A Mitchell Carmichael Adventure,
Guest-Starring Sharon Crowley and “Rickey”
It seemed so much more straightforward. Where before I had been industriously engaged in redacted, now I was living in the big city doing work as a specialist and consultant for Umbra Security. John Ponzero was a typical real-estate mogul: all ego and mouth, and me with no painkillers for the two-hour drive to central Georgia where he was planning to make his next killing.
We made it into town before lunch. He had talked non-stop about his favorite subjects (himself, his hot wife, his hotter mistress, and money), I needed a drink, and to cap it off I was immediately put on edge. Something just didn’t seem right, and it wasn’t just the 103 degrees at 11:30 in early July. Town square (yes, they still have those in picturesque little towns off of I-16) contained a number of pine-pollen-covered vehicles, but in the steamy heat no-one was to be seen moving about on the sidewalks. We got out at City Hall, where John planned to investigate the finer, non-computerized details of some of the local property ownership, and we had made it nearly to the building when it hit me.
Pollen season was months ago.
My eyes swept the sidewalks. Same pollen everywhere. What the hell? I thought. Doesn’t it ever RAIN in this town? I turned a full 360, evaluating the streets. Nothing was moving. The town was as dead as can be, with the thick, yellow pollen of spring apparently eternally frozen in the heat of Georgia’s infamous high summer. The sidewalks behind us showed no trace of our tracks in the thick, dusty pollen we had walked through to get here.
My hand twitched toward my sidearm (Today, a single Desert Eagle was my lead-thrower of choice) as I completed my circuit and opened my mouth to tell John that we were leaving.
He was gone.
This is NOT fucking HAPPENING!
My back had been turned for three, maybe four seconds. There was no sound, no touch – no indication whatsoever that anything amiss had happened. He was just gone.
I hopped up the last step to the porch on the neo-classic old building and reached out to grab the doorknob. There was a soft ring of metal on metal – I looked down, and to my surprise realized that my gun had been drawn without conscious thought on my part. Good instinct I thought as I opened the door with my left hand. After a quick clear of my six, I entered the lobby of the antebellum structure, climbing the space to the “ground floor” – actually a good four feet over ground level. The crawlspace below was bricked and windowed – most likely the structure was built high to keep it away from termites.
Nice I thought as my eyes took in the decor. Benches, hundred-year-old oak by the look of them, lined the walls of the area under classic striped wallpaper, and soft magnolia-and-cream paint covered the walls and ceiling. Spotted with age…no, scratch that. Spotted with BLOOD. Several months old, by the look of it. An old-fashioned bat-wing gate separated the lobby from what I took to be an office area further back. It was still softly swinging.
Somewhere down that hall, a door closed. I pushed the gate open, and went through.
Down the hall was a series of doors, all standing ajar. None of those were the ones I wanted. The only door fully closed proved to go to a stairwell. Stairs went up, and a wall – incongruous, drywall, painted industrial off-white – blocked what would have been the down direction had the building possessed a basement.
I considered, briefly. Central Georgia. Hundred-year-old building. Crawlspace windows outside.
I pushed the drywall section heavily, and nearly lost my balance as it moved effortlessly out of my path. It struck someone, hard, and a dress that hasn’t been in fashion since there was an Eisenhower in the White House went tumbling down the steps, heels over head, coming to an abrupt stop at a landing some eight or nine feet down the stairwell. I slid, quick but silent, down the stair and took a reading – no pulse. She had, however, a meat cleaver – fair recently used by the look of it. The blood was thick and quite sticky. In these conditions, I judged it no more than an hour or two ago. I hurried down the stairs, and through the door at the bottom into a darkened hallway. I crept carefully up it, heading toward an old, glass-windowed door at the end. The glass was that old kind you see in vintage detective shows on their doors, and said Records in heavy black lettering across it. Carefully – much more than I had with the drywall – I pushed the door open and stepped through.
Holy Fuck I thought.
The room had perhaps thirty people inside, wearing everything from mother’s finest with pearl earrings and onyx rings to nothing at all. They faced a file cabinet that had been pushed over on its side, atop which lay John Ponzero. His shirt was gone, and something was drawing a shallow, bleeding design on his chest with a wicked-looking knife.
I let my gaze travel up. Hands. Check. Arms – green and muscular. Check. Torso – powerfully muscled, scaly, green. Check. Head – snake. Rattlesnake some helpful part of my mind supplied. Check.
It’s finally happened. I have PTSD, I’m having a psychotic break, this cannot be happening, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!?
John wasn’t the only restrained person in the room – at least two others wore loops of rope around their wrists and ankles.
It was about then that things REALLY started getting strange.
Snake-head looked up, apparently noticing me for the first time. “Ooh, what do we have here?” he asked in the broadest, worst-sounding Australian accent I’ve heard in decades.
I stared at him. It was just so damned surreal.