The Books of Darkness
by Robert N. Stephenson
|Table of Contents|
part 2 of 2
“Give the book back, simple,” Clare said leaning forward, elbows on the table.
“Problem one,” Sarina said. “She doesn’t have it, and the person who now has it won’t part with it unless we pay her half a million.”
“You’re kidding. Who does she think she is, the Queen?” Marie said. I smiled at that. I was pissed.
“Tell me who she is and I’ll get it for free,” Beth said. If I saw her large form, all dressed in black and sparkling with chunky silver jewelery I wouldn’t be arguing.
“Problem two. There is also a Ta’ibah with him.”
“Oh hell!” Clare whispered.
Precisely, I thought. “Who?”
Sarina sat back in her chair and looked at Beth. “Orlando.”
The two women shrugged, obviously they didn’t know him.
“How many Uttukes are in Adelaide?” I asked. The booze was talking. “You three and who else.”
Clare and Beth looked to Sarina. This wasn’t something they usually spoke about. Sarina signaled something with her fingers and the two looked back to me.
“We think about twenty or so.” Sarina bit her lip. She was lying. I could feel it.
“How many you know of?” Yes, the book was important, but so too was knowing what trouble I was in.
“I know seven,” she said. “The others are just guesses based on typical Uttuke movements.”
“We get around,” Beth said.
The next hour drifted away and out of control while they discussed how to get the book back and protect me at the same time. It was the protecting me part that kept tripping them up.
Marie, which I though better to think of her as, suggested I lure The Dark One to the person’s house and let him deal with the problem. Beth agreed and added that if he killed her it would save a lot of problems. She’d look at me and know my death would also be preferable. The idea had merit.
Sarina didn’t agree. The Dark One could just take Samantha without ever getting the actual book, then I’d be in a harder position than I already was. How much harder could it get, I wondered. Death seemed pretty final to me.
I listened as the three planned and unplanned, ran though possible scenarios, found solutions that ended up creating extra problems. I considered raiding Beth’s cabinet for something to drink.
I still couldn’t believe I was sitting next to Marie Antoinette, and I’d seen her in all her glory. I wondered if King Louis had been as close as I had? Why did the Queen of France work as a stripper? Surely there were other ways to make a living as a Uttuke. Sarina had a company and night clubs, Beth, as I learned, had a string of wealthy marriages and lucrative divorces. Looking at Beth made we wonder just who would marry such a woman?
The attack last week, the reason I’d come to see Beth in the first place, the emotional trauma, simply got crunched under the weight of my immediate plight. Beth, a Uttuke, I would never have believed it, given the other two were so beautiful. Apparently Beth had always been overweight, and even after her coming into the fold, her system was so screwed it couldn’t fully convert, as she said. ‘Born a fat chick, always a fat chick.”
I wanted to know more about becoming a Uttuke, what it did to you? what was the cost? Eternity always had a price to pay, and so far all I’d seen were positives. The soul-feeding didn’t even seem too bad. No one died and it wasn’t messy.
The three agreed on a plan, one that I should be able to handle, it came with risks, not only to me, but to them. I could still end up dead, as they put it, there are worse things.
“Beth, you make some arrangements with the Ax. Marie, you know what to do.”
“You sure?” Marie asked. Sarina didn’t answer.
Feeling somewhat better than when I arrived we left Beth and Marie to their own devices. When down, shopping usually lifts my spirits, and I hadn’t done any since meeting Sarina. We went shopping. I needed underwear to call my own, even if Sarina had drawers and drawers of new stuff.
At one of the big department stores in the city, crowded and smelling of body odour, perfume and old sand shoes we found the lingerie department. I purchased bra and pantie sets, packs of plain black panties and even a couple of sports bras. The thought of running along the beach every morning gave me some pleasure. If I could only be bothered, maybe the purchase would encourage me.
Sarina insisted on paying for the lot, over five hundred dollars worth. We ate lunch at a health food cafe, which I didn’t like, never really got into bean shoots and coloured lettuce. At least if The Dark One took me I’d be wearing clean underwear.
“We need to get back,” Sarina said as we left the store. The day turned cool, the sky heavy and grey.
“I could use a bath.”
“That could be nice.” She took my hand.
“By myself,” I said. I wanted to lay back and soak, not be stroked.
We walked hand in hand amongst shoppers and lost bodies seeking some kind of connection with the world. I liked holding her hand, it felt natural, comfortable. The thought of the attack still lingered, the faces, the intent troubling. The news of the gang’s death did give me satisfaction, which felt wrong for some reason. I would have to deal with it all at some stage, but right now I enjoyed the distraction and closeness.
Sarina drove me back to the apartment.
I ran a bath, dark water in the black tub, stripped and sat on the edge running my hands through the hot water. Australia was in drought, Adelaide the driest place in the country and water was an expensive commodity. Guilt about the excess bothered me right up until I slipped into the hot embrace of the bath. Worth every drop, I thought, letting tight muscles relax.
“Thought you might like a drink,” Sarina said coming into the bathroom. She held a glass of scotch and a glass of wine for herself.
“Long day,” I said, taking the glass.
“They’ll get longer.”
“I know.” I sipped the drink and closed my eyes.
“Marie and Beth are good friends, Diana,” she said. “Beth might be a complete bitch, but she won’t let anything happen to you.” She stood, back against the full length wall mirror, watching me. Looking concerned, worried.
“Marie was a surprise,” I said, meaning it.
“We’ve lived in the same cities together since her conversion,” Sarina shrugged. “If a constant familiar face makes adjusting easier.”
“But a stripper, who would guess?”
“She’s alarmingly attractive, why not show off?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But she was a Queen once.”
“We’ve all been other things through life,” she said, sipping the wine, then licking her bottom lip. “I fought in Vietnam, front line soldier.”
“The other side,” she said.
“I better leave you to relax, enjoy the drink and don’t fall asleep.” She moved towards the door. “I’ll check on you in about fifteen minutes.”
“How many other famous people are Uttukes?” Snap question.
She laughed, saying they weren’t famous when they came over, but she also said she didn’t know. I felt afraid, not the fear that had gripped me for the last few days, a different fear. The real notion of actually dying. I was still young, though of late a lot more disconnected from what I’d thought of as the real world, and I had a career, a good career.
“We’ll go to the Goth Club later,” she said. “He won’t bother us there.”
“Tell me, what stops him from coming here?”
“Something you might learn later. For now just be thankful he can’t.”
As we took Anzac Highway into the city I turned in my seat to see Steven in the back seat staring at me. I must have screamed because Sarina pulled over and grabbed me by the arms.
“He’s here,” I cried, my eyes fixed on the blue glow in the back. “Steven’s here.”
Sarina, still holding my arms turned to examine the back seat. She looked back to me. “You sure?”
“He’s looking right at me!” I cried again. “I don’t have it!” I screamed, trying to break Sarina’s grip. “You hear me, I don’t have it.” Steven vanished. I stopped struggling and started bawling. This felt like the worse day of my life.
Sarina got out of the car and came around my side. She opened the door and helped me out onto the grass of the footpath. She held me. Stroked my head and whispered things I didn’t quite hear. I settled. Nerves shot, mind shunting thoughts about like a madman with a Rubik’s cube. I found a semblance of control in her arms, I let her hold me. I felt better in her embrace. Safer.
“I think we have another problem, Diana,” she said, pushing me back slightly so she could look down into my face. I wiped tears from my eyes. “I didn’t see him.”
“You must have. He was right there.” I pointed into the car.
“I didn’t see him,” she said, being firm. “The Dark One has let him go. He is outside of the darkness now, I can’t see him anymore.”
I leaned my head into her shoulder. I didn’t know what it meant, but by the sound of her it wasn’t a good thing. I wondered if I killed myself now would I find peace.
The club was loud and crowded. Onlookers were everywhere, the standing table spots looking like misty bars in the haze of cigarette smoke. I sat in a large sofa chair, one leg over the arm, a half bottle of Jack Daniels on the low table. No scotch tonight, sold out. I hadn’t been down in a while. I sipped whisky, let it drown what remained of my thoughts, pickle the mush of my brain. Heironymus Bosch crackled through the skin, stroked and tempered the mood. I’d requested Intra-Venus but the deadhead on the desk turned a pasty-faced stare at me; vacant, lifeless. I gave up talking to the gravestone and settled with my bottle.
Sarina looked to be making out with young woman in black leather and a dog collar. For a moment jealousy crammed the neurons, created distorted sparks that squeezed my heart. I would have stormed out, if I could actually walk. She undid the girl’s collar. Kissed her throat, the side of her neck. The girl’s eyes fluttered then closed. Sarina put the collar back on and left the girl seemingly asleep on the couch. A mouthful of whisky and the feelings bubbled away. Sarina stepped behind me, ran her fingers through my hair. Leaned over and kissed my firehead. Suicide still looked good.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert N. Stephenson