, was enough to chill her bones to the marrow. She almost wanted to leave the apartment and run to the nearest bus stop, and go back to Jersey.

He dialed the phone again, saying he did not have time for a damn answering service. After the phone rang the second time, he ordered Spooky to pick up, that he knew he was there. The man on the other end finally answered.

“Whatever it is Krovell tells you to do, do it,” he said.

“Yes, I’m serious,” he said after a brief moment of listening to the response from the other end.

“Well, whatever it is, you’re each going to be getting two hundred thousand dollars for the one job,” he reminded him.

“Okay, then tell me,” he said in exasperation.

“You have got to be shitting me!” he shouted as he jumped up to his feet. “Toby never mentioned anything about that. Are you crazy? Wait a minute, are you sure your line ain’t been tapped? I ain’t so sure about this one, come to think of it. I want you to meet me somewhere, but not at the clubhouse. Let’s meet at my uncle’s store. He will let us use his office. Just be sure you haven’t forgotten how to shake your tail.”

He then told Lynette he would be back in two or three hours, and left without another word. When he returned, he was grim. He brought with him the three items Marlowe had demanded.

“What does he want all that stuff for?” Lynette asked.

“The crowbar is to rip the security screen off the window,” he explained. “The clothes are just so he won’t be walking around in hospital garb after breaking out. I have no idea what the phone is for.”

“Does that nut know where I live?”

“No!” he almost shouted. “Well, yeah, I guess he does. But don’t worry about that. If he does go through with this crap, and it works, I’ll take care of him if he comes here, I promise you that.”

“But why would you help him to escape to begin with?” she demanded. “Marshall, this doesn’t make any sense, and I have an idea there’s something you’re not telling me.”

“The guys want to go through with it for the money, that’s all I know,” he said, though this explanation did not satisfy Lynette.

The next day, he delivered the supplies Marlowe demanded, and seemed relieved that his part in the bizarre plot was over and done.

“So what is he going to do now?” she asked him. “Surely he doesn’t think he can get away with this. Where is he going to go? Who does he possibly have that can help him, or would help him.”

“Oh, he’s got an answer for that too,” he said. “He says that somebody named Cynthia will look out for him. She’ll protect him until he’s got his shit together and can take care of himself. Who Cynthia is, I have no fucking idea. More than likely she’s another fantasy friend, like this Mircea he keeps talking about, that he calls his brother.”

“And all this over a fucking dream,” Lynette said.

“That’s just it,” he said. “It’s not a dream. I didn’t tell you before, so I guess you ought to know. George didn’t exactly have the same dream I had. He saw it in real life.”

“That’s-that’s just bullshit,” Lynette said. “Marshall, this whole thing is as crazy as he is. If Marlowe does break out, you will be the one to get in trouble over it. Nobody is going to blame him. After all, he’s crazy, remember? I could care less about those thugs you know getting in trouble, and if George gets his ass brought down, that’s more than fine with me. You’re a different story. You promised me you would avoid these people, and make a break from them, and”-

“And I will after this,” he said. “Look, I ain’t touching a dime of that money. The Pulse will each one get their two hundred thousand dollars. That’s all the hell they care about. I don’t want a dime of it. If they get that, the way I look at it, them and me are square. Marlowe will probably end up put away for good, if he ain’t killed, and if the Pulse get caught, my fingerprints ain’t anywhere on this mess. If they do get away with it, it’s still all good. I can cut it off from them forever. I can say goodbye to Harvey Caldwell and his corrupt bullshit. Nothing can touch me.”

“What about the police?” she asked, still far from convinced. “What about that Detective Berry? How can the Pulse pull off anything when every move they make is monitored?”

“They know how to shake them off,” Marshall said. “It’s the cops own fault. They been going overboard letting them know they be watching them. Besides, like I said, if they end up busted, I’m still covered. All I have to do is worry about Marlowe. When he comes here, I’ll take care of him, so don’t worry. I promise he won’t ever lay a hand on you, baby.”

He tried to kiss her, and she let him, but she was not receptive. She was starting to grow weary of the constant stress and worry. Still, she knew there was some reason for Marshall’s concerns that bordered on outright hysteria, something that he could not control. She only hoped that when it was finally over, that would be it.

They spoke little over the next few days, and Lynette started to realize they were almost like an old married couple, much as her parents use to be, with the unusual exception that she and Marshall had yet to consummate their relationship. She was starting to wonder if that was a good idea after all. Maybe her inner desires caused her to accede to Marshall’s decisions more than was either necessary or wise. After all, Marshall was not exactly naive. He was in fact very experienced, some might say even ruthless. Could she really be that sure of him?

She decided to pay a visit to her grandfather, and thought it best to drop in on him unexpectedly. She decided she was going to get to the bottom of the hostility between him and her father, once and for all. When she arrived at the church, he was there as usual, praying in front of the statue of Archangel Michael. She hated to disturb him, but he actually looked as though he was preparing for some journey.

“Grandfather,” she said after first clearing her throat.

He turned to see her, and to her surprise as well as relief, he smiled.

“I was starting to be afraid I would never see you again,” he said.

“That would have been your decision to make, not mine,” she said. “I could never shut you out of my life. I am not my father, by a long shot.”

“For which I am most thankful,” he replied. “I heard about him trying to buy off your boyfriend. He is as arrogant as ever. That is the evil of wealth. It causes people to think there is no limit to what they can do. In his case, he has already pushed himself well beyond the boundaries of human decency.

“That is why I am not particularly concerned about you, as I know you will do the right thing. I think deep down you are as repelled by his vanity, as you are disgusted with his actions, what little you know of them. Believe me, there is much you do not know, and I hope you never will.”

“So you are saying I have your blessing to marry Marshall?” she asked.

“No!” he said plainly. “I am just saying you have your own life to live and you must live it according to what you think is right. If it turns out to be a mistake, I am sure you have enough depth of maturity to understand that you will pay the price for that. Still, you have to find all this out for yourself. I can’t live your life for you. In fact, I would avoid that in any event, even were it possible.”

Lynette just shook her head. She could not afford to be too disappointed. That, for now, would have to be good enough.

“I can’t believe he would call you and tell you about that,” she said. “Marshall was hurt and insulted over it.”

“He didn’t tell me about it, he told your mother,” Aleksandre explained. “She called me just a couple of days ago, worried sick over you. He discussed it with her, evidently. Perhaps you might want to call her and let her know you are fine. When she hears your voice, I’m sure she will know you’re not on drugs.”

“Drugs? Is that what she thinks?”

“Yes, I’m afraid your father told her quite a few things about your new boyfriend,” he said. “Things that would worry any mother, I would think. I told her to try to have a little faith in you.”

“Well, I’ll call her tonight,” Lynette promised. “I sure want to clear that up right now. I’ve never done drugs, outside of a little marijuana.”

“Are you still doing that?” he asked.


“All right, never mind,” he said. “Just be careful, please.”

Lynette tried to hide her exasperation, but found it difficult. Still, she realized that not only was her grandfather a very religious man, but a very old, and old-fashioned, one as well.

“So what is this reason that you and my father hate each other so much?” Lynette asked, as much out of an urge to change the subject as anything.

“It’s mainly the Rodescu woman.” He explained. “It’s a long story, and your father, despite his protestations of unbelief, seems to have grown into a very judgmental man.”

“What, you are saying you had an affair with her?” Lynette asked.

“I wish it were that simple,” he replied. “It’s a bit more complicated than that. I am not so certain you need to hear this as much as I need to tell you about it. I will if you really want to know, but I assure you, it is by no means a romantic story, nor does it paint a very pretty picture of me.”

“Well, I can’t help but be curious, and this has been something that’s had an affect on my life.”

“Yes, I suppose it would have,” he agreed. “Very well, then.”

He told her of the time his wife lay dying from cancer, and had no more than two months left to live. He was distraught, and emotionally drained. He felt as though God Himself had abandoned him.

“I had no more than two years previous to this lost my dear, beloved mother,” he said. “I had begged her repeatedly to come to America, promising that I would see to her needs. She refused to listen to me. Ploesti was the only home she ever knew. Indeed, I seriously doubt she ever ventured more than twenty miles from the place, save for perhaps one brief trip to Bucharest during the fifties. She would never even visit my daughter, who works there yet in an orphanage.

“Finally, she died, and as I was grieving her loss, within a month I got word that Marta, my beloved wife, was near death, and had a year or so to live. She ended up living two, but that only made matters worse. She suffered greatly.

“Then, along came Grace, whom I had not seen in some three years. I had saved her, as a child, from certain death, or at the least, from a kind of filth and degradation not fit for an animal to endure. When I saw her, of course, she had grown from the last time I saw her. She had grown into, I must say, a most beautiful woman.

“I did not realize in fact that though her outer appearance had matured, she herself had not changed. She played up to my sympathies. She came to me two or three times a week, telling me she wanted to repay me for my kindness and generosity to her over the past years.

“By the time two months went by, she came to me one night while I was in a particularly weakened state of mind. Marta had been more ill than even was usually the case, and I knew that her time was short. I could not bear it, and could not accept it. Grace played me for a fool. She came to me dressed like a strumpet, and I did not even notice the incongruity of it, the overall inappropriateness of her appearance at the church. Believe me, though, I noticed her well enough. Within the hour, she had me feeling like a giddy teenage boy. She drew up close to where I sat. She sat beside me, and placed her hands on my lap. The next thing I knew, she had me in an embrace. God help me, I threw myself onto her. She welcomed me with a seeming passion that inflamed my spirit in such a manner I had almost never felt. It was lust, pure and simple unadulterated lust.”

He stopped for one moment, looked at her, and saw that she just looked with no betrayal of any kind of feeling in one way or another.

“Do you know she had purple hair that night? I never even paid it any mind, as that is how distraught I was when she came to me. Her hair was purple when I saw her today at the hospital as well. Just like that night in the church.”

“You-you made love to her right here in the church?”

He looked at her now in an attitude of total disgust.

“No, I did not make love to her here in the church,” he said. “I fucked her here in the church. I fucked her, like she and I were animals in heat.”

It was almost in the form of an outburst, and then he fell silent, morosely gazing at the floor below where he sat, solemn and red faced, as tears gathered in his eyes.

“You’re only human, grandfather,” Lynette said. “I’m sure grandmother would have understood had she known. She would have forgiven you, knowing the state of mind you were in.”

“You know, I never cheated on her in all the time we were married, though I had many opportunities, and so-called enticements, yet I never felt any temptation to do so. That is what hurts the most. The minute I actually feel the temptation, I give in to it, at the worse possible time.

“You are correct, though. She did forgive me, for exactly the reason you said, which only made me feel that much worse about it. Two weeks after she forgave me, she died in my arms. It took me more than an hour to be able to call and report her demise.”

“She-knew about it?”

“Grace told her,” he explained. “She tried to blackmail me. I told her to go to hell, and that she would get nothing out of me. I found out later she was a heroin addict and was having trouble juggling her addiction with her university requirements. She was in dire need of cash. If she had come to me openly I would have helped her a little, but she knew I could not do much. Still, she was desperate, and insisted I could get the money from family. Your father was one name she mentioned.

“I flat out refused. Then, one day, while I was out shopping for groceries and other necessary supplies, she came to the church, and lied about her identity. She claimed to be your cousin Marnie. The nurse caring for Marta at the time had never met Marnie, so she had no reason to suspect Grace was an imposter. Grace even managed to forge some kind of ID. She entered our bedroom, the bedroom that my wife and I had shared for more than forty years. Marta was too sick to open her eyes, and her vision was a blur at any rate.

“When the nurse left the room, Grace told her everything.”

“That fucking bitch!” Lynette exclaimed. “All right, now I see why father is so harsh concerning her, and now I have to say I don’t think I can blame him in the least. It is amazing that she would have the gall to ask you for any help after that.”

“You haven’t even heard half of it,” Aleksandre replied, almost dismissively. “She told the entire family, all of my children, including your father, the same thing she told Marta. She told them more than that, actually. She told them about other things. I suppose I might as well tell you about that, too. I would rather you hear it from me than anyone else. She told them of things I did for Securitate, the Romanian intelligence agency I was employed by for a number of years time to keep track of dissidents.

“I had to do that at the time, for the welfare of my parents, who still lived in Romania. I also had brothers and sisters, and cousins, who would have been endangered as well if I did not work for the regime. I deluded myself into thinking it was justified, that the people they arrested because of the information I provided were radicals, troublemakers bent on disrupting the nation for their own benefit-criminals who wanted not freedom, as they claimed, but black market wealth. They were all thieves, murderers, and extortionists. In fact, I was told some of them were working for the Soviets. The Romanian regime always had a tempestuous and uneasy at best relationship with their puppet masters in Moscow.

“Of course, your father did not quite see it this way. He was incensed at me. He had just turned thirty-six at the time, and had just made his first million dollars. He was on top of the world, and used to brag to me that he would soon be a “master of the universe” or some sort of malarkey like that. When he learned all this, he said I had ruined everything for him. Money meant nothing to him in the face of the shame of his father being a double agent, a spy for a hated government. I told him it was good he finally realized money was not the most important thing in the world. He just looked at me with disgust, and walked out. We have had few words since then. What few we have exchanged have not been cordial.

“So now you know,” he concluded. “Your father has every reason and right in the world to despise me. And now-so do you.”

Lynette did not know exactly what to think about all this, but she realized her grandfather was going through an inner torment, and was guilt-ridden over actions he seemed to have felt were unavoidable.

“I love you grandfather,” she assured him. “What ever you did for Securitate, I know you have helped people as well. There are no easy answers to anything, is there? The whole world is a dull gray place. Sometimes it’s more a dark gray, sometimes it’s more a light gray, but the one constant is, it is always one shade or another of it.”

“That is very true, very true,” he replied. “And revenge is the darkest shade of all. Just enough white there to make it seem justified, but it rarely is.”


“A few months ago I hired a man, through your uncle, to kill Grace Rodescu,” he explained. “I was assured the matter would be settled, and I should concern myself no longer. I had forgotten the matter until I heard of the latest assault upon her. The man who was to kill her I was assured was an expert in his profession. The fee he charged was considerable, but this was understandable, as he typically takes weeks studying his prey, sizing them up, waiting until the perfect opportunity to make his move at the best possible place and time.

“I don’t know which is worse, the guilt I feel over initiating this abomination, or the fact that your uncle insisted I need not pay a dime. Whatever the case, I have never felt so horribly wretched and sinful as I feel now.”

“Grandfather, you have spent years doling out God’s forgiveness for every sin imaginable,” Lynette observed. “You deserve it as much as anyone else does, whether you believe that or not. As horrible as some of the things you told me are, I honestly believe that, and it changes nothing between you and I. I do wish you would come and see Marshall. Just meet him and get to know him, and then if you honestly don’t like him, that’s just the way it is.”

“You still want that, after everything I told you?”

“I want it more than ever,” she replied. “For now, I have to get back home. Please think about what I said, and do come over anytime. You don’t have to call.”

“Perhaps in a day or so I will,” Aleksandre promised as she walked toward the door.

“I am curious about something,” she said as she stopped in the doorway. “How did that woman know all that stuff, about Securitate?”

“She’s a reporter,” the old priest observed. “Evidently, she is a far better one than her current resume would indicate.”

“So it would seem,” Lynette said, then saying goodbye as she walked out the door.

Marshall returned home a little more than four hours after she did, and seemed to be in a particularly good mood, compared to what he had been over the last couple of weeks.

“I think I’m home free now,” he said. “I did my part, and the Pulse is happy. Even better, I saw Caldwell today, and as far as I can tell, he does not suspect anything. It’s like I took a great big dump and flushed every burden I been carrying down the toilet.”

“Well, what about Marlowe?” she asked. “What is the Pulse going to do for him?”

“I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care,” he said. “All I know is, I held up my end of the bargain. All that nonsense about you and him getting together after he gets out is just another one of his crazy delusions.”

“Well, it bothers me,” she said. “The crazier a delusion is, the more dangerous it can be.”

Marshall looked at her for a minute as though considering whether to tell her something. It annoyed her no end when he did that, but he usually managed to spit it out after some time.

“I found out who Cynthia is,” he finally said. “Are you ready for this? She’s a vulture-a goddamn black vulture that is supposed to come to him sometime soon with food. He says he’ll need it to keep his strength up after he breaks out. She’s going to feed him, he says, just like they usually feed their babies, just eat something dead and regurgitate right into his mouth.”

“Well, you know what they say about hospital food,” she said.

“Yeah, I offered to smuggle in some Chinese takeout,” Marshall said, “I guess he just has his heart set on some good vulture vomit.”

“So what is it with this guy?” she asked. “Has he always been this crazy?”

“He’s always been strange, but no, he’s gone off the deep end since his parents died, and he was almost killed. It’s almost like he really is a different person. But hell, like I said-Marlowe’s not my problem anymore.”

They spend the rest of the night playing matchstick poker, and by the time it was over, Lynette owed Marshall the equivalent of fifteen dollars, which impressed him. At one point, she had him down by twenty dollars.

“You know, you could really be good at this,” he said.

“Hopefully, I’m going to be good at a lot of things.”

“Well, I’m hoping we’ll find that out soon enough, not that I have any worries.”

He then reached into his pocket, got down on his knees, and proposed. She looked down at the biggest diamond she ever saw. She gasped in shock, then caught herself.

“Yeah, before you ask,” he said. “It’s for real.”

She said yes, more times than she would ever be able to remember, and they went out to celebrate. They went out to eat at the Horse You Came In On, an upscale restaurant Lynette had mentioned once, having seen it advertised one time on the television.

They settled in for the best seafood meal Lynette had ever experienced, consisting of red snapper, crabs, and lobster tail, and the most delectable white wine she ever drank.

“How on earth can you afford all this?” she asked as the waiter brought a dessert of lemon meringue pie.

“Caldwell has been real good to me,” he explained. “Of course, I can’t do this every night, you understand. I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with two or three nights a year.”

“Oh, I think I can live with that.”

After they went home, it was all Lynette could do to keep from throwing herself at him, and she could tell he realized her desires were boiling to the surface. She found herself no longer caring. Still, Marshall never pressed her in any way. When she finally grabbed him and kissed him, she made sure he understood she was more than willing. She started massaging his throbbing cock with her hands, and then began unzipping his pants. He pushed her hands away.

“I promised you I wouldn’t do anything until after we’re married and I meant it,” he explained.

She found herself actually angry at this insistence on his part. At first, she said nothing, and then found the strength to mutter that of course, he was right. She said goodnight and went off to bed, but after she undressed, she called out to Marshall and told him to close his eyes. He said all right, whereupon she walked back into the living room, and took his hands while telling him to be sure he kept his eyes closed shut.

She guided his hand open, and placed his fingers on her wet, hungry vagina. He almost automatically slid his hand on down until his palm was gently yet firmly squeezing her throbbing, pulsating pussy, as she gasped in excitement. He opened his eyes, and there she was, completely naked, her eyes pleading with him. He grabbed her and started kissing her, and she returned his kisses as she fell backward on the sofa, him on top of her in his underwear, his cock pressed against her thigh.

She reached down and grabbed hold of it, and thought it might well go off in her hand. She squeezed it hard, and pulled it as she rose, fully intending to lead him by the dick back to her bedroom.

“I’ve heard of leading somebody by the nose,” she said. “I think I like this better.”

He was huge, and she was determined she would have him, so far taken over by her lust she entertained no fear of any first time sexual pain. He rose as she playfully tugged, but then she saw April, standing outside the bathroom, drenched in blood and shit from the sewer, her throat slashed open, her eyes bulging outward, staring into her.

“No, bitch,” she moaned. “You don’t deserve to live. Look at what he did to me. Its his fault and here you are with him. I won’t allow you to make him happy. I’ll kill you first. I’ll kill everything he loves.”

Her voice was gravelly and rattled from deep inside her lungs, as her slashed throat seemed to pulsate in rhythm with the intonations. She turned to see Marshall just standing there, looking at her, speaking to her, in words she could not hear. She turned back to April, and saw her advancing closer towards her, her arms outstretched as she moaned in hateful anger. Lynette, paralyzed with terror, could no longer move, as April’s slime drenched arms reached out and her hand grasped Lynette by the throat.

Her next conscious memory was of waking in her bed, dazed and nauseous, as Marshall and her grandfather stood at her bedside. Four days had passed.

Thank God you’re finally awake,” Aleksandre Khoska said.

“Do you feel like getting up, baby?” Marshall asked. “The doctor said you should as soon as possible, but to be careful.”

“Doctor?” she asked. “Where am I, in the hospital?”

“No, you were at first, but you’re back home now,” Marshall said. “You’re whole family has been to see you. Your mom, your dad, your brothers, more people than I knew white folks had in any one family.”

He smiled when he said this, but his concern was palpable.

“What happened to me?” she asked, remembering her vision of April, though it was more of a blur now, though she yet remembered how intense the experience seemed to be at the time.

“Doctor McCann says you seem to have had some sort of seizure,” Khoska explained. “He seems to think there may have been some form of audio or visual hallucinations involved. He referred to it as some kind of episode involving the temporal lobes. Of course, he is unsure as of yet.”

“I need to get up from here,” she said. She arose from her bed, and noticed she was now dressed in a robe, over a nightgown. She absently wondered whether Marshall had dressed her before or immediately after calling an ambulance. She tried to center her thoughts on any matter other than the horrific vision she had experienced.

After about an hour of walking about, then sitting, then walking some more, she finally started to feel like she was becoming focused and aware, and possibly even normal. Still, she knew something serious had happened to her, and was troubled at the implications of it.

“You have an appointment to see a Doctor Tariq,” Khoska said.

“He’s Marlowe’s doctor,” Marshall explained. “He’s supposed to be a top notch psychiatrist. I asked McCann about him, and he recommended him highly. He’s expensive, but don’t worry about that, all right?”

“A psychiatrist?” Lynette asked.

“Just in case,” Marshall said. “Just to make sure all the bases are covered. McCann made the suggestion, actually. I just inquired about Tariq. McCann confirmed he is one of the best in his business.”

“Still, he’s a Muslim, I assume,” Aleksandre said. “Not exactly the most trustworthy people in the world, but if he is as good as your doctor says, I suppose he is worth the risk. Just don’t let him see an ankle or anything that might be construed as indecent-which is anything involving female skin with those people-and I suppose he can be objective. He certainly charges enough money that he should be.”

“Uh-yeah,” Marshall said. “Look, like I said, I can pay for it. Are you hungry, sweetie?”

“A little,” she said. “I guess I haven’t had anything but liquids through my veins for the last couple of days, huh?”

“I brought you a good fruit salad from Kroger’s deli,” Marshall said. “McCann said not to try to eat anything too heavy for a couple of days. That cool?”

“I guess it will have to be,” she replied. “Actually, it sounds quite good right now.”

Marshall accompanied her to the kitchen table, and then procured the salad from the refrigerator. Aleksandre then joined them in the kitchen.

“Your friend here has been invaluable to you, Lynette,” he said. “I really do appreciate that. Of course, I am still not all that taken with the idea of this marriage, but I will say my piece, and be done with it. Then, I will go, and if you persist, I will give you my blessing. It would be unseemly not to do so.”

“Don’t knock yourself out on my account, gramps,” Marshall said. “I’d do anything for Lynette. Nobody owes me any favors, dog.”

“Dog?” Khoska said, and bristled.

“It’s a term of friendship, grandfather,” Lynette informed him.

“Oh, I see. Some more of this black slang language I have grown somewhat familiar with over the last couple of days. Your friend Toby was here last night for about an hour, and I think I understood about ten minutes worth of the conversation they engaged in.”

“Toby was here?” Lynette asked as she gazed questioningly at Marshall, who nodded sullenly as Aleksandre began to regale him with what he obviously considered heartfelt advice.

“You know any children you bring into this world will never be totally accepted by either of your respective races,” he informed them. “In some cases, they will be the objects of pity. In other cases, they will receive nothing but scorn. It is a shame that the human race is so prejudiced against innocent children, but that is just the reality of life. Perhaps it will be not quite as bad in America as it would be in Romania. Still, people are people, wherever they are. There will always be those who will judge you, Lynette, as white trash, and as a ‘nigger lover’. They might not even say these things to your face. They might even smile and act as if they are your friends. Nevertheless, there will be those who will never look at you as anything but as a woman who has lowered herself to cohabiting with a man of a lower race.

“My advice, therefore, is to make sure what you are feeling really is love, and is based on sound spiritual and emotional maturity and judgment. If this is the case, then your marriage of course will weather any storm. If it is not, however, then you are heading toward a rough life, and will presumably be bringing an innocent child into it as well, to suffer alongside you. That is not the meaning of life, to suffer needlessly. There is enough suffering as it is. Moreover, even if your life is the best it can be after all, believe me, you will know suffering.

“I know of course, that you are still weak from your ordeal, and perhaps this isn’t the best time to be bringing this up. However, I have been made to understand that you are now engaged, and are soon to be married. I felt it incumbent to broach this subject while there yet is time. Of course, as I said, if you decide to go through with it, you have my blessing.”

Lynette looked at Marshall, who just listened solemnly as he looked at her grandfather dispassionately all the time he talked, as though taking every word he said under serious consideration. He made no sound, waiting until her grandfather finally finished his unbecoming, ill-advised monologue.

“Father Khoska, you say you’re from Romania, right?” he asked. “Are you sure you ain’t got ancestors from someplace like Mississippi-or Georgia, maybe?”

“Georgia, you say?” Aleksandre replied. “No, not at all-though I do have some distant relatives in Armenia, and a few in Moldova. Why do you ask?”

Marshall just shook his head and smiled.

“Never mind, it ain’t really important,” he said. “I appreciate the sentiment anyway, Really, I do.”

Khoska left after a few more minutes, during which he blessed both Lynette and Marshall, who walked him to the door.

“Well, that was about the strangest blessing I ever got in my life,” he said after the old priest left. “I doubt he’ll be going with us to any jazz festivals any time soon.”

“Don’t mind him, he means well,” Lynette said.

“Yeah, that’s what worries me,” Marshall replied as he joined her now on the sofa. “I didn’t think it was possible to experience such friendly bigotry. I’m just glad he likes me.”

“Marshall, he’ll get over it in time. I told you how he was. At least he’s not two-faced about it. Right now, he’s the least of my concerns. You don’t really know what happened to me, I take it. You didn’t see what I saw. I saw April, lurching toward me, grabbing at me, telling me she would kill me before she allowed me to make you happy. I know it’s crazy, but it seemed so damn real at the time. What really scares me is that it still seems real. When I think of how you dreamed about her, and that creepy Reverend guy says he saw her”-

“I knew it!” he shouted. “One time when you were thrashing on the ground, you kept saying ‘please don’t’, and when I went to grab the phone, I could have sworn you said April’s name. This is really starting to fuck me up. Krovell promised me he’d keep her from hurting us, any of us. Well, I see now how it is. Hell, as if its rational to trust a crazy man, let alone believe what he says is real.

“It was a seizure, Lynette. All the stress of everything we’ve gone through together, and the fact that I gave you a pretty good description of what I saw in my dreams, it just added up and came together. We were getting ready to do the dirty, remember? Something we both swore we would never do until we were married. Well, maybe your subconscious invented a way to prevent you from going through with it. Who knows, I ain’t a psychologist, but I’m betting I ain’t too far off the mark.”

“That’s something else I meant to ask you about,” Lynette said. “You made me an appointment to see Marlowe’s psychiatrist-Why him, of all people?

“Nobody is as good as Tariq,” Marshall explained. “Besides I have another reason. This bullshit Marlowe is getting ready to pull really has me worried. I don’t think there’s any way in hell he can pull off any kind of escape. Just the same, I think Tariq could be in danger. Who knows what Marlowe is planning? Spooky Gold told me he’s planning to call in a bomb threat to the hospital, and escape during the confusion. That’s one reason he wanted the cell phone He had me hide the extra change of clothing and the crowbar in another patient’s room.

“Plus, Marlowe says he has an inside track with somebody that can help him, who in fact has helped him already. It’s really starting to worry me that the fool might actually pull it off. He certainly seems awful sure of himself for a crazy person. His plan actually even makes a little bit of sense. I just wish I knew more about it.”

“So you want me to warn Tariq about Marlowe?”

“Well, not in so many words. Just explain that you know him from an on-line Christian dating site, and that you think he’s dangerous. Tell him you think he’s capable of anything and might want to make sure he is closely watched at all times, that kind of thing. You might even want to add in that you suspect he’s the one responsible for April’s death. Who knows, maybe if you sound sincere enough, Tariq will take you seriously enough to take some extra precautions. That way, maybe me and you both can sleep a little better.

“The best thing about it is, since you will be his patient, he will be under that patient-doc confidence thing, so he can’t rat you out to Marlowe. He can sure keep an eye on him, though.

“And like I said, the guy is tops in his field, so if there is anything physically wrong with your brain, he should be able to tell right away, or hopefully rule it out. We can hope, anyway.”

Lynette nodded in agreement, but found it hard to mouth the words, though she did. She wondered why the subterfuge? Why not just come out and tell Tariq what Marlowe was planning. However, Marshall was adamant about it. He was already in too deep, for one thing, and besides that, he readily admitted he feared Marlowe somewhat. He was not sure exactly why the Seventeenth Pulse needed to be involved, but he supposed that he made a deal with them to hide him out, possibly even to get him out of Baltimore.

“That is the most surprising part of all this,” he added. “Marlowe makes your grandfather look like the essence of tolerance and racial harmony. If I hadn’t been such a reliable supplier of heroin and marijuana to him, he wouldn’t give me the time of day. That’s just the facts. For him to trust a gang like the Pulse, well that’s just too much of a change to make any kind of sense.”

Lynette’s appointment with Tariq was five days later, and when she went, she had to take a cab. She could not trust her current condition enough to drive, and Marshall could not afford to take off work, as she herself had found it necessary to take a temporary leave of absence from her own job. By the time she made it to the complex of offices where he conducted his private practice, she was wary of going through with it, but forced herself to exit the cab and make her way toward the front entrance.

She entered the lobby, and looked for the directions to the office, which she learned were on the third floor. She looked around for the elevator, but saw the closest one across the large lobby was marked off with a “Caution-Floor Wet” sign. She decided she did not yet feel that steady, and since the office was only on the third floor, decided she could use the exercise at any rate. She therefore walked to the stairs nearest her, and proceeded upwards. When she got up to the third floor, however, she heard the sound of a hushed conversation. It was a man, and a woman. The woman seemed desperate, and told the man that she wanted him desperately, but she could not keep doing this.

“It is not right, my husband’s office is just down the hall,” she complained. “My children are at home, all by themselves. I should”-

“Oh shit, your kids will be all right,” the man was saying. “They ain’t babies, what are they, six and eight? They’ll be fine, as long as they know not to answer the door for strangers. Besides, you know you love this shit, right? Come on, baby, grab hold of this cock. It’s a real man’s cock, and it wants you. It needs you, sweetheart. Please, baby, suck it for me.”

“Oh, God, I love you so much-I want you so much,” the woman was saying, and though she did not actually seem to sound sincere, Lynette wondered if she herself sounded that weak, that stupidly naive, when she talked to Marshall. She almost wanted to walk up there and “accidentally” interrupt their little tryst. She was appalled that a grown woman could be so selfish as to leave two young children of the stated age alone in order to engage in an illicit affair with a man not her husband-right down the hall from where her husband worked, at that.

Still, she thought better of it, and made her way to Tariq’s office. She entered to see that she was one of only two patients that waited to see him, so evidently one patient was already in the office. She walked up to the receptionist and gave her name and appointment time, whereupon the woman gave her a form to fill out.

She sat down, and as she filled out the form, she felt as though eyes were boring into her from across the room. She turned in the direction of the lone waiting evident outpatient, an old woman who seemed to be dressed not so much in Muslim garb as in more of a traditional gypsy outfit. She was indeed staring directly at her as she smiled knowingly. It was very unnerving.

“Are you waiting to see Doctor Tariq?” Lynette asked.

“I have been waiting for a long time-a very, very long time indeed,” the old woman answered. “My name is Magda.”

“Well, it is nice to meet you. My name is Lynette.” The woman cackled at this.

“Yes, I know,” she said. “It is good to finally meet you.”

Lynette did not know how to respond to that. Obviously, she decided, this was one of Doctor Tariq’s patients. Suddenly, the receptionist asked her if she was all right. When Lynette informed her that she felt fine, the woman reminded her that she must fill out the entire form. Lynette found this to be quite a rude statement from the woman, who obviously was a little too used to seeing the comings and goings of patients who were not used to adequately handling even the most minor of duties. She told her curtly that she was about done, and then glanced absently in the direction of the old woman. She was nowhere in the lobby to be seen. Lynette just stared where the old woman had sat, and then looked all around.

Satisfactorily embarrassed and unnerved though she was, she focused her attention on filling out the form, after which she handed them in to the receptionist, who acted as though nothing had transpired that was in the least bit unusual.

“Doctor Tariq should not be that much longer,” she informed Lynette.

When Tariq came twenty minutes later to call Lynette into his office, she found herself checking her legs, inadvertently fearing she might have worn too revealing a dress for the Jordanian psychiatrist’s tastes, though she in fact picked out the longest dress she had. She felt uncomfortable the entire time, though Tariq’s expression revealed nothing one way or another.

“I have here the x-rays and CAT-scan results of your tests,” he told her. “The good news is, there is no sign of any lesions or scarring, and even more thankfully, there are no tumors of any size-none whatsoever. Of course, that leaves the bad news, which is we do not truly know what is wrong with you. Even your electrocardiogram showed perfectly normal results, though we might want to run another test in a couple of weeks.”

“I wasn’t even aware any such tests were performed,” she said.

“Well, it was through the auspices of Doctor McCann, of course. Both your father and your mother signed for you to have the tests, which unfortunately was a necessity, since naturally you were in no state to sign for yourself.”

“I see,” Lynette said, as she suddenly noticed the doctor could not help but betray a hint of curiosity about her that almost seemed to border on suspicion.

Tariq asked her if there had been any drug or alcohol use, whereupon she replied she had drunk some beer and wine on about four different occasions over the last four months, including some wine with diner the night of her episode, but had not gotten drunk since late December of the previous year. That in fact was the first and last time she had done so, with the sole exception of her sweet-sixteen party more than seven years before.

“Any head injuries that you are aware of?” he continued. “Any sort of traumatic injuries to the neck or back, or any kind of electrical shock? Have you ever been involved in any automobile accidents, or falls?”

“None whatsoever,” she replied.

Suddenly, the receptionist entered and apologized for the intrusion, saying that “Raghda” was there to see him.

“Tell her I am with a patient and it will have to wait,” he replied.

“My wife,” he then explained to Lynette. “She drops by here quite often lately, although why I don’t know.”

Lynette immediately thought of the woman she heard engaging in a tryst out in the stairwell above the third floor, who expressed concern about her activities with her lover so close to her husband’s office.

“How many children do you have?” Lynette asked, seeing no signs of any photographs on the doctor’s desk.

“We have two, ages six and eight, a boy and a girl,” he replied. “Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” she said, excusing her curiosity on the grounds of beginning the planning stages of a marriage, and wondering about the prospect of having children. Secretly, she was disturbed at this development. How could a man who could not control his own family’s affairs have any qualifications to advise her on her own? Of course, he was more than just a psychologist. He was in fact a psychiatrist, a medical specialist.

“I am curious about something as well,” he said. “Why is it Doctor McCann referred you to me? According to him, this was done at the request of your fiancé, but the reasons were never made clear to me.”

“He says you are the best in the business, at least as far as this area goes,” she explained, finally thankful for the chance to get to the crux of the matter. “In fact, you’ve been treating a friend of ours, a Marlowe Krovell.”

“You know Marlowe?” Tariq asked, both surprised and, it would seem, disturbed.

“In a manner of speaking,” she replied. “I only know him from the internet, but it turns out Marshall has known him for quite some time. I guess you could call it one of those ‘small world’ kinds of things.”

“So you really do not know Marlowe,” Tariq observed.

“Only enough to know that he is dangerous,” she replied. “You have to watch him carefully, because he’s capable of anything. We are even sure he’s responsible for the death of my friend April.”

“Sandusky?” Tariq asked this in a manner that suggested incredulity. “No, I am afraid you are very wrong there. I personally escorted Marlowe to the hospital from his home, the night following the night of her murder. I remember that night all too well. His uncle was responsible for his commitment to my care, and was very concerned about his welfare-had been for some time. According to him, he had not left their home for over a month. I cannot tell you what he is or is not capable of, of course, as he is my patient. What I can promise you is he was nowhere in the vicinity of that girls murder.”

“Well, actually, Marshall fixed him up with her the night of her murder,” she replied, which stunned Tariq. He had to struggle momentarily to regain his composure.

“Miss Khoska, you never did exactly answer my question,” he said. “Why exactly did you want to see me? If you came to see me about Marlowe, let me assure you, I have the matter well in hand.”

Yeah, right, Lynette could not help but think to herself. Your own wife seems to be in the arms of another man behind your back, but you can control a crazy person like Marlowe?

“Marlowe is being watched carefully, I promise you. I am not telling you that he might be thinking about escaping, so do not misunderstand me. On the other hand, what I might hear him say to an invisible friend by the name of Mircea, for example, is not exactly privileged information. I’ll put it to you this way. If he were to try to escape, I am more than ready for him. I see that he is carefully monitored at all times. We are professionals, I assure you. If there is by any chance any reason you feel you need to be concerned about him, I think you can trust me when I say you should put your mind at rest on this matter.

“Now, if you would like to return to the subject of your own health, I would be interested in knowing exactly what happened to you that night.”

When Lynette told her about the vision concerning April Sandusky, he seemed to express a degree of understanding as to her concerns about his other patient.

“My boyfriend tends to think that”-

“That it was a result of your anxiety over your intentions to engage in sexual relations against your previous commitments pertaining to this, I know. That is actually a good amateur diagnosis. It would hardly be a groundbreaking one, however. In fact, there is one major problem with it. It does not explain the recurring nightmares that occurred before this event. Nor does it follow the usual predictable pattern, in the sense that such episodes rarely, if ever, manifest to such a profoundly disturbing degree.

“In most cases, such innate anxieties will erupt in sudden outbreaks of hostility, or panic attacks of a seemingly physical nature, such as severe chest pain and shortness of breath. It can even lead to seizures and black outs as you experienced. Nevertheless, there is no explanation for such a hallucination, nor is there anything in your CAT scan that would suggest any kind of abnormality in the brain.

“In short, easy answers such as that one are rarely valid. In fact, they present themselves to the mind of a layman mainly as a coping mechanism. It provides an excuse to sweep things conveniently under the rug, and hope it is settled. Of course, there is the possibility that it is indeed the answer. I do not discount this. However, I am very much afraid there is much more to it than that.

“There is no indication of sexual trauma, nor is any kind of sexual abuse in your past apparent. You can only bury something like this to a limited extent, and I would have already seen it by now. Your friend tells you I am the best for a reason, you see. The fact is I am. I can tell that you are generally a well-rounded, mature woman, more so than your years would suggest, and at the same time, you seem to have very few hang-ups, to use a common terminology of the day.

“Of course, we will need to talk some more. We need to go over your past. I am particularly curious about your early teenage and preteen years. If there is an answer, it will reveal itself in time. For now, I want to write you a prescription for a mild sedative. You should not drive, of course, or engage in any potentially hazardous activity, especially when you are alone. Cooking would be one example of an activity to avoid. Be cautious going up and down steps as well.”

“Oh, shit, that reminds me,” Lynette blurted. “Your wife-I hope you aren’t keeping her waiting too long.”

Tairq just looked at her strangely, and Lynette sunk down in her chair.

“Why did that remind you of my wife?” he asked.

“I-thought I heard something outside, that’s all,” she said, and knew that Tariq could tell she was lying.

“My wife is aware of my responsibilities,” he said. “Still, we have gone somewhat over the time I usually reserve for a first time patient. I will write you out a prescription for Alprazolam. Take one tablet only, before bedtime, along with some fresh fruit-preferably a banana. If you notice any ill side effects, let me know. I will also write you out an appointment for two weeks from now. Of course, again, if you have any other episodes, be sure and let me know about anything that happens.”

She left the office and immediately made note of Raghda Tariq sitting in a chair at the opposite end of the room from the receptionist’s desk. She turned to see that Tariq himself remained in his office, probably finishing the paper work on her case. She walked up to the woman, dressed in modern Muslim attire with headscarf, who regarded her approach with seeming trepidation.

“Did I see you up in the stairwell going up to the fourth floor with some man?” she blurted. “I was just wondering if you could tell me who he was. I think I know him.”

“No, no, it wasn’t me,” the woman said curtly. “I have been in here ever since I come to the building.”

Lynette knew she was lying. She was positive Raghda’s was the voice she heard in the stairwell.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lynette said. “I guess it was another woman. I’m sure I know that man though. Maybe your husband will know from his description.”

“No,” the woman now begged her silently and desperately. “Don’t mention this to him, please. If he thinks it was me, it will ruin me.”

“Look, I just want to know who the man was,” Lynette said. “I swear I won’t say anything, provided you tell me what I want to know.”

“I don’t know his name for sure,” Raghda said nervously. “He calls himself Spooky. You know, like the ghost. I swear, that is all I know.”

The receptionist then told Mrs. Tariq that her husband was ready to see her, and she arose, looked at Lynette with pleading eyes, and then made her way toward the office.

Lynette took the elevator down to the building main lobby this time, and made her way outside, after stopping long enough to call a cab. She stepped out into the open air and lit a cigarette, as she prepared for what she hoped would not be a very long wait. She had no sooner put it to her lips than she heard a familiar voice.

“That shit’s gonna kill you one of these day,” the familiar voice said. It was Dwayne Letcher, aka Toby Da Pimp.

“What the hell are you doing here, woman?” he demanded.

“Well, not that it’s any of your business, but I had a doctor’s appointment, because of a seizure I had last week.”

She was determined she would not let herself be intimidated by this thug, but she was nevertheless wary of him.

“Yeah, and you wouldn’t have by any chance taken it on yourself to warn him about Marlowe’s little escape plan, would you?”

She did not answer him, instead taking a long drag off her cigarette.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, bitch!” he snarled. “Let me tell you something. I got a chance to get me two hundred thousand smackers from this deal. I’m not gonna let you ruin it for me. None of the other guys would take too kindly to it either, I promise you.

“Marlowe has already told me that if his escape plans fall through, he’s gonna turn us all in. I can do without that, and so can your man Marshall. You do love Marshall, I take it-or is that just another little white girls game? Save the big black buck stud nigger from himself and his buddies, and in the meantime, you got your own little private ‘Mandingo’-is that the way it works?”

“You seem to think you got all the answers, huh? I wish I had a few. No, all I told Tariq was that Marshall may have killed April, and he’s definitely dangerous, but he already knew that anyway. He told me that he’s been monitoring every move Marlowe makes. So if I were you, I would hope you didn’t look too squarely into the security cameras when you paid your little visits. I know how you love the sound of your voice, so I also know there’s no chance you talked low enough for it not to be recorded.”

“Oh, you got it all wrong,” he said. “It ain’t me that been helping Marlowe along with his plans, getting the word out. No, Tariq’s own wife has been doing that. She does volunteer work at the hospital, mainly with the female patients, but Marlowe has a special way of leaving her messages to get to us. See, a funny thing about Arab women, especially Muslims, is if you rape them, they be so ashamed they do anything you tell them from that time on, just to keep you from bragging about it to the wrong people.

“See, she’s one of these old-fashioned types, from Jordan, and there, if a woman is raped, well it’s her fault. Oh yeah, her husband might forgive her, but then she have to be worrying about all her family-the ones here and there. Oh yeah, and his family, she can’t forget them. Not to mention all those worshippers at the mosque they go to in Washington, and all the imams. It’s sad, really.”

“Oh, and as for your boyfriend, I think there’s something else you ought to know. This thing is going down, and when it does, believe me-he knows every damn thing about it. He tells you he only knows that we be doing whatever Marlowe tells us to do? Well, that is pure bullshit. When it all comes down, it is going to be a big, big, big, big deal. Marshall knows about all of it. So if we be implicated in what goes down, he will too. For that matter, maybe you little precious white ass won’t be looking too pretty either. Bear all that in mind, will ya?”

He spat a wad of snuff out on the sidewalk, and turned to walk off, leaving Lynette to bristle in impotent fury. She wanted to believe he was lying, but deep down inside, she feared he was not. The cab arrived soon after Toby got out of sight, and she made her way home, not sure of what she was going to say to Marshall. She feared the prospect of causing a violent argument between him and Toby, and with The Pulse in general. She feared even more the possibility that Toby might have been telling the truth. She decided she would feel her way through it.

When she got home, she saw that Marshall seemed to be in an extremely good mood. In fact, he seemed to be ebullient. His expression did not even change when she told him that there was no sign as of yet of any physiological brain disorders. He seemed to think he knew it would turn out that way all along.

‘I got some more good news,” he said. “Our troubles are over, and rather than make you wait to see it for yourself, I got it right here so you can watch it now, courtesy of TIVO.”

“TIVO? When did you get that?”

“Just today. When I heard the news, I just had to celebrate, and what better way to do it than by catching the local morning news broadcast, recorded live and in living color.”

He turned on the TV and immediately set it to the previously recorded news broadcast. The scene was at a rundown, dilapidated farm that had recently burned, and was somewhere in a remote area of Virginia. The news anchor revealed how forensic evidence indicated the deaths of John and Martha Leighton had not been due to a fire, but in fact, the murders of the pair occurred months past. The rundown condition of the farm itself had been one indication of this, as well as the presence of several cattle carcasses discovered over wide swaths of the seventy-six acre farm. The oldest one indicated death at some five months distant. This all correlated with the general rundown condition of the farm, which seemed overgrown with weeds, but no crops of any kind.

“That’s what they been after Joseph and his people for,” he said triumphantly. “All this time, they have been suspecting them of involvement in these people’s deaths. Look, there’s the little bitch now. Her name is Debbie Leighton. She’s the Leighton’s only child, and she’s a member of Joseph’s so-called vampire group. They call her Spanky. Well, she’s got a good spanking coming her way now.”

Lynette just looked at him sullenly. He was beaming.

“Don’t you get it? All this time I been worried they was trying to tie the poisoning of those high school kids with that pot off on The Pulse, and maybe me. Come to find out, this is what they been holding them for the whole time. They just been keeping it all close to the vest until they had all they ducks quacking straight up. Now that the forensics are in and determined, they got ‘em dead to rights. All of ‘em-Joseph, Spanky, Sierra, Milo, Rhino, and thank God, Larceny. That’s it. It’s over.”

“How horrible would it be to die like that?” she asked. “Murdered by your own daughter and her psychopath friends. Murdered and left to rot for months. For what, because they didn’t get her a bicycle for her tenth birthday? Sorry, Marshall, I don’t see anything to cheer about.”

“Oh, baby, come on,” he said as she got up and went toward the bedroom.

“I need to lay down. I’m really tired. I have some prescriptions I have to fill, but I’m waiting until tomorrow. I’m exhausted.”

“Well, hell, I can go fill them for you, what is it?”

“Xanax, it looks like,” Lynette replied as she perused the prescription from Tariq.

“What? You’re kidding. Hell, I could ‘a got that for you.”

She just looked at him, in a mixture of sadness and coldness that was so incongruous, it made him catch his breath.

“You know, if by some chance that was April I saw that night, I’m starting to wonder if she didn’t do me the biggest favor anybody ever done for me,” she observed, then went into the bedroom, leaving him in the living room alone.

“Look, if you want me to leave, just say so,” he said in exasperation. “If we’re going to start acting like a typical married couple that can’t stand to be around each other, I can’t deal with that. We’ve got to talk this thing out.”

“No, I don’t want you to leave, Marshall,” she said. “I just get very tired of you thinking about yourself. To hell with everybody else, as long as Marshall gets by. And well, I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it seems sometimes.”

“That would be we.” he replied. “As long as we get by-as in me and you? Look baby, I was not jumping for joy because those two old farmers got cut up by they sick ass daughter. I’m glad they got her, and the rest of them. I was just relieved they weren’t holding them for any reason that had anything to do with me. Don’t you get that? What, you think I’m glad it happened and I had a chance to go through hell for weeks on end worrying about it? Hell no, that’s just the point-it had nothing to do with me.”

“But you did sell them drugs,” she reminded him. “Drugs they might well have been under the influence of the night they perpetrated that crime. Did you ever think of that?

She had him there, at least momentarily. He was not sure how to answer her at first.

“Look, let’s watch some television, the afternoon local news will be on in a minute, and maybe they’ll have an update,” he said as he switched on the television. “You heard them say how that little Leighton bitch might be turning states evidence against the rest of them in return for a reduced sentence. She’s a juvenile, after all.”

“Yeah, sixteen,” Lynette observed. “One day she’ll get older, and I feel sorry for her when the magnitude of what she’s done begins to sink in. That would be a hell of a thing to live with the rest of your life.”

“What?” he shouted. “You’re kidding, right? Now you’re starting to feel sorry for her?”

“Marshall, look at that. What are they talking about?”

They watched as a female correspondent reported the bizarre news of the abduction of an infant by what was apparently a vulture. The mother of the child, a woman by the name Dooley, was now begging for help in finding the baby.

“Police have as yet released no statement pertaining to the validity of the mother’s claims, and have taken her in for questioning, as well as a neighbor-a man who is said to have witnessed the alleged incident.”

Marshall listened glumly as the reporter droned on about the incredibly suspicious story. The woman’s taped pleas seemed authentic and sincere-at least they did to Lynette. The anchorwoman could barely hide her skepticism, and went on to report that the child’s father was an employee of Johns Hopkins University Hospital, where he worked as a physical therapist.

“Well, I guess our Cynthia has made her presence known after all.”

“That’s not funny, Marshall.”

“I’m not joking.”

They listened to the rest of the report. When it finally ended, the news anchors went into an update on the Leighton murders, and the involvement of the Karinsky vampire cult, as the perpetrators were now widely known. There was no mention of anything concerning a potential plea agreement, or the turning of states evidence. There was, however, one new piece of previously unreleased information.

“Virginia state forensic examiners have now confirmed the name of the third victim killed at the Leighton farm, who was evidently murdered on the night of the fire some two months ago. The man’s name was Peter Domenic”-

As the anchorman gave the victim’s name, a picture flashed upon the screen of a sandy-haired though balding man who seemed to be in his mid-forties. Lynette gasped when she saw the picture.

“Domenic, a former FBI investigator, with reputed ties to organized crime, has been self-employed over the last several years as a private investigator.”

“Marshall, I know him,” Lynette said. “He’s the one”-

Lynette fell silent as the anchorman continued his report. Marshall looked at her curiously as the report continued.

“There has been much speculation as to the reason for the presence of Domenic at the Leighton Farm, though there is no word as of yet as to whether he was involved in any investigations concerning the Leightons or the Karinsky group. Nor has any records surfaced as to who he was working for in conjunction with his presence at the farm on the night of his death.”

“He works for my uncle Voroslav,” she said sadly.


Lynette just sat there, shocked.

“Your uncle, this Voroslav, is he another businessman like your dad? Come on Lynette, you are kidding, right?”

“No, he’s a Priest, with the Romanian Orthodox Church like my grandfather-or he was. He’s retired now. Actually, I heard something to the effect that he was forced to retire, but I don’t know why. He is rich though. Why he would have any interest in a couple of old farmers in Virginia I can’t begin to know.”

“Well, maybe it didn’t have anything to do with him. Maybe this Domenic was working for another client.”

Despite his reassurances, Lynette could tell that Marshall was as confused and surprised as she was. If he knew her uncle, she realized, he would not be so surprised.

“If he wasn’t working for my uncle, he was definitely working for his associates. I think they probably have him on retainer. Everybody they work with, they keep on retainer.”

“What people are we talking about here?” he asked.

“The Russian mafia,” she said.

“What?” he demanded. “You mean to tell me I’m dating a woman with family connections to the Russian mob? Holy fucking shit, it ain’t no wonder your father is upset. He is probably in with them too. Holy Jesus fucking Christ, this is turning into West Side Story! I love it!”

He was ecstatic. He was also serious, and turned off the television.

“Baby, don’t you see? The Pulse and the mob are rivals-well, here in Baltimore. We have an agreement, a kind of loose territorial agreement, and we even do business from time to time. But it’s not about the love, believe me. I bet your old man is walking the floor right now. This is almost scary. It’s like fate. Damn!”

“Well, it’s certainly something,” she agreed. “I promise you my father is not involved with the mob, though. No one else in my family is. The only thing my father has in common with Uncle Voroslav, besides the fact they are both wealthy, is they are both black sheep of the family. My father is one because he would not become a priest. Uncle Voroslav is one because he did. He just wasn’t a very good one.”

“So, what did he do that was so bad he got kicked out of the church?” Marshall asked, eager for more information. “And how did you meet this Domenic?”

“He used to be a bodyguard for my cousin Marnie,” she explained. “I met him there when I visited her one weekend, the summer after my first year in college. Someone had threatened her, because of Uncle Voroslav. Whoever it was had gone to the point of stealing her identity, changing her phone number and mailing address, and evidently was listening to messages and reading mail meant for her. Whoever was responsible stole no money, and Marnie just changed her accounts and information. They never learned who was responsible. Voroslav thought it was one of his enemies, according to Marnie, just someone trying to go through her to get information on him.

“I just know that the week I spent with her, this guy was always around, watching Marnie like a hawk, and me too for that matter. I got the impression he didn’t exactly trust me. I guess that just comes with the territory of being a private investigator.”

“And you’re sure it was him?” Marshall aksed.

“Yes, I recognize the name, and his picture too,” she assured him. “I remember Marnie said something to the effect that Dominic once worked for the Italian mob, as a hit man, and may have been working for them even when he was an FBI agent. After the feds busted them, he got in with the Russians, based on his FBI connections as much as his work with the mob. The only thing anybody was really sure about was that he was bad news.”

“As far as Voroslav and why he was defrocked from the Church, and who his enemies were, I have no idea. I would guess a majority of the church patriarchs do not approve of mobsters.”

“Well, they have good reason to feel that way, because the only difference between the Russians and The Pulse is one of power. The Russians have a hell of a lot more of it. Otherwise, they’re basically the same kind of people, just with more power over a hell of a lot more territory.”

“Father says many of them are former KGB spies and Russian communist party bureaucrats,” Lynette told him. “The same holds true for-oh my fucking God, the same holds true for the Romanian branch of the mob. A lot of them are former fucking Securitate agents.”

Lynette suddenly realized why, for so many years, her father held her grandfather in such low esteem, to the point that it almost bordered on a pathological hatred. She saw both men consumed by their profound dislike for each other, and Lynette should have made the connection from her earlier conversation with her grandfather. However, it never sunk in through the morass of emotions through which she waded.

She had to talk to her grandfather about her uncle. She had to know just how involved her grandfather was with the hated communist spy agency, and on what level if any her uncle was involved, or if he had been, and what her grandfather knew about it.

She was almost on her way out the door all the time she expressed these concerns to Marshall, but he stopped her, even going so far as to stand in the way of the door.

“You know you can’t be going out after what you been through, and you sure as hell can’t be driving,” he insisted. “Give it a rest for a while. Come to think about it-oh hell no, I got me a hell of an idea. Let’s go pick up your prescription. Come on, I’ll drive you over to WalGreens.”

“I guess I really should start taking it tonight,” Lynette replied. “What’s the big hurry, though?”

“I just had a hell of an idea,” he said. “Come on, you’ll see.”

On the way, he asked her what the dosage was, and she told him it was .25 milligrams.

“Damn, that’s all?” he asked. “Man, what a bitch. Those things are like taking crack. They don’t last but about three hours at the most.”

“Well, I’m only supposed to take it at bedtime. I guess he was afraid to start me out on the strong stuff.”

“Yeah, well I got an idea,” he said as they pulled into the large parking lot of the chain pharmacy. “You go on in and get your stuff, I got some place I gots to go real quick like. It might take me about thirty or forty minutes, so just look around if I ain’t done by the time you get through. If you see something you like, go ahead and pick it up. I’ll pay for it when I get back.”

She warily made her way into the store as she wondered what exactly Marshall was planning. She was not in the mood for any surprises, not even good ones. Her nerves still wound tight, she just wanted peace and quiet for a few days. Still, she realized it was not exactly helping her to sit around the house all day worrying, so after she picked up her prescription-a process that took all of ten minutes-she looked around in the magazine section of the store.

She had just begun thumbing thorough the latest edition of USA Today when a hand tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to see the desperate, fear-filled eyes of the woman she met for the first time this day in her psychiatrist’s office.

“Mrs. Tariq,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“Getting ready to die and I don’t have much time,” she said. “I was hoping you would come here today to get your prescription filled. I need to talk to you, about a very important matter.”

When Lynette saw how horrified the woman truly was, she felt pangs of guilt.

“Mrs. Tariq, I promise you I have no intention of saying anything to your husband,” Lynette assured her. “It’s really none of my business, it’s just that”-

“That is not my concern,” she said. “You are the only person I can turn to. This man you saw me with today, he has my children. Or rather, his friends have them. If I do not do what they say, they will kill them. He waits for me now. I have only a few minutes to meet him. Will you please help me?”

“I-don’t know what I can do,” Lynette said. “You should call the police if what you say is true.”

“I dare not,” she replied. “I have been unfaithful, though this was forced upon me as well. I want you to promise me, that after tomorrow, you will tell the police what I have told you. I will be dead by then. Hopefully, my children will be at the Washington mosque, as this evil man promised me they would be. Make sure that my husband understands that I only did what was demanded of me for our children’s sake. Please-you must promise me.”

Lynette was dumbfounded and at the same time, horrified to find herself in the middle of such a malicious plot.

“What is it exactly they want from you?” Lynette demanded.

“They want me to transfer some of my husband’s money into several bank accounts, or rather to insure the transactions are allowed to take place in the event I am called for verification. It is a total of 3.4 million dollars, I believe. You say you know this man I was with, so I know I am taking a chance in telling you all this. That does not matter. I know my life is over anyway. Please, I beg you, for the sake of my children, do not let any harm come to them. They are innocent.”

Now Lynette truly felt terrible. She had no idea the man she was with was Spooky Gold, and so had no reason to try to insinuate herself into the matter aside from a kind of perverse curiosity. Now, she found herself horribly caught in the middle of something she had no business being involved in, and at the same time, realized she would doubtless be involved in any event. How could Marshall’s friends be so willfully cruel, and evil? Was it true what Toby told her, that Marshall knew all the details of the plot? If he did, he was as guilty as Toby and Gold were. This poor, distraught woman was a helpless victim, yet one more of the pawns in Marlowe Krovell’s insane little plot to escape from Johns Hopkins-and for what reason? How did she fit into that? She felt as though she might fall apart at any minute, just as the woman who now stood before her, pleading for the sake of her children even as she confessed her own death was imminent.

“I promise, I’ll see to it to the extent that I can,” Lynette promised her. “But really, Mrs. Tariq”-

“That is all I ask of you,” Raghda replied. “I must be going now. Please, don’t forget your vow to me. If something does happen to my children, I know you are not responsible. I only ask that you make sure the truth becomes known. Thank you, very much.”

She left then, though she seemed reluctant, and hardly seemed at any kind of peace. Lynette for her part was dumfounded. She looked at some magazines, but absently, in a daze. By the time Marshall returned, and saw her in the magazine section, it was one-fifty. He had been gone an hour and ten minutes. Lynnette feared bringing the subject up with him. She wanted to believe he was not involved, yet feared further for the lives of the two Tariq children. She did not know exactly what to say to him.

By the time they returned home, he produced a baggie filled with marijuana. He then showed her something else. He opened her medicine bottle and extracted one of the .25-milligram tablets.

“You call this a Xanax?” he asked. He then produced a much larger tablet.

“Now this,” he said as he compared the size of her prescription dosage with the 2.0-milligram pill he evidently just procured. “This is a Xanax.”

“What, you want me to take that thing?” she said. “You can’t be serious.”

“No, I want us to take it together,” he replied. “That’s what the reefer is for. Oh, and this.”

He laid the Phillies Blunt beside the bag of reefer, and her eyes widened.

“Wow, it’s been a while since I smoked one of those,” she said. “Are you sure it’s a good idea, smoking that on top of Xanax?”

“You got the idea. It’ll take a whole two weeks for that stuff you got to get in your system to the extent you’ll know if it’s going to do you any good. If we smoke this tonight, it will be in your system good. By the time you go back in two weeks, Tariq will know whether to keep you on it, up the dosage, or put you on something else.”

“Mightn’t it throw it off?” she asked, very wary of the whole idea.

“Not if you just do it this one time,” he replied. “Come on, this stuff will put you in la-la land-in a good way, of course. And you’ll have me right there with you, to give you the guided tour.”

She was far from convinced when he started pounding up the pill into powder form. He then started the process of removing the tobacco from the Blunt as he told her to call Pizza Hut.

“A little food with this reefer will go down nice. We still got some beer in the frig. Hell, we might as well make a party out of it.”

“Uh huh,” she said. “You wouldn’t be trying to take up where we left off before my seizure would you?”

Nope,” he said, noting the smile on her face and the twinkle in her eyes. “Of course, if you were to end up just absolutely throwing yourself at me, I don’t reckon it would be all that easy to brush you off.”

They decided to wait until the pizza arrived and they ate before smoking the blunt, so she decided warily to broach the subject of Raghda Tariq by just coming out with what Toby had told her. When Marshall learned the manner in which Toby spoke to her outside of Tariq’s office, he was outraged.

“The bastard tries to portray himself as a stud, and a player. Well, facts are facts, and the fact is, he is a fat ass loser. If he wasn’t a half-way decent rapper ain’t no woman would give that lard-ass a second look, and he knows it. He can’t satisfy a woman and it eats him alive. If a woman eats him, she has high cholesterol for a fucking month. Just wait until I see that fat ass punk. What else did he say to you?”

“That Raghda Tariq was the one helping them with the bank account transactions, and also she’s the one that gets messages from Marlowe to the group. He seemed to be implying that they had something on her and were forcing her to do all that.”

Marshall seemed genuinely surprised to hear this.

“Okay, now it’s finally starting to make a little bit of sense,” he said. “It still doesn’t explain how the hell they plan on getting Marlowe out of there. If he knows all that, they have to, otherwise he’ll turn them all in. I just don’t get how the hell they are going to do it.

“But hell, you know something? I ain’t going to worry about the shit no more. I did my part, so as far as I’m concerned, Marlowe can stuff it from here on out. Like I told you, I’m covered. So are you-or you were. Fuck that bastard Toby anyway, he just told you so he’d have the satisfaction of knowing he’d involved you in it. He always was the fucking dickhead of the group. Seeing as what the rest of them are like, believe me, that’s really saying something.”

By the time the pizza arrived, they settled in to a night of TV, and by the time they both had a couple of Heinekins and Marshall managed to wolf down about half of a large supreme pizza in it seemed less than thirty minutes, Lynette had a mere three pieces. She was hungry, though her nervous anxiety interfered with any enjoyment of the pizza she might have ordinarily had.

Marshall decided to light up the blunt, having earlier mixed the ground up Xanax into the marijuana, then carefully packing it into the emptied Phillies Blunt wrapper. By the time Lynette took her third big drag off the blunt, she was feeling the effects of the marijuana cocktail. It had been quite a while since she had smoked this much pot, which she had never indulged in to a great extent to begin with.

They decided to put it out temporarily after the sixth draw, by which time Lynette realized she had never in her life felt as relaxed as she now did.

Before thirty minutes of conversation went by, it lapsed into a relaxed silence. Lynette realized she could easily get used to this. Never had she felt so comfortable, so relaxed, and so carefree. She lowered the lights and put on some music. She played the old CD by The Cars, and started thinking of Teddy. She remembered him differently. Before, she remembered the good times in a bittersweet kind of way. Now, she understood plainly what a little, small-minded man Teddy was. She started thinking of what it might have been like if they had not broken up, if they had gotten married, as they had planned for more than two years. What ever would her life have been like, having the babies of a man who thought of no one but himself and his own needs? She started playing out the various scenarios in her mind. She allowed her mind to drift along as they played out without any seeming input or direction from her. They always ended the same. She would be miserable, but would delude herself into thinking she was happy and fulfilled, and end up living her life vicariously through characters in soap operas or romance novels, the male heroes of whom would bear little resemblance to Teddy.

Then she started seeing herself having affairs, with Marshall, whom she would manipulate into becoming an old family friend from college, then becoming a friend of Teddy’s. All the while, Lynette would be fucking him behind Teddy’s back. Eventually, she would end up giving birth to a child of mixed race, and Teddy would be standing there gaping with his mouth open, in shock. Lynette would finally come out with it-she loved Marshall, and she wanted a divorce from Teddy, who would just stand there in a rage, humiliated and defeated.

“What the hell are you laughing about?” Marshall asked her. She did not even realize she had been laughing.

“I love you,” she said, and started laughing that much more. Her laughter was so infectious he started laughing as well.

“So what are you laughing about?” she asked him.

“I just think this is the first time you ever told me that,” he said, and started laughing uncontrollably. After a couple of minutes he raised himself up from the floor and seemingly glided toward the refrigerator, returning some minutes later with a couple of Heinekens.

They smoked some more of the blunt, and spent the rest of the evening laughing, dancing, and making out. The time went by so quickly, she was surprised to note the sun had gone down, and in fact it was now night. She had wanted to step outside and soak up some sun.

“If you going to catch some rays out there, you better take a sheet and pillow,” he said. “It’s going to be a while. While you’re waiting for that sun, I think I’ll have me some cold pizza. I’m starving.”

“Damn, you ate half of it already,” she said as, coming back inside, she started watching what appeared to be a news bulletin from Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Curious, she turned up the sound as the reporter told of an impending evacuation of the hospital due to a potential bomb threat phoned in not long before.

“Damn, Marlowe did it,” Marshall said as he stared at the television screen incredulously. “I never would have thought he could actually pull that off. He might even make it.”

“Go, Marlowe!” Lynette shouted, strangely finding herself rooting for the bizarre mental patient and his incredulous escape plot.

“Uh, if he gets out, he’s coming for you, remember?” Marshall reminded her.

“Okay,” she said with somewhat of a slur. “I’ll give him some pussy and maybe it will calm him down. Hell, I might even cure him.”

They looked at each other and laughed, and then Marshall remembered something.

“The only reason he wants you is you are a virgin,” he said. “So I can solve that little problem right now.”

“Uh, it’s about time,” she said. “I was beginning to decide a crazy man’s dick is better than no dick at all. C’mon, fuck me, nigga.”

She almost tore her clothes pulling them off as Marshall unzipped his pants. He then with some difficulty produced his hardened cock.

“Mandingo, present and reporting for duty”, he announced. She grasped it and began masturbating him as she found herself yet drawn to the bizarre scenario at the site of Johns Hopkins, where the reporter on the scene was busily engaged with the reporters at the anchor desk, in addition to interviews with numerous officials and employees among the hospital’s staff.

“There was evidently some attempt at sabotage of the hospitals main power source, which resulted in a temporary loss of power to the entire hospital. The hospital maintenance staff later restored some power, though to a very limited extent-mainly to the ICU units and patients on life support machinery, in addition to temperature control and some lights. In addition, there have been reports of confusion and loss of control of the psychiatric wing of the hospital, with reports that some of the more seriously ill mental patients have all but taken control of that wing of the hospital. We have no word yet on the veracity of these reports, and we are working as we speak to insure confirmation.

“In the meantime, the unidentified body of an individual believed responsible for the sabotage, discovered in the maintenance area of the hospital basement, appears to have died from injuries resulting from severe burns by way of electrocution. We await verification, but as of now, it seems that this person appears to have reportedly been a patient from the psychiatric wing of the hospital, although it is unclear how such a patient made his or her way down there. No word yet on whether the person was a male or female, such was the extent of the damage to the body.”

“Hey, did you hear that?” Marshall said. “Marlowe’s dead. The fool killed himself. See, I told you it would all work out.”

“I guess there’s no need in us fucking then,” Lynette said, a gleam in her eyes and a rather sadistic smile on her face. “How about I just suck this big dick instead? I sure don’t seem to be getting anywhere jacking it off.”

“Oh, you’re getting somewhere all right,” he replied. “Ain’t no problem there. It’s just that you be taking the scenic route. I be more use to the express route. As long as I get where I be wanting to get to, that’s all that much better. If you do want to suck this dick, though, I think I’d better warn you. See, it might not taste quite as good as it looks.”

“Oh, that’s one thing I’ve done before,” she replied. “I used to give my cousin blow jobs and hand jobs.”

“Say what? You are kidding me, right?”

“Well, we were only eight at the time,” she replied. “Unfortunately, he never returned the favor, other than just feeling and sucking around. I guess little boys only know how to do so much. Anyway, when I say I’m a virgin, I mean I’ve never been fucked, or penetrated in any way, not even manually or orally. My mouth is far from virginal, though. I think the last time it happened with us, I was fourteen. That was the first time in years, and just for old time’s sake. I felt like an idiot when I did it that last time. But I think I still remember the basic”-

“Lynette,” he said, his eyes wide in disbelief, combined with longing. “Either suck my dick or please-shut up about it.”

Well! Aye-Aye, Cap’n,” she said, then saluted his dick, before grasping it once more firmly in her hand. She then drew her face down toward it, and opened her mouth wide. Cautious not to put pressure on it with her teeth, she nevertheless gently and ever so slightly raked her teeth down the shaft, after first flicking her tongue around the head, and up and down the shaft. He groaned, obviously in exquisite pleasure, as she took most of it in her mouth. She could feel the bulging head against her tonsils, and as she playfully set her teeth on it, she could hear him groan in a mixture of pain and pleasure.

“Uh uh,” she heard him say once. Yet, although he objected weakly, he had not the strength to withdraw his hardened cock from her mouth, as she started suctioning her jaw muscles in earnest. She moved her head backwards as he began thrusting somewhat in what seemed to be an unconscious motion. She could taste his thick, bitter semen oozing out of his cock as she withdrew her head enough to where she could suction it on out with the pressure of her tongue and the rood of her mouth.

Then, she began to take in more and more of it, until she could feel it going down her throat. She had to temporarily withdraw, as he was simply too large to take it all in for too long of a time. Nevertheless, she guided it manually in and out of her mouth, simultaneously jacking him off as she sucked his dick with an intensity she had never experienced. After so long, it seemed as though the vibrations of the painfully hardened and throbbing cock were reverberating inside her skull, and when he finally ejaculated inside her mouth, the sound filled her entire being, as she simultaneously exploded with lust, experiencing what amounted to a near simultaneous orgasm. He continued to ejaculate, while she continued the non-stop process of taking it all in, swallowing as quickly as she could. The sound of the explosion that filled her senses finally seemed to subside. Marshall’s cock finally went first partially and then completely flaccid.

It was not until she was finally finished that she realized the explosion she heard was more than merely the reverberation of Marshall’s orgasm inside her mouth. It continued, seemingly from an external force. She looked toward the television, to see now that the scene on the grounds outside of Johns Hopkins University was one of tumult and chaos.

“Marshall, something’s happened,” she told him.

“Yeah, you can say that again,” he said. “That was the best damn blowjob I ever got. Damn!”

“I’m serious, Marshall, something bad has happened, at the hospital.”


He rose and picked up the remote to the television. He increased the volume. The place was in flames, smoke arose from the upper floors of the hospital, visitors and staff were running and scrambling for cover, and the on-site reporter spoke of a devastating explosion as he stood by a police tactical officer, who informed him there would be no way for some time to ascertain the numbers of casualties.

“It could easily be in the hundreds,” he said glumly.

“Oh my fucking God, he did it,” Marshall said as he stared incredulously at what little of the actual carnage the medium sized television screen was capable of relaying. “They actually blew the place up.”

“Oh God, Marshall, that was some nasty shit,” Lynette said, as the bitter, rancid taste of the semen finally started to build up.
“I hope this don’t hurt your feelings, but I think I might throw up. Yuck!”

She went into the bathroom, and started gagging. After some four or five minutes, she finally realized she would probably not vomit, and so flushed the commode. She did not see the blood until the commode water rose back to the usual level.

“Now where the hell did that come from?” she asked herself aloud. Checking herself in the mirror, she saw no sign of blood on her head, or near her mouth or nose, though she wondered whether Marshall’s huge cock might have ruptured a blood vessel or something in her mouth or her throat. She opened her mouth and looked inside as best as she could, but could see nothing.

She made her way back into the living room, whereupon she saw Marshall talking silently over the phone.

“You’d better not be bragging now,” she warned him as she made her way to the kitchen. He tossed her a smile as she made her way to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, she extracted a bottle of Mountain Dew, and quickly drunk down a large glass. When she was finished, she belched loudly, and then made her way back into the living room.

She was almost sure she was going to be sick at her stomach, and might well throw up yet. At the same time, she did not really care. She did not think she ever was so happy, so relaxed, so comfortable, or so at overall peace with herself as she was this night. She returned to the living room, as Marshall got off the phone. She looked at him, curious that he seemed to look sad, even to the point of profound depression.

“Hey, I hope you TIVO’ed that,” she said. “I bet you didn’t, did you?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did,” he said. “I wish I hadn’t.”

“Well, I want to see it,” she said. “Come on, rewind it. We missed it when we was doing that, you know?”

“Yeah, all right,” he said, but he seemed to go about the whole routine absent-mindedly. Soon, the recorded segment was playing, and the newsman was suddenly back to his previous position, talking about the disruption of the phoned in bomb threat, and the possible need to evacuate the hospital in the face of an actual assault on the complex’s power system.

“Hospital spokespersons say there is no way to be certain as of yet whether there is any connection between the bomb threat and the actual sabotage that resulted in the temporary loss of power to the entire hospital. It is a loss of power yet on going, though there has been some minimal restoration. This, however, is limited to the special needs of patients in the ICU wing, and on life support. Most power remains unrestored. However, even though evacuation plans are now under implementation as a safety precaution, the official word is that the bomb threat is in all likelihood a cruel and terrible hoax.

“Meanwhile, the governor has declared an emergency, and resources have been fast-tracked to handle the evacuation of critical patients to the most appropriate hospitals in nearby areas. After the evacuation is complete, the hospital will shut down until repairs are affected and security concerns addressed, according to one hospital management source who asked to remain anonymous.”

It was at that moment the bomb went off in an explosion that rocked the adjacent area. It seemed to force the cameras filming the report to shake uncontrollably. When it came back into focus, the look on the reporter’s face was one of dumbstruck shock-even horror. He looked to Lynette like he wanted to run, but was paralyzed in abject horror. His eyes widened, and froze. She laughed. She continued to laugh as she briefly glanced at Marshall, who looked at her in perplexed shock.

“Look at him! Look at his eyes!” she shouted. She collapsed on the floor in an uncontrollable spasm of laughter. She had never seen anything quite so funny as this in her entire life.

Lynette woke up the next morning, thinking the entire night before was nothing but a bizarre dream. She felt unbelievably rested, refreshed, even energized. It had been years since she last jumped out of bed almost as soon as she woke up. She did so this morning, however, and looked forward to the day ahead. She made her way into the bathroom, and noted strangely the strong smell of bleach. Nevertheless, she got into the shower, and remained there for quite some time.

When she finally finished, she left the shower, to see Marshall glumly looking toward the bathroom.

“I was starting to think you were never going to get out of there,” he complained. “I came awful close to pissing in an empty coffee can.”

He hurried into the bathroom and closed the door. She could hear him pissing.

“What’s that bleach smell in there?” she asked.

“I had diarrhea last night,” he replied through the door. When he came out, he looked more grim than at first, and seemed agitated to see her standing there smiling at him.

“Do you even remember what happened last night?” he asked.

“The blunt, you mean? Yeah, I remember it, just not much after that. Did I really give you a blowjob last night? My God, I can’t believe I did that.”

“I was talking about the hospital.”

Then, she finally remembered. It hit her that what she saw was not a joke. Everything was coming back to her now.

“Oh my God, Marshall, you mean that shit was for real? Holy crap, I thought I dreamed that.”

“Yeah, well that’s not all. That person they found down in the basement wasn’t Marlowe. They’re saying now she was some former maintenance worker who got committed after her family was killed in a drunk driving accident. Her name was Phyllis something. She just so happened to make her way down there in the confusion, after the bomb threat and evacuation of the basement. It’s almost like it was part of the plan. That’s really strange, huh?”

“So, you think Marlowe made it out?” she asked.

“They haven’t identified all the bodies yet. The explosion burned and busted a lot of them up so badly it might take a while to identify some of them for sure. We’ll just have to wait and see. We can always hope. I know you sure were rooting for him last night.”

She did not take him seriously at first, but then she saw the look in his eyes.

“Marshall, I was stoned out of my mind last night,” she reminded him. “The last thing I would want is for that maniac to escape. I can’t believe you would take that seriously.”

“Well, I’ll kill the motherfucker if he comes here, that’s a fact,” he said.

She was growing more amazed by the minute, and almost had to restrain herself from laughing.

“My God, are you jealous of Marlowe Krovell?”

“Now hell no! Lynette, the guy is crazy, and he’s obviously dangerous. He actually pulled this shit off, as incredible as it sounds. I never would have thought it, but he did it. Woman, there’s a lot more going on here than you can possibly know.”

“Yeah, well I do know what Toby said, which was that you knew everything.”

They looked at each other questioningly. His look was so intense it wilted her.

“I told you about that fool,” he said. “If I could prove this shit, I’d turn him and Spooky in without a second’s thought. The problem is, I don’t know how to do that without compromising myself. I am involved in it, to a point. After his little outburst to you at Tariq’s office, we are both involved even more than we should have been. Damn it!”

Over the next few days, an uncomfortable silence prevailed concerning the subject of Marlowe’s escape. Even when Marlowe’s name was included in the list of known fatalities, Marshall seemed far from reassured. It was as though he knew something he simply did not know how to relate.

“His Uncle Brad even identified the body,” Lynette reminded him.

“Well, his Uncle Brad is either lying or sadly mistaken,” was Marshall’s only response.

A few days after this last and rare conversation about the hospital tragedy-so horribly tragic it even knocked the student athlete mass poisoning case off the front pages-Lynette decided on the spur of the moment to go for a drive. Doctor McCann referred her to another psychiatrist, who continued the prescription of the late Doctor Abdul Tariq. It seemed as though there was no fathomable reason for the one episode she experienced. She was not supposed to drive, but suddenly she found herself jumping behind the wheel of her Toyota Camry and driving through the city aimlessly. Driving she found relaxing and she needed to get out and away. Marshall was really getting to her.

The federal investigation of the hospital bombing suggested that the preliminary evidence pointed to Doctor Tariq as complicit in what the Feds described as a terrorist attack. Heading the investigation was the FBI, who despite the immediate implications, stopped short of tying it to Al-Queda or any other branch of Islamic radicals.

“That was a part of the set-up,” Marshall informed her. She found this little bit of information even more disturbing, because it actually verified in part some of the things Toby said to her at the office that day. It also intimated that, as the gangsta rapper said, Marshall knew more than he was telling. He might even have known about the entire plot. She found this difficult to accept, but found herself faced with the reality that her boyfriend was, after all, an associate of a brutal crime gang.

She drove toward the interstate, in her mind toying with the idea of going back to New Jersey. As she saw the northbound entrance ramp in the distance, the thought came to her that, if she did return to Jersey, she might well never come back. Suddenly, a large dark blue older model Cadillac raced around her, and then inexplicably swerved back in front of her. She found herself throwing on her brakes, resulting in her car almost swerving out of the lane. She stopped before ramming into the offending vehicle, though she yet inadvertently touched the car’s bumper. She cursed under her breath, and then closed her eyes as the man got out of the car and headed toward her.

Just what I need, she thought, some rip off scam artist trying to make a fake insurance claim. The man who approached her, however, with tears streaming from terror-filled eyes, seemed to have something else in mind. At first, she did not recognize the Reverend Christopher George. She had only seen him once, weeks before, and they barely spoke when they met.

“Please, I need to talk to you,” he begged. “It’s a matter of life and death.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she shouted at him as she rolled down her window. “You could have gotten us both killed. What do you want?”

“You have to meet Krovell,” he insisted desperately. “Please, that’s all I ask, that you meet him and hear him out.”

“Marlowe Krovell is dead!” she insisted. “It wouldn’t make any difference if he weren’t, because I wouldn’t meet that snake if my life depended on it. I really don’t give a shit about your life. You made your bed the night you raped April in it, or wherever the fuck you raped her. I have an idea you might have actually been the one that killed her. That ridiculous drawing might be one of your friends trying to draw attention away from you, as far as I know. Whatever happens to you, you deserve every bit of it. Now get the fuck out of my way or I’ll have you arrested for harassment, and in the meantime I might just tell everything I know.”

“For God’s sake, young woman, please don’t do this. You don’t know what’s at stake. If you can’t do it for me, do it for my wife. Do it for Marshall. He’s in danger too, you know. Marlowe will send April to kill us all if you don’t do it. You have to do it. Damn you, one way or another, he is going to have you. Your only chance is to talk him out of it. Otherwise, that filthy bitch is going to kill Marshall as well as me, and God knows what else she will end up doing. Please-you’re my only hope. You’re Marshall’s only hope.”

He was now crying, and could no longer talk, as the horns honked all around them and motorists shouted angrily. She looked around her and behind her to see a police cruiser pulling up behind them.

“Miss Khoska, please, do you think I would have followed you from your house and stopped you in this place if I thought I had any other option. I’ve been following you for an hour, hoping you would pull off somewhere that we could talk. When I saw you heading for the interstate, I knew I probably should have talked to you at your house, but I did not want Marshall to see me. Please, I’m begging you. I’ll do anything you say if you will just please talk to him.”

He was obviously as distraught and desperate as anybody Lynette had ever seen. The two policemen that approached them did not even attract his attention.

“What’s the problem here?” one of them asked.

“This man pulled in front of me and caused me to bump into him. I think he’s upset over me accusing him of trying to pull a scam on me.”

“Well, I’m going to have to see both of your licenses,” the officer said.

“I’m not trying to pull a scam,” George insisted. “Please, believe me, Miss Khoska.”

“Oh, you two know each other?”

“Oh, we know each other all too well,” Lynette replied as she produced her license.

“Reverend Chris George?” the second cop said as he looked unbelievably at the well-known black minister’s license. George was by now despondent, and he cried uncontrollably.

“Ma’am, I think I can promise you the last thing a man like George would do is try to pull a cheap insurance scam on somebody,” the other cop said as he handed Lynette her license. “If you’ll just wait here for a second, this shouldn’t take long.”

Another car now joined the first two police, who instructed them to pull their respective vehicles off to the side of the road. Lynette could only ascertain that either they were running a check on her, or they were curious as to the strange state of mind of the old reverend, who once more approached her with desperate, pleading eyes.

“She comes up out of the sewer every night,” George said. “She comes up right through the commode. I can’t stop it. I have tried weighting it down, but it doesn’t do any good. She just comes up and stares at me all night, groaning and shrieking. She wants to rip me apart, but then Marlowe always comes and tells me he can’t hold her off much longer, and that if he don’t get what he wants he’s going to let her do what she wants to me anyway. What he wants is you. He says if I help him, he’ll drive her away forever, if not she can do what she wants with me and anybody else.

“If you don’t believe me, ask Marshall. She’s done the same thing to him. Ask him about the blood in the commode, and the stench after she’s been there. It’s so terrible you have to bleach the place down to kill the smell.”

Lynette could only think of one thing to say or do. George was starting to get to her, and she knew she had to help him, repugnant though she found him to be. She told him to go to her grandfather’s church.

“If anyone can help you, he can,” she told him. “As for me, I could care less about what Marlowe wants. I know he’s not going to get it. If my grandfather can’t help you, I’m afraid you’re on your own.”

She looked around at the police, and wondered what was taking so long. This should have been over with, and she should have been on her way by now. However, the four of them remained some forty yards in front of them, just standing around. Occasionally, one of them would glance back towards them, but for the most part, they seemed in no real hurry to leave.

“My grandfather’s church is the The Church Of The Blessed Sacrament,” she said to George, who by now seemed exhausted. She wondered how he could even safely drive away from here in his state of mind and evident exhaustion.

“All right, I’ll go there when I get away from here,” he said, as one of the policemen now approached the two of them.

“You can go on now,” he told George, and then turned toward Lynette. “I have a few more questions I’d like to ask you, ma’am.”

George got in his car and pulled out. Amazingly, he made a u-turn in the middle of the road.

“Well, can you beat that”? the cop asked. “What in the hell is wrong with that guy? Are you sure there’s something going on here you’re not telling us?”

“Nothing that would make any sense to you,” Lynette told him. “He thinks something is after him, and he thinks I can help him. I think he might be losing his mind.”

“Then, he wasn’t trying to accost you in any way?” the officer asked. “There weren’t any sexual innuendos or anything of that nature?”

“Uh-no, if there were, you’d already know about it, I promise you that.”

Lynette thought this line of questioning was most unusual, and the idea came to her, that maybe-just maybe-George was on record as having been the subject of some form of sexually oriented complaints in the past. Given what she knew about what happened between him and April, she would in fact be surprised were this not the case. She even wondered whether April might have been the complainant.

“So what is it he thinks is after him?” the cop asked.

“A dead girl,” Lynette answered. Luckily, the cop just whistled, without asking for elaboration. He just handed her license back to her, and she was on her way. She pulled up at a BP station and gassed up, as she realized she should call her grandfather and let him know about the strange, disturbing visitor he would soon have. Unfortunately, he either seemed not to be at the church, or was in some part of it where he could not hear or get to the phone. She made a mental note to introduce her grandfather at some point in the near future to the wonders of cell phone technology, and decided then to return home.

When she got home, however, another surprise awaited her in the form of Detective Berry, who did not seem to be in a happy mood.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re still alive,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t I be alive?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”

She tried to act casually curious, but the presence of this police official at her apartment worried her.

“Well, there seems to be a lot of dead bodies these days, and Marshall seems to have a connection with a great many of them. I’m still waiting for an answer, Marshall.”

Marshall looked almost as distraught as George did as he just stared straight ahead of him, though seemingly looking at no one or nothing.

“I told you fool, it ain’t no crime to clean a bathroom.” He said. “Bleach does kill germs like e-coli, you know.”

Lynette gasped aloud when she heard this, and then went into the bathroom, hoping Berry had not heard her reaction.

“Well, that must really come in handy, then, because you sure are full of shit, aren’t you?” Berry observed.

The bleach scent now seemed stronger to Lynette even than when she remembered it this morning, and after her conversation with George, it seemed all the more ominous. Now, as she looked into her commode, she made note of the slight gurgling sound of the toilet bowl water, as bubbles rose to the top of the water line, along with something else-blood. It was not much, but it was there, gradually making its way toward the surface.

She walked out and back into the living room, as Berry seemed to be in the process of inserting a disc into the DVD player.

“Sorry I didn’t bring any popcorn,” he said. “I’m sure this will keep your interest though, and it’s really not that long.”

“What in the hell is going on here?” Lynette asked.

“That’s what I’m hoping you can tell me,” Berry replied as the DVD began playing. “Of course, this is not the original. This is my own recording of a security tape that is now something known in official circles as ‘evidence’. I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out who the star of the tape is, and it just occurred to me, for some strange reason, maybe Marshall can help me out.”

“Marshall, what’s he talking about?” she half-whispered to Marshall, who just looked at her but said nothing, as the recorded DVD began to play. It showed an old UPS van pulling up into the loading area of what looked to be a large building complex. It showed the driver of the truck removing one large box from the truck by way of a large hand-cart. The box was so big that the driver seemed to struggle with it. Abruptly, the DVD went blank.

“I know, it’s not the best editing job in the world, and I doubt I’ll win any awards, but then again, the cinematography leaves a little to be desired,” Berry continued as the DVD resumed now up in the hallway of what seemed to be a hospital. Within a couple of minutes, the same UPS driver appeared, with the same box yet loaded on the cart, stopping just long enough at the nurses’ station to say a few words to the attending nurse.

“He seems to be arguing with her about something,” he said. “You know what, I bet’cha he is insisting that one specific person should sign for the package, and should take it in his office. You would think Johns Hopkins would come into the twenty-first century. Silent movies went out with Garbo, you know. Hey, look at that. Do you know who that is there?”

Lynette looked at the man who now approached the black UPS driver. She did recognize this man.

“Doctor Tariq?” she blurted out.

‘Oh, so you do know him?” Berry asked, somewhat seemingly surprised at this admission.

“He was my psychiatrist up until he was killed. Is this Johns Hopkins? What, you’re saying that man is the man who delivered the bomb?”

“My, how perceptive, Miss Khoska,” Berry replied. “Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I don’t guess you would know who the UPS driver is, would you?”

“Of course not,” Lynette replied, starting to become as agitated at Berry’s flippant attitude as she was at the implications of his visit.

“Well, you know something?” he now asked. “I have some thoughts on that. In fact, I’m almost positive I know who he is. Oh, the UPS uniform kind of threw me off a little, and that fake white hair and dark glasses didn’t help matters any. You know, though, I’m almost positive that’s Mercury Morris. You remember Mercury, don’t you, Marshall? Wouldn’t you say that looks amazingly like ol’ Merc?”

“If you say so,” Marshall replied. “Why the hell don’t you ask him? I‘m sure he could clear it up for you one way or another.”

“You know, I might just do that,” Berry said. “It would be a shame to let an Academy Award wining performance go without some kind of special notice. It was such a stellar performance that I’m even interested in all the bit parts that went into the production of this little drama. I’m wondering if maybe you two might have had a little role, so to speak.”

“You’re barking up the wrong tree, dog,” Marshall replied. “I ain’t got no reason to be going around bombing hospitals, and neither does Lynette. I don’t think Morris does either, but like I told you-ask him, not us.”

“Okay, if you say so,” Berry said. “I guess I’ll be grabbing my DVD and moseying along. I’m still kind of interested in that really good cleaning job in the bathroom. My ex-wife used to use this sweet smelling shit. It didn’t do nearly as good a job. Of course, we rarely had blood evidence to do away with. So what was it you were trying to clean up in there again?”

“There’s a dead girl that keeps coming up from the sewer, through the commode,” Lynette told him. “She really stinks the place up.”

Berry looked at her with a kind of savage, silent anger.

“You know, that’s really not funny, Miss Khoska,” he advised. “That’s not funny at all.”

He turned and walked to the door, and opened it, and then turned to face the two of them for the final time.

“We’ll talk again, I’m sure. Have a nice day.”

Marshall looked at Lynette, unsure of what to say.

“What made you tell him that?”

“It’s the truth, ain’t it?” she asked. “I saw George today. I also know you have known about all of this, from the very beginning, including the bomb. Do not lie to me, Marshall. I deserve better than that.”

“Yeah-yeah, all right,” he finally said after a couple of minutes of studied silence. “What in the hell was I supposed to do? Now, I find out Marlowe was lying to me the whole time. He can only control April up to a point. She’s too much for him. Now, she’s totally out of control. Either that, or he just don’t want to try to control her.”

“Damn, Marshall, Marlowe is dead,” Lynette insisted. “His body”-

“That wasn’t him,” he explained. “He made it, grew it somehow, with his appendix and some teeth, along with some blood and spit. It was a fake body, not capable of supporting life, but still his DNA, even blood and everything else you’d expect to find in a body ripped apart by a bomb.”

“All right, I’m going to ignore how crazy that sounds, seeing as how a dead woman keeps climbing up out of our toilet,” Lynette said controlling her exasperation. “But why does he need a bomb if he can do something like that?”

“He was fucked up,” he said. “April’s blood really messed him up for some reason, and after he was committed by his uncle, the environment he was in kept him too weak. That’s what he told me anyway. Yeah, I saw him a few days ago.”

“So what’s his hang-up about me?” she demanded. “Can’t he find another virgin? I know that’s the mistake he made with April. She lied. But what if me and you go ahead and fuck?”

“He’ll kill you,” Marshall replied. “It’s more than just you being a virgin. He says you are his wife, that you were married to him centuries ago, and that the two of you belong together. Still, he says if you betray him, he will kill you like no one has ever been killed before. Sure, maybe he’s bluffing. Still, he knows I won’t take that kind of chance.”

He reached out and grabbed both of his hands and held them in his, and looked at her, and almost into her, in a sense of desperate longing and sorrow.

“I’m really sorry, baby,” he said. “I really wanted all this to work out. I tried my damndest to make things right, and ended up doing things I would never have imagined I would do. I don’t want you to blame yourself for whatever happens. Even if you are who Marlowe says you are it’s not your fault.”

“So isn’t there anything I can do?” she asked. “Isn’t there anything I can say to reason with him? Shit, people break up and end relationships all the time. How can he expect any different from two people that knew each other centuries ago, even assuming that’s for real? Marshall, there has to be a way out of this mess.”

“If there is, I can only think of one possible way. I need you to go to your grandfather’s tonight, and stay there. If he can’t protect you, nobody can. In the meantime, maybe I can talk to him. Maybe if I explain to him that you could never be happy with him, he’ll see some reason. Maybe now that he’s more at himself, now that he’s away from Johns Hopkins, and had time to think clearly, maybe he’ll be more reasonable. That’s the only hope I can think of.”

Suddenly, they both heard a gurgling sound emanating from the commode.

“Damn City of Baltimore needs to do something about the shit floating around down in they sewers, huh?” he asked.

Lynette now started crying, uncontrollably, as she fell into Marshall’s arms.

“I know, baby, it ain’t fair,” he said. “Nothing in life is ever really fair. I always lived by that rule. I just never realized how true it was. But you know I love you, right?”

“I love you two,” she replied. Then, they kissed, one long, desperate, passionate kiss, for the final time. She then packed up some clothes and made her way back to her Camri.

Her grandfather seemed to be waiting for her when she arrived at The Church of The Blessed Sacrament. He was waiting, and he was very disturbed.

“You know who has been here today, don’t you?”

She had prepared all the way over for what she would tell him, but still did not know quite how to put it into words. By the time she finished, he was aghast. She avoided mentioning the bomb at the hospital, but to her despair, he brought it up.

“I was at that hospital not quite two hours before the explosion,” he said. “I went there to see Grace Rodescu. I later found out she was uninjured in the blast, and in fact she has recovered. Amazingly, it seems as though someone ripped the security screen from her window with a crowbar. Evidently, a mental patient took the opportunity to escape, though it’s unclear how he managed to have a crowbar waiting around handy. It almost looks as though whoever it was planned the whole thing out.

“Now, I hear Grace has evidently regained consciousness. I was just on my way to see her when your friend Reverend George came to speak to me-from one man of God to another, as he put it.”

“He is no friend of mine.” Lynette assured him. “What he told you about April was the truth, though.”

“He even admitted raping her,” Aleksandre said sadly. “I was horrified. Lynette, I don’t know what to say. Why would you not come to me with this? I am not sure whether I helped him or not. I felt so strange, giving him absolution, pronouncing his forgiveness, giving him a blessed sacrament and a relic to protect him from her. I doubt it will do him any good. I have no doubts as to the efficacy of my works and prayers, I merely doubt his faith. In a sense, he deserves whatever happens to him, and he knows it.

“However, you do not deserve it. Your faith must be strong, or I will not be able to help you. Do you understand me?”

She assured him that she did, even as she wondered what he knew about Marshall’s involvement with the bomb plot. For that matter, did she really deserve protection, after her own part in it? She was heartsick, and near to the state of emotional collapse.

They spent hours, praying, reading scripture, and at the end, she partook of the Holy Eucharist. She had never in her life prayed with such determination and faith. By the time it was over, she felt stronger, even at peace with herself. She decided at first to stay in the little room her grandfather had prepared for her during those times she came to visit. After an hour or so, however, she started to become restless. She missed Marshall, and wanted to see him. There had to be a sane and logical explanation. Dead women simply did not rise up through commodes to torment the living. Human beings were incapable of extracting parts of their body and using them to grow new ones. Sometimes she even wondered whether it was all some cruel, hideous joke. Perhaps some kind of psychotropic drug might prove to be the answer. Marshall did have enemies, after all, and Toby in particular was not to be trusted.

She decided to call him. Perhaps it was the Xanax working on her, she realized. She had taken two, twice her prescribed dosage, a mere hour before. Still, these in addition to the moving, heartfelt ritual conducted by her grandfather, made her feel as though no problem was beyond the capacity of her and Marshall to solve together. Was that not what her grandfather told her some time back? True love can weather any kind of storm.

She called her house, but the phone rang until the answering machine picked it up.

“Marshall, it’s me, sweetie, I’ll be home a little late”, she said. “I’m at grandfather’s church, and you know how that is.”

She waited, hoping he would pick up the phone, though he never did, and finally, the answering machine hung up. She considered that he might be out somewhere, perhaps talking to Marlowe, but tried not to dwell on it. She was uncertain now, at any rate, whether to return home or not, and decided she would stay at the church after all.

The next morning, she watched the local morning news show, which related the strange and horrifying death of The Reverend Christopher George. A suspect in the murder was in custody, a man by the name of Nathaniel Gold, known as the leader of the vicious street gang The Seventeenth Pulse, the same gang George had devoted a great deal of his ministerial career in opposition to. The gun in his possession seemed to be the murder weapon, pending forensic test results. Police apprehended him in a Land Rover registered to the Reverend Harvey Caldwell, who actually reported the death of George. Caldwell, however, was reportedly unavailable for questioning, and there was no word as to his current whereabouts.

The Baltimore police detective that apprehended Spooky Gold, acting from an anonymous tip, was Detective James Berry, a Baltimore homicide veteran of some twelve years, and a decorated officer who variously worked homicide, vice, and gang-related crimes. Also sought for questioning was a certain Marshall Crenshaw, under whose name the alleged murder weapon was registered.

Lynette realized now she had to return home. It would only be a matter of time before Berry got a warrant for his arrest. How in the hell did Spooky Gold end up with Marshall’s gun, she wondered. Marshall had avoided Gold, had in fact avoided all of the Pulse, with the exception of Dwayne Letcher, for months-or so he claimed.

By the time she made it to her apartment, however, she faced another shock. Berry was there, in the company of several uniformed units.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you go up there, Miss Khoska,” he told her. She noted that he looked sad, even apologetic.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “Where is Marshall?”

Before he could answer, an ambulance arrived, with its sirens wailing. She looked back toward Berry. She knew. She started crying, and collapsed. When Berry caught her, she pulled away from him.

“I came here to arrest him in connection with the murder of Christopher George,” Berry said. “George was killed with Marshall’s gun. I’m afraid Marshall was killed with the same gun, roughly an hour before George, it seems. I’m very sorry, Miss Khoska. We did arrest the killer, and I promise you he won’t get away with it.”

Soon, the ambulance personnel carried Marshall down from the apartment’s second floor on a stretcher, his head covered by a sheet. Lynette numbly made her way to him. Berry tried to warn her about the condition of the body, but she barely heard him. Berry nodded to the EMTs carrying the body as she approached them. She pulled the sheet back, and looked at the dead visage of Marshall Crenshaw, the man she had lived with and loved for almost three months.

She barely remembered her trip back to her grandfathers’ church, and found herself the next day in the guest room of his living quarters. Someone else was there, in her room, by her side. She almost did not recognize her mother. She looked younger. She looked as though she had a face-lift, and as Lynette focused on her, she was stunned to see her mother evidently had undergone breast augmentation. She wore a skirt that seemed much shorter than what she usually wore. Her legs were tanned, as though from a tanning bed.

They talked for a while, and Lynette’s mother promised her she would be with her at the funeral. When Lynette asked her what she had been doing over the last few months, her mother almost apologetically informed her she was now married.

“So I guess there’s no chance you and dad will be getting back together,” Lynette said.

“Honey, your father is remarried too, remember? It’s not as if we hate each other, we’ve talked several times. I’ve met his wife, and he’s met Donald. You know what they say-life goes on.”

She almost asked her to tell her about this Donald, but she caught herself. She really was not in the mood to hear about him anyway, and besides, she would probably meet him soon enough. She did wonder how old he was.

“I see you’ve made some changes,” she said. “Really, mom-a boob job?”

“I know-it looks phony,” her mother replied. “Hell, wait until you meet your father’s new wife. From the looks of her, I think she cornered the market on cosmetic surgery. I’m sure it helped her focus your father’s attention where she wanted it. Sure, at the time I was hurt, and I did all this to make myself feel better, but you know something?”

She just left the question hanging in the air, and Lynette, after a few seconds of awkward waiting, prodded her to continue. By then, however, Andrea Renee Khoska Cosgrove seemed to have totally lost her train of thought.

“Never mind, it’s not important. Anyway, why don’t you get out of bed and come down and meet your step-father?”

Lynette did, warily, and was stunned at the sight of the quite older man, decked out in enough bling to fit in with the Seventeenth Pulse. He seemed nice enough, but she noticed that her grandfather looked extremely uncomfortable in their presence. He tried to act cordial, but Lynette noted that he said less than twenty words the entire evening.

The day of Marshall’s funeral brought another unexpected shock. Sometime during the last two days of his life, Marshall arranged for his cremation and funeral at, of all places, Krovell’s Funeral Home. This in effect lent some credence to the latest assertions by Spooky Gold that Marshall actually committed suicide. She toyed briefly with the idea of visiting the gang leader, to try to gauge some level of the truth, but she decided to let it be. She wanted no contact with the thug, regardless of what the truth was as to Marshall’s demise, and determined to stay away from him and all of them.

When her mother accompanied her to the funeral at Krovell’s, she noted the presence of Dwayne Letcher, who looked at her sullenly. She hoped to avoid a scene with him and the three friends who came with him, and tried to avoid looking in their direction. There was only one other white person in attendance, a Goth who she later learned was named Marty Evans, when he briefly spoke to her. He and Marshall were friends, he said. She took this to mean that Marty Evans was one of Marshall’s drug customers.

“Did you know Marlowe Krovell?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s how I met Marshall, actually,” he explained.

“Is there something wrong?” she asked Evans, who seemed to look at her with some kind of foreboding.

“I just wondered why it is Marshall decided to be cremated here instead of in his neighborhood”, he said. “It’s kind of strange. I hope this doesn’t come across as weird, but do you have a contract for your funeral to be here?”

“Well, no, I don’t have one for anywhere,” Lynette answered. “Why do you ask?”

Evans pointed out the tall, heavyset man, with balding dark hair, that seemed to be in charge of the funeral home, who watched over the proceedings as friends and family of the late Marshall Crenshaw filed in, signed the guest register, and took their seats. He welcomed them cordially to the establishment, as he did Lynette.

“He’s really a strange guy,” he remarked. “There are some weird rumors going around about him, and about dead bodies, particularly the bodies of dead girls. My family tried to get a restraining order on him, but his lawyer got it thrown out. Now, we’re in the middle of going through another court to have some bodies exhumed. Mom and dad are fighting over my sister’s body. Dad doesn’t want it, so that’s caused the whole thing to get tied up. They are to the point of even separating over it. Still, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

“I really shouldn’t even be here, but I had to say goodbye to Marshall. I’ve done that, so I guess I’d better get the hell out of here now. You take care.”

Marty Evans then left and Lynette looked over toward Brad Marlowe, who hurriedly looked away from her glance. She decided to approach him, and as she did so, he noticed her approach with curiosity. She introduced himself, and strangely enough, he reacted to her name as though he had heard of her, or knew about her in some way.

“I knew your nephew Marlowe from an on-line site for Christians,” she explained. “I just wanted to express my condolences.”

He thanked her and politely expressed his own condolences for the death of her fiancé. He said nothing, nor did he act in any manner that to Lynette seemed suspicious. When she asked him why Marshall decided to make his funeral arrangements here, Marlowe expressed that he was as surprised as anybody was.

“A lot of people have asked me that,” he said. “In fact, I asked him that when he came here to sign the contract. He didn’t really give me an answer. I know he seemed upset at the time, but otherwise, he didn’t really say anything or give any reasons.”

The look in Brad Marlowe’s eyes said it all. He suspected the same thing as Lynette. Marshall Crenshaw knew he would soon die.

The funeral went on for some time, and when it was over, Lynette accompanied the coffin outside the funeral home. She watched as the conveyor relayed it to the inside of the newly installed crematory furnace. Brad Marlowe then collected the ashes from the procedure and placed them inside a special wooden box. Marshall had not requested an urn. He left instructions for Lynette to scatter his ashes in a specific area. She was determined to keep that place a secret, especially from the man who now approached her, along with his three friends. She would not allow Dwayne Letcher or the other Pulse members to insinuate their presence into her life or to commit any kind of sacrilege regarding her late fiancés remains.

“What do you want, Toby?” she asked.

“We want the ashes,” he said. “Marshall would want us to have them. We want to talk to you about it, that’s all.”

“Yeah, that’s right, we want to talk to you,” one of the other men said. “We want to tell you to hand them over.”

“Mercury, shut the fuck up,” Letcher said. Lynette visibly jerked at the mention of the other man’s name.

“Why don’t you guys go on to the car, let us talk in private.”

After they left, Toby Da Pimp just stared at Lynette as he sucked on his mouth.

“Like I said, he would want us to have them,” he continued. “Marshall wasn’t himself when he made these arrangements. Why else do you think he would have himself cremated? He always wanted his remains buried at the city cemetery with his family. Why do you think he would come to this place? This wasn’t like him, he wasn’t himself.”

“So maybe you can explain why he would want you and the Seventeenth Pulse to have his ashes. Why wouldn’t he want his family to have them, if not me?”

He just glared at her, as he considered a new approach, and she noted the threatening demeanor that glared from his eyes, as Brad Marlowe reappeared.

“Is there a problem here?” he asked.

“Did anybody ask for your Caucasian ass to get involved? Mind your own business. Go embalm some little white girl and fuck off.”

As he turned toward Marlowe’s direction, Brad’s hand shot out like a flash of lightning, and grabbed Dwayne ‘Toby Da Pimp” Letcher by the throat, and squeezed with the grip of an iron vise. Toby gasped for breath, flailing helplessly as Brad Marlowe lifted the 284-pound man off the ground as though he were a rag doll. The hand around Letcher’s throat tightened by the second, as Lynette could have swore she heard his throat collapse in a brutal crunch. She watched in horror, as Brad Marlowe’s eyes seemed to sink back in his head. For a brief second, she saw only white. Brad Marlowe seemed to be in another world. She did not know for sure what to do. Almost without thinking, she grabbed him by the right shoulder, and begged him to stop.

Marlowe breathed deeply, with a gasp, and then dropped Dwayne Letcher to the ground. The large Pulse member fell flat on his back, and writhed in agony as he sought desperately to catch his breath.

“What the hell happened?” Brad asked in horror. “What did I do?”

Letcher had now started to regain his voice, and was breathing, albeit erratically, as he moaned in terror about his throat.

“Oh God, my voice,” the aspiring rap artist cried out. “I got a concert in three days. Oh, you motherfucker you!”

Lynette bent down and whispered to Toby that she knew everything that happened. She even knew that his friend Mercury Morris was the man who delivered the bomb to Johns Hopkins, and if he or any of his friends gave her any problems whatsoever, she would tell everything she knew.

“After all, I didn’t really know anything until after the fact,” she said. “Nod up and down if you get my drift, you fat ass tub of lard.”

Letcher nodded and then pulled himself up slowly, as people started to gather around.

“I’ll sue you, you son-of-a-bitch if you’ve damaged my throat,” he warned Brad Marlowe, who just looked all around in an obvious state of confusion.

Letcher left, slowly and painfully, as an older woman approached Lynette. She introduced herself as Marshall’s mother.

“He told me about you,” she said. “It’s very nice to meet you. I wanted to meet you before, but Marshall was afraid to bring you to our neighborhood.”

“Oh-I’m so sorry,” Lynette said. “Your son was a good man, and I loved him very much, and now”-

Lynette started to cry, as the old woman told her not to worry about Dwayne Letcher.

‘He’s a no-good bastard, and one of the reasons Marshall didn’t want to bring you around,” the woman said. “It’s really good to finally meet you, sweetie. I just wish we could have met under better circumstances.”

She introduced Lynette to members of a large group of Marshall’s relatives, all of whom for the most part viewed her with curiosity, though a view seemed to regard her with some suspicion. After all, they never met her, and could not help but wonder what influence the strange white girl had on their deceased relative. They perhaps even wondered whether she might have played a role in his suspicious death. Still, they betrayed no suspicions that the official version of his death was other than exactly as reported-murder at the hands of a gang leader Marshall had spent several months attempting to distance himself from.

Lynette talked to them at some length, accepted their condolences while expressing her own, and then sought out her mother. As they were ready to leave, Brad Marlowe approached them.

“I almost forgot,” he said. “I was to make sure you got this. It’s a recording of the funeral, on DVD. Marshall left instructions to the effect that if you needed him at any time you were to play it. It opens with a message to you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Marlowe,” Lynette said as she accepted the proffered disc.

“I’m really sorry about that scene outside the crematory furnace,” he continued. “I-don’t know what came over me.”

“Its fine, Mr. Marlowe,” Lynette said as her mother looked at her questioningly. “That thug deserved every second of that. I’m almost sorry I stopped you.”

“Well, maybe so, but that’s just not like me,” he said. “Anyway, if you ever need anything, feel free to call me.”

He handed both Lynette and her mother a business card, but he kept his gaze exclusively on Lynette, and she started actually to feel somewhat uncomfortable.

“What was that all about?” her mother asked as they left. Lynette did not really know quite how to answer her.

When Lynette viewed the DVD later that night, it became obvious to her that the recorded message was a farewell from a man that obviously intended to end his life. He apologized, but explained there was simply no other option.

“What happened with April, and with Marlowe, should never have happened. You deserve better than to be involved in any of this. Still, I do love you, baby. If it takes me dying to protect you from the likes of them, then so be it. At least I can go to my grave knowing I did at least one decent thing in my whole life. My Aunt Betsy should sing my favorite song. “Roll On, Sweet Chariot”. Yeah, that really is my favorite song, believe it or not. I hope that every time you hear it, I’ll hear it too, and I’ll be up there with all the angels, signing along. I’ll be waiting for you. I hope it’s a long wait for you. That don’t matter to me, though. After all, I know I’ll be waiting in heaven. You made that possible, baby. Goodbye. I love you, always.”

She cried herself to a restless sleep that night, and the next night, at midnight, she followed his instructions. It was a long drive out into the woods of Virginia, to the place where Marshall explained he was born two weeks prematurely, in the back of his late-fathers old 67 Chevrolet. It broke down on them while they were on their way to the hospital. There were no houses for miles around, and the middle-aged construction worker found himself in the predicament of having to deliver his seventh child himself, with no water, and no supplies. He simply tied the umbilical cord with a shoestring, and then cut it. He had to walk eight miles before he finally arrived at the first house he saw, belonging to an old farmer who promptly ran him off the property.

He finally found help, after another three-hour walk, and by that time, both mother and child were near death. It was cold, and snowing. It took some time to get to the hospital in Roanoke. Nevertheless, mother and son both survived. Marshall’s father was not so lucky. He came down with pneumonia, and died two weeks later.

Marshall found the place he was born. His mother had carved her and her husbands name on an old tree trunk some twenty yards off the old country road. This was where she first confirmed the name of her newest son, Marshall Robert Crenshaw, born in January of 1982. He went there many times after that, and at times spent the day there, one time camping for the whole weekend. He never got a chance to know his father, but this enabled him to feel closer to him somewhat. The directions he wrote out were flawless, and Lynette found the place, and proceeded to scatter the ashes at the base of the ancient water maple.

“How touching,” she heard a voice now say. Lynette froze in shock when she heard the voice, but forced herself to turn, to see the thin, tall form of Marlowe Krovell, his hair a dyed a purplish black, dark eye-liner shining from the lashes and brows of his eyes, which shone a vibrant though eerie cat-like green.

“What in the hell do you want from me?” she demanded. “I never even met you before. Do you realize how many people are dead because of you?”

“Oh, more than you could ever possibly know,” he replied. “Thousands are dead because of me. Well, I’m being modest, it’s more like way in the tens of thousands, at least. Of course, that’s not really important. What is important is that we are alive. We are alive, and I will have you know that you are mine. I know you don’t like that, but you will come to accept it in time, and once your memory returns, it will all be clear to you.”

“My memory?” she demanded. “Look, I don’t know for sure who you think I am, or who you are, and I don’t really care to know. I do know I’m not playing along with this little delusion of yours, Marlowe. I don’t know what kind of drugs you’ve been using to play this little game with this supposed ghost of April Sandusky, but I know enough to know that it’s some kind of sick trick on your part.

“Oh, and by the way, this hang-up you have over needing a virgin? Well, I’m afraid you’re really barking up the wrong tree there. I gave Marshall oral sex a few weeks ago. He said it was the best he ever had, in fact. I took it all in, every single bit of him, including his semen, and did not spit up as much as a drop. While he was coming in my mouth, I had an orgasm. So you see, I‘m afraid you went through all this for nothing.”

Marlowe just looked at her strangely, as his expression changed from bemused arrogance to outright anger.

“I know,” he said. “That’s why he had to die. If not for that, I might have allowed him to live, so long as I was sure he would not interfere. He is too much a part of you. Luckily, you did not engage in fornication with him, so you actually did not become that badly polluted by him. The fact that we were married at one point in the past will enable me to adjust to your little indiscretion, though I admit I must now revamp my old plans.”

“My little indiscretion, you say?” she demanded. “Marlowe, we were engaged. We were to be married.”

“Oh, how I know it,” he replied as he finally began drawing closer to her. “That was a damn big mistake there. The oral sex I could have gotten over, but for you to actually agree to his marriage proposal was just absolutely unacceptable. I had to kill him. I had to force him to do the job, you see. Had he refused, and forced me to kill him, or leave him to April, it would have left him too much a part of you. As it is, he is still somewhat a part of you, but that can change and will change, I promise you that.”

He now started towards her, and she raised her right arm as though to ward him off, her car keys glistening under the light of the moon.

“Now really, what the hell do you think you are going to do with those?” he asked. “If bullets and blades won’t stop me, how do you think”-

Before he could continue, a fine mist shot into his eyes, and he bolted in pain, screaming in agony.

“Damn you, now you’ve really done it!” he howled in agony.

She ran towards her car, in the hopes of retrieving the handgun Marshall purchased for her some weeks prior to this, not in the least impressed by the deluded boasts of his imperviousness to bullets. Before she managed even to touch the door handles of her Camri, however, she felt a strange force gripping her back, the talons of a bird, its wings flapping loudly in her ears, the force of the wind they generated enough to almost knock her off-balance as she gasped in horror. Suddenly, the apparition removed itself as she stumbled to the ground. Marlowe, however, was back on his feet, as he wiped his eyes in a fury.

“You will regret that,” he said. “Now you leave me no choice. Therefore, I will give you one. For the last time, you will give yourself to me willingly, or I will take you. If I cannot take you directly, I will take you through Cynthia. It doesn’t really make that much difference to me, but oh I promise you, it will make a very big difference to you.”

She craned her head upwards, to see the vicious eyes of the vulture glaring at her, seemingly restrained only by some external force the great bird truly could not comprehend.

“I’m begging you, Marlowe,” she said. “Please, leave me alone. Please, let me go.”

“Make your choice now,” he commanded coldly while ignoring her tearful entreaties. “Either way, you will be mine.”

Her only response was a pitiful cry, whereupon the great bird set upon her and set it’s beak with savage fury upon the back of her neck, a mouthful of her hair the only thing that prevented the bird from establishing what might well have been a death hold, as she clamped down and pulled.

Lynette screamed, and begged Marlowe to stop, whereupon he whistled once. The bird then backed off, and stepped back from the defeated Lynette Khoska.

Marlowe turned her quickly around on her back, and for the first time, she saw his open mouth, and the great fangs, like those of a wolf, that protruded outward as he drew closer to her exposed neck. For a brief instant, she felt a great flare of pain that permeated her entire consciousness. She felt herself growing ever weaker as the life force exited from her jugular vein, absorbed by the insane man who now had her entirely under his control, and at his mercy.

For a while, she spun into blackness, without any sense of direction, until she hit with a thud, a great vibration that woke her, and sent waves of pain throughout her body. She opened her eyes to see a darkened room, lit only by lamp light, within the confines of gray stone walls. She was cold, though covered now by heavy quilts and blankets, on a mattress stuffed with a kind of substance that allowed her to sink deep within it.

Several men stood by her, glaring at her with haughty arrogance, as other men dragged a young girl before her.

“My daughter,” she said. “You promised me and you promised my husband that she would be protected. You all made a vow to God, in the presence of a Bishop of the Church.”

“Aye,” one of the men said. “We made a vow and we will keep it. Your daughter will be married to one who will look out for her. We intend also to keep our word as to the matter of the remains of your husband. She will have them to see to his final rest. In fact, they are here beside you.”

She looked to her side to see her husband, his body stuffed inside a cast iron trunk, so tightly he could not recline within it. She noticed something else.

“He is alive,” she said. “He is not yet dead. Please, I beg of you, let me see to him.”

“He is dying,” the man said as her daughter cried loudly and pitifully. The leader of the men now shut the trunk down upon the woman’s hapless, dying husband.

“No need in waiting,” he said. “Why prolong his agony? See, we are men of boundless mercy.”

They laughed loudly, all of them, so loudly they temporarily blocked out the cries of the young girl, though the leader of the captors, her tormenters, heard them plainly.

He turned and slapped her savagely.

“Shut up with that crying, Voichita,” he demanded. “Such emotional displays are ill-becoming for one of royal lineage. Would you not agree, my Lady?”

However, the woman was in too much despair to answer in any regard, as another figure entered into her line of vision. It was the figure of a man dressed in gypsy attire.

“Behold, my Lady, your new son-in-law, a man of himself royal blood, of sorts, a prince among the Romany. Let no one say that men of honor such as ourselves are not true to our word. She will travel the countryside from here on out, plying the gypsy wares learned from her new family. She will foretell futures, she will sell healing herbs, she will dance, and she will fuck, and she will steal, as she roams from town to town, from province to precinct to countryside, ever seeing to the remains of her father Radu-he who, like she, and indeed like yourself, will never rest.

“In fact, my good man, we have a proposition for you. Consider it a wedding present to start you off in your new life.”

The man presented a shiny gold coin to the gypsy, an old man who seemed uncomfortably acclimated to the present situation, yet who accepted the proffered coin without protest, after which the other men presented their own.

The men then took their turns with the young girl, who screamed in pain and horror as Stanislaus and his band of mercenaries raped her repeatedly, in the presence of the helpless mother, who understood all too well that she would take this scene with her to her rapidly approaching grave. Her husband, yet clinging tenuously to his own life within the confines of the iron trunk, shook it with impotent fury.

“Calm down, Radu, read the Holy Bible we supplied you. Perhaps it will bring you some peace in the final minutes of this life in which you turned your back on it.”

“He can not read it, Stephen,” one of the men said. “After all, it must be very dark inside that trunk. Perhaps we should open it to allow him some light, enough to peruse one last time the sacred writings.”

“Very well put, Carol,” the rebel leader replied. “Open the trunk one last time.”

When the one named Carol opened the trunk, however, two of the other men dragged before it the naked, bleeding body of the raped and beaten girl who was the daughter of the unfortunate man who soon would breathe his last breath. The ailing, bedfast wife and mother heard her husband let out a pained, wretched moan that soon turned into a vengeful roar, as once more the world went dark amidst the hideously mocking laughter of men filled with hate.

She opened her eyes one more time, weakly, but now she was back in Virginia. Once more Marlowe Krovell stood over her.

“So now you know,” he said. “Not a pretty picture, was it?”

She tried to move, and tried to speak, but she collapsed in a dizzying spin, and moaned.

When she awoke, it was two weeks later, in a hospital bed at Johns Hopkins. She did not recognize the face of the Oriental physician who stood at her side, but her grandfather was there, speaking earnestly to Doctor Chou, though she could not truly focus on what they said. She faded in and out of consciousness, and found herself wishing she could just fade away forever. All she wanted was peace, and freedom from the sickness and the pain.

She gradually began to revive, and her normal strength started to return. At the same time, her family was a problem. Her father actually had the gall to ask if she were still a virgin. She could not believe his impertinence.

“Would it matter to you if I weren’t?” she demanded. He just looked at her sadly, as though unsure of how to answer. Her mother and brothers were not much better. Of course, they were obviously happy she would apparently be all right, but on the other hand, they seemed overly concerned with her emotional state.

“Your father just wants you to be happy,” her mother explained once. “He just hates the idea you may have discarded your values for the sake of one man, a man who is now dead. And face it, Lynette, regardless of your feelings for him, he was an associate of criminals.”

“You didn’t know him, mother,” she said.

“I know that, sweetheart,” she said. “I didn’t exactly know your father either, when we married. Take that under consideration. You see where we are now. Both of us remarried to other people. At least, though, I have something besides memories. I guess that is a good thing too, because the memories are not really stacking up to what I thought they would. I’m starting to wonder how we lasted as long as we did.”

She thought that would be it, but the next time her father visited, it did not take her long to blurt out the same line about values and expectations with which he usually regaled her. She was starting to weary of seeing him. She called for her grandfather after his last visit, but he was no help.

“How did I end up here?” she asked. “The last thing I remember was being in the woods in Virginia, scattering Marshall’s ashes where he wanted them. The next thing I know, I wake up half dead in this hospital, and I do not remember anything. Still, everybody keeps asking. My doctor and therapist, mom, my brothers. The only person who has not asked me more than twice is my father, and that is only because he cannot stop worrying over whether I am still a virgin. He even asked Doctor Chou. Can you believe the nerve of him?”

“Lynette, all I know is what I’ve been told, which is that some policeman found you. It was actually a detective by the name of Berry. He found you wandering out in the woods, half naked, almost drained of blood, some kind of puncture wound on your neck, as though from some wild animal. Are you sure you don’t remember any of this?”

“Berry must have been following me,” Lynette said. “I don’t know why, but he had to have been. He used to question Marshall about the Pulse. I think he might have suspected me of complicity in Marshall’s death, though he never came out and accused me. It doesn’t make any sense, and I sure don’t believe in coincidences.”

She felt compelled to call Brad Marlowe for some reason she could not comprehend. She did so, and expressed a desire to make her own funeral arrangements. Marlowe seemed disappointed that she expressed a preference for cremation. What in the hell is wrong with everybody, she wondered?

When Brad Marlowe came to her room the next day, Doctor Chou was in the process of finishing his rounds with her, and informed her he would release her. She was by now well enough to leave Johns Hopkins. The strange blood abnormality she exhibited seemed by then to have vanished.

After he left, Marlowe presented the papers for her, and she signed them.

“Have you had any trouble with that guy from Marshall’s funeral?” she asked him.

He looked at her as though he had no idea what to what she was referring. When she reminded him of the incident with Dwayne Letcher, he looked as though she were joking.

“You surely must have me confused with somebody else,” he insisted. “That was a busy, hectic day, but I think I would remember something like that.”

All the same, she advised him to be cautious. A member of the Seventeenth Pulse would be unlikely to take that kind of treatment in stride. He assured her he would be fine, after which she signed the contracts. He left after that, and she started to realize she could not wait to get out of this hospital.

At first, it did not seem like they wanted to let her go. At the same time, she had no insurance, so she assumed they were eager for her parents to foot as big a bill as they would. They drew more blood from her, a bit more than she thought seemed necessary. She never really understood the urgency of her blood abnormality. They said it was “replicating”. What in the hell were they talking about, she wondered.

She was anxious to talk to Detective Berry. How exactly did she just happen to come along in time to find her, way out in the Virginia countryside? She called him, and he explained that he had been following her for reasons of her safety. He suspected the Seventeenth Pulse of planning an assault on her, but he could not explain the reasons for his suspicions.

“Just that detective gut,” he said. “More than likely it’s just an old ulcer acting up.”

That was all he could tell her though. He followed her, lost her somehow, evidently passed her up where she pulled off the road, and then backtracked to where he found her, stumbling around half naked and bleeding, barely conscious and seemingly in a state of shock.

By the time her grandfather took her back to the Church, she was somewhat recuperated from the ordeal, though she still felt somewhat weak and dizzy. She also suffered from bouts of anxiety that were somewhat prolonged at times. She still had no memory of what actually happened to her out in the woods. She was not sure she really wanted to know.

She started to get sick in the mornings. Every morning, she would throw up, and would feel nauseous for more than an hour later, with dizzying, throbbing headaches. By the time the morning progressed to near-afternoon, she would be fine, but he worried she had been raped, and now experienced morning sickness as a result of a pregnancy due to the rape.

According to Doctor McCann, though the symptoms seemed indeed to correspond to morning sickness symptoms, no tests revealed a pregnancy during her stay in the hospital. Since she insisted she had not engaged in sexual activity during or sense that time, then it would be impossible for her to be pregnant now.

Yet, she was certain that she was pregnant, and expressed this certainty to her grandfather. His response was to offer a prayer.

Grandfather,” she said, “if I am pregnant, it’s going to take more than a prayer to help it.”

She was certain she had been a victim of rape, probably by the Seventeenth Pulse. As such, she was determined not to go through with such a pregnancy. The chances were that, if she were right, Dwayne Letcher had a hand in it. She would be damned if she would carry a child by any of them, especially Toby Da Pimp. Her only option was to seek an abortion.

The next day, she decided make a walk-in visit to the Baltimore County Family Planning Clinic. Arising early in the morning, she left before her grandfather woke up, and made the seven mile drive to the clinic at the northernmost edge of the county.
She ignored the small handful of protestors, one of whom heckled her loudly as she approached the door, torn though she was by conflicting desires, the urge to lash back out at them at an uneasy conjunction with a desire to stand beside them.

She refused to allow herself the option of even looking at them, as one of the women shouted to her in a pitiful wail.

“Please, mommy, don’t kill me. I love you, mommy, I need you, mommy,” she shouted.

Her voice echoed into Lynette’s consciousness as she entered the building. She replayed it in her memory after the door went shut.

“Are those people still out there,” someone asked her.

She turned to look into the face of what appeared to be a girl in her mid-teens, a girl who appeared to be Chinese.

“Yes, they are, why? Are you a patient?”

“Yeah, I did it,” the girl said. “It was easy. I didn’t think it would be so easy. It was like there was almost nothing to it. I’m sick to my stomach now, though. I just want to get out of here, but they said I should wait.”

The girl did indeed look sick, and pale, and seemed to be on the verge of collapse.

“You can go on now, Miss Chou,” a nurse standing at the receptionist’s desk told her. “Would you like us to call a cab?”

“No, someone is coming to pick me up,” she said as she glanced toward the small window of the building.

Lynette gave her name and explained she did not have an appointment, but after she filled out a form, the receptionist told her to take a seat and a doctor would see her within a few minutes. She went to take her seat, and noticed that the girl was crying, though silently.

When the doctor called Lynette to his office, she explained that she knew she was pregnant, though no tests had yet been able to confirm this. The doctor looked at her suspiciously, and asked her if she had recently lost a boyfriend or lover.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” she asked.

“Of course not,” the doctor said reassuringly. “There is a psychological condition however that produces psychosomatic conditions similar to the physical symptoms of pregnancy. It can be caused by a traumatic emotional experience, such as a loss of a lover, or a rape.”

“There was no evidence that I was raped,” Lynette told him after she told of her condition at the time of the discovery of her presence in the woods of Virginia. “Still, something must have happened. I just do not know what it was. I do not remember. Actually, though, I did lose someone, my fiancé. I had just scattered his ashes. That is the last thing I remember.”

The doctor was stunned to hear that she was a virgin to the point of never having experienced vaginal intercourse, and conducted a thorough examination. What he discovered in the course of it almost terrified him.

“I can hear its heartbeat,” he told her. “It would appear as though you are well into your fourth month, at least. But, Miss Khoska, I assure you, there’s nothing there. The only thing I can detect is some kind of gas. This is the strangest anomaly I have ever noted. Here, let’s look at the ultrasound.”

He lowered the lights and began playing the newly recorded tape. What they saw amazed the both of them. There seemed to be some kind of mass, which to all intents and purposes took on the general outline and shape of a human form.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was a female,” he said. “But I know this is not a human fetus. It appears to be blood, and blood gases. I’m not sure we are equipped to deal with this here. I would not know exactly what to do about it. I would suggest an operation at a hospital. You say you were recently a patient at Johns Hopkins. I would feel far more comfortable recommending you undergo testing at such a facility as that, which is far better equipped at dealing with unexpected contingencies. I have never had any experience with such a thing as this. In fact, I have never heard of it, or seen such a thing.”

“You don’t even have any ideas?” she asked. “Like, could it be some kind of blood clot, a result of some kind of internal hemorrhage?”

“That’s as good a guess as any I can think of,” he replied. “Do you have a medical background?”

“I work in a vet clinic,” she replied. “I’m going to be taking veterinary medicine.”

Suddenly, the head nurse entered, seemingly exasperated.

“Doctor Miller, isn’t there anything we can do about those people?”

“Not as long as they remain off our property,” the doctor replied. “Why, what’s the problem?”

“They started to harass Susan Chou the minute she left the building, and she’s out there with them now.”

“Oh, shit,” he said as he threw up his arms. “That’s just great. Look, just have Mike put in a call to the cops and have them send a cruiser over, just to ride by and maybe stop in for a minute. That should be enough to discourage them from getting too carried away.”

The nurse left and Doctor Miller just sat there and shook his head.

“Those damn people out there love it when a confused naive girl stops by here. They figure they can screw with their heads easier than they can adults. Still, I do not have the luxury of turning these young pregnant girls down, not without sufficient cause. It is a difficult situation. I almost have to see them, and then I am usually the one who ends up being reamed because of it-not only by the right-to-life crowd, but also by the public at large. Then I have our administrators to deal with. By the time the politicians get through, I feel like an old piece of meat torn apart by dogs fighting over scraps.

“They’ll probably say something to you as well when you leave here, Miss Khoska. Do not let them upset you. Mostly, they would not want to harm you. There are a handful of them though, that-well, just try to avoid them as best you can.”

Lynette was still upset at the lack of progress toward understanding and defining her condition, and the last thing she needed was to have to deal now with a group of fanatics.

“Who are they?” she asked. “What do they want?”

“Christian activists, mainly,” he replied. “Most of them are Catholics, but there are a few Baptists, and some others. As I said, you do not really have to worry about them. For the most part, they just want to save your soul.”

He held up his fingers in mock quotation form as he said this, but Lynette was still concerned. She took her ultrasound tape, determined to try to make some kind of sense out of what it contained, and she left. When she walked out the door, however, none of the protestors accosted her from across the street, over in the lot relegated to them and to which they were by law confined. She looked over toward them and saw Susan Chou, down on her knees, as a bearded sandaled priest in a cassock with a crucifix gripped her head and said a loud prayer. She cried, and as her tears became ever more audible, Lynette hurried across the lot to her Camri. She could not get out of there quickly enough.

She did not know what to tell her grandfather, but she knew she had to think of something. She was not about to mention her trip to the Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic, as she knew he would not approve, to put it mildly. On the other hand, under the circumstances, perhaps he would make allowances. She just was not sure, and so approached the subject carefully.

“I have something growing inside of me,” she told him over a light lunch of vegetable soup.

“I see,” he replied through narrowed eyes. “This something growing inside of you, is it a living thing?”

“It appears to be something alive,” she confirmed. “I just don’t know what it is. According to the tests I had done today, I am not pregnant, yet this thing seems to be growing inside of my womb.”

He just stared at her, coldly yet calmly, as though somehow he knew.

“Still, according to Doctor Chou, I was not raped,” she said, deciding to add that in quickly. ‘For that matter, according to him I am still a virgin.”

Still, he just stared, barely moving, in fact barely breathing.

“Grandfather, don’t just stare at me like that, say something.” When he looked at her like that, like the way he now was, it made her very uneasy, which she now could not disguise.

“It will be all right,” he finally told her. “I am positive it is nothing to be overly alarmed about, unusual though it is.”

“Well, do you have any explanation as to what it could possibly be?” she asked.

‘Like I said, it is nothing to worry about,” he replied. “There is nothing that can not be fixed, no problem that can not be solved. This will be no different, I promise you.”

Why, then, did he seem so grim, she wondered. On the other hand, why should he not be? The day of her release from Johns Hopkins, she felt almost completely recovered from her ordeal. Since returning to the church, she now felt weaker, and grew weaker by the day. She was sick. Not a day went by she did not vomit. She always felt dizzy and nauseous. She kept a fever, and on some days she almost could not tell up from down. The more days that went by, the more she felt the presence of the thing inside her womb, growing stronger by the day, exerting more of a toll on her with each passing hour.

She wondered if she were simply insane, and considered asking Doctor McCann to put her back on the Xanax from which Chou had discontinued her. As she lay in her bed in her grandfather’s guest room, on one night more than a week after her visit to the clinic, she felt a presence in the room with her. It seemed as though someone was with her, drawing up to her bedside. She was weak, having eaten nothing for more than a week but bread and vegetable stew, with some water and a little tea. Ordinarily, it was horrid tasting stuff, but her grandfather insisted it would be good for her. He refused to consider taking her to the doctor or to any hospital. They had done all they could for her, he insisted.

“Grandfather, please help me,” she begged him as she felt the presence draw up to her bedside.

“It is not him, it is me,” she heard the voice say.

She looked up to see the face of Marlowe Krovell. She wanted to shout, to scream, but she did not have the strength.

“It is time, now,” he said. He then grasped her firmly by the neck with both hands and lifted her by the back of the neck. He bore his teeth into her neck, into her jugular vein. She felt the life force exiting her, draining away into him. She felt everything fading away, as an all-encompassing darkness overwhelmed the dim light. She no longer felt her bed, or even her body. She just floated, anchored by the steel grip of two powerful hands that anchored her to one last fleeting vestige of life.

Oh God!” he suddenly screamed as he backed away from her and collapsed to the floor by her bedside. “You bitch, what have you done to me, what the hell have you done to me?”

She rose with a pain in her chest as she gasped, breathing sharply in order to regain her oxygen. She looked around in horror to see the terrifying vision of the man’s face, now covered with boils and welts, pus oozing from them, as he groaned in horrific pain. At the same time, she heard her grandfather desperately shouting her name as he made his way down the hall toward her room. He opened the door and hurriedly turned on the lights, only to see no one there but her and himself.

She rose quickly from her bed, but it was a little too quickly. She doubled over in painful agony, but determined she would not fall back to her bed. She had to rise.

“Lynette, who was it that was here?” Aleksandre demanded. “I heard a voice scream out, the voice of a man.”

For the time being, she was unable to answer him. She was having contractions, more rapid by the minute. Within a matter of ten minutes, the contractions occurred at intervals of mere seconds apart. She was giving birth. Her water broke, only it was not water, but some foul smelling liquid that assailed her nostrils and Aleksandre’s as well.

“Come, Lynette, we have to get you out of her,” he insisted.

She had not the strength to ask him where they were going, though she assumed it was to the hospital, where she felt she needed to be days ago. Instead, he brought her into the church, and laid her down by the statue of the Archangel Michael. She looked up at the icon, as the birth pangs felt as though hey were ripping her apart.

Finally, with a savage thrust, she felt the mass fall out of her, and the pain was over. Her grandfather came with a bowl of holy water, and doused it on the mass of vibrating, pulsing blood and tissue that she now backed away from, that had ripped itself out of her womb. It slowly dissolved into a liquid mass that spread out on the floor. He then stamped it fiercely, as he muttered a prayer in Romanian.

“Grandfather, it was blood, that’s all,” she said. “I must have had some kind of hemorrhage.”

He looked down at the mass of now dead tissue that lay before him.

“Yes, of course you are right,” he said. “That is all that is now, anyway.”

He then procured a mop and a mop-bucket from the supply closet, and cleansed the area with a powerful detergent. After he was finished, he poured yet hotter, steaming water with detergent on the area, and then dried it thoroughly. After he finished, he prayed for more than an hour, as Lynette gradually felt her strength returning. He finished, and insisted that Lynette eat yet more vegetable soup.

“That soup contained large amounts of garlic,” he explained. “That is what repelled that creature, whoever he was. It is also what resulted in the stillbirth of that demonic creature forced upon your womb. Do you have any idea who that was? Such demons as he typically reanimate the bodies of the dead, and make use of their memories and consciousness in order to ply their abominations unchecked. Thank God we were able to stop him, if only for now.”

“His name is Marlowe Krovell,” she said. He was astounded to hear this, but said nothing.

“So that garlic? That is what did that? Is that the reason I was so sick for all those days?”

“The demonic infant was reacting to it, and this caused your illness,” he explained. “I am sorry I had to put you through that, but what in the hell was I to do, allow you to give birth to some kind of monstrous abomination from hell? I am sorry, but I would prefer you die than bring such filth into the world.”

This stunned her, and hurt her to the core. Her grandfather, the man she loved and trusted, more than almost any other person on the face of the earth, was willing to allow her to die in agony, and manipulated her to the extent she knew nothing as to his actions or intent. She was little more than a piece of property, an expanse of real estate fought over in some protracted spiritual struggle in which she had no willing role.

Over the next few days, she regained her strength, and at the same time, doubled her determination to assert her independence from the conflict in which she wanted no part.

“I never asked for this,” she said one day.

“You knew Marlowe Krovell, and April Sandusky, and Marshall Crenshaw, did you not?” he asked. “Did I not tell you to be wary of whom you associated with? Yet, you did it anyway. I hardly think it is appropriate that you blame me for your naiveté and lack of judgment.”

That did it. How dare he judge her, she said. How was she to know that Marlowe Krovell, whom she never actually met in person, was a maniac with unmentionable delusions? How could anyone possibly blame her for somehow suffering from a hemorrhage resulting in a bloody mass inside her womb, which almost took her life? It was a simple medical abnormality, nothing more or less. For her grandfather to build all these things up, out of all proportion to reality, smacked of the worse kind of superstition.

“I think I had better return home,” she said. “I’m tired of paying rent for an apartment I haven’t lived in for more than a month now anyway.”

“That is not a good idea,” he replied. “We are not finished with this yet.”

“Well, I am finished,” she insisted. “I have had more than enough.”

She packed her bags, and that night she left. When she got back home, she replayed the tape that Marshall had left for her, and cried. When she first returned to her apartment, she was determined yet again to return to New Jersey. Still, every time she thought of Marshall, she changed her mind. She could not leave here. She had nothing in New Jersey. True enough, here she had nothing but memories, and few of them were good ones. Nevertheless, her life was here, for good or bad. It almost did not matter to her if it ended tomorrow. She listened to the entire tape. She then started it back at the beginning, and listened to it again. By the time it finished the second time, she was exhausted, and went to sleep.

The news of the release of the Karinsky so-called “vampire cult” from jail the next day had no effect on her. She was determined not to allow these kinds of people to exert any effect on her thought process or on her life in general. Then, she heard news that was more than startling-it was unsettling, to say the least.

An old friend of the family, a Maryland state delegate by the name of Greg Morrison, resigned his office, and declined any further political bids. As he did so, he explained his bizarre role, as a sixteen year old, in the rape and murder of a young girl. Also involved, he claimed, was his father, the late Randolph Morrison, a former Maryland congressman. Two other individuals were there as well-one of whom was, he claimed, the Reverend Christopher George.

The other man, a former professional baseball player and prosecuting attorney named Lonnie Brock, was now on his deathbed, and would not live out the night.

As Morrison related the story, followed by frenzied questions by reporters, his wife stood beside him, stoic and grim, until she at length walked off the stage with him. What it must be like to be married to a man like that, she had to wonder.

Nor was this the only shock of the night. Later, she learned that yet another man, a former business associate of her father, a man by the name of Jason Talbert, also died from a massive coronary during the course of a dinner gathering with friends and family members. She felt an urge to call the family and express her condolences, but it was too soon. It was also way too late at night at any rate. Still, she knew the daughter, with whom she had been friends. She even dated the man’s son, briefly, before it turned out he was interested in pretty much what every young boy his age was interested in, seemingly to the exclusion of all else until they finally got it.

Perhaps she would call them in a day or two, she decided. For now, she was going to bed, and as she turned off the lights, she almost did not notice the slight gurgling sound coming from the commode. Her nerves were on edge, and rummaging through her purse, she found the four last remaining Xanax tablets. She was undecided as to whether to take them all at once, or try to make them stretch out over four nights.

She had almost decided to take two one night, and then take the remainder over the course of the two following nights. She was still hopeful that she could convince Doctor McCann to renew her prescription, despite Doctor Chou’s advice. It was only then she remembered the young Chinese girl she met at the abortion clinic. She absently wondered whether she might be his daughter, or some other relative. If so, did he know his daughter just had an abortion? Probably, she decided, assuming they were any relation at all.

She decided to take a hot bath before taking the Xanax and going to bed. As she ran the bath water, she went into the kitchen, but then decided against drinking any of the Mountain Dew left over from the last time she was here. Too much caffeine, she decided. On the other hand, it could not hurt. It might be just what she needed. She poured out some of the soda into a glass, and saw immediately that it was flat.

“Well, fuck it!” she shouted. Yes, her nerves were definitely on edge, she decided.

She returned to the bathroom, undressed, and turned off the water. It suitably lathered from the bubble bath Marshall had purchased for her from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, so she climbed into the water, and allowed herself to just soak in the steaming bubble bath into which she temporarily lowered her head.

Suddenly, the commode gurgled violently, and as she looked in its direction, a large dark spout shot up almost halfway to the ceiling. She gasped as a dark, slimy substance rose to the edge. It suddenly took on the aspect of a black, slimy hand, as what appeared to be filthy, matted hair rose to the surface.

Lynette stared helplessly in terror as the head of April Sandusky rose from the toilet, moaning as she turned her head to glare at her in as savage a look of hatred Lynette had ever seen.

“You are going to die, bitch,” she said in a gravelly voice of pure hatred. “You are one of them and you are going to die like the rest of them.”

“No,” Lynette whispered in terror. “We were friends.”

‘You were never my friend,” April said. “You are just a spoiled little white bitch. Do you know where your boyfriend Marshall is? He’s down in my own little private part of hell. I told him if he did not kill himself I would kill you. I lied. I am going to kill you anyway. I told him if he killed himself, I would give him peace. I lied about that too. Do you want to hear your boyfriend’s voice? Just listen.”

She could then hear Marshall’s voice, begging her for help, crying in agony, mixed with the voices of countless others who pleaded in hopeless, helpless futility for mercy through an eternity of hell.

“Do you know what it would be like to spend eternity surrounded by the filth of the sewer, where Marlowe Krovell vomited my life force? Constantly torn by ugly monster diseases, rats, and things you never knew existed, as well as by me? You are about to find out. You loved Marshall so much. Well, you are going to see him again, very soon. You are going to get to spend eternity with him. You are going to spend eternity with me, swimming in the shit and piss I have been left with. Would you like a taste of it?”

Almost immediately, the bubble bath water became an odious stew of feces and urine, as the slimy hand of April Sandusky grabbed her by the hair, and began to force her under, beneath the stinking, sickening liquid mess that now surrounded her. She forced Lynette to look into her bulging eyes, wide with the delight of hateful laughter and triumph, as her slashed throat pulsated with excitement.

When the music started, Lynette noted how April’s grip on her immediately tightened to what seemed to be a bone-crushing intensity, but then relaxed, and finally withdrew.

Lynette now cried loudly, unable to speak, unable to pull herself up from the vile concoction into which she found herself almost completely immersed. April, however, turned wildly in all directions, flailing helpless in an attempt to discern the origin of the music, the sound of a woman whose voice she recognized, singing the lyrics of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.

“No! Stop it! God damn it, stop it now!” she demanded, her eyes now a rage filled mixture of fear and loathing, as the woman singing the song was soon joined by a chorus of voices. She knew those voices, had at one time worshipped with many of them, had even sung solos at the same church officiated over by the Reverend Christopher George.

April Sandusky wailed pitifully as the voices continued in song, becoming raucous as the tempo was speeded, and the voices, at first sad and mournful, now expressed a degree of happiness, of faith, and soon enough transcended even from this level into that of unbounded joy.

Lynette now pulled herself out of the filth and rushed past the kneeling April out the door, but April was quickly behind her, screaming in horror and in vengeful anger, as the song continued in a seemingly endless loop. She saw now the DVD from which the song emanated and the scenes from the funeral of Marshall Crenshaw. Lynette was desperately unlocking the bolts from her door, determined to make it outside. April seemed torn between stopping her and extinguishing the torturous voices and music from the DVD, until the old priest suddenly appeared from another room. He dipped his hand into a bowl and splashed it all around.

“In the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, I command you, spawn of Satan, to depart back into the depths of hell where you belong, and from which I command you in the name of all the sacred hosts of heaven never to return.”

Lynette was pointing in terror at April, whom her grandfather could not actually see. He turned in the indicated direction and began to splash the holy water towards April Sandusky, who felt the blessed liquid burning into her as she shrieked in horror and despair.

“Return, demon, return to hell, and the eternal company of the filth you have been provided and which is your deserved reward, in the name of The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit and The blessed Mother of God herself. I pray in earnest that the iron grip of The Archangel Michael extinguish you from the face of this earth and from the lives that you have defiled and cast you into hell, never to return.”

All this time, the DVD played as April collapsed to the floor in a desperate attempt to drown out the hateful words of the priest, and the music of all her former family and friends. She cursed them and Alexander Khoska, as she cried in fury at the knowledge of her eternal fate, as she began to collapse, shrink down, and finally vanish all together.

“Grandfather, she’s gone.” Lynette said as she shook almost uncontrollably.

Aleksandre Khoska paid no attention, and continued the rite of exorcism, quoting familiar passages from the Bible, and others Lynette had never heard.

He finally slowed, and then stopped.

“It’s over,” he said. “She is gone.”

“Then, it was real?” Lynette asked. “I wasn’t hallucinating?”

“No,” Aleksandre replied. “I could not see her, but I could feel her presence, and I could smell the foul odor that permeated this place from her presence. It was stifling, and sickening. It is gone now, and so is she. Now, if you please, would you turn off that racket? I find it most unbecoming.”

Lynette turned off the DVD as Aleksandre made his way warily into the bathroom. Everything looked normal. It was as though nothing unusual had transpired here at all. He let the water out of the tub.

“Though the water seems normal, I released it. You should by no means get back into it.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” she said. “It was like being in the middle of a cesspool. I think I’ll be sticking to showers from now on.”

She suddenly collapsed in his arms, and started crying.

“She didn’t deserve that fate,” Lynette said. “I can’t help but feel”-

“Don’t,” A:leksandre warned her. “For whatever reason, she turned her back on God, and in her heart adopted an attitude of hatred towards him. She now must spend eternity with the result of that. Any pity you feel toward her might well serve to strengthen her.”

“I need to stay with you for a few more nights, I think,” she said.

“That would be advisable,” he said. “We will leave now. First, of course, you need to dry yourself off, as you are quite wet. I would also appreciate it if you would dress yourself. This is most uncomfortable.”

Lynette backed away from her grandfather, as she realized for the first time that she was indeed drenched, and without so much as a stitch of clothing. She cleaned out the bathtub thoroughly, and then took a quick shower, after which she dried herself and then quickly dressed.

She had almost a month left on her rent, but would not seek a refund. She would send someone over to pick up her belongings within a few days. For now, she just wanted to pack a few clothes and necessities, and get the hell out of there.

She never prayed as much over the course of the next two weeks as she had in the entirety of her life. She had never truly been a religious person before coming to Baltimore. At that, it was a gradual adaptation. Now, however, she felt a deep spiritual need and longing for God, and not a day passed that she did not partake of the Holy Eucharist. After what she had seen and been through, how could she do otherwise? It was not as though she did this out of fear or obligation either. She began to feel a true spiritual bond with the divine, and wanted to draw closer to God, as close as it was possible for a human being to be in life.

When she heard of the death of the thuggish gang leader Spooky Gold, shot dead in the basement of a Goth nightclub called The Crypt, of all places, she actually felt a degree of sadness mixed with relief. She had not even known he was out of jail, though it turned out someone had arranged for his release surreptitiously. It was almost as though someone set him up, and led him to the slaughter. She never even felt any joy over the news of the wounding of Dwayne Letcher, who now languished in a hospital bed in serious condition. She recognized none of the monikers of the other gang members killed that night, and so ascertained that Mercury Morris was still alive, though possibly incarcerated, as the police had vowed to prosecute all the members for the deaths of so many high school varsity basketball players. She lived daily with the knowledge that they were guilty of far more than that, but felt helpless to do anything about it. She was wary even of asking her grandfather’s advice.

Now, in the aftermath of the Karinsky gang’s release from the same Baltimore City Jail from which Spooky Gold had unwisely escaped to his death, most of them as well died savage, horrific deaths. Two of them, including Karinsky himself, seem to have disappeared.

She wondered about the connection between the two. Spooky Gold reportedly murdered Debbie Leighton down in The Crypt’s basement, before a police task force led by none other than the seemingly omnipresent Detective Berry confronted the gang.

Lynette felt drawn into the middle of circumstances in which she had no part, and prayed on the matter. She felt the presence of a guiding and protective force, urging her to turn away from all of it. She decided she would do just that. The longer she dwelled on these matters, the more she would gravitate toward them. From now on, she would center her thoughts on other concerns. It would not be long before she would begin her last semester of university, at Johns Hopkins. She longed for sanity in the midst of perpetual hurricanes of uncertainty and evil. She would no longer allow herself to live within the eye of such storms, she vowed. The deceptive calm of such a life inevitably led to the point where they sucked one up into the maelstrom and destroyed any foolish enough to remain on that path.

When the sickness overcame her, she did not concern herself with it. It was just another illness, she considered, one she experienced at odd times before in her life. Possibly, it was no more than flu, or perhaps even a mere sinus infection. At the same time, it weakened her and left her depressed, not even wanting to rise from bed, though she forced herself to do so. She abstained from her grandfather’s vegetable soup, which to him seemed to be a cure all for any illness. She did humor him once by trying to eat one bowl of it, but her stomach rebelled against the concoction, and she vomited it up.

“Maybe if you would go just a little bit easy on the garlic,” she suggested.

She was determined that tomorrow, if there was no improvement, she would go to Doctor McCann. If she had to undergo a series of tests to find out what was wrong with her, she would do so, though she dreaded this. She had never felt so bad in her entire life, and the next day she felt even worse, as impossible as that seemed.

McCann examined her thoroughly, and took a sample of blood.

“Did you notice anything unusual about her blood?” Aleksandre asked.

“Well, it will be a few days before the test results come back,” McCann answered.

“Can you not look now to see if the blood cells are replicating?”


McCann looked at the old man as though he were insane.

“According to Doctor Chou, when she was ill before and had to be hospitalized, her blood cells replicated. He said that if not for that she would be in danger of death from lack of blood, so low was her blood pressure.”

“Is this true?” he asked Lynette. She affirmed that it was.

“I have never heard of anything like that in my life,” he said. “He must have been mistaken.”

He called the home phone number of David Chow, after attempts to call his office revealed him to be off work for the remainder of the day. He had to be content to leave a message with Chou’s answering service, telling him he needed to speak with him about an urgent matter regarding a patient by the name of Lynette Khoska.

“I wondered why I wasn’t called or even conferred with when you were at Johns Hopkins. I was told there was a possibility you had contracted some rare strain of flu that Chou was an expert at treating and diagnosing. I did not believe them then or now. David Chou is a simple medical doctor, not a specialist. He is a general practitioner, the same as me.”

He looked quizzically away from the ill woman and her grandfather, and then asked them to excuse him as he told them to wait. They did so, and they waited for more than thirty minutes, a period of time that seemed excruciating to Lynette, such was the level of her fatigue.

McCann finally returned.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything abnormal about your blood,” he told her. “I checked under a regular microscope, and then an electron one. Any such property as you describe would show up. I think more than likely what we are looking at is some type of allergy. If it is, then it will take some time and possibly a few rounds of tests to determine what it is.

“In the meantime, your blood pressure is normal and your pulse is fine. You do have a very slight fever, but nothing that is of any concern. I an reluctant to put you on anything, though I could give you a light sedative and possibly some antibiotics.”

Aleksandre took Lynette from McCann’s office to the pharmacy, where they had the prescriptions filled, and Lynette picked up some bottles of pedialyte, as McCann also instructed.

“It tastes like crap,” he warned, “but it will replenish your electrolytes and keep you hydrated.”

She also picked up some can of chocolate Insure, though she did not exactly look forward to that as well. By the time she took any of them however, she was so ill she scarcely noticed the taste.

“I do not understand why he did not just have you admitted to the hospital,” he said. “You obviously need to be looked after by professionals.”

However, McCann was certain there was nothing to gain by hospital admittance. Once the tests were complete, it might well be a different matter, but until such time, they could do nothing except incur an unnecessary expense and increase Lynette’s level of discomfort. In plain layman’s terms, Lynette had no hospitalization insurance, and therefore no hospital would admit her without demonstrated evidence of some kind of emergency.

When she went to bed, she fell into a restless slumber from which she awoke every few minutes, it seemed. Then, she finally slept for more than three hours, but abruptly woke up from this sound sleep as well. When she did, she felt better, but still assuredly weak, and nauseous. She was awake, though, and aware enough to know that someone was in her room with her.

“Grandfather?” she asked.

‘No, Lynette, I am not your grandfather,” the man answered her. “It’s good to see you. I guess you must be pretty sick, huh?”

“Detective Berry,” she said. “What are you doing here? Did my grandfather let you in?”

“Well-in a manner of speaking, he did,” he replied with a smile. “He just didn’t see me. I sneaked up here.”

“What-do you want?” she asked nervously.

“That was really bad about those Seventeenth Pulse members, ain’t it?” he asked. “All those dead, wasted lives, just thrown away, all for nothing, kind of like Marshall. And then all those others like Ratchet.”

“Who is Ratchet?” Lynette asked warily, inching closely to the alarm bell her grandfather installed in her room by her bedside.

“Oh, Ratchet is just the guy that made the bomb that Mercury delivered,” he explained. “I just thought I’d let you know, I’ll be getting him soon too, just like Mercury, and Spooky, and Fishbait. Almost all the other Seventeenth Pulse members are either dead or in jail and on their way to prison. Well, except for Toby. He is still alive, though somewhat the worse for wear. He sends his regards, by the way.”

She finally made her way close enough to the alarm that she turned it on, but she heard nothing. She pushed down desperately on the button, but no sound emanated from the device. Berry just looked at her and smiled.

“You really should have seen yourself the night I found you in Virginia,” he said. “You really were a mess. You were talking in Romanian. Did you know that? I did not understand a word you were saying, but I was told it was something like, ‘they killed my husband and raped our daughter’. Oh well, you know, things happen, don’t they?

“By the way, Lynette, I must tell you, I was very disappointed by your little trip to the abortion clinic. I thought you had better values than that, than to murder an innocent child in the womb-your own helpless, innocent child. Our society has really slipped down to the gutter, though, hasn’t it?

“Now here you are, dying. You are dying, you know.”

“Leave here,” she said. “I’m begging you. Leave me alone. I have done nothing to you. I had nothing to do with the Seventeenth Pulse. That was all Marlowe Krovell’s doing, and they took it on themselves to help him. I had nothing to do with it. I did not know until after it happened. If I had known, I would have stopped it, but-why are you just looking at me like that?”

Berry was just looking at her, as though looking through her, and then he finally reached up and detached an object that hung above her bed, attached by a small, thin rope, to the bedpost.

“I thought I smelled garlic,” he said as he beamed a smile. “You know, my ex-wife used to love to cook with this stuff. She said it was healthy. Then, after I ate, she would not get within ten feet of me, because she hated the smell of garlic. Ain’t that hilarious? Do you mind if I borrow this? I think I’ll cook me some vegetable soup tomorrow night, and this will save me the trouble of making an extra trip to the store.”

He then went to the window and unlatched it, after which she opened it. Lynette heard what sounded like the flapping of wings from outside, as Berry stepped outside the window.

"Good night to you now, Miss Khoska,” he said. "I'll show myself out, thank you."

Another figure entered in through the window, a man with thick, long blonde hair with green eyes. He looked at her in an attitude of savage anger, as he approached her menacingly, growling as he breathed as though he was some ancient beast escaped from some unthinkable pit in hell. She rose, but before she could make it to the door, the man clad in ancient clothing grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back. She looked into the mirror, and saw the hideously deformed face of the man afflicted with boils and welts.

He sunk long, sharp, savage fangs into her jugular vein, but this time, he ripped at her throat as he did so, with long, sharp nails that sunk deep into the flesh, which he ripped open with a savage fury as he continued to drink. Soon, as she started to fade from consciousness, she saw the face of Marlowe Krovell, who finally finished his feeding and flung her to the floor, his hatred for her now manifest.

She stared outward as Krovell went out the same window through which he entered, and she listened as Aleksandre Khoska beat frantically on the door, now locked from the inside. He beat at the door, and screamed desperately for Lynette, but she could not respond. She felt her last breath leave her body, as she closed her eyes, and finally died.