Mysterious Ways: Chapter Four
In the first draft of this novel, Chapter Four was considerably different. Merlin Bloodstone did not appear in it at all. My agent, Howard Morhaim, pointed out that the book read more like a Connor Moran novel than a Merlin Bloodstone book. I did a quick breakdown of chapters where Bloodstone appeared, and then compared that breakdown to several of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. Howard was right. I had the mix off, so I put more Bloodstone in and that changed the tenor of the book. (That same breakdown idea governed how much Bloodstone appears in Perfectly Dead, the second Homeland Security Services novel, which will be out later this year).
Paranoia might have colored my perception, but Miss Bracken seemed to have a bit of spring in her step as she led us back to the office. We passed through her domain and the open door into a sumptuous office suite. Thurston Tom Thickett waited behind his desk, in the far right corner of the room. As we entered, he emerged from behind it with the air of a king grudgingly welcoming a rebel prince to a parlay.
“Dr. Bloodstone, the peace of Christ be with you.” He kept his voice pleasant, but weighted with gravity. “And you would be Mr. Moran.”
I nodded, but said nothing. I was just there to serve as Bloodstone’s second. Or alibi.
Thickett started toward the corner of the room to the immediate left left of the doorway, waving us toward the trio of chairs set around a coffee table. Bookshelves lined the entire left side of the room. Shelves bowed beneath the legion of weighty and impressive leather-bound tomes. I guessed a decorator bought most of them by the linear yard, save for Thickett’s own books. They took up a lot of space in the corner, backstopping an alternate set. Thickett used it when he wished to impress his viewers with the fact that he could read.
The only unusual features in the office, aside from the obvious pieces of TV set, were the two doors that led into the studio corridor and a panel of glass set high above the main door into the office. Behind it lurked two small video cameras. It seemed clear they were used for the insert shots, but I had that creepy feeling that anything we said might be recorded for posterity.
Or a fund-raiser.
Bloodstone moved toward the conversation nook, feinting a drive at the largest chair, set with its back to the corner. The widening of the reverend’s eyes indicated that chair was meant to be his, but he said nothing as Bloodstone laid a gloved hand on its back. For a half second it seemed as if Bloodstone would appropriate the throne, but instead he took the chair at what would be Thickett’s right hand. That left me a chair that put my back to the library corner and gave me a good view of the area immediately to the right of the door. It had been set up with a big computer desk and a nice rig. That looked to be Thickett’s working area and was messier than the show desk.
Thickett took his place, then glanced past Bloodstone to Miss Bracken. “May Laurel get you anything? Coffee, perhaps? We also have tea, sent by some of our missionaries in India.”
Bloodstone smiled politely. “The offer of tea is most accommodating, but I would not want you to go to any trouble. Water will suffice, thank you.”
“Just water, thanks.” I leaned on the arm of my chair and smiled at her. “Tap is fine, bottled if you must.”
She looked at me strangely, departed, but left the door open. T3 sat back and smiled. “So, shall we discuss the witch girl first?”
Bloodstone crossed his left leg over his right, then tugged at the trouser crease at his knee. “Her name is Sara Piper. She asked me about possible solutions to the situation at her school.”
Thickett rested his elbows on the arms of his wingback chair, then pressed his hands together as if praying. “Are you her high priest? Is she a member of your coven?”
Bloodstone blinked, briefly. “From that question it would seem you have an incorrect impression of me. I am neither witch nor warlock; not a high priest nor a heretic. Until this morning I had not met Ms. Piper. Prior to her statements to the press, I was blissfully unaware she existed.”
“You almost make it possible for me to believe you.” Thickett nodded as Laurel set a bottle of water in front of each of us, and accompanied his and Bloodstone’s with a cut-glass tumbler with the TSN logo etched on it. As she left, the reverend closed his eyes, laying his right hand on the bottle, and murmured a prayer. Straightening up a bit, he poured his water into the glass.
Had it been Phoenix tap water, I could understand praying over it—anything might improve the taste. Thickett waited to see if Bloodstone would reciprocate with some sort of invocation, but my boss demurred. It seemed unlikely that bothering God with a water quality issue would add much to the meeting, so I just opened my bottle and drank straight from it.
“Reverend Thickett, which is it that you choose not to believe?” Bloodstone kept his voice even, and held up the half-filled tumbler, staring at the water or Thickett’s distorted reflection in it. “I have no reason to lie about the girl.”
“None, save that your type find deception to be second nature.” Thickett shook his head. “Even here, in a place of holiness, you can’t refrain from lying. It’s the demonic influences.”
“Is it?” Bloodstone’s head came up. “Then you, in your capacity, could bind my demons in the name of Jesus and bar them from influencing me, couldn’t you? Then I would be unable to lie.”
“I could bind your demons, yes, in Jesus’ holy name, but you could still lie. The man in you could.” Thickett snorted mildly, adding an air of experience that Sara Piper’s snorts lacked. “I doubt your claim to not being a High Priest. I know you call yourself an occultist and don’t make any religious claims, but that’s like the president advocating socialist policies, but denying he’s a Red. Your grimoire is a staple in every witch and warlock’s library. It’s a Pandora’s box of evil. You’re responsible for all of it.”
“But, of course, you’ve never read the book.”
“A doctor does not need to have a disease to be able to diagnose it.”
“True, but he needs to have studied a disease, to know its signs and to recognize it, before he diagnoses it.” Bloodstone set his glass down with a click. “I have no desire to be abrupt, but this bantering serves neither of us well. You hold me in utter contempt and have told me that you believe nothing I say. Perforce, any negotiation conducted between the two of us then leaves me at a gross disadvantage. Further persiflage has no value. You will instruct Rachel Carmody to change Ms. Piper’s grade to a passing one.”
Thickett chuckled slightly and swirled his water as if it were a thirty-year-old single malt. He studied the roiling water, watching the light sparkle therein for a bit as he turned the glass around. Finally he graced Bloodstone with a glance. “Why would I want to do that?”
“The grade was unfair. This you know as well as I do. Giving her that grade was a vindictive act, an unchristian act. One of your flock was over zealous in pursuit of Christian ideals, therefore it falls to you to redress the problem.” Bloodstone’s eyes tightened slightly. “For Sara Piper, this is a serious blow. It robs her of something she’s worked very hard for and justly deserves.”
Thickett frowned. “As I understand it, she willfully deceived her teacher, didn’t do the assignment, and now would like to have things changed in her favor.”
Having his words echo those of Bloodstone made my heart sink.
Bloodstone continued on undaunted. “While accurate, that read of the situation is immaterial.”
“Clearly. She is a child. Children make mistakes. The punishment being exacted is grossly inappropriate.”
“You say she is a child, but I disagree. She wants this change without any sacrifice on her part, without acknowledging she was wrong. She does not want to pay any penalty.”
“No child does.”
“So aiding and abetting her transgression will help her think more clearly in the future?” Thickett waggled a finger at Bloodstone. “You and I both know it won’t.”
Bloodstone stroked a long-fingered hand over his jaw. “And on that principle you’re willing to ruin her life?”
T3’s white-maned head came up and I saw something flash through his eyes. “Her life is not my concern, her soul is, Dr. Bloodstone. It is my primary concern.”
Bloodstone started to say something, but Thickett waved him to silence, then pointed off toward the outside. “Do you know what I see when I travel in this city, Dr. Bloodstone, in my city? I see palm readers and fortunetellers. I see occult bookstores. I see Goth kids and punks. I see gang graffiti. I hear gunshots, I see blood. In my city. This city, named after a pagan deity, is full of Satanism. It’s everywhere.”
Thickett had a point. I’ve joked with friends that they’ll know when I’m diagnosed with a fatal brain cancer because that’s the day Molotov cocktails explode in all of those places. Sure, folks could get hurt but, hey, if they’re really psychics, they’ll know to be out of the place when I come through, right?
“Well, Dr. Bloodstone, I choose not to put up with it. This is my city, my home, and I will fight for every soul here. Your witch girl included.”
Bloodstone sat back stiffly. “You’re saying there’s no room for compromise?”
Thickett stabbed a finger in his direction. “Compromise? How can there be compromise in a war against the devil? You said yourself you were at a disadvantage, and you are, because I have the Lord with me. You cannot win. Your liege lord cannot win. The Lord is very clear in this regard. We cannot give the Prince of Darkness any quarter, cannot allow him an earthly inch lest he take a celestial mile. It is just not possible.”
“So, in the name of Jesus, you’ll deal a harsh blow to a girl that ensures she will loathe Christians and Christianity for the rest of her life. Your lack of Christian charity will drive her even further away than she is now. You will fail to win with pressure what a little mercy could easily purchase.” Bloodstone cocked his head to the side. “Your shortsightedness in this regard is astounding.”
“Is it?” His voice took on a husky tone, laden with suppressed fury. “Perhaps there is room for some sort of a deal, and here it is. She wants her mark brought up to an A, very well. By Monday, in time for the show Monday evening, you will have her agree to appear with me on the following Friday, to accept Jesus Christ as her personal savior. She will ask to be forgiven by her teacher. She will embrace the student who would have given the Valedictory speech in her place.”
My jaw dropped open. “That’s not a compromise, that’s a complete surrender.”
Thickett swept an incendiary gaze over me. “This girl, Mr. Moran, is under a death sentence. This is the only way it can be commuted.”
Bloodstone stood. “Thank you for your time. Clearly there is nothing further to discuss.” Bloodstone didn’t offer his hand—he didn’t want to have to burn the gloves afterward.
“Sit down, Dr. Bloodstone! I am not finished with you.” Thickett’s eyes blazed. “When I said I saw my city as an unclean place, the most festering wound in it is you. There you are, rich, famous, successful: a recruiting poster for the Satanic Legions. I will make one of your minions bow before God. You will command this witch girl to submit.”
There was a hint of irony in Thickett ordering Bloodstone to submit in much the way Bloodstone had commanded him to make Rachel Carmody change the grade. That same irony died in the blaze of Bloodstone’s violet eyes. “Apparently you missed what I said before. I cannot command her, nor would I.”
A note of menace entered Thickett’s voice. “You know not the forces with which you play, for I will not be denied in this. I have let you exist far too long. Deuteronomy 18, verses 11 and 12, Bloodstone, they give me no choice. I must drive you out of this city. The pickets I have organized outside your house will be as nothing. I will pray, loud and long, for the clients who are clearly under your Satanic influence. I will have pickets at their appearances and movies, shaming all of them for trafficking with you. They will abandon you. You will be broken unless you make the girl submit.”
Bloodstone snorted, then slowly shook his head. “I do not treat with those who badger, bluster and threaten. Do what you must. Connor, we are leaving.”
I stood, and made to follow Bloodstone, but Thickett’s voice, growled low, stopped me. “Your soul is in jeopardy, too, Mr. Moran. You may think your Papist upbringing makes you immune, but you are a fool. As you are his thrall, you are Satan’s thrall. Don’t make your foolishness the death of you. Jesus asks me to tell you that.”
I turned to face him, forcing my fists open before I could throw a punch. “I know you. I’ve studied you. I know how you work. You can claim this is about saving souls, but we all know it’s not. Having Sara Piper find Jesus on your show would provide a gusher of funds the like of which you’ve not seen since Lily blossomed for you.”
In retrospect, accusing him of being a moneygrubbing charlatan was pretty much the weakest attack I could have made. Thickett shrugged it off with a tired air. “You ignore the warnings of Holy Scripture at your own peril, Moran. Your ignorance of it dooms you.”
“I’m not as ignorant as you might think. I’m just not up to taking spiritual advice from the likes of you. As it is written, ‘the devil can cite Scripture for his own purpose.’”
Bloodstone’s hand closed on my elbow as Thickett began to laugh. “Connor, that line is from The Merchant of Venice.”
I blushed. “Shutting up now.”
An edge entered Bloodstone’s voice, cutting through Thickett’s ridicule. “More on point, Reverend, would be Deuteronomy 13:5. Sara Piper might not be of a size to fight back, but I am. A reasonable compromise can be to your benefit, but a war with me will end very badly for you.”
That was such a great exit line I kinda wished we could have gotten out of there easily, but as I turned to lead the way, I just about ran over Tommy and Lily. Both of them looked a bit bewildered at the cold tone in Bloodstone’s voice, and the inarticulate snarl coming from inside the office. I sidestepped, which bumped me up against Miss Bracken. She staggered down into her chair. I turned and squeezed past Lily, raking the corner of the desk against the back of my left thigh. Bloodstone passed serenely through the chaos my bullrush had created, then strolled from the building as if he were without a concern in the world. I tossed the visitor badge to the rent-a-cop at the front and slammed the release bar on the door as hard as I could.
Ghostlike, Bloodstone slipped through before the door could close.
I turned and frowned. “That could have gone better.”
He blinked as if I’d been speaking Urdu. “Do you think so?”
He considered that for a moment, then shook his head. “No, no, and that is the pity. It really couldn’t have.”
Mysterious Ways comes in three different editions, with the novel itself running around 90,000 words. If you choose to purchase from Stormwolf.com, you get both the .mobi and .epub files, and don’t have to worry about DRM.
Super Delux Edition: This edition includes not only the novel and the essay about how it came to be written, but I’ve also included a novella and two short stories.
Delux Edition: As with the Delux Edition of In Hero Years… I’m Dead, I’ve included an essay that talks about the writing of the novel, it’s long journey to publication, inspirations for characters and hints at where the series will go from here. You get to read the novel, then peek behind the scenes.
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