Indra was busily adding some renaissance-themed plastic army men to the battlements of the Carstle. Each of the figures was about three inches high, which made them a bit smaller than she’d envisioned when she was setting up the scale for the Carstle, but visually, they worked; mainly they just made the Castle look like it was bigger in scale. She’d been up for two nights with little bottles of nail polish, painting all of the figures so they’d all be in the same uniform, like good little soldiers.
She was setting up a siege defense force. It was plain and simple, soldiers going to and fro about the work of defending a medieval castle. The command post was above the gate; here the castellan could watch and his orders could be quickly distributed by runners and squires. A pair of lookouts in each tower, and the abandoned post of a semaphore flagman. The commander of this army didn’t need the flagmen to transmit the reports from the towers. There were a half-dozen farmers with wheelbarrows full of rocks, brought up to the top of the towers where soldiers could throw them down at attackers, and a tiny ballista for hurling tiny logs, the size of telephone poles in scale, at any towers or siege engines the enemies tried to build.
It was the ballista her attention was focused on now. Telephone-pole sized, in the scale of the Carstle, meant a dowel pin about half an inch wide and a foot and a half long, with a wicked arrowhead on it and painted to look like a log. The bow of the ballista itself she’d carved with a torch and a grinder out of a leaf spring she’d pulled off the custom suspension of a Ferrari in a junkyard. The bowstring had once been the throttle cable of the same car. Right now she was in the delicate process of joining the bowstring and the bow, which meant carving notches in the ends of the bow and closing loops in the ends of the bowstring with tiny cable swages. Lots of artists would have cut corners here and just glued it, but Indra was a stickler for getting every mechanical detail right.
She wiped sweat off her face, absent-mindedly smudging grease all over the snarling kitten tattoo on her cheek, then pulled out a filthy hanky and wiped her forehead. It was hot in the shop because her big kiln was still hot with her latest gargoyle, which had fired the previous Thursday and was cooling on a three-week schedule. Finally the swaged ends of the bowstring fit properly and without slippage around the ends of the bow. With a grin she set up the four little action figures around it to act as crew, and glued together a little pile of a dozen more logs for them to shoot. A few dabs of hot glue set the feet in place so they wouldn’t come loose even if the Carstle shimmied and shook and drove fifty miles an hour.
Rose, Mitch, and Wolf had been following another art-car – a ’75 Maverick with big fake swim fins on the back bumper and a big fake scuba tank on top. When they’d found the place, it had gone on and they had turned into the parking lot.
Philo’s approach to defending a place from intruders was more modern, less symbolic, and more practical than Indra’s. Wolf and Mitch were looking dubiously at the Red, Yellow, and Black Industrial Arts Community murals, and even more dubiously at a conspicuous sign which read, ‘Come on in, Let’s talk Amway!’
“Are you sure this is the right place, Rose?” Said Mitch.
“I’m sure,” Rose said.
She walked up to the big double door and knocked, loudly. Nothing happened. She knocked again. Finally, they heard footsteps, and the door swung open.
Alex and Axel stood side by side in the doorway. “Damph gespatchen, Rose?” Said Axel. Both brothers listened for the reply.
“Mitch is a detective, trying to catch the Hook,” Rose replied, gesturing to Mitch, behind her. “And this is Wolf,” she went on. “The Hook got his wife a couple years ago.”
“Tern zonic, gerezink Philo,” said Alex, and headed back into the building. Axel stayed with them.
“Okay, we will,” said Rose to Axel.
During the awkward silence that followed, the Maverick with the scuba tanks drove by the gate again.
“What language are these guys speaking?” Mitch asked, jerking his thumb at Alex’s receding back.
“Dresh ling Axelex damma,” replied Axel sadly.
“Um, it’s kind of complicated,” Rose said.
“Some kind of twin talk?” asked Wolf.
Mitch was going to ask for more explanation, but he got distracted by a commotion at the gate. There was a noise of brakes, car horns, and at least three people cursing in unison, then Tom and J.D. pulled into the gate in J.D.’s Scuba-car. Now that the front of it could be seen, it had a gigantic fiberglass scuba mask over the windshield and its grill had been reworked to look like a regulator.
Obviously happy, the two of them climbed out of its neoprene-upholstered interior and popped open the scuba tanks, revealing that they were built in fiberglass over a luggage carrier. Axel, moving stiffly and awkwardly, went over to help them unpack boxes of fliers. Mitch followed.
“Monkey Knife Fight?” Mitch said, scratching his head. The top bundle of tattered fliers had a garish illustration and the three cryptic words.
J.D. nodded. “Those are new. They’re great. Work even better than Fifi Has A Posse.” She riffled through a stack of them so for Mitch to see.
“Fifi has a posse, Giant, Midget, Too Drunk To Fuck, Butt-Sucker Systems, Obey, Integrity is Syphilis, Orgies Tuesday… ” Mitch frowned. Some of the fliers didn’t even have words, just geometric patterns. “What is this?”
“Dude, this is the harvest,” said Tom. “We make these or download ’em, run copies at coffee shops for a dime each, leave ’em up somewhere a week. Cheap, but people pay them some attention.”
“So it’s you guys who do this?” Mitch said. “I always wondered.”
J.D. grinned and stuck out her hand to shake. “Thanks. Wondering’s the whole point.”
Rose shook her head. “Hardly worth bothering with, if you ask me. People get used to ’em too fast. And you lose a whole crop if it rains.”
“Don’t knock it, Toots,” said Tom behind her, grinning. “It works. And even when it rains we can still get about half of ’em.”
Rose shook her head.
Axel’s movements became more coordinated, then his brother appeared, carrying a box of freshly-printed fliers. Indra was behind him, with a grease smudge on her face, wearing dirty overalls and a frilly apron.
“Philo’s out,” she said, “but I was here working on my car. Alex told me you’d come back.” She eyed Mitch and Wolf, then did a double-take on Wolf. “Where’d you find him?” she said, grinning.
Rose turned beet-red. “It’s not like that…” she said, turning her purse around in her hands.
“And why the hell not?” Indra replied, still grinning.
“Just… just shut up about that, okay?” Rose’s voice was strained, embarrassed and scared and a little bit angry. “I, uh… I’m sorry. Look, we’ve, uh, got a situation, and… we’re going to need a place to stay for a while, and I figured maybe you guys…”
“Dremph Hook baiden zerf muss,” said Axel. “Zrebbish factono.”
Indra’s face darkened. “Hook’s after you, huh?” she said. She considered for a moment, glancing at Alex, J.D, and Tom. “If you stay here then he’s after us too, isn’t he.”
“Please…” said Rose, spreading her hands. “I haven’t got anywhere else to go.”
Indra stared at Rose, waiting… but nothing happened. The silence grew longer. “Maybe I make the difference between being able to handle him or not,” said Rose.
Indra looked skeptical.
“For what it’s worth, he’s after all of you anyway,” said Mitch.
J.D., Tom, Axel, Alex, and Indra all swiveled their heads to look at Mitch. Rose winced.
Mitch shrugged. “What set this whole thing off, was we figured out he’s been targeting people like you all along.”
Indra’s face got darker, and she bit her lip. “Is that true?” she demanded, then watched solemnly as Mitch nodded.
Mitch shrugged. “Look inside my head if you don’t believe me.”
“Gods damnit,” Indra swore. “You think I sweated through getting all these tattoos for fun? You think all that time and pain is a goddamn fashion statement? I don’t want inside your damn head. Maybe Miss Megawatt over there can turn it on and off whenever she wants to,” she said, indicating Rose, “But that isn’t how it works for the rest of us.”
“It’s true, though,” said Rose quietly. …and that isn’t how it works for me either, she thought. She focused her mind on Mitch, and on Indra, and started remembering, in both of their heads, what Mitch had seen.
… David looked at his screen and his mouth slowly compressed into a thin, angry line. “…fighting a one-man genocide war against his own people….” / “…averaged over five thrift store purchases a month, and we don’t know how many more…” / “…victims bought a lot of books at little booksellers and used bookstores, but virtually none from the big booksellers…” / “…not enough to be a survival problem, maybe not even enough that they notice, but enough that our perp notices them and hates their guts, because… maybe because the things people hate the most are what they hate about themselves….”
The flow of memories cut off abruptly and pain blossomed in Mitch’s face and hand as Indra smacked Rose hard across the mouth. J.D. recoiled with a mewling sound, clutching her face and snarling as Indra snarled. J.D. hadn’t been expecting it. “Get out,” Indra hissed, shaking with rage. “Get out, right now, and don’t … ever! … do that again!”
Rose could tell that Indra’s mouth hurt exactly as much as her own did, but it didn’t matter; her fury was raw and hot, and even sharing every bit of the pain, Indra was
ready to beat her to a pulp. And there was more than fury there; Rose had opened some kind of old wound in Indra’s head.
Axel, Alex, and Wolf moved at the same instant, even before Indra finished speaking. The twins grabbed Indra by both wrists and both shoulders to restrain her, and Wolf protectively moved between Rose and Indra, pushing Rose gently back. The tense silence that followed was broken by Alex, who quietly said a dozen words that only Indra and Axel understood.
“Okay,” Indra said. “But make it quick. I don’t want her anywhere near me when I sleep tonight.”
Axel looked back at Rose, Wolf, and Mitch. “Grezz toch,” he said, and Axel and Alex went inside. Indra, pale and shaking, turned and walked away.
“I’m sorry!” Rose called to her back. “I didn’t mean…”
Indra turned, thrust up her middle finger angrily, then turned back to the warehouse and disappeared through a door. J.D. followed her.
“I don’t think I completely understand what just happened,” said Mitch. “Can somebody explain to me what the hell is going on?”
“I messed up and we have to leave,” said Rose, quietly, staring at the ground. “But first, Axel and Alex are going to get something we need.” There was a long
silence as the three of them looked around the parking lot.
Presently the twins came back out with a wooden jewelry box in a clear plastic trash bag. It was between them, and each held one corner of the bag by one hand at full extension. It was a pretty good box, but Rose could still tell what was in it. “Ugh,” she said, as they set it down in front of her.
Alex and Axel nodded in agreement, then turned around and walked together back into the warehouse.
Mitch bent over and picked up the box. “What the hell is this?” he said.
Rose’s shoulders sagged. “Do me a favor,” she said, “and don’t open that thing until I’ve had some rest.”
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.