by Louis B.Shalako
All Rights Reserved
Ari closed the door as quietly as he could. He was probably the only inhabitant of the sleazy rooming-house, with its alkies, crack-heads, pot-smokers and retards, who cared about the noise. He kicked his shoes off in the usual place.
He paused long enough to carefully hang his threadbare sport jacket on its peg, where the fog of late-night cigarette smoke, creeping in under the door, would inevitably settle on the shoulders, staining the grey gabardine a sickly shade of juicy, reddish-yellow.
Despite the grittiness of the carpet, and the sticky spot right in front of the couch, some black tar that had seeped in through a hole in the roof structure on a hot summer’s day, he padded around in his socks. Someone in the building was cooking cabbage again.
Soon he was stripped down to his gotchies. Ari stood for a brief moment in gratitude, savoring the cool of the tiny fridge as it pushed out cold air at him. The light briefly lit up the pale, ascetic, and pinched features of Ari Sutherland. The little mirror he used to shave with caught a transient flicker of his eyes. They were his best feature, with their intelligent, sardonic gleam, of an unusual dark brown, with sharp-cornered whites, very clear. He carefully sipped his beer, for he could only have the one tonight. Later. Later he could have maybe three. He took another tiny little sip of foam. Four would be too many.
He would need a clear head in the morning. Ari had somewhere he needed to be, tomorrow.
Ari needed to be somewhere else, somewhere a long ways away, tomorrow…
The brush cut, not the most flattering for a dark, brown-haired young man, had a touch of silver around the temples and sides. With those eyes, the effect was to make him truly distinguished. A glimpse of the man he might become, but it was all fake—a little peroxide rubbed in there once a week and it was totally convincing.
Ari had caught the eye of Marilynn, a tall, attractive redhead who affected the Gothic look, but her natural good fashion sense somehow made her avoid the more extreme options. She made Goth look fresh, and youthful, vital and intriguing, without puncturing herself full of studs, tongue-brackets, rivets, and tie-down rings for long-range trucking.
He grinned at the mental image, but she was very clean-cut, not all tattooed-up in blues, greens and purples.
Momentarily, he felt sorry for her. For both of them. What a sweet, innocent girl she must have been when the Brethren found her. Sensing a lost soul, alone in the big city, with no friends and nowhere else to go, she had quickly set about saving Ari from ‘the way,’ as she so elegantly put it. And she showed him another way. For a moment he thought of her fine, pale white skin. He knew he could have loved her. And yet he didn’t…he couldn’t. He could only use her…
Now he knew it would never happen. There were too many other things in the way.
The final meeting was tonight. He was to be purified, blessed, and baptized. He would become an acolyte, a probationary member of the congregation of the faithful. Ari pulled out the bottom drawer and there, under the black socks, one pair of which he planned on wearing later, the dull gleam of the pine box was revealed. It pulled heavily at his arm.
He carefully lifted it up onto the end of the bed, and sat there beside it, noting that he had indeed latched the door properly, and the bolt was on as usual. He moved the catch, and lifted up the lid to reveal the .44 Magnum, with its speed-loader, and rows of bullets in their sockets, with the spare box of ammunition nestled in its cove, snug in the black velvet. The most powerful hand-gun in the world.
Marilynn had taken him around the chapel, explaining the ‘format,’ as she called it.
Ari and a small group would be going through what sounded like a pretty elaborate ceremony. The cult was known for their deep mysticism, she explained. A figure had walked past the end of the room, past an open door, head down and somehow beaten looking.
That’s when Ari knew for certain, that his little sister Julie was a cult member.
They shouldn’t have done that. One way or another, his sister was coming home tonight. The only thing that truly frightened Ari was the possibility that Julie wouldn’t want to go.
Before even going in there, he knew the plan was seriously flawed.