A medieval castle barreled down highway 80 at fifty miles per hour, rocking and swaying dangerously as the weight of its structure and cargo overpowered the springs and shocks of the ’74 Chevy Suburban chassis that it had
been built on.
A gregorian chant with a hip-hop back-beat blared on the stereo. The driver was a slender Latino man wearing a hot pink silk shirt and a broad-brimmed white hat with an ostrich plume; the pale-skinned woman on the passenger side wore the shortest shorts in the history of great asses and the top half of a tiny string bikini. Her skin was covered with a fine filigree of Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey illustrations in red, green, blue, and black ink; on one cheek, there was the image of a snarling kitten, and on the other, a double sunburst. Her hair was dyed in three colors, lime green on the left, lavender on the right, and a skunk stripe of bright, unnatural crimson down the middle.
“Jesus, Indra,” Philo yelled over the stereo, wrestling with the wheel, “Your truck is handling like a bowl of shit! How much does that statue weigh?”
“A little over a ton and a half,” she yelled back at him, grinning like a maniac. “And it’s not a statue, it’s a gargoyle!”
Philo looked in the rear-view mirror over the dash.
They’d taken out the back seats, and the bronze figure of Despair filled the interior of the Carstle. The broken ends of bones protruded from the wounds on her angel’s wings, which were crumpled at impossible angles behind her. Her shoulders were slumped under the weight of the heavy chains and manacles that tore at her wrists. Her robe was in bloody tatters, mostly crumpled around her feet, and a three-headed dog was tearing at her side and thigh. Her face was the face of an angel who couldn’t even cry any more, an angel who had been abandoned by God. The thing had a powerful presence; Indra had been working on it for months.
“Eyes on the road, Philo!” barked Indra.
Philo pulled the wheel left, bringing the Carstle back into its lane and causing it to sway dangerously. A gust of wind hit its towers at the apex of its sway, and for a moment it seemed that it might not right itself again. Finally, it wallowed its way upright, as Philo continued to wrestle with the wheel. Yuppies in SUVs and Beemers were giving them extra space on the road now, so Philo grinned, down-shifted, and punched the gas, making the Carstle lurch again.
“I’ll be glad to get this the hell out of the warehouse,” he yelled. “It’s good work, but it’s been giving me bad dreams. Where we goin’ in the city?”
“Arnand Gallery commissioned it,” Indra yelled over the stereo, “Same as the last three!”
“Seriously? The great Gregory Arnand is buying a series of major sculptures from little Indra? You’re his Gargoyle Girl?” Philo played with the steering wheel, making the Carstle shimmy on purpose and scaring the snot out of an aging yuppie in a Cadillac SUV. You can spot ’em a mile away, he thought. It takes the most insecure people in the world to want an SUV to go to the fucking grocery store.
“And three more after this one!” Indra yelled back.
Philo was impressed. Cripes, he wondered, how much money was she making off this?
“Hey, Indra,” he yelled. “Promise me one thing. After you get paid, put a better suspension under this thing!”
She laughed, then stood up on her seat, cranking open a window in the front of the crenelated tower on the passenger side so the wind could hit her full in the face. It whistled down into the Carstle behind her, around the clanking figure of Despair, and then at gale force past Philo’s head. He grabbed his hat an instant before it followed the wind out the window.
He grinned and made the Carstle shimmy dangerously again, while she hung on inside the tower and laughed. Then he switched the stereo to an all-accordion rendition of Mozart’s Requiem and cranked it up.
They headed down 680, then across the San Mateo Bridge and back up the peninsula on 101 north, into San Francisco proper. Finally, they pulled up behind the Arnand Gallery.
Indra bounced out of the passenger side impatiently and ran up the loading-dock ramp to the door. “Come on, Philo,” she yelled over her shoulder. “I did my job and I’m done with it now. The sooner we get rid of that thing, the happier I’ll be!”
But she hadn’t even gotten to the door when it opened, and the curator met them. Connor Ames was a tall man, powerfully built, like he’d been a wrestler in his youth. His hair was curly and still a coppery red on top, but it was going white around the temples.
Philo wondered if he had a tracker or something on the Carstle. How had he known they were there? But Indra didn’t seem surprised.
“Got the fourth gargoyle for you,” she said. “Despair, that was what you wanted, right?” She seemed relieved.
“Yes,” he said. “Despair. Let me see her.”
He walked to the back of the Carstle, and Philo undid the catches. The lower wall, and the strip of plastic moat, folded downward, and the upper wall folded upward, and inside, on a heavy shipping pallet, there was Despair.
Despair creeped Philo out no matter how many times he saw her, but Ames seemed pleased. “Good work,” he said to Indra thoughtfully. “Good Design. I’d never have thought of an angel for this figure, but it’s perfect. We’ll get this into the gallery, then go to my office and I’ll write you a check.”
He ducked back inside, leaving Philo and Indra cooling their heels for a few moments. Then he came out again, walking next to a forklift. The driver was his secretary, a tiny, elegant black woman in business clothes.
It was a jarring juxtaposition to see her with her short skirt, suit jacket, high heels, and manicured nails operating the heavy machinery, but Philo liked jarring juxtapositions. Besides, she clearly knew what she was doing; she got the pallet on the first try, set it smoothly up on the loading dock, then brought the forklift up the ramp and nailed it again, taking it inside without a hitch. Philo locked up the back of the Carstle as Despair disappeared from view inside the gallery.
Inside, Indra and Ames walked in front of the forklift and Philo trailed behind. Finally, they piled onto a freight elevator and electrical winches slowly hoisted Despair, the forklift, and the four people up to the fourth floor of the gallery. As they stepped off the elevator, Philo frowned and turned to Indra. “Indra, honey, aren’t all the display spaces in this gallery on the first three floors?”
“Yeah,” she said. “These aren’t going on display yet.”
Ames just smiled and pointed down the hallway. “I’m setting them aside until the set is complete,” he said. Philo could tell they were getting close. The hair had been rising on the back of his neck as they walked. Ames collected some dark, dark stuff, but now it was getting worse.
A few seconds later, they came out into a round room with a big skylight. There were seven pedestals at the edges of the room, at equal distances apart. Three of them already had gargoyles on them.
Oh, man, he thought. I remember these. Terror, Loathing, and Hatred. Indra’s last three obsessions. Each and every one of them, like Despair, he’d been only too glad to get the hell out of the warehouse. One of them gave him bad dreams; four of them together, or seven… he looked sideways at Ames. Did this pompous clown even realize what these pieces were? Put seven of them together, and people who were at all sensitive to art would stay away in droves.
Terror was a succubus, mounted on some formless dark thing out of nightmare. She was a golden nude figure, beautiful in form, but she had a maniacal, hungry grin that showed razor-sharp teeth, and her great, leathery bat wings were folded low behind her, at the bottom of a powerful stroke, as though she was hurrying her mount along with great gusts from her mighty wings. Her mount, like some horrific Cheshire Cat, couldn’t really be seen, except for its broad mouth filled with great silver teeth, its gleaming, flashing claws on the ground, and its glowing eyes. One eye was red and one blue; Indra had said the mismatch was an essential part of its wrongness. Around it were layers of molded, tinted glass and strips of metal, cut and cast to resemble flying leaves, windswept tatters of shrouds or clouds, or maybe even the torn edges of reality itself. The shape of the mount was only suggested, with these things flying all around it; the interior where the creature itself should be was actually empty. But it had a shape, defined by the incomplete things around it; it was long and low and wide, like a huge short-legged cat made impossibly broad in the shoulders and body, with rippling muscles whose presence you felt all the more because you couldn’t see them.
Loathing was a young man in a cage, hanging by his wrists and waist deep in a mass of worms. Philo remembered that Indra had experimented for a week coming up with a patina that made his steel skin exactly the right shade of brownish black. The more you looked at it the worse it got, because you could actually see worms crawling in and out of his skin around the waist, and just outside the mound of worms were bones that had probably been one of his feet. His face … ugh. Philo didn’t want to look at his face. He remembered it well enough. Indra spent a lot of time and effort getting faces just right. And in this case, that meant getting this face to show just the right expression of loathing and horror and resignation. And when you took a look at that face, when you saw that he had given up, you began to loathe him as much as you loathed the worms themselves.
Hatred was another bronze figure, a horribly wounded woman with a voodoo doll in her left hand. She’d stuck a halfdozen nails through both the doll and her hand, and for each, there was a corresponding body wound on her. And she was readying another nail, this one to push through the doll’s head.
Philo looked at the labels for the last three, the ones that hadn’t been done yet. Agony, Cruelty, and Horror. Yuck.
Suddenly, there was silence as Ames’ secretary shut off the motor of the forklift and stepped off the back. She’d finished installing Despair on her pedestal, and Philo waited for her to say something. Instead she just stood staring at Despair through dark brown eyes flecked with green. Philo could see it in her eyes. She was sensitive, sure as shit. What was it doing to her to be around these every day?
It worried Philo to think of Indra spending a whole year, or even more, working on this set of gargoyles; and he didn’t want three more of these things in the warehouse where he and Indra — and usually some of the Randoms — had to sleep. But what should he say? Indra was a big girl. She made her own choices about what commissions she took. Besides, it would pay the bills. She’d already done some test molds and studies for Agony, pinning carefully-cut flank steaks to a mannequin to get the look of someone whose skin was missing, and taking plaster molds that stunk to high heaven by the time they came off. So instead of saying he wished she wouldn’t work on these, Philo just grinned and said, “Man, these suckers are ugly.”
Ames gave him the sort of look he might have given a maggot crawling around in one of Indra’s flank steaks, if he had been forced to notice one, and didn’t say a thing. Indra sunk her fingertips into his arm with a steely grip she’d gotten working with wrenches and tongs and pliers and hammers and working clay and carrying heavy shit around her studio. Philo grinned again, ruefully. “Always happy to offend,” he muttered, and followed the other three to Ames’ office.
Ames wrote Indra a check for twenty thousand dollars. It wasn’t as much as Philo hoped, but it wasn’t chump change, either. Her grip on his arm never relaxed from the moment she got the check until they were out the door again.
Finally, they were sitting outside in the Carstle. She sat back in the passenger’s seat, exhausted, and smiled weakly. “Thanks for being here with me, Philo,” she said.
And then, at the same moment, they blurted out, “I hate that asshole curator.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, then Philo chuckled and Indra snickered. “What’ll you bet he’s screwing that secretary of his?” they asked each other, again in unison. Then she punched him in the shoulder just a little too hard, and they began to laugh uncontrollably. He started the Carstle, cranked up the stereo with a track of the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing Dark Side of the Moon, and they pulled out.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.