"The Devil's Bookseller" Part 3

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"The Devil's Bookseller" Part 3

Post by conjurer » Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:41 am

Part 1 can be found here:


Part 2 can be found here:



EARLY THE NEXT MORNING, so early that even Hubert the bookseller was already in bed asleep, the team had assembled in a rather more rough part of town, down on the South Side.

They had come in vans and big unmarked Lincoln Town Cars, and they set up about a half a block from the target, in a vacant lot, which were very numerous in that part of the city. They gathered in the darkness, dressed all in black, black balaclava masks under black Kevlar helmets, black knit pullover shirts under black body armor, black baggy fatigue pants tucked into black combat boots. Some of the men and women were dressed in black windbreakers, with the letters ATF silkscreened prominently across their backs. On the front of the windbreakers were the words, somewhat smaller, that read FEDERAL AGENTS, with a gold facsimile of a badge underneath. Even their weapons were black; black Heckler & Koch MP-5 submachine guns; black Mossberg shotguns, loaded for bear with double-ought buckshot, muzzles on full choke; and big black automatic pistols, made of high-stress, light-weight alloys, hanging in ugly but highly-functional hip holsters. A few of the men, on their opposite hips, wore long machetes.

“You fellas ready?” said the man in charge, Special Agent Howard Brooks.

The SWAT team members, eight in all, nodded as one man. And they were indeed all men, the agents who would be first in the door, ready to shoot, ready to take a bullet. There were women there, but they would be going in with the second wave, right behind Agent Brooks. Brooks was old school. He didn’t trust women with heavy shit like what was going to come down tonight.

“Okay,” said Brooks, and they all gathered around the hood of one of the unmarked Lincolns, where he had spread the floor plans to the tenement they were about to assault. “Let’s go over it one last time.”

Special Agent Brooks was a bear for details. Even though he had gone through the drill with each of the SWAT team members, separately and as a group, many times before, and even though it was still very hot out in the vacant lot, and the men were itching to go, chewing gum very rapidly under their balaclavas, he went through it one last time.

Their target was a cell of revolutionary Goths who were rumored to be supplying contraband arms, including explosives and automatic weapons, to various skinhead groups, who in turn were using said weapons to violate the civil rights of assorted minority citizens. The Goths occupied a single apartment on the second floor of the tenement building, a large, rambling apartment with many rooms and a lot of blind corners, a real nightmare to secure, no doubt about that. What made it easy was that there was only one point of ingress, that being the front door of the apartment; there was no other egress, no back door, not even a fire escape. Once the team went through the front door and secured that, there was nowhere for the Goth bastards to run. Any questions?

There were no questions, as Brooks suspected. They were all good boys, his men, they knew the routine, they were all team players. They had taken down much harder cases than these sorry sacks-of-shit in the tenement building.

The team went into the building at just after four-thirty in the morning, the preferred time of day for these types of operations. It was too early for most pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders to get caught in the line of possible fire, thus giving another bloody nose to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Especially Firearms; it was also late enough for even the most determined night hawks to finally drift away to Hushabye Mountain, thus catching them, hopefully, totally off guard. Agent Brooks waited down in the vacant lot with the other agents and the backup team, listening to the terse conversations over his headphones. He was in constant radio contact with all members of the initial insertion team.

It would be a cakewalk, he thought as he pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and thrust it into his mouth. The Goths were nothing more than a bunch of stupid-ass kids, most of them from rich suburban families, kids who had nothing better to do with their miserable lives than worship Satan and shit. Hardly worth the time, really, a couple of Metro beat cops could probably have taken the tenement on their way to pick up donuts. But one thing Brooks knew, and knew for certain, was that it never hurt to be prepared.

HE DRIFTED IN BETWEEN his human and spiritual form.

Sometimes he was there, sometimes he wasn’t. The acolytes never knew which he would be, where he was, not unless he was in his totally human form, standing there in the shabby apartment, doing magick tricks for their amusement.

When he was in his human form, he looked like any other drifter; a bindlestiff, a homeless bum. The particulars of his present appearance were thus; about six foot tall, white but with a very deep sunburn, the kind bums usually get from trudging the streets, looking for their next handout to buy their next bottle of hooch; hair long, blond, bleached almost white from the sun. His face was totally forgettable, one glance and you’d never known you’d seen him. His clothes were shabby and worn, but curiously expensive. He wore a nice suit that once had been very stylish, and he always wore a necktie.

When he was in his spiritual form, he had no particulars. He was the cockroach on the wall, the whiff of cold breeze on the hot day that made you feel as if somebody had stepped on your grave. He was the hawk, the fox, the slug. He could be a stone in the public park, watching everything, nobody seeing him. He could be the urinal in the restroom that you were pissing into, it didn’t matter to him.

Nothing mattered to him. For his time had not yet come.

The acolytes worshiped him, and lived in fear of him, too, for he was all-powerful. With a glare from his washed-out blue eyes he could strike you mad; with a sneeze, he could make a pregnant woman miscarry. So far the acolytes, the silly children who were called Goths, had done nothing to displease him. They had done as he wanted, left him alone when he wished to think, fucked him with he wished to fuck, fed him when he was hungry. Naturally they did all these things only when he was in his corporeal state. Perhaps they feared him even more when he was in his spiritual mode, because then he could be anywhere, listening to their banal conversations, watching their absurd copulations. He had picked this particular group of acolytes for that simple reason, because they were so devoted to him. People like them were pretty thin on the ground, and always had been, although lately, in the 21st Century, they seemed more and more fashionable.

He had always had his followers.

They had been around as long as there had been a Roman Church, and before that, even, back before there was a single God, when mankind worshiped trees and rocks and swiftly flowing streams in the middle of the ancient woods. Back when man wore skins of animals and lived in extended family groups, before they grew crops and molded together into villages and towns and became civilized. Back then, ten thousand years before, a blink of his eye in his long, long existence, they had called him the Moon God, and like he was now, he came and went, appearing with regularity with the cycles of the moon. Later they named him Satan, and other things besides, and the Roman church feared and loathed him, and if the Roman church’s followers prayed to him and were caught, they were burned at the stake. Some of these unfortunates even continued to pray to him as the flames licked their skin and consumed their flesh, but he didn’t care, not a bit, for he had no need of acolytes, living or dead, fresh of body or barbequed, just like he had no need for their prayers. He needed them only when he walked the Earth in human form, for he had no real talent being human, and always needed their help to feed, clothe, fuck and otherwise entertain him.

At that moment he was in human form. He had just winked into Being, and as usual, his senses were highly responsive for an hour or two afterwards. He sat in a broken-down La-Z-Boy reclining chair in one of the warren of rooms that made up his sanctuary that particular night.

“Hello, Taffy,” said one of his acolytes, a young girl with Day-Glo red hair, a black shift, and a slight frame. She had wandered into the small room and stood there at the door, sleepy, high on whatever hallucinogenics his acolytes were taking this century. She had a MAC-10 machine pistol dangling from her hand like a purse.

“Hello, girl.”

“Can I get you anything, Taffy?”

They called him “Taffy” because, for some reason, it pleased him for them to do so. They would have preferred Prince of Darkness or Lord of Chaos, but he liked Taffy, so be it.

“Turn on the television set, then leave me in peace.”

“Right away, Taffy.”

The girl went to the old Curtis-Mathes TV and flicked it on. Modern things were a nuisance to Taffy. The girl stood there for a moment, waiting.

“Get out,” said Taffy. And she went away.

Taffy was easily entertained. He greatly enjoyed television, and considered it the greatest invention of mankind. He sat there, greatly pleased, for his current favorite TV program was on, an old rerun of a show called The Romanovs!. It was what the humans called a sitcom, short for situation comedy, and was a laff-riot about the doomed Romanov clan, the former rulers of Russia before the Godless Communists took over, an event that seemed like only yesterday to Taffy. He watched the program every chance he got when he was in his human form, and even knew most of the actors portraying the characters. There was the sensational Bob Saget as Nicholas II, Rosanne Barr as Alexandra, Mary Kate Olsen as Anastasia, Will Smith as their Negro butler, always cracking wise and warning them, Cassandra-like, about the Bolsheviks, and Taffy’s favorite actor, Larry Storch in the role of Rasputin. As Taffy watched one of the Grand Dukes, as always unhappy about the influence of Rasputin on the royal family, was chasing Larry Storch through the Winter Palace with a drawn saber. Storch did a particularly hilarious pratfall, and Taffy rocked his head back and laughed uproariously.

His time was coming. He could feel it in his human bones. Not too long now. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell time very well; His time might be as soon as tomorrow, or as soon as a century from now. It didn’t matter. He had all the time in the world.

Scene change on the TV; now the action had shifted to the family quarters in Tsarkoe Selo, and Nicholas was confronting Anastasia about her leaving her bicycle out in the rain to rust.

“Showing such a lack of respect for personal possessions only gives the Bolshies more ammunition to snipe at us, my dear,” said Bob Saget/Nicholas.

“Fuck you, Dad!” shouted Mary Kate Olsen/Anastasia. “It’s my bike, I can do with it what I want. Get bent!”

“You shouldn’t speak to me in that manner, dear,” said Nicholas, unctuously mugging the camera. ”Bite a fart!” screamed Anastasia, and then she punched the Autocrat of all the Russias right in the balls.

Taffy, the Prince of Darkness, the Lord of Chaos, thought he’d wet himself, he was laughing so hard. He bellowed right along with the canned laugh track, until tears ran down his face. It was a shame that wop Dante had gotten hell so wrong, he thought. There was no hell, or no heaven, at least as far as Taffy could determine, what a shame it was! He would have loved to have Larry Storch with him, down in the lowest pit, doing pratfalls, along with the writers of The Romanovs!, down there to keep him entertained.

Taffy stiffened in his chair.

He listened. Not with his ears, not exactly. More with the fibers of his body, not quite human, not even quite animal. He listened and heard many things. He heard, of course, the TV across the room; he heard the combined heart beats of the half dozen Goths that were sharing the apartment with him; he heard the ticking of a clock, three rooms away; he heard the plumbing, very faintly, for nobody was using the water anywhere in the building, but he could still hear the water, dripping, dripping—

That, and the sound of boots coming up the stairs, maybe eight or night pairs of boots, military issue, treading lightly, making hardly more noise that the scramble of rats across a linoleum floor.

But Taffy could hear them anyway.

A few of the Goths wore big heavy Doc Marten boots, Fag Smashers, they called them, but Taffy knew darn well that none of his acolytes crept around like thieves in the night; they were young, and therefore the stomped like the beasts they were. Besides, the movements that Taffy heard indicated precision, and the Goths were not, in any way, precise about anything. They were, in their own lingo, a bunch of fucking losers.

He was at the window, looking out. One instant he was in the La-Z-Boy, the next at the window. If somebody had been in the room watching him, they would have sworn it looked like a bad edit in a movie, a couple of seconds of footage dropped out. He looked out into the darkness and saw nothing.

He licked his lips. For a moment his tongue turned into an adder and he could feel the tiny, needle-like fangs on his lips, then he tasted the venom drip down his chin. Then his tongue turned back into a tongue again. Sometimes he didn’t little magick tricks like that without realizing it.

There was nothing out there. Nothing he could see—No, that wasn’t quite right. There was somebody outside, across the street, it looked like a bum, standing there in the shadows, with a cigarette in his mouth, looking up at the building. A human wouldn’t have noticed the bum, not with him standing, lurking in the shadows like that; even with night vision goggles, Taffy doubted anyone would have noticed him.

The cigarette wasn’t lit.

He should leave right now. Not wait, just leave.

Instead he listened very closely, all his nerves strained, sweat beading on his forehead. He listened and heard nothing.

No, not nothing. He heard more heartbeats. He was right, there were others here in the building with them. And these heartbeats frightened him, just like the bum out there in the shadows, staring up at the apartment with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. The new heartbeats were steady, very steady, and thudded along with a hard regularity of men who were in prime physical shape. The Goths crammed their faces with all sorts of junk food and injected themselves with various narcotics; sometimes it made Taffy slightly ill when he listened to their blood race through their veins, already blocking up with fats and a bunch of other crap, and not one of them was over twenty-five. No, these intruders he heard were fighting men, soldiers or very highly trained policemen.

That decided him. It was time to leave. Would he have time to switch out of his human form?
He felt the slightly itchy feeling of his pale skin clustering over in scales. He closed his eyes and tried, tried, to un-Become.

He heard the door kicked in, the stomping of many feet. These noises were loud enough for him to hear them with his ears. And in his other senses, the senses that didn’t have a place in a human being, he could hear the clicks of numerous safety catches being flicked off weapons.

“Federal Agents! Everyone down! NOW!”

He didn’t have time. He wasn’t changing fast enough.

Goddamn it all anyway.

SPECIAL AGENT HOWARD BROOKS waited in the vacant lot with his backup team and other officers, chewing gum, an unlit cigarette bobbing up and down in his lips. Agent Wilkins, standing watch around the corner, and reported no movement up in the target apartment. Wilkins was dressed as a bum, a smoke dangling from his lips, unlit so as not to attract attention from the Goths.

Brooks looked at his watch. It was 4:34 AM.

“We’re going for penetration, boss,” whispered the SWAT leader over the radio.

“Roger,” whispered Brooks. Why he whispered he couldn’t say.

He heard the entry into the apartment, the SWAT team making as much noise as possible to provide as much disorientation to the Goths as possible.

“We should be home in no time, boss,” one of his people said.

The night exploded into fire. Everyone in the vacant lot, Brooks included, winced and crouched down, as if they were under fire themselves; but they weren’t, all the gunfire was coming from the tenement building. Brooks could hear the thunderous blast of shotguns, the crack of heavy handguns, and the ripping- cloth sound of Heckler machine guns. The cigarette tumbled out of his mouth and skipped across the front of his black ATF windbreaker, leaving a trail of sparks.

“Backup team into position NOW!” he screamed.

It wasn’t the sound of gunfire that unmanned Brooks as much as the shouting and shrieking coming over the radio. It sounded as if his SWAT team was taking casualties.

The backup team, eight more men, these less heavily armored than the first wave, went charging from the vacant lot, Brooks with them, breaking procedure. He pulled his Smith & Wesson pistol from his holster, racking home a round into the chamber as he ran. The oldest member of the backup team was ten years younger than Brooks and he still was able to race out in front, leading them into the building. They met up with Agent Wilkins, who had dropped his homeless stiff act to join the fracas. He had his own S&W out and in both hands, combat style, and went dashing into the tenement alongside Brooks.

The gunfire inside the building was very loud now as they closed with the target. They could hear the maniac thudding of a machine pistol somewhere on the second floor.

“You hear that, boss?” said Wilkins as they paused at the bottom of the steps.

“Yeah. A MAC-10,” said Brooks. “Jesus Christ.” Shooting ten .45 caliber rounds a second, nothing else in the world sounded like a MAC-10. Brooks tried to raise the SWAT leader on his radio and got nothing in return but screams and cursing and more shooting. He tried the second in command, in case the team leader was down, but he couldn’t raise him, either.

“What’da we do, boss?” asked Wilkins.

Brooks stood there at the bottom of the steps, breathing hard, trying to think. Until they got a call requesting help or an all-clear, procedures dictated that no other teams enter after the first; in a dangerous, mixed-up environment like a gunfight, all the good guys might start trading fire, and that was bad for careers.

“We wait a minute,” said Brooks.

“Sounds like they’re getting tore up, boss.”

“I said we wait. You call in EMS yet?”

“On their way, chief.”

They stood, waiting, in the downstairs hallway. A single bare lightbulb cast a weak, watery illumination. It smelled like cat piss in there.

Another volley of shooting, and screams, terrible screams, audible over the gunfire.

“We’ve gotta go, Brooks!” said Wilkins.

The gunfire died down, to a few cracks of pistols, like the last few kernels in a pot of nearly finished popcorn, then all was silent.

“Let’s go,” said Brooks.

“Procedures say—“ said one of the backup team.

“Fuck procedures. Let’s go!”

They moved quickly up the narrow steps, aiming their weapons, covering in all directions. They got to the landing, all of them sweating and breathing hard.

The apartment’s front door was hanging inwards on its one remaining hinge, and an officer was down across the threshold, face down, in a pool of blood. Brooks and Wilkins, in front, paused at the threshold, Brooks holding his handgun covering the front hall of the apartment, Wilkins kneeling next to the officer, checking a pulse.

“It’s Collins,” said Wilkins. “Shit.”

“He breathing?”

“Bled out.”

“Fuck.” Brooks peered into the apartment. He could smell Collins’ blood, a heavy iron smell, and the drifting stink of the bullet’s cordite propellant. Raising his voice, he shouted into the apartment. “Rierson! Kenwood! You hear me?”

He could hear nothing from the apartment, no moans, no cries, certainly no response from the SWAT team leader or his second in command.

“Rierson! This is Brooks! We’re coming in! Hold fire!”

They entered the apartment.

AGENT WILKINS WALKED SLOWLY through the apartment, pausing to check the corpses he encountered. There were a lot of corpses. People who die a violent death usually appear very small, almost shrunken, like their lives and souls were important components of their body’s volume. The dead Goths looked very small indeed, being for the most part undernourished teenagers. The dead ATF agents, in their bulky body armor, looked bigger, but not much. The blast of heavy caliber weapons in the hot confined space of the apartment had done unspeakable damage to all involved. Blood, looking quite black in the dim rooms, lay in puddles around the dead and was splashed up on the walls in ballistic arcs. There were bits of bodies that had been eviscerated at close range.

The backup team followed Wilkins and Brooks into the apartment, calling out names of friends, getting no answer in return. Wilkins found this terribly unsettling, quite beyond the normal reaction a healthy person has to sudden, terrific violence. He had been in the Bureau for eight years and had been involved in a dozen gunfights, and he had never experienced one, or even heard about one, where there were no survivors. There had never been a shootout where everyone had shot everyone else, not that he ever knew of; such a thing was absurd. Somebody had to survive.

“Check the rooms,” said Brooks. “Shoot any unfriendly that moves.”

There had been eight men in the SWAT team. So far Wilkins had only seen five. He moved to a door, standing slightly ajar, and kicked it open.

A TV was playing in the corner, some stupid sitcom with Bob Saget as a king or something. Wilkins’ children liked to watch it, but it drove him nuts. He paused because, by the flickering light of the TV he could see the last three agents, dead on the floor. They were laying face up, and in the middle of each of their chests was a sunken, bloody hole, the size of a softball.

“I didn’t have a chance to change, you see.”

Wilkins brought up his pistol and aimed it at a man sitting comfortably in a broken-down reclining chair. The man was thin and blond and very suntanned. He wore a ratty suit and, rather incongruously, a perfectly knotted necktie.

“Hands on your head,” said Wilkins.

The man did as he was told. Wilkins noted that the man’s hands were painted red with fresh blood.

“Move and you die,” said Wilkins.

“I understand, officer.”

Wilkins thought that he should move forward, grab the bastard by the lapel and yank him out of his chair, where he sat so smugly, and toss him to the floor, get a knee behind his neck, and frisk him for weapons. But the man’s eyes bore straight through him, and he hesitated.

“Normally I can change, you see,” said the man, still holding his gore-covered hands on his head. “But I didn’t have the chance. You fellows came in too fast.”

“What the hell happened here?” said Wilkins.

“These officers came in and were about to shoot me or take me into custody. I couldn’t allow that, so I killed them.”

“Where’s your weapon?”

“I have no weapon.”

“How’d you kill them, then?” asked Wilkins, thinking, this is stupid, I should frisk him, cuff him, read him his rights. He’s giving me a goddamn confession here!

“I reached into their chests and pulled out their hearts.”

Wilkins glanced down at one of the men. It was agent Rierson, the team commander. It was insane, what the suspect said. A person couldn’t do that, reach into a man’s chest and yank out his heart. Especially when he had to go through a half-inch of composite ceramic armor that could stop a 12 gauge slug. Wilkins looked up at the man again, thinking, I’m going to kill him. Brooks had said shoot anything that moved. His finger tightened on the trigger.

“I killed all three of these policemen,” said the suspect, “and I’m going to do the same thing to you.”

Wilkins, tightening on the trigger, felt the pistol’s mechanism engage, the sear release the hammer. The hammer drops, hitting the firing pin; the pin snaps forward, striking the primer cap at the base of the cartridge in the Smith & Wesson’s chamber. The primer explodes, setting off the charge inside the cartridge. The expanding gases inside the brass loose the .40 caliber slug, ripping it free from the brass, sending it down the rifled barrel. The bullet, a shaped Federal Hydrashok, emerges from the muzzle an instant before the flash of the expanding gases which have sent it on its way; it flies out at 1200 feet per second just as Wilkins notices a strange blur in his vision where the suspect had been sitting, like he was looking at a still photograph showing fast, violent movement.

TAFFY IS IN THE middle of his spring when the bullet, suddenly, violently, surprisingly, hits him in the head. He has never been shot before, although in the past he has felt the breeze of a few near misses, and the impact of the bullet shocks him. His spring ends abruptly as he feels a tearing sensation in his brain and his head snaps backwards and sideways as a gaping exit wound blows out the side of his skull. The policeman was aiming for his forehead, dead center, but the spring, which Taffy used on the last three policemen who had invaded his room, very nearly beats the bullet. Instead of hitting him in the center of the forehead the bullet strikes at an oblique angle, penetrating an inch into the braincase and immediately exiting. With a normal human such a wound would still be almost instantly fatal, the brain cannot survive the hydrostatic shock of such a projectile.

But of course Taffy isn’t a normal human, far from it. But still it shocks him that he has been shot, shocked that his spring wasn’t fast enough. Blood and brains and bone fragments fly from his head and he is driven back into the chair. He blinks a few times, his vision going red, not with rage, which he certainly feels, but because the impact of the bullet has burst all the blood vessels in his eyeballs.

He gasps.

He finally hears the gunshot. It happens that fast.

He falls forward, out of the chair, hitting the floor hard.

He is dying. He! The Prince of Darkness! Killed by an ATF agent!

The TV is still playing. Rosanne Barr is complaining to Bob Saget about their lack of a love life.

“We never make love anymore, Niki!” she whines.

“I’ve lost half my army to the Huns at Tannenberg, and you’re complaining that I don’t slip you the sausage!” says the Tsar.

Despite his horrid wound, Taffy manages a chuckle.

THE SONOFABITCH WAS STILL alive. Wilkins lowers his piece and watches as the man struggles on the floor, blood spreading dramatically around him. He hears steps of other agents running towards the room, summoned by the gunshot. Wilkins knows he has to work fast to make it look like a righteous shooting (how righteous it was he’ll never know.) He digs into the pocket of his bum’s coat and finds an old Colt .38 snubnose, his throwaway piece, and leans down to put it into the suspect’s hand. The suspect looks up at him with red eyes, and the eyes are still penetrating, still very much alive; and as Wilkins grabs the suspect’s right hand to plant the gun the man’s left hand grabs his ankle.

It feels as though a bolt of lightning zaps through his body. Wilkins straightens up, dropping the throwaway gun, dropping his own, stiffens—

And dies. Just like that. His heart stops, his brain activity ceases, everything, as if he had been riding old Sparky at the state pen.

The suspect’s hand falls away from his ankle, and the suspect dies, too.

For a moment both men are dead, one on the floor, the other still standing, like a waxwork.

Then Wilkins breathes again, opens his eyes, and looks around, like a sleepwalker awaken.

“Jesus Christ!” comes from the doorway. Wilkins glances over his shoulder and sees Special Agent Brooks in the door, his eyes wide, aiming his pistol into the room.

Who is that? wonders Taffy.

“You okay, Wilkins?”

“Clear in here,” says Taffy.

“Who’s the fucker on the floor?”

“Suspect,” says Taffy, who bends down and grabs the corpse’s hand and sticks the .38 throwaway into it. “Threw down on me, had to light him up.”

Taffy straightens up and the two men stare at each other.

“You said shoot everything that moves, boss.” Taffy doesn’t care for his new voice. It sounds high and unnatural to him.

“That’s right,” says Brooks. “Write it up clean, Wilkins.”

My new name is Wilkins.

“Sure thing, boss.” Enough of Wilkin’s memory is left in Taffy’s new mind for him to pick up the cop jargon and things of that nature. That and his diet of TV help him pass as a policeman, at least for now. Soon it won’t matter. He turns and stares at the TV. On it Larry Storch is sitting on the toilet, pounding one down, reading a newspaper with the title Daily Worker. Storch is laughing.

“I love this fucking show, boss,” says Taffy.

© 2012, John Steven Anderson
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