But as soon as he had sunk into a deep sleep an insistent knocking at the alley door immediately brought him back to full consciousness. “Oh, bother!” he said to no one in particular. “Who is it this time?”
As he unlocked the door yet again, a rather wet Marjorie burst in, shook herself, and sat down on his cot. “Well,” she said with a grin, pulling a plastic pouch containing tobacco, papers and matches out of a side pocket of her army surplus overcoat. She deftly rolled and then lit a cigarette. “I hear you met Suzie,” she continued after taking a few puffs.
“Yes, if one considers an absurd encounter with a street urchin a social occasion, I would have to admit that we’ve ‘met’,” replied Al with a shudder. Realization dawned in his eyes and he shook his finger at her. “You tricked me, didn’t you? You wanted to find out if I could heal the sick. What’s next, turning water into wine?” He smiled in spite of himself. “I suppose being a bartender, that might come in handy but, darn it, Marjorie, I’m trying to keep a low profile here, at least until I know my way around. Next time you want to send me any of your wretches, make an appointment!” He folded his arms across his chest and turned away from her.
“Now, Al,” was the good-natured reply, “don’t get your knickers in a twist. It wasn’t like that at all. Poor Suzie was wandering up and down the alley, moaning and groaning about her headache. Nobody could get any sleep. So, just to shut her up and get rid of her for awhile, I told her about you. Is it my fault you decided to do your duty instead of turning her away?”
“No, I suppose not,” returned Al, somewhat mollified. “But what do you mean, ‘nobody could get any sleep’? How many people have you got out there in the alley anyway?”
“Well,” she replied thoughtfully, puffing on her cigarette, “that depends on whether it’s a wet night or a dry night. If it’s dry, then there’s only me and a few other regulars. If it’s wet, though, like tonight, they come from all over. I could make a fortune selling them spaces if they had any money.” She stood up and continued in a professorial tone. “You see, this alley is considered prime real estate by the homeless for three reasons.” She ticked them off on her fingers. “One, it’s nice and dark; two, it’s nice and quiet; and three, almost all of the businesses have little awnings or roofs on their back doors which extend over the sidewalk. Therefore, it’s nice and dry as well.” She sat down again and said in a musing manner, “If you want to make a homeless person happy, just give ‘em a nice dry place to sleep when it’s raining, I always say.”
“Someday,” said Al in wonderment, “you and I must have a proper talk. I wish to learn more about ‘The Homeless’. People who sleep in alleys. Have they nowhere else to go? I must also learn why you were so sure of my powers and where you think they came from.”
“Why, as to that last thing,” she said, “supernatural powers always come from God or the Devil. Everybody knows that!”
“So that if I have not been sent here by your God, then I must be in the service of the Devil? Don’t you think that’s a bit simplistic? To tell you the truth, Marjorie, neither of your concepts, God or the Devil, has anything to do with me.” He stood up and began pacing around the room. “Did it ever occur to you that there might be a third possibility? That a natural person could do things most people can’t? The way I see it, it’s all a matter of what you believe.” He pointed his finger at her suddenly. “Why, you don’t even know for sure that I healed Suzie. In fact, as I was telling Rick only a little while ago, I simply used a technique of Tibetan medicine that has existed for centuries. So it’s really no wonder at all that I was able to help her with a simple headache.”
“Come off it, Al,” she chuckled, standing up as well. “That girl had a tumor as big as a golf ball, you know that as well as I do. I can sense these things as well as you can, I just can’t do anything about them. Part of my curse, I guess.”
“All right,” agreed Al wearily, sitting down again. “I might as well admit it. I do have some few powers along those lines, so perhaps one can deduce that I might not be strictly human. But what of it, what do you intend to do?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure,” she mused, stubbing out her cigarette on the windowsill. “But I do know that the people out there on the street need help more than your well-fed friends!”
“Well, then,” said Al, the relief evident in his face. “Let’s make a deal. Bring to me whoever needs help the most between the hours of three and five in the morning. I’ll be here every day. Introduce them to me and then leave us. In return, I want your assurance that no one, including yourself and Suzie, will mention my name in connection with this, or otherwise intrude upon my life in any way. Is that understood?”
“Al, I don’t know if you come from God or the Devil. But if you’re willing to help my people and this is all you want in return, then we have a deal.” They shook hands solemnly and then Marjorie continued, “Like my daddy always told me, ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’.”
While Al and Marjorie were waxing philosophical, Rick was parking his van across the street from The Madhouse. “I wonder if Wanda’s still up,” he thought. “I really should apologize to her about standing her up. On the other hand, if she’s really pissed, I should just let it go until tomorrow.”
As he walked across the street to The Madhouse, he could see only one light still on—the one in Marty’s study. “Oh, what the hell,” he said to himself. “Marty’s always good for a few laughs and a beer.” He unlocked the front entrance and knocked on Marty’s door.
“Come in,” Marty called out. “Door’s open!”
When he opened the door he was surprised to see Wanda, Simona and Marty, all lounging about on the large pillows that always covered the floor. They were in various states of undress, intoxication, and emotion. Empty popcorn bowls, coffee cups and beer bottles littered the room. At the opposite end of the room, the last remnants of a fire glowed in the fireplace. A large television in the center of the room held their attention in varying degrees.
“Rick! Glad you could finally make it,” was Wanda’s sarcastic comment. “Where the fuck were you anyway? I got soaked waiting for your sorry ass!”
“Shit, I’m sorry, Wanda,” Rick replied, entering the room slowly and gingerly stepping over dishes, pillows and bodies as he did so. “This art project I’m working on took longer than I thought. I’m really glad you made it back here OK.”
“Shove it!” commanded Wanda, happily munching popcorn. “We’re watching the Late Late Show. What’s this movie called again, Simona?”
“Now, Voyager,” said Simona out of the corner of her mouth. “And we’re just getting to the good part, so shut up already!”
“I’ve got to talk to you for just a minute, Wanda,” whispered Rick. “I went by The Last Resort looking for you and ended up having a talk with Al.” He casually put his hands in his pockets and sing-songed in a childish way, “I know something you don’t know.”
“Come on, you shithead,” said Wanda in a loud stage whisper. “If this is something important about Al, you better tell me quick if you value your cojones.” She made a grabbing motion at his crotch and Rick retreated a few steps in alarm.
“Shut up, you two!” yelled Simona. “This is the part where he lights her cigarette!”
“Now, children,” Marty remarked mildly. “It’s only a movie, after all.” And then he quickly ducked as two bowls of popcorn narrowly missed his head.
Meanwhile in Golden Gate Park, Phyllis Dean slowly regained consciousness, only to find herself bound to a tree by heavy iron chains. She could still see the glowing green circle that had attracted her attention, but how much time had passed, she could not tell. It was about fifty yards away from her and around it danced three sinister figures, all clothed in black leather. The rain had finally stopped and a pale gibbous moon was intermittently peeking out of the clouds. It was so eerily quiet that by listening intently, she could just make out the conversation that was transpiring among the three dancers.
“Oboy, oboy, it’s stopped! Now we can have a bonfire!”
“Shut up, you, and just keep piling wood on the altar, while I find out what the story is with that broad over there.”
“You mean the one I knocked out and chained to the tree?”
“No, you idiot, the other one! How many broads are there out here tonight? One too many, if you ask me!”
The three sinister figures approached the tree where Phyl was struggling to loosen her bonds.
“Won’t do you no good to struggle,” offered the biggest of the three. “Them chains on you is good an’ tight!”
“Wha—what are you going to do to me?” whimpered Phyl. “What do you want?”
“That’s a good question. A very good question indeed.” The speaker was smaller than his compatriots but sizeable nonetheless. “But where are my manners?” he continued with a sardonic grin. “Let me introduce you to me and the boys. I’m Tom, this is my brother Dick, and this is my other brother Harry.”
The three of them bowed in a rather macabre imitation of high society.
“However,” said Tom, getting down to business, “the question of who you are and what you’re doing out here at this time of night still remains.”
“I’m Phyllis Dean. I’m a famous journalist. And I’m working on an exclusive story,” she replied with as much dignity as she could muster under the circumstances.
“Ah,” Tom sounded impressed. “Well, why didn’t you say so earlier? We could tell you a story that’d curl your ears, couldn’t we, boys?”
“Uh huh, uh huh, we sure could!” exclaimed the other two in unison.
“But this story, the one that brought you all the way out here—now what would that be?” asked Tom slyly. “It must be a real hot story to make a pretty lady like yourself come out here in the rain and all.”
This brought forth a chorus of lewd chuckles from Dick and Harry.
“Look, I’ll tell you all about it, OK? Just untie me and let me go. I won’t tell anybody I saw you guys out here. This story’s got nothing to do with you,” she replied desperately.
“I’ll be the judge of that, little lady.” There was a hint of menace in Tom’s voice. In a more friendly tone he continued, “Tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. You tell us yours and we’ll tell you ours. Stories, that is. Then, if we’re satisfied that you’re just an innocent bystander, we’ll unchain you and you can just walk away. No harm, no foul! OK?”
“Sure!” Phyl was relieved. “It’s a deal. “Well, mine—and you’re not going to believe this—I’d heard reports of a UFO sighting out here—thought it’d be a great scoop! So when I saw that glowing thing over there,” she pointed her chin at the green ring, “what is that thing, anyway?”
The three men shrugged their shoulders
“Don’t know,” said Tom. “Do you guys?”
“So then, guess it’s our turn, is it?” asked Tom with an evil grin. Without waiting for an answer he continued, “Turns out, you’re in a fair amount of trouble. I just wanted to know your story to find out if you knew anything about us.” He looked up at the sky. “And now, since the weather seems to be clearing up a bit, the boys and me will be lighting the fire very soon. Oh yes! I promised we’d tell you our story. You’re not going to believe this, but we’re Satan worshippers and this is All Hallows Eve—the most powerful night of the year. We’re going to conjure up Satan, and as luck would have it, you’ve even provided us with a human sacrifice! This is going to be a memorable event!” He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
“No, you—you can’t do this! And anyway, Halloween was two days ago, on Wednesday. So I guess you’ll just have to call it off.” A desperate Phyl was obviously clutching at straws.
“Oh now, lady, you disappoint me. Haven’t you ever heard of a moveable feast? The boys and me all got jobs, so we can’t stay up all night whenever the fancy strikes us. So we choose to celebrate the Black Sabbath on Friday, November 2, 1990. Let’s see what happens when the hair begins to smoke and the flesh begins to burn. Before the sun comes up Satan will be flesh—and you won’t be!”
Phyl began to moan and shudder as the fire was lit and the unholy threesome began to dance and howl.
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022