Kincaid watched as Shelly worked on the body. Her blood red hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. Her right hand fluttered up and down the man’s chest with the razor blade. A raw red wound ,the length of the man’s torso ,opened up like a maw. Shelly used her left hand ,the withered one, to grab the flesh and pull it open even more. Blood spilled down onto the white iron table that held the body. The table was as pale as the body . Shelly plunged her hand into the man’s stomach and pulled out a handful of viscera . She dropped the guts into an ancient clay pot that sat on the floor next to her embalming table. She reached in again and pulled out more of the internal organs. Using both hands she pulled bloody glistening intestines out of the body and let them spool out of her hands into the bright orange clay pot.
Kincaid stood still as a statue as Shelly worked. The pale fluorescent light in her ceiling threw a bluish hue around the entire room. Kincaid could see the tools of her trade scattered around the room. Large silver bowls and daggers were arranged on a table behind her old embalming table. There was a cast iron cauldron in the corner of the room.
Next to Kincaid was a weathered and cracked book case. As tall as the room and half as wide the bookcase strained with the weight of the tomes it held. Kincaid scanned the spines of the books. “Necrocomonicon” “Walpurgis Night” “The Book of the Dead” . There were other books whose titles were written in languages Kincaid could not read. Just looking at them made his head hurt. Shelly exhaled deeply and almost wiped her brow with her blood soaked forearm.
“Can you get this for me ?” she asked Kincaid arching her eye brows . Kincaid stepped forward and pulled a handkerchief from inside his blazer and softly mopped her forehead. Shelly was a tall woman and for a moment their eyes locked. Neither one seemed to like what they saw there.
“Thanks” she mumbled . She turned back to the embalming table and squatted . Grunting she pulled an ancient satchel from under the table. Kincaid stepped back and put on his sunglasses.
“You have sent my payment to the appropriate PayPal account correct?” Shelly asked.
“Same as always. “Kincaid responded .His voice was a scratchy rasp. Like sheet metal sliding against glass.
Shelly nodded and opened the satchel. The items she pulled out looked fairly innocuous . A small glass vial filled with a dark green liquid. A metal box that resembled a snuff holder. A long twisted black piece of wood the sixe of a drumstick that had deep sigils carved into its surface. She poured a drop of the green liquid into the orange bowl. She opened the metal box and took out a pinch of what looked to Kincaid to be black sand. Then took the black piece of wood struck the bowl three times.
“Oman Iri Raszk Ca Oman Iri Raszk Ca Ba’al .” Shelly murmured . Nothing happened. At first. Shelly held the stick in a death grip . Her chest began to rise and fall rapidly. A thin sheen of sweat broke out on her bare arms and her forehead. Kincaid dropped his head.
A blue ball of fire exploded out of the bowl. The flames were iridescent in the pale light of the cellar . Shelly leaned her head back and a moan came out of her mouth but the voice did not belong to her. It was deep rumbling voice that dripped with malevolence and despair. The blue flames engulfed her but did not consume her flesh. Kincaid could now hear her voice but it seemed far away like someone trying to speak underwater. Then the Other responded. Shelly crumpled to the floor and the blue flames subsided. Kincaid did not move forward to pick her up off the floor. She rolled over onto her backside and leaned back against the table.
Kincaid didn’t need to help Shelly up off the floor.. He knew what Shelly was and what she could do. He was a pragmatic man. He didn’t question her abilities. He just used the information she provided and more often than not she was correct. His customers swore by her and he had to agree with their assessment. Kincaid was a procurer. His clientele was composed of the rich and the infamous who invariably had more time and money than good sense. He had acquired everything from the right hand of Edgar Allan Poe to a knife purported to belong to the real Jack the Ripper to signet ring of Gilles De Rais. He had recently returned from a trip to England to acquire the walking stick of Alastair Crowley . Shelly had used her abilities to tell him where to find the cane. Gaining possession of it had been more difficult than he had anticipated but Shelly’s information was spot on.
“The man who has the stone is named Garn. He is currently in Richmond Virginia. He will be there for three days. He frequents a bar in the city called the Flood. . He is about six feet tall with black hair and light blue eyes.He has a limp. Be careful he has some sort of veil covering his thoughts.”
Kincaid nodded. He didn’t need to write down any of the information. He had a didactic memory. He turned to walk away.
“Kincaid” Shelly said .
“Be careful. I’ve never seen a vision like this before. The stone you are looking for is incredibly powerful. Just saying.”she said between gulps of air.
Kincaid simply nodded again and walked out of the room..
The stone he was looking for was called the Philosopher’s stone by some scholars. It was also known as the Forever stone or Deathless Gem. His client wanted it for his collection and was willing to pay handsomely to acquire it. Kincaid had done his research . Supposedly the stone granted it’s owner eternal life. Kincaid didn’t buy that particular bit of hyperbole . In his career as a hunter of arcane objects he had witnessed some incredible ,unbelievable things. Shelly communicating with a Judeo-Christian demon was not even in the top five. However the idea of eternal life was a bit fanciful even for him. He headed back to his hotel room and packed his bags then called the airline to book a flight to Richmond . He would get there ahead of his quarry by two days. Plenty of time to do some recon and set a trap.
The next morning Kincaid was on a plane heading to Virginia. He touched down at the Richmond International airport at exactly 3:00 p.m. A short taxi ride later and he was in his room at the Days Inn. He unpacked his bags in a strict orderly fashion. He hung his pants and shirts in the closet with military precision. He walked in the bathroom and peered in the exhaust vent in the upper right hand side of the ceiling. A small brown package was there waiting for him. His contact in Virginia had come through for him. He retrieved the bag and opened it as he sat on the bed. A small hand gun was in the package along with a full clip of silver bullets. Silver seemed to work pretty well against most of the entities he encountered . Human and otherwise.
Kincaid dressed and checked himself out in the mirror before he headed to the Flood Bar and Grill. He saw a tall man ,wiry but not skinny. Short blondish hair cut in a flat unremarkable style . Deep set grey eyes that peered out from a sharp angular face. He was wearing a black blazer over a white dress shirt. Blue jeans and smooth brown loafers completed his ensemble. He didn’t look threatening at all. Unless you looked in his eyes. His eyes were cold. Crocodile eyes.
Kincaid strolled over to the Flood on foot. He had specifically gotten a room within walking distance of the bar. The Flood was a little neighborhood bar tucked in between the civil engineered trees lining the sidewalks in downtown Richmond. Kincaid entered the bar and immediately began mapping out his strategy. His steel trap mind began calculating escape routes and lines of attack. The Flood was a new bar in a renovated pharmacy from the Fifties. It shimmered with stainless steel nostalgia. A long bar with shiny malt shop stools took up most of the right side of the bar. The other side was populated by a long row of booths. At each booth was a small replica of a jukebox. Customers could request songs from the jukebox that played while they ate and drank. Exposed pipes in the ceiling lent the place just the right of industrial charm. Kincaid walked across the black and white tiled floor sat at the bar. A huge painting of James Dean,Elvis , Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart in a parody of the Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks” dominated the wall behind the bar. A cute waifish young bartender put a small napkin down in front of him .
“What can I get you darling?” she asked in a light lilting voice.
“Cuba Libre.”he said softly. She turned around and made his drink with the quiet confidence of a seasoned vet. She turned back toward him and sat the drink on the napkin. Kincaid sipped it ,then licked his lips. The bar had a nice quiet ambience . A sense of genteelness that seemed to only exist in the South. He would make contact with Garn here. This place was familiar to him and hopefully that would put him at ease. There was a backdoor he could see from his vantage point. The front door led directly to the street with only a four foot sidewalk.. Kincaid finished his drink and put the glass down on the bar. He threw a ten dollar bill down next to the glass. He left with a plan formulating in his mind.
He spent the next two days refining the details of his plan . He would make contact and offer him a sum to purchase the stone. But Garn wouldn’t sell . They never did. He most likely knew the true power of the stone. Even if it didn’t grant eternal life it had some type of supernatural energy .Otherwise Shelly would not have been able to ascertain any information about it. Her skills worked like radar and supernatural items pinged . So then Kincaid would have to follow him and take the stone . That’s where the gun and silver bullets came into play. Garn was most likely human But he could have a bonded his soul to a demon. He could be an entity that drank blood . He could be a shapeshifter. Silver was an all purpose remedy for all things otherworldly.
Saturday night arrived and Kincaid got to The Flood early. He picked a booth all the way against the back wall to give him a full line of sight of the entrance. He ordered a sweet tea. Which ,because this was the South,tasted like diabetes in a glass. Then he waited. He was good at waiting. It was an underrated ability. People began to tumble into the bar. Regulars were greeted by name by the wait staff and bartenders. College students who came to drink away the stress of another mid-term. Suit and tie professionals who took advantage of the cheap drinks and hip vibe the bar offered. For a few hours they could convince themselves they didn’t compromise their values on a daily basis. Regular working folk wandered in from the hair salon or the aluminum plant .Flush with their weeks pay they drank like kings ,if only for one night. Kincaid watched them all seeking out a tall man with black hair and blue eyes. A man who walked a bit apart from the crowd. A man with a haunted face. Everyone Kincaid had ever encountered who possessed a legitimate artifact had that same look on their face. A sort of spiritual radiation sickness that came through their existential pores. He would know Garn when he saw him.
Kincaid sipped his tea and leaned back against the booth, He closed his eyes for just a moment.
When he opened them Garn was standing next to his table. He wasn’t looking at Kincaid he was staring at the television above the bar. He was tall with shaggy black hair that fell to his shoulders . He was wearing a long black trench coat and tan cargo pants that were tucked into his black combat boots. His hair was twisted into thick dreadlocks . His eyes were indeed blue .Which was at odds with his skin color. He was the color of obsidian and just as smooth. Kincaid didn’t give a damn about his race but it did concern him that Shelly hadn’t mentioned it. Either she didn’t think it was any consequence or she had not been able to see it. In all his previous dealings with Shelly she had never left out any detail that she could ascertain. So that meant she had not been able to see it. Kincaid tried not to think about what else she may not have seen. Kincaid rose from his booth and put his hand out to tap Garn on the shoulder .Just as his hand was about to alight on his coat Garn turned and faced him.
“Kincaid.Good to finally meet you.”he said in a light and airy voice. Kincaid’s face was a placid as a mountain lake. But inside he felt like he was on a boat roiling in the open sea. This all felt very wrong. He should not have known his name. Kincaid thought back to what Shelly had said about a veil over Garn’s thoughts. Kincaid had no such veil.
“So you know me . “he said. Garn laughed .
“I think we move in the same circles. I would be a fool not to recognize the great Kincaid. So you wanna sit down have a drink and talk about the stone?” Garn asked pleasantly. Kincaid returned to his booth and Garn sat down across from him.
“Gotta forgive me .I would have spoken sooner but I’m a huge fan of soccer.They have Brazil versus Spain on the t.v. Harpastum has certainly changed a lot since I first played it.” Garn said smling
“Harpastum?” Kincaid said.
“Yeah that’s what the Romans called it. But anyway how much we talking for the stone? I’m not going to sell it but I’d like to know what the going rate is on the international supernatural black market.” Garn said.
“If you are not going to sell it why did you even sit down? Kincaid asked. Garn rolled his eyes.
“I can’t sell it . But I’m curious. That’s how I wound up with the stone in the first place. And it works! It gives you eternal life by absorbing your death.” Garn said . Kincaid arched his eyebrows. Garn sighed.
“Okay look. Each person’s death is specific to them. Life is like a groove in a vinyl record. Death is the needle. When the record gets played death follows that groove until it reaches it obvious end. The stone,it picks the needle up and never puts it back in the groove. So you exists forever ,walking along the loop of your life.”
“How very philosophical But why tell me all this?” Kincaid asked. Garn bit his bottom lip. He shook his head and his dreads fell into his face. He threw head back with a sigh then stared into Kincaid’s eyes.
“Because I’m tired of carrying it. I can’t sell it . I can’t give it away . I’ve tried. It always returns to me. So you have to take it. Don’t worry those silver bullets in your gun won’t kill me . They will stun me for a awhile .Long enough for you to steal the stone. Then you will have to carry it and I will get some sleep. That’s the thing about eternal life that’s not on the warning label. You never sleep. Oh you can close your eyes and stop moving for eight hours but you never ,ever sleep. But if you shoot me with those silver bullets they should stun me for at least an hour. One hour of blessed relief from this unrelenting reality. “Garn said smiling. Kincaid took it all in serenely. This man was obviously insane .What ever energies the stone possessed had driven him mad. He wanted to die and Kincaid would happily oblige him.
“Oh one thing. After you take the stone be very ,very careful with it. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t drop it or slam it down on the table. If it breaks….well if it breaks that would be very bad for you. Don’t cross the streams and don’t drop the stone ..hahahah.”Garn laughed loudly. He stood.
“So you ready to go? There is a really disgusting abandoned lot two block over that would be perfect for the scene of a crime.”he said. Kincaid stood as well.
“Okay go ahead and leave. I will follow a few seconds behind.”he rasped. He didn’t see any reason to wait. They were both about to get what they wanted ,why forestall it any longer? Garn nodded
“Smart …smart. Okay see you in a few.”And with that he blithely walked out the bar. Kincaid counted to ten then followed him. He saw Garn walk down the street then dart through an alley .Kincaid followed at a leisurely pace. This could still be a trap only for him ,not Garn. He watched Garn dash across the street then down another alley way. He strolled across the street and down the same alley way . It ended in a huge open lot surrounded on by tall decrepit brick buildings. It might have been a courtyard at one time. Scruffy tufts of grass were breaking through the concrete. Bottles and trash bag littered the entire lot, Garn was leaning against the far wall of the lot looking up at the night sky.
“I once swam with a mermaid. I don’t know why sailors described them as beautiful They are bald and slick like eels. Their “breast” are actually egg sacs. Yuck….but she was graceful in her environment. She reminds me of you Kincaid. You are graceful in your environment. A thousand years ago you would have been a gladiator. You are a better steward for the stone than I am. You are well acquainted with Death. I was always too afraid of it to really be a good guardian for the stone.”Garn said . Kincaid stepped forward and pulled out his gun Garn spread his arms and looked at Kincaid.
“Stone is in the upper right breast pocket of my coat. Like I said BE CAREFUL.” Garn said . He was not smiling . Kincaid raised the gun and fired three times into Garn’s face. Garn staggered back against the worn bricks of the building behind him then slid to the ground among the bottles and the trash. Kincaid ran up to the body and reached inside the coat. He put his hand inside the right breast pocket and felt a hard small round object wrapped in a soft silky material, Kincaid pulled it out and looked at it. It was about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. It was wrapped in a black swatch of velvet. Kincaid put it in his pocket and dropped the gun next to the body. He peeled the transparent silicone coating off both his hands and dropped that among the trash as well. The silicone obscured his fingerprints but was nearly undetectable to the naked eye. He walked leisurely out of the lot and headed back to his room.
Kincaid got back to his room and sat on his bed. He pulled out the stone and pulled the velvet wrapping away from the stone. The little swatch fell across his hand keeping the stone from touching his skin. The stone was actually a huge red polished marble. It’s surface was variegated with silver and black streaks. The light from his hotel room played across it’s surface like an army of fairies. Kincaid held the stone up to the light and studied it. Suddenly a face appeared in the stone. A face without any skin. A flayed face frozen in a rictus of pain. Kincaid flinched .
He dropped the stone. It shattered
The room filled with a cacophony of screams and moans and shrieks. High pitched wails that ripped at Kincaid’s ears. Flickering ghostly images spilled out of the stone. Like 3-D images they splashed against the wall. and showed scenes of death.
Shotgun blast to the face
Drawing and quatering
Animal Maulings. and a thousand other ways to die over a thousand years. All at once . With only Kincaid in the room. He tried to scream but felt his tongue being ripped out of his mouth. He tried to run but felt his legs being broken by a Roman soldier on a cross. He tried to crawl but felt an elephant’s foot pressing into his back popping his lungs and heart like a balloon filled with water. He tried to pull himself along the floor. His hands were chopped off by a chainsaw. These and a thousand other deaths were visited upon Kincaid all at the sametime. His last thought was “I should have listened to Shelly.”
An hour later there was a knock at Kincaid’s door. The knob turned and a figure walked into the room. The figure stepped carefully across the floor. The room was an abattoir . Blood covered the wall and the floor and the ceiling. It dripped from the lamps and pooled in the corners. The figure stepped over a flat bloody scrap of flesh covered in blondish hair. The figure parted a pile of entrails and bits of bone and found the fragments of a polished red stone. The figure picked up the pieces and closed his hands around them. A weak red light emanated from his hands for the briefest of moments. When he opened his hands the stone was whole once again.
“I told you to be careful. Geesh glad I don’t have to clean this room .” Garn said under his breath. He walked out of the room and closed the door behind him gently.