Mysterious Ways: Chapter Five

 

There are three things hidden in this chapter which have greater meaning. In theology, that would have something to do with Gnosis, which goes to the Gnostic Christian Cults, and that concept would drive T3 nuts. The first is Connor’s driving a Cougar Coupe. At the time I wrote the novel, I’d just bought one of them. Before the last page had been printed, Ford/Lincoln discontinued the line. I still have the car. It works great, but after a dozen years, finding all the plastic parts that break and fall off is kind of tough. The second thing is mentioning a writer named Dennis who lives in Tucson. Dennis L. McKiernan is one of the best fantasy writers out there. I’m lucky enough that he’s a friend. He lives in Tucson (along with a lot of other great writers), and has been kind enough to offer me a place to lay my weary head when a run back up to Phoenix might be too much. (If you have not read his work, what are you waiting for?) Third, and perhaps the most fun, is that the pizza place (Chizona) mentioned late on still exists. I’d actually never eaten there until 2012, but I’ve been back several times. It’s always great to have good food within walking distance. 

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Chapter Five

 

 

 

Bloodstone remained quiet on the ride home. The scowl on his face made it clear that while trying to lighten his mood might not be impossible, failing would definitely be painful. Not having forgotten the past, I wasn’t doomed to repeat it. I kept my mouth shut. I happily dropped him at the front of the house and drove the Jag into the carriage house.

The prospect of facing one of Phil’s creations was something I just couldn’t begin to deal with. After locking the Jag, I got the Cougar Coupe—my usual ride—and sped onto the 101 and eventually I-10 heading south. I got gas in Casa Grande and phoned a writer friend down in Tucson, told him I’d be there in an hour or so and offered to take him and his wife out to dinner. This invitation was greeted with some surprise, but also enthusiasm, so I had my course set. Earliest I could be back in Phoenix would be 8 or so, and I could probably make it later.

Like a month from Tuesday.

The whole meeting with T3 had gone wrong from the start, and I should have seen that it would. If I’d been thinking, I’d have volunteered to go over there by myself. That way Bloodstone could have avoided the direct confrontation and found some solid ground from which to negotiate. He’d said it very well, that he was negotiating from a position of weakness, and T3 just pounced. It would have been fine if he’d mauled me because Bloodstone could have then moved in for the kill.

A huge chunk of my being upset came from how easily Thickett had gotten under my skin. The Papist remark drilled in deep and stung. You hear that coming out of someone’s mouth and just want to slap some sense into them. The thing of it was I should have expected that sort of shot, but I’d been enjoying his duel with Bloodstone and had let my guard down. I had only myself to blame for sounding like an idiot with my riposte.

Lots of thoughts like that bounced around the old think-box, but the run south provided enough time for them to burn out. Not knowing Tucson at all, I had to call for directions once I hit the city. I found the house pretty easily after that. My friends directed me to a little Mexican restaurant. The food made it easy to imagine I’d traveled a lot further south than I had.

Dinner was good. Dennis’ writing career was everything that mine wasn’t—writing was what I did back when my mom would ask me when I would get a real job. Dennis didn’t rub it in or lord it over me. After dinner we went back to his place for coffee and got talking about the business, which meant I listened a lot and realized how far out of it I’d really gotten. I did mention that I was working on a new set of stories, things I’d probably just publish digitally myself, and that was greeted with praise. It was just the sort of encouragement I needed, especially after how the day had gone.

It was late when I went to start back—they offered me the guest room, but I had soccer the next morning, so I didn’t want to hang out and deal with that drive before the game. I called Julia on the drive back. I left her voicemail saying that we should talk. I told her I should be back at the house about midnight, and that it would be fine for her to call. Then I pointed the Cougar a whole lot north and a little west and cruised toward the glowing horizon that was Phoenix. The drive let me think about my story, and that meant I almost forgot about Thickett.

The Cougar made good time. I got back to Casa Chaos at a quarter to Sunday. I parked the Cougar in its appropriate bay, then headed over to the guest house. I still had ten minutes before I expected Julia might call, which meant the day might not be a total loss, even though what I’d have to report wouldn’t be pretty.

Any hopes I had of getting into my home before her call died when I saw Bloodstone. There he was, in the middle of the sand pit, when any sane person would have been asleep. He moved slowly and with painstaking precision, practicing his t’ai chi. He went through the fluid twists, turns and sweeps as if it were the middle of the day.

I sighed.

At least he wasn’t naked this time.

He drew his arms and legs together, black gi as dark as the night, and bowed in my direction. “You enjoyed your evening?”

“Up ‘til now, sure.” I crouched at the white stone circle’s edge. “About this afternoon…”

He raised a hand to forestall my comment. “There have been developments.”

A shiver ran down my spine. Merlin Bloodstone makes a very good living as a ‘spiritual advisor’ to all manner of folks. One of the reasons we have private investigator licenses is because corporate Boards of Directors will blanche at paying money for a psychic counselor, but don’t think twice about paying for security consultants. What all of his clients appreciate, whether private or corporate, is his ability to inject calm into the most disastrous of circumstances. From his words I knew someone had done something insane, but his face and the tone of voice masked that reality perfectly.

“Thickett or Piper?”

Wordlessly he turned on his heel and waved me toward the main house. I drifted in his wake into the kitchen to the little TV machine Phil the Pill uses to study TV ads for inspiration. Bloodstone turned it on and gave me the remote.

“I realized Reverend Thickett was quite mercurial, and various portents suggested a grand capacity for vengeance. I had Phillipe record the rebroadcast of the show we watched. Set it to 25:11, please.”

I played with the buttons and called the rebroadcast up from the media server. The show began toward the end of the Carmody interview. On the small screen Tommy turned and looked at the shield. T3 appeared as he had before. As the image spread out I saw him sitting at his desk. An array of shiny knives, brass chalices, a dog-eared copy of the Necronomicon, a voodoo doll and other occult debris had been artfully scattered over the blond surface.

“Brothers and sisters of our prayer family, the assault on sister Rachel is more dire than any of you could ever imagine. I’ve just had a visit from one of Satan’s Generals. Merlin Bloodstone is a Satanist so foul that if the blood of our Savior were to pour over him, it would bubble and boil off. He came here, this theo-terrorist, to continue his assault on the Twin Towers of family values and Christian morality. He threatened me, threatened to kill me because of our dealing righteously with this witch girl. Brothers and sisters, this conspiracy of evil, this dark, unholy conspiracy, cannot be allowed to prosper. Deuteronomy 18: 11-12, we have no choice, God gives us no choice, so we rejoice. We need your prayers, fervently and earnestly, and we need your financial support. We are waging war against the devil, and the first battle we wage shall be with Bloodstone and his followers. Monday I will have for you a dramatic announcement, so you should all make sure to be here for that. The Great Deceiver shall be unmasked. Tomorrow, at the Garden Cathedral, I shall teach a lesson on girding your loins for this titanic battle. Together, brothers and sisters, we shall vanquish this foul foe, and save souls for God, praised be His name.”

I slumped back against the butcher-block island in the center of the kitchen. “That son of a bitch… Man, I knew he was so low he had to look up to see bottom, but this is new for him. Put him and Charlie Manson in a cage, add blunt instruments, and I’ll be cheering for a fifteen round tie.”

“This strategem was not wholly unanticipated. I’ve taken steps to deal with his actions, at least those I know of. His announcement of a surprise, this puzzles me. Does he think we will still convey his message to Ms. Piper?”

I growled, then wandered to the fridge and pulled out a Diet Pepsi. Popping it open, I drained half the can and relished the cold bubbles raking down my throat. I wiped my mouth off on the back of my hand. “What are the chances that by Monday we can convince Sara to appear on his show on Friday, accept Jesus, recant her paper, embrace her teacher, play nice with others and become…um,” I was going to say “Jan Brady,” but TV sitcom references just skate past Bloodstone “…Mother Theresa? I’d say slim and none, so he might be positioning himself to say he offered us a chance, but we refused. It will play well to his audience.”

“And they vote their support with dollars, yes.” Bloodstone shut off the TV. “I am surprised he construed my comment as a direct threat.”

“You didn’t mean it that way?” I drained the rest of the can and tossed it into the recycle bin. “What is Deuteronomy 13:5, anyway?”

Bloodstone’s head came up as his dark brows arrowed together. “‘And that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death…’ The Old Testament was always rather direct and efficacious in dealing with false prophets. The verses he applied to me both there and on tape are more lenient and only call for me to be driven from the family of the righteous.”

I covered my mouth with a hand as the soda came back on me. “What are we going to do?”

“We are under some obligation to tender his offer to Sara, even though we know she would not accept it. He wants a call one way or the other by Monday. He wins if she accepts. He wins if we do his bidding and call to say she refuses. Only by refusing to play by his rules do we gain any leverage, so we will wait on this front and see what his message is on Monday.”

“You think he is bluffing?”

Bloodstone shrugged. “The man is an opportunist. We will decline being the sort of opportunity he wants and see how he reacts to that. This is far from over, but we will transform it into a fight that will cost him more than it is worth to win.”

“That would be nice, but fighting him is like fighting a pig: you might win, you will get dirty, and the pig loves it.”

“And sometimes the pig ends up as pork chops.”

“Speaking of which…” I jerked a thumb at the Sub-Zero fridge. “I don’t know if yeast counts as animal protein, but if it doesn’t there’s none of it in this kitchen. How long are we going to put up with one from column soy and one from column kelp?”

Bloodstone’s face closed up. “You would have found this evening’s offering rather purging for the soul.”

“Uh-huh.” I rolled my eyes. “This time of night it probably would only take a half-hour to get a pizza here. New place opened up just east of McDonald and Hayden a month or two ago. We could give them a try.”

He sniffed. “And upset Phillippe?”

“Deep dish, kalamata olives, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and anchovies.”

“Not while Phillippe is under this roof.”

“He’s in the garage, for crying out loud.”

“Enough, Connor, go to bed. Your game is early tomorrow.” He waved me away. “Get going but…don’t lose the number of that pizza place.”

 


 

I got a text from Julia saying she wanted to stay up to talk to me, but was tired and was heading to bed instead. She said she’d call the next morning, which would be when I was at soccer, so I expected we’d be playing phone tag all day. While I would have much rather talk to her, texting would work. I hit the sack and was out like a light, drifting into a weird dream where she was a waitress serving pizza. Topless. The pizza, that is, which is why the dream was weird.

I got up late enough that I didn’t eat breakfast before my game. I dressed at home and drove across town to the Phoenix Sports Center on West Indian School. The building had once been a bingo parlor, but had switched over to indoor soccer in the early 80s. I started playing there in the early 90s, and fairly recently joined an over-thirty, co-ed, non-competitive team—meaning that if we drew blood, it was supposed to be by accident.

Indoor soccer is played in a hockey-style arena, with goals cut in the end-walls of the field. Walls run about twelve feet high and the playing surface is astroturf. In our league you’re not allowed to slide-tackle unless you’re a goalie, which is a good thing. Sliding on astroturf is like sliding across a cheese grater.

I play in the goal for most games and I’m not bad. I’m good at stopping close-in shots and have a good arm for tossing the ball out. Hardly a game goes by when I don’t have an assist on a goal—owing more to the fact that my offensive players are good than my passes are accurate.

We played against a team we had a bit of a rivalry going with. One guy on their team, Greg, is from the UK. He has the reputation of writing down complete descriptions of his goals in his diary. Knowing this, I really get up for stuffing him, and the fact that he goal-hangs most of the time provides plenty of opportunity. As it was, he scored two off me, but I stopped twice as many by him, and we scored a bunch, so ended up winning.

Outside the player area after the game, I slumped down against the wall as I usually do. Everyone on the team exchanged congratulations and recounted the best plays of the game. There’s a lot of “Well, this is what that play looked like to me…” or “I couldn’t believe it when you…” comments made—some in praise, others needling, but never acrimonious.

“You played well.”

At the sound of her voice, I looked to my right and saw the knees of jeans. Craning my head back, I looked up to see Julia smiling down at me. “What are you doing here?”

“I called and Dr. Bloodstone told me where you were. I came down to watch. It was fun.”

“Glad you enjoyed it.”

Darius, our leading scorer, came over and kicked my feet. “You had a good game.”

“Thanks.”

He looked at Julia and smiled. “Do you play?”

“Never indoor. Played outdoor in college.”

Darius nodded down at me. “Date her. We need women.”

“No assists for you next week.” I climbed to my feet as Darius peeled off to harass someone else. “Don’t mind him. He’s harmless, except on the field.”

“I noticed.” She gave me a big grin. “Can I buy you something to drink?”

I slumped back against the wall, wringing wet from the game. “Sure, but not here. If you’ve got the time, you can follow me back to the house. I can get cleaned up, and there’s a video clip you should see before we talk.”

“I’ll have to ride with you. I lent my friend my car so she could visit friends. I can call a cab if there is a problem.”

“Nope, no problem.” I stripped off my goalie shirt and pulled on a dry t-shirt from my bag. “Let’s go.”

 

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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.

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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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 Basic Edition: The basic edition gives you Mysterious Ways in its purest form—just the novel, no extras.

 

 

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