Authors: Jason Brannon
A Dade Gibson Novel
Copyright © 2012 by Jason Brannon
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Dade Gibson found his sister’s body swaying from a noose like the unsteady pendulum of an erratic clock. His legs went weak at the sight, but he remained steady long enough to run to the supply closet and get a ladder. He didn’t want to wait for the authorities to get her down. As her only sibling, Dade felt like it was his final duty to his only sister. He owed her that much after all she had done for him.
As he carefully carried Jane’s lifeless body down the fiberglass steps and placed her on the cold floor, he couldn’t help thinking that he should have seen the signs and recognized the depression in his sister that drove her to this point. Had he really been that preoccupied with his own problems to notice her sadness?
It seemed impossible that she was dead. No matter how hard he tried, Dade simply couldn’t fathom the idea that his sister had finally given in to the pressures of the world. At one point Jane had done volunteer work for a suicide hotline, counseling others, talking them through the difficult times in the hope of saving lives. That’s why it was such a strange, incongruous feeling to learn that she had fallen prey to the very feelings she had fought so hard to keep at bay in others.
It didn’t make sense.
Dade was suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Jane’s death but he knew it was simply denial on his part. He believed in souls and the afterlife and had attended church enough times to know where suicides spent eternity. It made him sick to think that his sister might be just another soul stoking the fires of forever. He quickly pushed that thought out of his mind as he smoothed Jane’s hair with a loving hand.
It would have been easy to cry at the loss of his sister and place the fateful call to 911 that would whisk Jane away from him forever in a cold wash of harsh, flashing lights and the idle chatter of curious bystanders. But he knew that once that call was made he would have a limited amount of time left with her. So he kissed Jane on the cheek and cradled her head in his lap and wept silently while he ruminated on all the wasted days that could have been better spent with his sister.
Wanting nothing more than to watch Jane for a while as she slept the sleep of eternity, he gently laid her head down and noticed something strange that he hadn’t before. There was an unusual purple mark on her neck. Dade’s first impression was that the mark was a bruise from the rope. Yet it wasn’t amorphous and unevenly discolored like most bruises. Instead, it had a definite shape, form, and outline. Like a tattoo.
Dade tilted Jane’s head so that he might better see the mark. It looked enough like a bruise to make his heart sink and enough like a clue to give him hope. Yet it was the dark blemishes on Jane’s right arm that made him stifle a sob. He had seen enough of the seedy parts of the world to know the signs of addiction, and it was clear that Jane had turned to the needle at some point in her life when the pain had become too great. It was yet another sign he had missed. Dade could have just as easily been sleeping while his sister drifted away into oblivion for all the help he’d been to her.
Numbed by his discovery and frightened to death of the truth, Dade wearily picked up the phone and called emergency services.
Then he cried until the ambulances arrived.
He never even noticed when the strange purple mark on Jane’s neck disappeared, vanishing like a puff of smoke.
Five Years Later-The Zodiac Club
“This is without a doubt one of the most bizarre clubs I’ve ever been in,” Dade said. “And that’s saying something.”
“You’ve got my vote on that one,” Liz said, shivering inside her cashmere sweater. “But it really scares me when you think something is weird. You‘re the same guy that used to hang out with that cult of Baal worshippers in the District. What were they called?”
“The Order of the Bull,” Dade said. “But that was a different time, and I was a different person back then. I was searching for answers, looking for something to fill the void that Jane‘s death left behind. I experimented with a lot of things back then that I’m not proud of. Anyway, I’m not that guy anymore. I’ve got a better sense of who I am now. Of course, this looks like the kind of place that might swallow identity whole so we should probably be careful.”
The Zodiac Club was a monument to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, with each sign being somehow incorporated into the decorum. But it was more than just another bizarre themed bar. It was a fringe hangout, catering to freaks who believed they were seraphim and wackos who imagined themselves as fallen angels. In fact, it made most of the New Orleans vampire dungeons look positively amateur in comparison. Although he couldn’t exactly say why, The Zodiac Club made Dade’s skin crawl. Maybe it was the fact that there were grown people who actually took this stuff seriously and believed that they were in league with angels. Or maybe it was the possibility that some of them actually were.
An homage to Pisces, the walls of The Zodiac Club were fish tanks made almost entirely of rune-etched glass and filled with strange bloodthirsty creatures that had mouthfuls of nasty curved teeth and wicked fins that looked like razors. The water in the tanks glowed an eerie radioactive blue in the dark, giving the club a suitably unsettling neon ambience. One rumor held that these fish had been donated to the club by the Cult of Dagon, and given the utterly alien appearance of the horrid creatures, it made sense. Dade had even heard stories that on occasion the local police would drop a homeless man or two into the water as a means of keeping the fish fed and the streets clean. Dade couldn’t help noticing a set of false teeth sitting on the tank bottom, smiling back at anyone who cared to look.
Above the glass and running the complete perimeter of the club were the taxidermied heads of Mountain Goats, Rams, Bulls, and Lions….or Capricorn, Aries, Taurus, and Leo respectively. Dade laughed at the lengths the club owners had gone to in order to make the place as authentic as possible. His smile faded when, one by one, the trophies turned their heads to stare at him as he and Liz passed by. One of the lion heads roared fiercely, causing the entire club to go quiet for several seconds. Then, the music started up again, and the ravers went back to their dancing.
“Boy, they really leave no stone unturned,” Dade remarked as they passed a huge set of scales where the merit of two scantily clad twin angels was being weighed against the luxury of bottled liquor. At the moment, the women were winning, but the cherubim bartender was steadily adding fifths of whiskey to the scales of Libra in an attempt to balance the sin.
A little to the left of the bar were the marble statues of the water bearers. Only it wasn’t water that was running out of their barrels and into a small wishing well. Dade touched one finger to the trickling fountain and put it to his lips.
“Vodka,” he said, making a bitter face. Several club goers dressed in seraphim regalia were dipping their shot glasses into the crystal clear pool and drinking themselves into the early stages of liver failure.
Liz held up her fingers and looked around the room, counting all the signs of the zodiac that she recognized. “The best I can tell there are still a couple we’ve missed.”
“Virgo and Scorpio,” Dade said.
“I think I’ve found Virgo,” Liz said, pointing to a cage that was suspended from the ceiling. Inside the cage was a nun whose arms were covered in stained glass tattoos that were busy depicting a war between angels.
“Those tattoos are moving,” Dade said as he stared at the nun’s flesh art and watched as angels killed angels in cold blood.
“Now if we can just find Scorpio,” Liz remarked.
It was only as they sat down at the glass-topped table that he saw them. At first they were inconspicuous. Then he noticed a slight movement beneath his hands as a glimmer of light reflected off of the transparent surface. He pulled away in surprise, nearly falling out of his chair, as he realized that the inside of the hollowed-out table was filled with scorpions.
“Remind me again why I let you talk me into coming here,” Dade said, watching the freaks come through the front door in droves.
“We’re here because you’ve got a customer that’s willing to hire you. Have you forgotten that so soon? I’m sure your creditors haven’t forgotten all those bills of yours that are due.”
Dade grunted. It was the sound he always made when he knew Liz was right about something. It was a sound he made often.
As they waited, Dade cased the club, scanning the locals in some attempt to figure out what made them tick. These weren’t people who believed that angels were real and could sometimes interact with human events. These were people who genuinely believed they were angels, cast out of Heaven for the simple purpose of engaging in every imaginable form of debauchery this side of Hell. Just seeing all the elaborate plumage and the razor-sharp talons made him wonder what kind of day jobs these people had. Somehow, he couldn’t imagine any of them holding positions at the local banks or insurance companies. He made a point to remember a few of the faces and try to pick them out when he ventured into town. It would be interesting to see what kind of image they presented to the general public.
“Can I get you two anything?” the waitress asked. One of her tiny wings inadvertently brushed against Dade, and the urge to size her up was nearly irresistible. But the outfit she wore was too skimpy and Liz was much too possessive. Dade wondered what he would do if Louise Hartwell, the client they were meeting, turned out to be a knockout. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw a heavy-set redhead pushing her way through extended wings.
“Mrs. Hartwell,” Dade said, extending his hand in a gesture of politeness. “I’m Dade Gibson and this is my girlfriend, Liz. Won’t you sit down?”
“Thank you, darling,” she said with a hint of southern belle in her voice.
It was dark inside the club and a techno beat was throbbing like a massive heart. Several of the angels were snorting something neon off of the bar. In another strobe-lit corner, two scantily clad cherubim were doing shots of a red liquid that gave off a faint cloud of steam. Louise Hartwell hardly seemed to notice.
“This is quite a place you’ve brought us to,” Dade remarked. “It’s not everyday you see grown men running around in feathers.”
“These people are definitely in a world of their own,” Mrs. Hartwell replied. “But they’re generally harmless.”
“Does any of this relate to why we’re here?” Dade asked.