art by Prince Satyrn
"I tell you, Bentley, ain't that just the weirdest thing," Lieutenant Bridger said, looking up at the free-floating remains of Chastity Holmes, as they slowly tumbled toward the half-open window of the Reel-State agency's office.
"You bet your hiney, " Bentley said, handing Bridger his cup of piping hot mocha latte " but let's try and look at the upside..."
"Bentley, this woman's been killed in a manner that violates at least three laws of physics, so I'm sorry if I'm not seeing how anything about this can be positive..." Bridger began.
"And how many you think can pull off something like that, around these parts?" Bentley said, before turning about to hand the Crime Scene team her cardboard box of chicory frappuccinos.
The long, checkered shadow of the WHAPPO Shopping and Condominium Multiplex slowly crept through the agency's storefront, framing Chastity's severed, free-floating head in a shadowy canvas.
"Frankly, Lieutenant, we find this highly perturbing," Sam Higgins, Grand Vizier of the Order of the Horizon said, looking up from his piles of dusty tomes. "Frankly, I should consider this religious persecution."
Bentley snuck a glance at the topmost grimoire, a dog-eared thing covered in halfway faded Old Gothic lettering, its cover criss-crossed with the imprint of varicose veins. A garish looking pamphlet stuck out of its yellowed, crackling pages.
"I know it doesn't sound good, Sam, but we're not pointing the finger at your Lodge; maybe it's all down to just one bad apple..." Bridger stuttered, as Bentley tried to mouth the intricate letters arranged on the tome. As if on cue, Sam's hand slammed on the tome, obscuring its title.
"Just because we don't share your manner of faith, Lieutenant," Sam said, letting that last part linger, "doesn't mean we're murderous, reality-bending freaks like the kind you see on TV..."
"Or Florida," Bentley remarked, handing Sam a cup of halfway chilled, Rhode Island style coffee milk. "You know those Bigfoot hunters that turned out to be funded by the CIA? Hoo boy..."
"The Church of Those Before kerfuffle was a considerable blow to the alternatively faithful community," Sam said, his rage somewhat tempered, his hand slipping away from the cover to grasp at the cup. "We spent months trying to weed out a bunch of spooks that weren't even there to begin with."
There was a moment of awkward silence, broken by the sound of a passing ad-plane, scrawling WHAPPO's stylized W across the baby blue sky.
"Except you guys are the real deal, aren't you?" Bentley said when the sound finally faded, pointing at the neatly arranged ceremonial dress laid out behind the glass casing beside Sam Higgins' desk. "Maddie Perkins, over from Chappo Creek, she told me she'd been to your Solstice ceremonies, saw your Poobahs breathing water; heck, she told me she saw your pappy pull himself apart then pull himself together again, like he were made out of Play-Doh without spilling a drop of blood in the process."
"We have...reformed, since then," Sam said, visibly flushing. His fingers rapped against the coffee cup and he took one short, tentative sip before adding, "there's no room in the Order of the Horizon for theatrics these days, I'm afraid."
"That doesn't have anything to do with that seaside condo complex they were thinking of building just off Thinner's Beach now, does it?" Bridger asked. Sam choked on his coffee, momentarily spraying a fine Peruvian brown mist from his nose. In a heartbeat, Bentley had produced a wet wipe from her breast pocket and leaned in over the desk, to wipe away at the man's face, one hand swiping away across the old tomes, daubing out coffee spills away from old parchment paper.
Sam spluttered for a while before finally managing, in a weak little voice, "I'm sorry Lieutenant, but I'll have to cut this short. Pick this up some other time?" Sam suggested, slamming his palm on his office buzzer, causing the heavy wooden door to swing on its hinges, almost silently.
"We're not..." Bridger began, just as Bentley kicked at his shin with the tip of her thrifty All-Star, "going to bother you anytime soon, hopefully."
"Hopefully," Sam muttered, as he began to wind his Vizier turned around his balding head, searching for the perfect angle, "where Earth meets Sky, we'll meet again."
"Okie-doke then," Bentley said, as she led Bridger out back to the patrol car and jumped into the passenger's seat.
"Bentley, you're a coffee shop delivery girl, not a damn deputy. You can't just..." Bridger began, glaring at Bentley, whose finger shot up, stopping him cold as she tapped away at her smartphone.
"I think I know where we need to go next," Bentley said, pulling up a garish looking pamphlet from her pants pocket, the over-saturated Ferris wheel on its cover spotted with miniature coffee stains.
"Chastity's...gone? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear," Miss Loame shouted over the constant background hum of Thinner's Point, as she leaned over her confectionery stand. It was a theremin-like whine that persisted all across the narrow stretch of sand that hugged the black and jagged rock that the early Puritans had named God's Own Blind Spot.
The noise had only gotten worse, since the WHAPPO Shopping and Condominium Multiplex's construction came in full swing, the constant jackhammer chorus, complimented by the baritone calls of the building crew turning a historic annoyance into a maddening cacophony.
"When did you last see Chastity, Miss Loame?" Bentley asked, pushing her earplugs halfway inside to keep out the worst of it. Beside her, Bridger was examining the rickety, gutted remains of the Ferris Wheel and its grimy, wasted storefronts and dusty carnival attractions against the gaudy presentation of the brochure, his own earplugs stuffed all the way in.
"Month ago, two? We'd had such an awful fight, the Wharfers and her; WHAPPO had wanted to buy the place right from under us. Said they'd wanted to make it into a 'culinary promenade', whatever that means," Miss Loame said, raising her voice further as the pneumatic drills started up, sending a rumble across the face of the rock. As if in response, Thinner's whine rose in pitch, as high as microphone feedback.
"So they wanted to tear down the Wharf?" Bentley said, almost shouting now. From the corner of her eye, she caught Bridger nodding at a gaggle of Wharfers that had gathered around him, his pen scribbling nonsense away at his notepad.
"Not just the Wharf. The entire Point! Chastity had shown us the plans: they were just going to plop a whole lot of cement and Plexiglas all across the beach, lay out burger joints and fancy-schmancy restaurants all the way up to Job's Cave! Can you imagine that?" Miss Loame said, searching Bentley's face for some sort of confirmation.
"No respect for history," Bentley said, handing Miss Loame a cup of plain whip cream mocha frappe, as one of the Wharfers limped toward her; he was a heavy set man with eyes that looked flat and unevenly set against the scraggly beard that seemed to make up the entirety of his face. His lips worked, but Bentley could only make the tail end of his rant.
"...get out," the man said, his voice a gravelly baritone that resounded against the hum.
"Um, hi?" Bentley said, looking up at the scraggly mess of a face, taking in the thrifty overcoat, the scarred and calloused hands, as large as shovels that grasped at her shirt, twined against the fabric. Bentley felt something in her top rip and nearly give way, before the man let her go and broke into a run.
"You! Stop!" Bridger shouted, tearing himself away from the Wharfers, his voice barely heard in the din. As Miss Loame and the other Wharfers started up behind Bridger, Bentley checked the stretched fabric of her top. A hastily folded bit of paper had been snuck there, where the strap of her bra and the floral fabric met.
Bentley had just tucked it away into her pants pocket, when the hubbub stopped all at once, just as a pair of gunshots thundered in the sudden quiet. Bentley had heard them before: the short, warning barks of a 9mm gun, followed by the hush of the gathered crowd.
"On your knees!" Bridger shouted as the Thinner's Beach wail started up again, rising in pitch. Somewhere in the distance, the dirge-song of a siren began to echo from the WHAPPO construction site.
The man with the scraggly beard just stood there, his lips moving, his voice barely heard in the din. Bentley made something out, just on the edge of hearing.
"...more land, can't you?" the man said, his eyes darting out to Bentley, then to the crowd, before reaching down into his coat pocket. "Oh God, he's got a gun," someone screamed and the Wharfers dropped on the ground, leaving Bentley and Bridger alone with the man, his hand grasped around something...
Bridger's shots were lost in the rumble of the explosion that tore down Miller's rock, sending a cloud of dust that briefly covered the face of the sun. Dust and bits of gravel came pattering down into the planks, splashing into the water, like a handful of hail, slipping between the Almighty's fingers.
"Lenox, no! Baby, baby no!" Miss Loame howled, before grasping Bridger by the arm "what the hell did you do?"
"Frankly, Lieutenant, we should have your badge," Mister Peabody, head of the PTA, said "unless shooting first is standard procedure in your department."
"Camden, we haven't had a shooting here since..." Chief Kennedy began, before the heads of the PTA committee turned to face him all at once, his voice petering out into silence.
"Lenox Mescines is a troubled soul and very closely tied to several members in the community. Your Lieutenant," Peabody said, letting the word out through pursed lips, "was lucky those first responders were nearby. "
"Mescines had assaulted a member of the public, before resisting arrest. I had only aimed..." Bridger began, but Peabody simply dismissed him. Moving on cue, the rest of the PTA committee waved him away, as if shooing a mangy stray.
"With all due respect, Chief, this is not an isolated incident. we have gathered an extensive list of complaints," Peabody said, then snapped his fingers at the committee. A soccer mom at the head, sporting the largest beehive hairdo Bentley had ever seen, stood up and began to read from her clipboard.
"Defacing of local monuments, exploitation of public property, shameless corporate favoritism..."
"Now hold on a damn minute," Chief Kennedy began, but Peabody shushed him.
"Dissolution of local historicity, forced eviction of lawful owners, conspiracy to collaborate with real estate agents, conspiracy to oust local businesses, slander against local religious groups, unlawful weapon discharge from police officer on duty," the soccer mom paused, then flipped the page before continuing, "hindrance of PTA inquiries..."
"Thank you Martha, that will be all," Peabody said, waving the soccer mom down, before turning to Chief Kennedy. " I'd say you are in plenty hot water, all things considered."
"Your damn complaints are nonsense and you know it, Brady," Chief Kennedy mumbled, "Internal Affairs would laugh at your sorry behind as they pushed you out the door."
"We don't need the IA; they're as much in on it as you are, Chief. But we do have the County's ear and the Mayor wouldn't be too happy to start getting a whole lot of calls, and you remember what happened to your predecessor, don't you?" Mister Peabody asked, snapping his fingers twice. All at once, the PTA committee snapped to attention and began to file for the door.
"So, do they know any other tricks or is that about it?" Bentley said, handing Peabody a cup of blonde ristretto. The man whipped it out of her hands and before heading out of the office, Bentley caught sight of a tattoo, traced across his wrist in halfway Gothic lettering.
"You've got twenty-four hours to get me something, Bridger," Chief Kennedy said, when the last of the committee had finally filed into their gaudy orange minivan and sped away from the station.
"Chief, we've barely..." Bridger started and Chief slammed his hand onto his desk, causing the neatly arranged Beach Boys bobble-heads on his desk to shake.
"Eighteen hours then. Or it's your pension. Are we clear?" Chief Kennedy said through gritted teeth. Without missing a beat Bentley handed him an extra large cup of soy whipped-cream chocolate-sauce caramel frappuccino, its bendy straw already glistening with fresh dew. "How about we make that twenty?" Bentley said.
"Dee mis-teer-ee-oh orbis Terr-ay-room?" Bridger said, squinting against the gilded lettering on the tanned pink leather of the dusty tome. In the moonlight, the stretch marks laid out across its surface seem to have a silvery, otherworldly sheen.
"It's actually DE MYSTERIO ORBIS TERRARUM," Bentley said, fighting back the smugness in her voice "I guess you skipped out on Latin."
From the lobby of the public library, the assistant librarian snapped a short, shushing sound, as he nursed his Quad Grande, Non-Fat, Extra Hot Caramel Upside Down cup of macchiato.
"Yeah. Too busy trying to make that big time softball scholarship," Bridger said, "so what does that have to do with anything?"
"Okay, so you know how Higgins got all offended when I brought up that thing about his Pappy? I noticed that he had that book tucked away on his desk and I remembered what Miss Wolfram had told us. You remember Miss Wolfram, back in ninth grade?"
"Witchy Wolf? Sure, but she only taught me for one semester before she disappeared. One of the guys said she'd been the weird old lady on the broom stick, the one that got sucked into flight 391's jet engine?" Bridger said.
"I don't know about that, but Wolfram was really, really into this occult stuff. She'd said she'd asked to transfer here, had called this place a loco potentiae, a place of power. This book," Bentley said, rapping her fingers against the cover, "was said to have been written by a cabal of mystics that settled here way back, before they drowned in the Bing Sink."
"So you're telling me these weirdos lived out on Henderson Island, before it went down in the drink?"
"You bet your hiney I am. The Order of the Horizon pilfered what they could from the flotsam, then put it back together again into their prayer books. But those things were just parlor tricks, next to the real thing," Bentley went on.
"Bentley, I still don't see..." Bridger said, and Bentley shushed him, grasping him by his lapel and pulling him under the table, lowering her voice down to a whisper.
"Lenox snuck a page of the book into my shirt. Peabody from the PTA had the same verse tattooed on his hand, when he came over just after that mess at Wailer's Wharf: LUMEN AB IMO."
"And that is..."
"'From the Depths into the Light.' It's an aphorism from the book, a chant; anyway, Miss Loame, she'd told me Chastity had presented WHAPPO's plan to pave over Thinner's Point, and how they weren't happy about that one bit!"
"But Lenox caught whiff of that and he tried to warn you," Bridger said, shooting up from under the table, "that it was the Wharfers that did...whatever the heck they did to Holmes."
"And Sam Higgins was probably in on it, along with the PTA!" Bentley hissed.
"Good God, I gotta make some calls..." Bridger said, whipping out his smartphone, "think we can stop by your place, get some breakfast first though? I'm famished."
"You'd best have a damn good reason to drag us out of our homes like that, Lieutenant," Brady Peabody said, through gritted teeth. He and the rest of them were already sweating in the cramped interrogation room, stuffed next to Miss Loame and Sam Higgins, still dressed in his full formal attire from morning Mass.
Sitting in the back, nursing her affogato, savoring its Frangelico aftertaste, Bentley blinked the sleep away from her eyes and listened. "I know you're all busy people, so we might as well cut the nonsense," Bridger said, slamming the book onto the metal table. It made a deafening, clanging sound inside the tiny room, "we know that you all had a lot to lose over the WHAPPO Plex and you didn't bother pussyfooting around it."
"Your places of worship were up for bulldozing," Bridger said, pointing at Higgins, "your Wharf was going to get torn down" he said, turning to Loame, " and you just plain don't like that eyesore now do you Brady?"
"We followed all proper legal channels and submitted our complaints to the county and Governor accordingly. What you are doing is strong-arming the PTA into capitulating to the criminal demands of an encroaching corporation!" Brady snapped.
"For the love of God Brady, quit the theatrics why don't you?" Bridger said.
"We will tear down that Megaplex, Lieutenant! We'll picket the place and block the entrances and we'll let out voted representatives know that this place is not for sale!"
"So you'll do everything, is that right?" Bridger said.
"We'll stop at nothing," Peabody snarled.
"Bridger, this is getting ridiculous, we would never..." Sam Higgins began, before Miss Loame cut in:
"We did it! I mean, not we we," Miss Loame said, pointing her thumb over at Higgins and Peabody, looking over at her in shocked silence. "The Wharfers, then?" Bentley said, looking up from her cup.
"Those people are clueless. They can't bargain for crap and they can't negotiate their way out of a wet paper bag. WHAPPO could have given them a fifty dollar gift card and they'd be happy to pack it up and go. But Chastity, she knew how to play them, yes she did,"Miss Loame said, a malicious glint in her eye, "see, the WHAPPO people had counted on fixed real estate but Chastity's contract, it had included some additional fees..."
"So Chastity as going to gazump WHAPPO? What could he possibly slap on them?" Bentley asked.
"More land," Miss Loame said, grinning. "An entire island's worth of it! Prime seaside property, paid at double the price! We were going to be raking it in, by the time they'd made it to Miller's Rock."
"Then why would you kill your partner in crime and have us stick our noses into your scam?" Bridger said, leaning in.
"The hussy did try to run off with my Lenox, just the other day. Turns out, they didn't spend their entire time poring over that weird book alone. And besides, Lenox did get cold feet, toward the end..."
"Cold feet? How's that?" Bridger wanted to know.
"They were going to use ancient magic to raise Henderson's Island from the depths. You think that wouldn't displace a whole lot of ocean in the process?" Bentley chipped in.
"Abigail, what did you do?" Sam Higgins moaned.
"So, all those dates, they really didn't mean anything?" Peabody said.
"I'm sorry Brady, but I really do just see you as a friend. And Sam, you're really nice, but I'm spoken for. All I really did want was access to the Lodge's Tomes and the PTA's zoning amendments and old maps," Miss Loame said, then added, "I really, truly never meant to lead you on..."
"So Lenox is in the ICU and on the way to recovery, Chastity is done for and you're about to go to jail for a long time, so you gotta ask," Bridger said, as he grasped at Miss Loame's hands and proceeded to cuff her, "was it worth it?"
"I don't know, Lieutenant," Miss Loame said, with a sly smile "I guess you'll have to tell me.
Somewhere in the distance, the WHAPPO construction site's siren wailed again, a longer, deeper dirge that slowly turned into a deep, moaning rumble. Looking down at her coffee cup, Bentley watched her affogato's surface undulate slowly, the melted puddle of vanilla hopping across its surface.
"What the heck is that?" Bridger said, as the rumble grew and the windows of the interrogation room rattled and cracked. All across town, dogs began to howl at nothing in particular and cats yowled like mad. From beneath the station's floorboards, six generations of rats began to spill out into the street, seeking cover.
A string of nonsense began to pour out of Miss Loame's lips, words that seemed to warp the space in the interrogation room, forcing Bridger and the men against the corners, turning up the gravity until they lay on their knees before her. Miss Loame's eyes burned with fierce intensity and her shadow grew, straddling the sun. There was a moment of absolute, horrified silence as she stared down at Bentley, hard at work unfolding a piece of paper with her free hand, the cup of affogato safely stashed on her right.
"LUMEN," Miss Loame said, her voice like a billion nails raking across a blackboard as big as the world, "AB IMO."
"Lumen," Bentley said, sipping at her coffee, "de somno."
And Miss Loame deflated all at once, her strange power gone, the dimensions of the interrogation room snapping back into place, just as Bridger tackled her from across the table, pinning her against the linoleum floor.
"How?" Miss Loame howled.
"Lenox handed me that back at the Wharf. I guess he'd had Professor Wolfram teaching him Latin back in Ninth Grade too," Bentley said. Out in the distance, the WHAPPO siren's wailing rose in a hysterical pitch, then was suddenly cut off, petering out for good.
"Turns out, just the tip of Henderson Island broke the surface. Barely made any waves, too. But it did cause that old Ferris Wheel to go down in the drink," Bridger said, as he nursed his mocha over Bentley's shop counter.
"So what caused the WHAPPO Plex to come tumbling down, then?" Bentley asked, looking up from her tome.
"Apparently, the entire Thinner's point is criss crossed with hidden tunnels, with Miller's rock having been the single stable landmark in the entire Thinner's point. Soon as they blew it up," Bridger said, then made a crumpling noise with his mouth "biggest sinkhole in the county's history, I heard tell. Stopped the damn wailing, too."
"No respect for history, huh?" Bentley said, mouthing a particularly hard word off her book.
"You know, that thing got Chastity Holems killed, all but ruined Lenox's life and landed Miss Loame in jail. Also, it cost WHAPPO about twenty million bucks at last count. You sure you wanna keep on poking around in there?" Bridger said, feeling a little uneasy.
"I was thinking about expanding my horizons," Bentley said "this town needs something more than a plain crime solving barista, you know?"
"So what? You're a crime solving wizard now?" Bridger laughed "Think you could magic up some extra syrup in my mocha then?"
Bentley put up her hands, drawing a symbol in the air. It lingered momentarily, before manifesting as a single, silver strand that grasped at the chocolate syrup squeeze bottle, bringing it over Bridger's cup and squeezing out a single, controlled spurt of syrup in his cup.
"Crime solving witch," Bentley said, as the bottle clattered down the floor, as the spell dissipated "and it's still in progress, I guess."
"Okay then," Bridger said, as he sipped at his mocha.
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Dead Clown and Magnet Head
by Daniel E. Lambert
on the FREEZINE of
Fantasy and Science