Ross Fulton’s Shattered Soul
by Leighton Connor
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“I don’t keep him around for his brains,” Ross said. “Come on, Ted.”
You owe him, I told myself. You owe him and you want him to live. I tried the doorknob. It was locked. I gritted my teeth, looked up and down the street to make sure no one was watching, got a running start, and threw myself into the door. It shook. I ran into it again, then again, and the fourth time I knocked it open.
Ross walked inside.
“How’s your shoulder?” Sandra asked.
“Hurts,” I said, rubbing it.
“Quiet,” Ross said. He motioned for us to follow him, then crept across the tiled floor, past the counter, to the door in the back wall. He pulled the door open.
The back room was small, about sixty square feet, and filled with occult paraphernalia. The floor was covered with sigils written in blood. Shelves lined the walls, shelves that held crumbling old books, dull pewter talismans, glass vials, ceramic jars, candles, knives, cat skulls, and more. The whole room smelled like fresh cilantro. Despite the overpoweringly bad vibes the place gave off I couldn’t help but feel slightly hungry. Cilantro was a key ingredient in my favorite taco salad.
“Wow,” Sandra said, wide-eyed.
“Good,” Ross said, speaking in a monotone. “This is the right place. Ted, Sandra, search the room. You’re looking for a —”
“You’re not my boss,” Sandra snapped.
“Cut him some slack,” I said. “He’s losing his soul.”
Sandra rolled her eyes. “Quit making excuses for him. He was just as bossy back when he had a soul.”
“Maybe. But at least then he had a sense of humor.”
Ross sat down in the corner. “Search the room,” he said. “You’re looking for a quart of hazy purple liquid.” He closed his eyes. His head slumped forward.
Once I had made sure Ross was still breathing I started searching. Sandra walked to the far side of the room and began looking through the glass vials there. I was opening up a ceramic jar, and had just discovered the cilantro, when I heard the door open. I spun around in time to see a man step into the room.
He was tall and thin, with short gray hair. His nose was accentuated by small round glasses and a thick mustache. He wore a clean white shirt, a sensible tie, and khaki pants. Most importantly, he had a pistol pointed at us.
“Don’t move,” he said. He didn’t seem friendly, but he didn’t seem excessively agitated, either. “What are you doing here? This is my property.”
“This is not what it looks like,” I said.
“It looks like you broke into my lab,” the man said.
I tried to think of a convincing cover story. Nothing came to mind. I smiled at him. “Really,” I said.
Sandra said, “How’d you know we were here? Did we trigger some kind of magical alarm?”
“No,” the man said, “You triggered a silent alarm. Completely mundane, but effective. Much like this pistol.” He glanced from me to Sandra. “Now tell me what you’re doing here, or...”
His eyes finally settled on Ross and his face broke into a grin. “Well, well. Ross Fulton! What a pleasure.” Still holding the gun pointed in the general direction of Sandra and me, he advanced toward Ross.
When he got close enough, he kicked Ross in the side. He said, “Do you remember me, Ross?”
Ross looked up, annoyed. “Mortimer Fenn,” he said. “Stop kicking me. I’m sleepy.”
Mortimer Fenn laughed. “Beautiful! Beautiful. I can’t believe I’m getting to see this. It’s like Christmas came early this year.”
Sandra looked from Mortimer to the bloody pentagram at her feet and asked, “You celebrate Christmas?”
He shrugged. “Why not? It’s a secular holiday. Just because I practice the dark arts doesn’t mean I have to miss out on all the fun.”
“Huh,” Sandra said.
My mind was whirling. “Mortimer Fenn? As in Fenn Fluid?”
“You’re familiar with my work?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said. “Your work with the soul? And its, uh, seven levels?”
“What are you talking about?” Sandra asked.
“I’m glad you asked,” Mortimer said, smiling at Sandra. “Before me, young lady, it was generally believed that the human soul had six levels. Years ago, when I first embarked on my studies of the occult, I discovered and documented what we now know as the second level, which consists primarily of the deep-seated awareness of one’s own identity.” He stepped closer to her. “You look familiar. Have we met?”
She stepped back, bumping into a shelf, jostling a cat skull. “You hired me to drug Ross. Remember?”
“Of course,” he said. “Ravensbonnet. How could I forget? Please, don’t be frightened. I don’t want to hurt you. I’m a university professor, not a thug. The gun is just for my own protection.”
“We understand completely,” I said, trying to distract him from Sandra. “I’m sorry we broke in to your, uh, lab, it’s just that we’re looking for a missing piece of Mr. Fulton’s soul. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about —”
“Of course I know about it,” Mortimer said, pointing the pistol at me. “You know full well I’m the only man alive with the expertise necessary to remove an isolated fragment of a man’s soul, and I don’t appreciate you... who are you, again?”
“Ted. Mr. Fulton’s assistant.”
“I don’t appreciate you playing dumb with me, Ted. I surgically removed the sixth layer of Ross Fulton’s soul. Yes, because of me, he’s dying. But he’s better off this way. Don’t take my word for it. Ross?” Ross didn’t move. “Ross!”
“What?” Ross grumbled.
“Ross,” Mortimer said, “Do you want your soul restored?”
“I dunno,” Ross said.
“Are you ready to die?” Mortimer asked.
“Sure,” Ross said. He yawned and rolled over.
Mortimer shrugged and said, “You see? He’s ready, Ted, to go into that good night. Who are we to stand in his way?” I didn’t say anything. He went on, “Please understand, this is no random attack, no mere test of my skills. This is revenge.”
I asked, “Did the two of you work together?”
Mortimer laughed. “Of course not. Ross Fulton is strictly an amateur occultist, not someone I’d ever work with. Besides, I’m accustomed to scholarly competition. This isn’t about business. Ross Fulton’s sleight against me is entirely personal.”
He kept the pistol pointed at me with his right hand, and with his left he pulled a photograph out of his pocket. A picture of a smiling middle-aged woman. “You see?” he said. “That’s my wife! The woman I loved! And do you know what happened to her?”
“No,” I said.
“She was torn from me! By this man!” He waved the photo in Ross’ general direction. “That’s why I went to all the trouble of renting this storeroom, of setting up shop here, of vivisecting Fulton’s soul. Because of love. Tell me, Sandra... wouldn’t you do the same, for love?”
Sandra shrugged. “Maybe. Sure.” She was inching toward me. I watched her walk toward me, watched Mortimer watch her. Considering the way Mortimer kept looking at her, I understood why she wanted to get as much distance from him as possible. He was still too far away, still had the pistol on us. No way could I rush him. I had to keep him calm.
Speaking in a perfectly level tone I said, “You have to understand, Mr. Fenn, I’ve only been working for Ross for a few months. I have no knowledge of any wrongs he may have done to you.”
Mortimer nodded. “Of course, of course. I don’t hold you accountable for the misdeeds of your employer. And I understand why you broke in here. Naturally you feel obligated to help him. But, believe me, I’m doing you a favor. Go on, leave, and forget Ross Fulton. Your life will be better for it.”
Sandra had made it to my side. She looked at me, then looked at Ross, then looked back at me. I knew she wanted to leave. She felt guilty about Ross’s condition, but on the other hand, she didn’t really like him all that much and wasn’t ready to die on his behalf. Who could blame her? If their roles were reversed, would Ross stay here and try to save Sandra, “that bitch,” the woman who had tormented his every waking moment, at least up until he lost his memory of her?
That gave me an idea.
“Look,” I said. “You’re making a mistake.” I stepped forward, putting myself between Mortimer and Sandra. Worst case scenario, I figured I could take a bullet better than she could.
“Stay back,” he said. “You seem like a good kid, Ted, but don’t think I’m afraid to shoot you. You’re trespassing on my property. I came to investigate the alarm, armed with my fully licensed handgun. It would be easy to get away with.”
“I understand,” I said. “You don’t want to get caught. That’s why you decided to kill Ross this way, right? Take out a piece of his soul, he dies, and forensics don’t reveal a thing. No evidence points to you.”
“Exactly,” Mortimer said.
“It’s a clever plan, but it’s not very good vengeance. He fades away for a few days, he dies peacefully in his sleep... don’t you want him to suffer? Don’t you want him to suffer like you suffered, when you lost your wife?”
Mortimer bit his lip. “Yes. But one can’t have everything.”
I continued, “Your mistake was in your timing. Ross was suffering, was in extreme emotional pain, and you took it all away. Killing him now is a mercy.”
“Wait,” Mortimer said. “What suffering? You mean the agony of his soul collapsing?”
“No, no, before that. Ross was dating Sandra here, and he was crazy about her, and then she dumped him. Wouldn’t even return his calls. He was miserable, a broken shell of a man. Just sat around staring at the phone all day. But then his memory started to fade.”
“That’s customary. It’s the fifth level breaking up.”
“When he woke up this morning he didn’t even remember Sandra. He went back to life as normal. You took away his greatest pain, a pain that would have gone on gnawing at his soul day in and day out, torturing him without cease —”
Mortimer frowned. “I eased his pain? Sandra, is this true?”
From behind me Sandra said, “I don’t know, I guess. I stopped talking to him.”
“But you broke his heart?” Mortimer insisted.
“Damn it, I don’t know,” Sandra said. “Why is everything always about him? What about me? I’m the one who had to put up with him. He’s loud, and he talks with his mouth full, and he only talks about himself, and God forbid you actually contradict him, then he won’t shut up, he just keeps arguing until you finally admit that he’s right, and you always do, because you can’t take it anymore and you just want to go home.”
“I know you’ve gone to a lot of trouble,” I said, looking Mortimer in the eye. “But this isn’t the way. Put Ross’s soul back. That way I’ll still have a job and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that Ross is miserable. Everybody wins. Everybody but Ross.”
Still curled up in the corner, Ross belched.
Mortimer broke eye contact. “I never meant... I want... I want Ross Fulton to suffer as I have suffered. He must pay. If what you say is true...” He glanced at Sandra, who was still seething. “Yes. She is a heartbreaker, isn’t she? You’re right, I’ve made a mistake. I will restore Ross Fulton’s soul.”
He walked over to one of the shelves and sorted through his collection of glass vials. Eventually he located the one that contained the missing piece of Ross’ soul. He lifted the vial up and I could see it contained, as Ross had said, about a quart of hazy purple. I couldn’t really say what sort of substance it was; at one angle it looked like liquid, at another it looked like a gas, and at another like a beacon of light.
By this point Ross was whimpering and drooling Fenn Fluid. I wiped his mouth and dragged him into the center of the pentagram. I helped Mortimer set up the tubes, pipes, and ceremonial daggers he needed, and then I stepped back into the doorway.
Sandra and I watched as Mortimer chanted, danced, cut, and poured his way through the ritual. Even though I watched his every move I still have no idea what he did or where, when you get right down to it, the pieces of the soul go.
After two hours Mortimer stood up, stretched, and said, “It’s done.”
Ross rolled over, sweaty and naked, his eyes closed but twitching. All seven pieces of his soul were inside him somehow, sloshing around in their Fenn Fluid, trying to remember how to work together.
“Will he live?” I asked.
“Yes. He will live, and he will remember everything. Every painful detail of his doomed romance. Every day will be a new and unique torture.” Mortimer nudged Ross with his foot and shouted, “You hear that, Ross Fulton? After all these years, I win!”
“Mortimer,” I said, stepping closer to him. “You —”
“You don’t need to thank me, Ted,” he said, smiling. “We both got what we wanted. I appreciate your being so reasonable about all this.”
I nodded. “I was going to say, you shouldn’t have put your gun down.”
Mortimer’s eyes darted across the room until he saw his pistol sitting on a shelf six feet away. I, on the other hand, was only two feet away. “Ted, now, there’s no need —”
I punched him once in the stomach and a second time in the face. He collapsed onto the floor and curled into a ball. I felt like a bully, hitting a scrawny middle-aged professor, even though I knew he deserved it. I knew I should probably hit him again but I didn’t have the heart for it. Instead I walked over to the shelf, picked up his pistol, and stuck it in my pocket.
“Can’t prove anything,” he wheezed through bloody lips.
“I know,” I said. “But neither can you. Do you want me to go on hitting you?”
“Good. Stay away from Ross, stay away from me, and stay away from Sandra, or there’s more where that came from.”
He nodded. Sandra helped me dress Ross and drag him out to the car, where we dumped him in the back seat.
Her eyes glazed, Sandra said, “This has been the strangest night of my life.”
“I wish I could say the same,” I said. I drove us back to Sandra’s place.
Around six in the morning Ross opened his eyes and sat up. “Satan’s balls!” he said. “I remember everything. The chat room... Vincenzo’s...” His expression darkened. He turned to Sandra. “Sandra, you betrayed me. What the hell?”
She sighed. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Sorry you broke my heart?”
“No, just sorry you almost died. I never wanted you to die. I wouldn’t deliberately send anyone to their death. Except maybe Hitler.”
Ross nodded. “I understand and I’m willing to forgive you. We’ve both made mistakes. We’ve been through a lot, Sandra, and I think this experience has only strengthened the bond between us. What do you say, maybe tomorrow we could —”
“I rate you higher than Hitler,” Sandra said. “You’re still below most other people. Go away. I never want to see you again.”
“Fine, whatever,” Ross said, standing up and walking toward the door. “We’ll talk later. Work things out. Right now I’ve got some business to tend to.”
Mortimer had counted on Sandra’s rejection breaking Ross Fulton’s heart. What he hadn’t counted on, though, was Ross’ capacity for denial.
Ross walked out the door. I got up to follow him, and turned toward Sandra. “Well, good-bye,” I said. “Thanks for your help. I guess we won’t see you around.”
“Him I never want to see again,” she said. “But you can call me sometime, if you want.”
“Okay,” I said. I wasn’t sure why, but the thought of this pleased me. She wrote down her number for me — her new number, the one she got so Ross couldn’t reach her — and I said good-bye again. I walked to the car with a smile on my face. Ross didn’t seem to notice. I thought it best not to tell him about the number, at least not now while his emotional wounds were still fresh.
We had barely pulled onto the street when Ross said, “Hurry up and get us home, would you?”
“We’ll be home soon,” I said.
“I don’t want the trail to get any colder. I need to find those inbred troglodyte fratboys who were mocking me in the parking lot earlier. They thought they were safe, going after the broken man. Poor bastards. They won’t even know what hit ‘em.” He chuckled to himself. Then he turned to me, punched me hard in the shoulder, and said, “You did good work tonight, Ted. You saved my life. I appreciate it.”
“So we’re even now?”
“I didn’t say that. You still owe me. But now you owe me a little less.”
That was, honestly, more than I had expected. “It was my pleasure. What did you do to Mortimer’s wife, by the way?”
“I didn’t do anything to her. I worked for her. A few years back she suspected Fenn was having an affair with one of his interns. I trailed him, snapped some pictures. Turns out he wasn’t banging one intern, he was banging six of them. He’s much more of a ladies’ man than you’d expect. Anyway, I turned the pictures over to Mrs. Fenn, and she divorced him. Got the house, the dog, everything.”
“He blames you, you know. He was raving like a lunatic.”
“Of course he was. It’s like I told you, Ted.”
“What did you tell me?”
He stretched back in his seat. “Dames are trouble.”
Copyright © 2006 by Leighton Connor